Game On!

Grab some snacks, clear off the kitchen table and invite your friends over – WPL now has board games! There are over 40 different games available for you to borrow. The games range from simple card games to more creative role-playing games. WPL bloggers Ashley T., Jenna H. and Lesley L. tried out a few of them.

Ashley’s Picks

Hanabi
Number of Players: 2 to 5
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Easy
Objective: To work together to create full suits of fireworks in numerical order, and have a successful fireworks show!

Review: Hanabi (which is Japanese for fireworks), is a unique card game in that you only know everyone else’s cards and not your own. It is a co-operative game, where players have to communicate with each other in order to make sure the right cards are played in the right order to create the fireworks display. You can play with different rule variations to change things up as well. It’s a nice and quick little game.

Dixit
Number of Players: 3 to 6
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Medium
Objective: To choose cards that best describe the clues, and be the first player to reach 30 points.

Review: Dixit is one of my favourite board games. The game has a deck of beautifully drawn cards with abstract scenes. When it is your turn, you get to be as creative as you want when you think of a clue for a card in your hand. It can be a word, a scenario, or anything you can think of. Other players then need to pick a card from their hand that best fits your clue, then the cards are displayed anonymously and everyone votes on which card they think was the original. It is so much fun to see how everyone thinks, and how the different images can describe the same clue. You also have to be very creative with your clues, because if everybody or nobody guesses your card then you don’t get any points. It’s a creatively challenging game that is so much fun to play.

Pandemic
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Medium
Objective: To work together to eradicate the diseases that are ravaging the world.

Review: This is a co-operative game where players work together to cure 4 diseases that broke out in various countries and are spreading around the world. Each player takes on a different role, like medic or researcher. Each role has a different special ability that can help stop the crisis. The deck options make for a different game experience every time. You can increase or limit the difficulty level by adjusting the number of epidemic cards in the deck. It feels very satisfying to win, and even more satisfying if you can eradicate all the diseases instead of just curing them. Players have to strategize together and try to use each turn to its full advantage in order to succeed. Pandemic is a really enjoyable game – who knew rampantly spreading diseases could be so much fun!

Jenna’s Picks

NMBR 9 : take it to the next level
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Easy
Objective: Each round a card is flipped over, showing which number tile you have to add to your individual board. The goal is to fit the tiles together so that you can stack additional tiles on top to create new levels. The higher the level, the higher the score. The game goes until all the cards are flipped.

Review: This is a great puzzle game that will be fun for the whole family! We played it with only two people and still had a great time. The instructions were simple to understand, making for a quick setup when playing for the first time. The different shapes of the number pieces make the game satisfyingly challenging, without being too difficult. At first I was concerned that we would create the same boards, since everyone draws the same number tile, but that didn’t turn out to be a problem, since everybody thinks so differently and there are so many ways to build the board. For that same reason, the game didn’t get repetitive when we played it a few times, which was a huge bonus. Another bonus (depending on who you ask!) is that it exercises your multiplication skills when it comes time to score the levels, so this would be a great game to play with kids who are learning basic math skills. I definitely recommend borrowing NMBR 9 this summer.

Biblios
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Age range: 10+
Complexity: Instructions make it seem harder than it is. Once you get the hang of it, it’s relatively easy.
Objective: Win the most Victory Points by having the biggest collection of Scribes, Illuminators, Manuscripts, Scrolls, and Supplies. Resources can be collected during the donation round or purchased during the auction round. Victory Points are determined by values on a die that can be raised or lowered throughout the game.

Review: This game was fun once we got through the instructions. The instruction booklet is quite lengthy, which is nice because it’s thorough, but a little overwhelming when you just want to get to the game. We played this game with two people, and we both agreed that it would have been a little more enjoyable with more people. We did appreciate that the game offers some alterations that you can make based on the number of players. The Medieval trappings were visually impressive, including the manuscript-like box that the game comes in, but they don’t really affect the game-play. We found that once we made up a few “House Rules,” such as forcing the first player to make a bid during the auction round, the game was much more enjoyable. I think this is definitely a fun game, but I wouldn’t count on it for all your entertainment when you’re off to the cottage this summer.

Lesley’s Picks 

Animal Upon Animal
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Age range: 4+
Complexity: Very Easy
Objective: Players take turns stacking wooden animals on top of the alligator base. The first player to safely stack all their animals wins the game.

Review: Animal Upon Animal is a bit like playing Jenga in reverse. Players roll the dice to see how many animals they must stack. It is easy enough for small children to play but it’s interesting enough to keep older kids and adults entertained as well. As the game progressed, I had to get fairly creative at how to stack my animals so they wouldn’t fall. Certain animals are a lot harder to stack than others. I highly recommend this to play on family game night!

Exploding Kittens
Age Range: 7+
Number of Players: 2 to 5
Complexity: Easy
Objective: Players draw cards from a deck. If a player draws an Exploding Kitten card, they lose. All the other cards in the deck are used to strategically avoid drawing an Exploding Kitten card.

Review: The first time I played Exploding Kittens I found it a bit confusing but by the second round, I had caught on completely. There are a lot of little rules that take a bit of getting used to, but once you understand, it’s so much fun. It is a highly tactical game. You must avoid that Exploding Kitten card at all costs! Keep a close eye on where it moves in the deck. Exploding Kittens can be played by older children, but I would recommend it more for teenagers and adults.

Bananagrams
Age Range: 7+
Number of Players: 2 to 8
Complexity: Easy
Objective: Players individually arrange their letter tiles into a crossword format. The first player to correctly use all their letters wins the game.

Review: Bananagrams is similar to scrabble but played at warp-speed. If you enjoy word puzzles, you will love this game. It’s really easy to play and to transport. There is no board, just a small bag filled with letter tiles. I found it rather addictive; the rounds go by so fast that I just wanted to keep playing over and over.

Fun Employed
Age Range: 18+
Number of Players: 3 to 7
Complexity: Medium
Objective: This is a role playing game where players are given four random ‘qualifications’ they must use to apply to a real life job. Players improvise a job interview scenario and the most convincing player gets the job.

Review: This game is hilarious and is definitely not for children. The more creative you get with your qualifications the better your chances of winning. For example, in one round I had to interview for a job as a gynecologist using the qualifications that I am emotionally hollow, I have jazz hands, and I own a jet pack and a jack hammer. It’s a great party game. The more players you have, the better the game works.

My Unexpected Encounter with Father Brown

As a young millennial, I never thought I’d find myself watching period-drama mysteries. Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders and the like–those were TV shows for other people of a more *ahem* mature lifestyle to enjoy. I was in for a big surprise when on a whim I borrowed Season 1 of the BBC’s Father Brown.

I originally intended to let this show play in the background, while I worked on other things around my apartment. Before I knew it my housework had been forgotten, and I was fully enthralled in 1950’s era mystery. I had gotten lost in the world of Kembleford and fallen in love with Father Brown and his hodge-podge group of sidekicks.

As I watched through the episodes of Father Brown, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was enjoying it so much. Normally I lose interest in the “one-and-done” crime shows that don’t have any over-arching plot lines and the crimes are contained to one episode, never to be spoken of again. The episodes of Father Brown were of the “one-and-done” variety, but I was addicted.

Somewhere in Season 3, I figured out the Father Brown appeal: escapism. The power of escapism is often overlooked in conversations about the stories we consume. We boast that good stories help us see other people’s point-of-views, inform us of other ways of living and ultimately make us more empathetic human beings. This is all true, but good stories have another role.

Watching Father Brown — in all of it’s “one-and-done” glory–gave me an escape from the stresses of everyday life, and that’s why I loved it so much. I could turn on the TV and know what to expect. By the end of the episode, the balance would be back in check and I’d have had the opportunity to spend a good 45 minutes with the now-familiar characters. It might sound silly to some, but the episodes were a stable comfort during a chaotic period in my life.

So, if you’re looking for an escape or just enjoy a plain, old-fashioned mystery, I’d definitely recommend trying a season or two (or six!) of Father Brown.

— Jenna H.

You Inspire Us

In honour of International Women’s Day, our bloggers are sharing the women (real or fictional) who inspire them. From sleuths to librarians, activists to llamas (yes, that’s right), inspiring “women” come from all periods of time and walks of life.

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew has a special place in my heart. I can still vividly recall the first Nancy Drew book I ever read, The Hidden Staircase. I was immediately hooked and went on to devour every single other ND book. Why? How could you possibly not love Nancy Drew?? She makes a terrific heroine for young girls. Smart, brave and independent, Nancy was always keen to tackle a new mystery and more than capable of outwitting rascally bad guys.

The author was no slouch either. Using the pen name Carolyne Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson wrote the first 23 Nancy Drew mysteries and more than 100 other books. Later she worked as a journalist and — how amazing is this? — continued writing for newspapers until just before her death at age 96.

— Penny D

Elena Greco

The fictional character that has inspired me recently is Elena Greco, the narrator of the My Brilliant Friend series by Elena Ferrante. What inspires me most about Elena Greco is her quiet determination and ambition. Elena, who was born and raised in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Naples, defies expectation by graduating high school and proceeding through a university degree. With the encouragement of her friend Lila, Elena carves out her own career, leaves her hometown, and achieves her goal of becoming a published author. Elena Greco’s resounding voice inspires me to believe in my own abilities and remain disciplined to work towards my goals.

— Eleni Z.

Lillian H. Smith

There are many inspirational women I could write about, but the one that stands out bringing me back to my research assistant days. Lillian H. Smith was born in 1887 in London, Ontario and was the first professionally-trained Children’s Librarian in the British Empire. She came to Toronto in 1912, trained staff and created programs. By the end of her 40 year career she had helped expand a library system and the framework for the innovative delivery of children’s services, forming a guide for libraries across Canada and globally. Her motto to get “…the right book, to the right child, at the right time [and her feeling that] “…the love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart” says it all.

— Teresa N-P

Viola Desmond

When Viola Desmond first appeared on our new ten dollar bill I have to admit that I didn’t know much about her story. I quickly set out to remedy that, and the more I learned about her, the more I admired her. Desmond is often remembered for taking a stand against racism and refusing to move from the “White Only” section of a movie theatre in Nova Scotia, but did you know that she also owned and operated her own beauty salon? In addition to owning a salon, Desmond also started a beauty school so that other black women could have the same business opportunities as her. There’s so much to be learned from the way Viola Desmond stood up for what was right and supported the women around her. To find out more about Viola Desmond, be sure to check out Meet Viola Desmond by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas. Although you’ll find it in the Children’s section, it’s definitely worth looking at no matter how old you are!

— Jenna H.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller is one of the world’s most well-known Deaf-Blind persons but did you know she was also one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians? After losing her sight and hearing at an early age, she was tutored by Anne Sullivan and later graduated from Radcliffe College, cum laude, in 1904.

Keller became a well-sought after lecturer and supporter for people with disabilities and women’s issues. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a non-profit organization whose goal is to defend and preserve the rights afforded to all individuals. For these accomplishments, Keller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, included in the Women’s Hall of Fame and received several honourary doctoral degrees.

Helen Keller died in 1968 at the age of 87 and will be remembered for turning her adversity into a powerful legacy. Keller is an example of the strength, tenacity and skills that people, who are often seen only for their ‘disabilities’ by society, can accomplish if provided the appropriate resources, language and education.

— Laurie P.

Llama Llama

“Come and listen little llama. Have a cuddle with your Mama…
Gifts are nice, but there’s another: the true gift is, we have each other.”

Mama Llama (in Anna Dewdney’s charming books) represents the ‘every mom.’ She’s up in the night with little llama. She’s up every morning getting him ready. She teaches him how to share. She deals with tantrums. She deals with meltdowns. She takes care of her of her little llama, even when she’s sick herself. And she does it all with patience and love. There are no awards for the Mama llamas of the world. There are no pages reserved in the history books. Yet she shapes her child in many ways –both in mind and in heart.

— Lesley L.

Louise Arbour

There are many reasons why Louise Arbour, currently the UN Special Representative for International Migration, has captured my attention for so many years but first and foremost is the time she spent as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The strength and resilience she demonstrated throughout the agonizingly brutal and horrific testimonies she and her fellow judges presided over during these trials is a testament to her courage and unwavering sense of justice. These civil wars were as barbaric as they come and under her leadership, for the first time, sexual assault committed in the name of war was prosecuted as a crime against humanity.

— Nancy C.

Louisa May Alcott

My mother gave me a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when I was in elementary school. I quickly joined the thousands who admire Jo March’s fierce loyalty, creative spark, and constant despair over having to act like a young lady. As a teen I learned that Alcott put much of herself into Jo, including the writing of sensational “potboilers”, and that she also wished for a life beyond what was acceptable for women in her time. Although best known for writing books for children she published over 30 books and story collections, worked as a Civil War nurse, was a passionate abolitionist, and early suffragette. A fascinating woman and incredible writer, Louisa May Alcott has been inspiring us for over 150 years. Quite a legacy.

— Penny M.

Alice Munro

Alice Munro is one of the most gifted short-story writers in Canada and the English speaking world. She has the innate ability to be able to fully develop a character and their experiences within a short story, something that could take another writer an entire novel to achieve.

In 2013 Munro became the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. She has also received 3 Governor General awards, 2 Giller Prizes, the Man Booker International Prize for Lifetime Achievement, a Canada-Australia Literary Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and an O. Henry Award. In 2005, she was one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.”

Yet, for all her achievements and recognition, Alice Munro remains as humble and unassuming as the characters she creates. I had the tremendous honour to meet her at a reading for her book Dance of the Happy Shades. When I told her that I was focusing my undergraduate thesis on her writing she said, “Oh my goodness, can’t you find something more interesting to do?”

— Sandy W.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman, was an amazing woman, one worthy of emulation. She never let her status as a slave get in the way of her goals. She believed she was entitled one of two things: liberty or death. After escaping her “owner,” she put herself in danger many times to work as a “conductor,” rescuing others through the Underground Railroad. She also gave of her talents to help the Union Army during the American Civil War, serving as a nurse, scout and spy. Following the war, Harriet continued to fight against inequality and to offer assistance to those in need. With slavery and injustice continuing to persist, Harriet’s story serves as a powerful example and call to action.

— Susan B.

Men & Women of Our Past

Greetings from the Ellis Little Local History Room!

The Ellis Little Local History Room is located at WPL’s Main Library. The many threads of Waterloo’s history are woven together in our extensive collection of photos, documents, newspaper articles, books and more. One of the most unique and precious collections in the room is the Ellis Little Papers.

Ellis Little was a local historian and retired teacher who spent many hours at the Waterloo Public Library researching the history of Waterloo. When he passed away in 2004, all of his research papers (“The Ellis Little Papers”) were donated to the library. Often Little’s research notes were written on the backs of scrap paper, which adds an interesting flavour to the files. His papers have given many researchers (myself included) insight into those hard-to-find local history topics.

There are many intriguing files in the Ellis Little Papers, but one of the best is called Men and Women of Our Past. This file is a collection of handwritten biographies that Little wrote during his years of research. The biographies focus on people from Waterloo’s earliest days. Some cover the expected prominent figures, such as Abraham Erb who was the first permanent resident of Waterloo, but many more are about people who might sometimes be overlooked.

For example, did you know that there was a Waterloo doctor named Dr. William Sowers Bowers who married a woman named Hannah Flowers? Dr. Bowers trained at the University of North York, and had a medical practice in the house of John Hoffman on King Street South. The charming story of this rhyming family is just the beginning of what can be found in the Ellis Little Biographies.

Sometimes the biographies are only a few lines long, but no matter the length, each biography has a list of information sources at the end. The book Welcome to Waterloo by Marg Rowell, Ed Devitt and Pat McKegney must have been a favourite resource for Little as it often appears in the source section for the biographies. Little also used newspaper articles, local atlases, registries and Waterloo Historical Society articles as sources for the bios. These source lists now provide an excellent path for researchers to chase down primary documents and find even more information about the people Little wrote about.

The Ellis Little Biographies are definitely worth checking out if you want to know more about past Waterloo residents. The original paper versions are available in the Ellis Little Local History Room. With volunteer help, we are transcribing all of the Ellis Little Biographies and making them available through Our Ontario, which hosts WPL’s local history collection online. This is an ongoing digitization project but we already have 80 biographies uploaded and ready for you to enjoy.

Reading through these biographies is a great reminder that the past is made up of people who lived their daily lives and made decisions that would influence the future, just as we are doing today.

— Jenna H.

Resources for Writers

As I was looking through the WPL’s Adult Programs & Events Guide for fall 2017, I noticed an interesting lecture series being offered at the Main Library.  On October 11, Jane Ann McLachlan spoke about Publishing and Marketing Your Novel and, on October 25,  will speak on how to be Motivated to Write.

There’s something cyclical and lovely about a public library offering programming to develop writers whose books could one day stock the library shelves. If you’re a budding writer, or an old hand polishing up a ten-year project, I’d encourage you to check out the talk. Registration is required.

WPL has more writing resources beyond the McLachlan lectures. Here are five valuable resources for budding authors:

1. Writer’s Digest Magazines

This magazine has all sorts of writing tips and advice, including the business parts of writing (such as finding an agent, writing a query letter etc.). Writer’s Digest has eight issues a year plus back issues are available for borrowing.

2. Gale Courses

Gale Courses are online classes that are available for anyone with a library card. There is a whole category dedicated to Creative Writing. Take courses like “Write Fiction Like a Pro” and “Writeriffic: Creativity Training for Writers.”

3. Books

The library has tons of books that talk about pursuing the craft of writing. Look for classics like On Writing by Stephen King or peruse the 808.3 section in Adult Nonfiction.

4. Market Directories

Figure out where to sell your writing by taking a look at Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. This directory is updated yearly and helps you find the right publisher for your work.

5. Bookable Study Rooms

Sometimes you need a fresh, dedicated space to help you focus on your writing. The John M. Harper Branch has study rooms that you can book with your library card. The Main Library also has lots of common work spaces available.

The great thing about these library resources is that they’re all FREE! It’s such a terrific opportunity to be creative without having to spend a penny (or a nickel). Why not be inspired by these resources and pen your own story?

— Jenna H.

Why I Love Short Books

When I was a kid, I yearned after long books. 500 pages was chump change. The longer the book, the better. There was a certain pride in picking the thickest, heaviest book from the school library bookshelves. I loved to pick the book that didn’t quite fit in my already overflowing backpack. There was nothing like having to walk home from school with a giant chapter book in my arms. I wanted everybody to know that I was a reader. The bigger the book, the smarter the kid. That’s what I used to think.

af907240-20a9-0132-7156-0add9426c766I’ve grown up (a little bit) since then, and I’ve come to realize that more pages does not equal more pleasure. Short narratives have something great to offer. My to-be-read pile is full of short novels and short stories. Those slender spines on the bookshelves have taken on a new appeal for me.

At first, I was drawn to the short books because they promised to be quick reads (and they fit nicely in my purse for on-the-go reading), but I soon realized that they have a merit of their own. Shorter novels tend to be tighter stories. Often there’s more dialogue and less exposition. More story-showing, and less story-telling. The sparse style of shorter books allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about theme and meaning within the story. Shorter novels have greater potential to engage the reader beyond the page.

What solidified my loyalty to short books was the last long book that I read. In the spring, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Coming in at 771 pages and 32 hours on audiobook, it definitely classified as a “long book”. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful book, but it was long. The story covers a lot of ground in the characters’ lives, but the ending dragged out a bit for me. There were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition in the final section of the book. I found myself wishing that the book was a hundred pages less and that Tartt would let her story stand on its own.

Although long books can have so much to offer and short books can be superciliously stylistic, I will always love the short book.

Here are some short books and books of short stories that you can borrow from the Waterloo Public Library:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (110 pages)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (192 pages)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (180 pages)

All Saints by K.D. Miller (short stories)

Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl (short stories)

— Jenna H.

 

Be Frank with Me

Last week, when I was scrolling through the available audio books in the Download Library, the bright turquoise cover of Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson popped out at me. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I’m glad I did, because is a pleasant read. Be Frank With Me follows Alice who gets the assignment of “assisting” (read: babysitting) M.M. Banning, a washed up author, who’s writing her comeback novel, and the author’s son, Frank. Frank is an incredibly smart, well dressed kid, who needs Alice’s one-on-one attention, more so than his mother. Although the book starts off a bit slow, (it picks up more at the climax) it has humorous moments, as well as heart warming ones. The bonding moments between Alice and Frank, and Frank and his mother are touching. It’s refreshing to see a very imperfect mother who loves her son deeply, even if she struggles to express it sometimes. Frank and M.M. Banning where definitely the highlight characters of the novel.

The real drawback of this book is that Alice isn’t a very intriguing character. She does have a slight romantic and personal development arc, but both seemed a bit flat and drew away from the mother-son narrative that I found more interesting. The book would have been much stronger if Alice had been used, not only as the reader’s window into Frank and M.M. Banning’s world, but as a nuanced character who had a stronger role in this novel.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable summer read and a great audio book option. However, if you are looking for a book with similar themes that is a bit more complex, I’d suggest The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.   3.5 stars

  • Jenna H.