Why? by Adam Rex and Claire Keane & Saturday by Oge Mora

The end of the year is always a scramble to chip away at my TBR (to be read) list in order to meet an arbitrary goal I set for myself when I was feeling much more ambitious — sometime around the first of January. I never include picture books when I track my reading; considering how many I can read in a week, maybe I should start doing so to meet my goal before the ball drops on Dec. 31.

Whether you choose to include picture books in your official tracking, you should carve out a few minutes to read the ones mentioned below.

On occasion, you read a book that you know will win all of the awards. (On other occasions, you will have read none of The New York Times’ top 10 titles. But that is neither here nor there.)

Adam Rex and Claire Keane’s inquisitively titled “Why?” is one of those books. The story follows a bored little girl tagging along behind her mom at the mall. As preschoolers are wont to do, she peppers her mother with a near-constant string of “Why? Why? Why?” as they shop.

As the girl dawdles behind, she encounters supervillain Doctor X-Ray threatening nearby shoppers. As he releases the fire in his heels and floats down to survey the damage, he receives his first, “Why?” from the brave little girl. Doctor X-Ray explains the details of his plot, growing more animated with each “Why?” — an effect that leads to an eventual existential crisis. Why is he trying to take over the world? What does he hope to accomplish?

“Why, indeed,” asks the dejected supervillain at the story’s end. The moral of the story, then, must be that inquisitive children can save the world if their questions are taken seriously, right? Of course, that’s a bit of a leap and very tongue-in-cheek, but curiosity and persistence have achieved great things — why couldn’t they help thwart evil?

Keane’s illustrations are a natural companion to Rex’s story. The Disney animator’s art adds effects that feel vintage, realistic and, at times, fantastical. Doctor X-Ray looks exactly how you would expect a supervillain to look, with a long, white lab coat, goggles on his forehead and a bushy, red handlebar mustache. The story is primarily told through conversation, and their text is handwritten and placed in comic-style text callouts — again, lending a vintage, comic book feel.

Overall, the story is delightful, and it’s one of those special books that both children and their grownups will undoubtedly enjoy.

Find Why? in our catalog.

The second picture book I want to share is Caldecott honoree Oge Mora’s sophomore release, “Saturday.” I was a big fan of her debut book, “Thank You, Omu,” and I gladly recommend it to all families looking for a good read aloud.

“Saturday” follows a little girl named Ava and her mom as they attempt to make the most out of the most special day of the week. Ava’s mom works Sunday through Friday, so every Saturday must be perfect. Unfortunately, grand expectations such as this are inevitably met with disappointment, as is the case with Ava and her mother. Plan after plan is ruined, even as the text emphasizes repeatedly: “The day would be special. The day would be splendid. The day was Saturday.”

When they get to the library, story time is canceled. When they leave the salon, their new hairdos are promptly ruined by an errant puddle. Finally, Ava’s mother has enough; Saturday has been ruined, she proclaims. However, as Ava gently reminds her, the splendid and special part of Saturdays is not what they do — it’s who they are with. As a working parent, this reminder from a wise and precocious child hit home.

I might venture to proclaim that Oge Mora is making some of the best, most distinctive art in the picture book world. The illustrator mixes several artistic methods, from collaging to hand lettering to small details done in pen. Her collages themselves are unparalleled; Mora often includes small details from vintage publications, including newspapers, recipes and other books, making each page feel special in its own right.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Ava and her mother are black. Of the 3,653 picture books reviewed in 2018, only 400 featured African or African American protagonists (per the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 2018). More importantly, Ava is not placed in the story to teach or to represent her race as a whole — she just gets to be herself, and that fact feels important.

I would recommend “Saturday” to all families looking for a fun read-aloud, and it’s sure to be added to my ever-growing suggestion list — (if I can bring myself to return it).

Find Saturday in our catalog.

“The New Frontier: 112 Fantastic Favorites for Everyday Eating” by Ree Drummond

Do you have any authors that seem like old friends? You read their works over and over, or eagerly await their next release. My oldest author friend is Jane Austen; I’ve been reading her since I was 12, and have yet to tire of her.

But my newest old author friend is blogger, Food Network personality, photographer and cookbook author Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman. I always look forward to her next cookbook, and it’s a pure pleasure poring over the colorful photographs, chatty introductions, and mouth-watering recipes. Her latest cookbook is entitled THE NEW FRONTIER: 112 FANTASTIC FAVORITES FOR EVERYDAY EATING.

Ree Drummond’s books are accessible to cooks of all levels. Before you even get to the recipes, she includes a list of equipment she uses in her food preparation. I know my way around a kitchen, so it seems pretty basic to me, but not everyone has experience with Dutch ovens or food processors. She also includes a section entitled Instant Pot 101, as well as labels she applies to her recipes, from “lower-carb,” to “freezes well,” to “indulgent.” And as she does in all her cookbooks, she includes step-by-step photographs that I find helpful.

THE NEW FRONTIER is also user-friendly in its organization, with chapters starting with “Breakfast” and ending with “Desserts.” In between you can find recipes for “Snacks and Starters,” “Drinks,” “Small Sweet Bites,” even “Meatless.”

I’m not big on breakfast food, but the prospect of her “Carrot Cake Baked French Toast,” made with multigrain bread, pecans and carrots and slathered with a cream cheese glaze, had me salivating. I’ll definitely be trying that one! And I liked her spin on a diner classic: “Bacon, Kale and Tomato Sandwich.” That would pair nicely with a steaming bowl of homemade tomato soup (which Drummond has a fantastic recipe for on her blog and, I believe, in one of her previous cookbooks), although I would substitute tempeh bacon to suit my vegetarian ways.

I’m always looking for something to make when I host parties or attend a potluck, and I think I found a new snack to offer guests: “Goat Cheese Truffles.” They seem super easy to make and add a touch of casual elegance to a gathering.

Like adult beverages? Drummond offers up a selection. I love a good Bloody Mary, and her “Caprese Bloody Mary,” set off with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil, then finished with a balsamic glaze, is right up my alley, combining one of my favorite drinks with my favorite salad. By the way, if you abstain from alcohol, the author frequently provides non-alcoholic variations of her drinks.

As someone who adheres to a meat-free diet, I’ll shy away from covering the chapters about chicken, beef and pork, and seafood. Suffice it to say, the recipes are varied and seem simple to make. If you eat meat, there should be something for you in THE NEW FRONTIER.

Bear with me while I review her section on meatless meals. The “Street Corn Soup” sounds deliciously flavorful, although it will probably have to wait until corn season rolls around next summer. Drummond is branching out with some of her ingredients, such as with the “Grilled Halloumi and Vegetables.” Halloumi is a briny, firm cheese that holds up well to heat, and I just happen to have some in my refrigerator, thanks to a trip to Trader Joe’s a while back. I see this recipe in my immediate future. Finally, there’s the “Kung Pao Cauliflower,” which gives me an excuse to use one of my favorite Asian ingredients, chili paste. And I will probably add some tofu to this dish for some protein.

Looking for something sweet to balance out the savory? THE NEW FRONTIER has that covered, with “Butterscotch Lava Cakes” and “Caramel Pecan Cheesecakes.” Me, I’m going to try the “Peanut Butter-Stuffed Chocolate Chunk Cookies” and the “Caramel Apple Quesadillas.” Yum!

If you’re seeking ideas to please the pickiest of eaters, you might check out the selection of Ree Drummond’s fun, friendly cookbooks that the Joplin Public Library has in its collection, including her latest. The title has a few holds on it, so you might want to jump on the list if you can’t wait for it to appear on the shelf.

And with that, I wish you happy times in the kitchen!

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The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Rhett and Link met in the first grade at Buies Creek Elementary School in 1984. The story goes that they were both held back from recess for writing profanity on their desks. While everyone else was outside playing, they spent their recess coloring mythical creatures. They have been best friends ever since, and even made a blood oath to commit to always work together and create big things. That promise has been kept. Some of their earliest projects include a screenplay Gutless Wonders (never finished), and a punk rock band.

Fast forward to today, they run one of the most successful Youtube channels, Good Mythical Morning (GMM), with over 15 million subscribers, and over 5 million views daily. Their catalog also includes music videos, the web television series Buddy System,  their award winning podcast EarBiscuits, comedy/musical tours, and the New York Times’ Bestseller Book of Mythicality. 

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because the parallels between real life and fiction are evident in Rhett and Link’s second book, and first novel The Lost Causes of Bleak Creak. The book follows the friendship of Rex and Leif in the town of, you guessed it, Bleak Creak, North Carolina. Bleak Creek is a typical, small southern town. One that holds religion, family values, and tradition close to heart. It is a seemingly cheerful place, but every town, no matter how big or small, has its secrets.

The first chapter starts with Rex, Leif, and their friend Alicia filming a scene for their film, Polterdog (similar to the screenplay Gutless Wonders mentioned above). Something goes wrong during the filming of a scene which lands the three friends in trouble, one of the terms of punishment being that they are no longer allowed to film their movie. Alicia who already has a bad reputation due to previous circumstances, gets the worst punishment of the self-appointed Triumvirate. But having put so much time and energy into their movie, the group decides to meet up and film one last scene. As Rex and Leif make it to Alicia’s house, they soon find out she is in trouble. They find out she is being sent, against her will, to Wayne Whitewood’s reform school. Shrouded in mystery, no one really knows what happens inside the ominous building surrounded by a chain-linked fence, but it has a reputation of its own. Some people never return, those who do come back aren’t quite the same, almost zombie-like, without the appetite for brains. Either way, Rex and Leif have no choice but to try and save their friend from certain demise.

For a comedic duo, Rhett and Link wrote a thrilling page-turner. There is plenty of 90s nostalgia, and nods to good-ole southern traditions such as pig pickins’. They took elements from their personal lives and transformed into something magical. Hopefully this can turn a few people into a Mythical Beast, or fans of the GMM channel, because the friendship of Rhett and Link is so wholesome and inspiring. Their most recent episodes have been shot documentary-style, while they take you through Buies Creek to revisit their childhood homes, church, and the creek itself. It adds another layer to the novel. Even though  Halloween is over, there is always room for a little suspense and psychological terror (especially with the holiday season approaching fast), and this book delivers.

 

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Men of Valor by Irene Hannon; Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center; Something Read, Something Dead by Eva Gates; Bloody Genius by John Sandford

My book choices lately include a police procedural, Christian romantic suspense, cozy mysteries, and a book on women’s lives and relationships. Instead of choosing just one I thought I’d give you a sampling of what I’ve been reading.

Irene Hannon writes, among other things, Christian romantic suspense. Her Men of Valor series is a trilogy centered on the 3 McGregor brothers. The first book, Buried Secrets, introduces the oldest brother Mac. A former Navy Seal, Mac is now a detective. When a construction crew uncovers an unmarked grave Mac is called in to assist small town police chief Lisa Grant. The harder they work to discover the identity of the victim the more desperate someone is to make sure the name and the story stay buried.

The middle brother, Lance, is a new FBI agent and his first case is a possible kidnapping. The twist here is the victim, Christy Reed’s sister, was declared dead in a house fire months ago. Thin Ice brings together Lance and Christy in a race to find the kidnapper before he claims his next victim. Tangled Webs is baby brother Finn’s story. Still recovering from injuries received in the Middle East, the Army Ranger is vacationing in an isolated cabin. Screams in the middle of the night have him racing to the rescue of his neighbor. Neighbor Dana is recovering from trauma herself and now Finn has to rely on his skills to keep her safe and find who wants her gone. These are well-written quick reads.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center is classified as women’s lives and relationships. Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter and very good at what she does. What she is not so good at is trusting and letting people close to her. On her 16th birthday her mother, Diana, left Cassie and her father. Later that same day Cassie attends a party. What happened is only hinted at but it changed her forever. Now she’s a rising star with the Austin Texas fire department – that is, until aggressively and physically objecting to being groped by the man who is presenting her with an award. Refusing to apologize, Cassie loses the job she loves.

Diana asks her to come to Massachusetts to help her deal with some health issues. To save her career and do her reluctant familial duty, Cassie moves and starts over with the Lillian Fire Department. The Lillian crew are not as forward thinking as the crew in Austin. Working to prove herself and deal with her mother Cassie begins on a path of discovering forgiveness and the true meaning of love.

I like cozy mysteries and I’ve been reading Eva Gates’ Lighthouse Library series. The setting is the Outer Banks in North Carolina and the protagonist is librarian Lucy Richardson. Employed by the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library Lucy also lives in an apartment on one of the upper floors of the lighthouse.

In Something Read, Something Dead Lucy is hosting a shower for her soon to be wed cousin, Josie. Josie runs a local bakery and is planning a small wedding but her visiting relatives are pushing for an expensive, elaborate affair. Cousin Mirabelle sees the wedding as a boost to her own fledgling business and is especially forceful. When Mirabelle collapses and dies at the shower, it is determined she was poisoned. Josie becomes the number one suspect. She provided the treats for the shower including gluten-free food just for Mirabelle. With her bakery shut down, Josie may have to postpone marrying her beloved Jake. Determined to rescue Josie, Lucy begins her own investigation. She has plenty of suspects including Josie’s relatives and Jake’s old girlfriend who has recently relocated to the Outer Banks. This series is a winner with good characters, a unique setting, and plenty of mystery.

My police procedural is John Sandford’s latest in the Virgil Flowers series, Bloody Genius. Virgil is one of my favorite characters and Sandford can always be counted on to tell a good story. Virgil, an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, goes wherever he is sent in the state. A prominent professor at the University of Minnesota, Bart Quill, was bludgeoned to death in the library. After 2 weeks with no progress and despite his grumblings, Virgil is sent to help the Minneapolis PD.

There’s no clear lead but plenty of loose threads to pull and Virgil is pretty good at unraveling thread. Why did Quill have a reserved study room in the library when he had his own lab? Why was he there after hours? Was his research important enough to kill for and what about his feud with his academic rival? As usual with Sandford this is fast-paced, compelling and a little humorous. It’s hard to put down.

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Semiosis by Sue Burke

Part Planet of the Apes, part 2001: A Space Odyssey; “Semiosis”, by Sue Burke, tells the story of a group of astronaut colonists, and the planet they discover.

“Semiosis” is a generational novel, each chapter is told from the first-person perspective of a member of a new generation – beginning with original team of astronauts. The reader experiences the colony’s development through 107 years on Pax, the name the colonists give their new planet.

The original team of colonist consists of less than a hundred people from all over the world. They were chosen to provide particular skills to the community, not only to survive on their new planet, but to thrive. Scientists were chosen (meteorologists, doctors, biologists, and botanists) as well as artists (musicians and sculptors), and particular care was given to the type of personality that each member possessed.

The goal for Pax is to create a peaceful society that will become a part of the ecosystem of the planet, and live in harmony with any life forms that they may discover.

As the novel progresses, the narrators become more familiar with the nature of planet, and subsequently less ‘earthling’. The original colonists view Pax through the lens of Earth, comparing animals and plants to ones they (and we) are familiar with. From generation to generation, Earth customs and culture become increasingly more alien, as the humans develop their own ways of life.

Each narrator has unique voice; they have different perspectives on the planet, and its residents, and very different personalities. Burke’s experience as a short story author enables her tell each of these stories as its own distinct piece of a whole narrative. The chapters have their own narrative arcs, though many of the characters overlap from chapter to chapter.

Burke’s background in journalism – as a reporter and editor of various newspapers and magazines – also informs her writing style. Her chapters are character driven and concise, with an eye for scientific processes and vocabulary.  The first narrator, Octavo, is a botanist – and he thinks like a botanist.  His chapter is full of observations about plant life that some readers, and Octavo’s co-colonists, may not completely follow.

In many ways, “Semiosis” can be viewed as a first contact novel, with humans as the alien species. I will not go into detail about the other life on this planet, I will only say (mysteriously) that the colonists are not alone – there is life on Pax, beyond the animals that the team first encounters.

For interested readers, I will also say that rereading the first chapter – with all the hopes and new discoveries of the original colonists – once you have finished the book is an experience that I highly recommend.

I would like to also give a content warning for one instance of sexual assault.

Because this is my first book review, I think I ought to introduce myself. Hello, I’m Alyssa Berry – the new Technical Services Librarian at Joplin Public Library.  If you come into the library, you might not see me, because I spend a lot of my time in the back room, but I am hard at work getting books into our catalog and out onto our shelves. My team and I do all the digital and physical processing that turns regular books into library books. I started at JPL about a month ago, and I’m excited to be a part of everything that happens at the library – and to share my particular taste in books with all of you.

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Librarian Seeks BookNeeded quick! Great book to read.  Looking for a well-written story that contains humor, light subject matter, and well-rounded, quirky characters.  Must be able to hold my attention and keep me from binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy and various home improvement shows.  Physical book preferred, but would consider downloading a digital copy if it is the right choice.

That is how I felt several weeks ago when I found myself looking for a book to read; like I needed to write my own personal ad to help me find a good book.    

I kept starting books, but not finishing them.  Probably not so much the books fault as my inability to stay focused.  But I was getting desperate, I needed something that I could finish reading and use for my book review.  Thankfully, I work with some of the most well-read people in Joplin, so I started asking library staff for recommendations.  And, lo and behold, I found a winner, “Evvie Drake Starts Over” by Linda Holmes. 

Evvie Drake is a widow.  Not your typically weepy, I miss my husband-type though.  Evvie has a secret – one she has not told anyone – on the day of her husband’s death she was packing her car, planning to leave him forever.  What are the odds on the day she decided to leave, he would die?  

So now a whole year later, she still has not shared this secret with anyone – not her best friend Andy, not her family, not a soul.  And then Dean comes into her life.

Dean has lost something as well – not a spouse, but something just as important to him – his ability to pitch.  This is devastating for him since he has made a career out of being a baseball pitcher. However, he is now a former major-league pitcher after getting a case of the “yips” and not being able to pitch with any sort of accuracy. 

Coincidentally, Evvie and Dean are both friends with Andy, and in an effort to help both of his floundering friends, he suggests that Dean, who recently left New York City to visit him in Maine, rent the apartment located in the back of Evvie’s large house.  This will help Evvie pay her bills, since she refuses to touch her husband life insurance money, and it will provide Dean with a safe space away from prying eyes.

After Dean moves in, the two quickly make a deal – Dean will not ask about Evvie’s late husband and Evvie will not ask about baseball.

Thanks to Dean’s companionship Evvie is able to start to move forward and Dean finds a new normal, too.  The two do not end up keeping their deal, and in the end that turns out to be the best thing for both of them.  

Linda Holmes has crafted a beautiful piece of fiction, that in it’s soft, subtle way, was just what I needed.  I stayed awake late reading this one to find out what would happen and see how Evvie and Dean ended up. I was not sure I was going to like how she tied up the loose ends, but I could not have been happier.  I am glad to have found my perfect match in Evvie Drake.

 

 

Mildly Spooky Missouri

Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks by David E. Harkins

Missouri’s Haunted Route 66: Ghosts Along the Mother Road by Janice Tremeear

Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters by Jason Offutt

When it comes to all things horror, I readily admit that I am a first-class, Grade A chicken. My personal threshold of scary is so low it’s subterranean. Forget about Ghostbusters, and for pity’s sake please don’t bring up Gremlins after dark. Things are better than they used to be, though–I can now make it down (most) Halloween aisles in stores and enjoy neighborhood decorations. This is why I only mildly flinched when the library’s High School Book Club voted to read a paranormal title for October.

I found a trio of interestingly spooky-yet-mild-enough books of local and statewide interest to fit the bill. All three relate paranormal encounters or ghost stories from a variety of locations in the Ozarks or around Missouri–a combination of tales handed down, results of paranormal investigations, and the authors’ personal experiences. Depending upon the reader, the stories may register between mild to moderate on the spooky scale although there are a few that are significantly freaky. None of them are as spine chilling as Stephen King, but they aren’t meant to be.

Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks, part of the Haunted America series from The History Press, registers at “very mild”. It is a great place to start for the easily startled. More local history than anything, this title introduces a selection of historic cemeteries around the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks noted for their paranormal activity. Author David E. Harkins focuses on each cemetery’s background, only briefly describing his visit to each site and summarizing reports of ghostly encounters there. Of local interest, he includes Peace Church Cemetery in Joplin and the Spanish Fort Cemetery near Mount Vernon.  Harkins also includes an informative overview of Ozarks funeral customs and superstitions. Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks is great for quick bites of regional history or for readers with a low threshold of scary.

Sitting midway between the “mild” and “moderate” settings, Missouri’s Haunted Route 66: Ghosts Along the Mother Road blends more spookiness for a fun, quick travelogue. The book is divided into chapters traveling the Mother Road from St. Louis to Joplin with each entry providing some backstory and describing paranormal encounters at sites along the way. It’s a nice introduction to locations known for reported hauntings; although entries vary in length and detail, most are short and lend themselves well to reading in spurts or for use as a travel guide. Unlike the skeptical tone of Haunted Graveyards, author Janice Tremeear readily accepts otherworldly aspects of the subject relaying more stories and legends surrounding the sites without questioning their existence. As for haunted southwest Missouri, the usual suspects appear: Kendrick House in Carthage, Prosperity School, the former Freeman Hospital in Joplin, and the Spook Light at Hornet. Skip the local sites if you’re familiar with them. Otherwise, grab Missouri’s Haunted Route 66 for an enjoyable road trip.

Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters is firmly at “moderate” on the scale for me–likely less than that for everyone else. (I had to read this one only during daylight hours.) As freaky as it is spooky, the book is an intriguing compilation of ghostly, extraterrestrial, and Bigfoot stories (many based on the author’s personal experience) with a dash of medical oddity thrown in. Author Jason Offutt, a columnist and blogger chronicling the out-of-the-ordinary, relates encounters from sites around the state–some infamous, some less known–in an easygoing, conversational style. Offutt doesn’t assume anything about the reader and offers a helpful mini-glossary of key terms in the introduction. He also adds an appendix outlining his paranormal adventures in the state. In between these two resources are 43 weird and creepy tales. Reading them is like listening to your friends tell ghost stories around a campfire with a flashlight shining underneath their chins–it’s only a flashlight pointed upward, but the spooky shadows it creates significantly up the “eek” factor. See the sections “Red Eyes in the Darkness” (personally filed under “Why did he have to include a photo?”) and “Screams of the Alien” (Are you sure those are your sister’s roommates making those noises? Do you really want to stick around and find out?) for examples.

You can find these and oodles more eerie selections year-round at the library–you don’t have to wait for Halloween to try one. Happy haunting and happy reading!

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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