Not emails. Nor tweets. Nor texts. Letters. The kind you thought people didn't write anymore. And not to friends or family, either, but to that steadfast and necessary minority that will save the world, if given the chance. I'm speaking, of course, of young farmers.
Most of these young farmers haven't grown up in farming communities, and certainly not within a farming culture. Here in Kansas, farm numbers decline steadily as farm size and farm debt grow, trends that reverberate throughout the land. What is a young farmer searching for inspiration and advice to do?
I know one answer to that question, and I'm happy to report that some beginning farmers and farmers-to-be also know it: attending the annual Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Salina. There, farmers, cooks, thinkers, writers, policy-makers and all manner of like-minded individuals and organizations gather every fall for a weekend of agrarian conversation. For those few September days, the collective level of knowledge and inspiration surely rises above any other gathering in the state.
If you're a regular, you've heard and met a great many of the writers who appear in "Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future," a collection by the esteemed Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. And if you're not familiar with the Land Institute, well, you're in luck, because this book is like a Prairie Festival in your living room, without the wind. Dozens of well-known yet down-to-earth agrarians are gathered in one place, and they're talking to you.
I was drawn to "Letters to a Young Farmer" by its brief appearance in "Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry," shown recently at Liberty Hall. Berry naturally has a piece in the book, and it's remarkable, yet altogether understandable, how many co-contributors mention him as inspiration.
The letters take many forms, from short and heartfelt notes to how-to lists, historical surveys, political manifestos, economic primers, ecological cogitations, advice columns and reminiscences. Some are serious, some are funny, some are a little overwhelming. All are sincere. No matter the tenor, I was glad to get a chance to read what many of my heroes and heroines have to say, as well as get acquainted with some new names.
Gary Nabhan, an amazing farmer/teacher/writer, feels bad for previously neglecting farmers, though I detect a hint of false modesty. "May you plow in peas," he concludes. Mas Masumoto, a California peach grower, says that pruning his trees taught him a valuable lesson: "When you farm, you have to learn how to see the future."
Michael Pollan bows to Berry, placing the new generation of farmers along the line that runs from Sir Albert Howard to the present, reminding me of the talk Berry gave in the Land Institute's then-new greenhouse some thirty years ago. Chef Alice Waters, drawing tasty connections from farm to fork, reminds us that farming is 85 percent of cooking.
Some new heroes and heroines include Dan Barber, a writerly gourmand who I've somehow missed. His letter proves that an award-winning chef can also be a master storyteller. Raj Patel is an activist and writer who has taught "Edible Education" with Michael Pollan, which sounds like my kind of class. Patel quotes Rilke, author of Letters to a Young Poet, and urges young farmers to look to the source of life.
Almost as if they realized that many of the missives in Letters to a Young Farmer included serious strings of (well-meaning) imperatives, the editors close the collection with Berry’s best-known poem, the lighthearted and cantankerous “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” One imperative leads to another for 57 lines, ending in “Practice resurrection.” My favorite advice to any young farmer, or anyone else, can be found on line 38:
"Be joyful though you have considered all the facts."
-Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
Like many people, I spent a fair amount of time in my teenage years writing poetry. Some of it was quite good (I even won some state-wide awards for it!), but most of it was pretty average. Eventually I stopped feeling the urge to write, and gradually poetry went from being a daily part of my life to something I thought about rarely, if at all.
In the past couple of years, though, I’ve found myself reaching for poetry more regularly. From classics like Langston Hughes’s "The Weary Blues" to recent collections like Yrsa Daley-Ward’s "Bone," when I’m in the mood to just immerse myself in what language can do, there’s nothing else like poetry.
The single biggest driver in getting me back to poetry, though, has been discovering verse novels. Verse novels are books that use poems — usually, but not always, short poems of less than a page or two each — to tell a sustained narrative. Generally speaking, I'm not particularly plot-driven in my reading tastes, but I love seeing how verse novels tell a story while still retaining the focus on form.
In honor of National Poetry Month, here are a few verse novels I've enjoyed.
"Brown Girl Dreaming" — This is actually a verse memoir by prolific children's author Jacqueline Woodson about her life growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, splitting time between family in the Northeast and the South. It's beautiful and thoughtful, all about how we create ourselves and are created by our families, and I've pressed it on many a reader since I picked it up in 2015. (Woodson also wrote my favorite book of 2016, "Another Brooklyn," which reads somewhat like a verse novel itself.)
"The Poet X" — This novel is the fiction debut of National Poetry Slam Champion Elizabeth Acevedo, and it's absolutely fantastic — moving, fast-paced and funny. You'll fall in love with 15-year-old Xiomara Batista, a blossoming poet discovering her talent with words while falling in love for the first time and trying to cope with her strict, religious parents. Acevedo performs the audiobook herself (available on Hoopla), and it's easy to understand why she's a champion performance poet; I kept delaying going to sleep so I could listen to just a little bit more.
"The Crossover," "Booked," "Solo," and "Rebound" - When world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni spoke at KU last year, she said that she'd taught many very good poets over the years, and one truly great poet: Kwame Alexander. I'm a huge fan of Alexander's work, so it was thrilling to hear him name-checked by such a legend. You can't go wrong with any of Alexander's verse novels, but my personal favorite is "The Crossover," about basketball and family and friendship and loss. I'm especially excited to get my hands on "Rebound," the newly released prequel to "The Crossover."
I'm excited to read more in this form, so help me out, readers — what are your favorite verse novels?
— Meredith Wiggins is a reader's services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Lynn Burlingham has had quite the journey, with New York, London, and even stops in Norway all in the mix before finding herself here in Lawrence. Her latest book, "Jewels that Speak," recounts her life while offering a look into two storied families of her heritage: the psychoanalytical Freuds and the glass forging Tiffanys, each replete with their own fascinating legacies and conflicts.
The book is emotional, charged, and raw. There is no softening of drama and loss; likewise, moments of clarity and beauty are vivid and fully formed. "Jewels that Speak" is a fascinating family saga, and a memoir that can be, at times, stranger than fiction. I was lucky enough to chat with Lynn, who offered some further insights into her work.
She will also read from her book and sign copies at The Raven Book Store on Friday, April 27th, at 7:00 PM.
Q: Can you say more about what drew you to the idea of using jewels as a frame for your story and how you developed the theme?
A: Thinking about my life and how to tell my story, I saw a thread that would serve to connect and to frame it. My great-grandfather was the American artist and designer Lewis Comfort Tiffany, and my twice-great-grandfather was the jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany. Within the family, jewels and beautiful objects carried associations beyond the merely aesthetic.
With that in mind, I began to consider the jewels given to me by the most important people in my life, beginning with the antique birthstone pendant my father, who would soon after disappear from my life, had given me for my sixteenth birthday.
Q: What was it like writing your memoir, especially given how personal—and at times, heart-wrenching—it can be?
A: Writing "Jewels That Speak" called up every ounce of courage and resolve that I could manage. I had to pull out buried memories, dust them off, and try to understand what I could not understand when they occurred. I relived the fraught tangle of connections between the Tiffanys, Freuds, and Burlinghams, as expressed in the struggle for the soul of my grandmother, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, and my father, Robert Burlingham.
To the Tiffanys’ and Burlinghams’ horror, Dorothy left her husband in New York to undergo Freudian analysis in Vienna, then moved with Anna Freud to London, remaining there, with Anna, for the rest of her life, while her young son, Robert, became Anna’s first patient. These thorny relationships set the course for my own life, with its dark underpasses and shaky bridges, its unnamed demons that had to be dealt with along the way. I wanted to confront both the brilliance and the darkness that lurked beneath the glitter, to understand where I fit into the story and then be free to move on.
Q: How long did it take to put all the pieces of this sprawling family story together, and what was your process like?
A: I worked on the memoir for ten years, writing draft after draft, wrestling with the story I had to tell. It was a start-and-stop process: write what I can say now and come back later to what I can’t say yet. I would put it away from time to time, to germinate, in effect, then take it up again with renewed energy and focus.
The hardest struggles had to do with trying to convey the turmoil generated by mental illnesses in the family, with separating out the cross-currents of love and abandonment, and with having to revisit my three broken marriages and their consequences.
Q: Were there any memoirs — or other works — that inspired you while creating Jewels That Speak?
A: Yes, there were many. But a few I’m thinking of right now are: "The Road from Coorain" and "True North" by Jill Ker Conway, "The Diary of Virginia Woolf," "The Liars’ Club" by Mary Karr, "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls, the novels of Marilynne Robinson. All these books ring out with voices that speak harsh but believable truths. Reading them led me to hope that, just as I benefited from their truths, readers would benefit from mine.
Q: I can’t help but wonder: what do you think Anna Freud, hypothetically, might make of "Jewels That Speak"?
A: I do not think that Anna Freud, hypothetically, would have liked it. In spite of her profession as a well-known child psychoanalyst, I never thought she wanted to know the truth.
Q: Having experienced life in so many different locations, how does Lawrence compare? Does it have anything on Sørenhus in Norway?
A: The happy ending, not a fairy-tale ending but an ending in which the heroine finds peace and her true home, for me is here, because my husband is here. I would have followed him anywhere. Sørenhus is where we go to reconnect with the best parts of my past. It’s filled with memories of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and children enjoying Norway’s brief summer by the sea. But Lawrence is where we’ve made our family, and it’s the place where I belong.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I’m working on a little book about marriage. Little book, big subject.
-Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Of all the picture books I’ve read to my kids, Chris Monroe’s have been some of the most fun, so I was pleased to hear a new Netflix streaming series based on her "Monkey with a Tool Belt" books is in the works. Monroe’s versatility rivals that of her plucky primate protagonist, Chico Bon Bon.
She’s written and illustrated books about a pair of sneaky sheep, a bike-riding ladybug and a dog who can walk on two legs, not to mention titles she has illustrated for others. In the meantime, she cranked out a weekly comic strip, "Violet Days," which ran in Minnesota newspapers for over two decades. Monroe was gracious enough to answer a few questions recently about her life and work.
Q: Your "Violet Days" strips really capture the essence of being a kid in the 1970s and ‘80s. I see a lot written lately about how much childhood has changed since then. What do you think?
A: I think certain things about being a kid are always going to be the same. Having fun hanging out with your friends, listening to music, making each other laugh.
One big change, of course — I've definitely seen groups of kids hanging out and they are actually all checking their phones and basically ignoring each other. You hate to see this great hang time be wasted for no reason. It seems so alienating. Obviously not all kids are like that, but I feel sorry for kids who are addicted to their phones. I hope that has a backlash and kids move away from that someday, and honestly, I think they will. Because kids are cool. Kids are free thinkers. They'll rebel.
Q: Critters of various species, ready to tell it like it is, are ever present in your work — monkeys, ducks, sheep, squirrels, dogs, even the pickle and nickel in "Bug on a Bike." Have you been a prolific pet owner, or are you more comfortable just drawing twitchy, bushy-tailed wise guys?
A: I've pretty much had pets on and off for my entire life. Lots of cats when we were kids. Lots of tragic cat deaths. A misunderstood peekapoo named Max. Siberian huskies when I was in college in Minneapolis and that was just stupid. They were awesome pets, but south Minneapolis was not their ideal habitat for working off stress. A dog named Red Dog who dug so many craters in the lawn and buried food in the furniture. More beloved cat tragedies. Lots of years as a renter when I moved back to Duluth, so no pets. Now I have a min pin named Riley and my life is complete.
Q: When I visited La Jolla, Calif., where Dr. Seuss spent much of his life, I saw what looked like real-life truffula trees growing everywhere, and his work made a different kind of sense to me. You’ve spent most of your life in Minnesota, and continue to live in Duluth. Do you think the Midwest environment has influenced your visual style or the content of your stories?
A: My visual style is definitely affected by living and growing up in northern Minnesota. Particularly in my oil pastel drawings and watercolors. I like to try to draw trees, water, dark forests, night skies, moonlight, animals, and so yes, I am shaped by it.
I think my comic is certainly a reflection of where I am from; I mean, definitely the childhood stories, they'd have to be by their very nature. But I hope it taps into universal themes.
Q: How does your process differ between creating comics and children’s books? Do you prefer one medium over another?
A: I have a very similar process for both children's books and comics. I tend to brainstorm, write a lot of things down in my notebooks. Sift through that, edit, expand on ideas. I always put together a rough outline. For the "Violet Days" comic, I break the idea into five points. Picture books have to fit into 32 pages. So it's a tight space for both. I think about how the art can tell part of the story for both books and comics.
I wrote the first monkey book the exact way I would approach writing a comic. I didn't know how to do it another way. I was basically winging it.
In a way, children's books are easier because there's more time involved, and it is all baby steps. With the comic, the deadline is looming. With both, I write to myself. If I like it, I trust it. I try to, anyway! It can be really anxiety-producing if you have doubts. I've at times been overwhelmed by illustrating and the reality of how many different ways there are to depict a character. It's hard to know when to stop, pick one, move ahead. You could literally draw a walking dog a million ways. You have to choose. Dial it in. The comic is much less involved. Decisions are made quickly. It's scrawly. It's funny. It cracks me up sometimes.
I don't really prefer one over the other if I have the time and space to do them. Right now I am enjoying illustrating a picture book. It's fun to not think about the writing.
— Dan Coleman is a collection development librarian at Lawrence Public Library.
When I think of the Lawrence Public Library, I think video games. Some people won’t like that, but I can’t help it. At the library, we have a killer game collection. And it just got killer-er with the addition of Nintendo Switch games.
Nintendo’s little system that could is off to a great start. In just over a year, the handheld/home console hybrid has moved more systems than its predecessor, the (underrated) Wii U. But the sales wouldn’t have come without some great software to back it up.
Nintendo celebrated the 31st birthday of "The Legend of Zelda" by releasing one of the series’ most ambitious (and critically acclaimed) games yet. "Breath of the Wild" (Wii U, Switch) takes place a century after a catastrophic event wreaked havoc on the kingdom of Hyrule. I immediately fell for the beautiful Studio Ghibli-esque world, but even more praiseworthy than the art direction is the amount of freedom "Breath of the Wild" gives its player.
After an expertly crafted introduction, you’re free to climb, run, ride, and glide anywhere you see. People have sprinted through the game in less than an hour, while others have taken their time and played for hundreds. The game’s not perfect; I miss classic "Zelda" dungeons and tools, but for me that small complaint pales in comparison to the game’s living, breathing and incredibly fun world that’s stuffed to the gills with puzzles, challenges and lovable weirdos.
If you love fantasy, but want something a little less joyous, put a hold on "Dark Souls Remastered," out this May. The series is known for its punishing difficulty, but the "Souls" games are more than exercises in masochism; their intricately designed, nightmarish fantasy landscapes are populated by wildly inventive monsters that can now ruthlessly kill you on the go.
Prefer something with a little more futuristic bent? Dust off the old Nintendo Wii (or Wii U) and step into Samus Aran’s space boots. It’s been over 30 years since the original "Metroid" blew the gaming community’s collective mind by revealing that the blocky orange robot that just saved the universe was actually a woman (very progressive for a video game in 1986). The "Metroid Prime Trilogy" (Wii/Wii U) is a collection of atmospheric, first-person, exploration-focused shooters and a great warm up for when "Metroid Prime 4" finally comes out on Switch (not soon enough).
If you need a sci-fi shooter for your Switch right now, things don’t get much more intense than "DOOM." It’s a reboot of the classic demons on Mars — you read that right — first person shooter. Its frenetic, propulsive gameplay rewards you for attacking aggressively. If you’re squeamish, this may not be the game for you; it is very violent.
And there are just so many other great games. "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" — probably the best go-kart-racing game since its predecessor "Mario Kart Double Dash." "Arms" — Nintendo’s newest and screwiest franchise, which has you boxing with elastic, you guessed it, arms.
"Splatoon 2" remains one of the most creative and unique shooters I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Instead of racking up kills, your goal is to spray ink wherever you can. At the end of the match, a cat named Judd tallies everything up and whichever team has inked more turf wins. If you prefer a series that’s a little longer in the tooth, "Kirby Star Allies" takes the power-sucking pink puffball and pairs him with three partners. Whether those are controlled by the computer or your friends is up to you.
And last but certainly not least, I’d be crazy not to mention "Super Mario Odyssey," one of the best Mario games to be released yet. Taking pages from "Super Mario 64" and "Super Mario Sunshine," you’re dropped into wacky digital playgrounds brimming with things to do. Woo a monster. Do some 8-bit platforming in a poncho and sombrero. Escape a rampaging T. rex ... on a scooter. And much much much more. In addition to classic Mario running and jumping, "Odyssey" introduces Cappy, a ghostly hat that allows you to possess dozens of the game's inhabitants, which opens up brand new styles of play that never disappoint. Except for maybe the pine tree. The pine tree just moves very slowly.
You still want more games? We’ve got them, but you’ll have to check them out yourself. What are you waiting for?
— Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
The Lawrence Public Library is proud to announce that J. Drew Lanham is coming to speak in Lawrence on May 24. Lanham connects storytelling, wit and land ethics to advocate for greater participation in the natural world — especially among people of color. His presentation, "Range-Mapping: Connecting the Conservation Dots for the Human Animal" will be held at 7 p.m. May 24 at Liberty Hall.
He is a conservation ornithologist, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist; Drew is also an Alumni Distinguished Professor and Alumni Master Teacher at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Reading his award-winning book, "The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature," has heightened my awareness that most other people out on the nature trails have white skin like me. Lanham poetically describes the phenomenon of the uncommon black or brown companion birders. He shares lyrically written stories of deep connections to family, his strong sense of place, a passion for nature, optimism and humor, along with the frustration of being the uncommon African-American ornithologist in a predominantly white field.
Lanham is a terrific ambassador who inspires more people to enjoy the natural world, yet he also recognizes the empowerment shared by people with similar cultural experiences.
“Birding While Black” is a poignant chapter in his book reflecting fears similar to the negative experiences expressed by the phrase “driving while black”. A black man risks being accused of suspicious activity simply for being out in a remote environment.
The wild things and places belong to all of us. So while I can’t fix the bigger problems of race in the United States—can’t suggest a means by which I, and others like me, will always feel safe—I can prescribe a solution in my own small corner. Get more people of color ‘out there.’ Turn oddities into commonplace. The presence of more black birders, wildlife biologists, hunters, hikers, and fisher-folk will say to others that we, too appreciate the warble of a summer tanager, the incredible instincts of a whitetale buck, and the sound of wind in the tall pines. Our responsibility is to pass something on to those coming after.
As young people of color reconnect with what so many of their ancestors knew—that our connections to the land run deep, like the taproots of mighty oaks, that the land renews and sustains us—maybe things will begin to change.
This is a rallying cry to help more people connect to the outdoors, and I am inspired by his message. I will be reaching out to be more inclusive in planning future nature-related events. As a board member and volunteer with the Kansas Native Plant Society, I have organized and attended many outings over the last 18 years; almost all the folks who have joined me have been white. We need to be ambassadors to bring more kids and adults together from diverse communities to explore and connect with natural places.
I crave being outside in nature, but I was well into my 30s before I first enjoyed a wild environment. I wish someone had taken me under their wing to share wild places when I was a kid. I will be following Lanham’s lead; when I visit a natural area I will respectfully invite old and new friends of different ages, varied hues and diverse origins to go along. I hope you will join me in this effort, and together we will exponentially increase the advocates for the natural world.
— Shirley Braunlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Late in 2016 I came across an article touting hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah”, as the newest happiness trend that could help everyone make sense of a tough year. After reading about the candle-lit, warm-blanket, fuzzy-socked Danish tradition of getting cozy, I deemed myself a hygge natural and moved on.
Yet, that funny little word stuck with me. Nearly a year later, at the last Friends of the Library book sale of the year, I came across two books that would send by life spiraling towards a quest for supreme hygge. I learned that hygge is so much more than just getting cozy — it’s a mindset, a way to relate to others, and even a life goal.
I’ll freely admit that I plucked "The Year of Living Danishly" off the shelf because the beautiful blue cover caught my eye. As soon as I opened the book, that funny little “hygge” word jumped off the page and into my life again. Russell is a Brit who expatriates to Denmark for a year after her husband receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for Lego.
She decides to use her year abroad figuring out why the Danes are so notoriously happy, but spends the first chapter of her book trying to figure out where the heck all the Danes are hiding. They are at home, she finds, getting hygge with friends and family.
Russell illustrates the material side of hygge — buy more blankets — but the best parts of this book come out of her hilarious life experiences as she adopts the Danish way of life. I finished this book with a better understanding of what makes a nation happy despite ridiculously high taxes and “soul-destroying” winter darkness.
Written by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (talk about street cred!), this book showed that hygge is so much more than a blanket or a warm fireside drink with friends. Hygge is really more of a feeling that you can experience anywhere.
Thanks to hygge, Danes can pass on that snooty, over-starched restaurant because a hyggelig noodle shop is preferred, and they can avoid that loud, boisterous party, because the small, informal gathering with close friends is so much more hygge. Wiking goes so far as to call hygge socializing for introverts. Where do I sign up and how do I get started?
After reading about the chapter “Light,” I found myself precariously perched on top of a ladder replacing all the “alien autopsy” LED lights in my home with warmer LED lights. It was a bit dangerous, but worth it to mimic the color temperature of candlelight and sunsets, which clock in at a very hygge 1,800-2,500 Kelvin.
The chapter “Home” compelled me to rearrange the house to accommodate a hyggekrog, or nook, perfect for curling up with a book and a drink. Speaking of drinks, in the name of science I took it upon myself to try Wiking’s recipe for glogg, a.k.a. mulled wine, to which I give the ultimate hygge seal of approval.
I was overjoyed to hear that you can hygge all year round. That cozy summer picnic? Super hygge. Taking a springtime stroll with a good friend? Hygge-rific! Curling up on the couch to watch a thunderstorm? That’s probably the most hygge of all, because all that danger outside makes you realize how safe and comfy you are inside.
Thanks to the library and the Friends of the Library book sale, my three month obsession with all things Danish and hygge led me to some interesting places. Here are some of my favorite gems:
Eat: " Cook Yourself Happy" — I dare you to try Fleming’s Kartoffelfad med Bonner, a.k.a. Bean and Potato Casserole, and not want to instantly slap on a pair of cozy socks. Her Hot Chocolate with Orange Syrup recipe isn’t too shabby either.
"The Year of Cozy" — While not written by a Dane, this book is the perfect intersection of DIY and hygge. The book, broken up by month, will have you cooking and crafting your way to hygge in no time.
Watch: Danish dramas are so dark! Make sure you watch these in the dead of winter with no ambient light or you won’t see a thing.
"The Bridge" — This dark drama about about a body found directly on the border between Sweden and Denmark will suck you in from the first scene. Wrap yourself in an extra cozy blanket for this one.
"The Killing" — AMC’s adaptation of a wildly popular Danish show is just as dark as The Bridge, but pulls much more adrenaline from the start.
Read: "The Book of Hygge" — An introduction to the philosophy behind hygge through quotes, proverbs, and deep explanation.
"The Almost Nearly Perfect People" by Michael Booth — For an examination on the dark side of all this happiness, Booth’s book provides just enough researched cynicism to get your head out of the clouds.
-Angela Thompson is the Friends of the Library program coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
I have been a terrible reader lately, and it is all because of the vile temptress of Netflix. For literal years, I’ve prided myself on being that pretentious person: not watching television, certainly not owning a television (goodness, no), not using the letters “T” and “V” in the same sentence, blah blah blah. My very patient friends have put up with this for a long time, and I’d like to publicly thank you. You were right, and I am now a huge, TV-addicted weenie.
In the last month, I’ve binged several shows, the most recent of which has been the American version of "Shameless" (which you can check out here). I’m having a great time, but I also have been majorly neglecting my to-read pile. Here’s what I have not been reading, but will maybe someday read when the latest season is over and also my laptop dies and maybe my internet gets disconnected:
"Bluebird, Bluebird" by Attica Locke
Hilariously enough, this has just been announced as a TV series, but that’s not my reason for wanting to read it. I listened to Locke’s earlier novel, "The Cutting Season," finding her writing to be captivating and realistic. She takes complicated characters and throws them a slow-burn thrillers while incorporating issues of racial discrimination, class inequality and other thoughtful topics.
"An Extraordinary Destiny" by Shekhar Paleja
This is a layered, literary family saga focused on three generations of Indian men and how their lives are impacted both by “fate” and by the decisions of their elders. It’s also the author’s debut novel, and folks who have read it have been raving about his writing style.
"The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore" by Kim Fu
According to my Bibliocommons account, it was almost exactly two years ago when I read Fu’s other novel, "For Today I Am a Boy," which is fascinating and lonely and, if not “enjoyable,” then definitely worthwhile. When I heard she had new novel about girls stranded in a disastrous summer camp, I was intrigued. Fu’s prose is sharp and not overly sentimental, so I’m eager to see what she does with this premise.
"Home Fire" by Kamila Shamsie
I’m not solely judging this book by its cover, but holy moley, is it gorgeous. Fellow Book Squad member Meredith highly recommended this one at our last staff meeting, and it would be wonderful for someone who wants to be deeply emotionally impacted by a story. If you click the catalog link above, you’ll see that it’s received high praise all over the place.
So, when will I get to these books? Who knows. I’d like to think I have more willpower to fight against the fierce embrace of streaming television, but that’s turning out not to be the case. With the weather getting nicer, however, it may be a perfect time to shut down the laptop, grab a book and tackle my to-read shelf outside.
— Kate Gramlich is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
February and March are Read Across Lawrence months at the Lawrence Public Library. The goal is to get everyone in the community on the same page by reading the same book at the same time. This year, we tried a grand experiment: one book for all ages.
"Wonder" by RJ Palacio was the perfect choice. Its central lesson resonates with all ages: “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”
In the spirit of “Wonder,” we’ve put together this short list of inspirational reads that focus on the universal themes of kindness and the power of friendship. All are available at the library.
“Dare to Be Kind” by Lizzie Velasquez
In “Dare to Be Kind,” Velasquez shares her remarkable personal story. Born with a rare genetic condition, Velasquez came across a viral video when she was 17 years old labeling her as “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” Instead of retreating, she decided to stand up and become an advocate for victims of bullying the world over.
“Dare to Be Kind” chronicles Velasquez’s personal experiences of being bullied and reveals her own battles with anxiety and disappointment. She shares uplifting advice on how we all have the power to overcome obstacles and move forward with greater positivity.
Velasquez will deliver the 2018 Read Across Lawrence keynote address at 3:30 p.m. today at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive. The event is open to the public, and no tickets are required.
“Born to Be Good” by Dacher Keltner
For readers interested in the science of kindness, Keltner’s “Born to Be Good” delves into the science of psychology to explain the evolutionary origins of human emotions. Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. His book is based on his postgraduate research examining the science of facial expressions.
Keltner proposes that perhaps survival is not a matter of who is the fittest, but rather of who is the kindest. “Born to Be Good” is a thought-provoking book about how positive emotions like love, compassion and awe lie at the core of human nature and shape our everyday behavior.
“Kindness Boomerang” by Orly Wahba
Wahba’s “Kindness Boomerang” will help you put kindness into action. Her premise: “When kindness is shared, it grows. And every bit of kindness we put into the world comes back in some way. That is the kindness boomerang.”
Wahba began her career in as a middle school educator, where she taught her students to build their self-esteem and to use the power they have to influence the world for good. In 2011, she founded Life Vest Inside, an organization that encourages people to embrace the incredible power of giving and recognize that in times of hardship, kindness, like a life vest, keeps the world afloat.
The book challenges readers to practice kindness in relationships, kindness with themselves, kindness with nature and kindness in many other forms. It recommends specific daily acts of kindness and also provides inspirational quotes and things to reflect on. Wahba’s book is a call to action for anyone who wants to live a more connected and fulfilling life.
-Kathleen Morgan is Lawrence Public Library’s Director of Development and Community Partnerships.
The American Library Association's Youth Media Awards season is a heady time for librarians in youth services. We’re all trying to figure out what the best book will be while waging our own mental campaigns for our favorites by thinking very compelling arguments at the selection committee. Like the Oscars, we wait all year to find out which books will gain top honors. The big-name awards are the Printz, the Newbery, and the Caldecott awards.
The Printz is the top honor for literature written for teens, and the Newbery is the equivalent for children’s literature. The Caldecott is awarded to children's books (usually picture books) with the best illustrations. You’re probably asking, "Well, this is great, but why should I care?" Because they are all great books! And especially this year, I think they signal a shift in the library and publishing community. Almost all of the books awarded top honors this year represented diverse voices and stories, clearly peeling away from representation of only those in the majority. No place is this more apparent than in the medalist and honorees for the Newbery for 2018.
Before we get into the joy that was the Newbery this year, a few notes on how books are judged: they have to be written in English by authors who spend the majority of time in the United States; there is one truly distinguished book but honor books can be named; it must be original, and it must be “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” published in the preceding year.
Now that we have that out the way, the winner of this year’s Newbery Medal is "Hello, Universe," written by Erin Entrada Kelly. The runners-up are: "Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut," written by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James; "Long Way Down," written by Jason Reynolds; and "Piecing Me Together," written by Renée Watson. Look at these beautiful books, celebrating stories that haven’t traditionally been part of the “distinguished literature” canon.
"Hello, Universe" follows Virgil Salinas as he consults his friend Kaori, a bona fide psychic, for advice on how to make friends with the coolest girl at school, Valencia. Through a thoroughly believable, well woven plot and some “help” from a bully, Virgil and his guinea pig, Gulliver, end up at the bottom of a well. Convinced she can feel something wrong, Kaori sets out to rescue him with Valencia's help.
These four characters — the bully, the psychic, the brave girl and the shy boy at the bottom of a well — are propelled towards each other. It culminates in a finale that I definitely saw coming, but couldn’t help grinning like an idiot over anyway. I cannot wait to put this book into the hands of everyone I meet. Well done, Newbery Medal committee, and well done, Kelly Erin Entrada, for producing a book to fall in love with.
-Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.