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Children’s Picture Books Celebrating Spring Holidays

Children’s Picture Books Celebrating Spring Holidays

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

Spring has many major holidays, ranging from religious to secular to cultural. I was overjoyed to see so many new holiday books coming out this year and loved adding them to our collection. Though most of these holidays have passed, I think it’s still worth checking out these books now or making plans to read these books next spring.

Seven Special Somethings” starts us off with Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrated on March 20, 2021. Written by Adib Khorram and illustrated by Zainab Faidhi, this book follows Kian as he tries to improve the family’s celebration by adding an eighth item (Sonny the cat) to their haft-seen, a collection of seven items that start with “S.”

The Jewish holiday Passover, celebrated beginning March 27, 2021, comes next. “The Passover Guest,” written by Susan Kusel and illustrated by Sean Rubin, adapts the classic Passover story “Der Kunzen-Macher.” In 1933, Muriel’s family is too poor to afford a proper Passover Seder; nonetheless, she gives her last penny to a juggler, who rewards her kindness by creating a feast for her family.

The library didn’t get any new books about Holi this year, but here is one of my favorites about the Hindu festival, which celebrates spring. “Festival of Colors,” written by Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, follows a pair of siblings as they prepare flowers that will make the colorful powders used during Holi. This year, festivities occurred on March 29.

Next is Easter, celebrated by Christians on April 4, 2021, oftentimes with Easter egg hunts facilitated by the Easter Bunny. In “Peter Easter Frog,” written by Erin Dealey and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Peter Easter Frog loves Easter so much that he decides to take it on himself to share Easter eggs with all the animals.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on April 12, 2021, and continues for roughly 30 days. During Ramadan, Muslims fast throughout the day—but only if they’re old enough, as seen in “Hannah and the Ramadan Gift,” written by Qasim Rashid and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel. Hannah desperately wants to celebrate Ramadan properly, but when she isn’t allowed to fast, her grandfather suggests that she honor the month by “saving the world” through acts of kindness.

As always, Earth Day fell on April 22. “Hello, Earth!,” written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora, is the perfect book for appreciating the planet Earth. Poems and illustrations were composed together and directly address the planet, exploring everything from plate tectonics and ecosystems to the adverse impact of humans on the planet.

Ramadan will probably conclude on May 13, 2021 with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr—the exact date is unknown until the crescent moon appears. Eid al-Fitr includes community celebrations at mosques, so kids have to take off school for the day. Unfortunately for Amira in “Amira’s Picture Day,” written by Reem Faruqi and illustrated by Fahmida Azim, Eid al-Fitr also falls on picture day at school. Amira alternates between feelings of joy and angst, until her family alights on a simple solution.

A Day for Rememberin’,” written by Leah Henderson and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, depicts the events of one of the first Memorial Day celebrations, on May 1, 1865. Following the end of the Civil War, a newly freed boy watches his father work at preparing what is finally revealed to be Decoration Day, a celebration to commemorate the fallen Black and white Union soldiers buried nearby. This year, Memorial Day will fall on May 31.

June takes a place of pride as Pride Month (pun intended), a month-long celebration for the LGBTQ+ community, often punctuated with Pride parades. In “Pride Puppy!,” written by Robin Stevenson and illustrated by Julie McLaughlin, a child and their family lose their dog at a Pride parade. The resulting search makes for a delightful alphabet book that highlights the LGBTQ+ community and everything it encompasses.

Wrap up the spring by celebrating Juneteenth and the end of slavery on June 19. “Juneteenth for Mazie,” written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, is one of the few picture books on Juneteenth, following Mazie as her father tells her the about the end of slavery, experienced by her “Great, Great, Great Grandpa Mose” on June 19, 1865.

The library has plenty more books about holidays throughout the year, including holiday compendiums. Stop by the Children’s Room and take a look, and we’ll help you find things to celebrate all year long.

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Be Who You Want to Be

Be Who You Want to Be

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

We recently posted a storytime video on the library’s YouTube channel about stereotypes called “Be Who You Want to Be.” It reminded me of some great picture books I’ve happened across that challenged the classic feminine story tropes, like “Cinder Edna” by Ellen Jackson and Kevin O’Malley. I was intrigued by the brown loafer on the cover instead of a glass slipper. Cinder Edna is smart, practical and comfortable, and she doesn’t need a ridiculous Prince Charming. However, looking back at an older favorite from my childhood, “Miss Suzy” by Miriam Young, I was a little bit appalled. Miss Suzy is a lovely gray squirrel with a cool house in the “tip, tip top of a tall oak tree.” She is trapped in a lot of female stereotypes, though, with her focus on cooking, cleaning, and taking care of men (toy soldiers) who later must rescue her.

Children’s books often remind me that stereotypes influence our thinking in so many ways, whether we find ourselves falling into them or pushing back, and kids are navigating this confusing world as well. Luckily, there are a number of picture books that take the challenge head on and show that we can each choose who we want to be. Check out the fun and enlightening storytime featuring “What Riley Wore” by Elana K. Arnold and “Ogilvy” by Deborah Underwood. The storyteller, who is one of our children’s librarians, also suggests these titles:

In “Sugar and Snails” by Sarah Tsiang, a grandfather mentions the old rhyme which states that boys are made of “ships and snails and puppy dog tails” and girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice,” then continues the rhyme with his own words. His grandchildren both protest—the boy says that he, too, is sweet, and the girl insists that she doesn’t wear dresses. The grandfather continues making up new rhymes to fit the children’s lists of things they do and do not like, and eventually gives up trying to categorize them.

I Love My Colorful Nails,” by Alicia Acosta and Luis Amavisca, is an import from Spain. Ben is a little boy who loves painting his nails bright colors, but when his classmates tell him that painted nails are only for girls, Ben starts removing his nail polish every Sunday evening before the school week starts. Ben’s father decides to paint his nails, too, and displays them every day when he picks Ben up from school, but things don’t seem to improve until Ben’s classmates surprise him by all painting their nails for his birthday, boys and girls alike.

In “Lena Likes Lizards,” by Liza Dora, Lena and her father go to the park where Lena is excited to play trucks with the other kids. However, the truck-playing boys say she can’t join them because she’s a girl, and the doll-playing girls say she can only join in if she switches toys. Lena is upset until her daddy explains that things don’t have to be divided by gender. Lena thinks about all the different things she enjoys, some of which are stereotypically gendered, like football and ballet, and comes to the conclusion that “maybe we should just let people do the things that they like.”

Big Bob, Little Bob,” by James Howe, features two young boys. They are the same age and both named Bob, but that’s where their similarities end. Big Bob prefers trucks, dirt, loudness, and running around outside. Little Bob likes quietly playing school or tea party and dressing up. When a new girl moves into the neighborhood, she is disdainful of Little Bob, stating that boys don’t play with dolls. Big Bob sticks up for him, saying that boys can do whatever they want, and when Little Bob invites her to play with them, she admits that she, too, prefers trucks to dolls. They end up all playing together, each child focusing on their own interests.

A few other good choices are “Be Who You Are” by Todd Parr, “Ambitious Girl” by Meena Harris, “Pink is for Boys” by Robb Pearlman, “Dress Like a Girl” by Patricia Toht, and “Pirates and Princesses” by Jill Kargman. We also have several books in our Parent & Teacher Resource Center that discuss gender expectations as well as questions of identity. For more book suggestions tailored specifically to your child’s needs, give us a call at the library. We’re always happy to help.

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Romance Novels

Romance Novels

by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning & Information Services

The romance genre sometimes gets a bad reputation, but I have always enjoyed reading about how other people work through their struggles and find happiness. In the last few years, I started hearing more about fantastic diverse romance novels. Within the comfort of my favorite books, I get a glimpse into lives that are different than my own. Here are some of the best I’ve read.

I have to start off with one of my favorites, “A Phó Love Story” a young adult novel by debut author Loan Le. Bao and Linh are both the children of Vietnamese immigrants, they both work in their parents’ Vietnamese restaurants, and they both go to the same high school, but in spite of everything they have in common, they have only talked once. When they were small children, they had a delightful hour playing together before their parents came along and made it clear that a family rivalry existed that would make it very difficult for them to become friends. Linh lives to create art, but her parents want her to go into a more practical career, like engineering. Bao drifts through life without much direction, managing to do “fine,” but still not near the excellence that his older brother has achieved. When Bao sees Linh behind her family’s restaurant experiencing a very bad day, they form a secret friendship that changes their lives and families forever. Touching on the trauma of the flight from Vietnam and the racism faced by immigrants, Le still creates a hopeful and humorous story of young love.

In “The Dating Plan” by Sara Desai, Daisy Patel is tired of the suitors that her family continually forces her to meet. She thinks her life is full enough with her software engineering job. Then she literally runs into the guy that broke her heart ten years ago when he never showed up for their prom date. Liam Murphy has come a long ways in the world since the night he lost his best friend and missed finally taking out the girl he had been crushing on for years. Now a successful venture capitalist, known for his womanizing ways, he is completely thrown off-track by seeing Daisy again. When Liam finds out that he has to get married to get his inheritance, he hopes to take advantage of Daisy’s desire to get her family off her back by convincing her to join him in a fake marriage. “The Dating Plan” is a funny and heartwarming story of how love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

We step into the past with “An Unconditional Freedom” by Alyssa Cole. Daniel Cumberland is a member of the loyal league, an organization of Black spies that are conspiring to overthrow the Confederacy in the Civil War. Although he was born free, Daniel was once kidnapped and sold into slavery, and still carries the trauma with him. When he is partnered with Janeta Sanchez, the daughter of a Cuban plantation owner and an enslaved woman, his anger and inability to trust threaten their ability to work together. Janeta is a double-agent, but she learns from her work in the league that her privileged upbringing has skewed her perception of the War. Well-developed characters and a gripping plot allow Cole to share insight into opposing views of the Civil War while telling a beautiful story of broken hearts mending.

In “Boyfriend Material” by Alexis J. Hall, Luc O’Donnell has all of the disadvantages of fame with none of the advantages. He doesn’t know his father, a reality star who has been in and out of rehab for decades, but that doesn’t stop the paparazzi from following Luc and splashing his most unfortunate moments across the internet. After a photo is publicized of him sprawled in the gutter while wearing bunny ears (due to an ill-timed stumble while exiting a costume party), Luc’s boss draws the line and insists he find a respectable boyfriend to improve his reputation and his ability to get positive PR for their non-profit. Friend-of-a-friend Oliver comes through, even though he’s boring as can be and shares absolutely no common interests with Luc. A fabulous balance of laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenchingly romantic, “Boyfriend Material” shouldn’t be missed.

Find more books to warm your heart at We’re open for checking out print materials, but we still have a wide selection of ebooks and downloadable audiobooks for your convenience.

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Young Adult Books on Anti-Racism and Systemic Racism in America

Young Adult Books on Anti-Racism and Systemic Racism in America

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

In the past year, Black Lives Matter and anti-racism have gained growing mainstream attention and support in the United States. White Americans are finally beginning to reckon with the devastating frequency with which Black Americans are killed by the police and the systemic racism that allows these killings to continue. For teens (or adults) who want to learn more about Black Lives Matter, anti-racism, and the history of systemic racism in the United States, here are some books to get you started.

Jason Reynolds’s “Stamped” remixes Ibram X. Kendi’s history of racism in America, “Stamped from the Beginning,” into a text that’s accessible for teenagers. Most chapters are shorter than 10 pages, and Reynolds includes breaks for readers to process the heavy truths they’re learning. Kendi and Reynolds follow racism through American history and label historical figures as segregationists (wanting to keep whites and Blacks separate), assimilationists (wanting Blacks to change themselves to be accepted by whites), and antiracists (wanting Blacks to be accepted as they are). Even as someone who doesn’t normally like audiobooks, I loved the audiobook version of “Stamped”—narrated by Reynolds, it’s quick and engaging, clocking in at just over four hours. A children’s version adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul, “Stamped (for Kids),” comes out in May.

We Are Not Yet Equal,” by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden and adapted from Carol Anderson’s “White Rage,” treads similar ground. Anderson introduces the concept of white rage—the white response to punish and negate any progress Blacks make towards being equal citizens. White rage has many forms, including laws and Supreme Court rulings, and Anderson traces the impact of white rage from the Civil War through Barack Obama’s presidency. “We Are Not Yet Equal” is a heavier read, with more explicit descriptions of anti-Black violence than “Stamped” and covering its topics in greater detail with more specific examples.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s “When They Call You a Terrorist,” adapted for teens by Benee Knauer, is the memoir of Khan-Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter. This book follows Khan-Cullors from childhood into adulthood, from young outsider in her family to finding a place and a voice as a queer Black woman. Throughout the book, Khan-Cullors and bandele detail the over-policing of Khan-Cullors and the Black men in her family, making overt connections to systemic racism and other instances of police brutality against Blacks. The many vivid stories from Khan-Cullors’s life make the concepts covered by Reynolds and Anderson more personal and immediate, and Khan-Cullors’s story may inspire budding teen activists who are looking for ways to positively change the world.

This Book Is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell provides a guidebook for those looking to become anti-racists in the form of 20 lessons. In each chapter, Jewell presents major concepts related to anti-racism, then follows those up with activities that encourage the reader to engage with these concepts and commit to being an anti-racist. Jewell focuses on the intersectionality of racism and oppression, explaining how America’s dominant culture privileges those who are “white, upper middle class, cisgender, male, educated, athletic, neurotypical, and/or able-bodied,” and any deviations from this dominant culture results in increasing levels of oppression (p. 12). Jewell’s text challenges readers’ complacency and directs them to take solid action in the future in whatever way they can.

In “The Black Friend,” Frederick Joseph combines instructional text and memoir to provide teaching moments for white readers and mirrors for Black readers. Joseph emphasizes that educating white people is not his duty as a Black man—rather, he chooses to share this gift, but tells his white readers not to expect the same of their own Black friends. Joseph presents race-related incidents and reflects on how he handled things then and how he might handle things differently now, using the examples to explain different aspects of systemic racism and white supremacy. Joseph includes interviews with Black writers in each chapter and caps the book off with “An Encyclopedia of Racism,” suggested areas to expand your anti-racist research, and a playlist of all songs mentioned in the text. If you’re looking for a book that holds your hand while explaining how to be anti-racist, this is it.

The library has many more books on all of these topics, ranging from books you can use to discuss the concepts with young children to more scholarly books for adults. If you’d like help finding any of these books, reach out to the library, and we’ll help you continue your education.

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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

by Bryan McBride, Adult Services Librarian

I pulled “American Dirt off a display largely because of a blurb on the cover from bestselling author Don Winslow that called it “A Grapes of Wrath for our times.” That was a great story and a great movie about a period and a location in American history that I enjoy studying, so Winslow’s description caught my attention, and I decided to give “American Dirt” a try. Many have already read the book, as a recent statistic published by the library showed it to be the fourthmostread fiction book in our library in 2020. Turns out there are many people who could recommend this book to those who haven’t already read it.

Lydia is the owner of a small, local bookstore in Acapulco, Mexico. Her husband, Sebastian, is a local journalist who has researched and written an article about the man behind the ruling drug cartel in Acapulco. He has published similar articles in the past and he and Lydia are aware of the dangers. Finally, Sebastian goes too far, and the cartel murders their entire extended family at a family gathering. Only Lydia and her eight-year-old son, Luca, survive the attack. At this point, I’m thinking about Winslow’s quote, and not seeing the connection. Keep reading? I do.

Lydia knows that no one in Acapulco can be trusted, as the cartel has burrowed deep into the local institutions, including hospitals, police, and government agencies, with a network beyond into all of Mexico, so she and Luca are on the run. Lydia decides the only possible way to camouflage herself from the cartel is to take the migrants’ trail to the United States border, and from there on to Denver, Colorado, where a distant relative settled years ago. Now it does begin to parallel “The Grapes of Wrath.A personal event has created the need to join a mass migration to a place where they will not be universally welcomed, like the Okies at the California border.

Just as “The Grapes of Wrath” was a fictional story within a historic event, so is “American Dirt.In the story, one migrant trying to re-enter the US speaks of Arivaca, Arizona as a hateful place to be avoided. Partly out of curiosity and partly out of an interest to check the factual content of the book, I researched Arivaca and found plenty of truth in Cummins’ use of the town. Here’s a true story to support the idea that migrants from south of the United States border are not welcomed by everyone north of the border: Arivaca, Arizona, a town of less than 700 people, earned a reputation with migrants as a place to avoid when it became a frequent destination for anti-immigrant militant groups using this small town as a gathering place to discourage migrants from entering the United States and encourage the building of a national border wall. In 2009, anti-immigrant vigilantes invaded the home of a family in Arivaca, claiming they were searching for illegal aliens, when in fact they were hoping to find drugs and drug-money to finance the Minutemen American Defense. They killed a father and daughter and nearly killed the mother. Incidents like this put Arivaca on the migrants map as a place to be avoided. (ABC News, 2011)

Interestingly, to me, Cummins also uses Arivaca within her story to introduce some philosophical wisdom by relating Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. For every

action, there is a response. Likewise, paraphrasing Cummins from her text, for every hateful act, there is the possibility of redemption and forgiveness. 

American Dirt” has much to offer on so many levels, especially insight into the sweeping dangers migrants face in just making it to the Unites States border. For those who study American history, the historical parallel of the Okies is unmistakable. All of that stirred in to a story that has the suspense of running from the long reach of a drug cartel and the human relationships built under the stresses of people on the move for a better life in the United States.

As has often been said, the best fiction carries the ring of truth. “American Dirtcarries the ring of truth, from Central America all the way to Arivaca, Arizona. If you enjoy reading historical fiction, in addition to reflecting on a great American novel, with “American Dirt” you will engage in a story that is history in the making on our southern border.

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April is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month

By Julie Mills, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

April has always been my favorite month and not just because it is my birthday month! It is also because it is National Poetry Month. I remember writing poetry every April in high school and even having one of my poems published in the Young Kansas Writers magazine. Poetry is not just about rhymes or fashioning together perfect phrases. It is whatever the writer wants it to be. Reading and even writing poetry is also a great tool for working with people processing grief and loss, or who are experiencing severe memory loss. It can help with processing and healing memories much like music can. Listening to and writing poetry is a great way to help the elderly to communicate special times from their past.

Here are a few titles from adults to children to get you in the mood for celebrating National Poetry Month:

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Songedited by Kevin Young, is a brand-new collection of poems celebrating the works of Black poets. This new book is published by the Library of America, whose mission is to champion our nation’s cultural heritage and celebrate the words that have shaped America. The poems are collected from many familiar, forgotten, and new authors and spans decades of history from 1775 to 2020. Today is also the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and this expansive anthology includes a poem by Gerald Barrax written in memorial to Dr. King, entitled “King: April 4, 1968”.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am: 100 Poems of Discover, Inspiration, Independence, and Everything Else” edited by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah is a compilation of over 100 poems that help the reader discover more about who they are and who they are becoming. Poetry can speak as many different messages as there are people. This is a book that touches on them all with a lot of grit, laughter, and tears. It will lead you on a vibrant journey to yourself. This is a great selection for both adult and teen readers who are looking to start their journey into reading and perhaps writing poetry.

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners” by Naomi Shihab Nye is filled with poems that offer peace, humor, inspiration, and solace. All original works, the award-winning author writes to honor the many diverse artists, writers, poets, historical figures, and ordinary people in her life. By celebrating the ones who have inspired her the most, we are also being asked to open our hearts and do the same. The overarching message woven throughout is to find peace and empathy for ourselves and others.

For younger readers, “Hello, Earth!: Poems to Our Planet” by Joyce Sidman is a great choice. The combination of imaginative poems and stunning art work helps the reader to think about the wonders of the world. It also includes teachable science information at the end to encourage young readers to learn more about things from tectonic plates to why the ocean has tides. “Hello, Earth!combines art, science, and the humanities in a way that captivates and celebrates our planet. You can check this new Children’s book out in time for Earth Day on April 22nd.

Whether you are new to poetry or have been enjoying it for years, the library has poetry books for all ages and tastes. You can find these titles and many others to help you celebrate National Poetry Month at the Manhattan Public Library. Email us at or call 785-776-4741 ext. 300 for other recommendations!

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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 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!

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

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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