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Strange Maine: October Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors

Apples are ripe on the trees! Nights are cold and crisp! And library workers are searching for the perfect pumpkins for our 4th Annual “Gourd Manipulation Contest.”

October Staff Picks are here, too. Whether you’re in the mood for something scary, cozy, thought-provoking, or mysterious, we’ve got you covered! Read on…

Cindy’s Picks  

The Hideaway by Pam Smy is a brand new illustrated middle grade novel from the creator of the award-winning Thornhill.  On a rainy autumn night, Billy can’t stand the fighting any longer.  He packs a bag and slips ghost-like into the dark.  His hiding place is a cold and gloomy graveyard and soon something mysterious and magical starts to happen!

The School for Whatnots is a middle grade novel by Margaret Peterson Haddix with a fascinating concept. 

“No matter what anyone tells you, I’m real.” 

That’s what the note says that Max finds under his keyboard.  He knows that his best friend, Josie, wrote it.  He’d know her handwriting anywhere.  But why she wrote it—and what it means—remains a mystery. 

Ever since they met in kindergarten, Max and Josie had been inseparable.  Until the summer after fifth grade, when Josie disappears, leaving only that note and whispering something about “whatnot rules.”  

 But why would Max ever think that Josie wasn’t real?  And what are whatnots? 

Gail’s Pick

I picked up Janet Fox’s Carry Me Home because of the beautiful cover and found a beautiful story of two kids with a grown-up problem. Lulu and Serena are trying to pretend everything is all right, even while they are living out of a car and their single dad has gone missing. A heartwarming story about searching for home.

Carly’s Picks

In the Teen Library, our graphic novel and manga sections are some of our most popular collections. If you’re wondering why, I hope you check out the Lewis Gallery’s new exhibit, Why We Make Comics—a true ode to the graphic novel form. As a reader, I find that the combination of image and text has the capacity to surprise me, delight me, and move me. Here are some recommendations: 

Ray Terceiro’s Northranger is a clever graphic novel retelling of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Cade Muñoz loves watching horror movies because they’re an escape from his experience as a closeted queer teen in rural Texas—but sometimes they seem like a reflection of his life, too. And something just doesn’t seem right at the ranch where he’s working as a summer ranch hand. Sure, Cade really likes Henry, the son of the ranch owner…but what is Henry hiding? 

Lost Lad London by Shimya Shima brings us to London, where college student Al Adley is caught up in a political scandal. After the mayor of London is found dead on the Tube, Al finds a bloody knife in his pocket… but he doesn’t know how it got there. Detective Ellis believes Al when he says he’s innocent, and Ellis doesn’t want to repeat a mistake from his past—a false arrest that’s haunted him for years. I’m totally hooked on this manga trilogy, which thoughtfully combines mystery with social commentary. 

Finally, I recommend Flamer by Mike Curato, which was one of the most commonly challenged books in the U.S. last year.  For Aiden Navarro, Boy Scout summer camp is no different from school, where he’s mocked for his race, his height, and his voice. He’s just starting to understand his own sexuality and identity, too, but his faith has taught him that he’s a sinner for liking boys. When Aiden starts to feel hopeless, confused, and alone, some of the lessons he learns at camp may help him accept himself. I’m so proud Flamer is part of our collection.

Sara’s Pick

Over My Dead Body by Sweeney Boo is a fantastic dark academia book. It’s about magic and a monster who’s threatening the students at Younwitty Hidden Institute of Witchcraft. The group races against time to stop the attacks and uncover the mystery before time runs out.

Emily’s Picks 

I have a trio of magical stories to share this month—an old favorite, a fascinating new series, and a audiobook I can’t wait to read soon! 

Mooncakes is a delightful graphic novel with witches, a werewolf, and sinister plots—plus delicious foods, a sweet family dinner in a sukkah during the mid-Autumn festival, and pages and pages of illustrations you’ll wish to climb inside and explore. Wendy Xu’s illustrations and Suzanne Walker’s story is a great one to revisit this time of year when we’re pulling out our sweaters and brewing up some tea.  

Hannah Kaner’s Godkiller is a rich fantasy for adults and the start of a new series, with stories of belonging and trust and love—but also fearsome gods and cruel humans and the ravages of war. Years ago, Kissen was the sole survivor when her family was sacrificed to appease the whims of a dangerous fire god. Now she works for the king, traveling where she’s needed to destroy shrines and kill gods. That all changes when she meets a young girl inexplicably tied to a god of white lies. They begin a journey to help her find answers (alongside a baker with his own secrets). I’m anxious to see how their story continues in Sunbringer.  

Finally (with a turn toward the more sinister) I’m anxious to read Never Whistle At Night, a collection of Indigenous dark fiction stories from favorite authors including Cherie Dimaline, Darcie Little Badger, Morgan Talty, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Tommy Orange. It promises stories full of ghosts, curses, monsters, and plenty of shiver-inducing tales. I’m excited to hear it on audio read by an impressive cast of narrators. Find it on cloudLibrary!   

Una’s Picks 

Some of These are Snails by Carter Higgins. Exactly what the title says. Just a super cute and colorful board book! 

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. On a planet with nearly eight billion people on it with a human history spanning thousands of years, odds are pretty good that someone, somewhere, at some time has felt or experienced something similar to you. 

Of course, sometimes finding that other shared experience can be akin to looking for a needle in a globe-sized haystack. But the magic of language and story (the magic of art, really) can reach across time, space, and culture, and make you feel a little less alone.

Looking at some of my previous recommendations, I realize a lot of books I’ve recommended are ones that I wish I’d been aware of or had existed at some earlier point in my life. Keeping with that accidental theme and in hopes that by suggesting these books they might reach someone else at a needed time, I recommend Gender Queer. 

The Night Eaters, Book 1: She Eats the Night. Fans of Monstress likely recognize the art style. (The art is absolutely stunning, as one would expect from Takeda’s work on Monstress). Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda team up again for an urban fantasy horror story that depicts a family divided by generational and cultural differences and mysterious and scary secrets. 

Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle. A queer and neurodivergent coming-of-age horror story involving religious extremism in a small town. It tackles some heavy topics through the lens of horror and absurd humor. The book has an uplifting end, to highlight the author’s motto that love is real. 

Jay’s Picks 

In a Dark, Dark Room, and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz. PPL’s 1st edition (from 1984) of this Early Reader is pure nostalgia for me as a millennial. It’s a collection of scary and slightly goofy stories that chilled me as a small person. PPL also has re-illustrated versions in our collection. 

A Big Surprise for Little Card by Charise Mericle Harper. September was Library Card Sign-up Month, so now that people have their new library cards they can think about all the fun adventures their card will go on! In this book, the little anthropomorphized library card has a blast fulfilling its purpose in life.  

The Ultimate Micro-RPG Book: 40 Fast, Easy, and Fun Tabletop Games. So many people are playing Dungeons & Dragons these days, and this book is a great introduction to the world of Role-Playing Games (RPGs) for those who are curious. This book works for both beginners and folks more experienced with RPGs. Each game is categorized by difficulty, number of players needed, length of play, and other criteria that will help you pick a game that suits your mood and tastes. Get a few friends together and have fun! 

A Short History of the World in 50 Lies by Natasha Tidd. This book is filled with juicy bits of betrayal, secrets, and scheming in 50 brief vignettes. They’re the type of dramatic stories you could easily imagine being turned into a film or tv series. I would recommend it for folks that usually read fiction but want to read a nonfiction book. 

Sarah S’s Pick 

October is a great time to dig into Michelle Souliere’s Strange Maine, a treasure trove of local lore with an uncanny twist! 


 Eileen’s Pick 

Why did I wait 34 years after moving to Maine to read a book by Mary Ellen Chase, quintessential Maine writer?   

Well, the wait is over.  Finally, I am reading Silas Crockett, her 1935 novel tracing the evolution of a slice of our fair state o’ Maine from the 18th century forward by way of a select few families of seafaring folk.  Chase’s story captures Maine as viewed through the eyes and experience of charismatic sea captains and their crews under sail; mothers and wives aboard, abroad, and at home; and children born in a time and place whose relevance will change in unimaginable ways.  I have always thought of local ships sailing away, but am also reading of ships from afar coming to Maine’s many bustling ports and making Maine global in its cultural exposure and attitudes.   

Shipbuilding all along the coast booms and then busts: sails and wooden boats move away from world commerce to be repurposed as pleasure boats for rusticators; tourism fills the gap left when steam and steel become the next big thing; and a new generation raised with saltwater in their veins needs to quickly adjust or irrevocably falter.  

Chase’s novel tells a fascinating tale of what I think of as decline, and a pretty convincing yarn about how provincialism can grow in what was once cosmopolitan ground. Sometimes an old book is just the ticket to explain how we arrived where we are today.

Fionna’s Picks 

“They’re going to make a monster, and not just any monster—they’re going to create a plesiosaur.”

For those looking to feel unnerved (but not terrified) I recommend these newish books that give the air of something sinister without getting your cortisol pumping too high.  

  Becca’s Pick 

It’s July 4th weekend, and Carlotta Mercedes returns home to Brooklyn after 22 years in prison. Everyone and everything is different—including Carlotta herself, who transitioned while she was away—and she must figure out how to navigate this new world while abiding by the strict conditions of her release. The publisher’s blurb compares Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta to James Joyce’s Ulysses, and I can see why. As Carlotta makes her way around town through a random series of events, we meet old friends and family who have somehow become new. Most of the story is told through Carlotta’s inner monologue, which is in turns devastating and hilarious. Even when Carlotta makes poor choices (stealing a single boutique shoe!), it’s impossible to not care about what happens to her. (Be aware: this book does contain references to sexual assault.) 


Andrew’s Pick

My suggestion for October staff picks is the movie Eyes Without A Face (1960, original title Les Yeux Sans Visage). It’s one of my favorite movies to watch in October as it lives somewhere between the worlds of classic mad scientist pulp and dramatic, earnest storytelling. The lighting throughout the film is beautiful, and the atmosphere perfect for a rainy autumn eve. If you’re like me and appreciate horror but find most modern horror movies to be too intense, it really scratches an itch. Definitely a must-watch for fans of Carnival of Souls (1962), Night of the Living Dead (1968), or any older pictures that somehow manage to be bone-chilling despite their age. 

Elizabeth’s Picks 

Here’s a stack of quiet fantasy novellas (and some much scarier stories) for adults to read as the nights get longer… 

Toadling grew up loved and happy in a Fairie swamp, but now she frets near a hedge of thorns, anxious to keep a curse from breaking. This endearing character stars in a twist on a tale that makes T. Kingerfisher’s Thornhedge a treasure. 

“Being close to her was like being warmed by a bonfire, and I had been cold for a long time.”

A lake glows with a soft red light in the middle of the night. A ghost tells stories. A talking bird warns, encourages, jokes. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is one in a series of four fantastic novellas by Nghi Vo. The plot thickens with hungry tigers in a snowstorm (!) in When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and continues with Into the Riverlands and Mammoths at the Gates.  

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror is edited by Jordan Peele and gathers terrifying tales of “monsters real and imagined” from literary luminaries N.K. Jemisin, Nalo Hopkinson, Lesley Nneka Arimah, P. Djèlí Clark, and more. 

As always, thanks for reading! You can find all of our staff picks compiled in the list Strange Maine: October 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).


Here in the Night: September Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors

Two book covers side by side. On the left is the cover of "Mexikid" a graphic memoir by Pedro Martín, and on the right is "Chlorine" a novel by Jade Song.

Hello readers! September brings fall, pumpkin spice, and the unstoppable urge to gather your cozy season stockpiles of books, movies, and more from the library. We’re here to help with some great picks from our staff.  

 An image of the book cover of "Buzzing," written by Samuel Smith and Illustrated by Rye Hickman.

Cindy’s Picks 

Buzzing (a new graphic novel by Samuel Sattin) is the story of Isaac Itkin, a lonely twelve-year-old kid with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Isaac struggles with a “swarm of unhelpful thoughts,” and his helicopter mother insists on a very strict therapy that doesn’t seem to be helping. A group of creative friends invites Isaac to join their role-playing game and he finds that his intrusive thoughts help him to feel a little better.  He develops a crush on one of the other kids, and things seem even better yet.  But Isaac’s therapist claims that exposure to games can have negative effects on kids with OCD, and when his grades slip, his mother won’t let him play anymore.  Now Isaac will need to find a way to prove to himself, his mother, and the world that it is okay to be himself! This beautiful graphic novel contains themes of LGBTQ+, OCD and growing up.

Picture Day by Sarah Sax is a tale of Viv, who never looks forward to picture day because her mother always forces her to wear a boring braid. Viv takes scissors in hand and creates a new hairstyle that becomes an overnight trend in her middle school!  Suddenly, everyone wants her help planning their next big moment—from makeovers to dance proposals, activist rallies to math-team celebrations!  She hardly has time for her own friend group anymore, but is this really how she wanted to reinvent herself?  Read on to find out!

Mexikid is a graphic novel memoir by Pedro Martín. Pedro was born in the U.S. to parents from Mexico and he is a kid who feels that he doesn’t quite belong to either place.  So he isn’t sure what to expect when his father announces that their entire family (all 11 of them) will be piling into their Winnebago to drive 2,000 miles down to Mexico with a mission: bring their mysterious Abuelito home to live with them!  But their grandfather has a mission of his own, and he won’t leave Mexico until it’s complete. 

 Book cover of "We Still Belong" by Christine Day.

Emily’s Picks 

 Christine Day (Upper Skagit) has become a favorite middle grade author of mine, so I was excited to jump right into her newest book, We Still Belong. Wesley Wilder is excited—and nervous—for Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year. She has a poem about the holiday getting published in her middle school’s newspaper, AND she’s going to ask her cute gamer club crush to the school dance. Readers follow her through her day’s highs and lows as things definitely don’t go according to plan—but will be heartened to hear Wesley finding her voice at the intertribal powwow that night. It’s a sweet and surprisingly funny story about belonging, new friendships, video games, and a cute cat. 

Readers looking for other new (and short!) middle grade novels should explore Christina Soontornvat’s magical and adventurous Legends of Lotus Island series, and Gail Donovan’s sweet story full of curious cats, Sparrow Being Sparrow. 

 Book cover of "The Deep" by Rivers Solomon

Fionna’s Picks 

 I’m a sucker for hyper realistic mermaids and tend to indulge in this microgenre in the summer. This year’s pick was the debut novel by Jade Song, Chlorine. The author starts with a content warning which is essential before you commit to this book. It dives deep (ha!) and can be upsetting, but I was glad to have continued. I was in awe of Song’s ability to capture the nightmare that is coming-of-age while dealing with generational trauma, body dysphoria, sexuality, and race. Chlorine is darkly funny and written in a beautiful spare style: a can’t miss for fans of sapphic horror. 

 While I’m on the subject (and really don’t get me going on this, we’ll be here a long time), in honor of the PPL Reading Challenge category “A book with a cryptid/mythological being as a character” I thought I’d share some of my all-time favorite mermaid stories. All haunting, all beautiful. 

I’d also recommend checking out the Water Legends zine kit from Downtown Teen. It’s got mermaids and more, including my absolute favorite: selkies. Really fun and a great opportunity to try out a new medium! 

 Cover of "More Than You Know" a novel by Beth Gutcheon

Elyse’s Pick 

 “I don’t suppose you have to believe in ghosts to know that we are all haunted, all of us, by things we can see and feel and guess at, and many more things that we can’t. 

 My staff pick for September is More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon. I read this book almost 20 years ago and just reread it. It was still a great book! 

Cover of "Track of the Cat" a mystery by Nevada Barr

Becca’s Pick 

In Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr, Anna Pigeon is sent to Texas for her first assignment as a park ranger with the National Park Service. A ranger dies in the desert, and the cause of death is determined to be by mountain lion…or is it? The first book in the Anna Pigeon series has so much to love: interesting nature facts, edge-of-your-seat danger, and an excellent twist ending. Anna is a quirky and smart main character, and I’m looking forward to continuing to read this series throughout the Fall. If you’re craving a good mystery and you love nature documentaries, this is the series for you! 

Cover of "Mushrooming: The joy of the quiet hunt" written by Diane Borsato with illustrations by Kelsey Oseid
Eileen’s Picks

As the humidity peaks and wanes, the rainfall comes and goes, and the temperature flirts with fall and retreats to high summer, the world of mushrooms is indulging in whatever verb applies to these mysterious not-plant-nor-animal-nor-mineral wonders of creation. Bare ground one day, undeniably phallic protuberances and multi-chromatic viscous-capped berets the next; ambrosia to slugs, mice and, if only they can get there first, humans. 

No mother of mine ever encouraged eating wild foraged ’shrooms, with or without positive identification, but that never dampened my curiosity about what in tarnation these puzzling things are about. Last year, our woodsy, mossy, fern-strewn little lot yielded a veritable festival of fungus, including (my disbelieving research confirmed, over and over again) the dreaded Destroying Angel. 

And that’s where iNaturalist’s free app Seek comes in. My amiable companion introduced me to Seek and I fear that my cardiac health has suffered as a result. No more brisk walks for me. I cannot resist stopping to smell the flora, scan the fauna, and— most fun of all— wave my phone’s camera amidst the plethora of mushrooms appearing everywhere in the late summer damp. A quick pan with my phone, or more often a contortionist’s delight of finding the right angle and focus for a positive ID, gives a pretty reliable informed opinion, progressing on-screen through the Linnaean classification levels, from Kingdom to Species. With the app’s occasional understandable (if slightly unnerving) misinterpretation of tree roots as examples of “Snakes and Lizards”, I take any identification not as gospel, but as a prompt to investigate further when I turn toward home. And I have been rewarded by such positive IDs as Chicken Lips mushrooms and Viscid Violet Cort, not to mention much sought after Golden Chanterelles lazing about the base of our mailbox and Black Trumpets meandering along the otherwise unremarkable path to the seasonal stream behind our house. Don’t worry, Mom, not a single one has passed my timid lips, but maybe someday. 

Maine Mycological Association may come in handy, too.  Lots of good information on offer there. There are countless terrific books on mushrooms and fungi in general, whether you are looking for edibles or simply sating your curiosity. Maybe start your search at the library with “mushrooms. 

No need to fixate on mushrooms, though. Seek will help identify plants of all kinds, animals, insects, moss, algae…the list goes on. I’d also put my money on PPL’s reference staff to point you in the right direction, and…I am happy to say, no money need change hands! They, and lots of other free resources, are waiting to help. 

Happy days are always ahead for anyone with a little time, a pocket big enough for a guide book and a nine-year-old’s sense of wonder.  Let’s see what we can find. 

 Two book covers side by side. On the left is "Roman Stories" written by Jhumpa Lahiri; on the right is "Here in the Night" by Rebecca Turkewitz

Elizabeth’s Picks 

 This fall brings a heap of new books from a few of my favorite authors. Ross Gay returns with The Book of More Delights; Jhumpa Lahiri spins Roman Stories, Teju Cole offers Tremor, a new novel. I’m a big fan of Paul Yoon’s short stories, and I’m looking forward to The Hive and the Honey, too.

But what’s that you say? There are so many new scary October reads that you need to start prepping for them in September? You’re in luck! Like the pumpkin spice that is already on your donut, the library is here for you. For haunted houses and sinister sites (in a wide spectrum from terrifying to for-mystery-lovers to merely dreamy), place your holds on these new books:   

 For more thrills and chills, stay tuned for our October Staff Picks! 


As ever, thanks for reading! You can find all of our staff picks in the Here in the Night: September Staff Picks booklist.

Looking for more reading ideas? That is our very favorite thing! Check out our Your Next Great Read service for kids and adults. We’ll make you your own booklist of ideas tailored to your interests. Or email

Summer Reading 2023: A Shining Success for Young Readers

posted: , by Heather Wasklewicz
tags: Adults | Teens | Teen Reads | Teen Events | Parents & Teachers | Kids & Families | Kids Programs | Early Literacy | Kids Reading Lists | Fun & Games | English Language Literacy | News | Readers Writers
PPL Summer Reading 2023 kicked off with a party at the Riverton Branch Library.

Rain, fog, and more rain could not dampen the start to our 2023 Summer Reading Program @ PPL. This year we truly shined, nearly tripling the number of sign-ups of children and teen participants totaling 1,360 sign-ups!

“Our numbers nearly tripled across the board from last year, which is amazing! It’s great to reach as many young readers as we can.  We were able to give out about 350 books and 20 bikes to finishers across our system.“ – Sarah Mari Cropley | Children’s Librarian, Downtown Library

Youth Services credits a strong partnership with local school librarians and teachers who helped us spread the word to parents and students, encouraging students to participate in summer programming with a chance to win a brand-new bicycle at the end! This excitement brought in a fresh new wave of young readers excited to dive in and be part of our community of readers.

“Participating in Summer Reading at public libraries is a fun, engaging way for children and teenagers to maintain and even boost their reading skills during the long school break. With many schools considering options like lengthening the school year to make up for pandemic learning loss, encouraging young people to read or listen to books of their choice just for fun is what we are all about at PPL.” – Kelley Blue | Director of Youth Services  

(In other words, Summer Reading is like secret vegetables snuck into brownies 🙂)

PPL kicked it all off with a party at the Rivertown Branch followed by specific programming throughout the summer including a visit from the Center for Wildlife (where we met ambassador Maeve the magnificent Merlin), a book launch celebration with kittens, and teen photography workshops. Our community Story Time attracted upwards of 50 attendees at each session eager to meet special guests like Slugger The Sea Dog and the crew from Engine #5 who brought their firetruck and ambulance for kids to explore. We rocked out with Kindie Climate Rocker Esther Crow and the Crow Family Band and wrapped up the season in the Rines Auditorium where the winners of the bike raffle  picked up their new bikes generously donated by our friends at the Triangle Lodge No. 1.

This year’s slogan, All Together Now, served to bring us all together “no matter the age, socio-economic status, political affiliation or location” and centered around “kindness, friendship, and unity.” The theme invited libraries endless opportunities to share and connect with community and this year, we accomplished this mission made possible by all of you who generously support the Portland Public Library. Thank you to PPL staff, community partners, patrons, visitors, and of course SUMMER READERS who made this year’s programming so fun, sunny, and festive! Shine on, readers! 

Portland Public Library supports reading throughout the year and offers an array of resources for Kids & Families, Teens, and Adults.

To see more photos from our celebrations check out our Summer Reading 2023 Facebook album



A representative from the Center for Wildlife holds a Peregrin Falcon to show to a group of children in the Children Library.     Slugger the Portland Seadogs mascot poses for a photo in the Children's Library with Director of Youth Services, Kelley Blue.


A young girl holds a black cat in the children's library during a Summer Reading event.     Two young girls with hold books during a Summer Reading event with author Gail Donovan.


A Portland Fire Department firefighter shows two young children a bright yellow fire hose     A young girl stands with a new bicycle—her prize from participating in PPL Summer Reading


A family band plays a concert about climate change on stage in the Rines Auditorium at the Downtown Library




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