Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Pax" by Sara Pennypacker, Juvie Fiction

Review of "Pax" by Sara Pennypacker, 
Illustrated by Jon KIassen, 2016
276 pp.

Children's Literature

The simply endearing quality of Klassen's black and white illustration of a bright-eyed fox enchants the reader to wonder what this animal is waiting for on the side of the road.  The drawing is the first alluring page of Pennypacker's children's book about a boy and his fox, his father's war and his own struggle to find home again.

It is a children's classic in the best sense of the word, where we root for the improbable, the bond between a boy feelings pangs of maturity and his pet fox.  It crackles with tough and sweet dialogue between Peter and his cast of animal and people characters, Peter's inner dialogue about losing his mother, or living with his grandfather while his father goes to war.  Peter's odyssey of 300 miles to restore his relationship with his fox becomes the structure of the story, as Pennypacker reveals Peter's character through the people he meets along the road.  Animals are uplifted to an importance that children will feel deeply and we watch as the fox's survival becomes a grand scale of life or death to Peter.   Material things, to a child running away from home, urge us to think about what we might grab as dearest to our safety and comfort.  Peter's ball and glove become a sub-plot in his encounters along the difficult trek to find his Pax.  The illustrations, though sparely drawn, transport the reader to the forest, the cabin, the tents of war.

The book holds many surprises, in its lessons from adults as well, like Vola, an injured loner who lives in a homey cabin and saves Peter from hunger and despair.  She is abrupt, no-nonsense and industrious.  She teaches Peter how to deal with physical pain and works him as her apprentice.  He reveals to her his own uncontrollable anger at times, so like his father.  But he begs her for a shortcut, some wisdom, some advice, so he doesn't have to figure everything out the hard way.

The author lets us see the real behavior of a fox family, what they eat, how they hunt, their fear of man. Pax befriends them on his own journey to find his destiny with Peter.  The timeless lessons are here on many levels, delivered in the vivid, color-washed prose as enchanting to adult readers as children.

-Jeanine Freeman Benanti, MA, MLIS

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Little Library, Big World
After waiting too long and over-thinking too hard, I finally set up a little library in my front yard.  Little libraries are just that, a very small space, usually the size of a small kitchen cabinet, mounted on a stick of wood, used for distributing books to readers— freely, anonymously and kindly.  I was shocked at the results, the almost immediate results of setting up this giant gift in tiny disguise.  My neighbors, their children, random walkers, runners, bikers, and dog lovers all stopped by on their outdoor ramblings to see my little library.  Was there a book for them?  How would I know what they liked?

It did not even matter. The books I originally stocked started to disappear.  Someone apparently did like them.  Then books I did not recognize took their places.  It was a give-and-take of the most simple arrangement. The motto for my little library is “take a book, leave one”. And they did. And they continue to rummage through it, usually when I am not around to watch, and they apparently love it.  Someone left me a note just the other day that said I rocked and that they are telling their reader friends about this great idea.  I’ve always wanted to rock.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Randomness of Being a Librarian
A 60-year-old man came into the library today, asking for—no— begging, for help to learn how to use a computer.  He was looking for a manual labor job, as a yard man, and he was confused and embarrassed that he could no longer apply for jobs on the telephone.  He did not know how to use a keyboard mouse or have an email address.  ”I need a job.  I used to just give my social security number and they would hire me.  Now I can’t call them on the phone for a job.  I just can’t do this.  I’m sorry.  Thanks for your help, ma’am.  I’m sorry….”  And he left.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Read to me, Daddy

Alice Ozma's new book, The Reading Promise, is available now in our library and if you've never read to your child, spouse, grandchild, or a friend, this book smacks you in the face with that simple notion. Read to me. Read to your child. Read to your husband, wife, lover, partner, elderly parent, your students, read to whomever will listen. That is the promise I made to myself all my life, first as a child reader, a college student, a teacher, a mother, a lover, and finally, a librarian. And that promise to read is the core message of this book. The author's father, a school librarian, begins a streak of reading aloud to his daughter as a challenge at first, and then it becomes a way of life for both of them. They read every night for over 9 years, until the day she arrived at college. The story is witty, sad, real-life, and so promising and hopeful.

 Reading aloud is a lost gift we can share with another. Instead of sending an e-mail, a text, a poke, a wink, and a phone call, read to me. Read to your spouse. Read in the car on trips. Read after dinner to your family. Reading is that gift you can give freely at this time of year to your children on the night before Christmas. I read "A Christmas Carol" to my own children at Christmastime. There are thousands of choices of books to read as a tradition in your own family. Every night before bed, Alice Ozma was entertained and transported to new worlds by the sound of her father's reassuring voice. They read hundreds of books together. It is a beautiful tribute in a very technologically bent world. I read to my own children every night until they preferred to read on their own. I secretly wished they had continued allowing me to read to them, until they, too, left for college. I so wanted to! But I introduced them to the possibilities of reading and so they had the encouragement they needed to run ahead without me, seeking their own magical worlds and ideas through books. Whether you read for just a few precious years or until your child leaves home for college or career, the experience, the closeness, the magic, the lifelong gift extends beyond that time you spent together. It made my children better students, better writers, better readers, better thinkers and my reading promise to them creates a ripple of reading to the people they have become.  (Posted Dec. 8, 2011)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cats and Dogs Living Together

As a librarian in a small library, I have to maintain control over “stuff” all day long, so as not to accumulate too much of it. There just isn’t enough room in my 3,000 square feet of library nirvana to have more than one copy of every book in the collection. If it’s checked out, you will have to add your name to the list of readers anxiously waiting to find out why the girl got the dragon tattoo in the first place. Or we can order your coveted title from another library whose square footage vastly exceeds mine and which is capable of housing more than one copy of “Sh#t My Dad Says”.

Stuff is everywhere and a library is no exception. Being a librarian, it is inherent for me to organize stuff, categorize it, clean it, fluff it, label it, file it, and shelve it. But occasionally, I seek to borrow stuff from my patrons to display in our vintage oak display case next to the circulation desk for the sheer entertainment value other people’s stuff brings to this rural library.

It started with a conversation in the library one day recently—“does anybody have anything they collect that could be displayed here at the library?” People threw out ideas about things they collect—matches, pitchers, mugs, quilts, baseball cards, cats. Wait, cats? You collect cats? What kind of cats? And thus our monthly display of people’s collections was born. The first display was a collection of cats—porcelain, wood, fabric, brightly painted cats, waving cats, Christmas cats, pictures of cats, calico cats and the piece de resistance, the crazy cat-lady action figure!

As my patrons started visiting the library during the cat display, conversations flourished about how patrons felt about cats, dogs, how much stuff or collections they have in their own homes. You get the idea. I made a point of saying that I did not think I had enough of any one item in my own home to constitute a collection, except perhaps books. This all created discussion, camaraderie, rivalry from dog people--I witnessed a weird new form of community right there in the library.

And that is really what this library is for, to create a community of readers who can look past the differences of others and connect on the cat level, or the dog level, or whatever collection level my patrons may enjoy sharing with others. I look forward to the dog collection in November and know that the cat people will be there, nodding patiently as exuberant dog lovers discuss man’s best friend and all the while, knowing above all else, cats rule. (Posted Nov. 1, 2010)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In the Buffer Zone

The State of Illinois budget is billions of dollars in debt and the ripple effect on our rural public library is starting to surface. Our patrons have expressed their concerns that our little library may close or will have to reduce hours in line with Springfield's two branches, West and Southeast. As a result of the Springfield city budget effective this month, those two branches have had to close down completely. Whether they ever open again is uncertain but it is clear that monies trickling down from the State of Illinois to public libraries will certainly be diluted.

The Illinois Public Library Per Capita Grant that our library has received faithfully over the past two years has already been reduced this fiscal year. We plan to use those reduced funds to increase our technology services for our patrons by upgrading our public computers, fax machine and copier. Since we are not tied to a city, township or village budget like Springfield, we are able to maintain our current services based on tax assessment funding provided by our patron taxpayers. This proves every day to be an astute choice for our district taxpayers when they voted to set up the library district. It will prove to be our lifeline during the unpredictable days ahead for Illinois libraries that depend on state dollars for support. In other words, we are not closing.

Some of our patrons who work in Springfield but live in our library district have used Lincoln Library's services regularly. Since the Springfield branches have closed in recent weeks, patrons are beginning to shift either back to their home library here in New Berlin or use other community libraries like Chatham. This has a direct effect on interlibrary loan usage. Our patrons can pick up those materials anywhere in our Rolling Prairie Library system. It’s the patron’s choice, based on convenience, where they work, whatever library has easier access for them. Some of our patrons are coming back to New Berlin instead of Springfield for pick-up since the branches are now closed. We pay a fee to belong to this library system and this flexibility of interlibrary loans is one of its many benefits.

This shift in usage can be a benefit or a burden on smaller libraries like ours that don't have the staff to handle some of these changes. One fact our patrons can rely on in these woeful financial times is that our small public library is still open and plans to remain open. We are not closing, I repeat. We will not cut library hours or staff. Despite the changes swirling around us, we’re happy to say we are always ready and happy to serve you as usual. (Posted March 10, 2010)

Thursday, November 26, 2009


In my small rural library, I’ve noticed that people shock me almost every day.  A woman came in one day and wanted to get a library card for herself and her children.  I always get excited when new patrons come in to get a card, because that means more people are off the streets and using my library instead of the Family Video or Barnes and Noble.  I want to make some comment, show a new patron something; anything that they can remember for the next time they visit my library.  I try to talk to every new patron who comes in the door, but sometimes I’m too busy or distracted by other tasks.  I was on the fringe of this conversation when the new patron admitted she had never read a book before.  I said she had never, ever, read a book before, in her life, and she was an adult standing there at the circulation desk, in front of me and my staff, my mouth most assuredly gaping.

A million things went through my librarian brain, like--where did you come from?  What school did you attend as a child? Where were your parents?  CAN you read?  How can I get you to check out just one book and actually read it?  I thought of all the opportunities already lost, the sick feeling in my stomach, the disbelief, my naiveté at the world that walks in my library door every day.  It was all just a jumble of too much information to react.  I thought how lucky I was to have this person walk into my library asking for a card.  It sickened me, it made my day, it made me want to do more, be more, have more, anything to keep this person coming back to my library.  People shock me almost every day, for a reason.  (Posted Nov. 26, 2009)