Category Archives: Book Reviews
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Being a lover of memoir and “the classics” (think, “books you were forced to read in high school”), I’ve felt comfortable referring to those categories in previous blog posts. But when I saw the colorful genre bookmarks we have at the library – check them out on your next visit!–, I felt inspired to explore some authors I’ve never read before.
One genre I’m pretty unfamiliar with is Urban Fantasy, so I thought I’d start there, and every research trip begins with a visit to Wikipedia, doesn’t it (just don’t tell your teachers)? From there, I gathered these elements of the Urban Fantasy subgenre (1):
- A primarily real-world, urban setting, in the past, present or future
- Earthbound mythological creatures (sometimes)
- Coexistence / conflict between humans and paranormal beings (some other times)
- Often explores how city life changes after the discovery of magic
- Does not rely primarily on a romantic plot (as distinct from Paranormal Romance subgenre)
This sounds like many of the bestsellers and blockbusters in the past couple of decades! So who are the storytellers behind this enduring pop culture phenomenon?
Even I, in my ignorance, recognize the name Neil Gaiman halfway down the list on the bright yellow bookmark before me. His novel, American Gods, is a prime example of the genre. In it, Gaiman posits that “gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them.” (2) Therefore, in modern America, new gods – representing media, the internet, and the stock market, among others – have more authority than the old gods brought over by immigrants; and fantastical creatures hold commonplace occupations. But a mysterious man wishes to shake things up, and he needs the help of ex-con Shadow to rouse ancient powers. A strange, epic journey, with elements of horror, fantasy, and magical realism, this award-winning novel has an international fan base.
Neil Gaiman, and indeed the genre of Urban Fantasy, would not be where they are today without Terri Windling. She created the Bordertown universe, tales of which have been written by a multitude of authors. Bordertown is “a dystopian metropolis that lies along the border between “the Elflands” and “The World”.” (3) The tagline on some of the book covers reads, “Where Magic Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which I find charming. As one reader puts it, “the aesthetic of Celtic punk rock, elf/human gang warfare, and glamorous urban decay absolutely succeeds. You can understand why this series inspired its own new wave/nerd subculture back in the eighties.” (4)
Interestingly, 57% of writers in this genre are women. (1) Another such writer who caught my eye was Patricia Briggs, with her Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a shapeshifting mechanic who was raised by werewolves. She interacts with vampires, gremlins, and other creatures of the night. Ignore the sexy artwork on the book covers: this is not a steamy series, but rather one with compelling dialogue and a strong, sensitive female lead. There are plenty of books in this series, starting with Moon Called.
I’d like to leave you with some more author recommendations, which is a hard thing to do as I haven’t actually read any of them. But thank goodness for those bookmarks, and for Goodreads.com, a great resource for book lists and reader reviews. Searching Goodreads by genre, I found that there are some Urban Fantasy authors whose books have been reviewed by community members hundreds of thousands of times! (Side note: If you find a reviewer whose taste matches your own, you can follow him/her on the site. It’s like having your own personal book critic who delivers tailored book recommendations.)
- Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series (AKA the Southern Vampire Mysteries). These books are the source material for HBO’s True Blood.
- Jim Butcher – The Dresden Files Harry Dresden is Chicago’s first and only wizard P.I. This series is the Urban Fantasy high standard for many reviewers.
- Kelley Armstrong – Darkest Powers A genetically-engineered teenage necromancer’s powers are out of control: she raises the dead without even trying. On the run from her creators, she’s accompanied by a sorcerer, a werewolf, and a witch.
- Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children Children who have gone through magical portals – like Wonderland’s rabbit hole, or Narnia’s wardrobe – find it hard to adjust to normal life once they return. Luckily, there’s a home just for them.
- Kevin Hearne – The Iron Druid Chronicles. The last of the druids runs a bookshop in Arizona, but that won’t throw an angry god off the trail of his magic sword. Celtic mythology meets vampires, werewolves, and Thor. Yes, this series definitely has a silly edge to it, but reviewers say it’s a lot of fun!
- Holly Black – The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Elves, werewolves, vampires, faeries: whatever your creature obsession, there’s a short story for you in this YA/adult collection from the author of popular middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles.
- Terry Brooks – Word & Void There’s been a long strike in a steel town, and it’s the hottest Fourth of July on record. Into this volatile atmosphere come a knight of the Word and a demonic servant of the Void, whose opposing goals are mysteriously linked by a teenage girl. The fate of humanity is to be decided amidst the fireworks that celebrate freedom.
- Ilona Andrews – Kate Daniels Magic feeds on technology, creating a chaotic backdrop for tales of a mercenary who lives in Atlanta, cleaning up paranormal problems.
I plan to broaden my literary horizons by adding a couple of these to my reading list. If I abandon my classics and only ever write about Urban Fantasy from now on, you’ll know what triggered it!
- Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Fan Art by DeviantArt user AnamikaB, https://anamikab.deviantart.com/art/Neil-Gaiman-s-American-Gods-Fan-Art-346033119
- The Dresden Files by DeviantArt user Mika-Blackfield, https://mika-blackfield.deviantart.com/art/The-Dresden-Files-575902031
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Our juvenile graphic novel section is very well loved here at WCPL. Kids can’t seem to read enough of them. However, their favorites are often checked out, and while this is a fantastic problem to have, we hate to see kids leave disappointed and empty handed. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a brief list of readalikes for some of our most popular graphic novels.
If you can’t get enough Calvin and Hobbes…
Try Phoebe and Her Unicorn!
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson (J 741.5973 SIM) is a weekly comic strip about a precocious nine-year-old girl named Phoebe and her best friend Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, a unicorn. Their adventures begin when Phoebe skips a rock and accidentally hits a Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. Improbably, this led to Phoebe being granted one wish, and she used it to make the unicorn her obligational best friend. With seven volumes and counting, kids will be reading and laughing about Phoebe and Marigold’s wacky and hilarious antics as long as they like.
If you absolutely love Smile and Sisters…
Try Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point, Pashmina, and Cici’s Journal!
In Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point by Kim Dwinell ( J 741.5973 DWI), things are getting very weird for Samantha. Lately, her best friend Jade explodes into fits of giggles whenever she sees a boy, and it’s throwing a wrench into the laidback summer of surfing and hanging out that Sam had planned. But after swimming through a secret underwater cave, Sam starts to see things. Like ghosts. And pirates. And maybe something even scarier! Can she and Jade get to the bottom of this mystery in time to save their town?
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani (J 741.5973 CHA) is the story of Priyanka Das, who has so many unanswered questions about her mother and about India. For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.
Translated from French, Cici dreams of being a novelist in Cici’s Journal by Joris Chamblain (J 741.5973 CHA). Her favorite subject is people, especially adults. She’s been watching them and taking notes. Everybody has one special secret, Cici figures, and if you want to write about people, you need to understand what’s hiding inside them. But now she’s discovered something truly strange: an old man who disappears into the forest every Sunday with huge pots of paint in all sorts of colors. What is he up to? Why does he look so sad when he comes back?
If you think Narwhal and Jelly is delightful….
Try The Great Pet Escape,Cici, A Fairy’s Tale, and Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfluffle!
In The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson (J 741.5973 JAM), the class pets at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School want out, and G.W.—short for George Washington—the deceptively cute hamster in the second-grade classroom, is just the guy to lead the way. But when he finally escapes and goes to find his former partners in crime, Barry and Biter, he finds that they actually LIKE being class pets! Just as G.W. gets Barry and Biter to agree to leave with him, a mouse named Harriet and her many mouse minions get in their way.
A lot is changing for Cici in Believe Your Eyes, the first book in Cici, A Fairy’s Tale by Cori Doerrfield (J 741.5973 DOE). Her parents are separating, her wacky abuela is moving in, and on her tenth birthday, she wakes up with fairy wings! Cici’s new magical powers let her see people as they truly are, but what she learns about her friends and family isn’t always easy to accept. She has only one day to decide whether to keep her wings. When Cici wishes life could just be normal again, will she choose to believe in the power of fairies?
Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfluffle by J. Torres (J 741.5973 TOR) begins with robot brothers Panchi, Joukei, and Kouro reeling in a “big one” while fishing. When the giant threatens to demolish their city, the three bro-up and spring into action!
If you like Hilo…
Try Cosmic Commandos, Dream Jumper, and Fish Girl!
In Cosmic Commandos by Christopher Eliopoulos (J 741.5973 ELI), Jeremy and Justin are twins, but they couldn’t be any more different from each other. They both love video games, however, and when Jeremy wins a cereal-box charm that brings his favorite video game to life, villains and all, he finds that he’s in way over his head. Can these two mismatched brothers work together to beat the video game that has taken over their life?
Dream Jumper: Nightmare Escape by Greg Grunberg (J 741.5973 GRU) is the story of Ben, who has the ability to jump into other people’s dreams. So when his friends start falling victim to an evil dream-monster that prevents them from waking, Ben knows he has to help them. But can he get to them in time? With a mysterious companion, Ben might just be able to defeat the monster and save his friends…if he can figure out how to use the power within him.
Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli (J 741.5973 NAP) begins with a show at Ocean Wonders, an aquarium filled with several ocean animals and Fish Girl, the elusive star attraction. When Fish Girl has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl, their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank.
If you need more action-packed adventures like Amulet…
Try Red’s Planet, Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur!
Red’s Planet by Eddie Pittman (J 741.5973 PIT) is the story of Red, who longs to live in her own perfect paradise far away from her annoying foster family. But when a UFO mistakenly kidnaps her, Red finds herself farther away than she could have possibly imagined—across the galaxy and aboard an enormous spaceship owned by the Aquilari, an ancient creature with a taste for rare and unusual treasures. Before Red can be discovered as a stowaway, the great ship crashes on a small deserted planet, leaving her marooned with a menagerie of misfit aliens. With her newfound friend, a small gray alien named Tawee, Red must find a way to survive the hostile castaways, evade the ravenous wildlife and contend with Goose, the planet’s grumpy, felinoid custodian. Surely this can’t be the paradise she’s looking for.
In Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach (J 741.5973 BRE), Clementine Hetherington and her robot brother, Digory, have run away from the orphanage they’ve been living in since their parents died. Clem and Dig want to follow in their famous archaeologist mother’s footsteps, but no one will take them seriously. Their chance arrives when a man from their past saves Digory’s life, and to repay the debt, they enter a multiday race to recover stolen artifacts! Clem and Dig hope to win so they can give the artifacts to a museum, but their opponents want to sell them on the black market. The Ironwood Race has no rules, and Clem and Dig might be in over their heads!
The first volume in the Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comic series by Brandon Montclare (J 741.5973 MON) introduces Lunella Lafayette, a preteen genius living in mortal fear of her latent inhuman gene. There’s no telling what she’ll turn into, but Lunella’s got a plan. All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right? That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call today! Together they’re the most Marvelous Team-Up of all — the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DD’s dinner time? And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another—especially when they’re the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there’s the fact that everyone’s favorite dino didn’t journey through time alone. Beware the prehistoric savages known as the Killer-Folk—New York City’s deadliest tourists! Can Lunella handle all this turmoil and keep herself from transforming into an inhuman monster?
If Dog Man makes you laugh your pants off…
Try Making Scents, Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom, and Catstronauts!
Mickey isn’t quite like his brothers and sisters in Making Scents by Arthur Yorinks (J 741.5973 YOR). They’re all stronger, faster, and have a much better sense of smell. That’s because his “brothers and sisters” are dogs―bloodhounds, to be exact. Mickey’s mom and dad are crazy about canines. Their dogs are the loves of their lives and their livelihood. So, naturally, they’re raising their son as if he was a dog, and Mickey wants nothing more than to make his parents proud. Just as Mickey is mastering the art of sniffing, a tragic accident forever changes his happy family. Mickey is sent to live with relatives he’s never met―relatives who are not fond of kids . . . and who hate dogs!
In The Doughnut Kingdom, the first book in the Cucumber Quest series by Gigi D.G. (J 741.5973 GIG), the seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight. Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour? Sure, why not?
CatStronauts: Mission Moon by Drew Brockington (J 741.5973 BRO) begins with the world being thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage. The World’s Best Scientist quickly comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet!
As always, you can put any of these on hold through our website, and once your kids plow through these, our children’s librarians are ready to recommend even more titles!
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.