Other People’s Homes

What do you think of when the word “home” is mentioned? There are those who still live in their childhood homes filled with memories; there are those who wander this earth looking for a place to set down roots; and there are those who  only want to sell a house after remodeling and redecorating.

Then, there are a handful of individuals who become caretakers of grand, historical homes only for as long as they live; for after they die their oldest male heir will likely inherit their estate. In Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, the Countess of Carnarvon tells the story of Highclere Castle and its surrounds.

People have been living at Highclere for thousands of years as demonstrated by the Iron Age hill fort on the property. The land was owned by the bishops of Winchester for hundreds of years before being awarded, in the late seventeenth century, to the Herbert family, Earls of Pembroke and ancestors of the Earls of Carnarvon. Because of the expense of maintaining palatial properties such as Highclere, male heirs were often encouraged to marry into money so that these properties could be preserved and their splendor sustained. This fascinating book covers the estate and its inhabitants from the late Victorian era to the mid 1920’s.

Sometimes, no matter how much you love your home and what it represents, it cannot be saved. In The House I Loved, Rose Bazelet is determined to stay in the only home she’s really known, a home she has lived in her entire married life. It is the 1860’s and Emperor Napoleon III has given orders to modernize Paris by widening the city’s streets, obliterating entire neighborhoods, included Rose’s. One by one her neighbors move out but Rose is determined to stay. She passes her days and nights writing letters to her dead husband and recalling their past together. Her two closest friends try to encourage her to relocate but she resists them, for how can she leave the place where all her memories reside.

Sometimes there are homes that seem to be charmed. In The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, Heidi, although mourning her husband’s untimely death, travels, along with her young son and sixteen year old niece, to a small village in the south of France. There has been a fire in the ancestral family home and Heidi’s mother has asked Heidi to determine the extent of the damage and stay while repairs are finished. While there, Heidi is drawn into the secrets and magic that pervade this home and, in time, will bring joy and hope back into her life.

There are also homes that seen to beckon us through generations and from distant lands. Going home to Lebanon, Anthony Shadid is determined to rebuild his great-grandfather’s home in House of Stone. His family had fled war-torn Lebanon to build a new life in Oklahoma City where he was raised. The call of family history was too strong, however, and so he returned to his ancestral home determined to bring it back to life again. This wonderful account of restoring a home is interspersed with memorable characters, myths, family histories and traditions, and explanations of the rich culture that exists in his chosen homeland. This superb book is made more poignant by the fact that Anthony Shadid passed away earlier this year.

Finally, if you’re interested in how homes have evolved over the years you should read If Walls Could Talk. This fascinating history covers everything we take for granted in our modern homes: from bedrooms, where sleeping in a private bed is a somewhat recent event, through the even more recent custom of bathrooms, and the modernization of the kitchens of today. This interesting and informative volume is filled with trivia of the everyday running of the home, past and present.

So, pull out a chair (keeping in mind that in a medieval house only the lord or owner was allowed to sit down), relax and be thankful that we live in the here and now and can take the time to enjoy reading about other people’s homes.


A Mixed Bag of Picture Books

With the bleak weather of January behind us, I thought I’d share some new books for children. The first two cover difficult and sensitive, but necessary, subjects especially for children.

The Scar is the story of a child waking up to the news that his mother has died. It wasn’t an unexpected death but nevertheless has a profound effect on the child who decides that the windows of the house must be kept closed in order to keep the mother’s essence within. The father, coping with his own grief, is not much help. When the child falls and scrapes his knee, he is sure he hears his mother’s voice. He tells himself that as long as he has the scab and can make it bleed, he’ll hear her voice and be a little less sad.

Fortunately, the maternal grandmother arrives on the scene and teaches the father some of the mother’s habits, such as how to drizzle honey on toast. When the grandmother complains about the heat in the house and starts to open the windows, the child explodes with alarm and confronts her. She explains that his mother isn’t in the surrounding air but in the child’s heart.

Dog Breath is a tribute to a deceased dog who just might have been the worst dog ever. He escaped whenever the door opened a crack and when he returned he would smell like rotten cheese and need a bath. He also stole food, once a whole turkey, as well as anything else that he could pull off the kitchen table. Yes, he was probably the worst dog in the universe, but he’ll be remembered with affection and love.

Scrawny Cat is the tale of a lost cat who knows his name is not “Get out of here” even though that’s what he hears most of the time. He finds refuge in a dinghy just as a storm rolls in. As he huddles under the dinghy seat the rope tying the dinghy to the dock snaps and the boat rolls away from shore. After the storm, the dinghy washes up on a sandy beach. A woman comes down to see what the storm has washed in. Will she also tell the scrawny cat to “Get out of here?”

In The Flyaway Blanket, Jake is helping his Momma hang up his special blanket on the laundry line. He doesn’t want to let go of his “extra soft from so much love” blanket, but his Momma tells him it will be dry in no time, so they sit and wait in the sun. But then a wind comes up and snatches Jake’s blanket which flies high into the sky. Will it ever return?

Dad gives Douglas a brand new woolly hat in Don’t Worry, Douglas! and tells him to take care of it. Douglas’s hat, however, gets caught in a branch and unravels. What is Douglas to do? Other animals try to help him but the best advice comes from Rabbit, who suggests Douglas tell his dad just what happened.

In Pirates & Princesses, Ivy and Fletch have been best friends since they were babies. They do everything together, but when they both start kindergarten things change. All the boys play together as pirates and all the girls play together as princesses, but these games aren’t as much fun without your best friend. How will Ivy and Fletch reclaim their friendship?

Solomon Crocodile does not play well with others. He is considered a pest by all the animals in the swamp. Will he ever find someone to play with?
Finally, two new concept books: Small Medium Large deals with the concept of size from itty-bitty to colossal, while Into the Outdoors covers the prepositional world as a happy family spends time in the great outdoors.

These are just a few of the hundreds of new titles to be found in our library’s collection. Contact your friendly and helpful Youth Services Librarian for more new titles.


The Time When the Sun Stands Still

December 22, 2011 is the first full day of winter in the northern hemisphere. Now the sun has turned around and headed north and we realize that spring will return once more. It has been this way ever since ancient sky watchers, who may not have understood the movement of the sun, rejoiced when the sun discontinued its downward trend. In those days there were no light bulbs to illuminate the darkness and without the sun there can be no life. These days, since we have light on demand, many of us do not celebrate nor acknowledge the solstice.

In Persia, the solstice marked the birthday of Mithras, the Sun King, who was a precursor to Apollo. Mithras was sent to earth to slay a huge bull whose blood was the source of all fertility on earth. After doing so, he ascended back to heaven.

During the Roman era, the Emperor Aurelian declared December 25th to be the birthday of Mithras. In addition there was the lavish Roman festival of Saturnalia, which began around the Winter Solstice.  Sol Invictus, a festival marking the return of the sun, was also celebrated on December 25th. It was the Emperor Constantine, a follower of Mithras until he adopted Christianity, who chose the official birthday of Jesus to also be on December 25th.

But the oldest of the gods honored during winter was the Egyptian god Osiris. Married to Isis and much-loved and worshiped throughout the ancient world, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother Set, who dismembered his body and hid it in various parts of Egypt. Isis searched until she found his remains and then restored Osiris to life on December 25th. Osiris’ death and resurrection came to symbolize the rising and setting of the sun.

Other ancient cultures also built monuments that observed the winter solstice:  Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland; Maeshowe in mainland Orkney, Scotland and Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

Another event that observes the re-emergence of light is Chanukah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights. This holiday honors the legend of the miracle of the oil which burned for eight nights when there was only enough oil left for one night.

While there were many festivals, most had one thing in common – the exchanging of gifts. Mother Nature too, gives us gifts at this time of the year as the sky is clearer than in summer, the constellations shine brighter  and the nights are longer.

If you’re interested in the traditions of this season, these books will illuminate them for you.

Ceremonies of the SeasonsThe Winter SolsticeThe Book of the Year, and for children The Shortest Day and The Winter Solstice


Words Plus Pictures Equals Riveting Adventures

As the holiday season approaches there are abundant movie releases aimed at families and children. One of the most eagerly awaited is Hugo based on Brian Selznick’s Caldecott Medal book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This movie, enhanced by 3-D, is directed by Martin Scorsese in steam punk style, which seems perfect for its 1931 Paris setting. Because the story deals with the early history of cinema it seems an ideal, if unusual, vehicle for Scorsese.

But, it’s the book that we’re interested in. Its format was so different from any previous title that when first released it became a near instant classic. Although 500 pages long, it only takes a few hours to read. The book is interspersed with the author/illustrator’s original drawings which, instead of simply illustrating the written story, forward the plot. There are also still images which you may recognize. These were taken from several early French movies by a film pioneer whom you’ll meet in the book.

The story revolves around Hugo, a child who lives behind the walls in a Paris train station. Orphaned and taken in by his uncle, the clock keeper for the station, Hugo becomes desperate after his uncle disappears. He is determined not to be discovered so Hugo continues to maintain the clocks in the station, but being unable to cash his uncle’s pay checks he is forced to steal to survive. When not looking after the clocks, Hugo pours over his father’s notebook trying to make sense of the mechanical drawings.

When Hugo is caught stealing from the toy shop in the station, the old shop keeper finds Hugo’s notebook and keeps it. Devastated by this loss, Hugo resolves to find the automaton illustrated in the notebook and bring it back to life. Reconstructing the automaton will bring Hugo, the enigmatic shopkeeper and his god-daughter, Isabelle, together in order to unravel the mystery of the origin of this automaton and its meaning to the shopkeeper.

One hopes that the movie will hold up to the inventiveness of the book, but meanwhile, Brian Selznick has just released a new book, Wonderstruck, another hefty tome coming in at just over 600 pages. The format is similar to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but the illustrations in Wonderstruck tell a parallel tale 50 years in the past.

The story told in text is set in 1977 and concerns Ben who is grieving for his mother, killed in a car accident. Ben is determined to find his father who he’s never known and sets off, aided by clues, to find his father in the city. The parallel illustrated story tells of Rose, a deaf child who escapes her room in Hoboken, New Jersey, and makes her way to The American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Here, the two compelling stories intertwine and continue. Readers will recognize Brian Selznick’s homage to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in this stunning, original and completely satisfying story.


Words by Ebert

Do you enjoy reading biographies and memoirs? If you’re like me, you enjoy finding out about other people’s lives to discover similarities and differences with your own. It’s a way to satisfy one’s curiosity without being a voyeur.

I’ve been reading Roger Ebert’s biography, Life Itself: a memoir, and finding it very hard to put down. I’ve always been an admirer of Mr. Ebert’s writings and appreciated his and Gene Siskel’s film review show “Sneak Previews” after finding it on my local PBS station many years ago. I also watched their subsequent shows, through Gene Siskel’s death in early 1999, up until 2006, when Mr. Ebert was treated for thyroid cancer. Because of this treatment he lost his ability to eat, drink, and speak but, happily for us, he knows how to write well and this memoir is a delightful compilation of stories of and from his life.

It’s not a chronological retelling, but conversationally written about growing up in a time of innocence in the Midwest. He writes of his loving family, the loss of his father at an early age, and the loving but troubled relationship he had with his mother. He writes of his relationship with alcohol and the effect it had on him and his relationships with women, especially his mother, who also became an alcoholic. He writes of his time spent learning the newspaper trade and the mentors who helped him with his career as well as his venture into reviewing films and the ultimate step of appearing on television.

Throughout the book there’s amusing anecdotes of and about his many friendships and acquaintances, many of them famous. His tales of get-togethers with people we know from the movies are fascinating, as we glimpse the personal side of those whom we’re only familiar with from film. Their true personalities come through in Mr. Ebert’s reminiscences. He also writes lovingly of his relationship with his wife, Chaz, and his association, often tempestuous, with his film review partner, Gene Siskel.

But, for me, the most interesting parts of this book are his memories of growing up, his school years, his studying in South Africa during apartheid, and his many visits and revisits to his favorite haunts in different cities of this country and the world. His favorite city being London, which he, and Daniel Curley, wrote affectionately about in The Perfect London Walk.

This wonderful collection of memories is inspiring yet heartbreaking as one remembers that no longer can Mr. Ebert eat or speak, but he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. As he puts it:

What’s sad about not eating is the experience…the loss of dining, not the loss of food…that’s why writing has become so important to me. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.

Indeed we are, Mr. Ebert, and such a feast it is.

Other books by Roger Ebert you many enjoy include: The Pot and How to Use It, Scorsese by Ebert, and Awake in the Dark.


Super Silly Stories

Silly stories. Parents and teachers may groan at the humor, but kids love these stories. The sillier the better. Thankfully, there are plenty of silly stories to be discovered and what’s better than hearing kids laugh and giggle!

Among newer titles, there’s the Caldecott Honor Book Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein in which Papa Chicken starts to tell little red chicken a bedtime story. He starts with the story of Hansel and Gretel. Papa Chicken is up to the part where the old woman who lives in the house that Hansel and Gretel are eating, comes out and invites them in. They are just about to enter the old woman’s house when little red chicken interrupts his Papa, shouting: “‘Don’t go in! She’s a witch!’ So Hansel and Gretel didn’t. THE END.”

Little red chicken realizes what he’s done and tells his Papa he’s sorry and that he’ll be good. So Papa starts anew with Little Red Riding Hood but just as the wolf makes an entrance, little red chicken interrupts again to warn her “Don’t talk to strangers!” Exasperated and out of stories, Papa asks little red chicken to tell him a story; but who do you think it is that interrupts little red chicken with his snores?

Then there are Viviane Schwarz’s two delightful books: There are Cats in this Book and There are No Cats in this Book. In the first book, readers are invited to follow and help the three cats Tiny, Moonpie and André as they play with yarn, boxes, pillows and fish. At one point readers actually save the cats from drowning! In their second book the trio decide to leave their book and go travelling. They try everything, including enlisting the aid of the reader, to leave their book. Are they successful? Well, you’ll just have to read this book yourself to find out!

For nearly 20 years, The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith has been amusing kids of all ages with its irreverent retelling of fairy tales. Just try reading this one without laughing as the hilarity starts even before the title page!

For several generations, kids have been reading  and laughing at Peggy Parish’s child-like adult Amelia Bedelia . Because she takes everything literally, Amelia manages to make everyone laugh (or groan) with her antics.  Of course, the unbeatable Dr. Seuss has delighted and amused generations with his beginning readers. These include Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham (written as the result of a bet that he could write a book using only 50 words), and One Fish, Two Fish. It’s a rare home where no Dr. Seuss resides.

Today young readers laugh as they relish reading anything by Mo Willems. After parents have read his Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny titles to their children, it’s a short hop to his Elephant and Piggie beginning reader books that will bring humor to a new generation as they embark on the road to reading.

For more silly stories ask your local children’s librarian for suggestions.

Suzanne & Andrea

A Craving for Cupcakes

Cupcakes, known as fairy cakes in Great Britain, are not new but have become very popular in the last few years. But what started this craze? Perhaps the popularity started with Sprinkles™, a cupcake factory started by Candace Nelson in Beverly Hills, California. Candace was inspired by her great-grandmother who ran a restaurant in San Francisco and was known for her desserts. After Candace Nelson was interviewed for the Oprah show everyone wanted to either purchase or make cupcakes. This simple little cake, served in a paper liner and baked in a muffin tin, has risen from being a staple for a classroom party to being an acceptable item to serve at an elegant sit down dinner.

Many local bakeries sensed the enthusiasm and added cupcakes to their regular items. One could also order cupcakes online or purchase mixes from the best known cupcake bakeries. Then the cupcake cookbooks started to be published. Of course, there had always been recipes for cupcakes contained in baking cookbooks but rarely was a whole book devoted to this small cake.

In 2009, Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes was published and started a trend. Wild about Cupcakes contains recipes for over 130 cupcakes, everything from all types of chocolate cupcakes to Christmas pudding cupcakes. The simply titled, Cupcakes, contains 39 recipes including Peanut Butter mini cupcakes, rhubarb yogurt cupcakes, and fruit tart cupcakes.

Then there are the cupcake books that have recipes that are more audacious and creative, such as Hello, Cupcake and What’s New, Cupcake?. Some of the cupcakes in these two books look like anything but cupcakes. It depends on what you consider more important: the taste of the cupcake, or the artistry involved in its creation. And then, for those for whom a bite or two will suffice, there’s Mini Cupcakes. These cupcakes are baked in a 2 ounce paper soufflé cup (more commonly known as a nut cup).

Not to be forgotten are the books for children about cupcakes. For the budding baker there’s Super-Duper Cupcakes and Cool Cakes & Cupcakes. Cupcakes have even made it into children’s fiction with the delightful picture book, Little Mouse and the Big Cupcake, in which Little Mouse finds a chocolate-chip, raspberry cream cupcake but it’s too big for him to carry home. He doesn’t need to worry though as many animals come to help him by taking bites out of it until it’s just the right size for him to carry home…in his tummy!

So, regardless of age or baking experience, there’s a cupcake book out there just waiting for you to drool over.


We Will Remember Them

As the United States commemorates the sesquicentennial of its Civil War in April, two other countries remember an equally horrific time of war.

In April 1915, 30,000 members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) were commanded to attack the Turkish Army at Gallipoli. They were charged to do this by an impatient Winston Churchill (who would be ousted from the Admiralty one month later) in order to open up the Dardanelles. This 28 mile strait between Europe and Asiatic Turkey had been closed in 1914. When opened, allied navies would be able to capture the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, a German ally.

The landing was to take place in the early hours of April 25, 1915. But in the dark, the soldiers landed one mile north. The landscape was markedly different than what they had expected, but they were commanded to go forward. Even though they had landed in the wrong place, the soldiers who survived the landing climbed up the cliffs from the beach while under attack. After 12 hours, 1,200 Anzacs were ashore and had made it up the cliffs.

Before they could take full command, Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk—father of modern Turkey—arrived with his battalion, and forced the Anzacs back down the cliffs. So began an eight month impasse.

One of the worst defeats for the Anzacs came on August 7, 1915, when the 3rd Light Horse Brigade was ordered to charge the Turks. This intended diversionary tactic instead turned into a suicidal mission when, in less than an hour, 234 Light Horsemen were killed and 138 were wounded. This charge was depicted in the last scenes of Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli.
In September 1915, Bulgaria entered the war on the side of Germany and Turkey. Turkey would now be able to completely crush the Anzac position so, by late November, the allies decided to evacuate the troops from Gallipoli. Winter was fast approaching and torrential rain had turned the trenches into rivers.  In stages and at night, 41,000 soldiers were evacuated without alerting the Turks. By December 20, 1915, the evacuation was complete and this ill-fated operation ended.

National Archives of Australia Image no.: A6180, 10/4/80/9

Many stories of heroism came out of the Gallipoli campaign. The best known story is of Simpson and his donkey. Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick was assigned to the 3rd Field Ambulance. From the day of the landing until the day he was killed, he and his donkey worked from early morning to late at night, bringing the wounded down to the beach. Undoubtedly there were many stretcher bearers who bravely saved countless lives, but it is Simpson who is remembered and whose story is retold.

Each year on April 25, these brave Anzacs are remembered with dawn services that pay tribute to the memory of the Anzac spirit, but also contemplate the futility of war.

There is a memorial at Anzac Cove featuring words written in 1934 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to an official Australian, New Zealand and British party visiting Anzac Cove:

Those heroes that shed their blood, and lost their lives …
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries …
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, they have
Become our sons as well.

Check out Dan Van der Vat’s Dardanelles Disaster: Winston Churchill’s Greatest Failure and Eric Wheler Bush’s Gallipoli to learn more


A Thirst for the Best (Coffee)

In my last post, we talked about all things tea.  Let’s move on to a favorite of many in the Northwest, coffee.

The story of coffee is a much younger one. It’s thought that coffee originated in 6th century Ethiopia when  a goatherd saw his goats acting exceptionally playful. They were eating the fruit of a struggling little tree. The goatherd tried one himself and found that while it tasted bland it had an invigorating effect on him too. This little tree was most likely the plant, Coffea Arabica. The coffee beans called “cherries” were eaten for another seven centuries until a Yemeni mystic made the cherries into a drink and found that the drink helped him stay awake during prayers.

Over time, coffee made its way eastward where it became the “wine of Islam,” as Muslims weren’t allowed to drink actual wine. From there, coffee entered Paris and Vienna. Before then, most Europeans drank beer. Their drinking water was contaminated more often than not. It’s mind-boggling to imagine what occurred after people went from being in a state of habitual grogginess to one of a caffeinated society.

According to The True History of Tea “…since tea and coffee first met in the Middle East and in Europe in the 17th century, they have accompanied each other like yin and yang… In 2004-05, world production of coffee stood at 7.2 million tons, compared with 3.2 million tons of tea. Sticklers for statistics, however, note that while 15 grams of ground coffee is required to infuse a decent cup, 5 grams of tea will suffice. And while coffee can only be drawn once, tea leaves can be drawn at least twice – in the case of Oolong tea, up to six times…the conclusion that tea, in its different forms, is the world’s most widely consumed beverage….”

Today, coffee and tea are drunk around the world, albeit in different forms and combinations. For coffee, each country has its own standards for grading the coffee it exports. Grading can be based on the elevation at which the bean is grown, the size of the bean and taste. For tea, grading is more standardized with orange pekoe being the lowest grade given to a whole leaf. (That’s right: orange pekoe is not a type of tea but its grade.)

No matter where your tea or coffee originated, mornings just wouldn’t be the same without your favorite beverage, so raise your cup or mug, be thankful that these days we have choices and imbibe.


PS: Be sure to click the book covers for links to the coffee books in the library catalog.

A Thirst for the Best (Tea)

Most of the world seems to be divided up amongst tea or coffee drinkers, although there are many who drink neither for religious or other reasons. Today, both tea and coffee are savored throughout the world, but how did they become so popular?

The story of tea is steeped in a legend. Around four and a half thousand years ago an emperor in China declared that his subjects must boil water before drinking it. One day, while the emperor’s water was boiling, some leaves accidentally fell into the pot. The emperor was impressed not only by the flavor but by the fact he felt rejuvenated after drinking it. We know now that the plant was Camellia sinensi.

In Japan, tea began with an Indian born Buddhist monk who had traveled to China at the end of the 5th century. In an effort to stay awake while meditating, this monk cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. Two tea plants then grew from where he’d thrown his eyelids. The leaves on the plants were made into a drink which revitalized the drinkers.

While tea has been drunk for centuries in the east, it took until the 17th century for tea to be imported into Europe, where it was first known as a medicinal drink. It first became a popular drink in the Netherlands for those who could afford it. The Dutch in turn introduced tea to Germany, France and England. In 1689, the East Indian Company began to import tea directly from China. The history of tea has a disturbing side because for years opium was traded for the tea. In 1839 the Chinese Emperor decided to abolish the trade, incensing Britain and prompting the Opium War.  

In North America, tea had been introduced by the Dutch to New Amsterdam and tea drinking continued after the British conquered and renamed the city New York. However, when high taxes were imposed, tea became the symbol of revolutionary action. Tea went from being a favorite beverage to a symbol of tyranny. After the Boston Tea Party coffee became a national habit and Americans became coffee drinkers. 

For the story of coffee, and its continued relationship with tea, stay tuned for my next post.


PS: Be sure to click on the book covers for links to the books in the library catalog.