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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book Club Pick: The Green Road

“I am sorry I can’t invite you home for Christmas because I am Irish and my family is mad.”

Anne Enright in The Green Road serves up a delicious Irish stew, complete with equal portions of sorrow and laughter laced with intricate gravy of compassion.

The novel is divided into two basic parts: leaving and coming home, and when you think about it – that’s every family’s saga.

This particular family consists of Patrick and Rosaleen Madigan and their four children – Dan, Constance, Emmet and Hanna. Though Patrick’s role is largely silent – even while he’s alive – he provides a firm foundation of loving, moral decency. As a mother, Rosaleen, despite her strong love for her children, doles out a daily diet of mixed signals. A compliment is chased with a criticism as though the glare of day could not sustain a ray of encouragement. Disappointment crowns her queenly ways. Nothing is ever completely good. But still the children hover, waiting for that boon of approval and living on it for days.

The story begins with a young Dan announcing his plans to become a priest – which sends the mother into a paroxysm of tears, which water down her Easter dinner, and then to a “horizontal solution” for days. Patrick retreats from the apple pie dessert as well, leaving the rest of the pie and book to be divided between the children and the formidable will of Rosaleen.

They all leave in the next years except Constance. Instead of becoming a priest, Dan heads for New York City where he sells shoes and his Irish charm. And despite, or because of his live-in girlfriend Isabel, he explores the 1980s gay scene that is ricocheting with the frenzy of AIDS. Life and death are chilling bedfellows. With kinetic disregard, he flits dangerously from petal to petal, never stopping long enough to assess or commit.

Constance remains the keeper of home fires, always within reach, always within the smother of resentment. From societal standards, she succeeds, with a loving husband and family, comfortable home, luxury car and an endless longing to drive – anywhere. Emmet roams the world looking for humanity to save from war, hunger, poverty, disease, seeing the suffering of the larger world but unable to salvage relationships in his own bedroom. Hanna strives for a career on stage, lubricating her every possible moment with alcohol. Her relationship with Hugh yields a baby whose birth she describes as “a fight wrapped up in a blanket.” Still she longs for healing, for a firm place to place her feet, for the security of the early days when she snuggled close to her father and smelled “the day’s work: fresh air, diesel, hay, with a memory of cattle in there somewhere and beyond that again the memory of milk.”

So, all the children run. Far. And Rosaleen, now a widow, anchored in the family home, Ardeevin, muses about their ingratitude. To bring her straying flock home, she invites them to Christmas, with the hook that she is going to sell the homestead. Suddenly, all roads lead to home.

Christmas becomes the quintessential formula for dysfunction in a hilarious confluence of grocery shopping, gifts, decorations, food, togetherness. Enright laughs at their foibles, while holding them close in a most loving embrace. At the height of the disruption, Rosaleen flees to the Green Road in despair but finds in the end, among the stars, her children’s love.

Though the book has Irish lens aplenty, the story is brilliantly universal and Rosaleen ends by saying “I should have paid more attention to things.

And we all would do well to pause at that particular pot of gold.

-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Comic Con fun for all!

What do stormtroopers, an award winning author, board game enthusiasts and food truck aficionados have in common? They all gathered this past Saturday at Chantilly High School and geeked out at Fairfax County Public Library's first ever Library Comic Con.

This free event was a great success and welcomed hundreds of participants. Author and illustrator Gene Luen Yang signed tons of books, and fans and librarians alike swooned over Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and a MacArthur Fellow.

Yang with many of his fans

Attendees played a variety of board games, learned how to craft cosplay costumes, tested their wits with nerd jeopardy and checked out the many vendors selling games, books and delicious treats.

Check out more photos at Fairfax County Public Library's Flickr page. Were you there? Would you like to see the Library Comic Con become an annual event? Tell us in the comments!

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

5 Yummy Picture Books for Asian American / Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrating generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched the culture of the United States. What better way to explore cultural diversity than through stories, art and delicious food?  Most of these fun illustrated books for children include recipes, so you can try cooking the food from the stories at home.


Hot, Hot, Roti for Dada-Ji, by F. Zia

Aneel’s grandfather, Dada-ji, amazes him with tall tales of the feats that he could accomplish in his boyhood fueled by the power of his mother’s delicious roti. Motivated by his grandfather’s stories, Aneel decides they simply must make some of this traditional Indian fried bread right away.

A young girl wonders why her mother’s garden doesn’t look like the neighbors' gardens, which are blooming with pretty flowers. Mother explains that they are growing something better than flowers - these odd-looking Chinese vegetables will make the most delicious soup. This book includes a pronunciation guide and a recipe for “ugly vegetable soup.”

Bee-Bim Bop, Linda Sue Park

An eager girl helps her mother make the traditional Korean rice dish Bi-Bim Bop. From a shopping trip for ingredients to setting the table and eating, the story is written in upbeat rhyming text that is ideal for group storytimes. The book also includes the author’s own recipe.

Cora Cooks Pancit, by Dorina K. Lazo

Garbed in her grandfather’s red apron, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama's assistant chef and help make pancit, her favorite Filipino noodle dish. Family and food are intertwined in this charming tale about the trials of being the youngest and smallest family member.

Dumpling Soup, by Jama Kim Rattigan

Set in Hawaii, this story weaves together a variety of cultural traditions as Marisa helps her grandmother make their family’s traditional dumpling soup to celebrate the new year. The dumplings she forms with her novice fingers look a little funny, though – will they taste as good as she remembers? 

Do you have a favorite book that would help people learn more about your culture?  Let us know in the comments field.

-Suzanne LaPierre, City of Fairfax Library

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Fact-Checking Ourselves

Fact checking. Information Literacy. Research. To a librarian, these words and phrases mean essentially the same thing.

Psychologists have been studying the way humans think and why we do what we do in all kinds of situations – from conflict resolution (or lack thereof) to shopping trips to politics – for a long time, both in the lab and in real life. They have found that subtle biases affect the way we interact with information at all levels. Our biases affect what information we take in when learning something new, who we trust and what information we choose to surround ourselves with in the first place, and, ultimately, what we do with the information we have taken in – in both simple and complex situations. Do you understand how your own mind works?

Check out the books below to learn more, along with advice on how to sort through what’s true, what’s partly true and what’s false in the things we know to be true - whether they’re things we have learned ourselves or things others have taught us.

Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

This book breaks the thought process down into two systems – one a faster, intuitive and more emotional response system and the other a slower, deliberating and more logical system – and explains how these two systems shape the way we understand and respond to information.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - Malcolm Gladwell

This book focuses on the decisions that people make in what seems like an instant and why some people are better at making good choices in those split-second decisions than others.

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You - Eli Pariser

Pariser looks at how sites like Google and Facebook customize results for the individual user based on what they think that user is most likely to click on and how this practice can strengthen biases and keep people from other information.

Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload - Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel

Kovach and Rosenstiel examine how journalists think and try to get at what’s true, to help readers better understand and navigate today’s Internet news sources.
The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives - Shankar Vedantam
This book examines the cognitive and emotional processes that occur in the unconscious part of the brain, how those hidden responses can be manipulated without conscious awareness, and what individuals can do to compensate for their blind spots.

There are also many great resources here at Fairfax County Public Library that you can use to learn about new subjects and viewpoints and conduct your own fact-checking research. A few that we recommend include:

The Facts on File Guide to Research – Jeff Lenburg
This book explains how to do thorough and accurate research using general research methods and both physical and digital information resources. It includes detailed lists of resources and how to properly cite sources.

The Opposing Viewpoints Series

The many books in this series cover a large quantity of controversial topics, offering both pro and con opinions for each side, selected from respected sources.

The Very Short Introduction Series

The pocket-sized books in this series offer a thorough but short and readable introduction to many different, often challenging, topics.

CQ Researcher [Online resource] Use your Fairfax County Public Library card to login to this searchable collection of articles on current issues. Articles include resources for further research, including a pro/con feature.

-Denise Dolan & Sarah Souther, George Mason Regional Library

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Listening to S Town? Now Read These.

Here at About Books, we are big fans of the podcast S-Town and maybe love it even more than we did Serial. This interview (warning contains spoilers!) with the show's creator Brian Reed explains why it's no wonder the podcast appeals to us. S-Town was intentionally released like a book with chapters, not episodes, and released all at once, unlike the weekly releases of most podcasts. As Reed explains:

"I guess I wanted to signal to the listeners that this is the kind of story this is. It’s going to feel a little literary and a little more like a novel than a TV show, maybe. Some podcasts feel a little more structured after serialized TV; this is more like a book you might sit down to read over the course of a week or two."

Or devour in three days. But however long it takes you to finish S-Town, if you'd like reading suggestions that remind you of the podcast, here's a great list put together by NoveList's Book Squad.

--Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Holocaust Fiction

Have you noticed how many stellar books and movies from the past few years have been set during the Second World War? They take the spotlight off of soldiers and spies and focus on ordinary individuals coping with extraordinary circumstances. If you enjoyed The Zookeeper's Wife, All The Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale, you won’t want to miss any of these new arrivals in Holocaust fiction. These stories, most based on extensive research or actual family histories, open heart-wrenching windows into the traumatic experiences of wartime.

Mischling by Affinity Konar

Pearl and Stasha narrate their experiences in 1944 in the Auschwitz concentration camp through the dreamlike prism of their shared world as twins. The prose is never graphic, yet hauntingly depicts both the despair and hopes of the young inhabitants of Dr. Joseph Mengele’s “Zoo.”

Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Two young women, both carrying dangerous secrets, have found refuge from the Reich in the Circus Neuhoff. As the German troupe journeys to France to perform, the two women must hope that the fragile bonds of friendship will protect them from discovery.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

When the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland tears apart three generations of the Kurc family, its members must each find their own path of escape. Their struggles to survive, resist and ultimately reconnect take the reader across the globe, from the ghettos of Poland to the gulags of Siberia and even the nightclubs of Paris.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Three women, a wealthy New York socialite, a German doctor and a poor Polish Catholic teenager, appear to have nothing in common on the eve of the second world war. Yet their lives will ultimately be connected by Ravensbruck, a notorious concentration camp for women.

Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert

When Jakob mistakenly destroys a train loaded with Jews destined for the ovens at Auschwitz, six-year old Gretl and her sister Elza are the only survivors. Jakob sends Gretl far away for her own safety but is haunted by his memories of the girl from the train.

-Rebecca Wolff, George Mason Library

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Celebrate National Library Week with Us

Libraries are more about doing than borrowing – more about connecting than simply plugging in – and your local librarian is your expert guide. Whether you want to get involved in your community, find a job, start a business or build your digital literacy skills, your library is the key to your transformation. Visit Fairfax County Public Library April 9-15 during National Library Week, or visit

Connect with us all week. Visit your local branch - we love seeing your smiles! - or follow this series all week long to get an inside glimpse of how Fairfax County Public Library serves our community.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

If You Like...Satires

Many in literary circles know that April is National Poetry Month as well as the anniversary month of both the birth and death of William Shakespeare. But did you know that April is also National Humor Month? I suppose it makes sense with April Fool’s Day leading it off. At the end of the month, two memoirists will be visiting two Fairfax County Public Library branches and bringing with them humorous as well as heartfelt accounts of serious chapters in each of their lives. Local author Martha Carruci, speaking about her book Sobrietease, will be at Sherwood Regional Library on Wednesday, April 26th, and, the next day at Pohick Regional Library on April 27th, David Winters will be offering humorous anecdotes and advice from his book Sabbatical of the Mind. In the meantime, keep laughing all month long with these excellent satirical works of fiction!

My Man Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse

Anyone else remember when used to be the Ask Jeeves search engine in the late 90s and early 00s? My Man Jeeves is just one in a series of books that contain the stories of the original butler with all the answers. These stories provide a humorous look at the life of an engagement-prone British upper class gentleman, his friends and his clever butler who gets both him and his friends out of all kinds of legal and social trouble, particularly with women. Luckily, this Jeeves knows all.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

It’s probably pretty safe to say that this book is a satire of life, the universe and everything. Adams makes frequent use of heavy sarcasm and the hilariously unexpected to tell the story of Arthur Dent and his friend, Ford Prefect. Arthur's home--along with life as he knows it-- is on the chopping block to make way for a freeway – and Ford is an alien who easily passes for human in appearance, but is actually from a small planet near Betelgeuse, much to Arthur’s surprise. A hilarious ride through the galaxy!

The Discworld series – Terry Pratchett

This series is very similar in tone to the above Hitchhiker’s Guide. It has the same satirical quality about it, and Pratchett, too, makes good use of the hilariously unexpected and a wry sort of humor. But then, what can you expect, really, when one of the most memorable characters in the first in the series, The Colour of Magic, is a suitcase with teeth?

Austenland – Shannon Hale

Feel free to judge this book by its title - Austenland, in many ways, is exactly what it sounds like. The main character, Jane, is a single woman gifted with the opportunity to vacation at a resort that takes living and breathing Jane Austen to the next level, despite the lack of Colin Firth appearances. This is a light and quick read poking fun at Darcy enthusiasts and those of us who rather like the idea of living within a book.

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

This book is the first in a series that defies being labeled by a single genre, mixing literary fiction with mystery and crime fiction, along with healthy doses of science fiction and fantasy. Meet Special Operative Thursday Next, a literary detective, tasked with tracking down forgers, resolving disputes over Shakespearean authorship and generally protecting society’s great works from those who would harm it, even to the point of the more rare and dangerous cases like literary homicide. Jane Eyre may never be the same.

The Princess Bride – William Goldman

The Princess Bride is a beloved tale, both by its readers and by the viewers of its 1987 movie adaptation-- a story that arguably earns the right to be called a fairy tale, while unabashedly satirizing the classic fairy tale genre at the same time. This book tells the story of Westley and Buttercup and the adventures and obstacles their true love must overcome for their tale to end in happiness, alongside a cast of truly unforgettable characters.

Have other recommendations for those who love to laugh? Leave them, along with any suggestions for future “If You Like…” posts, in the comments!

-Denise Dolan, George Mason Regional Library

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sensational Science Books for Kids

A few weeks ago, we brought you a post about great science books for teens. This week we follow up with recommendations for elementary school readers. - Eds.

April 22 is Earth Day, a reminder for all of us to take a break from our screens and go on a hike- or at least read a good book about Earth’s creatures. When library staff visit schools to promote books, we notice that amazing but true tales from science are among students’ favorites. Here are a few stand-outs for elementary school age.

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Right now every single one of us has more microbes living on our skin than the total number of people on Earth. Microbes in us and on us outnumber human cells ten to one! But don’t worry, even though some microbes can make us sick, the ones that live on us all the time keep us well. Read this book to learn more about your billions of invisible friends.

Pink is for Blobfish by Jess Keating

This book will change the way you think about the color pink. Pink can be weird! Pink can be gross! Pink can be cool! Just ask the blobfish, the pinktoe tarantula, the pink fairy armadillo or the nudibranch. Help the color pink bust out of its stereotype as the color of princesses and posies by reading about these fabulous – and sometimes disgusting – pink creatures.

The Queen's Shadow: A Story about How Animals See by Cybele Young

A crime has occurred at the royal ball - someone has stolen the Queen's shadow! In order to find out “who dunnit,” we have to learn about each creature’s unique type of vision. The lancehead snake can "see" body heat in the darkness as an infrared glow. The mantis shrimp has trinocular vision, seeing objects from three different angles for extra depth perception. The pigeon can see many more colors than humans can. You'll never "see" things the same way after you read this fun science mystery!

When Lunch Fights Back by Rebecca Johnson

All over the animal kingdom, almost every creature on Earth has to worry about becoming some other creature’s lunch. Each has ways of avoiding that, some as common as camouflage or speed, and others more… unusual. The peacock shrimp has the strongest punch of any creature on Earth; it can punch with a force thousands of times its body weight. The horned lizard has a spooky defense – it shoots blood out of its eyes. Read this book for tales of self-defense by slime, vomit, projectile poop and dagger-like bones.

-Suzanne LaPierre, City of Fairfax Library

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

9 Books Library Staff Can't Put Down

Curious which books have library staff excited this spring?  Take a look at our What We're Reading: Spring 2017 page to find some titles to spruce up your reading list. And let us know what books you just can't put down!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Every Week is Teen Tech Week at the Library

Last week, Fairfax County Public Library and many libraries across the country celebrated the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) Teen Tech Week. There were coding classes, robot and 3-D printer demonstrations, a Sphero robot obstacle course and even mini drone quidditch. If you missed the fun last week, don’t worry. There are tech events happening year round. Check out the library’s Maker Events, or drop by the library's booth at the 4th annual Nova Maker Faire in Reston on March 19, 2017.

If you can't make it to an event, check out one of these books to get started on your own tech projects, from coding games and websites to building robots.

Beginners can get an introduction to Minecraft and Lego coding, Python and several other coding languages with the Kids Can Code series by Patricia Harris or the Kids Get Coding series by Heather Lyons.

Learn all things Scratch, from the basics to creating your own games with Coding Projects in Scratch or Coding Games in Scratch by Jon Woodcock.  

Is Scratch too easy for you? Take it up a notch and dig into HTML, for creating web sites, and JavaScript with Max Wainewright's How to Code.

And if hardware is your thing, try building your own gizmos, machines and simple robots using Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri or The Robot Book by Bobby Mercer.

--Rebecca Molineaux, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Super Science Books for Teens

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to track gila monsters by microchip or develop IQ tests for octopuses? Find out in one of the books in an amazing nature series called Scientists in the Field. Targeting middle and high school students, the series is informative enough for adults too. Many of the books in this series have won multiple awards. 

Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard, Mary Kay Carson

This book is about scientists who do research in our national parks – such as putting GPS collars on grizzly bears at Yellowstone National Park to find out where they hibernate or collecting DNA samples from salamanders in Great Smoky Mountains Park to study population genetics. Find out how the work of park scientists benefits wildlife.

Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass, Mary Kay Carson

Biosphere 2 is a three acre mini-Earth under a dome that scientists have created in the Arizona desert. It took four years to build and includes ocean, desert and rainforest ecosystems. It’s like an immense lab that helps scientists study our environment and factors that may impact it such as climate change.

Sea Turtle Scientist, Stephen R. Swinburne

Sea turtles have existed for 110 million years. But in the past 500 years, all seven species of sea turtle have become either threatened or endangered, largely due to human activity. Scientists are working on St. Kitts Island in the Caribbean to preserve leatherback turtles and their nests. Learn about some creative ideas scientists developed to help them.

The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk, Sy Montgomery

Octopuses don’t live long, but scientists are discovering how clever they are- especially considering they don’t have much time to learn! Octopuses can solve puzzles and individuals will find unique ways of solving problems. They can distinguish between faces of scientists wearing the exact same uniform. Peer inside the mysterious minds of these mollusks.

More recent titles in the series include:

Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt, Mary Kay Carson
Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird, Pamela S. Turner
The Great White Shark Scientist, Sy Montgomery
The Call of the Osprey, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

- Suzanne LaPierre, City of Fairfax Library

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Seven Brave Women, Seven Great Books for Young Readers

March is Women’s History Month, and we have a few suggestions to introduce even the littlest readers to the accomplishments of great women.

Me… Jane , Patrick McDonnell (preschool & up)
This appealing picture book introduces young children to the work of primatologist Jane Goodall– starting with her favorite childhood toy, a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee.

Queen of the Falls, Chris Van Allsburg (K & up)
Annie Taylor, a sixty-two year old widow, resolved to find fame and fortune by being the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. This story of bravery is masterfully enhanced by an award-winning illustrator.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero, Marissa Moss (grades 1 & up)
Sarah Emma Edmonds dressed as a man and joined the Army during the Civil War to fight the Confederates. She also worked as a nurse on the battlefield and served as a spy.

Maggie L. Walker, Moira Rose Donohue (grades 2 & up)
This great Virginian of African-American ancestry became the first female president and founder of one of the oldest banks for Black Americans in the late 1800s.

I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai (grades 5 & up)
This young reader’s version of the famous teenager’s memoir tells of a decision Malala made when she was only ten years old to fight for peace and democracy in her country. As an advocate for education, she became the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Ida M. Turnbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business- and Won!, Emily Arnold McCully (grades 6 & up)
This award-winning book tells one of the first investigative journalists whose articles on the Standard Oil Trust, run by John D. Rockefeller, revealed to the public the unethical, even illegal, practices that led to Rockefeller's success.

Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly, Deborah Noyes (grades 6 & up)
Also known for circling the globe in a record 72 days, this book describes one of Nellie Bly’s audacious feats of journalism. Feigning insanity, she had herself committed to a notorious asylum to investigate and expose abuses of human rights.

Do you have a favorite book about an amazing woman? Please let us know in the comments field.

-Suzanne LaPierre, City of Fairfax Regional Library