Neutrality: an Explosive Step Closer to War

 

When I started this series detailing how the United States became involved in the Great War (afterwards World War I), I envisioned two parts, but when I realized how complicated the story was, I realized it  was going to take three.    Last month’s episode involved the sinking of the Lusitania.  The current blog describes how German agents in the United States used sabotage to keep American products from reaching the Allies, principally Great Britain and France.   The third, in April, will narrate Germany’s attempts to involve the United States in a conflict with Mexico, resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and how that finally tried President Wilson’s patience.

Black-Tom

President Wilson’s attempt to keep America neutral was difficult for a number of reasons: first, American businesses were making money off  the war.   Second, there was a large percentage of foreign born persons living in the United States.  The 1910 Census showed 1.21 million were British and almost double that were German.  The latter population was targeted by the German Ambassador to the United States, Count Johann Heinrich Andreas Hermann von Bernstorff, who was given the assignment of organizing a spy and sabotage network to keep Americans from helping the Allies with their war effort.   The German military and naval attaches did the hands-on work to see to it the Imperial Government’s plans were carried out. (1)

In 1915, the German network was at work on the New York waterfront, using crew members from ships that had been quarantined for the length  of the war to do their dirty work.  Bombs went off on either vessels that were docked or ships that had left New York and were at sea.  American authorities suspected German sabotage but could prove nothing.   At that point the federal government had no agency like the FBI or the ATF to investigate and make arrests in cases like they do today.   Instead, the Justice Department turned to the New York City Police Department.  Howard Blum’s book Dark Invasion traces that story.

New York was not only the place where German agents were carrying out acts of sabotage.   One was caught trying to blow up a newly built dam on the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.   Later, another confessed to blowing up a black powder magazine on Mare Island, California.  In June 1915, a man of German descent, Erich Muenter, using an alias, set off a bomb inside the U. S. Capitol in Washington and then took a train to Long Island and shot financier J. P. Morgan.  He was arrested soon after but died in jail before he could tried.  (2)

Two of Germany’s top agents in New York were Franz von Papen and Franz von Rintelen.   Von Papen was posted to Washington as a military attache in the German embassy.  Papen’s colleague von Rintelen was a junior in the Admiralty staff who had worked in a New York bank before the war, and was sent there to oversee his nation’s efforts to undermine American attempts to finance and supply Great Britain and France’s war. German agents both in New York and Baltimore used real and shell companies as fronts.  For example, Norddeutsche Lloyd (NDL) was a real German corporation, while the Eastern Forwarding Company (EFCO) was not. Von Rintelen set up cells in east coast ports and New Orleans; the members of each one did not know about the cells in other cities.  Eventually the American declared both men personna non grata and expelled them from the country.  With help from Room 40 British cryptanalysts, Rintelen was taken off the ship he was traveling on by British authorities and made a prisoner of war before being extradited back to the United States to face charges stemming from his activities there.

However, the biggest case of sabotage involved the Black Tom Munitions Depot in New Jersey.  The depot was owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the entity responsible for shipping war materials destined for Great Britain, France, and Russia.  On the evening of July 16, 1916, a vast explosion ripped through the terminal, shattering windows in Manhattan, damaging the Statue of the Liberty, and waking sleeping people over a wide area.  Night watchmen on duty at the terminal sounded the alarm when they first spotted flames, but with over two million tons of explosives on site a disaster was waiting to happen.  The fact that the railroad had been violating federal regulations by keeping explosives on railroad cars and barges tied up to the pier masked the sabotage carried out by German agents. Not until a Congressional investigation in the 1930s was the truth uncovered. (3)

Further to the south, Baltimore was another port of interest to Germans, especially when the Imperial Navy constructed two commercial submarines, designed bypass the Royal Navy blockade of the German coast.  The crews of these ships were ostentatiously civilians but in reality, for the most part, belonged to the Imperial Navy.    The first of the two submarines, U-Deutschland, arrived in Baltimore harbor on July 10, 2016.     When the resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917, the U-Deutschland was converted to a warship.

(1)   British spies were active in the United States as well.  Christopher Andrew’s books on the MI5, the British Secret Service,  listed below, outlines their means for keeping track of the Germans.

(2) Muenter was a German professor at Harvard until he disappeared in 1906 after poisoning his wife.  When he surfaced nine years later, he had re-married and was called Frank Holt.  Before his adventure in Washington and Long Island, he volunteered to help the agents of the German IIIB network in New York.  Blum,  pp. 3-11,  279-333.

(3) Witcover.

For further reading:

Christopher Andrew,  Defend the Realm:  the Authorized History of MI5.    pp.  71-79

Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only,  pp.  30-50

Christopher Andrew,  Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  pp. 86-127.

Howard Blum,  Dark Invasion: 1915, Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America.

Robert Koenig, The Fourth Horseman: One Man’s Mission to Wage the Great War in America.

Jules Witcover,  Sabotage at Black Tom:  Imperial Germany’s Secret War in America.

Something about Seuss

While it’s just past us this year, mark your calendars for 2018!  The day we can get away with dressing up as a Cat in the Hat, a Daisy Head Mayzie, or a Thing One or Two.

March 2nd is a big day in the world of young readers.  It’s the day we honor Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.  It’s referred to as Read Across America Day.

Why March 2nd?  It’s his birthday!  Dr. Seuss was born on March 2, 1904.  If he was still living he would be 113 years old!  We honor him because he helped create a wacky world of reading for young and not so young kids and the messages in his books are timeless.  While he wasn’t truly a “Dr.” he did receive his first honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Dartmouth in 1955.

Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated 44 books for children. 40 of the 44 are written in rhyme!  His works range from Green Eggs and Ham to The Cat in the Hat to Hop on Pop.  While his books are geared towards children you can always find things we adults need to take heed of.  For example, the motivating Oh, the Thinks You Can Think instills in the reader that you are only limited by what you can think.  My take on it is that the sky is the limit and the only limits are those you put on yourself.  Over the years it has become a favorite for graduation gifts.

The Cat in the Hat was published in 1957.  Dr. Seuss was concerned about children not learning to read.  Some thought it was those boring Dick and Jane primers.  Houghton Mifflin challenged him to write a children’s book with no more than 225 different words from a list of 348.  The result was The Cat in the Hat.

Green Eggs and Ham was the result of a challenge issued to Dr. Seuss by publisher Bennett Cerf telling him he bet he couldn’t write a book with 50 or fewer different words.  This one went on to be his all-time best selling title.

Dr. Seuss was also known for his politically motivated titles such as The Sneetches, Horton Hears a Who!, and Yertle the Turtle.  Man, was he ever talented with the ability to take something serious, put his wacky characters into the mix and rhyme like nobody’s business for a story that spoke volumes on topics such as social injustice and war.  Let’s not forget The Lorax.  Did you know that in 1989 this book was banned in a California school because it was thought it would put the logging industry in a poor light and turn children against it?  You see the community where this school is located depended on the logging industry.  As a counter to The Lorax, the logging community published The Truax.

Some people don’t care for Dr. Seuss.  Gasp!  That can’t be true!  But, it is.  All that rhyming can begin to wear you down after a while.  I will admit to hiding a certain title of his, Fox in Socks, from my own children when they were very little.  My daughter reminded me just yesterday that I also hid The Cat in the Hat and refused to read The Cat in the Hat Comes Back at some point in her childhood.  Those I do not remember but I distinctly remember sliding Fox in Socks between the couch cushions on at least one occasion.  Don’t all parents do that at some point?  Full disclosure:  I do love Dr. Seuss!!!  I am a children’s librarian after all.  The kids were just at that read the same thing 5,000 times stage and I had to keep my sanity somehow.

Whether you could take Dr. Seuss or leave him we must admit that he continues to have a definite impact on keeping kids engaged in reading through his rhyme, wacky characters, crazy settings, zany illustrations, and nonsensical way of telling a story.  I mean, we still celebrate his birthday!  Or maybe it comes down to us just wanting an excuse to dress up in wacky outfits?

me-as-cat-in-hat
It’s hard to see, but I am holding my tail!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of eBooks

One of the things about doing a bit of a retrospective of where you’ve been in the last year is that you occasionally realize things that sort of slid by you when you were actually experiencing them.

While compiling my list of top 10 recommendations of books I read in 2016 , I did a count of how many book titles I actually read last year.  Turns out since I keep a reading history – you can do this too in your online library account:

cardinal-screenthat I read 100 books, averaging about one every 3 or 4 days.

This surprised me, as 2016 may have been one of my biggest years ever for reading that many titles.  I may have surpassed that during the summers when I was 10-12, but I’ve generally found less time for reading as a working adult, a husband, and a father of a young child. So how in the world did I read that many books?  I believe it was the fact that 80 of the 100 books I read were in the form of an eBook.

Now please know from the start that I am in no way denigrating the “true book” experience – I too am a bibliophile, as one might expect from a librarian. I love the physical properties of a book: the tactile sensation of turning the pages, the smell of an older volume.  I probably have more volumes of books in my home than the average — it reminds me of the joke I used to tell: “What do you get when a professor marries a librarian? 15 bookcases full of books.”

Nevertheless, in the world I live in now I never could have reached 100 titles read in one year were it not for eBooks.  Here’s how it happened…

I do have a Kindle, but I must confess that a dedicated eReader has not been the primary platform for me and eBooks.  No, the device I read eBooks on is my smartphone.

To make this work, it took several different factors – one was the Overdrive app.

“OverDrive Media Console is a proprietary, freeware application developed by OverDrive, Inc. for use with its digital distribution services for libraries, schools, and retailers. The application enables users to access audiobooks, eBooks, periodicals, and videos borrowed from libraries and schools—or purchased from booksellers—on [various]devices…” — Wikipedia

This handy application (available in the Apple and Android universes, as well as others) is fairly easy to download, and, as stated above, free!

The second factor is the fact that by far the majority of US public libraries have chosen the Overdrive app to allow access to their eBook collections. You DID know that almost all public libraries have eBook collections, right?  Sometimes I wonder when I read about people touting various “for profit” paywall sources for eBooks – I’ve paid for less than six eBooks total.  I read library-sourced eBooks almost exclusively. Why not?  Who wouldn’t want free?

So big factor one and big factor two = FREE!

One of the nice things about the Overdrive app is the ability to download the book you want, instead of streaming.  Once it’s downloaded (and you have the choice of a download version compatible with Kindles or a more general standard called ePub) you don’t need an internet connection to read the book (which also saves on battery power for your device, not to mention data used from your phone’s service plan).  You can also choose the font size, the screen brightness, etc.  This makes it easy to read on the beach, in the car (while someone else is driving, of course), or even at night with a black screen / white letters that’s easy on your night vision.  Then it is quite convenient to pick up your device and read while you wait at the doctor’s office (instead of reading the year-old Sports Illustrated or the even older Better Homes and Gardens), while you are in a long line at the Post Office during the holiday mailing season, while you are waiting at your child’s basketball practice, or even in front of the fireplace on a rainy night instead of picking up a physical book.  When you put all of that spare/possibly wasted time together, you too can read 100 books a year.

SO…if you have a portable device like a tablet, phablet, or smartphone, start by making sure your library card is updated and ready to go.  You can do that by accessing your library account online:   the “My Account” button in the upper right hand corner of this webpage – http://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/home

(Or of course coming into a Fontana Regional Library branch in person, or calling your local branch…)

Once you know your account is “good to go,” travel to either the iTunes App store for Apple products: [https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/overdrive-library-ebooks-and-audiobooks/id366869252?mt=8];

Or for Android devices, go to the Google Play store: [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.overdrive.mobile.android.mediaconsole&hl=en].

Download the app and open it – it will guide you through the initial set-up.  Basically, it will ask you to identify your library and enter your library information and library barcode.  Once you do that, be sure and mark that you want your device to remember the information, unless you enjoy keying in the 14-digit barcode repeatedly.

At that point, your device is ready to browse and search for eBooks you might enjoy.  When you find a title (and the library has best sellers and a wide selection) you are interested in, just ask to Borrow that title – you can then have the eBook for 7 to 21 days (depending on the title – you can even choose the borrowing period for some titles!) and you start reading just by “flipping” screens on your device, just like turning pages on a physical book.  You can bookmark your place in the eBook (make sure you learn how to do this at the start) and then pop in to your reading choice during all the “spare corners” of your life.  Before you know it, you are reading like a house afire!

We can help you get started on reading eBooks here @ your FRL library – we have several people able to offer free device help as you need it.  Just ask!  Happy e-reading!

Rollicking Reads from 2016

It is the time of year for retrospectives.  And rather than recap celebrity deaths (Prince, Bowie, Mariah Carey’s career), I thought I’d pick a handful of materials I’ve checked out from the library that gave me hours of enjoyment this past year of 2016. They were not all published in 2016, but 2016 was the year I read them for the first time.

Overall, I’ve read 80 eBooks this past year, and about 20 additional books in print.  From those 100  I’ll select 10 things to recommend, all available from Fontana Regional Library or the NC Cardinal state system that FRL belongs to.

One explanation about my selections: I like science fiction and fantasy genres, but also like thriller and adventure novels, good comedies, and even some mysteries; when reading non-fiction I like histories, biographies, and memoirs.  So you will see “all of the above” in the ten titles/series I’ve chosen.  I’ll start with a memoir…about a movie, made about a book, that was written about a fictional book.

1.As you wish: inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (2014)

A memoir by the actor who played Westley in the now-classic movie The Princess Bride.  Hilarious and heart-warming, behind the scenes stories of how the movie came together, from the screenwriter (who also wrote the original book) to Billy Crystal to Andre the giant.

2.The Brilliance series by Marcus Sakey

3 titles: Brilliance (2013),  A Better World (2014), Written in Fire (2016)

An edge of tomorrow science-fiction thriller-adventure, about the social problems that occur when a percentage of the world’s children start manifesting savant-style gifts (like lightning calculation, but also mind-reading, pattern recognition, fantastic reflexes, etc.). It’s the story (somewhat similar to the story line of Blade Runner), about a special agent who hunts down the “Brilliants” who have broken the law.  And he and his youngest daughter are also Brilliants…

3.The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

3 titles: The Invisible Library (2016), The Masked City (2016), The Burning Page (2017)

This fantasy series contains the tales of an alternate reality wherein many alternate realities can be traveled to, and the Invisible Library where the librarians attempt to collect all the versions of various books by travelling to the multi-verses involved.  Each alternate has a varying degree of Law vs. Chaos – Law based realities are like ours, with science and technology, whereas Chaos realities have fairies, dragons, magic, etc.  The realities are on a spectrum, so many of them have a mix. One of the first places the first book goes is a steampunk world with a Sherlock Holmes surrogate vs. vampires.

4.Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor

8 novels, plus novellas: https://www.goodreads.com/series/109102-the-chronicles-of-st-mary-s

In this fast-paced science-fiction series, St. Mary’s is an historical institute where historians study history via time travel.  A secret to all but their sponsoring Thirsk University, these tales tell of a the madcap adventures of the historian Madeline Maxwell, as she bounces with her colleagues from the fall of Troy to the Gates of Thermopylae to encounters with Isaac Newton and dodo birds.

5.Night School by Lee Child (2016)

Like all the Jack Reacher books written by Child, this one can be read as a standalone work, and not in any particular order.  Some of the Reacher books are “contemporary” and others are set back in Reacher’s past, while he was still in the Army.  This is a “past” title detailing how Reacher and a select team of both FBI and CIA agents undertake a secret mission to stop terrorists before they strike.  The appeal of the Reacher novels lies in the Jack Reacher character himself, as his unique brain and his indomitable physical gifts combine to thwart evil wherever he encounters it. In total, there are 21 books as of Night School.

6.Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

2 titles: Six of Crows (2015), Crooked Kingdom (2016)

This fantasy duology is set in a steampunk world with some magic, and is sort of a fantasy version of Ocean’s Eleven. A group of six misfit but highly competent mercenary/criminals set out to infiltrate an un-breachable fortress and liberate the prisoner held there. There are lots of plot twists, with the leader Kaz usually (but not always) one step ahead of his opponents.

7.Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

8 published novels and one novella : https://www.goodreads.com/series/46160-flavia-de-luce

A mystery series set shortly after WW2, whose heroine Flavia is only 11 (in the first book), but possessed of a mind like Sherlock Holmes, a rather morbid interest in chemistry (specializing in poisons), and the youngest of a very interesting English noble family.  Most of the books are set in the environs of the decaying mansion and grounds of the de Luce estate, but one of the books sees Flavia off to Canada.  The series has ongoing themes, and is not really designed for standalone reading, but it can be done that way without undue difficulty.

8.The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson

3 novels and one novella: https://www.goodreads.com/series/93010-reckoners

An Earth where there are no super-heroes, only super-villains (the Epics), opposed by an extraordinary band of non-superpowered human rebels known as the Reckoners. Their goal – somehow defeating the Epics and restoring their world. Their only hope is to exploit the secret weakness of each super-villain.

9.Ex-heroes series by Peter Clines

5 titles: https://www.goodreads.com/series/67447-ex-heroes

{from the author’s website} In the days after civilization fell to the zombie hordes, a small team of heroes—including St. George, Zzzap, Cerberus, and Stealth—does everything they can to protect human survivors. Each day is a desperate battle against overwhelming odds as the heroes fight to keep the undead at bay, provide enough food and supplies for the living, and lay down their lives for those they’ve sworn to protect. But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the shadows of the ruin that lies everywhere…and they may be the most terrifying threat of all.

10.The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

[from the publishers webpage] “The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.”

*****

As you can see, I discovered some wonderful series last year, as well as individual books, that kept me up too late, made me laugh out loud, and grabbed my imagination.  I hope you find something here that you will likewise enjoy!

[disclaimer: with series I am just linking to the first title in the series for you to get started, but I either list the existing books in the series or provide a link so they can be read in order]

My Favorite Mystery Writers 2

When I’m not reading history or biography I tend to read mysteries, suspense novels,  and / or thrillers.  I have written in this blog before about some of my favorite mystery authors.  Here goes with some more!   I love British police procedurals, series that have a strong woman as the main character, mysteries with a touch of humor to them,  thrillers with an international twist, the noir genre,  and mysteries that are set in the near past (19th and 20th centuries).  Over the years, I’ve come to realize that some authors mean to have their books read in the order in which they are published, so I read them thusly.

Some authors are content to let their characters live in a particular time and others stretch their lives out to encompass long periods of time.  Here are some examples.   Jacqueline Winspear enters Maisie Dobbs’ life when Maisie is a young teenager in the first decade of the 20th century.  In her twelfth book,  an adult Maisie travels to Berlin in 1938.   Contrast that with Sue Graftons Kinsey Millhone, who appears to be stuck in the 1980s and  ages  one year every two and half books.    Anne Perry‘s character Thomas Pitt has been combating criminals and traitors in London for the last twenty years of the nineteenth century through thirty-one volumes in the series.  He and his wife, whom he met in his first case, married at the end of the first book and now have two teen-aged children.   Elizabeth George‘s Inspector Lynley mysteries seem to follow chronologically one right after another.

Although I prefer British mysteries written by British authors, I have found there are American writers who write mysteries set in the British Isles almost as good as the natives.  Elizabeth George is one of these.   Inspector  Thomas Lynley is a peer who likes to downplay his title, but dates a woman who is also an aristocrat.  His creator has paired him with a duo of detectives, Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata from totally different cultures:  Havers is from a lower middle class background who lives with aging parents  in council (public) housing;  Nkata is a black man who came from a violent, troubled youth.

Martha Grimes is another American author whose main character is a Scotland Yard detective.   Grimes is unique because all her mysteries have titles that are the names of real pubs in Great Britain.   Her main characters are Richard Jury, and Melrose Plant, a friend who helps Jury with some of his cases.   Plant is a hereditary peer who has given up his titles to the dismay of his American born aunt.  Jury and Plant’s worlds go from Islington, the area of London where Jury lives, to New Scotland Yard where he works, to Long Piddleton, where Plant’s ancestral home is located.   Secondary characters inhabit these locales and other places where Jury has to go for his cases.

An author’s success with a series of books inhabited by the same characters, such as Grimes’,   depends on similar characteristics that make for hit series on television.  First, of course, there has to be good writing.   The main characters have to be believable and supported by an entertaining secondary cast of characters.  A good example of this is one of my favorite authors whom I haven’t mentioned yet, Daniel Silva, who writes thrillers that could mirror tomorrow’s headlines.  The main character of Silva’s books is Gabriel Allon, an Israeli art restorer who doubles as a spy/assassin.  Among Allon’s supporting cast is his second  wife, Chiara, also an agent for the Office, the Israeli intelligence agency they both work for.  In addition to her, he has a team who supports him in whatever op they are running.  Various agents from MI6, CIA, etc. also populate these books, along with villains from a number of Arab organizations, both real and fictional.

To close, I’d like to remember one of my favorite writers, Ruth Rendell.   She died in May 2015 at the age of 85.  She was honored by the Queen as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1996 and as a life peer, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, in 1997.  As such she was an active Labourite member of the House of Lords until she had a stroke four months before she died.  “The last words of Ruth Rendell’s 66th novel, which can be revealed without a spoiler, consists of someone declaring: “Now it’s all over. ” May she rest in peace!

20+ from 2016

A lot of people think that as a librarian I get to sit around and read all day.  Nothing could be farther from the actual day to day of my job.  But, I can say that reading is a definite perk!  And for this post I got to read some pretty amazing books for children.

As we say farewell to 2016 and welcome 2017 with open arms, I wanted to take a moment to share some great children’s titles that Fontana Regional Library added to its collection.  I originally planned to call this piece “16 from 2016” but found so many great titles we have added that I could not narrow it down to 16.  I have included the link to our catalog if you click on the title and if you click on the book cover it will take you to another reputable review of the book.

A quick note:  I included the ages I felt the selection was suitable for.  Preschool or young children means children under the age of 5, lower elementary is kindergarten-first grade, middle elementary is second-third grade, and upper elementary is fourth-fifth grade.

51qoecng5gl-_sx258_bo1204203200_I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste it Too!)

Rachel Isadora

  • What a great picture book to help teach the 5 senses!  Simple text.  Lots of examples for each sense.  Very inclusive in the illustrations with children’s faces depicting diversity.  You have to wait until the end for the pickle.  Safety is addressed in pointing out things you do not touch.  Trying something new (like spinach) is depicted in a positive way.  Suitable for younger children.

Denise Fleming

A little boy, Michael, tries to get dressed with the help of his dog Maggie.  Maggie ends up getting dressed instead of Michael.  Bright colorful illustrations.  Color words are emphasized using ink the color the word represents.  Simple text which is a trademark of Denise Fleming.  Suitable for younger children.

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

This book follows a pattern of action verbs to highlight animals, some familiar like an elephant and some unfamiliar like a hoatzin, that use that particular action for their movement.  Illustrations are a good representation of the animal in real life. The name of the animal is in bold print.  There is a glossary of sorts at the end that gives a little more information about each animal in the book.  Suitable for middle to upper elementary children.

David A. Adler

This selection starts off pretty basic and I could see the first 3 pages being used in lower elementary grades to introduce basic things like circle, sphere, cone, cylinder, ovals, and spirals.  Then the text gets more involved with vocabulary like diameter, radius, major and minor sectors and so on.  It shows students how to trace and cut out a circle and then use that circle to illustrate the concepts related to a circle.  At the end there is a Glossary with definitions of the bold faced terms in the book.  There is an answer key to go with the questions posed in the book at different points.   Suitable for upper elementary and middle school.  Math teachers would love this book!

Mo Willems

Definitely not your Elephant and Piggie story but it packs a powerful punch all the same.  I see lots of potential for vocabulary development with words like baguette and regret.  There are good stopping points for predictions when the author asks, “Can Nanette stop tasting the baguette?” and when the author asks, “What will she do?”  The images are interesting.  It says, “The images in this story are comprised of photographed handcrafted cardboard-and-paper constructions digitally integrated with photographed illustrations and additions.”  This selection would make a great book to teach character traits like responsibility and honesty.  Suitable for younger children and lower elementary children.

Sergio Ruzzier

The illustrations begin with a white background as a duck finds a book with no pictures.  At first he is upset that it has no pictures.  A bug comes along and asks if he can read it.  As he begins to read the book there is color in the illustrations.  This is a great book to illustrate how we all make our own mind movies for books we read.  Suitable for children in elementary school, especially those transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

Steve Goetz & Eda Kaban

We all know the story about Old MacDonald having a farm.  This book takes that and gives it a twist so Old MacDonald has big earth movers and diggers like an excavator, front loader, dump truck, etc.  There are lots of great sound effect opportunities in this one!  Suitable for preschool and young elementary aged children.

61ycre4x3gl-_sx258_bo1204203200_La Madre Goose Nursery Rhymes for Los Ninos

Susan Middleton Elya and Juana Martinez-Neal

In this book nursery rhymes like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Little Boy Blue are beautifully illustrated and key words are replaced with Spanish words.  For example, lamb is replaced with oveja and blue is replaced with azul.  There is a Glossary at the beginning with pronunciations and definitions for the Spanish words in the text.  What a great way to incorporate diversity through familiarizing children with the Spanish language as well as giving children who are bilingual a way to hear both English and Spanish.  Suitable for all ages.

9780805092516Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep

April Pulley Sayre & Steve Jenkins

This selection highlights the different types of squirrels:  gray, fox, red, flying.  It uses simple rhyming text.  At the end of the book is more information about “Squirrels and Their Trees”.   Suitable for younger children as well as lower/middle elementary with the extra information at the end of the book.

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April Pulley Sayre & Steve Jenkins

This book includes all kinds of woodpeckers.  It shows how they live.  The illustrations are colorful and accurate to nature.  Uses simple rhyming text/simple sentences.  At the end there is more information about entitled “Woodpecker World”.  Suitable for younger children as well as lower/middle elementary with the extra information at the end of the book.

9780374300494Dragon Was Terrible

Kelly DiPucchio and Greg Pizzoli

The king puts out the word that there is a reward for whoever can tame the terrible dragon.  This dragon is pretty terrible.  He spits on cupcakes, burps in church, and pops birthday balloons.  The dragon gets worse as more and more people attempt to tame him.  But, along comes someone with a new approach.  Kindness.  What is the reward for this kindness?  A new friend!  This would be a great book to use for teaching the character trait of kindness.  Suitable for children of all ages.

velasquez-eric-looking-for-bongoLooking for Bongo

Eric Velasquez

A little boy is looking for Bongo.  At first I thought he meant his bongo drums.  It turns out to be his stuffed dog.  He asks everyone in the family.  No one seems to know where Bongo is.  This story incorporates Spanish words for key words/phrases like “No se.” for “I don’t know” and “Buscalo” for “Look for it.”  The English translation is included within the text to assist comprehension of the Spanish.   Suitable for preschool and younger elementary children.

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Dan Santat

What a great story!  I needed to highlight this one in my last blog post.  It is about a family traveling to Grandma’s house and the inevitable tiresomeness that comes from a car trip.  The illustrations are super cool and cause you to look at the book from different perspectives as in you have to actually turn the book sideways, upside down, and practically read upside down.  Dan Santat has incorporated QR codes to add a techy interactivity to the illustrations/storyline.  I love the message that you should just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Suitable for middle and upper elementary children.  The illustrations may be hard to follow for younger children.

Suzanne Lang & Max Lang

This book celebrates diversity in a unique way.  It looks at the differences in kids in regards to things they like to do, what they wear, how they eat, or their hobbies.  It uses cartoonish looking animals in the illustrations along with photographs of different settings like the playground, a classroom, or the ocean.  Its message is that no matter what it is you like or do all kids are great.  It uses short sentences with rhyming text to help the book flow with its message.  Suitable for preschool and young elementary children.

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Robie H. Harris & Nadine Bernard Westcott

This book is part of a series “Let’s Talk About You and Me”.  It talks about the things that make us similar and the things that make us different.  The text is longer narrative.  The overall message is that even though we are not all the same (how boring would that be?) there is more about us that is the same than is different.  I really like the use of new vocabulary like “melanin”.   Suitable for elementary aged children due to the longer narrative length.  I could see it being used with preschool aged children but not in one sitting.  I would use it in multiple sittings.

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Eric Litwin & Tom Lichtenheld

If you love the original Pete the Cat then you are going to love Groovy Joe!  This book has a great message of sharing.  There is a website link for music you can use with the story.  I think my newest favorite song is “The Groovy Dance”.  This selection uses repetitive, rhyming text.  I am super excited to use it in an upcoming storytime!  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary children.

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Mariam Gates & Sarah Jane Hinder

Yoga is a wonderful way to re-center ourselves and relieve stress.  This book is super kid friendly and helps children with yoga they can handle.  The illustrations show children doing the yoga poses in different settings which relays the message that yoga can be done anywhere at any time.  There are gentle directions in the text to guide each pose.  Personally, I am a little intimidated by yoga due to my body’s inflexibility but this book gave me some simple and easily understood directions of some yoga poses I can do on my own.  Suitable for all ages.

Jonathan London & Frank Remkiewicz

Froggy’s energy practically jumps off the page in this wonderful story about Froggy going to the library with his mother and little sister.  I love the way Froggy thinks storytime is for babies and then cannot resist joining in with what they are doing.  Froggy definitely adds his own flavor of fun to storytime.  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary aged children.

Daisy Hirst

A wonderful story about two monster looking siblings, Natalie and Alphonse.  Alphonse can be a bit trying and then ends up eating Natalie’s book.  When Alphonse tries to fix the book he creates even more chaos.  I love the way this book gives insight to sibling relationships.  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary aged children.

Ame Dyckman & Zachariah OHora

I love the message in this story that you get more from being kind to others than from being mad.  The little girl in this story blames Bear for something that he didn’t mean to do.  Actually, she was kind of trespassing.  I really like how the little girl’s anger is illustrated.  It would be a great discussion starter for kids and how they react in situations that do not go their way.  The goat eating the kite string on the last page could also spark some good problem solving discussions.  I like the use of vocabulary like indignant – the bear says this after the little girl calls him horrible many times.  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary aged children.

Holly Sterling

This is a story about a little girl named Ruby and her attempts to help her dog, Oscar, get rid of his hiccups.  The text offers plenty of opportunities to incorporate action and have kids repeat fun words like “slurpity-slurp” and “fizzy-wizzy, sparkly stuff”.   Suitable for preschool aged children.

 

Jonathan London & Meilo So

This is a great non-fiction title about otters.  It starts with otter babies and goes through all the seasons and how they grow and develop.  There is additional text that could be used with older children to expand on the information presented in the narrative.  The book includes an index and additional information at the end of the book about otters.  Illustrations are beautifully done and are true to nature.  Suitable for elementary aged children and perhaps preschool children on an abbreviated basis.

Kathryn Cole & Qin Leng

A sensitive story about a little girl named Claire and a secret her soccer coach tells her to keep.  This is a very important and delicate topic.  I am glad there is a resource out there to help bridge the fear that is cultivated from this type of situation.  It definitely sends the message that telling is the best course of action and that it is not the child’s fault.  Suitable for elementary aged children.

 

Stacey Roderick & Kwanchai Moriya

This book is set up with a page asking which ocean animal has a head, eye, fin, etc. like this and it shows a part of the animal in the illustration.  On the next page it shows a full illustration of the ocean animal along with a description of that animal’s characteristics.  I like that it gives a definition in parenthesis for predator and prey.  There is also a pronunciation in parenthesis for “anemone” which is always a hard one to say.  The last two pages have additional ocean animals with an interesting fact about each one.  Suitable for preschool and early to middle elementary aged children.

My hope is that some of these titles will suit your needs as we embark on this journey we call 2017!  Check them out at your nearest Fontana Regional Library branch!

Listen & Learn

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

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“Are we there yet?  How much farther?”

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

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

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Listening to a great story!

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

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

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A great story is just a listen away!

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

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

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

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

Reading Series – a professional’s guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEWARE THE DANGERS OF STEPPING UNHEEDINGLY INTO A BOOK SERIES!

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

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

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

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

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

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

The Necromancer Series by Lish McBride

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

The Checquy Files by Daniel O’Malley

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

The Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

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

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

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

This is the ultimate high fantasy series.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

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

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

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

The Baroque Series by Neal Stephenson

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

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

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

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

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

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

The Reacher series by Lee Child

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

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

Have space suit – will travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America the Dutiful

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

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

-Ed Asner

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

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

Stop by your library and checkout a banned book!

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

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

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

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

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

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