Fiction’s Feisty Girls

After seeing the luminous new musical “Anne of Green Gables” based on the Lucy Maude Montgomery novels and being impressed by its accurate portrayal of Anne, I started to think of other girls and young women in literature that are feisty and/or sassy. Jo, in Little Women, immediately comes to mind; then there’s the irresistible Pippi Longstocking created by Astrid Lindgren. 

Feisty as well as humorous girls in series books include: Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody, Meg Cabot’s Allie Finkle, Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine and Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones. Another mischievous girl in literature is quirky Blossom Culp, the time-traveling, psychic heroine of the Richard Peck series. The better titles in this series are Ghosts I Have Been and The Ghost Belonged to Me.

On a more serious note there are young women in historical fiction that show remarkable fortitude. For younger children there is the American Girl series. One of the girls in this series is 9 year old Kaya, a young Nez Perce girl living in 1764 before Europeans arrived in the northwest. Another is 9 year old Addy who, along with her mother, decides to escape the plantation where they have been slaves after Addy’s father has been sold.

For older children there is Island of the Blue Dolphins in which 12 year old Karana endures years of fending for herself after she had jumped ship in order to stay with her younger brother who was left on the island. Her brother is subsequently killed by the wild dogs that inhabit the island, and Karana is left to fend for herself. Although written over fifty years ago, this story of survival is still an exciting read. 

In a similar vein, 13 year old Miyax, in Julie of the Wolves, is lost on the Alaskan tundra after running away from home. She comes in contact and forms a close bond with wolves who help her survive. On the Wisconsin frontier in 1864, irrepressible and adventurous Caddie Woodlawn tackles life head first. It’s interesting that these three brave young women are based on actual people. 

Another book based on a real person is Pam Munoz Ryan’s Riding Freedom, about Charlotte Parkhurst, who spent most of her life masquerading as a man, known as Charley, in order to become the best stagecoach driver in California.

There are many other sassy, feisty girls found in children’s and young adult literature who will appeal to all ages and these make a fine antidote to the many prissy princessy titles that seem to be currently in vogue. Who is your favorite fictional feisty heroine?


A Dog May Be Man’s Best Friend, But the Horse Wrote History

For those of us who love horses, the close finish in November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was heart stopping when Zenyatta missed winning by a nose. She is the latest in a long line of horses, real and fiction, who have thrilled and motivated us throughout history. Other racehorses whose names have become famous are: Phar Lap, Man o’ War, War Admiral, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and the brilliant mare, Ruffian, who won every race she entered only to have her life end tragically on the racetrack.

There have been many incredible horses throughout history. Alexander the Great won battles astride his horse, Bucephalus, who died of battle wounds in 326B.C in Alexander’s last battle. Without their horse, many famous military names would not be so famous. Blueskin belonged to General Washington. Copenhagen was ridden by Wellington at Waterloo, and Traveller was Robert E. Lee’s beloved mount. Of course, the infamous also rode horses, among them, highwayman Dick Turpin’s horse, Black Bess, and Caligula’s horse, Incitatus, who Caligula made a senator!

Other famous horses include Jim Key “the smartest horse in the world”. Champion, Trigger, Buttermilk, Silver, Scout, Topper, and Diablo were ridden by Hollywood cowboys and their sidekicks. Justin Morgan (named after his owner) who started the Morgan breed as well as Misty and her foal, Stormy, immortalized by Marguerite Henry.

Famous horses in story include The Black in the Black Stallion series written by Walter Farley, The Pie in National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This last novel was instrumental in awakening an awareness of the need for a more humane approach in the treatment of animals, especially horses.

A book to equal the treatment given to horses in wartime is Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. This story of courage and endurance is told by Joey, a farm horse, who is sold to the Army during World War I. He describes the horror of his surroundings all the while searching for his young trainer, Albert, who has also joined the military in order to reunite with his beloved horse.

There are too many horses, real and imaginary, that have made differences in many lives, to list them all here. But if you’re interested you can read about them at your local library and check out the many DVDs devoted to Equus caballus.


Let us read cake, cookies and other sweet things (with apologies to Marie Antoinette)

book coverI’m not sure what it means, but every time I‘ve opened a book during the past two months, it seems to have something to do with food. First, I read the memoir Cakewalk by Kate Moses. The photo on the cover should have been a giveaway but I couldn’t put this book down. Moses relates her childhood and young adult years. One wonders how she survived her mismatched parents. Her memories revolve around food, mostly sugar laden, although her life was certainly not sweet. Most chapters end with a recipe connected to her painful life.

book coverThen, I read Aimee Bender’s tale, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, wherein Rose, on her ninth birthday, discovers that she can taste her mother’s emotions in the lemon-chocolate birthday cake. Food then becomes an obstacle for Rose as she navigates through life. Thrown into this mix is her brother, Frank, who must also confront his unusual gift. This is a fascinating look into a disintegrating family. Yet it is uplifting when Rose finally finds a way to confront and put her gift to use.  (There are no recipes in this book.)

After these books, I needed some light reading for a plane ride so I picked up The Secret of Everything by Barbara O’Neal. Tessa, an outdoor adventure leader, is recovering from an accident that took the life of a young woman for whom Tessa was responsible. Tessa’s been recuperating at her hippie father’s home, but she decides to investigate the (fictional) town of Las Ladronas, New Mexico, as a possible new site for an adventure tour. While exploring the area, she experiences déjà vu and memories are starting to surface. She also, of course, finds love – a widower with three young girls. The plot was a bit contrived, but O’Neal’s characters are appealing people with interesting lives and back stories. Yes, there are recipes in this book (most of them breakfast specialties). And there are also some delightful dogs in this story, too.

I also read Jen Lancaster’s latest laugh fest, My Fair Lazy. Although she covered her struggle with food and dieting in Such a Pretty Fat, in My Fair Lazy Lancaster attempts to bring culture into her life, which she labels “Jenaissance.” She and her very patient husband, Fletch, take several food and wine appreciation classes and visit a restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy, where food is created using blowtorches and liquid nitrogen, rather than ovens and flame. Some of the dishes she describes made my mouth water. 

After finishing these books and raiding the fridge, I set out to redeem myself by reading The Amazing Adventures of DietGirl by Shauna Reid.  This inspiring and humorous story of the author’s experience of going from a very overweight young woman to a healthy slim one seemed to happily break the food spell. 

book coverNow I’m looking for something else to read. Perhaps a mystery, but preferably one without mention of butter burgers, frozen custard or “TastyKakes.” I believe I’ve found it in the gripping Still Missing. Please excuse me but I’ve got to get back to reading this “can’t put down” book.


Make a Splash – Read this Summer!

Everett Public Library has a great Summer Reading Program for kids. To promote summer reading, librarians visit the surrounding elementary and middle schools. Prior to these school visits, we read stacks of new fiction, picture books and nonfiction to select titles that we think will appeal to kids. During school visits, we find that some books are consistently popular while others that we thought would be popular turn out to be duds!

Here is a list of the hits so far:

We’ve found that the more gross a book is, the more kids like it.  100% Pure Fake has recipes for rotting skin, snot and vomit so it fits the bill!  In the same vein is 100 Most Disgusting Things on the Planet.

Books about animals are also popular. Dewey the Library Cat, Panda Kindergarten, and Winter’s Tail are three true-life stories that will enchant younger readers. Some of the fiction titles about animals are:  Cat Diaries:  secret writings of the MEOW Society (short stories written by individual cats); The Fast and the Furriest about a couch potato dog that decides to become the best agility dog around; and, The Best Horse Ever about a young girl who longs for a horse of her own and what happens when her wish comes true. 

Mysteries always fill a niche and Mary Downing Hahn and Peg Kehret never fail to deliver. Closed for the Season tells the story of Logan and his family who have moved into an old house. Logan discovers that a woman was murdered in his house and decides, with the help of his neighbor, Arthur, to investigate. Runaway Twin is the story of Sunny, who decides to cross the country in order to find her twin sister from whom she’s been separated for over ten years.

Fantasy fans will enjoy Cosmic. Liam, who is only twelve but is often mistaken for an adult, decides to take advantage of this fact and ends up with an out of this world experience. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is the story of Minli, whose parents are so desperately poor they can barely eke out a living. Minli’s father brightens each evening with stories and these stories inspire Minli to go on an exciting but dangerous adventure in order to help her family. Interweaving this enchanting tale are short stories based on Chinese folktales that make this beautifully illustrated book a delight to read.

Other titles that my co-workers recommend are Shark Vs Train an imaginative and funny picture book where a shark and a train compete in a series of contests. Finally, a sequel to 11 Birthdays, is a story about Rory who has a list of things to do when she turns 12 but sometimes things don’t go as planned. Last but not least, Big Nate, the first book in a series, uses both prose and cartoons to tell about a middle school student and a day in his disorganized life.

These are just some of the many and varied titles our library owns, so bring your school age readers and pre-readers to the library and let them join in the fun of summer reading!


The Beautiful Game

Every four years the world comes together to watch a spectacular sporting event that is not the Olympic Games.  Simply known as “The Beautiful Game,” or  football (please don’t call it soccer), play consists of two periods of 45 minutes each, known as halves with a 15 minute half time break.  It’s disputed as to who first called football “The Beautiful Game,” but it’s now synonymous with association football.  Competition involves more than 190 national teams competing in qualifying tournaments for a place in the finals. The finals tournament, held every four years, involves 32 national teams competing for four weeks. So, from June 11 to July 11, the whole world will be watching this event in South Africa. 

While little coverage is given to World Cup games in the U.S. media, the Everett Public Library has a few resources:  The ESPN World Cup Companion and World Cup 2010 for adults and World Cup for kids. The recognized international governing body of football, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), has the most current information.

Ten stadia in or near 10 different cities will host these games. One is Ellis Park, located in the center of Johannesburg and originally built as a rugby union stadium.  If you’ve seen the movie Invictus, you’ll know that this is where the South African rugby team won the 1995 Rugby World Cup over New Zealand.

And, what would be a sporting event without a theme song?   Somalian-born, Canadian-based hip-hop artist K’Naan is currently touring the world on his way to South Africa, video-blogging and promoting his song “Wavin’ flag.”

While, there is much anticipation for this sporting event, one shouldn’t forget the FIFA Women’s World Cup, recognized as the most important International competition in women’s football. Held every four years, the first Women’s World Cup tournament, called the Women’s World Championship, was held in 1991, 61 years after the men’s first FIFA World Cup tournament in 1930. The current format has 16 teams competing every four years for the winner’s trophy. The next FIFA Women’s World Cup will take place in nine cities in Germany  from June 26 to July 17, 2011.


To Grow or Not to Grow

Spring has finally arrived. After perusing the seed catalogs in January, attending flower and garden shows in February, and watching the days get longer in March, it’s time to think about what and where to plant. Whether you have acreage or a container garden on your balcony there are decisions to be made. Should you grow flowers or vegetables? Should you start from seed or purchase seedlings? 

Because of today’s economy, many people are deciding to grow their own vegetables. If you only have a small garden space you might peruse A Little Piece of Earth: How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces.  This paperback size book with hand drawn illustrations is an eco-friendly guide with fun and easy projects for all levels. It doesn’t matter whether you have a yard, a terrace, a rooftop, or just a windowsill—you’ll find plenty of ideas and inspirations, as well as recipes and a complete resources section. One Magic Square: The Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square is another good book if you only have a little space. The author claims that one square yard of garden will provide a tenth of a person’s food needs, and she encourages everyone to start a magic square or two.

For those with a little more space, there’s Small-Plot, High-Yield Gardening. The most impressive thing about this book is the array of garden plans for different garden sizes. The author presents plans for a 750, 1,500 and 3,000 square foot gardens drawn to scale with succession plantings dates for mid-summer and fall crops, as well as plans for many other types of vegetable gardens.

If you are overwhelmed at just the thought of starting a garden, there’s Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens. This book offers a  foolproof approach that will appeal to both new and experienced gardeners. Each garden plan is laid out with a precise list of materials and plants based on detailed landscape plans suitable for small city gardens as well as larger suburban backyards. 

 Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces teaches you how to choose a location and make the most of your soil (even if it’s less than perfect), build a raised bed, compost bin, and self-watering container using recycled materials, and many more useful tricks. The author’s website is another excellent source of gardening information. 

The library also has many excellent magazines, such as Fine Gardening, GardenWise, and Gardens Illustrated, in the Home & Garden section.  So, after deciding what to grow, it’s time get out your gloves, spade and a kneeling pad and start digging!


Citius, Altius, Fortius

This February there’s anticipation building up the road from us because, on the night of February 12, 2010, the 21st Winter Olympic Games will commence in Vancouver, British Columbia. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron will signify the start of two weeks of thrills and excitement. Those attending the games will have the wonderful opportunity to meet people from many nations and observe the very best athletes from all over the globe. Many of us will not be able to attend, but there are other ways of enjoying these Olympic Games. You can watch the events on television and then read about them at the Everett Public Library. We have many books pertaining to the Winter Olympic Games, athletes and their sports.

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey, tells the story of the “Miracle on Ice” when the amateur U.S. hockey team beat the highly favored Russians. Going for the Gold: Apolo Anto Ohno, Skating on the Edge by Thomas Lang is a biography of the Seattle short track speed skater who will be skating in his third Winter Olympics this year.

Freeze Frame : A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics by Sue Macy highlights the history of the Winter Olympics from their inception in 1924 to today, and includes profiles of Olympic athletes and information on the lesser known winter sports. One of these lesser known sports is curling, and so to remedy that we have on our shelves Curling for Dummies by Bob Weeks.

We also have some general guides to the Vancouver games. The Winter Olympics: An Insider’s Guide to the Legends, the Lore, and the Games: Vancouver edition by Ron C. Judd and The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics: 2010 Edition by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky will keep you well informed about all the events and participants. 

If surfing the web is more your style, there are plenty of web sites to keep you up to date on the games.  You may want to check out the coverage of the games from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as well as NBC here in the states.  The Offical Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics site and the U.S. Olympic Committee are good sources of information as well. 

So, settle in for two weeks of nonstop thrills and spills as the city of Vancouver along with mascots Quatchi, Miga, Sumi and Mukmuk welcome the world “with glowing hearts” (Vancouver Olympic motto).


Marhaba and Salaam (Welcome & Peace)

This past November, I spent several incredible weeks in Egypt and Jordan.  Of course, being a librarian, I had to visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria. It’s a stunning building surrounded by water to give the effect of floating. The building’s curve is covered on the outside with a gray granite wall that displays letters from the alphabets of some 120 languages. One walks through a small entrance into the entrance hall, which then leads to the main building with its soaring columns and astonishing ceiling (meant to represent eyes with eyelids). These features allow light to enter, but also protect against the sun’s rays. There you experience the reading room which is the largest in the world. The library’s collection has yet to reach the magnificence of the original library’s collection which is discussed in The Library of Alexandria : Centre of learning in the ancient world. However, the library does maintain the only copy and external back up of the Internet archive!

Sphinx and Khufu PyramidAfter visiting Alexandria and Cairo, we took an overnight train to Luxor, where we boarded a boat and set sail to Aswan. While floating down the Nile on a felucca in Aswan, we could see the Cataract hotel (currently undergoing renovations) where Agatha Christie stayed while writing Death on the Nile  in the mid 1930s. Christie had married an archeologist by this time and her knowledge of Egypt and the Middle East is obvious in her descriptions of the ancient sites.

Before traveling to Egypt I read Dreamers of the Day by Maria Doria Russell which is about a 40 year old single woman who, after the death of her family members from influenza, decides to travel with her beloved dachshund to the Middle East just as the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference convenes. There she meets, among others, T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill who include her on several of their outings.

Wadi Rum in south JordanAfter entering Jordan through Aquaba (captured by Lawrence during WWI) we spent a night with the Bedouin in Wadi Rum where there is a rock formation also called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. On the way to this breathtakingly beautiful nature reserve, which Lawrence visited several times, we crossed the railway tracks several sections of which had been destroyed by him with the aid of the local Bedouin in 1917 & 1918.  For a complete description of Lawrence’s time in the Middle East, I recommend reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

I found several children’s books helpful while preparing for my travels for their descriptions of Egypt past and present including: Egyptian Diary : The journal of Nakht and Egyptology. For older readers, 1988 Nobel Literature Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy and Larence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet describe these cities and their peoples’ recent past. There are many more titles that cover this interesting part of the world in Everett Public Library’s collection. And remember, if we don’t own the title you want, you can always request an Inter-Library Loan. Ask a librarian!