Literary Day Trips with Kids

The cover illustration shows Benjamin Banneker with a timepiece in the palm of his hand; he has opened the cover of it and is examining its inner gears.

by Jean B.

Books can take you anywhere – you can discover all kinds of places and people from the comfort of home. But books can also lead you OUT into real life adventures. This summer, check out some of these children’s books with local connections then take a family excursion to live it yourself!

Interested in ingenuity? For an adventure in Howard County’s backyard, read TickTock Banneker’s Clock by Shana Keller. Learn about the African American colonial scientist Benjamin Banneker, then explore the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park in Oella. Tour his restored colonial cabin and gardens, hike woodland trails, and participate in fun summer programs with nature and colonial history themes.

The cover depicts the title character, author Parker Curry, looking up at the portrait of Michelle Obama that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Fascinated by famous faces? Read Parker Looks Up by Parker and Jessica Curry. Visit the National Portrait Gallery to see the portrait of Michelle Obama for yourself, as well as those of many other interesting Americans of the past and present.

The cover is an illustration of baseball player and home run king Babe Ruth.

Seeking sports glory? One of baseball’s legends, Babe Ruth, grew up in Baltimore. Explore his childhood story and how he was introduced to the game – you may be surprised! – with the book Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares. Then visit the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, or go to a baseball game at Camden Yards or Bowie.

The book cover depicts a boy carrying two lanterns and looking over his shoulder, with the masts of ships in the background and a knapsack slung over his back.

Intrigued by history’s mysteries? Take a drive to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and you’ll find the quaint waterfront town of St. Michael’s. Before your visit, check out the picture book by Lisa Papp, The Town that Fooled the British: A War of 1812 Story, to uncover the clever trick that saved St. Michael’s from destruction 200 years ago.

The book cover depicts a grinning skeleton in a blue wash, almost as if at the bottom of the sea.

For the ambitious, a trip to Jamestown, Virginia could be like a true crime investigation when combined with the award-winning nonfiction book, Written in Bone by Sally M. Walker. This fascinating (and sometimes gruesome) account shows how forensic scientists are studying skeletons found in Jamestown’s colonial ruins to decipher exactly who these bones belonged to, how they lived, and how they died.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

June is African American Music Appreciation Month

Collage of black and white photos of musicians and color blocks in red, green, blue, and yellow with "Summer of Soul" overlaid.

by Jean B.

Count Basie. Billie Holliday. Duke Ellington. I am an enthusiastic jazz fan, and I appreciate that sliver of African American music all year long, not just in June. But the musical expression of Black experience and artistry certainly isn’t limited to jazz or any other single genre. Gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, hip hop, rap, classical, rock and roll, techno, musicals – African American Music Appreciation Month provides a great opportunity to acknowledge and explore the tremendous breadth of African American musicians, composers, styles, and music entrepreneurs. Established in 1979 as National Black Music Month, it has been proclaimed by every U.S. President from Jimmy Carter to Joe Biden. So for this 43rd annual celebration, use HCLS as a portal to enjoy more of what you already like or discover something entirely new.

Expand Your Playlist
If you’re looking for new tunes, HCLS offers thousands of CDs across all genres to borrow. Using your library card and PIN, you also can stream music from Freegal. Not only can you search for favorite artists or songs, but you can find already curated Black Music Month playlists – like the one created by the Central Arkansas Library System with ten hours of music, ranging from Jimi Hendrix, to Sister Rosetta Tharpe; from Kendrick Lamar to Miles Davis. That’s a lot to appreciate!

Experience Live Concerts
Do you want to imagine you’re there, in concert? Documentary DVDs can bring the live concert experience right into your home. Check out Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary, Summer of Soul, about the epic 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that features performances by artists like Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, B.B. King, and more. Or watch Eminem, Nas, and other hip-hop artists perform on Something From Nothing: the Art of Rap. From our Kanopy service, stream films like Rejoice and Shout: Gospel Music and African-American Christianity, which features legends of gospel like The Staple Singers and The Dixie Hummingbirds, to trace the 200-year evolution and contribution of gospel music in American pop culture.

The cover of I'm Possible: A Story of Survival, a Tuba, and the Small Miracle of a Big Dream features the outline illustration of a red figure playing a black tuba, framed by text.

Explore the Lives of African American Creators
If you’re curious about the life experiences that produced the music you hear, check out some great nonfiction. Be blown away by the memoir of Baltimore native Richard Antoine White, whose dream of classical tuba performance took him from a homeless childhood to a prestigious symphony orchestra career, an extraordinary story he tells in I’m Possible: A Story of Survival, A Tuba, and the Small Miracle of a Big Dream. Or be swept up in the incredible combination of poetry, art, biography, and music history in Jazz A-B-Z: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, where Wynton Marsalis writes wordplay jazz. I love his ode to Ellington, “a most elegant man” who sought “to educate, to elevate, to urge the earthbound ear and heart alike to soar,” just like the resources at HCLS!

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

Banned Books Week (Sep 26 – Oct 2)

The illustration shows two hand clasping a book with the Earth the backdrop, with the text across the hands and book reading, "Books Unite Us." The rest of the text reads, "Banned Books Week. September 26-October 2, 2021. ALA American Library Association. The illustration is in shades of purple, lime green, and orange.

by Jean B.

 “Any time we eliminate or wall off certain narratives, we are not getting a whole picture of the world in which we live…we limit our vocabulary, which complicates how we communicate with one another.”  

– Jason Reynolds, the acclaimed Maryland author named Honorary Chair for Banned Books Week

A library may be held together with walls, but it’s the doors and windows that really matter — doors open for all people and windows that illuminate all perspectives. During Banned Books Week, we celebrate the freedom to read and the commitment by libraries, publishers, teachers, writers, and readers to promote access to materials that the ALA Freedom to Read Statement says, “enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression.” Established in 1982, Banned Books Week responds to efforts across the country to challenge and censor books and focuses attention on how restricting access to information, ideas, and stories harms American cultural and political life.   

In a time when divisions cut across our nation like fault lines, the 2021 Banned Books Week theme reminds us that books can be a force for unity, even – or especially – when they convey a wide variety of views and experiences, including those that are marginal, unconventional, or unpopular. The freedom to read strengthens our ability to communicate with one another.

In a democracy, we trust individuals to learn and decide for themselves.  But to make informed choices, citizens require free access to all viewpoints and all kinds of ideas in the process of self-education. Where can people go for free access to ideas and information? Their public library! As essential institutions of democracy, public libraries implement intentional collection policies to ensure the breadth and inclusivity of materials available to their communities. For Howard County Library System, this translates into a collection that reflects a wide range of voices, including controversial and conflicting ideas.  

As the HCLS Board of Trustees affirms, while, “anyone is free to reject for [themselves] books or other materials of which [they] do not approve, [they] cannot exercise this right to restrict the freedom of others.” The freedom to read strengthens our citizenship. Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) publishes a list of the ten most frequently challenged or banned books across the nation. This snapshot reflects only a small percentage of the challenges that take place in schools and libraries.  The ALA estimates that 82 – 97 percent of requests to remove materials are unreported. As this list illustrates, the challenges come from all directions and perspectives. The freedom to read protects all points of view.

So this year, in honor of Banned Books Week, open the library door and explore our extensive collections.  Look through the windows of stories into all different kinds of lives, familiar and unfamiliar.  Explore HCLS’ Brave Voices, Brave Choices campaign to discover a wide range of experiences in our own community. It’s all free to you, and you are free to choose.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The title appears against a painting of a green landscape and blue sky with white clouds, with a silhouette of a girl leading a horse and cart in the bottom left

By Jean B.

I love a book with a map, so News of the World captured me even before page one. Throughout my reading, I pored over the sepia endpaper map of Texas circa 1870, with its bright red line tracing a path from Wichita Falls along the northern border with Indian territory, all the way down to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. As you might guess, given the map, this is a book about a journey – across both rough territory and psychological barriers. As the characters made their way along the bright red line, Giles’ beautiful prose transported me into this time and place and into the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, age 71, and Johanna Leonberger, age 10.  

It’s the Reconstruction era in Texas, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, random violence and unexpected kindness, across an incredibly varied landscape. Captain Kidd, a survivor of three wars, has dedicated his life to connecting people through information. He is alone, having lost his wife and his printing business in the Civil War. Kidd now makes his living by traveling through small towns, performing live readings of newspapers from around the country and the world to isolated residents hungry for stories of faraway places and remarkable events. Suddenly, his nomadic routine is disrupted by an unsought responsibility – he must deliver Johanna, a traumatized orphan who has lived as a captive of the Kiowa tribe for six years and knows no other family, back to her relatives near San Antonio. Traversing that 400 mile path, the characters must overcome challenges small and large and, in the process, build mutual trust and companionship.

I would not call myself a fan of Westerns, in either novels or movies, but Paulette Jiles’ exquisite descriptions of the plants, weather, and settlements of this landscape drew me in. Her writing made me want to ride a horse through the hills, canyons, and prairies of Texas (minus the deadly threats along the way). Maybe I’ll do that someday, but in the meantime, luckily, we can get the visual experience by watching the 2020 movie based on the book! Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, the movie garnered four Oscar nominations, and you borrow the DVD from HCLS.  

While both the book and the movie open a window into a beautiful yet treacherous moment in Texan history, News of the World goes much deeper than a travelogue. Across the miles, the tragic characters discover the power of empathy to leap differences in age, language, experience and loss. Although the book is barely 200 pages, it paints a picture of great historical and personal complexity. If you’re looking for some armchair traveling this summer, News of the World is a journey worth taking – and it comes with a map!

Available in print, large print,audio CD,  ebook, and eaudio, as well as DVD.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. A fan of historical fiction and nonfiction, she also enjoys exploring the natural world through books and on foot.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The cover shows the title and author's name against a background of brightly colored, wavy stripes in blues, greens, yellows, purples, oranges, and reds.

By Jean B.

The summer camp directories are out, and though summer will still be COVID-impacted, these camp listings have me thinking about the freedom and fun of summers past. Do you have any cherished (or miserable?!) summer camp memories? Do you think of s’mores or lakes or mosquitoes? While there are all kinds of camps and camp memories, one universal camp experience, it seems, is the intensity of friendships that form in that time-bounded space. When kids are briefly brought together from various places and situations and thrown into the intimate, shared life of a camp routine, something special happens.  

That powerful camp-created bond lies at the core of Meg Wolitzer’s engrossing novel, The Interestings. Six teenagers become friends at Spirit of the Woods camp in the summer of 1974, and the relationships they form with one another shape the rest of their lives. Spirit of the Woods is an arts camp, a place designed to foster talent and passion. Julie Jacobsen isn’t sure she belongs in this place but is thrilled when the self-named clique “The Interestings” enfolds her into their circle of specialness.

As the six kids grow, age, and build their lives and careers, Jules continues to measure her life against those of her camp friends and to use their experiences as a guide to what makes a life successful. Their diverse talents – so glittering in their camp days – play out in many ways in adulthood, and though the bonds of friendship provide a lifeline through crises, they also drive wedges as Jules’ and her friends’ fortunes diverge.  Through Jules’ eyes, readers can consider the question: what would you do for a friend?  

This beautifully written story made me think about my own friendships and how they’ve evolved over time. It swept me into the juicy world of these characters’ lives and relationships but also gave me lots to chew on – it’s both ice cream and salad, a perfect summer feast!  If you’re looking for something fun and, well, interesting, check out Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings.

 Available in print and audio CD, or as an ebook and eaudio on Libby/OverDrive.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

Grant by Ron Chernow

The photograph in black and white, by Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, shows Grant standing, wearing the frock coat of his Union uniform.
Ulysses S. Grant, circa 1864, photographed by Matthew Brady

Review by Jean B.

Biographies, especially those by Ron Chernow, can be a heavy lift – literally. At more than 900 pages, Chernow’s acclaimed 2017 book examining the life of Ulysses S. Grant can be exhausting to hold for more than 30 minutes of reading. So now is a perfect time to tackle this large but highly satisfying tome, when you can read or listen to it electronically on a lightweight device and maybe have extra reading time in your day! Available through OverDrive in both ebook and eaudiobook formats, Grant offers a fascinating, detailed look at both the man and his era.  

I love to read history, biography, and historical fiction, but I’m always discovering how many episodes in history I really know nothing about. The Civil War era has been recorded in myriad ways, and yet, with Grant I gained new perspective on the war — learning details of the Western front that, as a Pennsylvanian whose education focused on Gettysburg, I hadn’t appreciated. More startling, I discovered how little I understood about the Reconstruction Era and the immense challenges that faced President Grant in securing the rights of newly freed slaves to work, vote, and be full citizens in the re-established Union.  

Ron Chernow sets out to correct the one-dimensional and largely negative portraits of Grant by earlier historians which portrayed him as an ineffective political leader tainted by scandals, corruption, and a chronic drinking problem. Though Chernow clearly admires his subject and goes above and beyond to compile contemporary opinions and statements to bolster his case in Grant’s favor, Chernow’s portrait has such depth, complexity, and humanity that I was persuaded, too, by the end, of Grant’s impressive leadership, moral courage, and devoted service to the ideals of a united nation and racial equality.  

And along the way, I enjoyed getting to know so many of the supporting (and often traitorous!) characters in Grant’s life, from his overbearing father, to his society-loving wife, to the infamous General William Tecumseh Sherman, to conniving Gilded Age businessman Jay Gould. It’s all here — family intrigue, dramatic changes of fortune, battles and blood, comradeship and bitter betrayal. Download and dig in!

Jean is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Central Branch who enjoys participating in book clubs with both kids and adults.