It’s summer: TIME – and we’re (mostly) open!

School’s out and the cicadas are gone – it’s time for summer fun! Howard County Library System is open for browsing and borrowing, using computers and printing, as well as attending Tails & Tales in person, outdoor classes for children. Our hours are Monday & Thursday, 10 am – 8 pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm, and we are closed on Sundays. At this time, our study and meeting rooms are not available, but we are otherwise open for business.

A family stands in a local park with a map spread out along a low horizontal tree branch.

We can’t wait to see you again! When you visit your local branch make sure to pickup the brand new July/August issue of source. It’s summer and it’s time for… 

Authors. We are thrilled to host two bestselling authors this summer. Daniel Silva (Wed, July 21 at 7 pm) writes the long-running spy thriller series featuring Gabriel Allon, master art restorer and Israeli spy/assassin. His latest book, The Cellist, explores one of the preeminent threats facing the West today—the corrupting influence of dirty money wielded by Russia. Gail Tsukiyama (Thu, Aug 5 at 7 pm) offers brilliant historical fiction, often centered on lives of women. Her newest book, The Color of Air, examines the threat of volcanic eruption to a Hawaiian community. Register at hclibrary.org > classes & events.

Reading. It’s not too late to join Summer Reading. Anyone can participate, with challenges and prizes for all ages. Check out Jean’s favorite children’s books for summer, listed on page 8. And Relaxing. Which is better the book or the movie? Decide for yourself from the when you read books, then watch movies adapted from the story. How faithful was it? Or, simply borrow some fun family movies to enjoy together. 

Learning. Ready for in-person classes? Join us for outdoor experiences. Prefer to stay virtual? We have online classes and book discussion groups! Pick up one of our NEW literacy activity kits for children or STEM activity kits for teens. 

Adventures. Find tips for new hikers, trail suggestions, and how to make the most of day trips. Play is a form of learning and is especially important for children’s development.

Fresh food. Everything is green and growing! Produce is at its peak, and farmers markets are happening all over the county. Read about simple ways to eat healthy, along with a few recipes and cookbook recommendations (You can also request a bundle bag.). 

Preparing. Summer is always over too soon, but we’re here to help you get ready to go back to school. Kindergarten, Here We Come! is a favorite for parents and kids preparing for their first school milestone. For students entering sixth grade, Middle School Pep Talk features tips about what to expect. 

Being Brave. Share your stories about witnessing or experiencing bias, racism, or discrimination in Howard County – as well as your stories of hope. Your stories may be shared (anonymously) with community leaders, organizations, and groups. The more stories provided, the greater the impact. 

And: We invite everyone to vote (in the Out & About category) for HCLS as the best place in Howard County to visit with kids! VOTE HERE!

Veterans Book Group: A Journey

The mostly blue cover features a an illustration of people gathering at the Vietnam Veterans Wall, drawn in the primitive style.

by Rohini G.

Last year we embarked on a powerful journey of connection through reading and discussion among veterans in Howard County. This journey continues in 2021. Our facilitator, David Owens, USNA Class of ‘94, shares his thoughts in a candid interview.    

David, you are a former Naval officer and an entrepreneur with your own media production company. You are also the facilitator of a Veterans Book Group (VBG) at the library. Tell us more about all these different hats that you don so effortlessly.  

I do indeed juggle a lot, but I love it! I want to be someone who makes communities better, and thus volunteering (Veterans Reading Group, etc.) makes me feel more satisfied. I’m a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and spent six years active duty stationed at Naval Station San Diego. I was also a news reporter for 15 years after leaving the service. 

Running a small business has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, and much of the success of the company centers on human connecting and teambuilding. I learned many of those skills in the military and try to bring those abilities to the reading group as well.  

The Veterans Book Group was a first for Howard County Library System and a first for you. What prompted you to take on this role? 

First of all, I love this reading group, and I hope it continues! I wanted to be involved in the group because I love to read, and I like listening to other people’s opinions on things. This has been the best of both worlds for me! We all read the same book, yet we sometimes have different perspectives, which helps us all grow. Additionally, it is awesome to meet new people and connect with them. 

What makes a Veterans Book Group different from other book groups? 

Just by the nature of the job, military members tend to have experience working in high intense environments with diverse groups of people. I believe those experiences facilitate deeper discussions in our group. I also believe there is increased sensitivity and empathy among the members because we understand some have had life-altering experiences during their service/lives. As for the readings, we are a relaxed group that gives members plenty of time to read all the books. 

Would you like to share any special memories or experiences from last year’s VBG? 

Last year we were honored to have author Madeline Mysko (Bringing Vincent Home) join us for a session. She was so gracious, and having her talk about how the book was really a reflection of her own experiences brought a realness factor to our discussion.  

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Covid-19. Our group initially met in person, then held our final few meetings virtually. Howard County Library and Maryland Humanities were great at adjusting on the fly. Being able to remain connected to people brought positive energy for me, and provided a bit of normal human interaction during such a difficult time. 

I understand that participants at VBG read novels, short stories, articles, and just about every format. What was your favorite story, book or excerpt from what you read last year? 

Again, I have to give a lot of kudos to Howard County Library and Maryland Humanities because they work hard to assist the facilitators in selecting a good cross-section of books. Bringing Vincent Home was my favorite. The characters in her story were so identifiable and really hit home for me. I honestly had to remind myself on several occasions that it was actually a novel.  

You are embarking on another journey with VBG in 2021. What are your plans for this year? How are you feeling about it? 

I am really excited about the diversity of subjects in this year’s books. We will explore issues with the VA (Dead Soldier by Carmelo Rodriguez), as well as a few eras that might not get read as much (Korean War and Civil War). We are also planning to invite authors to our discussions; in fact, Carmelo Rodriguez has expressed a desire to speak with us. I’m looking forward to the journey, and I know the group is going to have a lot of great discussions and connections! 

The Veterans Book Group 2021 starts on February 2. For more information and to register, click HERE.

Looking for Something New to Read?

Woman in silhouette against green sunny background, look at a book in her hands.
Contactless Pickup at HCLS Glenwood Branch.

By Eliana H.

Do you sometimes wonder what to read next? But now it’s even more difficult because our buildings aren’t open for browsing the stacks? Sometimes I take calls from customers with just those sorts of questions. I and other library staff are always happy to help our community find a good book, but I will admit that it’s not always easy to find the right book. Thankfully, we have NoveList, a tool that can help us answer those “what should I read” questions.

NoveList icon with a person reading a book while sitting in a tree with a orange background.

The great part is YOU can access that tool also! On our Research Tools page, click Book Recommendations, then NoveList, and you’ll find yourself on a Remote Authentication page where you need to enter your library card barcode and PIN (if you’re not sure what these are, visit My Account and use the links below the boxes to have your information emailed to you).

Now, you are inside the treasure trove that is NoveList. Choose from highlighted themes and styles, browse genres by age range, or check out a Recommended Reads List. If you have something specific that you want to match, enter it in the search bar and explore title or author read-alikes.  Maybe you have read all of the books Louise Penny has written, but you’re looking for something that has a similar feel to the Inspector Gamache mysteries. If you enter her name in the search bar, you can choose Title Read-alikes, Author Read-alikes, or Series Read-alikes below any of the books from that series that come up in your results list. Considering any of the “Read-alike” options shows you a list with a brief explanation of what the two items have in common. 

While you’re in NoveList, preview some of the “Recommended Reads Lists” in the left-hand panel. These are fixtures, but staff at NoveList update them periodically. For instance, right now there’s a “Reading During Pandemic” category. Each of the categories has several sub-categories before you get to the actual list. For instance, if you click on “Reading During Pandemic,” you will see “Quarantine Reads: Cozy and Gentle Stories,” “Quarantine Reads: Fast-paced Thrillers,” “Quarantine Reads: Heartwarming Reads,” and “Quarantine Reads: Pandemic Apocalypse Fiction.” You will obviously see very different options across those categories!

Screenshot from within NoveList.

One thing to note is the “Check Availability” button that appears at the bottom of the listing for a title. Unfortunately, HCLS does not own every title listed in NoveList. You can use “Check Availability” to see if we do own it, though, and how many copies are on the shelf. The listing within NoveList only includes print and ebook formats, but you can search in our catalog to see audiobook (including eAudio) options. If you find a listing you want to read that says “Not owned by this library,” you can always take a look in Interlibrary Loan or suggest we add the title to our collection via the purchase suggestion option on our website.

I hope you take the time to explore NoveList and find some great titles to enjoy. Feel free to leave some of your own recommendations for fellow readers in the comments!

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

We Need Diverse Books

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

By Alan S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teens! Protect Your Bacon!

Six strips of cooked bacon on a black griddle.

By Deborah B.

“Stop! You can’t eat that bacon! It’s bad.” 

You pause and look at the stranger. “It’s bacon. Even bad bacon is good.” 

“No, I mean it’s bad for you.” And with that, the stranger whips your plate of crispy bacon off the table and tilts the contents into an oversized Hefty. You:  

  1. Apologize to the clearly well-meaning stranger and hand over the offending pork. 
  1. Shoot your hand into the bag, fish around, grab a fistful of what feels like bacon, and jam it into your mouth. 
  1. Throw your body atop the table, effectively blocking brunch, or something equally dramatic.

While there may be solid arguments against bacon as a factor in health and wellness, most people – clever teenagers especially – would agree the choice of what to eat should belong to the eater or (maybe) the parents of said eater. Thus, bacon becomes my tasty, non-vegetarian metaphor for censored materials in honor of Banned and Challenged Books Week. 

Banned and Challenged Books Week is an international celebration of the freedom to read and the right to open access of information. Libraries around the globe host events during the last week of September designed to expose and oppose the suppression of ideas, even those many consider unpopular, unorthodox, or downright yucky. HCLS contributes with The First Amendment, a news literacy class exploring the legal protections, exceptions, and precedents of that Constitutional powerhouse.  

The American Library Association launched Banned and Challenged Books Week in 1982, following the verdict in Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico by Pico. In brief, the local school board deemed certain books in their district’s collection “filthy” and removed them. A group of students took issue with this unilateral action and sued. Yes, teens sued the school district and won, albeit narrowly. The Supreme Court ruled that while governing boards had discretion over their collections, that discretion, “must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.”   

So, can books and materials still be banned? Yes, but there should be a formal process, called a challenge, which requires written documentation explaining the nature of the objection. The respective board of the organization or company, be it a library, museum, or even a store, must evaluate the contested material and assess whether to retain, remove, or relocate it. Every year the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom collects and publishes a list of the most challenged books. Most are titles for children and teens. 

Are you listening, teens? People want to take your bacon! How about, instead, an act of quiet rebellion? Read a Banned or Challenged book. Then join the conversation. Here a few examples that may interest you:

Drama by Raina Teglemeier has been challenged repeatedly for “LGBTQ themes. ” Other titles receive similar treatment for “sexually explicit” (Merriam-Webster’s 10th edition for the term ‘oral sex’), racisim, violence, profanity, or religious or political viewpoints. Some are simply considered “unsuited to any age group” (Captain Underpants), which is a catch-all for material considered to have no redeeming value. For the record, the ALA (and HCLS) understands that humor is a matter of opinion. However, we have a problem with stealing those laughs from others who want them. 

Brightly has a list of suggestions to get you started: https://www.readbrightly.com/15-banned-books-every-tween-teen-read/ 

Deborah B. loves certain Banned Books more than others, but is an equal opportunity consumer of pork products.