When a novel is set in the reader’s hometown, appreciation for the story and characters extends beyond the book’s contents. When a novel is set somewhere new to the reader, that place is no longer foreign and unknowable. Literature expands memories, builds connections, creates new journeys, and fosters empathy.
Books by veterans, about veterans, and regarding veterans’ friends and families offer diverse perspectives of consequential events and everyday perseverance. Veterans can, perhaps, find shared experiences. For non-veterans, there are bridges to understanding. Ben Fountain’s depiction of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is unforgettable. To some, an NFL halftime show featuring Destiny’s Child would be entertaining but to this story’s young Iraq War Army soldiers, it’s terrifying.
In his debut novel, The Yellow Birds, Iraq War veteran Kevin Powers takes on the burdens veterans face when they return home. Private John Bartle struggles to understand his own behavior in Iraq, as well as his debts and responsibilities to superiors and fellow soldiers. Veterans may relate to Bartle’s emotional efforts to move forward with his life beyond the battlefield. Readers who have never been in the military become immersed in Bartle’s psychological conflicts. He feels surrounded by death as he fights to survive both in Iraq and back home in Virginia.
Short story collections offer multiple viewpoints of war in one volume. Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men are Gonefocuses primarily on the family left behind, particularly military spouses in Fort Hood, Texas. The stress on these characters exceeds loneliness. Their attempts to cope with deployments are seen in actions as seemingly mundane as a shopping trip to the PX or as drastic as abandoning one’s spouse.
National Book Award winner Redeploymentby Marine veteran Phil Klay deftly presents the outlooks of men who entered the military from varied backgrounds. The stories are heavy but often humorous as Klay addresses the absurdities inherent in active duty as well as in the abrupt return to civilian life as a veteran. Often disturbing, the situations encompass violence and PTSD but also forgiveness and compassion.
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 tomusical theater soundtracks.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t had the desire nor the motivation to read. I know that’s a horrible thing to say as an employee of a library (a 5-Star Library system as a matter of fact), but it took me quite a while to get back into reading novels. So you know what I did? I did what I’ve suggested to many a parent who has come in trying to find something to get their child to like reading; I picked up a graphic novel.
Graphic novels can be about literally hundreds of subjects across any number of genres. Many authors have written wonderful original stories as well as graphic representations of classic novels. When a parent needs a suggestion for a book for their reluctant child or when someone wants something interesting to read, I almost always suggest a graphic novel. Why? Well, as a visual learner, I find myself more engaged with the story and with the characters when I see them visually represented, and it’s easier for my brain to follow along without distraction. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve read graphic novels for adults, teens, tweens, and children. From the many I’ve recently read, here are six picks that teach everyone to be who you are unapologetically, and if you can, be a little magical, too.
What I loved about this book is that it challenges the gender norms in Aster’s family and society. In his family, the girls are raised as witches while the boys are raised as shape-shifters. But that isn’t who Aster is, and he practices in secret since it is forbidden for boys to study magic. He desperately wants to be a witch but is afraid of his family finding out. When trouble brews and his magical skills are what’s needed to help save the day, he has to find the courage within himself to be who he feels in his heart that he is meant to be.
Many will see the similarity between the events of the Salem witch trials and the events of Founder’s Bluff in this book. Moth has always loved all things witchy and magical, so when her powers emerge, she is immediately thrust into a world where the history of her hometown is intertwined with that of her own family. She discovers that her mother was once a member of a powerful coven of witches who separated from a world that despised them but broke away to live a life free of magic. As she discovers this history, she must come to terms with being a witch (which she finds kind of cool) along with the existence of people in town descended from those who discriminated and hated her family and those like her. What’s a fledgling young witch with a talking cat to do?
Beetle and the Hollowbones is a tale of outgrowing what society expects you to be, standing up for your friends even if it means standing up to them, and embracing and loving who you are. Much like the Witch Boy, Beetle is a goblin and goblins are only supposed to do a specific type of magic and none other. One day she meets Blob Ghost, a, well, ghost blob haunting the local mall that is inexplicably tied to its location. So when the mall is due to be demolished, it is up to Beetle to find out why he’s connected to the mall and rescue him. Along the way she reconnects with an old friend (and love interest) who needs to be reminded about their friendship, who they are, and to stand up to family even if they are family.
How would you feel if your life was turned upside down and inside out all of a sudden? That’s what happens to Effie. Having lost her mom and the only home she ever knew, she is suddenly taken to live with two estranged aunts. Once there, Effie learns more about her family than she ever thought possible, including the fact that they can do magic! This newfound knowledge and ability is almost too much for Effie, and it rears its ugly head at the worst of times. She soon starts to accept that this is her life now, that magic is a part of it, and that zany things are going to happen, including helping one of her favorite singers when she comes to Effie’s aunts for help with a nasty curse.
Snap’s town has a witch. Maybe. Possibly. At least that’s the rumor going around. When Snap needs help from the town “witch”, she learns that there’s more than meets the eye and discovers the power she has within herself. Aside from the super cool supernatural elements, the characters are all a delight to read. And especially the children. They’re the perfect example of prejudice being made, not born, because when given an upbringing that doesn’t include any of that, they can be perfectly accepting of everyone around them without thinking it’s “weird.” They celebrate and encourage uniqueness.
What happens when three friends are brought together by unforeseeable circumstances and their group, particularly young sand dancer Oona Lee, is what stands between saving the five worlds and their destruction? Oona must find the power within herself that she didn’t know she had, as well as the confidence to travel the five worlds, light all the beacons, and fend off attacks from the evil hiding in the shadows. Between all of this, she has to save her friend An Tzu, who also has mysterious origins and a tie to what can save everything, from a mysterious ailment. Beautiful art, rich characters, and full of world-building elements, you’ll love this series!
Disclaimer: There are a number of graphic novels on the same subject but these are only the most recent I’ve read. Please visit any Howard County Library branch to learn more!
Peter is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and LOVES graphic novels and dogs. Especially fluffy dogs.
HCLS is a Five Star Library, as ranked by Library Journal for excellence, because of our services, initiatives, and most importantly – you! Join us this Saturday, October 2 for the 5-Star Showcase at HCLS East Columbia Branch. The FREE event runs from 2 – 5 pm with fun for everyone. You can purchase refreshments from the food trucks, More Than Java Cafe and Dogs on the Curb.
Booths and activities include a 3-D printer demonstration; the Art Collection with cubism, pointillism, and a gallery; and make-your-own cyanotype artwork and pinwheels. Friends & Foundation of HCLS is offering an adult spelling bee – can you spell better than a fifth grader? Kids can also make a bookmark. The Enchanted Garden is visiting with fall planters and leaf rubbings. The folks from the DIY Collection are demonstrating their skills at 2:30 and 3:30 pm. Project Literacy’s booth will have a milk bottle toss, and the Passport office is running a cornhole game. And it’s the LIBRARY … which means you can borrow materials directly from our selectors as well as the new mobile unit.
Brave Voices Brave Choices will be both sharing and collecting stories relevant to racial equity in our county. Come be part of this meaningful work!
HiTech STEM provides tons of fun with a horse racing game, slime and ooblek, and a one-button race game. They are also running a Ten80 RC Gran Prix, with multiple heats at 2 (NSBE teams), 3 (community cars) and 4 (anyone!) pm.
Whether you want to give the 360° photo booth a spin, get hands-on with HiTech, take in tunes from the live DJ, enjoy a cozy storytime and kids crafts at our new Pop-up Library, or just relax in one of our outdoor lounges and connect with someone new, we can’t wait to see you there.
Many thanks to our sponsors! Friends & Foundation of HCLS and the Howard Hughes Corporation.
Connie Schultz is one of my favorite columnists; her sweet daily reminders on Twitter to “breathe” are a vital moment each evening in a busy routine. Her debut novel, a summer highlight, is full of moments reflecting on the secrets and struggles of working-class families in Ohio, from 1956 through 1994.
Brick McGinty marries Ellie Fetters just before they graduate from high school; there are no other options in the late 1950’s for a young couple about to become parents. Brick and Ellie both know and accept this, but they also accept that teenage dreams will be postponed or even eliminated – Ellie’s to train as a nurse, and Brick’s to accept a sports scholarship and become a teacher and coach. Both come from broken families who couldn’t escape the numbing, self-fulfilling dictates of their class, and both had hoped for a better future for themselves and each other. They remind me of the heartbreaking line from Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”: “And for my nineteenth birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat.”
Ellie resolves to be a good mother, but also yearns for substance and fulfillment. When disappointments seem likely to break her, Ellie tells her daughter Samantha not to rely on the men in her life. “The sad look on Sam’s face made Ellie wish, for the first time, that she’d had only sons… No matter what she did, Ellie would never be able to save her daughter from that heartache waiting to ambush her” (395). Progress awaits with the upheavals of the sixties and seventies, though, and Sam grows, asserts her independence, and fulfills her ambitions in a way that Ellie and her generation couldn’t have imagined. I love the moment where Sam reckons with her own questioning personality: “To go through life just coasting? That’s unthinkable” (733).
Brick, meanwhile, makes huge mistakes that temper his expectations with the bitterness of devastating consequences. His misogyny and racism are in keeping with his small-town upbringing as a white male who has never had to consider his position in society in relation to others. Brick is an imperfect father, husband, and son, and he knows it, deep down. But he makes progress and attempts in small ways to atone, specifically with his son, with Ellie, and with Sam. Brick’s little family is the best thing to ever happen to him, and despite the glaring gap between promise and reality, his strength is loving them through all the pain and disappointment.
If you love sweeping stories that develop the collective life of a family through successive generations, the journey of the McGintys across the decades will captivate and absorb you. Schultz, whom the Pulitzer committee described as writing “pungent columns that provided a voice for the underdog and underprivileged,”advocates for people from those communities throughout her work, in part because of her working-class background. Her TED Talk about the women of her generation, “A Woman Over 50: A Life Unleashed,” shares more insight into the themes of this novel, including single motherhood, women’s place in the world, and not listening to “that voice of ‘no’ in your head.”
Smart, sarcastic, socially awkward, 29-year-old Nina Hill lives by Khalil Gibran’s saying in The Prophet, “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” Nina is the daughter of a free-spirited single mother, a famous photographer who concealed Nina’s father’s identity because she did not consider his presence essential in Nina’s life. Nina grew up under the loving supervision of her amazing nanny Louise who was ‘bookish, loving and gentle’ while Nina’s mother traveled the world for her job, appearing occasionally and briefly in Nina’s life. Nina’s childhood was surrounded by books and solitude. For someone who finds sanctuary in book stores and libraries, what could be more fulfilling than working at an independent book store for a living? Nina works as a book seller in a book store called Knights, owned by lovable and eccentric Liz who is always behind on her rent for the store and has to hide from the landlord. The book store is only part of Nina’s commitments though. She runs several book clubs, is part of a champion Trivia team Book ‘Em,Danno, and has perfectly sane conversations with her cat Phil. Plus, there are so many books to read. Nina’s calendar, as well as life, are full and busy. If she ever feels something is missing, she simply picks up another book.
One fine day, a man comes calling for Nina in the book store with such surprising news that it throws a wrench into Nina’s well organized, tightly scheduled, semi-secluded life. The man is a lawyer who informs Nina that her biological father, William Reynolds, has died leaving behind not only something for Nina in his will but also innumerable step brothers, step sisters, nieces, and nephews. And they all live close by! William Reynolds was married thrice and was fruitful. Not only does she have relatives, they all are eager to meet her, at least some of them. Whether she wants it, she has to attend the reading of the will of William Reynolds. Nina’s well-organized world is turned completely upside down.
To add to this complication, Nina’s trivia nemesis, the lead guy from team You Are a Quizzard, Harry is cute and funny. Nina is starting to develop feelings for him. But Tom does not read!! Will Nina be able to contain her crippling anxiety that she has suffered from all her life as she deals with these double calamities in her life? Romance AND relations?
There is a pandemic raging outside. The real world looks grim and uninviting. Why not escape into the quirky, funny, filled with fun literary quotes, bookish life of Nina Hill? Abbi Waxman’s humorous novel The Bookish Life of Nina Hill not only tells a lovely story that warms the cockles of our heart but also presents us with a book loving heroine who we can not help but fall in love with. Nina’s love for books is sure to resonate with all of us bibliophiles and introverts out there. This title is available as an ebook as well as eaudiobook.
Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.
Brown Girl Dreaming may be one of the most beautifully poignant books I’ve ever had the privilege to read. This autobiographical text told in verse relates Woodson’s childhood memories of both Brooklyn, NY and her grandparents’ home in rural South Carolina. I loved the glow of fireflies appearing in the summer dusk, and my heart ached with the understanding that her brother had been lead poisoned by paint in an old tenement. This lovely volume brings us the complete open-hearted bewilderment of a child learning about her world. Dirt driveways and city asphalt combine into a mesmerizing memoir that, while it might be labelled for teens and children, brings truth to all its readers (also available as an eBook and eAudiobook). Woodson received a 2020 MacArthur Fellows Grant.
Woodson continues the coming-of-age theme in her novel, Another Brooklyn. In some ways, I read this as the grown-up version of Brown Girl Dreaming even though its more novel and less memoir. August is returning to Brooklyn for a funeral, and as she travels she can’t help but remember her childhood – the lives of the four fast friends growing up in the 1970s in Brooklyn. The storytelling is still lyrical, if not exactly in verse. The vignettes of the girls’ lives gave me both the feeling of being a young teen again, with all those emotions and upsets, as well as a glimpse of the bigger, national picture that was unfolding around them. Like in the previous book, you get the family nostalgia for an unkind South as well as the hard edges of the northern city. The author does not pull any punches as the girls get older, the problems get thornier, and the solutions ever more doubtful. (also available as an eAudiobook).
These are dreaming books, a little beautiful and a little disturbing, with a haze of remembering to them. But they carry truth, and truth can be hard to hear. Both of these books live on my keeper shelves, and I revisit them periodically. I hope you love them, 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.
Continents apart, but only a cell phone call away, Billi, a New Yorker, and Nai Nai, her paternal grandmother in China, enjoy a close relationship. As The Farewellbegins, we fall into the humor, complexities, and challenges of cross-cultural families. Viewing the film from the perspective of Billi, played by the versatile actor Awkwafina, we soon learn that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Most of the family believes traditional Chinese wisdom that it is best to allow a family member to live out her life unburdened by the knowledge she is about to die. Billi strongly disagrees. Little Nai Nai, the grandmother’s sister, has been Nai Nai’s caretaker and takes charge of covering the truth. Together, the family creates a contrived family celebration so that everyone may be together in China to secretly say goodbye to Nai Nai.
The Farewell feels authentic because the screenwriter and director, Lulu Wang, has recreated a beautiful journey from the truths of her own life. Little Nai Nai is played by Lulu Wang’s real-life aunt. When the family visits their deceased grandfather’s grave, the scene is filmed at the actual gravesite. We recognize the roles played out in most families – the responsible son, the guilty son, the matriarch, the awkward cousin, the daughter-in-law, the granddaughter who has yet to bring a spouse and grandchild into the family.
I highly recommend the film for its emotional depth, at turns both sad and optimistic, excellent performances, and solid script. Please also consider listening to Lulu Wang telling her family’s story on This American Life, but save the “What You Don’t Know” podcast episode for later if you don’t want to know the film’s ending.
The film is rated PG and would be appreciated by viewers aged 13+. Watch as many as 10 films per month, including The Farewell, on kanopy, one of the HCLS streaming service subscriptions.
Cherise T. 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.
Racism isn’t a new issue. However, it is one that people all over the world have recently come together in order to take a stance against. How do you bring the conversation into your own home? Were you ever directly told about racism, yourself?
I’d like to share some vital information:
“As early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice race-based differences.”
“By ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias.”
“By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to mold the learning process, so that it decreases racial bias and improves cultural understanding.”
It’s not always easy to provide an explanation to a child; whether it’s the mechanics of something (why a toy will no longer beep and light up), safety (why it’s important to hold hands and look both ways before crossing a street), or why some people are treated poorly, hurt, and killed based on nothing other than the color of their skin.
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano shows children as they discuss with their families the incident of a local black man who was shot by the police. These discussions look different in the home of Emma (who is White) and Josh (who is Black) but share a similarity in the feeling of injustice. The use of historical and present-day context is utilized in a way that promotes compassion and eagerness to learn. The story shows Emma and Josh applying what they learn when a new student from another country named Omar arrives at their school. This book provides general guidance for parents and caregivers full of vocabulary definitions, conversation guides, and additional online resources to visit to continue the conversation about racism.
Opening up a safe space for children to learn about racism and how to be actively anti-racist is a necessary step in parenthood, guardianship, and adulthood in general. It’s crucial to be proactive during such an impressionable time.
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson is a story about Clover, segregation, and a determined friendship. Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. The two girls bend the rules set in place by their grown-ups by spending time together sitting on the fence that separates their homes. This is where they are allowed to exist in the same space, one they have created themselves. A lyrical narrative and thoughtful watercolor images show how this friendship is formed during a time when it seems impossible.
It’s important to keep in mind that these discussions and questions that arise will look different in every family based on a variety of details and factors, including race. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham invites white families and children to become more invested in the reality that is racism and, in turn, to cultivate justice. This story explains how each of us are affected by power and privilege from the very moment we’re born and offers an honest explanation for kids about racism, white supremacy, and civic responsibility. Pair these books with others about racism and segregation such as: Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, and Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson (also available from Libby/OverDrive in eaudiobook format).
It can be daunting to know where to start despite the vast amount of resources flooding our social media accounts. Keep in mind that the conversation about racism can easily become a fruitful one, full of eagerness to learn and the desire to be kind. I strongly believe in the importance of embracing curiosity, including the tough questions. If you don’t have an answer ready for the child in your life, be sure to let them know you’ll have one for them soon- and then, follow up. Whether it’s just the beginning or you’re continuing the conversation about racism, don’t ever let the discussion end. No matter what.
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.
For the ancestors, a long long line of you bending and twisting
Bending and twisting.
Memory has a way of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, making it hard to decipher the truth. It is joyous, painful, and strange all at the same time. Jacqueline Woodson hits at each of those emotions in her latest novel Red at the Bone. She opens her novel at a coming-of-age party for 16-year-old Melody, taking place in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Her custom-made dress, full of symbolism and pride – fit for a blossoming woman, was originally meant for her mother, Iris, 16 years earlier. From this fact spirals a series of memories, told from the perspectives of Melody, her parents, and her grandparents at different points in their interesting lives.
Through these memories, Woodson peels away layers of trauma and triumph of this Brooklyn family. By doing so, she relates her story to the millions of black and brown families experiencing similar burdens. The burden of love. The burden of neighborhoods changing. The burden of your goals vs. the goals set for you. Woodson weaves these characters through themes of identity, sexuality, ambition, pride, and purpose. But, most of all, it tells the story of parenthood and how expectation fights reality in bending and twistingways.
Red at the Bone is lyrical, reflective, and insightful; a poetic tale of a family that continues to bend and twist its way through life. At a time of reflection and healing, Red at the Bone is a great read to get us through a time of significant change. I truly loved this book and I think you will too.