Citizen Science and Summer Fun

The photograph shows two orange, white, and black monarch butterflies gathering nectar from a stalk of lavender sage.
Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash.

by Jean B.

Last spring, as a COVID lockdown project, I expanded my backyard garden and planted some milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.  I was rewarded with not only bright orange-yellow flowers throughout the summer, but dozens of striped monarch caterpillars in August and then, the ultimate treasure:  one glittering pale-green chrysalis, from which I watched a monarch emerge one late September day.  Observing this life cycle drama unfold in my backyard was absolutely a pandemic highlight!

As you may know, habitats for monarch butterflies are declining rapidly, threatening their ability to make the incredible migration from Canada to Central Mexico that species survival requires. But there are tangible ways individuals can help monarchs. It can be a wonderful family activity to learn about, observe, and take action to help monarch populations, with help from some fantastic children’s books available at HCLS. Become citizen scientists!  It’s fun, it gets everyone outdoors together, and it’s rewarding. 

First, check out Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery. In this book, Meeg Pincus explores how the monarchs’ amazing migration journey was uncovered through the actions of not only scientists, teachers, and explorers but also thousands of volunteers, who helped tag and observe the butterflies to figure out where they went. When the mystery finally was solved, whose achievement was it? As this book joyfully replies, the discovery belonged to “all of them – the scientists, the citizen scientists, the regular folks along the way.”  Learning about that remarkable effort, it’s easier to appreciate how each of us can play a part in helping solve the problems facing monarchs and other struggling species.  

Now we need some specifics to get to work. Check out Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. This beautiful, family-friendly book guides kids and their grownups through four seasonal projects: tagging monarch butterflies in the fall, counting backyard birds in the winter, frog watching (and listening!) in the spring, and photographing ladybugs in the summer. Each section contains a visually-rich full spread with practical information for “when you go,” including a checklist of equipment, close-up photos of the creature to be observed, and a quick quiz to learn some useful facts.  Links to organizations that collect citizen scientist information are provided, too. It’s every curious and naturally-observant kid’s dream to count, name, and dig around outside to find interesting creatures, right? This book gives just the right blend of guidance and inspiration to harness that excitement to a great purpose.

While you’re outside looking for monarchs, you’re bound to see all kinds of other butterflies, caterpillars, and insects you’ll want to learn more about. Capturing the beauty and wonder of butterflies, the nonfiction picture book A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, with spectacular artwork by Sylvia Long, is my favorite guide. It contains fascinating information presented with gloriously colorful and detailed illustrations. It’s available as an eBook from CloudLibrary, too. (And since this summer will be full of cicadas, check out A Beetle is Shy, by the same duo, to boost your beetle appreciation.)

Finally, if you embark on this journey of discovery, be sure to stop in at the HCLS Enchanted Garden located at the Miller Branch, a certified Monarch Way Station. Through the HCLS website and classes, the Enchanted Garden offers more resources to support citizen scientists and monarch watchers.   

Make HCLS your partner as you encourage the budding naturalists in your family this year and maybe you’ll get to see a brand new monarch stretch its wings, too!

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.

Spring is for Gardening

The cover depicts a garden of flowers, vines, and strawberries in bright primary and secondary colors, with birds, a butterfly, a frog, a ladybug, and a bee enjoying the vegetation.

By Laci R.

Spring is here once again – and you know what that means? It’s the perfect time to share these wonderful gardening books with the children in your life. Gardening is a passion of mine for many reasons. It’s become a reliable place of peace and comfort, I get to see a variety of pollinator friends, and I have a permanent seat in a never-ending classroom. I like to encourage others not only to find a way to connect to nature but to look into all the methods and styles of gardening. My garden started with two or three potted plants. Over the past couple of years, my container deck garden has transformed into a whimsical fairytale oasis.

The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen
This story reminds us that our imagination can bring just as much wonder into our lives as anything we experience in the physical world. Join this adorable grandfather and granddaughter as they bring life into the most beautiful imaginary garden. As they paint- brick walls are built for vining plants to climb, crocuses are popping up as the first sight of Spring, and a robin eats a worm for lunch. Later, the granddaughter is left to care for the garden while her grandfather is away on vacation, and she’s determined to make him proud. Imaginary or not, gardens require hard work and a whole lot of love.

Pair With: My Garden by Kevin Henkes (also available as an audiobook on CD)
This book reminds me of Alice in Wonderland as she sits amongst the flowers and describes her perfect world. While the flowers in this book won’t talk with you for hours, they do change colors just by thinking about it. Join an imaginative little girl as she tells you all about her dream garden – including a jellybean bush, invisible carrots, and glowing lantern strawberries.

A Peaceful Garden by Lucy London
Join these two feline friends as they prepare, plant, and tend to their peaceful garden. This book is a great introduction to the joys of gardening through a simple yet sweet story that walks you through what the process might look like to get ready for your own garden. Throughout, you’ll see garden dwellers making an appearance, some that a lot of people try to deter from their space. This peaceful garden is all about making sure everyone knows they’re welcome and cared for. What will you grow in your peaceful garden?

The cover depicts a rooftop garden with a diverse group of people working to plant in the soil. The cityscape is in the background against a sky of oranges and yellows.



Thank You, Garden by Liz Scanlon
The illustrations show a diverse community of children and neighbors working together on a city garden. Through rhyme, you learn about what goes into making a garden so lovely – including the times that call for being silly and playing in water from the hose. This book does a great job of showing the rewards of hard work. While the text isn’t abundant in this story, the artwork tells you more than words ever could.

Pair with: Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam
This wordless picture book utilizes mixed media in a dreamy way that will certainly spark a fulfilling discussion. It’s Winter, and Fox is looking for a safe and cozy place to have her pups after being chased out of a village. She comes across a greenhouse and nestles in. Soon, Fox and her pups are greeted by a young boy who gently places a basket of food on the ground before leaving them be. Fox and her pups repay the favor with a beautiful “thank you” waiting to be found in the boy’s bedroom when he wakes the next morning.

The cover depicts a boy and a black cat in a dense garden of flowers and tropical plants, in shades of blue, green, yellow, and mauve.


Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano
Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings. Skyscrapers and highways hold the space where hills and trees used to be. Tokyo is determined to help his grandfather have a garden despite the city “eating up the land” years ago. He meets an old woman who gifts him three beans that will become whatever is imagined of them during planting time. What happens next is a beautiful and fast-paced adventure showing how nature behaves in a city. Animals replace cars on the roads and streets become rivers. Will city life and wildlife be able to co-exist? This book is a thoughtful portrait of environmentalism and imagination. At first, this story might seem familiar – beans that you can wish on. I promise you’re in for a treat with this modern story that feels classic.

Florette by Anna Walker
Mae moves to a new home in the city and is forced to leave her beloved garden behind. Once there, Mae starts to realize just how empty this new house feels without a garden to play in and butterflies to chase. She tries to recreate the wonder by drawing and painting flowers on the stacks of boxes filling every room. Realizing she has to search a bit further, Mae sets out on an adventure and finds a lush green botanical shop… but it’s closed. She waits, but the door never opens. In the distance, there’s a small green sprout in a crack between the building and sidewalk where Mae rescues her very own piece of the forest. Is there room for a garden in the city, after all?

Gardening for Beginners by Emily Bone
Learning any new skill can be intimidating at first. This book is an excellent resource for any age and especially perfect for developing a new skill alongside the children in your life. I learned a great deal from this book when I first started gardening and was overwhelmed by information. This book has an easy-to-follow page design, and there is also a breakdown of how to interpret each section of the page in the beginning of the book. The visual appeal of this book makes the information more digestible and easier to retain.

Pair with: Flowers by Gail Gibbons
Gail Gibbons is a favorite for a reason. This book is no exception for anyone interested in learning about flowers. It covers the basics of flower parts, growth, seed travel, pollination, and the various ways flowers are categorized.

I hope this assortment of gardening books brings some green, inspiration, and curiosity into your home.  Gardening is for everyone and doesn’t have one look or motivating factor. I challenge you to grow something this year – whether it’s your family’s favorite tomato or melon, flowers for our pollinator friends, or your imagination.

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.

Celebrate Women’s History Month with #ELKReads

By HCLS Elkridge Branch staff

Every March, we celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States. March 8 has been honored as International Women’s Day since 1911, with nations around the world celebrating the movement toward women’s rights. This annual celebration gives us the opportunity to honor women past and present who have paved the way for continued progress for all. This includes trailblazers in politics, arts, sports, science, and more. Look back at those who have come before and be inspired to soar to new heights with these reads for all ages about amazing women. 

For Little Ones: 

The collage has the descriptors "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Little Kids." The book cover for Mae Among the Stars" depicts the title character in a space helmet with a starry background sky. The book cover of "The Girl Who Thought in Pictures" is a cartoon drawing of Dr. Temple Grandin, with thought bubbles depicting her thoughts about animals, rockets, and scientific concepts. The book cover for "Think Big, Little One" depicts three women role models: architect Zaha Hadid, artist Frida Kahlo, and musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The book cover of "Like a Girl" depicts the faces of three girls, and famous women participating in a collage of activities beneath them. The book cover of "Dreamers" depicts a mother and baby in a colorful natural environment, with teal and pink flowers and a bright orange monarch butterfly. The book cover of "Good Job, Athena" depicts the goddess Athena as a young child, with her hair in pigtails and an orange bow around the waist of her blue outfit.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julie Finley Mosca – also available as an ebook through Libby/OverDrive

Little ones will love the delightful pictures and rhyming verse in this true American shero story. Diagnosed with autism as a girl, Temple Grandin embraced her unique way of thinking to help her invent revolutionary new ways to take better care of farm animals. A special note from Temple Grandin to readers is also included, along with a timeline and fun facts. 

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington 

Join your little one in reading this picture book inspired by the real-life story of Dr. Mae Jemison. Mae starts off with a dream to see the earth and later becomes the first African American woman in space. Burrington’s illustrations bring this story to life and will inspire your little one to reach for the stars! 

Like a Girl by Lori Degman, illustrated by Mara Penny

In this beautifully illustrated tribute to girl power, readers are introduced to 24 women who blazed trails in their respective fields. The author highlights all the wonderful things you can do “like a girl” and invites her audience to think about the ways they can change the world. More details about each subject are included in the back of the book.

For Big Kids: 

The collage has the descriptors, "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Big Kids." The book cover of Coraline depicts the title character against a dark Gothic background, with ghostly figures in pale grey reaching out for her. The book cover of "Hooray for Women!" depicts a cartoon parade of women in different costumes, contemporary and historical, with eight famous women depicted in boxes around the perimeter of the center picture: The book cover of "Not One Damsel in Distress" depicts two women fighting off dragons and a wild boar with a sword and bow and arrow. The book cover of "The Mighty Miss Malone" depicts the title character in a tan shirt looking over her shoulder. The book cover of "The Eagle Huntress" depicts the title character with a tethered eagle mounted on her arm. The book cover of "Herstory" depicts a group of women role models in a colorful collage.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman – also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook through Libby/OverDrive, as an ebook through CloudLibrary, as a book on CD, and in a graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell

Coraline, a curious and adventurous young girl, moves into a new flat with her parents. While exploring her new home, she discovers a door to another world where she finds another mother and another father who want her to stay and be their daughter forever. At first, Coraline thinks this world is better than her own, but she soon realizes things are not as they seem in this other world and something terrible lurks behind its perfect facade. 

Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore and Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen

Forget about a princess needing a knight (or anyone else) to save her. These collections of folk tales from a wide range of countries showcase smart, strong, brave women. Learn about heroes who overcame harsh conditions, rescued their people, and fought for what was right as you explore cultures from around the world. The first title is an updated version of the second, with two additional stories.

The Eagle Huntress: The True Story of the Girl Who Soared Beyond Expectations by Aĭsholpan Nurgaĭvyn  – also available as an ebook on Libby/OverDrive

At 13 years old, Aĭsholpan Nurgaĭvyn became the first woman – and youngest person – to ever win Mongolia’s famous Golden Eagle Festival. In her inspiring memoir that will resonate especially with tweens and young teens, Aĭsholpan takes pride in sharing about her legendary Kazakh heritage, while also challenging traditional gender customs to train and compete with her beloved eagles. To learn more about Aĭsholpan’s amazing experiences, you can also check out the award-winning subtitled Kazakh-language documentary of her story – available on DVD.

For Teens: 

The collage has the descriptors "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Teens." The cover of "Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word" shows a clenched fist with red fingernail polish on the thumb. The cover of "Make Trouble" depicts diverse female faces against a pastel backdrop. The cover of "Votes for Women!" depicts a suffragette holding a copy of "Women's Journal and Suffrage News." The cover of Lumberjanes depicts a group of teens standing in front of a summer camp cabin, with animal trophies above their heads. The cover of Ms. Marvel depicts the title character, wearing a black shirt emblazoned with her lightning bolt logo, and a colorful scarf. The cover of Golden Compass depicts the compass itself against a teal sky and snowy ground, with a polar bear running with a rider astride his shoulders.

Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word by Nadia Higgins

The word feminism makes some uncomfortable, and many people define it in different ways. This book introduces readers to pioneers of feminism in the United States along with modern leaders who continue to fight to empower women in every arena. Explore what feminism is and what it means to you as you read the range of ideas and perspectives presented in Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word

Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead (Young Readers Edition) by Cecile Richards with Lauren Peterson, adapted by Ruby Shamir –  also available as an ebook on OverDrive 

Cecile Richards grew up in Texas, where her parents, one of whom was the first woman governor of the state, taught her the importance of working for change, including making trouble. This young reader’s edition of her biography shares the lessons Richards learned along the way and highlights the people who have supported her in her journey. Read Make Trouble to feel inspired to push for progress and empowered to fight for what is important to you. 

Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling – also available as an “always available” eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive

Last year celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in the United States. The fight to reach that goal encompassed decades of passionate work, including marches, protests, and even lawbreaking, on the part of many women working together. Votes for Women! provides a glimpse into the lives and experiences of many suffragists, including the uglier moments in the battle for women’s right to vote. 

For Adults: 

The collage descriptors are "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Adults." The cover of "She Caused a Riot has pink script on a yellow background. The cover of "The Left Hand of Darkness" depicts a lunar-like surface with two opposite-facing profiles carved out of rock, against a dark sky. The cover of "Difficult Women" has a stylized pink heart against a black background. The cover of "That's What She Said" has the title in black against a white background, surrounded by a gold vine. The cover of "We Should All Be Feminists" has three half-circles each at the top and the bottom, half-black and half-white, against an orange background. The cover of "Dear Ijeawele" has a dark purple silhouette of a woman with dark purple paint slashes against a paler lavender background, with the lettering in mauve.

She Caused a Riot: 100 Unknown Women Who Built Cities, Sparked Revolutions, and Massively Crushed It by Hannah Jewell – also available as an eaudiobook on Libby/OverDrive

In a witty, conversational, and occasionally sarcastic tone, Hannah Jewell explores the extraordinary lives of 100 women throughout history from all over the world. Sorted into chapters like Wonderful Ancient Weirdos, Women Who Wrote Dangerous Things, and Women Who Punched Nazis, the stories of these women range from triumphant to tragic, but never fail to inspire, and Jewell’s humor and enthusiasm for her subjects never fails to entertain. 

That’s What She Said: Wise Words from Influential Women by Kimothy Joy

That’s What She Said offers a brief introduction to over thirty influential women from various areas of life – some well-known and some women with whom readers may not be familiar.  Author and artist Kimothy Joy’s beautiful watercolor illustrations add to the enjoyment of this informational book. This is a great place to start for an overview of women’s history, or to find women or subjects that inspire deeper investigation. 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin  – also available as an ebook, an eaudiobook, and an eaudiobook dramatization from the BBC on Libby/OverDrive

Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic The Left Hand of Darkness is a book about political intrigue and a forced epic journey across an icy planet (probably the fodder for a good miniseries). The book has the drama and action of an arduous journey as well as a personal journey of the protagonist to appreciate those different from him through the relationship he builds. The protagonist, an envoy from another planet, struggles to understand a gender-neutral people using the social constructs of his own culture. 

If you want to explore more exhibits and offerings in honor of Women’s History Month, take a look at the Library of Congress’s Women’s History Month page.

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. All our staff wish that we could see you in person, but we are happy to help you discover new reads while we are apart.

The Solace of Children’s Picture Books on Death and Grieving

A collage of eight books. All Around Us depicts a woman's face, eyes closed, with a rainbow in the background. One Wave at a Time depicts a child with a sad expression on a beach with waves crashing in the background. A Map into the World shows a girl crouching to draw a house on the sidewalk. The Rabbit Listened shows a toddler clutching a toy rabbit. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney depicts a family of four looking out over a lake in the sunshine. Cry, Heart, But Never Break depicts the figure of Death having tea with a child who appears to be asking a question or imploring, with her hand on his arm. The Goodbye Book shows a fish in a bowl with a sad expression, and a picture of another fish, presumably a deceased friend, in a thought bubble over its head. Something Very Sad Happened shows a mother and child walking in the woods, with leaves falling all around. The child is clutching a robot toy.

by Emily T.

Sometimes there are just no words.  

For families talking with children about death and grieving, the words we want can be especially hard to find. But we are not alone. Heartfelt picture books are one of my favorite sources of solace. In aiming to speak clearly to children, the best ones are both simple and profound. They can help us open doors to deeply meaningful conversations. When we invite a child to read these stories together, we offer a special comfort.  

Fred Rogers described it this way:  

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” 

Maybe a child is grieving the death of a pet, friend, or family member. Maybe they are struggling to understand the tragedy of the current pandemic. Even if death is not on the doorstep right now, the following books can help a child understand what death means, the emotions that can come with it, and how they can process it all with someone they trust.  

Read through these books before inviting your child to share them. See how they suit you and if they are appropriate for your child’s age and experience. Don’t be afraid to change up the stories to personalize them to your child’s circumstances. Or, simply look through the pictures while your child tells a story or talks about their own experience. Sometimes a child just needs someone to listen. 

Something Very Sad Happened: A Toddler’s Guide to Understanding Death by Bonnie Zucker 

Simple, direct language tells this story for the littlest ones. Notes to parents and caregivers are included to help guide the reading. (Ages 2-4) 

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld 

A tumbled tower of blocks represents loss in this sweet story of a grieving child searching for comfort. (Ages 3+) 

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr  

A grieving goldfish demonstrates the various physical and emotional ways we might process the death of someone special to us. (Ages 3+) 

One Wave at a Time: A Story About Grief and Healing by Holly Thompson 

Poignant and beautiful, a young boy describes the waves of many different feelings he experiences after his father dies. (Ages 4+) 

The book cover depicts a grandfather and grandchild holding hands and walking outdoors in a colorful scene, with a tiger, peacock, kite, and assorted flowers in yellow, blue, and orange tones.

Grandpa’s Stories by Joseph Coelho 

When her beloved grandfather dies, a young girl’s cherished memories of all their seasons together help her grieve and honor their forever bond. (Ages 4+) 

A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang  

When a child wishes to comfort a grieving neighbor, her own grieving process comes to include creative and supportive expressions of condolences and connection. (Ages 5+) 

All Around Us by Xelena González  

A young girl and her grandfather honor the many circles of life they see, placing birth and death in a bigger picture of nature’s cycles and family traditions. (Ages 5+) 

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst 

Through a backyard funeral ceremony for his cat, a young boy finds comfort in memories and the circle of life. Questions of the afterlife are raised and left open. (Ages 5+) 

Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved 

Death itself takes the personified form of a compassionate cloaked visitor in this gentle story of four siblings coming to terms with their grandmother’s imminent death. (Ages 5+) 

For further support for your child, please be sure to reach out to your child’s physician, school, religious or spiritual community, or a mental health professional.  

Additional resources 

Sesame Street in Communities | Helping Kids Grieve

The Dougy Center: The National Grief Center for Children & Families 

National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) – GriefTalk Resource Guides (Birth – High School) 

Actividades del NAGC – Respondiendo al Cambio & Pérdida (Español) 

Emily is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She enjoys reading, knitting, and sunshine on her shoulders.

Valentine’s Day – Let’s Celebrate Love!

The cover shows the titular rabbit, Mirabel, walking across a field, not noticing as valentines fly out of her bag behind her. The picture is surrounded with a frame of red and green flowers, red hearts, and more valentines.

By Laci R.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love in its many forms. This list of favorites includes a chronic hugger, a snowy adventure, a wedding, and more! There are so many kinds of love, ways to express love, and forms of celebrating love. I hope these stories highlight just how special love is and that you share them with the children in your life.

Never Too Little to Love by Jeanne Willis
Love has no boundaries for our tiny mouse friend. Tiny Too-Little finds creative ways to try and reach his valentine, who’s high in the sky. He balances on his tip-toes on top of all sorts of stuff! A cabbage, teacup, thimble, clock, and many other items, but they just don’t seem to be working and then… CRASH! Tiny Too-Little is back on the ground and Topsy Too-Tall takes notice. She leans down to give him a kiss, proving that you’re never too little to love. This story is unique in page design with different sized flaps for each item Tiny Too-Little climbs. It helps practice repetition, and has an adorable pop-up book feature at the very end.

Pair with: Lilly’s Chocolate Heart by Kevin Henkes. As Lilly gets ready for bedtime, she tries to find the perfect spot to save her last chocolate heart wrapped in red foil.  She searches for somewhere special, but under the bed is too dusty, and there wasn’t any space between the books on the bookshelf. Finally, Lilly thinks of the best plan and enjoys the tasty treat!

The cover depicts to rabbits holding hands, dressed in red, pink, and yellow winter clothing, walking across a snowy field with the snow falling around them and the rising sun in the background.

Snowy Valentine by David Petersen
Jasper wants to find a special gift for his wife, Lilly. He visits his neighbors to help spark ideas by seeing what gifts they have in mind for their own loved ones. Chocolate flies and wilted flowers weren’t for Lilly, though. Jasper confides in Spalding, the cardinal, as he sits atop a tree. He expresses his disappointment in not finding Lilly the perfect gift. What he couldn’t see is that the tracks he made on his journey left the shape of a heart in the snow. In the end, Jasper found the perfect way to say “I love you.” This story highlights how special all sorts of gifts can be. Pair with: The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story by Nancy Rose. See Mr. Peanuts try and impress his crush in this book told through words and photographs of real squirrels in adorable scenes.

Mirabel’s Missing Valentines by Janet Lawler
Mirabel is shy and nervous about trading valentines at school. After building up the courage, she’s on a mission to get to class and deliver her valentines to each of her classmates. Along the way, some slip away through a hole in her bag and end up in the hands of others. These cards bring such delight to Mirabel’s neighbors, but they all know the cards weren’t originally intended for them. After spreading more cheer and love than she could’ve ever imagined, Mirabel goes home with her own valentines overflowing from her sack. This book shows just how easy it is to spread love and joy, even in ways you least expect.

Pair with: The Runaway Valentine by Tina Casey. This story is told from the perspective of a valentine named Victor who is the fanciest in the shop. After being swept up in a pile, he heads out on his own journey where several people pick apart pieces of Victor to help with their needs. With just a tiny piece of himself left, he’s exactly what our last artist needs to make their valentine card complete. Victor ends up being the best valentine once again.

The cover depicts Frankenstein and his Bride in a heart-shaped cutout window in a wooden fence, holding a pink valentine heart between them as they look at each other affectionately.


Valensteins by Ethan Long
Fran K Stein is distracted and the other members of Fright Club can’t help but take notice. Normally, the fright club members are preparing for a night of scaring, but Fran is busy making something and everyone wants to know what it is. A mask with fangs? A big pink nose? A paper butt?! Phew! It’s just a valentine! However, that means Fran must be in love, and that causes the monsters to have even more questions. This book is sure to make you laugh with its silly explanations for love and clever side remarks. As a lover of all things spooky, this book always stands out to me in February as I long for October to be back. Pair with: A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger. See how things change for this crankenstein when he meets a new like-minded best friend who shares his distaste for the lovey, red and pink holiday.

Julián At the Wedding by Jessica Love
A wedding is one of the biggest celebrations of love and Julián can’t wait to be part of it. Julián makes a new friend named Marisol and they hit it off immediately. When the grown-ups aren’t looking, they sneak off together to play and use their imagination. Marisol gets messy after rolling on the ground with a sweet dog she met. Due to Julián’s quick thinking and excellent fashion sense, they’re able to put together a new outfit before returning to the party where they dance the night away. I especially love this book because so much of the story is told through body language and facial expressions. There’s love shown in a single look between friends, when a new outfit brings instant euphoria, and in the glowing faces of two beautiful brides celebrating their special day. Be sure to get a proper introduction to Julián by reading Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
The Hug Machine is here to give everyone and everything a hug. Yes, even a spiky porcupine… with proper hugging equipment on, of course! There truly is nothing that the hug machine will not hug. Have you ever wondered how to hug a whale? The hug machine can show you exactly what to do! How does the hug machine keep his energy? Pizza – his favorite. This book shows the power of both giving and receiving hugs… and rest. Even hug machines need their rest.

Love Is My Favorite Thing by Emma Chichester Clark  
Plum is ready to take you on an adventure to show you her daily life and why love is her favorite thing. Snow, sticks, and treats are just a few of the things Plum loves. She also loves her family, but when she gets in trouble, Plum questions if her family still loves her back. This story does a great job at showing that love is always there, even when we make mistakes or get reprimanded.

Pair with: Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood. Cat is no fan of Valentine’s Day, but has a change of heart when they make an unexpected friend. This story is a great read-aloud as it’s meant to sound like you’re talking with Cat, with plenty of opportunities to ask for predictions of what might happen next.

I hope these books help make your Valentine’s Day special and open up a conversation about love in its many forms. Make cards for your loved ones, go on a walk, make special treats together, and enjoy all the warm snuggles and hugs. Love is always there, even if we have to look a little harder to find it at times.

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.

Stay Cozy with Elkridge – for kids

The picture depicts a boy sitting in a recliner with a fuzzy orange blanket over his lap, reading a book.

By Elkridge Branch staff

Winter is a great time to curl up with a cozy read. Cold and sometimes dreary weather begs for a blanket, a hot drink, and a fire. This month, the Elkridge branch staff members have collected a list of titles to encourage you to Stay Cozy! Keep an eye on the HCLS Facebook page to see titles for all ages highlighted throughout January, and make sure to track titles for the Winter Reading Challenge. Here are just a few of those titles. 

FOR LITTLE ONES:

Stormy Night written and illustrated by Salina Yoon
Bear is frightened by a storm, but singing to his toy, Floppy the bunny, and being with his parents helps comfort him. When the storm is over, he falls asleep. Share this story to help your youngest friends and family members understand that it’s normal to be scared, but we can find comfort in the familiar and move past those feelings. 

A Day So Gray by Marie Lamba, illustrated by Alea Marley
Join two friends as they explore and uncover the colors that can be found all around them on a seemingly gray, dreary, snowy day. Wonderful illustrations bring Marie Lamba’s words to life as as you discover different pops of color on every page. 

Shhh! This Book is Sleeping by Cédric Ramadier and Vincent Bourgeau
Instead of getting cozy with a good book, this time help a good book get cozy. Shhh! This Book is Sleeping is a fun way to help children feel more involved in their bedtime routine. The book’s cute facial expressions make this story charming and delightful.

My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat
For anytime we’re feeling down or not-so-well, this sweet book is full of ways to comfort each other. With bright illustrations, a young girl tells us about the yummy, playful, loving things her mother does to help her feel better. Whether you see some favorites or discover creative new ideas, this soothing hug of a story is sure to give warm fuzzies.

FOR BIGGER KIDS: 

You’re Snug With Me by Chitra Soundar
Cuddle up for this tender story of reassurances from mother polar bear to her dear little cubs as they wonder about growing up and setting forth from their cozy winter den. With warmth and wisdom, Mama gently guides her curious cubs to know and care for the awe-inspiring natural world. The intricate illustrations are mesmerizing and sure to inspire just as much wonder.

Winterhouse by Ben Gunterson – also available as an eaudiobook on OverDrive
Elizabeth Somers is sent to live at the Winterhouse Hotel by her unpleasant aunt and uncle. In the hotel’s vast library, she discovers a magical book of puzzles that will unlock the secrets of the hotel and the sinister family that owns the property. The first book in a trilogy, Winterhouse is filled with mystery, adventure, and a sharp cast of characters. 

Cool Knitting for Kids: A Fun and Creative Introduction to Fiber Art by Alex Kuskowski
A great book for beginning knitters with an abundance of pictures and step-by-step instructions. This book teaches the basic skills needed to craft with yarn, and shows you how to create hand-dyed yarn to get any color you need. Children can learn to knit scarf and mittens – perfect for keeping cozy during the chilly winter months. 

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue – also available as an audiobook on CD
Jump into the Lottery family’s cozy household in this fun story. Four parents, seven kids, and five pets are unexpectedly joined by a surly grandfather who isn’t used to the way their home operates. He has never been a part of the children’s lives, after being estranged from his son years ago, and the whole family has a lot of adjusting to do. Nine-year-old Sumac, in particular, has to give up her room to this new addition and is not happy about his arrival. Can she help him find a home where he belongs? 

The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen – also available as an ebook on OverDrive 
Want to make your own soft pretzels or a showstopping pie? Or wow your friends with homemade empanadas? During winter, you can make some delicious snacks and bring a touch of warmth to family and friends. From breakfast to breads, from cookies to cakes (yes, even cupcakes!), learn to bake it all here. You can do this, and it’s fun! 

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. All our staff wish that we could see you in person, but we are happy to help you discover new reads while we are apart.

Happy Chanukah!

The photograph depicts a tabletop menorah with nine lit candles in primary colors.
Eighth day of Chanukah menorah” by scazon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Eliana H.

Most people in the United States have heard of Chanukah. Though there are about six different accepted spellings for the holiday, “Chanukah” has always been my preference and that’s what I’m going with here. You may know it is the festival of lights. Many even know the tale of the oil that was only enough for one day miraculously lasting for eight days. Growing up, I always learned that while the oil was a fun story, the true triumph of Chanukah was that a small band of resistance fighters defeated a larger, more well-equipped military force. My family celebrates by playing dreidel, cooking and eating latkes, and, of course, lighting the candles. Although we exchange gifts, I’ve never felt like that is the most important part.

While Chanukah is not among the most sacred Jewish holidays, it is a time of joyous celebration, and we certainly want to take advantage of every opportunity for that during this challenging year. If you’re looking to introduce your child to some Chanukah-themed stories, take a look at these titles from the HCLS collection. Clicking on any of the titles below will open a tab with that title listing in our catalog.

Chanukah with Your Favorite Characters: Many familiar children’s book characters have a book in which they celebrate Chanukah. Here are a few of those titles.

Biscuit’s Hanukkah, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli – BOARD BOOK C

Happy Hanukkah, Biscuit!, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli – E CAP

Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah, by Norman Bridwell – E BRI

Happy Hanukkah, Corduroy, by Lisa McCue – BOARD BOOK M

The Count’s Hanukkah Countdown, by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer – MEDIA TIE-IN

Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, by Emily Flaschner Meyer – BOARD BOOK M

Happy Hanukkah, Dear Dragon, by Margaret Hillert – ER HIL

You might know Dear Dragon from the expansive series by Margaret Hillert. In this volume, a boy and his pet dragon learn about Chanukah from a Jewish friend.

Grover’s Eight Nights of Light, by Jodie Shepherd – MEDIA TIE-IN

Fables and Folk Tales Related to Chanukah: While not telling the historical tale that is celebrated on Chanukah, these stories show characters overcoming obstacles to celebrate Chanukah.

Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat, by Naomi Howland – E HOW

Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat provides a twist on the traditional magic pot story. A young girl is rewarded for a good deed with a magic pan that cooks up latkes (potato pancakes) on command, but when her younger brothers can’t remember the words to make it stop, they end up with more than they expected.

The Golem’s Latkes, by Eric A. Kimmel – E KIM

Hanukkah Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel – E KIM

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Eric A. Kimmel – E KIM

Simon and the Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel – E KIM

A Confused Hanukkah: An Original Story of Chelm, by Jon Koons – E KOO

Moishe’s Miracle, by Laura Krauss Melmed – E MEL – also available as an ebook through OverDrive

Celebrating Together: These stories focus on families of all kinds celebrating Chanukah together.

Hanukkah Moon, by Deborah da Costa – E DaC – also available as an ebook through OverDrive

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, by Pamela Ehrenberg – E EHR

This volume shows readers a way that families of different backgrounds can combine their traditions into meaningful celebrations for everyone. While dealing with what may be a familiar sibling interaction to many, the main characters honor both their father’s Jewish and their mother’s East Indian heritage.

Kugel for Hanukkah?, by Gretchen M. Everin – E EVE

Jeremy’s Dreidel, by Ellie Gellman – E GEL

Hoppy Hanukkah!, by Linda Glaser – E GLA

The Hanukkah Mice, by Steven Kroll – E KRO

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles, by Tami Lehman-Wilzig – E LEH

This Is the Dreidel, by Abby Levine – E LEV

The Night Before Hanukkah, by Natasha Wing – E WIN

The Eighth Menorah, by Lauren Wohl – E WOH

Chanukah in History: Each of these books shows how Chanukah was celebrated by someone at a particular point in the past.

One Candle, by Eve Bunting – E BUN

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins – E JEN

I remember reading books about the All-of-a-Kind Family growing up, so I was excited to see this picture book arrive on our shelves. A Jewish immigrant family living in the tenements of New York City in 1912 celebrates Chanukah together, with interactions that feel familiar even today.

Hanukkah at Valley Forge, by Stephen Krensky – E KRE

Oskar and the Eight Blessings, by Richard and Tanya Simon – E SIM

Chanukah Nonfiction: Check out these books for more facts about Chanukah, its history, and how it’s celebrated.

The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler – Childrens 296.435A

Celebrate Hanukkah, by Deborah Heiligman – Childrens 296.435H

Hanukkah, by Lisa M. Herrington – Childrens 296.435H

Light the Menorah!: A Hanukkah Handbook, by Jacqueline Jules – Childrens 296.435J

Hanukkah Around the World, by Tami Lehman-Wilzig – Childrens 296.435L

Maccabee Meals: Food and Fun for Hanukkah, by Judyth Saypol Groner – Childrens 641.567G

Hanukkah, by Trudi Strain Trueit – ER TRU

Harvest of Light, by Allison Ofanansky – E OFA

Even though this title is in our picture book collection, it walks readers through the step of preparing olive oil to light in an old-fashioned Chanukah menorah, from beginning to end. Follow a young Israeli girl as she watches the olives grow and helps her family harvest them before finally lighting some of the oil on the first night of Chanukah.

Howard County hosts a community Chanukah candlelighting every year. This year, due to safety concerns, the event will be virtual. It will take place on December 14 at 7 pm. If you’d like to join from the comfort of your own home, register at https://www.jewishhowardcounty.org/calendar/chanukah-menorah-lighting. Happy Chanukah!

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).

Banned Book Week: Children’s Challenges

The cover depicts two of Dr. Seuss's creations hopping on their "Pop."

 By Laci R.
 
When you hear the words “banned book,” what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Is it a particular title? Do you stay away from these books or welcome them onto your bookshelf? Is your child allowed to read these books? 
 
I’m always intrigued by a title that has made it onto the banned/challenged books list. Often, the reason is something that should really involve a personal decision on the suitability for any child. Instead of immediately turning away from a title, representation on the banned books list can be cause to look deeper and open up a valuable conversation. 
 
Reasons for a book to be banned include: racial themes, alternative lifestyles, LGBTQIA+, profanity, violence, negativity, sex, magic and witchcraft, unpopular religious or political views, or any theme deemed unsuitable for a particular age group.  
 
I have chosen a few children’s books to highlight:   

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss 
Found in many personal collections, this Dr. Seuss book depicts rambunctious kids hopping on their father as he tries to relax. This book was challenged because it depicts violence against fathers and was thought to encourage such behavior. Parents grew concerned that the silly rhyming story would cause children to destroy their homes, and some even stated that their local library should pay for any resulting damages. Dr. Seuss is no stranger to the banned books list, due to racist depictions of people through wording and exaggerated facial features. However, it’s a bit more far-fetched to ban a story that is just so naturally zany.  
 
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 
You’ve likely read this story and may even have it memorized. This classic makes the banned books list for many reasons. Some find it psychologically damaging and traumatizing for young children due to the explosive emotions that Max seemingly can’t control. Child abuse is also listed as a reason, due to Max’s mom sending him to bed without any dinner as a punishment. In addition, witchcraft and supernatural elements continue to check the boxes for reasons to be on a banned books list. However, I see this book as an opportunity to discuss how actions have consequences, imagination knows no bounds, and emotions can often be bigger than us and difficult to control.

The Family Book by Todd Parr 
Todd Parr is certainly not someone you would ever expect to see on a banned books list. His vibrant, emotive, and inclusive books are customer favorites. This title has all the great things you look for in Parr’s books, but not everyone agreed with the depiction of diverse families. Having two moms or two dads caused a lot of people to complain. Sadly, any mention of LBGTQIA+ characters, themes, or elements is often a cause for parents to call for banning books. Instead, I suggest using that time reading together to celebrate diverse love and educate your child about all the wonderful representations of the rainbow- and families!  

Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park  
Even a well-loved series isn’t safe from the banned books list. Junie B. Jones certainly has her own way of talking and expressing herself. This results in a lot of technical grammatical errors with phrases like “runned speedy quick” and “did a shrug.” Junie’s speech patterns landed this series on the banned books list as parents were worried it could encourage young readers to mimic her ways.  
 
The Giver by Lois Lowry 
This is my all-time favorite book. I read it in middle school and immediately loved it. Every re-read results in the same feeling and, honestly, that’s rare to find. Concern for this book consists of a variety of reasons. “Twisted” and “lewd” content, occult themes, violence, infanticide, euthanasia, sexuality, and suicide are all reasons this story has made its way onto the banned books list. Some expressed that this was the very kind of book that leads a person to have no concern for humanity. The themes in this book offer room for a lot of heartfelt, thoughtful, and meaningful discussion. The Giver is beautiful and haunting, and it makes me feel deeply and fully.
 
I mentioned the reasons a book might be banned. What about the reasons not to ban a book? Something that isn’t liked by one shouldn’t be taken away from everyone. Books are truly among our best teachers, having a broad impact that can change the world, Censorship isn’t protection from the difficult realities of the world, rather it’s a practice in inefficacy and privilege.  

Everyone should read banned books, including children. Many of the most frequently banned books either are celebrated classics or future classics. I encourage you to read banned books with your child, to look deeper, and to maintain a safe space for conversation. 
 
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.