By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
With the year coming to a close, I’m going to share some of my favorite books of 2017 with you. I typically read all kinds of books, so there should be something for everyone on this list. Keep in mind that this is all subjective, though, and that I certainly haven’t read even close to all the books released this year. Another librarian might have some better recommendations for you, and I can promise you that he or she would be thrilled for you to come in and ask his or her personal favorites. So without further ado, I present Katy’s Best Books of 2017:
Let’s start with what I’d say is the best young adult book I’ve read all year. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who witnessed the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Soon afterward, Khalil’s name is a national headline, and all anyone wants to know is what really happened that night. But the only one alive who can answer that is Starr, and what she does or does not say could endanger her life. This book is FANTASTIC, and that’s not a word I use lightly, much less in all caps. It’s well-written and emotionally-charged and funny and so important.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is a tender, emotive family saga that I did not want to end. Instead of flying through it like I usually do with books I love, I read this book slowly, relishing each sentence and savoring the relationships between Rosie, Penn, and their five children. When Rosie and Penn and their four boys welcome the newest member of their family, no one is surprised it’s another baby boy. At least their large, loving, chaotic family knows what to expect, but Claude is not like his brothers. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl. Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world, and soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.
I have to admit that my interest in Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns is heavily biased by the fact that I had the chance to actually see Surtsey, a tiny new island off the coast of Iceland, this past summer. I only saw it from a distance because Surtsey is closed to the public in order to provide scientists with the opportunity to study how life takes hold in a sterile environment. Like the author, my family was visiting Heimey when we took a taxi to another part of the island, and the driver pointed out Surtsey to us, telling us how he watched its creation via volcanic eruption as a boy in 1963. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when this book came out, and I’m thrilled to recommend it to you today as it is an outstanding title for budding scientists, young biology and geology enthusiasts, or those traveling to Iceland who are looking for interesting facts about the country.
From the author of The Day the Crayons Quit (And come on, who doesn’t love that book?) comes The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt, a rollicking and ridiculous picture book about how the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors began. This book is loud and absurd and hilarious, and it demands a full-on performance.
Everyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love a good dark, disturbing read. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson perfectly filled that gap for me. Mary B. Addison allegedly killed a baby when she was nine years old. She doesn’t say as much, but the media filled in everything people needed to know. There wasn’t a point in setting the record straight before, but now Mary has Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home, and their unborn child to think about. In order to find her voice, Mary must confront the person she distrusts the most: her Momma. Like I mentioned earlier, this book is dark, gritty, and disturbing, and it’s not for everyone. However, it blew. Me. Away. I started reading it during my lunch break one day, and it pained me so much to put it down that I read until I finished it as soon as I got home.
I’m not usually a big fan of holiday books, but A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E. Furman was so good that it instantly made my “Best Books” list. This book takes you across the globe, from the Philippines to Malawi, to see all the treats that await Santa on Christmas Eve, and it even includes recipes to make some of the treats you encounter. (The pineapple macadamia bars from Hawaii were a big hit with my family at Thanksgiving!) With interesting Christmas factoids about each country and vibrant illustrations, this book is sure to fill the whole family with holiday cheer!
The newest book by the author of the award-winning Roller Girl, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson is another graphic novel that accurately depicts the trials and tribulations of fitting in when you’re eleven. Impy has grown up with two parents who work at a Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to start her training as a squire. First, she’ll have to prove her bravery, and she knows just how to do this: go to public school after being homeschooled all her life. Impy thought she had middle school figured out, but as it turns out, it’s not easy making friends or fitting in. She’s always thought of herself as a brave knight, but could she really be a dragon instead? I love how thoroughly Renaissance Faire culture is woven into the story, complete with illuminated manuscript-style chapter headers and language like “Methinks she plans on throwing you in the stocks!”
When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano is the birthday book of all birthday books. As I read it, I could vividly imagine a breathless young child excitedly chanting beside me, “When’s my birthday? When’s my birthday? How many days until my birthday? Will my birthday be on Tuesday? Will my birthday be tomorrow? Will my birthday be in winter?” This book is absolutely adorable, and it will definitely be loved by readers of all ages.
If you’ve read the popular, empowering Dumplin’, you probably couldn’t wait to get your hands on the author’s latest work, Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. And honestly, I think it’s even better than Dumplin’. Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home. Now a 6’3” teen, she lives in a dilapidated FEMA trailer with her well-meaning but ineffectual dad, her pregnant sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. She had some money saved up to get herself out of there after graduation, but when her sister got pregnant, she felt the weight of responsibility more than ever and knew she would have to put her plans on hold. But then Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie returns to town, and her life gets even more complicated. I know this story sounds like it’s depressing and that you may not find much appeal in what appears to be a story about a kid in poverty who’s unable to escape, but I just have to say that you would be so very wrong. With tons of small-town hijinks, swoon-worthy romance, and plenty of diversity, this book is a lot of fun!
I just had to snatch Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (or A.S. King), who is another of my favorite young adult authors, when I saw she had written a middle grade novel. Obe Devlin is having a hard time. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers, his best friend abandoned him for the development kids, and he keeps getting nosebleeds from that thing he won’t talk about. So Obe hangs out by the creek near his home, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks. One day, he notices an animal he’s never seen before, an animal that only eats plastic that could very well change everything. This is a sweet coming-of-age story that tackles big topics such as bullying, alcoholism, and environmentalism without feeling heavy handed, out of place, or age inappropriate.
Remember how I mentioned that I like disturbing books? Here’s another that isn’t for the faint of heart. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed is a bit of a cross between The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Never Let Me Go. Years ago, the ancestors escaped the ravaged Wastelands to colonize a small island and start a new society. They wrote Our Book to outline the strict hierarchy and structure that would dictate their lives, and their descendants still follow those rules. Life in this society can be difficult, especially for girls, so the children are given a taste of freedom in the summer, allowed to live wildly until they return home in the fall. But at the end of one summer, Caitlin Jacob sees something so shocking that she must share it with the other girls. This book is horrifyingly creepy and hauntingly compelling. The more I read, the creepier it got, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page.
So maybe I’m a little biased when I recommend We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, but LaCour is one of my favorite young adult authors. It’s a quiet story about Marin and Mabel, two best friends who haven’t spoken since the day Marin left her old life in San Francisco for college in New York. Something happened to Marin in the final weeks of summer, something that left her broken, alone, and unable to face anyone. But now Mabel is coming to her, and Marin must come to terms with what happened whether she wants to or not. Marin’s grief and loneliness is palpable in this beautiful, poetic story about love and loss. Nina LaCour’s writing is spectacular, pulling you into each page and forcing you to feel everything Marin feels.
If you’ve ever been afraid when faced with a new adventure, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall will surely tug on your heartstrings. Jabari has finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and today’s the day he’s finally ready to jump off the diving board. “Looks easy,” he says as he watches the other kids jump, but when his dad encouragingly squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. This book is a tender portrayal of a determined little boy and a patient, emotionally attentive father that’s perfect for sharing with children of all ages.
I was on a speculative fiction kick earlier this year, during which time I blew through American War by Omar El Akkad. Sarat Chestnut is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074, but even she knows that oil is outlawed, that her home state of Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drone bombers fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for refugees, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, who turns her into a deadly instrument of war. Chilling and thought-provoking, this is another book I couldn’t stand to put down, and it’s easily my favorite fiction book of the year.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
What can you think of that is better than hearing a mellifluous voice (if you have children attending Williamson County Schools, that voice belongs to none other than the fabulous Carol Birdsong, WCS Communications Director, who may well be the most beloved woman in this county) leave a message on your machine, informing you that there will be no school? The answer is: not much, if you are a student or a teacher, and you have just learned that you get an unscheduled little break from your school day routine. Maybe not so much if you still have to go to work and/or find someone to watch your kids. Of course, you don’t have to wait for actual inclement weather to hit before reading some delightful books about snow. Here is a list, in my usual no-particular-order style to get you started.
From the inside jacket flap of The Snowy Day (J E Keats) by Ezra Jack Keats: “No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day, winner of the (1962) Caldecott Medal. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.” Darling Reader, I fully agree. This sweet, whimsically-illustrated story is indisputably a classic.
Nobody thinks that a few flakes will amount to anything—not the Man With the Hat, the Lady With the Umbrella, not even the weather forecasters on the radio and television. But one boy and his little dog believe that it will stack up into a spectacular snowfall, and they are the only ones who know how to truly enjoy the experience in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow (J E Shulevitz). It is a beautiful depiction of the transformation of a city by snowfall, richly rendered in watercolor and pen-and-ink.
Darling Reader, Matthew Cordell’s Wolf In The Snow (J E Cordell) nearly brings me to tears every time I read it. The story is essentially wordless, save for a few barks and howls, but the metaphor of trust and friendship between a little girl and a wolf pup who find themselves lost in the same blizzard shines through via the beautiful illustrations, without the need for words.
Lois Ehlert’s Snowballs (J E Ehlert) is in her signature collage style, and details the anticipation of a perfect snowball day for which the narrator has been saving “good stuff in a sack” in order to create an awesome Snow Family in their yard. Alas, just like a good book, snow creations don’t last forever.
Another Caldecott Medal winner makes an appearance on my personal list of snow day favorites: Owl Moon (J E Yolen) by Jane Yolen. Beautiful prose and intricate illustrations by John Schoenherr, including many not-so-hidden critters combine to make this book a timeless classic. Yolen said in an interview that Owl Moon was a particular pleasure for her to create, as her beloved late husband David Stemple frequently took their three children owling on winter nights near their rural Massachusetts home “with the same anticipation and excitement as the characters in the story.”
As is often the way of things, I’ve saved my favorite for last. I have loved Frederick (J E Lionni) by Leo Lionni from the very first time I read it in 1976, when I was a precocious little bookworm of a first grader. At first glance, it appears that Frederick is totally slacking off while the other little mice hustle to prepare for the coming winter (for you Game Of Thrones enthusiasts: Winter Is Coming.) However, Frederick was working in his own inimitable way, gathering sun rays, colors, and words, with which to feed the spirits of his family members during those cold, dark winter days and nights.
So, there you have it, Darling Reader. May your holiday season and your new year be filled with love, laughter, friendship, happiness, and family . . . and with good books.
As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog belong to the author alone, and are in no way representative of WCPL employees, their family, or their pet mice. Blessings upon you all, Darling Readers.
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
November is Native American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than to read a book! Here are 20 great titles by Native American authors available here at WCPL:
My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith (J E SMITH)
What brings you happiness? This warm, joyful board book celebrates family and heritage, and serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to cherish the moments in life that brings us happiness.
Little You by Richard Van Camp (J E VAN CAMP)
With gentle rhymes and simple illustrations, this board book is a tender celebration of the potential of all children, sure to resonate with readers of all ages.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie (J E ALEXIE)
Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. Just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name sure to light up the sky.
Wild Berries by Julie Flett (J E FLETT)
Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother in this quiet, rhythmic story written in both English and Swampy Cree dialect.
The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo (J E HAR)
Some cats are good luck. You pet them and good things happen. Woogie is one of those cats. But as Woogie gets into one mishap after another, everyone starts to worry. Can a good luck cat’s good luck run out?
Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk (J E KIRK)
John Cloud’s father is in New York City, far away from their Mohawk Reservation, building sky scrapers. One day, Mama takes John to New York City and he sees his Papa high on a beam, building the Empire State Building.
When We Were Alone by David Robertson (J E ROBERTSON)
When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (J E SMITH)
Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared by generations of women in her family, and she hopes to dance at the next powwow. But she has a problem: how will her dress sing if it has no jingles?
SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (J E WAB)
Two Ojibway sisters set off into the winter night to see the SkySpirits’ midnight dance. After an exhilarating walk and patient waiting, the girls are rewarded by the arrival of the SkySpirits—the Northern Lights—dancing and shimmering in the night sky.
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac (J F BRU)
Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? There’s one thing Molly does know: she needs to find some answers before it’s too late.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (J F ERD)
Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. With The Birchbark House, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, seven-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by James Marshall III (J F MARSHALL)
When Jimmy McClean embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson (J F ROBERTSON)
Hiawatha, a Mohawk, is plotting revenge for the murder of his wife and daughters by the evil Onondaga Chief when he meets the Great Peacemaker, who enlists his help in bringing the nations together to share his vision of a new way of life marked by peace, love, and unity rather than war, hate, and fear.
Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (J F SMI)
What do Indian shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins or hightops with bright orange shoelaces? Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes, like the time they are forced to get creative after a homemade haircut makes Ray’s head look like a lawn-mowing accident.
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle (J F TINGLE)
A Choctaw boy tells the story of his tribe’s removal from the only land his people had ever known, and how their journey to Oklahoma led him to become a ghost with the ability to help those he left behind.
Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache by Greg Rodgers (J 398.20897 ROD)
Deep in Choctaw Country, Chukfi Rabbit is always figuring out some way to avoid work at all costs. When Bear, Turtle, Fox, and Beaver agree on an everybody-work-together day to build Ms. Possum a new house, Chukfi Rabbit says he’s too busy to help, but this greedy trickster will soon learn that being this lazy is hard work.
Trickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki (J 741.5973 TRI)
In the first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, twenty four Native storytellers were paired with twenty four comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac (J 796 BRU)
In 1999 the U.S. Congress recognized Jim Thorpe as “Athlete of the Century,” a marvelous achievement for anyone, let alone a Native American kid born in a log cabin. In this picture-book biography, readers learn about how his boyhood education set the stage for his athletic achievements.
Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness to Light by Tim Tingle (J 973.0497 TIN)
Spanning fifty years, Saltypie describes the problems encountered by the author’s Choctaw grandmother—from her orphan days at an Indian boarding school to hardships encountered in her new home on the Gulf Coast.
Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story by S.D. Nelson (J 92 HAYES)
This biography tells the story of Ira Hayes, a shy, humble Pima Indian who fought in World War II as a Marine and was one of six soldiers to raise the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima, an event immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph.
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 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 Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Originally decreed as Black Music Month by then-president Jimmy Carter in June 1979, the designation was changed in 2009 to African-American Music Appreciation Month. In his 2016 proclamation, former president Barack Obama stated that African-American music and musicians have helped our country “ . . . to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Hence, I bring to you in no particular order, a great selection of books from Williamson County Public Library Children’s Department celebrating “Lady Day’s” soaring vocals, the Motown Sound, Bob Marley’s plaintive ballads, Jimi Hendrix’s groundbreaking guitar playing, and much more.
First on the list for today’s magical musical journey is Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through The Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney (J 781.6440 PIN) “You ready, child? Let’s go.” Thus begins this beautifully written account of young performers who were catalysts for change in American music, and along with it, a cultural revolution. The 1960s were exciting and often turbulent times. For Berry Gordy, the man who has been largely credited with creating what would come to be known as “the Motown Sound,” it all started with an $800 loan and a vision of greatness. The year was 1959, and Gordy was on the brink of something amazing, something that would have far-reaching influence on music for decades to come. Drawing upon the talents of his family and local performers, Gordy created a record label for black musicians such as Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, and Diana Ross, just to name a few. The rest, as they say, is history.
Next up on the recommended reading list for African-American Music Appreciation Month is Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J 92 HENDRIX). A stylishly written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented James Marshall Hendrix, known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earth at the way-too-soon age of 27. His legacy lives on decades later, and his groundbreaking music continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.
Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216 GOL). At the time of her death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, Billie Holiday (nee Eleanora Fagan) was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time. Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the American civil rights movement.
No reading list about African-American music would be complete without mention of the excellent books about black musicians in the “Who Is/Who Was?” series, which features titles such as Who was Bob Marley? (J 92 MAR), Who Was Louis Armstrong? (J 92 ARM), Who Was Stevie Wonder? (J 92 WON), and Who Was Michael Jackson? (J 92 JAC). The books in this series feature whimsical illustrations and side notes about the subject, and are so much fun to read . Check ‘em out! (OK, that’s my one and only pun for this blog, I swear.)
Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (J 788.9316 AND) is a delightful, picturesque story of how a talented young boy from New Orleans didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have the dream to play music. Plucked from a crowd by none other than the legendary Bo Diddley and allowed to play his trombone on stage, he was then inspired to form his own band. Today, Andrews is a frequent performer at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the place where he got his first break.
Last but not least on my list of recommendations is Bob Marley: The Life Of A Musical Legend by Gary Jeffrey (J 92 MARLEY). Part biography, part graphic novel, this very cool book celebrates famed Jamaican musician Bob Marley. His body ravaged by cancer, Marley departed this earthly realm at the young age of 36, but his music and his message of peace continues to inspire people all over the world.