free-for-all1Some people think that libraries are stuffy, tomb-like places run by bespectacled octogenarians whose primary  function is to go around shhhussshing  others.  Those of us who actually work in one know that’s far from the truth.  One book I found that  really hit the nail on the head as far as how libraries today really operate  is Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert.  Okay, it’s about a library in California, so some things are a little different, but it is still a quick read that’s delightfully funny, yet peppered with some very poignant moments.

down-cut-shin-creekFor a nonfiction take on the subject, check out Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer.  During the Great Depression, this WPA program was started to put women to work and to serve the very poor in remote regions of the country.  These courageous book carriers provided their own horses or mules and were paid  a whopping $28 a month!

miss-rumphius2As far as children’s books, an old favorite of mine is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.  Miss Rumphius, a retired librarian, plants lupines all over her community– in order to leave the world a better place.  The message is touching and the illustrations inspiring — it’s a feel good book that just makes you want to go out and DO something!

dust-bowl_photoWhen times are tough, it helps to read about those who have gone through even more desperate times – with grace and courage.

Early settlers and homesteaders lived near the margin; they felt fortunate if they had the very basics of life (in the face of drought, pestilence, and economic collapse). Books like Nothing to Do But Stay by Carrie Young and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books immerse the reader in the hard life of the pioneer on the plains.

Books with a  documentary slant are Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich and Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel. Both made an important societal  impact and yet are highly  readable.

Poverty was a fact of life at the turn of the century; poor families lived without any kind of safety net.  This was a common theme in early American childrens’ literature. Two tight-knit families who lived in “ramshackle cottages” and faced eviction, illness and other disasters with humor are the Five Little Peppers series by Margaret Sidney and Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch by Alice Rice.

All these books provide context and role models for today’s tough times.

Also recommended:


Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

DVDs (adapted from books):

Grapes of Wrath

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl


Roses are Red, Violets are Blue

April is National Poetry Month too!

Okay, okay — this little rhyme won’t win a Pulitzer prize.  But maybe, just maybe, it’ll get you to come into the library and check out a book of poetry; you might just find some old favorites you’ve forgotten and discover some new ones along the way.

kickThe children’s collection has some beautiful books — often illustrating just one poem, so they’re very appealling to both young and old alike. Try Shel Silverstein’s classic A Light in the Attic, filled with whimsical, playful, clever (and very funny) word play, or Paul Janecsko’s A Kick in the Head, a delightful, laugh-out-loud introduction to poetry forms.  Both will have you bouncin’ to the beat!


And, if you’ve never read Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, what better time than now?  Set in a fictional Midwestern village in central Illinois along the Spoon River (which isn’t all that far from here), it tells the stories of “the dead sleeping on the hill” who awaken and tell the truth about their lives. Although written in 1915, the themes are universal and heartfelt.

If you don’t find something on the display shelf, just check out the 811’s for a treasure chest of American poetry.

s-singalong-blogConceived, written and filmed during the 2008 writer’s strike, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog is a musical unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Originally available for free online, it’s now on DVD with additional (hilarious) commentary and making-of mini-documentaries.

The story is simple, yet devious. Mild-mannered Billy (played by Neil Patrick Harris) is actually Dr Horrible (“I have a PhD in Horrible”), bad-guy-in-training. He desperately wants to join the Evil League of Evil (led by Bad Horse who is – a horse) but his every evil attempt is foiled by his nemisis, Captain Hammer (played to the full, cheesy hilt by Nathan Fillion) Billy/Dr Horrible sings of his love for Penny (Felicia Day), the girl at the laundromat he is too shy to talk to then watches in horror as Captain Hammer claims her for himself. How far will Dr Horrible go to be admitted to the Evil League of Evil? Will he ever defeat Captain Hammer? Can he ever tell Penny his true feelings?

The brainchild of Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly), the lyrics and dialogue are smart and funny, the singing and acting are terrific and the world-view delightfully skewed. If you’re a fan of Buffy or Flight of the Conchords or Sweeney Todd, you’ll find a lot to like in this musical.

bobby-flayHungry for a good old-fashioned American meal? It’s hard to beat the classic triumvirate of hamburger, French fries and a milkshake. Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries and Shakes shows how to take these favorites and kick them up a notch.

Flay starts with advice on finding and using the best ingredients and preferred cooking methods. Next he shows you variations on the classics – Greek burgers with feta cheese and Greek yogurt, fries made with sweet potatoes and condiments ranging from chipotle ketchup to red chili mustard. Milkshakes get special attention too – what about blackberry cheesecake or or peanut butter-banana-marshmallow? Intrigued yet?

You’ll find all of this and more, beautifully illustrated and clearly described – plenty of inspiration for creating your own version of an American classic.

beach-street-knitting-societyFeeling a little bit like an English version of Jan Karon’s Mitford series (charming setting, eccentric characters, quirky stories about everyday life) The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil is a fun read, perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Jo Mackenzie’s husband manages to get himself killed in a car accident just a few minutes after telling her that he wanted a divorce, forcing Jo to pack up her life and her two boys and start over. They leave London to take over her Grandmother’s knitting shop in the seaside town of Broadgate Bay. There they encounter overly friendly dogs, resistance to change and a run-down house and shop.  Jo’s best friend Ellen, a famous newscaster in London, keeps things from getting too sweet with her sarcastic observations, and a chance encounter with a celebrity adds some glamor. Jo and her boys soon find themselves part of a circle of friends and neighbors that are always willing to help and a new life that is interesting and satisfying.

Knitting fans will recognize the characters that frequent the yarn shop and take part in the new knitting group Jo forms. The dialogue is sharp and witty and Anglophiles will appreciate the many British references (Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Liberty, etc) and the British slang. This is the first title of a projected series (the second in the series has already been published in England) so watch for more of these charming and funny stories.

Ahhh, Spring!  It’s a fresh start for everything — including your home! April just happens to be National Decorating Month, so if you’re looking for some ideas to update your lovely abode, stop by the library and check out what we have to offer.  These books have beautiful photographs and offer simple (and inexpensive) solutions to your decorating dilemnas.  You know, all you need is a new coat of paint or a change of pillows on your couch! Well, maybe a little bit more.

For more detailed ideas, here are some great resources for some creative new home decorating ideas:

the-nestbefore-and-after baths style-by-nature

HGTV Before & After Decorating

Better Homes and Gardens Beautiful Baths

Style by Nature: Beautify Your Home with Pattern, Color and Texture by Rebecca Jerdee

Can’t Fail Room Makeovers by Lucianna Samu

The Nest Home Design Handbook by Carley Roney

rachel-getting-marriedWeddings are  joyful occasions, but they’re also often fraught with emotional upheaval as adult children struggle to find their role in the family and come to terms with old resentments and tragedies from the past.

In Rachel Getting Married, Kym is home on a weekend pass from a drug addiction recovery program to attend her sister’s wedding. Rude, self-absorbed and sarcastic, she immediately stirs up trouble and tries to shift the focus of the weekend to herself. She’s also obviously fragile and damaged and desperate for love and understanding. Rachel is hesitant to reach out to her – Kym’s addictions have had far-reaching consequences and led to a tragedy that tore the family apart. Yet the bonds of love and family, though strained and frayed, hold strong and by the time Kym leaves they’ve reached a deeper understanding of and love for each other.

The various scenes of the wedding and the celebrations and events leading up to it are wonderful, often funny, sometimes heart-wrenching – a chaotic, multi-cultural extravaganza of music and traditions (the dishwasher-loading contest is especially funny) In the end, the lesson is that forgiving yourself may be the hardest thing you do, and that love can save you.

Anne Hathaway earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress with her riveting performance of Kym.


If you are a weather buff (and who isn’t in Iowa), you’ll find this book a suspenseful read. Mark Levine, a University of Iowa poetry professor, tells the story of April 3rd, 1974, an infamous date in weather history. The term Super Outbreak was coined to try to describe the unprecedented 148 tornados that pounded the U.S. from Alabama to Canada for 18 hours. The author focuses on rural northern Alabama and we get to know the victims and survivors as well-rounded individuals, so their fates become even more meaningful.

Many survive multiple tornados – actually being in the tornado itself and being bypassed by multiple funnel clouds. A particularly nightmarish scene is in the small Athens, Alabama hospial as it is flooded with victims and is threatened by tornados itself and finally loses power.

Levine’s skill is both in dramatizing each person’s experience and explaining the technical, meteorological reasons for the storms. The book will appeal to those who want to learn their science or history in a dramatic way.


Having grown up in Philadelphia and lived in New York City, Cornelia Brown believes the suburbs will be a piece of cake. Turns out the slice of the American dream that Cornelia and her husband Teo move to is just as full of drama, heartache, secrets and joys as anywhere else.

Early on in Belong to Me, Cornelia struggles to find a place among the women and families of her new neighborhood. When Piper, the “leader” of the local social network, takes an instant dislike to her, it looks like things will get ugly. But then by chance Cornelia meets Lake, also new to the area and they begin to form a bond. Not everything is as it seems – we learn that Piper is caring for her terminally ill best friend and is not quite the dragon she presents to the world, that seemingly perfect marriages have cracks and that Lake has secrets that will affect them all.

de los Santos writes about the daily living with family and children and events both large and small with grace and clarity, but she is especially good at revealing the intricaces of the friendships of women; there is a lot of emotion here, but no sentimentality. Characters are complex, with flaws, but also hugely likeable, people that you’d like to know and have over for coffee.

This is a follow-up to de los Santos first book, Love Walked In where we first meet Cornelia and Teo and learn how they got together.