Children’s Books that Won’t Make You Crazy

Years before I had children of my own, I was given the following advice about buying books for parents: Make sure that the book will not make the parent lose their mind after reading it for the 1,000th time. At the time this sounded kind of funny, but having spent a few years with the full text of Good Night Moon and the entire Sandra Boynton oeuvre running through my head like an ear worm, I now know what that advice was all about.

Now that I consider myself something of an expert on these things, I thought I’d share a few books that can be read to kids as many times as requested, without making you feel like you’re being slowly tortured

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas: This book was recommended to me by one of our very own children’s librarians when I was searching for a superhero book appropriate for a 4-year old. This one delighted both me and my kids: Timothy, who tries very hard to be strong, suddenly gets super strength after his mother mends his favorite pajamas (to make them strong). He and his pal, a stuffed monkey, decide to use his strength for good and he spends his day finding good deeds to do. The comic book-style illustrations and lettering are wonderful, and the comments from monkey are funny enough to keep this book from being too saccharine.

Extra YarnA girl in a drab and snowy town discovers a box full of colorful yarn, from which she knits sweater after sweater and never runs out of yarn, until an envious archduke who covets her yarn steals the box. This story has lovely illustrations and is whimsical in a way that appeals to both children and the reader. This is mostly just a fun, fanciful story, with the subtle message that we control our own happiness.

Anything by Eric Carle: I gained afresh appreciation for the work of Eric Carle after a recent visit to the Children’s Museum. In June they will be having an Eric Carle exhibit, and one day in their art area they had an Eric Carle-inspired activity, in which we painted textures onto paper, cut it up, and used those bits to make collages. Actually playing around with the paper and textures and thinking about ways to put them back together gave a whole new dimension to his wonderful illustrations. He’s a perennial favorite for a reason.

Can You Find It? and Can You Find It, Too?: If you’re tired of looking for Waldo, these books are a great substitute. Featuring paintings, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you and your little ones will look for anything from cats to books to eyes (think Ancient Egyptian art). It’s a nice way to share a love of art with young children, while sneakily teaching them how to look at paintings.

Trucks: Byron Barton is another one of those ubiquitous children’s authors. Yes, his books may drive parents a little crazy after reading nothing else for a month at a time, but your kids will love the simple text and basic illustrations. Trucks was a favorite in our household (I love the finality of the last line: “Trucks on the road. They work hard.”), but I also really like the book Airport for preparing a child for their first time on a plane.

The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit: A mole gets poop on his head and sets out to find out which animal pooped on his head, examining each animal’s droppings as he goes. Kids find this hilarious, and it’s a funny change from your typical children’s book.

What are some books (children’s or otherwise!) that you don’t mind reading over and over?



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I’ve been a fan of Billy Bragg for years. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live a number of times as well. He’s one of my favorite artists and I feel lucky to have seen him often. The mix of punk and rock, with folk and soul sensibilities strikes a great balance. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has number of albums by Bragg available and I highly recommend them all. Specifically:


Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. This album, released in the fall of 1986, is a fantastic snapshot of where Bragg was during this time in his career as a musician (as the bottom of the cover of the album states this is “The Difficult Third Album”) and of the larger world. There are plenty of anthems calling for change in the face of a Thatcher government in the UK (see “Ideology”) and songs that delve into relationships on every level. Some classics from this album that still get time in Bragg’s live sets include “Greetings to the New Brunette”, “Levi Stubb’s Tears” (which, co-incidentally I got to see him perform the day Levi Stubbs died…it was a heart wrenching rendition), and “There Is Power In a Union”. A sleeper hit on this album is “The Home Front”. Beautiful, sad, thought-provoking and wonderful. This album is a classic.


A newer album in the CLP collection worth checking out is Mr. Love & Justice. Released in 2008, this album is a bit more of a rounded venture, including some full band numbers that are quite worth it. The opening track “I Keep Faith” is a fantastic rally cry for folks who try to change the world. “I Almost Killed You harkens back to Bragg’s punk roots inside of a love song. It’s loud and angular and excellent. “Sing Their Souls Back Home” is a beautiful take on a secular hymn for a hurting world. This album is very different from the early stuff, but it’s still excellent.

Also check out:

Billy Bragg: Volume 1

Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg

As one final note, I have to mention the recent death of one of my favorite authors. Eduardo Galeano, who I have written about previously on Eleventh Stack, died on 13 April of this year. Rest in Power.


– who is happily ushering spring in with his old-guy soccer team

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The Long Wait

As a part of my job, I am constantly looking for new and upcoming books. Books that teens and young adults may be interested in, or books that inspire and look fun so that I can create a program around them. It’s a fun task and yet it can get overwhelming. There are so many books out there, and so many that I want to read, and so many that haven’t been published yet that I need to add to my list, and so many….well, you get the idea. There are A LOT of  books. However, even with so many titles coming out and being promoted, there are some titles/authors/covers that scream “THIS IS GOING TO BE AN AWESOME BOOK.” Now different books will say that to different people, but I recently stumbled upon one such book, and I thought I would share it here with all of you (although some of you may have already heard about it).

Courtesy of Barnes and Noble.

Courtesy of Barnes and Noble.

Abigail Breslin is coming out with a new book, and the title is This May Sound Crazy. It looks like it will be a fascinating read… at least to me. I remember first watching her in Little Miss Sunshine and I thought for how young she was (granted I’m only 7 years older) that she was a pretty great actress. Then she seemed to grow and become a pretty popular actress with movies like Zombieland and August Osage County where she played opposite some other well-known actors and actresses. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what she has to say in her new book, which comes out on October 6th, about growing up in the film industry and everything she has learned about life and love and Tumblr.

Now I just have to count down until October…


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Work Left To Do: Deep Water Horizon Disaster Turns Five

Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill. Yeah, that’s an official Library of Congress subject heading. When LC grants your mess its own subject heading, you know you will live in infamy.  BP has spent a lot of money cleaning this mess up, and cleaning up their tarred image. That link also features some pretty funny parody ads as well.

No one can deny a lot of work remains to be done to make things right in the Gulf. Here are a few items on the disaster to bring you up to speed:

Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil And Won…

The Big Fix

Fire On The Horizon: The Untold Story Of The Gulf Oil Disaster

–Scott P.





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Matt and Kim Add Shine with New Glow

On April 7th, alternative band Matt and Kim released their 4th studio album called New Glow. I got introduced to Matt and Kim via MTV (shocking because they hardly play music anymore) but it’s true. I saw the video for their song “Cameras” and was impressed. Another song that I like by them is “Lesson Learned.” Their sound is what I’d call alternative, but with pop, electronic, and rap influences.

The band has released several singles from the album in the weeks leading up to the album’s release. “Get It” is my personal favorite. It’s an upbeat song with rap influences. It’s a good song to dance to. “Hoodie On” should be everyone’s lazy day anthem. “Hey Now” is an upbeat song about love. The other single that was released is for their song “Can You Blame Me”. Three different versions of a music video were released for this song.

There are some other standout tracks on the album besides my favorite “Get It”. One is “Make a Mess” and I like this song because it reminds me of an old-school video game. I love the production on “Killn’ Me” particularly the horns. “Not Alone” and “Stirred Up” are also good songs as well.

Courtesy of Amazon

Courtesy of Amazon

If you’re in the mood for an upbeat album or you’re just a fan of Matt and Kim in general, then check out New Glow, which is in our catalog. Their previous albums Grand, Sidewalks, and Lightning are also available from the Library.



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A Sword Among Lions

Some books you read. Others, you study.

I’ve spent the past month or so wrapped up in a biography that clocks in at 800 pages, and I’m reading it very slowly to make sure I don’t miss anything important. As I close in on page 300, I’m kind of amazed at just how much American history I wasn’t taught. The text in question is called Ida: A Sword Among Lions, and is written by the noted scholar Paula J. Giddings. Its primary focus is the life and adventures of Ida Barnett-Wells, but it’s also a meticulous portrait of the culture into which she was born. This allows the reader to see how Wells was both a product of her time and a rebel against it.

"Ida B. Wells, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front." Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records [LC-DIG-ppmsca-23823]. All rights reserved. Click through for source page.

“Ida B. Wells, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front.” Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records [LC-DIG-ppmsca-23823]. All rights reserved. Click through for source page.

It’s a good thing nobody’s going to test me on the material, because while I’m absorbing it quite well, I’m having a hard time talking about it. Mostly I’ve been shoving the book at people and gesticulating wildly while random agitated noises come out of my mouth. This is, of course, because of the book’s focus on the horrors of lynching and Wells’s passionate crusade to both expose and end the practice.

It’s easy to think of the past as a gentle, sepia-toned land whose problems are mere curiosities. Giddings rips the band-aid off this kind of deception with vivid descriptions of murder and torture, descriptions we have mainly because Wells was there to document the crimes and write them up for the various papers for which she worked. She also made two trips to England to spread the word overseas and make the world take notice of what was being done to her people. She was very well-received, and the trip was beneficial to her spirit also. In a piece for The Chicago Inter-Ocean, dated April 9th, 1894, Wells wrote about what it was like to visit Liverpool, a city considerably more enlightened than some of its American counterparts:

[It] is like being born into another world, to be welcomed among persons of the highest intellectual and social culture as if one were one of themselves…Here, a ‘colored person’ can ride in any sort of conveyance in any part of the country without being insulted, stop at any hotel, or be accommodated at any restaurant one wishes without being refused with contempt; wander into any picture gallery, lecture room, concert hall, theater or church and receive the most courteous treatment from officials and fellow sightseers (290).

One imagines this civilized treatment must have sustained her after she returned home, and spurred her on to other projects, including women’s suffrage and fearless participation in Chicago politics. She was passionate about, and dedicated to, so many social justice efforts that even her allies found her occasionally overwhelming; Booker T. Washington’s secretary, Emmett J. Scott, is on record as having said, “Miss Wells is fast making herself so ridiculous that everybody is getting tired of her” (410).  If by “ridiculous” he meant “impossible to ignore,” then he was right.

Lest we put her up on a pedestal, Giddings also gives her readers a peek at Wells’s more human characteristics. She loved having nice clothes, and frequently went into debt over them in the interest of looking fashionable. She very much wished to love and be loved, exchanging courtship letters with a fairly large number of young men, thus opening her up to the 19th-century equivalent of slut-shaming (Wells was accused of immoral conduct multiple times in her young womanhood, and met those accusations with great distress and fury). She frequently beat herself up in her diary for her temper, constantly vowing to be more lady-like, but never quite pulling it off. And she loved the theater, so much so that even though the one she frequented in Memphis maintained segregated seating, she couldn’t bring herself to stop going. Witty, vivacious, flirtatious, and socially active? No wonder she was the object of so much scorn and ridicule.

I could write all day and not adequately explain just how much you’ll learn from this book. Giddings renders the events of Ida and her time in so much detail that it’s almost like being there. If 800 pages sounds daunting to you, it’s really only 659, unless you’re going to pore over the notes and bibliography like I will. And no, there is no digital version in the catalog, so you will have to make room in your bag for a brick of a book. But if you like American history, and want to treat yourself to a reading experience that’s the equivalent of an AP class, consider Ida. You may miss out on a bit of television, and/or a host of lighter reads, but what you will gain in exchange is worth its weight in intellectual gold.

–Leigh Anne


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“You Want to Learn? Come!” – On Volunteering at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Did you know that April 12-18 is not only National Library Week, but it’s also National Volunteer Week? This bit of serendipity makes perfect sense to us, because the volunteers who help out in various roles across our system are such a big part of what makes the Library a special place.

One set of amazing volunteers are the folks who dedicate their time to narrating, recording, and editing audio books for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. We sat down with volunteers Russ Kuba, Sister Jeremy Mahla, and Joe Farinacci to shine a spotlight on the special work they do.

Some background info: The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped loans recorded books and magazines, equipment to play the recordings, large print books, and described videos to patrons with visual or physical impairments. Many of the audio books we loan out are provided by the National Library Service, and are basically the same audio books available in the general Library collection. These volunteers, however, record and edit audio books based on local interest that might not be otherwise available in audio format; all the books they work on have some connection to Western Pennsylvania.

photo of volunteer Russ Kuba

Russ’s favorite thing about volunteering at the Library is learning something new!

What do you do at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped?

Sister Jeremy: I’m mostly an editor and I’ve been doing that for more than four years. I mostly fix up mistakes made in the recording process.

Russ: Mostly editing and monitoring recording, reading in braille. [Because I am visually impaired] I use special editing software that allows me to edit book computer files based on audio cues instead of visual cues. I’m all self-taught on using the software.

Joe:  I started as a narrator, but I do recording monitoring too.  I always say ‘What you need!’. If you need me, I’ll stay here as long as you’ll have me.

Why do you volunteer? What keeps you coming in?

Sister Jeremy: I enjoy it! I especially enjoy working with the people here and working with computers. It’s a very real learning experience. I always tell people ‘You want to learn? Come!’

Russ: I’ve been a patron here my whole life and I wanted to help others. It’s in my genes – my mother was a school librarian and I lived across the street from a library.  Maybe it’s a love of learning, but there’s always something new and interesting. The camaraderie is good and everyone gets along.

Joe:  I knew someone who was volunteering here and I had some experience with sound recording, plus my wife is slightly visually impaired and listens to audio books. I thought I would give it a try, and I loved it. I feel like I’m helping, plus I love the process. It’s an awesome service and a fantastic place to volunteer.

What’s your favorite book you have worked on?

Sister Jeremy:  One thing that’s fun about this work is you get to hear all different stories – all different kinds! I even worked on a book written by someone I went to school with.

Russ: Two great ones were Hatchet and Plow and Steel Ghosts.

Joe:  Hemlock Grove was a good story, and it was a fun challenge to do the different voices. I also liked Behind the Stage Door, which is about concert promoter Rich Engler. There’s all kinds of stories about concerts in Pittsburgh, including Joe Cocker, Paul McCartney, George Carlin, and Jimmy Buffett.

(Note: These special, volunteer-produced audio books are only available to LBPH patrons, so the links in this blog post will go to print copies in the general collection. If you or someone you know might qualify for service through LBPH, please call 412.687.2440.)

After our chat, Joe was kind enough to let us film him for a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process:

As a part of National Volunteer Week, we’re hosting tours and a service project at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Feel free to sign up if you’re interested in learning more about this extraordinary Library!


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