DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

November 2012

Nov 28 2012

Home Matters

by Dea Anne M

I have a confession to make.

I keep house. In fact, I love to keep house.

Not very shocking is it? Yet there was a time in my life when such a confession would have provoked riotous laughter (not to mention downright disbelief) from those who knew me best. As a child, and as a teen, I was profoundly messy. I always enjoyed visiting non-messy friends. I would marvel at their orderly rooms and yet it never seemed to sink into my young brain that a neat,  relaxing space requires  a modicum of organized thinking as well as daily attention. All I knew was that the request (usually delivered through clenched, parental teeth) of  “Clean your room” sentenced me to several hours of arduous and deeply resented labor, the effects of which never seemed to last more than a day. Now if this makes me sound like some kind of spoiled brat, well…

Fast forward a number of years later when I am living alone in my own apartment. My father calls to chat and asks what I’m up to.

“I was just mopping the kitchen floor,” I said.

Several moments of silence followed before Dad said, “You’re kidding, right?”

While I’ll never be proud of my former habits, I’m glad that I finally figured out how much comfort and relaxation can be had when one’s home is clean and tidy. For me, housekeeping isn’t about cooking, decorating, or crafts—although I enjoy those things too. Real housekeeping for me has more to do with practicing habits and routines that turn a living space into a home—a place that consistently provides comfort, respite, and pleasure for those who inhabit it. While I didn’t grow up learning to keep house, mainly because I resisted the process so strenuously, I finally picked up the necessary skills, albeit very gradually and piecemeal.

Are you a late-blooming housekeeper? Maybe you’re already accomplished in this area but you want to refine your skills. Either way, DCPL has the resources to help.

My all-time favorite reference work on housekeeping is Cheryl Mendelson’s wonderful Home Comforts: the art and science of keeping house. Mendelson is a lawyer and a professor of philosophy as well as the author of the well-regarded new book The Good Life: the moral individual in an antimoral world. Be warned—this book is huge. Don’t allow its size to overwhelm you though. Inside you’ll find information on absolutely everything that you might ever need to know about keeping house. As a bonus, the author’s engaging writing makes the book as readable as a novel. If you’re looking for a housekeeping book to live with then I can’t recommend Home Comforts highly enough. I purchased my copy when the book first came out and I use it all the time.

If you’re looking for a more basic sort of reference book, try The Complete Household Handbook: the best ways to clean, maintain, and organize your home from the Good Housekeeping Institute. Packed with practical advice, this book is easy to use and contains some unexpected but very helpful tips. I had never thought about keeping two mops—one for the cleaning solution and the other to mop clean—until I read about it here, but that advice has made all the difference in the quality and speed of my floor cleaning. Another very useful reference is Cleaning: plain & simple by Donna Smallin. Smallin’s motto is “Work smarter, not harder,” and she shows you how to do just that by breaking major jobs down into smaller more manageable stages. I especially appreciate the alternatives that she suggests to the standard (at least for some of us) working person’s once-a-week cleaning. You can spend 30 monutes a day cleaning or pick one task a day and do it for the whole house or stick to one day a week. The important thing is to find what works for you.

An interesting slant on the traditional housekeeping book is Get Crafty: hip home ec by Jean Railla. As a staunch feminist and women’s studies major, Railla had cultivated an ardent disdain for domestic life. She found herself in her twenties living in New York City and pursuing a lucrative career as a web designer yet her life felt moorless and unsatisfying. Gradually, she found that making improvements in her living space began to improve her quality of life overall and, most importantly, did nothing to strip her of her feminist credentials. Get Crafty is a lively DIY manual full of great advice for decorating projects, thrift store shopping, and home made cleaning products. Railla’s voice throughout is funny, generous, and completely modern. Highly recommended.

Take a look at Susan Strasser’s Never Done: a history of American housework the next time you find yourself  faced with carpets in dire need of vacuuming or an Everest of laundry. Strasser’s fine history reveals that the work of the home was so consuming for the typical woman (and housework was done almost exclusively by women) of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that she virtually had time for nothing else. Take that laundry for example: one day a week—often a Monday—the family’s clothes were soaped, boiled, beaten, scrubbed, rinsed, wrung, and hung. It was a process that required many hands and literally took up an entire day. It was draining, back-breaking work that probably wrecked the health of many. I try to keep this in mind as I pop a load of wash in my machine and go back to whatever else I was doing. This is a fascinating, enlightening book.

Thinking on this topic has me remembering a friend from my early days in college. Always beautifully dressed, this woman’s tiny apartment was equally impeccable. When I asked for her secret: no sleeping or eating in favor of housework? hired help? pixies?  she simply smiled and said, “It all starts with making the bed.”  At the time, it sounded like some sort of Zen koan but now, at long last, I think that I’ve started to understand.


Nov 26 2012

A Tale Dark and Grimm

by Nancy M

I recently reread A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz when my teen book club chose to discuss it.  The book is an adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, whom we all know, but continues their story by placing them in several lesser-known Grimm fairytales, such as “Faithful Johannes”, “The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs” and “The Robber Bridegroom” (renamed “A Smile as Red as Blood” in this retelling). And the reason these tales are probably lesser known is because these are the bloody, gruesome tales that you don’t want to be reading to your toddler. But while Gidwitz recreates a dark and often frightening fairytale world, he interjects a lot of humor, mystery and suspense into a really great coming of age story that is so captivating that I enjoyed it even more the second time around. Originally, most of the Grimm fairytales were very dark and “downright cannibalistic” as Dea Anne accurately describes in her recent blog post, but so many of them have been watered down over the years.  And while I wouldn’t say I particularly love blood and guts, this retelling definitely has sent me on a mission to get my hands on some of the less insipid tellings. Currently, I am reading The Juniper Tree selected by Lore Segal which is much more child friendly, but has a great selection of tales and is illustrated by Maurice Sendak. But I am eagerly anticipating Philip Pullman’s new collection, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, which promises to be a bit more mature. Also, check out Dea Anne’s post for more recommendations.

Gidwitz recently published the companion novel In a Glass Grimmly which follows the adventures of the nursery rhyme characters Jack and Jill, again weaving Grimm fairytales and this time Hans Christian Andersen’s tales as well. I haven’t read it yet, but if you can get your hands on it, I am sure it will not disappoint!

And in case you were wondering if A Tale Dark and Grimm is too violent for kids? Well, when I asked the kids in my book club if they liked it, I was met with a resounding “YES!” While they did think parts of it were gross, it’s what made the book even better. The author, it seems is asked this quite frequently, and has a great explanation on his website here that you can check out.

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Nov 23 2012

Grandma’s Hands

by Veronica W

Bubbe. Nonny. Ona. Abuela. Grammy. Ya ya. Big Mama. Mee Maw. Grandmother. Bill Withers, on his album Live at Carnegie Hall,  says, as an introduction to one of my favorite tunes, “People walk up to me and say ‘I loved my grandmother too.’ ” On the album, when he says that, the audience claps and cheers, because they know what’s coming—one of his signature songs, Grandma’s Hands.

I didn’t know my grandmothers and I always listen enviously when my older sisters talk about Gramma Ella’s pies or something she said, did or believed. My own granddaughter is blessed with not only two grandmothers but also two great grandmothers. As a self absorbed teenager, she probably doesn’t appreciate all the advice, virtual cheek pinching and general minding of her business that she gets—except at Christmas and on birthdays, of course.

In his song, Withers chronicles some of the things his Grandma’s hands—as extensions of her heart—used to do: “clapped in church on Sunday morning, picked me up each time I fell, soothed a local unwed mother, though they ached sometimes and swelled.”

Looking in the library’s catalog, you’ll find there are about 980 hits when you search the word “grandmother.” In fiction and nonfiction, grandmas are something special; according to Withers, “great, big ole love machines.”  Because there are too many books to number, I will highlight only one exceptional book, Grand Mothers: Poems, Reminiscences, and Short Stories About the Keepers of Our Traditions. Edited by Nikki Giovanni, this book is filled with the memories, the traditions and the love of grandmothers, as recalled by many well known authors.

I love the part of the title which says grandmothers are “keepers of tradition.” In a world which often dismisses tradition as unnecessary or obsolete, our grandmothers draw us close, rub our backs and remind us of the relevance of the past. Perhaps you have some favorite books or memories you would like to share; perhaps, like Withers’  enthusiastic audience, you can say “I loved my grandmother too.” And how do we know that we were loved in return? As Toni Morrison says in this wonderful book, “What you talkin’ bout, did I love you? Girl, I stayed alive for you!” What an awesome gift.



Nov 21 2012

The Biblio-Mat

by Jesse M

Inside Toronto’s antiquarian bookstore The Monkey’s Paw stands the Biblio-Mat. It has an intentionally vintage appearance; as large as a refrigerator and painted pistachio green, with old style lettering that reads: “Every book a surprise. No two alike. Collect all 112 million titles.”

The Biblio-Mat is a vending machine that dispenses books. For a charge of two dollars, the Biblio-Mat will dispense a random title which in most bookstores might have ended up in the discount bin out front. Owner Stephen Fowler claims that the Biblio-Mat “reinjects the mystery into these old printed artifacts” and that even though it isn’t a big money maker, nearly everyone who has used the Biblio-Mat “has been pleasantly surprised and completely amused,” especially kids. Fowler relates the following story about one of his young customers during an NPR interview:

“One kid I can think of in particular — a very intense, physical little boy, not what you would necessarily consider the bookish type — he got a weird, local history book about Hamilton, Ontario,” he says. “And apparently he’s been carrying it around his house, you know, asking his mom, ‘Did you see where I left my Hamilton book?'”

You can watch a video of the Biblio-Mat in action below.

The BIBLIO-MAT from Craig Small on Vimeo.


Nov 19 2012

On Thanksgiving and Gratitude

by Jnai W

Thanksgiving is on Thursday and the holiday has sneaked up on me this year. As of now my Turkey Day plans have not been solidified and the only signifier in my cupboard of any impending holiday feast is a can of jellied cranberry sauce (and I suspect it’s been sitting there since last year). Still, I’m finding that I’m slowly but surely getting into the spirit of giving thanks (turning off CNN helps a lot) and am taking stock of the things that matter most—family, friends and loved ones, colleagues and life in general.  With a great debt of gratitude owed to the internet, I’ve found many great poems in celebration and observance of Thanksgiving. Please allow me to share one of my favorites here:

by Edgar Guest

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

Happy Thanksgiving, Readers!


Nov 14 2012

Good enough to eat!

by Dea Anne M

Last week, NPR’s culinary blog “The Salt” ran an interesting piece on food themes  in Grimms’ fairy tales. Of course, most of us can remember the witch’s gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel,” the poisoned apple in “Snow White,” and the laden picnic basket that Red Riding Hood carries to her grandmother through the dark woods. Food often presents a dangerous lure in these stories and sometimes is downright cannibal in nature as in “The Robber Bridegroom” and “The Juniper Tree.” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were compiling their German folk tales during the nineteenth century when hunger was still an ominous presence in many people’s lives and memories so perhaps it’s no surprise that food plays such a central role in these stories.

The NPR story focuses specifically on a new edition of The Annotated Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Maria Tatar. Though the book is far from complete, all the most important stories are represented along with fascinating annotations, lavish illustrations, and an introduction by A. S. Byatt. If you are as interested in folk lore and fairy tales as I am then this book is well worth your time and attention.

For other interesting views on fairy tales, check out Clever Maids: the secret history of the Grimm fairy tales by Valerie Paradiz, From the Beast to the Blonde: on fairy tales and their tellers by Marina Warner, and Fairy Tales: a new history by Ruth B. Bottigheimer. More works from Maria Tatar include The Annotated Peter Pan, Enchanted Hunters: the power of stories in childhood, and Off With Their Heads!: fairy tales and the culture of childhood. For more about the Grimm brothers themselves try The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world by by Jack Zipes. Finally, for a really wild take on the Grimms and their work, check out Terry Gilliam’s 2005 fantasy film The Brothers Grimm starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. This movie isn’t for everyone (and definitely not for children…or easily spooked adults!) but I found it weird, original, and very very entertaining.

Do you enjoy fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?


Nov 9 2012

Windows – More Than Glass

by Veronica W

Looking out a side window at work, I see… a liquor store. I’m in a new location, in a new building, with a new view (seen from soaring windows). If I’m here for any length of time, I will become used to seeing the folks who go in and out to buy “refreshment” and will no longer be surprised at how often and how early they need to be refreshed. When I look straight ahead, I see lovely trees, which would normally soothe my soul—except they’re crisscrossed by power lines. After awhile, I will stop being annoyed by that. Right now, however, my eyes can’t help being drawn to the ever changing, fascinating life and drama going on outside.

How many of us, when we go away, want a room with a view? If we go to the beach, we want an ocean front room. In the mountains, we crave a panoramic vista while standing on our balconies (hotels know this and charge accordingly).  I personally love clear, star studded night skies and can only imagine what the view is from a space shuttle window. I wish someone would tell me where I can go outside the city to see the night sky uncontaminated by electric lights.

There are so many places to which we can escape,  if we have the time and the resources, so many views which would stun us into awed silence. When we have no time and limited funds, we can take second best and see them in books or online. I discovered a site that I keep revisiting, because when I visit it, I can sit and imagine myself there. Here is an all time favorite. I’m sure my acrophobia would not bother me there.

The Tiger’s Nest (or Paro Taktsang Monastery) clings like lichen to rocky cliffs in Bhutan’s Paro Valley and creates an awed silence among visitors, broken only by the sound of rustling prayer flags and chanting monks”

In my travels through the library stacks, I came across a charming book entitled The Best Place. It’s the story of a wolf who has a wonderful view from his screened porch but is convinced to sell his house and go in search of a better view. The surprise ending will delight you.

According to Elizabeth Barrett Browning,  “Earth is full of heaven…but only he who sees takes off his shoes.”  Take a look out of your window…or from your screened porch. What wonder-full view do you see?


Nov 5 2012

Remember That I Love Kimya Dawson

by Jnai W

In preparing this blog post I’ve turned to my go-to source for inspiration: my iTunes library. There are certain artists whose music gets me in a great frame of mind for writing and thinking creatively. There’s Norah Jones, whose charming voice,  superlative musicianship and simple, elegant songwriting are always inspiring and soothing. There’s Marie Digby, an artist who became a YouTube sensation with sweet, acoustic covers of pop hits by the likes of Britney Spears and Rihanna (Digby’s full-length album Unfold is lovely and worth a listen).

But today I’ve click-wheeled over to another of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters,  Kimya Dawson. She’s an artist who keeps a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. I fell in love with her music like many folks did—by watching the film Juno and downloading, buying or borrowing that film’s wonderful soundtrack, featuring solo songs and songs from her work in The Moldy Peaches. Her voice is earnest to the point of being childlike, her guitar-playing is folksy and unadorned and her lyrics are honest, open and plain-spoken with the occasional well-placed eff-bomb to drive home a point (her song “Loose Lips”, with her eviscerating anti-war message is a great example).

Usually when I reach for the Kimya Dawson albums, I lean towards her 2006 album Remember That I Love You. Today, however (perhaps in fit of thumb-clumsiness) I happen upon her 2008 album Alphabutt. Many reviews and articles about this album refer to it as a children’s record and I suppose it is (even though my iTunes library categorizes it as folk). It boasts a lot of incredibly creative, kid-friendly tunes like “Little Monster Babies”, “Bobby-O” and its title tune, a scatological masterpiece. But there is also the gently passionate and political “Sunbeams and Some Beans” which ends in a profound yet down to-earth flurry of lyrics that I’d like to quote right now: “if you only have one bean and you meet someone with no bean/ you should give them half your bean/ ‘cuz you will be less hungry if you eat just half a bean/ than if you eat a whole bean in front of somebody with no beans”.

The beauty of Kimya Dawson is that she’s brilliant in speaking to the child in every adult and, as in Alphabutt, she gives a nod to the adult in every child. I could write a blue streak about some of my favorite works of hers—”My Mom”, with Dawson confronting her mother’s harrowing battle with cancer and the existentially astute “I Like Giants”—but I’d rather you click here for a great tune from Dawson’s 2011 album Thunder Thighs (doesn’t look like the Library has this album but it’s wonderful).

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Nov 2 2012

DCPL Mock Caldecott Round 2

by Nancy M

DCPL Youth Librarians and staff have been busy reading and selecting picture books for our Mock Caldecott election.  There have been many wonderful picture books published so far this year and hopefully the following list will guide you to finding something great to share with your children. We recently had our second round of voting and the chosen ones not only met Caldecott criteria, but displayed what we felt were exceptional artwork and storytelling.  Here are the winners from the 2 groups of voters:

Team 1

First Place: Chloe written and illustrated by Peter McCarty




Second Place: Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip and Erin Stead




Third Place: Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino




Team 2

First Place: Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip and Erin Stead




Second Place: Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee




Third Place: The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems




Of course not every book can make it to the final round, but here are some more of what we believe are the cream of the crop in 2012 picture books.  You can click on the picture to take you to the catalog listing.