Category Archives: Book Reviews

Real-Life Superheroes for Women’s History Month

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

Kids love superheroes! Here at WCPL, superheroes even have their own section in the Children’s Department. While DC and Marvel are great, I thought I would share some books about real-life superheroes in honor of Women’s History Month.

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood (J 305.4 HOO)

Fresh, accessible, and inspiring, Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women—each paired with a noteworthy female artist—to the next generation of activists, trailblazers, and rabble-rousers. In this book, you will find Mary Anning, who was just thirteen when she unearthed a prehistoric fossil. You’ll meet Ruby Bridges, the brave six year old who helped end segregation in the South. And Maya Lin, who at twenty-one won a competition to create a war memorial, and then had to appear before Congress to defend her right to create. And those are just a few of the young women included in this book. Readers will also hear about Molly Williams, Annette Kellerman, Nellie Bly, Pura Belprè, Frida Kahlo, Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne, Frances Moore Lappé, Mae Jemison, Angela Zhang, and Malala Yousafzai—all whose stories will enthrall and inspire.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison ( J 920.72089 HAR)

Featuring forty trailblazing black women in American history, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of breaking boundaries and achieving beyond expectations. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. In these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things—bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come.

Rad American Woman A-Z by Kate Schatz (J 920.72 SCH)

Like all A-Z books, this one illustrates the alphabet—but instead of “A is for Apple”, A is for Angela—as in Angela Davis, the political activist. B is for Billie Jean King, who shattered the glass ceiling of sports; C is for Carol Burnett, who defied assumptions about women in comedy; D is for Dolores Huerta, who organized farmworkers; and E is for Ella Baker, who mentored Dr. Martin Luther King and helped shape the Civil Rights Movement. American history was made by countless rad—and often radical—women. By offering a fresh and diverse array of female role models, this book reminds readers that there are many places to find inspiration, and that being smart and strong and brave is rad!

Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz (J 920.72 SCH)

From the creators of Rad American Women A-Z, Rad Women Worldwide tells fresh, engaging, and amazing tales of perseverance and radical success by pairing well-researched and riveting biographies with powerful and expressive cut-paper portraits. This book features an assortment of international figures from 430 BCE to 2016, spanning thirty-one countries around the world, from Hatshepsut (the great female king who ruled Egypt peacefully for two decades) and Malala Yousafzai (the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize) to Poly Styrene (legendary teenage punk and lead singer of X-Ray Spex) and Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft (polar explorers and the first women to cross Antarctica).  Together, these stories show the immense range of what women have done and can do. May we all have the courage to be rad!

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky (J 509.22 IGN)

Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more by highlighting the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. It’s a scientific fact: Women rock!

Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky (J 796.092 IGN)

From the author of Women in Science, Women in Sports highlights the achievements and stories of fifty notable women athletes from the 1800s to today, including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than forty sports and celebrates the success of the tough, bold, and fearless women who paved the way for today’s athletes. The athletes featured include well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone Biles, as well as lesser-known champions like Toni Stone, the first woman to play baseball in a professional men’s league, and skateboarding pioneer Patti McGee. This book also contains infographics on topics that sporty women want to know about such as muscle anatomy, a timeline of women’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams. Women for the win!

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh (J 609.2 THI)

In kitchens and living rooms, in garages and labs and basements, even in converted chicken coops, women and girls have invented ingenious innovations that have made our lives simpler and better. Their creations are some of the most enduring (the windshield wiper) and best loved (the chocolate chip cookie). What inspired these women, and just how did they turn their ideas into realities?


Awesome Teen Heroines!

By Erin Holt, Teen Department

Let’s be honest, everyone loves a kick ass heroine in a book, whether we’re talking about Katniss in The Hunger Games, Celaena Sardothien in Throne of Glass, or Tris in Divergent. There is something about a female lead that is able to wield a sword, round house kick the opposition, or jump from a moving train that is awe inspiring to read about. Their physical strength, brains, and physique create quite the character when talking about action, adventure and fantasy novels. But what is sometimes overlooked are the strong kick ass heroines in other genres, more specifically, contemporary realistic teen fiction. I’m talking about novels where the main character is dealing with a mental illness, body image, or bullying, things that teens deal with in today’s society.

Willowdean, of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ is just one (of many) examples of a badass heroine in today’s teen literature. Overweight but comfortable in her own skin, Willowdean enters a local beauty pageant. Full of humor, heart, and big love, you’ve gotta read this book! You’ll root for Willowdean and her cast of misfit friends as they give it all they’ve got in a society where they aren’t the norm.

Another example is Audrey, the main character in Sophie Kinsella’s (The Shopaholic series) first work for teens, Finding Audrey. Audrey is a victim of school bullying, resulting in crippling anxiety that leaves her homebound, and wearing sunglasses even inside. With her mental health at stake, Audrey gains strength as she learns how to live with her illness, making progress that starts with passing notes back and forth with a boy she likes, while sitting next to him in her living room.

And finally, there is Samantha McAllister, the heroine in Tamera Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word. Plagued with OCD, Samantha is scared to hold scissors for fear of using them the wrong way. Her brain takes her to dark places, where she feels trapped. But a poetry group pulls her outside of herself, giving her a chance to breathe, to take in the words, to create and to observe. Bonus: the ending will leave you slack jawed!

If you’re looking for some badass heroines with stories that don’t involve fist fights, fantasy, and killing, check out the above titles and stop by the Teen Room to chat with Ms. Erin for even more recommendations!

Authors to Explore During Black History Month

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

The modern United States of America has the great honor of being home to myriad cultural groups. The inventions, discoveries, perspectives, and creativity of minority groups impact our nation the whole year through, and it’s personally edifying to reflect on the abundance of important ideas that come to us from so many different cultures. That’s why, during Black History Month each February, we take the time to officially celebrate, enjoy, and learn about the innumerable contributions that black men and women have made to American culture.

Naturally, Black authors write in every genre: from science-fiction to romance, from graphic novels to poetry. Although readers see the value in reading works from all facets of culture, they may not have come across some of these writers before. Today, we’ll take a winding journey through various genres, highlighting Black authors along the way.

Let’s start in the world of comic books and graphic novels. The timeless duo of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson has been reimagined in a comic book series written by Karl Bollers. Set in Harlem, New York, with African-American leads, Watson and Holmes treats the traditional sidekick as the leading man. While keeping elements of the classic story intact – Watson is a war veteran; Holmes specializes in usual cases – Bollers comes up with new dangers and adventures for the pair in a modern, urban setting.

Other writers to check out in this medium include Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks), Brandon Thomas (The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury), Brian Parker (You Can Rely on Platypi), David Gorden (Quincredible), Kyle Baker (Nat Turner), Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr (Best Shot in the West), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Marvel’s Black Panther).

Speaking of Coates, who first made his name in journalism, his 2015 non-fiction book, Between the World and Me, is considered a must-read. It takes the form of “a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States” (

Such a personal publication leads us to the genre of autobiography and memoir, which is a great way to get inside the heads of people with different experiences and perspectives. Much-loved television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes shares her journey from fear and detachment to self-acceptance and empowerment in Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. Another television personality with an entertaining memoir is Issa Rae, with The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. In Black Man in a White Coat, Damon Tweedy, MD, explores the relationship between race and the medical world.  Elizabeth Alexander writes about family, creativity, and loss in The Light of the World. Other well-known authors in this genre include Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), Solomon Northup (Twelve Years a Slave), Barack Obama (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance), and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings).

Angelou is also beloved for her poetry, one example being “Still I Rise.” Merely scratching the surface of her fellow renowned Black poets, we find Rita Dove (“Exit”), Gwendolyn Brooks (“We Real Cool”), Langston Hughes (“Harlem”), Nikki Giovanni (“Walking down Park”), Jean Toomer (“Blue Meridian”), Lucille Clifton (“won’t you celebrate with me”), Tyehimba Jess (“Hagar in the Wilderness”), Melvin Dixon (“Heartbeats”), and Robert Hayden (“Middle Passage”).

Switching gears, let’s talk cookbooks: another great way to appreciate culture. No matter your tastes or skill level, you’re sure to find new recipes to add to your rotation with these selections. Edna Lewis’ classic The Taste of Country Cooking weaves stories with delicious recipes to create seasonal menus. Formerly an integral part of Paula Deen’s staff at Lady & Sons, Dora Charles has published her own cookbook, full of unexpected tips for maximum flavor, called A Real Southern Cook: In Her Savannah Kitchen. The Church Ladies’ Divine Desserts, by Brenda Rhodes Miller, gives you all the recipes you need for crowd-pleasing desserts, as well as wisdom and laughter from “the Church Ladies.” And celebrity chef Marvin Woods brings you “125 recipes for coastal Southern cooking with innovative style” in The New Low-Country Cooking.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a list some modern writers of fiction, along with a title selected from their work.

  1. LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Jam on the Vine
  2. Paul Beatty, The Sellout (satire)
  3. Chesya Burke, Let’s Play White (short stories)
  4. Octavia E. Butler, the Xenogenesis trilogy (sci-fi)
  5. Ernessa T. Carter, 32 Candles (humorous)
  6. Tananarive Due, Ghost Summer (short stories)
  7. Piper Huguley, the Home to Milford College series (inspirational romance)
  8. N. K. Jemisin, the Inheritance trilogy (fantasy)
  9. Beverly Jenkins, prolific author of historical and contemporary romance
  10. Sadeqa Johnson, Second House from the Corner
  11. Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom (horror)
  12. Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale
  13. Rebel Miller, the Kira’s Story series (futuristic romance)
  14. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
  15. Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (mystery)
  16. Z. Z. Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (short stories)
  17. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Balm
  18. Delores Phillips, The Darkest Child
  19. Darryl Pinckney, High Cotton
  20. John Ridley, Everybody Smokes in Hell (noir)
  21. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
  22. Colson Whitehead, Zone One (zombie thriller)
  23. Jacqueline Woodson, Miracle’s Boys (young adult)

Of course, these authors are relevant all year long, not just during Black History Month. So, if many of these names are new to you, why not choose a few and add their works your reading list this year? And don’t forget, if we don’t have one of these titles in our catalogue, we can always submit an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request to other libraries throughout the country.

Here are links to lists and reviews I found helpful (and interesting) in creating this blog post, where you can discover even more great writers. Happy Black History Month! Read the rest of this entry


Seven Sweet Children’s Books For Valentine’s Day

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Well, here we are, that most obnoxious made-up “holiday” that some of us despise, Valentine’s Day. Yes, Darling Reader, I understand . . . and I’m here to help. Rather than dwell on the superficial and hypermarketed unpleasantness that I find Valentine’s Day to be (and you don’t EVEN know how tempted I am to abbreviate that to Vile Day, or even nastier, VD, throughout the rest of this blog), let’s try to find some positives.   Why don’t we celebrate the day with books instead of garish, sappy greeting cards and booty-widening/tooth-rotting candy, and flowers that die three days after they arrive? Hence, in no particular order, is my personal antidote to February 14:

Here Comes Valentine Cat (J E Underwood) by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Cat haaaaaaaaates Valentine’s Day. (Sound familiar?) Especially when the day arrives at the same time as a new dog next door. Through a series of misunderstandings, Cat comes to realize that maybe he has judged his loud new neighbor too hastily.  

Henry in Love (J E MACC) by Peter McCarty. Henry the cat is the strong, silent type, and he has a little bit of a crush on Chloe the bunny, who is pretty and popular and can execute a perfect cartwheel. This sweet, subtle story is beautifully illustrated and demonstrates that sometimes just the right gift can capture the attention of the one your heart yearns for.

Zombie In Love 2 + 1 (J E DIPUCCHIO) by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Scott Campbell. This sequel to DiPucchio and Campbell’s previous collaboration, Zombie In Love, may not be everyone’s idea of precious, but it makes me smile every time I read it. Mildred and Mortimer reprise their roles in this subtly hilarious book, and a new baby named Sonny is an adorable addition to the family dynamic. But Mildred and Mortimer are worried to death (oooh, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Sonny hardly ever cries, his teeth are coming in instead of falling out, and most terrifying of all—he’s awake all day and sleeps through the night!   This charming twist on the terrors of parenthood is sure to have you shrieking with delight.

Pete The Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool (J E Dean) by Kimberly and James Dean. You might think that a cool cat like Pete wouldn’t think much of Valentine’s Day . . . and you’d be wrong. Pete reflects on how many special people he knows, and wants to acknowledge them all (especially his very best friend Callie, who just happens to mention as he skateboards past her that this is her favorite holiday of all) with perfect Valentine’s Day cards. So Pete sets about commemorating his love and gratitude to his friends with just the right card to each of them. As the title page says, I Meow You.

Llama Llama I Love You (J E DEWDNEY) by Anna Dewdney. Anna passed away in 2016, but her gentle spirit lives on through her books. Llama Llama I Love You is no exception, as Little Llama demonstrates to his family and friends how much he loves them with valentines and big llama hugs.

Love, Splat (J E SCOTTON) by Rob Scotton. Love is complicated. Splat, the adorably neurotic cat who made his debut in 2008’s Splat The Cat has a tremendous crush on Kitten, a fluffy white cat with mesmerizing green eyes. Splat likes Kitten more than fish sticks, more than ice cream. Unfortunately, he has a rival for Kitten’s affections in Spike, a boorish tomcat who gives Kitten a fancy valentine. Spike’s actions prompt Splat to throw his valentine to Kitten in the nearest trash can, but she notices it and reciprocates with an awesome valentine of her own to Splat. Let love rule.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! (J E NUMEROFF) by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. This spinoff from Numeroff’s wildly popular “If You Give A . . .” series follows Mouse as he strives to make a perfect valentine for everyone. Each valentine is lovingly customized to represent what Mouse likes the most about each of his friends, such as Bunny because “she’s the best at hide-and-seek” and Pig because “she is the best dancer.” Of course, all of Mouse’s friends reciprocate with valentines and cookies, which as everyone knows, are one of Mouse’s very favorite things.

*** Darling Reader—please know that no harm came to any living creatures or books during the writing of this blog, even though the author hates Valentine’s Day with the fiery intensity of Dante’s ninth level of Hell.

Katy’s Best Books of 2017

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

With the year coming to a close, I’m going to share some of my favorite books of 2017 with you. I typically read all kinds of books, so there should be something for everyone on this list. Keep in mind that this is all subjective, though, and that I certainly haven’t read even close to all the books released this year. Another librarian might have some better recommendations for you, and I can promise you that he or she would be thrilled for you to come in and ask his or her personal favorites. So without further ado, I present Katy’s Best Books of 2017:

Let’s start with what I’d say is the best young adult book I’ve read all year. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who witnessed the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Soon afterward, Khalil’s name is a national headline, and all anyone wants to know is what really happened that night. But the only one alive who can answer that is Starr, and what she does or does not say could endanger her life. This book is FANTASTIC, and that’s not a word I use lightly, much less in all caps. It’s well-written and emotionally-charged and funny and so important.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is a tender, emotive family saga that I did not want to end. Instead of flying through it like I usually do with books I love, I read this book slowly, relishing each sentence and savoring the relationships between Rosie, Penn, and their five children. When Rosie and Penn and their four boys welcome the newest member of their family, no one is surprised it’s another baby boy. At least their large, loving, chaotic family knows what to expect, but Claude is not like his brothers. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl. Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world, and soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

I have to admit that my interest in Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns is heavily biased by the fact that I had the chance to actually see Surtsey, a tiny new island off the coast of Iceland, this past summer. I only saw it from a distance because Surtsey is closed to the public in order to provide scientists with the opportunity to study how life takes hold in a sterile environment. Like the author, my family was visiting Heimey when we took a taxi to another part of the island, and the driver pointed out Surtsey to us, telling us how he watched its creation via volcanic eruption as a boy in 1963. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when this book came out, and I’m thrilled to recommend it to you today as it is an outstanding title for budding scientists, young biology and geology enthusiasts, or those traveling to Iceland who are looking for interesting facts about the country.

From the author of The Day the Crayons Quit (And come on, who doesn’t love that book?) comes The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt, a rollicking and ridiculous picture book about how the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors began. This book is loud and absurd and hilarious, and it demands a full-on performance.

Everyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love a good dark, disturbing read. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson perfectly filled that gap for me. Mary B. Addison allegedly killed a baby when she was nine years old. She doesn’t say as much, but the media filled in everything people needed to know. There wasn’t a point in setting the record straight before, but now Mary has Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home, and their unborn child to think about. In order to find her voice, Mary must confront the person she distrusts the most: her Momma. Like I mentioned earlier, this book is dark, gritty, and disturbing, and it’s not for everyone. However, it blew. Me. Away. I started reading it during my lunch break one day, and it pained me so much to put it down that I read until I finished it as soon as I got home.

I’m not usually a big fan of holiday books, but A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E. Furman was so good that it instantly made my “Best Books” list. This book takes you across the globe, from the Philippines to Malawi, to see all the treats that await Santa on Christmas Eve, and it even includes recipes to make some of the treats you encounter. (The pineapple macadamia bars from Hawaii were a big hit with my family at Thanksgiving!) With interesting Christmas factoids about each country and vibrant illustrations, this book is sure to fill the whole family with holiday cheer!

The newest book by the author of the award-winning Roller Girl, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson is another graphic novel that accurately depicts the trials and tribulations of fitting in when you’re eleven. Impy has grown up with two parents who work at a Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to start her training as a squire. First, she’ll have to prove her bravery, and she knows just how to do this: go to public school after being homeschooled all her life. Impy thought she had middle school figured out, but as it turns out, it’s not easy making friends or fitting in. She’s always thought of herself as a brave knight, but could she really be a dragon instead? I love how thoroughly Renaissance Faire culture is woven into the story, complete with illuminated manuscript-style chapter headers and language like “Methinks she plans on throwing you in the stocks!”

When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano is the birthday book of all birthday books. As I read it, I could vividly imagine a breathless young child excitedly chanting beside me, “When’s my birthday? When’s my birthday? How many days until my birthday? Will my birthday be on Tuesday? Will my birthday be tomorrow? Will my birthday be in winter?” This book is absolutely adorable, and it will definitely be loved by readers of all ages.

If you’ve read the popular, empowering Dumplin’, you probably couldn’t wait to get your hands on the author’s latest work, Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. And honestly, I think it’s even better than Dumplin’. Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home. Now a 6’3” teen, she lives in a dilapidated FEMA trailer with her well-meaning but ineffectual dad, her pregnant sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. She had some money saved up to get herself out of there after graduation, but when her sister got pregnant, she felt the weight of responsibility more than ever and knew she would have to put her plans on hold. But then Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie returns to town, and her life gets even more complicated. I know this story sounds like it’s depressing and that you may not find much appeal in what appears to be a story about a kid in poverty who’s unable to escape, but I just have to say that you would be so very wrong. With tons of small-town hijinks, swoon-worthy romance, and plenty of diversity, this book is a lot of fun!

I just had to snatch Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (or A.S. King), who is another of my favorite young adult authors, when I saw she had written a middle grade novel. Obe Devlin is having a hard time. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers, his best friend abandoned him for the development kids, and he keeps getting nosebleeds from that thing he won’t talk about. So Obe hangs out by the creek near his home, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks. One day, he notices an animal he’s never seen before, an animal that only eats plastic that could very well change everything. This is a sweet coming-of-age story that tackles big topics such as bullying, alcoholism, and environmentalism without feeling heavy handed, out of place, or age inappropriate.

Remember how I mentioned that I like disturbing books? Here’s another that isn’t for the faint of heart. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed is a bit of a cross between The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Never Let Me Go. Years ago, the ancestors escaped the ravaged Wastelands to colonize a small island and start a new society. They wrote Our Book to outline the strict hierarchy and structure that would dictate their lives, and their descendants still follow those rules. Life in this society can be difficult, especially for girls, so the children are given a taste of freedom in the summer, allowed to live wildly until they return home in the fall. But at the end of one summer, Caitlin Jacob sees something so shocking that she must share it with the other girls. This book is horrifyingly creepy and hauntingly compelling. The more I read, the creepier it got, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page.

So maybe I’m a little biased when I recommend We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, but LaCour is one of my favorite young adult authors. It’s a quiet story about Marin and Mabel, two best friends who haven’t spoken since the day Marin left her old life in San Francisco for college in New York. Something happened to Marin in the final weeks of summer, something that left her broken, alone, and unable to face anyone. But now Mabel is coming to her, and Marin must come to terms with what happened whether she wants to or not. Marin’s grief and loneliness is palpable in this beautiful, poetic story about love and loss. Nina LaCour’s writing is spectacular, pulling you into each page and forcing you to feel everything Marin feels.

If you’ve ever been afraid when faced with a new adventure, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall will surely tug on your heartstrings. Jabari has finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and today’s the day he’s finally ready to jump off the diving board. “Looks easy,” he says as he watches the other kids jump, but when his dad encouragingly squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. This book is a tender portrayal of a determined little boy and a patient, emotionally attentive father that’s perfect for sharing with children of all ages.

I was on a speculative fiction kick earlier this year, during which time I blew through American War by Omar El Akkad. Sarat Chestnut is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074, but even she knows that oil is outlawed, that her home state of Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drone bombers fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for refugees, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, who turns her into a deadly instrument of war. Chilling and thought-provoking, this is another book I couldn’t stand to put down, and it’s easily my favorite fiction book of the year.


Classic Southern Fiction Writers

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Nashville is changing. It’s changing A LOT. And so is our little town of Franklin, one of Nashville’s major suburbs. Since 1980, Franklin’s population has increased more than 500%, which you’ll have no trouble believing if you want to go anywhere during morning rush hour – or lunch hour – or evening rush hour – or a Saturday – you get the gist. Whereas we used to be the “#1 small town in Tennessee,” we are now ranked as the 7th largest city in the state!

While Franklin has maintained its classic southern charm, we’ve also welcomed a healthy number of transplants from all over the USA, and from other countries, as well. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to talk about classic Southern Fiction writers. These writers have played an important role in capturing, communicating, and preserving some of the cultural aspects of the South, from the hills of Appalachia to the bayous of Louisiana, and the states in between.

Whether you’re new to the southern states, or you’re a native southerner who wants to get more familiar with a writer who shares your family culture, I hope you’ll find an interesting, new-to-you author by the end of this post.

 (As with any society, the South is responsible for both positive and negative contributions to culture. Some of these authors may use racially insensitive language, or potentially upsetting plot points, but I won’t address specifics in this post. If you prefer to avoid literature of this nature, I encourage you to further research these authors and books before you start reading.)

Mark TwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876); Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).
“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in a 1935 essay. William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature,” and Twain’s obituary acknowledged him as “the greatest humorist [America] has produced.” Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn deal with boys growing up and adventuring along the Mississippi River in the antebellum South. Twain was known for his use of satire, and both of these books carry with them heavy doses of social criticism.

Kate Chopin – “Désirée’s Baby” (1893); “The Story of an Hour” (1894); The Awakening (1899)
Living in late 19th century Louisiana, Kate Chopin denied being a feminist or a suffragist. But she viewed the culture around her with a probing eye. With a knack for clear, compassionate observation, and the boldness to write honestly – even if some subjects were deemed controversial, even immoral, at the time – Chopin nonetheless helped pave the way for 20th century feminist authors. The Awakening, about a young woman who determines to discover her identity beyond “wife” and “mother” despite societal conventions, is a staple in English literature classes. She also published several important short stories.

William FaulknerThe Sound and the Fury (1929); Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
Mississippi native William Faulkner created the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, placed it in his home state, and set most of his short stories and novels there. This allowed him to explore a variety of social groups within the same locale. He is known for including passages of “stream of consciousness” writing his stories, where he eschews proper grammar and punctuation in an attempt to convey the state of a character’s mind. Faulkner’s novels can be considered allegories for southern history. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

Zora Neale HurstonTheir Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
In addition to her works of fiction, Zora Neale Hurston collected African-American folk tales, published anthropological studies on voodoo practices, and wrote plays, non-fiction, and poetry. Their Eyes Were Watching God is her most well-known novel. It explores themes of race, gender roles, and gender inequality. The heroine, Janie Crawford, comes to learn what it means to take ownership of her life, and what it means to be an independent woman in early 20th century Florida.

Carson McCullersThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
Of her craft, McCullers said, “Writing, for me, is a search for God.”  Born in Columbus, Georgia (225 miles from Nashville, as the crow flies), Carson McCullers was another author who keenly observed her culture, and translated with great empathy (and perhaps a touch of comedy) the pain and loneliness she saw. Her friend Tennessee Williams summed up “Carson’s major theme: the huge importance and nearly insoluble problems of human love.”

Eudora WeltyA Curtain of Green (1941), The Optimist’s Daughter (1972)
Welty is a much-loved, much-awarded author who lived most of her life in Mississippi. Also a documentary photographer during the Depression era, she often found inspiration in the subjects of her own photographs. A woman ironing clothes behind a post office became the subject of one of her finest short stories, “Why I Live at the P.O.” Some southern authors have a reputation for world-weary cynicism. Welty instead managed to address difficult subjects – race relations, poverty, aging, loss – with a tender, artistic, even optimistic, voice.

Robert Penn WarrenAll the King’s Men (1946).
Warren was born just over the Tennessee line in Guthrie, Kentucky. Another staple of English literature classes, All the King’s Men won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, and its 1949 film adaptation won an Oscar for Best Picture. For this dramatic story of a once-idealistic lawyer’s descent into brutality and corruption, Warren likely took inspiration from the real life of Huey Long, former governor of Louisiana and a US Senator, who was assassinated in 1935. The novel, known for its “dramatic tension[,]… fierce emotion, narrative pace[,] and poetic imagery,” offers important insight into one facet of southern politics in the 1930s.

Ralph EllisonInvisible Man (1952)
Born in Oklahoma, Ralph Waldo Ellison attended Tuskegee Institute (“the prestigious all-black university in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington”) in the 1930s. He was something of a renaissance man, at various times delving into football, trumpet, classic literature, sculpture, and photography. But his most enduring works are his essays, and his classic novel, Invisible Man. In it, he explores issues affecting not only African-Americans, but society as a whole. As his narrator summarizes, “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
I can’t say anything about To Kill a Mockingbird that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t read it, make it first on your list.

To find even more southern authors worth your time, check out the members of the Fellowship of Southern Writers ( Their charter members include several authors from this post. You will find modern, influential southern writers among them as well, including Wendell Berry, Kaye Gibbons, and Tony Earley, well worth exploring in addition to the classics listed above. Enjoy!


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

What can you think of that is better than hearing a mellifluous voice (if you have children attending Williamson County Schools, that voice belongs to none other than the fabulous Carol Birdsong, WCS Communications Director, who may well be the most beloved woman in this county) leave a message on your machine, informing you that there will be no school?  The answer is:  not much, if you are a student or a teacher, and you have just learned that you get an unscheduled little break from your school day routine.  Maybe not so much if you still have to go to work and/or find someone to watch your kids.   Of course, you don’t have to wait for actual inclement weather to hit before reading some delightful books about snow.  Here is a list, in my usual no-particular-order style to get you started.

From the inside jacket flap of The Snowy Day (J E Keats) by Ezra Jack Keats:  “No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day, winner of the (1962) Caldecott Medal.  Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.”  Darling Reader, I fully agree.  This sweet, whimsically-illustrated story is indisputably a classic. 

Nobody thinks that a few flakes will amount to anything—not the Man With the Hat, the Lady With the Umbrella, not even the weather forecasters on the radio and television.  But one boy and his little dog believe that it will stack up into a spectacular snowfall, and they are the only ones who know how to truly enjoy the experience in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow (J E Shulevitz).  It is a beautiful depiction of the transformation of a city by snowfall, richly rendered in watercolor and pen-and-ink.

Darling Reader, Matthew Cordell’s Wolf In The Snow (J E Cordell) nearly brings me to tears every time I read it.  The story is essentially wordless, save for a few barks and howls, but the metaphor of trust and friendship between a little girl and a wolf pup who find themselves lost in the same blizzard shines through via the beautiful illustrations, without the need for words.

Lois Ehlert’s Snowballs (J E Ehlert) is in her signature collage style, and details the anticipation of a perfect snowball day for which the narrator has been saving “good stuff in a sack” in order to create an awesome Snow Family in their yard.  Alas, just like a good book, snow creations don’t last forever.

Another Caldecott Medal winner makes an appearance on my personal list of snow day favorites:  Owl Moon (J E Yolen) by Jane Yolen.  Beautiful prose and intricate illustrations by John Schoenherr, including many not-so-hidden critters combine to make this book a timeless classic.  Yolen said in an interview that Owl Moon was a particular pleasure for her to create, as her beloved late husband David Stemple frequently took their three children owling on winter nights near their rural Massachusetts home “with the same anticipation and excitement as the characters in the story.”

As is often the way of things, I’ve saved my favorite for last.  I have loved Frederick (J E Lionni) by Leo Lionni from the very first time I read it in 1976, when I was a precocious little bookworm of a first grader.  At first glance, it appears that Frederick is totally slacking off while the other little mice hustle to prepare for the coming winter (for you Game Of Thrones enthusiasts: Winter Is Coming.)  However, Frederick was working in his own inimitable way, gathering sun rays, colors, and words, with which to feed the spirits of his family members during those cold, dark winter days and nights.

So, there you have it, Darling Reader.  May your holiday season and your new year be filled with love, laughter, friendship, happiness, and family . . . and with good books.

As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog belong to the author alone, and are in no way representative of WCPL employees, their family, or their pet mice.  Blessings upon you all, Darling Readers.

Native American Heritage Month: 20 Children’s Books

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

November is Native American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than to read a book! Here are 20 great titles by Native American authors available here at WCPL:

Board Books

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith (J E SMITH)
What brings you happiness? This warm, joyful board book celebrates family and heritage, and serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to cherish the moments in life that brings us happiness.

Little You by Richard Van Camp (J E VAN CAMP)
With gentle rhymes and simple illustrations, this board book is a tender celebration of the potential of all children, sure to resonate with readers of all ages.

Picture Books

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie (J E ALEXIE)
Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. Just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name sure to light up the sky.

Wild Berries by Julie Flett (J E FLETT)
Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother in this quiet, rhythmic story written in both English and Swampy Cree dialect.

The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo (J E HAR)
Some cats are good luck. You pet them and good things happen. Woogie is one of those cats. But as Woogie gets into one mishap after another, everyone starts to worry. Can a good luck cat’s good luck run out?

Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk (J E KIRK)
John Cloud’s father is in New York City, far away from their Mohawk Reservation, building sky scrapers. One day, Mama takes John to New York City and he sees his Papa high on a beam, building the Empire State Building.

When We Were Alone by David Robertson (J E ROBERTSON)
When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (J E SMITH)
Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared by generations of women in her family, and she hopes to dance at the next powwow. But she has a problem: how will her dress sing if it has no jingles?

SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (J E WAB)
Two Ojibway sisters set off into the winter night to see the SkySpirits’ midnight dance. After an exhilarating walk and patient waiting, the girls are rewarded by the arrival of the SkySpirits—the Northern Lights—dancing and shimmering in the night sky.

Juvenile Fiction

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac (J F BRU)
Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? There’s one thing Molly does know: she needs to find some answers before it’s too late.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (J F ERD)
Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. With The Birchbark House, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, seven-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by James Marshall III (J F MARSHALL)
When Jimmy McClean embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson (J F ROBERTSON)
Hiawatha, a Mohawk, is plotting revenge for the murder of his wife and daughters by the evil Onondaga Chief when he meets the Great Peacemaker, who enlists his help in bringing the nations together to share his vision of a new way of life marked by peace, love, and unity rather than war, hate, and fear.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (J F SMI)
What do Indian shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins or hightops with bright orange shoelaces? Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes, like the time they are forced to get creative after a homemade haircut makes Ray’s head look like a lawn-mowing accident.

How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle (J F TINGLE)
A Choctaw boy tells the story of his tribe’s removal from the only land his people had ever known, and how their journey to Oklahoma led him to become a ghost with the ability to help those he left behind.

Juvenile Non-Fiction

Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache by Greg Rodgers (J 398.20897 ROD)
Deep in Choctaw Country, Chukfi Rabbit is always figuring out some way to avoid work at all costs. When Bear, Turtle, Fox, and Beaver agree on an everybody-work-together day to build Ms. Possum a new house, Chukfi Rabbit says he’s too busy to help, but this greedy trickster will soon learn that being this lazy is hard work.

Trickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki (J 741.5973 TRI)
In the first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, twenty four Native storytellers were paired with twenty four comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.

Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac (J 796 BRU)
In 1999 the U.S. Congress recognized Jim Thorpe as “Athlete of the Century,” a marvelous achievement for anyone, let alone a Native American kid born in a log cabin. In this picture-book biography, readers learn about how his boyhood education set the stage for his athletic achievements.

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness to Light by Tim Tingle (J 973.0497 TIN)
Spanning fifty years, Saltypie describes the problems encountered by the author’s Choctaw grandmother—from her orphan days at an Indian boarding school to hardships encountered in her new home on the Gulf Coast.

Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story by S.D. Nelson (J 92 HAYES)
This biography tells the story of Ira Hayes, a shy, humble Pima Indian who fought in World War II as a Marine and was one of six soldiers to raise the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima, an event immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph.


ATTN: History Buffs!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

You probably already know about the huge quantity of great, nonfiction history books at the library. But when you get to wanting something a little different that still scratches that historical itch, where do you turn? I’d like to suggest that Historical Fiction is the genre for you. Whether you’re a voracious reader of historical accounts, or a fiction lover who prefers facts taken with artistic license, this long-established genre is broad enough to hold something for everyone.

Historical Fiction has a few debated definitions, but it is not a work written around the time of the book’s events. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, though now over 200 years old, is not “Historical Fiction,” as it takes place around the time Austen wrote it. (Some critics disagree on that anti-definition.) Wikipedia does a great job of defining the genre in this article, and from it I’ve compiled a working definition for us:

“An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions[,] and other details of the period depicted,” and is “written at least fifty years after the events described,” with “the author … writing from research rather than personal experience.”

Why read Historical Fiction? Why mess with facts? (Assuming the facts as we know them were recorded accurately and without bias in the first place.) Simply put, a good work of fiction can illuminate real-life truths. Fiction allows the freedom to process real issues in an abstract way, while maintaining distance from real, multi-faceted, potentially overwhelming events. A work of Historical Fiction can explore the thoughts and emotions of larger-than-life heroes and villains – those who have become so lauded or reviled, they no longer seem human – , and obscure commoners – forgotten by history, but transformed into composite characters who demonstrate the state of the world in the time they lived. For some readers, this is the best way to make an emotional connection to the past and gain fresh insight.

Let’s look at some great examples of historical novels you can find at the Williamson County Public Library. Because I love classics, I’ll list some classic examples first; then we’ll move on to more modern selections.

The Classics

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) deals with characters and events in England and France around the time of the French Revolution of 1775. Dickens often included members from all strata of society, but he did not necessarily sketch them in black and white. Wealth did not always equal virtue; poverty did not always equal ignorance; and the powerless did not always stay that way. A Tale of Two Cities features sympathetic characters, diabolical villains, and some of English literature’s most well-known passages. The description of the storming of the Bastille left me breathless with its intensity. In addition to the book, you can find READS eBooks and audiobooks, children’s adaptations, and DVD versions.

Other classic, historical works available in a wide variety of adaptations and formats are Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (set around Scotland’s 1715 Jacobite uprising), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (taking place during the 1757 French and Indian War), and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (though we don’t carry the chocolate adaptation of that one at our library – sorry!).

The Middle Ages

A popular setting for Historical Fiction is medieval Europe, which covers the 5th to 15th centuries AD. Series abound, which means plenty of reading material in your new favorite genre! Here are some popular medieval historical series to check out. Series titles are in bold. The first novel in the series follows in italics. While not every book in a series may be available at this library, you can always request books through the Inter-Library Loan program!

  • Paul C. Doherty, Hugh Corbett, Satan in St Mary’s. Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, The Nightingale Gallery (under pen name Paul Harding). Doherty is a highly regarded historian, educator, and writer. He uses various pen names. He has also written about ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, first century Rome, and more.
  • Ken Follett, Kingsbridge, The Pillars of the Earth.
  • Margaret Frazer, Dame Frevisse series, The Novice’s Tale.
  • Philippa Gregory, The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, The Other Boleyn Girl (first published) or The Lady of the Rivers (first chronologically). Gregory’s popular novels have inspired controversy in historical circles.
  • Michael Jecks, Knights Templar Mysteries, The Last Templar. The Medieval Murders series, The Tainted Relic.
  • Sharon Kay Penman, Welsh Princes, Here Be Dragons. Plantagenet, When Christ and His Saints Slept. When researching for a book, Penman keeps in mind the saying, “History is written by the victors.” She scours new and alternate sources and uses deductive reasoning to come up with versions of events you may not have heard before, but may yet approach the truth.

Selections from Other Periods

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun — Nigeria’s struggle for independence in the late 1960s.
  • Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord — The life of King David from the prophet Nathan’s point of view.
  • Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See Occupied France during WWII.
  • Emma Donoghue, The Wonder Mid-1800s Ireland, shortly after the official “end” of the famine.
  • Robert Graves, I, Claudius A pseudo-autobiography of misunderstood Roman emperor Claudius.
  • David Liss, The Whiskey Rebels Post-revolution America.
  • Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove 1870s Texas: the Wild West.
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved An escaped slave’s memories and experiences after the Civil War.
  • Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine A Japanese-American family is held in an internment camp during WWII.
  • Shyam Selvadurai, Cinnamon Gardens 1920s Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
  • Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl A light-skinned African-American woman has to make choices about her identity as she tries to become a pilot in WWII-era America.
  • Markus Zusak, The Book Thief Germany during WWII.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest, or given you some new authors to check out. Is your favorite book missing from this list? Leave a comment below!


Mind-bending Monsters in Literature

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

It’s October, and what better time of year to pick out a book that will give you the creeps? Today we’re going to look at five works of fiction that feature terrifying creatures. (Sticklers may feel that some of these descriptions contain spoilers, but I’ve tried not to include any details that aren’t already well-known by horror buffs or pop culture aficionados.)

When it comes to monsters, what frightens me most is a sense of inevitability. A monster doesn’t have to be hideous or enormous to cause you to lose control: think the fatal allure of Dracula, or the overwhelming numbers of a zombie invasion. And what about a creature that can cause you to descend into madness, living — perhaps eternally — after having lost the essence of who you are?

“The Call of Cthulhu”

“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

“Cthulhu and the Ninth Wave,” by DeviantArt user “fantasio.”

One creature with such terrifying powers is Cthulhu, first introduced in horror writer H. P. Lovecraft‘s short story “The Call of Cthulhu.” Portrayed as an ancient, dead-but-waiting god, his giant form a strange combination of octopus, bat, and human, Cthulhu embodies a powerful evil. One look at him will drive anyone insane, simply because the human mind cannot comprehend such terror. Unsurprisingly, he is a favorite subject of death metal bands! And you poetry scholars might recognize that Lovecraft seems to have been inspired by Tennyson’s sonnet, “The Kraken.”

Lovecraft’s knack for capturing dread has inspired an entire genre known as “Lovecraftian horror,” described by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (and in some cases, unknowable) more than gore or other elements of shock.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles

“I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog.”

“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” by Adam Burke.

Sherlockian scholars consider this Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s perfect novel. The tale has been adapted, riffed on, referenced, and parodied dozens of times, taking new forms in every kind of media, including comic books, plays, radio dramas, video games, and more.

How has this story stood the test of time? Sherlock Holmes is, of course, one of literature’s most fascinating characters. But the spectral hound is the real draw. Tied to local legend and a family curse spanning generations, it is an unearthly beast that glows in the dark, pursuing members of the Baskerville family across the moors until they drop dead from fright. But the hound leaves the dead bodies alone. Therefore, the beast doesn’t hunt for food, making its motives inscrutable, but undeniably evil.

Life on the moor is full of secrets and intrigue, both stimulating Sherlock Holmes’ mind and hampering his investigation. Holmes, a man of science, remains skeptical about the supernatural hound’s existence, but he can deny neither the enormous paw prints left in the sodden ground, nor the chilling howls heard in the night. Doyle perfectly paces this novel, increasing the suspense until the climactic moment: the terrifying appearance of the hound!

“The Birds”

“Then he saw them. The gulls. Out there, riding the seas. What he had thought at first to be the white caps of the waves were gulls. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands…”

Book cover for Pan Books edition of The Birds and Other Stories, artist uncredited.

You’re probably aware of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film The Birds, but did you know he based it on a short story by Daphne du Maurier? While not a “monster story,” this is one of my favorite works of suspense. For me, the premise is all the more terrifying for being within the realm of possibility, especially as we see a growing occurrence of natural disasters in real life.

In remote, rugged Cornwall, a wounded war veteran named Nat becomes increasingly aware of flocks of restless birds. The flocks increase in number, and the birds grow more violent and daring. At first, Nat attributes this behavior to the unusual weather, but takes the threat more seriously than do his neighbors. Soon, however, the entire country is under siege, and it’s no longer safe to go outdoors. The tension mounts beautifully, as the narrator gradually comes to understand the enormity of the event: the birds are inescapable, and this isn’t a fight he can fight alone.

What I love most about this short story, as opposed to the film version, is how it activates my imagination. (The same could be said for every good book, I suppose.) Visualizing the growing threat, the brutal attacks, and the despair of the survivors leaves me breathless and full of adrenaline.

Bird Box

“It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.”

Promo photo for Bird Box, from Harper Collins Canada.

For a more modern look at the toll horror takes on a human mind, we turn to Bird Box, Josh Malerman‘s debut novel. No one can say what the creatures in this story look like, because anyone who glimpses them is driven to immediate, deadly violence, culminating in suicide. The victims lose their minds, as well as their humanity, before losing their own lives. A mother and her young children have survived by covering the windows in their isolated house, and learning to navigate blindfolded when they go outside. Now, they are driven to leave their home behind, and they set out on a blindfolded quest to find other survivors. Who can they trust? And what is following them?

Be warned: this intense novel doesn’t shy away from the disturbing, graphic descriptions of the victims’ deaths.


“Want a balloon?”

Tim Curry as Pennywise in ABC’s 1990 miniseries, IT. Owned by Warner Bros.; photographer unknown.

When you think “scary clown,” you probably picture Pennywise, the creature Tim Curry played in the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel, It. The thought of a creepy guy in white makeup who wants to eat children is sufficiently scary for most people, but IT is more than that: the clown is only one of the forms IT takes.

Ancient, malevolent, and powerful, IT comes from an unknown dimension. It lies slumbering until atrocious acts of human violence awaken it (unfortunately, this happens fairly regularly). When it comes to earth to feed, IT can take the shape of anything it chooses, in order to lure its victims. Sometimes IT appears as a victim’s loved one; other times, IT appears as a victim’s worst fear. But, as with Cthulhu, if a person were to see IT’s true form, the absolute horror would so baffle his mind, that he would go insane.

In 2015, British costume company MorphCostumes voted Pennywise the scariest creature in literature. The clown trumped Dracula, The Lord of the Rings’ Nazgûl, and Harry Potter’s Dementors, among other classic horror standards, based on “appearance, powers, and evil intent.”


Did your favorite creature make my list? Leave a comment below! And if you’re looking for history on some of the most famous undead creatures, check out this blog post from last year, “How Monsters Are Born,” by reference librarian Sharon Reily.

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