September 2007

Haibane RenmeiThis week, I’m departing temporarily from the Dublin Library’s collection to review Haibane Renmei, a gorgeous, thought-provoking anime series available at the Bookmobile, Castro Valley, and Union City branch libraries.

Haibane-Renmei is one of those series that’s utterly engrossing but difficult to describe.

A fantasy turns poignant and gently humorous, it begins with a sequence of a young girl falling from the sky. She awakens from her falling dream, only to find herself hatching from a cocoon, into a world both strange and oddly familiar to her.

Her first few days after emerging from the cocoon are bewildering. She is shown the ropes by a group of teenagers and children living on the grounds of an abandoned school where she emerged, grows a pair of angel’s wings in a painful and messy process, and is given a halo (which, in one of the funnier sequences, refuses to stay straight, so the kids make her a contraption consisting of a headband and an old wire hanger, to keep her halo aligned).

As the days pass, and she settles into her new life as part of a little commune of angel-winged kids, the girl, who can remember nothing of her old life, is named Rakka (“Falling”) by the others.

Venturing away from the school grounds on an outing to a nearby town with her companions, she learns that the winged kids are called “Haibane,” and they occupy a special place in this world. They are permitted to work for food and clothing and other necessities, but are not allowed to handle money. They are also forbidden to buy or have anything new, so their clothing comes from thrift shops and from charitable organizations. Most of the townspeople treat the Haibane like charming nuisances, and a mysterious organization, the Haibane-Renmei, pays for rent and utilities at the old school.

The town itself, set in the midst of a gorgeously-animated landscape of fields and windmills, is reminiscent of a medieval German village, with cobblestoned streets and neat, gabled houses. Oddly, the village and its immediate countryside are surrounded by high walls. It is forbidden for anyone, human or Haibane, to cross over these walls.

The series presents many mysteries: who are the Haibane? Why is the town walled in? Who are the Haibane-Renmei? What lies on the other side of the wall? None of these questions is answered directly, but by the end of this short (13 episodes) series, enough hints have been presented for the viewer to make some guesses. 

What guesses? That would be telling, and given the magical, lyrical quality of this series, it’s almost beside the point.

Haibane Renmei is an excellent example of an artsy fantasy anime series. There are no Haibane Renmeidragons, giant robots, magical swords, or spaceships here. Instead, the story unfolds in a series of beautifully-animated, charmingly-characterized vignettes.

So, is Haibane Renmei appropriate for your children? Although rated 13+ by its publisher, Geneon Entertainments, this series contains no sex or violence, and is appropriate for all ages (though younger viewers may not appreciate the leisurely pacing and philosophical themes).

On a related note, the Alameda County Library’s web site also provides a listing of anime and manga-related sites on its Teen Scene Entertainment page:


Tonight we showed the PBS documentary film, The Donner Party: an American Experience.  I want to thank the audience for their patience as we worked through some technical difficulties.  an American ExperienceI found the movie compelling and grim.  Very grim.  It’s hard to listen to some of it.  But it should be.  I liked very much how Ric Burns, the filmmaker, set these events in the context of a massive tide of  immigration west, and it was interesting to me that after word of what happened to the Donners got out, people weren’t so eager to come to California for awhile.  And what changed that  was the gold rush. 

Also interesting that 2/3rds of the women in the party survived while 2/3rds of the men died. 

Someone asked me after the movie, the names of the Dublin pioneers who were part of  rescue parties, and I could only remember the Fallons but I’m pretty sure there were others from Dublin. 

Ah the terrible hardships that people have suffered in order to seek a better life!

What would it be like if everyone in Dublin read and discussed the same book? Well, Dublin Library is launching a major reading event called “Dublin Reads.”  Half the fun of reading a good book is talking about  it — this program gets the whole community talking about the same book.

The chosen book is Snow Mountain Passage Dublin Reads displayby James D. Houston.  In the 1840s, thousands of Snow Mountain Passagepioneers sought a better life by heading West.  Among the many who attempted this difficult journey was a party lead by George Donner and James Frazier Reed. Inspired in part by the glowing descriptions of California as a “new Eden,” the Donner party started west out of Springfield, Illinois, in 1846.  In vivid, cadenced prose, Snow Mountain Passage tells the story of these ill-fated emigrants who found themselves stranded in the Sierras during the Winter of 1846-47.

Copies of the book are ready for you to pick up at the Library and will also be seeded around the community.  The Dublin Friends of the Library have purchased multiple copies that people can “read and release” into the community — to a neighbor, at Starbucks, and other locations. By filling in the log inside the book, we’ll know where in the community the book has been.

During the course of the series, the Library is offering drop-in book discussion groups, film showings of the PBS documentary The Donner Party: an American Experience, and a series of James D. HoustonSunday afternoon Chautauqua programs that bring to life the historical context of the time period covered by the novel. You can get a full listing of programs on the library’s website. Our grand finale is a visit with author James D. Houston on April 13, 2008, so there is plenty of time to get involved!

Dublin Reads is offering a unique component differentiating it from similar “one city, one book” programs: the inclusion of a children’s book, Patty Reed’s Doll by Rachel Laurgaard. It was important to Library staff, if we were going to take on such an ambitious PattyReedsDollprogram, that it be all-inclusive and intergenerational. By including Patty Reed’s Doll as an option for children, people will have the chance to make this a family activity.

Join the journey! Attend a program, create your own reading group, pass the book along to a friend, discuss both books around the dinner table.  

The city’s annual Day on the Glen is just about here!  Check it out at Emerald Glen Park Saturday from 10-7 and Sunday from 10-5. Every year the Library shares a booth with the Friends of Dublin Library answering questions and promoting all our programs.  We’ll be back this year, especially to launch an exciting new event, Dublin Reads.  Watch this blog for a separate entry on Dublin Reads coming up soon. 

This year we will also share our booth with the Dublin Heritage Center.  The Heritage Center has written an Arcadia “Images of America” book on Dublin.  Copies of the book will be for sale and the author, Mike Lynch, will come on by between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m to sign copies of the book.

We’ll have our jh-and-line-at-the-wheel-blog.jpgprize wheel along with some fun prizes for those who answer those oh so difficult questions on the wheel.  (Hint: Do you know how much a library card costs?  Can you spell library?????)  Come and see us Saturday and Sunday; we are across from the Civic Center booth and next to the School District!

The Library is elated to receive another the-pride-of-dublin-002blog.jpgwonderful art piece from DPIE’s (Dublin Partner’s in Education) annual student art auction.  “The Pride of Dublin” is a quilt-like montage of small watercolors picturing landmarks in Dublin: the civic center, the high school, old St. Raymond’s Church and even the Library!  the-pride-of-dublin-003blog.jpgThis wonderful piece was done by Dayna Cahn’s third grade class at Dougherty Elementary  and is beautifully framed.  We have hung it in the Library at a location where we hope people can get right up close and examine each individual watercolor and see if they can identify the local landmark that is pictured. 

I have to thank Donna McMillon, the DPIE staff and the sponsors who made it possible for this work to have a permanent home at Dublin Library.  A plaque next to the painting identifies and thanks each sponsor; Sybase, Donald and Susan Babbitt and Chevron.  Thank you so much and do come by and take a look at this really stunning piece!

We are so saddened to hear that one of our most beloved authors, Madeleine L’Engle has died.  She died last Thursday, September 6, at the age of 88.  Madeleine L’Engle was the author of over 60 books, both children’s and adult, fiction and nonfiction. jacket.jpg Her most famous book, A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery Award as best children’s book of the year in 1963.  That book has sold over 6 million copies. 

Douglas Martin writing in The New York Times  says, “After the opening, “Wrinkle,” quite literally, takes off. Meg Murray, with help from her psychic baby brother, uses time travel and extrasensory perception to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from a planet controlled by the Dark Thing. She does so through the power of love.

The book used concepts that Ms. L’Engle said she had plucked from Einstein’s theory of relativity and Planck’s quantum theory, almost flaunting her frequent assertion that children’s literature is literature too difficult for adults to understand.”  

In the journal, Horn Book, she once said of A Wrinkle in Time, “I can’t possibly tell you how I came to write it.  It was simply a book I had to write.  I had no choice. And it was only after it was written that I realized some of what it meant.”  (Something About the Author, v.128, p. 153.)

Ms. L’Engle explored themes of life, death, redemption and the clash of good and evil in her many novels including A Ring of Endless Light.  In this novel, 15 year old Vicky Austin grapples with the impending death of her beloved grandfather who is dying of leukemia.

As a young children’s librarian in 1982, I read and loved this book and was fortunate to buy a copy from an exhibits booth at a conference of the American Library Association.  I waited in a very long line to have it signed by the author.   Towards the end of the book, Vicky’s grandfather counsels her “Vicky, this is my charge to you. You are to be a light bearer.  You are to choose the light.”  When Madeleine L’Engle signed my copy of the book, she wrote to me “Be a light bearer — Madeleine L’Engle.”

I have looked back at that signature often in my life and its message has been a kind and steadying influence.  Her books are a lighthouse for young and old alike, and we are so lucky she gave them to us. The Library currently has her books on display in memory and tribute to this great author. 

I’m continuing my review of the Dublin Library’s anime and manga collection this week with another personal favorite, Fruits Basket.Fruits Basket

This manga series is a surprisingly poignant and often moving character study, if you can get past the weird name (it refers to a Japanese kid’s game similar to duck-duck-goose) and the girly-girly packaging.

The premise: Tohru Honda, an orphaned & homeless high-school girl is taken in as a housekeeper by one of her classmates, a very shy but very popular boy named Yuki Sohma. He’s living with his novelist-cousin Shigure Sohma in a rather isolated house in the woods, having run away from the main Sohma compound. But the guys have a big secret–they’re shapeshifters, two members of a cursed family.

Fruits Basket2Our heroine soon makes a place in their hearts with her relentless optimism and unconditional love & gratitude, and soon other disaffected members of the cursed family start to gather at Shigure’s house. Chief among the new arrivals is a violent-tempered but good-hearted young man named Kyo, who bears the most difficult curse of all, and who’s an outcast even within the Sohma family.

Akito, the head of the family, is cursed himself. He is  also intensely and malevolently possessive of “his” family, and when he hears that Tohru is privy to the Sohma family’s deepest secrets, he starts to plot his revenge…but at the same time, he hopes Tohru can save the family from the worst effects of the curse.

This manga series is a very interesting mixture of genuine pathos and wild slapstick, andFruits Basket5 author does a great job portraying the gradual change in characters of not only the two boys, Yuki and Kyo, over a period of several years, but also the maturation of the heroine, as Tohru develops courage and strength to match her innate compassion. She goes from being essentially a sweetly-smiling doormat to someone brave enough to stand up for herself and the people she loves–without getting mean about it.

I have to admit I started reading this series with some skepticism, thinking it’d be hopelessly silly, but ended up loving it. I had some quibbles with the ending of the series and resolution of the curse storylines, but on the whole, I can highly recommend Fruits Basket.  

(The anime series, adapted from the first four manga volumes, is also charming and very well-done, but is not currently part of the Dublin Library’s collection.)Fruits Basket4

 So, is Fruits Basket appropriate for your child? It’s a cute series that promotes the notion that love and acceptance can conquer all, and there’s not really any sex, violence, or nudity. But because of its emotional complexity, it’s probably more suitable for teenagers and adults than young children, who may not understand everything that’s happening.

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