With racial equity at the forefront for the library and the county, a much-needed read on Hispanic life crossed my path recently. For those who may not know, I’m Cuban American. I’m in that nice little hybrid world of always exploring my Cuban-ness amidst my American-ness. I’m often torn between both worlds and questioned if I was Cuban enough for not speaking enough Spanish and not having a plethora of Hispanic friends. Yet my childhood and its lasting effects on my family orientation, personality, and work ethic set me apart from some of my “American” counterparts.
Long story long – another lovely Hispanic trait – I’m recommending Definitely Hispanic: Growing Up Latino and Celebrating What Unites Usby comedian and YouTuber LeJuan James (in homage to Lebron James, with his real name: Juan Atiles) for your primer on Hispanic and Latino life. James started as a Vine creator and moved on to YouTube with his hilarious parodies of his parents. The short, family-friendly videos highlight the realities of Hispanic culture in a good-natured format with himself acting out all of his characters (including his mom while keeping his signature beard, no less).
This engaging and honest book of essays brings to light all of the memorable things I appreciated while growing up Hispanic, including celebrating holidays dressed in all of our finery with an open door of family and friends; enduring the family gossipers and “roasting” (such as comments on weight gain or a less-than-becoming outfit) by relatives; escaping spankings via “la chancla” in a thrilling game I’d refer to as dodge-belt; watching telenovelas; and the comical list goes on and comically on.
James’ musings focus on the funny as well as tender-hearted moments surrounding his nomadic upbringing between the Dominican Republic, Florida, and Puerto Rico. In addition, he beautifully shares the strong influences of his mother and grandmother and their impacts on his work as a YouTuber. The book serves as an education on Hispanic culture, without falling into caricature or stereotypical territory. The essays are detailed and full of heart. They served as a reminder to this Cuban American that the joys of being and growing up Hispanic involve more than language.
Carmen J. is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, shamelessly watching The Bachelor, gardening, and drinking anything that tastes like coffee.
As a passionate lover of music and self-proclaimed band nerd for life, I love analyzing the music I listen to. I enjoy paying attention to all the choices that go into a work of music – the chord structure, time signature, melody, instrumentation, and so on – and I love identifying the possible musical influences that affected those choices.
Music is fascinating, in part, because so many different styles connect in some way, even if those connections are not immediately obvious. However, innovation doesn’t occur out of thin air; new musical styles have always developed out of existing ones, with artists often blending different cultural influences to create new sounds. I believe that understanding the history of American music is essential to fully appreciating the music of today, and to do so, we must center the musical innovations of Black Americans.
And now is the perfect time to do so!
While it may be a coincidence, I find it extremely fitting that June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month as well as Black Music Appreciation Month. While we don’t know how many of them would label themselves with today’s language, many pioneering Black musicians throughout history defied gender norms, had same-gender relationships, or both. Some expressed their sexuality quite openly, such as Gladys Bentley, a 1930s blues singer and pianist who performed in men’s tuxedos while flirting with female audience members. Other musicians were not as public regarding their sexuality, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the gospel-singing, electric-guitar playing “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll” who had relationships with both men and women.
Regardless of the labels that would best suit historical figures, it is worth recognizing the personal complexities of artists who lived these intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. A refusal to acknowledge the intersections between Black music history and LGBTQ+ history would be a failing to understand the foundations of American pop culture and music.
Black LGBTQ+ artists continue to have great impact on the American musical landscape: Janelle Monáe, Lil Nas X, Kehlani, and Frank Ocean, just to name a few. However, there are still many incredible artists that don’t get the amount of attention they deserve, and that is why I’d like to shine the spotlight on the singer-songwriter and activist Shea Diamond.
Shea Diamond’s music draws upon her lived experiences as a formerly incarcerated, Black trans woman, speaking to the challenges of navigating a society that has frequently marginalized her, all while remaining confident and determined to create space for herself.
Her first EP Seen It All was released in 2017 and is definitely among the most mature and masterful debuts I’ve ever heard. Shea’s dynamic, powerhouse voice conveys raw emotion, amplifying the message of her vulnerable and authentic lyrics. From playful to proud, celebratory to somber, reflective to resilient, Shea seamlessly weaves threads of her experience together into a tapestry that portrays the complexities of her life, all in five gorgeous songs that show an impressive musical range.
While she is predominantly considered a soul and R&B singer, her music has a very strong rock/pop presence that incorporates elements of funk, blues, gospel, and folk. Many artists are skilled in their musical range, but I find Shea to be unique in the particular way that she cohesively brings together the aforementioned genres. Her music is fresh and contemporary while being clearly rooted in these American musical traditions, and the message of her lyrics is amplified by the corresponding musical style and instrumentation of each song. I don’t think there’s any other artist that can get me from dancing to crying and back again as quickly and as powerfully as Shea can!
Ultimately, I find her most inspiring because of the authenticity and passion she brings to her work. She is an artist who knows the power of her voice, and she isn’t afraid to use it – from her emotional vocal techniques to the lyrics she sings. Shea Diamond has a lot to say; will you listen?
Interested in listening to CDs, too? Check out our current bundle bag options for Black Music Month and Pride in Music.
Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch. They grew up playing piano and clarinet, and are now slowly learning the ukulele. At any given moment, they might be thinking admirably about Janelle Monáe.
Many stunningly beautiful picture books are available to readers these days. Even if you don’t have young children in your life, you might be surprised at how much you appreciate picture books as an adult! Picture books can include a wide range of writing styles, sometimes with sparse or rhyming text aimed at younger readers, and sometimes with denser, more complex language. For this post, though, I want to highlight wordless picture books.
Wordless picture books offer appealing illustrations that tell the creator’s story on their own. They tend to include abundant details that provide renewed enjoyment every time the book is read and reread. If you are a caregiver for a young child, you can use wordless picture books to practice important pre-reading skills. Look through the book together. Talk about what is happening in each of the pictures. Ask the child what they notice on the page. Teach sequencing ideas and language by showing the order of events in the story. Promote the child’s confidence by inviting them to read the story to you!
Even with older children, opportunities abound for wordless picture books to enhance their literacy experience. As their vocabulary and comprehension develop, children will be able to tell more detailed and complex stories to accompany the images. Repeated experiences with reading other picture books together may inspire them to create a story that sounds very much like a published book! Children can begin analyzing literature by comparing the way a story may be told without words to a version that does include text.
Of course, the main factor that will determine the impact of sharing a wordless picture book, or one with text, is the connection between a caring adult and a child exploring the story together with joy and love. Take a look at a selection of wordless picture books from our catalog below, or ask library staff at one of our branches on your next visit.
Eliana is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).
I used to be young and naïve and I didn’t appreciate flowers, or maybe didn’t realize I appreciated them. Deep down, I was probably always the sort of person that would admire beauty around. That said, I’d implore you to get some flowers, plants, vegetation in your life.
After renovating two entire houses I have come to appreciate the beauty of living space, indoor and outdoor. How one’s surroundings engender certain feelings. My surroundings make me feel comfortable and then calm. I recall the first place that my significant other and I shared, and changed. I felt more comfortable there than I had before.
I’ll be honest, I used to think that flowers, gardens, and more generally my surroundings at home were sort of a bourgeois waste of time. Why would I spend work attending to these sorts of things, when I could read, hang out with friends, chat, drink at bars, or so many other exciting things? However, my mind has changed with innumerable carpentry projects accomplished, many, many holes dug, trees planted, landscape projects complete, planters made, and a stacked stone wall, literally built from two tons of rough stone (my least favorite project, ever).
Having trees, flowers, and plants around does indeed make me calm. (There is science to support this). So let’s take it even further: imagine if you’ve selected the plants, then planted them yourself, and watched them grow and or blossom. How about even further: what if you’d made the planter, planter box, or raised bed that holds your plants? While it may not change your life, I think you may feel happy and proud. I do, so why not try it?
Building planters, window boxes, and raised garden beds are all relatively easy DIY carpentry projects. I’ve done these all with groups in person at the HCLS Elkridge Branch DIY Education Center. I don’t mean to oversimplify this, but you’re essentially making a box, one that you spruce up however you like. For example, add some architectural detail, paint it, hand-paint a design, stain it, make it rustic, use pallet lumber. There are myriad possibilities! It is a great way to practice and learn all sorts of carpentry skills. This endeavor is made even easier because you can borrow everything you need from HCLS.
Please watch the video, and try it out. And it looks as though we’ll be able to do this in person soon at the Elkridge branch!
There are two men, radical in many respects, and I’m a fan of both, who would receive flowers from fans. I can’t say I thought it was odd, but realize that some may consider it “feminine” for a man to receive flowers. It seems strange that flowers are associated with gender at all; they’re beautiful, please bring them to me!
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.
Last spring, as a COVID lockdown project, I expanded my backyard garden and planted some milkweed to attract monarch butterflies. I was rewarded with not only bright orange-yellow flowers throughout the summer, but dozens of striped monarch caterpillars in August and then, the ultimate treasure: one glittering pale-green chrysalis, from which I watched a monarch emerge one late September day. Observing this life cycle drama unfold in my backyard was absolutely a pandemic highlight!
As you may know, habitats for monarch butterflies are declining rapidly, threatening their ability to make the incredible migration from Canada to Central Mexico that species survival requires. But there are tangible ways individuals can help monarchs. It can be a wonderful family activity to learn about, observe, and take action to help monarch populations, with help from some fantastic children’s books available at HCLS. Become citizen scientists! It’s fun, it gets everyone outdoors together, and it’s rewarding.
First, check out Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery. In this book, Meeg Pincus explores how the monarchs’ amazing migration journey was uncovered through the actions of not only scientists, teachers, and explorers but also thousands of volunteers, who helped tag and observe the butterflies to figure out where they went. When the mystery finally was solved, whose achievement was it? As this book joyfully replies, the discovery belonged to “all of them – the scientists, the citizen scientists, the regular folks along the way.” Learning about that remarkable effort, it’s easier to appreciate how each of us can play a part in helping solve the problems facing monarchs and other struggling species.
Now we need some specifics to get to work. Check out Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. This beautiful, family-friendly book guides kids and their grownups through four seasonal projects: tagging monarch butterflies in the fall, counting backyard birds in the winter, frog watching (and listening!) in the spring, and photographing ladybugs in the summer. Each section contains a visually-rich full spread with practical information for “when you go,” including a checklist of equipment, close-up photos of the creature to be observed, and a quick quiz to learn some useful facts. Links to organizations that collect citizen scientist information are provided, too. It’s every curious and naturally-observant kid’s dream to count, name, and dig around outside to find interesting creatures, right? This book gives just the right blend of guidance and inspiration to harness that excitement to a great purpose.
While you’re outside looking for monarchs, you’re bound to see all kinds of other butterflies, caterpillars, and insects you’ll want to learn more about. Capturing the beauty and wonder of butterflies, the nonfiction picture book A Butterfly is Patientby Dianna Hutts Aston, with spectacular artwork by Sylvia Long, is my favorite guide. It contains fascinating information presented with gloriously colorful and detailed illustrations. It’s available as an eBook from CloudLibrary, too. (And since this summer will be full of cicadas, check out A Beetle is Shy, by the same duo, to boost your beetle appreciation.)
I like books and authors a lot, and periodically I will get on a kick and start reading books by a particular person and then read about the person.
Jean-Louis Lebris de “Jack” Kerouac has always been one of my favorites, and he was one to celebrate jazz and the outdoors. Kerouac is the person that in theory personifies the “beat generation,” the beatniks, and the counterculture of 1950s America that inspired so many in the 1960s counterculture (which could be argued led to the push for progress in America).
As a white Catholic from a middle-class background with a deep interest in the counterculture, his work spoke to me. I could feel his guilt for not conforming and appreciate his conservative Catholic hang-ups. His conflicted mind, introspective nature, desire for freedom, and the understanding that he was in some ways the observer and documentarian of counterculture and not so much the progenitor attracted me.
Revisiting his work over the years, it always changes as the world changes, and more importantly as I change. Thank goodness, I’ve always grown more! I have recently been reading books and articles about Kerouac, re-reading the The Dharma Bums (available in eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive) after seeing it quoted in two books I was recently reading. The quote in one was, “Someday I’ll find the right words, and they’ll be simple.” I like this sort of searching and desire for simplicity.
I also re-watched the recent film adaptations of On the Road and Big Sur, both of which I’d recommend. The former HCLS owns in DVD format; the latter you can borrow using Interlibrary Loan. Some consider Big Sur one of his best novels. It’s the semi-autobiographical account his struggle with fame, depression, and addiction a decade after the publication of his most famous work, On the Road. The raw reality of addiction is sad to be sure, but it’s also a good read and viewing for the description and images of Big Sur.
To be sure, there’s a lot not to like about Kerouac. The books and film adaptations are misogynistic, self-involved, and privileged in some respects. He drank himself to death at the age of 47, he never found the time know his own daughter, and had become truculent and seemingly illiberal near the end of his life. I could probably find some additional foibles. Conduct an internet search for his appearance on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in the late 1960s; it’s pretty sad.
For some reason, many of his contemporaries publicly and negatively commented on him, although John Updike later admitted he was jealous of his fame. James Baldwin described Kerouac’s work as “absolute nonsense, and offensive nonsense at that.” Charles Bukowski, another “beat” writer and poet who is controversial in many ways and the subject of several films, said Kerouac wasn’t that great of a writer, but suggested his fame came from the fact that he looked like a “rodeo star.”
I’d disagree with Bukowski; there is some poetry in Kerouac’s prose and the performance aspect of it is amazing. Hearing and seeing him read his own work, which was inspired by jazz, is marvelous. His handsomeness certainly did not hurt his celebrity. I was reminded of his style while watching the young Amanda Gorman read and perform her great poem The Hill We Climb at the inauguration.
It was a pretty radical endeavor to hang out in a jazz club in the late 1940s, and I was curious what was so great about this thing called jazz. I now know. Moreover, books concerning his romantic relationships with African Americans and his close relationships with openly gay people were verboten at the very least, and illegal in many places in the US in the 1950s. Moreover, Kerouac’s attraction to and writings about Buddhism interested me very much as a fellow Catholic.
Kerouac’s explicit mentions of Walt Whitman, Marcel Proust, and other authors piqued my curiosity about these people, and his books gave me a point of reference when reading James Baldwin’s perspective of a similar counterculture from the African American point of view. Really, his work just got me reading, dreaming, and thinking differently than I’d done before. In other words, I’d like to think I was better for it. And I’m fairly certain that these are the reasons why On the Roadis still in our reading list section and assigned by English teachers.
I had this conversation with the members of my book group, and they assuaged my guilt a bit for still liking Kerouac. But the times they change, and we change, and maybe Kerouac would’ve changed, too, but maybe not.
In some cases, there are things that should be left in the past, but I’d contend we shouldn’t dismiss the progressive nature of all art pell-mell. All of us are flawed in some way, and this makes us interesting in my opinion. Indubitably the merits of Kerouac’s work and his reputation are debatable. But Kerouac did reject the conforming ethos of post-war America (something many now want to return to). And personally, he made me feel as though others were attracted to things that don’t quite fit into mainstream American culture.
My hope is that this bolsters the case for diverse stories, viewpoints, and authors. Everyone needs characters and stories they can relate to and find themselves in. I think it’s a magical feeling to realize there are people that are like you, that feel like you do. So keep reading to find relatable characters and stories. Come by the library and tell us about your interests. We might be able to help, or know someone who can, find the books and authors for you!
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.
There are so many reasons that my family loves living in Howard County … the beautiful farm land, wonderful people and accessible county resources – including our world-class Howard County Library System.
We love using the Library. My family all take out books of course, but we engage in many Library programs as well, and love the garden at the Miller Library.
Why does this matter to me?
This matters to me because we all need to support each other to the best of our abilities. We love our library community! Everyone is always so helpful and accommodating, and they offer so many incredible programs and resources to help us raise our family.
In fact, the Library is so important to my family, and to me personally, that I have chosen to invest my personal time as a member of the Board of the Friends & Foundation of the Howard County Library System, or as we simply refer to it as, “The Friends”.
Friends and Foundation of Howard County Library System is a nonprofit organization that supports HCLS in its mission to deliver high quality education for all ages.
Specifically, we support:
Battle of the Books
HCLS Spelling Bee
HiTech STEM classes and events
Notable Author Events
HCLS Project Literary Graduation
Rube Goldberg Challenge
Children’s Discovery Fair
Online Homework Assistance
Family Movie Nights
While our family favorite is the Enchanted Garden, we know the entire county enjoys all of these Library efforts, and then some. That’s why my family supports the Friends, and I invite you to as well.
The Friends & Foundation is hosting a Floral Fundraiser to Kick Off National Library Week. This fall, HCLS will be introducing a new mobile library van, On the Road to Kindergarten, that will bring library collections, services, and programs to all corners of the community, focusing on preparing children from birth to three for kindergarten. The Friends & Foundation of HCLS is holding a floral fundraiser this spring to support it. You can donate and enjoy a thank-you gift(s):
$35 – Hanging Flower Basket
$30 – Sobar Drink Kit
$30 – Flower Cookie Kit
A portion of your donation goes directly to HCLS to support this fantastic project that will creatively bring education, support, and activities to young minds outside the library’s buildings – it’s a Win, Win, Win!
I volunteer with the food pantry run by the Indian Cultural Association (ICA) and I’d like to share a little bit of what I see in the parking lot at HCLS Miller Branch. Just the other day while we were unloading boxes, a lady walked up to me. She had come to pick up books at the library and was curious about the long line of cars. When I told her about the boxes of food – milk, eggs, meat, fresh produce, that ICA was prepping to deliver, she quickly got into the line. After about five minutes she beckoned me to her car, and her mother, or mother-in-law, and her young son were with her. She asked how much she’d have to pay for the food, and I told her – it’s free. She looked away and mumbled something that I didn’t quite understand. I said, “Excuse me?” She looked up and said that her family hadn’t had a proper meal in three days. That look of desperation in her eyes is imprinted on my brain.
That is why cars start lining up hours in advance of the start time even in bitter cold. When the food distribution starts, the cars flow through non-stop and all four loading stations are constantly busy. The folks in that line represent a wide diversity – from older couples to families with kids in car seats. In that parking lot we see all the shades of skin color – both in the cars collecting food as well as among the volunteers loading the boxes into the cars. More than 350 volunteers help ICA distribute the food. The way ICA is bringing the community together gives me a lot of hope for our future.
The Indian Cultural Association’s mission is to introduce and enhance the vibrant culture and heritage of India through various programs. A fledgling organization, it was incorporated in 2018 by Sanjay and Niti Srivastava. ICA has been working to help put food on the table of families in our community and alleviate hunger among so many affected by the pandemic. Niti shares some surprising statistics, “Nearly 28% of Howard Countians are food insecure, meaning they are not certain about where their next meal will come from or they will be making a choice between paying essential bills or buying food for their families. 1 in 4 children and 1 in 6 adults are food insecure. You will be surprised to learn that these are 2018 figures”.
Inspired by the core philosophy of Seva, or selfless service to those in need, ICA has distributed more than 1,600,000 pounds to date (and counting) of food to more than 100,000 hungry families. ICA has distributed more food to Howard County residents than the Howard Food Bank during the pandemic.
Working in tandem with community organizations, Howard County Library System has been tirelessly engaged in supporting and assisting our customers and our community through this troubling year. These efforts have included lending Chromebooks and hotspots to enhance digital learning as well as supporting food pantries to address food insecurity among Howard County households. One of our most valuable partners in this effort at mitigating hunger has been The Indian Cultural Association (ICA) of Howard County.
Rohini is the Adult Curriculum Specialist with HCLS. She loves literature and rainy days.
I grew up reading comics. In hindsight, it was one of the things I can recall being really into, certainly more than books or sports. I loved the stories, the characters, and the artwork. In the 1980s, the stories became a bit more interesting and complex, giving the characters more depth than in previous periods. My love was bolstered by the fact Steve Geppi, on his way to becoming comic distribution magnate and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles, owned and operated several comic shops around Baltimore. I won’t reminisce here, but the one I frequented with my brother was a pretty amazing place, created by a guy who quit his job at the post office to own a comic shop. (In other words, he had passion.)
At any rate, I still occasionally read some comic and graphic novels, my book discussion group has read and discussed a few of the best, and I still enjoy going to my local comic shop to browse (less frequently lately, obviously). The medium has a come a long way, with the work of some talented writers and artists. More importantly, the graphic medium is much more diverse and inclusive these days. HCLS has a great graphic novel collection. Sometimes I look through and find things I’ve not heard of or a book adapted into a graphic novel that I was not aware of previously.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and I are the same age, and he’s from the west side of Baltimore, around where the city meets the county. I, too, hail from west side of Baltimore, spent my first few years just on the county side, and spent a lot of time in those areas. The differences in our respective experiences could probably make for more than a blog post, but nevertheless I’m always happy to see local people do well. (I guess we all like that sort of thing so we can imagine some sort of shared experience.) Commonalities notwithstanding, I’m a fan of Coates’ thoughtful work and was moved by his piece on reparations. He has authored several excellent books of fiction and nonfiction on race, and perhaps you have heard about his “twitter battle” with Dr. Cornel West.
At any rate, and certainly not to take away from any of these accomplishments, I recalled reading that he was a comics kid. I was elated to read that this intellectual had realized his childhood dream of writing for Marvel Comics, Black Panther in particular. I can only imagine I’d feel the same and felt incredibly happy for him! My first guy was Aquaman, I was blonde and liked the ocean. Next was Spider-man, the flawed character who struggled with pretty much everything in his personal life. That said, I had characters with whom I could relate, which is important, and I was very happy to read Coates had his, too.
You may have seen the Black Panther character in the Marvel films, but Coates built on the source material created by people of color he had admired as a young person. He writes comics narratives about power, opposing points of view, the African continent, and nature. Coates also recognizes that comics and graphic novels are a collaborative work, and he acknowledges how the great art of Brian Stelfreeze brings a graphic story to life. Coates subsequently moved on to Captain America and wrote about his good reasons for wanting to do so. He mentioned that some may see Cap as the embodiment of nationalism or the character from the films, but he’s much more nuanced and conflicted than that.
I have to feel a sort of kindred spirit with someone that can recognize this in Captain America and comics in general. So, if you have not, read his articles in The Atlantic (available via RBdigital), read his books, and don’t be afraid to read his graphic novels, which are collected as trade paperbacks and available via HCLS.
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.
For families talking with children about death and grieving, the words we want can be especially hard to find. But we are not alone. Heartfelt picture books are one of my favorite sources of solace. In aiming to speak clearly to children, the best ones are both simple and profound. They can help us open doors to deeply meaningful conversations. When we invite a child to read these stories together, we offer a special comfort.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
Maybe a child is grieving the death of a pet, friend, or family member. Maybe they are struggling to understand the tragedy of the current pandemic. Even if death is not on the doorstep right now, the following books can help a child understand what death means, the emotions that can come with it, and how they can process it all with someone they trust.
Read through these books before inviting your child to share them. See how they suit you and if they are appropriate for your child’s age and experience. Don’t be afraid to change up the stories to personalize them to your child’s circumstances. Or, simply look through the pictures while your child tells a story or talks about their own experience. Sometimes a child just needs someone to listen.