Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

Get a Clue: An Essay


Get a Clue with Nancy Drew: An Essay by Tod Owens

Do you remember Nancy Drew? The much celebrated Girl Sleuth has been one of America’s most enduring heroines of juvenile fiction for over eighty years. She has been the star of theatrical films, multiple television series, and a popular line of computer games. When I asked if you remembered Nancy Drew, the expected answer was really not a mystery at all. Everyone remembers the “Titian haired teen detective from River Heights.” A more precise question might be which Nancy Drew do you remember? Nancy Drew has changed over the years although she certainly doesn’t look “eighty-something!” The original Nancy was a Feminist icon who inspired young readers of both genders with the then radical idea that women could do anything men could do …and they might just do it better! She was independent and had no hesitancy in speaking her mind. She was a keen observer of the world around her and she was not afraid to speak up if she saw something that offended her sense of right and wrong. She was a role model and her adventures motivated young readers to the extent that some of them eventually grew up to become pioneers in their respective fields. Women like Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, and Gloria Steinem fondly recalled how the brainy and beautiful sleuth had thrilled and inspired them to aspire to academic and professional success. The description of the literary detective and her influence sounds uniformly positive until you consider how she changed after her initial appearances.

Nancy Drew’s stories were written by ghost writers who used the corporate pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. Cracks in Nancy’s picture-perfect porcelain façade began to appear when the owners of the character decided they wanted her depiction to change from the manner in which she was first described. The spunky Nancy was largely the creation of Mildred Benson but as a staff writer Benson had little control over the character when her employers decided to tame the Girl Sleuth in more ways than one. New writers were hired and changes became all too apparent. Readers didn’t need a magnifying glass to see how their heroine had changed! A more conservative view began to dominate the fictional world Nancy inhabited. She was abruptly changed to conform to a well-mannered young lady who deferred to all adults and never had a negative word to say or even to think about anyone she encountered. She continued to risk her life in the pursuit of justice but she did so in white gloves and kitten heels. The Nancy Drew of the 1959 revisions was a shadow of her original self when it came to attitude and appearance.

By the seventies economic demands and publishing trends led to more changes. Nancy Drew began to appear in shorter paperbacks that were simultaneously aimed at the teen romance audience while also being simplifier in terms of plot and vocabulary to appeal to less demanding readers. The cover art changed as well and Nancy was depicted as a younger girl with a much more provocative demeanor.

In recent years, Nancy’s strange evolution has continued in several different ways. There are books aimed at the youngest readers in which she is a child sleuth who deals with innocuous and bland mysteries. She also appears in more traditional form in graphic novels that draw upon the popularity of Japanese Manga art. Finally, in early 2013 the first books in the new Nancy Drew Diaries series appeared. The new books combine first person narrations with cutting edge technology and a slightly flawed and more realistic Nancy; however, the plots again lack the depth found in the original books.

It seems obvious that no matter how she is viewed by her ever changing creators and no matter what may be found in her “clues” closet; Nancy Drew continues to appeal to a wide audience in a variety


Read Full Post »


The Writing Game: An essay by Amber Combs

Anyone who has ever tried to get anything published knows that rejection is just part of the process, and a rather large part; however, all potential authors should know that to get somewhere in the literary world, you have to push forward and not let the rejection slips dissuade you from following your chosen path in spite of how they might pile up. If those refusals do manage to get you down, though, then just think about all the authors who didn’t give up.
We all know J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Her books and the subsequent films have made her, to date, the richest author in the world. But what you might not know about is the difficulty Rowling had getting the first Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (known as Sorcerer’s Stone here in the United States), published. Rowling submitted her work to twelve publishing houses, including Harper Collins and Penguin, before she finally managed to strike a deal with Bloomsbury. Her success was largely due to a little girl named Alice Newton, the daughter of a Bloomsbury chairman who demanded to read the next chapter of the book immediately after finishing the first. After a first printing that turned out only 1,000 copies, Rowling was encouraged to get a day job to supplement what the publishers warned would be very little money. As of April 2012, J.K. Rowling is valued at a net worth of approximately one billion dollars.
Judy Blume also found herself facing poor prospects in publishing her novels. For two years, Blume received nothing but rejections whenever she submitted her work to publishers. Highlights for Children, a famous children’s magazine, sent her a form letter stating that her writing “[did] not win in competition with others.” Blume refused to give up:
“ I would go to sleep at night feeling that I’d never be published. But I’d wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher I would sit down and begin something new. “
Still, nine probably seems like a very small number to a lot of prospective authors who have been writing for more than two years with no success in the publishing arena. Perhaps a more encouraging story is one about a certain man who received more than 800 rejections before he sold a single piece of writing. This man was a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame and Nevill Coghill, known for his modern English translation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He taught at the prestigious Oxford and Cambridge colleges in England and was an exceptionally prolific writer of both academic and popular novels. Most people know this man for his creation of the popular fantasy world of Narnia. That’s right; this man, this champion of rejection, was C.S. Lewis.
Writing is a hard game in which to make any progress. Talent isn’t the only thing required. As Judy Blume once said, it takes hard work and determination to make progress, and sometimes it can take years to receive one kind word about your writing. Still, don’t let that dissuade any of you potential authors out there. You never know how far you can get until you try! For an extra helping hand, stop by the library and check out one of our books on publishing!

Read Full Post »

Our Very Best Impression
By Tod Owens

First impressions can be important since we may not get a chance to make a second one. Every library visit may actually be some child’s first time inside the local library and if anything about that visit makes the child feel unwelcomed or frightened or bored then he or she may never want to come back. A negative experience at the library could literally discourage him from ever using the many free educational and recreational resources that are only available at a library. That would be a loss for the child and for the library since it is our goal to satisfy every patron by giving each one the opportunity to benefit from what we have to offer. Fortunately, our library (and thus, our community as a whole) is blessed by having an exceptionally talented Youth Services Department as represented so well by Miss Tracey and Miss Jennifer! Tracey and Jennifer are the librarians who so ably carry the heavy responsibility of being “the library” for the small children and young adults who make their first visit to the library. You could simply call them our very best impression since they have succeeded for years in giving young patrons a sense that the library is a place where learning and reading can be fun! They greet every child with the same warmth and kindness you would hope to receive from a close friend and nurturing teacher.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and instill a sense of value and security within him; however, the parents of area kids may simply rest assured that the library doesn’t need a village since it has the Youth Services Staff to usher local children into the unfamiliar but promising world of books and learning! Tracey and Jennifer do so much more than merely plan and create programs designed to entertain and educate kids of all ages. They also take the time to get to know their young patrons and they do something rather remarkable in that their routine yet extraordinary kindnesses enable them to form lasting relationships with the kids. The evidence of this achievement is found in the fact that every month an enthusiastic group of teens eagerly come back to the library that they first came to know as small kids. They come back for the fun and games of the popular Teen Tuesdays but they also come back to reconnect with the friendly librarians they met years before during their own first visits to the library. We’re proud of the fact that on a regular basis local parents witness the development of a growing love for libraries in their kids and they know that they may trace this passion back to the effectiveness of our Youth Services Department! After every program we see smiling children who eagerly tell their parents about how much fun they had in one of the Youth Services programs. There can be no greater validation for a librarian than to see that our staff has made a child happy.
How does Tracey manage to inspire area children to want to read, to learn, and to become regular library users? The answer is deceptively simple yet it is as elusive to quantify as how does a teacher or mentor gain a child’s trust and make him feel secure enough to try something new. Tracey has the ability to know exactly how to alleviate any fears her new friends might have and to make them feel appreciated. She gives area children a warm welcome and introduces them to the world of reading while also providing them with experienced, knowledgeable, and reassuring company as they embark on their reading journey! No child could ask for a more nurturing and qualified guide. We invite all parents to bring their own little ones by the library to meet Tracey and Jennifer. The sign on their department door says Youth Services but those of us in the know consider them our best first impression! Most importantly, your children will just call them friends!

Read Full Post »

Shelf Life Oct. 15, 2012
Alison Sweeney

In addition to starring as Sammi Brady on “Days of Our Lives” Alison Sweeney
hosts “The Biggest Loser” and is the author of The Mommy Diet and All the Days of My Life So Far. She also manages to fit a love of libraries into her busy routine as she shared exclusively with Smyth-Bland Regional Library’s Shelf Life.
“Reading has always been my favorite escape ever since my mom and I read Black Beauty together when I was 7. The library was better than a candy store!! I remember checking out every Laura Ingles Wilder book and finishing them that very night hidden under my covers with a flashlight. I am still the voracious reader I was as a child, and I am proud to share the library with my children. They already
love it as I do.”

Alison Sweeney

Read Full Post »


 Shelf Life: All Treats and No Tricks!
By Tod Owens

Picture if you will, a smiling child leaving a building with a bag full of free treats. Considering the time of year, you might immediately assume I’m describing a Trick or Treating child who has finished a successful visit on Halloween night; however, the same description could also be applied to a child whohas just left her local public library with a bag full of newly borrowed books and DVDs! If you think about it, you’ll realize that a visit to the library may be the closest experience an adult may have to recapturing the childhood excitement of receiving treats merely by asking for them! It’s true that most people don’t wear odd costumes when they visit the library nor do library patrons have to say any particular phrase in order to receive their desired books and movies; however, a library is the only place I know of that will actually give visitors something for free! (If you’re skeptical, I invite you to try walking out of the nearest grocery store or gas station with selected items and see how far you get before the police arrive for your perp walk!) I know a library doesn’t give you a bag of sweets but 5 out of 5 dentists surveyed would approve if one of their patients decides to watch a movie about a chocolate factory instead of actually snacking on a pile of mini candy bars! (Of course, we all want to impress our dentist, right?) The kind of treats a library provides might give you sustenance that will last a life time in comparison with the transitory pleasure of something that will bypass your brain and hang around your hips for far too long! Library treats stimulate your imagination and leave you hungry …for ideas and vicarious pleasures that come in the non-sticky pages of a book!
There are other ways in which a library visit might be like childhood Treat or Treating! Do you recall that great philosopher Linus Van Pelt of “Peanuts” fame? He was certain that on Halloween night the Great Pumpkin would rise up out of a special pumpkin patch and bring treats to all the good children of the world. There was a catch in the blanket-carrying sage’s theory. The gift-giving Gourd would only appear in a pumpkin patch that was notable for its sincerity! Libraries are among the most sincere of all organizations. The library does not operate in search of a profit nor does it seek to sell you anything but a love of lifelong learning. Libraries want their patrons to get exactly what they want not what some nebulous distributor or shadowy syndicate hopes to sell! Libraries, like the fabled pumpkin patch of lore, are dripping with sincerity. Sincerity can be contagious. That’s why we have lots of bottles of hand sanitizer at each desk. (By the way, don’t take my library/pumpkin patch analogy too far by trying to carve smiling faces in the front desk! They frown on that kind of thing!)
Of course, there is another obvious similarity between a library visit and Halloween. Halloween is associated with more scary sights and sounds than you’d find in Vincent Price’s game room and few things are as frightening to an enlightened society as the idea that harsh economic times could mean an end to easy library access! Library budgets are carved up with more ruthless gusto than the aforesaid Jack O’Lantern and when the results are considered there’s nothing about which to smile a crooked smile. Libraries are not relics from the days in which children actually received apples or unwrapped candy on Halloween. Libraries still have a vital role to play and they need patron support more than ever. Stop by and support your local library. We promise not to turn off the lights and pull all the curtains! Our free treats are yours for the asking! All we ask of you is that you come inside! Now that’s pretty thrilling, wouldn’t you say?

Read Full Post »


Shelf Life: The Grim Reality of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
By Amber Combs

Since the studio released Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937, Disney has created magical worlds of fairy tale princes and princesses for children of all ages with lands where wonder and beauty abounds and happy endings are always just around the corner for the heroes and heroines. However, fairy tales have not always been bursting at the seams with joy. The Brothers Grimm in particular recorded versions of now-beloved stories that would shock adults and frighten children.
“Rapunzel” is a lovely story recently popularized by Disney’s Tangled, in which a young girl is taken from her parents by an evil witch, who proceeds to lock the poor girl in an isolated tower. After the girl grows into a beautiful young woman, she is rescued from the tower by a handsome thief and eventually destroys the witch, reunites with her parents, and marries the thief. However, this charming movie is very different from the earlier dark version told to the Brothers Grimm. In that tale, Rapunzel is indeed taken by a witch, but instead of being kidnapped, her father trades her to the evil woman for some lettuce. After Rapunzel lives in a tower for many years, her singing attracts a prince, who falls in love with her and visits her often. When Rapunzel accidentally lets slip to the witch that she’s been helping someone else into the tower (in some of the Grimm versions, Rapunzel is pregnant by this point), the witch cuts off her hair and casts her out into the wilderness to fend for herself. The prince arrives to see Rapunzel, and the witch tricks the prince into entering the tower by letting down Rapunzel’s chopped-off braid. She tells him that he will never see Rapunzel again, causing him to leap from the tower in hopelessness, and he lands in a patch of thorns and ends up blind. However, there is a moderately happy ending; after many years of wandering, the prince hears Rapunzel singing, and as they hug, her tears fall onto his eyes and cure his blindness.
Although Cinderella also gets her happy ending in “Aschenputtel,” the German version recorded by the Brothers Grimm, her stepsisters meet an unhappier fate than they do in the Disney movie. After torturing Cinderella (nicknamed “Aschenputtel,” or “Cinder-Fool” in this adaptation) for all of the years they live with her, both stepsisters end up bloodied and in pain when one cuts off her heel and the other her big toe in order to fit into the slipper (gold, not glass) and fool the prince into marrying one of them. The punishment does not end there since during and after Aschenputtel’s wedding to the prince, Aschenputtel’s Heavenly dove friends peck out the stepsisters’ eyes, punishing them both with blindness for the rest of their lives. It’s hard to say if even their cruel deeds deserved such a harsh fate; I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
There are many other Grimm stories which were macabre and bleak. Rumpelstiltskin, in a fit of blind rage, grabs his foots and tears himself in half; a poor miller’s daughter has her hands cut off by her own father in order to save her from the Devil in “The Girl Without Hands”; and a witch and her daughter are burned at the stake and torn to pieces by wild animals, respectively, in “Little Sister and Little Brother.” Fortunately, not all Grimm fairy tales are so morbid. A lot of them are actually quite cheerful and rather humorous! Stop by the library and pick up a book of Grimm’s fairy tales to see for yourself!

Read Full Post »

My Second Library Card


Shelf Life: My Second Library Card
By Tod Owens

I still remember the day I didn’t get my library card. That’s not a typo. I actually don’t remember the day I received my first library card. I was an avid library user from an early age and my mother brought me to the library on a regular basis. She encouraged my love of reading and always felt that I should be able to read anything I wanted to read. Having a library card was a natural thing for me even when I was a child and although I’m sure that the day I first received my card was a special day possibly full of well wishes from childhood luminaries like Mr. Rogers, Burt and Ernie, and ‘70’s era Disney Princess Kim Richards, I can’t recall a thing about it. I do remember that sad day when I didn’t get my library card.
When I was around 12 years old, I came to the library happily expecting to check out some books and then get home in time for some quality TV viewing. (At that time, said viewing would probably have consisted of syndicated reruns of “The Partridge Family” on the USA Network.) Anyway, before I could say, “c’mon, get happy”, the librarian refused to accept my customary library card and explained that the library was switching to a new card format and that the one I had always used would no longer work. To add salt to the wound, she said that I would need a parent to sign before I could get this “library card 2.0.” I was with my brother and contrary to what I used to see on “Leave It to Beaver” reruns, most public facilities like schools or libraries don’t think a big brother is as good as a parent or legal guardian. I had to leave behind the books I had picked out and wait until a future occasion to return with a parent and get the fancy new library card. This was long before library cards had barcodes so I really just exchanged a perfectly good paper card for a plastic one. If I sound as if I’m still bitter about the whole thing, I’m not…much! Anyway, my point is that being temporarily denied a library card bothered me. Having the benefit of a library card had become something I enjoyed and took for granted as a kid. I had already been exposed to all the great things that a library card offered. I knew that a free library card was a gateway to a world of amazing books. I knew that having a card was an adult responsibility in many ways and I took that responsibility seriously.
Librarians encourage people of all ages to get a library card. We’re not trying to sell you anything or make a profit. We don’t have Maxwell the Pig or the Geico Lizard greeting people at our front door.
There are no coupons or surveys by nine out of ten librarians with which we might impress you.
All we want is for everyone to experience that same pleasure that we all felt when we received our library cards. We want to make certain that parents realize that getting their child a library card is a necessary way to prepare him for school. We hope patrons will understand that in these harsh economic times, a library card is a great investment since one card will allow you to freely checkout books, CDs, movies, and magazines! Why buy these materials when you can acquire them for free for a reasonable loan period? Naturally, a library card is more than just a smart investment in terms of the money it may save you. It also is a lasting investment in your educational, occupational, and recreational development. Libraries aren’t like big businesses in the sense that we can’t really draw people in through flashy commercials or price busting giveaways; however, we may do what we’ve always done. We may offer every reader the priceless gift of lifelong learning and the joy of reading that comes from regular use of a valid library card. We don’t have the gimmicks or celebrity endorsements but I bet that even if you don’t recall the exact day you received your first library card, you’ll always remember the pleasure and the benefits that came along with it! Not even Flo the Progressive Insurance girl can promise you as much!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »