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Backyard Vegetable Gardening

Backyard Vegetable Gardening

By John Pecoraro, Associate Director Support Services

In order to raise awareness of the importance of fruits and vegetable in nutrition, the United Nations has proclaimed 2021 to be the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. June is also National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month, the goal of which is to increase the daily consumption of fresh produce. As such, and since we have entered the backyard planting season, this is the perfect time to sample a few of the vegetable gardening books available at your library.

Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook” is the perfect companion for every vegetable gardener. This book demystifies gardening by demonstrating proven methods for sowing, growing, and harvesting. With plentiful color photographs, and reference tables and charts, this handbook provides step-by-step advice for growing over 30 varieties in any plant hardiness zone.

As its subtitle claims, “Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix” presents 224 new plants to shake up your garden. Jabbour introduces vegetable varieties from around the world, providing detailed information on how to grow each plant. She also presents fun facts and plant history. After perusing this book, you’ll be a little more familiar with cucamelons, mizuna, and Jerusalem artichokes, while also expanding your knowledge of tomatoes, potatoes, and greens.

Growing Good Food,” by author and climate activist Acadia Tucker, is a beginner’s guide to growing herbs, fruits, and vegetables using organic and sustainable practices. She offers advice on preparing and clearing land, and cultivating healthy soil. She also explains how to protect your plants from pests and disease without damaging the environment. In the end the author will teach you how to grow 21 popular perennials and annuals, including fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables, while also describing the climate changes happening in your own backyard.

For the novice with that little plot of ground who doesn’t know where to start, “Growveg: the Beginner’s Guide to Easy Vegetable Gardening,” by Benedict Vanheems is the place to begin. The friendly instructions and step-by-step photographs explain in detail more than 30 small-scale gardening projects. Chapters cover everything from choosing the best location to plant, to starting from seeds, transplanting, and harvesting. For gardeners without a lot of ground, Vanheems presents alternative methods such as growing potatoes in a trash can, carrots in a basket, and chilis in a bucket.

Turkish orange eggplant, rat-tail radish, walking-stick kale, sweetleaf, and fuchsia berry, these are just a few of the out of the ordinary edibles Matthew Biggs explains how to grow in “Grow Something Different to Eat.” In addition to step-by-step instructions on growing some unusual crops, Biggs includes cooking and preserving suggestions. All the plants detailed in this book can be started indoors and transplanted, grown outdoors in the garden, or kept as houseplants.

The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest,” by Michael VanderBrug demonstrates how to grow your own food in the Heartland. This title focuses on the uniqueness of the Midwest gardening calendar with its month by month format. Perfect for Kansas gardeners. Available as an eBook from Hoopla.

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Great Vegetables,” by Lorene Edwards Forkner is another title available for free download on Hoopla. This gardening primer covers 30 of the most popular vegetables and herbs, planting charts for every region, and instructions on what to do in your garden every month of the year. This eBook is bursting with color photographs, and filled with the information budding backyard agriculturalists need.

Edible Paradise: How to Grow Herbs, Flowers, Veggies and Fruit in Any Space,” by Vera Greutink, is useful both to container gardeners, and those with the space and ambition to start and maintain a garden. Chapters cover everything you’ll need to know from making compost and building raised planters to incorporating flowers with your herbs and vegetables. This work will help you create your own edible paradise on your patio or balcony, or in your yard.

Federal guidelines recommend adults consume 1.5 to 2 cups of fruits and 2-3 cups of vegetables each day depending on age and gender. The results of a recent study indicated that only 9% of adults met those recommendations. Are you part of the 9%? Growing your own vegetables can help you get there, or you can always visit the Downtown Farmer’s Market

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Summer Reading: Tails and Tales Prize Books

Summer Reading: Tails and Tales Prize Books

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

Cover image for the book "Not Norman: A Goldfish Story" by Kelly Bennet, Illustrated by Noah Z. JonesThe children’s room of the library has been busy this week! Everyone is stocking up on reading material and signing up for the annual summer reading program. Kids, teens and adults can all join summer reading and get prizes and free books. These are just a few of the great prize books available for kids to choose from:

Bird & Squirrel: On the Run” (book 1) by James Burks is great little graphic novel that covers fear and trust, friendship, adventure, cleverness and cunning, and most of all, multiple ways to simultaneously annoy your friends and also save their lives. When Bird convinces Squirrel to head south together for the winter, the mean old cat decides to follow them, looking for a tasty lunch. It becomes clear that they won’t survive without each other, so Bird and Squirrel live out their catchy theme song while narrowly escaping many dangers.

Titanosaur: Discovering the World’s Largest Dinosaur” was written by the paleontologists who led the dig: Dr. José Luis Carballido and Dr. Diego Pol. The story begins with a gaucho in Argentina searching for a lost sheep when he happens upon a piece of exposed fossilized bone. He later recognizes the shape when looking at a dinosaur skeleton in a museum…only what he saw was “much bigger than that one.” Paleontologist José checks it out, and then brings in a team of scientists and diggers that “uncovered more than 100 bones from 7 different dinosaurs” in that area. When the new Titanosaur skeleton is assembled, it stretches 122 feet and is the largest dinosaur ever found. Dinosaur lovers will really dig this book!

The Bad Guys” (book 1) by Aaron Blabey is so entertaining, kids won’t even know they are reading. Mr. Wolf has been pegged as a bad guy, of course, but he says that is not true. He puts together the perfect team – a snake, a shark and a piranha – to go out and change their images from bad to good. All they need to do is become heroes! That works better if you have a “rock ‘n’ rollin’ chariot of flaming coolness” with “A – Wicked powerful V8 engine that runs on undiluted panther wee. B – Fat wheels for just looking insanely cool.” Etc. If you have a 3rd or 4th grader who rolls their eyes whenever you say it’s time to shut off screens and pick up a book, this is the perfect choice.

Gregor the Overlander” is a riveting fantasy written by Suzanne Collins prior to her fame with “The Hunger Games”. Kids who like to get sucked into a book so they won’t even hear their parents call them for dinner will appreciate this imaginative tale. Gregor is just a normal kid dealing with a little more trauma than usual. His dad has disappeared, and now Gregor has to watch his two-year-old sister, Boots, and look after Grandma whose memory is failing. When Boots falls down an old air duct, he has to go after her. That is how they end up in an underworld with rats, bats and a kingdom he never knew existed… a kingdom he and Boots are now tangled up in.

There’s a Pest in the Garden” by Jan Thomas is a hoot, and it is just right for kids in the early stages of learning to read. What will the farm animals do when they discover a pest is in their garden eating all the beans? Then the corn, and the peas? Maybe Duck has a plan. Thomas’s characters are expressive and funny, using word bubbles to tell their silly story, similar to the popular Elephant and Piggie books.

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story” by Kelly Bennett is about not getting the pet you wanted. Who wants a pet that just swims around and around and around and around? Norman’s owner comes up with some ideas for getting rid of his boring goldfish, but he also learns a few things about Norman in the process. Maybe he’s not so bad after all.

Signing up for summer reading is super easy. You can come to the library or call us, or download the free Beanstack Tracker app and look for Manhattan Public Library. Sign yourself and all your kids up to get some free books, coupons and other fun things while participating as a community that values literacy and reading!

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Classics Refreshed

Classics Refreshed
By Marcia Allen, Collection Services Manager

image of book cover :"Circe" by Madeline MillerYou likely remember the tales of ancient Greece, the bickering of the Olympian gods and their interactions with mortals. Maybe you remember reading Homer’s epic poems, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” which spoke of the deeds of the heroes of the Trojan War. It’s time to rekindle an interest in those epic adventures, and contemporary fiction writers are penning some outstanding retellings of those classic tales.

Madeline Miller, who earned her BA and MA in the classics, has written some excellent fiction books. “The Song of Achilles” humanizes Achilles in all his glory and in his shortcomings. She focuses on Patroclus, a prince who lived with and fought alongside the famous Achilles. We learn of the two heroes’ love for each other, their larger-than-life battle experiences, and their reliance on the capriciousness of the gods. We also learn of their ill-fated journey to Troy to avenge Helen’s kidnapping and we discover the heartbreak that followed. Miller’s use of the original tone and accurate historical detail make this book one for the ages.

Miller’s second fictional effort is equally appealing. “Circe” presents the goddess as something of an outcast. Bereft of the special gifts that so many of the deities had, she chooses mortals as her companions and learns that she is gifted with witchcraft. She helps with the birth of the Minotaur, the bloodthirsty bull kept in the labyrinth at Knossos. And Daedalus, the creator of the labyrinth, encounters the tricky Circe. She even meets Odysseus on his return trip to Ithaca after the war, and she bewitches his men, turning them into swine. Again, Miller’s use of the Homeric word flow and her adherence to the original details make for captivating reading.

Jennifer Saint, another author who studied the classics, just published her first effort at retelling those epics with “Ariadne.” Half-sister to the Minotaur, she is love struck when she first meets the young prince, Theseus. Young and reckless, she helps Theseus to kill the Minotaur, and she flees her homeland with the prince, only to be abandoned by him the next day. Her younger sister, also led astray by the handsome Theseus, becomes the prince’s wife, only learning later what a braggart and liar he is. This adventurous story brings to life the love between the god Dionysus and the mortal Ariadne, and cleverly reveals the heartbreak that follows the powerful gods when mortals get involved.

The final title I’d like to mention is my clear favorite, “A Thousand Ships” by Natalie Haynes. This grand book, like the others, also mimics the language of the ancient tales and speaks of the many tragedies of the Trojan War, but it does so much more. Instead of recounting the battle scenes of the war, Haynes chooses to tell of the fate of the women because, as she proves so well, “This is the women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s.” Thus, we witness the horrors that Cassandra accurately predicted, like the fall of Troy and the killing of her brother, Hector, as she mourns the past. We shudder at Hecuba’s revenge against Polymestor who was supposed to protect the queen’s young son, but chose instead to murder him. We witness Penelope’s impatient letters written to the long-gone Odysseus, when she is plagued by the would-be suitors. We also see the part the gods played in the tragic events, and we follow their bitter rivalries.

What is really touching about “A Thousand Ships” is the revelation of the characters of the women. Their monologues reveal their fears and their heartbreak, but also a resignation to their fates. They reflect on a past that has been swept away by war, and they allude to an uncertain future over which they have no control.

So, if you have an inclination to revisit the classics you read long ago, these wonderful books will help. Each is a lively retelling of those distant treasures.

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Teen Summer Reads

Teen Summer Reads

Rashael Apuya, Teen Services Librarian

cover of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal MaldonadoThe Manhattan Public Library is getting ready to launch its 2021 Summer Reading Program! The program is for all ages and runs from June 1st to July 31st. Participants receive prizes for reaching reading goals and participating in fun activities. You can find more information about the Summer Reading Program, and register, on the library’s website here:  .Sign up anytime online or through the free Beanstack Tracker app.

If you are looking for something to read this summer, I recommend checking out a young adult romance book. There is just something about reading teen romance novels in the summer that makes them that much better. I tend to read them when I need a good palette cleanser between hefty fantasy novels or required reading for school. They are great at lifting your spirits and making you invested in the love lives of fictional characters. Even if they don’t always end happily, it’s nice to get a glimpse of characters’ lives on their journey to find love – whether it’s for another person or themselves. Here are some titles to check out this summer:

Happily Ever Afters” by Elise Bryant follows sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson, a creative writing student and romance novel enthusiast. She has never seen someone who looks like her in the books she loves, so she decides to write about a character she can relate to. Tessa is going to a new school that actually has creative writing in their curriculum, but suddenly she has writer’s block! To fix it, she looks for some real-life romantic inspiration to write about…and her happily ever after may be closer than she thought.

Camp” by L.C. Rosen is about Randy Kapplehoff, who loves going to Camp Outland – a summer camp for queer teens. He met all his closest friends there, and it’s where he fell for his crush, Hudson Aaronson-Lim. The only problem is that Hudson is only into “straight-acting” guys, which Randy definitely is not. Oh, and he barely even knows Randy exists. This summer, Randy is going to reinvent himself as a macho guy – which means giving up show tunes and nail polish – to get Hudson to fall in love with him. Now Randy has to ask himself how much he is willing to change for love – and is it love if you aren’t being true to yourself?

In “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” by Crystal Maldonado, Charlie struggles to find a good relationship with her body when society (and her mother) keep pressuring her to be thinner. Charlie’s best friend, Amelia, has always been there for her. She is slim, athletic, popular, and a great friend. When Charlie starts dating a cute classmate named Brian, everything is perfect until she finds out that he asked out Amelia first. Does that mean she was his second choice?

Romeo and Juliet-inspired “A Pho Love Story” by Loan Le follows Bao and Linh, who are both Vietnamese-American teens with parents who own rivaling Vietnamese restaurants. After years of being kept apart because of their families’ feud, they find each other again. The similarity in their backgrounds and struggles as Vietnamese-American teens draws them closer together, and makes it hard for them to be who their parents want them to be. When they find out the reasons behind the feud, they will have to decide between happiness and family loyalty.

Lara, in “Cool for the Summer” by Dahlia Adler, has had a crush on Chase Harding since freshman year. He is a hot, tall, sweet football player. All of a sudden, Chase starts flirting with her (on purpose), and it’s everything she’s ever wanted. But for some reason, Lara keeps thinking about a romantic summer she spent out of town with a girl named Jasmine. Things get even more complicated when Jasmine walks through the front doors of Lara’s high school.

If you’re looking for a more serious option, “You Have a Match” by Emma Lord is about a teen photographer named Abby. After taking a DNA test, Abby finds out that she’s got a sister – Instagram influencer, Savannah Tully. Abby and Savannah attend summer camp together to get to know each other, along with Abby’s best friend (and crush) Leo.

Don’t forget, anything you read between June 1st and July 31st counts toward your Summer Reading goal – even young adult romance books!



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You’ve Got Interests, The Library’s Got You Covered

You’ve Got Interests, The Library’s Got You Covered

by Jared Richards, LIS Supervisor

Over the past few months, my interests have been all over the place. I haven’t made it a week without falling down a rabbit hole. Most of the fun comes from the free fall and getting lost in something new, but it’s also fascinating trying to figure out what led me to the fall, whether it’s a movie, a song on the radio, or some random thought.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched “The Sandlot,” a movie about a group of neighborhood kids who love baseball and battle with a ball-hoarding beast. I first saw it almost thirty years ago, but I still find myself responding to people and inanimate objects with “You’re killing me, Smalls,” and I can’t hear the word “forever” without saying it in slow motion in my head.

As it turns out, rewatching the movie coincided with the start of baseball season and I started getting recommendations for highlight clips online. I haven’t been interested in baseball since I collected cards as a kid, but I’ve now watched countless hours of highlights online and checked out multiple books from the library.

Baseball Miscellany” by Matthew Silverman answers random questions about baseball, including the history of sandlots, how a curveball curves, and the history of team names. A lot of teams are named after what their cities are famous for, like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Boston Beaneaters, a name once held by the Atlanta Braves when they were in Boston. But there are also teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, a name based on their team color, and the Chicago Cubs, based on how young their team was in 1902. The football team named themselves the Bears as a play on this in 1922.

Short stories about famous, infamous, and little-known players can be found in “The League of Outsider Baseball” by Gary Cieradkowski. One such story is about Nemesio Guilló, who is credited with bringing the first baseball bat and ball to Cuba in 1864. When the Spanish outlawed the game during the first Cuban War of Independence, it quickly went underground and became a way to peacefully protest the Spanish ban.

Another recent interest has been jazz music, initially sparked by watching videos of jazz drummers, like Larnell Lewis, who’s incredible. He plays with a group called Snarky Puppy, and we have their music on CD and Hoopla, one of the library’s online resources. Then, on my way to work one morning, I heard “Traffic Jam” by Artie Shaw, and it pushed me over the edge. You can also listen to his music through Hoopla. I’ve since started watching “Jazz” by Ken Burns, which we have as a DVD set but it’s also available to stream digitally through Hoopla and Kanopy. You can also check out the companion book for this documentary series, “Jazz: A History of America’s Music” by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns.It’s packed with information and pictures, including one of a young Arthur Arshawsky, better known as Artie Shaw, who apparently purposefully got kicked out of high school so he had more time to practice music.

“Dungeons & Dragons,” a fantasy role-playing game involving monsters, imagination, and a lot of dice, has always been on my radar, but I only recently got a chance to play. To create my character, a halfling rogue with a green jacket, I spent hours reading through the official “Player’s Handbook” by Mike Mearls. I also looked through “Dungeons & Dragon Art & Arcana: A Visual History” by Michael Witwer, which does exactly what it says, covering the history of the game from its beginning in the mid-1970s through the present. It’s filled with illustrations showing the evolution of the game, as well as pictures from old advertisements and scans of original documents used for the game. It’s a great visual archive for anyone interested in the game.

Most rabbit holes turn out to be more of a divot than a hole, only brief distractions, which is good if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Every now and then, however, those rabbit holes open up to a whole new world. It’s important to follow those trails and see where they lead. You might only get a fun fact or two, but you might also pick up a new skill or find what you want to do with the rest of your life. No pressure, but maybe indulge in some of those tangents and see where they take you.

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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.

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

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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