A Dog By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

All was not as it seemed.  The people began to suspect that "domestication" wasn't as  simple as they'd imagined.
All was not as it seemed. The people began to suspect that “domestication” wasn’t as simple as they’d imagined.

My dog Pebbles is a shelter mutt the size of a shoe box.

I can’t explain how she managed to end up in my household. She must have sensed that I’d lost part of my soul, a piece whose absence I couldn’t get used to, which knuckled me awake in those long, sad hours before dawn.

Whatever she’d divined that I lacked, she somehow decided what I really needed was an alarm system. Her solution was to spend her days bark, bark, barking at (in no particular order), strangers at the door, the neighbor’s cat, me, the TV, a Christmas tree, my sweetie, the refrigerator , a pair of chipmunks that frolic on the corners of the yard and, I’m not making this up, her water bowl.

She performs her duties with unbridled enthusiasm and sounds the alarm at random intervals throughout the day and night.

She never sat down in a car but stood, braced tense, facing the wind. Now and again she would turn her face toward me with an apologetic expression as though to say: "I have not forgotten that you are here but there are certain pleasures I cannot share with you." Her nose never ceased its sensitive quivering. -- Mazo de la Roche
She never sat down in a car but stood, braced tense, facing the wind. Now and again she would turn her face toward me with an apologetic expression as though to say: “I have not forgotten that you are here but there are certain pleasures I cannot share with you.” Her nose never ceased its sensitive quivering. — Mazo de la Roche

A couple of years ago I posted an essay about all the dumb dogs that have found their way into my heart over the decades. I made the case that they in no way resembled the dogs that I spent my childhood reading about — Lassie, Big Red, the two companions who joined with a cat to make an Incredible Journey. Some people took that to mean that I didn’t love those mutts or appreciate their unique contributions to my life.

On the contrary, their ability to affect me in profound ways has always been a source of amusement and more than a bit of mystery.

It turns out that there is a lot going on behind those gentle eyes.

That’s the message from Dr. Brian Hare’s “The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think.” Dr. Hare, the director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center, is a pioneer in understanding how dogs think and their remarkable ability to fathom our thoughts and intentions. In fact, he posits that their domestication was not the result of human-driven enterprise by selecting the offspring of less-aggressive wolves, but rather a dog strategy to climb aboard the civilization gravy train.

He’s devised 10 tests that measure five kinds of intelligence – empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning. By determining these values in individual dogs, he’s able to outline the ways that a dog can discern its owner’s needs and commands.

At the end of the day, dogs are domesticating us just as much as we’re working on them.

Just look into my eyes. Wouldn't you like to give me a Milk Bone?
Just look into my eyes. Wouldn’t you like to give me a Milk Bone?

Consider what’s happening when we lock eyes with our canine. Just as reverently as they look at us, we’re looking at them, trying to comprehend their thoughts.

Beneath the surface, though, when dogs look at us that way, they’re creating a measurable change in our brains. We produce more oxytocin, that remarkable hormone that alleviates stress and fosters a sense of, and there’s really no other word for it, love.

That’s right, through some arcane and wonderful Canine Mind Trick, dogs are able to make us love them.

It’s a partnership that’s immeasurably both dog and human lives.

Think about it — wolves, dogs’ closest cousins, are pushed to the very fringe of habitable land, with the threat of extinction never too far away. Dogs remain at our sides, on every continent and in every environment, including Antarctica.

And what do we get out of this magical relationship?

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.” — Milan Kundera

And  I get a truly amazing burglar alarm.


all his sweet and shaggy life, always near me, never troubling me, and asking nothing.  -- Pablo Neruda
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing. — Pablo Neruda



Keep Calm and Cast On

I’m going to type something here that I never in my life thought I would be saying: I, Stephanie, have begun to knit.


I, Stephanie, love to knit.

knitting - yarn

It’s all I talk about now. Ask my coworkers, my friends, my family. I’m sure they’ll all nod and roll their eyes. But listen, and lean in close because I’m only going to say this once, here, right now: knitting. is. amazing. Don’t worry, I have my reasons:

1. It’s good for your health! Knitting calms me. I have (multiple times now might I add) sat down in the evening to add a few rows to the Gryffindor scarf I am working on for a friend, and before I know it three hours have passed and my mind has had all of that time to just relax and do its thing. Here’s a great piece CNN did titled, This is Your Brain on Knitting, and here is a video that the Craft Yarn Council released titled, Changing Global Health One Stitch at a Time, which will then lead you to this article, The Truth about Knitting and Crochet… They’re Good for You! by Leslie Petrovski. Lastly, check out one of our new resources through NC Life, ProQuest, which is filled with information on not only knitting therapy, but tons of other topics as well.

2. Compared to a number of hobbies I can think of, it is reasonably priced. I can get a ball of yarn from $1-3, and there are lots of good deals you can find online for needles. (Example: a group of gals and I recently put in an order of 10 knitting needles for $10.)

3. You can make things for friends and family (and yourself, of course)! I mean, how many people can go around and casually say, “Oh, yeah, my friend hand knitted me this hat.” Being able to make something is always a very good feeling, and your friends and family will love you for it. (Especially this time of year when winter is most definitely coming.)

If I’ve snagged your attention and you’re interested, go HERE to peruse the knitting resources in our catalog.

Knitting Help is a really useful resource as well, especially if you’re a visual person and want to watch videos that will teach you how to knit.

Lastly, if knitting interests you but you’re not sure about diving in headfirst, there will be an Arm Knitting class at the Jackson County Public Library from 11:00AM-12:15PM on December 13th where you can dip your toes in to test the water. (This is the first in our series of Creating Community art programs.)

And now, because I believe I’ve thrown enough info at you, I will leave you.

Have fun!

Keep Calm and Knit On

Random Book Day 2014, Featuring 15 Random Reads in 8 Categories

By Chris

A lot of people shiver in anticipation waiting for Random Book Day.  Sure, it is a day I made up last year, and no one knows when it happens, or even if it will happen.  SPOILER ALERT!  It is happening!  Right now!  So brace yourselves.  Seriously, we are heading for 3000 words.

This year I have selected 15 titles for your enjoyment.  Since several of them are similar to each other I have separated the books into 8 helpful categories.  You are guaranteed to love each of these books, the guarantee being that if you don’t you can let me hear all about it in the comments section.

Category 1:  Fantasy

Censored image.
Not that kind of fantasy!

As I mentioned in my fave kids books post, which exists in the future, I started reading fantasy novels at a young age.  This trend continues today, although I certainly read many things other than fantasy.  One of my favorite all time fantasy books (and series) is The Black Company, by Glen Cook.  This book mixes gritty, militaristic narrative with epic, mighty magics, and does so seamlessly.  Told by the viewpoint of a surgeon and historian for a mercenary company, it features characters ranging from lowly soldiers to an Empress and her array of world-shaking sorcerers.  The series goes for 10 books, told by five different narrators, and never disappoints.  I’m also partial to Cook’s more light-hearted Garrett, PI series, which is crime noir set in a fantasy world.

There was a time when books based on games and movies and such were rare, other than the “official” novelizations.  TSR, publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons game, was an early leader in changing this.  One of their earliest book projects was the Dragonlance Chronicles, a series that was intended to tie in with simultaneously released game adventures.  They looked at several established fantasy authors (such as Philip Jose Farmer), before settling on the in-house talents of Tracy Hickman (a game developer) and Margaret Weis (a newly hired book editor).  They collaborated on the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight.  TSR, unsure if sales would warrant future books, insisted that this volume, meant to be the first in a trilogy, have a definitive ending.  Well, the book sold well enough for the trilogy to proceed.  And another trilogy.  And another…and now we have over 200(!) DL novels, written by many, many authors.

Anyway…Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a great fantasy read.  Heroes of varying types fight monsters, battle dragons, and save the day.  Until the next book, at least.  As one early review said, it at least gives you something to read after Lord of the Rings.

I came late to the Disc World series by Terry Pratchett.  Actually, that isn’t precisely true, since as a teen I read his novel Strata, that does interact with the Disc World, but that only sort of counts.  I really started with the 31st book in the series, Monstrous Regiment.  Polly Perks joins the army in order to save her family’s pub.  To do so she has to pretend to be male.  As the story progresses she discovers that not only do some of the other troops in her regiment (which include a troll, a vampire, and an Igor) have secrets, but that all of them do.  While there are many recurring characters and themes in the series, you can pretty much pick up any of them and be good to go.  And by the way, Strata is also a good read, darker in tone and much more science fiction than fantasy.

The final entry in this category is Ariel, by Steve Boyett.  I read this in my late teen years, and just recently rediscovered it.  It is the tale of a boy and his unicorn.  But this book is much more post-apocalyptic than fairy tale.  The world suffers a sudden change, when all technology ceases to work and fantastical creatures and magic become reality.  Unicorns are rare and precious beings, and the Necromancer wants Ariel’s horn, even if it means killing her.

Boyett, after 20+ years of denying he ever would, finally wrote a sequel titled Elegy Beach.  I really liked how he adjusted the world to take into account the technology differences between the times he wrote the books.  Boyett also has become a DJ with one of the most successful podcasts on iTunes.

Category 2:  Cats

Scrambles the cat
Scrambles looking wiser than normal.

We’ve done a whole blog post on cats before.  But who can’t get enough of cats, right?   I Can Has Cheezburger?: A LOLcat Colleckshun is a book you should read.  I especially enjoy the pokemons one.  kthxbai

Category 3:  Paranormal

Hearts with vampire teeth.
Must love involve teeth?

I started pretty early with the paranormal romances.  I don’t read a lot of them, but a few series I have really enjoyed.  Undead and Unwed, by MaryJanice Davidson, kicks of a 12 book series detailing the exploits of Betsy Taylor, a single, unemployed 30 year old who becomes Queen of the Vampires.  This is a very fun read.  Betsy is an irreverent character, and can do things that other vamps can, like go in the sun and swear properly.  You will also learn a lot about women’s shoes by reading this series.  Alas, my ultimate recommendation is read the first few and be done.  They go off the rails later, and by off the rails I mean like falling into the Grand Canyon while on fire off the rails.

The story goes that Laurell K. Hamilton, who had a couple of novels out already, had difficulty in getting Guilty Pleasures published.  The horror people said it was a mystery, and the mystery people said it was fantasy, and the fantasy people said it was horror, etc.  Actually it is a crime noir style of book featuring Anita Blake, a woman who reanimates zombies for money and battles vampires on the side.  Once it did get published there was no stopping it, as the Anita Blake series is in the 20s and still going.  While the early volumes stayed true to the origins, up until the excellent Obsidian Butterfly, later ones took on a notably more sexual tone, for better or worse depending on your reading preferences.  I prefer the early ones, that mix many elements together, giving an elegant look at the gritty undead underbelly of St Loius.

A lot of  fantasy and paranormal series start small, as far as the monsters go.  You find out in book one that there are vampires, and then come the werewolfs in book two, and then on to all sorts of other lycanthopes and fairies and ghosts and what have you.  So one of the things I immediately liked about Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking was that it was a world that already had all of those things out in the open.  Rachel Morgan is a “runner”, essentially a bounty hunter for supernatural creatures.  While she tends to get the job done, often aided by her vampire and pixie partners, things rarely go as planned.  There is some Stephanie Plum influence here, and I mean that in a positive way.  Plus the titles are mostly Clint Eastwood allusions.

Category 4:  Token YA Book

Author Jodie Bliss takes a bite out of her profits.

I always enjoy finding a Young Adult novel that brings something fresh to the table.  Faking Faith, by Jodie Bliss, is the story of teenage Dylan, who is ostracized at school after a sexting incident.  She looks for refuge online, and is fascinated by the blogs of fundamentalist home schooled Christian girls.  She invents an online persona in order to interact with these girls, who are so different from her, and takes things as far as to visit one of them.  Of course her deceit is deceitful and has consequences.  It is a surprisingly nonjudgmental book, considering the topics it covers, and gives insight into teens from a fresh angle.

Category 5:  Nonfiction

Stalingrad statue.
The Motherland Calls. And I would listen if I were you. She’s kinda big.

Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most about Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad is the way it was researched.  If I wanted to study the epic and important battle I would…well, I would read Enemy at the Gates.  But other than that I would be doing a lot of online searching.  When William Craig set out to chronicle the battle there was no Internet.  It took him five years of studying archival materials and conducting interviews to produce this book, travelling to the Soviet Union (not such an easy things in the early 70s), Germany, Israel, and the UK.  His writing is approachable without stinting on the historical accuracy.  The Jude Law and Rachel Weisz movie about snipers at Stalingrad is of course fictionalized, but there are real events in the book that are crazier than Hollywood is.

And I suppose we must talk about that statue.  279 feet from the tip of the sword to the base of the feet and made with nearly 8000 tons of concrete, it is truly an engineering marvel.  I find it interesting that it is not attached to the base, but is standing on its own two feet.  The model used by the sculptor found that she was recognized by her resemblance to the finished product.  I hope to see it in person one day.

Category 6:  Short stories

May is short story month
Random Book Day does not bend to your rules.

I am not always keen on short stories.  Sometimes it seems that just when I am getting into the story it ends.  But there are some collections that I truly cherish.  First off we have 20th Century Ghosts, by the magnificent Joe Hill.  These are mostly horror stories, and the opener, “Best New Horror”, is pretty brutal.  But get past that one and you will find a surprising variety of high quality short fiction.  My favorite?  “Voluntary Committal” perhaps, but I think each time I read the book I have a new favorite.

My next book has a title that is true and yet misleading in a way.  Geektastic is a YA anthology with stories from a number of acclaimed authors.  Yes, geeks are the recurring narrative theme.  But the underlying theme here is acceptance.  Many of the stories emphasize that no matter what our hobbies and obsessions might be, we are all people.  At a con a Klingon (a girl) and a Jedi (a boy) meet, and their friends are horrified at this treason.  The couple realizes how absurd that is and head off for coffee.  A cheerleader enlists the help of geeks to boost her knowledge of Star Trek to impress her boyfriend, only to discover she likes some of this stuff more than he does.  A star baton twirler moves to another state, only to find her skills don’t carry the same popularity at her new school, and so on.  Good stuff.

Have you ever read a story, have no idea what is happening in it, yet can’t get enough of it?  If not, then give “Magic for Beginners” a shot.  The story appears in Kelly Link’s third story collection, Pretty Monsters.  Fantastic fantastical writings she does.  But don’t just take my word for it.  So far eight of her stories have won major awards.

Category 7:  Baseball

A baseball


Is anything as nostalgic as baseball?  And if you want to reminisce about baseball years gone by, your go to author is Roger Angell.  Not only is he one of the greatest of all baseball writers, but he wrote about different baseball eras, so you can choose the one that best fits your mood.  Or go with Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader, that collects some of his best writings from throughout the years.  And then you can tell everyone about how back in your day things, and especially baseball, were so much better.

Category 8:  Gillian Flynn

Dark Places book cover
I doubt you expected just a picture of the cover.

Back in August I finally read Flynn’s bestseller Gone Girl.  It was on the shelf at the library at the time.  Now, at the end of October, it has 333 holds on it.  Ah, the power of cinema.  Gone Girl was not her first book, nor was it the first one of hers I read.  Sharp Objects was her first book, which I stuck into my horror books blog.  Her second book, and the first I read, is Dark Places.  This is the story of Libby Bray, who as a girl survived the night her brother massacred the rest of their family.  As an adult, still carrying physical, mental and emotional scars of that horrible night, she reluctantly is drawn into an amateur sleuths attempts to prove her brother innocent.  The secrets they unearth are surprising and lead to, aptly enough, dark places.  Wonderful read, and lets hope that the movie version in production, starring Charlize Theron, lives up to it.

Hmm.  Didn’t even get close to 3000 words.  Must be losing my touch.  Anyway, one of the nice things about Random Book Day for you, the reader, is that you can mention, suggest, or ridicule any book you want in the comments section.

Find all of these books in our library catalog here:  https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=37759;page=0;locg=155;depth=0


ADHD Awareness Month

October is Attention –deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) awareness month.  As of 2011, approximately 8.8% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. Though it’s estimated that the rate of occurrence for ADHD is similar in adults, only 4.4% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD – a significant portion of the adult ADHD population goes undiagnosed and untreated.

216776_tomsan_adhd-bunnyThere are a lot of myths and misconceptions about ADHD and ADD (ADD has been somewhat recently re-categorized as a sub-type of ADHD- ADHD, Primarily Inattentive).

It’s not uncommon to hear people dismiss ADHD as a behavioral issue: “If only he’d try harder!,” “If her parents just made her…,” “She just doesn’t want to pay attention!” However, brain scans show that there is a significant difference in the brain activity of people diagnosed with ADHD versus neurotypical or “normal” participants. Nearly every mainstream medical, psychological, and educational organization in the United States recognizes ADHD as a real, brain-based medical disorder- which can benefit from treatment.

imagesAnother misconception about ADHD is that only rambunctious little boys are affected- which can be detrimental to girls and adults affected with ADHD. It’s common for teachers and parents to advocate for assessment and treatment for hyperactive boys, while girls (and boys with the inattentive subtype of ADHD) struggle through school with the disorder undiagnosed and untreated.

Similarly, there’s an expectation that children who are diagnosed with ADHD will outgrow it, and while some will “grow out of it” (generally by learning ways to cope with and overcome their symptoms), many others will continue to struggle into adulthood.  Some untreated students may perform well in school, but find it difficult to cope with new challenges when they reach university or adulthood. In addition to the toll untreated ADHD takes on school and work performance, ADHD can negatively impact relationships for children as well as adults- including marriages.  The risks for those undiagnosed into adulthood can be devastating.

ADHD: The good

Adult-ADHD-vidya-sury-3ADHD isn’t all negative- and it’s important to note that ADHD isn’t an indicator of the lack of intelligence, moral fiber, etc. It just means the brain works a bit differently than normal, which can lend itself to a lot of good traits: creativity, problem-solving, spontaneity, sensitivity and compassion, intuition, flexibility, enthusiasm, and so much more!

Athleticism can be another benefit of ADHD. Michael Phelps began swimming as a way to release the excess energy from his ADHD. He went on to become the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Leadership is another; many leaders throughout history have displayed traits of ADHD including Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Bill Gates.

If you or a family member have ADHD or suspect you may, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself and family is to research and read about it. There are tons of online forums where people with ADHD post about their own experiences living with ADHD. Knowing that you’re not alone in the struggle to cope with ADHD is often a great relief and can help get you on the road to treatment, whether that’s medication, ADHD coaching, or implementing ideas from others that can help you keep on top of your life!

Online Resources

ADHD/ADD Expert Webinar and Podcasts – from ADDitudemag.com

Facts About ADHD – From Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ADHD Homepage)

What is ADHD or ADD? – from National Resource Center on ADHD

Best Blog Posts on ADHD – from ADHD Awareness Month

Related Reading

Driven to distraction : recognizing and coping with attention deficit disorder from childhood through adulthood   -Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey.

ADD and ADHD  -George Capaccio.

ADHD and me : what I learned from lighting fires at the dinner table  -Blake E.S. Taylor.

Succeeding with adult ADHD : daily strategies to help you achieve your goals and manage your life  -Abigail Levrini and Frances Prevatt.

ADHD in HD : brains gone wild  -Jonathan Chesner.

Putting on the brakes : understanding and taking control of your ADD or ADHD  -Patricia O. Quinn and Judith M. Stern

¡No puedo estar quieto! : mi vida con ADHD   -Pam Pollack y Meg Belviso

The Roosevelts: Theodore

The Roosevelts are among the first families of American politics along with the Adams, Kennedys, and, more recently, the Bushes.  A major book and a documentary series on public television have renewed interest in this New York political family.   Doris Kearns Goodwin had already published on Franklin Delano Roosevelt  and his wife Eleanor during World War II.  In her latest work of non-fiction, she turns to the older Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and his Vice President William Howard Taft.    Ken Burns’ sets his cameras to examining the lives of the Roosevelt cousins Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor.

Burns film focuses on how the three Roosevelts overcame serious obstacles that challenged their lives.  Theodore  contended not only with asthma as a young man, but  with his wife and mother dying in the same house on the same day.  Franklin contracted a disease that left him tied to a wheelchair or with heavy braces on his legs for the rest of his life.   Eleanor was orphaned while still a child, and  as an adult, discovered fairly early in her marriage her husband had been unfaithful to her.  The rest of this blog will focus on Theodore.

Theodore Roosevelt was a weak child who transformed himself into a strong man.  His strengths were many:  he was a writer, a hunter, a cowboy, an explorer, a husband and a father and last, but not least, a politician. After attending  college at Harvard,  he married Alice Hathaway Lee In 1880. Alice died in 1884, a few days after giving birth to Roosevelt’s first child, named after her mother.  On the day wife died, Roosevelt suffered double loss, his mother had passed away a few hours earlier.  In 1886, he married Edith Kermit Carow.  Together they had five children, four boys and a girl:  Theodore, III, Kermit, Edith, Archibald, and Quentin.  Quentin was killed in aerial combat in World War I;  Theodore III, died in Europe  shortly after DDay in World War II.

Roosevelt’s political career began in the New York State Assembly, from there he was appointed to the United States Civil Service Service Commission, where he advocated strict adherence to the laws governing that aspect of government service.  In his brief tenure as a New York City, Police Commissioner, he reformed that department.  His next federal government job was Asst. Secretary of the Navy, where he managed the day to day operations of that branch of the military.  When Spanish-American War broke  out he organized and commanded the Rough Riders and fought in Cuba.   In 1898, he was elected Governor of New York, but in 1900, the Republican machine, to Roosevelt out of the state, sought Roosevelt’s nomination for the Vice President of the United State on the ticket with William McKinley, who was running for re-election.

When McKinley died at the hands of assassin, Roosevelt became the President of the United States.  Senator  Thomas Collier Platt commented, “That damned cowboy is the President of the United States.”   The attempt of the New York Republicans to shunt Roosevelt into a job where he no power backfired.

While Theodore Roosevelt was president, he ushered in what became known the Progressive Era.  He attempted to bust the powerful economic trusts and corporations who controlled the nation’s economy, regulate workers hours and conditions, control the environment and the methods of food production, set aside federal lands for recreation, etc. The Panama Canal was one Roosevelt’s greatest accomplishments.  He sent the naval fleet on a round the world tour.  Secretary War Taft and Alice Roosevelt toured the western Pacific on a diplomatic mission designed to impress the Japanese with American power.   He negotiated the  treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War and earned the Nobel Peace Prize.

When his term of office ended in 1909, he went on a world tour exploring and big game hunting, confident he had left the country in good hands in President Taft.  After returning to the United States, Roosevelt discovered Taft was not as progressive as he first thought.  When his successor ran for re-election in 1912 against Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt formed the Progressive (“Bull Moose’) party, splitting the Republicans, leading to Wilson’s victory.

For the next seven years, Roosevelt went an expedition to South America, causing him to have health problems, which he never fully recovered.  The death of his son Quentin during World War I affected his health even more and died in 1919.

 For further  reading:

James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn.  The Three Roosevelts: Patricians Leaders Who Transformed America.

Selected Books by Theodore Roosevelt:

The Naval War of 1812, 1882

Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail,1888

Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography, 1913

The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

Selected Books about Theodore Roosevelt:

H. W. Brands, T.R., The Last Romantic

Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit

Hermann Hagedorn, Roosevelt in the Badlands

Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt 

Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex

Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt

19 Scary Books for Any Horror Mood

By Chris

It is that time of the year, pumpkins (and pumpkin drinks), leaves, and of course, Halloween.  So I thought I would whip up a concoction of spine tingling reads, a variety of chills for whatever your horror mood is.  On this list you’ll find classics and new books, vampires and ghosts (but no zombies; I just did them), books for the young and the old, famous authors (and their children) and not so well known ones, bloody scares and psychological ones, and plenty more.  Put on your pointy hat, get your skeletons out of the closet, and read ahead if you dare.  Just make sure to leave the light on.

If you want a modern take on a classic, try:

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation cover
The cover is deceptively cheery.

H.P. Lovecraft is one of the masters of horror.  This book reads to me much like Lovecraft.  The protagonist (only referred to as “the biologist”) is part of a government sponsored expedition into mysterious Area X.  It is the 12th such group to enter, following in the footsteps of 11 failed ones.  They quickly find that things are more mysterious than they could have ever guessed, as reality itself seems to change, and our heroine slowly reveals her own secrets.


If you like found footage films, try:

Last Days, by Adam Nevill

Looks like the perfect spot for filming.
Looks like the perfect spot for filming.

The Blair Witch Project introduced the mainstream to a film genre known as “found footage“.  These tend to be horror films, such as the Paranormal Activity franchise.  Last Days looks to capture that feel in print.

Documentary filmmaker Kyle Freeman is hired to do a movie about a notorious 1970s cult known as the Temple of the Last Days.  As he retraces their troubled past he starts seeing unsettling and impossible things on his recordings.  And he soon finds that escaping this evil is much harder than just turning off his camera.


If you want to see how the son of a master writes, try:

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

It costs an extra $30 to personalize your plates in North Carolina.
It costs an extra $30 to personalize your plates in North Carolina.

For those, like me, who have trouble figuring out what those clever personalized license plates are supposed to mean, NOS4A2 equals Nosferatu.  And indeed, the villain in this excellent book, Charles Talent Manx, has some similarities to the Nosferatu of film fame.  Joe Hill, by the way, is the son of Stephen and Tabitha King.  His writing certainly lives up to the lofty standards set by his parents.

Manx travels around in his Rolls-Royce Wraith abducting children.  One these kids, Victoria McQueen, escapes his clutches, although at a heavy price.  Years later Manx is on the prowl again, and Vic once again finds herself caught up in his diabolical machinations, fighting against an enemy that is much more than just a man.


If you want a horror graphic novel, try:

The Sandman: The Doll’s House, by Neil Gaiman (and a variety of illustrators)

And they say comic books are for kids.
And they say comic books are for kids.

First off let me point out that this volume collects issues #9-16 of The Sandman comic book.  Preludes and Nocturnes, the preceding volume, is a great read, has plenty of scary moments, and lays the background, but I put The Doll’s House on this list because it is, to me, more of a horror read.  You can read more of what I have to say about The Sandman and graphic novels in general here.

We have in here trappings of a ghost story, with strange inhabitants of a boarding house; we have mystical figures with Dream and his siblings; we have a convention of serial killers; and we have The Corinthian, a nightmare come to life.  Just hope that he doesn’t take off his sunglasses.


If you want a classic ghost story, try:

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson


The Haunting of Hill House was published in 1959, and has been made into two feature films (the 1963 version is scary; the 1999 one…not so much, although it does have Liam Neeson not killing everything in sight and Owen Wilson getting decapitated).  But the story is not dated.

In the book a paranormal investigator invites several guests to stay with him in an old creepy mansion.  Right on cue supernatural shenanigans start occurring.  Or do they?  They mostly center around Eleanor, and Jackson does a wondrous job of raising the sense of terror without us ever really getting a good look, if you will, of any ghosts.  It becomes difficult to tell what is real and what is in the minds of the characters.  Spoiler alert: you are still left wondering at the end.


If you want to read a lesser known work by one of the greats, try:

Desperation, by Stephen King

I'm desperate for people to read this book.
I’m desperate for people to read this book.

You could write books about the books Mr. King has written.  Plenty of book lists have The Stand or The Shining or It on them.  I decided to talk about one of his other books.  A family driving cross-country is pulled over by the police in the little town of Desperation, Nevada.  They soon learn that the policeman isn’t just homicidal, but the vessel for a much greater evil.  They have only a short time to desperately escape Desperation.

King does what he does so well in this one, foreshadowing bad things to come.  But what really elevates Desperation is the companion novel The Regulators, written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym.  The Regulators is a mirror of Desperation, set in Ohio, with many of the same characters but in different roles, such as the children in one book being the parents in the other.  You can read either one first.

There was a TV movie made of Desperation, but I haven’t seen it.  Let me know if it is any good.


If you want to know if the book is scarier than the movie, try:

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

Fall is the season for soup.
Fall is the season for soup.

The Exorcist is widely regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made.  How scary is the book?  First off it was the basis for the movie (duh), and secondly it is based on an actual exorcism performed in 1949.  Make no mistake, this is a work of fiction, but Blatty did his research and presents a chillingly realistic tale.

Blatty also wrote the screenplay for the movie, and for other movies as well.


If you want to read something disturbing, try:

American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis

He needs to return some videotapes.
He needs to return some videotapes.

Full disclaimer here: American Psycho is one messed up book.  It is certainly the most extreme title on this list.  You will need a strong stomach to finish it.  The depictions of violence against women (and men) in this book are severe.  But that is not what this book is all about.

Patrick Bateman is an investment banker in the late 80s, living the life of women and drugs and money.  He is also an insane killer.  He shows as much pleasure in shiny new business cards as he does in dismembering people.  As the story progresses more and more bizarre things occur, such as Bateman arguing with a dry cleaner about their inability to get blood stains off his suits, and interludes that are in depth reviews of the works of Whitney Houston and Phil Collins.  In the end you can’t be sure how much of what Bateman tells us is real and how much is in his mind.  Either option is terrifying.

This book is quite controversial.  A neat bit of trivia is that Gloria Steinem, who was very opposed to the release of the book, is the stepmother of Christian Bale, who plays Bateman in the well done film version.


If you want to read a local author, try:

The Harvest, by Scott Nicholson

The truth is out there.
The truth is out there.

Set in southern Appalachia, the tiny town of Winshake is home to moonshiners, loggers, and trailer parks.  It is also the new home of something…else.  Something that crashed into the mountains and that now needs to feed.  Tamara Leon, a local teacher, finds herself caught up in the fight to discover, and defeat, the invader.

The Harvest is filled with fully fleshed out characters, bringing a level of realism that makes this book that much more scarier, especially for mountain folk.


If you want to read a Young Adult book, try:

Innocence, by Jane Mendelsohn

It's always the quiet ones.
It’s always the quiet ones.

Innocence was described to me as “Rosemary’s Baby, with vampires”.  Sold!  Fourteen year old Beckett has a hard enough time in life.  Her mother dies in an accident, she is sent to a new school, etc etc a lot of teen drama.  But then the strange starts.  Girls at school follow through on their suicide pacts and kill themselves.  She has nightmares, devastating nightmares beyond the norm.  And is that frozen blood in the freezer?

Innocence melds teen angst, pop culture, and critique of teen entitlement marvelously.


If you want to read a post-apocalyptic scare, try:

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

It does not have yellow bricks.
It does not have yellow bricks.

Okay, so The Road doesn’t have any ghosts, or zombies, or vampires, or aliens, or clowns.  It has a man and his son, walking on a road.  Big deal, right?  Well the road is pretty dirty…  There has been some type of cataclysm, perhaps nuclear.  Most life is gone, and the oncoming winter promises to be lethal.  The pair are heading south as quickly as they can, avoiding the predators that lurk about, men and women who will do anything to survive, namely by eating people.

This is a sparse harrowing tale of a world nearing its end.  A great example of a different way to give readers chills.


If you want to read something new, try:

The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

They shine for a reason.
They shine for a reason.

Harper Curtis was nothing much until he found that key.  The key that opened up a house that lets him time travel!  But there is a cost.  Harper is now compelled to track down the shining girls and to murder them.  Kirby Mazrachi was the one who got away.  And now she is hunting him.

The Shining Girls is as much thriller as horror novel, a surreal genre-bending mystery, and a book that will have readers hunting down Beukes’ other works.


If you want to read a book with a serial killer, try:

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

Many things can cut us.
Many things can cut us.

There are plenty of other books that probably fit the serial killer spot on this list better (The Silence of the Lambs, anybody?), but Flynn’s debut novel is too good to leave off.  With the movie of Flynn’s wonderful bestseller Gone Girl out here’s hoping this one gets some more attention.

Camille Preaker is a newspaper journalist in Chicago who is sent to the tiny southern town of Wind Gap to report on the killings of two girls.  Straightforward enough.  Of course Camille is sent because she is from Wind Gap.  Her mother owns much of the town.  Her half sister is at turns loving and manipulative.  Camille focuses on herself so much, dealing with her family, drinking heavily, resisting cutting more words into herself, that the horrors lying under the surface creep up unnoticed.


If you want a vampire book, try:

Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The Swedish cover, because I can.
The Swedish cover, because I can.

On the surface this seems like a teen book.  It isn’t.  12 year old Oskar is bullied at school and comes from a broken home.  When Eli moves in next door, things start to change.  Because Eli is a vampire.  She helps Oskar deal with the bullies and other issues, and they become close.  But being a vampire isn’t easy, and not everyone gets a happy ending.

This Swedish novel competently tackles many issues, such as bullying, alcoholism, and paedophilia, in addition to being a cracking good vampire story.  There have been two film versions, a Swedish one and an American one (titled Let Me In, and set in New Mexico), and both are worth a watch.


If you want to read a book with children behaving badly, try:

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Here piggy piggy piggy.
Here piggy piggy piggy.

Lord of the Flies?  Really?  In a horror blog?  Long before we had children killing each other for sport in The Hunger Games, we had Lord of the Flies.  And this book is scary.  Many of us read it in school and perhaps our young minds didn’t fully appreciate it.  These kids turn savage.  It is shocking how quickly the little society they are forced to form turns bad.

I read it twice in school, in 8th and 12th grade.  My 12th grade teacher was incensed that 8th graders were given this book to read.  Pretty sure Stephen King read this in school as well.  Where do you think Castle Rock comes from?


If you want a scary book for children, try:

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Trust the cat.
Trust the cat.

What things make children feel safe?  I would say two of the biggest things are home and mother.  Coraline turns this on its head.

Coraline’s parents move with her out to the country, renting a flat in an old house filled with eccentric neighbors.  While exploring Coraline finds her way into a mirror world, where her “other mother” dotes on her and everything seems wonderful.  The fact that her other mother and other father have buttons for eyes is the first clue that things are not so wonderful after all.

Recommended for ages 8-12, Coraline is a good read for adults as well.  The movie is a stop-motion masterpiece.


If you want a political horror book, try:

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
You are to be seen and not heard.

Another entry on the list without monsters lurking in the shadows.  In the not too distant future the United States government had been overthrown and a theocracy has taken its place.  With sterility common due to rampant pollution and disease, high ranking members of the ruling Sons of Jacob utilize the services of Handmaidens, who are essentially concubines.  Offred, the heroine of our story, is one of these Handmaidens.

Offred, a college student before the revolution, gives us an inside view of this new society, and we see that many talk the talk of their religion but do not walk the walk.  Scary in its plausibility, and in the fear of the loss of freedoms.  Similar in tone is When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan, that is more contemporary and focuses closely on reproductive rights.


If you don’t like big box stores, try:

The Store, by Bentley Little

Bargains abound.
Bargains abound.

We are all familiar with the tales of those big box stores coming to town and forcing the small local shops out of business.  But what if that big store wanted more than just profits?  What if the Store wanted everything, including our lives and souls?

Little, an accomplished horror writer, takes a strained premise and turns it into a smart and scary read.   The good writers make us believe in the unbelievable, and that is the case here.


If you want a book that comes highly recommended, try:

The Ruins, by Scott Smith

Because nothing bad ever happens at creepy abandoned places.
Because nothing bad ever happens at creepy abandoned places.

While researching this blog I looked at lots of lists of best horror books, and The Ruins was one that showed up on an awful lot of them.  I haven’t read it yet, but I am taking the recommendations of fellow horror fans and putting it on my list of books to read.

I also haven’t seen the movie, but I understand that they changed the ending.




Seems to me that if you can’t find a good read in that list for those dark and stormy nights then maybe horror is not for you.  Let me know what you think of this list, and share your own recommendations for scary reads.


A list of the titles mentioned in this blog can be found here:


Let’s Talk About Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult.

Have you heard the name? I’m sure you have. But if you haven’t, keep reading because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you. (And also, keep reading even if you have heard the name because Jodi Picoult is fantastic.)

Jodi Picoult has written 22 novels thus far. She covers topics from: a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome (House Rules) to a five year old being sexually abused (Perfect Match) to a woman befriending a man who confesses to her that he wants her to help him die because he used to be a Nazi SS guard (The Storyteller). Picoult writes it all, and it’s controversial, and it’s close to home at times, and it sucks you in so that you not only cannot stop flipping the pages, but you also end up with multiple shelves of all of her books in your home. Er, wait. That last one was me. But it is also now my mom, and some of my friends, and any others I have suggested Picoult to. Who knows? Maybe you could be next.

It’s a good thing, I promise.

I mean, this is the woman who was asked to write several issues of the Wonder Woman comic book series.

So why all the fuss? You ask. Well, it’s because Jodi Picoult’s new book, Leaving Time, comes out in less than a week! Leaving Time will be in libraries and bookstores across the nation on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

Leaving Time
If you visit Jodi Picoult’s website, there’s loads of info about Leaving Time, including:

  • a synopsis
  • information on how Picoult researched for the book
  • A Day in the Elephant Sanctuary video
  • A Conversation with Jodi about Leaving Time
  • Book Club discussion questions for Leaving Time
  • Related eShorts and Novellas
  • an excerpt from Leaving Time

Here’s the synopsis from her website if you’re not quite sure about it yet and need a little more nudging:

“For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers.”

If it sounds interesting to you, here’s Leaving Time in our catalog.

And if you want to try one of Picoult’s other novels first, or after, if you’ve come back to this post after devouring Leaving Time, here are all of Jodi Picoult’s works in our catalog.



What the Heck is a Graphic Novel?

By Chris

Graphic novels!  A bit of a buzz word in libraries.  It is a term many have heard but not everyone knows what it means.  Simply put, graphic novels are comic books.  A little less simply, they are comic books that are in book form.  And like all books, they come in all shapes and sizes and for all ages.

Now I could blather on about the origin of the term and all that, but that is boring and is also what wikipedia is for.  I could also go on about comics in general and their variety (and controversy) and such, but instead I am just going to start listing some varying examples of graphic novels.  You might surprised at how variable they really are.

Comic Books

Avengers assemble!
Avengers assemble!

Many graphic novels are just comics books rebound and repackaged.  The graphic novel versions often have additional material, such as introductions or alternate cover galleries.  Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 1: The Fantastic reprints issues #1-6 of the regular monthly comic book.  Captain America Reborn contains all the issues of a limited series comic.  Batman The Greatest Stories Ever Told has compiles batman comics ranging from 1939 to 2002.  By the way, Thor is now a girl.

Ultimate Fantastic Four: The Fantastic

Captain America Reborn

Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

All-star Superman

The Amazing Spider-man


Newspaper Strips

Presumably that sammie is made with the good stuff, not chunk light tuna.
Presumably that sammie is made with the good stuff, not chunk light tuna.

Some graphic novels are compilations of newspaper comic strips.  Typically these are in chronological order, and it can be neat to follow story arcs and also to see the evolution of the comic over the years.  Peanuts is a great example of this, as characters came and went and the art changed over time.  I also like reading old Doonesbury strips and seeing what current events Trudeau was incorporating into his stories.

Peanuts: A Golden Celebration

Garfield Rolls On

Dude: The Big Book of Zonker

In Search of the Far Side

The Revenge of the Baby-sat: A Calvin and Hobbes collection

The Bloom County Library


Authors and Adaptations

Those are bulletproof bracelets.
Those are bulletproof bracelets.

Many well known authors have written comics, and also have had their books adapted into graphic novels.  For instance, Jodi Picoult wrote several issues of Wonder Woman in 2007.  Max Brooks has a new graphic novel out.  Joe Hill writes an excellent comic series.  Brad Meltzer has written more than one comic.  And not just authors.  Patton Oswalt, William Shatner, and Kevin Smith are some of the many celebrities who have penned comics.

Similarly, a lot of writers have had their books turned into graphic novels, including James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer, Terry Pratchett, Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Patricia Briggs…the list goes on.

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder (Picoult)

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (Hill)

Witch & Wizard: Battle for Shadowland (Patterson)

Twilight: The Graphic Novel (Meyer)

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files



Manga nirvana.
Manga nirvana.

Manga are Japanese comics, or comics done in the Japanese style.  This is not to be confused with anime, which are Japanese animated movies.  Manga has become very popular in the US in recent years.  The typical manga book is smaller than the typical graphic novel, being closer in size to a paperback novel.  Most of them, whether translated from the Japanese or created in that style, are read “back to front”.  While graphic novels can be stand alones or part of a series, manga are almost always part of a series.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

D. Gray-man



Nice skull you've got there.
Nice skull you’ve got there.

Classic works of literature often receive the graphic novel treatment.  Shakespeare is common this way, unsurprisingly, and he is joined by many others, such as Poe and Austen.  These versions have some similarities to the Great Illustrated Classics series, giving younger readers an introduction to the classics.  The graphic novels can provide a nice overview and summation of works that can be intimidating or hard to understand for students, notably with Shakespeare.


Edgar Allan Poe: Graphic Classics

A Wrinkle in Time: the Graphic Novel


Pop Culture

Is that a rabbit with a blaster? Yes. Yes it is.

Many movies, TV shows, and other pop culture things end up as comics and graphic novels.  Star Wars, The Simpsons, Dungeons and Dragons, Aliens, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are just a few.  Some of these might simply be a comic version of the movies, such as the first Star Wars comics, or might be completely original stores, such as most of the 100s of Star Wars comics printed since.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures (great for younger readers)

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago  (the first Star Wars comics)

Star Wars Empire: The Wrong Side of the War  (more contemporary Star Wars comic)

Simpsons Comics Belly Buster

Dungeons & Dragons 1:  Shadowplague

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin



Go, Bone, Go!

The bulk of comics come from the two big companies, DC and Marvel, but they aren’t the only publishers of comics.  These days there are many companies putting out comics.  Some of these are pretty big, such as Dark Horse, Image, and IDW, while many others remain largely unknown.  There was a time, though, that the smaller independent publishers had a harder time breaking out into the mainstream.

Did you know that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out as a comic back in 1984?  We can go back farther too, like for The Adventures of Tintin, which first appeared in 1929, and since the series has sold over 200 million copies.  Indie comics have often broken out of the mold of superheroes, giving readers some nice alternatives to the spandex crowd.

The Adventures of Tintin

Out From Boneville

ElfQuest, Wolfrider


Serious Comics

A serious comic about a serious issue.
A serious comic about a serious issue.

While most graphic novels are light hearted affairs, some tackle very serious issues.  Maus, by Art Spiegelman, is a good example in this, as it explores the Holocaust.  Maus was the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize.  Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi,  is an autobiographical graphic novel about a girl growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran.  Newsweek named Persepolis one of the top 10 fiction books of the 2000s, and the movie version received an Academy Award nomination.  Blankets is by Craig Thompson and is a coming of age story about a teen struggling with his Christian faith, and an award winning book.

Maus: My Father Bleeds History

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood


9-11: Artists Respond



Dream and Death from The Sandman
Dream and Death from The Sandman

I thought a great way to end this post was to list some of my personal favorite graphic novels.

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted.  Collecting the first six issues of a new X-Men series, this is one of my all time favorite superhero comics.  It is written by Joss Whedon (art by John Cassaday).  Yes, that Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and director of The Avengers and so on and so forth.  The characters behave like real people.  They are heroic when needed but also have their own feelings and drama.  Plus an exciting twist.  It has even been adapted into a full length novel, penned by longtime comic writer Peter David.

Watchmen.  Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s tour de force may not have been the first graphic novel, but it is the one that put them on the map.  And it stands as one of the great pieces of modern literature, as evidenced by the number of accolades it has received.

The Sandman.  Written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by a host of artists, The Sandman series (75 issues) showed how comics could incorporate mature themes and appeal to adult audiences.  Issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings”, is perhaps my favorite comic ever.  Gaiman went on to become a bestselling author of novels for both children and adults.

Flight is a series of comic anthologies, basically graphic short stories.  The series was conceived and is edited by Kazu Kibuishi with a goal of showcasing young comics creators.  I really enjoy the series because of the great variety of stories and art you find in it.

Unshelved.  I think I would be remiss in this blog not to mention a graphic novel that takes place in a library.  Unshelved is actually a webcomic created by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes.  It follows the toils and travails of the staff of the fictional Mallville Public Library.  It is a great way to see things from the other side of the desk.  I used to have a Read Responsibly shirt.


I hope that some of you found this post educational and put graphic novels, and all comics for that matter, in a different light.Share with me your insights, favorites, and recommendations!

A list of the graphic novels mentioned in this post can be found in our library catalog here:  https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=28691;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

fREADom- Celebrate the Right to Read

banned-booksThis week (Sept. 21-27) is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Every year, the American Library Association collects reports of attempts to ban or challenge books in classrooms, schools, and public libraries in order to study censorship and raise awareness. Check out the Top Ten Challenged Books lists of the 21st Century, which also includes reasons the book were challenged.

The reasons for the challenging of these “banned books” elicit pause: violence, sexually explicit, racism, drugs… all things that might keep you up at night, especially if you have children. Other reasons may be seen as more subjective or dependent upon personal values: political viewpoint, Occult/Satanism, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint. The majority of challenges came from parents.

Parenting is hard. There’s a constant questioning that comes along with parenthood- you never really know if you’re doing the best thing for your child. Decision making is made even more difficult when you’re dealing with difficult subjects: racism, violence, sex. Part of being a parent is the drive to protect your child, wanting to shield them from all the terrible things in the world- things that you hope they will never have to experience personally.

I certainly can understand the desire to shield children from some subjects. They’re kids: blank, unmarred slates upon which, as parents/educators/caretakers, we draft a filter through which the child will experience the world. I say draft, because at some point they’ll grow up.  They’ll explore the world for themselves, holding fast to some of what they’ve been taught and replacing others with new truths- the world as they define it. I hold no delusions that my daughter will see the world as I see it, and that’s the best thing I could hope for! The world is constantly changing.

110924_censorship_banned-booksI’ve talked a bit before about my take on parenting in the digital age and it’s a stance I take on books as well. These “hard truths” (some admittedly harder than others) are, in my opinion, best dealt with head-on.  I believe unfettered access to information is best for my child. My husband and I try to keep an open dialogue with our daughter, where (we hope) she feels comfortable asking us questions about anything. Banning children from accessing information just makes them more curious to do it anyway, with the added disadvantage of having no authority figure to consult if things get confusing.

So with that in mind, I’ll encourage my daughter to read anything she takes an interest in. I did find some studies about children’s exposure to inappropriate material (though they all dealt with media in general, none specifically about books), but nearly all agreed that banning your child from all inappropriate media is an impossible feat and evidence suggests talking openly with children ameliorates any negative effects that such media may otherwise have. On the other other hand, there are numerous studies about the positive impact of reading on children, even beyond early literacy.

If you’re interested in checking out a banned book, visit your local library for their “Banned Books Week” display or check out some of these:

Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

“The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “religious viewpoints” and for being “unsuited for age group.”


Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

“Of all the contenders for the title of The Great American Novel, none has a better claim than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Intended at first as a simple story of a boy’s adventures in the Mississippi Valley – a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – the book grew and matured under Twain’s hand into a work of immeasurable richness and complexity.” – Good Reads

Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”


Harry PotterHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (& series) - J.K. Rowling

“Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick, never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys… But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives… with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him…” – Good Reads

Challenged for promoting “occult/Satanism.”


BoneBone  (& series) - Jeff Smith

In this graphic novel, “three modern cartoon cousins get lost in a pre-technological valley, spending a year there making new friends and out-running dangerous enemies. Their many adventures include crossing the local people in The Great Cow Race, and meeting a giant mountain lion called RockJaw: Master of the Eastern Border. They learn about sacrifice and hardship in The Ghost Circles and finally discover their own true natures in the climatic journey to The Crown of Horns.” - Good Reads

Challenged for “political viewpoints,” “racism,” and “violence.”


BelovedBeloved – Toni Morrison

“Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby…. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “sexual content,” “violence,” and “discussion of beastiality.”


The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

“Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “homosexuality,” “offensive language,” and for being “sexually explicit.”


Adventures of Captain UnderpantsThe Adventures of Captain Underpants – Dav Pilkey

“Two fourth-grade boys who write comic books and love to pull pranks find themselves in big trouble. Mean Mr. Krupp, their principal, videotapes George and Harold setting up their stunts and threatens to expose them. The boys’ luck changes when they send for a 3-D Hypno-Ring and hypnotize Krupp, turning him into Captain Underpants, their own superhero creation.” – Good Reads

Challenged for “offensive language,” “violence,” and being “unsuited for age group.”


Gone with the WindGone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell

“Gone with the Wind is a novel written by Margaret Mitchell, 1st published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, GA, & Atlanta during the American Civil War & Reconstruction era. It depicts the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to come out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea.” – Good Reads

Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”


by Amy

The War of 1812

By Stephen

A few weeks ago, the British Embassy in Washington sparked a controversy when it released a Tweet celebrating the burning of the American capital by British soldiers in 1814.  That story was a reminder to Americans that  the nation is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.  More to the point, this last weekend was the same anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore,  during which Frances Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The direct cause of the War of 1812 was the impressment of American sailors by British Navy vessels.   But actually relations between the United States and Great Britain had been declining during the first decade of the  nineteenth century, while the this country had been trying stay neutral in the war between the French and the British.    The British passed trade laws which the United States stated violated international law and interfered its trade with France.  Moreover the the British had been arming Native American tribes in what now the Mid-West.

There was a split along party lines on the decision to go to war with Great Britain.  The Federalists, ancestors of the present-day Republicans, were against it, because it would interfere with New England (an area where the Federals were strong) trade with the British. On the contrary, Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans favored the war.

Like the Revolutionary War, native Americans split their allegiance with northern tribes supporting the British  and the Cherokees, Choctaw, and some of the Creeks were loyal to the Americans.  The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh was successful in building a British backed confederation in the north , but he only managed to the northern or Red Stick Creeks to join his confederation in the south, causing a civil war amongst the tribe.  Andrew Jackson was responsible for defeating the  Red Sticks with force consisting of militia from Tennessee, some regular army troops, Cherokees, and the southern Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend .

While the British were involved with fighting Napoleon in Europe, some Americans thought it would a good time annex Canada to the United States.  The war in the Canadian theater was fought both on the Great Lakes and the Niagara frontier. The Canadians, many of the Loyalists who escaped north after the Revolutionary War, with Indian allies, resisted the American invasion.

On the positive side of things, the United States Navy came into its own both on the Atlantic and the  Great Lakes, defeating the British and Canadians on the water.  In the Atlantic, American frigates, which were bigger and out gunned their British counterparts, won a number of battles. The Admiralty ordered British ships not engage the American unless they had 2 to 1 odds or greater.   However, when the British fleet were free from blocking the coast of Europe, and came across the Atlantic with their ships of the line, American frigates stayed in port.  

Where the American navy did the nation proud, the land troops, with few exceptions, performed poorly. The War of 1812 is notable for being the last time the continental United States was invaded by a foreign nation.  (Note: Japan did invade part of the Aleutian Islands during World War II. )  The British were defeated at Baltimore, but the Americans could not defend their capital, sending government officials scurrying for their lives, leaving the invaders to burn government buildings, including the Executive Mansion. When it was repainted, the president’s mansion got its new unoffical name, The White House.

The biggest land victory for the American came after the war was officially over, when Andrew Jackson’s army of westerners and pirates overcame British regulars outside New Orleans under command of General Edward Pakenham, who was killed and sent home in a barrel of alcohol. Meanwhile, American and British negotiators reached agreement on the Treaty of Ghent.  The results of the war were inconclusive, with neither side gaining any territory (“Status quo, ante bellum”).

For Further Reading:

Brookshiser, Richard.  James Madison.

Buchanan, John.  Jackson’s Way:  Andrew Jackson and the People of the Western Waters.

Cote, Richard N.  Strength and Honor:  The Life of Dolly Madison.

Molotsky, Irvin.  The Flag, the Poet & the Song.

Robotti, Frances Diane and James Vescovi. The USS  Essex and the Birth the American Navy

Roosevelt, Theodore. The Naval War of 1812.

Standiford, Les.  Washington Burning.

Toll, Ian W.  Six Frigates:  The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy.