Public libraries believe in children & help them succeed

How can students succeed even if they don’t have all of the opportunities available to others from wealthier families or even if they don’t have involved parents?  The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says that these students can succeed “. . . because someone believed in those children and taught them that neither their poverty nor their parents’ choices defined their futures.” Public librarians everywhere help children and teens by assisting them in pursuing their personal interests, by helping them with resources for life and school, and by talking to them, sometimes day-after-day. Librarians let students know that the librarians believe in the students and their ability to succeed. Most libraries don’t have formal after-school programs (though some do), yet operate as de facto after-school, evening, and weekend youth centers for many of the youth in the libraries neighborhoods.

Public libaries encourage the “sparks” that, according to the Search Institute allow youth to thrive.

“A spark is an interest, talent, skill, asset, or dream that truly excites a young person and helps them discover their true passions, whether they be academic, relational, athletic, artistic, or intellectual—anything that inspires and motivates.

Sparks ‘light a fire’ in a person. But sparks, by themselves, go can out if they are not nurtured with enough ongoing fuel to keep them alive and strengthen them. This fuel comes in the form of supportive peers and adults who help celebrate, affirm, and grow a young person’s sparks and are essential if those sparks are to help the young person truly thrive.”

If you haven’t done so lately,  take a look at all of the services now provided by your local public library and find ways to support the librarians who are “lighting those fires and keeping them alive.”

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

O Christmas Tree: A Short Survey of Christmas Trees in Children’s Picture Books

Christmas Tree Clip Art


Recalling Allen Say’s picture book Tree of Cranes, I wondered what other children’s books there are where a Christmas tree is a central element to the story.  Below is a short survey of such books in the CCLS collection:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles M. Schulz; adapted by Justine and Ron Fontes) – A Charlie Brown Christmas focuses on Charlie Brown’s struggle to find the true meaning of Christmas amidst its commercialization.  Along the way, he finds the scrawny (and now iconic) little tree for the school Christmas play.  He “kills” it while attempting to decorate it, but the tree is miraculously transformed by story’s end.  Based on the classic television special, which in turn is based on the comic strip Peanuts.

Chita’s Christmas Tree (Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard) – Chita, an African-American girl in early 20th century Baltimore, goes to the woods with her father to choose a Christmas tree, and eagerly awaits for Santa to deliver it.  Like many titles in this survey, the book reflects how Chita spends her days preparing for Christmas.

My Prairie Christmas (Brett Harvey) – A little girl tries to adjust to her first Christmas at her new home on the prairie.  But this pales to when her father goes to find a Christmas tree and does not return.

Night Tree (Eve Bunting) – A family goes to the woods to find a Christmas tree, but not to bring home!  An endearing look at an unusual family tradition.

Tree of Cranes (Allen Say) – Author/illustrator Allen Say often celebrates his Japanese heritage in his books.  In Tree of Cranes, a Japanese boy experiences his first Christmas when his homesick Japanese-American mother decorates a small pine tree with candles and paper cranes.

The Tub People’s Christmas (Pam Conrad) – The Tub People – a set of wooden toys in Pam Conrad’s series of books – have no idea what a strange man in a red suit is doing in their home, especially when he brings a tree down the chimney!

Uncle Vova’s Tree (Patricia Polacco) – Like Say, Patricia Polacco draws on her heritage for inspiration for her stories.  She describes a traditional Russian Christmas in Uncle Vova’s Tree, where a spirited uncle implores his nieces and nephews to continue his tradition of decorating the tree that he planted when he and his wife first arrived in America.

Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (Gloria Houston) – Set in the Appalachians near the end of WWI, Ruthie awaits her father’s return from Europe, so together they can harvest a tree that they’ve pledged for the church’s Christmas pageant.


There likely are more books about Christmas trees – for children and adults – than are listed here.  Tell us any that you know of by leaving a comment below.

Find other books in CCLS and PINES by searching the PINES catalog by the author’s name.

CCLS has many Christmas themed books for children and adults.  Ask staff at your nearest library for assistance.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Two Titles for Christmas Reading

It’s the time of year when Christmas themed books are hitting the shelves in bookstores as well as libraries, for gift giving or personal reading.  Here are two titles that I recommend for reading as you settle down for your winter’s nap:

I learned of the novel Mr. Ives Christmas about two years ago when correspondent Ray Suarez named it as his favorite book to read at Christmastime (read the story here).  Mr. Ives follows the life of an advertising artist from his childhood in an adoptive family to his own wife and two children.  When his teen-aged son is murdered just days before Christmas, Ives, a gentle and deeply spiritual man, questions his faith in God and the meaning of his own life, beginning a struggle for inner peace that lasts for many years.

What Suarez liked about Mr. Ives was how author Oscar Hijuelos evoked visual and sensory images of New York City’s people and places of eras long past.  While I can’t appreciate those images as deeply as Suarez, I was nonetheless drawn into that world, easily seeing it in my mind’s eye thanks to Hijuelos’ economic yet vivid description.  In this world, Hijuelos builds a character in Ives who is patient, sensitive, loving life, learning and humanity, and deeply spiritual.  Ives is a man to whom the reader can become emotionally attached, feeling his spiritual elation in his ruminations of God and his crushing pain as he grapples with tragedy.  Like Ives’ family and friends, we wonder why a good man must suffer such great loss, and hope with them that he can overcome and find peace in his golden years.

A Christmas Belle is another sequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (see my blog from December 2008 about two other sequels).  It’s Christmas Day and Ebenezer Scrooge is making amends to all the folks whom he has wronged the day before.  The Ghost of Christmas Past appears and informs him of one last wrong from his past that he must right:  His former fiancée Belle, who broke their engagement years ago in the face of Scrooge’s growing avarice.  Scrooge refuses at first: After all, it was she who left him.  But make the trial he must, lest the lessons of the night before come to mean nothing.

I was especially interested in this “little tome” because it is written by screenwriting team Claudia Johnson and Matt Stevens, both former teachers of mine.  Johnson and Stevens pay loving homage to Dickens by building on characters and situations in Carol, and quoting his text and dialogue from Carol and other writings throughout.   I must confess that I wished for less Dickens and more of their own voice:  Both writers are very insightful, and Johnson especially has a very witty style.  Nonetheless, Belle is an interesting take on Scrooge’s relationship with Belle – who was a passing character in Carol – with some surprising turns.


Mr. Ives’ Christmas is available through PINES.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

A Christmas Belle is not available through PINES currently, but can be purchased through stores and on-line vendors.

Ask a librarian about other Christmas books, both recent and older, available at CCLS.

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

International Santa Claus Collection: New Look, New Faces

The Forest Park Branch Library’s collection of International Santa Claus figurines is on display for the holidays, and with a new look.  Previously, we displayed the figurines in a North Pole diorama. Now, the figurines – each representing a Santa or gift givers of countries or cultures around the world – stand proudly by the flag of his country.   The Santas represent countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. 

Sinter Klaas (l) and his assistant Black Peter of the Netherlands

Joining the collection for this year are Sinter Klaas and his assistant Black Peter, both of the Netherlands.  Sinter Klaas is closely associated with the legend of Saint Nicholas; Santa Claus of the United States is derived from him.  Sinter Klaas delivers gifts on December 6 in Holland, sailing in by boat from Spain and making his rounds riding a white horse.  At the homes of good children, Sinter Klaas orders Black Peter to drop gifts down the chimney; for bad kids, Peter delivers bundles of twigs.  Children fill their wooden shoes with hay or carrots for Sinter Klaas’ horse; in exchange, candy and small toys are left in the shoes.  The Sinter Klaas and Black Peter figurines are on loan from a staff member’s personal collection.

The collection will be on display through the month of December.


Read about Sinter Klaas and Black Peter (Zwarte Pete) at Wikipedia and Project Galactic Guide.

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

Photos of our new display are also in the CCLS photostream (but it’s best to see the display in person!)

See photos of our former display in the CCLS photostream; then visit the CultureGrams database, accessible through the CCLS website, to read about the different countries of origin (library card required)

On Christmas Eve, track Santa’s progress around the world on NORAD Santa Tracker.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

KaZual Holiday

The Forest Park Branch Library starts off the holiday season with A Holiday Celebration this weekend, offering seasonal music with smooth stylings and a modern take on a holiday literature standard, all guaranteed to make the season bright!

Featured performer KaZual

Our program will feature music from the rising R&B vocal group KaZual (pronounced like “casual”).  A cappella singing is their specialty, and their harmonies are as rich and on point as groups like Boyz II Men and Take 6.  But as surely as they can stand toe-to-toe with these groups, KaZual’s style is unique and distinct.  Ask audiences who have seen and heard them as opening acts for Jahiem, Destiny’s Child, Nelly and Ginuwine, or on television shows America’s Got Talent (season 3), The Maury Show and Showtime at the Apollo.  Or check them out at their website.

File:William Sydney Porter.jpg

O. Henry

Also on program is a performance of the holiday classic The Gift of the Magi.  This adaptation of O. Henry’s acclaimed short story premiered on our 2005 program “Three Tales of the Magi.”  The central character Della is transformed from a young urban housewife of the early nineteen hundreds to a twenty-first century co-ed, struggling to balance school and a new marriage, living on a student’s budget.  Her problem – how to give her husband a special Christmas gift – and ultimate solution remain the same. This version of Magi has been a long time project of staff member Stephen Hart.  Originally conceived as a dramatic monologue, Hart worked on a screen version off and on for many years before finally writing the stage version he had envisioned.

A Holiday Celebration starts at 2 o’clock PM on Saturday, December 5 at the Forest Park Branch Library.  A drawing for door prizes follows the program.


Hear KaZual in performance at YouTube.  Search using the term “Kazual” (no quotes)

Read the original short story of The Gift of the Magi, then compare with our stage version.  Click here for an online version, or find a print version at CCLS.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 3:53 am  Leave a Comment