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Ru daddin doodin unk furt! Ta ta oodas! Voobeck!

If you are confused, believe me, so was I! Those who read my reviews might remember that I’m a sucker for children’s books. So, I thought reviewing an award-winning picture book might fit the bill.

“Du Iz Tak?” by Carson Ellis is a Caldecott Honor Book for 2017. The Caldecott Medal is given out each year by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The winner of this year’s award was checked out, so I chose “Du Iz Tak?” one of the four 2017 Honor Books. I opened the book and began reading quickly.

None of the book is in English. The author created her own language for the book, relying on simple art and illustration to tell the story. To say I was underwhelmed was an understatement.

Then, at a library department head meeting, I was expressing my incredulity at the book and began to read it aloud to them. Somehow, something about reading it aloud gave it more meaning and made it interesting and delightful.

This is the type of book you can go back to again and again, picking up more details each time you go through the book. The youngest of readers or listeners will enjoy the absurdity of hearing this language and finding out what happens. Older readers will enjoy decoding, from the text itself, inference or the illustrations, that there really is a language here, and figuring out what the text actually says.

Either way, it’s a great learning activity to do with your children or grandchildren.

“Du Iz Tak?” is the story of a two damselflies who watch the shoot of a tiny plant unfurl. As they watch it grow, they wonder if they can create a fort within its leaves. Their work isn’t without problems as they are invaded by a spider and a ravenous bird.

In addition to being a wonderful story about the bugs’ creation, this also shows the cycle of life and seasons. It ends with a picture of hope.

My opinion of this book has changed from “flat-out weird” to “charming.” So charming, in fact, that when I served as a guest-reader in my daughter’s third-grade classroom last week, guess what book I brought?

Speaking of picture books at the library, here’s something new coming to Joplin Public Library. When we move to the new building (which should be late April or early May!), we are also re-organizing our picture book collection. Currently, they are shelved by the author’s last name in traditional library-ese.

However, kids usually want to find picture books based on what they are about, not who wrote them. So, finding books about dogs, or dinosaurs, or trucks, or families or whatever they enjoy can be a challenge. We will be changing this and shelving picture books by topic. Tammie Benham, our Children’s Librarian, has put all the picture books into about 10 major categories, with smaller categories in each. So, for example, all the books about animals will be together, with dogs, cats and zoo animals shelved separately within that section.

We hope this will make it simpler for your child to search for “just the right book.”

 

Working at the library has many benefits for an avid reader such as myself. One of them is getting to check out the sales shelf each day and finding additions to my ever-growing book collection. The library has a constant sales shelf filled with donations we can’t use in our collection, including books, magazines, movies and the occasional record album or puzzle set, and books pulled from our collection. At the rate that I buy books from the sales shelf I’m sure to be featured if a “Book Hoarders” television series is ever filmed.

This week I was delighted to find a couple entries in a favorite series that the library has in its collection as well. The “Incarnations of Immortality” books by Piers Anthony are old favorites that I’m rereading after having them come to my attention again. The series has the premise that Death, Time, Fate, War and Nature are jobs filled with actual people.

The first book in the series (and I’m of the opinion that you should always read books in order) is “On a Pale Horse” and features the role of Death. The book opens with Zane accidently killing Death, which means he must immediately fill the vacant position. Zane has a steep learning curve and makes mistakes, but he’s determined to do a good job. Zane is introduced to the other Incarnations and becomes mired in an intrigue masterminded by Satan. He soon comes to the conclusion that this job may the Death of him.

The following books are “Bearing an Hourglass,” featuring Time; “With a Tangled Skein,” for the Aspects of Fate; “Wielding a Red Sword,” focusing on War; and “Being a Green Mother,” with Nature front and center. These books explore questions of good and evil, world religions, and the afterlife. I also have to say that they’re action-packed reads with romance, intrigue and supernatural aspects combined.

Piers Anthony’s series featuring these larger-than-life characters is a great read, and the first five books can be found at the Joplin Public Library. You can also check out the sales shelf while at the library to see what treasures can be found for a low price. One nice thing about buying a book off the sales shelf is that you don’t have to worry about late fines if you forget to return it on time!

flyingThis anthology of short stories is edited by Ellen Oh, author and President of the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) movement.  Oh has gathered an impressive group of authors who each present a vivid and memorable voice.  Each story allows the reader to immerse herself in a different cultural experience.  A true representation of the melting pot that is the United States of America, readers may see themselves in these stories, or have the opportunity to peek into the lives of individuals who may be vastly different than their own.

 

From Kwame Alexander’s “mostly true” memoir of a young man in an Honor’s English class, to Soman Chainani’s bittersweet tale of a young boy’s journey of enlightenment, to the childhood grief of losing a parent projected so perfectly in Kelly Baptist’s chronicles, this book is full of tales that are sure to captive a wide, and hopefully diverse, audience.  The star-studded list of authors are impressive in their own right and Oh ensures their work continues to be read with the inclusion of an “About the Authors,” appendage.  The quality you’ll find inside these pages is inspiring.

 

However different the scenery in each story, some common themes emerge.  The varied experiences of children leave their mark, no matter in which culture they happen.  At the end of each story, I found myself wanting to know what happens next, always a sign of an excellent reading experience.

The Joplin Public Library has a fairly extensive collection of graphic novels, many of which I’ve reviewed previously in these pages. Still, there exists a bias against graphic novels. Many people view them as childish, lacking in literary merit. If that’s your perspective, I ask you to consider the work of cartoonist Art Spiegelman.

In his ground-breaking works “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History” and “Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began,” Spiegelman explores the Holocaust through the experiences of his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew. Part biography, part memoir, both works tell a compelling story.

“Maus,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 — the first graphic novel to do so – covers the mid-1930s through winter 1944. Vladek’s story begins in Czestochowa, a small Polish town not far from the German border. As a young man, he buys and sells textiles and describes a life of pretty girls who openly pursue him. Eventually, he meets and marries Anja, a clever but high-strung girl from a wealthy family. Anja suffers a breakdown after giving birth to their first son, Richieu, and the couple go to a sanitarium in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia so that Anja can seek rest and treatment.

After they return, political tensions rise, and there are anti-Semitic riots. Eventually, Vladek is drafted into the Polish army; he is captured by the Germans and becomes a prisoner of war. After his release, he reunites with his family.  But their happiness is short-lived, as the Nazi noose tightens around Europe. The Jews in Vladek and Anja’s town are moved from ghetto to ghetto amid worsening conditions. Families are split up. More and more people are sent to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. The couple arrange to escape to Hungary, but the smugglers betray them to the Gestapo, who arrest them and send them to Auschwitz.

“Maus II” picks up where its predecessor leaves off. Separated in Auschwitz, Vladek and Anja lead lives of starvation and abuse. But Vladek finds ways to avoid the “selections,” the process by which prisoners were chose for more labor or even execution, and hustles his way into working as a tinsmith and cobbler. He and Anja manage to exchange occasional messages, which keeps them both going. As the war progresses, Vladek and other prisoners are marched from Auschwitz in occupied Poland to Dachau in Germany. When the war finally ends, the camp survivors are freed. After a time, Vladek and Anja are reunited.

Woven throughout Vladek’s story is the tale of father and son, who share a troubled, tense relationship. “Maus” and “Maus II” are as much about being a Holocaust survivor as they are about being the child of Holocaust survivors. Art is eager to hear his father’s experiences so that he can write about them, but he has little patience for the older man’s anxious, miserly ways. Much of “Maus II” is devoted to their relationship as Vladek’s second marriage falls apart and his health deteriorates badly.

Spiegelman employs an animal motif to tell his story. In keeping with Nazi propaganda, Jews are represented as vermin, as mice. Likewise, Germans are characterized as cats, Poles as pigs, French as frogs, and Americans as dogs. This technique adds a surreal quality to horrific historical events, particularly when characters masquerade as others, such as when Vladek and others wear pig masks over their mouse faces to hide their Jewish identities.

 

 

If you have any qualms about “reading” an illustrated work, be assured that the story is text-driven. The artwork is black and white, and there is a fair amount of detail in the frames.

If you don’t mind the heavy subject matter during this holiday season, I highly recommend that you pick up “Maus” and “Maus II.” They offer a unique, accessible interpretation of a horrific time in history. You can find them in the Teen Department of the Joplin Public Library.

 

 

At the time of her death, Italian cooking legend Marcella Hazan was working on what would become her final book, writing longhand in notebooks that her husband and collaborator, Victor, translated and transcribed. That book, “Ingredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market,” serves as a testament to Hazan’s status as a treasure in the culinary world.

“Ingredienti” teaches the reader how to shop like Marcella Hazan. The ingredients are the most basic component of any recipe. You might be able to follow the instructions in her cookbooks, but without quality ingredients, the home cook stands little chance of faithfully replicating the recipes as intended.

“Looking for ingredients should be more deliberate than dropping them into your basket and checking them off a shopping list,” Hazan writes in the introduction. “Become familiar with them, establish a connection, and allow them to guide you to making food that you enjoy and will be pleased to share.”

The book is divided into sections entitled “Produce,” “The Essential Pantry” and “Salumi,” containing therein portraits of individual foods, ranging from artichokes, that spiny, somewhat intimidating but oh-so-delicious vegetable,  to lardo, a solid piece of pure, uncooked pig fat cured with salt, garlic, herbs and spices. The result is a well-organized, fast read that is easy to reference.

Hazan provides tips on selecting items, as well as storing, preparing, and serving them. She provides detailed instructions on how to maintain a large chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and she isn’t swayed by the argument that homemade pasta is superior to factory-made.

“When matched to its most appropriate sauces, the flavors of store-bought, factory-made boxed pasta are fully as remarkable and satisfying as those of the homemade variety,” she writes, though she cautions that not every supermarket pasta is created equal when it comes to quality. Spaghetti cries out for a simple tomato sauce. Short, concave or tubular pasta are best paired with “morsels they can pull inside them,” such as sauces containing meat or vegetables.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit for me was this one, for serving risotto: “It is a gracious gesture, when serving, for the host or hostess to shake the plate with a circular motion to spread out the risotto so that the guest can eat starting at the edges, where the risotto will be cooler, then proceeding toward the center, where its heat takes longer to abate.”

“Ingredienti” delights all the senses. Hazan – and presumably her husband, as translator – has a facility with language that adds layers of temptation, elevating what one would otherwise consider a humble object. Take, for instance, what she has to say about fava beans: “Fava’s soft, velvety pod is as fuzzy to the touch as the beans inside it are smooth.” Or, in discussing Amabito no Moshio, a Japanese salt, she writes, “No other salt has such suave manners. It disappears into the food you sprinkle it on … and flavors emerge with precision and clarity.”

Hazan does an excellent job of describing smells. For example, tomatoes “should have a decidedly earthy, almost farmyard scent,” and “marjoram’s fragrance is charming but fragile.”

She also makes rich use of similes and metaphors. The white bulb of fennel is described as being “as hard and large as a boxer’s fist,” and an onion “is the bass player in the combo of flavors that I am putting together, the rhythm section that sets and drives the pace of its fellows.”

Finally, Hazan acknowledges the difficulty of obtaining the most quality of ingredients. Unless you grow your own herbs and vegetables or have access to a well-stocked, reliable farmers market, you must visit the grocery store. And let’s face it; not all grocery stores will carry that genuine extra-virgin olive oil or imported pancetta. To help you stock your pantry and follow the advice given in her fine book, Hazan provides four pages of online resources.

You’ll discover “Ingredienti” on the new non-fiction section at the Joplin Public Library. But don’t read it while hungry, I warn you. I found myself wanting to gather ingredients from my refrigerator and pantry – pasta, garlic, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano – and throw something together to tempt my taste buds. Instead I resorted to swiping a spoonful of creamy ricotta from the already open container in the fridge, but that’ll be our little secret.

gardenAbout a year after I started working at the library, Courtney Dermott joined our staff, working alongside me in our Circulation Department. I enjoyed her company here for the next nine years or so until her retirement. More recently, Courtney was on our Library Board of Directors, last serving as President. Sadly, Courtney recently died, leaving many bereft. She will be missed. Courtney would be happy to know that several of her friends and club mates have remembered her with Memorial Gifts to the library. You may not be aware that we buy materials in honor or memory of people (and organizations). We will select and purchase items that friends or loved ones feel would be suitable to memorialize a loved one or honor someone’s birthday, anniversary, graduation, or other event. Included in those recent memorial purchases is the title I’m reviewing this week, Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to t he Best 500 Species for the Garden by Alan Branhagen, which the Garden Club purchased in her memory.

This is a terrific book, lots of beautiful photos of all the plants included as well as full descriptions and information on how to grow them, where to use them in the landscape and their ornamental attributes. All that comes after the first eighty pages or so which delve into the whys and wherefores of using native plants as well as inspirations for design and selecting the right plant for the right location and use.

You may well be tempted to skip over those first pages and jump right into the plants themselves, which are broken up into numerous divisions, including shade trees, evergreen trees, small trees and large shrubs, vines, prairie perennials, woodland perennials, groundcovers and more. Many, if not most, of the plants listed were at least somewhat familiar to me, but there were quite a few I had never encountered before that I can recall, although most of those are plants I would not normally encounter in life or reading as they are succulents (which I generally don’t care for) or plants that only grow in specialized environments (like bogs, which I have never had a need to find plants for).

I was amazed at how many plants we now grow in our gardens are, in fact, native, given that for many years gardeners preferred to garden with mostly European and Asian plants as they were considered more interesting and exciting. More recently, interest in native plants has grown because people are more aware of the effect on the ecosystem (growing natives provides food and shelter for all kinds of animal life, including butterflies and birds) and that plants that evolved in a given climate and soil, etc. are better fitted to thrive there. Himalayan poppies, for example, are beautiful and one of the few truly blue flowers, but they don’t like it in the Midwest. The native blue eyed grass, on the other hand, while not as showy does have some truly blue selections and is allegedly relatively easy to grow from seed although it does not transplant well. Pitcher’s sage (salvia azurea) is also quite blue and much easier to grow and widely popular with bees and other pollinators (as well as pretty adaptable and easy to grow).

So, if you are interested in familiarizing yourself with a wide variety of really good native choices for your garden, now’s the time to start planning for spring with this beautiful and informative book, among many gardening books to be found at the Joplin Public Library.

a-study-in-charlotte

     Are you Sherlocked?  The new season of the PBS show, Sherlock, has sent me down a Holmes and Watson rabbit hole.  Luckily, the popularity of the television shows Sherlock and Elementary on CBS along with the recent films starring Robert Downey, Jr., have inspired a rash of titles featuring the classic characters.  I’ve found radio plays, comics, stories imagining Holmes solving crimes without Watson or the other way ‘round, tales riffing on the original canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, books attempting to tie Holmes to Jack the Ripper or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a series depicting Sherlock in middle school, novellas featuring Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, adventures of Sherlock’s purported vampire twin, retellings from the perspective of Professor Moriarty, countless puzzle books, numerous “how to” titles for the art of deduction, and—believe it or not—a board book for infants entitled Little Master Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sounds Primer.   (On a side note, the last entry is part of a board book series that includes baby versions of Moby Dick and Anna Karenina in addition to the Pride and Prejudice parody, Goodnight, Mr. Darcy.)

     An interesting newcomer to the mountain of Holmes titles is last year’s A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.  I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s tagline, “You’ve never seen Watson and Holmes like this before.”  Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are 21st-century descendants of John and Sherlock—both Londoners dropped into an upper-crust Connecticut boarding school for reasons I cannot relate due to massive spoilers.  (Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of this plot I cannot reveal due to spoilers, massive or moderate.)  Watson and Holmes are atypical teens leading atypical lives trying to balance homework assignments, dances, and rugby practices with extortion, kidnapping, and murder.

     James “Jamie” Watson meets Charlotte Holmes at Sherringford, the posh school he attends on a rugby scholarship.  Jamie secretly wants to be a writer, an aspiration he cultivates out of the public eye as he navigates his new surroundings.  He has grown up in the U.S. and, most recently, London which he misses desperately.  Jamie’s estranged father and his new family live only an hour away, another sore point.  Charlotte, as you can imagine, has been busy with other activities.  Her upbringing reflects the family business—training in observation, deduction, the sciences (yes, all the sciences) sprinkled with lessons in lock picking, computer hacking, and wiretapping.  Jamie first spies Charlotte at the weekly poker game she runs in her dormitory’s basement.  A few days later, they officially meet and have the awkward conversation about their ancestors; a few weeks later, they are becoming crime solving colleagues bonding over clues in Charlotte’s personal laboratory.  By the end of the semester, they are fighting for each others’ lives.

     This book is really about relationships—between Charlotte and Jamie, Charlotte and her family, Jamie and his family, Charlotte and her past, the main characters and the school, Charlotte and…wait a minute, can’t tell you that one another spoiler (a HUGE one, trust me).  Certainly there is plenty of action-filled plot; by finals week, this Holmes and Watson duo unravel the mystery behind an assault, a poisoning, a deadly snake, eerie recreations of the original Holmes stories, an attempted murder, blackmail, clandestine surveillance, and a school-shuttering explosion.  This doesn’t even count the roller coaster ride occurring in the last few chapters of the book!

     Brittany Cavallaro successfully translates the spirit of the original Sherlock Holmes stories for a current audience.  Her main characters are interesting, three-dimensional blends of wit, intelligence, generosity, loneliness, adventure, and heart.  Her secondary characters are fleshed out as needed for the story, appearing when needed to further the plot then receding into the background until their next task; they aren’t necessarily flat or uninteresting just not as rounded as Holmes and Watson throughout the book.  Instead of directly translating Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories point by point into Sherringford, Cavallaro blends elements from several of them to create her mystery.  Some elements are more obvious—an exasperated-yet-grudgingly-respectful detective, Mycroft Holmes becomes Charlotte’s brother Milo, Jamie’s solicitous dorm mother, a murder weapon purposefully copied from The Blue Carbuncle (among others).  Charlotte displays the distinctive personality traits of the original Holmes, including an opiate habit which sets up one of the most moving scenes in the book—Jamie nursing Charlotte through an overdose attempt and its aftermath.

     A Study in Charlotte is an entertaining romp of adventure and mystery (with a dash of romance) that incorporates realistic situations and a serious topic or two along the way.  It’s a fun read, well-suited to high schoolers and teen lit. lovers looking for a quick book.  Due to some mature language and topics, it may not be to everyone’s taste.  You can find this book (and a variety of others) in the Teen Department of the Joplin Public Library.  Hope to see you soon!