FREADom Songs

Do you love Pittsburgh? How about karaoke? Are you a little rebel who reads banned books? Do you like free stuff, games and prizes?

If any of those things sound like your cup of tea (or coffee or hot chocolate), celebrate your freedom to read at FREADom, the ACLU-PA’s 20th annual reading of banned books tonight at 7pm at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater (that’s on the lower level).

image courtesy of the PA ACLU - click through for event page.

image courtesy of the ACLU-PA – click through for event page.

A veritable rogue’s gallery of greats from the event’s past twenty years have assembled for tonight. Scrapbook documentarian and Pittsburgh treasure Rick Sebak will read from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Talk-show host Lynn Cullen will read selections from the Bible. Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes will read some of Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita.

Pittsburgh’s best jazz vocalist, Etta Cox, will sing “Strange Fruit,” Billie Holiday’s banned song that protested lynchings. There will be more singing throughout the night in the form of a banned-song karaoke singalong. Fun fact: I’m banned from this part of the event because my singing voice sounds like a cat giving birth to a helicopter and can literally cause paint to peel.

If you’re over age 21, don’t forget to get your Banned Books Week cocktail from the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC).

There will also be a Banned Books Quiz, featuring questions about frequently challenged Young Adult books (like The Bluest Eye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The House on Mango Street), organized by your favorite CLP librarians. And of course there will be prizes!

Best of all, it’s free!

FREADom is also sponsored by CLP, 90.5 WESA-FM and 91.3 WYEP-FM. For more information call 412-681-7736, email or go to


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Just in Time for Banned Books Week

Earlier this month, a mother from Tennessee called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot “pornographic”–because of the description of Henrietta discovering a cervical tumor–and demanded it be removed from the school’s reading list.


Rebecca Skloot responded in the best way.

First, she called the mother out for “confusing gynecology with pornography,” and second, and even better, she’s raising funds to donate copies of her book to kids who can’t afford it.*

The book traces the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the 1950s. When Henrietta died, she left behind six children–and cells from a sample her doctor had taken from one of her tumors.

No one in Henrietta’s family knew the doctors had taken the sample. The cells, now known as HeLa cells, became the first cells that survived in a laboratory setting and led to many scientific advances, including the polio vaccine.

Now scientific and pharmaceutical companies sell HeLa cells to labs across the country, but Henrietta’s family has never seen any of the profit. Skloot has attempted to offset this injustice by using proceeds from her book to create The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which you can read more about here.

In her compassionate and beautiful telling of Henrietta’s story, Skloot raises issues of medical ethics, race, poverty, and more as she investigates Henrietta’s life, death, and the legacy she left behind. Getting young adults to read this book is an incredible way to promote scientific literacy and engage broader issues of medical ethics and our country’s long history of viewing people of color as “less than.”

If you haven’t read this book, now is the perfect time. Banned Books Week is happening right now, and Henrietta Lacks is available to you in print, large print, e-book, e-audio, and CD.




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Welcome… To Banned Books Week 2015


Image courtesy ALA. Click through for source.

I would like to personally welcome you to the beginning of Banned Books Week.

The focus of Banned Books week is to celebrate the freedom to read, and to hopefully have a discussion about why certain books have been banned or challenged throughout the years. This week is not about forcing someone into a set of ideas, or taking away people’s rights to voice their opinion about a book. It’s about bringing to light the harm that censorship can do to people of all ages, races, religions….well, all people.

I believe that ALA’s website defines and describes banned and challenged books the best by saying challenges are “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group” and continues with “challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.”

I wanted this post to be informational to those who have not heard of Banned Books Week before, or those who have but weren’t quite sure what the big deal was, because I’m sure there will be plenty of posts/blogs/articles/podcasts/information about all the books that have been banned or challenged. Therefore, welcome to a passionate and intense week of book discussions and their value to the readers.



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September: the Month of Mindy

bookcoverSeptember is a busy month for Mindy Kaling. On September 15th, the fourth season of her show The Mindy Project debuted on Hulu. It ran for three seasons on FOX until they canceled it (yet they renewed New Girl and it’s sucked for the past two seasons). Anyway, Mindy now has a new home on Hulu. The season premiere was hilarious! Mindy and the gang haven’t missed a beat. We have the first, second and third seasons in our catalog if you want to catch up.

September 15th should’ve been Unofficial Mindy Kaling Day because not only did the new season of The Mindy Project premiere, but Kaling’s new book Why Not Me? hit shelves. This is one book that I’ve been impatiently waiting for. I loved Kaling’s last book Is Everyone Hanging Out WIthout Me? which was released in 2011. I’m only twenty-seven pages into Why Not Me? and I already love it; Mindy compared herself to a hash brown from McDonald’s after having a spray tan and to an extra from The Walking Dead when she wakes up in the morning. Hilarious indeed. While there are a lot of people on the waiting list for Why Not Me?, her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is available in our catalog.


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Shirt Pocket Notes

Nobody asked me, but…

  • Reading Robert Graves’ The White Goddess requires a lot of work! His explorations into the sources behind Western poetry and poetic mythology remain tantalizingly inaccessible to casual reading. I feel like you have to really commit yourself to get the most out of Graves’ sometimes meandering, but always erudite, prose.
  • I know others have written far more eloquently about H Is For Hawk here and elsewhere, but author Helen Macdonald’s powerful style really grabbed me when I happened to idly pick the book up the other day. Her journey into falconry included the extremely difficult task of training a goshawk named Mabel. Forging a rapport with this magnificent bird provides the backdrop for Macdonald’s deeply personal struggle with the unexpected death of her beloved father.
  • With the Pittsburgh Pirates again on the precipice of making the MLB playoffs, I find myself wanting to read more about their storied history. A Pirate Life by Steve Blass will be my next port of call when I’ve cleared the decks of my other reading obligations. Mr. Blass is class personified, and his book offers a sometimes funny, sometimes sad look into the life of a major league baseball pitcher in the 1960s.
  • As we now head into the fall season, I find myself wanting to get out and do more hiking. Glen Scherer’s excellent Hikes In The Mid-Atlantic States: Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York offers a host of great day-hikes within fairly easy driving distance of Pittsburgh.
  • Fall being my favorite season, I thought it might be nice to finish this little post with an affirming quote from Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

–Scott P.



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Connecting Kids With Culture

Although I’m not Latino, I feel a strong connection to all things Latin American. My wife and in-laws are from Panama, and therefore Latin culture is something that we want to immerse our children in culturally and linguistically, so they recognize and appreciate their maternal roots. How do we do this when we’re thousands of miles away from that culture? The Library has plenty of resources to help.


There are lots of kids’ Spanish music CDs, and ones for grownups, too!

spanishbopSpanish Bop 15 Favorite Children’s Songs – Produced as part of the “Little Pim” language learning series, this has excellent nursery rhymes and catchy kids songs to sing along with.

Sabor! Spanish Learning Songs – Another title from the “Little Pim” collection, Sabor! has great easy songs for singing along in Spanish.

Putumayo Presents Latin Playground – Putumayo, which produces a wide variety of global music for kids and adults, puts together a collection of kid-friendly songs from throughout Latin America.

I’ve found kids end up loving Latin American music that’s not “for kids” anyway.  Check out awesome artists like Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, AventuraFania All Stars and many more for some great music that will get your kids dancing too!  Also, you can tune in to Pittsburgh’s Latin music radio show, La Rumba, on Thursdays between 7-9 pm on 88.3 FM or WRCT.


My kids are 3 and 5, so these choices are geared towards that demographic.

Maria Had a Little Llamalittlellama – A cute rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb.  This story has both English and Spanish text.  The illustrations are excellent, noting the indigenous dress of Peru and matching backgrounds.

Don’t Say a Word, Mamá = No digas nada, Mamá – Another excellent bilingual tale; the illustrations have a Mexican style.  The story of two sisters and their love for their mother, peppered with traditional Mexican food ingredients like corn, chiles and tamales. Great illustrations!

My Grandma = Mi abuelita –  A cute story about a child and their family traveling to visit their grandma in a different country.  Excellent bilingual story and the backdrop could work for any country in Latin America.


mexicancookingNo discussion of culture would be complete without my favorite element, food!  Now, food in Latin America, like most other things in Latin America, is incredibly diverse, and I don’t claim to know a lot about the cuisines of all Latin American countries, because I don’t.  Although there are certain common themes in Latin American dishes (tamales, empanadas, rice, corn) even those themes are very different country to country. Here are some awesome cookbooks that contain recipes my kids will actually eat.

Secrets of Colombian Cooking – There are actually no Panamanian cookbooks in the library system, yet. But Panama’s neighbor, Colombia, has very similar gastronomy. This cookbook contains recipes of things kids will love like empanadas, sancocho (a hearty soup), arroz con coco (rice with coconut) and desserts like flan, tres leches and rice pudding.  This is definitely an adult’s cookbook, but kids will love to eat the delicious food.

Mexico – This is a kids’ cookbook. The recipes are simple and fun to make. I love the homemade tortilla recipe, and what kid doesn’t love using a rolling pin on some dough?  Other delicious dishes include picadillo and fried bean cakes.

Cool Mexican Cooking: Fun and Tasty Recipes For Kids – I love this series of cookbooks for kids.  Similar to the title above, also easy-to-make and fun dishes that kids will eat.

Spanish Language Learning Resources for kids

Even though my wife and I both try to always speak Spanish at home, and even though we try to travel to Panama every year, oftentimes our kids don’t want to speak Spanish.  I don’t fret though because I know the library can help!  The library has plenty of resources to help you and your children learn languages (I wrote about them a little over a year ago.)  Here are some of the children’s resources again:

Little Pim –  Online videos you can watch with your child that teach basic vocabulary.  Available in additional languages than just Spanish.

Muzzy Online – Similar to the above mentioned, cartoon videos that teach your kids the basics of the language.

Speak Spanish with Dora & Diego! – Audio recording paired with books that help your child learn with beloved characters Dora & Diego.

Community organizations and events

Throughout the year Pittsburgh’s Latin American community has many family events that are excellent ways to expose kids to Latin American culture.  A great place to find info on these events is the Latin American Culture Union’s calendar.  Some of our favorite events include the LACU’s summer picnic in August and Pitt’s Latin American and Caribbean Festival every March.  These events often have music, food, dance, activities for kids and much more.  They’re also a great way to meet some neighbors and celebrate Pittsburgh’s diversity.

If you’re bringing up your kids to be bicultural, how do you do it? What tools do you use to keep your kids close to their roots, whatever those roots may be?  How do you expose your children to cultures other than your own?  I’d love to hear from you!

-Scott M.


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Election Season Reading Challenge

When it comes to politics, there is one thing that most people agree on: making an informed decision about your vote matters. Of course there are myriad ways to stay informed and educated, and it’s great to consult multiple sources of information. So, gearing up for the grind of election season, I decided to give myself a small reading challenge. There are only three prompts, so feel free to join me!

Go Vote

Image by Chris Piascik. Click through for the artist’s website.

1. Read a Book About an Election Issue You Care About – Hot topics in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election include immigration, gun controlhealthcare, and more, but I urge you to define what matters most to you and go from there. In terms of “issues” books, I recently read Not Funny Ha-Ha, a graphic novel that straightforwardly describes two different women who choose to have abortions, and The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, which I can’t stop talking about. I have plenty more on my “to read” list, including Burning Down the House: the End of Juvenile Prison and Between the World and Me.
2. Read a Book About Media or Politics – To me, the political process is sometimes as interesting and relevant as the outcomes. Insight about behind-the-scene antics help us understand how arguments and messages are being constructed, and interpreted (or misinterpreted).  Right now, I’m in the midst of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class and The Influencing Machine, and loving them both.
3. Read a book about or by a candidate  – There are so many choices, I’m not even sure where to start. Choose your own adventure:
How will you be keeping up-to-date this election season?


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