Literary Day Trips with Kids

The cover illustration shows Benjamin Banneker with a timepiece in the palm of his hand; he has opened the cover of it and is examining its inner gears.

by Jean B.

Books can take you anywhere – you can discover all kinds of places and people from the comfort of home. But books can also lead you OUT into real life adventures. This summer, check out some of these children’s books with local connections then take a family excursion to live it yourself!

Interested in ingenuity? For an adventure in Howard County’s backyard, read TickTock Banneker’s Clock by Shana Keller. Learn about the African American colonial scientist Benjamin Banneker, then explore the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park in Oella. Tour his restored colonial cabin and gardens, hike woodland trails, and participate in fun summer programs with nature and colonial history themes.

The cover depicts the title character, author Parker Curry, looking up at the portrait of Michelle Obama that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Fascinated by famous faces? Read Parker Looks Up by Parker and Jessica Curry. Visit the National Portrait Gallery to see the portrait of Michelle Obama for yourself, as well as those of many other interesting Americans of the past and present.

The cover is an illustration of baseball player and home run king Babe Ruth.

Seeking sports glory? One of baseball’s legends, Babe Ruth, grew up in Baltimore. Explore his childhood story and how he was introduced to the game – you may be surprised! – with the book Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares. Then visit the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, or go to a baseball game at Camden Yards or Bowie.

The book cover depicts a boy carrying two lanterns and looking over his shoulder, with the masts of ships in the background and a knapsack slung over his back.

Intrigued by history’s mysteries? Take a drive to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and you’ll find the quaint waterfront town of St. Michael’s. Before your visit, check out the picture book by Lisa Papp, The Town that Fooled the British: A War of 1812 Story, to uncover the clever trick that saved St. Michael’s from destruction 200 years ago.

The book cover depicts a grinning skeleton in a blue wash, almost as if at the bottom of the sea.

For the ambitious, a trip to Jamestown, Virginia could be like a true crime investigation when combined with the award-winning nonfiction book, Written in Bone by Sally M. Walker. This fascinating (and sometimes gruesome) account shows how forensic scientists are studying skeletons found in Jamestown’s colonial ruins to decipher exactly who these bones belonged to, how they lived, and how they died.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne

A black and gold swirl centers on a pinpoint of a star. Two blue bands stripe the book vertically, while the text appears in orange horizontal bars.

By Sahana C.

It’s hard to find a good place to start with this book, so I’ll start at the end, in the year 3012. Society is different, and so are the people as the result of hundreds of years of war and compromise and cultural evolution. As a species, we are a genderless and raceless band of nomads, with a blatant disdain for those who settle down in nuclear family units.  

So yeah, there’s a lot going on. The above phrasing makes it seems starkly unnatural, but somehow, Monica Byrne’s weaving together of three different stories across time makes the future version of us feel tangible. Despite all of the modifications and the general foreignness of the shape of this future society, the basics of humanity remain the same. We are emotional and community oriented, no matter when we are in history. We follow patterns that remain, no matter how far we try to stray outside the bounds of history.  

The ripple effects from past to present to future were incredible. Seeing names and places that were mentioned briefly in the past become more important in the future was almost an exciting reward for paying close attention through the timelines. And this book does reward close attention. It is obvious that Byrne put immense time and research into all aspects of the novel, going from the Maya, to modern Belize, to what made sense for the future based on the results of the events she described in the first two timelines. Most importantly, the story of the Hero Twins, some of the most important figures in the Maya mythos, is described and adapted in such a faithful light that Byrne has room to play with the elements of the mythology.  

The story of the Hero Twins is one that Byrne explains in the novel, but, like the rest of Maya mythology, it is complex and bears repeating. The Hero Twins were the central characters of one of the oldest preserved Maya works, the Maya equivalent of the Epic of Gilgamesh, with just as much adventure. They were often portrayed as complementary forces, the sky and the earth, the sun and the moon, the masculine and feminine, life and death. All in all, the Hero Twins were born to represent the two sides of a single entity. The shortest way to explain their greatest triumph is that they defeated the lords of Xibalba, the Maya equivalent of the realm of the dead, in a ball game, essentially representing that together, they had conquered death and diminished the power of all Xibalba. 

In the first of the three timelines in the novel, the year 1012, we are introduced to Ixul and Ajul through the point of view of their little sister, Ket. They are royalty and are said to be the reincarnation of the Hero Twins, with all the strength, power, and greatness that entails. The second timeline in 2012 follows Leah, a nineteen-year-old half Maya girl from Minnesota who goes to Belize to reconnect with her heritage. While she is there, she explores sacred caves and meets Javier and Xander, another set of twins, who work as tour guides. Business is booming, because in 2012, at the end of one Maya calendar, the Western world had decided the world was going to end. And then, in 3012, we follow Niloux, someone who is speaking out about the way society has evolved. She is embroiled in debate about the very nature and purpose of humanity, a thousand years after the change in the Maya cycle.  

Each of these timelines finds the characters on the precipice of a great and life altering change. The story is a blend of mythology, history, and sci-fi, and speaks, ultimately, to the way we use history to justify the present, and the way that our understanding of the past informs our future, no matter what we do.  

The Tor.com review called the novel, “one of the most effective examples of worldbuilding you’re likely to see on a page this year,” and I have to agree. Despite being longer than 600 pages, it’s somehow still a fast read. It’s a hefty book that tries to cover a lot, and sometimes just doesn’t have the space to explore all of the various threads it brings up, but when Byrne is allowed to go into detail on a subject, she does not miss.   

The Actual Star is available in print.  

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.

Winter’s Orbit

Two silhouettes contain stars and planetary scenes, one in cool tones and one in warm ones.

by Kristen B.

Sometimes, it’s fun to figure out why a book has its title. Often, there’s an a-ha moment while reading when I come across the phrase or the action where it all makes sense. Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell has a lot of selling points, but the title may not be one of them. Okay, okay: The main characters maybe come to understand their feelings for one another while stranded in the snowy wilderness. I’m still not a fan of the title – too cold and distant.

However, I am a huge fan of the book with all its space opera and romance fun. It was exactly the escapist fiction I needed during a recent high-stress period. Prince Kiem is the disaster of a gadfly royal who spends his life with his charities and in the tabloids, but perhaps he has hidden depths that are just too much trouble to plumb. He is instructed by The Emperor, His Grandmother, that he is to make a dynastic marriage with his recently deceased cousin’s widower, Count Jainan. While politically necessary to hold an interstellar treaty together, Kiem finds the entire idea beyond intrusive based on what he figured was a “perfect marriage” that ended in tragedy. Kiem is pretty much a good egg who gets in his own way much too frequently. Jainan is another story altogether, but we’ll get there.

Those interstellar politics are vitally important and drive the science-fictional side of the story. Kiem and Jainan’s marriage solidifies the alliance between the Iskat Empire and its planet Thea. The Iskat Empire has similar arrangements with each of the seven planets that it holds, and it must maintain those relations to have continued access to the galaxy-spanning Resolution’s technology. And, it’s time to renew the 20-year treaty with the Resolution, meaning Kiem and Jainan’s marriage isn’t just a convenience. If the Empire falls apart, the separate planets become targets for larger, toothier fish in their medium-sized galactic pond.

Jainan’s world, Thea, is not entirely convinced that being part of the Empire has any immediate benefits. While he is part of an alliance marriage, Count Jainan also has commitments to his immediate family, his larger clan, and the planet. Part of the story hinges on discovering why this immensely intelligent human (space engineer by education and avocation) has withdrawn so completely from his duties. The pattern of Jainan’s reactions and assumptions leads to some fairly ugly realizations, as his new spouse Kiem discovers that maybe the first marriage wasn’t entirely what it seemed.

As in most romances that rely on wrongly held assumptions and misunderstandings, a good conversation or two would have gone a long way to soothing some of the worst conundrums. However, personalities and various crises allow our two lovable nincompoops to stumble around each other for far too long. They eventually recognize that it’s not only their relationship that needs some sleuthing – Cousin Taam’s death looks more and more like murder, the arranged marriage isn’t being accepted by the Resolution, and something hinky is going on at a mining station in Thean orbit.

It’s a whirlwind of a book filled with handsome men, entirely competent women, and all sorts of mysterious goings-on. The secondary characters fill out the margins and spaces between Kiem and Jainan in wonderful ways. I would really enjoy a book featuring Kiem’s personal assistant, Bel, who seems to have quite a piratical background. I also appreciate this book for its rather matter-of-fact portrayal of all sorts of gender identities and love interests. Yes, the primary romance is male/male, but it’s delightful that, in some rather refreshing ways, varied gender expression is commonplace and accepted. I’m looking forward to continued adventures in Maxwell’s universe (hopefully with more appealing titles).

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

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.

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.

June is African American Music Appreciation Month

Collage of black and white photos of musicians and color blocks in red, green, blue, and yellow with "Summer of Soul" overlaid.

by Jean B.

Count Basie. Billie Holliday. Duke Ellington. I am an enthusiastic jazz fan, and I appreciate that sliver of African American music all year long, not just in June. But the musical expression of Black experience and artistry certainly isn’t limited to jazz or any other single genre. Gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, hip hop, rap, classical, rock and roll, techno, musicals – African American Music Appreciation Month provides a great opportunity to acknowledge and explore the tremendous breadth of African American musicians, composers, styles, and music entrepreneurs. Established in 1979 as National Black Music Month, it has been proclaimed by every U.S. President from Jimmy Carter to Joe Biden. So for this 43rd annual celebration, use HCLS as a portal to enjoy more of what you already like or discover something entirely new.

Expand Your Playlist
If you’re looking for new tunes, HCLS offers thousands of CDs across all genres to borrow. Using your library card and PIN, you also can stream music from Freegal. Not only can you search for favorite artists or songs, but you can find already curated Black Music Month playlists – like the one created by the Central Arkansas Library System with ten hours of music, ranging from Jimi Hendrix, to Sister Rosetta Tharpe; from Kendrick Lamar to Miles Davis. That’s a lot to appreciate!

Experience Live Concerts
Do you want to imagine you’re there, in concert? Documentary DVDs can bring the live concert experience right into your home. Check out Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary, Summer of Soul, about the epic 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that features performances by artists like Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, B.B. King, and more. Or watch Eminem, Nas, and other hip-hop artists perform on Something From Nothing: the Art of Rap. From our Kanopy service, stream films like Rejoice and Shout: Gospel Music and African-American Christianity, which features legends of gospel like The Staple Singers and The Dixie Hummingbirds, to trace the 200-year evolution and contribution of gospel music in American pop culture.

The cover of I'm Possible: A Story of Survival, a Tuba, and the Small Miracle of a Big Dream features the outline illustration of a red figure playing a black tuba, framed by text.

Explore the Lives of African American Creators
If you’re curious about the life experiences that produced the music you hear, check out some great nonfiction. Be blown away by the memoir of Baltimore native Richard Antoine White, whose dream of classical tuba performance took him from a homeless childhood to a prestigious symphony orchestra career, an extraordinary story he tells in I’m Possible: A Story of Survival, A Tuba, and the Small Miracle of a Big Dream. Or be swept up in the incredible combination of poetry, art, biography, and music history in Jazz A-B-Z: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, where Wynton Marsalis writes wordplay jazz. I love his ode to Ellington, “a most elegant man” who sought “to educate, to elevate, to urge the earthbound ear and heart alike to soar,” just like the resources at HCLS!

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

Equity Resource Center – Children’s and Teen Collections 

Wide view of the upstairs at Central Branch of Howard County Library System, where the Equity Resource Center is housed.

by Ash B.

Enrich your summer with entertainment and educational materials from the Equity Resource Collection!

The Equity Resource Collection (ERC) launched in October 2021 in response to growing community demand for materials related to racial equity, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the increase in mainstream attention to #BlackLivesMatter and systemic racism. 

The special collection was created along with the Equity Resource Center, a 700 square foot space located on the second floor of the Central Branch, directly behind the public access computers. An intentional space for learning, healing, and discussing issues, the Center also provides room for thoughtful exhibits (such as Undesign the Redline). This area houses thousands of new ERC materials, including movies, documentaries, and music CDs, as well as fiction and nonfiction books and audiobooks.  

While HCLS works hard to maintain a diverse, balanced general collection, the ERC is specifically focused on centering equity, diversity, and inclusive representation, including but not limited to race/ethnicity and racism, immigration, disability, gender, and sexual orientation. By concentrating these titles in a specific place, the ERC serves as a resource if you are interested in books on one of these topics but aren’t sure where to start. I find this particularly beneficial when browsing the children’s ERC and all the nonfiction ERC shelves.

Some titles in the ERC are duplicated in our general collection, particularly popular titles, whereas other titles exclusively belong to the Equity Resource Collection. However, all ERC titles can be requested for pickup at any HCLS branch – which we highly encourage!

If you visit the Central Branch, you might notice three “Equity Resource Center” areas, with materials located in the children’s and teen area in addition to the upstairs section. All ERC DVDs, however, are located in the main Equity Resource Center along with the adult materials, including family-friendly movies like Moana.

Children’s 

Located on the main floor behind and around the research desk, the children’s ERC contains chapter books, picture books, and nonfiction books for a variety of ages and interests.

The collection provides exceptional “mirrors, window, and sliding glass doors” for young readers – allowing youth to discover books about and by people who look like them, as well as to learn about people who may be different from them. Some of these titles are clearly informational in nature – defining terminology, explaining concepts, and narrating history. These range from textbook-like materials for tweens to picture books for the earliest of readers! 

A pastel background shows four young folx, with the two on either side holding plants that fountain with all sorts of flowers and artistry. One person is sitting in a wheelchair with a ukulele.

One example of the latter is It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni. This gorgeously illustrated book shows examples of gender identity – boy, girl, both, neither – in a way that is nuanced but extremely clear for children (and adults!) to understand. It is simple without being oversimplified, which is an excellent achievement! If you’ve ever wondered “how do I explain gender to a child?” – or if you are new to learning about trans and nonbinary gender identities – then this book is for you! 

The Equity Resource Collection also includes children’s books that aren’t necessarily educational in the didactic sense but are still rich sources of learning, with stories about a wide variety of experiences, identities, and cultures. This is the window and doors part of what I was talking about earlier.

A young girl with dark hair and brown skin sits on a suitcase between a house in the a tropical seeting and an urban environment, with a plane overhead.

One of my favorite recent reads is Home Is In Between written by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Lavanya Naidu. In this picture book, a young Indian girl moves to the U.S. with her parents, while their extended family remains in India. Vibrant and heart-warming, Home Is In Between tenderly depicts the immigrant experience by conveying the excitement of new things and the challenges of feeling ‘in between’ two cultures. The illustrations are gorgeous, too!

Teen 

Also located on the main floor, you will find the Teen ERC in the far right corner, with organization similar to the children’s area. Some teen and adult graphic novels reside on the top left shelf, followed by novels and short story anthologies, then fiction audiobooks, and finally, nonfiction. 

Compilation of: You Should See Me In a Crown that features a young Black girl with natural hair and a tiara drawn on top; Cemetery Boys with two young men standing back-to-back with a mysterious figure in front of a full moon; and We Are Not Free with sketched carachters sitting on a pile of luggage and boxes.

Some of these novels center the high school experience, such as the award-winning You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, which follows a poor, queer, Midwestern Black girl’s pursuit of prom queen-dom, in the hope of earning a scholarship. The recipient of a Black-Eyed Susan award, Stonewall Book honor, and one of TIME’s best 100 YA books of all time, this title has earned high praise – it’s a sweet, joyous read that evokes the spirit of great teen movies. 

Other titles delve into cultural practices, such as Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, which brings together traditions from various Latinx cultures in a supernatural, urban fantasy setting – along with a gay rom-com storyline for a trans male protagonist. With its humor, heart, mystery-adventure, and magic, this is one of my personal favorite books (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)!

Fantastic historical fiction novels also address legacies of injustice, such as the incarceration of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, as depicted in We Are Not Free by Traci Chee. The granddaughter of Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned as teenagers at that time, Chee felt personally invested in bringing attention to this oft-neglected history. With many moments inspired by the stories of her relatives, this is an incredibly powerful story about fear, hope and resilience. 

Compilation of: The Burning which features yellow flame motif and red lettering; The Stonewall Riots which features illustrated crowd and rainbow sky; A Disability History of the United States which features seven photographs of people with physical ailments; Trouble Maker for Justice features a young Bayard Rustin against a faded photo of a protest; Protest features Olympic Medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad in her fencing gear; Rolling Warrior features the illustration of a white woman in a wheelchair holding a sign that says Rights Now!

Of course, there are also excellent nonfiction titles to help you learn about history. Some delve into specific events, such as The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 (Young Readers’ edition) by Tim Madigan and Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman. Other titles use a broader lens to approach the history of marginalized people, such as A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen. There’s also important history to be learned in biographies and memoirs of icons of the past and present, from the Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin, to Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, to disability rights activist Judith Heumann. 

For aspiring activists, there are books that can serve as guides as well as stories of youth who are speaking out and affecting change today. Kids on the March by Michael G. Long talks about youth protests from the 1903 March of the Mill Children to the recent movements of Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and the Climate Strike. 

There is so much to discover and learn within the Equity Resource Collection! We highly encourage you to come visit if you can… and stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about the other areas of the collection! 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Their favorite place to read is spread out on a blanket under the shade of the tree.

Kings of B’more by R. Eric Thomas 

Against a summery orange background, that shows a ferris wheel and light-rail train, two young Black boys smile

by Eliana H.

R. Eric Thomas is a Baltimore-based television writer, playwright, and the bestselling author of Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America and Reclaiming Her Time: The Power of Maxine Waters. He is also the (temporary) Prudie, answering questions for the Dear Prudence column in Slate magazine through mid-summer. He is visiting in-person at the Elkridge Branch + DIY Center on Wednesday, June 15 at 6:30 pm. He will be discussing his debut young adult novel, Kings of B’more. I had the wonderful opportunity to read an advance copy, and I am so excited to share it with you.

Have you ever seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? In the popular movie from the 1980s, the title character, a high school student, skips school to take his best friend and girlfriend on a whirlwind adventure all over Chicago. When the main character of Kings of B’more, Harrison, learns that his best friend, Linus, will be moving to South Carolina in just a few days, he is inspired by the movie – which his dad has just made him watch – to plan an adventure all around Baltimore for the two of them. Despite his grand ideas and the help Harrison enlists, things (of course) don’t quite go as planned. The boys manage to have an epic day nonetheless.

Throughout the book, I was struck by the beauty of the friendship between Harrison and Linus. Author R. Eric Thomas captures a fresh, unique voice and perspective for each of them while highlighting the ways in which they complement one another. They can have entire conversations with their eyes, they see and value the truth of each other, and they show their affection in ways large and small. As two Black queer young men, they certainly face some challenges. But Harrison and Linus support one another as each discovers his own way to take on the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the language that Thomas uses, with vividly descriptive passages that bring the surroundings to life. Baltimore really becomes another character in this story, not just the setting. 

With ups and downs and so many adventures, Thomas has packed an entire coming-of-age tale into a story taking place over a single weekend. The growth each character experiences occurs in a way that is completely natural in terms of what they are going through. Harrison and Linus feel authentic and well-developed, and I was so glad to get to know them as I read. Despite a very satisfying ending, I would love to know what happens next. And I am definitely planning my next foray into Baltimore as soon as possible! 

I hope you will join us at the upcoming author event to hear more from R. Eric Thomas, ask questions, and consider purchasing a book for signing (if you want).

Eliana is a Children’s Research Specialist and Instructor 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).

Under The Whispering Door by TJ Klune

The illustrated cover shoes a topsy-turvel house in the clearing of a large wood. The shadow of a large stag appears behind the house.

by Sahana C.

Loss is not an easy subject matter. The nuances of grief and grieving, mixed with the general sense of well-what-comes-next is hard to grapple with. And yet somehow, in Under the Whispering Door, TJ Klune has delivered another gentle reminder to readers that the best way to endure, survive, and eventually thrive through hardship is by finding your people, letting them help you and love you, and helping and loving them in return.  

An illustration shows a raggedy spit of land above a blue sea, with a red house with lots of windows at its very edge. Windswept trees and a blue and pink sunset sky frame the house.

Folks who know the author’s work after reading The House in the Cerulean Sea might be surprised, at first, by the level of angst present at the outset of this book. After all, if Cerulean Sea could tout the Antichrist as one of its main characters and still feel light, fluffy, and comforting, surely this novel about dead people can’t be that deep.  

Apparently, it can though.  

Most of that is due to the fact that Wallace Price, the main character, is simply obnoxious and unpleasant at the beginning. He is so unlikable in the very first chapter, so out of touch, that I wasn’t sure I wanted redemption for him. He got what he deserved, dying at the end of the first chapter. This is not a spoiler, the man is dead throughout the book. The main character is, in fact, a ghost-or-something the whole time. A fun time is had by all, except Wallace, when he dies.  

Seeing the other characters humor him and tease him was a relief because he was just so darn unpleasant that I didn’t much care how he’s feeling about being dead. Until, suddenly, I did. Without my knowledge or consent, I suddenly cared about Wallace, and that is precisely the magic that TJ Klune makes. He sneaks these strange characters on readers, makes it very clear that the characters are mostly a menace to society and not very good at being people, and then gently, steadily, these characters are shown how to be good people, how to care about others, how to crave belonging like they never have before.  

There is a tenderness with which Wallace is treated by Hugo, a man who is very important in Wallace’s undeath. Equally important are Mei, the Reaper who comes to collect Wallace’s soul-or-equivalent, Nelson, Hugo’s boisterous and larger than life grandfather, and Apollo, the dog.  

Difficult scenes force readers to confront loss in a very real way, and they are masterfully interspersed with incredible levity. Things like Wallace suddenly remembering he’s dead and sinking through the floor as the rest of the group does nothing to help but laugh are both incredibly funny and also the moments that Wallace is learning the most. The sad parts are to be expected, but as Wallace himself begins to use as a mantra: the real lesson is in unexpecting

This is a character driven novel, of course, because when considering something as deeply personal as loss, one must return to the people that are experiencing the emotion. The way that Klune uses all of the characters to fill in any gaps in Wallace’s story, but also allows them to have their own back stories, personalities, and flaws without detracting from Wallace’s growth, is a delicate balancing act that Klune has down to a science.  

Ryka Aoki, author of Light from Uncommon Stars , described the book beautifully, saying, “There is so much to enjoy in Under the Whispering Door, but what I cherish the most is its compassion for the little things―a touch, a glance, a precious piece of dialogue―healing me, telling me that for all the strangenesses I hold, I am valued, valid―and maybe even worthy of love.” 

This book is about healing and holding yourself accountable. It’s about always having more to learn, but having to be willing to learn it. It does not force, but gently asks a reader to consider, Am I happy? Am I doing what I want, surrounded by the people I love? What do I have to do to get there?  

And most of all, whatever you expect to happen here, wherever you think the story is going to go, unexpect it. Wallace was right. It’ll get you there faster.  

Under the Whispering Door is available in print, eBook, and eAudiobook.  

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.

Penric & Desdemona novellas

Painting of a fair blond man with a long braid and a white shirt in a narrow boat in a canal; the setting looks a lot like Venice.

by Kristen B.

One of the delights of reading fantasy stories is the wide range of “what ifs” that authors cook up for our enjoyment. What if a hobbit went on an adventure and discovered a long-lost ring of power? What if a pack of werewolves lived in the Pacific Northwest? What if demonic possession was not an entirely dangerous or horrible affliction? Hold onto that last thought…

Lois McMaster Bujold, a long-time favorite author, always inflicts situations on her characters that stretch them to their utmost and confound them utterly. In one of her created universes, folks worship a pantheon of Five Gods – Father and Mother, Son and Daughter, and Bastard. The Bastard is the god of all things out of season and out of “sorts,” if you will. Demons are creatures of chaos belonging to the Bastard, and they can only exist in the “real world” if they inhabit a creature, usually some sort of wild animal. As one host dies, the demon jumps to the next closest creature, always looking to increase complexity of animal – eventually, sometimes, making it to a human.

Meet Desdemona, one of the oldest and most powerful demons. When she becomes invested in Penric kin Jurald, rather unexpectedly for both of them, she has the better part of 200 years of experience and brings an absolute wealth of knowledge with her. When Desdemona’s previous “rider” dies of heart failure, a great partnership is born between the old lady demon and her handsome new host. While Penric operates as the protagonist throughout the stories, Desdemona is my favorite. She provides ongoing pithy commentary in the vein of an older sister/aunt about the younger Penric’s decisions and passions. Honestly, Bujold’s way with wry commentary on humanity’s frailty and foibles is what keeps me coming back to her books.

Bujold has written more than ten novellas detailing the pair’s various adventures. They do seem to attract trouble as they sort out younger demons, practice spy-craft, fight pirates, court a wife for Penric, and solve plagues. In all the stories, the balance between performing useful magic and managing Desdemona’s chaotic outlets is variously hilarious and disturbing. The balance between politics and diplomacy and regular people’s daily lives provides depth and nuance.

So, have I tempted you? Here’s the bad news: the books were originally self-published electronically, but have since been produced in limited quantities and different formats. Here’s the good news: They are mostly stand-alone stories, so you don’t have to read them in any particular order. I do recommend starting with Penric’s Demon, where all the fun begins, but you don’t have to. After that, you can follow along with their adventures in Penric’s Fox, Masquerade in Lodi, The Physicians of Vilnoc, and all the many others.

If you get hooked like I am, other Maryland libraries carry the titles and collected anthologies (Penric’s Progress and Penric’s Travels) that we don’t and you can borrow them all via Interlibrary Loan/Marina. However you find them, I hope you find that a couple of the stories enchant and amuse you with such an interesting set of What Ifs.

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