Posts Tagged ‘book’

Photo: Jaida Grey Eagle/Sahan Journal.
Remona Htoo, an immigrant from Mynamar (Burma), with her book My Little Legs at Como Lake in St. Paul, MN on January 13th, 2021. (Minnesota in January? She must be freezing!)

Since 2016, I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from vastly different cultures as I volunteer to help teachers in English as a Second Language classes, currently online.

Right now, I’m thinking of one woman who was originally from Myanmar (Burma) and who spent many years in a refugee camp in Thailand. She eventually landed in Rhode Island with her husband and children. It was there that I met her.

Myanmar is unfortunately known mostly for brutal military rule and suppression of rights activists and minorities. Among those minorities are the Karen people. I knew a little about them, but had not met any until the ESL class. There is good reason to believe that their language and culture are in danger of being lost, particularly as English becomes the primary language for their children.

Andrew Hazzard has a story on a Karen woman who decided to do something about that. The article was published at Sahan Journal, “the only independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit digital newsroom fully dedicated to providing authentic news reporting for and with immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota.”

Hazzard writes, “Remona Htoo didn’t have any children’s books growing up. Now, she’s publishing one of her own. 

“Htoo was born into a Karen family fleeing the civil war in Myanmar. She spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Thailand before her family resettled in Idaho, in 2007. At the time, the 12-year-old spoke no English. 

“Refugees don’t choose where in the U.S where they end up. A significant population of Karen people came to Minnesota, but only 20-odd families landed in Idaho, Htoo said. …

“While attending college at a small Christian university, she began taking trips to the Sawtooth Mountains, where she fell in love with the landscapes of mountains, pine trees, and clear lakes. 

“ ‘It was me trying to cope with stress, trying to cope with the trauma I had. It was a healing mechanism for me,’ Htoo said. 

“Ten years ago, she met a young Karen man online who lived in St. Paul: More than 17,000 Karen people live in the city and neighboring Maplewood. The two shared early childhood experiences in the refugee camps and struck up a relationship. Now, the two are married, with a 22-month-old daughter, Emma, and live in St. Paul’s east side. 

“Htoo, 27, began taking her daughter on outdoor adventures: backpacking and camping in the summer; and sledding in the winter. The family goes near and far to experience nature. … In the summer, the family hits the road to visit national parks like Glacier, in Montana. Emma has already seen 10 national parks — more than many adults. …

“ ‘After I became a mom, I realized there are no children’s books in Karen,’ she said. ‘I wanted to read a book in Karen for my daughter.’ 

“So, Htoo took action. She wrote and self-published My Little Legs, a book she said is about ‘being outdoors and what your little legs can do.’  Emma, her daughter, served as inspiration for the main character. She wears a traditional Karen shirt in the illustrations, created by local artist Mikayla Johnson. The book is bilingual, with English and Karen script. 

“There are very few children’s books, or books in general, published in Karen in the United States, and much of what exists originated in St. Paul. … St. Paul Public Library recognized the need for more Karen language literature. The library system has published three children’s books in Karen since 2015, according to spokesperson Stacy Optiz. The most recent is Children’s Stories, a collection of five traditional Karen folk stories, released in 2021.

My Little Legs targets families with children ages 1–3. In compiling the tale, Htoo looked back at Emma’s own development milestones, like learning to crawl and walk. She also wanted to create an outdoor adventure story that featured southeast Asian characters, and to inspire a curiosity about the Karen people for other American readers. 

“ ‘I don’t think people think we are the outdoor type,’ Htoo said. 

“People of color make up about 20 percent of Minnesota’s population, but only 5 percent of state park users, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources data. Many Minnesotans of color feel isolated in outdoor spaces. In response, groups like BIPOC Outdoors Twin Cities emerged, where people can find diverse friends to hit the trails or go fishing.” 

Readers can order Htoo’s book by emailing NawHaChu@gmail.com. More at Sahan Journal, here.

Read Full Post »


Photos: Lebrecht Music & Arts / Alamy Stock; Getty/whitemay
Unlike the Puritans he lived among, Thomas Morton loved nature, local tribes, and pagan traditions like dancing around the maypole. The Puritans banned a book book he wrote — the first banned book in America. 

Today we joke about Boston and its “Banned in Boston” moniker. We criticize other communities that ban books they believe threaten local morals. People have always tried to address threats they believe are posed by certain ideas. Even now we argue about the best way to keep fake news off social media. But who is to decide? I hope we don’t think government officials — whether they’re currently the ones we voted for or not —  are capable of deciding.

Let’s take a look at an old controversy over America’s first banned book.

Matthew Taub writes at Atlas Obscura, “Apparently, Thomas Morton didn’t get the memo. The English businessman arrived in Massachusetts in 1624 with the Puritans, but he wasn’t exactly on board with the strict, insular, and pious society they had hoped to build for themselves.

“ ‘He was very much a dandy and a playboy,’ says William Heath, a retired professor from Mount Saint Mary’s University who has published extensively on the Puritans. …

“Within just a few short years, Morton established his own unrecognized offshoot of the Plymouth Colony, in what is now the town of Quincy, Massachusetts (the birthplace of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams). He revived forbidden old-world customs, faced off with a Puritan militia determined to quash his pagan festivals, and wound up in exile.

“He eventually sued and, like any savvy rabble-rouser should, got a book deal out of the whole affair. Published in 1637, his New English Canaan mounted a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures that went far beyond what most New English settlers could accept. So they banned it — making it likely the first book explicitly banned in what is now the United States. …

“The Puritans’ move across the ‘pond’ was motivated by both religion and commerce, but Morton was there only for the latter reason, as one of the owners of the Wollaston Company. He loved what he saw of his new surroundings, later writing that Massachusetts was the ‘masterpiece of nature.’ His business partner — slave-owning Richard Wollaston — moved south to Virginia to expand the company’s business, but Morton was already deeply attached to the land. …

‘He was extremely responsive to the natural world and had very friendly relations with the Indians,’ says Heath, while ‘the Puritans took the opposite stance: that the natural world was a howling wilderness, and the Indians were wild men that needed to be suppressed.’

“After Wollaston left, Morton enlisted the help of some brave recruits — both English and Native — to establish the breakoff settlement of Ma-Re Mount, also known as Merrymount. …

“The Puritan authorities didn’t see Merrymount as a free-wheeling annoyance; they saw an existential threat. The problem wasn’t only that Morton was taking goods and commerce away from Plymouth, but that he was giving that business to the Native Americans, including trading guns to the Algonquins.

“With Plymouth’s monopoly dissolved and its perceived enemies armed, Morton had perhaps done more than anyone else to undermine the Puritan project in Massachusetts. Worse yet, in the words of Plymouth’s governor William Bradford, Morton condoned ‘dancing and frisking together’ with the Native Americans . … Governor Bradford nicknamed Morton the ‘Lord of Misrule.’

“There could be no greater symbol of such misrule than Morton’s maypole. … Throughout medieval Europe, maypoles had been a popular installation for May Day (or Pentecost or midsummer, in some regions) — encouraging human fertility as the land itself sprung up from winter. Now that was a tradition that Morton could get behind, and he gladly called upon the residents of Merrymount to drink, dance, and frolic around the pole. The establishment of Merrymount had been a provocation, but Morton’s May Day celebrations meant war.”

What happened next? Find out at Atlas Obscura, here.

Read Full Post »


Photo: Nederlandse Spoorwegen
A special book given out as gift to readers during National Book Week is accepted instead of a ticket on the train.

The Dutch seem to be ahead of the curve on many things. I’ve posted about their friendly communities for people with dementia, about their environmental innovation, about their biking culture. This story is on their support for reading books.

Jon Stone writes at the Independent, “Dutch book lovers got free rail travel across their country’s entire network [in March] as part of the Netherlands’ annual book week celebrations.

“Every year since 1932 the Netherlands has encouraged reading with Boekenweek – a celebration of literature marked with literary festivals and book signings across the country.

“Traditionally, a well-known Dutch author writes a special novel – the ‘book week gift’ or Boekenweekgeschenk – which is given out for free to people who buy books during the festivities or sign up to a library.

“But the special book – this year the novel Jas Van Belofte by celebrated author Jan Siebelink, can also be presented instead of a rail ticket on every train in the country on the Sunday of book week.

“Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the Dutch state railway company, has long been a sponsor of the annual festivities – and even organises book readings signings by top authors on its trains.

” ‘It is good to see all those happily surprised faces of travellers,’ author Jan Siebelink said after boarding a train for the city of Utrecht to meet passengers and read his book. …

“This year the book week gift was given out by bookshops to anyone who spent €12.50 on Dutch-language books.” More here.

And check out this cool article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, in which he describes a wide array of unusual ways to pay fares — ideas from all around the world.

Because of a problem with rail passes, he writes, England’s Virgin Trains let people pay with an avocado for a while. And “Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya, came up with a novel way of clearing its streets of plastic waste last autumn: It has been encouraging passengers to trade in trash for bus tickets.”

Among other creative approaches, Russia promoted the Winter Olympics by offering passes for doing a certain number of squats, Berlin partnered with Adidas to offer sneakers with a pass in the tongue, and Japan started experimenting with cryptocurrency.

Can you think of other ideas cities should try? Maybe on Giving Tuesday, transit systems could allow free travel for proof you gave to a charity.


Read Full Post »

Oh, I do love kindhearted stealth projects. This worldwide campaign promotes reading. Chayanit Itthipongmaetee filed a report about it at KhaosodEnglish in Thailand.

“ ‘A Little Prince’ was hiding at BTS Siam [Bangkok Transportation System, or Skytrain]. A ‘Cat in the Rain’ was discovered at BTS Sala Daeng. …

“Fairies hid copies of these books and more in public places [in early August] as a local launch of The Book Fairies project, an international initiative in which people leave texts for others to discover in cities around the world. After readers finish a book, they are supposed to pass it on to others.

“One of the Bangkok book fairies said she learned about the book-drop project a few days before attending Saturday’s TedxBangkok. At the event held inside the KBank Siam Pic-Ganesha Theatre, she sneakily dropped five copies of best-selling memoir ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’

“ ‘I was really excited for my first book drop, hiding one book at a time, mostly on breaks throughout the event,’ said the woman. …

“She was delighted to hear from one of her book beneficiaries a day later.

“ ‘Dear #bookfairies, I found this at #TEDxBangkok and took it home with me. I don’t know who you are but thank you for passing it on,’ wrote Facebook user Awm Has Standards. …

“Asked what kind of books she wants Thais to read more, the Bangkok book fairy said it would be literary publications for youths.

“ ‘This might sound strange, but I would love to recommend everyone to read English children’s books. … They are doors to creativity, language learning and life lessons. With or without pictures, the exciting stories for children always allow you to be free with your imagination and color them wild. They are also a good start for those who want to practice English.’

“The Book Fairies campaign was originally launched March 8 on International Women’s Day. The campaign became world-famous when British activist and actress Emma Watson, best known as Hermione Granger in the ‘Harry Potter’ film franchise, left copies of books with feminist themes around cities such as London, Paris and New York.”

More here.

Photo: The Book Fairies Thailand / Facebook


Read Full Post »

Image: NPR Multimedia/AP Photo
Purple, Prose: The new book Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve subjects thousands of books to statistical analysis.

Nabokov’s favorite word is mauve. That is actually the name of a book by statistician Ben Blatt.

Glen Weldon reviewed it at National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Blatt, he reports, “loaded thousands of books — classics and contemporary best-sellers — into various databases and let his hard drive churn through them, seeking to determine, for example, if our favorite authors follow conventional writing advice about using cliches, adverbs and exclamation points (they mostly do); if men and women write differently (yep); if an algorithm can identify a writer from his or her prose style (it can); and which authors use the shortest first sentences (Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain) versus those who use the longest (Salman Rushdie, Michael Chabon, Edith Wharton). …

“Blatt’s book isn’t terribly interested in the art of writing. What it’s fascinated by — and is fascinating about — is the craft of writing.

“Technique. Word choice. Sentence structure. Reading level. There’s something cheeky in the way Blatt throws genre best-sellers into his statistical blender alongside literary lions and hits puree, looking for patterns of style shared by, say, James Joyce and James Patterson. …

“Blatt looked for the specific words that authors use much more frequently than the rate at which those words generally occur in the rest of written English (i.e., compared to a huge sample of literary works — some 385 million words in total — written in English between 1810 and 2009, assembled by linguists at Brigham Young University). …

“Here’s some that jumped out at me. Jane Austen: civility, fancying, imprudence … Dan Brown: grail, masonic, pyramid. … Truman Capote: clutter, zoo, geranium. John Cheever: infirmary, venereal, erotic … Agatha Christie: inquest, alibi, frightful. F. Scott Fitzgerald: facetious, muddled, sanitarium. Ian Fleming: lavatory, trouser, spangled … Ernest Hemingway: concierge, astern, cognac … Toni Morrison: messed, navel, slop.”

For many people, doing this to literature would be off-putting, but to me it is interesting. And fun. One of the reasons a favorite mystery writer, Eliot Pattison, stopped being my favorite was that I got bored with everyone who got hurt “moaning.”

Check out Weldon’s favorite findings from the book at NPR, here.

Read Full Post »

We had just enough snow yesterday to top off the cross-country trail my husband likes, but he’s pretty sure today was his last day skiing this season.

Before winter is entirely gone, check out a charming children’s book called Once Upon a Northern Night.

In the words of Maria Popova at BrainPickings.org, “Writer Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault weave a beautiful lullaby in Once Upon a Northern Night (public library | IndieBound) — a loving homage to winter’s soft-coated whimsy, composed with touches of Thoreau’s deep reverence for nature and Whitman’s gift for exalting ‘the nature around and within us.’ …

” ‘Once upon a northern night
a great gray owl gazed down
with his great yellow eyes
on the milky-white bowl of your yard.
Without a sound
not even the quietest whisper,
his great silent wings lifted and
he drifted,
leaving a feathery sketch
of his passing
in the snow.’ “

More about the book here.

Popova recommends that you complement Once Upon a Northern Night with Tove Jansson’s Finnish “classic Moominland Midwinter, then revisit the best children’s books of the year.”

My local indie bookstore is getting a lot of extra business because of Popova’s reviews of children’s books. In fact, I told the shop manager yesterday he should follow Brain Pickings, but there was a long line at the register, and I don’t think he wrote it down.

Art: Isabelle Arsenault/Groundwood Books
Once Upon a Northern Night


Read Full Post »

Adele Peters writes at FastCoExist that some schools, “like Ward Elementary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are starting to fill classrooms with exercise bikes, so students can work out while they learn.

“The Read and Ride program at Ward began five years ago. One classroom is equipped with enough exercise bikes for a full class of students, and teachers bring students throughout the day to use them. As they ride, they read. The combination burns calories, but it turns out that it also helps students learn better. As the elementary school analyzed testing data at the end of school year, they found that students who had spent the most time in the program achieved an 83% proficiency in reading, while those who spent the least time in the program had failing scores–only 41% proficiency.” More here.

The concept, which I learned about at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, is interesting. I hope most such efforts are in addition to recess, not instead of, but I know from experience that physical motion can helping with learning. And if the kids like it, so much the better.

Photo: Read and Ride

Read Full Post »

Art: Vita Wells
‘Flights of mind,’ 2007. Book, hair, lights, fan, key, screws, hinges, glue.

Maria Popova’s website, Brain Pickings, is a never-ending source of inspiration, and my only regret is that when her e-newsletter arrives each week, there never is enough time to savor it.

In a recent one, she was a reviewed Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed, which she got at the library. The pictures are terrific and remind me of other items we’ve featured. (Remember the lead from Asakiyume about the stealth artist in Scotland who made sculptures from books and left them in libraries? I wrote about that here.)

“As a fervent lover of papercraft, book sculpture, and creative repurposing of physical books,” writes Popova at Brain Pickings, “I was instantly taken with Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed (public library) — a compendium of extraordinary artworks from the around the world, using the physical book as raw material for creative contemplation and cultural commentary.

“Sensual, rugged, breathtakingly intricate, ranging from ‘literary jewelry’ to paperback chess sets to giant area rugs woven of discarded book spines, these cut and carved tomes remind us that art is not a thing but a way — a way of being in the world that transmutes its dead cells into living materials, its cultural legacy into ever-evolving art forms and creative sensibilities.”

Read more here, and be amazed by the other pictures of book art.

Art: Jennifer Khoshbin
“Prove It,” 2009, cut book.

Read Full Post »

Photo: 1Funny

Funny thing about memory. I went on Google to find a children’s book my mother liked to read to the children. I thought it was called Gabriel Churchmouse, but in fact it was Peter Churchmouse. It was the churchkitten who was called Gabriel.

Other people on the Internet  had similarly fuzzy memories. One person thought the phrase “I could listen and listen and listen” referred to words that one character heard another say, but I am reasonably sure the phrase was what Gabriel said to Peter when the churchmouse played the organ (or maybe when Peter sang; a picture comes back to me of Peter raising his eyebrows when he sang).

Amazon describes the book thus: “Cute story about Peter, a churchmouse who was so hungry he ate the hymn books. A cat was brought to get rid of him as he was thought to be a rat. When Peter found out the cat was a kitten and the kitten found out the rat was a mouse they grew into a close friendship!”

Peter was eating hymnals to alert the parson to the existence of a hungry churchmouse. He knew that every parson loves a churchmouse. But Parson Pease-Porridge, who was given to exclaiming, “I’ll be twitched!” and was in  need of decent glasses, thought the large bites must belong to a rat.

Here’s a description from an Amazon customer: “Beautifully illustrated, tenderly told stories about a soft-hearted, near sighted, sleepwalking parson, a Churchmouse (not rat!), church kitten and (puppy) dog all learning to live with, and despite, each other. The stories will teach tolerance to young children, and are amusing and witty, too, for older readers, including adults. I read these stories to my daughter 30 years after my mother read them to me and I suspect my daughter will be reading them to her children as well.”

Well, that would be if she can find a copy. The series, by Margot Austin,  is out of print. Read about Austin (1907-1990) on Wikipedia, here.

An animated 1944 short film about another book in the series, Gabriel Churchkitten, lacks Austin’s adorable illustrations, but has the benefit of reminding me that Gabriel had a thinking cap and that there was a churchpuppy called Trumpet.

Read Full Post »

The other day John brought up the topic of Andrew Carnegie. Whatever else might be said about this 19th Century steel baron, you have to give him credit for putting so much of his fortune into philanthropy, especially libraries.

Today John Wood is carrying on that work in impoverished countries around the world. As Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times, “Wood’s charity, Room to Read, has opened 12,000 … libraries around the world, along with 1,500 schools. …

“He has opened nearly five times as many libraries as Carnegie, even if his are mostly single-room affairs that look nothing like the grand Carnegie libraries. Room to Read is one of America’s fastest-growing charities and is now opening new libraries at an astonishing clip of six a day. …

“He also runs Room to Read with an aggressive businesslike efficiency that he learned at Microsoft, attacking illiteracy as if it were Netscape. He tells supporters that they aren’t donating to charity but making an investment: Where can you get more bang for the buck than starting a library for $5,000? …

“ ‘In 20 years,’ Wood told me, ‘I’d like to have 100,000 libraries, reaching 50 million kids. Our 50-year goal is to reverse the notion that any child can be told “you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and so you will not get educated.” ‘ ” Read more.

Photograph of John Wood: Room to Read

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: