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Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: The Black Count by Tom Reiss

The Black Count (2012) by Tom Reiss tells the extraordinary true story of General Alex Dumas, the
forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The man is virtually unknown today but his story still resonates because his son Alexandre Dumas used it to create some of the best-loved heroes of literature. The story of his father, of mixed racial and cultural heritage born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to a slave mother and a French nobleman father, is almost completely lost to history solely due to his race.

 But Reiss brings this remarkable man to life in The Black Count. The book is brilliantly researched and the author draws on the material Alexandre Dumas incorporated into his own novels and memoir. The work explores the life of his from the time he arrived in France, through his schooling as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy and his subsequent rise from a lowly private in the dragoons to a respected general who marched into Egypt at Napoleon’s side.

 Dumas came of age at a unique time in history during the French Revolution, a brief period of equality in the French empire. During this period numerous opportunities arose for the son of a slave that would not have emerged 20 years before or even 20 years later. Dumas, a dynamic individual of tremendous courage and physical gifts, took full advantage of the opportunities and ended up commanding armies at the height of the Revolution in campaigns across Europe and the Middle East, only to one day face an implacable enemy he could not defeat. 
Also available as an audiobook.

Review by Peter Critchley of the Vernon Branch

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: The 900 Days by Harrison Salisbury

A great American author once wrote that truth is stranger than fiction. In fact, truth is sometimes far stranger than any fiction ever created. 

If you dare, read The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, is a riveting narrative nonfiction epic by Harrison E. Salisbury about one of the harrowing and heroic chapters in the annals of history. In nine hundred days, beginning in 1941 when a German army blockaded the city, as many people died in Leningrad as the entire war losses suffered by the United States in the whole of its history – nearly a million and a half men, women and children. They died fighting in citizen militias on the front line, fell to the incessant German shelling that pounded the streets and avenues of city, starved in their unheated apartments and hospitals and froze to death in the frigid cold and deep snow of the brutal Russian winter.
It is also believed that some even died to feed a thriving market in human flesh that sprang up in The Haymarket, a great peasant market before the war but now operated by fat, oily, steel-eyed men and women, the most terrible people of their day. There is no question people practiced cannibalism on a large scale during the darkest and most desperate months of the siege: the evidence clearly shows that people butchered corpses on a widespread basis.

More people died in the Leningrad blockade than ever died in a modern city – anywhere and anytime. But 600,000 people remained when the Russians finally broke the siege and Salisbury weaves the stories of these survivors, and those who died in this city of ice and death, through the fabric of this searing narrative.
Review by Peter Critchley from the Vernon Branch of the ORL

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Importance of Early Literacy

Storytimes resume in September, so this seems like a good time to talk about the importance of early literacy.

Early literacy is defined as the pre-reading skills children acquire from ages 0-5, which help them prepare for and succeed in school.

Children are born with 100 billion brain cells, the same number as adults, and 85% of those cells are developed before kindergarten.  Brain researchers liken brain development to building a house, and the first three years are vital to building a strong foundation and framework. The bonds a child forms in his early years are crucial to future learning and success. Parents are children’s first teachers, so at the Library we work to educate parents on the importance of shared reading and learning experiences. The Library’s programs and collections emphasize the five early literacy practices, as outlined in the American Library Association’s “Every Child Ready to Read” program: Sing, Talk, Read, Write and Play.

Singing (which includes nursery rhymes) increases children’s awareness of and sensitivity to the sounds of words. It doesn’t matter if you are a “good singer” – children will respond to your voice before all others. Have fun with silly songs and bounces, or soothe children with lullabies and gentle swings. The Library has a great collection of children’s music CDs and nursery rhyme books.

Talking with children helps them build their vocabulary and learn oral language. Self-expression and narrative skills are crucial to communication and developing interpersonal relationships. Talk to your child about your day together, ask them questions, and narrate your activities (e.g.: “Now we are putting on our shoes, so we can go and play at the park”). The Library is a great place for your child to interact with others his or her own age!

Reading together, or shared reading, remains the single most effective way to help children become proficient readers. Expose children to a variety of books and authors – your library card allows you to borrow up to 100 items for 3 weeks at a time, so borrow away! Our board book collection is intended for our youngest readers – the thick cardboard, laminated pages stand up to exploring hands (and teeth!). Let your child practice turning the pages, point out pictures together…let your child have fun with books. It’s also great to be a reader role model – if your child sees you enjoying books and newspapers, they will learn that reading is an enjoyable pastime.

Writing, scribbling and colouring all help children learn fine motor skills and learn that written words stand for spoken language. Pick up your weekly colouring sheet at the Library and help your child practice writing his or her name. Point to words when you read together. Use alphabet magnets to put together sounds and words on the fridge.

Playing helps children put thoughts into words and think symbolically, so they understand that spoken and written words represent real objects and experiences. Play develops their imagination, creativity and social skills. Children will often mimic real life situations (grocery store shopping or “playing library”), helping them make sense of their world.

Storytimes for babies through to preschoolers are held at branches across the region!
Details about these programs, and others, can be found on our website:
Have fun visiting the Library and exploring these early literacy practices with your child.


Written by Elena Doebele, Head Librarian for Westbank Branch

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) by James M. McPherson is an indispensable modern interpretation of
the American Civil War by one of its leading historians. In fact, this volume is now considered the standard one-volume history of the great conflict – a war that killed more Americans than all of the country’s wars combined. It is also considered the most readable one-volume history. The author deftly melds the latest research with a traditional understanding of the issues to produce an incredibly concise and brisk narrative that seamlessly integrates the political, social and military events of two decades that began with the outbreak of one war with Mexico and the ending of another at Appomattox. 

This dramatic, thoroughly researched work vividly recounts the momentous events that preceded the Civil War – the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry – and shifts into a stunning chronicle of the war itself. The battles, strategic maneuvering, politics and personalities serve as a framework for an insightful discussion of the political, economic, social and diplomatic events. And MacPherson’s innovative views on such fundamental questions as the slavery expansion issue in the 1850s, the origins of the Republican Party, the causes of secession and anti-war opposition in both the North and South are more than noteworthy and deserve the full attention of the reader.
Review by Peter Critchley from the Vernon Branch

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Get Ready for Back to School!

     With summer vacation coming to an end, it’s time to get ready for school!
     To prepare preschool children for Kindergarten, we recommend two great picture books:  Pete The Cat: The Wheels on the Bus by James Dean; and The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen in which Mr. Fish tells about his challenging , but fun first day of school.
     If you love playing video games, you should login to The Nerdy Dozen by Jeff Miller. Neil Andertol and his video game buddies are recruited by the Air Force, after hacking into a classified military training program.
     Unexpected and dire consequences result when best friends Matt and Craz’s cartoons become real on a weird web site at Kilgore Junior High!  Draw your own conclusions in The Awesome, Almost 100% True Adventures of Matt & Craz written by Alan Silberberg.
     Once homework starts, you will be checking out the library, so read The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jan Swann Downey.  Accidentally opening a portal to Petrarch’s Library, Dorrie and her brother Marcus uncover warrior librarians, who travel in time, protecting the world’s great thinkers from torture and death for sharing knowledge and ideas.
     A graduation day of another type awaits teen readers in Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau, in which the United Commonwealth wants to stop the rebel alliance fighting to destroy The Testing for Good.  Find out if Cia is ready to lead the chase, with her classmates following her into battle. 
     Every teen needs school spirit, but when fifteen-year old Izzy, whose ancestors were monster hunters, investigates hauntings in his new high school, he gets an icy reception!  Ghosts wreak havoc in School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins.
    School stories of all sorts are available at your local library.  Check out our website at  or ask a librarian for books, programs and more!

Written by Linda Youmans, Youth Collections/System Librarian, Okanagan Regional Library

Friday, August 15, 2014

Who Says Teens Today Don’t Read?! YA Book Reviews

Library Page Cameron Bridge displays
some new and notable young adult titles
     Who says teens today don’t read?! According to Publisher’s Weekly, young adult fiction is the fastest growing publication category right now. Buoyed by successful trilogies such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, books for young adults continue to gain in popularity thanks to media tie-ins. This summer’s blockbuster movie, The Fault in our Stars, for example, was based on John Green’s book of the same title; there’s the upcoming If I Stay film, based on Gayle Forman’s book as well as the much anticipated The Giver based on Lois Lowry’s classic title. Not surprisingly, young adult fiction is popular not only with teens but with adults too. The biggest demographic group buying YA titles are those ages 18 to 29. Here are a few other notable YA books to check out this summer:

Cabin Girl (Orca Currents) by Kristin Butcher
When 16-year old Bailey takes on a summer job at a fly-in fishing lodge, she gets more than she bargained for. Written by award-winning Canadian author Kristin Butcher, this Orca title, like all of those in the series, is a fast-paced read that will appeal not only to older, reluctant or struggling teen readers but also to stronger readers looking for a quick, engaging story.

Ungifted by Gordon Korman (ages 10-14)
After pulling a major prank at middle school, troublemaker Donovan Curtis is mistakenly sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, a special program for gifted and talented students. In typical Korman style, situations are presented hilariously, and the underlying message that we all have different gifts to bring is subtle yet insightful.

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer (ages 12-16)
An African boy living on the streets of Gabon escapes his jailer by heading into the forest with a scientist who is not entirely what he seems. They've come to study chimpanzees, but when the scientist disappears, the boy must fend for himself — and then join forces with the chimps to save their habitat from unwelcome intruders.  This action/adventure/survival story has received a lot of critical acclaim.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (recommended for older teens due to subject matter)
This graphic novel by Canadian cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is a coming of age story that would appeal to older teens, particularly reluctant readers since there is not a lot of text. Rose and her parents have been going to Awago Beach since she was a little girl. It’s her summer getaway, her refuge. Her friend Windy is always there too, like the younger sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and Rose and Windy find themselves tangled up in a tragedy in the small town. It’s a summer of secrets and heartache…and ultimately hope.

By Elena Doeble, Head Librarian at the Westbank Branch

Monday, August 11, 2014

Random Acts of Libraryness by James Laitinen at Salmon Arm Branch

As the great Austin Powers once said, “Allow myself to introduce myself”.  I am the new Branch
James & Roswitha at Roswitha's
Retirement Party
Head Librarian at the Salmon Arm Library.   Having grown up in Salmon Arm, it’s great to be back.  Thanks again to Roswitha Klawitter for her 18 exuberant years as Branch Head, and we wish her all the best in her new adventures.  We also bid a fond farewell to Colleen Smith, who worked 16 years at the Circulation Desk.

Random Acts of Libraryness

Maybe I’m being lazy with my first column, but I thought I would start off by highlighting some of the many services offered at the library:
• We’re more than just books (although we have a lot of those).  We have movies, TV series on DVD, audiobooks on CD, free Wi-Fi, workstations with internet access and Microsoft Office.  And people to help answer your questions (because Google and Siri just haven’t mastered the personal touch).
• Looking for something to read, but the library is closed?  You can download hundreds of magazines for free from our Zinio magazine collection.  Just a small sample of available titles:  Car and Driver, Rolling Stone, Knitters Magazine, Harvard Business Review, The Walrus, Shape, Us Weekly, Wood Magazine and many, many more.  Click on the ‘Zinio for Libraries’ icon on our homepage (, and start your own personal collection.
• If you’re having problems downloading eBooks or audiobooks to your eReader or tablet, you can make an appointment with myself or Alice, and we can show you the process from start to finish.  Just phone the library at 250-832-6161 or email us at
• Many of you audiobook-philes have probably discovered our collection of OverDrive downloadable audiobooks, but don’t forget our OneClick collection, which includes a number of Canadian titles
• Are you looking after kids yet in August, but have run out of reading ideas for them?  If you’re looking for advice, just head to the ‘Custom Booklist’ link on our website.  One of our librarians will create a booklist of 5 children or young adult titles
• Do you need to scan and email a document?  Our photocopier can scan and email a PDF copy of any document you need to send
• Did you know that we have books in other languages?  Our collection includes books in French, Chinese, Dutch, German, Japanese, Punjabi and Spanish.  We just got a brand new batch of books in Spanish.

Roots and Blues

If you’re going to Roots and Blues, and want to preview some of the performers, dig into our deep CD collection.  We have a wide range of titles, from headliners such as The Sheepdogs and Ian Tyson to emerging talents like Shad and MonkeyJunk.

Staff Picks

Ardie, our Youth Services Librarian, recommends Glimpse: The Dean Curse Chronicles by Steven Whibley, a Canadian author whose style is reminiscent of Gordon Korman and Sigmund Brouwer.    This is a thriller for ages 9-12 about, as the author describes “24 hours to save a life”.

And In Other Library News

• Saturday Afternoon Book Club:  Join Alice on Saturday, August 23 to discuss The Golden Spruce:  A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by John Vaillant, which won the 2005 Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction.  Check out our branch webpage for upcoming book club titles (
• We will be launching a new version of our catalogue and website in early October.  If you have been using the Enhanced Catalogue, the new catalogue will be quite similar in look and feel. 

Column by James Laitinen, new Head Librarian for the Salmon Arm Branch
This column was first published in the FRIDAY AM Paper