By Marcia Fraser, Special Collections Department
Now, throughout February, the Special Collections department at Williamson County Public Library is hosting the 2018 Thelma Battle Black History Month Photographic Exhibit, “Lest We Forget,” spotlighting the lives of residents in Franklin’s black community who have lived and died in Williamson County. This exhibit features the vast funeral program collection housed in Special Collections as part of the Thelma Battle Family History Collection.
Why funeral programs? Oftentimes, we really don’t get to know a person until he or she dies. Have you ever been to a funeral, or read an obituary, and realized there were important things about that person that you didn’t even know? Maybe you weren’t aware of some of the ways he participated in the community, or who his family connections are. This is what makes funeral programs and/or obituaries so valuable. If you’re researching your family history, they’re absolute gold!
Obituaries tell us a lot. Things like a person’s full name, his parents’ names, when he was born, who his children and grandchildren are, who predeceased him, who survived him, what he did for a living, when he died, and sometimes why. A funeral program gives you that and more – who preached the service, who the pall bearers and flower bearers were, what scripture was read, which songs were sung. A funeral program can give you the family and friend connections of the deceased. That’s a lot of information to find in one place, and if you’re researching your genealogy, it could give you the very link you need to connect you from one generation to the next on the family tree.
We now have over 1200 funeral programs from our local black community in Special Collections, and we’re still collecting. They are filed alphabetically in notebooks, and also digitized in our data files, so they’re available for the cost of a copy, ten cents a page. We are always seeking ways to enlarge our collection and so we invite you to share copies of programs you have that we don’t. If you have family funeral programs or obituaries you can share, we would love for you to bring them in and allow us to copy them and add them to our collection. Talk to one of the librarians in Special Collections to see if you have a program we need. An index of names in our current collection is available to exhibit attendees to search.
This year’s photograph exhibit will also include a new oral history film about Ms. Battle’s work as a grassroots historian, “Thelma’s Battle; Preserving African-American History in Franklin, Tennessee.” The film will be available for viewing as part of the exhibit.
The exhibit is held on the 2nd floor of the library in the Special Collections department at 1314 Columbia Ave. in Franklin, and will run from Feb. 1st – 28th. There will also be displays in the upstairs and downstairs display cases near the elevators. For more information, call 615/525-1246.
We all know about Groundhog Day on February 2, when a fuzzy animal is brought forth to predict the weather. How could we miss that huge celebration at Punxsutawney, when Phil, the groundhog (the official term is woodchuck –remember the tongue twister?), is brought out of his den and the crowd goes wild. If he sees his shadow, then winter will end sooner than later, but if he doesn’t see his shadow, that means 6 more weeks of winter. Of course, this weather forecast has never been that accurate…
And of course, many people fondly remember watching the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. It has become a “contemporary classic.” In case you don’t remember, Phil (Bill Murray) gets stuck in a time loop on Groundhog Day, and only after he learns from his mistakes is he able to get back on track. In 2006, it was even added to the United States National Film Registry for being a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.
So where does Candlemas fit in, you may ask?? This holy day is celebrated by Christians on February 2 to commemorate both the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and Jesus’ first entry into the Temple. Since Jesus is considered a “light-bringer,” the custom was to bless candles on this day as well, which is where we get the term Candlemas from. In pagan times, this day was also known as Imbolc (pronounced i-Molk), a festival marking the first day of Spring, which usually fell on February 2. Evidently spring came early in the Gaelic lands, and coincidentally (meaning it was probably a direct influence), this holy day was also used to predict the coming weather.
These poems, found in English and German, show how on Candlemas the weather could be forecast.
If Candle-mas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
If Candle mas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
The German immigrants also brought with them the tradition of a hedgehog telling the spring forecast, but with no hedgehogs to be found, groundhogs were the closest animal they could find in the new world. And Pennsylvania has had many Germans settlers.
And now you know how Groundhog Day and Candlemas both have a place in American culture.
An aside: The name Punxsutawney comes from the Lenape name for the location “ponksad-uteney” which means “the town of the sandflies.” The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of “Wojak, the groundhog” considered by them to be their underground ancestor.
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Few pleasures compare to delving into a series of novels by an author you love. Writing a fiction series gives an author a chance to really flesh out a cast of characters, and to embellish a setting with such fine details that it becomes almost real. What a delight, to spend your rainy weekends or long road trips in these places that feel like a second home!
There’s a flip-side to this pleasure. It’s the frustration of picking up a promising novel, only to realize you have no idea what half the characters are talking about, or even who they are – and the author seems to think you should. That’s what happens when you pick up the sixth book in a series without realizing it.
Sometimes, the book’s cover art does not make clear that the book you’re about to read is part of a series. Other times, the “other titles in this series” list at the front of the book is incomplete, or even out of order. Why would publishers do this to us? Who shall be the savior of the sequel-seeker?
I can answer that second question for you. One of the resources you have access to, as a card-holding member of the Williamson County Public Library, is a database called eSequels.com. eSequels promises to keep current, accurate records of thousands of fiction series. Note: the collection seems to focus on general fiction, so most Young Adult series will not be included.
To access this amazing resource for free, click here. You need to be directed there from the WCPL website, so I’ll describe how to find it by searching our website, too. Starting at http://lib.williamson-tn.org, type eSequels into the gray search bar on the top right corner of the screen. Hit enter, or click the magnifying glass icon, to search. On the page that comes up, click Databases by Title, then click the shortcut to E-F (or just scroll down until you find it). Find the eSequels link, click on it, and use your library card number to log in where it says “Patron Barcode.” Once you get to eSequels.com in this way, bookmark the page so you don’t have to go through these steps every time.
Search Features on eSequels
Upon logging in to eSequels, you land on a page with links to various search features. As you will see, with multiple ways to search and browse, eSequels.com is the resource you never knew you needed – but won’t be able to live without!
If you’ve heard your friends talking about a particular author, but can’t remember which book comes first in the series, Search by Author to figure out where to start. By default, authors are listed alphabetically by their last names. You can choose to list them by first name instead.
Search by Book Title brings up a list of every book in eSequels’ database. Let’s say you want to dive into author Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic worlds of sci-fi or fantasy. You know she has written a book called The Dispossessed, but you aren’t sure where it falls in the chronology. Finding The Dispossessed in Search by Book Title will bring up all the books in Le Guin’s Hainish series, and you will learn that the first book in that series is called Planet of Exile.
I find it interesting to Search by Character, because the database lists not just the main characters, but some important supporting characters, as well. So, if you want to start reading books featuring Sherlock Holmes, you will find that he’s not only a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original series, but that several authors over the years have used him as a character in their series, as well! You can also search for characters like Winston Churchill, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Oscar Wilde, all of whom appear in some capacity or another in the eSequels.com database. Just keep in mind that the characters are listed alphabetically by first name, not last.
Next, you can Search by Location. Whether you’re fascinated by Tampa or Tuscany, this is a great way to discover a series that takes place somewhere you’d like to spend a lot of time in.
Search by Subject – really, it’s browsing – is a great way to find a new series to explore. Say you want to read a series on Celtic mythology, but you don’t know where to begin. The Celtic mythology page on eSequels lists 24 different authors who have written Celtic mythology series. Clicking on any of those author links will bring up a summary of each book, and tell you the correct reading order of the series.
Lastly, you can Search by Keyword. This can help you if all other searches have failed. Searching this way takes a little longer, the website warns; but you can enter up to two keywords or terms. The search will only return results that contain all the terms you enter. I tested this function by entering the terms “Prince Edward Island” and “orphan.” The search took me right to the page for L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables series.
Now that you know about these cool features, I hope you’re excited to start browsing on your own. But if you’d like some guidance on popular and classic series, keep reading to find a few random selections. When the series description appears in quotation marks, I have taken it from eSequels.com.
Emily of New Moon series by L. M. Montgomery (classic, all-ages)
This is one of my personal favorite series. Like Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon takes place on Montgomery’s native Prince Edward Island in Canada, with an intelligent, passionate heroine who grows from childhood to adulthood. But, as wonderful as Anne Shirley is, Emily Starr is a more three-dimensional character. The stories are deeper, more introspective, and more realistic, which makes sense when one considers that Montgomery identified more strongly with aspiring writer Emily than with Anne. The author explored some of her real emotions and experiences through the character of Emily Starr. Emily’s adventures are sometimes dark, sometimes joyous, sometimes funny – and sometimes all three – but they are always beautiful.
Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams (sci-fi, humor, action)
“Dirk Gently is a “holistic” private eye, brilliant but rather seedy, who uses his psychic powers to find lost cats or to save the human race. Like the [Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] series, the “holistic” detective series is a blend of science fiction, humor, and action, entertainingly presenting some mind-boggling ideas.”
Jack Reacher series by Lee Child (action, thriller)
“Jack Reacher is the linchpin of a series of thrillers which are regarded by some critics as the best going today. Jack is a tall, 250-pound, taciturn, ex-U.S. Military Police Major, who can kill with his bare hands. He is a Robin Hood type with his share of problems, which he doesn’t brood about, being basically a rather cheerful fellow. These very exciting, action-filled novels, which take Reacher all around the U.S., are character-driven more than plot-driven with a protagonist who is basically likeable despite his lethal potential.”
Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander (mystery, historical)
“Lady Emily Ashton is an unconventional Victorian widow. After her husband of six months, Philip, Viscount Ashton, big game hunter and classical antiques collector, dies on an African hunting expedition, she uncovers a number of Philip’s secrets, which lead her to the first of her adventures. Eventually Emily acquires a new husband, debonair British intelligence agent Colin Hargreaves, with whom she shares a series of romantic, suspenseful adventures in places as far afield as Constantinople.”
Myth series by Robert Asprin (fantasy, humor)
“Next to Thieves’ World, Asprin is best known for his fantasy series, Myth, which he started as a satire on what he regarded as the overblown and pretentious heroic fantasy series of the 1970s. … Although the series started as satire, it acquired a regular cast of characters, … and became more farcical than satirical. “Myth” has remained extremely popular, especially with young adult readers and fans of humorous fantasy novels laced with puns.”
The Mitford Years series by Jan Karon (cozy, Christian-themed)
“The series set in the fictional North Carolina mountain town of Mitford … has been a publishing phenomenon. Readers have really taken to their hearts Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanaugh and his neighbors. Mitford, unlike many fictional hamlets, has no violence or illicit sex. Its characters are slightly eccentric but nice, mainly concerned with their relationship with God and Jesus. The main storyline concerns Father Tim’s realization of his loneliness, his adoption of a stray dog, and his relationship with [his neighbors].”
Pendergast series by Douglas Preston (supernatural thriller, mystery)
“The Pendergast books are a series of wild adventures which feature more than a dollop of horror and SF elements. Interesting villains, such as Pendergast’s brilliant but evil brother, Diogenes, populate the novels. Serial killers abound, along with mad scientists, and feisty women.”
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
As a library card holder, you already know that you have access to a vast collection of books, periodicals, movies, and audiobooks at the Williamson County Public Library (not to mention all the other fantastic resources the library provides for the community). But here’s what you may not know: if you also have a smartphone, tablet, computer, or eReader, you can easily gain access to your library’s digital collections of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more. It’s like discovering a new wing of your favorite library, full of additional content. And the digital collections are available around the clock!
At WCPL, we give you access to these vast, additional resources through various apps, which you can read about on this page (http://lib.williamson-tn.org/e_library). One popular collection is known as Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. Previously, the books and audio in this collection were accessible only through the Overdrive app. Now, Overdrive has released a second app called Libby.
Libby has much of the functionality of the original Overdrive app, such as checking out eBooks and audiobooks, placing holds, and sending to Kindle. Some library patrons have already made the switch to this new app, with no looking back. But there are some differences between the two to be aware of before you dive in. Let’s look at how Overdrive and Libby compare, so you can decide which one might be best for you.
Designed to be simple, attractive, and user-friendly, Libby makes it easy to get started downloading eBooks and audiobooks right away. This is the feedback I read over and over, from novice and experienced users alike: Libby is so easy to use! If you have never used either app before, I would recommend you start with Libby, because of its easy setup.
Libby makes managing multiple library accounts painless, whether you have a library card in another library system (for example, Davidson or Maury county), or even a household member’s card you’d like to add. All checked-out materials live on the same “shelf” within the app, streamlining the way you access your digital loans.
With Libby, you can download eBooks and audiobooks for offline access. If you’re online, you can stream the audiobooks instead, which saves space on your device. Libby will also deliver eBooks to a Kindle, if you prefer.
Since Libby is a new app, new features are being added all the time. Just this month, the developers added new search features. For example, you can now search by the title of a series, instead of the names of the books within the series, which sounds very helpful! If you give Libby a try, be sure to keep it updated regularly. That way, you won’t miss out on any added capabilities.
As is often the case with technology, we sometimes have to choose between something that’s feature-heavy and something that’s easy to use. That’s the case when it comes to Overdrive and Libby.
It’s important to know that, right now, Overdrive has better accessibility support than Libby. Libby currently lacks support for text-to-speech, voiceover, and multiple languages. Overdrive also has more amenities for the visually impaired. However, many of these features are planned for Libby’s future updates.
Overdrive gives you better control when it comes to searching content. You can exclude mature content from your searches, or set your searches to show only children’s books. This is not possible in Libby.
If you use Overdrive’s “Wish list” function, stick with it for now. You can “tag” books in Libby, but you cannot import your Overdrive Wish list to Libby.
With Overdrive, you can stream videos from your library’s collection. You can also access checked-out material through your computer’s web browser. Neither feature is planned for Libby.
If you’d like to read more about Libby, you will find some helpful links at the bottom of this article. They include the official getting started guide, a great FAQ page, and an accessibility review.
I bet you will find Libby easy to set up, and a pleasure to use. Remember, if you get stuck, you can always come in to the Reference department for help. Enjoy!
By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department
We all have our own reasons to learn a new language: traveling and exploring new worlds, connecting with loved ones (or strangers) at home and in faraway places, exercising the untapped power of our brain, being able to watch foreign films without those pesky subtitles, and the list goes on. For some, learning a new language is not a luxury but a necessity for survival and connection in a new country. If your goal is fluency or simply mastering a sentence in Japanese for fun, Powerspeak Languages is a proven and powerful way to gain quick language proficiency.
What is it?
Powerspeak Languages is an online program that offers fluency through immersion. Rather than rote memorization or the dreaded flash card, Powerspeak uses pictures, audio, video, and interactive lessons and games for a deeper, more culturally authentic learning experience. Their aim is to transform you into a global citizen who truly understands the language in a cultural context.
Languages include: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean. English as a second language (ESL) is also available for Spanish and Mandarin speakers.
Other neat features:
Powerspeak allows you to choose how far you want to take your learning experience. You can begin with the regular activities and, if you want to take it to the next level, choose the More Practice feature to review what you’ve learned. The Dig Deeper feature helps you go above and beyond for maximum language proficiency.
Powerspeak combines both written material and audio samples to improve your reading and listening/speaking comprehension. For those of us who are visual learners, they also include photos of things like food, transportation, and places you’d actually encounter within the country.
Ok, that’s awesome. But is it free?
Of course! One of the barriers for all second language learners is the expense of classes and study materials. But through the library’s website, you can create your own online profile entirely for free! You can even create your own profile to keep track of your progress as you master your new language.
Why am I still reading this? I’ve got language learning to do!
And here’s how:
- Go to our Library’s homepage: http://lib.williamson-tn.org/
- To the left of the screen, click on eLibrary Digital and then Databases by Title
- Click on O – P and select Powerspeak Languages
- Your log-in will be your Williamson County Library card number
- Create an account and make sure to log in every time you use Powerspeak so it will keep track of your progress. (Click the “Returning User? Log in!” button on the top right hand of the home screen to log in after you’ve made your profile).
As always, please call 615-595-1243 with any questions.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Last year they asked me to make up a list for the New Year Reading Challenge. Apparently I did a good enough job that they’ve asked me to do it again. Last year I talked about all the benefits of reading. How it can help with empathy, stress, high blood pressure, and even reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These are all great and laudable reasons to read, but the main thing that I’d like to work on this year is fostering a love to read. According to a Gallup poll, between 1978 and 2014 the percentage of people in the United States that hadn’t picked up a book in a year or more close to tripled from 8% to 23% [i](and they even counted the audiobook listeners as readers). That it has tripled is bad enough, that it is nearing a full quarter of the population is startling.
The average number of books read per capita was 12 in 2015, but the voracious readers inflated that number a bit and the most common given response to a survey of readers when asked for the number of books they’d read in the last year was four[ii]. Four?… Four! How in the world am I supposed to make a book challenge list to attract the average person when they only read a book a season?
I realized that this blog is usually read by readers. We word hungry book people that push the average up to twelve books a year. This year I thought I’d make it both a little easier and a little harder. There are two less books this year, but the suggestions are more specific. If you can read two books a month, regardless of the themes below, great! But if you like to push yourself, try to keep up with the challenge and if you need help finding a book ask your local librarians for help. We’ve always got suggestions.
- It’s a new year, read something new. Pick a book that was published in the last 2 months.
- Renew your spirit for the New Year, read something that inspires you.
- It’s African American History Month. Read a book by an African American author.
- Read a book with a romantic theme or subplot, It doesn’t have to be a romance novel, just a little love will do.
- Award Season is wrapping up. Read a book that has won an award. 
- For Women’s History Month, read a book by a female author or with a female main character.
- Read a collection of poetry for national poetry month.
- Spring has arrived, read an article in a periodical about nature
- Free Comic Book Day is May 6th. Read a graphic novel, comic book or manga.
- Teacher Appreciation week is in May. Read a book that is required reading for school. 
- Get a book recommendation from a dad.
- Read a book about the outdoors, whether it’s a story, travel guide or field guide.
- July 4th celebrates independence, be free to read a book of your choice.
- Find a beach read, something fun and enjoyable, regardless of whether you are going to the beach.
- It’s hot in the south in august. Read something form a southern writer.
- Go back to school by reading a book you loved or were supposed to read in high school or college.
- Harvest time brings to mind great food, find a book about food or cooking that you might enjoy.
- Read a book that has been banned in September to celebrate Banned Books Week 9/29-10/6/18
- Read a book about something that scares you. It doesn’t have to be H.P. Lovecraft, just that you challenge your fears.
- Halloween means treats and sweets. Try a little brain candy. Read a book just for its entertainment value.
- Election season is close at hand. Read about the issues and the candidates.
- Find a book about someone, somewhere or something less fortunate to help you be thankful for what you have.
- Find a book that takes place in winter to match the weather outside.
- Add Jolabokaflod to your holiday calendar. Give books as gifts on December 24th and spend some time reading one.[iii]
-  Some links to great award sites are available here: http://www.bookspot.com/awards/
-  Here is a list of common Required reading books: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/high-school-required-reading
- [i] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/
- [ii] https://www.irisreading.com/how-many-books-does-the-average-person-read/
- [iii] Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of giving books as presents on Christmas Eve and reading as a family for the rest of the night.
By Stephen McClain, Reference Department
Looking for a new job can be either a frustrating experience or an exciting change. Many patrons use the library computers to access job applications or search for a new career. The reference staff is available to help those who are searching for jobs, but there are also many online resources that can answer simple questions and help with the application process. The Career Transitions website is a useful and powerful resource in helping to find a new career. To visit this website, go to www.wcpltn.org, move the mouse over eLibrary (on the left side of the page) and a drop down menu will appear. Click on Databases by Title and then select C-D. From there, click on Career Transitions, which is at the top. Here you can create an account that will save all of your information, but before doing that, it might be best to click on Take a tour of Career Transitions at the top right of the page.
Taking the tour will walk you through the processes of searching for jobs, writing a resume, writing a cover letter, tips and advice on interviewing, and also includes a simulated interview. If you are looking to start a new career and not sure what to look for, the next section provides an area to assess your career interests. After determining your interests and expertise, you can browse career paths and get an idea of what type of salary to expect with your particular experience and training.
Following this section, the tour continues with an area on discovering a new career. In this section, you can assess your career interests by taking a short survey. After deciding your areas of interest, you may browse career paths, salary and growth rates based on your selections or you can match your work experience to a new career.
Finally, there is an area to search for schools and programs within a specific geographic area. Simply type in a job or career title (such as Electrician), select the distance you wish to search with your zip code or state and click the green Search button. If there are any schools, programs or courses within the area that you selected, this should produce a list of those results.
- Many new job seekers, or those returning to the work force, have questions regarding resumes. On the Home page, click on Write a Resume. Here, you can write a professional resume by simply filling in data about yourself and your work experience. Before beginning to create a resume, it may be helpful to gather all of the necessary data, such as name and contact information regarding previous employers, education, and references. Start with your contact info. Type in your personal data and click save. If everything is correct, click the green “Go to next Section” button. Follow the steps and if at any time that you may have a question, click on “What Can I Do Here?” at the top right of the page. This area may answer many common questions regarding building a resume. There are also many helpful articles linked on this page in reference to writing a cover letter, uploading your resume to the web, and information on professional portfolios.
- Many job seekers ask whether or not they need a cover letter when applying for a job. If the job application does not specifically ask for a cover letter, odds are it is not a requirement. However, including a cover letter can only help your chances of being considered for the position. Click on “Write A Cover Letter” (next to “Write A Resume”). The process is very similar to that of writing a resume using the Career Transitions website. There is also a link to samples of cover letters if you need some help or ideas.
- The Interview Simulation tab is a great way to prepare for the experience of an actual job interview. Clicking on this tab will first give you an overview of the simulation. Once beginning, users will choose a profile based on the individual’s personal level of experience. Then you will learn about the fictitious “company,” the open position and your profile. Based on this information, you will be asked questions regarding the job opening and your experience. You can choose whether to listen to audio or read the questions. After the questions are presented, three possible responses are given. You, as the interviewee, are to choose the best and most appropriate response. After responding to all of the questions, the simulation interviewer decides whether or not to conduct a second interview and feedback is offered regarding your responses.
With these simple tools on the Career Transitions website, you can create professional resumes, cover letters, gain valuable interview experience and will soon be on your way to an exciting new career. Visit www.wcpltn.org to get started.
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 Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
WARNING! Dangerous, do not approach. If seen, call Santa immediately.
**The Rogues Gallery is the cast of colorful and numerous Recurring Characters that show up to torment the heroes week after week.**
Zwarte Piet, (aka. Black Pete)
Active Areas: Belgium, Netherlands
Bio: He was formerly a Moorish servant from Spain, or a Turkish orphan, or Ethiopian Slave rescued by Saint Nick and now attending Saint Nick as a helper
M.O.: A Prankster who might whip naughty children with birch wood rods or put coal in their shoes. However, those especially naughty he could stuff in his sack and carry them off to Spain.
Père Fouettard, (aka. “Father Whipper”)
Active Areas: France
Bio: This rouge’s chilling past involves his killing and cooking three wealthy children who stayed at his inn. Saint Nicolas ended up resurrecting the three children and bringing Fouettard to repentance. Fouettard then became St. Nick’s helper.
M.O.: For those untouched by the good will of St. Nicolas, Fouettard doles out whippings to children who misbehave.
Active Areas: Austria, Germany
Bio: Thought to be from a nature goddess who affects humans only during Christmas. She rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior.
M.O.: Good children might receive a silver piece in their shoes, while naughty children would receive something much, much worse. She would take out their insides by slitting open their bellies, and replace their entrails with garbage, straw and rocks which are sewn up to cause grievous pain. Oh for a mere lump of coal!
Active Areas: Alsace; Lorraine France
Bio: Trapp was supposedly a real man who was exiled into the forest where he would disguise himself as a straw-stuffed scarecrow and cannibalize children. He was struck down with lightening by the Lord.
M.O.: Trapp accompanies Santa to punish naughty children with beatings.
Active Areas: Iceland
Bio: She is a giant ogress who has powers that let her detect children who misbehave. Her favorite food is a stew of rebellious children.
M.O.: She is full of mischief and trouble, and likes to eat children who disobey their parents.
The Yule Cat
Active Areas: Iceland
Bio: The Yule Cat is ogress Gryla’s pet. And she is likewise dangerous and threatening.
M.O.: The Yule Cat encourages hard work. Children who do not work hard and are lazy will be eaten by the Yule Cat.
Active Areas: Germany
Bio: Belsnickel is from the word belzen meaning “to wallop,” along with nickel referring to St. Nicholas.
M.O.: He is a wandering man dressed in tattered furs wearing a mask and carrying a switch to frighten children into good behavior. He rewards good behavior with candy.
Active Areas: Found especially throughout the Alpine region and including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia
Bio: The half goat, half demon appearance of Krampus seems most likely to have grown out of early Alpine traditions related to the Horned God of the Witches of the region. Krampus eventually becomes a “side kick” of St. Nicholas in a rogue sort of way.
M.O.: He especially punishes unruly children with birch switches. But for really bad children Krampus might put them in a basket, drown them in a stream, and then devour them.