Acid Free

Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle & Steenz. Oni Press, 2018. 9781620104705. 276pp.

After losing her previous job because of a breakdown, Celeste is hired to archive photos at the Logan Museum, a spooky building which houses a collection of medical photos, documents, and more. Things feel weird and spooky right from the beginning. She’s only allowed to work at night. Her boss, Holly, and the Curator, Abayomi, seem both overly concerned and unwilling to share information about the place, despite the fact that someone may have broken in while she was there alone. There’s also a mysterious Board of Directors, and the weird more-than-dreams that Celeste is starts to have.

This is a great readalike for Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, about a girl who falls into a hole and makes a ghostly “friend.” Librarians reading it may be disappointed that neither librarian in the story has an MLIS, and that the cataloging of the photos Celeste scans isn’t at all technical, but overall this is a good read about a young woman trying to make her way back into the library work world, and the spooky stuff all ends up having a mental health tie-in.

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Reign of Fire

The Dragon Slayer: Folktalkes from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez. Toon Books, 2018. 9781943145294. 40pp.

This book contains comics versions of three stories: “The Dragon Slayer” and “Tup and the Ants” from Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions by John Bierhorst, and “Martina Martínez and Pérez the Mouse” from Tales Our Abuelitas Told by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. In the title story, a young girl befriends an old woman who gives her a magic wand. She uses its power (and her own moxy) to become a queen. In “Martina Martínez…” a young woman marries a mouse who falls into some soup. And in “Tup…” a young man scolded for being constantly lazy uses his brains to accomplish more work than his larger brothers, who everyone assumes are hard working.

Hernandez and his brothers have been creating Love and Rockets for years, and it’s amazing to see the level of storytelling craft, drawing skill, and joy that he brings to this graphic novel for kids (and adults with discerning taste). I can’t imagine a library that serves young people, or that has even a basic folk and fairytales collection, that won’t want this on its shelves.

Okra vs. Gombo

Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Verta Mae. Doubleday & Company, 1970.

The groovy 70s cover

Sarah: A while ago I was reminded of Gil Scott-Heron. He was very influential, like a pre- hip hop hip hop artist.
Gene: He’s mentioned in an REM song, but I’ve got no idea who he was.
S: Yeah? He was a poet who set his poetry to music. So I go on to a music subscription service to start listening to him, and I’m really enjoying it, then all of a sudden there is a song that centers around a slur that’s very homophobic. I was like, “Huh, I guess that’s of its time,” then thirty seconds in, “I can’t listen to this anymore.” So. Then I read a wonderful book and at almost the very end of it, apropos of nothing, there’s a homophobic slur. It’s of its time, it wasn’t enough to make me stop reading the book, but it really took me out of the flow.
G: It’s this book, Vibration Cooking?
S: Yeah. It’s by Verta Mae, who also went by Vertamae Grosvenor and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor at different parts of her career. I don’t think anyone would have blinked at the slur in 1970, when it was written, except that you wouldn’t have said it in polite society. If I could have just skipped that page, that would have been great. I don’t know if it’s in the later reprints, too.* But other than that, as a whole, I really enjoyed the book! It was published in 1970, and was written when the author was in her late twenties. It’s a combination of autobiography and recipes.
G: Where did she grow up?
S: In South Carolina. The subtitle of the book is The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. The Geechee are a people, also called Gullah, in that area. They are descended from slaves from West and Central Africa and have their own unique language and traditions. She talks about the farm where her family lived and where she was born, then how they moved to Philadelphia and had a tough time getting by there. Her family was pretty poor. Then in the middle of a sentence, she’ll put a recipe. Like “Aunt Rose used to cook” and then the heading “COWPEAS,” and then the recipe for cowpeas.
G: Was this book famous when it came out?
S: I don’t think so. The author later wrote a lot of other stuff, was a commentator on NPR, had a PBS cooking show, stuff like that. She definitely had a following.
She became an actress in New York for a while, then moved to Paris, then she was an activist in New York, and she hung out with all of these writers and poets and musicians — in the book she’ll talk about how everyone came over after a show and this is what we cooked.
G: And this is all in there?
S: It’s all in there. She had some cousins, one who ended up in the West Indies, another who ended up in India, and she’ll write their recipes in their stories. It is always a conversational, great story that gives you all the context you need for the food. It makes it so much more enjoyable and friendly. And luckily, there’s an index at the back, because there is no organization to this at all except as a story.
G: Is it even broken up into chapters?
S: Yes, it is. There’s a section called “Away from Home,” another called “’59” when she left New York for Paris, then again in “’68.” And little side stories about raising her daughters, about how she had a hard time catching a cab in New York, stories about how people reacted to her wearing African clothes. It’s a very personal story that brings in personal recipes because that was a part of her life. At the end, there’s an everything left over section, how to cook different vegetables, about spices, there’s a section on Aphrodisiacal Foods.
G: (flipping through the book) Poems in the back.
S: And some letters between her and her cousin.
G: You can imagine a publisher getting this and just saying, “What?”
S: But it’s perfect, a perfect little story.
G: Who published it?
S: Doubleday.
G: So a major publisher. Where did you get this brown-with-age paperback?
S: At a used bookstore. It’s a first edition paperback. I think I’m going to cook some recipes from it, but I got a lot out of it even if I don’t. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it.
G: But you’d recommend it to me for the narrative flow.
S: Yes, for the flow over the recipes. It’s about the central role of food in family and friends and community and identity. And then there’s a homophobic slur. Just skip that part.

*There is a fairly lukewarm apology in the 1986 reprint. She says, “I should have said ‘homosexual.’ I apologize for that […] but the rest stands.” According to a review, the1992 reprint omitted both the original slur and the apology. The 2011 reprint has the slur back again and includes the 1986 apology.

“She’s what I want to be…”

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell and various writers. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 9781524719371.

This is the most fun, colorful, entertaining, and sweet-natured graphic novel on diversity and inclusivity that’s ever been. It belongs in your library unless you’re worried great kids comics will distract them from reading “real books.”

A neighborhood full of kids uses imagination to immerse themselves in a world full of magic and super powers where they can be whoever they like. When the young boy who likes to dress as The Sorceress falls into a pool, ruining his outfit, his sister (who wears long Loki horns) makes him a new crown. Their neighbor doesn’t want to play until she makes herself armor and a sword. There’s the beast next door and his sister, The Huntress, and the Hulk-like green banshee whose grandma thinks she should behave and be quiet (her mom supports her inner monster). I want to go on and on but this shouldn’t just be a list. The kids are awesome. My favorite was the boy who dressed as The Blob in a rock-like costume (with streamers) — he’s dispirited when no one can figure out what he’s supposed to be, but then the other kids help turn him into his inner fanged menace. A close second for me is Professor Everything, a bit of a know-it-all who uses advice from books to try to make friends after alienating everyone. (It doesn’t work out until he meets the kingdom’s Scribe, who is totally into comics.)

I ranted about this during my graphic novel presentation at the SWAN conference in Illinois. I hope you were there.

Hey You!

Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal, illustrated by Holly Hatum, HarperCollins Publishing, 2017, 9780062422507, 40 pages

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom

This is an amazing picture book written to empower and celebrate young girls. Even though the Rosenthals wrote this particular story for young kids, it is a great message for everyone. Young children, teenagers, and even women who consider themselves grown can learn how to love themselves. You’ll learn how every feeling, emotion, or way of expressing yourself is valid and reasonable.

I fell in love with this book because of its message encouraging young women to be happy with who they are, not just content. The artwork by Holly Hatum is gorgeous, too — there are so many bright colors, and she mixes photorealistic images in with her drawings. This is a definite confidence booster that teaches all ages it is more than okay to be the “wonderful, smart, and beautiful you!” I hope you will take the time to check it out!

Earth Girl

Space Boy Volume 1 by Stephen McCranie. Dark Horse, 2018. 9781506706481. 245pp. Originally published as Space Boy episodes 1 – 16 at webtoons.com

(A white-haired boy drifts in deep space, alone in spaceship that’s silent except when the rockets make a course correction.)

Amy thinks everyone has a different flavor. She and her parents lived on a mining colony, at least until her dad lost his job. Then they had to make the 30 year journey back to earth. She doesn’t age because of cryosleep, but her best friend Jemmah, who she leaves behind, does. Amy feels super awkward at her new high school where everyone uses augmented reality glasses, and she can’t bring herself to contact a now middle-aged Jemmah. But she does make a few friends and the blue sky overhead is awesome. Plus there’s a quiet, mysterious white-haired boy who has no flavor. How did he get to Earth from the deep space? No clue. (I hope to find out in Volume 2.)

McCranie’s art has a very nostalgic-for-the-future feel, with shapes and colors that recall classic Hannah Barbara cartoons and give the story a nice flow. The next book comes out soon, but I think I’ll check out the next few episodes on the webtoons site before then — they’re posted there as scrolling vertical chapters, and they work equally well as printed books, which is an amazing feat.

Book Fight Club

Sarah: I recently saw the new HBO movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.
Gene: Starring Michael B. Jordan from Fruitvale Station and Black Panther.
S: It was not great. The ending was updated in a way that I didn’t like.
G: His boss is the bad guy from The Shape of Water, Michael Shannon.
S: He was good. All the performances were good. The changes in the plot were aggravating.
G: Michael B. Jordan plays Guy Montag, right? I recently read someone’s opinion that the book really needed to be updated, that the story needs to be updated. The previous movie was not great.
S: People respond to the story as though it were just about censorship, but Bradbury wrote it about how people have stopped reading because they just want to watch TV. I think that’s absolutely something you can update to the internet era. People don’t want to read long sentences, they want emoji. And that’s how the movie starts. Then there’s book burning, because books bummed people out and caused wars.
G: What bummed people out?
S: Books with sad stories. And religious books cause wars because people disagree about them.
My actual question is this: if you’re in the dystopian future and you have to memorize one book, you’re assigned to memorize one book, how do you go about picking that book? I felt like when Montag met the people who were memorizing books, it looked like they didn’t necessarily get to pick their book. Maybe someone assigned it to them.
G: Oh my god, no!
S: So you’ve got to go in with a strategy or you’re going to end up with a book you don’t like and it’ll be etched into your soul forever. How do you make sure you get a book you can live with for the rest of your life? I liked that the HBO movie updated the books that were being preserved to include more contemporary authors and authors of color…
G: That’s nice.
S: …but it annoyed me that the people who became a book always matched the color of the author. The one Asian-American person had memorized Mao’s Little Red Book. Really?
G: That’s your book? Not an Amy Tan novel or something you’d want to remember?
S: No! Not something that she probably connected with personally. I don’t know. I think 90% of Chinese Americans really don’t like Mao. (laughs) Or at least their parents don’t.
G: I think that’s high, Sarah, I think it’s more like 89%
S: So you, Gene, don’t want to be assigned a guy book just because you’re clearly a guy. You don’t want something based on your demographic background. You want something based on who you are and what book you can live with.
G: That’s the question? How do you do it?
S: How do you go into the room and be like, “I only want prose.” Or “I only want American authors.” Or “I only want books that focus on language rather than character development.”
G: Maybe in that dystopian future, there are few books to choose from.
S: That’s the problem, knowing how non-librarians collect books in those Little Free Libraries, you’re going to end up with a car manual. You’re going to end up with Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
G: (laughs) Oh my god! The Prophet by Gibran. How to Win Friends and Influence People.
S: Exactly! I want to go in there and not get whatever bullshit Little Free Library books were saved. Librarians know about collection development, about core collections.
G: But it couldn’t be a graphic novel.
S: Yeah, or you’d have to act it out.
G: Could it be a picture book? It’d easier to memorize prose. That’s maybe the wrong idea, maybe there’s a way to transmit pictures in a graphic novel. I immediately go to prose, I go to short. I think plays would be easier to memorize.
S: Do you think that’s why that lady chose Mao’s book? “What’s the shortest one you have?”
G: And it’s historic, right? But I think most people would preserve a bestseller…
S: Yes.
G: Every Dean Koontz book would come down through the ages..
S: By sheer numbers…and Stephen King.
G: Stephen King, The Bible, Harry Potter.
S: Harry Potter shows up on the screen in Fahrenheit 451.
G: Could you do it if you didn’t have a choice? I think yes. Because you’re going to get stuck with one book, and you’re desperate to read something anyway.
S: Assume you get to go through the process of memorizing, it’s not just accidental. What do you want to stare at, for as many years of your life as you need to memorize that book?
G: What would I want? I would pick a story that I really like and I would pick a kids’ book. I would pick some Lloyd Alexander book, probably The Book of Three or The Black Cauldron or The High King. (I recognize that Taran Wanderer isn’t the best standalone book in the Prydain series though it’s still my personal favorite.) I’d pick one of those, or my favorite book, LeGuin’s The Wizard of Earthsea. I could memorize the first three books in that series, I think.
S: Yeah. They might be happy if you volunteered to do three. “I’ll do three if I can do these three.”
G: But how do you resolve the fights? “No no no, I’M The Wizard of Earthsea!”
S: Trial by combat!
G: Have a throwdown? Maybe a bunch of people are sitting around reading a copy of John Grisham’s The Client to each other.
S: That’s what I’m afraid of. I don’t want to walk into the room and get The Client.
G: You have to have some redundancy, though, right?
S: Yeah, what if somebody gets set on fire, as happens in the film?
G: Are they setting people on fire?
S: One person immolates herself as a political protest, I think simultaneously eliminating The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck.
G: I remember in high school skipping every other chapter of that book because they were the allegorical chapters. The chapters about the Joads were interesting and readable, though. All I remember is the end, where the woman is breastfeeding an old man who’s dying. And everyone in class was like, “Whaaaaaat?”
S: If you are that book, say, “Calm down. Don’t flip out over this next chapter.”
G: Maybe I’d want to be Between A Rock and A Hard Place by Aron Ralston, the book about the guy who got his hand trapped while hiking and climbing in Utah alone.
S: Ooh, yeah, a gripping true adventure story.
G: Of course there’s be some guy who’d want a Highlander movie novelization. What would you do?
S: See, I should have an awesome answer, since I had a while to think about it…
G: You have two seconds!
S: (blurts quickly) The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman!
G: See, that wasn’t so bad. It’s a funny book.
S: It’s a funny book, it’s in little bits and pieces, you can read it in any order, you can jump around and memorize little bits at a time. Maybe I’d even do the whole trilogy.
G: Can you imagine a library where everyone its the service area got to choose just one book for the collection? And there was nothing else there?