Have space suit – will travel

I was crazy about outer space as a kid.  I had astronaut pajamas, and I remember as a 5-year old jumping into bed to go to sleep and doing a countdown (5…4…3…2…1 – Blastoff!) before closing my eyes and pretending my bed was a rocket.

I also had the book “You will go to the Moon” and re-read it endlessly.  I suppose with that kind of a background, it is not very surprising to learn that I eventually ended up reading science fiction.  After all, astronauts had already gone to the moon – I needed something more.

My ticket to this interest in reading was granted by a kind librarian at my public library.  On my first visit to their new building, she noticed me wandering in the stacks and asked me what kind of books I liked.  I replied, “Books about outer space!”  She led me to a section of the stacks and pointed to some books that had rocket ships on the spines {something like this:  scifi-rocket}

She handed one to me titled “Have space suit – will travel.”

It was my first book by an author named Robert A. Heinlein.

Robert Heinlein is generally acknowledged to be one of the giants of early science fiction, not just by readers and fans, but also by other authors.  His writing career, started only after prematurely ended stints in the military, politics, and as an inventor (for example, one of the first modern designs for the waterbed in 1942) began with his first published story in 1939; originally written for a $50 prize in a writing contest, he instead sold it for considerably more.  He quickly dominated the science fiction genre; in the year after (1940), he wrote and saw published three short novels, four novelettes, and seven short stories. One could say that no one else really dominated their genre as Heinlein did in the first few years of their careers.

The book that won me over [Have space suit – will travel] was the last of his twelve titles that were known as “Heinlein juveniles.”  What would now be known as YA, or Young Adult, these twelve titles are considered some of his best works – I quickly found and read all the earlier titles after discovering this author. Published by Scribner’s, these books came out every year before Christmas between 1947 and 1958.  However, Heinlein felt constrained by his editors and their target audience, and he jumped to a new publisher (Putnam) when his 13th title was rejected by Scribner’s.  That book was Starship Troopers, and became rather controversial in its time for its admiring portrayal of the military; it was followed by titles that were real game-changers and blockbusters in science fiction: Stranger in a strange land, and The Moon is a harsh mistress.  Each of these is considered by many to be a contender for being known as his best (vs. his juvenile titles).

Heinlein wrote 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections published in his lifetime. Four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game were derived from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers’ Sci Fi short stories.

Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another, based on Heinlein’s notes and outline and written by Spider Robinson, was published in 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.

From waterbeds to waldos, from TANSTAAFL to “grok”, from Space Marines and powered battle armor to Tribbles and the concept of “paying it forward,” Heinlein left his mark and legacy on our time. He has had an asteroid, a crater on Mars, and an endowed chair in Aerospace Engineering at the US Naval Academy named after him.  Try one of the 153 works under his name found in NC Cardinal, and you might find him, as I did, to be a favorite.

On Janisse Ray, Environment, and History’s Knack for Repeating Itself

I have recently revisited Georgia-born author Janisse Ray’s work of nonfiction titled Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodThe book’s innards are in the title as Ray alternates chapters where she recounts her  childhood memories with contrasting subject matter of the unique ecology of southern Georgia’s coastal plain otherwise known as the longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystem. Janisse Ray focuses her narrative on the connection she’s had with nature since she was a child growing up on her father’s junkyard in the small town of Baxley, Georgia. Janisse Ray’s childhood respect and love for the flatlands and rivers of south Georgia is what propelled her to become an environmental activist later in her life. She fought to save the Altamaha River as well as Moody Swamp of the Moody Forest Preserve. All of her works, poetry and nonfiction, deal with the ecological reality that is facing, has faced, or will face Georgia.

Ray’s understanding of humans, nature, and their effects on each other is well-present and striking in her childhood memories as well as in her accounts of the natural and human history of Georgia. She explains the detrimental consequences that followed after the industrial logging boom following the Civil War. The longleaf pines of the wiregrass ecosystem were logged nearly to extinction. To date, there is only a fraction of a percent of old-growth longleaf pine forests left in Georgia. Janisse Ray grew up right in the middle of the Southern Coastal Plain of Georgia in a mostly rural Appling County. She sometimes calls it ugly–because it is. It always has been, in a way. Georgia’s ugliness is attributed to its past: slavery, racism, environmental degradation, poverty, etc. Janisse Ray’s Georgia is a far cry from tall columns and extravagant plantations and gatherings–her Georgia is dilapidated, rusty, worn, cluttered, but still wild, beautiful, vast, and full of possibility.

Areas of Georgia, much like Ray’s hometown of Baxley, have time and time again acted as battlegrounds where people in power with interest in land and resources clash with resisting landowners and citizens. This situation played out when Europeans and members of the Creek nation were in contact with each other. The Creek people participated in the trade economy that began in Georgia when the James Oglethorpe and his colonists began to move in. Whitetail deerskin was one of the main commodities traded by the Creek. Toward the beginning of the 19th century, the whitetail deer population had been vastly over-hunted, the United States were pushing for the Creek to adopt a rancher/planter lifestyle to which many of them resisted, and ultimately, a civil war broke out that ended with a treaty signed over to Andrew Jackson (and also his namesake) that ended in the Creek ceding 22 million acres–much of which was in southern Georgia. Ultimately, the dispossessed Creek were rounded up and forcibly removed to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi.

The ghosts of Georgia will never forget the dark legacy that has plagued Georgia since before it was Georgia. When I was a student at Valdosta State University, a new battle was coming to fruition in the form of coal and biomass plants–projects that many were opposed to, many were open to, and many were utterly unaware. A land ripe with resources, possessing a significant number of people living below the poverty line and minorities, is the first place that is considered for energy projects that pose a risk to the drinking water, delicate ecosystems, and many other socio-economical aspects. Why? It’s called environmental racism. Environmental racism is a term that refers to the type of discrimination that occurs when low-income or minority communities are targeted for energy projects that pose a risk to their health and environment. This is playing out thousands of miles away over the Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed pipeline is meeting resistance because it will go through sacred land, disrupt and destroy cultural resources, pollute drinking water, and more.

The Colonial Pipeline is yet another pipeline that has made the headlines recently when there was a massive leak in Alabama–causing gas shortages and water and land contamination. The Colonial Pipeline snakes through states like Alabama, Georgia, and other southeastern states and all the way up to the northeast. The state of Georgia has also made headlines for fighting off yet another pipeline called the Palmetto Pipeline that would go all the way down the Georgia coast. Community members of Savannah, Brunswick, Augusta, and other surrounding communities successfully but temporarily were able to halt construction on this project because of their environmental concerns. A judge ruled in favor of a temporary moratorium on petroleum corporations using eminent domain as a means to take land for pipeline projects. But this is not where is ends. There is yet another pipeline going through Georgia.

This time it is through south Georgia.

The very same south Georgia that was ceded by the Creeks. The very same south Georgia that was purged of most of its majestic longleaf pines and many of the creatures that were dependent upon it. The Sabal pipeline construction has begun on the land adjacent to the land my family has owned and tended since around the Revolutionary war. The family who owns the property adjacent to ours was given thousands of dollars to allow the pipeline to go through their land that is cow pasture, forest, ponds and streams, and more. If they were to resist the offer from the contractors, the land would be eventually taken as eminent domain. The Sierra Club has recently filed a lawsuit against the Sabal pipeline as it will go through several state parks, wetlands and watersheds, and act as a major threat to the quality of drinking water–most of which is in an aquifer beneath a layer of very porous limestone. As if a pipeline’s risk to water isn’t enough–limestone is a very absorbent material that will allow any leakages to readily seep into the water table.

It’s times like this that I turn to figures like Janisse Ray. In her writing, she laments the bygone days when huge, majestic longleaf pines stood like “batallions coming out of the mist,” and the many species that dwindled alongside their giant pines–their keepers. She does not, however, leave the reader with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. She stresses the importance of family–no matter how dysfunctional. She focuses on the importance of activism and education when environmental and social issues arise. She does not ignore the fact that many conservation efforts are alive and well in all corners of this earth, and there is always a reason to hope and dream and fight for what is dear. She reminds us that nature and her creatures, including humans, are resilient and ever-changing.

Why Read Moby Dick?

I don’t recall if I ever attempted to read Moby Dick in the past.  I have faint memories of seeing Gregory Peck on the movie screen as the one legged Captain Ahab driven to madness in his striving to get revenge from the great white whale.  At that time, over sixty years ago, we had Classic Comics.  They would now be called graphic novels.    (To see the cover of Classic Comic of  Moby Dick  click on the title. )  So why at my advanced age did I decide to read Moby DickTo begin with, I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s National Book Award winning book, In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, about the real incident in 1820 on which Melville based his novel.   Second, I read his  book entitled, Why Read Moby Dick.

 The story of The Essex takes place in a time, 1820, when, as soon a ship was out of sight of the shore, its crew was out of reach of help should a crisis occur.  Although navigation had improved since the European explorers cast off their harbors, ship to shore communication had not, and would not until the invention of the radio at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

According to National Geographic’s website, a Sperm Whale is 49 to 59 feet long and weights 35 to 45 tons.  The whale that sunk the Essex hit the ship’s bow, splintering it, causing the vessel to start sinking.   The survivors left the wreck in three whale boats (the smaller vessels actually used to hunt the whales) and eventually attempted to make it to west coast of South America, which was over 2,000 miles to the east.  There are no spoilers here – to find out how survivors, if any, were rescued, you will have to read the book!

Whales had a very valuable product:  oil!  Before the discovery of petroleum,  whale oil was used in lamps and other products.  But getting whale oil was a dangerous occupation and very labor intensive.   Crews on whale ships would stay at sea for up to three years while searching the oceans of the earth for whales.  For example,  The Essex left Nantucket on August 21, 1819 sailing east, with the prevailing winds, to the Azore Islands, then southeast to Cape Azore Islands off the coast of Africa.  The next step of the vessel’s journey was southwesterly along the east coast of South America, then around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean.  After preceding north, picking up provisions along the way, up the west coast of South America, The Essex headed west, south of the Galapagos Islands, until November 20, 1820, when she was rammed  by a whale and sunk.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s father was a English professor who introduced his two sons to Moby Dick at a young age.  Philbrick states he has read Moby Dick at least a dozen times.  He has found:

“Contained  in the pages of Moby Dick is nothing less the genetic code of America: all the promises, problems, conflicts, and ideals that contribute and to the outbreak of a revolution in 1775 as well as a civil war in 1861 and continue to drive this country’s ever-contentious march into the future.” (p. 6)

Unfortunately, Moby Dick did not sell well during Melville’s lifetime.  From the time the book was published, 1851, until the author’s death, 1891, the now classic  sold only 3,715 copies. That’s under a hundred copies a year.   It was not until after World War I that critics, especially contemporary  20th century writers,  took notice of Melville’s novel.

Although I’ve had a copy in my library for over sixty years,  I have not taken time to read Moby Dick, but I am reading it now.  Why should I read it at all?  Why should you read it?  What role did Nathaniel Hawthorne play in the writing of Moby Dick?  Read Nathaniel Philbrick’s relatively short book to answer those questions.

Go to the following websites if  you desire to find out more about sperm whales and the 19th century American whaling industry.


America the Dutiful

Freedom of information is an internationally recognized fundamental human right (as an extension of freedom of speech). The ideology of free speech is thought to have emerged in ancient Athens in the late 6th or early 5th century BC. England’s Bill of Rights 1689, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1791), The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)- these historic and foundational documents all enshrine the free communication of ideas as “one of the most precious rights of man” and a core principle of democracy. Your freedom of speech is being fought for every day:

edasnerhwofmay2013The free access to information is not a privilege, but a necessity for any free society. One of my favorite things to do as a young man was wander through the stacks of my hometown library. I’d just browse until I found something interesting. Libraries have definitely changed my life.

-Ed Asner

“Freedom of information” is often referred to today in terms of government transparency- like the Freedom of Information Act. But there are other informational avenues under attack, less often recognized. As part of Banned Books Week, libraries in Macon, Jackson, and Swain Counties have been celebrating & raising awareness  with displays encouraging the public to check out books that are frequently challenged or banned. Since 1982, more than 11,300 book titles have been challenged (the ALA publishes a list of the 100 most frequently challenged book by decade if you want to be a renegade reader!).

Authors are not only guaranteed the freedom to write what they want (some limitations may apply), everyone has the freedom to read what they want (read fREADom – Celebrate the Right to Read for my soapbox rebuttal to “What about the children?”)

Stop by your library and checkout a banned book!

Freedom of Speech has been interpreted as freedom of expression in any media and extends into freedom of information and the right to privacy (the EFF has won several court cases protecting privacy and free speech online).  In addition to Banned Books Week, we observe Banned Websites Awareness Day on the Wednesday during Banned Books week, Sept. 28th this year. This day seeks to raise awareness of the growing information censorship in schools and libraries alike.

Part of this issue relates to CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), enacted by Congress in 2000 to “protect” children from accessing harmful or obscene content on the internet. This legislation was tied to the funding mechanism which subsidizes internet for schools and public libraries. In order to protect their funding (better safe than sorry?), many organizations over-filter and reach well beyond the requirements of CIPA. This, combined with an imperfect technology, means that access to many legitimate, educational websites is blocked for children, teachers, librarians, and the general public.


Many schools even block access to social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter. Some of these students are tasked with learning about media and outreach avenues as a means to educate and are not given access to the tools they need to learn. We’re doing a disservice to students (and teachers) by limiting their experiences; in addition to not getting practice critically filtering web-based information on their own, we’re also reinforcing the idea that social media & the internet are distractions to learning rather than tools to connect, communicate, and educate. Teaching students that the internet is a cesspool and a waste of time… well, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By shielding people from the internet, we foster exactly what we’re trying to protect them from— and failing to cultivate good digital citizenship in the process.

orwell-quoteThe issues of censorship go beyond publicly funded institutions. There have been 20 documented government ordered “internet shutdowns” globally in the first 6 months of 2016.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, anyone can claim ownership of content and have it removed from web hosts or search engines without any proof and without any recourse or appeal (in practice- most web hosts and content providers don’t want to/can’t spend the time needed to investigate claims and will simply remove content automatically). Many times, bots (rather than actual human beings) issue takedown requests en masse and without review, sometimes with hilarious results (Warner Bros mistakenly files DMCA takedowns for its own websites).

What can you do? Exercise your freedom— inform yourself and express yourself. And support the rights of others to do the same— just don’t take those unfollows on Facebook during election season too personally!



Roald Dahl Day

Days and dates are declared for various purposes all the time.  Of course, there are the big holidays but there are other often lesser known dates of importance that come about.  One such date was September 13th.  What was special about that day you ask?  It was Roald Dahl Day.  It would have been his 100th birthday.  I was inspired on September 13th when the New York City Public Library celebrated Roald Dahl Day.  A performance of some of the members of the Broadway cast sharing the story of Matilda popped up on my Facebook feed. This is the livestream of their performance:


As I watched these talented performers, I began to think about the stories I had experienced by this gifted storyteller.

So, who was Roald Dahl?  He was a British author born in the United Kingdom in 1916 and died in 1990.  You can read more about his life and works at http://www.biography.com/people/roald-dahl-9264648

Marking 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl – the world’s number one storyteller.

Still not sure who this might be?  Here are some character names you might recognize – Willy Wonka, Charlie, James, Matilda, Sophie, Mr. Fox, and my all-time favorite the BFG.  You may be more familiar with the film versions of his stories which include James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and most recently The BFGMatilda was also made into a musical and there are junior musicals for James and the Giant Peach and Willy Wonka.

I remember being a young undergrad at WCU and taking Children’s Literature.  That was my first experience with Roald Dahl.  I am not sure they had Roald Dahl in my school library when I was growing up.  The very first book I ever read by Mr. Dahl was The BFG.  What a story!  I have not seen the movie yet, but I hope it can compare to what I pictured in my mind as I read about the witching hour, Sophie being whisked away to Giant Country, and the descriptions of the giants.  I can say that the many times I have used this story in a classroom setting over the years I truly learned the magic of captivating children with a fascinating story.


Mr. Dahl not only created memorable characters with an action packed story, he also gave a way to address, ummmm, let’s say certain body functions that can cause a ruckus in a group of youngsters.  You see, for the BFG burping was an atrocity but whizpopping was glorious.  Read the quote below and I am thinking you can infer what whizpopping might be.

“A whizzpopper!” cried the BFG, beaming at her. “Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping if forbidden among human beans?”

Did you notice that he calls us “human beans” instead of human beings?

The BFG has many memorable characteristics, but one that stands out is how he speaks.  He tends to get things mixed up.  He tells Sophie,

“Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.”

Talk about tongue twisters!  I always had to practice a little for this read aloud.

He makes sure Sophie understands he can mix things up a bit when he tells her,

“What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announced rather grandly.”

I wonder if this is how some politicians rationalize their spoken words?


A slightly lesser known work by Roald Dahl is The Twits.  It is much shorter than the 200 or so pages of The BFG and would likely be a nice choice for a middle elementary student with its 76 pages.   Although, the lesson in this quick read could work wonders for some tweens and teens I know.

Mr. & Mrs. Twit are definitely an odd pair.  They are beyond nasty physically, mentally, and emotionally.  They spend their time trying to find ways to be mean to each other and those around them.  Now, Mr. Twit does drink beer.  The first time I read this book I could not imagine using it with a group of children.  So, I changed beer to root beer when I read it aloud.  Children would figure this out when they read the book on their own and bring it to me and point at the word “beer”.  I would reply with something like how could I have read it aloud saying the word beer without causing a ruckus.  I explained it was more important to focus on the lessons built into the story rather than Mr. Twit’s drinking preferences.  I love the lessons in this story!  It shows that it does matter how you treat others.  The Golden Rule really does apply.

Mr. Dahl left us with some pretty amazing stories!  Check one out at a library near you!

Thank you, Roald Dahl, for introducing me to dream catching, snozzcumbers, frobscottle, Roly-Poly birds, hug tight sticky glue, and the shrinks.  Your writing has forever left an impression on me.

You’ll like this one!


If you get a reputation as a “reader,” it won’t be long before folks you know start asking you about books.  “Read any good books lately?”  “What are you reading now?” “I need a good book recommendation – what do you suggest?”

You’ll hear that even more often if you happen to be a librarian or work in a library. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that, I’d have more money than you.

People like all sorts of books.  As discussed earlier, the most popular books in libraries usually fall into the genre fiction areas.  (Mysteries, thrillers, romances, etc.)  When asked the question about a good book to recommend, I could ask “What types of books do you usually enjoy?”  If the questioner was someone like my friend Stephen, and I knew he liked history, I could say, “Have you read 1491?”

If it was someone like Chris, I might say, “Try Ghostman – it’s a quirky, well-written thriller.”

But I do have a “go-to” title, that so far has been remarkably well-received by almost everyone I’ve ever recommended it to.  Like mysteries?  Like romance?  Like history? Like books that have a story within a story? Or for my library colleagues, “Do you like stories featuring libraries?”


There are some other things to like about this book.  The first thing is that it was originally written in Spanish. Not too many people (besides Westley Roberts) have known many Spaniards, but Carlos Ruiz Zafón is one worth getting to know. Besides the author, the translator is also outstanding, and her work on translating this title to English is amazing. Her name is Lucia Graves, and she is the daughter of Robert Graves.

This book, written in 2001 and translated to English in 2004, is a worldwide international bestseller titled The shadow of the wind.  At the heart of this story is the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. A young boy named Daniel Sempere, whose mother has died, is taken there by his bookshop owner father shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War, but pre-WWII.  The Cemetery is a huge library of old and forgotten titles.  A few secret librarians guard the library.  Traditionally, anyone once admitted is allowed to choose one book, which can be taken from the Cemetery, but which must then become the responsibility of the initiate and guarded for their lifetime.  Daniel chooses a book by Julian Carax called The Shadow of the Wind, and becomes its guardian.

Daniel becomes enraptured reading the book, and soon sets out to find other works by Carax.  He tries to find out all he can about the author.  In his investigations, he unleashes the dark forces that have tried to bury Julian and destroy his works, including every copy of The Shadow of the Wind.

This book is full of fascinating characters and a lot of history as well.  The writing is exceptional, and the descriptions make the story come alive in your mind. The story captures the sweetness of youth and adventure, as well as the darkness humanity is capable of.  Some characters are models of loyalty and integrity, while others are monstrous and implacable.

So with some trepidation but also some confidence, I recommend The shadow of the wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  Let me know what you think!

P.S. – if you like the book, the author has written two others in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle.


“In 1951, Mohammed Mossadeq, then prime minister of Iran, nationalized the oil industry. In retaliation, Great Britain organized an embargo on all exports of oil from Iran. In 1953, the CIA, with the help of British intelligence, organized a coup against him. Mossadeq was overthrown and the Shah, who had earlier escaped from the country, returned to power. The Shah stayed on the throne until 1979, when he fled Iran to escape the Islamic Revolution.

“Since then, this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

“One can forgive but one should never forget.”

-Marjane Satrapi

Paris, September 2002


In the less than two page introduction of the graphic novel titled Persepolis, author Marjane Satrapi  provides a succinct synopsis explaining the political and cultural climate of Iran leading up to the Islamic or Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. Just as she is quoted in writing above, Iran is balled up into many of our western understandings of the Middle East–a discourse that is usually riddled with overtones of violence, religious extremism, terrorism, etc. In the wake of several bloody attacks claimed by ISIS or ISIL just this year, the recent hostage switch in Iran, the Syrian refugee crisis and civil war, and fear-mongering western ideologies, the message conveyed by Satrapi through her autobiographical comic Persepolis is something we need now more than ever.

Generalized news accounts of conflicts, wars, political events, etc., are much more effective and humanized when there is some form of personal account or narrative to supplement with more macro narratives. Take, for instance, the haunting piece of photojournalism that has dominated the covers of newspapers, magazines, and online articles the past week: the photograph of a shocked, silent, and bloody 5 year old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was rescued from the site of an air raid in the city of Aleppo. His numb gaze is the product of the Syrian civil war. There are many other children like him. Many other children, like Omran’s older brother who died in that same raid, or 3 year old Aylan Kurdi whose drowned body washed upon Turkish shores around this time last year, who are forever silenced. The photographs of Aylan Kurdi and later his morning father started an urgent conversation in Europe regarding the treatment and permittance of refugees fleeing Syria. The parallel between people like Omran Daqneesh’s story and Marjane’s in Persepolis is that readers and viewers can all see the effects of extremism on individual people–people who do not have a say in the trajectory of their own country’s embattlements.

Persepolis is both an autobiography and Bildungsroman. It begins with a young Marji who begins to explain how the revolution in Iran is affecting her and her classmates on a personal level. The great thing about graphic novels is how effectively an image can communicate information in a much more viscerally striking manner. In the image below, Satrapi provides the reader with a snapshot of events that led to the image that many of us attach to Iranian women after the revolution. The veil, or hijab.


As stated earlier, the importance of learning the rich history of certain countries and people is invaluable to our understanding and tolerance toward any given situation regarding human rights, religion, ideology, etc. Perceptions of Iranian people and culture is challenged when we see people like Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin becoming the first Iranian woman to win a medal at Rio 2016 Olympics. Throughout her Taekwando match and after, she wore a veil or hijab which covered her hair and neck.

The matter of the hijab, chador, niqab, and burqa has dominated recent news stations as well. Over a week ago on a beach in Nice, France, a woman was forced to remove her burqini by four French police officers who were enforcing the recent and controversial ban on burqinis. Burqini is a term used for a type of swimwear that covers the entire body leaving the feet, hands, and face visible, allowing Muslim women to sunbathe, swim, etc., while covering their body. The burqini ban is mandated by French mayors as a result of the Bastille Day terrorist attacks in Nice earlier this summer.

Persepolis provides a context of humanism rather than terrorism when talking about issues dealing with the hijab and other topics related to Islamic cultural and religious institutions. While Marji rebels against the mandated veil because it does not fall in line with her’s or her mother’s beliefs, the floor becomes open for discussion and understanding when reading about a person’s individual experience with the sometimes controversial garment. In Iran, shortly after the revolution gained enough speed to begin mandating certain aspects of Sharia law, Marji is met with the same resistance and oppression that the sunbathing woman mentioned earlier faced when a group of women wearing veils chastises and threatens Marji for wearing her blue jean jacket and Michael Jackson button. In this book, the dichotomous world of right and wrong is surpassed–ultimately providing a space for considering the places in between two dichotomies.

Persepolis is usually catalogued in Young Adult sections of libraries, making way for young people to critically think about and process certain issues that are otherwise glossed over in all-too-predictable and inaccessible dialogue.

Bear in mind that this analysis of Persepolis is coming from someone who was born in 1989. I had no prior understanding or knowledge of Iran other than what has been in the news since I can remember. Persepolis is often times taught in high schools, an environment where students’s perceptions are constantly changing–their minds making room for both fictional and real human experiences.

Persepolis follows young Marji as she grapples with the changes in the political, social, and religious landscape of Iran. Marji idolizes various revolutionists, social theorists, and activists, including her uncle Anoosh who dies at the hands of prison guards of the revolution because he is considered an infidel. As Marji grows older and witnesses the country around her transform into an isolated country ruled by Sharia law, she only becomes more and more resistant to this transformation. She continues to rebel in various forms–from attending protests to wearing “westernized” or “decadent” clothing. Her mother knows how serious the revolution is. In a stingingly memorable part of this work is when Marji’s mother tells her that she is risking being imprisoned and executed. What’s worse, her mother warns her, is that virgins cannot be executed. This means that an imprisoned young woman like Marji would first be married to the leader of the revolution, raped, then executed. In fear of this brutal reality, Marji’s parents agree to send her to school in Austria. While Marji is keen on leaving the Islamic republic and its ideals in her past, she begins to realize that there are still so many aspects of Iranian culture that she is adamant about defending. She sees parts of herself “assimilating into western culture” and simultaneously gains pride in her heritage. Marji falls in love with Reza, moves back to Iran to attend university, challenges many inequitable institutions in her Tehran university, graduates, and, well, you’ll have to read the rest.

Though the images are provided in a stark palette of black and white, Satrapi presents the reader with a story that explores the gray areas. Please give this book a read. In honor of Banned Books week, which is upon us, this book has been challenged and banned in various locations.



Celebrity, Crime, and Bad Behavior Revised

Celebrity, crime  and bad behavior seem to run in the same circles,  especially with the media watching and the 24/7 news cycle.  Anyone who remembers the O. J. Simpson trial of twenty years ago can testify as to the impact of the media, fueled by the internet, on celebrity, and for that matter, on justice.   Or, recall the bad behavior of celebrities.  Their names and images have been in living rooms around the world, after their bad behavior was made public.    But celebrity based on crime and/or bad behavior is nothing new.  Starting in the recent past, books based on political celebrities recently caught having extramarital affairs have been best sellers.    John Edwards’ campaign aide’s book about his boss’s affair, The Politician : an Insider’s Account of John Edwards’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal that Brought Him Down, received a lot  publicity when it was published earlier this year.  Jenny Sanford, ex-wife of then South Carolina governor, now Congressman Mark Sanford, wrote a memoir, Staying True, chronicling  the effect of her husband’s affair on their family.  Both authors made tours of tv talk shows.  Hilary Clinton’s run for President brings to mind her husband’s affair with an intern when he was president.

If you think politicians having affairs is a relatively new thing, check the story of President Warren G. Harding, who was elected in 1920. Although married,  Harding had a long relationship with another woman from his home town in Ohio.   In the 1960s, the author of The Shadow of Blooming Grove was served with injunction forbidding him to publish letters between Harding and his mistress.  Forty years later, the author of The Harding  Affair had no such barrier to revealing the correspondence between the two lovers.  A different woman accused him of fathering her child in a White House closet.

John Wilkes Booth was a celebrity as a stage actor before he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  James Swanson’s Manhunt:  the Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer describes the well-known actor trying to evade the authorities who were looking for him.

A modern fugitive who became a cult hero and was much more successful in evading capture was Eric Rudolph.  After three years running  from searchers in Western North Carolina, Rudolph was finally run to ground in Murphy, North Carolina.  This book describes his life on the run:  Lone Wolf.

Before the  internet, television, newspapers and newsreels fed the celebrity mill.  Bonnie and Clyde became notorious for robbing banks before being gunned down in an ambush in Louisiana.   Fontana Regional Library has several books about the gun toting  couple, the most recent of which is Go Down Together: the True Untold  Story of  Bonnie and Clyde.  Don’t forget the movie version starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, which in the Fontana catalog.

Celia Cooley was not as famous on the national scale as Bonnie and Clyde, but she achieved her own level of celebrity in New York city, where she was famous or notorious (take your pick) for robbing grocery stores in the 1920s.  Her tale is told in The Bobbed  Haired  Bandit.

Zoe  Wilkins was trained as an osteopath early in the twentieth century, but she spent more time seducing men and becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol than pursuing a medical career.  Towards the end of end of her life, when she contended with legal problems, her lawyer was the son of Jesse James.  You can read about  her in The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son : Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James .

Note:  This blog was originally published in April 2010.



Music & Movement Make Merry

child-1065633_1280Using music and movement with young children is just plain fun!  Have you ever thought to yourself what you would do with all the energy children seem to possess?  Perhaps you have even said, “Boy, I wish I could bottle all that energy?”  I know I have!  Using music and movement can have educational benefits along with giving children an outlet for all that energy they seem to have.

Music mimics the rhythm and rhyme of language.  When we speak, our voices change and adjust to help us convey meaning.  Fortunately, we do not speak in one flat monotone all of the time. Music does this too.  No, I do not mean the flat monotone you might hear when Charlie Brown’s teacher is talking to the class.  Music rises and falls, is fast or slow, is melodic or punctuated just like our natural language.  This makes music the perfect partner for supporting children’s language development.

One element in music is singing.  Singing slows down language so you can hear the individual pieces and parts of language.  This supports the development of phonological awareness.  Phonological Awareness refers to hearing and playing with the smaller sounds of words.  Check out a great Every Child Ready to Read source at the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy site to learn more about pre-literacy skills.

You can use music and songs found on CD’s, online options, songs learned along the way, and songs that have been made up by you and the child/ren.  YouTube can yield limitless options.  One of my favorites is jBrary on YouTube.  These videos feature how-to’s on simple children’s songs and incorporate movement as well.  They are led by two Canadian librarians Dana and Lindsey who take simple to a whole new level.

Some lyrics require active listening so you can follow the directions.  One of the favorites I have used in storytime is “Milton the Mouse Likes to Help Around the House” (EXERSONGS, Jack Hartmann, 2008) and “Bop ‘Til You Drop” (KIDS IN ACTION, Greg & Steve, 2000).  Both of these songs have the participants do various motions or actions to act out the song.  For example, Milton likes to help sweep so children can mimic sweeping with a pretend broom and in “Bop ‘Til You Drop” the participant has to follow what Greg & Steve are indicating for them to do such as to float like a feather or go in slow motion.   This movement encourages active learning and play.

Adding movements such as sign language or hand gestures gives a symbolic meaning which gives children practice understanding that something stands for something else.  This is a very important pre-literacy skill to develop and is vital when children are later learning to read.  Think about it.  This shape, “L”, is the letter “el” and it makes a sound and can show up in words like love, lost, and light. It’s a symbol with multiple meanings.  Giving children experiences with symbolic meaning informally will have long term benefits when they begin to learn the more complicated features of our language.

Recently, I had been using one of my favorites in storytime, “I Know a Chicken” (WHADDYA THINK OF THAT?, Laurie Berkner, 2000).  The children love it and we get to use shaker eggs which are always a hit.  I decided to add an element of movement that brought in symbolic meaning.  I added the sign language symbols for chicken and egg.  This did not slow down our use of the shaker eggs and gave the children practice in some sign language they may not have known and a chance to use symbols to represent something they knew.  Definitely a win-win-win situation!

So, keep tapping your toes and singing those tunes not just for the educational benefits but for the FUN of it!

The Omnicompetent Hero   

When British TV producer Jim Grant found himself “let go” from his position due to corporate restructuring, he read some mystery/thriller novels.  One thing that started to bother him was that each hero in the novels he was reading had some sort of flaw.  Deciding to write a novel himself because “they are the purest form of entertainment,” he also decided he’d had about enough of these “miserable and depressed” protagonists, and he would write about a hero without any such flaws.

Creating the pen name “Lee Child” for himself and creating the hero named Jack Reacher, that author became a huge success.  The Reacher novels now number twenty titles, with the 21st due out this November.  There has been one movie grossing $200 million worldwide, and the second movie about Reacher is slated to be released this October.

I came across Jack Reacher while playing “Genre Bingo” several years ago.  Since then, I’ve read every one of the 20 titles, and also seen the movie.

Reacher the character is smart, and his moral compass is unshakeable.  Moreover, he is absolutely the toughest physically.  Essentially, there is no criminal situation he cannot solve.

svzjbLee Child was not the first to create such a character.  Going back to Siegel and Shuster in the 30s with their Superman character, moving to Doc Savage, and continuing with such characters as James Bond in the films and Lara Croft in video games, I’ve dubbed such heroes “omnicompetent” – in other words, they do all things well.

However, Jack Reacher may be the biggest omnicompetent hero thriving in fiction right now.

What are Reacher’s strengths and attributes?

Physical strength: 6’5”, 250 lbs. of  muscle; hand to hand fighting ability – fights with brutality and a mix of moves from various martial arts learned in childhood and Military Police training; marksman – Reacher is one of the top long distance rifle shots in the entire world, and is proficient with virtually all firearms; inborn internal clock – always knows what time it is; mathematical ability – able to perform calculations in his head and does mathematics for fun; fearlessness – reacts to situations that would induce fear in others with aggression; language arts – fluent in English and French, passable in Spanish; musical knowledge and memory – can recall entire musical pieces note by note with the ability of an inborn MP3 player, has obscure blues musicians lives and histories memorized (and this figures into plotlines); and finally, detective ability – due to his background in the Military Police, Reacher has thorough knowledge of procedure and understands how to investigate mysteries.

After meeting this prodigy in print, it was disconcerting to many to have Tom Cruise play Reacher in the movies.  Lee Child, however, was fine with it, claiming that Cruise captured the essential element of the Jack Reacher character – he is a force of nature and unstoppable.

If any of this sounds appealing, please investigate the world of Jack Reacher (books, CD audiobooks, eAudio, eBooks, and movie), at Fontana Regional Library.