THEY CALL ME GUERO by David Bowles/DANCING HANDS by Margarita Engle

Twelve-year-old Guero (a lifelong nickname referring to his pale skin and red hair) has spent his entire life crossing back and forth over the U.S.-Mexico border. Born and raised in the southernmost part of Texas, the title character of “THEY CALL ME GUERO” often makes trips into Mexico to visit family and stock up on food at his family’s favorite stores. In fact, Guero notes, Texas and Mexico mostly feel the same to him. However, the foreboding bridge at the border, the vehicle stop by police on his way to San Antonio, and the fear of undocumented classmates serve as a stark reminder that the two places, though mere miles apart, are very different.

Author DAVID BOWLES’ choice to tell Guero’s story in verse mirrors Guero’s growing interest in poetry during his seventh grade year. A member of the self-anointed “Los Derds” (short for “Diverse Nerds”), Guero has always been an avid reader. However, when his seventh grade English teacher, Ms. Lee, starts a poetry unit, Guero — enamored with the ways in which music and poetry are similar — begins writing his own short poems to document his days. Though the entire book is told in verse, not every poem is the same; some poems rhyme and are short, while others are entirely free verse, longer, and include dialogue, a choice that makes these poems read more like a traditional novel.

“They Call Me Guero” also reads like a typical middle grade novel; the title character learns to navigate friendships, crushes and sibling problems through trial and error. However, Bowles delves into heavier territory by addressing other topics that are of equal importance to Guero and his friends: immigration, legal status and difficult home lives.

My chief complaint about this novel is that it is too short. I want to know more about how the main character navigates life on both sides of the border, yes, but I also want to know more about his loving family and his friends, a sweet group of boys who bond after meeting in their school library. Overall, I would recommend “They Call Me Guero” for upper elementary and early middle school students, as some of Guero’s experiences will resonate with them, while other experiences may be illuminating to them.

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The second book I want to recommend this month is MARGARITA ENGLE and RAFAEL LOPEZ’s “DANCING HANDS: HOW TERESA CARRENO PLAYED THE PIANO FOR PRESIDENT LINCOLN.” The biographical picture book follows the young piano player as she flees a war-torn Venezuela for New York City at just 8 years old. Prior to seeking refuge in Civil War-era New York City, Teresa develops a love for playing the piano. Engle’s vivid descriptions emphatically express Teresa’s appreciation for the instrument. The author describes “gentle songs that sounded like colorful birds singing in the dark” and “powerful songs that roared like prowling jaguars” as sounds Teresa could tame or be soothed by.

The book, which covers Teresa’s young life up until she plays piano for President Abraham Lincoln, does not shy away from difficult feelings and events. Engle successfully acknowledges these heavy topics in a manner accessible to preschoolers or young elementary students. Accessibility for younger readers likely lies in the fact that Teresa’s trials serve a narrative purpose; at one point, a young Teresa wonders, “How could music soothe so much trouble?”

Her visit to the White House serves as an answer to this existential question. President Lincoln, whose young son Willie has just died, delights in her music — an effect made apparent through Lopez’s illustration of a tall Lincoln reclining in an armchair, his eyes closed with a bemused smile on his face.

Lopez’s illustrations throughout are a perfect complement to Engle’s lyrical storytelling. The lush colors bloom across each page as Teresa plays the piano. The final page offers a close-up of her hands on the piano as music notes, flowers, birds and swirls of color fly upward.

The duo first collaborated with award-winner “Drum Dream Girl,” and they complement each other well.

For a multi-sensory experience, pull up Teresa Carreno’s music on Spotify while you read “Dancing Hands.”

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Short Attention Span? Try These Short Stories, Films

I’m sure most people have been in a situation where someone asks them what types of books they like to read, and they meet their eyes with a blank stare, forgetting every book ever published. I have been experiencing that a lot lately.

Nothing can grab my attention for very long, so I don’t have an answer when I’m asked that question. It’s sad when that happens, but it is not always the book at fault. Everything has a time and place, but unfortunately, we don’t always have enough time to get to it all.

With my short attention span, sometimes the only thing that can keep my focus are short stories and short films. So I am going to recommend a few short stories and short films to shamelessly plug an event taking place at the Joplin Public Library.

Ray Bradbury wrote about 600 short stories and was writing pretty much up until his death in 2012, leaving behind a legacy with which few could compete. He once said: “The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week — it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing. And at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done.”

It’s that kind of mentality that made him such a prolific writer, implementing themes of sci-fi, horror, psychological thriller and even fantasy into his works. The library has several of his collections, including “The Illustrated Man,” “October Country” and “The Stories of Ray Bradbury.” Specifically, I am recommending the stories: “R is for Rocket,” “The Veldt,” “All Summer in a Day,” “The Pedestrian” and “The Small Assassin.” Now that fall is upon us, his stories are a great accompaniment to the weather change.

If you aren’t in the mood for reading, maybe try to watch a short film or two instead. Buster Keaton could be considered one of the best in the business, starring in 19 short films between 1920 and 1923. He was an actor, director, screenwriter, producer and stunt man.

If you have a chance, search the internet for some insight into how he performed some of his stunts.

Try out the “Buster Keaton Short Films collection, 1920-1923” DVD and watch some timeless cinema. The library also has a DVD collection of films from the Manhattan Short, a global film festival that the library is excited to be a part of this year.

The “Manhattan Short Film Festival” began in 1998 when Nicholas Mason screened 16 short films to a crowd of about 300 in New York City. Now, it takes place across six continents, in more than 350 cities. Each year, 10 short films are selected, and audience members are asked to vote for their favorite.

The library kicked off the festival on Sept. 26 with a reception and initial screening. If you missed that, you can still come in and watch the films for our repeat screenings happening on Tuesday Wednesday and Saturday. Come in, watch some films, vote on your favorite, and be a part of something global.

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The Consultant by Tj O’Connor

Tj O’Connor is a former government anti-terrorism agent. He has investigated terrorist activity around the world and draws on that wealth of knowledge and experience in his latest novel, The Consultant. It is billed as the first in the Jonathan Hunter series and is the Military Writers Society of America 2018 Gold Medal Winner.

Hunter is an international security consultant in the Middle East and other places where his special talents are needed. He describes himself as “sort of a handyman for special clients”. But he works for only one special client, Oscar LaRue. LaRue is CIA and Hunter’s friend, mentor and master.

Bullets are flying from the first sentence in this thriller.  Having tracked his estranged brother’s cellphone to a riverbank, Hunter drives into a hail of bullets. He survives but Kevin, the elder of the two brothers, is wounded. There is no time for Kevin to tell why he sent for Hunter.  With his dying breath Kevin leaves few clues – Khalifah, find G, not them, Maya in Baltimore, and a partial address.

Hunter’s full name is Jonathan Hunter Mallory. His parents died when he was a teen and Kevin sacrificed to provide for his younger brother. They became estranged when Kevin objected to Hunter’s career choice, the CIA. Now years later the letter from Kevin asking for help has drawn Hunter back to Virginia only to arrive too late.

His mission to aid Kevin now turns into the search for his killer. He also learns he has a sister-in-law, Noor, and nephew, Sameh, that need his help. To further complicate things he left Qatar without notifying LaRue. He knows LaRue is aware because his bank account has been emptied of the $879,928.66 it once contained.

Kevin was part of a joint terrorist task force involving the FBI, the Virginia BCI, and others. The crime scene has plenty to keep the task force busy and the leader, Agent Bacarro, isn’t keen on his help. On his own, Hunter takes his first step to find his brother’s killer, the partial address. There are 4 possibilities and Hunter arrives at the first just as a large man is escorting a young man of Middle Eastern heritage into a van.

Deciding to follow, Hunter and the van eventually reach a mall. Only the young man enters carrying a backpack. Hunter follows him in only to lose him. Heading back to the entrance Hunter is almost blown up by a bomb. Scanning the devastation and seeing no one he can help, Hunter runs out to find the van. It’s gone and he races back to the house at the partial address.

The van is not there and Hunter finds three dead inside the house, an older couple and a young girl. A picture suggests they are the family of the young man that entered the mall with the backpack. Hunter has seen this tactic used by ISIS, the Taliban and others. But that was in the Middle East not in America.  What was Kevin involved in and where does Hunter go from here?

Another attack sends the country spiraling toward war. Hunter must pull together Kevin’s cryptic clues to find not only his brother’s killer but who is behind the terrorist attacks. LaRue is doing his own investigating and is using Hunter to flush out the conspirators.

As he searches for Khalifah, the assassin Caine, and the elusive G, Hunter finds not everyone is as they seem.  Also how are the Russians involved? Can Hunter figure out who are the bad guys and foil a plot that threatens to pull the country apart and draw it into another Middle Eastern war? Will he get his $879,928.66 back?

The Consultant is action-packed and Hunter is a likeable character. Our hero is the narrator of the story and pokes a little fun at himself, i.e. ’I ambled in – tough guys amble’. I was puzzled that some of the other characters were not better developed until I remembered Hunter is telling the story. He’s really good at finding bad guys but not so great with relationships and feelings.

I look forward to the next installment of this series. Recommended read-a-likes include Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series and (my recommendation) the Gray Man series by Mark Greaney.

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Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Being a teenage girl is rough. Being a teenage girl trapped on an island while a mysterious illness transforms you and your friends into strange, animal-human hybrids and destroys the wilderness around you? Well, that’s a hardship I’ll probably never be able to relate to. And that’s what the characters in WILDER GIRLS have to deal with.

Hetty, Byatt, and Reese are three friends bound together by the strange situation they’re in. They attend the Raxter School for Girls. Except classes aren’t really in session. A sickness has taken over the school. Almost all the adults have died, except for two of the younger faculty, Miss Welch and the Headmistress. These two keep the girls in order, helping them learn survival skills and manage their meager supplies.

The illness on the island causes the girls go through painful and unpredictable transformations. Hetty’s right eye fused shut. Reese has a silver-scaled claw for a hand and glowing hair. Byatt grew a second spine. Other girls aren’t so lucky; sometimes, the transformations are too much for their bodies to handle.

Hetty is recruited to the team of girls responsible for bringing supplies from the Navy drop-off back to the school. The job is dangerous, requiring them to face the transformed wilderness that surrounds the school. Just when Hetty thinks the danger can’t get more intense, she discovers a secret that could bring everything crumbling down. And this secret might put Byatt’s life in danger.

Wilder Girls is one of those books that could be categorized for adults if the content were just a little different. As is, however, the author deals with topics like love, betrayal, and family all with a Sci-Fi spin that I think both adult and teen readers can enjoy. I appreciated the depiction of everyday life in a disaster situation. Yes, the school is falling apart, but there are still love triangles and petty disagreements. Life goes on, even when life is mutating around you.

The story is told mainly from Hetty’s perspective, with a few chapters from Byatt’s point of view. While I don’t mind this tactic, it doesn’t work as well in Wilder Girls. The chapters told by Byatt feel too much like what they are: a way for the author to tell readers about the secrets Byatt unwittingly uncovers.

I have a real knack for choosing books that don’t have tidy endings. Wilder Girls is another one of those. Of course, the author could be leaving room for a sequel–and I honestly hope that’s the case. For any criticisms I might have, it’s a really well-written book. In a way, it reminded me of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, which is always a bonus.

On a completely different note, I should say this is my last book review for Joplin Public Library. I’ve accepted a position at another library. JPL has been part of my life since my childhood, when I would walk to the old library on Main Street and spend hours amongst the books. Joplin Public Library has a bright future, and I look forward to being a patron for years to come.

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey (and other graphic novels)

One of my favorite things about being a librarian is that I get to help people find books.  As the library director that part of my job is a bit limited, but that is where my seven-year-old son comes in.  He is learning the joy of reading, so I get to spend a lot of time helping him select books. It is a great thing!  I love that he talks to me about what book he is reading and that he has his own favorites. Right now many of them are children’s graphic novels.  

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey is his ultimate favorite and he cannot wait to read the latest one, Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls (#7).  He does not even know why that title is funny, but I think Dav Pilkey does that for the parents. He knows that we need something more than potty humor to make us appreciate his clever offerings. Other titles include: Brawl of the Wild, Tale of Two Kitties and Lord of the Fleas.

You might be asking yourself, “What is a graphic novel?”  Good question. According to Merriam-Webster, “a graphic novels is a story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book.”  Exactly. When I was growing up I used to read Archie comics. I would have loved to have had an Archie comic that was a novel-length story.   

My son LOVES graphic novels. They are his story of choice and since there are only seven Dog Man books in publication he is always looking for something similar.    Due to the popularity of Dog Man, I think others might have a similar need so below is a list of other books that Dog Man fans might want to read.  

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney – This book was impossible to keep on library shelves after its publication in 2007.  I remember practically every kid who visited the library during the summer of 2007 asking for this title. Author Jeff Kinney uses a journal format that includes comic drawings within the text to tell the story of Gred Heffley’s sixth grade school year.  Not a graphic novel, but has a similar feel and has a lot of humor. My son is making his way through this series now and the comic drawings within the text make him laugh out loud.

Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey –  The typical bad guy characters – Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake and Mr. Pirahan – are trying to turn over a new leaf.  Inspired by Mr. Wolf, who started the Good Guys Club, this unlike cast of characters endeavor to perform good deeds and change their ill-doing reputations.  Rescuing a cat from a tree and freeing dogs from the dog pound are just a sampling of their heroic undertakings. Slapstick humor abounds in this offering. I am laughing now just thinking about how funny it can be to see the characters try to do good.  What is the saying, “No good deed?” If your kids are anything like my son, they will happily devour this short, quick read and beg for the rest of the series.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett Krososcka – This was the first graphic novel that my son read.  I brought it home on a whim last year and he loved it! I think the combination of the cleverly drawn comic panels, the cast of characters, the humorous elements and the length of the story all made for a love match.  In this story the school’s lunch lady and her co-worker Betty, with a little help from three students, use kitchen gadgets to fight crime and serve up justice.  

I have so many others to recommend, but since I am running short of space here are a few more, sans descriptions:  

  • Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
  • 13-Story Treehouse: Monkey Mayhem! by Andy Griffiths
  • The Stone Keeper (Amulet series) by Kazu Kibuishi
  • Yeti Files by Kevin Sherry
  • Comic Squad series by various authors

And one more tidbit – the Joplin Public Library will be hosting a Graphic Novel Club for children in grades three to five starting Friday, September 27th.  The club will meet weekly, for five weeks. Participants will discuss their favorite graphic novels and comics, learn the components of graphic novels and work to make their own graphic novels. Registration is required and can be done by calling 417-623-7953.  

If your child is anything like mine, he or she will be eager to add his or her name to the sign up sheet.  

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A Pair of Infographic Eye Candies

Biographic Austen by Sophie Collins

Seeing Science: An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of the Universe by Iris Gottlieb

Summer’s heat and humidity have cooked my brain, and no matter how much I’d like to lounge around immersed in a giant, juicy, beach read I find myself unable to keep one going. Picture books to the rescue!  Adults need picture books, too, no matter their intended audience. Picture books for grown-ups are nothing new and are easy to find–titles about decorating, photography, travel, etc., in non-fiction plus loads of graphic novels and comics.

Book-length infographics are the new kids on the block. Like their stand-alone relatives, they primarily use images (charts, graphs, illustrations) to relay information and provide a digestible view of a complex topic. The images are often colorful and can be hand-drawn or computer-generated. Accompanying text can range from very light to paragraph-length captions. The visual presentation is as artistic as it is informative.

Biographic Austen by Sophie Collins is a great example of this new-ish genre. It displays Jane Austen’s life and literary career in engaging, sometimes whimsical, pictures; it also places her in context with political, economic, social, and literary events of her day.  Collins skillfully uses contemporary typeface and design elements to pull back the curtain on Regency-era life. In “Who Drives What?”, she outlines horse-drawn transportation used by various Austen characters by brief definition and a comparison to automobiles. (No surprise that Sense and Sensibility’s Mr. Willoughby drove a single-seat curricle, “Like a Porsche!”). “Plots of Persuasion” is a jaunty flow chart in muted pinks and greens that follows the final chapters of Persuasion’s final version and first draft (now in the British Library) point by point. “Austen’s Laptop” shows writing tools she would have used–lap desk, quill pen, paper–including a recipe for homemade ink.

Give this visual biography of Jane Austen to a Janeite of your acquaintance or to someone just introduced to her novels; this is a book for older teens and adults or for younger teens who absolutely love the topic. Biographic Austen is part of the “Great Lives in Graphic Form” series of Ammonite Press–several of which the library owns (including Biographic Bowie, a must for David Bowie fans).

Iris Gottlieb puts a hand-drawn, text-laden twist on the infographic in her book, Seeing Science: An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of the Universe. A citizen scientist, Gottlieb created her book “to open up the world of complex science with art and metaphor and storytelling”. She divides her work into sections focusing on life science, earth science, and physical science. Each section offers a variety of topics presented in two-page spreads. She serves whimsy at every turn from subject choice to section titles to illustrations. Her text is clear, concise, and solid.

In “How Food Is Preserved: Eight Ways to Eat Fish Later”, she straightforwardly presents the hows and whys of chemistry’s role in food preservation while she jazzes up the entry with colorful, amusing depictions of preserved fish. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence, but her drawings of a fish head in a Hoover (vacuum-sealed) and a fish lollipop (sugar-cured) are a hoot!  Gottlieb’s dry wit winds its way through the book as in “Vacuums: Creating Nothingness, Then Filling It With Dog Hair”, “Glaciation: As Explained By A Snickers”, and “Ferns: Introverts of the Forest Floor”. (Yes, it sounds odd. No, this is not a spoof. Read the book and see for yourself.) My favorite entry is “Measuring pH: In A Cabinet of Gross Liquids”. A drawing of shelves holding jars of different liquids sits on the right-hand page. The left-hand page holds the key to the mystery of the jars. Gottlieb defines pH and explains how the pH scale is structured. Along the top is a rainbow-colored pH scale. A box down the side of the page lists the contents of each jar in the previously-mentioned drawing with the contents color-coded according to the pH scale, so water appears in the bright green assigned to neutral pH while battery acid is written in the bright red reserved for the most acidic substances and drain cleaner shows the deep purple of the most basic end of the scale. She’s included illustrated definitions of the word “mole” at the end of the entry, thereby clearing up the perennial confusion around this chemistry term.

Seeing Science is loads of sassy, scientific fun. It’s a great way to dip into science basics or to clarify scientific principles muddied by confusing textbooks. High schoolers and adults are a great audience for this book; it’s also suitable for middle school science fans who have had “the talk” about reproduction. The author writes, “It is my hope that this book makes science more accessible, less intimidating, and more magical to anyone who has a sense of wonder–and a sense of humor.” She certainly hits the mark!

MEET YASMIN by Saadia Faruqi & Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed

Youth activist Marley Dias was inspired to begin her #1000BlackGirlBooks after being assigned yet another book about “a white boy and his dog.”

To be fair, many of those books are excellent. Rather, her frustration was centered around her inability to find (or be assigned) books with characters who looked like her. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the phrase and idea “windows and mirrors” in literature, an idea backed by research regarding the benefits of seeing yourself in the books you read as well as the benefits of reading about people with different experiences.

On this note, the Children’s Department has a growing collection of books about young Muslim boys and girls and their search for what makes them special.

I have been eagerly anticipating AISHA SAEED’s first picture book, “BILAL COOKS DAAL,” since I first heard about it.

Anoosha Syed’s illustrations are fun, fresh and cartoon-like, an effect inspired by Syed’s animation work.

In “Bilal Cooks Daal,” 6-year-old Bilal invites his friends over to cook daal with his father, but his friends’ questions (“What’s daal taste like? Is it salty?”) and their observations (“It looks funny. It smells funny.”) make him self-conscious about one of his favorite foods. Saeed’s description of what daal is, including how to choose which type to make, reads like poetry, and Syed’s bright illustrations illuminate the excitement and near-sacredness of preparing the dish.

The last page reads: “Daal is tiny. Daal is tough. But with a little time and a lot of patience, it becomes the softest, tastiest, best thing in the whole wide world.”

Saaed and Syed’s book is beautiful and successfully works as both a window and a mirror.

If you’ve never had this dish and want to try it at home, Saeed includes a recipe in the back pages. Saeed’s story acknowledges both the cultural and familial importance of daal, as well as the comfort a good meal can provide. I recommend both the dish and the book.

It’s important to note that diversity in picture books has improved very slightly in recent years.

In 2017, 6% of new children’s books were written by people of color; that figure rose to 7% in 2018 (Lee & Low, 2018). From an observational standpoint, much of the diversity seems to be centered in picture books.

However, books for beginning readers can lack both diverse characters and a compelling story, so I was thrilled to find SAADIA FARUQI and HATEM ALY’s new early reader series, “MEET YASMIN.”

The book, which totals roughly 90 pages, includes four stories, including: “Yasmin the Explorer,” “Yasmin the Painter,” “Yasmin the Builder” and “Yasmin the Fashionista.”

In each story, young Yasmin struggles with discovering her talents. In “Yasmin the Builder,” she doesn’t know what her contribution to her class’s city will be but uses her experiences going on walks with her mom (who, notably, wears a hijab) to create sidewalks and bridges out of tinker toys.

In “Yasmin the Artist,” she struggles with her painting abilities during a school art contest; once she relaxes and ignores expectations, she creates an abstract painting of which she is very proud. “Yasmin the Fashionista” is a fun story about creating a fashion show with her Nani (which the back matter defines as Urdu for your grandmother on your mother’s side).

The last few pages of “Meet Yasmin” introduce Urdu words, facts about Pakistan and a recipe for a yogurt drink called a mango lassi. Hatem Aly, the illustrator of the Newbery Honor book, “The Inquisitor’s Tale,” creates fun and inclusive illustrations reminiscent of Japanese anime characters. “Meet Jasmin” is excellent and available in the Children’s Department’s easy fiction section.

Happy reading!

Find MEET YASMIN and BILAL COOKS DAAL in our catalog.

Anthony Bourdain Remembered

Anthony Bourdain was important to a lot of people. There is no denying that his books and TV shows have influenced people to view life and the world in a different way. Each one of his works set out to paint an honest picture of the world, the people who live there, and the food they consume. As famous as he with talking about issues people faced in their particular country, he also listened to what others had to say.  When he died, it shook the world that he traveled. Anthony Bourdain Remembered was released by CNN as a way to honor his life and pay tribute to a special human being. It features pictures of his travels, as well as small paragraphs written by former colleagues, friends, and the people he met during his adventures.

Because I am not famous enough to be featured in this book, I figured this review could be my way of saying thanks. In high school I did not really know what I wanted to do with life. But when I started watching his shows, I felt an immediate connection. An episode of No Reservations left you feeling like you were along for the trip. For many of us, there is no chance of going where he went. I think he recognized that and made sought out to create a well-rounded an hour at at time.  He taught me to not fall for tourist traps and figure out where the locals go. Because of Anthony Bourdain, I also started eating differently- even made an effort to expand my palate.

I thought this book would be a quick read, but I soon realized that you should take your time with it. Each person who contributed expressed deep gratitude for him and his work. You can find contributions made by Darren Aronofsky, Jacques Pepin, Iggy Pop, Barack Obama, and many more. The photographs show a moment in time of a man who just wanted to move from place to place and experience the world as others do. Most of the pictures show him beside food of some sort. He understood the significance of food and those you eat it with. By eating  a country’s native dishes you get a sense of the history and culture behind it. Anthony Bourdain said “Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.”

If you are interested in reading some of Anthony Bourdain’s other books, the library has several of them in print and ebook format including Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw, A Cook’s Tour, and The Nasty Bits. In the near future I will purchase one of his No Reservations DVD collections and donate it to the library. The mark he left on the world should never be forgotten. With Anthony Bourdain Remembered, CNN did an incredible job at providing a snapshot of his life and making sure that his legacy will be remembered.

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“Stonewall: A building, an uprising, a revolution,” by Rob Sanders and Jamey Christoph

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1969, many significant events in U.S. history happened, among them the Moon landing, Woodstock, and the Manson murders. But the one that is foremost in my mind and in my heart is the Stonewall riots, when LGBTQ+ individuals fought back against legalized harassment and oppression by demonstrating against police raids in New York City.

Although this story has been told many time before, in different formats and styles, author Rob Sanders and illustrator Jamey Christoph delve in again, with their marvelous storybook, “Stonewall: A building, an uprising, a revolution,” found in the Children’s Department of the Joplin Public Library.

Sanders and Christoph’s approach is to highlight the history of both a structure and a liberation movement, in words and images.

Originally built in Greenwich Village in the 1840s as stables to house the horses of wealthy New Yorkers, the two buildings witnessed the eventual flight of the affluent uptown, the arrival of immigrants, and the rise of the Village as a cultural center of New York City before being joined together as first a restaurant and then later a nightclub, the Stonewall Inn.

Through the years, the Village became a haven, “a place where you could be yourself and where being different was welcomed and accepted.” Musicians, writers, and artists of all ages, religions and races brought creative energy to the district. And gay men and women were welcome in the Village, “a home for people who were told that they didn’t fit in or belong.”

In 1967, the Stonewall Inn opened, providing a place for gay men, lesbians, transgender people, drag queens and many other individuals to socialize. But the nightclub was not a completely safe haven: Police raids, fueled by laws that persecuted and prosecuted those who were gay or wore the opposite gender’s clothing, were common, culminating in detainments and arrests.

But in the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, something changed. Stonewall patrons, angry at and frustrated by the harassment, had had enough. They rose up and resisted the police. For several days, crowds demonstrated and fought back. The Stonewall Uprising had started, and it was the birth of the modern gay-rights movement.

The author and illustrator take a simple, honest approach to this crucial moment in human-rights history. Sanders doesn’t flinch from using terms such as “gay,” “lesbian” and “transgender” in his writing, and Christoph features artwork, by turns colorful and muted, of men in women’s clothing and smiling, same-sex couples dancing, holding hands and embracing. The story is told matter of factly, without being sensationalized.

If you’re looking for a similar book, I highly recommend one of Rob Sanders’ other storybooks, “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag,” which I have previously reviewed in these pages. You can also consult any of the Children’s Department staff for additional guidance.

I also urge you to visit the Joplin Public Library and learn more about the events of the summer of 1969. We have books, DVDs and other resources for all ages that offer entertainment and edification.

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A Non-Fiction Variety Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief by Nora McInerny

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

The Universe Explained: A Cosmic Q & A by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees written and illustrated by Don Brown

Reading, like summer, can be random.  Days away from school and work open the door to the unexpected, allow the senses to notice what is hidden by everyday experience.  Surprises appear on the library shelves–new titles or those that have been circulating and were missed earlier.

I’ve stumbled upon some surprises this summer, both fruitful and not.  One was pleasant, an amazing story which lived up to its buzz. One, much to my disappointment, did not.  One snuck up on me, and one made me cry.

The Universe Explained: A Cosmic Q & A literally threw itself at my feet while walking past it in the lobby.  It’s 281 pages of awesomeness, asking and answering questions you’ve had about the cosmos and then some.  Questions are divided into chapters covering the seen (celestial bodies, space exploration, technology) and the unseen (alien life, black holes, the universe’s edge).  Each question is succinctly answered on its own page and accompanied by a full-color illustration. A helpful glossary in the back defines unfamiliar terms. Authors Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest have created an accessible book with plenty of eye-catching appeal.  Use it to answer your own questions or give it to a young person (upper elementary and older) with an appetite for reading or science or both. This would be a great title to explore as a family, sparking curiosity and discussion.

I’ve long enjoyed Ruth Reichl’s food writing; her heady descriptions of the culinary life have inspired and delighted me immensely.  I was excited to finally read her latest, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, covering her stint as Gourmet’s editor-in-chief and the magazine’s last days before being closed by Conde Nast.  I imagined a behind-the-scenes look at the Gourmet kitchens accompanied by lush descriptions of dishes created there, and that’s the outcome…sort of.  The book is long on magazine publishing and short on food. Reichl’s normally unhurried pace and rich description take a back seat to what sometimes feels like a breathless recitation of industry names and events by an avowed outsider trying to find her place in that world.  This is more a case of managed expectations on my part than an indictment of her writing quality. Save Me the Plums does exactly what it claims–explores Reichl’s journey into the world of luxury publishing, keeping her wit and outlook intact.  To explore what gems she has to offer, start with Reichl’s earlier memoirs or her amusing journey as the New York Times restaurant critic then come back to the rest of the story.

Don Brown has a talent for telling difficult stories using spare, strong words and pictures.  His non-fiction graphic novels have garnered acclaim and made award lists; more importantly, they engage readers and open them to experiences near and far.  Brown’s text and art are like a good movie soundtrack which doesn’t call attention to itself but lets the story take the spotlight. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees is no exception.  It combines thorough research with first-hand accounts to track the plight of people fleeing war and death.  The art–pen and ink with digital paint–conveys struggle and desperation in watercolor greys and sepia tones.  The few bright spots are oranges and reds of explosions. Seemingly simplistic, the illustrations and spare text pack are moving.  Brown includes background information, research notes, and a bibliography at the end. Give this to teens and adults with an interest in current events or history or start a conversation with a teen who may have only heard of this in passing.  Also, try Brown’s other acclaimed graphic novels for teens exploring the Dust Bowl and Hurricane Katrina.

Reading Nora McInerny’s book The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief knocked me for a loop.  I haven’t cried that hard over a book since Where the Red Fern Grows in the 5th grade.  This is a 91-page grief memoir packing a gigantic, emotional gut punch.  It’s also a life preserver for the bereaved and a handy tool for those who aren’t at the moment.  (Because, as the author points out, “Here is one important thing we all have in common: literally everyone we know and love will die.”)  McInerny experienced a miscarriage plus the deaths of her father and husband within 7 weeks of each other. Afterward, she and another woman founded the titular club; along the way, she’s gathered observations, advice, and encouragement into a valuable resource for all of us.  McInerny’s forthright, concise style is packed with humor and sass. She offers support, space, and survival tips to those who are grieving and concrete advice to those who want to help but don’t know how. If you are grieving or know someone who is, try this book–it has so much to offer.