Month: January 2022

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Books by Black Authors for Kids

Books by Black Authors for Kids

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

In February, the library’s ReadMHK reading challenge focuses on Black authors, encouraging everyone to enjoy the diversity of literature produced by African-American authors and illustrators. Last week, the American Library Association announced their children’s literature awards, several of which went to “Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre.” Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, this picture book account of the 1921 massacre in Oklahoma received the Coretta Scott King Author Award and the Illustrator Award, a Caldecott Honor, and a Sibert Honor for best children’s nonfiction.

The first half of “Unspeakable” shows the birth of the Greenwood district where 10,000 Blacks from various backgrounds created a thriving community, which Booker T. Washington called the “Negro Wall Street of America.” Cooper features specific businesses, houses, old cars and fancy hats, theaters, barber shops, and hotels. Weatherford’s straightforward writing paired with Cooper’s expressive painting skillfully carry the horrific story to an end that is hopeful and inspiring. Children must know our sad history in order to ensure a better present and future, “to reject hatred and violence and to instead choose hope.” Both Weatherford and Cooper have many other wonderful books that explore and Black history.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky” by Kwame Mbalia is the first of a fabulous fantasy series based in African-American mythology and part of the “Rick Riordan Presents” collection. Tristan’s best friend Eddie has died in a tragic bus accident where Tristan tried to help him but couldn’t save him. Now Tristan must work through his feelings of sorrow, guilt, and anger, and the only thing that comforts him is knowing he has Eddie’s precious journal.

Things get weird quickly when Tristan notices an odd glow coming from the journal, and then a small, very impertinent creature hops through his window and tries to steal it. Tristan has a lot to learn when he accidentally enters the world of Alke, where real-life Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit, John Henry, Gum Baby and the elusive Anansi have powers and agendas. “Tristan Strong Destroys the World” and “Tristan Strong Keeps Punching” continue the adventurous tales, and Mbalia’s anthology “Black Boy Joy” is currently on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Basketball lovers who enjoyed Kwame Alexander’s Crossover series will love reading the graphic novel adaptation of the first book with illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile. “The Crossover” feels like it was made to be interspersed with Anyabwile’s emotive and action-packed illustrations of black, white, and orange. The text itself seems to be making basketball plays as it moves wildly across the pages. Even if you have read the novel already, the startling plot will surprise and grip you as Filthy and his brother JB work through family quarrels, secrets, and tragedy, with a tender conclusion any sibling will appreciate. Jason Reynolds’s new middle grade book, “Stuntboy, In the Meantime,” is a similar format with the words of the humorous story intermingled with fun illustrations by the super-cool Raúl the Third.

The new “Twins” graphic novel by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright is a perfect fit for Raina Telgemeier fans. Francine and Maureen are identical twins, and everyone has trouble telling them apart, until now. “Fran” wants to look different when they enter middle school as sixth graders and begins to separate herself from Maureen in classes, friendship circles and interests. When they both decide to run for class president, tensions grow to epic proportions. Wright’s colorful panels depict the ups and downs of middle school and family life, and Johnson captures both the insecurities and excitement of finding out who you really are.

Finally, there are hundreds of excellent biographies of Black men and women who have made their mark on America’s history throughout the ages. New short biographies in the “She Persisted” series include Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges and Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner. Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders series for kids has two volumes on the best sellers list – “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” and “Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History.” Harrison’s board book adaptations of these books are accessible for preschoolers, and other picture books she has illustrated are some of my favorites: “Hair Love,” “Cece Loves Science,” and “Sulwe,” which is written by actress Lupita Nyong’o about learning to love the darkness of her skin.

February is Black History Month, but exploring the amazing books by contemporary Black authors in fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, young adult, and children’s literature is valuable all the time. Check out our booklists available from You can also sign up for ReadMHK, a 9-month community wide reading program, and come to a book discussion at 7 p.m. on February 17 for a relaxed small group discussion of what books we have read and enjoyed by Black authors. A zoom option will be available for the book discussion.


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Books For Worldbuilding Inspiration

Books For Worldbuilding Inspiration

by Evren Celik, Library Assistant

Have you ever lent someone your favorite book and been told it was too boring to finish? Do you spend more time in a video game’s character creation screen than you do actually playing it, or have notebooks full of worldbuilding ideas for a novel with no plot?

Welcome to the club! I’d recommend looking into running tabletop roleplaying games, if you haven’t already. If you have, or if you’re just interested in some ideas for building out your next world, here’re some books with interesting characters, mysteries, or narrative styles to inspire you:

One of the first things I think about when building a world is magic. If it exists, where does it come from? How does it work? While I love books full of everyday magic, or secret wizard societies existing unseen among the ordinary world, “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig is one of my favorite examples of a fantastical story that never feels like it leaves reality.  The novel follows depressed, regret-filled Nora Haig, who explores real-life problems through an exaggerated version of what people do all the time – disappearing into a book. The story could be described as magical realism, though it’s on the list because of how the worldbuilding relies on magic to further the plot without ever focusing on it or feeling completely removed from real life. The balance of escapism and themes like mental health is why I’d especially suggest it to anyone who has to continuously resign themselves to not being kidnapped by dragons.

Next there’s Edith Pattou’s middle grade books, “East” and its sequel “West.” The titles allude to the significance of cardinal directions in the books, and the Scandinavian folk tale the series is an adaptation of, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”  Pattou’s worldbuilding involves taking a seemingly small, specific detail like cardinal directions and using it to create a mystery in a book that isn’t technically a mystery. This can be seen on the first page, where the narrator, titled “Father,” explains, “Ebba Rose was the name of our last-born child. Except that was a lie. Her name should have been Nyamh Rose. But everyone called her Rose rather than Ebba, so the lie didn’t matter. At least, that is what I told myself.”

If you don’t immediately want to know why Rose’s name matters so much, the book’s mystery also involves similar themes to Clare Vanderpool’s “Moon Over Manifest.” Both explore hidden family secrets and local legends, narrated through multiple perspectives using a nonlinear timeline. This can be a fun example of how to reveal a world through characters rather than omniscient narration – the family often recalls the same events across chapters, but each recollection provides a different focus, level of understanding, or version of events than the previous ones.

Another middle grade novel inspired by folktales is “13 Treasures,” the first book in a series by the same name, written by Michelle Harrison. The book follows 13-year-old Tanya, who can see fairies. This sounds like a gift…except that nobody else can see them, and these fairies are more fae folk than Tinkerbelle. In alignment with the legends inspiring the series, Tanya’s faeries do not appreciate little girls trying to tell everyone about them.

Harrison’s work shares themes with “East” like a years-old mystery involving a faraway world, though the mystery is more central in “13 Treasures.” I’ve included it because, along with having intricate worldbuilding based on mythology, the series has unique examples of common story elements, like: what counts as a “disguise;” rules for keeping magic secret; conditions for deterring magic; the definition of self-sacrifice; and, most specifically, the technicalities of how one measures time. The last one especially is an interesting way to think about whether magical beings would be beholden to human rules, which is fun to use when building puzzles.

These are by no means all of the books with inspiring worldbuilding elements. I didn’t even have room to talk about “The Silmarillion” (though neither did Tolkien). Luckily, you can find these books and similar titles through our catalog’s NoveList feature – just go to the bottom of a title to see tags such as “world-building” and “multiple perspectives,” then click on them to see recommendations.

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Finding helpers and mentors in young adult literature

Finding helpers and mentors in young adult literature

by Jan Johnson, Teen Librarian

We’ve all heard the often-quoted inspirational words of the beloved Mister Rogers “’When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. ‘” When I’m feeling disheartened by the negativity that seems to be everywhere, it really does help to “look for the helpers”, in this case, read about them.

When we started the ReadMHK program, while we were deciding what to do for January, I remember typing “what month is January” into google and National Mentoring Month popped up. Yes! Perfect! What has always amazed me about Manhattan is that we have an incredible amount of people who are always willing and eager to offer help to those who might benefit from their support. Helping comes in so many different forms. Whether it’s a group of friends who rally around each other to drop off animal crackers or soup to one of them who is not having the greatest day, to a kind stranger buying someone’s groceries at Dillons, to an individual giving their time to help foster kids and their families. Helping others doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, as you’ll see in the books below, simply offer a kind word, inspiration, or just a listening ear. Young adult books are plentiful when it comes to looking for the helpers.

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby is a story about Mari, an Instagram star, who posts about her perfect life and boyfriend, and is an inspiration to her thousands of followers. We find Mari on her 18th birthday starting the day with a picture-perfect healthy smoothie, inspirational yoga session and surprise perfect present from her boyfriend. We end the day with her breaking down on her feed admitting that her life is not perfect and that feels like a fake. Mari shares a birthday with her cousin Bri. But Bri isn’t turning 18 this year. Bri died in a hiking accident while she was training for her dream trip of hiking the 221-mile John Muir Trail, which was supposed to start a few days after her 18th birthday. Mari gets a huge package from her aunt containing Bri’s backpack, hiking boots, and notebook with the information that she had put Mari on the hiking permit with her. Mari misses the closeness the two cousins had shared and sees this as a sign that she should go pick up the permit and hike to the first leg of the journey that Bri had planned. Along the trail Mari meets a girl who Bri helped overcome her self-doubt by offering the simple words “every day is a chance to be better than you were the day before”. Mari takes these words to continue hiking, meeting others along the way who help her. A simple “you got this” from a passing stranger fuels her desire to push on. As she navigates the challenging trail, she discovers that help comes when you least expect it from the people you meet along the trail and is the catalyst for how to find she finds her way back to herself.

Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community by Born This Way Foundation and Lady Gaga is a collection of inspirational stories from young people who turn everyday acts of kindness into encouragement for us all to do more where we can.  Listening to the audiobook of this was an added treat of hearing some of the stories read by the changemakers who wrote the stories themselves. Within this book you will find stories that tell of everyday acts of kindness that show the priority of helping others reminding us what’s important offering a kind word to a stranger experiencing an anxiety episode, starting a mentorship program at schools to connect kids of differing abilities to encourage friendships, a transgender youth describing their transition online and in doing so helping others going through similar situations, and simple acts of everyday kindness.

You will find many more stories of inspiration, mentorship, helpers and kindness in our booklists on our site as well as displays in our young adult and children’s sections. If you would like to participate in our ReadMHK nine month long reading program, you can register on our website or come into the library.

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Helping Others

Helping Others

by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning and Information Services

cover of "What are you going through" by Sigrid Nunez. A grey cat sits on the arm of a navy couch on a blue background. The title words are blue, then orange, sky blue, yellow.Through the difficulties of the recent years, the shining stars of our society have been the helpers. Our healthcare workers and first responders have gone above and beyond to keep us safe in a world that sometimes feels chaotic. The January theme for the Manhattan Public Library reading program ReadMHK is “Helping and Mentoring Others.” In my experience, an important role we can all play is to help each other through rough times by just being present and providing community. I’ve found a few books that help us to explore what that can look like.

In the sweet and humorous book “Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman, a group of people at an open house for an apartment are accidentally taken hostage by a failed bank robber. Ro and Julia are about to have a baby and need a bigger place. Roger and Anna-Lena are spending their retirement avoiding conflict by flipping one apartment after another. Estelle is looking for a place for her granddaughter to live. Zara has been obsessed with apartment shopping for years. They end up trapped in the apartment together, with a relentlessly positive real estate agent, an unsuccessful bank robber, and an unexpected character locked in the bathroom. The story goes back and forth between the events taking place in the apartment and the investigation carried out by a frustrated father and son police team. What could be a terrifying situation ends up unexpectedly touching all of their lives in positive ways because they are forced to help each other as they have never done before. We know the main plot from the very beginning, but Backman is an expert at peeling back the layers of underlying stories until we learn the heart of the matter for each character.

What Are You Going Through” by National Book Award winning author Sigrid Nunez is the narration of a series of encounters that the main character experiences while moving through the world. She shares about her interaction with the host of her guest lodgings, her ex-husband, the grouchy neighbor she visits, and especially her friend from her youth. She listens to their struggles and triumphs, quietly allowing them to process their thoughts while we get to read her inward observations. The book is introspective and thoughtful, with observations on the meaning of life and death, but also has moments of humor. Nunez’s avoidance of named characters adds to a feel that this is a story of the human condition, that these encounters could have happened to anyone, anywhere. Throughout the book, her presence and listening ear provide support to those around her, even though she isn’t always sure whether she’s made the right choices.

In “The Music of Bees” by Eileen Garvin, rural Oregon beekeeper Alice Holtzman suffers from panic attacks after the sudden death of her husband. During an attack, she barely avoids running over Jake Stevenson, a young adult who was confined to a wheelchair after a stunt gone wrong during his senior year. During their encounter, Alice discovers Jake’s difficult home situation and invites him to live in her bunkhouse. Soon after, Alice offers some carpentry work and a home to Harry Stokes. Through their care for the bees and one another, the unlikely group creates a family and finds a way to start healing the wounds they each carry.

ReadMHK is a 9-month community-wide reading program during which we can make community connections through similar reading experiences.  To find more ways to participate in ReadMHK, including our podcast in which we interview Manhattan community members, themed book lists, and upcoming book discussions, go to our website at