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Little Women’s Growing Up: Happy Birthday!

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Dear Reader,

lw2

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)

 

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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.

Keep Your Eye On The Ball: Amazing Alex Morgan

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Soccer sensation. Olympic gold medalist. Social media star. Gorgeous product spokesperson. Savvy businesswoman. Published author. All of this and so much more encompasses the phenomenon that is Alexandra Patricia Morgan, or “Baby Horse,” as she was once called by her teammates on the US Women’s National Team for her unbridled (oh, y’all knew I couldn’t get through one of my blogs without at least one pun) speed and strength.

1Alex was born on July 2, 1989 to Pamela and Michael Morgan and grew up in Diamond Bar, California, with two older sisters, Jeni and Jeri. Alex played multiple sports growing up, and began playing soccer at age 5 for the American Youth Soccer Association (AYSO), and began playing soccer at the club level for Cypress Elite, based in Orange County, at age 14. But it was long before then, at the age of 8, when Alex declared to her parents that she was going to be a professional soccer player and was going to represent the United States in the Olympic Games someday. She has certainly realized those lofty goals, and more.

At age 17, Alex was called up to play for the United States’ under-20 women’s national team, and she played for the Golden Bears at the University of California at Berkley, from 2007-2010. She finished her college career ranked third all-time in goals scored (45) for the Golden Bears, and graduated one semester early with a degree in Political Economy.

2On January 11, 2011, Alex was the first pick overall in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft by the Western New York Flash. Never one to wait around for something to happen, Alex scored her first professional goal for the Flash in the team’s home opener against the Atlanta Beat on May 1, 2011, resulting in a 3-0 win for Alex’s new team. In ensuing years, Alex has been on the roster for the Seattle Sounders Women (along with US National teammates Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe, and Stephanie Cox) for the 2012 season; the Portland Thorns FC from 2013-2015; and was traded in October 2015 to expansion team Orlando Pride, where she is currently on the roster.

In addition to her professional play, Alex has been an integral part of the US Women’s National Team. She became a starting player for the US in January of 2012 in the final match of the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) Olympic qualifying tournament. Once again, Alex asserted her dominance, scoring twice and providing two assists to teammate Abby Wambach that day, resulting in a 4-0 win over the Canadian hosts and securing her spot as a starter. Her prowess was crucial in the USWNT’s road to the final; she scored the winning goal in the semifinal against Canada in stoppage time during the 123rd minute of the game, sending the United States to the gold medal match against Japan. In that exhilarating 2-1 finish, Alex assisted on a Carli Lloyd header to secure the gold for the United States. For her excellence on the field, Alex was named by US Soccer as the 2012 Female Athlete of the Year, and she was honored by Diamond Bar High School by the retiring of her number, 13.

3Lest you think that “Baby Horse” is a one-trick pony (sorry, sorry), you need to know that in addition to being a world-class athlete, Alex is also a published novelist. In 2012, she signed with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing to write a series of books called The Kicks. The main characters are four female middle schoolers, and the books focus on themes of friendship, leadership, and (of course), soccer. The first novel of the series, Saving The Team, was released on May 14, 2013, and debuted at number 7 on the New York Times Best Seller list for Children’s Middle Grade.   Alex has signed endorsement deals with Nike, Panasonic, Coca-Cola, and Bank of America and has appeared in advertisements for GNC, ChapStick, Bridgestone, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. On January 24, 2016, Alex received the key to the city of her hometown of Diamond Bar, California.

Alex announced her engagement via Twitter to professional soccer player Servando Carrasco on December 9, 2013, and they were married on New Year’s Eve of 2014 in Santa Barbara, California, in the presence of their family, friends, and teammates. Alex brings the same tenacity that she demonstrates on the soccer pitch to fighting for pay equality for women athletes. She joined fellow USWNT teammates Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo on March 31, 2016 in filing a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against U.S. Soccer claiming the women’s team should be paid the same as the U.S. Men’s National team. “We ultimately decided to file this motion for all the little girls around the world who deserve the same respect as the boys,” Alex wrote. “They deserve a voice, and if we as professional athletes don’t leverage the voices we have, we are letting them down. We will not let them down.” This, darling readers, is one of the many reasons that Alex Morgan is not only an amazing athlete, but an amazing person.

 


Sources and suggested reading:

  • Alex Morgan (J 92 MORGAN) by Jon M. Fishman
  • World Soccer Legends: Alex Morgan (J 796.3340) by Illugi Jokulsson
  • The Girls of Summer (796.3340 LON) by Jere Longman
  • Saving The Team (J F MORGAN) by Alex Morgan
  • Breakaway (J 92 MORGAN) by Alex Morgan
  • www.alexmorgansoccer.com
  • www.ussoccer.com/womens-national-team

 

As ever, the opinions and viewpoints expressed here, in this second installment of my “Amazing Women Athletes” series, are the sole province of the author and not representative of any other WCPL employees, their families, or their housepets. Additionally, the author may have been witnessed in the past screaming obscenities in the general direction of her TV while the USMNT and USWNT are playing.

 

Most Memorable Moms in Kid-Lit

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

 Mother’s Day will be celebrated in America this year on Sunday, May 8. Now, Darling Reader, I like and respect your intelligence and taste, hence I will not tell you the egregious lie that motherhood is all sunshine and lollipops and playdates in the park, even if your kids are as fabulous as mine. Honestly, some days are monsoons and Brussels sprouts and grouting all the bathrooms in your house. So the following list of amazing moms is not presented with the intent to make you feel less-than about your own life, but to remind you that they are fictional characters. I’d like to think that even Marmee March would quickly morph into Mommie Dearest if she had to hear the words “I don’t have anything to wear!” for the fifty-eleventh time, or “Why is there never anything good to eat in this house?” as they stand in front of a fully-stocked refrigerator and/or pantry. Not that my children would ever do that. But I digress . . .

Here, in no particular order of magnificent Mom-ness, are some of my personal favorite mothers from children’s literature:

CharlotteCharlotte’s Web by EB White (J F WHI) Yeah, I know, most people don’t love on the arachnids, but Charlotte the Spider is such a kind and wise mother figure to Wilbur the Pig. She becomes his staunch defender, and eventually saves his bacon (OMG, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist.) SPOILER ALERT: even the most jaded reader will be hard-pressed to hold back the tears at the book’s close, with Charlotte’s life ending as her wee hatchlings’ lives are just beginning.CharlotteWeb

Mother BirdAre You My Mother? PD Eastman (J E EAS) This book, about a baby bird who escapes from his egg a bit too early and goes in search of his mother (who is away from the nest procuring a tasty worm for her precious fledgling) is an excellent book to read for Mother’s Day. Birdlet asks a whole host of characters, from the living (kitten, hen, dog, cow) to the inanimate (car, boat, airplane, steamshovel), if they are his mother. With each response, Little Wing learns that they are not in fact his mother. Haven’t we all been this little bird at some point in our lives? Whether we’ve temporarily gotten disconnected from our mom in the wilds of Kroger or are living hundreds of miles away from her in a dirty cold unfriendly town somewhere above the Mason-Dixon Line, that desperate feeling when you just really, really need your mother is all too real. SPOILER ALERT: with an assist from the steamshovel called Snort, Birdie does in fact find his mother, and his dinner.are-you-my-mother-cover-image

Molly WeasleyHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (J F ROW) The matriarch of the boisterous Weasley clan, Molly Weasley is a desperately needed maternal figure for our beloved Harry. She is the center and the moral compass of a large and raucous family, and is by turns gentle nurturer and fierce protector; the part during the Battle of Hogwarts, where Molly defends her daughter Ginny from the ghastly Bellatrix Lestrange, always makes me smile. I mean, a mom of a bunch of redheads with a magic wand? Righteous!grid-cell-14969-1375222023-8

SarahSarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (J F MAC) Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton answers widowed farmer Jacob Witting’s advertisement for a mail-order bride, and travels from her seaside home in Maine to vast, landlocked Kansas to meet Jacob and his children, Anna and Caleb. Will she like them? Will she stay? Does she sing? Anna’s and Caleb’s longing for a mother to love and to love them back nearly leaps from every page. Strong, independent, kind Sarah completes the Witting family.SarahPlain

Marmee/Mrs. MarchLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott (J F ALC) Literary moms don’t get any better than Marmee, or Mrs. March, mother of the March daughters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (AKA the Little Women.) Kind, charitable, and loving, Marmee holds the March household together throughout the Civil War and Mr. March’s long absence serving as a chaplain. She can always be relied on, no matter what.LittleWomen7

Raksha/Mother Wolf —The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (J F KIP)  Although the snide query “What, were you raised by wolves?” is generally not indicative of someone having an abundance of grace and good manners, one could certainly do worse than having a mom like Raksha (which means “protection” in Hindi and other languages.) Not only does she save Mowgli the man-cub from being Shere Khan’s tasty tiger treat, but she takes him into her pack and raises him as her own. “And it is I, Raksha the Demon, who answers,” said Mother Wolf angrily. “The man cub is mine! He shall not be killed! He will run with my Pack and hunt with my Pack. In the end, you hunter of man cubs, you frog eater and fish killer . . . . he will hunt you!” Really puts the car rider line at your child’s elementary school into perspective, doesn’t it?jungle_book

So, Darling Reader—regardless of your location or your circumstances, may you all have a blessed Mother’s Day.

 


As always, the random ramblings that are revealed here are the sole province of the author and may not be reflective of the opinions of any other WCPL employees, their children, or their pet pigs. The author has been compared to a mother wolf in the past, but sadly, she does not possess a magic wand.

 

Hilariously Humorous Children’s Books

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Deptartment

Hey, no kidding! April is National Humor Month. So, in no particular order of hilarity, here are 7 raucously funny children’s books to help you celebrate:

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! By Mo Willems (J E WIL) AR level 0.9, Caldecott Honor book
Pigeon just wants to drive the doggone bus. He begs, pleads, whines, and offers a bribe to the reader to let him drive the bus, to no avail. Pigeon’s frustration drives him to have a spectacular little meltdown when he doesn’t get his way, but as he is ranting and carrying on, a ginormous red semi pulls up, and Pigeon’s dreams of driving are rekindled.pigeon_bus_cover_lg

Olivia by Ian Falconer (J E FAL) AR level 2.0
Olivia has been one of my personal favorites for more than a decade. I mean, how can you not admire and adore this charming, creative, confident, stylish creature? The original book spawned many more Olivia titles and an eponymous television show, but the whole Olivia experience — and often, parenthood itself— can be summed up by the last page, where Olivia’s mother kisses her goodnight and says, “You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.”410E4S3D33L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Duck! Rabbit! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld (J E ROS)
“Hey, look! A duck!” “That’s not a duck. That’s a rabbit!” And thus ensues the spirited debate over what, exactly, it is.51g38hPe5dL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca) and Lane Smith (does not rhyme with Fresca). (J E SCI) AR level 3.4
“Oh, man! What is that funky smell?” And that’s not even the funniest line from this rollicking collection of short stories that totally lends itself to reading aloud in funny voices. Why, this anthology is so hilarious, it even comes with a SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: It has been determined that these tales are fairly stupid and probably dangerous to your health. Most of the stories are twisted variations on classic fairy tales; for instance, “The Stinky Cheese Man” is a modern retelling of “The Gingerbread Man.” Unhinged, I tell you!StinkyCheeseMan

He Came With The Couch by David Slonim (J E SLO) AR level 1.5
After an exhaustive search, Sophie’s family has finally found the perfect couch. But there’s just one catch to the couch: a mysterious blue Muppet-ish creature is currently ensconced upon it. Sophie and her family try valiantly to remove him (and also cure his raging case of upholsterosis) but to no avail. In the end, the little blue dude proves his worth when he saves Sophie from calamity.51rwrbUpQSL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein (J E STE) AR level 2.2
This charming book will resonate with anyone who has ever attempted to get a child to wind it down to bedtime with a nice, relaxing story. Little Chicken wants Papa to read her a bedtime story, but she just can’t bear to see Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, et. al. make such potentially dangerous mistakes, so she keeps interrupting the stories and putting her own spin on the endings. Stein’s sweet story demonstrates that being an active participant in the storytelling process can be satisfying and very funny.Interrupting-Chicken-Book-Cover

The Cat In The Hat by Dr . Seuss (J E SEU) AR level 2.1
Seriously, what list of humorous children’s books would be complete without the rollicking tale of the stovepipe-hatted feline troublemaker who shows up on a boring, rainy day with the sole mission of showing two well-behaved kids how to have a little fun? Yes, Cat completely trashes the house, but he cleans up his mess just in the nick of time, subliminally imparting a lesson to Sally and her brother (who was never officially named in the book, but was christened “Conrad” in the 2003 film adaptation, just so you’ll know.) Also, an ethical matter to consider is imparted in the final pages:

“And Sally and I did not know what to say.
Should we tell her the things that went on there that day?
Should we tell her about it? Now, what should we do?
Well . . . what would YOU do, if your mother asked you?”

9780449810866Laugh it up, Faithful Reader—


***As always, the viewpoints espoused here are solely those of the author and not in any way reflective of the opinions of WCPL employees, their families, or their pet chickens. Also, the author’s last name doesn’t rhyme with Fresca, either.)

An Unlikely Ballerina: Misty Copeland

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

There you are, minding your own business, just trying to be an average teenager—daughter, sister, middle school student, hall monitor, drill team member—when your drill team coach suggests that you go check out a ballet class taught by her friend at your local Boys and Girls Club, the place where you hang out after school in order to avoid the grim, grimy two hotel rooms that you and your mother and your five siblings call home. So you go, and are an audience of one in the bleachers for a few weeks, until you summon the courage to stand at a ballet barre for the very first time. You spend an hour feeling like a “broken marionette,” awkward and clueless and a little overwhelmed, and then you put it all in the rearview mirror and scurry past that section of the gym for the next few days. But Cynthia, the dance instructor isn’t letting you off the hook that easily. You eventually drop your defenses to her relentless persuasion and begin taking classes in earnest, but you are still haunted by insecurity and doubt.

Then, something in you changes. Your confidence rises. You begin to believe what everyone else is telling you: that someday, you will dance in front of kings and queens, and that you will have a life that most people cannot even imagine.

You are a ballerina.f0b3fd5259f1f29e8a53954f622a23ca

In case you haven’t twigged to it yet, the “you” in the vignette above is ballet dancer Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s history.

Misty Danielle Copeland was born on September 10, 1982 in Kansas City, Missouri, to Doug and Sylvia Copeland. She is the youngest of four siblings from her mother’s second marriage and has two younger siblings, one each from her mother’s third and fourth marriages. Misty has no childhood memories of her father; she didn’t see Doug Copeland from age 2, when Sylvia, a former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader, left Doug and loaded Misty and her siblings onto a Greyhound bus bound for Bellflower, California until she was 22, when she was traveling the world with American Ballet Theatre. “From the time I turned two, my life was in constant motion,” Misty states in her memoir Life In Motion. And that statement is not an exaggeration. Misty’s childhood was unstable and turbulent, and she has said that in retrospect, she used to measure time through the sequence of her mother’s dependency upon an ever-changing string of men. “We Copelands were like a nomadic tribe: hardy, fiercely protective of our band, and adaptable. We clung tightly to one another.” Those familial bonds would be severely strained in Misty’s teen years, when she had to make an excruciating choice: legally declare her emancipation from Sylvia in order to continue her dancing, or give up her dreams and remain with her family.f0b3fd5259f1f29e8a53954f622a23ca

A lengthy series of legal machinations ensued when Misty began emancipation proceedings from Sylvia, at the urging of her longtime instructor and mentor Cynthia Bradley, with whose family Misty had been living during the week for the past three years, and returning to her mother’s home, two hotel rooms at the Sunset Inn in Gardena, California, on the weekends. Sylvia retained the services of lawyer Gloria Allred and they claimed that Misty had been “brainwashed” by the Bradleys and that they turned Misty against Sylvia by belittling her intelligence. After several court hearings in autumn of 1998, the emancipation proceedings were dropped, as well as the restraining order and charges of stalking and harassment by Sylvia against the Bradleys. Misty would return to her mother’s custody, and she wouldn’t see Cynthia or Patrick Bradley again for more than a decade.f0b3fd5259f1f29e8a53954f622a23ca

Misty completed high school in California, and in September of 2000 joined the ABT Studio Company, which is the American Ballet Theatre’s second company. In 2001 she was promoted to ABT’s Corps de ballet. She was sidelined for a year due to a lumbar stress fracture, but recovered and embarked upon a series of beautiful, memorable roles in La Bayadere, Swan Lake, and Cinderella, to name only a few. In August of 2007, she was promoted to soloist, one of the youngest dancers ever to achieve that distinction. She was a standout among her dancing peers and appeared in The Firebird, Don Quixote, Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, and Sleeping Beauty, to name just a few of the numerous productions she danced in over the ensuing years. On June 30, 2015, she was promoted to principal ballerina, the first African-American woman to achieve such an honor in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.

Misty currently resides in New York City with her fiancé Olu Evans, a Manhattan attorney. You can read more about Misty’s amazing life in the 2014 memoir she co-authored with Charisse Jones titled Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Simon and Schuster; 92 COPELAND.) She also co-wrote a children’s picture book, Firebird (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, J E COPELAND), and in November 2015 she announced plans to publish a health and beauty guide tentatively titled Ballerina Body.

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*** author’s note: this is the first in a series I’m going to call “Amazing Women Athletes.” The theme for this year’s Summer Reading Program is sports-related, so, you know. I take my inspiration wherever I can find it.

Are You There, Judy Blume? It’s Me, Parish.

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Dear Judy,blume 1
Happy 78th birthday! I really wish you lived closer to me so that I could take you out to lunch and buy you a present, although nothing I could give you would remotely compare to the marvelous gifts that you have bestowed upon readers of all ages over your prolific and inspiring career. I mean, seriously—find me a woman in North America whose life as a young adult wasn’t made just a little bit better as a result of reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Although, I guess there are some unfortunate people out there who were deprived of the opportunity to read Margaret and Deenie and Forever, which in turn possibly inspired you to become an active proponent of the National Coalition Against Censorship.) I hope your day is as fantastic as your books. Blessings on you—

Stacy Parish, Williamson County Public Library, Franklin TN

(Author’s note: So, yeah. I have serious doubts that Judy Blume will ever read my birthday wishes to her, but I’m still going to put it out there. Doesn’t cost me anything.)

blume 2If you’ve read this far (bless your heart) and are wondering to yourself: Who is this Judy Blume that you speak of? Then please, Dear Reader, continue. Judy Blume, nee Judith Sussman, was born on February 12, 1938 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a suburban town just west of New York City to Esther and Rudolph Sussman, a homemaker and a dentist. Judy, as she preferred to be called, had a brother David, who was four years her senior and preferred to spend his free time working on mysterious and often volatile science experiments in the garage. Hence, she found herself being the one who entertained her parents and other family members with her games and performances, much like funny, charismatic Sally Freedman in Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself. In fact, Judy would again draw upon her own childhood experiences, seven years and seven books after publishing her award-winning Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret., as the basis for Sally, and her brother David as the model for Sally’s sardonic loner brother Douglas.

blume 3Judy Blume was a voracious reader as a child, and loved stories and books of all kinds. She says that she spent most of her childhood making up stories inside her own head, but no matter how much she read, she never found any characters in those books whose lives and experiences were relatable to her own. Books of that era were often “sanitized for your protection,” to borrow a phrase one of my coworkers uses frequently. That is, nobody had an agonizingly annoying little brother who went into their room and messed with their stuff and swallowed their turtle (a la Fudge, from Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing), nobody was bullied (Blubber), nobody started their period (Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret), and you can be absolutely certain that nobody ever wrote about their father being shot and killed in a convenience-store holdup (Tiger Eyes.)

blume 4After graduating from high school, Judy was accepted by and enrolled in Boston University, where she spent all of two weeks before contracting mononucleosis. She returned home to New Jersey and transferred later that year to New York University. Life for Judy, as it does for most of us, proceeded apace—during her junior year of college, she began dating John Blume and was soon engaged to be married; she lost her beloved father, whom she affectionately called “Doey-bird,” in July before her senior year; she married John later that summer; and by the time she graduated from college in 1961, she was pregnant with her first child. Her daughter Randy was born later that year, and two years after that, the family moved from their apartment in Plainfield, New Jersey, to a house a few miles away in Scotch Plains. While living there, Judy gave birth to their second child, a son they named Lawrence. (How fun is this–Judy has stated in interviews that Lawrence was the inspiration for the character named Fudge, and Lawrence directed the critically-acclaimed film adaptation of Tiger Eyes in 2012.)

blume 5As a young suburban homemaker, Judy didn’t enjoy the activities that the other wives and mothers did. Golf, tennis, and shopping held no charm for her, and as a result, Judy often found herself being bored. Determined to make her life more interesting and to flex her creative muscles that had atrophied since childhood, she tried for a time to write songs. When that didn’t work out, she started making crafts out of felt, but she found that quite unsatisfying and also developed an unfortunate rash from the craft glue. Then one fine day when she was twenty-seven, Judy received a brochure in the mail from her alma mater (NYU) that advertised a class on writing for children. She was already trying to write and illustrate children’s books, so this was a positive omen. Judy signed up for the class, and even took it again the following semester. Her patience and persistence paid off, and before her second semester ended, she had a few of her stories accepted for publication in a magazine and was paid the roaring sum of $20 per story. And the rest, as they say, is history. Her first full-length children’s book, The One In The Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, was published in 1969, and in the decades since, her novels for children and young adults have exceeded sales of 85 million copies and have been translated into 32 languages.

blume 6By the end of the 20th century, Judy’s original demographic of readers had grown up and had children of their own. Her books had extended from the first generation and were still popular with—and relevant to—the next one. Her original readers were also rewarded with several adult novels from Judy’s beautiful mind—Wifey (1978), Smart Women (1983), Summer Sisters (1999) and In The Unlikely Event (2015.) Just as with her children’s and young adult novels, these books all showcased Judy’s transcendent talent for chronicling family life and its convoluted, often messy, occasionally hysterical, events. She also published a nonfiction book, titled Letters To Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You in 1986. Inspired by a 10-year-old girl named Amy, the purpose of the book was to illustrate what kids were thinking and feeling about different issues such as divorce, sex, drugs, suicide, et cetera, issues that kids might be hesitant to approach their parents about and parents in turn might be completely in the weeds for talking to their children about.

Lucky readers are we, as the delightful Judy Blume shows no signs of slowing down, even as she approaches her eighth decade on the planet, and that her books of such timeless quality have endured along with her. What a marvelous way to spend a winter afternoon, curled up with a cup of tea and some of the charming characters she brought us—Margaret, Deenie, Davey, Fudge, to name just a few. Happy birthday, Judy Blume! Mazel tov, and thank you.


Suggested reading and sources:

  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, Bradbury Press, 1970. (J F BLU)
  • Everything I Needed To Know About Being A Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, edited by Jennifer O’Connell, Simon & Schuster, 2007. (813 EVE)
  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume, Delacorte Press, 1988. (F BLU)
  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, Delacorte Press 1981. (J F BLU)
  • Who Wrote That? Judy Blume by Elisa Ludwig, Chelsea House Publishers, 2004. (J 92 BLUME)
  • Women Who Broke The Rules: Judy Blume by Kathleen Krull, Bloomsbury USA, 2015. (J 92 BLUME)
*The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not intended in any way, shape, or form to influence anyone to trespass into their sibling’s room and swallow their pet. The author and her employer hereby absolve themselves of any such untoward behavior being emulated by WCPL patrons, their families, neighbors, classmates, yada yada yada.

Remember, Remember, Picture Books in November (or December)

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

So, yeah. November is (WAS! says that shrill, nagging voice in my head that is remarkably similar to that of Howard’s mother from Big Bang Theory) National Picture Book Month. Having the great good fortune to be employed in the Children’s Department at WCPL, in addition to being the mom to two awesome kids, to whom and with whom I got to read thousands of picture books over the span of more than a decade and a half, gives me a pretty broad perspective on the genre. However, in the spirit of the holiday season, I have decided to give my colleagues the opportunity to share their feast of favorites with y’all. (Please note: This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I haven’t been able to put together a coherent sentence for the past month; it’s just me being generous and inclusive, I swear.) Hence, I posed the following query to a random sampling of some of my esteemed library co-workers: What is your favorite children’s book or picture book?

  • Julie Duke, Children’s Department Manager, WCPL: Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore by David McPhail is Julie’s favorite, because “Who doesn’t love a houseful of pigs gone hog wild?” The book is written in rollicking rhyme form and features fun, whimsical illustrations.

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  • Shifay Cheung, Circulation: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. “I love this book because it mentions food, and all those fun shapes and cutouts are just brilliant. I also love Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss because I love the rhyme and it of course mentions food.” I’m seeing a pattern emerging here, Shifay . . .

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  • Erin Holt, Teen Librarian: Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood. “I love owls, and this is such a sweet story about a curious little owl who stays awake one day when he should be sleeping instead, so that he can see how things work during the daytime.”

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  • Marcia Fraser, Special Collections: anything by Tomie dePaola. “Who can resist any of Tomie dePaola’s books? They were loved by my children and were definitely our favorites for reading aloud, as they were written to be told in the oral tradition. Strega Nona, Clown of God, Bill and Pete, Fin M’Coul are just a few of the standouts in the dePaola anthology. His books seem to hark back to the old world and are often written like folktales, with beautifully selected words to carry the story, stunning illustrations so rich in detail and color, and always a delicately disguised lesson or moral. DePaola’s books are classics in the world of Children’s literature, and rightly so.”

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  • Liz Arrambide, Children’s Librarian: Irene’s Wish by Jerdine Nolen. “Irene, like many children, wants more time with her dad, who is a hard-working and talented gardener. His job keeps him so busy that he doesn’t have a lot of time with the family. Irene knows that wishes can come true, so she wishes very hard and her wish does come true! However, as it sometimes is in the case of wishing, things are just a bit different than she expected.”

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  • Dolores Greenwald, Director, WCPL: “ My favorite children’s book is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Not only is fun and entertaining, but it teaches a lesson about not being closed-minded and critical. It is a great lesson and Dr. Seuss delivers it perfectly.”

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  • Jessica Dunkel, Reference: “My favorite picture book is This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen.  It’s an underwater tale that follows a small fish who steals a bigger fish’s hat.  It’s a simple, funny story with cute fish characters, a great ending, and an even better message!”

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As for me, asking me to pick my favorite children’s picture book is like asking me to choose my favorite child. But I can narrow it down to two, for today (interestingly, also like picking my favorite child.) The first of these is Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. With very limited resources (a purple crayon that never loses its sharpness, no matter how much he uses it), Harold creates a magnificent dreamscape full of beauty and excitement, and is able to keep his wits about him when faced with a situation such as too much delicious leftover pie from a picnic (“all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best”) which necessitates the creation of a very hungry moose and a deserving porcupine to finish it up.

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My other favorite is Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. Who among us hasn’t daydreamed about sailing away and becoming the King (or Queen!) of all wild things? This book inspired me from the first time I read it as a child, continued to do so into my 20s (the door to my room in my college sorority house during my senior year was adorned with replicas of Max’s wild friends, and a warning that there might be wild things lurking within), and then became one of my children’s favorites. Snobby bookworm disclaimer: I don’t like the movie adaptation very much. Hearing the late James Gandolfini’s voice makes me happy and sad at the same time.

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So there you have it. Our randomly assorted, in no particular order, today’s favorite but maybe not tomorrow’s, list of favorite picture books. I hope we have inspired you to come to the library and check out an armful. Also, this would be a most serendipitous time to mention that we have increased the checkout limit to 30 items per card! Come visit us soon and help us “Make It A Million,” i.e., one million items circulated this fiscal year. Take care, dear readers—


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and the coworkers she shamelessly glommed on to for help in completing her assignment. Also, just because I don’t like the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are doesn’t mean that you can’t.

It’s The Greatest Comic Strip Ever, Charlie Brown!

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

See what I did there with the title? And if you don’t, then you may have been living under a rock similar to the ones that Charlie Brown used to get in his trick-or-treat bag on Halloween. For the uninitiated, Peanuts is a syndicated comic strip written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz that made its debut on October 2, 1950 in nine American newspapers: The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Minneapolis Tribune, The Allentown Morning Call, The Bethlehem Globe-Times, The Denver Post, The Seattle Times, The New York World-Telegram & Sun, and the Boston Globe. Original strips ran daily and Sundays until February 13, 2000, and at its peak, Peanuts appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers worldwide and was translated into 21 languages. The four-panel format set the standard for comic strips, and combined with other media and merchandise, Peanuts earned Schulz more than $1billion in his lifetime. Reprints are still syndicated and run in almost every U.S. newspaper.

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The debut strip from October 2, 1950. From left to right: Charlie Brown, Shermy, and original Patty.

 

Peanuts originated from a weekly panel comic called Li’l Folks that appeared in Schulz’s hometown newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, from 1947 to1950. In addition to a round-headed kid that evolved into Charlie Brown, the early strip also featured a little dog that resembled the early 1950s version of Snoopy. Li’l Folks was dropped in early 1950, and later that year Schulz approached United Feature Syndicate with a collection of his best work. A deal was accepted, but a name change for the new strip was necessary in order to avoid confusion with two existing comic strips, Al Capp’s Li’l Abner and a comic titled Little Folks. The syndicate settled on Peanuts as the name for the new strip, and it was a name that Schulz always disliked. (Author’s random thought: I wonder if he got over that, when his earnings from Peanuts climbed into the millions.)

The final daily original Peanuts comic strip, in which Schulz announced his retirement, was published on Monday, January 3, 2000. It contained a farewell note to readers from Schulz, and had an illustration of Snoopy deep in thought atop his doghouse with his iconic typewriter. Schulz had drawn 5 extra Sunday strips which had yet to run, and the last-ever of these was published on February 13, 2000, the day after Schulz’s death at age 78 from complications from colon cancer. It incorporated a colorized version of Schulz’s farewell strip from January 3, several drawings from past strips, and the sweet note to Schulz’s faithful readers.

Final Peanuts Sunday strip, issued February 13, 2000, one day after the death of creator Charles M. Schulz.

Final Peanuts Sunday strip, issued February 13, 2000, one day after the death of creator Charles M. Schulz.

 

Despite the end of the strip, Peanuts remains popular throughout multiple platforms –syndicated strips in daily and Sunday newspapers, television specials, books, theatrical productions, apparel and other merchandise, board games, amusement park characters, and perhaps the largest single venue of them all: the MetLife Insurance Company blimps, christened “Snoopy One” and “Snoopy Two.”

I have to confess, that in addition to having that pervasive earworm of a song in my head while I wrote this—you know, the song that Schroeder played on his magical piano in A Charlie Brown Christmas, that all the gang did their righteous dance moves to—I also had Bob Seger’s “Beautiful Loser” in my head. According to a 1986 interview by Seger in Creem magazine, that song is about people who set their goals so low that they never achieve anything of substance. It occurs to me that Peanuts’ central character, Charlie Brown, does just the opposite of that. He can’t fly a kite, win a baseball game, talk to the little red-haired girl without freaking out, or kick the football that Lucy heartlessly pulls away Every. Single. Time. Yet, against the mountain of evidence that suggests that the results will be the same, he keeps trying. He doesn’t give up. He perseveres.

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The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not a reflection of Williamson County Public Library or its employees. She can occasionally be found sitting behind a desk in the Children’s Department offering psychiatric help, but she is no longer allowed to charge 5 cents for her services.

 

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