Month: December 2018

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Women Authors with December Birthdays

Women Authors with December Birthdays

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director


It’s amazing what you can find on the Web. For example, a list of authors with birthdays in December ( The perfect theme for the final “At the Library” of 2018, but to narrow the field, I’ll highlight women authors.

     Jan Brett was born on December 1. The popular writer and illustrator has dozens of children’s books to her credit. She writes original stories, such as “Berlioz the Bear,” and “The Hat,” as well as adapting classics like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

     Also early in the month, Ann Patchett had a birthday on December 2. Patchett is the author of the bestselling novel “Bel Canto” which follows the relationships among a group of young terrorists and their hostages with opera as a centralizing theme throughout the story. Patchett’s latest novel, “Commonwealth,” tells the story of six children in a series of vignettes spanning fifty years.

     Willa Cather was born on December 7. Cather achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including “O Pioneers!,” and “My Antonia.” Her later historical novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” concerning the attempts of a Catholic bishop and priest to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory, was included on the Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the twentieth Century.

     December 10 is the birthday of the belle of Amherst, poet Emily Dickinson. Dickinson lived much of her life in reclusive isolation. She was considered eccentric for her fondness for white clothing. She was also known for her aversion to greeting guests, and late in life seldom left her bedroom. While a prolific private poet, of her more than 1,800 poems fewer than a dozen were published during her lifetime. The first complete collection of her poetry was edited by Thomas Johnson in 1955, and is available at the library as “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.”

     Shirley Jackson, born on December 14, is remembered primarily for her works of horror and mystery. Her horror novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” is considered a classic ghost story. Jackson also wrote about her family in “Life Among the Savages,” a fictionalized memoir about her life with her four children. Jackson is also well known for her short stories. She published over 200 stories. Her most famous is “The Lottery,” which describes a small town observing an annual ritual known. It has been described as one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.

     Irish novelist and short story writer, Edna O’Brien, was born on December 15. Philip Roth once described O’Brien as the most gifted woman writing in English. Beginning with her first novel, “The Country Girls,” O’Brien’s writing revolves around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men and to society. O’Brien’s latest novel, “The Little Red Chairs,” is about a woman in a small village in Ireland, and the mysterious Eastern European healer who is not what he appears.

     Jane Austen was born on December 16. Austen is best known for her novels interpreting and critiquing the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Mansfield Park,” and “Emma,” among others, explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of social standing and economic security. Her novels depict manners, marriage, education, and money with a sense of humor.  In “Pride and Prejudice,” for example, the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, learns the error of making speedy judgments and learns to appreciate the difference between the superficial and the essential in life. 

     Two popular authors share the birth date December 24, Mary Higgins Clark and Stephenie Meyer. Mary Higgins Clark is the author of 51 bestselling suspense novels. Her popular titles include “While My Pretty One Sleeps,” “Loves Music, Loves to Dance,” “Pretend You Don’t See Her,” and “I’ve Got My Eyes on You” published earlier this year. Clark’s latest offering is “Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry,” due out April 2019.

   Stephenie Meyer is the author of the popular vampire and werewolf romance series, the Twilight Saga. In the first book in the series, “Twilight,” seventeen year old Bella meets Edward, who she learns is not exactly human. Other titles in the series include “New Moon,” “Eclipse,” and “Breaking Dawn.” Each of the novels has been adapted for the screen.

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Fantastic Children’s Books from 2018

Fantastic Children’s Books from 2018

By Laura Ransom, Children’s Services Coordinator

I have the great privilege of seeing hundreds of new children’s books at our library each year. Here are a few stand-outs from 2018 that you won’t want to miss.

I Lost My Tooth by Mo Willems is the first book in the new series Unlimited Squirrels by Willems. His previous books include the bestsellers Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and the Elephant and Piggie series. This new book features a large cast of energetic squirrel friends, including Zip Squirrel, Zoom Squirrel, and Research Rodent, just to name a few. One of the squirrels lost his tooth, and before he has time to elaborate, the squirrel gang is ready to investigate this new mystery. This book is perfect for children who are just beginning to read on their own but would also be a fun read-aloud for younger folks.

My Friends Make Me Happy! by Jan Thomas is another excellent book for beginning readers. Sheep, Duck, Dog, and Donkey are the best of friends, but sometimes they forget how to listen to each other. The animals learn about taking turns in this story, which is part of a new series by Thomas called the Giggle Gang. Our children’s librarians had the pleasure of meeting Jan Thomas a few years ago when her book Is Everyone Ready for Fun? was featured as the Kansas Reads to Preschoolers selection. Her exuberance and love for children is evident in all of the books she’s written.

Although picture books often feature happy characters and energetic themes, I’m Sad by Michael Ian Black is a welcome exception to the genre. A pink flamingo tells his friends that he is feeling sad, and they offer encouraging words and wisdom to cheer him up. They don’t offer a quick fix for his sadness, however, and that is why I would highly recommend this book. 

A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes is another stellar story with colorful elephants bounding across the pages. Henkes includes simple counting skills and introduces readers to the concept of opposites: over, under, up and down. Besides being cute and colorful, the elephants also have a magical ability to trumpet stars from their trunks! It is a truly lovely read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers alike.

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora is a stunning debut by this new author. “Omu” is what Mora called her grandma in her Nigerian family. At the start of the story, Omu is cooking a fragrant pot of thick stew. The aroma is so enticing that a little boy stops by and asks for a sample! Omu gladly shares with him, but he isn’t the only one who wants to try her stew. A policewoman, a baker, the mayor, and several others are drawn to the stew, and Omu is happy to feed all of them. When she realizes that the stew has been steadily devoured by all of her visitors, she is saddened that there is none left for her to eat. But when she hears a knock at her door, all of the people she fed are back with their own food to share. What a heartwarming story about generosity and building a community!

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera could be the crown jewel of the entire year. Herrera writes about his childhood as a son of migrant farm-workers. This isn’t a heavy story, however; he describes the struggles from his younger years with optimism and hope for the future. Illustrations by Lauren Castillo add to the dreamy quality of the story. Herrera never stopped imagining what could be possible, and he flourished as an adult, becoming the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017. Imagine really shows us what children’s books are all about: inspiring the little ones from the next generation to dream big dreams.

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Adventuring with a Book

Adventuring with a Book

By Jared Richards, Adult & Teen Services Assistant Supervisor

Every adventure starts with a good book, at least mine do. When a potential adventure is presented tome, the first thing I do is look for a book. I’m generally not one for spontaneity – I’m not going to jump in headfirst without first figuring out how deep the water is. I like knowing what I’m getting myself into, and how to get out of it.

I will admit I’m fairly liberal with my use of the word “adventure.” Not to the extent that “awesome” or “amazing” get thrown around, but I don’t restrict the definition to something unusual or hazardous. I’ve had some pretty great, mundane adventures. My working definition for an adventure is any activity, preferably a fun one, that has an unknown outcome. Like going to the grocery store after they’ve rearranged the aisles, or going left instead of right on a poorly-marked trail. I would classify those as adventures that are more on the mundane side, and they don’t necessarily require a book. So let’s go bigger.

I discovered “Out on the Wire” by Jessica Abel when looking for books about podcasting. A podcast is basically an on-demand radio show that you can listen to whenever you want,wherever you are. “Out on the Wire” gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the most popular narrative storytelling shows on NPR are made. For fans of “This American Life,” “The Moth,” “Snap Judgment,” and “Serial,” Abel’s book offers insight into how these shows craft their stories, as well as the nuts and bolts of recording audio and then editing those recordings. It may be surprising, but “Out on the Wire” is actually a graphic novel, and that is the perfect medium for breaking down all of the technical information found in this book, making it fun and far less overwhelming. It is also a great book for anyone interested in starting a podcast, because you’re given tips and the lessons learned by some of the most popular podcast creators.

Starting a podcast and broadcasting it to the world is an adventure that can take place from the comfort of your own home. Let’s scale things up a bit now and look at international travel. Again, I’m not one for the hazardous types of adventure. You won’t find me jumping off bridges or climbing Mount Everest, but I would say, within reason, international travels falls within my limits.

Lonely Planet has a series of books called “Make My Day” that include destinations like Barcelona, Paris, and Tokyo, to name a few. The pages of these books are cut into three tiles,the top representing the morning, the middle is the afternoon, and the bottom is the evening. This allows each period of the day to be mixed and matched independently. Lonely Planet gives you their top three perfect days, but you have full control to create your own perfect day. Combine these with a Fodor’s travel guide, which goes into far greater detail, to get the most out of your adventure.

And for the seriously adventurous among us, why not take the reins and fly yourself to your destination? Given the time of year, you might feel compelled to take that literally, but you’ll need to pump the brakes on that sleigh ride. That jolly fellow is probably pretty busy, and I doubt he has any spare reindeer. Alternatively, why not grab the figurative reins, and learn how to fly an actual plane?

The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual” by William K. Kershner covers everything from your first flight to flying at night or cross-country. One of the most interesting bits of information is a list of the types of fields you may have to land in during an emergency, listed from good to very poor. At the top of the list is a pasture, but it is noted that you should land as far away from any cows as you can because they like to eat airplane fabric. Who knew?

This is the perfect segue into a lengthy discussion of all the culinary adventures you can embark on, thanks to our substantial cookbook collection, but with that whetting of your appetite, I’ve run out of time. So, whether you want to create the world’s next viral podcast from the comfort of your home or you want to fill up your passport, the Manhattan Public Library can help you along the way. Come on down and start your next adventure by checking out a book.

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The Deciding Battle of the American Revolution

The Deciding Battle of the American Revolution

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

I first encountered the wonderful writing of Nathaniel Philbrick when I read In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex some years ago.  That nonfiction tale recounted the disabling of the whaleship Essex in 1820 as the result of an impact with a maddened sperm whale.  Philbrick’s lively history gave us a detailed description of the suffering of the crew as they drifted for months at sea.  The book received great honors when it was selected as the winner of a National Book Award later in the year 2000.

Next, I read Mayflower which Philbrick published in 2007.  In the course of another engrossing true story, Philbrick explained the truths behind the violent beginnings of our country.   This book tells of the rigors of Plymouth Colony, as well as compelling biographical information about the Pilgrims.  Like In the Heart of the Sea, this book is riveting.

New this fall is Philbrick’s story of the final year of the Revolutionary War. In particular, the book focuses on the efforts of the French navy to aid the American cause.  In the Hurricane’s Eye is a masterful account of George Washington’s frustrated attempts to end the conflict.  Benedict Arnold, once a valuable supporter of the American cause, was now a traitor and a capable leader for the British. 
The once-enthusiastic American forces were discouraged by poor equipment and lack of payment, so many were reluctant to continue war efforts.  Food supplies were short, weather and poor roadways inhibited movement, and Congress had done little to maintain the war effort.

Why the necessity for the French navy?  At that time, the world knew about the British superiority as sea.  American ships of war lacked both numbers and strength when compared to the British vessels.  The French naval leaders were willing to aid the Americans, but they knew they would also need additional help.  Thus, the French helped the Spanish regain territory lost to the British in the Caribbean, in return for backing from the Spanish in the American cause. 

French intervention led to a crucial turning point in the war: the Battle of the Chesapeake.  Highly talented French Admiral de Grasse lured British forces away from the bay, thus preventing them from aiding Lord Cornwallis in Battle at Yorktown.  In the meantime, the American troops had made use of extensive redoubts for fortification.  Losing troops, losing control of battlements, and lacking reinforcements, Lord Cornwallis, the much-feared leader of British forces, decided to capitulate.  Thus the determining battle of the Revolutionary War was declared an American victory when American ships were not even involved in the crucial battle of the bay.

That’s the background, but Philbrick’s story does so much more.  He brings to historical events lots of little ironies and bits of both humor and tragedy that are fascinating.  For example, he includes written testimonials of events, like those of American Captain John Ewald who described the night of the Battle of Yorktown as “dark as a sack.”  The author includes accounts of the snubs that the British troops exhibited as they refused to cast eyes on the shabbily clad Americans.  He tells of Washington’s refusal to accept the demands of the defeated Cornwallis, instead insisting that British soldiers walk a gauntlet between French and American troops and cast their weapons to the ground in a large pile.  He tells of the bravery of American leaders, like Nathanael Greene, who never clearly won a battle but who managed to be a significant force in slowing British advancement. 

For those interested in the events following the war, Philbrick’s section entitled “Aftermath” is a real treasure.  Here we discover quick summations of the rest of the lives of the major players of the book. Here is a frustrated Benedict Arnold carping about money he felt the British still owed him.  Here is Nathanael Greene, dead at forty-three of sunstroke, praised as a genius by Alexander Hamilton.  And here is George Washington who died at the age of sixty-seven, probably felled by pneumonia.

There’s so much to like and enjoy about a book of this caliber.  Nathaniel Philbrick remains one of our better writers of American history. 

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The Joys of Family

The Joys of Family

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult and Teen Services Manager

As we dive into the holiday season, one consistent theme isfamily. Families always look so great in commercials, but we all know that reallife is more complex than that. I’ve selected some fiction that exploresfamilies in many different forms, along with the joys and sorrows thataccompany family dynamics.

In The Clock Dance by Anne Tyler, we read about the points on the clock of Willa Drake’s life. In 1967, her mother disappears and we see through her young eyes how she copes with this and how it changes her. In 1977, we meet her boyfriend, get a view into her thoughts as she considers a marriage proposal, and read about a disturbing incident on her first airplane ride. Finally in 2017, she drops everything to fly off and help someone with whom she only has the most tenuous of connections. This exposes Willa to a very different life than what she has experienced in the past and forces her to examine what family means to her.Pulitzer Prize-winning Tyler demonstrates her established reputation as a master of the re-examined life to this touching and ultimately optimistic novel.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen explores how World War II reverberated through families for decades after it ended. In 1973, Joanna Langley is recovering from an upheaval in her life when she receives the news that her father has died. Although their relationship was fractious, she finds herself mourning as she sorts through his belongings and discovers parts of his life that were hidden from her. She knew that he had fought in the war and that he had been shot down over Italy, but the treasures in a small box make her wonder if there is more to the story. When she finds a love letter that was returned unopened right after the war, she goes to Italy in an attempt to understand more about the man her father was. In Tuscany she finds little information and more mysteries, but also a place of healing. Bowen is known for her mystery writing, and there is a satisfying who-dun-it tucked in the novel, but it is really a story of a daughter coming to terms with the choices her father made and the consequences of them on her own life. Although there’s a contemplative and bittersweet undertone throughout the book, Joanna’s drive to find contentment and her pleasure in the sights and tastes of Tuscany make for an enjoyable read.

In A Place for Us, debut author Fatima Farheen Mirza tells the story of an Indian-American Muslim family in California. During the planning of eldest daughter Hadia’s wedding,she announces that she will be contacting her long-estranged younger brother, Amar, and asking him to fulfill his role as brother of the bride. The book goes back and forth in time, exploring the unique dynamics of being a first generation immigrant family, the mistakes that parents make with the best of intentions, and rising above all else, the powerful love that continues to dwell in a family even when it is broken. A Place for Us is an opportunity to delve into the unique perspective of immigrants, but it also illuminates the similarities that run through many families in our society. Although the novel broke my heart a little bit, it is ultimately inspirational in the hope that love and light will show through the cracks in the walls that families sometimes build.

Our online resource, Novelist Plus, has suggestions for related fiction in the list Family Ties, available from the Reading & Research page at