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Stay True: December Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture | Readers Writers

Images of some of the book covers discussed in this post, including Wildoak, Refused a Second Date, Stay True, and the Kamogawa Food Detectives.

“When you’re young, you do so many things hoping to be noticed. The way you dress or stand, the music played loud enough to catch the attention of another person who might know a song, too. And then there are things you do as you step out into the world, the real world full of strange adults, testing out what it means to be generous or thoughtful. In that instant, before every memory was placed along some narrative arc, before the act of remembering took on a desperate air, I simply felt lucky enough to witness something so effortlessly kindto see my friend do something that was good.” Stay True by Hua Hsu

Though snow has yet to stick, we’re starting our To-Be-Read piles for winterand thinking of all the books we were glad to read this year. Read on to discover our personal December Staff Picks from the library…

An image of the book cover "Sunshine" mentioned in Cindy's Picks.

Cindy’s Picks 

I want to share three of my favorite reads from this year.   

The first is from the children’s graphic novel collection:  Sunshine by Jarrett Krosoczka.  “When Jarrett J. Krosoczka was in high school, he was part of a program that sent students to be counselors at a camp for seriously ill kids and their families. Going into, Jarrett was worried: Wouldn’t it be depressing, to be around kids facing such a serious struggle? Wouldn’t it be grim? But instead of the shadow of death, Jarrett found something else at Camp Sunshine: the hope and determination that gets people through the most troubled of times.” One of my dearest, oldest friends, worked at that very summer camp every summer for four years and felt just as Jarrett did, and I could never really understand his joy until reading this touching graphic novel.

 The second book is from the teen novel collection: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum. I was not prepared to enjoy this book so much, but I absolutely loved every minute of it.  

 My final book is Wildoak by C.C. Harrington, from the children’s Maine Student Book Award section.  It was also one that I only chose to read because none of the others I was interested in on the list were in and I ended up adoring this sweet but tense and sad story of a girl, a baby snow leopard, and a forest. The forest is a magical old growth forest, one of very few left in Europe, and it is in danger of being razed to make way for a dangerous copper mine.  Will Maggie succeed in saving not only her snow leopard friend, but the forest as well? 

An image of the book cover "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins" mentioned in Andrew's Pick.

Andrew’s Pick 

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is my end of the year pick! 

Goblins may seem an unexpected choice well after Halloween, but much like Dickens, Eric Kimmel understands that cold winter nights pair well with ghosts and ghouls. Invoking a central figure of European Jewish folklore, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins masterfully balances humor, mystery, fear, and fable. A delightful tale truly deserving a place in Hanukkah canon, and one I enjoyed countless times growing up. 

An image of the book "To Shape a Dragon's Breath."

Emily’s Pick 

 I recently sped through the engrossing historical fantasy To Shape A Dragon’s Breath, by Moniquill Blackgoose (Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe). Anequs is 15, growing up with her family on Masquapaug, and sees a dragon flying off to the east—and then finds its abandoned egg. She brings her egg back home to her people to tend to, and is thrilled when she feels an immediate bond with the hatchling. Then she learns she has to travel to the Anglish school to learn how to “safely” raise her dragon. Anequs faces many hurdles set up by the colonizers, who have very specific ideas of how dragons and Indigenous girls should behave. If you grew up immersed in Anne McCaffery’s Pern books or are just looking for a fascinating new fantasy world to explore, I highly recommend Anequs’s adventurous coming-of-age story as she fights to protect herself, her dragon, and her people. 

Side-by-side images of the books "Secret Identity" and "The Writing Retreat."

Becca’s Picks 

I love listening to audiobooks on CloudLibrary. On this, I’m not alone; Portland Public Library’s cardholders listen to about 6,000 books a month! In 2023, I listened to 25 audiobooks. (I may sneak in one or two more before 2024.) These were my top three: 

Third Place: Vladimir, by Julia Jay Jonas: This satirical look at small-town academia explores the trope of the lecherous professor. At turns hilarious and completely over the top, Vladimir kept me engaged and laughing.

Second Place: The Writing Retreat, by Julia Bartz: A group of young women attend a writing retreat at the home of a famous novelist. What happens when participants start disappearing? This well-paced and shocking tale is an excellent addition to the subgenre of thrillers focusing on authorship. I couldn’t stop listening! 

First Place: Secret Identity, by Alex Segura: Secret Identity is a noir about New York City’s comic book industry in the 1970s. Our comics-loving heroine secretly co-authors a promising new comic. When her co-author is murdered, she finds herself at the center of a decades-long criminal mystery. The story is incredible, the narrator is multi-faceted, and the production quality is excellent; comic sequences include original sound design. This is the total package! 

An image of the book "No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies."

Fionna’s Picks 

For the person on your list who is interested in art and celebrity in the age of social media, you can be sure Monsters by Claire Dederer will be the gift that sparks real (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversation over the holidays. What could be better? 

 For the activist and/or poetry lover on your list I recommend No Country For Eight-Spot Butterflies. It is a slim volume of essays and speeches on “resistance, resilience, and collective power.” This moving and eye-opening collection is written in beautiful prose by Chamorro climate activist and human rights lawyer Julian Aguon, who uncovers the reality of militarized colonialism in Guam. These essays read as poetic memoir and contain a story that everyone should learn. 

 For your own enjoyment this season try the Irish language film The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin) based on the much loved Foster by Claire Keegan. At the center of the movie is the feeling of being, in foster mother Eibhlín’s words, “minded,” and is the perfect mix of warming and mournful for these dark cold nights.  

An image of a yellow bird with an orange beak and orange feet perching in a green circle.

 Elise’s Picks 

This pick is for the birders!  If you love Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin App or, then you need to know that you can get free access to the even more impressive encyclopedia of bird knowledge Birds of the World with your library card! Merry “Weird Duck Time” to all who celebrate. 

If instead you are using your time researching the perfect present for someone special, here’s a little reminder that the library also gives you access to! Just enter your library barcode number when it asks for “Patron ID,” and those head-to-head comparisons will make your shopping easy. 

An image of the book "America Redux."

Carly’s Picks 

In a year of great reading, two books stand out: 

 In his memoir, Stay True, Hua Hsu writes of his college years in the 90s—a time when he defined himself by his opinions on pop culture. Hsu becomes friends with another Asian American student, Ken, whose tastes are “mainstream” (quite unlike Hsu’s, he’ll have you know!). But the two of them bond over the fun of discussing their different opinions and, most importantly, figuring out what it all meansit being history, race, identity in the United States, and identity in the music, books, and films they consume. When Ken is murdered so senselessly and randomly, Hsu is left with intense and long-lasting grief. And he’s written the most perfect tribute to his friend. I hope that Ken, somewhere, knows this.   

In America Redux, Ariel Aberg-Riger uses archival photos, maps, and artwork to help readers “see” American history and its ripples today. Each chapter explores a different theme or moment: How did the AR-15 become “America’s rifle?” How did the U.S. shift from car-free to car-dependent? What does LuLaRoe have to do with history, anyway? This book presents American history honestly—a history that features exploitation and white supremacy, alongside a tradition of activism, art, and courage to fight for a country of justice. I finished the book with a sense of hope.

Images of the books "What's Your Grief?," "Ink Girls," "Been Outside," "The Night Parade," and "Behind You Is the Sea."

Elizabeth’s Picks  

As the year draws to a close, lately I’ve been thinking about grief and loss, the many different losses that weave together and accumulate over time. Last night I sat down with the practical, easy-to-read What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help You through Any Loss, (by mental health professionals Eleanor Haley and Lista Williams) and I felt relief at having one small, useful resource to start out with—to help me consider the complexities of grief, the multifaceted ways it impacts a life and the world, and the responses a person might have to loss, any loss: the loss of a person, of housing, of community, of a relationship, of health, and more. 

I’m curious to explore more books, but for me, this was a helpful beginning. A thoughtful, no-fluff (but empathetic) look at loss and grief, some better understanding, a way through days to come.  

For the new year, there’s a big stack of books and movies on my holds list. Some serious, some fun, some poetic, with friendship, family, food detectives, dogs, dreams, history, mountains: Ink Girls, Held, Behind You Is the Sea, Diary of a Void, Wandering Stars, City of Laughter, You Dreamed of Empires, The Kamogawa Food Detectives, Róise & Frank, No Bears, The Eight Mountains, Refused a Second Date, The Night Parade, Footmarks, and Been Outside.  

Hope you all have a good stack for winter, too, for cold days and starry nights ahead.  

An image of the book "Anansi's Gold."

Vicky’s Pick

 I love best-of-the-year lists. They always give me great ideas for things to watch and read, and they also give me an opportunity to measure my acumen against the professional critics’. When a book I love makes a best-of-the-year list, I always feel extra smart. This year I’ve been watching the lists for one of the best books I’ve read in a long time: Anansi’s Gold, by Yepoka Yeebo.  

The book is both a riveting true-crime thriller and a fascinating introduction to late-20th-century Ghanaian history via the life and crimes of a swindler par excellence. Author Yeebo’s leading man, John Ackah Blay-Miezah, parlayed a spurious rumor of gold smuggled out of the country by its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, into a two-decades-long con that spanned continents. A journalist from Ghana, Yeebo brings a deep understanding of the damage done by Blay-Miezah’s chicanery, always keeping her gaze and readers’ on the fragility of truth. It’s one of those books I want everyone I know to read. 

And look who agrees with me! Kirkus Reviews, the New York Times, and National Public Radio—if you don’t take my word alone, maybe they can convince you to dig into the life and crimes of a man with charisma and chutzpah like none other. 


As always, thanks for reading! You can find all of our staff picks compiled in the list Stay True: December Staff Picks.

Looking for more reading (or movie) recommendations? We’re here to help. You can reach out to or get a list of personalized recommendations tailored to you interests by using our Your Next Great Read service (for kids, teens, or adults).

1966 Fawn Fleetwood Vends Community Fun

posted: , by Heather Wasklewicz
tags: About the Library | Programs & Events | Adults

It started with a casual thought in a team meeting…“wouldn’t it be awesome if the library had one of those old timey art-o’matic vending machines?” Considering the number of art-based programming, gallery exhibits, community partnerships, and overall super creative staff, this certainly felt like something PPL had to have. 

Cy Vending machine 2021Art and creativity thrive in our spaces. Two weeks later, PPL’s graphic designer, Cy Bennett, returned to Portland from Pownal with a vintage 1966 Fawn Fleetwood Cigarette vending machine strapped down in the back of his pickup truck. 

Combining his professional attention to design detail and inherently mechanical mind, Cy has transformed the Fawn Fleetwood into an eye-catching fully functioning work of modern art with a nod to its vintage roots, replacing the cigarette products with surprising offerings from community partners.  



No chill required. The 1966 Fawn Fleetwood, sourced in in Pownal, Maine, was an excellent choice because it was built to vend items that did not require refrigeration, therefore there was no nasty insulation to work around. An added bonus: the machine is not reliant on electronics.  

The price was right. But to get this machine in working order, careful and time-consuming disassembly was required. Each mechanical part and component had to be removed, inspected for defects, and cleaned.  

coin slot detailCoin separators are a mechanical wonder. Cy’s favorite part of the project was learning how the mechanical coin separators works. Once he understood the mechanics of the component, each weight, lever, and spring had to be cleaned and lubricated to ensure smooth operation. 

Keep it simple. Because of the original machine’s simple design, retrofitting to get the right look and feel was less challenging. Cy researched and selected elements to achieve a vintage appeal  that evoked PPL’s 1978 reopening (and how libraries in general looked in the 70’s). No detail was overlooked! To replace the decorative panel, Cy had to recreate the original design and had it reprinted on static cling film.  He customized the top panel with simple vinyl lettering spelling out in crisp lettering PORTLAND PUBLIC LIBRARY. A closer look reveals that even the coin slot display has been refreshed, and vacuum formed in plastic.    


Panel design detail

The Fawn Fleetwood is a fresh way for the Downtown Library to have fun with community partners who have supplied designated slots with something fun and unexpected. For patrons and visitors, each item offers an opportunity to discover part of Portland they might not know about. 

And Cy would add, with a devious grin, it is fun to consider that some patrons might think a cigarette vending machine was original to the library experience!  Portland Room’s Abraham A. Schechter, Special Collections Librarian & Archivist, reports no evidence of smoking being permitted inside Portland Public Library in the late 70’s—within the era of Surgeon Generals’ warnings. 


We are so excited to announce, in playful partnership with Portland Trails, Downtown Portland, The Telling Room, Maine College of Art & Design, and the Downtown Librarians, the launch of the library’s first restored-and-retrofitted vending machine! Throughout the year, the Fawn Fleetwood will vend a healthy array of fun goodies ranging from miniPortland Trail Maps to sweet stickers, and the most adorable mini book covers encouraging users to find and read the corresponding book in the collection.  You never know what will be discovered at Portland Public Library. Stop by the Downtown Library and see what surprises await! 

Want to join the fun? Contact Rachael Harkness ( to bring your organization or company to the attention of library patrons. 

Cy stands with the restored vending machine

New Ghost Hunting Kit Has Us Reading Creepy

posted: , by Heather Wasklewicz
tags: Adults | Teens | Parents & Teachers | Kids & Families | Fun & Games | Discover Portland | Seniors | Art & Culture | Genealogy | Portland History | Science & Technology

Libraries are all about exploration and discovery. For those whose interests and curiosities include the exploration of the paranormal, our new Ghost Hunting Kit is for you! 

Sara F Ghost Hunting in NY Hotel 2020

This kit has been field-tested by long-time ghost hunter (and sometimes skeptic), supernatural enthusiast, and PPL Teen Librarian Sara Fiorenza.


To test a range of environments, Sara first wanted to see if any areas of her 1950s prefab home would elicit a reading. No significant readings were picked up until she approached the backroom door of a particularly creepy unfinished extension of the house used for storage, including a few items that belonged to their long-gone grandparents and great grandparents. This backroom also features a closet where the doors are mirrors that, when opened, face each other.  

“This is a super big superstitious no-no, everything from it being a portal for bad things to come through to an infinite reflection of energy which can disrupt your own frequencies. This room always gives me bad vibes and I try not to go back there alone or at night. The reader started to go crazy as I approached the door to the extension. As soon as I opened the door, the reader went quiet. Probably one of the creepier experiences with ghostly encounters.” – Sara Fiorenza, seen here in 2020 ghost hunting in the basement of the Shanley Hotel Napanoch, NY

Portland Public Library Ghost Hunting Kit 2023WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT:

The Kit includes a standard EMF (electromagnetic frequency) reader, EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recorder, and a ghost box. These are items that let you detect ghosts, hear ghosts, and potentially speak with ghosts! The kit has an SD card that allows you to record what you hear on the ghost box and the EVP wristwatch allows you to transfer files to your computer so you can review and dissect potential evidence.  

Also included are helpful instruction books covering the basics and a wider variety of subjects often overlooked, such as the dangers of ghost hunting and what you should bring along with you besides ghost detecting equipment. 

The kit is great for people looking to have a spooky experience and I highly recommend it. Be respectful, dress warmly, and happy ghost hunting!” 


Maine is full of mysterious places – graveyards, creepy alleys, underground tunnels (there are several in Portland) historic buildings, open fields, wooded areas – and so many other spots that might give you a chill after dark. We invite you to check out the Ghost Hunting Kit with Your PPL Card and let us know who (or what) you meet…. 

Ghost Hunting Resources found in PPL Collection

Ready to find some ghosts? To get the most out of your ghost hunting experience, we’ve created this list of related resources from New England Nightmares to Scooby-doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost!


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