War is Still Hell

War is never justified. It is never necessary. But war is inevitable so long as we continue to believe it to be justified and necessary. Here are a few recently published exemplary titles that explore different dimensions of war.

  • Ghosts of WarSmithson, Ryan. Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old G.I. Collins, 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-166468-7 $16.99
  • Ryan Smithson thought about joining the military the moment he saw the World Trade Center collpase on television. Smithson enlisted in the Army Reserve the following year and, a year into the Iraq war, is deployed to an Army engineer unit as a heavy equipment operator. Smithson’s poignant, often harrowing memoir, especially vivid in sensory details, chronicles his experiences in basic training and in Iraq. “Only after we have been completely destroyed can we begin to find ourselves,” Smithson writes of basic training, offering an unflinchingly honest portrait of the physical and psychological brutality of that experience. His account of his tour of duty in Iraq is no less compelling. He lucidly recounts the intensity of battle and the pain of losing comrades. For Smithson, the war is a source of personal enlightenment. “War is hell, but war is also paradise,” he writes. He further observes, “I’m grateful for the worst in humanity, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to understanding the best in humanity.”  Ghosts of War is a remarkable, deeply penetrating memoir that will compel readers to reflect on their own thoughts about duty, patriotism, and sacrifice.
  • Sunrise Over FallujahMyers, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah. Scholastic, 2008. ISBN 978-0-439-91624-0 $17.99
  • Like the real-life Ryan Smithson, fictional Robin Perry feels compelled to do something after September 11, 20o1 and joins the army. While stationed in Kuwait with war looming, he begins writing letters home to his parents and to his Uncle Richie, the main character from Myers’s acclaimed Vietnam War novel, Fallen Angels (Scholastic, 1988). Robin is assigned to a diverse Civil Affairs unit of both men and women, with a mission to serve as a buffer between winning over the Iraqi people and concurrent military operations. As the war unfolds, the military angle of Robin’s job escalates, and he experiences increasing horrors of violence, death, destruction, insecurity, sorrow, and extreme fear. He realizes why his  Uncle Richie never wanted to talk to their family about what happened in Vietnam. Myers brilliantly depicts the opening months of the Iraq War by vividly capturing its pivotal moments in 2003.
  1. Off to WarEllis, Deborah. Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children. Groundwood, 2008. ISBN 978-0-88899-894-1 $15.95
  2. Ellis turns her attention to the children of U.S. and Canadian military personnel and how their lives have been affected by their parents’ deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. They talk openly about their lives, how they deal with a parent’s absence, and their fears for their parents’ safety. They discuss family relationships, including changes in their parents after a tour of duty. Some have experienced the death of a parent or relative. Others talk about their strong relationship with the parent at home and about the hardships the family faces with absent parents. They express their opinions about war, think about future careers, and offer advice to others on how to cope as an army kid. Each interview is prefaced by a paragraph that provides extra information, for example, on army bases, the National Guard, the war in Iraq, or support groups. Although the emphasis is on the war trauma that can affect both the soldier and the soldier’s family, these young people take pride in their parents’ service. Ellis provides an insightful, sobering reminder of the burdens soldiers’ families must bear.
  1. Children of WarEllis, Deborah. Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees. Groundwood, 2008. ISBN 978-0-88899-907-8 $15.99
  2. In the fall of 2007, Ellis visited Jordan in an attempt to bring attention to the plight of adolescent Iraqi refugees. With the help of interpreters, she interviews child refugees between the ages of 8 and 19 from Iraq , now living in Jordan, and a few who have made it to Canada. This poignant collection of voices represent individuals who have suffered through more death, destruction, and violence in their young lives than most people endure in a lifetime.  The brief introduction discusses Iraq’s contemporary politics and the ethnic and religious diversity, and Ellis is clear about the brutality of Saddam, his fall, the role of oil in the conflict, the U.S. invasion, and bombing. Accompanying each interview is a brief introduction and a photo, although a few children didn’t want to be identified. A powerful, moving portrait of the forgotten victims of war.
  1. War IsAronson, Marc and Patty Campbell, eds. War Is… Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk about War. Candlewick, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7636-3625-8
  2. In this provocative anthology, two editors with opposing viewpoints present a powerful indispensible collection of works reflecting on the nature of war. Aronson believes war is inevitable, while Campbell calls war is crazy, cruel, deceptive, delusional and unbearable. What both agree on is the need for teens to hear the truthful voices from those who have experienced war firsthand. What they have compiled is a provocative collection of essays, memoirs, letters, and fiction from nearly than twenty contributors. The contemporary and historical selections include columns by World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, Christian Bauman’s heart-wrenching “Letter to a Young Enlistee,” excerpts from Chris Hedges’s What Every Person Should Know about War and Nagasaki survivor Fumiko Miura’s  memoir.  This is an important book that will prompt much discussion and reflection.
Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 11:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Darwin and Evolution

Coiniciding with the the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12, 1809) was a deluge of books about one of history’s greatest and most influential scientists. There is no shortage of fine books addressing the broader subject of evolution, too. Here are a few favorites :

  1. Charles & EmmaHeiligman, Deborah. Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith.
  2. Henry Holt, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8050-8721-5 $18.95
  3. This is the best book published in celebration of the Darwin bicentennial. This rich, insightful portrait of Charles and Emma Darwins’ marriage explores a dimension of the naturalist’s life that has heretofore been largely ignored. A loving and devoted couple, Emma was devoutly religious while Charles’s agnosticism increased as he delved deeper into his studies of natural history. They did not let this difference come between them. While unable to agree with Charles’s theory that essentially eliminated God from the process of creation, Emma remained open-minded and supportive, even reading drafts of The Origin of Species and suggesting improvements. Using excerpts from correspondence, diaries, and journals, Heiligman portrays a relationship grounded in mutual respect.
  1. DarwinMcGinty, Alice B. Darwin, with Glimpses into His Private Journal & Letters. Illus. Mary Azarian. Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 978-0-618-99531-8 $18.00
  2. For younger readers, this picture book biography is an outstanding choice. McGinty portrays Darwin as a humble, intellectually passionate, and relentlessly curious individual. Quotes from Darwin’s journals and letters appear as pictures of cursive lines on parchment-colored sheets, setting them apart from the narrative text as well as from Azarian’s handsome woodcut illustrations.


  1. Tree of Life Sis, Peter. Charles Darwin: The Tree of Life. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003. 978-0-374-45628-3 $18.00
  2. This is an earlier publication on Darwin but this stunning picture book biography is not to be missed. Sis offers a beautifully conceived and rendered homage to the life and ideas of Darwin. Stunning, exquisite, and totally absorbing.


  1. Clapurnia TateKelly, Jacqueline. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Henry Holt, 2009. 978-0-8050-8841-0 $16.99
  2. In 1899 Central Texas, eleven-year-old Callie Vee Tate grows closer to her distant, eccentric grandfather when she develops a passionate interest in Charles Darwin, evolution, and the natural world. Kelly’s debut novel starts off a bit slow but quickly becomes engrossing. A wonderful coming-of-age, family story with lovely period details and beautifully realized characters.


  1. Lucy Long AgoThimmesh, Catherine. Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We Come From. Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 978-0-547-05199-4 $18.00
  2. This fascinating, visually stunning book tells the story of how the discovery of the bones of the hominid christened Lucy prompted to scientists to question all of their assumptions about human evolution.  
Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why Rogue Librarian?

I have been a librarian for the past fifteen years. My first experience was an internship working the reference desk at a small liberal arts college.

I worked for New York Public Library, mostly in Staten Island, from 1996-2000. That was an awesome experience, especially my stint with the Connecting and Libraries and Schools Project (CLASP), an outreach project to K-8 private and public schools.

I had a brief 9-month stint working for the Children’s Defense Fund. They have a beautiful, private, non-circulating  little library designed by the architect Maya Lin on the former Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee. The bulk of the holdings relate to the African American experience.

For the past 8 years I have worked as an elementary and middle school librarian. I was laid off from my last job because, as far as I can tell, I am not sufficiently submissive to authority. The school district did not have to give me a reason for not renewing my contract because I was not tenured, but it must have to do with my very loud protests at the director of technology blocking all (Yes, ALL) of Wikipedia because some sites have “inappropriate” content. Better to just block all the millions of sites of legitimate information than just block out the few appropriate links. I am no fan of Wikipedia, but I could not abide by such a blatant and incredibly asinine act of wholesale censorship. My other loud objection was to the director of instruction’s order to remove the Fruits Basket manga series from the library collection because he found them objectionable. He looked at them after one pair of parents of a 6th grade girl expressed concern about the content. I was deeply troubled by the fact that his directive was in complete contradiction to the policies and procedures adopted by the board of education. These protests branded me as “insubordinate” by the central office so here I am, a rogue librarian. 

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (3rd ed.), a rogue is define as follows:

  1. An unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal.
  2. One who is playfully mischievous; a scamp.
  3. A wandering beggar; a vagrant.
  4. A vicious and solitary animal, especially an elephant that has separated itself from its herd.
  5. An organism, especially a plant, that shows an undesirable variation from the standard.

The World Book Dictionary (1979 ed.) defines a rogue as:

  1. a tricky, dishonest, or worthless person; rascal.
  2. mischievous person.
  3. an animal with a savage nature that lives apart from the herd.
  4. an individual, usually a plant, that varies from the standard.
  5. Archaic. a vagrant; vagabond.

Used as an adjective, a rogue is defined as abberant, defective, deviant, savage, wild, etc.

Where do I fit in with all of that? I can be quite deceitful, as my wife will readily attest. I am perfectly capable of being unprincipled, but I try to avoid it. My wife will argue that I am unreliable when it comes to household chores, but I make a conscious effort to be reliable in all other avenues of life. When it comes to auto and home repair of any kind, I am totally worthless. I can be quite mischievous, playfully and maliciously. I would never characterize myself as a beggar or vagabond but I can be quite a scrounge, especially at book trade shows as any number of publishers will attest. I am rarely vicious, but I do enjoy being solitary. I am not particularly savage or wild, at least not until I have had several glasses of wine.

Rogue Librarian is a title that suits me well. I have never been much of a team player. I can be one (much as I loathe the phrase), but I have never enjoyed it. I am quite disgusted with public education. I have worked for three school districts of various sizes and it has become painfully clear to me that all administrators are more concerned with avoiding bad publicity and lawsuits, enforcing policies, and increasing standardized test scores than with education.

Collaboration with teachers is something I always enjoy doing with those blessed few who have the interest and take the time to do it.  I genuinely feel sorry for the good teachers I worked with who know how and what to teach but cannot because they have to follow the idiotic diktats imposed upon them by the morons who control the policies and purse strings.

I don’t know if I will ever again work as a librarian in the traditional sense of the word, but this blog will be one of many ways I will continue to perform what I consider the most important role of the librarian–promoting the reading of books. Since children’s and young adult literature is my area of expertise and is what I enjoy reading most, it will be the primary focus of my blog. That’s not to say I won’t talk about adult books, too. Being a rogue, I’ll talk about whatever I want to talk about within the realms of books and reading.

Welcome! Enjoy!!

Published in: on June 6, 2009 at 7:04 pm  Comments (5)