Author Archives: WCPLtn

Happy 150th Birthday, Half-Pint!

laura_ingalls_wilder_cropped_sepia2By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

“The ‘Little House’ books are stories of long ago. Today our way of living and our schools are much different; so many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with the simple pleasures; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.”

—Laura Ingalls Wilder

On February 7, 2017, Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been 150 years old.  Though she died in 1957, she lives on through her beloved Little House on the Prairie books.  This enduring children’s fiction series gives readers a glimpse of life in another time, based on Wilder’s experiences from her birth in Pepin, Wisconsin, to her childhood as a pioneer girl traveling through the upper Midwest, to her life as a young teacher and wife in De Smet, South Dakota.

010087I was in fourth grade when I first discovered the Little House books.  I was in a new school – with a new library – and I remember seeing the books on a shelf to my right as I walked into the room.  The cover illustrations by Garth Williams first drew me in, but it was the colorful word pictures created by Wilder that kept me transfixed.  I kept returning to the library, reading each book in the series until I had completed them all.  We didn’t have American Girl dolls or books in those days, but I think that many from my generation thought of Laura and her sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace as our American girls.

As fictionalized autobiographic material, the books don’t give us an entire or entirely accurate picture of history.  This was a limited picture of America (an approach that took on a largely hushed tone about Native American and black history) but one that many still find valuable and enjoyable.   I know that Wilder’s words helped me to travel to another time and place, to experience things that I would never experience in my lifetime – from traveling in a covered wagon and living in a log cabin, to churning butter, harvesting maple syrup, and smoking meat. I felt as though I knew the Ingalls family and was right there with Laura (a.k.a. Half-Pint) as she experienced each new task, trial or tribulation.

The story of how Wilder came to write the books is in itself an interesting one.  In midlife, Wilder wrote a biweekly column for the Missouri Ruralist, which featured her opinions on country life, housekeeping, and marriage.  Her adult daughter, Rose, a reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin and already a published fiction writer, encouraged Wilder to write about her childhood.  That autobiography, Pioneer Girl, was rejected by several publishers at the time.

little-house-in-the-big-woods-cover-imageThe tide turned when an editor at Harper & Brothers asked Wilder to reframe the autobiographical material into a fictionalized children’s book.  With help from Rose, Wilder did exactly that.  The editor liked the revised manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods and published it. It was 1932, and Wilder was 65 years old. (For adults who are aspiring fiction writers, this is an especially encouraging fact!)

Wilder’s first book was quickly successful, and she was asked to write more.  Rose helped her mother, although the extent to which she served as editor or ghostwriter is a subject of debate among literary experts. By 1943, the core eight novels of the series had been published: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. The final book in the series, The First Four Years, was published in 1971, almost 15 years after Wilder’s death.

The Little House series opened the doors of history to girls and boys across the country – and later, around the world.  Wilder died on February 10, 1957, three days after her 90th birthday, on her farm in Mansfield, Missouri.  Yet she lives on today through her literary legacy.  About 60 million copies have been sold of Little House in the Big Woods alone, and her books have been published in 30 languages.

910dqmhfpelIn 2014, the South Dakota Historical Society Press published a hardcover edition of Pioneer Girl, the autobiography first refused by Wilder’s contemporary publishers.  The text, annotated by Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill, has sold more than 140,000 copies.  For 2017, Harper Collins is releasing new, anniversary-themed editions of the books – a testament to their enduring popularity and appeal.

Want to Know More?

The library is a great way to learn more Laura Ingalls Wilder and get acquainted (or reacquainted) with her Little House books.   Ask one of our children’s librarians for the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Bibliography,” which lists titles and locations of the original books, as well as non-fiction companion books, and books by other authors based on the lives of Wilder’s female relatives.

Upstairs, in the nonfiction area, we have a variety of writings by Wilder, as well as books about her by other authors.  Stop by the reference desk and ask about them.  We’ll be glad to help you!

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Children’s Bibliography…Click to Enlarge


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Awesome Box at the Main Library

By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department

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Click image to go to our Awesome Box website!

Have you ever read or watched something from the library that you absolutely LOVED and wanted to tell everyone about? Well now you can! Next time you check out something awesome from the library, return it to our Awesome Box. From there, we’ll spread the word that it is awesome!

What is an Awesome Box?

  • An Awesome Box is a book drop for library items you think are awesome! It’s just like a regular book drop. But instead of putting items back on the shelf after you return them, we make a note of what you put in the Awesome Box and share it with everyone so they can know it’s is awesome, too!

What kinds of things should I put in the Awesome Box?

  • Any library materials including books, DVD’s, or Audiobooks you find awesome. They can be helpful, mind-blowing, your all-time favorites, etc. Whatever you think other people would enjoy knowing about.
  • Basically, if it was fantastic, helpful, amazing, valuable, entertaining, or just all-around awesome, put it in, so that everyone knows how good it was.

img_1271Does putting items in the Awesome Box actually return them?

  • Yes – if you put an item in the Awesome Box it will be returned to the library (and then Awesomed!)

Where can I see what people have put in the Awesome Box?

  • You’ll find what people have “Recently Awesomed” on our Awesome Box bulletin board just inside the Main Library’s entrance.
  • For a full list of what has been “Awesomed” in the past 30 days at our library, visit this website from our homepage: https://wcpltn.libib.com/i/recently-awesomed. You’ll also find links to everything that our patron’s have declared Awesome, including movies and Awesome books for adults, teens, and kids.

So the next time you’re returning something, remember: the awesome things go in the Awesome Box!

 


References:

Dog Stars by Peter Heller

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

heller-dogIn this post-apocalyptic novel, we meet Hig and his dog, Jasper. Hig survived the world-ending flu pandemic and more. His only companions are Jasper and Bangley, a survivalist and weapons enthusiast. Hig’s way of escaping the monotony and horror is to fly. He goes on perimeter checks for Bangley, he flies to living forests to find deer, and he returns to a hidden stash of sodas in a crashed 18 wheeler. Jasper is his co-pilot; he’s getting on in years, and is almost deaf, but he’s a great companion. Bangley understands that Jasper is an early warning system. When Jasper dies, Hig goes into an understood decline, then decides to go exploring further that his gas will allow. He will have to find a safe place to refuel the plane–he has no idea what he will find, or even if he will live through it.

Heller is an adventure writer who often contributes to NPR. He is also a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and other magazines. He knows how to describe nature and has a good eye for detail. I was a little worried about the post-apocalyptic setting, but it drew me in and I ended up really liking the book.

In Memoriam: Kathy Ossi

kathy-ossi-badgeBy Dolores Greenwald, Library Director

This week we honored the life of our dear friend and fellow employee Kathy Ossi. Kathy worked for WCPLtn for over 20 years and was the Manager of our Technical Services Department. But she was much more than just an employee. She leaves behind a wonderful husband and two children.

Kathy had a golden light and was an outstanding woman. She was a bright light, and in her own subtle way radiated the energy of a Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln. She was a quiet superstar and a huge resource for the Library. As her years with us and we grew, Kathy grew with us, learning and doing much more than her job assignments. Kathy took it upon herself to learn web site management and development often paying for classes out of her own pocket.

ten035664-1_20170121Among the Library staff she will always be our friend and superstar and we will miss her greatly.

-Dolores

“And the award goes to . . .”

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

No, not Meryl Streep.  Not these awards, anyway.  If you’re reading this blog, presumably you have an interest in and/or some knowledge about children’s literature, or you’ve heard about the hysterically witty and charming woman who writes a quasi-regular blog for the Williamson County Public Library website.  Either way, I’m glad you’re here.

Much like the entertainment industry, there are literally (HA! See what I did there?) a plethora of honors that are awarded each year in the field of Kid Lit.  I’m not going to make this article an exhaustive list of the aforementioned youth book awards, so I have narrowed it down to three:  the Randolph Caldecott Medal; the John Newbery Medal; and the Volunteer State Book Award.

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The first of these is the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which has been awarded annually since 1938 to the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.”   It is awarded to the illustrator by the American Library Association and is named for Randolph Caldecott, a 19th-century British illustrator.  The two sides of the actual medal are derived from Caldecott’s illustrations:  one side depicts a section of the front cover of The Diverting History of John Gilpin; the reverse is based on Caldecott’s illustration for “Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,” from the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence.”  Additionally, the committee acknowledges several worthy runners-up each year, and those recipients are referred to as Caldecott Honor Books.  A random sampling of some past Caldecott winners includes some of my personal favorite children’s

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books:  Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1964);  The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (1986); Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (2005);  and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (2013.)  The entire list of Caldecott winners since its inception can be found at the American Library Association website, www.ala.org/alsc/caldecott, and all Caldecott books can be found in their own section in the Children’s department at WCPL.  Oh, and here’s an awesome bit of news, hot off the presses (see what I did there?):  the 2017 Caldecott Medal winner was just announced over the weekend at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, and the award goes to . . .  Radiant Child:  The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe.

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The John Newbery Medal is another kid-lit award which is also bestowed annually by the American Library Association, and the Newbery Medal recognizes the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  Named for John Newbery, an 18th-century British publisher of juvenile books, the Newbery Medal was proposed by noted American publisher and editor Frederic G. Melcher in 1921, hence making it the first children’s book award in the world.  The medal was designed by American sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan and depicts a man, presumably an author, giving his book to a boy and girl.

media-awards-4For a book to be considered for the Newbery, it must be written by an American citizen or resident and must be published first or simultaneously in the United States, in English, during the preceding year.  Much like the Caldecott Medal, the selection committee awards a variable number of citations to runners-up, and those are referred to as Newbery Honor Books.  Most Newbery winners appear on recommended reading lists for elementary and secondary schools, and they also have their own section at WCPL.  The list of Newbery Medal recipients since 1922 can be found at www.ala.org/alsc/newbery, and the Newbery Honors winners are listed there as well.  The 2017 Newbery Medal winner, also just announced at the ALA conference over the weekend, is The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

media-awards-5Last but not least in this list of literary luminaries (mercy, say that three times fast) is an award with some local flavor, and that is the Volunteer State Book Award.  The VSBA, as we librarian types refer to it, is sponsored annually by the Tennessee Library Association and the Tennessee Association of School Librarians.  Every year, schoolchildren from across Tennessee are asked to read books from a list of nominations.  The VSBA has four divisions:  Primary (Kindergarten-2nd Grade), Intermediate (grades 3-5), Middle School (grades 6-8) and High School (grades 9-12.)  In the spring, students who have read or listened to at least three titles from the slate of nominees are allowed to cast their vote for their favorites.  Those votes are then tabulated and sent to the Tennessee Library Association, and the book with the most votes statewide wins the award.  Here at home in Williamson County, many teachers and school librarians from WCS (Williamson County Schools), FSSD (Franklin Special School District), and many private and parochial schools use the VSBA list as their recommended reading over the summer.  The lists of current and past nominees can be found at www.tasltn.org/vsba .

So there you have it, friends—truckloads of fun book suggestions for the kiddos, and for yourself.  Happy reading!


As always, the opinions about life, love, and literature expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way a reflection on the employees of Williamson County Public Library or their families, friends, neighbors, or pets.

Inauguration Day

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

barack_obamas_2013_inaugural_address_at_the_u-s-_capitolSoon we will have another quadrennial celebration of the changing hands of the highest office in the land.  The inauguration is about hope. Yes, hope. Regardless of your political beliefs, we watch the events of a new presidency with hope of one kind or another. We hope the new person won’t make the mistakes of the old. We hope that our opinions will now be considered and valued. We hope this guy doesn’t screw up. We hope four years go by quickly and uneventfully. They’re all hope, some positive, some negative, but hope all the same.

This new beginning means that we all have a moment to take some time, look at our present situation as a country and decide if we are where we want to be and what we need to do to get wherever that is. This has been the burden of 43 men on 57 separate occasions. They all stood on a platform in Washington D.C., put their hand on a bible and swore to…wait, none of those things are right. True, this is the image we see when we imagine the inauguration in our mind, but none of those things are actually required for the inaugural process.

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas.

Washington D.C.

First of all, the inauguration does not have to be in Washington D.C. George Washington was had his first inaugural in New York and his Second in Philadelphia. Adams was also inaugurated in Philly. Two presidents have taken the oath of office in hotels due to the death of the prior president. Two took the oath in their private residences for the same reason. The most recent extraordinary inauguration was that of Lyndon Johnson in 1963 on Air Force One in Dallas.

The Bible

The Swearing and the Bible are not dictated anywhere either and neither is the phrase, “So help me God”. Due to some religions prohibiting members from swearing to anything, the option to affirm the oath was built in to the ceremony. Two presidents are believed to have done so, Hoover and Pierce. We know that Pierce did for certain even though he was an Episcopalian and was not required to avoid swearing. Hoover was a Quaker and it was believed he had used affirm, but news real footage shows he said solemnly swear. The only other Quaker president was Richard Nixon, and he also chose to swear. Theodore Roosevelt did not swear on a bible, and John Quincy Adams and that rebel Franklin Pierce swore on books of law to signify they were swearing by the Constitution.  Finally, George Washington ad libbed the line “so help me god” and most presidents have followed suit. It is the proscribed thing to complete an oath for federal judiciary members, but there is nothing in the presidential oath that requires it.

The Inauguration Address

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The second inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States took place in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793.

The shortest inauguration address on record was Washington’s second address at one hundred and thirty-five words.

                Fellow Citizens:

I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.

Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.

Not exactly, “Here we go again” but short sweet and to the point. Washington’s brevity seems to be a skill many politicians these days lack. William Henry Harrison should have followed Washington’s lead. His inaugural address was the longest so far and went on for 8445 words. Many people believe this lengthy speech, combined with the cool temperatures and cold wind contributed to the cold, then pneumonia, then pleurisy and eventual death of President Harrison. He died one month later and though he had the longest address, he had the shortest presidency.

The Twentieth of January

Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inauguration

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inauguration

Weather was the original reason why most of the early presidents were inaugurated in March. Obviously those brought up from vice president to take the place of a deceased commander in chief weren’t given the option, but Washington Himself was inaugurated in April. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution changed the date to the Twentieth of January. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was both the last to be inaugurated in March and the first to do so in January. Regardless of the change in date, the warmest and coldest inaugurations have occurred in the January era. President Reagan had the warmest inauguration in 1981 at 55° and the coldest, 7°, for his second in 1985

The Oath

There have been a few issues with the oath over the years as well. Chief Justice Fuller accidentally replaced the word protect with maintain in regards to the constitution when administering the oath to Taft. Ironically, Taft did the same at Hoover’s inauguration when he, Taft, was chief justice. Chief Justice Stone replaced Harry Truman’s stand-alone middle initial with the name Shipp, one of Truman’s grandfathers’ last name, but Truman just rolled with it and said Harry S. Truman anyway. Finally Barak Obama waited for Justice Rogers to realize a gaff when he put faithfully in the wrong place when reciting the oath. Rogers moved the term but still had it wrong. Rogers and Obama completed the Oath properly in the Oval Office the next day.

All these little bits of trivia notwithstanding, we can observe this inauguration in which ever spirit we choose, be it happy, sad, skeptical or hopeful. However there will be people looking for mistakes or records, swearing or affirming and what the temperature was to add this fifty-eighth inaugural to the history books.

Why Story Time Is Important

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

barbara-toddler-time-ii-4-5-2016_resizeHere at WCPL, we host a variety of story times for young children: Snuggle Bug Lapsit Story Time for infants through eighteen months, Toddler Time for eighteen months to three years, and Preschool Story Time for three to five years. These story times are carefully planned and conducted by our children’s librarians using current early literacy research, and each story time is jam packed with fun and engaging age-appropriate stories, rhymes, songs, and aspects of play. And we absolutely LOVE story times! For me, story time is one of the highlights of my week, and I probably get way too excited about certain songs, rhymes, and books.

But why don’t I let you in on a little secret? As much as we love story times, we don’t do it because we love it so much or because that’s just what libraries are supposed to do. Actually, story times aren’t about us at all. Story times are all about YOU! Literacy begins at birth, and we know that it can be difficult to find time to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do to help foster your child’s development. Hence, story times! We’re here to show you how you can introduce these early literacy skills to your little ones.

liz_and_story_time_friend_resizeStill need convincing that story time is as awesome as I think it is? Luckily for you, I’ve listed several reasons why story time is important for children and parents.

  1. Songs and rhymes are a great way for children to hear the sounds of language. Singing slows down language and allows children to hear the smaller sounds and syllables of words, which helps children sound out words when they learn to read.
  2. Children learn how books work as they listen to stories being read to them. They learn how to hold a book and turn the pages. Even when babies play with board books in ways we find unconventional (chewing, pulling, pushing, etc.), they’re developing print awareness, a skill research has shown is an important part of a strong foundation for reading.
  3. Books, songs, and rhymes help develop children’s vocabulary. The language used in books, songs, and rhymes is richer and uses different words than we use in conversation.
  4. Children can learn and develop their communication skills by interacting with other children and by watching their parents interact with other adults.
  5. As children have fun in story time, they learn to enjoy books. Children are more likely to stick with learning to read, even if it’s difficult, if they find books enjoyable.
  6. Children are exposed to different cultures and countries during story time, which broadens their horizons and adds to background knowledge that helps them understand what they read as they get older.
  7. Sitting still and listening to books during story time boosts children’s listening skills and helps them increase their attention span.
  8. Story time is great way to meet new people and make new friends.
  9. I’ll admit that libraries can be intimidating to navigate sometimes, and many older kids—and even adults—struggle to find what they’re looking for, ask for help, and check out books. Exposing children to the library when they’re younger ensures that they will know how to use a library.katy_snuggle_bug_resize
  10. Story time can be a great way to simply get out of the house. We don’t mind if you use us for a change of scenery.

So what are you waiting for? Come join us for story time!

 

Toddler Time (18 months to 3 years): Tuesdays, 10:00 am and 11:15 am
Preschool Story Time (3 to 5 years): Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10:00 am
Snuggle Bug Lapsit Story Time (birth to 18 months): Fridays, 10:00 am

 


Sources:

 

New Year Reading Challenge

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

presentation1Every year countless people create lists of things they never actually intend to do. Well…that’s a bit unfair. They enter into these lists of resolutions for the New Year with all the hope and enthusiasm that a new beginning can impart. Realistically though, many of us can barely remember what we resolved to do by the time we get to May and have failed to follow through on those resolutions to any significant degree. So while we are thinking about what we want to lose, give up, start doing or ramp up let us all take a moment to try to add something fun to our list with a book challenge. (And yes, a book challenge is fun; this is a library’s blog for pity’s sake!)

Reading is a great deal more than a past time. Slipping into the world of a new book brings you so many benefits that this resolution may be on par with exercising more or quitting smoking. Reading exercises your mind, keeps it limber and increases the memory. A National Academy of Sciences study has shown that people who read regularly are two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease[i]. It has also been shown that reading literary fiction helps increase your ability to empathize with others[ii]. Who doesn’t need to improve their empathy skills? Some books can even lower blood pressure and reduce stress[iii] and help stave off symptoms of mild mental disorders[iv]. Also, you gain new knowledge. Think of all the things you can learn and combine this with the improved vocabulary and increased attention span readers develop. These are real benefits to other parts of your life. Go for it!

Take this list of suggestions and challenge yourself to read more, or step outside of your comfort genre. Here is a list of twenty-six challenges, one book for every two weeks.

  1. Try a book outside of your usual genres.book-1705946_960_720
  2. Read a book your mother would love.
  3. Read a book your mother would hate.
  4. Pick a color at random and read a book with that color cover.
  5. Find a book with a song title or lyric for a title.
  6. Choose a book to read with a friend.
  7. Read one that they choose.
  8. Re-read your favorite book from childhood.
  9. Read something with your family, with everyone taking a chapter in turn.
  10. Read something from an author that you’ve never heard of before.
  11. Read a book about your guilty pleasure, something you’d never admit to reading.
  12. Find an aisle in the library you’ve never gotten something from and choose a book from there.
  13. Get a book from the young adult section. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable they can be.
  14. Try a book that discusses your religious beliefs or lack thereof.
  15. Try one that discusses someone else’s.
  16. Find a book about or set in your favorite part of history.
  17. Read a collection of short stories or novellas from a single author.
  18. Read a book that is related to a movie or television show you enjoy.
  19. Read a literary journal i.e. The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, etc.
  20. Pick a book from that journal and read that.
  21. Read a magazine from the month and year you were born, cover to cover.
  22. Read a book you read or were supposed to read in high school or university.
  23. Read a graphic novel. They’re not just comic books anymore.
  24. Read an eBook.
  25. Read a book based on the recommendation of a stranger.
  26. Pick your favorite book that you’ve read from this list and read more about it. If it’s Fiction find a non-fiction book related to it. If it’s non-fiction find a fiction book that contains elements of it.

If you’re ambitious try them all, less so, pick and choose. Set your limit where you are comfortable and maybe this year, this will be a resolution you keep.

 


Rudyard Kipling: Extreme Traveler

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

225px-rudyard_kipling_portraitRudyard Kipling, the name brings up so many different connotations, depending on how old you are. If you’re an octogenarian you may have grown up on his adventure stories. Those of you who were children of the sixties, now in your sixties yourself, may remember him as another colonialist apologist whose inclusion in your curriculum was something to fight against. If you happen to be of the eighties then the strongest connection you may have is through the cub scouts where terms like akela and law of the pack proliferate. Finally, for grade school kids, he is the guy that wrote that movie they liked so much last year. So who is the real Kipling? He is all of these things and more, including a man who couldn’t stay in place until he was in his 40’s (which was especially impressive considering that travel during that time period was quite a long undertaking).

Kipling was named after a popular lake in Staffordshire, England where his parents had met and often visited, but he was a true child of empire. He was born at the end of December, 1865 in Bombay (now called Mumbai). His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was a teacher and later principal there before moving 900 miles north to head another school in Lahore. The elder Kipling was an artist of some renown, having contributed designs to the Victoria and Albert Museum and other well-known buildings of the time as well as illustrations for his son’s books. Rudyard’s mother Alice (nee MacDonald) ran her husband’s household and did her best to help advance his career, but she also wrote and published poems, was musical and sewed.

Young Ruddy spent his first five years in Bombay with his parents before he and his younger sister Trix, then three, were sent to live and go to school in England (big move #1). Kipling refers to this time very darkly and was unhappy. After it had been determined he was not educationally suited for Oxford he returned to India (actually, what is now Pakistan) to work for a newspaper in Lahore where his father was now head of a new Art School (big move #2). It was during his time with the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore that his stories became known to others. An open minded editor allowed for more creative freedom and thus Kipling published thirty-nine stories through his newspaper. In late 1887 he transferred to a sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad where he would publish 41 more stories (big move #3). After a dispute with The Pioneer he was sacked and decided to return to England, via Asia and North America (big move #4, via the scenic route). He traveled to San Francisco via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, and before traveling extensively through the United States and Canada.

Kipling's England: A map of England showing Kipling's homes.

Kipling’s England: A map of England showing Kipling’s homes.

Upon his return to Britain, he continued writing and had a nervous breakdown. After recovering, he acquired a new publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier. It was through Wolcott that he met Caroline, called Carrie, Balestier’s sister. While traveling (visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and once again India), Kipling heard of Wolcott’s untimely death and proposed to Carrie by telegram. They were married in 1892.  For a while, the Kiplings lived in the United States (big move #5) and it was here that many of his most famous works were written; Captain’s Courageous, Gunga Din and the Jungle Book. It was also here that his two daughters were born and where the older, Josephine died. After several years in new England near his wife’s family, the couple decided to return to England (final big move #6, even though he moved again within England).

It was in England that John, known as Jack, was born. Kipling continued to write and publish, and two of his works form this period, including White Man’s Burden, provide a great deal of fodder for his critics. Nonetheless, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, the first English language author to do so. He continued to travel (mostly to South Africa) and wrote Kim at this time as well.

Lt John Kipling.

Lt John Kipling.

Seven Years later a great tragedy befell the Kiplings. With the start of World War I, their eighteen year old son Jack wanted to enlist in the Navy and once refused, the army. He was kept from doing so by poor eyesight. Rudyard, ever the patriotic Briton, called in a favor and got his son posted to the Irish Guards as an officer. Sadly, like so many young men of that time he was killed in trenches, during the Battle of Loos. His body was not identified until 1992. The loss of Jack affected Kipling. His patriotism dimmed and he began to work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the organization that maintains the overseas graves of British Commonwealth military personnel. He did continue to write for the next twenty years. He finally passed away January the Eighteenth, 1936.

In his time Kipling was considered a great writer and thinker, but his work has been up and down since then. Many literary scholars find his stance of imperialism to be, at best, an unfortunate relic of his time and place, and at worst, uncaring racial and regional superiority. Orwell admired his ability but decried his message. Many universities removed him from curriculum due to protests in the 1960s. In the field of children’s literature however he has remained, fairly consistently, well regarded. His Jungle Book and Just So Stories have been favorites for generations and have been adapted many times for film, stage and television. His work, the Jungle Book in particular provided a structure for the new junior division of Boy Scouts Kipling’s good friend Robert Baden Powell created in 1916. Laws of the pack, Akela and Baloo are terms familiar to many people who have gone through the cub programs in many countries. While he still carries a whiff of imperialist dogma around with him, many modern scholars choose to look at him as a window to a time outside of our experience.

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The Anonymous Poem that Shaped Christmas in America

By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department

‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’ handwritten Manuscript, gifted by author Clement C. Moore (credit: New-York Historical Society)

‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’ handwritten Manuscript, gifted by author Clement C. Moore
(credit: New-York Historical Society)

This poem is also a candidate for the most printed, quoted, illustrated, and parodied poem in America. Most people, age six and above, are so familiar with the poem they can easily supply the words to the first lines:

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the_____________;
Not a creature was stirring, not even a _______________.

If you identified the rhyming words “house,” and “mouse,” you are in a vast majority. The poem is best known as “The Night before Christmas.” It first appeared on the second page of the Sentinel newspaper in Troy (New York) on December 23, 1823. The fifty-six line poem was published anonymously with the title, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” It became an instant success as it spread in papers throughout the region.

Problems of Christmas Past

While “The Night before Christmas” continues to play an active role in shaping our Christmas imagination, this was not always the case. Christmas in early America was not always welcome, for its common celebration was very different from our current practices. In New England, for instance, Christmas was seldom celebrated for the first 200 years of settlement. There was instead a strong social hostility that suppressed, and sometimes outlawed, its observance. Historian Stephen Nissenbaum (University of Massachusetts) explains:

The holiday they suppressed was not what we probably mean when we think of ‘traditional’ Christmas. As we shall see, it involved behavior that most of us would find offensive and even shocking today – rowdy public displays of excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging (often with the threat of doing harm), even the boisterous invasion of wealthy homes.

It may seem odd that Christmas was ever celebrated in such a fashion. But there was good reason. December was the major ‘punctuation mark’ in the rhythmic cycle of work in northern agricultural societies, a time when there was a minimum of work to be performed. The deep freeze of midwinter had not yet set in; the work of gathering the harvest and preparing for winter was done; and there was plenty of newly-fermented beer or wine as well as meat from freshly slaughtered animals – meat that had to be consumed before it spoiled. St. Nicholas, for example, is associated with the Christmas season chiefly because his ‘name-day,’ December 6, coincided in many European countries with the end of the harvest and slaughter season.

birth-of-jesus-1150128_1280Christmas was a social challenge in early American life. To be sure, there were churches and Christians in America who celebrated December 25th for religious reasons as they commemorated the birth of Christ The very name of the holiday (holy day) recalls Christ’s Mass for a reason. The basis for the practice goes far back to the early church fathers, beginning 200 A.D. and later, meaning that the date for Christmas as being December 25th was not likely the church simply displacing the pagan celebration of Sol Invictus, as is commonly claimed. The early church rationale is clearly otherwise, for their concern was to avoid pagan ways and persecution while reasoning to a common date for Christ’s conception and death. The early church thought Jesus was conceived at the same time of year he died, reflecting a symmetry in the redemption of the world. Since Jesus died during Passover time on the 25 March, they reckoned that Jesus was conceived on March 25. If Jesus were conceived at that time of month, his birth nine months later would be December 25th.

Even though the Christian religious element was certainly a part of Christ-mas, it was largely discounted by the more influential Protestant churches which refused to choose a date for Christ’s birth because the Bible is silent on the issue. Instead of Christmas, many focused their post-harvest celebrations on Thanksgiving and New Year’s. America in the early 1800s was ready for a new Christmas emphasis. This came in part from the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.”

By speaking of the night before Christmas, the poem takes the focus from common concerns with Christmas day itself. Taking one step back, it introduces players on the scene with a delight that ignites the imagination of children and adults alike. The poem simultaneously picks up emerging social developments of the day while also promoting the same. It gleefully reframes Christmas at just the right time, in just the right way, so that Christmas takes an amazing turn which continues through present day.

The Dutch Influence: Enter the Good Cheer of St. Nicholas

“The Night Before Christmas” centers on the activities of a pipe smoking “jolly old elf” identified throughout as St. Nicholas, or St. Nick. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care / in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” When St. Nick arrives with a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, the poet remarks, “With a little old driver, so lively and quick / I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.” After the toy laden sleigh is flown atop the roof, to the poet’s surprise, “Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.”

jonathan_g_meath_portrays_santa_clausThe poet then spends a full thirteen lines describing the appearance and mannerisms of St. Nick, concluding significantly: “He was chubby and plump, a right jolly elf / And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself / A wink of his eye and a twist of his head / soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;” The remark about “nothing to dread” is especially appropriate. What a different feeling from Christmas past when reveling home invaders made for tense and cheerless times. In contrast, St. Nicholas leaves gifts in all the stockings, and a parting word affirming the new Christmas tone: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

With all the talk about St. Nicholas, it would surprise no one that the poet had connections to Dutch Christmas traditions. In Europe of the 1500s the Protestant Reformation undermined the practice of honoring the saints.  Yet Biography.com explains:

St. Nicholas, however, remained an important figure in Holland.

The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, December 6. It was a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they would discover the gifts that St. Nicholas had left there for them. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname Sinterklaas, and his gift-giving ways to America in the 1700s.

In America, St. Nicholas went through many transformations and eventually Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. Instead of giving gifts on December 6, he became a part of the Christmas holiday. . . . The cartoonist Thomas Nast added to the St. Nicholas legend with an 1881 drawing of Santa as wearing a red suit with white fur trim. Once a kind, charitable bishop, St. Nicholas had become the Santa Claus we know today.

So the “Night Before Christmas,” focused especially on “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The real Saint Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in a Greek speaking area of what is now southern Turkey. He lost his parents early on in an epidemic, but inherited their wealth. As a devout Christian, he took seriously Jesus’ words to “sell what you have and give to the poor.” Even though exiled and imprisoned for his faith during Roman Imperial persecution by Diocletian, Nicholas maintained an amazing generosity to those in need, especially extending concern and protection to children.

One story of his humble generosity tells how he responded to a poor man who had no dowry for his three daughters. This meant the daughters might be sold into slavery. Under the cover of darkness, so as not to broadcast his good deed, Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the poor man’s window, and they landed in and about stockings the three girls left by the fire to dry. This eventually led to hanging stockings “in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.”

In summation, turning again to the Christmas scholar Nissenbaum:

… The next incarnation of Christmas was taking shape. That incarnation engaged powerful new forces that were coming to dominate much of American society in the years after 1820—a heady brew that mixed a rapidly commercializing economy with a culture of domesticity centered on the well-being of children. Both elements were present in a new Christmas poem that soon came to define the rituals of the season in middle-class households throughout the United States. . . . . Although it was set on the night before Christmas, its subject was not the nativity but ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas.’ So it would be Santa Claus, not Jesus of Nazareth, whose influence finally succeeded in transforming Christmas from a season of misrule into a day of quieter family pleasures.

Ironic indeed. Yet there remains a subtle historical perspective unspoken by Nissenbaum. Not to be missed is the further irony of the subtle yet stupendous influence of the little Christ child lying in a manger on the youth from Turkey who became St. Nicholas. The saint who transformed Christmas would honestly say, he himself is a transformer only because of the impression on his heart by the Christ of Christmas Day. And St. Nicholas, both the historical and symbolic, would no doubt continue this hearty good will in wishing,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”christmas-1091570_1280

Note: “The Night Before Christmas” did not remain anonymous for long. It was later attributed to and claimed by Clement Clarke Moore, a scholar in New York City. However, the family of Henry Livingston eventually contested Moore’s claim, saying their father had written the poem, which they and a housekeeper heard at home as early as 1807. There have been detailed studies of word usage and phraseology by two scholars who separately conclude the internal evidence points best to Livingston as the author. But the external evidence has in the past led most to attribute the poem to Moore.

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