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It’s National Poetry Month!

A Dazzling Display of Dogs by Betsy Franco, illustrations by Michael Wertz

iF: A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility edited by Allie Esiri and Rachel Kelly

 

I’m so excited! April is National Poetry Month!  In 1996, the American Academy of Poets launched this annual celebration to “remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters”. Poetry is a rich gift offering something for everyone. Whether formal or informal, fancy or casual, long or short, poetry is a gateway to the universe. It explores the past and worlds unknown, speaks what the heart cannot say, brings solace and strength, yelps with joy, makes us laugh.

If you’ve only encountered dry, dusty poems or have only had poetry forced upon you, try one of these books instead. Both of them are great for family time or solo reading, and both, along with other poetry books, are available through the Library’s OverDrive/Missouri Libraries 2 Go e-resource found at https://molib2go.overdrive.com/missouripldc-joplin/content or the Libby app.

You’ll find a variety of verses–rhyming and not–and subjects in these poems. They are fun to see and hear! Try reading them aloud, play around with the tempo, feel the rhythm of the words. For extra fun, try reading outside! It’s a super opportunity to explore poems on your own or to build language skills with kids and is easily adaptable to electronic communication.

An easy place to start is with iF: A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility, an anthology of well known or frequently taught poems with a smattering of less well known verses from famous poets. British editors Allie Esiri and Rachel Kelly created an app to connect kids to poetry and have collected their favorites to encourage poetry time at home. Their selections range from nursery rhymes to nonsense verse to love poems to historical ballads–lots of familiar territory here. Plenty of famous, pre-20th century names are included–Wordsworth, Poe, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Browning, Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, among others–with a smattering of later poets.

iF offers helpful aids to understand poetry’s structure and to connect poetry to children’s lives. Esiri and Kelly include a glossary of poetic forms and terms accessible to families exploring how poems work. The editors also divide the book into sections such as “Growing Up”, “Humor and Nonsense”, “Animals, Nature and Seasons”, and “Bedtime”; each section starts with easier poems and progresses to longer, more complex ones. Many poems have short explanatory notes from the editors. An index of authors and index of titles make it easy to search for a familiar entry. Most helpful is the “Poems for Possibilities” list which suggests poems for different situations such as needing courage, seeking guidance, facing grief, or needing “a pocket full of peace”.

While iF is a gateway to read-aloud poetry, A Dazzling Display of Dogs is proof that poetry can be a feast for the eyes and ears. Poet Betsy Franco has transformed dog stories from elementary students into lively concrete poems which dance across the pages. Concrete poetry often refers to poems with outlines depicting a recognizable shape and which may or may not rhyme–a verse about a bell written in the shape of a bell, for example. Here the poems are artworks with a life of their own. Illustrator Michael Wortz uses each poem’s shape to create energetic scenes in a palette of blues and warm reds, oranges, and yellow. He layers shapes and textures in a look resembling cut paper come to life.

Suitable for reading cover to cover or randomly, Franco’s book is chock full of delight. Try “Fast Al, the Retired Greyhound”, a former track racer whose story is told in the circular path he runs on the beach. Or check out “Apollo at the Beach” which shows a yapping dog chasing swooping seagulls of text. “Emmett’s Ode to His Tennis Ball” is a riot of yellow and blue with a “slobbery, sloppy, slimy sphere” of poem in his mouth. “White Collar Blues” is a Cone of Shame worn by Mathilda who is having none of it.

There’s plenty of fun to be had during National Poetry Month.  For virtual activities from the American Academy of Poets, check out https://poets.org/ and click on “National Poetry Month” at the top of the screen. See the Library’s webpage for links to our e-resources for books of all sorts, http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/

Hope you enjoy the poetry of words and of nature this month!

 

No Ivy League, written and illustrated by Hazel Newlevant

There’s no denying that art has power. A work of art in any form can stop you dead in your tracks, take your breath away, send chills down your spine. It can elicit a bold, dramatic response–an experience so vivid that it’s as memorable as the work of art itself.

Sometimes, though, art exudes a quiet power–less shockwave and more a resonance that grows deeper and richer with time, drawing you in over and over, changing you in the process.

Hazel Newlevant’s graphic novel No Ivy League has that quiet power, wrapping it in an unassuming package. While the book appears to be a slow-moving memoir of a summer job washed in monochromatic watercolor (don’t let the full-color cover fool you), it is an exquisite glimpse at the lives of contemporary teens.

Author and illustrator Newlevant describes her first job, a summer stint with the local parks department during high school. Hazel is a seemingly average teen in Portland, Oregon, who happens to enjoy reading, video games, hanging out with her friends, and making art. She’s trying to save enough money to see her favorite band in concert in the fall, so at her parents’ suggestion she applies for a spot on one of the city’s youth conservation crews; she gets a job cleaning out invasive ivy at a park. She spends the summer learning about herself and the diverse group of people she works with, discovering that the world around her is a far bigger and more intricate place than she ever imagined.

There’s little plot description because there’s not much plot to describe. Hazel’s story is a meditative character study examining self-discovery, particularly that time when teens first realize that there is life outside their own bubble. Newlevant depicts adolescence in all its naive, cringeworthy, optimistic, angry, despairing gloriousness. In doing so, she opens Hazel’s eyes (and ours) to the shades of grey present in a previously black-and-white world. Words and actions that may seem like jokes to some may be far from it for others. Perspectives on justice and “doing the right thing” may vary widely depending on experience–experiences determined by skin color and economic opportunity. Hazel begins to see and acknowledge the differences between herself and other teens on her team, discovering that her secure, stable life isn’t universal.

Newlevant deftly weaves nuance throughout the book. The realistic dialogue (including Hazel’s interior dialogue) sounds immediate and lifelike without being over the top or trying too hard. Same goes for the art. As you read, the chapter title spreads progress from fully covered in ivy to a space almost cleared. When another teen taunts her, the laughter written on the page chases Hazel away. Invasive ivy creeps toward Hazel threatening to entangle her after being shaken to her core by a family secret. Newlevant’s work shows just enough detail to serve the story–these aren’t overly busy panels–and has a slightly misty quality (as memories do) thanks to a hazy watercolor wash.

Newlevant’s nuance is evident as she thoughtfully relates discovering the role privilege played in her upbringing, “This book is about a pivotal summer in my life. It poked a hole in my familiar bubbles and complicated my understanding of the world. It was a multi-car pileup of race, class, gender, and teen hormones…It’s incredible, believing over and over again that you’ve figured things out–only to stumble on new ways your place in society shields you from the truth. I really didn’t know anything. Maybe I still don’t.”

No Ivy League offers up its insights in quiet, thoughtful ways and leaves a quiet, thoughtful power in its wake. It’s a realistic slice of adolescent life in all of its raw, complicated messiness. This isn’t a book for readers wanting heavy, plot-driven action or a sanitized depiction of teenagers. It is a title for adults and mature teens who are patient readers interested in character development, realism, or examining society. A variety of teen lives are depicted; strong language and some sexual references are included.  No Ivy League and many other amazing memoirs in graphic novel format are available at the library. Stop by and see what we have to offer!

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.

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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.