Archive | November, 2014

The True Spirit of the Holidays

26 Nov

It’s time once again for the December Dilemma when children throughout America prepare for the loot bestowed on them in the name of Santa Claus or Judah Macabee, depending on their religious persuasion. Our children live in a “gimme” culture, and this year many retail Grinches are competing to see who can be the most mercenary by opening their stores before the last turkey leg vanishes from the Thanksgiving platter.

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How do we teach children the real spirit of the holidays: the gifts of light, love, and sharing bounty rather than the newest technological toy which has been their focus for weeks?

A friend of mine in Florida used to dress as St. Nicholas, not as the red-clad “Coca Cola Santa Claus,” he said, but rather as the Santa garbed in green velvet and a head wreath. He shared the story of the long ago Greek priest whose mission was to leave anonymous gifts of money for poor girls who needed a dowry, which in turn started the tradition of gift-giving at the holiday.

Hanukkah was a minor Jewish holiday until it came to America with European Jewish immigrants. The holiday is actually the celebration of a military victory in the second century BCE. Ironically, the victory by the Maccabees preserved the separateness of the Jewish people while, in this country, the holiday has melded into the commercial chaos of December with eight days of presents to prove that Jews are just as good as their neighbors. Many families, to preserve some sanity in the holiday, have established a ritual of giving charity (tzedakah or “justice”) during Hanukkah to reinforce the message of sharing with less fortunate people.

There are many books that teach the message of giving, sharing, and generosity that can help children understand that giving is a two way street. Here are just a few, primarily non-sectarian books, to help your child understand the underlying message of the holiday season:

Shoebox Sam, by Mary Brigid Barrett.

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Shoebox Sam is a shoe repairman who makes old shoes new again. However, on Saturdays, with the help of Della and Jesse, he repairs shoes for the feet of poor people who need help. When a customer unearths a particularly special pair of shoes, Della and Jesse see Sam promote the greatest charity of all.

14 Cows for America, by Carmen Agra Deedy.









Based on a true story, this book tells the tale of Naiyameh who was visiting New York City on 9/11/2001. Deeply troubled by the events of that day, he returned to his Masai tribesmen with stories of toppled buildings and a great city brought to its knees. The people of his tribe symbolically blessed fourteen cattle, representing much of the tribe’s wealth, and offered them for the healing of New York and its people.

Stone Soup, by Heather Forest.










This is my favorite version of a traditional folk tale about travelers who are turned away without food from the doors of villagers. Through subtle trickery, the travelers promise the villagers a delicious soup made only with a stone, but also with the contributions of food from everyone in the village. While Marcia Brown’s version of the story is more familiar, storyteller Heather Forest’s book reads particularly well because of the rhythms of the story.

How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box, by Linda Heller.

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Dalia shares her knowledge of charity with her brother, Yossi, as they save their change in a traditional tzedakah box to donate to a worthy cause.

One Hen, by Kate Smith Milway.

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An Ashanti boy takes advantage of a microlending program to buy a hen. When he pays back the loan, the money is borrowed by other families to buy animals and start businesses of their own. Eventually, the boy’s initial investment in the hen results in a poultry farm that supports his family.

The Lemonade Ripple, by Paul Reichert.








Caroline sets up a lemonade stand on the street to help raise money for her friend’s wheelchair. Other children learn from her example and soon a “ripple effect” occurs, with many people engaging in philanthropic acts to help others in the community.

My Heart Will Not Sit Down, by Mara Rockliff.









During the Great Depression, a young boy in Cameroon hears that his teacher’s “village,” New York City, is in great financial trouble and its people starving. The boy vows to raise money to help people across the seas in America.

Give a Goat, by Jan West Schrock.










A class of fifth graders raise money to give a goat to a girl in Uganda after reading a book about how a goat will benefit an impoverished African family. This true story encourages children to raise money for organizations like Heifer International which provides farm animals to families around the world to help them survive.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss.









The now classic tale of the nasty old Grinch with the miniaturized heart who reforms his stinginess in time to bestow Christmas gifts on the Whos of Whovilles. Combine this with one of the other books about real philanthropy for a total message of the holiday spirit.

To all of you, the happiest of holidays no matter what you celebrate, and an expansiveness of heart that will radiate the glow of the season wherever you go and however you celebrate.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

Reading Treats and Trends: The Tastemakers and Eating Wildly

19 Nov

Nibble your way through these two fun and insightful nonfiction works that will give you a new perspective on the food you eat!

The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up With Fondue (Plus Baconomics, Superfoods, and Other Secrets From the World of Food Trends), by David Sax











The title fairly well hints at the variety of what this intriguing nonfiction book contains.  In The Tastemakers, David Sax looks at types of food trends, how trends start, their impact on things like money and politics, and finally how trends may fall out of favor.  Each section of The Tastemakers is linked with a specific food including bacon, chia seeds, red prince apples, Indian food, food trucks and more that exemplify the concept that Sax is conveying and about that foods specific rise to food trend status.

Although like me you may be familiar with some of these such as the cultural trend of the cupcake that arose from its appearance on Sex and the City, there are some areas I found very surprising.  It was fascinating to see how agricultural trends such as specific types of apples come about and how their proponents can be thwarted by things like unseasonable weather destroying crops.  You may have noticed how bacon has gone from once a simple breakfast food to becoming something that has been used to flavor everything from mayonnaise to vodka, but Sax looks at not only this trend, but how this has an economic impact on everyone from pig farmers to the sellers of bacon themed novelty toys.  I felt the book left me with not only a better understanding of trends in general, but also a better appreciation for the food I eat.

If you enjoy this book you can also check out Sax’s other work Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen available from BCCLS libraries.

Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal, by Ava Chin












Eating Wildly is a fascinating memoir framed by Ava Chin’s experiences foraging for food in New York City.  Foraging isn’t just a survival skill for scouts in the woods anymore, but currently a fad amongst some New Yorkers and other urban dwellers to find things to eat in parks and even in the sidewalk cracks near their homes.  An episode of Top Chef Duels even recently featured a challenge using foraged ingredients gathered by the chefs.  Chin wrote the Urban Forager blog for the New York Times for several years.  The book describes some of her finds including oyster mushrooms, blackberries, and wild garlic.

Her quests for mulberries reminded me of picking mulberries in the wooded area near my childhood home.  I can remember picking them with my parents when we were out walking our dogs and enjoying the sweet berries as they stained our hands dark purple.  I’m not sure though if I would be as comfortable picking things from the sidewalk cracks in the city, but it certainly made me rethink the “weeds” around me.

Although the foraging was interesting, I was drawn to her larger life story.  Chin’s father abandoned her mother when he found out she was pregnant and Chin works through her feelings about her father, mother, and grandparents who helped raise her, as she examines the natural world around her.  I found though her family life was fully explored, I would have liked more exploration of some of her romantic relationships who seemed to pop in and out of her life, without getting a feeling for them as people.

An important consideration for anyone who is taking up foraging is to read and learn from experienced foragers since edible plants, mushrooms, and berries can look very similar to poisonous ones.  Ava discovered this when she gathered up some tasty looking mushrooms which on further examination with a spore print (she details how to make one in the book) proved to be toxic.  Other tips for safe foraging are also included along with recipes, some of which have supermarket substitutions for the grocery store foragers amongst us.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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