Month: April 2019

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These Are a Few of My Favorite (Recently-Read) Books

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Recently-Read) Books

By Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

I don’t have a favorite book. I know that sounds like heresy, but it’s true. I have favorite books in different genres and subcategories (favorite Shakespearian comedy, favorite “Star Wars” novels, favorite “Sleeping Beauty” retelling), but not one definitive Favorite Book Ever. Nonetheless, I’m constantly reading books, and they’re some pretty good ones, if I say so myself. Here are some of my recent favorites.

            I started out the year reading “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor, swiftly followed by its companion novel, “Muse of Nightmares.” Immediately, I knew these could be the best books I read all year. Taylor’s duology is YA high fantasy, a genre I adore, and these books follow, of all things, a librarian. Lazlo Strange has always been obsessed with the Forgotten City, lost to mythology and memory, so he jumps at the chance to go on an expedition to save this city from an unknown threat. The plot only begins there, but it’s hard to say more without spoiling the wonder and enchantment of it all. Taylor masterfully weaves together myth and magic to create a world that’s new, spellbinding, and both timeless and timely. I’ll be rereading these frequently.

            One of my favorite authors, Lucy Knisley, pens graphic memoirs about periods of transition in her life: becoming an adult, getting married, and, most recently, becoming a parent. “Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos” really covers a couple years of Knisley’s life, from fertility challenges and miscarriages to a successful pregnancy, difficult delivery, and the early weeks of parenthood. Knisley’s memoirs are always thoughtful and introspective, and this one is no different, as she analyzes the grief, helplessness, and joy she felt on her journey. Throughout the book, she interweaves lesser-known information about pregnancy and the history of reproductive health, making for a fascinating and informative read.

            A soft spot for teen romances and Broadway musicals led me to the refreshingly optimistic-yet-realistic “What If It’s Us” by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. Unlike a lot of teen romance I’ve read, this one does not go swimmingly from the beginning—Arthur and Ben meet-cute but then neglect to get each other’s contact information. Even after they do reconnect, they suffer not one, not two, but three unsuccessful first dates and several miscommunications, on top of the fact that Arthur’s only in New York for the summer. As Arthur and Ben grapple with whether they’re meant to be a couple, they learn that, even if something isn’t guaranteed to last, the experience can still be worth pursuing and the memories worth cherishing.

            I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the excellent children’s books I’ve read lately. Dominic Walliman’s Professor Astro Cat books spring immediately to mind, with my favorite being “Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure.” These books are as informative as DK’s photo-laden Eyewitness books (you know the ones) but combine the look of comics and infographics for an energetic, brightly-colored reading experience.

            Picture book “Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast” by Sophie Gilmore reads like a fable, about a Little Doctor who treats crocodiles but may be stumped by Big Mean, a crocodile of mythically-big proportions. Gilmore’s detailed illustrations and down-to-earth approach to her fantastical tale take me to a place of nostalgia, echoing “Where the Wild Things Are” and other books that stand out from my childhood. I’d read it again in a heartbeat.

            A vibrant and lively story, Loredana Cunti’s “Karate Kakapo” follows a kakapo who’s training for her black belt in karate. The problem? She may have to perform a flying kick, which is patently impossible, since kakapos can’t fly. This story will give you the courage to try things you thought you couldn’t do, and the charming illustrations contain plenty of karate poses for young children (or childlike adults) to try out. Of course, there are many, many more great children’s picture books out there, but I’ll save them for next time.

            It seems to be my fate in life to keep reading great books, and you can have the same if you come by the Manhattan Public Library. None of these books your speed? Don’t worry—we can recommend others you might like. Just stop by a service desk and ask for a suggestion, or go look through NoveList Plus for some more ideas of new books to read. Great books are constantly coming out, so there are dozens and dozens from which to choose.

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First Ladies

First Ladies

By Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director

Tomorrow, First Lady Melania Trump will host the 141st White House Easter Egg Roll. This long-standing tradition is just one of the many duties carried out by the First Lady, as part of a position that isn’t a formal government position and yet has very clear expectations attached. As we hear analysis of whether or not Mrs. Trump fulfills this role well, it is helpful to look to the words of First Ladies of the past.

In “Becoming,” Michelle Obama shares her experiences growing up and in the White House. Mrs. Obama grew up on the South side of Chicago. Although her parents were not wealthy, her family provided a rich environment that supported her very active mind. She had a mother that advocated for her to receive a quality education, a grandfather that nurtured a love of music, and an aunt that taught her piano. Her father had multiple sclerosis, and his response to his diagnosis taught her about strength and resilience. She overcame financial obstacles and academic doubters to go on to receive degrees from both Princeton and Harvard. Her achievements alone are enough to make this an interesting read, but I was really drawn into the book when she discussed her struggles as a working mother and her efforts to find the balance between her obligation to her country, her children, and her sense of self.

As a librarian, I’ve always had a positive perception of Laura Bush, but her book “Spoken from the Heart” gave me a deeper understanding of her as a person. The initiatives she advocated for during her husband’s presidency were mostly focused on education and literacy, although she was led to become more outspoken for women’s rights after September 11 and the United States’ increasing involvement in Afghanistan. She has been considered a traditional wife and mother, and in many ways she is, but she is also the woman that stood in front of the World Economic Forum in Jordan and said, “Now we know that a nation can only achieve its best future and its brightest potential when all of its citizens, men and women, participate in government and in decision making,” causing the delegation from Saudi Arabia to walk out.

One thing that struck me was in how many ways they were similar. They were both raised in loving families of modest means, and both had mothers who read to them, which probably helped both of them to be successful academically. Both of them married loving husbands that were politically savvy, but not so great at housekeeping. Laura tells the amusing story of the state of their home when they got married, while Michelle was chastened on the campaign trail for being a bit too honest about her husband leaving his dirty socks around.

Both women tell of the camaraderie that develops among First Families, no matter their personal differences. Mrs. Bush shares a story of Hillary Clinton showing her favorite view from a private dressing room out to the White House rose garden, and Mrs. Obama tells in her book of how much she appreciated Mrs. Bush sharing the same view. I also enjoyed the story of the Bushes’ twin daughters giving a welcome tour to Sasha and Malia Obama.

Both of their autobiographies give lots of interesting tidbits about White House life, but more than that, I appreciated their personal reflections on the challenges they faced, the complications of holding onto a sense of self in the public eye, and their own feelings about the world events that occurred while their husbands were in office.

To find out how to access these books in both print and audio – read by the authors – go to

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Digital Resources and eBooks for our Youngest Patrons

Digital Resources and eBooks for our Youngest Patrons

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Manager

It is a fine line parents and educators walk between limiting screen time and allowing the persistent technology of our culture to infiltrate down to our youngest minds. If your little ones can’t seem to stay away from screens, the library has some literacy-focused options that have been vetted by educators and include listening to stories, reading or learning words, and discovering appealing nonfiction content. Multiple language options are available on some of these as well.

BookFlix is available from the library’s webpage at under “Online Resources.” It includes videos of popular children’s books made by Weston Woods from Danny and the Dinosaur to Mo Willems’s hilarious pigeon stories. Weston Wood book videos were around when I was young, and we watched them in the classroom as a treat.

The newest videos have high production quality and excellent voice actors, such as Steve Buscemi in I’m Dirty. This story of a backhoe with a dirty clean-up job to do is paired with the children’s nonfiction book, Backhoes, from the Mighty Machines series. Text is highlighted throughout the stories so kids can read along or begin to make connections between the text and the words they hear. Along with the books, children can play literacy games and find other good links. This resource is provided by the State Library of Kansas and will identify Kansas I.P. addresses as users, so there’s no need for a log in or password.

TumbleBooks is another library resource that focuses on children’s books. This database is easy to navigate with 10 category tabs at the top. Storybooks, the first category, is where you will find eBook versions of favorite picture books. You can choose to view all titles which are shown as book covers, making it easier for young children to choose what they like. Parents can create playlists of favorite books for a personalized story time. Some books are also in Spanish and French, and a section called TumbleTunes has illustrated songs like “B-I-N-G-O” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

TumbleBooks sticks with kids as they grow and learn, and many school districts use it as well. The Read-Alongs category has chapter books as eBooks or audiobooks, and the leveled reading measurements for Lexile and Accelerated Reader programs are included. The video category has 190 National Geographic educational videos that are only 2-6 minutes each. Library users should be prepared to type in their Manhattan library card number and password to get into TumbleBooks.

Unite for Literacy is a fabulous site for children (or adults) whose native language is not English. It is listed in the Kansas State Library resources for children’s eBooks, but you can go there directly at All of their content is original, so they do not have to worry about subscriptions or copyright.

One remarkable feature is the number of languages that viewers can choose. While the text of the books remains in English (except for some that are also available in Spanish), the read-aloud narration is available in more than 40 languages (depending on the title), including many that are harder to find like Vietnamese, Danish or Tagalog. The site is simple to use, but it does not have an option for reading the entire story aloud. Parents may need to help children learn to click the arrow to turn pages, and click “English” or another language to hear the narration. For more language options, check out the International Children’s Digital Library, another free eBook site where you can search titles by country or global regions.   For more eBook resources, try the library’s digital eLibrary options for Libby (the app for the OverDrive Sunflower eLibrary) and Hoopla, which has a “kids” interface. Flipster online magazines has a few children’s titles as well. You can click on the Kansas State Library link and try out their digital book eLending resources, especially their eBooks for kids section where you will find Britannica E-Stax, CloudLibrary, Enki, Freading and RB Digital Audiobooks, which all have children’s titles.

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No Land, No Problem: Gardening in Small Spaces

No Land, No Problem: Gardening in Small Spaces

By John Pecoraro, Associate Director


    April is the month when nature at last sheds its winter coat (we hope), and ushers in the greens and colors of the spring garden. April is also National Garden Month, and so the best time to dust off the gardening tools and get your hands dirty. However, not everyone has the acreage, or even the yard, to plant that garden. That’s not a problem.  Gardening can be as small an investment as you want. In fact, you can plant a garden in some very small spaces. The library can show you how with a variety of books on the subject.

     If you have a window and a box, why not create a window box. Chantal Gordon shows you how in “How to Window Box: Small-Space Plants to Grow Indoors or Out.” Gordon is one of the founders of the popular gardening blog The Horticult Her book is a guide to 16 indoor and outdoor projects featuring succulents to vegetables, and a variety of both sun and shade loving plants.

     A few square feet is all you need to grow healthy vegetables in “Grow All You Can Eat in 3 Square Feet.” This book is loaded with information on window boxes, potted plants, patio gardening, raised beds, and of course small square-foot gardening. Bursting with colorful photographs, this book will teach you what to grow, how to use the available space efficiently, and how to maximize your yield. 

     “Grow Your Own in Pots,” by Kay Maguire offers techniques to growing more than 60 vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in containers. Her 30 step-by-step projects explain the best pairings, such as growing tomatoes with basil, as well as identifying the best vegetables that thrive in small spaces. For each project, Maguire explains the size and type of container, and lists materials and tasks involved in insuring healthy plants.

     You can garden anywhere. That’s Alys Fowlers’ contention in her book, “Garden Anywhere.” Fowler explains how you can grow gardens in containers, as well as herb gardens, and kitchen gardens, all without busting your bank account. She shows how to create an oasis in the smallest of spaces and outlines everything the aspiring gardener needs to know to sow a thriving garden.   

     “Crops in Pots,” by Bob Purnell includes plant lists, step-by-step instructions, and at-a-glance symbols of growing requirements that make each of the 40 projects included in the book a cinch.  Purnell explains how to group your containers around culinary themes such as leafy greens or savory herbs. His projects include small spaces on patios, window boxes, and decks. He even shows the possibility of growing apples, oranges, and cranberries in small containers.

     Herbs are the perfect plants for pots and small gardens. In “The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs,” author Susan Belsinger highlights an alphabet of herbs from anise to watercress. Along the way you’ll learn how to grow, harvest, and preserve herbs. You’ll even learn how to use herbs in making herbal vinegars and butters, among other delicacies.

          “The Cook’s Herb Garden,” by Jeff Cox is a practical guide to successful growing and cooking with herbs. In it you’ll find notes on herb flavors, as well as the best growing conditions, storage, and how to use them in the kitchen. This book includes more than 50 recipes for rubs and marinades, sauces and salsas, and herbal butters, among other dishes. It also includes charts on best herb-food pairings.

     “The Encyclopedia of Herbs,” by Arthur Tucker, is a comprehensive reference to herbs. Its 500 entries provide information on growing, identifying, harvesting, and preserving herbs. Each entry gives the history of the plant and its uses in landscapes, cooking, and crafts. 

    Don’t forget to check out the collection of free downloadable eBooks from Hoopla. Titles available all the time include “Pot It, Grow It, Eat It,” by Kathryn Hawkins. This book begins with looking at the tools and materials you’ll need, and about choosing the right container. What follows is a directory of the vegetables, herbs, and fruits suitable for container gardens, and recipes for the produce you’ve grown. Among the dozens of other gardening titles on Hoopla are “Small-Space Vegetable Gardens,” by Andrea Bellamy, and Jessica Walliser’s “Container Gardening Complete.” Both provide a wealth of information on making the most of your limited gardening space.