Listen & Learn

Many years ago on a road trip with my two kids I discovered something pretty amazing.  I discovered the power of listening to a story.  I know how hard it is for parents to keep the kiddos occupied on car trips – been there – still doing that.  You know, those long hours in confined spaces with nothing much to do except ask, “Are we there yet?” or “How much farther?”

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“Are we there yet?  How much farther?”

So, on this particular trip I decided to try getting a couple of Donald Davis storytelling CD’s from the local public library.  I love Donald Davis so I figured at least I could be content on the trip.  What I learned is that both kids and I were mesmerized by the telling of the stories.  After that, anytime I knew we would be held captive in the car I sought out not just Donald Davis but other things like books on CD to keep our minds occupied to the point we did not much care if we were there yet or how much further we had to go.

There have been other times through the years that listening to stories has come to the rescue.  I remember the push of making that reading goal with both my children, especially in middle school.  I discovered that many titles that they were “allowed” to read were available on CD at the public library.  That saved us many a drama when it came time to tally up points or the dreaded word count.

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Listening to a great story!

It did take a little research and planning ahead but I can say there have been many titles over the years that we have enjoyed listening to and it was a great way to spark some pretty in depth discussions with the kids.

As you can see I support listening to audio books and stories.  I did a search on NC Live and came up with some other people who feel the same as me.  For example, according to Technology & Learning, February 2016,  it can support students who do not like to read perhaps because they feel overwhelmed by reading for whatever reason as well as “support critical thinking skills” or “re-ignite a passion for reading”.  Then there is the idea that “children who are listeners become readers” and that “children can handle a harder book without struggling” which will support their vocabulary and comprehension development, (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2002).

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A great story is just a listen away!

The public library has many great offerings to support listening to books and stories.  Of course, there are the tried and true books on CD.  Some favorite titles for me include The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Ginger Pye.  Fontana Regional Library branches have recently purchased some pretty cool audio books.  They are called VOX Books.  These books are neat because the audio is built into the book.  It even has a port to plug in earphones.  It makes it a very portable option for kids.  Some of the titles we have include Don’t Push the Button! and My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I am Not).

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There is another option I learned about recently that has really streamlined the way I get access to my audiobooks.  This has proved to be a wonderful option as I am on the road commuting a lot throughout the region.  If you have not checked out the eAudio options Fontana Regional Library offers, you should!

First, I downloaded the OverDrive app, which is free.  For my eAudio options I chose to download the app to my phone but it can also be downloaded to other devices.  Then I entered the information to make my account.  They basically just want your library card number and an email address.  Then I started browsing.  Once I found a title I downloaded it to my phone (while I had access to Wi-Fi, of course) and when I am in the car I open the OverDrive app and click on the title I want to listen to and voila instant access to my stories without fumbling with changing CD’s while driving and there is nothing to physically return.  The OverDrive app also gives you access to eBooks and as I mentioned before you can download the app on more than one device.  Literally all I ever need is at my fingertips!

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In this season of travel please consider using audio books and stories as a way to make those miles go by faster whether you are traveling far away or are traveling on your daily commute.  The benefits are worth it!

Reading Series – a professional’s guide

Probably the first series I ever encountered was one my three older sisters had “bequeathed” to the family collection – it was the Trixie Belden mystery series.

As I read the single book in the series that we had on our bookshelves, I quickly became aware of (and somewhat annoyed at) the fact that the title in question was NOT the first book in the series.  In the book, references were made to events and characters from the previous novels. Starting the series in the “middle,” so to speak was certainly not ideal.

And that brings us to a fundamental feature of reading a series of novels – depending on the series, it can end up being virtually just one long story.  Many readers consider it vital that they start the series at the beginning.  It’s easy to see why that could be important – in a highly complex series, the plot development, character development, timeline and essential story being told are dependent on a linear progression of comprehension.  Imagine starting The Lord of the Rings trilogy at the second book: who are these people/creatures?  Why is the ring important? Where in space and time is the action taking place?  All these are set up in the first book.

Almost as important as starting at the beginning is having access to the conclusion of the series, or perhaps better stated as having access to the entire series.  Again, using one of the most popular titles as an example, imagine not having access to the final book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The second book concludes with a “cliffhanger” ending, and the reader is drawn inexorably on to the next/final piece of the story.  The term “cliffhanger” literally means a story (whether a movie, radio drama or book series) where “each installment ends in suspense in order to interest the [audience] in the next installment.” (From dictionary.com)  Of course, it comes from an installment of the story ending with the protagonist hanging from a cliff, and the audience does not know what is going to happen.

As story-consumers, we all want to know what’s going to happen next.  If the story in a book series compels the reader, we are eager to follow the series to its conclusion.  And that introduces another “downside” to becoming addicted to a series – if the series is ongoing, then the reader must wait for the next piece of the story to be produced.

I remember getting the first book in a series once for Christmas.  At the time, the series had four volumes.  Originally planned as a six-book series, I anticipated getting “hooked” on the story, but since the volumes had been getting published roughly a year apart, I did not foresee much difficulty in procuring the remaining volumes.  That book was The Eye of the World, and the series was the best-selling Wheel of Time series.  Well, that book series eventually ran to 14 volumes, and the author died after volume 11.  As you can imagine, distress by the fans was not insignificant.  Luckily for the readers, (if not the author), the author Robert Jordan died from a condition where death was foreseen (although expectations were for four years and he only survived about 18 months).  Therefore, he dictated and completed an outline for how the series was to be finished, and his wife/editor picked an excellent writer to complete the series.

This is not just an isolated example; right now, the highly popular book series A Song of Fire and Ice (on which the Game of Thrones television series is based) is uncompleted.  Originally planned to be a trilogy, it has expanded in the author’s vision to be a seven-book series, of which only five are complete.  The last book was published almost five and a half years ago.  Because of situations like this, some readers will not start a series unless they know that it has been completed.

BEWARE THE DANGERS OF STEPPING UNHEEDINGLY INTO A BOOK SERIES!

On the other hand, there are few reading experiences more potentially rewarding than a long, dense, well-told story.  A reader literally does not want the series to end!

Currently, I find myself following several ongoing series.  Here are some still open-ended series that I eagerly anticipate the publishing of each new installment:

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

The original name for the first title was Semiautomagic, and describes this blend of urban fantasy with noir detective story.

A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin [see earlier link]

The series that is the basis of the very popular HBO series Game of Thrones [see earlier link]; this series takes almost every fantasy trope and stands it on its head.  Compelling reading.

The Necromancer Series by Lish McBride

This is a YA series with a good-hearted hero who unknowingly is heir to dark necromantic powers.

The Checquy Files by Daniel O’Malley

The first book starts with the heroine with no memory, but awakening surrounded by dead bodies.  It gets even more intriguing after that.

The Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Superheroes in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies!  ‘Nuff said.

And here are five series that are completely finished that I’ve enjoyed:

The Lord of the Rings by J. R.R. Tolkien

This is the ultimate high fantasy series.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

A children’s series with surprising depth, it tells the story of an alternate world of talking animals.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson) [see earlier link]

This fourteen title high fantasy series is not for lightweights, but it is a richly developed world, has a multitude of interesting characters, and the long story’s destination is ultimately worth the journey.

The Baroque Series by Neal Stephenson

3 historical fiction novels (with cliffhanger endings) set in the period from the mid-1600s to the early 1700s – they span the globe, and while the main protagonists are fictional, they interact with real historical characters while telling an incredible tale of the real-life wonders that took place around the world during this time period when science was in its infancy.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This series tells the story of a young wizard through seven titles, each covering a year of his schooling while he and his friends deal with dark and deadly adversaries. {And our library has the titles in Spanish too!}

Finally, there are series where each title is essentially “stand-alone” – if you are hooked by the setting and/or the protagonist, but want to feel free to “dip in and out” with no liner plotlines, I can recommend these:

The Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the first two books do have a “one story” theme, with the first book ending in a cliffhanger of sorts, but the rest are pretty much stand-alone).

A child of noble English lineage is orphaned in the deepest jungle of Africa and raised by apes.

The Reacher series by Lee Child

A lone wolf former military policeman drifts across the US righting wrongs and solving mysteries.

[The Fontana Regional Library system has some or all of the titles mentioned in each of these series!]

How Malala Yousafzai Changed the World

Education. It’s a word and an institution that has been tugged back and forth between different ideologies, time periods, political parties, and religious groups to name a few, and, depending on what area of the world it is cherished or challenged, can depend on a matter of life and death. For Malala Yousafzai, a young girl in the Swat District of Pakistan, her fight for the right to education was a matter of death.

Malala Yousafzai’s name was not common around the American dinner table before she was the unsuccessful assassination target of the Taliban fall 2012. Although her existence was not known by many at the time, she had been making major waves in the gorgeous area Swat Valley of Pakistan when the Taliban gained control of the region. At the young age of eleven, Malala began blogging for the BBC Urdu under a pseudonym where she challenged the Taliban’s stifling of women’s rights across the board. Malala, whose father owned and ran a group of schools in the region, focused her eloquent criticisms on a girl’s right to education.

It was a few years later that she suffered gunshots while riding her school bus from a Taliban assassin, ultimately launching her status beyond regional and specialized media coverage to a global fighter for peace and human rights. Prior to her surviving an attempt on her life, she was nominated by Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. When word of her attack spread throughout the globe, many Pakistanis took to the streets to protest her attempted murder. A German broadcasting station called Malala “the most famous teenager in the world” after the shooting. Malala faced a long road to recovery and spent many months in a hospital in Birmingham, UK.

She never stopped fighting after being targeted by one of the most dangerous terrorist groups on the Earth. She was only more emboldened. Stronger. She was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest laureate in history at seventeen. She spoke at the United Nations headquarters and demanded worldwide access to education. She was a major influence on Pakistan’s first Right to Education bill. On her eighteenth birthday in 2015, Malala opened a school near the Syrian border that educates young women from fourteen to eighteen years of age.

It’s these exemplary souls that deserve our attention, our inspiration.

Perhaps we’ve all been watching the news a little too much lately. So many large issues and even larger celebrity and political personalities are covered, but there are very few stories that focus on individual determination, hope blooming out of despair, one person making great, lasting, monumental changes for all of humanity. It’s exceptional girls like living, breathing, teenage Malala that deserves our undivided attention. Our undivided attention must not be geared toward division anymore.

Malala’s story can teach us to never feel like the task is too daunting–too formidable. With compassion for life, equality, and justice, change can be right around the corner if only we remember eleven year old Malala risking everything, publishing under a pseudonym out of fear of retribution, and immensely changing the world for the better.

Visit her page: https://www.malala.org/

 

 

 

Telescopes now available to checkout

Before I ventured into the world of Library Science, I worked in the Planetarium at MOSI– Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, FL about 10 years ago. I remember thinking, “I like Space, so why not – I’ll give it a try!” Something to that effect. It seems by chance I was hired and so started my fascination with all things astronomy! It’s like getting bit by the astronomy bug – the fascination never ends and a lifetime of stargazing begins.

When I moved to the mountains and saw the night sky, I mean wow – we are so lucky to live here! When I lived in the city, you might be able to see the half-moon on a good night! The light pollution was just awful. Still though, with the right location, time of year, and a telescope (even a small telescope or binoculars) – you can see some really cool things.

During my time at MOSI, we took telescopes out to public programs, schools and other events and showed them the night sky. We would look at whatever would be hanging out in the sky at that time like planets, craters of the moon, and even nebulas. It never got old seeing the look on someone’s face at seeing Saturn’s rings, or look at Jupiter and its four largest moons for the first time through a telescope. I was told so many times that it must be fake! I must have put a small sticker of Saturn on the end of the telescope. My answer was always the same, look Saturn is moving – I have to move the telescope every few minutes – it can’t be fake!orion-telescope

 

Fontana Regional Library, which includes Swain, Macon, and Jackson county libraries in North Carolina, recently received a grant to purchase a portable planetarium and a telescope for each library! These telescopes are about to be available for checkout to any patron with a library card. That’s all you need – a library card and you can check out a telescope for 7 days for free! We even included a star chart, pocket size guide book for stargazing, a red laser (fun for the whole family), and simple instructions to get the most out of your telescope time!

So don’t hesitate to dream big and get ‘stars in your eyes’ by checking out a telescope at your local Fontana Regional Library!

LSTA grants awarded by the State Library of North Carolina are made possible through funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. These federal funds are investments that help libraries deliver relevant and up-to-date services for their communities.

Churchill’s “The World Crisis”

As we get closer to November 11, Veteran’s Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in the UK, we need to remember those have sacrificed their lives so we can live in freedom.  One hundred years ago the Great War was being fought in Europe and the Middle East.  As I do every year at this time, I remember my uncle, Patrick Morrison, who served in the Seaforth Highlanders and survived the Great War, both on the western front and at  Gallipoli, which is the subject of this blog!

Followers of my blog will have deduced by now I am a admirer of Winston Churchill.  I have in my personal library most of his important works of history and a lot of books written about him.  The one book of Churchill’s I was missing and wanted was his The World Crisis , a four volume history of the Great War.   A few months ago, I thought about buying the one volume paperback edition of his abridgement, but before I could, a co-worker found a hardback copy at an estate sale and presented it to me without knowing  how much I desired that particular  volume.

In the earlier  world war, Churchill was not the hero he was to the British people he was in the Second World War.  To be sure he was in the top ranks of the government, but not as prime minister.  He started out the conflict as First Lord of the Admiralty (the political head of the Royal Navy), running the most powerful arm of the British armed forces, scattered all over the world; working with the sea lords, the professional commanders of the fleet.

For more than a century the enemy lay just across the English Channel in France, but now the foe was the German High Seas fleet based on the east side of the North Sea, and the ally was the French.   Accordingly, when the threat of war became clear in August 1914, the fleet was dispatched to a base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands just north of Scotland, where it could easily confront the Germans on the North Sea.  Great Britain was drawn into the war by guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium from invasion by the Huns, as the Germans were called then.  An ultimatum was sent to the German government, due to expire at midnight August 4, 1914.  Churchill describes the final minutes leading up to that fatal midnight thusly:

 “It was 11 o’clock at night–12 by German time–when the ultimatum expired.  The windows of the Admiralty were thrown open in the warm night air.  Under the roof…were gathered a small group of Admirals and Captains and a cluster of clerks, pencil in hand,  waiting.  Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing ‘God Save the King’ floated in.  On this deep wave there broke the chimes of Big Ben; and, as the first stroke boomed out, a rustle of movement swept the across the room.  The war telegram, which meant ‘Commence hostilities against Germany’ was flashed to ships and and establishments  under the White Ensign all over the world.  I walked across Horse Guard’s Parade to the Cabinet room [at 10 Downing Street] and reported to the Prime Minister and the Ministers who were assembled there that the deed was done.”

Churchill’s main contribution, and perhaps downfall, at the Admiralty was the Dardanelles campaign.  The Dardanelles is the body of water that connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara in northwest Turkey.  As long as the Dardanelles was in the hands of the Turks, the Russians were blocked from a southern all year route out of Black Sea past Constantinople  and westward to the Aegean Sea.  Of all the Allies’ ill gotten attacks against Germany and its supporters, the Dardanelles was one of the most unfortunate and Churchill was at the heart of the planning of this fiasco.

At the heart of this unfortunate plan was the fact that the land war on the Western Front had reached a stalemate barely four months into the war.  Churchill wanted, as he did in World War II, to advance allied forces in the Mediterranean, this time  against the Austrians and Turks, who were both a part of the Central Powers.   According to Churchill, the planning for attacks against what was left of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) began in January 1915.   Churchill convinced the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, of his plan to use an Allied fleet made up partially of older dreadnoughts and some modern ships to force their way up the Dardanelles toward Constantinople.    There were differing opinions as to whether this could be accomplished by the Navy alone or whether troops would be needed to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula which bordered on the left side of the Dardanelles.

After two months of planning, the Royal Navy, along with a smaller group of French ships, attacked the Turkish forts along the waterway.  The Turks, expecting a attack, mined the Dardanelles between its opening to the Aegean Sea and the Narrows, which guarded to entrance to the Sea of Marmara.    The modern battleships of the British fleet were out of range of the Turkish forts until they entered the Dardanelles and came in contact with the Turkish mines, some of which the Allies did not know the location of.   The French admiral’s flagship was sunk with virtually all hands lost.  Some of the British ships were severely damaged and retreated.  The War Council, at Churchill’s behest, voted to use troops to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula.    The causalities from the invasion were horrific and Churchill was the scapegoat and he was sacked from the Admiralty.

Reading Churchill’s version of  events while he was First Lord of the Admiralty reminded me of a Max Hastings quote I used before when I was the discussing Churchill’s role in the Dardanelles/Gallipoli affair:  “Churchill believed himself exceptionally fitted for the direction of armies, navies, and air forces.  He perceived no barrier to such a role in the fact that he possessed neither military staff training nor experience of higher field command.”   Comparing his activities in both the world wars, he made his greatest errors in the Mediterranean theater.   When you are reading Churchill’s account of both wars, Hastings’ opinion  is very apt.

 

Spinning a spider storytime

Recently I came across an interesting title when working on a book order.  The title screamed out at me I’m Trying to Love Spiders!  The words love and spider in close proximity to each other?  How can that be?  Of course, my interest was piqued.  I ordered it and had almost forgotten about it until it arrived.  Once I read it, I knew I had to plan a spider storytime for my preschoolers.  Creepy as they might be they are useful to us humans.  I am referring to spiders, of course.

The web unraveled as I sought out companion books for this spider themed storytime.  Books with a spider as the main character, nonfiction texts about spiders, even a spider’s diary!  Here is a sampling of what I found.

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I’m trying to love spiders : (it isn’t easy) – words and pictures by Bethany Barton.

The book that started it all!  The title yelled out to me.  I mean, I could not imagine anyone trying to love spiders unless you were an arachnologist (uh-rak-nah-lu-gist).  Once I read it, though, I knew it would be a storytime hit.  I loved the way the author incorporated spider facts like what other animals are in the arachnid family, how many species of spiders there are, and how many pounds of bugs a spider can eat in a year.  By the way – they can eat a whopping 75 pounds of bugs in a year!  Considering a bug weighs maybe an ounce.  It takes 16 of those maybe an ounces to make a pound.  Do the math:  16 x 75 = 1,200 bugs!!!

Disclaimer:  My math may be a tad off, but you get the picture.

THAT IS A LOT OF BUGS!!!!!  Maybe I should have left that little spider in my bathroom this morning alone.  Oh, the guilt!!

aaaspiderAaaarrgghh! spider! by Lydia Monks

A spider decides he will try and convince a family to keep him as a pet.  The family obviously does not understand this until the spider shows them his special skill in capturing insects.  Everyone is happy about this new pet until he invites his friends over.  Of course, a spider’s friends are other spiders.  When the family returns home they get quite a shock!

 

 

diaryofspiderDiary of a spider by Doreen Cronin ; pictures by Harry Bliss

I love Doreen Cronin and had almost forgotten this was one of her books.  It takes you through a spider’s life and is set up like a diary or journal entry.

 

busyspiderThe very busy spider by Eric Carle

A classic by Eric Carle so I knew it was a good one!  I love the pages in this book because the web is raised on the page to give it dimension.  Kids love this!

 

spiders1Spiders by Aaron Carr

Talk about up close and personal photographs!  I am sure the photographer had a super telephoto lens to catch these shots.  While the pictures in this book really creeped me out, I can see kids loving them.  This is a perfect beginning information book about spiders.  I really like that they used the word “pest” instead of “bug” when referring to spiders eating insects.  Great for vocabulary development!

 

areyouspiderAre you a spider? by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries

Well, no, I am not a spider!  Are you?  Just kidding!  This is a great nonfiction title that reads like fiction which makes it a good choice for a storytime.

You cannot have a storytime without some songs.  The singing slows down language and helps children build their phonological awareness and increase their vocabulary skills.  I set out to locate a song to go along with this creepy crawly spider theme.  Raffi has a great version of Spider on the Floor.  I also found some plastic spider rings and let the children use them as props for the song.  They moved the spider to the different places the song indicated.  Creepy good fun!

Of course, I can’t forget the Eensy Weensy Spider.

The gals at Jbrary (my personal favs) have offered more than just the Eensy Weensy Spider.  They suggest itsy bitsy, great big, very quiet, very noisy, tiny baby, very fast, or very slow spider.  Great variations on a classic nursery rhyme!

Spinning the web of this storytime was super fun! Who knows?  It may have inspired a future arachnologist or two or three in the audience.  Check out a storytime at your local Fontana Regional Library branch where we strive to inspire our future….your kids!

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.

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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!