Meghan Dorsett

Jun 142017

Over 25 years ago now (or a quarter of a century…which seems even a bit stranger), I started teaching Children’s Literature to Elementary Education majors at Southwest Missouri State University. At the time, Children’s Literature was becoming “real” literature–that is literature worth studying, poetry worth memorizing, stories worth reading.

At the time I started teaching, my more serious colleagues would smile and say “well…that’s nice…but it really isn’t the same as TS Eliot or Shakespeare or Byron.” If I tried talking about children’s literature in light of Cixous or Foucault, they would grimace and say “well…that really does not apply, now does it” and would turn to more serious topics than the cultural implications of Winnie the Pooh. Even my colleagues enamored with Science Fiction and Fantasy would grimace and note that the Wizard of Earthsea really wasn’t on par with The Left Hand of Darkness (both written by the same author) because, well, the Wizard was created for children after all.

Part of the problem was that Children’s Literature was relegated to the back of the academic line because it was defined as a requirement for Education majors rather than as an appropriate area of study for Literature majors–indeed, most of my students were Elementary Education majors who were far more interested in working with children rather than becoming serious scholars bound for graduate programs and the upper echelons of academia. The literature majors who enrolled in the class came in with the expectation that it would be an easy A because, after all, they were just reading “kids’ books.” The education majors came in, on the whole, as non-readers–indeed, most of them hated reading and tended to refer to the consumption of words as “language acquisition” rather than something one did for pleasure or studied as a serious pursuit. After seven years of fighting diminished views of children’s literature from my English colleagues and a diminished view of reading from the education majors, I gave up and became a county planner, albeit one who was and is far better versed in Quidditch than the eccentricities of transportation planning.

Even 25 years later, Children’s Literature is still fighting for a place in the literary canon.

The fact is Children’s Literature is serious stuff. Whether you are interested in new historicism or cultural dynamics or deconstruction, studying the multi-layered texts of J.K. Rowling is equally important as pealing apart the post-structural layers of Kathy Ackerman’s take on Don Quixote.  The difference? One will be enjoyed far longer by far more folks than the other.

So…here is to children’s literature.  Chase pirates. Play quidditch. Survive an unfortunate event. Slip down a rabbit hole.

Pick up a novel and enjoy…



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Mar 042017

March is such a good, forceful, energetic verb (and the name of the month), so what better month to focus on volunteerism.

March 13th is Good Samaritan Day, although we tend to celebrate things by the week, by the month, and by the year, so we would like to believe that this particular celebration lasts all year.

It is one thing to be kind to those we know; it is something entirely different when we are kind to strangers who then become friends.

We believe that we benefit and our communities benefit when we all volunteer.

In an effort to make it a bit easier, we have listed some of the volunteer opportunities available in Christiansburg, Blacksburg, and Montgomery County.

  • RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program)–lots of volunteer activities for folks 55 and older!
  • Volunteer Match.Org–a clearing house full of all sorts of opportunities, from working with International Students to being a child advocate through CASA to helping to promote sustainability.
  • Volunteer NRV — a listing sponsored by the United Way of the New River Valley, from helping out with Meals on Wheels to being a bus monitor to working as a docent at one of the museums to being a dog walker for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Montgomery County.


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Feb 042017

February Special

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but from Christie and Cornwall to Patterson and Woods, we have way too many mysteries and suspense. We could triple the shelf space and still not have enough…so our overload is your benefit. Stop in during the month of February and we’ll give you 20% off your mysteries. We have British mysteries with quirky detectives, urban mysteries with hardboiled detectives, spies from World War II to present, and cozy mysteries with knitters, bakers, and nosy neighbors. If you are collecting a writer and missing the older works, check with us first…we may well have it and this month you get a discount on every one you buy.

Gunsmoke, The Virginian, and adding a new section…

Like most of my generation, I grew up with Roy Rogers and Fess Parker, although I probably lived in one of the few households where Westerns were banned.  My mother detested Gunsmoke because she grew in in Kansas. My father detested The Virginian because he grew up in Montana.  They were more inclined to watch Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers than anything sponsored by Twenty-Mule Team Borax or that involved ranch names like the Ponderosa. I finally understood why when we moved to Virginia in the late 1960s, and most of my classmates thought that being from Montana meant that I liked to ride horses, which I get along fine with as long as we are both on the ground with a fence inbetween, and meant that my father owned guns (he didn’t…they were on the list of things he detested, along with Westerns). It came as a surprise that my neighbor in Giles County had a cowboy hat (I’ve never actually owned one) and believed that the west was populated by people who still used wagons to get from point A to point B ( a fact I learned when she asked if I missed traveling in a buckboard).  It took me may years to understand that Westerns had absolutely nothing to do with western culture, and everything to do with the American myth.

Westerns (as well as everything written by James Fenimore Cooper) are the American myth, and while the popularity (both in readership and viewership) of westerns may have decline over the past 40 years. the myth still holds sway and shapes may of our views on individualism and the role of guns and grit in our culture. The cowboy is our archetype, although he has been relocated to urban areas and outerspace.

When we first opened Whistle Stop Books, we had very few Westerns. We had a lot of books about the West and a fair number of novels written by writers from the West (Ivan Doig, Wallace Stegner, Michael Dorris)–but none of the novels fit within the western genre of Louis L’Amour and Owen Wister (The Virginian). In the past couple of months, that has changed, so we are adding a section for Westerns. I should note that the writers from, like Jim Harrison and Richard Hugo, are still located in the General Fiction section, not the section on Westerns.

So, if you are a fan of Westerns, check out the bottom shelf under the paperback mysteries (at least for the time being until we can figure out how to shoehorn in another shelving unit.  We have books by the following authors (plus some others not listed):

  • Max Brand
  • Guy Brewer
  • Ralph Compton
  • Ralph Cotton
  • Zane Gray
  • Ernest Haycox
  • Joan Johnston
  • Terry Johnston
  • William W. Johnstone
  • Jake Logan
  • F.M. Parker
  • Jake Slade
  • Robert Vaughn
  • J. Washburn

Stop by and check our our full selection (or at least as much as we can shove on the available shelf)….

And Finally This…

I would like to take a moment to thank all of the folks (Paul, Lisa, Angie) who have been donating books to the cause down here in the past week. We have a wonderfully eclectic selection because we have some wonderfully eclectic donors. I thank you and the depot (if it could speak) thanks you.  I would also like to thank the Collegiate Times (Megan Maury Church, writer, and Tayo Oladele, photographer) for their wonderful article, although the headline was somewhat geographically challenged (we are located in the Cambria section of Christiansburg rather than in Blacksburg).

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Feb 032017

If you haven’t noticed, American’s love kitsch. Pink Flamingos. Genuine souvenir plates from places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Black velvet paintings of Jesus and Elvis on top of a semi with flames shooting out of the tail pipes. We love roadside attractions like Wall Drug and South of the Border and all of the odd motels along Route 66, like the place with Teepees and the one with the restaurant in a giant cowboy hat.  We love novelty gadgets and songs and birthday cards with a moving mouse singing “Shake Your Bootie.”

So it should come as no surprise that we also like kitschy holidays, celebrations, and remembrances.  February is loaded with them. Pull Your Sofa off the Wall Month. Jell-O Week and Love a Mensch Week. Bubble Gum Day (February 3rd) and Read in the Bathtub Day (February 9th)

We have listed some of our favorites for February below:

February, 2017


Cordova Ice Worm Festival (February 1sth – 5th)


World Play Your Ukelele Day


Bubble Gum Day


Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (always the 1st Saturday)

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week (February 5-11)


Popcorn Day

(Always times out with the Super Bowl


Canadian Maple Syrup Day


National Periodic Table Day


Opera Day

(Spend some time with Hansel & Gretel)


National Pizza Day


“All Tne News That’s Fit to Print” Day (NY Times birthday)


Get Out Your Guitar Day


Paul Bunyan Day (b. in 1834 in Bangor ME)


World Radio Day


Ferris Wheel Day

Make a paper model of a ferris wheel.


Random Acts of Kindness Day

Actually, this goes on for a full week


National Almond Day


World Human Spirit Day


Pluto Day

(Learn more about Pluto here.


Chocolate Mint Day (any excuse to eat ice cream in February)


Love Your Pet Day

This should be every day!


Plan a Kitsch Vacation Day

Okay, this isn’t a real day, but it should be.


World Thinking Day (GS)


Curling is Cool Day

Learn more about curling here.


Girl Scout Cookie Weekend


Girl Scout Cookie Weekend


For Pete’s Sake Day

Celebrate obscure and obsolete idioms


Inter-national Polar Bear Day


Mardi Gras

Okay… perhaps not quite so obscure.

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Jan 242017

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Newton!

If you have stopped in Whistle Stop Books or the Cambria Toy Station in the last few years, there is a good chance you stopped for a minute and  played with the Newton’s Cradle, a desk toy named after Sir Isaac Newton and based on one of the key principles of Newtonian physics. The “toy” illustrates the laws of inertia (Newton’s 1st Law of Motion), conservation / F=ma (force=mass * acceleration-Newton’s Second Law of Motion),  and Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

Want to know more about Newton’s Cradles?  (None of which are appropriate for the average elementary student–above their pay grade, but interesting reading if you want to know more before you talk to the said same six or eight year old)…

Try This @ Home

Pick a couple of projects from the Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations Collection. A great collection of science projects and experiments for home and science fairs…some very cool stuff.  Start with Newtonian Mechanics.

Build your own Newton’s Cradle from Scratch (Compliments of the folks at Cornell). If you want to do Newton’s Cradle experiments, but you don’t want to go to the trouble of making one, swing by the Cambria Toy Station and pick up a Newton’s Cradle of your own.


Geek Birthdays and Adventures

  • Alan J. Heeger (b. 1936). Physicist and Mathematician.
  • In 1992, Dr. Roberta Bondar became the first Neurologist (& Canadian Woman in Space.

  •  In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became Doctor Blackwell, when she was awarded her M.D. from Geneva Medical College. She was the first female doctor in the United States.
  • In 1997, Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the first female U.S. Secretary of State. Learn what is involved in being Secretary of State…play “Crisis of Nations” on iCivics (requires Flashplayer).  Note, be sure to go through the tutorial before you start. You may also want to explore the other games in iCivics. Suitable for both adults and kids and is a great way to learn how government works!
  • Michio Kaku, American physicist and academic was born in 1947.

  • Ilya Prigogine, a Russian-American chemist and physicist, was born in 1917 and won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1077 for his dissipative structures and how they fit into thermodynamic systems and beyond equilibrium. Back to Newton…Prigogine, in his book The End of Certainty argued that “Newtonian physics has now been extended three times, first with the use of the wave function in quantum mechanics, then with the introduction of spacetime in general relativity, and finally with the recognition of indeterminism in teh study of unstable systems. (Wiki)  You can thank Prigogine for chaos.
  • In 2004, the Opportunity Rover (MER-B) landed on the surface of Mars. Opportunity is still scuttling around the Red Desert on Mars.

  •  Polykarp Kusch, German-American Physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in
  • In 1949, the Palomar Observatory’s Hale Telescope, the largest aperture optical telescope (until 1976 when the BTA-6 was constructed) becomes operational.

  •  And, finally, in 1958, the Lego company patented their bricks, however the original wooden bricks were developed in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. Take a quick tour of Lego’s new design headquarters and factory in Billund, Denmark. Better yet, visit.

Physics and Math @ the Depot

Check out some of physics and math toys, kits, and books at the Cambria Toy Station…

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Jan 222017

One of the joys of a used bookstore is discovering wonderful books you would never think to read or new genres you would never explore. While I have long been a fan of history (evidenced by the fact that we own a 149 year old train station), I have not generally picked up”history” books for pleasure reading. They are not the types of books that one grabs on a cold winter’s night, to be read while sipping hot chocolate or a hot buttered rum. This fall, however, I have discovered that a great many “history” books are as entertaining as a good Agatha Christie or as gripping as Robert Ludlum. Most are not about great people. Indeed, the most gripping are about the everyday sorts rather than Presidents or Kings or decorated Generals.  They tell a specific story rather than providing an overview of dates and times and places.

Some cases in point:

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  This one came not through the bookstore but from a friend’s recommendation. Set in the Dust Bowl of western Oklahoma, Southwestern Kansas, and Northwest Texas, The Worst Hard Time tells the story not of those who fled the Dust Bowl for opportunities in California, but those who stayed. Those who watched their family members choke on the black air of the dust storms and battle to hang on their farms and their dignity. It also tells the story of a place that should never have been plowed under and the follies and greed of men in thinking that they could control such a place.  Like many of the most readable histories, The Worst Hard Time was written not by an historian but by a journalist and is based on the memories of survivors.  Even if you are not a fan of history, this one is hard to put down. Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Non-Fiction. Good Reads Rating: 4.04

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Eric Larson. In 1893, Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair), a fair designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmstead to celebrate American innovation and progress (as well as good taste); it also unknowingly hosted a serial killer who used the Fair to find his victims.  The meticulously researched book reads like a suspense novel.  International Horror Guild Award for Nonfiction (2003); National Book Award Finalist (2003); CWA Gold Dagger Award (2003), and the list goes on.

Author of the Week: Studs Terkel

Keeping with the historical theme, our author of the week is Studs Terkel (1912-2008). In 1985, Terkel, a oral historian and writer, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Good War, an oral history of World War II.  Over the course of a 50 year career, Terkel wrote 18 books, including Hard Times, a history of the Great Depression; Working, a study of what folks do for living and what they think about their jobs; and Will the Circle be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. What set Terkel’s histories apart was his focus on the ordinary, on the every day. rather than the great voices and the famous faces. He learned about history by listening to the people who put one foot in front of the other and survived even the most difficult of times.

In Other News…

Mark your calendar now for the 611. The Roanoke Transportation Museum and the rail historical folks are sponsoring  Roanoke to Walton excursions on May 27, 28, and 29th–over Memorial Day Weekend. We are busy working on creating a community festival to coincide with this year’s excursion. Check back at this site or on the site for updates as we get closer.




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Jan 082017

Before robots…

Before computers…

There were clockmakers…

The next time you are driving north through eastern Pennsylvania, add a trip to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and take a look at the Automaton by machinist and clockmaker Henri Maillardet, c. 1800. Featured on CBS Good Morning in 2012, Maillardet’s brass automaton has the largest machine memory ever constructed; can produce four images and three poems, two in French and one in English; and provided the part of the  inspiration for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.

Automatons (automatas), machines designed to duplicate pre-determined (programmed) real life movement using a complex combination of cogs, cams, pistons, gears, belts, pulleys, and other assorted mechanical elements, are not new. References to moving mechanical devices can be found both in Ancient Greece and Ancient China, but the real heyday of automata coincided with the development of increasingly complex clockwork mechanisms during the Renaissance and the early Modern era (1450 to 1900).

Projects & Activities:

Start with a paper model. There are a number of interesting projects available online.

Most automata models are from European, British, and Japanese sources. As with a lot of companies in the modeling industry, ourselves included, a significant portion of the available paper models and instructions can now be purchased online and downloaded. Be sure to read the instructions before you print the model. Different models use different weights of paper, although typically they use a medium weight cover or card stock. Regular 20 or 24 lb. paper is generally too light for paper modeling.

Swing in and check out the Wooden Kits, available at Cambria Toy Station:


Automaton, Paper Engineering, and Mechanics Resources

  • My Brush with Hugo and the Automaton” Andrew Baron, 2008. Baron restored Maillardet’s Automaton for the Franklin Institute.
  • Paper Engineering from  If you are interested in learning about Paper Engineering and Automata, is probably the best place to start. A one year subscription ($30.00 US Funds per Year) provides you access to all of their downloadable projects, as well as a wealth of information of paper mechanics. It is well worth the cost of a subscription.
  • Devices of Wonder. Getty Museum. A great collection of mechanical and optical devices, including how they work.  Take a look and interact with all of the devices and then explore the other materials included in the site.
  • Wonders of the Clockwork World. A short film (45 minutes) on the development of the Automata and world in which they were created.
  • Animations of every mechanical device you can think of from Noah Posner and Thang010146 (Youtube channel). A great collection of short videos that illustrate how mechanics work. From basic cogs and cams to turning a right hand thread–this is an excellent reference resource.
  • Another excellent site that covers the types of mechanisms used in creating automatons, including an excellent overview of tools and construction techniques.

Cool Videos

Our favorite automaton:

and how it works:

To learn more about Wintergaten and their Marble Machine, check out their Youtube channel.

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Dec 272016

Tis the season of self-help books.

If you have wandered down the aisles of your local bookseller (at least the purveyors of new books, sheets, tires, and assorted other household items),  you have probably noticed that they carry three types of books: the New York Times Bestseller List, coffee table books (always marked at 30%+ off), and self-help books…books designed to help you organize your life, your pantry, our your spouse; books that help you erase the Christmas bulge so that it has sufficiently disappeared by the beginning of beach season; and books to address the various psychoses brought about by three months of winter, endless reruns, and the build-up to March Madness.

Whistle Stop Books does have a section on “self-help,”  but we can’t guarantee that they will address any of the complaints listed above. We have books on how to create (and presumably then lose) lists; how to feng shui your home, office, spouse, dog, kids, and diet; and how to change your oil (although I forgot to check if there is specific advice for doing so in the dead of winter). The list goes on, but we decided to limit the range of “self-help” books to more those addressing more practical matters (how-to books) and leave the pop-psychology to the shelves at Walmart and Target.

So, check with us if you want to find a book on:

  • crocheting, knitting, needlework, and sewing;
  • redesigning the interior of your home;
  • building bookshelves (available after we figure out how to build more shelves in the bookstore…although we have some spare copies);
  • tiling your bathroom;
  • tuning up your car;
  • planning your garden;
  • figuring out what to do with the rose bushes the previous owner left behind;
  • learning how to paint like Da Vinci or Picasso or Norman Rockwell;
  • learning how to write the great American novel (based on the advice of some folks who have written the great American novel and some who sank into obscurity after publishing a book on how to write a book);
  • learning how to run, walk, skip, crawl, slither, and other examples of movements that result in a forward like motion;
  • learning how to make a million on the stock market, published in the fall of 2008 (we keep this one around for the element of irony);
  • and all sorts of other books that offer some interesting advice and instruction that at $4-$5 per book you can choose to ignore without feeling guilty.

Stop in today and check them out!

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Oct 302016

flamigoIf you have stopped in the Cambria Toy Station, you already know that we are a very small store (although we do manage to pack a lot in to the available space). When we started the shop, we wanted to focus on encouraging kids to “do stuff.” The thing is, no toy store (no matter how large or how small) can carry every single thing and some of the best things can’t be carried at all. So we decided that we were going to expand beyond the norm of toy stores and offer something of value even if you never walked in the shop (although, of course, we think you should if for no other reason than we are located in the world’s coolest places–a 149 year old train station).

The Creative Play Pages (see the right hand column of our front page) were created to provide parents and kids access to some very cool stuff–from games (some of which were created out of cardboard boxes) to science projects to history, civics, and geography.

We believe that kids learn best through play, exploration, imagination, and curiosity. While we carry toys, kits, games, and puzzles that encourage these activities, there is a whole lot more out there in the world for them to try that no toy is going to teach them or to encourage their interests.

The Creative Pages are our way of helping youngsters to pursue their passions, learn cool new stuff, hone skills, and have fun. We continue to add new stuff to the pages periodically (mostly when we have some time to spare or are avoiding less pleasant tasks).  We also includes access to materials for parents (choosing toys, thinking about safety, encouraging creativity, etc.). We encourage you to explore the pages and if you have a suggestion, just fill in the form below.

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Aug 222016


It’s that time of year…September 3, 4, and 5th

readersrock3For twenty years, we published The Scale Cabinetmaker.  Publishing a quarterly journal, or any journal, is a lesson in Sisyphus rolling the same rock up the same hill every three months. Most of the time, the process of developing a new issue, designing new projects, and working through the kinks in the next issue was enjoyable–that is until we put together the Winter issue with the Christmas cover…in August. While everyone else was still enjoying the heat and humidity of late summer, we were designing toy articles, decorating miniature trees, and wrapping very small presents (everything was in 1/12th scale). It has been 20 years since we wrapped the last issue of The Scale Cabinetmaker, but I still find myself humming “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on August 1st and beginning to think about Christmas season.

This explains why we are gearing up for a Christmas on Labor Day Sale (September 3, 4, &5)  at Whistle Stop Books (also known as the “we really need to paint the roof” sale). I’m not sure we will go so far as to put up a tree (that does seem a bit excessive…even for a relatively quirky bookstore), but we’ll pull out the music, bake some cookies, brew some coffee, and haul out lots of books and stack them on tables.

If you are a book lover, this is a great time to pick up books to help you get through Football season, prepare for winter, and help us reach our $20,000 goal for painting the roof this fall.

Thursday Night & Friday Afternoon
Coffee Klatch & Readers Club.

It is that time of year.  Now that the end of summer is fast approaching, we are fast approaching “readers season.” The time of the year when the weather passes from hot and muggy to cooler and a bit more unpredictable. Kids are back in school,  Football takes over the television (whether you are a football fan or not). Political ads dominate the airways (whether you want to watch endless attack ads or not).

Reader’s Season is the part of the year, generally late September through the middle of April, when the weather may or may not cooperate with outdoor activities and television is dominated by things you do not particularly want to see (unless, of course, you have already switched over to Netflix or you have resigned yourself to watching a few months of reruns on TVLand).

If you are a reader, set aside some time on Thursday nights (7 to 8:30) of Friday afternoons (2 to 3:30) and join us for a cup of coffee (or tea) and some lively discussions about books. This isn’t a traditional “book club.” We don’t assign a book for each week. Rather, it is a chance to compare notes on writers, pick up some great suggestions, collect opinions on books, and generally chat about what you are reading.  You also get a chance to save on books (club participants get 25% off books from Whistle Stop Books with a membership card–free to participants).

World War II @ the Depot.

A special thank you to Henry Tieleman of Riner. A couple of weeks ago, Henry stopped by the shop. He arrived with a SUV full of books on World War II, thermal dynamics, and sundry engineering. For history fans, this is quite a collection. Be sure to stop by and peruse Henry’s collection.

New to the Stacks

We have so many new books, it is hard to tell where to start. We are especially excited about a couple of large collections we have received in the few couple of weeks–one included some terrific books on Archaeology, Art,  and ancient antiquities and another included almost a complete set of Stuart Woods mystery-suspense novels (thank you, Caroline and ARG). If your are a mystery fan and enjoy James Patterson, you will love Stuart Woods.






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