Evil Corp

In fiction and movies, when it comes to finding a reason for all the nastiness in the world (especially in a Science Fiction setting) I’ve always preferred the Evil Corporation being the responsible party.  Whether it is the suits from the Tyrell Corporation (More Human Than Human) or Weyland-Yutani (Building Better Worlds) delivering the lines, it always seems appropriate. You could argue, however, that the dastardly company is a bit of a worn-out theme at this point. If so, let me introduce you to two excellent books I recently read that breathe new life into the idea, with slightly different takes on corporations gone wrong.

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada

Told from the perspective of three newly hired employees, The Factory presents a slightly surreal, but definitely disturbing, view of a behemoth corporation and its ability to indoctrinate those who work for it. What the company produces exactly is never spelled out. Also, the protagonists have some rather odd jobs: Yoshio is tasked with the ‘green roof project,’ but is the only person in the department, is given no direction, and ends up leading a children’s ‘moss hunt’ as his primary task. Ushiyama is a proofreader of obscure company documents, but the editing is all done by hand and not checked for accuracy. And Yoshiko is a ‘professional shredder,’ who simply shreds documents, all day every day. As they continue to work at the factory, all three slowly begin to accept the illogic and absurdity of their tasks, and the company itself. So much so that the appearance of a huge flock of flightless black birds produced in the company labs and a middle-aged man known as the Forest Pantser terrorizing the company campus, just seem like another day at the office.

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

In a near future where the climate is heating up fast and resources are dwindling, the Cloud corporation is the largest in the world. Not only does it have a monopoly on almost all retail commerce (items delivered by drone straight to you) it is fast replacing government and is almost the only source of jobs. Those who do work for Cloud are housed in huge complexes, called Mother Clouds, must wear colored polo shirts that designate where they work, and have their movements tracked via Cloud Bands which are worn on the wrist. The story is told through three distinctive viewpoints: Paxton, who’s business was destroyed by Cloud, and now works in security; Zinnia, a corporate spy who is working undercover on the floor of the warehouse; and Gibson, the founder of Cloud who is on a farewell tour of all the Mother Clouds in the country. All three characters are far from caricatures and challenge your sense of sympathy and condemnation. This combined with the all too real comparisons to our present corporate and environmental landscape, make this a compelling and disturbing read.

So, I hope you will take a look at these excellent books featuring evil corporations. If not well… I made a decision and it was…wrong. It was a bad call, Ripley. It was a bad call.

The Dutch House

I can still remember my first diary. It was blue with a little lock and key, inside it contained my secret thoughts and youthful dreams. Nowadays, I journal spilling my thoughts onto paper in order to keep the cobwebs of my mind clear. Writing is therapeutic but writing something for someone else to read is an exercise of the imagination. Reading good literature stimulates my mind and inspires me to write, luring me out of the comfort zone of staying in my head.

Over the holiday we had the pleasure of spending time with our son and daughter-in-law. As is common in these rich visits, the topic of art and creativity came up. One of our conversations centered on the medium of writing where I found myself waxing eloquent on what I think makes for a good book.

Characterization is pivotal. In The Dutch House by Anne Patchett, Danny recounts the story of his life from his early memories to the present. The story seamlessly moves the reader back and forth from past to present without confusion of time, place or setting. A rare talent!

Anne Patchett’s latest novel is told in the first person and felt a bit like reading someone’s diary. It is a story of substance, interjected with Danny’s intimate thoughts as he grows up and as a grown man. The book is also a survey on the complexity of family and the myriad of issues that can arise and how one deals with hurt, mistrust, health, and abandonment.

A mystique surrounds The Dutch House, a stately home whose previous owner’s portrait still hangs on the wall. It’s after World War II and the house lies abandoned and in decline. Danny’s father Cyril Conroy makes his first major real estate investment by buying the house, moving his wife and young daughter, Maeve, out of poverty and into a new life of comfort and ease, or so he hopes.

Maeve is about 10 years older than Danny, their inseparable relationship solidified by their mother’s absence and their father’s neglect. Maeve is brave, smart, and confident. She fills Danny in on life before he was born and the things he was too young to remember after his mother left. The brother/sister bond is strengthened when their father marries a younger woman, Andrea, who has strategically won her way into The Dutch House and their father’s affections.

As a boy, Danny learns unforgettable lessons while spending Saturdays with his dad as he collects rent and makes repairs for his various tenants. The practice of meeting people of lesser means and the business of being a landlord plants a seed deep in Danny’s soul.

Their stepmother is a hard and demanding woman, ungrateful for the loyal housekeepers. Andrea clearly runs the show. Once Maeve has gone off to college, she inserts herself further into the family by moving Maeve’s room up to the attic. This allows her eldest daughter Norma to have Maeve’s room with its coveted window seat. When Cyril suddenly dies from a heart attack it’s not long before Andrea dismisses both Danny and Maeve, taking over the house and inheritance.

After college Maeve returns to their home town despite her potential to make more of her life in the big city. She is a devoted employee helping to revolutionize her employer’s frozen vegetable business. Danny lives in New York where he pursues a medical degree, maximizing the only inheritance money Andrea concedes to him. His real interest lies elsewhere, but his unwavering devotion to his sister compels him to push through school. Throughout the novel there is a cyclical scene of brother and sister parked down the driveway a distance from the Dutch House. They are irresistibly drawn to the house and sit smoking cigarettes recalling their past and imagining what’s transpired since their departure.

I don’t want to give too much away; there is a reason the book has a long waiting list. The novel begins and ends at the Dutch House. Patchett unveils a story so unexpected and unpredictable, masterfully opening metaphorically closed doors and exploring family dynamics amid poverty, wealth, inheritance, and more. It is a book worth reading!

Processed Cheese by Stephen Wright

Wow! Stephen Wright has a way with words!

People’s names: Graveyard, MisterMenu, Ambience, SideEffects, Carousel, Roulette, LemonChiffon, CarnyDoll, CyberLawn, CartWheel, and FancyPants

Places: House of Sweet Delay (perfume store), GutterBalm (makeup store), AlleyOops (clothing store), TooGoodForYou (the up-town shopping district), BurnishMe Island (vacation spot)

These are just a few examples of the unusual names of people and places in Wright’s new book Processed Cheese. They made it really fun to read.

Basically, the story starts with the character Graveyard walking home and a bag of money falling from the sky. He and his wife Ambience go on a spending spree (I mean really, wouldn’t you?) and eventually MisterMenu traces the bag of money his wife threw from his high-rise window to Graveyard and tries to get it back…

It was entertaining to see the lengths that MisterMenu went to try and get it back, and the extremes that Graveyard goes to avoid him.

Does he get the money back or not? You will have to read this astonishing book to find out!

Where I End and You Begin

I find it unsettling that serial killers -both male and female- have been sexualized in the last couple of years. Ted Bundy has become somewhat of a rock star thanks to a documentary on Netflix and a movie based on his life starring Zac Efron. There’s even a young woman somewhere in the world who got a tattoo of Bundy’s bite imprint from one of the bodies of his victims.

With that said, I do have to admit I find true crime beyond fascinating, but mostly I’m fascinated by what makes killers the way they are. I know some people think my fascination is weird and they refer to me as ‘one of those creepy girls.’  Yes. Yes, I am one of those creepy girls. It’s the creepy girls of the world that make everything burn a little brighter.

Stephen King used to keep a notebook full of newspaper clippings about murders when he was young. He said he kept the clippings because it was a way for him to recognize the nightmare people who donned a normal every day face while out in public. I, too, like to be aware of monsters that roam around with false human grace. But if you throw me a character from novels or a television series like Dexter who is a serial killer but only kills evil people, well, that’s something I can easily be obsessed about.

Joe Goldberg from Caroline Kepnes’s book You, throws off major Dexter vibes. Joe runs a bookstore in the East Village in New York. He’s obsessed with books, with literature, and with seeing people for who they really are. Characters fill his thoughts. You know what else he’s obsessed with? Guinevere Beck. From the moment she walks into the bookstore he’s got it bad for her. Like writing their names together on a notebook bad.

Beck, as she’s known to everyone, is a teaching assistant and aspiring writer. She’s working on her thesis, although it seems she never really spends time writing but heads out into the night to pursue a career in drinking and partying all night. Beck is everything Joe wants: beautiful, smart mouthed, and fiercely intelligent. Joe begins an odyssey of learning everything he can about Beck.

Instead of getting to know her through the normal channels, he stalks her social media and spies on her any chance he can get. Is this terrifyingly creepy? Yes. Can you kind of let that slide because Joe seems like one of the good guys? Surprisingly, yes.  That is until things begin to take a sinister turn and the reader begins to learn more about Joe’s past and his level of obsession with Beck. Will nothing stop Joe from being with Beck? Will anyone in the way of gaining Beck’s affection survive?

If you like books where you feel a little guilty about cheering on a main character who’s a lovable sociopath, You is your cup of tea.  Look, we’ve all had a crush that makes the rest of the world fall away and we can’t imagine a time when our crush isn’t a part of our life. But there’s a difference between a crush and an all-consuming obsession. It’s what you do in the middle-ground that makes all the difference.

And if you like You, there’s a sequel called Hidden Bodies that follows Joe after he leaves New York and settles in LA. You can move across the country, but obsessive love, like college debt, will follow you.

Snow Day Movies

With snow in the forecast, it’s time to enjoy watching movies from the comfort of your living room! If you forget to stock up on DVDs at the library before the snow hits, the library has two FREE movie apps you can use to watch movies digitally: Hoopla and Kanopy. With either of these apps, you just download the app and set up an account with your email address, library card and pin number. Then sign in with your library card and pin number and you can watch movies available in the app for FREE! There is a monthly limit: 6 per month for Hoopla and 8 for Kanopy. It’s another benefit of having an Everett Public Library card!

The movies change a little every month, and this month they have some really wonderful movies for both adults and kids. Here are some of my favorites on Hoopla:

Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. When his latest play flops, J.M. Barrie starts spending his days at a park near his London home where he meets a young widow and her four adventurous sons. His friendship with the bohemian family sparks his imagination and he ends up writing his greatest play – Peter Pan. This is a MAGICAL movie – totally amazing!

Kinky Boots starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton. This is an English film about a small family-owned shoe factory that is about to go out of business, unable to compete with lower priced shoes made elsewhere. The young man who has recently inherited the firm is determined to save it and keep the people who work for him employed, and he hits on a creative way to do so – making boots for drag queens! This is a heart-warming film with fantastic music and dancing. No description can possibly do it justice. 

A Long Way Down starring Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots. This is an English film about four people who meet when they all decide to jump off the same building on New Year’s Eve. Unable to watch the others commit suicide, they make an agreement to halt their plans to jump for six weeks. During this time, they become the family they all desperately need. Brilliant acting makes this a very touching and compelling film.

The Price Winner of Defiance, Ohio starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. This film is based on a true story. In 1950’s Ohio, a housewife with ten kids discovers she has a flair for writing jingles and ad copy and uses that flair to win contests. Her contest winnings paid her family’s bills for many years. Based on a book written by her daughter. This is a very emotional film with first-rate acting. 

Hamilton: One Shot to Broadway starring Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is a documentary about the making of the musical Hamilton. Fascinating and stunningly well made.

Did You Know? (Seahorse Edition)

The seahorse is the only male animal that can get pregnant?

I found that interesting fact in Project Seahorse by Pamela S Turner on pages 13-15. I was delighted that there was so much information about seahorses in this book; as they have always been one of my favorites at the aquarium. Ms. Turner also tells us about the studies being done to help preserve seahorse populations.

Eric Carle’s book Mister Seahorse is beautifully written with wonderful artwork. It’s the story of Mister Seahorse with his pouch full of babies talking to all the other fish dads who are also taking care of their eggs until they hatch.

Seahorses and Sea Dragons by Mary Jo Rhodes and David Hall has a lot of information and pictures. I was surprised to learn that sea dragons are typically much larger and don’t have the pouch that sea horses do. Instead, sea dragons have a ‘brood patch’ that the eggs attach to.

There are seahorses and sea dragons with the most common difference between them being the longer nose of the sea dragon. You can use the books How to Draw Horses and Ponies by Peter Gray and Draw Dragons and Other Fantasy Beasts by Gary Spencer Millidge and James McKay to invent your own creatures!

Animal reproduction is a mysterious thing. Read more about how other animals take care of their offspring in My Encyclopedia of Baby Animals by Emmanuelle Figueras. You’ll find several examples of males that take care of their eggs: the midwife toad that carries the eggs on his back, the cardinal fish that carries them in his mouth, and the emperor penguin who protects the egg until it hatches, just to name a few!

And lastly, unless you can hold your breath a really long time (and shrink yourself!) I wouldn’t recommend trying to ride a seahorse, but, you can learn all about horses and how to ride them in The Complete Book of Horses: Breeds, Care, Riding, Saddlery: a Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds and Practical Riding Techniques with 1500 Photographs by Debbie Sly.

Read to Your Children (About Race!)

It’s never too early to begin reading to your baby! This is why we love our board book collection. And why we offer storytimes for children as young as three months. It’s also never too early to start talking to them and reading to them about race and racism in America. Just as reading to children will help them succeed later in life, so will early exposure to stories that explore diversity, inclusion, prejudice, and our shared history. And there are urgent reasons to begin early. Racial preference and prejudice sink their teeth into us almost from birth. While researching a different topic, I stumbled upon some alarming statistics. Studies have found that infants as young as three-months have exhibited preference for faces of their own race, while children may begin to embrace and accept racism around three years in age. If this feels as dire to you as it does to me, there is good news too! We have part of the antidote to this insidious threat right here in the library. Each year, more and more books are published that talk about these issues in nuanced and accessible ways, while even more are coming out that feature people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds living their lives. I’d like to share a few of my favorites. 

Intersection-Allies-CoverIntersection Allies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, Carolyn Choi, and Ashley Seil Smith is a relatively new picture book that has quickly become a favorite to share with families and friends. From the carefully thought out ‘Letter to Grown-Ups’ at the beginning to the final pages’ rallying cry, this book is both masterfully poignant and thought-provoking. Written in rhyming text, the book celebrates young people of different races, religions, abilities, and experiences while also demonstrating how we can all cherish, value, and protect one another. In less expert hands, a book like this might feel clunky or over-stuffed, but the evident care and passion that went into its creation allow the message to shine without compromising the reading experience. 

81OxQJ1yf-LWhen I first saw Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham, the title made me nervous. The phrase “not my idea” felt too close to an excuse for me, so I was relieved when I read the book and discovered that it does not promote this message. This book begins with a young person watching a news story that involves violence then explores the privilege whiteness can afford and the ways that white people can leverage this privilege to fight for a more just future. The messaging is simple and direct, and Higginbotham deftly threads the needle by encouraging readers to critically examine the world around them while also encouraging self-care and forgiveness. She explains:

Racism is still happening. It keeps changing and keeps being the same. And yet…just being here, alive in this moment, you have a chance to care about this, to connect. But connecting means opening. And opening sometimes feels…like breaking.

I love that Higginbotham goes so far to acknowledge the fear and pain that can surface when confronting racism, while also portraying this mission as both urgent and redemptive. 

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Many other books confront and counter prejudice by telling stories that feature characters who are black, indigenous or people of color. Even when these stories focus on things that might be unique to a group of people, they also highlight our shared humanity and help expand the world that is accessible to young readers. Many of these stories focus on family. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson follows a young boy and his nana on a bus ride across town. It would be easy to pair this book with Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña’s My Papi Has a Motorcycle which also follows a young person on a ride across town. This time lovingly recounting a young girl’s late afternoon cruise on the back of her father’s motorcycle. 

Food, family, history and identity all come together in Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez Neal while A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui finds a father and son fishing in the early morning, while also connecting this ritual to the father’s own childhood in Vietnam. Nicola I. Campbell and Julie Flett’s beautiful A Day with Yayah is a gentle story of an Interior Salish family foraging in a meadow while an elder passes down knowledge to her grandchildren that fans of Blueberries for Sal are sure to love. And Minh Lê and Dan Santat’s Drawn Together spends a day with a boy and his grandfather who do not speak the same language as they discover a different way to communicate through a shared passion. 

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Other books discuss hair care and head-wear for different people around the US and the world. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, and My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera take different approaches while celebrating the love, attention, and community connection that can go into hair care. The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad and Hatem Aly and Mommy’s Khimar by Jamiliah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn explore different but affirming experiences connected with the headcoverings worn by some Muslim women.

The Boy & the Bindi by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera beautifully tells the story of a young South Asian boy who loves his mother’s Bindi and wishes he could wear one as well. And Sharee Miller’s Don’t Touch My Hair follows a young girl who loves her hair but does not love all the people around her who touch it without even asking. This book feels like it should be required reading delivering powerful messages about personal boundaries, being othered, and finding one’s voice, while somehow still feeling playful, whimsical, and silly. 

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We can certainly all relate to the fear of a young boy on a pools high dive, like that experienced by Jabari in Gaia Cornwall’s Jabari Jumps. And the joy that art can bring to a community, like Mira discovers when she meets a muralist in F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, and Rafael López’s gorgeous story Maybe Something Beautiful

I love Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López’s The Day You Begin. This story of new students from different cultures beginning school together is incredibly accessible. On some level we can all understand the experience of being the new person, not quite fitting in, and absorbing negative attention because of our differences. But it is also a powerful story of inclusion, reminding us that our differences make us stronger and that a healthy society welcomes all kinds of people. Mustafa by Mary-Louise Gay also focuses on uncertainty and new friendships, telling the story of a young refugee exploring his new home and making a friend.

And finally, Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans’ Hand Up! is wonderful. In an author’s note, McDaniel explains that she worried that her own niece, a black girl, would only connect negative emotions with the phrase ‘hands up.’ So, she created a beautiful, simple book that celebrates the many things we can do with our hands in the air, from playing peek-a-boo, to dancing, to protesting injustice. 

The publishing industry has come a long way, but all of us who work adjacent to children’s literature still have a tremendous amount of work to do. As the infographic below created by Sarah Park Dahlen and David Huyck demonstrates, we still desperately need more books that center young people from diverse backgrounds. Children and caregivers in our communities need more books that reflect their own heritage, culture, race, and experiences. This is why movements like We Need Diverse Books are so important and powerful. 

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Needless to say, the books I mentioned above are not a complete survey by any stretch of the imagination and I am surely missing incredible books exploring and celebrating many different backgrounds. If you have a favorite that is not featured above or is not in our library, please leave a comment and let us know!