u15This year a number of books on the First World War have been published in recognition of its upcoming 100th anniversary: on July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, sparking a chain reaction of hostilities. Serbia’s ally, Russia, declared war on Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary’s ally, Germany, then declared war on Russia and Russia’s ally France. Then German troops swept through neutral Belgium to invade France.  In response to the violation of Belgium’s neutrality and sovereignty, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The United States remained steadfastly neutral until 1917, when it declared war in response to German attacks on US ships.

Perhaps this all seems remote to people in Massachusetts in 2014. But the war didn’t seem at all remote to the people of Orleans, Mass. on July 21, 1918, when a U-boat surfaced off the Cape and began firing on the tugboat Perth Amboy and the four barges it was towing.   Chatham Coast Guard sailors rowed lifeboats directly into the lines of fire and rescued all 32 people on board the tugboat and barges. The U-boat fired several shells directly at the town. One landed in a pond, the others sank into the sand.  Eventually the U-boat left.  It was the first attack on American soil since the War of 1812.

No one has ever learned why the Germans attacked the Perth Amboy and Orleans. One theory is that the U-boat was chasing a larger American ship, lost track of it, and happened to stumble upon the Perth Amboy. Another suggestion is that the U-boat was on a general mission to damage American morale by attacking the mainland.

However, given that it took an armed U-boat an hour and a half to disable five completely unarmed civilian vessels, the Germans were probably not as threatening as they had hoped. “Germans Prove Poor Shots,” read one Globe headline.


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heywoodBoston University professor Linda Heyw0od gave a great talk last night on Prince Among Slaves, one of the titles in our Muslim Journeys bookshelf. Prince is the story of Abdul Rahman, a Fulbe prince captured and sold into slavery in Mississippi and his quest for freedom. The book is also a fascinating portrait of antebellum Natchez, the heart of the “Cotton Kingdom.” Dr. Heywood is a  dynamic speaker who  did a fabulous job placing the events and people of the book in their historical context, including the history of slavery in Boston.

The audience was very engaged and had a lot of questions. Dr. Heywood even took email addresses from audience members so she could follow up on the questions that deserved more thorough answers than she was able to give on the spot.

And FYI, we have multiple copies of the book available for checkout, as well as copies of a documentary on Rhaman’s life.

Thanks to Dr. Heywood, the ALA and the NEH, and everyone who attended.


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JFK, Jr and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy on their wedding day

JFK, Jr and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy on their wedding day

Today was a tragic day in US History when John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and her older sister Lauren died when the airplane JFK, Jr. was piloting when down in the Atlantic near Martha’s Vineyard. A massive search/rescue/recovery mission was undertaken to find the plane and bring home their bodies. This sad story captivated the world over for many days.

But, it was not the only thing that happened on this day in history. Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of assassinated president Abraham Lincoln died of a stroke on July 16, 1882. Czar Nicholas and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in Russia (1918) – leading to many stories of the possible survival of their daughter Anastasia. Adolf Hitler ordered preparations for the invasion of England (1940) leading to World War 2. The United States detonated the first atomic bomb in a test in New Mexico (1945). Apollo 11 (1969) headed for the moon. Also Barbara Stanwyck (1907), Ginger Rogers (1911) and Will Ferrell (1967) were all born on July 16th.

You can look up any day in history at either History.com or Historynet.com.



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Join us at the Central Library Thursday July 17 at 7 pm when Boston University Professor Linda Heywood will give a talk on the groundbreaking heywoodhistorical work Prince Among Slaves, the story of an African Muslim prince’s enslavement in antebellum America and his quest for his freedom and that of his family. Even if you haven’t read the book, you should come. It should be a fascinating evening.

Abdul Rahman was 26 when he was abducted in the present-day Republic of Guinea and sent on a slave ship to the Americas. Like many enslaved Africans, he ended up in Natchez, Mississippi, the heart of  “the Cotton Kingdom.” After years of enslavement under the name “Prince,” during which he became the overseer of his master’s plantation, something utterly unexpected happened: a white man stopped him on the streets of Natchez, shouted his African name, and embraced him: John princeCox, an Irish doctor whose life Abdul Rahman had saved years ago in Africa, happened to be in Natchez and recognized him.  Cox immediately began a years-long campaign to win Rahman’s freedom that gained national attention. In the course of this campaign journalists and intellectuals visited and questioned Rahman, and what they learned upended white American assumptions about Africans: a literate prince, well-versed in Arabic literature, who was also a paragon of honesty and self-discipline, conflicted with the white prejudices that justified slavery.

We’re lucky to have Linda Heywood as our guide to this fascinating subject. A noted historian of New World slavery, Dr. Heywood has served as a consultant for museum exhibits at the Smithsonian and Jamestown, has appeared in the PBS series African American Lives, and was a consultant for the PBS series Africans in Latin America.

This program is made possible by a Muslim Journeys grant awarded to the Library by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.  We are grateful for their generosity.



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Some sources of Book Reviews

Some sources of Book Reviews

2014 is half over and there are more great books out there than ever! How do you choose what books to read? There are so many review sites out there and they all have different recommendations with different criteria of what is the “best”. Here are some of the sites I use to help me decide – because there is nothing worse than being on a road trip with a bad book (unless you have squabbling kids which takes the cake:)

  1. The Old Standby – NY Times Book Review: Here you will find the weekly tally of books that have sold the best throughout the country. What I like about this site is, one, it has been around forever and two, bestsellers are broken down into categories which include hardcover, paperback, eBook and children’s books. The thing I don’t like about this site is that it only goes by what’s been sold that week.
  2. Amazon.com – Here you can find what’s hot, what’s been sold, what’s coming. You can find books by subject, Kindle Top Sellers, Best eBooks of 2014 so far, Kindle Selects, summer reading for kids, Editor’s picks, and so much more. Does this amount to what you want to read? Maybe not, but it’s a great source of information on what’s out there and popular.
  3. Want to read a classic? The best place for this is Project Gutenberg. Here you can download classic non-copyrighted books for free! Or you can view lists of the Top 100 Ebooks by Title, Author, or timeframe (what’s the top 100 from last week or within the last 30 days). This is my first stop when I want to catch up on a book which I know I should have read but haven’t gotten around to.
  4. Goodreads is a totally reader driven review site (although it was recently bought out by Amazon, but that’s a different post). If you want to know what other readers are reading, this is the place. I especially like the Top 200 of 2014 – which is curiously different from most other review sites on this list:) I also like finding like-minded readers and following their recommendations. Here you can join the conversation, make your own lists and find hidden gems.

There are so many others but I’ll leave you with a couple more of my favorites: LibraryThing (also an online reader site) and FantasticFiction (which is not a review site but an invaluable resource to me). Once you decide what you want to read, remember that you can find these books at your local library. Happy Reading!


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A six-year-old is attacked by a tiger daily when he gets home from school.  He tries to get out of homework by faking amnesia.  At night he battles the bathtub suds monster as his tyrannical parents force him to adopt their bourgeois hygiene standards. He has marvelous adventures as he transforms himself into a pteranodon, Spaceman Spiff, or a bloodthirsty deity demanding human sacrifice, all the while accompanied by his combative tiger companion, who…strangely….looks like a child’s stuffed animal to everyone else.


I’m talking, of course, about Calvin, the sandy-haired psychotic who lives in an unnamed middle-American suburb with Hobbes, a tiger who’s occasionally a  lone voice of reason in Calvin’s world but more often his partner in silliness. For ten years (1985-1995) readers all over the world opened their daily papers to laugh at Calvin’s imaginative antics, and the reactions of not only his long-suffering parents, but also the completely sane Susie, Calvin’s classmate and sometimes friend. Being a fairly normal girl, Susie is taken aback at times by Calvin’s behavior, like when she’s playing  doctor with him and he demands that she submit to a lobotomy.


wattersonAll of us who loved Calvin and Hobbes owe those hours of joy to artist Bill Watterson, who turns 56 today.  Watterson is an appealing and unusual character. Unlike many other cartoonists, he turned down offers to merchandize the strip’s characters.  And he never had any interest in animations of Calvin and Hobbes.He just wanted to create a good comic strip, nothing more.

So that’s what he did for ten years. Then he stopped with a brief announcement that he felt he had gone as far as he could artistically with the medium. Then he disappeared (Time once included him in list of America’s ten most reclusive celebrities). He was out of the public eye until last month, when The Washington Post revealed that Watterson contributed for a very brief period to the strip Pearls before Swine.

But back to Calvin and Hobbes.  I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the strip is just a version of Dennis the Menace that’s actually clever and funny. Watterson took the tropes of the mischievous boy and the imaginary friend and gave them a metaphysical depth.  The catalyst for much of the strip’s action is a character who exists *only* to  Calvin. With  flights of comic genius and superlative artwork, Watterson is constantly teasing us with one of the most profound and unsettling of questions, “What’s real?”



Along with the brilliant humor and philosophical games, Watterson recreated all the delights and terrors of being so young. Calvin’s the age when we’re in the midst of discovering what a vibrant, beautiful place the world can be. But it’s also the age we start to learn about death and loss. When we learn about the sadness out there that can and will tinge every joy we’ll ever know.


Calvin and Hobbes was a ten-year-long crazed  love letter to childhood.

And fortunately it’s still out there for us. All three branches have Calvin and Hobbes collections on the shelves (the Central Library has them in Spanish and French as well as English). And some kind soul in Canada is posting a new Calvin and Hobbes strip every day on tumblr.



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Fun ideas for the kids electronics all summer long

Fun ideas for the kids’ electronics all summer long

As we get into the lazy days of summer and our kids clamor for electronic time between trips to the beaches, mountains, parks, etc. it’s a good time to think about the media that our kids are using. I’ve found a couple of websites to be great sources of information so I know what my kids want to get into when they say “but all the other kids are on that website” (insert whining):

  1. Common Sense Media is a national organization led by concerned parents and individuals with experience in child advocacy, public policy, education, media and entertainment. It is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. Here you will find researched reviews of TV shows, websites, apps, online games, blogs, videos and books.
  2.  Surfnetkids: Surfing the Net with Kids: Written by newspaper columnist Barbara J. Feldman (no, not from Get Smart!:), this website has reviews of online websites targeted at kids and teens. There is a directory of online resources, blogposts, top tens, resources for parents and teachers. If you are looking for safe online activities for your kids this summer, check this out!

And don’t forget book reviews!

  1. One site I really like is SlimeKids. SlimeKids was created to provide students with a playful, easy-to-use interface through which they could learn about and access valuable online resources. The website is designed to self-motivate students to make their own choices and judgments about what is most useful for them as they read, search, watch and play. SlimeKids features an extensive collection of book trailers organized by year and by grade level as well as numerous language arts-related games in such categories as word, literacy, spelling, typing, vocabulary and grammar. Additionally, the website showcases an array of exceptional literacy-related resources such as author and book review websites as well as superb learning tools including reference works and search engines.
  2. And the Spaghetti Book Club – Book Reviews by Kids for Kids: The Spaghetti Book Club web site is a place for kids who love to read and talk about books! It is the largest site of book reviews written and illustrated by kids for kids. The Spaghetti Book Club was created as a way to support and encourage kids’ love for reading by giving them an opportunity to connect, on a personal level, with the books they are reading and then share their reactions, thoughts, and opinions with family members, friends, and kids around the world.

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FireworksJuly 4 is coming up, a day for fireworks, cookouts and spending time with friends.   Here’s a brief guide to local fun on Independence Day.

Somerville’s July 4th festivities will be Thursday evening at Trum Field. Live music  starts at 6:15, fireworks at 9:15. Everything you need to know, including rain date information, is here.

If you want to go to the banks of Charles, hear the Boston Pops and see fireworks you need to read this guide by cbslocal.

You could also listen to the Pops and see the fireworks on a big screen at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington. The details are here.

And tomorrow is the start of Boston Harborfest, an annual festival of activities and tours in and around Boston bostonharborfestthat begins July 2 and ends July 6. You can take architectural tours, play eighteenth century games, attend a chocolate-making demonstration, listen to Cape Verdean jazz, and more. Check out their calendar of events.

Have fun and stay safe.


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Enjoy movies, music, and ebooks all summer long from your library

Enjoy movies, music, and ebooks all summer long from your library

On the go or at home, you can access all kinds of fun stuff from the library, for free! Do you love magazines? If so, you can download electronic magazines through our Zinio catalog onto your mobile devices and take them anywhere!

Do you love music? If so, you can download music from the Sony music library through Freegal. Listen to all your favorite artists all summer long!

How about movies? Anyone? Soon we will be offering Hoopla which allows you to stream movies, music and audiobooks to your mobile devices. Since we don’t have this yet, I would recommend checking it out from the Boston Public Library where, if you are a resident of Massachusetts, you can get an ecard and use all BPL online services. Then, once you fall in love with Hoopla, you can start using it through the Somerville Public Library in August.

And don’t forget the Overdrive catalog for ebooks and audiobooks. Long summer car rides will go so much faster with an easy to download book from anywhere.

All you need is a library card and your summer entertainment is set!


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Yes, it’s a sequel post. After my coworker wrote his piece about good books to read at the beach last week, I began thinking about what I believe to be a good beach read.

Being a non-beach-goer, my first thought was that the better a beach book it is, the more sand it has in its book jacket (how I usually ID good beach reads when reshelving books – hah!), but quickly focused on the following attributes: totally engrossing and very difficult to put down and something fairly light (although there are some who like a heavier read on vacation). However, my picks are pretty quick, easy reads.

So without further ado, here are some of my beach read picks:

Tales of the City and its sequels – Beginning in groovy 1970s San Francisco, Armistead Maupin’s nine TotC books TalesoftheCity-US_1st_editionfollow a group of friends, both gay and straight, as they have many jaw-dropping, soap opera-type adventures. Chapters are very short, because the first book was initially serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle. The first three books have been made into miniseries; I have only seen the first two and really enjoyed them. So you’ll have something to watch when you get back from vacation.

Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (first book, Dead Until Dark) – Some of you may know that these books have been made into the HBO series True Blood, focusing on the telepathic waitress from Louisiana and her supernatural beaux. Even if you’re a fan of the TV series, let me assure you that the book series has very little in common with HBO’s interpretation, so read away and don’t worry about spoilers. The 13 books in this series is perfect for fans of supernatural romance/mystery. It gets a little ridiculous near the end of the series, but it’s mostly a delicious, bloody confection to sink your fangs into.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton – This is also my pick for the book that always makes me LOL. When reading this book in ballfourpublic places, I have to smother my giggles at the exploits of Jim and his fellow baseball players, trying to hang on to their spots on the big league roster. In addition to being hilarious, there are also parts of the book that are quite inspirational as well. Whenever I am afraid to take a chance, I remember Jim’s words: “Don’t be afraid to climb those golden stairs.” I’ve read and reread this book many times since I first read it in high school (thanks, Dad), and it never gets stale. Even if you’re not a sports fan, pick up this book, get some laughs and feel as if you can take on the world – or at least make your mark on your little corner of it.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – I am not a fan of westerns by any means, but this epic had me hooked immediately. In 1876, two old friends, ex-Texas Rangers, decide to pull up stakes and drive their cattle to Montana to start the first cattle ranch in the area. On the way, they meet up with old loves and must navigate hostile Native Americans and other dangers. The many characters are portrayed incredibly realistically, and McMurtry keeps the action coming. This is also the first book in a four-book series, so there’s more to devour once you’re done with this one.


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