jacket  A. J. Jacobs has amused and informed us by living for a year following the tenets of the Bible, reading the Encyclopedia Britannica to become the smartest person in the world, becoming a human guinea pig, and attempting to become the healthiest person in the world. He now tackles genealogy and what is means to be family in It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree.

What started his quest to help build the World Family Tree was an email from Jules Feldman. Feldman is a dairy farmer in Israel who in his spare time is building a family tree. A huge family tree consisting of 80,000 relatives including Jacobs who is the eighth cousin of Mrs. Feldman.

Skeptical but intrigued Jacobs follows the suggestion of his brother-in-law and contacts Randy Schoenberg. Randy is a lawyer of some repute (see the film Woman in Gold) and a genealogist.  According to Randy genealogy in undergoing two revolutions, DNA and Internet family trees.

He introduces Jacobs to the collaborative genealogy site (Internet family tree) Geni.com. There are others like WikiTree and FamilySearch where you find an ancestor on your tree who is on another family’s tree and soon you are connected to thousands (or more) new relatives. A check of Geni at the time showed over 70 million people in 160+ countries listed on the site.

Geni also has an interesting feature you can use to find your connection to famous people. He describes it as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where everyone is Kevin Bacon. Jacobs finds he has connections to Dr. Ruth, Jackson Pollock, Rachel Weisz and Barack Obama who is his fifth-great aunt’s husband’s father’s wife’s seventh-great nephew.

Geni has his interest; next for Jacobs is DNA testing. His DNA test matches him with 1009 presumed cousins including his wife Julie, his seventh cousin. Julie is less than thrilled but as Jacobs finds marriage between distant cousins is not that unusual.

With all these cousins and the potential to uncover more Jacobs comes up with the idea to hold a family reunion – a worldwide family reunion. Bringing all these people together he can make even more connections plus he might get in the Guinness Book of World Records. Now all he needs is a place, money and plenty of help.

The reunion is the conclusion of the book and its progress is remarked upon at the end of most chapters but most of the book is about family. What family is, all its different forms, and how would your worldview and prejudice’s change if you thought of people of different nationalities and ethnic background or even the guy who cut in front of you in line as your cousins.

The author talks about Y-Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, evolution, and the DNA humans share with animals. Jacobs explores many aspects of genealogical research including privacy, the emphasis on celebrity connections, how some cultures and ethnicities are not represented, and the significance of names. He even includes an appendix with a guide to getting started on your family tree.

He made connections with a lot of people gathering information, promoting his family reunion and lining up speakers for his event. Most had a story to tell and Jacobs does a wonderful job using them to highlight his chapters.

Jacobs also uses a lot of his own family history which is by turns amusing, touching, and surprising. The story of his great grandmother Gertrude Sunstein emphasizes the point that women are not well represented in the historical documents. Gertrude was a suffragist and very active. When she died in her obituary her suffrage work was noted but she was identified only as Mrs. Elias Sunstein, no first name.

As word of the reunion spreads he hears about other reunions.  One is the Hatfield-McCoy event. Yes, the famous feuding Hatfields and McCoys.  He also explores black sheep in your family tree and that for every connection you get to Isaac Newton or Malala Yousafzai you get one for John Wayne Gacy or Joseph Stalin.

The global family reunion does happen, in fact 44 simultaneous reunions were held around the world. As Jacobs points out success or failure depended on point of view and I’ll let you be the judge.

Jacobs is an amusing writer and his style is engaging but he also makes you think. How differently would you react and how would your views change if you think of everyone as family?

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Maybe it’s the boost of energy that comes along with Spring, but I’ve really been on a reading kick lately. That probably sounds silly coming from a librarian, but most of us wax and wane in our hobbies. I’ve also found myself reading a few things I wouldn’t normally pick up. And since all of these books have been so entertaining, I decided to share several short reviews covering a range of recent additions to the Library’s collection.

futureFuture Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich — Set in the not too distant future, or maybe just an alternative present, Erdich explores what might happen in a world where humans seem to be devolving. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a Native American who has been adopted by a white family. And she has a secret: she’s pregnant. In an increasingly dystopian world, can she ensure the safety of herself, her child, and her families? I spent a lot of time frightened for Cedar and she journeys between worlds, both literal and spiritual. Erdich’s story is firmly within the realm of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The One by John Marrs — What if, with a simple DNA sample, you could find your genetic soulmate? The one for whom you are literally perfect? In THE ONE, Marrs explores what might happen if this were possible. Six stories unfold as people learn the identities of their perfect genetic matches. Ranging from your everyday businessman to a serial killer, these characters discover that love is complex and can lead to results no one could expect. Though, I did find a couple of the plot points predictable, it was certainly a fun read. Fans of “Black Mirror” will likely enjoy this sordid set of tales.

fridgeThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente — In the world of comic books, there is a term for a select group of characters: Women in Refrigerators. This refers to the disproportionate amount of female characters that are killed in the name of furthering storylines. Valente tells the stories of a series of women characters — no one directly from comics, but recognizable if you’re familiar with many of the big name series — who have been written out of the comics world and spend their time in the afterworld. The characters cover the gamut of emotions associated with such deaths, but also speak to the strength of female friendships. A quick read for anyone who wants a different perspective on the world of comics.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas — In Zumas’ story, only married, heterosexual couples can adopt children. Abortion is flat out illegal. And in this world, women are dealing with what these regulations mean for their everyday lives. Each woman copes in her own way, with longing, fear, or even rebellion. These characters are very real, and likely will remind you of someone you know. And some women, like a fictional explorer named Eivør Minervudottir, are out of place in their own time. This is another work that is spiritually and topically akin to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

mojo.jpgTotal Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy — Let’s be honest: I’m a crazy cat lady. I grew up a dog person, but years ago, my husband introduced me to cats and it’s been all downhill from there. Like any responsible pet owner, I want to make sure my cats are living their best lives. And that means Jackson Galaxy. He’s pretty much the go-to guy for cat people. And TOTAL CAT MOJO is a wonderful resource for all stages of a cat’s life. Plus, he gives great advice for troubleshooting common cat problems like litter box struggles, dealing with stressed kitties, and introducing new family members – from feline to human.

Though there are some common themes in these books, I think they’ll speak to a variety of readers. We add hundreds of items every month; be sure to explore the new books and to find something that appeals to you!

AsYouWishPrincessBrideDeluxeEdToday’s featured titles come courtesy of the library’s High School Book Club.  At their last meeting, these awesome folks opted to read books which had been made into movies.  Their inspiration led me to a book which spawned a modern classic film then right to a book about the making of the film itself.

Chances are extremely high that you’ve seen Rob Reiner’s movie, The Princess Bride or, if you have not, that you have heard (or have quoted) a line from it.  (You haven’t?  Inconceivable!  Find a DVD and watch it now.  Enjoy amazing storytelling.  Borrow a copy from the library, a friend, a neighbor.  No excuses.)

But, have you read the book?  Yes, it’s a real book—not merely a narrative frame featuring Peter Falk.  Penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman, the book version of The Princess Bride presumes its source material from the “great Florinese writer”, S. Morgenstern, teller of captivating tales.  “What’s it about?” you ask.  What’s in it?  “Fencing.  Fighting.  Torture.  Poison.  True Love.  Hate.  Revenge.  Giants.  Hunters.  Bad men. Good men.  Beautifulest Ladies.  Snakes.  Spiders.  Beasts of all natures and descriptions.  Pain.  Death.  Brave men.  Coward men.  Strongest men.  Chases.  Escapes.  Lies.  Truths.  Passion.  Miracles.”  Swashbuckling romance at its finest!

This is both a love letter to and a charming poke at classic tales of lands far away where true love blossoms amid the fight between Good and Evil.  Let’s not take valuable time with additional plot details.  Instead, think on this.  Whatever charm, wit, adventure, delight, satire, romance, truths, and great lines you may have found in the movie, you will find multiplied beyond compare in the book.  Goldman is a master storyteller on screen and in print.

In short, read it for goodness’ sake!  Or listen to it.  Lots of editions to choose from—for extra fun, try one with the introductions to the 25th anniversary and the 30th anniversary editions.  The library has a lovely illustrated version with all manner of maps and drawings.  The audiobook narrated by Rob Reiner is entertaining, rather like being read a bedtime story by your New York-accented dad.

Reiner and William Goldman created magic both on the page and on the movie set according to actor Cary Elwes in his book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of the Princess Bride.  Elwes, who played Westley in the film, offers an entertaining, behind-the-scenes glimpse of movie making from audition to premiere.  In some ways a typical Hollywood memoir, he moves beyond potential pitfalls and captures with delight the camaraderie that brought Goldman’s script to life.

Elwes’ self-effacing charm permeates the book.  His witty, respectful storytelling is generous and interesting.  Throughout As You Wish, he has sprinkled sidebars from other big names with the film—memories, stories, impressions from their points of view which round out the tale.  Give the book a try.  Better yet, listen to the audiobook.  Cary Elwes reads it, and his smooth, conversational delivery sounds like a friendly chat.  He is also an accomplished mimic, reading quotes from Reiner and the late Andre the Giant in voices you would swear were theirs.  Fans of The Princess Bride and movie buffs alike will enjoy either format.

The library’s Teen Department sponsors two book clubs which meet most months of the year.  Both groups are teen-driven; participants decide on a theme for the month then choose their own title that fits the theme.  Everyone may read a different book, but that’s what makes it fun!  At book club, we rant and rave and chat about our selections in addition to enjoying a dessert.  Both groups are free; neither require registration.

Middle School Book Club is open to grades 6-8.  Its next installment will be held from 6:00-7:00 pm, Monday, April 2, in Community Room East at the library.  Percy Jackson fans get ready because we’re reading books by Rick Riordan!

High School Book Club is open to grades 9-12 and will be held from 6:00-7:00 pm on Thursday, April 5, in Conference Room 1.  This month’s theme is comedy, so come prepared for laughs.

Interested in learning more about these or other Joplin Public Library services for teens?  Contact me at the Teen Department, 417-623-7953, ext. 1027.  Happy reading and have fun storming the castle!

piecing me together

Writing about social justice issues can be difficult when the audience is composed of middle school students because of the complexity inherent in such discussions. RENEE WATSON’s “PIECING ME TOGETHER” addresses issues of race and social justice deftly and accurately while maintaining authenticity of character.

The main character, Jade, is a poor, black teenager who attends a predominately white private school. She is smart and driven, so she is given many opportunities. But she begins to realize that most of these opportunities are given out of pity rather than as rewards for her real scholastic successes. She knows she is supposed to feel grateful, and she does. However, she also feels frustrated that her teachers and mentors view her neighborhood, family, friends and status as hurdles to overcome rather than as integral to her being.

Jade initially transferred to the school because she was excited by the possibility of visiting a Spanish-speaking country on the study abroad trip her school sponsors every year. She’s certain she will be chosen to go; she is a star Spanish student who assists classmates with their assignments, and she has a nearly perfect GPA.

Instead, her counselors select her for Woman to Woman, a mentor program that pairs underprivileged students with successful women of color to attend culturally enriching workshops and events. The program sounds great, and it culminates in a college scholarship, but Jade wants to be chosen for programs because of who she is and not in spite of it. At the same time, she must navigate new and old friendships and family relationships as well as her passions. In addition to being an excellent student, Jade is a talented and passionate collage artist who is inspired by the recent officer-involved shooting of a black teenager in neighboring Vancouver, as well as by York, the slave who traveled with Lewis and Clark.

“Piecing Me Together” offers a nuanced discussion of the way black kids can be treated, both in school and society, even when intentions are good. Jade’s relationships with her friends, her family and her mentor provide excellent opportunities for discussions of race and social justice issues. For example, when Jade confronts her Spanish teacher regarding his decision not to select her for the study abroad program and he explains that it is because she is already given so many opportunities, readers can better appreciate what true support of underprivileged and minority youth can look like. When Jade’s new friend Sam argues that her experience with a racist store clerk was not, in fact, racist, readers learn what being an ally should look like. When Jade comes to Maxine with her concerns about the mentor program, readers can better appreciate the importance and value of speaking up. The novel, while targeted toward middle school readers, is an excellent choice for any reader interested in realistic fiction and/or social justice fiction.

The First Day of Spring is but two days away: Easter Lilies, jonquils, irises, and daffodils push up through soil; buds return to trees; avid gardeners start seeds; and cats pounce Springtime prey. Indeed, Spring is upon us. As are the allergies, the thunderstorms, and the bugs. I thought I would try to appreciate these creepy-crawlies by reading David MacNeal’s “Bugged: The Insects Who Rule the World and the People Obsessed with Them.”

We’re introduced to bugs with a staggering statistic: “for every one of us [humans] there are roughly 1.4 billion insects.” According to MacNeal, that’s 10 quintillion bugs, approximately 7,400,000,000 humans and 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects. In other words, it’s a bug’s world and we’re all just living in it. It makes sense, then, that we learn about the who, what, when, where, and whys of bugs and the influence they have.

MacNeal opens his self-proclaimed cabinet of curiosities with those who breathe life into dead bugs. That is, bug taxidermists. In an Entomology Department (of a boutique) in Lower Manhattan, we learn that pinning bugs isn’t as simple as catching one and shoving a pin through its thorax. Meet Lorenzo, who’s pinned and mounted bugs for twenty-plus years. He pulls a water bug (cockroach, really) out of an overnight-soak solution. Equally appalling and interesting is that the bug was dried, packaged, and shipped from Thailand to be mounted and purchased in NYC. Lorenzo further prepares this cockroach, I mean water bug, by carefully removing its innards and otherwise making it suitable for mounting and selling. In short, it must look good—collectors like a pretty bug. And, oh, the amounts of money they’ll spend to get one.

Vanity collections and collectors aside, MacNeal illustrates that all sorts of people study all sorts of bugs for all sorts of reasons. Leaving Lower Manhattan’s buggy boutique, we go underground with entomologists who study ants. We discover that their studies and modeling of ant behavior may lead to a better understanding of our own interactions with and impacts on the world. We learn how ants have influenced algorithms, specifically that of the Internet’s transmission-control protocol (TCP).

We come up for air in Colorado, where a woman works with tarantulas in a “Rearing Room” and we head to a “Mosquito Factory” in Brazil. In Brazil, we dig into the seemingly useless lives of mosquitoes not unlike the way they will soon dig into us. Fun fact: Half of human deaths, since the history of humans, are attributed to mosquitoes. Another fun fact: Beetles have destroyed over 60 acres of North American forests since 1994. Yet another: Because of bugs, wallpaper was once infused with DDT (which wasn’t banned until 1972).

Yet, in spite of death and decimation, bugs are, in fact, beneficial. Well, maybe not mosquitoes (or fleas), but bugs spur innovation. Insects can help us become healthier, fight disease, and, according to the author, perhaps help us “end our antibacterial plight.” Not to mention the increasingly apparent health benefits of eating bugs. Seriously! ‘Micro-livestock,’ as those within the field call them, contain significantly more calcium and iron than meats commonly consumed in the Western world. Other bug benefits include “first responders” that gnaw through decay, pest-controlling insects that save billions of dollars per year in the US alone, and the positive affects bugs have had on 21st century medicine.

What I took away from this book is for every bad bug, there is a good bug. Do I have a greater appreciation for these creepy-crawlies? Uh, sure. Other than mosquitoes. Lastly, I might mention that this book is not for the weak-stomached, as the author describes exterminators who allow bed-bugs to feed on their arms (and he tries it himself), the horrific symptoms of those with yellow fever, and other gut-wrenching, stomach-churning matter. Overall, the content of this book was fascinating, if at times appalling, and the writing good, if at times dense. You know, dense like the jungle. Where there are lots of bugs.

As always, happy reading.

betty

Before Betty Shabazz became an activist, educator, mother and wife to Malcolm X, she was Betty Dean, a young and ambitious girl growing up in Detroit.

For the first seven years of her life, Betty lived in Georgia, where she was raised by her aunt, Fannie Mae. “BETTY BEFORE X” follows a young Betty as she moves to Detroit to live with her mom and her mom’s new family. Although the novel is a fictionalized account of her childhood, LLYASAH SHABAZZ, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, and award-winning author RENEE WATSON based the story on real people, events and facts.

Betty loves her family and is an attentive older sister to her three half-sisters, but she struggles with feeling like an outsider in her own home. While her sisters play, her mother often expects her to clean and keep house.

Her activism begins because of her associations with certain friends and neighbors, particularly Helen Malloy, who steps in as a mother figure when Betty’s actual mother fully rejects her. However, events such as the lynching of a black couple in the South, the shooting of a black teen in Detroit and discriminatory hiring practices in her community fuel her work as a young activist.

Betty Before X highlights the different forms activism can take, as well as the polarizing effects it can have within an oppressed community. While the Housewives’ League encourages its members to only shop at stores that employ black workers, characters such as the mother of Betty’s friend Phyllis are angry about boycotts that exclude low-income families not able to shop at more expensive stores.

Like the story itself, Betty’s character is nuanced and realistic; she experiences anger, acceptance and happiness in equal measure when faced with friendship troubles, family problems or racism. Betty joins the Housewives’ League as a volunteer, handing out flyers and welcoming guests at luncheons; as she becomes more knowledgeable in the work, she takes on more responsibility, though she remains nervous when approaching strangers, particularly adult ones who view Betty and her organization as troublemakers.

She is also a pre-teen girl, with all of the joys and sorrows that come with that stage in life. She loves listening to records by popular acts such as Sarah Vaughn and Billy Eckstine, spending her allowance at the candy counter and talking about beauty products and boys with her best friends.

Overall, Shabazz and Watson’s story is both authentic and inspirational, and the story is compelling enough to classify as a page-turner. Don’t pass on the end papers. The author’s note, timeline and afterword provide important and interesting information that links the young Betty in the story with the important woman she became.

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

February ijazzbabys Black History Month.  Introducing the accomplishments of some of our descendants to children when they are very young is a good way to honor these extraordinary Americans.  I took a look at offerings from the Children’s Department at Joplin Public Library and chose some old and new favorites to consider using.

 

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler is a rhythmic, melodic romp through a day with a baby not yet old enough to walk.  “Mama sings high.  Daddy sings low.  Snazz-jazzy Baby says, ‘Go, Man, Go!’”  The story is written almost as a lyric and captivates young audiences, which is magnified by the energy of the reader.

 

specialWhat’s Special About Me, Mama? By Kristina Evans features a young child who sees himself in the faces of his family and wants to be told what makes him special.  His questioning is answered in a loving way by his mother, who reminds him that all the little things about  him add up to the special person he is.

 

hey.jpgHey Black Child, by Useni Eugene Perkins reminds children that being who they want to be is within their reach, that perceived limits are meant to be surmounted and it is within the power of every child to make the world into a better place.

 

mayaLittle People, Big Dreams: Maya Angelou, by Lisbeth Kaiser introduces the life of Maya Angelou in straight forward age-appropriate prose.  The books touches on her accomplishments, highlighting the impact she had on the world through her perseverance and unrelenting hope.

 

jazzThis Jazz Man, by Karen Ehrhardt plays with the rhythm and sounds of jazz, translating music into sound so that read aloud, the story becomes music.  The accompanying CD for this book features performance from legendary Jazz Men, who are also featured in the end pages.

 

nightA Night Out with Mama, is written by Quvenzhane Wallis, who is written also the main character in the book.  Quevenzhane is the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  This multi-talented young woman wrote of her experience attending the Oscars with her mother. Her fresh, authentic voices comes roaring through in this simple story of accomplishment and celebration.

 

Want more ideas for pictures books to share during the month?  Check out Scott Woods list at his blog, “Scott Makes Lists,” at https://scottwoodsmakeslists.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/28-more-black-picture-books-that-arent-about-boycotts-buses-or-basketball-2018/