Tag Archives: Books

Read With Jenna Jr.

Have you noticed that most libraries across the U.S. have the same summer reading program theme? Each year the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) choses a theme, then develops artwork and programming suggestions that support the theme. This year’s theme is “All Together Now.” “All Together Now” makes me think of music, but this open-ended theme allows us to include community helpers and art into our programming as well as other fun topics like friendship. 

Living up to their name, the CSLP collaborated with Jenna Bush Hager as a celebrity partner this year. Hager hosts a book group with NBC’s “Today Show.” Hager talks about how reading to her children, or with them, encourages them to continue learning through the summer. 

“I’m so excited to be partnering with CSLP to promote summer reading! I come from a long line of book lovers (my mom was a librarian!). Summer nights, cuddled up with my mom or grandmothers and a book are some of my most precious memories. I can’t wait to encourage other kids to do the same– to dig into the pages of their first chapter book, get lost in a picture book or pick up their first earlier reader and let their imaginations take them away!

All Together Now is a beautiful testament to what I hope books can do for us all: connect and encourage acceptance of many different types of people.

I’m so happy that Read With Jenna Jr and CSLP are partnering for the summer to encourage kids to check out a book and start reading! I’m honored to be this year’s Reading Champion and promise to encourage library visits and beach reading, all summer long!

As we read All Together Now this summer, I know we can help shape strong, empathetic young readers!!”

Talking Books

We came across some old applications for talking books while cleaning out a drawer recently in the library. We also uncovered a booklet about the program from the Library of Congress dated 1985. As I mentioned, we were cleaning things out.

According to Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, around 2% of people in Nebraska have a vision impairment. This amounts to nearly 700 people in Scotts Bluff County.

In the 1930s, Congress passed a bill to establish the National Library Service (NLS) through the Library of Congress. The purpose of the NLS is to provide accessible reading materials at no charge to people with vision impairment. 

In the 1930s, books were available in either Braille (which was newly standardized in the English-speaking world) or as a record album delivered to the person’s home. Some of the first books available included The Declaration of Independence (and other patriotic documents), three Shakespeare selections, Rudyard Kiplng’s “Bushwood Boy” and P.G. Wodehouse’s “Very Good Jeeves”. 

By the 1980s, the format was changing to a 4-track cassette tape. Audio recordings then and now are available in specialized formats so that only people with approved equipment can use them. 

Digital books for the blind showed up in 2012, and now only a few people still use cassettes. Digital format materials can be downloaded on a computer or through an app. They can also be mailed on a cartridge for use in a specialized reader.

Publishers and authors have copyright protections on their books, but they recognize the need to provide reading materials to blind folks. Publishers have made provisions that allow reproduction for the purpose of the NLS program. Now, major publishers provide their bestsellers in an audio format that can be used immediately.

“One thing I always like to stress about the program is that it is free. We may not have the selection that Audible does, but Audible costs money. And it would be nearly impossible for any one person to read every book in our collection,” says Gabe Kramer, director of Talking Book and Braille Services in Nebraska. Of course, books are available through this program, but magazines and musical scores are available as well. You can check out foreign language materials now, too.

According to Kramer, around 2700 people statewide use this service. Nearly half of them live in the Lincoln and Omaha area. 

You don’t have to be blind to qualify for Talking Books and Braille Services. Folks who are legally blind and individuals who are unable to hold reading material may also qualify. Folks with cognitive or neurological conditions that make reading difficult may qualify as well.

Qualified applicants can have access to unlimited free reading material. They also get a personal reader’s advisor who can select the kinds of books they want to read. 

The Nebraska Library Commission uses volunteer readers to record magazines and books. It takes the commission 6-18 months to record and process an audio book.

You can visit your local library to sign up for these services. You can also visit the Nebraska Library Commission’s web page and sign up online, type “talking books” in the search bar.

As I flipped through the applications we found in the drawer, I realized the oldest applicant was born in 1891. These folks all had a desire to continue reading and learning after their eyesight had deteriorated. I am proud that our library was able to connect them with the Nebraska Library Commission which was able to provide them reading material.

Banned Book Week

Every year in September the American Library Association (ALA) highlights books that have been controversial through the past year. They call it “Banned Book Week.” The theme this year is, “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.” This year has been an interesting year for banned books. Rather than waiting until September to make the news, book challenges have been front-page news all year. 

What is this all about? Who should get to decide what Americans can read? Who should decide what information you have access to? Should politicians choose books for us to read? Should librarians? Should parents be responsible for what their children check out? Is this the beginning of a slippery slope of not being personally responsible for our choices?

Personally, I don’t trust politicians to pick out my reading material, or what my children can read. It’s not personal, but I know what our family values are, and they aren’t likely to overlap much with any politician’s values. What is right for your family may not be right for my family. Ashley Macdonald from Wellington, Colorado said, “I don’t want anyone in this room telling me how to parent my child and I won’t tell you how to parent yours.”

Unlike politicians, librarians learn how to select books they don’t agree with. Nobody would want to read only books that I like. Libraries have a responsibility to provide information about all sides of an issue, not just the ones the librarian likes. Not just the ones certain people like. It’s how we provide information for the entire community.

How does censorship divide us?

“And Tango Makes Three” is a book about two real-life male penguins who adopted and hatched an egg. It’s been on the banned book list since 2005. You might not want your child to read about a penguin who has two dads, but same-sex marriage is legal in the United States. Families in our community want to read about other families like theirs. 

Some books that have been banned seem silly to us, but the people who objected felt their reasons were valid. Someone objected to “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank because it was too depressing. Well, yes, war is generally a depressing subject, but putting a face on the Holocaust helps us understand humanity.

“Goosebumps” by R.L. Stine was banned for the series’ violent nature. Aside from being violent, these books are what we call “high-low,” which stands for high interest-low vocabulary. These sorts of books get reluctant readers hooked on reading. James Patterson writes about 25 high-low books for adults each year. They are easy to read, they have a lot of action, and coincidentally many of Patterson’s books are violent. It turns out readers of all ages enjoy reading scary books.

Libraries in two states removed “Little House on the Prairie” from their shelves. A re-read of Wilder’s book will jog your memory. Caroline Ingalls had strong, uncharitable feelings towards the Native American families. Families the homesteaders crowded off their lands. Rather than remove the book from shelves, we could use this opportunity to discuss how the language she uses is not appropriate and how society has changed. Wilder’s books remind us of a “simpler, more innocent time” but was it so simple for everyone?

How do books unite us? Two of my favorite authors said it best. Dr Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” George R.R. Martin said,“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.”  Reading opens up doors to other people’s perspectives. Books are doors into things we don’t understand, like how the Holocaust affected real-life people. Books can leave us on the edge of our seats. Books also show us our history, things our ancestors did well, and mistakes they made.

Ultimately, we are Americans who believe in freedom and the First Amendment. This means we are responsible for supervising our children’s reading interests. We can select what we want to read ourselves, but it also means letting others decide for themselves and their families. 

Suzanne Fisher Staples said it well in her essay, What Johnny Can’t Read: Censorship in American Libraries: “Each book has its own gifts to offer, but the freedom to choose which to read teaches some of life’s most important lessons–trusting yourself, knowing what you believe in, tolerance–all of which are more difficult to learn once you get beyond childhood.”

Books With Maps

Maps were my Grandma’s love language. She always had an atlas handy and she would reach for it any time someone would talk about somewhere they had been.  

Map reading builds important spatial skills for children, it gives them a sense of where things are in their world. Where does Christopher Robin live in relation to Winnie the Pooh? Look in the front of the book. How does Dorothy get to the Emerald City? We know because L. Frank Baum included a beautiful map in his books. How far is it from the Beaver’s Dam to Cair Paravel? C.S. Lewis made a map for that. “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Treasure Island,” “The Princess Bride,” all of these adventure books have maps in them. 

Some of the best adult books have maps in them. We can follow the escapades of Bilbo Baggins on the map in the front of “The Hobbit.” Being able to see at a glance how close Guernsey is to France helps the reader understand how the events unfold in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” by Kathleen Rooney has a fabulous map showing where Lillian takes her walk in southern Manhattan. I am not very familiar with Manhattan, and being able to see where she went made the book much more interesting. 

Other books with great maps include Madeline Miller’s “Circe”, “The Devil in the White City” by Eric Larson, “The Martian” by Andy Weir and “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett.

In 2011 a friend of mine recommended that I read George R. R. Martin’s series “A Song of Ice and Fire”- it’s also known as “Game of Thrones.” I protested that I don’t enjoy fantasy, but she insisted. I caved and proceeded to read all five books totalling 4,197 pages that year. As I read, I found myself flipping to the maps in the front of the book. Where are these folks from? Where are they going? What is the land like where they live? The maps answered all of these questions. I had a difficult time keeping track of the hundreds of characters, until I got to the appendix of the first book to discover 18 pages of character lists with allegiances and some backstory. 

That’s another thing I am happy to find in a book- a family tree. How are all these people related? Phillipa Gregory writes about English history. She makes it easy for the reader by providing family trees so you can keep the Yorks, Lancasters and Tudors straight. She also often includes maps in her books. Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing” follows a family from 1775 through eight generations into modern times- you can use the family tree in the front of the book to keep track of who is who. Diana Gabaldon’s books have hundreds of characters. Rather than providing a list in the back of the books she wrote two companion books with character lists in them to help readers keep everyone straight.

I think a map improves almost every book, and if you are reading a family saga, or a book with lots of characters, having a list of who’s who makes it much easier on the reader. If the writer has built a world, a map helps the reader follow the adventure- just like my grandma.

Paperback books

February 1, 2023

I discovered one of my favorite authors in the Omaha airport. No, I didn’t see Alex Kava waiting for a plane in the terminal. A clerk at Hudson News and Gifts recommended “A Perfect Evil.” “The author is from Nebraska, and her character, Maggie O’Dell, is so tough- I want to be just like her!” I bought the paperback and read it on the plane-and every spare moment on my vacation.

Paperbacks were invented due to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Hardback books were expensive to produce and difficult to market. While looking for something to read on the train, Allen Lane came up with the idea for paperback books. He could print quality books with a lower production cost in a portable size. In 1935 Lane launched Penguin books in England. Penguin books featured distinctive colored covers which coordinated with the contents. Orange books were fiction, blue was for nonfiction and green for mysteries. 

The first paperback books published included The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, Madame Claire by Susan Ertz, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Poets Pub by Eric Linklater, Carnival by Compton Mackenzie, Ariel by Andre Maurois, Twenty-Five by Beverly Nichols, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers, Gone to Earth by Mary Webb, and William by E.H. Young. 

You probably recognize some of these titles and authors. These books were reprints of popular hardback books of the time. The success of paperbacks stems from the fact that they are published after the hardback books have come out. Lane marketed his paperbacks not in bookstores, but train stations, newsstands and department stores across the UK. 

In 1939, U.S. publisher Robert de Graff launched Pocket Books. His first title was “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. Pocket Books used colorful illustrations on their covers to attract readers. In the U.S. Penguin marketed their books in bookstores. de Graff distributed his books to newsstands, subway stations and drugstores to reach populations Penguin was missing.

During WWII soldiers appreciated the portability of paperbacks. According to the Saturday Evening Post, one soldier had picked up “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather, thinking it was a murder mystery (it is not). Upon having finished it in his foxhole, “he discovered, to his amazement, that he liked it anyway.”

Paperback books come in a couple of different sizes. The smaller books are called mass-market paperbacks. They measure 6.75″or 7″X 4″. These are often reprints of popular titles.  The font is smaller and the paper is lower quality than trade paperbacks. Some varieties of books, like romance, are often published only as paperbacks. You are likely to find mass-market paperbacks for sale in a supermarket, newsstand or airport. They are distributed by magazine wholesalers.

Trade paperbacks measure 8.25″X 5.25″ They have the same size of print as hardback books and are more often sold in bookstores. Trade paperbacks are distributed by book wholesalers. The idea was never for paperbacks to replace hardback books, but to make books more affordable. Libraries are more likely to purchase trade paperbacks to add to their collections because they are constructed of better materials and are likely to last longer.

In the 1930s, paperbacks were about the price of a pack of cigarettes. Since then, paperback book prices have gone up faster than cigarettes, but they are still affordable, and readily available to travelers. One nice thing about traveling with paperbacks is you don’t have to worry about misplacing them. On my last vacation, I bought “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” by Walter Isaacson at the airport. I had a lot of airplane time, and this 530 page book was just the ticket.