Mercury Column

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Contemporary Immigration and Children’s Books

Contemporary Immigration and Children’s Books

By Jennifer Bergen, Youth Services Manager

This year’s three-part TALK program (Talk About Literature in Kansas) at the library will focus on books about contemporary immigration. It is a timely topic that many adults struggle to understand more fully. When it comes to children, explaining what it means to be an immigrant or a refugee can be even more of a challenge. Reading one of these picture books together may help open communication.

Their Great Gift by John Coy tells a heartfelt story of a shared experience that rings true. Describing the unnamed family of the story, Coy writes, “They made mistakes and people laughed. Others didn’t understand how much they’d sacrificed.” This thin book is full of remarkable photographs of immigrants by Wing Young Huie. Each photo is striking and seems to have a story of its own.

In I am New Here, author/ illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien shows three children experiencing the lonely and confusing transition after leaving a country and a language behind. Maria, Jin and Fatimah show bravery and courage as they find ways to fit in at their new school.  In an interview, O’Brien says she “noticed there was a missing piece” when people seemed to think immigrant children came as “blank slates.” The truth is these children “bring with them full, complete, rich lives in which they have already accomplished so much and know so much.” In her book, she strives to bring out that richness and fullness.

Jose Manuel Mateo and Javier Martinez Pedro chose to create their book Migrant in the format of a codex. The book unfolds like an accordion and is read from top to bottom. The topic is heavy, describing a mother who must take her children and leave their country.  The detailed ink drawing is fascinating as it evolves from a happier time in Mexico to their new life in L. A.

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng is also a somber tale of a father and his daughter traveling by various means – walking, riding atop a train or in the back of a truck. The unnamed setting is desolate and marked with homeless people, refugees, foxes and soldiers. The young girl’s voice is not distraught, though. She finds beauty in the clouds and friendship in the people she meets, but their traveling does not seem to have an end. This book could bring out questions from children for which we do not have many answers.

Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat tackles another tough situation when Saya’s mother is imprisoned for being an illegal immigrant.  The mother sends Saya cassette tapes so she can listen to her mother’s voice, and Saya is moved to write a story of her own to try to change her situation.

The Journey by Francesca Sanna is a child’s view of leaving everything behind to escape to a new place, with illustrations that Kirkus Review describes as “playing dramatically and beautifully with light and shadow…to accentuate the family’s struggles.”

In the award-winning picture book My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald, the main character, nicknamed Cartwheel, has left her home country to be safe. But nothing feels right. “The food was strange. The animals and plants were strange. Even the wind felt strange,” so she invents an imaginary blanket of her old words and familiar things. This metaphor gives readers a sensory object — a warm, soft blanket that can cover Cartwheel with the things she loves and misses.

Similarly, The Quiet Place by Sarah Stewart describes how new immigrant Isabel prefers to hang out in a special place she made from discarded cardboard boxes.  Here, she merges her love of and longing for her old language with the delight of learning new words and piecing them together.

For another positive outlook, try Jamie Lee Curtis’s new picture book, This is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From. The rhyming text is perfect for younger children, and it may lead to an insightful activity where children try to decide what they would take with them if they had just one small suitcase to fill.

In furthering the topic of immigration, the TALK programs this February, March and April will invite interesting discussions of the adult novels Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, Harbor by Lorraine Adams, and Typical American by Gish Jen. Extra copies of these titles are available at the library.

by Mary Wahlmeier Mary Wahlmeier No Comments

Don’t Ditch Those Resolutions

Don’t Ditch Those Resolutions

By Gigi Holman, Adult Services Librarian

Every year on January 1, a large percentage of Americans resolve to better themselves. And then a couple of weeks into the new year, they have returned to our old routines, and these goals have gone by the wayside. In fact, this happens so often that there is an official holiday for it called “Ditch Your New Year’s Resolution Day.” If you are one of those people who are on the edge of “ditching your resolution,” never fear! The library has inspiring books that will help you get back on track to achieving your resolutions.

If your resolution is to get healthy, start with If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body by James Hamblin. A basic understanding of how our bodies operate can lead to better health. Hamblin explores the many health questions that we all have about our bodies including sleep, aging, nutrition, and much more. He presents facts in an engaging and entertaining way. One great thing about this book is that it sparks your curiosity. You can jump from topic to topic as if you were a kid who is reading through the encyclopedia set for the first time.

Getting organized can be overwhelming. Marie Kondo, who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and a companion book, Spark Joy, will help you find joy in decluttering your home. Her famous KonMari Method guides you to declutter your home by arming you with techniques that will help you determine if an item in your house sparks joy. Her technique changes your view of decluttering by helping you see what to keep instead of what you should throw away.

We all talk about slowing down and enjoying the simple things, but how do we find time to do that? Hygge, pronounced hue-gah, is a Danish word that is a feeling or mood that comes from taking pleasure in the simple things in our life: cuddling up under the blankets, lighting candles, taking in the morning light, and enjoying every sip of your first cup of coffee. It is taking a good moment and making it special. The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking is your “guide to all things Hygge.” It offers suggestions and advice on finding Hygge in your own life from choosing lighting in your home to bringing light to the unexpected moments in your life.

Learning a new craft can be rewarding and frustrating at the same time. You research on Pinterest what you want to do, buy the supplies, then go home, and your new project sits on the kitchen table or in the bag for the next few months. Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn is an inspiring book that explores why we craft and the rewards of creative practice. In this moving memoir, the author recounts his spiritual and personal journey as a furniture architect and teacher. This book reveals how crafting is an important part of our lives and how it can shape us and connect us with others.

Finally, we would all love to read more! Find your inspiration by delving into Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, which explores why we read. In each chapter, he tells a story about a particular book that he has read, tells why he read it, and explains how it has shaped his life. Warning: this book can add to your “To Be Read” pile.

There are many other opportunities to find success at the library. Take a technology class, participate in a craft program, explore our databases, read in a comfy corner, or just come and explore our shelves. The library can offer inspiration to your resolution list. You just have to find it in the right place.

by Mary Wahlmeier Mary Wahlmeier No Comments

Remembering Martin

Remembering Martin

by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Tomorrow, January 16, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A federal holiday since being signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, MLK Day is observed on the third Monday of January. King’s actual birthday is January 15.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech is included in most lists of the greatest speeches in American history. Clarence Jones gives the story behind the speech in “Behind the Dream: the Making of the Speech That Transformed a Nation.”  Jones, co-writer of the speech and close confidant of King, gives a behind-the-scenes account of the weeks leading up to the great event, and reveals the collaboration leading to the speech that would shape the civil rights movement and inspire Americans for years to come.

King: a Biography,” by David Lewis is a foundational biography first published shortly after King’s death. Acclaimed by historians and critics alike, this updated edition includes a new preface, as well as additional photographs of King and his contemporaries.

For a more personal portrait of Dr. King, choose “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Edited by Clayborne Carson, this history-making autobiography portrays Dr. King in his own words. Carson has utilized published and unpublished writings by King, as well as his speeches, interviews, notes, and sermons. The result for the reader is an intimate sharing in the trials and triumphs of Dr. King, including the Montgomery Boycott, the “I Have a Dream” speech, the Selma March, and the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

On April 12, 1963, King was arrested in Birmingham for violating a court injunction against marching in the city’s street. In response to eight white clergymen who accused him of being a violent extremist, King addressed his famous letter from Birmingham jail. In “Gospel of Freedom; Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed a Nation,” Jonathan Rieder discusses the events that led up to King’s arrest, and addresses the letter’s importance during the struggle for civil rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine motel in Memphis, where he was supporting a strike of sanitation workers. “Death of a King: the Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year,” by Tavis Smiley chronicles the last year of Dr. King’s life. The bookends of this fateful year are April 4, 1967, when King made his first anti-war speech, and April 4, 1968. Throughout his book, Smiley raises the question, “What kind of man had Martin Luther King, Jr. become during the last year of his life?”

For a comprehensive examination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights movement, and its place in American history, select Taylor Branch’s three volume opus. The first volume in the series, “Parting the Waters,” covers the years 1954-1963, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Volume Two, “Pillar of Fire,’ looks at the years 1963-1965, while the third volume “At Canaan’s Edge,” concludes with the years 1965-1968.

There are several titles for young readers available at the library, including “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.,” by Brad Meltzer. This title is part of a series of biographies for children by an author better known for his political thrillers. In its pages, kids will learn that even as a child Martin Luther King, Jr. was shocked by unfair treatment of African-American people. So, when he grew up, he decided to do something about it, fighting injustice with powerful words.

Also for children, “What was your Dream, Dr. King?,” by Mary Kay Carson. This book is arranged in a question and answer format. In its pages curious readers will find the answers to their most burning questions about Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to its sheer beauty, children will also learn from “I Have a Dream,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifteen award-winning artists illustrate the words of Dr. King’s most famous speech. This title also includes a CD of the speech.

Remember to also checkout Hoopla for titles about Martin Luther King, Jr. in a variety of formats. With your Manhattan Public Library card, you can stream or download 5 titles from Hoopla every month at no charge.

by Mary Wahlmeier Mary Wahlmeier No Comments

Heart-warming Reads

Heart-warming Reads

by Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

These months after the bustle of the holidays, with a long wait for the warmth of spring, can feel a bit dreary. To ward off the winter blues, sitting down (preferably with an afghan and a cup of tea) to a heart-warming book can improve your outlook.

The author of the vastly popular A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman, has returned with another tale full of heart and hope, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. At seven years old, Elsa faces the loss of her beloved grandmother and her stories of the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, but she takes on the adventure of delivering her granny’s apology letters. Through her quest, Elsa learns that support can exist in surprising places and that sometimes fairy tales contain the truths of life.

In the delightful novel The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, Sara travels from Sweden to Broken Wheel, Iowa to meet her avid-reader pen pal, Amy. When she arrives to learn that Amy has just died, she hunkers down in Amy’s house full of books. She’s eventually inspired to open a book store to share her beloved friend’s love of books with her non-reading community, starting a series of subtle changes that will touch the town and Sara forever.

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore brings to life Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean. The life-long friends have met for years at their favorite local diner to eat the best food in town, gossip, and take care of one another. Full of humor and unforgettable characters, Moore’s novel affirms the value of friendship, community, humor, and a good piece of pie.

Ivan Doig takes us on a 1951 road trip in Last Bus to Wisdom. Eleven-year-old Donal Cameron is shipped off to an aunt in Wisconsin when the grandmother raising him in Montana has to have surgery. Aunt Kate is nothing like his sweet Gran, and he can’t seem to get on her good side. After Donal pushes Kate too far, she sends him back to the authorities in Montana and her hen-pecked husband, Herman the German, takes the opportunity to escape with the boy. Doig was known for his outstanding abilities as a storyteller and this humorous road novel demonstrates his mastery.

Lynne Cox was the first person to swim both the Straits of Magellan and around the Cape of Good Hope, but she faces completely new challenges in her memoir Swimming in the Sink: An Episode of the Heart. Following the deaths of her parents and her beloved dog, she is diagnosed with arterial fibrillation, which sets her back severely. Her book shares her struggle toward recovery and her recognition of the importance of her community.

Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway by Peter Zheutlin tells the story of Greg Mahle’s mission to bring dogs from Southern shelters and find loving homes for them in the North. The author traveled with Mahle and shares the tales of the road trip, including the awful conditions that some animals experience and the inspiring people who dedicate their lives to saving them.

Rabbi Susan Silverman examines the meaning of identity, faith, and family in her autobiography Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World. Silverman chronicles her childhood in a loving family that faced difficulties together. It also tells of the creation of her own family as she and her husband add to their three daughters by adopting two sons from Ethiopia. Her sharp sense of humor shines through this thoughtful perusal of a fascinating life.

Horace Mann once said “A house without books is like a room without windows.” A heartwarming read is the perfect way to open your mind and let some light into the long months of winter.

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