Americans across the nation frequently profess their love for their country with football, hot dogs, fireworks, and country music. But the U.S. is a country known for its wide-open spaces and all-of-a-kind populace. There’s always been more to love about our home than the Super Bowl, Chevrolet, and Route 66.

Barbara and Brent Bowers and Agnes and Henry Gottlieb – all with serious journalistic cred – have compiled 1,000 Things to Love About America. Counting down from 1,000 to 1, this book runs the gamut, from expected objets d’affection like the Empire State Building, to the je ne say what? of Yogiisms (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”).

Wondering which bits and pieces deserve your heart? How about #871: Mysterious Disappearances? Ambrose Bierce did a fade out sometime in 1913 while following Pancho Villa. Amelia Earhart entered the cloud somewhere over the Pacific in 1937. D.B. Cooper tried walking on sunshine after hijacking a 727 in 1971, but the bag of cash he took with him when he jumped from the plane probably weighed him down.

For her Winter Reading video book review, Megan Garrett, librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch, talks about a future where children are no longer born and society is collapsing. That's the story behind P.D. James' harrowing but hopeful dystopian novel, The Children of Men.

The annual Adult Winter Reading Program runs from January 10 – March 13, 2011, at all Kansas City Public Library locations. The 2011 program offers a chance to win a Nook e-reader as well as the opportunity to see Winter Reading featured author Jasper Fforde in person on March 17 at the Plaza Branch, where he will discuss his new book, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing.

Terrance Hayes’ latest collection of poetry, Lighthead, is an exploration of past and present, lightness and dark. The poems are lithe and fresh. They draw the reader close, seductively, before introducing a grain of truth, uncomfortable or inexpressible, that can’t quite be quantified.

Kenneth Armitage

Kenneth Armitage knows his marmots. Though he spent much of his 40-year academic career at the University of Kansas studying the yellow-bellied marmot or “rockchuck,” he’s enough of an expert on the burrowing beasts that he’s featured in the bonus materials of the 15th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of the hit ‘90s comedy Groundhog Day.

KC Unbound recently caught up with Dr. Armitage, professor emeritus of behavioral ecology at KU, to get the lowdown on marmots, including how they are dealing with climate change, and whether or not their shadows can tell us anything about the length of winter.

This year, it seems that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted an early Spring -- he did not see his shadow upon emerging from his den in Gobbler's Knob, PA. Were he in KC, however, he'd probably be unable to exit his burrow because of all the snow. And, unfortunately, due to the inclement weather, Dr. Armitage's lecture at the Central Library on Wednesday, February 2, at 6:30 p.m. has been canceled.

Read on to learn more about marmot biology and the history of Groundhog Day.

KC Unbound: What’s the difference between a marmot and a groundhog?

Jordan Fields likes to teach, but she didn't want to be a full-time teacher. So she became a librarian. Now as the Library's digital projects manager, she is the main architect of two different online repositories of information that, when complete, will educate people about the Kansas City region's past and present.

It all started five years ago, in Miami. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in comparative literature, Fields took an appointment with Teach for America, teaching English to teenagers from low-income communities in Miami.

While there, she began to see the deleterious effects of information illiteracy, not just in her students, but in their parents, too.

"Their parents didn't understand how to work the systems - mortgages, health care, taxes, applying for colleges," she says. "It was a chronic lack of education."

Public libraries, she realized, were the best hope for people with limited financial means to learn essential life skills.

"I feel passionately that we should have an educated public, and a lot of that is giving people access to information," she says.

It wasn't a straight shot from there to librarianhood, though. After her tenure at Teach for America ended, Fields took six months off, moved to Kansas City, and considered her options.

It’s a Friday night at the Plaza Branch, and magic is in the air in the library’s teen section – in more ways than one. A dozen or so young patrons gather around tables, swapping cards and invoking the names of otherworldly beings: Alien Telepath, Phyrexian Marauder, Fist of Ironwood.

The strange terminology of the card games Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh might be perplexing to outsiders, but Teen Associate Kathy Meier is right at home.

“Kathy, what do you think’ll happen if I go against Chris’s Sliver Deck?” asks 11-year-old patron Fielding.

“You will die,” Meier says, then laughs. (Fielding – who knew the answer without asking – smiles, and his opponent, Chris, 18, responds with an impish chuckle.)

Meier’s Card Classics gaming time begins each Friday at 5 p.m., and teens and tweens come out in force to play and trade cards.

“I come here every Friday night,” says 18-year-old Dennis. This Yu-Gi-Oh enthusiast has played in tournaments as far away as Springfield, Missouri, but the Plaza Branch is his favorite haunt.  “This is my lifestyle – it’s what I do,” he says.

Imagine a future where literature is outlawed, mindless hedonism is the order of the day, and firemen don’t put out fires – they start them. This is the world of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel of censorship, Fahrenheit 451. Watch Waldo librarian Ashlei Wheeler explain why it's her favorite pick in the 2011 Adult Winter Reading Program.

From a person who doesn’t really understand the concept of a “western movie” and has probably seen a total of two westerns in his entire life, who would have guessed that two directors whose talent comes from quirky comedies, can master the art of Cowboys, damsels in distress, and good old fashioned gun fighting?

True Grit, a new telling of the classic novel by Charles Portis, tells the story of Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) , a fourteen year old girl who shows that moxie and spunk can be found in any teenager, who is willing to go on a journey to avenge her father’s death and find his killer. In the process she finds U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) who may be one of the meanest, drunkest, one eye seeing gun slingers around, but surely has a kind spirit and will go against his limits and decide to take young Mattie on the journey.

Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins Cogburn to hunt the killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and has his heart set out on finding him so that he may collect the reward that the state of Texas has to offer him. But, when young Mattie arrives with the men, LaBoeuf takes matters into his own hands leaving Rooster and Mattie to hunt Chaney themselves.

Kids Cafe photo

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving last year, the L.H. Bluford Branch had an impromptu Turkey Day feast. “It was crazy. Kids just kept coming in droves,” remembers Mary Olive Thompson, assistant branch manager and children’s librarian at Bluford. “It really felt like Thanksgiving.”

Thompson isn’t sure why a whopping 55 kids turned up to eat the rather un-Thanksgiving-y meal of chef salads that day at Bluford. She’s just glad they came – and that they keep coming.

Every Monday through Thursday at the Bluford and Southeast Branches and every Monday through Wednesday at Central, Kids Café is open for business.

A national program offered locally by Harvesters Community Food Network in partnership with agencies (including the Kansas City Public Library) that provide services to disadvantaged kids and teens after school and during the summer, Kids Café serves wholesome and free food to all kids under the age of 19.

During an average Kids Café at Bluford, 30 to 35 kids turn up to eat a healthy, Harvesters-provided meal and engage in activities such as socializing, listening to a story, watching a movie, and playing games. The program stresses the importance of nutrition and basic food preparation skills, the eradication of hunger, and, at the Library, at least, the value of literacy.

Jack London is best known for books about boys and their dogs, but as L.H. Bluford Branch librarian Bernie Norcott-Mahany explains, London was also the first dystopian novelist of the 20th century. His book The Iron Heel is a complex and enriching story of a not-so-glorious future.

In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterwork, America has collapsed, the Republic of Gilead has risen, and women’s rights have been dismantled. In our latest Winter Reading Video, Waldo Branch Manager Alicia Ahlvers tells how The Handmaid’s Tale, her selection for the 2011 Winter Reading Program, influenced her life as a reader and thinker.

Colonial Massachusetts was not an easy place to survive. Strained relations with the native peoples, smallpox outbreaks, and barbaric wolves (of both the four-legged and two-legged, human varieties) devoured all who showed weakness in mind, body, or spirit. But in Kathleen Kent’s The Wolves of Andover, the most treacherous forces in 17th century America were often unseen.

Lust

Lust by Robin Wasserman

Welcome to Grace California. Home to the Seven Deadly Sins.

Harper Grace is the local It-Girl in Grace, California. Well That is until Kaia Sellers moves to town from New York City. She's beautiful and wanted, she could easily take Harper's spot as queen of Grace High School. She quickly becomes Haper's enemy and a spot on her most hated list. But numero uno would easily be Beth. Boring, bland Beth.

Beth Feels so happy. She's going out with the town hero. The All-American Boy and Sports Hero, Adam. The perfect and ideal boyfriend. And Harper thinks so too. He's her best friend, so he should be going out with Harper. Right? Wrong.
Playboy Kane Wants Beth. The sweet, All-American girl. Can the Beauty tame the Beast?
Miranda is seriously in love with Kane. Even though he's out of her league, it can't hurt to admire from afar right?
And Kaia? She's wants everything in between and that includes the new French Teacher Jack Powell.

In a parallel universe where literature is pop culture and the lines between fiction and reality blur, a master criminal runs amuck in the pages of Jane Eyre, and literary detective Thursday Next is on the case. So goes The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, librarian Diana Hyle’s pick for the 2011 Adult Winter Reading Program. Click “Read more” to watch the video.

Whatever happened to English magic? That question’s at the heart of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a Suggested Reading in the 2011 Adult Winter Reading Program at the Kansas City Public Library. In the first in a series of videos highlighting books that fit the program’s Altered States theme, we talked with librarian Katie Mediatore Stover about this tale of magicians in 19th century England.

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