Notable Books of 2008

If you’re like me, having blissfully tuned out every commercial blaring over the radio for the last month and a half, the idea that you have to buy presents for friends, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and most importantly your significant other is finally catching up with you right about now.

As a librarian, I always give books. Its just what I do. I don’t pretend to know just the right book for everyone on my list but I did find find this list of 100 Notable Books of 2008 from the New York Times Sunday Book Review extremely helpful. I even found a couple things I’d like to read myself.

Happy Holidays!

Ted

Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 641 Project: Gingerbread

You can’t think of Christmas without thinking of cookies.  Brightly decorated cutouts; kinds with seasonal ingredients and flavorings; elaborate, fancy designs; the good ol’ classics…

photo by Stephen Hart

photo by Stephen Hart

And gingerbread.  People and houses are made from this sweet, spicy cookie, and decorated so lavishly that you’d dare not eat them!  Bakers don’t limit themselves to just gingerbread people shapes and houses, though, but use any cookie cutter at their disposal.  Ginger cookies can be are crisp as gingersnaps or moist and chewy.

Its name comes from the 13th century word “gingerbras” (Old French for “preserved ginger”) which became “gingerbread” during the 14th century.  Cooks discovered that ginger helped to preserve pastries and bread, which is probably how “bread” became part of the name.  Early gingerbread is nothing like the cookie or the moist cake that we know today.  Medieval gingerbread was a mixture of breadcrumbs, spices (ginger being one of them), and honey, pressed into molds or shaped by hand.  It was a popular treat at fairs throughout Europe, and served to celebrate special occasions and religious holidays.  It’s said that Queen Elizabeth I invented the idea of the gingerbread man:  She had likenesses of important court visitors baked up for gifts.  She was likely following the practice of other monarchs who, as early as the 15th century, had gingerbread molded into their own likeness for propaganda usage.

Gingerbread houses were being made in Germany around the early 1800s.  Historians can’t agree whether the Witch’s’ house in Hansel and Gretel was inspired by the craft of gingerbread house making or if the craft was inspired by the story, but the craft got a big boost from the Brothers Grimm tale.  German settlers took the tradition with them to the United States, especially in Pennsylvania.  By this time, gingerbread was made with flour, eggs, butter and other spices, using either honey or molasses.  The cookies were like shortbread, and the cake had developed.  Cookie cutters were probably used more than molds at that time.  Gingerbread men and animals were hung as ornaments on Christmas trees. The Pennsylvania Dutch baked and decorated very large gingerbread cookies around Christmastime to decorate the windows of their homes.

Gingerbread has a long (and yummy!) history.  It’s association with special occasions lead to its place in Christmas tradition.  (But you don’t have to wait ’til then to enjoy it!)

*****

This blog is in no way a complete history of the delicacy.  Check out these and other sources to get a better picture:

The Food Timeline – http://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html  Scroll down to the artlce on gingerbread.

An in depth essay by Dr. Alice Ross, along with some historic recipes – http://www.journalofantiques.com/hearthdec.htm

The article on gingerbread in Encyclopedia of Christmas, available at CCLS.

Gingerbread cookie, men and house recipes can be found on the internet using your favorite search engine.  My favorite gingersnap recipe comes from a December 12, 2002 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.  Access it using the Newsbank database available through CCLS (click here).

When baking, make sure your ginger and other spices are as fresh as possible (no more than a year old) for the best flavor.

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Scrooge and Cratchits: What Happened After “A Christmas Carol”

Of the many themes that Charles Dickens’ explores in his novel A Christmas Carol, the most powerful is that of redemption.  Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner, is given a chance to see his past and future if he doesn’t change and endeavor to assist his fellowman.  The redemption theme continues in two novels which are sequels to A Christmas Carol that I’ve had the pleasure to read:

Mr. Timothy, by author Louis Bayard, takes very few cues from the original and creates a story with a tone and character all its own.  It’s been about twenty years since Ebenezer Scrooge made his promise to help his clerk Bob Cratchit and family with relief from poverty, and he has indeed made good.  The Cratchits have lived comfortably, and the children have done as well as can be expected.  But Tiny Tim, now an adult and cured of his crippling disease, has failed to live up to his father’s expectations, and lives as a loner in a brothel, frequenting the grimy areas of London and subsisting on Scrooge’s charity.  Around Christmastime, Timothy, as he is now called, discovers a young orphan girl with a mysterious mark on her body: a mark like that found on two dead girls he’s seen in weeks past.  Fearing her fate to be the same, Timothy begins an effort to rescue her.  But he soon uncovers a diabolical network of several nasty people, lead by a shadowy aristocrat, which preys on young girls for unspeakable purposes.  Timothy finds that his fate may be the same as that of the girl whom he’s trying to save.

Don’t expect to find the world Dickens created in A Christmas Carol:  Even Timothy isn’t the same!  Mr. Timothy is an effective thriller set against the seamy side of Victorian London, more so even than what Scrooge sees in Christmas Future.  Like his benefactor Scrooge, Timothy is haunted by a ghost – his father’s – and seeks to right the disappointments he has within and with his father.  It’s a good read for anytime of the year.

For something a bit lighter, try Scrooge and Cratchit, a sequel by Matt McHugh.  In this short story, Scrooge again has kept his promise to keep Christmas all year ’round.  Only he’s kept it a little too well:  Ebenezer has given away nearly all of his personal and business wealth to the point of bankruptcy.  Bob Cratchit, now Scrooge’s business partner, has the unpleasant task of dealing with their creditors, who threaten foreclosure if payment isn’t made immediately.

While A Christmas Carol emphasizes the responsibility of man to look after his fellowman in need, Scrooge and Cratchit examines to what extent does man need to go.  Cratchit struggles with the thought, knowing that his partner’s generosity is the cause of a predicament that’ll put him back in poverty where he started.  Scrooge is fully aware of what he’s doing, however:  He’s on a mission to not only redeem himself of his selfishness, but to atone for it, too.

Don’t forget to read Dickens’ original tale, of course!

*****

Mr. Timothy is available through PINES, as well as other books by Louis Bayard.

Scrooge and Cratchit is available at Matt McHugh’s website, along with other short stories by the author.

A listing of  A Christmas Carol adaptations and sequels, found at Wikipedia.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is available at CCLS in book and audiobook versions.  The complete and public reading versions can be found at various sites online, such as this one from Project Gutenberg (complete) and Gaslight (condensed).

Check out our Dickens Resource Guide

Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 6:53 pm  Comments (3)  

Goody, Goody! Forest Park’s International Santa Collection

The Forest Park Branch’s International Santa Claus collection is on display for the holidays.  The scene is at Santa’s home in the North Pole where the gift givers gather for a little pre-Christmas Eve party. (This is the final time we’ll use this diorama; next year we’ll have a new setting for the collection.)

We have no new figurines in our collection this year, but we learned something interesting about Mrs. Santa Claus.

Mrs. Santa Claus, USA

Mrs. Santa Claus, USA

Of all the gift givers of different cultures, not one has a wife except for Santa Claus of the United States.  Even he, who is descended from the Dutch Sinterklaas, didn’t have a spouse until 1889.

That year, poet Katherine Lee Bates wrote a poem Goody Santa Claus (Goody is short for goodwife), where Mrs. Claus persuades her reluctant husband to let her come along on his Christmas Eve delivery run, and proves that she is more than just a housewife!  (A few years later, Bates wrote the first draft of America the Beautiful.)

Mrs. Santa is generally portrayed as the patient, busy lady who manages the home, looks after the reindeer and the elves and makes sure that the Mr. gets his rest.  Film and television, however, occasionally show her not only as a good household manager, but as an intelligent, proactive woman, just like in the poem.  In the musical Mrs. Santa Claus, she goes to New York City and becomes an activist for women’s rights and child labor laws!

We found this bit of information while updating our collection book.  We’ve included information about each Santa’s country of origin, and Christmas customs of a few of the countries.  The collection will be on display through the month of December.  Please stop by and have a look!

 *****

 A Wikipedia article on Mrs. Claus, though brief, lists her portrayal in movies and television

The web has a wealth of Santa Claus history and information.  Enter the terms “Santa Claus” and “history” in your favorite search engine.

See photos of our International Santa collection from the CCLS photostream; then visit the CultureGrams database, accessible through the CCLS website, to read about the different countries of origin (library card required)

Read the Christmas poems of Katherine Lee Bates

Track Santa’s delivery run on Christmas Eve on Norad Tracks Santa

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Make Way for the Herdmans!

 

If you thought Bebe’s Kids were bad, you don’t know the Herdmans!

Before comedian Robin Harris created his epitome of “bad” children, Barbara Robinson told the tale of The Herdmans, the cigar smoking, arsonous, petty thieving, out of control bullies of the classic kids’ book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  The townsfolk and their children have little to do with the Herdmans, choosing to tolerate their antics and put out their literal fires.  But when the children and townspeople prepare for the church’s annual Christmas pageant, the Herdmans show up and all but take over the lead roles.  The kids and parents brace for the worst, knowing that the hellions will shatter the decorum and tradition of the pageant:  An especially disastrous rehearsal confirms as much.  But the night of the pageant brings a surprise that no one is prepared for.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a children’s book, but it proves to be great for all ages.  It’s comparable to the “News from Lake Wobegone” segments of A Prarie Home Companion:  A look at matters of the human heart told in a witty, laid back manner.  Here, the parents and kids dread another performance of the Christmas pageant, having gone through the routine enough to become jaded.  It takes this situation with the Herdmans – the most inappropriate people in, for them, the most inappropriate situation – to open everyone’s eyes and recapture the meaning of the season.

The book is a quick, fun read; one to gather the whole family and read together.

*****

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is available at all CCLS libraries.  Click here for our holdings, or ask a librarian for assistance.

A movie version is available also on VHS.

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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