Tackling National History Day

NHD initials above two red bars, interspaced with National History Day text

By Deborah B.

It’s not cheating! 

September is around the bend, bringing refrigerators adorned with leaf collages, stink bugs, and virtual football parties with snacks of imaginary calories. It also catapults middle and high school students into the vast expanse that is the National History Day Project, a year-long exploration of an historical topic where students analyze the topic’s immediate and long term impact and its connection to the annual theme, then create a structured presentation model showcasing their extensive research and conclusions in a national competition for grades, glory, and potential monetary awards. Piece of cake.

Parents, do not hit the liquor cabinet! We are here to help! Seriously, it is not cheating for students to get research and analysis assistance. Teachers and parents are frequently tapped, but there is a local, free, natural habitat for history and research nerds eager to help search for buried sources… Howard County Library System.

This year’s theme is Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. How do people exchange information and interact with each other? Think of the act of communicating, the motivation for the communication, the who or what the communication affects. Think of how we struggle with conveying meaning today, even without Zoom calls.

Our virtual classes such as Topic Development and Maximize Your History Day Research offer insights into these questions and others relating to the theme. In October, the NHD Thesis Workshop is a safe mosh pit for students to deconstruct, reconstruct, and beat the heck out of their arguments until they are honed enough to substitute as historical reenactment weapons. Well, maybe not that sharp. Our classes, databases, and collection resources are also not cheats. National History Day encourages students to create a reliquary of history-hunting tools.

Also, these classes are not exclusive to NHD students! We welcome parents and teachers and all teens interested in upgrading their critical thinking skills. In addition, we will host a complement of news literacy performance training. Beware aged opinions. Ideas and thinking can stagnate, even ideas originally based on empirical evidence. Have there been new discoveries? Is there new data? Healthy, critical thinking requires stimuli and exercise, and we coach students through bias obstacles and teach strategies to combat fallacies and fear of opposing viewpoints.

In the next few weeks, somewhere in the county, a child will be assigned a NHD project. There is hope! Our mission, aside from mixing as many metaphors as possible in this blog post, is to help students achieve their academic potential. A small donation of the student’s time rewards them with research guidance and alleviates a librarian suffering from an overabundance of historical minutia. So, go online or call to register for one of our fall NHD classes as soon as they open.

Remember, it’s not cheating.

Deborah B. is a triple threat nerd of books, history, and actual triplets. 

The Longest (Virtual) Table with Daryl Davis

There’s a place for you at the Longest (virtual) Table on Saturday, October 17 from 5:30 – 8 pm for some great conversation with folks in the community. We really look forward to our annual dinner date and didn’t want to cancel altogether, so for all the 2020 reasons, the event is going virtual. And, it’s FREE!

This year, we are excited to introduce a guest speaker: Daryl Davis, acclaimed jazz musician and race relations expert. Through interactions with a fan, Davis gained access – as a Black man – to meeting with Ku Klux Klan members. He eventually became the recipient of robes and hoods from Klan members who came to rescind their beliefs after getting to know him. Davis has received acclaim for his book, Klan-Destine Relationships, and his work in race relations from many respected sources, including: CNN, CNBC, Good Morning America, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Baltimore Sun. He is the recipient of the The American Ethical Union’s Elliott-Black Award, The Washington Ethical Society’s Bridge Builder, and the Search for Common Ground Award, among others.

After Davis talks to us about his encounters, we connect with new friends to discuss issues facing our community in small breakout rooms with no more than 10 people (probably fewer). Other elements enliven what promises to be an exciting evening. You can enter the online event at 5:30 pm to watch HCLS’ art instructor Jereme Scott’s video demonstrating drawing techniques.

Order and pick up dinner from one of our restaurant partners (place your own order directly with the restaurant) or make your own meal and join us at the table! “Secret menu suggestions” for our event:

  • Anegada Delights Caribbean Cuisine – Jerk Chicken (Spicy) w/ two sides – $12.99; side choices: rice and peas, mac and cheese, cabbage, plantains, zucchini, (jerk mac and cheese $1.99 extra)
  • Cured | 18th & 21st – Cedar Plank Salmon with bacon braised collard greens, sweet potato hash, maple glaze, crispy leeks – $27.21; large sides $8 each: paprika fries, house side salad, sweet potato fries
  • Roving Radish meal kit – Kit includes ingredients for two meals for four people – $38 ($18 subsidized); Week 26 menu options will include an Apple Cider Chicken meal and vegetarian meal. All orders must be placed before Sunday, October 4 at midnight and picked up by Wednesday, October 14. Please allow time for at-home meal preparation prior to the start of event.

Longest Table T-shirts are also on sale for $25; proceeds benefit HCLS’ commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Reserve your place at the table today!

Plastic Bags Upcycling

by Kimberly J.

many plastic bags
“Many Plastic Bags” by Keng Susumpow is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

In the United States alone, it is estimated that 100 billion plastic bags are consumed each year. I’m guessing that we all have a few extra laying around the house, saved up from the last grocery trip, or hiding in a cupboard or box. Why not try upcycling them? Upcycling is the process of turning trash into treasure. These DIY projects and ideas help to reduce waste by reusing items that are destined for the landfill and transforming them into something new, useful, or beautiful. Two instructors from Howard County Library System have filmed classes for ideas on how to upcycle plastic bags into something useful. They are available on HCLS’s YouTube channel, which is full of On-Demand classes.

In the first video, the Central Branch’s Tamarah Nuttle gives a step-by-step tutorial on how to make plarn. Plarn is a heavy duty plastic yarn that can be created with all types of plastic bags. She demonstrates two methods for transforming them using scissors – creating loops and knotting them together, or making a continuous strip with the bag. The plarn can then be knitted or crocheted for endless practical purposes. Some ideas include rolled mats for the homeless or a sit-upon for camping or outdoor activities. If you’ve got experience with knitting or crocheting, you should check out Tamarah’s plarn tutorial here:

Upcycling Plastic Bags – Making Plarn

Not a knitter? No worries! Another video has been produced by Kimberly J, who is an instructor at the Elkridge Branch’s DIY Educational Center. She too has practical tips on how to upcycle plastic bags. Kimberly’s tutorial involves cutting loops and then braiding the plastic strands into a rope. She then uses this rope to make fun coasters using a hot glue gun. Watch her tutorial using simple steps for this crafty upcycle here: https://youtu.be/utMvzWsoS7s

Looking for more ways to reuse plastic bags? Check out the link below for a list of ideas for your household, home improvement, crafts, and more: https://tinyurl.com/ReusingPlasticBags

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch. She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

Virtual Author Visit with Fredrik Backman

The author, dressed in a dark grey button down shirt, stands with his hands in his jeans pockets. He has short brown hair, and a slight beard.

Frederik Backman discusses his newest book, Anxious People, on Thursday, September 10 at 5 pm. Signed copies of Anxious People are available for online pre-order through the Curious Iguana bookstore. This poignant comedy tells the story of a crime that never took place, a bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Rich with Backman’s, “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature,” according to Shelf Awareness, Anxious People’s whimsical plot serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day. 

Backman is the New York Times bestelling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt-Marie was Here, among other titles. He lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children.

A Man Called Ove is the classic story of a curmudgeon, but with a twist: he didn’t develop this attitude in old age, he’s been “a grumpy old man since he started elementary school.” As we learn more about Ove through glimpses of his past, we realize that the rule-following, the caustic comments, the meticulous planning, all ensue from a beautiful love story and Ove’s resulting losses. With dismayingly unconventional new neighbors, can he find a path forward and live up to the example of his wife, Sonja, a wonderful woman whose thoughtfulness and kind nature would welcome them with open arms? Or will he continue to be his cantankerous, resistant self? Read this delightful story to find out, if you are not already one of the millions who have loved this book full of hilarity and heart.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry describes a touching relationship between 7-year-old Elsa and her 77-year-old Grandmother. The two of them have a secret world, where they escape to tell stories and play make-believe (or so you think). The regular world holds many scary realities for a precocious little girl, including big dogs, bullies, impending new siblings, and cancer. Sometimes grandmothers, even the eccentric ones, know exactly what their grand-daughters need. This story rewards the reader’s patience, as all the seemingly disparate pieces slowly form a highly satisfactory, emotional resolution.

Whether you jump in with the newest book or treat yourself to some of Backman’s older titles, you will be entertained and enlightened. Register now for the online author event!

The event is cosponsored by Maryland Humanities, Frederick County Public Library, Curious Iguana, and the Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts.

I Am An E-book Convert

The image shows a pair of hands holding an ereader with a remote sandy beach, rocky hills, and a turquoise sea and hazy blue sky in the background.

By Alan S.

I am a recent convert to the pleasures of an e-book. I appropriately played the T-Rex who needed help in a recent Facebook video. I have always preferred physical books over eBooks, enjoying the feel of holding a book in my hand more than the feel of a tablet or phone. I resisted the call of eBooks for a while. Working in a library, all of those printed books were right in front of me. Why choose to look at a screen? What would ever make me choose to read a book on a device?

The first thing that changed my feelings about the electronic version was packing for trips, especially those requiring plane travel. When taking a road trip, it is easy to fill a bag with books and throw them in the trunk. This is not so simple when you are packing for a plane ride. I started packing one or two physical books, then downloading a few e-books as a backup. I still usually take at least one physical book on a trip, but tend more toward eBooks when traveling. I’m sure my family likes the extra space to pack other things.

An increase in the number of audiobooks I listened to also led to an increased use of eBooks. My car is still equipped with a CD player, so a book on CD is an option, but there are benefits to an eAudiobook. The biggest is the lack of a need to change CDs. I hated listening to a book in the car and getting to the end of a CD with no safe way to change to continue the book. With eAudio, the book continues without your help. I have also learned the joy of increasing the speed on some books. When reading for an assignment, or if the reader reads very slowly, I can listen at a faster speed and still enjoy the book (I might also be a tad impatient).

If you are ready to join me as an eBook convert, see HCLS’ resources.

If you need help accessing your eBooks or with any of our other online resources, please join us for live Online Tech Time Wednesday, July 22 at 11:30 am. Other sessions of this useful class will be offered in the future.

Alan has worked for HCLS for just under 25 years, currently at the Savage Branch. He enjoys reading, television, and most sports.

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

The author sits on a rustic bench against a green shingled wall holding a plate of food in one hand and resting the other on a small wooden bushel basket. He is dressed in a linen shirt, a beige vest, and grey pans. A cast iron skillet hangs over the upper left corner with the subtitle in it.

Review by Kristen B.

The James Beard Award-winning book, The Cooking Gene, defies categorization: part memoir, part highly researched historical account of Southern foodways, and part genealogical research into the author’s ancestry. It also includes recipes. By no means an easy book to read in its themes or storytelling, Twitty takes us on journeys throughout the American colonies with the contributions of enslaved Africans front and center. The book generally follows the history of the American South, but other bits work their way in, too. Personal experiences and family stories intersperse with long lists of ingredients found at plantation feasts. It’s like having an extremely learned docent talking about all his favorite subjects, which is a fair assessment of the situation.

Michael Twitty is a gay, black, Jewish man who interprets historical Southern cooking, particularly from the pre-Civil War era. His book recounts some of those experiences, intermingled with a wealth of knowledge about how “soul food,” that indelible American cultural touchstone, came to be. As human beings made the Middle Passage from Africa to America, food and culture naturally travelled with them. The Cooking Gene presents a fascinating dissection of slave-holding states and their regional variations, from the Chesapeake area along the Low Country of the Carolinas and Gullah-Geechee to the deep South of Louisiana and Alabama. Each area offered something new and different into the country’s cooking lexicon, and most of those old kitchens were run by slaves … some of whom were even trained in Paris to further increase the standings of the families they served.

Twitty focuses on food as a way to explain the people: yams, corn, rice, greens, tobacco, and more. As part of the food history, he also details the different eras of human commerce and wrote a sentence that stopped me cold in my tracks and that I’ve thought about ever since:

The black body was the single most valuable commodity in the American marketplace between the years 1790 and 1860 (p. 321).

The other major thread winding through this astounding book is what Twitty calls his Southern Discomfort Tour. He, with the help of genetic testing and professional genealogists, has traced more than eight generations of his family’s history in America. He located records of his ancestors’ lives along the North Carolina/Virginia border, as well as deeper into the South. He found receipts of their sales and how they were listed among assets of landowners. From his genetic testing results, he could identify which regions and tribes his family belonged to in West and Central Africa. His racial heritage also includes more than a quarter European descent, which led him to travel to London and Dublin to claim those parts of his heritage, too. I realized that Twitty’s family has been in America longer than just about anyone’s I know. Twitty pulls very few punches recounting the terrors and sordid realities of life for slaves. The genius of this book is that the author puts so much of himself into the telling that the reader must do him the respect of listening.

I learned so much, including the sheer diversity of the African population that made the Middle Passage and how – truly, in every way – African-Americans built our country. They were the field hands, builders and master craftsmen, knowledgable farmers and hunters, and yes … the cooks who fed everyone. I learned about the history of our country’s foods and about a diversity that we lack in our modern era of packaged foods and monocultures. In my family, as in so many others, food is love. The Cooking Gene is nothing short of Michael Twitty’s love letter to his culture, his family, and the foodways of the American South.

This title is available in the collection as a book, eBook, and eAudiobook, both via Overdrive and RB Digital, which has the “always available” audio as part of its Anti-Racism reading list.

If you are interested in learning more about the African-American experience and anti-racism, join us for an online conversation on Monday, July 20 with Ibram X. Kendi on “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” Registration required.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.

Let’s Talk Books!

I think most of my colleagues would agree that suggesting books to our customers is one of the best parts of our job. The benefit is two-fold. First, we recognize a fellow bibliophile when someone comes to the desk and asks, “Can you suggest a good book?” The person offers us an opportunity to talk about something that we love to talk about – books. Second, the customer, in turn, tells us about the books that they loved, and we reach for pen and paper to note the title and add to our ‘to read’ list. Many customers simply go to the Staff Picks shelf which the library staff keep filled with their favorite books and other materials. More often than not, our Staff Picks are cleaned out by our customers, giving us the opportunity to browse the stacks and find more treasures to fill our shelves.

When the library closed due to the pandemic, we quickly pivoted to virtual classes and online book clubs, yet we missed those customers who came to the library in search of a good read. They browsed our stacks, they asked us for suggestions, and they picked up books from our staff picks. We felt, they are, most likely, missing that personal touch as well.

To bridge the gap between librarians and the book lovers in the community, we came up with a solution which was only second best to meeting in person. Those of us who did reader’s advisory at the library and also gained from the knowledge of books from our community members came together to create a class called Staff Picks and Book Chat.

This is the plan we envisioned. A couple of HCLS staff members will briefly talk about a few books of their choice, then open the floor to the community members who register to attend the class to talk about the books that they loved. Everyone attending will get book suggestions from each other in the process. At this time of physical distancing, it is important we connect, albeit virtually, over something that we love, in this case, our collective love for books. We want to see you regularly, so we decided to hold the sessions every 2nd and 4th Friday of the month from 11 – 11:45 am.

If you would like to join us this Friday, July 10, register here.

The staff of Howard County Library System cannot wait to hear about all the books that you have read and loved.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Everything Hamilton

Antique paper background with black image of heroic figure pointing to the sky from on top of a star.

Review by Cherise T.

Alexander Hamilton.

My name is Alexander Hamilton.

And there’s a million things I haven’t done

But just you wait, just you wait…

If this stanza makes your heart beat faster or maybe even brings tears to your eyes, then Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, is the book for you. “Splurge” and download the audiobook as well since Mariska Hargitay’s narration is outstanding. Like the musical itself, words come at the reader fast, and it’s an adventure deciding where to plunge in first. The text, the personal side notations, the primary source materials, and the graphics are a treasure and a joy. The libretto alone would fill a Hamilton fan’s heart, but the book also includes an abundance of stories about the creation of all aspects of the musical. We see the development of the show from the perspectives of creatives and cast members. The vintage-style photographs of the cast taken by Josh Lehrer using a camera lens from the mid-1800s are gorgeous. The book is a celebration of the full arc of the production’s evolution, from Lin’s first rap for the Obamas in 2009 at the White House, through the off-Broadway production, and all the way to opening night on Broadway in 2015. There’s nothing like being in the room where it happens.

On July 13 at 7 pm, author Richard Bell is going to discuss some of the history surrounding Alexander Hamilton. Register with an email address to receive an immediate registration confirmation. You will receive the link to the online class in the confirmation email. If you prefer to call in by phone, please register for the class online, then email askhcls@hclibrary.org to request the dial-in information at least 1 business day in advance.

With Disney+ streaming Hamilton this July, University of Maryland Associate Professor of History Dr. Bell explores this musical phenomenon. He discusses what this amazing musical gets right and gets wrong about Hamilton, the American Revolution, the birth of the United Sates, and about why all that matters. It includes an examination of the choices Hamilton’s creators made to simplify, dramatize, and humanize the complicated historical events and stories. We will also talk about Hamilton’s cultural impact: what does its runaway success reveal about the stories we tell each other about who we are and about the nation we made?

Dr. Bell is the author of Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home. The book tells the gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South – and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice. The book is available to borrow as a physical book and as an eAudiobook via Overdrive/Libby.

Cherise T. is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

A beige background with blood red off-kilter font that reads Midnight Riot with the author's name in black sans serif above it. A red splatter colors the top portion of a black line drawing of a map of London, and turns the Thames River red too.

Reviewed by Kristen B.

This fast paced police procedural, set in modern London, comes with a twist. Peter Grant’s only goal in life is to be promoted from probationary constable to detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. His plans seem to be thwarted at every turn, and he is sure he will be marking time in a records unit when he gets his first big break: an eyewitness to a murder. The big problem occurs when Peter realizes that said witness is a ghost. Grant then learns about an entire other kind of investigating as he becomes the apprentice to DCI Thomas Nightingale, who investigates uncanny and potentially magical crimes.

Midnight Riot takes you on a fantastic wild ride through London’s neighborhoods and immediate countryside, with Peter Grant as your point of view both to familiar London and to unfamiliar magic. I love Peter to pieces, with his modern take on life, an old-fashioned wish to serve, and perhaps even a mild case of ADD. I learned a bit of modern British slang (some of which I had to look up) and some ancient history about the geography of the River Thames.

If you love to watch Supernatural or enjoy any sort of magical realism, this is the first installment in an established series of books. If you happen to see it listed as Rivers of London, that’s how it was originally published in England. No matter how you find it, it’s a terrific, fun read. You can find it as an eAudiobook via RB Digital.

Books on Tap will be discussing Midnight Riot on Wednesday, June 3 at 6 pm via an online meeting. If you’d like to join us, please register and a WebEx invitation will be sent to you. Many other book discussion groups are also offering online discussions, please join one that suits your reading tastes and schedule!

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.