Archive | May, 2012

Once Upon a Time


What do you do when you’re in the land of the Brothers Grimm?  You hike through the Black Forest.  You walk through cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered cottages.  You wind your way up up up narrow steps into castle turrets.  These are exactly the things I found myself doing in Germany last week.  In that fantasy setting, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, and Snow White seemed like they might be just around the next corner.  These are among the most familiar of the Grimms’ characters, but there are so many others.

Jakob and Willhelm Grimm collected and published over 200 folk tales and legends in the early 1800s.  Passed down through generations of central Europeans before the Grimms set them in print, the stories have their roots in the Middle Ages and reflect the rugged conditions of that time.  The Grimms softened some of the stories to make them more appropriate for children.  Still, as originally published by the brothers, the tales are… well, a bit grim.  For those who’d rather avoid endings involving a huntsman’s knife or a red-hot oven, there are adaptations in which villains do not meet such gory ends.  For some kids (and kids-at-heart) however, the original tales of the Brothers’ Grimm are exciting and hold great appeal.  Whatever your preference, there is a volume of Grimms’ tales waiting for you at the library.


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Crabacus and Penguinchworms and Asparagoose…oh my!

Yes, I know last month was National Poetry Month but we got a new book of Jack Prelutsky’s poetry this month.  And I love, love, love Jack Prelutsky’s poetry!  I think of him as being from the Ogden Nash school of poetry…if there is such a thing.  As with Nash (and let us not forget Uncle Shelby…Shel Silverstein) there are made-up people, animals and things.  I’ve Lost My Hippopotomus is packed with poems about plants, interesting family members and animals…some real, some imagined.  There’s the crabacus…part crab, part abacus, who counts the grains of sand on the beach until the tide comes in then he starts over.  And there are appleopards (ap-ill-EH-purdz)…spotted apples that bite back.  But my favorite is:

My Snake Can Do Arithmetic

My snake can do arithmetic,

My snake is far from dumb.

My snake can take two numbers

And come up with a sum.

She can’t subtract, which makes her sad,

And two things make her sadder…

She can’t divide or multiply—

My snake is just an adder.

You might try reading some poetry to the kids at bedtime.   When they ask for five books you could offer instead to read them seven poems.  Win/win.  They get more than the five they asked for and you get a few extra minutes after you tuck them in to maybe…finish the book that you’re reading.

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Sunnyvale Bag Ban

Friends of the Library BagYou may have heard by now about the single use plastic bag ordinance that the City of Sunnyvale adopted in December, 2011. Beginning June 20, 2012 — in only a month — large retailers will not be allowed to give out free single use plastic bags at check-out. Instead, they must provide an alternative paper bag that is made from at least 40% post-consumer recycled content paper, as well as charge $.10 per bag that consumers take from the store. The fee will increase to $.25 per bag in 2014. Stores such as supermarkets are still allowed to provide plastic bags with no handles for produce. And beginning March 20, 2013, the same rules will apply to small stores, too.

Sunnyvale is one of a growing list of at least 25 California cities or counties that have either already adopted the ban or will be by the end of 2012. If you’ve already visited shopping centers such as Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, you’ve probably already experienced what will begin happening in Sunnyvale.

How can you avoid paying $.10 per paper bag that you bring home from a store? Invest in some reusable bags! Many supermarkets and retailers already have reusable bags available for a small fee. In fact, our own Friends of the Sunnyvale Library has made brand new reusable bags available at the Customer Service Desk at the front of the Library for $2 each. Proceeds benefit the Friends of the Sunnyvale Library and, in turn, the Library itself.

And how can you remember to bring your own bags to the supermarket, other retailers, or even the Library? Here are some tips:

  • Leave 3 or 4 bags in your car at all times — if possible, in a visible location, such as on the floor of the front passenger seat. Then, when you unload your purchases at home, leave the bags by the front door so that you remember to return them to your car the next time you leave the house.
  • Carry a small reusable bag in your pocket or handbag for unplanned trips to the store.
  • Hang several bags on a hook near the front door or in the garage so you will see and grab them anytime you leave the house.

Do you have other ideas for how to remember your own bags every time you go shopping?

For more information about the ordinance and what it means for you and for Sunnyvale retailers, please visit the City’s website regarding the single use plastic bag ordinance. The site has a useful FAQ that discusses any concerns you may have about the new rules.

[Edited 5/24/2012: To clarify regarding the Westfield Valley Fair statement above, the ban currently only applies to the part of Westfield Valley Fair located in San Jose and not in Santa Clara. For example, Men's Macy's and Old Navy are in San Jose, while Women's Macy's is in Santa Clara. Men's Macy's and Old Navy are not giving out plastic bags and are charging $.10 per paper bag. Women's Macy's is still giving out plastic bags.]

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Craft Time at 30,000 Feet

Recently I flew from the Bay Area to the East Coast. The flights going out and returning were full. Flying even on a non-stop flight is tedious. It’s hard to sit for six hours with only an occasional trip to the restroom.  Parents face a great challenge in keeping their little ones engaged and entertained during flight time.

While I was flying I kept myself busy by watching  a couple of episodes of “Chopped,” reading a John Grisham novel and playing solitaire and word games on my Kindle. These were all great ways to help pass the time but they are definitely boring grown-up activities. Kids need some variety and colorful activities that appeal to the imagination.

Craft time, while in- flight, is a perfect opportunity to engage a child’s imagination.  When younger children are exposed to craft materials they may primarily enjoy the process of experimenting with the crayons or sorting colorful sheets of paper. It can be fun to “help” mommy or daddy assemble a quick craft and then play with the new toy.  Older children may enjoy both the process of making the craft and the creation of a product by their own hand which will bring them enjoyment.

Every family has special activities and practices for making travel time enjoyable for all. I’d like to offer a few craft ideas.  Plan ahead and limit the amount of craft supplies.  All of these crafting materials should fit nicely into a gallon size zip type bag.

Project # 1 Crafting With Post-its

Obviously you don’t need the name brand product. Check the dollar stores or chain drug stores for less expensive versions. Get a few different shapes and watch your child use his or her imagination to turn those colorful shapes into trains or animals or whatever they please. Provide a piece of paper on which to create or fold down the tray table as a canvass. Younger children will enjoy helping mom or dad make a design. The sticky paper itself might provide a few minutes of diversion.

Project # 2 Origami

 You will need origami paper but also Post-it paper of the right size will work too (the size of the paper depends on what you would like to make.) Here is a link for some easy origami projects. Practice a couple and share them with your child in-flight. If your child is old enough, teach them the folds. Younger children will enjoy seeing the finished product and playing with the origami dog or whatever shape you have made. (Make-up a little story about the dog who flew in the airplane.)


Project #3 Paper Bag Puppets

To complete this craft you will need a lunch size paper bag for each puppet. Pack a few crayons or markers, a glue stick and some stickers for adding decoration to the puppets. You may need child friendly scissors. The TSA allows scissors with a blade of 4 inches or less in your carry-on. Click here for some puppet making ideas and templates. Your child may spend spend a fair amount of time assembling and decorating a puppet and then he or she may enjoy playing with their creation.

With a little preparation these crafts can engage your child’s sense of creativity and play for at least part of the trip. Happy stress-free travels to all!


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Jack London With No Dogs

The most famous book by local author Jack London is Call of the Wild.  At least that’s the way it is in this country:  “Oh, Jack London – he wrote dog stories, right?”

But Jack London was much more famous in his day for other writings.  One of the novels that made him famous is  The Iron Heel (1908).  Never heard of it?  Well, lots of other people are in that particular club.

It used to be that futuristic novels were much happier and more optimistic than they are now.  Edward Bellamy’s nineteenth-century novel Looking Backward takes place in 2000. The future is full of  happy  brotherhood (as well as the time travel necessary to bring the hero, Julian West, forward 113 years).  It was a huge best-seller when it was published in 1887.

However,  it is all but forgotten today, as is London’s The Iron Heel, a frightening dystopian novel that takes place mostly here  in the Bay Area (London’s home, after all), in which a grim oligarchy rules the U.S. for some 300 years before it is finally overthrown by the Brotherhood Of Man.

The Iron Heel was read widely by well – known historical figures from Lenin to George Orwell.  London considered the novel a failure, but many others did not, including Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist Party leader who garnered 6% of the presidential vote in 1912 while he was in jail as a political prisoner.  Big Bill Haywood, one of the leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”), was also impressed.  The book was translated into some 24 languages (including Esperanto), sold over 50,000 hardcover copies when it was first published, and was passed from hand to hand in factories and on production lines.  It was at least as popular in Europe as it was here; the creator of Britain’s National Health Service, Aneurin Bevan, said he read the book and was converted to socialism by it when he was a young miner in Wales, and averred that “thousands of other men and women of the working class in Britain” (Kershaw) had the same experience.

The twentieth century is full of dystopian novels:  Zamyatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Orwell’s 1984, to mention only a few of the best known.  However, what brings these frightening “new worlds” about is technology; science is the basis of the “decanted” children of Brave New World and the ubiquitous screens with Big Brother’s ever-present face (and We, written by an engineer, shows people with numerical names – men odd, women even – and all buildings made of glass so everyone can be watched, to say nothing of the “Great Operation,” obviously a kind of routine lobotomy).  Science and technology bring about horrifying fascist states.

But the Iron Heel’s terror needs no technology; what brings it into existence is raw power, a brutal coup paid for by the very rich that overturns the U.S. government and crushes all but the oligarchs and their mercenaries, changing semi-democratic rule to a kind of fascism that lasts for 300 years.  A political revolution, based on economics and class, sets a wealthy 1% against a poor 99%  -  and the 1% wins hands down.

The dystopian novel most similar to the Iron Heel may be, curiously enough, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s TaleNot only are both stories of a fascist society of castes, of terrifying violence and of rights snatched away from virtually everyone but the oligarchs, they are structurally very similar.  Both are stories told in the first person by women, probably in their thirties, who lose the husbands they love to the apocalyptic society into which they have been hurled.  Both stories are fragments; we never find out what happened to Offred, though we are told that Avis Everhard was captured and executed by the Iron Heel.  And both stories are framed by narrators who have found the manuscripts hundreds of years later.

A quarter of a century after the Iron Heel was published (and about 18 years after Jack London died), President Paul von Hindenburg named Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.  Within 5 months, Hitler’s Nazification of Germany and destruction of the Republic he had sworn to uphold were eerily similar to the Iron Heel’s transformation of North America.  Fortunately for the world, Hitler’s “Thousand-Year Reich” lasted only 12 years, instead of the 300 of the Iron Heel.  But we all know what horrific damage was done in those 12 short years.  We can only imagine what might have happened in 300 years.  Perhaps it’s better not to.

I did say no dogs – but Call of the Wild is Jack London’s masterpiece, after all.  There’s a very good reason why the story of Buck is still read today.  And we can be happy that The Iron Heel is generally forgotten; the awful world that appears in it is one that we have managed to avoid – at least so far.

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