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Author Archives:Sam Simas

Out of the Ashes

When President Kennedy was shot, I had yet to enter the world. As a matter of fact I wasn’t even a twinkle in my mother’s eye. Still, many Americans can pinpoint where they were when they heard the news of the president’s death in Dallas.

As a child of the Sixties, I have other events that stand out in my mind as unforgettable. Newspaper headlines of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal caught my eye as they lay on our kitchen table. The Iran Hostage Crisis and long gas lines were also part of my childhood, and yet there are few times in my life that one event stopped me in my tracks.

The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster was one of those times. On January 27, 1986, I was glued to the television with my college dormmates, watching our dreams and NASA’s break apart in 73 seconds after take-off. We swore we would never forget that day, and then 9-11 happened. It’s at this time of year that we remember that clear September morning that changed our world forever and, like JFK’s assassination, we remember exactly what we were doing when the news broke.

The day before the Attack on America, I’d taken a morning flight out of Boston with my husband and 18-month old daughter. We’d flown to San Francisco to see my in-laws for our annual visit. Because of the time change, we were up early and sitting around the kitchen table when the first plane struck. It wasn’t until that afternoon that we realized we’d exposed our daughter to the news as well. We found her in the living room, stacking up towers of blocks, then knocking them down like the Twin Towers.

It is hard to believe it’s been 16 years since that dreadful day. This summer my family took a bus to New York City to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. We wanted our teenage daughters to view this history through their own eyes. Together we spent time reading the names of those who died. We touched the water in the twin reflecting pools, and walked past the Survivors’ Stairs that led many to escape and back to life.

For the longest time I refused to pick up a book on 9-11. I read the news and watched television specials but I preferred to read stories from other periods of history, such as World War II or the Vikings. That changed recently. I found a book that peeked my interest called The Red Bandanna: A Life, A Choice, A Legacy by Tom Rinaldi. It’s the true account of a previously unkown American hero from September 11th. Certainly, heroes rise up out of tragedies in surprising ways. Welles Crowther is one of those heroes. For the longest time after the Twin Towers fell, Crowther’s family had no idea what happened to him. They knew he worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower and that he’d gone to work early as usual. After that, there was no word. Silence.

Eight months after the attack, Crowther’s mother was reading a news account that mentioned a mysterious stranger wearing a red bandanna who led many to safety. In the midst of the harrowing ordeal, this mysterious man kept turning around to rescue more. That’s when his mother knew. That single detail—the red bandanna—defined her son. When Crowther was a young boy his father gave him his red bandanna from his back pocket before church. From that day forward, Crowther had kept that signature bandanna in his possession. Ironically, Crowther had been considering a life-change right before 9-11. For years he’d wanted to pursue a lifelong dream—to become a firefighter for the FDNY. In any role he’d played, he’d gone above in beyond his duty. He cared about others, and his heroic actions on 9-11 were of no surprise to those who knew and loved him. In her poem The Summer Day, Mary Oliver asks the reader a question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The Red Bandanna answers this question for Welles Crowther—one man who made a difference with his life.

As it turns out another favorite book of mine, The Fall of Marigolds, by Susan Meissner demonstrates this resolve in the face of tragedy. While a work of fiction, Meissner’s novel weaves together the lives of two women through an embroidered scarf. For Clara Wood, it is the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire disaster that takes the life of the man she loves. For Taryn Michaels it’s her husband’s death in the World Trade Towers that turns her world upside down. Kirkus Review describes Taryn’s dilemma as follows: “A recently discovered photo from that day is published in a national magazine and now, 10 years after 9/11, Taryn is forced to relive the events and face the guilt she’s harbored because she acceded to a customer’s request and stopped by a hotel to pick up a marigold scarf, an action that delayed Taryn from joining her husband at Windows on the World for a celebration she’d planned.” Meissner reveals the heart of two survivors and the strength of character that often emerges from tragedy.

Sometimes as adults we forget we’re not the only ones who had to grapple with heartache after 9-11. Many children lost family and friends as well, and those children have grown up in the shadow of that fateful day. True, a variety of picture books have emerged on this topic for children, but I’m particularly impressed by Janet Nolan’s Seven and a Half Tons of Steel. While everyone should check out this book for Thomas Gonzalez’s illustrations alone (they are gorgeous), it is Nolan who uses a delicate hand to tell how the bow of the USS New York came to be fashioned from the remains of a World Trade Tower’s steel beam. How beautiful is that! Out of ashes comes renewed strength. I think I will cling to that hope this year on September 11th.

 Nancy Ling is the Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Nancy’s column in the September 14th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Mrs. Rabbit and the Little Nearsighted Girl

This past August, I attended a professional institute with 50 other library professionals at a beautiful Maine mountain resort. We enjoyed meals and participated in workshops for two full days, facilitated by RIPL, the Research Institute for Public Libraries.

During the workshops, we were often instructed to break into small groups of two to six to discuss the ways we can improve our service to the residents of the communities we serve. We also discussed how we were already doing a terrific job as librarians.

In one such small group on the second day, we were asked to turn to the person next to us and recall an inspiring story of our work. It could be something we had done or something we had witnessed at our library.

Now, give me a keyboard and some free time, and I won’t stop typing.  Ask me on the spot to think and I’m tongue-tied and brain dead!  One time, in a professional meeting, participants were asked to go around the room and share some little-known interesting fact about themselves.

When it came to my turn, and after an awkward silence, a friend and colleague sitting next to me jabbed me in the ribs and said “You have a dish fetish!” I laughed and announced to the room that, yes, I did have an addiction to collecting, displaying, using, and storing dishes of all kinds. At least the silence turned to chuckles.

Back to the institute in Maine, I thought, hard, and a memory materialized somewhere from the recesses of my brain.

I turned to my partner with a smile. “I can go first,” I said (much to her relief) and I began to tell my story.

I began my professional career as a children’s librarian as soon as I graduated with my master’s degree. Spending my days in the children’s room of a library was a no-brainer for me.   I loved working with children, it was an extension of my days spent mothering my daughters. And my name (my past married name at the time) was Mrs. Rabbitt. A perfect name for a children’s librarian.

And so Mrs. Rabbitt’s new career began at the Peterborough Town Library in New Hampshire. The library served the community of Peterborough and the families and children in the surrounding nine towns. Families with children from infancy through high school began to rely on my expertise in children’s literature and my passion for librarianship. I loved my job there for four lovely years.

It was a tough decision but in 2004 I had decided to move back to Massachusetts to be closer to my now-adult children, an elderly aunt, and a directorship in a central Massachusetts town.

Now you must fast forward to the spring of 2013 when one day a former Peterborough colleague stumbled upon a post on an online blog, ShelfTalker for Publisher’s Weekly. He included a link in his email and wrote – “You must read this.”
ShelfTalker has many contributors and one of them is a bookseller, children’s book author, and avid reader, Elizabeth Bluemle. She is also the owner of the children’s bookshop, the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont.  Elizabeth’s blog post that month was titled “The Best Author Letter Ever.”

In ShelfTalker, Elizabeth relayed the story of a now-seventeen year old teenager named Sylvia.  Sylvia had just written to her out of the blue to thank her for writing a book that had changed her life a decade earlier when she was eight years old in 2004.  The “book” wasn’t actually a book, but an unpublished manuscript that had found its way into her hands. Sylvia continued her story in her thank you note and Elizabeth posted it in its entirety.

Sylvia had spent her short childhood unable to see clearly but when she was eight years old new technology finally gifted her with glasses – “enormous, larger-than-Harry-Potter” glasses. Huge that they were, she could actually see! Yet near-sighted Sylvia was a bit terrified of the world and she became more introverted, spending her days and nights reading everything she could get her hands on. And what she desperately wanted was to read was a great book about girls and a great book about that girl’s love of glasses. She begged her parents to find one. And that’s when she and her mother made their regular visit to the library and, Sylvia wrote, they “enlisted the help of one extraordinary world-class children’s librarian, Charlotte Rabbitt.”

By this time, as you can imagine, tears were streaming down my face as I sat in my office reading Elizabeth’s blog post and Sylvia’s letter. I vividly remembered that day Sylvia came with her mother to the library with her request. Their family was one of my favorites. Older brother Peter was a member of my Redwall Fan club and my Pizza-to-Pages book club. Sylvia was sweetly intent and always ready for a reading suggestion.

One characteristic of librarians is their innate desire to find answers … and their quest to put books in everyone’s hands. After searching for books that met Sylvia’s specifications, a book about a girl who loves her glasses, I came up with a few things … but not the right thing. I enlisted the help of peers in the children’s librarians’ world through a listserv and soon heard from aspiring author, Elizabeth Bluemle. She sent me the unpublished manuscript of a book she was hoping to get published, Iris Spectacle: Accidental Private Eye. I called Sylvia’s mom and told her I had something very special for Sylvia to read.

In her letter to Elizabeth, Sylvia wrote that she read and re-read that book. She bragged to her friends that she had a book that wasn’t yet published. Most importantly, she believed that girls who had glasses were invincible and also very, very cool.

I contacted Elizabeth and told her just what the blog post, and Sylvia’s letter had meant to me.

Many stories and letters find their way back to us, the librarians of the world. There are many times when we learn that we are able to change a tear into a smile, or frustration and sadness into understanding and joy. Sylvia’s story is just one of them.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the September 7, 2017 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Reading Through My Privilege

On my eighth birthday, my mother gave me a butterfly party. My dress was pale pink polished cotton. The fabric was printed with the most beautiful winged creatures across the fitted bodice and full skirt. Mom created my cake using The Baker’s Cut-Up Cake Party Book. Colored shredded coconut and jelly beans made it the most yummy, lovely butterfly I’ve ever eaten. I remember the day as delicious and very, very special.

My mother was proud of the event. She always put her heart and soul into each excuse for a holiday and party. She spoke of that day for years afterward, but not so much my “butterfly birthday”. Instead, she referred to it as my United Nations birthday. Having recently moved from the Blackstone Valley of Massachusetts to the extremely liberal town of Berkeley, California, she was often pleasantly surprised how different, diverse and interesting our lives, and especially HER life, had become.

That university town across the bay from San Francisco was certainly the most diverse culture I have ever lived in – and it was a welcome change for my mother, the small-town girl who had broken away from a New England rural life.

That said, I was not a minority as a “white girl” in Berkeley. Many of my neighbors and peers were from all over the world – Indonesia, Belgian Congo, Pakistan, and Russia. Many others were from other heritages. My best friend’s parents were from Japan and I now suspect they were interned during World War II. The war against Japan had been won less than a decade before. Many other of my friends were first generation Hispanic, their parents having arrived from Mexico and Latin America. And many others were African Americans whose families had either lived in California for generations or had recently moved across the country from America’s southern states.

I grew up never realizing that I was white-privileged. My family was a liberal, welcoming household in what I considered a multicultural environment. Yet, that New England heritage and culture and upbringing and that middle-classed whiteness in California was the privilege that I’m just now beginning to understand.

As a young white woman, I never questioned my right to a college education. My white privilege includes a belief that everyone can overcome the barriers anyone faces. As a young wife, I took for granted that we could and would purchase a home in a safe neighborhood. My white privilege caused me to drive by the neighborhoods I was uncomfortable in. As a young mother, I entitled myself to sending my children to a good school system. My white privilege afforded me both the lifestyle and the expectation.

I am just beginning to understand this.

As a history major in college, that very own white privilege complicates my feelings behind the recent attempts to remove monuments to the Civil War.  Erase history, I thought? Why? The answer lies in my own poor attempts to confront my inherent privilege, my denied racism, and my simply ridiculous belief that life will become what I think as normal again. The events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the editorials, articles, and essays are opening raw wounds of antisemitism, racism and prejudice – wounds that I had denied existed in conservative AND liberal America.

I’ve made a commitment to myself to become more educated and aware and I’ve researched a list of books that I will begin with. I have yet to read any of them so I am relying on others’ recommendations and reviews. My hope is that I will become both enlightened and justice-minded through my reading.

Because the truth is so very hard to swallow, I’ll begin my journey with Ibram X. Kendi’s 2016 book Stamped from the Beginning – The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Kendi explains and illustrates that racism is very alive and well in what we might have considered a post-racial America. We must begin to believe that there is a modern-day racism beyond the prejudices we know we all harbor. It’s “deeply entrenched in our nation’s history.”

In 2016, author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a letter to his son about his own survival and identity as a black man in America in Between the World and Me. I understand it is a “devastating and affecting read” and one I should have read a year ago when it was published.

Chokehold – Policing Black Me by Paul Butler was published just months ago. The 2016 award-winning documentary “13th” exemplified that incarceration of black men in the United States since the Civil War has been an extension of slavery. Criminal justice has been one-sided and the powerful story in Chokehold reveals the same.

There are a dozen more on my list that can help me with my own enlightenment. Tim Wise has written many books from the perspective of a white male and the benefits of white privilege that have shaped his life in so many ways — to the detriment of people of color. Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot stop is a plea to Americans, and especially white Americans, to become uncomfortable enough to address their own racial biases. This September, the newest book to explode the myths about our racism is Gene Dattel’s Reckoning With Race. Now is the time to reserve it for your own reading list.

The bias of white privilege is much broader of course and prejudice has a far reach into Latino, Asian, Middle-Eastern and Native American ethnicity and identity in our country. Yellow – Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank Wu (2002) explores the Asian-American experience and the stereotypes that have blocked racial progress.  When our grandson began university last year, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? was a required all-college read. In the book, Moustafa Bayoumi explains what it like to be a young Arab in American culture.  Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano presents the story of European and American influence on Latin America along with the issues of the Latino experience in the U.S. And included on my list is Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’ history of our own country’s displacement of the Native Americans in An Indigenous People’s History of the United States.

After the recent marches and demonstrations in cities around the country – especially those that espouse antisemitism and Nazism, we must all read The Devil That Never Dies which exposes the “rise and threat” of global antisemitism by Daniel Johan Goldhagen. Old stories are being retold in a new horrific narrative. It’s time to start listening, reading and understanding in order to change those old stories into a new one of acceptance, assimilation, and equality.

A complete reading list is available at here. See the display of titles in our new book area on the first floor.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the August 24, 2017 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Reserve September and October Best Sellers and Sneak Peeks

Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?

2017 September FictionDownload or view the September Fiction and September Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog.  Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Twins

I worked a lot my freshman year of college. I saved every penny I made from my work study job in the library and I took on extra shifts in the tool department at our local Sears whenever I was back in my hometown. Similarly, my sister didn’t spend a dime of her megre ROTC stipend and stocked fruit at the grocery store down the street until she couldn’t look at another banana.

Eventually, all of our hard work paid off and by mid-spring, Jessi and I had socked away enough money for something we’d been dreaming about for ages: an epic European backpacking trip. Ignoring our parents’ protests (“You’ll be kidnapped!” exclaimed my father), we applied for passports and booked our plane tickets. This was exciting stuff for two New Hampshire kids that had never crossed the Mississippi River, nevermind the Atlantic.

Our parents dropped off their (technically) adult twin daughters at Logan with some trepidation and off we went for a grand adventure. Our Fodor’s guide was our bible for the next few weeks. We got front row seats at Wimbledon by sleeping all night in the sidewalk queue, we hiked up the beautiful hills of Scotland to see what we could see, we visited anything that looked like a museum or cathedral, we drank beer and and made friends with strangers, when money ran low we ate bread and Nutella for dinner, and we actually used our high school German. In short, we had the time of our lives.

Since that time, my sister and I have traveled around the country and the world, although mostly separately. The army took her and her husband far away from me and to places she would never have otherwise traveled (and in some cases, places she hopes never to see again) while my husband and I spent the years touring the great natural wonders of the western hemisphere.

After life threw our family a huge curveball this spring, my sister decided to move home to New England. As we made plans to get her back East, she and I started talking about a road trip. Just the two of us. No kids, no dogs, no work, no commitments. So after more than a decade, my sister and I will be taking our first solo trip together. I could not be more excited. Seeking to find the places where the only incomprehensible tweeting we hear about is from the birds, we decided to drive from Lake Tahoe to St. Louis, stopping at every national park along the way.

While Google maps has been a lifesaver, this type of trip requires some real planning and a giant stack of books. As my sister and I started mapping our route, I started collecting titles relating to the stops we would make along the way. Of course, I picked up the tried-and-true staple of the thoughtful wanderer- a Fodor’s guidebook (“The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West” in this case). I also grabbed Frommer’s “Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks” and two Moon guides that cover Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Now with the basics covered, I went in search of some titles that are a bit off the beaten path.

The first odd-ball I found was by an author you may recognize for his award winning historical epics, Thomas Keneally. “The Places Where Souls are Born” takes readers on a journey through some of the interesting characters and places that have shaped how the American southwest is perceived. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it certainly did not satisfy my need for information on the history of the area. In fact it did just the opposite.

Lusting for more information, I sought out books that would give a concise history of the geography and people of Utah in particular. While I wanted more information than the encyclopedia could provide, this girl doesn’t have time to study an exhaustive history of the native peoples, learn every tenet of the mormon faith, or become an expert on the geological forces that shaped the landscape, so I reached for “The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Desert States” and “The Smithsonian Guides to Natural America: The Southern Rockies- Colorado, Utah.” These series are like “Sox in 2” for the curious, but time crunched traveler. It gave me just what I wanted to know, and not too much more.

Armed with a map, GPS, and a stack of books, I think we are prepared for a repeat of our college wanderings. We’re going to drink beer, make friends with strangers, and eat Nutella and bread when money gets low, but most importantly, we’ll get to spend time making memories that will last a lifetime.

Allison Palmgren is the technology librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Allison’s column in the August 17th issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

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