by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

What is Bluegrass Music

What is Bluegrass Music

by Bryan McBride, Adult Services Librarian

Defining a musical style can be difficult, no matter the type, and bluegrass is no different. What is bluegrass music? How did it get its name? Who started it and when? Are bluegrass songs always in the key of G? Unlike most musical genres, it does have a definitive beginning date and a singular creator. July of 1938, Bill Monroe broke with his older brother Charlie, left the Monroe Brothers group, assembled a group of musicians of his own choosing and called them the Kentucky Blue Grass Boys.

There are three questions answered right there. “Bill Monroe: the Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man” by Tom Ewing is exhaustive in its biography of Monroe, who is known as the Father of Bluegrass. The unanswered question remains: Are most bluegrass songs in the key of G? If anyone alive would know, it’s Ewing, who was a long-time guitarist in Monroe’s group. The key of G became a staple for a couple of reasons. For one, it was a good singing key for Monroe, who along with being the namesake of the genre, gave name to his singing style: the “high, lonesome sound,” named for his high tenor singing above a lower-pitched singer. For another, the most common way to play a banjo is to tune it so when the strings are strummed in an “open” position, it plays a G chord. Banjo and fiddle were the essential instruments in the music of Bill’s youth, and his mandolin didn’t fit very well in the traditions that existed before his talent and vision sparked a new kind of music. He was hard-headed, and determined to chase his vision.

Not only does Ewing’s book cover the life of Bill Monroe, it includes the history of those who played in the Blue Grass Boys, as well as other musical influences going on during the run of the Blue Grass Boys. History is one of the things I love about bluegrass. Maybe it was Monroe’s singing background and love of God from attending church, or living with his uncle from age ten following the death of his parents. One of Monroe’s best-known songs is “Uncle Pen,” a song about Bill’s uncle who was known for his fiddling at barn dances. If you wanted to host a square dance you needed two things: a caller and a fiddler, and Uncle Pen was the man you called on to do the fiddling. Bill grew into Uncle Pen’s sideman for these dances. Region was an important part of a musician’s character as well. Monroe included Kentucky in the name of his group so people would know where his group was from without asking. It is a bit foreign in this day of occupational mobility and the breakdown of family, but in the rural areas of the mid-to-late 1900s, roots were important and it shows in the music.

One of the fascinating aspects of bluegrass is its genealogy, and Ewing covers that in depth. He includes countless, noteworthy musicians who either started their careers with Monroe, or joined up with him mid-career as Monroe became a regular performer at the Grand Old Opry. These include Ralph and Carter Stanley, Del McCoury, Stringbean, Earl Scruggs, and Lester Flatt. Stringbean was Bill’s first banjo picker, and Monroe claims he hired Stringbean for what his entertaining, comedic skills brought to the group. Earl Scruggs played banjo sometime after Stringbean left the group. Scruggs became legendary himself for a whole new way to play the banjo. The “Scruggs Style” uses finger picks to pick the strings rather than the old-time clawhammer style of playing the banjo with mostly downward strokes. Monroe’s lightning-fast playing, Scruggs’ style, and the high, lonesome singing created an energy level in string band music that had never been seen before.

Bill Monroe was the father of bluegrass and his legacy holds an amazing place in history. Ewing writes that in Monroe’s span of more than fifty years of Blue Grass Boys, 149 musicians had played in his band. Ewing’s book shows us a history of people, a history of place, a history of music.  A musical heritage that lives today in young string-band musicians, around campfires at music festivals worldwide. Monroe’s musical influence cannot be overstated and his impact is well-documented in “Bill Monroe: the Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man” by Tom Ewing.

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

Keep Calm and Read Jane

Keep Calm and Read Jane

by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning and Information Services

Several years back (beginning with the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice era), I was obsessed with all things Jane Austen. I read all the books, all the biographies and spinoffs, and watched all the movies. I think I burnt myself out a bit. When I picked up “The Jane Austen Society” by Natalie Jenner, I was a bit tentative. It only took a couple of chapters, though, before I was completely sucked in. This delightful novel reminds me of the joy I felt when I read the commentaries or discussed the books with a true Austen scholar, as well as the gift that Austen has for helping us to sort out a confusing and overwhelming world.

The Jane Austen Society” takes place in Chawton Village, England, where Jane Austen spent the last few years of her life and wrote most of her novels. The novel begins towards the end of World War II, and the village is reeling from the losses of both world wars. A recent war widow, a farmer who lost two brothers in WWI, a widower doctor, and a young precocious housemaid discover a shared love for Austen’s novels and band together in an attempt to preserve the few remnants of the author’s presence in their little community. They persuade Fanny Knight, a distant relative of Austen’s, to join them, along with a Hollywood star and an expert in estate sales from Sotheby’s auction house. All of them have been touched by Austen’s stories of resilience and hope, and they want to create a place where others can come to honor the gifts she gave to the world.

It is difficult at times to keep in mind that this book is fiction. None of the characters actually existed, and the timing isn’t completely accurate for the development of the society and the establishment of the museum that exists today. However, Jenner has captured the devastation of a society recovering from war and the ambivalent relationship that the British people had with Jane Austen’s legacy.

Although the book isn’t quite historically accurate, it’s interesting that Jenner put the development of the society at the end of World War II. (The society was actually established in 1940.) This connects to the fact that Jane Austen’s writings have long been considered a balm for trauma. Author Claire Harman shares in her book “Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World” that Austen’s novels were recommended as therapeutic material to be read to World War I shell-shocked soldiers. Rudyard Kipling wrote “There’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight spot.” Some see escapism as her primary appeal, and there truly is something very calming about the setting and the guaranteed happy ending, but the romance in Jane’s books has an underlying difficulty that we sometimes forget. There were not many options for women who did not marry. The Bennet girls would have lost their home and income if their father had died. The Dashwood girls actually lost their home and support when their father died, and were fortunate to receive assistance from a relative they barely knew. Fanny Price relied on the kindness of her wealthy aunt and uncle. Anne Elliot is subject to the whims of her family, shipped here and there to help wherever needed, with no power or resources to run her own life. Austen’s books have an underlying theme of the precariousness of life, giving her characters a chance to learn more about themselves and to demonstrate resilience in the face of difficulty.

The Jane Austen Society” appeals on many levels: as a story of hope rising out of despair, an escape to a charming village in a different time, and the chance to vicariously join a group of Janeites.  Manhattan Public Library has the book in print, on CD, and digitally as an audiobook or ebook. Since this novel will also likely inspire you to reread your Austen favorites, they are also available in several formats. I know that I can’t wait to go back to reread them and see what new treasures I find that went unnoticed before.

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Thrills and Chills

Thrills and Chills

by Rachel Cunningham, Circulation Supervisor

As the sidewalk’s decorations change from discarded fireworks wrappings and grass clippings to yellowed leaves and cracked walnut husks, I begin to reflect on the year behind me. Yes, there are still about 100 days left in 2021 – some hope for our “to read” list – but we can also begin to evaluate what we’ve accomplished so far.

In 2021, I wanted to intentionally spend time reading about characters with a story that was different from mine. Writer Angeline Boulley is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and published her first book, “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” in early 2021. The debut is a Young Adult thriller, focusing on the Ojibwe community. Deferring her acceptance to the University of Michigan, Daunis Fontaine stays in her hometown to support her mother after her uncle’s fatal meth overdose and her grandmother’s stroke. Daunis believes that bad things always come in three, which comes to fruition when her best friend, Lily, is murdered by her meth-addicted ex-boyfriend. Desperate to find justice for Lily, Daunis begrudgingly aids undercover FBI agents in their investigation into the drug operations on the reservation. However, things begin to spiral out of control as she finds connections too close to home. Through Daunis, Boulley educates readers about the traditions and beliefs of the Ojibwe people. Although this novel focuses too heavily on Daunis’s romantic relationship and reads as a debut novel, I would still recommend it to readers interested in learning about the Ojibwe community, the under investigated crimes against indigenous people, and the contemporary politics within tribes.

Along with many others, I enjoyed Courtney Summers’s award-winning thriller “Sadie” and looked forward to her 2021 novel “The Project.” Using alternating narratives, readers follow the stories of two sisters after the accident that killed their parents. While Lo is struggling to survive her injuries, her sister, Bea, desperately pleads for Lo’s life in the hospital’s chapel. In this vulnerable moment, 19-year-old Bea meets Lev Warren, the leader of The Unity Project. After a “healing” from Lev, Lo’s health miraculously improves. Bea immediately joins Lev and The Project, leaving Lo behind. Six years later, Lo is now nineteen, with a large disfiguring scar. Despite her efforts, Lo has been unable to reach her sister at The Project. However, after witnessing a member from The Project commit suicide at a train station, Lo decides to investigate the group and find her sister. The deeper Lo digs into The Project, the less certain she becomes about everything she thought she knew. Although listed as a thriller about cults, “The Project” is a study in family bonds, grief, and loneliness. Lo’s unrelenting search for her sister drives her to make precarious decisions, but after all, “Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make – and no one but the two of you can break.”

Also new in 2021 is Laura McHugh’s “What’s Done in Darkness.” McHugh has returned to the Ozarks, a familiar setting for those who read her award-winning novel “The Weight of Blood.” Sarabeth is 14 years old when her parents relocate their family to an isolated farm, joining a fundamentalist sect, Holy Rock Church. Despite her parents’ efforts, Sarabeth doesn’t accept their plain way of life and refuses to comply with her parents’ plan to arrange a marriage by her eighteenth birthday. But before an engagement can be made, Sarabeth is abducted from their family’s roadside farm stand, only to be abandoned along the highway a week later. With no distinguishable memories, local law enforcement refuses to investigate Sarabeth’s case. Rejected by her family, an advocacy group assists Sarabeth’s transformation into Sarah – a girl with her GED, a house, and a job at an animal shelter near St. Louis, MO. Sarah is beginning to piece a new life together when she receives a plea from Nick Farrow at the Missouri Highway Patrol, desperate for insight on cases that bear similarities to hers. Warily, Sarah agrees and returns to her family farm for her 16-year-old sister’s wedding. Reconnecting to her past, Sarah begins to uncover unsettling details as she races to solve the missing girls’ disappearance before it’s too late. With her rich descriptions of setting paired with well-paced tension, McHugh leaves readers with a story they’re unable to put down.

All novels feature female protagonists attempting to solve mysteries that haunt them, with a strong emphasis on familial relationships. Don’t worry, there’s still time to add these to your 2021 “to read” list!

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

Celebrate Hispanic and Latinx Authors in October with ReadMHK at MPL!

Celebrate Hispanic and Latinx Authors in October with ReadMHK at MPL!

By Jan Johnson, Programming and Outreach Librarian

ReadMHK is a new community-wide nine-month long reading program at Manhattan Public Library. With ReadMHK we wanted to bring the two things together that we love: reading and our community. When we read biographies, memoirs, and novels rather than history books, we can learn about other people and cultures which can lead to empathy and understanding. It’s easier to share empathy with others when you have read a story that opens up their humanity and soul, finding ways to relate to experiences in your own life. To immerse oneself in a book that opens a window into a world you aren’t familiar can leave you engaged, empathetic and educated.

The Soul of a Woman” by Isabel Allende, the accomplished writer from Chile, is a beautiful memoir that takes you on a journey of her loves, passions, aging and what led to her being a fierce supporter of social justice for women around the globe.  As a young girl watching her mother struggle with few choices, her strength and independence was instilled early on. Growing up in the 60’s, her fight for feminism grew as she fought to be taken seriously in a male dominated culture. This book reads like an intimate conversation with the author about her struggles, passions, and honest reflection of her life.

What would Frida do? A guide to living boldly” by Arianna Davis is a simple biography of the enigmatic artist Frida Kahlo’s life. The author weaves stories of Frida and how she overcame the many obstacles in her life with life lessons for us all to learn and grow. Frida’s brave spirit shines brightly throughout this book as we learn how the creative artist overcame heartbreak and physical limitations, to become an icon in the feminist movement as a woman who did not hide in her husband’s shadows, but became her own champion in the face of adversity.

If you’re looking for a thrilling, fantastical, mystery, horror read for the fall, look no further than “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This ticks all the boxes: historical, fantasy, horror, and gothic, with strong women of color as the protagonists, and with race, colonialism, and eugenics thrown in the well-crafted mix. Noemí Taboada is a young socialite in 1950’s Mexico. Restless and not eager to enter into marriage, she is sent by her father on an errand to find her missing cousin. Her travels take an unexpected, sometimes grisly (There is some gore), smartly crafted adventure.

Sabrina and Corina” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a magnetic collection of stories that beautifully celebrates her character’s Latina indigenous heritage. Living in Denver, Colorado these women navigate the land and lives with caution, grace, and quiet force. This is a moving narrative of ceaseless feminine power and an exploration of the experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home, that we all share.

The co-founder of the Women’s March, Paola Mendoza makes her YA debut with “Sanctuary.” The year is 2032, in a near future America where undocumented 16-year-old Vali from Columbia and her brother avoid deportation in a world where everyone is chipped. Something goes wrong with her mother’s counterfeit chip and brings the Deportation Forces down on their town. Her mother is detained and she and her brother must make their escape to the sanctuary state of California.  Heartbreaking and beautifully written, this YA novel is one not to miss.

The First Rule of Punk” by Celia Pérez is a fantastic middle grade debut.  Malú, María Luisa O’Neill-Morales, (but don’t call her Maria Luisa please) is 12 years old and moving from Gainsville to Chicago with her mother. She is not excited about leaving her father and his record store behind. Malú loves music! She love punk rock music! She is equally less excited about living in Chicago and starting 7th grade at a new school. Malú struggles with being the perfect Mexican-American daughter to her mother while keeping her punk rock-loving roots alive. She doesn’t think she’ll ever fit in until she meets some misfits like herself, and they start their own punk rock band, even though not everyone is happy about that.

Please join us on October 19th at 7pm as Elsa Valarezo de Ireton, ESL Instructor at MATC, discusses some of her favorite Hispanic and Latinx authors and share some of your favorites as well. Register online at and to learn more about ReadMHK.

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

Give Genre Blending a Go

Give Genre Blending a Go

By Julie Mills, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

Do you ever get stuck in a genre? I do. It seems all I want to read is magical realism. But if I had stuck to only reading that one genre, I would have never tried what has now become my all-time favorite book series, the All Souls series by Deborah Harkness! I was so surprised to see that science fiction/fantasy genre sticker on the spine of “A Discovery of Witches”, but I am glad I did.  It opened my eyes to what my Reader’s Advisory professor taught so well, that we need to read other genres not only to better help our patrons, but also for ourselves. Even after reading about witches, vampires, and daemons who do magic and time travel, I still would not classify this as science fiction.

A popular series that you might not realize is a blend of several different genres is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Set in Scotland, the author combines elements like romance and historical fiction with science fantasy. Following Claire Randall from 1945 to the eighteenth century allows for a lot of history to be woven in, and still gives fans of romance plenty to enjoy. A series such as this one will bring reader’s over from other genres which greatly enhances the field of literature. If you like the Outlander series but have already read them, you might enjoy “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger. This time it is the husband who does the time traveling, and readers will be transported back and forth to other decades while Henry and Claire fight to hold onto their relationship as this happens. Many, including the author herself, have found it difficult put this book into one specific genre.  And much like my surprise at the label on “A Discovery of Witches”, Niffenegger states that she was hesitant to call it science fiction. It seems that if the author prefers to keep the labels at bay, then we should learn to choose our next read with the same open mind.

And even if those styles aren’t your favorites, there is a another, newer trend in genre blending that combines true crime with memoirs. Think about books like Michelle McNamara’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” where the aspect of the author’s real-life experience joined to the story adds a deeper dimension to what could be a lesser, sensational read that exploits the crime. “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” follows the case of the Golden State Killer that the author researched relentlessly right up to her untimely death. The details of the authors obsessive experiences are as interesting, if not more so, than the actual subject.

These examples have barely scratched the surface of what you may discover if you are willing to look outside the normal lines of your ideal story line. Another book that comes to mind is “Double Wide” by Leo Banks.  Technically classified as a western, I would have never picked this up had it not been for an assignment, and I would have missed out on a book I thoroughly enjoyed.  Ok so it also is in the mystery/crime/noir genres that I love, but I would have never touched a book with a western genre sticker on it before now. The main protagonist is washed-up baseball player Whip Stark who is thrown into solving a murder. Helping him is his band of misfits that live with him in the mobile home park he created in the Arizona desert.

These examples have barely scratched the surface of what you may discover if you are willing to look outside the normal lines of your ideal story line. Mixing it up with genre blends could be what the future of literature looks like.  A changing landscape that does not keep everything neat and tidy will help literature grow and also feed readers with big appetites for a steady supply of great reads.

Let us help you get unstuck from reading your same old genre with some recommendations in person at the Reference desk or by requesting an online personalized reading list from our website. You may be surprised at what new genres you like.

Email us at or call 785-776-4741 ext. 300 for other recommendations!

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Dungeon Master’s Guide to the Library

Dungeon Master’s Guide to the Library

by Stephanie Wallace, Library Assistant 2

Curled up on my futon with my tech and dice tin on a Tuesday evening, I readjust my headphones and laugh as my friends and I slay orcs within a hidden cave. We’re represented by tokens on a virtual map on my laptop screen, and I record the loss of HP – my hit points – on my tablet when my Tiefling is bludgeoned with a club. The night goes on, and eventually, we leave the cave victorious. We bid each other goodnight and turn off voice chat, only to continue texting each other about the adventure we’ll pick back up next week.

For anyone who has enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons or similar tabletop roleplaying games, the scene described is like a welcome home. For those who haven’t, you might be familiar with how it’s shown in TV shows – kids huddled around a table strewn about with maps, miniatures, and player sheets in a basement, rolling dice to determine the fates of their characters. No matter how you play or otherwise enjoy the world of D&D, or if you’re merely curious to learn more, there is plenty to discover. The Manhattan Public Library offers many resources to guide your journey, whether you are a fledgling adventurer or a seasoned explorer.

If you want to start your own campaign with your friends or family, check out the “Dungeon Master’s Guide” and the “Player’s Handbook” by Mike Mearls. These books give you all the tools you need to create characters, outline a story, fight monsters, and find treasure. Information about how to play D&D can also be found freely online, but many dungeon masters and players find it’s helpful to have physical copies of these guides.

What if you want to read about others’ adventures? Worry not! The library has an incredible selection of fantasy books for all ages. Many are set within the multiverse of D&D, and plenty others are about everyday people who have made lifelong friendships because of sitting around a table to play.

Teens and lovers of YA novels may particularly enjoy “Chaotic Good” by Whitney Gardner. Cameron is a costume designer looking for inspiration, but she winds up joining a local comic shop’s D&D group under a false identity. Fans of “Stranger Things” will be excited to read about the boys’ tabletop adventures in the beautifully illustrated graphic novel, “Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons” by Jody Houser.

Adults and those who enjoy nonfiction reads will appreciate “Of Dice and Men” by David M. Ewalt. He explains how D&D was inspired by the battlefields of ancient Europe, the hysteria that linked it to satanic rituals, and its apotheosis as father of the modern video-game industry. “The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange” by Mark Barrowcliffe is about how he and twenty million other boys grew up in the ’70s and ’80s absorbed in the world of fantasy role-playing games.

To see the world itself, I recommend checking out “Art & Arcana” by Michael Witwer. It showcases an incredible collection of ephemera – illustrations from the original guidebooks, novels, and marketing materials – and provides a comprehensive history on the evolution of D&D. On Hoopla, available through our online resources, you can also find “Dungeons & Drawings: An Illustrated Compendium of Creatures” by Blanca Martínez de Rituerto & Joe Sparrow.

Little adventurers will enjoy reading a “Young Wizard’s Handbook: How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire, and Other Hands-On Activities for Monster Hunters” by A.R. Rotruck. Nerdy kids will relate to Sunny in “Sunny Rolls the Dice” by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, which is about a girl who has just begun middle school and isn’t sure how to relate to her new classmates. In “Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed!” by Madeleine Roux, readers can follow Zelli’s adventure as the only human living among monsters. For a fun role reversal of elves and other creatures pretending to be normal kids in their game, check out “Homerooms & Hall Passes” by Tom O’Donnell.

Families with elementary-aged kids will be excited to participate in “A Celebration of Dragons,” which will be on September 24 in the Auditorium at 2 p.m. We’ll talk about dragons, dragon books, and do some fun dragon activities and crafts. Registration and masks for ages 2 and up are required. For more information or to sign up, go to

Whether you play D&D or read about other adventurers’ quests, the library is here to aid your fantastic journeys.

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

Books for Teaching Our Children about 9/11

Books for Teaching Our Children about 9/11

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

I was in eighth grade when 9/11 happened. I remember my teacher abruptly switching the TV to live coverage of the Twin Towers, and it seemed like time stopped as we were all engrossed in the unfolding tragedy. Even as a teen in Kansas, I could tell 9/11 had a profound effect on America in so many ways: Americans united, Americans divided, terrorism emerged, Islamophobia increased, a war began, and the world felt less safe.

As a new parent, I find it unimaginable that my child could know nothing of 9/11 and its impact, and yet, she currently does. For her, September 11, 2001, is as distant as 1969 is for me (which I hear was a pivotal year, though it always seemed like ancient history). Fortunately, there are many books coming out that explain 9/11 and its ramifications for youth of all ages, which I can share with her as she gets older.

Books for the youngest readers soften the tragedy of 9/11 by focusing on the Survivor Tree, a Callery pear tree that survived the collapse of the towers and was replanted at the memorial in 2011. Sean Rubin’s “This Very Tree” follows the attacks and their aftermath from the perspective of the tree, first buried under rubble, then rehabilitated in the Bronx. “Branches of Hope,” written by Ann Magee and illustrated by Nicole Wong, pairs the tree’s story with that of a family whose daughter grows up to join the NYFD. Marcie Colleen’s “Survivor Tree,” illustrated by Aaron Becker, follows the tree through the seasons, emphasizing hope as the tree continues to grow despite its near-death experience. These books avoid graphic imagery, allowing adults to explain the attacks on their own, with the opportunity to provide as much or as little detail as their individual children can handle.

A number of books for older readers more explicitly depict the events of 9/11, providing multiple perspectives. Lauren Tarshis’s graphic novel “I Survived: The Attacks of September 11, 2001,” illustrated by Corey Egbert, goes to the heart of 9/11 and follows a firefighter’s son searching for his father amidst the chaos that followed the attacks. For a more comprehensive account of 9/11, read Don Brown’s “In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers,” which includes graphic illustrations of the attacks themselves, the long and hazardous rescue operations, and the subsequent war in Afghanistan. Alan Gratz’s “Ground Zero” interweaves the story of a 9-year-old boy surviving the attack on the North Tower with the story of an Afghan girl on September 11, 2019, who saves the life of an American soldier, making her family a target for the Taliban. Finally, Alyssa Bermudez bases “Big Apple Diaries” on her own diaries of growing up in New York, so her graphic memoir accessibly blends the trauma of 9/11 with the ups and downs of everyday life.

Other recent books choose to focus on the long-reaching aftermath of 9/11 and can help explain the profound impact the attacks had on both the United States and Afghanistan. In “Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab,” by Priya Huq, Bangladeshi-American Nisrin is the victim of a hate crime for wearing a headscarf in 2002; because of the attack, Nisrin decides to learn more about Islam and wear hijab, against the wishes of her family. Coauthors Jawad Arash and Trent Reedy base “Enduring Freedom” on their own friendship, writing of a young American soldier who meets and befriends an Afghan teen in 2003. Tahereh Mafi’s “An Emotion of Great Delight” also takes place in 2003, centered on Iranian-American Shadi, who’s struggling under the weight of familial tragedy, an estranged best friend, and a potential romance, not to mention the constant Islamophobia she experiences at school. Leaving the realm of historical fiction, Saadia Faruqi’s “Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero” takes place in 2021, as twelve-year-old Yusuf learns about how 9/11 impacted his family at the time while also facing local opposition to building a mosque in his hometown.

I may not have to teach my child about 9/11 for several years, but it’s a comfort to know that these books, and others yet to be written, will be on hand to help explain such a pivotal event in American history.

by Maddy Ogle Maddy Ogle No Comments

New Library Director Hired



Media Contact: Madison Ogle, Head of Community Engagement
Phone: (785) 320-5376 | Email:


MANHATTAN, KS – The Manhattan Public Library Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that Eric Norris has been named as its new MPL/NCKLS Library Director. He’ll succeed current Library Director, Linda Knupp, who will retire at the end of the year.

A native Kansan, Norris has extensive library experience and is currently the librarian for the State of Kansas and has worked there since April of 2018. Before that, he was the director at Hays Public Library for six years. Norris received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree from Fort Hays State University, and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“I am thrilled at the opportunity to join the team at the Manhattan Public Library. Manhattan is a growing and dynamic community that knows the value of its public library and I look forward to meeting people, making connections, and helping to create opportunities for growth. It is an exciting time for libraries as we explore ways to advance educational, informational, and recreational services throughout the Manhattan and the NCKLS area,” Norris said.

To assist in conducting a director search, the Library Board of Trustees invited a number of library staff, board members, and library supporters to participate in the selection process.

“Through all the shutdowns, jarring changes, and social upheaval of the past year, I believe that libraries are evolving well beyond the idea as simply a place to gather, and that public libraries are in the perfect position to adapt and evolve into what ‘new realities’ lie ahead,” Norris added.

Norris will begin his duties in late December. Knupp will retire at the end of December after 20 years of service.

Manhattan Public Library is located at 629 Poyntz Avenue in Manhattan, Kansas, (785) 776-4741.


New Library Director, Eric Norris

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Dystopia, the Future Gone Wrong

Dystopia, the Future Gone Wrong

By Jennifer Bergen, Program & Children’s Services Manager

Cover of "The Fog Diver" by Joel Ross, three children run towards the edge of a stempunk looking blimp, where a flying ship resembling a pallace with smoke towers nears themDystopian fiction is a popular genre in books as well as movies and TV, from “The Hunger Games” to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and we seem to enjoy getting sucked into these terrifying worlds gone awry. It can be difficult to understand the appeal, especially when the dystopia is linked so closely to our reality that it doesn’t take much to imagine it could really happen. Some people view dystopian stories as cautionary tales – make sure this doesn’t happen to your world!

In September, the library launches a new community-wide reading program, ReadMHK, aimed at building connections through reading and sharing experiences with one another. Our first month of reading “together” will focus on dystopian fiction. We invite the community to join the ReadMHK reading challenge online and read a dystopian book this month. Each month from now until May 2022 will have a different theme with diverse reading lists of recommended titles, monthly book discussions, podcasts and even some prizes for participants.


Here are a few ideas for this month:

Librarian Jan Johnson recommends “The Marrow Thieves” by Cherie Dimaline, which is also the K-State First Book choice for this school year. Dimaline masterfully tells the story of 15-year-old Frenchie who, along with other indigenous survivors of North America, is one of the only humans left with the ability to dream. In a world ravaged by climactic and environmental chaos, Frenchie and his family search for others like themselves, while avoiding the “recruiters” who would harvest them for their marrow. Beautiful and heartbreaking, Dimaline’s tale draws parallels between this dystopian world and the historical treatment of indigenous people in residential schools.

If you haven’t already given into the hype around “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, it’s time, says YA librarian Rashael Apuya. The book starts with a bang – an actor dies onstage while performing in a production of King Lear. A man starts buying up all of the bottled water he can find before holing up in his apartment. There are rumors of people being infected with a disease that is extremely contagious. Within hours of the actor’s death, most of the population is dead. Fifteen years later, a theater troupe called the “Traveling Symphony” travels the Great Lakes region and performs Shakespeare for what is left of the population. This harrowing novel covers the fall of civilization, human connection in a post-apocalyptic world, and the power of art.

Children’s librarian Hannah Atchison suggests a favorite of hers, the 1985 Nebula award-winning “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. Ender is an eight-year-old boy who has been recruited to join a special army training academy in space. Ender is bullied, but spends his time there learning how to move in zero gravity, how to design creative battle strategies, the importance of forming alliances, and the even more critical skill of compassion. If you liked the movie, you will love the book!

I read “The Fog Diver” by Joel Ross with my son, and we were drawn in by the plausible concept of a world overwhelmed by pollution and a deadly “fog,” making it inhabitable by humans. In Ross’s tale, people now live in the highest peaks or on platforms that seem to float in the sky, with steampunk-style airships used to commute between cities and junkyards. The main character, 13-year-old Chess, sticks with a small gang of kids, known as scavengers, and their beloved Mrs. E, who has the life-threatening fogsickness. Their only hope is to take Chess fog diving, dropping him down to the surface by a long cord to search for treasures they can exchange for getting Mrs. E. what she needs to survive.

The library is planning some in-person programs this fall, following good safety practices of masks and distancing. On Tuesday, September 21, readers can gather at the library to share about dystopian books they have enjoyed and have a relaxing evening focused on our favorite pastime – reading! ReadMHK book discussions will continue on the 3rd Tuesdays each month. I can’t wait to get some more good book recommendations from others.

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

“The Personal Librarian” By Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray: A Review

“The Personal Librarian” By Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray: A Review

by Marcia Allen, Collection Services Librarian The Personal Librarian: 9780593101537: Benedict, Marie, Murray, Victoria Christopher: BooksBelle da Costa Greene. While few may have recognized that name, now a wonderful new piece of historical fiction highlights the woman’s remarkable career. I am alluding to “The Personal Librarian,” a novel co-authored by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. It is based on the life and career of Belle, who began her work at Princeton University but moved on to a position as J. Pierpont Morgan’s private librarian. From there, she earned the esteemed position of first director of the Pierpont Morgan Library, a position she held for over forty years.

Remarkable achievement? Absolutely. Belle was a woman in what was considered a man’s world of acquiring valuable manuscripts and rare books. She developed a reputation as a shrewd assessor and dealer and attended international auctions at Morgan’s behest. Together, she and Morgan built a world-famous collection of rare books, as well as documentation and cataloguing to accompany it.

Even more stunning is Belle’s racial background. Belle’s father was an African American educator and activist who graduated from Harvard. Belle’s mother, hoping to provide advantages for herself and her children, identified the family as Portuguese rather than Black, thus avoiding racial barriers. Belle’s father was greatly offended by this misrepresentation and gradually distanced himself from the family. Belle, however, followed her mother’s wishes, as well as her mother’s determination that the girl become a great scholar. Throughout her life, Belle hid her racial background and carefully guarded her personal life.

What do authors Benedict and Murray offer in their fictional account of Belle’s life? First of all, they adhere to factual accounts of events in Belle’s life. They rely heavily on Heidi Ardizzone’s biography of Belle entitled “An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege.” In researching that book and others, they learned how Morgan gradually began to trust Belle, sending her to auctions at his request and celebrating her acquisitions of treasured works. They learned of Belle’s affair with the married art historian, Bernard Berenson. They learned of Belle’s awkward relationship with Morgan’s daughter Anne, who may have discovered that Belle was Black, but who also had secrets of her own due to her lesbian relationships.

Beyond the careful research, the authors do a wonderful job of bringing Belle’ personality to life. That first interview with the gruff J.P. Morgan shows us a young woman who is not only knowledgeable about rare books, but who is also confident of her skills and not intimidated by Morgan’s reputation. Further interactions with wealthy personalities of the times demonstrate her grace and conversational ease. She quickly adapts to the expectations of the upper class and convinces the wealthy she is Morgan’s worthy emissary.

Some of the best sections of this book demonstrate her spunk. When Morgan’s daughter Anne tries to intimidate Belle with references to some kind of Greene family background in the tropics, Belle assures her that this is not so and also tells Anne she has ignored rumors of Anne’s friendship with a notorious character. When Belle learns that her lover Bernard Berenson had shared her secret Morgan collection plans with unethical art dealers, she accuses him of treachery and leaves him. Thus, the authors create memorable scenes in which Belle proves her strength of character.

To be sure, some of the scenes in the book have taken liberties with facts. This is because Belle destroyed her personal correspondence when she was older, and she asked Berenson to do the same. But Berenson kept the correspondence the couple shared, and much information about their lives is to be learned from his letters. As is often the case, Benedict and Murray present the facts that they learned and flesh out the story for a riveting narrative.

This fascinating novel is the product of a splendid collaboration between two gifted writers. Don’t miss this account of one determined woman’s journey to overcome terrible barriers and preserve history.


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