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Candles, Culture, Faith and Family: A Light Look at Kwanzaa and Hanukkah

By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

A popular holiday song assures us that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” and the “hap-happiest season of all.”1 Many people feel that way because they celebrate Christmas, marking the historical and (Christians believe) blessed virgin birth of the Christ child.  Two other seasonal celebrations, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, also make this time of the year special for those who practice them. For this reason alone, they merit our recognition and understanding.  While Hanukkah dates back to the second century BCE and Kwanzaa was first practiced in 1966, these celebrations have much in common beyond the double letter combinations in their names – and much to teach us all.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival of lights that began on December 12 this year (2017). The festival commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Greek Seleucids.  The Seleucids wanted the people of Israel accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of their own beliefs and religion. The overall theme of the celebration is one of triumph against overwhelming odds. Hanukkah participants now recount the story of how a single day’s worth of olive oil, used to light the Temple’s seven-branched candleholder, miraculously lasted for eight days.

Each night during Hanukkah, a candle is lit on a special candleholder called a menorah. There are nine flames on the menorah – one for each day of the festival and a center flame called the attendant (shamash) that is used to light the other candles.  One candle is lit the first night, two the second night, and so on throughout the festival. The menorah is placed in a window or a doorway; each family has at least one menorah, but some households have a menorah for each person in the home.

Hanukkah is a distinctly religious holiday. Participants sing songs of worship and recite special prayers during the nightly menorah lighting festivities. Menorahs are also lit in Jewish synagogues and in many outdoor public spaces. Hanukkah participants are encouraged to gaze at the lights and think of the lessons they impart.

Food holds a special place in Hanukkah, as well. Fried foods are eaten to remind those present of the miracle of the oil.  Two popular examples are potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly-filled fried donuts (sufganya).

Playing with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, is a popular pastime during Hanukkah.  Each side of the dreidel is marked with a Hebrew letter.  The letters used are nungimmelhei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there.”

The giving of gelt (special coins) to children is also part of the tradition.  The idea was to reward children for good behavior and inspire them to learn charity and give to others.  Today, gifts are often exchanged during Hanukkah, as well.

Kwanzaa

Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Myers (above), 66th Air Base Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of the Military Equal Opportunity office, demonstrates a Kwanzaa ritual where she lights a candle in the Kinara.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1.  It was founded in 1966 in Los Angeles by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of African Studies and activist-scholar. From its important beginnings in the U.S. with African Americans, the holiday has blossomed into recognition by the world African community and is today celebrated on every continent.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture, during which families and community members gather to celebrate Nguzo Saba, which is Swahili for The Seven Principles. Each day marks one of the principles, developed and described by Dr. Karenga as follows:

  1. Unity (Umoja) – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
  2. Self Determination (Kujichagulia) – To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
  3. Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) – To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
  4. Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) – To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses, and to profit from them together.
  5. Purpose (Nia) – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their original greatness.
  6. Creativity (Kuumba) – To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  7. Faith (Imani) – To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

    NPS Photo

Families who celebrate Kwanzaa choose a central place in the home to display the Kwanzaa Set.  A table is covered with a colorful African cloth, and then adorned with a mat and a special candle holder called a Kinara.  Seven candles are placed in the holder, one black candle representing the people, three red candles represent their struggles, and three green candles represent the future and the hope the results from such struggles (the African liberation colors).  These candles also correlate with the seven principles.

The black candle in the center signifies Unity and is lit on the first day. The remaining candles are lit from left to right on the following days, showing how a unified people move through struggle to hope. Ears of corn and a Unity Cup are also placed on the mat, which is typically surrounded with books on African life and culture, as well as African works of art.

Different Peoples, Different Celebrations, Shared Light

I find it interesting to consider the common elements in Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: the Kinara and the menorah, the candles and the lighted oil, and the daily family observances. In a world that seems to be increasingly dark, there is something about this season inspires us to slow down and consider the lights. We ponder our shared humanity and our bonds as families and communities. I believe that learning about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and the heritage of those who mark these events can only serve to bring us closer together. Have a blessed season, everyone!

If you enjoyed this glimpse at Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, then you may want to learn more.  The library can help!  Take a look at some of the resources available. Read the rest of this entry

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How to Find Reliable Information on the Internet

 By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

The Internet can be both bane and blessing if you are researching information. While the World Wide Web allows almost immediate access to information around the globe, it also provides the perfect setting for those seeking to dupe a consumer, perpetuate a rumor, create a scare, or push an agenda. It is therefore crucial to evaluate online resources before believing them or using the information they contain.

Ask Some Questions

Evaluating information starts with asking yourself some questions. One way to do that is to turn to the 5 W’s – who, what, where, when and why.

Who?

  • Who is responsible for the information on the site? Is the site owner clearly identified with contact information provided?
  • What does the domain extension for the site tell you about the information owner? A non-profit organization is typically indicated by .org, an educational institution by .edu, a commercial site by .com, a small business by .biz, and a government site by .gov.
  • What do you know about the site’s owner or publisher? Is he or she a recognized expert with credentials provided? Does the site represent a particular, subjective viewpoint, or can it be considered a reliable, objective information source?

What?

  • What is the purpose of the site?
  • What type of information are you finding? Does it seem credible? Is it professionally presented and without obvious typos or grammatical errors?

Where?

  • Where did the information owner or publisher get his or her information? Are sources cited? Are additional resources cited?
  • Where is the organization or owner located? Is there a contact address provided that helps to legitimize the source?

When?

  • When was the information written? Is it timely, or is it hopelessly out of date? Has it been recently updated?
  • Are any links included still current? Or do they lead you on a wild goose chase?

Why?

  • Why was the site created? Does the organization state a mission, goal or objective?

A quick run-through of these questions can help you to get a sense for the integrity and usefulness of a website. There are no guarantees, however. The caveat of “buyer beware” or “reader beware” should be kept in mind.

The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. Your library can help with your research needs, guiding you to carefully vetted sources of information and free, specialized online research tools.

Use Our Online Resources

If you need help finding trustworthy information on a particular topic, you’re in luck! WCPL has a variety of resources available to help you:

  • Our Articles and Databases collection is accessible 24/7, so you can use it while visiting any branch library, at home, or on-the-go. Just use your library card number or password to access remotely. You’ll find resources on the Arts, Education, Health, History, and more.
  • The Gale Directory Library features “51 trusted directories on companies, publishers, associations, and more—sources that cannot be found elsewhere on the Internet.” Try using this resource for your business, research and homework needs.
  • The Gale Virtual Reference Library has reference e-books and encyclopedias that cover business, cultures, history, literature, science, technology, travel and more. It is similar to the great Reference section that we have upstairs in the Main library, but you can use it from the comfort of your home.
  • Our Helpful Websites page features an assortment of free, informative websites that can help you with homework, research, and other informational needs. We did the groundwork for you, so you can start with a list of reliable sources on a given topic, rather than trying your luck with Google.

Take a Free Class (or Two)!

Don’t be overwhelmed by the Internet! Come to our Surfing the Web 101 class to learn the basics. We will introduce you to web browsers and search engines, teach you how to search online, and help you to evaluate what you find there.

Our computer class schedule is published monthly. Just call us or visit the web page to see what we’re offering, when.

Ask a Librarian

Last, but definitely not least, ask a librarian (or a reference assistant). We can help you find information at the library or in our digital collections. You can use our online form, email us with your questions , or call us during regular library hours at 615-595-1243.

Better yet, stop by the Main library and ask us in person. We’d love to meet you and help with your information needs! And if nothing else, remember the CRAAP test.


Sources:

Summer Reading is a Family Affair at WCPL

By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

The kids are out of school, the temperature is rising, and the world is in bloom.  The good ole’ summertime has arrived in Middle Tennessee, bringing with it outdoor fun, visits to the park or pool, and summer camp.  Students may also amuse themselves watching TV, playing video games or viewing funny You Tube videos.  Seems like we’re forgetting something, doesn’t it? Oh, that’s right! Reading!

Reading can be a fun part of the summer, too!  WCPL participates in a Cooperative Summer Library Program that offers programming and reading adventures for all ages (children, teens and adults), and we encourage everyone to participate.  It may not seem like it because it’s so much fun, but summer reading also offers some important benefits:

  • Helps young children to build foundational reading and language skills
  • Prepares school-age children for success by developing their language skills
  • Motivates teens to read and discuss literature
  • Helps to prevent summer reading loss, a.k.a. the “summer slide”
  • Encourages adults to experience the joy of reading
  • And, if you’re already a voracious reader, you can win prizes for what you already do!

With this year’s “Build a Better World” program, we invite patrons of all ages to try something new this summer. Read a new book. Participate in our Make-A-Thon on Saturday, June 3. Enjoy our free events. Get out the house, meet new people, and learn how to help our community.

Registration for the children’s program began on May 20 and runs through July 29. Readers and pre-readers alike can sign up to be a part of the fun.  A simple activity card for each age group features 25 different activities. When the kids complete any six of the activities, they receive a free paperback book of their choice. After completing six more activities, they receive another prize.  There will be free program for kids of all ages on Thursdays in June and July, including an animal show, a magic act, a ventriloquist, and more!

Teens will have their own special program, which will encourage them to read and track the number of books they have completed.  After accomplishing some specific goals, students’ names will be entered into prize drawings.  There will be three tiers of prizes, and the winners will be revealed at a special “lock-in” celebration toward the end of the summer.

Adults are included, too! All adults who submit a book review will be eligible for a weekly prize drawing. Prizes are donated by local businesses. And hey, we know you have enough to do, so there is no registration required for adults. A handwritten (or emailed) book review is all that is needed to put you in the running for a prize.  Free programs for adults will include “Life Reimagined,” “Pet Care,” “Fraud Prevention” and more!  Check web site frequently throughout your summer, so you won’t miss out on anything.

So what are you waiting for?  Grab a good book at the library, and help us to “Build a Better World.”

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

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


Read the rest of this entry

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