Mercury Column

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Classics Refreshed

Classics Refreshed
By Marcia Allen, Collection Services Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teen Summer Reads

Teen Summer Reads

Rashael Apuya, Teen Services Librarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

by Jared Richards, LIS Supervisor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Children’s Picture Books Celebrating Spring Holidays

Children’s Picture Books Celebrating Spring Holidays

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Be Who You Want to Be

Be Who You Want to Be

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Romance Novels

Romance Novels

by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning & Information Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

by Bryan McBride, Adult Services Librarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

April is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month

By Julie Mills, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

Owl Books

Owl Books

by Evren Celik, Library Assistant 2

Cover of "The Burning" by Kathryn LaskyI don’t remember if I picked up the the Guardians of Ga’Hoole because I was already fond of owls, or if the series itself began the interest. Regardless of the origin, Kathryn Lasky’s series was part of several years where at least sixty percent of my brain was occupied by owl facts at any given moment. Over time, this led to a collection of owl encyclopedias, trips to the zoo, requests to go to a bird sanctuary for my birthday, and several notebooks full of detailed facts about my favorite species, the long-eared owl.

A keen interest in which types of owls swallow their food whole, however, is not a requirement to enjoying Lasky’s series. Spanning 16 books, the Guardians of Ga’Hoole follows a ragtag group of owls whose adventures involve a school of magic, a mystery as old as the world itself, and a quest to solve the mystery and stop a rising evil. The series jumps between several overlapping plots, which are slowly revealed through various perspectives and parallel timelines. The premise resembles a mix of Warrior Cats and The Earthsea Cycle, but the storytelling and plotline are similar to series like The Lord of the Rings or The Dark Is Rising.

The first six books follow Soren, a fledgling barn owl, who begins the aptly-named first novel “The Capture” by falling out of his nest and being captured. Soren and some owls he meets in captivity go on to form “the band,” whose adventures make up the main narrative until book six, “The Burning.” The next two novels, “The Hatchling” and “The Outcast,” are told through the eyes of a new protagonist named Coryn. Far from a side story, this narrative jump addresses unresolved aspects of the first six books, before continuing forward to parallel the main plotline.

Books nine through eleven were announced as a spinoff series called Legends of Ga’Hoole but ultimately incorporated into the main storyline. First, we pivot back to Soren and the band, who have been searching for the world’s history. “The First Collier,” “The Coming of the Hoole,” and “To Be a King” explore the establishment and early conflicts of the world of Hoole. These early stories reveal what Soren and the gang must do to save the world, and “The Golden Tree” brings us back to the present as they set out on a final quest.

The rest of the books tie Soren and Coryn’s stories together, bringing the tale full circle and ending the series. Although Lasky’s individual novels are relatively short, the universe they reside in is not. “The War of Ember” is the final and 15th book in the series, but in 2013 Lasky wrote a prequel, “The Rise of a Legend.” It explores the journey and motives of a major character we meet early on. After that, there’re some spinoff novels and three separate series placed in the same universe, which totals 31 books.

I did say owl facts aren’t a requirement for enjoying the series, and they’re not. You could easily enjoy the magic and adventure without researching every new species that’s introduced. However, if the series sparks an interest in the slightly-less-magical owls of our world, here’re some suggestions:

Owls: the Silent Fliers” by R. D. Lawrence covers the historical understanding of owls through to the present. With plenty of wildlife photography and a chapter for each of North America’s nineteen owl species, Lawrence has an owl to suit anyone. Detailed descriptions of how and where each species hunts, where they live, and what they look like are contextualized in explanations of the owls’ family structures and life cycles.

Owls” by Gail Gibbons can be found in the Animal Neighborhood of the Children’s Room. Topics include each owl’s birth and lifetime development, their lives and habitats, and threats to the species like deforestation. Carefully-labeled illustrations help readers name body parts, recognize distinct features, and recognize each species in the wild. Plenty of definitions and diagrams make “Owls” an accessible and engaging read for any owl fan.

If you’d like more owl facts (or maybe even book recommendations regarding a different theme) you can always request a Personalized Reading List or check out Quick Picks for Kids.

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