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. We’re failing to cultivate good digital citizenry.

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, people claim ownership of content and have it removed from web hosts or search engines without any proof and without any recourse or appeal. 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:

https://www.facebook.com/nypl/videos/10154535140582351/



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

http://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl/roald-dahl-100
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.

http://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl/roald-dahl-100

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?

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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?”

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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.

Persepolis

“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.

satrapi_persepolis

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.

Enjoy!

LD

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.

Letters to and from the front, II

Recently I was prowling the book donations at the thrift store where I volunteer  and I came across a copy of  War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll.  The Legacy Project, which is the source from which these letters came, was founded in 1998 as a gathering place for veterans and their families to donate correspondence written by members of American armed forces to and from their families while on active duty.   Since its founding  the Legacy Project’s name has been changed to  “The Center for American War Letters,” and it’s collection is housed at Chapman University in Orange. California.  War Letters was made into a documentary on PBS’s American Experience, which can be watched on YouTube.  Unless otherwise noted, the excerpts  quoted below come from War Letters which was copyrighted ©2001 by Andrew Carroll.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States armed forces were already fighting an undeclared war in the Atlantic Ocean trying to protect conveys supplying Great Britain.  The Japanese aggression made it clear American service men and women would be scattered around the globe, especially after Germany declared war on the United States.  How were families who had relatives stationed abroad going to stay in touch with their loved ones?  And vice versa how were members of the armed forces going to get letters from remote parts of the world delivered to their families at home.   Confederate women who were left in charge of the southern plantations couldn’t rely on their postal service to deliver letters to their husbands in a timely fashion, but times and technology had changed immensely in three quarters of a century.

Writing from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was doing basic training, Morton D. Elevitch wrote to his mother: “This week they are teaching us to kill.  Now you probably looked away and shuttered.  Well, Mom, I don’t like the idea, either,  but we all know its for our good….By the way everything is done in double time this week .  We move in place and from place to place on the double — puff puff.”  (War Letters, p. 196)

Tracy Sugarman to his wife June, from Great Britain, March 1944:  “Reading material, Junie. Things like Reader’s Digest – Coronet, Cosmopolitan maybe. When you send them pooch – *have them in a package* – otherwise some news hungry soldier or sailor will swipe them & they’ll never get here I’m told”.¹

During World War II, the United States Post Office made it easier for service and their families to stay in touch with each other.  Victory Mail, or V Mail as it was commonly known made use of standard size stationary and microfilm to speed servicemen’s mail.²    Sugarman occasionally used VMail to write to his wife.  An example is here.

Servicemen would receive correspondence from home about siblings also in the service.  For example,  Bill Lynn’s mother wrote to him in September 1944 giving him news about his older brother Bob:  Dear Billie, will drop you a few lines as I haven’t from. and I have good news, from the last letter I sent you.  Bob will back in the States at the last of this month.  I sure was happy when I read the telegram from the government last night.  I hope you are well and O.K….well I didn’t know what to send you for xmas but you can be looking for a box, and I hope you will like it.  so write me soon.”  Lynn was killed in the Pacific in 1945, three days after his nineteen birthday.  (War Letters, pp. 222-223)

Some American servicemen were abroad when their children were born.  Lt. Walter Schuette wrote a letter to his daughter:  “You arrived in this world while I was several thousand miles from your mother’s side.  There were many  anxious moments then and since.  This message comes to you from somewhere in England.  I pray to God it will be given to you on or about your tenth birthday. I hope to be present when that is done.  It shall be held in trust by your mother or someone equally concerned until that time….With this letter you will find a war bond of $2500 maturity value, and list of names.  A list of names to you, honey, buddies to me.  Men of my company, who adopted you as their sweetheart when you came into the world.  It is these men who bought you the bond as a remembrance of when they were soldiers with your daddy…”   Happily, Walter Schuette was able to read that letter to his daughter, Anna Mary, in 1953!  (War Letters, , p. 227)

After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and the United States dropped two Atom bombs on their homeland, peace barely lasted five years.   The Cold  War was between the Communist world, primarily the Soviet  Union, its European allies, and the Chinese; and the western democracies centered around NATO.  In East Asia, counties such as Korea and Vietnam were split:  Communists to the north and NATO allies to the south.   On June 25, 1950, forces of North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea.  President Truman sent American military forces, commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, under the auspices of the United Nations to help the South Koreans.  MacArthur’s force quickly drove the Communist North Koreans back to the border with Chinese Manchuria.  But that victory didn’t last long because Chinese forces made a surprise raid into North Korea and defeated the American and South Koreans at the Chosin Reservoir, eventually driving them back to to the 38th parallel.

In a letter to his father, Pvt. Bob Hammond describes the bitter fighting at Chosin from his hospital bed in Japan:  “Three days and nights of bitter fighting went on with heavy losses on both sides.  We were outnumbered 10 to 1. We were trapped and surrounded.  We had over 200 wounded guys.  I watched  a good buddy of mine die of wounds and lack of medicine.  I cried, I felt so utterly helpless.  On Dec. 1, 1950, we were ordered to fight our way back to the Marine Div. which was 8 miles back.  We had about 30 trucks which were carrying the wounded.  We went about 2 miles and suddenly a slug ripped thru my knee and chipped the bone.  I got into an ambulance which had 16 men in it.  We moved slowly and passed a few roadblocks and before I knew it, it was dark.  They were on all sides of us and we were masecured (sic).  Our driver was killed and the ambulance crashed into a ditch.   Machine gun slugs tore thru the ambulance killing a G.I. and Capt. sitting across from me. He slumped on me and I shoved him back in order to get the rear door open.  It was jammed, but I jarred it open in few minutes and fell out….”  (War Letters, p. 335)

In the 1950’s it was Korea, in the 60’s and the 70’s it was Vietnam.  The following  is an except from a letter from a young demoralized American Marine, L. Cpl. Stephen Daniel writes to his parents telling about the death of a close friend:    Mom and Dad:  Well its Friday morning.  Last night one more Marine died.  No one will ever here (sic) or care about it except his parents and us.  A good Marine has died and there is no nation to mourn for him or fly our flag at half mast.  Yet in this one night this Marine did more for his country than any President or Senator ever did.  His name was Corporal Lee…He was a good Marine and a better person.  He didn’t deserve dieing in a damn country not worth fighting for.  He didn’t deserve diein’ for people who won’t even fight for themselves.” (War Letters, 412-413)  Eight months later, on Easter Sunday, 1969, Daniel fell victim to a sniper’s bullet and died on the spot.

War correspondence, as we seen in the few excerpts above, dealt with many concerns.  Most important it created a lifeline to connect the service person with a touch of home when they serving far away.

¹http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.05440/pageturner?ID=pm0024001

² http://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/

Oryx and Crake

Hello all! Hope you enjoy my first blog post.

It took me a while to figure out what to write about. I need the content to be relevant, enjoyable, and “somehow related to Fontana Regional Library.” The process of elimination went like this: Books-Genre-Fiction-Science Fiction-Speculative Fiction-Climate Change Fiction-Margaret Atwood-Oryx and Crake.

Oryx and Crake is a 1984 of the 21st century. While Big Brother was imagined and eerily predicted by George Orwell in the 1940s, Margaret Atwood has imagined a future that is just as bizarre and frightening–a future that is both far-fetched and all too real. From gene-splicing to environmental degradation, this novel is captivating. Add a love story to this dystopian imagining, and the result is a stellar read.

Before I get started on my review of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, I must let you in on an important detail: HBO is in production stages of adapting Atwood’s MaddAddam book trilogy into a series. If nothing else, reading this futuristic, dystopian novel will have your mind churning as you try to envision its adaptation to television. The series is in production under director Darren Aronofsky who also directed films such as Black Swan (2010) and Requiem for a Dream (2000). Check out the latest write-up here: http://hbowatch.com/margaret-atwood-talks-hbos-maddaddam/

Oryx and Crake is the first book of Margaret Atwood’s trilogy titled MaddAddam Trilogy. Published in 2003, Oryx and Crake falls under the subgenres of speculative fiction (spec-fic) and climate-change fiction (cli-fi). Oryx and Crake is a novel set in the future. It is not, however a bright and shiny future that is reminiscent of The Jetsons, but something we’ve come to expect in our contemporary imaginations of the future–bleak. The setting is straight up Mad Max, The Road, apocalyptic type stuff.

At the start of the novel, we meet Snowman. Snowman is the last remaining human in a world destroyed. He is also the narrator. It is only through flashbacks that we meet any other humans or any other glimpse of the world before destruction. One intriguing aspect of this future world is that it is hard to pinpoint an actual moment in time that this is taking place. This future world could be as close as tomorrow or as far away as centuries. That uncertainty of time and future is one of the characteristics of speculative fiction and sometimes climate change fiction. There is a constant evaluation of whether or not this could happen to us now–whether or not we are already on our way to the world spread out on the pages of Oryx and Crake.

Snowman is between past and present as he indulges the audience in flashbacks of times past. The world he visits through memory is well on its way to destruction. Consumption by humans is at an all-time high while resources, ethics, and morality are at an all-time low. Gene splicing is rampant. While the practice started as an advancement in medicine, it quickly spiraled out of control when corporations began experimenting, buying patents, and developing products and procedures. Genes are spliced to have glow in the dark wallpaper, sea anemones spliced with chickens that quickly produce large amounts of poultry, organisms that grow skin so that humans can replace their old skin, etc. Each corporate gene splicing venture is labeled a quippy name–a reality we have all come to live as advertisements bombard every aspect of our public and private lives.

The tone of this novel is immediately environmental as well as political. While Snowman scans the beach around him in the first few pages, he notices various plastic bottles bearing advertisements, labels, etc. Even though the former life of Snowman (who we later learn to be Jimmy) is over, there are still many remnants of the past. There are still ubiquitous instances of advertising, branding, labeling.

Each technology becomes obsolete eventually–it is what makes a void of possibility for another world, reality, way of life. This is where Crake and Oryx come in. They are a part of Snowman or Jimmy’s past. We learn of Crake (otherwise known as Glenn) when Jimmy (Snowman) is replaying his past. He met Crake in school where they became friends through their enthusiasm for genetic studies. Glenn and Jimmy spend time together after school live-streaming videos of all sorts, playing games titled “Extinctathon” or “Blood and Roses.” “Extinctathon” is a game that gives the player scientific names of organisms, and the player must guess whether or not the animal is extinct or not. “Blood and Roses” plays like a trading game where “Blood” is the category under which the atrocities throughout human history are listed, and “Roses” is the category concerned with the advancements and positive outcomes throughout human history. These games are where Jimmy and Glenn name themselves Snowman and Crake (two extinct creatures in “Extinctathon.”

They finish high school and go to university where Crake (Glenn) fully immerses himself into genetic bioengineering studies. Crake progressively grows disillusioned and critical of the world around him as resources are poisoned, animals become extinct, human population grows, and genetic engineering is used predominantly for superficial reasons. Crake has something up his sleeve. He has been working on this project tirelessly until it reaches perfection. The end product is a group of human-like organisms appropriately called “Crakers.” They do not eat meat. They are not ashamed of nudity. They are non-violent, curious, and kind. They have no understanding of life before destruction. The Crakers are Crake’s legacy–his attempt to rid the world of problems caused by humans.

The Crakers are Snowman’s only companion in the world after destruction. While so similar to humans, they are so different. The Crakers view Snowman as something intriguing and bewildering and vice versa. What came before the Crakers and after is what this book is all about. Atwood paints this eerie future in a way that can be described as watching a car crash or blooper reel in slow motion. The story is just as much about how we got there as it is about where we end up.

Check it out!

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Dialogic Reading

We all know that reading aloud to young children is very important.  Children literally soak up the words like sponges when they are read aloud to on a regular basis.  Usually that involves the adult doing the reading and most of the talking.  So, how do we adults take a step back and let the children supply the words?  One way is to use “Dialogic Reading”.  This is a strategy that can be used to give children an opportunity to be more of a part of the early reading process.  Think about the word “dialogic”.  It comes from the word “dialogue”.  Dialogue means to talk.  Therefore, dialogic reading involves children talking about books.  The adult becomes the facilitator for interacting with the book.

According to The Word Gap: The Early Years Make the Difference (Colker, 2014), “by three years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families”.  Further, “Vocabulary development in the preschool years impacts children’s later reading skills and school success.”  Children’s vocabularies develop not only from listening to stories but also from interacting with others and books.  Dialogic reading can help support closing this word gap and increase chances of children’s reading success.

In the book Supercharged Storytimes: An Early Literacy Planning and Assessment Guide, the authors state that, “Dialogic reading is an interactive reading technique that uses the practice of asking children questions about a book.  These questions encourage talk about the story and the pictures.”  (Campana, Mills, & Ghoting, 2016).  The framework for dialogic reading comes from D.S. Arnold and Grover J. Whitehurst.  One strategy that can be used involves the acronym PEER (see below)

Prompt the children to tell you something about the book by asking a question.

Evaluate the children’s responses by saying something like, “That’s right!”

Expand the children’s responses by repeating what they said and adding information to it.

Repeat the beginning question for the children and give them a chance to answer with the expanded detail.

Along with the PEER strategy, there is also the CROWD strategy.  Grover J. Whitehurst wrote an article “Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read to Preschoolers” published by Reading Rockets at http://www.readingrockets.org/article/dialogic-reading-effective-way-read-preschoolers.  He outlines the 5 types of prompts that work well for use with dialogic reading.  They include:

Completion prompts:  provide a sentence and let the children fill in the last word (this technique works well for rhymes).

Recall prompts:  ask the children questions about what has happened previously in the story.

Open-ended prompts:  ask the children to describe what is happening in a story.

Wh-prompts:  asking the children questions that start with who, what, when, where, and why.

Distancing prompts:  ask the children to relate a piece of the story to things they have experienced.

Learn more about the PEER and CROWD strategies at:  https://raisingareaderma.org/program/dialogic-reading/

Make sure to give children plenty of wait time when they are responding.  Our adult brains can process so much faster than a child’s brain, that we sometimes forget and rush through when if we just gave a few more seconds, the child would have come up with a great response on their own.  So, take a quiet, deep breath and count to ten at the very least.  Counting to 20 may be even better.

What kind of book works for dialogic reading?  Any children’s picture book will work for dialogic reading including wordless or nearly wordless picture books.  Better yet, books the children have heard before are excellent choices.  Repetitive reads are very popular with young children.  One book I recently used with a group of children was Rain! by Linda Ashman.  Here is an example from the beginning of this wonderful book.

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As you can see, the first 2 pages show an illustration of the setting with no text.  I began with asking the children:

  • What do you see happening?
  • Where could this story be taking place?
  • What do you do on rainy days?

 

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Here is an interaction between the two main characters near the end of the book.  I prompted the children with:

  • What is the boy doing?
  • Who is he pretending to be?
  • Why did he do that?
  • What do you think will happen next?

A great video that shows a dialogic reading interaction can be found at:  http://community.fpg.unc.edu/connect-modules/resources/videos/video-6-8

Consider giving dialogic reading a try the next time you are reading to a child. You might also see it modeled at a Fontana Regional Library Storytime the next time you visit one.