National Library Week: Battle of the Books

Lighted sign with a yellow star and a sweeping directional arrow which reads "Battle of the Books."
Howard County Library System and the Howard County Public School System are excited to bring you the 2023 Battle of the Books at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

National Library Week is drawing to a close for this year, but there’s still so much to celebrate. Tonight, more than 300 teams of fifth graders compete in Battle of the Books at Merriweather Post Pavilion (rain or shine)!

These are the titles that students have read and become experts about:

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas

I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer by Lamar Giles

The Science of Breakable Things by Tai Keller

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

Simon B. Rhymin’ by Dwayne Reed

Science Comics, Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate by M. K. Reed

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Battle of the Books is an energetic competition between fifth graders who form teams and then “battle” to win through quizzes based on 12 books. They must know the books, inside and out. Last year, I served as a Battle of the Books judge, and I was overwhelmed by the energy! The kids’ enthusiasm for this event can’t be overstated, and it’s something special to witness. This year, a record number of teams registered, and I know it’s going to be another amazing event.

I am lucky enough to have a mother who passed on her love of reading to me and my sister. The library was a sacred place for me when I was growing up. I would often borrow 10 or more books at a time. Fast forward to today: if you walk into my house right now, you’ll find stacks of books in almost every room. Planting the seeds early in my life led to lifelong curiosity and a thirst for learning. For me, reading is an exploration and an adventure I go on almost every single day. It’s an honor for me to serve on the Friends Board. Join me and support Battle of the Books by becoming a Friend of the Library. You’ll be making a difference that lasts a lifetime.

Wendy Slaughter, Friends & Foundation of HCLS Board Member

If you’d like to join the Friends and support the Library, you can give a donation right now and receive a beautiful basket of flowers as a thank you. Friends supports Battle of the Books by purchasing sets of books for all teams.

Children’s Discovery Fair: Back to the Basics

Library staff reads a book to a couple of children.
Children’s Discovery Fair 2022

by Kathleen W.

Welcome! Welcome!
All Howard County families with children aged 3-5 are welcome to join us as we celebrate the Month of the Young Child
with Back to the Basics at the annual Children’s Discovery Fair.

Our goal is to prepare your child for school readiness and success in education. This year’s offering has a stellar line up of literacy,
movement, music and steam activities – story times, crafts, free dental screenings, give a-ways, and much more! For starters,
the library’s On the Road to Kindergarten van will be at the Discovery Fair the entire time. Everyone is welcome to climb on board and see what this mobile library has to offer. You can get a library card on the spot and check out any of the amazing finds aboard.

Then, how about the variety of classes and demonstrations offered specifically for you and your children? Ever wonder about STEAM activities for your preschooler? Join the fun of the Shape Hunt while your child participates in counting, grouping and comparing shapes. Explore movement and have fun while dancing with scarves and clapping to the beat of the music. Let your child engage in the sporting challenge of Solo Cup Bowling.

Take the challenge with Free* Interactive* Easy-To-Do competitions and demonstrations specifically designed for your preschooler. The menu includes some of these exciting activities:
*Loud and silly story times
*Creating art tools
*Cars and ramps
*Blowing bubbles
*Building with Lego and blocks
*Marching band and many others!
And when you need a break…calm yourself and relax with yoga movement and play.

See you on Saturday, April 22 from 10 am – 1 pm at the North Laurel Community Center (9411 Whiskey Bottom Rd, Laurel).

Kathleen is a full-time Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Savage Branch.

April is National Poetry Month

Black and white drawing of two children peering over the edge of a crumbling sidewalk edge, with the title beneath. A dog has fallen partway through behind them.

by Kristen B.

April is National Poetry Month. We need at least that long to appreciate all the wonderful poets and poems that enrich our lives. Poetry allows us the see the world in new ways. The rhythms and allusions of poetry open views or thoughts that ordinary prose simply cannot elicit through standard structures. Whether recounting lengthy epics like the Iliad or appreciating life’s little joyous moments with Mary Oliver, poetry’s language can transport us.

Do you have any favorites? Do any memorized pieces live in your mind? I first read Dylan Thomas‘ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” the year my father was diagnosed with cancer. “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light” has been with me ever since. In less fraught circumstances, my sister memorized Shel Silverstein‘s “Sick” when she was in elementary school – it’s still fun to recall its whimsical truth as adults. I know quite a few people who can recite all the nonsensical words of the heroic “Jabberwocky,” from Lewis Carroll’s classic story, Through the Looking Glass – famously performed by the Muppets, in case you haven’t seen it.

We invite you to celebrate a month of poetry. Whether you borrow a volume or anthology of poetry, or attend a class, we hope that you take a moment or two to enjoy some wonderful words. And, on April 27 – official Poem in Your Pocket Day – you can keep handy an old favorite or a new, original composition to share throughout the day.

Creating from Wounds: A Generative Workshop
Adults. Register.
The power of poems is that they allow us to create from disaster, making something out of the brokenness to process and cope. In this workshop, Meg Eden shares tools that she has used in writing her latest poetry collection. Compose using interactive prompts, then receive resources to continue with your writing.
Sat, Apr 15
12:30 – 1:30 pm
Savage Branch

Poets Corner
Ages 6-11, 45 minutes. Ticketed; free tickets available 15 minutes before class starts.
There’s a poem in your head just shouting to come out! Discover the tools poets use to create verses that sparkle and shine. Read, write, and have fun sharing poems!
Sat, Apr 22
2 – 2:45 pm
Elkridge Branch

Playful Poetry
Ages 6-9, 45 minutes. Ticketed; free tickets available 15 minutes before class starts.
April is National Poetry Month – celebrate by joining us to hear and share fun poems from a variety of creators. Participants are welcome to bring a poem they love to share with the group. Maybe you will even be inspired to compose a poem of your own!
Thu, Apr 27
5 – 5:45 pm
Elkridge Branch

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 in season (but not all at the same time).

The Singing Hills Novellas

The three novella coves in a row, in pinks, oranges, and blues.

by Kristen B.

Novellas have gained in popularity recently, and I suspect it’s because you get the satisfaction of a complete story without committing to a doorstop of a book. This holds particularly true in the speculative fiction genre, where 500+ page tomes are the norm. Nghi Vo is a master of this short form.

She has crafted a series of stories that follow cleric Chih of the Singing Hills Monastery as they travel, collecting stories as they go. Singing Hills specializes in history and folklore. The most reliable way Chih can elicit a story from someone happens when they tell one version of a tale. Their listener often says something to the effect of, “that’s not how I heard it,” and proceeds with the “correct” version. Chih is accompanied by a talking hoopoe bird with perfect recall named Almost Brilliant – but their interactions are entirely so. You can enjoy three installments to date, with a fourth coming this fall.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (which won Hugo and Locus awards for best novella) is an amazing story of empire and ambition, with important details found in what is omitted as much as in what is overt. Chih visits a mostly abandoned country estate, where the only person living there happens to be the maidservant (and lover) of the former empress. She certainly has a story to tell our Singing Hills cleric! It’s one well worth the price of mild disorientation as you put the pieces of a major event together with Chih. Vo recounts this seemingly unimportant woman’s story in elegant, poetic language and imagery.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain may offer the best example of survival by asking for the corrected version of a story. As long as Chih keeps the tigers talking, they stay (mostly) safe until an expected contingent of mammoths can arrive to scare the hunters away. Tigers, you see, are proud creatures, clearly superior to humans. Just ask them. They also fall in love and prey to tricky foxes. The glory of this installment comes from understanding tigers as people – who are also hungry animals who regard Chih as a snack. It’s a wonderful story about relationships, empire, and living up (or down) to expectations.

Into the Riverlands brings Chih into the orbit of a group of travelers. This time they are in the riverlands, a delta area full of braided streams and marshlands where many rival martial arts masters co-exist – sometimes peacefully, often not. Here, Almost Brilliant shines by having a familiarity with the legendary personalities and combat styles involved. Again, beginning a story often elicits other versions and corrections. This installment offers more adventure, starting with the initial brawl in a tavern and ending with a spectacular battle. Many clues and inferences come together for an entirely satisfying conclusion.

I can’t wait to see where Chih and Almost Brilliant go next. Several colorful threads stitch these stories together: a non-Western milieu in the fantastical empire of Ahn; mostly humble, working-class protagonists, who nonetheless make a difference in their world; and cheerful acceptance of a generally queer outlook on the world. Beyond Chih’s non-binary identity, the books celebrate that love comes in many forms. We must all be true to our hearts, which is not a bad theme for some light-hearted books.

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 in season (but not all at the same time).

Meet Nyani Nkrumah, Author of Wade in the Water

The viewer peers through leaves at a young Black girl standing at the edge of water where ripples circle.

“Stunning…The author is supremely gifted at bringing both her characters and their close-knit rural town to life. Readers will eagerly await more from this writer.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Mon, Mar 27; 7 – 8 pm
HCLS Miller Branch and online
Register at

Resonant with the emotional urgency of Alice Walker’s classic Meridian and the poignant charm of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, this gripping debut novel of female power and vulnerability, race, and class explores the unlikely friendship between a precocious black girl and a mysterious white woman in a small Mississippi town in the early 1980s.

More from Publisher’s Weekly:

Nkrumah’s stunning debut revolves around an unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old Black girl and a middle-aged white woman in 1982 Ricksville, Miss., and the segregated town’s fraught history. Intelligent, questioning Ella stands out in her light-skinned Black family because she is the result of her mother’s fling with a much darker-skinned man. Her ne’er-do-well stepfather Leroy is seldom home, but when he is, he takes out his rage and humiliation by sexually abusing Ella, while her mother treats her with contempt and frequent whippings. Meanwhile, a white Princeton University professor named Katherine St. James, who was raised in Mississippi, stirs things up when she moves into the Black half of town for a research project. Though it’s been almost 20 years since the killings of three voting-rights activists nearby, the case remains unsolved and racial tensions still run high. Against this backdrop, Katherine becomes a tutor and mother figure to the love-starved Ella, but as shocking revelations emerge about Katherine’s past in 1960s Mississippi, Nkrumah leads readers to reflect on the limits of the professor’s good intentions. The author is supremely gifted at bringing both her characters and their close-knit rural town to life. Readers will eagerly await more from this writer.

Nyani Nkrumah was born in Boston and grew up in Ghana, West Africa, and later Zimbabwe. Nyani graduated from Amherst College, has a Masters from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and earned a Ph.D from Cornell University. A Fulbright Fellow, she lives in the Washington, DC area with her family and works in international development.

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

A deep red cover is illustrated in beige with twining roses, full of blooms and thorns. The title works into the top and the author's name at the bottom.

One of the pleasures of reading Orwell’s Roses is its unexpected turns from one subject to the next. – NPR

by Kristen B.

Do you enjoy tangential conversations? Where you’re not sure how you discussed so many things in one sitting? Have I got a book for you! Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit contains loosely connected essays that meander through several subjects. She recounts her global travels and wide-ranging interests, examining them all through the lens of George Orwell and his love of green and growing things. Every section starts with a variation of the sentence, “In 1936, a writer planted roses.”

Of course, the writer in question is Orwell himself, who planted a garden that contained roses at the rural cottage where he and his wife were living. The biographical bits about him include his family’s privileged background, its more recent impoverished status, his early life in India and Burma, and his latter life retreat to the remote, Scottish island of Jura. His dedication to socialist causes led him to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, fighting against Franco. His was seriously injured, and the entire experience informed much of his early writing. Orwell suffered his entire life from weak lungs, complicated by his time in both sub-tropical countries and a period spent destitute in Spain. He eventually died of tuberculosis at the age of 46. He left a legacy of prescient writing, decrying the evils of totalitarianism, but he considered his gardens and roses equally important, as revealed in some of his journalism.

Solnit’s chapters move among these facts, linking them with socialism, coal mining, art in Mexico, Soviet politics, and the rose-growing industry in modern Colombia. She actually travels to Bogota and finagles a rare tour of a flower factory. Another chapter discusses British portraitist Joshua Reynolds and Orwell’s family pedigree, which connects to anti-colonial discourse about the Empire’s reliance on Caribbean sugar and its slave economy. Which, in turn, returns her to the notion of “genteel nature,” where the wealthy and titled classes had their fashions evolve from structured, manicured gardens to more relaxed, wild cottage gardens. At the same time, she considers how the ancient custom of holding land in common disappeared with the advent of enclosure laws and how that affected lower classes. This, in turn, returns her thoughts to Orwell and his roses.

The entire book reads in this sort of overlapping, interleaved, circular fashion: much, I suppose, in the manner of rose petals. It’s all interesting, and I enjoyed the interwoven ideas. But it does seem a little disjointed at times. While Orwell and roses act as the connective threads, the book serves more as a social and historical review of certain strains of thought. I am not a regular reader of nonfiction. The ever-changing discussion worked in my favor, as there was always something new just a few pages away. It also inspired me to put both Orwell and Solnit on my future reading lists.

Orwell’s Roses is available from HCLS in book format and also as an e-book and e-audiobook from Libby/OverDrive.

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 in season (but not all at the same time).

Evening in the Stacks Goes Pop!

Black background filled with flashes reads: Get ready for the POP-arazzi. You're invited to Evening in the Stacks. In the corner, a glamorous woman with a silk scarf peers over her sunglasses.

by Kristen B.

It’s a great event! And I don’t say that only because I work for the library. I have often suspected that Evening in the Stacks is so much fun for two main reasons: 1. everyone has a little cabin fever by the end of February, and 2. there’s an element of breaking the rules by partying inside a library building. Even if, in reality, the library is rarely a hushed, quiet place.

This year, we’re celebrating all things pop culture – it’s gonna be iconic! DJ Kopec, the official DJ of the Baltimore Ravens, keeps the party going on the dance floor. You can choose to play some Pop Quiz Trivia to start the evening, testing your knowledge of what’s current. Food and beverages will be as tasty as always – with Taharka Brothers serving ice cream for dessert!

Tickets are on sale now for this annual fundraiser taking place on Saturday, February 25 from 7 – 11 pm at HCLS East Columbia Branch. Proceeds benefit Battle of the Books, an academic competition for fifth graders happening again this year at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Consider joining us – for a great party and to do some good in the community. Hope to see you there!

Looking fly and having fun on the dance floor.
Evening in the Stacks: Across Africa, held at HCLS East Columbia Branch in 2022.

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 in season (but not all at the same time).

Urban Fantasy Series

by Kristen B.

Do you remember the old Hershey’s Peanut Butter Cup ad? Who got their chocolate in my peanut butter? Who got their peanut butter in my chocolate? Sometimes, two great tastes go together! Urban fantasy follows this winning formula – you get all the modern conveniences candy-coated with some of your favorite myths and fairy tales.The genre can get a bad rap, though, with werewolves, witches, and vampires living among us, hidden in the hustle and bustle of cities.

But who doesn’t love a good series? However, they make for tricky book reviews because it’s hard to know where to begin. So, here’s a peek at four urban fantasy series by three of my favorite authors, all of whom have other work. You can decide whether you want to commit to the long – but rewarding – experience of either finding and reading a backlist title or starting at a good pickup point. Honestly, the author will tell you what you really need to know in setting up the newest book. If it turns out you enjoy urban fantasy, you’re in luck, because this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Some common, positive elements across all these series include found family, short and long narrative arcs across the series, and a subversive sense of humor.

Young bond woman dressed in a short skirt, a tied up bluse, and heels holds a fun while sitting a room. A city skyline fills the background.

Seanan McGuire: Incryptids & October Daye

McGuire is a beyond-prolific writer, maintaining multiple series at a time. The Incryptid series concerns the most recent generation of the Price/Healy clan, who have made it their goal to study and save all the “monsters” and myths who have managed to adapt and survive. The series begins with Verity Price, who is a competitive ballroom dancer for her day job. Tons of fun and super fast-paced, these books move main point-of-view characters every second or third book, so you have easy access points. Come for the scary and smart women, stay for the Aeslin Mice who worship them (no, really).
First book: Discount Armageddon
Most recent/last in series: Spelunking Through Hell, available via Interlibrary Loan

McGuire’s other big UF series follows changeling October Daye, born of a fairy mother and a mortal father. When the series begins, she has spent more than a the decade as a fish. Yep, you read that right. Toby finds work as a private investigator solving problems that involve the fey courts along the west coast. Sixteen books later, Sir Toby has made big strides with her abilities and sense of self-worth, as she strives to make the world a better place, because, honestly, she cannot leave well enough alone. Come for the wonderful cast of characters, and stay for the genuine other-ness, sometimes downright creepily so, of the faerie world.
First book: Rosemary and Rue (I started with An Artificial Night)
Most recent: Be the Serpent

A woman poses in front of an iron gate with wolves howling figured at the top. She has a paw print tattoo low on her belly, above low-rise jeans. She also has full sleeves.

Patricia Briggs: Mercy Thompson

These qualify as guilty pleasures, given the number of new, interesting books published every year. I still look forward to spending the occasional weekend with Mercy Thompson and the local werewolf pack. As the series begins, Mercy is eking out an existence for herself in the Tri-City area of Washington state, working as a mechanic and staying loosely connected to local fey community. She’s something of an oddity, as she can turn into a coyote at will but was raised in a werewolf family. The local pack lives, more or less, in her backyard, and their leader isn’t quite sure what to make of Mercy. The world-building may be a little haphazard, but it fits together well enough as repercussions from previous adventures circle around to cause further problems. Come for the sassy, stubborn VW mechanic/were-coyote, stay for a series that has grown with its protagonist.

First book: Moon Called
Most recent: Soul Taken

A dark palette conveys mystery and a sinister air, with a man in a hat, long coat, and staff figures prominently.

Jim Butcher: Harry Dresden

I have to admit these took a turn into gritty, almost grimdark, territory, and I’m a little behind with the series. As the series opens, Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only wizard for hire, complete with an ad in the yellow pages (wow, that dated quickly). He is a sarcastic, sardonic sort of knight in battered armor, tilting at windmills and living by his personal (slightly sexist) code of honor. One of Butcher’s strengths is that everybody gets their own story arc, affected by and, in turn, affecting Harry’s. Actions have consequences, and the series deals with a wide variety of disasters. Come for Harry’s adventures as he takes on high-powered enemies and frenemies – mortal, fey, and monstrous alike; stay for the sense of humor that brings you Sue the T-Rex (from the Field Museum) being animated by a one-man polka band.

First book: Storm Front
Most recent: Battle Ground

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 in season (but not all at the same time).

Author Works with Kathryn Finney

Thursday, Jan 19
6:30 – 7:30 pm
Registration and more information at

Turn your passion into profit! If you have ever dreamed about starting a business, you need to know about Kathryn Finney. She encourages you to not wait for the system to let you in. Her new book, Build the D*mn Thing, is the essential guide to knowing, breaking, remaking, and building your own rules of entrepreneurship.

She explains how to build a business from the ground up, from developing a business plan to finding investors, growing a team, and refining a product.  

Finney, an investor and startup champion, is the founder and managing general partner of Genius Guild, a Chicago-based venture fund that invests in scalable businesses led by Black founders using innovation to build and promote healthy communities. Build The D*mn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business if You’re Not a Rich White Guy made the Wall Street Journal bestsellers list in its first week of release.

In partnership with Columbia Inspired magazine and The 3rd, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, co-created, community of Women of Color entrepreneurs.

Wrapping Up 2022

Kristen B. and Julie F., Chapter Chats editors

Thank you! We appreciate our readers and subscribers who have followed Chapter Chats through another year. We share a wide variety of posts with you, from Winter Reading selections to upcoming author events to a tremendous selection of reviews – fiction and nonfiction, for adults, teens, and children.

A fairly plain cover with a red edge and the title in script and the author's name hand lettered. A small wolf stands between author and title lines.

Here are some of the most-viewed posts of the year:

These posts garnered fewer views, but are definitely worth a look if you missed them:

A black cover with gold text and a mysterious illustration of the phases of the moon, a mystical eyes, and spiral all centered above a book.

And, by far, the most viewed post since Chapter Chats began in 2020: How to Bypass the News Paywall with Your Library Card.

For more great book recommendations: HiJinx, the HCLS podcast, wrapped up its year with folks talking about their favorite reads of 2022: listen here.

We hope you’ll stick with us as we head into 2023! Happy New Year!