Your Favorite Actors Read Your Favorite Stories

Big capital S and O combine in front of words Storyline Online, over the silhouettes of rooftops.

By Jessica L.

What do Viola Davis, Sean Astin, Allison Janney, and Rami Malek have in common? They like to read books to children! Storyline Online, an award-winning children’s online literacy program, recruits a wide selection of actors to read children’s books for Grades K-4. While similar to the after school television program Reading Rainbow, positive differences come from the stories being available 24/7 and how you can see the reader enjoying the story, too.

You may sort stories by author, title, reader, and (my favorite) run time. Stories range 5-21 minutes, which is helpful when that request of, “Five more minutes, please?!” arises. After you choose your story, you’ll be asked which video player you prefer (SchoolTube, YouTube, or Vimeo) which is saved as your preference. What’s more, you can share what you’re learning via Facebook, Twitter, or email. Storyline Online has an app, a blog, and an array of social media platforms they use to inform folks when new books are available. 

You can certainly use this entertaining, supplementary educational resource while learning from home. Each story includes curriculum-driven learning activities created by accredited elementary educators. Parents and teachers alike will find the site easy to navigate and user friendly. It may even provide an opportunity for you to allow your children independent screen time. This is distance learning gold!  

More than 60 books are active on the site, with more on the way. Storyline Online is currently featuring books which celebrate Black stories and Black voices. I recently chose “Rent Party Jazz” by William Miller, read by Viola Davis, geared to Grades 2-3 and 11 minutes long. I evaluated the activities for parents and teachers and found them to be well-written, excellent tools for their respective target audiences. 

Storyline Online is a fantastic way to experience your favorite actors’ storytelling on-demand while learning from home. I’m personally hoping Keanu Reeves will read my favorite children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco. I’m just not sure how many more times I can @storylineonline. Believe me: you’re never too old to enjoy a good read-aloud! You can find it along with HCLS’ other eContent for Kids.

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She enjoys bonfires and spins a mean dreidel.

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

The book cover depicts someone tearing through the pages of a book as if through a curtain, with a dark abyss behind and a bare arm reaching from inside the book.

By Eliana H.

“Hell is a series of hallways.” I think I can believe that. In The Library of the Unwritten, author A.J. Hackwith imagines not only Hell, but a variety of realms of the afterlife, down to the bureaucracy that governs them.

Claire Hadley has been Hell’s Librarian for a few decades now. She runs the Unwritten Wing, home to all of the stories that authors never actually wrote. Brevity, Claire’s assistant, is a former muse, and the two are joined by a demon, Leto, as they set off to retrieve a character who has escaped from his book and made his way to earth to seek his author. As they are ready to return to the Library, an angel shows up, expecting them to have a completely different book – the Devil’s Bible. 

Before they know it, Claire, Brevity, Leto, and Hero find themselves on an adventure to try to avert war between Heaven and Hell. They know such a battle would spell disaster for the humans who would be caught in the middle. In the end, all of the library’s resources will be needed to defend against those who would harm it. 

Hackwith does a beautiful job describing the worlds they travel through as we learn more about the intriguing cast of characters, none of whom are quite what they seem. She also demonstrates the politics of the different domains. 

This book was refreshing in the way it tied different beliefs and mythologies into an original premise with unique characters. I was captivated throughout. The journal entry or two from librarians through the ages beginning each chapter, which hinted at some of the challenges they faced in previous eras, were a helpful touch. This is the first book in a new series, so I look forward to learning more about the past – both Claire’s and the library’s – as well as further adventures to come.

The Library of the Unwritten is available from HCLS in print and also as an eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby.

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).

A Time to Give Thanks

The cover depicts a group of Native Americans in a circle around a fire, with hills and trees in fall colors against a sunset.

By Laci R.

I truly believe in the importance of taking time to reflect on what makes us feel thankful – what fills our hearts with joy. I’ve compiled some of my favorite picture books for the Thanksgiving holiday, traditions that accompany it, and thankfulness in general that I hope you enjoy sharing with the children in your life.

Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules
Tuyet is worried her family isn’t celebrating Thanksgiving properly because they’re serving duck instead of the popular turkey option. Her worries melt away as she learns that holidays don’t look exactly the same in every household and that those differences make for no less of a beautiful celebration. Culture, personal preference, and loved ones are all part of the formula for a successful Thanksgiving, and this book does a great job at showing the real diversity that fills family traditions.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (also available as an audiobook on CD)
Fry bread comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. It unites family and friends and is a form of art and history that has been passed on for generations, a delicious staple in hundreds of tribes and celebrated in this book by a modern Native American family. Fry Bread beautifully represents the culture and legacy that lives on today in many of our own Thanksgiving celebrations. Pair this story with We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell – a vibrant and detailed book full of cultural and historical information earned an impressive list of awards. “Otsaliheliga” is a Cherokee word that means gratitude. Learn how the Cherokee Nation celebrates a year, starting in the Fall.

Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story! By JaNay Brown-Wood (also available as an audiobook on CD and an audio Wonderbook) is a quick and adorable read. Grandma is hosting a feast and pretty much everyone is invited. The only problem is that her tiny house quickly runs out of space for the eight uncles, fifteen hungry grandkids, and many other wonderful guests. Through counting (1-15) and rhyme, this story effortlessly builds an experience where you feel like you, too, are about to walk down Grandma’s back stairs into a glorious, warm-hearted, welcoming outdoor celebration. Pair this story with another classic counting story told through rhyme; Feast For 10 by Cathryn Falwell.

Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora (also available as an audio Wonderbook)
This bilingual read is sure to delight and make you reflect on the many things to be thankful for. Maybe it’s a ladybug landing on your fingertip, a new favorite book suggested by a friend, bursting with laughter from a pea fight with your sister, or the cricket serenading you to sleep. Pair this story with Apple Cake by Dawn Casey, where special thanks are given to the bees, sun, earth, farmers, and everything and everyone else that makes this simple pleasure possible – apple cake! This story includes a recipe on the last few pages so you can make your very own apple cake to share with loved ones. Don’t forget The Thankful Book by Todd Parr; I couldn’t write about this topic without mentioning a favorite of many. Gardening, hugs, friends, pets, and music are all things I’m incredibly thankful for and these are mentioned on pages bursting with color in Parr’s book.

 
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet (also available as an eAudiobook) is one of the most interesting biographies I’ve seen for children. Pages are filled with multimedia collage art that draws you into the world of Tony Sarg, a self-taught immigrant with a creative dream. From his love of marionettes at a young age to the invention of his whimsical and enchanting floating balloons, you go along for every part of the journey! Learn how he avoided his chore of feeding the chickens at a young age. Pair this book with Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson where Sarah fights for many things she believes in, including Thanksgiving to become a national holiday. If it weren’t for her, there would be no distinct day to celebrate or reason to make parade floats!

The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing
Want a story that’s silly and a guaranteed laugh? Cousins Gavin and Rhonda are stuck in the kids’ room with slobbering babies upon arrival to Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s. They soon make a plan to escape outside to play. Quickly realizing there are a few obstacles to get past – including vicious guard dogs, the hall of aunts, and teenage zombies – the cousins must resort to a new plan, fast.

In November by Cynthia Rylant offers a look into the entire month and all the changes that happen in nature. The weather is getting colder, trees are becoming bare, and birds and animals are going on a journey or preparing for the season right where they are. November is also a time for enjoying delicious food and gathering for Thanksgiving, sitting by a crackling fire, and allowing ourselves to rest.

While the holidays may look very different this year, one thing remains the same – there’s always a reason to be thankful. Sharing these stories with you and knowing you will share them with the children in your life, is just one of the many things I’m thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

We Need Diverse Books

The book cover depicts three people in silhouette seated on a bridge, overlooking the water, with bright sunshine in the center behind a partially cloudy sky.

By Alan S.

I know that is a groundbreaking title there. Anyway, this post is a personal illustration of connecting with book characters because they are like me. Before anyone else can point it out – yes, I am a white guy. Yes, I am a white, heterosexual male. Yes, there are many books about people like me.  This post is not about me wanting more books about me. I’ve always agreed that we need more diverse books. I can’t imagine why anyone would disagree with this. Kids need to be able to read a book about a person who reflects their personal experience. Intellectually, I always knew this. My last two books have been a good illustration of how a connection to the characters improves the reader’s experience.

I read The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (also available in ebook and eaudiobook from OverDrive/Libby). It takes place in rural Tennessee, and in the author’s words from the book jacket:

“I wanted to write about young people who struggle to live lives of dignity and find beauty in a forgotten and unglamorous place. Who wonder what becomes of dreams once they cross the county line. This book is my love letter
to those young people and anyone who has ever felt like them, no matter where they grew up.”

I grew up in a place that could be considered forgotten and unglamorous. A small town where many kids dream of escaping to a bigger and brighter world. A small town where some days it seems like your dreams will die. I felt completely connected to the characters and could see a little bit of myself in them. Because of this, the book meant more to me and I was more emotionally invested in the story.

The book cover depicts a girl literally pieced together from different bodies, with an oversized arm and an arm of bones, a ribcage, a heart, an oversized toothy smile, and a single eye looking up.

Immediately after Serpent King, I read Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. I like the book, but I don’t feel the same connection to the character because I am not a Mexican-American girl living in California. A Mexican-American girl will feel that connection here, but not necessarily in The Serpent King.  It’s important for books like Gabi to exist for that girl. She does not have the plethora of books about people like her that I’ve benefited from my entire life.

I didn’t realize how lucky I was growing up a reader and finding myself in all of the books I read (like the creepy clown in It, for example), and even though I realized it as an adult, it didn’t really stand out to me until I read these two books back to back.

I do think it is important for me to read books about people different from me, but sometimes it is really nice to read a book that feels like home. Everyone should have that opportunity.

For more information about where to find diverse books, please visit the We Need Diverse Books website. They have an excellent resource page of current, active sites that offer recommendations for diverse titles, as well as a great blog to help you discover new authors.

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

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Photo of Kim Gordon in a subway, with duotone wash in red.

By Ben H.

“it’s hard to write about a love story with a broken heart” – Kim Gordon 

Girl in a Band is a breakup memoir and it’s a good one.  

It is also much more than a breakup memoir. It is a pretty killer Künstlerroman* (Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter is a good comparison); a brilliant memoir of place(s) (like Joan Didion’s “White Album” essay), and a behind the music for music nerds (I don’t have a good comp, but I need to keep the parallelism going). Kim Gordon was the eponymous “girl in a band” with Sonic Youth, a band that made loud noisy rock records. She was married to her bandmate, Thurston Moore, for 29 years until she learned of him having an affair. Neither the couple nor the band survived the affair. My review isn’t necessarily for the Sonic Youth fans out there, because they’ve probably already read this and devoured the middle section where Gordon highlights her favorite tracks and gives them biographical context; my review is for the people who need another reason to read a memoir about a girl in a band. 

Gordon writes beautifully about the places she’s lived. From her childhood in L.A. to her adulthood in New York to her motherhood in Massachusetts, Gordon excels at remembering tiny details and writing gorgeous descriptions of the distinct phases of her life. L.A. is a maze to be escaped and returned to; New York is chaotic and fertile like an overgrown garden; and Massachusetts is suffocating, domestic, and tense.

Gordon’s L.A. is a Janus-faced landscape of “rustic hillsides filled with twisted oak trees, scruffy and steep, with lighter-than-light California sunshine filtering through the tangles,” and flat neighborhoods of “freshly mowed green lawns camouflaging dry desert-scape…everything orderly but with its own kind of unease.” The places Gordon writes about become characters through her tapestry of vivid vignettes. For me, she does her best writing about places. If you still aren’t convinced, the vintage photographs Gordon uses for each chapter, like the one of her standing with her arms around Iggy Pop and Nick Cave, are reason enough to read this book. 

When I think of Sonic Youth, I don’t necessarily think of the awesome sheets of sound they made as a band. I think of the husky and wild vocals of Gordon. Her delivery is one of a kind. She drones. She growls. She talks. She screams. She sings. As an author, she might not possess the same kind of singular voice, but she knows how to tell a story and set a scene. At the risk of sounding adolescent, she is also very cool. Speaking of cool, Gordon references William Gibson’s thriller Pattern Recognition – she named a song after it. His cool-hunting protagonist Cayce Pollard is totally cut from the same cloth as Kim Gordon. Listen to any of the tracks off Gordon’s solo album, No Home Record, and tell me she isn’t very cool.

I won’t review the details of her relationship with Thurston Moore, but I think she does a marvelous job writing about the arc of their relationship. The passages describing them falling in love are lovely. The passages describing Thurston’s increasingly erratic behavior in Massachusetts are heartbreaking.

Kim Gordon, band aside, has led a fascinating life. My wife recommended this book to me and now I’m recommending it to you. Take a trip back in time to when CDs were the only way to listen to music and request Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation while you’re at it! 

*artist’s book about growing into maturity

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

Veterans Day and Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five arches in a tombstone shape above the subtitle, Or the Children's Crusade, and the author's name.

By Eric L.

We celebrate Veterans Day today, November 11, and it’s not just an extra day off each year. As a young person, I didn’t realize the significance of the date and why it doesn’t float like similar holidays. Veterans Day was not explained to me in school; in fact, the significance of the First World War wasn’t very clear until I took a college-level class. However, I won’t blame my teachers; there is a high probability that I was not paying attention.

I have always liked history because it seems like a big story, and I love those. I still, fortuitously, fill the gaps of my historical knowledge through books, very often through fictional stories as a gateway to the actual events. So please read them, you can borrow them for free

Kurt Vonnegut is arguably one of my favorite writers for his indefatigable humanism and wit. Sadly, I’m a huge fan of what people call gallows humor. He served in combat for the U.S. Army during the Second World War. In short, he was captured, detained as a prisoner of war, survived the fire-bombing of Dresden as a POW, and experienced horrifying things. His work Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children’s Crusade: a Duty-Dance with Death addresses this experience. The title refers to the former slaughterhouse where he and other POWS were held, and the fact that they were really children when they fought the war. Many of his works are about war and post-traumatic stress it causes. Strangely, Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922, what would become Veterans Day.

In my opinion, the prefaces of his books, as well as his memoir Man Without a Country (also in audio) are nearly as good as the novels. I find them hilarious. In the preface to Breakfast of Champions (available in ebook, eAudio, or this collection), he describes how Armistice Day marked the end of the First World War. The cease-fire was declared on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Vonnegut poetically said,  

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me
in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we
still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke
clearly to mankind (504-5, Novels and Stories 1962-1973).

I can only imagine that, to a battlefield veteran, the silence of a cease-fire must indeed have sounded like providence. Vonnegut said that Armistice Day was “sacred,” I assume because it meant an end to fighting in the War to End All Wars. I’m fairly confident he supported veterans of all types, but I too hope the idea of a cease-fire is still “sacred.”  

I very much appreciate the veterans of the military. I admire their courage, and I especially admire my late Grandmother who served as a combat nurse during the Second World War. 

Check out HCLS’s list of titles to remember and celebrate our nation’s military heroes this Veterans Day.

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

Book Theater

By Cherise T.

Nature setting in bluish tint. Trees, clouds, horizon.

If you’re like me, you really miss live theater. The Playbills. Waiting for the curtain to rise, the actors to appear. Entering another world. Audiobooks can offer a similar exhilarating trip. Recently, some audiobooks go beyond one or two readers. They offer a whole cast of performers who immerse you in the books’ texts like only a theatrical performance can. Publishers have started to invest in larger ensembles of characters. These audiobooks provide a different experience from the written word. 

Those of you who have listened to the Harry Potter series on audio are already familiar with Jim Dale, the award-winning British actor with the unique ability to create special voices for all of Rowling’s Hogwarts characters. Dale has talked about children recognizing his voice at McDonald’s and asking him to order a burger as Dumbledore. It’s the rare audiobook narrator who can convincingly perform multiple characters on his own, but Dale can. If you haven’t heard Harry on audio, I recommend giving the series a try. 

The largest audio cast to date belongs to the Lincoln in the Bardo recording. In his first novel, George Saunders, an acclaimed speculative short story writer, brings us an otherworldly vision of President Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie. We meet Willie’s fellow cemetery spirits who linger between death and rebirth. One of the protagonists is voiced by Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation fame and another by David Sedaris, the bestselling humor essayist. (Sedaris’s audiobooks are wonderful too as he reads his own works.) There are 166 performers in all. Although it’s fun to see how many voices you can recognize – Ben Stiller! Julianne Moore! – I recommend exploring the full cast list to enjoy the complete experience. 

Daisy Jones and the Six is a novel that takes the form of an oral history of a fictional 1970’s rock band. The members of The Six embody sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Author Taylor Jenkins Reid even pens lyrics for the group’s hit songs. Now, what if you could hear the oral history? You can, in the amazing audiobook. Jennifer Beals of Flashdance and The L Word fame is the voice of Daisy, a character loosely inspired by Stevie Nicks. There are 21 cast members on this audiobook, and they bring the chaotic world of recording, tours, and relationships to life. 

If you’ve not explored the joys of audiobooks, give them a try. On free book promotion sites such as Goodreads and Book Riot, you can find reviews specifically of audiobooks. The readers are as unique as the books themselves, so don’t hesitate to give different voices a try. 

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.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Annapara

by Piyali C.

In a sprawling basti (slum) in an Indian city where smog seems to smother the inhabitants along with trash, diseases, and terrible living conditions, children start disappearing. Nine-year-old Jai lives in the basti with his mother, who works for a lady in a ‘hi fi’ building, his sister, Runu didi, who is the fastest runner in her school, and his father, who works hard to provide for the family. Jai loves watching cop shows and wishes to become a detective like Byomkesh Bakshi or Feluda (both fictional detectives in Bengali literature) or Sherlock Holmes when he grows up.

The mystery of disappearing children gives him the perfect opportunity to hone his crime solving skills. Every detective needs assistants, and he employs the services of his best friends and classmates, Pari and Faiz, to be his sidekicks as he embarks into “detectiving.” The trouble is, Pari has excellent brains and always asks the right questions before Jai can even think of them.

As children in Jai’s basti continue to disappear, finger pointing begins targeting the Muslim community of the basti. Although frantic parents of missing children inform the police about these disappearances, drawing the ire of their neighbors, the police take no notice of these kidnappings. They come to take bribes from the poor, bereft parents instead. The other residents are infuriated at the involvement of the authorities as they worry the government can raze their basti with bulldozers since they live there illegally. Fanatic religious groups swoop in to assert their dominance and sow seeds of hatred and divisiveness between Hindu and Muslim communities.

While the story and the characters are fictional, the events are, unfortunately, real. According to the author, “as many as 180 children are said to go missing in India everyday.” The police investigation into these disappearances is negligible. The marginalized population remains invisible to the opulent class and their losses remain ignored. Deepa Anappara, during her career as a journalist, interviewed many impoverished children living on streets and in such slums.

The author chose nine-year-old protagonists to tell this story of loss because, during her interviews, she discovered that the street children have a great sense of humor despite horrific living conditions. Given their cheekiness and astute observation skills tinged with innocence, Jai, Pari and Faiz try to make sense of the sadness and chaos that envelop them. The narrative of the children makes the setting and environment even more poignant for the readers. The sense of place that the author creates transports the readers to Jai’s basti, and Anappara engages all our senses to experience the story. Lastly, the dialogue in the book is very typical of how many Indians speak English as they do literal translation of their mother tongue to the other language. I found the dialogues to be exact and authentic. Having Jai, Pari, Faiz, and others speak impeccable English would have marred the essence of the setting and authenticity. I am curious if the dialogue would be a deterrent for Western readers. The backdrop of the story reminded me of the incredible book about India’s biggest slum in Mumbai, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is available at HCLS both in print and as an ebook in OverDrive.

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

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

Black background with grey bird silhouettes above the image of British Houses of Parliament. Title appears in red.

By Kristen B.

Sherlock Holmes is a perennial favorite. So many movies and TV shows have delved into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series of short stories and novellas, from House M.D. to Benedict Cumberbatch on the BBC to Robert Downey, Jr’s movies, that the character has entered the common sphere. You really don’t have to explain him and his particular attention to detail.

Katherine Addison’s new novel, The Angel of the Crows, combines Victorian England, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Jack the Ripper with a supernatural, steampunk milieu that includes angels, Fallen angels, vampires, werewolves, and hellhounds. Angels operate a little differently here: they are only thinking, rational beings with names when they have a habitation. Without a location (usually a public building) to guard, an angel is Nameless and belongs to the collective hive-mind. In the worst case, when an angel loses its habitation, the trauma can cause it to Fall (capital letter necessary) … which can have an impact like a bomb.

You need to know this to understand our intrepid detectives, Crow and Dr. J. H. Doyle. Crow names itself Angel of London but is really managing to hold onto a name and an identity by sheer force of will. The angel is a maniac for helping the local police solve murders and other crimes (and obsesses over the daily papers to this end). Dr. Doyle has returned home from the war in Afghanistan, where an unexpected attack by Fallen angels left behind an interesting assortment of wounds and complications. The two social misfits become unexpected, but oddly compatible, flatmates.

These two get themselves into – and out of – all sorts of predicaments. The structure of the book is fantastic, with the overarching story of solving the Jack the Ripper/Whitechapel murders carrying throughout. The novel, however, divides into several, shorter parts which work as discrete, individual detective stories about missing persons, foreign treasure, and other mundane mysteries – most of which are direct pastiches of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals. The smaller adventures allow the individual characters to come to life and steal into your heart a little bit at a time. Both Crow and Doyle are wrestling the world for their right to live as they choose – and you root for them as well as their superior sleuthing.

While by no means a strict Sherlock equivalency, the book recognizes and honors its source material. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. It may, indeed, spur you to reacquaint yourself with the originals, too.

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

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder

The book cover depicts an illustration of a woman in pink sweater and blue jeans dancing with the translucent, ghostly image of her mother, who is represented by a gravestone at their feet which reads "Mom, 1961-2009."

by Carmen J.

I hate to state the obvious, but an unfortunate fact of life is that we will gradually lose the ones we love. In this year alone, I’ve had the reality check of all reality checks as I said goodbye to my sister-in-law, my daughter’s great grandmother, my best friend from high school’s parents, my best friend from my first job out of college, a former colleague (RIP Joe McHugh), and two icons: Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman. Yes, 2020, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, please?

In Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir, the author writes about her experience losing her mother when she was 19 and dealing with the 10-year aftermath of grief. The writing and illustrations are insightful, poignant, and humorous at the same time. The author’s mother died of cancer and the author vividly describes the myriad of emotions caregivers endure, so readers can connect to her story on many levels.

Like the author, I lost both my father and sister to cancer, and I found myself nodding in heartfelt agreement at many of Feder’s descriptions of losing a parent and enduring the magnified heartache of cancer. In particular, she captured the reality of the endless trips to the hospital for treatments and cancer’s physical and emotional tolls on the ill and their families.

As a reader, I connected with Feder’s reflections on how death can be so difficult to talk about for some. No one really knows the exact right thing to say when you hear that someone has died. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and unexpected, much like death itself. I laughed at the author’s inflections of humor and her ability to find humor even in her darkest days.

I’m lucky I still have a living mother. As we celebrated her 80th birthday this year, my thoughts trickled to the thought of what life may look like some day without her. I hate that image. As Feder highlights in the book, I, too, consider my mom to be a rock star and an undeniable force in my life. More time is always what we want with those we love and, selfishly, it’s never enough.

Put this book in the hands of someone who is hurting from recent loss, has someone succumbing to illness, or anyone in need of finding the right words of comfort.

Carmen J is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, fall weather, Halloween, and pumpkin spice everything.