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Monday, November 23, 2015

What We're Reading: Our Winter Picks

We're taking a break this week at About Books while we prepare to watch football, enjoy family visits and eat too much turkey over the holiday. But we're always grateful for all the great books we can access for free with our Fairfax County Public Library cards. Visit our What We're Reading: Winter 2015-2016 page to see some of the picks we're enjoying right now. Have a great Thanksgiving Day and see you all back in December.

-Ginger Hawkins (PH), Rebecca Molineaux (KP) & Rebecca Wolff (FX)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thankful Picture Books

With pies to be baked, potatoes to be mashed, hand print turkeys and paper pilgrims to be taped up and travel plans to be negotiated, Thanksgiving hustle can drown out the quieter meaning of the holiday – the opportunity to reflect on gratitude. Carve out some time with a child to explore the subject of thankfulness with one of these picture books.

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli. Rhyming text celebrates community members who are thankful for the daily blessings of their work: “The waitress is thankful for comfortable shoes/ the local reporter for interesting news…”

Look and Be Grateful by Tomie DePaola. Gratitude as the practice of being present and appreciating small moments is the theme of this book, as a boy takes time to wonder at marvels from the sun to a ladybug.

Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell. The cartoonist of Mutts comic fame brings his amusing critter sketches to the service of this gentle bedtime story about three friends who end their first sleepover with thankful thoughts.

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr. Each page spread begins “I am thankful for…” and lists something serious or silly. This is a simple book for bringing awareness to the meaning of the word “thankful.”

Thank You, Bear by Greg Foley. Bear is excited when he finds an empty box and can’t wait to show Mouse. But naysayers dampen his enthusiasm- until Mouse appears and agrees that it’s just perfect.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson. Bear is lonely in his cave and wishes he could make dinner for his friends- but his cupboards are bare. Then his animal friends start showing up with food and soon a feast has been gathered.

Ten Thank-You Letters by Daniel Kirk. Pig is writing a thank you letter to Grandma when Rabbit stops by. Rabbit decides to write a few thank you letters too. But what will happen when Pig finds that Rabbit has used his last envelope and stamp?

Splat Says Thank You! by Rob Scotton. Splat the Cat sets out to cheer up his sick friend, Seymour, by presenting him with a friendship book of all the things Seymour has done that Splat appreciates.

The calm that settles as a picture book is opened and read aloud can be an oasis of peace amid holiday hoopla. And we can all be grateful for that.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Uncovering Voices from the Holocaust

An old family film tucked in a closet, love letters hidden in an office file, papers set aside in an abandoned suitcase – seemingly commonplace items. Yet these everyday mementos held the key to three lost narratives from the Holocaust. These discoveries allow us to share the hopes and dreams of the youngest inmates of the Terezin Concentration Camp, follow a young Viennese student desperate to join an old love in America and look back at a Jewish community a short time before the Nazi invasion of Poland.

The significance of these finds is striking when you consider how difficult it can be to discover information about many of those swept up in the Holocaust. While the Nazis generally kept meticulous records, the death registers of many camps, particularly in Eastern Europe, were often incomplete. Many victims of the Nazi regime, including prisoners of war, were executed and buried in anonymous, mass graves. Locating information about specific people can be challenging, as records span many countries, archives and languages. Even when records can be found, documents alone cannot convey a full understanding of an individual’s experience. Each of these three chance discoveries offers a unique and personal look into the heartbreaking events of the Holocaust.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly... Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944

Fifteen thousand children under the age of 15 were sent to the Terezin ghetto during the Holocaust - only 100 survived. These are their drawings and poems, found many years later preserved in a suitcase. Terezin was a show ghetto set up by the Nazis in the Czech mountains. They would spruce up small portions of the ghetto to show off to the Red Cross and other international organizations to give the appearance of treating Jews humanely. Many famous intellectuals and even members of the German army who were found to have Jewish blood were sent to Terezin. Life in Terezin was much more gruesome than it appeared to outside visitors; there were regular transports to death camps, and it was never the intention of the Nazis to allow any of the residents to survive. However, given the number of artists and scholars living there, a certain amount of culture managed to flourish. The children had some limited access to art supplies and were taught by a famous artist (Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who died in Birkenau). It is clear that the children who wrote these poems were forced to be wise beyond their years.

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind

As a child, Sarah Wildman had always been struck by how wonderfully lucky her charismatic grandfather Karl had been to escape from Austria in 1938. With the four other members of his family, he was able to start a successful new life as a doctor in America. It was only after his death that she discovered a cache of letters, hidden in his office files, from relatives who had not been able to leave. In this heart-rending collection, she found a series of letters from the girlfriend of Karl’s youth, Valy Scheftel. In her passionate love letters which spanned from 1938 to late 1941, Valy speaks of her increasingly difficult situation and begs for Karl’s help leaving Nazi Germany. Wildman found it difficult to reconcile these desperate pleas with what she knew of her grandfather’s escape and early days in America. In an attempt to understand this chapter of her grandfather’s history, Wildman decides to try to discover why Valy was left behind and what ultimately happened to her. Her quest is movingly recounted in Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind.

Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

Very similar to Sarah Wildman’s Paper Love, it is the discovery of a family artifact that propels Glenn Kurtz on a journey to discover the lost world of a vibrant, Jewish town in Poland. At once less personal and yet more heartbreaking than the letters that Wildman finds, Kurtz finds a home movie documenting the six week sightseeing vacation his grandparents took to Europe in 1938. Three minutes of the film survey the thriving Jewish village of Nasielsk, Poland – the elder Kurtz’s birthplace – a town that unbeknownst to all, will be decimated just a short time later in Hitler’s Nazi invasion and extermination efforts. In a town of 3,000 people, fewer than 100 will survive. At first the film is not viewable, “a hockey puck,” Kurtz says. He donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was able to restore it and post it on their website. Amazingly, Kurtz is contacted by a woman who saw the film on the website and believes the film captures her grandfather as a 13 year old. The book is the result of Kurtz’s efforts to track down the people in the film and illuminate a world even the survivors thought had been lost. See Kurtz’s website for a short video produced by the Holocaust Museum about his grandparents’ film.

-Rebecca Wolff, CE, Suzanne Summers LaPierre, KP & Ginger Hawkins, PH

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Advice on Writing and Life from Youth Authors at Fall for the Book

Three reasons I love Fall for the Book at George Mason University even more than the National Book Festival in Washington DC: ample free parking, a short drive and reduced crowds. It’s fantastically easy to meet award-winning authors and get books signed with hardly any wait. This was the first year I attended the children’s events. I was especially eager to see Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover, a book about basketball-loving twins told in free verse. Alexander wrote it to show kids, particularly reluctant readers, that poetry can be cool. He demonstrated by reading passages aloud with a rap rhythm, evoking the beat of a basketball on the court.

The authors were generous with advice for aspiring writers. Alexander recommends the BIC (butt-in-chair) approach to pounding out pages, as well as cultivating support from other writers and always saying “yes” to opportunity. When approached about writing a book for middle schoolers, which he hadn’t considered yet – he said yes. When asked to submit a manuscript he hadn’t written yet – he said yes, and made it happen. The rest is history in the form of The Crossover, winner of the John Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Honor.

Katy Kelly, author of the Lucy Rose and Melonhead series for middle grade readers, had many tips for would-be writers. Think of something funny that happened and push it to an extreme: what if that mouse in the house had been a hundred mice? Be an eavesdropper: listen to what people say and how they say it. Take notes. Keep a journal. Write a page a day- in a year you’ll have a 365 page book! It is easier than ever to make your book a reality, Kelly pointed out: self-publish an eBook or print a paper edition using the Opus book machine at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Melissa Thomson, author of the Keena Ford series about the misadventures of a second-grader, agreed with the advice about keeping a journal and listening to the world around you. Working as a teacher helped Thomson understand the minds of seven and eight year olds. Keena, the name of a parent of one of her students, struck her as perfect for her character. Inspiration abounds in everyday life.

If you missed your chance to meet the authors, you can still get to know their characters- Keena, Lucy Rose, Melonhead and Filthy McNasty - at your local Fairfax County Public Library branch. Check out events for all ages at next year’s Fall for the Book.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library