Month: January 2021

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Young Adult Fiction Retellings

Young Adult Fiction Retellings

By Dustin Vann, Library Assistant 2

While pursuing my master’s degree in English from K-State, I became interested in the concept of retellings as a narrative device. Why are there some stories we seem insistent to revisit? What is it about these stories that demands a fresh perspective? I wrestled with these questions over the course of my graduate studies. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer, but I did come up with a food analogy that helped me understand the appeal of retellings: retellings are like comfort food with a twist. They’re traditional favorites we’ve come to depend on, but a new element (or many) has been added to the recipe. Whatever these new elements might be, they allow us to see—or, if you’re still following the analogy, to taste—what’s familiar in fresh and exciting ways.

Retellings have become increasingly popular in the young adult space, with two recent titles updating two classics of English literature: William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” and Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice.”

In “These Violent Delights,” author Chloe Gong relocates the drama of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy from Verona to the streets of 1920s Shanghai. The sprawling city is run by two rival gangs, the White Flowers and the Scarlet Gang, whose territory battles often end in bloodshed. At opposite ends of this blood feud stand Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai, who must work together to unite their respective gangs against a disturbing “madness” infecting Shanghai citizens. While you might guess how Roma and Juliette’s relationship will unfold based off your knowledge of “Romeo & Juliet Gong subverts our expectations right off the bat, establishing Juliette and Roma not as star-crossed lovers, but as former star-crossed lovers. This deviation from the original story adds a real sense of tension between these characters that will get readers invested in their relationship. Fans of Shakespeare’s play will delight (pardon the pun) in the Easter eggs Gong nestles into her retelling and admire how, despite setting the novel nearly a century removed from our present, the story feels modernized in its discussions of colonialism and inclusivity.

From twentieth-century Shanghai to modern-day Brooklyn, Ibi Zoboi’s “Pride” offers readers a “remix” of Austen’s 1813 classic, Pride & Prejudice. The novel centers on seventeen-year-old Zuri Benitez, who has big dreams of attending Howard University and developing her poetry. Apart from her literary passions, Zuri has immense love for her big family and their Brooklyn neighborhood, which is becoming increasingly gentrified. The novel’s central conflict kicks in with the arrival of the Darcys, an upper-class Black family who move into the renovated mansion across from Zuri’s apartment building. Zuri immediately clashes with Darius Darcy, the youngest of her new neighbors, and what follows is the classic enemies-to-lovers relationship previously immortalized by Austen’s protagonists, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Zoboi updates Austen’s observations on class with timely commentary on gentrification and organically infuses specific elements of Zuri’s Haitian-Dominican heritage into the story. Additionally, the novel never forgets its teen audience, injecting the narrative with scenes of romance and college woes that will ring true for young readers.

Though both of these novels are classified as retellings, it should be noted that one does not have to be familiar with “Romeo & Juliet or Pride & Prejudice before enjoying these newer titles. Their authors seem keenly aware of this, taking the bones of their inspired texts to rebuild tried and true stories into something wholly new. In fact, it might be fun for teens to start with these titles first before tackling the originals. You can find print copies of both titles at the Manhattan Public Library, and digital copies are available through Sunflower eLibrary.

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Nine Months of Reading: Books about Pregnancy

Nine Months of Reading: Books about Pregnancy

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

Amongst the many historic and monumental changes that hit the world in 2020, my life was rocked by another great and terrible change: I became a parent. Parenthood has been wonderful and awe-inspiring, but it’s also terrifying, especially when you’re staring it down while undergoing a long, uncontrollable biological experiment—that is, pregnancy. To say I dislike change is to phrase things mildly, so it’s no surprise that I struggled with pregnancy and all the changes it unleashes. In times of uncertainty, I cleave to books, and so I researched and read all hours of the evenings and weekends. Here are the books that brought me knowledge and reassurance.

I’ve written before about Lucy Knisley, my favorite graphic memoirist, and her memoir “Kid Gloves.” “Kid Gloves” follows Knisley from trying to get pregnant to shortly after giving birth and marked my first foray into books about pregnancy. Knisley expertly punctuates her story with research about the (often awful) history of reproductive health. One caveat about this book: it may not be the best starting point for those newly pregnant. During childbirth, Knisley had eclampsia and almost died, compounding my existing fears about giving birth.

Another excellent memoir by a new millennial parent is Meaghan O’Connell’s “And Now We Have Everything.” O’Connell covers her life from pre-pregnancy musings with friends in New York City (all secretly wanting kids but afraid to take the next step) through childbirth, moving across the country, and a year of postpartum depression. O’Connell reads like a friend giving it to you straight, including the gory details of childbirth, breastfeeding, and the overwhelming exhaustion and chaos of life with a newborn. With O’Connell’s book under my belt, I felt a little more prepared for the emotional and physical havoc that pregnancy and new parenthood might wreak.

Aside from memoirs, I also wanted to know everything there was to know about pregnancy. I turned to the “Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy” as a detailed, well-researched tome to guide me. This book has it all, from week-by-week developmental breakdowns to lists of different potential complications and when to call your doctor. I loved this book, but it is possible to have too much information, especially if you’re prone to anxiety; for a pregnancy book with fewer lists of things that could go wrong, try DK’s “Pregnancy Day by Day” instead.

In “Expecting Better,” Emily Oster goes beyond the standard doctors’ recommendations and evaluates the actual scientific studies used to create those recommendations. An economist specializing in health economics, Oster analyzes study design and statistical analysis, explaining which recommendations absolutely need to be followed and which might allow for some flexibility. This is where I learned that catching most food poisoning is fine while pregnant (hello, raw cookie dough), but you should avoid listeria at all costs (bye-bye, deli meat).

Science writer Angela Garbes’s “Like a Mother” (available on Sunflower eLibrary) combines research with memoir, compiling the results of research inspired by her own pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Garbes covers some content I’d already learned at that point (for example, the actual risks of consuming some caffeine or alcohol while pregnant), but she plumbs greater depths when it comes to the bizarre biology of what pregnancy entails. Garbes’s book also contains my favorite pregnancy-related fact: the placenta is an organ grown by the baby, not the mother, so it actually contains the baby’s DNA. Mind. Blown.

Finally, I looked for books to help with my mental health. Kate Rope’s “Strong as a Mother” perfectly fit the bill, offering advice and anecdotes from real-life parents covering all aspects of pregnancy and new parenthood. Sections are short and to-the-point, ideal when finding time to research around a busy pre-baby life or while your newborn naps. Rope strongly advocates for self-care and asking for help when you need it, which struck a chord with me and encouraged me to accept whatever help was offered. Rope also discusses scary thoughts, providing reassurance that your mind may not be all sunshine and rainbows even if your baby is the most perfect baby ever. Karen Kleiman’s “Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts” expounds further on negative thoughts, working to undo the secrecy and shame that surround them.

These books all provided great support and perspective during my pregnancy. As a new parent, I’m finding even more questions to research, but books and the library are still by my side, offering me guidance. Rest assured, I’ll return to write about my favorite books for new parents.

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Snowy Kids’ Books and a Winter Reading Challenge

Snowy Kids’ Books and a Winter Reading Challenge

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

The library is trying something new with the new year – a winter reading challenge. We invite everyone of all ages to register for the Winter Reading Challenge and see if you can read at least 4 hours in January. You can also complete winter reading activities like reading aloud to someone, or telling a friend about a good book. This is just for fun, with a prize of a free book when you complete the challenge.

Reading aloud to your kids counts as reading time for both you and them. If you are looking for some good winter themed stories to read by the fireplace, here are some new and old titles to try.

“Snow Song” by A. K. Riley and Dawn Lo is a beautifully illustrated poem that delights in snow.  Bundled up children are shown walking through the snow, gathering to sled and ice skate and make snow angels. If snow days seem magical to your children, this is the right book. “Snow Song” is also available as an ebook on Hoopla using your library card number.

“Cozy” is Jan Brett’s newest picture book, and it does not disappoint. “Cozy” is a magnificent musk ox who allows smaller animals, one at a time, to take shelter under the warmth of his long, thick fur. He sets “house rules” so the animals will get along – lemmings, a snowshoe hare, arctic fox and more. With a backdrop of snow and northern lights, “Cozy” is the perfect hero of this story reminiscent of “The Mitten”. Brett’s traditional side panels on illustrations give kids a chance to guess which animal will be next to join. Brett studied live musk oxen at a farm in Palmer, Alaska to make “Cozy” come to life. You can even watch Jan Brett read Cozy right now on YouTube, and read her older, beloved tale “The Mitten” as an eBook through Sunflower eLibrary or the Libby app.

“A Polar Bear in the Snow” by Mac Barnett is a quiet story about a polar bear who wakes up. Where is he going? The illustrations by Shawn Harris are captivating in their expansive white spreads of snow and blue sea. This short tale will easily lead to other winter bear books, such as “Bear Snores On” by Karma Wilson and “Bear Has a Story to Tell” by Phillip C. Stead, which can be viewed as read-aloud stories on BookFlix through the library’s website.

“Blizzard” by John Rocco is a favorite read-aloud choice, even for older kids. It recounts the author/illustrator’s own experience during a blizzard. At first the snow is exciting, but then it gets so deep, and snowplows cannot handle the load. The young boy is able to leave his house through a window, and uses makeshift snowshoes so he can walk on top of the snow and not sink. Pulling a sled, he begins a journey to the store, stopping by neighbors’ houses on the way to see what they need most. It’s an uplifting wintry tale that will make every kid wish they could be that hero in the snow.

Don’t forget about wonderful classics like Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day” or Jane Yolen’s “Owl Moon”. Both of these stories show the quiet mysteriousness of snow, and the invitation the white-covered world gives to be explored, by yourself or with others. Both of these titles are made into short videos using the book illustrations on our free digital service, Kanopy.

More children’s books about winter and snow will be in our display section of the Children’s Room, which is open for browsing by appointment. Librarians can also pull books on topics or genres of your choice with our Quick Picks for Kids service by calling 785-776-4741 ext. 400. We hope kids and adults will enjoy participating in the Winter Reading Challenge this month.


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