August 18, 2017

The Culture of Science: Get Out, Look Up --Eclipse 2017

A note from The Big Sister to help introduce our new feature The Culture of Science:
In a culture full of technology and distractions the simple act of looking up is becoming a lost art. Yet tilting your head back to peer at something immense and mysterious, whether a person or the sky, should feel natural: that's what we all did for the first 10 years of our lives. Once the world was a marvel, now we just strive to find answers. 
Recently while stargazing, and waiting for the Persieds to blip across the sky, I felt expansive and fascinated in a way I hadn't for a long time. I realized that just as there is a vastness full of curiosity above us, there is the same vastness and curiosity inside us, sometimes we just forget it's there. 
The solar eclipse is giving us an opportunity to look up and experience a very special (and magical, as I would have said when I was little) part of the universe, and ourselves. This is a time to let our curiosity out and let the wonder in!

Where will you be on August 21, 2017? Wherever you are (if you happen to be on the North American Continent) you are gonna want to look up. We've gathered references, resources, information, and inspiration from some of our go-to science favorites like Scientific American Magazine, Bill Nye and The Planetary SocietyU.S. National Park Service, the original Bad Astronomer Phil Plait of PBS Crash Course Astronomy & SyFy Wire, and of course, our book shelves

Take a minute or 30, spend some time with Books for Walls Project, enjoy the our new feature: 
The Culture of Science and Get Out and Look Up!

Eclipse 2017: All the way across North America!
(Image credit: Planetary Society)
How to know where to go and what time? 
"If you can, plan your primary destination to be the closest place within your range of travel with the best climatological conditions. Then, watch the short-term weather forecast starting a week before and adjust your target destination if necessary.
And maybe hope for a little luck: As the moon begins to partially cover the sun, a phenomenon called “eclipse cooling” begins: The lowering of air temperature may dissipate a thin cloud layer and save the day."
Read more tips for viewing from Scientific American, click here.

How to I get my kids to look up and understand how special this is?
Don't worry, you have help. The Planetary Society and the U.S. National Park Service have partnered up for the very first time to pool their resources and inspiration to help us all get out and look up. 
Ever want to be a Park Ranger... well here is your chance to become a National Park Service Junior Ranger. Get the Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer Book, full of fun and engaging activities, geared toward the curious and youthful of all ages. 
To download Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer Book
click here!

a short video about the eclipse with Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO and of course, the Science Guy and a ranger from the National Park Service:

LEARN: Phil Plait breaks down what an eclipse is. If you like this video consider  watching PBS Crash Course Astronomy entire series, we did and whew, the course and Phil Plait are simply brilliant --we dare you to watch just one and try not to get hooked.

Now you know what the eclipse is and where to look, but how to look? 
Shop carefully for glasses: Trust the America Astronomical Society, "your eyes are precious! You don't need astronomers to tell you that, but you do need astronomers to tell you where to get safe solar filters:" click here for the list from AAS.
Oh, no, I cannot find glasses! What to do? No worries, Science has a solution: 
"Here's a simple and safe way to observe a partial eclipse that's appropriate for young children with no eclipse glasses or other special equipment needed." Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society explains, "throughout the exercise, kids safely face away from the Sun."
Click here to DIY your own Pinhole Projector or watch the video!

______And this happened, all you science geeks can understand how cool it is:
We're learning about how to use (read: not get distracted by) Twitter. 
@booksforwalls tweeted and yup, @exploreplanets retweeted, that was cool.

It's not to late to get Planetary Society Eclipse 2017
swag, check out the Chop Shop Store. We are just about ready,
but we have a lot of reading to do...

How about some recommendations from the shelves of Books for Walls:

 George's Secret Key to the Universe by Stephen and Lucy Hawking (Stephen's Daughter!) Get it at the library.
Contact by Carl Sagan Get it at the library.
Death by Black Hole by Neil de Grasse Tyson Get it at the library.
The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey (this book has been on The Sister's shelf since they were very small and there is a new up-to-date edition!)
The History of Astronomy by Michael Hoskin (We absolutely love the Very Short Introduction books by Oxford University Press.) 
Get a Grip on Astronomy by Robin Kerrod (The illustrations call you to pick up and explore astronomy.) Get it at the library.

Still want more?  
Learn more about The Sister's experience with the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program.
Explore, where everyday is a good day to read a book. Join us.

April 11, 2017

Take Action for Libraries Day

"A library is a place that is a repository of information 

and gives every citizen equal access to it." Neil Gaiman

It's National Library Week and the American Library Association is launching Take Action for Libraries Day.

"Take Action for Libraries Day is a national library advocacy effort observed for the first time on the Thursday of National Library Week, April 13. 
In response to President’s Trump proposed budget cuts, this year’s Take Action for Libraries Day will highlight the library community’s efforts to safeguard funding for the Institute for Museum and Library Services , which serves as a critical funding resource for every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories to support libraries and museums."

Find resources and learn more click here:  Fight for Libraries! information provided by ALA
We're celebrating by heading to the library!
Illustration: Chris Riddell
Quote source: Angela Clarke

For more information on National Library Week, visit I Love Libraries or follow #NationalLibraryWeek.

November 24, 2016

The Art of Listening

“Asking questions and listening intently to the stories that emerge is one of the most powerful forces in the world. If we all take one hour this year to do it, we’ll strengthen our national fabric at a time when it desperately needs it.” Dave Isay, StoryCorps founder and president 
A whole lot of listening goes on around here. We listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music is often streaming from speakers or earbuds somewhere in the house. Most of all though, we listen to each other. Like most things in life listening takes work and there is always, always, more to learn. In the past several years we’ve been researching, studying new techniques, and we have begun to really honor the art of listening.

An important part of the art is one that seemed surprising: Quiet. “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” Such a simple idea, but one that holds so much wisdom, as Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Quiet was recommended by a dear friend, singer-songwriter May Erlewine. In person May seems to be well, quiet, but when she steps on stage her artful, engaging, energy effects everyone with the depth of her voice and poetry of her craft. May suggested the book because The Big Sister wondered how to be quiet and still be part of conversation. In a world that felt like we have to be loud to be heard, can we really be still and listen? We’re discovering that the answer is resoundingly, yes.

Why are we thinking about Listening?

In the United States on the fourth Thursday in November people gather: some to celebrate Thanksgiving, some to mourn*, and many struggle to communicate with those they love deeply but wonder: how did we get here, how can I get to know each other better, where do we begin? We’re guessing that people in each category might find some inspiration and hope in two tools that both focus on listening:

The Books for Walls Project first became involved with the StoryCorp National Day of Listening oral history project in 2011 with the Listening Challenge, we were even official state partners of the project. Our interview plans were thwarted by lack of proper recording equipment that is no longer a problem for anyone with a smart phone thanks to the StoryCorps app. Now anyone, anytime, anywhere can participate and become part of this incredible compendium of relationship oral history. Start now, click here:

Lets Talk, an interactive to bridge the gap
In 2016 the U.S. experienced a divisive, ugly, and unsettling election. The process of understanding, grieving, working to fix, and healing the division is just beginning. Thankfully, The New York Times created a resource to help heal the wounds and wouldn’t you know, it’s all about listening. With 19 interview questions, a few ground rules, just about anyone can be on the road to reconciliation. Click to learn more and even listen to a couple of the interviews:

Now get out there and listen.

Listening Tools, Resources, References, Information, and Insights:
Another part of listening is empathy. Learn more with Brene Brown’s Empathy Primer:
Are you an Educator? Bring the Great Listen to your students, get the toolkit:
The Dad found a resource to help us understand the difference between judgement and being judgmental, definitely a doorway to better listening:
More about May Erlewine:
How to Be a Better Listener, Scientific American
Thanksgiving and the Myth of Native American “Savages”, from Scientific American
*Why Thanksgiving Is A ‘National Day Of Mourning’ For Some Americans, Huffington Post:
Learn about the American Thanksgiving from “why turkey?” to “why Thursday”:

August 8, 2016

A Reluctant Reader Can Become a Ravenous Reader with an Adventure at the Library

"If you're gonna do one thing for your kids, teach them to read.

Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan was 12 or 13, James Patterson was 19, Diane Rehm was 21, and The Dad was 28, at these "late ages" each finally found their way to book love. 

Sadly, these wonderful people would have been considered reluctant readers in elementary school, fortunately all went to become ravenous readers. What made it happen? Was it worth the wait? How do we help the reluctant readers in our lives fall in love with reading?

"For many years we had 6 to 7 o'clock, that was our reading time," Rick Riordan shared. "I don't care what you're reading, but you're reading. I'm reading too, because if the parents say they're too busy to read, well, of course the kids are going to feel the same way." According to Rick if you want a child in your life to read it's all about what you do, not what you say.  

We agree, The Four of Us read whenever we have a moment and make certain there are tons of books to choose from because as James Patterson explains one of the keys to getting kids to read is "freedom of choice." The Big Sister believes that any child would like to read, "they just have to find the right book, it may be a comic book, but that is a start!" The Little Sister adds, "Calvin and Hobbes is great book to read!"

Go on an adventure with your reluctant reader: together visit the library. Make sure you have time to wander and discover. And make sure you take turns, let your child watch you try to find a good book. And don't be afraid to ask for help, find a librarian, ask them how to go on a library treasure hunt. Then schedule your library adventures regularly, mark them on the calendar and plan accordingly. Whatever you do the first step is simple: grab a book and start reading!


April 21, 2016

Put a Poem in Your Pocket Challenge

"Poetry is a record of the life around us and in us, and you'll get a better idea from poetry what it was like to be alive in 2011 than you will from the New York Times." Garrison Keillor

The Big Sister recently learned that she loves to write poetry. With this came a new understanding of poetry and how truly wonderful poetry is. 

April 21, 2016 is national Poem In Your Pocket Day, the idea is simple: select a poem you love then carry it with you to share throughout the day. Want other ways to participate? Click here for a treasure trove, brought to you by the Academy of American Poets. (In 2016 The League of Canadian Poets have extended Poem in Your Pocket Day to Canada!)

The Put a Poem in Your Pocket Challenge is to find a poem and share it with BFWP (post it in the comments.) Then if you choose, print it, carry it in your pocket, and share it with people in honor of Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Now it is your turn, find a poem and share it! The Big Sister adds, "it is okay to share your own poetry!" 

Read the comments --you might like some of the poems that have been shared! Please use the following format for your comment: Title of Poem, Author, and your thoughts on the poem.

**This post was originally posted April 14, 2011 --we've updated the content and links!

December 13, 2015

10 Ways to Give the Library for the Holidays

Need the PERFECT holiday gift? How about a gift that is simple, inexpensive, and local; a gift that literally keeps on giving?




No, we're not suggesting the WHOLE thing, would there even be a box that big? We can imagine our library wrapped in a BIG bow. We came up with 10 ways to give friends and relatives The Library as a gift! Enjoy:
Get your new bags at
all branches of Traverse
Area District Library
  1. Give library bags or wrap presents in your local libraries re-usable bags! (This suggestion is inspired by Traverse Area District Library's wonderful move for the environment: reusable bags in a rainbow of colors.)
  2. Give a library card! Know someone that doesn't have a library card, a child perhaps? Slip a library card form into their stocking or into a christmas card and explain that you are giving them thousands of books, movies, music and oh, so much more for Christmas.
  3. Give a "Friends of the Library" Membership. A great way to support libraries and often the membership is inexpensive --give a lifetime membership, very generous!
  4. Shop at library gift shops. Our local library has an amazing gift shop with lovely bookish gifts, cards and treasures. According to Carolyn Moehle, Manager of the TADL gift shop, "we have tons of stocking stuffers!" Contact the library for gift shop hours. Shop online via New York Public Library's extensive gift shop. Call your local library and see if they have a gift shop!
  5. Giving someone an eReader? Check to see if their local library has OverDrive. OverDrive is an amazing online resource that many libraries use to give access to ebooks and audio books to patrons. Click here to see if your local library uses OverDrive. Then give the eReader with literally thousands  of books, wow!
  6. Giving books for Christmas? Stop by your library and get information on how to donate books. Then in the gift card suggest that when the giftee finishes the book they donate it to the library!
  7. Donate books to a library in the name of a friend. Be sure to call you library and ask what books they need. Then put a bookplate with "Donated by: your friend's name", take a photo of the book plate and slip it into a card with an explanation! We always love when we come across books at the library that were given in honor.
  8. The lovely Holiday Book Sale at 
    Shop Library Book Sales.
     Many libraries have on going book sales with all sorts of wonderful options. Contact your library to see what they have available.  
  9. Have a friend that is notorious for racking up library fines? Stop by their branch and deposit a bit of money into their account. Due to privacy issues the library can't tell you how much they owe --but they can credit an account! Take a photo with the librarian as you pay the fines (with big smiles) and slip it into a gift card!
  10. Give a library date. Invite the giftee on a library adventure. Often there are music and special events at the library --spend the day at the library with your friend. Remember the best way to give the library is to USE IT!!

Give the Library a present for Christmas:

  • Clear out your bookshelves and donate them to your local branch.
  • Give your librarians a present! We like to give a big basket of oranges and chocolate, lots of chocolate... lots and lots of chocolate.
  • The simplest gift: Use your library. That is the best way to show you care.

Now get out there

March 25, 2015

Celebrating: Detroit Public Library

UPDATE on March 25, 2015 Detroit Public Library Celebrates its 150th Birthday! Congratulations!! 
Explore the library care of the Detroit Free Press, click here
And enjoy our visit to the magnificent Main Branch below.

Main Library opened: March 1921, the north and south wings were opened June 1963
Mission: "The Detroit Public Library enhances quality of life for the diverse and dynamic community in the city of Detroit. The Library enlightens and empowers its citizens to meet their lifelong learning needs through open and equitable access to information, technology and cultural/educational programs."
Collection Size: 8.3 million "4 million government documents, 4 million books, 150,000 audio recordings, and 100,000 video recordings. The remaining 50,000 are spread across electronic databases, print and electronic subscriptions to magazines and newspapers, and the archival collections plus "museum collectibles" in the Library's Special Collections units."
Collection Available Digitally: Approximately 5% of the 4 million books and approximately 1/3 of 4 million documents.
Current Director: Jo Anne Mondowney
Visited: May 20, 2011

On a beautiful Friday afternoon in May 2011, The Four of Us entered The Detroit Public Library's Main Branch. The Mom returned to an old favorite place; The Dad and The Sisters discovered a new favorite place. In a nutshell, this is what we learned: knowledge is power, education is freedom, which are free gifts to those who choose to use the Detroit Public Library.
The Mom, The Little Sister, The Big Sister -out from behind our books- 
with our new friend Uzoma Onyemaechi
We were welcomed by Uzoma Onyemaechi, Assistant Director for Main Library, or "Mr. Uzo", as he invited The Sisters to call him. We explained our goals for the visit: to learn all about Detroit Public Library, about its past, present and future and to ask three questions.

Question #1: What is the most interesting item held in the library's collection? After a short, thoughtful pause Uzo answered, "there is not one thing," and then lead the way to show us exactly what he meant. All along the way Uzo, an excellent guide, shared his vast knowledge of Detroit Public Library.
This painting sits opposite the Burton Historical Collection and was donated 
by Timothy Oriki, the artistWe learned that many people choose to donate art to the library. While art museums charge a fee to view art, libraries are free and DPL is full of art, for free!
Touring the Music and Performing Arts Department --oh, the sheet music, The Sisters were in heaven. And how about a treasure trove of record albums, 50,000?

A display of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection "presented to the DPL by the Detroit Musicians Association to serve as the nucleus for a special black music collection." Over the years the collection has grown in size and scope, unmatched indeed.
Upon entering the Burton Historical Collection, we were immediately drawn in as Uzo told the story of its remarkable history. The Sister's ears perked up as they heard names like Barack Obama, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Abraham Lincoln mingled with their own. Mr. Uzo described the amazing genealogical resources to The Sisters "since your Mom and her family are from Detroit, you will find information about her, your grandparents, great grandparents. People come from all over, finding out about their families." The Burton Historical Collection is a genealogy lover's dream
"At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic
threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better." Barack Obama
Our nation's current events are also represented within the walls of the Burton Historical Collection, "President Obama was in this room," Mr. Uzo told the wide eyed Sisters.  During his campaign in 2008 Obama spoke to a huge crowd if front of DPL; he chose to get ready in the Burton Historical Collection near the statue of Abraham Lincoln and Joe Biden, "the Vice President is a base ball fan," chose the  Ernie Harwell Collection
No beard, beard. Which Abraham Lincoln would you vote for? 
And the stories continued! Periodically"the Library of Congress sends guards here to borrow a letter to display which is a part of our collection." This letter, said to be worth over $1,000,000, is written by a young girl named Grace Bedell who suggested to Abraham Lincoln that he "let his whiskers grow... you would look a great deal better..." Many believe that without this letter from Grace Bedell, a beardless Abraham Lincoln may have lost the election. We learned all about Clarence Burton the man who had the vision to begin the collection so many years ago. All of the wonderful stories stopped us, for a moment transfixed, in the immense importance of what is held within the walls of the Burton Historical Collection.
Grace Bedell's Letter with amazing penmanship!
Read and view President Lincoln's response in his letter held by the Library of Congress.
BONUS INTERVIEW with Mark Bowden, Coordinator for Special Collections at DPL
What is your favorite part of working with the collection? "As Coordinator for Special Collections, I'm responsible for the five collections housed at the Library:  Burton, Rare Books, E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, and the National Automotive History Collection.  One of my favorite parts of my job is making a presentation to groups called "Bibles to Baseballs:  Treasures of the Detroit Public Library's Special Collections" where I display about 50 items that document our local and national heritage.  Many are singular items of cultural, historical, and literary significance: Sumerian clay cone (2100 BCE), illuminated Book of Hours (15th century), George Washington's diary, Abraham Lincoln documents, Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder manuscripts, Fisk Golden Jubilee Singers scrapbook, Motown promotional materials, carbon copy of the Tigers' purchase of Ty Cobb's contract etc.  I'm extremely fortunate and honored to be the caretaker of collections of such variety and cultural richness."
Do children ever come to do research? "Rarely. We did, however, have a group of Detroit fifth graders do some research from our biographical files. Each child was assigned a prominent Detroit or Michigan African American from among several categories such as business, education, politics, and religion They had to take notes or make photocopies of the material and then write a paper about that person."
Do people every cry over things they find there? "One woman found her estranged father listed in the Social Security Death Benefit Index as having died two years earlier and she did quietly shed a few tears."

A state of the art, freshly renovated
area, incredibly inviting.
Question #2: Why do you think libraries are an important part of a community? To us, the answer was clear by the abundant resources around each corner and on each shelf.  Uzo pointed out a few highlights: the seasonal tax center where the Accounting Aid Society offers free tax preparation by volunteers. On days the tax help is offered "there are lines before the library opens and the volunteers help as many people as they are able." And then there is The Technology, Literacy, and Career Center (TLC Center) offering help with everything from finding a job to learning to read, one on one. Through the glass window we witnessed an encouraging staff member helping a middle aged man, hands hovering above keyboard, tentatively, learningUzo clarified how important these types of resources are, used concepts like "Digital Divide" and explained that the library gives access to information and technology that otherwise would be unavailable to many citizens. Smiling, Uzo shared a tidbit of his own story: his father encouraged him with the idea that "education is freedom". Thanks to Detroit Public Library so many people find education and freedom, including the often overlooked and under served citizens. 

Happy Teens @ DPL
Enter H.Y.P.E. (Helping Young People Excel) Teen Center, you must be 13-18 years old to get in on this action --we were allowed, our Tour Guide, the privilege of a quick visit to witness the magic. This is what we saw: one group of kids playing the latest music video game; others huddled over books; a stage, waiting an impromptu performance; big, flat screens a-buzz with entertainment, children clicking away on computers, learning; a room filled with the loud hush of happy kids; comfy chairs for quite reading; and adults with a watchful eyes, ready to help and provide whatever these fortunate young patrons needed. Perhaps H.Y.P.E. should stand for Happy Young People Excel.
BONUS INTERVIEW with Oneka D. (Wilson) Samet, Teen Services Specialist at the H.Y. P.E Teen Center:
What do you do every day at H.Y.P.E.? "As the Librarian, my task is to make sure the center runs smoothly and the teens have books to read. But most importantly, I am a resource for the teens. One of my nickname's is Oneechan. That is a Japanese translation of Big Sister. I order the materials, plan programming and keep the room organized. The teens are very talented and they love sharing those things with others. So I try to plan programming that encourages those talents or helps manifest those that they don't know."
Have you had an experience with a teen that stands out that you wouldn't mind sharing? "I'm very proud that many of our teens use their experience here as an amplifier for real life. There is a group of teens that meet here to practice writing music. We've let them practice and perform for the other teens here. Just yesterday, I went to their school to see them perform their pieces at the Spring Concert. I was really proud of the practice and effort that I saw them put into preparing for that moment. We have many moments like that here. Teens enjoy writing poetry and participate in our Citywide Poets program. It is very refreshing to see them get up on our stage and perform an original piece of poetry that they have written, edited, researched and now perform. These are the young people that will lead our society in the future."
The HYPE stage, ready for action.
What did you want to be when you were young? Did you think you'd love working in a library? "I went to Oak Park High School when I was a teenager. The library was literally across the street and I was one of those teens who did not want to be at home. I wanted to get away from my siblings and hang out with my friends so I spent a lot of time at the library. It was the people there who made the difference. It was John Martin, the Director of the library, who encouraged my love of the library, reading, and writing. I met great authors at my library like Gwendolyn Brooks and Julius Lester who encouraged me to write everyday. I fell in love with fantasy novels like the Wizard of Oz series and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. When I started college, I knew I loved books so I majored in English but I remembered my days as a young person at the library and wanted to pursue it even more so that I could have a positive influence like Mr. Martin did for me."

Question #3: How can children support the library? Mr. Uzo listed some suggestions: 
  • Come to the library, click here to visit DPL
  • Ask your parents to join the Friends of the Library and to volunteer 
  • Donate books
  • Check out the library's programs
  • Simply, "use it!"
Adam Strohm Hall ceiling
One of our last stops and a moment that is etched solidly in our memories is when Uzo read the frieze of inscriptions that winds around the ceiling of Adam Strohm Hall. On the ceiling they are blended into one statement, but after doing a bit of research and learning that divided and credited, the quotes are no less moving:
"To promote self development by ample facilities for wide reading, in an atmosphere of freedom and morality." Sir John MacAlister, we think he was the founder of The School of Librarianship --we are still researching him (1856-1925)
"Read not to contradict and confute nor to believe and take for granted, but to weigh and consider." Francis Bacon, philosopher (1561-1626)
"Through seas of knowledge we our course advance, discovering still new worlds of ignorance." John Denham, poet (1615-1669)

"Books are the most enduring monuments of a man's achievements. Through them, civilization becomes cumulative." Cass Gilbert (1859-1934) the architect of the 1921 Main Library (An interesting fact we found when researching: the 1963 addition was designed by his son Cass Gilbert Jr. and Francis J. Keally.)
Our tour lead us all over an amazing library and everywhere we looked we wanted to know more and we didn't even begin using the library, we were just experiencing it as a placeDuring our visit and follow up research we spoke to several other members of DPL staff including Randolph Call, Assistant Director for Technical Services at DPL. He shared data about the library's collection and noted yet another wonderful truth: "libraries are community centers, a safe place for everyone." We'd like to thank Randolph, Mark, Steve, Janet, Oneka, Uzo and all of the staff and volunteers at Detroit Public Library. With their help we learned that libraries are so much more than just book repositories; libraries are portals through which we can visit our past and find our future; libraries are a free gift to our present, if only we learn how to use them.

During our research found an amazing resource "Detroit Public Library: Information for Readers and Visitors", originally published in 1922, the book is full of unmatched information about the historic building, click this link and enjoy the digitized version. Thank you to Kathy Daniels who is an amazing editor! (re)Discovering Detroit Public Library is dedicated to the memory of Dan Daniels. The Mom's Uncle Dan loved DPL and was very proud of the Burton Historical Collection. We think he would be proud that we are carrying on his library love legacy! (This article was originally published in 2012.)