Read Across America

Come celebrate all week with us as we recognize Read Across America in conjunction with the birthday of Dr. Seuss (March 3rd). Link

Read Across America


Published in: on February 29, 2008 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Young Adult Feature of the Month: Stargirl

Have you ever read a book that just speaks to you? Certain passages make you stop reading, you re-read and it and just think on it. Maybe it relates to what is going on in your life or past experiences. Maybe it helps to put things into perspective for you.

Stargirl and Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli does that for me.

I read Stargirl a few years ago when it first came out and fell in love with her. I wanted to be more like her. She was so completely unselfish, and always did nice things to/for others. It may not have had the desired outcome she wanted, but just the act was enough. She always tried to make someone happy. (Singing happy birthday to people, dropping pennies for someone to find, etc). She also did things anonymously, (make & give cards to people) she wanted no recognition for any of it.

Spinelli wrote a sequel summer of 2007: Love, Stargirl. It follows a year in Stargirl’s life via a letter that actually came out more like a journal. I wasn’t as moved by the second one, but there were still moments.

“Live today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Just today. Inhabit your moments. Don’t rent them out to tomorrow.”

That one passage has become my new motto. I ask you to do that as well. Live for today! Do something nice for someone else-even if it is as simple as picking a wildflower and giving it to a friend. Or maybe someone is having a down day. Send them a cheery note. (sometimes the simplest actions have the greatest reaction)

Jerry Spinelli’s website ( has a link, “How to Start a Stargirl Society” Maybe you’d like to start one at your school… Make your own name, learn to play the ukelele, make cards for people, find enchanted places, etc.

Hmm…looks like there is a Stargirl movie in the making as well! (I don’t know about any of yall, but everytime I picture Stargirl I see Larisa Oleynik as Dawn Schafer from The Babysitter’s Club movie) But it will be interesting to see the movie. And it is one of the few book to movies that I am actually looking forward to seeing!

BTW: if you enjoyed Stargirl, check out Loser-also by Spinelli.

Other sites of possible interest:
Stargirl Society article
How to play a Ukelele 
Stargirl movie updates (not much here yet…but check back)

And now–off I go to start a letter to someone…to give to them February 18, 2009!

Till next time keep flipping those pages!

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Black History Month Film Festival at Forest Park

The Forest Park Branch presents a Black History Month Film Festival from February 19 through 22.  All films start at 2 pm. 

Our program highlights social and historical events in African-American history; many of the films feature actors who have made history themselves:

Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored is based on Clifton Taulbert’s memoir of growing up in rural Mississippi.  Despite the poverty and racial segregation of the South, young Cliff observes the dignity, hope and love of in his family and their farming community.  This quiet film shows the resilience of African-Americans and undying hope for freedom under the most oppressive conditions.  Screens Tuesday February 19.

Director Spike Lee fought and struggled to bring the story of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, to the silver screen.  Despite studio demands to make the film Malcolm X short and on a modest budget, Lee used every resource at his disposal to deliver the film with the sweep of a Hollywood epic without compromising the power of his life and mission.  Denzel Washington makes the performance of his career as the outspoken activist of African-American civil rights, from X’s childhood wrought with racist terrorism to his rise in the Nation of Islam and as a voice for Black America.  Screens Wednesday February 20.

Glory is an account of Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, the first Black regiment raised in the Union during the Civil War.  Robert Gould Shaw, the son of wealthy abolitionists, was called upon to command.  Fighting his own fears, racism within the military and the urgency of getting the men ready for battle, Shaw produced a regiment that proved its mettle in an intense, no-win battle.   Not only is Shaw’s mettle as a commander is tested, but the resolve of the Black soldiers who desire to participate in their struggle for freedom.  Glory has been hailed as one of the best Civil War movies made to date, depicting highly accurate – and violent – combat sequences.  Screens Thursday February 21.

Celie’s life is filled with misery and abuse at the hands of her father, then her husband Mr. ___.  What get’s Celie through is the love of her sister Nettie.  Then Mr. ___, after his advances are spurned, drives Nettie away.  Celie is doomed to an empty, miserable life, until she finds friendship in the least likely of women.  The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, portrays the lives and low social status of African-American women in the rural South.  Director Steven Spielberg uses his signature visual style to reveal the suffering and eventual triumph of Celie and the women in her life.  Screens Friday February 22.


Parents are advised to visit the movie pages at Internet Movie Database for content information.  Click on the movie title above to link to IMDb.  An adult must remain with youth under age 13 at all times for these movies.

Each of the Festival selections is based on books.  Read our blog below for information and availability.

Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Black History Month Film Festival Reading List

The films featured in our BHM Film Festival are based on books of fiction and historical events.  By coincidence, I have read all of the books at one time (I’m not able to write my Book vs. Movie articles on them at this time, however), and can recommend all of them.  Needless to say, the films differ from the books in varying degrees, and I recommend reading the original source to gain a true perspective of the subjects and/or the story.

Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored is Clifton Taulbert’s tribute to his family as he grew up in rural Mississippi.  The film builds on a theme of hope that’s not explicit in the book, but the short memoir relates the love of his home and community as well as the dignity of the people.  Taulbert wrote several more books about and based on his childhood experiences.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X remains an important and controversial book in American literature, over 40 years after its publication in 1965.  The book was written by journalist Alex Haley – a few years before he embarked on his own book Roots – as told to him by Malcolm X.  X describes his life from childhood to his trip to Mecca following his break with the Nation of Islam.  Like the movie, the writing reflects his transformation in his lifestyle, his insights on the plight of African-America and his philosophies of life in America.  The book as been criticized for certain parts being fictionalized by Haley, or exaggerated by X.  Most editions include Haley’s account of his interviews with X, which gives an interesting perspective of X apart from the main work.

Glory is based on the books One Gallant Rush and Lay this Laurel, and the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.  (Of the three, I’ve only read One Gallant Rush.)  Shaw was commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment from its inception in 1863 to his death on the ramparts of Battery Wagner.  One Gallant Rush is a complete detail of Shaw’s life and his leadership of the 54th, and also gives some insight into the men who fought in the regiment (the film shows fictional soldiers who are composites of differing mindsets of the time).  Lay this Laurel offers a biographical sketch of Shaw, but is chiefly a commemorative album of the 54th Massachusetts Memorial in Boston.  Shaw’s letters are collected in a book Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune.

The Color Purple won Alice Walker the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and is the best known of her works to date.  The novel’s power lies in its first person narrative:  Celie telling her story through her diary, and letters from her sister Nettie.  (The movie is fairly faithful to the novel, but its style allows it to stand on its own.) 

All of these books are available at CCLS or through PINES.  Click on the title above to link to the PINES website, or ask your library staff for assistance.

The Black History Month Film Festival at the Forest Park Branch Library runs from February 19 – 22.  See the article above for more information.


When I posted the above list, I neglected to include to a couple of books that explore the experiences of director Spike Lee and author Alice Walker during the making of the films Malcolm X and The Color Purple, respectively.

Lee was determined to make Malcolm X, by any means necessary.  From his bogart tactic to get the directing assignment to his appeal to wealthy African-Americans to help finance post-production, Lee’s book By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X chronicles his struggles to make a biopic of Malcolm X that did justice to the complexities of the man and his life.  Lee felt that an epic film would accomplish this, but the heads of Warner Bros., who financed and distributed the film, disagreed, believing that a one and a half hour film made on a modest budget would be sufficient.  The process from pre- to post-production is quite a drama in itself.  This book is available through PINES.

I came across The Same River Twice : Honoring the Difficult while checking our holding for The Color Purple.  Written ten years after the premiere and success of the film version of The Color Purple, Walker wrote about her experiences dealing with the choices, criticisms and her sudden fame resulting from the film.  Included is her screenplay for the movie (Steven Spielberg used another version instead of Walker’s). 

Books like these always interest me because of they give insight into the filmmaking process from the creator’s point of view.  I think they will interest the non-filmmaker, too:  A lot goes into making movies before and after the lights, camera, action!  I’ll write more about this at a later time.

Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Love Bites

In her pack, Vivian is expected to mate with one of the packmates her age. But she doesn’t. She falls in love with Aiden. A human. A meat-boy. Now she must choose between her love for him and her werewolf pack. (Blood & Chocolate is one of my most favorite books! I could literally read this book over and over. In fact, its time to pull it out again methinks…)

In Wicked Lovely, Aislinn has broken a very serious rule: Don’t attract the attention of the invisible faeries. Unfortunately for her, the Summer King notices her and has plans for Aislinn-without caring for what she wants. He is determined to make her his Queen at all costs.

Kyle Kingsbury is a beast. Or at least he is after humiliating a girl at school. Kyle now has to make a girl fall in love with him to break the spell and remove the curse of the beast from him.  (This is Beastly by Alex Flinn-a modern remake of Beauty & the Beast. Go…Read it…NOW!)

Fran is living in Hungary with her mom and a traveling circus. There she meets Benedikt. He rides a motorcycle and doesn’t think she is weird. He needs her to redeem his soul. Hmm…Did I mention that he is a vampire? Read more of this hilarious story in Got Fangs and Circus of the Darned by Katie Maxwell.

The common denominator in these books? Love. Whether it sucks, or bites, or is furry, full of fangs, magic, lust, fantastical creatures, or just modern day with a twist of fantasy. These stories will be sure to delight, tickle, and capture you-might even make you swoon or sigh happily…or make you burn with jealousy or anger! >.< But hopefully not those last two!

So for your Valentine’s Day-be sure to check out one or two of these Love Bites books!

Jinx-Meg Calbot
Companions of the Night-Vivian Vande Velde
Tithe; Ironside; Valiant-Holly Black
Twilight; New Moon; Eclipse-Stephenie Meyer
Tantalize-Cynthia Leitich Smith
The Silver Kiss-Annette Curtis Klause
Daughters of the Moon-Lynne Ewing
Blue Bloods; Masquerade-Melissa de la Cruz

Till next time-keep flipping those pages!

Published in: on February 12, 2008 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

The First Black President





Will it be Barak Obama, come the wee hours of November 4 and on a January morning in 2009?  Or was it Bill Clinton, our forty-second President, so-called because of his policies favorable to and inclusive of African-Americans (as well as women and other minorities)?

Or was it John Hanson, from 1781 – 1782, before George Washington?

A patron posed a fascinating question to us the other morning: Was there, for one day, a black President of the United States?  He said that his grandmother had read the claim in a textbook during her college years, and he wanted to verify it for himself.  We performed a web search that yielded this information:

Comedian Dick Gregory writes in his Global Watch column that a John Hanson served as president from November 5, 1781 – November 3, 1782, predating the presidency of George Washington by seven years.  The article’s header states that Hanson was “A ‘Black’ Man, A Moor,” though it gives no evidence to Hanson’s color or origin.  Other web search results point back to Gregory’s article, and no other verifying sources were immediately found.  Then a search under Hanson’s name revealed that neither claim may be true.

John Hanson was indeed a President of the U.S., but under the Articles of Confederation, which pre-dates our Constitution and the Executive Office as we know it.  Also, he was the second president to serve under the Articles, though he was the first to serve a full one year term.  Even in the whole scheme of things, he was the third president to preside over the Continental Congress of the U.S, and that was never an executive post with the powers and responsibilities of the office now.

Though little is written about him from his time, nothing in the writings suggest that Hanson was black.  Portraits of the period show him as a white man.  A Wikipedia article on Hanson – that addresses myths about him and his term of service – states that the belief of his race is rooted in the fact that his grandfather was an indentured servant.  There is possibly confusion between indentured servitude and chattel slavery: indentured servants were black or white, and worked for a number of years to earn their freedom; chattel slaves were always black, and had no option of freedom outside of escape.  The article also states that Hanson may be confused with another John Hanson, a Liberian Senator during the 1850’s (pictured above with Obama and Clinton). 

Assisting the gentleman with his query is one of the things I enjoy about reference work:  Searching and discovering information that helps our patrons as well as edifies me.  I had heard that there were other presidents before George Washington, but know now of the nature of their presidency; and that maybe, one may have been of African decent, though not likely. 

The experience also underlines the importance of thorough research and backing information with verifiable and reputable sources, whether it’s a controversial claim like Gregory’s, or an average grade school report.  The information that is transmitted impacts the knowledge of the hearer, as well as the reputation of the writer.


I have referenced two Wikipedia articles in this essay.  Because its articles are written by people whose expertise in an article’s subject is questionable, many librarians — myself included — are wary of using Wikipedia as a sole source of information, and recommend using other resources to verify its information.  The reader may want to research further the information in the Wikipedia articles, as well as Gregory’s article.

Published in: on February 7, 2008 at 9:54 pm  Comments (2)