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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Great Book Club Picks: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

What if you could live your life over again until you got it right? Would it be possible to change the course of your own life, the fate of your loved ones or perhaps even history as we know it? Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is about Ursula B. Todd, born into a comfortable home in England in 1910... over and over again. Every time Ursula's life comes to an end she is reborn into the same set of circumstances. Her life, when she lives long enough, spans both world wars, with her father serving in World War I and brothers serving in World War II. Ursula isn't entirely conscious that she is living her own life again, but she does have some premonitions and a sense of deja vu that cause her to make different choices in subsequent lives.

This book feeds into our fascination with destiny versus free will. Sometimes Ursula is able to change events with her actions, but other times the butterfly effect is too complex to create the desired outcome. In some of the scenes, Ursula is studying abroad in Germany just as World War II is brewing and develops a friendship with Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. I found these scenes harder to follow, but it allows the protagonist the potential to impact history on a grander scale.

As fits the theme, the tale is nonlinear, beginning with Ursula's attempt to assassinate a historical figure and ending with yet another birth. The author approaches each birth from a slightly different angle – the point of view of a servant as opposed to the doctor or an incident occurring a few hours later in the day that sheds light on another part of the story. Atkinson does not allow the recurring scene to become tiresome as each new version adds to the story.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book when it was chosen for my book club - the plot sounded too gimmicky. But once I started reading it, I was thoroughly engrossed. The book is beautifully written and expertly crafted. One member of my book club said, "I felt like I wasn't smart enough for this book." It's definitely challenging, but Life After Life rewards the effort of those in search of unique and thought-provoking fiction. It is also one of the books featured on Amazon’s list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Picture Inspires a Thousand Words

Have you ever tried reading a wordless picture book? Are you wondering why you would want to? Well, in addition to being great fun, wordless picture books can help develop important literacy skills for children at all reading levels. By listening to and telling stories, children learn new vocabulary and improve their narrative skills such as story sequencing (stories have a beginning, middle and end) and describing things and events. Older children might even be inspired to write down their stories.

Here are a few wordless picture books that will spark the imaginations of your little storytellers:

You Can't Take a Balloon into The National Gallery by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser – Readers of all ages will have fun spotting monuments, historical figures and famous works of art in this unique picture book. When a kindly photographer agrees to watch after a little girl's balloon, it slips away and leads her on a grand chase around the National Mall. Meanwhile, the little girl enjoys a leisurely visit to the National Gallery. Follow the balloon on further adventures in You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum and You Can't Take a Balloon into the Museum of Fine Arts.

Jerry Pinkney brings one of Aesop's best known fables to life in his Caldecott Medal winning, wordless adaptation of The Lion & the Mouse. Beautiful illustrations tell the classic tale of a mouse who returns the favor when a lion chooses to set him free.

Wave by Suzy Lee - Using pencil drawings and splashes of blue, Lee breathes a remarkable amount of life and playfulness into the simple story of a little girl frolicking at the beach.
Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage -- In this delightful story, Walrus escapes from the zoo and confounds the zookeeper trying to find him by disguising himself with an assortment of hats--from firefighter helmets to berets. Savage tells this tale through simple illustrations that pop with color and humor.

Author and illustrator David Wiesner is well known for his ability to tell captivating stories using only pictures. The Caldecott Medal winning book Flotsam follows a boy who discovers a camera washed ashore and is presented with astounding undersea photographs when he has the film developed. In Sector 7, Weisner illustrates the story of a boy who befriends a cloud and learns how clouds get their shapes.

Molly Idle brings her animation talent to print in the delightful book Flora and the Flamingo. Idle’s charming illustrations will sweep you up into the humorous and touching friendship developing between Flora and Flamingo as they learn to dance in sync.

There are many more wordless picture books available, even some for teens. Check out our catalog for more options.

-Rebecca Molineaux, George Mason Regional Library

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Early Literacy Services –Helping Children Get Ready to Read

Lives Change @ Fairfax County Public Library: What can we do for you?

Early Literacy Services Librarian Renee Edwards
 “Once again you dazzled and delivered. It is always such a pleasure to have you come read to us; whether it is to our little ones for a storytime or to our parents for our Partner-In-Print Workshop! I appreciate your expertise and examples you so vibrantly demonstrate when you come each time. Teachers learn as much as the parents.” 

-Patti Soderberg, Head Start teacher
“Our Early Literacy Outreach Assistant, Susie Miller, always provides us with engaging, memorable story times and language activities. She models for the staff best practices in sharing literature with young children and she delights our students with her novel songs, finger games and puppetry. We especially appreciate the generous gift books that she leaves behind – enough for each child to take one home and two for our classrooms. We love the Early Literacy Services program!”

-Sydney Manning, Head Start teacher

In library branches throughout Fairfax County, parents and children share the joy of participating in storytime activities. Behind the smiling faces and fun, however, lies a serious agenda:  getting Fairfax County’s children ready to read by the time they enter kindergarten. For those parents who are not able to bring their children to storytime, the library offers a unique service to set children on the path to becoming life-long readers. The library’s Early Literacy Services Program, with its traveling outreach staff and a dedicated cadre of 25 volunteers, takes the library on the road to where it is most needed.

Renee Edwards, Early Literacy Services Librarian, describes the program:

Fairfax County Public Library established the Early Literacy Services Program in 2005 to help children develop essential early literacy skills and concepts needed for school readiness. This program strives to connect child care providers and families to the library resources that will help get young children ready for reading and writing.

Early Literacy Services accomplishes these goals in several ways. Library staff and our 25 outreach volunteers present monthly storytimes to preschool children in child care centers and Head Start classrooms throughout Fairfax County. Library storytimes are based on themes (oceans, feelings, winter, etc.) and include books, songs or finger plays. These storytimes model appropriate early literacy strategies and behaviors adults should use when interacting with children to enhance the literacy experience. Since 2008, we have presented almost 5,000 storytimes.

At every storytime, staff and volunteers demonstrate the importance of making books a part of everyday life by giving free picture books to children and their caregivers. This gift extends the outreach visit into the home and is another direct connection to the library. To date, we have given approximately 23,222 picture books to children and child care providers.

Early Literacy Services also presents monthly professional development workshops for the early childhood community. These workshops highlight one or more of the five pre-reading skills needed for school readiness and demonstrate ways adults can use library books and literacy-based activities to help children develop these skills.

For many families in Fairfax County who might not know about or be able to otherwise access library services, now the library goes to them. But the work of Renee’s team extends to all of Fairfax County’s preschoolers. If you aren't able to visit a storytime with your preschooler this week, check out tips from our early literacy experts on the library’s website. You'll also find great book lists, events for preschoolers and information about what’s new in preschool books.

-Renee Edwards, Early Literacy Services
-Ginger Hawkins and Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Have a library story to share?  Let us know in the comments or send us an email!

The post is part of an ongoing series examining the library lives of Fairfax County residents as part of a celebration of the American Library Association’s National Library Week.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Access Services – Providing Library Services to People with Disabilities

Lives Change @ Fairfax County Public Library: What can we do for you?

“I want to thank you for your response to my book requests. I tell everyone that Talking Books literally saves my life!”

-Myrna, FCPL Access Services Customer from Springfield

The Access Services branch of the Fairfax County Public Library removes barriers to library services for people with permanent and temporary disabilities.  Our Talking Book service provides audio books and playing equipment free of charge by mail. 

Individuals of all ages who are unable to use standard print due to visual impairment or physical limitations are eligible for this Federally-funded program established by Congress in 1931.

Braille books and more than forty magazines in audio or Braille are also available.

Readers who are unable to travel to their neighborhood library branch due to disability, illness or frailty may be eligible for free home delivery of Fairfax County Public Library materials in regular print, large print or on CD.  Readers served by Access Services may choose their books or arrange for our Reader Advisors to select titles for them based on their reading interests. 

Our goal is to keep people connected to the pleasures of reading, and many tell us just how important this is to their quality of life:

“Thank you for your services especially for my special requests. There is nothing worse than being blind, but I will not give up.”  

-Catherine, FCPL Access Services customer from McLean

“You make my life wonderful with all the tapes and now flashdrives you provide. Many thanks.”
-Maryann, FCPL Access Services customer from McLean

-Janice Kuch, Access Services

Have a library story to share?  Let us know in the comments or send us an email!

The post is part of an ongoing series examining the library lives of Fairfax County residents as part of a celebration of the American Library Association’s National Library Week.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kaleidoscope Storytime: A Safe Place Where All Children Feel Welcome

Lives Change @ Fairfax County Public Library: What can we do for you?

Chantilly staff member Gail Wellock
“We are regulars….  The teacher even has a nameplate for him. My son is 23 months old but requires a walker for walking and is sensory sensitive. The other library activities are too overwhelming for him and he is miserable.... This is the only activity we've found, paid or free, that works for him with his physical limitations, interest in age appropriate activities and sensitivities.”
-        Krystal, parent of child attending Kaleidoscope storytime at the Chantilly Regional branch of Fairfax County Public Library
Everyday activities that many of us take for granted can present great challenges for parents of autistic children. Take storytime at the library, for example. The Chantilly Regional Library branch of the Fairfax County Public Library is changing that with its monthly Kaleidoscope Storytime. This adaptive program for children on the autism spectrum or who have other developmental challenges is changing lives by providing an underserved community with special activities where these children and parents feel comfortable and welcomed.

The project was spearheaded by Chantilly Youth Services Manager Steve Okrend and staff member Gail Wellock and has since been adopted by other Fairfax County Public Library branches, including Reston Regional Library. Gail’s colleague Lee Bruner had the opportunity to attend an American Library Association conference workshop in June 2011 about special programming for kids with autism and reported back to the Chantilly staff about best practices in the field. When a regional organization, Parents of Autistic Children Northern Virginia, approached the library’s Early Literacy Specialist Renee Edwards a year later about special needs programming, Gail and Steve volunteered to develop an ongoing program for children on the autism spectrum with the encouragement of Chantilly Branch Manager Daria Parnes.

To prepare for the program, the team did extensive research, met with FCPS applied behavior coaches and observed special education classrooms. They also met with the Parents of Autistic Children group to survey the members and ask for suggestions and comments. Once they began working out the details, Gail attended a full day of training provided by the Fairfax County Public Schools Office of Special Education staff.

Among the components Gail learned to include in these special storytimes are a visual schedule that tells attendees what to expect, books with patterns and repeating lines and double visuals such as a book and a puppet, a book and a flannel board or singing the book. The children enter and sit on small carpet squares that have been arranged in a circle with stuffed animals in the center.

The first monthly Kaleidoscope Storytime launched in October 2012. More than 30 people attended that inaugural event. The program was so successful that Chantilly launched a second “Peaceful Paws” program in January 2013, a read-to-the dog program designed for this special population.

Chantilly Regional Library branch has been recognized nationally for this work. In 2013, it received an award of Outstanding Achievement from the National Association of Counties. But the best reward has been the reaction of the children and parents who attend the programs. One parent told Daria how happy she was that she could finally bring her four-year-old to a library program where his behavior was seen as normal and accepted.

This is Gail and the Chantilly library staff’s ultimate goal – to create a space “where all of us in the storytime will be accepting, tolerant and understanding of all behaviors except those which hurt others. A space where children will be honored.”

-Pat Bangs, Library Administration (retired) and Ginger Hawkins, Centreville Regional Library

Have a library story to share?  Let us know in the comments or send us an email!

The post is part of an ongoing series examining the library lives of Fairfax County residents as part of a celebration of the American Library Association’s National Library Week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Race to a Brighter Future

Lives Change @ Fairfax County Public Library: What can we do for you?

FCPL Customer Benigno Pleitez
When Falls Church resident Benigno Pleitez lost his job of 17 years in 2012, he knew that obtaining a General Education Diploma (GED) would dramatically increase his employment opportunities. He found a powerful partner to help him achieve his goal - the Thomas Jefferson branch of Fairfax County Public Library.

Taking the 7.5 hour GED is challenging no matter what your circumstance; passing it in a second language is daunting. Pleitez, originally from El Salvador, faced an additional obstacle: the GED test was due to be reformatted in January 2014. If Pleitez did not pass all five sections of the test before the end of December 2013, he would have to start from the very beginning in 2014 and retake the entire test. Not only would all of his previous pretest scores be invalid, but the new test would be much more expensive. While Pleitez was enrolled in GED classes through Fairfax County Public Schools, he knew he needed additional support to finish on time.

Pleitez turned to his local library for help. The personal connections he made there were critical in his GED preparation. Staff members at the library were able to steer him to a wide variety of resources inside and outside of the library. Pleitez attended three different Practice Your English groups each week and also met with computer tutors to hone his technology skills. Pleitez found these sessions invaluable. He comments that his tutor Onzell Kidd, who helped him master fractions and a variety of other subjects, was “not just a tutor, but a mentor.”

Pleitez's preparation included use of a variety of technology resources, in addition to the library's collection of GED test preparation books. Pleitez did not have a computer at home but needed to be able to connect to his school website to complete assignments. Internet access computers, available for free to library card holders in all Fairfax County Public Library branches, allowed Pleitez to prepare for his test and practice basic computer skills. Online library resources, such as LearningExpress Library, provided him with additional prep and testing materials.

With only two weeks left before the New Year, Pleitez took the GED test and came up a mere ten points short. Instead of giving up, he threw himself back into his studies and turned to the library for one last critical piece of support. With the help of branch manager Barbara Peters, he located a test site in Arlington. After a practice drive to the building the previous night, Pleitez took the exam the morning of December 28th. When he returned to the library to check his scores online, he was thrilled to learn he had passed!

Pleitez is now enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College and plans to pursue a degree in automotive technology. While credit for Pleitez’s success rests squarely on his own hard work and determination, the staff at Thomas Jefferson was excited to be a part of his journey. As Robert McCartney noted in the March 29th Washington Post article, the new GED test format makes it more difficult for adults to gain high school certification. The wide variety of resources the library offers in its 23 branches and outreach programs are critical in helping community members like Pleitez achieve their goals.

-Susan Ranieri, Thomas Jefferson Library & Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Have a library story to share? Let us know in the comments or send us an email!

The post is part of an ongoing series examining the library lives of Fairfax County residents as part of a celebration of the American Library Association’s National Library Week.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Special Needs Characters Enlarge Our Sense of Humanity

In recent years a number of really remarkable books about children with special needs show us from the inside out how these children view their world. The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida may well challenge some of our deepest held convictions about communication. Do not skip over the introduction, written by David Mitchell, a devoted father who felt as if he was coming to the end of his rope in dealing with his autistic son.  Higashida’s memoir, originally written in Japanese and translated into English for the first time in this book, was the first book on autism that really resonated with Mitchell and transformed the relationship he had with his son. With the use of an alphabet grid, Higashida “dictates” answers to his mother, concerning various questions about his behavior, intentions and the very deep feelings he has about various situations that arise as a result of his autism. His explanations are simple, yet eloquent and often heart-rending. The challenges of his daily endeavors are enormous. This is an adult biography that I would recommend for middle school on up.
I have encountered two highly memorable characters with Asperger’s Syndrome from youth fiction. One is Mockingbird (mok’ing-burd) by Kathryn Erskine, who deservedly won the National Children’s book award in 2010 for this story. Eleven-year-old Caitlin with Asperger’s seeks closure in dealing with the death of her beloved brother. I would recommend Mockingbird for grades 5 – 8. For older teens, I would recommend the delightful Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork. Marcelo’s father insists that his son with Asperger’s experience the “real world” by working at his Dad’s law office. Marcelo’s honesty is at turns insightful and refreshing.
I am in general a big fan of Sharon Draper’s characters. Out of My Mind is a stunning fictional portrayal of a girl with severe multiple sclerosis who is trapped in her body. From all appearances, Melody seems to be totally lacking in the intelligence requisite for communication. And yet her mother intuits her case to be otherwise, based on very subtle body language. Through the use of technology and of her mother’s care, determination and attention, Melody is given the opportunity little by little to not only relate to others around her, but contribute beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Having experienced some exhilarating moments from inside Melody’s head, one is brought down to earth in the end by the shadows of some of Melody’s less supportive peers. This is a great book to pair with the Higashida autobiography. (Highly recommend Out of My Mind for 5th – 8th grade readers.)

-Maggie Wrobel,  Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Entertaining Biographies of Unfamous People

If you’re like me, autobiographies of living, famous people fail to thrill. Ghost-written, dry in places, axes to grind, reputations to uphold and all the juicy parts reported by the media anyway – they are not my cup of tea. But give me a memoir by someone who isn’t famous and who just happens to have led an interesting life, and I’ll devour it--often in one sitting. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Try one of these compelling titles, and I bet you won’t be able to put it down.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness – Susannah Cahalan’s best-selling account of how a mysterious illness upended her promising life as a 24-year old reporter at a major New York City newspaper and found her instead strapped to a hospital bed, experiencing psychotic episodes and with no memory of the past month or how she wound up there.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story –Trudi Kanter was a fashionable, young hat designer when the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938. She was also half-Jewish. Her memoir tells the story of how she used her business contacts to flee Austria for England and later rescued her husband and parents. Though safe in England, life there also held great hardships as Trudi’s father and husband were sent to an internment camp.

The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir – Domingo Martinez brings a new voice to the memoir genre. Martinez grew up in the 1980s in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. His introspective stories about the zones where English-speaking/Spanish-speaking, white/person of color, American/Mexican co-exist will not only amaze you with their lyricism but will often have you busting out in laughter. One reviewer on Amazon accurately called it, “the Angela’s Ashes of the barrio.” Funny, touching and heartbreaking all in one memoir. HBO agrees. They just optioned the book.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality– Stay in hotels often? Even if you don’t, you might enjoy Jacob Tomsky’s entertaining look at the underbelly of the hotel service industry. Tomsky winds up there after graduating from college as a philosophy major, saddled with student loans. And he sticks with it. This memoir of his ten years in the industry is a sympathetic, earnest look at the people behind the scenes who make a hotel run smoothly, or not.

-Ginger Hawkins, Centreville Regional Library