Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't let the cover fool you: this isn't a book about football.

When Joe Drape left his Kansas City home to work his way up as a sports journalist for The Dallas Morning News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and then The New York Times, he probably didn't imagine he'd one day return to the Midwest and fall in love with a 1.2 square mile rural farming community just shy of 1700 people.  At it's heart, Our Boys is a love story.

When Drape arrived in Smith Center in the fall of 2008, he counted himself an objective journalist.  He assured the head coach that a defeat wouldn't spoil the book he was planning to write about the Redmen, and might even "be better for the narrative of the book."  But by the time the playoffs were in full swing, he found himself fighting to keep his emotions in check, cheering for the Redmen as heartily as the football moms and dads.

Our Boys is the story of Smith Center, Kansas: a close-knit community that nurtures its boys, teaching them about teamwork, love, respect, and becoming men.  It's about Coach Barta's nearly new-age sayings and mantras; the father / son conflict between feisty running back Colt Rogers and his dad, coach Mike Rogers; senior Marshall McCall gradually easing into the shoes of team captain and leader.  It's also about Smith Center's Second Cup Cafe and the charming octogenarian society, the "As the Bladder Fills" club, and it's about the Tucker, Overmiller, and Roush families, all working hard to keep the tradition of Kansas family farms alive.

In Our Boys there is none of the harsh critique that can sometimes creep in when an outsider pens objective third-party nonfiction.  Instead, Drape has taken a page out of Coach Barta's book, and returned respect with respect, love with love.  The result is a beautiful, bestselling book that might just inspire you to be a little kinder to your neighbor.

And for you, football fans?  Don't worry -- Drape easily slides in play-by-plays of some of the Redmen's most exciting games, dissects the Redmen's fascinating winning strategy, and gives a complete glimpse into the "NASA lab" where Coach Barta and his colleagues analyze the reels from week to week,  converting even the most casual bystander into just a little bit of fan.  Trust me, I know.

Joe Drape flies in from New York to appear at Lawrence Public Library tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m., and will be speaking at libraries around the state as part of Kansas Reads 2012.

Rachel - Programs

Monday, February 6, 2012

Patron Review

Maggie’s Story: Teachings of a Cherokee Healer
by Pamela Dawes Tambornino

Maggie’s Story: Teachings of a Cherokee Healer offers a delightful collection of tales from Tambornino’s early years.  Based primarily on the author’s personal interactions with her Cherokee grandmother, these teachings inform and entertain the reader with humor and subtle sophistication.

Tambornino’s use of vivid imagery, everyday language and natural rhythm create a smooth narrative quality.  One could almost imagine sitting around a campfire or rocking chair to hear Tambornino read these stories to an audience of all ages and cultures.  In fact, that is what she did at a recent reading I attended at the Lawrence Public Library.

As expected, many of the stories focus on relationships with animals and plants.  In Strawberries / ANI, Tambornino retells a story of first man and first woman, and how the sun intervened to heal their relationship and teach them about cooperation.  In Mamma Skunk / DI LI, a young girl observes how respect for animals is good policy, while Noodling/Di Ga Lv Nv Hi and Reclaiming Grandma’s Chicken Eggs/ Ju We Tsi  relate the humorous results of doing things one’s own way.

There are a number of tales about healing, of course, plus numerous descriptions of culturally specific details. Examples include Trail of Tears, Beads, and Learning Cherokee.

In the end, it was difficult to pick a favorite.  Not only was I learning information about a culture and family, I was also relearning how to laugh.  And, I learned how to remember.

An added bonus to attending a live reading was meeting Ms. Tambornino.  I had already spoken to her hours after finishing Maggie’s Story.  Again, I found her warm and inviting.  Plus, she was open to writing a second collection of stories.

As a writer, I hope to be as prolific, generous and skillful as this talented Haskell professor in conveying the stories of my youth.  Let’s wish her the best in her endeavors as we anticipate another round of Pamela’s stories.

Stephanie Ann Barrows