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The Wacky World(s) of Quantum Theory

by Howard Shirley, Teen Department

“If you’re not shocked by quantum theory, you haven’t understood it.”—Niels Bohr, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics.

“I think I can safely say nobody understands quantum mechanics.”—Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics

The Universe is weird. And the closer you look, the weirder it gets.

How weird you say?

Well according to quantum theory:

  • We know stuff cannot appear out of nothing (The Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy), but stuff appears out of nothing all the time, but disappears before there is any time for it to be here, so it doesn’t violate the previous law.
  • A pure vacuum, empty of all matter, isn’t actually empty (see the above).
  • A thing in one place can be changed, and it instantly changes an identical thing in another place, no matter how far apart they are.
  • Things can move from one location to another without going through the space in between.
  • Things don’t exist as things in specific places but as the possibility of things in different places at once, until you look at them.

Now, all of that is about things that are very, very tiny (add a lot more “very, veries” to that). Things like electrons and photons and all the things that make up all the matter and energy in our Universe. But it’s also therefore about all the big things too—like stars and planets and black holes and even you and me.

Which means that all that little weirdness has some weird implications for the big things, like:

  • We might be living in a massive simulation, like a virtual world in a computer (don’t take the red pill!).
  • Nothing might exist unless someone observes it.
  • OR, everything might exist in all possible combinations of all possible events, all at the same time, but we only experience (and observe) one progression of these (while, presumably, infinite other “us”-es experience all the other versions).
  • We (and everything else) are all just parts of one big energy field that “ripples” back and forth through time.
  • We could exist alongside a completely invisible, undetectable world with invisible, undetectable living beings, all made out of “dark matter” and “dark energy.”

And none of the above is just another over-the-top Hollywood movie. It’s serious science, all stemming from the basics of quantum theory. And, yes, quantum theory isn’t just wild speculation, but one of the most robustly established concepts in modern science, going back to 1900, proven again and again by experimentation and practical application (you’re looking at one of those applications right now as you use an electronic device to read this blog; if quantum theory were wrong, your electronic device wouldn’t work).

Light photographed as both a particle and a wave by Fabrizio Carbone.

Quantum theory is based on the concept that energy, like matter, is divisible and isolatable into definable, self-contained bits, or quanta. Think of it as a long band of light, seen from a distance. The light looks like one continuous bar. But as you get closer, you can see that the bar is instead made of individual lights separated by gaps. We will call these lights “photons.” Each light in our analogy represents a single “packet” or “quanta” of energy, which cannot be any smaller, but is very much separated from each of the other photons, like particles. That may not be confusing, but what is confusing is that these photons behave both as if they each are individual particles and as if they each are also a continuous wave of energy, like our distant band of light. And if you observe them in one way, they will appear to be particles and not waves, and if you observe them in another way, they will appear to be waves and not particles. They are neither, and they are both, at the same time. And it is from this bit of weirdness that all the other weirdness of the quantum world arises.

It’s heady stuff, but it’s also a lot of fun. If you’re intrigued, come in and search for some of our titles on quantum physics. And don’t worry—they’re written for the layman to understand. So you don’t have to be either Niels Bohr or Richard Feynman to appreciate all that weirdness (but you probably will still be shocked).

*Howard Shirley is the Teen Library Assistant. And no, he doesn’t claim to understand quantum theory, but still enjoys being shocked by it.*

Sources:

  • Rocket Science for the Rest of Us by Ben Gilliland (YA 520 GIL)
  • Quantifying Matter by Joseph A. Angelo, Jr. (YA 530 ANG)
  • The New Encyclopedia of Science: 1 Matter and Energy by John O.E. Clark (YA 503 NEW vol.1)
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Chess in SP-A-A-A-A-C-E!

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

The game of chess reaches back to at least the 6th Century AD, but its origins remain unclear. Though generally thought to have arisen in India, both China and Persia lay claim to the game, and other cultures have some variation of chess-like games (some still played today). Even the Vikings had a chess-like game by the nearly unpronounceable name “hnefatafl.” (Say that three times fast, if you can say it at all.)

Regardless of their differences, all these games have one thing in common: they’re all flat.

This is hardly surprising. Chess in many ways derives from concepts of ancient warfare, which, for tens of thousands of years, was mostly a (violent) meeting on roughly flat open areas. Even if there were hills or walls or fortresses or towers involved, for the most part nobody could move over (or under) the enemy. Chess did allow one piece—the knight—to leap over intervening pieces as part of its move, but for every other piece the world of chess remained solidly flat (Christopher Columbus not withstanding).

Moving Up (and Down)

During the 19th century an attempt was made to extend chess into three dimensions by stacking eight boards on top of each other (yes, 8). Well, chess wasn’t flat any more. But one can question whether it was playable!

As the 20th century arrived, and brought with it both the airplane and the submarine, the idea that chess should move into the third dimension again came out. This time, the design was restricted to 5 stacked boards, and added an unusual piece (the “unicorn”) which could make triangular movements (no, I don’t know what that means, either). The creator started a club for fans (in 1919 Germany), which lasted until World War II, when, apparently, Germany itself decided to try it all out in Real Life. And that pretty much ended that version of Germany, as well as that version of 3D chess.

Where No Chess Game Has Gone Before

Fast forward twenty some-odd years to the creation of a new American science fiction show named Star Trek. Set in the 23rd century, the show featured the now famous starship Enterprise, filled with amazing advanced technology, like automatic sliding doors that went “whoosh,” wall slots that cooked food in an instant, a talking computer, and more. (Hey, in the 1960s, all that stuff was futuristic and cool.) The show also included an unusually-shaped chess set, consisting of three quarter-sized chess boards in three staggered levels on an unusual crescent-shaped support, and four smaller boards on posts at the corners of these boards. The smaller boards were additional levels, halfway between the larger boards, and were often in different positions on the show, indicating that they could be moved (though this action was never shown on the show). The chess set was unusual-looking, implied a high level of complexity, and the open design clearly allowed the pieces to be easily moved (which the early 3D attempts mentioned above did not).

This three-dimensional chess set made prominent appearances in several episodes from the very beginning of the show. In three episodes, the chess game would be a pivotal plot element in the story’s resolution.* (How many television shows and movies, not about chess itself, have gone so far as to make chess central to the story?) Twenty years later, the show jumped from TV to film, and so did the chess set (at least as an idea). In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, during a grand duel between battling starships, the heroes arrive at a crucial realization—namely that the villain’s tactics “reveal two-dimensional thinking.” Tellingly, early in the film the villain’s home was shown to have a crude, handmade two-dimensional checkers board game present—intentionally invoking memories of the three-dimensional chess set fans knew Spock and Kirk played. The implication? Had Khan played the same game as Kirk, he would have thought more broadly in his tactics. Without even showing the three-dimensional set, the movie made its existence again pivotal to the plot!

So, what does this game have to do with the Williamson County Public Library?

Well, thanks to yours truly, with assistance and advice from fellow staffer Lon Maxwell, the Teen Room now has one of these sets, completely homemade (except for the pieces; I’m not that skilled). The design is a bit different, but I humbly think it looks just as cool (if not cooler) as the original set crafted for the show.

How Do You Play?

Very Well, Thank You.

Okay, this is the kicker, actually. The answer to “How do you play Three Dimensional Chess?” is quite simply “How do you want to play it?”

You see, the original chess set was merely a prop. The design had nothing to do with creating an actual, playable game, but with creating an interesting, visual set object on which the actors could move the pieces about to create the appearance of a complicated game—a game “from the future,” as it were! Indeed, if you pay attention to the scenes in which characters play the game (and if you know about chess), you can quickly discern that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the movement or the declared progress of the game in the dialog. In one of the earliest episodes to feature the game—“Charlie X,” the second episode ever aired—Kirk and Spock play chess, with Spock moving a knight and declaring “check,” when in fact Kirk’s king couldn’t possibly be in check from the knight’s movement. Actor Leonard Nimoy is clearly just moving pieces around in a visually interesting manner, but he’s not simulating any relationship to chess, 3D or otherwise. By contrast, William Shatner’s moves in this sequence can reasonably be assigned to the pieces being used, as well as his declaration of “checkmate,” representing a logically valid position (though really only for “check,” but still…).** So there was a prop, but not really a game.

But in 1975 artist and writer Joseph Franz contacted Paramount Studios, who held the rights to Star Trek, about a book he called “The Star Trek Technical Manual: Training Command Starfleet Academy.” The book would be a collection of detailed plans and drawings of Star Trek ships and equipment (even uniforms), all presented as if these were actual designs of futuristic devices, inadvertently downloaded into a 20th century USAF mainframe during the events of the episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday.” Paramount agreed, the book was published and snapped up by Trekkies around the globe. One of the schematics included in the book were the blueprints for a “tri-dimensional chess set,” as Franz dubbed it. He even included a cursory (yet incomplete) set of rules, as well as diagrams of how the smaller post boards might be moved over the course of the game. It was now possible for Trek and chess fans to at least build a set themselves, and even attempt to turn the simple rules into a playable reality.

Around this same time, Paramount also licensed the Franklin Mint to create and sell a high-end gold and silver official Star Trek Three Dimensional Chess set, complete with “official” rules. The “official” rules were reportedly borrowed from a 1977 magazine, The Star Trek Giant Poster Book, Voyage #14, who supposedly themselves borrowed the rules from an unattributed fan author. (This author may be Andrew Bartmeiss, who currently sells “The Federation Standard Rules” online. According to Bartmeiss, he contacted Joseph Franz about the set design, and Franz encouraged him to create the rules.) The Franklin Mint licensed set is still sold—for about $300 a pop!

(The set in the Teen Room cost the maker (yours truly) $20 (in materials). You can read about that here: https://parzivalsplace.blogspot.com/2018/05/queen-to-queens-level-two-mr-spock.html )

There are a number of other rules around the Internet, including “Tournament” Rules, a number of themed variants, and even a computer game version named “Parmen,” after a Star Trek villain (who, oddly, never played the game).

All the versions tend to share distinct similarities:

  1. Pieces move horizontally as in standard chess.
  2. Pieces can move between levels vertically, but only when also moving horizontally.
  3. Pieces can move above or below pieces on other levels.
  4. The smaller “attack boards”*** can be moved to new positions, potentially carrying a piece with them.
  5. The game may have as many as seven levels, or as few as four, depending on the position of the smaller boards.

StarChess, or, The Way We Play It

But truth be told, none of these rules are “official.” You can pretty much find the set you like the most, and play those. In the Teen Room, we offer StarChess, created by yours truly. (You can find a link to these rules on my blog: https://parzivalsplace.blogspot.com/2018/05/queen-to-queens-level-two-mr-spock.html ) I think they work rather well, but try for yourself.

And if you are a teen (or have one), you’re welcome to come try the game in the Teen Room. The set is generally available Saturday-Tuesday. Mr. Howard (yours truly) will be happy to teach you, or the rules are available if your prefer. (Note that due to Teen Room age policies, the set is restricted to use by teens ages 12-18, though adults who accompany teens can play for a short time, if the room is not busy. Check with the Teen Staff!)

Live long and prosper—and enjoy the future of chess!


*The episodes where chess action is prominently shown are “Charlie X,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Court Martial,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Whom Gods Destroy.” The game is central to the plot in “Court Martial,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Whom Gods Destroy.” A similar version of three-dimensional chess also appears in several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, though not as a central plot device.
**This movement sequence is flawed by a clumsy scene edit, where a re-shoot failed to correctly reset the board to its original condition. Kirk initially moves a Queen to a lower level. After the edit jump, it has been replaced at that position by a Bishop, which Kirk then moves as a Queen, suggesting that either Shatner had chosen that action from the start, without realizing that the piece had changed, or that the direction of the scene called for the pattern to be followed. Had the piece been a Queen, the moves would all be quite legal, and indeed have resulted in a legitimate check on Spock’s King. Spock, on the other hand, just moves his Knights between levels, ignoring their established pattern, and says “check” with no apparent reason to do so. (Maybe the Vulcan really doesn’t understand the game, and the humans are just humoring him…)
***I actually prefer the term “warp boards,” for their ability to change the shape of the board and move pieces about rather like a “warping” spacecraft, so that’s what I use in my rules.

Poetica

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Poetica

Howard Shirley

It’s April.
It’s National Poetry Month.
1996.
There. You have a year.
That’s when it started.
The American Academy of Poets.
That’s who started it.
Not much else factual to say.

But poems aren’t about facts.
Poems are about themselves.
They say whatever they say.
You hear whatever you hear.
That’s a poem.

They’re not about rhyme (though they can be)
They’re not about time (though they can be)
They’re not about meter (rigid or free)
Or fanciful words like “lugubrious.”
Which no one uses any other day.
Or any other way.
Poems are just whatever you want to say.
The way you want to say it.
Your poem is yours.
It can be no one else’s.

It’s National Poetry Month.
So go write a poem.
I just did.

— Howard Shirley

 

Now it’s your turn! If you are a teenage resident of Williamson County, age 12-18, you are invited to submit your own poems to our Teen Poetry Contest. You may submit up to three poems. Poems are welcome in any form on any subject—the choice is yours (as it should be). A poem may be any length and any style—haiku, sonnet, ballad, limerick, free verse; however your muse takes you. All poems must be your original creations.

All poems must be typed on plain white paper in an ordinary font. Poems with multiple pages should be stapled together. All poems must include the poet’s name, age, school and grade, and contact information (e-mail or phone) at the top of the first page.

We are accepting poems through April 30. You may turn your poem in at any Williamson County Public Library branch, or upstairs in the Teen Room of the Main Branch in Franklin. Contest winners will be announced in May during our Teen Poetry Slam as part of our Summer Reading Kick-off event.

First and Two Millennia: A History of Football

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Across the world there are places with two seasons, one season, and four seasons. But in America there are five—and that fifth season is Football Season! Everything is decked in shades of crimson, gold, yellow and orange… and blue and black and brown and green and maroon and white, because I’m not talking about leaves, I’m talking about the paraphernalia of our favorite teams. Across the nation, people dress football, talk football, write football, watch football, and even sometimes play football. The game is as much a tradition of the season as trick-or-treating, turkey and stuffing, and early Christmas shopping.*

But how did all this come to be? When did we start all the cheering, the celebrating and, yes, the playing?

For that, we have to start halfway around the world and over two millennia ago, with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Back in the days of tunics and togas, a game called phaininda (or harpaston) was all the rage with the Greek culture, and the Romans picked it up as well, changing the name to harpastum (or harpustum; the Romans may have helped invent football, but dictionaries weren’t on their agenda). The game involved two teams, a field divided into two halves, a ball, and copious amounts of pushing, shoving, kicking, and throwing, some of it even involving the ball. And that’s about all we really know of it.

The Roman era writer Atheneaus said this of the sport: “There is a great deal of exertion and labor in a game of ball, and it causes great straining of the neck and shoulders.”

Yep, that sounds like football. Just ask Peyton Manning.

Atheneaus also credited Antiphanes with the following poem describing the game:

“And so he gladly took the ball,
While dodging the other player;
He pushed it out of someone’s way,
While raising another to his feet,
And all around the cries rang out:
“Out of bounds,” “too far”, “right by him”,
“Over his head,” “down below,” “up in the air,”
“Too short”, or “pass back to the scrummage.””

Which shows that football spectators have disagreed with the referees since before there were referees, offering opinions which the players probably even then were wiser to ignore.

From ancient Greece, the Romans carried that game with them, along with roads, aqueducts, armies, and generals who liked to conquer whatever they saw, eventually dropping it off on the island of Britain. And while the Romans left and the Saxons and the Danes and the Normans all came to conquer whatever they also saw in Britain, the game stuck around. Or well, something involving a ball and shoving and kicking and (occasionally) maiming stuck around. We have records of rival villages regularly challenging each other in a contest involving getting a ball to a set goal on opposite sides (sometimes a line, sometimes a post, sometimes the church tower, which was the medieval equivalent of saying “the endzone is Joey’s driveway.”)

Rugby

One chronicler describes an event like this: “After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.”

Which sounds like any given weekend in America from September through November. Including tailgating, only with horses.

The ball game was apparently quite violent, and various kings attempted to ban it. Which banning lasted about as long as the king (and probably less). Eventually, even the monarchs began to enjoy it (Henry VIII is known to have ordered a pair of “football shoes” for his own efforts in the game).

Soccer Player Pele, 1960

Sometime over the next centuries, this “ball game” began to split into two distinctive types. One involved being able to carry, throw and catch the ball, as well as kick it over the goal. The other involved only kicking the ball, with hands not allowed. The former was given the name “rugby football,” or simply “rugby” after the English school which developed it in 1825. The latter was called “football,” or “association football” when in the 1860s, organizations called “associations” began to actually codify the rules (and try to end all the maiming). And yes, the word “soccer” is an abbreviated nickname for “association football.”

At some point the game traveled into America, where it leaned towards rugby or soccer depending on who was playing, but was almost always called “football.”

And that’s when the college students took over.

The first official game of “college football” took place between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, on the Rutgers commons. The game consisted of a contest between two teams to get a ball between two posts behind each team’s side of the field. The first team to score 6 goals would be the winner of the game. Apparently, the ball could be kicked through this goal, not carried or thrown, but the players could knock the ball out of the air with their hands. The teams took turns starting with the ball (the first turn was decided with a coin toss, possibly the first football opening coin toss on record), keeping it as long as they could prevent the other team from taking it away or until a goal happened. There was no clock, there were no downs, and it sounds more like soccer or rugby than what we know today, but it was, nevertheless, football, and Rutgers won it 6-4.

1895 Auburn vs. Georgia

It wasn’t long before other schools began challenging each other in similar contests, though the game rules seemed somewhat fluid as to what could be done, decided by the teams when they met. In 1874, four colleges set down rules for “Rugby Union,” formally introducing a running game, a touchdown, and a “free kick” afterwards. And that’s when Walter Camp, a Yale student, was invited to join his school’s erstwhile team. In the manner of great walk-ons, he proceeded not only to become the star, but to change the game itself. Camp was supposed to be studying for a career in medicine, but what he became was a doctor of football. Walter Camp almost immediately took over as the leader of the Intercollegiate Football Association rules committee. IFA, formed with Yale’s rival Harvard, was the forerunner of the NCAA and even the NFL, creating precise and specific rules about the game, including the use of an oblong ball. Over the next decade Camp invented the scrimmage line, the rule that one team possessed the ball at a time, the quarterback, the snap, the concept of downs and limited possessions, the idea of lining off the field in white at 5 yard intervals (a “gridiron”), and the idea of different levels of scoring for different types of goals, including the touchdown, field goal, and safety. He also invented tackling, reduced the number of players on each side from 20 (or more) to 11, developed the practice of signaling plays and created pretty much everything we think of as essential to modern American football. He even threw the first forward pass, resulting in a run for a touchdown; the referee ruled the play valid on a coin toss! Ironically, the forward pass was specifically rejected as a legal play by Camp’s rules committee when it was finally discussed in 1903 (some thirty years after Camp’s winning play). Then the committee adopted the pass three years later, in part to deal with accusations (made by President Theodore Roosevelt, among others) that the game had become too dangerous.

Walter Camp

Camp’s football was certainly a different game from rugby, soccer, and ancient haspartum, and it was, essentially, all American. And Camp didn’t just stop with created the game; he created player statistics and the “All-American” ranking of players by quality and performance, paving the way for the modern sports page and the endless arguments of who the GOAT** is. Camp was the first collegiate head coach (for Harvard), the first to train other coaches (including the celebrated Amos Alonzo Stagg), and the first to have an assistant coach with an eye for knowing which player to put in which position—who was none other than his wife, Allie. Walter Camp is honored as the Father of American Football, but Allie Camp was unquestionably the game’s mother, showing that football has been the passion of women as well as men from its very start!

Of course, today we have college football and professional football. The latter rose out of competitions among local athletic clubs (including YMCA clubs). These were amateur events at first, until in 1892 a club paid $500 to “Pudge” Hefflefinger for a single game (a rather tidy little sum). Pudge earned his pay, winning the game with a fumble return for a touchdown. Within a year other clubs began paying their players, almost all workmen who played in their own time off, for about $10 a game. Eventually, these ad hoc professional teams would formalize, giving birth in 1920 to the American Professional Football Association—which would later change its name to the National Football League. By 1925, professional football was popular enough and successful enough that the question of whether the talented Ohio State football star Harold “Red” Grange would “turn pro” was the national news story of the day. Grange’s decision even involved a sports agent negotiating a contract with the Chicago Bears. Grange would earn over $125,000 for his first year on the team, an enormous sum, well over 400 times the income of the average professional player! That’s quite a change from the early days of tossing a pig bladder at a church tower for nothing but bragging rights.

But despite all that has happened over twenty centuries and the span of half a world, the words of an ancient Greek spectator still echo true today:

“A youth I saw was playing ball,
Seventeen years of age and tall;
From Cos he came, and well I know
The Gods look kindly on that spot.
For when he took the, ball or threw it,
So pleased were all of us to view it,
We all cried out; so great his grace,
Such frank good humour in his face,
That every time he spoke or moved,
All felt as if that youth they loved.”

Maybe that’s all there really is to our love for the game: The simple joy of watching young athletes at play in the crisp cool light of an autumn afternoon. Go team!


*Some people do this, I’m told. I’m male, so “early shopping” means the day before Christmas Eve.

** Greatest Of All Time, not a reference to the Navy football team’s mascot, Bill the Goat. Though you can certainly stop the argument by insisting that Bill is the Goat, and no one can say differently.

Sources:

About the author: Howard Shirley grew up rooting for Georgia Tech in Alabama, which prepared him for the trials of being a Vandy fan in Tennessee. Go ‘Dores!

What’s Crazier than a Tornado full of Sharks

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Sharknado.

Sharktopus.

Megashark.

Sharks with frickin’ lasers for eyes. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

What do these have in common?

Sharks, you say?

Well, duh.

They always come out on Shark Week?

Okay, yes, that too. But keep going.

They’re really, really silly ideas for monsters?

Bingo! Winner, winner, monster dinner!

Sharks in a tornado? A cross between a shark and an octopus (which really isn’t that scary a beast, unless you’re a clam)? A giant shark (okay, yes there did use to be these megalodons)? And laser eyes? What are they, sharks from Krypton?

Okay, they’re all fine as a doodle on the side of your algebra homework (which you really need to finish; it’s due tomorrow). But let’s be honest they’re kind of, well, dumb.

But they’re not the dumbest ideas ever for monsters. And the truth is, dumb monsters can be a lot of fun.

Dumb combination monsters go back a long way. The ancient Egyptians believed in jackal-headed men, crocodile-headed men, cat-headed women, and of course the original sphinx, with a man’s head on a lion’s body. The Phoenicians gave us a man with the body of a fish. But the Greeks topped them all. One-eyed giant (cyclops), men with the bodies of horses, the chimera with the heads of a dragon, a lion and a goat, the medusa with snakes for a hairdo (maybe she got all stone-faced because she couldn’t do anything with it), a man with the head of a bull, men with goat legs, a man with a hundred eyes, and worse.

But it seems every age has its bizarre combos. The Middle Ages gave us the unicorn and mermaids, and things went so bizarre in the Renaissance that travelogues seriously suggested there were men with their faces in their stomachs (talk about fast food).

Today we know that’s all nonsense. Unless, of course, you believe in Nessie, Champie, Bigfoot, Mothman (no kidding), Yetis (no, not the coolers), Chupacabras, the Jersey Devil, and human-faced goats (okay, that last one is bizarrely real)! And, of course, aliens.

Why do we create these monsters? Is it to explain, to entertain, to scare, or just because we can? That’s a question for another article, but at the library, we like ‘em all. So if you want to “check out” some monsters on your own, here are a few of our favorite literary monster mish-mashes:

Miss Erin’s Picks:

  • Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black. With a title like that, you know it’s gonna be epic!
  • Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn. Because nothing says “hunk” like a dude who’s also a dinosaur.
  • Zombie Blondes by Brian James. Mean girls are so much meaner when they’re undead.
  • A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz, featuring fairies maimed by the cannibalistic gnomes who work for them (“Call it a tax.”), and a revolution and, well, what more do you need to know? Read the rest for yourself!

Mr. Howard’s Picks:

  • The Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn, featuring an alien dragon poet-warrior who’s also a living tattoo. Starting with Dragon and Thief, this sci-fi action series is part Star Wars, part mystery, and part coming-of-age tale, and all terrific.
  • Squirrel Girl, from The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl graphic novels. Okay, not a monster, but a superheroine with the combined powers of a squirrel and a girl, which turns out to be awesome. And yes, she can beat anyone, even the most powerful villains of the Marvel Universe. Take that, Galactus.
  • The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, being the purported memoirs of an assistant to a 19th century monster hunter who hunts down the “those can’t be real” monsters of fable (including those “face in their stomach” guys). Scary, realistic, and very intense, Yancey pulls off turning nonsensical creatures into a horrific threat. And then does it again in two more books in the series!
  • The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, seems like a light, funny fantasy “con game” story… until the legendary “Rat King” monstrosity enters the picture, in a sequence that will have you looking over your shoulder with every word.
  • The Hungry Cities Chronicles, beginning with Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve, which has the best mash-up ever: a city and a tank. Okay, no that’s not a monster, but actual cities on tank treads that gobble up other cities? How could your inner monster-mashup muscle not love that? Just because it’s mechanical, doesn’t mean it’s not a monster!
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The President of the Galaxy, who’s also a starship thief, has two heads. And he’s one of the more normal monstrosities the hapless British hero meets in this over-the-top scifi laugh fest.

Or come by the Teen Room and peruse our Dungeons & Dragons manuals, ‘cause nothing says ridiculous monster mash- up like an Owlbear. (Yes, it’s a bear. That’s also an owl! Oooo, scary!) Unless it’s a Gelatinous Cube, which is, uh, basically acidic Jello. Shaped like a giant cube. That moves.

Sharknado, you’ve got nothing on us!

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

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DISASTER

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

with apologies to Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi

CAST

RickUscropRICK, or Rick Grimes, is the lead character of the graphic novel and television series, The Walking Dead written by Robert Kirkman, which features a zombie pandemic that turns much of North America (and presumably the rest of the world) into a land dominated by re-animated corpses that attack any other living thing, including Rick’s band of survivors.

Ash vs Evil DeadASH, played by Bruce Campbell, battles his own version of undead zombies in the popular Sam Raimi films, The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness. Part horror films, part camp comedy, the story was recently revised as a television series starring Campbell. ASH’s line about the shotgun is borrowed from the films.

JAYNE or Jayne Cobb was the “muscle” character in the short-lived sci-fi cult series, Firefly, as well as the movie set in the same universe, Serenity, 1363454-jayne07-2and a series of graphic novels written by the show’s creator, Joss Whedon (writer/director of the hit Avengers movie). Many of the stories in the series feature the “reavers,” which, while not actually undead zombies, are clearly inspired by classic zombie horror films, and appear to equally hard to stop and equally hungry for human flesh. Vera is Jayne’s favorite gun. JAYNE’s description of Vera is taken from the television series.

life2Afterlife02ARCHIE is the famous comic character from the long-running comic book series. JUGHEAD is his best friend. Recently both feature in Afterlife With Archie written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, graphic novels set in an alternate universe, where the town of Riverdale, including many of Archie’s friends, succumb to a zombie plague.

SETTING

A high school cafeteria room, with tables and chairs. There are double doors with frosted glass window panes set in them that lead out of the room. A podium has been set up on one of the tables. RICK stands behind the podium, holding a gavel. The others, except for JUGHEAD, move about the room.

RICK: I now call the first meeting of the Zombie Survivalists Society to order. First on the agenda–

(Noise from the back). No, Jayne, we are not changing the name to the “Not-Deaders Gang.”

JAYNE: But I *like* that name.

RICK (pounds gavel): As I was saying, first on the agenda, did anyone lock the door?

ARCHIE: Jughead went to do that!

RICK: Both doors?

ARCHIE: Sure. Don’t worry. We can trust Jughead.

JAYNE: What kinda mother names her kid “Jughead?”

ASH: Same kind that names her son “Jane.”

JAYNE: It’s JAYNE. With a “Y.”

ASH: And I’m Ash. With a chainsaw.

(SOUND EFFECT: Loud chainsaw revving.)

RICK (pounds gavel): Ash, turn that thing off. The undead will hear it!

ASH: Let ‘em. I got plenty of gas.

RICK: Off, Ash.

ASH: All right, all right. No need to get your gavel bent outta shape. It’s off.

RICK: I think that’s tip one, folks. Noise attracts the undead. So it’s best to keep as quiet as you can, even if you’re well-armed… or, uh, have a chainsaw for an arm.

JAYNE: Wait, that thing is part of you? You ain’t got no hand under there?

ASH: Lose a hand, gain a chainsaw. Groovy.

ARCHIE: They had a chainsaw at the hospital?

ASH: Hospital? Naw, kid, I got this in Hardwares at S-mart. Shop smart, kid. Shop S-mart.

ARCHIE: That doesn’t sound all that smart.

ASH (shrugs): Smart, dumb– I’m the one with the chainsaw hand.

ARCHIE: What does that even mean?

RICK (pounds gavel): Okay, okay. Let’s get back to business. Seems like a good time to talk about armament.

ASH: Chainsaw and boomstick (waves shotgun)— The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington, S-Mart’s top of the line. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. Shop smart, shop S-mart!

ARCHIE: Who talks like that? It’s like I’m trapped in an alternate universe.

JAYNE: Shiny. But I got Vera. (Holds up military rifle) It’s a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun. Can’t get that at your S-mart.

ASH: Can’t get ammo for it, either.

RICK: Solid point. A gun’s no good without bullets.

JAYNE: Oh, I got lots of bullets. Armor piercing, Alliance armory stuff, best you can buy in the Black.

RICK: Why would you want armor piercing rounds?

JAYNE: In case them goram reavers pick up some body armor off dead Alliance troopers.

ARCHIE: Wait, what’s a whatchamacallit “reaver?”

JAYNE: What we’re talking about, right? Come at ya’ fast, rippin’ ya’ apart. Only way to stop ‘em is to kill ‘em fast. And Vera will do that, full auto, broad spread.

ASH: You gonna get head shots on a horde of deadites with full auto?

JAYNE: Head shots? Why head shots?

ASH: Because that’s the only way you kill deadites—take out the brain. Or say the right words.

RICK: Words? What words?

ASH: Klaatu barada nikto… or something like that.

ARCHIE: How is a quote from The Day the Earth Stood Still supposed to stop zombies?

JAYNE: Zombies? Ain’t we talking about reavers? Ya’ know, men what’s gone nuts on account of the Alliance mucking around with folks brains?

ASH: Naw, we’re talking about deadites, the living dead, summoned from the grave by unholy magic and dumb teenagers.

ARCHIE: Hey!

ASH: No offense, carrot head.

RICK: “Unholy magic?” Where’d you get that? All the zombies I know of are caused by a viral plague. They bite, you get infected, die, and the virus brings your corpse back, with a raging hunger for human flesh.

JAYNE: Hang on, I’m taking notes. Can you guys talk a bit slower?

ASH: Well, those deadites never made me a zombie, but they possessed my hand. Had to cut it off for this! (Revs chainsaw again.)

ARCHIE: Cut off your own hand? That is completely gross.

ASH: Gross? Naw. Kiddo, it’s groovy.

JAYNE: So you guys are saying instead of insane killer nutjobs from the Black, you’re fighting superfast dead people from Hell? Told Mal he shoulda sent Shepherd Book to this shindig instead of me.

ARCHIE: Ours aren’t fast. They just kinda shuffle, like Frankenstein. (He mocks the walk.)

RICK: Yep, that’s about right.

JAYNE: You guys can’t run away from that?

ASH: Sure woulda made my life a lot groovier.

ARCHIE: Hard to run when the whole high school just keeps walking after you, never stopping, moaning for your flesh, like this—(Moans) URRRRRRRRR….

RICK: Whole school? Make that the whole world. As far as I can tell, it’s a global pandemic.

ASH: Groovy.

JAYNE: I ain’t thinking that’s any kind of what I’d call ‘groovy,’ Sawboy.

RICK: Look, this whole thing is about survival. And that’s more than just having the right weapon or knowing where to shoot. You need a plan, dependable transportation, a safe route for evacuation, supplies and more. And you have to make certain everybody in your family is on the same page, so they all know what to do and where to go when disaster strikes.

JAYNE: That’s a bit more than I can write down on this candy wrapper.

ASH: I’m surprised you can write anything down.

RICK: You don’t have to. The Center for Disease Control has already created a preparedness plan for dealing with a zombie plague. You can find it on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm.

ARCHIE (using a tablet): I’ve got it right here. Look, they even have a graphic novel we can download. http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies_novella.htm

ASH (to JAYNE): Groovy. That oughta make it easy enough for you to understand.

JAYNE: Ha. Funny. (to RICK) But if this plan is for zombies like you’re talking about, why are me and Lefty here?

ASH: Hey…

JAYNE (continuing): Sounds like we got totally different monsters to fight.

RICK: The plan works for just about any disaster—zombie plagues, reaver attacks, or more realistic events like floods, tornadoes, disease outbreaks and more. The right things to do are pretty much the same, no matter what happens.

ARCHIE: I gotta show this to the gang. We could have been much better prepared when it all started. Jughead, Moose, Reggie, Betty, Veronica—sure would have helped.

RICK: Speaking of Jughead, where is that friend of yours? He should have been back by now.

ARCHIE: Well, I dunno. Wait, there he is!

(All turn to look at a shadow appearing in the windows of the doors into the room. It’s Jughead’s trademark crown-toothed hat.)

JAYNE: Nice hat. I’d wear that.

The door opens, and Jughead staggers into the room, one arm out, one clutching his stomach mouth open.

JUGHEAD (moaning): Muh-urrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…

ASH: Deadite!

JAYNE: Reaver!

ARCHIE: Zombie!

ALL (except JUGHEAD): RUN!

There is a mad dash for the exit, with yells, screams and knocking over of chairs. JUGHEAD alone remains in the room.

JUGHEAD: …urrrppp! ‘xcuse me! Man, that was a long time coming up. Any of you guys want a sandwich, too? Guys?

THE END?!?

NOTES

The CDC Zombie Preparedness Guide is real, if tongue-in-cheek. Though centered around an imaginary zombie plague, the guide offers real tips and advice for general disaster preparedness.

 

Get Away With Teen Read Week

By Erin Holt and Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Teen Read week is here! Sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association, Teen Read Week highlights books and reading for teens and young adults. This year’s theme is “Get Away at Your Local Library,” and we’ve compiled a list of new books to help teen readers do just that. We’ve recently added all of these books (and many more) to our collection at the Franklin Teen Room, so come by, grab a book, and get away!

Get Away to Another Time: Capture the experience of the past, whether long ago or even simply a few decades, with these recent works of historical fiction:25163300

  • Audacity by Melanie Crowder, YA F CROWDER: A historical novel in verse about Clara Lemlich, a real life heroine in the fight for women’s labor rights at the turn of the century.
  • The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, YA F SCHLITZ: Be taken back to 1911 with Joan, a fourteen year old who just wants her life to turn out like the books she reads and loves. This novel explores feminism, the role of women in history, and how dreams aren’t as far out of reach as we think.

Get Away to Another Planet: Soar away with new science fiction adventures:Avalon

  • Avalon and Polaris by Mindee Arnett, YA F ARNETT: A teenage boy fights for freedom in his family’s aging spaceship in this future space adventure series.
  • Serenity, Firefly Class 03-K64: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon, YA F WHEDON: Fans of the short-lived science fiction television series Firefly can recapture the adventure with this graphic novel, set in the time immediately following the events of the movie Serenity. (Suitable for older teens.)

Get Away to Another Life: Stay in the present (and near future) with these new contemporary adventures:Mosquitoland-314x475

  • We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, YA F WALLACH Go on a journey with 4 high school teenagers as they face themselves, each other, and their inner demons as they await a meteor to hit Earth. This stunning debut is best suited for older teens.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold F YA ARN: Combine a road trip, a romance, a homeless man, and a cast of quirky character and you’ve got a surefire hit with this awesome debut novel.

Get Away to Another World: Fantasy: Get whisked away into a world like you’ve never known in these fantasy novels.

  • 23569428Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, YA F HERMAN: The first installment of the brand new Blood of Gods of Royals series, this book will leave you wanting more! Join main character Katerina as she embarks on a royal mission, involving murder and a love triangle!
  • The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, YA F YAN: This graphic novel tells the story of an American Chinese teen in the time leading up to World War II, whose mother vows to turn him into a superhero. Based on an actual pre-war comic book hero created by a Chinese-American artist, the book is pure fantasy, but also a revealing look at the American Chinese culture of the time.

Get Away with Girl Power:Looking for a strong and confident main character who is a girl? These books are for you!24957546

  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, YA F MUR Willowdean is fat, and okay with it. When a beauty pageant opportunity arises, it’s her big chance to prove how beauty comes from this inside as well as the outside, regardless of size.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sara J. Maas YA F MAAS If you love the THRONE OF GLASS series, get in line for the next installment in this awesome series about assassins, espionage and more as you follow the path of the strong and awesome Celaena Sardothien! A combination of fantasy and girl power all rolled into one!

Forgotten History: The WWII Novels of Ruta Sepetys

By Howard Shirley. Teen Department

The Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor. Stalingrad. The Holocaust. Seventy years later, the events and places of the Second World War echo in our minds, in stories we’ve told over and over, in novels, memoirs, television and film. One might think there is nothing new to discover, no secrets left unexamined. But the truth is that much of that history still remains hidden and forgotten, not because of conspiracy or government secrets, but merely because few have bothered to look— except for novelist Ruta Sepetys.

rutasepetys_photoThe daughter of a war refugee from Lithuania, young Ruta grew up hearing stories of her family’s escape from war-torn Europe. A Lithuanian military officer, Ruta’s grandfather found himself in the crosshairs of Stalin’s secret police, when the Soviet Union overran Lithuania and her sister Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, in the opening months of World War II. Knowing without any doubt what he and his family’s fate would be, the officer fled into Germany with his family, including Ruta’s father, a young boy. They lived out the war in a refugee camp, little more wanted by the German government than the Soviets. Eventually, the family immigrated to America; the boy grew up, married, and Ruta was born.

But as Ruta herself says, that was only ever half of the story. Because though the war had ended, Lithuania would remain in the Soviet grip for fifty years. And among those in that grip, were the other half of the Sepetys family—the aunts, uncles and cousins she never knew, who had not slipped from Stalin’s noose.

And a noose it was. From 1941 through 1944, Stalin arrested, tortured, deported and murdered Lithuania’s political and intellectual classes en masse, in a ruthless effort to crush the Lithuanian nation and erase its culture from Europe, replaced by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Communist Party.

Ruta’s family was part of that purge. Herded into crude train cars built for cattle, with the outside labelled “Thieves and Prostitutes,” Lithuanian doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and their families, including the elderly, children and even infants, were shipped across the breadth of Russia to Siberia, some even forced to settle in the tundra above the Arctic Circle. Denied food, medicine, winter clothing and even the most rudimentary shelter, countless numbers died from neglect and exposure. Others were killed outright by the brutal NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB of the Cold War era. And, of course, any of Lithuania’s political or military classes, not to mention college professors and journalists, were never sent to Siberia; they were carted into Soviet prisons on trumped up charges, tried, convicted and executed by Stalin for the Glory of Mother Russia.

Most in the West had no idea, or for that matter, even cared.

Until Ruta Sepetys asked what happened to her cousins.

In her curiosity, Sepetys found the forgotten story of her family and the Lithuanian people—a story she had never fully known. As she says, there was only one thing she knew to do: pick up a pen, and write.

tumblr_mg09hdS6En1rgach4o7_400And she did. She wrote her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, the tale of a girl very much like the Sepetys cousins, a teenager with dreams of being an artist, who is instead swept up into the nightmare of Stalin’s greed. Between Shades of Gray is her story, but it is also the story of the Lithuanian people—the forgotten history that to this day Russian strong men wish to keep hidden. It is a tale of survival, of fortitude, of hope, and of love. Now translated into over 30 languages and sold in 45 countries around the world, Between Shades of Gray has broken open the lock of history, and the story of Lithuania and her Baltic neighbors is now known around the world, and will never be forgotten.

But this blog is about novels, not just one book.

Because Ruta has found another forgotten piece of history to bring before the world. And it’s the answer to this question:

What is the greatest maritime disaster in history?

The sinking of the Titanic?

Not even close.

It is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustoff, a civilian liner acting as a refugee ship, and filled by Baltic and German civilians trying to escape the rape of eastern Europe by the Soviet Red Army. The Gustoff went down in the freezing Baltic Sea, in the winter of 1945, sunk not by an accidental encounter with an iceberg, but a torpedo strike from a Soviet submarine. On board were an estimated ten thousand people; almost all were civilian refugees. Barely a thousand survived.

Nine thousand souls lost. Nine thousand stories forgotten.

But not by Ruta.

34352-1With her latest novel, Salt to the Sea (February 2016) Ruta Sepetys once again takes a moment in history the world has overlooked, and restores it fresh before us. Four teens flee the Soviet onslaught, each with their secrets, their fears, and their dreams. Four stories converge on a German port, the Baltic Sea, and the Wilhelm Gustoff. Through the eyes of these teens, Sepetys explores questions of guilt, forgiveness and redemption, what is truly meant by bravery and cowardice, and what happens when the soul abandons compassion for self-deluding pride. Ruta’s writing is always captivating; the simplest sentence carries weight beyond its words. The smallest detail sparks a vivid image, sometimes stark, sometimes brilliant, but each time beautiful. With her words, Sepetys captures moments in time, like memories renewed to life. With this story, Sepetys explores the human heart. There is adventure, there is mystery, there is villainy, there is tragedy, and there is hope. In Salt to the Sea, the forgotten are forgotten no longer, and in Ruta’s pen, the sea gives up its dead.

You’ll have to wait until February to read Salt to the Sea, but Between Shades of Gray is available now on our Teen Room shelves. Pick it up, and transport yourself into a history you never knew, and a story you will never forget.

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter! (And Neville Longbottom, too.)

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

9610573944_25fc1360f5_o_dBorn as the seventh month dies, as all Harry Potter fans know, is the haunting prophecy that forever establishes the boy wizard’s birthday as July 31. Though Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone* was first published in 1997 (making the series nearly 20 years old), according to Rowling the character himself was born in 1980, making the wizard a thirty-five year old father of three, with his adventures beginning in 1991 and coming to an end in 1998, when he was 18.

So, what’s Harry been up to for the last 17 years or so? The series ends with an epilogue featuring Harry’s two sons headed for Hogwarts, set presumably in September 2017, when Harry is 37. In it we come to know that Harry is an Auror, more or less the equivalent of a wizardly policeman/ secret agent.** Aside from this, little else is offered, although during the years, she has dropped hints and tidbits about her characters’ lives . It’s pretty much up to the fans to imagine what his life is like, though the scene implies it’s a happy one.

Last year, JK Rowling offered a tidbit about Harry and his friends through her Pottermore web site, featuring an article written by (notorious) wizardly gossip columnist Rita Skeeter (introduced in the fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Of course, whatever Rita Skeeter writes is “deliciously nasty,” to quote Albus Dumbledore, and less than accurate. In this case, it’s more or less a “seen and heard” column about audience members at the Quidditch World Cup,*** with Skeeter’s nastiness limited to cracks about gray hairs (Harry), thinning hair (Ron), and more than dubious rumors of unhappiness at home in the Potter marriage. The article itself is only available on Pottermore, but a further summary of the contents can be found here.

tumblr_mt0ozs1irR1qdibyzo1_r1_500But there are other developments going on as well. JK Rowling has already penned a new Harry Potter screenplay, based on her short book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (by Newt Scamander), itself a fictional bestiary of magical creatures which Harry and company use as a textbook at Hogwarts.**** Eddie Redmayne, an Oscar winner for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, has already been signed to play the titular author, and an open casting call has been made for a young heroine named Modesty, Newt’s daughter. The film is initially reported to be a trilogy. For more info, the magic of the web will guide you to the following articles:

But those are not stories about Harry, as they are set some seventy years before Harry is born, and apparently in New York City (so perhaps we’ll see what life is like for American wizards and witches?).

Rowling has instead crafted another Harry Potter tale, though it’s neither a story nor a novel, but a stage play. Scheduled to open in 2016 in London’s West End theatre district, the title is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and was co-written with award winning playwright Jack Thorne. Rowling has said it’s “not a prequel,” though it tells more of the story of Harry’s parents. And of course we have yet another magical link.

So there you have it—all that is happening in the wizarding world (at least that we Muggles know of).*****

On a side note there is some “old news” that even local fans may not be aware of—there is a Tennessee connection with the Harry Potter novels (and films). It involves a famous legend and ghost story of middle Tennessee, and the connection appears in every novel of the series. It’s not until the fifth novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that the full legend comes into play (with a little hold over into the sixth novel). What’s the connection? Well, let’s just say it involves a famous witch, a poltergeist (a spirit who throws things), and a family curse. If you want to find the connection, read the books again!

And that’s our birthday present to you—more to learn (and love) about…images

 


*The novel was retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for its American release, and the name of the title object was similarly changed, but otherwise it’s the same book.

** So, does he introduce himself to the bad guys as “Potter. Harry Potter,” and order his butterbeer shaken? We remain in mystery.

*** Quidditch is a wizard’s sport, sort of combination of field hockey , soccer, cricket and dodgeball, combined with a one-item “I spy” hunt and played on broomsticks. Really, where have you been for the last twenty years that you don’t know this?

**** Hogwarts is the boarding school where Harry and other young witches and wizards go to learn about magic, and, apparently, fight various nasty creatures and servants of the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, who seems to have a habit of terrorizing the school at least once a year. But only during term.

*****Non-magical people who can’t cast spells or fly around on broomsticks, but have to ride cars and airplanes and use telephones, e-mail and Twitter instead of owls to convey our messages. Really, do try to keep up!

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