Virginia Johnson

Christopher Paul Curtis: “Humor Is a Survival Tactic.”

The guy hanging car doors at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, for 13 years was taking home a decent wage, but he wanted much more out of life than that. There was another side to Christopher Paul Curtis—a creative side. On his job breaks, he kept a journal and wrote stories. The first of those, he said, were “just plain bad,”* but he got better. A lot better. His second wife encouraged him to keep writing, so he quit the job at the plant, moved the family just a little way to Canada, took other jobs that were less mind-numbing, as well as courses in creative writing. Ten years later, his first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, won the Newbery Honor, the Golden Kite Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award.  

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, is a gentle, wondrous Chinese fantasy book for children. Set in a long-ago times, it follows a brave and bright girl named Minli who lives with her parents in a poor farming village. There is barely enough rice to keep them fed and certainly not any for luxuries. Most all the people are downtrodden and worried about their daily lives, but not Minli. She does not like the hard work in the sticky, muddy rice fields, but every evening she can look forward to stories told by her beloved father.

These tales fill her heart and her mind in such a way that she becomes the most radiant and hopeful young girl living near Fruitless Mountain. Indeed, she is so hopeful that when a peddler comes to their village with bowls of lucky goldfish, she takes her small savings to buy one, with high expectations. But when no luck seems to come and her father starts sharing his small supper with the hungry fish, Minli knows she must let it go. Releasing it into the Jade River, a river created according to legend from the body of a grieving dragon, she is surprised when a sweet, high-pitched voice—the goldfish!—offers to help her find her fortune by telling her the way to Never-Ending-Mountain where lives the Old Man of the Moon. The Old Man knows all things, including how her family’s fortune might be changed.

May Baskets: An Old Tradition Makes New Friends

Officially, May Day is the 1st of May, but really anytime during this splendid spring month is a perfect opportunity to share small gifts of the season with everyone: teachers, friends, neighbors, and family. You can do that with May baskets—a wonderful, old-fashioned tradition.

Ruth Coder Fitzgerald: A Life Filled with Determination

Ruth Coder Fitzgerald: A Life Filled with Determination

“She was always very generous with her time and hospitality to me, and I loved working with her. She helped me with my walking tour as well. I have not been in touch with her over the past several years, but to this day whenever I give one of my walking tours downtown, I make sure that all on the tour with me are made aware that the basis for most of the information shared on the walking tour is the result of the great work and passion of one Ruth Coder Fitzgerald and her book -- A Different Story. In my view, Ruth was always a caring and powerful voice for the underdog, the ‘little guy,’ and her lifelong commitment to inform, to teach, and advocate for that particular constituent speaks volumes about her makeup, her sense of fairness for all, and her heart of gold. My admiration and love for Ruth, and what she stood for, is never-ending.”

--Jervis Hairston, former City Planner and local historian

On April 10, 2013, a highly-regarded pioneer in local African American history died at her home in downtown Fredericksburg. Ruth Coder Fitzgerald was well-known throughout the community for her historical research and writings as well as for her championing of an important cause for Vietnam veterans.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

No one really liked Duny in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. The boy was wild, proud, and full of temper-- well-suited to the company of the goats he herded. Then came the day when he overheard his aunt chanting a spell to call her goat down from the roof of her house. He remembered the rhyme and later spoke it to his own herd:

"Noth hierth malk man hiolk han merth han!"

The first time he said it, they came to him all together, staring with their yellow eyes. Duny laughed and shouted the rhyme again. They pushed towards him with their thick, ridged horns. Duny ran all the way to town with the goats close beside. The villagers laughed at him and cursed the animals.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich

The Ojibwa trappers had come to trade with the villagers on Spirit Island, but what they saw caused them to turn their boats around and head for home as quickly as they could.  The entire island seemed empty of life. Smallpox, the terrible illness for which the Native Americans had little immunity, had wiped out everyone. Well, almost everyone. Still alive and crawling through the ruins was a baby girl, all alone.

Omakayas, or Little Frog, was soon adopted into another Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island.  Her life is as rich and full as that of another beloved book character, Laura Ingalls, and there are many similarities between the stories, including the children’s delight in nature and wild creatures.. Omakayas’ family’s everyday activities and celebrations and tragedies are carefully set down, from season to season.  The Birchbark House is foremost a very well-written story with believable, lovable and intriguing characters, including Omakayas’ annoyingly greedy little brother and beautiful but sometimes cold-hearted big sister.  Older generations are also well-represented.  The grandmother, a gifted healer, shares stories of long-ago, and her dreams are filled with omens of things to come and solutions to real-life problems given by the spirit world.

Historic Garden Week in Virginia

Historic Garden Week in Virginia

History and gardening fans get together April 20 through 27, 2013, throughout the Commonwealth to tour gardens of houses great and small from the Tidewater area to the Highlands. The Rappahannock Valley portion of the tour will be held Tuesday, April 23, in the Fredericksburg area, including Stafford County:

"To celebrate the anniversary – this tour will feature homes that were opened 80 years ago! Featured locations include Belmont in Falmouth, Virginia, The Snowden House, Chatham, Brompton and Fall Hill. All of these properties enjoy spectacular views of the area and the Rappahannock."

Tours will be offered in different venues throughout the state through Saturday, April 27. Check out the Garden Club of Virginia's Web site for information on all the tours and check out books from the library featuring homes and gardens in the Old Dominion.

April Is Autism Acceptance Month

Autism is a neurological disorder that is diagnosed in an estimated one in 88 children every year, usually within the first three years of life. Depending on the degree of affectedness, the children may or may not be able to communicate readily or form meaningful relationships with others. Children and adults with autism may be able to function independently in later life, or they may always require a strong support system. In April 2002, a Congressional hearing declared autism to be a national health emergency, and as awareness has grown, so have diagnosis rates.

Support and understanding for families with autistic children has also increased tremendously in the past decade. A local group, the Autism Society of Northern Virginia, has decided to embrace their children's differences and have dubbed April as Autism Acceptance Month.  A very active group, they are hosting the Autism Acceptance Walk, a fundraiser with a sensory-friendly carnival which will be held from 1-4 pm on Sunday, April 28, 2013, at the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds. 

A Change in Classification

The behavior of some autistic children may seem strange to those who are unfamiliar with it: repetitive motions, an inability to tolerate change or to tolerate a great deal of stimulation of the senses. For many years an official diagnosis of autism was separate from one of Aspergers or PDD-NOS, but that has changed with the issuing of the latest edition of the DSM-V (the DSM is the manual used by clinicians and researchers to diagnose and classify mental disorders) due out in May of 2013. According to an article on the Autism Research Institute's Web site:

Dueling Days in Early America

To fight a duel, whether with swords or pistols, remains one of the most romantic and violent tropes of the 17th through the 19th centuries. From Alexandre Dumas’ D'artagnan to the Firefly episode, “Shindig,” the deadly side of an old and polite society remains fascinating to today’s audiences.  But are the scenarios laid out in fiction exaggerated for our amusement? Surely, no civilized people would resort to such violence over mere words—or, would they?

Andrew Jackson, later the seventh President of the United States, fought in more than a dozen duels, and received a bullet in his lung from one of them that remained there until his death nineteen years later. What did he duel over? His first opponent was an attorney who made him look foolish in court. It ended with shots fired in the air.  He later chose to duel the first governor of Tennessee, a political rival, when that man accused him of adultery—technically true as Jackson’s wife’s divorce from her first husband wasn’t finalized when she remarried. And what was the cause of the duel that got him a bullet in the lung? An argument about a horse race. Wounded for life or not, Andrew Jackson won that duel. He took the hit in the chest and then killed his opponent.

Salt Is Sweeter than Gold by Andrew Peters

Salt Is Sweeter than Gold by Andrew Peters

In Andrew Peters’ Salt Is Sweeter than Gold, an old king has three daughters, but only one will inherit his kingdom. Who should it be? When it’s time to decide, the king holds a grand ceremony and asks in front of huge crowd a simple question: how much do you love me?  The first answer pleases him very much: “I love you more than all the jewels that encrust your fingers and all the gold that lies hidden in the vaults of this castle!”  The second daughter also gives a charming answer: “I love you more than all the land that spreads like an ocean beyond this castle!” But when the youngest, who did truly love him, says simply, “Father, I love you more than salt,” the king is so insulted he banishes her immediately and tells her she is no longer his….  until the day that salt becomes more precious than gold.