“It’s cool to make cheese. It’s more than a distraction. There are big pots and thermometers, curd knives and skimmers, cultures, colanders. It is all about patience and alchemy, and yards and yards of cheesecloth. It’s hard to be sad when there is so much happening, most of it slow and magical. And it ends with cheese!” -from Eileen’s Picks
Is the sun back yet? We keep staring at the calendar! As we near the winter solstice, our staff members weigh in with a few ideas—novels, nonfiction, movies, graphic novels, video games, picture books, new books—to help us through the snow.You can also check out the Teen Holiday Gift Guide, and if you’re looking for eBooks, try our cloudLibrary list (Staying) Home for the Holidays.
What would my far-away nephews like to read this December?I settled in for a long winter’s night of research recently,dreaming of a list of picture books to sail them (and their parents) through the winter. Here are just a few from the idea pile: my nephews love richpictures and all the details, so my picks skewed that way, as well as towards journeysand joy.
Ocean Meets Skyby the Fan Brothers has a dreamy, imaginative voyage and may be a special story for young ones who are missing someone—which it feels like we all are, these days.
Lifthas a magical transporting elevator, but who gets to push the button?It’s a sweet story as an older sibling learns she wants to share an adventure with her younger brother. (Lift is worth requesting from MaineCat, but you can also find author MînhLe and illustrator Dan Santat’sgreat picture book “Drawn Together” at PPL or on cloudLibrary).
Layla’s Happiness, written by MariahadessaEkere Tallie,shines with love of family and a garden as Layla shares herdelight in the profound riches around her: stars! seeds! spaghetti! music!poetry! I love the rollicking movement and great perspectivesofAshleigh Corrin’s illustrations, like when I’m looking down through glowing fireflies at Layla dreamily looking up.
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythemade me smile this year with its mushroom house, beautiful colors,beleaguered frog parents,thedetermined, talentedPokko and a wonderful animal parade: it’s a really funread-aloud, too.
This graphic novel is a sequel to New Kid (winner of the 2020 Newbery Medal). Jordan Banks is returning to the upper-crust (and mostly white) Riverdale Academy Day School for eighth grade. This title focuses more on his friend, Drew. The two are now in their second year, and the racial issues continue to be complicated. Drew—who has darker skin than his friend Jordan—is treated differently by fellow students, and teachers.His new haircut causes unwanted touching by other students. The complications of race and economic complexities run through the story, from Jordan’s dad being pulled over by the police to students from a poor inner-city school coming for an eye-opening tour to Drew and Jordan going to wealthy Liam’s mansion. Jordan and Drew need to navigate the feelings of friends in their neighborhoods. Craft tackles all of this with honesty, empathy, and humor. Each chapter opens with parodies of covers of popular graphic novels such as Amulet and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (Scattered throughout the book in a Where’s Waldo kind of way are sketches of young adult authors like Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson.) Craft has created another winner – hopefully there will be a volume 3.
This sequel to 2018’s The Gilded Wolves was one of my most anticipated releases this year and did not disappoint in delivering non-stop action, decadent settings, and careening romance. After the dramatic conclusion of the first book, Séverin’s team has nearly fallen apart. Out of desperation, Séverin whisks his team from Paris to Siberia in a race to uncover a mysterious and powerful artifact. What they find is an untouched, abandoned ice palace full of frozen animals, broken goddesses, and deadly traps. Could this forgotten place be the answer to a series of disappearances and grisly murders? At the center of all the heady action, fantasy and romance is a quieter story of five unique, troubled young people who need each other to survive in more ways than one. This is not a standalone book, so be sure to check out the The Gilded Wolves, too!
Morgan and Eli are two indigenous children who meet in foster care at the beginning of this new series, hailed as “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle grade fantasy.” For Morgan, this might be just another stop in an endless series of homes since she was taken away from her mother as a baby. For Eli, it’s his first time away from the home he has always known. On the very night Morgan promises her new family she won’t run away again Eli disappears through a portal in their attic. Determined to bring him home before her foster parents wake up, Morgan steps into a world where winter may never end, and where the last inhabitants need her help.
Megan’s Escapism Picks for 2020
Want to forget about everything terrible? Yeah, me too. I recommend removing yourself from reality entirely with these tried and tested fantasy faves.
Another gem from Makoto Shinkai of Your Name, Weathering with You is an animated movie about Hodaka, a runaway teen boy, and Hina, a newfound friend, who begin a business magically manipulating the weather. Tokyo is going through an unnaturally long streak of constant rain, but Hina is able to summon the sun with prayer. I loved the ending to this one and the animation is gorgeous as always.
Promareis the first feature length movie by Studio Trigger, known for shows like Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia. I went into this expecting intense, dramatic visuals with zany colors and exaggerated expressions and Promaredelivers wholeheartedly. After a worldwide calamity of spontaneous human combustion, those who have the power of fire – the “Burnish” – are feared for their destructive abilities. The movie begins at full throttle with a dramatic fight between a heroic firefighting brigade (with mechs!) and militant pyrokinetic fighters and keeps the action high throughout.
I’ve adored the Fire Emblem series since I played my first one, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade. The games have the perfect blend of tactical thinking and fantasy-fueled story. The latest installment, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is impossible to put down. There’s a wizard knight school, tight-lipped mercenaries, branching story paths, and character backstory up to your ears. As a professor at the monastery, the player guides their class of students as they train to become knights while investigating unknown agents working against the archbishop and their own mysterious past. This came out in July of 2019 and I’m still playing it a year and a half later!
Rolled & Told is a great resource for the Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast. These books combine short adventures, new items and monsters, comics, art, and articles in a very approachable format. I’m always impressed with the variety of content. The book itself is also just a joy to flip through – the many contributors’ love of D&D just pours out of it. Check it out if you already like 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons and want to pick up some new tricks, or if you’re interested in the game and want to dip your toe into the worlds and stories it has to offer!
This series is the graphic novel adaptation of a Dungeons and Dragons podcast by the McElroy family. Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t love podcasts and I’ve barely listened to the first adventure of The Adventure Zone. But even if you aren’t already a fan, these books are pure goofy fun, with the bonus addition of some delightful art. My favorite so far is the second book, Murder on the Rockport Limited – I just love a good train mystery and whiz kid detective combo.
Nyneve, a young witch, casts a glamour on herself every day to hide her incredibly long hair. In this world, the length of your hair determines the power of your magic, and those with powerful magic are conscripted into the Witch Guard. Though her peers all fight to prove themselves the strongest and become one of the guard, Nyneve holds a deep grudge against the order and would do anything to stay out of their clutches – even, in a moment of desperation, cut off her hair and throw away all her magical power. The hook for this one grabbed me immediately and I was amazed by the art once I started reading. Out of all the witchy graphic novels I’ve read recently (and there are a lot!) this one is a star.
Patema, a teen girl who lives in a underground community, goes looking for a missing friend and falls down a hole… into the sky. She is saved by Eiji, a boy who lives in the above-ground world. With opposite gravity, ground, and sky, they have trouble connecting, but the two join forces when the leader of the above-ground world hears about the “invert” girl and tries to capture her. Though not as visually impressive as Weathering with You or Promare, my partners and I got a kick out of the cartoonishly evil villain. This was my first watch of 2020 and I still remember it fondly.
While it’s good to see the other side of 2020, we are headed for quite a bit of change. One way we can take care of ourselves during times of uncertainty – especially during those dark winter months – is to find a comforting distraction. Here are a few exciting books set for release in January 2021:
Outlawed, by Anna North: Horse-roving lesbian and nonbinary bank robbers in the Old West…need I say more?
The Rib King, by Ladee Hubbard: A once-wealthy white family with an all-Black household staff decides to market the scrumptious rib sauce of the cook…using a caricature of the groundskeeper. What can go wrong?
Shipped, by Angie Hockman: Two professional rivals at a cruise line are up for the same promotion. When they are tasked to boost reservations for the company’s Galapagos Island cruise, the rivals find themselves stuck on the same ship.
Black Buck, by Mateo Askaripour: The only Black employee at a New York City startup hatches a plan to channel his disillusionment and help other Black salespeople.
“ ‘I see the past as it actually was,’Maeve said. She was looking at the trees. ‘But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.’ ”― Ann Patchett, The Dutch House
I am listening to Tom Hanks narrating Ann Patchett’s beautiful novel, The Dutch House. A sprawling novel, it takes place over five decades, following the paths of deeply-bonded siblings Danny and Maeve, who grew up in a house that is more a work of art than cozy haven. Abandoned early on by their beloved mother and forgotten in many ways by their father, they try to make their way in the world, always together.
Tom Hanks’ well-known voice is a comfort and a joy to hear. He is a fantastic reader and does different voices for every character. I don’t usually stray outside reading teen and middle grade fiction, working in the Children’s Room as I do, but I feel that I have become an instant Ann Patchett fan, listening to this mysterious and beautiful book.
It’s cold. It’s dark. The danger of wallowing is real, but distractions abound.
Wesley McNair’s prose poetry Dwellers in the House of the Lord, a haunting and affecting story of the author’s family in a haunted and affected state, is beautiful and disturbing. I am glad to have read it and urge you to pick it up, but it isn’t what I am looking for to comfort me as I anticipate my annual winter tailspin.
Learning something new and productive usually helps me put the brakes on that. Hopefully in lieu of the blues, I’ve been slowly, ponderously, oh-so-cautiously making some simple cheeses with the help of Home Cheese Making: from fresh and soft to firm, blue, goat’s milk, and more: recipes for 100 favorite cheeses by Ricki Carroll. I have thought about making cheese for years and now I have, several times. Delicious halloumi, tasty paneer, some surprising goat cheese that exceeded expectations by a mile. Bookmarks and sticky notes sprout from its pages, ideas and aspirations for next time, advice and admonitions, lessons learned from the last endeavors.
It’s cool to make cheese. It’s more than a distraction. There are big pots and thermometers, curd knives and skimmers, cultures, colanders. It is all about patience and alchemy, and yards and yards of cheesecloth. It’s hard to be sad when there is so much happening, most of it slow and magical. And it ends with cheese! That’s okay by me.
If cheese doesn’t hold my attention this weekend, I have an ace up my sleeve. My turn on the waiting list has finally come up and I have a week with something I have been anxious to get: the dvdA Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is mine for 7 whole days! I get to spend that time with Mr Rogers AND Tom Hanks. That is bound to warm up the cold and brighten up the dark. And all I have to do is watch.
As ever, thanks for reading—and our warm wishes to you for a safe and healthy New Year.
Acknowledgment is a simple way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture, and toward inviting and honoring the truth.
Portland Public Library would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the occupied and unceded territory of the Wabanaki, the People of the place where the sun first looks our way, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.
We extend our respect and gratitude to the many Indigenous people and their ancestors whose rich histories and vibrant communities include the Abnaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Nations and all the Native communities who have lived in Chuwabunkeag for over three thousand generations in what is now called New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
We thank them for their strength and resilience in protecting this land and aspire to uphold our responsibilities according to their example.
Title: Margaret Shay, Portland, 1923 Creator: Portland Press Herald From the Portland Press Herald glass negative collection at Maine Historical Society
In Maine, the four remaining tribes, Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy are collectively known as the Wabanaki, “People of the Dawnland.” One of the main arts the Wabanaki are known for are their baskets. The knowledge of basketmaking was passed down through the generations and making baskets contributed to tribal economic security. However, due to the changing socioeconomic times (World Wars and the Depression), there was a decline in the practice in the mid twentieth century.
Cheryl Lafford (Micmac), shows Jacob Goodspeed and Brooke Moreno how to make baskets in the traditional Micmac style in 1993. This photo is from the Portland Press Herald Negative Collection at Portland Public Library.
For a thirty minute video on basketmaking with Jennifer Sapiel Neptune (Penobscot) at the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine, click here.
Today the ash is under threat by the Emerald Ash Borer and their larvae have killed millions of ash trees.
George E. Morong, 116 High Street, stands with a display of hand-made baskets in a local gift shop. Morong arranged the exhibit to aid the Passamaquoddy Indians at Pleasant Point. Portland Sunday Telegram, May 14, 1950. From the Portland Press Herald Negative Collection at Portland Public Library.
It’s November in Maine and we’re all tilting further from the sun, but no fear: the library is here for you! We have plenty of wonderful new books, audiobooks, eBooks and movies to brighten your days.
Looking for a great new novel without a zillion holds on it? Try Too Much Lip by Melissa Lukashenko or Greenwoodby Michael Christie.Are you a fan of basketball and poetry? Ross Gay’s Be Holding is for you.
Craving a cookbook that does not require an enormous turkey? In Bibi’s Kitchenshares stories and recipes that sound perfect for fall, like wild greens with corn porridge and sweet vermicelli noodles with cardamom and butter.
“Dad says I’m a late bloomer.” “Maybe. Or maybe you’re blooming now, and you’re just not the kind of flower he was expecting.” ― Alex Gino, Rick
Rick is a middle grade novel by Alex Gino. I thoroughly enjoyed this, as I have his others. Rick has just begun sixth grade and he is beginning to realize that he doesn’t have romantic feelings for anyone, unlike his best friend, who spends a lot of time making crude comments about girls they go to school with.
He begins to make friends with Melissa, who sits in front of him, and was also the target of some terrible bullying by Rick’s best friend in the first novel in this series, George. Thanks to Melissa, Rick joins the Rainbow Spectrum Club at school, “where kids of many genders and identities congregate” and begins to find his place in the world as well as making new friendships.
It was the kind of sweet, sometimes funny and always touching coming of age story that we have come to expect from Alex Gino.
This month I would like to highlight Good Enough, by Jen Petro-Roy. Riley is an adolescent girl who believed she was never enough. Not thin enough, or popular enough, or good enough. We join Riley as she begins in-patient treatment for anorexia, a pattern of disordered eating that has left her severely malnourished, beset by brain fog, and yet still desperate to not gain weight even though she really would like to “fix” her problems. Jen Petro-Roy is an eating disorder survivor who eloquently expresses the waves of emotion and turmoil Riley experiences while beginning to manage her anorexia and learn to build a new sense of self.
During this time of the year when so many of our celebrations are centered around food and eating together, I am reminded that for many people, and young women in particular, the act of eating can be fraught with many emotions, stigmas, and societal issues. The pressure to be thin, beautiful, popular, and everything to everyone all the time can overwhelm young people and for some can lead to dangerous control behaviors. Riley sees first-hand the damage that lying, fear, and self-doubt can inflict on a person’s life and how there is a way through. Through professional counseling and treatment, peer support, help communicating with her family, and expert dietary guidance Riley begins the journey of changing her inner monologue and learning that she is, in fact, good enough.
During this uniquely challenging holiday season, we can all choose to be even more kind to ourselves and others…including not judging food choices and eating habits and thinking anew about offering more nonfood-based ways to connect with family and friends. Indeed, this year that may be the safest and best bet for all.
Sink into the dreamy watercolors and the spellbinding language of The Lost Spellsby Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. I read “The Jackdaw” out loud (“Always with the comeback, coal-black crackerjack, joker of the haystack”) to an older person whose ability to understand simple instructions is waning, but she fell under the spell of the magical words. I, too, got lost while reading this book, lost in the very best possible way, where getting lost means finding something new and wondrous.
In preparation for reading/watching some contemporary re-imaginings of classic stories, I decided to reread some things from a while back. I picked up Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel because I wanted to experience The Iliad in a new and more exciting way than just rereading the poem.
The artwork and text work well to provide colorful characterizations and an engaging narrative structure. Hera’s angry facial expression coupled with the line “I saw you bow your head to that sea-trollop just now. What have you promised her?” perfectly encapsulate Zeus’s infidelity and tendency to meddle in human affairs. Hinds takes time to separately introduce and characterize the many humans and gods that make up this chaotic battle, no matter how minor.
Overall, this graphic novel was a new and enjoyable way to experience the epic battle of Troy!Up next in my reading list will be Madeline Miller’s retelling of the same story: The Song of Achilles.
“The rain gives me a taste for boiled sweet potatoes.” One of my favorite films that explores the inner lives of a familyis The Vertical Ray of the Sun from director Trần Anh Hùng. Dramatic, sweet, funny, melancholy, meditative, it must also be one of the most lushly filmed movies of all time, set at the height of summer in Vietnam and drenched in rich greens: light through green leaves, deep green walls, shimmering green water.There’sthe tale of three sisters and their family, and there’s dancing and sleeping and cooking and swimming and love and secrets. Watch it now or save it for the even darker depths of winter, when you need a dose of heat and light.
When the pandemic put me at home for many months, I found myself craving baked goods, and poetry. The baked goods were not a surprise. The poetry was. But all around me, others seemed to be feeling the same. People were sending and sharing poems. At the same time, I wanted to educate myself on racism in general as well as Black History in Maine. Luckily, I found the exact right book for myself in this moment. Midden,a collection of poems by Julia Bouwsma (with a forward by poet Afaa M. Weaver), is the story an interracial community living on Malaga Island whose residents were forcibly evicted by the State of Maine in 1912. With care and reverence, Bouwsma takes a deep look at the horror of the event and the ongoing grief and trauma of its aftermath.
Browsing for a good book online presents unique challenges. I can’t wait until it is safe for everyone to come into the library to browse our displays, pick up books, and read their first pages.
Since I can’t show books off in person, here are a few of my favorite new fiction items that – as of this writing – are on the shelf and ready for your nightstand:
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, by Sonali Dev: Looking to start a new modern romance series? When a neurosurgeon meets an up-and-coming chef, the sparks don’t exactly fly; however, things begins to change when they unite to save a life. While this book is from 2019, the sequel (with brand-new characters) just came out this Fall.
Payback, by Mary Gordon: The star of the reality television show Payback turns the tables to focus on a terrible event that occurred while she was in boarding school. This literary thriller may appeal to fans of Donna Tartt; it also requires a content warning for sexual assault.
Master of Poisons, by Andrea Hairston: This year might be terrible, but it has seen a lot of wonderful epic fantasy writing. As poison moves across a desert and infects the water supply, the Master of Poisons fights to stop the spread before it’s too late. If you enjoyed The Fifth Season or Black Leopard, Red Wolf, this book is for you.
My forever staff pick is Your Next Great Read, where staff put together recommendations unique to you. We can always help you find your next favorites, even when we can’t see your smiling faces!
I am reading One by One, by Ruth Ware right now. It is an excellent suspense novel. Easy to read and follow. Also, The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo, himself. Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment in the 70’s, and this is book delves deeper into our understanding of behavior. It’s amazing, and highly recommended if you enjoy asking “why?”
You know how it is when you find something—a salty fog that makes your hair all soft and crazy, music that makes your insides quivery, a color that exactly fits the contours of your mood—something that whispers, “there will always be sweet surprising joy for you to find.” Well, I have recently added the essays of Brian Doyle to my cache of sweet surprising joy.
Brian Doyle was born the same year that I was: 1956. He died in 2017, leaving behind a trove of writing that I have only started to glean.
A posthumous compilation of essays, One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, published just under a year ago, is my most recent foray into the wide-open heart of Mr Doyle. We start with the Section I title: That the Small is Huge, That the Tiny is Vast, That Pain is Part and Parcel of the Gift of Joy, and That This Is Love. The opening essay, “JoyasVoladoras”, takes us on a journey through the heart… the heart of a hummingbird, a blue whale, a worm and, lastly, there is the human heart, described to perfection:
“…all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall.”
It is a call to celebrate that inconvenient fragility and rickety-ness, I think, because this is what makes us who we are when we are most true to ourselves.
And on and on it goes, 243 pages of heart, soul, love, sadness, exultation, breaking and mending, coming and going, marveling at what the world is made of. In David James Duncan’s introduction, he quotes Brian Doyle: ”I want to write to you like I am speaking to you. I would sing my books if I could.” Duncan accurately observes, “I say he could, and he did.”
Doyle’s storytelling is irreverent, spiritual, funny, finely observed. He is a master of the run-on sentence, a craft that thrills me when wrought with skill and spirit. I am grateful that he was so generous with his words in a life foreshortened, and that they have come into my life. With his novels, poetry and more essays to plumb, I hope that turbulent times may be easier to traverse.
What would we do without wordsmiths who can move us to hope?
As ever, thank you for reading. If you’re looking for more ideas, that is our very favorite thing! We’re happy to help. Try our Your Next (Great!) Read service for kids and teens and for adults to get personalized lists of print or eBook recommendations from our staff. Our Reference staff is also available Monday-Friday, 10-4, at 871-1700 ext. 725.