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June is African-American Music Appreciation Month

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Originally decreed as Black Music Month by then-president Jimmy Carter in June 1979, the designation was changed in 2009 to African-American Music Appreciation Month. In his 2016 proclamation, former president Barack Obama stated that African-American music and musicians have helped our country “ . . . to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Hence, I bring to you in no particular order, a great selection of books from Williamson County Public Library Children’s Department celebrating “Lady Day’s” soaring vocals, the Motown Sound, Bob Marley’s plaintive ballads, Jimi Hendrix’s groundbreaking guitar playing, and much more.

First on the list for today’s magical musical journey is Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through The Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney (J 781.6440 PIN) “You ready, child? Let’s go.” Thus begins this beautifully written account of young performers who were catalysts for change in American music, and along with it, a cultural revolution. The 1960s were exciting and often turbulent times. For Berry Gordy, the man who has been largely credited with creating what would come to be known as “the Motown Sound,” it all started with an $800 loan and a vision of greatness. The year was 1959, and Gordy was on the brink of something amazing, something that would have far-reaching influence on music for decades to come. Drawing upon the talents of his family and local performers, Gordy created a record label for black musicians such as Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, and Diana Ross, just to name a few. The rest, as they say, is history.

Next up on the recommended reading list for African-American Music Appreciation Month is Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J 92 HENDRIX).   A stylishly written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented James Marshall Hendrix, known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earth at the way-too-soon age of 27. His legacy lives on decades later, and his groundbreaking music continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216 GOL). At the time of her death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, Billie Holiday (nee Eleanora Fagan) was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time. Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the American civil rights movement.

No reading list about African-American music would be complete without mention of the excellent books about black musicians in the “Who Is/Who Was?” series, which features titles such as Who was Bob Marley? (J 92 MAR), Who Was Louis Armstrong? (J 92 ARM), Who Was Stevie Wonder? (J 92 WON), and Who Was Michael Jackson? (J 92 JAC). The books in this series feature whimsical illustrations and side notes about the subject, and are so much fun to read . Check ‘em out! (OK, that’s my one and only pun for this blog, I swear.)

                   

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (J 788.9316 AND) is a delightful, picturesque story of how a talented young boy from New Orleans didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have the dream to play music. Plucked from a crowd by none other than the legendary Bo Diddley and allowed to play his trombone on stage, he was then inspired to form his own band. Today, Andrews is a frequent performer at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the place where he got his first break.

Last but not least on my list of recommendations is Bob Marley: The Life Of A Musical Legend by Gary Jeffrey (J 92 MARLEY). Part biography, part graphic novel, this very cool book celebrates famed Jamaican musician Bob Marley. His body ravaged by cancer, Marley departed this earthly realm at the young age of 36, but his music and his message of peace continues to inspire people all over the world.


As always, the opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and not representative of any other WCPL employees. Ms. Parish can occasionally be overheard quoting Jimi Hendrix’s lyrics and belting out “Voodoo Chile,” but only when she’s home alone or behind the wheel of her car.

May Is National Pet Month

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Furry or feathered?  Scaled or smooth?  If you are considering getting a new pet or adding an additional beastie to your home, these are only two of the many questions that you must ask yourself and your family members, of the two-legged and four-legged variety, because your existing pets are also family.

National Pet Month was created as a celebration of the joys that pets bring to people’s lives, and vice versa.  Some of the aims of National Pet Month are:

  • Promoting the benefits of pet ownership
  • Supporting pet adoption
  • Increasing awareness of the services available from professionals who work with animals
  • Raising awareness of the roles, contribution, and value to society that service animals provide

If you are already sharing your home with a pet, here are a few fun suggestions to celebrate National Pet Month:

  1. –Do a photo shoot or a YouTube video with your pet!  Who knows, your segment with Captain Fluffypants could be the next viral sensation, maybe even with more “hits” than a Kardashian video.
  2. –Look into creating a “Take Your Pet To Work Day” at your place of employment.  (Hey, if they let human children do it, why not the animal children?  I bet you a box of Milk-Bones that some of them would be better behaved and more pleasant to have around for the day than the humans.  Just sayin’.)
  3. –Got a hipster cat or a feline princess?  Make them a customized bed that matches their personality.  Pinterest has squillions of ideas.
  4. –Get off the couch!  Hit your favorite dog-friendly park with your pooch for some new training, such as jumping through a hula hoop or learning to respond to hand signals, or just take a leisurely stroll along the trails and enjoy the day.  For your feline friend, teach your cat to walk on a leash so she can enjoy the outdoors, too.  Make sure you and your pet stay hydrated while playing outside.
  5. –Be a “pet whisperer” and learn to decipher your dog’s or cat’s body language.

Certainly, not everyone can (or should) have a pet.  However, this doesn’t preclude your ability to contribute to enriching the lives of domestic animals.  If you choose not to share your home with a pet, please consider making a donation to a local or national animal welfare organization.  There are several listed at the end of this article.

I hope you have purr-fectly enjoyed this blog, and that I haven’t driven you barking mad.  (OK, y’all know I can’t make it through a blog without at least one pun, right?)

 

Local resources:

  • Happy Tales Humane Shelter
    4001 Hughes Crossing, Suite 161, Franklin TN
    615-261-7387
    “Happy Tales Humane is a privately funded no-kill animal shelter.  We envision a world where every companion animal is loved, wanted, and nurtured. Happy Tales is committed to our mission of providing human, no-kill options for homeless and neglected animals in Middle Tennessee.”
  • Snooty Giggles Dog Rescue
    www.snootygiggles.com  
    SGDR began when founder Shawn South-Aswad and her husband began taking in a few dogs who needed a place to stay until they could find their own home. As time passed, they developed an affinity for “senior” and medical needs dogs that were being overlooked by the general rescue population. SGDR has now grown into a foster team of more than 50 families who open their homes and hearts to these amazing dogs and foster them until the perfect match of a forever home is found.
  • Williamson County Animal Center
    106 Claude Yates Drive, Franklin TN
    615-790-5590
    www.adoptwcac.org
    The Williamson County Animal Center is a public open-intake shelter serving the citizens of Williamson County, Tennessee. The shelter is a county tax-funded agency caring for domestic animals, and enjoys the distinction of being a 2nd place winner in the 2014 ASCPA Rachael Ray Challenge.

As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed here belong solely to the author, who is owned by 4 cats (Roxie, Pearl, Blackie Lawless aka Boo, and Jack Bauer), a betta fish named Swimmy Hendrix, and a leopard gecko who goes by the name Charmian, which means “little joy.”  No animals were harmed during the making of this blog.

Rockin’ Reads For Kids

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

In honor of this year’s inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here is a random assortment of rockin’ reads for the young, or young at heart.  In absolutely no discernable order:

Who Are The Rolling Stones? by Dana Meachen Rau  (J92 ROL)

Sanitized for your protection, this book chronicles the meteoric rise and unparalleled success, five decades later, of this author’s favorite band.  As this is a children’s book, none of the lurid details of the many (ahem) colorful incidents that earned The Stones their reputation as the bad boys of the British Invasion are present.  (Also worth reading in this engaging series of biographies for elementary and middle school-aged students:  Who Is Elton John?; Who Was Bob Marley? (to be published in June 2017);  Who Was Elvis Presley?;  Who Were The Beatles?; Who Was Michael Jackson?; and many more music-related titles.)

Jimi:  Sounds Like A Rainbow by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J92 HEN)

A beautifully written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented musician James Marshall Hendrix, later known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earthly realm entirely too soon at the age of 27.  His legacy lives on through his music, and his influence continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri and illustrated by A.G. Ford (J 92 CASH)

Those four simple words were how this man with the deep, soulful, often otherworldly voice would start his shows after “I Walk The Line” became the number one country song in America, and the anthem for how this once dirt-poor man from Arkansas wished to live his life.  Neri captures The Man in Black’s legend in free verse, and Ford’s lush, detailed paintings of the Southern backdrop of Cash’s life make this book one that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Music Lab:  We Rock!  A Fun Family Guide For Exploring Rock Music History by Jason Hanley  (J 781.6609)

If an alien landed in your bedroom one night and tasked you with teaching him/her/it about Rock & Roll, it would be fortuitous if you had this sensational book close at hand.  Written by Jason Hanley, Ph.D., education director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this book offers an introduction to some of the greatest songs in rock history, provides anecdotes about the artists and the social and historical events at the time the songs were written, and provides fun lab-style activities that begin with the basics of rock and move through the soul and punk genres, and then cover dance and new wave.  Best of all are the frozen-in-time photographs and the recommended set lists.  I totally have to throw the horns for this book. (Don’t know what that means?  Look it up.)

How The Beatles Changed The World by Martin W. Sandler  (J 782.4216 SAN)

When the Lads From Liverpool burst onto the music scene in the tumultuous decade known as The Sixties, they charmed and excited millions of fans the world over, and they ultimately transformed and transcended the rock genre.  This compendium of their rocketship ride to musical stardom contains hundreds of stunning photographs that capture the rich, beautiful history of The Beatles.

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed The World by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson and James Levine  (J 920 ROB)

Penned by 4 multitalented music industry veterans, this very cool volume would look right at home on anyone’s coffee table and includes 2 CDs with tracks from such legends as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, and Hank Williams, to name just a few.  The book pays loving tribute to twenty-seven groundbreaking artists whose innovations and creations altered the music landscape for generations to come.

Strange Fruit:  Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216  GOL)

At the time of “Lady Day’s” death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, she was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time.  Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the civil rights movement.

What Was Woodstock? by Joan Holub  (J 781.6609 HOL)

Well, duh, Woodstock was the sweet little yellow bird who was Snoopy’s best friend.  Right?  Charles Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip publicly acknowledged in several interviews during the 1970s that he named the bird after the music festival held at Max and MiriamYasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, over three days in August of 1969.  (Artwork from the festival features a bird perched on the neck of a guitar.)  My favorite part of this clever little book is the page of “Sixties Slang.”  You dig?

Shake, Rattle & Roll:  The Founders of Rock & Roll by Holly George-Warren  (J 781.66 GEO)

A whimsically-illustrated introduction to 14 of rock & roll’s groundbreakers and earthshakers, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and more.  In the words of Chuck Berry:  “Hail, hail, rock & roll!”

Rock on with your bad selves, and happy reading–


As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way representative of WCPL, its employees, or their parents who may have shouted at them to “turn that infernal noise down!” at some point in their lives. To that end, you may have to speak up a bit when talking to the author, because she spent many hours next to a Marshall stack in her flaming youth, and last week.

“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.

La Grincheuse, C’est Moi (or, I Am A She-Grinch)

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

grincheaux (French, noun, masculine) also: grincheuse (French, noun, feminine) crank; crab; curmudgeon; grouch; grump; shrew; sourpuss.

As I was driving to work on a frigid day about a fortnight before Christmas, thinking less-than-charitable thoughts about my fellow humans (and possibly hissing through clenched teeth some unprintable epithets about the ones who were allegedly sharing the road with me) it occurred to me that I might be exemplifying many of the Grinch’s personality traits. NO, not those sweet, shiny Christmas morning ones, where The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day and he carved the roast beast from the head chair at the Who’s Who In Whoville dinner table, with his new best friend Cindy Lou Who by his side; but those dark, slithering, vile things that were rampaging through his Grinchy heart and mind as he stomped around his cave on Christmas Eve, plotting mayhem against all those insufferably cheery Whos down in Whoville.grinch1

A little background, for those of you who have no idea what I’m yammering on about: the Grinch that I speak of is a furry green reclusive character created by Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel) in his 1957 Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Side note: the name of the character may or may not have been inspired by the French word grincheaux, which loosely translates to “grouch” in American English (or “misery guts” in British parlance—you’re welcome) and has evolved into an unflattering term for someone who embodies an anti-holiday spirit or has a mean, greedy attitude (like Scrooge).  The Grinch derives pleasure by destroying others’ happiness, and on Christmas Eve he hatches a diabolical plot to annihilate Christmas for the residents of Whoville. SPOILER ALERT: He drafts his little dog Max into service as a reindeer, fashions himself a jaunty tunic that echoes Santa’s traditional outfit (Grinch opts to go pantsless, but that is a conversation for another time) and descends from Mount Crumpit in his bootleg sleigh, into which he loads all the Whoville residents’ Christmas presents, decorations, and food.

His schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) is short-lived, however; he is at first infuriated to hear all the Whos singing and celebrating anyway, even though he just totally stole all their stuff, right down to the last can of Who-Hash, but then he begins to twig to the possibility that maybe Christmas isn’t just about the boxes and bows:

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.

What if Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more?

The Grinch then experiences an epiphany (can you believe I made it this far into the blog without a pun? Neither can I! It’s a Christmas miracle!) and returns all the Whos’ purloined goods and joins them in their Christmas festivities.

So. Back to me cruising to work and thinking Grincheuse thoughts. If you are a sentient being (and since you’re reading this, presumably you are) then you may have noticed that it’s fairly common at this time of year to find oneself stomping around in one’s very own metaphorical Mount Crumpit cave of negative thoughts and emotional distress, feeling as isolated as the Grinch. Here’s my Christmas gift to you, Darling Reader: permission to turn loose a little. Let go of the reins of that sleigh full of pressures you put on yourself for the “perfect” holiday card photo/Christmas tree/present/six-course dinner/whatever. Because, as the Grinch learned that day, Christmas isn’t about the packages, boxes, or bags.

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Opinions expressed in this blog are, as always, solely those of the author and in no way representative of the employees of WCPL or of their families, friends, or pets masquerading as reindeer. Further, the author wishes everyone a safe, joyous, stress-free holiday season and hopes to see you back here in 2017 for more exhilarating blog installments.

The Transcendence of Calvin and Hobbes

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

I can’t remember the exact date that a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired kid named Calvin and his very real stuffed tiger Hobbes entered my life. I’m reasonably certain that it was not November 18, 1985, as I was a smart-mouthed, big-haired high school sophomore (do the math, Darling Reader) who was more concerned with my reflection in the mirror than with reflection on love, art, theology, mortality, public education, paleontology, environmentalism, and the repercussive effects of human free will.

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Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes was conceived by American cartoonist Bill Watterson and made its syndicated debut on November 18, 1985, and ran until December 31, 1995. The strip follows the raucous antics and adventures of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his quick-witted toy tiger. The pair was named for 16th-century French theologian John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher. Hobbes’ shifting duality is a defining theme of the strip: to Calvin, he is a live, anthropomorphic tiger; to all others (his parents, his archnemesis Susie Derkins, et. al.), he is an inanimate plush toy.

At the height of its popularity, Calvin and Hobbes was featured in more than 2,400 newspapers worldwide. As of 2010, reruns of the strip appeared in more than 50 countries and nearly 45 million copies of the compilation books of the strip had been sold. At the time of the strip’s creation, Watterson was employed in the advertising industry, and detested it, and began to devote increasing amounts of his spare time to cartooning. United Feature rejected Watterson’s fledgling strip, but Universal Press Syndicate took it on. Within a year of syndication, Calvin and Hobbes appeared in approximately 250 newspapers.

From the beginning, Watterson found himself at odds with the syndicate, primarily over the issue of merchandising. Watterson insisted that cartoon strips should stand on their own as a form of artistic expression, and he adamantly refused for the images of Calvin and Hobbes to be used in traditional items for marketing and promotion such as apparel, plush toys, action figures, and the like. Of course, the strip’s overwhelming popularity gave rise to the appearance of various counterfeit items such as window decals and t-shirts that often depicted crude humor, drug usage, alcohol consumption, and other themes that were not found in Watterson’s work. Watterson once wryly commented that he had “clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo.”  To that end, almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes merchandise exists outside of the book collections. The notable exceptions are two 16-month calendars that were produced from 1988-1990, and a textbook titled Teaching With Calvin and Hobbes, which has been described as the most difficult piece of official Calvin and Hobbes memorabilia to find. Only 8 libraries on the planet have a copy of the book.

Throughout the lifespan of Calvin and Hobbes’ syndication, Watterson took two extended sabbaticals from writing new strips, from May 1991 to February 1992, and from April to December 1994. In 1995, Watterson sent a letter via his syndicate to all newspaper editors whose papers had carried Calvin and Hobbes, informing them that he would cease to publish the strip. The final Calvin and Hobbes strip ran on December 31, 1995. It featured Calvin and Hobbes cavorting in a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow and pondering the endless possibilities of the day and the year:

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

ch1It’s a magical world, indeed, Dear Reader . . . let’s go exploring in it every opportunity we get.

 

Sources and Suggested Reading:

  • The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson (J 741.5073 WAT)
  • The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury by Bill Watterson (741.5 WAT)
  • Peanuts, Pogo and Hobbes: A Newspaper Editor’s Journey Through the World of Comics by George Lockwood (070.92 LOC)
  • Something Under the Bed is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Watterson (J 741.5973 WAT)

Viewpoints expressed in this blog belong solely to the author, and are in no way representative of the opinions of WCPL employees, their long-suffering parents, or their pet tigers.

 

Zen and the Art of Winnie-the-Pooh

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

After a particularly nerve-shredding week that saw citizens foaming at the mouth over the divorce announcement of a high-profile celebrity couple, schools placed on lockout over bizarre and inexplicable clown sightings, and a media frenzy surrounding the alleged armed robbery of millions of dollars in jewelry from a woman who is famous merely for being famous (and saying and doing obnoxious things), I was desperate for some calm.  (Fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” may insert a quote here from the delightful and unparalleled Daryl Dixon:  “Am I the only one Zen around here?  Good Lord!”)   I needed some Zen and I needed it fast.  How utterly fortuitous it is that I am employed in the Children’s Department of Williamson County Public Library, by which I was granted an unrestricted, all-access pass to some books about Alan Alexander Milne’s deceptively simple but actually quite wise “Silly Old Bear,” that delightful creature who has won the hearts of readers for more than nine decades, Winnie The Pooh.

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Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh Bear, first appeared as Edward Bear in a poem in A.A. Milne’s1924 children’s verse book When We Were Very Young.  The first collection of stories about Pooh and his friends was Winnie-the-Pooh, published in October of 1926 and followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928.  Milne named the character for a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was of course the inspiration for the character Christopher Robin.  Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger were also toys belonging to Christopher Robin Milne and were incorporated into A.A. Milne’s stories.  Owl and Rabbit were created from Milne’s imagination, and Gopher was later added in the Disney theatrical adaptation.  Some of Christopher Robin Milne’s original toys have been on display at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library in New York City.

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Dear Reader, you’ll be thrilled to learn that after spending some time reminiscing with Pooh and his friends (and a delicious cup of black chai tea), I was able to regain my sense of Zen.  While contemplating a second cup of tea, it occurred to me that Pooh is quite fond of snacks, and I think he would wholeheartedly encourage me to have another, and accompany it with a “smackerel” of something.  If you recall, Pooh makes it a habit to eat a snack at around eleven in the morning.  Seeing as how all the clocks in Pooh’s house “stopped at five minutes to eleven some weeks ago,” then pretty much any time of day or night can be considered Pooh’s snack time.

“Christopher Robin was at home by this time,

because it was the afternoon, and he was so glad     

to see them that they stayed there until very nearly

tea-time, and then they had a Very Nearly Tea,

which is one you forget about afterwards, and

hurried on to Pooh Corner, so as to see Eeyore before

it was too late to have a Proper Tea with Owl.”

–“The House at Pooh Corner”

So as my tea was brewing, I pondered to myself (ok, I might have actually verbalized some of my random thoughts to my cat Blackie Lawless, who was hovering around hoping for a “smackerel” of something herself, and was more than willing to hedge her bets and pretend to listen to my idle musings, if it resulted in her getting some food) how fabulous it would be if we all—librarians, movie stars, Department of Motor Vehicles employees, politicians, pizza delivery guys, rappers, and plumbers—were to manifest more of Pooh’s characteristics in our own lives.  For instance, Pooh is portrayed in Milne’s books as naïve and often a little slow on the uptake, but occasionally Pooh has a really clever idea, often sparked by urgency and fueled by common sense.  Pooh showed remarkable initiative the time he used one of his honey pots, which he christened The Floating Bear, to navigate to Christopher Robin’s house during a flood, and then together they utilized Christopher Robin’s umbrella to rescue little Piglet from rising floodwaters.  How glorious it would be if we all shared our umbrellas, so to speak, with friends and strangers alike.

Pooh is also an extremely social animal (see what I did there?) and also very loving toward his friends, who are really more family than friends, in my opinion.  In Pooh’s own words, “It’s always useful to know where a friend-and-relation is, whether you want him or whether you don’t.”  Although Pooh chooses to spend most of his time with Christopher Robin and Piglet, he habitually pays visits to Kanga and Roo, Rabbit, Tigger, Owl, and Eeyore.  Pooh’s thoughtfulness and kindhearted nature compel him to go out of his way to be especially friendly to gloomy Eeyore, visiting him frequently and even building him a house (with Piglet’s help), despite getting lukewarm sentiments from Eeyore in return.  How fabulous that would be, if we all followed Pooh’s example and put the needs of others ahead of our own from time to time, with disregard to personal gain.

Dear Reader, thanks for dropping by for another installment of my kid-lit-inspired mental meanderings.  I believe that this charming, thought-provoking Silly Old Bear and his friends will continue to delight and inspire readers far beyond the century mark.

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*All opinions and viewpoints advanced herein the above blog belong solely to the author and her cats: Blackie Lawless, Roxy Blue, Jack Bauer, and Pearl.

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Little Women’s Growing Up: Happy Birthday!

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Dear Reader,

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Louisa May Alcott

I have a confession to make.  (Don’t get excited, it’s severely tame as far as confessions go.)  I’ve never read Louisa May Alcott’s classic girl-coming-of-age story, Little Women.  I haven’t seen any of the film adaptations, either.  As you might expect, this makes writing a blog about it somewhat challenging . . .

Louisa May Alcott (herein referred to as LMA) was born on November 29, 1832, on her father’s 33rd birthday, in Germantown (which later became part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania.  She was the second of four daughters born to educator and transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott and social worker Abby May Alcott, and joined 20-month-old sister Anna Bronson Alcott.  The births of Elizabeth Sewall Alcott in June 1835 and Abigail May Alcott in July1840 completed the Alcott clan.  Readers will notice the many parallels between LMA’s family and that of the March Family in her most widely known publication, Little Women, which was published on September 30, 1868.

lw1The Alcott Family moved to Boston in 1834, where LMA’s father established an experimental school and joined the ranks of the Transcendental Movement with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  The majority of LMA’s education came from her strict, high-minded father Bronson Alcott, but she also received instruction from Thoreau, Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were family friends.  In 1840, after several disappointing setbacks with the school, the Alcotts moved to a cottage on the river in Concord, Massachusetts.  LMA has described this period of her life as idyllic, and it was in Concord that she first began writing poems and stories and keeping a journal.  In 1843, the Alcotts and six other people moved to a communal farm called Fruitlands.  A rigid lifestyle was maintained at this Utopian commune; members of the community did not eat meat, chicken, or fish, and they wore clothing made of rough linen spun from flax fibers, as they believed it was wrong to take the life of an animal for its hide or even to shear its coat (i.e., wool) or to use a product of slavery (cotton.)  This grand experiment collapsed spectacularly, leaving Bronson bitterly disappointed and physically ill.  LMA’s mother nursed him back to health, and with an inheritance from Abby’s family and financial help from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Alcotts were able to purchase a homestead in Concord in April of 1845.  Hillside, later called The Wayside, is the backdrop for Little Women, and the novel is a semi-autobiographical account of LMA’s childhood experiences with her three sisters: Anna, Elizabeth, and May.

littlewomen4The Alcott clan endured periods of extreme poverty, due in large measure to the idealistic and impractical nature of LMA’s father.  Family was everything to LMA, so when she realized just how poor her family was, and how terribly her beloved mother suffered as a result, she decided to devote her life to supporting her family.  LMA went to work at a very early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, maid, and writer.  As a coping mechanism to survive these pressures, writing became an emotional and creative outlet for LMA.  Her first book, Flower Fables, was published when she was just seventeen years old.   The stories that she wrote during her teenage years earned her very little money.  Hospital Sketches, a collection of letters that LMA had written home during her stint as a nurse in the American Civil War, finally won her some critical acclaim, and the publication of Little Women in 1868 brought her fame that exceeded everything she had dreamed of, and freed her family from poverty forever.

6ce3221ebf5ad145ab24b16470467022In Little Women, LMA based her protagonist Jo March on herself, and nearly every character in the novel is paralleled to some extent on her family members and friends.  Beth March’s death mirrors that of Lizzie Alcott from scarlet fever, and LMA’s love and admiration of her mother shines through the characterization of Marmee, the beloved matriarch of the March Family.   Little Women (or, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) was very well received, as readers and critics found it suitable for many age groups.  It was said to be a “fresh, natural representation of daily life” in New England, and a reviewer at Eclectic magazine called it one of the very best books to reach the hearts of anyone from six to sixty.  A second part to Little Women, titled Good Wives, was published in 1869, and afterward was published in a single volume.  The next novel in the Little Women trilogy, Little MenLife at Plumfield With Jo’s Boys, was published in 1871; the completion of the series was published in 1886 under the title Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out.

mtmxody3nzi0mdi3ntc4mzc4LMA endured many health problems in her later years, and died of a stroke at age 55 in March 1888, just two days after the death of her father.  Early biographers have attributed her poor health to mercury poisoning from the treatment she received for typhoid fever during her service as a nurse during the American Civil War.  More recent analysis suggests that LMA may have suffered from an autoimmune disease such as lupus, and not acute mercury exposure.  She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near her instructors, friends, and mentors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, on a hillside now known as “Author’s Ridge.”   Her most famous creation, Little Women, has endured the test of time and is still widely read and enjoyed today.

 

*Opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are in no way reflective of WCPL employees or their siblings. Additionally, the author takes full responsibility for her intellectual sloth in not actually reading the book that she so arrogantly blogs about, and hereby honestly swears to do better next time.

Sources and suggested reading:

  • Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs (J 92 ALC)
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (J F  ALCOTT)
  • Louisa May Alcott:  Her Girlhood Diary by Cary Ryan (J 818.403  ALC)
  • Louisa:  The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough (J 92 ALCOTT)

 

Amazing Women Athletes: Gabby Douglas

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Even if you don’t know a pommel horse from a polo pony, it’s nearly impossible not to be inspired by the amazing American gymnast Gabby Douglas. Gabby is the first African-American and the first woman of color from any nation to win a Gold medal in the individual gymnastics all-around competition; the fourth female American gymnast to win the Gold; and the first U.S. gymnast to receive both of those honors in a single Olympic Games, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Furthermore, she accomplished all of that before her 17th birthday. Douglas is also the first female reigning Olympic all-around champion to return to the World Championships and medal in the all-around since Elena Davydova in 1981.

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Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas was born on New Year’s Eve 1995 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the youngest of four children to Natalie Hawkins and Timothy Douglas. Gabby was raised by her mother and her siblings Arielle, Joyelle, and Johnathan, and it was Arielle who encouraged Gabby to begin tumbling and trying cartwheels and convinced their mother to allow Gabby to begin gymnastics lessons at age 6. Arielle said, “I taught her how to do a cartwheel, then the next day I saw her doing one-handed cartwheels and I thought, I didn’t teach you that!” Gabby’s undeniable talent for gymnastics soon became evident when at age 8 she won the Level 4 all-around gymnastics title at the 2004 Virginia State Championships.

In October 2010, Gabby moved halfway across the country from her home in Virginia to Iowa to train under Liang Chow, the 1990 World Cup Nationals champion for the Chinese men’s gymnastics team, at his prestigious Gymnastics and Dance Institute in West Des Moines. Gabby lived with a host family, Travis and Missy Parton and their four daughters, while undergoing intensive training with Chow in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. The blonde-haired, green-eyed Partons took Gabby in and treated her as one of their own, but needless to say, there were moments of culture shock. In her book “Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith,” Gabby recounts how weird it was to go for days at a time in Iowa without seeing another person with a skin tone even close to her own. “When my Mom came to town, she and I started a joke about it,” Gabby said. They turned it into a game, a la the classic car trip game “Punch Buggy” —but instead of hitting the other on the arm when they spied a Volkswagen Beetle, Gabby and her mom would trade swats and say “Black person!”

gdouglas 2In September 2011, while still not completely healed from a sprained hamstring and injured hip flexor, Gabby traveled to Texas to a World Championship verification camp at the facility owned by prominent gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi. Gabby was chosen for a spot on the World Championship team at age 15, making her the youngest gymnast on the team. Her chances of making it to London were contingent upon a single competition, the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. Team USA edged out Russia and China to win the gold, and Gabby’s performance on the uneven bar finals earned her the nickname “Flying Squirrel” from Marta Karolyi. Another hurdle to Gabby’s road to London had just been cleared.

Since Gabby’s meteoric rise from underdog to superstar, her personal brand—and her faith in God– has only gotten stronger. She has co-authored two books, created her own line of leotards called Gabbymojis, and appeared with her family in a docuseries on Oxygen called Douglas Family Gold. Her beautiful face has graced magazine covers such as Sports Illustrated, Time, Teen Vogue, People, and Essence, and endorsements for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Procter & Gamble’s “beauty brands,” Nike, and Mattel (Barbie), just to name a few. She cites former All-American collegiate football player and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow as an inspiration to speak publicly about her strong Christian faith. Gabby has said, “I don’t think I could have done it if he hadn’t been so bold about his own faith during interviews.”

By the time you are reading this, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be off by leaps and bounds (Faithful Readers, y’all know I couldn’t complete a blog without at least one pun) and Gabby and her Fierce Five teammates will once again be vaulting (oops, I did it again) toward their dreams of bringing home more American gold.gdouglas 3

 


Sources and suggested reading:

  • Awesome Athletes: Gabby Douglas by Jameson Anderson (J 92 DOUGLAS)
  • “The Comeback Kid,” Teen Vogue, June/July 2016
  • Gabby Douglas by Jon M. Fishman (J 92 DOUGLAS)
  • Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith by Gabrielle Douglas and Michelle Burford (J 92 DOUGLAS)
  • Great Moments in Olympic Gymnastics by Blythe Lawrence (J 796.44 LAWRENCE)
  • Raising The Bar by Gabrielle Douglas (J 92 DOUGLAS)
The opinions expressed here in this fourth installment of the “Amazing Female Athletes” series belong solely to the author and are in no way representative of any other WCPL employees, their families, friends, and coaches. Ms. Parish has visited London in the past, and has also been referred to as a squirrel, but that’s about where the similarities between the author of the blog and the subject of the blog come to an abrupt dismount.

Beautiful Bruiser: Laila Ali

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

The name Laila loosely translates to “night blooming flower” in Arabic, but Laila Ali is certainly no shrinking violet. (Author’s note: I’m going to start incorporating a drinking game into my blogs. Darling Reader, whenever you encounter one of my obnoxious puns, take a nice deep pull of whatever beverage you have close at hand. Please drink responsibly.)

Laila Amaria Ali was born on December 30, 1977 in Miami Beach, Florida, to famed boxer Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay) and his third wife, Veronica Porsche-Ali. Laila is the eighth of her father’s nine children. One might think that Laila led an easy life as the child of a world-renowned athlete, but her childhood was anything but placid. Her parents divorced when she was 7, and Laila made a number of bad decisions as a rebellious teenager — fighting, ditching school, boosting her mother’s car, shoplifting, credit card fraud — and spent time in a juvenile detention center, youth group homes, and later, jail. 1

Laila decided to begin boxing at age 18, after having what she called “a revelation” while watching a women’s match that was a preliminary bout to a Mike Tyson fight. She began training in earnest, adding strenuous workouts to her already busy life of owning her own nail salon and working on a business degree at Santa Monica Community College. In January of 1999, Laila knew that a conversation with Muhammad Ali about her new endeavor was long overdue, as her ring debut was quickly approaching. Laila’s father, who by this time had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (which many believe was exacerbated by the years of punishment he took from shots to the head in the boxing ring) was not at all happy that his daughter was following in his footsteps and entering into such a dangerous profession. Laila assured him that she would be fighting women, that she had Muhammad’s genetics, and that she would never again behave in a manner that would bring dishonor to him or to herself. After a long moment of stony silence, Muhammad spoke at last: “OK, come over here and show me your left jab.”

For her first professional boxing match on October 8, 1999 at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York, the 21-year-old Laila weighed in at 166 pounds, placing her in the Super Middleweight class. Laila’s first match was attended by many fans and journalists, primarily because she was Muhammad Ali’s daughter. Her opponent, April Fowler, described by WomenBoxing.com as an “out-of-shape novice,” was knocked out by Laila just 31 seconds into the first round. Laila’s boxing career was firmly launched, and she went on to compete in a total of 24 matches over the next eight years. She retired undefeated, after defeating Gwendolyn O’Neil by technical knockout in the first round in South Africa on February 2, 2007 in her last professional fight.2

After retiring from boxing, Laila didn’t sit around counting her money and polishing her belts. She had already appeared in a music video for Canadian rock band Default and had guest starred on the George Lopez show, so her transition from professional athlete to professional actress was not a difficult one. (Author’s note: I wonder if, in addition to her boxing prowess, she inherited any of her famous father’s flair for theatrics.) In mid-2007, Laila was a participant in Dancing With The Stars; she partnered with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and they finished the competition in third place, coming in behind Apolo Anton Ohno and Julianne Hough in first place and to Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson in second. In 2008, Laila hosted the revival of American Gladiators with former wrestler Hulk Hogan, and the two became close friends. In his memoir My Life Outside The Ring, Hogan credits Laila with saving his life when he was in a downward spiral of depression over his impending divorce and a family tragedy, and was self-medicating with rum and Xanax and becoming increasingly suicidal. “She called with no agenda, just to say hi and check on me,” Hogan said. “It snapped me out of it . . . (hearing) her voice saved my life.”

3On July 23, 2007, Laila married former NFL player Curtis Conway, and they have two children together: Curtis, Jr. and Sydney. She continues to be a highly sought-after public speaker, and in addition to eloquence and athletic prowess, Laila also inherited her father’s philanthropic spirit. Muhammad Ali’s generosity was legendary, and Laila is very active in many charitable causes—Feeding America and Women’s Sports Foundation, to name just two. She is an inspiration to many, and earned her place in our “Amazing Female Athletes” series.


Sources and suggested readings:

 

The opinions expressed here in this third installment of the “Amazing Female Athletes” series belong solely to the author and are in no way representative of any other WCPL employees or their families and friends. Additionally, the author neither floats like a butterfly nor stings like a bee, but she has in the past threatened to bite noisy or unruly patrons.
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