Ok, I’ll admit it: I love Halloween but I’m not the biggest fan of scary things. You won’t catch me at a movie theater watching the latest film from the Halloween franchise or reading IT by Stephen King. I tend to focus on the lighter side of the season. Yet, when I was browsing through some of the oversized books that live upstairs at the Miller Branch, I stopped at a bright teal atlas filled to the brim with whimsical illustrations and trips around our world. However, instead of historic sites and tourist destinations, this atlas is filled with MONSTERS and GHOSTS!
Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts by Federica Magrin, with immensely detailed illustrations by Larua Brenlla, takes readers on a ghastly trip to hunt down the most fearsome creatures known to humanity. Each continent is covered throughout the pages, highlighting monsters and ghosts with cultural significance. I’m sure most of us already know of Bigfoot, King Kong, and the Boogeyman through classic stories and tales. But have you heard of the Smok Wawelski from Poland, a fearsome dragon from the cave at the foot of Wawel Hill? Or Krasue, the spirit from Thailand with the floating head who feeds on anything in her sights? These monsters and spirits are not only highlighted, but their stories are tied in with learning about each country’s tales and fables. One particular feature of the atlas that I enjoyed was that it gave special sections to the monsters and spirits of Greek Mythology and the ones from Japanese folktales, both of which have been spotlighted in various other stories, movies, and video games.
One fair warning for all my budding Monster Hunters: some of these stories, no matter your age, are not for the faint of heart despite its art style and its publisher, Lonely Planet Kids. Nevertheless, it was an interesting, spooktacular read, one that may send a chill up your spine, but which will definitely teach you something new along the way. What I learned is to not visit the places where these creatures have been spotted! I think I’ll opt for a warm beach instead.
As we approach the quiet season of winter and start 2021, cozy reads will definitely be on the top of my list to recover from such an unprecedented year. You may recognize the typical books that are categorized as cozy from our adult fiction collection: fun mysteries filled with humor and intrigue, romances that capture the hearts of fans around the world, and hopeful, literary tales that keep readers optimistic. But did you know that you can find some of the best cozy reads in our graphic novel collection?
Yes, you read right! Graphic novels, which include Japanese manga and traditional comic books, are as diverse as our fiction and nonfiction collections. While their beginnings stem from comic strips in newspapers and classic superhero tales, graphic novels have expanded to include a plethora of plots that readers of all ages can enjoy. In fact, while I will always enjoy a traditional novel, I happen to be a long-time graphic novel fan.
I am excited to share some of my favorite cozy choices that will leave you smiling well after the last page:
Note: In regards to all of my series picks, my reviews are for Volume 1 only.
I find myself always missing autumn and Halloween right after they have ended! If you feel the same, then you will revel in the crisp, fall nights depicted in Pumpkinheads. You may recognize Rainbow Rowell of young adult fame with novels like Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, and I can see why she is one of the most critically acclaimed authors. Two teenagers have seasonal jobs at one of the best pumpkin patches in the country, and every Halloween they come together to revel in the best of the season. Yet, this year is different: they’re seniors in high school and getting ready to go to college next fall. What if they make their last shift an adventure they’ll never forget? With gorgeous illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for every reader who loves pumpkin patches, hayrides, apples and, of course, the crisp air of Halloween.
Keeping with the Halloween theme, I had to choose Flying Witch to be on this list. Unlike the fantastical nature of Harry Potter or the ghoulish vibes of the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus, Flying Witch evisions witches as….well, normal people, with some exceptions. Makoto Kowata is a witch-in-training who travels to Aomori, Japan to stay with her cousin and his family. A bit forgetful but also amazingly kind, Makoto navigates the new town, a relaxed lifestyle, as well as learns how to be an independent witch in the most comedic ways possible. Despite my earlier mention of Halloween, Flying Witch can be read at any time of the year since all four seasons are featured in the story. Be prepared for a fun, gentle read with a dose of magic thrown in.
Like much of the media I discover, I happened to learn of Mari Andrew and her beautiful work on Instagram. Her combination of reflections, color, and unique calligraphy drew me in immediately. When she released Am I There Yet, her work effortlessly transferred from my screen to the page. Her majestic use of words and illustrations provided me with a sense of calm and were immensely relatable to my current stage of life. While her words are very uplifting, Mari also tackles harsh realities while softening the blow with poignant moments of humor and happiness.
Traditionally, manga is characterized by magical beings, action-packed fights, and occasional monsters. However, Emma is uniquely placed in Victorian England. Kaoru takes readers on an intricate journey of forbidden romance between an intelligent but quiet maid and an up-and-coming aristocrat. While many stories begin in a similar fashion, what I enjoyed about Emma was the fascinating use of manga art to tell the story, along with the slow burn of the budding romance. If you have ever wanted to read a manga series but you are unsure of where to start, Emma would be an excellent choice for you!
In the medieval town of Eiteriach, its citizens have grown weary of the continual, basic menu. While fulfilling, it leaves something to be desired. Enter Nobu, a mysterious pub that appears almost magically one day. It becomes the talk of the town, known for its unique cuisine and the warmth of its staff. But can it persuade even the toughest customers? This was one of my favorite reads of the year. Natsuya does an excellent job drawing out the flavors of the cuisine with her art. Coupled with its low-key, heartwarming story, Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu will leave you hungry for the meals but also for the rest of the series.
A story of an unlikely childhood friendship takes plenty of unexpected turns in Jen Wang’s Stargazing. I was fully engaged with the story of Christine and Moon, two girls on the verge of becoming teenagers with different backgrounds and personalities. Heartwarming and beautiful, this graphic novel has just the right amount of topics that can relate to all ages: cultural differences, friendship, health, and even small crushes. The best part of Stargazing is that it is a perfect book for adults to read with their children and discuss afterwards. The blossoming friendship alone is enough to cozy up to this colorful read.
I tend to lean towards slice-of-life graphic novels as opposed to fantasy, but Snow White with the Red Hair is a welcome exception to my rule. For fans of the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this series is nothing like the princess we have come to know in our childhood. Shirayuki (“Snow White” in Japanese) is a cheerful, red-haired girl living in the countryside of Tanbarun. Her red hair is so unique in the land that the prince of Tanbarun, Prince Raji, tries to force her to become his concubine. Refusing a life of serving a prince, she cuts her hair and runs away to the forest in search of a new, independent life. With many more twists and turns, this series is a treat for readers who enjoy light fantasy with a touch of female empowerment.
We could all use a little comedy every now and then, especially during these turbulent times. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City fame brings the weird, hilarious view of our bags in Carry this Book. Part faux exposé, part examination of our everyday objects, this book contains the real and imagined objects inside the bags and storage of our icons. Ever wondered what’s in Michelle Obama’s clutch or Harry Potter’s duffel bag? Well, here you go. I struggled with putting this book on the list since it is technically an art book, not a graphic novel. However, I thought it was so creatively put together, and provides stories on fictional characters as well. Abbi does a fantastic job at creating a book that gives such an intimate view of imagination, and how the things we carry everyday may share a deeper look into our personalities than we thought.
Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her organization tips and tricks from her published books on the KonMari method as well as her Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. So it would seem natural that she would take her methods to a narrative level with her manga book. Chiaki, a young woman in Tokyo, struggles with a lack of direction with her clutter and personal life. Through a series of lessons, Marie Kondo takes her on a magical journey of cleaning up her home and getting her life in order. I absolutely loved that this book was not only an engaging read for readers who love manga, but it also provided some major organization pointers and tricks and offered a quick introduction to the KonMari method. Double points for an engaging story and organization assistance!
To round out the list of cozy graphic novel reads, I want to end on a hopeful note. Journeys begin with hard work and that is how Akiko Higashimura’s story began in high school. Writer and artist of Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Akiko provides a look into her teenage beginnings of becoming a popular mangaka. So when she signs up for an art class expecting an easy path to stardom, she is rudely surprised by her militant art instructor who expects perfection out of his students. Nevertheless, this art instructor’s weird style of motivation may be the key to Akiko’s art dreams. While this series is meant for teens, I think adults would enjoy this trip down Akiko’s memory lane. Too often, we reach adulthood and forget the dreams and goals we had in our childhood and teenage years. Blank Canvas explores the feelings of invincibility we have as teens while also providing a dose of realism towards reaching goals that seem insurmountable.
Readers of all ages can find some cozy joy with these picks from our graphic novel collection! All titles are available here at Howard County Library System, so request one today and try something new to start this new year!
Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for almost five years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.
Mark your calendars on October 12th! Beginning this year, Howard County will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On WJZ-13 CBS, County Executive Calvin Ball released a statement on the decision. “Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not absolve us from our history, but we hope that it sets a tone and opens up discussions on the importance of restorative practices throughout our government and our community.”
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an exciting opportunity to explore the incredible history and culture of Indigenous communities that have often been underrepresented in our celebrations. Of course, what better way to observe this holiday than to curl up with a new book? I know I will! Here are ten books for you and your family to read and learn about Indigenous culture by authors of Indigenous descent:
Do you know what fry bread is? This colorful and touching picture book by Maillard answers this question and provides a kinship to the Native tradition of communal food preparation. In addition, Maillard provides a personal background to the narrative as he is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Coupled with the illuminating illustrations by Martinez-Neal, children and adults will enjoy reading Fry Bread together.
“Water is the first medicine, It affects and connects us all…” Earth is made up of 71% of water and it provides its inhabitants with nourishment and hydration. What would you do to protect it? Inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, We Are Water Protectors is an incredibly accessible picture book for children to learn more about water and its importance to the health of the Earth. Lindstrom provides readers with a piece of her culture, as she is Anishinabe/Metis and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. She also calls Maryland her home!
With her debut middle grade novel, Day tells the semi-autobiographical story of a 12-year-old girl’s search for her true identity. Adopted at a young age by a white couple, Edie has always been curious about her Native American heritage. When she and her friends find a box of letters and photos of a woman who shares her name, Edie begins to question her parents and the secrets they kept from her. Powerful and important, Day weaves a storyline together that draws from her own Native heritage as an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe. I am very excited about this novel and will be adding it to my reading list.
Straight from our 2020 Summer Reading list, Indian No More tells the heartbreaking story of 8-year-old Regina and the erasure of her Native American identity. It’s 1954 and her family is told all tribes in their state of Oregon no longer exist. Much like the other selections on the list so far, this novel is based on McManus’s own experiences when her tribe, the Umpqua, was terminated in 1954. Sadly, McManus passed away in 2018, unable to complete the revisions to her novel. Her friend and fellow author, Traci Sorell, completed the revisions as she wished.
Told from the perspective of young Native American/Indigenous women, #NotYourPrincess weaves together a traditional narrative with artwork, poetry, photography, and interviews to present a well-rounded depiction of issues affect Indigenous communities. While parts of the stories can be tough to read, this anthology is a great conversation starter for teens, especially young women, who could relate to the issues depicted in these stories.
Imagine a dystopian world where a majority of the world’s inhabitants have lost the ability to dream. Set in the future, The Marrow Thieves tells of a world such as this and how the lack of dreams has caused intense madness among society. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous communities. Their bone marrow is the cure for all mankind for the world to return to prosperity, but this means the certain death of the marrow holders. This sets the stage for Frenchie – a 15-year-old Indigenous teen, trying his best to survive, protect his companions, and flee from “recruiters” who hope to steal his marrow. Written by Canadian writer Cherie Dimaline, who is a member of the Georgian Bay Metis Community, The Marrow Thieves is an action-packed novel for fans of dystopian societies. It also packs a moral punch as to how we, as a society, view Indigenous communities and resources.
As if to speak entirely from its title, Surviving the City is based in an urban environment in Canada, where readers are introduced to Miikwan and Dez. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inniew. They are best friends trying their best to navigate the normal struggles that come with being teens as well as being faced with the challenges of being a part of a small, Indigenous minority in an urban landscape. When Dez’s grandmother falls ill and is unable to take care of Dez anymore, Dez is faced with the possibility of going into a group home. Unable to deal with that solution, Dez leaves home and disappears. Will Dez’s community find her before it’s too late? Tasha Spillett’s debut graphic novel series at first seems simple in telling Dez’s mysterious disappearance, but it also sets the tone for providing information about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
A Girl Called Echoby Katherena Vermette, Illustrations by Scott B. Henderson, colored by Donovan Yaciuk
Time travel fans will enjoy the story of Echo Desjardins, a 13-year-old Metis girl adjusting to a new home and school, separated from her mother. During one of her first lectures with a new teacher, Echo transports to the past in several different environments: a fur-trade route, the Pemmican Wars, and a bison hunt, to name a few. Selected for our 2020 Summer Reading list, teens and adults alike will enjoy this refreshing take on Indigenous history, written by Katherena Vermette, a Metis Canadian author.
An instant hit upon its release, Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange provides readers with an intense narrative of the urban Native American. This novel follows the journeys of 12 characters from Native communities, all en route to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each character has endured their own unique struggles, and the interwoven narratives provide a larger, deeper story of the contemporary Native American struggle while grappling with a painful history. A very popular book club choice, There There will definitely provide some complex conversation and will pique your interest in Indigenous history.
I thought I would end with a recent release from this year. Highly acclaimed author Louise Erdrich writes a fictionalized version of her grandfather’s life as a night watchman in the 1950’s. Set on her family’s home reservation (in what is now North Dakota), night watchman Thomas Wazhashk is a Chippewa Council member who is grappling with the new “emancipation” bill proposed by U.S. Congress. Despite “emancipation” as a synonym for freedom in previous events, this bill presents the term more like a “termination” of Native American culture, land, and identity. His story is coupled with that of Patrice Paranteau, a young adult who makes jewel barrings at the plant and is saving to search for her sister, Vera. Poverty, violence, exploitation: Louise Erdrich combines these intense themes and crafts a novel based on her Ojibwe roots and current Anishinaabe membership. I am definitely adding The Night Watchman to my to-read list.
No matter what age, we can all celebrate Indigenous voices this year and for many years to come on Indigenous Peoples Day. I hope there are some selections you will explore this fall, and all are available at HCLS! Add these books to your holds queue and enjoy these amazing stories.
Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is here! What better to celebrate than to read a novel amplifying amazing authors? In honor of recognizing Hispanic stories this month as well as year-round, I highly suggest a harrowing novel I read recently. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras tells the journey of the Santiagos and their lifelong connection with their maid, Petrona Sanchez. Set in Colombia at the height of the Pablo Escobar-era of its history, this novel is loosely based on Contreras’ life. Knowing this fact only further intensified the emotions I felt as I experienced this story.
Told from the perspectives of Chula Santiago, the youngest daughter of the Santiago family, and Petrona Sanchez, Fruit of the Drunken Tree begins with a photograph, one that asks many questions but provides many answers. Yet, to know the extent of the photo, Chula takes readers to the past, to her privileged life exploring her gated community with her sister Cassandra, to the experience of having a new maid arrive at their home. Chula’s persistence at forging a friendship with Petrona provides an ongoing struggle that she faces for much of the novel. With the backdrop of ongoing violence, kidnappings, and drug trafficking, Chula explores these situations with curiosity, confusion, and occasional fear, while Petrona spends much of her life experiencing it firsthand. Slowly, readers begin to wonder who the real enemy is, as most Colombians in the novel are unsure themselves.
Ultimately, the intimate moments of prose that Contreras provides hooked me in, and I found myself afraid for these characters and their outcome. There are several moments that left me uncomfortable and were tough to read. Nevertheless, Fruit of the Drunken Tree is beautifully written and told with such detail that enhanced my learning about Colombia during this intense time period.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras is available now at HCLS in print and ebook formats. Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15! Visit hclibrary.org and explore our catalog for more materials celebrating Hispanic culture and heritage.
Claudia J. has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.
I glanced over at my pile of “to be read” books and picked up Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob. I checked the book out long before the coronavirus pandemic kept us in and images of systemic racism made their way out. In a time when I was feeling particularly hopeless, with all of the events toppling onto each other, Good Talk provided a much needed respite from the day-to-day.
Told from the perspective of Jacob herself in discussion with her young son, she answers the many questions he has about race, his culture, and his family. In doing so, she bares the nation’s truth: that we as Americans are imperfect and have a lot of work to do.
Thank you, Mira. Thank you for your beautiful, vulnerable, and at times uncomfortable account of your life as an imperfect American, as an Indian woman, but also as a human existing in our incredibly fallible nation. How were you able to make me feel so many emotions at simultaneous levels? How did you speak so honestly about colorism and pages later talk about the complicated relationship between Black and Brown people? How did you encompass the pain of watching a sibling, whom of course you’re happy for, find true love, but also just a short section away, haunt me with your memories of a paper city?
The illustrative design, the words, the soft voice I heard as I read, said, “It’s okay, I know this struggle too.” Reading this felt like the meditation we all need right now. Good Talk is not only one of my favorite graphic novels of all time, but it is one of the books that should be required reading. Mira, thank you again.
Available in print at HCLS as well as in ebook and eaudio through OverDrive/Libby.
Claudia J. has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.
For the ancestors, a long long line of you bending and twisting
Bending and twisting.
Memory has a way of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, making it hard to decipher the truth. It is joyous, painful, and strange all at the same time. Jacqueline Woodson hits at each of those emotions in her latest novel Red at the Bone. She opens her novel at a coming-of-age party for 16-year-old Melody, taking place in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Her custom-made dress, full of symbolism and pride – fit for a blossoming woman, was originally meant for her mother, Iris, 16 years earlier. From this fact spirals a series of memories, told from the perspectives of Melody, her parents, and her grandparents at different points in their interesting lives.
Through these memories, Woodson peels away layers of trauma and triumph of this Brooklyn family. By doing so, she relates her story to the millions of black and brown families experiencing similar burdens. The burden of love. The burden of neighborhoods changing. The burden of your goals vs. the goals set for you. Woodson weaves these characters through themes of identity, sexuality, ambition, pride, and purpose. But, most of all, it tells the story of parenthood and how expectation fights reality in bending and twistingways.
Red at the Bone is lyrical, reflective, and insightful; a poetic tale of a family that continues to bend and twist its way through life. At a time of reflection and healing, Red at the Bone is a great read to get us through a time of significant change. I truly loved this book and I think you will too.
I will admit: at first, I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks. I prided myself on reading novels and turning the last page always seemed like a big accomplishment. However, on a whim a few years ago, I decided to listen to Shonda Rhimes’ self-help autobiography Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person. The experience of listening to Rhimes’s story from her own voice fueled my love of listening to audiobooks.
If you’re like me, you may have started listening to audiobooks while commuting. A recent survey conducted for the Audio Publishers Association reported that 74% of consumers listen to audiobooks while driving. This makes sense, considering the number of drivers with long commutes. But what happens when work is moved online with no commute? Well, listening at home can provide a welcome addition to your daily activities during these challenging times. Here are a few ideas to help get you started:
Working from Home: Transitioning to remote working and learning can be extremely difficult for anyone, from first-timers to even the most experienced. Instead of turning on the television and getting easily distracted, audiobooks help me stay engaged with my work while having something entertaining to listen to.
My genre suggestion: literary fiction, humor
Exercising: With many gyms closed around the country, what a great time to change up your exercise routine and add audiobooks into the mix! In order to stretch my legs, I like to listen to novels while I take walks through the neighborhood. You may even find yourself taking longer walks because your audiobook is so exciting.
My genre suggestion: thrillers, inspiring non-fiction
Playing Video Games: After working, I always love to unwind by playing a relaxing video game on the computer. A recent joy of mine has been listening to an audiobook during gameplay. Sometimes, the in-game sounds and music can be a bit overstimulating, so listening to an audiobook makes for great background enjoyment.
My genre suggestion: science fiction
Puzzling: Never in my life have I seen so many people enjoying puzzles! Life at home has made many fans of puzzles and the more complicated, the better! Playing an audiobook may increase your concentration and will make finding the last piece all the more satisfying.
My genre suggestion: classic mysteries
Gardening: What better way to enjoy an audiobook than getting hands-on in your backyard! Become one with nature and plant a garden. While you’re at it, listen to an audiobook that inspires your imagination and amplifies the colors of your plants.
My genre suggestion: fantasy and romance
So go ahead, give an audiobook a try at home! Not sure where to start? Head over to hclibrary.org to check out audiobook options for your phone, tablet and computer. RB Digital now has more than 37,000 titles available for free!
Have additional questions? Contact AskHCLS and we’ll be able to help you find the best selection for your needs!
Claudia J. is has worked for Howard County Library System for more than four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.