Monday, March 30, 2015

This week at the library...

Preschool Story Time and Toddler Tales sessions begin this week! Check out the Events Calendar for listings at your branch.

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

East West Players Theatre for Youth presents...
BORN TO LEAD: The Susan Ahn Cuddy Story

Despite the challenge of being a daughter of Korean immigrant parents in America, Susan Ahn Cuddy became the first female aerial gunnery officer in the history of the U.S. Navy. She eventually earned the title of Lieutenant. Join us to experience her fascinating story of fearlessness and integrity.

Central Library, 4:00 p.m.

Family Film
120 minutes / Rated PG

Central Library, 3:30 p.m.

Celebrate National Poetry Month at our
For grades 6-12. Sharpies, pages and snacks provided!

Later that same day...
Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

Behind the Scenes at the L.A. Opera!
Door prize...

SUNDAY is technically next week, but we want to remind you that the Buena Vista branch library will be CLOSED for the Easter holiday.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What we're reading: Fiction and Philosophy

The Just City is the latest offering from Jo Walton, science fiction and fantasy author of My Real Children and Among Others, previously reviewed here. I am so at a loss for how to describe this book that I am going to borrow a paraphrase of the excellent summary from the Booklist review:
Together with 300 scholars plucked from 25 centuries, the goddess Athene sets out to establish Plato's Republic and build the Just City on the backwater island of Kallisti, known to later generations as Atlantis. To populate it, she imports 10,080 10-year-olds, among them the slave girl Simmea. Another of the children is Pytheas, who is secretly the god Apollo in human form. Simmea and Apollo serve as two of the story's three narrators; the third is a young woman, Maia, who hails from mid-Victorian England. The children's reason for being is to pursue excellence, to become their best selves and ultimately--if all goes well--Plato's philosopher kings. Somewhat incongruously, providing food and doing the work necessary to maintain the island's life is the role of robots imported from the distant future. Five years into the experiment, Socrates is brought to the island against his will to teach the children (now teenagers) rhetoric, and that's when things get...interesting.
I really enjoyed reading this book, but just like Walton's Among Others, the audience needs to have at least some knowledge of various subjects in order to understand and appreciate the story, so I'm not sure to whom I would recommend it! In that case it was a copious knowledge of science fiction; in this case, it's philosophy, specifically Socratic and Platonic, which makes this a somewhat esoteric experience! But the mix of old ideas with fresh interpretations, and the first-hand experiences of naive participators in a theoretical plan for societal excellence proved to be a thought-provoking and entertaining read, especially after the gadfly Socrates arrives on the scene. One warning: The book has a rather abrupt and weird ending. (I discovered on the very last page that there is a sequel planned!)  I hope the right people for this series discover it, because if you like this sort of thing, it's wonderful.

You can find The Just City on the New Books shelf at the Central Library.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What We're Reading: The Winner's Trilogy

The "winner’s curse" is an economic principal that described how the winner of any auction open to bidding, in the instant that he wins, also loses because he has paid a higher price for an item or service than the other participants are willing to pay. It is a fascinating idea, and one that is intriguingly explored by Marie Rutkoski in The Winner’s Curse.

Lady Kestrel, the daughter of General Trajan, is used to high risks, and equally high stakes. While she benefits greatly from her position in society as the only child of the highest ranking general of the Valorian army, she also chafes at the rules and customs she must observe. Her occasional forays into the city without an escort keep people talking, as do her high-stakes games of Bite & Stine (a tile game at which Kestrel is nearly impossible to beat) which she plays with cunning and a skill few can match. Now that she is 17, Kestrel is expected to choose either to enter the military as a soldier, or to marry. Even though she shows no aptitude as a fighter (and tremendous skill as a strategist), there are no other options. And neither of these choices would allow Kestrel to pursue her true passion, music (which is of almost no value to her warrior culture). But it is music that informs and influences her every decision, such as the impulsive choice to bid on Arin, a Herrani slave, at auction because he might be a singer. The bidding progresses, and by the end, Kestrel bids far more than even the auctioneer had hoped. But if Arin is a singer, he is one who refuses to sing. Kestrel justifies and rationalizes the purchase because Arin is also a skilled blacksmith, which will be of use to her father. But who and what else, exactly Arin is (and isn’t) is not clear. As time passes, the only thing that becomes clear is that the price Kestrel paid for Arin will not begin to cover what that purchase will cost both of them.

In The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski, author of "The Kronos Chronicles" and The Shadow Society, explores the concepts of freedom, confinement, and the interplay between the two extremes. Both Kestrel and Arin long for freedom, Kestrel from the rigid conformity and demands of her culture, and Arin from the servitude imposed on his. Both characters are willful, prideful, intelligent and--to varying degrees--damaged. The relationship portrayed is not one that develops instantaneously at their first meeting, but rather one that grows over time as each character becomes more comfortable and shares more of who they are and what they want. They are a perfectly matched pair of star-crossed lovers from worlds so very different there may be no way to bridge the distance, and part of that distance is of their own making. Both characters block their own paths to freedom and happiness by clinging to the comfort of what is known and considered normal (and several times through their own sheer stubbornness). The Winner’s Curse is a frustrating book, much like Gone With The Wind, Wuthering Heights, or other tragic romances, in which the reader wishes he could explain to the characters that happiness is just within their reach if they don’t destroy the opportunity in front of them.

The world Rutkoski creates is lush and well defined, with societal mores, cultural rules, and believable differences between the two cultures represented in the plot. Rutkoski's writing is superb, as it was in her earlier works, making The Winner's Curse an enjoyable read!

Editor's note: The next book in "The Winner's trilogy," The Winner's Crime, was recently published. Burbank Public Library owns both books, which you will find in the Young Adult section at the Central and Buena Vista libraries. (The new book will be in YA New Books!)

For another (equally laudatory) opinion, read teen librarian Anarda's review on the YA blog.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What We're Reading: Washington's Revolution

Washington’s Revolution:
The Making of America’s First Leader
by Robert Middlekauff

It seems almost quaint these days to read a book on George Washington. We live in a time of great cynicism about the character of our political leaders, a time when we question their honesty, their commitment to common rather than narrow selfish interests, and their ability to lead. That disillusionment has eroded, in turn, our trust in historical myths with which we grew up, the stories of our values and our founding as a nation that gave generations of young Americans a special sense of the exceptional nature of their country and of their own personal destiny in the world. America, we grew up believing, was committed to expanding the empire of liberty and equal opportunity, and those ideals guided its domestic politics and motivated its actions on the world stage.

Our Founding Fathers have not fared well as we have cast a colder eye on our national history. The Civil Rights movement highlighted the long history of racism in America, and recent scholarship on the history of slavery has made us increasingly aware of the centrality of slavery to American economic prosperity and the enormity of slavery as a blot on our national history. Revered fathers of American liberty, like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, were all slaveholders. Apologists talk of the “contradiction;” critics speak of “hypocrisy” and the unholy compact that was made with slavery in order to achieve what proved a precarious national unity.

Portrait of George Washington by John Trumbull, 1790.
Trumbull gave this portrait to Martha Washington as a
gift. It depicts Washington at Verplanck’s Point near
Yorktown in 1782.
Washington’s Revolution is not an exercise in exploring the symbolic and mythological place of Washington in American history. It is not hagiography, but it is largely laudatory, a chronicle of the real and perhaps less “heroic” challenges he faced as the primary actor in America’s fight for independence. The Washington we get here is, in fact, the kind of ideal leader we long for. Middlekauff paints a portrait in which Washington’s commitment to the national cause, his practical ability and political skills, his will and judgment, his toughness and endurance, while not making us feel intimate with the man (one wonders if that is possible) are shown to be achievements that grew out of a vision of his country that transcended partisan or personal interests.

Contrary to the common misconception of things, the American Revolution was not a series of formal pitched battles between armies in which the Americans defeated British regulars. It was a war of attrition, in which Washington, however much he craved direct and bold action, carefully avoided open battles that would risk the loss of his army. He could seldom hope for a circumstance where he had superiority over British troops and the British Navy, and to lose such a battle would have ended the Revolution. Yorktown, which caused the British cabinet to reassess its hopes for holding the American Colonies in the British Empire, was more a successful siege than it was a battle, and it came about because the French and Americans (for the first time) were able to assemble both troop and naval superiority. We learned as school children that the entry of France into the war was helpful to the American cause, but in Washington’s Revolution we come to understand that it was in fact crucial. It made possible the victory at Yorktown, but more importantly it shifted the focus of the war from America to the West Indies, which were considered economically more important to Britain and its West Indian stockholders than were the Colonies. British land and naval forces were pulled from the American campaign to defend British possessions in the West Indies. Some of the most interesting passages in Washington’s Revolution, an exposition that will be new to most readers, describe Washington’s relationship with the French commanders and admirals in the American theater. His collaboration with the Comte de Rochambeau and his success in changing French Admiral de Grasse’s mind about abandoning the naval siege at Yorktown were critical to the outcome of the Revolution.

Si├Ęge de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, 1836. Rochambeau and Washington are depicted
giving their last orders before the battle.

The French Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse,
by Jean Baptiste Mauzaisse, 1842

It may conflict with our images of glorious battle and victory, but it is clear from Washington’s Revolution that the key to winning the Revolution, and Washington’s great achievement, was the enormous organizational and administrative task of simply building and keeping the Continental Army together. The author is relentless is showing us the frustrations that Washington faced in trying to field a professional army. When he took command of the army surrounding Boston after the Battle of Bunker Hill he described the soldiers as “nasty,” “dirty,” “raw,” and undisciplined, and thought that the New England tradition of liberty and equality (and the absence of a “gentleman” class, such as the one Washington belonged to in Virginia) worked sorely against the structure of command and discipline an army required.

One of his major frustrations was trying to develop a competent officer class. But his essential and perennial problem, the one that overshadowed all, was that the army simply faded away over and over again and had to be constantly rebuilt. The strength of the army fluctuated wildly, due both to desertions and to short-term enlistments, especially among the various state militias that sent troops to the Continental Army. From troops more loyal to their individual colonies than to the national cause, Washington had to create a national and united army with a central command structure. And of course his ability to do this was severely limited by the lack of a strong central governing authority. Congress had no power to tax, and therefore had to rely on each colony for funds to support the army, a situation that resulted in delinquent pay for soldiers, uncertain promises about benefits and pensions for service, and an army constantly short of adequate material and logistical support. In trying to address these concerns, Washington had to manage the politics of dealing with Congress in a situation where, as the author writes, “The lines of his authority were not as clear as his responsibility for the American military effort.”

A Currier and Ives print of General George Washington’s
headquarters at Newburgh, 1856.
But for all he did in his role as commander of the Continental Army, the thing that set Washington apart, that in fact made him indispensable to the cause, was that he understood that although his role was that of commander of the Continental Army, he was, as well “…. the political leader of the Revolution, though he drafted no legislation and signed no laws…..For Washington, more than any American leader in or out of Congress, by his actions and example, held together the political structure that constituted the United States.” A moment of crisis came at the end of the war at the headquarters of the Continental Army in Newburgh, New York. Washington confronted rebellious officers who wanted the Continental Army to assert its military strength to compel Congress to meet demands for back pay and pensions. In an emotional plea, Washington confronted the mutiny and insisted on the primacy of civilian authority over the military, arguing that the proposed action would be a betrayal of the Revolution. He insisted on the primacy of civilian authority, and as Middlekauff writes, “His thought indeed amounted to a form of constitutionalism. Here, on this matter of the people and the army, he insisted that the people’s voice should be loudest.” It was a principled stand. It was a refusal to seize a ready and proffered power. Washington made the republic possible.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


PRETTY LITTLE LIARS pre-screening of the FANALE
presented by Warner Bros. and BPL

Tuesday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. at the Buena Vista branch
300 N. Buena Vista St., Burbank 91502
818 238-5620

If you are signed up, please BE PROMPT! The event is fully booked, and there is a waiting list! There will be a table outside the auditorium where you can check in.

Doors open at 6:30, so arrive early, sign in, and then you can look at costumes and props and have a cookie while you wait! At 6:50 we will let in the people on standby, so it's imperative that you arrive before that!

See you tonight! Can't wait for the #BigAReveal

Monday, March 23, 2015

This week at the library...

Buena Vista Branch, 6:45 p.m. sharp!

So...who IS "A"???

Want to find out two hours before everybody ELSE on the West Coast? Come to the library! Warner Bros. and BPL are showing the finale at 7:00 p.m. in our Buena Vista branch community room. There will also be costumes and props on display. BUT: You must sign up! The list is nearly full, but there will be a waiting list. Email If you are on the list already, please remember that you must arrive by 6:45 latest--at 6:50 we will start letting waiting list people into the auditorium. See you there?

Central Library, 6:30 p.m.

For kindergarten and younger, accompanied by an adult: Wear your pajamas and join us for stories, songs, and a short film! Adults, bring your cameras--there will be a Goodnight Moon photo op!

Buena Vista branch, noon to 4 p.m.

Designed to educate the curious of all ages, FoLAR's Los Angeles River Rover, a 38-foot mobile visitor center, features interpretive and interactive exhibits that provide an overview of the L.A. River's past, present, and potential future. Guests enter under a canopy of willows, touch carp and frog skeletons, view aquatic insects through a microscope, observe mosquito fish in a tank, and see images of what the river could look like in the future. Join us at the library for this interactive experience!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

An enchanting fantasy tale for young and old

After a long wait, author Rachel Hartman has published the sequel to her debut young adult fantasy novel Seraphina. In 2012, Seraphina captured the hearts of fantasy readers with its great premise and wonderful characters. Set in the Kingdom of Goredd, where dragons can change into human form and live among humans, the story revolves around Seraphina, a girl with a human father and a dragon mother. This is a fact that she has to hide from everyone, for although dragons can live freely among humans, their cold logic and lack of emotions cause humans to distrust them, and not many can accept or even imagine that they can interbreed with humans. But Seraphina soon ceases to be all alone in the world as the only half-dragon when she discovers that the “garden of grotesques” she created in her mind with its strange inhabitants contains the avatars of real people, who, like her, are half-dragons.

In Shadow Scale, Seraphina is sent on a mission by the queen to unite the half-dragons in order to fight against the corrupt dragons who took over the Dragon Kingdom. When Seraphina sets out on a task she merely considers a safe diplomatic mission, she is not aware of a threat that she is facing. As Seraphina starts finding each half-dragon and asking for his or her alliance, she comes face-to-face with a foe she had thought long defeated – the only half-dragon from her garden who threatened to take over her mind completely. Now, that person is slowly taking over the minds of all half-dragons for a purpose of her own.

Rachel Hartman created a wonderful world in Seraphina, with much attention to detail and many great ideas – dragons who can change into humans, a mysterious garden full of strange characters – and a lovable heroine. I was impatient to get back to this wonderful and intricate fantasy world, and in many ways this book was similar to the first one. There was as much focus on the world-building, introducing other kingdoms and even more characters. There is also a much more interesting villain to battle in Shadow Scale, one who is elusive and maybe even slightly disturbing, making this book a lot more mature than the first one and much more appealing to a teen audience.

One issue with Serpahina that is repeated with Shadow Scale is its pacing. While many people may hang on Hartman’s every word and find joy in each colorful character and description, others (like me) might find the seemingly endless lack of plot until the very end of the book daunting. There is a point just short of halfway where the story falters and does not gain traction until the very end. Thus, despite its many great qualities, this is a book that might only have an appeal for dedicated fantasy readers.

Editor's note: If you are one of those, you can find both books in the Young Adult (Teen) section of all three libraries--Seraphina in the regular collection, and Shadow Scale in the new teen books. The library also offers Seraphina as an e-book.