Hidden Gems at the Library

As I celebrate one year of working for the library, I thought I would highlight one of the perks of the job: discovering hidden gems in the library collection. I already blogged about Through the Barricades, which I came across while browsing the library’s shelves—something I never had time to do as a patron. Others I have discovered while looking at circulation reports and pulling books that haven’t checked out in a long while. Sometimes when you are doing this kind of work, you feel like you understand why a book hasn’t checked out. Maybe it doesn’t look appealing or the description makes it sound a little strange. But there are other books with low circulation numbers that I find myself reading—and enjoying, and I just know that other people would love them too if they found them.

Catlantis by Anna Starobinets, for example, falls into this category. This short book is actually a rather silly story about how cats came to have nine lives. It involves time travel and other magical elements, but it never takes itself too seriously. If you are a kid who appreciates cat-oriented wordplay, this is the book for you.

Speaking of wordplay and laugh-out-loud humor, The Short Con by Pete Toms is another lonely book with few checkouts. It’s a shame, really, because this graphic novel will appeal to grown ups as well as kids. There are pop culture references, cat puns, and just plain weirdness. It’s small, but a lot of fun. I’m glad I found it, and I hope other people do too.

I’m glad it’s part of my job to discover these hidden gems and help them get into the hands of the right readers!

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I am a Rereader

When Dimple Met RishiThere are two types of people in the world: people who reread books and people who don’t.

I am a rereader. I probably shouldn’t reread as much as I do considering being widely read is an important part of my job, but sometimes I just want to immerse myself in a familiar story—usually a happy one. Sometimes I’m feeling down or stressed. Sometimes there’s no reason at all. It feels a bit like a guilty pleasure because the books I reread the most happen to be the fluffy ones. If I’m honest, there are times when I feel a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve read my favorite teen romances (Alex Approximately and When Dimple Met Rishi for a couple of specific examples) multiple times. With so little reading time and so many more books I want to read, why give extra time to these books? They aren’t exactly hard-hitting, important stories. At least not in the way that we usually think of “important.”

Plenty of people probably think they aren’t worth reading once, much less multiple times. There are people who only spend their reading time on the books that are Capital I Important. And that’s fine. I’m not here to judge anyone’s reading tastes no matter how much they diverge from mine. There was a time when I would have. There was absolutely a time in my life when I would have judged myself for enjoying fluff. For wanting fluff. Honestly, for needing it sometimes. These days I call it “self care,” and I own it. There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world, and there’s nothing wrong with a comfort read–whatever that may be for you.

Lost Girl of Astor StreetIn addition to the teen romances I mentioned above, my next choice for a comfort read is historical fiction. I’ve blogged about my interest in historical fiction often enough that this probably doesn’t surprise anyone. But there is something I find incredibly comforting in getting completely out of your own time period. I have recently reread a couple of favorites: The Lost Girl of Astor Street (historical mystery/romance) and No Shame No Fear (historical/romance), and I can highly recommend both to readers whose tastes run similar to mine. ;)

In conclusion, there are probably way more than those two types of people in the world. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I just like to read my favorite fluffy books whenever I feel like it.

Hello, My Pronouns Are…

Lanyard with pronoun pinI’ve been wearing a pronoun pin on my lanyard at the library for months. Either no one has noticed it, or they just haven’t said anything. I’ll be honest, I expected at least one person to ask why I felt the need to identify “she/her” as my preferred pronouns when I present as female. But no one said anything.

Until this week.

A few days ago a library patron noticed and spoke up. And, to my great relief, it was positive! She expressed appreciation for the way that the pin normalized the idea that pronouns might not be as obvious as we think they are. We talked about our kids growing up in a world where “they” can be singular and about how we can help create an environment of acceptance in our kids’ schools.

The conversation reminded me of something I read in the book Who are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity. In a note to grown-ups at the beginning it says, “Some grown-ups worry that children are too young to talk about gender diversity. But it is all around us. Kids are already talking about it, and you get to decide how you want to be a part of that conversation.”

I’m still learning about what it means to be inclusive in this way, but I’m glad to be part of the conversation both at home and at the library.

History Lessons

Through the Barricades by Denise DeeganIf a book that can be described as “a history lesson” sounds as enticing to you as it does to me, you might like Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan. The story immerses readers in the world of Maggie Gilligan and Daniel Healy as they become friends and find themselves pulled in different directions through war and politics. I’ve read enough history to know a bit about world events during the years that the novel is set (1913-1916), but the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin is not a particularly well known piece of history. At least it wasn’t well known by me.

I first heard of the 1916 Easter Rising while browsing Netflix when I came upon Rebellion. The five-part mini-series follows several fictional characters through the week-long insurrection. It has been criticized for not being terribly historically accurate, but since I’ve nearly exhausted Netflix’s supply of such historical dramas (which I particularly enjoy), I took a chance on it. I was immediately swept up in the drama and curious about what was real and what was invented for the story.

Not long after watching all five episodes of Rebellion, I found Through the Barricades in the teen section of my library. The time period and the premise were enough to entice me, but the chance to see another perspective on the Easter Uprising was the real reason I added it my check outs.

The story starts in 1913 and by the time it got to the Uprising, I’d almost forgotten that that’s what I had been waiting for. At that point, our characters had been through a lot. Well, Daniel had been through a lot as a soldier fighting for the British Army in the Great War. While war stories are not usually my thing—actually I usually steer clear of them—I have to admit it was Daniel’s account of the war that kept me riveted to the pages. I read it quickly and occasionally exclaimed to whoever was nearby how stressful the story was to read. This is the kind of stress that makes me avoid war stories! But it is also the mark of an immersive story.

I added Through the Barricades to my list of YA fiction that is Based on Real People/Events. I seem to read a lot of these sorts of books.  I imagine they don’t appeal to everyone. Not everyone is reading fiction for facts, after all. And that’s probably a good thing.  Probably most fiction readers don’t want a history lesson with their story. For me, though, that is often exactly what I want. I love letting a story give me a feeling for a time period or historical event. I’ll usually look into the facts about the time period  as well, but the story creates a feeling that facts can’t quite get create. Through the Barricades is probably not going to draw in readers who aren’t interested in history, but for hardcore fans of the genre or readers interested in the time period, it’s worth a look.

Discovering the North Shore

It was good to get away for a few days. To leave the city far behind us for a quieter world. We hiked rugged paths to see waterfalls, stuck our feet into the painfully cold water of Lake Superior, and relaxed on the shore by the light of the fire in the evening. For many Minnesota families, north shore vacations are long-standing traditions that have perhaps become a bit “whatever” as the sights have been seen over and over again. But for us, it was a first. It was an adventure. Everything was new to us, and I can’t help but dream of a time—years down the road—when we’ve been so many times that we’ve discovered all the hidden gems that are waiting for us to find. Something about that feels like a Minnesota badge of honor that we’ve yet to achieve.

On this trip we collected several firsts: The first time we toured the Split Rock Lighthouse; the first time we saw the view from Palisade Head; the first time we rode the gondola up the Lutsen Mountain. And the first time we trekked out to Wild Country Maple Syrup.

It was our first full day in the area, and we had so many possibilities for our To Do list that we almost skipped it. We’d already stopped at Caribou Cream, a small store where syrup and other giftable items are sold on the honor system as there are no employees there working the shop. We were charmed by the shop and its contents, so we bought some syrup and headed on our way wondering if another syrup place was worth our time.

“Why not?” we decided and drove down the country roads that twisted and turned into the woods. The paved roads became dirt and every time we wondered if we were lost, a sign that pointed the way to Wild Country Maple Syrup kept us going. Soon, we could see the syrup lines running through the forest, and eventually the road ended at the headquarters of the operation. We headed straight for the small store to find that it was much like the one we’d seen at our previous stop. But we were quickly greeted by one of the owners who offered to show us around. He took us into the sugar shack and walked us through the process of making the syrup. We got to see where they bottle the syrup and sample the different types. Everyone we met was so friendly; we ended up chatting for quite some time.

We left with more syrup, of course. Because how could we resist after getting the grand tour and the nicest welcome we could have asked for? Note to self: check out the recipe section of their web site because we have a lot of syrup now.

Back at work a few days later, I was pulling books for my library’s Family History Month display, and I happened across a picture book about a family with a tradition of making maple syrup in the spring: Taffy Time by Jennifer Lloyd. The story centers on the youngest member of the family who wants to help, but keeps getting in the way and making mistakes. The little girl’s father explains the process of making the syrup as part of the story, and it was fun to see a smaller version of what we saw at Wild Country depicted on the pages of the book.

If you happen to be in the Lutsen, MN area, consider stopping in at Wild Country. For those who can’t get to the North Shore anytime soon, there are always picture books. Taffy Time is one of many picture books about making maple syrup. Rhoda’s Rock Hunt by Molly Beth Griffin is another title with local interest—though the story of a child collecting so much that they can’t carry it all extends far beyond the Minnesota borders.  Rhoda’s solution to her problem is one that will please both young rock collectors and their parents–much like our vacation to the North Shore. ;)

The History of My Hook

“I promise your child couldn’t possibly ask me anything I haven’t been asked before.”

This is my usual reassurance to uneasy parents as their children approach me with questions about my prosthetic arm. After thirty-odd years of using a prosthetic device in my everyday life, I have answered every question under the sun more times than I can count. Or so I thought.

Recently a little boy was particularly fascinated by the mechanics of my fake arm. He exclaimed, “This is the most amazing contraption!” with such adorable enthusiasm that I felt extra disappointed that I couldn’t answer his follow up question: Who invented it?

I have never been asked this before. That’s kind of surprising, now that I think about it. With all the interest in inventors and engineers in my world (education/libraries), you would think someone would have been curious enough about whoever might have been the brains behind my prosthetic arm to ask about it.

It seems that when it comes to prosthetics, people are only interested in the future. Robot arms. 3-d printing. Bionics. Those are the topics that get the headlines and the general interest. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked why I don’t have a robot arm.

In an effort to be prepared for the question should it ever come up again, I did a bit of looking into the history of prosthetics. It turns out that a man named D.W. Dorrance invented the split hook device in 1912. Dorrance was an amputee himself, and he wasn’t happy with the functionality of the prosthetic devices available at the time. So he made his own, which is pretty cool.

Here’s the really unbelievable part though: Dorrance’s design, with few modifications, is still the industry standard over 100 years later. It’s what I’ve used for most of my life. It may not seem as cool as the robot arms you saw in some news story, but it’s surprisingly functional. My split hook device is infinitely more useful to me than the more hand-like prosthetic devices I’ve used in my life as well as the 3-d printed accessories I’ve tried (though the typing tool prototype I have from a 3d printing company is pretty awesome). I guess the old adage is true: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In any case, it’s a rather impressive story. How many inventors can say that their inventions have remained in use for so long with so few changes?

I’d love to be able to point kids to books about the history of prosthetics, especially one that includes Dorrance’s story, but there’s almost nothing out there. While I am the first to be interested in news stories about some cool new tech that might benefit amputees like me someday, I can’t help but wish for some celebration of the past or acknowledgment of the present.

The one book that I can recommend on the subject is Artificial Limbs by Kira Freed. This is part of the Miracles of Medicine series from an educational publisher, and it is aimed at upper elementary age kids. I have a few minor quibbles with the wording here and there, but overall, the book offers a good explanation of how prosthetic arms like mine work without getting lost in technological possibilities. I, for one, appreciate that more than you might think.

 

I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of New Hands, New Life: Robots, Prostheses, and Innovation, which looks to be a look at the ways that assistive technology has helped kids who have various disabilities. I am particularly curious to see how it will balance the present and the future. If we are to have yet another book that focuses too far ahead, I just may have to write the book I want to see. ;)

 

Team Outer Space

It was space that first drew my daughter in to Brains On, a science podcast for kids, so it was hardly a surprise that when it came down to Outer Space vs. Deep Sea, she was firmly cheering for Team Outer Space to win the debate. In her mind, it was hardly even a debate.

“What’s so great about the ocean?” she asked from the back seat as we set off on a long drive one recent Saturday. I was about to press play on the big debate, and I admit, I was hoping she would keep an open mind.

“You might be surprised,” I said, thinking of the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean that I was certain would be as fascinating as planets, stars, and the possibility of alien life if she gave it a chance. We listened as Brains On producers presented their arguments for each side. We mostly kept our commentary to ourselves other than the occasional “huh” or “wow” for both Outer Space and Deep Sea.

We kept track of the points we would award each debater, and, in the end, Team Outer Space won the debate for both of us. But for those of you still on the fence about which one is cooler, perhaps one of these books will sway you:

Deep Sea
I wrote about What if Sharks Disappeared a few weeks ago, and it certainly fills in the argument for Deep Sea by sharing how we are connected to ocean life. But let’s stay focused on the debate at hand—The Deep Sea vs. Outer Space. For a look at the deepest parts of the ocean, Down, Down, Down by Steve Jenkins is a must-read. Really, all of Steve Jenkins’ books are must-reads, or at least must-browse-through-to-look-at-the-remarkable-illustrations.

Outer Space

Last time I wrote about Brains On, I shared Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, and this is still one of my daughter’s favorite books. It’s funny and browsable while being full of information. Plus, she likes cats. Not as much of a cat person as she is? That’s okay. How about Destination: Space? In this book five kids take a tour of the universe from the big bang and beyond. It’s similar to Professor Astro Cat, just a little less cute and funny.

It’s up to you to choose a team (or remain neutral) in this very important debate. ;)

As a side note to fellow librarians reading this, it occurs to me as I write this that “Deep Sea vs. Outer Space” would be a fun library display. Actually, there are probably lots of possibilities here. Well, I’m off to brainstorm potential “versus” displays I could do in my library….