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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Books to Inspire Your Budding Artist

I spoke with a grade school teacher the other day, who was under the impression that libraries have little to offer when it comes to picture books about art. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have come a long way since Harold and the Purple Crayon. As it turned out, she was looking for a broad range of materials that would both inspire and educate budding artists.

Illustrator David Wiesner immediately came to mind as someone who truly celebrates the picture book as an art form. In Art & Max, a lizard tries to paint his mentor and gets very carried away. Children and adults will laugh themselves silly, as they are dazzled by the inventiveness of this story that goes to the very heart of creative exploration.

And who wouldn’t be enamored of Dog in Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates? The entire winsome cast of characters gets in on the fun of adding something new to this mixed media tale. It ends with a lovely thank you card to Aunt Dora, who gave Dog the drawing materials in the first place. Kids ages four to eight will see themselves trading places with the lead character in Jeff Mack’s The Things I Can Do. This is a fun way to introduce kids to the concept of collages. On the theme of finding inspiration, Bridget’s Beret by Tom Lichtenheld tells the story of how Bridget deals with artist’s block when the beret she draws inspiration from blows away.
If you’re looking to introduce early elementary students to famous artists, I would recommend either the DVD or book series Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists. Both the books and DVDs are very entertaining as well as educational.
Two exceptional, and fairly recent, Impressionist biographies are Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter and The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel. Winter’s simple but effective biography shows how Matisse’s idea for using cutouts in art came to him as an ailing, nearly bedridden artist. Markel manages to capture Rousseau’s luscious imaginative color and style in her portrayal of the artist.

For older elementary students, DK’s My Art Book provides an enticing overview of various well-known artists with related projects that they can create themselves. It includes Hokusai, Degas, Klee, Rivera, Andy Warhol and others. The Art in History series by Susie Hodge does an excellent job of introducing the art of the ancients. The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents Museum Shapes which points one towards the building blocks of all art. And on a lighter note, peruse Mousterpiece: A Mouse-sized Guide to Modern Art by Jane Zalben which incorporates the style of well-known modern artists from a mouse’s frame of reference.

-Maggie Wrobel, Centreville Regional Library 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Travels with Cannibals

While I enjoy having hot showers and soft beds in my own travels, I prefer my travel reading on the wild side. Near starvation, deadly wildlife, exotic locations - Survivorman has nothing on the real-life, armchair adventures I love. So, I was thrilled to find Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman on the bookshelves this spring. It doesn't get more extreme than exploring areas with a history of cannibalism.

Take a trip to some of the most remote locations and cultures on the planet this summer with our suggestions below. And don’t forget the library has all the guidebooks you need for your “real” vacation this summer. Whether your trip will be mild or wild, ask your local librarian to guide you to the 914-917 range to find travel books for all your destinations.

In Savage Harvest, Hoffman sets out to solve the mysterious disappearance of Michael Rockefeller during a 1961 expedition to collect artifacts from the Asmat people of  Papua New Guinea. Rockefeller’s disappearance long raised suspicions, never proven, that he’d been killed and eaten by local tribes. Hoffman’s vivid descriptions and intense research bring the reader face to face with the violent ceremonies and rituals of the Asmats’ spiritual beliefs. He recreates the events leading to the cultural collision between a soft-spoken, passionate lover of art and a violent, spiritually complex society. This book will not only keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will keep you thinking long after you’ve finished.

The Amazon forest often meets even well-prepared travelers with starvation, disease and madness. In his quest to find a legendary city he called Z, Percy Fawcett set out for this beautiful but brutal environment eight times. When Fawcett and his son disappeared in 1925, their fate became the subject of decades of rumors ranging from having been eaten by cannibals to discovering a passage to the center of the earth. Journalist David Grann makes a surprising discovery when he travels to the Amazon to follow Fawcett’s final expedition in The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. 

In the last days of World War II, a plane carrying 24 US Army soldiers on a sight-seeing flight over the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea crashed, killing all but two men and one woman. Injured, stranded where no plane or helicopter could land, surrounded by cannibalistic natives ­­and desperate to avoid the Japanese, the three remaining soldiers must find a way to survive until rescue arrives. Help is found from the most unlikely sources in Mitchell Zuckoff’s retelling of their saga. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II covers their ordeal and the stunning moment when an isolated tribe first encounters Western civilization.
By the time J. Maarten Troost and his wife Sylvia set foot on the island of Kiribati, the only cannibals remaining on the island were the dogs. Despite the misleading title, you’ll still find plenty of adventure (and humor) in his travel memoir, The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific. If you’ve ever had romantic notions of leaving the daily grind behind for a stint in the Peace Corps, you should first read Troost’s tale of life on an over-crowded Pacific atoll. Troost records his struggles with floating sewage, intermittent electricity, the ubiquitous Macarena and the Great Beer Crisis, while retaining a humorous, if sarcastic, respect for the island’s inhabitants, history and culture.
-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reader Spotlight: Kathryn Schwarz

Kathryn Schwarz reads with son Ben  
at the Great Falls library.
Kathryn Schwarz is a customer at the Great Falls Library branch. An avid reader, former Peace Corps volunteer and writer, Kate is a stay-at-home mom to three children, daughter Lorelei (7) and sons Ben (5) and Kiefer (almost 3). She is currently working on several children’s book manuscripts and blogs about children’s books in her spare time at Kate’s Bookery.

What made you start blogging about children's picture books?

When my daughter was about a year old, and I was pregnant with my second child, I read that parents should have a constant dialogue with their kids. I had a hard time talking constantly to my sweet, quiet Lorelei, so I turned to books. We read all the time, and she became as crazy about picture books as I already was (my parents have given me a picture book for Christmas for as long as I can remember). I wanted to track what we read together while simultaneously offering a guide to other parents as to what books are great, what books are just good and what books are odd and not worth checking out. 

Kate's Bookery became a type of journal where I'd review a book but also talk about my kids' reaction to the book, how we incorporated it into a field trip or my deeper thoughts on the message of the book.

Who are your favorite picture book authors? Your kids’ favorites?

This could be a very, very long answer!  I'll try and be succinct…

My favorite picture book authors: Amy Krouse Rosenthal Chopsticks, Little Oink, Yes Day!, It's Not Fair!) impressively delivers children's books with warmth and wit. Judy Sierra Wild About Books, Born To Read, Tell the Truth B.B. Wolf writes clever rhymes that totally inspire me to give poems a try. I think Holly Hobbie's Toot and Puddle books are magical both in their stories and fantastic water color illustrations. Andrea Beaty's recent books Iggy Peck, Architect and Rose Revere, Engineer blow me away. But if I had to choose only one author, I'd have to go with Dr. Seuss. Nobody can match his ability to combine silly and meaningful in such a wonderful way!

My boys read a lot of Byron Barton books while toddlers, and they've both fallen in love with Building Our House by Jonathan Bean, which is a must-own for any child. Right now, my son Kiefer (3) loves Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? and A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis. My son Ben is crazy about sports, so he gets all the Sports Illustrated books for kids and any DK sports book. He really loves Aaron Meshon's Take Me Out to the Yakyu and Nick Plays Baseball by Rachel Isadora.

Lorelai, Box Car Children Mysteries fan
Lorelei is definitely the frontrunner in reading in our family! When she was in preschool she was a big fan of Karma Wilson; Whopper Cake was a favorite. Right now she is working her way through the Box Car Children mysteries, and we're reading Harriet the Spy together at bedtime. She's an enthusiastic reader and will happily read just about anything. I often feel jealous of the time she gets to just sit and read! I ask her: "How about you make dinner while I read this time?" She just laughs…but I'm a little serious!

As a frequent library user, what do you wish every resident knew about Fairfax County Public Library?

Three things:

1.  I wish parents let their kids pick out books for themselves! I'm always sad when a parent tells their child, "Sit right there. You know I always choose good books for you!" rather than giving them the freedom to roam and select.  Parents should definitely put some books in the bag, but kids should select about half of the books that go into the bag, I think.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Lifestyles of the Rich But Not-So-Famous

If reading a book is a journey, the traveling I've done this past week has been pretty fabulous. In Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. bring to life the history of a family once as eminent as the Rockefellers, now practically unknown. You might have even walked through the exquisite 19th century period room that the family donated to the Corcoran Gallery of Art without ever learning their name. The story takes you from the rise of William Clark’s fortunes in Wild West copper mines and ends with an eccentric heiress and the highly-publicized battle for her estate. 

The major focus of this book is the poignant saga of William Clark’s reclusive youngest daughter Huguette, a passionate, eccentric and extravagant collector. While she rarely appeared in public during her lifetime, she kept up an immense correspondence with a small group of friends, artists and employees. After entering the New York hospital in 1991 for a series of surgeries, Huguette chose to spend the last 20 years of her life in her small, austere hospital room. Even though she had completely recovered, she remained in seclusion and saw only a select few staff members. During this time, she continued to maintain several unoccupied mansions and luxury apartments, filled with priceless furnishings, cars and art.

This meticulously-researched book began when author Dedman's curiosity was piqued by the discovery of a multi-million dollar home that had sat empty since its  purchase in 1951. His research brought him into contact with coauthor Newell, a distant relative of Huguette’s. Newell had established contact with Huguette as a part of his research into the Clark family history. Although she called or wrote him several times a year over a nine-year period, he was never given her address or phone number. Their joint exploration into the Clark family is a fascinating look at both the possibilities and pitfalls of wealth. 

My journey with Empty Mansions began when a customer mentioned that her book club was reading a really interesting book, something that she never would have picked up on her own. When I saw a copy sitting on the Hot Picks shelf, I decided to give it a try. Without this customer's recommendation, I too would probably never have picked up this fascinating book.

As librarians, we spend a lot of time researching books to recommend to our customers. We use a variety of sources, from publisher press releases to Goodreads, to help us find great titles. But my favorite way to discover a book is still an old-fashioned recommendation from a friend. So go ahead and let me know.  What are you reading now?

Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Friday, May 02, 2014

Has Your Book Club Checked This Out?

We’ve received great feedback about our Great Picks for Book Clubs posts in March and April. If your book club is looking for additional suggestions, Fairfax County Public Library can help your group find the perfect title for a lively discussion.

In fact, we’ve already done all of the hard work for you. Are you familiar with our Book Group Discussion Kits? Each kit is developed for a title that our librarians think will make an excellent choice for book clubs. They contain ten copies of the book and a discussion guide to get the conversation started. Kits also have an extended checkout time of six weeks. Find an alphabetical list of titles on our web page or pull them up in the catalog. As an added bonus, some of our kits feature two books paired for discussion. Try reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women with March, the re-take on the classic by Geraldine Brooks, for example. Place one on hold for your next book group meeting!
What about teen and kids book groups? No problem. We have kits for those groups too. Check out our web page for lists of teen and children’s book kits.  
Don’t have a book group and looking to join one? Many book groups meet at library branches throughout the county. Find a complete list of upcoming dates and locations in our online calendar of events.
And check back here at About Books for more Great Picks for Book Clubs posts.
-Ginger Hawkins, Centreville Regional Library