Thursday, February 27, 2014

What's the ruckus? Toddler time!

Many years ago, the Newport Public Library began providing programming for toddlers and their care-givers. Each Tuesday and Thursday morning the library echoes with “little” voices ages birth to 3 years, with older siblings and friends thrown in. That does mean that sometimes the voices are unintelligible or wailing. Sometimes as many as 15 “little” voices join in with the sounds of an already busy library.

So, what does a toddler learn at Toddler Time? How much does a baby absorb in a whirl wind of sounds, colors, and movement? When children first come to Toddler Time, most only sit in wide-eyed wonder. Some don’t make it through the 15 – 20 minute session – there are many more exciting things to explore. (I take second fiddle to the trains a lot.) They usually don’t participate in the activity songs at the beginning and end (Open and Shut Them and Blow Kisses to Friends). They are tentative about participating in “ringing the bell” and “sharing” with each other. The flannel board is a lesson in listening for your turn and for some, having the courage to come up and add to the growing collection of pieces on the board.

 Sometimes it only takes a few sessions, sometimes it takes months or even years. In the end as each child becomes more comfortable with their surroundings, with the program, and with their own abilities, it’s exciting to see young minds grow and engage with the world.

Thank you to all the families who have participated in Toddler Times over the years…we enjoy watching all “our” children grow, and invite you to let us know below how your “once a toddler” is doing.
-- Jan

Monday, February 24, 2014

On Re-Reading Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain

In 1980, I studied at the University of Heidelberg, in what was then West Germany. Although I did not pursue my academic studies with much vigor, I did challenge myself in other fields and in other ways.

One of those challenges was a promise to read Thomas Mannʼs nearly 800 page novel Der Zauberberg, The Magic Mountain, in the original German before the year was up. My German literature professor at university recommended it as essential to understanding 20th century Germany and its place in the European family of nations.

Along with traveling to almost every country on the continent (one of my other self-directed challenges that year), I managed to read the entire novel before I returned home to Washington, DC at the end of the summer. Iʼll admit it was tough going at first. But as my German language proficiency improved, so did my enjoyment of this most weighty book, considered to be one of the classics of German literature.

The Magic Mountain is a richly textured, densely packed Bildungsroman, a sort of coming of age novel. But it is also much more: an allegory on European culture as it entered the modern age as well as a philosophical investigation into the nature of time. It can also be read as an examination of the new psychological interpretations of art, illness and death that incorporated the insights by a range of 20th century thinkers and artists, including Friedrich Nietsche, George Lukacs, Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy and Sigmund Freud.

At its heart though, it is the story of Hans Castorp, a young man fresh out of college who, before starting a new job in the shipping industry, travels to Davos, Switzerland to visit his cousin, who is recuperating from a bout of tuberculosis in an Alpine sanitarium. He plans a three week stay.

 Hans winds up spending the next seven years at the sanitarium.

And now, over thirty years later, Iʼve challenged myself to re-read The Magic Mountain, in English this time. Will it still hold my attention as it did so long ago? Iʼll let you know.

 Newport Libraryʼs copy of The Magic Mountain will be checked out for the foreseeable future, but you can reserve one of the other OceanBooks copies here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Orphan Choir

Sophie Hannah’s The Orphan Choir is a supernatural thriller with an unreliable narrator and a literary feel, comparable in some ways to Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle or Poe’s Cask of Amontillado.

 Louise Beeston seems like your average, upper-middle-class British mum. But she doesn’t feel much like a mum anymore. Her talented seven-year-old son is required to board at the school where he’s won a position on the choir, and Louise is far from ready to have an empty nest. Her husband says the choir will position their son for an illustrious career in music, and has little patience for her seemingly irrational desire to mother the boy.

 Meanwhile, their recently purchased Victorian turns out to be plagued by a noisy neighbor, who will not stop playing loud music at night no matter how many times Louise complains. And she does complain, with great diligence, feeling that to give up on complaining would be to somehow admit that she is in the wrong.

 To the reader, Louise’s first-person narration offers clues that more is going on than she understands or perhaps is willing to admit. Her state of mind initially comes across as tense and obsessive, and much of the suspense in the novel derives from wondering exactly how she’s going to crack. I did not enjoy that sensation so much, especially through the pages and pages from her “noise diary,” which she keeps to document her neighbor’s parties.

 Despite that, Hannah’s writing always has a kind of brisk immediacy that feels very fresh and solid, and that’s true of this book too. She’s the author of the popular Zailer and Waterhouse British mysteries, which open with Little Face, a book I really enjoyed. The Orphan Choir has the same good writing, the same deft hand at the wheel, but it’s a very different kind of book. I grabbed it off of the New Books shelves here at Newport, without bothering to read the cover because I like her so much, and I think I may have enjoyed it more if I’d realized going in that it’s not a mystery but a ghost story. So I’m letting you know right from the start—things are going to start out peculiar, and get downright creepy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

For a good time, call Suzanne

For romance novel aficionados, Suzanne Brockmann was first known for her series of Silhouette Romances starring sensitive, good-looking Navy SEALs. (My favorite was Forever Blue, Silhouette Intimate Moments #742).

Then she broke out of the Silhouette mode with the Troubleshooters series: more handsome Navy SEALs, this time in suspenseful full-length adventures. They fight terrorism, stop bad guys, and find true love.

It’s been a few years since I read Brockmann, but I know that her books reliably provide action-packed escapist adventure -- exactly what I was in the mood for this rainy February. So when I spotted the smoldering cover of her 2012 book Born to Darkness, I knew just what to do. I read it.

Born to Darkness is set in a recession-ravaged near future, in which people are getting addicted to a street drug called Destiny. Destiny gives users psychic powers, but it also drives them mad and kills them. And, it turns out that to produce Destiny you need to torture prepubescent girls and drain off their fear hormones. So, you know, that’s not good.

Leading the war on Destiny is the secretive Obermeyer Institute, where people with latent psychic abilities are rigorously trained and studied. The “Greater Thans” of the OI want to take down the villains. They also want to fall in love with each other and fall into bed together, not necessarily in that order.

It’s a hot romance novel crossed with The Uncanny X-Men, and that’s not for everyone. You may prefer to read something a little more serious than the adventures of sexy disgraced SEAL Shane Laughlin, vulnerable-yet-sexy OI operative Michelle Mackenzie, sexy scientist Dr. Elliot Zerkowski and his love interest, sexy-but-repressed Stephen Diaz, and their sexy, sexy boss, Dr. Joseph Bach.

But sometimes serious is not the answer. Are you feeling stressed or unappreciated? Is this weather getting you down? Are you looking for a good time? Call Suzanne Brockmann.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pigs Pigs Pigs

I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. –Winston Churchill 

March 1 is National Pig Day! I just learned this. It is a day to celebrate all things pig. (Whether or not Pig Day includes the actual ingestion of pigs is up to you.) We at the library celebrate most events by highlighting the relevant material in our collection, and Pig Day is no exception. (Take a look at the bright pink display in the lobby!) 

Pigs have long captured the imagination, as the large number of books featuring porcine characters attests.Their keen intelligence, their love of good grub, and their snorty snuffly snouts have earned pigs an honored place in the canon of Western children's literature. Let’s take a moment, shall we, to run ID's on our most beloved pigs. 

The wimpiest pig known to man. Last seen in the Hundred Acre Woods. Known for such gems as, "Help, help, a Herrible Hoffalump! Hoff, hoff, a Hellible Horralump! Holl, holl, a Hoffable Hellerump!" 

Prize-winning porker inordinately fond of spiders. Received the following advice from one: “Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They'll believe anything they see in print.” 

Best known for his appearance in the eponymous movie in which he performs amazing and unpiglike sheep herding skills. His reward? (Well, besides not being eaten?) Farmer Hoggins tells him, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” 

Saucy piggy with a huge ego and a killer wardrobe. She’ll go far. 

Also this, because why not?


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Slowing

The moments before she knew were forever preserved in her memory like an insect in amber.

It was Saturday morning. Eleven-year old Julia and her friend, Hanna, woke up in their sleeping bags, after camping in the living room all night. Julia fed her cats, while her parents read the newspaper and drank coffee. Her mother went out to buy bagels for breakfast, but quickly returned in a panic. Scientists had just revealed that the rotation of the earth was slowing.

Karen Thompson Walker spins her tale in matter-of-fact terms, with the horror of the situation gradually revealed in the details. Crops fail to survive the longer days and longer nights. Birds drop from the sky. People fall ill, first due to changes in gravity, then from radiation exposure.

Yet they continue to cope. Greenhouses, then radiation shelters spring up in backyards. Julia grows close to Seth, a classmate who is sensitive to the plight of beached whales and dying birds. The majority of people elect to follow the familiar 24 hour cycle, and outfit their homes with blackout curtains and bright lights to feign normality. "Real-timers," those who prefer to follow the lengthening cycles of light and dark, are considered outcasts, and many flee to communities in the desert.  

The Age of Miracles: A Novel, was difficult to read, but hard to put down. It is as much a coming-of-age novel as it is apocalyptic, and I finished with the hope that Julia’s miracle would come, before it was too late.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Some bright morning

Imagine a city where the dead go.

They don’t stay there forever. The city isn’t heaven or hell. They are not punished for their sins or rewarded for their goodness.  It’s just where dead people are so long as someone alive still remembers them. 

Their lives in the city are just like their lives were before they died - they have homes and jobs and businesses; they eat dinner and take walks. No one knows why. They’re just there, until the last person who remembers them dies; and then they’re gone.

The city is the setting of Kevin Brockmeier’s haunting novel The Brief History of the Dead, a book that depicts the end of the world, but isn’t about the end of the world. It explores the relationship between the city of the dead and the world of the living, how they're intertwined, and what happens to one when calamity strikes the other.

I realize that description is more than a little vague; sorry. But this book is so beautiful and strange, I think you should discover its lovely, sad surprises for yourself. Pick up The Brief History of the Dead sometime; it’s wonderful.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I opened Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh for the first time while waiting for my son to be released from his piano lesson. Two minutes later, tears running down my face, shaking with silent, uncontrollable laughter, I was praying that my son and his teacher wouldn’t emerge from the studio to find me in convulsions. Despite the potential social awkwardness, despite my son’s impending mortification—I couldn’t stop reading. Brosh is just that painfully hilarious.

Fortunately, the uncontrollable laughing-out-loud did wear off after ten minutes, to be replaced with slightly more repressible chuckles and the ability to wipe my eyes, blow my nose, and take a short break from the book. Thank goodness—but I think I love her! Her totally idiosyncratic point of view, her peculiar stick figures, her ability to express the bizarre thought-processes of a completely unsocialized five-year-old or a brain-cell-challenged canine are awe-inspiring. And she has this incredible ability to describe unusual, socially unacceptable and therefore usually swept-under-the-rug emotional realities.

Hyperbole and Half is a collection of biographical illustrated stories which won the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Award for Best Humor of 2013. The subject matter ranges from light (eating Grandpa’s whole birthday cake) to heavy (struggling with depression,) but in each case, Brosh’s voice is distinctive, throwing a dark zany glow on every situation. Oh, and there are quite a few f-bombs. This is not a cartoon book for the kiddies, although mature older kids could certainly appreciate the absurd black humor.

Get on our holds list, and if you can’t wait, check out Brosh’s blog,

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books for Growing Girls!

Amelia Bloomer
Like many professions, librarianship has its share of associations and their accompanying projects, roundtables, and committees.  I keep the close tabs on  the Amelia Bloomer Project of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. Phew! A mouthful. The Amelia Bloomer Project creates a list every year of books for girls from birth to 18 that meet certain criteria: one, significant feminist content; two, excellence in writing; three, appealing format; and four, age appropriateness. The Project’s website expounds upon the feminist content criterion by specifying that

Feminist books for young readers must move beyond merely ‘spunky’ and ‘feisty’ young women, beyond characters and people who fight to protect themselves without furthering rights for other women. Feminist books show women overcoming the obstacles of intersecting forces of race, gender, and class, actively shaping their destinies. They break bonds forced by society as they defy stereotypical expectations and show resilience in the face of societal strictures. 
All right—sounds good to me! So let’s get to it! The 2014 list was released just last week and contains some real winners. For the full list, click here. Below are two of my favorites: 

Imogen: The Mother of Modernism and Three Boys by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Lisa Congdon 

A lovely picture book about Imogen Cunningham, a photographer who strove to balance work and motherhood. In the author’s note at the end of the book, she is quoted as saying, “You can’t expect things to be smooth and easy and beautiful. You just have to work, find your way out, and do anything you can yourself.” 

Rookie Yearbook Two edited by Tavi Gevinson 

Rookie is an online magazine for teen girls edited by 17-year-old Tavi Gevinson. This yearbook, a collection of articles from June 2012 to May 2013, features pieces written by big names such as Judy Blume and Lena Dunham. It’s smart and doesn’t talk down.