Library Life

In shifting economic times, many men are finding themselves working a job they thought they’d never do: staying home with young children. For these fathers, planning activities for kids and socializing with other men in their situation can be hard. For the Kansas City At-Home Dads group, the Kansas City Public Library is a home away from home. 

For the better part of the past two years, a diverse, rotating group of fathers and kids from all over the metro have been spending one morning each month in the Children’s Library at the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Library.

On a recent Friday morning, 10 or so of these KC Dads (as the group’s online shorthand goes) and their pre-school-aged kids stormed the Library for a session that included a visit from Santa, story time, crafts, music, and a movie – all of it tailored by Central Children’s Librarian Clare Hollander.

“As a children’s librarian, I’m these kids’ first teacher after their parents,” Hollander says.

For the KC Dads’ pre-kindergarten-aged kids, Hollander designs programs geared toward goals such as building vocabulary, improving narrative skills, and instilling a love for books and reading.

She also understands the unique character of this special group.

“These guys are a club,” she says. “They’re helping each other raise their kids.”

KC Dad Shannon Carpenter affirms that they are indeed a tight-knit group: “We're a bunch of guys who didn't know what to do or where to go, and we somehow found each other."

The group, which formed in 2002, is part of Daddyshome, Inc, national organization that provides resources and networking opportunities for an underserved -- and often misunderstood – group.

"You can find Mommy and Me groups everywhere, but resources for dads are rare," group member Mick Freyermuth says. "Social isolation can be more pronounced."

Clare Hollander reads a holiday story.

As Carpenter explains, most of the KC Dads are either out of work or are home by choice -- in the latter case, that's usually because mom’s paycheck can support the whole family, and it makes sense for dad to stay home with the kids. In other cases, the fathers may work odd shifts -- or may simply be looking for a way to become more active in their kids' lives.

Whatever the case, the Library has proven a fun and enriching destination.

On that recent Friday, as his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter rocketed back and forth from the shelves finding books to check out, Freyermuth talked about how the Library provides a kid-friendly place where children can learn and dads can connect. And the ringleader of it all is undoubtedly Hollander.

“I can’t even put into words how well she treats us,” Freyermuth said. “She does a great job at picking stories that get the kids working together.

“Giving them a lifelong love of reading – that’s what’s important,” he said.

After visiting with Santa (played by – shhh – Library friend Mitch Elliott, husband of Dorothy Elliott, our deputy director of branches) and receiving gift-wrapped books to take home, the kids and their dads followed Hollander into a back room for stories and crafts.

Mick Freyermuth helps his kids get creative.

Though they were in a small, intimate space, all the dads seemed perfectly at ease – some even sprawled out on the floor with their little ones as Hollander read The Snow Globe Family by Jane O’Connor. Quite a few fathers snapped photos on their ever-present digital cameras.

Afterwards, the kids and dads decorated book bags with ink stamps – which invariably ended up on a few cheeks and noses.

Before heading down to the Film Vault for a movie, as the kids were taken on bathroom breaks, the dads caught their breath, welcomed one of the newcomers to the group, and discussed plans for the evening’s outing: a trip to see TRON: Legacy.

Because dads gotta have fun, too.

-- Jason Harper

Find out what the Kansas City At-Home Dads are up to via their blog, and to get in touch, visit Find out about more children’s services at the Kansas City Public Library at

The Trailblazers book group has called the Trails West Branch of the Kansas City Public Library home for almost ten years. They started gathering to discuss reading in April of 2001 at the behest of then-branch-staffer Jackie Brown. Brown has since joined the Facilities team at the Central Library, but she left behind a loyal group of readers who have welcomed their new facilitator, Nancy Oelke.

The eclectic band of readers are open to almost any kind of books (except for horror, they freely admit) and have definite favorites from the past years. Stand-out titles include The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (“Jackie brought cucumber sandwiches and fresh-squeezed lemonade!” one clubber remembers), Portrait in Sepia by Isabelle Allende (flan!), and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

The ‘Blazers aren’t shy about naming less popular selections. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson wasn’t on their list of best books ever, and neither was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The group has since discovered that the more literary titles are not to their collective taste and gravitate toward fiction and nonfiction with a stronger focus on story and pacing.

Though the Trailblazers are a lively group, Oelke is always looking for ways to keep discussions active. Every December, the group holds its meeting in a local restaurant, and instead of talking about a specific book, the members trade suggestions for good reading from the past year and possible titles for discussion in the coming year.

Oelke likes pairing books with movies and strongly encourages the members to attend special Library events featuring authors of books the group has read. Many members of the Trailblazers have caught presentations by Chris Crutcher, Tobias Wolff, Steve Lopez, and Jacqueline Guidry.

A canny leader who writes a regular book review column for local paper the Examiner, Oelke also makes special efforts to get authors to visit the group via teleconference. Recently the group had a visit from Sharon Kay Penman, who discussed her historical novels and historical mysteries via speakerphone. Adriana Trigiani, too, was a favorite with her lively commentary and warm friendly tones. Lorna Landvik also dropped in via phone and amazed the entire group when they realized that she had memorized all their names by matching them with their voices. “We were pretty impressed by that,” Oelke said.

The Trailblazers are looking forward to vigorous conversation in the New Year as they start it off with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain in conjunction with the Library’s Winter Reading Program theme, Altered States.

Though the Trailblazers have been around for nearly a decade, they’re always welcoming new members to join them on the third Saturday of the month. If you’d take part in Independence, Missouri’s hardiest reading circle, contact Oelke at or by calling 816.701.8311.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Head of Readers’ Services for the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

Riddle us this: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb? At the Kansas City Public Library, it takes exactly zero. That’s because we’ve got folks like Operations Manager Jerry Houchins to keep the lights on, the buildings warm, and all the facilities clean and running smoothly.

Whether it’s trimming the trees at North-East, replacing the book drop at Sugar Creek, checking the sprinklers at the Plaza Branch, or making sure the Missouri Valley Special Collections are protected in case of a disaster, no job is too big – or too small – for Houchins and his team.

In fact, it’s hard to think of areas that aren't affected by Operations in some way. Conducting renovations, ensuring fire and building safety, promoting energy efficiency, helping with events and exhibits, managing the janitorial staff – these are just a few of this department's charges.

“Anything that’s behind the scenes at the Library, that’s us. We touch more of everything than any other department,” Houchins says.

Houchins has worked backstage at the Kansas City Public Library for the better part of 10 years, a time that’s seen ups – and downs.

In July 2009, Houchins left his post as Plant Operations Manager for what he thought would prove greener pastures, working maintenance for a property management company. Houchins eventually found he’d made a bad move.

He wasn’t happy in his new job, and during a casual visit to the Library earlier this year, when a former colleague jokingly asked Houchins if he was ready to come back, he realized that in fact, he was.

“Three days later, I got the call,” Houchins says.

After a multiple-month process of working Houchins back in, he returned as Operations Manager this past October.

“It was good to come home,” he says.

Houchins has made the Library his home since 1999, when he answered a newspaper ad and got hired to work the maintenance beat for the branches. A few years later, he found himself helping with the renovation of the First National Bank building at 10th & Baltimore, which opened its doors as the new Central Library in 2004.

He especially remembers helping to install the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault. Leaving its 35-ton door in tact, the renovators converted the bank vault into a movie theater – a process that involved drilling through three-quarter-inch steel plates and into an 18-inch concrete slab just to install the seats.

“They went through a lot of drill bits,” Houchins grins.

Does your office have an elevator-monitoring panel?

At Central, Houchins has also worked on the H&R Block Business & Career Center and the children’s area. The Plaza Branch’s Truman Forum Auditorium bears his stamp, too. His favorite space at Central? The Grand Reading Room.

“I love showing off this building, talking about it, and bringing my kids here. There’s not another library like this that I know of,” he says.

That sentiment could apply to the entire Library system. Houchins’ department spends a good portion of its maintaining the bustling Central and Plaza libraries, but Houchins knows – perhaps better than anyone – that the Library touches neighborhoods all over town.

“The branch managers and their employees make the Library what it is, and without them, we wouldn’t have the system that we have. They love their branches and the customers that they serve,” Houchins says.

And that’s why it’s crucial to keep the lights on.

-- Jason Harper

For many people, job searching today is a full-time, well, job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are out of work. Kansas City’s unemployment rate, while better than the national rate, is an unsettling 8.5 percent, and area job seekers face many challenges, from negotiating public transportation to navigating the online employment maze. The Central Library’s H&R Block Business & Career Center is here to help.

Business Librarian Eric Petersen is presenting Use the Library to Get That Job, a free class for anyone who’s in the market for work, on Tuesday, November 30, at 9:30 a.m. at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.  The class will offer practical tips on finding and landing a new job, such as using employment-listings sites effectively and crafting a strong résumé and cover letter.

“Librarians have assisted job seekers since the profession began,” Petersen says.

Peterson and the other Librarians in the H&R Block Business & Career Center spend a good portion of their work week assisting patrons who are looking for work. Use the Library to Get That Job incorporates many of the lessons they share with job seekers on a daily basis and provides an opportunity for attendees to ask questions and share advice with one another.

Thanks to funding from H&R Block and the H&R Block Foundation, the Center’s team of business librarians is able to assist patrons not only with job and career services but also with building small businesses, establishing non-profit organizations, increasing financial literacy, researching companies, and more (read about the Center’s overall services).

Given the current economic outlook, it’s not surprising that the Center helps nearly 100 customers per week with various aspects of their job search. Petersen and his fellow librarians are used to queries both basic and advanced.

 “One of the first things I ask after, ‘Are you looking for a job in Kansas City?’ is ‘What kind of transportation do you have?’” Petersen says. He says it’s important that even job seekers who do not have their own transportation know how to get around the metro area and even something as simple as showing someone how to plan a trip by bus is an important part of helping people with job searches.

Quite a few of the customers who use the Library to conduct a job search do not have a home computer. But many who do have had to cut back on expenses while they look for work, and often, one of the first things to go is internet access. That can complicate any job search in an increasingly digital world.

The Center offers eight computers and two laptops, all with free internet access, with no limits on how long customers may use them as long as the use is related to a job search.

But sometimes learning how to use them comes first.

Many customers come to the Center for job search help after long careers in fields that didn’t require the use of a computer. These customers may be highly skilled, trained, and experienced but have never had to browse the web or use email. The Center can help them set up an email account, search for a job online, craft a resume and cover letter, and submit an online application.

In a spirit of encouraging independence and self-discovery, Petersen and his colleagues help customers learn to help themselves – and to make their own decisions.

“When people lose their jobs, and their whole world has been turned upside down, there’s so little they have control over,” Petersen says. “When they come into the Library for help, they need to feel in control.”

Even for computer-savvy users who already have their résumés posted on popular sites such as Career Builder and Monster, the Center has access to lesser-known but valuable resources, such as local job listings and trade organizations’ websites. (Find a list of online resources on the Center’s Get Hired page.)

Additionally, the Center subscribes to nearly two dozen business-related research databases, which are provided to users free of charge. In fact, you don’t even need to leave home to use them. All it takes is a Library card to boost your job search with help from the Career Insider database, which provides information on specific career paths and company profiles. Likewise, Library account holders who are studying for a standardized test can take advantage of the free LSAT, GED, U.S. citizenship and other practice exams that are available on LearningExpress. Learn more about using the Center’s business and career databases here.

Customers who do visit the Center can use WinWay Résumé Deluxe software to build a résumé, draft a cover letter, and search multiple job sites. And when in doubt, you can always schedule a personal consultation with a librarian. Call 816.701.3717 or email

Hank Shivers assists a patron in the H&R Block Business & Career Center

But whatever you use it for, you’ll likely find that the H&R Block Business & Career Center is a good place to get things done. Considering that it’s 100 percent free to use, it’s a cost-effective workspace, too.

Just ask Erin Burroughs, one of the Center’s regulars.

Burroughs is an entrepreneurial do-gooder who has founded a mobile church ministry service, five non-profit organizations, and a private Christian high school. During times when she hasn’t had a paying client in a while, she needs a place with all the amenities of an office – but none of the costs of maintaining one.

“It would be impossible to continue doing business if it weren’t for the Center,” she says. “It’s a lifesaver.”

Like all classes offered by the Kansas City Public Library, “Use the Library to Get that Job!” is free and open to the public. No registration is required. The class begins at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 30, at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street. The H&R Block Business & Career Center is open for business during regular Library hours.


Eric Petersen’s Top Five Tips for Job Searchers:

1. Search high and low.

In addition to popular online job boards and company websites, check professional/trade association websites for listings. For example, the National Council on Public History has a list of jobs for historians, museum professionals, and other positions related to historic preservation.

Not sure what trade associations operate in your field? Google’s directory of business associations by industry is a good place to start.

2. Don’t rely on “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

Even Google has an advanced search (but not that many people think to use it). Use advanced search functions in online job search engines to limit your search to get the best results.

Example: Simply Hired’s advanced search lets you set filters to find a job that matches your location, experience level, education, etc. The same goes for Monster and just about all job search engines (and search engines in general).

3. Know when broad search is in order.

Use category or subject searching on online job boards. For examples, take a look at some of the searchable career categories on Career Link. Knowing the language that job listings sites use will help you find that hotel job you heard about, which is often listed under “Hospitality.”

4. Get personal.

Consider submitting your cover letter and resume in person as well as online. Though employment applications are generally only available online, delivering your cover letter and resume personally will set you apart from those who only submit them electronically. Be assertive, but not aggressive; this will ensure that your dual submissions won't be interpreted as overkill.

Read more tips on creating a résumé and cover letter. If you have Microsoft Word on your home computer, watch our video tutorial on the Résumé Wizard.

5. Show gratitude.

Send a briefly worded, handwritten thank-you note the day of your interview unless you're informed that a decision will be made that day, in which case you send a thank-you note by e-mail. A handwritten note will set you apart positively from candidates who e-mail their note. The time you take to express your gratitude will be viewed as an indication of your interest in the job.

Need ideas? Try Hallmark’s Thank You & Appreciation page.

For more tips from the H&RBlockBusiness & CareerCenter, visit our job search strategies page, or visit the Center.

-- Jason Harper

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Second Annual Book Lovers and Book Clubs Conference. For this local event’s first year, founder and organizer Kim Riley held the gathering at a small community center and was overwhelmed with the positive response. This year, Kim looked to her local library for assistance, and the Kansas City Public Library was happy to oblige.

Held on Saturday, November 6, 2010, the conference brought in five popular and critically acclaimed African-American authors to meet loyal fans and readers in a casual setting. Victoria Christopher Murray, Trisha Thomas, Victor McGlothin, and Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant gave presentations on their books, current projects, relationships with their readers, and their own favorite reading. The authors continued to connect with fans during a book signing.

In addition to the headliners, the conference carved out special time in the morning for book groups. The conference organizers called this session Book Group Roll Call, and the time was dedicated to book groups sharing experiences and titles, asking for guidance for future titles, challenging members, and offering suggestions for jazzing up book group meetings.

This lively session started off with a “roll call” of book group attendees. Everyone was surprised and delighted to find that book groups had come from as far away as St. Louis and that some groups had brought all their members. A friendly, competitive spirit infused the conference as the clubs proudly announced their home location, number of members, and number of years in existence. I was busily writing down all the extremely clever names of the book groups: Sistahs Turning Pages, And Then We Read, Circle of Wisdom, The Fabs, and Chat ‘n Chew.

The author panel fielded questions in Kirk Hall.

The morning program started with the socializing but soon moved into the business of running a book group. Members discussed how to handle readers who don’t read the book or become too challenging during discussions. Attendees also debated the merits of collecting dues and holding formal meetings to select titles. All agreed that participating in other activities while discussing the books helps the group stay tightly knit and keeps things lively.

As soon as the issue of getting the newest titles in the necessary quantities was raised, session leader Carma Robinson-Kendall pointed to the back and said, “Miss Kaite? You take that one!” I waved, made a pitch for the Library’s many services to community book groups, and handed out all of my business cards.

Book Lovers and Book Clubs was a success in its second year, and plans are already underway for next year’s conference. It started small, but it’s growing, and the goal for conference organizers and the Library is to gather together as many community book groups and their members as possible.

This is just another way we’re building a community of readers.


About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Head of Readers’ Services for the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. Kaite has contributed to Booklist, Public Libraries, Reference & User Services Quarterly, and Library Journal. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

When it comes to finding quality health care information in Kansas City, many minority communities are underserved. It’s a problem that needs more than a figurative band-aid.

“There is undeniable evidence that the African-American community suffers from higher rates of many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and sickle cell disease,” says Jeannine Glore Midgett, Director of Community Outreach for Truman Medical Centers.

She says that the lack of access to quality healthcare resources, including educational information, only makes the problem worse.

The Internet is crawling with health information, but can you trust the top few results of a Google search? And if you do manage to find actual medical information, how do you make sure you’re interpreting it correctly? Your health, after all, is on the line.

It’s no wonder that people have increasingly been turning to public libraries for health information. As a result, more and more libraries are creating specialized services to help people manage their health.

This Saturday morning, November 13, at 10 a.m., the ribbon will be cut on the Health and Wellness Center at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, a community-focused health information gateway that is the result of a partnership between the Kansas City Public Library, Truman Medical Centers and the Health Science Institute of Metropolitan Community College – Penn Valley. The project is partially funded by a $111,000 grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

The concept isn’t new. Other public libraries have created health centers. But Bluford’s will raise the bar by offering innovative features that allow the Library and its partners to take an active role in improving the community’s health.

For one, the Health and Wellness Center’s collection will be geared toward the African-American community, addressing prevalent problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and HIV/AIDS. It will also emphasize teen health, from fitness and nutrition to teen pregnancy and sexual health.

The Bluford Center will provide programs, events, and workshops. As part of the “Doctor Is In” series, a physician and a dentist will consult patrons in person. Customers will have quality health information at their fingertips through a specially designed online portal at

In the spirit of providing more than information, on November 19, Bluford Assistant Branch Manager and Children’s Librarian Mary Thompson is hosting a lock-in focusing on teen sexuality. Called "You and Your Boo," the program aims to encourage conversation.

“We want them to ask the questions they don’t have answers to rather than getting the answers from their peers, which might be wrong” Thompson says.

It’s all about identifying the community’s needs.

The Library's Deputy Director, Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, compares the Bluford Health & Wellness Center with the development of the H&R Block Business & Career Center. Health care and jobs, after all, are two of the most pressing issues in America today.

“The important thing to do as a Library is to package services to our community’s needs,” Kositany-Buckner says.

And if it’s a success at Bluford, Kositany-Buckner says, the Wellness Center may be replicated at other branches.

The whole community is invited to the Bluford Health & Wellness Center’s Grand Opening Saturday, November 13, at 10 a.m. Following the ribbon cutting, there will be a health fair featuring community partners and local businesses. At 12 p.m., KCUR 89.3 FM’s community-focused news program, KC Currents, will conduct a live taping of a panel discussion on the state of health care in Kansas City.

This event and all services provided by the Health & Wellness Center are free of charge to all customers.


-- Jason Harper

It takes a community to raise a mural. This past October, working with Northeast neighborhood kids and parents, the Hip-Hop Academy covered two walls outside the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library with graffiti goodness. Watch a video documentary of the project on our blog.

As we reported last month, the Hip-Hop Academy guided students in designing and executing a reading-inspired, double-decker mural that reflects the community around the North-East Branch.

Students of all ages cut out stencils and plied spraypaint to cover a mural that had been painted three years ago and was peeling away. As you'll see in the video above, the new masterpiece is nothing less than epic.

Big thanks to Academy ringleader Jeremy McConnell, to all the parents and kids who participated, and to all North-East Branch staffers, especially Branch Manager Claudia Visnich and technical assistant Shirl Maldonado, who know how to get their hands dirty having a good time!

The Hip-Hop Academy conducts classes every Wednesday starting at 5 p.m. at the North-East Branch. Kids aged 10-17 are invited to come learn the fundamentals of hip-hop, including rhyming, DJing, dance, and art. All classes are free.

-- Jason Harper

Whether she’s teaching ESL classes to customers from Ethiopia, organizing a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, or speaking at a local school about her own Thai culture, Sukalaya Kenworthy is spreading multicultural awareness from her station at the Westport Branch.

A library associate of five years at the Kansas City Public Library, Sukalaya – “Su” for short – spent half a year as a technical assistant at Trails West before transferring to the Westport Branch as a library associate.

A native of Bangkok, Thailand, Su came to the States in 1996 to get her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Central Missouri (then called Central Missouri State). It was there that she met her husband, Curry Kenworthy.

Why did she choose KC?

“I was working in Thailand at a government office that helped people find places to study abroad. I looked through schools [for myself], and this just felt like the part of the country where I wanted to be – in the middle,” she says.

Now, she’s in the midst of a diverse of array of activities at the Westport Branch. In addition to managing regular teen gaming and crafts activities, she facilitates the KC Metro Poets monthly meetings. This past summer, she organized summer reading programs and spearheaded the Cinco de Mayo festival at the Westport Branch, which had neighborhood kids performing traditional dances and breaking a piñata.

Twice a month, Sukalaya puts her graduate degree to work, teaching an ESL class; the current roster includes students from Mexico, South America, and Ethiopia.

She’s brushed up on her own Spanish to improve her teaching and to better serve the Library’s Spanish-speaking population in general. And her efforts to learn other people’s languages have led to relationships that go beyond the Library’s doors.

“It’s amazing. I’ve made so many friends,” she says.

She says that her foreign customers – especially those from Ethiopia and Mexico – have been the quickest to invite her to their homes for dinner.

“There aren’t many barriers in these cultures,” Sukalaya says.

Su has also accepted invitations to talk about her native culture at Westport High School and Allen Village School.

Her outreach efforts expand to spreading the word about the Kansas City Public Library, too. In August, she attended a Literacy Fair in Independence, where she gave information about the Library’s ESL classes, the H&R Block Business & Career Center, computer classes, and general services.

One thing most of Sukalaya’s coworkers probably don’t know: She’s also an author and human-rights advocate. Her 2004 young adult novel, Hmong Means Free, focuses on religious persecution and human rights abuses in Vietnam.

Sukalaya says her favorite Library customers are teens.

“They are loud, noisy, and out of order, and when they say something, it’s almost in another language,” she jokes.

“They’re a fun group to work with,” she says.

This past October, at the Library’s annual employee appreciation event, Su’s knack for working with patrons was recognized. She was given the Library-wide Customer Service Award.

Because if anyone’s equipped to break down barriers, it’s Sukalaya

Explore the Library

Sukalaya Kenworthy’s Favorite Books About Thai and Asian Culture

  • Silk Umbrellas by Carolyn Marsden – “A girl in a northern Thai province who paints and sells silk umbrellas worries that modernization will end her family’s business.”
  • The Gold-Threaded Dress by Carolyn Marsden – “Oy, a Thai girl living in America, tries to impress her friends by bringing her mother's beautiful traditional dress to show her friends at school. It shows how Asian children try to fit in and adjust to American culture.”
  • Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Ho Minfong – “This picture book reminds me of life in a Thai village, where people still sing lullabies to their babies.”
  • Chang and the Bamboo Flute and Bird Boy by Elizabeth Starr Hill – “A mute boy lives with his parents on a houseboat on the Li River in China. He overcomes many obstacles to learn how to catch fish and make friends. Excellent books!”
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (Newbery Medal 2002) – “Tree Ear, a Korean boy in the 12th century wants to learn how to make pottery from an experienced potter. He works really hard to become an apprentice.”
  • Classic Thai Cuisine by David Thompson – “The recipes in this cookbook are very authentic, and the dishes are local to the provinces of Thailand. I'm surprised that this book was written by an American! Wonderful dishes with spices!!!”

-- Jason Harper

The Trails West teens do not mess around. This past October 17-23, libraries around the country celebrated Teen Read Week, and at the Kansas City Public Library’s Independence branch, it was all about competing – and connecting.

Throughout the week, Teen Services Library Assistant Amanda Barnhart conducted a Battle of the Books poll, with more than 100 patrons voting on eight young adult titles. To some folks’ surprise, Harry Potter claimed the ultimate victory, defeating newer series like Twilight, The Hunger Games and Bleach.

The Hogwarts stalwart wasn’t the only story of an old favorite beating out the newcomers. In a triumph of primitive technology over digital diversions, a Connect Four tournament capped Teen Read Week at Trails.

Indeed, that 1970s Milton Bradley classic and originator of the catchphrase “Pretty sneaky, sis,” is back.

Branch manager Ritchie Momon says that he hasn’t seen as much interest in a game since the Speed card craze of a few years ago.

And on October 24, around 10 teens turned out for the retro-cool Connect Four tournament. They found that even though the game’s history may trace as far back as the 18th Century, to the game known as the Captain’s Mistress (an alleged favorite of Captain James Cook), Connect Four is quick and instantly gratifying.

“It’s superfast. You can whip out a couple of games while you’re waiting your turn for video games,” Barnhart said.

Lacking space monsters and plasma rifles to blast them with, Connect Four may never win out over high-adrenaline video games like Halo, but it has its appeal.

“It’s a game you played as a kid that you’re not gonna forget,” Steven reflected. “Not many games are like that.”

Unfortunately, young Steven’s childhood memories didn’t help – he lost to chess whiz David, who advanced to the final round to be defeated by Shay. Kit-Kats were distributed, a lightning round followed, and the teens went home from a day of battles well-fought -- and a week of books well-read.

If you’ve got time for a fight, here’s an online version of Connect Four. Watch out: the computer opponent is pretty sneaky.

Welcome to the first of our KCPL Book Group profiles. Mysterious Undertakings at the Waldo Branch gladly agreed to accommodate a drop-in visitor who took copious notes and photographs. But then again, Waldo welcomes all newcomers, and on this particular night, there was more than one newbie.

Mysterious Undertakings meets the first Monday of every month in a meeting room. The members take turns choosing the books and the selector leads the discussion. Facilitators Ann and Marty make certain the room is booked, cleaned, and set up.  Another participant brings tea, and everyone is free to bring their own tea cup. (If you use one of the Library mugs, you must wash it before you go.)

At this gathering, Phil led the discussion on the first Joe Pickett novel, Open Season. Phil knew that author C.J. Box was likely familiar to many of the attendees, and he took the time to point out that the conversation had to be focused on the book, not the author.

Readers spent a merry hour discussing the character of Joe’s wife, and if it was realistic to expect her to tolerate a relationship in which the finances of her family are so strained. Then they turned to the character of Joe, a Wyoming game warden, and his struggles to do the right thing for the environment, the livelihood of the residents, and his own family. These were topics of endless fascination for attendees –  species threatened by advancing development and the economic survival of a town.

One reader saw the similarities to Zane Grey in this mystery and said it was a western with a detective instead of a cowboy, which led to a conversation about blending the two genres.

All in attendance agreed that the Joe Pickett mysteries were a series that got better with each entry and always provided worthy points to ponder about the environment.

To join Mysterious Undertakings, call Marty Hatten, 816.701.3486. Find out more about Library book groups.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Head of Readers’ Services for the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. Kaite has contributed to Booklist, Public Libraries, Reference & User Services Quarterly, and Library Journal. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

Earlier this month, Kansas City Public Library Executive Director Crosby Kemper III was officially sworn in to the Missouri Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. In addition to having a tongue-twisting name, the MCWSC aims to commemorate Missouri’s historically significant yet often overlooked role in the Civil War, and to recognize how that role reverberates today. The Commission was established in April 2010 by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

In the video below, Kemper takes the oath of office in our Missouri Valley Room and talks about why Missouri deserves to take a prominent place in discussions of the Civil War.

-- Jason Harper

Our Food for Fines Week (October 18 through 24) has come to a close. And while we’re still running the numbers to see how much food Library patrons donated to our community partner Harvesters and how much we forgave in overdue fines, we’d like to recognize one person with exceptionally good taste.

Last week, on the KC Unbound blog, we ran a recipe contest based on some of the food items people commonly donate each year to reduce their Library debts and help Kansas City families in need. We gave you a list of 16 ingredients and asked you to make up an original meal using at least five.

Hearty congrats to winner Jeanne Calkins, who took a south-of-the-border approach to the recipe challenge, baking up a veggie casserole using the corn muffin mix, mixed greens, refried beans, corn, and olives from the list, plus some additions of her own.

Jeanne won a free cookbook – but better than that, she earned the bragging rights that come with being our honorary KCPL Top Chef!

Here’s Jeanne’s recipe:

Mad Mexicali Mix-up

1 box corn muffin mix

1 can mixed greens

1 can refried beans

1 can corn

1 can black olives

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped

1 Tablespoon butter or olive or vegetable oil (or 3T water)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

1 cup jarred salsa or picante OR 2 tablespoons taco seasoning or chili powder

4-6 oz grated cheddar, Monterey jack, or Velveeta cheese (optional)

 ~pre-heated oven @ 350

~8 x 8, or 12 x 8 glass baking dish, depending on if you want a thick or thin result; greased with cooking spray, oil or butter

To do:

Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sauté until onions are soft. Drain the greens & corn (I like to save the liquids in a baggie or jar in the freezer for future use in soup stock). Add greens & corn to the skillet with 1T lemon juice or vinegar. Mix in the refried beans and salsa; heat on medium until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste if you like.

Prepare the corn muffin mix according to box directions and set aside (don’t bake it). Slice ½ can of the olives (save remainder for another use, or slice them all if you’re an olive lover!)

Layer in your dish: mixture from skillet, olives, and cheese (if using). Spread top with prepared muffin mix, and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until top is golden brown. Let rest a few minutes before serving. This nutritious, meat-free dish freezes well; spices and veggies can be switched out with whatever is on hand.

-- Jason Harper

Do you have what it takes to become the Kansas City Public Library’s resident Top Chef? In celebration of Food for Fines Week, we’re holding a culinary contest to see who can come up with the best recipe using some of the ingredients people have donated toward reducing their Library fines. Now, you may find these ingredients a bit unorthodox. But nothing’s impossible for the true book-lovin’ foodie.

If you’ve been reading our blog and following us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll know that between October 18 and 24, we’re encouraging patrons to bring non-perishable canned and boxed food to any Kansas City Public Library location to be donated to Harvesters: The Community Food Network. Each item is applied as a $1 credit toward the reduction of your existing Library late fees.

The Recipe Challenge: We’ve picked out 16 examples of the hundreds, if not thousands, of items that patrons have brought in so far. We want you to come up with the best recipe you can using at least five of these 16 items as ingredients. (Here's a bigger version of the photo.)

You don’t have to cook up your recipe (bonus points, though, if you do). We just want you to get creative, have fun, and help us spread the word about Food for Fines and the great work Harvesters does year-round.

Once you’ve come up with your recipe, type it up (snap a pic if you actually cooked it), give it a clever name, and email it to Kaite Stover at by 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 24.

Next Monday, October 25, we’ll post our top five favorite recipes on our website and award free cookbooks to the winning “cheftestants.”

Update: Congratulations to winner Jeanne Calkins! Find out what Jeanne whipped up from the list of ingredients.

Here’s a list of the ingredients that you have to work with, in part or in whole:

  • 1 box meat loaf mix
  • 1 box corn muffin mix
  • 1 can mixed greens
  • 1 box macaroni and cheese
  • 1 can pork and beans
  • 1 can sardines
  • 1 can sliced white potatoes
  • 1 box garlic herb snack crackers
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 bag Frosted Flakes cereal
  • 1 can golden corn
  • 1 can olives
  • 1 box chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 box rotini pasta
  • 1 jar peanut butter

Remember: Choose at least five of the above ingredients. And get cooking, Kansas City!

Hey you – yeah, you, the one who’s been avoiding the Library because you’ve got overdue fines and money is tight right now. Today through Oct. 24, just bring a few cans of food into a Kansas City Public Library location near you, and, voila, our collection of four-squillion books, CDs and DVDs will once again be at your disposal. Why? Because it’s Food for Fines week.

Here at the Library, we like giving things away. Late fees, of course, are a necessary part of doing business. But it really bums us out whenever we hear that you aren’t coming to partake of our eighteen-quindupletillion free items (OK, OK, more like 1.1 million) because you kept that copy of The Ersatz Elevator too long.

That’s why every year, we team up with the wonderful people at Harvesters Community Food Network to bring you the one time of the year where you get the satisfaction of feeding your fellow citizens and having your foolish fines forgiven in one fell blow.

Each food item erases $1 in late fees for overdue items. And that really adds up. To wit, here’s a Harper’s Index-ian rundown of some of last year’s numbers:

  • Amount of fines forgiven during last year’s Food for Fines: $18,088.59.
  • Total number of food items donated: 19,881. (It’s slightly higher than amount forgiven due to folks’ generosity in bringing extra food.)
  • Average amount of fines forgiven per day: $2,584.
  • Amount forgiven per hour the Library was open during Food for Fines week: $33.
  • Average amount of fines forgiven per Library account: $14.20.
  • Pounds of food Harvesters received during Food for Fines in 2009: 18,108 (just over 9 tons).
  • Equivalent number of meals: 13,939.

So you see, it pays to give. But you can’t just bring in whatever’s moldering in the larder, such as that year-old, brick-hard fruitcake your Aunt Nonnie foisted on you last Christmas.

We will only credit you for undam­aged and unexpired boxed or canned non-perishable food items. Harvesters is always in need of canned meat, peanut butter, canned fruit, canned vegetables, and boxed meals. Non-nutritional beverages such as soda, as well as any beverages in glass or plastic containers will not be accepted. Dented cans are a no-no.

So grab that mac ‘n cheese and come on down. And stay tuned – later this week, we’ll be running a recipe contest.

Earlier this month, a boy with spiked hair and bright blue eyes sat at a table in the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, sketching his next piece of public art. The word READ burst from the page in red-orange lettering. Now, it blazes on a wall for the whole neighborhood to see.

Thanks to the guidance of the Hip-Hop Academy, kids like 17-year-old Giovanni may be KC’s next mural masters.

The Hip-Hop Academy was founded in 2005 by three friends -- musicians Aaron Sutton and Roscoe Johnson and visual artist Jeremy McConnell – who wanted to show that hip-hop is not all about the negative messages that blast on urban radio waves.

When the Hip-Hop Academy’s kids write a rap lyric, it’s always about something real happening in their lives – and it’s always positive. “We want it to be something they’re proud to share with their family, something their grandparents could listen to,” McConnell says.

Conducting regular classes for kids and teens at places like the North-East and Southeast branch libraries, the Academy’s streetwise instructors channel students’ youthful energy into the creative elements of hip-hop: rhyming, DJing, breakdancing, and turning boring old walls into resplendent works of art.

That’s what McConnell, Sutton, and some Library kids did to a retaining wall bordering the North-East parking lot several years ago. Now, with that original mural’s paint peeling, McConnell and his crew are devoting a series of Wednesday afternoons to giving the wall a makeover, Hip-Hop Academy style.

Two weeks ago, Hip-Hop Academy kids and parents repainting the old mural and the wall above it, which had been tagged.

The project also has a practical benefit. North-East Branch Manager Claudia Visnich says that having walls tagged with illegal graffiti can be costly to property owners -- this is particularly troublesome in areas like Northeast Kansas City, where tagging is a frequent phenomenon. But, she says, most fly-by-night artists won’t touch a wall that’s already covered with a mural.

For the mural’s design, the Hip-Hop Academy has asked kids for ideas inspired by their reading and lives in general. Aroni’s READ design is the centerpiece, surrounded by other designs from stencils the kids drew and cut with help from their parents and instructors.

The Hip-Hop Academy will paint the mural in segments over the next few weeks. Kids of all ages are welcome to participate. The official unveiling party is on Sunday, October 24, from 1 to 3 p.m., with activities, snacks and programs by local teen organizations.

Whatever the finished mural looks like on October 24, it’s sure to reflect the community that surrounds it.

-- Jason Harper