This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 9, 1993

June 9, 1993 - summer reading program

The first time I read a haiku, I was hooked.

For those of you not up on your Japanese poetry, a haiku is a deceptively simple, three line, seventeen syllable poem. Kids like writing them because they're short. I liked them, especially at first, because they were like working puzzles.

I still have this vague memory of being surrounded by kids thumping their fingers on their desktops to count out the right number of syllables per line. (12345, 1234 -- long pause -- 567, 12345!)

But in old Japan, the writing of haiku was seen as anything but child's play. Oh certainly, some haiku can be very playful. One of my personal favorites is by Issa, the most whimsical of the haiku masters. It goes like this: "If you are tender / to them the little sparrows / will poop on you." (For you table thumpers: it lost a final syllable in translation.)

But in Japan, it was fully expected that if you wanted to get really good at haiku, it might take 80 years or so of persistent effort. The more years you devoted to writing haiku, the more you realized how surprisingly rich and subtle they could be.

Take what has come to be seen as the definitive haiku, by the great master Basho: "old pond / a frog jumps in / water sound." There's a deep structure to the best haiku: three sharp, distinct images that perfectly evoke not only a moment, but a precise season, and the unique voice of the author.

Which leads me to our Summer Reading Program. The kick-off will be held on June 13, at the Ponderosa High School auditorium, at 1 p.m. This will mark the first opportunity for children to sign up. (If you miss the event, you can sign up at any DPLD branch afterward.)

At the Ponderosa event, children (and their parents, and even people who don't happen to fit in either of those categories) will have the pleasure of watching the performance of the Moyo Nguvu Cultural Arts Center, an African percussion dance, poetry, and martial arts troupe. The event is free of charge, and all are welcome.

Throughout the rest of the summer, the children will be treated to a number of additional virtuoso performances. The first show will be by Brad Bowles, who tells both traditional and his own original folk and fairy tales, as well as a mix of tall tales, and even some scary stories.

Other performers include Michael Stanwood, an internationally known multi-cultural musician; Judie Pankratz, who will provide a marionette variety show; and Bonnie Phipps, a nationally recognized musician and storyteller. Consult your local library for the local schedule.

The kick-off will also give us an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the generous contributions of the Mission Viejo Company and TCI. Each company donated $2,000 for the summer reading program, a sincerely appreciated token of their committment to children and reading.

From June 13 on, children will be encouraged to jump into the vast pond of literature. If they manage to read 24 books by the end of August, they will receive a prize ribbon (suitable for hanging) and their choice of a discount ticket to a Rockies game, OR a discount coupon to Southshore Water Park, OR a discount coupon to Elitch's.

Naturally, library staff will also try to liven things up. We'll be holding weekly drawings for Reader of the Week, and Participant of the Week. Readers of the Week Winners will get a "Mickey buck," (as in Mickey Mouse), and I wouldn't mind one myself. Participants of the Week will get Rockies baseball cards.

But all that stuff is just for play. It is our hope that the real result of this year's summer reading program will be that participating children -- like the haiku masters of old Japan -- will find through all the seasons of tomorrow, an enduring love for the power and beauty of the written word.

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