Monthly Archives: March 2017

Tolkien Reads Day

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Every year on the Twenty-fifth of March the Tolkien Society holds a Tolkien Read Day. This is the day that marks the climactic moment in Professor Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. If you know enough to argue the vagaries of converting the Gondorion calendar or the Shire Reckoning into modern Gregorian calendars then you know enough about this already. The focus for this year for the Tolkien Society is “Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction”. Although, this is a very interesting topic for many students and fans of Tolkien’s work, I think it lacks appeal to the general reader. You can get too focused on the minutia of the true devotee’s passion and miss a chance to spread something you love to other readers, young and old alike.

My own journey through Middle Earth started when I was five and my dad started reading me The Hobbit. He really had no idea what he was starting. I’ve spread my love of these books to friends and family over the years. They’ve given me an appreciation for Tolkien’s work as well as many of the things that inspired him. Now it’s my turn to share with all of you the great experience of the depths of Tolkiana but I’m going to break it down for each type of reader.

For Kids:

For those of you who loved the books since the start of the fourth age and now want to pass along your passion to the hobbit girls and elflings in your life as well as those of you who have just refused to grow up, there are some great options. The best is a small beautifully illustrated book of Bilbo’s Last Song. It is a separate work and fairly spoiler free. You may also be interested in the books based on stories that Tolkien wrote for his children. Roverandom and Mr. Bliss are delightful stories that a creative father used to amuse and comfort his children and Tolkien’s collected Letters from Father Christmas are a great seasonal treat. If your children are interested in more of the author himself, there is the Tolkien volume of the classic Who Was… series.  In my opinion, however, nothing can beat just sitting down and reading The Hobbit. It’s a great read for later elementary or middle school readers and also a great story for parents to read to (or with) their kids. Not much of a reading family? Take the unabridged audio on your next car trip. It’s fun, exciting and completely lacking in content that will make you grab at the volume knob.

So you liked the movies:

The movies, while they have their detractors, were good. You’re the person who went to see them because of the hype, but never read the books. The best suggestion for you is to read the books. Yeah, you think you know what happens, and you do have a good amount of general plot, but there is so much more you missed. There are iconic scenes, wonderful characters, and exposition you’ve never even heard of (unless it’s from hearing one of the true believers complaining). Many people, who’ve read the books, read them again and enjoy them just the same as the first time so please give them a try. If however you’re one of those headstrong trailblazers who won’t walk the same path twice there are hundreds of imitators. Many fall utterly short, but there are a few standouts. For younger readers there are the works of Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander. Older readers may appreciate Terry Brooks Shannara series, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Saga novels, Juliet Marillier’s Seven Waters trilogy, or Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series.

“I’ve read The Lord of the Rings”:

Tolkien fans are quick to discriminate between what they consider themselves to be and fans of The Lord of the Rings. Liking The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King is not fan boy or fan girl territory, not anymore. Neither is enjoying more of Tolkien’s writing. In the last several years the Tolkien Estate has released many of the Professor’s previously unavailable or unpublished works. It began with The Silmarillion in 1977. This is the history of Bilbo, Gandalf and Aragorn’s world. It’s almost like a Middle Earth Iliad/Bible, and it reads like it. The stories are great, but the language and phraseology can put some readers off. If you like it, Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth will please you as well.  The same can be said for The Children of Hurin and the forthcoming Beren and Luthien, although I have found The Children of Hurin to be easier to read than some of the others. Conversely, you could look at the professor’s more scholarly works like his attempts at interpreting King Arthur and the Nibelung with The Fall of Arthur and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.  There are a few other titles like these that are more obscure, but this should keep you happy for a while.

The Tolkien Fanatic:

This isn’t for the people who memorized the Cirth runes or have a grammatically correct tattoo in Tengwar. It’s for the people who were in the last category and want to make the jump into true fandom. There are two camps here, the purists and the omnivores. For the purists we start with Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle Earth. For visually oriented fans this is a must. It has maps, paths, climatology and floor plans. It’s mostly conjecture, but well researched conjecture.  Then we have the art books like Realms of Tolkien and Tolkien’s World which feature great artists’ rendition of scenes from Tolkien’s work, or better still The Art of the Lord of the Rings, which features Tolkien’s own drawings and water colors.

For the less discerning, or the more voracious, there are countless encyclopedias and guides, like J.E.A. Tyler’s Tolkien Companion, or books that interpret Tolkien and his works through any number of disciplines like politics with The Hobbit Party.

The must read for everybody here is The History of Middle Earth series. This is a twelve volume set of notes, back story, commentary and alternative takes on the stories you’ve come to love so far. These are not for the faint of heart; they are interesting, but the narrative repeats and is broken up.

The Tolkien Scholar:

This is the post doc of the Tolkien realm. These books are for people who hit fandom and come out the other side truly intellectually curious. You want to know where these books came from, who was the author and where are the roots of Middle Earth. The Story of Kulervo is the most recent item on the list and a work of Tolkien himself, but it is a fragment of a greater work, The Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Much of Tolkien’s early inspiration came from here. Tolkien also did his own translation of Beowulf and wrote a commentary, The Monster and his Critics. Both are interesting and enlightening but the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf is interesting as well. The Prose and Poetic Eddas are fascinating and full of names you will recognize, from Thorin to Gandalf. For more on Tolkien the man you can see any of the wonderful biographies, but I especially recommend Tolkien and the Great War. The Inklings can give you a wonderful look into the friendship and collaboration of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others.

Tolkien wrote, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The same is true for delving into Tolkien’s writing. You may just nip round the corner or you may start a journey that lasts a lifetime.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

Yep, it’s that time of year again! It’s time for shamrocks, pots of gold, green, and a tall Guinness. Okay, so that last one isn’t entirely appropriate for the whole family. Luckily, I have fourteen books perfect for celebrating with your kids on this St. Patrick’s Day!

That’s What Leprechauns Do by Eve Bunting (J E BUN)
As a storm approaches, three leprechauns get ready to go to work. Their job? Placing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, of course! “No mischief, no mischief along the way,” they chant. But they just can’t help themselves from pulling a few pranks because “that’s what leprechauns do.”

The Night Before St. Patrick’s Day by Natasha Wing (J E WIN)
In this Irish twist on “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” it’s the night before St. Patrick’s Day, and Tim and Maureen are awake setting traps for a leprechaun. The next morning, they’re shocked to find a leprechaun in their trap, but will they be able to find his gold?

St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons (J 394.268 GIB)
Introduce young ones to the origins of St. Patrick’s Day with this nonfiction picture book about the life and works of St. Patrick and the various ways the holiday is celebrated.

The Luckiest St. Patrick’s Day Ever! by Teddy Slater (J E SLA)
Follow the Leprechaun family on their favorite day of the year as celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a parade, dancing, music, and an Irish feast!

S is for Shamrock: An Ireland Alphabet by Eve Bunting (J 941.5 BUN)
From the Blarney Stone to fairy rings to shamrocks, take an A to Z tour of Ireland in this nonfiction title.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting (J E BUN)
Set in a village in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, Jamie, the youngest in his family, is too small to walk in the big parade. Disappointed, he wakes up early and sets out to prove them wrong.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie dePaola (J E DEP)
In this Irish folktale, potato farmer Jamie O’Rourke—“the laziest man in all of Ireland”—convinces himself he’ll starve to death after his wife hurts her back doing all the household and garden chores. When Jamie catches a leprechaun who offers a magical potato seed instead of a pot of gold in exchange for his freedom, the resulting gigantic potato feeds the O’Rourkes and their village longer than imagined.

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola (J E DEP)
In this nonfiction selection, readers are introduced to the life of St. Patrick and several different legends about him.

Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk by Gerald McDermott (J E MCD)
Tim O’Toole and his wife, Kathleen, are so poor that their neighbors avoid them, fearing their bad luck will rub off. When Tim goes out to find a job, he happens upon the “wee folk,” and they give him gifts to turn his luck around.

Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman (J CD E BAT)
The greedy leprechaun king has locked away all the luck in Ireland to keep it from the “big folk” who were soaking it all up. Unfortunately, he went too far, and Ireland suffered its worst luck ever through the potato famine. Thankfully, a young woman named Fiona is clever enough to outsmart the leprechaun king and restore luck to all of Ireland.

The Leprechaun’s Gold by Pamela Duncan Edwards (J E EDW)
In this Irish legend, two harpists—kind Old Pat and mean Young Tom—set off for a contest to determine the best harpist in all of Ireland. When greedy Young Tom realizes Old Pat is actually a better musician, he plots against his older counterpart, even going so far as to pluck the strings off poor Old Pat’s harp. However, Young Tom doesn’t plan on a leprechaun intervening on Old Pat’s behalf.

Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting (J E BUN)
Finn McCool is the “best-hearted man that ever walked on Ireland’s green grass.” But for all his strength, courage, and goodness, there’s one thing Finn lacks: he’s just not smart. When a wise man in a nearby village tells Finn about a red salmon with the wisdom of the world, he sets out to catch the fish and discover the “secret of wisdom.”

Brave Margaret by Robert D. San Souci (J E SAN)
When a ship carrying a handsome prince arrives in the harbor, Margaret seizes her chance to see the world. But soon she is faced with storms and sea serpents, and eventually finds herself held captive by an elderly sorceress who refuses to let her go unless she can defeat the evil giant at a nearby castle. When her prince is killed fighting the giant, Margaret discovers she is the intended champion of an enchanted sword.

St. Patrick’s Day by Anne Rockwell (J E ROC)
Join Mrs. Madoff’s class as they learn about St. Patrick’s Day traditions!

So read a book this St. Patrick’s Day! After all, isn’t knowledge is better than all the pots of gold at the end of the rainbow?

Leprechauns, Shamrocks, Snakes, Oh My!: Irish Folklore

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Faith and Begorra!  It’s March again, which brings us to think about spring, St. Patrick’s Day, and little people.  Eh, what??  Little people, you say?

The Fomorians, John Duncan’s interpretation of the sea gods of Irish mythology

We all know about leprechauns and their pots of gold (if nothing else from the Lucky Charms cereal commercials): little men dressed mostly in green who’ve buried their treasure at the end of the rainbow and don’t want anyone to find it (an ironic choice).  In past centuries many have tried to find these pots of gold at the end of rainbows, but most never did.

In Irish folklore, stories and tales of “the little people” abound.  We’ve heard these names: leprechauns, banshees, pookas, and selkies. Most of the fantastic creatures from Irish folklore did not like humans.  According to the legends, the first inhabitants of Ireland were the Fomorians, who were said to have been giant-like.  They were supernatural beings who kept being pushed off the good land of Ireland by humans and the other supernatural race—the Tuatha de Dannann (or the Fae).

Painting by John Bauer of two trolls with a human child they have raised

According to legend, both of these races were pushed out of Ireland by human invaders.  The Fomorians and the Tuath de Dannann fought each other regularly, but the Formorians were ultimately defeated.  The Fae were also defeated by humans, the early Irish, and were consigned to live underground, occasionally kidnapping children and replacing them with changelings.  They were also known to take unwary humans underground to keep as entertainment for a while, which was always longer than the human expected.  The Tuatha de Dannann became known as “The Little People” partly to reduce the terror of the stories told about them, and also because they became lost in the myths of Irish legends.

One of the most well-known of the Little People is the leprechaun.  Anyone who has seen Darby O’Gill and the Little People knows what a leprechaun looks like; most people recognize them from Lucky Charms cereal and remember “They’re magically delicious!” (the Lucky Charms, not the leprechauns). But long ago, leprechauns weren’t nice or friendly.  They knew all humans wanted their pot of gold, which as everyone knows is at the end of the rainbow.  Here are a few things you probably never knew about them.

  • Leprechauns are fairies.  Fairies are the little people of Ireland and leprechauns are little people; therefore they are fairies
  • If you are kind to them, they might give you a golden reward—you may find a golden coin for your trouble
  • There are no female leprechauns
  • Sean Connery may have won the role of James Bond after Albert (Cubby) and Jane Broccoli saw the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, starring Connery.  They thought he had the sex appeal needed to play Bond
  • There is a supposed colony of them in Portland, Oregon in a tiny park dedicated to the magical creatures
  • Sometimes they are dressed all in red—these may be their cousins, the clurichauns, though.  These red garbed fairies are mean and drunk.  Some say that the red clurichauns are what leprechauns become at night after a wee bit of whisky
  • At Carlingford Mountain, there are supposed actual remains of a leprechaun under glass.  A business man found a tiny suit, gold coins and some bones after hearing a scream.  The earth was also scorched near the site
  • They are protected under European law.  The Carlingford site is considered a Heritage site, protecting the colony of leprechauns and the plants and animals that live in its vicinity
  • Although the legend of the leprechaun is known mainly of Ireland, other countries have legends of small men.  Although the gnome doesn’t wear all green, he fits the bill as a small magical creature
  • Leprechaun means small body in Middle Irish—that fits, since they are small men
  • The leprechaun is the mascot for the University of Notre Dame (The Fighting Irish!) now, but it wasn’t always.
  • You can make a leprechaun trap—all you need to get started is something shiny to lure the little men. The traps can be simple as a shoebox, or elaborate as your family can imagine. Although no one has caught anything yet—that anyone knows of—it doesn’t hurt to try!
  • An Irish Blessing for St. Patrick’s Day

Wishing you a rainbow

For sunlight after showers

Miles and miles of Irish smiles

For golden happy hours

Shamrocks at your doorway

For luck and laughter too

And a host of friends that never ends

Each day your whole life through.

Read the rest of this entry

Southern Women Writers Serve up Some Fantastic Fare!

By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

Mmm, Mmm…

March is National Women’s History Month, an excellent time to recognize the talents and achievements of the South’s female writers. Through the years, Southern women writers have cooked up some amazing literary works, often focusing attention on relationships and families and advocating for gender, racial and socioeconomic equity.  And of course, southern food is key in Southern life and culture and is often used as an important tool for these writers. Won’t you join me for this literary feast?

Appetizer:

Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty

In Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty examines the complex relationships of the many individuals in the Fairchild family.  The story is set in rural Mississippi during the 1920s, at the family’s plantation, Shellmound.  The novel focuses on a wedding between the family’s 17-year-old daughter, Dabney Fairchild, and Troy, the caretaker for the plantation. From the rehearsal dinner, to the wedding feast, to the post-wedding picnic, Welty gives us Southern cuisine aplenty.  As the Southern women in the story cook together and talk together, we learn much about them, their values, and their commitment to family.

Entrée:

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, by Fannie Flagg

From the first three words on the cover of Fannie Flagg’s book, our mouths are watering.  All through the book, food is important.  The novel tells the story of a friendship between the elderly Mrs. Ninny Threadgoode and the middle-aged and discouraged Evelyn Couch.  When Evelyn’s husband visits his mother at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home, Evelyn instead visits with Mrs. Threadgoode in the lobby.  She returns time after time.

As the two women talk, Mrs. Threadgoode reveals the story of Idgie and Ruth, two women who opened a café together in Whistle Stop, Alabama, back in the 1930s.  In a setting fraught with poverty and racial tension, Idgie makes the café food available to everyone – although she is unfairly required to feed her black friends outside the back door.

The Whistle Stop food was home-cooked, nourishing and comforting, based on recipes from Sipsey, a black woman who had been working in the Threadgoode house since she was a girl.

“Even at eleven they say she could make the most delicious biscuits and gravy, cobbler fried chicken, turnip greens and black-eyed peas,” recalls Mrs. Threadgoode to Evelyn.  “And her dumplings were so light they would float in the air and you’d have to catch ’em to eat ’em.”

A sharp contrast is provided by the pre-packaged snack foods and vending machine fare that Evelyn eats and shares with Mrs. Threadgoode.  We see that Evelyn has an unhealthy relationship with food, gnawing through dozens of candy bars in one sitting and then obsessing about being overweight.

Later in the novel, Flagg depicts a heightened understanding in Evelyn, who prepares a lovely dinner for her friend:

“When Mrs. Threadgoode saw what she had on her plate, she clapped her hands, as excited as a child on Christmas. There before her was a plate of perfectly fried green tomatoes and fresh cream-white corn, six slices of bacon, with a bowl of baby lima beans on the side and four huge light and fluffy buttermilk biscuits.”

Dessert:

Hallelujah!  The Welcome Table, by Maya Angelou

I saved a book by one of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou, for our final course. While best known for her autobiographical memoirs, poems and essays, Angelou has also crafted cookbooks among her “lighter fare.” The subtitle to Hallelujah! The Welcome Table invites the reader to enjoy “A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.”  The Random House book jacket proclaims that the book is “a stunning combination of the two things Angelou loves best: writing and cooking.”

Each section of the book is introduced with personal reflection. In one of these, Angelou recalls the desserts that were shared to cap off local quilting bees:

“Mrs. Sneed, the pastor’s wife, would bring sweet potato pie, warm and a little too sweet for Momma’s taste but perfect to Bailey and me.  Mrs. Miller’s coconut cake and Mrs. Kendrick’s chocolate fudge were what Adam and Eve ate in the Garden just before the Fall.  But the most divine dessert of all was Momma’s Caramel Cake.”

Angelou goes on to share a poignant memory of how her mother baked a caramel cake to lift her spirits after an incident earlier that day.  A teacher had slapped the then-mute Maya and demanded that she talk. Read the rest of this entry

Fabulous Teen Tech

by Howard Shirley, Teen Department

It’s Teen Tech Week, and to celebrate we consulted a panel of teen readers about their favorite techy stories, featuring fantastic technology they wish was real, and creepy technology they’d rather never see. And then we rounded out the whole thing by selecting a few books we love featuring tech both real and imaginary—as well as tech you may someday create yourself!

Fiction

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game begins after humanity has barely survived a genocidal war against technically advanced alien invaders, and Earth fears that race’s eventual return. The last invasion was defeated almost solely by the action of one heroic military officer, and the leaders of Earth are desperate to create soldiers who can mimic that hero’s instinctive skill. Potential candidates are selected as children and trained in an orbiting military academy, featuring a recreational battle game, sort of a cross between laser tag and Red Rover, played in zero-gravity inside a huge sphere. The eventual victors of this tournament, led by the novel’s young hero, Ender, also train in a complex computer simulator, learning to command the space fleet that must confront and destroy the enemy—with unexpected results. Our panel of teens loved the idea of the battle game in its weightless environment, as well as the computer simulator.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

For creepy tech, our teens brought up the Divergent series and the technology used in the novels to identify and control the members of a dystopian future society. At sixteen, everyone is divided by law into five distinct factions, ostensibly chosen by the individual. The choice, however, is influenced by a complex personality test run in a virtual reality environment, which uses the individual’s personal fears to direct that choice. Secretly, one of the factions develops a serum that allows them to use the VR tech to control the minds of others and launch a bloody coup. “Divergent” refers to those who can’t be easily regimented by the VR test and who can recognize the VR world as not being actual reality, thus becoming immune to the effects of the mind-control. Everyone agreed that this sort of technology was one they’d never want to see come into reality.

Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama

This popular manga (Japanese comic book series), features another dystopian setting, where humanity has been reduced to a tiny population living in an immense walled city to protect itself from roving, gigantic “Titans” whose only apparent desire is to eat humans. The warriors assigned to defend humanity are equipped with “vertical mobility devices,” which are arrow-tipped grappling hooks fired by gas canisters. The cables allow the warriors to swing through city, forests, and even from the Titans themselves, “just like Spiderman” as our teen panel put it. The soldiers also use flexible swords which are the only weapons capable of killing the monstrous Titans. The blades, however, are destroyed when they strike a Titan, and the hilts must be reloaded from a supply cartridge worn like a scabbard at the warrior’s waist. Our teen panel loved the idea of being able to swing through the air with the grappling-hook harnesses, and who doesn’t love a techy sword?

Our teen panel then rounded out the discussion with recommendations for books and videos featuring Doctor Who—because TIME TRAVEL! (Which is hard to beat as tech goes.)

Our Honorary Best Book for Teen Tech Week:

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua

Part part non-fiction, part fiction, this highly amusing and intelligent graphic novel tells the adventures of (the real) Lady Ada Lovelace and (the also real) Charles Babbage in an “alternate pocket universe;” the alternate part being that the two actually build the invention they collaborated on in real life—the fabulous Analytical Engine, a steam-powered Victorian-era computer! If you’ve ever wondered what the Steampunk phenomena is all about, these two historical persons are at the heart of it. (As one of the book’s characters quips about the pair, “Oh look, we’re present for the invention of the geek.”) The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage mixes silly adventures and fabulous Victorian engineering with real history about the development of computing, programming languages, and a dash of women’s rights, all nearly a century before anyone made the first computer chip. If you love steampunk, history, computers or just laughing out loud about any of them, there’s no better book to grab for Teen Tech Week.

Other Teen Tech books in our collection include:

Time Travel Tech (because Doctor Who!)

  • Loop by Karen Akins
  • Hourglass series by Myra McEntire
  • The Time Machine by HG Wells (the father of them all)

Spy Tech

  • Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
  • Gallagher Academy series by Ally Carter
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp Series by Rick Yancey

Cybertech

  • Feed by MT Anderson
  • The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers
  • Blue Screen by Dan Wells

Space Tech

  • Avalon Duology by Mindee Abnett
  • Dove Arising by Karen Bao
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • Existence by David Brin
  • Illuminae Series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  • Dragonback Series by Timothy Zahn

Genetic Tech

  • Maximum Ride Series by James Patterson—teens bio-engineered with angel’s wings, pursued by teens bio-engineered as wolves.

Tech That Never Was (But Should Have Been) Tech

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  • Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld—featuring steam-powered walking tanks and bio-engineered flying whales!!!

Almost There Tech

  • Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld—featuring a hoverboard that floats over metal rails, or water with a strong iron content. Real  efforts to create hoverboards have in fact produced two workable versions- one that operates only above a metal surface, and another that operates (using superconductors) over a magnetic surface. Aside from the lack of any ability to float over water, this tech really does exist.

Ridiculous Tech

  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams—the tech is as silly (and impossible) as the novel, but who wouldn’t love to own the spacecraft Heart of Gold?

Actual You Can Do This Tech

Technology just isn’t something in books or something made by other people. If you love tech, why not make it your career? Check out these non-fiction books to kickstart your quest!

  • Careers for Tech Girls in Engineering by Marcia Amidon Lusted YA 620.0023 LUS
  • Preparing for Tomorrow’s Careers Series:
  • Powering Up a Career in Robotics by Peter K. Robin YA 629.892 RYA
  • Powering Up a Career in Software Development and Programming by Daniel E. Harmon YA 005.12023 HAR
  • Powering Up a Career in Nanotechnology by Kristi Lew YA620.5023 LEW

A to Z World Culture: Finding your place

By Stephen McClain, Reference Department

The world is shrinking. Is Earth imploding? Have we taken so many natural resources out of the ground that the planet is actually becoming smaller? Not likely, but as global communication continues to advance; we are more connected than ever before in human history. Travelling across the Atlantic was once a dangerous trip that took months in a creaking wooden ship. Now, travelers can safely fly across the pond in under ten hours. Information can be sent around the world instantaneous by way of fax, email and cellular telephones. Fifty years ago, the chance that a child born in Appalachia would ever come in contact with someone from Southeast Asia or Latin America before leaving the region after adulthood was slim. In today’s world, because of various push/pull factors and globalization, that likelihood is high. We are in an age where it is increasingly important to understand the diverse cultures of the world as we are becoming progressively more linked. Information about the diversity of the cultural landscape was certainly available fifty years ago, but it was required that one go to a library to access the data in print form. Today, scores of data is accessible from anywhere at the click of a mouse button or tap of an icon. While there are countless websites and databases to choose from, A to Z World Culture provides an excellent resource for students who are doing a research project or anyone who is simply inquisitive about geography and world culture.

The home page of A to Z World Culture has a simple, user-friendly design that allows visitors to easily locate information, regardless of age or computer skills. Either click on a country on the interactive world map or choose one from the scrolling menu. After choosing a country, users are shown the “Cultural Overview” of that country, which includes images showing the global location, the country’s political flag and pictures of people or landscape. Here, readers will also find written information on the cultural diversity, religion, stereotypes and popular culture of the country. Much more detailed information is available within the menu on the left. For example, clicking on “Maps” gives users a list of seven thematic maps that are available to download as PDFs. Among the downloadable maps are Political and Provincial maps (showing place names and boundaries), Physical and Natural Earth maps (showing natural features and topography), Population, Precipitation and Temperature. In addition to the thematic maps, there are also two useful blank outline maps, which are often helpful in learning location and preparing for a test or quiz.

The Demographics tab under Country Profile is a valuable resource for population data. This page shows the total population for the selected country, the age structure, life expectancy, birth, death and migration rates and the population of major cities. Most of the data is relatively current, with estimates from at least the last year or two. This is useful information and an easy means for acquiring demographic data for comparative or survey purposes.

Exploring the other tabs reveal general geographic information about the selected country such as Climate, Culture, Education, History, Language, Music and National Symbols, just to name a few. Clicking on the Country Profile tab is a good place to start. Here, users can learn about the demographics of the country, its economy and government, and its current leaders.

For teachers, the Lesson Plan tab provides valuable resources for introducing place-specific geographic issues and topics to students in grades 7 – 12. Some could also be used in the college classroom for introductory social science courses. Most of these lessons involve role playing that allows students to learn interactively. All lesson plans are available to download as either a Microsoft Word document or as a PDF.

Finally, if you are using any of this information in a paper or project, you will need to cite your sources. A to Z World Culture has made this easy by providing a link that generates Chicago Manual of Style, MLA and APA citations for the A to Z World Culture website. Additionally, there is a “Print this Document” button that opens the document for printing.

a to z

As our world becomes smaller and more global communication barriers are permeated, we are experiencing less friction of distance and an increase in space-time compression. Resources like A to Z World Culture are powerful tools in bridging the cultural divisions that we more frequently encounter. In today’s global landscape, understanding cultures other than one’s own is essential in defeating xenophobia, increasing our knowledge and being successful in the new global economy. Visit www.atozworlculture.com and pick your destination.

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