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.

JOUST!

This photograph shows the cover of Cosmoknights and has the 3 main characters, Cass, Pan, and Bee in the foreground. Cass and Bee are wearing their jousting armors and carrying their weapons. In the background is presumably the hand of a princess grasping their favor which is an electronic pendant carried by the princesses of each planet and is given to the winner of each joust.

For this ragtag band of space gays, liberation means beating the patriarchy at its own game.

By Peter N.

Did you know that jousting is the state sport of Maryland? Chalk this up as a fact I was surprised to learn as an adult. The sport that involves horses, lances, and two knights? What you see at the Renaissance Festival? Cool! But I digress. Jousting usually is a competition between the aforementioned two knights for the hand of a fair princess or maiden – but this book, this clever and action-packed book, takes it one step further. 

This photograph shows an intergalactic joust in progress with a jouster in the foreground wearing predominantly white armor and sporting several jet boosters and a large lance surrounded by other jousters. The king is shown on screen in the background shouting "JOUST" to begin the games.

 

Cosmoknights was a sleeper hit for me. I’m always beefing up my reader’s advisory arsenal; in the course of my usual day of helping customers find new reads and old favorites, I decided to dive into an article recommending 20 MUST-READ LGBTQ COMICS FOR TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS, where I ran into a recommendation for this.

GAYS IN SPACE

That made me laugh. But it also got me. Hook, line, and sinker. Without giving away too much, we meet Pan, who seems to be your ordinary teenage girl helping her cooped-up friend sneak out for a night of fun. We soon find out that her friend is their planet’s princess, who is to be offered up as a prize to the knight that wins the planet’s joust competition and wants out. She needs to get away but needs help. Pan helps her escape, but at the cost of becoming the planet’s pariah. Flash forward to five years later, when she’s living a mundane life working in her father’s mechanic shop. One night, two tough types show up at their door, and one is in need of medical attention. For what exactly? And why do they seem so familiar to Pan? Pan finds her way off-planet with these two strangers and is sucked into a battle to take down the archaic competition of jousting for the “prize” of the princess. There’s more to these warriors that showed up on her doorstep than she thought!

This photograph shows the characters Bee and Cass on Pan's front porch. Cass is injured and supported heavily by Bee and they are asking for help from Pan.

I positively loved this book. There’s action, drama, mystery, and a slight Star Trek-y/steampunk-y/sci-fi vibe to it. It’s set in the future with space travel and such, but with none of the future utopia. The characters are likable, witty, and unbelievably brave with a little bit of selflessness thrown in. The art flows well and is seamless, easy to follow, and easy on the eyes. As with so many others I’ve read lately, it’s a series that IS STILL GOING – so here comes the waiting game until there are updates or another volume is published. If you’re like me and can’t wait, then the author, Hannah Templer, makes updates Tuesdays and Fridays on their website. But I’d highly recommend checking out Cosmoknights from your local Howard County Library branch and you won’t be disappointed.

Cosmoknights is also available from HCLS as an ebook via Libby/OverDrive.

Peter (he/him/his) is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and needs to read the books he has checked out before grabbing new ones. 

Everyone Has a Flavor

A figure in a yellow top and blue pants appears in front of Earth. The "O" in Space Boy looks like a big white oval.

“In space, the stars don’t twinkle. Apparently, twinkling only happens when you look at the stars through the atmosphere of a planet.

Oliver

For months I had noticed the Space Boy series by Stephen McCranie on the graphic novel shelves, and while it looked interesting, I never picked it up. That all changed a couple of weeks ago when I decided to check out book one and there it was: that moment when you start reading and wonder “why in the world didn’t I read this sooner?” I was hooked. And ultimately glad I had waited, because by now I had eight volumes to catch up on and I wouldn’t have to wait for more…at that immediate moment that is.

Book one starts out with a short introduction to Oliver, a boy who is filled with emotion and yearns to express it, yet is confined to what he calls the Nothing. There is immense loneliness in his opening thoughts, and we come to experience that the Nothing has taken almost everything away from him. Things shift to Amy, a young girl living on a mining colony in deep space. The colony is all she knows, but when her father is fired there comes the biggest change: they must move back to Earth. Leaving behind her home, her friends, and her life, Amy and her family are essentially shipped to Earth on a transport in cryogenic suspension. Thirty years pass by the time she reaches Earth and the implications soon hit her. Life has moved on and so has Jemmah and her other friends. Starting anew on a new planet, a new home, and a new school, Amy begins to acclimate to her environment. She makes new friends and starts to adjust. But along the way she meets Oliver, a boy with no flavor. See, she has the ability to identify another person’s flavor by looking at them. But with Oliver there is no flavor until she finally glimpses something through his stoic and expressionless exterior. There’s got to be more to him, and boy is there ever!

At this point I was hooked. The mystery, intrigue, and space exploration drew upon my love of space opera and I found myself devouring volume upon volume along with what was available to read on WebToons. Finally, there was no more and I fell upon that age-old waiting game. Subsequent volumes expand on the mystery behind Oliver, the secret organization that is pulling all the strings, and just what awaits out in space.

You can find volumes 1 – 10 available to reserve and checkout through the Howard County Library System website.

Peter is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and has entirely too many books on his to-read list.

Celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month with #ELKReads

By Elkridge Branch Staff

For the past 50 years, June has been celebrated as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. The celebrations began with the first Pride march in New York City, on June 28, 1970. That date celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a six-day period of unrest, sparked by a police raid of a gay bar. Though not an uncommon occurrence, this particular raid did not go as planned and led the queer community to fight back against the targeting and tactics being used against them. As queer communities around the world continue to seek recognition, respect, and equal rights, we invite you to explore the books suggested below – and on our social media – for all ages. You can also learn more about the history of Pride Month on the Library of Congress website.

For Little Kids:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Little Kids" and has a collage of six book covers. The cover of And Tango Makes Three shows two penguin parents huddling with their chick. The cover of Pride Colors shows a toddler in striped shirt, jeans, and fisherman's sandals, standing next to a table with rainbow-colored legs. The cover of Love Makes a Family shows a variety of families of different genders, races, and ages, with rainbows, hearts, doves, and arrows among the symbols in the turquoise background. The cover of They, She, He, Me: Free to Be! has the title lettered in stylized fonts with geometric patterns in shades of turquoise, green, and yellow. The cover or Prince & Knight shows the prince surrounded by young maidens all giving him attention, while he gazes with head turned toward the knight, who leans against his horse and waves at the prince. The cover of My Rainbow shows a transgender girl wearing a rainbow-colored wig of leaves and flowers against a yellow background.

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer

This book celebrates the thing that all families have in common, which is love. All types of families are represented in this book. Families are shown engaging in happy activities together.

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack

In this beautifully illustrated modern LGBTQ+ fairy tale, a Prince Charming and a Knight in Shining Armor find true love in each other. The young men are celebrated as heroes for saving the kingdom from a dragon together, and their love is affirmed and embraced with a royal wedding in a delightful happily-ever-after. Be sure to also check out Daniel Haack’s Maiden & Princess

Pride Colors by Robin Stevenson

Celebrate Pride Month with your little one by enjoying this photographic concept book filled with the colors of the Pride flag. Artist & activist Gilbert Baker created the original Pride flag and each color in the flag has a special meaning, so be sure to turn to the end of the book to find out what each one represents!

For Big Kids:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Big Kids" and has a collage of six book covers. Better Nate than Ever shows the title character leaping into the air in front of a stylized New York City skyline which includes the Statue of Liberty, with the name "Nate" lit up with light bulbs resembling a theatre marquee. Be Amazing shows a character in drag, posing with hand on hip and one arm in the air as if on a catwalk, wearing a dress and hat in gold, orange, and black, with a blurry rainbow-colored background resembling butterfly wings. The cover of Witch Boy shows the purple silhouette of a dragon looking over the title character, who is reading by candlelight against a pink background. The cover of Queer Heroes depicts famous queer celebrities and artists, including Freddie Mercury, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. The cover of Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World shows the backs of two girls as they face a whirlwind rising up to the sky with words in cursive, presumably the contents of Ivy's letter, swirling within. The cover of Rick shows the title character with his back to the reader, wearing a grey shirt and a lavender backpack covered in stickers, including an alien, a spaceship, a smiley face, and a rainbow. The title is in rainbow letters against a white background.

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle (also available as an audiobook on CD,  an ebook and eaudiobook on Libby/OverDrive, and an eaudiobook on CloudLibrary)

Nate Foster has always dreamed of starring in a Broadway show, but he worries about how he’ll ever reach his dream while living in a small town in Pennsylvania. With the help of his best friend, Libby, Nate plans a daring escape to New York City when he hears of an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical. Nate knows this could be his big break, and he won’t let this chance at stardom slip away.

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

Aster’s family is magic: boys grow up to be shapeshifters, and girls grow up to be witches. But at age 13, Aster still hasn’t shifted, and he is captivated by the witchery that his family members who are girls get to learn. This beautiful graphic novel follows Aster as he makes a new friend, works to protect his family from a mysterious threat, and finds the courage to be true to himself.

Queer Heroes: Meet 52 LGBTQ+ Heroes from Past & Present! by Arabelle Sicardi 

From the heartfelt introduction by the author to the inclusive glossary at the end, this diverse collection of biographical snapshots is a great starting place to learn about real-life LGBTQ+ heroes from around the world. Vibrantly colorful portraits illustrate the incredible life stories and contributions of LGBTQ+ artists, athletes, inventors, activists, and more.

For Teens:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Teens" and has a collage of six book covers. The cover of When the Moon Was Ours shows the two main characters, Sam and Miel, silhouetted against the dark backdrop of a starlit water tower, with arms outstretched towards one another, and one climbing a ladder as if on a stage. The cover of The Best at It shows the main character in glasses and sports gear, with arm outstretched, against a teal background with scattered books, calculator, camera, football, pencil, triangle, photographs, and other school-related items scattered about. The cover of Cemetery Boys shows two boys back-to-back, one wearing a collared shirt and one wearing a hoodie, in front of a ghostly skeleton figure in red robes and a flowered crown silhouetted by the full moon. The cover of Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens shows the title extending from the top to the bottom of the book, in rainbow letters, with the subtitle in smaller white letters across the middle from left to right, all against a black background. The cover of The Great American Whatever has the title and author's name in black and red letters against a white theatre marquee background, The last "a" in "American" is missing and the first "E" in "Whatever" is crooked, as is the "D" in the author's last name (Federle). The final "E" in his name is substituted with the mathematical epsilon symbol. The cover of I'll Give You the Sun has the title in dark teal lettering with dashes radiating out from the center in rainbow colors.

Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke

This comprehensive guide supports teens who are – or think they might be – queer, as they navigate everything from coming out to standing up for their rights. Background about queer figures throughout history and personal stories from the authors’ lives are interspersed with guidance throughout. While the information included is general enough to cover a broad range of topics within the single volume, a list of resources can direct readers to more details about specific areas of interest.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Miel and Sam live in a small town where magic isn’t so out of the ordinary. But when the Bonner Girls decide they want the roses that grow from Miel’s wrist, and they threaten to tell the secret they know about Sam to get her to cooperate, Miel has to face her past and try to find the path forward. The lush, evocative language in this novel brings a lyrical beauty to this story of friendship, family, love, magic, and finding your true self.

The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy (also available in ebook and eaudiobook format on Libby/OverDrive)

Rahul Kapoor is an Indian American boy just entering seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. To help soothe his worries, his grandfather gives Rahul the advice to find one thing he does well and become the BEST at it! As Rahul searches for the special thing he can be the best at, he also confronts his anxieties and finds that he can count on his friends and family for the support he needs.

For Adults:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Adults" and has a collage of six book covers. The cover for Lot: Stories shows a silver fire hydrant emitting a rainbow of colored water against a white background, with the title in stark black lettering. The cover of Cantoras shows a setting on the shore, with a blue sky and ocean, and white waves crashing against a rocky beach. The cover for Untamed has the title in white lettering against a background of swirly colors: pink, red, turquoise, blue, and glittery silver and gold. The cover for Written in the Stars shows two women, one blonde and one with long red hair, embracing in front of a silhouetted cityscape and sky in shades of blue, lit up by white stars and constellations. The cover of Good Boy shows a brown retriever with a pink collar, seated against a white background, with the title in rainbow colors beneath his feet. The cover of Fun Home shows a pen and ink drawing of one adult and three children, framed as if in a traditional portrait, with a teal background.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

“Sometimes, when things were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family.” As you might guess, Alison Bechdel had a fraught relationship with her father, a high school English teacher who ran their small town’s funeral home out of their Victorian-era home that he restored himself. During college, when Alison came out as a lesbian, she learned that her own father was a closeted gay man, but his death soon after left her searching for answers that he could not provide. Check out this critically-acclaimed graphic memoir that has also been adapted into a Tony-award-winning musical!

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan (also available in large print format and as an ebook and eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)

In a 2017 New York Times opinion column on rescue animals, Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote: “When you lose a dog, you not only lose the animal that has been your friend, you also lose a connection to the person you have been.” Here Boylan uses the memories of her beloved dogs to reconnect with, or at least fondly remember the many people she has been- a son, a father, a mother, a wife. Good Boy is at once a deeply personal reflection on Boylan’s unique journey as a trans woman and a celebration of the changes in identity we all experience as we grow up and grow older and the animals who we love along the way.

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington (also available as an ebook from Libby/OverDrive)

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington affords readers a front row seat to several aspects of life in a Houston, Texas neighborhood. The burdens and exhilarations of family dynamics, race, sexuality, economics, friendships, and societal influence all feature prominently in short stories connected through common characters.

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. Our staff are always happy to help you with your questions about books, tools, technology, and more!

Start 2021 with a Cozy Graphic Novel!

by Claudia J.

As we approach the quiet season of winter and start 2021, cozy reads will definitely be on the top of my list to recover from such an unprecedented year. You may recognize the typical books that are categorized as cozy from our adult fiction collection: fun mysteries filled with humor and intrigue, romances that capture the hearts of fans around the world, and hopeful, literary tales that keep readers optimistic. But did you know that you can find some of the best cozy reads in our graphic novel collection? 

Yes, you read right! Graphic novels, which include Japanese manga and traditional comic books, are as diverse as our fiction and nonfiction collections. While their beginnings stem from comic strips in newspapers and classic superhero tales, graphic novels have expanded to include a plethora of plots that readers of all ages can enjoy. In fact, while I will always enjoy a traditional novel, I happen to be a long-time graphic novel fan.

I am excited to share some of my favorite cozy choices that will leave you smiling well after the last page: 

Note: In regards to all of my series picks, my reviews are for Volume 1 only. 

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks 

Illustration of two teenagers in overalls standing with

I find myself always missing autumn and Halloween right after they have ended! If you feel the same, then you will revel in the crisp, fall nights depicted in Pumpkinheads. You may recognize Rainbow Rowell of young adult fame with novels like Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, and I can see why she is one of the most critically acclaimed authors. Two teenagers have seasonal jobs at one of the best pumpkin patches in the country, and every Halloween they come together to revel in the best of the season. Yet, this year is different: they’re seniors in high school and getting ready to go to college next fall. What if they make their last shift an adventure they’ll never forget? With gorgeous illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for every reader who loves pumpkin patches, hayrides, apples and, of course, the crisp air of Halloween. 

Flying Witch (series) by Chihiro Ishizuka

Illustration of a young girl dressed in a sweater and shorts sitting next to a black cat, holding a broom. With the eaves of a house and a stand of trees

Keeping with the Halloween theme, I had to choose Flying Witch to be on this list. Unlike the fantastical nature of Harry Potter or the ghoulish vibes of the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus, Flying Witch evisions witches as….well, normal people, with some exceptions. Makoto Kowata is a witch-in-training who travels to Aomori, Japan to stay with her cousin and his family. A bit forgetful but also amazingly kind, Makoto navigates the new town, a relaxed lifestyle, as well as learns how to be an independent witch in the most comedic ways possible. Despite my earlier mention of Halloween, Flying Witch can be read at any time of the year since all four seasons are featured in the story. Be prepared for a fun, gentle read with a dose of magic thrown in. 

Am I There Yet: The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew

Like much of the media I discover, I happened to learn of Mari Andrew and her beautiful work on Instagram. Her combination of reflections, color, and unique calligraphy drew me in immediately. When she released Am I There Yet, her work effortlessly transferred from my screen to the page. Her majestic use of words and illustrations provided me with a sense of calm and were immensely relatable to my current stage of life. While her words are very uplifting, Mari also tackles harsh realities while softening the blow with poignant moments of humor and happiness.

Emma (series) by Kaoru Mori

Traditionally, manga is characterized by magical beings, action-packed fights, and occasional monsters. However, Emma is uniquely placed in Victorian England. Kaoru takes readers on an intricate journey of forbidden romance between an intelligent but quiet maid and an up-and-coming aristocrat. While many stories begin in a similar fashion, what I enjoyed about Emma was the fascinating use of manga art to tell the story, along with the slow burn of the budding romance. If you have ever wanted to read a manga series but you are unsure of where to start, Emma would be an excellent choice for you! 

Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu (series) by Natsuya Semikawa 

In the medieval town of Eiteriach, its citizens have grown weary of the continual, basic menu. While fulfilling, it leaves something to be desired. Enter Nobu, a mysterious pub that appears almost magically one day. It becomes the talk of the town, known for its unique cuisine and the warmth of its staff. But can it persuade even the toughest customers? This was one of my favorite reads of the year. Natsuya does an excellent job drawing out the flavors of the cuisine with her art. Coupled with its low-key, heartwarming story, Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu will leave you hungry for the meals but also for the rest of the series. 

Stargazing by Jen Wang

The cover depicts the two protagonists seated side by side, with a book open in the lap of the child seated on the left.

A story of an unlikely childhood friendship takes plenty of unexpected turns in Jen Wang’s Stargazing. I was fully engaged with the story of Christine and Moon, two girls on the verge of becoming teenagers with different backgrounds and personalities. Heartwarming and beautiful, this graphic novel has just the right amount of topics that can relate to all ages: cultural differences, friendship, health, and even small crushes. The best part of Stargazing is that it is a perfect book for adults to read with their children and discuss afterwards. The blossoming friendship alone is enough to cozy up to this colorful read. 

Snow White with the Red Hair (series)  by Sorata Akiduki 

I tend to lean towards slice-of-life graphic novels as opposed to fantasy, but Snow White with the Red Hair is a welcome exception to my rule. For fans of the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this series is nothing like the princess we have come to know in our childhood. Shirayuki (“Snow White” in Japanese) is a cheerful, red-haired girl living in the countryside of Tanbarun. Her red hair is so unique in the land that the prince of Tanbarun, Prince Raji, tries to force her to become his concubine. Refusing a life of serving a prince, she cuts her hair and runs away to the forest in search of a new, independent life. With many more twists and turns, this series is a treat for readers who enjoy light fantasy with a touch of female empowerment. 

Carry this Book by Abbi Jacobson

We could all use a little comedy every now and then, especially during these turbulent times. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City fame brings the weird, hilarious view of our bags in Carry this Book. Part faux exposé, part examination of our everyday objects, this book contains the real and imagined objects inside the bags and storage of our icons. Ever wondered what’s in Michelle Obama’s clutch or Harry Potter’s duffel bag? Well, here you go. I struggled with putting this book on the list since it is technically an art book, not a graphic novel. However, I thought it was so creatively put together, and provides stories on fictional characters as well. Abbi does a fantastic job at creating a book that gives such an intimate view of imagination, and how the things we carry everyday may share a deeper look into our personalities than we thought. 

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her organization tips and tricks from her published books on the KonMari method as well as her Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. So it would seem natural that she would take her methods to a narrative level with her manga book. Chiaki, a young woman in Tokyo, struggles with a lack of direction with her clutter and personal life. Through a series of lessons, Marie Kondo takes her on a magical journey of cleaning up her home and getting her life in order. I absolutely loved that this book was not only an engaging read for readers who love manga, but it also provided some major organization pointers and tricks and offered a quick introduction to the KonMari method. Double points for an engaging story and organization assistance! 

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (series) by Akiko Higashimura 

Illustration of a girl dressed in red and white with an arti

To round out the list of cozy graphic novel reads, I want to end on a hopeful note. Journeys begin with hard work and that is how Akiko Higashimura’s story began in high school. Writer and artist of Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Akiko provides a look into her teenage beginnings of becoming a popular mangaka. So when she signs up for an art class expecting an easy path to stardom, she is rudely surprised by her militant art instructor who expects perfection out of his students. Nevertheless, this art instructor’s weird style of motivation may be the key to Akiko’s art dreams. While this series is meant for teens, I think adults would enjoy this trip down Akiko’s memory lane. Too often, we reach adulthood and forget the dreams and goals we had in our childhood and teenage years. Blank Canvas explores the feelings of invincibility we have as teens while also providing a dose of realism towards reaching goals that seem insurmountable. 

Readers of all ages can find some cozy joy with these picks from our graphic novel collection! All titles are available here at Howard County Library System, so request one today and try something new to start this new year! 

Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for almost five years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.

Manga Chat: Basketball & Cannibals

The cover depicts a redheaded basketball player, brown furrowed and mouth angry and open as if yelling, wearing his jersey and a jacket.

By Khaleel G.

As winter rears its cold head, I’ve found myself returning to manga – Japanese comics –  more often. Partly for the comfort it brings this aging nerd, and partly for the way you can read one volume, then pick up another, like eating bunches of caramel popcorn. 

But mostly, I return to manga because the stories are always so different. I’d like to recommend two series we have at HCLS that I’ve been reading side by side, one about basketball and one about supernatural cannibals…different, indeed.

Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue is a sports manga published between 1990 and 1996, focusing on a high school boys’ basketball team. Hanamichi Sakuragi is a punk, a loser, and desperate for a girlfriend. After fifty rejections of his declarations of love, he finds himself drawn to Haruko Akagi, the one girl who doesn’t think he’s a total dweeb. And she introduces him to basketball, a sport he previously hated (mostly because his most recent crush turned him down to date a basketball player). 

So, he joins the team, acts like a total fool, but along the way Sakuragi discovers his talent for the sport, for aggressive play that impresses his teammates. Like other sports manga, he discovers more about himself and his team, the sport, and what it means to grow up. This all occurs in early 90s Japan, at the height of basketball’s popularity across the globe, so there’s a certain nostalgic glow to the story and art.

Speaking of the art, it’s clean, expressive, and veers between comedic scenes and heart-pounding sports action. Inoue’s skill as an artist shows through, but his ability as a storyteller, bringing us along Sakuragi’s journey of becoming a proper adult and baller, is what keeps me reading. Slam Dunk is 31 volumes, so it can be a bit of a time investment, but I’ve been enjoying it thoroughly, both as a sports story and as a nostalgia piece for the 1990s. 

The cover depicts a young man seated, with a book in hand, leaning on his hand. One eye is brown but the other is bright red.


On a completely separate note, Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida takes place in a modern Tokyo, which seems fairly ordinary. Ah, except for the ghouls – supernatural creatures who look exactly like humans but for their need to consume human flesh. Ken Kaneki is a college student who loves literature and coffee, until a first date turns into a fight for survival when his crush reveals herself as a ghoul. The night ends in an accident, and in the hospital her ghoul’s organs are transplanted into Kaneki. He becomes a hybrid ghoul, torn between the human and ghoul worlds, trying to fit into both.

The art is grim, dark, and bloody (this is absolutely a read for mature audiences), and as Kaneki falls deeper into the ghoul world, monstrous cruelties emerge from the shadow beneath Tokyo. However, unlike other horror titles in the genre, Tokyo Ghoul has something more – a heart. Sure, ghouls can be horrifying monsters capable of unthinkable violence, but at the same time, Kaneki discovers that they’re not born that way. Indeed, a ghoul is just another kind of person (who eats human flesh), and the story is full of moments where the reader questions, “Who’s the real monster?” 

Of course, there are super-cool fights between the ghouls and the anti-ghoul investigators, drawn expertly. But again, Ishida’s writing doesn’t let this series slip into a fight-of-the-week style, like many other action manga series. Kaneki’s transformation is fraught with moments of questioning: what it means to live, what it means to love, and how does anyone survive in a world like this. 

I was surprised at the depth of this series, and while it is violent and action-packed, there’s way more to it than that. The original series is 14 volumes, followed by Tokyo Ghoul: RE, a sequel series – I’ve only read the first half, but can’t wait to dive into the second, which should keep me occupied for a bit more of this long, long winter.

Slam Dunk and Tokyo Ghoul are available in print from HCLS branches.

Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, and graduate school since 2003.

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

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

by Carmen J.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 12th is Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

The photograph shows an indigenous person in native dress at an outdoor gathering.

By Claudia J.

Mark your calendars on October 12th! Beginning this year, Howard County will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On WJZ-13 CBS, County Executive Calvin Ball released a statement on the decision. “Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not absolve us from our history, but we hope that it sets a tone and opens up discussions on the importance of restorative practices throughout our government and our community.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an exciting opportunity to explore the incredible history and culture of Indigenous communities that have often been underrepresented in our celebrations.  Of course, what better way to observe this holiday than to curl up with a new book? I know I will! Here are ten books for you and your family to read and learn about Indigenous culture by authors of Indigenous descent: 

For the Little Ones: 

The book cover depicts a mother holding a child who is eating fry bread from the bowl the mother holds in her other hand.

Fry Bread: a Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Do you know what fry bread is? This colorful and touching picture book by Maillard answers this question and provides a kinship to the Native tradition of communal food preparation. In addition, Maillard provides a personal background to the narrative as he is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Coupled with the illuminating illustrations by Martinez-Neal, children and adults will enjoy reading Fry Bread together. 

The book cover depicts a young woman holding a feather, with blue-green water swirling around her.  In the background are people on a hill, hands joined together, in front of a starry night sky with a moon.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; Illustrated by Michaela Goade

“Water is the first medicine, It affects and connects us all…” Earth is made up of 71% of water and it provides its inhabitants with nourishment and hydration. What would you do to protect it? Inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, We Are Water Protectors is an incredibly accessible picture book for children to learn more about water and its importance to the health of the Earth. Lindstrom provides readers with a piece of her culture, as she is Anishinabe/Metis and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. She also calls Maryland her home!

For the Big Kids:

The book cover depicts a young woman holding a letter along the shore of a lake at sunrise.  There are mountains in the distance and a dog with a stick is approaching her.

I Can Make this Promise by Christine Day

With her debut middle grade novel, Day tells the semi-autobiographical story of a 12-year-old girl’s search for her true identity. Adopted at a young age by a white couple, Edie has always been curious about her Native American heritage. When she and her friends find a box of letters and photos of a woman who shares her name, Edie begins to question her parents and the secrets they kept from her. Powerful and important, Day weaves a storyline together that draws from her own Native heritage as an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe. I am very excited about this novel and will be adding it to my reading list. 

The book cover depicts a young woman in front of a landscape background that progresses from rural, with animals, trees, and a log cabin, to urban, with a car, palm trees, and a cityscape in silhouette.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManus with Traci Sorell

Straight from our 2020 Summer Reading list, Indian No More tells the heartbreaking story of 8-year-old Regina and the erasure of her Native American identity. It’s 1954 and her family is told all tribes in their state of Oregon no longer exist. Much like the other selections on the list so far, this novel is based on McManus’s own experiences when her tribe, the Umpqua, was terminated in 1954. Sadly, McManus passed away in 2018, unable to complete the revisions to her novel. Her friend and fellow author, Traci Sorell, completed the revisions as she wished. 

For the Teens: 

The book cover depicts a young woman wearing a white shirt and black pants, with a black and white checkered shirt tied around her waist.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Told from the perspective of young Native American/Indigenous women, #NotYourPrincess weaves together a traditional narrative with artwork, poetry, photography, and interviews to present a well-rounded depiction of issues affect Indigenous communities. While parts of the stories can be tough to read, this anthology is a great conversation starter for teens, especially young women, who could relate to the issues depicted in these stories. 

The book cover depicts half the face of a young woman, with a stripe of white makeup on her cheek.  There are also several stickers indicating awards the book was won.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Imagine a dystopian world where a majority of the world’s inhabitants have lost the ability to dream. Set in the future, The Marrow Thieves tells of a world such as this and how the lack of dreams has caused intense madness among society. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous communities. Their bone marrow is the cure for all mankind for the world to return to prosperity, but this means the certain death of the marrow holders. This sets the stage for Frenchie – a 15-year-old Indigenous teen, trying his best to survive, protect his companions, and flee from “recruiters” who hope to steal his marrow.  Written by Canadian writer Cherie Dimaline, who is a member of the Georgian Bay Metis Community, The Marrow Thieves is an action-packed novel for fans of dystopian societies. It also packs a moral punch as to how we, as a society, view Indigenous communities and resources. 

For the Graphic Novel Fans: 

The book cover depicts three young women and one senior woman against the background of an immense cityscape that rises behind them.

Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett, Illustrations by Natasha Donovan

As if to speak entirely from its title, Surviving the City is based in an urban environment in Canada, where readers are introduced to Miikwan and Dez. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inniew. They are best friends trying their best to navigate the normal struggles that come with being teens as well as being faced with the challenges of being a part of a small, Indigenous minority in an urban landscape. When Dez’s grandmother falls ill and is unable to take care of Dez anymore, Dez is faced with the possibility of going into a group home. Unable to deal with that solution, Dez leaves home and disappears. Will Dez’s community find her before it’s too late? Tasha Spillett’s debut graphic novel series at first seems simple in telling Dez’s mysterious disappearance, but it also sets the tone for providing information about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada. 

The book cover depicts a young woman i profile, wearing a jacket with patches on the shoulder, putting earbuds into her ears.

A Girl Called Echo by Katherena Vermette, Illustrations by Scott B. Henderson, colored by Donovan Yaciuk

Time travel fans will enjoy the story of Echo Desjardins, a 13-year-old Metis girl adjusting to a new home and school, separated from her mother. During one of her first lectures with a new teacher, Echo transports to the past in several different environments: a fur-trade route, the Pemmican Wars, and a bison hunt, to name a few. Selected for our 2020 Summer Reading list, teens and adults alike will enjoy this refreshing take on Indigenous history, written by Katherena Vermette, a Metis Canadian author. 

For the Adults: 

The book cover depicts two feathers facing in opposite directions, against a background of orange with the title in yellow lettering.

There There by Tommy Orange 

An instant hit upon its release, Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange provides readers with an intense narrative of the urban Native American. This novel follows the journeys of 12 characters from Native communities, all en route to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each character has endured their own unique struggles, and the interwoven narratives provide a larger, deeper story of the contemporary Native American struggle while grappling with a painful history. A very popular book club choice, There There will definitely provide some complex conversation and will pique your interest in Indigenous history. 

The book cover depicts the title and author in white against colorful background stripes in blues, mauves, and greens.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

I thought I would end with a recent release from this year. Highly acclaimed author Louise Erdrich writes a fictionalized version of her grandfather’s life as a night watchman in the 1950’s. Set on her family’s home reservation (in what is now North Dakota), night watchman Thomas Wazhashk is a Chippewa Council member who is grappling with the new “emancipation” bill proposed by U.S. Congress. Despite “emancipation” as a synonym for freedom in previous events, this bill presents the term more like a “termination” of Native American culture, land, and identity. His story is coupled with that of Patrice Paranteau, a young adult who makes jewel barrings at the plant and is saving to search for her sister, Vera. Poverty, violence, exploitation: Louise Erdrich combines these intense themes and crafts a novel based on her Ojibwe roots and current Anishinaabe membership. I am definitely adding The Night Watchman to my to-read list. 

No matter what age, we can all celebrate Indigenous voices this year and for many years to come on Indigenous Peoples Day. I hope there are some selections you will explore this fall, and all are available at HCLS! Add these books to your holds queue and enjoy these amazing stories. 

Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.