Seriesly

One thing that I spend far too much time thinking about is the psychology of television. For example, TV watchers can be more attracted to television programs than to interacting with real live people. And, watchers tend to like specific shows and to watch those shows repeatedly. So my inquiring mind wonders, Why?

In the past, I was one of those TV watchers. Perhaps this is why I’m fascinated by the topic. And one thing I figured out all by myself is that the characters on a particular show become like friends or family. And yes, I know this sounds pathetic. I particularly remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show 5 nights a week from start to finish in college, and when the series ended, even though I’d seen the entire run when it originally was on, I was very sad. My friends were gone.

As I said, pathetic.

But what this shows is that people like familiarity, characters they know. And obviously this translates into books as well as television. I am stunned by the number of series that are currently being written. It seems to me (without actually researching this) that in the past most books were standalones, and now most are part of a series. And one can see in the library how popular these series are.

2014 will be remembered as the year that I read series. Or at least parts of series. Focusing mainly on mysteries and detective pulps, I have spent 365 glorious days (pro-rated) with my literary friends and family. And today I share some of those series with you.

Meg LanslowMeg Langslow mysteries by Donna Adams.
Meg is a blacksmith in Caerphilly, Virginia. Her quirky family includes a professor husband, computer whiz brother, doctor/animal activist/mystery enthusiast father and renowned biologist grandfather. As with most cozy mysteries, an inordinate amount of murders happen in her small town, and Meg becomes the local crime solver. This series is a cut above most cozy mysteries.

Perry MasonPerry Mason mysteries/court dramas by Erle Stanley Gardner.
“The DA was Burger, the cop was Tragg, Della was the secretary, Drake sat on the desk with Perry…” ~ lyrics that The Blues Brothers set to the Perry Mason theme

Mason, one of the best lawyers in the country, is also a fair crime solver. While these stories are not filled with much character development, we still grow close to Perry and the gang. And Erle Stanley could write one mean story I must say.

Richard JuryRichard Jury mysteries by Martha Grimes.
Jury is a British police inspector or superintendent or whatever British coppers are called. His partner in crime, Sergeant Wiggins, is a professional hypochondriac. His non-professional crime fighting brother-in-arms is Melrose Plant, a filthy rich earl who cares nothing for money and has renounced his title. Plant’s village of Long Piddleton is filled with quirky characters and murders. But Jury is based in London, so the whole of England is fair game in this wonderful, and often dark, series.

Scotland YardScotland Yard’s Murder Squad by Alex Grecian.
This wonderful series looks at the infancy of crime solving in Scotland Yard. A very small number of detectives, with limited tried-and-tested crime solving techniques, are responsible for all of the murders in London, a huge amount to be sure. Fortunately, they have a Sherlock-like doctor who helps them along the way.

Spellmans

 

The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz.
A quirky, dysfunctional family of detectives. Imagine working in close quarters with your parents and/or siblings.

 

AntiquesAntiques mysteries by Barbara Allan.
Small town, mother and daughter antique sellers, both with psychological issues. Many murders, both mother and daughter narrate, interrupting each other in the narratives to make corrections. Cute and funny.

 

Travis McGeeTravis McGee, detective of a sort, by John D. MacDonald.
McGee does not call himself a detective, more of a person who helps others find things. He lives on a houseboat in Florida and would just as soon spend a lazy day in the sun as work. He is hard edged, but not without sympathy, and lands his share of the ladies. Excellent hard-boiled writing.

And this is just scratching the surface of my 2014 series. Here are a few other series you can find in the library that might be of interest.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Joanna Brady mysteries by J. A. Jance
The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
Horatio Hornblower by C. S. Forester
All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket

Of course the list goes on and on. The only thing left is to ask, what’s your favorite series?

Preschoolers, Partnerships, and Plants

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? Ms. Leslie and preschoolers at Evergreen Branch Story Time do! Last month was especially exciting when Ranger Rick showed up at the end of story time leading 11 kids and their parents outdoors to the south side of the building. Outside the children participated in a hands on experience making stepping stones, digging and planting; parents and a few library staff also got in on the fun. The end result: a beautiful native garden was planted.

A big thank you to the Snohomish County Conservation District for their labor of love, donation of time, energy and materials and making this garden a reality. In partnership with the Everett Public Library a small urban garden was created and is now recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Perhaps more meaningful is the footprint kids from the community and their parents made while working in conjunction with the library and SCCD.

Snohomish County Conservation District is a treasure in our own back yard. The organization offers a variety of resources and support in the community. Last spring two free workshops on growing sustainable foods were held at Evergreen Branch Library. Last September, the meeting room at the Evergreen Branch library was packed for SCCD’s ‘Fall into Gardening’ series. Participant and library patron Deanna was very impressed by the workshops she attended where she learned about composting and watched a live demonstration of pruning.

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Touch a Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening for Kids is a great introduction for parents and kids who want to connect with the outdoors and gives ideas on how to create your own urban backyard garden.

Creating Rain Gardens: Capturing the Rain for Your Own Water Efficient Garden. For a mini lesson on the ecological benefits of rain gardening, obtaining a better understanding of the urban water cycle, and learning the anatomy of a rain garden, this book is for you. Written from a conservationist standpoint, readers will learn about a variety of approaches and methods as well as what works best and where to start.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is not about partnerships, but it does give voice to the fact that ordinary people can affect extraordinary change. This is an inspiring book that I would recommend to anyone needing a confidence booster.

Fall is here and winter on the way, now is a good a time get involved in the community or simply read up on what motivates and inspires you. Carpe Diem!

Top Ten Books That Have Stayed With Us

If you’re on Facebook and have friends who read, you may have come across the recent meme which asks you to list the top ten books that have influenced and stayed with you in some way. You’re not supposed to think hard about this or take too long to do it. Just list ten!

I thought that it would be interesting to conduct a (very unscientific) poll of the library staff to see which books have stayed with us as a whole. The results included a lot of children’s books and that might be because we tend to read these books at a very impressionable age. Favorite books from these years are more likely to lodge themselves deeply into our memories. It’s probable that the book that made you love reading was a children’s book because that’s when you first had an all-night, under-the-covers, flashlight-lit reading binge.

So what did I do with my responses? I tallied them up, of course, and rated them by their popularity. That, unfortunately, left many favorites by the wayside. I have included a quote from each book that got at least two votes. Here they are in all of their glory:

index (1)The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was the clear winner with a total of four votes. “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  I read the whole series over and over again and it was pure pleasure to read about a young girl who was happy to have an orange at Christmas.

index (3)Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montegomery was a close second with three votes. Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her. This series would make an excellent family read-aloud. Anne: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

index (4)The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien was right up there with Anne and that’s no surprise. This book is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to take part in an adventure from which he may never return.

index (5)Rounding out the three vote category is (gasp!) an adult book: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This is a humorous memoir of a Scottish vet who roamed the remote Yorkshire Dales treating every patient that came his way, from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen eye. “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” This is superb comfort reading.

There were many, many books with one vote, but these are the ones which got two votes (in alphabetical order):

index (6)Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy isn’t one that I read as a child, but it was one I read in college and the one that taught me to love great literary works. It has been described as the best novel ever written and is considered flawless by many. Anna Karenina tells the story of the doomed love affair between the sensuous, rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

index (7)Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, the author of Stuart Little, is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect.  “Some Pig. Humble. Radiant.” These are the words in Charlotte’s web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

index (8)The Harry Potter series was THE most popular on Facebook, but just one of our books with two votes. We must be older. This is the book that ushered in an entire generation of readers, my children included. You know the plot: Harry is an orphan who lives a rather dismal life until he gets a message from an owl which summons him to a life of magic and quidditch at Hogwart’s School. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with caution.”

index (10)The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was perhaps the first Sci-Fi book you read. Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs, travel to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space. You either love this or put it down like a hot potato. “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

index (11)I read all of the Nancy Drew Series the summer before fourth grade and oh, how I loved Nancy and Ned! This series had an enormous impact on the popular imagination because it features a female main character who is smart and brave and rescues her boyfriend instead of the other way around. These books were so much better than the Hardy boys. “Nancy, every place you go, it seems as if mysteries just pile up one after another.”

indexPaddle-To-The-Sea  is a 1942 Caldecott Honor Book written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling. At Lake Nipigon Canada, a native boy carves a wooden model of an Indian in a canoe and sets it free to travel the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean. The story follows the progress of the little wooden Indian on its journey through all five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, finally arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. “Put me back into the water for I am Paddle-to-the Sea.” 

So, there you have it. Perhaps you can get some of these books into the hands of an impressionable reader, or would even like to re-read them yourself. I can’t leave you without giving you my own personal list. I love each and every one of these!

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Whoops! BANNED Book Week

Well.

I humbly compose this retraction. As many of you probably realize, this is not Band Book Week but rather Banned Book Week. Obviously an ostrich of an entirely different color. Sure, band books are important, and what with the sex and drugs some of them are probably banned band books, but what we really celebrate this week is freedom from censorship.

Libraries and schools are targets for those who feel that certain types of materials should not be accessible in a public venue. They challenge these books, approaching those in authority with a request to have the books removed from circulation. Sometimes, sadly, the books are removed (banned), but more often they remain available.

Many recognized masterworks are frequently challenged, including 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Books 1-4Newer challenged books include Fifty Shades of Grey and The Lovely Bones.

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Children’s and young adult materials are frequently challenged, including Captain Underpants, The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

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Graphic novels are not exempt from attempted censorship. Bone by Jeff Smith was number 10 on the 2013 most often challenged list. Other critically acclaimed graphic novels such as Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel have also been protested as containing “obscene images.”

Books 9-11All of these examples are wonderful books in the eyes of some readers, but books that should be hidden from the light of day by others.

Why, you might wonder, would someone think a book should be banned? Reasons ranging from sexual overtones to anti-family content, from promotion of smoking and drinking to coarse language, from sexism to nudity are all used to justify the challenges to these books. There will always be materials that someone objects to, but fortunately we have a system that allows people to object, their objections to be reviewed, and censorship to generally not be tolerated.

Let me regale you with a couple of stories from my life that help illuminate my attitude.

My high school librarian was not a very friendly person. Most students did not like him. It came to light that he took it upon himself to hide books in a back room if he thought that they were not suitable for students. These books did not show up in the card catalog and he did not go through any channels to have the books banned. It was purely one individual’s decision. And of course these decisions impacted hundreds of people each year. This is not a shocking story that ends with our hero being wrongly tortured and executed, but it did shape my attitudes towards censorship.

The second story is that of living in a country which practices censorship. For two years I lived in Malaysia and this provided an interesting introduction to censorship. Certain books and magazines were not allowed in bookstores (I never interacted with the library system if there is one). Movies were edited to remove language and objectionable scenes, as were television shows. Of course this censorship was carried out for religious reasons, and I respect this, but it did make me appreciate the freedoms we have here. And on a side note, much like Prohibition times in the USA, the censored materials were available if you knew where to look, but getting caught was not a desirable outcome.

Getting back to the books that were listed above, I’ve read about half of them and I’m a better person for it. I sometimes read books that disturb me but often gain something from them. I enjoy themes that might disturb others and I’m glad that books with those themes can be found in my public library. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to secretly obtain censored books and live in fear of being discovered with them.

So celebrate! Check out a banned book and see what the fuss is all about. Come to the main library to see our banned book display. Find a book that you think should be banned and try to approach it with an open mind, perhaps searching for redeeming qualities. In all activities, rejoice that you have the freedom to object, to read and most of all, to benefit from the collections that we maintain in the library.

Notable New Picture Books at Your Library

ideal-bookshelfI have just started purchasing the picture books for the three branches of the Everett Public Library System. I know, I know! I’m paid to spend money on books. Jealous? Well, you should be!  It’s super fun.

Anyway, I thought I’d highlight some of the best picture books of 2014 thus far. But first, let me explain the book buying process for this library. It was fascinating to me. We order from a huge book service. They send an online ‘cart’ each month of suggested titles. The cart includes reviews from professional journals and a way to sort the list by popularity, title, and many other things. Some books you immediately know that you’ll want to order multiple copies while some you delete just as quickly. Then you add books that need to be replaced because of wear and tear. Also, you add requests from other librarians and patrons and any great books that have come to your attention through your professional readings. That’s it!

index (1)So now, on to the fun part: shiny new picture books. One of my favorites so far is The Highway Rat by Donaldson. This is a rhyming tale inspired by the Highwayman:

The Highway Rat was a baddie. The Highway Rat was a beast. He took what he wanted and ate what he took. His life was one long feast.  His teeth were sharp and yellow, his manners were rough and rude, And the Highway Rat went riding – riding – riding – Riding along the highway and stealing the traveler’s food.

He even stole his own horse’s hay. Well, he gets his comeuppance. This is a rascally natural for reading aloud.

index (11)index (12)Some of the most popular new titles will surely be the new Frozen books. I have had little girls asking for these books for months. They’ll be happy to sit and look at the illustrations for hours and that’s a good thing because you won’t want to read these aloud more than once.


Sophie’s Squash
index (2) by Pat Miller in which a little girl affectionately adopts a butternut squash, is a winner. After her parents buy that squash for dinner at the farmers market, Sophie commandeers it giving it a face with markers. It proves just the right size to hold, bounce on her knee and love.  With lessons on life, love, and vegetable gardening, this tale will be cherished by children and their parents will be happy to read it to them often.

index (3)E I E I O: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm With a Little Help from a Hen by Judy Sierra is a fresh take on two old tales: Old MacDonald and the Little red Hen. Once upon a time, Old MacDonald didn’t have a farm. He just had a yard — a yard he didn’t want to mow. But under the direction of the wise Little Red Hen, Mac learns to look at the environment in a very different way. Whole new worlds start to bloom with the help of some mud, garbage, horse poop, and worms!

index (4)Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown is about a Victorian tiger who, well, goes wild. He’s tired of the proper life. There’s a nice twist in the plot and it’s not too preachy about being yourself, but still gets that message across. You’ll go wild for this tale of daring to be different and the illustrations are super cool with their muted greens and browns that pop with a wild orange every so often.

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I can highly recommend Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi because it’s a rhyming book about BUGS! We take a delightful tour through the insect world and learn that “Some bugs sting. Some bugs bite. Some bugs stink. And some bugs fight!”  For the true insect lovers, the last two page spread is entitled ‘What’s that bug?’ and identifies all the bugs seen earlier in the book. Some Bugs is some kind of terrific.

index (6)What Does the Fox Say? by Svein Nyhus is based on the wildly popular youtube video based on the song. This book will have you singing along in no time. Dog goes woof. Cat goes meow and on and on, but there’s one sound that no one knows. What does the fox say? Who knew that they say: Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding and wa pa pa pa pa pa pow? This book takes animal sounds to a whole new level.

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My Humongous Hamster by Lorna Freytag is so popular that I’ve been asked to order more. Fans of Dave Pilkey’s Dogzilla and Kat Kong will enjoy this one. This hamster gets really huge when he’s hungry but goes back to regular size when he misses his human.

Journeyindex (8) by Aaron Becker is a wordless book with awesome illustrations and a creatively imaginative story. Using a red marker, a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and through it enters another world where she experiences many adventures, including being captured by an evil emperor.

index (9)Tap the Magic Tree by Matheson is simply magical. I love interactive books such as this one. Each page has you doing something to make the tree change: from a brown bare wintry tree to one with leaves, then blossoms, then apples, and you guessed it, falling leaves and snow again. It’s a keeper.

index (10)The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems is on order but surely will be a favorite. The Pigeon really needs a bath! Except, the Pigeon’s not so sure about that. Besides, he took a bath last month. Maybe. It’s going to take some serious convincing to try and get the Pigeon to take the plunge.

index (16)I love Stella’s Starliner by Rosemary Wells. It’s a charming story about Stella who is super happy living with her mum and dad in a silver Starliner (“as silver as a comet in the sky”) until the sad day comes when some bullies tease her for living in a trailer. The family ends up ‘moving’ and her new neighbors think that she must be rich to live in a silver house. Charming!

index (17)Finally, there’s Is Everyone Ready For Fun? by Jan Thomas. Chicken has some unexpected and exuberant cow visitors who have exciting plans for jumping, dancing, and wiggling on his teeny-tiny couch, and Chicken is none too happy about it. That is until the fun concludes with a quiet, cozy and delicious nap for all!  

So, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Come on down to the library and check out all of the new picture books.

Discover A Children’s Book Author: Laura Vaccaro Seeger

ideal-bookshelfdownloadLaura Vaccaro Seeger is known as “the queen of the concept book,” and young children around the world are overwhelmingly glad that she creates beautiful books that bring new life to familiar subjects. She is famous for making books that appear simple and straight forward at first glance, but when you look closer they reveal deep, rich layers that enhance your enjoyment. Using signature die-cut art and wonderful painting, readers are invited to take a step back and ‘see’ a concept through fresh eyes. Seeger’s books encourage readers to re-examine the world they think they already understand.

index (5)Seeger’s first published work was the American Library Association notable children’s book Walter Was Worried. It’s a great launching pad for discussions about emotions. But wait! Upon closer examination you see that Seeger used the letters from different emotions about a pending storm to make up the facial features of these children. Do you see the w on his cheek, that his mouth is a “D” and his eyes are ‘o’ and ‘e’? Walter really was worried.

index (6)Black? White! Day? Night! is a very cool and colorful opposites book. Through a series of ingenious die-cut pages, the reader discovers things that are the opposite of what they seem. The format includes eighteen questions and answers which creates an element of surprise. Kids love surprises and they will surely love this book.

indexSara London of the New York Times wrote that the “playground of perception seems to be Seeger’s most natural arena,” calling her picture book, First the Egg “a feat of ingenuity.” Using simple text and illustrations, this book shows how animals and objects change (including tadpoles to frogs and seeds to flowers) in a book with cutouts so that certain colors from the previous picture help create the next picture. This book would be a good spring-board for discussions with small children.

index (1)Her book, The Hidden Alphabet, is an outstanding and artful alphabet book. It is a ‘lift-the-flap’ book which is a visual delight. This video gives you an idea of how the flaps lift and reveal the letter: where before there was an object such as an arrowhead (A), balloons (B), and a cloud (C). This book would be an excellent addition to your home book shelf as there’s more to see each time you open it and it really is quite lovely.

index (2)index (3)Her Dog and Bear books are different from her others in that they are narratives, that is, stories. Each of these books contains three stories about the close friends Dog, who is a dachshund, and Bear, who is, well, a bear. These are wonderful picture book stories for the pre-school set.

index (8)One Boy is a die-cut book exploring counting and words-within words. At the start, readers see a sad boy surrounded by empty lonely chairs. At his feet is a bag with paint brushes peeking out. The text reads “ONE boy” which-with a turn of the page and a look through a cleverly cut hole-turns into “all alONE.” Page after page, the book becomes populated with seals, apes, and monkeys, all examples of words-within-words. Finally, we come back to “ONE boy” who is “all dONE,” and we discover where all the characters came from.

index (7)What If? is like one of those movies where different choices cause different endings. What if a boy found a beach ball and kicked it into the ocean? What if two seals found it and began to play? What if a third seal appeared on the beach looking for a friend? Enjoy this visit to the beach and the chance to guess what happens when different choices are made.

index (31)This is a video of her picture book, Green. Challenged by her editor to create a book with this title, Seeger kicked around the idea and thought of the environment at first, but then settled on the color green and all its many permutations. I was expecting the typical shades of green but was pleasantly surprised to see the clever takes on wacky green, slow green, and no green at all. This book seems to be asking, “How many different ways can you look at the color green?”

index (4)In her most recent work, Bully, there is a bull who doesn’t know how to make friends. He’s been bullied by the other bulls and when asked to play by some other animals responds in the same way. He puffs himself up and calls them all names until one little goat stands up to him and calls him a bully. Then he realizes the way that he’s been acting. He returns to his regular size, no longer puffed up and mean, and apologizes to them. Luckily, they are still willing to play with him. With the book having few words, most of the bullying is conveyed by the artwork and the bull’s posture and size. While capturing the feeling of being bullied, this book also shows that if you are bullying others, you can self-correct and still be friends.

I can hardly wait to see what fabulous book Seeger will come up with next, but in the meantime, come on down to the Everett Public Library and check out her books!

Discover a Children’s Book Author: Jennifer L. Holm

ideal-bookshelfWelcome to the first in a series of blog posts I’ve created to introduce you to various children’s book authors. There are a lot of great ones out there and it’s worth knowing about them. Who knows, you may find yourself reading some really great (children’s) literature.

I recently had a chance to meet some children’s book authors at the Children’s Literature Conference held at Western Washington University in Bellingham. It was a pleasure to meet Jennifer L. Holm that day. Here’s a little about her for your edification:

jenniholmJennifer was born in California and lived for a short time on Whidbey Island. She spent most of her growing up years in Audobon, Pennsylvania. Constantly reading as a child, her favorite author was Lloyd Alexander. She was a broadcast producer at an advertising agency in New York City before she took up writing and quickly received three Newbery Honor Awards for historical fiction novels. Holm currently lives in California with her husband and two young children where she loves to write in her slippers and pajamas while her children are at school.

index (10)Holm started writing with a series about Boston Jane. Sixteen-year-old Jane Peck has ventured to the unknown wilds of the Northwest to wed her childhood idol, William Baldt. But her impeccable training at Miss Hepplewhite’s Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia is hardly preparation for the colorful characters and crude life that she finds in the Washington Territory. Having to rely upon her wits in the wild, Jane must determine for herself whether she is truly proper Miss Jane Peck of Philadelphia, faultless young lady and fiance, or Boston Jane, as the Chinook dub her, fearless and loyal woman of the frontier.

index (23)Our Only May Amelia is based upon Holm’s great-aunt Alice Amelia Holm’s diary. She was a Finnish-American girl born on the Nasel River in Washington state during the nineteenth century. Mae Amelia is the only girl in a family with seven brothers and has many great adventures. You certainly will enjoy this book set in Washington state. In fact, the city of Lacey, Washington recently used this novel as their “Everyone Reads” choice.

index (24)Holm recommended that you learn from her mistake and write a novel about your mother’s side of the family before you focus on your father’s side, as she did in Mae Amelia. Thus came the inspiration for Penny from Heaven. It’s 1953 and eleven year old Penny dreams of a summer of ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing is that simple for Penny. She can’t go swimming because her mother is afraid that she’ll catch polio at the pool. This is a shinning story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in America’s history when being Italian meant you were the enemy. But mostly, it’s a story about family. This is a book my mother-in-law would enjoy! You may also.

index (25)Turtle in Paradise, another Newbery honor book, is inspired by stories of Holm’s great-grandmother who immigrated to Key West at the turn of the last century. It’s 1935 and Turtle heads off to Key West Florida to live with relatives that she’s never met. It’s hot and strange, with wild jungle peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what’s happening, Turtle finds herself coming out of her shell (!) and the world opens up in unexpected ways.

It would be easy to typecast Holm as a historical fiction writer since she has written this slew of great historic fiction novels. But WAIT! There’s more! She has broken any expectations that hold her to that single genre with her two graphic novel series.

Growing up with four brothers, Holm’s family devoured comic books. She, however, was bothered by the representation (of lack thereof) of girls and women in these stories and decided to do something about it. Babymouse was born, introducing a likeable character who is strong-willed, risk-taking, funny, and impulsive. Her brother, Matt Holm, is the illustrator of these pink-tinted comics that cause readers to read one after another.

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The Holm siblings also collaborate on Squish, a baseball-capped amoeba who leaves readers chuckling while also learning a few science related ideas. Holm creates mice and amoebas (as well as people) that captivate young readers in these graphic novel series.

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Stay tuned for her upcoming middle grade novel coming out later this year, The Fourteenth Goldfish, where she and Grandpa Melvin explore the wonders of science and raise big questions about family and friendship, life and death.

You can find most of Jennifer L. Holm’s books here at the Everett Public Library. Come on down and borrow a few!