Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Friday, July 10, 2020
First up is the brilliant They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, a powerful personal story penned by one of the most compelling speakers of our times. While Mr. Takei is best known for his hot takes on social media (or his groundbreaking role in Star Trek if you're a science fiction nerd like me!), this story speaks of the reflections of his time spent in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Unquestionably one of the great shames of our nation in the 1900s, this story tells a deeply personal account of courage and loyalty expressed by these Americans (and, as the story goes, by some of the people manning the camps.) The line illustrations of Justin Eisinger capture the facial expressions and tone of the story in well-crafted and intelligent ink, adding depth and detail to an already moving account of an American's journey. A powerful piece.
Next on this week's list is I Was Their American Dream, by Malaka Gharib. It is a shorter and more whimsical memoir that covers some familiar ground - an immigrant family learning to adapt to their new life as Americans. However, this story has a few components that make it really stand out to me. The first is that the family is not mono-cultural. Malaka's father is Egyptian and Muslim, while her mother is Filipino and Catholic, and much of the story revolves around the difficulties of trying to fit in three different cultures and ideals into one family. As Malaka grows and comes into her own, she also has to grapple, a little, with the reality that America is more than what it appears. Add on the expectations of her parents, who see her as a vessel to live out the American experience, and there's no shortage of complications! Another component that I enjoy is the art style. Intentionally whimsical, the book even invites the reader to cut out pages or dress characters with paper dolls (please don't do this if you have a library copy!). The light and fun art provide a compelling contrast to the relative severity of the story and does some pretty amazing things (it only uses three colors - can you guess which ones?). I highly recommend it if you're a fan of stories that balance well!
The next book on this week's list is less of a coming of age story, and more of a travel montage, and is one of the longer titles I've ever seen! It's The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Man, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito by Shing Yin Khor. In it, Shing, a Malaysian-American who has lived on the West Coast the whole of her life decides that she needs to see more of America than just the coast and big city life she's known. In a reversal of a usual trope, she decides to see the middle of America for herself, traveling along the famous Route 66. Along the way, she interacts with a great deal of Americana, from the clutter of tourist traps to the ghost towns that dot America's oldest highway. The author slowly reconciles her image of the two Americas, rural and urban, and makes some powerful insights into the heart of America. As a resident of a so-called fly-over state, I really loved this book's willingness to break the mold of the big city as being the final destination for any 'real American' and explore the quiet, kind center through an intelligent and observant lens. The watercolor art makes the dream-like qualities of the book stand out even more, and flow so well with the words and ideas on the page. While travelogues aren't for everybody, this one really grabbed my attention!
No Ivy League, a different sort of memoir by Hazel Newlevant. It tells the story of privileged, affluent, home-schooled Hazel stepping outside her comfort zone and coming face-to-face with her assumptions and beliefs as she takes on a summer job pulling ivy (an invasive plant) out of a forest near her home of Portland. Richly illustrated and compelling, this book really pushes readers outside their comfort zones through an active examination of privilege and the role it plays in shaping who we are and what we believe. Tack on some hidden history of the racist origins of the city of Portland and a fuller picture is revealed of the depth of Hazel's ignorance. It also manages to avoid lingering too long on guilt and doesn't feel overly burdensome to read. I enjoyed watching Hazel slowly become more self-aware, and the story is just light enough to keep pages turning. Highly recommended!
Friday, July 3, 2020
First up, Almost American Girl, written and illustrated by Robin Ha. A beautifully illustrated memoir about Robin, who comes to America from South Korea with her mother on what appears to be a vacation. However, the vacation turns into a relocation when Robin's mom - the person she's closest to in the whole world - reveals her intentions to marry a Korean-American and immigrate the two of them, and Robin's world takes a rather wild turn. Full of ideas about what it means to belong and searching for a sense of meaning, Almost American Girl is a great work about the power of art. This, in turn, is served by the amazing artwork used by this graphic novel! I loved so much about this story, but its clever and beautiful art really sells it for me. A worthy use of an A/C afternoon!
Bloom, written by Kevin Panetta. A splendid blend of slow and sweet romance and the importance of the consequences our choices carry, Bloom centers around Ari, who is struggling to find his place in the world. By rights, he is to inherit his family's bakery, but it's fallen on hard times and Ari doesn't really want to be chained to sourdough starter for the rest of his life. He dreams of playing in a band or, really, anything miles away. Enter Hector, a stalwart, even-keeled gentleman who happens to love baking. As the slow-burn romance unfolds, the leading lads' characters are wonderfully developed by intelligent and able prose. This story, coupled with an amazing monochromatic style at the hands of the incredible Savanna Garucheau was a novel I disappeared into for a few hours and emerged from feeling better about things - what more could one ask for?
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, does wonderfully with the ways in which a relationship can end. Not that the end of a relationship is anything close to wonderful, however this beautiful book examines with earnest candor the messy ways in which a toxic relationship harms a person. This book is must-read material for, well, everybody, but especially for people who've been through a messy breakup! We see the dysfunction Freddy, in her obsession over Laura Dean, brings to her life. Freddy's other relationships with friends and family suffer, and this book pulls no punches in exploring the depths of love gone sideways. Not to mention the incredible art, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, which takes advantage of the subtlety of design to do some truly incredible things that help tell this story. This is a graphic novel I have a hard time imagining without the pictures, which truly makes it stand out. The best of both worlds!
Okay, this next graphic novel is a little bit of a cheat, as it's more like a one-shot comic book or a graphic short-story, but it's too good not to include. I refer to Rainbow Rowell's Pumpkinheads. It's tempting to call this a perfect autumn read because it so strongly summons the best parts of fall, but I think that'd be underselling it. This is a book about the magic of one purposeful day. The best kind of story that details the celebration of the end of one great thing before the start of something new and unknown. A lot of the magic of the story comes from the amazing illustrations, crafted by the incredible Faith Erin Hicks, which really capture the setting. I love a good story about living in the moment, and this is one of the best of them. It's short but full of potent memory and well-crafted characters, and I enjoyed so much the friendship between Deja and Josiah. I'm thinking about reading it again just talking about it!
One of my favorite aspects of graphic novels is the way in which they can express emotion. As so much of how we communicate is non-verbal, having facial expressions and body language illustrated really helps communicate a tone or feeling. Hey, Kiddo, written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, is a deep and heavy look at family, at grief, and at growing through difficult circumstances. It is a masterwork at the art of conveying emotions, and at coming to terms with the difference between perfection and acceptance. The loose, flowing watercolor illustrations contrast well with the heavy and concrete topic matter, and I love the attention to detail that happens in key moments throughout the story. While it's not a typical summertime read, it is extraordinarily good, full of moving and sometimes difficult scenes that deal with Jarrett's family struggle with drug addiction. People looking for a pick-me-up should maybe look elsewhere, but for folks who want a great story, even if it hurts a little, this is an excellent choice. Also, it uses art as a coping mechanism, and I love it!
Finally, I've saved my favorite for last. Those of you who know me already know how I feel about Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak as a work of great importance to the field of YA novels. Speak: The Graphic Novel came out in 2018, so it's a little older than these other books, but the graphic novel edition so greatly enhances one of my favorite works for people to read that I had to include it. The stark, monochromatic illustrations provided by Emily Carroll place a powerful emphasis on Melinda's struggles with her trauma, and the subtle changes in her that promote her growth. A compelling and satisfying read from start to finish, Speak stands as a testament to what a graphic novel could be - the merger of two forms of art so flawlessly symbiotic that the story is enhanced page after page. Read this book.
As the first days of July wind down and the Fourth of July holiday fast approaches, I hope you'll pick up a graphic novel or two from this list - they really are exceptional, and I love that art and written word merge so well to create something more than the sum of its parts. Next week, I'll be back with another set of recommendations, so I hope you'll stop by! Remember that even though the NFPL is closed for renovations, these books can be checked out electronically through Libby and enjoyed on any e-reader or phone. Graphic novels look great on screens, too! I hope to see you again next week!
Friday, June 26, 2020
Friday, June 19, 2020
Anyway, first up is The Downstairs Girl Stacey Lee. This book is for fans of historical fiction, taking place in the late 19th century. Centered around Jo Kuan, a Chinese-American girl born in Atlanta, this book explores the powerful and horrific systems of oppression faced by so many Chinese-Americans in the South at the turn of the previous century. Jo, for example, cannot become a citizen of the US, even though she was born on US soil, and is relegated to living in a secret tunnel beneath a newspaper office. Jo is a clever and sometimes opinionated girl, whose wit and charm make a story about such dark topics relatively light to read. Her circumstances, however, require her to be nearly invisible, inside and out. As the story goes on, Jo takes on the role of an advice columnist and begins to outpour her strong opinions, especially on race and gender, under the guise of giving suggestions to other Atlanta residents. It's a wonderful plot device, especially the complications it leads to as the plot develops. A great read, full of character, and just enough intrigue, you'll come for the cool late 1800s aesthetic (horseback rides and sweet hats) and stay for the wonderful writing and clever plot twists.
Second, on this week's list is a second Chinese-American with whom no doubt most of you are familiar! I strongly recommend Marie Lu's Kingdom of Back to take up a week of your summer reading schedule. While this is technically another work of historical fiction, this story leans much more heavily on the 'fiction' part, taking place in both 1700s Austria and...well, elsewhere. The book follows the path of the musical genius Wolfgang Mozart and his older sister, Nannerl, who has the same (or perhaps better!) remarkable genius for music as her brother. However, the setting of the book is against Nannerl, who at the onset of the story, wants nothing more than to be remembered for her talent and genius. Lu's beautiful, poetic style writes a quickly-paced story full of equal measures of 1700s drama and magic. The stunning power of music as magic becomes a shifting point of focus through the course of the book, and its conclusion, well...you'll be thinking about it for days. If you enjoy music, or magic, or any kind of history, this book will have something wonderful to offer.
Next up, a book series for my shippers out there - as these books are so full of possible romantic pairings and intense, intense intrigue you cannot help but speculate! I refer to the excellent Shatter Me series, written by Tahereh Mafi, an Iranian-American. I admit to having only read the first couple of books, but this series of stories is excellent dystopian books. Craftily written about Juliette Ferrars, a girl in a post-apocalyptic North America who has the unfortunate power to kill whomever she touches, and a powerful organization called The Reestablishment, who are seeking to rebuild the shattered world. A tense and emotional thriller, with a great deal that centers around the importance of touch (and all the romance that comes along with it!), Shatter Me turns pages and leaves readers guessing, and Juliette is an incredibly written protagonist, avoiding a common trap in these sorts of books of having the main character be empty vessels for readers to put themselves into. She is cunning and full of personality, both for good and, well, not. If you enjoy guessing what's going to happen next, seasoned with the crackling energy of potential romance, these books are must-reads.
Speaking of must-reads, if I were to pull the magic out of Kingdom of Back, mash it into the intrigue of Shatter Me, and set it in a magical version of South America, I might get something half as good as the incredible Woven in Moonlight by Bolivian-American author Isabel Ibañez. A high, somewhat dark fantasy centered around Ximena, who serves as a decoy to the Illustrian royal princess Condesa. However, like all of her people, Ximena has been forced into exile by a brutal usurper, Atoc. As Ximena serves as a decoy, and Condesa starts the book seemingly weak-willed, Ximena sees it as her duty to keep her people strong while planning her revenge. But, when Atoc contacts Condesa, asking for her hand in marriage, things get turned on end! Ximena knows it is her duty to go instead, but she is torn by her conflicting emotions and sense of duties. Her choices open a whirlwind of events dealing with vengeance, magic, and all the wonderful twists and turns that are hallmarks of a real page-turner. Oh, and did I mention that Ximena has rare and powerful magic at her disposal? That she can weave power from the moon into tapestries? This book is an adventurous tale of swashbuckling rogues, dark magics, and a compelling and even empathic villain. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Finally this week we examine a personal favorite of mine from the last year or so, the incredible The Poet X, written by the rising star of literature that is Elizabeth Acevedo, who also happens to be Dominican-American. A book written in verse, The Poet X tells the story of Xiomara Batista, who struggles with growing up as a Dominican girl in Harlem, and addresses the unwanted attention her changing body creates by letting her fists and tough exterior do the talking for her. The Poet X is an incredible read about the power of self-worth and the essential importance of learning to use once's voice. It hums with an energy of change, and the writing flows so smoothly off the page that it is almost better to read this book aloud. And, while I am normally a fan of reading books on one's own, if the thought of poetry is scary, this is one book for which the audiobook does real justice! I cannot think of a better book that so well provokes thought on the problems of objectification we cannot seem to deal with as a society, and the scars it leaves on girls - who have to learn to face it and rise above it. Painful but ultimately uplifting, it is highly, highly recommended.
Remember that even though the NFPL is closed for renovations, these books can be checked out electronically through Libby and enjoyed on any e-reader or phone. I hope to see you again next week, where I'm going to wrap up Pride month with some excellent suggestions for LGBTQIA authors and books!
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
For each interaction, you can fill out this form for a chance to win.
Read-Aloud Videos are posted on our YouTube and Facebook pages each week. See your favorite staff members read stories new and old, sometimes with special animation. Check out past videos here, and here.
Read A Book! Fill out the form linked above for each book you read. Remember, ebooks are free to check out from our emedia site here. Reading aloud to younger children, or to the whole family counts as reading for everyone!
Tell Your Tale! Check out our story prompts, posted on our facebook and instagram pages, or here on our blogs. Write a story or create art from one or more of the prompts, and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your creation may be posted on our social media.
Selfie Scavenger Hunt! We will post a selfie on Facebook and Instagram of a staff member somewhere in Newton Falls. Find the spot, take your own selfie and send it to us at email@example.com.
You can fill out the entry form each time you interact with us, and you can do all the activities more than once. At the end of our summer reading program, we will draw names from these entries to win gift cards from local Newton Falls Businesses.
As the situation develops, we may be able to offer more and varied programs over the summer. Be sure to follow us on social media for the most current information.