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Traveling Through Iowa in Picture Books

by Debb Green on July 28th, 2011
Traveling Through Iowa in Picture Books Cover Image

Summer is perfect for taking day trips with family. The weather is warm and Iowa’s green fields look beautiful as miles speed by on a road trip. Our state has over a hundred state parks and nature preserves offering gorgeous settings to hike or play in. Many of our communities have fascinating histories or attractions that appeal to kids. And let’s not forget the acclaimed Iowa State Fair and butter cow! Luckily there are great picture books about the Hawkeye State that you can share in the car while traveling.

My favorite is by author/illustrator Arthur Geisert. He relocated and now resides in Bernard, a small town of 98 people in northeast Iowa. He and his neighbors in the hard scrabble town have become fond friends. So he has featured them in an alphabet book called Country Road ABC: an Illustrated Journey through America’s Farmland. This book is a loving yet realistic record of what life is like in small farming communities. Examples for letters include farming information with multiple stories being told in intricate etchings. Some are funny and all can found cruising down county highways.

Sue F. Cornelison wrote The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa. A take-off on the song, it is also a nice introduction to Iowa. In it, a boy named Aiden visits his cousin Ella on holiday. She lives on a farm and is so happy to see him that she gives him a special Iowa gift each day. He then writes home about them, telling his parents (and readers) all about our state’s lore, history, and famous places (like LeMars – the Ice Cream Capitol of the World!)

If driving (or being hungry) takes you to the Amanas, be sure to find a copy of Kolonie Kinder: a Children’s Story of Communal Amana. It’s about a day in the life of a little girl living in South Amana when the Colonies still lived apart from the world. And speaking of hunger, no vacation is complete without a visit to the Iowa State Fair. There, besides contests and carnival rides, you can find almost any food conveniently placed on a stick to eat. Susan Knapp’s Bells Goes to the Fair is a fun introduction for kids going to the fair for the first time. It tells the true story of a naughty dog’s escapade after he gets loose there. Iowa’s Tradition: an ABC Photo Album of the Iowa State Fair is another good title by J.O. Parker.

Should you travel north, be sure to check out Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library! It is based on Vicki Myron’s true story of Dewey Readmore Books, a cat who lived at the Spencer Public Library for many years. There he became world famous and the town’s water tower now sports paw prints in his honor. But if going south, take a look at William Hosford’s Geo the Geode, a book about Iowa’s official state rock which visitors can search for at Geode State Park near Burlington. If lucky, you might just find one!

These books celebrate Iowa and are available at the Iowa City Public Library. Read them together and may happy trails be yours.

Road Tripping

by Debb Green on May 25th, 2011
Road Tripping Cover Image

My travelin’ dreams are on the rise, now that spring is here and summer’s just a month away. There’s nothing like a road trip when skies are blue and the world’s freshly green! The Library has a wonderful collection of travel books and DVDs, many of which have good road trip recommendations for different parts of the country.

But the type of car trip I like best involves stopping at more unusual roadside attractions. Ones that include natural or man-made curiosities, folk and outsider art, eccentric architecture, forgotten historic sites, giant statues, or just old-fashioned, down home restaurants and diners. The Midwest has quite of few of these locations and there are plenty within a day’s drive from Iowa City. For inspiration, one can get lots of ideas on the Roadside site at:

Or, better yet, browse through these nifty books from ICPL:

Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food – Jane & Michael Stern (2006)

Oddball Iowa: a Guide to Some Really Strange Places – Jerome Pohlen (2005)

Iowa Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities,  & Other Offbeat Stuff – Dan Coffey (2005)

Midwest Marvels: Roadside Attractions Across Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin – Eric Dregni (2006)

Roadside America: Architectural Relics From a Vanishing Past – John Margolies (2010)

Weird Illinois – Troy Taylor (2005)

Weird Wisconsin – Linda S. Godfrey (2005)

Weird Minnesota – Eric Dregni (2006)

Weird Missouri – James Strait (2008)

As Jack Keroac wrote in his famous work, On the Road:

“…the road is life.”

Happy travels!

To Timbuktu

by Andrea on May 20th, 2011
To Timbuktu Cover Image

For armchair and actual travellers alike To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People and One True Story written by Casey Scieszka and illustrated by Steven Weinberg is a delightful book about their year and a half abroad. Straight out a college and certain of only three things (get out of the country, pursue their creative interests and be together), they embark on an adventurous itinerary.
The bulk of the book takes place in China, where the couple taught English for a few months, and Mali, where Scieszka had a Fulbright researching the impact of Islam on education and Weinberg worked on his art. They also travel through Southeast Asia and have a layover in France on their way to Africa. Both are eager language and culture learners and the result is a very rich experience to share with their readers. Their time in China was definitely more enjoyable for them than their time in Mali and the writing reflects that experience. Timbuktu was a let-down for them personally and was for me as a reader as well. To Timbuktu is heavily illustrated by Weinberg’s pencil drawings and they really enhance the writing. The story zips along and delivers a serious travel bug to its readers. Strongly suggested for anyone considering teaching English overseas.
An added bonus for Jon Scieszka fans are his brief appearances in the narrative. Yes, Casey Scieszka is the daughter of the prolific and hilarious Jon Scieszka.

Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore

by Maeve on May 3rd, 2011
Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore Cover Image

Ah, the joys of nonfiction.  In stocking our Power Walls, the area at the beginning of the stacks where we display and promote books with beautiful covers, (and interesting text), my eye was drawn to Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore.  This book is a revised and  expanded edition of the 1997 classic.  I love Aran sweaters and and while I don’t knit myself, (well I do, but poorly),  my mother used to be an avid knitter and I appreciate the skill and creativity that goes into making a knitted garment.  The revised edition of Aran Knitting is an expert guide encompassing the history of not only Aran knitting but the Aran Isles.  There are fantastic photographs of the West coast of Ireland and an excellent historical background of the land and the history of the various Aran knits and sweaters.

The heart of the book is a complete workshop in technique and designwith 60 charted patterns for the original 14 designs, many reknit in contemporary yarns.  And as an extra bonus the models wearing each of the knit designs in posed in a picturesque location in the isles.  And since I am not a knitter that is the part I liked the best.  If you are a knitter you will want to challenge yourself to knit one of the classic Aran designs or one of the new Celtic designs.  And if you are interested in the Aran Isles you will not want to miss this book.


Eating and shopping in the Twin Cities

by Candice on March 31st, 2011
Eating and shopping in the Twin Cities Cover Image

I recently used the Eat. Shop Twin Cities book when in Minneapolis for a couple days, and found it pretty useful. Not your regular travel guide, it focuses on unique stores and dining options. Each establishment gets a nice two-page spread, with pretty color photos showing some of the goods or foods available there. There isn’t a ton of description; location and hours, owners and how long the place has been open, a short paragraph giving the author’s impression and reasons for liking the place, then a list of the items that are especially good or unique to the establishment. However, it’s enough to give a good feel of what you can expect if you go to a place–the ambiance, the price level, type of service, etc.

After going through the book a couple times, I ended up going to three places that I’m pretty sure would not have been on my radar otherwise. In order of visit: Martin Patrick 3, a swanky little  boutique for men where some lovely handsome shoes were purchased, Black Sheep Pizza, where two delicious pizzas were consumed, and Izzy’s Ice Cream Cafe, where numerous (five? six?) scoops of ice cream were completely devoured. I highly recommend the ‘midnight snack’ flavor!

The Library also has  Eat. Shop Chicago, and a couple more in the series are on order. Grab one off the shelf and seek out some new foods and goods!

Note: in the interest of full disclosure, I also checked out Walking Twin Cities, which is a very nice book as well. However, it was pretty cold out, and I was less inclined to do much walking after all that ice cream I ate. Maybe next time!

Discovering Welsh Gardens

by Heidi on August 16th, 2010
Discovering Welsh Gardens Cover Image

If you like gardening books, sometimes it takes awhile to learn to look for them in two places in the Library.  At 635.9, you will find more practical, how-to books on vegetable gardening, herbs, annuals, perennials and specific garden plants.  At 710-719, next to the architecture section, are the landscaping books where books on garden design are shelved.  A delightful subset of this area are books about gardens in other lands.  If you like to travel and you like gardens, you will enjoy browsing this part of the collection.

In Discovering Welsh Gardens, author Stephen Anderton gathers together twenty gardens in Wales.  He includes everything from large manor and castle gardens to small countryside ones; there is also a chapter about the National Botanic Garden of Wales.  In general the Welsh landscape is more rugged than much of garden-rich England, but that has not prevented the creation of remarkable gardens there.  The book is full of wonderful photographs by Charles Hawes, ranging from close-ups of particular plants to mountain vistas that show how some gardens merge into the natural landscapes beyond.  Most of these gardens appear to be photographed in spring or summer, but those with autumn colors or a blanket of snow entice as well.

This is a lovely book about all types of gardens, from serious and formal to the more casual and comfortable.  It can be inspiration for those staying at home in Iowa, or a guide book for those lucky enough to travel to Wales.  At the back of the book is a more complete list of Welsh gardens, arranged by region and keyed to a map.  Some of the gardens are private but occasionally are open to the public. Contact information and website addresses are provided.

John Fielder’s Best of Colorado

by Kara on July 16th, 2010
John Fielder’s Best of Colorado Cover Image

Every year we make a summer pilgrimage to Colorado.  According to my kids, it’s not a real family vacation until we’ve hiked at Sapphire Point, rafted Brown’s Canyon, climbed at the Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park (location of the annual family picture), watched a Rockies baseball game in the Rockpile section, and enjoyed Cinnamon Rolls at the Glen Haven General Store.  As much as we enjoy our family traditions, I’m always on the lookout for new family-friendly adventures.  This year we’ll have three teenagers and a pre-teen traveling with us, so we want to make sure we include something for everyone.

Recently I discovered the 2010 edition of John Fielder’s Best of Colorado. Fielder divides the state into zones and shares his recommendations along with beautiful pictures.  With so many ideas, I already have a long list of possible places to visit to run past the 2010 Colorado Crew!  And … with so many options, I may have to extend my vacation by a few days ;)

As you plan for summer vacations, please remember that the Library has a great collection of guidebooks.


Beer Trials by Seamus Campbell and Robin Goldstein

by Maeve on June 30th, 2010
Beer Trials by Seamus Campbell and Robin Goldstein Cover Image

I must admit I haven’t yet read this book, although I will, (in fact I am off to buy it later this morning, a copy for myself and one for a gift), but what I really want to post is how we find out about the books we read. I heard an interview on The Splendid Table on Saturday where Lynne Rossetto Kasper talked to Robin Goldstein and I knew I had to read it and own it. That book was from an American Public Media radio show. Many reviews I get and have always found very promising are from the radio. And it used to be this mad scramble to write down the title or titles and when I wasn’t fast enough I would have to call Dennis Reese at WSUI and he would have to call me back with the information or, get this, send me a tape of the show. The olden days…

Now the options are boundless for finding reviews and suggestions for reading and/or listening. Blogs have become a major source of recommendations. Libraries have blogs, businesses have blogs, individuals have blogs, even some dogs and cats have blogs. Blog are linked to magazines and newspapers and just random people who want to share what they like. And the best thing about them is with embedded links, you can seamlessly go from one to another to another, all the time making a larger and larger list of books you must read. Sometimes I think we at ICPL need to expand the number of holds a person can place for free, but then I realize it would just be trouble. I would put a hold on every title I heard about and realistically, never get a quarter of them read, and then there would be the issue of fines. Another great source of reviews is ICPL’s catalog. You can even add your own. Looking for more? Amazon has reviews, your neighbor and co-workers, your yoga partner has reviews. They are everywhere and anywhere.

But back to Beer Trials. Goldstein also wrote Wine Trials and which caused quite a stir in the rarefied world of wine tasting. Beer Trials promises to do the same. In fact, dare I write it, he even gives a nod to PBR.

Best Women’s Travel Writing

by Candice on May 16th, 2010
Best Women’s Travel Writing Cover Image

I recently picked up the 2010 edition of The Best Women’s Travel Writing, a work that comes out yearly. It had come to my attention due to there being contributions from three authors who are currently in Iowa City: Kendra Greene, Marisa Handler and Jennifer Percy. It’s also edited by another Iowa City author, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, who’s works have been in other travel compilations.

While I enjoyed reading it, I have to admit that it was a little hit-and-miss for me. The idea of ‘travel’ can be a broad one, and it is here; many of the selections centered on women who were in long-term situations in other places, such as teaching English in China, or on particular activities in another locale, such as mountain climbing in Central America. Very few pieces were about the actual act of travel, of trains and planes, of going from one place to another, of vacationing, and so on. They were more about becoming enmeshed in another place and culture, of what takes you somewhere, what happens there,  and how those places change you. The topics were widely varied, and each interesting for their uniqueness and personal nature. Frankly, even if the topic or location wasn’t one that I was entirely interested in, each piece was short enough that I would finish reading it, and usually ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. There were even a couple that I found to be particularly poignant and thought-provoking, when I hadn’t really expected it. Overall, a pleasant read with some incisive writing, sure to please whether you’re reading it while making your own travels, or doing a little armchair travel.

American musicians meet African counterparts

by John on March 11th, 2010

A couple of recent documentaries show American musicians interacting with their African peers.  The banjo came from western Africa, so banjo genius Bela Fleck‘s 2008 visit seems natural.  In Throw Down Your Heart he made four stops, to play with locals.  He looks so baffled and tentative at first, one suspects he battled some kind of traveler’s malady, but gamely plucks along.  He hits his stride in Mali, tho, where many of Africa’s best known musicians are from, finally catching fire.  Fleck can play anything and proves it here.

Back in 1974 Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire, as documented in When We Were Kings.   Hugh Masakela convinced promoter Don King to include a music festival as part of the show, featuring  James Brown (wearing a hilarious costume), BB King, the Spinners, Celia Cruz, the Commodores, Bill Withers, and more.  Soul Power documents this.

Big Black contributes a jaw-dropping hand drum solo.  Brown is, well, James Brown, higher praise than which I cannot provide.  King performs “The Thrill Is Gone.” Miriam Makeba steals the show with the Click Song. The African acts tend to be drummers and costumed dancers, and mostly get  short shrift.  There’s also a bit too much footage of promoters and lawyers, but this is mostly good stuff.

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