Lauren Martino: Welcome to Library Matters. I’m Lauren Martino and...
David Payne: I’m David Payne.
Lauren Martino: And we’re here today with some of the most talented librarians in the system and they can cook too. This is Nalani Devendra and Dana Alsup. And they are going to talk to us today about their favorite cookbooks, their favorite methods, their favorite ways of preparing delicious goodness, and I am excited to have you guys here welcome.
Dana Alsup: Thank you for having us.
Nalani Devendra: Thank you for having us.
Lauren Martino: So, we’d like to know a little bit about you guys. We know you’re awesome librarians but tell us a little bit about you as cooks. What do you like to cook best? Do you have a signature dish? What makes you kick tick as cooks?
Dana Alsup: Well, I’m a recipe follower. I like following recipes. I’m not good at making stuff up and so I don’t feel advanced enough to not follow the recipe. But I – the more I cook, the more I understand like the elements of what I’m doing, like bread making. I made bread recently and I could feel, like I knew just kneading the dough like it’s right – it’s good, it just needs to rise now so.
Lauren Martino: You’ve gotten to that point where it’s like –
Dana Alsup: I’ve gotten to that point with bread-making alone. And then I like – foods I like best, anything fried, whatever, any – anything fried, my heart’s not probably happy about that, but I sure am. And my family is from New Mexico so anything with green chili on it –
Lauren Martino: Green chili.
Dana Alsup: Green chili is, oof, I heard great.
Lauren Martino: Legends. What is the deal with the green chili?
Dana Alsup: Well, it’s from Hatch in New Mexico which is a town and there’s – every fall, they do a roast, so it’s a big – it’s a big thing in New Mexico, and it is only – that’s where green chili is from. So I have a stockpile of green chili in my freezer at all times, put it in anything. Green chili mac and cheese. We’re going to put green chili in the stuffing for Thanksgiving.
Lauren Martino: Wow.
Dana Alsup: My favorite is green chili cheeseburgers. It’s not – they can be hot but they’re flavorful, so it’s not like a scald-your-mouth hot, heat pepper, its flavor. And in New Mexico, they’ll either ask you red or green but you can say Christmas, which means both.
Lauren Martino: Nice.
Nalani Devendra: I’m a lot more opposite with Dana. I’m not that much big follower of the recipe. I get something from the recipe but always I never hesitate to change the recipe, modify the recipe. I always go for the recipe to check how I can change this to my taste or my husband – especially my husband’s taste because I know he’s mostly prefer only to eat Sri Lankan food. But I’m making for him some type of other food, some touch with the Sri Lankan style. I have to be creative.
Lauren Martino: Oh, boy.
David Payne: So, a lot of experimental stuff?
Nalani Devendra: Of course, I do a lot of experimental stuff. Also, every time when my husband realizes I’m doing something, creating something, he is scared of that because he know he has to eat them. That’s what will happen. If I’m around, he’s trying to eat; if I’m not there, all these going to be in the trash.
Lauren Martino: Oh.
Nalani Devendra: Sometime. But most of the time, I have done good job.
Lauren Martino: So does that usually involve like kicking up the spice? I know you were telling me – we work together in the same branch and you were telling me about when you make stuff for work, it’s a – it’s different.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. I have to – I have two ways to cook. If I’m cooking for my husband, I cook as regular. And if I’m cooking for my colleague at work, I call for that – I call in for that the – I’m making a baby food because I’m not using that much spice on there. Normally what our country people do for the babies because they are not yet pick up the spice.
Lauren Martino: That’s all of us at Silver Spring. Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: But I believe now, I’m also enjoying baby food. I’m not anymore good with the spicy. Although, I cook for my husband, I cannot eat some time.
Lauren Martino: So I’m trying to picture what you’d have to do to like, you know, spaghetti or mac and cheese to make your husband like it.
David Payne: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. If I’m doing mac and cheese, I mean, I will add pinch of crusted pepper, then it will give him some spice.
Lauren Martino: It’ll be enough for him.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
David Payne: So, two very different approaches here.
Lauren Martino: Yes.
David Payne: Tell us, where do you get your recipes from? What are your favorite cookbooks?
Dana Alsup: Oh, that is an end-list, endless list. I like using cookbooks. And I found – I use blogs, Pinterest, of course. But a lot of times, a blog – well, the person who writes the blog comes out with a cookbook and there are so many of those and I love those cookbooks. And then you have the blog as like an annex of recipes, almost. So, The Forest Feast, which we own here at MCPL, we own two of the three cookbooks for it. The first one I use is the kid’s version. It’s – the kids’ books for cooking are a lot of fun and they’re very simple and there’s a lot of warning about how you might cut yourself. But The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson is great.
Lauren Martino: What is The Forest Feast? I’m not familiar with this.
Dana Alsup: One, it’s beautiful. She was a food photographer in New York and now she lives in like beautiful Northern California, and they’re vegetarian recipes. But everything is about like five ingredients or less. So you don’t have to go – it’s like the opposite of America’s Test Kitchen. It’s like the antithesis of that, which is nice to say I only need five ingredients to make these, you know, tacos or these cookies or the salad. And a lot of times, it’s just three ingredients and it’s –
David Payne: So it’s cooking at its most basic?
Dana Alsup: Yeah. And it’s beautifully – it’s beautifully laid out, so it’s a pleasure just visually to look at but that’s – I’d say a lot of stuff comes from online, but then part of my job is looking at all the new books when they come in, so all of those new cookbooks go through my hands before they hit the shelf.
Lauren Martino: I feel like I’m always looking at those before lunch and then we just –
Dana Alsup: Oh.
Lauren Martino: I do love eating mediocre lunch while looking at beautiful pictures of food.
Dana Alsup: Yes.
David Payne: Clearly, timing is everything, yeah.
Dana Alsup: Yeah, it is.
Lauren Martino: So, Nalani, you were telling me a little bit about where you cook from.
Nalani Devendra: Actually, if I go back how I started –
Lauren Martino: Yes, tell us about those.
Nalani Devendra: I didn’t know whether I’m good with the cooking because I didn’t cook when I was teenage or after – until I get to this country. Actually, I didn’t cook much. But I do remember when I was very young, my father normally don’t cook. My mother was – who is cook usually. But especially in the Sri Lankan New Year actually I’m from Sri Lanka – at the Sri Lankan New Year Day, my father is the one who cook and I’m his helper. My mom got off on that day. And then I saw something different. I never want to watch how my mommy cook, I don’t remember how she cooked, but I do remember how my dad cooked because he made special dish on that day. And maybe that is why I love it. My father brought one cookbook which is very popular in Sri Lanka. I believe its name is [Gunasekar] [0:09:20] Cooking Book or something. He gave it to me, not for my mommy, not for my sister, he gave it to me. I believe my father knew whether I have a talent on that.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: Then my next start was in the America. I got to this country 2009. And since the second day of my life in America, I start watching the TV. Guess what I watch? My husband at work, I’m at home for eight-hour by myself, I turn on the TV, I found the Food Network. Almost seven hours I watched the Food Network at least for two months.
David Payne: That would do it. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: My favorite and my only one known celebrity was Paula Deen.
Lauren Martino: Talk about fried food.
Dana Alsup: Yes.
Nalani Devendra: But I don’t like her food because a lot of fat. I don’t like to eat a lot of fat. But I love to watch her TV show. And – but I took a lot of things from her, how she do it. After that, I enjoy Giada.
Lauren Martino: Giada.
Nalani Devendra: Giada.
Lauren Martino: Giada de Laurentiis, is that how you say it?
Nalani Devendra: Yes. Yeah.
Dana Alsup: I think so.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Dana Alsup: I believe so.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And there’s other one, I don’t remember her name, Barefoot or something.
Lauren Martino: Barefoot Contessa?
Dana Alsup: Barefoot Contessa.
Nalani Devendra: Yes, of course.
David Payne: All right.
Lauren Martino: Oh.
Nalani Devendra: I wish my husband like my food like that way.
Lauren Martino: What do you guys find appealing in a cookbook? What does it have to have to make you pick it up and what does it have to have in it to make you cook from it?
Dana Alsup: Pictures. I need pictures. A cook book without pictures is sad to me. I don’t, don’t like looking at it. What’s it supposed to look like? Will I like what it looks like? I like having pictures on a cookbook. And like ingredients-wise, what it should have or like butter, cheese, cozy – I generally like cozy foods, I’m not a salad person. Grilled things, grilled meats, yeah, a lot of cozy, cozy food as if I’m hibernating all year round but it sounds like –
David Payne: Do you go for the picture first or the recipe?
Dana Alsup: The picture. I’ll go for the picture. And there are plenty of cookbooks that I’ve looked at several times where I think, “I haven’t seen this before,” and then I see the recipe and it’s like, “I have and this just – oh, it’s too complicated. I’m not doing this.” I’m not – I’ve – although I do have a passion for America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, they are so thorough and they take time to just even read, and so I – if I have the time, I will grab my Test Kitchen cookbook and I will find the recipe, but then I also grab like Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is like half the ingredients half the time and a very good result. So I don’t – although I do like things like bread-making, which take hours to make bread but it’s not a lot of hands-on time. It’s – you know, you’re – it’s rising for two hours –
David Payne: It’s the preparation.
Dana Alsup: Yeah. You come back to it for five minutes. It’s rising for another hour. But the – too much time, I’m just not into it. I have stuff to binge watch on Netflix, right? I’m a casual cooker.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. As you mentioned – Dana mentioned, of course, picture. If it doesn’t have picture, I don’t want to touch that cookbook. Every time like you mentioned if I have a moment at the library, I go to the new cook book section, turn it, “Is picture on it? Yes, that is my book, let me grab it.” I go through that. Although, I kind of admit, I like to see it. If it doesn’t have a picture, although how popular, how good, I don’t want to touch it. As I saw the picture, I can image, “Oh, yes, I can do that. Oh, I can eat that. Oh, my husband will like.” Or maybe I can cook for my colleague. If it doesn’t have picture, I don’t know. I –
Lauren Martino: Yes, you can cook for your colleagues.
Nalani Devendra: Oh, yes, I know.
Lauren Martino: Yes, you can cook for your colleague.
Nalani Devendra: Also, the ingredient is really big. Normally, I loved – the ingredient which is, I can easily find, also ingredient which is I can use every day, but I am kind of good with substituting for the ingredients. I don’t hesitate to drop out the ingredients. I can feel if I use this, it’s not – if I drop out this ingredient, it – it’s not going to make a change. I can enjoy it still although I – if I don’t have the ingredient. Also, other thing, the less ingredient, yes, of course.
Lauren Martino: Fewer ingredients?
Nalani Devendra: Fewer ingredients. I know one of my colleague I used to work with him at the Long Branch Library, Fred Akuffo. That is the point I used to start looking less ingredient recipe because every time when I saw him – cookbook or recipes he has, how many ingredient over there, then he count the ingredients including salt, pepper, onion, everything. I say, “Hey, Fred, don’t count salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, every kitchen has it.” He said, “No.”
Lauren Martino: Sure thing you’ve got that on your stove, right? It’s in there.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And since then, I start looking at the cookbook with the less ingredient. It’s much easier to handle, it is less opportunity to go –
Lauren Martino: To mess it up?
Nalani Devendra: Mess it up, yes. Thank you, Lauren. Then – yes, of course. Also, I have to thinking about whether my husband will like it, so – because that is the only one I have at my home.
Dana Alsup: I agree with that. I also want to know if my husband will like the meal.
Lauren Martino: Because you’re cooking it for somebody else and –
Dana Alsup: Typically, his answer is yes. He’s not a picky eater like myself.
David Payne: So that brings us to a follow-up question. Now, you’re in the mood to cook. You decide to cook something, how do you decide what you’re cooking?
Dana Alsup: Well, a lot of it is dependent upon time. As the – are – my schedule and my husband’s work schedule don’t line up, so sometimes I get an hour to make and eat dinner and that’s it. If he’s going to also eat it, not go to work without food. And other times, a day – a day off or if our schedules line up better, I have much more time to cook. So I can do something that takes more time or I don’t have to prep it, part of it the night before, I can do – I like fast meals like a grilled pizza, those are quick. I don’t have – I can do that real fast, but that’s a lot of how I plan what we’re eating. And I plan everything on Sunday and shop for it. I used to be one of those willy-nilly shoppers. At the end – at the end of the week, I have a whole bunch of stuff that I had to throw away or we didn’t get to or why did I buy this? So I now plan the meals according to our schedules, but it’s also like, you know, if I’m cooking something for my brother, no cheese can be in sight. He does not like cheese. I know. Something’s –
Lauren Martino: That’s strange.
Dana Alsup: We don’t want to get into it.
Lauren Martino: I could understand it for ethical reasons, but –
Dana Alsup: Where I think like – beside – like butter and cheese are my first two food groups. If I’m cooking something for my mom, she’s a fantastic cook and she’s an adventurous cook, she’ll try anything. But I was a stubborn, stubborn picky eater as a child, so I feel that my cooking now for her is like continuously attempting to make up for my horrible eating habits as a child. So it’s like, “Oh, look what I made. I use this ingredient. Aren’t you proud?” And she and my brother are still stunned that I will eat certain things now that I refused to eat as a child.
Lauren Martino: I was totally the same way. And I’m kind of curious, Nalani, were you a picky eater as a kid?
Nalani Devendra: Of course, I was. In Sri Lanka house, some food I don’t want to eat. I mean, I never eat. I don’t know why.
Dana Alsup: I’m the same way. There are still foods I won’t eat, ask my in-laws, they are – they have a list.
Lauren Martino: A list.
Dana Alsup: We have to remember Dana doesn’t like that. I believe there’s something to that, maybe like people that are picky eaters just become cooks like us.
Lauren Martino: Well, there’s a great book by Bee Wilson who’s – the title of it just went out of my head but it’s all about how we learn to eat and part of it is picky eaters, is it a hereditary thing? Is it a choice thing? And it goes into all the different aspects of how we learn to eat as people and as cultures.
Nalani Devendra: Yeah, I do remember as a young kid, I believe – as I do remember, whole one year, I only eat one dish. I mean, rice and that veggie dish. Every day my mom cooked for me, whole year –
Lauren Martino: This was by your choice or hers?
Nalani Devendra: My choice.
Lauren Martino: Okay.
Nalani Devendra: Because I was – I don’t want to eat anything else.
Lauren Martino: Like Bread and Jam for Frances but probably over the year.
Nalani Devendra: And, now, I have realized I’m now excited to try new food, not actually Sri Lankan food – sorry. Any other culture food I like to try. When I go somewhere to eat, I try to go with the food because I don’t know what is that. Sometimes I come hungry because I couldn’t eat that, but it’s still okay, I tried it.
Lauren Martino: So you see something, you got to try it.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. Yes.
Lauren Martino: Sometimes you hate it.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: But – and you go hungry but it doesn’t stop you from trying new things.
Nalani Devendra: No, it’s not, because the reason is I have some scare. While I’m eating, I can just think, “What are the ingredients? Do I have this ingredient? What I can do with this ingredient? Can I make this dish?” Sometimes I come home, try it, sometime I’m – oh, yeah, I have done good job. Maybe I am missing some ingredient but it’s still – at least I can get close to it. One thing I just – first thing I did, I love to go to the Ruby Tuesday.
Lauren Martino: Ruby Tuesday’s? Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: They have potato salad. I love that. Always I want to go to the salad bar because of that.
Lauren Martino: Because of the Ruby Tuesday’s potato salad.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And then, I start thinking why I cannot make it. Actually, I did make, I add some spice.
Lauren Martino: Sri Lankan potato salad.
Nalani Devendra: Yes, Sri Lankans would be too scared for potato salad, I made it.
Lauren Martino: Awesome.
Nalani Devendra: And, actually, I have made that for my colleague at the Long Branch before I came to the Silver Spring.
Lauren Martino: For Fred?
Nalani Devendra: Yes, for Fred and the Long Branch people, they enjoy.
David Payne: And, now, a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Female Speaker: What do astronauts eat in space? How does corn become popcorn? What happens to a hamburger inside your stomach? Who can answer all these questions? You and your child can. Our libraries offer fun programs and resources to help your child develop an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, STEM. Come to the library to learn to code, to build, to design, and to open up the world. You can find a link to MCPL STEM resources in this episode’s show notes.
David Payne: Now back to our program. So, an interest – a full disclosure on the show, what’s the most epic failure you’ve ever had working from a cookbook?
Dana Alsup: I made a lemon pasta dish where you order – where you add a quarter cup of lemon juice at the very end. And I served it and my husband said, “Oh, no, it’s good.” And then I had a bite and if you ever need something to peel the outermost layer of the inside of your mouth that’s the dish. It was so acidic. Our mouths peeled. And we threw it away and I threw the recipe away. I don’t even remember what cookbook it was from. We’re very angry at it. And then we order takeout. That was – that was an epic fail and we still talk about it. “Remember that time –” “Yeah, I remember.”
David Payne: Yeah. So, listeners, don’t try that one.
Dana Alsup: Don’t try that one. But beware because I don’t remember the cookbook because we got to add a little bit of lemon juice on that.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, squeeze and put – and I thought – a quarter cup of lemon juice? Oof. Well, I was right.
Dana Alsup: Not more than once I’ve tried the recipe and I’m like, “This has to be wrong.”
Lauren Martino: Yeah. This is just not right.
Dana Alsup: I even – I went back, I looked, I looked, I looked. And afterward, after I made it, I looked, my husband look, “No, it says quarter cup. It says a quarter cup.”
Nalani Devendra: I’m just guessing it might be printing mistake, maybe quarter tablespoon?
Dana Alsup: It’s quite the mistake. Come on, editors, step up.
Nalani Devendra: Of course, I have one recently.
Lauren Martino: I didn’t – I did not taste this but you say other people at our branch did.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. I want to try the zucchini brownie. I found that recipe at one of our cookbook. I don’t remember which one. The recipe is good. Then the first time I made, it turned out like a zucchini chocolate cake –
Lauren Martino: Which is not an epic fail, you know, you can aim for brownies and reach cake and that’s okay.
Nalani Devendra: Then next time I thought, “Okay, I made the mistake, let me correct it.” The next time I made it – oh, my God, I didn’t even want to eat it until I take it to the library. It was a special meeting for something and I brought it. And then as soon as I cut it, I realized, “No, this is not the one. Then I told, “Oh, guys. Don’t eat this one.”
Lauren Martino: What was wrong with it again? Is it just too squishy or is it runny?
Nalani Devendra: Yes, it’s like a really sticky rice.
Lauren Martino: Sticky rice brownies.
David Payne: Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: It is like a sticky, I don’t know what’s wrong. Then I was thinking, “Oh, my God, Silver Spring people got scared for Nalani’s food. They will not anymore trust Nalani’s cooking.” Fortunately, they still –
David Payne: I gather they still have you back.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Well, you made that eggplant lasagna and all was forgiven, I assure you.
Nalani Devendra: Thank you, Lauren.
Lauren Martino: That was really good.
Nalani Devendra: And you miss my – I believe you miss my recent fried rice, healthy fried rice.
Lauren Martino: No, I had some of that.
Nalani Devendra: Oh.
Lauren Martino: I had some of that. It was very good.
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: So you’d say that was your signature dish?
Nalani Devendra: For them, my colleague, which is I called the baby food, yes, my signature dish is my fried rice.
Lauren Martino: Is the fried rice.
Nalani Devendra: Which is – because I use very healthy version with a lot of veggie, less oil, everyone asking how you do that, everyone asking, “Can you send me that recipe? I’m sorry I don’t have a recipe. Whatever I can find, I add, I made it.”
Lauren Martino: You did.
Nalani Devendra: Then I have to tell them. Okay, write it down.
Lauren Martino: So you have to write your own cookbook now.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. And for the Sri Lankan community, my signature dish is – which called in English hoppers, in Sri Lankan word is Aappa. It is long process. It has to – have a lot of experience do you need or whatever, I don’t know. I know a lot of people cannot do that. Everyone, if I’m inviting them, “Nalani, is that going to be hoppers?” I said, “No.” “We don’t want to come.”
Lauren Martino: So, if you know anybody that finds cooking a challenge, what advice do you have for them to help them get over their intimidation, their fear of cooking?
Dana Alsup: I think Nalani and I might bring up the same cookbook. It’s Jessica Seinfeld’s The Can’t Cook Book where she has – she has how-tos throughout it. She tells you – she shows you in pictures, thank goodness, how to chop certain things and how to cut things a certain way. And she even has, before every recipe, “Don’t panic” and a little tip.
Lauren Martino: In big friendly letters?
Dana Alsup: Yes, don’t panic. But it is – it’s simple. And it’s – you will fail at cooking. Cooking is – the kitchen is like a laboratory. You experiment there and you try things, and sometimes they don’t work out because you add a quarter cup of lemon juice. Sometimes they go really in your favor. And the next time you make that it’s not the same thing and you have to figure out why. It is – it’s different every time, and it’s okay to fail. And don’t, like, don’t try to make Thanksgiving as your first meal.
Lauren Martino: Oh, that’s very good advice.
Dana Alsup: Start small, start real small. And it’s okay not to make fancy type meals. The Queen is rarely coming over for dinner, so you don’t need to make her a huge meal. If it’s just you and a family member, you can make something small.
David Payne: Just probably cook breakfast.
Dana Alsup: Yeah, just start small. I love the cover of this book by the way. It’s got all these things burning on the like huge flames leaping out of the pots on the stove. So The Can’t cookbook, just for the cover alone, it’s – yeah.
Lauren Martino: I think it’s worth taking.
Dana Alsup: Yeah, it’s good.
Nalani Devendra: And also, inside of this book, it has given the description and the – with the – with the picture what are the tools you will need.
Dana Alsup: Yes.
Nalani Devendra: And very basic tools because sometime or since we cook, we know some tools but I also don’t know everything. I mean this is really good if someone is going to start cooking also. I will tell if someone is going to start cooking, first step is start – is start boiling water. Second day, add the egg on the boiling water, then you’re going to have – after you cook – boil for 15 minutes, you’re going to have a boiled egg. Hey, yes, you cook. Start – and probably the next day, all right, now, you know how to cook the egg, boiled egg, grab the pasta – box of the pasta and it will tell you instruction how to cook or boil it – boil the pasta. And now you know something.
Lauren Martino: We’ve got carbohydrates and the protein.
Nalani Devendra: Yes. Also, then, go to the grocery store, grab the pasta sauce and then mix pasta – pasta sauce and your pasta, you have a perfect dinner or lunch with the carbohydrate and protein. And, next day, I would tell have some chopped onion, garlic, and if you have some basil or some herbs, and heat up the pan, add some oil on it, let it to – a little bit heat up, add the garlic, ginger, or onion, or any herbs, which is you have for it, sauté it, then add your pasta sauce on it, then you are changing your pasta sauce test a little bit, and add your pasta on it. You have a different test today. And next day if you want, just boil – steam some veggie and add that veggie for that sauté onion, garlic, whatever you are doing and then you have a veggie pasta with the boiled egg.
Lauren Martino: There you go.
Nalani Devendra: There you go. You are cooking.
David Payne: So lots of cooks, there’s your answer. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Here at Library Matters, we really like to ask everybody, what book are you reading that you’re just dying to gush about?
Dana Alsup: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. I’m a murder mystery fan, and Anthony Horowitz wrote Foyle’s War, which is a television show and also Midsummer Murders, which I’ve seen all of them, and they are amazing. So he wrote this book, he’s written several others, but it just – I was on vacation in Italy and I just wanted to stay in and read.
David Payne: Not cook, not cook?
Dana Alsup: Yes. Not cook. I just – I did –
Lauren Martino: Or eat.
Dana Alsup: Or eat. I just – yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re in Italy, but listen, there’s Magpie Murders to read.
Lauren Martino: That is a matter of a good book.
Dana Alsup: I – it was – it was phenomenal. I loved it so much. It was funny. It was not predictable. None of his stuff is. And that was great. And I also just finished reading The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, and that was – that was a different kind of book for me to read, and it was very enjoyable. It’s a – it’s complex. But if you are the type of person that likes watching like reality shows just for the sake of looking in on someone else’s life, then you’ll like this book.
Lauren Martino: Reality show without the reality.
Dana Alsup: Exactly, yeah.
Lauren Martino: It’s fiction.
Dana Alsup: But you’re really peeping in on someone’s life. Yeah.
Nalani Devendra: I just finished, which is a talk about – which called Future Crimes, Marc Goldman – Goodman.
Lauren Martino: Marc Goodman.
Nalani Devendra: Goodman, sorry. I liked it because it’s kind of prediction.
Lauren Martino: It’s predicting the future?
Nalani Devendra: Future. We think all these modern technology make our life easier. Also – on that way, it make easier for the internet crime – happened internet crime.
Lauren Martino: Wow, that’s timely, isn’t it?
Nalani Devendra: Yes.
Lauren Martino: There’s been a lot of hack.
Nalani Devendra: Like a – we think of – if we have as much door lock, that much convenient. At the same time, if cyber –
David Payne: Cybercrime?
Nalani Devendra: Cybercrime, people who are doing cybercrime, it’s make easier for them to handle our life, take things from our life because we think it is everything is convenient but at the same time, actually – it is convenient plus there’s risk. But I like modern life. I want to buy this smart door lock.
David Payne: Well, Nalani and Dana, thank you very much for joining us on the show today and making us feel very hungry. Don’t forget, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple Podcast app Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.
Recording Date: November 7, 2017
Hosts: Lauren Martino and David Payne
Episode Summary: Cooking enthusiasts Dana Alsup, a librarian at Marilyn Praisner Library, and Nalani Devendra, a library associate at Silver Spring Library, discuss the joys and challenges of cooking and how MCPL can make your next meal a delicious one.
Guests: Librarian Dana Alsup and Library Associate Nalani Devendra
Featured MCPL Service: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) resources and events. Our Go! Kits contain books, science tools, a tablet, and more selected to encourage parents/caregivers and children to actively explore the world around them. We have Little Explorer Go! Kits for children ages 3-6 and Young Voyager Go! Kits for children ages 7-12.
What Our Guests Are Currently Reading:
Dana Alsup: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Horowitz has also written for the television series Foyles War and Midsomer Murders. Dana also recently read Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson.
Nalani Devendra: Future Crimes by Marc Goodman
Books, Magazines, Cooking Shows, and Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode:
641.5: The call number for cookbooks at MCPL.
The Can't Cook Book: 100+ Recipes for the Absolutely Terrified by Jessica Seinfeld.
First Bite by Bee Wilson: A look at how individual's food habits are formed.
The Forest Feast blog: Erin Gleeson's blog features mostly vegetarian recipes and entertaining ideas.
The Food Network: Cable and satellite television channel focused on food.
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Other Items of Interest:
Flipster: An online collection of full color magazines that includes the magazines Food & Wine and Cooking Light.
RBdigital Magazines: This online collection of full color magazines includes several cooking magazines such as Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Food Network Magazine, and more.
Julie Dina: Welcome to Library Matters. Here are your hosts, Julie Dina and –.
David Payne: David Payne.
Julie Dina: Do you have a child who is reluctant to pick up a book and read? Today we have Barbara Shansby who is a wonderful and knowledgeable children’s librarian, who is here to share with us activities, tips, and advice that will encourage reluctant readers to start turning the pages, perhaps even before this podcast is over. Welcome Barbara, and thanks for being with us today.
Barbara: You’re welcome.
David Payne: Well, Barbara we are talking about reluctant readers but perhaps we should start by understanding what we mean by that term. In terms of the work that you do, can you explain what is or who is a reluctant reader to you?
Barbara: Sure. We usually think about, consider people reluctant readers if they don’t seem enthusiastic about reading. We see this especially with children who come to the library and then they’ll ask for help finding a book for a class or for a book report, and when we give them a book, they just give you this blank stare or worse, and there just seems to be no appeal at all for the books. The kids often don’t say that they don’t like to read, but we can tell from their body language that that’s a big issue, and just as often we’ll get questions from parents who are very honest about that. They will say their children don’t want to read or don’t like it and can we help them get them the books that they do need?
David Payne: You talked about children. Can we count adults as reluctant readers?
Barbara: Absolutely; although to be honest, they are probably a little bit less likely to come to the library. I do think there are plenty of adults in this day and age who don’t read or who are intimidated by it in some way and it’s a challenge.
David Payne: Well, Barbara, let’s talk about you a bit as a reader. Did you like to read as a child?
Barbara: Yes, I did. I was a huge reader as a kid. I probably spent too much time reading. I was sort of the opposite problem. My parents were like, “Why don’t you go outside for a change?” So yeah, I’ve always been a reader and in fact my book club for a while, we were going to call ourselves The Women Who Read Too Much and I love that title.
David Payne: So how did you develop your – or discover your love for reading?
Barbara: Well, that’s a hard thing to answer because I can’t – I don’t remember what got me started. I just remember that I loved to do it. However, I will say that the libraries were probably a big part of it. We lived in Montgomery County and my mother used to take me and my sisters to the library every few weeks and we’d check out our two or three books or whatever and bring them home and then we finished we’d go back and it was just an ongoing thing and really as I said, a b part of my life. I mean I remember many of my books very fondly and then when I came back to work as a children’s librarian, there they were. That was pretty amazing.
Julie Dina: Why do you think some people are reluctant to read, both adults and children?
Barbara: I think there are a lot of reasons why people don’t like to read. There’s a feel of failure with it if they’ve had books that they didn’t like or couldn’t make it through for some reason, then the whole task might be intimidating. Certainly learning disorders play a part in especially again in children. There may have been frustrations that kids or adults faced in previous classes or with previous tasks. Sometimes people may want to read but they are not just finding what appeals to them at that particular point. I also think we can’t discount peer pressure again for the kids, that if their friends aren’t reading why should they pick up a book? And for adults, lack of time is often an issue. Sometimes a person might be willing to read but it’s just not a priority and with so many other things, they are not going to pick up a book.
Julie Dina: So for adults, it’s best to say make more time and then you become willing to read? Would you say that?
Barbara: Well, not necessarily. I mean it would be nice if that’s easy but maybe for some people, that will happen but often it’s a problem of finding the book that appeals to you that’s going to turn you on in some way and make you want to keep reading.
David Payne: Well, Barbara talking about books and appeal, what kind of books do you think have the potential to really sparkle up a reading inn somebody who doesn’t have it already?
Barbara: Well, I think that’s a really, really hard question. It’s very tough to know what’s going to appeal and what’s going to appeal to which reader. So since I’m a children’s librarian, I’m going to talk more about that. We found that there is a big cache with the super popular books that kids will be enthusiastic about reading Dork Diaries or Big Nate because all their friends are reading it. I think we all remember when Harry Porter came out, kids who had never touched a book in their life suddenly had to have all of those books and they actually did read them and that was clearly peer pressure. But in addition to choosing the most popular books, there are other ways to determine that you are meeting the needs of that particular kid and the first thing that I would look at is reading level. It’s really important to have a book that a child can have success with. If you give them something that’s too hard, it can be really discouraging. So often, especially at the lower grades I’ll show a child a book and say, “Does this look too easy, too hard?” But you want to make it easy for them, so that’s the first thing that we are looking at.
Julie Dina: How do you motivate a reluctant reader? What set of questions do you ask them and how do you go about matching the reader with a book?
Barbara: As I said, we started with the grade level and then we are looking at what’s popular. You know you can’t always suggest Captain Underpants or Dork Diaries. We are also looking at the format that the child wants to try a graphic novel or a ‘comic book,’ something that has more illustrations than texts. Sometimes kids and again especially the boys want nonfiction, books about sports or animals or science, something like that. So that’s the way to go. Sometimes we are asking them if they had a book that they read before that they liked, can we follow up on that somehow? So there’s a lot of ways to go at it and hopefully we are going to find something that really just lights up those eyes and get that kid into the idea that this would be a fun thing to do.
Julie Dina: Could you share with our listeners and tell us about some o the MCPL programs that will be actually helpful for reluctant readers and their parents or caregivers?
Barbara: Sure, I’m happy to do that. The first thing that comes to mind is our summer reading program and of course we are pretty far from summer right now and I know at spring you have a podcast on summer reading but that is a great way to encourage reading that kids actually get prizes for doing activities and for reading books and it’s a big encouragement for them to come to the library and look at different kinds of books and complete their books. So that’s just a wonderful program but during the school year, there are other programs. We have Early Literacy Story Times which are important. For the older kids, there is a Read to the Dog program which is really fun. It’s held at several different libraries and the kids come in and an adult has a dog that sits there and the child picks up a book and actually reads the book to the dog and that’s terrific because will give you no judgment. A kid who might be shy in a class or with another adult, may find it a little bit easier to read to a dog. Similarly, we also have a Grand Reader program where kids are able to read to an older adult who again may be a little bit less judgmental and a more comforting presence. Also, there are several book discussion clubs for kids and that’s a wonderfully motivating activity because kids who talk about a book are really learning more about it and it will encourage them to read more and to get more out of it.
And of course there are other programs. At lots of different libraries we have author visits, we have STEM activities, and there are just so many programs. I also want to talk a little bit about resources for reluctant readers and for any readers. One thing that I learned recently is that one new technique is to encourage kids to read large print books. They are finding that that is somehow less intimidating to a child to read than a book where all the print is kind of squished together and every page looks so dense. A large print book has more wide space, the word are a little bit further apart. It’s easier for many children to navigate and to have MCPL. We have a pretty good collection of children’s books in large print and of course there are also lots of adult large print. Another thing that can be used in a similar kind of way is e-books. We have again a huge collection of e-books that can be downloaded and read on a device or a computer. Again, you could make the print larger. Some kids might feel more comfortable just to read on a computer than to pick up a book, so that’s a good thing. And also for younger kids, we have two programs, read-along books and so that’s another resource that can be used. In addition, on our website we have all kinds of subject book lists. We have graded book lists, so if you want to know what your second grader might like you could print out the second grade list. If you want to know books on nature or history or whatever, you could print out that list. There’s a lot of great resources.
Julie Dina: I knew it, we worked for MCPL.
David Payne: Something – we had lots of readers.
Julie Dina: Yeah, we would cover everyone.
David Payne: And now, a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Female Speaker: Looking for your next favorite book? MCPL can help. Fill out our what do I check out next online form and tell us what you like to read. You can find the link to the service on our homepage. We will email you a list of three to five books that are library chosen just for you, happy reading.
David Payne: Now back to our program. Well, Barbara let’s talk about a few books, in particular let’s say you have a first grader who says they don’t like reading. What would be your automatic go-to book for them? What about for a third grader or a fifth grader or a ninth grader? What are some of the automatic choices that you go to in those situations?
Barbara: Okay, well I’m going to answer with of course more than one because being a librarian, we always like to pile all these books on you. For a first grade reader, if they are below reading level we have a series called Flip a Word and it’s basically phonics. It’s really clear graphics, very simple, basically again phonics, rhyming words and it’s super easy and very appealing to kids. So that would be my first choice for somebody who’s not quite at first grade or struggling with it. If they are a little better reader but just not enthusiastic, I like to suggest funny books so I might say Fly Guy by Ted Arnold or Williams Piggy and Elephant books. I think humor gets kids reading. For the third grader, again the lower level maybe Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo.
Again they are pretty easy, they are funny, they have humor, they have large print, it’s a pretty easy book to read but it’s thick. So that’s nice, that gives them a sense of accomplishment. For somebody more on level, we might do Captain Underpants, Geronimo Stilton, Baby Mouse, those are all good choices I think. For the fifth grader, again if they are below level I might go to some of those third grade suggestions if they are more on level something like Dork dairies, Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, those are all – again, they have the humor that encourages kids. They have lots of illustrations, they are very popular. So usually when a kid sees that, they are pretty willing to give it a try. The ninth grade is a little harder, I thought. If they are below grade level, I might suggest Hatchet by Paul which is a great adventure story but again it’s short, it’s easy text but it moves really quickly, might be one of those fifth grade books that I mentioned. If they are more at grade level, I might suggest Alex Rider or Hunger Games, a lot of excitement, they move quickly. So I think those books have a fairly good chance to encourage a kid to get reading.
Julie Dina: Could you tell me about a story where you were able to actually get a child who was reluctant and had sworn “I’m never ever going to read again” but you turned it around?
David Payne: Okay. So for this we are going to my family members because what’s a good podcast if you are not embarrassing someone in your family? And I’m going to start with my son and then if you want I can give you a story too about my niece. So my story is in middle school – well actually elementary and middle school, one of my sons really did not like reading and he has never become a huge fiction fan. But his summer reading for middle school one year was to read a novel, so I thought that should be pretty easy, how hard can that be? And I kept bringing home books and he kept saying “No, I don’t like it. It looks stupid.” So finally I brought home the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and something about it appealed to him. It’s the story of a girl who witnesses something horrible happening at a party.
The writing is very spare, it’s powerful, it’s not a long book and something in that book just appealed to him and he read it and then later in the year, his school or his class had a contest to design a new book cover for any boo that you had read and he did the cover for Speak and he won the contest. So I thought that was pretty good reinforcement for reading. The other story was also a summer reading story. My niece had to read a huge amount of pages one summer, that was the assignment, read – I don’t know 500 pages or 1000 pages or 200o pages for your summer reading and again I kept handing her all these young adult novels and she kept “No, I just don’t like it. I don’t know, it’s just –” and finally somebody – and I’m not sure I could take credit for it because it could have been one of her friends said – handed her Twilight and that was when that book was hugely popular. And she read the whole thing and that book is like 500 or 600 pages. I just couldn’t believe this girl who wouldn’t open a 200-page novel, but again there was something about it that just appealed to her. It moved quickly, it was fast, it was popular and so she made her 1000 pages by reading all the books in that series. So that’s my story.
Julie Dina: I love them all.
David Payne: So Barbara, for any parent listening who may be concerned that their child doesn’t like to read, what advice would you give them?
Barbara: Okay, I think it’s a really fine line between encouraging your child to read and pushing them too hard and you have to be really careful. So probably the best strategy is to offer books but don’t force them. You want to make sure that there aren’t learning disabilities that are causing the problems but once that’s been dealt with, again offer the books. If there is a specific problem, you want to maybe work with the teachers to get them to encourage reading. But again, have a choice of books, do the nonfiction, do the graphic novels, do the popular things, and make sure that there are some good options for the child.
Julie Dina: Well, still on the same line of what you just said, because you know many parents are concerned for their reluctant readers and some parents actually would prefer their kids to read above their grade level. What would you say to such parents who keep trying to give a child a book that they are not really interested in and it’s below, well the parents consider this book being below the child’s reading level?
Barbara: Well, we do see that a lot with these many arguments between many parents and many children at the library, but again, we are at that fine line. I do think there are kids who need to be pushed to move away from their comfort level and stretch a little, but some kids need to have the positive reinforcement of reading success at the lower level. So sometimes I do say to parents, “Look, it’s the reading that’s important, not so much the format or the level.” And again, this is something if they are finding it hard to get the child up to the next level, this is something more that a teacher might be able to do more effectively. At the library, we really want to make sure the child is enjoying and that it’s not becoming a chore or an effort. So if a kid is happy reading, you don’t want to mess with that too much.
Julie Dina: So we want a joyful child?
David Payne: That would help?
Julie Dina: Now we’ve talked a lot with regards to children but there are some adults who would mention and say, “I really don’t have time to read this long book.” Do you have any solutions as to what would be good for them?
Barbara: Yes. I think that’s absolutely a valid thing. Sometimes people just don’t want to commit to a huge book. In my old age I’m finding that to be more the case for myself. I’m just like, “Oh no, I have many pages.”
Julie Dina: So what would you recommend for yourself?
Barbara: A shorter book. There are lots of very good books that are 300 or 400 pages or less, fiction, nonfiction, whatever. So you don’t have to go the huge novel route but also there are short stories, there are novels or – I’m sorry, short stories or novellas, there are graphic novels, magazine articles, again the nonfiction is always an option. If you have a nonfiction book sometimes you don’t have to read the whole thing, you kind of skip around a little bit or leave out the chapters that you are not interested in. Another option which actually we didn’t talk about for kids but many people enjoy listening to a book, so that’s another way to deal with the lack of time and possibly the lack of commitment. So if you are on a long trip it doesn’t really matter how long your book is, you just listen for as long as it goes. Also I had another idea and that is that adults can also read young adult books or children’s novels. There are a lot of books that are so well written and have interesting themes and characters, but it’s usually a pretty quick read and that’s a great option.
Julie Dina: Well, finally before we let you go, it’s our tradition here o Library Matters to ask our guests to tell us about a book they have enjoyed reading recently. Could you share that with us?
Barbara: Okay. So I’m going to tell you about a book that I just finished a week or two ago and following my own advice for an easy read, it was young adult, nonfiction. The book is called Survivors Club and the author is Michael Bornstein. And this was an amazing story of a young Jewish boy from Poland who was sent to a concentration camp with his family. At the time he was only four years old, but he managed to survive and even more surprising, almost everybody in his extended family survived. Some survived by hiding, some survived by escaping, some seemed to survive just by luck. So even though it was a sad story and it was pretty awful to read about the violence and the trauma that he went through, I felt like it was so inspiring to learn about where everybody did survive and how he was reunited with his family.
Julie Dina: It sounds wonderful. Well, once again, thank you so much Barbara for joining us for this podcast episode.
David Payne: And being an inspiration to the many young children and the parents who are looking to get that boost into reading. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.
Julie Dina: You are very welcome.
David Payne: Don’t forget, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple Podcast app, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcast, we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today, see you next time on Library Matters.
Recording Date: October 11, 2017
Hosts:Julie Dina and David Payne
Episode Summary: Children's Library Associate Barbara Shansby talks about why some children, and adults, are reluctant to read and how to foster an appreciation for reading among reluctant readers.
Guest: Children's Library Associate Barbara Shansby
Featured MCPL Service: What Do I Check Out Next? Tell us what you like to read through our What Do I Check Out Next? form. Our librarians will e-mail you 3 -5 personalized book suggestions.
What Our Guest is Currently Reading: Survivors Club: the True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein. The incredible story of Michael Bornstein, who at 4 years old, was one of the youngest people to be liberated from Auschwitz.
Books and Authors Mentioned During this Episode:
Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz: In this thrilling series, 14 year old Alex Rider is coerced into working for British intelligence after his uncle is killed on a mission.
Babymouse by Jennifer and Matthew Holm: An imaginative mouse learns life lessons in this graphic novel series.
Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce: Chronicles the life of Nate Wright as he resists the confinements of middle school.
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey: The humorous books recount the adventures of an unlikely super hero.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney: This series, formatted as a journal, recounts the life of middle schooler Greg and his best friend Rowley.
Dork Diaries by Rachel Russell: Humorous book series written as a diary with lots of drawings and doodles. It chronicles the life of middle schooler Nikki Maxwell.
Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold: Funny book series about a fly and his best friend, a boy named Buzz.
Geronimo Stilton: This series features the adventures of Geronimo Stilton, the scaredy mouse editor of The Rodent's Gazette, who is constantly being dragged into adventures by his pushy, boisterous family.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter's fantastic adventure in this 7 book series starts with 4 simple words, "You're a wizard Harry."
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: Brian Robeson is the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: In this popular dystopia, teens from twelve oppressed districts are forced to fight to the death in a futuristic arena.
Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo: In this series, a buttered toast loving pet pig named Mercy Watson has all sorts of adventures in her neighborhood.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: A traumatic event near the end of summer has a devastating effect on Melinda's freshman year in high school.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyers: This series chronicles the romance between a teen girl and a vampire amidst growing conflict within the secret world of vampires.
Other MCPL Resources and Services Mentioned During this Episode:
Early literacy storytimes prepare our county's babies, toddlers, and preschoolers for a lifetime of reading and learning.
Grandreaders: Children can practice reading aloud to our specially trained older members of the community.
Library Matters recorded an episode about MCPL's Summer Read and Learn program in May, 2017.
Read to a Dog: Children can build confidence in their reading skills by reading aloud to one of our trained therapy dogs.
Small type can be a barrier for some readers, including kids. Check out MCPL's large type books for children.