The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Deep green mountains fade to brilliant yellow and orange to the top and bottom of the cover. Dark branches cross the orange sections, with leaves traced in gold.

by Kristen B.

A highly lyrical novel, The Mountains Sing talks about the price of war and who pays it. At one point, one of the characters muses that if only everyone could spend more time reading books, maybe we would spend less time fighting wars. It seems like a particularly timely sentiment.

Set in Vietnam, The Mountains Sing is told between a grandmother and her granddaughter, with one timeline taking place during the 1950s and the other in the 1970s. Both decades were particularly turbulent ones, covering the rise of the Viet Minh, the Land Reform movement, and the war between north and south that so fatefully embroiled America.

America has repeatedly told the story of its Vietnam War, particularly in films such as Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. Nguyen’s book provides another perspective, almost entirely. A noted author and poet in her homeland, this is her first novel in English. On her website, she explains that the second language allowed her to frame a story that she didn’t necessarily know how to tell in her native tongue.

Tran Dieu Lan was born to a well-to-do farming family that owned their land and employed several people in their hometown in the middle region of Vietnam. Politics eventually brought the downfall of the small landowners, forcing Dieu Lan to flee her home with five children in tow, grieving her oldest who escapes separately. She slowly, reluctantly leaves them in relative safety along the long walk north to Hanoi, promising to come back to find them once she’s settled.

Her granddaughter, Huong (or Guava), grows up in Hanoi and goes to school during the worst of the American bombing raids and after as the communist government establishes itself. The two women live together in the old city while all the members of the in-between generation are taken away by the war in one way or another. Huong’s own troubles and those of her extended family illustrate the trials of ordinary Vietnamese people during the turbulent times. She struggles to understand the adults in her life, and how the war changed them.

As the book progresses, Dieu Lan rediscovers her entire family as she originally pledged – both as children when they fled their village and later as the war ends. Grandma’s story is an agonizing portrayal of the hard choices women make to survive.

The title references a small native bird. Huong’s father carves a wooden version for her while he’s gone to war. The name of the bird translates to “the mountains sing” for its constant song, but its survival became endangered after Agent Orange was used on the upland regions. The symbolic heart of the book, the wooden carving comforts Huong and reminds us of the fragile nature of peace and the continued hope that, one day, the mountains will sing again.

The title is also available as an eBook and an audiobook on CD.

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

Loving Stories in Picture Books

By Eliana H. 

During this time of year, we are bombarded by messages trying to convince us to buy things for “that special someone.” Flowers, chocolate, jewelry, and more. Not everyone celebrates Valentine’s Day, but I hope we all have people we love. Research shows that a loving bond with a caregiver helps young children thrive. Share these picture books about love with your little one, or any other stories you like, to help develop that bond. For more tips from The Basics about maximizing love and managing stress, visit https://thebasics.org/brain-boosts/maximize-love-manage-stress/

I Am Love: A Book of Compassion by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (ages 5-11) 

The cover depicts a barefoot child in a blue top and pants with a pink jacket, and blue and pink hair, with arms outstretched in front of a heart that is comprised of gold stars.

With simple words and watercolor illustrations, this book gently invites readers to think about how they can show love. The author and illustrator work seamlessly together to show how we can support ourselves and each other with specific, concrete loving actions. Heart-opening yoga poses and a heart meditation accompany the author’s note at the end of this title.  

I Love Us!: A Book About Family by Theodore Henry, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (ages 0-3) 

The cover shows a variety of different multicultural families interacting while doing various activities - running through the rain under an umbrella, playing with a dog, drawing, making music, and eating.

A wonderful read to share with your youngest loved ones, I Love Us! shows various families participating in loving activities together. After you read, talk about the things you love about your family and what it does. A mirror at the end lets you and your little one imagine yourselves in the story! But if you want to complete the family tree activity on the final page, please do it on a separate page and not in a library copy of the book. 

Love the World by Todd Parr (ages 2-6) 

The book cover, in bright pink with yellow, blue, and green lettering, depicts the Earth with a heart superimposed for the "O" in "World," and anothe heart in the center of the "O" in "Love." Two children in brightly colored outfits are shown leaning into the frame from either side of the title with their hands outstretched, and a brown and white dog with a red collar pops up at the bottom. Small red and yellow hearts are scattered across the cover.

If you’ve ever read a Todd Parr book before, you will immediately recognize his unique style. With brightly colored illustrations and simple, rhyming text, Parr invites readers to love activities that support the community and specific parts of themselves. Throughout the book, in full-page spreads, we are reminded to “Love yourself. Love the world!” Invite your little one to talk about all the things they love after reading this volume. 

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera (ages 4-8) 

The cover shows a girl and her mama playing peek-a-boo, both wearing shades of pink. The little girl is "peeking" out from behind her hands with a little grin on her face, but the mama's eyes are completely covered although she, too, is smiling.

This quiet, beautiful book celebrates the special bond between a little girl and her mama. As she says on the first page, the little girl wants, “to be everywhere Mama is.” She shows readers things that are hers and her mama’s before bringing us along on a walk in the rain. As day ends and she falls asleep, the little girl remembers parts of the day, especially “me and Mama.” 

When a Grandpa Says “I Love You” by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell (ages 3-7) 

The cover depicts two anthropomorphized bears; the grandpa bear wears blue checked pajamas and square glasses, and the baby bear is in pale red pajamas, holding a flashlight. The two look as though they are in a tent and the grandpa is making shadow puppets. There is a wooden chair to the right of the frame, holding up the tent.

Many grandfathers don’t say “I love you” in words, although some certainly do. Even those that aren’t saying it out loud display their love for grandchildren through their actions. A wide range of animal pairs show grandfather-grandchild relationships in the illustrations of this book, all participating in a variety of activities that demonstrate loving feelings they share. Follow a reading with a discussion of the ways that we can show love to a special person. 

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (ages 4-7) 

The cover depicts Aidan in a rainbow-colored coat and yellow pants, on the shoulders of his Dad and being kissed by his pregnant mom, who is wearing a white dress. A white cat looks up at them from next to Aidan's mom, and there are flower blossoms and petals floating across the cover.

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. It took some time, but Aidan’s family all adjusted to make sure his life fit who he is. Now Aidan’s mom is expecting a baby, and Aidan knows that being a big brother is an important job. He helps his parents get things ready for his new sibling, but he also worries that he won’t be a good big brother. Thankfully, Aidan’s parents remind him that loving someone is the most important part of that job. 

Eliana is a Children’s Research Specialist and Instructor at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

The cover has the author and title in black and white lettering against a sea green background.

by Cherise T.

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.

The cover depicts two soldiers, weapons drawn, seemingly patrolling a desert area with mottled orange sands and sky and a yellow sun at the horizon.

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.

The cover depicts a white cloud against a deep turquoise sky, with a field rising to a hill in the foreground and just the upper floor and chimney of a house depicted behind the hill, with the United States flag flying in front.

Short story collections offer multiple viewpoints of war in one volume. Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men are Gone focuses 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.

The cover depicts a soldier in fatigues, cap and boots with his duffel bag on the ground beside him, in what appears to be an airport or other waystation with a concrete floor and white tiled walls.

National Book Award winner Redeployment by 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 to musical theater soundtracks.

Be Yourself, and Maybe a Little Magical

The picture shows all six book covers discussed in the blog post, against a dark background with the title "Books Are Inherently Magical" above them in gold letters.  Clockwise from upper right:  The first image is of the cover of The Witches of Brooklyn with main character of Effie in the forefront. A cityscape is set behind her.  The second image shows the cover of The Sand Warrior, the first in the 5 Worlds series. Main character Oona is in the middle with her friends An Tzu on the left playing a flute, and Jax Amboy on the right, whose left hand is glowing with energy. Oona is manipulating sand. The bottom of the image shows an alien landscape.  The third image is of the cover of Snapdragon with the main character Snap and her bike and dog who is missing a leg in the basket atop the back of the bike. The background is a forest with a spirit of a buck behind Snap.  The fourth image is the cover of The Witch Boy. Main character Aster reads a spell book over an altar made of liquid in a bowl, candles, and a mortar and pestle.  The fifth image is the cover of Beetle and the Hollowbones. Main character Beetle and best friend Blob Ghost are sitting atop a ledge set in front of a full moon over top of houses and trees.  The sixth image is the cover art for The Okay Witch. Main character Moth is riding atop a broomstick with a black cat behind her and pages flying out of a book in her backpack.

By Peter N.

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.

This image shows the cover of The Witch Boy. Main character Aster reads a spell book over an altar made of liquid in a bowl, candles, and a mortar and pestle.
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

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.

The image shows the cover art for The Okay Witch. Main character Moth is riding atop a broomstick with a black cat behind her and pages flying out of a book in her backpack.
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

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?

This image shows the cover of Beetle and the Hollowbones. Main character Beetle and best friend Blob Ghost are sitting atop a ledge set in front of a full moon over top of houses and trees.
Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

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.

This image is of the cover of The Witches of Brooklyn with main character of Effie in the forefront. A cityscape is set behind her.
Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

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.

This image is of the cover of Snapdragon with the main character Snap and her bike and dog who is missing a leg in the basket atop the back of the bike. The background is a forest with a spirit of a buck behind Snap.
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

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.

This image shows the cover of The Sand Warrior, the first in the 5 Worlds series. Main character Oona is in the middle with her friends An Tzu on the left playing a flute, and Jax Amboy on the right, whose left hand is glowing with energy. Oona is manipulating sand. The bottom of the image shows an alien landscape.
5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun

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.

Join us for the 5-Star Showcase!

We are celebrating, and you are invited! 

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.

The Daughters of Erietown

The cover is turquoise with white lettering. Scattered around the edges are faded photographs of family scenes indicative of the 1960s, including a car and a small child peering through a window.

By Julie F.

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.”

The Daughters of Erietown is also available as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, reading, and all kinds of music.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

A clean, clear illustration of a red-headed woman in an aqua blue shirt looking down to read a book. The double-O of "Bookish" forms her classes, in the same color as her shirt. All against a yellow background.

by Piyali C.

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.

Jacqueline Woodson: Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn

Reviews by Kristen B.

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.

The Farewell

Movie poster image of 8 multigenerational family members, 3 sitting on the couch, 5 standing behind the couch. The film title, "The Farewell" is noted as is a subheading, "Based on an Actual Lie." The seal for 2019 Sundance Film Festival official selection is displayed.

Review by Cherise T.

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 Farewell begins, 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.

Discussing Racism with Children

By Laci R.

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.”

(Authors Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP 
Last Updated 7/29/2019 
Source American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019) 
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx)

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.