Soldiers at War on Christmas

God Rest Ye Merry, Soldiers: a True Civil War Christmas Story by James McIvor
On the eve of the Battle of Stone River near Murfreeboro, TN in 1862, the Union band played the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the Confederate band answered with Dixie. The Union band then played “Home Sweet Home” and both sides started singing the verses.

Silent Night: the Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub
Across the trenches in 1914, the soldiers spontaneously came together, singing carols, exchanging letters and gifts, eating, drinking, playing soccer, until the commanders ordered them to start shooting. The soldiers returned to the trenches and, for at least one night, intentionally aimed high over the enemy.

11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge, 1944 by Stanley Weintraub
From the German loudspeaker: “How would you like to die for Christmas?” From General Patton’s diary: “a clear cold Christmas, lovely weather for killing Germans, which seems a bit queer, seeing whose birthday it is.”

Spare a prayer for soldiers this Christmas and for “on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14 (King James Version)).

Stories and Poems from the Soldiers

Operation Homecoming is a compilation of writings from soldiers in Iraq and Afganistan. The soldiers were asked to put their experiences into words and the best submissions were compiled into this book. On NPR you can read a sample poem and listen to NPR's report on the book.

Books to Films (Holiday Releases)

Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, and Michael Caine starred in this adaptation of P. D. James’ The Children of Men, set in near-future London when all human males have become sterile. Historian Theo Faron is asked to join a band of revolutionaries--a move that may hold the key to humanity's survival. (December 25th)

Perfume: The Story of A Murderer is about one man’s pursuit of the perfect perfume, but the indulgence in his rare gift and greatest passion - his sense of smell - leads to murder. Based on the 1986 acclaimed bestseller and international sensation by Patrick Suskind. The novel is a brilliant, powerful, and gripping page-turner. (December 27th)

Zoë Heller’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel What Was She Thinking?:Notes on a Scandal is beautifully captured in this film adaptation.
When Sheba Hart's love affair with an underage male student comes to light, school teacher Barbara Covett decides to write an account of the affair in her friend's defense, in the process revealing not only Sheba's secrets, but also her own. The film boasts a stellar cast with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. (Limited release December 27. Watch the papers for local release date.)

The Painted Veil is a remake of the 1934 Greta Garbo film, inspired by W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece.
Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, it is the story of the beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts), who is forced to accompany her husband (played by Edward Norton) to the heart of a cholera epidemic, where she reassesses her life and learns how to love. (December 29th)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #45

If you just cannot get enough of the religious suspense genre, here is another one for you.
Oh yes, the Knights Templars are again in the thick of things.

In Julia Navarro’s Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud, when the unidentified body of a tongue-less man turns up in the ashes of a suspicious fire in the Turin Cathedral, home of the Holy Shroud of Turin, Marco Valoni, Director of the Italian Art Crimes Department, investigates.

Soon he is sure several shadowy, anonymous groups of powerful and wealthy men with ties to Legend of the Knights Templars are somehow involved, while his only suspect is already in the Turin prison. More importantly, a far more shocking crime is about to happen. It is up to Valoni and his crack team of investigators to stop it.

Julia Navarro is a well-known Madrid-based journalist who is currently a political analyst for Agencia OTR/Europa Press and a correspondent for other prominent Spanish radio and television networks. Her second novel is due out in 2008. Brotherhood is already a bestseller in Europe.

There is a Santa Claus…

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Apollo 8, Launched on December 21, 1968, was the first manned mission to leave Earth orbit and head for the moon. After ten lunar orbits it was time to go home. To get back on the right path, the crew had to perform the Trans-Earth Injection burn while on the far side and out of radio contact with NASA. Everything went as planned, and when radio contact was restored (at the precise time calculated by NASA engineers) this was the transmission:

Apollo 8: Houston, Apollo 8. Over.
Mission Control: Hello, Apollo 8. Loud and clear.
Apollo 8: Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.
Mission Control: That's affirmative. You're the best ones to know.

It was December 25.

If NASA’s authority isn’t enough to convince you, take a look at NORAD’s (North American Aerospace Defense Command) Santa Tracker website. They’ve been tracking the jolly old elf since 1955 using state of the art radar equipment.

Silly Stories

In the mood for a cozy, crazy family storytime this holiday season? Join us on Wednesday, December 27 at 10:00 am in the Downtown Youth Story Corner for silly stories for all ages. Sing along in an old favorite from the Appalachian Mountains and a dancing folktale from Panama that has lots of opportunities for audience participation.

Poetry takes its rightful place

On December 20, 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law empowering the Library of Congress to name a Poet Laureate each year. From 1937-1986, the position existed under the name, Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The stipend awarded to this poet/consultant requires the publication of at least one major new work as well as appearances at selected national ceremonies. Poet Laureates have also taken as their charge innovative projects that broden the appeal of poetry to the general public.

The current poet laureate is Donald Hall, professor emeritus of the University of Michigan. Some previous poet laureates have been Robert Pinsky who created the Favorite Poem Project and Ted Kooser who developed the American Life in Poetry columns that appeared in many newspapers throughout the country. The position has provided established poets the opportunity to creatively spread the words of the muse and connect people with the pleasures of poetry.

A Picture Book Perfect for the Season

There's a new picture book in our collection that is just the thing for cozy family reading or a nice gift for a family with young children. That book is Winter Is the Warmest Season, written and illustrated by Lauren Stringer.
Maybe you're thinking this title doesn't work here in Michigan, but the book's large brilliant illustrations and clever text will convince you otherwise. "Cold jelly sandwiches turn into grilled cheeses" and pajamas "grow big warm feet."

For more books about the joys of winter, click here.

The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

Everybody knows that the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown could solve every mystery they faced as kids, but what happened when they grew up? In The Boy Detective Fails, Joe Meno tells the story of grown up child sleuth Billy Argo who, at the age of 30, finds himself living in a halfway house, unable to deal with his sister's suicide and his crippling fear of failure. Billy's world is rainy and dreamlike, and you start to feel as though many of his adventures are only side-effects of his medication, but over the course of the book he accidentally solves the mystery surrounding his sister's death and comes to terms with the fact that not always knowing the answers is part of being an adult.

This book also gives the reader a chance to play detective, with a decoder ring tucked into the back cover to help decipher some secret messages that Billy receives, and a cryptogram that runs across the bottom of many of the pages.

A Memorable Book of 2006

I'm making my own personal favorite 2006 book list, checking it twice - and deciding that my list definitely includes Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. When she was in her early 30s, Gilbert moved to a big house with her husband with the plan of getting pregnant. The plan collapsed when Gilbert realized that not only did she not want a child, she didn't want to be married anymore. Her soul-searching travels through Italy (for pleasure), India (for prayer) and Indonesia (for balance) make extraordinarily good and amusing reading. One of her book's funniest lines is when she first tries to talk with God: "It was all I could do to stop myself from saying, 'I've always been a big fan of your work.'" In this book, Gilbert struck me as sort of a non-denominational Anne Lamott, with a keen eye, sharp wit, and a strong sense of the spiritual.

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