October 12th is Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

The photograph shows an indigenous person in native dress at an outdoor gathering.

By Claudia J.

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: 

For the Little Ones: 

The book cover depicts a mother holding a child who is eating fry bread from the bowl the mother holds in her other hand.

Fry Bread: a Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

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. 

The book cover depicts a young woman holding a feather, with blue-green water swirling around her.  In the background are people on a hill, hands joined together, in front of a starry night sky with a moon.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; Illustrated by Michaela Goade

“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!

For the Big Kids:

The book cover depicts a young woman holding a letter along the shore of a lake at sunrise.  There are mountains in the distance and a dog with a stick is approaching her.

I Can Make this Promise by Christine Day

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. 

The book cover depicts a young woman in front of a landscape background that progresses from rural, with animals, trees, and a log cabin, to urban, with a car, palm trees, and a cityscape in silhouette.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManus with Traci Sorell

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. 

For the Teens: 

The book cover depicts a young woman wearing a white shirt and black pants, with a black and white checkered shirt tied around her waist.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

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. 

The book cover depicts half the face of a young woman, with a stripe of white makeup on her cheek.  There are also several stickers indicating awards the book was won.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

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. 

For the Graphic Novel Fans: 

The book cover depicts three young women and one senior woman against the background of an immense cityscape that rises behind them.

Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett, Illustrations by Natasha Donovan

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. 

The book cover depicts a young woman i profile, wearing a jacket with patches on the shoulder, putting earbuds into her ears.

A Girl Called Echo by 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. 

For the Adults: 

The book cover depicts two feathers facing in opposite directions, against a background of orange with the title in yellow lettering.

There There by Tommy Orange 

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. 

The book cover depicts the title and author in white against colorful background stripes in blues, mauves, and greens.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

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.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Review by Claudia J.

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.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

The picture shows author Mira Jacob wearing a denim shirt against a purple background, next to a copy of the book, which shows the title and author in block letters of turquoise and orange with graphics of people contained in each letter.

Review by Claudia J.

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.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Bright color blocks frame the silhouette of girl, with her figure in red and dress in yellow. The author and title appear in large white text across the middle.

Review by Claudia J.

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 twisting ways.

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.

Available in ebook and eaudio through Libby.

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.

Audiobooks and Activities: Fun Ways to Multitask

A bright blue hardback book rests on a natural wood table, with a red bookmark hanging from the bottom. White over-ear headphones sit on top of the book with the cord wrapping loosely in a circle on the table.
Audiobooks are a great way to enrich your current activities.

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! 

Happy Listening! 

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.