Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


"Spread Love, It's the Brooklyn Way"

May 30, 2012 5:05 PM | 2 comments

First Connections Visit, October 2007. (Photo by Al Pereira)At the end of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, just before she clicks her heels three times, Dorothy takes a moment to say goodbye to those who helped her on her journey.  Each one played a unique role in her success, and she shares a brief moment with each.  But to the Scarecrow, whom she saves for last, she whispers just one short sentence, "I think I'll miss you most of all."

Ok.... maybe it's a little harsh for the other characters.  But we all know that feeling when we're saying goodbye.  There are many, many things we miss when we leave a job, move away or end a journey.  But there is always one thing, or person, that stands out from the rest. 

As I prepared for this, my final Brooklynology entry, I had many ideas for what to say.  But in the end, there was one thing that kept coming to mind--my constant gratitude and appreciation for having had the opportuntiy to work with the incredible young people of Brooklyn.

First Brooklyn Connections Visit, October 2007 (Photo by Al Pereira)

You see, I didn't have just one scarecrow on my five-year journey down the Brooklyn Connections road.  I had over 4,000.

Students at Hudde Junior High, Spring 2008Stereotypes tell us that middle school students are the toughest of all age groups to work with--they are dealing with emotions, hormones, peer pressure and other factors that make them an impossible audience.  Many educators refuse to even consider working with adolescents in this age range.

Personally, I can't imagine ever working with a different age group.  I'm not saying that these stereotypes don't occasionally ring true.  I've seen and experienced my fair share of middle school horrors in my time.  But even on the most difficult days, it was the students that kept bringing me back.

Student Reflections at International Studies Middle School, Spring 2008In the last five years, I have learned more from the students of Brooklyn Connections than I ever taught them--and they probably don't even realize it.  All of those emotions, hormones, peer pressures and other factors that make youth "impossible" also make them insightful, honest, brave and reflective. 

End of Year Event, May 2012.

I've seen the most cyncial students become fascinated by an archive--to the point where their questions completely derailed my lesson, in a good way.  I've watched a young girl have an "aha" moment as she sees similarities between her life and that of someone who lived a century ago.  I've learned to recognize the small signs that a student is beginning to look at his surroundings with new eyes.  Anyone who tells you that today's "plugged in" youth are simply beyond making such connections isn't looking hard enough.  The moments and signs are not easy to uncover, but they are most certainly there.

The students in the Brooklyn Connections program have reminded me what its like to live with passion--for life, for family, for friends, for community.  So many times, I have been struck by the way they can relate what they study to what they experience.  They look for that understanding in a way that we adults have long forgotten about.  I've seen projects that honestly touch on racism, sexism, economics, policitics and other "hot button" issues that many adults would shy away from.  I've seen a teacher moved to tears as a student described his admiration for his father, a Mexican immigrant and small business owner in Sunset Park.  I've heard students from Crown Heights admit that they've secretly yearned for a better understanding of the diverse--and sometimes divisive--cultures that inhabit their community.  I've watched as a 13-year old girl starts a class conversation about why her neighborhood of Brownsville is worthy of community pride and respect.

Student Presentations at IS 30, April 2012.

End of Year Event, Beginning with Children School, May 2012.For me, the biggest lesson I have learned is that so many young people in Brooklyn, and everywhere else, are just looking to have a voice.  I am proud to have helped create a program that strives to provide them with at least one form of outlet.  And I am so confident in this program that I am willing to leave it behind, knowing that it will continue to flourish and inspire (and be inspired by) the youth of Brooklyn as my career takes me further into the field of education reform.

In short, you only need speak with a student about his or her work to understand that there is far more to the story than the words on the page or the poster on display.  Brooklyn Connections is not about students' projects.  It is about the students themselves--who they were, who they are and who they will become.

And so I close this blog entry not with my own words, but theirs.  I share this video not because I want to promote the program --there will be plenty of time for my successor to do that--but because it is the best possible way I can think of to show who I will "miss most of all":


Searching for a lost art...

Apr 26, 2012 4:12 PM | 1 comment

Late last year, I had the pleasure of watching the documentary, Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy at BAM, which was shown as part of the "Puppets on Film" festival.  The film followed actor and Brooklynite John Turturro as he visited his ancestral homeland of Sicily to study the traditions of Sicilian puppetry with puppeteer Mimmo Cuticchio.  It was an interesting film that included great scenes of a master "puppa" at work.

I found the art of Sicilian puppetry, or Opera dei Pupi, fascinating.  The art form, passed down from generation to generation within families, was once a critical component of Sicilian culture.  The puppets can weigh up to 100-pounds and require extensive training in both manipulation and voice projection.  The plays, which combine to tell a single story over the course of 10-13 months of performances, are based on Sicilian lore from the era of Charlemagne and have remained unchanged over the centuries.   

Given that Turturro was raised in Brooklyn by immigrant parents, the documentary touched upon the great waves of emigration from Sicily to America, and its impact on the cultures and customs of people on both sides of the Atlantic.  But, much to my frustration, the film never specifically addressed whether the tradition of Opera dei Pupi made it to America.

From prior research for a school lesson, I knew that the 1912 atlas identifies an "Italian Theater" in the heart of "Brooklyn's Little Italy" on Union Street between Columbia and Van Brunt.  What, I wondered, were the chances that Opera dei Pupi was practiced here?


The 1912 Directory had a listing for the Regina Margarita theater at 55 Union Street.  The address was right, but there was still no hint as to the theater's format.  Then, with the 1900 Directory, I found my answer:

From here, I took a step back and consulted Cezar Del Valle's The Brookyln Theatre Index.  I learned that there was not one, but three, Italian marionette theatres on Union Street in the 19th and early 20th centuries:

35 Union Street - Teatrino Marinette - 1886

52-55 Union Street - Royal Italian - 1898 to 1912

101-103 Union Street - Italian Star Theatre - 1896 to 1930s

I searched through the Eagle and discovered that its reporters were as enthralled with these theaters as I am:

Several articles described and celebrated the tradition, which was a significant part of Brooklyn's growing Italian community.  These illustrations, in particular, capture the artists and audience mid-performance: 


Just as I was about to declare my research complete, I decided to take one last look through the catalog to see if we had anything else on Italian marionettes.  I was shocked to discover that the Brooklyn Collection owns a copy of a 16mm film entitled It's One Family, Knock on Wood, which tells the story of the Matteo family of New York, who practiced Sicilian Puppetry from the 1920s to the late 1990s:

The filmmaker, Tony DeNonno, studied under the Matteos and continues to speak on the art form.  And the family's puppets, which date from the 1920s, are now in the collection of the Italian American Museum in Manhattan's Little Italy.  The 20-minute documentary, which was made in 1982 and aired on PBS, has been transferred onto DVD and can be viewed here in the collection.  It's a perfect complement to the film I viewed at BAM. 

Sadly, despite the efforts of filmmakers and historians to bring attention to Sicilian puppetry, the art form appears to be dying.  The Matteo family no longer practices in the city, and, according to Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy, there are even few performances available in Sicily itself.  Mimmo is one of the few great masters of puppetry still living, and he is often travelling the world presenting his art form outside of his homeland.  Although apprentices and students study his technique, it is unclear what will happen to the tradition when he retires... making the films and materials in the Brookyln Collection and other repositories all the more important.

New Online Home for Brooklyn Connections!

Mar 9, 2012 11:49 AM | 0 comments

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our brand new Brooklyn Connections website:

Our new site is a hub of information where students and educators can learn more about our program and access the wealth of materials we have developed over the past five years. 

On the Teacher Page, you will find information about our signature research project program; announcements for upcoming teacher workshops; and downloadable lesson plans, project outlines and more.   And for those schools interested in becoming a partner, our new online application makes it easier than ever before to join Brooklyn Connections (Pssst - It's not too early to sign up for 2012-13! Hint, hint!)

Meanwhile, students can visit their own page to link to "library approved" digital resources and to download guidesheets and research advice.  Most importantly, our "Ask for Help!" page connects students directly to Brooklyn Connections educators via e-mail!

Our Example Projects page provides a new outlet for sharing and celebrating the work of our students.  Be sure to check back this spring as we begin to expand the site to include slideshows of student work from this year's TWENTY partner schools.

We have big plans to expand resources and materials throughout the year - meaning you'll want to come back again and again.  If you like what you see, consider joining our mailing list to stay current on upcoming teacher workshops, application deadlines and more.  Send your contact information to to join.

Finally, many thanks go out to two important groups--to the fantastic BPL Web Design team for their work, guidance and patience throughout the process and to our funders, the New York Life Foundation, whose generous support allowed this dream to become a reality.

"You better watch out, you better not cry..."

Dec 22, 2011 10:28 AM | 1 comment

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  And apparently he's been to Brooklyn on many occasions. 

"Santa Claus Came to Town" 1951

Early evidence of Santa's presence in Brooklyn can be seen in this 1878 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  That year, Santa and his reindeer set up his HEADQUARTERS at Rogers, Peet & Co on Fulton Street.  Although he was probably quite busy getting ready for his big night, the advertisement goes on to point out that all children were welcome to come visit him.

"Christmas Tree at Loeser's Department Store" 1937

Santa seems to have had similar relationships with several department stores over the years.  In 1937, he joined Snow White and Abe the Clown to celebrate one of the United States' largest Christmas trees, on display outside of Loeser's Department Store (left).  In 1950, he hosted the opening of the Namm's Department Store Toyland (below). 

That same year, he also arrived by helicopter (I guess the reindeer had the day off) outside of the May's Department Store.  Notice the crowds forming not only on the street, but inside the store.  That Santa really knows how to make an entrance.

"Hello Santa" 1950

"Christmas at Central Library" No Date.

Santa's public appearances weren't limited to the commercial.  He attended holiday lighting ceremonies on Flatbush Avenue and Fifth Avenue.  He even stopped by Central Library (right) one year.





But his favorite activity, by far, seems to be serving as a special guest at children's parties at settlement houses, community centers and other charitable organizations.  Our collection is full of images depicting Santa's generosity to those children who were most in need."Santa Makes a Big Hit" 1950

"Everyone's in on the Fun" 1952

There are also rumors that Santa's Brooklyn excursions are not limited to the winter months.  In 1966, amateur photographer Irving Herzberg captured photographic evidence that Santa occasionally vacations at Coney Island. 

"Santa Claus goes Swimming" by Irving Herzberg

It's hard to predict where Santa might pop up this year.  If you have a Santa sighting... let us know.  And in the meantime, we here at Brooklynology are sending you best wishes for a very Happy and Healthy Holiday Seaon!




Calling all Teachers!

Nov 29, 2011 11:01 AM | 0 comments

Photograph for BPL by Al Pereira

This winter, our Brooklyn Connections program is proud to present two professional development workshops for NYC teachers.  These events are the first in a new series of teacher workshops to be held at the Brooklyn Colleciton during the academic year.  Our workshops are open to all teachers in the five boroughs and offer the unqiue opportunity to explore the Brooklyn Colleciton in a small group with our dedicated staff and favorite guest historians.


Local History 101:  Brooklyn's Past (and Present) in the Classroom

December 15, 2011, 9:00am-3:00pm

A one-day workshop on bringing local and community history into the classroom.  Work with original archival documents; practice using our materials to fulfill Common Core standards; and develop new methods for increasing student engagement using Brooklyn history.  Breakfast will be included and teachers will receive a packet of resources to use in the classroom.


Brooklyn and the Civil Rights Movement

January 5, 2012, 9:00am-3:00pm

Teachers are invited to this special one-day workshop on Brooklyn's role in the Civil Rights Movement.  We will be joined by expert historian Dr. Brian Purnell, who will guide teachers through our collection of original Civil Rights materials.  Teachers will gain both content knowledge and techniques for teaching Civil Rights from a local perspective.  Each teacher will take home a packet of Common Core-based resources at the end of the day.  Free breakfast and lunch will be provided. 


More information about both sessions can be found on our Teacher Page.  Reservations are required and space is limited for both events, so don't delay!

We hope that all of Brooklynology's teacher readers out there will join us.  And if you aren't a teacher, we ask that you help us to spread the word!  Thanks!

For more information about all of our Brookyln Connections services, visit our program page