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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read - Banned Books Week

Every year I create a “Celebrate Your Freedom to Read” display at the library for Banned Books Week, and every year I hear the same incredulous responses: “This book was banned? Why?” Many books we consider classics were at some point challenged and/or removed from public access. Content as seemingly innocuous as females in leadership roles (The Wizard of Oz) or talking animals (Winnie the Pooh) have been deemed offensive and occasionally resulted in popular books being withheld.

Libraries across the country see Banned Books Week as an opportunity to celebrate our commitment to providing free and open access to information. Public libraries strive to facilitate access to diverse viewpoints and ideas. Sometimes we are not beyond enticing reluctant readers to open a book by reminding them that we now have the privilege of choosing to read books which were once branded forbidden fruit.

My earliest memory of book censorship involves Maurice Sendak’s picture book In the Night Kitchen, which was challenged during my childhood, because the tyke in the story “falls out of his clothes” during his adventure. Hearing of this controversy made me want to check out the book; I was chagrinned to find that my local public library had “solved” the problem by painting diapers on the little boy, marring the Caldecott Honor illustrations.

While perusing lists of challenged books, I’m always freshly surprised to see so many personal favorites. I adored Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson as a tween because of the strong imaginative friendship between two main characters. The plot involves the death of a central character; this appears to be the content most often objected to. However, like many tween readers, I loved Paterson’s books precisely because the of “real life” problems that made the stories more realistic and meaningful.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom maintains a list of the most frequently challenged books for each year. Visit the ALA website for the 2014 list of frequently challenged books, including the reasons usually cited for objecting to the content. There is also a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books by decade. See how many of your favorites – or not-so-favorites – made the lists! Banned Books Week runs from September 27 through October 3 this year. 

-Suzanne LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Forgotten Classic: The Ginger Tree

Editor’s Note - The clash of cultures between East and West has been the subject of many award-winning novels, including last year’s winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Flanagan’s novel depicts the horrific experiences of prisoners tasked with building the Thai-Burma death railroad during the Second World War and the struggles of both prisoners and guards to make sense of those events later in life. Fans of the work may want to explore a gentler, kinder exploration of this theme in Oswald Wynd’s forgotten classic, The Ginger Tree. See the short-list for this year's Man Booker prize, announced last week, here. The winner will be named in October.

When the novel opens, Mary MacKenzie, a young Scottish girl, is aboard the ship SS Mooldera en route to China to marry a British foreign officer whom she barely knows. The world unfolds before her naïve eyes bit by bit. First she observes life on the ship with its panorama of human behaviors and opinions and later Peking, as she reaches her destination with husband-to-be waiting on the dock. As the months pass, she is left hollow and disillusioned by the social scene, her marriage and the birth of their first child. As the reality of her life sinks in, she sees that though her present situation has an exotic setting, the restrictions are just as real and numbing as the rigors of her Scottish upbringing.

One morning, when she and her infant daughter are on holiday away from her absent husband, she walks alone on a path above the sea. Coming into a clearing, her restlessness is suddenly stilled by the sight of a Japanese warrior in meditation at the edge of the cliff. The samurai and Mary's yearnings collide forcefully. Though her actions are deliberate, she doesn't contemplate the consequences of her passion. They are dire. Mary is expelled from China by her tyrannical husband, forcing her to leave her young daughter behind. Under the sponsorship of Kentaro, the Japanese warrior, she seeks a new life in Japan for herself.

The book is written in a format of letters and journal entries, depicting the life of Mary MacKenzie as she navigates the turbulent waters of being a woman, single mother and foreigner in a Far Eastern country in the early 1900s. Her adventures include tsunamis, social ostracism, business ventures, missionaries and activists and all play out with the ominous notes of World War I and II in the background. Above the clamor is the steady watchful eye of Kentaro, who keeps firm fingers on the pulse of her life, emerging from time to time like the mystery he is.

The novel is a love story first and foremost - love of a man and woman, love of country, love of tradition, love of independence. It is a lens of history through which we see fierce passion and a determination to persevere despite the resounding clash of cultures. Mary MacKenzie, with a low bow, gives us a poignant treatise of the heart.

-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What We're Reading: Behind the Scenes with TE

If you haven't yet noticed, we have a special What We're Reading section for you this month, brought to you by our very talented TE staff members. "TE?” You ask. “What branch is this?” Our Technical Operations department, located in the Chantilly Regional Library building, does all of the behind-the-scenes work to get Fairfax County Public Library’s books on branch shelves.

Fairfax County Public Library has nearly 500,000 registered cardholders with a variety of interests and needs. Yet this small department does all the ordering, cataloging, labeling, packaging, interlibrary loans and shipping work for all 23 of our branches. They order, catalog and process all formats of materials: printed books, books on CD, eBooks, eAudiobooks, Large Print books and coordinate all of the databases available through the Library. From online SAT study guides to the latest best-seller, from children's boardbooks to the latest Folger edition of Shakespeare, they do it all. Thousands of new books pass through their the Tech Ops office each year. So who better to ask for popular book recommendations? These are the titles that have currently caught their attention.

Check out their favorites at What We're Reading: Fall 2015

-Ginger Hawkins, PH

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

10 Free Services with the Smartest Card in Your Wallet

What’s the smartest card in your wallet? Your library card, of course! All the cool kids know this. We may be biased, but if you don’t have a card, apply for one today.  Know someone who doesn't have a card?  Let them know a library card gives you access to more than just the checkout line.  It's also your ticket to all these fantastic free services.

Download an eBook. Then read it from your Kindle, your iPad or tablet, or your desktop. Find thousands of titles here and instructions here. Stumped? Read our post about eBooks here. Or call your local branch or come in for help. Bring your device! 

Read magazines online from home with Zinio. It's got the latest editions of publications from The Economist to U.S. Weekly. Click here and then scroll down to the bottom of the page for instructions and the login screen.

Suggest a title we should order. Can’t find a book you are looking for and think we should order it? We welcome your suggestions.

Can’t find what you are looking for? You may be able to borrow the item free of charge from another library system through our interlibrary loan service.

Make your commute more enjoyable. The library owns thousands of books on CD. Search for your favorite title and select the audiobook version or browse the shelves at your nearest branch. Being stuck in traffic never sounded so good! You can also download  eAudiobooks from home without even heading into a library branch. Transfer an eAudiobook to your smartphone and listen as you drive. Browse eAudiobook titles in our Overdrive catalog.

Place a book on hold. Ever make it to the library and forget the titles of all the books on your to-read list? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Next time, place a book on hold so you’ll never be without a read. If your home branch doesn’t have a copy of what you are looking for, we will transfer the item to your branch free of charge. Sign up for the Wowbrary newsletter, so you can receive free alerts about the library's newest additions.  It's a great way to put your name on the waiting list for the hottest best seller.

Help your child get ready to read. Our storytime programs help put your child on the path to a lifelong love of reading. Grow successful readers by logging on to our event calendar and select Event Type: Storytime to register your child in a program. Our Early Literacy Outreach page has tips  and great books lists to help you foster  your budding reader. Sign up for the Early Literacy Newsletter to get monthly updates on what’s new in picture books.

Study for a test. Our branches own multiple copies of study guides for college prep tests or AP exams. You can also access practice SAT, ACT and GRE tests online through Learning Express Library. Log on with your library card. Planning a career move? The database also contains occupational exam study guides as well, from Dental Assistant exams to Real Estate Broker exams.

Computer or printer problems at home? Use your library card to access one of the more than 400 internet stations available in Fairfax County Public Library branches.

Research your ancestors. The Virginia Room at the City of Fairfax Regional Library houses thousands of resources for your genealogical research needs. Many are available online, including Heritage Quest. And inside library branches you can get free access to

How do you use your library card? Let us know!

--Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Very Strange Library

A rule-abiding schoolboy steps into the city library, asks for books about tax collecting during the Ottoman Empire and becomes trapped in a bizarre underground world with a sheep-man and a voiceless girl. Things are not always what they seem in Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s works of magical realism. As the protagonist of The Strange Library puts it: “Our worlds are all jumbled together…sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t.”

The schoolboy and his unfortunate companions are imprisoned by an evil librarian who plans to suck out the boy’s brains after he has absorbed the knowledge of the chosen books. You see, libraries can’t really survive on their tiny budgets simply by lending out books. There’s a side business in brain-sucking. At least the food is good – the sheep-man makes fresh donuts every day, and the ethereal girl serves gourmet meals. But if the rules are broken, possible punishments include being thrown into a jar with 10,000 hairy caterpillars for three days. Worried about his mother and his pet sparrow, the boy plots his escape.

Several of Murakami’s magical realism novels include libraries and librarians as settings and characters. The library in Murakami’s fiction often serves as a gateway to a parallel reality. Kafka on the Shore is another novel by the author with a library and librarian as part of the theme.

The Strange Library is a short piece written early in Murakami’s career but only recently published in English. Described as a fairy tale for adults, the book is hauntingly enriched with custom art and design by Chip Kidd.

Other authors famous for magical realism, a genre in which magical elements occur in an otherwise realistic world, include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Salman Rushdie. Ask your local (non-evil) librarians for other suggestions - we promise we'll leave your brain intact.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library