Tag Archives: book club spotlight

Book Club Spotlight – The Loren Eiseley Reader

cover for The Loren Eiseley Reader. Two small kids stand in a forest of sunflowers, pointing towards a silhouette of the Lincoln Skyline

It’s finally the best week of the year- National Library Week! Hosted by the American Library Association, this year’s motto is “More to the Story.” Like we discussed in our last Spotlight, The Reading List, libraries are more than just book depots; they are places for community and social engagement. And today, we’ll look at a different aspect of “More to the Story,” in how a book can be greater than the sum of its parts and live on long past its author. Published posthumously The Loren Eiseley Reader is a collection of essays by celebrated Nebraskan anthropologist and philosopher Loren Eiseley. This collection includes a foreword by his friend and fellow author Ray Bradbury, who closes by musing on the longevity of the written word: “The essays you’ve written and the books that you’ve created are children, so your heritage will go on to the end of this century and to the centuries beyond. You have children, Loren Eiseley, and you will live forever.”

The Loren Eiseley Reader is a collection of short essays and stories taken from Eiseley’s work throughout his life, including his academic work, poetry, and other nonfiction. The essays are organized into three categories: Reflections of a Naturalist, Reflections of a Writer, and Reflections of a Wanderer. A reader can pick up wherever they want and not feel constrained to a linear experience. Even though it’s confined to the first heading, being a naturalist affects all of Eiseley’s work. He saw the Earth as a beautiful mystery and contemplated its meaning and grander scope throughout his writing. Even in the most scientific discussions, such as evacuating fossils, Eiseley takes the reader back in time with him. Not to point out how insignificant we are in the scope of history, but how incredible it is that something came before us and something will come after us.

“I had come a long way down since morning; I had projected myself across a dimension I was not fitted to traverse in the flesh.”

Loren Eiseley

In addition to showcasing Eiseley’s work, The Reader was compiled to introduce secondary students to engaging examples of well-written essays and prose. According to The Loren Eiseley Society, The Reader and its companion Teacher’s Guide can fit seamlessly into any classroom, “Eiseley’s ideas and powerful prose are a perfect fit for students of science, literature, and history, both natural and anthropological. His writing provides profound insight into the workings of the natural world and man’s relationship to that world, and his unique literary style is rich ground for students of literature.” And students might also be excited to learn about the namesake of their local library. A student reader collection might not be your standard book club pick, but there can be a lot of value in reading some naturalist nonfiction as we move into spring and summer, while the Nebraska prairie slowly comes back to life.

If you’re interested in requesting The Loren Eiseley Reader for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 9 copies available (A librarian must request items)

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – The Reading List

I’m sure you’re all as excited for National Library Week (April 23rd-29th) as I am, so I’m giving you plenty of time to get pumped up with today’s Book Club Spotlight, which perfectly captures this year’s theme: “There’s More to the Story.” Libraries are community centers and technology hubs and contain many other resources available for everyone and anyone. And The Reading List, by debut author Sara Nisha Adams, is all about how libraries are much more than what they carry on the shelves.
 

We follow two reluctant readers: Widower Mukesh, who, upon reading an old library book left by his late wife, finds comfort and solace in the characters who help the memory of his wife live on. Energized by the experience, Mukesh decides to make an effort to connect with his shy granddaughter through her love of books—leading him to a small Wembley library. In the library, we meet Aleisha, a disillusioned but whip-smart teen working in the slowly dying library over the summer to support her sick mother. Aleisha has no particular love for libraries or books until she is handed a mysterious list of books titled “Just in case you need it.” Inexplicably drawn to reading the first on the list, To Kill a Mockingbird, Aleisha encourages Mukesh to read it as well. Soon they are both making their way down the list and are surprised to find how much they want to talk with someone about the books or maybe just to talk with someone at all. Much like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the titular “list” in The Reading List serendipitously makes its way across London, finding people who could use a break or a breakthrough. When tragedy strikes, the group’s bond and the lessons they learned from the mysterious reading list and each other become more important than ever.

“Books show us the world. They don’t hide it.”

 Sara Nisha Adams

New to our collection, The Reading List is the perfect book club pick because it centers around characters who inexplicably find themselves in a far-reaching book club. In the beginning, Aleisha and Mukesh are nervous about discussing the books themselves, feeling like they need to be some sort of expert or have an earth-shattering revelation to be worth sharing. Still, as time goes on, they gain confidence in sharing their ideas. While each book might not be the ideal fit, they still find something to discuss and enjoy. The idea of the modern-day book club started as an avenue to encourage open discussion, and they still play an essential role in expressing that inherent want to connect (but I may be biased). People are always looking for connection and community; reading and hearing others’ stories and struggles makes us more open, compassionate, and self-confident. Unlike other “books about books,” there is no magic library or all-powerful novel in The Reading List. Instead, there is simply the magic and importance of people. And at the end of the day, the people and their community are the most critical asset to libraries.

Request The Reading List for your Book Club here. There are 5 copies available (A librarian must request items)

Adams, Sara Nisha. The Reading List. William Morrow. 2022.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

the cover of The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett.  A white rat with red eyes sits on top of a tabby cat. Both are staring intently at the viewer.

In my opinion, the best books are about what it means to be a human and humanity as a whole—which are usually best represented through a different species.  And it’s only fitting that fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett would explore this age-old philosophy through rats. Well… educated rats and one amazing cat. In honor of Respect Your Cat Day, today’s spotlight, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, is a stand-alone novel in Pratchett’s expansive Discworld series and the first in the collection written for a younger audience.

Magically gifted with speech and consciousness, a clan of self-dubbed “Educated Rodents” and a con artist cat, the “Amazing Maurice,” travel from town to town with a young piper in tow. They successfully run scams where the rats “infest” a town so the boy can pretend to lead them away à la the Pied Piper. Agreeing to one last job, they arrive in the village of Bad Blintz, only to find that the town already has a massive rat infestation. But they can’t seem to find any of these rats anywhere. Realizing that something sinister is at play, the rats, the boy, and Maurice find themselves in more trouble than they ever imagined. And with more than a payday at risk, the newly self-aware rat clan and Maurice don’t know if they can turn their backs and leave the town to fall into ruin. So what’s a cat to do now that he’s got morals and ethics to deal with? 

“I prefer our way. We are silly and weak sometimes. But together we are strong. You have plans for rats? Well, I have dreams for them.”

Terry Pratchett
Happy Respect Your Cat Day from Mittens!

Pratchett is a widely well-regarded author, and for a good reason, with The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents awarded the Carnegie Award for Children’s Literature. It is one of those rare books written in an accessible manner for younger audiences while still treating them as intelligent and capable of understanding its philosophy. Even though it reads like one, the reader is often reminded that it is not a fairytale and there are dire consequences to be had despite the tap-dancing rodentia. Sure, the book is cute and filled with talking animal shenanigans, but it also shows a grittier side, with rat-on-rat violence, dog-on-rat violence, and laxative-on-man violence. Maurice is perfect for a group of YA readers and beyond who love discussing theories and pondering the Big Questions, such as what comes after death? What would it mean to suddenly have consciousness and a moral code? Can community and strength overcome inherent nature? And what would you do in the face of the Grim Squeaker?

Request The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents for your Book Club here. There are 14 copies available (A librarian must request items)

Pratchett, Terry. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. HarperTrophey. 2001.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Cover of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. A young brunette girl sits in her bedroom looking up and out a window.

March, being Women’s History Month (shoutout to women), gives me an excuse to visit a book in our collection that has influenced and consoled countless young girls and women since 1970. Selected as the 1970 New York Times “Outstanding Book of the Year,” listed in Time’s 2010 list of “All-Time 100 Novels”, and in Scholastics’ “100 Greatest Books for Kids/100 Must-Read Books”, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume has carved a legacy and guided our approach to educating young people about puberty. And pioneered middle-grade fiction at a time when books for kids “on the cusp” of puberty were nowhere to be found.    

Eleven-year-old Margaret Simon’s relationship with God has nothing to do with religion. Her parents, one Christian and one Jewish, decided to raise her outside of any faith because of the pressure they received from their own religious upbringings. Even still, Margaret frequently talks to God, whoever he is, about her problems and insecurities, confiding in things she couldn’t tell anyone else. After moving to the New Jersey suburbs, Margaret is tasked with a year-long school project of her choosing. Deciding her project will be to finally find a religion that fits her (much to her parents’ discomfort), Margaret attends Jewish and Christian services, hoping to feel God there the same way as when she talks to him alone. At the same time, she and her group of friends, smartly named “The Pre-Teen Sensations,” wrestle with more down-to-earth issues, like boy problems and bras. All the while eagerly awaiting their first period, deathly afraid that something might be wrong with their bodies when it doesn’t come as soon as other girls in their class. Together, Margaret and her friends face down the scariest enemy of all: the epic highs and lows of being a pre-teen girl.

“I can’t go on being nothing forever, can I?”

Judy Blume

Margaret’s message is still relevant to young girls today. Despite being written over 50 years ago, young readers, alone or in a reading group, can see themselves in Margaret, even the parts they try to hide. Blume’s works encourage open and honest communication, creating a space for community and empathy, which is the foundation of any good book club. To be sincere, to experience new perspectives, and to grow together. All these years later, Judy Blume is still a household name, and for good reason. She created a space where it is easy and necessary to talk about ourselves and our feelings without shame. In school, we giggled and commiserated over her plain and frank depictions of real problems and things happening with our bodies that other adults might have shied away from talking about. But she never did. We’d pull from the advice of Blume to let us know there was nothing wrong with us, we were growing up, and that’s ok.

Amy Weiss-Meyer, a senior editor at the Atlantic, best sums up Blume’s influence and genuine care for nurturing young girls in the article We Still Need Judy Blume: “The letters started right after Margaret. The kids wrote in their best handwriting, in blue ink or pencil, on stationery adorned with cartoon characters or paper torn out of a notebook. They sent their letters care of Blume’s publisher. “Dear Judy,” most began. Girls of a certain age would share whether they’d gotten their period yet. Some kids praised her work while others dove right in, sharing their problems and asking for advice: divorce, drugs, sexuality, bullying, incest, abuse, cancer. They wanted to scream. They wanted to die. They knew Judy would understand.”

The first film adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret will be released in April 2023, starring Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates, with Judy Blume as a producer. 

If you’re interested in requesting Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 13 copies available (A librarian must request items)

Blume, Judy. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Bradbury Press. 1970.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – I Have Always Been Me

Cover of I Have Always Been Me by Precious Brady-Davis. 

Precious stands front and center in a welcoming pose towards the camera. She is wearing a dress in the colors of the Trans flag.

During Black History Month, we’re showcasing books by some incredible authors to celebrate Black voices in literature. And this week’s highlighted book, I Have Always Been Me by Precious Brady-Davis, is a bold coming-of-age and coming-of-self story set in a familiar locale. Born and raised in Omaha, Brady-Davis serves as the director of communications at the Sierra Club, a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, and an LGBT+ and HIV activist. She was the first publicly out transgender woman on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress and was featured on another TLC show, “My Pregnant Husband: documenting her and her husband’s journey to having a child together as a trans couple.

Precious was often the odd one out in her family and her Omaha community. Assigned as male at birth and growing up being perceived as one, she knew that her innate femininity was leading to bullying and unwanted attention. Being moved around between family members, foster care, and schools, it wasn’t until she started attending UNL that Precious began performing drag and was able to embrace the more authentic side of herself. During her education, Precious found her talent and love for diversity and inclusion advocacy through local programs and support from her peers and teachers. However, she had to reckon with her empathy and love for all people with what she was taught at home and in church. Precious recounts her intimate relationship with religion that shaped her youth and how it led to her continued ostracization by people she felt the closest to due to her gender nonconformity. And her reckoning between these two worlds that seemed so disparate is found to be fundamentally a part of her person. Eventually moving to Chicago to finish school at Columbia College, Precious continued to find and foster her queer identity, finally coming to herself as a trans woman and devoting her life to advocacy work, eventually falling in love and fully cementing her foundation for an incredible future ahead.

“For all of us who have been marginalized, who have been abandoned by those who are meant to love us, who have been damned by those who are meant to bless us, who have been looked at with disgust and told that we are wrong, that we are sinful, that we are abominations, now is the time to go forth and be fierce with clear intent while standing tall, showing that marginalized folks aren’t going anywhere as we activate our power.”

Precious Brady-Davis

I Have Always Been Me is a well-known tale of how a person can desperately search for a community as a child but be turned away at every corner. And it isn’t until they are introduced to the world of unconditional acceptance that they finally have the tools to escape survival mode to grow and flourish. While the subject may be new, the story will feel familiar to members of an adult or mature young-adult book group and can open the floor to discussion on the different ways people can be made to feel like outsiders and how vital community support is for disenfranchised young people. Stories like Brady-Davis’s are pivotal in normalizing and loving trans people, especially Black Trans women in Nebraska. Reading the interpersonal stories of affected people, like with any other minority group, lends a bigger picture to the conversation in ways only literature can and showcases the incredible resilience needed to simply be yourself. 

If you’re interested in requesting I Have Always Been Me for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (A librarian must request items)

To see more of our Black Voices book club titles, visit here

Brady-Davis, Precious. I Have Always Been Me. TOPPLE Books. 2021.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Long Way Down

The cover of Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. 
A grungy elevator centered on the floor number buttons in a straight line. The 1st floor button is lit and a reflection of a young Back boy is shown.

It’s our first Book Club Spotlight of Black History Month, which means this month, we’re showcasing books by incredible authors to celebrate Black Voices in literature. Today’s author, Jason Reynolds, is the recipient of awards such as the NAACP Image Award and multiple Coretta Scott King honors and was the 2020-2022 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Reynolds encourages us not to see the genre of YA as limiting, enjoying the freedom of emotion young people carry to tell good stories. Today’s spotlight, recipient of the Printz and Newbery Honors, Long Way Down, is written in free verse, through snippets of dreams and recollections, as a young boy is visited by the ghosts of his past.

After witnessing his brother’s murder, Will knows what he has to do. Follow The Rules.

1) Don’t Cry 2) Don’t Snitch 3) Get Revenge.

He doesn’t know who created The Rules and when, but he does know that it’s his duty to follow them. Because he knows, or at least he thinks he knows, who killed Shawn. Will finds his brother’s hidden gun, gets on the 8th-floor elevator and presses L. As Will goes further down the elevator, he is visited by those who are gone because of the same Rules he is now going to follow, and he is given a chance to either continue the cycle or break it apart. 

“MY MOTHER USED TO SAY
I know you’re young,
gotta get it out
but just remember, when
you’re walking in the nighttime,
make sure the nighttime
ain’t walking into you.”

Jason Reynolds 

For ages 12 and above, Long Way Down skillfully employs free verse to weave together an unforgettable story about the cycle of violence, especially in how it affects urban and Black communities. Reynolds prefers not to shy away from realism and challenging topics in his novels because the kids reading them have experienced or will experience the same situations in real life. Reynolds, himself, almost fell victim to the cycle when he was younger, and he uses his real-life experiences and emotions to cut to the core of why violence like this continues to happen. Much like Will’s elevator ride that only takes sixty seconds, but lasts a whole novel, reading Long Way Down, can be taken at whatever pace is comfortable to the reader’s skill level. And as violence in schools continues to be a constant fear, there will be plenty for young reading groups to discuss as the floors tick by.

If you’re interested in requesting Long Way Down for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian)

To read more by Jason Reynolds, check out his Track Series, or, The Boy in the Black Suit (One Book For Nebraska Teens 2019).

Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Atheneum. 2017.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Cover for The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth.

Three teens sit in a truck's bed, looking at the camera stoically.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a quiet atmospheric story that takes the reader through the formative years of the titular Cameron as she comes into herself as a person and as a lesbian. Written as the dissertation for her Ph.D. at UNL (co-directed by author Timothy Schaffert and the late Gerald Shapiro), emily m. danforth was inspired by sentimentalist women’s literature, stories of teens being sent to religion-based conversion therapy camps, and her own upbringing in Miles City, Montana. Published three years before the federal protection of same-sex marriage, Miseducation’s impact on normalizing queer culture and issues is phenomenal, especially in how it honestly approaches teens and their families in the discovery and acceptance of their sexuality.

Growing up in early 90s Montana, Cameron Post did her best to keep her head down, not wanting anyone to look further than her “wise-cracking orphan” façade. But, if anyone started to look too closely, they would see she was in hiding. Hiding her feelings for other girls. Detailing her loves and loves lost while fogged in religious guilt pushed on her by her ultra-religious aunt, Cameron learns how to keep her true self out of sight. Betrayed and forced out of the closet, the looming threat of being sent to conversion therapy camp becomes a reality. Cameron must endeavor against those who want to change her and find solidarity amongst the powerless teens also caught up in the mess of religious zealotry and homophobia. Cameron’s story is, of course, a “miseducation” at its core. She isn’t some unachievable, idealized-perfect person, and she shouldn’t have to be. Finding yourself is not easy; you have to be prepared to face what finds you in return.

“When you run into yourself, you run into feelings you never thought you had.”

emily m. danforth

Perfect fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and John Green, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is appropriate for mature teen and adult book groups. It approaches complex topics with care and empathy. Because it takes place in the 90s, some language is out of date, which opens up room for an interesting group discussion on how we have treated and talked about LGBTQ+ issues and if Cameron’s story would be different if she were a teen today. danforth has the skill to give her characters space to tell their own stories rather than focusing on teaching us a lesson or a hard-hitting moral. Like life, Miseducation revels in its slow pacing. The book is a long scenic road to get where it wants to be. Only a few chapters in, and it feels like you have known Cameron forever.

And if your reading group is interested in a movie night, the 2018 movie adaptation of Miseducation won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic category. I watched it this weekend, and it was incredible. From a review of the movie in the New York Times: “Miseducation is neither a glib sendup of a less enlightened era nor a pious reckoning with the bygone injustices of the past. It is more interested in how its characters feel than in what they might symbolize, and in how they grapple with the conflicting demands of faith and desire. It’s also about the struggle between earnest young people and the equally earnest, painfully misguided adults who are trying to save their souls”.

To see more of our LGBT+ & Queer book club titles, visit the link here.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian)

danforth, m. emily. The Miseducation of Cameron Post. HarperCollins. 2012.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Prairie Lotus

The Cover for Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.  A young half-Chinese girl stands on the prairie with her back to a small town. Her hair is blowing in the wind as she holds on to her bonnet. Over laying her shirt are three people walking towards the town, a white man, a young girl, and a Chinese woman.

In today’s spotlight, we will continue our look back to the historic American frontier and the people who shaped it. If you, like me, grew up in the early 2000s, chances are you’ve read a book by Linda Sue Park. Her Newberry Award Winning novel, A Single Shard and Project Mulberry, were some of my absolute favorite books in middle school, and I was over the moon to learn that she is still writing! Our book today, Prairie Lotus, is a new addition to our collection and is the most recent in Linda Sue Park’s bibliography. Being a 2021-22 Golden Sower Novel Nominee, Prairie Lotus has also earned a Children’s Literature Award Honor from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. In addition to being an esteemed author, Park is the founder and curator of Allida Books (a HarperCollins imprint) and a board member for the non-profit We Need Diverse Books and the Rabbit hOle museum project.

At the beginning of Prairie Lotus, Hanna has three goals, graduate from school, become a dressmaker, and make a real friend. As pioneers, she and her father have been traveling across the west for quite some time when they end up in the small Dakota Territory town of LaForge. Hanna is especially excited to live in town so she can finally attend a real school, just like her late mother dreamed of her doing. But, unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Despite being intelligent and resourceful, Hanna is half-Chinese and faces a lot of discrimination from the white settlers who try to stop her from going to school or even running errands. Refusing to give in to their hate, Hanna now has to figure out how to still graduate from school, prepare for the opening of her father’s store, and keep up with her household chores, all the while dealing with the cruelty from the townsfolk. And she has the strong spirit of the American frontier and the strength of her mother in her corner.

 “There were always a hundred reasons for disliking people and not nearly as many for liking them.”

Linda Sue Park

Like The Birchbark HousePrairie Lotus is perfect for young (or adult) readers interested in reading about early American history from a fresh perspective. Exploring life in this pioneer community, we are shown the strength and daily life of the women who settled in the West, and the life of the local Indigenous women, specifically from the Ihanktonwan (Yankton Sioux) tribe. The story purposefully reads similarly to Little House on the Prairie and is heavily influenced by the series (you’ll even see some familiar faces). As a daughter of Korean immigrants, Park says, “Hanna’s story is in many respects a kind of ‘conversation’ with the iconic Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, I spent hours imagining that I too lived on the frontier in the 1800s, and that I was Laura’s best friend”. And Park makes no mistake that she wrote the story as a way for her to come to terms with a story she loves while also challenging its more problematic history, which is discussed more in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. 

More by Linda Sue Park: 

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian) 

Park, Linda Sue. Prairie Lotus. Harper Collins. 2020

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Death Comes for the Archbishop

Cover of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. The cover art is a pencil drawing of a road curving around sand dunes covered in sparse vegitation.

A new year means new books will be entering the public domain! According to copyright laws, works originating in 1927 will now be free for all to share, use, and create new stories with. For example, last year, the original Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne entered the public domain, leading to a new horror movie featuring the characters. So now, in 2023, we have a whole new set of stories to look out for, and today we’ll be talking about one in our very own Book Club collection. Death Comes for the Archbishop is Willa Cather’s re-telling of the lives of Roman Catholic clergymen Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Joseph Projectus Machebeuf as they establish a diocese in the U.S. New Mexico Territory in the 1800s. Cather, preferring to call it a “narrative” rather than a novel, wrote Death Comes for the Archbishop as a cluster of vignettes, legends, and stories surrounding the fictionalized Southwest and how the Catholic Church came to shape the region. But don’t let that frighten you; her book isn’t that of religious zealotry but of the people.

Father Jean Marie Latour, a French Jesuit priest, has been sent off to be the Vicar and Bishop of the newly American-owned New Mexico territory. He, with his close childhood friend Father Joseph Vaillant, attempts to serve their diocese, which often descends into disarray with the Mexican and Native American population content to perform religion in their own way due to the prolonged absence of a Vicar. The men, unused to the harsh New Mexico region, but earnest in their faith, meet and grow fond of their parishioners in the American Southwest, painting a knowledgeable and sympathetic portrait of the times and the people. The intelligent and philosophical Father Latour is open-minded about other cultures and finds human love at the root of his faith. At the same time, his abrupt friend Father Vaillant is much more direct in his faith and actions, which often leads to a more closed-minded approach. Because of this, the two, though immensely fond of each other, find themselves at odds in their passions. Vaillant’s often taking him away on evangelical missions, all the while Latour’s passion keeps him close to home, cultivating deeper bonds there but missing his partner. Together and apart, they explore the vast New Mexico territory, expanding their faith and assisting those in their care.

“Where there is great love there are always miracles,”

Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop is a quiet and reflective narrative that celebrates communities and cultures coming together while still holding onto their traditions. Not Catholic herself, Cather shows a gentler depiction of religion than her typical portrayal and how it can build a community of not only faith but trust and security. She does not portray the church or even the priests in the novel as perfect but as humans who want to do their best for their parishioners and God. Father Latour is wholly human, makes mistakes, and has his own prejudice, but he never looks down on another person; he advocates for the rights of the Navajos, Mexicans, and all people in his diocese. While the more brash Vaillant is more prone to prejudice, he has his own deep connections in the community as well. And everyone, especially the women, is treated kindly and with reverence, and any biases the priests may have do not bleed into the narration overall. Of course, being a Willa Cather book, any Nebraska book club will have a great time reading one of her classics. Readers will find discussion topics in the many vignette parables scattered throughout the book. While some phrasing or ideas are old, the novel still holds up in its earnestness and love for all people. Modern audiences and book groups will appreciate the sympathetic acknowledgment of the Native and Mexican people whose homes are displaced by white intruders and see how our modern ideals have or have not changed.

To see this year’s list of copyrighted works entering the public domain, visit the link here!

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 5 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian) 

Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1927

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – The Fishermen

Cover for the The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. On a bright red background, four fishing hooks are intertwined and tangled together

While we’re busy getting snowed in this week, you’ll want to hunker down with a good book like this week’s spotlight! During the winter holidays, many of us spend our time around family or loved ones, and The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma is, first and foremost, a book about family. Written as a love letter to his brothers, Obioma explores the intrinsic connection between siblings and how easily chaos can sow a rift between them. I love sharing books that have a special connection to Nebraska, and The Fishermen, recipient of the 2016 Nebraska Book Award for fiction, is an excellent example of one such book. Born in Nigeria, Chigozie Obioma is currently the James E. Ryan Associate Professor of Creative writing at UNL. The Fishermen, his debut novel, also won the Inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Award for Fiction, the NAACP Image Awards for Debut Literary Work, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize. 

In 1990s Nigeria, under the dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha, there is a family of brothers. Ikenna, the oldest; Boja and Obembe in the middle; and the youngest, Ben as our narrator. When their father moves away for work, the delicate family structure begins to crumble without its leader. In a fit of rebellion, the four boys go behind their mother’s back to fish in a forbidden and polluted river, leaving her clueless, tending to their two youngest siblings. At the river, the boys encounter the town’s prophetic madman, who convinces Ikenna that he will be murdered brutally by one of his siblings. Driven mad by this prophecy, the family suffers the loss of another authority figure, as their eldest brother becomes suspicious, anxious, and even violent toward them. So, the four brothers, like Cain and Abel before them, are plunged into turmoil, testing their bond and loyalty to the bitter end.

“I heard someone say that the end of most things often bears a resemblance- even if faint- to their beginnings”

– Chigozie Obioma

Perfect for an adult book group that enjoys character-driven plots that tell a deeper story, The Fishermen is rife with metaphors and parables from Obioma’s Igbo roots. Described as “an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions—economic, political and religious—and the epic beauty of its own culture,” each of the brothers represents the four major tribes of Nigeria and how the political tumult in the country led to unrest between them. Even though the novel is an allegory for and takes place during a dangerous time in Nigeria’s history, this is not a historical war novel. While affected and aware of the situation, the children are more invested in their interpersonal lives rather than politics. This style reminds me of the show Derry Girls in how it isn’t only addressing issues in a political sense but also in a personal sense. And in this book is about strife and torn bonds, Obioma delivers hope for the future resting on the next generation’s unmarred shoulders.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 20 copies available with large print and audio CD (Items must be requested by a librarian) 

Obioman, Chigozie. The Fishermen. Little, Brown and Company. 2015.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Outside Valentine

The cover of the novel "Outside Valentine" by Liza Ward. The D is blood red.
A red car drives away on an snowy country road.

For 60 days in the winter of 1957-1958, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate raced across Nebraska and Wyoming, leaving 11 dead in their wake. As one of America’s most infamous and widely-reported killing sprees, Starkweather and Fugate are immortalized through movies, music, and literature. And Liza Ward, the granddaughter of two victims, Lauer and Clara Ward, decided it was time to tell the story from a new perspective. Her 2004 novel Outside Valentine is the story of her family and the trauma that has consumed it for generations. But instead of focusing on the notorious Starkweather, this novel takes a step back, concentrating on Caril Ann and those he left behind in a stunning re-telling of what happened that winter. 

Outside Valentine is a fictional account of the Starkweather killing spree, following the three narrators simultaneously. One narrator, Caril Ann Fugate, is a disenfranchised impressionable 14-year-old who finds solace and a desperate love with 19-year-old Charles Starkweather. Their romance soon burns too hot when he takes Caril on a joyride, murdering her family and anyone found in the way of that love. Four years later, the story follows Susan Hurst, who finds herself obsessively reading about the killing spree, envious of the pair’s violent love. Desperate for this kind of love and recognition, she lives a lonely life with her emotionally distant parents, all the while harboring a secret obsession for the surviving son of the Bowmans (the fictionalized Lauer and Clara Ward), whom she has never met. The son, Lowell Bowman, is our third narrator, who, 30 years later, is still dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy. Unable to cope, he runs away from his wife and children, both from and to his past.    

“There was no doubt to me he wouldn’t care. He’d blow up the world for a stuffed dog, if he thought I wanted it enough.”

Liza Ward

Outside Valentine is an engaging and lyrical read that isn’t quite “true crime” but still has that thrilling air. Because the story takes place over 30 years, the reader follows how Fugate and Starkweather’s actions spiral bigger than just themselves. Ward creates an atmosphere that sucks you in so deeply and wholly that you forget where you are. And the stark winter setting makes this a perfect book club selection coming into the colder months. Book club groups, especially those here in Nebraska, will find plenty to discuss in how Ward uses the setting to instill her characters with deep longing and isolation. She does an incredible job of identifying the true loneliness of being a young girl and the dark side of romanticism. 

While both were found guilty and Starkweather sentenced to death, Caril Ann Fugate spent 17 years in prison on a murder conviction before she was paroled in 1976. In 2020, With her father’s support, Liza Ward advocated for Fugate’s pardon, believing her grandparents “would want people to know the truth,” and that it is “time to show that young girl’s stories are worth being listened to.” And she gives young girls that opportunity in Outside Valentine

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 12 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian) 


Ward, Liza. Outside Valentine. Picador. 2004.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Native American Heritage Month

For November, we are spotlighting titles in our Book Club Collection written by Indigenous authors for Native American Heritage Month. In 1976 Cherokee-Osage Native American Jerry C. Elliott-High Eagle authored the Congressional legislation for Native American Awareness week, which grew into what we now celebrate as Native American Heritage Month in 1990 with a declaration from then-President George H.W. Bush. This month is a great opportunity to read and learn about whose ancestral land you live on, their history, colonization, and all the incredible works of Indigenous art and literature.

Past Book Club Spotlights featuring Native American Authors:

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

18-year-old Daunis Fontaine is the product of a scandal between a white woman and an Ojibwe man. Even though her mother’s family is well-respected, and her father’s side are revered Firekeepers, Daunis is an outsider. She is not welcome in her predominantly white town or at the reservation, where tribal leaders deny her parentage and membership. But when murders and overdoses related to drug trafficking slowly spread around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Daunis is witness to it all. Now she must team up with the new (and mysterious) star hockey player to use her knowledge of science, Ojibwe medicine, and these tight-knit communities to uncover long-held secrets. 

____

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Excitable and brave spirited, Omakayas, or Little Frog, is a young Ojibwe girl who lives with her family near present-day Lake Superior. As white people begin to take over the land, Omakays and her siblings continue their way of life while the adults fear that they must move soon. We follow the local community as they survive, learn important lessons and skills, and enjoy a peaceful life together. But when a sickly visitor crashes a powwow one night, he brings deadly smallpox to the area; and the course of the community and Omakayas’ life are changed forever.

_____

You can find a list of both our fiction and non-fiction titles on our Book Club Kit page under the Native American Voices keyword.

And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell, and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.”

Black elk
Black Elk Speaks (One book One Nebraska 2017)

And if like me, you’re excited about the food-heavy holidays, we have a few foody titles in our collection that your club might be interested in as well:

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbie Michiko Florence

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – The Birchbark House

Cover of The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. A young Ojibwe girl stands with a crow perched on her shoulder. Behind her is a field with trees and a single room house built of birchbark and tanned hides behind her.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and I’m excited to spotlight books written by Indigenous authors in our collection. As we go into the month of Thanksgiving, it’s important to remember the people who were here first and the sacred land we are on. Today, we will focus on a story of a young girl in the Northern Midwest on traditional Ojibwe land. The Birchbark House, by Chippewa woman Louise Erdrich, began as a story she would tell to her daughters. Wanting to show the love, community, and humanity that represents Native American culture rather than the negative depictions, Erdrich published the story, which went on to win the WILLA Literary Award in 2000.

Excitable and brave spirited, Omakayas, or Little Frog, is a young Ojibwe girl who lives with her family near present-day Lake Superior. As white people begin to take over the land, Omakays and her siblings continue their way of life while the adults fear that they must move soon. We follow the local community as they survive, learn important lessons and skills, and enjoy a peaceful life together. But when a sickly visitor crashes a powwow one night, he brings deadly smallpox to the area; and the course of the community and Omakayas’ life are changed forever.

“Like Andeg, she couldn’t help being just who she was. Omakayas, in this skin, in this place, in this time. Nobody else. No matter what, she wouldn’t ever be another person or really know the thoughts of anyone but her own self.”

Louise Erdrich

The Birchbark House is the first in the series chronicling the life of Omakayas’ family over 100 years. This novel is perfect for a young book group who wants to read stories like The Little House on the Prairie but through the lens of a young Indigenous girl instead. It is also an interesting read for adult groups who want to learn more about Indigenous culture pre-colonization. The story is brought to life through beautiful illustrations by the author and stories taken from her own life and family. Often the action will stop, and the reader is fully engrossed in the storytelling of an elder. Through this, Erdrich shows the reverence for the past, tradition, and the land that Omakayas and her people hold. Reading groups can discuss how tradition and culture play into their lives and the connections they see between the people in Omakayas’ tribe and those they know.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian) 

To see more of our Native American Voices book club titles, visit the link here.

Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House. HarperCollins Publishers. 1999.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Going Bovine

Cover for Going Bovine by Libba Bray. A cow is in the lower left corner standing upright like a person and facing sideways to the reader. He is holding a garden gnome who is wearing sunglasses and sticking his tongue out.

When I decide to spotlight a book, I usually like to pick a title that is relevant to an upcoming holiday or one that is in the news. But, in the case of Going Bovine by Libba Bray, I honestly just thought the cover was really neat and I stick by that decision. Libba Bray, who dreams of one day replacing her artificial eye with a laser-gun eye, views “comedy and tragedy [as] two sides of the same coin.” And her absurdist YA comedy is such a coin, asking deep questions about life, loyalty, disability, quantum mechanics, and reality itself. Going Bovine is crawling with awards, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award, and was named Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year in 2009. 

Cameron Smith is a burnout. His family doesn’t get along, he’s barely getting through High School, and his only hobbies are getting high and listening to music he hates. Being basically a hermit, the people in Cameron’s life try to convince him that he needs to get out more and actually experience the world for once. But before he can do so, he contracts Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease, better known as Mad Cow Disease. Yup. Cameron is dying from a bad burger…bummer. The thing about Mad Cow Disease is that because it’s pretty much eating your brain, you will experience some buck wild and vivid hallucinations. So while Cameron is laid up and dying in the hospital, he is visited by a punk rock angel who informs him that he’s the only person who can save the world. With this knowledge, Cameron and his new friend Gonzo head out on this world-saving mission with the promise that Cameron’s cure waits at the end of it all. So that’s how a kid dying from Mad Cow and a 16-year-old anxious dwarf go out on an epic odyssey across America to save the world and themselves. Along the way, they meet jazz legends, cults, and a Norse god in the body of a garden gnome. Seriously. Well maybe. It could just be Cameron’s hallucinations, after all.

“I don’t think you should die until you’re ready. Until you’ve wrung out every last bit of living you can.”

Libba Bray

Like a modern-day Don Quixote, what’s so great about Going Bovine is that we, the audience, know that Cameron’s brain is dying, so we can’t trust anything he experiences to be real. But even so, Cameron is just an angsty teen who never really got a chance, but who was still able to go on this incredible life-changing journey all the same. Even though this book is unfailingly silly in nature, it asks the reader if reality makes a difference if you yourself are changed in the end. Sure it’s a meaningless adventure in the long run, but not while they are experiencing it. I know that sounds pretty heavy for a YA Book Club title, but sometimes you have to ask those big questions. Ask your group their thoughts on coincidences and reality. Do they see certain things as signs from the universe? Maybe to you, seeing a butterfly means a lost loved one is still around, or perhaps it’s a sign from a higher power. Does that being true or not change what it means to you? Is Cameron’s experience worth anything, even if it didn’t actually happen?

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian)

Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. Delacorte Press. 2009.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow

To round out Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s spotlight a book that is as sweet as pastelitos de guayaba! In Laura Taylor Namey’s slow-burn, low-drama romance, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, Cuban and English heritage collide over tea, pastries, and familial love. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Namey explains that her book “hails straight out of my family album… Many places, traditions, foods, and life lessons from my childhood are woven into the story. I tried to take the spirit of people I love, and the truths I learned about identity and legacy and reimagine them into a coming-of-age novel that teens could relate to”. And despite taking place in the cold rain of England, Cuban culture and traditional food are at the forefront of this novel.

As a 2nd generation Cuban immigrant, Lila Reyes has life meticulously planned out. She has an incredible best friend, a long-term boyfriend she adores, and the love of her dear Abuela and her bakery. But when her Abuela suddenly passes away, Lila loses everything. Everything except the certainty in her future as the panadería’s head baker. With her sights firmly set on her future, she tries to push away her depression and trauma, only to end up breaking down mentally and physically. Worried about her health, Lila’s parents send her across the pond to her aunt’s B&B in Winchester, England, for the summer. Soon she is cooking for the whole B&B, exploring the local music scene, making new supportive friends, and growing very close to the tea shop clerk, Orion Maxwell. Orion is not new to grief and is the empathetic and caring shoulder Lila has been hurting for. Together the two navigate their own grief and come to accept what they cannot control while finding the courage to influence what they can, while maybe falling in love along the way. 

“You’re painting stars where I colored black holes.”

Laura Taylor Namey

Perfect for a book club of young adult readers whose idea of a perfect fall afternoon is curling up under a blanket with a good book. Despite centering on grief, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is not a sad story. It gives the reader space and permission to learn how to feel their emotions without letting them consume everything. Discussion questions with your book group can focus on emotions, Cuban culture, and how interpersonal relationships play an essential part in our lives and keep us healthy. If you’re leading a group of young readers, be careful when discussing the prevalent diet culture in this book. Despite what the characters might say, you don’t need to “earn” a snack or have to “work off” a baked good. Food is nutrition and life. Feel free to explore Cuban food’s wonderfully rich culture and how it can bring families, friends, and even strangers together without feeling “guilty” for enjoying it! So grab your favorite tea and a warm jumper, and dive in!

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian)

To see more of our Hispanic/Latino book club titles, visit the link here.

Namey, Laura Taylor. A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow. Atheneum Books. 2020.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Cover of One Hundred Years of Solitude. A painting of a sleeping person next to oranges and an ant. There are mountain and a crescent moon in the background.

For Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), I wanted to spotlight a particular writing style popularized and, in my opinion, perfected in Latin America. I became interested in Magical Realism through an article on Book Riot about Disney’s Encanto. The article explains Magical Realism as: “having magical/supernatural elements presented in an otherwise mundane setting…Magical Realism does not rely on heavy exposition or narration. Everything, according to the reticent narrator, is as it should be.” And today’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is one of the most famous examples of Magical Realism. Being the second most translated literary work in Spanish after Don Quixote, One Hundred Years is brimming with magic;  Flowers raining from the sky, insomnia plagues, and beautiful women simply floating away. Yet, while the characters go about their lives, they don’t seem to realize that the world around them is magical. Everything is as it should be.

The 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude begins with the first of its seven generations of the Buendía family. José Arcadio Buendía, with his wife/cousin Úrsula Iguarán, established an isolated village named Macondo and began to raise their family in that small community. And as the years go by, the family (all named after each other) grows and faces hardships, usually stemming from their ambitions to reach higher and go farther than they are able to. After being visited by the worldly Romani people and wanting to explore what the world has to offer, Macondo eventually grows into a thriving city with a train station and a banana plantation. However, when civil war begins to tear the country apart, and the plantation turns against its workers, the Buendía men and women live and die by their beliefs, and the family name lives on for better or worse. Through a cyclical repetition of misfortunes, battles, and incest, the house of the Buendía stands through the long years with Úrsula as their matriarch. But the family’s fate is controlled by the ceaseless march of time, and ghosts of their past (real and imagined) are waiting at the end of those 100 years.

“Lost in the solitude of his immense power, he began to lose direction”

Gabriel García Márquez

As José Arcadio Buendía built Macondo by following a dream of building a beautiful city of mirrors, Márquez created Macondo to mirror our own world, especially that of Columbia and its imperialists. One Hundred Years of Solitude, while representing many aspects of Columbian life, is also a socio-political critique of Western Imperialism’s effect on Columbia. The banana plantation that overruns the town and its subsequent destruction is based on the Banana Massacre that Márquez experienced as a child. And the long war that takes Colonel Aureliano Buendía away from home is Columbia’s brutal Thousand Days’ War. For a book group, there is no shortage of ways to move your discussion. Topics can range from how Márquez shows the cyclical nature of history. Or how the Buendía family affected each other, all living under one roof for so long. And, of course, how the symbolism of Magical Realism drives the story. You also might need to consult a family tree to reference as you read along. 

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian)

To see more our our Hispanic/Latino book club titles, visit the link here.

Márquez, Gabriel García. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Harper Collins. 1967.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Pet

Cover for

When asked to write a flagship title for the new Random House imprint “Make Me a World,” author Akwaeke Emezi set out to create a story that they would want to read if they were a teen today. Their final product, Pet, surpasses that goal, having earned a spot in TIME Magazine’s “100 Best YA Books of All Time”. In 2021, Emezi was named a Next Generation Leader by TIME and is a National Book Foundation “5 under 35” honoree, setting the standard (and a high bar) for contemporary childhood reading and authors alike. 

“There shouldn’t be any monsters left in Lucille.” In the utopic town of Lucille, “angels” have defeated and locked away all the “monsters,” creating a small paradise where all are welcome. Unfortunately, these angels, who then took up positions of power, only locked away these monsters, and did not prevent them from being created. Then, one summer night, a horrifying creature emerges from Jam’s mother’s painting and warns her of a monster still in Lucille. And when the adults refuse to believe them, Jam, and the creature, Pet, have no choice but to go on the hunt alone. Finding themselves deep in the local library’s archives, Jam, with her best friend Redemption and Pet, finally learns what monsters are and how to spot them. The trio discover that the horrors the angels claimed to have defeated are still there. But with the world around them in denial, what can they do?

“But forgetting is dangerous. Forgetting is how the monsters come back.”

Akwaeke Emezi

Pet is a perfect jumping-off point for YA (or adult) book groups to explore the world of language and communication. Especially since Jam is selectively verbal, mainly communicating through sign, the language in this book is very specific and resounding. Because language is constantly evolving, Emezi asks the reader what happens when we lose the words that shape our experiences. Does something really go away just because you don’t talk about it? Community is also a strong theme in Pet, which can lead to discussions over how it affects our sense of self. For example, Lucille, an all-Black town, was written to be like the ones found in Toni Morrison’s novels, where they are a whole world unto themselves. What would it be like to live in such a welcoming and insular community like Lucille, where everyone belongs without question, even a Black trans girl like Jam? What does it mean when the characters say, “We are each other’s harvest? We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond”. And do they mean it?

Like our previous spotlight, Melissa, Pet was recently added to our collection thanks to a grant from the Reading Classic Committee. And a prequel, Bitter, was released in February 2022.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian)

Emezi, Akwaeke. Pet. Make Me a World. 2019.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Why I’m an Only Child & Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktales

Cover for: Why I'm an Only Child and Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktales. Two older men in farming clothes look up over rolling hills at a yellow propeller plane.

I admit that I’m a newbie to the bibliography of Roger Welsch- so I thought I’d dip my toes into the proverbial waters for this week’s Book Club Spotlight. With over 40 books to his name (11 of which are in our Book Club collection), the retired UNL English and Anthropology professor is a recognizable humorist and storyteller. And in the tradition of fellow Nebraskan Louise Pound, he is also a lauded scholar of folklore, with 50 plus years of experience in the field. His book, Why I’m an Only Child & Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktales, was awarded the Nebraska Center for the Book Award for Nonfiction: Folklore in 2017 and features a foreword by Dick Cavett.

Why I’m an Only Child is the vehicle for Welsch to define the specific type of midwestern humor he has coined “Civil Ribaldry.” In his own words: “These jokes take the form of extraordinarily subtle, distinctly rural narratives. While there is a punchline, unlike the riddling joke, for example, “civil ribaldry” does contain a clear narrative element. The stories, while slightly off-color, can be, and are, told in mixed company, even with children present, without much danger of being understood by the innocent” (Citation). According to Welsch, the oral tradition is an essential aspect of Civil Ribaldry and it tends to be more of a performance than a joke. This form of rural wit is not something to perfect or concoct; it is simply having the talent for timing and a flair for diction and detail when the moment presents itself. Welsch discusses its relationship to other forms of wit and verbal jousting, such as the Black American game of “Dozens,” and asserts their value as linguistic American traditions.

For Welsch, while Civil Ribaldry pokes fun at the stereotypical everyman, it exists more to poke fun at ourselves and to cement ourselves within a community. So often, these stories revolve around dear neighbors or even the teller’s own shortcomings. Punching down in comedy is never appropriate- but here, you might be able to get away with punching sideways. We can see this communal self-deprecation in Welch’s depiction of his hometown of Dannebrog, Nebraska: “It’s said that if you have a hammer in Dannebrog, you’re a carpenter. If you own the hammer, you’re a contractor.”

“Despite the common misunderstanding, laughter is not the universal language.”

Roger Welsch

If your group is looking for a book chock full of “slightly naughty” but lighthearted stories of the Nebraskan Plains, Why I am an Only Child is a great pick. Welsch is genuinely passionate about the rural Nebraskan diaspora, and his collection of ribaldries and musings has something everyone can appreciate and build upon in a discussion. Many of our Book Club Groups that we lend to are located in rural Nebraska, and I would love to see how they approach this type of book centered around their home, especially if they have civil ribaldries of their own. I know I do.

My final verdict? I believe that Roger has a good sense of humor. For an old man. 😉

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian)

Welsch, Roger. Why I’m an Only child & Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktails.University of Nebraska Press. 2016

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Melissa

Cover of Melissa by Alex Gino published by Scholastic. The title is in big colorful block letters, with a drawing of a young person (Melissa) peaking out from the LA"

Today’s Book Club Spotlight, Melissa (previously published as George) by Alex Gino is a beautiful story that explores bullying, self-expression, and having the courage to stand up for yourself and your friends. I have always appreciated books that don’t talk down to children and aren’t afraid to explore tough topics while handling them with care. And Melissa is a perfect example of one of those books. Recently added to our collection thanks to a grant from the Reading Classic Committee, Melissa is a winner of the Stonewall Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and Alex Gino is a Children’s Choice Book Award Debut Author.

Melissa is like any ten-year-old girl; she loves tween magazines, cute clothes, and her awesome best friend. However, she also has some big problems. Not only does she have to deal with awful bullies at school, the whole world sees her as a boy named George!  As a school project, Melissa’s grade is putting on a play of Charlotte’s Web, and she desperately wants to play the wise and supportive Charlotte. But her dreams are crushed when her teacher tells her that “boys” can’t try out for “girl” parts.  Between school and a mother who thinks her girly interests are “childish,” Melissa doesn’t feel safe confiding in anyone that she’s transgender, except for her best friend. Taking inspiration from Charlotte’s confidence, the two girls form a plan to get Melissa the role she deserves. 

“It takes a special person to cry over a book. It shows compassion as well as imagination…Don’t ever lose that”

Alex Gino

Have you ever had to be brave in order to be who you truly are? Recommended for 8 to 12-year-olds, Melissa is a timeless and tender approach to finding yourself, which all readers (even adults) can relate to. Group discussion with your readers can focus on what it would feel like to be born in the wrong physical body, issues with parents, and how to support your friends when they are going through a difficult time. Melissa shows how gender conformity can hurt everyone, not just trans kids, and letting kids express themselves without fear of ridicule will lead to a more confident and happy future.

If you’re interested in requesting for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian)

To see more of our LGBT+ & Queer book club titles, visit the link here.

Alex Gino. Melissa. Scholastic Press. 2015

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Spotlight – Sula

Cover of Sula by Toni Morrison: A well-dressed Black woman poses with the brim of her hat covering half of her face. She is looking off to the right with a flock of birds flying behind her in silhouette.

I believe that Toni Morrison is best read in the heat of the summer. I find her work sits with me best during extreme weather or extreme times. Her prose and unashamed depictions of Black lives always get to me, and her rhythm never falters. So when HBO announced they’re making a limited series adaptation of Morrison’s 1973 work, Sula, I figured it was a perfect time to add it to the Spotlight!

When reading Sula, we first learn about two towns on a hill—The Bottom on top and the white town below. We meet the people who came together to make the Bottom a community and have held it together since. Once the story has settled into the established Bottom, actions and judgments have taken place, and people’s livelihoods have come and gone; only then do we meet the titular Sula and her best friend/mirror Nel. Both girls are from families with deep ties in the Bottom, and are set up on entirely different tracks they have no choice but to follow. As we watch Sula and Nel grow older and split as they mature, Sula’s perception in and of the town changes. While Nel is the upstanding young wife and mother, Sula is the seductress, the rebel, and the reason for the town to unite against a common enemy. And for what end?

She had no center, no speck around which to grow.”

Toni Morrison

I adore Sula as a Book Club read; it’s hard to understate the importance of the novel as a tool of Black Feminist literary criticism and work. Described on Oprah.com as “a lyrical blend of myth and magic, as real as a history lesson, and as enchanting as a fable,” the empty spaces of the novel are where it really shines. Because of these knowledge gaps, you, the reader, are integral to the meaning-making process of Sula. In a book club, one member might read it through a cultural lens, another for the feminist or psychological themes, yet another can find interest in simply the history of the period.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian)

To see more of our Black Voices collection, visit the link here.


Toni Morrison. Sula. Knopf. 1973.

Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment