Welcome Back to the Enchanted Garden

Long shot of raised beds under blue skies and white fluffy clouds.

By Ann H.

It’s time to plan a visit to the Enchanted Garden at the Miller Branch!  We are thrilled to invite visitors back to the garden beginning Saturday, May 8. Come and see what’s growing in our demonstration area, enjoy the blooms of the season, and feel the calming touch of nature.

How much food can we grow in the Enchanted Garden? This year we plan to find out! Our raised beds will be devoted to growing food to donate to the Howard County Food Bank. You’ll find a variety of lettuce, radish, broccoli, and cauliflower happily growing while we thwart the efforts of a nibbling bunny. The strawberries are bursting with blooms, potato shoots are poking up through the soil, and the peas are reaching for their trellis. We have greens galore in an assortment of bib and leaf lettuce.  Plus, we’re busy preparing more beds for summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash.  

Close of young green growing leaves and

A garden bed once devoted to summer annuals will be transformed into an edible landscape. We’re curious about ways to maximize our food yield, provide season-long blooms for the pollinators, and offer beauty to the beholder. Can you picture kale, chard, and basil side-by-side with zinnias, sunflowers, and marigolds? By combining annuals and vegetables in one patch, we hope to create a garden that challenges notions about what makes a garden and what is fitting for the front yard.

Look to the left of the front gate to see our newest garden bed. Thanks to the Howard County Garden Club, we have a new pollinator-themed garden filled with wildlife-friendly native plants and cultivars. Our new garden will support pollinators like bees, butterflies, and moths. We hope it will inspire visitors and budding youth gardeners to garden for wildlife.  

Photo of Enchanted Garden Coordinator Ann Hackeling with a trellis. She's wearing a bright pink shirt, a floral scarf, a blue apron, and a straw hat while smiling at the camera.

Our Enchanted Garden is thriving with the help of many volunteers. We have more weeding and clean-up to do, but we think you’ll enjoy seeing what we’ve accomplished so far. There are new garden beds to behold and so many spring vegetables that you’ll work up an appetite. We look forward to seeing you in the garden soon!

The Enchanted Garden will open during library hours Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm; Thursday, 10 am – 8 pm. Masks are not required in the Enchanted Garden. Visitors are expected to maintain social distance.

Ann joined the Miller HCLS staff as the Enchanted Garden Coordinator and Instructor in 2012. When not gardening you’ll find her reading, cooking, and exploring trails in the Patapsco River Valley with her husband and dog.

Spring is for Gardening

The cover depicts a garden of flowers, vines, and strawberries in bright primary and secondary colors, with birds, a butterfly, a frog, a ladybug, and a bee enjoying the vegetation.

By Laci R.

Spring is here once again – and you know what that means? It’s the perfect time to share these wonderful gardening books with the children in your life. Gardening is a passion of mine for many reasons. It’s become a reliable place of peace and comfort, I get to see a variety of pollinator friends, and I have a permanent seat in a never-ending classroom. I like to encourage others not only to find a way to connect to nature but to look into all the methods and styles of gardening. My garden started with two or three potted plants. Over the past couple of years, my container deck garden has transformed into a whimsical fairytale oasis.

The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen
This story reminds us that our imagination can bring just as much wonder into our lives as anything we experience in the physical world. Join this adorable grandfather and granddaughter as they bring life into the most beautiful imaginary garden. As they paint- brick walls are built for vining plants to climb, crocuses are popping up as the first sight of Spring, and a robin eats a worm for lunch. Later, the granddaughter is left to care for the garden while her grandfather is away on vacation, and she’s determined to make him proud. Imaginary or not, gardens require hard work and a whole lot of love.

Pair With: My Garden by Kevin Henkes (also available as an audiobook on CD)
This book reminds me of Alice in Wonderland as she sits amongst the flowers and describes her perfect world. While the flowers in this book won’t talk with you for hours, they do change colors just by thinking about it. Join an imaginative little girl as she tells you all about her dream garden – including a jellybean bush, invisible carrots, and glowing lantern strawberries.

A Peaceful Garden by Lucy London
Join these two feline friends as they prepare, plant, and tend to their peaceful garden. This book is a great introduction to the joys of gardening through a simple yet sweet story that walks you through what the process might look like to get ready for your own garden. Throughout, you’ll see garden dwellers making an appearance, some that a lot of people try to deter from their space. This peaceful garden is all about making sure everyone knows they’re welcome and cared for. What will you grow in your peaceful garden?

The cover depicts a rooftop garden with a diverse group of people working to plant in the soil. The cityscape is in the background against a sky of oranges and yellows.



Thank You, Garden by Liz Scanlon
The illustrations show a diverse community of children and neighbors working together on a city garden. Through rhyme, you learn about what goes into making a garden so lovely – including the times that call for being silly and playing in water from the hose. This book does a great job of showing the rewards of hard work. While the text isn’t abundant in this story, the artwork tells you more than words ever could.

Pair with: Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam
This wordless picture book utilizes mixed media in a dreamy way that will certainly spark a fulfilling discussion. It’s Winter, and Fox is looking for a safe and cozy place to have her pups after being chased out of a village. She comes across a greenhouse and nestles in. Soon, Fox and her pups are greeted by a young boy who gently places a basket of food on the ground before leaving them be. Fox and her pups repay the favor with a beautiful “thank you” waiting to be found in the boy’s bedroom when he wakes the next morning.

The cover depicts a boy and a black cat in a dense garden of flowers and tropical plants, in shades of blue, green, yellow, and mauve.


Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano
Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings. Skyscrapers and highways hold the space where hills and trees used to be. Tokyo is determined to help his grandfather have a garden despite the city “eating up the land” years ago. He meets an old woman who gifts him three beans that will become whatever is imagined of them during planting time. What happens next is a beautiful and fast-paced adventure showing how nature behaves in a city. Animals replace cars on the roads and streets become rivers. Will city life and wildlife be able to co-exist? This book is a thoughtful portrait of environmentalism and imagination. At first, this story might seem familiar – beans that you can wish on. I promise you’re in for a treat with this modern story that feels classic.

Florette by Anna Walker
Mae moves to a new home in the city and is forced to leave her beloved garden behind. Once there, Mae starts to realize just how empty this new house feels without a garden to play in and butterflies to chase. She tries to recreate the wonder by drawing and painting flowers on the stacks of boxes filling every room. Realizing she has to search a bit further, Mae sets out on an adventure and finds a lush green botanical shop… but it’s closed. She waits, but the door never opens. In the distance, there’s a small green sprout in a crack between the building and sidewalk where Mae rescues her very own piece of the forest. Is there room for a garden in the city, after all?

Gardening for Beginners by Emily Bone
Learning any new skill can be intimidating at first. This book is an excellent resource for any age and especially perfect for developing a new skill alongside the children in your life. I learned a great deal from this book when I first started gardening and was overwhelmed by information. This book has an easy-to-follow page design, and there is also a breakdown of how to interpret each section of the page in the beginning of the book. The visual appeal of this book makes the information more digestible and easier to retain.

Pair with: Flowers by Gail Gibbons
Gail Gibbons is a favorite for a reason. This book is no exception for anyone interested in learning about flowers. It covers the basics of flower parts, growth, seed travel, pollination, and the various ways flowers are categorized.

I hope this assortment of gardening books brings some green, inspiration, and curiosity into your home.  Gardening is for everyone and doesn’t have one look or motivating factor. I challenge you to grow something this year – whether it’s your family’s favorite tomato or melon, flowers for our pollinator friends, or your imagination.

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Let’s Grow Potatoes!

The photograph depicts two hands in the sunlight holding two small seed potatoes with eyes on them.
Enchanted Garden Coordinator Ann holds two seed potatoes.

By Ann H.

Three cheers for the arrival of spring! I am ready to embrace a new season full of hope and fresh, local vegetables. Cool nights, sunshiny days, and plenty of rain signal the right time to plant cool-season crops. First on my list this year are potatoes!

Potatoes are a great family garden project. They come in an assortment of colors, they are easy to grow and as much fun as a treasure hunt to harvest. Sunshine and timing are the first considerations for growing potatoes. You must have a spot that receives six or more hours of sunshine a day. Potatoes should be started from now until early May. Don’t delay! You’ll have little success once the temperatures rise in summer.

Growing potatoes in a container is a good solution for those of us who want to grow food, but are short on space or new to gardening. Containers could be 5 gallon or larger buckets, grow bags, or a large fabric or strong plastic bag that drains. The larger the container the more potatoes you’ll grow. This year I’m experimenting with growing potatoes in a burlap sack. Our friends at Orinoco Coffee Roasters donated some burlap coffee sacks to the Enchanted Garden. They are selling burlap sacks to raise money for the Howard County Food Bank.

Potato plants start with seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are really tubers with eyes or buds. Those buds are the start of new potato plants. Give them soil, water, and the right conditions and you’ll be harvesting potatoes in three to four months. You can purchase seed potatoes locally where you would buy seeds, or you can order them online. Don’t be tempted to try grocery store variety potatoes. Most of those have been inoculated to prevent root growth. You might see eyes on grocery store potatoes, but rarely roots.

Potatoes are filled with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. You can prepare them mashed, roasted, fried, or in other creative ways. You can add them to salads, top them with almost anything for a main course, or turn them into latkes. Potatoes store well and feed many. Don’t you want to grow potatoes? To try this project at home, check out my video tutorial that explains all the steps.

Burlap bags: https://www.orinococoffeeandtea.com/product/green-bean-burlap-bag/

For additional information and inspiration, please check out these HCLS resources:

Adult collection:

The Complete Book of Potatoes: What Every Grower and Gardener Needs to Know by Hielke De Jong

Children’s collection:

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison (also available as an ebook from Libby/OverDrive)

Ann joined the Miller HCLS staff as the Enchanted Garden Coordinator and Instructor in 2012. When not gardening you’ll find her reading, cooking, and exploring trails in the Patapsco River Valley with her husband and dog.

Exciting Changes at Glenwood!

A Glenwood Branch staff member walks across the cafe carrying contactless pickup bags.
Contactless Pickup at HCLS Glenwood Branch.

Renovations are coming to Glenwood! We are excited to announce that the Glenwood Branch will be undergoing renovations starting Monday, March 15. The building will be updated to better meet the needs of the community and continue to be a Western Howard County destination. Included in the renovation are new classroom spaces, a new café area, a passport office, an outdoor space, and much more.   

The Glenwood Branch will continue to offer contactless pickup throughout the duration of the renovation with limited hours. Effective Monday, March 15, the new contactless pickup hours will be:  

  • Monday through Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: 2-6   
  • Thursday: 2-8  

The pickup location for holds and bundle bags will be in the Glenwood meeting room. Please look for signs directing customers to this new location. Staff will be available at Glenwood during the above hours to answer phones and manage contactless pickup.  

The Glenwood staff is looking forward to the updates the renovation will bring to the branch and are excited to share the changes with the community once the renovations are complete and HCLS buildings are open to customers.   

While the Glenwood Branch is open for limited service, our staff are available through our AskHCLS service, via phone, email, or chat. Please follow the link to view service hours and contact information. A listing of HCLS branches is available here.  

In addition to contactless pickup of holds, our bundle bag service is available at all branches! If you miss browsing the stacks, let our research specialists share their extensive reader’s advisory skills and make selections for you to enjoy. Topics change regularly and you can request up to five bundle bags at a time; selections range in age from children to teens to adults.  

The Daughters of Erietown

The cover is turquoise with white lettering. Scattered around the edges are faded photographs of family scenes indicative of the 1960s, including a car and a small child peering through a window.

By Julie F.

Connie Schultz is one of my favorite columnists; her sweet daily reminders on Twitter to “breathe” are a vital moment each evening in a busy routine. Her debut novel, a summer highlight, is full of moments reflecting on the secrets and struggles of working-class families in Ohio, from 1956 through 1994. 

Brick McGinty marries Ellie Fetters just before they graduate from high school; there are no other options in the late 1950’s for a young couple about to become parents. Brick and Ellie both know and accept this, but they also accept that teenage dreams will be postponed or even eliminated – Ellie’s to train as a nurse, and Brick’s to accept a sports scholarship and become a teacher and coach. Both come from broken families who couldn’t escape the numbing, self-fulfilling dictates of their class, and both had hoped for a better future for themselves and each other. They remind me of the heartbreaking line from Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”: “And for my nineteenth birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat.”

Ellie resolves to be a good mother, but also yearns for substance and fulfillment. When disappointments seem likely to break her, Ellie tells her daughter Samantha not to rely on the men in her life. “The sad look on Sam’s face made Ellie wish, for the first time, that she’d had only sons… No matter what she did, Ellie would never be able to save her daughter from that heartache waiting to ambush her” (395). Progress awaits with the upheavals of the sixties and seventies, though, and Sam grows, asserts her independence, and fulfills her ambitions in a way that Ellie and her generation couldn’t have imagined. I love the moment where Sam reckons with her own questioning personality: “To go through life just coasting?  That’s unthinkable” (733).

Brick, meanwhile, makes huge mistakes that temper his expectations with the bitterness of devastating consequences. His misogyny and racism are in keeping with his small-town upbringing as a white male who has never had to consider his position in society in relation to others. Brick is an imperfect father, husband, and son, and he knows it, deep down. But he makes progress and attempts in small ways to atone, specifically with his son, with Ellie, and with Sam. Brick’s little family is the best thing to ever happen to him, and despite the glaring gap between promise and reality, his strength is loving them through all the pain and disappointment.

If you love sweeping stories that develop the collective life of a family through successive generations, the journey of the McGintys across the decades will captivate and absorb you. Schultz, whom the Pulitzer committee described as writing “pungent columns that provided a voice for the underdog and underprivileged,”advocates for people from those communities throughout her work, in part because of her working-class background. Her TED Talk about the women of her generation, “A Woman Over 50: A Life Unleashed,” shares more insight into the themes of this novel, including single motherhood, women’s place in the world, and not listening to “that voice of ‘no’ in your head.”

The Daughters of Erietown is also available as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, reading, and all kinds of music.

Valentine’s Day – Let’s Celebrate Love!

The cover shows the titular rabbit, Mirabel, walking across a field, not noticing as valentines fly out of her bag behind her. The picture is surrounded with a frame of red and green flowers, red hearts, and more valentines.

By Laci R.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love in its many forms. This list of favorites includes a chronic hugger, a snowy adventure, a wedding, and more! There are so many kinds of love, ways to express love, and forms of celebrating love. I hope these stories highlight just how special love is and that you share them with the children in your life.

Never Too Little to Love by Jeanne Willis
Love has no boundaries for our tiny mouse friend. Tiny Too-Little finds creative ways to try and reach his valentine, who’s high in the sky. He balances on his tip-toes on top of all sorts of stuff! A cabbage, teacup, thimble, clock, and many other items, but they just don’t seem to be working and then… CRASH! Tiny Too-Little is back on the ground and Topsy Too-Tall takes notice. She leans down to give him a kiss, proving that you’re never too little to love. This story is unique in page design with different sized flaps for each item Tiny Too-Little climbs. It helps practice repetition, and has an adorable pop-up book feature at the very end.

Pair with: Lilly’s Chocolate Heart by Kevin Henkes. As Lilly gets ready for bedtime, she tries to find the perfect spot to save her last chocolate heart wrapped in red foil.  She searches for somewhere special, but under the bed is too dusty, and there wasn’t any space between the books on the bookshelf. Finally, Lilly thinks of the best plan and enjoys the tasty treat!

The cover depicts to rabbits holding hands, dressed in red, pink, and yellow winter clothing, walking across a snowy field with the snow falling around them and the rising sun in the background.

Snowy Valentine by David Petersen
Jasper wants to find a special gift for his wife, Lilly. He visits his neighbors to help spark ideas by seeing what gifts they have in mind for their own loved ones. Chocolate flies and wilted flowers weren’t for Lilly, though. Jasper confides in Spalding, the cardinal, as he sits atop a tree. He expresses his disappointment in not finding Lilly the perfect gift. What he couldn’t see is that the tracks he made on his journey left the shape of a heart in the snow. In the end, Jasper found the perfect way to say “I love you.” This story highlights how special all sorts of gifts can be. Pair with: The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story by Nancy Rose. See Mr. Peanuts try and impress his crush in this book told through words and photographs of real squirrels in adorable scenes.

Mirabel’s Missing Valentines by Janet Lawler
Mirabel is shy and nervous about trading valentines at school. After building up the courage, she’s on a mission to get to class and deliver her valentines to each of her classmates. Along the way, some slip away through a hole in her bag and end up in the hands of others. These cards bring such delight to Mirabel’s neighbors, but they all know the cards weren’t originally intended for them. After spreading more cheer and love than she could’ve ever imagined, Mirabel goes home with her own valentines overflowing from her sack. This book shows just how easy it is to spread love and joy, even in ways you least expect.

Pair with: The Runaway Valentine by Tina Casey. This story is told from the perspective of a valentine named Victor who is the fanciest in the shop. After being swept up in a pile, he heads out on his own journey where several people pick apart pieces of Victor to help with their needs. With just a tiny piece of himself left, he’s exactly what our last artist needs to make their valentine card complete. Victor ends up being the best valentine once again.

The cover depicts Frankenstein and his Bride in a heart-shaped cutout window in a wooden fence, holding a pink valentine heart between them as they look at each other affectionately.


Valensteins by Ethan Long
Fran K Stein is distracted and the other members of Fright Club can’t help but take notice. Normally, the fright club members are preparing for a night of scaring, but Fran is busy making something and everyone wants to know what it is. A mask with fangs? A big pink nose? A paper butt?! Phew! It’s just a valentine! However, that means Fran must be in love, and that causes the monsters to have even more questions. This book is sure to make you laugh with its silly explanations for love and clever side remarks. As a lover of all things spooky, this book always stands out to me in February as I long for October to be back. Pair with: A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger. See how things change for this crankenstein when he meets a new like-minded best friend who shares his distaste for the lovey, red and pink holiday.

Julián At the Wedding by Jessica Love
A wedding is one of the biggest celebrations of love and Julián can’t wait to be part of it. Julián makes a new friend named Marisol and they hit it off immediately. When the grown-ups aren’t looking, they sneak off together to play and use their imagination. Marisol gets messy after rolling on the ground with a sweet dog she met. Due to Julián’s quick thinking and excellent fashion sense, they’re able to put together a new outfit before returning to the party where they dance the night away. I especially love this book because so much of the story is told through body language and facial expressions. There’s love shown in a single look between friends, when a new outfit brings instant euphoria, and in the glowing faces of two beautiful brides celebrating their special day. Be sure to get a proper introduction to Julián by reading Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
The Hug Machine is here to give everyone and everything a hug. Yes, even a spiky porcupine… with proper hugging equipment on, of course! There truly is nothing that the hug machine will not hug. Have you ever wondered how to hug a whale? The hug machine can show you exactly what to do! How does the hug machine keep his energy? Pizza – his favorite. This book shows the power of both giving and receiving hugs… and rest. Even hug machines need their rest.

Love Is My Favorite Thing by Emma Chichester Clark  
Plum is ready to take you on an adventure to show you her daily life and why love is her favorite thing. Snow, sticks, and treats are just a few of the things Plum loves. She also loves her family, but when she gets in trouble, Plum questions if her family still loves her back. This story does a great job at showing that love is always there, even when we make mistakes or get reprimanded.

Pair with: Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood. Cat is no fan of Valentine’s Day, but has a change of heart when they make an unexpected friend. This story is a great read-aloud as it’s meant to sound like you’re talking with Cat, with plenty of opportunities to ask for predictions of what might happen next.

I hope these books help make your Valentine’s Day special and open up a conversation about love in its many forms. Make cards for your loved ones, go on a walk, make special treats together, and enjoy all the warm snuggles and hugs. Love is always there, even if we have to look a little harder to find it at times.

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Winter Gardening Ideas

By Ann H.

The photograph depicts a walled winter garden with a path and a greenhouse, with morning sunlight glistening across the frost on the plants.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

To every thing there is a season. This is especially true for gardeners. Winter may bring a drop in temperatures and light, but surely not idleness for the devoted gardener. Winter is the season to prepare, ponder, and plan!

Prepare your tools for the next season by inspecting them for cleanliness and sharpness. Garden tools get dirty from use and pose risks to your plants by spreading disease. Rust accumulates from moist conditions and sharp edges dull with use. I start by removing any dirt with a stiff wire brush. Then, I use steel wool to rub off any rust. Next, I apply rubbing alcohol with a rag to disinfect. Lastly, I apply a light coat of oil to the metal parts to prevent rust and to keep moving parts working smoothly. I prefer to use a plant-based oil such as linseed oil. Tools used for pruning and cutting should be inspected for sharpness. A dull tool increases the possibility of injury to you and your plants. A few hardware stores in our local community offer tool sharpening services at reasonable prices.

Winter invites pondering the possibilities of spring. My mood soars when I look through seed catalogs and garden books. We can transform any location with a few seeds or humble seedlings. I’ve switched to online seed catalogs and tend to favor local companies such as Meyer Seed Company of Baltimore, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA), and Burpee Seeds and Plants (PA). When searching for hard to find or heirloom seed varieties I turn to Seed Savers Exchange, Hudson Valley Seed Company, and Renee’s Garden Seeds. Or, cut down on shipping altogether and head to Clarks Ace Hardware or Southern States Home and Garden Service. They expect their seed selections to arrive by the beginning of February. If you’re starting seeds indoors this winter, be sure to check out the University of MD Extension – Home and Garden Information website for a short tutorial.

Garden-themed books keep my creative juices flowing. Lately, I’ve been pondering ways to grow more food in the Enchanted Garden and still provide plenty of habitat for pollinators. Edible landscaping has been around for decades, but is gaining attention as many people look for ways to grow their own food as well as flowers. Author and gardener Rosalind Creasy has written two trusted books to give you all the detail you need to get started growing a combination of flowers, vegetables, and herbs: Edible Landscaping and The Edible Herb Garden (also available as a ebook through CloudLibrary). Niki Jabbour explains how to garden in any setting and for any level gardener. Check out Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden. Each decision I make about gardening I examine through an “earth stewardship” lens. Reading Doug Tallamy’s latest book, Nature’s Best Hope (also available as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby), reminds me to create a garden that enriches the soil, provides for wildlife, and supports all life.

A photograph of Enchanted Garden Coordinator Ann's gardening plan. This includes a diagram of the garden, with splashes of color in reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, and greys to represent plants and flowers; listed are sunflower, cosmos, and zinnias. Underneath the garden diagram it reads "Front Bed 2020 - Planted May 20 Sunflower - seed savers: Evening Sun. Cosmos - Burpee: Sensation Mixed Colors - not many blooms. Zinnia - Renee's Garden: State Fair Gold Medal (SF). Zinnia - Renee's Garden: Cut & Come Again (CCA)."
A flower garden plan from Enchanted Garden Coordinator Ann.

Planning is part of the fun of gardening.  I enjoy sketching my garden plans to use as a guide and to save from year to year (with notes) as a reminder of what worked and what didn’t turn out as expected. Give me graph paper and color pencils on a cold winter afternoon and I am a happy gardener! If you prefer using online planning tools, try the GrowVeg online planner, which offers a free seven-day trial.  In addition to tailoring your plan to your space and location, the planner allows you to find companion plants and provides start and harvest dates. You can learn more with their helpful overview video.

How do you prepare for a new garden season during winter? What inspires and sustains you when our gardens rest in the cold?

Ann joined the Miller HCLS staff as the Enchanted Garden Coordinator and Instructor in 2012. When not gardening you’ll find her reading, cooking, and exploring trails in the Patapsco River Valley with her husband and dog.

Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had by Rick Bass

The book cover photograph shows a black, blue-eyed, short-haired dog seated with his nose in the air, on a field of lush, bright green grass.

By Julie F.

I fall very easily for stories about humans and their pets, especially when it’s a coming-of-age story. (Think Sterling North’s Rascal or Fred Gipson’s Old Yeller, both of which author Rick Bass loved as a child, and both of which I still own in my childhood copies). Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had isn’t a coming-of-age story, as it was written when the author was in his forties, but it’s still a perceptive and moving look at how a beloved animal can open one’s eyes, create a change in perspective, and forever alter a life. Bass loved and loves every dog he has ever had – that’s clear from his touching narrative about the stray hounds he rescued, Homer and Ann, as well as his amusing recounting of how he couldn’t choose between two pointers in a subsequent litter of Colter’s full siblings (spoiler: he ends up taking both of them home).

Why is Colter “the best” of these? It’s ambiguous – Bass clearly believes that they have a mysterious but immutable bond – but it’s largely based on Colter’s growth from runt of the litter to magnificent, mature sporting dog, and the incomparable feeling Bass has when they are working in tandem to achieve their mutual goal and desire to hunt, the destiny for which he has trained Colter. I’m not a hunter, but his descriptions of what both he and Colter (presumably) felt during training and hunting are breathtaking:

“I think that in those moments, those perfect moments, when we are crossing great fields like that, an observer looking down from a mile or two above – a bird’s-eye view – would not believe that we were earthbound. I feel certain that that observer would see the two animals, man and dog, moving steadily across that prairie – one casting and weaving, the other continuing straight ahead – and would believe that they were two birds traveling in some graceful drift to some point, some location, known surely to their hearts” (95).

A beautiful ode to rural life in Montana, to the changing seasons of a dog’s life, to companionship and love and loss. If you’re a fan of Bass’s work, or just of nature writing in general, I highly recommend this book – it’s a keeper – as well as his look at the first wolf pack to attempt to settle outside of the boundaries of the national parks in Montana after reintroduction, The Ninemile Wolves. Although both are excellent, I rate this one just a little more highly because of the intense personal journey it shares with the reader. For fiction readers, Bass is also the author of several collections of short stories available at HCLS, including In the Loyal Mountains and For a Little While: New and Selected Stories, as well as an essay collection that celebrates some of his mentors, The Traveling Feast: On the Road and At the Table with My Heroes.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, reading, and all kinds of music.

A Time to Give Thanks

The cover depicts a group of Native Americans in a circle around a fire, with hills and trees in fall colors against a sunset.

By Laci R.

I truly believe in the importance of taking time to reflect on what makes us feel thankful – what fills our hearts with joy. I’ve compiled some of my favorite picture books for the Thanksgiving holiday, traditions that accompany it, and thankfulness in general that I hope you enjoy sharing with the children in your life.

Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules
Tuyet is worried her family isn’t celebrating Thanksgiving properly because they’re serving duck instead of the popular turkey option. Her worries melt away as she learns that holidays don’t look exactly the same in every household and that those differences make for no less of a beautiful celebration. Culture, personal preference, and loved ones are all part of the formula for a successful Thanksgiving, and this book does a great job at showing the real diversity that fills family traditions.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (also available as an audiobook on CD)
Fry bread comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. It unites family and friends and is a form of art and history that has been passed on for generations, a delicious staple in hundreds of tribes and celebrated in this book by a modern Native American family. Fry Bread beautifully represents the culture and legacy that lives on today in many of our own Thanksgiving celebrations. Pair this story with We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell – a vibrant and detailed book full of cultural and historical information earned an impressive list of awards. “Otsaliheliga” is a Cherokee word that means gratitude. Learn how the Cherokee Nation celebrates a year, starting in the Fall.

Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story! By JaNay Brown-Wood (also available as an audiobook on CD and an audio Wonderbook) is a quick and adorable read. Grandma is hosting a feast and pretty much everyone is invited. The only problem is that her tiny house quickly runs out of space for the eight uncles, fifteen hungry grandkids, and many other wonderful guests. Through counting (1-15) and rhyme, this story effortlessly builds an experience where you feel like you, too, are about to walk down Grandma’s back stairs into a glorious, warm-hearted, welcoming outdoor celebration. Pair this story with another classic counting story told through rhyme; Feast For 10 by Cathryn Falwell.

Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora (also available as an audio Wonderbook)
This bilingual read is sure to delight and make you reflect on the many things to be thankful for. Maybe it’s a ladybug landing on your fingertip, a new favorite book suggested by a friend, bursting with laughter from a pea fight with your sister, or the cricket serenading you to sleep. Pair this story with Apple Cake by Dawn Casey, where special thanks are given to the bees, sun, earth, farmers, and everything and everyone else that makes this simple pleasure possible – apple cake! This story includes a recipe on the last few pages so you can make your very own apple cake to share with loved ones. Don’t forget The Thankful Book by Todd Parr; I couldn’t write about this topic without mentioning a favorite of many. Gardening, hugs, friends, pets, and music are all things I’m incredibly thankful for and these are mentioned on pages bursting with color in Parr’s book.

 
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet (also available as an eAudiobook) is one of the most interesting biographies I’ve seen for children. Pages are filled with multimedia collage art that draws you into the world of Tony Sarg, a self-taught immigrant with a creative dream. From his love of marionettes at a young age to the invention of his whimsical and enchanting floating balloons, you go along for every part of the journey! Learn how he avoided his chore of feeding the chickens at a young age. Pair this book with Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson where Sarah fights for many things she believes in, including Thanksgiving to become a national holiday. If it weren’t for her, there would be no distinct day to celebrate or reason to make parade floats!

The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing
Want a story that’s silly and a guaranteed laugh? Cousins Gavin and Rhonda are stuck in the kids’ room with slobbering babies upon arrival to Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s. They soon make a plan to escape outside to play. Quickly realizing there are a few obstacles to get past – including vicious guard dogs, the hall of aunts, and teenage zombies – the cousins must resort to a new plan, fast.

In November by Cynthia Rylant offers a look into the entire month and all the changes that happen in nature. The weather is getting colder, trees are becoming bare, and birds and animals are going on a journey or preparing for the season right where they are. November is also a time for enjoying delicious food and gathering for Thanksgiving, sitting by a crackling fire, and allowing ourselves to rest.

While the holidays may look very different this year, one thing remains the same – there’s always a reason to be thankful. Sharing these stories with you and knowing you will share them with the children in your life, is just one of the many things I’m thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Hispanic Heritage #OwnVoices

By Carolina W. and Gabriela P.

Tomorrow marks the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month, and in culmination and in the spirit of #OwnVoices, HCLS presents two book reviews written by Latina staff members about Hispanic authors. Read to the end to find out about classes this week in celebration of Hispanic Heritage!

By Gabriela P.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea sweeps the reader away with the timeless intimacy of a family chronicle. Absolutely stunning prose brings irresistible characters to life as they move through physical borders, family relationships, and personal struggles. The novel presents a Mexican-American family recounting their family’s history with bittersweet humor. The predictable immigration tale set-up is given a fresh makeover with the uninhibited and blunt depiction of a complicated reality.

Urrea doesn’t shy away from presenting a raw clumsiness in the characters’ interactions. Their emotions came across so authentically that I often felt myself getting goosebumps while reading! I was happy to discover that the theme that struck me the most was completely unexpected. Others who have reviewed the book frequently comment on the hierarchy, since a lot of the narrative revolves around “Big Angel”, the patriarch of the family. But I found that it was, in fact, the women of the family who drove the story. Though easily missed in favor of the more dramatic plot points, as the family’s history is recounted, the women’s strength and resiliency is cemented. Without giving the ending away, I can say that I was delighted to see women in roles usually reserved for men, and even more so that their strength was recognized.

I can find parallels to my own family’s history in the novel, and I definitely found myself identifying with one of the characters…but I won’t say which one!

The House of Broken Angels is also available as an ebook and eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

By Carolina W.

In Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Tita De La Garza, the youngest daughter in a family living in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century, is born in her kitchen, establishing her connection to cooking. Pedro Muzquiz asks for Tita’s hand in marriage but Mama Elena, Tita’s tyrannical mother, says Tita is forbidden to marry because of family tradition. Pedro then marries Tita’s sister, Rosaura, to be close to Tita. Gertrudis, the eldest daughter of Mama Elena, escapes the ranch after reacting mysteriously to one of Tita’s recipes. Rosaura gives birth to a son, Roberto, who is delivered by Tita, who treats him as her own. After Mama Elena arranges for Rosaura’s family to move to San Antonio, Texas, Tita is devastated when several tragedies challenge her health and sanity. The ending is hopeful, however, as John Brown, a local American doctor, patiently restores love and health to her life and helps rehabilitate her soul.

As a Latina who grew up in Texas near the Mexican border, it was natural to be drawn to read Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate. I was fascinated to find out about the Mexican culture’s family traditions, particularly because my family cherishes traditions so strongly. The main conflict in this novel is a family custom which forbids the youngest daughter from marrying so that she will be free to take care of her mother. This dilemma sincerely captured my attention as did the delicious recipes which are used to represent the characters’ feelings and situations and Tita De La Garza’s and Pedro Muzquiz’s tragic, passionate love story.

Like Water for Chocolate is also available in Spanish in our World Language collection.

Carolina is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves Mexican food, having fun, and adventure.

HCLS offers the following three classes in recognition and celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Please join us (follow the links to register)!

Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month Fall Teen Trivia! (Online)

Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month Kahoot! Trivia on Zoom

Hispanic Heritage: A Celebration of Stories (Online)