Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

One of our board members offers up this week’s suggestion: Niall Ferguson’s bestseller, Civilization: The West and the Rest.

Niall Ferguson, renowned British historian and professor of History at Harvard, poses the following question: Why, starting about the year 1500, did Western Europe and eventually North America, come to dominate the world? After all, it was Ottoman Turkey and Ming China which seemed to have the appearance of world civilizations. Europe, by contrast, was a miserable backwater recovering from the ravages of the Black Death and plagued by perpetual wars. Similarly, fifteenth-century North America was an anarchic wilderness compared to the towering temples and skyscraping roads in the areas of South and Central America where the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas were dominant.

Ferguson gives the reader six reasons: competition, science, property rights, advances in medicine, the development of a consumer society, and the work ethic allowed for the rapid growth and eventual supremacy of the West over what he refers to as the Rest.

Civilizations come and go, Ferguson asserts. There is no rhythm to the rise and fall of civilizations – and we are living through the end of 500 years of Western dominance. History teaches us that collapse can be sudden – two years after the Soviets left Afghanistan the Soviet Union disappeared.

Ferguson, however, is somewhat optimistic about the long-term viability of Western Civilization. Civilizations must be defended and the West, he argues, has some institutional advantages over the Rest. This is an interesting read.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ramona the pest by Beverly Cleary

Late this month each branch will celebrate Family Literacy Day with a reading marathon. Hopefully lots of you will participate by dropping by and listening for a few minutes. Please call your local branch if you are able to fill one of the reading slots. Check the website for information.

We are often asked in the library to recommend titles for families to read together. One book that has been a childhood favourite for many has been Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest. Everyone, regardless of age can relate to the challenges Ramona faces as she begins school. Ramona does not think she is a pest, she’s just has to be a bit noisier and more stubborn to get what she wants. We see the world through her perspective when her adored teacher tells her to “sit here for the present”, or when she has difficulty understanding what the “dawnzer lee light” is. And, those of us of a certain age will remember those girls with the “boing-boing” curls and applaud Ramona for pulling them.

Many parents read a chapter a night to their young listeners. The prose is written at a Grade 3 level, but younger children often read them independently as well. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books are just some of the many that are ideal for sharing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales

Late this month each branch will celebrate Family Literacy Day with a reading marathon. Hopefully lots of you will participate. Check the website for information.

This week I’m focusing on Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales. The particular issue I’m looking at is quite new, and includes the complete and unabridged text of all 23 tales, and all of the original illustrations. The stories are arranged in order of publication. As some of the characters appear in more than one story, this gives the book flow. Potter’s tales were often connected to real life people, places, or animals, and the brief introductory notes before each story give some of its history. These notes also offer personal glimpses into Potter’s opinion of the piece, her circumstances and friends, and her favourite locations in the English countryside. Included in this collection are 4 works that remained unpublished during her lifetime.

The library holds only one copy of this particular collection, but many more of Potter’s tales are available as single titles. The tales of Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Squirrel Nutkin, and Jemima Puddle-duck, to name a few, have enchanted children for over a century, and continue to do so.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Late this month each branch will celebrate Family Literacy Day with a reading marathon. Hopefully lots of you will participate by dropping by and listening for a few minutes or sign up for one of the reading slots. Check the website for information. Each branch will be holding a draw for the collector edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

So, that’s the book I’m highlighting this week. C. S. Lewis first published The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 1950. While playing hide and seek, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy accidentally enter the land of Narnia, which has been turned into a frozen snow-covered land by the evil White Witch. The only hope is for Aslan, the great lion to return and break the spell. The interesting, tension-filled plot and endearing characters make it a favourite for children. Themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption are easily recognized and provide a good basis for a literary discussion with children.

The Lion, the witch, and the wardrobe is the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Reader have been enjoying this series for decades and we are sure they will continue to do so.

Monday, January 2, 2012

One fish two fish red fish blue fish by Dr. Seuss

Late this month each branch will celebrate Family Literacy Day with a reading marathon. A schedule of volunteer readers will be set up, and kids who come to listen will enter their names into a prize draw. Dates and times in each branch are available in the library and on the website. If you enjoy reading to children, sign up for a slot, and bring along any kids, grandkids, or the neighbours.

In preparation for the event, all the titles this month will be the classics that have been enjoyed by families for generations. I’ll start with my family favourite, Dr. Seuss’ One fish two fish red fish blue fish. I always found this particular book strikes a perfect balance, with its bizarre, imaginative creatures, and its beginning reader level prose. Like many of Dr. Seuss’ books, it stimulates the imagination and offers a message of acceptance and exploration. It is appropriate for sharing or independent reading.

The toughest thing about Dr. Seuss books is choosing a favourite. Other ones like Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, and Oh the Places you’ll go have found a place of honour on children’s bookshelves, and in their hearts.