Kush Sharma Wins Memorable Jackson County Bee

After 95 rounds and nearly six hours of competition, spilling into an extraordinary overtime that drew worldwide media attention, Kush Sharma emerged Saturday, March 8, 2014, as champion of the Jackson County Spelling Bee.

The seventh-grader from Kansas City's Frontier School of Innovation carefully spelled out "definition" - the 57th word of the day and 261st of the championship bee - to nail down the title and a berth in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. Runner-up Sophia Hoffman gave him an opening moments earlier, missing on "stifling." She had appeared to mishear the pronunciation and spelled it s-t-e-i-f-l-e-i-n, but an appeal was unsuccessful.

Sharma, starting a new round, then stepped to the microphone and drew a breath. Per his routine, he asked for the definition of what would be the bee's final word, its origin, use in a sentence, and part of speech. He mimed writing it in the palm of his hand, and calmly spelled it.

It ended a duel that was suspended two weeks earlier when bee officials famously exhausted their supply of words. News of the stalemate went national, then global, picked up by media outlets as far away as India, Pakistan, and Australia.

Emcee Wick Thomas joked with the spellers before the competition.

Saturday's spell-off in the Kansas City Public Library's downtown Central Library drew television crews from NBC's Today and Inside Edition, as well as each of Kansas City's four network affiliates. While the spellers faced off in front of family members, other invited guests, and reporters in the upstairs Helzberg Auditorium, some 70 spectators followed the contest via live-streaming on a projection screen in Central's main-floor Kirk Hall.

The competitors posed for photos with their families.

After surviving 66 rounds on February 22 — the last 47 head to head — the two finalists battled through 29 rounds in Helzberg. The 13-year-old Sharma sailed through such words as "Waywiser," "grabble," and "igneous." Hoffman, 11, correctly spelled "Permian," "belladonna," and muumuu," among others.

Sharma, who says he aspires to be a heart surgeon, will join some 280 other qualifiers in the 2014 Scripps national bee in Washington, held May 25-31.

Media interviewed both Kush and Sophia after the Bee.

The Kansas City Public Library is a partner in the Jackson County Spelling Bee with the Mid-Continent Public Library, the Local Investment Commission (LINC), and the Kansas City Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

Steve Wieberg, Department of Public Affairs

Pronouncer, Like Spellers, Must Be Perfect

The Jackson County Spelling Bee continues Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 9 a.m. at our Central Library, and is open to the public. RSVP here.

Saturday may not be quite what Bernie Norcott-Mahany imagined when he said yes three years ago to serving as the pronouncer for the Jackson County Spelling Bee.

A nice, typically modest and quiet event has blown up into something far bigger. Good Morning America, the Today show, Inside Edition, CNN, and other national media outlets are flying in. Local affiliates are plotting their own coverage. At the center of all the fuss: two unflappable young spellers who’ve stayed standing through 66 rounds and forced an extraordinary overtime.

Not far from the spotlight — and the attendant scrutiny — is Norcott-Mahany, a 15-year fixture at the Library’s L.H. Bluford Branch.

If there’s little to no margin for error for the spellers, the same goes for him. Norcott-Mahany delivers their words. Anschluss. Balalaika. Schadenfreude. Zeitgeber. He’s expected to get the pronunciations right.


“I don’t dread it,” he says. “I’ve done storytelling. I’ve done some acting. And I’ve taught for 30-odd years, either full time or part time. I’m used to being in front of a group so I’m not particularly worried about it.
“There’s part of me that would be somewhat saddened, I guess, if I weren’t here to see the end of the journey.”

Make no mistake. He’ll be prepared.

By Saturday, when fifth-grader Sophia Hoffman and seventh-grader Kush Sharma resume their duel at 9 a.m. in the Library’s downtown Central Library, Norcott-Mahany will have reviewed the entire list of 200 new words provided by officials with the Scripps National Spelling Bee and 60 or so backup words pulled by local officials from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. He sounds each of them out. If not entirely sure about a pronunciation, he goes to Merriam Webster’s online audio tool. If he’s still uncertain, the word is crossed from his list.

Note, for the record, that Hoffman, Sharma and 23 other spellers went the first 66 rounds two weeks ago without a pronunciation challenge.

If one comes Saturday … well, it’s part of the game. “We’ve got a procedure,” Norcott-Mahany says. “I don’t take it personally.”

He’s a man of letters, holding master’s degrees in Ancient Greek from Loyola University in Chicago and in English from Syracuse. A part of the Bluford staff since 1998, Norcott-Mahany also teaches Greek mythology at Johnson County Community College and is involved in Kansas City’s nonprofit Gorilla Theater – best known for its annual summer solstice productions of classic Greek plays. He writes program notes for each show, draws up pronunciation guides, and occasionally takes the stage as an actor.

It was Mary Olive Thompson, the Jackson County Spelling Bee’s co-coordinator, who pulled him in as the bee’s pronouncer. Now the Kansas City Public Library’s outreach manager, she was working with Norcott-Mahany at the time at the Bluford Branch.

“He’s been excellent,” she says. “He’s patient. He takes time to prepare. He’s really concerned that the spellers understand him. And every year, he says ‘yes.’”

This, as it turns out, is a year like no other. Saturday is expected to draw scores of family, friends, reporters, and other spectators to the Central Library. Only the contestants’ family members, other invited guests, and media representatives will be allowed in Helzberg Auditorium, where Hoffman and Sharma will compete for a spot in the Scripps national bee in Washington, D.C., in May. The proceedings will be live-streamed to a projection screen amid a watch party of sorts in the Library’s main-floor Kirk Hall.

“I haven’t felt particular pressure since I don’t know what to expect,” Norcott-Mahany says.

“We’ll see Saturday what it’s like.”

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Each year librarians around the metro take part in the Annual Librarian's Read Challenge during January and February. It’s a reading competition to encourage librarians to read and become more familiar with children’s and teen books.

As a youth librarian, I've usually given myself a page count goal. This year my goal was to read more of the Little House on the Prairie series. I started with Little House on Prairie and have progressed through the series quicker than I expected, hoping to meet my goal and finish the series soon.

I grew up when the Little House on the Prairie show was on TV. And like every little girl my age, I wanted to be Laura Ingalls. I wasn't a kid who would read a book that a TV show or movie was based on because it was easier just to watch the show or movie. I didn't realize what I was missing. The Little House on the Prairie books aren't just for kids. Reading these books as an adult, I’m able to appreciate the books for qualities that I wouldn't have cared about as a kid, such as Laura’s growth into a young woman and her relationship to her family.

As we were preparing for the blizzard a few weeks ago, the next book on my list was The Long Winter. It seemed rather appropriate considering how this winter has been — cold and long.

When I started, I figured the cover of the book couldn't be so deceiving. Laura and Carrie seem to be having a grand time in the snow. Illustrator Garth Williams and the publisher obviously didn't want to give a sense of how hard the long winter of 1880-1881 really was for the Ingalls family and the citizens of De Smet in the Dakota Territory.

The Long Winter is the sixth book in the series and picks up where By the Shores of Silver Lake leaves off. Laura and her family have moved from Minnesota to the Dakota Territory to claim their land for homesteading. Pa has only built a small one-room claim shanty on their land.

One September day, Pa and Laura are out cutting hay for their livestock to get them through the winter. Pa comments, “[t]he colder the winter will be, the thicker the muskrats build the walls of their houses. I never saw a heavier-built muskrats’ house than that one.”

An early October blizzard strands the family in the house for days and remarkably, the cattle survived the storm, but the blizzard came on so fast that they were frozen to the ground where they had been eating. The family thinks it was a freak storm and go about their business after a warm-up. Later, Pa is in town running errands, an Indian comes into the store warning of "heap big snow, big wind" for seven months.

Realizing that they simply can’t stay in the claim shanty for the winter, the Ingalls family moves into Pa’s office space. It’s not extravagant but it’s homey and better protection than the shanty. When Laura and Carrie start school they don’t stay long due to the blizzard. Getting home is scary and dangerous for the children and teacher.

After that, the blizzards seem to roll in from the northwest with a grey foreboding cloud one right after another. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s descriptions of the blizzard are masterful in conveying the sense of fear and dread that set in.

At first the family tries to make the best of their time inside, working on sewing and knitting by the stove as Pa plays his fiddle. When the trains can’t get through with supplies for the settlers, desperation starts to set in as the winter worsens. As a result they are in the house for days on end with only one day between blizzards.

Wood and kerosene become scarce and they begin to run out of food. The entire town is struggling through the winter. Almanzo Wilder and another young man in town risk their lives to find wheat for the town. This is ultimately a story of survival for kids that will make them appreciate small things like heat and electricity. I couldn't help but feel cold almost the entire time I was reading this book. It was the perfect book for the season.

As we were digging out from the blizzard in early February, I was so appreciative of the modern conveniences that get us through the Kansas City winters, such as central heat and radiators, insulation and weather forecasting computer models. We have bad winters but we now have weather forecasting computer models than can help meteorologists predict where and when a storm will hit a specific area. But after finishing The Long Winter, I can’t complain about the weather any longer. It’s been cold—bitter cold at times—and the snow has kept us inside, but we can stock up on food before the storm hits and we can prepare to our best abilities.

Will this winter end? Yes, there are signs that spring is coming and hopefully the muskrats’ houses weren't built with walls too thick or we could be in for more blizzards before the thawing days of spring. The groundhog may have some competition in the future if he’s not careful.

About the Author

Erica Voell

Erica Voell is the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the Kansas City Public Library. She enjoys gardening, sewing, knitting, seeking out gluten-free vegetarian cuisine around the city - and yes, being a good librarian, she is owned by a cat.

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The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett

From what I hear, The Glass Key was Dashiell Hammett’s personal favorite among the books he wrote. That said, it is something of an outlier. In all of the other Hammett stories and novels, the main character is or had been a private detective (the Continental Op in Red Harvest and The Dain Curse; Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and Nick Charles in The Thin Man). Hammett himself had been a Pinkerton detective years before he set his mind to writing.

The main character in this novel, Ned Beaumont, is a fixer for Paul Madvig, a political boss of some midsize city in upstate NY. He is not a private detective — so far as we can tell, Beaumont made and makes most of his money (and loses a lot of it too) gambling.

The novel is also unusual among Hammett’s works in that it alone presents the close relationship of Beaumont and Madvig as one axis on which the story revolves. In the rest of his work, with the exception of The Thin Man, the detective is a man alone, whose loneliness sets him apart from the rest of the world, all balled-up in decay and corruption. This concept of the man alone is something later authors, especially Raymond Chandler, will use to suggest a knight on a quest in a dying world. Hammett, though, does not share Chandler’s romanticism. His heroes, though men apart, have no romantic illusions about the world. They have all learned the lesson of cynicism well.

Inasmuch as we do have a deep friendship between Beaumont and his boss, we have in Beaumont something perhaps nobler than in Hammett’s earlier work. The unnamed operative of the Continental Detective Agency shows some loyalty to “the old man,” his boss, but primarily he’s a guy with a dirty job to do, and he does it. And Sam Spade, in The Maltese Falcon, though feeling some sexual attraction towards his client, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, demonstrates no strong connection to anyone. Beaumont, though, grew up with Paul, knows his family, and tries to do right by him and his family.

The plot of the novel can be quickly summarized. Paul Madvig is a political boss in an unnamed city not far from New York. Ned Beaumont, his lieutenant, comes upon the dead body of Taylor Henry, son of a prominent senator, a politician of the old school, a man of patrician stock, with whom Madvig has chosen to join forces. Madvig hopes to marry the senator’s daughter, while the senator hopes Madvig’s political organization can put him over the top in the next election. To complicate matters, some think that Madvig himself murdered young Henry — Madvig’s daughter, Opal, who was in love with young Henry, among them. And someone has been sending anonymous letters to the DA, to Opal, to Senator Henry, and to the newspapers suggesting Madvig’s involvement and calling for action.

Hammett began his life writing fiction for Black Mask magazine, a pulp magazine focused on gritty tales of urban crime. It was a magazine that literary people were quick to dismiss, but Hammett’s stories (featuring the Continental Op) were different than the run-of-the-mill pulp fiction, and he was said to have taken a disdained form and made it into a literary genre. All subsequent hard-boiled detective fiction takes its cue from Hammett’s lead.

Beaumont is no boy scout. He has no qualms, even as he pursues his investigation into the murder of Taylor Henry, to cast suspicion on a bookie named Bernie, who owes him money. Though he doubts the bookie committed the crime, he figures accusing him of it (even framing him for it) will help him get his money. Outwardly, Beaumont’s chief value is looking out for Ned Beaumont.

Still, Beaumont always tries to do right by Madvig, whom he thinks just might be guilty of the murder. When Madvig, to get in better with the upstanding Senator Henry, cracks down on vice in the city, he falls afoul of Shad O’Rory, who runs a gambling place. O’Rory tries to get at Madvig through Beaumont, first through bribery, and then through coercion by having his dimwitted and psychopathic bodyguard, Jeff, beat Beaumont almost to death (the violence of the beating scene is easily as violent as the violence one might see in today’s detective fiction, but must have been quite shocking in 1930, when the first version of the story appeared in Black Mask). But Beaumont refuses to give his friend up.

The title of the novel comes from a dream Janet Henry describes to Ned Beaumont, in which the two of them are trapped in a cellar full of snakes, and when they try to unlock the cellar door with the glass key they have, it breaks in the lock. The image of people yearning to escape a corrupt world, but ultimately unable to do so is a powerful one, and lends this novel, which has something of a happy resolution, a fatalistic backdrop. For Hammett, the world is a terrible place, and as we are part of the world, we have no escape, nor any way to make a lasting impression for good. It is a difficult and sobering message.

After you’ve read the book, I’d heartily recommend the film version – the 1942 Glass Key with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake is the most famous and readily available, but there is an earlier version (1935) with George Raft. And this novel has served as the inspiration for Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), and Sergio Leone’s remake of that film, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and for the Coen Brothers’ breakthrough film, Miller’s Crossing (1990).

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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The Bee Goes into OT!

An extraordinary Jackson County Spelling Bee — down to two students who’ve survived 66 championship rounds — will resume Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 9 a.m. in our Central Library.

Sophia Hoffman, a fifth-grader at Highland Park Elementary School in Lee’s Summit, and Kush Sharma, a seventh-grader at Frontier School of Innovation in Kansas City, will pick up where they left off after four-plus hours of competition on Saturday, February 22. The day had started with a championship field of 25.

The two finalists went head to head for 47 rounds. After they’d worked their way through the list of words provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, then through an additional 20 words picked from Merriam Webster’s 11th-edition dictionary, officials called a temporary halt to the duel and set the March 8 continuation — overtime, if you will. Competition will resume in Central’s fifth-floor Helzberg Auditorium.

Mary Olive Thompson, the Library’s outreach manager and co-coordinator of the championship bee, said new words will be drawn from a separate Scripps list and from Merriam Webster’s. Given Hoffman’s and Sharma’s proficiency, “We probably need an additional 150-200 words just to be safe,” she said.

The winner will advance to the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. Telecast by ESPN, it draws a global audience.

Only a little more than three years ago, the Jackson County bee was without a home. The (Independence, Missouri) Examiner had given up its sponsorship after several decades. Thompson, then working at the L.H. Bluford Branch, saw the Library’s involvement as a means of pulling Kansas City public schools into the competition, and Library Director Crosby Kemper III agreed. The Library became a co-presenter with the Mid-Continent Public Library, the Local Investment Commission (LINC), and the Kansas City Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The bee, however, still lacks a sponsoring organization to cover or defray the costs of getting the local winner and an accompanying adult to Washington, D.C. “We have managed to get by the last three years with the help of an anonymous donor, but there is no guarantee that funding will continue,” Thompson says.

She expressed hope that the interest in this year’s bee will attract a long-term sponsor.

The spellers with their families.

Hoopla Digital is Here

The Kansas City Public Library is offering a new, refreshingly quick — and free — way to get music, television shows, movies, and audiobooks.

Library patrons can now use Hoopla Digital to access an array of audio and video materials via Netflix-style streaming on their computers, tablets and smart phones. It's the latest addition to the Library's extensive menu of electronic resources.

All Hoopla content is available on demand. No holds necessary. No waiting. Users can watch or listen to their selections via online streaming or by temporarily downloading selections to a mobile device for viewing without an internet connection.

Hoopla's digital collection counts tens of thousands of titles - some 100,000 CDs; 10,000 audiobooks; 3,000 movies; and 500 TV series - and continues to expand. The Holland, Ohio-based service struck new streaming deals late in 2013 with NBCUniversal, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, National Geographic, and BBC America. It already had agreements with Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and eOne Music.

Movie selections range from the classic To Kill a Mockingbird to 2013's Parkland and Stuck in Love, television titles from NOVA to all 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1, music from Sinatra to Taylor Swift to Lorde, audiobook authors from Studs Terkel to Walter Isaacson to Suzanne Collins. Many of the video titles are not currently available on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.

Because the Library is charged each time an item is checked out on one of its cards, we currently limit users to 15 items per card per month. Each TV episode counts as an item.

Checkout time for videos is 72 hours. For music CDs, it's seven days. And for audiobooks, it's three weeks. Hoopla is not accessible via blocked Library cards.

Downloaded titles are automatically removed at the end of their checkout period, eliminating worries about late fees.

Tablet and smart phone users can download the Hoopla app from their app store (just search for "Hoopla Digital"). Desktop computer users simply go to hoopladigital.com and install a plug-in (Widevine). The service works from all major browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Google Chrome.

Video tutorials are available on Hoopla Digital's YouTube Channel.

Problems? Questions? Check out the Hoopla Support page, or contact us.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Many Germans accepted the rise of National Socialism — Nazism — and Adolf Hitler. Other individuals worked against him, and many paid with their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of them.

Eric Metaxas in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy examines the life of this German theologian who tried to influence Christians during the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer, one of eight children, grew up in Berlin, where his father worked as a university professor. Early in his life, Bonhoeffer knew he wanted to become a theologian even though his family had different plans for him. After receiving his degree, he decided to become a pastor instead of remaining in academia. He spent a year in Barcelona, Spain before coming to the United States for additional study.

At the time Bonhoeffer began his career, Hitler and the Nazis came to power. The federated German Evangelical Church fell under their influence. It traced its beginning back to Martin Luther and the Reformation, but many of its churches abandoned that tradition and tried to adhere to the kind of Christianity acceptable to the regime. Bonhoeffer saw through this ruse and developed the Confessing Church, which held to traditional Christian beliefs and resisted Nazi efforts to subvert them. He helped to write the Barmen Declaration protesting changes to official dogma. He lived in London for a time, serving German community churches as a pastor. He also became involved in the ecumenical movement against the Nazis. Upon his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer lost his teaching position,

As Bonhoeffer worked to support the Confessing Church, Hitler continued to cement his hold on Germany. Austria and Czechoslovakia fell into the German sphere. Jews lost their standing in the country Bonhoeffer’s family never supported National Socialism. His twin sister and her husband lived in England throughout the war. Bonhoeffer briefly left for the safety of the United States, but felt he needed to return to Germany.

Throughout all the turmoil in his life, Bonhoeffer continued his theological work. He taught seminary students until stopped by the Nazis. He wrote several books, most notably Cost of Discipleship, based on the Sermon on the Mount.

Back in Germany, Bonhoeffer joined the German Resistance working to remove Hitler from power. He sought help from Winston Churchill and England but none came. While working for the Resistance, he became engaged but the couple chose to put off a wedding until the Nazis were no longer in power.

Bonhoeffer ran out of luck as the Nazis learned of the Resistance movement and began to arrest its members, including the German theologian. In April 1943, the Nazis sent Bonhoeffer to military prison for two years. While in prison, he ministered to other prisoners and continued writing, becoming one of the most important Christian voices of the 20th century. The Nazis condemned Bonhoeffer to die in a concentration camp just before the end of the war. As he died, witnesses observed him in prayer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer died as he lived, steadfast in his faith even as he defied the government.

This is a complete biography of a great theologian. I never knew much about this individual, and enjoyed learning of his life and the trials he endured during the time of Adolf Hitler. For a good read about someone who fought Nazism and all it stood for, this is a good start.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

What do you get when you combine a Florida health inspector, an unidentified hairy left arm, a crazy Bahamian voodoo witch, and a formerly famous primate with serious behavioral issues? You get Carl Hiaasen’s quirky mystery novel, Bad Monkey.

Set in South Florida, where much of Hiaasen’s writing takes place, one of Bad Monkey’s main characters is Andrew Yancy, a former Miami police officer busted down to Monroe County health inspector for attacking his ex-girlfriend’s husband with a portable vacuum cleaner. Yancy is discretely ordered by the sheriff to deliver an unidentified arm — complete with a hand stiffly flying its middle finger — to the Miami coroner’s office.

At first, nobody is interested in or wants to be responsible for the shark-mangled limb, which was fished out of the ocean by a shocked tourist, but Yancy has a gut feeling it is an omen for something big. When no one else claims possession of the severed arm, he takes it home and stores it in the freezer, right next to his favorite popsicles.

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Eventually the arm is identified as belonging to a man who perished in a recent boating accident, and Yancy returns the missing body part to the grieving widow for burial. Yancy doesn’t get a good feeling about the widow, however, and becomes convinced that she killed her husband and that he can solve the crime.

The mystery then moves to the Bahamas and a native man named Neville who has just had his land and home taken from him by a powerful American named Christopher who wants to build a huge resort on the property.

Neville decides to have a local voodoo witch put a curse on the evil American. In exchange, the witch demands that Neville give her his pet monkey, one of the only possessions he has left. The witch has no idea how bad the monkey’s behavior is, but before the end of the book - and to Neville’s amusement, she finds out first hand.

Eventually, Yancy’s story and Neville’s tale come together to form a darkly humorous plot that is filled with bizarre situations and satire. Along the way, every character exhibits inappropriate behavior, faces dangerous situations, and gets what they deserve in the end.

Without a doubt, Bad Monkey is a refreshing departure from a typical mystery novel with cardboard cutout characters and rehashed plots. This story moves along quickly and jumps from one absurd situation to the next seamlessly.

For as silly as the book can be, though, it does have some serious messages — even if they have been disguised with humor. First, Bad Monkey practically screams that man’s “development” of Florida’s beautiful wilderness is destroying it. Secondly, the novel demonstrates through character behavior that being greedy or craving anything “in excess” is dangerous and can make you do unbelievable things.

Overall, Bad Monkey is a solid light read and would make a great addition to your winter reading list. It does have a couple of minor plot issues that appear in its conclusion, but they do not detract from the enjoyment of the story.

If you read and like Bad Monkey, you may want to try Star Island, Nature Girl or Double Whammy, also by Carl Hiaasen.

Additionally, if you want to go even more extreme with offbeat humor, consider checking out one of the library’s titles by author Christopher Moore.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a senior library technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, playing the piano and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

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How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting by Mei-Ling Hopgood

My journey to parenthood is different from that of some of my friends and not so different from other friends. As a children’s librarian, I’ve been fascinated by the not-so-traditional books about childhood development, such as Nutureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, and books about kids, such as Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood by Susan Linn.

My husband and I are new parents through adoption. When we started the adoption process, I didn’t want to read many parenting books for fear of jinxing our chances of becoming parents. Once in a while a book would come along and it would pique my interest. Shortly after we brought our daughter home, a friend recommended Mei-Ling Hopgood’s How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting. I wasn’t prepared for what a fun and wild ride I was embarking on with this book.

I was intrigued by Hopgood’s book and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm didn’t disappoint. It has the right amount of information about different countries and cultures without preaching that this or that culture does it so much better. The author also tries out each of the different things she learns with her own daughters its mixed results.

As Hopgood states: “We may or may not adopt what another family in another culture or place does, but we can take comfort in known that there is more than one good way to get a baby to sleep, transport her from place to place, and feed her....[T]here are many ways to be a good parent in the world.” Something all new and established parents need to be reminded of on those worst days.

I found it fascinating to travel around the world with the author learning about Argentinian children who stay up quite late and don’t seem to have some of the sleeping issues I hear about so much from friends. Children in Argentina stay up until midnight, are welcomed at adult parties and even the fanciest restaurants. It’s not unusual for a child to fall asleep on the couch at a friends’ house or while out at a nice restaurant. Then they wake up around 8 a.m. and are off to school without too much fanfare. The author was concerned that this schedule might not be best for her daughter. She consulted experts who said that Americans could stand to be a little less concerned about getting their children on strict sleep schedules. With an eight week old, I decided to try to be more relaxed about getting our daughter to bed at night and it’s made our whole family less stressed.

Most parents want their child to eat well. My husband and I hope to pass on our love of food to our daughter. She may be the only child at school who has Indian food for lunch one day and Thai curry the next. I seriously doubt she’ll be eating quite the same foods the French children eat at school. The French have passed on their great love of good, rich food to their children. There are no kids’ menus in France, the kids eat what is placed in front of them and there isn’t a fight about it. Even at school, kids eat fresh vegetables and exquisitely prepared meals.

Two of my favorite chapters were about Kenyans not using strollers and how the Chinese potty train their children. Kenyan streets will not accommodate a stroller that’s become almost a necessity in the U.S. Most parents of young children don’t think of leaving the house without a stroller. Many new American parents research the best stroller to meet their needs and lifestyle. Instead, Kenyans and many traditional cultures are the masters of baby wearing. They use long pieces of cotton tied into slings to carry their babies, very similar to some of the baby carriers available in the U.S.

The chapter on Chinese potty training was one of the funniest chapters of the book. I had no idea that Chinese split pants even existed. They are how Chinese parents begin to potty train their children at six months old. These pants are literally split in the crotch allowing for children to squat and use the bathroom almost anywhere. (You must look them up!) The pants are very environmentally friendly but are losing their favor for disposable diapers as China becomes more of an industrialized country. Hopgood tries out the pants with some success. I’m intrigued but not sure our house or us are prepared to try them out.

And, how do Eskimos keep their babies warm, you might ask? The traditional Inuit carrier is made from animal skins and the baby is cradled next to it’s mother in a large, furry hood-like compartment. Mothers are able to nurse their babies in this carrier just by moving them from the back to the front.

About the Author

Erica Voell

Erica Voell is the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the Kansas City Public Library. She enjoys gardening, sewing, knitting, seeking out gluten-free vegetarian cuisine around the city - and yes, being a good librarian, she is owned by a cat.

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Join Us at Advocacy Day in Jefferson City! - Rescheduled for March 4th!

Due to the snow this event has been rescheduled for March 4th!

This is an all day trip where you will tour the capitol and meet with your representatives to make REAL CHANGE!

Librarians, library trustees and friends from across Missouri come together for the Missouri Library Association's Advocacy Day to meet with State Representatives and Senators to discuss the importance of all libraries and their contributions to the lives of Missourians.

Food will be provided and we are happy to verify the trip with your school administration.

A completed permission slip is required to attend.

For more information, please email wickthomas@kclibrary.org.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

What holiday coming up is filled with dragon dances, fire-crackers, long-noodles, and gifts of red envelopes filled with money? Chinese New Year! There multiple choices for those who want to celebrate this holiday via the power of books. Here are a few festive options:

According to Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2014 edition, the Year of the Horse begins on January 31st and the New Year's celebration lasts for fifteen days.

The Runaway Wok by Ying Chang Compestine and illustrated by Sebastia Serra. This is a tale of a young boy named Ming and his magical wok. This cooking pan looks rusty and lacks a handle, but it is definitely special. The story has elements that mimic the tales of The Gingerbread Man, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Robin Hood. While the moral obviously warns against greed, the overall tone of the book is joyous. At the end of the book, Compestine writes that people celebrate this holiday, also known as The Spring Festival, in the ways described in the first paragraph of this blog. The author also includes a recipe for stir-fried rice.

On a more serious note, some families are only all together during the Chinese New Year. A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Quiong with pictures by Zhu Cheng-Liang chronicles a young girl’s special time with her father. He travels for work and is only with her and her mother during the New Year Festival. A note at the end tells that, while this particular book is fictional, the situation really exists for millions of Chinese families. Curl up to share this tender story with your loved ones.

Another book, The Race for the Chinese Zodiac, details a myth about how the Chinese zodiac’s twelve-year cycle came to have a particular animal represent each year. Thirteen animals race to cross a river. Winners will earn a year named for them. Twelve animals succeed in reaching the finish line early enough for the heavenly ruler known as the Jade Emperor to reward them. The end of the book details the traits of each animal said to carry onto the children born during a given year. To experience this story that reads like folklore punctuated by watercolor illustrations and Chinese symbols, check out The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang with pictures by Sally Rippin.

May you enjoy this Year of the Horse! May these books help you welcome it. May happiness and prosperity be yours as the moon rotates around the earth yet again.

About the Author

Anna Francesca Garcia is the education librarian for the Kansas City Public Library. She has worked at libraries in Nevada and Missouri for nine years. She earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences from the University of North Texas. As Chinese culture is not one with which she grew up, Anna Francesca is grateful for books, festivals, and food that have helped introduce her to the rich history of China. She shares what she learns with her six-year-old daughter.

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One Step at a Time

A personal memoir carries a glance into American history. Illustrate this story as a graphic novel. When these elements blend, it takes readers back in time. Here, we travel sixty years. We join those central to the Civil Rights movement, watch the sit-ins, and ask ourselves, “Do I have the courage that they did?”

Graphic Novel + Civil Rights History= March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

In this book, Congressman John Lewis tells about his youth, from a rural childhood preaching to chickens to leading a large anti-violence movement against segregation as a young college student. There are also flashes forward to the Million Man March in 2009 when Lewis, now a senior citizen and prominent congressman, prepares to march in the snow. It demonstrates both his role as a community leader and his perseverance. Nothing is going to keep him from acting on his beliefs, including frigid temperatures and snow.

This book is great for starting discussions. Here are a few topics to consider:

1. How did Lewis apply his religious convictions to his actions?
2. What effect did taking the road trip with Uncle Otis have on Lewis’s outlook?
3. When did Lewis meet Martin Luther King, Jr. and why?
4. How did Lewis’s family react to the possible backlash over his activism?
5. What was the point of the sit-ins, and did they work?
6. What were some of the responses of police, judges, and government officials to the insistence that blacks and whites have equal access to public amenities?
7. Do you agree with Thurgood Marshall’s restrained approach or the more direct way that Lewis dealt with issues?

I am curious about what March: Book Two will include. This story, aside from the flashes forward ends in 1960. Of course, the real history stretches far beyond this. Of course I can read more about the Civil Rights movement on my own, but I would like to see how Lewis and Aydin tell it and how Powell puts it to pictures. You can bet that, when we have the book available at the Library, I will be on the hold list. I hope to be in that line with many of you.

About the Author

Anna Francesca Garcia is the education librarian for the Kansas City Public Library. She has worked at libraries in Nevada and Missouri for nine years. She earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences from the University of North Texas five years ago. In learning about her Jewish heritage, Anna grew up hearing how Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., and admires the bravery Heschel showed in standing by his brothers. While Anna’s six-year-old daughter knows about Martin Luther King, Jr., Anna is using books to teach her that many more people worked to bring about racial equality, and there is still more to do.

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A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

After a rather heavy 2013, full of some imposing works of biography, I thought it would be good to relax in 2014. And so, we’ll look at mystery novels this year.

Mystery novels can be divided into three broad areas:

  1. Cozy (little blood and lots of ratiocination), sometimes called the “classic” or the “English manor house.”
  2. Hard-boiled (PIs, dangerous dames, and a violent world).
  3. Police procedurals (the machinery of detection in action).

Over the course of the year, I’ll be looking at 4 examples of each.

To begin, I think we have to look at Sherlock Holmes, the great granddaddy of the cozy mystery, and a figure that each generation seems to need to revisit (most recently in Jeremy Brett’s TV and Robert Downey, Jr.’s film portrayals, as well as Benedict Cumberbach’s [Sherlock] and Jonny Lee Miller’s [Elementary] updated TV portrayals [depicting a new Holmes for the 21st c.], as well as numerous recreations in print [see especially Laurie King’s novels of the retired Holmes and Mary Russell, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice]).

Doyle did not invent the detective story (that honor goes to Edgar Allen Poe and his detective, C. Auguste Dupin) or the mystery novel (that honor is generally given to Wilkie Collins and his novel, The Moonstone), but he did establish something of a template in his stories of the brilliant, but quirky, Holmes, and in stories of detection narrated by a less brilliant friend, in this case Dr. John H. Watson, M.D. (NOTE: most of the Conan Doyle Holmes stories are narrated by Watson, but a few late stories are narrated by Holmes himself, and one [“The Last Bow”] is told in the 3rd person).

Doyle first introduced the character in the novel, A Study in Scarlet, which first appeared in the Beeton’s Christmas Annual (1887). Doyle was fortunate to have Sidney Paget as illustrator for the stories, and I heartily recommend you approach the work (or any of the Holmes canon) by checking out The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, ed. by William Baring-Gould, which features the Paget illustrations as well as lots of great marginalia about the Victorian world, information about historical and cultural references which needed no explanation in their day, but which are often lost on us now.

In A Study in Scarlet, we have two mysteries to consider:

  1. Who has killed Enoch Drebber, a wealthy American traveling in Europe (also how was he killed and why)?
  2. Who is Sherlock Holmes?

The novel is written (as are the other 3 novels, and most of the stories) from the perspective of Dr. Watson, an army surgeon, returned to London to recover from wounds sustained in the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880). And if Holmes is trying to solve the murder of Drebber, Watson is equally determined to figure out his mysterious flatmate.

At one point in the novel, Watson puts together a list of strengths and weaknesses in Holmes’ knowledge base. The areas where Holmes is deficient include literature, philosophy, and astronomy. Holmes, for instance, does not know, or care, that the earth revolves around the sun, and when Watson tells him this is so, Holmes swears that he will soon forget it. Holmes compares his brain to an attic—a neat attic with only necessary items is to be preferred to one cluttered and full of all sorts of unnecessary junk. The solar system and the recent discovery of Uranus are useless for solving crimes, and so, they take no place in Holmes’ attic. Chemistry, biology, the law, and other useful areas, are quite well known by Holmes, who, we also find out, has written a monograph on different types of cigar ash.

Holmes was based on a medical professor Doyle studied under at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell apparently amazed his students with his ability to both see and observe, and he encouraged the students to enhance their abilities in observation.

This novel is not the best of the Holmes’ canon. Holmes generally shines best in the short stories, especially those contained in the collections, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is only in a little less than half of the novel. The second half of this novel is given to narration by the killer as he explains why he killed Drebber. But the novel does give us a glimpse of that “historic” moment when Watson first met Holmes, and, for that, it is well worth a look.

I would also recommend that anyone taking up any sustained reading of Holmes stories visit the site of the Baker Street Irregulars. This group, founded in 1934 by Christopher Morley, meets annually in New York City and provides a wealth of information for anyone wishing to “play the game” (treating the Holmes stories as if referring to a real person, and trying to resolve differences in the stories).

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams

When I was in high school, I went to see the Broadway musical, 1776, then playing at the Wilbur Theater on Boylston Street in Boston. The musical number I found most affecting was the love duet between John and Abigail Adams entitled “Yours, Yours, Yours” – you can see the video clip of that scene from the film on YouTube.

Set up as an exchange of letters between John Adams and his wife, the number is loosely based on some of the correspondence between the two in the year 1776. John, a delegate at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, maintained a regular correspondence with his wife, Abigail, who was not happy with, but had gotten used to, his long absences on the business of the emerging nation. A sucker for songs of absence, I was especially moved by this number, and that number, more than anything else in the show, really brought home to me the power of words and letters.

Recalling that number years later, when I was getting married for the first time, I had hoped to find some beautiful letter from John to Abigail, or vice versa, to include among the readings at the wedding. Patti and I were eager to avoid having only biblical readings in our service. There was no Internet at the time, and the Chicago Public Library did not have much of the correspondence of John Adams, and what little I could find – well, let’s just say it was not particularly romantic.

Well, jump ahead another 30 years, and I still find myself fascinated with the correspondence between John Adams and his lady. I remember when My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams came out (in 2007) that I wanted to be sure to read the book. It is not the first collection of the correspondence between the Adamses. There is the collection of the complete correspondence of John Adams, which numbers over 100 volumes – John was a man who liked to debate ideas, and who knew the most powerful and influential people of his day, so there are many and weighty letters on all sorts of subject, but primarily of a philosophical and political bent. There have been three collections of selected letters between Adams and his wife, the first edited by Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams, which came out in 1876 in honor of the country’s centennial, the second edited by Lyman Butterfield, who oversaw the editing of the complete correspondence, and this current volume. This collection contains 289 letters covering the entirety of the relationship between John and Abigail (1762-1818), and it retains the original spelling (neither Adams was known for uniform spelling – the concept as we now have it did not yet exist). Joseph Ellis, in a brief introduction, says this about the edition: “This selection is the most judicious, most revealing, and most comprehensive ever published.” As it covers the entire period of their relationship, this is the most complete selection of letters.

And the letters are quite revealing. The patient Abigail is often trying to calm down her rather thin-skinned husband (for a man who made his life in politics, John is a strangely sensitive and impatient man). In the letters after 1796, both she and he share all sorts of negative comments about Thomas Jefferson, whom they had considered a friend, but who was far too partisan a politician for the Adamses. And as is fitting for a New England couple of the 18th c., the Adamses are very much convinced of the rightness of their attitude and their actions which leads to a certain rigidity.

The letters show great tenderness when it is called for – enduring one pregnancy alone, Abigail has premonitions about a miscarriage and has to endure the joys turned sorrow when those premonitions prove true. In her letters to John, we can see her great strength in enduring the sorrow, but also her vulnerability, while John’s letters show him most sympathetic to the signals his wife is sending, and responding accordingly. As we now live in a world of instant communication, it is common to maintain an epistolary conversation, but in 18th c. America, you could not count on your letter getting to its destination—this was especially true during the war—and it be weeks or months before a question was answered. And as they could not count on their correspondent receiving their letters in a timely manner, the letters often had the form of essays on various topics and were often quite reflective in nature, and were not focused so much on particulars that required prompt replies.

For the most part, John and Abigail, though very much a loving couple, were not a demonstrative couple – there are no poetic flights of fancy here (which is why I searched in vain all those years ago for the letter that would fit a wedding service). But we have a true marriage of equals here, at a time when that could not be said of many couples. Abigail uses her pen to advocate for greater rights for women in the new Republic (“Remember the ladies” she admonishes him), a request that John politely hears, but on which he does not act (it is 1776, after all).

But for all the judiciousness of their selection, I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the lack of annotation in the book. Both Adamses mention a lot of names in their letters, and having some annotation as to who those named are would make for a better reading experience. For what makes these letters especially valuable is that we have two people at the highest levels of influence in Revolutionary America, but that value is lost if the general reader (the intended audience of this collection) doesn’t know many of the names.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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We Are the World

Can You Say Peace? by Karen Katz.
Using her trademark style, Katz creates colorful children. They have typical physical characteristics for people from a number of cultures, and facing pages feature scenes depicting their home countries. Each page says the name (which would be a typical one for the features part of the world) of the character and the child’s country of origin. Under the child, Katz writes the word for “Peace” in the language of the country. She also shows how to say the word. At the end of the book, there is a page that states the languages featured and also lists other terms for “Peace.” This colorful book does not offend since each child lives in the featured country instead of being its sole representative. It is a warm read for young kids and their caregivers to share.

I Am the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
This book features beautiful photographs of children and teenagers. Each represents what appears to be his or her culture. There is pride in each heritage without in any way diminishing the others. At the end, a glossary identifies all of the cultural terms and their countries of origin. Although more realistic than Katz’s book, this text is straight-forward enough to make sense to preschool children and to work well with elementary-aged kids, too. The message is clear and encouraging.

One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley
This book also features photographs, although they come from the cameras of many National Geographic professionals. The book itself chronicles a day from waking to sleeping which details coming from all around the world. As different as some of the experiences are, the text flows seamlessly. It is at a level that people aged 3 and up will understand and enjoy. For older readers, there is a detailed description of each photograph, including its location and context.

Both Can You Say Peace? and One World, One Day feature world maps at the end with the locations featured highlighted. I am the World instead has a variety of maps on its end papers. These books all show that multiculturalism is about celebrating what makes us unique while also appreciating the ways that we are the same. I love how Barbara Kerley put it in her letter at the end of One World, One Day: “The more that we can embrace our commonality, the more tolerant we can be of our differences.”

About the Author

Anna Francesca Garcia is the education librarian for the Kansas City Public Library. She has worked at libraries in Nevada and Missouri for nine years. She earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences from the University of North Texas. Learning French, Hebrew, and Spanish have opened worlds to her that she never would have imagined before. Merci, todah, gracias, and thank you for reading this.

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