Friday, December 31, 2010

Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know : instructions for life from the everyday to the exotic by Derek Faagerstrom and Lauren Smith

If you've resolved to Enjoy Life More, you know there are so many possible ways to do so.

If you've not decided exactly how to enjoy life more, then Show Me How (S)) and its sequel More Show Me How (M)) may be the books for you. With cartoon-like panels, the books tackle everything from crafts, home decorating and repair, relationships, gardening, and clothing and dress to wedding customs around the world, survival in the wilderness, extreme sports and pranks. There are even some instructions that reveal how magic tricks and others are done. Simple icons show Items or ingredients needed for each activity.

Here's a sample

Fun activities
--Decorate a gingerbread house (M)
--Create a chainmail bikini (S)
--Master simple juggling (S)
--Make sprout seed paper for a plantable greeting card (M)

Practical instructions
--Look dapper in a suit (S
--Make a lamp out of anything (S)
--Choose the best airplane seat (S)
--Break an attacker's grip (M)
--Fix a sagging door

Dangerous or (possibly) illegal activities
--Run with the bulls in Pamploma (S)
--Escape across rooftops (M)
--Breathe fire (S): the authors say DON'T do it.
--Rig a knife throw (M)
--Camp in the desert (M)

The authors warn that these books are for adults; unsupervised children should not engage in the activities. Additionally, some of the activites are dangerous. Some relationship activities are explicitly illustrated.

These are great books for dipping into and reading for fun, even if you decide you don't want to try any of the activities.
And, if you become more interested in any of the things you've learned, Virginia Beach Public Library has DVDs, books, audiobooks, ebooks, and web resources to help you learn more.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

1001 Smart Travel Tips

Resolutions needn't be all work and no play. Many resolutions lists include Take a trip and Enjoy life more.

So let's take a trip.

It is an axiom that trips rarely proceed exactly as planned; there are always those little, and sometimes big, surprises, both good and bad. 1001 Smart Travel Tips can help you minimize unpleasant travel surprises.

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a novice, you will find valuable suggestions for selecting a destination, tips for booking transportation, choosing hotels, and traveling with kids or pets. The advice is budget-conscious as well as comfort-conscious.

What do you need to consider when planning a trip outside of the country? Visas, inoculations, safety. Equally important are the customs and manners of a country--learn what not to wear or the etiquette of dining.

Anne McAlpin's Pack It Up: The Essential Guide to Organized Travel focuses on packing and contains a variety of tips for comfortable travel, including selecting luggage, garments, packing toiletries, and tips for car, plane, and sea travel. "The Ultimate Traveler's Checklist" helps you remember those essential home security preparations, documents you'll need, and the clothing items you'll need for many kinds of travel. Pack It Up has the best instructions for tying scarves I've ever seen!

1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die is a different kind of travel guidebook. Color illustrations and descriptions of places to see have just enough information to whet your appetite. Since the book is conveniently arranged by continent and country, you can select several nearby sites. There are battlefields, homes of artists, writers, and other notables, castles, churches, cathedrals and architectural wonders, such as bridges and pyramids. Many of the historic sites commemorate events from the last 50 years, such as Checkpoint Charlie, Graceland, and the Kennedy Space Center. Check out the companion book, 1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die. Both books are great for planning a trip or taking an armchair tour around the world.

The Virginia Beach Public Library has many books, DVDs, ebooks and audiobooks to help you keep that resolution--"Take a trip."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You Being Beautiful : the Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz

Lots of folks vow to achieve fitness with each new year. Few keep at it. You Being Beautiful, written for both men and women, may help you keep your promise to yourself. Like most of Roizen and Oz's books, it focuses on a holistic approach to health. Beauty, according to them, is not about makeup, mirrors, and skinny clothes. "Beauty isn't some vapid and superficial pursuit that exists solely to sell products, wag tongues, and produce drool."

Simply put, beauty is about your health and happiness. There are 3 levels of beauty:
--Looking beautiful: appearance influences self-esteem.
-- Feeling beautiful: feeling pain free, energetic, and healthy
-- Being beautiful : connecting with people

Each section helps you understand how your body works and how to keep it healthy. This includes basic cleanliness and grooming, movement, managing aches and pains, and understanding how your mind may be holding you back.

"Beauty... is health....Outer beauty serves as a proxy of how healthy you are; it's the message you send to others about your health." In a footnote the authors suggest we think about "traditional images of ugliness--pus, blood, gore, Freddy Krueger [which] almost always correlate with something that's unhealthy."

You Being Beautiful is only one of many many materials-- printed book, audiobooks, e-books, DVDs and magazines -- you can find in the library about becoming fit and healthy. They emphasize many approaches to health and fitness: surely one is right for you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

100 Fastest Growing Careers : Your Complete Guidebook to Major Jobs with the Most Growth and Openings

100 Fastest Growing careers : Your Complete Guidebook to Major Jobs with the Most Growth and Openings
Occupational Outlook handbook
Two-Year Colleges (Peterson's)
Four-Year Colleges (Peterson's)

Among the most popular resolutions mentioned online are two that are somewhat related: Get better educated and, Get a better job. While people study for many reasons other than to get a better job, we normally think education and a better job go hand-in-hand.

Whether you're looking for a career requiring little or no extra education, or one with a graduate degree, 100 Fastest Growing Careers can help you choose something that fits your interests. The introductory chapter's Job Match Grid helps you match your skills and preferences with jobs described. Chapter two's descriptions detail the nature of the work in each career, the training or other qualifications needed, the job outlook, earnings, and related occupations. A list of additional resources, chiefly professional organizations, finishes each entry.

Occupational Outlook Handbook is organized by field of interest, with job information on more specific jobs than 100 Fastest Growing Careers. For example, the section for financial clerks describes Bill and account collectors, Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks, and Gaming cage workers. The content for each job entry is similar to that of 100 Fastest Growing careers, including additional resources.

Two-year colleges are among the fastest growing educational institutions because they offer diplomas and certificates in trades, allied medical professions, and traditional academic courses leading to an associate degree and preparation for transfer to a four-year college.

Two Year Colleges lists colleges by state and location. Brief descriptions include a college's url, list of academics, costs, financial aid, and instructions for applying to the institution. A twenty-one category chart at the beginning of the book includes percentage of mature students, admission requirements, availabilty of career counseling and job placement services, and other information for each college to help you choose a good match.

Entries in Four Year Colleges briefly list size, difficulty of "entrance", percentage of applicants accepted, plus freshman test scores, majors, and makeup (percentages by gender and ethnicity) of undergraduate students, as well as costs. Two-page "Close-ups" of selected institutions comprises the bulk of the book.

Don't stop your search for a better job or better education with the four books reviewed here. The Virginia Beach Public Library has extensive circulating and reference material for job seekers and would-be-students. Many specialized books help when looking for good matches (schools or jobs) for people with specific interests, special needs, talents, and abilities, as well as for minorities. The Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library's Business Reference collection can help job seekers research companies to prepare for an interview. Need help in writing a resume or preparing for an interview? Again, there are many books available throughout the Virginia Beach Public Library System. Once you get that job, the library's collection can help you keep it and excel.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Throw Out Fifty Things : Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life by Gail Blanke

In this final week of 2010 you may be thinking about what you'd like to change in 2011. The Internet has many lists of popular resolutions. This week's reviews will look at library materials that can help with some of the most popular.

Let's get organized.

Gail Blanke, author of "The Motivator" column in Real Simple magazine, has a wonderful chatty style of writing. After listening to her book, which she reads with skill and enthusiasm, I was inspired to work on some of my clutter. Okay, I was inspired as I listened, and often did some decluttering right then.

Blanke is a cheerleader, who leads us first through our house, room by room and then the home or work office. After tackling these concrete areas, she helps clear some of the mental clutter that may be keeping us back. Finally she cheers us on to the future, helping us find a vision and embrace our best selves.

Blanke goes through her own physical and mental clutter with us. At each room she asks us to determine why we're clinging on to something; we get to decide if it is something we need to keep. We learn that many of the reasons we cling to "stuff" is bogus. Often we haven't even looked at the contents of our clutter for years. Why ARE we holding onto that aged sweater, or the earrings we never really liked? As we dispose of objects (trash, sell, or charity), Blanke counts her own things, and encourages us to write down what we've tossed.

Here's the trick: 50 things means not fifty individual pieces of clutter, but fifty categories. You can define them. If you have 25 old magazines, count them as one item on the list of 50, even though you may also list them as "50 magazines" too; even twenty pairs of shoes are one "thing" for your list of 50.

And having cleaned the home and office with Blanke apparently cleaning up her own alongside with us, Blanke gets down to cleaning up mental clutter, helping us consider the attitudes, mindsets, and false information that prevent success and happiness. Blanke's lighthearted style and can-do attitude makes this audiobook one that you can't put down; you come away feeling as if you can tackle your clutter, no matter how massive.

Blanke has a website ( with additional tips and a blog for her fans to share their experiences. There is also a workbook to download, which makes it easier to record success.

Look for Throw Out Fifty Things as both an audiobook and a hardback at the Virginia Beach Public Library. It and other books, including Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer, may help you keep your resolution to "get organized."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wishin' and Hopin' : A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb

Remember Christmas pageants? When your costume consisted of a robe or sheet; versatile and inexpensive enough to make you an angel, shepherd, or even a sleepy child on Christmas morning. Then there were those dreaded head pieces for antlers or halos, and songs which you weren't entirely sure of the meaning. Only imagine instead of a Christmas pageant, your new French Canadian teacher wants your class to present tableux vivants, or living pictures. Felix, the ten year old star of Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin', is chosen to be the Little Drummer Boy in the final scene. But standing perfectly still during his performance is only one of his many challenges.

Felix Funicello, distant cousin to Annette Funicello, the former Mouseketeer, prepares for the holiday season and his grand stage debut, along with other lovable characters such as Rosalie "Turdski" Twerski, his rival and class pet, and Chino, cook and crude but lovable loudmouth. Goofy and loopy siblings, classmates, teachers, and parents round out the motley crew, making the story all that more believable. These people are human.

Lamb succeeds with a change of pace with this novel, steering clear of usual tragedy and the austere, delving into humor and brevity. He takes us through tales of working at a diner, life at parochial school, a new Russian student, all artfully crafted through the mind of a fifth grade student. There is a fresh and joyous naivety to hearing Felix describe his life, such as his first encounter with French kissing, and there is a warm nostalgia for a time when certain prejudices were absent.

Fans of Lamb's are sure to love this one, along with his other exquisite novels She's Come Undone, I Know This Much is True, and The Hour I First Believed. For more Christmas fare, check out A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs

Plenty of people have memories of constructing gingerbread houses or creating wish lists at Christmas time. However, I'm willing to bet not too many of us had gingerbread houses that involve cooking sherry and instant coffee, nor did our wish lists include gold nuggets and 14k gold watches. At least not at the age of eight. That is, unless of course your name is Augusten Burroughs.

In his collection of holiday essays, You Better Not Cry, Burroughs travels through the decades and over many Christmas mishaps, full of twisted, dark humor that makes you wonder "Should I be laughing at this?" Sometimes, you can't help but chuckle aloud. Other stories make you want to cry, thus creating a well-rounded collection of bizarre Christmas tale fare.

Slyly enveloping a bit of humor in even the most serious of stories, Burroughs works his magic. Such as in the final essay, in which our hero's house floods, ruining his arduously renovated home. Yet, the holiday spirit and giggles abound as his boyfriend attempts to clear out the water with a dustpan, while his neighbors rush over, cleaning up the mess. But, not before Augusten's brother hurls the Christmas tree onto the porch like a javelin.

At times disturbing, this thought provoking collection serves as a pick-me-up in comparison to some of our own less than perfect holiday happenings. For fans of Burroughs' other memoirs, including Running with Scissors and Dry, this one is sure to please. And for more holiday laughs, with possibly less trauma, you may also want to try David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

Throughout our lives we are told that we cannot have our cake and eat it too; no one can have it all. But, what if there was a chance at having it all? Maile Meloy's short story collection, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, offers just that, with witty and engaging glimmers of possibility. Yet, there is a price to pay for having it all, and the often bittersweet tales remind us of why.

In the span of a few short pages, Meloy develops realistic characters who we simultaneously root for, but also love to hate. Beth Travis, a young lawyer travels nine hours, twice a week, to teach a class on school law, which is not her specialty. She meets Chet Moran, a disabled ranch hand who instantly forms a crush. Poor Beth, overcoming her family curse and making such a treacherous journey. However, why can't she show just a little affection for the story's underdog hero? Perhaps a romance could blossom, if only the distance were bearable.

Or there is Fielding, an adulterous husband and father, preparing to leave his wife for a much younger mistress. He enrages us with his secrecy, dishonesty, and selfishness. Yet, when he muses on the joy and vitality that the affair has brought to his life, it's hard not to recognize the pleasure something secret and new can bestow. Perhaps he could keep his marriage together, safe and familiar, and still reap the benefits of freedom.

A grandmother back from the dead, the reappearance of a long-lost lover, and hitchhikers named Bonnie and Clyde round out this collection of humorous and poignant stories, full of rich characters, all of them begging the question, "What kind of fool wanted it only one way?"

If you like Meloy's short stories, you should also try her novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley's second book tickles the funny bone with another collection of humorous essays. From the very first story, in which Crosley travels to Lisbon on a whim - in winter, without knowing a lick of Portuguese - there is a compelling force that causes us to tilt our heads and wonder, "Is she serious?" And yet, she is, making her foibles and mishaps all the more amusing.

A New Yorker, Crosley takes this opportunity to regale us with the smells and etiquette of a taxicab ride, her troubles navigating the city's streets and subway system, and how to find prime real estate in Manhattan by exploring lofts that once served as brothels.

Beyond all that, there are tales of heartbreak and recuperation, world travel, and young adulthood at its best - messy, funny, and somewhat disturbing. How Did You Get This Number gives us all that, with the comfort of knowing we are never alone in this zany, crazy thing called Life. You may also want to try some titles by Laurie Notaro, such as We Thought You Would Be Prettier, as well as Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr

The short story is an art form, as it takes an unquantifiable amount of skill to develop a well-crafted story that is vivid enough to evoke emotion and resonance in the course of a few pages. Yet Anthony Doerr masters the technique in his collection Memory Wall.

Set in the future, the first story, from which the entire collection gets its name, introduces Alma, an elderly South African widow whose husband had a fascination with fossils. Alma has undergone a procedure which allows her memories to be recorded on small disks and viewed repeatedly through a helmet-like contraption. Her memories are literally plastered to the wall, the disks creating a mosaic of her life. What may seem to be a blissful old age, void of the threat of Alzheimer's or dementia, becomes far more sinister than imaginable.

The rest of the collection is comprised of equally haunting yet touching parables, focusing on the importance of the present or, better yet, the not-so-distant future. As a young man works to save his mother from a doomed village, a couple struggles to conceive, and a young orphan girl discovers a mythical fish, Doerr reflects on the brevity of life, sparing us the cliched happy ending or last minute redemption. These tales are refreshingly real.

If you like this collection, you may also want to try other works by Doerr, including another short story collection, The Shell Collector, or, for fans of non-fiction, Four Seasons in Rome.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Juliet by Anne Fortier

"For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."
Romeo and Juliet, 5.3. 309-310

I seem to be on a Shakespeare kick, although--true confession--it's been years since I read an actual Shakespeare play. VBPL Recommends is on the same kick, it seems. A couple of months ago, I read Mistress Shakespeare, one of Nancy's Picks; it's a historically based "memoir," supposedly by Anne Whateley (not wife Anne Hathaway), peppered with hints about the origins of Will's plays in the context of his life. The film Letters to Juliet turned up when a friend and I wanted something to watch; a few weeks later it appeared as one of Tracy's Picks. After you check out those great reviews, you may want to consider another medium through which to experience the tale that Shakespeare adapted from ancient sources: Juliet, by Anne Fortier, on CD or as a downloadable audiobook.

Juliet gives a fictional take on the historical Romeo and Juliet who inspired countless retellings of their tragic love story. Their saga is seen through the lens of a modern “Guilietta" and interspersed here with events in the present. Julie Jacobs has not found moorings in her life when, at 25, she loses the great-aunt who raised her and her twin sister following the death of the mother they can't remember. Inheriting the key to her mother's safety deposit box in Siena, Italy, where the twins were born, Julie must also begin to absorb into her identity the name given to her at birth--Guilietta Tolomei, by which her mother links her deeply to the story they both love of Juliet and her Romeo.

However, after Julie leaves behind her home, her sister (though she does that gladly enough), and Umberto, the butler who is the closest thing to a father she has known, she nearly loses her bearings completely. Her mother's bequests lead Julie on a journey through Siena that entangles her with shadowy figures, family dynasties, and a number of mysteries, not least of which is the significance of a fourteenth-century monk. Friar Lorenzo's diary takes Julie back way past Shakespeare, if only she can understand why.

In her reading of Anne Fortier's Juliet, Cassandra Campbell movingly explores Julie's loss, confusion, fears, and hopes. Fortier has created complex relationships that we experience not only from Julie's perspective, but through the many voices portrayed by Campbell. Janice stands out as a more than typically annoying sibling, whom the listener can't stand any more than Julie can. Julie's search for her heritage and for her own choices moves her beyond her self-doubting ruminations, fed by Janice and realistically voiced by Campbell. Hearing Julie's interactions with others also brings us inside her struggle to decide whom to trust--and whom to forgive. In the parallel story from the 1340s, the voices of Italian fathers and young daredevils resonate with echoes of Shakespeare even as the lovers defy their parents' wishes, the monk's attempts to shepherd them--and the Bard's machinations. But will faraway voices and machinations determine Julie's fate?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Small, Medium & Large By Jane Monroe Donovan

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, it's time to get ready for Christmas. Sammy wonders if Santa Claus will be able to find her in her new house, so she writes to him. She doesn't ask for toys, but we don't see the end of her letter. So we wonder, hmmm . . . what could be better? That question will start young children talking as Sammy mails her letter. Since Small, Medium & Large is a wordless picture book, even pre-readers can narrate Sammy's preparations for the holiday. Soon, they can guess what could be in the small, medium and large presents under the tree on Christmas morning!

Though the illustrations by author Jane Monroe Donovan are realistic, the story is somewhat fanciful--at least for most of us. We may have, or wish for, a cat or a dog, but remember those small, medium and large presents? Not many of us have a miniature horse living in our house! However, our pets may have been our best friends, especially at a lonely time, and we can enjoy and laugh at the good times Sammy and her new friends have on a perfect, snowy Christmas day.

Children may notice that Sammy is alone as she decorates the house in red and green, or that the bottles of candy sprinkles look just like the ones in their own kitchen. The second time through, they may comment on amusing details such as the plate and glass sitting near the Christmas tree and the paw sneaking a fish-shaped cookie from the counter. In doing so, they will sharpen their observation and induction skills, as well as their descriptive and narrative abilities.

Sometime during the season, curl up together with Small, Medium & Large. Another gentle, realistic holiday story is The Log Cabin Christmas by Ellen Howard, in which a lonely little girl from long ago made Christmas happen in her home. Virginia Beach Public Library carries many, many holiday books of all kinds--fiction and nonfiction, fun and thought-provoking, new and familiar. And they are moving fast: the ones on the shelf today may not have been there yesterday, so come on in!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Little Prince by Joann Sfar, Adapted from the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It works! At first I was surprised to see a graphic novel based on the beloved classic The Little Prince. But it makes sense. The very simple black and white sketches of the original and the nuggets of wisdom are what come to mind when I remember the old story of the mysterious little prince who befriends the pilot narrator and tells him of his travels. Graphic novelist Joann Sfar has made the story new again with his brightly colored, childlike art; pared-down narration; and straightforward dialogue, revealing the truths of the original to new generations. A multi-layered fable, The Little Prince is, in this telling and showing, enriched by the bold colors and contrasts of the landscapes and skyscapes, the "everyman" depiction of the pilot, and the expressive blue eyes of the little prince.

Sfar also remains true to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's tale, first published in the 1940's. For those not familiar with it, an aviator has had a plane accident and is stranded in the Sahara when he is awakened by a young boy asking him to draw a sheep. He finally agrees, although he protests that grown-ups discouraged him as a child from pursuing drawing. From this odd beginning, the two become acquainted as the pilot attempts to mend his aeroplane and the child decides whether to go back home. The little prince shares his concerns about the proud but fragile flower he has left on his little planet. Eventually, he also describes those he has met on the planets he's visited during his journey:

• the king who commands him to do what he is already going to do,
• the man who wants only to be admired,
• the drunk,
• the businessman who counts the stars,
• the lamplighter,
• the geographer who has never seen the wonders he records,
• and--on Earth--a snake, a desert flower, and a fox.

More meaningfully, the little prince shares his thoughts about who among these is foolish, serious, reasonable, and useful--or not. Both he and the aviator come to understand truths that seem self-evident, but are often forgotten. They also realize, with some pain, that creating bonds is what is essential in life--that it is the time we spend on things or people that makes them important to us.
It's very possible that enjoying this graphic novel, found in Teen Fiction, will send you on (or back) to the fuller original version of The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry; it is catalogued in Youth Fiction, but neither one is meant only for young people. For some other off-the-beaten-track graphic novels, try the Graphic Classics series, including works by Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Red Green Blue: A First Book of Colors by Alison Jay

Parents and kids, hold onto your lids!

The rhymes here are new and require of you
a sharp eye for colors and tales you once knew.
Be ready to listen, use your brain and this book,
for more you will find, the more that you look.

Even in modern times, children still need
the old nursery rhymes to be ready to read.
So call them to mind on this gray, rainy day,
with a boy and his dog who can't go out to play.

Remember that green was the boat of the owl,
whose pussycat lady was not one to yowl.
Black birds and bugs cause some folks to fear,
while ladybird hopes that her babes are not here.

Mice, sheep, and a cow--then what a disaster!
Poor Jack's head will need a plaster!
Oh, no, Humpty fell! But the king's kindly men
can put both these noggins together again!

The rhymes have been hacked, the pictures look cracked,
but with lively sights the pages are packed.
The colors and rhymes may not be those expected,
but here Mother Goose is clearly respected.

Books of seasons and numbers and thanksgiving prayers,
illustrator Alison Jay has prepared.
Her pictures show very timely views
in other great books that hold more fun for you!

Written and illustrated by Alison Jay:
The Nutcracker
1, 2, 3: A Child's First Counting Book
Welcome to the Zoo!

Illustrated by Alison Jay:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Listen, Listen by Phillis Gershator
A Child's Book of Graces by Lois Rock

Monday, December 13, 2010

Little Pea By Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Illustrated by Jen Corace

Little Pea is a silly book about a pea, along with his Papa and Mama Pea. Little Pea is a happy young vegetable who likes playing with his friends and listening to stories. But young readers will howl at the one thing he doesn’t like: eating his candy! You see, candy is what little peas have to eat to grow up big and strong. But our Little Pea doesn’t want to--until he finds out that he can’t have dessert if he doesn’t finish up all his candy.

Even the youngest listeners will understand Little Pea’s feelings if they have ever refused to eat what is on their plates. You’d be surprised at how expressive a simple green circle with two eyes and a mouth can be! The clear, crisp illustrations with lots of white space are ideal for very little children, but almost-kindergartners will also appreciate them and will be able to focus on the simple text as well. They may even laugh as they recount their own similar experiences. Thus the layout and the story both provide opportunities for parents to reinforce early literacy skills, especially print awareness and narrative skills. Children can put their thinking caps on to guess what’s coming in the end: Will Little Pea eat his dinner? What delicious dessert may entice him??

For the other side of the story, check out how eating peas evokes a dramatic response in Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements. Much more polite diners are to be found (eventually) in Jane Yolen’s book that poses the question, How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? Well, a dinosaur “eats all before him with smiles and goodwill.” Further adventures to encourage those who don’t like new foods can be explored in Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs! by Megan McDonald and The Sandwich Swap by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, whose book contributes to her mission of promoting cross-cultural tolerance.

Finally, if all else fails with picky eaters, you can try my grandfather’s trick: “I always try foods I don’t like—just to be sure I still don’t like them!”

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett, and Amanda Pressner

If you are a fan of travel writing, then add this one to your list of must reads. The Lost Girls takes the reader on a year-long journey of some rather amazing places around the world from Peru to Kenya to India to Thailand to Australia, and many others along the way.

Three twenty-something friends, all working in media-related jobs in Manhattan and each highly career-driven and intent on climbing the corporate ladder, begin to question the direction their lives are taking and the lack of feeling any true fulfillment. And so with a complete reversal of their present markedly focused and goal-oriented course, the women quit their jobs, leave behind their boyfriends, and embark on a journey of a life time.

What makes this book particularly interesting is that, except for the initial planning of the countries the three will visit and a few must-see's and must-do's along the way, the friends are able to effectively "wing" much of their trip, making it a true adventure. It is not all sunshine and roses, however. They have to deal with and overcome personal issues amongst themselves as well as other predicaments and difficulties encountered during their trek. I found their stories engaging and enjoyed immersing myself in all their numerouse and sundry experiences.

After reading The Lost Girls, I suggest you take a look at A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler by Thomas Swick. Swick is a travel writer and editor so there is much to entertain the reader within the pages of his book.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Is it Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman

It's 1938 Nazi Germany, and Edith, a 12-year-old Jewish girl living in a small German village, is being sent to America to live with relatives she does not know. She is aware of anti-Semitism around her town but does not fully comprehend the urgency of her forced separation from her family. Her anxiety grows as she wonders whether she'll see her parents ever again.

The story continues as Edith sails alone across the Atlantic as part of an American rescue operation, where she eventually makes her way to Chicago. It is here where she moves into the cramped quarters of her Uncle's apartment and encounters resentment and mistreatment from her aunt and cousin. School life is not much better. Fellow students taunt her, calling her a "Dirty Jew."

News from back home is infrequent and seldom encouraging. Yet Edith retains some hope of being reunited with her family. But that fateful day does comes when she learns the devastating news of her parents.

Chapman based this novel on actual events that happened to her mother during her immigration and refugee experience. I liked the story line's simplicity and how it captured the emotional struggle of those affected by the Holocaust. Youth and teen readers should appreciate this book for its authentic and sincere depiction of the times during this tragic period in history.

Check out Is it Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman. You may also find of interest Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong which is a compelling youth fiction story about a refugee family fleeing Laos.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Tribute

Virginia Beach Public Libraries recently lost one of our family. To commemorate Nancy's contributions here on VBPL Recommends I would like to direct you to her many wonderful reviews.

Beauty and the Beast by Jean Cocteau
The Soloist directed by Steve Lopez
Bread and Tulips directed by Silvio Soldini

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper
Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron

Adult Fiction
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith
The Blue Notebook by James Levine
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith
Desperate Hoodwives by Meesha Mink and De'Nesha Diamond

Children's Fiction
Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies
How do You Wokka Wokka? by Elizabeth Bluemle
Tanka Tanka Skunk! by Steve Webb
Farmer Joe and the Music Show by Tony Mitton
Wabi Sabi by Mark Rebstein & Ed Young
Aya by Margaret Abouet and Clement Obrerie

Another Round by Jaheim
On How Life Is by Macy Gray
A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Hurrican Katrina) by Terrence Blanchard

Whatever it Takes: George Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough

Rest in Peace.

Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods

"What's a bonobo," you ask? It's a different, more peaceable species of chimpanzee that has received very little attention over the years. But hopefully this book will help change that. And your next question might be, "What's a bonobo handshake?" Well, it's not exactly what you would think, so you'll have to read the book to find out.

Woods, a journalist and research scientist has made several trips to Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The sanctuary takes in orphaned bonobos and provides rehabilitation to prepare them for release back into the wild. While at the sanctuary, she assisted her husband in conducting research on the tolerance and cooperation of bonobos, comparing the results to that of chimpanzees. Aided by Woods' straightforward writing style, I learned much more than I had anticipated. Her heartfelt account of the time she spent with these truly fascinating animals left me feeling a little sad on occasion, but more often had me laughing at their crazy antics.

Woods' inclusion of eye-opening background information on the Congo helped to frame the story and put the bonobo's plight into context. She was forthright in describing the brutality and greed of dictators and rebel leaders who have controlled the Congo during the last several decades, the barbaric fighting that has left the country ravaged by years of war, and the complicity of other countries and companies that have a stake in the Congo's vast wealth of minerals such as diamonds, gold, and copper. Woods suggests that there are glimmers of hope in the Congo's future, and fittingly, it is the bonobos who are instrumental in making this possible.

Look for Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods on the VBPL Catalog.

To learn more and get a visual glimpse into bonobo life, watch the NOVA production of The Last Great Ape on DVD.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Unfinished Business by Lee Kravitz

Keep promises, bury grudges, make the time, don't let little tasks grow huge, listen to what others are saying, be aware that you can die at any moment. All good advice from Lee Kravitz on creating a path to live a meaningfully complete and whole life. Kravitz shares these and many other observations made during his year-long journey of atonement and reconnecting while seeking to take care of unfinished business.

His quest began after he lost his job as editor-in-chief of Parade magazine. Kravitz, an acknowledged workaholic, admitted to making little time to be with and enjoy the people who were important in his life. So, instead of immediately looking for another job, he decided to reassess his life, make a list of ten nagging and unresolved issues from his past, and then set out to tackle them.

I was inspired by Kravitz's stories which are filled with lots of interesting characters. I particularly found the emails that he shares from his father amusing and endearing. Along the journey he locates a neglected aunt, finds old friends, delivers on old promises, and begins the process of uniting family. Kravitz's life-changing undertaking allowed him to move forward while recognizing the crucial need to stop and make time for silence and reflection. I can only hope the experiences and insights he gained will rub off on me in at least some small way, because we all have some unfinished business.

Find Unfinished Business on the VBPL catalog. There are many other books in this vein where the author takes a year to accomplish some goal or task. Here are a few that I have enjoyed: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Do-Over! by Robin Hemley, No Impact Man by Colin Beavan, and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

After my barely-passing grades in Chemistry during my junior year in high school, I never thought I'd end up reading a book about the periodic table of elements. Nonetheless, to my immense pleasure, I was quite impressed with the fascinating stories Sam Kean gleaned from this notable scientific table. Kean's claim that there is "a funny, or odd or chilling tale attached to every element on the periodic table" is enjoyably evident in his book.

Filling the pages are entertaining accounts of individuals having a connection to the chemical elements. Of course, one expects to find inside the names Pasteur, Curie, and Einstein. But Mark Twain? Yep, he's there. Hitler, too. Read about laboratory blunders and stumbled-upon major scientific discoveries. You'll learn why Vandium, element twenty-three, despite being the best spermicide developed, is not, however, on the market. Find out how ruthenium was instrumental in making the Parker 51 one of the most sought-after pens in history. These are only a small sampling of the many intriguing tales encountered within, waiting to captivate the reader. Kean sums up quite well what this eminent table has to divulge -- "...bubbles, bombs, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, poison, crime, and love. Even some science." I am delighted that he chose to share these stories.

While picking up a copy of The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean at VBPL, also look for A Well-ordered Thing by Michael Gordin to learn more about the life of Dmitrii Mendeleev, "architect" of the first periodic table of elements.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Family Stone directed by Thomas Bezucha

Now that December is here, it might be a relief to escape the holiday frenzy by settling in with a cup of hot chocolate, some sinful snacks, and a good holiday movie. I, for one, enjoy films about families and their eccentricities, and "The Family Stone" definitely fits the bill!

It's Christmas, and the various members of the large, boisterous Stone clan are traveling home to Connecticut where Mom and Dad Stone eagerly await. Everett, the oldest son, is bringing his more than slightly uptight girlfriend Meredith home to meet the family, and he is planning to ask her to marry him during the visit. His hearing-impaired gay brother Thad will also be there with his partner, along with pot-smoking brother Ben and the only two daughters of the tribe. Amy, the youngest sister, has already met Meredith and unfortunately taken an instant dislike to her. As you can imagine, the stage is set for some awkward misunderstandings and family fireworks.

This film has some rollickingly hilarious moments, and some touching scenes that will have you reaching for a tissue. Diane Keaton is ideal for the part of the seriously ill matriarch Sybil, who fiercely loves her children and wants to protect them from the inevitable pain of living. Sarah Jessica Parker is fabulous as Everett’s stiff but well-meaning fiancée. And my favorite actor in the film is Luke Wilson, who steals the show as irresponsible yet deeply sensitive Ben. The Family Stone will put you in the holiday spirit and make you think of your extended family members, whom I suspect are just as much like the Stone family as mine! If you like sentimental holiday comedies another enjoyable one is Christmas with the Kranks, which is based on the novel Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Dark Song by Gail Giles

When I hear about a teen killing his or her parents, I wonder how the situation could have escalated so extremely. How could anyone hate their parents enough to commit that kind of violence against them?

Ames Ford is a typical upper class teenage girl. She lives in a beautiful home in Boulder with her parents and younger sister, Chrissy, and attends an exclusive private school. Ames loves Chrissy and adores her parents, a stay-at-home mom who loves to decorate and a popular, funny father who has a lucrative position in the finance industry. All is champagne and roses for the Ford family until the members of Boulder’s high society begin to whisper among themselves.

Gradually, Ames discovers the awful truth. Her beloved dad has committed fraud and lost his job. He has just barely managed to stay out of prison, and now the Fords are completely broke. They must sell their home and move to a squalid rental house in Texas owned by Ames’s less than pleasant grandparents. Ames is humiliated, disillusioned and lonely. She misses her life in Boulder, and desperately needs an escape hatch. Then she meets Marc, a handsome, moody, sweet talking twenty-one-year-old with a dismal home life and a secret gun collection. Marc understands her like no one else can. Ames is swept off her feet, and the stage is set for intense drama and harrowing suspense.

In this gutsy thriller, Gail Giles presents a striking psychological exploration of how and why a child who adores her parents can begin to despise them. Giles’s writing style is easy to absorb, and filled with rich imagery and skillful character development. Will the Ford family survive Ames’s ill-fated attraction to Marc? Read Dark Song and find out. For an adult novel about a teen killer, try Roadside Crosses by Jeffery Deaver. And if you prefer nonfiction, you will be interested in reading Runaway Devil by Robert Remington, a true crime book about a twelve year old Canadian girl who murdered her family.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky by Connie Lapallo

Can you imagine suffering such severe hunger that your mouth waters at the thought of eating rats, boiled shoes, or even dead people? In this stunning novel based on fact, Virginia author Connie Lapallo takes us back to the early 1600s when her English ancestor Joan Pierce made the wrenching decision to sign on with the Virginia Company and relocate to the New World with her husband, Will. For Joan, this meant leaving loved ones, a comfortable cottage, a bountiful herb garden, and even her oldest daughter. But rumor had it that Virginia was the Promised Land, flush with natural resources, teeming with wildlife, and offering an endless supply of land to those willing to claim it. So on June 1, 1609, Joan, Will and their young daughter Janey set sail with a fleet of ships bound for what they hoped would be a prosperous life in Virginia. Thus begins an astonishing tale of danger, heartache and sheer survival.

Joan and Janey are assigned to the Blessing with many of the other wives and children. Will is to sail on the head ship, the Sea Venture, which carries most of the leaders of the expedition and the bulk of the settlers’ supplies. But near Bermuda an intense hurricane strikes, and only a few of the ships, including the Blessing, make it all the way to James Town. Unfortunately, the Sea Venture never arrives. Joan and Janey along with other female passengers from the Blessing find themselves in a harsh, primitive environment without their husbands, and lacking adequate supplies. First they must adapt to the cruel Virginia summer heat and the unpredictable, often violent ways of the natives. And then winter sets in with a vengeance, making food impossible to find.

History books often overlook the tough, adventurous women who accompanied their husbands on the grueling journey to a new world, how hard they worked to create homes for their families in a beautiful but treacherous setting, and how their faith got them through the heartbreaking tragedies that they endured. Brew a cup of tea, have a hefty food supply on hand, and let Joan Pierce tell you about the Starving Time, and how it was Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky. And to learn more about the incredible fate of the Sea Venture, check out A Brave Vessel by Hobson Woodward or The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown by Lorri Glover.