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Free for All

by Kate Bowman-Johnston 05-01-2010
The public library as a place for transformation.

When Kevin Barbieux became homeless in 1982, he was new to Nashville. At first, he relates in an e-mail interview, he spent his days hovering around a rescue mission. Then, as he met other homeless people who introduced him to the city’s attractions, he began to explore. He took long walks by the Cumberland River, visited the Tennessee State Museum—and found himself browsing the stacks of the downtown library.

“I wasn’t much of a reader, so I didn’t spent much time [there] initially,” Barbieux writes. “But I did have an interest in photography and art, so once I discovered those books I was at the library for hours at a time. ... The 750s and 770s [were] where I spent my time.”
For Barbieux, these Dewey Decimal numbers were not the vestiges of a dusty, archaic organizational system that few people today use, let alone commit to memory. Beginning with coffee-table art books, the library became a setting of vital importance and a main stop on the road to changing his life.
When public computers came on the scene, Barbieux used them, along with print resources, to research and produce an educational newsletter about homelessness. The library’s fledgling Internet service connected him with others doing the same, such as the publishers of Seattle’s Real Change newspaper. He began to do photography, eventually showing some of his work—which featured what he calls “an eye for inspiration in the mundane”—in galleries. And in August 2002, Barbieux tried his hand at blogging, then a relatively new phenomenon. His blog, The Homeless Guy, which he updated at the library, became an Internet sensation, and donations through the site gave him the funds he needed to get off the street for a time. Thanks to his newfound notoriety, he was also asked to join the mayor’s task force on ending homelessness in Nashville.

Books to Grow On

by Kate Bowman-Johnston 05-01-2010
While aimed at the young, these wide-ranging pages brim with insight, imagination, and one sharp-dressed naked mole rat suitable for all.

It's said that the best children’s literature appeals to the child in the adult and the adult in the child. Below, books for kids of all ages—and grown-ups who are young at heart—that simultaneously inform, challenge, and delight.

Picture Books for Young Children

Preschool to Grade 3

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Farmer Brown’s Holsteins presente! When the farmer won’t meet their demands for a warmer barn, the cows go on strike and rally other animals to bargain for better conditions. With goofy illustrations and plot details, the book is far from a heavy-handed treatise on union organizing, but children still take away the importance of speaking up for themselves and others. Simon & Schuster

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The only words in this picture book are the lyrics to the titular spiritual, but Nelson’s lush illustrations make them sing. Beginning and ending with his place in the vast universe, the book follows a young boy as he flies a kite with his family, enjoys a rainstorm, and imagines life in distant lands. Dial Books

Silent Music, written and illustrated by James Rumford. As bombs fall on Baghdad in 2003, Ali finds comfort in soccer, pop music—and Arabic calligraphy. His pen strokes are embedded in the earthy collage style of the illustrations, with script adorning the background and details of garments. Drawing inspiration from a 13th-century calligrapher who made his art during another invasion, Ali observes that, in contrast to the word “war,” the pen “stubbornly resists me when I make the difficult waves and slanted staff of salam—peace.” Roaring Brook Press

Celebrity Activists

by Kate Bowman-Johnston 07-01-2006
Hollywood's humanitarian helpers direct more attention to global hot spots. But does it help?

To 'Kiss The Sky'

by Kate Bowman-Johnston 03-01-2006
'Pop music possesses the power to transport the human spirit.'

So Much to Sing About

by Kate Bowman-Johnston 11-01-2005

A trip to Africa produces a holy shake-up, and a new tune, for Jars of Clay.