The Month of Humor

As April is National Humor Month and glum has been the prevailing tilt to the world’s axis this past year, it seems to be a golden opportunity to highlight titles that might make you laugh or give you a lift. Reading has always been a conduit for joy for me, and this past year, the funnier the better. 

YA and Middle Schoolers

Don’t keep the celebration to yourself. Check out the library’s collection of joke books, and pick a favorite to tell your best pal (who’s 38, for instance) and child (who’s 8). My guess is they’ll both appreciate the laugh.

One of my favorite forms is clowning around, nonsense humor, wit and satire. I have long been a fan of P. G. Wodehouse, particularly the merry distraction that is Jeeves and my favorite knucklehead, Bertie. Because of these two, The Code of the Woosters is a joyous romp. I re-read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome whenever I’m especially blue. Bring on the silly!

More Fiction

Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series

Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Especially fun, as well, is You Suck, although most anything by Moore is an odd, fun, joy-ride of a read.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, first in the Thursday Next series. 

Mort by Terry Pratchett, one of the Discworld series

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, book one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Dark humor can be the outlet where we brighten ourselves and others up by pointing out the funny sides of adversities or shortcomings in order to laugh about them. While they can have a cheerless aspect, look for the buoyancy, as well.   

Twelve-year-old Flavia, “the world’s greatest adolescent British chemist/busybody/sleuth” (The Seattle Times), lives in a decaying mansion in 1950s England with two prickly older sisters and a distracted father. Part of the charm of a Flavia de Luce series is Flavia’s plucky take on the circumstances in front of her and then heading where that leads. Mix in her avid curiosity and author Alan Bradley’s sterling, darkly comic plot, and you have the recipe for smart and funny mysteries.

At the heart of the 10th installment, The Golden Tresses of the Dead: a Flavia de Luce novel, is a ghoulish question: “How had an embalmed finger found its way from the hand of a dead woman in a Surrey cemetery into the heart of a wedding cake?” While you can grab any one of the books and read it, if you start at the beginning with the wickedly brilliant first novel, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, you’ll follow Flavia’s bigger story as it slowly unfolds.

Bradley, who has few peers at combining fair-play clueing with humor and has fun mocking genre conventions, shows no sign of running out of ideas.(Publishers Weekly, starred review)

In The Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman, Asperger’s sufferer Samuel Hoenig puts his syndrome traits to good use running a business called Questions Answered. With the help of his new colleague Janet Washburn, Hoenig uses his unique powers of deduction to investigate the disappearance of a preserved head from a cryonics institute and the murder of one of the facility’s scientists.

Told from Hoenig’s perspective, this cozy mystery series uses light-hearted humor to point out that the approach of the “normal” world can be confusing and, at times, downright silly. Intricately plotted, thoughtful and frequently humorous, these gentle stories showcase Samuel’s unique perspective as a help rather than hindrance to his sleuthing success.

Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is a funny, award-winning re-imagining of the Western novel.

A gorgeous, wise, riveting work of, among other things, cowboy noir…Honestly, I can’t recall ever being this fond of a pair of psychopaths. (David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)

Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation by Adam Resnick. This Emmy-winning screenwriter, who started as an intern for the original Late Night starring David Letterman, makes his debut with this collection of personal tales ranging from childhood to being a dad. The book is full of tension between Resnick and everyone in his life, whether he’s on vacation at Disney World or finding a blade in his milkshake at a fast-food chain.

The writing is sharp and sharp-tongued, sometimes close to the line of mean-spirited—the book is not for readers who are easily offended…. A neurotic, unapologetic, hilarious collection. (Kirkus Reviews)

One of the best laugh-out-loud reads I have had in a long time.

Non-Fiction

The Corfu Trilogy: a naturalist and his family leave England to live on the Greek island of Corfu. These are the tales of the interactions they have there–with both humans and animal varieties.

Allie Brosh’s latest offering, Solutions and Other Problems, continues where Hyperbole and a Half, her first book, left off in 2014. Both are based on collections of personal stories and drawings, including funny tales from her childhood, the adventures of her ‘very bad pets,’ and the absurdity of modern life in a mix of text and intentionally crude illustrations. They are part graphic novel, part confessional, and overall delightful. The books come from collections of blog posts in the form of her very popular webcomic, Hyperbole and a Half. Brosh started Hyperbole in 2009.

“A quirky, humorous memoir/collection of illustrated essays.” (Kirkus Reviews)

 **************

“‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, “Do trousers matter?”’

‘The mood will pass, sir.’”

~  P. G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves

Walk-Ins Welcome

They say that there are many parallel worlds all around us, just out of sight. Who are “they?” I don’t know. Fringe scientists, paranormal armchair detectives, somebody’s crazy Aunt Lulu down in Boca Raton who, some speculate, has been baking in the sun too long.

There is a popular thought that in each of these parallel worlds are versions of ourselves. In one world maybe I finally got off my ass and wrote the novel that would become a best seller. In another world, maybe I became the funeral director I always wanted to be. And maybe in another, someone wanted to marry this mess and procreate with me.

I first came across the term “walk-ins” while reading a Stephen King novel. Yeah. Big surprise. Walk-ins are those who very clearly do not belong in our world. They show up in the middle of a sweltering August heatwave wearing winter jackets 50 years out of date. Or they insist a building was once where a building never stood. There’s just something…off about these walk-ins.

Whew. Having said all that, let’s get to the book I want to tell you about.

In Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, Alice is a 17-year-old girl always on the run from something looming but unseen with her mother. Her mother Ella doesn’t want them staying in one place for too long, but she’ll never explain why to Alice. Alice has never met her grandmother Althea before but knows that the woman has a rabid cult following because of a book of fairy tales she wrote years ago, set in a place called the Hinterland. Ella refuses to talk about Althea or her popular novel and flew into a rage the one time she caught Alice with a copy of the book.

After having settled for the millionth time in a new place and new school, they get word that Althea has died alone on her estate. The estate’s name? Hazel Wood. Alice has a faint memory of being a young child and being abducted by a man. Not exactly kidnapped in a rough fashion. She willingly went with the man. She was found unharmed and alone. Now, over ten years later, she sees the man again sitting in a café, unchanged, unaged. Something is going on, something hovering-like another world-at the edges of her vision.

Her mother inexplicably vanishes, taken by something or someone. All that’s left is a note in her mother’s handwriting reading “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Not damn likely to happen, Alice thinks and with the help of a classmate named Ellery Finch (who is a hardcore fan of Althea’s book of fairytales and has his own reasons for helping Alice out) Alice embarks on a dangerous mission to rescue her mother. A mission which includes slipping through to a world not just made up in the mind of Althea.

What follows is a thorn choked path where everything Alice thought she knew to be true turns out to be false. But will she find her mother and escape the strange fairytale world and make it back to her world? Will she be the same person? Are any of us the same person at the end of a magnificent and harrowing adventure? Not damn likely.

Frankly in Love

In Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li straddles two worlds: the world he knows, being an ultra-smart and awkward teenage boy born and raised in Southern California and Frank Li, son of two Korean immigrants who came to America so their children would have better (and more) chances in life. Frank barely speaks any Korean and his parents aren’t the stereotypical helicopter parents, pushing him to make excellent grades and to be the best in everything.

Frank’s already getting straight A’s and is headed to a college far away. As much as he loves his parents and his Southern California upbringing, he wants to get far enough away to see who he really is. All his life he hasn’t felt Korean enough or American enough. It’s like he floats in some vicious limbo where he’s not enough of either. He can go away to college and just be Frank Li. But he has to get through his senior year first.

And while his parents don’t force Frank to be all Korean, the one rule is he has to date and eventually marry a Korean girl. There’s just one problem: Frank Li falls in love with Brit, a white girl. Frank’s older sister is a lawyer in Boston. She’s been disowned by their parents because her boyfriend is black. They refuse to speak to her.

Along with living in a cultural limbo, Frank also lives in a limbo where his parents are casual racists. Frank’s best friend is black and while they’ve always been polite to him, it’s been a cool and aloof polite. There’s no way his parents would accept Frank being in love with a white girl. And the equally horrible (but relatable) thing is Frank doesn’t explain this to Brit, how his parents want him to be with a Korean girl. The only way Frank can bring Brit around to see his parents is if he invites a group of friends over and pretends she’s just a friend.

And then Frank comes up with a seemingly foolproof plan: he’s going to pretend to date a Korean girl while actually dating Brit. He knows the perfect Korean girl. Joy Song. She and Frank have grown up together and he happens to know for a fact that she’s in a similar situation: she’s dating a Japanese boy her parents would forbid her from seeing if they only knew.

Frank explains the plan to her, and she agrees. Both of their families think they’re dating. Whenever Frank and Joy go out on a date, they make sure their parents see them together before they go their separate ways with their taboo loves for the evening and then meet back up to make a show of having been busy in love all night.

Meanwhile Frank is finding out that Brit is his first love and it’s overwhelming. He wants to tell her his plan, that he’s fake dating Joy for his parents’ approval but something keeps his mouth shut. Unfortunately, it’s about to get even more complicated for Frank when he finds himself falling in love with Joy.

At turns hilarious and heart breaking, David Yoon’s Frankly in Love is a novel about first love, belonging, family, and future. It’s about choosing what’s best for yourself while still loving your family and knowing you’re loved by them.

Staff Picks: Favorites from Childhood

As a first grader, I checked out as many books from our public library as I could pile high in my arms (with my parents’ help). As quickly as my parents could read them to me, we would head back to the library for more. I grew up with favorites including Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and the Nancy Drew mystery series by Carolyn Keene. 

Having this routine of reading aloud with my parents led to a life of jubilant reading and writing. Having a routine of reading childhood favorites can be a fun way to bond with kids, and discuss how life was different in the past and how the books may be outdated. In that spirit of back to school, I surveyed the Everett Public Library staff to learn what favorite books they read starting from kindergarten through the end of high school. 

Leslie

That’s a tough one. There are so many. I recently read an excellent book by Jason Reynolds called Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and I found it so much more accessible. It was an entertaining and educational read about the history of racism, racism itself and what you can do about it. I highly recommend it!

My favorite easy reader (and once again, there are so many) is called Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selnick. It’s laid out like a chapter book, so kids feel proud to read it. It’s funny! Baby Monkey, private eye, will investigate stolen jewels, missing pizzas, and other mysteries- if he can only figure out how to get his pants on. (He has a tail, of course!) As for a favorite picture book, I’d choose anything by Julia Donaldson. I can’t pick one. The Gruffalo, The Detective Dog, The Snail and the Whale, Superworm, and The Giant Jumperee are all excellent. I love them because they rhyme, have great stories and usually a surprise ending. 

Lisa 

When I was little I remember really loving books by Gyo Fujikawa and Joan Walsh Anglund. We went through a lot of books as a family so I don’t have one favorite that stands out – just how much I enjoyed reading and being read to. The book that stands out to me most from high school was The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Not a happy read by any means, but it left a deep impression. 

Linda

I loved My Side of the Mountain by Jean C. George because I was so impressed that he learned how to live in the wild from reading library books! I read it in 4th or 5th grade, so 10 or 11 years old. 

Scott

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Player Piano, which focuses on the human and social costs of workplace automation, made such an impression on me that within a month I’d read everything of Vonnegut’s I could get my hands on.

Andrea

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Each of five children lucky enough to discover an entry ticket into Mr. Willy Wonka’s mysterious chocolate factory takes advantage of the situation in his own way.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery:

Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake 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.

Eileen 

If I had to choose a favorite childhood book, it would be the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved the mystical elements, and how Mary’s connection with nature and others helped her grow into herself. I also appreciated the darker, complex themes of grieving, hope and finding non-traditional family. 

Elizabeth

I read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes when I was in third or fourth grade and it really had an impact on me; in fact I remember crying while reading it. The story is about bullying, accepting differences, and standing up and doing the right thing. It is based on a real life experience the author had in school. Art plays a role in the book as well, which always appeals to me, and the illustrations done in simple but brilliant watercolor and colored pencil are still beautiful all these years later.

Illustration from “The Hundred Dresses”

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell was probably the first survival story I read, and I still like them to this day. The determination and ingenuity of the stranded young girl, Karana, was so inspiring to me. She inadvertently gets left behind when her people sail away, and is all alone on the remote island for years. She builds shelter and protection, stockpiles provisions, befriends a wild dog, and spends time watching all the animals. It is a true story of female strength, persistence, perseverance, and survival.

Carol

Nancy Drew: The Case of the Safecracker’s Secret by Carolyn Keene

This book—part of a 4 book set my late, great Aunt Judy gave me for Christmas when I was 9—got me hooked on Nancy Drew, mysteries, and reading.

Kristen

Some of my favorite books from my childhood are: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey and The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I enjoyed reading them over and over. I also loved reading them to my daughter and getting to share those memories with her.

Kim

The first series I remember reading is the Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Four orphans live in an abandoned boxcar until they are discovered by their grandfather. After moving in with him, they set out to solve a variety of mysteries. Next would be the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder following her life from a little girl living with her family in  Little House in the Big Woods to her life with her husband and daughter in These Happy Golden Years. Then moving on to the Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene. I read the Hardy Boys too by Franklin W. Dixon but you know, boys. 

Two other stand outs are From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg about a brother and sister hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. 

If you want to know my most hated book of my childhood it would be Lord of the Flies!

Richard

One I remember loving from my pre-teen years was Grendel by John Gardner: This retelling of the Beowulf legend from Grendel’s point of view clicked with my growing sympathy for the vanquished and the idea that any story has multiple interpretations, depending on the teller.

Emily

When I was in kindergarten, I loved the Frances books by Russell Hoban; especially A Bargain for Frances. How does one get back at a conniving friend? Outsmart them, of course!  

Ron

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler provides the perfect young nerd fantasy: a kid living inside of a museum. This was my favorite book in 4th grade. Imagine the thrill of living independently as a 12-year-old, making use of items at hand for comfort and survival, spending days and nights researching and studying… Sigh.

Joyce 

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

When Harriet is encouraged to track her observations in a notebook, she does.  She fills notebook after notebook with brutally honest takes on her friends and family, school and home. It’s a great outlet until the notebook falls into the wrong hands. I read Harriet the Spy at age 10, and the idea that she would write down what she observed rang so true, I immediately started doing the same. I liked writing in notebooks, but I was very bad at sneaking around and eavesdropping. I decided to not become a spy, and instead continued reading Nancy Drew books to work toward Career Plan B: girl detective.   

Schooled at Home? Week 2

This will be a school year unlike any other. It will be embedded in the mind of your youngsters for probably the rest of their lives, for better and worse. Some miss the joy of reuniting with friends and meeting new teachers. Others miss routines that ground them. Some are content staying home and love getting time with family.

These new experiences are bound to bring up a wide range of emotions, even if kids don’t articulate them. Just dealing with technology issues alone requires extreme patience, resilience, and understanding.

Helping your kids develop emotional skills, along with the ability to roll with a sense of humor, will smooth out future bumps in the road before you even get there.

Our collection is full of books about that support, this emotional muscle building and self-care for kids, teens and adults. September Sunday Night stories also features books on the topic throughout September.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are a positive role model for your kids, which includes accepting yourself and your kids as is, with all the struggles.

For parents, check out our Parenting During COVID Booklist for support navigating this season. Topics cover practical strategies for navigating technology with kids to strategies for developing emotional resilience.

Our Emotional Growth for Young Readers list focuses on picture books with characters and plots that expand reader’s emotional and interpersonal awareness. When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland and What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada can be used to start discussions with kids about how challenges can teach us about hope and resilience. What Should Danny Do? is a choose your own adventure book focusing on the outcomes of choices the character makes throughout the day.

Looking for a chapter book that falls under that category? Read a book from our Emotional Development Read Alouds list, like Stella Diaz Never Gives Up by Angela Dominguez or Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.

Books for Emotional Resilience (recommended for ages 10+) includes great read aloud novels with characters who develop and/or demonstrate emotional resilience in complex situations and non-fiction guides. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper offer narratives about students building their confidence at school.Ghost by Jason Reynolds and One for the Murphys by Lynda Hunt provide models for kids overcoming significant in interpersonal relationships. Mindful Me: Mindfulness and Meditation for Kids provides practical guidance for those looking for straight forward emotional and mental health strategies.

The De-stress for Success Teen Booklist features practical guides and non-fiction stories about individuals overcoming stress to find hope and resilience. From confidence building strategies in The Self-Esteem Habit for Teens: 50 Simple Ways to Build Your Confidence Every Day by Lisa Schab to advice on re-wiring stress responses in Be Mindful and Stress Less: 50 Ways to Deal with Your (Crazy) Life by Gina Biegel, this booklist offers resources for teens looking to strengthen their mental health in this season.

In all of this, remember that at any age, caregiver and other adult engagement around the reading of these books will make their impact even more powerful. And don’t forget to take care of yourself.

These Witches Don’t Burn

It’s hard enough to be a teenager without the added baggage of being a member of an ancient family full of witches. Add to that the fact that these teen witches sometimes must wear a ring that binds their powers and dark magic showing up in town, and you have something that would give any Salem Witch Trials survivor vivid flashbacks. Welcome to the world of These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling.

Hannah is from a family of elemental witches in Salem, Massachusetts. They harness the power of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. A handful of other families are ancient lineage witches, but they all have to keep it a secret and cannot risk exposing their lifestyle to the Regs (kind of like Muggles: regular people who don’t know that witchcraft actually exists). Witches can be excommunicated from their covens for showing their magic in front of Regs.

Teen witches must go to classes and if they’re caught abusing their powers, they have to wear a binding ring that nixes any use of witchcraft. Hannah broke up with her girlfriend Veronica a few months before. Veronica, from another family of witches, continuously inserts herself into Hannah’s life trying to make up with her, but Hannah doesn’t want to go backwards. She wants to move on with her life, become more adept at magic, work her part time job at the Fly By Night Cauldron selling witchcraft paraphernalia (her boss is a practicing Wiccan and Tarot card reader; she’s not a real witch but she has excellent senses) and just live a fairly normal life.

But months before while vacationing in New York, a deadly magical being known as a Blood Witch tried to attack Hannah and now there are signs that a blood witch in in town. But who is it? Is it the emo kid who keeps coming into the magic shop to buy hexes against his bullies? Is it the new detective in town who is always suspicious that Hannah seems to be around whenever something bad happens? Gemma, Hannah’s best friend and a reg, hooks her up with a new ballerina in her troupe. Could it be her? Something is targeting everyone Hannah loves, putting their lives in danger and soon they will do anything to kill them.

Fast-paced and original, These Witches Don’t Burn will satisfy your need for fantasy, lgbtq+ characters, and strong family bonds.

Memories of another graduation season

Cartoon of a man sitting on a riverbank, fishing. The word "seniors" is written above him.

Senior title page from the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

The class of 2020 faces a graduation season that is unlike anything seen before. While some schools move forward with in-person graduation ceremonies, many have scrambled to creatively meet the challenges created by the need to socially distance and limit contact. There are drive-through graduation ceremonies, virtual graduation ceremonies, and car parades past student and faculty housing. Needless to say, this graduation season will be one for the history books.

I wanted to see what graduation looked like 100 years ago, for the class of 1920 – another graduating class that lived through a series of unprecedented challenges. During their teen years this class witnessed labor unrest, a global pandemic, and a World War. The statement from the class of 1920 gives us a little insight into how these events impacted them.

Senior Class A's Statement - a full page of text with two portraits on the top - one boy and one girl.

Page one of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Senior class A's statement. This is a full page of text

Page 2 of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

This was a class that started its high school experience just before the Everett Massacre occurred in November of 1916, after months of labor unrest had rocked their city and their region. As alluded to in their essay, they had a 6-week ‘vacation’ when the Influenza pandemic that knocked the world to its knees closed Washington schools in the fall of 1918. Some of these students left to go to war in the middle of their schooling, seeing action in the hellish battlefields of France, only to return to Everett High School to finish their classes.

Yearbook page showing student portraits and information about their activities

Page from the Senior Class A section of the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Despite all this turmoil, these students remained essentially what they were: teens. Young people with hobbies, inside jokes, and a fierce sense of loyalty and belonging to their cohort. You can read in their statements, their activity pages, and in their class seniorscopes a little bit about who they were. They had gotten involved with the Service League and Red Cross to help aid the war effort, and I suspect to help pack gauze for the influenza response. Their story about the freshman year candy sale triumph must have been a particular point of pride, because they also boasted about it in their junior year statement in 1919. Competition between the different classes must have been fierce, with the hazing of incoming freshman a known threat and the frequent jibes you see in other annuals making fun of underclassmen.

Chart showing stats about different class members of senior class A

A page from the Seniorscope section for Senior Class A – 1920. Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

They loved music, and flirting with each other, and making up goofy nicknames. There were slackers and overachievers, and heartbreakers. They were sassy and nerdy and, well, teenagers.

Back in the earlier days of Everett High School you often had smaller graduating classes who finished their studies after the first semester of their final year. The 1920 Nesika has a section for a class of 1919 1/2, which from the sounds of it was a proud group of misfits.

Class of 1919 1/2 statement

The statement from the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

These were students who were transfers, or those who briefly left school to work, or in this period fought in a war. For whatever reason, they returned to earn their last few credits and move on with their lives. Some were destined to follow in their fathers’ footsteps into the mills and logging camps, while others continued on with their education either taking junior college classes at Everett High School or entering the University of Washington. Many of these students were probably the first in their families to seek a college degree.

Yearbook page with student portraits and activities

A page of students from Senior Class 1919 1/2 in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika. Everett Public Library

This blog isn’t meant to be a discussion about how other kids may have had things worse at some time in the past. Instead, it’s a celebration of the resilience of youth. This is certainly not the graduation that the class of 2020 imagined themselves having. Despite that, our students are constantly adapting and learning to meet the challenges that they face during this extraordinary time. Just as the class of 1920 had to figure out their next steps after they made it through turmoil, so are today’s teens trying to figure out where the future will take them. Maybe that will be a new job, or off to college, or some other new adventure. I hope that like the class of 1920, they will be embarking on the next phase of their journey bolstered by the strength and support of their peers and will meet each new experience with the same sense of humor and pride gained from their shared experiences.

Best wishes to the class of 2020 – we’re proud of you!

Who Knew?

You may have seen this wonderful viral picture on social media about owls and their long legs. Who knew that’s what was under all those feathers! There are so many things to learn about owls. Did you know that in the Harry Potter series, Harry’s owl Hedwig is a female Snowy Owl. All the owls that played her part in the movies were male.

From the book Snowy Owl Invasion, I learned about a 2013 Snowy Owl irruption, a sudden increase in an animal’s population. Due to the larger number of owls in unusual places, scientists studying these owls found that they flew faster, higher, and further than they thought possible. Sounds like the perfect mail carrying owl for Harry Potter!

Below I have included a list of fantastic owl books, including the non-fiction book Snowy Owl Invasion, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Through the end of May, Pottermore Publishing and Overdrive has given libraries unlimited access to Book 1 in the Harry Potter Series, in downloadable book and audio versions! All book descriptions are taken from the library’s catalog.

Picture Books

Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge
In the night skies above Paris, an adorable young owl teaches her older brother about the power of imagination—and the unconditional love between siblings 

Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan
It’s evening in the forest and Little Owl wakes up from his day-long sleep to watch his friends enjoying the night. Hedgehog sniffs for mushrooms, Skunk nibbles at berries, Frog croaks, and Cricket sings. A full moon rises and Little Owl can’t understand why anyone would want to miss it. Could the daytime be nearly as wonderful? Mama Owl begins to describe it to him, but as the sun comes up, Little Owl falls fast asleep.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
Features an audio read-along! When three baby owls awake one night to find their mother gone, they can’t help but wonder where she is. Stunning illustrations capture the owls as they worry about their mother: What is she doing? When will she be back? Not surprisingly, a joyous flapping and dancing and bouncing greets her return, lending a celebratory tone to the ending of this comforting tale.

Beginning Readers

Rocket Writes a Story a Story by Tad Hills
Rocket loves books and he wants to make his own, but he can’t think of a story. Encouraged by the little yellow bird to look closely at the world around him for inspiration, Rocket sets out on a journey. Along the way he discovers small details that he has never noticed before, a timid baby owl who becomes his friend, and an idea for a story.

National Geographic Readers: Owls by Laura Marsh
In this level 1 reader, young readers will explore the feathery world of adorable owls. Follow these curious-looking creatures through their wooded habitats, and learn how owls raise their young, hunt, and protect themselves. Beautiful photos and carefully leveled text make this book perfect for reading aloud or for independent reading.

Favorite Stories from Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman
It’s springtime on the ranch. Cowgirl Kate is excited about the arrival of all the baby animals: a newborn calf, a frisky puppy, and a nest of little barn owls. Her best friend Cocoa the horse is not so excited. Babies are a lot of work! But they are also sweet, as Cocoa and beginning readers will discover in this delightful addition to Green Light Readers. Short sentences and simple dialogue keep newly independent readers engaged and confident.

Beginning Chapter Book

Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliot
Eva Wingdale gets in over her head when she offers to organize a spring festival at school. Even with her best friend Lucy’s help, there is NO way she will get everything done in time. Will Eva have to ask Sue (a.k.a. Meanie McMeanerson) for help? Or will the festival have to be cancelled? This book is written as Eva’s diary — with Rebecca Elliott’s owl-dorable full-color illustrations throughout!

Juvenile Non-Fiction

Origami Papertainment: Samurai, Owls, Ninja Stars, and More! By Christopher Harbo
From samurai and owls to ninja stars and dragonflies, exciting traditional and original paper folding projects await young origami artists. Organized from easy to challenging, each project includes clear, step by step, photo illustrated instructions that make developing paper folding skills fun. All projects also include creative tips for using and displaying models to impress friends and family.

Snowy Owl Invasion! Tracking an Unusual Migration by Sandra Markle
Late in 2013, snowy owls started showing up in places no one expected to find them—including Florida. What had caused so many of these majestic birds to leave their Arctic home and fly to southern Canada and the United States? Scientists quickly began working to find out. Author Sandra Markle brings together firsthand reports from the scientists involved along with stunning photographs of the owls to explain this rare event, known as an irruption. Follow along as scientists figure out why snowy owls took part in this unusual migration and discover what they learned from the unexpected opportunity to study them up close.

Middle Grade Fiction

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Roy, who is new to his small Florida community, becomes involved in another boy’s attempt to save a colony of burrowing owls from a proposed construction site. Unfortunately, Roy’s first acquaintance in Florida is Dana Matherson, a well-known bully. Then again, if Dana hadn’t been sinking his thumbs into Roy’s temples and mashing his face against the school-bus window, Roy might never have spotted the running boy. And the running boy is intriguing: he was running away from the school bus, carried no books, and–here’s the odd part–wore no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy’s trail. The chase introduces him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, some burrowing owls, a renegade eco-avenger, and several extremely poisonous snakes with unnaturally sparkling tails.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

Wild and Crooked

There is something suffocating about Samsboro, Kentucky, the setting of Leah Thomas’ riveting Wild and Crooked. This might be a fact of life in a small-town, where everyone knows one another’s business and old secrets have a way of resurfacing at the worst of times. But Samsboro has never fully escaped the shroud left by a terrible crime that rocked the town nearly two decades earlier. And while the community can’t seem to shake this terrible murder, they also refuse to face it, leaving Samsboro a powder keg primed and ready to blow. 

910f-d-0anLOf course, this affects different people in different ways. Though Kalyn Spence has only recently moved to Samsboro, she is already desperate for refuge from the claustrophobic, insular town. But Kalyn can’t run from her name. It’s her Spence blood, she figures, that makes her allergic to rules, fuels her impulsive anger, and keeps her friendless. It’s also the Spence name that brands her as “trailer trash,” and as the daughter of the man who killed the town’s golden boy. Though her father has never denied committing this crime, Kalyn is convinced that he is not nearly as monstrous as the town paints him. But she also knows that the Spence name will haunt her as long as she bears it in Samsboro. So when she begins school, she tries on a new name and a new persona and though the fit is imperfect, she can’t argue with the results – in place of dirty looks and cruel whispers, she finds popularity and acceptance. 

Gus Peake has his own small-town problems. He has a lot to offer, from his wry wit and eclectic fashion sense to his kindness and compassion. Yet when the people of Samsboro look at him they only see two things: 1) Gus is disabled – he has Cerebral Palsy, which has affected his physical abilities as well as his speech and 2) Gus is the son of the aforementioned golden boy, who was murdered before Gus was even born. Because of these two facts, most people pity Gus instead of appreciating the many things he has to offer. And then he meets Rose Poplawski, a new girl at school who puts up a phony front, but also seems to see the real Gus and recognize his value. 

Of course, there is a small problem. Rose Poplawski is really Kalyn Spence and her father killed Gus’s father. This fact should be the wedge that ends their friendship. But Kalyn and Gus are equally frustrated by the people around them and are both determined to find out what really happened between their fathers, even if it means tearing the town apart to uncover the truth.  

As a compelling story of friendship and an enjoyable mystery, The Wild and Crooked is surely a success. I tore through this book and while the resolution didn’t contain any bombshell revelations, it had enough minor twists to remain satisfying. It was a pleasure to switch back and forth between Gus and Kalyn’s voices. They are both lovingly developed and fully formed characters and it was a joy to watch their friendship develop. In many ways, it was refreshing to read a book that hit many of the beats of a romance but focused instead on platonic love. I also appreciate the LGBTQ+ representation in this novel. Even in a small town with plenty of prejudice, we see queer teens, queer adults, and identities that extent beyond the gay/straight binary (albeit subtly).

And yet, I find myself conflicted about this novel as a whole. I’m frustrated by the lack of diverse racial and ethnic representation among not just the main characters in this novel, but really all of those that participate in the book’s main plot lines. While Thomas created an interesting and complicated community, it is also an overwhelmingly white community and I am disappointed that she missed the opportunity to discuss the ways racial prejudice might manifest in such a town. 

I am also uncomfortable with the portrayal of Gus’s best friend, Phil. Phil is not as central a character as Kalyn or Gus, but his actions often drive the plot of the novel. It seems that Thomas went back and forth on how to characterize Phil. Early in the book, she hinted that he might be on the autism spectrum, before establishing that he was “tested…and fell short of the spectrum.” And yet, Thomas gave Phil some of the behaviors that are often negatively and falsely ascribed to people on the spectrum, including a lack of emotions and physically violent outbursts. I was disappointed that she would even passingly connect neurodiversity and these harmful stereotypes. Eventually, Thomas revealed that Phil has antisocial personality disorder, but the explanation for his social struggles and the suggested trauma that causes them to feel vague and unscientific. 

Wild and Crooked was great fun, with moments that provoked thought and encouraged self-reflection. It was also deeply frustrating, with moments that missed the mark and made me uncomfortable in the wrong ways. It all left me wondering – would I recommend this book to a reader? I think I would, but only when I have the time or space to voice my concerns.

The Best Books of 2019

With the year rapidly drawing to a close, it is time to reflect on the past year. Here at the library, of course, that means talking about all the great books we have read. Our full list of recommendations (including fiction, non-fiction, young adult and children’s books) has already been released, but some of us can’t help but want to tell you more. Here are a few select reviews from our best of list written by our dedicated and always reading staff.

Alan:

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

From one of the best mystery writers of our time, the modern Agatha Christie, comes a suspense-filled epistolary tale of a nanny hired at a posh, remote estate in the Scottish Highlands. Idyllic until things take a turn for the darker. In a series of letters to an attorney, the facts of the case are revealed as our narrator unravels, and we wonder how reliable she is…

Chaz:

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

The solution to information overload is to be mindful with how and why you interact and engage with technology. Does it serve your essential and personal goals?  Can you achieve the same result without using the technology? Cal Newport explores a philosophy of digital minimalism that fits this time of life.

I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi

How much time do you spend learning about money? 10 hours? 1 hour? None? Actively avoid thinking about it? The title may seem off-putting, as if it were some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, but on the contrary, Ramit teaches the long game of growing wealth over time. This requires taking an honest look at your finances and spending habits, and making a clear budget for money to have fun with (guilt free!). Where is the motivation in saving money for 40 years if you can’t enjoy some of it in the meantime?  Ramit provides a simple framework for understanding where you’re at with money, both mentally and financially. He shows how you should focus your resources to maximize debt reduction and wealth creation.  Through the book, you grow your self-understanding and are able to make a plan that will lead you confidently into the future.

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

There are many dozens of definitions for distraction, but Nir Eyal has got to have one of the most useful ones. He says that a distraction is anything that keeps you from fulfilling your word. This book is a manual for empowerment- teaching the importance of honoring your word and with this, growing respect for yourself. Did I say that I can peruse Instagram, or did I already commit to working in the garden Saturday morning? Nir provides a simple method for self-empowerment with many examples and situations to draw from.

Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller

Is Dave Ramsey the best personal finance expert in the world? Probably not, so why is he the most successful? It’s because he has the clearest message: financial peace. Donald Miller explores the 7 elements that make up a story and how businesses can clarify their message and invite customers into the story. The business is the guide – the customer is the hero. What is the story?

Eileen:

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Arthur believes in romance and signs from the universe. When his heart skips a beat at the sight of Ben at the post office and then a magical flash mob proposal breaks out, he believes. Ben, however, does not believe in signs. The box of items he’s mailing back to his ex is clear evidence that the universe has nothing for him. But what if there’s more to the universe than both of them see?

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Fifteen year old Will knows the rules: no crying, no snitching, and it’s up to him to avenge his brother’s murder. With a gun shoved in his waistband, he takes the elevator from the seventh floor to fulfill his role. But the elevator door opens on the sixth floor, and in walks a dead man.

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow

Aisulu’s dream of eagle hunting goes against the Kazakh tradition that restricts training to men. When her parents take her ill brother to a distant hospital, she’s left with a strange aunt and uncle- and an orphaned eagle to rescue.

Linda (click on the links to Linda’s review for each title):

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Lisa:

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of those books that you cruise through in a couple reads because it is just that hard to put down. Imagine if Cinderella was set in rural Jazz Age Mexico, only instead of a benevolent fairy godmother, it is the deposed Mayan god of death who changes our young heroine’s life. Instead of being carried away in a beautiful enchanted pumpkin carriage, she is bound to the former lord of the underworld when a sliver of his bone embeds in her hand and her blood reanimates his corpse. Far from being a maiden needing to be rescued, our heroine, Casiopea Tun must not only save herself, but save the entire world from falling into a new age of darkness on Earth should she fail to defeat the schemes of the reigning god of death, Vucub-Kame. I hope you enjoy this amazing mix of Maya folklore, Mexican culture, drama, and historical fiction, as much as I did.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman is an incredible work of historical research and non-fiction writing. Hartman is able to strike a satisfying balance between heavily-footnoted academic, and very personal and engaging narrative writing styles. The personal stories and photographs used illustrate in a very relatable way, what life was like for Black women in Philadelphia and New York City at the turn of the century. Each chapter is a revelation that challenges what we commonly believe about Victorian life, and the way that women were allowed to move about their worlds. Hartman uses expert research and storytelling skills to give voices to women who were only brief news stories, or even nameless photographs in the historical record. These histories are often overlooked but should never be undervalued in terms of what they can tell us about the history of women’s rights, the struggles Black women faced during the Great Migration, and the wide variety of ways that Black urban women were making lives for themselves during a very turbulent time. I found myself having to re-read pages to make sure I didn’t miss a single detail

Margo:

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

I loved this story. My 83-year-old mom loved this story! It made me laugh and it made me cry.

Quoting from a New York Times Book Review author Mary Beth Keane states “No one ever plans to become estranged.” This profound truth sets the stage for a thought-provoking novel delving into how one deals with injustice, pain, and deception especially when it happens in your own family.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet each other on the job in the NYPD. The young rookie cops work at a precinct in the Bronx. Francis meets and falls in love with Lena. Wanting to raise a family, the couple moves out of the city and into the suburbs. Several years later the Stanhope family move in next store, but there is a breach of some sort. Brian’s wife Anne is standoffish. The relationship that buds, however, is between Gleeson’s youngest daughter Kate and Stanhope’s only child Peter. Kate and Peter become best friends.

Set in the 1970’s when mental illness and addiction were subjects rarely discussed, Keane paints a portrait of two very different families with Irish Catholic roots whose lives become entwined. Layered with complex characters, a story of love, sorrow, tragedy, and ultimately, forgiveness unfolds.

Transcending time and generation, the story is timely and relevant. In an age where offenses are taken, and misunderstandings fueled by bitterness lead to many broken relationships, Ask Again, Ask offers hope.

Mindy:

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

In many ways, this is a familiar story about a woman struggling to balance her photography career and creative ambition as a single mother. However, the storytelling is completely original, as it unfolds in the form of a photography exhibit catalog curated by the woman’s daughter. The imagery is so vivid that you almost feel like you’re seeing the photographs instead of words on a page.

Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

Flight Portfolio is the fictionalized story of Varian Fry, a real historical figure who covertly rescued countless Jewish artists and their works from the Nazis. I’m not usually a big reader of historical fiction, but I’m a big fan of this author and her richly imagined characters and exquisite writing.

Susan:

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

I adored this book! It starts strong and remains strong to the very end. This is magical realism in a small southern town in the vein of Sarah Addison Allen but with a charm all its own. Sarah Dove is the seventh daughter of the Dove family, an old family in town whose daughters all have magic. Sarah’s magic is that books talk to her, telling her which person in town needs to read them. As the town librarian, she makes sure each book gets to the right person. Such a lovely idea! Sadly, her beloved small town of Dove Pond is failing. The population is dwindling, they have no jobs for the young people, and most of the downtown storefronts are vacant. People are worried. Luckily, the town lore is that whenever the Dove family has seven daughters something good happens for the town. As a seventh daughter, Sarah has always thought she would save the town, but she has no idea how to do that. Then Grace Wheeler, broke and with crushing family responsibilities, comes to town and Sarah realizes that it is her job to befriend Grace and help Grace save the town. This is a lovely novel of friendship, family, belonging and finding home.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury. That’s the premise for this totally original legal thriller by Irish author Steve Cavanagh. What’s the best way to get away with murder? Have someone else convicted of the crime. What’s the best way to have someone else convicted of the crime? Make sure you (the killer) are on the jury! I’m a big fan of this author, and this is his best legal thriller yet.

Theresa:

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

They say one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but an interesting title always attracts me. The title of Anissa Gray’s debut novel grabbed my attention and her writing held it. The book begins with the stunning arrest of Althea and Proctor, a well-respected couple in their community. As her sisters struggle with their disbelief at the arrest of their eldest sister, and with caring for their nieces, what happened and how is revealed through the separate stories of those involved. This is primarily a character driven novel, with a dash of mystery on the side.