Read-A-Thon to the Rescue

It’s a weird time right now. We’re cancelling plans and trying to stay informed, but we’re all unsure about what the future holds. What we do know is that staying home is one of the safest things we can do to minimize our exposure to this virus. If you’re someone who loves to read or has wanted to get back into reading, this time at home could be an opportunity for you to dive into that stack of stories sitting on your bedside.

But do you want to make it interesting? Perhaps try some reading challenges that could get you metaphorically one step closer to becoming a witch or wizard of the beloved Harry Potter world?

The 3rd Annual OWLS Read-a-thon is here, lasting from April 1st to April 30th. I previously covered this read-a-thon in another blog post that I’ll link here, but in essence, it’s a month-long challenge to read books that would align with Hogwarts school subjects. If you “pass” certain subjects, you’ll be able to work in specified wizarding world professions like an auror, a professor, a curse breaker, or Ministry of Magic member.  

The creator of this read-a-thon, TheBookRoast, has gone above and beyond this year for an even more interesting challenge. She’s added additional workshops and trainings and is also hosting a number of Harry Potter-related activities online.

So what are my professional goals this year as a Hogwarts student? When I saw the new Merpeople Linguistics course, I knew that I would definitely want to work in International Relations with Merpeople. I’ll be focusing on earning both a Magizoologist and a Herbologist career with a possible Ministry of Magic credit if I have time. I was definitely an overachiever in muggle school so of course I’d be Hermione-level studious at Hogwarts.

Here’s my tentative OWLS Exam Schedule:

  • Ancient Runes: Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia (getting this on Hoopla!)
  • Care of Magical Creatures: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  • Herbology: A Monster Like Me by Wendy Swore
  • Potions: Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd – Stanton
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts: Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  • Charms: The Crooked House by Agatha Christie (my edition has a white cover)
  • Divination: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Since the library will be closing its services until further notice, it may be difficult to find physical books to fit your challenges, but don’t forget that all of our online services including Sunflower E-Library and Hoopla will be available for you to use.

I hope you join in on the OWLS Read-a-thon this year and get to add a little magic to your life!

From Reader to Writer: World Building Resources

Both readers and writers can agree that one of the best parts of stepping into an imaginative story is the immersive world building. From Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Rowling’s Wizarding World, the intricacies of creating an entire world are addictive. For genres like fantasy and science fiction that rely on otherworldly elements, it’s a writer’s ability to engage the five senses which hooks us into a story even more than writing plot or characters.

But when it comes to world building, the pressures of playing god can sometimes get really overwhelming. How do you keep it all straight? How do you determine the origins of your world, the climate, the geography, not to mention the cultures, races, plants, and animals that make your world not only believable, but habitable? How do you even know what questions to ask or what information is most important in your story?

As I’m working through my own writing, I’ve found that world building can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s immensely enjoyable to get lost in a world so different from my own, but world building is also an excellent excuse to create and create without really writing anything. I want to be careful not to risk getting “world builder’s disease,” an affliction that plagued even Tolkien where a writer creates every tiny, little detail of a world, inevitably running themselves into the ground and burning out.

To keep my thoughts organized, I’ve discovered this incredible resource. WorldAnvil is a free website that lets a writer, artist, or role-playing gamemaster organize an entire world in an encyclopedia format. The website has an article for various types of entries, and the articles prompt a range of questions that guide you through construction. WorldAnvil also has paid subscription options that offer access to more resources and functions in the website, but you can use the website without having to pay a thing.

I also found WorldAnvil’s YouTube channel and this video on tips for worldbuilding helpful. Beyond WorldAnvil, there are some great videos featuring advice from both seasoned writers and RPG game developers. This video on fantasy map construction is awesome!

Another amazing resource is best-selling author Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on writing. Many of his classes are available on YouTube including this one on worldbuilding.

When writing a story or even developing a world for a role-playing game, there are many elements and decisions to make. It’s intense and rewarding. Use this phase of your creative journey as an outlet to be eccentric and try things. When the real plotting begins, you’ll be so immersed in your story that much of the work will already be done.

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings

I have a miniature dachshund named Winston.  He HATES fireworks.  In the last few years, I have learned some tricks to help him deal with the holiday.  One of my favorite traditions now is a movie marathon with lots of action to drown out the booms.  This year we watched The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogies.  Watching these movies took me back to childhood.

One of my earliest memories is being read to every night by my dad.  One of the books that stands out the most is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I remember him checking out an illustrated copy from our local library.  It felt so special having him read when we knew he was tired.  He worked in Wichita and had an hour commute every day to and from work with a 4 a.m. alarm.  I loved the story of Bilbo Baggins and the company of Thorin Oakenshield.  My favorite scene is and always will be the chapter, Riddles in the Dark, where Bilbo meets and outwits Gollum.  I was always a little worried for Bilbo.  Answer the riddle or be eaten?!  How scary.  Followed by giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood.  (Why is there always giant spiders?)  Then when they reach the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo has to face the dragon, Smaug.  This book gets better and better.  But I still remember being saddened at the end with the death of Thorin.  I still am sad about it actually.

When I was in high school, my dad and I went to see the first of the Lord of the Rings movies.  I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of this movie.  It was visually stunning with an amazing cast and a great story.  I had never read the LOTR books but I did remember the story, The Hobbit.  I immediately had to buy the trilogy and start reading.  I LOVED them.  The detail that Tolkien puts in his books is beautiful and complex.  The following years, I went to see The Two Towers and The Return of the King and was so happy to see that Peter Jackson followed the source material so well.

Then several years later Jackson announced they were adapting The Hobbit!  I was stoked.  They were bringing back some of the original cast and adding new talent.  Going to the theater to see the first movie was like being a kid again.  Once again, the casting was amazing.  Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin were both exactly what I wanted.  Even though the movies veered off the story line, I felt that Jackson still gave us the feel of Tolkien.

When I happened upon an exact copy of The Hobbit that my dad read to us in a used bookstore I snatched it up immediately.  I placed it in a spot of honor next to my illustrated copies of Harry Potter!  There is nothing like a special book that makes us feel young again.  What is your favorite book from childhood?  We’d love to hear your comments!

Book Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

First line: The Nazi officers are dressed in black.

Summary: Based on the true life events of Dita Kraus we see the courage and strength of the prisoners of Auschwitz. The story follows Dita, a fourteen-year-old girl, and her parents as they are transported to the death camp. Upon arriving, they are assigned to the family camp. Dita is made to work in the “school” where she meets Freddy Hirsch, the Jewish leader in charge of the children of Auschwitz. Hirsch gives Dita that responsibility of hiding and taking care of the contraband books, becoming the librarian of Auschwitz.

Highlights: I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I do. And this one is beautiful. I absolutely love it. The story is so rich and detailed but heartbreaking at the same time. I have read many accounts of the Holocaust. The strength of the people who lived and endured these hardships is hard to read but they need to be. No one should be allowed to forget these stories and atrocities have happened. I cannot imagine having the courage that Dita has. She was fourteen and risked her life for the love of books and reading. She kept her humanity in the worst possible situation. I loved how the author intermixed the stories that she read into the narrative. We, as the reader, get to experience what kept her going during the dark days.

Lowlights: Several other narratives of fellow prisoners at Auschwitz are woven into Dita’s story. I was confused at times when the story changed narrators.

FYI: Great as an audiobook!