Notes on Fear

“Fear is isolating for those that fear.  And I have come to believe that fear is a cruelty to those who are feared” (Biss 154).  This statement, like so many of Biss’ revelations in Notes From No Man’s Land, gave me pause.  Fear is isolating.  Fear is cruel.  And, as her cousin tells us, fear is violence. Biss

Growing up is, in many ways, about facing your fears and overcoming them.  Riding a bike is scary the first time you do it.  So is sleeping over at a friend’s house.  And going to college.  We are afraid of what is unfamiliar.  To accept these fears as absolute truths would be debilitating.  We would never venture into the world or try new things.  And yet, as adults, we allow our fears to become immutable.  We become settled in our routines, comfortable in our circles of friends, and we stagnate.  We cease to push the boundaries of our fears and we are instead penned-in by them.  As Biss points out, “Fear is accepted…as a kind of intelligence” (157-158).  It becomes prudent to be afraid.

I do not advise imprudence.  There are real dangers in the world and caution is often necessary.  But I wonder, with Biss, whether “insularity is a fair price to pay for safety” (154).  I strongly suspect that it is not.  Fear of people, especially fear of whole groups of people, demands that we avoid those people.  It demands that we do not take the bus through a particular neighborhood.  It demands that we carefully separate our homes from their homes, our schools from their schools.  It demands that we do not make eye contact, or smile, or offer a helping hand.  It demands that we treat other humans as less-than-human. It demands that we perpetuate age-old oppressions.

None of us lives without fears, but perhaps we can mitigate the damage they cause by examining them critically, by engaging them, and by growing out of them.

Biss, Eula.  Notes From No Man’s Land.  Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009.  Print.

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When Words Get in the Way

Almost gone are the days of beach trips and flip flops. Too soon they will be replaced by stiff school shoes, scratchy leggings, and perfectly pleated pants. Books can feel like this. We (and by “we,” I mostly mean “I”) spent our summer reading fluff. Words like cotton candy stuck to the corners of our brains with the sticky- sweet consistency of burnt sugar. But then we realized that our children’s school sent home a summer reading list that we really ought to have started before August fifteenth. The school books, as good as they are, feel like a pair of new shoes; they are not yet broken in enough to be welcome to our warm weather frame of mind.

If you find this to be the case, I recommend trying books without words (or books with as few words as possible). Ease back into reading lists with tales that let your brain tell the story on its own terms. Soon enough, then, your syllabi will taste like warm apple pie, smell like crisp autumn air, and feel like your favorite fuzzy fleece against you skin.

Here are a few of my favorite (nearly) wordless wonders:

10.  Chalk by Bill Thomson


9.    Sector 7 by David Wiesner ( J-P W63s)

Sector 7

8.    Zoom by Istvan Banyai ( J-P B227z)


7.    The Arrival by Shaun Tan ( J 741.5 T153a0)

The Arrival

6.    Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day ( J-P D323g)

Good Dog Carl

5.    The Snowman by Raymond Briggs ( J-P B7644s)

The Snowman

4.    Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman

Good Night Gorilla

3.    The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney ( J-P P648L)

The Lion and the Mouse

2.    Flotsam by David Wiesner ( J-P W6365FL)


1.    The Mysteries of Harris Burdick  by Chris Van Allsburg ( J-P V265m)

Mysteries of Harris Burdick

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Style by the Book – Anne of Green Gables

I grew up adoring the 1980s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea TV mini-series. In my opinion, Megan Follows will forever be the perfect Anne Shirley. As a child it was a treat to catch it on my local PBS station (and luck… this was before the days of channel guides and DVR) and as an adult it’s my sick-day movie and never fails to comfort me. It wasn’t until much later in life that I read my way through L.M. Montgomery’s series starring the spirited Anne Shirley. As the book and mini-series can’t really be separated in my mind, this Style by the Book is inspired by both.

Anne of Green Gables

Want more Anne Shirley? The Library has Anne of Green Gables (J M76a) available in print and The Complete Chronicles of Avonlea as an e-book!

Do you have a favorite book that you want to see featured on Style by the Book? Share your suggestions in the comments!

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Great Interspecies Friendships in Children’s Literature

This summer, I’ve developed a fascination with animal-themed youtube videos and spent way too many Saturday afternoons just clicking one after another. Yes, I know that much of the population with internet access has been doing this for years and I’m only catching up. One of my favorite themes in these videos are the interspecies relationships – the distressed, orphaned elephant befriending a sheep, the bear, tiger and lion who now live together after being rescued together from an abusive owner, a female tiger nursing piglets. For nonhumans, they offer great examples for humanity on compassion, acceptance, and friendship.

This reminded me of how so much of children’s literature is populated with interspecies friendships and family relationships and the values those relationships can teach us. Here a few that come to mind:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: I hate spiders, but I would make an exception for Charlotte, the spider who befriends Wilbur, a lonely pig, and works tirelessly to spare him from being slaughtered. Their friendship becomes one that spans generations and the story is currently a much beloved children’s classic.

friends1Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories by Laura Vaccaro Seeger:  The simple vignettes of the two friends – a stuffed bear and a dog- portray a friendship of understanding, cooperation, and silly moments.

Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack: It’s a great story about two best friends, the optimistic Rabbit and the pessimistic Mouse, who are trying to have a picnic. Things go wrong to the point where even the optimistic Rabbit gets upset. Seeing his friend so upset, the Mouse decides to put aside his natural pessimism for a moment to cheer up his friend.

The Jungle Book -”Mowlgli’s Brothers” – by Rudyard Kipling: Feral child, Mowgli, is adopted by a mother wolf and a father wolf. The bear, Baloo, and the black panther, Bhageera, become his protectors, friends, and mentors as he learns to live in the jungle.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate:  Ivan, a silverback gorilla, is resigned to his life in a glass enclosure in a mall that was part circus. He doesn’t think much about returning to the wild. He has TV, crayons, and his friends, Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog.  With the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant, and wanting a better life for her, Ivan begins to pursue a life outside of captivity.

friends2The Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne: A human, bear, tiger, 2 kangaroos, donkey, and piglet all hang out, have adventures together, and look out for each other. The stories of their friendships contributed to many touching quotes about friendship and life.

Xander’s Panda Party by Linda Sue Park: Xander decides to have a panda party. However, he realizes that he’s the only panda in the zoo and decides to to invite all the bears to his party. When that excludes the koala, he opens it up to all the mammals. Then to the birds (the rhino wants to bring his bird friend) and reptiles. In the end, the panda decides to invite everyone so no one would be excluded. Everyone has a great time and they all make new friends.

What are some of your favorite literary (or youtube!) interspecies friendships?

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A Gourmet E-book


Eat like Don Quixote!

Writing for this blog has allowed me to explore many different instances of meals in books–but I am not the first (nor do I suspect, the last) to tackle this tasty literary project. Available as an E-book through the Wheelock library, The Literary Gourmet: Menus From Masterpieces takes on the task of creating menus based on passages in famous books, from the Bible, to Don Quixote, to The Importance of Being Earnest.

The author, Linda Wolfe, provides a brief synopsis of the story, then excerpts a scene from each book in which the selected food appears. She then creates a menu with the help of historical resources–relying on varied sources such as Biblical encyclopedias for the Red Pottage of Lentils, or two women’s conflicting chowder recipes from the 1800s to reflect New England Clam Chowder as it was known in the time of Moby Dick and as it is recognized now.

There are entrees, starters and desserts (who knew The Legend of Sleepy Hollow betrayed such a sweet tooth!) so you can create an entire meal spanning some of the world’s most famous works of literature. My only criticism of this book is that it could stand to broaden the diversity of authors to include women and people of color. Perhaps, inspired by this delicious text, one of you, readers, will take up that task!

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