Category Archives: Books & Reading

NCompass Live: Pretty Sweet Tech: How Augmented Reality Can Create Optimal Literacy Experiences

Explore how Living Popups transforms classic and original books into interactive experiences on next week’s Pretty Sweet Tech NCompass Live webinar, ‘How Augmented Reality Can Create Optimal Literacy Experiences’, on Wednesday, October 25, at 10am CT.

Special monthly episodes of NCompass Live! Join the NLC’s Technology Innovation Librarian, Amanda Sweet, as she guides us through the world of library-related Pretty Sweet Tech.

LP Bookspace engages all readers and keeps them coming back for more! LP Bookspace brings to your library augmented reality experiences where characters literally jump off the page and help build comprehension and confidence.

The goal of this session is to explore how easy it is to create an optimal literacy experience within your library environment by applying innovative technology. You will discover the LB Bookspace tools to help you create an exciting Story Time, track students’ progress in the Dashboard, implement Book Clubs for older children and have families returning to your library again and again. You will learn about the Meet the Makers series introducing patrons of all ages to how the books are produced and the potential careers in the future all around great literature.

Join us to see how LP Bookspace could provide you with creative ways to deliver innovative programming to your community.

Guest Presenter: Cheryl Bayer, CEO, Living Popups, LLC.

Upcoming NCompass Live shows:

  • Nov. 1 – Golden Sower Award: Get in the Know
  • Nov. 8 – Racial & Gender Bias in Search
  • Nov. 15 – Redesigning a Library Website
  • Nov. 22 – Best New Children’s Books of 2023
  • Dec. 6 – Using Creativity to Grow & Develop
  • Dec. 13 – Canvaholic
  • Dec. 20 – Summer Reading Program 2024: Adventure Begins at Your Library
  • Jan. 17, 2024 – Auditing Library Websites
  • Jan. 24, 2024 – Best New Teen Reads of 2023

To register for an NCompass Live show, or to listen to recordings of past shows, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website.

The show is presented online using the GoTo Webinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoTo Webinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.

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#BookFaceFriday – “The Lesser Dead” by Christopher Buehlman

Something #BookFace this way comes!

If your go-to Halloween activity is watching a horror flick or visiting a haunted house, you probably also love a scary story. This week’s #BookFaceFriday is the perfect way to get your adrenaline flowing; check out “The Lesser Dead” by Christopher Buehlman (Berkley, 2014.) This title is available as an eBook in Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. Find this title and other tales of horror in Nebraska OverDrive’s curated collection, “Hallow-Reads: Spooky tales for October nights“!

“Cormac McCarthy’s The Road meets Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in this frightful medieval epic…Buehlman…doesn’t scrimp on earthy horror and lyrical writing in the face of unspeakable horrors…an author to watch.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Libraries participating in the Nebraska OverDrive Libraries Group currently have access to a shared and growing collection of digital downloadable audiobooks and eBooks. 189 libraries across the state share the Nebraska OverDrive collection of 21,696 audiobooks, 35,200 eBooks, and 3,964 magazines. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use (SU), as well as SU ebooks and audiobook titles that publishers have made available for a limited time. If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Friday Reads: The Brothers Hawthorne, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

After Holli Duggan wrote a Friday Reads post about it, I listened to the Inheritance Games trilogy last year–and loved it! So when a fourth book in this YA series was released this summer, I had to listen to that as well, and it did not disappoint. A 5th book, The Grandest Game, is due out in July 2024.

Four brothers. Two missions. One explosive read. And the stakes have never been higher.  
Grayson Hawthorne was raised as the heir apparent to his billionaire grandfather, taught from the cradle to put family first. Now the great Tobias Hawthorne is dead and his family disinherited, but some lessons linger. When Grayson’s half-sisters find themselves in trouble, he swoops in to do what he does best: take care of the problem—efficiently, effectively, mercilessly. And without getting bogged down in emotional entanglements.
Jameson Hawthorne is a risk-taker, a sensation-seeker, a player of games. When his mysterious father appears and asks for a favor, Jameson can’t resist the challenge. Now he must infiltrate London’s most exclusive underground gambling club, which caters to the rich, the powerful, and the aristocratic, and win an impossible game of greatest stakes. Luckily, Jameson Hawthorne lives for impossible.
Drawn into twisted games on opposite sides of the globe, Grayson and Jameson—with the help of their brothers and the girl who inherited their grandfather’s fortune—must dig deep to decide who they want to be and what each of them will sacrifice to win.

** Synopsis courtesy of Audible.

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Friday Reads: Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids, by Scott Hershovitz

A Facebook friend who also happens to be a librarian recently posted “If you want to have a cursory understanding of a complex topic…get a children’s book about it.” Brilliant counsel! And while that’s not exactly what I did, it was in the back of my mind when I stumbled on Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids, by Scott Hershovitz.

Nasty, Brutish, and Short isn’t a children’s book, but it is a book by a philosopher recounting conversations he’s had with his young sons, Rex and Hank, about philosophy. I figured if he could make philosophy accessible to them, maybe he could do the same for me. That, it turns out, was his plan all along. As he writes in the introduction, “[t]his book is inspired by kids, but it’s not for them. In fact, kids are my Trojan horse. I’m not after young minds. I’m after yours.”

In twelve chapters, each devoted to a topic ripe for discussion (rights, punishment, authority, knowledge, truth, etc.), Hershovitz shares stories of children (his own and others’) initiating and participating in philosophical inquiry with greater facility than most adults. In fact, as he goes on to show, they often wind up pondering the exact same questions as renowned philosophers of yore! (Examples include the shifted color spectrum, credited to John Locke, Aquinas’ first cause argument, and Descartes’ Cogito: “I think, therefore I am.”)

Chapter Four of Nasty, Brutish, and Short, titled “Authority,” is a good example of how Hershovitz approaches his subject. He begins with a kid-related anecdote—his son Rex refusing to comply with his father’s request that he put on his shoes. Kids’ chafing at parental authority is nothing new. What kid hasn’t uttered the phrase “You aren’t the boss of me!” to a frazzled parent seeking compliance? And what parent hasn’t responded “Because I said so” when asked “Why” by a stubborn child?

For Hershovitz, however, such encounters are great jumping off points for discussions about power vs. authority, the nature of obligation, and the role reasoning and responsibility should play in compliance. He writes about these concepts as they play out in contemporary life–between bosses and employees, parents and children, teachers and students, the government and the governed. (Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares even makes a cameo.) He shares various philosophers’ takes on authority, as well as highlights from his many conversations with Rex and Hank about the subject.

By the end of each chapter you realize not only that Hershovitz has gotten you to “do philosophy” with him, but also that philosophy—thinking carefully about important things–is something worth practicing ourselves and encouraging in our children. (Don’t worry—Hershovitz is well aware that there is a time and a place, especially with kids!)

In his conclusion, titled “How to Raise a Philosopher,” Hershovitz reminds us of what he thinks the goal should be:

The aim is not to raise a professional philosopher. It’s to raise a person who thinks clearly and carefully. It’s to raise a person who thinks for themself. It’s to raise a person who cares what others think—and thinks with them. In short, the aim is to raise a person who thinks.

Definitely a worthy goal! And an inspiring read!

Hershovitz, Scott. Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids. New York: Penguin, 2022.

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#BookFaceFriday “Daughter of Fortune” by Isabel Allende

Fortune favors the #BookFaceFriday!

This #BookFaceFriday is written by one of the many talented authors we are celebrating during National Hispanic American Heritage Month (September 15- October 15), Isabel Allende. Set against the backdrop of the 1849 gold rush in California, Daughter of Fortune (Harper Collins, 1999) is available as a Book Club Kit, as well as an audiobook in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries. You can find many more of Allende’s works as ebooks and audiobooks in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries, as well as all of our curated Hispanic Heritage Month collection titles.

“Until Isabel Allende burst onto the scene with her 1985 debut, The House of the Spirits, Latin American fiction was, for the most part, a boys’ club comprising such heavy hitters as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Mario Vargas Llosa. But the Chilean Allende shouldered her way in with her magical realist multi-generational tale of the Trueba family, followed it up with four more novels and a spate of nonfiction, and has remained in a place of honor ever since. Her sixth work of fiction, Daughter of Fortune, shares some characteristics with her earlier works: the canvas is wide, the characters are multi-generational and multi-ethnic, and the protagonist is an unconventional woman who overcomes enormous obstacles to make her way in the world. Yet one cannot accuse Allende of telling the same story twice; set in the mid-1800s, this novel follows the fortunes of Eliza Sommers, Chilean by birth but adopted by a British spinster, Rose Sommers, and her bachelor brother, Jeremy, after she is abandoned on their doorstep.”

– Margaret Prio, Oprah Book Club

Book Club Kits Rules for Use

  1. These kits can be checked out by the librarians of Nebraska libraries and media centers.
  2. Circulation times are flexible and will be based upon availability. There is no standard check-out time for book club kits.
  3. Please search the collection to select items you wish to borrow and use the REQUEST THIS KIT icon to borrow items.
  4. Contact the Information Desk at the Library Commission if you have any questions: by phone: 800/307-2665, or by email: Information Services Team

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Book Club Spotlight – How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

cover for How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. 
Four different colored hummingbirds fly around a flower in a glass vase

In 1960, ten-year-old Julia Alvarez left her home in the Dominican Republic for the United States, and by 2013, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama and had an honorary doctorate from Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra. So, to end Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re Spotlighting Alvarez’s debut book, which has been widely studied and lauded as a hallmark in Latino Literature. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is an episodic novel that encapsulates the Dominican immigrant identity in the United States and their struggles of assimilation, heritage, and identity.

When Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía were children, their family was forced to flee the Dominican Republic to escape the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. But that was 30 years ago, and now the sisters who are “too American” for their parents find themselves lost in an identity they never had the chance to form. As the narrative progresses (or regresses), short vignettes of each sister encapsulating their lives move backward in time toward their beginnings in the Dominican Republic. They struggle to cope with the distinct differences in women’s liberation and expectations between their two homes. In the United States, they are expected by their peers to be free-spirited, educated, and beautiful. At the same time, their visits back home are shadowed by the traditional values of Catholicism, a patriarchal society, and their own set of beauty standards. Torn between being acceptable in each culture but still their own people, each member of the family faces immense pressure and collapse. Their mother dreams of becoming an inventor, and their father struggles with sudden poverty; Sandra becomes weighed down by the impossibilities of beauty and stress, while Yolanda, a struggling writer, is caught between her cultures of liberation, joy, and failure. Even 30 years after immigrating, each of the four sisters tries their best to live up to unreachable standards and criticism but never quite feels whole, as if some part of themselves was left back in the Dominican Republic, where they were pushed too soon from their nest. 

 They will be haunted by what they do and don’t remember. 

Julia Alvarez 

Told using a reverse timeline, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents keeps the reader in a sense of hesitation and disarray as we are pulled further back into the sisters’ own discordant existence between cultures. Their story is complex and reflects the natural uncertainties and confusion of being out of one’s space and into a new and unknown environment. Perfect for reading groups of mature Young Adult readers and above, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents opens itself up to deep and possibly intense discussions of the self. The stories explore the Female experience as much as it explores the Immigrant one, as a perfect study of Intersectionality (a type of analysis coined by feminist scholar and American Civil Rights leader Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw). Exploring how every aspect of our identities is shaped by the other, or as Alvarez puts it in her Authors Note: “There is nothing shameful in being a complex human being.”

Last week (October 1-7) was Banned Books Week– and Julia Alvarez is no stranger to censorship. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents has had its fair share of challenges and bans- even being banned from the whole of Johnston County, NC, including classrooms and school libraries. During that time, Alvarez spoke with the National Coalition Against Censorship about her experience.

Here is a small excerpt: 

NCAC: How does removing a book from a school district affect students’ educational experience?

Julia Alvarez: The sad thing about the controversy, over and above the fact that students have missed out on the reading experience of that book, is what this models for them about an experience that is difficult or upsetting.  I grew up in a dictatorship, where you couldn’t talk about difficult situations – there was this culture of silence.  We would run into a problem and have no one to talk to.  What’s modeled there by banning the book is what I find most upsetting: that it is appropriate behavior in a free country when someone is expressing something we don’t want to hear, to silence them.

NCAC: Why do you think it is important to teach literature that some might deem controversial or difficult?

Julia Alvarez: Schools provide safe spaces to talk about controversial issues, and literature presents characters portraying human experience in all its richness and contradictoriness. Reading is a way to take in the difficult situations and understand them.  The whole point of reading a book in class is to have discussion about what these situations are like.  You have writing, discussion, and classroom exercises on it, and kids come out of it having digested the experience with ways to feel and talk about it.  How wonderful! 

If you’re interested in requesting How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 10 copies available. (A librarian must request items)

Alvarez, Julia. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Algonquin Books. 1991

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NCompass Live: Letters About Literature 2023

Learn about Nebraska’s state reading and writing contest for youth, Letters About Literature, on next week’s NCompass Live webinar on Wednesday, October 11, at 10am CT.

The Nebraska Center for the Book is a statewide organization dedicated to the promotion of reading in all its forms. Its annual Nebraska Letters About Literature contest allows students in 4th through 12th grade to write to authors (living or deceased) about their favorite book or poem about how his or her book affected their lives. This session will provide helpful information for teachers and librarians interested in the competition. It will also cover the submission process and be an excellent opportunity to ask questions about the entire competition process. Teachers will be interested in this program that will help enhance and extend their classroom instruction.

Presenter: Tessa Terry – Communications Coordinator, Nebraska Library Commission.

Upcoming NCompass Live shows:

  • Oct 18 – Learning Opportunities and Resources from WebJunction
  • Oct 25 – Pretty Sweet Tech: How Augmented Reality Can Create Optimal Literacy Experiences
  • Nov. 8 – Racial & Gender Bias in Search
  • Nov. 22 – Best New Children’s Books of 2023
  • Dec. 6 – Using Creativity to Grow & Develop
  • Dec. 20 – Summer Reading Program 2024: Adventure Begins at Your Library
  • Jan. 17, 2024 – Auditing Library Websites
  • Jan. 24, 2024 – Best New Teen Reads of 2023

To register for an NCompass Live show, or to listen to recordings of past shows, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website.

The show is presented online using the GoTo Webinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoTo Webinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.

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Friday Reads: Chapter and Curse

With the cooler weather (and tonight’s freeze warning!), it seems like the sort of morning for another cozy mystery.

Chapter and Curse, by Elizabeth Penney, is the first book in the Cambridge Bookshop series. The third book will be published later this month. Lovely settings, interesting characters, good mysteries, plenty of literary references.

Molly Kimball and her mother, Nina, desperately could use a change in their lives. One day, they receive a letter from Nina’s Aunt Violet asking for help with the family’s struggling 400-year old bookshop in Cambridge, England. Molly (a part-time librarian) jumps at the chance to leave Vermont and help revitalize the family business, while Nina looks forward to reconnecting with family.

They arrive to find the “Thomas Marlowe Manuscripts and Folios” bookshop in rougher shape than expected, especially financially. With loans rapidly coming due, a cousin is threatening to sell the bookshop to a big-box store (which also threatens the other small shops along the same street). Molly decides that the bookshop will host a poetry reading, in coordination with the village’s book festival, to bring in new customers and raise some money.

The event appears to be a huge success until Molly finds one of the guests murdered (and evidence pointing directly towards her great-aunt). Was this driven by the bookshop’s recent money troubles? Blackmail of some kind? Or was it connected to the evening’s famous poet, who happens to be one of Violet’s oldest friends? What really happened with the rest of their friend group over fifty years ago? What other secrets does this charming little street hold?

Determined to clear her great-aunt’s name, Molly tackles these questions with the help of new friends, a possible romantic interest, a few odd family members, and a cat named Puck.

  1. Penney, Elizabeth. Chapter and Curse. Sept. 28, 2021. St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
  2. Penney, Elizabeth. A Treacherous Tale. August 23, 2022. St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
  3. Penney, Elizabeth. The Fatal Folio. October 24, 2023. St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
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#BookFaceFriday “The Giver” by Lois Lowry

We’re united in our love for this #BookFaceFriday!

Let Freedom Read! That’s the theme of this year’s #BannedBooksWeek. We are celebrating with a banned #BookFace! The Nebraska Library Commission supports readers and the freedom to read so we make sure our various collections reflect that. “The Giver” by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1993) has been banned or challenged in the US since 1994, less than a year after it’s publication, cited for “violent and sexual passages, infanticide and euthanasia.” The Giver received the 1994 Newbery Medal, given for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. It’s available as a book club kit, or as an eBook and Audiobook on Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. A book is considered challenged when calls are made for it to be banned or removed from the public’s access. This is one of many banned or challenged titles NLC has available in our Book Club Kit Collection, titles like Looking For Alaska by John Green, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, just to name a few.  This week’s #BookFace and other banned books can be found on the NLC Book Club Kit webpage. This service allows libraries and school librarians to “check out” multiple copies of a book without adding to their permanent collections, or budgets. NLC also has several banned or challenged titles available to our Nebraska OverDrive Libraries.

“Lois Lowry has written a fascinating, thoughtful science-fiction novel. The story is skillfully written; the air of disquiet is delicately insinuated. And the theme of balancing the virtues of freedom and security is beautifully presented.”

— Horn Book (starred review)

You can find more information about Banned Books Week and the fight against censorship at! What are you doing to celebrate Banned Books Week? Let us know!

Book Club Kits Rules for Use

  1. These kits can be checked out by the librarians of Nebraska libraries and media centers.
  2. Circulation times are flexible and will be based upon availability. There is no standard check-out time for book club kits.
  3. Please search the collection to select items you wish to borrow and use the REQUEST THIS KIT icon to borrow items.
  4. Contact the Information Desk at the Library Commission if you have any questions: by phone: 800/307-2665, or by email: Information Services Team

Love this #BookFace & reading? Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Friday Reads: Ponyboy, Poetry, Kees, and You

I have started reading too many books to write about just one, so for this post, this time, I’m writing about four books. A debut novel with Nebraska connections getting national critical attention, a poet often overlooked in favor of more famous compatriots, another Nebraskan of cinematic mystique, and a brand new non-fiction book about tech that will make you want to put down your phone camera. Let’s go!

Longlisted for a National Book Award, and written by an author born in Nebraska, Eliot Duncan’s Ponyboy is a globetrotting story with a trans, addicted protagonist—but the story is about relationships: between parent and child, within friend groups, and also the relationships we have with ourselves–and with our pasts and our futures. This is the first novel from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop alumnus. More about the book, the author, and recent press can be found at the author’s website .

I recently read about Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, and I want to read more of her work. I checked out this enormous book, The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, because it shows each work in its original language as well as its translation into English. Being able to read Mistral’s poems in Spanish and English helps me appreciate her intentions and the beauty of her work. Mistral wrote about unexpected things in unpopular ways. You can read some of her work here.

Weldon Kees is a fascinating character, born in Beatrice in 1914. He had a colorful and exciting life in Nebraska and neighboring states, eventually moving to California, where he disappeared in 1955. He produced art in many forms, and also worked as a librarian, among other interesting jobs. After seeing a recent story about new acquisitions related to Weldon Kees at University of Nebraska Libraries, I picked up a used copy of The Ceremony & Other Stories. I am still waiting for the movie of his life. Check this link for a photo from Kees’ diary in 1954 to see a list of books and movies he enjoyed that year.

Your Face Belongs to Us is an important story about what happens when technology moves faster than ethics or the law. Kashmir Hill writes about the tech company that best optimized facial recognition software, and the various motives of the people involved with the project. If you think they don’t have your best interests at heart, you are correct. No matter your opinion of facial recognition software, if you’re interested in the technology and its effects, this is some old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting that will surprise and disturb you.

Duncan, Eliot. 2023. Ponyboy : A Novel First ed. New York NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Hill, Kashmir. 2023. Your Face Belongs to Us : A Secretive Startup’s Quest to End Privacy As We Know It First ed. New York: Random House an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Kees, Weldon and Dana Gioia (ed.). 1984. The Ceremony & Other Stories. Port Townsend Wash: Graywolf Press.

Stavans, Ilan. 2011. The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry : An Anthology. 1st ed. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

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Book Club Spotlight – The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist

Cover for The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle. A hand raised with a black bird perched on the middle finger. Palm trees and hills line the background

Hispanic Heritage Month is from September 15th to October 15th, and to celebrate, we are Spotlighting The Lightning Dreamer, written by Margarita Engle, the first Latino awarded the Newbery Honor and the Poetry Foundation’s sixth Young People’s Poet Laureate.

A Golden Sower nominee, The Lightning Dreamer also has the unique distinction of being awarded the Pura Belpré honor, an award presented to a Latino/Latina writer who “best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.” Inspired by Engle’s Cuban heritage, this title is a historical fiction novel written in verse, following one of the country’s most prominent female writers, feminists, and abolitionists- Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known here, as Tula.

Slavery was a way of life in nineteenth-century Cuba, and for young Tula, she believes that her future in an arranged marriage would be a similar kind of endless servitude. Cuban women were expected to be quiet and listen to the men rather than think for themselves—something Tula did a lot. And when she begins to read the banned works of abolitionist poet José María Heredia, her ideas grow restless and revolutionary. Breaking from expectations, Tula starts to write plays for the local orphanage, and her open views on abolition inspire her family’s cook to flee from the looming threat of enslavement. But her bold actions are belittled and mocked by her mother and others, and Tula is sent away from home after refusing an arranged marriage. At her grandfather’s estate, she falls in love with a former slave named Sab, who is desperately in love with another girl who will not have him because of his dark skin. His story moves Tula deeply, and as we follow her throughout the years, she becomes more confident and outspoken with her abolitionist and feminist poetry, even though the very act could put her in jail- or worse.

“I’m tired of being told
that my feelings are too wild.”

margarita engle

Written for readers in middle grades and up, The Lightning Dreamer serves as an introduction to Avellaneda (Tula) and other great abolitionist Latino poets such as José María Heredia and Jose Marti (a particular inspiration to Engle) and includes short bios and excerpts from Avellaneda and Heredia to tie the reader into the real-life story. While Engle’s depiction of Avellaneda meeting Sab is wholly fictional, the story is not. Avellaneda’s first and most controversial novel, Sab, about an enslaved Cuban boy in love with his master’s daughter, explores the humanity and ethics of Sab against the amoral white characters, a stance unheard of at the time. The novel was banned from her home country of Cuba because of the interracial love story, its critique of marriage, and its criticism of societal norms. While published a decade before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the two share similar backgrounds and critical receptions when read today. Like many of Engle’s novels, The Lightning Dreamer centers around young people who choose hope in hopeless situations, which many may experience today. And Avellaneda put herself at considerable risk to publish Sab and bring hope to her home.

If you’re interested in requesting The Lightning Dreamer for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 8 copies available. (A librarian must request items)

Engle, Margarita. The Lightning Dreamer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 2013

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Nebraska Public Media Book Club Kit Inspired by the new Ken Burns documentary The American Buffalo

In partnership with Nebraska Public Media, the Nebraska Library Commission has added 30 copies of Great Plains Bison to our book club collection. Book club kits with 10 copies are also owned by: Bellevue Public Library, Kearney Public Library, Lincoln City Libraries, and the Regional Library Systems

This book club kit explores the themes of conservation, restoration and respect. What can we learn from the stories of bison and the Pawnee seed keepers? How can conservation be practiced today?
The book club guide includes:
Discussion questions
Additional reading suggestions and organizations to explore
Two recipes from Chef Anthony Warrior

Great Plains Bison, written by buffalo rancher Dan O’Brien (also featured in The American Buffalo), traces the history and ecology of this American symbol from the origins of the great herds that once dominated the prairie to its near extinction in the late 19th century and the subsequent efforts to restore the bison population. A project of the Center for Great Plains Studies and the School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska; published by Bison Books.

Seed Warriors, directed by Rebekka Schlichting (Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska), follows a group of seed keepers in their ancestral homelands of Nebraska as they seek to regain sovereignty over the food system. By reclaiming their sacred corn seeds, they work to return to the healthy, traditional lifeways of the Pawnee people. Learn more at

Produced in collaboration with Nebraska Public Media for the HOMEGROWN: Future Visions digital shorts series. HOMEGROWN: Future Visions is a Co-Production of Firelight Media and the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), with funding provided by the CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING (CPB), In Association with PBS

Ken Burns’s newest documentary, The American Buffalo, tells the dramatic story of the near extinction and improbable rescue of America’s national mammal. Premiering October 16 on PBS and the PBS Video App. Learn more at

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Friday Reads: So Many Steves: Afternoons with Steve Martin by Steve Martin and Adam Gopnik

This is another Friday listens as this title is only available in audio format. Published by Pushkin Audio  (co-founded by Jacob Weisberg and Malcolm Gladwell) — “Pushkin audiobooks are not your typical author-in-front-of-a-microphone productions. They are immersive — you hear the actual voices of the people being interviewed, archival footage, and beautiful scoring.” I’ve been a Steve Martin fan since his white-suit and arrow-through-the-head days. His SNL skits from Dancing in the Dark with with Gilda Radner to the Festruck Brothers with Dan Ackroyd were legend. Years ago, he loaned a piece of art from his collection  for an exhibit in the Sheldon Museum of Art and I often sat and watched it after my campus walks.  The proximity was oddly thrilling.

This audio-biography is a series of conversations recorded over the course of a year between Steve and long-time friend Adam Gopnik.  The two met in the fall of 1990 at a controversial exhibit Gopnik curated called High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture at the Museum of Modern Art. They shared many conversations since that time and decided to record Adam, asking questions about Steve’s evolution in both his personal and professional life. The topics cover Steve as magician, standup comic, actor, writer, playwright, musician, composer, and art collector. Hence the title, So Many Steves, that was inspired by a poem written by e.e. cummings, So Many Selves.

I saved this book to listen to on the morning of my birthday while I walked. I learned that Steve used Carl Reiner as a personality mentor watching and studying Carl’s ease with people in conversation employing deft humor. When Tommy Smothers said that “talking to Steve Martin is like sitting in a room alone” – you understand, Steve knew he needed help overcoming his off stage social ineptitude. The best takeaway was Steve reflecting on his life in the late 80s at a time when he began trusting his craft and wondering what was different. There was a Hungarian word for this, Pihentagyú, which means “a relaxed brain.”  It describes a quick-witted person who can come up with sophisticated jokes or solutions because their mind is at rest. With a relaxed brain, it is easier to think quickly and clearly.  I would credit this to both age and experience, so listening to this while marking another year was especially meaningful.

Of course, I understand the value of print, and I am a long time audio book listener, but these hybrid audio presentations are exactly what I want from an author and performer. A conversational narrative accompanied with a specific soundtrack relevant to the story.  If this sounds like your kind of thing, check out Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon, a finalist for the 2023 audiobook of the year. Audible’s Words+Music recordings with over 35 notable musicians are also something to consider. There’s no shortage of ways to delight your aural senses.

Steve Martin and Adam Gopnik So Many Steves: Afternoons with Steve Martin. Pushkin Industries. 2023.

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What’s Up Doc? New State Agency Publications at the Nebraska Library Commission

New state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for July and August, 2023.  Included are reports from the Nebraska Administrative Services, Nebraska Colleges & Universities, the Nebraska Board of Examiners, the Nebraska Department of Labor, and new books from the University of Nebraska Press, to name a few.

Most items, except the books from the University of Nebraska Press, are available for immediate viewing and printing by clicking on the highlighted link above, or directly in the .pdf below.  You can read synopses of the books received from the University of Nebraska Press in the Book Briefs blogposts.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Publications Clearinghouse in 1972 as a service of the Nebraska Library Commission. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, and provide access to all public information published by Nebraska state agencies.  By law (State Statutes 51-411 to 51-413) all Nebraska state agencies are required to submit their published documents to the Clearinghouse.  For more information, visit the Nebraska Publications Clearinghouse page, contact Mary Sauers, Government Information Services Librarian; or contact Bonnie Henzel, State Documents Staff Assistant.

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Friday Reads: “The Wheel of Time Series” by Robert Jordan

I’ve been reading this series since I was a freshman in high school, and by then the first books were almost 15 years old, so you know they pass the test of time. I’ve been reading and rereading this series off and on ever since. It’s one of my favorite fantasy series, full of flawed characters, adventure, love stories, and tragedies. The first book in the series is The Eye of the World, It follows a group of young adults, childhood friends, as they’re pulled out of the comfortable small village they’ve always known and thrown into a fight between good and evil and the possible destruction of the world as they know it. It’s a long series, 14 books, and Lincoln City Libraries and Nebraska Overdrive Libraries both have all of them in eBook and Audiobook format available on Libby. If you were a fan of Game of Thrones with its multiple character story lines and young heroes and heroines, this is a great series for you. Prime Video came out with a TV series last year, and while I enjoyed it, I will always urge someone to read the books. They are infinitely better.

Jordan, Robert. The Eye of the World. Tor Books. 1990.

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Call for Speakers: Big Talk From Small Libraries 2024

The Call for Speakers for Big Talk From Small Libraries 2024 is now open!

Submit your proposal by Friday, December 15, 2023.

This free one-day online conference is tailored for librarians from small libraries; the smaller the better!

Small libraries of all types – public, academic, school, museum, special, etc. – are encouraged to submit a proposal. We’re looking for seven 50-minute presentations and four 10-minute “lightning round” presentations.

Do you offer a service or program at your small library that other librarians might like to hear about? Have you implemented a new (or old) technology, hosted an event, partnered with others in your community, or just done something really cool? The Big Talk From Small Libraries online conference gives you the opportunity to share what you’ve done, while learning what your colleagues in other small libraries are doing.

Here are some possible topics to get you thinking:

  • Unique Libraries
  • Special Collections
  • New buildings
  • Fundraising
  • Improved Workflows
  • Staff Development
  • Advocacy Efforts
  • Community Partnerships
  • That great thing you’re doing at your library!

Speakers from libraries serving fewer than 10,000 people will be preferred, but presentations from libraries with larger service populations will be considered. Speakers must be from small libraries or directly partnered with a small library and submitting a proposal to co-present with the library.

Big Talk From Small Libraries 2024 will be held on Friday, February 23, 2024 between 8:45 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (CT) via the GoTo Webinar online meeting service. Speakers will present their programs from their own desktops. The schedule will accommodate speakers’ time-zones.

This conference is sponsored by the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) and the Nebraska Library Commission.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

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Book Club Spotlight – The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut 

Cover for The Ordinary Spaceman by Clayton C. Anderson.
Anderson, a white man in a training space suit solemnly salutes the camera.

Four years after what would be his final voyage into space, retired astronaut Clayton Anderson of Ashland, Nebraska, released his tell-all memoir of his 30 years at NASA, comprising 167 days living in space, working on the International Space Station and performing nearly 40 hours of spacewalks. Now, when I say this is a “tell-all” memoir, I don’t mean it in a way to dramatize or bring to mind a TMZ article. I mean it literally. Because today, our Book Club Spotlight The Ordinary Spaceman, is genuinely one of the most unflinchingly honest, funny, and candid stories about what it takes to be a NASA astronaut. Anderson’s insistence on being “an ordinary guy” might feel strange when reading a book by someone who has been to space, but it’s also his wholehearted truth. 

Clayton and his mother have different ideas about when he decided to be an astronaut. He argues it started with watching the Apollo 8 mission at the age of nine, and his mom, however insists the dream was always apart of him. A proud and true Nebraskan, Clayton made his way to Texas, working at NASA as an engineer, and eventually leading the development effort for the ISS’s Caution and Warning System, all the while continuing to pursue his dream of spaceflight. Clayton applied to the astronaut program 15 times before finally being selected, and that was only the beginning. From recalling his first time breaking the sound barrier, freezing during survival training in the Russian wilderness, needing stiches while working in an undersea lab, and tragically witnessing the Columbia disaster alongside the crew’s families, Anderson is incredibly open and humble about his experiences during his time in and out of space, even when he finds himself in the wrong. Through stories of incredible isolation and excitement, frustration, and an ever-evolving sense of respect for others,, Anderson doesn’t hide his emotions in his writing, and takes us through his personal growth as a man, an astronaut, and in his faith. All while mixed in with a healthy dose of humor and sincerity that brings the reader close and holds tight until the very end.

“Performing a spacewalk outside the space station is not much different from going outside in a Nebraska winter. The space environment is just as brutal as those I encountered as a kid … okay, maybe a little bit worse.” 

Clayton Anderson

Though a new addition to our Book Club Collection, The Ordinary Spaceman was awarded the Nebraska Book Award in 2016 for Creative Non-fiction, and after having lived in Texas 30 years, his home state is still very much a part of his identity, and it is clear how proud he to represent Nebraska as its first astronaut. From shaping his personality to his love of all things huskers, any Nebraska reader will feel at home reading his words and shaking their head at his (sometimes) crass humor, wondering if they have what it takes to go to space. 

Anderson at the 2008 LPS-Pfizer Science Fair. (image: Lincoln Journal Star)

To this day, Anderson is a passionate STEM advocate and NASA Ambassador, and recently in 2022 he became the President and CEO of The SAC Museum in his own hometown. For him, being an astronaut is just as much about being a role model as it is about flying in the stars. Because of him, for the majority of my life, there has always been a Nebraskan Astronaut. Looking back on it now, I wonder how many opportunities were provided to me and my peers because of Anderson’s perseverance as a role model and science educator, especially to the kids of Nebraska. I even had the opportunity to meet Anderson when he was a guest speaker at the LPS-Pfizer Science Fair in 2008. Fresh off his 5-month tour on the ISS, Anderson was a pretty big name, even for us ambivalent 5th graders. I still remember seeing his big grin as he looked over the crowd of us youngsters in our science fair t-shirts and thinking about how strange it was that astronauts were just ordinary people like us. And now I know he felt the same!

The Ordinary Spaceman is one of four books by Anderson. He has written two children’s books: Letters from Space and A is for Astronaut, and a YA book: It’s A Question of Space. 

“This journey is not just about technical achievements; it is about people. It is about our planet; it is about the future of the entire human race. What began from an era of competition, fueled by the launch of Sputnik forty years ago, has now become the ultimate challenge of cooperation and teamwork. This is what we owe our children and all future generations. I want to help “line the way”!”

– Anderson 1998

If you’re interested in requesting The Ordinary Spaceman  for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 10 copies available. (A librarian must request items)

Anderson, Clayton. The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut. University of Nebraska Press. 2015

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