Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

Joplin Public Library started its Summer Reading Program on May 28, 2019 and it will run until July 26, 2019. During this time, we want to encourage people of all ages to read and attend library programs based on a central theme. For this year, the theme is “A Universe of Stories”, so our programs center around space and science-related themes. Our website has more information with a link to the calendar of events. There are also game boards/event calendars available at the library with more details. You do not need a library card to participate. For adults, events will include an opportunity to go on a virtual tour through a space museum, learn about the weather, compete in a trivia contest, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 2019.

Speaking of the anniversary of the moon landing, I recently started reading Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11. This book goes through the entire history of the space program, from Project Mercury to Project Gemini to the Apollo missions that put man on the moon. For each mission, it seems like the astronauts get all of the fame, but author James Donovan does a good job at telling the stories of the lesser-known people who helped get man into space and onto the moon. While there is a lot of information in this book, it is presented in an accessible way. There are plenty of pictures that help put faces to the names and add a layer to the story.

So while I can recommend this book, what I really recommend is celebrating the universe and how far we have come to understand it, although we still have a long way to go. The future of space exploration is exciting and necessary. There are all sorts of new developments that deserve recognition. Back in April, the first image of a black hole was captured. NASA has recently announced its goal for another moon landing by 2024. This mission will pave the way for humans to set foot on Mars. Curiosity is still on Mars sampling the environment. SpaceX continues its rocket launches with the ultimate goal to have humans live on other planets.

At the library we want to promote a sense of wonder. Here are some activities you can do to achieve this: Try to find some planets in the night sky. Watch the International Space Station fly overhead. Visit the Post Art Library and see an exhibit dedicated to the Hubble Telescope. Watch footage of the moon landing. Check out a book on space, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. Be curious this summer, and do some exploring with Joplin Public Library.

 

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Bluff by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

If you’ve ever taken a writing course you’ve heard ‘write what you know’. Jane Stanton Hitchcock must have been following that advice when she penned her latest book. The author is a poker player whose mother was swindled by her financial advisor much like Maud Warner in Bluff.

Maud is known as Mad Maud Warner by the denizens of New York high society. Maud used to be a member but her family fortune vanished with her mother Lois’ death. Burt Sklar was managing that fortune and Maud’s nickname came from her frequent and vociferous accusations of theft against Sklar.

Maud grew older moved to Washington D.C. and developed a passion for poker; but she did not move on. As we meet her she is dressing very carefully in designer clothing from her more affluent days. Dress is very important so that she looks like she belongs where she is going. Millionaire Sun Sunderland frequently lunches at the Four Seasons and on this day his dinner companion is Burt Sklar.

Maud calmly walks into the famous restaurant and tells the maître de that she is meeting Sunderland. As she approaches the booth she pulls out a gun, aims and fires, then drops the gun and just as calmly walks out.

Even though the shooting is all over the news Maud knows that a middle-aged woman in the right clothes with a calm manner is invisible. She catches the train to D.C. and once there goes into hiding.

The assumption is Maud was aiming at Burt but missed and shot Sunderland (helped by Sklar who tried to use his good friend as a human shield). Sunderland’s condition is grave as his wife Jean rushes to the hospital.

Jean keeps a vigil at the hospital while her gossipy friends await news. When she is finally allowed into the ICU she has company. She discovers Sun has another wife, a former stripper named Dany. After Sun makes it clear he wants Dany, a stunned and furious Jean seeks refuge with her friend Greta.

When Sun dies things get really interesting. Maud is now wanted for murder and Jean finds she is almost penniless as Burt has a power of attorney signed by Sun leaving Burt and Dany in control of his fortune.

This novel starts more than halfway through the story so Maud begins to fill us in on the beginning of her association with Sklar. We move between Maud’s story and what is happening with Jean, Dany and the police who are getting desperate to find Maud.

Maud’s grievances against Sklar are numerous and large; they involve not only her mother and money but also her brother Alan. Maud is a very good poker player but to get revenge she’ll need to pull off the biggest bluff of her life. Will Maud succeed, what happens with Jean and Dany, and what did Sun mean when he exclaimed just before being shot “Lois! No! We killed you!”? Plus there is a plot twist I didn’t see coming.

Stanton Hitchcock is not an author I had read before but I made a note to check it out after reading a couple of reviews. Words like smartly plotted, frothy fun, quick-moving and intricate drew me. It lived up to the hype. Bluff is a fun read and the reviewers described it perfectly.

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Teen Nonfiction Fun for Summer

 

Make: Minecraft for Makers by John Baichtal

Start to Stitch by Nancy Nicholson, Claire Buckley, and Miriam Edwards

Teens Cook Dessert by Megan and Jill Carle with Judi Carle

We’ve made it to the middle of May when life becomes a frenzy of pollen and exams and changes and celebrations, spinning faster every day only to explode into a three-day weekend that launches summer.  Here at the library that culminates in the summer reading program–two months of adventures in reading, learning, and fun for all ages.

Participants will have a chance to read for prizes and enjoy a variety of activities.  Most importantly, summer reading helps keep literacy skills sharp during weeks of downtime when many students are out of school.  Because adolescence is a time of self-discovery and learning how to move through the world, the Teen Department encourages personal growth as well as reading.  We call it the Teen Summer Challenge because teens can stretch themselves socially and developmentally in a supported environment. The library offers activities and resources to encourage them along the journey.

One way we do this is through gaming.  Games can sharpen mathematical, reasoning, literacy, and social skills and are fun!  They can also act as springboards to other pursuits. Popular computer game Minecraft has spawned an entire fandom.  In Make: Minecraft for Makers, John Baichtal uses the game as a stepping stone to maker activities.  His 9 projects take the blocky elements of the game “and introduce them to our world” using LEGOs, circuitry, 3D printing, woodworking, Arduino microcontrollers, and laser cutting.  Projects range from fairly simple (Emerald Ore Blocks made with LEGOs) to quite advanced (Redstone Lamp and a motorized Robot Creeper). Other than the LEGO designs, everything will involve some combination of power tools, circuitry, electronics, or spray paint.  Baichtal’s writing style is straightforward–utilitarian with clear explanations tying projects to the game. Color illustrations are throughout, and a final chapter gives a crash course on Arduino technology used in some projects.

The book is published by the folks behind Make: magazine and reflects the “serious fun” found there.  These projects are designed for heavy adult supervision with attention to safety and represent an investment of time and materials in some cases.  The designs are super cool–I’m considering trying the chess set with our chess group using the laser cutter in the library’s makerspace. Offer this book to high schoolers or mature middle schoolers (individuals or groups) working with experienced adults (a neat activity for a Scout troop).

Maker activities are a fantastic means of mastering a new skill or learning STEM concepts or fine tuning eye-hand coordination.  They can incorporate computers and robotics or be low-tech pursuits like crocheting and sewing. The Teen Department has a sewing machine, and we’ll experiment with it during June and July.

Teens learning to sew will find a fun start and engaging designs in Start to Stitch by Nancy Nicholson, Claire Buckley, and Miriam Edwards.  Colorful photos show step-by-step instructions for sewing by hand or machine as well as finished products.  The book introduces stitches and skills as needed in each design; some of the stitch photos can be small or basic, so some new sewers may benefit from initial instruction or additional resources (book or video) before tackling a project, particularly machine sewing.  Start to Stitch is divided into chapters based on technique: applique, embroidery, patchwork, quilting.  It’s full of vibrant, accessible designs ranging from beginner to moderate skill levels. The designs vary from accessories (applique brooch, patchwork belt) to bags (Heart Purse, Sashiko Bag) to decor items (a quilted cat wall hanging, a patchwork pillow).  The book’s designs skew feminine, and its illustrations are exclusively so. If desired, some projects can easily be made gender neutral with minimal changes. A brief glossary rounds things out. Give this title to teens who have the basics of hand or machine sewing.

Community building is a year-round goal of the Teen Department, and it’s wonderful to see teens make that connection.  One of our activities is to practice a random act of kindness–inspired by former patrons who were very excited to have done something nice for someone else.  Cooking offers many chances to build relationships, and Teens Cook Dessert is one great resource.  Written by sisters Megan and Jill Carle with their mother, Judi Carle, this title neither assumes gourmet-level experience nor insults the cook’s intelligence.  Using a realistic approach and clear language, the authors present a wide variety of family favorites (turtle brownies, pound cake) and interesting twists (nectarine ravioli, gingerbread & pumpkin trifle).  Recipes are gathered into chapters by type (cookies, cakes, custards, fancy, etc.); each recipe includes a color photo of the finished product and brief, lively anecdote. Short sidebars covering kitchen tips, terms, science, shortcuts, and history abound.  A handy ingredients discussion is included. Both the layout and the tone are inviting without trying too hard. This is a great book for teens ready to move beyond boxed mixes.

There’s lots of fun to be had and things to try during summer reading!  The adventures begin at the library on May 28. Watch our website for details: http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/

 

Beth Snow is the Teen Department Librarian at the Joplin Public Library.

A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester

May is Preservation Month, a celebration that promotes our heritage through our historic places. As such, I’m glad to share my impressions of a preservation-related title, A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester.

I was first introduced to this book years ago, by my friend Leslie Simpson, who said, “One of the best ways to learn about the history of a community is to study its buildings.” Indeed, architecture has a story to tell. But first, we must learn to listen. Through this title, McAlester teaches us how to listen to the stories of American domestic architecture.

Spanning centuries of the development of American houses, from the 17th-century to present, this guide is for anyone interested in learning how to identify the style of American houses through architectural features, from frame and form to embellishments or the lack thereof.

Initially published in 1984, McAlester expands the 2014 revision to include an overview of the house styles built during the millennial housing boom, 1990-2008, and a section on neighborhoods that describes the ways American houses are usually grouped together. Also, the second edition provides new information based on research that wasn’t available at the time the first edition was written.

Readers may reference this book in a variety of ways, as discussed in the brief ‘How to Use This Book’ portion, which I recommend (actually) reading. For quick identification or for a sort of crash course in the basics of American houses, both the Pictorial Key and the Pictorial Glossary that follow the how-to section are helpful. Roof form, chimneys, railings, windows, and more are depicted in the Pictorial Key, whereas the Pictorial Glossary depicts common descriptive house terms as well as classical elements often applied to houses.

The first chapter is an overview of American houses, including information about style, form, structure, and neighborhoods. The seven chapters that follow go into greater detail about the types of houses found within specific styles. For example, Native American, Pre-Railroad, National, and Manufactured houses are types of houses within Folk Houses. Italianate and Gothic Revival are types found within Romantic Houses (1820-1880); Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Shingle are found within Victorian Houses (1860-1900); Craftsman and Prairie within Modern Houses (1900-present); and so on. Frankly, the fun is in the details rather than the overview, though the latter is the foundation for the former.

In addition to abundant depicions of architectural elements, photographic examples, and textual information, McAlester chronicles how geography, innovation, materials, weather, and more have impacted the development of American homes. Heating innovations, for example, literally shaped American houses, as did automobiles. In fact, automobiles continue to shape our homes: the space used to house automobiles when compared to a 1,000 square foot house in 1915 was 0%, which grew to 15% by 1930; to 25% by 1950; to 45% by 1970; and to 75% by the 2000s. McAlester also touches upon some of the sufferings of old houses brought on by so-called improvements.

McAlester’s book is comprehensive, including something for everyone and for anyone with a desire to know more about how our dwellings came to be, how they’ve developed over time, how we have shaped them and, interestingly, how they have shaped us. I recommend this field guide to everyone, whether the desired outcome is to simply identify the house up the street or to survey and develop a narrative for an entire neighborhood.

I might add that we are able to provide a copy of this title for checkout, rather than for reference-only, as is typical, thanks to a donation made by the Joplin Historical Society in memory of Martha Elizabeth Belk. You’ll find A Field Guide to American Houses in our Memorial Book section, which is located at the beginning of our New Nonfiction.

Happy Preservation Month and, as always, happy reading.

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The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

As I mentioned in my most recent review, I challenged myself to read the Coretta Scott King Award honorees this past February as an attempt to diversify my reading and celebrate Black History Month the best way I know how to celebrate anything: by reading.

The second honoree I read was VARIAN JOHNSON’s middle-grade mystery “THE PARKER INHERITANCE.” Upon first glance, one might expect Johnson’s newest novel to be a typical mystery in the vein of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or one of their more modern shelfmates. As the young, black protagonist Candice Miller discovers, however, there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to books, towns and people.

Twelve-year-old Candice doesn’t want to move back to her mom’s hometown of Lambert, South Carolina, but she’s not left with much of a choice after her parents’ divorce and the financial imperative of renovating and selling their own home. At first, the small Southern town is boring, and Candice is angry that she’s missing out on spending time with her real friends in Atlanta. She is butting up against her late grandmother’s reputation in the town, which is not great, to say the least. Ten years prior, her grandmother bet her job, reputation and, in the eyes of some, the reputation of the entire black population of the formerly segregated city on a mysterious letter that allegedly led to a small fortune buried somewhere in town.

One hot and boring afternoon, Candice and her new friend Brandon are digging through the attic when they come across a letter written to her grandmother with the inscription, “Find the path. Solve the puzzle.”

Out of pure interest, as well as an indirect obligation to her grandmother, Candice and Brandon embark on a wild goose chase led by a secret benefactor throughout present day and 1960s-era Lambert, uncovering family secrets and racial strife that continue to strain relationships among family, friends and neighbors.

With its mysterious and wealthy benefactor, series of puzzles, and a problem that can only be solved by a duo of preteens, “The Parker Inheritance” would be a welcome addition to any mystery fan’s shelves. However, nothing about Johnson’s novel feels boilerplate or redundant, a fact that can be explained by the realistic family drama, racism and relationships that Candice endures during her South Carolina summer. In addition to a fractured relationship between her late grandmother and the entire population of Lambert, Candice struggles to navigate her parents’ divorce and the truth about what her father is up to back home in Atlanta. She also worries about her new friend Brandon, and the bullies who make his life miserable enough that he plans his schedule around their own.

At first, the series of puzzles feels like a welcome reprieve from regular life, but it becomes much more than that as Candice and Brandon come to understand its importance to their families and their town.

With “The Parker Inheritance,” Johnson has also written a family and relationship drama as intriguing as any Judy Blume, Raina Telgemeier or R.J. Palacio novel.

A must-read for fans of puzzle mysteries, realistic fiction and diverse perspectives.

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Just Peachy: Comics about Depression, Anxiety, Love, and finding the humor in Being Sad by Holly Chisholm

I have not officially been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but I know all too well what is involved with getting stuck in its void. The restless nights thinking about how I screwed things up or will inevitably screw things up. An emptiness or numbness that leaves me wondering how normal people function daily. Cancelling plans and drifting farther away from friends. I could be having the time of my life then, all of a sudden, an existential dread kicks in. It can seem like an endless loop. Conversations about these topics are difficult to have with people. You don’t want to be a burden to anyone, as being yourself is enough of a burden. Just Peachy by Holly Chisholm takes a look at living with depression and anxiety, and overcoming it — mostly by being creative and laughing in its face.

The introduction tells a brief story about the author and how she was diagnosed with depression. What followed was prescription medication with symptoms and side effects that were detrimental rather than helpful. Things got better after she started going back to the gym, quit smoking, and reduced alcohol consumption. There was still a partial emptiness. Her therapist suggested keeping a journal. She decided to draw out her experiences instead. It became easier to work through her problems. Just Peachy started on Instagram, but now has its own website, merchandise, and, of course, this book. There are similar series such as Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, and Sarah Andersen’s Sarah’s Scribbles, both of which I recommend. These authors looked at their own inner demons, then transformed them into something positive. Each contain well-crafted humor that is relatable, even to those who have not been diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

The chapter “Love and Relationships” goes over the ways to maintain healthy relationships with the people in our lives. Love and relationships are important. Who we surround ourselves with can influence us in either direction. Our day-to-day interactions can have a lasting effect. Being kind to someone can make their day. There are many ways to say “I love you”. Text a friend you have not spoken to in a while. Write a letter to someone you appreciate and tell them why. But do not be afraid to cut negative people from your life. They are not worth the time or effort. Be yourself, not who others want you to be. Even when it seems hard, love yourself.

“Growth” is the last chapter and probably my favorite. Without getting too cheesy with its message, this chapter gives a great pep-talk on how to overcome obstacles one might face. It is possible, but it takes a lot of courage and requires stepping out of your comfort zone. A quote that stood out to me was: “I’m scared of routine. I don’t want to be boring. But then I see a sunset, which comes every day but somehow always seems new and full of hope”. Find the things that make you happy and stick with them.

Just Peachy is a quick read, and the comics are beautifully drawn. There is nothing too profound within, but it is a nice shot of hope. Having some of the comic strips nearby can provide a boost when things start to go downhill. Books like Just Peachy make you realize you are not so alone after all. We are all in this together. Although it is a Teen Graphic Novel, the feelings, or lack thereof, expressed within its pages are familiar to adults and teens alike. Anyone can have depression or anxiety. It does not matter your race, age, sex, or social status. At the end of the book, there are resources including the suicide hotline, crisis text line, online therapy/ coaching, and books and podcasts that might lift your spirits. If you need help, reach out. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. There are people who do care.

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Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise

Dogs. I love ‘em.

So when I saw “Stay” featured on the Facebook page of an Oklahoma public library that I follow, I knew I had to read it. Problem was, Joplin Public Library didn’t have this already two-year-old children’s book in its collection. No worries, I simply suggested it for purchase and impatiently waited until it arrived.

Written and illustrated by sisters Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise, respectively, this storybook is subtitled “A girl, a dog, a bucket list.” Lest you think with wording like that that it will be a heartbreaking tale of loss, let me assure you that “Stay” is in fact a sweet story of the special relationship between two friends.

Eli, a big, fluffy, gray and white dog, has been around since Astrid came home from the hospital as a newborn. As Klise puts it, “He was Astrid’s first friend.” He is her protector, her playmate, her pillow. He eats under the table when she eats, and sleeps in her bed.

But as Astrid grows up, Eli grows old. It’s a poignant refrain in the book.

One day Astrid comments on how slowly Eli walks now. After a special day at the park, spent eating popcorn and sliding down a sun-warmed slide, Astrid vows to make a list of the things Eli should do before he gets too old. She forms a bucket list of adventures they can have together.

What’s on Astrid and Eli’s bucket list? Riding a bike. Checking out dog books from the library and reading them together. Going to see “Lassie” in a movie theater. Sleeping under the stars. Taking a bubble bath. Astrid even surprises Eli with something special.

Weeks pass, and Eli continues to age. His vision fades, and he no longer has the strength to walk to the park. But that doesn’t matter, as Astrid and Eli happily spend precious time together.

I will warn you, I shed tears while reading this book. It’s not that “Stay” was sad, per se; it was just bittersweet, and it made me think about the dogs I’ve had in my life, and how I watched them grow old.

There was Charlie, the intelligent and loyal black miniature poodle I grew up with. Then came Costi, the yappy Shih Tzu prone to begging at mealtimes that joined my family when I was in high school. Toby, the first dog I adopted as an adult, was a stubborn, willful Rottweiler-German Shepherd mix who tested my patience but became my whole heart and taught me how to enjoy life again. Molly, a rescue rough-coated Collie was possibly the sweetest dog I’ve ever met. All those dogs are gone now, but I have Buster, my fun-loving Corgi-German Shepherd mix who at 10 years old still likes to jump off the side of the back porch, chase rabbits and tussle with my dog sister, Destiny. But even now Buster is slowing down. His eyes are growing less bright, and white hair is starting to creep into his muzzle. I’m confident he has years left, but I’m still aware of the inevitable passage of time.

I hope you find inspiration in this lovely book, which can be found in the Children’s Department of the Joplin Public Library. Yes, we grow old, as do our animal companions, but there is still much fun to be had together. Embrace the time you have, and make it special. Even the little things you do create lasting memories.

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Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert; Blood Oath by Linda Fairstein; Justice in Plain Sight by Dan Bernstein

Although not by conscious choice, most of my reading lately has involved lawyers.

Susan Wittig Albert’s character, China Bayles, was an attorney for a big firm in Houston. She now owns the herb shop in the small town of Pecan Springs, Texas where she sells all things herbal and sparingly dispenses legal advice. As in all good cozy mysteries she is surrounded by a cast of interesting characters including best friend Ruby.

Ruby is usually China’s partner in her sometimes enthusiastic and other times reluctant crime solving. This is a long running series and I’ve read the first 10 so far. If you like good characters and entertaining mysteries, this series is for you and starts with Thyme of Death.

Linda Fairstein’s latest Alex Cooper book, Blood Oath, came out in March. Alex is an Assistant DA in the Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit. Back from an extended leave Alex’s first task is dealing with a judge’s bullying of a female prosecutor. She returns to her office to find Detective Mike Chapman and a young woman named Lucy waiting.

Lucy was picked up the night before on an old warrant. After seeing a picture on the wall at the precinct she freaks out and refuses to talk. At the behest of the captain, Mike brings her to Alex. What Lucy reveals could land Alex in trouble.

When she was 14 Lucy was a star witness against a serial killer responsible for deaths in several different states. While under the protection of the FBI and the federal prosecutors, Lucy says she was sexually assaulted. Is Lucy telling the truth or just trying to have her old warrant to go away?

Alex works quickly to verify Lucy’s story and gather evidence but things really speed up when an attempt is made on Lucy’s life. Fairstein is at her best in “Blood Oath” weaving together different storylines to a thrilling finish.

My third lawyer title is a work of nonfiction by Dan Bernstein. Justice in Plain Sight is the story of how the Riverside Press-Enterprise fought the state of California for open access to the judicial system. It was a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court, twice.

The Press-Enterprise was a family-owned newspaper and while Riverside California was not a small town in the 1980’s it certainly wasn’t a major city. Newspapers were still the source of news for most people and the editor of the paper was committed to keeping readers informed. He also believed that for the public to trust and have confidence in the government (including the judicial system) they needed open access.

In 1978 California reinstated the death penalty and 2 years after that the California Supreme Court issued the Hovey ruling. The ruling gave judges permission to question potential jurors “individually and in sequestration” when asking about views on the death penalty. Trial judges however interpreted the ruling very broadly and were closing courtrooms across the state.

The Press-Enterprise lawyer routinely and unsuccessfully appealed each closing in Riverside County. Then came the Norco case, a foiled bank robbery that resulted in the death of a county deputy. This case drew national attention and was a big story for the newspaper. The judge not only moved the case to San Diego County but also closed jury selection.

The Press-Enterprise and Copley Press appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals ruled against them. When the California Supreme Court refused the case only one option remained. In December 1981 they petitioned the United States Supreme Court to rule on their appeal.

This case was the beginning, 2 more times over the next 3 years the Press-Enterprise would petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeals. The first was the Albert Brown case. Brown was accused of the rape and murder of a teen. In this case the judge not only closed voir dire (jury selection) but also ordered the transcripts permanently sealed.

The third appeal would be for the Robert Diaz case. Diaz, a nurse, was accused of killing 12 patients with lidocaine overdoses. The judge in this trial closed the preliminary hearing.

Bernstein is a retired reporter and his writing is concise. Each of the three crimes are covered briefly but you get a good feel for the case. Background on the major people and rulings involved give you an understanding of motivations and the judicial issues.

He also covers extensively the workings of the Supreme Court and includes how each case was decided. His use of briefs, the notes (when available) from the justices themselves, and transcripts from the hearings give immediacy to the process. The lawyers and editors of the Press-Enterprise are unsung heroes and Bernstein does a good job bringing their story to life.

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Book Reviews by Patty Crane

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Goblins by Clint McElroy

Joplin Public Library started its 2018 Summer Reading Program on May 29th, which ran until July 28th. It is always a fun event, and we put on programs for children, teens, and adults, themed around the music-related slogan “Libraries Rock”. Summer Reading is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful, as the library saw a dramatic increase in traffic during this time. When Summer Reading ended, I had a couple of weeks to learn how to breathe again before I took on the challenge of going to school to get my degree. Between these two challenges, sitting down to read a book hasn’t been something I can commit to. Thankfully, podcasts and audiobooks exist.

When doing a search for essential podcasts to listen to, one that came up frequently was called “The Adventure Zone”. Three brothers, Justin, Travis, and Griffin, along with their father, Clint McElroy, play Dungeons and Dragons together. Equal parts enthralling, funny, and vulgar, the storytelling in “The Adventure Zone” will cause listeners to become deeply invested in the characters and magnificent world-building.

In July, a comic book was released based on their first campaign of The Balance Arc: “Here There Be Gerblins”. Our heroes include human warrior Magnus Burnsides, elf wizard Taako, and Merle Highchurch, a dwarf cleric. The story follows them on an epic quest to rescue Merle’s cousin Bogard and his bodyguard Billy Blue Jeans after they were attacked and abducted.

Along the way, our heroes come across many obstacles including gerblins, a Bugbear, and the mysterious Black Spider. The artwork done by Carey Pietsch (artist for Lumberjanes and Adventure Time) brings the characters to life and sets the tone for the story. There’s even a fan art gallery at the end of the book.

The only thing I found off-putting were the interruptions by the Dungeon Master (Griffin McElroy) who provides commentary and interacts with the comic book characters throughout their adventure. If you’re listening to the podcast, that’s essential to hear, as it adds depth to the story. But in book form, I feel that sticking with the story and letting it play out that way would have been a better approach for those who have never listened to the podcast series. Because of this, it almost seems like the book was made for people already familiar with the podcast and wasn’t attempting to gain any new fans by releasing a comic book.

The Joplin Public Library has a great selection of audiobooks, and there are many different formats that can accommodate your needs. First, as our collection increases, so do the number of MP3 format. These are great because rather than keep track of a huge number of discs, everything you need is on a single disc or two. If you have a Joplin Public Library card, you can check out four adult and four children’s audiobooks at a time. I highly recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy read by Stephen Fry, and the Harry Potter Series read by Jim Dale.

Another way to access audiobooks is with Overdrive. Overdrive is an app that you lets you read ebooks and listen to audiobooks from your smartphone, tablet, or computers. Any patron with a Joplin Public Library card can use the service for free. While you can only have seven items checked out at at time, there is no limit to how many items you can check out in a month. The one disadvantage to Overdrive is that, while they have a good selection, you often have to place items on hold and wait for a while to get it.

Starting on September 4th, Joplin Public Library added a new digital service to its repertoire, called Hoopla. Hoopla is a little different from Overdrive. One, there are no holds on items, you simply browse for an item you’d like to check out, click “borrow”, and the item is instantly available to you. Another difference is that there is a limit to how many items you can check out per month, which is 6. Hoopla isn’t limited to just books and audiobooks; their catalogue includes a wide range of movies, TV shows, comics, and music.

Each service has its own advantages and limitations, but in the end, between the library’s physical collection, Overdrive, and Hoopla, you should be able to satisfy any and all of your audiobook needs.

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Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has been a long-time advocate for librarians and libraries. A quick Google search with “Neil Gaiman libraries” will bring up a variety of articles, lectures, and blogs dedicated to his thoughts on libraries and reading. Libraries are more than a place with books, but a bastion of freedom, knowledge, and resources. Art Matters does a wonderful job at putting the importance of libraries into words and pictures. Along with Neil Gaiman’s incredible prose, Chris Riddell provides illustrations that bring these ideas to life. I recommend taking a look at more artwork by Chris Riddell. He has also illustrated the children’s series “The Edge Chronicles”, which he also co-authored; The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; and J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard, among many others. He also has his own website, which features his illustrations throughout.

Do not let its small size fool you. Art Matters, a collection of four of Neil Gaiman’s essays, is filled with helpful tips on how to persevere in difficult times, be creative, and be true to yourself. The ability to use your imagination and be creative is a vital part of our existence. This book, while a quick read thanks to Gaiman’s amusing prose and the prolific illustrations, will make you think and stay with you for a long time.

The first essay, Credo, originally published in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, is about the power of ideas and the importance of free speech, which is as true today as it was then. The next essay, Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming, examines the role of the public library in giving access to ideas, how reading can expand one’s horizons and thoughts, and the importance of encouraging children to read. It states that imagination and daydreams are vital in creating change in the world. The third essay, Making a Chair, compares making a chair to the process of writing or creating art. The final piece, Making Good Art, was originally a speech given by Gaiman which was later published as a standalone book. This piece focuses on the importance of creativity and gives encouragement to artists, with Gaiman discussing how he started his career as a writer. Chris Riddell’s illustrations underscore the message on every page.

While this title is housed in our adult collection, it would also be a wonderful book for young adults, who are starting to figure out who they are and find their voice. The messages in this book are not just limited to people who are conventionally “creative”, either. Even if someone doesn’t consider themselves to be creative because they don’t draw, or paint, or write fiction, there are many ways that someone can be creative, and this book is good for the creative soul in everyone. The back of the book states “Be Bold. Be Rebellious. Choose Art. It Matters”, which does an excellent job of summing up the book. The message “Art Matters” speaks to creative freedom, the importance of ideas, and thinking for oneself.

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