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Reading for Change: Books by Black Authors

All of these titles can be found via the JPL catalog

Picture Books

M is for Melanin

Concepts ABC Rose

That is my dream! : A picture book of Langston Hughes’s “Dream variation”

People Diversity Hughes

What’s the Difference?: Being Different is Amazing

    People Diversity Richards

Saturday

    People Mom Mora

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

    Self Self Esteem Barnes

Just Like Me

Self Self Esteem Brantley-Newton

Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration

    Self Self Esteem Doyon

I am Enough

Self Self Esteem Byers

Sulwe

    Self Self Esteem Nyong’o

Hey Black Child

    Self Self Esteem Perkins

You Matter

    Self Self Esteem Robinson

Freedom Soup

    Stories Food Charles

The Undefeated

Stories History Alexander

Let the Children March

    Stories History Clark-Robinson

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

    Stories History Hubbard

Before She Was Harriet

Stories History Ransome

Easy Fiction and Easy Nonfiction

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

    Easy Fic Grimes Nikki

Jada Jones series

    Easy Fic Lyons Kelly Starling

The Amazing Life of Azaleah Lane

    Easy Fic Smith Nikki Shannon

Let’s Talk About Race

    Easy Nonfic 305.8 L56L c. 1

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

    Easy Nonfic 323.11 Sh4c

Trombone Shorty

    Easy Nonfic 788.9 An2t

The Stone Thrower

    Easy Nonfic 796.332 Ea5r

Juvenile Fiction and Juvenile Nonfiction

The Crossover

    J Fiction Alexander Kwame

Blended

    J Fiction Draper Sharon

The Parker Inheritance

    J Fiction Johnson Varian

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

    J Fiction Mbalia Kwame

Ghost Boys

    J Fiction Rhodes Jewell Parker

Betty Before X

    J Fiction Shabazz Ilyasah

Piecing Me Together & Ways to Make Sunshine

    J Fiction Watson Renee

Genesis Begins Again

    J Fiction Williams Alicia

Brown Girl Dreaming

    J Fiction Woodson Jacqueline

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

    J Fiction Zoboi Ibi

New Kid

    J Nonfic 741.5 C84n

We are the Ship: the story of Negro League Baseball

    J Nonfic 796.357 N33w

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

    J Nonfic 808.1 AL2o

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

    J Nonfic 817 H11w

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives

    J Nonfic 973.0496 G82w

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History & Little Dreamers: Bold Women in Black History

    J Nonfic 973.0496 H24L

Teen Fiction

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

     Teen Coles Jay

Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

     Teen Jackson Tiffany

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

     Teen Magoon Kekla

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

     Teen Reynolds Jason

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

     Teen Stone Nic

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

     Teen Thomas Angie

If You Come Softly and Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson

     Teen Woodson Jacqueline

Teen Non-Fiction

Teen Graphic Novels

March, Books 1-3 by John Lewis

      Teengn Lewis John March

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

      Teengn Medina Tony I Am

Fiction

The Vanishing Half

    Fiction Bennett Brit

The Water Dancer

    Fiction Coates Ta-Nehisi

Homegoing

    Fiction Yaa Gyasi

The Broken Earth series

Fiction Jemisin N.K.

Such a Fun Age

    Fiction Reid Kiley

Real Life

    Fiction Taylor Brandon

Sing, Unburied, Sing

    Fiction Ward Jesmyn

The Nickel Boys

Fiction Whitehead Colin

Red at the Bone

    Fiction Woodson Jacqueline

Non-Fiction

Bad Feminist

    305.42 G25 2014

How to be an Antiracist

    305.8 K34h 2019

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

305.8 K34s 2016

Heavy: An American Memoir

    305.896 L45h 2018

How We Fight For Our Lives

    811 J71h 2019

The Yellow House

    921 B79y 2019

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to The Hidden World of Everyday Design By Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt

I sort of stole this book review from my husband, meaning that I robbed him of the opportunity to review it himself as soon as I set eyes on it after his discovering and sharing it with me. The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt is as beautiful as it is brilliant. But first, who are these guys and why everyday design?

Roman Mars is the creator and host of the fascinating and entertaining 99% Invisible podcast (est. 2010). Initially, 99% Invisible was a one-man show, but has since grown into a talented staff, including Kurt Kohlstedt, who is the digital director and a producer, as well as co-author of this book. On 99pi.org, they describe the podcast as being “about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” In other words, it’s about everyday design. The premise for the book reflects that of the podcast. Now, let’s tune in to the book proper.

The 99% Invisible City is tangibly splendid, making it clear that careful consideration went not only into the design of the book, but the touch and feel of its materials. The texture and weight of its matte pages are pleasant to the touch and the embossed cover and half-sized jacket are nice features. Of special note is the cover image. Spanning both covers, several figures within the image are labeled numerically, corresponding to the legend printed inside the book jacket. I repeat: the legend printed inside the book jacket—almost too cool!

Content is organized into six chapters, each of which is further arranged into three to six sections containing short entries. I appreciate a well-organized book, especially when, like in this one, an array of topics is covered. It’s as well-researched as it is organized, with an expansive bibliography that, if you’re interested, doubles as a “further reading” list.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily call this a coffee table book, as it’s not glossy and oversized (or overpriced), I’d say it’s like a coffee table book in that it’s interesting to look at, makes for a great conversation piece, and is suitable for casual reading while still appealing to avid readers.

The 99% Invisible City is exactly as it claims, a field guide to the hidden world of everyday design. Like most field guides, it can be read in its entirety or in bits and pieces. I skipped ahead to chapter four – Architecture, my favorite – after reading chapter one only in part and wandering about here and there in other parts of the book. Regardless of how its read, it recalls visuals of everyday things I’ve seen and wondered “What/why is that?!”

Have you ever heard of stink pipes (think obelisks)? According to Mars and Kohlstedt, obelisks and “other seemingly innocuous sculptures in cities around the world” are, by design, meant to ventilate their sewer systems. So, if you find yourself near such a structure, then you might give the air a sniff to see whether the sculpture is functional or purely aesthetic.

The standardization of utility codes, such as those one sometimes sees spray painted on the ground, came into being after a massive explosion killed/injured at least two dozen people in Los Angeles, California, in 1976. Today, the American National Standards Institute maintains the codes: red means electrical, orange signals telecommunications, yellow identifies combustive materials, pink is for “temporary markings, unidentified facilities, or known unknowns,” and so on. Though not hidden but generally unnoticed, these markings are, by design, meant to make our communities safer.

The authors also explore how regulations may influence everyday design. Perhaps this is best seen in architectural landscapes. For example, the British government once implemented an individual brick tax, thereby causing manufacturers to create larger bricks or builders to use other building materials. A similar window tax, again in Britain, caused people to board up or otherwise cover up their windows. The effects of these taxes can still be seen (or, as in the case of the windows, hidden) today.

Planned failures (e.g. breakaway posts), municipal flags, inflatable figures, towers, foundations, graveyards, water, technology, illumination, property markers, manhole covers, and so much more are covered within the covers of this book. The 99% Invisible City is everyday design presented and written about in an extraordinary manner. What’s more, it’s all remarkably illustrated by Patrick Vale. Though “for all you plaque readers and curious urbanists” is inscribed on the title page, this book has something for everyone. Check it out!

As always, happy reading.

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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!

How the Post Office Created America: A History by Winifred Gallagher

I fancy sending and receiving mail: cards, letters, mail art, packages, and postcards. I delight even in receiving unsolicited consumer catalogs and other junk mail that make for great collage material. In a word, mail is fun. At its inception, however, what came to be our country’s postal service wasn’t meant for fun, but for a “secure, independent communications network so that [our country’s co-founders] could talk treason and circulate the latest news without fear of arrest.”

Readers interested in the history of the United States Postal Service or the history of the founding of America will find Winifred Gallagher’s How the Post Office Created America: A History fascinating. Throughout the book, Gallagher draws parallels between the development of the postal system and that of our country, illustrating that one could not have happened without the other.

In addition to needing a way to “talk treason,” our forefathers desired a way to disseminate information to the public in post-Revolutionary America. Prior to this time, mail, which was then the only means of remote communication, was a privilege rather than the given that it is today. Those who lacked access to this communication network also lacked access to information. The postal service was increasingly relied upon as a means to educate the public about our country’s development and encourage their participation. Newspapers are among the first materials to be mailed to the masses. In fact, it was common for printers to double as postmasters. The distribution of newspapers via the postal service helped democratize access to information similar to how the post democratized access to communication.

But it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. Gallagher expounds on the challenges that beleaguered the post. Transportation, for example. The earliest mail carriers were post riders. Men, usually, though not always, who carried the post on horseback and rode tirelessly to their destinations or to hand the mail off to their relay (not unlike a relay race). This was especially dangerous in a mostly unsettled country thick with uncertainty and thin, at best, with the infrastructure required to carry out the service.

Post roads were mapped to connect the country, as well as to shape its settlement. Mail was increasingly delivered by stagecoach (so called because it would stop at various intervals, or stages, along the way). By 1813, Congress authorized steamers to carry mail and, in 1823, “all waterways” were declared post roads. The development of the postal service is closely tied to that of the railroad with a sort of public-private partnership that led to the Railway Mail Service, which, until aviation came along, was the most efficient method of transporting the mail. According to Gallagher (and she makes a great case), the postal service single-handedly supported the aviation industry by subsidizing its infrastructure.

Transportation wasn’t the mail’s only challenge, however. Another was safety. Not only that of postal employees, but of the mail itself. Especially during the post rider, stagecoach, and railway days, it was not uncommon for the mail to be stolen. When mail traveled via railway it did so in wooden train cars that were placed behind the engine car, which meant that it was susceptible to fire, endangering both employees and the mail.

Finances were yet another challenge. In the early days of the American postal service, it was not the sender who paid for personal correspondence, but the recipient. One went to the post office (because that was the only option prior to home delivery) and asked for their letters and paid only for those that they wished to receive. Not surprisingly, this was costly. Not to mention the accumulation of unwanted letters, which ended up in the Dead Letter Office (an interesting destination and story in and of itself).

The postal service did more than overcome challenges, though. It changed America’s social landscape. During the Victorian era, letter-writing became extremely popular, especially among women. So much so that post offices installed separate windows for women to pick up their correspondence so as to keep aligned with that era’s social mores (i.e. to keep the women from the men, especially because, at that time, post offices could also double as places of vice). Books about the etiquette of writing letters abounded and stamp lockets, a locket containing stamps worn on a chain around the neck, became popular, as did stamp collecting.

In her final chapter, she examines the postal service’s missed opportunity to provide the Internet as a non-profit public service rather than our current privatized for-profit system. When considering how different access to electronic communication and information might look had the post prepared for a digital future, she imagines: “They would have insisted that every post office in America become a neighborhood media hub equipped with a bank of computers that enable citizens to go online for little or no expense–a service now provided by more than sixty nations around the world, to say nothing of America’s own public libraries, where people que up or take a number for online access.”

These considerations have merit. After all, the postal service and the Internet are not unlike one another. Both came about to fulfill the need for remote communication and the dissemination of information, while helping to democratize access in the process. Interestingly, public perception of both has been, at times, similar. To wit: It was feared that mail order catalogs and buying/selling goods through the mail would destroy local businesses much like it’s feared that buying/selling goods online will do the same.

Gallagher details America’s long, winding postal road with an intriguing history that spans two centuries while skillfully supporting her claim that the post office created America. In the final words of her afterward, “Whither the Post,” Gallagher encourages us “to reflect on what the post has accomplished over the centuries and what it could and should contribute in the years to come” before deciding its future. To state it simply, reading this title has only strengthened my opinion that, too often, our postal service is taken for granted.

As always, happy reading.

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The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency by John Dickerson

The time is nigh, fellow citizens. This Tuesday, we shall exercise our franchise and elect a president. Many have made their respective choice already via absentee or mail-in voting, so tabulating the results among the 50 states could require some collective patience. Regardless, we do know that come January 20th, either Joseph R. Biden or Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office at noon, thus bestowing the privilege to wield the powers vested under Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Always a weighty event, now is a fine time to explore the office of the presidency.
This is what John Dickerson tackles in The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency. Mercifully, Dickerson doesn’t devote much time to what has been explored elsewhere, and for quite some time: that we are in the age of the “imperial presidency,” where the U.S. presidency now brandishes power beyond what the Constitution allows. It’s also known (perhaps somewhat erroneously) as the “unitary executive,” its more legalistic name. (I say “mercifully” because there’s plenty of excellent scholarship on this already.)
If anything, Dickerson addresses evolving presidential powers through anecdotes. For example, William Henry Harrison didn’t offer policy initiatives during his campaign, as he believed that would encroach on congressional prerogative. We now, of course, expect a whole array of presidential proposals, mostly of the domestic variety. However, when it’s realized that so much of the workday is spent addressing voluminous foreign policy matters, a new reality quickly manifests within a newly sworn president. Consider President Kennedy. Soon after taking the oath of office he was made privy to an operation that was already in full planning motion: The Bay of Pigs invasion.
President Eisenhower has received renewed interest in recent years, and Dickerson follows suit. Eisenhower developed a quadrant system where he assigned issues an importance level, Q1 housing the most urgent. He was prescient enough to realize that Q1 could swallow up a presidency; so the challenge was to ensure that the urgent didn’t crowd out other initiatives he wanted to achieve. (And did you know that Ike had such a bad temper White House staff referred to him, just among themselves no doubt, as “the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang”? Fully aware of his temper, Ike wrote in his journal, “Anger cannot win. It cannot even think clearly.”)
Dickerson doesn’t share such narratives as mere historical asides. He’s attempting to edify the reader on how our previous presidents led the executive and how historical events were met and managed by presidents, which in turn changed the presidency. Prime example number one is FDR’s initiated policies during the Great Depression. A lesser known example is that presidents were once not expected to be “on the scene” when natural disasters struck. LBJ changed that in 1965 after a hurricane devastated New Orleans. When his motorcade came across a 9th Ward high school sheltering displaced residents, LBJ addressed them: “I’m your president and I’m here to help you.”
Dickerson structured the book so that you can essentially pick any section and begin reading, as most anecdotes last only a handful of pages. But this is also the book’s greatest weakness. Just when you think you found a theme, we’re off to another president of another era, over and over again. Plus, there are too many plodding sentences telling us what a president should strive to accomplish. While I think Dickerson is correct on the merits, stylistically more than a few sentences made me wince. Dickerson was once a political reporter for Slate and Time. He’s a television reporter now, so maybe that’s why his writing has taken on a folksy sheen, where metaphors are freely mixed.
Still, the book certainly works well in spots. Dickerson seemingly knew that no U.S. political history book would be complete without revisiting the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The framers understood that the challenge was to establish a limited federal government that was still vigorous enough to function. While the will of the people manifests through elected representatives, their passions must be checked. In Federalist No. 51, James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls would be necessary.” Thus the separation of powers: a bicameral legislature, an executive branch, and an independent judiciary. They knew that unscrupulous officeholders could be elected. What they hoped was that the institutions would survive.
I’ll leave it to you to wrestle with what the founders would think of the balance of power we have now. But I will say that they placed Congress under Article I of the Constitution for a reason. There are many factors that have led to waning congressional relevance (with gerrymandering leading the way), but it would be intriguing to know how the founders would process the practice of outsourcing legislation to the executive branch, where an executive order is decreed only for it to be summarily ended by the next president.
Dickerson uses his conclusion to offer modest remedies to the political realities we have now. I appreciate the effort, but I’m dubious. Dickerson acknowledges that there’s no longer an environment where a president and a ranking member of the opposing party will sit in a room and compromise à la President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill. These two men were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, so they certainly argued. But when one crossed the line with a press comment, the other was called and offered an apology. They agreed on little, but they knew that governing such a large, heterogeneous country meant compromising so that there was working legislation to address complex problems. (Even President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich met privately to discuss legislation.) Anyway, yes, we should consider how to better our outsized presidency, as Dickerson proposes. But just as the political landscape we live in today resulted from accretion, so also is the hope for a return to a point where a moderating spirit between the two political parties is more rule than exception.

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Untamed by Glennon Doyle & Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I have been on a nonfiction reading kick of late, with autobiographies and memoirs filling much of the space on my nightstand. Two recent titles I made my way through include “UNTAMED” by GLENNON DOYLE and “BORN A CRIME” by TREVOR NOAH. While vastly different in their subject matter, they each contain a powerful narrative voice.

In Doyle’s “Untamed,” imagine going on your book tour to promote your newest work of inspirational Christian literature and telling your fans that you’ve met the true love of your life. Oh, and guess what? It’s a woman. But that is exactly what Doyle did while touring for her “Love Warrior” book. As she puts it, she shared “her truth,” and while it may have upset some people, what she learned through the process is she has to be honest with herself and not live in a “cage” of fear or denial.

The analogy of being put into a cage is used throughout the narrative. She details her memories of when she “lost her wild.” She was 10 years old when the realization of society’s expectations started to weigh on her. This is when she remembers losing her happiness and turning to unhealthy ways of dealing — first bulimia, then later, alcohol.

She not only shares her struggles with addiction and bulimia but discusses her husband’s infidelity and how she finally dealt with these issues by giving herself a pass to stop “being good” and “start being brave.” She often says, “The braver we are, the luckier we get.” And in Doyle’s case, this seems to be true. This memoir is more than her story, it’s a wake up call to women.

No topic is off limits for Doyle. She discusses family, racism, religion, parenting, anxiety and so much more. She is adamant that martyring oneself does not make one a good mother. She advocates that women set boundaries, stop trying to please society and start pleasing themselves. She admits to not having all the answers but writes that she has started to trust her “Knowing” and that her life has only gotten better.

While this title is not my typical fare — I picked it up because a friend recommended it — I enjoyed it tremendously. I found myself laughing and crying many times during the reading. While not all of what Doyle preaches aligns with my personal philosophy, I appreciate her feminist approach and her recognition that how she was living was not working for her. This is a powerful addition to today’s inspirational titles and stands out because of Doyle’s passionate voice and delivery.

In “Born a Crime,” comedian and “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah uses tales from his childhood in South Africa to create a moving autobiography. His stories tell of apartheid and how the institutionalized system of racial segregation and discrimination shaped his upbringing and affected his family, but he also tells of his powerful, no-nonsense mother. His mother’s uniqueness is the star of much of the book.

Each story is proceeded by a section that explains parts of apartheid or South African culture. This is a clever and helpful addition because without it readers may not grasp the importance of the story or the significance to his life. Noah is funny, accessible and honest.

I could not put this book down. I was fascinated by Noah’s writing style and his descriptions of events. He does an excellent job of foreshadowing to keep the reader interested.

Noah’s respect for his mother is obvious. This book was written as a tribute to her and to give her credit for surviving a not-so-idyllic life, as much as it was for Noah to have an outlet. He dedicated the book to his mother: “My first fan. Thank you for making me a man.”

Noah’s matter-of-fact and humorous way of telling stories keeps the narrative moving and will make readers laugh, cry and want more.

Jeana Gockley is the director for the Joplin Public Library.

Find in catalog – Untamed & Born a Crime.

The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States by Walter Johnson

History runs through St. Louis like a current.
It’s downtown as tourists spill around the Old Federal Courthouse—where the infamous Dred Scott case began—on their way to the glinting Gateway Arch, the national monument to Western Expansion, to empire. It flows westward to Forest Park, site of the 1904 World’s Fair, and through the architectural grandeur of surrounding houses. Wending northward yields a scarred history with dilapidated red brick houses and embattled residents. The transition is striking, leaving even the most casual of observers to ask: What happened to St. Louis?
Walter Johnson, author of The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States, has some answers. From the book’s subtitle, it doesn’t take much to conjecture that his answers are far from any feel-good musings over a once halcyon St. Louis. If you want a narrative that waxes poetic about, say, the St. Louis Cardinals as it relates to the city’s history, look elsewhere. What Johnson, a Harvard professor and native Missourian, does provide is a deep look at St. Louis’s racial and political economy history. A book with resounding vitality, it is, in a word, incendiary.
St. Louis was the early republic’s long reach westward. It became the outpost where William Clark (of Lewis and Clark), serving as superintendent of Indian Affairs, oversaw treaties that ceded over 419 million acres to the United States. Still, this did not stop white settlers from calling him a “race traitor” after he ordered the removal of several hundred settlers along the Arkansas River to avoid conflict on Indian land. They refused the order and he was swiftly removed from office.
Such settlers found an ally in Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a man who sounded “like an angry god in love with his own voice.” Johnson brands Benton as one of the many “second-chance strivers” who made their way to Missouri because they missed making their fortunes either back East or down South. Total Indian removal to make way for white expansion was the order of the day. (Or, as Johnson puts it, “Genocide was the vanguard of empire.”) And St. Louis housed the key garrison. The legendary names we know from the Civil War (Grant, Lee, Longstreet, Sherman) spent their early military careers as Indian fighters stationed out of St. Louis.
This new influx of white inhabitants also had little use for slaveholders as they owned a potential impediment to white labor: slaves. St. Louis became fiercely anti-black and the site of the nation’s first recorded lynching. In 1836, just hours after disembarking a steamship, a free black man was accused of murder and then burned alive behind the Federal Courthouse. This view that blacks were essentially disposable was solidified by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1857 Dred Scott case, Chief Justice Taney writing that blacks (whether free or enslaved) “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
To be sure, St. Louis had its paradoxes. There was a relatively small slave population. Yet it had one of largest slave markets in the country. There was a white population that didn’t particularly care whether one owned a slave or not so long as said slave (and slave owner) didn’t impede their quest for property. The mid-1800s were complicated further with the arrival of Germans fleeing the Revolutions of 1848. And since many of them were Marxists, they believed private property should not exist at all, certainly not human chattel. As such, when the time came, quite a few Germans joined the Union Army. There’s a twenty-foot statue of Franz Sigel in Forest Park today. Sigel was a German-born St. Louisan who became a distinguished Union general. He was also, Johnson mordantly states, “a stone-cold communist.”
Following the war, Walt Whitman and William Tecumseh Sherman advocated moving the nation’s capital to St. Louis. And there was a brief period of unity between white and black laborers during the St. Louis General Strike of 1877, the first such strike in the nation. However, such solidarity had long since evaporated when, a few decades later, St. Louis passed its first segregation ordinance. Still, downtown St. Louis was full of verve and was nationally known as a “sporting city” (full innuendo). At the turn of the century, ragtime music, invented by black musicians, thundered out of St. Louis, the nation’s fourth most populous city.
But you wouldn’t find ragtime at the 1904 World’s Fair. (It was banned.) You would, however, find a spectacle that’s hard to fathom. In Forest Park, visitors could pay a nickel and pose for a photo with Geronimo. There was a “human zoo,” where Filipinos and Pygmies lived. During colder days, white ticket holders would throw rocks at their huts so that they would come out and perform. A young T.S. Eliot often bought daily tickets to the fair. A visitor might glimpse Mark Twain sitting down to dinner with Henry James.
Much of the twentieth century, according to Johnson, was a calculated effort to engineer a city that encouraged white flight to the suburbs (back when it was thought that the city would merge administratively with St. Louis County). The land where the Arch stands today was once seen by many as the “Greenwich Village of the West.” This mattered little to city officials, as it presented a “redevelopment” plan for the area. The 1935 bond issue passed overwhelmingly and 40 square blocks were bulldozed. (Yet it was soon revealed that the plan was a speculative real estate venture.) Interstates were expanded to encourage white mobility and racial restrictive covenants were common.
As with so many present-day municipalities, St. Louis struggles with viable ways to raise revenue. So enters the now ubiquitous TIF districts, where municipalities essentially have to “give it away.” Even if an area is blighted and developed, the resulting sales tax revenue comes at the expense of stagnant property tax levies. The result: perpetually underfunded schools.
Some may push back at Johnson’s stressing racial enmity as a constant thread running through St. Louis’s history. However, after reading of the 1917 East St. Louis Massacre, it seems that the onus shifts to having to explain how race was not a driving historical force. Officially, the death count is around 40. But historians believe the number is in the hundreds. (It also left 6,000 blacks homeless.) After the massacre, a congressional report concluded that the companies operating in East St. Louis cared nothing for the civic life of the area.
Johnson thoroughly unpacks the Ferguson of 2014 within the context of the Michael Brown shooting. There are reams of reports detailing how the city, via the police, went revenue-farming on poor black residents. But Johnson’s ire is focused on what was not included: the structural racism found in the area. (He notes that such racism is not unique to St. Louis; as we have seen, it’s fixed in many other cities as well.) This book is his response.
The St. Louis of today is one where a poor black child born in the North will have a life expectancy that is eighteen years shorter than a white child born in a nearby suburb. Such grim realities, Johnson notes, have an impact, and grassroots are forming. The challenges are legionnaire, but still they try. Johnson stops by a high school and watches a track meet. Even after the track coach’s son was shot dead by a police officer in 2017, she’s still there, trying. The kids are still out there running, some of them literally for their lives.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

Before reading “BECOMING,” I knew little about MICHELLE OBAMA.

I knew she was married to President Barack Obama, that she had two daughters and that she always presented a professional, polished image. Embarrassingly, that was the extent.

I did not realize her parents were happily married until her father died from multiple sclerosis at the age of 55, she holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, and shockingly for me, her first introduction to her husband was as his mentor at the law firm in Chicago where she was first employed after law school.

Thank goodness I checked out this memoir. In reading it, I learned so much about Michelle Obama’s life and how she became who she is today.

Obama’s writing is clear, accessible and descriptive. She does an excellent job of developing a timeline and explaining details. It was a treat to get to read about the campaigns and elections from her viewpoint. Her love and support of her husband shines through in the book but not in the typical ways most wives support their politician husbands. Committing to being married to a politician was not an easy decision for her and one she struggled with many times during his career — and still struggles with today.

Her parents raised a strong, independent person, and her ability to have her own goals and passions were vital to her happiness. She found her own path, and while sometimes it was not easy, she persevered and not only had a fulfilling career but parented two beautiful, smart and passionate daughters and supported her husband.

Her love for children is often mentioned, and she was able to incorporate that into her platform as first lady, focusing on nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating. Building a garden on the White House lawn as a way to involve youth groups and show how to make healthy food choices was no easy feat, but it turned out as a beautiful addition and provided thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the White House. Her messages about hope and “you matter,” focused primarily toward young women, are powerful statements about her beliefs and dreams.

Hearing about the Secret Service was interesting and insightful. Obama has a deep respect for the men and women who protect her family, and she also talks about the other White House staff members and how they became more than staff to her family. Her description of how sad she felt leaving the White House on the final day of her husband’s presidency showcases the connections the Obama family made with their caretakers.

Her story comes together by letting the people be the focus. She is good at seeing people and reading them. She demonstrates grace throughout the narrative, and this combined with her inner beauty make it easy to see why so many people adore her.

Also, I loved the insight that I got about Barack from this memoir. It was a beautiful thing to see our 44th president through the eyes of his wife and partner. She shares special things that many people would not know about him — he used to smoke, he works best shut away in a messy “hole” of an office and he seems to grow calmer as the chaos rises. So many great stories are included in the narrative.

She also highlights key moments during the eight years they were in the White House — finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, the massacre in Newtown and the legalization of gay marriage — and uses these stories to showcase there was always a crisis to contend with, and while it was apparent things like this would continue, the response she and Barack gave were important. People were looking to them to lead, and they did their best to do a good job.

This well-crafted, powerful read should not be missed. The pacing is spot on, and the imagery the author is able to create with her words will make the reader feel part of the story. The warmth she feels for people radiates outward, and her use of story and the power that it yields is phenomenal. She uses her story to provide hope, inspiration and spotlight a message of love.

Jeana Gockley is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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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.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godrfey-Smith

You and I stand on one of evolution’s most privileged branches. From this high vantage, eye some other branches and identify the animals you consider “smart.” Dolphins? Apes? Your dog and cat? Mostly mammals, I am guessing. (Although we should throw in select birds, especially crows.) Now dive off our branch and go back, down millions of years, well past the dinosaurs, and into the sea some 600 million years ago. You are at the early stages of animal evolution where the viciousness of predation has yet to arrive. While we do not know what our ancestor looks like exactly, nor the depth of water it best thrives, it is probably just a few millimeters long and receives sustenance via filtration.

Now ascend and return to the present. But instead of following the ancestral line whence we came, trail a different line that also emerges from this animal. Moving forward, here come the predators and prey with their various adaptations of assault and defense. One animal develops underwater jet propulsion to both overwhelm and flee. Follow that one. Returning to the present, but just below the water’s surface, look into the eyes of this creature that is intently watching you, an animal Claudius Aelianus in the third century C.E. described as one of “mischief and craft,” our long-lost “smart” cousin: the octopus.

In Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, Peter Godrfey-Smith argues that the octopus is probably the closest we will come to meeting alien life. By appearances alone, we can see his point. The Mars Attacks!-like dome (the mantle). The busy, yet mesmeric, eight arms that are being fed blue-green blood that is pumped through three hearts. With no natural angles, it is a “body of pure possibility.” It can squeeze through an aperture that is only a little larger than one of its eyes. It can change colors and camouflage itself so that one could be just a few feet from you, and you wouldn’t know it.

Because its neural architecture is completely different from vertebrates, Godfrey-Smith maintains that it is, in many ways, more useful to study what an octopus can do than what it is. Prior to reading this book, I was aware that octopuses were great escape artists. To wit: Turn your back on one in a lab and you could quite possibly turn back around to see the last glimpse of an octopus that had scuttled out of its tank, scooted across the floor, and climbed up and into the drain that leads back to the sea. Continuing with this, Godfrey-Smith describes how octopuses are quick to learn things in the lab that are completely new, and in no way natural to them, such as using levers and unscrewing jars, even when the octopus is inside the jar (!). There are so many anecdotes in this book that show off what whizbangs octopuses are I could use the rest of my allotted space sharing them. Still, and because I cannot help myself, here are two.

First, in the ocean, octopuses devour crab. In the lab, their fare is less than five stars, arriving in the form of thawed shrimp or squid. They don’t like it but will eat it out of lack of choice. One day, a researcher was walking down a line of octopus tanks, dropping a bite of squid into each. Reaching the end, she backtracked and noticed that the octopus in the first tank was seemingly awaiting her return and holding up the uneaten squid. Without taking its eyes off hers, the octopus moved across the tank and then flicked the offending piece of squid down the overflow drain.

Second, off the coast of Australia, a diver discovered an area that was densely populated with octopuses. Since octopuses are not very social, this was a unique find. (Godfrey-Smith would later dive this location, an area both he and the diver named Octopolis.) After many dives, one octopus approached him, took his hand, and led him on a ten-minute tour of the area, culminating with the octopus showing the diver its den.

Intriguing as these vignettes are the thrust of Godfrey-Smith’s book moves beyond highlighting octopus razzmatazz. Given that octopuses have a “mental surplus,” what are we to make of them? They have so many neurons throughout their arms, you essentially cannot delineate where the brain begins and ends. The octopus is a brain. What then is the relation between an octopus’s central and local control, meaning how autonomous is one of its arms? Can one arm explore and process here while the others simultaneously do the same elsewhere? (Imagine discovering, right now, that one of your hands had been writing a letter as you read this.)

Godfrey-Smith, a professor of philosophy, quotes William James in the necessity of studying the origins of consciousness, for while we know that humans have it in spades, we most certainly know, too, that it did not just explode into existence with humans. Given that the human brain forms its own subjective reality regarding existence, asking, “What does it feel like to be an octopus?” may seem illusive. But Godrey-Smith investigates these questions from a relatively high altitude (meant as a compliment), balancing the narrative so that it lacks neither readability nor academic bona fides. Throughout the book, the questions are framed for our own independent thoughts. He does make one declarative: If we ignore the health of the oceans, it will be at our peril.

It’s understandable that our high perch results in instinctive stargazing and wonder. What if contact from out there was made? Would there be any hope of us understanding each other? Would they see us as we see the octopus? Would they see our intelligence? Would they find us worth the effort?

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