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.

Letters from (and to) the Front, Part I

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.

 Coincidentally, I was reading Drew Gilpin Faust’s Mothers of Invention : Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, which contains excerpts of letters written by Confederate women to their husbands on the front.  Also, in my home library I have a copy of Tracy Sugarman’s My War: a Love Story in Letters and Drawings.  Unfortunately, that book is not in the NC Cardinal system, but a large collection of his letters to his wife is preserved on the Library of Congress website, so I decided to include his book in this blog. One other book that excerpts from letters written by soldiers serving in the Union army in the Civil War is Earl J. Hess’   The Union Soldier in Battle.  The first part of this blog will have excerpts from letters from the Civil War and World War I, the second letters from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Separation in families during wartime can be traumatic both for the member of the armed forces being away from his or her family and the family at home.  But these days email and social media help to shorten the distance with almost instant communication and air travel makes leave at home realistic despite long distances to the site of deployment.  Imagine being a woman in the Confederate south, where the postal service left something to be desired, hearing about a major battle and not knowing for weeks, or even months, if your loved one is whole or not; or even alive or dead.  Faust cites a letter from a woman who tells her husband she wishes him to be wounded or suffer an amputation, so he comes home deformed, and not be attractive to other women in a culture where there was a shortage of men.  In World War II, distance was a problem in correspondence traveling from home to the various fronts, and vice versa, especially when  there were armies and naval forces that were on the move.  In some cases the soldier or sailor would receive a “Dear John” or “Dear Jill” letter ending a relationship.

The contents of letters depended on their origin.  Dr. Faust discovered that women left to manage large plantations, while their husbands were off fighting, doubted their ability  to take the man’s place running complex business and cultural environments.  Some of these women hired old white men to manage the slave laborers, while others did it themselves, trusting the black slaves to help with the planting, raising, and harvesting of the crops.

 The letters Dr. Hess uncovered had to do with men writing about combat experiences about which the southern women were totally divorced from, at least if they lived far beyond the armies.  A New York regimental surgeon replied to a question from his wife as follows:  “You have asked for a description of a field after the Angel of Death has passed over it; but I do no more so than I can give you an idea of anything indescribable.  You must stand as I have stood, and heard to report of battery upon battery, witness the effect of shell, grape and canister–you must hear the incessant  discharge of musketry, see men leaping high in the in the and falling dead upon the ground…hear their groans…see their eye grow dim in death, before you can realize or be impressed with its horrors.”

Confederate Captain William Harris Hardy gave his wife the following description of combat:   “All the firing had ceased, everything was calm and still after the awful storm save the awful shrieks of the dying and wounded which were great came from every quarter in every direction.  Cries for help, for water, brother calling brother, comrade for companions.  In ten feet of where I lay was a Pennsylvania Yankee with his bowels shot out….  We left before daylight.  I don’t know what became of him.”

In War Letters, a World War I ambulance driver, George Ruckle, wrote this description to his family:  “I’ll never some of the sights I saw and how bravely our men and the French bore their wounds.  Men with arms and legs torn off would never utter a groan during the whole trip to the hospital.  At one place some new batteries came up their horses were picketed  in a clump of trees.  I saw a shell land in the middle of them and the next minute there was pile of 50 or 60 dead horses.”

On the other hand, soldiers of the Civil War era could  not describe what they saw on the battlefield, either because they didn’t want to relive the experience or they didn’t want to scare their correspondents.   Illinois soldier wrote this: “I shall not attempt to describe what I saw, of dead wounded and suffering .  It would be an absolute  impossibility  and if it were possible my heart would shrink from such a task.”   Another Illinois soldier phased it this way, “a scene that it impossible describe either to a writer or artist”

At the of the war to end all wars, Lt. Lewis Plush reflects on his memories of the war to his parents  as he sails back to the United States:  “There was a war,  a great war, and it is over.  Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy.  Some return home. others remain behind on the fields of their greatest sacrifice.  The rewards of the death are the lasting honors of martyrs for humanity; the reward of the living is the peaceful conscience of who play of life and plays it square.”

A man for all genres?

Genre fiction is probably the most popular of what circulates at a public library.  Mysteries, romance, science fiction, fantasy, etc. always have devoted readerships.

Many authors are known for the kind of genre they (mostly) write in – the late Louis L’Amour, although he wrote in a few other genres, will be remembered (and still read) for his Westerns.  Agatha Christie wrote some romances but is famous for her mysteries.

One contemporary author, however, seems to be trying very hard to play “genre bingo” (see Chris’ blog from last summer).  He’s written juvenile fiction, contemporary mysteries, science fiction, young adult superhero novels, and high fantasy. He has stand-alone novels, series, and even finished a highly popular high fantasy epic series that was started by another author.

This author is Brandon Sanderson.  He first came to attention with his first novel, a stand-alone fantasy called Elantris.  (available also as a CD Audiobook)

He next ventured into the territory of a fantasy series, called the Mistborn saga.  (that series now has seven titles as of 2016).  As you might guess by those numbers, the series was highly successful.

But before he’d even completed his original planned trilogy, he shifted gears and started a children’s series, the Alcatraz series, about a young hero whose special gift is that he’s very good at breaking things.  Many libraries bought the first book because it was titled Alcatraz versus the evil librarians. There are now 4 books in that series, again a measure of their popularity.

His next work was another standalone fantasy called Warbreaker.  This was followed by the announcement that Sanderson had been chosen to complete the extremely popular fantasy series The Wheel of Time.  Its creator, Robert Jordan, had passed away but had time to complete notes and recordings on how to complete/resolve the series.  Sanderson was chosen by Jordan’s widow and editor, and his work in completing the series has received acclaim.

While completing the Wheel of Time, Sanderson began another high fantasy series of his own called the Stormlight Archive, which is planned to be a ten-book series.  So far, two have been published.

In 2012, he started a contemporary mystery series with a radical protagonist who suffers from a split personality disorder.  There are two books in that series.

In 2013, Sanderson began a young adult series with the title The Rithmatist. Later that same year, he started another YA series, this time in the popular superhero genre, called The Reckoners series.  That trilogy was just completed this year with the title Calamity.

Sanderson has been a top 10 New York Times bestselling author, has won several major awards, and also teaches creative writing at the university level.  His fantasy novels are admired for his unique takes on magic and magic use, while his mystery and YA series are known for their sometimes surprising characters and plots.

If you’ve been counting, he has been published in 6 areas/genres – fantasy, science fiction, mystery, superhero, Young Adult, and children’s.

Fontana Regional Library has about 24 of his titles, in formats from eAudio to eBook to CD Audiobook, and even print.  If any of this sounds interesting, try one and let me know what you think!

Keep moving forward

Heya folks,

As both Cornelius Robinson and Walt Disney said, one  must “Keep Moving Forward!”  I’ve not done a blog before, but YOLO, to quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. So, I’m going to give it a shot.

I like to read, and I read a lot. So hopefully I’ll have enough subject material to share.  I don’t have any great themes ready yet, but I’m reminded of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen got their big break.  They had launched Microsoft, but I believe they were a bit unready when IBM came calling and asked the young software company to provide the operating system for their Personal Computer.  Microsoft had acquired an operating system called QDOS for Quick and Dirty Operating System, and that ended up being MS-DOS (the PC’s operating system) and the rest is history.  So this will start out as a QD blog, and hopefully move forward from that.

Many folks have heard of or seen True Blood, an HBO series that ran seven seasons and garnered both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.  Not me, never saw an episode.  But the creator of the books behind the series, Charlaine Harris, spoke at a conference I went to last year, so I decided to read some of her titles. Although she’s written SIX series including the one “True Blood” was based on, I picked her most recent series on which to cut my teeth (no vampire pun intended).

It started with Midnight Crossroad,Product Details

 

continued with Day ShiftProduct Details

 

and just concluded with Night Shift.Product Details

 

So what’s it about?

Characters: a friendly witch, a “good” vampire, a female assassin for hire, an internet psychic who is also the real deal, and other perhaps even more strange residents of an extremely small rural town.

Setting: Midnight, Texas – a middle of nowhere, “wide spot in the road,” “sneeze and you’ll miss it” town.  By the end of the trilogy it will become as much of a character as the macabre inhabitants.

Audience: mystery readers, supernatural aficionados, and/or folks who grew up or spent time in miniscule rural communities.

Essentially, the residents of Midnight do what they can to keep their town and themselves “off the map” despite forces almost, but not quite, beyond their control.

I’d recommend all three books of the trilogy, as there really was not a drop off in quality in my opinion.  It wraps up fairly neatly, with the multitude of mysteries and questions raised in book one almost all answered by the conclusion of the third and final title.

Check out the first book (in print, Large Print, or in eBook format) from FRL and let me know what you think!

Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell was an American scholar best known for his writing about World Wars I and II.  He was a veteran of the latter conflict as a 20 years infantry officer who served in Western Europe after D-Day. He was wounded, after which he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.   After the war, Fussell resumed his education, eventually earning a PhD in English literature.  His writing on that subject is more of interest to academics, but his books relating to combat have reached a broader audience.  The Great War and Modern Memory,  Wartime:  Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, The Boys’ Crusade:  the American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-1945, and Doing Battle: the Making of a Skeptic are the most important of these. The first two that show the contrast between the cultures of the two wars will be the focus of this essay.

The Great War and Modern Memory is probably Fussell’s best known work.   It outlines the British experience in World War I and how that influenced writers, especially poets, reliving that part of their lives.   Fussell, as he does in all his books in this vein, writes about the frustrations the lower ranks have to put with in the combat environment.   According to Fussell that war is ironic; for example, battles seldom go the way planners think they will.  At the battle of the Somme in 1916, for example, the Allied artillery pounded the German positions leading generals to think that foot soldiers will be able  to walk into German trenches unopposed.  Instead, the infantry marched into withering machine gun fire and the British took 6,000 casualties on the first day.

The war was not fought the army veterans who commended the British troops who were sent to France expected.  Cavalry was useless against machine gun fire and the infantry tactics had similar success against artillery fire.    New weapons such as machine guns,  gas, airplanes, and tanks  were new ways to kill and maim.  These new killing machines kept large armies from advancing and the war on the Western front stalemated to trenches with a no man’s land in between.  Fussell writes a lot about the influence that conflict had on poets and other writers who romanced the war.   He notes the war poets, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Thomas Hardy, and Wilfred  Owen,  contributions to the Oxford Book of English Verse.

Fussell’s does in writing non-fiction what some authors, such as Heller in Catch 22 and Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five, did  in fiction.  Of course Fussell is a veteran of combat in Europe in 1944-1945, where he was a young second lieutenant in the infantry.  He dedicated The Great War and Modern Memory to the sergeant who was killed beside him in France in 1945.

After reading Fussell’s books, the difference in the American culture in the twenty years between the two wars is obvious.   In the movie theaters, talkies had arrived.  Radio brought news and entertainment into people’s homes.   Celebrities who once was seen only in the big screen now were heard on the radio on a weekly basis.  Big band leaders such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman had their own radio shows.  Hollywood produced patriotic films, some involving combat starring John Wayne who never served in the military.  Meanwhile,  in Britain, the BBC kept broadcasting educational programs while the bombs were falling on London during the blitz.

Acronyms, which were a holdover from the New Deal, were popular, especially in the military:  SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) or my favorite COMAMPHIBFORSOPAC (Commander, Amphibious Force, South Pacific).   There were some others which made their way into civilian language, FUBAR, for example.

The big difference between the American experience in the Great War and World War II was that the American government decided when to declare  on Germany in 1917, but Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor took that decision out Roosevelt’s hands in 1941.   Once in the fight, Americans had put up with shortages at home and rationing.   Not to the extent it happened Britain, where rationing continued until 1954.

A green reporter encountered an infantry squad on the front line in Europe and asked what they would say to the people at home:   “…Tell them it’s more serious than they’ll  ever be able to understand…. Tell them it’s is rough as hell,   Tell them it’s rough.  It’s rough, serious business.  That’s all. That’s all….”

The Grand Finale

I’ve done over 50 blog posts in my career here at Fontana Regional Library. 50! Seems like a lot. The reason I bring this up is because this post that you are reading right now is my last. I am leaving the library and we are moving across the country (2,674 miles to be exact). And by we I mean me, my wife Christina, who co-wrote the early blogs, and Bellatrix.

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No, Bella, you can’t keep that table.

So then, what shall we talk about? I thought of a few things, like talking about my favorite books once again, or reminiscing about previous posts. I discarded those ideas, because they don’t take us anywhere. Been there, done that.

Next I thought about the identity of the blog, and specifically my posts. What have I been trying to achieve? What was the point? The answer is obvious. Glaringly, blindingly obvious. The answer is books. Sure, I ventured off the beaten trail a few times (and note how I am avoiding referencing previous posts. They are there. You can find them yourself if you want), but the main focus was always books. It is always gratifying when someone likes or shares or comments on a post, but when someone says they read one of the books I suggested? That is sublime.

I already said I wasn’t going to prattle on about books I already prattled on about, and a couple of posts back I talked about the miscellaneous titles I hadn’t gotten around to talking about yet. So what am I going to talk about? Nothing. Okay, that is a gross oversimplification. If you think you are getting out of this without me slipping in some of my favorites, you are crazy. What I really mean is that I am going to let others do the talking.

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No, not the squirrel talkers.

I asked a few of my co-workers if they wanted to suggest a title or two, or three, or four in one case *coughEmilycough*. The idea is that while I may not be around to give you reading recommendations, there are lots of other people who are. Remember, these are their words, not mine.

Kristina (Macon County Public Library)

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

I picked this up while thinking ahead about an upcoming League of Women Voters book and movie display, since one of the characters is a former suffragette, and I thought it might complement the Carey Mulligan/Helena Bonham Carter movie we’ll be showing.

This quiet little book just ended, and burst my heart wide open! Books that make me cry are highly recommended.

Charles (Macon County Public Library)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I have not laughed so much at a book in quite some time.

Serenity (Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library)

Feed by Mira Grant

One of my go to not quite guilty pleasures is the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant. First book is Feed. It’s a great little commentary on media and politics wrapped up in a tasty zombie horror shell.

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Fed and sleeping.

Karen (Hudson Library)

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

My favorite recommendation no matter the age, teen and beyond, is Bryce Courtenay’s classic The Power of One.

Emily (Hudson Library)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily at Hudson recommends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – and not just because they share the same name! Station Eleven is well-written, easy-to-read, and considers the importance of Art as an essential part of survival in a post-apocalyptic (so to speak) world.

Your Heart Is A Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

This spectacular work covers a single day at the WTO protests in Seattle and forces readers to empathize with characters they would not normally identify with – which is arguably an essential function of great literature.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

A refreshing spin on “Snow White” with a beautiful book cover!

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

Fun for the whole family!

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Different weight classes.

Stephanie (Jackson County Public Library)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

It saved my life.

Christina (Funemployed)

Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino

I have a lot of favorite movies and books, but there aren’t many that have actually affected me in such a way that I remember the first time I experienced them. In fact, I can only think of two.

For both times, I was in high school. The first memory was when I was fourteen, and was out walking with my friend. Neither of us had a car or even a license, so we ended up walking to the movie theater (we had missed a bus to something and therefore had all day to kill). After buying a ticket for a PG movie, we snuck into Pulp Fiction (don’t do this at home, kids!).

My friend and I sat in a mostly empty theater, stunned by the violence, unforgettable characters, and sharp dialogue. We laughed when others gasped and left the theater grinning from ear to ear. I remember thinking, “when I create something, I want to have an impact like that”. It’s still one of my favorite movies.

Brain Droppings by George Carlin

The second memory involves my favorite all time comic, George Carlin. I was in a bookstore with two friends (one was the Pulp Fiction fellow sneaker), and we spotted Brain Droppings. Curious, I picked it up and began reading it out loud. Soon we were all hysterical, and I made a beeline for the checkout counter. I ended up reading most of it to my friends during lunch but had to stop because we were laughing so hard our stomachs began hurting. I still have the book, and it still makes me laugh.

Chris 

Blackstar by David Bowie

It was quite startling to listen to Bowie’s final CD and realize that as much credit as he was given we may still have underappreciated him. An astounding piece of work.

Okay, that last one was me. I want to thank everyone for contributing, and hope some of you readers read some of their reading recommendations. I know I will.

Speaking of thanks, there are a few personal ones I want to pass out. I would beg your indulgence, but this is still my blog, so I can do what I want. First, my wife Christina, without whom none of this would have happened. Sounds cliche, I know, but I wouldn’t have started blogging at all if she hadn’t done it with me. Plus she has had to listen to me bounce ideas off of her ever since. Thank you, and I love you. And a shout out to our cats, Bellatrix, Scrambles the Death Dealer, and Siouxsie, who if nothing else provided plenty of pictures for the blog.

Thanks to Don, the first blog admin I had. He provided lots of support and help as I started writing, not to mention spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how I could use spoilers in a post.

Thanks to all the other Shelf Life in the Mountains blog contributors, especially the current ones, Amy and Stephen. Besides her excellent writing, Amy is also the “looks” of the organization. By which I mean she created the new logo, and she creates the images for each new post that we use on the library website. Thanks Amy! And Stephen…well Stephen just keeps going like clockwork. I feel like that in 50 years from now he will still be educating and entertaining us with new posts.

Finally, thanks most of all to the readers. Whether you are a long time aficionado or first time peruser, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few minutes (or a bunch of minutes when it comes to some of my posts) to take a look. None of this happens without your support. We have had readers from near and far, and I hope all of you got something worthwhile out of it. Thank you all.

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I already thanked you, Scrambles!

 

Just one more thing. I promise! It is easy enough to find bestseller lists and classics and such. One thing I always liked was being able to point people towards good books they may not have found otherwise. So I conclude with a list of some of my favorites, many of which I think not enough people are aware of. No Commentary, just a list and a final bit of wisdom: keep reading!

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

Lexicon by Max Barry

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

Hyperbole and a Half  by Allie Brosh

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Here by Richard McGuire

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

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