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Exploring Cultural Identity in Young Adult Literature

Exploring Cultural Identity in Young Adult Literature

Rashael Apuya, Teen Services Librarian

When I was a teenager, there weren’t many books that portrayed modern, realistic, diverse main characters. In school, I was reading classics and learning about topics like slavery, the Holocaust, and the Trail of Tears. The historical tragedies of brown (Latinx, Black, Indigenous American, etc.) people were being taught, but not their modern struggles, and certainly not their joys. For fun, I was reading popular books like The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Both of these series have diverse characters, but they aren’t main characters that add to the main plot in a positive or meaningful way. It was years later, when I was 23 years old, that I read a young adult book for the first time that had a mixed-race girl, like me, as the main character (“Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon). I remember reading sections that described her hair or skin color and being genuinely shocked that I could relate. And the book wasn’t about her race, which was equally surprising.

There has been a trend in the last few years in young adult fiction toward featuring main characters from minority cultures and their experiences. Sometimes those experiences are harrowing, and sometimes they aren’t. It is equally important to portray the challenges faced by people of color as it is to show that they exist in everyday life. The following books are recent releases that have diverse, modern main characters whose stories may be fiction, but have themes that will resonate with real readers.

The Goodreads Choice Awards 2020 winner for Best Young Adult Fiction, “Clap When You Land” by Elizabeth Acevedo, is a novel in verse. Yahaira Rios lives with her parents in New York City. Every summer, her father travels to the Dominican Republic alone to visit family. Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt and looks forward to her father’s visit every summer. Even though both of her parents are from the Dominican Republic, Yahaira doesn’t feel connected to her family’s culture – not like Camino. Camino can only dream of the rich, private school lifestyle Yahaira has. Yahaira and Camino find out they are half-sisters when their father dies in a plane crash.

If you’re looking for a rom-com plot that also confronts what it’s like to be first-generation American, you should check out “Frankly in Love” by David Yoon. It follows high-schooler Frank Li, who is Korean-American and who is trying to find a balance between his parents’ traditional expectations and being an average American teenager. Frank’s parents will only let him date Korean girls, but he’s falling for a White girl. His fellow Korean-American friend, Joy, has the same problem. Frank and Joy decide to fake-date to please their parents while they date the people they want.

Grown” by Tiffany D. Jackson is a hard-hitting commentary on the experience of young Black women in the entertainment industry. It follows Enchanted Jones, who lives with her family in the suburbs and who is the only Black girl at her school. She is a talented singer who gets discovered at an audition by the charming Korey Fields, a legendary R&B artist. Korey’s stardom and lush lifestyle dazzle Enchanted at first, but she sees Korey’s true colors when he becomes controlling. One day, Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and no memory of the night before. Korey is dead and the police have questions.

You Should See Me in a Crown” by Leah Johnson is about Liz Lighty, who lives in a wealthy midwestern town and who can’t wait to go off to college and become a doctor. When Liz learns that she will no longer be receiving the financial aid she was banking on, she is forced to consider other options. Her small town is obsessed with prom – so much so that there is a scholarship given to the prom king and queen. Liz feels too Black, poor, and weird to win the title of prom queen, but she is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of Campbell, Indiana and into her dream school.

Find these and more diverse books at the Manhattan Public Library! If you’d like personalized book recommendations, you can fill out a request at https://www.mhklibrary.org/personalized-reading-list-2/.

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Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077

by Jared Richards, Learning and Information Services Supervisor

After multiple delays, one of the most anticipated video games of the year, “Cyberpunk 2077”, has finally been released. It is a large, open-world game, set in a dystopian future, where you play as a mercenary outlaw trying to track down a cyber implant that could grant immortality.

As you may have guessed from the title, the game has a very specific aesthetic. Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that portrays a gritty future filled with technologically enhanced body modifications, mixes punk and hacker cultures together, and has a strong 1980s vibe. This last part makes sense because cyberpunk really started making a name for itself in the 1980s with writers like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Katsuhiro Otomo, a Japanese manga artist best known for “Akira,” which is credited with starting the cyberpunk movement in Japan.

When it comes to science fiction, I tend to be more drawn to time travel and time loop stories. But as I patiently waited for “Cyberpunk 2077” to be released, I became more interested in the authors and books that have helped create and popularize the cyberpunk subgenre.

A good place to start is “Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology” edited by Bruce Sterling. This is a collection of short stories that will give you a taste of cyberpunk, without having to commit to a novel or whole series of novels. Science fiction, and cyberpunk in particular, can be densely packed when it comes to world-building and story, so it doesn’t hurt to dip your toes in with a short story to see if the water is right for you.

Neuromancer” by William Gibson, first published in 1984, is viewed as one of the most influential cyberpunk novels, and went a long way in popularizing the subgenre. The protagonist, Henry Case, is a hacker and data-thief that is caught stealing from his employer. As punishment, his nervous system is damaged so he can no longer enter the matrix. This is a term you may be familiar with because the movie “The Matrix” starring Keanu Reeves was highly influenced by this novel.

Case is approached by a new, mysterious employer named Armitage, who offers to fix Case’s nervous system in exchange for joining a team comprised of a street samurai, a psychopath, and the digital consciousness of Case’s dead mentor. The team is tasked with joining two artificial intelligences (AIs) in order to form a super-AI, something that is currently prohibited by law. The job seems straightforward enough, but “Neuromancer” is a fairly dense novel, and things aren’t always what they seem.

William Gibson has left his mark on science fiction and cyberpunk, by coining terms like ‘cyberspace’ and the idea of the matrix to describe a virtual space. Neal Stephenson, author of “Snow Crash,” has left a similar mark. He helped popularize the word ‘avatar’ to describe someone’s digital representation, and coined the term ‘metaverse’ to describe the shared virtual space created by virtual and augmented reality, and the internet.

In the world of “Snow Crash,” corporations have gained more power than national governments and everything from jails to mega-churches have become privatized and franchised. Even individual communities, called ‘burbclaves,’ have been walled-off and operate as city-states with their own constitutions and laws.

Hiro Protagonist, our protagonist, or maybe our hero, delivers pizzas in the real world, a business now run by the mafia, but in the metaverse he is a well-known hacker and programmer. The plot of the novel is centered around a neuro-linguist virus, both in the real world and the digital metaverse, that has its origins in ancient Sumerian culture and the Tower of Babel myth. This retelling of that myth says that in order to beat the same virus in ancient times, which used the Sumerian language in concert with a physical virus to program people’s brains, an anti-virus was created. This anti-virus prevented humans from understanding the Sumerian language, thus preventing the brain reprogramming, and led to the creation of the languages we have today. Like many protagonists, Hiro is tasked with saving the day, and I am partial to this story because he is aided along the way by a virtual librarian.

I now find myself with the dilemma of wanting to play “Cyberpunk 2077,” but also wanting to read the stack of books I have checked out from the library. No pressure, but if you start putting some of these books on hold, I will be forced to read them just a little bit faster. Everyone wins.

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Those Things Kids Do

Those Things Kids Do

by Jennifer Jordan, Children’s Librarian

As a new parent, I’m learning the things children do that are frustrating but also hilarious. Hearing the stories my mother had of what my brother and I did seemed ridiculous until I start noticing it with my son and the children that come into the library. When my mom would be prepping a meal, I would sneak the best way a 3-year-old could and steal raw vegetables off the cutting board. Anything and everything that was on the ground was edible. This included a dead spider my dad tracked in from outside that my mother had to pull out of my mouth. My mom’s hair? That’s a toy that is asking to be pulled and be tangled around my fingers. If my parents gave me a piece of paper and some colored pencils, I decided that the wall would be a better canvas. Whatever it was, they love talking about how ridiculous my brother and I were and how now, it’s hilarious.

Right now, my little guy is being very vocal but can’t say words yet. He just yells “ma ma ma” or “da da da” to hear his voice. Wondering which word would be his first, I brought home “You’re Baby’s First Word will be Dada” by Jimmy Fallon. In this book, Fallon made a simple read with illustrations of different animals. The parent animal keeps saying “dada” where the baby animal replies with the sound each animal makes. It’s very true to how me as a parent and other parents try to get their baby to repeat dada or mama back to them. Fallon has a follow-up, “Everything is Mama”. This book, illustrated in the same style, has the parent animal trying to get their child to say things like sun and waffle. Instead, the kid animals will say only one thing, mama.

A word that I dread my little one to learn is “no”. I want him to know the word and use it well but what I’ve heard is a toddler learning “no” pairs with the toddler’s opinions. They say no to vegetables, no to baths, no to diapers and the best is no to naps. “No More Naps!” by Chris Grabenstein is a read that will make parents laugh out loud. The toddler in the book is fed up with taking naps and refused to take one. The dad has an idea to try taking her on a stroll around the park to calm her and have her fall asleep. They meet many people who decide if she doesn’t want her nap, they will take it instead. This read pairs well with a book about an alien toddler who is a very picky eater. “Nerp!” by Sarah Lynne Reul has many hilarious words in it. Nerp, meaning no, is what the toddler says when their parents put a plate food in front of them. They will eat nothing the parents give them and when the parents are ready to give up, they hear slurping. He found the bowl of alien dog food on the ground and the dog is eating all the food the parents gave their child.

Kids eventually stop using the one worded sentence and move on to full statements and questions. They are just as curious and now have the voice and vocabulary to have conversations. “Are you Eating Candy Without Me?” by Draga Jenny Malesevic is a book where four children are wondering what their grownups do when they leave. Do they go to fancy parties? Do they eat cake and ice cream while riding ponies? The most important question, are they eating candy without them?

Any of these books would be great for a story before bed. The best book would be a bedtime story about a parent reading a bedtime story. “Interrupting Chicken” by David Ezra Stein is a story about a little chicken and papa chicken that will make parents laugh out loud. Little chicken wants a story and papa chicken agree only if he doesn’t interrupt when he reads. Little chicken can’t help it and needs to stop the characters from making the mistakes they do in the story. Over and over papa chicken will start and must remind little chicken to let him read and finish the story.

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Hick Lit Pairings for “Hillbilly Elegy” Film

Hick Lit Pairings for “Hillbilly Elegy” Film

by Rachel Cunningham, Circulation Supervisor

With the recent adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” to film, now seems like a great opportunity to reflect on one of my favorite niche genres – rural noir, or hick lit. A couple years ago, I began to notice a theme in the books I was devouring – they were set in Kansas, Missouri, the Ozarks, and Appalachia. The characters weren’t always likeable, yet you were invested in their stories. They were intricately plotted, character driven novels. Many authors balanced a gritty yet lyrical writing style, which constructed a story with the devastation of realistic events told in a beautiful, flowing narrative. This was rural noir. If you’re interested in characters that are flawed, conflicted, and sometimes even insufferable, I have a few suggestions for you.

Although there are other well-known authors who write within this genre like Daniel Woodrell (“Winter’s Bone”) and Sharyn McCrumb (Ballad Series), Laura McHugh has mastered the craft of creating compelling characters in all of her novels. In her most recent novel, “The Wolf Wants In”, McHugh weaves a story between two alternating perspectives. In Blackwater, Kansas, Sadie is grieving the death of her brother, Shane. At only 36, Shane died suddenly at home of what was deemed to be a heart attack. Yet, Sadie is suspicious of the uninvestigated death and subsequent decision to not perform an autopsy by her sister-in-law. Weary of the lack of police intervention in her brother’s case, Sadie begins her own investigation. Meanwhile, Henley belongs to a notorious local family she dreams of escaping. When her mother disappears on her most recent bender, Henley takes over her housekeeping position to save money for her getaway. However, her new employer complicates her plans. As the reader becomes entangled in the stories of the two women, Henley races to unfurl family secrets and the secrets about Shane before she is ensnared or worse. Be aware, McHugh does an excellent job with pacing in this book. It may be difficult to put down, and you might find yourself reading into the early hours of the morning.

Since our last hick lit article, Amy Engel has released her novel “The Familiar Dark.” Set firmly in the Ozarks, Engel’s newest adult novel follows Eve Taggert, a not-yet-grieving mother hunting for her daughter’s murderer. After the murder of 12-year-old Junie, the local police, including Eve’s brother, Cal, have no leads. Eve enlists the help of her estranged mother, while determined to avoid deteriorating into a resemblance of the hard woman who raised her. Junie is brought to life through Eve’s memories, as she comes to grips with how easily her life would’ve mirrored her mother’s without her unplanned pregnancy twelve years prior. As Eve continues to spin further out of control in her quest for an answer, readers wonder what the answer will cost her and whether the price is worth justice for Junie. Although Engel’s novel is fictional, it resonates with the topics in Vance’s memoir. Eve poignantly observes, “The world might be changing in some places, but not here. Here it was still the same old merry-go-round of drugs and poverty and women being chewed up and spit out by men. People in other worlds could wear black evening gowns and give speeches about equality and not backing down, but out here in the trenches, we fought our war alone and we lost the battles every day.”

For those interested in a less suspenseful and more literary novel, Stephen Markley’s “Ohio” is a perfect companion for Vance’s memoir. Markley utilizes a slow-burn narrative as chapters change perspective between four former friends, each returning to their small hometown in Ohio for different reasons. The characters are intricate and complex, and Markley’s writing style reflects the stream of consciousness of each character. Readers follow Bill, once energized by left-wing ideas, but now desperately running an illegitimate errand for cash; Stacey, a scholar looking for answers and reconciliation; Dan, a soldier home from Iraq; and Tina, returning to confront her high school abuser. With themes of the recession, post-9/11 America, opiate addiction, homophobia, assault, and more, Markley’s debut earns NPR’s description of “Wild, Angry, [and] Devastating”. This novel provides a window into washed up small towns across America, not just in Ohio. Although “Ohio” is not an easy read, its characters and their provocative questions stick with the reader long after the conclusion of the book.

There is a world of rural noir recommendations waiting for you at NoveList with your Kansas eCard!

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Bookbinding for Every Occasion

Bookbinding for Every Occasion

By Evren Celik, Library Assistant 2

Crafting won’t solve all your problems, but stabbing something with a needle repeatedly is an easy way to feel less anxious. Unfortunately I can’t follow a pattern to save my life, so for a while I only did embroidery.

At some point in high school, I ran out of fabric and decided to try embordering paper. This led to the creation of what could generously be called a hand-bound journal, but would more accurately be classified as an abstract paper sculpture. Luckily, learning how to make a book can be a much smoother process if one acknowledges the existence of instruction manuals.

Making Handmade Books : 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms” by Alisa J. Golden provides an overview of what bookbinding is, as well as how to do it. It’s targeted at beginners and intended to get you started on projects in less than a day. Golden shares photos of her own work, as well as tidbits and examples from 40 other artists. “Making Handmade Books” allows readers to explore easy materials, practice simple binding, folding, and shape techniques, while also achieving the satisfaction of a finished and usable project.

For a slightly more project-based introduction to bookbinding, Charlotte Rivers’ “Little Book of Bookmaking: Timeless Techniques and Fresh Ideas for Beautiful Handmade Books” is great practice. Rivers shares 21 illustrated tutorials covering a wide variety of stitches and materials. Each tutorial illustrates a few techniques and provides both practical and decorative applications. However, the “Little Book of Bookmaking” isn’t just for beginners. It’s great for anyone looking for an easy to follow introduction to a wide variety of bookbinding styles.

“Making Books and Journals: 20 Great Weekend Projects” by Constance E. Richards showcases books for every occasion from start to finish. Ideas include a wedding album, a shell book, a fruit recipe book, a wire-bound journal, and a heart-shaped book small enough to be a necklace. Some projects like the accordion center fold-out book or the stitched web book with dangles provide instruction on techniques. However, the focus is more on book creation than learning the components.

For intermediate bookmakers interested in themed project ideas check out “Bound : Over 20 Artful Handmade Books” by Erica Ekrem or “Eco Books : Inventive Projects from the Recycling Bin” by Terry Taylor. Each manual showcases ideas grouped by themes and materials.

The main difference between the two manuals is the kind of bookbinding projects they focus on. If you’re looking for a fun way to use up your recyclables, look no further than “Eco Books,” it’s ideal for anyone looking for something to do with a collection of pretty paper, yarn, or other odds and ends. Although the manual includes projects like a corrugated cardboard journal, it mostly focuses on books as art projects inspired by materials you could find around your house. Projects include a leaf book and a photo album made of scrap paper and fabric.

If you’re looking for works of art that you can also write in, Erica Ekrem’s “Bound” is a great choice. Ekrem’s work mainly features books with exposed bindings. The manual is separated into sections titled Vintage, Nature, and Leather, which provide bookbinding ideas centering the named material type. Vintage, for example, shows how to repurpose old book covers, or incorporate photographs of your grandmother into the cover of a photo album. There is a Basics section which explains materials and provides illustrated short explanations of stitches. However, the instructions aren’t as detailed or immediately applicable as the earlier manuals.

For anyone who prefers videos to written and illustrated instructions, check out CreativeBug. Featuring thousands of art and craft videos, CreativeBug can be accessed by scrolling down the main page of our website. The tutorials can also be searched by subject in the library catalog. “Creating a Mixed-Paper Sketchbook” and “Coptic Binding” are my personal favorites. To find them, click the “search” dropdown tab on the catalog homepage, select “advanced”, and enter “bookbinding” and “Creativebug” in the first two search fields.

As a note, many bookbinding manuals list necessary supplies like an awl or binder’s thread. Those are great for making sturdier, more professional looking books. However, if you don’t want to invest in supplies yet (or ever) an embroidery needle and any sturdy thread will do. The first sketchbook I made with printer paper and a sewing kit worked fine for the two years I carried it, though it’s more uneven than anything I would bind now.

 

 

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Children’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Featuring Pictures of People of Color in Positive Roles

Children’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Featuring Pictures of People of Color in Positive Roles
By Hannah Atchison, Children’s Librarian

I had a very vivid imagination as a child. My older sibling and I spent a lot of time playing ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ and ‘Star Wars.’ My favorite games to play with my best friends, however, were very princess-centric for a long time. During my childhood, the Disney princesses included Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Mulan, but the rest of them had white skin and looked like me. There were very few picture books I had growing up that featured princesses who were POC (people of color). For those that don’t know, the term people of color refers to anyone who does not have white skin or is not of European heritage. Thankfully the number of picture books with people of color is steadily increasing.
Picture books are for everyone. Visual literacy teaches children vocabulary, communication, and social cues. When a child sees a character who looks like them, who has a cool job or special ability, they see themselves as being valuable and talented, too. Here are a few science fiction and fantasy picture books that feature people of color in positive roles.

“Reading Beauty” by Deborah Underwood. I read this one in my online storytimes over the summer. This is a retelling of the fairytale with a sci-fi spin. And that isn’t the only twist.

“Cosmo and the Robot” by Brian Pinkney. A brother and sister are on a mission. Cosmo’s robot is broken, but with his new fancy tool belt he thinks he can fix it.

“The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School” by Judy Sierra. A science project that goes horribly wrong. Is there a good kind of mutant slime?

“Charlie and Kiwi: An Evolutionary Adventure” by Eileen Campbell. Charlie has a presentation at school about birds. He chose the Kiwi. With a cool time machine, he learns about how birds have changed over time.

“Rox’s Secret Code” by Nathan Archambault. Rox invents and programs a robot to clean her room, but the robot gets smarter and wants to do more.

“Ta-Da!” by Kathy Ellen Davis. A game of imagination teaches the importance of taking turns and working together.

“Amazingly Wonderful Things” by Marla J. Hohmeier. A story about the power of imagination.

“The Evil Princess vs. The Brave Knight” by Jennifer L. Holm. Are ‘bad’ people all bad? Are ‘good’ people all good? Life is never boring in this kingdom where mischief reigns.

“The Very Last Castle” by Travis Jonker. There is a mysterious castle in her town that everyone is afraid of. But Ibb makes friends with the guard, and when he invites her to come in, she accepts.
And here is my list of great sci-fi and fantasy graphic novels in our children’s section.
“The Tea Dragon Society” by Katie O’Neill. The first in the series, this book introduces the (mostly) domesticated tea dragons and their unique caregivers.

“One Trick Pony” by Nathan Hale. Aliens are destroying technology. A few friends fight to protect it, with the help of a robotic horse.

“My Video Game Ate My Homework” by Dustin Hansen. Trying to create an awesome science project to win a cool prize, Dewey accidentally traps himself and his friend Ferg inside a video game.

“Monster Mayhem” by Chris Eliopoulos. Zoe is stuck in her favorite monster movie. She uses her scientific prowess to escape disaster and befriends the monster.

“That Night, a Monster” by Marzena Sowa and Berenika Kolomycka. Translated by Marzena Sowa and Tom Kaczynski. Thomas wakes up one day to find his mother is gone and instead, there is now a …monster fern!

“The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America” by Jaime Hernandez. A retelling of three folktales from Latin America.
Enjoy!

 

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New Books by American Indian Authors

New Books by American Indian Authors

By Mary Swabb, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

Image of the front cover of the book "Winter Counts" by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. It has a bright red background and a vertical image of a buffalo overlaid with the title of the book in white text. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2019, 6.9 million Americans identify as American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) persons, and this year there are 574 federally- recognized American Indian tribes. Thirty-nine of these tribes call the state of Oklahoma home. I was born in Oklahoma, and while I only lived there for a few years, I’ve gone back frequently to visit family and have an affinity for the red-iron-rich staining dirt. Driving down I-35 from Manhattan to Oklahoma City, I’m always struck by the distinct change in the Earth’s hue, as well as the white-and-green highway signs featuring town names like Chickasha, Tonkawa, and Pawnee. These towns are named after American Indian tribes, and they call out to my curiosity as I drive down I-35. I wonder what stories and histories the peoples of these tribes have. I wonder how different or similar they are to my story. I wonder if they are just as taken with the vibrant red-iron-rich stained earth as I am, and if they have their own story to explain such a phenomenon. Being a librarian and avid bibliophile, I cannot help but find books to sate my curiosity about AIAN peoples and their stories. Here are some of the recently-published contemporary fiction novels I’ve discovered written by American Indian authors.

If you enjoy thrilling crime fiction novels, then check out “Winter Counts” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (tribally enrolled Sicangu Lakota). This novel tells the story of a local enforcer, Virgil Wounded Horse, of the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Virgil is hired to distribute justice that the American legal system or tribal council denies. He’s a vigilante who becomes obsessed with finding and stopping a drug dealer from bringing heroin into his community after he suffers a personal tragedy. Virgil’s quest for vengeance forces him to face his own fears and reclaim his identity as a Native American. “Winter Counts” takes a look at the broken criminal justice system on reservations and ponders Native identity. Weiden has also written a children’s book entitled “Spotted Tail,” which chronicles the life of the great Lakota leader, Spotted Tail.

Mothers and daughters have complex and powerful relationships, which Kelli Jo Ford (tribally enrolled Cherokee Nation) strongly illustrates in “Crooked Hallelujah,” her historical fiction novel that reads like a compilation of short stories. Ford’s novel is an intergenerational story about a family trying to survive poverty, illness, and natural disasters in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Red River region of Texas. The strong family of women in Ford’s novel mainly features Justine, who becomes pregnant at 15, and her daughter, Reney, who is struggling to navigate her desire to attend college with her deep-rooted family loyalty. “Crooked Hallelujah” depicts the limited choices women in poverty struggle with and the sacrifices mothers and daughters are willing to make for one another in the name of survival, love, and home.

The Night Watchman” is the newest novel by Louise Erdrich (tribally enrolled Chippewa). It’s a historical fiction novel that tells the story of Native American’s efforts to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s. The novel weaves together a tapestry of personalities living on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. Erdrich’s own grandfather inspired her main protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, a night watchman, at a jewel bearing factory who’s a hard worker that’s passionate about helping his tribe. The novel also follows Thomas’s niece, Patrice Paranteau, as she seeks to escape her challenging home life with her alcoholic father by joining her sister, Vera, in Minneapolis. As Patrice learns to navigate the city streets, Thomas organizes a letter-writing campaign to oppose the politicians trying to terminate their reservation. Erdrich’s novel showcases the struggle of people trying to hold onto their personalities and traditions in an ever-changing world.

If these titles did not sate your curiosity or pique your interest, please reach out to library staff at , or 785-776-4741 ext. 300, and we can help you find a title that interests you.

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Another Winner from Tana French

Another Winner from Tana French

By Marcia Allen, Collection Services Manager

Tana French is a highly regarded Irish mystery writer.  Books like “The Witch Elm,” which was lauded by The New York Times, and “In the Woods,” which NPR and The Washington Post praised, earned her a quick following.  Typically, she writes of the investigations of the Dublin Murder Squad, in a series that tends to be gritty and intricately plotted, but her latest book, “The Searcher,” is altogether different.  This shapes up to be the efforts of a decent man trying to help a neglected child discover what happened to a missing brother.

Cal Hooper is a former detective with the Chicago police, whose marriage failed and whose daughter is somewhat distanced from him.  He tired of his position, so left and relocated to an isolated coast of Ireland village, seeking some other life.  Having purchased a long-neglected and moldy cottage, he sets about to repair it and begins fitting in with the local villagers who are now his neighbors.

Early on, he realizes his restorations are being observed, so he sneaks about and almost captures a child.  When the child returns later, Cal introduces himself and begins a one-sided conversation with the semi-feral Trey, hoping to gain some trust.  He asks for Trey’s assistance in working on an old desk, and in return, offers food and companionship to the child.

He soon learns that the child has sought him out for a particular purpose: Trey’s brother has been missing for some time, and the presence of objects he should have taken with him indicates that his disappearance was both sudden and unplanned.  Having left police work behind, Cal is in no hurry to take up Trey’s cause, but the child keeps pushing, and Cal  determines to learn what he can.

Given that Cal lives in a very small village, word travels fast about all the questions that he’s asking, and a few individuals have reasons to deflect him from his investigation. His persistence places him in jeopardy, and his is not the only safety at stake.  Then the unexpected occurs.

But, where is the appeal in the book?  For starters, Cal is a decent man who can’t resist the urge to help the downtrodden.  Obstacles and veiled threats do not dissuade him from his quest.  He recognizes the hurt and loss in Trey and vows to find answers.  And he has the subtle art or asking the right questions in a roundabout way, mastered by years of police work.

Too, there is so much local color in the novel.  His neighborly buddy, Mart, for example monitors Cal’s work on his house, as well as his questioning of the villagers.  And Mart has a quirky way of viewing the world that humors Cal. The local pub provides the perfect backdrop for all kinds of interactions, including some outrageous tall tales.  And Cal’s new friend, Lena, offers not only a puppy, but also some critical assistance during some brutal situations.

And surprises in the plotting are totally unexpected.  Cal completely misreads a particular situation, as do we readers, so that changes the course of the story.  One friendship turns out to be something entirely different that poses a clear threat.  One character resorts to physical brutality in a dreadful situation for which there are no clear answers.  No reader will anticipate some of the odd tangents in the story.

But the beauty of the book comes back to the friendship forming between a neglected child and a man who can’t ignore those needs.  When the time comes to share truths with Trey, Cal does not hold back.  He delivers needed evidence to bring the disappearance to a close.  Despite those really ugly truths, however, this mystery is one of compassion and understanding.  It will leave you with the satisfied sense of dreadful wrongs having finally been righted.  You’ll not regret reading Tana French’s “The Searcher.”

 

 

 

 

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Sharing the Refugee Experience with Kids

Sharing the Refugee Experience with Kids

By Jennifer Bergen, Program & Children’s Services Manager

Victoria Jamieson, author of “Roller Girl,” has written a new graphic novel for kids, “When Stars are Scattered.” It is co-authored with Omar Mohamed, and it tells Omar’s true story of living nearly his entire childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya. Jamieson’s humorous illustration style was toned down to a more realistic look that suits the experiences of refugees. Omar and his brother Hassan fled from Somalia to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. Omar’s story shows everyday life: getting water and making food, trying to attend school, studying without electric lights, as well as making family and friends with others in the camp. There are also nightmares, worries, and waiting, always waiting.

Jamieson’s graphic novel, which ends on an uplifting note, made me interested in learning more about refugee camps. Statistics from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, show that 79.5 million people were been forcibly displaced in 2019, and nearly half of them were children. Unrefugees.org includes some simple facts and photos good for younger kids interested in learning more. 2.6 million people live in camps, many of which are in West Africa where Omar’s story takes place.

I love to read true stories of people who have overcome huge barriers and lived through experiences vastly different from my own. Omar’s story is heart-wrenching and amazing, and the graphic novel style makes it very accessible to kids. It is not easy for any of us to read or watch footage of people living in refugee camps. It is so clear that we have so much, and they have so little. The unfairness of it is painful, and yet it’s important for us to learn about so we can seek ways to help.

“Other Words for Home” by Jasmine Warga, a 2020 Newbery Honor book, tells Jude’s story in poetic verse. Jude, a Syrian refugee, must deal with her feelings after leaving her father and older brother behind when she moves to the U.S. with her mom, in addition to trying to understand life in an American city and school. Also try “The Boy at the Back of the Class” by Onjali Q. Rauf about a Syrian boy’s school experience.

I also recommend some excellent books I’ve read in the past, including Alan Gratz’s “Refugee,” a powerful novel following three refugee families in different time periods on their difficult journeys, Linda Sue Park’s “A Long Walk to Water” which follows the stories of two children fleeing Sudan, and Thanhha Lai’s National Book Award winning novel “Inside Out and Back Again” about a girl from Vietnam whose family ends up in Alabama in 1975. Each of these novels puts us in the shoes of other children, seeing with their eyes and feeling their emotions.

Teaching young children about refugees can be especially difficult. Elise Gravel’s new picture book, “What Is a Refugee?,” provides a wonderful description that will open discussion between a parent or teacher and a child. Gravel’s straightforward text treads carefully and avoids being too scary, while still conveying the sadness and fear of having to flee from one’s home and country. I love the final pages where Gravel provides quotes from six refugee kids she interviewed, and brief bios of some famous refugees, from Madeleine Albright to Luol Deng.

“My Beautiful Birds” by Suzanne Del Rizzo tells the story of Sami beginning when his family flees Syria and walks for 2 days to reach a camp. Sami could not take his special pigeons with him and wonders if they escaped the smoke and flames. He grieves for his birds and slowly acclimates to his new home and school at the refugee camp, befriending some new birds and new friends.

“Mustafa” by Marie-Louise Gay is about a boy who is living in an urban setting and trying to understand his new world. He goes to the park and sees other children, especially one girl who says things to him, but he cannot understand her words. Mustafa feels invisible to others, until finally one day, he and the girl play and laugh together even though they still cannot understand each other’s language.

Tackling tough topics like this with children is hard, and not every child is up to it. Using books provides a safe window to look into someone else’s view. Kids can relate to the similar feelings they share with the main character, and begin to empathize with the feelings they’ve never had, such as the fear of leaving your home or family behind.

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

“Iron Lake” by William Kent Krueger

“Iron Lake” by William Kent Krueger

by Bryan McBride, LIS Librarian

What happens when a Windigo calls your name? Has Cork O’Connor heard the Windigo call his name? That is only one of the mysteries in this novel by Krueger. “Iron Lake” is the first book in the Cork O’Connor mystery series set in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. O’Connor is part Irish-Catholic, part Anishinaabe Indian. With red hair and pale skin, he doesn’t look like one of The People, and opinions on the reservation are divided about his loyalty to them. It dates back to when Cork was the local sheriff, in which a dust-up between the local tourist industry and the Anishinaabe tribe over fishing rights for Iron Lake leads to a shooting that has taken the lives of a protester from Chicago and a tribal elder. Cork is held responsible by many from both Aurora and the reservation. A recall election ousts Cork from his position as sheriff. Cork blames himself and doesn’t fight his recall.

Now Cork has a difficult time disentangling his current life from his past life as sheriff, partly because many residents of both Aurora and the reservation continue to turn to him for help with their struggles, especially those that bump up against the justice system of Aurora, Minnesota. Cork is also struggling with a recent separation from his wife, who has a well-earned reputation for offering legal aid to those on the reservation. Recently removed from his job as sheriff and with marital issues which have also created some separation from his children, Cork is struggling mightily.

Paul LeBeau is an exceptional boy of mixed blood who delivers newspapers in Aurora. An Eagle Scout, he takes great pride in the skills he has honed.  As he delivers the papers, he often thinks of all the ways he could handle various disasters that might befall Aurora.  “Be prepared” is a motto precious to him.

But now Paul has disappeared. School closed early for the day due to an impending blizzard but that only heightened Paul’s desire to carry out his delivery responsibilities, and he hasn’t returned home following his deliveries. At the request of the boy’s mother, Cork begins a search for the boy, which begins at the last stop on the boy’s route to first discover if Paul finished his deliveries. That is the home of the local judge, and the judge is dead.  And now Cork is first on the scene, just like the sheriff he once was.  His first call is to the current sheriff who brings in the medical examiner, which like in many small towns, is barely competent and part-time as an M.E. With his quick intuitive skills of observation honed as a Chicago cop, Cork begins to doubt the medical examiner’s opinion of a suicide. And where is the boy? Did Paul hear the Windigo call his name?

Just as he can’t seem to disentangle his time as sheriff, he can’t separate the death of the judge from the missing boy. His search for the boy begins to expose harsh local secrets, and soon threatens Cork’s life.

Mysteries against a Native American backdrop are my favorite books within the mystery genre.  For readers who enjoy the Walt Longmire mysteries by Craig Johnson, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee series by Tony Hillerman, or Charlie Moon mysteries by James Doss, this series by William Kent Krueger needs to be on the reading list.  For a long time, the James Doss books were my favorite from this genre for their mix of Native American mystic and humor.  Sadly, James Doss has passed away and the Charlie Moon series ended a few years back.  But Johnson and Krueger carry on, delivering mystic known to Native Americans while Walt Longmire and Cork O’Connor solve local mysteries.

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