I have been enjoying crime fiction in translation a great deal over the past few years. Not only do the stories open up a new window on the world, but they often are very literary in style with a strong sense of character appeal. In Fred Vargas’s quirky Commissaire Adamsberg series, translated from the French, the focus is definitely on the characters.
Primarily set in Paris, with occasional jaunts to the countryside, and in one book to Canada, the stories feature the Paris murder squad headed by the slow-moving, slow-talking Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. Readers looking for a lot of action will find Adamsberg’s more meditative approach to detecting somewhat infuriating, as do Adamsberg’s superiors, and occasionally his officers. These are stories about the psychology of crime and criminals as much as about the plot. That is not to say that Vargas is at all weak on plotting; in fact, one of the appeals of the stories is the unique, not to say outlandish, plots, that often center around old French customs and traditions.
The interplay between Adamsberg and his officers is also another appealing feature of the series. Adamsberg truly cares for his squad, despite their unquestionable oddness, and the reader comes to care about them as well. As in real policing, there is a lot of thinking and talking that goes on, punctuated by occasional bursts of violence.
Check the WRL catalog for The Chalk Circle Man
Reading The Plantagenets got me thinking about war and its impact on people and culture, which led me to reread Pat Barker’s magnificent WWI novel Regeneration. Barker’s book is a timely exploration of the effect of war on both society and on the individuals who must participate. The novel is a fictional account of poet and Royal Army officer Siegfried Sassoon’s commitment to the Craiglockhart Hospital following his declaration against the war. Rather than court-martialing Sassoon, the British Army sends him to the care of Dr. W. H. Rivers, who is known for his work with shell-shocked soldiers.
Barker deftly blends these historical characters with her fictional ones. Rivers gradually comes to question his role in curing these men of their insanity only to send them back to their likely deaths. Sassoon is clearly not insane, and his clearness of purpose increases Rivers’s conflict. Rivers was a pioneer in treating shell-shock, and his humane treatment is chillingly contrasted with the electric shock therapy used by another psychiatrist whom Rivers visits near the end of the novel. While Rivers and Sassoon provide the frame for the novel, the story of working class officer Billy Prior (a creation of Barker’s) fills in much of the detail of the war. Barker goes on to explore the conflicts in Prior’s life in her two sequels, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road.
Barker’s prose is lyrical, even when writing about the horror of trench warfare, and the question of where sanity lies in wartime is still a pressing one.
Check the WRL catalog for Regeneration
Nightshade, California, the setting of Dead is the New Black, shares quite a bit in common with another strange California town. No, I don’t mean L.A. I’m referring to Sunnydale, CA. For those who don’t get the reference, Sunnydale is a fictional town, and the home of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like Sunnydale, Nightshade has its share of, well, shady characters. There are vampires, werewolves, psychics, and cheerleaders. And as Sunnydale has Buffy, so Nightshade has Daisy. Only Daisy doesn’t have any superpowers. In fact, she’s the only one in her family without them. Daisy’s mother and oldest sister are psychic, her other sister is telekinetic, and her father doesn’t count, since he disappeared years ago (not magically – popular opinion is that he ran off with another woman).
Daisy’s trouble begins not with the vampires, werewolves, or psychics, but the shady cheerleaders. One in particular. Samantha Devereaux, the school’s most popular girl, head cheerleader, and Daisy’s former best friend, shows up on the first day of school looking dead on her feet. Literally. She’s pale, she only wears black, and she wheels a coffin around with her wherever she goes. Daisy’s conclusion? Samantha has become a vampire, and to prove it she goes as far as joining the cheerleading squad. There’s an opening for a replacement, as one of the cheerleaders has fallen mysteriously ill. Could she have been bitten by Samantha? And what about the corpse Daisy saw move in the morgue. Could it have been one of Samantha’s minions? Daisy may not have superpowers, but she’ll use the power of deduction to solve this mystery.
This is a quick, fun read, and a lighthearted alternative to the darker supernatural fiction that has gained popularity in YA lately. This book is followed up by Dead is a State of Mind.
Check the WRL catalog for Dead is the New Black.
Seeking something a bit lighter after two history books, I picked up Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten, the fourth installment in his Thursday Next series. Fforde deftly blends social satire, literary references, and clever wordplay in just the right proportions to cheer the soul. I enjoy writers who cross genres, and Fforde does so with abandon. There are elements of detective stories, fantasy, science fiction, and literary fiction in his writing. Time travel, genetic recombination, vampires and werewolves, and travel inside books all play important roles in the series.
Something Rotten finds the intrepid literary detective, Thursday Next, back from her sojourn residing in an early-20th-century adventure novel. Once again, she finds herself up against the Goliath Corporation’s plans for world dominance, and uses both her detective and her croquet-playing skills to save the world, bring her husband back from chronological eradication, and keep the Ophelia and Polonius from changing the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to give themselves lead billing.
Fforde’s books are fast paced, with lots of plot lines coming together at the end. Jasper Fforde is a good choice to lighten the heart or just to enjoy on a lazy late-summer day.
Check the WRL catalog for Something Rotten
Angelina is a little mouse that just wants to be a ballerina. She dances as much as she can all day long. The only problem is things get a little chaotic when she is dancing. Angelina doesn’t clean her room or get ready for school, and she knocks things over or makes messes while she is dancing. One day, Angelina’s mother and father give her a ballet dress and shoes. Angelina is going to go to ballet lessons! Will she be a good dancer? Will she stop making messes and start listening to her mother? Your little ballerina will enjoy the antics of Angelina in this story and the rest of her books, such as Angelina and the Princess and Angelina’s Baby Sister.
Check the WRL catalog for Angelina Ballerina.
Peter Ackroyd is an outstanding biographer who has written excellent books on Shakespeare, Chaucer, J.M.W. Turner, and Isaac Newton among others. He is also an accomplished novelist. My favorite books by Ackroyd though are his biographies of places. He has written about Venice and London, as well as my favorite, the Thames. In this short book, Ackroyd takes us underneath London to explore the lost passageways, abandoned Tube stations, buried rivers and streams, and hidden treasures that lie beneath the busy streets and lives of contemporary London.
Any place that has been around as long as London (since about 43 CE) has as much of its history buried beneath the surface as it does above the ground, and Ackroyd is an able guide to archaeological London. But his book goes much further than just looking at old foundations from Roman or Medieval times. Ackroyd’s “London under” is both a place of refuge, as in both world wars when the Underground stations were used as shelters from air attacks, and of fear, where darkness obliterates the senses and hidden gases can choke you or explode in balls of fire. Ackroyd also likens London under to the nervous and vascular systems of the city, pierced by tunnels that carry wires, cables, and water to the inhabitants.
Whether he is exploring the ancient sewers of the city or unraveling the path of the buried Fleet River and other subterranean streams, Ackroyd’s skill at telling stories carries the narrative along. He does not simply compile dry facts, but rather uses these facts to both tell a compelling story and to create a delightfully atmospheric mood. The people who created the tunnels and passageways are brought to life here as are the nonhuman denizens of London under: rats, dogs, and, according to Ackroyd, “a form of mosquito, not otherwise known in England” that breeds in the warm moist environment.
If you are interested in London, or city histories, or just want to take a fast-paced, vicarious tour of the world beneath our feet, you cannot do better than London Under.
Check the WRL catalog for London Under
Everybody knows the stories of the good King Richard the Lionhearted, the noble Englishman, and his despicable brother John, later king himself, right? Well, after reading Dan Jones’s superb history of the Plantagenet family, you will never think of “merrie olde England” the same way.
While John was pretty despicable, both as a brother and as a king, Richard was not someone you would want to spend much time with either, nor were most of the other rulers of England in the period that Jones explores, from the 1150s through the end of the 1300s. Life was nasty, brutish, and short for lots of people, including some unfortunate Plantagenets who met a variety of untimely ends. I found myself constantly amazed at the number of reigns that ended with a murder or execution, or at least a suspicious death.
But what a cast of characters Jones has to work with–Eleanor of Aquitaine, her husband(s) and children, Henrys and Edwards almost too numerous to count, rulers and military leaders from Europe and the Middle East, and a host of minor courtiers, hangers-on, and functionaries. Jones’s clear and lucid prose style brings all of these characters to life in a most interesting, if sometimes uncomfortable, fashion. On the whole, the Plantagenets were not nice folks, nor were they really very English, at least at first. Much more of their time was spent winning and losing territory in France than in concerning themselves with England. Not until the French territories were mostly lost by John and Henry III did the focus begin shift to the “scepter’d isle” of Shakespeare’s Richard II. Richard II is, in Jones’s mind, the last of the Plantagenet kings, losing his throne, and eventually his life, to his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV.
Jones is an excellent writer of narrative history. He holds the reader’s interest by focusing on stories and characters in short chapters, while moving briskly through two and a half centuries of history. If you enjoyed Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons, you can get more of the backstory here. Anyone who is interested in what things were really like in the English courts of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries will find a great deal to enjoy here. I am looking forward to Jones’s next book on the York and Lancaster conflict leading to the Tudors.
Check the WRL catalog for The Plantagenets
It’s only his first day of high school, but Arnold “Junior” Spirit has had enough.
His underfunded school is on the Spokane Indian reservation, where Junior’s whole family lives within five miles of where they were born. His mother would have been a teacher, his father would have been a musician, and his sister would have been a romance novelist… if they’d gone to college, if they hadn’t been alcoholics, if they hadn’t been depressed, if they’d had any hope left.
Junior doesn’t have much going for him: a skinny, poor kid with a big head, allergies, bad eyes, a stutter, and a lisp. But he’s the most hopeful person in his family, maybe the most hopeful kid on his reservation, and he doesn’t want to stay on the reservation for the rest of his life. He asks his parents for a transfer to all-white Reardan High, where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Now his best friend thinks he’s a traitor, and the kids at Reardon think he’s a freak. It’s going to be one of the roughest years of his life.
It’s also very funny. Junior’s narration is conversational, ironic, blunt and hilarious, even and maybe especially when his life is the pits. This is such a guy book, complete with hormones, uncouth language and fart noises, and guys attempting to negotiate complicated emotions via fistfights and basketball games. But they are EPIC basketball games, man; they are Shakespearean conflicts on the court.
Book versus audiobook? Here’s the dilemma: the book is illustrated with Junior’s cartoons, but the audiobook is read by Sherman Alexie. Sure, the cartoons add something personal to Junior’s story, but so does hearing it read by the author with gung-ho enthusiasm. Sherman Alexie owns this story. You can’t lose either way.
Check the WRL catalog for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Or check out the audiobook
Having trouble convincing your little ones that too many sweets are a bad thing? Well, this book is for you!
Sweet Dream Pie begins with Pa Brindle begging his wife Ma Brindle to make her “sweet dream pie”. He finally convinces her, but she doesn’t approve. Ma Brindle rolls out the dough, as Willobee Street wakes up. Then she adds everything that she can find that is sweet. Gusts of wind carry powdered sugar away, and even a cocoa powder tornado begins! Ma and Pa Brindle put the pie in the oven and set it to “special”, and the whole street knows what comes next. They pile up in the yard to get slices. Ma Brindle warns against eating more than one piece, but they can’t help themselves. Later that night, all of the people who ate too much of the pie begin to dream bad dreams, and their dreams roll out into the street and terrorize the neighborhood. What will Ma Brindle do?
This is a good read to convince children to cut back on sweets before bedtime, or for anyone who wants to read about the residents of Willobee Street.
Check the WRL catalog for Sweet Dream Pie.
People often wish they could know what others are thinking, but what if you could see the dreams of others? How would you cope with seeing the subconscious of your best friend, worst enemy, or crush acted out in front of your eyes?
Janie has been able to see dreams since December 23, 1996. She was eight years old, riding the bus with her mother, when she entered the dream of another bus passenger. It was a classic bad dream: the dreamer is unprepared for a presentation and discovers that they are standing in front of a group of people wearing only their underwear. This is only the first of many times that she is drawn into the dream of another.
Janie can become a part of any dreamer’s dream, but while inside, she can only act as a spectator, and cannot manipulate what she experiences. She becomes trapped in the dream until it reaches a conclusion or the sleeper wakes. In the physical world, she is paralyzed, unable to control herself or her ability. She learns to keep a distance from sleepers, as proximity will affect her connection to their dreams.
All of this changes when Janie shares the dream of Cabel, a boy from school. Cabel dreams about a monster, a man with knives for fingers lurking in his backyard. Janie experiences his dream as she usually does, but in this dream a second version of her is present. Cabel is dreaming about her. She watches as Cabel asks the dream-Janie for help. Janie has feelings for Cabel, and wants to help him overcome whatever real-life fear his subconscious is interpreting as a monster, but she cannot risk anyone finding out about her secret.
All of this fantasy is mixed seamlessly with a story about teenagers in high school, including the usual: parties, after school jobs, class trips, first loves, and rivalries. Throw in a twist at the end, and you get quite an intriguing story.
Check the WRL catalog for Wake.
Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is a clever picture book filled with punctuation-related puns. Rosenthal and Lichtenheld tell the story of an exclamation mark who is tired of not fitting in with the periods around him. His outlook changes when he meets a question mark, who of course can’t stop asking questions (“Do you like frogs?” “Who’s taller, you or me?” “What’s your favorite color?”). The question mark interrogates him so intensely that the exclamation mark finally has to yell “STOP!” When he shouts this, the exclamation mark discovers his purpose. He had no idea that he had the power to make words into exclamations. He’s so excited that he can’t stop shouting a variety of phrases (“Home run!” “Congratulations!” “Boo!”). He immediately runs to show the periods his discovery and introduce them to his inquisitive new friend.
The illustrations in Exclamation Mark are simple and clean. The mostly black-and-white drawings are set on a background of ruled handwriting paper. When color appears, it has a dramatic effect. It’s used most effectively on the pages where the exclamation mark is discovering his purpose. Each word or phrase he shouts appears in a different color. On most pages, the text and characters sit on the ruled lines as expected, but occasionally they defy these rules. For example, on a page where the exclamation mark is running and shouting, his dialogue is set diagonally, crossing over several sets of ruled lines.
Readers need to use very expressive voices when sharing Exclamation Mark with an audience. The book is filled with exclamatory and interrogative sentences that require special intonation patterns. It’s also important for readers to use effective voice pacing, especially on the page where the question mark is peppering the exclamation mark with a barrage of questions. If a reader goes through the list of questions too slowly, the desired effect will be missing, and the next page (the exclamation mark yelling “STOP!”) won’t be as dramatic. Readers should definitely practice their presentation of Exclamation Mark prior to sharing it with an audience. Though it looks simple at first glance, this book is best for older listeners who have learned about the functions of basic punctuation marks. They will be able to understand the reasons behind the characters’ behavior and catch the pun-based humor. I’ve enjoyed sharing this story with elementary and middle schoolers. I like to make the book more interactive by inviting my audience to read aloud with me from the pages where the exclamation mark is shouting. It’s fun to hear the room fill with a chorus of voices exclaiming, “Look out!” and “Yum!” and “Encore!”
Check the WRL catalog for Exclamation Mark.
I used to read and re-read this novel over and over again, especially during my college years. It always seemed to be the one I’d pick up when procrastinating or killing time around finals time. Always fascinated with artists and how they each discover a unique personal vision, I felt that this book captured the artist’s internal development and anguish so well. It also dealt with a religious subject that I knew very little about but found very intriguing. It captured the angst of a person responding to his innate passion as an evolving creator while also receiving powerful spiritual messages and under constant societal and familial pressure.
Asher is the only child of orthodox Hasidic parents whose livelihood revolves around service to God and the requirements of their religious community. Asher’s father has a very important job directly reporting to the Rebbe or spiritual leader of their Hasidic group in post-World War II Brooklyn, New York. His father must travel frequently for the Rebbe and expects Asher to behave appropriately and reverently as has always been expected of members of his family and community. It is difficult for Mr. Lev to accept Asher’s insatiable compulsion to express nearly everything he sees and experiences, every emotion or thought, through drawings and images. Even before he’s presented with conventional drawing tools, he is discovered using the ashes from his parents’ cigarettes to create images on paper as early as age four. Asher’s mother, in a position to witness the naturally unfolding quality of Asher’s prodigal gift more directly, seems to embrace Asher’s gift more easily, yet she must enforce her husband’s demands.
We learn in the first few paragraphs of the novel the shocking fact that Asher Lev, an artist of rare talent, has become famous by painting an iconic Christian image in his “Brooklyn Crucifixion” painting despite having grown up as a strictly religious Jew. How this Hasidic Jew grew up to become an artist who paints Christ on a cross is a very engaging tale, told in the artist’s point of view, and reads much like a memoir. Asher Lev’s act is dramatically symbolic and forges a permanent barrier between himself and his sect and family.
Many would say that the book is hard to finish, with its slower pace, but I found that to be no trouble at all. In fact, I somehow found it to be a page-turner I could not put down late into the night, even when I was re-reading it.
Check the WRL catalog for My Name is Asher Lev.
This is my favorite exercise video, not only for its glorious setting and background music, but because I can actually do each exercise, all the way through from beginning to end, without wasting precious time or feeling hopelessly out of shape. I feel great afterwards, especially if starting my day. Now, that does not mean it lacks challenge for intermediate yogis, or that it’s appropriate for a beginning Yoga student. In fact, this program is best utilized by those who’ve received sound one-on-one or group instruction on the basic movements of Yoga. You want to make sure that you’re using proper form and posture, so as to prevent back injury or pulled tendons, etc…, and have received sound feedback and correction from a wise instructor. The most important thing I’ve learned about Yoga is never to feel you must compete with others, simply to improve yourself gradually at your own pace. There are always modifications and props to help you manage more difficult poses until your body gains the flexibility it needs to stretch as well as those featured in videos like this most awesome one.
Ali Macgraw and her gorgeous model yogis perform the workout designed and led by Erich Schiffman with his soothing voice against the breathtaking backdrop of the brilliant White Sands of New Mexico. The musical accompaniment, with original score by Lucia Hwong and tracks performed by the hypnotic band “Dead can Dance,” rich with exotic vocals and enchanting drumbeats, is so incredibly relaxing that I can not only use this routine to awaken and energize me early in the morning but alternatively find it to be a calming antidote for winding down at the close of a stressful day. I have found that the meditative aspects of practicing Yoga are essential to my enjoyment of it and make it more beneficial to my entire being, beyond the physical. Even though the year of this DVD’s release may seem dated, the music, cinematography, even the yoga attire and overall production still seem very cool.
Check the WRL catalog for Ali Macgraw: Yoga mind & body.
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins is a fascinating picture book that appeals to all ages. It features life-size illustrations of animals and parts of animals with simple factual statements about each creature. Many of the animals are the largest or smallest in the world in some category. For example, one spread shows the head, neck, and egg of the world’s largest bird (the ostrich), while another suspends the world’s smallest fish (the dwarf goby) in a sea of white space. The illustrations are very clean. The animals either appear on a white background or cover the entire page. A special fold-out page in the middle allows readers to see the whole length of the saltwater crocodile’s snout. Each illustration is accompanied by a sentence or two about the animal’s characteristics. For example, the words on the spread featuring a very large spider say, “The Goliath birdeater tarantula is big enough to catch and eat birds and small mammals.” Jenkins also shares statistics, like weight and height, about the animals. The most exciting page may be the one featuring a life-size gorilla hand. I’ve found that everyone is eager to “give the gorilla a high-five” to compare their hand size with the ape’s.
Whether it’s shared one-on-one or with a group, Actual Size works best as an interactive experience. For me, sharing this book feels more like a conversation than a read-aloud session. I typically make the book into a guessing game, covering up the words and asking my audience questions like, “What kind of animal is this?” and “How tall do you think this animal is?” For an older audience, readers may want to prepare by learning additional facts about the animals pictured, or may want to call on listeners to share what they know about the animals. When I read this book at a middle school, I was asked a lot of questions like, “Where does the Siberian tiger live?” and “What does the giant squid eat?” Fortunately, some of the listeners knew the answers to these questions and were eager to share that information with the group. One way readers could prepare in advance is by perusing the extra information on each animal provided at the end of the book. Actual Size is a great read-aloud for preschool and up, and a simplified reading could be suitable for toddlers. For example, I wouldn’t want to tell toddlers that the Alaskan brown bear is “the largest meat-eating animal that lives on land,” but I could make up my own words along the lines of, “This is a brown bear. It lives in Alaska. Look how big it is!” Readers could also use this book to demonstrate the big/small opposite pair. Since it requires a conversational approach, this book is best for readers who are comfortable ad-libbing in front of a group. Actual Size was a big hit on my outreach visits with elementary and middle schoolers, and I look forward to sharing it with younger children at storytimes this fall.
Check the WRL catalog for Actual Size.
Captivated by the pages in Gap Creek devoted to the slaughtering of a hog and the rendering of its fat, I have shown that passage to several people who, after reading that one section, immediately proceeded to read the whole book in less than a day or two.
I was taken aback by how interesting I found it to read such raw detail about a process that I would have absolutely no opportunity or desire to participate in, but the detailed prose made me feel so familiar with the unpleasant work that I could almost smell it. This was the first time I noticed myself so engrossed in a story that I felt as if I could be there, working as hard as Julie Harmon; in fact, I wanted to be able to work as hard as Julie. I would not wish upon myself the hardships or poverty of her turn-of-the-century Appalachian life, but I envied her character’s drive and unquestioning energy to do what’s necessary. Our lives these days are often rife with options, the easy route freely taken without the consequences of starvation or loss of life too common a hundred years ago. I’ve witnessed older members of my family who work with such force and have never found within myself such stamina. Today, I suppose it can be found most often in elite athletes, willing to push their bodies to their absolute limits.
Even in Julie’s day, and among her family members, she is an uncommonly strong and intensely diligent workhorse, so much so that this quality stands out more than beauty for good-looking Hank, who stuns her by offering his proposal of marriage. Their married life proves to be fraught with unforeseen challenge and misadventure. At times, it seems that their life could not possibly get worse but then it surely does. The reading of Gap Creek is an experience you will not forget or regret.
Look for Gap Creek in the WRL catalog.
I eagerly await the upcoming release in late August of the follow-up novel, The Road from Gap Creek.
In a history resembling but several degrees removed from our own, somewhere in the Greater Pelagic Ocean, young Mau has spent a month living alone on the “boy’s island,” building the canoe he’ll need to sail home. Having proved himself worthy, he’s supposed to be welcomed by family and friends ready to celebrate his transition to manhood. Only, before Mau’s homecoming, a tsunami devastates the islands. Everyone he knew and loved has perished. Even the stone “god anchors” where his people used to leave offerings have washed away.
Marooned by the same tsunami, Ermintrude Fanshaw takes advantage of being the sole survivor of a shipwreck to change her name to Daphne. Then, being a well-bred and uncommonly resourceful young Englishwoman (and only 139th in line for the crown!), she dries out her gold-edged visiting cards and invites Mau to tea.
Mau and Daphne are courageous and well-matched partners in rebuilding society from scratch. Other refugees wash ashore in the storm’s aftermath, and the necessity of feeding children and caring for elders tempers Mau’s grief even as he worries how their fledgling community can defend itself from cannibal raiders and other pirates of the sea.
All the while, in his head, Mau hears the Grandfathers, his ancestors, chastising him from beyond their watery graves, demanding that he replace the god anchors and respect the gods that he simply cannot forgive. Daphne, who came to the island carrying her own grief, gets lectures from her inner Grandmothers.
Mau’s anger and grief are the heart of the novel, along with all the big questions: how we come to believe in higher powers and whether, after great loss, we can continue in those beliefs. It’s alternately a heartbreaking and a heartwarming story, often quite funny, and as a standalone book, a great place to start reading Pratchett if you’ve never done so.
You may also want to check out the audiobook. Reader Stephen Briggs does such a fantastic job on the audio version, and sometimes British humour just sounds better read by Brits.
Check the WRL catalog for Nation
Or check out the audiobook
The Black Stallion is one of my all-time favorite films, and it stuns me to encounter individuals who have never heard of it, which sometimes happens when I suggest it to families looking for movies that will entertain viewers of all ages. It often shows up on lists of great movies and also on lists of films containing minimal dialogue. The film is based upon Walter Farley’s children’s novel of the same name.
Visually mesmerizing, it’s also a great title for those learning the English language. The opening segment of the film is perfectly scored to music, especially a scene where the music is timed with the patient attempts of the boy to encourage “the Black” to join him in the sea so that he can finally ascend the horse’s great height to sit on his back and ride him. The reflections of light in the tropical waters, the endless sky, contrasted with the horse’s intense darkness and the pale yet sun-freckled flesh of the lonely shipwrecked boy are unforgettable. I admit, however, that at home with my DVD it is often during this scene that I find myself drifting off to sleep due to the relaxing atmospheric quality of the cinematography. It is for this reason that I always pop in The Black Stallion if I’m having trouble settling down for a good night’s sleep. It may work wonders for your rambunctious young ones when they’re in need of being calmed.
Check the WRL catalog for The Black Stallion DVD.
In the words of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season” (Chapter 3, verse 1 New Living Translation page 506).
How does this relate to this blog?
On April 1, 2008 I started “Moorman’s Musings”. It was part of my effort to increase communication with library staff, the community and the world at large. At that time it seemed that blogging was the in thing. Thus, I gave it a try.
In the succeeding twenty-seven months I have posted thirty-four blog entries. This post will be entry thirty-five.
What have I learned in this process?
1. Finding something relevant to say or comment on is increasingly difficult as time progresses.
2. Preparing the posts takes up considerable time that could be better spent on more important matters both job related and personal.
3. The blog is of little interest to other individuals and the world at large. It receives few hits. If thirty individuals look at it during a months time it has done well.
With the above in mind this will be the last post for “Moorman’s Musings”. As noted in Ecclesiastes there is a time for “every activity under heaven”. It is time for me to proceed to other things.
I have learned much from this experience and do not regret it in the least.
It has been seven months since I assumed the presidency of the Virginia Library Association.
What has happen during these seven months as far as the Virginia Library Association is concerned? Not a great deal, but then most president’s really have little or no impact in the long run on the Association or its activities. This is probably for the best! The Association has changed it meeting location for Executive Board and Council Meetings from Charlottesville to Henrico County. We will see how that works. So far after one meeting it has been well received. However, if more members from Western Virginia become active in Association activities this could change. As one who has set up Council meetings over the years the tables at the Twin Hickory Branch of the Henrico County Public Library are substantially lighter than the ones at the Northside Branch Library in Charlottesville. These old bones definitely notice the difference!
The Association now has a new logo, thanks to the work of staff of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. It is clean and reflects the historic heritage of Virginia. We are working on revising parts of the Association’s manual. This is a never-ending task as one change leads to another. An important change is removing the responsibility of chairing the Nominating Committee from the duties of the past-president. Now the past-president only appoints the chair and its membership. Not that I did not want these duties next year, but this will enable the Nomination Committee chair, in our schedule of office rotation, to have a better knowledge of those eligible for Association leadership.
One of the fun parts of the job is the ability to recognize individuals in new ways. While I would like to take credit for thinking up the idea, the concept of issuing presidential citations at each meeting of VLA Council came to me when a colleague asked if an individual could have some recognition at our Annual Conference in October of last year. My concept for the presidential citation is to recognize individuals who have contributed substantially to librarianship in Virginia over the years but who have not received much, if any, formal recognition. Library directors such as myself are eliminated immediately! It has been fun to recognize Libby Lewis, Gene Damon and Susan Thorniley for their wide and varied service to the libraries and library users of our Commonwealth. I have several more recognitions to come. Whether this continues is up to my successor Matt Todd. Knowing him, he will probably come up with a new and even better way of honoring those who toil in the vineyards of librarianship.
The Association continues on a sound financial footing. I am hopeful that the recently completed VLA Para-Professional Forum Annual Conference is a financial success. While attendance dropped considerably this year the program schedule was a good one and I was delighted to participate in the opening session.
The first VLA Library Leadership Academy was held in Charlottesville in April. This several day event brought over 20 selected individuals together with consultant Robert Bergin to learn about leadership and prepare themselves for future leadership opportunities. I was honored to participate in a panel discussion on the last day of the Academy and will be serving as a mentor for three of the participants as they work on their final project.
Another fun aspect of being VLA president is that I get to inflict my thoughts on the membership through four issues of Virginia Libraries. So far one issue has been sent out into the world. Three of these columns are already completed and I hope will be relevant when they appear months after they have been sent to the editors. The last one will appear when I am no longer Association president. This is a project for the summer.
It has been a fast seven months. I am sure that the remaining five will go just as fast. I look forward to an exciting Annual Conference in Portsmouth on October 21 and 22 as I close out my year as VLA president and return to normal obscurity.
So long for now!
This past month I was privileged to be a part of the first Virginia Library Leadership Academy. The Academy was the result of several years of hard work by the Leadership Development Forum of the Virginia Library Association.
On April 19 and 20 twenty-three selected individuals participated in a training and development program in Charlottesville, Virginia. Let by Robert Burgin a former instructor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at North Carolina Central University and a library consultant participants learned about leadership through lectures, networking and participatory exercises. Each participant is working on selecting a project which must be completed in a year’s time.
I had agreed to mentor three individuals as a part of their project assignment. With seven other mentors I attended the second day luncheon. During lunch I had time to meet and begin to know those with whom I would be working. After the luncheon there was a panel discussion where participants directed questions to the mentors. I come away from such activities refreshed in both mind and spirit. It is wonderful to interact with such talented individuals who will be providing the next generation of leadership to libraries throughout the Commonwealth.
Events such as the Virginia Library Leadership Academy are important. Leadership is a difficult proposition at best and any help that a leader or prospective leader can receive along the way is to their benefit and to the benefit of the institution that employs them. After almost 35 years as a library director, I feel a strong obligation to work with individuals as they proceed through the stages of their leadership experience. Maybe, I can help them avoid some of the mistakes that I have made along the way. Often all that is needed is a listening, sympathetic presence.
As I prepared for my presence at the Academy I thought of all the individuals who have helped me along the way. Some of these were librarians, some were trustees, others were community members who provided wise guidance in times of difficulty. Without their presence I would not have made it to where I am now.
The above event was followed by the annual meeting of the Virginia Public Library Directors Association. Our group has met for years at Graves Mountain for 24 hours of activities including annual business meeting, updates from the Library of Virginia, a report from our legislative liaison, special programs, evening musical presentation and the awards presentation. In addition we have time to interact with each other in a very informal setting.
I find it nice to be able to put away my Blackberry (as it does not work in this remote setting) and chat and learn from my fellow directors as well as the staff of the library development division of the Library of Virginia. What did these chats tell me? That other libraries are also suffering in this economic climate; that advances in technology pose new challenges to library operations; that none of us are getting any younger; and some of us have been in our positions for a good while. The longest serving public library director present at Graves Mountain had been in her position for 36 years. That in and of itself is a major accomplishment.
As I left Graves Mountain on Friday afternoon, I was reminded again of the joy that the soul receives when the mind can idle and interact with others without the pressure of immediate deadlines, phone calls, e-mails and the other aspects of our technological society. You are also reminded that your institution can operate very well without your presence. This too is important.
So long for now!