Diverse Books for My Kids

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Viking Press, 1962

Please read this article from Rumaan Alam. What he has to say is essential.

We Don’t Only Need More Diverse Books. We Need More Diverse Books Like The Snowy Day.
by Rumaan Alam (published by Slate, August 2, 2016)

We need diverse books to be sure, but those must be part of a literature that reflects our reality, books in which little black boys push one another on the swings, in which little black girls daydream about working in the zoo, in which kids of every color do what kids of every color do every day: tromp through the woods, obsess about trucks, love their parents, refuse to eat dinner. We need more books in which our kids are simply themselves, and in which that is enough.

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Childhood Memory: Found

The Trigan Empire by Mike Butterworth & Don Lawrence
The Trigan Empire written by Mike Butterworth & artwork by Don Lawrence
Chartwell Publishers, 1978
(inside title page)

Without further ado, I present my long lost childhood memory:

The Trigan Empire, written by Mike Butterworth with artwork by Don Lawrence.

This is definitely the book my siblings and I read as kids. As fragmentary as my memories of it are, I was shocked at how familiar it felt to read through it again as an adult. I found that I remembered almost every page as it was revealed to me. And I was delighted to discover that the copy I received via ILL came from a public library in my home state. Seems appropriate.

The Trigan Empire was a comic that ran from 1965 to 1982, published in Britain by Fleetway, with Butterworth and Lawrence as the primary writer and artist. It ran as a serial installment in an educational magazine focused on science. The hardbound novel-length book my siblings and I read was an omnibus collection of the earliest stories from the comic, published in the United States in 1978 by Chartwell.

What’s it about?

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Searching for a Childhood Memory

When my siblings and I were in early grade school at the beginning of the 1980s, we discovered a strange book in the children’s section of our local public library. It was a heftier tome than we’d ever seen on the shelves, oversized and thick—close to 200 pages. Barring encyclopedias, we’d only seen books this big in the adult section or on our parents’ bookshelves at home.

But the best part was that this strange book was a comic book!

Today we’d call it a graphic novel but we hadn’t heard that term back then. We checked it out, brought it home, and each read through it a couple of times.

My memories of reading this book are difficult to properly describe: fragmentary, dissociative, surreal, and dreamlike all come close. I recall that my in-the-moment experience of reading it as a little kid was similar: surreal, dreamlike, dissociative, fragmentary. I had a difficult time keeping the narrative strung together as a cohesive whole in my head.

It was the most challenging thing I’d read up to that point in my life.

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Virtues, Dogs & Love: Scattered Thoughts in the Wake of the Orlando Tragedy

When I was a kid, I was taught the basic virtues: love, honesty, charity, hope, loyalty, modesty, tolerance, temperance, courage. I was taught that these are what we should strive for, as individuals and as a culture.

As a kid, I remember thinking how well these virtues describe a happy, healthy dog. As an adult, it sometimes seems that too many humans have too little of any of these virtues.

This is a picture of me and our dog.

Addison & Me, June 10, 2016
Addison & me, June 10, 2016

She doesn’t care what color my skin is, what country I come from, what my gender is, who I want to have sex with (or don’t want to have sex with), what god I believe in (or none at all), how much money I make.

None of that matters.

She only knows that we love her as best we can and she loves us. We keep her safe, sheltered, fed. We play with her and show her the world. We’re kind to her and we will never hurt her. And for that, she gives us everything she has.

That’s all that matters. Everything else is just vanity.

Dogs love so easily. There’s never any struggle for them to love unconditionally. It’s their default state.

But they don’t hate. They may learn to fear, they may become conditioned to be distrustful, but their fear is only ever that: fear. It never translates into hatred. Dogs can learn fear and caution through repeated experience but they never hold grudges.

And no matter how damaged or distrustful or fearful a dog may be, they can always be led back to love.

It’s so easy to love each other. Why do we have such a hard time with it?

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Orbit Books, 2011
Cover Art by Daniel Dociu

The first real science fiction I ever read was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. I read it when I was in 3rd grade. It remains one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It single-handedly awoke my passion for science fiction. It inspired my ongoing fascination with science—particularly cutting-edge theoretical cosmology.

More than that: Foundation (along with Star Wars) taught me that human imagination doesn’t need to be limited to only the world we know. Our dreams and stories can encompass the Universe and beyond, aliens and environments vastly different from us and ours.

While reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I kept flashing back to my experiences with Asimov in 3rd grade. I kept recalling what it was like to have my mind opened by Asimov’s stories.

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Conversations about Libraries, Conversations about Privilege

A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman who insisted that public libraries are going to disappear soon. He voiced the standard arguments about how everything is online now, and how ebooks are going to replace print entirely. His conclusion: libraries are irrelevant in the modern digital age.

Like so many people who take this position, this gentleman personally loves libraries and sees their inevitable passing as a loss to society. It makes him sad to think that there won’t be any more neighborhood libraries (even though he freely admits that it’s been years since he last set foot in his local library).

Of course, I spoke up to correct him. The stats make it very clear that libraries are as relevant to their communities as ever. Public library usage has actually increased with the advent of the digital information age, increased yet more during the recent economic crisis, and popular approval ratings are as high as they’ve ever been and holding steady. I shared all these stats with him. I shared multiple calculations of the economic impact of libraries and the ROI for every tax dollar invested—libraries are the single best public investment most communities can make. I talked about how libraries bolster and expand educational opportunities for kids and adults, citizens and immigrants, and the illiterate. I talked about how libraries can function as neutral gathering places during times of community upheaval. I talked about the library’s role in upholding the freedom of information and expression in our society. I talked about our computer labs and maker spaces and coding sessions and 3D printers and recording studios, our creative writing groups, our book groups, and our art spaces. I talked about our public programming and community discussion forums.

It was so clear to me that this gentleman would be happy to know that libraries are doing very well, adapting more-or-less adeptly to changing circumstances as they’ve always done, and they remain well-used and beloved by their communities.

That’s not what happened.

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Shakespeare’s Language

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the Folger Shakespeare Library is sending 18 original copies of the First Folio on a tour of the United States. First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare will exhibit the Folio in each of the 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.

The Kansas City Public Library—my library—is the host for Shakespeare’s First Folio during its Missouri showing in June. We’ve planned a year’s worth of activities and programming around it.

So it’s pretty much all Shakespeare, all the time around here. Being a library, we like to emphasize the influence that Shakespeare’s writing had on the course of literature and language in the English-speaking world.

One fact that lots of people love to cite is that Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words and phrases in the English language. This fact tends to be presented as though he sat down and made them up out of whole cloth (a la Lewis Carroll).

I find this scenario unlikely. I consider it far more likely that Shakespeare was merely the first (or the first that we know of) to write down many words and phrases that were already being used in his era.

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