S672 Book Review: Big Top Burning

Title: Big Top Burning

Subtitle: The True Story of a Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and the Greatest Show on Earth

Author: Laura A Woollett

Publication Info: Chicago Review Press, Inc. 2015

Suggested Age Range: Grades 5 and up



Big Top Burning is the true story of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus disaster of 1944. A fire broke out, and just a mere 10 minutes later, the big top had been destroyed. All told, 167 people lost their lives that day. Amongst those affected by the tragedy were Mildred Cook and her three children, Donald, Eleanor and Edward. Though injured, Mildred and Edward escaped the fire. Donald was rescued by another family and taken care of until he could be reunited. Edward later died in the hospital from his wounds. But the real mystery is what happened to little Eleanor Cook? The mystery of Eleanor and what started the fire is central to the book.

spectators run from the fire in 1944

Big Top Burning is factual without being graphic, even when talking about the dozens of children burned, and the bodies of people that were unrecognizable after the fire. Author Woollett uses photographs from that day to highlight what happened, as well as setting the background for why the circus was such a big draw during World War II America. Even when the book provides “answers,” it is quick to say that this is what the current thoughts are, but impossible to know for sure.

Big Top Burning is factual and fascinating. I learned a ton about something of which I had only a vague memory. Interestingly, the author also includes stories from famous families that are still a part of circus lore, like the Flying Wallenda’s, who were performing when the fire broke out.

Read-Alikes and other Books

Websites and Activities

S672 Book Review: Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts

Quiet Power Cover

Quiet Power CoverTitle: Quiet Power: The Secret Strength of Introverts

Author: Susan Cain (with Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz)

Illustrator: Grant Snider

Publication Info: Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group (2016)

Suggested Age Range: Grades 5 and up


Susan Cain’s remarkable best-seller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, changed my life. Definitely for adults, Quiet validated everything I had felt as an introvert who actually can spend time in front of people and with people. Cain, a former lawyer turned personality advocate, wants to help everyone feel comfortable in their own skin and the way they were made. What Quiet did for adults, Quiet Power: The Secret Strength of Introverts can do for kids of all ages.

illustration from Quiet Power: How to Leave a Party Early
Every introvert has an escape plan. The “right” way may be a polite goodbye, but that isn’t always what happens.

Cain uses her same theories and stories, but makes them relatable to what youth are going through today. From the fear of being called on in class to the need to escape from uncomfortable situations, this book gives introverts the words to express their world, and extroverts a way to understand their introverted friends better. There is a common misconception that introverts are standoffish, snobbish, and/or enjoy, isolation. The reality, however, is that introversion is about how you get refreshed, not about your ability to be around others.

Quiet Power is broken up into four parts: school, socializing, hobbies, and home. Each section walks through how introverts experience these parts of their lives and how introverts can and are changing the world.

As an introverted kid, nothing scared me more than being called to the front of the classroom to do a math problem. There were two reasons for this: I was embarrassed…and I was really bad at math. I’m pretty sure I did one of each of the above at some point in class, but the “preemptive strike” was usually the last ditch attempt to not be asked something I didn’t know.

As an introvert to this day, the Fortress of Solitude is how I recover. Find a way to recharge your batteries; it looks different for everyone.

Quiet Power is a book I wish I had as a teen; and it’s a book I wish more people would read now. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert OR an extrovert. We just have to know what we are, and how to deal with those different than us. Schools and social settings are designed with the extrovert in mind and books like this help introverts find their place, too.

Read-Alikes and Other Books

Has Quiet Power made you (or someone you know) want to read more about their unique style of recharging and relating to the world? Here are some great resources:

Websites, Activities, and More

S672 Book Review: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

Title: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

Author: Jen Bryant

Illustrator: Melissa Sweet

Publication Info: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (2014)

Suggested Age Range: Grades 2-5



As a person who loves words and has actually asked for a thesaurus for my birthday, I found this book both silly fun and totally informative. The Right Word is the story of the childhood and life of Peter Roget, who created one of the world’s first usable thesauri. As a small child, the death of his father greatly affected him.

Peter Roget begins creating the lists that would be come his Thesaurus

The photo above depicts Peter, a budding writer. But, instead of making up stories, he made lists. He wanted to find exactly the right word for exactly what he was thinking and feeling. And, he discovered, there were often several words that meant the same thing!

Roget struggles to find exactly the right words to express what he and his family are experiencing.

Roget went to medical school, graduated (at 19), was a teacher and speaker at many society events. Uncommon for the time, Roget did not marry until he was 45. He and his wife, Mary, had two children. He watched other people create books similar to his own thesaurus, finally publishing it in 1852. Roget’s Thesaurus made him a famous author!

Beautiful illustrations bring The Right Word to life,

The Right Word is gorgeously illustrated. There are several pages (like the one above) that I would hang in my house as prints, if they were available. The illustrations bring to life the words that Roget struggles to find, and enhance the story of Roget’s life in a beautiful way.

Read-Alikes and Other Books

Word-lovers looking for other books about Roget, the written word, and how words have evolved should check out the following:

Websites, Activities and More

Help library patrons and students learn more about the written word!

  • Thank you, Thesaurus: This activity helps people see the difference between the “right” and the “almost-right” word.
  • The Right Word discussion guide
  • Explore Roget’s online thesaurus
  • Have groups of kids create word clouds. Give each group a word and have them come up with as many different similar words as they can

S672 Book Review: The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded

Title: The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded

Author: Jim Ottaviani

Illustrator: Leland Purvis

Publication Info: Harry N. Abrams (2016)

Suggested Age Range: Grades 9 and up



The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded is a graphic novel about the life of Alan Turing, the mathematician genius who helped stop World War II by helping break the Enigma Code. This graphic novel has multiple narrators, all who tell different parts of Turing’s story, and how he shaped the world. Not only was Turing a complicated man with a complicated history, he was also a recluse, a genius, and a gay man leading a secret life during a time when being gay was not just frowned upon, but also a crime.

Telling Turing’s story in this manner helps people who may want to learn more about Turing do so in a format that many younger people are drawn to. While the multiple narrators and flexible timeline can be a little confusing at first, the strong visual story makes it compelling and exciting.

Panels from the Imitation Game show strong lines and forward motion

The Imitation Game covers Turing’s early life from boarding school to his involvement in the military. Author Jim Ottaviani does a brilliant job of weaving the facts of Turing’s life with just enough additional information to make readers forget that they are reading a non-fiction narrative and not a fictional story. Turing was a real person, really persecuted for his sexual identity, and really the man behind so many advancements in technology.

Panels of The Imitation Game

Turing’s legacy is in his breaking of the Enigma Code. Had he and his team not finally decoded the Enigma machine, millions more people would have died and who knows how much longer the war would have gone on. Above, Turing tries to explain how his machine should work. But it doesn’t work quite like it should.

Decoding the Enigma Machine

With just writing and strong lines, The Imitation Game brings to life the excitement and power and understanding of the Enigma Machine. Above, one small tweak and the machine comes to life!

Turing’s life and legacy are worth knowing, despite the fact that who he was was mostly hidden from the world for decades.

Read-Alikes and Other Books

People interested in lives of pioneers in our recent history may like books like the following:

Websites, Activities and More

Help students learn more about science during WWII and more.


S672 Book Review: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Cover of hardback children's book

Cover of hardback children's book

Title: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine 
Author: Laurie Wallmark (illustrations by April Chu)
Publication Info: Creston Books, LLC, 2015.

Suggested Age Range: 5-9




Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is the story of famous poet Lord Byron. Unlike her poet father, Ada is fascinated with numbers and mathematics. This short book is a summary of Ada’s life, from her childhood through early-adulthood. Told is short sentences and beautiful illustrations, Ada Byron Lovelace is a fascinating look at a woman many don’t know about – and how she influenced the world.

Ada Byron Lovelace includes an author’s note about Ada, information about early computer programs, the many nicknames Ada was known by, and additional readings for people who want to know more about the female scientist and mathematician. The author also included a timeline of Ada’s live and a bibliography of the books she used to create the story.

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that, before picking up this book, I had never heard of Ada Lovelace. There is a chance she was glossed over in a high school class, but if she was, it didn’t stick in my head. I’m always fascinated with books about women breaking social barriers, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Lovelace was a mathematician in a time when women were not supposed to think of such things.

The book details much of Ada’s childhood, which makes sense since it’s a children’s book. The “thinking machine” detailed in the title appears just a few pages from the end and is almost an afterthought. Since the machine never came to fruition, the book is more about Ada following her passions than it is about the actual thinking machine. In addition, the last two pages of the book summarize how Ada influenced the computer age – a computer language is named after her, which is used to guide modern aircraft, satellites and spacecraft.

I believe this book is a great addition to a classroom and/or library collection, especially for girls who might be interested in more STEM-based subjects and want to know more about other girls and women who are scientists, engineers,
and mathematicians.

photo credit: https://www.booktopia.com.au/ada-byron-lovelace-and-the-thinking-machine-laurie-wallmark/prod9781939547200.html
    The image, above, toward the end of the book, encompasses the beauty of the illustrations and the unique way the story is told. Ada always looked to the future and what could be, instead of what she was told already was. The telescope is symbolic of the stars, where the Ada programming language would be used.
photo credit: aprilchu.com

The above photo is an illustration of the first time Ada sees her friend Charles Babbage’s difference engine. This machine is what made Ada develop an algorithm to help the machine solve complex math problems. This scene is crucial to understanding Ada’s life. Without the difference engine, who know where Ada’s life would have taken her.

Read-Alike’s and Other Books

Readers who love Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine would probably be interested in other STEM-related books for young readers. Here are a few:

Activities, Websites and More

Pair Ada Byron Lovelace with other activities and websites to create a better learning experience. As more and more people focus on STEM activities and how to make sure girls continue to be passionate about mathematics and science, it’s important to provide well-rounded activities and ways to learn more!

These websites have great information on STEM education, including additional reading lists, activities and ways to get the whole family excited about people in history like Ada:

Why Community Theater?

There is something special and magical about community theater. It’s an amazing conglomeration of passion, talent, and flat-out love. Community theater exists because people have a desire to act, want to try something new, and need a safe place to explore.

I have been a part of community theater for at least the last 20 years. First, in my hometown. My great-aunt Barb helped found the Albion Community Theater (ACT) and is largely responsible for getting me on the stage for the first time and helped me fall in love with the stage. Barb was always bigger than life, beautiful, strong and a force on the stage and off. I miss her tons and am sure she’s organizing tech rehearsals in heaven right about now.

Once I moved to college and realized getting a part at IU was going to be impossible, I connected with the Monroe County Civic Theater. I have been a part of MCCT in some degree or fashion for the last 18 years. Sometimes I was on stage, often I was not. When I wasn’t in a show, I went to the shows. Shakespeare in the Park made me feel like I was connected to something that reminded me both of home and challenged me to be better.

And today, another show goes on sale. I’m a part of MCCT’s “The Trojan Women,” which runs next weekend. We are not the most polished or the fanciest, but what we lack in funds for sets and costumes, we make up for in a genuine love for each other. And, through MCCT I’ve been honored to work with some of the best actors I’ve ever known; they’re ridiculously talented, risk-taking and smart.

If your hometown has a community theater, give it a chance. Support the volunteers who don’t get paid but do it anyway. Everyone in a community show has another life, another job, another family. We are all crazy busy people with crazy busy lives. But, we do it for the love of the stage…and for the love of each other.


Take the Photo

Full disclosure: The last few months of 2016 were rough for us. We lost several family members in a very short time, the 20th anniversary of my dad’s passing came and went, and a couple really special people at church also passed. It was rough. But, it was also a huge reminder that life is so short and the people we love are never going to be here as long as we want them to be.

Two deaths impacted us deeply. The death of Tim’s paternal grandmother, Ruth, and the death of my maternal grandmother, Shirley. They were very different, but very important women in our lives. I wish I had known Ruth better and I wish I had spent more time these last few years with Grandma Shirley. I miss them both every single day.

As I was trying to find a way to honor them, I realized a sad fact: I have very few pictures of myself with either of them in the last several years. In fact, the only picture I could find with Ruth was at our wedding 10 years ago. It broke my heart. Mostly, because I know why I don’t have a lot of photos: I am not comfortable in my body. My never-ending struggle with self-image means that I have shied away from photos for years, and now I regret it so much.

So, here is my advice: take the photo. I really wanted to insert an expletive in that sentence, I feel so strongly about it, but I didn’t. but seriously, take the photo. Take all the photos. Take 1,000 photos of the people you love and hold on to them when the days get dark. If you’re like most of the people I know, you carry around a camera with you wherever you go. Use it. Worry less about that extra 10, 20, 40 pounds you’re carrying around and more about creating memories.

See someone taking a selfie? Ask if they want you to take a photo for them. While there are times and places they are appropriate (and some that aren’t – I’m looking at you selfie-taking Auschwitz tourists), most of the time, people are just trying to capture a memory. Help them. Encourage them. Because you don’t know how much you’ll want those memories in the all-to-soon future.

An Open Letter

To you, the person who thinks they know me, because I am a Christian and probably more conservative than you (but not as conservative as you think),

I want to write about how there is more to me than what you assume to be true.

I want to write about how I’m complicated and so are my beliefs.

I want to write about how I can agree with your argument but not the way you argue.

I want to write about how even when I don’t agree with you, I will defend your right to fight for your beliefs with my every breath.

I want to write about being multidimensional when you want to make me black or white.

I want to write about how life is a struggle but it’s so so worth the fight.

I want to write about how you don’t make me feel safe to be me.

I want to write about how my beliefs are just as valid as yours.

I want to be able to express my fears and concerns.  

I want to write.

But I don’t know where is safe anymore.

You judge me based on an article or what someone has said.

You assume because I am a Christian I don’t understand.

You think I’m going to judge and condemn.

But you don’t actually ask me to speak.

You don’t want to hear me.

So I am quiet.

Why We Need Stories

This has been hanging on my wall for a year or more. I’m putting it here so it’s in a place more permanent. I’m unpacking this moment by moment in my life, and it’s definitely something I want to live better in this new year. (Thanks to my friends at Fishhook for bringing this to my attention first).

Stories are our prayers, so write and edit and tell them with due reverence, even when the stories themselves are irreverent. Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning so each tale stands in for a larger message, each moment is a lesson, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.

Stories are history; write and edit and tell yours with accuracy, understanding and context with unwavering devotion to the truth. Stories are music; write, edit and tell yours with pace and rhythm and flow, throw in dips and twirls that make them exciting, but stay true to the core beat. Remember that readers hear stories with their inner ear.

Stories are our conscience; write and edit and tell yours with a passion for the good they can do, the wrongs they can right, the truths they can teach, the unheard voice they can give sound to. And stories are memory; write and edit and tell yours with respect for the past they archive and for the future they enlighten.

Finally, stories are our soul; so write and edit and tell yous with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters, for if that is what you do-tell our collective stories-it matters that you do it as if that is all there is.

Pulitzer prize winner Jacqui Banaszynksi

MUVE Gaming and Community Engagement

Note: As part of one of my classes for grad school, I have to post a series of posts on predetermined topics. This is one of those posts.

First of all, I don’t live under a rock. I have heard of MUVE games before, but have never engaged in them. Second Life started just about the time I graduated from college, and while interesting, what I heard mostly was about the inappropriate ways people were using the game (not surprising to anyone).

Because I don’t know a lot about MUVEs, I asked two of my friends, Jason and Tori, their thoughts.

Jason said, “I definitely think that they [MUVEs] foster community and allow people to express themselves in a number of ways. It’s pretty amazing that I have people that I play with that I’ve never met in real like or know what they look like – and I would consider them close friends.”

Tori, who actually met her husband online gaming, said, “[They] offer a collaborative environment to socialize and essentially engage in play with others. Downsides are the same as any time you get a group of people together: people being rude, vulgar and sex-centric. I also think they can be particularly addictive because of the social component.”

I think libraries and librarians can use these technologies to reach people in new ways; if someone won’t come to the library, help the library come to them. My local library has Minecraft nights that involve both kids and parents, which allows everyone to know what happens in this virtual world. Libraries need to be proactive; don’t create a space for your library in a MUVE environment if you’re not going to keep it up and keep it active. Like social media, MUVEs can be used to enhance the library experience for people or detract from it.