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Recently, the Joplin Public Library Board allowed me to attend the Public Library Association’s conference. Held every two years, this is the largest conference that specializes in public libraries. It has well-known keynote speakers and a host of workshops, all geared to those who serve in public libraries. It’s a wonderful week, even when it’s held in the winter in Philadelphia during its fourth major winter storm within a three-week timespan.

As much as I enjoy the sessions, however, the exhibit hall is a bibliophile’s wonderland. It is a paradise with all the major players and most of the minor players in publishing today. Then there are vendors with anything you can imagine related to libraries, library technologies and buildings. It’s a veritable paradise. (Ask me about scoring “Pete the Cat” socks!)

Exhibitors give away the usual convention swag — candy, pens, sticky notes, etc. But more importantly, vendors give away lots and lots of books! There are best-selling authors there signing their newest books; there are advanced reader’s copies of books yet to be published; and there are other books just being sold dirt cheap. Did I mention this is a bibliophile’s wonderland?

I received an advanced reader’s copy of today’s book. It will not be available until June 12, so Joplin Public Library does not have it — yet. “THE BOOK OF ESSIE” is a debut novel from MEGHAN MACLEAN WEIR, and the opening paragraph grabbed my attention: “On the day I turn 17, there is a meeting to decide whether I should have the baby or if sneaking me to a clinic for an abortion is worth the PR risk. I am not invited, which is just as well, since my being there might imply that I have some choice in the matter, and I know that I have none.”

Esther Anne Hicks — Essie — is the youngest child of an Evangelical preacher who has become a reality TV star. Her family is the star of “Six for Hicks,” a show that has followed every aspect of the family’s life for more than a decade. Every moment in life is scripted by the show producers and Celia Hicks, Essie’s mother, and shown for the world to see.

Essie’s pregnancy presents a problem to the family’s television empire. The show is popular and followed by thousands. This type of revelation could endanger the empire.

What should the family do about Essie? Should they sneak her away somewhere for a private abortion? Should they pretend and pass off a new baby as the seventh Hicks child belonging to Celia, Essie’s mother? Or do they decide to boost their ratings even more with a blockbuster wedding?

While the family is making decisions about Essie’s life, she is quietly making plans of her own by pairing up with a student she knows only slightly, Roark Richards. Roark is a senior at her high school, and Essie knows about a secret he is trying to protect.

“The Book of Essie” is told by three viewpoints — that of Essie, that of Roark and that of Liberty Bell, an ultra-conservative reporter whom Essie has contacted for help.

The characters in the story are created layer by layer, and the story is revealed ever so slowly by peeling back the layers of the characters like onion skins, one thin revelation at a time.

There are tough topics dealt with in this book, and because of that, some who have read advance copies don’t care for it. They were fascinated and captivated, but they were upset by sensitive topics.

It covers reality TV and a fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone preacher with a secret-filled family, but to tell you more would be a spoiler, so I will withhold that information.

Reading the book will answer your questions just as Essie finds answers to her own questions. Why did her older sister leave home and never come back? Who can be trusted with the truth? Can she win her freedom? At what price will her freedom come?

This book is on order and should arrive shortly. In the meantime, Joplin Public Library has thousands of other page-turners that will keep you entertained or informed.

Jacque Gage is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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I have a sickness, an affliction, an addiction. It is one my husband makes good-natured fun of, yet tolerates and even encourages.  He is an enabler.

Whenever I travel, it is inevitable that I will find a library.  If there is a library that can be sniffed out, I will be there.

I’ve seen the ruins of Hadrian’s library, the library at ancient Ephesus, the public library in old fort walls in Croatia, little public libraries in Jamaica (where by the way, the posted rules say you can’t have curlers in your hair, or allow underwear to be seen), and libraries at children’s hostels in India.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed them all, only once have I been brought to the brink of tears.

The British Library in London has an exhibit room, The Sir John Ritblat Gallery, more commonly called “Treasures of the British Library.”  There one can see “magnificent hand-painted books from many faiths, maps and views, early printed books, literary, historical, scientific and musical works from around the world.”

There I found original manuscripts by Bach and Beethoven, and Mozart amongst others, and marveled at how difficult their notation was to read, remembering the hours of tears and torment in trying to learn to play their works.

Farther away into the room, I found manuscripts of faith.  I never dreamed I’d get to see a Gutenberg Bible, but I did.  More awesome to me than the Gutenberg, however, was a Tyndale Bible from 1526, one of only three in known existence.  To know its translator had to hide while translating and had to smuggle his Bibles into England, and then was eventually strangled and burned at the stake as a heretic moved me unexpectedly.

All of this brings me to today’s books.  I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction. I have learned about events and times in an enjoyable way.  It’s important to remember, however, that historical fiction is not always 100% accurate.  Reading a book that piques my interest, drives me to learn more and do my own research. These books did that.

“The Ruby Ring” and “A Tale of Souls” are the first two books in the planned trilogy, “The Reformation – A Family Divided” by Karen Rees.  “The Ruby Ring” chronicles a family during the time during which William Tyndale began to translate the New Testament into vernacular English.  The only problem was doing this was illegal.  He knew allowing people to read the Bible in their own tongue would loosen the power the Catholic Church and priests held over them.

If Tyndale is caught, he will die at the stake as a heretic. So will anyone caught helping him.  Owen Alton, a man bound for the priesthood, catches Tyndale’s vision and is soon caught up in helping him.  Jane Horne loves Owen, and when he leaves England to follow Tyndale she gives him her ruby ring. The ring has its own story and holds a shocking key to her past.

“A Tale of Souls” picks up just prior to William Tyndale’s death during the reign of Henry VIII.  This volume tells of the tumultuous times between Henry VII and Bloody Mary.  During the reign of Henry VIII, he was a staunch Catholic until wanting a divorce and splitting from the Church over Anne Boleyn.  As he takes over the title of head of the Church of England, he abolishes monasteries, burns Lutherans at the stake and hangs Catholics.

With each subsequent king, the powers shift from Catholic to Church of England and back again.  Throw in other variations of Protestantism, Lutheran, Anabaptist and the like, and it is a royal mess.  When Catholics are in power, heretics (i.e. anyone not Catholic) get burned at the stake.

With non-Catholic rulers, monasteries are closed, church lands are seized to line the pockets of whomever is in power, stained glass windows are outlawed, and symbols such as crucifixes, rosaries and icons are illegal and destroyed.

After Lady Jane Grey’s eight-day rule, Bloody Mary seizes power and returns to a Catholic-based monarchy.  She begins again the search for heretics and anyone standing in her way.  History tells us she burned nearly 300 people at the stake.

Against these historical facts, the turmoil of a family who has people on both sides of the conflict plays out.  There is romance; there is deceit; there is suspense; and there is joy.  Rees has conducted meticulous research in making sure the history in her story of a divided family is accurate.

I look forward to the final book of the trilogy, because there were characters whom I came to care about, and I want to find out what happens to them.  “The Ruby Ring” is available now at Joplin Public Library.  “A Tale of Souls” is in our cataloging and processing department now, and will be available shortly.

 

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I don’t remember who recommended today’s title to me.  I tried to thank who I thought it was, but they only looked at me like I had a third eyeball, and had no idea what I was talking about.

Written by Mary Roach, who the Washington Post describes as “America’s funniest science writer”, “Gulp” attempts to make what could be a torturous read into something very readable, interest grabbing, and even chuckle-inducing, albeit at times crude, as it discusses topics generally considered taboo amongst the genteel.

Subtitled “Adventures on the Alimentary Canal”, it’s hard to fathom how a book on this topic could be considered interesting, let alone become popular. Yet, it is, if only because Roach takes such an unusual take on the subject, often adding in interesting material that is appropriate to whatever area of the canal she is describing at the time.

The author, though sometimes blunt and even crude in the book says, “I have tried, in my way, to exercise restraint… I don’t want you to say, ‘This is gross.’  I want to you say, ‘I thought this would be gross, but it’s really interesting.’  Okay, and maybe a little gross.”

Roach begins with the nose though this is technically above the alimentary canal, but plays into taste and eating.  She travels southward along the canal highlighting interesting sights and smells until she gets to the, ummm, end.

In the chapter “Nose Job” the importance of smell and how it adds to our sense of taste is exemplified through beer, wine, and olive oil smellers.  Did you know there are professional “smellers” and that it is not an inherent skill?  It can be learned, like a language, with “exposure and practice”.

From smell, she moves to taste, and devotes a whole chapter to the science and taste of dog food, going from there into the science of why we eat what we eat and why we despise other foods.  Worldwide, organ meats dominate some areas.  Not so much in the U.S. (I still have awful memories regarding certain organ meats prepared by my mother, in what I assume was an exercise in frugality, because I certainly didn’t consider it to be a successful plan for taste.)

Fletcherism was something I’d never heard about.  In the early 20th century, Horace Fletcher was a huge proponent of extreme chewing.  The fact he ever gained a following is amazing.  In Fletcherism, food is chewed until the food in the mouth is liquidized.  One-fifth of an ounce of green onion takes 722 “mastications before disappearing through involuntary swallowing.” Fletcher felt that extreme chewing would increase the nutrition absorbed into the body, resulting in the eater receiving double the nutrition.  This would save on the US’s overall food costs and result in less, you know, waste.

Roach continues her narrative asking many of the questions most of us have wondered about, but refused to verbalize.  Why do animals eat their own poop?  Why wasn’t Jonah dissolved by stomach acids when he was swallowed by the great fish?  Why doesn’t your stomach eat itself until there is nothing left?  Why is flatulence so disgusting?

Then there were a few questions she answered, that actually, I had never even considered asking.  Sudden death by defecation?  In there.  How do prisoners smuggle contraband into prison?  And what might they try smuggling?  Yep, it’s covered.  How about suicide bombing by placing explosives where the moon doesn’t shine?  Not effective, but she explains why.  Fecal transplants?  What???!!  And even more, WHY?  Question answered.

You may, or may not, enjoy this romp through the alimentary canal.  It certainly opened my eyes to much more than I dreamed it would.

Joplin Public Library also has several other of Mary Roach’s books, including “Stiff:  the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”, “Packing for Mars:  the Curious Science of Life in the Void”, “Spook:  Science Tackles the Afterlife”, and “Grunt:  the Curious Science of Humans at War”.   All these are available in print, “Gulp” is also available in downloadable audio through our e-content consortium at http://www.molib2go.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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.