I had many favorite cartoons growing up as a kid… Actually, I still do!

One of my favorites was the short lived, Sheep in the Big City, created by Mo Willems. Even though his first solo show, only lasted for two seasons, Mr. Willems has many other strong credits to his name that include television shows, Codename: Kids Next Door, Sesame Street, and for those watching cartoons in the 90’s, KaBlam! Mo Willems has since then, also created a line of hilarious easy reader children’s book that guarantee to make you laugh. Below are some of my favorite easy reads from Mr. Mo Willems, hilarity and lessons in all.

Pigs Make Me Sneeze! is a funny tale about two friends Gerald the Elephant and Piggie, and Gerald can’t stop sneezing! Gerald sneezes so much that he begins to think it’s his friend Piggie that’s the cause! Good thing for Doctor Cat, maybe he can help Elephant figure what is really wrong…
Quick paced, but a fun read, Pigs Make Me Sneeze! could easily become one of your favorite books. Smart because it teaches children to consider other possibilities and wise because it shows why we should not always jump to conclusions.

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? is another easy reader about Duck and Pigeon. Duck gets a cookie with nuts, just for asking politely! Pigeon is mad because he always asks for things and never gets them. Pigeon doesn’t ask very politely though. He asks to drive buses, he asks for hot dog parties, and to stay up late! But alas, nothing… Pigeon thinks ducklings get everything! Pigeon isn’t very happy with Duck, until Duck gives Pigeon that same cookie and realizes that his original feelings were maybe misguided and emotionally charged. This a great book for children who are learning the positive effects of manners, kindness and possibly an eye opener for children who are dealing with youth envy either amongst siblings or friends and classmates.

Mo Willems presents: That is NOT a Good Idea! is an amusing tale starring Hungry Fox and Plump Goose. Hungry Fox knowingly tries to trick Plump Goose into coming to his house and getting into his hot soup! With the hilarious Baby Geese as our voices of reason, they help connect and guide us through this Fox’s slick trickery, and Goose’s seemingly hopeful naivety. Though of course, things are not always as they seem… This is NOT a Good Idea! is a good book that could help segue into a discussion about following your gut and paying attention to the clues and signs around you. Full of thrills, drama, and dinner, This is NOT a Good Idea! By Mo Willems is a good idea and side splitting fun for young ones who want to laugh out loud when they read.

About the Author

Shaun Teamer

Shaun Teamer is a creator and storyteller. He enjoys drawing, reading, animating and shooting videos. Shaun is currently a youth associate at the Kansas City Central Library and a big fan of oatmeal raisin cookies.

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest

How many individuals choose to explore the unknown? One former United States President looking for adventure braved weather, insects, and illness while doing this very thing.

Kansas City author Candice Millard in The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey provides an intimate look at the expedition Roosevelt took in 1914 on the River of Doubt (since renamed Roosevelt River) in Brazil. After losing the 1912 Presidential election to Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt went home to New York to lick his wounds. He did not want to think his life of service had ended. Also, his drive to explore and be outdoors after his days of ranching in the Dakotas and hunting in Africa had never left him.

An invitation for a series of speaking engagements in South America led the former president to investigate the possibility of engaging his passion for natural history by going down the unexplored River of Doubt in the Amazon rain forest. With assistance from the American Museum of Natural History, a trip with Roosevelt leading took shape to venture down this tributary to the Amazon. Both Americans and Brazilians joined this expedition, including Roosevelt’s son Kermit. Equipment and supplies were collected and the group set out on their journey.

To reach the start of the river, the men and their gear traveled on land for hundreds of miles. By the time they reached the river, several men left to explore other rivers as it had become apparent that supplies would be in short supply for those on the River of Doubt.

A trip through the Amazon rain forest meant thick vegetation, unknown animals and natives, and plenty of biting insects. Roosevelt and his men also encountered heavy rapids that caused long portages through dense underbrush.

The trip went slowly as river hazards and other difficulties came up. Several times boats were lost to the rapids and needed to be replaced. Their food provisions had to be rationed to make them last for the entire trip. They found little to eat along the way even with the forest and river. The constant presence of mosquitoes caused most of the men to suffer malaria. The trip had a murder and the drowning of another member. The expedition endured its worst setback when Roosevelt suffered a minor leg injury while working to free a canoe from the rapids. This injury became infected and the former President nearly died. The party spent the rest of their time on the river working to relieve his suffering. Their food supplies continued to dwindle.

Beaten down with hunger and disease, the group met up with some rubber tappers. Once assured the Roosevelt’s party had peaceful intentions, these tappers provided food, better canoes, and their knowledge of the river. They guided the men to a junction of the River of Doubt where Roosevelt’s men met a relief party. Their journey came to an end without going all the way on the river. Once home, Roosevelt faced detractors who said he did not make the trip that he did. To the end of his life, he fought for recognition of his Brazilian adventure. His leg injury cut short his life as he never fully recovered from it. However, Theodore Roosevelt got his grand adventure leaving him with tales that rivaled those from Africa and the Dakotas.

I enjoyed this tale of hair raising adventure. The suffering of Roosevelt and his perseverance despite it, moved me. I don’t know that I enjoyed all the encounters with insects, but the story held my attention throughout the book. For a different view of a former politician this is a good read. Prepare to be inspired and awed at the same time.

About the Author

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

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook   Kansas City Public Library on Twitter   Kansas City Public Library on Flickr   Kansas City Public Library on YouTube   Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest   KC Unbound RSS feed

Most of us are familiar with Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic suspense film about a timid serial killer who “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” but have you ever read Robert Bloch’s dark novel by the same name which inspired the legendary screen gem?

First released in 1959, the Psycho story really began in November 1957. Robert Bloch was living in the small town of Weyauwega, Wisconsin, approximately 35 miles from Plainfield, Wisconsin — a place where a horrific scene was about to be exposed.

It was there that police were beginning to search the farm of lifelong resident, shy handyman, and somewhat odd character Ed Gein after a local woman was reported missing. A thin-air hunch led officers to Gein and his farm, but they were not prepared for the complete horror of what they found.

Not only was the missing woman found dead in his shed, but body parts from at least 15 other women were located on his property. Further inspection of his home uncovered dishes, furniture, lamps, clothes, and other items made from human skin and bone. Even more demented, they discovered a “female jumpsuit” Gein had made for himself from human skin.

As the magnitude of the crimes unfolded, officials learned that Gein had been stealing the bodies of female corpses from fresh graves for years, including his own mother, who was a dominating, religious woman in life. Eventually, Gein was convicted of murdering two women and declared insane.

Upon hearing about the nearby news, Robert Bloch became intrigued with the thought that in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, this quiet neighbor down the road turned out to be a monster who was never suspected of “killing a fly” or anything else. Better yet, it gave Bloch an idea — an idea that turned into the story of a loner named Norman Bates who ran the quiet and peaceful Bates Motel.

Psycho is a quick read, roughly 200 pages, and is cleverly written. Like the movie, it doesn’t give away until the last pages whether Norman Bates’ mother is really dead or alive. This would have made reading Psycho at the time of its initial release a fun, suspenseful ride.

As far as comparing the book to the movie, there are many similarities between the two, but there are also several differences. In the novel, Norman Bates does not look like the thin, brooding Anthony Perkins. He is middle-aged, overweight, and wears glasses. This gives the written story a slightly different dimension than the movie, but it works well for Bloch’s twisted tale.

Besides Psycho, Bloch wrote more than 30 books, hundreds of short stories, many screenplays and more during his long career. Two of his other books include Psycho II and Psycho House, but neither one was well received or had the sinister appeal of the original Psycho.

Additionally, Bloch wrote for several television shows including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I Spy, and Night Gallery. He also wrote three episodes of the original Star Trek series. Bloch died in 1994 after a battle with cancer.

If you would like to read Psycho, it is available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library. Also available is The Bad Seed by William March, another classic and disturbing novel about a child serial killer that was written during the same era as Psycho. Both are great selections if you are looking for a creepy read during this spooky Halloween season.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian 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, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook   Kansas City Public Library on Twitter   Kansas City Public Library on Flickr   Kansas City Public Library on YouTube   Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest   KC Unbound RSS feed

Most of us have enjoyed a reality show from time to time. My personal summer favorite is So You Think You Can Dance. When we’re watching reality shows, it’s so easy to forget there are real people with real lives that go on after the lights have dimmed and the cameras have been turned off.

All of what we’ve seen on reality shows has been edited to fulfill the producers’ vision of the show. In Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King’s addictive new book Reality Boy, Gerald Faust and his family have lived with the aftermath of their time on the fake reality show, Network Nanny.

It’s been 10 years since Gerald and his family were on the reality show and he’s never been able to outgrow the nickname “The Crapper” from the behavior that gained him notoriety on the show. The family was on the show after his mother sent a letter pleading for help with six-year-old Gerald’s violent outbursts.

Gerald, now 16, is unable to deal with his anger issues, has no friends and is bullied at school. His parents don’t understand why he and his sister are fighting as much as they did when they were younger. Anyone with siblings knows how bad the fights can be but Gerald and his sister’s fights go beyond normal sibling rivalry.

He feels as if he lives his life wrapped in plastic wrap. To save himself from real life, he's learned to escape into Gersday, a day where there is always ice cream and bright, lovely people. Lately, it’s easier to space out and be in Gersday than to deal with reality.

In the evenings and on weekends, he works at the local coliseum wrapping hot dogs as a concessions cashier. Working several registers away from him, Hannah catches his eye, but he can’t imagine that anyone would consider dating “The Crapper.”

Flashbacks of scenes from Network Nanny are interspersed with Gerald’s present day story. As the episodes unfold, we begin to learn along with Gerald that life inside their house was not all that the parents and the nanny thought it was. It’s a true testament of how some parents wear blinders and only see what they want to see in their children.

With the popularity of reality shows and memoirs, I’m sure in several years we’re reading the memoir of a child who was on one of the popular family reality shows. The memoirs of one of the Gosselin and Duggar children could be appearing on book shelves in the future about what life was really like on the show and their return to “normal” lives after the shows ended.

With Reality Boy, A.S. King has once again proven she is a true master of young adult magical realism with compassion. It’s easy to form a strong connection with her characters. They may be troubled but they don’t want pity nor do they flaunt it, they want what every teenager wants understanding and love. I’ve noticed that I miss the narrator after I've closed the book, and need quiet time afterwards to sit and think before diving into another book because no matter how good it may be it just won't measure up.

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.

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest    KC Unbound RSS feed

Looking for some chills and thrills this month? We have some suggestions for you!

Our staff here at The Kansas City Public Library has picked some of their Halloween favorites. This diverse list includes a little of everything: children's picture books, graphic novels, classic Lovecraft, and modern Horror literature.

Do you have a favorite scary story? Please share it in the comments below!

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

"As the original master of horror, Lovecraft has so thoroughly influenced the genre that the themes and elements of his stories may seem familiar to readers even if they’ve never before paged through any of the author’s works. While Lovecraft’s writing style tends to be a tad verbose (why only spend a few words describing the slimy fishflesh of leviathan god-beasts when you can do it in lengthy paragraphs?), the mythology he created set the bar for tales of mystery and monsters in such a way that “Lovecraftian” has become the de facto term for a certain type of fiction. Lovecraft’s terrifying visions have earned him fans such as writer Stephen King, who called the author “The Twentieth Century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale,” and visual artist H.R. Gieger, designer of the titular creature in the Alien movies. Nearly a century after they were written, Lovecraft’s stories—and the dark creations that inhabit them—still exude an eerie, visceral menace." - Andy, Senior Graphic Designer

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

In Joe Hill's debut novel, aging heavy metal star Judas Coyne is a collector of the morbid, macabre, and strange—until he purchases a dead man's suit online, supposedly possessed by the man's ghost. Only it turns out to be real. From there Heart-Shaped Box rapidly descends into a terrifying and relentless story that does not let the reader catch their breath until the very end. Suggested by Kaite, Director of Reader's Services. Joe Hill's most recent novel NOS4A2 was also highly recommended by Suzanne in Public Affairs!

The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators by Gordon Grice (non-fiction)

"In The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators an enthusiastic rattlesnake-eater describes the taste as having 'a wild richness.' The same could be said of Grice’s book: it is wild—even exotic—because the subjects are so unknown and the events described so thrilling. Of the deadly recluse spider, Grice writes, 'we understand almost nothing about the venom and its attendant array of human suffering.' More is known of the black widow spider and Grice’s captivating tale contains personal narrative and a trove of history, including an account of a Dr. Blair’s 1933 experiment in which he provoked a black widow into biting him for ten minutes. Horrific pain lasted for days. Grice’s writing is rich in gripping detail. He rears the widow, recluse, tarantula and others in terraria and has observed them closely. Grice knows and tells their previously unknown lives." - Jill, Customer Service

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, et al.

Equal parts con-man and occult magician, John Constantine, originally created by author Alan Moore as a supporting character in Swamp Thing in the 1980s, is one of the most unrepentant antiheroes in the world of graphic novels/comic books. Hellblazer, the DC/Vertigo title based around him, is a gritty, adult horror comic that consistently pushed boundaries over its 25 years of publication, from writer Jamie Delano's British political commentary, to Garth Ennis' more introspective stories. My personal pick from the series would be the Dangerous Habits story arc, in which Constantine attempts to trick the devil to escape his impending death from lung cancer. (Just forget about the Keanu Reeves film adaptation.) -Liesl, Public Affairs

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

A spine-chilling werewolf novel written entirely in verse. It sounds crazy, but it works. As Kaite, our Director of Reader's Services, wrote in her Booklist review of Sharp Teeth, it's "spicy as a taco, as relentless as the pounding surf, and as lulling as a moon-drenched beach, Barlow's hip werewolf saga is highly recommended for adults and YAs who just don't get all the fuss about Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series."

We have some selections for younger audiences as well:

Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine

"R.L. Stine’s Stay Out of the Basement from his series Goosebumps, transforms everyday plants into frightening experiments gone wrong. Stine easily scares readers to stay out of basements of botanists forever and avoid unusual green food." -Skyler, Public Affairs

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac

"This book is creepy-scary. Molly's parents didn't come home one evening and when Social Services gets wind of her situation, they place Molly with a creepy man who claims to be her great uncle even though she's never heard of such a relative before. Molly's story is framed by the Mohawk myth that her father used to tell her about a skeleton man." -Jamie, Central Youth Services Manager

The Hallo-wiener by Dav Pilkey

"What Halloween picture book focuses on the serious topic of bullying and stars an adorable dachshund? That’s Dav Pilkey’s The Hallo-wiener! Pilkey’s story centers on Oscar, a dog whose peers tease him and whose mama inadvertently makes matters worse. When mean cats wreak havoc on Halloween, though, Oscar’s diminutive height and embarrassing hotdog costume save the day. The colorful and cartoonish pictures and plentiful puns pack a humorous punch. For preschool or elementary-aged kids who want to laugh while gaining appreciation of their unique traits, this book is a great pick. It also lightens the tone when mixed with more spooky fare." -Anna, Library Outreach

Still hungry for more Horror? Kaite has also contributed to the RA for All: Horror blog, and John Horner, from Missouri Valley Special Collections, originally wrote this poem for the anthology, October Nightmares and Dreams. Happy Halloween!

About the Author

Liesl Christman

Liesl Christman is the Digital Content Specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest    KC Unbound RSS feed

The Education of Henry Adams is, by any reckoning, a peculiar autobiography. It is written in the 3rd person (as if Adams (1838-1918) were writing about someone else and not himself), and Adams fails to include every major event of his life in his work, leaving out twenty whole years (1872-1892), years that included his entire marriage and his wife’s suicide — Adams jumps from 1872, when he recently become a professor in Medieval History (a position Harvard created for Adams), to “Twenty Years Later.” Not only does he leave out whole decades, but he even fails to mention some important matters in those years he does cover. His goal, he says, is to present an extended meditation on his “education,” both the formal education he learned in school, and also what learning he acquired as government functionary, reporter, professor and political hanger-on. He claims repeatedly that such education as he received in school was woefully inadequate for the life he found himself living. His schooling was based on an 18th c. model, which did not prepare him for the challenges he found in late 19th and early 20th c. America.

The world the adult Adams found himself in dismayed him – he felt that his education prepared him for a life of certainties, but the modern world, a world he characterized by reference to the dynamo, was one of constant change, and so the education he received, with its emphasis on the Classics and the Humanities, most appropriate from the Middle Ages through the 18th c., no longer fit, nor could he find any teacher who could ready him for the world in which he lived.

Adams is a great writer, especially great at introspection and at describing that introspection. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this work, fascinated by Adams’ constant “visions and revisions” of his life and the events therein. To a large extent, despite its gaps, this is a work which probably reflects the lived experience of Adams accurately. Even the giant gap of twenty years tells us a lot. In a work on “education,” clearly married life must have played a large role in shaping Adams in the middle of his life; and surely the great anguish of his wife’s suicide must have caused him to reflect, and ultimately to cope with his loss, and that is surely an “education.” But on these subjects, Adams is silent. At no point does he mention a wife, or that he was ever married. At one point he discusses his negotiations with Augustus Saint-Gaudens who sculpted the memorial for the grave site of Marian Hooper Adams. But in discussing the negotiations, he simply refers to the “Adams memorial,” with no mention made of the woman memorialized.

As a liberal arts major in college, I don’t find myself agreeing with Adams’ assessment of his own education, both at Harvard or afterwards. He had been a success serving as his father’s secretary in England during the tense negotiations to keep England neutral in the US Civil War; he was a popular and successful professor at Harvard, despite his personal misgivings; he was a successful historian – his works on the United States during the administrations of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as well as his work on Mont Saint-Michel are considered masterpieces; and he was a popular author in his day, his novel, Democracy, being one of the great political satires of 19th c. America.

And yet, Adams somehow felt that he hadn’t lived up to his potential, and that the schooling he received in school and in the world did not prepare him to realize that potential. Fascinating.

There is an ice-breaking activity that I’ve done in many workshops over the year – people are asked to consider whom they would invite to dinner and share that in a discussion with others. After reading this work, I think Henry Adams has probably risen to the top of my imaginary list.

For those of you interested in the Adams family in general, I would also recommend a 4 DVD series (you can find it in the library) called The Adams Chronicles, which tells the story of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Charles Francis Adams, Henry Adams, and Brooks Adams. It is well worth a viewing.

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.

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest    KC Unbound RSS feed

Looking for some instant literary gratification?

New & Notable, a Kansas City Public Library collection and concept now being piloted at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., features a wide assortment of newly released and best-selling books and some unique features — 14-day checkouts, no holds or renewals — designed to keep the catalog fresh and well-stocked. Readers can pop in, browse the shelves, grab a good read, and pop back out.

It’s a new, quick, and convenient way to use the Library.

“There’s no wait,” says Central Library Director Lillie Brack. “You can come in and find lots of popular titles on the shelves, slip in and out during lunch, or grab a weekend read or two on your way home from work on Friday. There’s little or no standing in line; a self-checkout machine is nearby. And there’s no waiting on holds.”

Update, Nov. 25:

New & Notable is now available at the Plaza Branch, in addition to the Central Library!

The collection, located just inside the Library’s main entrance, houses multiple copies of the latest fiction and nonfiction releases and other sought-after titles, many of them on current bestseller lists. Among current offerings: Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, his long-anticipated sequel to The Shining; James Patterson’s Gone; Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth; and Missourian Daniel Woodrell’s first novel since 2006’s Winter's Bone, the historically based The Maid’s Version.

The offerings augment the Library’s full collection, where the same titles are available via conventional checkout, holds and renewal.

The New & Notable format is available for now only at the Central Library. Plans are underway to extend it to the Plaza Branch by the end of the year and, in time, the collection could be extended to additional Kansas City Public Library locations.

How much information should the public know about a President's health? Should they know if they undergo major surgery? One American leader worked to keep his illness hidden from public view.

Matthew Alpeo in The President is a Sick Man explores a little known fact of American Presidential history. Soon after Grover Cleveland took the oath of office for the second time, he noticed a lesion in his mouth. Doctors who looked at it felt it should be removed as it would likely be cancerous. In 1893, cancer struck fear in everyone, and no one talked about it openly. Former President Ulysses S. Grant died of oral cancer so Cleveland wanted to keep his illness a secret.

The Panic of 1893 had settled over the country. Businesses and railroads were shutting their doors. Another problem swirled around whether gold or silver should back the currency of the United States. Many people were out of work. News of the President's health would only add to the sense of unease.

Cleveland's family doctor assembled a team of medical professionals to perform the surgery. They were sworn to secrecy. No one knew about the operation except one cabinet member. Vice-President Adlai Stevenson knew nothing. The surgery took place on a private yacht while it cruised Long Island Sound from New York to the Cleveland summer home on Cape Cod. It looked as if the President simply enjoyed a very slow, leisurely cruise at the start of his vacation.

No one knew what the President endured. After the surgery, he could hardly talk. He did not appear at any July Fourth celebrations just days after the procedure. When Cleveland got to his summer home, a press release stated that except for a little rheumatism, the President enjoyed excellent health. Reporters did not see or hear from him. Rumors about his health were rampant including one that he had had surgery for cancer. Those reports continued to be denied. For clarification, a press release related that the President had undergone some needed dental work while on the yacht, nothing more. The cabinet remained in the dark about the chief executive and the Vice-President left for a West Coast tour.

Some time after the President had recovered, a newspaper reported learned the true story from a doctor who helped with the operation. This account hit every newspaper in the nation. Once again, Cleveland's associates denied the surgery and claimed the President spent time resting from the strain and burdens of the Presidency. The reporters who broke the story became discredited.

Years after Cleveland's death, one of his surgeons revealed the truth about the President and his surgery to set the historical record straight. It came out into the open what had been a secret for many years. The newspaper reporter received his exoneration for his original article and had his reputation restored. Modern medical technology revealed that the tumor removed from Cleveland's mouth was a very rare form of cancer which does not spread. Since Cleveland, some Presidents have been more open about their medical histories while others have kept health secrets from the American public. No one however will likely go as far as Cleveland did at concealing surgery for a serious medical condition.

For anyone looking for an interesting read about the President, this would be a good choice. It shows a slice of American history at the end of the nineteenth century with the news media at that time. I enjoyed this fast read and recommend it highly.

About the Author

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

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook   Kansas City Public Library on Twitter   Kansas City Public Library on Flickr   Kansas City Public Library on YouTube   Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest   KC Unbound RSS feed

Khaled Hosseini’s newest offering, And The Mountains Echoed, is flying off the shelves at the Kansas City Public Library. Is this because the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns has created yet another haunting literary masterpiece that you won’t be able to stop reading?

After two international megahits, with The Kite Runner spending more than a hundred weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and A Thousand Splendid Suns debuting at #1, Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed is being greeted with high expectations from readers and critics alike.

So how does And The Mountains Echoed, a sweeping novel about family and humanity, rate? The honest answer is somewhere in the middle.

The story begins with Saboor, a poor Afghani farmer from the remote town of Shadbagh, taking his ten-year-old son, Abdullah, and three-year-old daughter, Pari, on a mysterious trip to Kabul to visit their Uncle Nabi, who works for a wealthy gentleman.

Since the loss of their mother, Abdullah has become Pari’s main caregiver, and the two children are never apart. Abdullah is curious about their trip, but not necessarily frightened. However, the closer they get to Kabul, the more ominous the journey feels — and for good reason. The two motherless siblings are about to be separated, quite possibly for life.

From there, the book digs in and not only unfolds the fate of Abdullah and Pari, but the touching and occasionally unexpected destinies of generations of their extended family. The power of sibling bonds along with morality, betrayal, honor and sacrifice reverberate off every page as major themes.

And The Mountains Echoed does give us many recognizable Hosseini writing trademarks with the crux of the novel happening in Afghanistan. The storytelling is solid, the characters are haunting, and the plot tugs at your emotions.

What’s different about And The Mountains Echoed is that it feels so much more layered than Hosseini’s prior works — sometimes to the point that the narrative fights itself. Overall, it tries too hard to present itself as an “epic saga” rather than letting go and allowing the effortless beauty of Hosseini’s words guide the reader naturally.

Also, the novel feels a bit splintered. So many characters and secondary plots are introduced during various time periods and in different settings throughout the chapters, that the reader has to consciously stop during several points and think — just to keep everything straight. Unfortunately, these interruptions do take some of the emotional punch out of the plot.

Eventually, Hosseini does bring all the different elements together in And The Mountains Echoed — like an intricately woven spider web. The reader learns the fate of the characters and finally understands how everything and everyone threads together, but even so, this complex story leaves your mind and emotions feeling a bit tangled at the end.

As for the title for the book, And The Mountains Echoed is partly derived from William Blake’s poem, Nurse's Song (Innocence), with an opening stanza that reads:

When voices of children are heard on the green

And laughing is heard on the hill,

My heart is at rest within my breast

And everything else is still

Have you read And The Mountains Echoed yet? If so, leave a comment and let other readers know your thoughts about the book, or if you would like to reserve a copy and have it delivered to your closest Kansas City Public Library branch, simply place a hold on the item through our online catalog.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian 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, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook   Kansas City Public Library on Twitter   Kansas City Public Library on Flickr   Kansas City Public Library on YouTube   Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest   KC Unbound RSS feed

Elizabeth Wein first introduced a new generation to World War II in her historical young adult novel, Code Name Verity, one of my top books of 2012. We meet “Verity” after her plane has crashed and she’s being held hostage in a hotel by the Nazis during the German occupation of France during World War II. To save herself, she’s willing to give up wireless codes.

Maddie, the pilot of the plane that crashed, is presumed dead from the photos that the Nazis have shown “Verity.” Through “Verity’s” confession, we learn more about how she came to be a hostage, we learn of the women who were part of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and her unlikely friendship with Maddie.

With so many plot twists and turns, giving a full description of the story would give too much away. I dare not reveal too much for fear of ruining the surprises for others. (The audiobook is also worth seeking out.)

Rose Under Fire, published on September 10, 2013, picks up a year after Code Name Verity leaves off. It's August 1944, Rose Justice grew up in Pennsylvania flying planes from a young age. She is now an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot and is flying Allied planes from Britain to points in Europe during the War.

The men and women at the airfield exchange stories of pilots who were able to tip flying bombs as known as "toppling Doodlebugs." When a woman pilot is killed others suspect her of trying to tip a flying bomb away from its target.

Rose loves flying and she takes her job very seriously. On a mission to France to transport an Allied plane back to England her fate is forever changed when she encounters a flying bomb and disappears.

Six months later she is in a Paris Ritz hotel room unable to leave the room, get dressed or eat, able only to write of her whereabouts for those long months. Through her journal, she writes of her days at Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in Germany. After a nauseating ride in the back of a truck to the camp, Rose meets Elodie Fabert, a member of the French Resistance who has been transferred from another camp. In those first hours, Elodie and Rose bond and though physically separated at the camp they manage to communicate through their own unique ways.

As Rose is transferred to different blocks at the camp, she meets a number of remarkable fellow prisoners: Róża, one of the many women known as Rabbits who were subjected to Nazi medical experiments; Irena, a former Soviet pilot; and Lisette, a popular French novelist whose husband was Jewish. Her entire family had been shot. During the long, horrific days at the camp, Rose is assigned to such jobs as making bomb parts and clearing corpses. She copes by writing poems and songs, and is determined to learn the name and tell the story of every Rabbit.

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.

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest    KC Unbound RSS feed

Unlike the other biographies we’ve looked at this year (Roper’s Life of More, Cavendish’s Life of Cardinal Wolsey, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson), Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians is a work marked by distance seen through the fresh eyes of a new generation. Roper, Cavendish and Boswell were all writing of their contemporaries, and of contemporaries for whom they cared deeply. Strachey’s examination of four major figures from the Victorian era is quite different.

Writing in 1918, knowing the depredations of WWI, and with the skepticism the war inspired in a whole generation of authors, Strachey looked with a critical eye upon the figures many English had lionized (and still lionized in Strachey’s day) as among the best of England, during the Golden Era they imagined took place under Queen Victoria.

In this volume, Strachey wrote short biographies of four figures: Cardinal Henry Manning, Miss Florence Nightingale, Dr. Thomas Arnold and General Charles Gordon. In the case of Manning, he saw a man whose actions belied the great reputation he had among Anglo-Catholics. In the case of Florence Nightingale, he saw a tireless reformer who almost single-handedly reformed medical practice in British army hospitals, but whose zeal was too often tough on those around her. In the case of Dr. Arnold, he saw a man who was able to change the tone of English Public Schools, but who was unable and unwilling to move the education in them past the Latin and Greek classics that had long been the basis of Public School education. And in the case of Gen. Gordon, he saw a man of contrary aspects in one person, a man of great personal piety, but also a man with a great ego, convinced of his own destiny, a conviction that led to his death at Khartoum and the fame that came with that end.

Manning was one of the great Anglican churchmen who made up the Oxford Movement and who, after some time as a clergyman in the Anglican Church converted to Roman Catholicism. During much of his life, he stood in the shadow of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the leading scholar of the Oxford Movement (we looked at Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua in January, a shadow to which he is once again relegated. Unlike Newman, Manning had greater influence in Rome, where it was felt that Newman was too intellectual. Manning was a close ally of Pope Pius IX (Pio Nino), who called the First Vatican Council in 1868, at which council the matter of papal infallibility was discussed. Strachey sees Manning as motivated by jealousy of Newman, taking steps to ensure that Newman’s advancement in the Church was delayed and his initiatives blocked. While not doubting Manning’s sincerity, or ability, Strachey saw this jealousy and politicking unbecoming in a churchman. He does admit that Manning saw his drive for advancement as problematic, quoting him: “I do feel pleasure … in honour, precedence, elevation, the society of great people, and all this is shameful and mean.”

In the case of Florence Nightingale, the founding mother of modern nursing, who worked tirelessly for more professional behavior on the part of nurses and doctors in the military hospitals, and for greater hygiene in those establishments, Strachey sees someone whose story is much more nuanced than the hagiographic image the Victorians and later generations had of her as a medical angel. In telling her story, Strachey often contrasts her own vigor and strict sense of professional ethics with those of the doctors and politicians with whom she had to deal. Given Victorian mores, it was impossible for her to make her views known and acted upon without the help of a sympathetic man. While finding that sexism abhorrent, Strachey also notes that, in her zeal for reform, she managed to drive her chief ally, Sidney Herbert, into an early grave.

In Thomas Arnold, another reformer, Strachey emphasizes opportunity missed. Dr. Arnold is most famous as the headmaster of Rugby school, lionized as such in Thomas Hughes’ novel, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. His accomplishment was truly tremendous. The British Public School at the turn of the 19th c. was nothing as we imagine it today. The masters ran the schools in a tyrannical manner, and the boys exhibited a wildness that seemed to justify that tyranny. Dr. Arnold normalized a system, whereby the elder boys in the school served as models and correctors of the younger boys, and the headmaster, removed from much contact with the lower grades, worked with the school leaders to set and maintain a high tone in behavior and morals. In almost single-handedly transforming English public school governance, Arnold is a figure to be admired, but Strachey is quite emphatic that Arnold failed to see the greater revolution in education he might have led. The course of studies at Arnold’s school remained quite conservative, relying almost entirely on the Greek and Roman classics and the Bible, which meant that the young men who would become Britain’s leaders in the late 19th c. would remain ignorant in many areas – this is the same failing that American Henry Adams found in his own schooling in Massachusetts at the same time, as discussed in The Education of Henry Adams.

Charles Gordon, the last subject in this collection, offered a strange dichotomy. Here was a man of strong Christian faith, who could often be seen reading or studying the Bible, but he was also a man whose big ego and conviction of personal destiny put him at odds with his superiors and ended in his death at Khartoum. In writing about Gordon’s life, Strachey is quick to point out that Gordon was a much more principled and intelligent man than many of the men in government commanding him; Strachey concludes the narrative of Gordon’s life by noting that the superior whom Gordon despised, won a knighthood. But he is also quick to point out that Gordon was very difficult to work with, and that his own uncompromising attitude may have contributed to the worsening situation in Sudan that led to his death at Khartoum. Strachey finds it strangely ironic that public opinion got Gordon his position in Sudan, and gave him the sense that he could ignore policy decisions by the government, and that, after his death, the same public opinion lionized the heroic Gordon who died at Khartoum. It is clear that Strachey feels that much of the suffering in the Sudan might have been avoided, and that Gordon might not have died at Khartoum, had this perfect storm of public adulation and personal ego not created the image of Gordon the hero, whose tragic death helped solidify that image.

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.

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest    KC Unbound RSS feed

September is upon us and fall is fast approaching, even if it doesn't feel like it outside. And being September, it means that we are overdue for another Staff Picks blog!

We have a little bit of everything with our picks this time around — Award-winning Science Fiction, True Crime, Modern Classics, and even Picture Books for our younger readers out there. These titles were all enjoyed by our staff, so why not give one a try?

Have you read something else lately you'd like to recommend to others? Feel free to add your own picks in the comments below!


True Grit by Charles Portis

We'd be remiss if we didn't include True Grit in our list of Staff Picks this month. Why? Because it's the focus of our Big Read campaign this September & October! This iconic 1968 Western novel tells the story of 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she seeks retribution for the murder of her father with the assistance of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf. Join the rest of Kansas City in reading this novel and discover why it is considered a modern classic.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi

“I read Redshirts when it came out last year, but given that it just won the Hugo, I figure it’s appropriate. A lot of people think that it won simply because it was so popular – but I believe it won because it truly was the best Science Fiction novel of the year (being popular doesn’t automatically mean that isn’t also an amazing book!) Yes, it's hysterically funny! Yes, it's astoundingly clever and brilliantly satirical! It's all kinds of laudable comedic things! But it amazed me because it's also much more than that. It's very, very smart, genuinely thoughtful, and thought-provoking. It's a no-kidding, real Big Idea story (that's also hilarious satire). I suspect I'm going to re-read this book many more times over the years, and it will always delight!” - John, Digital Branch

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

“Brautigan's book—a perennial bestseller of the hippie era—manages to weave together a novel (well, sort of) from seemingly-unrelated chapters, all incorporating the phrase ‘Trout Fishing in America’ in very different ways. Unfolding both in Brautigan’s childhood and in his adult life in mid-60s San Francisco, this ‘cult’ hit is worth another look.” - Bob, Public Affairs.


Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

“A group of teenagers fall in and out of love with each other, rebel against their elders, and make plans for their adult lives. Except these teens don’t live with their parents, they live in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. An honest, heartwarming, and humorous look at one of society’s most well-hidden groups.”
- Kaite, Reader's Services

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

“Journalist Robert Kolker delves into to the serial murders of of several online prostitutes on Long Island—murders that have yet to be solved. An engrossing narrative, this true-crime book ultimately highlights that even with all the changes that the Internet has brought to the underground world of prostitution, increased safety is not among them, and that victims from this industry still suffer from a lack of attention from investigators.” - Liesl, Public Affairs

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan

A laid-off tech worker takes a graveyard-shift job at an old bookstore, only to discover that there are secrets hidden in its tomes.

“Interesting and thought provoking but still enjoyable. I especially liked the ending. It reminded me of the conclusion of The Rule of Four: disarming for the simple, true human emotion.” – Jill, Customer Service

Little Chicken's Big Day by Katie & Jerry Davis

“Like many parents, Big Chicken is ALWAYS telling Little Chicken what to do. Like many kids, Little Chicken forgets to pay attention sometimes. Little Chicken's day out with his mama takes a scary turn in this sweet, simple picture book that's perfect for the preschool set.” - Melissa, Children's Associate, Plaza Branch


About the Author

Liesl Christman

Liesl Christman is the Digital Content Specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest    KC Unbound RSS feed

Continued from Part 1...

In the 1900 census, I found that John F. Stac[e]y taught in the Chicago school district, and that his wife, Anna, was an artist.

So I started searching the internet, using the terms “Anna L. Stacey,” “artist,” and “Illinois.”

I found that Anna L. Stacey had attended the Art Institute of Chicago, and that she became a highly regarded painter in the Illinois arts community. The online resources about Anna Stacey pretty much matched what I had already found—that she had been born in Missouri and had moved to Kansas City and had studied at the Kansas City Art Association and School of Design, where John Stacey had been one of her teachers. That they had gotten married and then moved to Chicago.

The only thing that didn’t match (other than the “e” in Stacey) was her maiden name. The Illinois information gave it as Dey (in some places listed as Day) rather than Dillenbeck. At first I wondered if perhaps they had just gotten it wrong. Then I wondered if Anna herself, when she began to become an artist of some note, had simply changed the information, perhaps for professional reasons, for the simple reason that Dey is more streamlined than Dillenbeck. In any event, the Dillenbeck part of her personal history seemed to be unknown to the arts community in Illinois.

Then I looked at the copy of her and John’s marriage license with a little more care. Ah. On the form her name is written, not as “Anna L. Dillenbeck,” but as “Mrs. Anna L. Dillenbeck.” So she had been married before. Here in the Midwest, Dillenbeck is not that common of a name. I wondered if Anna had been married to Preston. Or, perhaps one of his male relatives?

I turned to our collection of city directories for Kansas City.

The 1891 directory (which would have been compiled before their marriage) lists John F. Stacey (or, more exactly, as it appeared in the directory, J. Franklin Stacey) as the “Principal” of the Kansas City Art Association and School of Design. (Illinois sources refer to him as the “Director.”) The school was in the Bayard Building at 1212-14 Main (where Stacey may have rented a residential room).

Anna lived in a boarding house at 810 E. 16th. Her occupation was listed as a teacher at the KC Art Association and School of Design. So, although she had been John’s student at one time, when they got married she was his colleague and not his student.

There was also a listing for a second Annie Dillenbeck (no middle initial) in the 1891 directory. This second Annie Dillenbeck lived at 2923 Baltimore Avenue, the same address listed for Preston K. Dillenbeck—as did Rose Dillenbeck (a dressmaker), William H. Dillenbeck, and William H. Dillenbeck, Jr. (who was a clerk at W.J. Long). The older William was Preston’s father.

I wondered if Anna L. Dillenbeck and Annie Dillenbeck might be the same woman. (Both are listed in various documents or directories as both Anna or Annie.) But our Anna and John were not listed in the 1892 directory, while the Annie at Preston’s house was. This other Annie continued to be listed in the city directory, moving after a few years. She eventually ran a book store.

I had started to think that I wouldn’t find anything specific about when Anna and John moved to Chicago. The 1892 Chicago directory I found online does not list them. The only time that I found when they were both listed in the city directory for Kansas City is the already mentioned 1891 edition. Then this morning, as I revise this, I had an idea, and I checked the voter registration lists for 1892. One John Stacey registered to vote in Illinois on October 18, 1892. I was excited, and thought I had our guy ... but the record gives his state of birth as New York, and the census records show Anna’s husband was born in Maine. This disappointed me, because the timing fit my preconceived ideas so nicely. So, the hunt continues on this one.

Tracking down Anna’s first husband took a while, but I finally found the information. Some of the material I found online about Anna’s career after the move to Illinois (particularly at the site for the M. Christine Schwartz Collection) provided the information that she had been born in Glasgow, Missouri. Glasgow is a small town about 30 miles WNW of Columbia, Missouri. In the 2010 census the population was put at just over 1100 people. Though a small town, it is actually in two counties—Howard on the south tip and Chariton to the north.

Anna grew up in the Howard County part of Glasgow. We may never know how she and her first husband met—she may have moved to Kansas City when she came of age. In any event, at some point she and her first husband met, and, on July 17, 1886, they went to Fayette, Howard County’s county seat, and filed for a marriage license. The clerk wrote down the groom’s initials as B.K., instead of P.K., but got Preston’s place of residence as Kansas City.

Click for full size (PDF)

Anna and Preston got married July 28, 1886.

So far I haven’t been able to find when they got divorced, or where, or why. I do know that in less than six years after they married they had divorced and each had gotten married to a second spouse.

Both appear to have made better second marriages.

Preston taught at Kentucky University (what is now Transylvania University) during 1890-1892. (My thanks to Nancy DeMarcus and B.J. Gooch, librarians at the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University respectively, for their help in verifying this.) Anna and John got married in October of 1891. Preston and Lillie Lovette Lash married in July of 1892 in Linn County, Missouri. Preston’s name continued to appear in the city directories for 1891 and 1892; in 1891 his occupation is listed as “elocutionist,” and in 1892 no occupation is listed, so it appears he maintained the house for his father and siblings to live in while he was in Kentucky.

If Anna and Preston had not already officially separated by the time he moved to Kentucky, they certainly had separated and divorced before he returned to Missouri. The fact that Anna did not marry John Stacey until October of 1891, suggests she may have been waiting till then for her divorce to become final. Here’s a scenario that could fit the facts that we know.

Let’s assume that Anna and John were teaching at the school for the 1891/92 school year, and that they moved to Chicago during the summer of 1892. Anna could have continued to work on the drawings during the remainder of that school year, not getting the entire commission completed before she left. It is possible that she may have received the commission for the drawings near the end of her enrollment as a student at the School of Design; this may have even been one factor in her being hired as a teacher there. If, in fact, the school offered her a teaching position for the fall of 1890, this may have been the main reason she did not go with Preston to Kentucky. (I am still hoping to find the legal papers on the divorce.)

We don’t know when Anna and John fell in love with each other. There may have been an attraction while she was still his student. Or, once she and Preston had separated, the respect that student and teacher had for each other may have slowly transformed into love between two colleagues. Anna and John got married while Preston was still in Kentucky. Some nine months later, he had moved back to Kansas City and remarried as well. It seems not unlikely to me that, at the end of their 1892 responsibilities to the School of Design, John and Anna moved to Chicago, where John could teach, and Anna could attend the Chicago Art Institute. Perhaps she had been accepted earlier in the year, and that was the primary reason for their move.

The Elmer Stewart drawings in the collection have the number 93 under his name. Again, this almost certainly indicates that they were drawn in 1893.

Upon deciding to move to Chicago (and news of Preston’s anticipated return to Kansas City may have been a factor) Anna would certainly have informed the person who commissioned the drawings, that she would be leaving the area before she would be able to complete all the drawings requested. I can picture the commissioner, thinking that the School of Design would still be the best place to find an artist to continue the project, waiting till classes restarted in the fall before starting the search for Anna’s replacement. The narrowing down might have taken two or three months, and it could easily have been near the end of 1892 before Elmer Stewart was chosen and had started on his first drawings.

The above could also explain why some 13 of the drawings, all attributed to Anna, are unsigned. If these 13 drawings were ones she completed after she and John Stacey got married, her name would no longer be A.L. Dillenbeck. But that was the only name by which she had been known professionally. Perhaps she didn’t sign them because she was no longer A.L. Dillenbeck, but didn’t want to call attention to events in her personal life by signing them A.L. Stacey.

In any event, Elmer Stewart became part of the project.

Other than the drawings themselves, I have found nothing concrete about Elmer Stewart the artist. There were at least two or three Elmer Stewarts in the KC area during the time period. In the 1893 city directory, an Elmer T. Stewart lived at 1308 Lydia. He worked as a clerk for the Post Office. By the time the 1894 directory came out, this Elmer had moved to 3215 Holmes, and there was an Elmer E. Stewart, a bricklayer, who lived at 1520 Jackson. The bricklayer may be the same Elmer E. Stewart who married Louise Westmoreland in 1887.

Click for full size

The postal clerk made page 7 of the June 21, 1899, edition of the Kansas City Journal, because he was one of three post office workers in the United States who were on a committee trying to get a post office clerks classification bill passed in the US congress.

It is possible that one of these Elmer Stewarts is the Elmer Stewart whose poem, “The Soul in Love,” was published in 1904 in the November issue of The Life, a “monthly magazine of Christian metaphysics” printed in Kansas City by A.P. (Abraham) and C.J. (Catherine) Barton, husband and wife. Catherine was herself an accomplished portrait painter, and she and Abraham were the parents of artist Ralph Barton, who would later gain fame in New York City as an artist and cartoonist with the New Yorker. While a teenager, Ralph Barton became a cartoonist for the Kansas City Journal, and one of the contributors to Kansas City in Caricature, though he was not the one who drew P.K. Dillenbeck’s caricature.

Sadly, we have nothing concrete about the artist known as Elmer Stewart, other than the fact that “Elmer Stewart” is the name signed on 16 of the drawings. I think that if the records for the School of Design had not been destroyed in a fire, we would probably find that someone named Elmer Stewart attended there. And, while I have no evidence to support this, I like to think that the poet Elmer Stewart who wrote “The Soul in Love” may also be the Elmer Stewart we are looking for, if for no other reason than the something inside an artist that needs to be expressed often seeks out more than one avenue.

So, what’s the upshot of all this?

Well, first and foremost, we now know who A.L. Dillenbeck was. Elmer may still be a cipher, but Anna has finally presented her calling card to us. She came from a small town, and, although we don’t know the order, came to Missouri’s second largest city and married Preston Dillenbeck, who was also associated with the arts. She attended the School of Design, she and Preston divorced, and she taught at her alma mater, married her former teacher, moved to Chicago, and became highly enough regarded as to achieve a solid standing in the art community of Illinois.

All of this has enriched this particular collection in more than one way. We know more of the story now. This is always a plus when you’re dealing with history. Elmer Stewart hasn’t told us who he is, yet. He remains a name—someone who had a native talent that, based on the drawings themselves, was not as polished as A.L. Dillenbeck.

We know A.L. Dillenbeck and Anna L. Stacey were two names for the same person at different times in her life and her career. Because Anna came to be an artist of some stature after she moved to Illinois, learning that she produced the drawings in our Confederate Guerillas collection fills in a big gap in her development as an artist.

I think it may appreciate the monetary value of the collection as well.

I also found that John and Anna remained strong supporters of the arts, and that Anna’s will provided for the John F. and Anna Lee Stacey Scholarship Fund for Art Education, setting up a trust fund “for the education of young men and women who aim to make art their profession.”

I wonder what else we might find.

One woman as queen had several children. Her sister only gave birth to a living daughter. Both lived sad lives. Katherine of Aragon and her sister Joanna (Juana) found themselves at the mercy of others.

Julia Fox in Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile examines the lives of these two women. They were daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella, rulers of Spain. As monarchs, they joined the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile to reign in Spain together. These powerful monarchs sought advantageous marriages for their daughters with the hope of gaining greater Spanish influence throughout Europe. Katherine and Joanna became pawns in the marriage game.

Joanna married Philip of Burgundy, ruler of what became the Netherlands. He would also become Holy Roman Emperor. No one thought Joanna would inherit her mother’s throne since she had an older brother and sister. Her marriage produced several children but could not be said to be a happy union. After the death of her brother, sister, and mother, Joanna found herself Queen of Castile. She and Philip traveled back to Spain with Philip planning on ruling Castile through his wife. Philip’s death left Joanna grief stricken and her father Ferdinand kept control of Castile. She went to live in a monastery where no one kept her informed of what was happening. The word went out that Joanna suffered from madness and could not be trusted to govern.

From then on, Joanna lived in seclusion until her death. She had little contact with the outside world and never ruled as Queen as should have been her right. Father, husband, and finally son kept hold on power never permitting Joanna to fulfill her role. Historians have debated for years as to her true mental state. Her family’s desire for power as well as the thought of a woman monarch left Joanna to live out a lonely existence.

Her better known sister, Katherine of Aragon, traveled to England to marry Prince Arthur, the son of Henry VII, to cement the Spanish-Anglo relationship. Arthur died soon after their marriage. For several years, Katherine waited to see if she would marry Prince Henry, younger brother of Arthur. After the death of Henry VII, Prince Henry who became Henry VIII married Katherine. She did not have any sons who survived infancy only a daughter who lived to be an adult. Her husband felt he had angered God by marrying his brother’s wife who could not bear sons and sought a divorce. Henry had also became enchanted by a lady in waiting, Anne Boleyn, and felt she could give him his desperately needed son. Katherine and the Church did not give in to Henry’s demands for a divorce. Henry broke with Rome, declared his marriage to Katherine invalid, and married Anne. Katherine, no longer welcome at court, spent her remaining days alone without her daughter for company until her death. Joanna and Katherine began their marriages with great hope of a bright future, but circumstances saw them at the end in lonely exile far away from their loved ones.

This book is a good summation of the lives of these two women. Daughters of famous parents, they had no real role except that of wife and mother to future monarchs. Those around them denied them their rights and both were at the end lonely and alone. I knew the story of Katherine, but her sister’s story is equally fraught with betrayal and deception. For a look at women in the fifteenth century and royal power, this is a good read for anyone interested in history and biography.

About the Author

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

Kansas City Public Library on Facebook   Kansas City Public Library on Twitter   Kansas City Public Library on Flickr   Kansas City Public Library on YouTube   Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest   KC Unbound RSS feed

By the time this particular blog gets posted, the Missouri Valley Room’s exhibit of charcoal drawings of Confederate guerillas who operated here in the border area of Missouri and Kansas during the Civil War—bushwhackers like Frank and Jesse James, Joe Lea, Cole Younger, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, and William Quantrill—will probably have been up for a week or two.

These drawings were donated to the library around 1980, but we have no record of their provenance—that is to say, we don’t know where they came from. We don’t know who originally owned the drawings, who commissioned their creation or why, or the exact date they were made (some of the drawings have the number “93” in the lower right hand corner, and the educated guess that this means those particular drawings were executed in 1893 is probably correct).

If the information about who donated the drawings to the library was ever recorded, it has disappeared during the nearly three and a half decades since.

We can verify that several of the drawings were based on photographs from the post-Civil War era, since many of those photographs have been used in books and articles, and even more can be readily found on the internet. Most, but not all, of the drawings have the name of the subject handwritten somewhere on the paper, and the writing for those names is noticeably different from the handwriting of the signatures of the artists. Based on the signatures, we know there were at least two artists, and probably only those two, since the unsigned drawings have strong stylistic similarities with one or more of the signed works.

So, we knew the names of the two artists—Elmer Stewart and A.L. Dillenbeck. When Eli Paul, who heads up things here in the Missouri Valley Room, and Kate Hill, who is one of the MVR librarian/archivists, started work on putting together an exhibit inspired by the drawings, we had no idea who Stewart and Dillenbeck were. We didn’t know what Dillenbeck’s initials “A.L.” stood for—we didn’t even know whether this artist was a man or a woman. We had a rumor that Dillenbeck was female, that the “A” was the initial letter for Annie or Anna, but these were far from verified, and we didn’t know whether the rumor had been attached to the collection from the start, or might have sneaked in sometime later.

This was how things stood when Eli came to me this spring with an assignment. On three separate occasions since the drawings had come into the library’s possession, different people had tried to track down information about Stewart and Dillenbeck. With no success. Eli asked me to take one more shot to see if I could find anything to identify these two artists. There wasn’t a huge rush—if I could find anything at all by the end of May he would be happy.

I had a few things I had to finish up the next day. The day after that, in the afternoon, I started my search.

The biggest challenge in doing research like this—well, any research, really—is figuring out where to look.

Here in the Missouri Valley Room we have different indexes that we regularly use. The two that are most handy are attached to the search engine on the department’s website. The first database is the Local History Index, which is continually updated by the librarians in the department who each have several periodicals that they regularly index, as well as the Kansas City Star, for which they are assigned specific weekday editions.

The other database is the Images index, in which the majority of the images owned by the MVR—photographs, post cards, maps, drawings, etc.—are either accessible in scanned form, or at least described.

The search engine defaults to search both databases.

When I used the LHI/Images search engine, the first things I brought up were the things we already knew. It brought up the scans of the charcoal portraits that were signed with Dillenbeck’s name, or attributed to him/her. There was also a citation for a cartoon of someone named P.K. Dillenbeck in the book, Kansas City in Caricature. It had been drawn by R. L. Lambbin, one a several contributors to the book. P.K. (the P stood for Preston) ran, of all things, a school of oratory in Kansas City in the early 20th century, and must have been fairly successful at it. You didn’t make it into Kansas City in Caricature, by being just an everyday, ordinary person.

In using the LHI, I found that, with the exception of the few things about Preston K. Dillenbeck, the only hits I got led me back to the drawings themselves.

So, I needed to expand my search.

The website for Missouri’s Secretary of State has online search engines for death certificates of people who died in Missouri—one for deaths that occurred before 1910, and another for deaths that occurred from 1910-1962. Again, none of the hits for Dillenbeck matched the initials A.L.—which doesn’t necessarily mean that A.L. wasn’t a resident of Missouri at time of death, only that if the death took place by 1962 or before, he or she had probably been in another state.

There were about five hits for Elmer Stewart. All but two of them, though, were far too young to be our man. One of these was Elmer C. Stewart, who died in Atchison County in the middle of August of 1936. He had been born in Ohio on April 30, 1864, so he would have been 29 in 1893. Elmer C. had been a farmer.

The other one had no middle initial on his death certificate. He was born in Iowa on April 3, 1869, and died in Bates County on November 27, 1956. He had worked as a postal clerk in the U.S. Postal Service, and would have been 24 in 1893.

Interestingly, both of these men’s fathers had been named William.

Another of the online resources we use a lot can be found on the Jackson County website. It’s one that I use a lot. It has scanned copies of, presumably, all the marriage licenses/certificates issued by the county that have been returned in their completed form. Obviously, this is an ongoing concern for the county. The really old ones take the form of entries in a ledger. I have used this database many times to find the names of the spouses of people I have been researching (as well as finding the marriage licenses of people I know). There is often a wealth of information to be found in these records. At the very least, it can point you to places for further searching.

Since Stewart is a much more common name than Dillenbeck, I decided to start with the latter.

Again, not knowing if A.L. was a man or a woman, I entered “Dillenbeck” as the surname of the groom. I got one hit, for a Ralph Dillenbeck who married an Elsa L. Somers on August 22, 1918.

Nothing directly applicable there.

So, I clicked on a new search, and entered “Dillenbeck” as the surname of the bride.

Click for full size (PDF)

I got four hits. And the very first listing, reporting a marriage to a man named John F. Stacey on October 15, 1891, was for a woman named Annie L. Dillenbeck. (Well, they took out the license on October 15, 1891. The space for the date of the marriage had something written in it, but this has been blotted out with two large blots, and the county records give the date of marriage as October 15 as well.) The wedding was performed by Rev. John J. Tigert, who was pastor of the Walnut Street Methodist Church, and lived at 1007 E. 14th Street.


I had found an A.L. Dillenbeck! But was it my A.L. Dillenbeck?

I had an Annie L. Dillenbeck married to a John F. Stacey in 1891. Could I find any other mention of them?

The library has subscriptions to many different online databases. One that gets a lot of use by patrons in the Missouri Valley Room is the one for Ancestry.com. This is a large, umbrella type database that allows the subscriber access to millions of different records. One of the most important Ancestry offerings for research here in the United States is the compilation of information and images from the Federal Census that takes place every ten years. Because the government wants to protect the privacy of those who have been listed in the census records, they wait 70 years before releasing any personal information. So, the most recent census that is completely available is the one for 1940. After 2020 they will start releasing the personal information from the 1950 census.

The census records are a snapshot of the United States that’s taken once every ten years, so historians can get a kind of time lapse movie of the nation growing up. Through the decades the questions that are asked have change bit by bit, but the basics would usually tell you who was the head of the household, the names of all the members of the household, their relationship to the head of household, their age, their occupations, their marital status, where they were born, where their parents were born, whether they spoke English, and whether they could read and write.

And when you use it at the library, through the link on the library’s website, you get full access to all of the Ancestry databases, and don’t have to pay for it.

Since the husband would have been considered the head of household in 1900, I did a search of the 1900 census using John F. Stacey, to find out where the couple was living when they were in the federal census for the first time as a married couple. Granted, it was under “Stacy” rather than “Stacey,” but it has not been rare for census enumerators, especially in older census records, to produce a very creative variety of spellings for names (just as it was not unusual for multiple brothers from the same family who went to different parts of the nation when they left home to end up using different spellings of the family name). And granted, John’s middle initial could be taken for an “L” (as the Ancestry folks have it indexed), even though there is a line crossing horizontally through the vertical stem. But it is noticeably different from the “L” that is the middle initial for Anna’s name, especially at the top. The ages in the census record reflect those one would expect from those recorded on the marriage license.

And, Anna’s occupation is listed as “Artist.”

And that’s when the floodgate opened up.

Continued in Part 2...