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. 

Celebrate Banned Books Week: September 18 – 24

The banner image depicts a rainbow-colored series of birds launching into flight against a backdrop of open books.

by Sahana C.

Banned Books Week is a party. We celebrate our unfettered access to whichever books we choose.

The national theme of Banned Books Week stands firm in its message against censorship. When it began in 1982, Banned Books Week was not a protest, but a reaction to an increasing number of book challenges. Banned Books Week is a space away from the intensity of media speculation and divisive press coverage.

The picture depicts the places where book challenges take place: school libraries, public libraries, schools, and academic/other. In the upper right hand corner is a graphic of rainbow-colored birds launching into flight, and the entire background is a faint depiction of open books.

The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom tracked almost 1,600 books that were challenged in 2021 alone, but Banned Books Week is not when those challenges are contested. It is, in the words of the official website, a time for, “shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The ALA is one of the loudest proponents of this effort as it supports the declaration from libraries to wholly commit to combat disinformation, promote the perspectives of historically excluded groups, and increase access to information. This is the mandate of public libraries, written into the mission statement of Howard County Library System: “We deliver high-quality public education for all.”

It is our responsibility to provide access to materials that encourage conversation and provoke thought; every addition to our collection is a choice, and decisions are never neutral. HCLS continues this practice with its Brave Voices, Brave Choices initiative. We have committed to not hiding hard conversations from our community. Discussions about appropriateness usually center the idea of balance, meaning we amplify the voices of people from historically excluded, marginalized, and unheard communities. Libraries cannot be neutral in this effort toward radical inclusion.

The picture is a rainbow-colored infographic of words and phrases cited in 2021 censorship reports as reasons for book challenges. In the upper right corner is a graphic of rainbow-colored birds launching into flight, and the entire background is a faint depiction of open books.

Kelvin Watson, director of libraries in Broward County, Florida, put it well: “Claiming neutrality endangers us as an institution by resulting in an unconscious adoption of the values of the dominant political model and framework… (w)e cannot be neutral on social and political issues that impact our customers because…these social and political issues impact us as well.” While a policy of neutrality appears to be equal, it is not equitable – it does not allow for different facets of our community to see themselves represented meaningfully, without stereotype, by people who share their life experiences.

We, as a library, stand to protect the brave voices who write, publish, and lead us into a more equitable future. We, in turn, make the brave choice to stand against the idea that we can be neutral in the battle against misinformation. The library is a steward of knowledge, led for and by the community it serves.

So, join the party! Everyone’s invited.

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.

Clarksville Youth Care Group Appreciation Project

The photograph depicts several of the kits with school bus themes, including handmade cards with school bus illustrations, and chocolate and trail mix bars.

by Nancy T.

It’s back to school time! Not just for students, but for teachers and bus drivers as well. To celebrate this year’s return, more than 70 local students from the Clarksville Youth Care Group (CYCG) worked hard all summer to create teacher and bus driver appreciation kits. These kits consist of a hand-sewn school-themed pencil pouch and a handmade thank-you card, school supplies (pen, pencil, notepad, bookmark, etc.), snacks, and a bunch of goodies. Funded by a Howard County Innovation Grant, CYCG has made approximately 850 kits. They have delivered the kits to 45 HCPSS schools as well as the HCPSS transportation office. The students received a lot of positive feedback; many teachers wrote thank-you notes to the group and said that receiving the handmade kit full of nice goodies has been an encouraging start to a new school year. It is a wonderful way to let teachers know their work is appreciated. The group still has limited kits to distribute, so interested teachers or staff can request them here.

The photograph depicts a handmade card with a sunflower, a back-to-school-themed kit, and some of the items from the kit, including a pen, pencil, notepaper, a trail mix bar, and origami birds.

CYCG was founded by two River Hill High School students, senior Arthur Wang and sophomore Amanda Wang, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, with many students becoming involved in community service projects organized by CYCG. The group proudly donated 3,660 heavy-duty reusable face shields to hospitals, clinics, dental offices, and first responders in 2020. Last year, the group made Teacher Care Kits and donated them to 64 HCPSS schools. The kit consisted of a handmade school-themed mask, an ear saver to relieve ear stress, a mask lanyard, a thank-you card, and a mask filter. The kits supported teachers physically and mentally, winning a national award for their efforts.

The photograph shows the display case at Miller Branch with a selection of the teacher appreciation kits as well as photographs of the students at work creating them.

You can visit the display of CYCG’s work, showcased at Miller Branch, until September 30. For more information, visit www.clarksvilleyouthcaregroup.org

Nancy T. is an instructor and research specialist and the display coordinator at Miller Branch. When she’s not in the branch, you’ll find her in the swimming pool or out walking in the fresh air.

Staff Favorites from the Art Education Collection

Sisters in Link by Charles Bibbs: Five women dressed in red with patterned skirts and colored tights looking at each other with their arms linked.
Sisters in Link by Charles Bibbs

by Emily B.

October is National Arts & Humanities Month, so I decided to ask my Central Branch teammates about their favorite artists and art works from the Art Education Collection. Here’s what they had to say:

April and Wendy love Van Gogh. April’s favorite work is Starry Night. She appreciates “his colors and his unique brushstrokes. You definitely know a Van Gogh when you see one.” Wendy’s favorite work is Farmhouse in Provence. She says, “I’ve always loved Van Gogh because of the bright colors he used, the soft focus, and the imperfect, rustic style. His work is very emotional.”

Angela and Rita are big fans of Charles Bibbs. Rita applauds Bibbs’ “powerful cross-cultural statements,” “the [breathtaking] colors and details,” and “[his promotion of] African American culture.” Angela’s favorite piece is Sisters in Link. She enjoys “the bright vibrant colors of the dresses of the piece, and the dramatic flair of the ladies’ poses,” as well as how the ladies appear “full of life and joy.” She notes how Bibbs creates an “illusion of movement.”

Brandon loves the Art Education Collection. His favorite piece is San Francisco Cable Car, Rain by Judy Reed. He says, “It captures the essence of the Bay area, [the beauty] of Northern California, and illustrates the significance [of] the cable car transportation system.”

Cherise and Angie enjoy Ernie Barnes. Angie’s favorite piece is Uptown Downtown. She was instantly hooked on Barnes when she saw Marvin Gaye’s I Want You album cover, which features his most famous piece, The Sugar Shack. She describes his art as “kinetic and mesmerizing” and continues, “The painting is in constant motion and makes you want to know more about the people in it, where they are going, and where they have been.” Cherise favors Sam & Sidney from Barnes. She says, “I wonder what they are talking about and hope that they are being open-minded in their debate. I am intrigued by the dialogue that Barnes is creating between an African American artist born into a segregated culture and his subjects from a very different background.”

Floral mosaic with a yellow flower, green leaves, and bright blue accents.

Lami’s favorite piece is Carol Murray’s photograph entitled Baltimore Cookie House Tour. She says, “The piece evokes feelings of comfort and peace for me. The intricate mosaic design…brings to mind being curled up near a fireplace with heat from the flames gently lulling you to sleep.” Lami appreciates that this piece gives her the opportunity to admire both the photographic technique and the mosaic work.

Hannah enjoys the mystery of Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s Little Joe with Cow. The painting is a great source of debate among Central teammates, Hannah explains. “Do we find him creepy or cute? How did the cow become triangular? Who keeps putting him back in storage instead of on display?!” Hannah looks back at Kuniyoshi’s life: “[he] immigrated [to] the U.S. [from Japan] at age 16, was never given full U.S. citizenship, and was placed under house arrest following the attack on Pearl Harbor.” She notes that, “while this artwork was completed 18 years prior… I believe these aspects of Kuniyoshi’s childhood and adult life in the U.S. shed new perspective on little Joe – a small boy in a dark atmosphere leaning on his cow for support.”

You can find (and borrow) your favorites at Central and Glenwood Branches.

Emily is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch. She enjoys reading, listening to music, and re-watching old seasons of Survivor.

The ERC Belongs to You and Me

by Cherise T.

On your next journey to the Central Branch, promise you will climb to the top floor and venture beyond the computers to the Equity Resource Center, established in 2021. The ERC is a place for community events and a treasure trove of classic and cutting-edge books, audiobooks, movies, television series, and music. A collection of materials you’ve always wanted to read, watch, and discuss. 

Book shelves at the Equity Resource Center, with art to borrow resting on top. Photo also shows swirled-patterned carpet and wood.

Recently, I had the opportunity to shift the positioning of ERC materials. I was up to my elbows and down on my knees handling the books, CDs, and DVDs. This is a librarian’s paradise, being among new copies of books I’ve read and can barely wait to read. I wanted to open almost every book and peruse the first pages. This was a physical task, however; the goal was moving and organizing, not intellectualizing. Just as when I’m shelving materials or directing a customer to a topic area, my job at that moment is not to indulge my interests but to engage others’ curiosity. It’s rough, though, staying focused in the ERC when I’m surrounded by all the intriguing titles, many that have been past favorites, shelves of those that I’ve heard others rave about, and new publications that I’m excited to discover. 

Honestly, I’m continually surprised by the ERC. The diversity of voices and perspectives in the works seems impossible. While the classic titles attest to the reality that marginalized communities with strong voices have always existed, the scope and depth of contemporary publications feels like hope. Publishers are expanding their willingness to broadcast unique perspectives, and exploring these materials in one place collapses time, as if we have always been privileged to share in each other’s experiences and dreams. 

Undesign the Redline

The ERC fills me with gratitude. I am thankful to be alive at a time when I can work and live in a place where the library system offers such wonders to all who choose to enter the doors. I am thankful when I realize how many of the DVDs are multi-award-winning, popular films and that so many of the books are past and current best sellers. These works offer engagement, information, and entertainment to those whose experiences are worlds apart from the authors’. They provide a shared experience for those who want to feel they are not alone. The creators of these artistic riches are of different races and classes. They come from many countries, practice a spectrum of religions, view the world from differently-abled perspectives, and live with distinctive gender identity and sexual orientation. The materials challenge stereotypes, open our minds, provoke strong opinions. 

Visual characteristics that are plain for all to see do not define who we are or how we should be treated. We wouldn’t want to, nor should we have to, wear signs identifying the people we are or are not. No person or artist owes us their story. Nevertheless, history and narrative have been abundantly gifted to us in the ERC, presenting opportunities to read, watch, listen, and learn. The fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, exist to be soaked up, broaden world views, and spread inclusive perspectives. 

Times may seem grim with two steps back for every one step forward. Sometimes I despair for the health of our children, our planet, and our marginalized communities. The ERC, though, attests to the fact that despite the pain in the world, forward strides have been accomplished. The sanctuary of the ERC may be in the back of the top floor of the Central Branch, but it is not distant. It is accessible and evolving as we speak.  

Welcome to the library, the community gathering place you know, and the oasis of ideas and opportunities beyond what you’ve imagined. 

Cherise Tasker 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. 

Informed Citizens are Engaged Voters

A green background that says, Because informed citizens are engaged voters." From the American Library

by Christie L.

The most important right we have as Americans is the right to vote. From the Howard County Board of Elections to the U.S. Congress, you have a voice. Everyone can vote for some of the local races, such as Board of Education. But with so many choices on the ballot, where to begin? 

For Federal seats, step away from the echo chambers of social media and check the facts at FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocate for voters that helps to, “monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.” You can also visit Politifact, a fact-checking website with a rigorous and transparent process used to scrutinize claims independently by political officials, candidates, campaigns, and media. 

For state races, visit Vote411.org for a personalized ballot based on your address. Click a candidate icon to find more information about the candidate. To weigh two candidates, click the “compare” button. 

For Howard County races, use the resources from the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. Read the 2022 Primary Voters Guide and/or watch the Primary Candidates Forum.  

County Executive: Fast forward to 2 minutes, 50 seconds. 

Howard County Council: 

  • District 1: Fast forward to 20 minutes 
  • District 2: No attendees 
  • District 3: Fast forward to 34 minutes 
  • District 4: Fast forward to 40 minutes 
  • District 5: Fast forward to 59 minutes 

State’s Attorney: Fast forward to 1 hour, 5 minutes 

Clerk of Circuit Court: Fast forward to 1 hour, 11 minutes 

Register of Wills: Fast forward to 1 hour, 14 minutes 

Sheriff: Fast forward to 1 hour, 17 minutes 

Judge of Orphan’s Court: Fast forward to 1 hour, 23 minutes 

Board of Education: Fast forward to 1 hour, 36 minutes 

MD House of Delegates: 

  • District 13: Fast forward to 2 hours, 20 minutes 
  • District 12A: Fast forward to 2 hours, 57 minutes 
  • District 9B: Fast forward to 3 hours 
  • District 9A: Fast forward to 3 hours, 8 minutes 

MD Senate: 

  • District 13: No attendees 
  • District 12: Fast forward to 3 hours, 37 minutes 
  • District 9: Fast forward to 3 hours, 52 minutes 

Judge of Circuit Court: Fast forward to 3 hours, 56 minutes 

Now that you’re ready to cast your vote, visit the State Board of Elections or Howard County Board of Elections to find your polling place and get answers to frequently asked questions. Or, enter the address where you are registered to vote to find your polling place: https://gettothepolls.com 

Polls are open from 7 am to 8 pm on Tuesday, July 19.

And once you vote, learn more about voting history with this curated list of books and films in our collection.  

Whether you vote by mail, by drop box, or in person, educate yourself about the candidates and issues and VOTE!  

Christie Lassen is the Director of Communication and Partnerships for Howard County Library System. She loves walking through the network of pathways in Columbia, sitting on the beach, and cheering for the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Aggies football team.

I always thought the ‘90’s were cool 

The cover shows a handheld landline phone with a beige stretchy spiral cord; since the casing is clear plastic, all the inner mechanical parts are visible, in shades of turquoise, pink, orange, and yellow.

By Eric L.

Although, I’ve become more confident recently.  

The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman is written in an extremely entertaining, journalistic style, a look back at the decade that has become so “in,” it’s “out.” Although, like Klosterman, I am almost a “caricature” of a “Gen X” caricature, so this book is a bit of an easy sell to someone like me. This is one of those time periods when something culturally progressive was happening, and to some extent, I’m a product of that. The art I experienced played a part, but perhaps I had a predilection for this sort of thing.  

However, this book is not just for aging hipsters like me. Klosterman successfully argues that what we remember from the decade, the stereotypes, may be quite different from the reality. He alludes to the fact that we always misremember things, or rely on the stereotypes of decades to classify them easily in our minds.  

Klosterman does an excellent job of highlighting all the things that I personally remember as positive for society, but the anecdotes and examples made me realize we have similar taste and beliefs. The films and the music were a considerable influence on my taste and my social awareness. He also mentions that art about the lives of Black people was consumed by white audiences like never before. The independent films and music were different than most things I had experienced before. Klosterman makes the remarkably interesting argument that the local video rental store, and later the chains, gave birth to the working-class auteur. In short, they could browse and watch films (e.g. Citizen Kane, Chinatown) multiple times which may have been only previously shown at an art house theatre. 

That said, Klosterman points out that Titanic was the biggest movie of the decade, and this hardly qualifies as progressive art. Moreover, Tupac sold more records than Nirvana, and Garth Brooks sold more than both put together (and really birthed new country). So why is it that balding guys with cowboy hats and tight jeans are not proffered as 1990’s stereotypes? 

The extremely high approval rating for a “liberal” President who was a serial philanderer and predator does not jibe with the ethos of 2020. Klosterman even asks the question many now ask: if the Democratic Party is worse off because of the Clintons. I was particularly interested in the discussion of the most successful third-party candidate in a century. The fact that Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote almost seems unfathomable now. How the United States kind of “meddled” in the 1996 Russian democratic election is also an interesting sidebar. 

There are too many interesting sidebars to mention, but many are things we may have forgotten. For example, Michael Jordan, the most successful basketball player ever, decided to play minor league baseball, primarily because he was bored and tired. It came as a shock to America that baseball players and cyclists were using performance enhancing drugs to put on superhuman performances. 

These things may seem like minutiae to some, but I feel as though these events help us understand current America just a little bit better. 

One of the most important chapters is “CTRL + ALT + DELETE” – extremely interesting in that it describes the way people, mostly tech people or insiders, viewed the internet in the 1990s. It reads like people selling a dream that became a nightmare, sadly. Academic careers are, and will be, built on how computers and the internet altered society, as we have only begun to appreciate the changes in our behavior. One of the most salient points Klosterman makes in the book is to consider the differences in America from 1960 to 1990, and then consider the differences in America from 1990 until 2020. Imagine disembarking from a time machine in 2020 from the year 1990. He discusses how some of us recall how the world worked before widespread computer and internet use and I’m obviously among these folks. To be sure, I appreciate all the things that have improved in my life, but I do long for the good ol’ days, too! 

As a ‘90’s hipster, I do feel that the idea of physical place is something that is particularly important to a stable democratic society. And I want to let you know we offer this at the library. A young lady borrowing numerous films said “hey” to me as if she knew me, and I’d forgotten that we had a brief discussion about films. She is likely Gen Z, but had a very ‘90’s look. She was borrowing a stack again, including some Wes Anderson, and I said, “Have you ever seen his first film, Bottle Rocket?” She had not. I said, “I think it’s his best, or my favorite, we have it over there.” Borrow it. I had never seen another film like it in 1995. 

Lastly, The Nineties: A Book is on our adult summer reading list (and also available in eBook and eAudiobook format via OverDrive/Libby). Another great reason to come by the branch and see us for our complete adult summer reading suggestions!

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth: Freedom Day appears inside a yellow square atop swashes of color in red, black, green, and yellow.

by Brandon B.

Juneteenth is considered one of the longest-running African American holidays. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) is the day in 1865 that federal troops traveled to Galveston, Texas to free all enslaved people living in the state. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in U.S. states that were part of the union. While other citizens were freed from bondage and captivity, the citizens of Texas endured continued hardship and pain. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden established Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

We should not look at Juneteenth as simply a day off from work, but a celebration of freedom, peace, and a continued fight for social equity and equality. Though Juneteenth is a day in which we recognize the end of slavery in the U.S., we must also recognize other injustices and freedoms that are worth fighting for. Racism has been a pervasive and powerful tool in preventing minorities from advancing to elite status and higher growth in society. It took one hundred years after Juneteenth to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed people of color the franchise. Even now, gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts seek to prevent people of color from exercising their right to vote. We continue to witness violence against minorities through law enforcement and vigilantism.

We must answer these questions: Are people really free? Has America freed all its citizens from inequality or are we just repeating history? In order to make progress, we must study our dark past. We can change laws and policies, but America has to first change its heart through empathy and understanding.

A great place to visit and study subject matters like Juneteenth is your public library. HCLS has a variety of books and audio-visual materials in our new Equity Resource Center located at the Central Branch. The Equity Resource Center highlights the contributions of individuals from different cultures and select social groups. Let’s continue to serve others and show empathy towards the less fortunate. Happy Juneteenth, America!

Brandon is a Customer Service Specialist at Central Branch who loves reading, football, and taking nice long walks around his neighborhood.

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar

On a pale blue background, a young gril with long dark hair sits amid flowers gesturing toward small figures of people in boats.

by JP Landolt

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le, immediately touched my heart because the title reminded me of my dad. My father was a Filipino immigrant who left everything behind and made a life on the U.S. territory of Guam. We lived that first/second generation immigrant life in the Marianas. IYKYK. Dad had quite the sweet tooth. He would always put a spoonful of sugar into a mug of milk and drink it. Needless to say, it took me a while to stomach plain milk without a little bit of sugar.

In this story, a young girl immigrates stateside to live with her Auntie and Uncle. She feels lonely and misses her family and friends back home and just doesn’t feel like she belongs. Her Auntie takes her for a walk one day and tells her a story about a man who leads a group of people forced from their homes in the ancient land of Persia.

They build boats, cross the sea, and end up at the shores of India, seeking refuge from the king. Unfortunately, the king doesn’t think he can help. He reasons that he doesn’t know anything about these folks. They look different and speak a language he can’t understand, and he believes his kingdom is already crowded. The king goes to the seashore to make the refugees leave. And because they do not speak the same language, the king attempts to communicate that there is no room in his kingdom by filling a cup to the brim with milk. The leader of the Persians responds by carefully stirring in a spoonful of sugar from his sack. This illustrates a promise that their people would live peacefully together and would “sweeten” the lives of those in the kingdom. The king is delighted by this spoonful of sugar and welcomes them into his kingdom with a hug.

The young girl reflects on this story as she walks home with her Auntie. She smiles and says hello to passersby and receives kindness in turn. She feels better about being in America and decides to keep a sugar packet in her pocket thereafter to remind herself “to make things sweeter wherever she wandered.” 

There’s so much to appreciate about this story within a story. Umrigar’s retelling of the folklore of the Parsis (Zoroastrians) and her own immigration experience weaves through this beautifully illustrated children’s picture book. The end pages are particularly gorgeous with ornate cups filled with milk and flowers. Among my favorite illustrations is the hug between the leaders with a backdrop of peacocks. Their shared symbolic importance in Persian art and Hinduism culminates so respectfully. The birds are carried forward in the following pages, filling the sky where the young girl and her Auntie share a moment in the park by the water. The borders of the pages change throughout the story, emulating the feelings and changes happening therein. As the daughter of an immigrant, it’s easy for me to see the importance of stories like Sugar in Milk. It’s my hope that you do, too. This book is brimming with promises and perseverance. It’s a simple, sweet read for all ages with a universal message we all should be so lucky to receive: “You belong.”

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She enjoys gallivanting, Jollibee, and all the halo-halo she can eat.

Creating a safer space for LGBTQ+ students

The photograph shows an open hand holding a white ceramic heart, with a rainbow above on a dark background.

by Sarah C.

Here at HCLS, we try to make our spaces as welcoming and inclusive as possible, especially for our tweens and teens, as that age range can include a time of many changes, questions, issues, excitement, and experiences both good and bad. Do you remember middle school? Exactly, ugh! I sure do, and at age 42 I’m still slightly traumatized by some of those memories!

As June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, I’d like to touch on some things we do to create a safer space here at HCLS for our wonderful rainbow students.

Something as simple as wearing a rainbow button or bracelet, or having a “safe space” sticker on your office door can make a huge difference, especially if a student does not know you yet. It identifies you as a someone they can approach for LGBTQ+ books, ask about LGBTQ+ events and groups, or just someone who they can talk to who will listen and not judge them.

I am not subtle about my support of LGBTQ+ students. I visually identify myself as such with the above examples and am very vocal with all my students about respecting ALL people. That has been instrumental in our students feeling not just welcome here, but represented and celebrated. Our students of all ages know that some people and/or spaces are not LGBTQ+ friendly and have learned they need to be cautious. It’s not fair, but it is our reality, so please consider identifying yourself as a supportive person for them and help grow their circle of safety.

HCLS also hosts LGBTQ+ author visits, participates in community events such as HOCO Pride, assists with local SAGA/GSA school groups, helps with book clubs like the Rainbow Reads book club, and offers classes such as Make Your Own Pronoun Buttons and Let’s Talk About LGBTQ+ Issues in Education featuring Freestate Justice.

And of course, since we are a library system, we purchase and display many books written and/or illustrated by LGBTQ+ authors that feature LGBTQ+ main characters. We also have Rainbow Reading lists for adults, teens, and a new one for children! Grab a printed copy at your local branch or find other recommendations online. Check out the review of Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe on the library’s blog. The post talks about why books that represent all experiences are so vital.

Sarah is the Teens’ Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch, where she can be found geeking out over new graphic novels, spotting rainbows and drinking day-old coffee.