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If you enjoy inspirational fiction titles with a bit of murder and mayhem in them, you will enjoy today’s author. TERRI BLACKSTOCK is an inspirational cross-over author. She began her writing career under two different pseudonyms writing romance. Her books were published by the mainstream press and she frequented The New York Times best-seller list.

A spiritual awakening caused her to shift her writing into suspenseful drama. Although filled with suspense, mystery, the occasional murder and drama, Blackstock never fails to interweave the worldview and faith of her characters. Two books I will highlight today are no exception.

“IF I RUN” and “IF I’M FOUND” are the first two titles of a planned trilogy. The third book, “If I Live,” is set to be published next spring.

This trilogy is really several stories in one. The series as a whole tackles the lives of Casey and Dylan, who each are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Casey’s is from the childhood trauma of discovering the suicide of her father, who she believes was a victim of murder rather than suicide. Dylan, on the other hand, is a veteran who has survived an attack that killed many of his friends. His PTSD causes him to be honorably discharged from military service. Upon arriving home, he discovers his best friend has been a victim of a vicious murder.

The victim was also a good friend of Casey’s. But her DNA, fingerprints and other evidence cover the crime scene, and Casey has disappeared. Dylan is hired by the family and the local police department to find Casey and return her to be charged with her friend’s murder.

If she was innocent, why did she flee? I kept asking myself that question. Casey appears to be the protagonist plagued by making dumb decisions, causing the reader to involuntarily yell at her, “How come you are being so stupid?!” Not once, not twice but over and over again.

Each of the books also contains a story within the story. There is a subplot in “If I Run” of a young teen’s disappearance. In “If I’m Found,” the subplot is about child abuse and the fallout of the accusations. Each subplot is resolved within the book, but Casey’s continued story of being on the run and Dylan’s attempts to find her continue throughout. Hopefully this will be resolved in book three.

Joplin Public Library has the first two books of this trilogy in regular print and audio. We also have the first book in large print. If you enjoy clean, inspirational reading but with a twist of suspense, you will enjoy all of Blackstock’s works.

On a personal note, if you have not yet visited the new Joplin Public Library, it is your loss. We are still a work in progress, and things are changing each day. You will be surprised and delighted at what you find. Come see us!

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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.”

 

It’s been a long time coming. When I arrived at Joplin Public Library to become director in 2010, I had no idea this project was even started, let alone that it needed finished. When a board member asked me the status, I had to research to even figure out what they were asking about.

The project to which I refer is the “Bob Phillips Files” project. In Phillips’ own words, “Back in 1983, I was asked to prepare a feature story for television about a Joplin firm that repaired department store mannequins. I didn’t know it then, but from that beginning I went on to do over 460 TV features, which were called the Phillips Files. Done in the four state area, they aired between 1983 and 1997. Along with some talented photographers, we covered a lot of ground – traveling interstate highways and country lanes – up mountains and down hollers – to document the people places and things that make up this many-faceted area.”

In an October 2003 press conference then-Joplin Public Library Director Carolyn Trout announced the acquisition of Phillips’ archived tape files. Carolyn said, “Bob Phillips had a 3-decade career in television broadcasting in Joplin, and when he retired in 1998, Joplin audiences missed that very distinctive voice. Now, with the donation to the Library by KODE and Nexstar Broadcasting of the taped archive of Bob’s work, that voice will be familiar to generations to come.”

The taped segments were filmed on what was an industry standard for that time – ¾” broadcast tapes. However, as the years progressed, this technology became obsolete, the tapes began to disintegrate and machines able to play the tapes became scarcer.

Joplin Public Library began to digitize these programs to make them available to the public. However, equipment failure of the old machines stymied further progress.

Enter MSSU’s KGCS-TV. Their Director of Creative Services, Bill Hunt, is a former colleague of Phillips. Bill had the skill and the equipment to be able to complete converting the tapes to a digital format. Recognizing the importance of these vignettes in protecting this bit of Joplin history, he completed the conversion process.

Joplin Public Library has just received a complete set of the Phillips files on DVD, which are now available for public check-out. This set of 30 DVDs reflects interesting people, places and industries of the four-state area as reported by Phillips.

While this project was in process, I took the time to watch several episodes and thought, “Wow. I’d like to visit that place!”, “I never knew that!” or “How interesting!” But, many of the people and places he reported on are no longer around, their history and memory preserved in Phillips’ reporting.

There is something of interest to everyone in these DVDs: animals, cars, art, industry, antiques – the list goes on. There are also profiles of area businesses — some who are still in business, but others who have closed.

These are a slice of life in the four-states in the ’80s and ’90s. Check them out and remember some of our not-so-distant history. They’ll bring back people and places you’ve not thought of in years.

Imagine you are 13 years old. You are female. You are illiterate. You live in post-Taliban Afghanistan. You are little better than a slave in your own household, being treated cruelly by your father’s second wife, and your own mother is dead. Oh, and by the way, you have a cleft palate, and you are nicknamed “Donkey-face” by the area bullies, and sometimes even by your own half-brothers.

“Words in the Dust” by Trent Reedy, a former American soldier in Afghanistan, introduces us to Zulaihka, a 13-year-old Afghan girl and her family. Some of the events in this book are based on actual things that happened to Reedy during his deployment to Afghanistan. His author’s note at the end recounts the details true to his experience.

Zulaihka does as much as she can to keep her disfigurement hidden by her chador, a head covering which she can pull across and cover her mouth, but she is still mistreated and scorned by others.

One day while she is out on an errand for her stepmother, she is seen by American soldiers who are in her town. They later offer her surgery for her disfigurement. She is thrilled at the prospect of being normal, but her hopes are dashed when the American helicopter isn’t able to take her to Kandahar for the surgery.

Another day, again while running errands, but this time ending up being chased by the police (you’ll have to read it to find out why the police are after her), Zulaihka meets Meena, the village seamstress who had to give up being a university professor under the reign of the Taliban.

Meena knew Zulaihka’s mother, and knew her mother loved ancient Afghan poetry. With patience and care she awakens Zulaihka’s desire to learn and begins to teach Zulaihka to read and love the poetry as her mother had.

In order to learn to read, Zulaihka practices writing in the dirt — thus, the title of the book, “Words in the Dust.”

Dreams are coming true for Zulaihka’s family. Her father and older brother begin to work for the Americans as they work to rebuild the country. Their economic position is improving.

Her 15-year-old sister is to be married, the first step in fulfilling her dream of being a beloved wife and mother. She is marrying a much older man as his third wife. Still, Zeynab, her sister, believes in “happily ever after.”

Zulaihka eventually does get her surgery, and returns to her home, only to find the town bullies still refer to her as “Donkey-face.” Tragedy engulfs the family, and Zulaihka and her family struggle to carry on.

Meena offers Zulaihka a ray of hope, offering her an opportunity to travel to Herat to live with a respected Afghan woman, receive a full education and eventually go to university. But can Zulaihka receive permission from her traditional Afghan father?

You will have to read this children’s/young adult crossover book to find out how the story ends. Reedy includes a glossary, pronunciation guide and suggestions for further reading. With all that is going on in this area of the world, this book gives a good glimpse into the daily lives of Afghans as well as the struggle it can be for young women there to learn and to make a difference.

After reading the book, I wholeheartedly agree with a comment by Katherine Paterson, noted children’s author, who wrote the introduction to the book. “He (Reedy) has given me an Afghan friend for whom I care so deeply I cannot read a news report without wondering how what has occurred to affecting her life.”

“Words in the Dust” is available in both print and ebook versions at Joplin Public Library.

The end of school and beginning of summer is upon us. For some, this time may include road trips and extra time spent in the car. What better way to utilize these otherwise boring times than to jump into other universes, times and places with an audiobook?

Audiobooks are great for all ages. One of my first experiences with them came in a cross-country trip with my husband and three young children. As we were camping our way across the United States, the time in the car could have become a challenge with the kids and their typical “He’s touching me!” type interactions.

That trip, I tried my first audiobook. Our vehicle didn’t have a cassette deck (yes, it was that long ago), so we made do with the kids’ plastic toy cassette player. We’d play a section of the book after lunch each day and before settling down for the evening to sleep.

It worked like magic. We’d stop the story at an exciting place, and the kids couldn’t wait to pick up the tale the next day. I figured out audiobooks are brilliant!

So, today, I’m going to highlight some of my favorite audio series for different ages that would be great for a road trip, or just to enjoy at home.

For youngsters, I love C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Even pre-school children love these tales of princes, princesses, talking animals and evil queens. Younger children enjoy the stories on a basic level, yet older children begin to pick up on the theme of good versus evil and the eternal love of the Creator.

Joplin Public Library has all of the Chronicles in audiobook as well as print. Only the first title, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is available in downloadable audio through MoLib2Go, however.

Another good children’s series which I won’t elaborate on here is Lloyd Alexander’s classic Chronicles of Prydain series. It, too, is full of adventure and the saga of good and evil.

For teens, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson. Our former Teen Services librarian, Cari Rerat, introduced me to this series.

Elisa is the chosen one. The younger of two princesses, she is very average and unremarkable, and filled with self-doubt, though she bears a Godstone, a holy gem imbedded in her stomach and marking her for great service.

On her sixteenth birthday, she marries a handsome and worldly king who wants to keep their marriage a secret. Her life becomes filled intrigue and mystery as she is kidnapped and becomes the key to political alliances and, essentially, world peace.

The trilogy is not only adventure and escapades in a strange and primitive world, but a coming-of-age story in which Elisa matures into a strong and capable woman.

I hesitate to begin on my adult list of favorites. It will be hard to stop.

Jodi Picoult is a master story-teller. Although I’ve not listened to everything we have available in audio by her, I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read or listened to. I tend to learn from them as well.
House Rules deals with murder where a boy with Asperger’s becomes the main suspect. Leaving Time is a suspenseful story interwoven with different times and viewpoints that deals with elephant conservancy. I kept thinking back to the information in it when I visited an elephant camp in Thailand this spring.

Another of my favorite authors is Francine Rivers, an inspirational author. She has a fascinating book, The Last Sin Eater, that highlights an Appalachian tradition of which I was completely unaware before reading the book – that of a person being chosen by a community to “eat” its sins, becoming an outcast in doing so.

She also writes historical, Biblical and contemporary fiction as well. She’s a multifaceted author, and I enjoyed getting to meet her at the American Library Association convention last summer.

If you have any road trips this summer, consider using audiobooks to help pass the time. Joplin Public Library has many selections in CD or MP3 disk format, as well as a good selection of digital downloadable titles through MoLib2Go.org.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's library

A couple of months ago a member of the library Board of Trustees told me I should read “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein.

Since this was one of my bosses telling me to read this book, what else could I do? I put myself on the holds list for it.

Although it’s written for 8-12 year olds, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is also a nominee title for the Missouri Mark Twain Book Award (a children’s choice award sponsored by the Missouri Association of School Librarians).

Alexandriaville, Ohio, has not had a public library for 12 years. Its library had been torn down to make room for a downtown elevated parking garage.

Enter bazillionaire Luigi Lemoncello. Eccentric in an extreme Willy Wonka-ish sort of way, Lemoncello has made his bazillions of dollars by creating games and puzzles as oddly creative as their maker.

The public library made a difference in Lemoncello’s life, especially the year he was 12 years old. So, he has built Alexandriaville a new public library. It is not just any library. We are talking state-of-the-art fancy with many current and only imagined library technologies.

This library features a large domed room where The Wonder Dome has sections of high-definition video screens lining the dome like orange wedges. The Dome can become the constellations of the night sky, or make viewers feel the whole building is lifting off the ground, or even represent the different sections of the Dewey Decimal System.

The library contains holograms, audio-animatronic characters, hover ladders that float patrons directly to the book they want, an IMAX theater, an electronic learning center and interactive dioramas.

The library even has an automated book sorter (finally, something the new Joplin Public Library will have!) that checks in and sorts books after they have been returned. There are computer labs, and gaming labs, and anything and everything that can be fathomed. Smell-a-vision? Yep, it’s here.

Kyle Keeley, 12 years old, loves games of all sorts. He also likes winning games. He doesn’t particularly like to read, however, unless it is an instruction or hint guide to a video game.

There is an essay contest for 12 year olds. Twelve will be selected as winners to attend a library lock-in before the grand opening. They will get to experience all the goodies that Lemoncello has put in the new library.

As one of the essay winners, Kyle joins a cast of varied characters, including the requisite villain, the nerd, the cheerleader and others.

Little do these 12 year olds know that the lock-in isn’t the real purpose of the event. The real purpose is a game that is a weird twist between “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Hunger Games,” but “with lots of food and no bows and arrows.” The true game of the weekend is to find the secret exit, a way to get OUT of the library.

The children must figure out a puzzle that tells them where to find the secret exit. They have to figure out what are clues to the puzzle, and then solve what these clues mean. The book integrates information on library use (online catalogs, the Dewey Decimal System, the helpfulness of librarians), along with puzzles and word games to solve.

The author weaves in references to around 100 different books, both for children and adults.

It is a wild and wacky ride through the library. Some adults who’ve read the book haven’t enjoyed it, but this one certainly did. I listened to the audio book, yet found when I checked out the print copy that I missed out on some of the visual puzzle clues.

Joplin Public Library has this book in print, audio and download. Grabenstein has a new Mr. Lemoncello library book that just came out, “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.” It will be available soon.

Joplin’s own new library is scheduled to begin its general construction this week. There will be a construction camera on site where you can watch the progress of your new library building, fabulous in its own right, but not as wacky as Mr. Lemoncello’s. Watch the website (www.joplinpubliclibrary.org) for the camera link.

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I need to begin this review with an apology to high school English teachers everywhere – especially the ones I had. I confess and apologize for having hated having to analyze all the symbolism, types and anti-types, foreshadowing and the like in what we read. I wondered, perhaps rightly, why an author couldn’t pen a good story to be just that. A good story.

 

So, to humor them, I would make up the most outlandish interpretations of symbolism in the books we were reading, only to have other students act like my ideas were interesting, brilliant, and likely meanings the author intended. I apologize.

 

Enter today’s book, “Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman. Perhaps Gaiman has just written a good story. Perhaps he inserted some symbolism and allegory into this book, a la C.S. Lewis or Tolkien. Either way, I keep seeing things in this book.

 

“Ocean at the End of the Lane” draws the reader in. It is a story about growing up and beginning to understand grownups. “Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. . . . Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

 

By the end, however, it becomes a story showing the colossal battle between good and evil, with a trio reminiscent of the Trinity.

 

The narrator is a 40-something man returning to his childhood home area for a funeral. Killing time between obligations, he ends up wandering to Sussex where he grew up.

 

Without conscious thought he finds himself at the dilapidated farm house pond (that Lettie, who we will meet later, calls an ocean) at the end of the lane near where his house once stood. He encounters an old woman who invites him in for a cup of tea. Unbidden, the memories begin to return.

 

The narrator’s family had a boarder, an opal miner, who committed suicide in the family car.   This act was “lighting a fuse on a firework” that led to an opening for evil to come into their world.

 

After an encounter which was too bizarre to share with adults, our narrator found Lettie, an eleven year old girl who may have actually been thousands of years old; her mother, Ginnie Hempstock, and her grandmother, Old Mrs. Hempstock. Each Hempstock seems to be ageless and forever.

 

The evil that was unleashed into the world revealed itself in Ursula Monkton, a being from another reality who arrived to earth, leaving a wormhole inside the seven year old narrator so she could come and go between realities at will.

 

Ursula becomes the family’s babysitter and housekeeper, releasing darkness that is unfathomable, un-understandable, and downright terrifying to our narrator.

 

Lettie Hempstock however, in her magical and mystical way becomes his guardian and protector, occasionally relying on assistance from the older Hempstocks.

 

In the battle to remove the evil from the world, Lettie makes a supreme sacrifice to protect the narrator and is released into her “ocean” to return again at a time unknown to all.

 

Throughout the book, I saw pictures of sin, good and evil, pictures of the God-head, redemption and sacrifice. I saw pictures of the transfiguration and the Second Coming. The price Lettie paid to save the nameless boy invokes Biblical themes of sacrifice for salvation.

 

Gaiman writes a story a hard to summarize because there are so many layers and complexities to it. Not everyone will enjoy it, but I certainly enjoyed the audio version. Gaiman is a skilled narrator which unusual for authors reading their own works. JPL has the book in print and downloadable audio.

 

Read it, savor it, and look for meaning in this book. Or perhaps, it’s just a good story meant to be only that. A good story. You read it and decide.