Heroes, super and otherwise

Action_Comics_1Seventy-six years ago, on April 18, 1938, Superman (created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) made his debut in Action Comics #1, usually considered the first true superhero comic book. In the decades since, the superhero remained a staple in pop culture. Long before the recent stream of wildly popular Batman and Marvel Universe movies, super-powered people saving the day were everywhere, in every media. And once the archetype became a cliché, of course, creators were eager to subvert it.

Alan Moore started it all with Watchmen. Revolutionary in its time, this behemoth of a series was a deliberate attempt to tear the gilding off superheroic figures and show what having vast power with no oversight might actually do to people and to the society that came to depend on them.

Later, Gotham Central (the inspiration behind a new TV series?) looked at the superhero world from the vantage point of everyday citizens – specifically, the cops whose job it is to clean up after Batman’s battles, or try to catch supervillains like Two Face on their own.

machinaOne of my favourite twists on the superhero myth is Ex Machina, a satisfying read for fans of both comics and backroom politics. After a minor-league vigilante known as the Great Machine performs a high-profile act of heroism, he exploits his new fame to win the race for mayor of New York. The series follows his administration’s political ups and downs, complicated by the return of past enemies. It’s like The West Wing, if President Bartlett had had superpowers.

Superman, of course, fast became an iconic American figure. He’s so closely associated with the USA — from his origin story of a Kansas crash landing to fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way” — that it’s almost impossible to picture him anywhere else. In Red Son, however, Mark Millar did just that – imagining what could have happened if Superman had landed on a Ukrainian collective farm.

mosaicDespite the American emphasis, there have always been Canadian superheroes, from Captain Canuck to Northstar. The book Guardians of the North fleshes out the background to an online exhibit of Canadian superhero art created by Library and Archives Canada. The brand new anthology Masked Mosaic collects short stories of masked vigilantes, superpowered antiheroes, and super scientists written by Canadian authors. And in an exciting development, a new Cree heroine from northern Ontario is joining Justice League Canada, as created by Canadian Jeff Lemire.

As anyone who reads comics knows, superheroes never die. They just take on new forms, re-imagined and re-envisioned to fit each new era.


Magically Interactive

BusyBeesThe very first book that my son ever stopped to listen to was a book called Buzz Buzz Busy Bees by Dawn Bentley. It’s a touch-and-feel book that has nine fuzzy bees in it, all of them worn down to lint by now from his loving caress. Those bees were so captivating to him, and it was nice to know that he was drawn into the story because of them (even if his main goal was to eat them, at first).

From there, he fell in love with Bizzy Bear who appears in a bizzybearseries of books written by Benji Davies. The Bizzy Bear books are chalk full of moving parts from busy cars circling a roundabout, to sailboats rocking at sea.  Joy Gosney’s Busy books were equally enchanting, with their spinning washing machines and scooping diggers.

These books had the power to stop my little road-runner in his tracks, and even though pulleys and pop-ups have been around for ages, these types of books continue to fly off the shelves.  Kids love to read books in a hands-on way, and that is something that will never change — particularly in a world that is obsessed with touch-screens and tablets.

It’s true, the world of picture book apps and ebooks is growing wildly.  But amidst all the digital buzz (and perhaps because of it), many authors have started playing with physical books in a different way, adding a new twist to the interactive story format.

This exciting pocket of books engages kids in a way that allows them to make a difference in the story by asking them to do things like tap the page, press a picture, shake the book, move their hands, or blow a kiss in order to move the story along.  It’s absolutely magical, and kids cannot resist getting involved.

tapOne such book is Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson.  The story begins, “There is magic in this bare brown tree. Tap it once. Turn the page and see.” With that, children set off on a journey to move the tree through the seasons, giving it leaves, flower buds, petals, apples and then having the leaves change colors and fall off.  Kids truly become magicians while reading this book, simply by tapping, clapping, wiggling, jiggling….and turning the page.

Herve Tullet’s Press Here takes a similar perspective on getting kids involved inpress the story.  This marvelous book starts with one yellow dot and gets children to add more dots, change the colors and make them move around. With the right imagination, children will believe that they are making magic on the page.

Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas starts off with a ladybug shouting to the reader “Hey, you! Yes, I’m talking to you! Stand up!” Turn the page and the ladybug says: “No, I changed my mind…sit down!” And so it goes. Throughout the book, the ladybug invites kids to play a game of let’s pretend: “Pretend you have a tiny bug on your nose.  Wiggle it off!” “Whoops!  The tiny tickly bug flew into your mouth?  Blow it out!”  But then when the pretend bug becomes a giant frog, the ladybug asks the reader to make a scary face to save her. A laugh-out-loud fun time for young kids! Thomas’ Is Everyone Ready for Fun? brings just as many giggles.

scary          fun

openOn the very first page of Open Very Carefully by Nick Bromley, the reader is thrown into the classic tale of The Ugly Little Duckling….until the duckling notices something odd. There is a crocodile tail on the page. The duckling then leaves the story to find out why there is a crocodile on the page, and readers are asked to help out by rocking the book back and forth to make the crocodile go to sleep, and shaking the book to try to make him fall out.

These magically interactive books engage kids in a way that brings excitement and wonder to storytelling, and I just know that as my little toddler grows older, these types of books will continue to make him smile, and hopefully inspire a life-long love of reading.

- Lindsay





Going on a Trip, One Page at a Time



For most of human history, the vast majority of people never had the opportunity to see the world outside their immediate communities, unless they were forced to by circumstance.  Those who did travel faced an arduous and dangerous experience, even at the best of times.  Now, we live in a world where travelling for recreation, as tourists, is accessible to an ever larger number of people, whether those voyages take them to other countries or local vacation spots.

mark twain the innocents abroad 

Before there was such a thing as a tourist there were travellers and explorers, who left written accounts of their adventures and travels.  Marco Polo was the first European to leave a detailed written account of his voyage into 13th-century Asia, a 24-year odyssey that took him from Venice to deep into China (ruled by the Mongols at the time) and back.  Mark Twain wrote an account of his voyage through Europe and the Holy Lands in 1867 entitled The Innocents Abroad, which provides a good portrait of that part of the world in the 19th century from the point of view of a proto-tourist, and is also quite funny.  Freya Stark was another writer and explorer. She wrote many books about her experiences in the Middle East in the 1930′s, and was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts.

Today, travelling is so common place, and can be so mundane, that we forget what an awesome thing it really is. Yet there also exists a vast demand for travel literature in the form travelogues, diaries, and guidebooks. People travel, or read about people who do, not only to discover the world, but also to challenge themselves and their perspectives. A simple road trip can be a fun and enlightening experience, especially in North America, which is blessed with both plenty of space and plenty of good roads to ride on.  William Least Heat-Moon has written extensively about his travel experiences on the road in the U.S., as well as abroad, and is highly praised not only for the content of his stories but also his command of the English language. His recently-published Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road assembles selected pieces of his previously published writing, as well as new ones discussing the importance of cars and highways in the American identity, some historical treasures hidden in plain sight (like a sunken 19th century steamboat), and many memorable encounters in South Asia and Europe through decades of travel experiences.

Emilia Scotto is a man who had a dream of seeing the world, and actually got on a motorcycle and made a decade-long, 457,000 mile trip that took him from his native Argentina to virtually every country in the world, and landed him in the Guiness Book of World Records. His tale can be found in The Longest Ride: My Ten-Year, 500,000 Mile Motorcycle Journey, a book filled with photographs and anecdotes about the places he saw and experiences he went through.  Some of the stories are actually hair-raising, as he tells of many close-calls and dangerous situations he had to negotiate.


But what about you, you may ask?  If you suffer from bouts of wanderlust, or just seek a good vacation spot, World’s Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places is an excellent book to browse through to plan your next trip.  The book lists locations all over the world, from familiar cities to the most extreme and isolated (but gorgeous) locations, and organizes them in categories like urban spaces, wild places, and world wonders, depending on what kind of experience a traveller would be looking for.  For the more adventurous types, in Once in a Lifetime Trips: The World’s 50 Most Extraordinary and Memorable Travel Experiences, author Chris Santella proposes trips that are all about experiences that are “unique, decadent and off the beaten path” and are intended to be unforgettable.  On the menu: exploring the Galapagos islands, diving to the wreck of the Titanic, riding the Orient Express to Istambul, and…yes, it’s in there, visiting the International Space Station on an organized visit.  We may not be able to cram all this in our busy lives, but reading about those who did is a thrill of its own.

Even today, though, travelling is far from being a risk-free enterprise, and bad experiences, both big and small, are also part of the experience.  Travel writer Chuck Thompson, the “guru of extreme tourism”, has written about the darker side of the travel industry in the past.  His second book, To Hellholes and Back, details his experiences travelling to the worst destinations in the world, to see if they deserved their bad reputations, and living to tell the tale.  His journeys take him to parts of the Congo, India, Mexico City, and even Orlando Florida and Disney World.  Mr. Thompson is never in grave danger throughout his voyages, but he does go places where few, if any of us, would, and manages to be pleasantly surprised on occasions (especially in Mexico City).  If you like narrators with caustic humor mixed with genuine curiosity about their subject matter, this book will be an interesting read for you.

Whether you are planning to go on a trip or just read about it, the adventure is out there.  Do you have any suggestions for good travel reading?








Salons, Pubs and Supper Clubs


World Book defines a salon as “a gathering of fashionable people.”

“During the 1700s wealthy Parisians built townhouses with elegantly decorated salons. The hostess usually invited writers, philosophers, politicians and aristocrats. These French salons became famous for their brilliant conversation.”

While the salon perished along with the idle bourgeoisie after the French Revolution, it has seen a revival in the form of book clubs. When the ultimate salonniere — Oprah – led the charge to rejuvenate the book club into a televised version, her impact turned the once solitary experience of reading into a vibrant social activity, and book clubs flourished in the living rooms of North America. Literary culture became popular culture.

book clubIn the early twentieth century, the book club was an opportunity for women who were denied formal education to engage in literature groups that helped them to escape the isolation of domesticity. But in our hectic modern lives, reading a prescribed book is just another item on the to-do list, and titles like How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, although tongue in cheek, begin to take on serious meaning.

In the Maclean’s article “The busy woman’s anti-book club”, Sarah Lazarovich argues that the book club has become a “tyrannical time suck” for busy women. Lazorovic formed a Ladies Short-Form Media Auxiliary where members gathered around a laptop to share Youtube videos, MP3 clips, and Google searches, which generated free-flowing discussion that required little preparation.

albumsundaysSimilarly, members of Classic Album Sundays gather in pubs to listen to an entire album and discuss it over pints. Listening to an entire album takes a little over an hour, surely less of a commitment than reading Anna Karenina, the first of Oprah’s picks.

clubAnother take on the traditional book club is The Philosopher’s Table, a hybrid of a supper club and a graduate seminar. Guests are invited to the host’s home, assigned a thematic dish, and share music, philosophy, and traditional cuisine from a particular culture. Choose a philosophical topic and it comes matched with a dinner menu, music, and discussion questions. Enjoy lamb meatballs and tzatziki, and the simple pleasure of life in Epicurus’s Greek garden. In this version of a salon you get music, social connection, and nourishment for mind and body. Multi-tasking at its best.

Foodies who like to talk about their culinary creations can join one of Winnipeg Public Library’s two Cook by the Book Clubs (meeting at Osborne or Westwood). Members are invited to choose a recipe from selected cookbooks and share the outcome with the group. Results are delicious, entertaining, and inspiring!

And, if a conventional book club still sounds good to you, WPL offers many to choose from.

In a world with little time and less social contact, these forms of the 21 st century literary salon are an opportuntiy to meet with like-minded souls at your library, pub, coffee shop, or living room, and rekindle the cultural conversation.


Laissez les bons temps rouler!

New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture – even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels and there’s a story lurking around every corner.                                                                                 -Ruta Sepetys

New Orleans has always seemed like a mythical city to me, something along the lines of Shangri-La or Cibola. Perhaps that’s because of the many names the city is known by – Crescent City, the Big Easy, the Big Sleazy, NOLA, Nawlins…with so many names it’s possible to believe that they all refer to different places. But, no matter what you call it, given the joyous traditions of music, food, and celebrations it’s easy to understand why some people refuse to live anywhere else.

There’s definitely a dark side to New Orleans that somehow adds to the fascination of the city. With a history of discrimination, poverty, corruption and violence, New Orleans has not always been a fun place to live. In spite of the dark times, or perhaps because of them, the allure of New Orleans continues to captivate people. My New Orleans: ballads to the Big Easy by her sons, daughters and lovers is a collection of essays that explores all that there is to love about this legendary place.

For a more visual selection, Very New Orleans: a celebration of history, culture and Cajun country charm by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler is a gorgeously illustrated book that brings to life all of the lush greenery and historic architecture that is at the heart of New Orleans.

The World that Made New OrleansRight from the start, New Orleans has been a city in a constant state of change. As Ned Sublette recounts in his book The World that made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. New Orleans began in a brawl between England, France and Spain. Over the centuries, New Orleans has seen more than its share of trouble and conflict between people, however, the darkest time in New Orleans was caused by Mother Nature.

Not Just the Levees Broke Five Days at MemorialHurricane Katrina left a huge swath of devastation in her wake, which almost destroyed the city forever. Reading a book like Not just the levees Broke, a first hand account of surviving Katrina by Phyllis Montana-Leblanc or Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink gives a bit of insight as to just how bad things really were.

TremeIn spite of all the tragedies that New Orleans has endured, some things remain constant – good food and good music. New Orleans cookery take
s the best of all the many cultures the city is noted for, and mingles them together to produce flavors that can’t be found anywhere else. To bring a bit of Creole to your Canadian kitchen, check out Treme: Stories and Recipes from the heart of New Orleans.

Music has been a part of New Orleans since it was founded, but of all the music that the city has known, jazz could be called the city’s soundtrack. The DVD series Jazz by Ken Burns offers a taste of the sights and sounds spanning nearly 100 years in the birthplace of jazz.

Sookie Stackhouse, Dave Robicheaux and Lana Pulaski may not be actual people, but as book characters that live in or near New Orleans they embody the spirit of the city and bring it to life. If you prefer non-fiction to fiction, Sean Payton is an actual person whose biography on the return of pro football to New Orleans embodies the indomitable spirit of the city.

Let the good times roll!


The JUNOs Are Here!

JunoDisplayUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you should know that it’s JUNO Week here in Winnipeg! Are you excited yet? Metro News has a list of 5 reasons you should be excited.

Still not convinced? Do you know, there are so many great events going on in the city that’s it’s hard to NOT find something to do! You could compete in the JUNO Cup, check out the JUNO Fan Fare (I will definitely bring my daughter), spend two nights hitting multiple venues and hearing great Canadian music at JUNOfest, or check out Jian Ghomeshi when he brings Q to Winnipeg. Visit the JUNO website for more information on all of the events leading up to the awards on March 30th. Looking for some great Canadian music to get you in the mood? We’ve got you covered. Here’s a small sampling of what we have to offer from the nominees. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t put up whole list - I would run out of space and time!

Alternative Album of the Year

Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Rah Rah – The Poet’s Dead
Royal Canoe – Today We’re Believers
The Darcys – Warring
Yamantaka //Sonic Titan – Uzu

Country Album of the Year
Brett Kissel – Started With a Song
Dean Brody – Crop Circles
Gord Bamford – Country Junkie
Small Town Pistols – Small Town Pistols
Tim Hicks – Throw Down

Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year
Brandi Disterheft – Gratitude
Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra – Habitat
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Brooklyn Babylon
Earl MacDonald – Mirror of the Mind
Marianne Trudel-Trifolia – Le refuge

Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensembles
James Ehnes – Prokofiev Complete Works for Violin
Jan Lisiecki – Chopin: Études Op. 10 & 25
Janina Fialkowska/The Chamber Players of Canada – Concertos Nos. 13 & 14
Louis Lortie – Liszt at the Opera
Stewart Goodyear – Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas

Roots & Traditional Album of the Year: Solo
Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me
David Francey – So Say We All
Donovan Woods – Don’t Get Too Grand
Justin Rutledge – Valleyheart
Lindi Ortega – Tin Star

Blues Album of the Year
David Gogo – Come on Down
Downchild – Can You Hear the Music
Harrison Kennedy – Soulscape
James ‘Buddy’ Rogers – My Guitar’s My Only Friend
MonkeyJunk – All Frequencies

World Music Album of the Year
Adonis Puentes – Sabor A Café
Azam Ali and Loga R. Torkian – Lamentation of Swans-A Journey Towards Silence
David Buchbinder & Odessa/Havana – Walk to the Sea
Kobo Town – Jumbie in the Jukebox
Lemon Bucket Orkestra – Lume, Lume

Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year
Anciients – Heart of Oak
Gorguts – Colored Sands
KEN Mode – Entrench
Protest the Hero – Volition
The Flatliners – Dead Language

Finally, what blog post would be complete without my favourite KITH, Kevin McDonald, and the Random Acts of Juno? My favourite, naturally, takes place at Millennium Library.

— Barbara


Game on!

Saturday, April 5, is International Table Top Day. This is the day where the whole world is brought together to play board games and have fun. Last year, 3,123 gaming events were held worldwide. Every state and province in the United States and Canada were represented, and there were registered game events on every continent (including scientists at the South Pole!).

A number of WPL branches are hosting events that day, and the West Kildonan branch is hosting a special board game day for tweens (ages 9-12) the week before on March 29 from 2-4. You can call 204-986-4389 to register for that one.

So, to get you all ready for a day of board games with friends, let’s take a look at some of the board game related resources we have for you at the library.

First: a little bit of history.

games we played

The games we played : the golden age of board & table games is filled with examples taken from the Liman Collection of board games as part of the New York Historical Society Museum and Library. This is a collection of over 500 games that were popular between the 1840s and 1920s. It is an interesting look into what passed for leisure activity for middle-class Americans from the middle of the 19th century to the earlier part of the 20th century. The Oxford history of board games is an additional source of information on the pioneers of Monopoly and Scrabble.

Speaking of Monopoly, check out the following resources.

You may find it difficult to believe that somebody actually produced a feature-length documentary on a board game and its cultural impact, but that’s exactly what Under the boardwalk : the Monopoly story is. To say any more would be unnecessary.


Phillip Orbanes’ Monopoly : the world’s most famous game–and how it got that way looks at the phenomenon which is Monopoly. First sold in 1935 by Parker Brothers at the height of the Great Depression, the game is still available in 60 countries worldwide, with countless variations. I know myself I prefer the “Star Wars” Monopoly edition that I first purchased back in 1997 to coincide with the release of the Special Editions of the original trilogy. The well-known properties are replaced by planets, the railroads are replaced by starships, and the Chance and Community Chest cards are replaced by Rebel and Imperial cards, naturally. It’s pretty amazing! (I’ll stop geeking out now. Back to the rest of this blog post).

Who's up fpr a little Star Wars Monopoly?

Who’s up for a little Star Wars Monopoly?

In addition to Monopoly, another game that has had a huge impact on our culture is Scrabble. Scrabble has also seen a resurgence in popularity due to the ease at which it has been adapted to mobile devices. Now you can have Scrabble games that last days if not weeks with friends in different parts of the world. Still, there’s nothing quite like sitting down at a table with your rack of tiles pulled from a little bag and meeting your opponent face to face.


Word freak : heartbreak, triumph, genius, and obsession in the world of competitive scrabble play, by Stefan Fatsis, takes an investigative journalist’s approach to the colourful characters that make up the world of competitive Scrabble tournaments and also tells the story of how this game was invented.


Letterati : an unauthorized look at Scrabble® and the people who play it, by Paul McCarthy, covers similar ground as Fatsis’ book.  However, McCarthy goes into much more detail as to the politics behind which words get included in the Official Scrabble Dictionary, how age and gender affect gameplay, and how the carefully guarded Scrabble trademark has limited the number of Scrabble tournaments and created an elite class of professional Scrabble players.


David Bukszpan (with a last name like that, he was born to write a book about Scrabble tiles!) has written a short guide to help not only Scrabble players, but also other word games like Bananagrams and Words with Friends. Is that a word? : from AA to ZZZ, the weird and wonderful language of Scrabble is part strategy guide and part celebration of all things wordy.

And we couldn’t talk about Scrabble without linking to Richard Condie’s 1985 animated classic short, The Big Snit. Happy International Tabletop Day, everybody!