Month: October 2019

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Diversity in Picture Books

Diversity in Picture Books

by Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

In 2014, a new movement began in children’s literature to increase the number of diverse characters found in books. “We Need Diverse Books” is a nonprofit organization that grew from the frustration many people felt when they noticed 90 percent or more of children’s books focused on white characters (not including books featuring animals as main characters).

The intelligent, talented and impassioned people who started or joined the movement have helped to make a real impact on the publishing industry, with programs that support writers and artists of color with awards, grants, internships and mentorships. They bring attention to the high quality books being published, and recognize publishers and booksellers who are championing the cause. In 2018, the percentage of books depicting people from diverse backgrounds increased somewhat to 23 percent, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

We Need Diverse Books has a mission to “create a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book,” and “to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” Now these books are put into our hands to share with children, read aloud and bring into the classroom and the home. Here are just a few recently added picture books from the Children’s section at the library that include every day diversity.

First Laugh-Welcome, Baby! by Rose Anne Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood tells the precious story of a Diné (Navajo) family watching their new baby’s tiny developments and waiting for that first amazing laugh. The Navajo have a tradition of celebrating a baby’s first laugh, the end notes explain, and the person who is able to get the baby to laugh has “the honor of hosting the First Laugh Ceremony” (“Latse Awee’ ch’ideeldloh”). Jonathan Nelson’s illustrations convey the wonder and excitement of interacting with a new baby.

In Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, Zuri appreciates that her curly dark hair can look differently depending on her mood. But one morning, none of the hairstyles her dad tries are right. One rubber band pops off a puff of hair and hits dad in the eye. When mom returns home from a trip, she loves Zuri’s “funky puff buns” that go perfectly with her superhero cape. Dad wears his hair in long dreds, and mom wears a head scarf covering her hair, and everyone is full of hair love.

Here and Now by Julia Denos is a beautifully illustrated picture book about being in the moment you are in, which is reading this book. Children and parents of all colors serenely painted by E. B. Goodale show people in the midst of various activities in different locations, just living their lives. It is a quiet but powerful message that “Right here, right now, YOU are becoming.”

Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds have teamed up for another winner, I Am Love, which Verde calls her “love letter to the world.” As in I Am Human, I Am Peace and I Am Yoga, a child sets out to help others he or she sees in distress, describing how each action is a part of love. With simple text and drawings, this team shows how love is comfort, and also effort; love is tiny gestures, and connection. Love is for and in all people, if we follow our hearts.

What If Everybody Thought That? by Ellen Javernick is a conversation starter with children. In each scenario presented with a double-page spread, one child is working up the courage to try something. Children are shown struggling with a sport, having a skin condition, eating ethnic food, or misspelling words. The other kids around them are silent, but their thought bubbles are clear. They assume the child can’t do it, that the child is embarrassed or just doesn’t belong. “What if everybody thought that?” is the book’s refrain. The page that shows the child’s success answers, “They might be wrong.” This book goes deeper than addressing outright name calling or unkindness. Instead, it makes us think about our assumptions and how our silence can hurt others, too. We might be wrong, so we should give everyone a chance and “be more thoughtful.”

Many good lists of diverse children’s books for the whole range of ages are out there, including some from the We Need Diverse Books website ( If you find the library collection lacks books with characters that reflect your child’s life, let us know about it.

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Movies That Keep You on the Edge of your Seat

Movies That Keep You on the Edge of your Seat

by John Pecoraro, Associate Director

     Suspense is defined as that state of uncertainty that makes us anxious. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but one we often enjoy in books and movies. It’s related to surprise, but not exactly. Alfred Hitchcock explained the difference in this way. Surprise is when a couple is sitting in a café and a bomb goes off. Suspense is when we, the audience, witness someone placing the bomb under the table, we watch the couple sit at the table, and maybe we even see the timer ticking down, before the bomb explodes. We’re not surprised there was an explosion, but we were in suspense anticipating it.

The website lists the best of suspense on film. All of these movies are available at the library.

Several films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, including “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” and “North By Northwest,” are included on the list. Mother-dominated Norman Bates manages the Bates Motel in “Psycho.” Marion Crane, with the $40,000 dollars she has stolen from her employer, decides to stop for the night at the Bates Motel. She’s the first guest in weeks, Bates tells her, along with strange stories about his mother. Exhausted from hours of driving Marion decides to take a relaxing shower. You know what comes next, and wait until you meet Mother Bates.

Rear Window,” features photographer L.B. Jeffries whose broken leg has him confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. He entertains himself using binoculars to watch the neighbors. One set of neighbors in particular are Lars Thorwald, and his nagging wife. When one afternoon Mrs. Thorwald’s nagging suddenly stops, Jeffries makes up a scenario where Thorwald has murdered his wife and disposed of her body. The trouble is that Jeffries theory might be correct.

North by Northwest,” is a tale of mistaken identity. Innocent advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, is kidnapped and chased across the United States by agents of a mysterious organization. They are convinced he is a spy and they are trying to prevent him from blocking their plan to smuggle government secrets on microfilm. Anything else I tell you would be a spoiler.

Movies based on novels by Stephen King, including “Misery,” directed by Rob Reiner, and “The Shining,” directed by Stanley Kubrick also made the list. In “Misery,” novelist Paul Sheldon survives a severe car wreck, only to end up in the nursing clutches of a reclusive fan of his work, Annie Wilkes. She becomes distraught when she discovers that Sheldon has killed off his popular character, Misery Chastain. She holds him captive until he can write a new Misery novel.

Jaws,” directed by Steven Spielberg, and based on the novel by Peter Benchley, frightened millions of movie goers from ever going to the beach again. It’s the height of tourist season, and a shark is terrorizing the sun loving beach goers of Amity Island. Mayor Vaughn sends Police Chief Brody, visiting ichthyologist Hooper, and local fisherman Quint to take on the Great White in Quint’s boat “The Orca.” Chances are they’re going to need a bigger boat.

The Departed,” directed by Martin Scorsese is the tale of questionable loyalties and identities set in the South Boston organized crime scene. Billy Costigan is a young cop assigned to infiltrate the inner circle of crime boss Frank Costello. Collin Sullivan is a street-smart criminal who has penetrated the police department in order to report their every move to that same crime boss. Each man is in a race against time to reveal his counterpart before his identity is exposed by the other.

Alien,” directed by Ridley Scott follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo and their encounters with the Alien, a deadly extraterrestrial set loose on the ship. The crew lands on a rocky moon to investigate a distress signal, discovering that it comes from a derelict alien ship. Warrant Officer Ripley translates part of the transmission, determining it to be not a distress signal, but a warning. Meanwhile, Executive Officer Kane discovers a chamber containing hundreds of large egg-like objects.

Don’t forget to bring the kids to the library parking lot at 6:30 pm on Sunday, October 27 for Trunk or Treat at the Library, sponsored by the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

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Standouts in Adult Fiction for This Fall’s Readers

Standouts in Adult Fiction for This Fall’s Readers

by Marcia Allen, Collections Manager

Image result for rage of dragons evan winterThe autumn publishing season is always exciting for adult readers.  Cooler weather coincides with one of the biggest annual releases of new books, and the library is receiving new titles almost daily.

As always, there are long-awaited books from favorite authors, as well as surprises from new writers.  You might consider one or more of the following if their plots appeal to you:

THE DUTCH HOUSE by Ann Patchett marks the return of a perennial favorite author.  Patchett, the author of BEL CANTO, which won both the Orange Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2012, has written another outstanding novel.  This lovely book follows the travails of Danny and Maeve Conroy, whose lives are disrupted when their wealthy, divorced father remarries a younger woman with two daughters.  When the father dies unexpectedly, the stepmother eases them out the door of the family mansion, and informs them that she has inherited the father’s wealth.  While Maeve is a grown woman, Danny is still a child, and so Maeve becomes the parent he no longer has.  Thus, the book follows the closeness that Maeve and Danny share, and we see the siblings struggle to build new lives.

What’s remarkable about this book is the complexity of relationships.  Danny, for example, does not remember his real mother who deserted the family when he was a baby, so when the mother comes back into the lives of her children, he feels a great deal of indifference toward her and resentment toward Maeve for her renewed attachment to her mother. The language of the book rings true: we feel the rejections and the recoveries that are part of the human condition.

THE CHESTNUT MAN by Soren Sveistrup is ideal for fans of Stieg Larsson (GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) or Jo Nesbo (THE BAT).  This new Nordic crime mystery takes place in Copenhagen, where the tortured and mutilated body of a young mother has been found.  Near her body, detectives Thulin and Hess locate a little doll made of chestnuts.  When a second mutilated victim is found, yet another chestnut doll is found, so signs seem to point to a serial killer at large.  Further investigations pinpoint a connection to the long missing teenage daughter of the minister for social affairs.

Those who like grim murder tales with graphic violence will find the book appealing.  Set against a dismal background of approaching winter, this mystery has a complicated link to past savagery.  Author Sveistrup is a creator of successful TV series, and this book will be adapted for a Netflix series.

RAGE OF DRAGONS by Evan Winter is an action-driven epic fantasy.  Though the book really came out in the summer, it’s ideal for late night reading in cooler months.  In an ancient Africa cursed with ever-present war, a young man named Tau is determined to avoid war by injuring himself purposely.  But when he witnesses the murder of his father at the hands of an upper caste bully, he changes his plans and vows to become a great warrior so he can seek revenge.  Thus, his life becomes a pain-ridden struggle to become the best of combatants.

What makes this a standout?  It’s an initiation story of a young man who will not let himself be discouraged from his goal.  It’s also a story of the mysteries behind the power of dragons that can change the course of a battle.  And it’s a discovery of brutal techniques used in hand-to-hand combat.  I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy and am happy to tell you it’s the first part of a projected trilogy.

Yet another book worthy of mention is CILKA’S JOURNEY by Heather Morris, author of THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ.  This new historical novel is based on a true story of a struggle to survive.  It involves a sixteen-year-old girl who is sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in 1942.  She does what she has to do to survive the horrors of the camp, and is charged with sleeping with the guards when the war is over.  Sent to a Siberian camp after the war, she adjusts to the harsh life of the prison camp as best she can.  This incredible tale of one woman’s fortitude is a must from an award-winning author.

For the books mentioned above and so much more, take a little time to scan the new book shelves in the library.  You’ll be happy to find that title that’s just right for you.

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Mental Health In YA

Mental Health in YA

by Grace Benedick, Teen Services Librarian

If you have any affiliation with Kansas State University, the following title may be familiar to you by now: “Darius the Great is Not Okay,” by Adib Khorram is the Kansas State Book Network choice for the 2019-2020 academic year. Written by a Kansas City author, the book follows Darius, an Iranian-American teen, as he navigates clinical depression, visits Iran for the first time, and has the life-changing experience of making a friend who truly sees him. The book explores multiple themes, but mental health is a major focus. Mental health is a subject that is rife with stigma and misunderstandings that can make it difficult for young people to find the support and help that they need. In light of that, we are working to expand our collection of young adult nonfiction that addresses mental health in some way. Today, I am sharing a few titles from our collection.

In the past year, two anthologies on mental health written by young adult authors were released. The first, “Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles,” edited by Jessica Burkhart, includes essays by some very popular authors, including Ellen Hopkins and Lauren Oliver. The recommended resources at the back are limited, including only three websites and a hotline. The collection has a simple goal: the authors just want to let teens know that they are not alone.

The second anthology,  “(Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health,” edited by Kelly Jensen, includes pieces by authors and celebrities, such as Libba Bray, Adam Silvera, Meredith Russo, and Kristen Bell. This volume has a variety of work, with essays, poems, and comics. The goal is slightly higher here, as the authors wish to reach a wider audience than just the reader, by giving readers the tools to bring the subject of mental health up with others. Consequently, the resource list at the back of this book does not skimp, giving options for different ways to foster conversation about mental health. It has the requisite non-fiction, hotlines, and websites, putting teens in touch with help and reference material, as well as listing young adult fiction and films that could serve as an opening to talk about mental health in a group.

While the anthologies cover a broad range of mental health experiences, there are also books that are more specific. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 13.3% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017.  “Depression: a Teen’s Guide to Survive and Thrive,” by Jacqueline B. Toner, PhD and Claire A.B. Freeland, PhD is an example of a book designed to help teens address a specific mental health challenge. This slim book is a product of the American Psychological Association. The first part of the book is accessible explanations to give teens the context they need to understand depression. It includes guidance on finding appropriate help, describes what therapy is like, and what teens can expect if they choose to visit a therapist. The authors write from the perspective of cognitive therapy, and the bulk of the book focuses strongly on giving teens a variety of coping mechanisms to help alleviate symptoms of depression.

All the titles reviewed in this column can be found in our young adult collection, which is housed on the second floor of Manhattan Public Library. If you wish to browse non-fiction for mental health books, start at the Dewey call number 616.85 and 616.89. If you’re interested in finding more young adult fiction addressing mental health, see the resources list in “(Don’t) Call Me Crazy,” edited by Kelly Jenson, or chapter six of “Better with Books,” by Melissa Hart, a title released this fall which lists fiction for pre-teens and teens by topics such as adoption and foster care, body image, immigration, learning challenges, race and ethnicity, and more. And of course, you can always ask a librarian!


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