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Peculiar Reading

I first encountered Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children after I started working at Lawrence Public Library over three years ago.  While shelving, I would often see the creepy, antique cover leering out from the stacks, which continued to intrigue me for some time.

Eventually, I had to know what the book was about (since I am totally guilty of judging a book by its cover) and brought it home to read during a brisk autumn evening. From its opening pages, I knew that it was a match made in book heaven, and Miss Peregrine soon became one of my YA favorites. Read More..

There’s No Place Like Lawrence

Last weekend, my in-laws visited from Iowa. Don’t worry– this isn’t a horror story. Or a rant. I actually enjoy it when they’re in town, because I get to show them around Lawrence and brag about all the great locally-owned businesses and the neat events that happen in the community. It reminds me how much I love Lawrence and how glad I am to live here. Read More..

Dahl in All

You never know what thoughts will pop into your head when you wake up two hours before dawn, creep down to the darkest, quietest corner of the basement, and make a giant paper mache blueberry.  “Why the heck am I doing this?” is one recurring theme.

This time I had a good answer: The library was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl, who gave us Violet Beauregarde, the character who turns into a giant blueberry in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and we thought it would be fun to offer kids a chance to pose for pictures of themselves so transformed.


Photo credit: Karen Allen


But as I tore into strips the very newspaper page reporting the death of Gene Wilder, through whose portrayal of Willy Wonka so many first encounter Dahl, I remembered my own introduction to the author. It came by way of my first grade teacher, Mr. Kelly, who read James and the Giant Peach aloud to us, complete with a different voice for each character.

In the four decades since, I’ve read and listened to some pretty good books, watched my share of movies and plays, attended concerts, strolled through art museums, and experienced the architecture of a couple of the world’s great cities, but it occurred to me in the pasty calm of the early morning last week that sitting in Mr. Kelly’s classroom as he read that book still ranks among the great aesthetic experiences of my life.Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover

So this week, we tip our felt top hats off to Roald Dahl and all those who have helped tell his stories. No homage to Dahl can be made without also honoring Quentin Blake, one of the UK’s most prolific and celebrated children’s authors in his own right, whose quirky drawings became the visual face of Dahl’s works.  And a testament to Dahl’s enduring influence is the long list of actors and film directors he has inspired.

There is of course Gene Wilder’s musical tour of the chocolate factory, which, though it was a cultural touchstone for children of my generation, Dahl hated so much that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s remake was only allowed after the author’s death in 1990.

This year, Stephen Spielberg and Mark Rylance took on The BFG, Dahl’s story of a gentle giant, a little girl, and how dreams are made. Jim Henson, Nicholas Roeg, and Angelica Huston combined talents to bring to life Dahl’s paranoiac vision of an England rife with child-hunting witches posing as do-gooders in The Witches, and the all-star team of actors who voiced the characters in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox was upstaged only by the wondrously complete world created by the film’s animators.

James and the Giant Peach coverMy old favorite, James and the Giant Peach, was made into a movie in 1996 by Henry Selick, better known for directing The Nightmare before Christmas and Coraline.  I’ve never seen it, though. I’m generally a fan of watching movie versions after I read a book, but sometimes the experience of reading just can’t be topped; my first grade teacher seemed to be a regular guy for his time, right down to his stripey ties and disco ‘stache, but through Dahl he revealed an extraordinary magic. In this way he was not unlike a Dahl character himself, whose true, fantastic identity was found out by all of us everykids in his class as he launched us from the humdrum of our lives into a surreal adventure.

I’ve never read the book again either, but I probably will soon.  At times I see an expression flicker across my own kids’ faces I can only describe as Dahlian, for there is no author before or since who has better captured the sense of children confronting a world whose unpredictability and weirdness are taken for granted by us adults, who, despite our best intentions, may menace when we mean to comfort.  My kids seem as ripe as James’ peach for a leap into Roald Dahl’s world.  I only hope my reading holds a fraction of the wonder Mr. Kelly’s held for me.

-Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.

Black Writers Bring Baldwin Back to Life in The Fire This Time

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward (an author I raved about last year), is on the short list of my favorite books of 2016. A gorgeous collection of essays and poems on racial issues in America, it’s a book that punched me in the gut in the way that excellent writing tends to do. Describing her feelings on the book as a whole, Ward states:

“I believe there is power in words, power in asserting our existence, our experience, our lives, through words. That sharing our stories confirms our humanity. That it creates community, both within our own community and beyond it.”

Read More..

Discography Dilemmas

I never listened to Bob Dylan growing up. I blame it on my parents. It’s not like they banned him from the house. They just weren’t Dylan fans.

In those pre-Napster, pre- job days, it was either the radio or my parents’ music collection: Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits, Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America. There was plenty of the Monkees (my mom never grew out of her girlhood crush on Davy Jones), but not much of the Beatles, and Dylan just wasn’t on the radar. Read More..

All Things Possible and Nothing Safe in Cooper & Vanderbilt Family Memoir

An enjoyable aspect of reading memoirs is the potential life lessons that can be gleaned from another person’s example. There are times this knowledge doesn’t come directly from the author themselves, yet it can be found in the manner they lived their life. Also within memoirs, there exists the potential of surprise in learning new information about the author, the opportunity to hear their innermost thoughts, and, possibly, to connect with them on a universal level. Read More..

YA Backlist: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Yes, that catchy electropop hit by Ellie Goulding from 2012 is the inspiration and anthem for this young adult novel from 2015. Anything Could Happen is a light-hearted, pleasant read filled with optimism and a bit of cheese. Read More..

Acclaimed Artist & Author Shares a Serendipitous Love of Letters

I have a deep sense of pride for our community’s most creative citizens; savoring local artists’ and authors’ works is often more satisfying than fine dining. Lawrence-based artist and author Stephen T. Johnson’s work is among the finest. His children’s picture books are award-winning: A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet was named one of the Best Illustrated Books of the Year by the New York Times, and Alphabet City was the recipient of a Caldecott Honor, in addition to other accolades.

With Johnson’s newest book, Alphabet School, you can enjoy a visual celebration featuring images from Lawrence area schools. Vivid imagery depicts letters of the alphabet in ordinary objects at schools to encourage a child’s curiosity, observation, and comfort with a new school environment. This book can also be used as a classroom companion with Johnson’s previous book, Alphabet City.

This Sunday, August 28, Johnson will visit the library for a very special storytime at 3:30 PM: Back to School with Stephen T. Johnson. He’ll talk about the making of Alphabet School and how many of the ideas in this book came from students. Kids will be called to find library objects that resemble letters, and whoever who finds the most will win a signed copy of Johnson’s book. Miss Linda (Librarian Linda Clay) will be reading stories, and there’ll be a craft for those who aren’t searching for letters around the library. The Raven Book Store will have copies available of Stephen’s books at the event, including Alphabet School, A is for Art, and even a few copies of his highly interactive piece books like My Little Blue Robot.

If you can’t make it to the library, tune in to Kansas Public Radio on Sunday, September 11th at 7:00 PM to hear an interview with Johnson and a discussion of several other 2016 Kansas Notable Authors. You can also check out one of Johnson’s many fabulous public art pieces: “Freedom Rings” near Clinton Lake at the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum in Bloomington Park at Clinton Lake.

Freedom Rings Stephen T Johnson

He explains its concept and significance:

“Highly reflective circular hoops establish physically and conceptually the relationship of the Underground Railroad to the areas’ ten extinct and extant communities and revolve around a historical windmill tower, positioned in relation to the North Star, which functions as the focal point of the site.”

There is so much more to know about the work of Stephen T. Johnson; see his website here. He’s very involved in the community with his art: he is a finalist for public artwork at a new branch of the Johnson County Public Library, and he is teaching two drawing classes in the School of Architecture, Design & Planning at KU this fall. Johnson is also among the commissioned local artists selected for the East Ninth Street art project.

Upcoming opportunities to see Johnson’s art include the Lawrence Art Walk October 21- 23 and a solo show at the Cider Gallery in November.

Checkout more rich, illuminating books by Stephen T. Johnson and other picture books that are beautiful, educational, and fun for younger readers on this list in the library’s catalog: Books for Kids by Lawrence Authors.


- Shirley Braunlich is a Readers Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library



Local Author Karen Vaughn Talks T-Rex with Short Story Debut

It’s been a good month for Lawrence writers. Author Karen Vaughn brings us the most recent piece of local literature with her debut, A Kiss for a Dead Film Star, a genre-blending collection of short stories. Read More..

Take Two Anne Tylers and Call Me in the Morning

I have a new mantra. Here it is: Welcome to your old age, Randi. Okay. So it’s more of a mantra phrase, but still, it’s the repetition that gives a mantra its calming mojo. I use it whenever I feel a twinge where I’ve not twinged before, whenever an injury doesn’t heal quite as quickly or neatly as it used to, and whenever there’s some change in my overall sense of myself—of the me I have grown used to over the years. Read More..