Wednesday, September 20, 2017

To Boldly Go...

Customers viewing the partial eclipse outside Chevy Chase library
Viewing the eclipse outisde
Chevy Chase library.
It's been an exciting time for astronomy lovers. There was the solar eclipse last month. Residents throughout the county came together at several MCPL branches to watch this dramatic event. The next solar eclipse visible from America won't occur until 2024, when my 1st grader is 13!

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson
Astronaut Peggy Whiston
Earlier this month, American astronaut Peggy Whitson returned to Earth after spending 288 days in space, the longest single spaceflight by a female astronaut. That's not her only record. Having been on been on several spaceflights, Whitman's cumulative 665 days in space sets the record for most time in space by any American astronaut. She's also the only female astronaut to command the International Space Station twice and has accumulated more spacewalking time, 53 hours 22 minutes, than any other female astronaut. Finally, at 57, she is the world's oldest spacewoman. Want to learn more? MCPL has many books and some DVDs about astronauts and women in science for children and adults.

The Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn
The Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn
Finally, just last week, on Friday, September 15, the NASA spacecraft Cassini made its final approach to Saturn and plunged into the planet's atmosphere. Cassini was launched into space almost 20 years ago, in October 1997. It spent 13 years orbiting Saturn, adding immensely to our understanding of Saturn, its rings, and its moons. Cassini continued to function beyond its anticipated lifespan, enabling NASA to extend its study of Saturn for years. After 19 years of exploration, Cassini was almost out of fuel. Concerned that Cassini might crash into one of Saturn's moons and contaminate it with terrestrial microbes, NASA decided to fly the probe into the atmosphere of Saturn, where it would burn up and disintegrate. Faithful til the end, Cassini transmitted unprecedented data about Saturn's atmosphere in the moments before it was destroyed.

For more information about Saturn and our solar system's other planets, check out our many books and DVD's for adults and children. We also have several online science databases including Science in Context and Science Reference Center that are filled with magazine, journal, and specialized encyclopedia articles that have information about NASA's space probes, interplanetary missions, and much more.

Mark S

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Faces at MCPL

Joe-Edouard "Ed" Edmond
MCPL recruits a diverse workforce with a variety of skills and backgrounds. Sure, we've got plenty of folks who check out books or help customers find that picture book with the green cover their daughter loved. But we also have staff who specialize in human resources, serving people with disabilities, and other less traditional library roles. Here's brief introduction to some of our newer staff members.

Joe-Edouard “Ed” Edmond, joined MCPL on April 30, 2017. Before joining MCPL, Ed entered the county government workforce in October 2000 as a principal administrative aide in the Department of Finance. In 2005, Ed joined the Office of Human Resources (OHR) as a fiscal assistant. He was promoted to an administrative specialist I in 2010 with the Core/Records Management team of OHR. This experience enabled him to quickly transition to his position as the administrative specialist II in MCPL’s Human Resources unit. Ed is an easy to work with kind of person.

Patrick Fromm
Patrick Fromm joined MCPL as the branch manager of Little Falls in May 2017. Previously, he worked at Baltimore County Public Library for 10 years, starting as a page and moving through the circulation and information jobs to assistant branch manager. He geeks out about managerial topics like continuous improvement, cost-benefit analysis, and emotional intelligence, all of which makes him really fun at parties. He is super psyched to be working with the awesome Little Falls’ team! He lives in Catonsville with his one baby, one wife, and zero cats.

Cindy Gil is one of two senior librarians at the Silver Spring branch. Cindy joined MCPL in January 2017. Before joining MCPL, she was a senior librarian at the New York Public Library where she worked with children, parents, and teachers as the children’s librarian in the Bronx, NY. Prior to this, she worked at the Reference Department at the Bronx Library Center as a librarian trainee until she graduated from library school in 2002. She served in different capacities at other neighborhood branches since 1996. Cindy enjoys reading and singing to the kids during bilingual storytime at the branch, taking walks in the park with her family, and getting good bargains when shopping!

Elizabeth LangElizabeth Lang joined MCPL in 2016 as the assistant facilities and accessibility program manager. She assists with facilities and space management, and leads MCPL’s efforts related to accessibility services. She came to MCPL from the District of Columbia Public Library, where she served as the Manager of the Center for Accessibility. Before moving to the DC metro area, she was the deputy director for public services at Wolfner Talking Book and Braille Library in Missouri, and before that worked in retail bookstores throughout the Midwest. She is a nerdy bookworm, and spends her leisure time reading, gaming, quilting, watching hockey, hanging out with her husband and kids, and dreaming of the day when she can buy a farm in rural Delaware and raise goats. She was recently a guest on MCPL's podcast, Library Matters, where she talked about MCPL's resources and services to people with disabilities.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Classical Music

Classical Music Month
Bach. Beethoven. Mozart. Chopin. Wagner. Vivaldi. Schubert. When classical music comes up, it is one of those subjects I wished I had taken a class to learn more about. Classical music gives us such an emotional experience and it is something (like art!) that I enjoy when I hear it but wish I knew more about. Well now is my chance! September is Classical Music Month and we've got some great free resources and programs to help you celebrate, whether you love classical music already or, like me, are excited to learn more about it!

Violin and keyboard
If you are looking to learn how to play classical music instruments we have a great online resource called ArtistWorks. It has self-paced video lessons from Grammy Award-winning music and artistic professionals for instruments such as piano, guitar, flute, clarinet, french horn, trumpet, and violin. It offers beginner through advanced lessons and is optimized for both desktop and mobile devices. If you already know how to play an instrument and are looking for musical scores, try the online Classical Scores Library. This collection contains over 13,000 classical scores. The scores span all classical genres and time periods.

Music score
If you like to listen to classical music we have that, too. You can download up to 5 songs per week through Freegal. There is a huge selection of classical music you can download to your computer or Freegal app for your Apple or Android device. From the Classical Music Library you can stream classical music. It offers choral works, symphonies, operas, vocal and instrumental music, chamber music, and more.

What about the fascinating lives of the individuals behind all this great music? We've got that covered! Try Biography in Context to find information about the lives of famous composers like Puccini, Strauss, Handel, and many others. We also have biographical books about composers for adults and teens as well as children.

What's a celebration without some live music? We've got some great music events this month. Our classical guitar programs will showcase music performed by  Beatty Music Scholarship winners and finalists. Songwriter's Toolbox will feature local musicians sharing their insights and a song circle in which people share their new songs.

At MCPL we're happy to help you find your classical music beat this September and beyond!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Library Card Sign Up Month 2017

Three students holding a big MCPL library card.
September is National Library Card Sign Up Month! Do you remember getting your first library card? Back when I got my first library card, the requirement was that you had to be able to write your name. As soon as I could, my mom took me to get my first library card. It was a special feeling and privilege to be able to use my own library card to check out picture books. I still remember my favorites like Corduroy and Make Way for Ducklings. Now there's no age limit to getting a library card! Anyone, at any age, can get a library card and start his or her life-long learning journey with free access to e-books, e-magazines, audiobooks, online classes, downloadable and streaming music, online articles, test preparation, and so much more! All you need is the most powerful card in your wallet - a library card!

Want to learn more about what a library card can do for you? Here's a list of 20 free library resources and services that might be new to you.
  1. Explore science themes with your kids by checking out a STEM Go! Kit.
  2. Check Consumer Reports from home.
  3. Learn to play a musical instrument, sing, or make art through ArtistWorks.
  4. Learn a language online.
  5. Find a musical score online.
  6. Stream one of 250 performances of the world's leading plays.
  7. Borrow books from libraries across the country.
  8. Prepare for the SAT, LSAT, NCLEX and more.
  9. Search your family history with HeritageQuest Online.
  10. Take an online technology, business, or creative class with Gale Courses.
  11. Download e-books.
  12. Start your own business.
  13. Download music from Freegal.
  14. Renew your materials online.
  15. Download audiobooks.
  16. Read an e-magazine from home.
  17. Discover your next favorite book
  18. Check out exercise videos.
  19. Find articles, encyclopedias, and biographical information for your school project.
  20. Put a book on hold online.
You can also find engaging programs for you and your children in our Calendar of Events.

Library cards empower their users. So tell your family; tell your friends! Tell us how much your library card means to you by sharing a photo or story in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest using #MCPLCard. We'll be resharing photos and stories on social media and our website.

There's so much you can do with a library card. Sign up for one today!


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Taking MCPL Back to School with You

Chalkboard surrounded by colored pencils with Back to School written on it
Montgomery County Public Schools students won't be back in the classroom for another couple of weeks, but as private and public schools around our region head back, you can't turn on the radio or the television without seeing a back-to-school ad or story. Yesterday, I got to spend most of my day with media specialists and other staff from MCPS discussing how the public libraries can support our students as they head back into the classroom. It seemed like important information that others might like to hear; so I am highlighting a few takeaways of our discussions.

two boys pose on either side of a large sitting dog.
Read to a Dog at Long Branch
First, we have a variety of events to support and supplement classroom learning. Several MCPL branches offer homework help programs. These programs range from teen volunteers assisting younger students with homework to writing clubs where teens and tweens can flex their writing muscle. We also have Reading Buddy and Read to a Dog programs at many branches. These programs allow young readers to practice and strengthen their reading by working with a non-critical human or canine volunteer. You can explore the full listing of homework programs.

We also offered special webpages to provide targeted information to different audiences. For parents and caregivers we offer our All Children Excel webpage. This provides tips and resources for promoting literacy at different ages from early literacy skills for babies and toddlers to homework and learning resources for elementary and middle school students. For kids who are old enough to explore the web more actively, our Kids page offers books lists, homework resources, and more (including our August poll: Who is your favorite book character turned TV star?). Our Teensite includes information about our Teen Advisory Group, homework resources, booklists, and links to programs.

The Montgomery Times An African-American Times Publication
After reading those descriptions, you might be asking yourself, "What the heck is a homework resource?" I'm referring to the wide variety of online databases available with an MCPL card. These databases include online access to a variety of major and minor national newspapers, including local African-American paper The Montgomery Times, later the African American Times, from 1992-1999. They also include online access to full current and back issues of popular magazines for kids, teens, and adults. We also have a variety of historical databases that are great resources for researching biographies of contemporary and historical figures from Presidents to artists to religious figures as well as historical events.

This is far from a full list of how we can support you or your loved one as you dive back into the school year. If there is something else we can do, please let us know—we're ready to help you. Happy studying!


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Get Started With Your Interior Painting Project at MCPL

Book cover for 300 Tips for Painting & Decorating by Alison JenkinsMany homeowners are aware of the benefits of improving the appearance of their home. Painting is a popular interior design project. Interior panting is popular because it adds the basic décor, sets a mood for a room, and provides an updated appearance. You can begin your planning with the resources of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL).

You may have many questions in the beginning. Do you do it yourself or hire a professional? How do you paint a room? How do you select paint and paint colors for a room? How do you prep the walls in a room prior to painting? It can become very stressful and confusing. A great place to answer many of these questions is MCPL.

MCPL has a wide range of print and online resources to assist you. The library catalog is a great source to help you find books about house painting and interior decorating.

Three databases, Consumer Reports, the Home Improvement Reference Center, and Washington Consumer Checkbook (in-library access only) will get you started with your interior painting project. Consumer Reports, for instance, provides a paint buying guide, plus ratings and reviews of specific brands.

The Home Improvement Reference Center offers how-to videos on prepping prior to painting, patching drywall, and selecting paint. It also has articles on basic design, color, and decorating principles. Many of the articles in this database are from magazines such as Complete Guide to Painting & Decorating, Australian House & Garden, and Arts & Crafts Homes & the Revival, which may be hard to find at your local hardware or big box store. You'll also find articles related to selecting paints low in volatile organic compounds, which have fewer hazards to those who with chemical sensitivities. Finally, the Home Improvement database has articles written by interior designers and home improvement experts to ease any confusion about selecting paint from the paint chips cards found in the stores' paint departments.
Top view of three paint cans, one blue, one purple, and one white.
Washington Consumer Checkbook provides rating for local professional contractors in the Washington metropolitan area, customer reviews, and contractor contact information. You can narrow or limit your search of local contractors to those closest to your neighborhood. Washington Consumer Checkbook also provides information about paints and which paints are less toxic.

So, when you think about your interior painting projects, start with MCPL’s online resources and home improvement books. Our librarians are also available to help you develop search strategies and locate materials in print and online resources.  MCPL is a great resource to locate helpful information and learn how to manage your project.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Solar Eclipse

Drawing showing the relative positions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth during a solar eclipse.
Photo credit: Sagredo
Update on Solar Eclipse Glasses 8/16/17: Several MCPL branches are hosting eclipse-related programs. Some of those branches will offer a limited supply of eclipse glasses for those programs only. The Friends of the Library, Montgomery County was selling eclipse glasses in their bookstores but those glasses have now sold out.

As you’ve probably heard by now, a total solar eclipse will be visible in parts of the United States on August 21st, 2017. While we’re not in the path of totality, when the moon completely obscures the sun, we’ll still be able to view a partial eclipse where the moon will obscure approximately 80% of the sun (source: Vox interactive solar eclipse map). This is definitely one of those things to check off your bucket list!

To view a solar eclipse, it is essential that you have appropriate protective eyewear! Sunglasses are not sufficient for this purpose. You will need glasses with special filters designed for viewing the sun. MCPL was lucky enough to apply for and receive a supply of eclipse glasses from Starnet Libraries through a grant funded by the Moore Foundation. Several MCPL branches are hosting eclipse-related programs. Some of those branches will offer a limited supply of eclipse glasses for programs.

So, what if you can’t make one of our programs but you still need eclipse glasses? There are also reputable companies manufacturing eclipse glasses recommended by NASA - American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17. The most important thing to look for in your eclipse glasses is that they meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard. For more information on safely viewing the eclipse, head over to NASA’s Eclipse Safety website. (Editor's Note: An earlier version of this blogpost mentioned that Friends of the Library, Montgomery County was selling eclipse glasses in their bookstores. Those glasses have now sold out.)

Tips for enjoying the eclipse:

• In Montgomery County, the eclipse will peak at approximately 2:42pm.
• Always wear protective eyewear! Make sure your eyewear is not damaged or scratched and that the lenses are completely secured to the glasses. Check that they meet the ISO 12312-2 requirement.
• Do NOT view the eclipse through a camera, telescope or binoculars even if you’re wearing your eclipse glasses. A specialized filter is needed for optical devices.
• Be prepared for the long haul! The eclipse can last about 2.5 hours from start to finish. If you plan to be outside, bring sunscreen and water.
• Check the weather forecast. If we luck out and it’s cloudy during the time of the eclipse, you can live stream the event on the internet. Some libraries may also do this if views are obstructed.

If you’d like to read up on all things eclipse and space related, check out these titles in our collection:

For adults: The Total Skywatcher’s Manual : 275+ Skills and Tricks for Exploring Stars, Planets & Beyond by Linda Shore, David Prosper & Vivian White of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

For kids: When the Sun Goes Dark by Andrew Fraknoi and Dennis Schatz; illustrated by Eric Freeberg


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Meet the Acting MCPL Director

Acting MCPL
Director Anita Vassallo
The Shout Out blog is happy to introduce Anita Vassallo in her new role as Acting Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL).

Can you describe your career with MCPL?

I have had a pretty varied career with MCPL, and worked my way up through the ranks, you might say. I began with MCPL at age 15, as a library page at the former Four Corners library in Woodmoor. I was already an avid library user, and lived close enough to be able to walk to the library, so it was an ideal job. Later I was a desk assistant at the White Oak branch, and I held this job up until 1974 when I took a merit position as a library clerk at the old Bethesda branch on Moorland Lane. I moved around a bit, working at the Aspen Hill and Gaithersburg branches for short stints, and finally wound up at Film Services. Film Services provided 16 mm films to customers, and there were big machines that we ran to clean and repair them. I began working towards my MLS while at Film Services, and took my first librarian job as a children’s librarian at Kensington Park after receiving my degree. I have also worked as a librarian at Silver Spring and Gaithersburg. I worked at the Germantown branch as the senior librarian, at Davis as the manager, and most recently as the Public Services Administrator for IT Infrastructure, Digital Strategies and Emerging Technologies. Technology in libraries is a strong interest of mine, and I really enjoyed that position. I began my new role as Acting Director on August 1. I look forward to guiding MCPL until a permanent Director is appointed by the County Executive. MCPL employees are great, and I have an excellent team to work with for the next couple of years.

What are you looking forward to most in your new role as Acting Director of MCPL? 

I am looking forward to working with MCPL staff, other Montgomery County Government departments, our non-profit partners, and the community in order to provide the services that our residents need and want to enhance and improve their lives.

What do you like best about working in libraries? 

The people who use the libraries. The wide variety of reasons they have for using them keeps the job fresh and interesting. You can’t be bored working in a public library. Each day and each challenge is different, and the satisfaction when someone thanks you for your help is so immediate and real. I know that this phrase might sound trite, but libraries DO make a difference, and I love that we serve everyone and anyone no matter what.

What's your favorite read? What are you reading now? 

I love fantasy, I always have, but I read pretty widely. When I was working in the branches I made it a point to read things that were not exactly to my taste, so that I could be a reasonably well informed reader’s advisor. I just finished Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the 2017 One Maryland One Book selection. The author will be speaking Tuesday September 26th at Gaithersburg High School, which is very exciting for Montgomery County. Next on my list is the Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, and Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan, so you can see I’m all over the place.
Horse with rider
One of Anita Vassallo's horses,
"Dude's a Treasure."

What are your hobbies? 

I am fortunate enough to be able to have my own horses at home. Trail riding, and organizing Mounted Games competitions are my main hobbies I would say, although I do a bit of vegetable gardening. My other main hobby is commuting!

What else do you want us to know about you? 

I think that an important quality for anyone working to provide service to the public is the ability to listen, and take other people’s input into consideration when making decisions, while still staying focused on the mission and values of the organization. I think I’m a good listener, and I know that using the abilities and strengths of staff is crucial to the success of a library director.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Finding the Right Book at the Right Time

beach and books and text: What should I read next?
Are you having trouble finding books that you or your child would enjoy reading this summer? I've always been a voracious reader, but I remember as a young adult getting stuck reading just one genre or rereading my favorite books or authors. I didn't know what other books were out there that I'd enjoy. After I came to work at MCPL, my reading life expanded greatly.

Being exposed to a variety of engaging books and customers with different reading preferences gives our librarians a wealth of book knowledge that we can't wait to share. We're here to help you find the right book at the right time for you or your child!

Events are a fabulous way to discover new books for you or your child. We have more storytimes than ever this summer. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers can start the magical journey to becoming lifelong readers. At storytimes, you can learn how to get your child ready to read. We also offer special storytimes like bilingual and pajama storytimes.

boy reading to dog
There are many children's programs to delight your elementary school age children too. If you have a new or reluctant reader, try one of our read to a dog or grandreaders programs. Reading to wonderful certified therapy dogs or senior volunteers from the Jewish Council on Aging (JCA) enables kids to gain reading confidence and skills Our dogs and senior volunteers are ideal companions who listen attentively without judgment. It's a pawsitive experience! Be sure to also see storyteller Chris Fascione, who will be bringing books to life this August at several branches. This program is sponsored by the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, Inc.

Summer Read and Learn 2017 finishers with prizes
Kids and teens should also sign up for this year's exciting Summer Read and Learn programBuild a Better World! Kids can complete read and learn activities. Teens can write book reviews all summer long to win prizes. All ages can sign up for the MCPL Reading Challenge 2017. It's a fun way to expand your horizons by reading one book each from twelve different categories.

And don't forget about book discussions! These are lively events where you can meet new friends and deepen your understanding of books. We have book discussions for both teens and adults. There are also book discussions that have a specific focus, such as our African American, Chinese, FrenchJewish, mystery, and talking books discussion groups. Thinking about starting your own book discussion? We've got tips and reading suggestions to get you started.

Reading Suggestions
It's never too early to start reading to your babies. We also have books for older children who are reading on their own, whether they are comfortable readers or beginners. We have booklists on many favorite genres from Adventure to Trains on our Kids' page as well as diverse booklists by grade that will be mirrors and windows for your children. Does your child have a favorite book or author? Try NoveList K-8 Plus for reading suggestions based on books or authors that your child has enjoyed.

brother and sister reading at OlneyFor teens there are a variety of popular "if you like" and topical booklists, on subjects like dystopian worlds and road trips, on our Teensite. Our librarians who love teen books have also compiled some great diverse books to read this summer and beyond for middle and high school students. Be sure to have a look at our Teen Pinterest board and YouTube playlist Teen Talk! which includes fun videos of MCPL staff and teens talking up their favorite teen titles!

Let's not forget about the adults. Have a look at our entertaining reading suggestions on Readers' Cafe. These include our We Recommend and Librarian's Choice selections. You can also find What We're Reading and more on our Pinterest boards. We also have NoveList Plus for adults with reading suggestions based on books or authors you have enjoyed. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast, Library Matters where you can get to know our staff and get the inside scoop on what fabulous books they're reading. For parents or caregivers I highly recommend the episodes "Reading Aloud to a Child" Parts 1 and Part 2.

All ages can get personalized reading recommendations from Beanstack either online or through email. Parents can choose from a variety of fun options to get the recommendations that are best for their children. Select your child's interests (such as Diverse Main Characters; Ninjas, Feelings & Friendship; Pirates & Warriors), favorite genres (such as Adventure; Fantasy; History & Biography), and character backgrounds (such as aliens, animals, people).  Teens & adults can choose two out of four reading doorways (People Focused, Place Focused, Plot Driven, or Prose Driven) for book suggestions.

Ask MCPL Librarians
people reading at a cafe and text: What Do I Check Out Next
If you're stuck, or just looking for a personal book recommendation for you or your child, you can always ask us, the reading experts! You can ask our librarians in-person at any of our branches. Or you can ask us online through our award winning What Do I Check Out Next? service. Just complete the form and we'll email you 3-5 book recommendations in 3 business days.

At MCPL we're here to help you or your child discover your next favorite read! Happy reading this August and all year long!


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.