Month: March 2021

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Owl Books

Owl Books

by Evren Celik, Library Assistant 2

Cover of "The Burning" by Kathryn LaskyI don’t remember if I picked up the the Guardians of Ga’Hoole because I was already fond of owls, or if the series itself began the interest. Regardless of the origin, Kathryn Lasky’s series was part of several years where at least sixty percent of my brain was occupied by owl facts at any given moment. Over time, this led to a collection of owl encyclopedias, trips to the zoo, requests to go to a bird sanctuary for my birthday, and several notebooks full of detailed facts about my favorite species, the long-eared owl.

A keen interest in which types of owls swallow their food whole, however, is not a requirement to enjoying Lasky’s series. Spanning 16 books, the Guardians of Ga’Hoole follows a ragtag group of owls whose adventures involve a school of magic, a mystery as old as the world itself, and a quest to solve the mystery and stop a rising evil. The series jumps between several overlapping plots, which are slowly revealed through various perspectives and parallel timelines. The premise resembles a mix of Warrior Cats and The Earthsea Cycle, but the storytelling and plotline are similar to series like The Lord of the Rings or The Dark Is Rising.

The first six books follow Soren, a fledgling barn owl, who begins the aptly-named first novel “The Capture” by falling out of his nest and being captured. Soren and some owls he meets in captivity go on to form “the band,” whose adventures make up the main narrative until book six, “The Burning.” The next two novels, “The Hatchling” and “The Outcast,” are told through the eyes of a new protagonist named Coryn. Far from a side story, this narrative jump addresses unresolved aspects of the first six books, before continuing forward to parallel the main plotline.

Books nine through eleven were announced as a spinoff series called Legends of Ga’Hoole but ultimately incorporated into the main storyline. First, we pivot back to Soren and the band, who have been searching for the world’s history. “The First Collier,” “The Coming of the Hoole,” and “To Be a King” explore the establishment and early conflicts of the world of Hoole. These early stories reveal what Soren and the gang must do to save the world, and “The Golden Tree” brings us back to the present as they set out on a final quest.

The rest of the books tie Soren and Coryn’s stories together, bringing the tale full circle and ending the series. Although Lasky’s individual novels are relatively short, the universe they reside in is not. “The War of Ember” is the final and 15th book in the series, but in 2013 Lasky wrote a prequel, “The Rise of a Legend.” It explores the journey and motives of a major character we meet early on. After that, there’re some spinoff novels and three separate series placed in the same universe, which totals 31 books.

I did say owl facts aren’t a requirement for enjoying the series, and they’re not. You could easily enjoy the magic and adventure without researching every new species that’s introduced. However, if the series sparks an interest in the slightly-less-magical owls of our world, here’re some suggestions:

Owls: the Silent Fliers” by R. D. Lawrence covers the historical understanding of owls through to the present. With plenty of wildlife photography and a chapter for each of North America’s nineteen owl species, Lawrence has an owl to suit anyone. Detailed descriptions of how and where each species hunts, where they live, and what they look like are contextualized in explanations of the owls’ family structures and life cycles.

Owls” by Gail Gibbons can be found in the Animal Neighborhood of the Children’s Room. Topics include each owl’s birth and lifetime development, their lives and habitats, and threats to the species like deforestation. Carefully-labeled illustrations help readers name body parts, recognize distinct features, and recognize each species in the wild. Plenty of definitions and diagrams make “Owls” an accessible and engaging read for any owl fan.

If you’d like more owl facts (or maybe even book recommendations regarding a different theme) you can always request a Personalized Reading List or check out Quick Picks for Kids.

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What Grows In the Mountains

What Grows In the Mountains

by Rachel Cunningham, Circulation Supervisor

Cover of Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor BrownAs the weather begins to tease at warmer afternoons and evening thunderstorms, the allure of spring draws me outdoors. It was always during this weather that our family would pack into our car for a several hour drive to the Rocky Mountains. A hint of the ranges would rise over the flat Eastern Colorado horizon until the smooth, hazy blue mounds transformed into jagged boulders above the tree line, still garnished with miles of snow along the peaks. Years later, I averted my eyes from a similar rocky drop while hiking to the top of Grays Peak. Sitting at the top of the mountain, I noted the uncountable peaks within my sightline and the slabs jutting out of the innumerable stones below, measuring the hikers on the trail below between my thumb and forefinger. We were in the shadow of nature’s enormity, a minor character in its million-year narrative. It’s this love of the beauty and danger of nature paired with a family history of rural places that has attracted me to Southern Noir. The Appalachian Mountains allow for more life and growth within their peaks than the Rockies to the west, creating the perfect setting.

Ron Rash is known for his novel “Serena”, which was adapted into a film with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. However, Rash also penned “Above the Waterfall”, a mystery narrated by the perspectives of an almost-retired sheriff, Les, and Locust Creek Park Ranger, Becky. In the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, Becky seeks nature and poetry as a form of therapy for her past traumas. Meanwhile, Les is entering his last week as sheriff before retirement. When trout from the nearby river are poisoned above the waterfall, suspicion is focused on local landowner, Gerald. However, Les is doubtful of Gerald’s involvement despite video evidence and his own desire to close the case quickly. As he digs deeper, Les uncovers an unsettling plot. “Above the Waterfall” contains rich descriptions of nature and wildlife. Rash’s scenes involving language, violence, drugs, or other challenging topics are mild. This novel is a good option for those interested in dipping their toes into the waters of Southern Noir. Although I wouldn’t tag this title as “cozy”, it is the coziest book I’ve read in this genre.

Taylor Brown takes readers to Howl Mountain in the 1950s for his novel “Gods of Howl Mountain”. The North Carolina mountain is humming with Eustace’s bootleg whiskey operation, giving himself the title of “King of the Mountain”. Back at home after the Korean War, Rory Docherty begins making runs for Eustace and becomes entangled with corrupt local law enforcement, the town’s snake handling church, FBI agents, and the preacher’s daughter, all while trying to unravel his mother’s mystery. Brown uses Rory’s grandmother, Maybelline “Granny Mae” Docherty, to reveal the immoral history of the mountain. Despite how powerless most women are in their society, Granny Mae wields her power as a local folk healer shrewdly. Granny Mae is a complex and well-developed character, and arguably, she is the hero of this novel. “Gods of Howl Mountain” has a touch of everything – history, mystery, romance, and action, making this an exciting read. This title includes language, violence, and sexual content, so it may not be suitable for all readers.

In North Georgia lies Bull Mountain, where the Burroughs family has built an empire through generations of men – first with moonshine, then marijuana, and now methamphetamine. With a timeline spanning from 1949 to 2015, readers follow the generations who rule the mountain. Clayton Burroughs is the first to deny this legacy, choosing to run for sheriff instead. When ATF Special Agent Simon Holly appears in Clayton’s office one Sunday morning with a plan to catch his target, Clayton must convince his brother Halford to give up the family business for an early retirement. Halford isn’t interested. Told between alternating perspectives and a nonlinear timeline, “Bull Mountain” knots together the lives of those on the mountain and the unfortunate few who get too close to it. This title also includes sensitive content, so it may not be suitable for all readers.

Unlike other historical fiction or thrillers, Southern Noir has a strong sense of place with rich descriptions of nature, firmly grounding the reader in the setting. Because of the small communities in these areas, it also typically includes intricate relationships between the gritty people who have lived there for generations. For more information about Rural Noir, Hick Lit, or Southern Noir, visit Novelist!

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Kids Can Vote for Their Favorite Book

Kids Can Vote for Their Favorite Book

By Jennifer Bergen, Program & Children’s Manager

The cover of "Small Spaces" by Katherine ArdenVoting for my favorite William Allen White book was always a treat in elementary school.  My school librarian, Mrs. Nickel, got us excited about the books on the list and voting in the election. Announcing the winner was a library celebration. The winning book, with the cover already worn and pages curled from so many checkouts, was ceremoniously given the gold William Allen White Award sticker for all to see in the years to come.

Kansas was the first state to create a “children’s choice book award where the intended audience – children – voted on their favorite book, unlike other awards that are chosen by committees of adults. It was named for Pulitzer prize-winner William Allen White who was editor of the Emporia Gazette in the 1890’s and into the 20th Century. For 69 years, children across the state have sought out books on the William Allen White master list and then filled in their voting ballot for the best one. 

Voting will come to a close in mid-April, but there’s still time to fit in some reading. Here are a few titles I’ve enjoyed from the 2020-21 William Allen White master list:

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead is magical realism at its best. Livy rediscovers her strange childhood friend, whom she named Bob, when she visits her grandmother for the first time in five years. Bob has been waiting for her in the closet, just as she told him to do before leaving many years ago. It has been a long, sad wait. He is still wearing his chicken suit and has passed the time by playing chess with a Lego pirate monkey. The older, more realistic Livy has trouble reckoning with this odd creature that doesn’t seem to be from this planet, but Bob reminds her that she once promised to find a way for him to get back home.

Do you know any kids who like scary books? “Small Spaces by Katherine Arden is about as creepy as children’s literature gets. This is the perfect page turner for fans of Holly Black’s “Doll Bones or Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline. Arden gets extra credit for making a parallel world full of not just ghosts, but also evil, smiling scarecrows. Ollie inadvertently retrieves a strange book that seems harmless enough until she begins noticing connections between the book’s mysterious tale and her own life. The advice to stick to small spaces doesn’t have meaning until later when an innocent school trip goes terribly wrong.

Merci Suárez Changes Gearsby Meg Medina is more lighthearted, but covers a lot of territory. Merci has trouble fitting in at her private school where other kids brag about their amazing vacations and ride shiny bikes to 6th grade. Merci’s home life is different than theirs but comes with some perks, like living right next to Abuela and Lolo, her doting grandparents. When trouble brews at school, Merci has to find a way to be herself without letting Edna Santos walk all over her. It helps to tell Lolo all her thoughts and frustrations, but her grandfather begins forgetting important things and messing up. Merci just isn’t sure how to make everything right again.

The William Allen White list includes a range of reading levels and nonfiction as well. “Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendshipby Irene Lathan and Charles Waters is a great one to share with a group and spark some conversations. The poems alternate between young Charles and Irene – one who is black, and one who is white – as they work on a school assignment. They share the poems they write about their very different lives and begin to see each other through new eyes. The power of the story is in the honest and straightforward way they write of their experiences, including their own mistakes, giving courage to others to do the same.

For a full list of books competing for the William Allen White Award, visit https://wawchildrensbookaward.com. Any Kansas student in 3rd-8th grade can vote for their favorite one. If your school is not collecting ballots this year, send an email with your name, age, city/town name, and favorite book from the list to by April 10, and the library will submit your vote!

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The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

Reviewed by Marcia Allen

Collection Services Manager, Manhattan Public Library

The Last Garden in England is a lovely piece of historical fiction that moves smoothly among three different time periods. The opening section, which takes place in February of 2021, concerns Emma Lovell, who has been hired to restore a neglected estate garden to its former glory. Emma, who runs her own gardening business, yearns to see designs of the original garden so she can plan similar layouts for the owners. When the owners do locate some of the original plans, they also uncover a mysterious past involving the locked Celeste’s garden, also referred to as the winter garden. It will be up to Emma and her clients to learn more about this secluded section of the garden and its neglected plantings. There might also be a beginning of romance for restorer Emma, who feels she doesn’t really have time for love and who might take a position with the Royal Botanical Heritage Society.

The second section of the book tells of Venetia Smith who designs the original garden in 1907. Hers is a radical plan, with separate garden spaces for separate purposes. She creates, for example, a lively and colorful area designed especially for the children who live here. She creates another area that is exceptionally suited for afternoon tea. She also adds Celeste’s garden, dedicated to a mysterious person. Venetia, a highly qualified designer, seeks also to have women admitted to the Royal Botanical Heritage Society, and she dearly wants to maintain her own independence. When she meets the brother of the estate’s owner, their mutual attraction becomes a threat to the British class system of the early 1900s.

The final section describes the artistry of Beth Pedley who loves both the estate and its formal gardens in 1944. When she becomes a “land girl” who volunteers as a farmhand during World War II, she has already agreed to be spoken for by Colin, a childhood friend who intends to marry her when he returns from war. A chance encounter with a wounded serviceman, however, could change her plans. In the meantime, she creates some outstanding sketches of the various gardens around the estate.

This final section is complicated further by the estate’s landowner. A recent widow, Diana Symonds, is very uncomfortable with the estate being converted to a hospital for wounded servicemen, and she is saddened when her sweeping lawn must be given over to grow food supplies. Her young son, Robin, is lively little guy who is thrilled to gain a new playmate when the cook’s nephew comes to live at the estate. Diana has a talent for relating to young children, a talent that will help her get through a time of profound heartbreak.

Confused by the time shifts? The beauty of those returning periods is in the revelations that each contains. We witness Emma’s dread of her mother’s criticism when she “refuses to get a real job.” We sympathize with Venetia’s realization that the owners of the estate in 1907 consider her inferior. We come to understand Beth’s reluctance to disappoint her first suitor who is off fighting in the war. Each of these three main characters is made more complex, more human, by those passages that bring us back to specific time periods.

Equally fascinating is the creation, the decay, and the restoration of the gardens. Author Kelly clearly knows a great deal about specific plants and designs, and invites us to visualize the work that goes into distinct layouts. Against this backdrop, we see the interactions, the conflicts, and the tragedies that the characters experience. Thus, we have historical fiction, romance, and mystery all brought together in a well-written story. This captivating book will appeal to many different audiences.

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