The Searcher by Tana French

The cover features the duo-tone image in a dusty green of long grass in a field and a cloud covered sky.

by Kristen B.

Tana French’s The Searcher offers homage to the American Western, from its namesake The Searchers to John Wayne’s True Grit. In this slightly updated version, Cal Hooper retires from the Chicago PD to a small town in the west of Ireland. He’s an outsider, looking to start a new life after leaving his job and getting divorced. He’s focused on making the house he bought livable before winter arrives.

Cal’s cop senses come to high alert unexpectedly. He eventually figures out that a local teenager has been spying. Trey Reddy comes from a family generally unapproved of in Ardnakelty and is desperately looking for a missing big brother. The two form an uneasy relationship as Cal agrees to do a little sleuthing about Brendan’s disappearance and Trey helps with chores around the house, refinishing an old desk and painting the walls. At heart, Cal is a doer and fixer – hence the extensive retirement project. It’s easier to put his professional skills to use helping with Trey’s cause than to deal with the emotional fallout of the past and present. Cal even has a theory about how all most young men need is the equivalent of a horse, a gun, and a homestead.

A slow burn mystery then unspools around the whereabouts of Brendan Reddy, involving local lads, drug dealers from Dublin, and whatever is terrorizing the local sheep. Cal wrestles with taciturn country folk plus his continued confusion over how and why his marriage ended. The author does a marvelous job of winding the past and the present together as Cal tries to make sense of it all. As I attempted to put the pieces of the puzzle together, it resolved into the idea of a small town trying to keep on keeping on, without examining any preconceived notions too closely. And, perhaps, not being quite as friendly to newcomers as it originally seemed. The scene at the local pub involving shots of poteen that literally make Cal go a little cross-eyed might be one of my favorites. The gift of gab can disguise as much as it reveals. A little humor can serve to distract and deceive equally so. The Irish are masters at it.

Ireland itself serves almost as another character, with the townsfolk, the shops, the sheep, and the countryside itself. French’s descriptions of mists and bogs and biting winds are simply lyrical. They paint such vivid pictures that I could imagine the landscapes almost better than I could the characters. This book is just begging to be made into a movie with clear cut characters, a plot that wraps you up in its mysteries, and gorgeous scenery. I’d watch it (although I usually like the book better).

The Searcher by Tana French is available in print and large print, as e-book and e-audiobook, and audio on CD.

Interview & Invitation: Join us at the Longest Table

A Black woman with short hair, wearing purple sunglasses, gestures while sitting at a table.

Laura Johnson works for the United Way of Central Maryland as Senior Vice President and Chief Acceleration Officer. She is also a member of the library’s Racial Equity Alliance and will be a host at the upcoming Longest Table event on Oct 1. She recently shared her experiences at the Longest Table.

How many years have you participated? 

Two to date. The first I attended was online during the pandemic with Daryl Davis. I previously had heard him on a podcast and was excited to see him as the featured speaker at the Longest Table.  He shares a riveting story about his journey as a musician and his quest to open hearts and minds with members of the Ku Klux Klan. At the Longest Table, I held onto his every word. To be at a virtual table with him and our community was a a profoundly memorable and moving experience.

What made you decide to do it for the first time?  

Beyond the opportunity to meet Daryl Davis, I really just love the idea. I love the name: The Longest Table, where anyone is welcome and anyone can have a seat. There’s a place for everyone. I love that we can make the “table” as long as we need to make it. 

Have you always been a host? 

I have been a host both years. This year, being a member of the Racial Equity Alliance, we’ve had the opportunity to contribute to the “menu” for conversation so I appreciated the invitation for input.  

I like to welcome people, to make sure that everyone feels like they belong and that they have a good experience. Hosting is in my DNA from growing up and having big holiday gatherings as well as coordinating major events in my professional line of work, I gain great enjoyment in connecting with others. Being a host for the Longest Table means creating space for sharing, laughing, and   elevating our common bonds; honoring our lived experiences.

What do you love about The Longest Table? 

There is something so inherently simple and impactful about breaking bread together. It’s like family dinner – where we laugh, cook, tell stories, debate, disagree sometimes, and just enjoy being with each other.  

Last year in person, in particular… It just did something amazing for my spirit after sheltering in place for so long. The weather was simply beautiful, with the sun shining on everyone’s faces. I felt a connection, being there in person, and I was not truly prepared for the deep conversations and feelings that they evoked. 

I love the experience! We are all so busy, and we don’t always stop to see people and connect – beyond “hey, how are you.” This event allows people to stop for a moment and connect for a moment in time – to SEE each other. 

I go back to Daryl Davis, who shared how as a child he was so miffed and confused about racism, after having been the target of a hateful act in a parade. He couldn’t understand the rationale of racism. His story of convincing several klansmen to hang up their hoods was so profound and his ability to find common ground, to help people evolve to a different understanding of our connectedness as humans inspired me. 

He was able to hear and be open to different perspectives, then he invited us to do the same. I heard such joy and heartbreak at last year’s event and appreciated the opportunity to be present. 

What does the Longest Table have to do with racial equity? 

We all come from different places and lived experiences, so this provides a respectful and safe access point to build common ground. It also pushes us to acknowledge the internal work we need to do to heal, to speak up, to do something that builds a community where we all have a “seat at the table.” The incidences of hate in Howard County may not always make the evening news but they’re lurking here in this community. We also know there are so many inequities and disparate outcomes across education, housing, health etc.

Howard County is an amazing place to live, work, and play – but we have much more work to do. 

What advice would you have for someone considering coming for the first time? 

Listen with an open heart. 

Find joy and share joy – however that shows up. There’s something joyous in breaking bread with neighbors. 

Take the experience to heart and see what part carries on into our everyday lives. What are the next steps to make Howard County a better place?

Tell us a little about yourself?  

I am the new kid on the block at the United Way of Central Maryland, which is a sponsor of the Longest Table. I have a new position responsible for looking at how to accelerate impact. The task is to stop admiring the problem and find ways to take best practices and create something different. I like to think about how, with Covid, we marshaled the best science and funding to make vaccinations a reality as quickly as possible. I have hope that we can apply a similar type of strategy to social issues. 

The United Way is an organization that truly has a heart. I work with real people who are truly compassionate and want to help people live their best lives. People truly care. 

I am also honored to represent the local chapter of the NAACP. I have held positions on the executive committee as the past education chair for Howard County’s NAACP, and been state co-chair of education committee – Maryland State conference (MSC  NAACP). Although it’s technically a volunteer opportunity, it’s an everyday commitment. I believe, though, that no price is too high when you’re fighting for what is right and just. 

Do you have any favorite memories or thoughts about the Library? 

I come from a family of readers and educators, and the library was always a summer escape. The library is such an anchor for any community. Our library system here in Howard County is one of the most progressive and modern systems that I’ve seen in terms of engagement with community and non-traditional thinking about spaces. There are all those tools in the DIY Center at Elkridge, and sound studios, and, of course, events like the Longest Table. 

The library has such beautiful spaces! And, they are true community spaces. 

There's a place at our table for you! The longest table. Text accompanied by three circle photos: a mother and daughter, two

Please join us for dinner and conversation beginning at 5 pm at the Longest Table on October 1 at Howard Community College. Tickets are on sale now for the rain or shine event, with an indoor space available in case of inclement weather. 

Join a Book Discussion Group

A stack of books next to a keyboard, being checked out of the library.

Books: They are one of the fundamental reasons for a public library – purchasing, lending, recommending, and discussing. After all, as much fun as reading is all by itself, sometimes there are books you NEED to talk about. HCLS staff facilitate a wide variety of groups that read and discuss all sorts of books – from nonfiction to romance to graphic novels. Some meet online, some in person, and some change depending on guidelines.

Maybe you’re looking for something new to do this fall? Maybe you (like me) have missed social interaction and think an hour or so, in a small group, once a month, sounds about right?

Consider joining one of these regular meetings, led by library staff. Each month’s title is held at the branch for you for the month previous to the meeting, unless otherwise noted.

CENTRAL BRANCH

Eclectic Evenings: Second Tuesdays at 7 pm
Read an eclectic array of various genres, both contemporary and classic. 
Sep 13: The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben

Noontime Books: Third Thursdays at 12 pm
Consider a variety of fiction and nonfiction books, diverse in themes, characters, settings, time periods, and authorship. 
Sep 15: The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

Reads of Acceptance: Second Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss books pertaining to LGBTQ+ experiences! All identities are welcome. 
Sep 8: The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

EAST COLUMBIA BRANCH

Black Fiction: First Saturdays at 1 pm
Discuss critically-acclaimed recently published fiction titles by black authors of African descent.
Sep 3: The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Good Reads: Second Mondays at 7 pm
Consider fiction and nonfiction titles that embrace universal themes.
Sep 12: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

In Other Worlds: Fourth Wednesdays at 7 pm
Welcome sci-fi enthusiasts and other intrepid readers! 
Sep 28: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Nonfiction Addiction: Third Thursdays at 7 pm
Expand your mind reading and discussing a variety of nonfiction books, from memoirs to history, and from philosophy to popular science. 
Sep 22: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Romantic Reads: Fourth Wednesdays at 7 pm
Discuss your favorite romance author and book or series with other fellow romance readers.
Sep 28: any title by Suzanne Brockmann

Warning: Graphic Content: Third Tuesdays at 7 pm
Discover the full spectrum of what is available as a graphic novel – from Archie to horror and Caped Crusaders to crime drama. 
Sep 20: Something is Killing the Children, vols. 1 & 2 by James Tynion IV

ELKRIDGE BRANCH

ELKS Excellent Reads: Second Tuesdays at 12:30 pm
Read mostly fiction, both contemporary and historical, as well as narrative nonfiction. 
Sep 13: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Murder, Mischief and Mayhem: Fourth Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss titles including detective, spy, intrigue, and mystery. Mostly fiction, occasionally true crime.
Sep 22: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Read. Think. Talk.: First Mondays at 7 pm (Second Monday this month due to Labor Day holiday)
Discuss great novels about the American experience before they’re critically acclaimed television shows and films. 
Sep 12: The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Thursday Next Book Club: Third Thursdays at 7 pm
Read mostly fiction, both contemporary and historical, as well as narrative nonfiction. 
Sep 15: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

GLENWOOD BRANCH

The Reading Cafe: Last Tuesdays at 7 pm
Dip into a different genre each month. 
Sep 27: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

MILLER BRANCH

Asian American Literature: Second or Third Mondays at 7 pm
Enjoy a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, biography/autobiography that explores the Asian American identity and experiences. 
Sep 19: On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

Bas Bleu: Third Wednesdays at 7 pm
Bas Bleu, French for “bluestocking,” refers to an intellectual or literary woman. We read a variety of literary fiction, and all are welcome – not just bluestockings!  
Sep 21: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

Global Reads: First Mondays at 7 pm
Read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books on different cultures around the world as well as immigrant fiction. 
No meeting in September because of Labor Day holiday.

An Inconvenient Book Club: Meets quarterly on First Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss speculative fiction, cli-fi (climate fiction), short stories, and verse — exploring themes of climate disruption, dystopia, recovery, and redemption. Next meeting in November.
Nov 3: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Spies, Lies & Alibis: First Tuesdays at 7 pm
Focus on spies, espionage, and world intrigue, alternating both classic and contemporary fiction and nonfiction, from the twentieth century and beyond. 
Sep 6: Two Spies in Caracas by Moisés Naím

Strictly Historical Fiction: Third Mondays at 2 pm
Step into the past and connect with characters living in times different than our own. 
Sep 19: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

SAVAGE BRANCH

Mystery: Second Wednesdays at 7 pm
Discuss a wide range of mysteries, including procedurals, detective novels, and capers.
Sep 14: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Nonfiction: Third Wednesdays at 7 pm
Share your thoughts on a varied array of nonfiction selections. 
Sep 21: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth Century China by Jung Chang

Savage Hearts: Third Tuesdays at 2 pm
Enjoy romantic reads with others who love the genre.
Sep 20: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

IN THE COMMUNITY

Books on Tap: First Wednesdays at 6 pm – meets at The Periodic Table
Read a wide variety of titles and genres looking to experience an equally wide set of perspectives and experiences. Please arrange to borrow books as you would any other.
Sep 7: The Searcher by Tana French

Reading Human Rights: Varying Thursdays at 6:30 pm at East Columbia Branch
In partnership with the Office of Human Rights, read books that promote cultural awareness, diversity, equity. 
Sep 29: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

You may notice multiple discussions of What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster. This is the One Maryland One Book selection for 2022, and several groups will be reading it throughout the fall. Register here to join us for an event with author Naima Coster at Miller Branch on Tuesday, October 4 at 7 pm.

Author Works with Robin Wall Kimmerer

The book cover shows a single braid of yellow sweetgrass stretching horizontally below the title.

Wed, Sep 14, 7 – 8:30 pm
online
Register at bit.ly/braidingsweetgrasshcls

Acclaimed author and scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the dominant themes of her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, which include cultivation of a reciprocal relationship with the living world. Consider what we might learn if we understood plants as our teachers, from both a scientific and an indigenous perspective.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing, and her other work has appeared in Orion, Whole Terrain, and numerous scientific journals. She tours widely and has been featured on NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett and in 2015 addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the topic of “Healing Our Relationship with Nature.” Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability.

The author, with long grey hair pulled away from her face, leans against a white birch tree. She is wearing a richly colored and patterned poncho and dangling beaded earrings.

As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land. She holds a B.S. in Botany from SUNY ESF, an M.S. and Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Wisconsin and is the author of numerous scientific papers on plant ecology, bryophyte ecology, traditional knowledge and restoration ecology. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild.

Braiding Sweetgrass is available to borrow in print, e-book, and e-audiobook, or you can purchase online from The Last Word Bookstore.

The event is part of the “Guide to Indigenous Maryland” project. This program is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Maryland State Library, as well as by the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. Maryland Libraries Together is a collaboration of Maryland libraries to engage communities in enriching educational experiences that advance an understanding of the issues of our time. Learn more at bit.ly/indigenousmd

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A woman with black hair, wearing an off the should red gown, holds bunch of flowers while standing in front of a green floral wallpaper.

by Kristen B.

Horrifyingly creepy. Creepily horrifying. Either way, it’s gothic. The author tells you right there in the title. I’m not a big fan of horror – gothic or otherwise. You can keep your atmospheric creepies to yourself.

This book absorbed me. I literally could not put it down.

Noemi Taboada is my kind of girl: smart and sassy. She’s contemplating an advanced degree in anthropology, if only she can convince her father that there’s more to a well-off woman’s life than marriage and family. In Mexico in the 1950s, this is a harder sell than it should be. She’s also something of a party girl, who enjoys dancing and smoking with her active social circle.

Her cousin Catalina, though, is cut from more traditional cloth. She is married and has moved to her new husband’s remote estate, away from the family in Mexico City. When the family receives troubling letters from and about Catalina, Noemi agrees to her father’s plan to visit her cousin and investigate the situation.

Catalina has married Virgil Doyle, oldest son of a family that immigrated to Mexico generations ago but have maintained an English sensibility, including not speaking Spanish. They came for the silver mines and stayed for reasons that become clear later. The house (in all honestly, a sinister mansion) is dark – literally with drapes pulled and limited electricity – decorated with overwrought furnishings in a variety of mythological motifs and loaded with tarnished silver. Gothic oozes out of the story’s rotting wainscoting.

Noemi is not a particularly welcome visitor. She smokes. She asks questions. She’s not particularly interested in being obedient to the Doyles’ odd rules. She wants to see her cousin. She visits town. She roams the family’s cemetery where she befriends younger cousin Francis, who helps her understand that not all is right or well at High Place – and not just because the family’s fortunes are dwindling with the mines being closed.

Francis has a fascination with fungus. Mushrooms are his main interest, and I don’t want to spoil too much – but it’s relevant. He also seems to spend plenty of time outdoors to get away from his overbearing family: Virgil who reeks of ambition and charisma but codes as emotionally abusive, and Florence, the strict maiden aunt who is the enforcer for Howard, the ailing patriarch with a keen interest in eugenics. Honestly, I’d spend as much time outside as I could, too.

Noemi’s questions reveal that the Doyle family has all sorts of secrets and scandals, including murder and incest. Things start to fall into place just as Noemi begins to demonstrate the same sort of worrisome symptoms as her cousin Catalina. Noemi’s vivid dream sequences contribute to the sense of impending doom and overall wrongness. When Howard and Florence forcibly insist that Noemi marry Francis, it all comes apart at the seams and a nightmare of truly gothic proportions ensues. The author fully embraces Latin magical realism as she dives into the deep end of the horror genre.

You should read it, preferably on a dank, rainy day in a spider-infested garret. Personally, I am glad I read it on a hot, summer day next to a window while traveling on a train. Mexican Gothic is available in print, ebook, and eaudiobook.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).

HiJinx at the ALA Conference

by Addison and Simone

The co-hosts of HCLS’ podcast, HiJinx, recall attending the annual American Library Association Conference in June. They had a great time, and hope you enjoy the podcast episode from the convention floor.

Three HCLS staff members in a photo with the Eiffel Tower behind them, says "Greetings from ALA 2022."

FROM ADDISON

I was at the ALA Conference to gather soundbites for the podcast. Coming from a career in the private sector, I could only pull from my recent experience at a smaller conference. I was concerned with capturing enough exciting material to appeal to our podcast’s audience. Nonetheless, I arrived, stepped on the escalator, and descended to the exhibit floor. I glanced out in astonishment. The conference floor was expansive, large enough to fit more commercial airplanes than one could count on their fingers.

ALA provides public, academic, government, and special libraries with programming, tools, and services. The 2022 annual convention was attended by 7,738 librarians, along with 5,431 exhibitors, publishers, and authors. My concern about filling a podcast episode became replaced with where to begin and what to cut.

We began our interviews, and as I’ve become accustomed to in the industry, people were friendly and willing to share their stories. This made the experience feel like we were catching up with old friends and not pointing a recorder at strangers. Before I knew it, it was nearing the end of the exhibit and time to go home to produce the podcast.

When listening to the episode, you will hear author interviews and publishers’ discussions, as well as learn about valuable vendors and services. In addition, you will get a glimpse at the inner working of the library world, one that I am excited to be a part of.

FROM SIMONE

This June when I had the opportunity to go to the ALA Conference, our team was in the company of other library professionals and literary enthusiasts. The event featured guest speakers and authors, exhibits, and vendors.  

As first-timers, it was not easy to imagine the enormity of this conference. By the time we reached the vicinity of the convention center (while circling for good parking in the city on a busy Sunday), the sidewalks were bustling with attendees from all around the country. Buses rolled by wrapped in branding from related literary and tech companies, as increased crossing guards and security manned the busy intersections. So, we were in the right place – check! After making our way to the building, through COVID-19 screening, and check-in, it was time to hit the exhibit floor with our roving podcast.

We were in search of what’s now, new, and next in libraries. Since we met up at the Mango Languages booth – and posed in “Paris” at their green screen photo-op – it was only fitting to begin our interviews right there. HCLS customers have access to this convenient (and highest-rated) language-learning app.  

Next up was a spirited chat with another Library vendor, Hoopla, a media streaming platform and probably one of HCLS’ biggest cheerleaders. We continued to wade through the sea of booths and conduct interviews with an array of vendors, authors, publishers, and a couple of staff members we bumped into along the way.  

To hear directly from these dedicated individuals and organizations who help us bring high-quality education and services to the community, tune into Episode 48 of the HiJinx Podcast and explore the Library’s website for access to each resource.

Happy listening!  

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Image of a woman in a red shirt, red lipstick, and a white apron holding a cookbook across her chest. Red gingham boarder

by Kristen B.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan could be easily categorized (and perhaps dismissed) as “women’s fiction” since it offers a solid look at four women’s lives in 1942 Britain. I rather despair of idea that novels about women and their daily travails are some how less weighty or less literary than more masculine options. This book is a highly readable reminder that not all the wartime effort took place on the continent and upon the seas, amid spies and battles. The first page provides a list of what a week’s worth of rations were for an adult – and let me tell you, it wasn’t much! Rationing continued in the UK for more than a decade after the end of the war, and I have wondered if we could have sustained that kind of national effort. We tend to look back at the 1950s of a time of growth and prosperity in the US (although not for all demographics), but it was a very different prospect for our allies.

World War II poster featuring a woman in gloves and hat talking to a grocer that read: Help Win the War on the Kitchen Front.

It naturally fell to women to figure out how to make rations stretch to feed their families. In the days before packaged or frozen foods, everything was local and homemade, and the reality was that nobody got enough to eat by modern standards. Gardens (along with pigs, chickens, and bees) were a survival strategy, not just patriotic palaver. The BBC really did host a show called The Kitchen Front, which included ideas and recipes to make rations work and stretch – whether it was tinned sardines, Spam, or some other unfamiliar type of protein, like whale meat. This book starts with that show and adds a fictional local contest to find a relatable female host.

Of the four main characters and contestants in the book, Audrey spends her entire waking life working to feed her family and maintain their house. Her husband was an early RAF casualty, and she has three growing, hungry boys. Her husband was also an artist who mortgaged their home to the rafters, and she is left baking pies and cakes to try to make ends meet. Her home and garden become the center of the story in crucial ways.

The other three main characters each have their own private battles to fight. Gwendoline is Audrey’s sister, though she married up with the local fat-cat businessman and landowner. While a social success, the marriage and the man have proven to be unhappy decisions. The kitchen maid and apprentice cook at Gwendoline’s manor house, Nell, needs a little confidence in her own skills. She provides a young, hopeful perspective. The final woman, Zelda DuPont, worked as a French-trained chef in fancy London hotels before the war brought her to head the canteen at Gwendoline’s husband’s pie making factory. Zelda has fought tooth and nail to succeed in a man’s world before an unscrupulous, handsome cad leaves her heading to the country, an unmarried mother to be.

The convenient machinations of the contest and various plot lines bring all four women together, with Gwendoline having a connection to each of the women but Audrey operating as the beating heart of the story. The plot is mostly predictable, but I didn’t mind that at all. The characters are so wonderful, each in her own way, that I loved spending time with them. Not only did I need to know who wins the BBC contest, I enjoyed their unique points of view and individual struggles. Is it better to marry for love or money and position? Is it better to have a career or raise a family? It is better to be in service or more independent? There are no right answers, but women still struggle with these questions and the myth of “doing it all.” But when we support each other and do it together, everyone wins.

The Kitchen Front is available in print, large print, ebook, and eaudiobook.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).

The Reason That I Read: Mary Downing Hahn 

Top down view of feet in sneakers, a muddy creek, and a man's face in the lower right corner

by Julie N.

I am excited to be able to host my favorite author at Central Branch on Friday, August 19 at 3 pm and to have the opportunity to celebrate her extensive career. She is a fan favorite, a kid favorite, and my favorite! Over the years, many students have been captivated by the stories she creates, the worlds she builds, and the magic in her words. Mary Downing Hahn thoughtfully weaves ghosts, history, and local places into her books.

As an awkward, homeschooled seventh grader I would hardly have called myself a reader. Far from it, in fact! I enjoyed looking at books, but to be honest I can name only a few that ever stood out to me as a child. While visiting the old Miller Branch, I found a book called The Wind Blows Backward by Mary Downing Hahn. Many of you probably know Mary Downing Hahn for her incredibly popular ghost stories such as Wait Till Helen Comes, Deep and Dark and Dangerous, and Took (also in graphic format), but I first fell in love with her realistic fiction. I devoured her adventures like The Spanish Kidnapping Disaster and mysteries such as The Dead Man in Indian Creek.

A boy with a flashlight stands on an open curving staircase, with a spooky hand reaching out of the shadows toward the back of his head. The

At some point, I tried one of Mary Downing Hahn ghost stories, Time for Andrew, and immediately bought my first bag of marbles. I quickly followed that with one of her most popular books, Wait Till Helen Comes, about a young girl at odds with her new step-siblings, a farmhouse complete with a backyard graveyard, and the ghost of a young girl named Helen. 

Mary began her career as an illustrator and a children’s librarian before, thankfully, directing her sights on writing children’s books. Her first book was published in 1979 and she has authored dozens of books since then. Most known for her ghost stories, she doesn’t shy away from writing genuinely scary books for children, and they love her for it! Notably, she has won more than 50 child-voted state awards for her work. 

I love reading her stories and recognizing the locations where they took place. Mary Downing Hahn is the author of the first book I loved and many more that followed. She is a valued author, a local favorite and she is, without a doubt, the reason that I read.

Julie is the teen instructor and research specialist at Central Branch.

Visit us at the Howard County Fair

STEAM Machine with blue awning deployed sits on a grassy patch, with a popup tent next to it.

Do you love the fair? Deep fried everything? Rides? Awards for livestock and hand-crafts? What’s not to love?

This year, as you come in the front gates, look for Howard County Library System’s new STEAM Machine. Stop by to participate in a STEAM-related activity, watch a demo, or take a tour of our new (air conditioned!) mobile unit. The 33’ Farber diesel bus features a climate-controlled classroom that seats twelve students. It is equipped with Wi-Fi, laptop computers, two 49” LED TVs, sound system, video production equipment, materials, and supplies, including science kits to conduct experiments and complete projects. A 55” LCD monitor and two awnings allow classes to be taught and activities conducted outside.

As the mobile classroom goes out into our community, students can borrow books and other materials on STEAM subjects. Our goal is to transform students into scientists investigating new phenomena and engineers designing solutions to real-world problems.

Tonya Aikens, President & CEO of HCLS, notes, “Howard County Library System is coordinating with community partners to schedule STEAM Machine classes across the county. Our goal is to bring opportunities for hands-on STEAM education to students from under-resourced communities and families who, for an array of reasons, are often unable to come to our branches.”

HCLS instructors will teach most classes with contributions from scientists and engineers from the Maryland STEAM community, who will be recruited for special events. HCLS is collaborating with community partners to determine student aspirations and needs, identify community locations for STEAM Machine visits, and schedule classes and events. 

The STEAM Machine is funded in part by an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Maryland State Library Agency.

See you at the Fair!

Author Works with Michael Twitty

Portrait of Michael W. Twitty, wearing a zip-up hoodie and touching his beard.

Thursday, Aug 11 from 7 – 8 pm at Miller Branch.

Please register to attend. Limited seats.
Register at bit.ly/twittyhcls

In partnership with the Howard County Jewish Federation and Baltimore Jewish Council

In his new book KosherSoul, Michael Twitty, author of the acclaimed The Cooking Gene (read a review), explores the cultural crossroads of Jewish and African diaspora cuisine and issues of memory, identity, and food.

Twitty examines the creation of African/Jewish global food as a conversation of migrations, a dialogue of diasporas, and the rich background for people who participate in it. At the same time, he shares recipes for Southern culinary touchstones like apple barbecue sauce, watermelon and feta salad, and collard green lasagna, while blending the traditions of his mixed identity into new creations such as Louisiana style latkes and kush. KosherSoul is more than a cookbook, it’s an exploration of selfhood when born at a crossroads of race.

The question is not just who makes the food and who it belongs to, but how food makes the people, reflects the journey, and validates the existence of these marginalized identities. Twitty aims to move beyond the idea of Jews of Color as outliers, but as significant and meaningful cultural creators in both Black and Jewish civilizations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A highly sought-after speaker and consultant, Twitty has appeared on programs with Andrew Zimmern, Henry Louis Gates, Padma Lakshmi, and most recently on Michelle Obama’s Waffles and Mochi.

He is a TED Fellow and was just named as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. His first MasterClass course, “Tracing Your Roots Through Food,” is now available. Over the past year he has partnered with Atlas Obscura to teach multiple online seminars and was the first guest on a new web series for their food division. Michael will also be a Consulting Producer on a new food competition program coming soon from OWN. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.