Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Acorn Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Last weekend was my family reunion. The weather didn't really cooperate, but it was still enjoyed by all. I come from a pretty big family. My Mom is one of ten kids and I have 35 first cousins. I've lost track of how many first cousins once removed I have! We live all around the country so we don't get to see each other all that often. It's actually kind of hard to catch up with everyone in just one day, but we do the best we can.

One of the things I enjoy the most is looking at the family tree that one of my cousins has made for us. We can trace our roots to Germany and Ireland and many more relatives spread around the United States.

I've always been fascinated with genealogy and will occasionally dabble in it. Mostly I just like looking up some of my ancestors on genealogy databases. Luckily, being a librarian, I have easy access to many genealogy tools including the popular  It is only available in the library, but you can search census, birth, marriage, and many other documents for free. It's a great tool!

If you are inspired to research your family tree here are a few resources for you to get started.

From the Catalog:

-- The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy by Kimberly Powell

-- The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried-And-True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors by Marsha Hoffman Rising

-- Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America by Francois Weil

-- Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family's History and Heritage by Barbara Renick

-- Unpuzzling Your Past: The Best-Selling Basic Guide to Genealogy by Emily Anne Croom

From the Web:

-- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Department - This page provides information and access to a variety of databases and websites along with tips and advice. The librarians in the Pennsylvania Department are also available to do searches for you.

-- Ellis Island Records - Provides free searches of passengers who entered the United States through the Port of New York.

-- Jewish Gen - A helpful, free site devoted to help those with Jewish ancestry find family members.

-- FamilySearch - A free service of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch provides access to records that have been gathered for the last 100 years. They also have local centers with one located nearby in Plum.

--Post by Tracy

Monday, July 21, 2014

Have You Zine the News?

Pictured above is the front cover of the first-ever issue of "The Barcode Project," Monroeville Public Library's teen-created zine.

What is a zine?  It takes its name from the shortened form of "magazine," and it is, in essence, a mini-version of a magazine in itself. Zines feature collections of stories, poems, essays, and artwork by independent artists and authors, and are usually distributed (often for free) to the local community.

"The Barcode Project" was a labor of love from MPL's Teen Writing Group, featuring poetry, interviews, humorous essays, pictures and comic strips -- and short stories that ran the genre gamut, from historical fiction and adventure to sci-fi and parody. The first issue was published this spring and offered for free here at the library, allowing the teens' original work to be enjoyed across the community. (You can still stop in at the front desk to pick up your free copy!)

July 21st is International Zine Day (part of July's International Zine Month celebration). In honor of the occasion, read on to discover a little about the history and culture of zines.

And if you know any teens who would like to submit their work to The Barcode Project?  Tell them to drop by MPL's Owl Post to submit a story or ask a question about our next issue!

Denver Public Library's zine display

All About Zines:

-- Stolen Sharpie Revolution - More about International Zine Month.

-- The Zine Pavilion - A librarian-run page all about the world of zines.

-- Zines @ CLP - A great list of resources on zines, including some zine recommenations.

-- Brooklyn Zine Fest - The Brooklyn Historical Society held a "zine fest" this year. Read all about it!

-- The History of Zines (on ZineWiki) - Straight from zine fans themselves, read about the history of the zine.

-- Rookie Mag: How to Make a Zine - A do-it-yourself guide for making your own zine.

Volume 2 of "The Barcode Project," coming this fall to Monroeville Public Library

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, July 17, 2014

There and Back Again

July 19th is the 60th anniversary of the first publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. Part of the Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy, these outrageously popular books (and now films) are an undeniable cultural phenomenon in their own right.

But Tolkien's trilogy is responsible for something else, as well: the ushering in of the modern epic fantasy genre. Eager fans finished the Rings trilogy but weren't satisfied with a mere three books, allowing other authors to step in and tell their own tales of grand high fantasy -- many of which were, it has to be said, clear copycats of Tolkien's original.

But there are plenty of epic fantasy novels that, while wholly original, still owe a debt to Tolkien for kickstarting a modern-day interest in the fantasy genre that persists to this day. So in honor of the anniversary, read on for some recommendations of our own fantasy favorites:

-- Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

One of the (understandably) biggest complaints about trying an epic fantasy novel is that, generally speaking, you're kicking off a major reading commitment. Most fantasy novels aren't standalone stories; rather, they're the first book in a three or six or ten-part series, requiring you to devote some serious reading time to get through them.

Warbreaker is that rarest of epic fantasy animals: a standalone novel. There's no sequel, no prequel, no "companion volume" -- just one complete story, told in a single book.

And it's quite a story. Foregoing the usual epic-fantasy traps of long quests for magical talismans, Warbreaker instead revolves around two sisters with an unusual magical power. Though eldest sister Vivenna is the one who originally finds herself betrothed to the God King, it's her flighty and impetuous younger sibling who ends up fulfilling the arrangement. Determined to save her sister, Vivenna promptly follows after her into the city -- only to find herself enmeshed in a world of thieves, immortals, and a god who doesn't believe in his own religion.

The book's twist-filled plot, original magic system, and rich character development make Warbreaker one of my very favorites.

Brandon Sanderson in the Catalog:

-- Warbreaker

Mistborn Trilogy
-- The Final Empire
-- The Well of Ascension
-- The Hero of Ages

Stormlight Archive
-- The Way of Kings
-- Words of Radiance

-- Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

As a big fan of pirate tales, I'm always on the lookout for fantasy reads that have a few nautical elements to them. In my experience, however, fantasy books with ships and sailors are few and far between.

So I was delighted when I stumbled across Ship of Magic. The first book in a trilogy, it gives you everything you could ask for in a nautical fantasy: ships, sailors, sea serpents, and even a handful of the requisite pirates.

Merchant's daughter Althea Vestrit is determined to do whatever it takes to rescue her father's ship from her ruthless brother-in-law. Young priest-in-training, Wintrow, just wants to find his way back home. And Captain Kennit, the would-be Pirate King, is (like all good pirates) on the lookout for ways to seize as much power as possible. And on an ocean where ship's figureheads are sometimes known to spring to life, nothing will be as simple as it seems.

Robin Hobb in the Catalog:

The Liveship Traders
-- Ship of Magic
-- Mad Ship
-- Ship of Destiny

Farseer Trilogy
-- Assassin's Apprentice 
-- Royal Assassin
-- Assassin's Quest

Tawny Man Trilogy
-- Fool's Errand
-- The Golden Fool
-- Fool's Fate 

-- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

He's been an innkeeper, swordfighter, magician, thief, musician ... and assassin. Our hero, Kvothe, is already a legend -- but the Chronicler who is determined to write down the true story of his exploits quickly finds himself peeling back the layers to find the man behind the myth.

The Name of the Wind kicks off with Kvothe's early days. ("I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in," as he blithely explains.) As the story unfolds for the Chronicler, so too does the truth behind Kvothe's life come into sharp relief. With another uniquely-written system of magic, and plenty of complex characters, this series has quickly become a go-to favorite for many fantasy fans.

Patrick Rothfuss in the Catalog:

Kingkiller Chronicle
-- The Name of the Wind
-- The Wise Man's Fear

-- Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

There is a curse. They say:
"May you live in interesting times."

The Discworld series started life as a parody of epic fantasy and went on to become, in the course of forty installments, something else entirely. (Don't be scared off by the quantity; each volume is written as a standalone story.) While the intensely wry (and altogether delightful) humor has always remained a constant, the Discworld series has become a complex fantasy universe in its own right, with as delightful a cast of characters as one could ever ask for.

This particular offering stars my favorite character of the series -- Rincewind the wizard, who is so inept that he only knows one spell (and it's not a very useful one). He's also an outrageous coward, although given the number of times someone or something seems hell-bent on killing him, it's rather hard to blame him.

When the Unseen University receives a request for a "Great Wizzard" to be sent to the Counterweight Continent, the faculty decides Rincewind is the only man for the job. What follows is a whirlwind adventure that sees Rincewind running into the likes of  Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde of Warriors (everyone's a bit older now), a villainous Grand Vizier, a well-meaning army -- and Rincewind's old traveling companion, Twoflower. It's exactly the kind of "interesting" adventure that Rincewind so dreads -- and that makes for such delightful, hilarious, and surprisingly poignant reading.

Terry Pratchett in the Catalog:

-- Interesting Times
-- The Colour of Magic
-- Mort
-- Wyrd Sisters
-- Maskerade
-- Guards! Guards!
-- Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman)

"Luck is my middle name. Mind you, my first name is Bad."
-- Rincewind the Wizard

-- Post by Ms. B

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Be A Fruit Loop in a World Full of Cheerios

When Northern Exposure hit the airwaves back in 1990, it was like a breath of fresh air. While I have watched my fair share of legal and cop shows, after awhile I get a little bored with them. So when a show like Northern Exposure comes along, I get very excited.

This little show was filled with quirky, but incredibly lovable and relatable characters. The main character is Dr. Joel Fleischman. In order to pay his medical school tuition, he accepts a student loan from the state of Alaska that requires him to practice in small town Cicely for four years upon graduation. Joel is the proverbial fish out of water. He is a New York City native, who misses everything about the Big Apple - bagels, the Mets and his girlfriend. The friendly citizens of Cicely try their hardest to make him feel welcome, but he thwarts them at every turn.

On the one hand I could understand Joel's feelings of homesickness. But on the other, how could he resist this town filled with wonderfully quirky and unique people? I wanted to move to Alaska and look for these people; I wanted them all to be my friends! From cinema-loving teenager Ed to ladies' man Chris to Joel's enigmatic receptionist Marilyn, they were people I loved sharing time with every week.

Request all six seasons of Northern Exposure from the catalog here.

Northern Exposure is not the only show that I've become quite attached to that was filled with its own cast of quirky characters. Here are a few others. Just click on any of the titles to request your copy!

Wonderfalls (2004)

Recent college graduate Jaye Tyler is working retail and living in a trailer park in Niagara Falls while the rest of her overachieving family wonders what will become of her. To top it all off, inanimate objects begin talking to her in cryptic messages and won't stop talking until she listens to them!

Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)

From the same creator of Wonderfalls, came this sweet show about Ned the pie maker who can bring dead things back to life with just the touch of his finger. If he doesn't touch them again in one minute they will stay alive. This happens when Ned's childhood sweetheart is murdered aboard a cruise ship. Now they must hide her from her loving, but over protective aunts. Meanwhile, Ned uses his ability to help private investigator Emerson Cod solve murders by asking the victims themselves!

Eureka (2006-2012)

Eureka is a small town tucked away in the Pacific Northwest unlike any other. It's filled with brilliant but, slightly odd, scientists who work for the government performing all types of experiments. Many of those experiments turn out slightly disastrous and town Sheriff Jack Carter must step in to help save the day. Eureka is a very light hearted, but fun show.

Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

Who killed Laura Palmer? That is the key question in this cult show fave. FBI Agent Dale Cooper is sent to the small town of Twin Peaks, WA to find the murderer of high school student Laura Palmer. Along the way Agent Cooper discovers that there is more than meets the eye in this seemingly picturesque town. This highly praised series takes a stark look at what lies beneath the surface of small town life.

Better Off Ted (2009-2010)

Who can't relate to a show set in an office environment? This comedy takes a look at the inner workings of a large, and morally suspect, corporation in their research and development division. Title character Ted is in charge of a strange little group of office drones and fussy scientists. Ted is also a single father who tries to teach his daughter about morals and doing the right thing, which isn't always easy when you work for a company like Veridian Dynamics. With sharp and satirical humor, Better Off Ted hits all the right notes.

--Post by Tracy

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Curiosity rover takes a "selfie"

When you're a resident of Mars, anniversaries work a bit differently.

For our cosmic next-door neighbor, a Martian year -- one complete orbit around the sun -- takes 687 days. So it's an all-more-impressive milestone to hear from NASA that the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, celebrated the end of its first Martian year just this past June.

Curiosity joins the ranks of such other NASA robot rovers as Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity; their missions are to boldly go where we humans just can't (at least not yet).

So in celebration of Curiosity's first Martian anniversary, let's take a look at one of our closest planetary neighbors:

-- How far is it from Earth to Mars?  It's tricky. Mars has an elliptical orbit, which means it is closer or farther away from Earth depending on the time of year. The distance varies from 39 million to about 240 million miles.

-- Mars is roughly double the size of our moon ... and half the size of Earth. (As measured by each sphere's radius.)

-- Though a Martian year is nearly twice the length of a year on Earth, a Martian day is much closer to a day on Earth: about 1.03 Earth days (or about forty minutes longer).

-- Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos (named after the sons of an Italian god of war).

-- There's no oxygen on the surface of Mars, but there is also, essentially, no air at all. With only a scant bit of atmosphere on the planet, most gases simply float into outer space.

A Curiosity photo of the Martian landscape

-- There's plenty of water on Mars, which is one reason scientists think the planet may have once harbored life. It is, however, frozen into the ice caps at the northern and southern ends of the planet. The ice does occasionally melt during the "summer" seasons.

-- The first satellite to capture a picture of the surface of Mars was Mariner 4. In 1965, Mariner 4 captured 22 photographs from just over 6,000 miles away, revealing a crater-covered landscape.

-- Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano ever discovered in our solar system, is nearly the size of Texas. Its primary crater is 40 miles across.

-- There have been four American rovers sent to Mars (Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity), and all four were successfully landed and communicated back to Earth (although Sojourner lasted a scant two months).

-- The USA isn't the only country to get spacecraft to Mars. Russia was the first country to get a manmade craft to Mars, landing two rovers (Mars 2 and Mars 3) in 1971. The probes sent back 60 pictures of the surface, taken while orbiting the planet. A British rover known as Beagle 2 was also launched in 2003, though it was lost upon landing on Christmas Day.

An earlier picture from the Opportunity rover

For More:

-- Happy Anniversary! On Mars, Curiosity Rover Has Done a Lot in a Long Year - from Check out this overview of Curiosity's accomplishments in its first Martian year.

-- Mars Rovers [video] - from National Geographic. Some mini-documentary videos looking into the difficulties of landing on and navigating the Martian terrain.

-- How Big is Space? - from the BBC. An interactive (and rather scaled-down) look at how far our nearest neighbors truly are.

-- How Far is it to Mars - Another interactive look at the distance from Earth to Mars.

-- Mars on NPR - Articles on the science and discovery of the Red Planet.

-- NASA's Mars Page

News from the Red Planet:

-- Mystery Light on Mars Spotted by Curiosity - from Discovery News.

-- NASA Rover on Mars Sees Mercury Cross the Sun's Face - from

-- Software Bug Found on Mars Curiosity Rover - from the Telegraph. A surprising development (though it's yet to prove a threat to the mission).

-- China Bound for Mars in 2020 - Curiosity may gain a new friend, as China moves ahead with plans to expand their own space program with a rover to Mars.

From the Catalog:


-- Mars by Linda T. Elkins-Tanton

-- The Smithsonian Book of Mars by Joseph M. Boyce

-- Managing Martians by Donna Shirley, with Danelle Morton

-- Ultimate Mars Challenge [DVD] - PBS documentary on Curiosity

-- Mars Rising [DVD] - documentary on the challenges of a manned mission to Mars


-- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

-- War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

-- A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

-- Mars, Inc.: The Billionaire's Club by Ben Bova

-- Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

-- Post by Ms. B

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July Library Reads

It's time again for the Library Reads selections. Check out some of the top picks, all available from the library!

To see the full list click here.

Library Reads July Top Pick
by Rainbow Rowell

“Landline explores the delicate balance women make between work and family, considering the tradeoffs and pain. Rowell has a special gift for offering incredible insights into ordinary life. Never heavy-handed, Rowell’s writing is delivered with humor and grace. I finish all of her books wanting to laugh and cry at the same time–they are that moving. Landline captured my heart.”

Andrea Larson, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL

One Plus One: A Novel
by Jojo Moyes

“A single mom, her math genius daughter, her eye-shadow-wearing stepson, a wealthy computer geek and a smelly dog all get into a car…it sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s actually another charming novel from Jojo Moyes. It’s more of a traditional romance than Me Before You, but will also appeal to fans of quirky, hard-working characters. A quick read and perfect for summer.”

Emily Wichman, Clermont County Public Library, Milford, OH

California: A Novel
by Edan Lepucki

“Driven away from the violence of cities and a crumbling society, Cal and Frida live an isolated existence, struggling to survive on what they grow and forage. When an unplanned pregnancy pushes the couple to search for other people, they discover an unexpected community. This well-written debut is great for apocalyptic fiction fans and fans of realistic, character-driven fiction.”

Sara Kennedy, Delaware County District Library, Delaware, OH

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee
by Marja Mills

“A warm and engaging telling of the life story of Harper Lee. Like no other biography, this book offers insights directly from Lee’s point of view as shared with the journalist she and her sister embraced in friendship late in their lives. Informative and delightful!”

Jan Fisher, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, CT

Dry Bones in the Valley: A Novel
by Tom Bouman

“A body has been found in an elderly recluse’s field, neighbors are fighting over fracking, and meth labs and heroin dealers have settled deep in the woods of Officer Henry Farrell’s Wild Thyme Township. Bouman’s prose reveals not only the beauty of northeastern Pennsylvania, but also abject poverty and despair. A startling debut rich in setting and character with an intricate plot that will stay with readers after the last page.”

Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ

--Post by Tracy

Thursday, July 3, 2014

To Market, To Market To Buy A Fat Pig

Summer is officially here and so are the local farmer's markets. And judging by the number of markets in the area and the number of people who are at them every week, they are more popular than ever. Who can resist all of the fresh fruit and vegetables. Not to mention the baked goods!

The hardest part, though, is figuring out what to do with all of that wonderful, fresh food. To help everyone out, here are some cookbooks from the library and several websites with shopping and cooking tips. Enjoy!

From the Catalog:

-- At The Farmers' Market With Kids: Recipes and Projects For Little Hands by Leslie Jonath and Ethel Brennan

-- The Farmstand Favorites Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes Celebrating Local, Farm-Fresh Food with foreword by Avis Richards

-- EatingWell In Season: The Farmers' Market Cookbook by Jessie Price

-- The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally by Ivy Manning

-- Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison

-- The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy The Pleasures of Locally Grown Food by Amy Cotler

-- To Market, To Market To Buy a Fat Pig [DVD] - Rick Sebak special

From the Web:

-- Western Pennsylvania Farmers Market Interactive Map -- from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

-- 10 Farmers Market Shopping Tips -  from

-- 6 Steps to Mastering the Farmers' Market - from Good Housekeeping

-- The Crisper Whisperer: 10 Tips to Take to the Farmers' Market - from Serious Eats

-- From Farm to Table: Farmers' Markets - recipes from

-- Cooking from the Farmer's Market - recipes and tips from

-- Farmers Market Recipes - from

--Post by Tracy