Category Archives: Books & Reading

Digitized and Free to Read Online : Archive of 6,000 Historical Children’s Books

Book 1We can learn much about how a historical period viewed the abilities of its children by studying its children’s literature. Occupying a space somewhere between the purely didactic and the nonsensical, most children’s books published in the past few hundred years have attempted to find a line between the two poles, seeking a balance between entertainment and instruction. However, that line seems to move closer to one pole or another depending on the prevailing cultural sentiments of the time. And the very fact that children’s books were hardly published at all before the early 18th century tells us a lot about when and how modern ideas of childhood as a separate category of existence began.

“By the end of the 18th century,” writes Newcastle University professor M.O. Grenby, Book 2“children’s literature was a flourishing, separate and secure part of the publishing industry in Britain.” The trend accelerated rapidly and has never ceased—children’s and young adult books now drive sales in publishing (with 80% of YA books bought by grown-ups for themselves). Grenby notes that “the reasons for this sudden rise of children’s literature” and its rapid expansion into a booming market by the early 1800s “have never been fully explained.” We are free to speculate about the social and pedagogical winds that pushed this historical change.

Book 3Or we might do so, at least, by examining the children’s literature of the Victorian era, perhaps the most innovative and diverse period for children’s literature thus far by the standards of the time. And we can do so most thoroughly by surveying the thousands of mid- to late 19th century titles at the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature. Their digitized collection currently holds over 6,000 books free to read online from cover to cover, allowing you to get a sense of what adults in Britain and the U.S. wanted children to know and believe.


Several genres flourished at the time: religious instruction, naturally, but also language Book 4and spelling books, fairy tales, codes of conduct, and, especially, adventure stories—pre-Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew examples of what we would call young adult fiction, these published principally for boys. Adventure stories offered a (very colonialist) view of the wide world; in series like the Boston-published Zig Zag and English books like Afloat with Nelson, both from the 1890s, fact mingled with fiction, natural history and science with battle and travel accounts. But there is another distinctive strain in the children’s literature of the time, one which to us—but not necessarily to the Victorians—would seem contrary to the imperialist young adult novel.

Book 5For most Victorian students and readers, poetry was a daily part of life, and it was a central instructional and storytelling form in children’s lit. The A.L.O.E.’s Bible Picture Book from 1871, above, presents “Stories from the Life of Our Lord in Verse,” written “simply for the Lord’s lambs, rhymes more readily than prose attracting the attention of children, and fastening themselves on their memories.” Children and adults regularly memorized poetry, after all. Yet after the explosion in children’s publishing the former readers were often given inferior examples of it. The author of the Bible Picture Book admits as much, begging the indulgence of older readers in the preface for “defects in my work,” given that “the verses were made for the pictures, not the pictures for the verses.”

This is not an author, or perhaps a type of literature, one might suspect, that thinks highly Book 6of children’s aesthetic sensibilities.  We find precisely the opposite to be the case in the wonderful Elfin Rhymes from 1900, written by the mysterious “Norman” with “40 drawings by Carton Moorepark.” Whoever “Norman” may be (or why his one-word name appears in quotation marks), he gives his readers poems that might be mistaken at first glance for unpublished Christina Rossetti verses; and Mr. Moorepark’s illustrations rival those of the finest book illustrators of the time, presaging the high quality of Caldecott Medal-winning books of later decades. Elfin Rhymes seems like a rare oddity, likely published in a small print run; the care and attention of its layout and design shows a very high opinion of its readers’ imaginative capabilities.

Book 7This title is representative of an emerging genre of late Victorian children’s literature, which still tended on the whole, as it does now, to fall into the trite and formulaic. Elfin Rhymes sits astride the fantasy boom at the turn of the century, heralded by hugely popular books like Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz series and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. These, the Harry Potters of their day, made millions of young people passionate readers of modern fairy tales, representing a slide even further away from the once quite narrow, “remorselessly instructional… or deeply pious” categories available in early writing for children, as Grenby points out.

Where the boundaries for kids’ literature had once been Book 8narrowly fixed by Latin grammar books and Pilgrim’s Progress, by the end of the 19th century, the influence of science fiction like Jules Verne’s, and of popular supernatural tales and poems, prepared the ground for comic books, YA dystopias, magician fiction, and dozens of other children’s literature genres we now take for granted, or—in increasingly large numbers—we buy to read for ourselves. Enter the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature here, where you can browse several categories, search for subjects, authors, titles, etc, see full-screen, zoomable images of book covers, download XML versions, and read all of the over 6,000 books in the collection with comfortable reader views. Find more classics in our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

“Reprinted from Open Culture: The Best Free Cultural & Educational Media on the Web.  Article by Josh Jones, August 30, 2016.”


Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training, General, Information Resources, Technology, Uncategorized, What's Up Doc / Govdocs | Leave a comment

Friday Reads: The Celestial Railroad

Like Leonard Nimoy and Thin Lizzy, Nathaniel Hawthorne is somewhat unfairly judged on the basis of his one big hit.  I’d wager that lots of you were forced to read The Scarlet Letter at some point in your school days and, like me, did not find it magnificent.  Letter is a great book to teach, as it makes literary mechanics very noticeable.  But it’s not particularly fun to read, especially when you’re a teen.  The prose is dense, words piled high as Hawthorne describes hats and tunics in obsessive detail, and there’s plenty of moralizing.   The book’s merits are buried behind the walls of text.

Celestial Railroad book coverThankfully, Hawthorne covered a lot of the same themes in his short stories.  The excesses that sometimes hampered his novels are excised and what’s left is relatively trim and reader-friendly.  There are many echoes of Letter here.  Sin and conscience are examined in “Roger Malvin’s Burial”.  “The Maypole of Merry Mount” analyzes Puritan society and its distaste for good times.  There’s a much better symbol than an A in “The Minister’s Black Veil”.  And, though the stories fluctuate in quality, the writing throughout is less laborious than anything in his novels.   Hawthorne was a guy writing stories in the 1800s and the stories were mostly about the 1600s and 1700s, so it’s unfair to expect him to read like Janet Evanovich.  But the prose here has some life and sometimes he even dips into very black humor:

“[T]here sat the light-heeled reprobate in the stocks; or if he danced, it was round the whipping post, which might be termed the Puritan Maypole.”

Yikes!  My favorite aspect of these stories is the treatment of the Puritans.  Hawthorne was viewing America’s past from the rapidly-changing nineteenth century.  Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau were popularizing sensitive, romantic spirituality—pretty much the polar opposite of hard, cold Puritanism.  And yet Hawthorne never really depicts Puritans as simply primitives or America’s embarrassing, witch-hating grandparents.   He portrays the past in an even-handed way, not as a bunch of villains and their victims: the “immitigable zealots” of “Merry Mount” are also the anti-despots of “The Gray Champion”.   Both good and bad get their time in the spotlight.  Scarlet Letter and House of Seven Gables covered much of the same ground, but it’s conveyed more effectively in these short stories.

If you have sad memories of Hawthorne, I’d recommend giving a collection like this a try.  It sometimes pays to give the classics a second look.

Hawthorne, N. (2006). The celestial railroad, and other stories. New York: Signet Classics.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged | 1 Comment

What’s Sally Reading?

Spoilers for Award-Winning Books

One of the founders of the 5 Minute Librarian blog page noted in an email to YALSA-BK that she learned last fall that just in the YA genre alone, 5,000 books are published each year, and no one can read them all before the next year’s titles begin to pile up.  So here is the solution, visit Spoilers, Sweetie!  a new blog that spills the beans on award-winning titles for children and teens that you may not have time to read.

I appreciated that when you click on a category, say YALSA Nonfiction Award 2016, the title and author come up accompanied by a gray box.  To read the spoiler just click on the box.  This way you do not accidently uncover a spoiler you didn’t want to see.  Readers of the blog are also invited to join the team and help provide spoilers for others.

Another portion of this web site has a chronological listing of book awards and when they are announced.  Also handy information.

Stower025Troll and the Oliver by Adam Stower is a picture book for preschool through first grade.  Every day, usually around noon, Troll tried to catch Oliver and eat him!  Every day Oliver was too fast and agile and he always got away.  One day Troll did not jump out to try to catch him.  Oliver was very cautious on the way home.  He decided Troll had given up and began to mix ingredients for cake.  Then Troll jumped out of the cupboard and gulped down Oliver!  He tasted terrible so Troll spit him out again.  Luckily the timer dinged and out came cake!  As it turns out trolls love cake so Oliver & Troll share the cake with each other.  Clever—the world is a better place with trolls full of cake!

(The Nebraska Library Commission receives free copies of children’s and young adult books for review from a number of publishers.  After review, the books are distributed free, via the Regional Library Systems, to Nebraska school and public libraries.)

Posted in Books & Reading, General, Youth Services | Leave a comment

Friday Reads: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

What do the following have in common?

  • An outrageous, irrepressible drag queenA piano-playing attorney who stays one step ahead of creditors by serially squatting in local mansions
  • An antiques dealer tried for one murder four times over nine years who enlists the help of a local voodoo priestess in his defense
  • The gravesites of song writer Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken
  • A college bulldog mascot dressed for game day in suit and tie
  • A local debutante whose mother hires Peter Duchin and his orchestra for her party
  • A failed inventor who reportedly possesses a poison powerful enough to spike the water supply and kill everyone in town
  • A pianist/singer who knows 6,000 songs by heart and recognizes no speed limit when driving from gig to gig

All of these characters and situations – and more – appear in the novelized, non-fiction book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The author, a magazine writer in New York City for decades, discovered the magic of airline supersaver fares in the early 1980s which offered travel to U.S. cities for less than the nouvelle cuisine restaurant meals he critiqued. Through cheap travel to a sampling of continental U.S. cities, the author finds himself drawn more and more to Savannah, Georgia with its charms and eccentricities, so much so that he finally ends up living more of the year there than in NYC.

This title happens to be the one our Nebraska Library Commission book club will be discussing at its August session (and we have a book club kit in case your local group would like to read it). From shocking, to laugh-out-loud funny, the book manages to draw in the reader into the lives of the characters. Ultimately, Savannah itself becomes a character. Its history is fascinating. One example is that fact that, through southern charm and good manners, the then-mayor managed to talk the union general Sherman out of burning the city to ground in his march across the south.

The city itself, however, is not all charm and hospitality, with its beautiful squares that form the basis of the “old” Savannah. The city has traditionally stiff-armed any attempts to bring in local economic development and any chain stores. Such entities moved on up or down the road to Augusta or Atlanta. But the lack of economic opportunity, the still-present stratification of society along black and white lines certainly contributed to Savannah being named “Murder Capital of the U.S.” at one point.

Give it a try. I think you will be charmed, shocked and tickled with Mr. Berendt’s loving yet dispassionate treatment of Savannah. It certainly has led me to put the city on my list of must-see places sometime in my life.


Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged | 1 Comment

NCompass Live: Nebraska 150 Books: Celebrating Nebraska’s Sesquicentennial Through Literature

NCompass live small

Join us for next week’s NCompass Live, “Nebraska 150 Books: Celebrating Nebraska’s Sesquicentennial Through Literature”, on Wednesday, August 17, 10:00-11:00 am Central Time.

Nebraska 150 Books is a community reading initiative held in conjunction with the Nebraska 150 Sesquicentennial Celebration. This reading program provides the opportunity for Nebraskans to recognize our shared heritage through books. The power of literature to help us understand culture, community and a shared history is the impetus behind the Nebraska 150 Books project. In this program, you will learn the process for developing a compelling reading list, how to create a successful marketing campaign for a community reading initiative, and how to get readers excited about regional authors and their books!

Presenters: Erin Willis, Curator, Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors, Bennett Martin Public Library and Judy Keetle, Chair, Nebraska 150 Books Selection Committee.

  • August 24 – Making the Most of Maker Camp at Your Library
  • August 31 – Coding Corner @ Your Library
  • Sept. 7 – The Story of Trading Stories, A Native American Film Festival
  • Sept. 14 – Nebraska 150 Books: Read Nebraska Authors with your book group!

For more information, to register for NCompass Live, or to listen to recordings of past events, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website. The show is presented online using the GoToWebinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoToWebinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.

Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training | Leave a comment

Friday Reads : The Little Paris Bookshop

ParisBookshop“Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a love letter to books,” a masterpiece of character description, and “meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.”

Reprinted from Amazon.

Posted in Books & Reading, General, Information Resources, Library Management, Programming, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Get Your Library Ready for the Total Solar Eclipse — August 21, 2017

StarnetAre you ready for the celestial event of the century? In just over a year from now (August 21, 2017), the shadow of the moon will sweep across the United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in a spectacle that hasn’t occurred in 99 years! The National Center for Interactive Learning (NCIL) at the Space Science Institute has recently been awarded a grant for its NASA@ My Library program. Partners include NASA, ALA, The Girl Scouts, SETI, and many other organizations. The STAR Library Education Network (STAR_Net) is managed by NCIL. The STAR_Net team wants to work with your library and thousands of others to participate in this national event. Some fortunate libraries will be able to experience a total solar eclipse though every library in the country will observe at least a partial eclipse.

So jump on the eclipse train!

Go to: Eclipse Registration to register your library.

We will, in turn, let you know how to access the following valuable resources:

· Vetted Multimedia for Programming/Promotion (Images, Video, Animations, Artwork)

· Media Template Package (Press Release, PSA, Community Letter, Media Alert)

· Private Eclipse Forum (registered libraries)

· Inclusion in Special Eclipse Promotions (Social Media, Blogs, Newsletters, etc.)

· Enrollment in STAR_Net’s Eclipse Newsletter

When your eclipse event is planned, you can share your press release, flyer, website link, or like material with us to receive 50 free Solar Shades for your patrons to watch along with us! (shades are available on a first come, first serve basis).

The STAR Library Education Network (STAR_Net) is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and other funders. STAR stands for Science-Technology Activities and Resources. This ground-breaking program includes a traveling STEM exhibition program, the development of STEM activities for public libraries, a comprehensive training program that includes in-person workshops and webinars, the development of the STAR_Net Online Community, and a research and evaluation program. STAR_Net is led by the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning. Partners include the American Library Association, Lunar and Planetary Institute, and the Afterschool Alliance along with many other organizations.

Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training, General, Information Resources, Library Management, Programming, Uncategorized, What's Up Doc / Govdocs | Leave a comment

Friday Reads: My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl

ruthI first read Ruth Reichl (pronounced RYE-shil) when I selected the book Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table for my book group several years ago. I knew Reichl had been a food critic, but wasn’t aware of her connection to Gourmet magazine until I heard of its demise in 2009. Reichl was the editor of Gourmet when it came to the tragic end of its 69 year run. This book recounts her grief in the aftermath, during the days and months as she moved beyond job loss.

Some of us turn to food for emotional reasons and Ruth returned to her kitchen as her way of healing, pairing food with personal events, and an honest and very personal dialog of working through change.  I agree with a statement in her introduction: “…recipes are conversations, not lectures.”  It registered with me because I’ve usually considered recipes more like guidelines as I negotiate the ingredients and their amounts.

For those who love cookbooks, photos are an absolute must. In this book, the pictures are informal and homey, supporting the intimacy of her diary format. She begins each daily entry with a tweet to her very active twitter followers who also serve as part of her support.  If you prefer the audio edition, Ruth narrates and she is an author who is genuinely meant to read her own material. You might think that listening to someone read 136 recipes would be a bit banal but Ruth is a genuine story teller and her throaty alto voice is as much of a comfort as the recipes she prepares. As Ruth says: “…I finally understand why cooking means so much to me. In a world filled with no, it is my yes.”

Not your ordinary cookbook – it’s like spending time with someone who likes food just as much as you – at the market, in the kitchen or at the table. Ruth chronicles four seasons of food and recovery in the kitchen, transforming from broken to hopeful. I’ve read other books of hers, but this one particularly stands out for me. It also makes a terrific gift for the food lover in your life.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged | Leave a comment

What’s Up Doc? New State Agency Publications Received at the Library Commission


New state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for July 2016.  Included are titles from the Nebraska Fire Marshal, the Nebraska Department of Labor, The Nebraska State Board of Geologists, and the Juvenile Justice system, to name a few.

Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training, General, Information Resources, What's Up Doc / Govdocs | Leave a comment

Government Publication Resources in Languages Other Than English

GovDocsDo you have newly arrived immigrants or refugees in your community?  Do you need to find government-published resources that might be helpful, especially in other languages?

Following is a list of resources:


1. Search USA.GOV for Spanish Language Publications.  You can change to the Spanish language version:

Or, link directly to the consumer order site for free and low cost government publications.  Scroll down under the categories tab and click on the red “español” button.  Many of these publications are in pdf format for download. The section “programas federales” has a variety of social security brochures and 2 publications on immigration.

2. Also try Limited English Proficiency for multiple sources of information in other languages

3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — This is a link for ordering Spanish language mental health printed or .pdf publications from SAMHSA.

4. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Foreign Language Resources Many different resources in a wide range of languages to choose from.  There is also an excellent Citizenship Toolkit published by the GPO. Click on other languages for resources in Spanish and Chinese plus other languages.

5. Federal Trade Commission — Link to bulk order publications in Spanish from the FTC.

6. Link to consumer order site for free and low cost government publications.  Scroll down under the categories tab and click on the red “español” button.  Many of these publications are in pdf format for download. The section “programas federales” has a variety of social security brochures and 2 publications on immigration.

7. The entire CDC (Centers for Disease Control) site can be changed to Spanish and has excellent health information.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but still lots of resources to get you started!


Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training, Information Resources, Library Management, Technology, Uncategorized, What's Up Doc / Govdocs | Leave a comment

Friday Reads: The Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin

In 2010 Justin Cronin published The Passage, the first book in The Passage Trilogy. Set roughly 100 years after the accidental release of thirteen vampire-like test subjects (virals), The Passage focuses on one of the few remaining human settlements. After their release from a government facility, the virals killed or infected the majority of Americans, leaving few behind. With their food supply and power resources dwindling, a small band sets out in search of other survivors. They also seek the story of a mysterious young girl, Amy, who is not what she seems. Led by a young man named Peter, they find some answers.

The subsequent novels, The Twelve (2012) and The City of Mirrors (2016), follow Peter’s three decade journey to defeat the virals, as well as discover the truth about Amy. During this period, it appears as though the virals have been destroyed. Their disappearance results in the population spreading beyond their walled settlements. However, not all is as it seems. Unbeknownst to Peter and his allies, the virals are massing for a series of attacks. The City of Mirrors focuses on these battles, as well as a herculean attempt to save the remaining survivors.4c3c84b807888d8593933775851444341587343

While The Passage Trilogy serves as a classic example of post-apocalyptic fiction, Cronin draws from works such as the Bible and Bram Stoker’s Dracula to create a nuanced and multi-layered story. His characters are more than words on a page, but living, breathing human beings. It would have been easy for Cronin to rely on stereotypes such as the damsel in distress, the classic loner or the all-conquering hero. These are not perfect people, but deeply flawed and damaged individuals, who, for whatever reason, refuse to give up hope. Rather, Cronin explores their faults – how these weaknesses enable them to survive and even grow. Despite their faults, or perhaps because of them, characters such as Peter are likeable. Ultimately, this story centers on relationships and what ties us together as a society, as a race.

Cronin is an excellent writer, with a fluid and relatable style of writing. Unlike similar trilogies, the story does not get bogged down in the details. Additionally, there are no slow parts, where the story stops moving. Even when there is little action, Cronin continues to move the story forward. Each time I read his books, I feel like I am reading them for the first time. Often, they give me the chills and I have to stop reading. If you are a fan of vampires and post-apocalyptic fiction, then I highly recommend this series.


Cronin, Justin. The Passage. New York: Ballantine Books, 2010. Print.

Cronin, Justin. The Twelve. New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. Print.

Cronin, Justin. The City of Mirrors. New York: Ballantine Books, 2016. Print.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged | Leave a comment

It’s our Aluminum Anniversary!

Several years ago, shortly after attending Lincoln City Libraries’ annual book sale, my colleague, Allana Novotny, said to me – do you think it would be a good idea to have multiple copies of books we could lend to libraries for their book groups?  That was ten years ago and not only have we not looked back, now we struggle to make room for our ever growing Book Club Collection of over 1,200 titles and nearly 12,000 physical volumes.  Each month we average a circulation of over 1,000 volumes   (including regular and large print books, audiobooks, and DVDs) from this collection to libraries around the state.

Looking back, there are many people to whom we owe thanks for helping make this service such a success:

  • First and foremost – to Vern Buis, our Computer Services Director, who helped create and design a very user-friendly database and webpage,with auto-fill request forms, special search capabilities by holiday, Nebraska themes, and most recently the Nebraska 150 book list celebrating the state’s sesquicentennial.
  • To Devra Dragos who created a special template for entering records in our catalog so we can reserve and check out book kits when they are requested by a library.
  • To the many librarians and patrons who have donated books to our collection – many directly from their book group after reading and discussing that title.
  • To all the shoppers at book sales, thrift shops, and used book stores, who have purchased (and many times delivered) books for our collection.
  • Last but not least – thank you to the libraries and schools who use our collection and tell us how helpful it is to their community.

I’m pleased that we support book clubs throughout the state and have heard wonderful stories of your gatherings. To continue assisting you, we have provided NCompass Live sessions on how to select titles and lead discussions with your book group.

Because of the great success of the book groups, we very nearly wear out Mary Geibel, who works with you all to make and confirm reservations, sometimes for many months in advance. She sends out books and checks them in with email confirmations and conducts an annual inventory each summer to make sure everything is correct as advertised on our webpage.

If anyone had told me in library school that I’d spend a significant amount of time on book clubs and a special collection just for serving groups in the state, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have believed it. Growing and cultivating this service has been one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my years at the Library Commission. Happy Anniversary.

Posted in Books & Reading, Information Resources | Leave a comment

Friday Reads: “Runaway” by Alice Munro (Vintage, 2005)

RunawayAliceMunroThis stunning collection of short stories illuminates the human condition—warts and all! “Runaway,” the title story, is such a carefully crafted examination of three flawed humans that when I reached the end I sucked in my breath, put the book down, and debated whether to pick it back up again to read the next story. Eventually I did and I’m so glad I did, but I did need a little time to catch my breath.

“Powers,” divided into five sections, uses diary entries and letters to tell the story in the real, genuine voices of the characters. We meet these characters over a period of time and the interplay between them really shows the depths of their personalities and their true natures. The story shows a lifelong journey toward self-awareness, but do they make it to the destination?

One set of stories— “Chance,” “Soon” and “Silence,” —allows us to peek in on the protagonist’s life at various stages. Together these three stories give such a complete detailed picture of her that readers feel like we know her very well, even though we’ve only seen her through three short vignettes. As with all these stories, we may get to know ourselves a little better as we reflect on her feelings and reactions to key incidents in her life.

Munro’s skill as a writer is so evident in all of these stories. She is never manipulative, always presenting straight-forward and minimalist prose. And did I mention stunning? In 2013, she won the Nobel Prize in Literature for “Dear Life: Stories” (Vintage, 2012), another book that demonstrates why she is considered by many to be the “best short-story writer in English today.”

Spoiler Alert (especially for my Bookclub): If you are into happy endings, they are not to be found in this book. But even though the stories are dark, the prose is so light that they are not depressing—just sad. But I promise you’ll be thinking about these characters and their stories long after you finish the book.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged | Leave a comment

Federal Trade Commission Raises Awareness About Scams

U.S. Federal Trade Commission building.  October 16, 2012.  Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL.As part of their ongoing effort to raise awareness about scams targeting the Latino community, the Federal Trade Commission has developed a series of “fotonovelas” in Spanish. The stories are based on complaints to the FTC from Spanish speakers throughout the nation and offer practical tips to help detect and stop common scams. You can order copies of the Spanish-language fotonovelas — for free — and distribute them in your community.  Here are some examples:


Maria and Rafael Learn the Signs of a Debt Relief Scam

This fotonovela alerts readers to the common signs of a debt relief scam and tells them where they can find legitimate credit counseling help.

Car-Buying Trouble

This fotonovela tells how to avoid trouble when you finance a new or used car through the dealership and where to report problems with dealer financing.

Notario scams

This fotonovela tells readers the warning signs of a notario scam, where to find help with the immigration process, and how to report scams to the Federal Trade Commission.

Debt Collectors

In this fotonovela, Juan learns his rights when dealing with debt collectors, where to go for information, and how to file a complaint.

Income Scam

This fotonovela alerts Latino consumers to the signs of an income scam, and provides advice to avoid falling for a scam.

Government Imposters

This fotonovela tells readers how to identity a government imposter and warns of the dangers of sending money to a stranger.

For more information, visit Fotonovelas at the Federal Trade Commission.

Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training, General, Information Resources, Programming, Uncategorized, What's Up Doc / Govdocs | Leave a comment

NCompass Live: Friday Reads: The NLC Blogs Books

NCompass live smallJoin us for next week’s NCompass Live, “Friday Reads: The NLC Blogs Books”, on Wednesday, July 20, 10:00-11:00 am Central Time.

Two years ago, the Nebraska Library Commission started a regular blog series, Friday Reads. Every Friday, one of the NLC staff writes a post sharing a book they have read and enjoyed. Our staff have varied tastes and as a result, the posts have covered just about every genre: non-fiction, memoir, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, history, horror, graphic novel, young adult, chick lit, historical fiction, biography, self-help, thriller, classic, and more. Join us as some of the NLC staff chat about just a few of the books they have reviewed. You’ll be sure to find something new for you or your library’s collection.

Upcoming NCompass Live events:

  • July 27 – The Queer Omaha Archives
  • August 3 – The Kreutz Bennett Donor-Advised Fund: Grants to Nebraska’s Small-Town Public Libraries
  • August 10 – Clouding Up: How to Use Cloud Storage
  • August 17 – Nebraska 150 Books: Read Nebraska Authors!
  • August 24 – Making the Most of Maker Camp at Your Library
  • August 31 – Coding Corner @ Your Library

For more information, to register for NCompass Live, or to listen to recordings of past events, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website. The show is presented online using the GoToWebinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoToWebinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.

Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training | Leave a comment

Friday Reads: Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith

grasshopperI first listened to Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle in fall 2015, and it instantly became my new favorite book! Since then I’ve read other Smith books (Winger, Stand-Off, 100 Sideways Miles, The Marbury Lens), and while I liked them all I’d have to say that Grasshopper Jungle stands out as something completely unique. As a piece of writing, it is distinctive – not just from Smith’s other books but from most other books I’ve read!

In part, this might be because Smith wrote it at a point in time when he had decided to get out of the business of writing for publication. “I never felt so free as when I wrote things that I believed nobody would ever see. Grasshopper Jungle was one of those things,” he confesses in the acknowledgements section of the book, which someone else evidently did read since they convinced him to publish it. (Publication was obviously a good idea: Grasshopper Jungle was a 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor Book.)

What the book is ostensibly about, versus what I love about it, are two different things. On the surface, this book is about an apocalyptic plague of six-foot-tall, man-eating praying mantises, accidentally unleashed in the fictional, economically-depressed town of Ealing, Iowa. What I love most are the main characters, sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba, who narrates, and his best friend, Robby Brees. They are, among other things, smart, sincere, loyal, witty, matter-of-fact, unflinching, hilarious, and respectfully profane.

One thing I particularly love about Austin is his obsession with history and truth, which are recurring themes throughout the book. Austin begins his narration with the following rumination on history:

I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.
We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.
But even though we dutifully archived elaborate records of everything we’ve ever done, we also manage to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit.
This is my history.

Austin has been recording his own history for years, as evidenced by the thigh-high stack of journals in his closet; and his book narration is a continuation of this process. Included in Austin’s stream-of-consciousness recitations are his thoughts on the nature of history, the act of recording it, and the impossibility of getting it all down. These thoughts, at least in my opinion, inform, and are reinforced by, the stylistic quirks that permeate Smith’s writing in this particular book.

These quirks include repetition of words and phrases to the point where they become epigrammatic refrains; use of an almost clinical, detached language to describe horrifying and distressing events; and Austin’s practice of reporting not just the main event, but also a multitude of other events that are occurring simultaneously, to other people, in other parts of the world. While this last quirk would be considered digression in another book, in Grasshopper Jungle it is a manifestation of Austin’s beliefs about how to report history in order to approach the truth. Austin’s girlfriend Shann describes his process thusly: “I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction . . . .”

Elsewhere, addressing the futility of this endeavor, Austin states: “You could never get everything in a book. Good books are about everything;” and “Even when I tried to tell everything that happened, I knew my accounts were ultimately nothing more than an abbreviation.”

Austin is as devoted to telling the truth as he is to accurately recording history. To others, he never lies, especially if asked a direct question. The most he sometimes does is not volunteer the whole truth. (About a partial truth he told his parents, he says: “It wasn’t a lie; it was an abbreviation.”) From himself, he hides nothing, even if the truth is embarrassing or confusing. It’s why he doesn’t shy away from the realization that he is in love with, and sexually attracted to, both his best friend Robby, who is gay, and his girlfriend, Shann. He might not know what to do about these feelings, he might not know what they mean, but he never tries to lie to himself about them.

I also love the fact that Austin and Robby have favorite poems, which they recite out loud to each other. According to Austin:

Robby’s favorite poem is Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. It is a poem about war and lies, youth and thievery. . . .

My favorite poem is The Emperor of Ice-Cream by Wallace Stevens. It is a poem about everything else: sex, lust, pleasure, loneliness, and death. . . .

Because favorite poems often reveal something about character, and because I suspected they might reinforce the underlying themes of the book, I sought them out to read in their entirety. Although very different on the surface, both call on readers to reject artifice and sentimentality in favor of seeing things exactly as they are – at least to the extent humanly possible. In “Dulce Et Decorum Est” a gruesome description of a World War I soldier choking to death on poisonous gas is presented in stark contrast to the slogan (“That old Lie”) used to encourage young men to enlist at the start of the war: “Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori.” (The Latin phrase, borrowed from Horace, can be translated as “it is sweet and right to die for your country.”) And in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” we are told to “Let be be finale of seem.” This philosophy definitely informs Austin’s approach to recording history, as evidenced by the matter-of-fact tone and blunt language he favors in his narration, along with his commitment to objectivity: “I do not know why, but that is not my job. My job is saying what.”

If you like quirky, irreverent books with absurd plots, which also have depths you can plumb, Grasshopper Jungle might be for you. As Andrew Smith said in a February 18, 2014 interview with Walter Heymann, “. . . Grasshopper Jungle is very realistic, but at the same time, it’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s the same way our world is.”

Smith, Andrew. Grasshopper Jungle. New York: Dutton, 2014.

Posted in Books & Reading | Leave a comment

New State Agency Publications Received at the Library Commission

Nebraska-150-logoNew state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for June 2016.  Included are titles from the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts, Nebraska Public Power District, The Nebraska State Board of Health, and the Nebraska Department of Veteran’s Affairs, to name a few.

Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training, General, Information Resources, What's Up Doc / Govdocs | Leave a comment

Nebraska 150 Books : July 2016 Featured Titles

NE150Books (2)Summer in Nebraska provides a rich environment for authors to reflect on the agriculture and natural phenomena of the Great Plains.  The featured books for July highlight the magestic aspects of Nebraska’s land and climate:  thunderstorms, endless corn fields, big sky, and all of the creatures that are native to this land.

Fiction: Haven’s Wake, by Ladette Randolph.  Early July, and the corn in eastern Nebraska stands ten feet tall; after a near-decade of drought, it seems too good to be true, and everyone is watching the sky for trouble. For the Grebels, whose plots of organic crops trace a modest patchwork among the vast fields of soybeans and corn, trouble arrives from a different quarter in the form of Elsa’s voice on her estranged son’s answering machine: “Your father’s dead. You’ll probably want to come home.”

When a tractor accident fells the patriarch of this Mennonite family, the threads holding them together are suddenly drawn taut, singing with the tensions of a lifetime’s worth of love and faith, betrayal and shame. Through the competing voices of those gathered for Haven Grebel’s funeral, acts of loyalty and failures, long-suppressed resentments and a tragic secret are brought to light, expressing a larger, complex truth.   University of Nebraska Press, and 2014 Nebraska Book Award for Fiction.

Non-Fiction: Keith County Journal, by John Janovy, Jr.    To learn from nature, not about nature, was the imperative that took John Janovy Jr. and his students into the sandhills, marshes, grasslands, canyons, lakes, and streams of Keith County in western Nebraska. The biologist explores the web of interrelationships among land, animals, and human beings. Even termites, snails, and barn swallows earn respect and assume significance in the overall scheme of things. Janovy, reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau in his acute powers of observation and search for wisdom, has written a new foreword for this Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press edition.

Children’s Literature: Night of the Twisters, by Ivy Ruckman.    When a tornado watch is issued one Tuesday evening in June, twelve-year-old Dan Hatch and his best friend, Arthur, don’t think much of it. After all, tornado warnings are a way of life during the summer in Grand Island, Nebraska. But soon enough, the wind begins to howl, and the lights and telephone stop working. Then the emergency siren starts to wail. Dan, his baby brother, and Arthur have only seconds to get to the basement before the monstrous twister is on top of them. Little do they know that even if they do survive the storm, their ordeal will have only just begun. . . .

Poetry:  Nebraska : This Place, These People, by former Nebraska State Poet William (Bill) Kloefkorn.  This 128-page poetry collection is filled with more than 80 of Kloefkorn’s superbly-crafted accounts of prairie and city life. This is the only book in Kloefkorn’s distinguished writing career devoted entirely to Nebraska. It’s infused with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, plus excerpts from other great Nebraska writers such as Willa Cather and John Neihardt, offering insight into Kloefkorn’s vision, inspiration and adoration of our amazing state.

Posted in Books & Reading, Education & Training, General, Information Resources, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Friday Reads: M Train

M TrainMy awareness of Patti Smith was that of a rock musician, and more specifically one influential in the punk rock genre. There wasn’t all that much awareness and not much interest. Then I heard her interviewed on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air. I learned that Smith is not only a singer-songwriter musician, she is an accomplished poet, writer and artist. That interview was from several years ago when she wrote Just Kids, the 2010 National Book Award winner for nonfiction. Just Kids is the story of Smith’s younger years (1960s and ‘70s) as a developing artist and her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

More recently I heard Smith interviewed on another Fresh Air program following publication of her most recent book, M Train. Smith is quoted as describing M Train as “a roadmap to my life.” The book is a memoir with mixed reflections about many things including her marriage to Fred “Sonic” Smith, family life, wanderings, music, and relationships. Notable to me was her favored writing locale – a Greenwich Village café – and her passion for TV cop shows. There are commentaries about her travels, New York City life, and her fondness for hot black coffee. There is also the curiosity of her purchase of a run-down seaside bungalow timed, unfortunately, just prior to Hurricane Sandy’s arrival.

Patti Smith came across to me as an extraordinarily gifted yet down to earth person. Seeing her writing in her notebook at a corner table in her favorite café wouldn’t be all that memorable. But her reflections are memorable and M Train is a remarkable book.

Smith, Patti. M Train. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf). 2015.

Posted in Books & Reading | Leave a comment

What’s Sally Reading?

 Find a book, hide a book…play Book Scavenger!

Looking for a new activity for your children and teen library users? Try finding and/or hiding a book! If you are familiar with the children’s title Book Scavenger, then you may be excited to know that the fictional game is now a reality. It is similar to geo-caching, except now people are hiding books in public places and leaving written clues rather than using GPS coordinates. And, once you find the book you are encouraged to read it, then hide it somewhere else and leave clues on the web site.  What a fun way to share books you love.

If you are hiding a book for its first time, they suggest printing out a game plate to identify it as part of the Book Scavenger game.  The plate is found on this page, just scroll down a bit.

Wonder where books are currently hidden? Go here.  If you go to the web page you will find plenty of books hidden in Nebraska communities. To find only titles hidden in Nebraska, go here.  Dorchester, …Hebron, … and more.  The one hidden in Lincoln was recently found by an eager young reader!  I hope you and your library’s children and teens have a great time and read a book or two.

Bertman026Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman tells of Emily (12) who is a big fan of the online game, Book Scavenger, invented by Garrison Griswold.  When her family moves to San Francisco she hopes she can compete in one of his local games.  She finds a copy of The Gold Bug in the BART station where Mr. Griswold was injured during a mugging.  It could be the first clue in a new game he was planning, but he is in a coma and may never wake up.  Emily and her new friend James try to find more clues while a couple of thugs try to find them.

(The Nebraska Library Commission receives free copies of children’s and young adult books for review from a number of publishers.  After review, the books are distributed free, via the Regional Library Systems, to Nebraska school and public libraries.)

Posted in Books & Reading, General, Youth Services | Leave a comment