Hanna movie poster

Among the higher profile DVD arrivals on the Library’s shelves this month is Hanna, the fourth movie by British director Joe Wright.

Wright, of course, wowed us with the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice, followed it up with the multiple Oscar-nominated Atonement and then moved on to homelessness in LA with the criminally underappreciated The Soloist (how can a film with both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx be so under everybody’s radar?).

Having lived in the midwest for more than 10 years, I haven’t given much thought to our country’s borders or the people who reside near them. DiAnn Mills’ new suspense fiction, Sworn to Protect, gives an interesting look into the southernmost areas of the U.S. and the profession that works to keep the borders safe.

Set in McAllen, Texas, this page-turner opens with a dangerous operation that takes place near the Rio Grande, a river that serves as the Mexico-United States border. While on duty preventing illegal human and drug trafficking, U.S. Border Patrol agent Danika Morales recalls a dreadful event that happened two years ago: her husband, Toby, was murdered, and his body was left beside an obscure road. The crime went unresolved.

The unseen offender is now stalking her, aiming to end her life and destroy her family. As a single mother, Danika is concerned about her deaf little girl, Tiana, and Tiana’s nanny and family’s housekeeper, Sandra Rodriguez.

In his new book, Genius of Place, biographer Justin Martin says that Frederick Law Olmsted “may well be the most important American historical figure that the average person knows least about.”

If the average person, indeed, knows him at all, it’s most likely for Olmsted’s famous design of New York’s Central Park or possibly the U.S. Capitol Grounds. But as Martin, a former Kansas Citian, shows, there was a lot more to Olmsted than his green grounds.

“Fred-Law” (as his family sometimes called him) was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1822 – a time when Missouri was the westernmost state and middle names were fairly uncommon. The first three decades of his life would take him through a series of wildly divergent and fascinating careers before he more or less fell into the role of America’s premier landscape architect.

This Wednesday, September 7, 2011, at the Central Library, Martin returns to Kansas City to discuss not only Olmsted’s impact on the urban American landscape (and, by extension, its psyche) but also Olmsted’s other lives – as sailor, farmer, journalist, abolitionist, Civil War medic in an early version of the Red Cross, environmentalist, and, above all, reformer. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. following a 6 p.m. reception. RSVP now.

Under the Same Moon movie poster

A hard-nosed critic can find plenty to pick apart in Patricia Riggen’s Under the Same Moon (2007).

That is, if he can suppress his desperate need to blubber like a girly-man.

If the storytelling is sometimes manipulative, the film's execution is exemplary. Director Riggen (a native of Guadalajara, Mexico) aims for the emotionally true moment, which helps offset the film’s periodic forays into shameless sentimentality.

But, then, how are you not gonna get sentimental when your subject is a 9-year-old Mexican boy who journeys solo to the U.S. to find the mother he hasn’t seen for half his lifetime?

Hoenig and Kemper

The grandson of Iowa farmers, Thomas Hoenig began working at the age of 9. Now, at 65, he is about to retire after 20 years as the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, where he was the longest-serving leader in Fed history.

Bring on the blood oaths, the pirates' island, the foul play, mischief, buried treasure, Becky Thatcher, Huckleberry Finn, and Injun Joe. Bring on The Big Read!

Each week here on KC Unbound during this most festive of reading seasons, we'll be posting recaps of four(-ish) chapters of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, along with insight and commentary. And we want you to join in!

Before we get started, do you have the book? No? Hey, these aren't the CliffsNotes, pal. The Kansas City Public Library has 500 brand-new Penguin Classics editions of Mark Twain’s classic in circulation. Surely you can find one. Or, if you prefer to e-read, you can get a free digital edition through our website. Just follow these instructions.

As we all know, The Big Read is a community-wide reading celebration featuring a diverse range of free public programming aimed at connecting people together over a great book. Be sure to keep up with all the great special events, book discussions, reading podcasts, and get info about KC Ballet’s sure-to-be-amazing production of Tom Sawyer: A Ballet in Three Acts – it’s all at kcbigread.org.

America America movie poster

Most films about the immigrant experience begin with the protagonist’s arrival in a new land. America America, though, ends with a shot of the Statue of Liberty as its hero sails into New York Harbor. It’s the physical and emotional journey he takes to get there that interested filmmaker Elia Kazan.

Statue of Liberty - photo credit Pepijn Schmitz

Unless you're a full-blooded Native American, you're an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants.

You could even say that the journey to the New World is built into our DNA.

The experiences of our forefathers in coming to this country — and the struggles of today's immigrant — is the subject of The Golden Door film series playing in September at the Kansas City Public Library's Central Library.

It's presented in conjunction with the current exhibit Emma Lazarus: Voice of Liberty, Voice of Conscience. It was Lazarus who penned the words "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" emblazoned at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The films — all free and playing at 1:30 Saturdays and 6:30 Mondays in the Durwood Film Vault — explore the many aspects of immigration, from the huge influx of new citizens from Europe at the turn of the last century to today's concern with illegal immigration from Latin America.

Robert Butler

Robert W. Butler is a movie critic’s movie critic. He knows his early Buñuels from his later Godards and can talk Hollywoodese with the layman. When you prick him, he bleeds Peckinpah. It’s no wonder why, when Butler’s four decades at the Kansas City Star came to an end this past May, Roger Ebert summed up his feelings on Twitter in a single word: “Damn.”

Rossi

I confess, I picked up Portia de Rossi’s memoir, Unbearable Lightness, for the title. The blurbs on the back were by some of my favorite authors, a plus. A quick scan of the inside jacket was enough to convince me to give it a try (I don’t like to read the whole blurb because I don’t want to know the ending).

I’m not big into television or celebrity goings-on, so it wasn’t until the last 50 pages of the book that I realized (don’t laugh), that’s where I know Portia from!

Which, for me, made the book that much better.

Portia tells her story in meticulous detail, without any judgment or self-pity. With gut-wrenching honesty, she is able to say: This is who I was. This is who I am. These are the things that make me, me. I am defined only by myself.

Her approach to her life is bold and fierce, but in writing about it, she is gentle. She writes simply and honestly about the people, things and experiences that make her who she is. Her journey is about gaining the ability and the strength to face her vulnerabilities.

Scarlett O'Hara

What do you call one part Southern Comfort, three parts cranberry juice, and a squeeze of lime shaken and served up in a martini glass? Answer: a bibulous good time for a bibliophile like yourself at the Kansas City Public Library this Tuesday night.

The name of the cocktail described above is the Scarlett O’Hara. It was invented by a post-Prohibition New York liquor distributor to boost sales by capitalizing on the mass popularity of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 blockbuster novel.

The drink, like its namesake heroine, appealed to a deep-seated American nostalgia for a quainter, simpler, more genteel Old South – the antebellum land of plantations, moonlight, and magnolias, far away from the technological clatter and urban nightmares up North.

It was, unfortunately, also a South filled with reprehensible ethnic stereotypes.

In her new book, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture, University of North Carolina – Charlotte historian Karen L. Cox argues that pervading American conceptions of the South were framed by those who did not live there, i.e. white Americans of the East Coast.

ReadyMade

Tired of the same old crafts? Feel ho-hum about textiles or beads? Well, how about giving duct tape a try?  In Ductigami: The Art of the Tape, author Joe Wilson shows how to cut, rip, and fold duct tape to make objects such as wallets, aprons, tool belts, lunchboxes, Halloween masks, and more.

And now that duct tape comes in designer colors, as well as a transparent version, you can let your imagination get as sticky as it wants! Not just for NASA missions anymore, duct tape aficionados have formed clubs and sponsored competitions. Red Green, of the PBS syndicated The Red Green Show understands: “Spare the duct tape, spoil the job.” Duct tape crafters might also want to take a look at Stick It!: 99 D.I.Y. Duct Tape Projects, by T.L. Bonaddio. 

Here are some other titles you might want to check out in pursuit of the different:

Julie and PT

Thursday, August 11, 2011, marked the 10th anniversary of the Back to School Pep Rally at the Irene H. Ruiz Branch. And though it was a milestone for one of the Kansas City Public Library's biggest outreach-oriented events, according to Branch Manager Julie Robinson, the kids who came didn't care.

"What the kids care about is that this is for them -- and for them, it's a really big deal," Robinson says.

It's a big deal for the entire neighborhood. Each year before the start of school, a network of Westside community organizations and individuals circles around the I.H. Ruiz Branch. They put on a giant block party and give out scads of school supplies and books to students in grades pre-K through 12.

This year, the neighborhood schools that benefitted were Primitivo Garcia Elementary, Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Alta Vista Middle and Charter High Schools, and Cristo Rey High.

Around 2,000 people came out for the event, and 189 backpacks stuffed with grade-specific supplies were given to 72 families. Even more backpacks were given out in the ensuing days to families who had registered to receive them.

Free-speech advocate, Hustler magazine magnate, and campaigner against political hypocrisy, Larry Flynt teams up with Columbia University professor David Eisenbach, Ph.D. in One Nation Under Sex, to shed light on how the private lives of America’s political leaders have shaped American history.

It’s said that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Flynt and Eisenbach’s substantial, well-researched tome on the history of sex and sexuality in American politics proves that point early on with the case of founding father Alexander Hamilton.

The Secretary of the Treasury’s affair with Maria Reynolds quickly became complicated when her husband James Reynolds asked for a well-paid government job. After James learned of the affair with his wife, Hamilton found himself regularly paying “loans” to the couple and keeping up an affair that had long since fizzled to avoid being exposed.

Amanda Barnhart

Who says you can't rock out in a library? At least, don't tell that to Amanda Barnhart, young adult coordinator at the Trails West Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. And certainly don't tell any of her teens.

Last Friday at Trails, Barnhart organized a teen lock-in to celebrate the end of Summer Reading. Even though the kids present had all been born around the turn of the millennium, they came prepared to celebrate the party's theme, "You Weren't Here: The '80s," wearing headbands, heavy-metal tees, and neon accessories.

Between turns on Rock Band, the kids engaged in activities such as making wallets from felt fabric and cassette tapes and testing their librarian skills on a scavenger hunt through the stacks.

Like much of Barnhart's teen programming, the evening mixed fun with a little learning.

"Teens really keep you on your toes, they're always challenging you, asking, 'Why do you do that?'" Barnhart says. "It's a different outlook on life that I like to be reminded of. It's like being a kid again."

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