Month: February 2020

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River”

Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River”

by Marcia Allen, Collections Services Manager

I just finished a wonderful new book that straddles a couple different genres.  Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River” is one captivating piece of fiction that manages to be both a riveting mystery and an intimate portrayal of damaged family dynamics.  Let me explain what makes this an outstanding read.

Mickey is a deeply troubled police officer.  Why the difficulties?   Her younger sister, Kacey, is a drug addict with a long criminal record.  Alternating chapters in the book are flashbacks to a childhood of neglect the two shared.  The mother of the girls died of a drug overdose, the father abandoned them to the girls’ grandmother when he could no longer tolerate the older woman’s hostility, and the grandmother is bitter and cold toward the girls, a woman who doesn’t want the children.  A school trip to a ballet when the girls were small is particularly poignant in its depiction of neglect. As a result, both girls flee home early: Mickey to a career in law enforcement, and Kacey to a world of crime and drugs that worsens over time.  Mickey lives each day in fear that Kacey will overdose as she has done a few times in the past.

And that’s where Mickey’s concern only deepens.  The section of Philadelphia where the siblings grew up is riddled with opioid-related crimes and deaths.  While Mickey is hardened to drug-related deaths, she’s now become aware that a predator is killing young women who use drugs and who are involved in prostitution, exactly like Kacey.  Several recent deaths have similar patterns of brutality.

What does this mean to Mickey?  She anticipates that soon she will find that Kacey has suffered the same fate as the other victims.  Since she hasn’t seen Kacey for some time and since another prostitute has said that Kacey is missing, she begins an investigation on her own, trying to locate her sister before another murder takes place.  Working solo as she does, she begins taking desperate measures in searching for her sister.

While the murders and the absence of Mickey’s sister are focal points for this tale, the character-building of this complicated story is equally compelling.  Mickey suspects her old partner might know more about the predatory killings, but when she attempts to shadow him, she learns about his compassion for those who live on the streets of Philadelphia.  When Mickey confronts her grandmother about hurt feelings of the past, she realizes the older woman had her own heartbreaks. When Mickey temporarily leaves her young son with her landlord, Mrs. Mahon, she learns about the woman’s amazing past.  And we learn, as does Mickey, that Kacey is much more than just another drug addict on the streets.

What else is so appealing in this story?  The revelations that Mickey confides in the book’s flashbacks.  We know, for example, the difficulties that Mickey has finding safe care for her son, yet we don’t know that full story until late in the book.  We know that the father of the girls abandoned them to the grandmother, yet we don’t know about a cache of letters and cards long concealed until the latter part of the story.  We realize that Mickey deeply loves her struggling sister, yet we don’t know the depth of Kacey’s suffering until we reach the conclusion.

This fine tale is gritty and ridden with betrayals and hard feelings, but it is also uplifting.  We discover with Mickey that there are those for whom love is always present.  Don’t miss this affecting tale of complex family relationships.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Best of the Best in Children’s Books

Best of the Best in Children’s Books

by Jennifer Bergen, Programs & Children’s Services Manager

Looking for new children’s books with a range of styles, topics and diverse characters?  Try the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) list of Youth Media Awards for 2019.

In 1922, the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished American children’s book became “the first children’s book award in the world,” according to ALSC’s webpage. On the newer end, the Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996 for outstanding books that portray the Latino cultural experience, and the American Indian Youth Literature Award was started in 2006. Getting a shiny sticker on the cover of your book means selling more copies, making it onto more booklists, and most importantly, reaching more readers and inspiring more young minds.

Here are a few titles from the amazing books on the awards list at ala.org/alsc.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is a short but powerful work of art. The text is a poem which was first performed by Alexander in a video on ESPN’s website, theundefeated.com, a site that highlights “the intersections of race, sports and culture.” The poem’s video is inspiring on its own, but the poem paired with Kadir Nelson’s striking illustrations will leave readers in a dazzle of emotions — proud, angry, sad, amazed, hopeful. The Undefeated is a poem to be read aloud, and then studied again alone, feeling the power behind the bold, persistent, and talented black leaders, athletes, soldiers, slaves, musicians and children. It’s no wonder The Undefeated walked away with not one, but three impressive awards last week – the Caldecott Medal for best picture book, the Coretta Scott King Award for best art by an African-American illustrator, and a Newbery Honor for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

This year’s Newbery Medal winner is a graphic novel by Jerry Craft called New Kid, the tale of 12-year-old Jordan Banks’ entrance into a mostly white, elite middle school in a current day setting. Jordan finds out quickly that the new school brings many challenges, from racism and bullying to making new friends and trying new activities. His old friends don’t know what to think of him anymore. He doesn’t know what to think of girls anymore. Luckily, Jordan has his Dad and Mom to fall back on, as he humorously records his trials and failures by drawing in his notebook. Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, calls his book “funny, sharp and totally real!”

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopéz, won the Belpré award for best illustration. Beautiful, bright scenes of Venezuela contrast with the dreary grays and browns of war, there and in the United States, when Teresa Carreño’s family is forced to flee her country in 1862. Teresa’s amazing talent at the piano is soon recognized, though, and at the age of 10 she had already performed with famous orchestras and large audiences when President Lincoln invited her to play for his family. The picture book focuses on her visit to the White House and the power of music to lift broken hearts.

Winning the picture book award for American Indian Youth Literature, Bowwow Powwow: Bagosenjige-niimi’idim celebrates an Ojibwe powwow through the eyes of a young child, Windy Girl, and her dog Itchy Boy. Brenda J. Child’s story, translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, brings together the historical and present day powwow traditions. As the dancing goes late into the night, Windy falls asleep and dreams of amazing dog dancers and all of their dance styles, fancy clothing and drum beats. The American Indian Library Association (AILA) also gives an award to best middle grade and young adult books, and lists several honor books, creating a great booklist for anyone wanting to read more stories with Indigenous characters.

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