Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where Do Your Ancestors Come From?

Where do your ancestors come from, and how did they arrive in this country? We asked young Olney Library customers to help us celebrate our country's multicultural heritage, during the month of El Día de los Niños, by telling us a story about how or why their ancestors came to the United States. Kids of all ages shared stories, photos and drawings of their family members' voyages from distant shores-- challenges they faced, new experiences gained, and ultimately their decision to put down roots in their new country.

Thanks to the children who submitted essays-- we enjoyed reading all of them! Here are the winning essays.

My Great-Great-Grandfather by Laura Forrest, 6 years old

Image of handwritten essay by 6 year old Laura Forrest

"My Great Great Grandfather, Neils Tobiasson came to America by boat when he was six years old from Iceland. I am six, too." 💜

Steamboat on the water with flying seagulls nearby

The Journey by Alyssa Forrest, 9 years old

Formal picture of Victoria and Neils Tobiasson as children
Victoria & Neils Tobiasson
Whoosh, Splash, Plop. The storm blew in. "Everyone under," yelled a sailor. We climbed down the ladder to the cabins. "Victoria, where are you?" yelled father. "I'm here," I called back. We met up and I saw Neils, my brother, clinging to my father. As we sat on our bunk I thought of our home in Iceland, my mother, my siblings all left behind. I thought of hiding from Father because of the alcohol he drank, and the missionaries teaching us and helping my father stop drinking. I thought of learning we would have to leave Iceland, the cold place we call home, to go to a strange place called Utah that was a hot and sunny desert. "Papa," Neils said, "when will we get to America?" He was seasick for almost the whole trip. "I don't know, son, I really don't know." Just then the trap door opened and the ladder came down. A sailor stuck his head in. "Land ho," he called, his face shining. We all raced up the ladder to the deck. There was America. Two days later we stepped onto the deck. Utah, here we come!

Essay winners Alyssa and Laura at Olney Library
Alyssa (left), and Laura

The grand-prize winning essay was submitted by Nina Grace Thomas. Congratulations, Nina!

My Appachen's Voyage to the United States by Nina Grace Thomas, 9 years old

Body of water in Kerala, India
Kerala, India
My family is from Kerala, India, where Malayalam is spoken. In Malayalam, the word for grandfather is “Appachen.” My Appachen traveled to the United States in September 1963 to attend graduate school in Putney, Vermont. Although he had applied to other graduate programs, he chose Putney since it had awarded him a full one-year scholarship.

Homes near a body of water in Putney, Vermont
Putney, Vermont
After that one year at Putney, my Appachen planned to continue teaching at Asram High School in Perumbavoor, Kerala, India. Despite his plans, he never returned to his previous teaching position in Kerala. My Appachen did not have enough money to return to India and also wished to continue his studies. His Putney advisor connected him to a professor at Boston University who offered my Appachen entrance to a doctoral program in education that included a full scholarship! My Appachen did not know it at the time but this opportunity led him on a journey from being a school teacher to a teacher of teachers. Four years later, in 1968, the same year that my dad was born, my Appachen received his doctorate in education. He completed his thesis that year, which he later transformed into his first book.

A red 1962 Ford Galaxy sedan
1962 Ford Galaxy
Since my Appachen came to this country to only stay for a year to study in America, he included a trip to go out and explore the United States before returning home. He bought a ninety-nine dollar ticket on Greyhound. Spending three to five days at each stop, my Appachen spent ninety-nine days visiting 15 cities: Springfield, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle. His stays included site-seeing, visiting people, and learning more about schools and education in America.

Dr. T.M. Thomas and Nina Thomas
My Appachen and I,
Dr. T.M. Thomas and Nina Thomas

As his year came to an end, money was very tight and my Appachen did not have enough to return home, where my Ammachi (grandmother) and my dad’s brother were. Appachen had spent all of his savings, three hundred dollars, on a used 1962 Ford Galaxy. Luckily, there was an opening for a security guard and he was able to take this job. This position allowed him to earn enough to live off of but not enough to travel back home. Fortunately, in 1965, the United States immigration laws changed, allowing more Asians to travel to America instead of just Europeans. So, in 1965, my Ammachi and his five-year-old son (my uncle), moved to the United States to join Appachen.


My uncle’s name was T.T. Matthews. My Appachen’s name is T.M. Thomas. In India, the naming system is different. For example, my Appachen’s name is T.M. Thomas and his brother’s name is T.M. Philip. In India, using this method, you can’t tell if two people are related using their last name but instead, by their first two initials. In this case, the T.M. stands for Thanikapurttatu (their house name) and Mathai, my valiya-Appachen’s (great grandfather’s) name.

Once my uncle was in the United States, the people working at the airport didn’t think that it made sense that my Appachen and his son did not have the same last name. The workers wouldn’t allow my uncle on the plane unless he changed his last name. So, he did. From then on, he was (and still is) known as Matthews Thomas. My father is Daniel Thomas and I am Nina Thomas (now we follow the American way of naming).

I hope that you enjoyed reading the short version of my Appachen’s voyage to the United States and how it has led me to writing this essay. If you would like to read more, read his most recent book, Joyful Vocation of a Teacher. Thank you! 😀

Nina Thomas with her winning essay
Nina Grace with her winning essay
This post originally appeared on the Olney branch blog.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

At the Lake

A pier and a boat at Deep Creek Lake
Deep Creek Lake
I just returned from vacation at Deep Creek Lake, the fourth summer I’ve spent a week there with my daughter, son-in-law, and four grandsons. It is the perfect vacation for active boys – boating, swimming, fishing, and hiking. In the evening ghost stories are told around the fire pit while roasting marshmallows. For the adults the lake is a tranquil retreat from the pressures of everyday life. A sloping lawn stretches from the house to the water, sunlight shimmers on the lake surface, and gentle waves lap the rocky shore. At night the scene is especially beautiful with moonlight on the water and fireflies twinkling in the trees. Peaceful, relaxing. Surely nothing bad could ever happen here?

Evening at a pier on Deep Creek Lake

But when you turn to the pages of fiction lakes are anything but peaceful. They represent mystery and dark secrets from the past. A lake is where a murderer dumps his victim, where an innocent passer-by sees a body floating, where a mysterious splash breaks the silence of the night, where people disappear without trace, where a town’s murky history is submerged. You won’t think of lakes as just beautiful scenery again after dipping into one of these tales:

  • A classic well worth a return visit is Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake. Private Investigator Philip Marlowe leaves the mean streets of Los Angeles and heads into the San Bernardino Mountains to investigate the deaths of two young women. Both were last seen near a cabin on Little Fawn Lake.
    Book cover for Lost Lake by Phillip Margolin
  • Everything I NeverTold You by Celeste Ng is a critically acclaimed contemporary novel that explores the tensions and secrets in a Chinese-American family. Daughter Lydia is found drowned in a nearby lake, a suspected suicide. The novel moves back in time to examine what led to her death from the perspective of all the family members. This book was Amazon’s #1 Book of the Year in 2014 and is the winner of many literary awards.
  • If you are drawn to complicated conspiracy thrillers, the twisty Lost Lake by Phillip Margolin is for you. What really happened twenty years ago when a congressman was tortured and murdered at an isolated cabin on Lost Lake? And what does it have to do with a renegade general who runs a covert unit of assassins? The general’s daughter, who found the congressman’s body, is involved in the investigation.
  • Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart takes place in a remote area of rural Ireland. Pathologist Nora Gavin is summoned to examine an ancient body dredged from the boggy depths of the Lake of Sorrows. It appears that the man died in a pagan sacrifice ritual. But when another body is found, this one wearing a wristwatch, it becomes clear that the threat is far from ancient.
  • Can dreams kill? That is the unusual suspected cause of death in Wolf Lake by John Verdon. When four victims are found dead, stabbed with daggers ornamented with a wolf’s head carving, it turns out they all recently visited a controversial psychologist at his Wolf’s Head Lodge in the Adirondacks. Former NYPD detective Dave Gurney investigates.
Book cover for The Lake House by Kate Morton
  • Finally The Lake House by Kate Morton. This is my personal favorite and will appeal to fans of Daphne du Maurier. Like Rebecca it is set at a magnificent estate in Cornwall, in this case Edavane, a now abandoned ivy-covered ruin. The lake, once the scene of jolly boating parties, is now a weed choked swamp. The mystery involves what happened at a long ago party when little Theo, the baby of the family, disappeared. Years later Alice, Theo’s elder sister, returns to the house and joins forces with a young detective to unravel the mystery. 

If all these dark deeds have put you off a lake vacation I suggest you head to the beach. Much safer. Except for the sharks of course!

Rita T.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Windows and Mirrors

A few weeks ago, I picked my son up from a friend’s house. He hopped in the car and started talking about how great Career Day was. It wasn’t a fireman or a computer programmer he was enthusiastic about, it was an author. Yes, I have to admit I was a little surprised. He went on to tell me about an author who came to his classroom to speak about the need for diverse books. I could hear the excitement in his voice. He’s a teenage brown-skinned boy of Chinese-Mexican ethnicity and an avid reader. He told me how important it is for him to see kids who look like him in the books he reads. As a librarian I was thrilled about his excitement. As a mom I was sad that this is still a topic of discussion. Shouldn’t diverse books already exist in abundance?

Author Ellen Oh
Ellen Oh speaking at MCPL symposium on
Diversity in Children's Literature 
The author he met was Ellen Oh, YA author and president of We Need Diverse Books. Ellen Oh, when speaking on this need, uses the term “Windows and Mirrors.” It’s not a new phrase, but one that’s been around for almost 30 years. It is attributed to an article written in the 1990 by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop titled “Mirrors and Windows and Sliding Glass Doors.” And while things have improved, there is still a long way to go. We Need Diverse Books is an organization that advocates for more diversity in publishing for youth by providing mentorships, grants, and awards as well as creating awareness.

Books that provide windows show us outside our world, they allow us to learn about other cultures, people, and places. Books that are mirrors are just as important, they help us to relate and to self-identify. When children only read books that are windows, they are unable to see themselves and they are unable to cheer for characters they identify with. Books need to be windows and mirrors to show an accurate account of our world and a view of those around us.

Book cover for Last Stop on Market Street
One of the brightest features of Montgomery County is the people who live here and the fabulous diversity that exists. MCPL is doing its part to provide books that reflect the communities it serves. Our selectors are always on the lookout for new and exciting books that our customers will not only enjoy, but that will provide windows AND mirrors. Our updated booklists by grade and age reflect MCPL's commitment to diversity. Some of my personal favorite books are Better Nate then Ever by Tim Federle, Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, Thunder Boy Jr by Sherman Alexie, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de La Pena, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, and Burn, Baby, Burn by Meg Medina. Explore our online catalog on our website or ask a librarian at your local library what they recommend.

Listening to my son, and hearing how this author spoke to him and his needs, it really hit home how important this is for young people. Check out your local public library, let’s give our youth the books they want and deserve!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Get STEM-y this Summer!

Text Science Information Photo chemistry beakers
I've been a Star Trek fan since I discovered the original show through reruns on Saturday mornings when I was growing up. There was something, dare I say, fascinating, about this group of friends-who-are-like-family exploring the universe and going where no one had gone before.  And, of course, I was over the moon excited when I read this year that a self-funded team led by an ER doctor actually invented a medial Star Trek device, a tricorder!  Science fiction can become science fact!

Science also includes technology, math, and engineering (STEM). All these subjects drive us to question, explore, create, and move beyond what anyone thought was possible. We're excited to encourage all ages to dream big, discover the world around them, and be curious!

Looking for authoritative and free science information online? From applied science to space, you can find science articles and biographical information from Science in Context and Science Reference Center. If you know your child's Lexile number you can limit the content searched in both databases by your child's reading level. Science Reference Center also offers lesson plans and worksheets for teachers. World Book Online is a great encyclopedia database with science information for all ages. If you are looking for biographical information on famous and fascinating scientists, be sure to have a look at Biography in Context. You can browse or search under scientists or under specific occupations such as chemist, engineer, or mathematician.

Looking for a science e-books to read? Gale Virtual Reference Library has always available e-books on subjects such as the environment, medicine, science, and technology. Safari Books Online also has a wide variety of always available e-books on computer technology, software development, information technology, engineering, math, and science. Maryland's Digital eLibrary Consortium (Overdrive) is good source for computer technology and science e-books to check out and read.

kids STEM event with marshmallows
Summer is the perfect time to engage your children's minds with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fun. Looking for science experiments to try at home? Science in Context, Science Reference Center, and World Book Online all have exciting science experiments to learn from. We have print science experiment books on a variety of topics as well as online science fair project resources. Looking for STEM e-books for your kids to read over the summer? We've got those too. And, of course, don't forget to visit our branches for exciting STEM programs and explore our STEM Stations that allow children to explore and discover the science of the world around us.

Go! Kit with backpack, playaway launchpad, DVD, book & folder
Another great way to explore STEM topics with your children is to check out a Go! Kit. The kits are designed to encourage the parent/caregiver and child to actively explore the world around them. Each kit contains several books, science tools, a tablet device with preloaded apps, and a list of the contents of the kit. Each kit can be borrowed for 2 weeks. We have Little Explorer Go! Kits for ages 3-6 and Young Voyager Go! Kits for ages 7-12.

You and your kids won't want to miss our exciting STEM programs that are happening this summer! Here are some highlights:
child extracting DNA from a stawberry
  • Science in the Summer: Science of Sports. Discover how science helps athletes perform at their peak. At several branches. Registration required. 
  • Energy Express. Learn about renewable energy and energy efficiency in a fun and interactive hands-on way. At several branches. Registration required. 
  • Sciencetellers-Tall Ships and Pirate Tales. Set sail on a thrilling, action packed adventure about a crew of quirky pirates marooned on a desert island. They must find a way to construct a ship before all hope is lost. Rockville Memorial July 8, 3 pm.
  • Cosmic Adventures. Explore the universe and stargaze in comfort with a traveling planetarium. Germantown July 12, 3 & 4 pm. Registration required.
  • Science Spectacular with Eric Energy. A wild and wacky scientist, will have you mesmerized by some of his greatest eye-catching experiments. Olney July 10, 2 pm.
  • Solar Eclipse events. On August 21st, there will be a solar eclipse partially observable in Maryland. Advanced programs help you prepare for the event, including safety tips. Other events practice safe eclipse viewing. At several branches. Some branches registration required.
  • Animal Homes. Meet some live animals and find out about their homes. Rockville Memorial Aug 12, 2 pm. 
  • Mad Science. Be amazed at science that spins, pops, and goes boom. At several branches. Some branches require tickets.
  • Reptiles Alive. Meet fascinating reptiles. At several branches. Some branches require tickets.
  • Under the Sea. Discover the exciting animals that live under the sea and in the Chesapeake Bay. At several branches. Some branches require tickets.
image from digital media lab, teen on railing
Interested in trying out new technology? Come to our Digital Media Labs where you can learn and create digital photography, storytelling, video production, graphic design, music videos, social media, animation, computer programming, art, and more. Digital Media Labs are designed for teens and adults.

We invite you to explore, discover, learn, and invent!  Behind great science are people and the next inventor or scientist may be you! Maybe in the future we'll be beaming to places for vacation thanks to you!

Scotty, one to beam up!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Baseball Through Biographies

baseball field with players
Washington Nationals Opening Day 2017
Devoted baseball fans know to count down to Pitchers and Catchers report day every February. This marks the start of spring training and the beginning of the end to a long winter without baseball. However, I usually start wishing for the return of baseball by late November (the World Series usually ends in late October or early November). Of course, for many others, thoughts don’t turn to baseball until after opening day.

Regardless of your level of baseball interest, how can the library support your love for America’s pastime? Well, baseball has long been a subject for fiction and nonfiction alike, but here are a few great selections from recent years.

Pedro cover showing Pedro Martinez pointing at the sky Pitchers are, by default, at the center of the action on the baseball field, and some draw significant attention with their off the field action as well. Pedro by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman is the memoir of the colorful Hall of Fame pitcher who retired in 2009 after 18 seasons in the majors with teams including the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), Boston Red Sox, and New York Mets. In the book, Pedro discusses his quest to overcome the negative perceptions caused by his small stature and become a dominating pitcher, as well as his historic run with the Boston Red Sox to end their 85 season World Series drought.

Phenomenon cover showing Ankiel looking at the camera Of course, most pitchers don't have Martinez's record-breaking career. Rick Ankiel debuted as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000, but was never able to pitch successfully at the major league level. After struggling unsuccessfully against a condition known as the yips, he left baseball only to later return as an outfielder and play seven major league seasons for a variety of teams, including the Washington Nationals (2011 & 2012). Ankiel's new book, The Phenomenon, written with Tim Brown, tells the story of the condition that derailed his original career plans and the process he went through to overcome these challenges.

The streak cover showing gehrig at top and ripken at bottom For those interested in local players, Cal Ripken, Jr. will be one of the subjects of the forthcoming The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball's Most Historic Record by John Eisenberg. Rather than being a biography, the book explores the environment of baseball in the early and late twentieth century. New York Yankee Gehrig's streak of playing 2,130 consecutive games stood from 1939, when Gehrig took himself out of the lineup due to playing difficulties caused by his not-yet-diagnosed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—now commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease. The record stood until 1995 when it was broken by the Orioles' Cal Ripken, Jr. whose streak ended at 2,632 consecutive games.

42 cover showing actor playing Jackie Robinson standing on baseball field Prefer to watch instead? Check out the 2013 movie 42 (PG-13) about Jackie Robinson's major league breakthrough. The movie shows that Robinson's role as the first black player in the majors was anything but accidental. Robinson's life both in and out of baseball has also been the subject of numerous biographies for readers of all ages.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Oh No, Gotta Mow. Again.

Lawn mower and half cut lawn.Ah summer. The sun, the pool, the beach. And the noise of a small engine turning a blade at 3,000 revolutions per minute. Yes, it's time to mow the lawn again.

Who decided to surround most suburban houses with a small, or not so small, grassy field? Depending on who you ask, the human cultivation of lawns began thousands of years ago or just a few hundred. Some cite humanity's longstanding desire for a clear field of vision in order to spot predators as a primal motivation to cultivating artificial, low cut meadows. Others point to the clearing of land around castles in medieval Britain and France to prevent attackers from approaching fortifications unobserved. Others note the village commons, a shared cleared space for the grazing of everyone's livestock.

Whatever the ancient history of lawns might be, the rise of the lawn as a symbol of American suburbia is dated to the late 1940s with the building of the first Levittown development on Long Island. The suburb was the first American suburb to come with lawns. Neighborhood newsletters emphasized the importance of keeping one's lawn neat and trim (lawn shaming?) and included lawn care tips. According to a recent Freakonomics podcast episode, nearly 2% of land in America is some type of lawn. That's more than the 1.3% of the country that's paved.

Book cover: Lawn Gone!
These days, a perfectly manicured lawn is not always met with universal acclaim. Concerns about water shortages, pesticides, noise pollution, and other environmental impacts have many rethinking the lawn as a suburban staple. A few years ago, for instance, Montgomery County became the first large municipality to ban cosmetic pesticides from use on most lawns. Native plants, more trees, gardens, and clover are all being proposed as greener alternatives to the traditional turf lawn. The University of Maryland Extension program, part of the agriculture department, has a page suggesting alternatives to a conventional lawn.

Of course MCPL has a number of resources about lawns and landscaping to help keep your property splendid. There are standard lawn care books, such as Lawns: 1-2-3: Expert Advice from the Home Depot, as well as eco-friendly titles such as Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard.

If you've got questions about your greenery, MCPL can help. From April through September, master gardeners from the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension are available at branches throughout the county to answer your questions about your garden, lawns, and landscaping. This service is free and no registration is required.

Whether you love lawns or loath them, MCPL is here to help you make your garden, yard, and life a little greener.

Mark S.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SafeTrack Is Back

Mark a Plan for SafetrackSafeTrack is returning to Montgomery County. SafeTrack is WMATA's accelerated maintenance and repair plan to improve the Metrorail system's safety and reliability. WMATA will be working on a Red Line portion of the system from Saturday, June 17 through Sunday, June 25, 2017.
WMATA anticipates that trains will run at "near normal" service times on other portions of the Red Line.

The County's Department of Transportation offers bus, MARC train, and parking options for residents during this surge.

MCPL library card holders will find the following telecommuting resources in our branches -
The following resources are available online to MCPL card holders -
Get your library card today to enjoy these and many other MCPL resources and services.

View or download a list of services for telecommuters as a PDF.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Summer Read and Learn 2017 - Build a Better World

Build a Better World - Children's Gameboard image
Are you ready for Summer Read and Learn 2017? We are ready to build a better world (our theme this year) and hope you are too! It's a summer challenge of fun. We're celebrating books and learning.

Kids and teens, you can sign up online or at your local branch anytime between June 10 and September 10. You'll have until September 10 to finish the program and pick up earned prizes.

The program offers kids exciting read and learn activities. They can earn online badges and prizes (while supplies last) or raffle entries as they complete each track. Complete all the tracks in their age group and they complete the program. They can keep track of their progress online and earn up to seven online badges!

Teens, you have an great opportunity to tell us what books you've enjoyed reading and why! You can earn an online badge for every book review you write. Write three book reviews and you complete the program! Come to your local branch to pick up your prize, while supplies last.

A Book That Shaped Me logo - Library of Congress - Letters about Literature
Music, science, storytellers, animals that walk the earth, and those that swim! These are a few of the stellar kids' programs we have this summer. Rising 5th and 6th graders can also take part in a summer writing contest called A Book That Shaped Me. Participants write a one-page letter to his or her local librarian about a book (fiction or nonfiction) that has had a personal impact on his or her life. The contest is sponsored by the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Entry submission form and letter must be turned into any MCPL branch by Wednesday, June 28. Top winners will be honored at the Library of Congress National Book Festival on September 2 and earn prizes.

There are many engaging teen programs as well! Be sure to come to our Teens Talk Books events on July 20 and August 17 at the Rockville Memorial branch. Teens will gather for engaging book discussions. Snacks will be provided. See the Teens Talk Books box on the right of the Teensite page for more information.

2017 Reading Challenge image
Adults, teens, and children can join our popular 2017 Reading Challenge! Or, as I like, to call it, Read Like a Librarian! We read a lot, as you can imagine. Sign up online and join the program. Read a book from each of the twelve different categories listed.  Complete the program online and be entered into a raffle to earn prizes!

Kids and teens with fines on their library cards should make sure to take part in our Great Fines Read Off that goes on all year long! It is very popular. Kids and teens ages 17 years or younger can earn a “Library Buck” for every half-hour they read in the library. If you read to another young person in the library, you can both receive credit for your time! You can register at any branch and may read any type of material such as books, graphic novels, magazines, e-books, e-magazines, and websites.

What Do I Check Out Next? Image of people at cafe reading
Not sure what to read this summer? We've got thrilling and diverse booklists of reading suggestions for kids and teens by grade that will be mirrors and windows into many cultures for your children! Looking for more suggestions? Try our Kids and Teens pages. Adults can find book suggestions on our Readers' Cafe pages. Need more help finding books? Just fill out our What Do I Check Out Next? online form and we'll email suggestions just for you. Of course, you can always ask any of our friendly librarians in person at your local branch. We're always happy to help you find the right books for you or your children!

Ready to build a better world? Sign up starting June 10 for an amazing summer of reading and learning fun! Summer Read and Learn 2017 - It's for everyone!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Taciturn Tales - The Art of the Short Story

Did you know that an average novel has 80,000 words in it? That's a lot of words. Don't get me wrong, I'm a librarian, I like to read, but sometimes I need a break. That's when I turn to short stories. Short stories have traditionally been defined as stories that can be read in one sitting. Nowadays the definition of a short story is a bit more formal. Short stories are usually no shorter than 1,000 words and no longer than 20,000. If you're really in a hurry, there's a subgenre of short stories called, I kid you not, short short stories. Such micro stories are also sometimes referred to as flash fiction.

Of course short stories are more than just stories that are...short. They have their own style, rhythm, and pace. Sometimes, for instance, short stories will start in the middle of the action, rather than building up to it with an explanation of the setting, characters, etc. The conclusions of short stories can be more abrupt than what one finds in a novel.

Book cover for Tales of Terror by Edgar Allan PoeEarly predecessors of modern short stories include works as diverse as One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) and traditional fairy tales such as those collected and published by Charles Perrault. The modern short story really came into its own during the 19th century. Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the Brothers Grimm, wrote or compiled short stories during the first half of the 1800s. The second half of the 19th century saw short story collections from authors such as Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and many more.

The short story form has flourished since then. There are so many well regarded contemporary short story authors, I won't even attempt to name them. I'll let the experts guide you.  A good starting place is The Best American Short Stories series, an annual publication that collects the best short stories in American literature from well known and emerging authors. The latest edition, 2016 is edited by Pulitzer Prize winning Dominican American author Junot Diaz. There's also the O'Henry Prize Stories. This annual publication compiles the best 20 short stories selected from thousands published in literary magazines.

Book cover for The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea
Short stories can be found in other ways too. For example, there are collections of stories by individual authors. Dear Life, The Water Museum, and Sea Lovers are examples of such collections, by Alice Munro, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Valerie Martin respectively.  You can find such collections by searching the name of an author and adding the phrase short stories. I tried this with Stephen King, for instance, and found both his latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams and his earlier short story works.

There are also themed short story collections. I did a search of science fiction and short stories, for instance, and found a large number of print and ebook collections, including Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation and Women Destroy Science Fiction!, a collection of short stories from Lightspeed magazine, all written by women. You can use this technique to find other themed short story collections, such as mystery or horror collections. We also have short story collections in other languages, such as SpanishChinese, and Vietnamese.

Of course short stories aren't just for adults. MCPL offers short story collections for children and for teens. Kids may enjoy reading fairy tales from the villains' perspective in Troll's Eye View: a Book of Villainous Tales. Remember those short short stories? Busy teens might find time for a tale or two in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories.

I suppose it would be wrong for a post about short stories to be too long, so I'll wrap up here. If you've been inspired to find a short tale or two, we can help you find some you'll love. Talk to one of our friendly folks at the information desk of any MCPL branch or try our What Do I Check Out Next? service, which provides online, personalized reading suggestions.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Deadlines, Writing, and Other Terrors

Blank piece of paperWriting's a funny thing. Terrifying actually, if you think too much about it. Before you start, the page is empty. There's nothing there and you, the writer, have to create content from scratch. You have to fill that blank space. And it's not enough to fill it with letters and words. Those letters and words must form ideas that link together, make sense, and, most terrifying of all, are worth reading. Perhaps that's so many writers struggle with procrastination.

I find creative writing quite difficult for this very reason. The writer has to come up with the story, or poem, or song on his or her own. You can't just describe something that happened, you have to create what happens and then write about it in an understandable, engaging way. At least I'm not alone in feeling this way. Even established writers such as Tracy Chevalier, express trepidation at confronting the blank page. Chevalier, for instance, notes that, "It takes me hours of circling each day to finally 'land' on the writing. Hours of cups of tea and checking for e-mail, checking Twitter, Facebook, the news."

Book cover for Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living
If you're seeking instruction for your creative writing, MCPL can help. A search of the phrase "creative writing" in our catalog will bring up a variety of adult and children's books on the topic. The results will include items such as The Making of a Story: a Norton Guide to Creative Writing. Most of items brought up by this search will focus on the practical, how-to aspect of creative writing. A search of the term authorship will include some how-to texts as well, but also inspirational works such as Joyce Carol Oates' Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life. One book I read and enjoyed in this vein was Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. It is a collection of essays by well known authors such as Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Weiner, and Nick Hornby about their experiences trying to make a living as writers. I learned, for instance, that even after Cheryl Strayed received her seemingly substantial advance for Wild, she was struggling to pay her bills.

There are different types of writing, of course. Even people who don't think of themselves as writers nonetheless do a lot of writing at work. Business writing includes a variety of forms of writing, from seeking information from a coworker through e-mail to putting together the input of a dozen people into a grant proposal. If you're looking to improve your business writing, try some of our books on the topic. We also provide access to online classes about business writing through our Gale Courses database. Available courses include Effective Business Writing, Writing Effective Grant Proposals, and the Fundamentals of Technical Writing. Gale Courses also offers some creative writing classes, such as Romance Writing and Writing Young Adult Fiction.

How to Not Write Bad by Ben Yagoda book coverIn addition to the lofty goals of sharing ideas and stories, there are more mundane aspects to writing, specifically spelling and grammar. Wait, don't go! It's true, many people don't get excited about spelling and grammar. They're the plumbing of the written word. Dull, but vital. So take a look at our writing handbooks if you need to refresh your memory on the proper use of commas or figure out what a semicolon is for (I'm still not sure). If just the thought of the MLA Handbook makes you weep, try something less formal like How to Not Write Bad: the Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them.

In addition to our paper and online writing resources, we also have teen writing clubs at Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Kensington Park, Potomac, and Silver Spring. Share your work and meet other writers in an open, supportive environment. In addition, the Silver Spring Writers Meetup Group, which consists of writers of all levels of writing experience and ages, often holds their meetings at our Silver Spring branch.

MCPL offers opportunities for customers to meet published writers at one of our many author events. For instance, children's book writer Hena Khan, author of It's Ramadan Curious George, will be the next speaker in our Contemporary Conversations series. She'll be at Silver Spring on June 4 at 4 pm. (Registration required).

Well, look at that. The page isn't blank anymore. Having written is much easier than the actual writing.


Mark S.