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James Patterson Writes His Life Story

My bedside lamp stayed on way too late a couple of nights while I read a book I’d checked out from the library: James Patterson by James Patterson.  The next day I bought a copy of the book to reread and highlight and turn down pages and make notes.

            Before reading this book, I knew Patterson as the author of many stand-alone books and several series:  Alex Cross and Women’s Murder Club and Middle School.  And I’d researched and learned that he’s the author of over 300 published books, some with co-authors, and 100 books have been listed as New York Times best sellers.

            I didn’t know his dad grew up in the Pogey – the Newburgh, New York, poorhouse – and that Patterson, in his words, “toiled in advertising hell” and wrote the jingle line, ‘I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid,’ and that he’s been in love only twice – both times amazing.  All information on the book’s flyleaf. 

             I was hooked when I read the first page: “i want to tell you some stories….the way i remember them anyway.”  Stories.  Not facts, not an autobiography, written in chronological order. 

            Patterson wrote this memoir in the writing style that he describes as colloquial, the way we talk to one another.  He writes, “I think colloquial storytelling is a valid form of expression.  If you write down your favorite story, there might not be any great sentences, but it still could be outstanding.”  He claims one thing he’s learned and has taken to heart about writing books and giving a good speech is to tell stories.  Story after story after story.

            Reading his memoir, I learned he wrote his first book early mornings and late nights while working full-time at an advertising agency and he got a full-ride PhD fellowship to study Engish at Vanderbilt University and he’s a golfer and has played golf with three presidents.

            Patterson wrote outlines, in long hand, for his first books to create every scene, and he continues this method.  When he has a co-author, he writes detailed outlines, discusses scenes with the co-author and together they write the books. 

            Patterson believes everyone should be given the opportunity to learn to read – that alone makes me a fan.  He writes, “I want every kid in this country reading and loving it.  No child should be left illiterate.  Kids should read as if their lives depend on it….because they do.” He’s provided college scholarships to students to become teachers and he’s given money to teachers for classroom libraries.  

            As he wrote of his donations, he chided himself and shared his grandmother’s words, “Don’t hurt your arm patting yourself on the back.”  His strong ego comes through in the telling of his life stories.

             James Patterson by James Patterson is an entertaining, inspiring and encouraging memoir.  I dog-eared the pages of the chapter entitled ‘dog-eared and well-loved books,’ his list of books that are important to him. Some are now on my lifetime reading list.


Kids Talk About Banned Books

While driving with four Grands in my van, their discussion about a Harry Potter book made me think of banned books and recent columns my friend, Jennie Ivey, wrote.  So, here’s another column about banned books – this one from my Grands’ perspectives.

            “Have you talked about banned books in school or at home?” I asked. 

            “What’s a band book?” said my 8-year-old Grand. 

To simplify this writing, the children are identified by age.  Because I was concentrating on driving – not writing notes during the conversation or who said what – quotes may not be exact, but are close.

“Gran said banned books.  Not band books.  Banned comes from b-a-n. Ban.” age 15 said.

“So, what’s a ban?” asked 8. 

The 11 and 13-year-olds giggled.  “Ban means to not allow.”

“Like Gran might ban candy and we can’t have any.”

“We can’t have candy!” 8 asked.  Everyone laughed.

“We can have candy,” 15 said. “That was just a way to say what ban means.  A banned book isn’t allowed to be read.”

“Why couldn’t you read a book?” 8 asked.

I tried to explain, “Sometimes people think a book shouldn’t be read because it might be scary or include things that are aren’t real or death. Like “Charlotte’s Web” because animals talk and they die.”

“But that’s just fiction if it’s not real,” 11 said.

“Then I guess “Animal Farm” would definitely be a banned book and not just because animals talk. I read it for school,” said 15. 

“You read it for school so it’s not banned. Right?” asked 11.

Through several questions and explanations, I think everyone understood that a book can be banned from some schools and public libraries, like the Putnam County Library, but not all schools and libraries. “So, we can still buy a banned book or get it online?  If Momma says we can?” Yes and yes.

“Do you know some banned books, Gran?”  13 asked. When I said that Harry Potter books are banned in some places, my Grands reacted and I listened.

“What! That’s crazy. Why?”

“Probably the spells and witches.”

“And the Quidditch games and riding on broom sticks.”

“And Voldemort and all the mean stuff he does.”

“But it’s all pretend. It’s fiction.  Everybody knows that.”

“Maybe some people think it’s real.”

“Why? Nobody rides on broom sticks in the sky to play a game.”

These children have read the Harry Potter books and watched the movies at home with their parents and siblings.  After a few minutes of talk about favorite scenes and who has read which books and seen which movies, the van was quiet. We were almost home.

Thirteen-year-old ended the discussion. “That’s really sad that somebody couldn’t get to read Harry Potter books.  There’s lots of imagination and fun and the books are a whole lot better than the movies.”

Putnam County Library Honors the Book Lovers Club

           Sometimes we have to look at where we’ve been to appreciate where we are. We readers know the Putnam County Library well and that there are four branches.  Cookeville is my home branch and one of my ‘happy places.’ The calm and quiet.  The welcome by those who stand behind the check-out counter.  The chairs that invite me to sit and stay.  The many books that I can bring home.

            I remind myself that the library’s books, audio recordings, videos, and outreach programs began with a small home library and a few women who were brought together by their passions for reading.  In 1922, twelve women formed The Book Lovers Club, a literary club, and they met monthly in each other’s homes to talk about the books they had read. 

In 1923, Clara Cox Epperson, club president, suggested that each member contribute $1.15 to purchase books to begin a circulating library and place them in Miss Laura Copeland’s home, known as the Rose Cottage.  Adults who borrowed books paid one dollar a year.

            To buy books for the library, Book Lovers Club members raised money by sponsoring talent shows, lectures, and movies.  They hosted fund-raising teas and bridge parties and asked for donations.  Club members volunteered weekly at the Rose Cottage to check out books, and the Book Lovers Club paid Miss Copeland’s light and water bill to use her home.

 By 1929, the library had a thousand books.  In 1938 when the collection reached more than 3,000 volumes, James Cox provided a room in the Herald building on the courthouse square, and the Book Lovers Club named the library the Clara Cox Epperson Library. In 1939, the club library consolidated with the Putnam County Board of Education’s library to create the first public financed library in our county. Currently, the library is financially supported by county and city governments.

Through the years the Clara Cox Epperson Library, the Cookeville branch, has moved to several locations and branches in Algood, Baxter, and Monterey have opened.  The Putnam County Library annual fiscal report ending June, 2022, shows the circulation of 240,109 print and digital materials, and there are 54,581 books on the library shelves.  

All because 12 women saw the need for a lending library and worked to make books available for others.  The Book Lovers Club expanded to thirty members, a number that members’ homes could accommodate, and continues to donate to the Putnam County Library.

On Saturday, August 27th, at 6:30 p.m., the Cookeville library will present a Reader’s Theatre event to honor the 100th anniversary of Book Lovers Club. Refreshments will be served and local community members will read aloud to bring books to life.  Registration is required: email events@PCLibrary.org

The object of Book Lovers Club remains as written in 1922:  mutual improvement, culture, and helpfulness.  I appreciate the twelve women who came together to share books and carried their love of books to everyone in our community. 

And I’m thankful for our public library.

One Night’s Adventures of Ralph S. Mouse

My Grand snuggled beside me on the couch, lay a book on my lap and asked, “Can we finish this book now?”

            I opened to the bookmarked page of Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Clearly and began reading aloud in the middle of a chapter, the top of a page.  Micah nudged me. “Gran, it’s okay, but do you know we’ve already read this?”  It had been three weeks since we last read about Ralph.  How could Micah remember?

            If you have read one of the three Ralph books, you know that Ralph is an unusual mouse.  He had listened to so many children and watched so much television that he learned to talk, and he rode a motorcycle that was propelled by his voice, “pb-pb-b-b.”

            Ralph lived at a hotel where Ryan, the young son of a housekeeper, was his best friend and confidante.  Ralph became frustrated with his cousins because they begged for motorcycle rides and were leaving signs of a mice infiltration at the hotel so he convinced Ryan to take him to school.  Ryan’s classmates discovered Ralph.  He had to escape a maze they created, avoid being seen by the school custodian, and deal with the class bully who smashed Ralph’s motorcycle.

            Micah remembered that we’d read about the motorcycle being destroyed.  As we continued reading, Ralph was given a sports car, a Laser XL7, but it didn’t move by pb-pb-b-b.  Ralph was told that he had to make a sports car noise to make it move.

            “Vroom!!” The car rolled across the floor.  My Grand clapped.  When the car needed to move backwards, Micah read the word much easier that I did, “Moorv.”   Micah said, “Stop!” He ran upstairs, came back, plodded down beside me, and ran his red Hot Wheelssports car along his leg while I read the last pages of Ralph S. Mouse.

            After brushing his teeth, putting on his pajamas, and snuggling under the covers, Micah asked, “Will you tell me a purple cow story?”   A story that I’d make up as I told it.   

            Purple Cow, tired after a day of picking grass in the pasture and playing outside, lay down on the straw covered floor in her barn.  She heard a noise, a squeaking noise.  My Grand grinned and whispered, “It was Ralph.” 

            I continued, “Purple Cow looked around, but she couldn’t see anyone or anything.  She asked, ‘Who’s there?’”

            My Grand raised his hand.  “Stop, Gran. I’ll be Ralph.”  Oh, the conversation between Purple Cow and Ralph!  They talked about what they’d done that day, the places they’d been, and what they liked to eat.  When Purple Cow said it was time to sleep, Ralph asked if she’d forgotten that he was nocturnal.

Purple Cow didn’t understand so Ralph explained the meaning of nocturnal.              In several columns, I’ve written about Heart Tugs, those times when heartstrings tighten and I want to imprint t

When a Book is Read

Would You Rather?

My eight-year-old Grand ripped the wrapping paper off his birthday gift and said, “Oh, great! A Would You Rather? book!”  He immediately opened his new book and said, “Who wants to play?”

            Was the book a game? According to the book’s cover, it’s a game book of 300 questions for kids, ages 6-12.  Son read a question aloud, “Would you rather lick the bathroom floor or be toilet paper?”

            Birthday Boy said, “No!” His older brother yelled “Yuck! Neither!”  His younger sister held her nose, grimaced, and shook her head.  Son, Daughter 2 (aka daughter-in-law), Husband and I laughed and the kids insisted we answer.  Neither was our answer.

            Author Simon D. May would not have accepted our answers.  He stated two rules in his book.  1. You have to choose between the two possible answers and be creative and silly and try to make other people laugh.  2. Have fun with all those around you while spending time together. 

            While Husband and I visited our Grands and their parents, who live an airplane ride away, would you rather questions did make all of us laugh and we had some funny and some serious conversations.

            Would you rather eat two live worms or have worms crawling over your body for three hours? We talked off and on about this question for two days.  Do you have to chew the worms?  Could you chop them into small pieces and put chocolate syrup over them?  How about putting them in a smoothie with ice cream and strawberries?  If they’re little worms, you could swallow them quickly and then drink something fast.  What would happen to worms inside your body?

            Could you sit in a bathtub filled with water while the worms crawled on you?  It might feel relaxing.  Or eerie!  It’d make your skin crawl! Three hours, 180 minutes, is a long time – longer than a movie! Finally, most of us agreed that eating two worms could be done quickly and three hours was too long.

            Would you rather turn into a bird when you cry or turn into an owl when you laugh?  My Grands chirped and squealed and hooted to imitate birds.  Could it be any bird? Would you be a human when you weren’t crying or laughing?  What if you just barely laughed?

            The choices of some questions were completely unrelated.  Would you rather give up Netflix or eat the same breakfast for the rest of your life?  Many were about eating, especially eating worms and insects.  Would you rather eat a worm or a bowl full of cockroaches? And some were too gross to talk about – like the bathroom floor and toilet paper question.

            Mr. May states on the inside cover of the book that the questions are silly, hilarious, outrageous, daydreaming, and challenging. The cover could say for all ages, for anyone who likes to laugh and be silly and have fun with others.  

            Would You Rather? is on my birthday wish list. 

Tribute to Beverly Cleary

As I read a recent obituary for award-winning author Beverly Cleary, I wondered if the AP writer knew Henry Huggins and Otis Spofford and Ellen Tebbits and Beatrice (Beezus) Quimby and her little sister, Ramona?  Did the writer know they lived on Klickitat Street?  That children loved to read these names aloud? That we teachers could hand students any book written by Beverly Cleary and know it would entertain and encourage readers?

            Beverly Cleary’s first book, Henry Huggins was published in 1950 when she was in her early 30’s and introduced Henry’s neighbors, Otis, Ellen, Beezus, and Ramona.  They were kids who played in each other’s backyards and went to school together.  Cleary worked as a librarian when a little boy asked, “Where’s the books about kids like us?”  There were books about kids who had nannies and servants and were well-behaved and talked proper, but none about kids who did chores and got dirty and said things to each other that they’d never say to adults.  So, Cleary wrote about adventures of normal kids who got mad and did silly things that made readers laugh out loud.

            Fifty-five books by Cleary have been published, some in twenty-nine languages, and over 85 million of her books have been sold.  In 2009, her series of books about Ramona were made into a movie. Her first books were aimed at young readers, but Cleary also wrote books for middle grade students, teenagers, and her memoirs.  Her books received many awards, including the prestigious Newberry Medal Award, the top children’s literature award.  The awards she liked best were state awards that were based on votes by children.

            Cleary remained humble and knew her readers well.  For thirty years she answered her fan mail herself, and when she received letters from children whose parents were divorced she wrote a book for them.  “Dear Mr. Henshaw” is a series of letters between a sixth-grade boy and his favorite author, and that boy connects with every reader who has ever been lonely.

            My favorite Cleary books are about Ralph S. (Smart) Mouse, and I just learned that she created Ralph to hook her own son on reading.  I remember struggling young readers who successfully read about a curious mouse that learned to ride a red toy motorcycle and became best friends with the owner of the motorcycle, Keith.  After I’d read aloud The Mouse and the Motorcycle to students, many wanted to know about Ralph’s other adventures in the sequels.

            Cleary’s books have stood the test of time.  As I read about Ralph S. Mouse to a young Grand, he rolled a red car across the living room rug and when Ralph’s motorcycle flipped in the air so did my Grand’s red car.  “Can a mouse really talk?” my Grand asked.  Only to children and only Ralph.  “What if all animals could talk?’              That’s the magic of books.  The what ifs and the connections between the characters, the listener, and the reader.  I’m thankful Mrs. Cleary created such magic.

I’m a Can-Do Kid

            “Gran, number 1!” my six-year-old Grand called from the backseat of my van.  So, I pushed the 1 on the CD player and hear the words I’ve heard a gazillion times:  I’m a Can-Do Kid written by David Plummet and John Archambault, illustrated by Lisa Guida.  “Will you skip to the song?” Micah asked because he wanted to skip the reading of the book and hear the song.

In 2008, when our oldest Grand was three years old, our neighbor Joan Tansil gave me a book and CD entitled I’m a Can-Do Kid.  The CD is a four-minute reading and a three and one-half minute song. Every Grand who has ridden with me has listened to it, over and over and over. And I used this book as a prompt when I had an opportunity to do writing activities with kindergarten through third grade students. All kids have a story to tell using pictures or words, or both, of what they can do. 

            The story begins with simple lyrics.  “I can see the sunshine.  I can smell a rose.  I can tie my shoes.  I can wiggle my toes.”  Another stanza includes seasons: “I can build a snowman with a funny nose.  I can plant a seed and watch it grow.”  The book invites conversation about handicaps: “I’m a wheelchair wonder with wishes and dreams.  I can do wheelies and be on teams.” 

            All kids like the stanza about music: “I can play kazoo, bang a garbage can, scrub-a-dub a washboard, clang a frying pan.”  Most kids know what a kazoo is and many have beat a metal pan with a wooden spoon, but most don’t know about metal garbage cans and metal washboards. 

            My Grands and students repeated the chorus loudly. “I can. I can. I can. I can. I can.  I’m a can-do kid, yes I am. I’m a can-do kid, yes I am.”  As I copy these words from the book, I smile, just as children do when they say and sing, “I can.” 

            I just noticed there is not a single exclamation point in the book and in this time of short text messages and social media comments, exclamation points are common.  If there ever was a time to express joy and happiness, it’s while saying and singing, “I can!”

             All of us need a big dose of ‘can-do therapy.’  Youtube.com offers the song and pictures from the book; search for I’m a Can-do Kid.   Listen and watch.  You’ll be singing along with the chorus and those words will rattle around your head for a few days. 

            Last week, using FaceTime I read the book to Micah while he sat in his house across town.  When I got to the chorus, he sang, and when I read the last page, he asked, “Hey, Gran.  Can we hear it again?” 

            Of course, we can.  And then we’ll talk about all the things we can do.  That’s the best part of this book.

I’m a CAN-DO Kid

Be A Library Friend

Are you a friend of the library?  Not just someone who likes the library, but a member of the Putnam County Library Friends organization?

            Library Friends is a large group of people, some who generously give their time and money and many whose only support is through membership dues.  Its purposes include connecting people who are interested in libraries and raising public awareness of libraries.  It works with the library staff to provide programs and services.

            October 18-24 is National Friends of Library Week, a time for public libraries to show appreciation to Library Friends, a time to make more people aware of this organization, and to encourage membership.  When I received the recent bi-annual copy of Book reMarks, published by Putnam County Library Friends, I put it aside until I could sit a bit, with a cup of hot tea, and read this eight-page newsletter. 

            This edition tells about the current library services, some are limited due to COVID-19.  It includes pictures and articles about recent library renovations and the success of the summer reading program for children, teens, and adults.  The article that most interested me told about Open Books, Open Doors, a partnership between Putnam County Schools and the library. Librarians are visiting 7th grade Language Arts classes in all four Putnam County Schools to enrich the students’ experiences in oral storytelling, comic arts, and virtual book borrowing.  Last year through this program, many students received their first library cards.

            I reread that sentence.  These 7th graders, who are 12 years old, got their first library cards.  I thought of my young Grands and how proud they were when they were 5 years old and showed me their cards.  “Look, I can get my own books!” Micah said last year.  Having their own library cards, children are likely to choose more books and want to hear and read those books.  I’m glad our community’s school system and public library work together to encourage middle-school students to use the library.  

            Perhaps Library Friends is best known for its monthly used book sale, and unfortunately, it has not been open during recent months.  I have a stack of books to donate when the sale re-opens, and every time I have gone to the sale I leave with an armload of books for just a few dollars. 

            By being a member of Library Friends, I put my money where my mouth is.  Children, and adults, learn by reading.  It’s true that children learn to read, and then they read to learn, as well as for enjoyment.  I want public libraries to be around forever.  The library offers more than printed books, such as public computer use, online printed and audio books, and meeting rooms.  Check out the Putnam County Library website and Face Book page.

            The Friends’ mission is to promote literacy in all its forms, to facilitate equitable access to information, and to encourage lifelong learning and a love for reading. Membership is available to any person, corporation, or organization that shares this mission. You can join online at https://pclibrary.org/membership%20form%202016.pdf.

Living through a book

When my friend Jennie handed me a book, I thought it was just another book to read. But I was wrong, it was much more.

      Doctor Woman of the Cumberland is an autobiography by May Cravath Wharton, M. D.  Beginning in 1917, Dr. May practiced medicine in and around Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, for 40 years.  She grew up in the upper Midwest, taught at the University of North Dakota, and studied medicine at the University of Michigan.  When she was in her mid-30s she thought she was settled for life; her private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, was in her words, “vigorous and growing.”

      May met Edwin Wharton, and they married after a short courtship.  They moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was head of a missionary project and she was a resident physician.  Edwin was called to several churches; eventually they settled in a small New Hampshire community.  Then a call came for Edwin to be principal of Pleasant Hill Academy and a teaching job was offered to May. At age 45, Dr. May left what she considered a “good thing” to move to rural Tennessee.

      The book opens with her arrival at the Crossville train station and her description of riding in the backseat of an ancient Ford.  Dr. May wasn’t readily accepted as a doctor.  Patient and willing to adapt, she was finally called on to doctor all people, many of whom had never received medical care.  In 1920, her husband died, and the people of Pleasant Hill convinced Dr. May to stay.  She travelled by horse and car to care for patients in their homes, and she campaigned for a hospital. 

      In 1937, a house for tuberculosis patients opened, and a visitor remarked that Dr. May’s dream had come true.  She responded, “A dream has no dimensions.”  With the help of many, her work eventually led to a retirement village and a hospital.  Dr. May left a strong legacy of good health care.

         I lived this book.  Although Dr. May was born about twenty years before my grandparents, her experiences were glimpses of my grandparents’ lives. I saw Papa riding horseback through the hills and hollows of Pickett County when Dr. May crossed treacherous paths in Cumberland County.  In the 1950s as I rode with Papa in his pick-up truck, he talked about the good paved roads, unlike the muddy, slick roads he dove on in his Model T.  Dr. May described the roads’ deep ruts and how cars slid backwards on slopes.

      I felt the rope as a metal cylinder dropped into a well when I drew water to fill an aluminum bucket at Granny’s old homeplace.  I saw an elementary school classmate when I read about Dr. May caring for children who needed a good scrubbing and head washing.             Dr. May’s determination, persistence, and team efforts led to success. I don’t know why I’ve never read this book before, but I’ll read it again.  I connected with Dr. May’s story in many ways, and she reminded that anything worth having is worth working for.