Monthly Archives: February 2015

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck: Of Mice, Men, and Memories

Inspiration isn’t only found in sweeping landscapes, valiant deeds, or grand speeches. Sometimes, it awaits discovery in a cherished childhood memory.

With twenty-seven books to his credit, John Steinbeck drew deeply from the well of memory to create works such as The Red Pony, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, and To a God Unknown. It was his memories of witnessing the plight of migrant farm workers that inspired his best-known books.

Three of his four “California novels,” each dealing with the difficulties faced by migrant agricultural workers, brought fame, awards, and, in the case of The Grapes of Wrath, hostility. The best-selling book of 1939, The Grapes of Wrath went on to earn the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Steinbeck’s sympathetic prose and staunch support of migrant workers turned many against him; the controversy spawned by the backlash caused the book to be banned in some schools and libraries until 1941.

John Steinbeck continued to write during World War II, working as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. After the war, he returned to writing for himself, crafting novels and screenplays based upon his observations and memories of local happenings. His self-described “big work,” East of Eden, was based in part upon his own family history.

In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson. John Steinbeck has been quoted extensively, including the unabashed exclamation, “I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.” While these words are powerful, it is a quieter, more gently composed quote that captures his gift for making magic from memories.

“Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”

Erma Bombeck: The Original Mommy Blogger

In the 1970s and 80s our family had the very chic ‘avocado green’ kitchen appliances in our home. Everyone had them or some variation of pastel colors. Yet, the color of our refrigerator didn’t matter because the one thing everyone had on them were cut out newspaper articles. No matter what house we visited, we were sure to find ourselves in kitchens where we would be reading clippings of Erma Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” column that were stuck there with magnets as a reminder to read them again. And, did we ever.

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A staunch feminist who fought ardently for the Equal Rights Amendment, Erma was ahead of her time with her acerbic wit and self-deprecating humor. In fact, you didn’t have to be a mother to connect with her writing. Even as a junior high school student I found myself stealing copies of one of her titles from my mother and laughing uproariously. How is it that I found her details of motherhood so funny if I hadn’t been a mom? The truth is, Erma was simply a fantastic writer with a gift that brought everyone into her little world and expanded it. Her work could be found in over nine hundred newspapers in the United States and she expanded to three weekly columns and published memoirs.

 

My mother and I re-read her books so often (in paperback form) that they practically fell apart from all the use. Some of our well-worn favorites included I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression (1974), The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank (1976), and my personal favorite, If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1978). We even had a copy of the book she wrote with her friend Bil Keane (cartoonist for Family Circus), Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own, which was published the year I was born.

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Erma was a first-generation college graduate in her family and was encouraged to become a writer. It’s fitting, then, that her alma mater, the University of Dayton, hosts the popular Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop each year. Devoted to humor and personal writing, it’s a highly respected and sought-after workshop.

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Erma was the master of the witty quip. So much of her writing has become a part of the lexicon of the American mom that I’m convinced she was the original mommyblogger, writing our lives in her column and published books so masterfully that she brought us all closer, if for no other reason than to band together against our children.

Do you have a favorite Erma Bombeck quote? Share it below!

Santa Clara County Library

Featured Library of the Month:

Santa Clara County Library

The first time that I opened the home page for the Santa Clara County Library, I was greeted by a module announcing the Homeland & Home Community Cookbook. Whoa, I thought. This is my kind of place!

In addition to the usual FAQ list and interlibrary loan offers, the Santa Clara County Library has an eye-popping list of local happenings. Keeping the Silicon Valley area covered with nine handy locations, the SCCL is a Mecca for bibliophiles of all ages.

Got little ones? Bring ‘em to the baby story time or Tiny Tot Jamboree. Older kids can search the Homework Help page or discover cool facts on the Kids Blog. There’s a blog for teens as well, along with study hints and community involvement listings.

Grownup readers are in good hands; everything from a health information center to special programs for veterans are just a click away. There’s even a mini social network built right into the website! It lets you keep track of your borrowing history, your “to read” list, and fellow patrons that share your interests.

With 1.8 million items available to search on their website and online catalog, you’ll have to go a lot farther than the West Coast to find a title that they don’t have. The next time that you’re in the Golden State, stop by the Santa Clara County Library. You may not yell “Eureka,” but you’ll be glad you found it.

Gertrude Stein

Portrait of the Avant-Garde: Gertrude Stein

Mention the name Gertrude Stein to most people, and you’ll typically get a similar response every time. “Oh, yeah! Her! She, um, wrote … things.”

While definitely influential, Stein and her work are remarkably hard to categorize. Adjectives ranging from the polite (innovative) to the dismissive (difficult) have been applied to her writing, while the life of Stein herself has been the subject of much speculation.

A student of psychology and medicine, Stein eventually moved to Paris to be with her brother. It was there that her reputation as a patron of the arts took root as the pair began collecting the works of painters such as Picasso and Matisse. With the help of her brother, Leo, and her lifelong partner, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein established a well-known literary and art salon which attracted the likes of Ezra Pound, Max Jacob, and other authors and artists of the time.

During World War I, Stein and Toklas served as ambulance drivers in France, but soon returned to the world of art when the fighting was over. Though Stein’s prose tended toward the abstract, her salons and gatherings served to inspire authors Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The phrase “the Lost Generation,” used to describe American expatriate writers, is attributed to Gertrude Stein.

In spite of having over a dozen titles to her credit, Stein’s only commercial success came with the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which was written by Stein using Toklas’ point of view. Though her lecture tour of the United States was well-received, Stein maintained her home in France, living there through World War II and until her death in 1948.

Although she was not necessarily a commercial or prolific writer, there is no doubt that Gertrude Stein was an influential writer. She followed no formula and sought no accolades, choosing instead to write from, and for, her own heart.

For a selected bibliography, click here. To learn more about the art collection of Gertrude and Leo Stein, click here.

Alice Walker

Called to Action: Alice Walker

Although a childhood accident with a BB gun pellet left her with a visible eye scar, the first thing you’ll notice about Alice Walker is her smile. It is an infectious smile that warms everyone it touches. It’s also an excellent disguise, hiding a spine of pure steel.

Born into a family of Georgia sharecroppers, Walker attended segregated schools. Self-conscious about what she considered an ugly and disfiguring scar, she retreated from those around her and sought comfort in reading and writing poetry. Her rough start in life didn’t stop her from seeking ever-higher goals; Walker graduated high school as valedictorian of her class before attending college.

Best known as a Pulitzer prize-winning author, Walker has been a teacher, lecturer, and social worker. She was active in the Civil Rights movement, and it was this involvement that inspired her first collection of poetry. Branching out into short stories and children’s literature, Alice Walker hit her stride as a writer with The Color Purple, arguably her most famous work to date. Her works have been translated into more than two dozen languages, and have sold millions of copies.

Her talent with words and determination to seek equality for all has led Walker to provide a voice for those who would otherwise go unheard. A tireless activist, Walker stands beside not only victims of poverty, abuse, and other atrocities, but also on the side of the changemakers, encouraging and inspiring people to be the change they seek in the world. In 2012, she wrote Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel, followed that same year by Hard Times Require Furious Dancing. A list of her awards and works can be found here.

Alice Walker is best known for The Color Purple, but it is her devotion to equal rights for people of all colors that truly deserves recognition. Her unflinching style and passion for justice make her a force to be reckoned with; her caring spirit and strength of will make her an inspiration. To hear Walker’s story in her own words, please watch the brief but captivating videos available here.

Photo courtesy of http://www.alicewalkerfilm.com/photos/.

Lift Bridge Book Shop

Featured Customer of the Month:

Lift Bridge Book Shop

It’s always neat when a business lives up to its name. Speedy Shipping, Tas-T-Lunch, Discount Mart; I’m still waiting for Free Chocolate to open. At least there’s Brockport, New York’s Lift Bridge Book Shop, a more-than-just-a-bookstore that lives up to its name in fine style.

The bridge part, in my mind, comes from the books themselves; books are bridges to everywhere and anywhere. And the lift? That comes from the moment you step inside!

As soon as you pass through the doorway under the big, colorful mural, you know that you’re in a good place. Owners Cody Steffen and John Bonczyk have taken great pains to make their store not just inclusive, but inviting as well. It starts with their extensive Children’s Department, which has books and educational toys and games for new and expectant parents as well as “veteran” moms and dads. The Lift Bridge Book Shop staffers offer book recommendations for all ages, and are ready to handle school purchase orders.

As you might expect, Lift Bridge Book Shop hosts a number of book clubs, but these aren’t your typical “Title of the Week” groups. Graphic novel devotees, Women Who Love to Read, the Eclectic Book Group, and the Unitarian Universalist Book Group are just a few of the spots in which a visiting reader might fit. And of course, there’s story time for the little ones.

If you want to plan your visit in advance, the Lift Bridge Book Shop website is informative and easy to navigate. Find Staff Picks, store hours, and links to tons of resources, right at your fingertips. You can check out their Facebook page to keep up with the latest happenings, and subscribe to their mailing list for surprise coupons.

Yep, some days you can really use a lift. Lift Bridge Book Shop is an excellent place to get it.

Lydia Maria Child

Over the River and Through the Fire

It takes a lot of courage to stand up for your convictions, especially in the face of harsh criticism from a formerly adoring public.

In 1833, Lydia Maria Child was the darling of the literary set. Dismayed by the lack of published works aimed at young readers, she had created Juvenile Miscellany, a children’s magazine that enjoyed a ten-year run. Her first two books, Hobomok and The Rebels, had catapulted her to near-instant fame. With the publication of An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, the accolades came to a screeching halt. She was forced to resign as editor of Juvenile Miscellany, and her book sales plummeted. Her local library went so far as to revoke her privileges! Nonetheless, she held fast to her beliefs, and An Appeal is credited with winning many converts to her anti-slavery views.

Her marriage brought similar mixed fortunes. While her husband believed in women’s rights and allowed her to work and write unhindered, his lack of business sense meant that his wife was the family breadwinner. This she managed by editing an anti-slavery newspaper, serving on executive committees, and writing more books. Their marriage was marked by periods of separation and stress, but ended up lasting more than forty years.

Though known for her work with the suffrage movement (she was a founding member of the Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association in 1870), Child always made the abolishment of slavery her primary focus. She published educational materials designed to educate former slaves, and sought to make the transition to freedom easier wherever possible.

Though her literary style is best suited to her own contemporaries, there is no denying that Lydia Maria Child can be considered a prominent author, female or otherwise. She published more than fifty books before her death in 1880 at the age of eighty, and contributed countless short stories, poems, and articles to various journals and newspapers of the time. Child was the friend of other authors, including Edgar Allen Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She sought equal rights for women, equal voices for people of all races, and equal education for children of all backgrounds. Her groundbreaking volume The Mother Book took the shocking step of advocating sex education; her most popular book, The Frugal Housewife, is still available today.

Through adulation, castigation, and personal strife, Lydia Maria Child continued to shine a light of inspiration on the path to change. She is unconsciously remembered every year at Thanksgiving, not for her anti-slavery work, or her suffrage involvement, but for a simple poem that she wrote for children everywhere.

Over the River and Through the Woods.

Rosa Parks: Advancing Humanity with Civil Rights

This month at Little Pickle Press we’re paying tribute to February Greats Who Have Advanced Humanity. Since it naturally falls in line with Black History Month, we thought it important to begin with a woman whose simple act of refusal to get out of a seat on a public bus helped spark a movement for Civil Rights in the United States.

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Rosa Parks has a place in history that is so ingrained with celebrating Black History that she’s practically synonymous with the movement. We know, however, that she wasn’t necessarily the first Black woman to refuse her seat (Claudette Colvin goes in the history books for her part) but she, nevertheless, is an icon who helped move us toward treating people with more humanity.

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“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”  – Rosa Parks

If you’re introducing your young one to Civil Rights history, we offer up a few picture books about Rosa Parks.

The story of rosa parks

For very young children, we recommend The Story of Rosa Parks by Patricia A. Pingry. This short book with just around 200 words gives a very simple introduction to the woman known as “the mother of the Civil Rights movement”.  It’s the most basic information for little ones that is “bare bones”, but it’s meant to be. The highlight, of course, is her history-making event that occurred on December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on the Cleveland Avenue bus. Ages 2 and up, 24 pages

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book cover courtesy of Brad Meltzer’s website

I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer (be sure to check out his website!) answers the question What makes a hero? in his book about Rosa Parks. This book focuses on her life as a young girl and some of the things she had to deal with (unfair bullying because of her race) that made the path she stepped on to become an icon in the Civil Rights Movement. Meltzer’s books for kids often take a look at ordinary kids who grow into extraordinary heroes. Ages: 5-8, 40 pages

Let It Shine

Coretta Scott King Book Award winner, Andrea Davis Pinkney‘s Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, is a compilation of many women (who have all helped advance humanity), Rosa Parks included. Pinkney’s book provides remarkable portraits of 10 different African-American activists who fought for the spectrum of civil rights including abolition and women’s rights.  In this, she explores Parks’ childhood as well as her accomplishments as an adult. She offers just enough biographical particulars to keep young independent readers’ attention.  Ages: 8-12, 120 pages

If a bus could talk

If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold uses an interesting device to explore Rosa’s life. What would a bus say if it could about that day in 1955? Would it tell us how tired this 42 year old seamstress was? Would it tell her life story? Indeed it would, and it would tell young readers what this courageous act accomplished for the betterment of humanity and how we treat one another. Her refusal to stand up helped inspire many others to stand up, too.  Ages 5-9, 32 pages

rosa parks a life

 

Older readers might appreciate Rosa Parks: A Life by Douglas Brinkley. At 256 pages, this is for your older reader who want to explore a rich biography that leaves nothing out of her life. The historian Douglas Brinkley follows the life of Rosa Parks and provides a complete picture of her times throughout Alabama when they practiced Jim Crow laws all the way to her influential work in the NAACP.  Students working on school-related projects would do well to use this well-researched work. Her devout spiritual life and her feelings of being so well-known for this ‘bus incident’ are explored as well.

However it is that you may be introducing children to great human beings whose lives have impacted humanity, we hope you found something here to explore. Do you have a favorite book on Rosa Parks to add to our collection? Add it in the comments below!

Of Thee I Sing

First Friday Book Review: Of Thee I Sing

Throughout the month of February, Little Pickle Press will be shining a spotlight on some of the remarkable people who have made a difference in the world. No matter your political leanings, it’s hard to deny that the office of president has inspired countless generations of children to reach for a lofty goal. The following review (written by our Chief Pickle about a book by our Commander In Chief) was originally posted December 13, 2010.

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

Reading Level: Ages 4 – 8

Hardcover: 40 pages

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (November 16, 2010)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 037583527X

ISBN-13: 978-0375835278

Product Dimensions: 12.3” x 9.5” x .4”

Shipping Weight: 1.2 lbs.

I must admit that it seems presumptuous and feels a trifle intimidating to me to be writing a review of a book written by one of the most powerful leaders in the world and illustrated by one of the most respected children’s book illustrators of all time, but here I go.

The Story: This is exactly my kind of book. It provokes meaningful discussions between parents and children, teachers and students. Who was Jackie Robinson? Why was he important to history? Who is Maya Lin? What was the significance of the Civil War? The Vietnam War? The pivotal conversations that this book evokes are innumerable.

The Artwork: I had the privilege of listening to Loren Long present at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) 2010 Summer Conference. I was awed by his creative genius, and this book takes my admiration of his talent to a whole new level. He depicts many layers of nuance and conveys so much meaning through the extraordinary illustrations in this book. I was especially moved by his portrayal of Sitting Bull.

The Passion: The love, respect, and admiration the author feels for his daughter is so palpable in this book that I cried as I read it to my own daughters. It is also clear how the author defines strong character and what he values most about our country by not only the heroes he chooses to admire but also through his evocative word choices.

The Message: The underlying message is that all of these ground-breakers were once children, just like the readers, and they hatched the ideals that shaped our great nation. The take away message to children is that they can make a difference. Dream, and then make it so.

My Only Issues: My only suggestions for improvement are: (1) I wish the book was more environmentally-friendly, that is, printed on recycled paper and without a dust jacket; and (2) I wish that the author had re-framed the question about being smart. Had he read Dr. Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The Psychology of SuccessI’m sure he would have praised the amount of effort his children exude vs. how “smart” they are.

The ConclusionBuy or borrow this book and read it to the little pickles in your life. I will be giving it as a gift for a long time to come, and I imagine that you may do the same.

People who make a difference.

People Who Make A Difference:

They Were the Change We Still Seek

What do The Color Purple, Over the River and Through the Woods, and Useful Knowledge have in common? Aside from the italics, they are all pieces written by thoroughly amazing women who left their marks, in varying shades and styles, on the world.

A novelist, poet, and feminist, Georgia-born Alice Walker turned to the comfort of reading and writing poetry after a childhood accident left one of her eyes visibly damaged. Her injury left no mark on her intellect, however, and she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Walker’s first collection of poems was inspired by her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement; she soon branched out into other forms of writing, often using her words to give voice to others. Some of her many excellent words of wisdom include these: “Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself.”

Though best known for a child’s poem, Lydia Maria Child gained her earliest notoriety as one of the first Americans to speak out against slavery. After following up a number of successful poetry and prose publications with An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), Child was almost immediately ostracized by her formerly adoring fans. Sticking to her principles, she remained a staunch abolitionist, writing and speaking about anti-slavery ideals and social reform. One of her most thought-provoking statements is this: “Every human being has, like Socrates, an attendant spirit; and wise are they who obey its signals. If it does not always tell us what to do, it always cautions us what not to do.”

American novelist, poet, and playwright Gertrude Stein broke the conventions of 19th-century writing to become a pioneer of Modernist literature. Bored by her studies in medical school, Stein soon dropped out and began living a life devoted to seeking her own identity. One of her best quotes can be found in What Is English Literature? (1935), and is relevant today in any number of ways. “It is awfully important to know what is and what is not your business.” While Stein’s writing is considered by some critics to be “tricky” or “difficult to read,” it is nonetheless a monument to the creative sparks that light the way to individuality.

These are three of the pioneering spirits that Little Pickle Press will be featuring this month. Join us as we celebrate inspiring people who make a difference, and be sure to share your own stories of inspiration in the comment section of each post.

Badger Balm

Featured B Corp of the Month: Badger Balm

Badgers are fierce creatures with an impressive array of teeth. Badger Balm is a company that is fiercely devoted to eco-responsibility, with an impressive array of skin care products. In the interest of keeping the peace, we’ll leave the badgers be and focus on our Featured B Corp of the Month, Badger Balm.

Whether you’re going out or kicking back, Badger Balm has a line of skin care products that’s bound to fit your lifestyle. From sunscreen and bug repellent to lip balm and moisturizing cream, they’ve got it all.

And it’s as close to all-natural as you can get!

A family company, Badger Balm takes pride in using certified organic and other natural ingredients to create products that take beauty far beyond skin deep. A Certified B Corp since 2011, Badger Balm seeks to do what is best for people and the planet, and that mission doesn’t stop in the marketplace. Environmentally conscious building design, carbon-neutral shipping, and an all-out commitment to the three “R’s” of reduce, re-use, and recycle prove that when it comes to being the change we all seek, Badger Balm is just as tough as their namesake critter.

Visit the Badger Blog for further reading, and don’t forget to browse their online shop for free everyday shipping on domestic orders over twenty-five dollars. Believe me, this is one badger that you’ll love to have in your house!

What sort of skin care products do you use on a daily basis? Would you consider switching based on a company’s eco-record? Tell us in the comment section!