It’s spring! The library is a-buzz. Our staff dives into poetry at the library, the magic of the spring amphibian migration, new books blooming with flowers, nonfiction that gives us galaxy brain, and much, much more. We hope you find a new idea or two for your own To Be Read list…
Kiyoshi’s Walk—by Mark Karlins and illustrated by Nicole Wong—is a bright, spare story about a young boy who asks his grandfather where poems come from. They take a walk and learn that poetry is all around us: in the sounds we hear, the people and places we see, and the emotions we feel.
“Hill of orange suns.
Cat leaps. Oranges tumble.
The cat licks his paw.”
Filled with haiku and an author’s note explaining the poetic form (as well as how poets writing in English have adapted the form), Kiyoshi’s Walk is a great read-aloud, poetry introduction, and all-around beautiful book to enjoy at story time or anywhere.
‘Cause I don’t know about you, but I see poetry all around me every day, and most vibrantly when I am at story time:
Today in story time.
Children sat still and quiet.
If you were visiting Earth from another planet, what would you want to know? In Sophie Blackall’s If You Come to Earth, a child writes a letter to an alien visitor to let them know what to expect. While the language is simple, with just a sentence or two on every page, Blackall’s illustrations celebrate the richness and diversity of life on Earth in glorious detail. Touches of whimsy abound, and each face is unique and sensitively drawn (an author’s note explains that many of them are based on Blackall’s friends and acquaintances). I can’t decide if my favorite spread is the flock of birds shaped like one giant bird, or the library(!) where staff and patrons are engaging in acts of kindness. A delightful choice for Earth Day or any day!
Near the end of March, I begin checking the weather, hoping for rain. I’m looking for wet nights where the temperature is at least 45 degrees—that’s when the frogs and salamanders come out of their winter burrows and head to the vernal pools. This season, I’m volunteering to collect data for a community science project called “Maine Big Night”, but many people can witness the spring magic of amphibian migration for themselves. If you prefer to stay warm and dry, you can also read about the migration in books from the library:
For families with younger readers, or those who like bite sized information with great illustrations, I recommend Kimberley Ridley’s book The Secret Pool. Also check out Salamander Dance by David FitzSimmons, starring our native Yellow Spotted Salamanders.
Discovering Amphibians: Frogs and Salamanders of the Northeast by John Himmelman has great amphibian anecdotes. Chapter 3 talks about spring migrations.
Maine Amphibians and Reptiles is a useful guide to read up on species that occur in our area before heading out to the pools for frogspotting. It also contains a CD with recordings of frogsong, both separated by species and also recordings of frog choruses from different seasons.
I always adore getting to read books to my kids, and they are a happy and engaged audience. We’re lucky to have a huge number of excellent middle grade books that make for fun bedtime read-alouds. B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers remains family favorite—Amari discovers a secret magical world when her brother, who mysteriously disappeared, sends her a message telling her all about the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. She joins their intense summer program to try and earn a spot as a junior agent, all in an attempt to find her brother. It’s a rich fantasy world full of humor, surprises, plot twists, and so much fun—and more to come in book two.
For any families looking for more contemporary stories of hidden magic and adventure, other favorites include Reily’s quest to save her sister (and their Korean witch clans) in The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim; an unforgettable journey to Neverland from Wendy and Lily’s perspective in Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; and the always amazing Tristan Strong trilogy by Kwame Mbalia, starring Gum Baby (and I guess Tristan, too).
I listened to the audio version of Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds and read by a whole host of compelling readers. Portico Reeves is a dynamic kid with two identities: in addition to his amazing self, he is also Stuntboy, a super hero! The book deals with issues of bullying, divorce and anxiety. Portico is very worried because his parents have begun arguing about everything. The arguing gives him “the frets”, which is what his mother calls anxiety. The audio version of the book is on cloudLibrary and is un-put-downable! You will savor every adorable, hilarious and touching moment of it and lament when it is over.
I am reading Bill Konigsburg’s The Bridge right now. It’s currently on order for our Teen library. Aaron and Tillie don’t know each other, but they are both feeling suicidal when the book begins. They briefly meet at the George Washington Bridge, intending to jump. On the bridge, four things could happen: Aaron jumps and Tillie doesn’t. Tillie jumps and Aaron doesn’t. They both jump. Neither of them jumps.
This book does not glorify suicide in any way, and it follows four possible outcomes and shows how each person’s family could be affected if either of them jumps. It is touching, painful, funny, joyous and sad all at once. I think it is a very important read, especially in a time where books like this one are being challenged by people all over the country.
Lately, I have read some very good books, but one title was so compelling that I stayed up all night to finish it. Ruta Sepetys’ I Must Betray You tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu, one of the many, many people who were extorted by the secret police to become informers during the Ceausescu dictatorship in Romania. One cannot trust anyone—friends, family, acquaintances. Betrayal is an everyday occurrence. It is 1989 and Romania (like other Communist countries) is reaching a breaking point. People are revolting against the horrors that they face daily. As dark and uncomfortable the situation is, the author is brilliant at creating a narrative that compulsively pulls the reader in and won’t let go.
Ruta Sepetys is an award-winning YA author (although her books are not just for teens), who writes about under-represented stories of struggle and hope. The epilogue and notes clarify even more how malevolent the Ceausescu regime was—and for far too long. This is a must read—and with the current world situation, very important.
I echo Mary’s endorsement of I Must Betray You—a truly effective look at a chilling moment in recent history. Readers interested in exploring similar themes may find an unlikely follow-up in The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, an American author of Romanian descent. This girl-power middle-grade fantasy about magic wielders in a patriarchal society also touches on how unjust governments control recorded history and how, as the protagonist’s mentor says, one must always ask: “Who does the story serve?” This thought-provoking page-turner definitely serves us well.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao: In a land where young men pilot giant mechs to combat monsters, sacrificing their female copilots in the process, ferocious Wu Zetian turns the world upside down when she survives a battle in the mech suit and becomes a powerful mech pilot in her own right. This book hits hard and fast; the nonstop action mixes kaiju battles with deadly politics. It’s a dark and bloody story, balanced by the hope of actual change that Zetian brings with her iron will and the precious bonds of trust that she forges with her companions. The romance in this book is personally significant to me and resonated in a way that few ever have.
Salt Magic by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock: When Vonceil’s older brother, Elber, comes home from his time fighting in World War I, he unknowingly brings back a mysterious woman and a deadly curse: in the middle of a drought, the only drinkable water for miles around—the family farm’s spring—is changed into salt water. Twelve-year-old Vonceil must pick up the pieces on her own, so she sets off on a journey to track down the vengeful witch and break the curse on her family’s farm. Vonceil makes a great protagonist: courageous, stubborn, and willing to do the right thing no matter the cost. The other characters shine as well, with each person having depths and motivations that aren’t immediately clear, making them wonderfully three-dimensional. Plus, the art is absolutely gorgeous! I love the color choices and the dream-like architecture of the witch’s house.
Heaven’s Design Team by Hebi-zou, Tsuta Suzuki, and Tarako: How did all the animals come to populate the earth? In this manga, God grew tired of the whole “creation” thing after making the earth and decided to outsource! Heaven’s Design Team shows the daily life of an otherworldly design department as they create the entirety of the world’s fauna. It’s a mix of real biology facts, goofy slapstick animal humor, and workplace comedy. How will they fulfill the request for “an animal that flies without wings”? How does a dolphin sleep? What adaptations would a Pegasus need to actually be able to fly? All of your questions can be answered if you read this series!
Rich world building and lush art meet in the stunning comic series Monstress, created by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. If you’ve ever wondered what a fantasy-steampunk world inspired by Asian mythology would look like, look no further. Liu has created a world both wonderous and gritty, populated by a cast of complex and mysterious characters all looking to use the protagonist to achieve their own unknown ends. Takeda illustrates the world in gorgeous detail and shows her versatility in depicting characters ranging from tooth-achingly adorable to terrifyingly monstrous. I highly recommend Monstress to all fantasy lovers, even if comics and graphic novels aren’t usually your thing.
Learning to love poetry means letting go of limited classroom lessons about poetry. If you hated those lessons and never saw yourself or your world reflected in them, don’t give up! If you loved those lessons and reveled in the words of poets held up as “masters of the genre,” don’t stop there! There’s a whole wide world of verse out there.
If you love a meaty introductory text, look no further than Technicians of the Sacred. This poetry anthology spans the entirety of humanity’s existence, both in time and geography. It challenges the categorization of ancient poetry by Indigenous civilizations as “primitive” and explores how the poetry of our ancestors inspires our work today.
We discussed themes from Technicians of the Sacred in a recent Poetry Across workshop. Developed by Portland Poet Laureate Maya Williams, Poetry Across explores reading and writing poetry at the intersection of health, identity, and artistic expression. While much of our time is spent quietly writing, we also look to the poetry of others for inspiration. For example, two performances we recently studied were of Mia Willis’ “Sandcastles” and Ross Gay’s “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian.” These programs are free and open to everyone, regardless of your experience engaging with poetry.
My final suggestion for poetry learning and enjoyment is the podcast Poetry Unbound. Host Pádraig Ó Tuama reads a poem, discusses themes and thoughts, then reads the poem again. Episodes are short, relaxing, and engaging. I highly recommend winding down in the evening with Pádraig’s soft and dreamy voice.
Poetry is for everyone. Happy National Poetry Month!
Spring feels synonymous with “Awakening” and Switched on: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening by John Elder Robison inspires a lot of hope and curiosity about the future of brain research and what it could mean for people on the autism spectrum who seek treatment.
Atlas of the Invisible by James Cheshire caught my eye recently and is on my TBR list. Flipping through it gave me galaxy brain for how we view and understand the world.
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes: Is it fiction? A biography? It is a biography of Flaubert wrapped in a fictional tour de force. It centers around the (fictional) narrator’s quest for all things Flaubert through his search for, yes, the stuffed parrot LouLou from Flaubert’s short story, Un Coeur Simple (A Simple Heart). The narrator examines Flaubert’s lived life in Rouen and Croisset, presents biographical dates and data in three versions—the dry one, a somewhat racy one, and a speculative one. The novel explores biography through the metaphor of a net: “You can define a net in one of two ways, depending on your point of view. Normally, you would say that it is a meshed instrument designed to catch fish. But you could, with no great injury to logic, reverse the image and define a net as a jocular lexicographer once did: he called it a collection of holes tied together with string.”
I am intrigued by Barnes’s consideration of what is missing in any biography—what inspired Flaubert’s use of the parrot? A leftover curiosity from adolescence? An encounter in his world travels? What happened to the book and subjects referred to in letters but not written? This is a book for literature lovers and those who chose their biographies with a sense of adventure.
“We searched for baby stars.” So many flowers bloom across book covers this spring—all the bright and beautiful novels and story collections like Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez and Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo. The Way Spring Arrives is a collection of Chinese science fiction and fantasy in translation from a visionary team of female and nonbinary creators, edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang. It’s full of tales of baby stars, magic and mayhem, and missions to make begonias bloom.
“In some worlds, / you’re so / close I could kiss you. / In some worlds we keep meeting.” The rich, resonant poetry of Ruth Awad (and many more poets) can be found in New Moons: Contemporary Writing by North American Muslims, edited by Kazim Ali.
“The room we were in was a cube of white, lit up like the aisle of a grocery store, yet in my memory, that night is dark and vibrant as a Rembrandt painting. We talked only of love; there was nothing else to say.” Lost and Found: A Memoir is an absorbing, joyous book about death and life—eighteen months before Kathryn Schulz’s father dies, she meets the woman she is to marry.
“Let’s hear it for the sisters; they know how to stomp.” Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s Poet Warrior sings. It’s a truly gripping memoir full of music, poetry, compassion, and wisdom.
One more new book coming in April that I’m excited about: Janelle Monáe and five co-authors write stories of queer Afrofuturism and liberation in The Memory Librarian.
When my attention span has been stretched to its utmost, however embarrassingly short that span might be, I am especially grateful that I spend my workdays surrounded by books. Two-plus floors of them. Sorted by subject and curated by smart people who know how to build a collection. Good cover, familiar author, intriguing title. It doesn’t matter why you pick up a book, or, for that matter, why you put it down without finishing it. What matters is that they are here for anyone to sample, to dive into with abandon or to wade into cautiously. It’s all here.
Lately, I’ve had trouble sticking with a book long enough to know if I like it or not. So that’s my bar: if I actually finish a book, then it might be worth recommending. A pretty low bar, to be sure, but let’s see what I can come up with.
Liquid Gold: Bees and the Pursuit of Midlife Honey by Roger Morgan-Grenville tickled my fancy with bees (fascinating), midlife (close to home, assuming I live to be 132), and honey (delicious, beautiful, a marvel of nature that can be dribbled on toast). Enjoyable book, funny, warm and informative. I made it all the way to the end.
By now hijacked by honeybees, I next latched onto Christy Hemenway’s The Thinking Beekeeper: a Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives. Different hive design, more technical (still dilettante-friendly, though), and more opinionated philosophically, but every bit as engaging. No need to start chasing swarms nor to order a package of bees in order to find either book a pleasing investment of time and a great way to better understand how bees work, with or without human intervention.
I see in the catalog that PPL has another Hemenway bee book—Advanced Top Bar Beekeeping—so if you want even more than the trove that is her first book, perhaps the sequel might nudge you toward swarm-chasing and re-homing after all.
Lest you think that my focus has been honed, as I peck at the keyboard I have in my backpack A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine by Dana Wilde in the hope that a spider I know is a spider I can live with. Just not in my bathroom, please. Wilde’s Spiders are snuggled up against Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know by Erica Chenoweth, because you never know where a book will take you if you stick with it.
Or not. Your choice.
You can find all of our staff picks in the booklist The Way Spring Arrives: April Staff Picks.
Looking for more ideas on what to read, watch, or listen to next? Try our Your Next Great Read services for everyone to get your own personalized list of recommendations. Or reach out to Reader’s Advisory staff at email@example.com. And as always…thank you for reading!posted: , by Elizabeth