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Peace, Joy, & December Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture
Images from "James Turrell: A Retrospective," one of the December Staff Picks.

A few serene images from the recent book “James Turrell: A Retrospective,” a December Staff Pick.


At the end of the year…in a time of reflection…staff members weigh in on library materials that personally inspire joy or peace.


Youth Services

Carrie’s Pick

zensocksZen Socks, by Jon J. Muth

Zen Socks, the newest installment in the Stillwater series by Jon J. Muth, introduces us to two new friends, Leo and Molly. Along with Moss, their cat, Leo and Molly learn timeless lessons of friendship, patience, and perseverance, from our favorite panda, Stillwater.

Set inside Muth’s sweet story and award winning watercolors is the traditional Zen tale,”The Taste of Banzo’s Sword.”Muth’s storytelling expertise shines in this short story within a story, which adds to the larger tale, while simultaneously being set apart with dynamic pen and ink drawings.

The book ends with and adaptation of the much loved, and often adapted tale, “The Star Thrower”, originally told by Loren Eiseley. This tale highlights the universal question: How should one act in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds? Muth’s answer: “Kindness works. Generosity works. Compassion works. Not every time, but always.”

Inner peace comes from knowing that you did the best you could, with the resources at hand, and in the time allowed. Stillwater reminds us once again that being kind and doing our best is always the right answer.


Hazel’s Pick

The_Red_Tree_(Shaun_Tan_book_cover)The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is a master of minimally worded, maximally illustrated picture books. With The Red Tree, he gives us immersive dreamscapes in which isolation, melancholy, and dark, persistent sadness dominate: a girl etching hundreds of tally marks into the shell of a slowly spiraling giant snail; an enormous gray fish floating ominously, casting a city in shadow. Maybe all this doesn’t sound so peaceful—but it’s the book’s hopeful, reassuring ending that makes it the obvious pick for me.



Laura’s Pick

lovabyeLovabye Dragon, by Barbara Joose

A book that has recently made me feel both peaceful and joyful is Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joose. The words have a lovely cadence which is wonderful to read aloud and the illustrations have a beautiful, soft, distinctive style that enriches the text. Lovabye is the story of Girl, who longs for a dragon for a friend, and Dragon, who longs for a girl for a friend. Thankfully, they find one another and discover that: “On the outside, Girl is little. On the outside, Dragon is biggle. But they’re just the same size, exactly the same size, in the middle.” The author says, “I think maybe I wrote this for little me.” I think everyone, big and little alike, will find joy in the idea of discovering just the friend you’ve been longing for.


Lisa’s Pick

MissRumphiusBookCoverMiss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

Of all the stories set in our beautiful Maine, I’ve always found joy and inspiration in Miss Rumphius. The classic story of the Lupine Lady offers us three simple but bedrock rules for a good life:

1. Go to faraway places.
2. Come home to live by the sea.
3. Do something to make the world more beautiful.


 Emily R’s Pick

instructionsInstructions, by Neil Gaiman

Lots of people get excited about Gaiman’s longer works; for me, his poetry and short stories are where the poignancy lie.  “Instructions,” a poem written out and illustrated in book form, talks you through what to do if you find yourself suddenly walking through a gate you’ve never seen in a wall you walk by every day.  Drawing from tens of different fairy tales, advice is given: it may be about trusting youngest sisters, or about ferrymens’ riddles.  Be kind; remember that jewels are just as uncomfortable as frogs when falling from lips; trust the wolves. In the end, Gaiman returns us to where we started, changed though we are by the experience of the journey, the poem, and more peaceful for this time.

“All fairy tales take place in the woods, King Cole, even the ones that don’t.” – Bill Willingham



Ann’s Pick

bluehorsesBlue Horses, by Mary Oliver

The poet Mary Oliver has been a particular favorite this year (other inspiring recent reads include Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief, and the book I’m reading now, Ivan Doig’s last novel, Last Bus to Wisdom).

One example from Blue Horses is the poem “Do Stones Feel?” (p 71) from which I quote just a few lines at the end:

“Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain?

Most of the world says no, no, it’s not possible.

I refuse to think to such a conclusion.
Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.”

Oliver’s themes are the beauty, ferociousness, sanctity, and interdependence of all life.  All her poems are life-affirming to me.  When she says “too terrible it would be, to be wrong” about the question of stones feeling or clouds gladly giving up rain, she argues for the unknowable wonder, exploration and tolerance of the world, including human beings.   Reading Mary Oliver helps me to come back into balance when I’m overwhelmed with the events of the day.


Elizabeth’s Pick


A Season For Building Houses

“To me, a home is where I find love, peace, friends, joy, strength, faith, and trust in those around me.” -Richard Akera, from “I Started to Explain,” A Season For Building Houses

Local writing center The Telling Room and their Young Writers and Leaders program just won a 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award. It’s news that inspires joy.

I just finished the TR’s new anthology,”A Season for Building Houses,” feeling gratitude that the compelling writers (and many familiar faces) represented in it are getting their stories and poems- and their important questions and reflections on home, the world, and life- heard, published, and spread far and wide. The anthology is currently being cataloged for the library’s collection.

You can also listen to readings from the anthology in the author’s voices here on SoundCloud. Pair with The Telling Room’s The Story I Want to Tell: Explorations in the Art of Writing.


Eileen M’s pick


Splitting an Order
, by Ted Kooser

Peace can be elusive, perhaps because we think it is something to pursue, rather than a place to inhabit.  Ted Kooser’s deceptively simple, utterly accessible poetry often gives me that sense of being in peace.  Knotty problems and hard issues are there along with spot-on renderings of the natural world , canning lids and a passel of other things.   Kooser’s Splitting an Order, published in 2014, offers up a bit of perfection in the eponymous poem (don’t wait! turn to page 9!) …leaving me damp-eyed and smiling and feeling at peace with what is and what may be.  But don’t stop there.  Read them all.


Thaddeus’ pick


If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut

This prompt actually took quite a bit of thought. A lot of things make me happy, you see. I settled on a favorite though: If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? by the late Kurt Vonnegut. While Vonnegut’s novels are known for his postmodern and almost dismal black comedy, his graduation speeches in If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? are testaments to hope and snark, to futures and failures, and to the momentousness of living. Whether waxing poetic on the need for extended community (“A husband and wife and some kids aren’t a family any more than a Diet Pepsi and three Oreos is a breakfast,”) or on the proof of God being the existence of music (“Bill Gates doesn’t seem to realize that we are dancing animals,”) Vonnegut extols the virtues of human beings simply recognizing that they are happy. After all, when was the last time you paused what you were doing on a sunny day and interrupted your companion to ask “if this isn’t nice, what is?”


Brandie’s Pick

mariekondoThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō

“Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?”

I recently read The Life Changing Habit of Tidying Up. (Everyone was reading it and remarking about how life-changing it truly is). A copy finally arrived as I was moving into my new home…which made unpacking take a great deal longer. Did it change my life? I don’t think so. I just can’t get that excited about organizing my sock drawer or rolling my shirts to maximize storage. But this guide to eliminating clutter is presented in an easy-to-manage way, and I do think that living with less clutter and less stuff creates a sense of peace. I also find myself using KonMari as a verb. I KonMaried my closet. I KonMaried my kitchen.

Perhaps this book sparked joy after all.


 Jim’s Pick

James Turrell von Michael GovanJames Turrell: A Retrospective, by Michael Govan and Christine Y. Kim, with photography by Florian Holzherr

My choice is our newest book on James Turrell’s work. I became acquainted with Turrell’s art some 25 years ago in New York.  It’s hard to define other than to say he manipulates light.  True story: I walked up to a grey rectangle in a gallery at the MOMA that was approximately 30 feet by 50 feet; only when I got to within 6 inches (!) did I see that it was not a rectangle, but that I was looking into another room.

Second time I saw his work: Arizona, Christmas vacation, 15 years ago. I allowed myself to be placed in a hollow ball that was sealed by a door, and then have laser lights alter the interior walls, so that I thought I was looking out into an endless blue vista…

As the book jacket notes, in his art “Turrell invites us to ‘go inside and greet the light,’ evoking the meditative practices of his Quaker upbringing.” Turrell also owns a crater out west (the Roden Crater Project) that I’ve yet to visit, which is supposed to be his magnum opus: the book includes beautiful images of it.


Meg’s Picks

"Sampler of Hand Stitches," from Rebecca Ringquist's Embroidery Workshops

“Sampler of Hand Stitches,” from Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops


9781617691416Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops, by Rebecca Ringquist

I love winter. When I’m not out playing in the snow, I love to hunker down with a cup of tea and an embroidery project. Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops: A Bend-the-rules Primer is my pick for this month because it has inspired me to embrace the darkest months as an opportunity to lose myself in the quiet, meditative nature of embroidery.





Works of Anne Bradstreet, by Anne Bradstreet

Cozy indoor projects are also a great time for reflection and a reminder of the great Anne Bradstreet who wrote, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome” (Meditations Divine and Moral). So if needlework is not your thing, perhaps a good poem is.





Penelope’s pick:

MI0001910828Mbaqanga by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens

It’s mid December. I’m driving around at 4 pm, and it’s already pitch dark, for Pete’s sake. Time to crank up some joyful music to lift my spirits. I need something that is the total opposite of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Nothing could be better than this great album of South African pop recorded in 1992.

The style of music called mbaqanga emerged from the segregated townships near Johannesburg in the 1960s. The groovy sound is created by plinky electric guitars and exuberant  call-and-response singing between Mahlathini, a gravel-voiced “groaner,” and the Queens, a female trio. Most of the lyrics are in Zulu, with a bit of English scattered around. One of the tracks is titled “Stop Crying,” and that is a good advertisement for what this music can do for you.

A word of warning: this album is liable to cause vigorous car dancing. Please exercise caution if you listen while driving.



Thanks for reading, everyone, and all best wishes for a Happy New Year.

Children & Teen Holiday Gift Picks

posted: , by Kelley Blue
tags: Montgomery's View | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture

Looking for the perfect book to gift a young person in your life? The librarians of the PPL Youth Services department have gleefully gathered up their personal picks for books that will be enjoyed by children, teens, and families this holiday season. Not only do we love them as librarians, but these titles are popular with our readers, too.

In addition to the full lists, we’ve handpicked our absolute favorites from each category and highlighted them below. The full lists can be found here:

Children’s Holiday Gift Picks
Teen Holiday Gift Picks

And now… for our personal favorites from each category. Click on any cover to view more information about a book in our catalog.

Children: Picture Books

It's Only Stanley by Jon AgeeI'm New Here by Anne Sibley O'Brien

Children: Chapter Books

Echo by Pam Munoz RyanThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

Children: Graphic Novels

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer HolmThe Stratford Zoo Midnight Review by Ian Lendler

Children: Nonfiction

Over the Hills and Far Away by Elizabeth HammillGrowing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares

Teen: Realistic Fiction

Everything Everything by Nicola YoonSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Teen: Fantasy & Science Fiction

Carry On by Rainbow RowellSix of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Teen: Graphic Novels

Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian TamakiMs. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Teen: “High Interest” Nonfiction

A Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam MaggsRookie Yearbook Four by Tavi Gevinson

May your holidays be full of many good books!

-Jerri Blatt, Kelley Blue & Mary Peverada, PPL Youth Services Librarians

Curiouser and Curiouser: November Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Programs & Events | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture
"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice.

What inspires your curiosity at the library? Maybe you’d check out The Oldest Living Things in the World, explore The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, uncover Hidden Treasures, study the Daily Rituals of famous artists, learn what gets Lost in Translation, eat Voracious-ly, find Home, or see why Knowledge is Beautiful?

At heart, libraries are happy to cater most constantly to the curious: those who want to explore the world through fact or fiction, brush up on old knowledge, or learn new things.

In honor of the Wake Up Alice! Exhibit, our staff is  highlighting a few gorgeous, unusual, interesting books in our collection that satisfy our curiosity- and, we hope, may spark yours.










dailyritualshiddentreasures knowledge








Youth Services

Mary’s Pick

The Marvels, by Brian Selznick

Uncle Albert sighed. “You either see it or you don’t.”themarvels

An illustration from The Marvels.

The Marvels

Two seemingly unassociated stories (the first in 400 pages of pencil drawings and the second in text) slowly and curiously wrap themselves together. The illustrated story of generations of the Marvels, a family of London thespians, segues into the modern story of Joseph, a runaway from boarding school, and his uncle, Albert Nightingale. Joseph seeks clues about his family legacy and the story in text begins to pick up traces of the past – and all ends with a short illustrated section. This is a story of family and what defines family and home. The book has stunning art and beautiful writing.

The Marvels is the final volume in Selznick’s trilogy which includes The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.

Kelley’s Pick

through the woodsThrough the Woods, by Emily Carroll (no relation!)

This weird, wonderful graphic novel for older children and teens is a true delight. (And it’s a 2015 Maine Student Book Award nominee). The best scary stories make an art of building suspense. In Through the Woods, the impact of suspense built both textually and graphically packs a real wallop. I devoured these 5 tales in one sitting, and there were moments when Emily Carroll’s images made me gasp aloud. “Are you okay???” was asked from two rooms away in my house. Some tales are classical, some are modern; all are drenched in shadows, saturated with bleeding colors, and scrawled with text that crawls and scratches its way across the page. Spine tingling and creepy… in a very good way.


Adult Fiction

Thaddeus’ Pick

House_of_leavesHouse of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski

How much more curious does it get than a book with footnotes containing footnotes within? House of Leaves is an adventure simply to read all on its own. Fonts change with narrators, entire pages may have one one word, or one line of words, or an entirely upside-down paragraph, and the word “house” is always printed in blue — always. Is the book horror? Or is it a love story? It’s hard to say…perhaps a little of both. But regardless, it is an extremely curious – and curiouser – book.


Samantha’s Pick


Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

Although every Murakami I read promises to be my favorite, this is a real contender in my ranks. Featuring librarians whose collection consists of only skulls, shadows that get detached from their human, dream reading, mysterious underground caves, and a condition that imparts pure silence. A true wonderland of a book. One (of many) favorite lines: “Life’s no piece of cake, mind you, but the recipe’s my own to fool with.”


Harper’s Pick

speak easy

Speak Easy, by Catherynne M. Valente

“Make me real ’cause you’re only real if somebody’s talking about you, and fiction’s the best kind of gossip there is.”

Very much in the Alice tradition, Speak Easy is a beautifully lyrical novella set in a Jazz Age hotel  that teaches us about the dangers and delights of getting lost in a mysterious underworld.



Eileen M’s Pick

Human Croquet USHuman Croquet, by Kate Atkinson

Here is a curiouser book by a curiouser and curiouser author. I have been binging on Kate Atkinson since an accidental encounter with Life After Life in August. I keep meaning to take a break from her intense, wry, bent stories, but I always fall back into her. What if I meet my end before I read it all?…must keep reading Kate Atkinson. Human Croquet flexes time with humor and insight. It never let me go, even after I turned the last page. The powerful thrall of Atkinson’s incredible plotting and addictive style has wrapped me up and made me look more closely by seeing more broadly.

A line that grabbed me: “The marmalade’s the colour of amber and melted lions.” Wow.


Adult Nonfiction

Jim’s Picks



Two fabulous, curious books on artist Andy Goldsworthy: The Andy Goldsworthy Project by Molly Donovan and Tina Fisk, and Enclosure by Andy Goldsworthy.

Maybe I just love stone?



These two titles give a full range of the artist’s work with landscape art–which inspires me because it seems to work with nature and doesn’t try to dominate it. His art also strangely reminds me of ruins of stone that one finds in Native American sites like Chaco Canyon, or in Celtic sites in the British Isles.



Hazel’s Pick

bitingthewaxtadpoleBiting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic, by Elizabeth Little

Are you someone who collects unusual phrases like rare butterflies, delights in the drama of etymological disputes, or perks up at the sound of words like “declension” and “participle”? If so, what a thrill it would be to discover Biting the Wax Tadpole in our nonfiction stacks! An accessible, witty, and charmingly illustrated compendium of linguistic quirks and curiosities from around the world, this book is full of word play of which Lewis Carroll himself would surely have approved. Recommended for amateur armchair linguists and generally curious readers alike.

Meghan’s Pick

faroutFar Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond, by Tomi Ungerer

I want to live among the elements, where I can feel the lick of fog on my cheeks and smell ferns baking in the sun and listen to the unmannered grunts of all kinds of untamed beasts; I also want to be able to order an americano within a five-minute walk from my front door. I guess my need for coffee (and a job) won out, because here I am in Portland. But when I feel the need to be OUT THERE, I pick up a copy of children’s book author/ erotica artist/ political rabble-rouser Tomi Ungerer’s Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond, which is a heavily illustrated memoir of his move to a remote Nova Scotian peninsula, where he and his wife bought an old farm house accessible only at low tide. Like his children’s books, this one does not shy away from the darkly comic nature of being a human — whether it involves learning the hard way how to butcher a hog or negotiating relationships with (distant) neighbors and their sheep. His illustrations and reflections satisfy my curiosity about a life I might have lived, while piquing further curiosities: Why, for instance, does he never paint his wife’s face?

An illustration from "Far Out Isn't Far Enough."

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough











Elizabeth’s Pick

humansHumans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton

“When my husband was dying, I said, ‘Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.”

I love true stories, and (I’m not afraid to say it) humans, too, in all their wild complexities.  There’s a joy in discovering the small and large truths of others, of paying attention to people who aren’t me and to stories that aren’t mine. If I’m too shy to approach strangers in Maine and pepper them with questions, I’m thankful that my world is hugely expanded and my brain happily enlarged anyhow by books and film and the news and radio and any kind of thoughtful story-sharing project. Photographer Brandon Stanton is the best sort of thoughtful story-sharer. He’s been taking portraits of people on the streets of New York (and around the world) since 2010.  Photos and small snippets of hundreds of wide and various lives and voices are gathered here in this 2015 collection. Candid, surprising, saddening, and joyful, Humans of New York: Stories enriches my understanding of the extraordinary human heart.

Thanks for reading! If you’re still curious, click these links for book lists of recommended reads for Adults, Kids & Families, Teens, and for more information on book groups at the Main Library, Peaks, and Riverton.


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