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Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma and Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle written by Nathaniel Marunas, illustrated by Erik Craddock

One of the things I like best about the holiday season are the stolen moments of quiet amidst the hustle and bustle–lovely, little gifts of reading or listening time when least expected, so I try to have a book of some sort at hand.  Since Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve already managed to squeeze in some titles that were on my hold list. Here are two quick (and vastly different) reads I’ve recently enjoyed and am excited to share with you.

I anxiously awaited Haben Girma’s autobiography after watching a segment on C-SPAN2’s Book TV this fall.  Her interview with host Peter Slen was engaging and entertaining, pulling me in with fascinating stories sprinkled with her great sense of humor.  Her book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, did not disappoint.

Girma, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Eritrea and Ethiopia, grew up in Oakland, California.  She is a graduate of Harvard Law School who currently advocates for people with disabilities. She is an avid ballroom dancer, has climbed icebergs, helped build a school in Mali, surfs and kayaks, has traveled extensively, has pioneered an accessible communication system, and has spoken at the White House.  She also happens to be deafblind.

Haben (pronounced “ ‘Ha’ like ‘ha-ha’ and ‘ben’ like ‘Benjamin’ ”) is full of adventures and insights.  Girma, in her early thirties, describes her journey navigating cultures–American and Eritrean and Ethiopian, inclusionary and exclusionary–with warmth, passion, and wit.  Her voice clearly comes through with confidence and delight.

Biographies are one of my favorite genres because I get to experience the world from different perspectives, meeting interesting people on the page even if I never have the opportunity in person.  Nowhere near the end of her story, Haben Girma already has plenty of insight to offer. In addition to her travels and accomplishments, she shows what it takes to maneuver in a world designed for others, to carve out a space for daily life.  She leads by example and by thoughtful suggestions, inviting all of us to consider ways to open accessibility for people with disabilities.

Charming and astute, Haben Girma’s autobiography is an enjoyable read and a valuable one.  I can’t wait to find out the rest of her story.

What happens when you combine a disgruntled elf, hordes of teddy bears fueled by evil magic, and an author’s obsession with samurai movies?  You get, Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle, written by Nathaniel Marunas and illustrated by Erik Craddock.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Manga Claus.  He exists as certainly as honor and loyalty and tinsel.  He wields a pair of skillfully forged samurai blades, defending Christmas from threats internal and external and coming to the rescue as surely as he delivers toys every year.

Fritz the elf resents being assigned to the laundry instead of Santa’s workshop.  In a fit of rage with his fist raised to the sky, (“I’ll show him what I can do–I’ll show them all!!!”) Fritz uses an evil spirit to animate a nutcracker in a plot to sideline the workshop.  One thing leads to another, and the evil escapes to create an army of ninja teddy bears bent on destruction. Thanks to his katana and his wakizashi, Santa transforms into Manga Claus and saves the day.

The charmingly cheesy text pairs fantastically with Erik Craddock’s action-packed, blockish-yet-expressive art in shades of red, grey, and black.  (I got a distinct classic Cartoon Network vibe from it.) This slim graphic novel moves quickly yet unveils additional visual details with every read.  It begs to be made into an animated short! It’s a delightful, campy romp that is not designed for people who take Santa seriously.  This is a great title for teens as well as graphic novel fans and folks whose favorite Christmas movies are action flicks.

I can’t wait for the other books on my hold list to come in.  Who knows what treasures will appear before the year is out! If you would like to see what titles the library offers or to place an item on reserve, take a look at our website http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/ and click on “Search Catalog”.  Library staff are available to help whether you stop by or give us a call at 417-623-7953.  Happy reading!

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!

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!

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.

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.

What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper

Book review by Beth Snow

 

Coming of age stories are the bread and butter of books written for teen audiences.  They appear in a wide variety of formats, both fiction and non-fiction. Like people, they come in all shapes and sizes–which makes it more likely that readers will find a story that fits.  For teens trying to find their place in the world, it can make all the difference. Today’s title is more than just historical fiction or an object lesson; it describes a painful path to identity.

In What the Night Sings, author Vesper Stamper raises and answers the question, “When all is stripped away, who am I?”  Through her main character, Gerta Richter, she shows (in words and images) what remains of identity after a harrowing journey.  Teenage Gerta lived a life sheltered in beautiful music and in her father’s love until the Nazis came one night and put them in a cattle car bound for a concentration camp.  Only when her father’s story unfolded on the train ride, did Gerta learn she was Jewish and living under a false name. From that point on, she’s immersed in the horrors of the Holocaust surviving through luck and her skill with her father’s viola.  Barely alive at the end of the war, Gerta begins the long road to recovery at a refugee camp where she meets other survivors–each with their own physical and emotional scars, each facing decisions about the future. At 16, she must learn who she is and carve a path for herself in a world utterly, irrevocably changed.

Let’s stop there, because plot summary doesn’t begin to tell the story.  Stamper unfolds Gerta’s tale of pain and discovery using carefully crafted prose–just enough detail to be effective without offering more than what is needed.  She crafts an outline on which readers can hang their imaginations, filling in Gerta’s experience: “The train screeches, slows, whines. The clacking tempo decreases until we stop.  A rush of wind blows through the two small windows. It smells of a sweetish smoke. It is not wood smoke.” Although Stamper uses few words (the entire book including multiple supplemental sections reaches only 266 pages), it’s enough to create rich, believable characters.  It’s also enough to convey the research behind this well-written historical fiction. Gerta’s emotions feel authentic, immediate, a realistic response to the specific nightmares of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.

There’s a sparse beauty in Stamper’s text and in the black-and-white, ink wash illustrations found throughout.  Whether a small, corner work or a full, two-page spread, her art is both ethereal and very much grounded in reality.  (Pages 198-99 are a fantastic example!) Images and story mesh perfectly, bringing Gerta’s journey to life and deepening the reader’s experience.

What sets this book apart from the greater body of Holocaust fiction is its timeline.  The main narrative doesn’t end with the Nazi defeat. Instead, it tackles the immense question of “What happens afterward?”  As was the case for millions after World War II, Gerta’s life does not immediately return to prosperity or joy because bombs stopped dropping and concentration camps were liberated.  Stamper unflinchingly describes the situation faced by survivors–disease, malnutrition, poverty, housing shortages, physical and emotional scars, the search for loved ones, rampant anti-Semitism, reclamation of identity.  Perhaps it’s possible that hope can return to Gerta, that she can truly live instead of merely survive: “Everyone has come and gone, piles of shells pulled in and out of waves, and I’m still here, a skeleton of a sea creature, dropped in this tide pool, living, watching, still living.”

Be sure to read What the Night Sings cover to cover.  The supplemental materials after the story round out the book and offer richer reading.  The author provides hand-drawn maps of the book’s settings along with a glossary, pronunciation guide, and brief list of related resources.  To get a true feeling of how music intertwined with the characters, try listening to the selections mentioned in the book; a list is included with the other resources.  Most importantly, read the “Author’s Note” for a powerful view of Vesta Stamper’s moving, challenging journey of discovery as she created this story.

This memorable work was a finalist for the American Library Association’s 2019 William C. Morris YA Debut Award which honors a book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrates impressive new voices in young adult literature.  This is an amazing book, award or no. Read it because it’s beautiful, powerful, important, and Velveteen Rabbit real. It’s great for teens (and adults) who are ready for Holocaust and coming of age material; be prepared for discussion opportunities on a variety of topics.  I greatly enjoyed this title and hope you do, too.

Find in catalog

Resources for Teen Drivers and Their Parents

Working in the library’s Teen Department, I frequently hear from teens (and their parents) about the quest to obtain a driver’s permit.  It can be an exciting and anxiety-ridden time for everyone involved. Unfortunately, formal, school-based driver education programs are virtually non-existent these days.  Fear not–helpful resources are at hand! Even if there isn’t a formal driver education program near you, there are some options for parents and guardians to get teens off to a good start behind the wheel.

Crash-Proof Your Kids: Make Your Teen A Safer, Smarter Driver by Timothy C. Smith is a solid, no-frills tool for adults teaching teens to drive.  Smith arranges the book using the same philosophy as the graduated driver license, each section introducing new skills building on previous mastery and experience.  All of the basics are covered–car care, safety of all sorts, fundamental driving skills, awareness, emergencies, road conditions, residential and highway driving, etc.  The text is clear, concrete, and friendly as is the approach. Smith also addresses parental driving habits and outlines a contract between new drivers and their adults. There are no illustrations, so use this book with other resources for complete instruction.  Whether used in whole or in part, this is a useful option.

Rules of the Road offers, in DVD format, valuable information for teen drivers and their parents.  The factual content is spot on–clear directions and explanations, helpful footage and illustrations, sound reasoning–directly and concisely communicated.  However, the presentation is pure cheesiness–a super duper block of it, in fact. This DVD is an excellent resource though. How then to use it without the trappings overwhelming the message?

One way is to focus on the DVD’s “Special Features” content instead of the main portion of the video.  This supplemental section consolidates key information with clear camera work minus the banter. The chapters “Basic Maintenance”, “In Case of Emergency”, “Signs Index”, and “3D Illustrations” are particularly useful.  “3D Illustrations” is excellent as it offers computer-animated instruction with some multi-angle viewing options. The “Special Features” alone make Rules of the Road a valuable resource.

Another option is to embrace the cheese.  Watch the full DVD together with a lighthearted approach, tongue-in-cheek; it’s a great opportunity to show a sense of humor and to start a conversation.  The main content provides important instruction in basic vehicle operation, city and highway driving, safety under normal and hazardous road conditions, and expectations for the driver’s license exam.  There is also an thorough discussion of the dangers of impaired driving. Throughout, there are opportunities to jump to related topics in “Special Features” and to take practice quizzes.

A point to consider regarding both the book and the DVD…these tools, while valuable and sound, are a decade old and do not offer the in-depth coverage needed of cell phones as a cause of distracted driving.  Be sure to supplement information on this important topic.

Need to study for Missouri’s written driver permit/license exam?  We have a resource for that, too! Driving-Tests.org is a one-stop study spot.  Among its many treasures is the latest version of the Missouri Driver Guide: A Guide to Understanding Missouri Motor Vehicle Laws and Licensing Requirements, the official handbook for driver license information.  Available in PDF, it can be read online or downloaded to an electronic device.  The site’s FAQs are well organized, concise, easy to read, and address the basic questions expected.  But, the practice tests are what make this tool amazing. Questions are arranged in batches according to difficulty and cover material on the actual exam with a separate section for road sign identification.  You can access this tool from the library’s website or directly at https://joplinpl.driving-tests.org/missouri/.

In addition to the previous resources, the library’s Teen Department has partnered with safety organization First Impact to provide a free program for the Joplin area.  First Impact is a statewide initiative of Think First Missouri, part of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, working with trainers from across the state to equip parents and guardians of teens taking the wheel.  First Impact’s presentation is designed to “teach parents about Missouri’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) law” and to “provide them with the tools they need to monitor, coach, and support their new teen driver”. Although the information is tailored for adults, teens are welcome to come along.

First Impact’s presentation will be held at the Joplin Public Library on Tuesday, November 27, from 6:00-7:30 pm.  Speakers will be Sgt. John Lueckenhoff of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Deana Tucker Dothage, Director of First Impact.  There is no charge to attend, but registration is required.  Register by calling First Impact at (573) 884-3463 or online at https://firstimpact.missouri.edu/events/first-impact-traffic-safety-parent-program-at-joplin-public-library/  For more information, email firstimpact@health.missouri.edu  The event is free, no library card needed.  Register soon to save a seat!

Teen Non-Fiction Conversation Starters–Raggin’, Jazzin’, Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke and Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More by Gianni Simone

Raggin’, Jazzin’, Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke

Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More by Gianni Simone

It’s August?  I can’t believe it’s here already!  Summer reading just ended–it can’t be time for school to start.  I’m in utter denial. I have yet to flip my office wall calendar; Pusheen will just have to eat ice cream in July for a while.  At least there’s been time to sneak in a read or two before things are in full swing.

These titles have been interesting reading.  They’re a duo of teen(ish) non-fiction full of opportunities for starting conversations between teens and adults–something different than familiar, heavy duty topics of life choices.  Whether you’re a teen or a teen-adjacent adult, there’s something here for you.

If you’re a fan of anime or manga or have wondered what all the fuss was about, then try Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More by Gianni Simone.  Although housed in adult non-fiction, this title has plenty of teen appeal.  It’s also a fascinating glimpse into aspects of Japanese pop culture with a massive U.S. teen fan base.  First and foremost, the book is a travel guide to hotbeds of otaku (superfans of anime, manga, and related subjects) culture in and around Tokyo.  Even if you’re unlikely to travel to Tokyo, this is a great vehicle for daydreaming or planning a virtual trip. Tokyo Geek’s Guide offers vibrant colors and fun-yet-pleasing fonts across an engaging layout.  It’s chock full of interesting information with plenty of maps and photos. It includes explanation of the different aspects of otaku culture for those who want it–more familiar readers can jump right into the book which is arranged by neighborhood.  Various features highlight how to use the book, special activities and locations, and travel tips. There is a helpful glossary for newbies. Full of engaging content and aesthetic appeal, give this title to teens with an interest in anime, manga, cosplay, or Japan as well as to adults curious about otaku culture or with an interest in travel.  Whether you’re navigating a teen fandom or introducing your parents to your obsession, there’s plenty to chat about.

At first glance, Raggin’, Jazzin’, Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke is not an obvious choice for a teen audience.  Yet, it surprises readers with a lively, colorful approach to a potentially dry subject.  Both the text and layout are geared for middle school readers, but the book can still offer something to high schoolers.  You can discover the stories of a handful of famous instrument makers and their creations from Steinway pianos and Hammond organs to Fender and Martin guitars.  Band students will recognize Conn trumpets and Ludwig drums and Zildjian cymbals. Lots of engaging, creative illustrations catch the eye–photos of the makers and of musicians, historic ads, cutaways and patent drawings of the instruments.  There is plenty to see here as well as read. The well-researched text won’t set the world on fire, but it’s solid and could spark an interest. Above all, this title is a great tool for connecting adults and teens. Grab the book and head to YouTube to explore the instruments, the makers, and the music.  (We fell down a Moog synthesizer rabbit hole at a recent teen activity and wound up making electronic music with Garage Band.) Or, share cuts from your respective music collections. It’s fantastic for fostering those wonderful, rambling conversations–conversations seemingly about nothing yet really about everything important.  Give this book to middle schoolers or reluctant readers with an interest in music or history or to adults looking for a quick read on the topic.

Speaking of music, it was this year’s summer reading theme and great fun.  Teens and adults have one last opportunity to rock the library and wrap up summer reading for grades 6 and up.  Join us this Tuesday, August 7, at 7:30 pm in the Joplin Public Library Community Room for a wizard rock concert with nationally-known band Tonks and the Aurors with Lauren Fairweather, founder of the Moaning Myrtles.  Wizard rock consists of rock music with lyrics set in the Harry Potter universe. There will also be a writing workshop with Wizards in Space literary magazine an hour before the concert. These programs are free and open to teens and adults.  Neither registration nor summer reading participation is required. Questions? Call the library’s Teen Office at 417-623-7953, ext. 1027, or email teen@joplinpubliclibrary.org   See you at the concert!

Find in catalog–here and here.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman; As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

Today’s featured titles come courtesy of the library’s High School Book Club.  At their last meeting, these awesome folks opted to read books which had been made into movies.  Their inspiration led me to a book which spawned a modern classic film then right to a book about the making of the film itself.

Chances are extremely high that you’ve seen Rob Reiner’s movie, The Princess Bride or, if you have not, that you have heard (or have quoted) a line from it.  (You haven’t?  Inconceivable!  Find a DVD and watch it now.  Enjoy amazing storytelling.  Borrow a copy from the library, a friend, a neighbor.  No excuses.)

But, have you read the book?  Yes, it’s a real book—not merely a narrative frame featuring Peter Falk.  Penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman, the book version of The Princess Bride presumes its source material from the “great Florinese writer”, S. Morgenstern, teller of captivating tales.  “What’s it about?” you ask.  What’s in it?  “Fencing.  Fighting.  Torture.  Poison.  True Love.  Hate.  Revenge.  Giants.  Hunters.  Bad men. Good men.  Beautifulest Ladies.  Snakes.  Spiders.  Beasts of all natures and descriptions.  Pain.  Death.  Brave men.  Coward men.  Strongest men.  Chases.  Escapes.  Lies.  Truths.  Passion.  Miracles.”  Swashbuckling romance at its finest!

This is both a love letter to and a charming poke at classic tales of lands far away where true love blossoms amid the fight between Good and Evil.  Let’s not take valuable time with additional plot details.  Instead, think on this.  Whatever charm, wit, adventure, delight, satire, romance, truths, and great lines you may have found in the movie, you will find multiplied beyond compare in the book.  Goldman is a master storyteller on screen and in print.

In short, read it for goodness’ sake!  Or listen to it.  Lots of editions to choose from—for extra fun, try one with the introductions to the 25th anniversary and the 30th anniversary editions.  The library has a lovely illustrated version with all manner of maps and drawings.  The audiobook narrated by Rob Reiner is entertaining, rather like being read a bedtime story by your New York-accented dad.

Reiner and William Goldman created magic both on the page and on the movie set according to actor Cary Elwes in his book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of the Princess Bride.  Elwes, who played Westley in the film, offers an entertaining, behind-the-scenes glimpse of movie making from audition to premiere.  In some ways a typical Hollywood memoir, he moves beyond potential pitfalls and captures with delight the camaraderie that brought Goldman’s script to life.

Elwes’ self-effacing charm permeates the book.  His witty, respectful storytelling is generous and interesting.  Throughout As You Wish, he has sprinkled sidebars from other big names with the film—memories, stories, impressions from their points of view which round out the tale.  Give the book a try.  Better yet, listen to the audiobook.  Cary Elwes reads it, and his smooth, conversational delivery sounds like a friendly chat.  He is also an accomplished mimic, reading quotes from Reiner and the late Andre the Giant in voices you would swear were theirs.  Fans of The Princess Bride and movie buffs alike will enjoy either format.

The library’s Teen Department sponsors two book clubs which meet most months of the year.  Both groups are teen-driven; participants decide on a theme for the month then choose their own title that fits the theme.  Everyone may read a different book, but that’s what makes it fun!  At book club, we rant and rave and chat about our selections in addition to enjoying a dessert.  Both groups are free; neither require registration.

Middle School Book Club is open to grades 6-8.  Its next installment will be held from 6:00-7:00 pm, Monday, April 2, in Community Room East at the library.  Percy Jackson fans get ready because we’re reading books by Rick Riordan!

High School Book Club is open to grades 9-12 and will be held from 6:00-7:00 pm on Thursday, April 5, in Conference Room 1.  This month’s theme is comedy, so come prepared for laughs.

Interested in learning more about these or other Joplin Public Library services for teens?  Contact me at the Teen Department, 417-623-7953, ext. 1027.  Happy reading and have fun storming the castle!

Find in Catalog:
The Princess Bride
As You Wish

March: Books 1-3 by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell

Of all the treasures in the Smithsonian, the exhibit that sticks with me the most is a pair of petite, scuffed, rundown, women’s loafers worn during the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  I found the shoes in a distant corner on the upper floor of the National Museum of American History, tucked safely in a display case with photographs and posters from the trek.  The case had been relocated due to renovations elsewhere in the museum, and I was lucky to run across it.  Those shoes mesmerized me.  They had been worn for all 54 miles of the march and showed it.  I can only imagine what it had been like to wear them.

I am equally mesmerized by March: Books 1-3, the graphic novel trio by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and art by Nate Powell.  John Lewis, currently a U.S. Representative from Georgia, has spent his life in the civil rights movement.  As a young man, he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a key group in the movement.  He organized sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters, participated in the Freedom Rides, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, and helped lead the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.

March is Lewis’ memoir of his civil rights work in the 1950s-60s.  It’s an insider’s look at the movement from a less well-known perspective.  Lewis lays out the motivation for his actions and decisions as well as those of the movement’s student wing.  He provides insight into the internal politics of the various organizations behind the movement.  His descriptions and Nate Powell’s drawings reflect the brutality of the struggle for equality–humiliation, beatings, incarceration, bombings, torture, death.  March accurately reflects the times it depicts; as a result, it’s not always easy to look at or to read.

Lewis bookends the movement’s history with scenes from the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.  Book One opens with Lewis preparing for the event; as he stops by his Capitol Hill office, he meets a woman wanting her young sons to understand the significance of the day.  Lewis pauses to relate the history of the civil rights movement to her sons, and the story begins.  Although somewhat awkward as a narrative device–additional scenes with Lewis speaking to the woman appear to serve as transitions at different points in the books–the intensity and immediacy of the art and text make up for it.  Lewis anchors his experiences around the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, hence the title.  All 3 volumes echo the call of “We’ll march!”, building up to the Alabama trek’s successful conclusion at the end of Book Three.

Nate Powell’s drawings may only be in grayscale, but they make as much impact as full color.  He uses a mix of bold strokes and detailed shadings to convey a wide range of emotions.  He incorporates large swaths of black background (sometimes a majority of a two-page spread) to highlight text or fine drawings or grave subject matter.  Powell cleverly incorporates the sizable amount of text in his drawings without sacrificing space or emotional power.  He has a tremendous capacity to capture facial expression and body language, portraying with equal skill reflective thoughtfulness and intense hate demonstrated by both black and white figures.  The books have won multiple Eisner Awards (the graphic novel world’s equivalent of the Oscars) for a reason.

March: Books 1-3 is an intense, fascinating exploration of our nation’s recent history.  It’s a natural choice for graphic novel or memoir fans and history buffs.  It has plenty to offer a wider audience, however.  Give the first volume or all 3 to high school students and adults; the books are equally interesting as part of a broader discussion or enjoyed alone.  Be prepared to provide context for or an introduction to the civil rights movement for middle students who read March as it accurately portrays the events and language of the time.  Like that unassuming pair of shoes in the Smithsonian, Lewis’ memoir holds a powerful message.

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