Category Archives: Book Reviews
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.
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!
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.”
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.”
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!
“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…”
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.
“It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.”
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?”
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.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
“Eight more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween . . .” OK, maybe not the most appropriate way to lead into a blog about scary-but-not-too-scary creatures who live in children’s books, by invoking a jingle used in the classic horror film “Halloween,” starring the fabulous future kid-lit author Jamie Lee Curtis, but with that tie-in, how could I not?
The Wild Things
First in our no-particular-order list of creepy creatures: the Wild Things inhabiting the island where Max sailed his private boat in and out of weeks and almost over a year in Maurice Sendak’s fabulous classic Where The Wild Things Are. Being the King of all Wild Things was a blast for a while, what with having no homework, no bedtime, and no rules, but Max became terribly lonely “and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” So he abdicated his throne and sailed back into the night of his very own room, to find his still-hot supper waiting for him. The lesson here, in my opinion? Those who truly love you will forgive your occasional monstrous behavior, and maybe even make you a grilled cheese sandwich.
“You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch/Your heart’s an empty hole/Your brain is full of spiders/You have garlic in your soul.” Hence, the next monster in our Monster Mash-Up, that grouchy green grump who lives on Mount Crumpit. Yes, friends and fiends, the antagonist-turned-protagonist of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is next in the roster of scary-not-scary monsters. Let us ponder for a moment the classic literary juxtaposition of Good vs. Evil. After a busy night of animal abuse, cosplay, and totally highjacking all the boxes and bags and the last can of Who-Hash from Whoville, yet waking up to the sound of Cindy Lou Who and all her friends and relatives singing and celebrating anyway, the Grinch has an epiphany. “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” The Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day,” making him not so monstrous after all.
I implied at the beginning of this article that the monsters listed here wouldn’t be too ghastly. Darling Reader, I lied. You should now take the opportunity to fortify yourself with some chocolate before proceeding onward, because the Dementors from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and subsequent books in the series) are making their sinister presence known in our melange of monsters. According to Professor Remus Lupin, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” According to the website Pottermore.com (and if you don’t know about this marvelous site, you must visit as soon as you finish reading this delightful and not frightful blog), Dementors are the true scary beasties of the mystical realm. Oh, it is also imperative to note that Dementors cannot be destroyed, but only driven away temporarily by using the Patronus Charm.
Yikes. Okay. Let’s flee the darkness of the Dementors and continue onward in our odyssey of oddities. Do you know the gruffalo? No? Oh! The Gruffalo is a children’s book written by Julia Donaldson that was inspired by a Chinese folk tale in which a fox borrows the terror of a tiger. In Donaldson’s story, a mouse is taking a walk in the woods and encounters several creatures—a fox, an owl, and a snake– who would like to make a meal out of him. The clever mouse declines the “invitations” to their homes by telling them that he already has lunch plans with his friend the gruffalo, who is a monster-like hybrid of half grizzly bear and half buffalo, whose favorite snack happens to be whichever animal that the mouse is trying to evade. Terrified by the description of the fictional beast, each animal flees. Mousie is so proud of himself, and taunts them: “Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn’t he know? There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!” But here comes the plot twist! The mouse is shocked to encounter a real gruffalo, who threatens to eat him. Again, Mousie’s cunning saves the day. The mouse tells the gruffalo that he is the scariest monster in the forest, and proves it by leading the gruffalo past each creature that menaced him earlier, causing them to run away again when they see them walking together. The gruffalo is increasingly impressed by this, and is apparently clueless that *he* is the scary one, so the sly mouse further presses it to his advantage by threatening to eat the gruffalo, who then hightails it into the forest. Personally, I find this to be an excellent instructional tale for those among us who are physically diminutive (I’m 5’2”, Darling Reader) but make up for it in confidence.
So there you have it, Darling Reader, some charming-and not-alarming (well, with the exception of those foul Dementors) monsters who inhabit the pages of children’s books, and now your own imagination. Have a frighteningly good Fall, and don’t be afraid to keep exploring the vast forest of literature that is available to you at WCPL. Happy reading–
***The opinions and viewpoints expressed here are, as always, solely a product of the sometimes-disturbing contents of the author’s head and are in no way representative of the employees of WCPL, their families, or their Halloween-costumed housepets. The author also wishes it to be known that while the nickname “Scary Stacy” was bestowed upon her by some sorority sisters in college, she really is trying to mellow into a kinder, gentler sort of modern monster.
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Most of us vividly remember the morning of September 11, 2001. We remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. But today, many children were either born after that date or were too young to remember the attacks. For those kids, here are eleven children’s books about September 11, 2001.
It’s Still a Dog’s New York by Susan L. Roth (J E ROT)
Pepper and Rover, two New York dogs, are miserable after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Pepper feels overwhelmed with sadness and fear and anger. But in a tour of New York City, his friend Rover shows him that even though they’re sad, they can go on.
September Roses by Jeanette Winter (J E WIN)
On September 11, 2001, two sisters from South Africa are flying to New York City with 2,400 roses to be displayed at a flower show. When they land, they learn of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The sisters cannot go home, and they are stranded with boxes and boxes of roses at the airport. When a kind stranger offers them a place to stay, they decide to repay this kindness by arranging their roses in the shape of the fallen towers.
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (J F RHODES)
As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Deja’s fifth grade teacher at her new school begins a unit on the tragedy, but Deja doesn’t completely understand why. Not when she has more important things to worry about, like the fact that her family is living in a homeless shelter or why her father is so sad all the time. As she begins making friends at school for the first time in her life, Deja realizes just how much the Twin Towers affect her.
I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis (J F TARSHIS)
When Lucas’s parents decide football is too dangerous and make him quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan: his Uncle Benny, who is a New York City firefighter. So the next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. But just as Lucas arrives at his uncle’s firehouse, everything changes—and nothing will ever be the same again.
Cyber Spies and Secret Agents of Modern Times by Allison Lassieur (J 327.12 LAS)
The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, spurred the United States and other countries around the world to develop new spying techniques, new cutting-edge equipment, and new recruits to meet the challenge of 21st century enemies and threats. Learn about the exciting modern world of spies and secret agents.
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy (J 327.676073 DEE)
Nine months after the September 11 attacks, an American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people in western Kenya. A gift is about to be bestowed upon the American people, and he is here to accept it. Word of the gift will travel newswires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope and friendship.
What Were the Twin Towers? by Jim O’Conner (J 725.23097471 O’CO)
When the Twin Towers were built in 1973, they were billed as an architectural wonder. At 1,368 feet, they clocked in as the tallest buildings in the world and changed the New York City skyline dramatically. Offices and corporations moved into the towers—also known as the World Trade Center—and the buildings were seen as the economic hub of the world. But on September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack toppled the towers and changed our nation forever. Discover the whole story of the Twin Towers—from their ambitious construction to their tragic end.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (J 791.34 GER)
In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This picture book captures the detail, daring, and drama of Petit’s feat.
September 11 Then and Now by Peter Benoit (J 973.931 BEN)
This nonfiction book in the True Book series for young readers recounts the events before, during, and after the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.
America Is Under Attack: The Day the Towers Fell: September 11, 2001 by Don Brown (J 973.931 BRO)
Straightforward and honest, this account of September 11, 2001, moves chronologically through the morning, from the terrorist plane hijackings to the crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania; from the rescue operations at the World Trade Center site in New York City to the collapse of the buildings.
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman (J 974.7 KAL)
A fireboat, launched in 1931, is retired after many years of fighting fires along the Hudson River but is saved from being scrapped and then called into service again on September 11, 2001.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Darling Reader, I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret. A couple of them, actually.
Most human librarians have not read–and occasionally don’t have an awareness of–every single book in their respective libraries.
And . . . brace yourselves for Librarian Secret #2 . . . there are books that some librarians don’t even like.
Okay, okay, simmer down now. I know this may come as an unpleasant shock to some of you, but it really shouldn’t. Just as even the esteemed Dumbledore enjoyed lemon drops but didn’t much care for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, so it goes with those of us who spend our days surrounded by the good, the bad, and the ugly of literature. (Dirty little secret #3: there are actually librarians who do not like the Harry Potter series, but in the interest of good citizenry, I shall not reveal their identities here. Hey, just because I love those books to the point of dressing up as Bellatrix Lestrange on Halloween and random Tuesdays doesn’t mean that everyone has to love them.)
Since it is a bankable fact that I’m a tremendous slacker and try to get my colleagues to do my work for me whenever any opportunity presents itself . . . oh, wait . . . I mean, since I value the viewpoints and opinions of my co-workers and try to practice inclusion whenever I can . . . and because this would be a really boring article if I just rattled on about the books that I despise (Johnny Tremain), I have solicited (and paraphrased in some instances) opinions from my smart and talented fellow librarians, and several of them have been kind enough to share their thoughts with me about children’s books that they personally find odious, irksome, or just plain weird. I have also given my “guests” pseudonyms taken from the aforementioned Harry Potter series (and did I mention how much I love those books?) so that no repercussions may befall them for placing their confidence in me. Therefore, Darling Reader, I present to you in no particular order a short list of books that are disliked by at least one (and sometimes more) WCPL employee.
“The only book that I can truly say that I despise is Madonna’s The English Roses. And the reason has more to do with the fact that Madonna says she wrote it because, when she had her child, she ‘couldn’t find any good books out there for children, so she had to write her own.’ The arrogant ignorance of that statement caused me to hate the book on general principle!” says a kind and lovely librarian to whom I’ll refer as “Madam Pomfrey,” Hogwarts’ school matron, or school nurse, in American parlance. (Author’s aside: a used hardcover copy of The English Roses is available at Amazon for the astonishingly low price of fifteen cents. I am so not making this up.)
Librarian “Godric Gryffindor” is also not a fan of Madonna’s alleged books, or of those by almost any celebrity or pop-culture figure, whether they go by one name, or two or three. “However, I doubt if I could name a specific title, because I’ve banished all the crappy ones from my mind,” Gryffindor states. And by Merlin’s beard, don’t even get him started on some of the adult “classics” . . .
Next up, a two-for-one. Staffers “Kingsley Shacklebolt” and “Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank” weigh in on Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. “This book is sweet if you don’t think too hard about it; very stalker-mom if you do think about it, and once you do, you can never go back to sweet,” says Shacklebolt. “It is just so incredibly sad!” states Professor Grubbly-Plank. The author concurs on both opinions.
“I like books that teach or are an example of good behavior or qualities, and use proper grammar. Also, humor is wonderful, but not bathroom humor,” says a librarian I’ll refer to as “Molly Weasley.” Again, the author agrees. I adored the late Barbara Park, author of the popular Junie B. Jones books, as she was a wonderful person and a fellow alumna of the University of Alabama, but I truly cringe every time I connect a child with ol’ Junie B. Some folks find Junie B. charming and funny, others find her to be ill-mannered and obnoxious. Ditto for Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books, as well as Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Personally, I try to make myself feel a little better about young patrons being devoted to these series; at least they’re engaged and reading something, I tell myself. The darker side of my psyche usually responds with a profanity-laced reply that I keep to myself.
The final entries in this ridiculous annoying snarky insanely funny blog are brought to you by two fabulous librarians to whom I shall bequeath the pseudonyms of “Luna Lovegood” and “Hermione Granger.” Hermione told me that she put some thought into my query, and that there aren’t that many kid-lit choices that she really detests, but that any books featuring Caillou (that whiny bald-headed Canadian kid who torments his little sister Rosie and the family cat Gilbert) are definitely on her list. Also, “there was this dead bird book that was pretty morbid.” Indeed—The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. Luna’s least-favorite children’s book also contains a theme of death and grieving: I Cried Too by Jim Schmidt. Our sweet Luna wants to make it clear that she doesn’t dislike this book, but that the subject matter just makes it so hard to get through.
Darling Reader, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you. I hope this blog made you laugh, made you think, but most of all I hope it made you want to read—even if it is something that isn’t universally loved by librarians. Because really, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Read what YOU love, and have fun. Until next time–
Unlike most of my other blogs, the opinions and viewpoints in this article DO represent those of some other employees of WCPL. Names and other identifying details have been altered, via my intense love for the world of Harry Potter, to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent. Lastly, just because your favorite librarian may not like a particular book, that doesn’t mean that she or he won’t help you find that one, or thousands of other amazing and wondrous books that are available at WCPL. Happy reading!
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Does going back to school have your house in a funk? Try a book! Here are thirteen titles for a variety of ages that are sure to get everyone ready for school.
The Class by Boni Ashburn (J E ASHBURN)
Count along with twenty young students from different homes as they get ready for their first day of kindergarten. Some feel eager, some are worried, and some are even grumpy! But they all get dressed, eat breakfast, pack backpacks, and make their way to school, where they will meet their new teacher and become a new class.
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg (J E DANNEBERG)
Sarah is afraid to start at a new school. She just knows it will be awful. But both she and the reader are in for a surprise when she gets to her class.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (J E HENKES)
Chrysanthemum thinks her name is absolutely perfect—until her first day of school. “You’re named after a flower!” teases Victoria. “Let’s smell her,” says Jo. Chrysanthemum wilts. What will it take to make her blossom again?
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (J E PENN)
When Chester the raccoon is reluctant to go to kindergarten for the first time, his mother teaches him a secret way to carry her love with him.
You’re Wearing That to School?! by Lynn Plourde (J E PLOURDE)
Penelope is so excited about the first day of school. She can’t wait to wear her rainbow sparkle outfit, bring her favorite stuffed toy for show-and-tell, and share a big picnic lunch with all her new friends. “Oh, no, no!” says her best pal Tiny, who started school last year. He has a few tips for Penelope about fitting in without sticking out.
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex (J E REX)
It’s the first day of school at Frederick Douglass Elementary, and everyone’s just a little bit nervous, especially the school itself. What will the children do once they come? Will they like the school? Will they be nice to him? The school has a rough start, but as the day goes on, he soon recovers when he sees that he’s not the only one going through first-day jitters.
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (J F BUYEA)
It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much . . . until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone.
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary (J F CLEARY)
Ramona Quimby is excited to start kindergarten. Then she gets into trouble for pulling her classmate’s curls during recess. Even worse, her crush rejects her in front of everyone. Beezus says Ramona needs to quit being a pest, but how can she stop if she never was trying to be one in the first place?
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes (J F HENKES)
Seven-year-old Billy Miller starts second grade with a bump on his head and a lot of worries, but by the end of the year he has developed good relationships with his teacher, his little sister, and his parents and learned many important lessons.
It’s the First Day of School—Forever! by R.L. Stine (J F STINE)
Everything goes wrong for eleven-year-old Artie on his first day at Ardmore Middle School, from the moment his alarm goes off until the next morning, when everything is repeated exactly the same way.
Recess at 20 Below by Cindy Lou Aillaud (J 371.2424 AIL)
The temperature outside is 20 below zero. Is school cancelled? Nope. How about recess outside? No way! Learn from the kids’ points of view about what it’s like playing during recess when the thermometer says it’s 20 below.
A School Like Mine: A Celebration of Schools Around the World by Penny Smith (J 371.8 SMI)
Where do children in Jordan learn? What subjects do they study in Egypt? From Africa to the Americas, students explain their daily routines in their own words and talk about what makes their schools special to them.
The Way to School by Rosemary McCarney (J 372.91724 MCC)
Your way to school might be by yellow bus, bicycle or car, but around the world children are also getting to class by canoe, through tunnels, up ladders, by donkey, water buffalo or ox cart. Readers will see that the path to school can be “long and hard and even scary” depending on the lay of the land, the weather, even natural disasters.
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
Sharks with frickin’ lasers for eyes. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
What do these have in common?
Sharks, you say?
They always come out on Shark Week?
Okay, yes, that too. But keep going.
They’re really, really silly ideas for monsters?
Bingo! Winner, winner, monster dinner!
Sharks in a tornado? A cross between a shark and an octopus (which really isn’t that scary a beast, unless you’re a clam)? A giant shark (okay, yes there did use to be these megalodons)? And laser eyes? What are they, sharks from Krypton?
Okay, they’re all fine as a doodle on the side of your algebra homework (which you really need to finish; it’s due tomorrow). But let’s be honest they’re kind of, well, dumb.
But they’re not the dumbest ideas ever for monsters. And the truth is, dumb monsters can be a lot of fun.
Dumb combination monsters go back a long way. The ancient Egyptians believed in jackal-headed men, crocodile-headed men, cat-headed women, and of course the original sphinx, with a man’s head on a lion’s body. The Phoenicians gave us a man with the body of a fish. But the Greeks topped them all. One-eyed giant (cyclops), men with the bodies of horses, the chimera with the heads of a dragon, a lion and a goat, the medusa with snakes for a hairdo (maybe she got all stone-faced because she couldn’t do anything with it), a man with the head of a bull, men with goat legs, a man with a hundred eyes, and worse.
But it seems every age has its bizarre combos. The Middle Ages gave us the unicorn and mermaids, and things went so bizarre in the Renaissance that travelogues seriously suggested there were men with their faces in their stomachs (talk about fast food).
Today we know that’s all nonsense. Unless, of course, you believe in Nessie, Champie, Bigfoot, Mothman (no kidding), Yetis (no, not the coolers), Chupacabras, the Jersey Devil, and human-faced goats (okay, that last one is bizarrely real)! And, of course, aliens.
Why do we create these monsters? Is it to explain, to entertain, to scare, or just because we can? That’s a question for another article, but at the library, we like ‘em all. So if you want to “check out” some monsters on your own, here are a few of our favorite literary monster mish-mashes:
Miss Erin’s Picks:
- Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black. With a title like that, you know it’s gonna be epic!
- Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn. Because nothing says “hunk” like a dude who’s also a dinosaur.
- Zombie Blondes by Brian James. Mean girls are so much meaner when they’re undead.
- A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz, featuring fairies maimed by the cannibalistic gnomes who work for them (“Call it a tax.”), and a revolution and, well, what more do you need to know? Read the rest for yourself!
Mr. Howard’s Picks:
- The Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn, featuring an alien dragon poet-warrior who’s also a living tattoo. Starting with Dragon and Thief, this sci-fi action series is part Star Wars, part mystery, and part coming-of-age tale, and all terrific.
- Squirrel Girl, from The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl graphic novels. Okay, not a monster, but a superheroine with the combined powers of a squirrel and a girl, which turns out to be awesome. And yes, she can beat anyone, even the most powerful villains of the Marvel Universe. Take that, Galactus.
- The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, being the purported memoirs of an assistant to a 19th century monster hunter who hunts down the “those can’t be real” monsters of fable (including those “face in their stomach” guys). Scary, realistic, and very intense, Yancey pulls off turning nonsensical creatures into a horrific threat. And then does it again in two more books in the series!
- The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, seems like a light, funny fantasy “con game” story… until the legendary “Rat King” monstrosity enters the picture, in a sequence that will have you looking over your shoulder with every word.
- The Hungry Cities Chronicles, beginning with Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve, which has the best mash-up ever: a city and a tank. Okay, no that’s not a monster, but actual cities on tank treads that gobble up other cities? How could your inner monster-mashup muscle not love that? Just because it’s mechanical, doesn’t mean it’s not a monster!
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The President of the Galaxy, who’s also a starship thief, has two heads. And he’s one of the more normal monstrosities the hapless British hero meets in this over-the-top scifi laugh fest.
Or come by the Teen Room and peruse our Dungeons & Dragons manuals, ‘cause nothing says ridiculous monster mash- up like an Owlbear. (Yes, it’s a bear. That’s also an owl! Oooo, scary!) Unless it’s a Gelatinous Cube, which is, uh, basically acidic Jello. Shaped like a giant cube. That moves.
Sharknado, you’ve got nothing on us!
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
My childhood was largely influenced by my obsession with Harry Potter. I spent far too much of my time writing and reading Harry Potter fanfiction, having analytical discussions with strangers on Harry Potter forums, and creating perfect Harry Potter costumes. I even took a fantasy lit class in college just because Harry Potter was on the syllabus. Embarrassing confessions aside, Harry Potter helped me through some difficult experiences and taught me lots of life lessons along the way. Needless to say, I was devastated when I finished the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, less than twenty-four hours after I’d waited in line at midnight to secure a copy. I just knew that I would never find another book to love like I loved Harry Potter.
So in honor of the tenth anniversary of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I bring you read-a-likes! This list of recommendations is for you, Harry Potter lovers of all ages. I know they won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (J F BLACK)
Warned away from magic all of his life, Callum endeavors to fail the trials that would admit him to the Magisterium only to be drawn into its ranks against his will and forced to confront dark elements from his past.
The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann (J F MCMANN)
In a society that purges thirteen-year-olds who are creative, identical twins Aaron and Alex are separated, one to attend University while the other, supposedly Eliminated, finds himself in a wondrous place where kids hone their abilities and learn magic.
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood (J F LITTLEWOOD)
Twelve-year-old Rose Bliss wants to work magic in her family’s bakery as her parents do, but when they are called away and Rose and her siblings are left in charge, the magic goes awry and a beautiful stranger tries to talk Rose into giving her the Bliss Cookery Booke.
Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull (J F MULL)
Whisked through a portal to The Outskirts, an in-between world, sixth-grader Cole must rescue his friends and find his way back home–before his existence is forgotten.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (J F CHAINANI)
At the School for Good and Evil, failing your fairy tale is not an option. Best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil. The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed–Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (YA F MAAS)
Celaena Sardothien is an assassin serving a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, and she is summoned to the castle; not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion. But when competitors start dying one by one, her fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (YA F BARDUGO)
Orphaned by the Border Wars, Alina Starkov is taken from obscurity and her only friend, Mal, to become the protegé of the mysterious Darkling, who trains her to join the magical elite in the belief that she is the Sun Summoner, who can destroy the monsters of the Fold.
The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (J F FLANAGAN)
Fifteen-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (YA F TAHIR)
Laia is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (YA F OLDER)
When the murals painted on the walls of her Brooklyn neighborhood start to change and fade in front of her, Sierra Santiago realizes that something strange is going on–then she discovers her Puerto Rican family are shadowshapers and finds herself in a battle with an evil anthropologist for the lives of her family and friends.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (F MORGENSTERN)
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. Behind the scenes, two young magicians prepare for a duel that they have been trained for since childhood. Despite themselves, the duo fall in love, but what they don’t know is that this game can only leave one standing.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman (F GROSSMAN)
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he’s secretly fascinated with a series of children’s fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined.
The Passage by Justin Cronin (F CRONIN)
The latest test subject in a covert government experiment, abandoned six-year-old Amy is rescued by an FBI agent who hides them in the Oregon hills, from which Amy emerges a century later to save the human race from a terrifying virus.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (F BUTCHER)
For Harry Dresden—Chicago’s only professional wizard—business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (F HARKNESS)
Witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her.
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Celebrated annually during the month of June, National Zoo and Aquarium Month honors the role of zoos and aquariums in conservation, education, recreation, and research. The best way to celebrate National Zoo and Aquarium Month is obvious: Visit your local zoo or aquarium, of course! But if you can’t do that, here’s a list of books to bring all the fun of the zoo right into your living room.
Worms for Breakfast: How to Feed a Zoo by Helaine Becker
(J 636.0889 BEC)
Feeding time is one of the most popular events at zoos. But what do different animals eat? How much food to they need to stay healthy? And where do zookeepers get all that food anyway? Packed with facts from experts at zoos and aquariums, Worms for Breakfast answers all these questions and more! And just in case reading about feeding time makes you hungry, this book also includes recipes for meals like eucalyptus leaf pesto, kelp tank goulash, and mealworm mush.
Bridge to the Wild: Behind the Scenes at the Zoo by Caitlin O’Connell
(J 636.088 O’CON)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a zoo? Written by a real animal researcher with special behind-the-scenes access, Bridge to the Wild goes inside Zoo Atlanta. Readers learn about the people who work with the animals and discover exactly how zoos help world populations of animals.
My Visit to the Aquarium by Aliki
(J 597.0074 ALI)
Take a trip to the aquarium in My Visit to the Aquarium! Based on several specific aquariums, this book follows a young boy through a kelp forest, a muggy tropical rainforest, a coral reef, and other various exhibits.
Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandre Maxwell
(J 92 BARTLETT)
When Abraham Dee Bartlett was growing up during the early 1800s, there were no zoos, only indoor menageries, where animals were kept inside small, bare cages with no room to explore and nothing to play with. This picture book biography tells young readers how Bartlett became superintendent of the London Zoo and dramatically improved conditions to ensure that all animals could be happy and healthy.
What’s New? The Zoo!: A Zippy History of Zoos by Kathleen Krull
(J 590.73 KRU)
Beginning 4,400 years ago, this title takes readers on a journey throughout history and around the globe tracing the history of zoos.
A Day at a Zoo by Sarah Harrison
(J 590.73 HAR)
In eight action-packed scenes from the same view, A Day at a Zoo invites readers to see what happens during a full day at a busy zoo. Watch as zookeepers wrangle a new okapi, a gibbon escapes its enclosure, and schoolchildren hide in the meerkat pen.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Quinn Porter was an absentee father. He knows it and his ex-wife reminds him of it often as well. He didn’t get to know his son well before his early and untimely death. He assuages his grief (and guilt) by continuing his son’s Cub Scout responsibility of helping out Ona Viktus, an 104-year old Lithuanian immigrant. Quinn learns about his son as he helps her and becomes involved in her life. The young boy had to interview a remarkable person for school and he chose Ona. You learn about her life in interspersed chapters. Quinn grows as a person and Ona remembers what she thought she never knew. A quiet revelatory book.