Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Hatbox Baby

At a recent author event, I was promoting the upcoming visit by Carrie Brown, who will be our final AViD author this year. She will speak at Sheslow Auditorium on Friday, October 23 at 7:00 PM. We selected her because her book, The Rope Walk, was chosen this year as the All Iowa Reads book. I had read that book many months ago and found it delightful--a wonderful story of childhood friendship and innocence, darkened by the story of a neighbor they befriend who is dying of AIDS.

When I mentioned the book to a woman who comes to many of our programs, she asked, "Oh but have you read, The Hatbox Baby?" She continued, "it's all about premature babies that they exhibited at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair!" So, indeed, I had to read it.

She was right, that is the core of the story, but Brown manages to weave several other amazing characters into this story based on history. The doctor, who is able to keep many of the babies alive using the money he gets from fair-goers. The fan dancer who is the only one to draw more gawkers. Her dwarf-like brother, a preemie, himself. The nurse, who loves the babies that she knows she will never have. And many other fascinating characters including the hatbox baby and his parents.

At first glance, the reader is repulsed to think that we would ever allow tiny, living humans to be put into such a freak show. And the ending leaves more questions than answers. But a very worthwile read.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

An Amazing Array of Authors at Iowa Author Dinner

It was a dark and gloomy night, but it quickly warmed up as hundreds of library supporters came together last Thursday evening for the tenth annual Iowa Author Dinner sponsored by the Des Moines Public Library Foundation. A trio of honorees shared their unique perspectives and delightful personalities: Millie Kalish, as warm and genuine as her readers would expect from her book, Little Heathens. John Stauffer, a Roosevelt grad now at Harvard University, as articulate and brilliant as his recent book Giants. Debra Marquart, a North Dakota native who now teaches creative writing at ISU, capping it off with a touching tribute to Iowa and a hilarious tribute to her lone chin whisker--a listing to which any woman over the age of forty can relate.

Michael and Barbara Gartner, honored for their work in promoting literacy and libraries, made for a most appropriate conclusion--featuring Michael as both moderator and honoree--as only Michael could do. A grand occasion that was equally entertaining, and a wonderful way to spend a cold and rainy night.