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Dan Coleman

That Statue Barked

Sounder, Old Yeller, Old Dan, and Little Ann: children’s literature is littered with corpses of dogs who died too young and made us cry harder than we wanted to.  Luckily, our parents burst into tears, too, which helped distract us from our own sorrow, since they looked so weird crying as they read.

As if that weren’t enough, many literary dogs earn themselves a statue, so in case you ever stroll by the Idaho Falls Public Library in a great mood and run across this statue inspired by Where the Red Fern Grows, or approach Texas’s Mason Public Library humming a happy tune until you see Old Yeller similarly enshrined, you’ll be sure to burst into a fresh bout of tears, no matter how many years have passed since those heartbreaking days of youthful reading.

It’s funny how culpable public libraries are in the formation of so much grief over dead literary dogs, as if we were trying to teach kids that yes, while reading can be fun and rewarding, a book can also rip out your young heart and play t-ball with it before your very eyes. In fact, libraries have such a bad reputation when it comes to children’s books about dogs, I’ve heard of parents who warn their children to walk the other way if they ever see a children’s librarian approaching with a book about a dog.

So, to atone for all the emotional scarring caused by my ilk over the years, I offer up this list of literary dogs who lived long, inspiring lives, which were not defined by untimely and deeply depressing demises. Each of these dogs has its own statue, by the way, although, not surprisingly, none are located at a public library. Read More..

Where the Beefalo Roam

As an animal lover growing up in Kansas, our annual grade school field trip to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum was always a high point. I adored the famous Panorama of taxidermy, and the working, cutaway beehive, but what I looked forward to most was the chance to gaze upon a real jackalope.

We adults require our animals to be just what they are, but I often think the world would be a better place if we hadn’t lost whatever it is about kids that allows them to accept the possibility of crazy animal hybrids. I’m as big a stick in the mud as any when it comes to combining species. After all, it recently took 30 minutes of bickering and this Wikipedia entry to convince me that cattle and buffalo had been crossed to produce an animal called a beefalo.

If there is one place such a creature could roam free, it’s in the children’s collection at the library.  In fact, there are so many weird animals to be found here, I sometimes think of it as a warmer, fuzzier Island of Dr. Moreau, with the sociopathic, mad scientist of that title replaced by a maniacal Lisa Frank, fresh off a post-doc fellowship in genetics at Johns Hopkins, flush with grant money, and ready to combine as many cute animals as she can get her hands on.

Most remember the Gryphon, a lion and eagle mash-up immortalized by Victorian illustrator John Tenniel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But there are so many other wondrous species within the pages of books, I’ve compiled them over the years into a sort of children’s literature bestiary. Without further ado, here are my five favorites: Read More..

STEM Isn’t Just For Him: An Interview with Meghan McCarthy

One of the biggest stories in children’s publishing this year has been the success of books empowering young women. Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, a set of 100 brief biographies of unstoppable women, is among the highest circulating children’s books at the library this year, and similar titles like Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted, and Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science have recently joined Rebel Girls on the New York Times bestseller list.

I’ve enjoyed reading these books to my daughter and son, but even more we love the work of author/illustrator Meghan 9781416979708_zoomMcCarthy, who has been telling stories of women and science for over a decade and was kind enough recently to answer a few questions about her work.    Read More..

May It Carry On

“One of those could beat me,” said my son, Ray. I had just read an item from the morning paper declaring the Greenland shark to be the oldest living vertebrate species on Earth.

Between bites of his breakfast, Ray peered into a fishbowl full of freshwater clams he was training up for the Most Unusual Pet contest at the Vinland Fair. He’d been calculating his odds all week, worried he would lose if someone showed up with a monkey.

The paper said Greenland sharks can reach the age of 270, and probably older, a testament to life in the slow lane, since they dawdle along at a half mile per hour, dining occasionally (by which I mean once or twice a year) on seal or dead reindeer. I found them almost as comforting as Ray’s peculiar pets, which were, in evolutionary terms, 500 million years older than anything else living in our house.

“Don’t worry, Greenland sharks hate fairs,” I told Ray.  “Too much cotton candy, not enough dead reindeer.”

I attributed my affection for all things old to the fact that Ray was set to start kindergarten in just a few weeks. Not that the change was unwelcome. It had been a long summer. Ray and his little sister, Zia, had been within 20 feet of each other for most of it, and many who were foolhardy enough to enter that radius paid a heavy price.81hIoLpGC5L

Still, when I heard about a library book called The Oldest Living Things in the World in which photographer Rachel Sussman documents the Earth’s most ancient denizens, I placed a hold on it immediately.  After all, if a yucca plant could weather 12,000 summers in the Mojave Desert, I should be able to walk away from my oldest child on his first day of school. Read More..

I See London, I See France

Is brevity the soul of wit, or just briefs?  I should have asked my 8th grade English teacher Mr. King, the seat of whose pants ripped wide open as he sprinted toward first base during our annual kids-versus-teachers softball game.

Like all great teachers, he was a master at problem-solving on the run: rather than hold up at first and face down scores of us 8th graders yucking it up at his expense, he never broke stride after he hit the bag, but made a beeline straight for the teacher’s parking lot, jumped in his car, and drove off. Read More..

The Five Coolest Things I’ve Found on a Lawrence Curb

Last winter, before my mom moved out of the house she’d lived in for the past 40 years, my sister and I found ourselves in her basement opening a box on which someone had scrawled “CREEPY DOLLS.”  They weren’t lying.

Over the course of several long afternoons we opened many more boxes.  What a waste!  All these useful doilies, lapel pins, letter openers, broken pairs of glasses, magazines saved for unspecified reasons, and pewter pitchers had been down here all these years without us ever knowing it.

We found the weird (a broken gold tooth), the humorous (my grocer grandpa’s copy of Profitable Meat Cutting and a manual on packaging iceberg lettuce), the scandalous (a program from a Sally Rand fan dance show), and the heartbreaking (wedding dresses and commemorative plaques, of such moment to their former owners, which now no one argued to keep).

We found more than one set of silver plated flatware, which had signified to my great-grandparents, most of whom were born in other countries, that they had become somebody in America.  A few generations later and my sister and I didn’t even have room for their stuff in our own homes.


Veteran radio and tv broadcaster Alison Stewart chronicles, in amusing detail, our national struggle to come to terms with our possessions in Junk: Digging through America’s Love Affair with Stuff, a book which begins with Stewart’s experience of clearing out her own parents’ basement.  Overwhelmed, she realizes that letting go of such an accumulation requires passage through each stage of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous grief model, and sums up the experience with an invocation of comedian George Carlin’s classic stand-up routine “A Place for My Stuff,” in which he concludes that “a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” Read More..

Crypt Lit

Where does one store a souvenir Abraham Lincoln beard?  I bought mine years ago on a road trip with my father to see Lincoln historic sites in Springfield, Illinois, but I’ve never known what to do with it. After I was told to stop wearing it to work every day, I tried hanging it up with my ball caps for a while, but it got in the way. Then I tried my underwear drawer, but that was way too weird.

It finally found a home among my much neglected neckties, which makes sense because I inherited most of those from my dad, and I only keep the beard around as a memento of him. On the last day of our trip we visited Lincoln’s tomb, an impressive bastion of granite, marble, and bronze, beneath which the president lies with Mary Todd and three of their four sons: Tad, Edward, and Willie. This place was heaven for us, since my dad also left me his gene for walking battlefields, reading gravestones, and pondering the life of Honest Abe. Read More..

An Interview with Kelly Jones

Chickens with superpowers, a farm full of junk to explore, and a series of mysterious typewritten letters are just a few of the wonders within this year’s Read Across Lawrence for Kids title, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones.  Jones, who recently answered a few of my questions about the book, will be available via Skype at the library on Sunday, February 19th, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. to answer more questions from kids (between bites of free pizza donated by Rudy’s).  Join us for this and the other events we’ve put together this month with the help of KU Libraries and the Friends of the Library to celebrate this unique book. Read More..

Bibliobominable: Winter Reading for Young Yetis

Ah, winter. The trees are bare, a chill is in the air, and I’ve got all the classic picture books of the season stacked beside my kids’ beds. We could read my own childhood favorite, Ezra Jack Keats’ iconic The Snowy Day. Or there’s Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley, in which Mary Azarian renders the wonders of snow in Caldecott Medal-winning woodcuts. And here is Raymond Briggs’ jolly and gentle Snowman, a holiday presence to rival Santa in some homes.  Listen!  Are those the choirboys of St. Paul’s Cathedral I hear on the north wind, intoning the angelic melody of “Walking in the Air,” the song made famous in the 1982 short film adaptation of The Snowman? Read More..

The Best Books from the Worst Year

Let’s be honest, 2016 has been kind of a hot mess. Between so many celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Elie Wiesel… holy cow, SO MANY) and some, uh, general upheaval, most people are ready to write this one off as a loss.

But! As much as we’d like to say goodbye and good riddance to the year as a whole, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the very good things that came from 2016; this year has offered readers a wealth of fabulous new books. Debut authors and big-hitters alike have released incredible works in 2016, and the staff of LPL would like to share a few of our favorites. If you’re looking for great gifts for bibliophiles in your life, try one of these librarian-approved reads: Read More..