Tag Archives: book club spotlight

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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Book Club Spotlight – El Deafo

Cover of El Deafo by Cece Bell. 
A bunny girl with a red cape flies through the ear with a large hearing aid strapped to her chest. The wires spell out "El Deafo".

This month is the 32nd year since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), making July Disability Pride Month! Featured in the 2022 Disability Readathon– is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s El Deafo by Cece Bell! A graphic novel, recommended for grades 3-7, is an “only slightly fictionalized, honest!” account of what it was like growing up deaf.

In El Deafo, we meet 4-year-old bunny Cece, who loves her polka-dotted swimsuit, singing, and being “a regular kid.” But when a case of meningitis takes her hearing, she has to navigate her new silent world and the awkwardness of growing up! With her bulky hearing aid and cords, Cece can’t help but feel embarrassed by her deafness. She’s bullied, ignored by teachers, and has to deal with people who mean well but treat her differently, all because she can’t hear. As she gets older, she realizes that her deafness isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s a part of who she is! Plus- her hearing aid actually gives her superpowers! All she needs is a couple of good friends, and to show her classmates that her disability doesn’t mean she can’t be a hero too!

“And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”

Cece Bell

El Deafo has something for every reader. Using resources like the Teaching Guide, groups can cover questions from language arts to science and social studies! If your readers are interested in watching these characters come to life, El Deafo was made into a three-part mini-series on Apple TV+. In addition, you can find excellent topics for discussion in the Author’s Note, where Bell discusses the diversity of the deaf community and how each person approaches their disability differently. Some people might disagree with her approach to deafness and that’s ok! We’re all different, “most of the time we are lost, drifting along on our own planets. But we are together in the same universe, at least”.

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)

Cece Bell. El Deafo. Amulet Books. 2014.

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Book Club Spotlight – Firekeeper’s Daughter

Cover of Firekeeper's Daughter. In Woodland School of Anishinaabe art style: An image of a butterfly born from flames. The Wings are two identical women's faces, one with tanner skin than the other.

Today, we will be spotlighting a popular title that you might not know we have! Called an “Indigenous Nancy Drew” by the author, Firekeeper’s Daughter is not only a New York Times best-seller, but a TIME Magazine Best of Book of All Time Selection. Author Angeline Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, spent ten years researching for the novel, wanting to perfectly capture her tribe and the intricacies of tribal vs. federal laws.

In The Firekeeper’s Daughter, 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. 

“People say to think seven generations ahead when making big decisions, because our future ancestors—those yet to arrive, who will one day become the Elders—live with the choices we make today.”

Angeline Boulley

If you’re an adult book group, don’t let the “YA” label scare you away. Firekeeper’s Daughter is a wonderfully rich story for anyone interested in YA and above. If your group loves stories of small communities haunted by their past, such as Beartown by Fredrik Backman, this is the title for you. However, be forewarned because many heavy topics, seen and unseen, such as sexual assault, suicide, murder, and illicit drug use, are present in this novel. Be prepared to have conversations on these sensitive topics. 

Higher Ground, the Obama’s production company, has also purchased the rights to adapt Firekeeper’s Daughter into a Netflix limited series, so keep your eyes peeled! 

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 books from Native Voices, visit the link HERE.

Angeline Boulley. Firekeeper’s Daughter. Henry, Holt and Co. 2021

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Book Club Spotlight – H is for Hawk

Amazon.com: H Is for Hawk eBook : Macdonald, Helen: Kindle Store

For this week’s spotlight of our book club titles- we continue exploring identity through H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Even though this is first and foremost a naturalist’s memoir about grief, it is also a story about finding your true self. Which makes it an excellent pick for Pride Month! And since the book’s publishing, Macdonald has come out as nonbinary, and uses she/they pronouns.

In H is for Hawk, we follow Macdonald’s grief as they try to come to terms with their father’s sudden death, by training a Goshawk named Mabel. Throughout the memoir, Macdonald grapples with grief, identity, and why she feels so drawn to the tragic tale of author T.H. White and his Goshawk. Being a gay man in the early 1900s, White, much like Macdonald, is going through a period of strife and reclusion. And in his search of connection he also turns to the wild Goshawk, while failing miserably at training it. Unlike White, Macdonald has a different experience altogether, finding herself connecting with their hawk in a whole new way. Macdonald and Mable started playing together, using crumpled-up paper to play fetch or peeking at each other between paper tubes. This bird, only known for its ferocity and blood lust, was a living being just like them! Through this connection of the past, nature, and humankind, Macdonald tells a riving and beautiful story about grief and identity. 

“It took me a long time to realise how many of our classic books on animals were by gay writers who wrote of their relationships with animals in lieu of human loves of which they could not speak.”

Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk is perfect for an adult book club that has great discussions revolving around grief, the self, and the natural world. Macdonald writes, “I’d thought that to heal my great hurt, I should flee to the wild”; no matter who you are, or your identity, we have all searched for something that has made us whole and a place to belong.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.

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

Macdonald, Helen. H is for Hawk. Grove Press. 2014

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Book Club Spotlight – How to Be an Antiracist

Cover of How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Welcome to the first Book Club Spotlight of June! With Juneteenth this month, I thought we’d start by highlighting How to Be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Dr. Kendi is a historian, and the founding director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Having spent 45 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List, and named one of Time’s “must-read” books, How to Be an Antiracist now has two companion books: Antiracist Baby, and Be Antiracist.

Using a memoir approach, How to Be an Antiracist follows Dr. Kendi through his formative years, experiencing racism as a Black man and acting upon it himself. The narrative works as a starting point for those new to the antiracist ideology by examining ethics, intersectionality, and the history of racism/race from a first-person perspective. How to Be an Antiracist encourages its readers not just to be opposed to racism but to see how it affects every aspect of our lives and to challenge it.

“What a powerful construction race is—powerful enough to consume us. And it comes for us early.”

Ibram X. Kendi

Being only the second year that Juneteenth has been recognized as a federal holiday, discussions of race might be on your book club members’ minds. I’d recommend this for adult book groups who don’t know where to start in their discussion of race or just want to learn more about the racial system in America. Dr. Kendi leads the reader through difficult terrain in a manner accessible to the layman and ripe for discussion. His guided journal, Be Antiracist, can also help facilitate discussion amongst your members with questions such as: “Who or what scares you the most when you think about race?” and “What constitutes an American to you?”

If you’re interested in reserving this title for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.

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

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. New York, NY: One World, 2019.

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Book Club Spotlight – The Ghost Bride

For our last spotlight of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, I thought I’d bring a brand new addition to our Book Club Collection; The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent currently living in California, and her most recent novel, The Night Tiger, is a NYT bestseller and a Reese’s Book Club pick.

The Ghost Bride takes place in 1890s Malaya (now Malaysia), where people of all backgrounds intermingled under British rule. The Chinese population work to hold onto their ancient traditions, especially those involving death. According to these traditions, unpleased spirits, or those who had no death rites performed, linger in our world and can cause trouble for the living. When their son dies, the wealthy and powerful Lim family look to Lin Lan to placate his soul by asking her to be Lim Tian’s bride in a rare ghost marriage. Unfortunately for Li Lan, ghosts are real, and she must travel through the Chinese afterlife to rid herself of her specter and this marriage. 

“It seemed to me that in this confluence of cultures we had acquired one another’s superstitions without necessarily any of their comforts”

Yangsze Choo

Perfect for a YA or an adult book club, the Ghost Bride is a coming-of-age novel that melds a murder mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, and a bit of supernatural romance. Throughout the story, readers learn about ancient Chinese traditions, how influences of the West changed their society, and the never ending bureaucracy of the afterlife. With the aid of the Notes section, readers can learn even more about the history of ghost marriages, Chinese notions of the afterlife, and other historical notes of life in Chinese in Southeast Asia. It was also recently adapted into a Malaysian-language Netflix series which looks incredible, and I will absolutely have to binge the it this weekend.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.

To see more of our Asian American/ Pacific Islander Book Club Kits, visit the link here.

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Book Club Spotlight – The Henna Artist

In order to kick off Asian American & Pacific Islander month, I thought I’d spotlight The Henna Artist, written by Indian immigrant Alka Joshi. This story enraptured me completely, which is in no small part thanks to the incredible audiobook narrator, Sneha Mathan. 

The Henna Artist, set in 1950’s Jaipur, India, is a story of run-away Lakshmi who fled her abusive marriage and is now a henna artist to the upper class. While she paints the ladies’ hands, she provides herbal remedies to both the men and women she services. Suddenly finding herself in charge of a 13-year-old sister she never knew she had, the life she worked so hard for comes to a crashing halt. Lakshmi’s story is fiction, but her perseverance, love for her family, and her culture’s art and medicine are far from the realm of fantasy. Here, Joshi presents a reimagining of what her mother’s life could have been if she had been given the opportunity to shape her own destiny. 


“She was brought up to obey her parents and her husband, not to defy, question or contradict. She told me Pitaji’s books had filled my head with too many silly ideas. They had given me the useless notion that I could make my own decisions.”

Alka Joshi

No stranger to book clubs, this title was featured in Reese Witherspoon’s book club at its debut in 2020. Always an evergreen topic, body autonomy is at the heart of this novel, as well as a diverse and colorful portrait of Indian culture. This book is perfect for adults, and vivacious young adults who are ready to face these conversations head-on and talk about their own experiences and viewpoints. 

If you’re worried about your knowledge of India going into this book, do not fret! Our copies at the commission all include a list of characters, a glossary of terms, information about the Caste System in India, the history of and recipe for Henna, and some food recipes! Or all of that information is available here.

If you’re interested in reading this book for your own book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.

Joshi, Alka. The Henna Artist. Mira. 2020

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Book Club Spotlight – Bronx Masquerade

A cover photo for the book Bronx Masquerade.  It features a Black teen against a brick wall, looking up into the light.

What sold me on Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes was a Goodreads review that said “I hated it, but my students loved it!”. And that’s how you know you have a good book on your hands.    

Bronx Masquerade is a fictional pseudo-narrative that hosts a collection of poems and slam poetry by Black and Hispanic high schoolers. Each poem and accompanying chapter gives the reader a short peak into the student’s lives. It’s a great way for your readers to explore other perspectives, and delve into how you never really know what’s going on beneath the surface of your classmates. Some poems are cheesy, and maybe even cringe worthy (especially facing its 20th anniversary), but that makes the story more realistic. Not every 16 year old is going to be the next Ocean Vuong or Rupi Kaur and that’s ok! Maybe there are some aspiring poets in your class that can take that to heart.   


“You have to take people one at a time, check out what’s in their head and heart before you judge.”


This title can be used in the classroom as a great introduction into contemporary poetry, especially slam poetry. It is recommended for grades 7-12 and has a slew of awards including the 2003 Coretta Scott King Author Award. Further information about the title, including a Teaching Guide can be found on the author’s website.        

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club/classroom, use the Book Club Kit Request Form listed here

Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade. Speak. 2002.

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