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A Pair of Comics–Classics and Cats

Long Story Short: 100 Classic Books in Three Panels by Lisa Brown

Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto

I had a chance to reduce my “To Be Read” (TBR) pile by a handful of titles over the holidays, including some comics and graphic novels. Two of the books took an interesting approach using art to comment on other creative works.

Author and illustrator Lisa Brown’s Long Story Short: 100 Classic Books in Three Panels left me in stitches. I love her ability to distill hefty literary works into a trio of illustrated boxes and a sharply-penned sentence. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe becomes “Don’t take Turkish delight from strangers.” Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is boiled down to “It’s all fun and games until you have a kid.” Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle shows all the gory details of sausage making with a single word in each panel, “DON’T. EAT. MEAT.”

Brown’s pen is equally sharp when it comes to illustrations. She uses india ink on paper then colors digitally with a muted palette of earth tones, grey, and dusty blues, reds, and olive greens. When she uses a bright color–as she does for The Scarlet Letter–it’s with great effect. Picture two panels in drab browns and blacks except for the pop of white collars and a bright red “A” on the subject, “Adulteress” for Hester Prynne and “Apostate” for Rev. Dimmesdale. The payoff is in the last panel bathed in a bright red background with a white “A” for “Aftermath” above Pearl’s blonde hair and bubblegum-pink dress.

Long Story Short packs volumes (and massive spoilers) in only 65 pages. There’s a lot to take in, including amusing cross-references to other chapters. (In case you’re wondering, it’s “horror” for The Jungle.) The book’s well worth a return trip or two or three if only to catch all of the little touches. While it’s no substitute for reading an assignment, Long Story Short works as a humorous accompaniment. Give this book to a favorite English major or someone who appreciates dry wit; suggested for high school and up.

If I were giving the same treatment to my second selection, it would sound something like this, “Paintings are real. Life is surreal. Also cats.” Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto is not about a feline photo shoot or real-life museum cats. It is a gorgeously illustrated, surreal meditation on time and the nature of art itself.

The narrative structure–calling it a plotline is a stretch–weaves multiple stories into a surreal tale following a group of cats living in the museum’s attic, an art conservator restarting her life after a loss, a little girl who has lives in a painting, and a night watchman searching for his sister who mysteriously disappeared in childhood. Each story threads its way through the world of the Louvre where characters intersect with each other and with the art. Dialogue and visual metaphors point to Matsumoto’s thoughts on time’s fleeting nature and art’s immediate and lasting beauty.

Matsumoto’s black and white inkwork looks a lot more like a sketchbook (a refined, very accomplished one) than a graphic novel for a commercial audience. Panel lines appear hand-drawn, slightly uneven and varying in thickness while his shading and crosshatching lend the stories a hazy, dreamlike quality. He creates charming, lifelike cats who take on a slightly disturbing human appearance when the story is told from their point of view. (The effect is not nearly as bad as those in the recent Cats movie.) Adding to the surreal experience are loads of extreme closeups of everything–eyes, faces, hands, paws, paintings, architecture, desktops, papers, art supplies. Even two large cat eyes look out from the book’s spine.

Reading Cats of the Louvre is like stepping into a hushed, contemplative funhouse. It’s weird. It’s surreal. It’s overflowing with metaphors and symbolism and hidden commentary and deep thoughts. It’s not meant to be pigeonholed. There is more than meets the eye; it will reward readers who come with an open mind. A good benchmark might be The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; if you like it, try this title.

Originally a manga (Japanese comic) series, this single-volume, English edition of Cats of the Louvre is accessible as a whole or with a pause after each chapter. Like other manga, it’s meant to be read from right to left and the book begins at what Western books identify as the back cover. Give this title to teens and adults who like the surreal and have the patience to travel over 400 pages of it.  Happy reading!

Random Treasures from the Stacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disasters: Poems  selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins with pictures by Wolf Erlbruch

Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers: A Little Book of Whimsy and Wisdom from the Files of the New York Public Library  New York Public Library, illustrated by Barry Blitt

Smithsonian Handbook of Interesting Insects by Gavin R. Broad, Blanca Huertas, Ashley H. Kirk-Spriggs, and Dmitry Telnov

Sometimes in life you find treasures where (or when) you least expect them–in a sock drawer, a box in the attic, a coat pocket.  (Hello, $20 bill!)  I love those moments of serendipity, those little happy accidents that bring a surprise and brighten my day.  On my way to this week’s book review, I happened upon some delightful gems tucked away on the library shelves, and I’m excited to share them with you!

I found this treat in the Children’s Department.  Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disasters: Poems is a picture book of 14 poems just right for “one of those days”.  In a year overflowing with “those days”, this book nails it.  Editor Lee Bennett Hopkins gathers from a variety of poets verses designed to validate children’s feelings in situations that make a day “one of those”.  Ranging across regret (cutting off your braids on dare), fear (being stuck alone at the top of the Ferris wheel), loneliness (watching your friend move away), stage fright (freezing up during your big debut), panic (being separated on the first day of school), embarrassment (giving the wrong answer during class), and more, the poems–some poignant, some humorous–allow readers to recognize and understand that life is a mix of the good and the not-so-much.  Illustrator Wolf Erlbruch balances the potentially overwhelming feelings with warmth and humor.  I chuckled and groaned at Kate McAllaster Weaver’s poem about disgust, “Oh, No!”: “Hello apple! / Shiny red. / CHOMP. CHOMP. / Hello worm. / Where’s your head?”  The look Erlbruch drew on the boy’s face is priceless.  Give this book to early elementary students and their grown-ups to read and discuss together.

I never thought I’d use the words “beauty” and “delight” to describe a book of insects, yet here I am applying them to the Smithsonian Handbook of Interesting Insects by Gavin R. Broad, Blanca Huertas, Ashley H. Kirk-Spriggs, and Dmitry Telnov.  Finding it was truly a happy accident!  In my experience, insect books are for identifying recently-dispatched intruders.  This is not a dry, clinical field guide to household pests; instead, it’s a gorgeous photography book.  Thick yet compact in size, it is an easily portable and robust collection of striking beetles, flies, ants, moths, bees, wasps, and butterflies.  Each entry is a two-page, minimalist spread of a full-color photo on a white background accompanied by the specimen’s common name, scientific name, size, “distribution” (current range), and a paragraph of basic information or an interesting fact.  Don’t look to this title for comprehensive coverage of the insect world; it is exactly what it advertises–a book of interesting insects, many of them not found in the American Midwest.  Enjoy the photography that places their quirky natural beauty front and center.  The specimens are truly a wonder!  The purple shine of the Darkling Beetle’s shell is deep and radiant like a Siberian amethyst, and the Orchard Cuckoo Bee’s blue-green iridescence is almost three-dimensional in the way it pops from the page.  The hairy patterns on the Thistledown Velvet Ant surprisingly resemble a Halloween costume.  This book is an eye-opening look at select insects (no murder hornets here, thankfully) and is guaranteed to spark the interest of nature lovers elementary age to adult.

And now for something completely different!  From the 1940s until the late 1980s, the New York Public Library kept a file of intriguing reference questions written or typed on index cards.  Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers: A Little Book of Whimsy and Wisdom from the Files of the New York Public Library brings highlights from those files to a Google-centric world.  Compiled by a committee of New York Public Library staff and illustrated by Barry Blitt, this pocket/purse-sized title offers chuckles and makes you say, “hmmm”.  Some entries are dated, very much of their time, and some remain relevant today.  Each entry consists of an original question from the files and its year asked followed by an answer as if it were being asked currently.  Muted watercolor illustrations in a palette of blues, greens, browns, and reds are sprinkled throughout.  One of my favorite questions was asked in 1983, “Is there a list of buildings that were designed and built in the shape of fruits and vegetables?”  Across the page, King Kong sits atop a giant carrot swatting at airplanes.  Someone in 1944 desperately needed to know, “Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?”  (Spoiler alert: be sure to keep a tight lid on the tank because they’re escape artists.)  If you’re an adult looking for a book that’s short and light and fun, try this one.

You never know what treasures you’ll find at the Joplin Public Library.  Stop by or call us at (417) 623-7953 to find out more.  See you soon!

Comics Fun

Heart and Brain: Body Language by Nick Seluk

Making Comics by Lynda Barry

Buried treasure can pop up in all sorts of places–on a tropical island, in an attic trunk, at a garage sale, or in this case, on a bookshelf.  I found these delights while looking for something else.  Isn’t that the case with a lot of things in life?

If you haven’t seen cartoonist Nick Seluk’s popular webcomic “The Awkward Yeti”, find it now.  Seluk’s humorous take on the relationship between human anatomy and human nature guarantees a chuckle.  He explores life through the eyes of Lars, a socially awkward, blue-furred, and bespectacled Yeti, who is the unwitting host to a community of cheekily entertaining internal organs.  Lungs wear sweatbands and jogging gear and are ready for anything other than exercise.  Gallbladder pleadingly offers its handmade “gifts” to everyone.  Spleen resembles a glowering ninja.  Bowel is an irritable conspiracy theorist who communicates in brown speech bubbles.  It’s the back-and-forth between charmingly optimistic, emotional Heart and pragmatic, rational Brain though that fuels the fun.

In Heart and Brain: Body Language, Seluk fills the pages with relatable inner struggles (budget vs pizza, anxiety vs relaxation, planning ahead vs living in the moment) and amusing dialogue that leave readers laughing.  Heart and Brain are the engines driving Lars and the book.  One of my favorite strips shows Heart filling Brain from a jar labeled “New Experiences” then shaking Brain vigorously; Heart then turns a tap attached to Brain and fills a bucket labeled “New Ideas”.  The magic lies in seeing Heart and Brain: Body Language for yourself because trying to capture the comic’s essence is like trying to parse comedy–dissection distracts from enjoyment.  Give this title to adults and teens who like “The Far Side” or “Calvin and Hobbes” or quirky humor in general.

Although I love to read comics, I never thought I’d be able to draw them–I know my limits.  That is, until I found Making Comics by Lynda Barry.  Barry, a nationally-known comic artist, educator, and MacArthur Fellow, is on a mission to enable everyone to discover their own creative spark.

Making Comics looks like a composition book full of doodles that’s been carried around in a backpack for half of the school year.  Each page, whatever its content, is covered in drawings and border designs and lettering in dusky watercolors lending a feel of sepia-tone except in blues and reds and yellows.  Drawings–some from Barry, some from her students who range in age from preschoolers to adults–are spontaneous and raw like those found in a sketchbook.

Barry believes that everyone is capable of art, of drawing, only that some folks have lost fluency in the language of image.  According to her, children “speak image”, “this language [that] moves up through your hand and into your head”.  She notes, “we draw before we are taught.  We also sing, dance, build things, act, and make up stories…Everything we have come to call the arts seems to be in almost every 3-year-old”.  For a lot of us, something happens along the way that separates us from creativity, especially drawing, and Lynda Barry aims to rectify that.

Following the content of Making Comics in sequence is similar to Barry’s comics class, but taking the activities out of context or in a different order is just as useful.  After an introduction designed to inspire, Barry opens concepts in “Lessons” then offers lots of exploration prompts in “Exercises”.  “Assignments” are longer, more involved activities that build on previously introduced ideas, and “Homework” takes those concepts to the next level through more intricate designs.  Thoughtful passages, hints, and tips are packed into each page; read everything!

Whether you want to reclaim that innate, easy creativity or know someone who does, this title is a great choice.  It’s also a fantastic way for teens and adults to explore particularities of the comic format.  Making Comics is a rich resource for students of all ages learning at home.  Give it a try–it’s fun and freeing.

You never know what gems you might find when you’re not looking for them.  Stop by the library and discover the treasures waiting for you!

Resources for Teen Drivers and Their Parents–2020 Update

The Driving Book: Everything New Drivers Need to Know but Don’t Know to Ask by Karen Gravelle

Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving by Tim Hollister and Pam Shadel Fischer

Driving-Tests.org, https://joplinpl.driving-tests.org/missouri/ electronic resource available via Joplin Public Library

I’ve reviewed print and electronic resources for teen drivers once before.  There has been a lot of interest in the topic this summer at the Teen Department, so I thought it would be a great time to look at additional titles for the driver’s ed. journey.

The Driving Book: Everything New Drivers Need to Know but Don’t Know to Ask is aimed at teen drivers (and drivers-to-be).  The Library offers a print version in Teen Nonfiction and an e-book through OverDrive and its Libby app.  In it, author Karen Gravelle takes on the concept of “you don’t know what you don’t know” as it applies to learning to drive.

Gravelle divides a wide, varied swath of information on the topic into manageable, bite-sized pieces for teens’ consumption.  She addresses auto maintenance, liability, emergencies, fender benders, driving hazards, peer pressure, and interacting with police–everything from checking a car’s fluids to being a responsible passenger.  Each topic is introduced with a clear description in bold type and surrounded with enough blank space to make reading quicker and easier.  Amusing, mildly cheesy black-and-white drawings lighten the tone–much appreciated with the serious subject.  Gravelle writes with a calm, soothing voice–also appreciated given the potential for anxiety with new drivers–moving from informing to warning to encouraging with ease.  Most importantly, she doesn’t just tell teen drivers “no” but provides enough explanation to outline the potential consequences without going overboard on details.  A really helpful feature are the real-life stories from new drivers, many of them cautionary tales, scattered throughout the book.  Far less helpful, the author only mentions the danger of texting and driving twice.

Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving, is an informative, no-nonsense resource for parents of new drivers.  It’s available in print in Adult Nonfiction and as an e-book through the Library’s Ebsco service.  Authors Tim Hollister and Pam Shadel Fischer, experiencing a gap in preparation of new drivers, have crafted a pathway for parents before their teens get behind the wheel.  Both authors have credible-yet-tragic backgrounds in this area.  Hollister’s son, Reid, died in a single-car crash less than a year after he got his driver’s license.  Despite being a nationally-known traffic safety advocate, Fischer watched her son, Zach, be involved in two crashes, nine days apart, less than six months after receiving his license.

Hollister and Fischer, naturally, focus on prevention and safety.  They advocate for parental structure and boundary setting, teen accountability, and mutual communication.  Understanding adolescent brain development and believing that parents know their children best, they urge parents not to solely rely on driver’s education or the state license bureau to provide all the information needed for new drivers.  Instead, they offer credible facts to support their argument for driving preparation customized to teens and their situations.  They give well-reasoned support to parents along with the tools to give their teens a good start.  The supplementary resources–a list of websites for teen drivers and a sample “Parent-Teen Driving Agreement”–alone are worth picking up the book.

Driving-Tests.org is a one-stop study spot for the written driver’s test.  One of its helpful offerings 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.  It’s the practice tests that make this tool amazing.  Questions cover material on the actual exam and are grouped according to difficulty.  Some of the tests randomize their questions.  Plus, there’s an entire section just for road sign identification.  You can access this electronic study aid from the library’s website or directly at https://joplinpl.driving-tests.org/missouri/.

Stop by the Teen Desk for free, “grab and go” resources.  We have paper copies of the Missouri Driver Guide and a handy bookmark outlining the steps of Missouri’s graduated license requirements.  We also offer “Road Wise: Parent/Teen Safe Driving Guide”, published by the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety.  “Road Wise” introduces the basics of driving–regulations, safety, maintenance, technique–in a more palatable, engaging format than other official publications.  It’s a great place to start for teens and parents.

In addition, the library’s Teen Department has partnered with safety organization THINKFIRST Missouri to offer a free parent education program, First Impact, for the Joplin area.  First Impact is a statewide initiative of ThinkFirst Missouri, part of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, working with facilitators and law enforcement officers 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.

First Impact’s presentation will be held virtually over Zoom on Tuesday, September 1, 2020, from 6:00-7:30 pm.  There is no charge to attend, but registration is required to receive the Zoom link.  Register by calling First Impact at (573) 884-3463 or online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-impact-new-driver-parent-teen-education-program-on-zoom-tickets-113853099686. The event is free, no library card needed.

Gardening At Any Age

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lifelong Gardener: Garden With Ease & Joy At Any Age by Toni Gattone

Plant, Cook, Eat!: A Children’s Cookbook by Joe Archer and Caroline Craig

Summer is upon us! Flowers are blooming, and so is this new crop of illustrated gardening books. It’s a great time for all ages to get outside and dig in the dirt!

Plant, Cook, Eat!: A Children’s Cookbook by Joe Archer and Caroline Craig encourages kids to explore edible crops in the garden and in the kitchen. The first half of the book walks readers through basic gardening concepts–plant parts, seed germination, soil preparation and amendment, starting plants, maintenance, and pest control–in clear, concise text with just enough information to engage without overwhelming. Brief sections, “Healthy Eating” and “Get Ready to Cook” bridge the gap between vegetable patch and plate by introducing food groups, cooking equipment, and kitchen safety and sanitation. The book’s second half pairs growing instructions with recipes for a variety of vegetables from beans to zucchini. Each featured crop gets a lively four-page spread to document the garden-to-table journey. Recipes range from entrees to sides to snacks to dessert and include a variety of techniques from stir frying to baking. Two recipes I can’t wait to try are the Chocolate Beet Cake and the Tomato, Feta, and Basil Pizza.

Inside and out, Plant, Cook, Eat! is a feast for the eyes, a riot of color that enhances the content. Pages are layered in color–a muted background, color photographs bordered by a contrasting shade, cheerful cut-paper veggies and kitchen utensils peppered among text and photos. The book provides a fun opportunity for families to make memories together and sneak in some life skills building at the same time. The kitchen tasks and some of the garden activities require adult supervision and are a better fit for middle-upper elementary students than for the younger set. A glossary and list of vegetable varieties round out the resources.

The beauty of gardening is that, like cooking (and reading), it’s a lifelong pursuit adaptable to a variety of circumstances. In her book The Lifelong Gardener: Garden With Ease & Joy At Any Age, Toni Gattone offers strategies to keep gardening despite physical challenges. A certified Master Gardener with “a persistent bad back”, she writes knowledgeably from experience. Adaptive gardening provides approaches to greater safety and comfort for gardeners of all ages who may have a limited range of motion, use mobility aids, want to reduce stress on their joints, experience decreased strength, etc. The goal is “to identify what works for them in their garden according to their personal physical realities”.

Preferring to “focus on proactive solutions”, Gattone provides a variety of tips and techniques so that readers can choose what works best for their situations. In “You and Your Body”, she encourages self-examination (what chores or movements are easier or harder) then moves to acceptance of change (know your limits, expect ease) and resilience (change the way you operate, don’t be afraid to ask for help). She proposes modifications for challenges with balance, stamina, mobility, pain, strength, reaction time, eyesight, memory, and temperature sensitivity. Easy stretches and lifting techniques complete the section.

The remainder of the book focuses on specifics for adapting the garden space itself and the tools to work it. The goal is “a garden of ease” that provides comfort and safety without sacrificing enjoyment. Gattone’s suggestions are as wide ranging as gardens themselves: incorporate ADA standards for wheelchair access, consider downsizing the garden, add seating (or more seating), use contrasting colors for hardscapes and railings, try raised beds or square foot gardens or vertical gardens, remove gravel and wide gaps in paths, use drip irrigation instead of lugging heavy hoses, add a bike grip to tool handles, use long-reach handles on tools. “Toni’s Tips” and “Brand Loyalty” feature ideas and tools directly from the author’s experience.

Like Plant, Cook, Eat!, The Lifelong Gardener bursts with color–a multitude of color photographs (many Instagram-worthy) plus muted borders and information boxes. This book invites you in, effectively illustrates its message, and exudes congeniality while addressing a difficult topic. A helpful resources list and a form for an “Adaptive Gardening Action Plan” add to the package.

Gardens and books have something to offer all ages. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy both this summer!

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 //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!