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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Walk, Colum McCann and the Joy of Unexpected Discoveries

Does this ever happen to you? You discover someone or something new. Then you see that person or thing all over the place and wonder how you possibly could have missed it all this time? That happened to me recently with Colum McCann. I knew of him, but I hadn’t read him nor knew much about him. And then, bam! He was everywhere I turned.

I owe it all to a blockbuster dinosaur movie. Not exactly a straight line to McCann, but that’s how the best discoveries are made.

One of the movie previews was for the Robert Zemeckis film The Walk – the story of Phillipe Petit’s daring, mad 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. A few questions by curious children later, and we checked out the great Mordicai Gerstein picture book The Man Who Walked between the Towers. The picture book won the Caldecott medal in 2004. Fairfax County Public Library also owns the book in a kit format which contains the book and a CD audio recording of the book so readers can follow along. In this case, it is narrated by the author. The book also appears in this scholastic DVD along with other inspiring stories. Children who want to learn more about the fate of the World Trade towers and the September 11 Terrorist Attacks can check here.

And here we arrive at McCann. Under the catalog entry for Phillipe Petit was also McCann’s book Let the Great World Spin. Ah – that’s what the popular title from our book club display was about. While the book is about much more than just Petit’s walk, the event is an important backdrop to the story, sets in motion the events and is the glue that holds the disparate stories of the characters together. Some have called it a valentine to 1970’s New York City. McCann’s other books can be found here, including his latest work Thirteen Ways of Looking.

My favorite piece of McCann’s writing? It sounds odd, but it is his victim impact statement. By coincidence, I found the piece not long after reading Let the Great World Spin – see how he’s popping up everywhere? I’m signed up for the New York Times “What We’re Reading” weekly email, and this was one of the stories they featured. (It’s the kind of email you want in your inbox – insightful, funny and amazing stories from around the web that you might otherwise miss.) It’s McCann’s account of a wrenching episode – something that almost seems more likely to have happened in one of his novels than in real life. In June 2014, McCann witnessed a woman brutally assaulted on a busy New Haven street and stopped to help her. While rendering her aid, the attacker returns and beats McCann unconscious. McCann recently spoke at the sentencing trial of his attacker and delivered this statement. What a model of grace.

Not exactly where I would have predicted Jurassic World would lead me. But I’m thankful it did.

- Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Once Upon a Fearless Halloween…

Halloween is a time of fun, but it can also be scary for some children. Fortunately, Fairfax County Public Library offers many amusing picture books to help children learn about overcoming fear.

In I Used to Be Afraid by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, a  young girl tells us how she conquered her fears by discovering the positive side of things – such as the beauty in a spider’s web or the fun of making shadow puppets on the wall. Simple text and cut-out illustrations make the book appealing for younger children.

Poor Yeti sees frightening shadows on the wall when he turns out his bedroom light in Yeti, Turn out the Light! by Greg Long. But every time he turns the light on again, he finds it’s just another winsome forest friend who wants to cozy up under the covers.

The spunky little girl (who just might be a witch) is undaunted when she moves into a creepy old house inhabited by ghosts in Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara. She finds they make perfect curtains and tablecloths.

These next two classics can be a bit creepy until you reach the reassuring endings:

A little old lady goes for a walk in the woods and is followed by some strange things – empty shoes, a shirt, a hat… she keeps telling them she isn’t afraid. Then she comes up with a creative solution in The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams. (Make this book more interactive by inviting kids to act out the “scary” things - stomp their feet when the shoes go “clomp, clomp” and shrug their shoulders when the shirt goes “wiggle, wiggle,” etc.)

Included in Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss is the tale “What was I Scared of?” The furry protagonist is startled by a pair of spooky, pale green pants with nobody inside them - until he realizes the pants are just as frightened of him as he is of them!

As always, don’t be afraid to ask for more suggestions at your local library branch.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's Never Too Early For Etiquette

Sometimes parents ask for books on manners for their preschool or early grade school child. Fairfax County Public Library owns several picture books that deal with the simple rules of etiquette in memorable ways.

In Mind Your Monsters, by Catherine Bailey and illustrated by Orial Vidal, some monsters are taking over the town until the secret word is discovered (ages 4-8). If your child loves monsters, he’ll find Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins to be a hilarious treat worth re-reading (ages 4-8).

Boy, oh boy does Tea Rex by Molly Idle get across the consequences of bad party manners. Kids will laugh aloud as they take in the side-lined post-it note reminders (ages 4-8). For dinosaur lovers, you may want to check out some of Jane Yolen’s silly “How do Dinosaurs...” books that can be jumping off points for discussion on how to eat your food or go to sleep at night (ages 2 -5). Judy Sierra’s Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners is equally entertaining (ages 4-8).

Bernette Ford and Sam Williams do an admirable job of showing how difficult yet rewarding is it for little children to control their temper in No More Hitting for Little Hamster! (ages 2-5).

These are just a sampling of what we have in picture books both silly and sweet that convey the value of good manners.
-Maggie Wrobel, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Book Club Picks: The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss captured my attention with an unforgettable opening in the voice of the main character: "When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF S**T.” 

To the casual observer, retired locksmith Leo Gursky is just another bedraggled old man shuffling through the streets of New York City. An immigrant from Poland, Leo feels so invisible that he resorts to dropping items in stores on purpose and even takes a job as a nude model for an art class in his efforts to be noticed.

No one can tell by looking at him that Leo once cultivated a profound love and wrote a great book or that he lost his finest creation and his entire family in the Holocaust. As a result of the domino chain of loss set in motion by the Holocaust, Leo is unable to contact his only son, a famous writer, and can only admire him from afar.

Elsewhere in the city, fourteen-year-old Alma is already no stranger to loss. Her father died young, causing her mother to drift away psychologically on the sea of her grief. Alma was named after a character in a book, also called The History of Love, which her father once gave to her mother. She begins to suspect that this character was based on a real person and embarks on a quest to find out. 

Leo and Alma’s stories begin to converge, leading them both to surprising discoveries.  Exquisitely written, The History of Love won many literary awards and was a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction. 

Book clubs may be interested in discussing the “story within a story" literary device employed in this novel. Other examples of the “nested narrative” or metafiction can be found in classics such as Don Quixote by Cervantes, Moby Dick by Melville, The Lord of The Rings by Tolkien and more recent books such as The Blind Assassin by Atwood and Fugitive Pieces by Michaels.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library