Month: April 2018

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In Praise of an Unlikely Hero

In Praise of an Unlikely Hero

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

Of all the fictional heroes one could imagine, Sheldon Horowitz is one of the more unusual.  His wife is deceased and his days of repairing watches in New York are long over.  Now over 80, Sheldon is forced to live with his granddaughter and her husband in a Norwegian town, and he seems to exhibit signs of dementia.  After all, he converses with an old friend who has been dead for many years.  Sheldon refuses to go on outings and complains about the local culture and mindset.

And yet, there is much more to this character.  Flashbacks reveal his activities during World War II.  He doesn’t speak of those experiences, yet there are clear indications that he was specially trained as a sniper and earned a prestigious award for having saved a great many lives.  He also suffers from guilt.  He had shared his wartime recollections with his only son who went off to his own war in Vietnam and became a casualty.

That’s the set-up for Derek B. Miller’s masterful Norwegian by Night, a mystery that garnered the CWA John Creasey Dagger Award, as well as high praise from The Economist and Kirkus Reviews. The story opens when Sheldon’s mundane life takes an unpredictable turn.

At home one day in the apartment he shares with his family, he hears the ugly sounds of an argument.  A neighbor and her young son are being berated by the boy’s father, a Kosovan war criminal.  When the disturbance becomes physical, Sheldon pulls the boy into the apartment and flees with the child out the back door.  Meanwhile, the mother is brutally killed.

Here’s where the story gets really interesting.  Sheldon and the child, who is obviously used to mistreatment, do not speak the same language.  Our hero realizes he must make the child more comfortable, as well as keep him safe from the dangerous criminal, and so he turns the flight into a Viking adventure by fashioning a costume for the boy from supplies he steals from an unoccupied cabin.

Sheldon’s behavior also negates the suspected dementia.  He realizes he must take the boy to a safer place, and he plans to travel to his granddaughter’s summer cabin where he’s heard there are hunting weapons.  Our wily hero must outwit the thugs who want the boy, and he must make some fairly elaborate travel plans to reach the cabin.

Do the two reach the cabin?  You’ll have the read this engrossing book to find out, but I promise the story is well worth the time investment.  Sheldon’s determination to protect the boy and to calm the little guy’s fears make him truly admirable.  And these odd partners in flight make compelling heroes, as they try to outmaneuver some really nasty characters.  Sheldon’s granddaughter is also compelling: while she believes her grandfather has some dementia, she truly wants him to be happy in his new home.

And the good news?  If you like this book, you will be elated to learn the award-winning author has a new title.  American by Day involves Chief Inspector Sigrid Odegard who investigated the death of the woman in Sheldon’s apartment.  Instead of enjoying some well-earned time off (and recovering from a serious concussion), she is ordered by her father to go to America and search for her missing brother.  Like Sheldon of the first novel, she is about to experience some serious culture shock when she leaves to comfort of her Norwegian home to work in America.  And she has a delightfully dry sense of humor.

I highly recommend both books, and I sincerely hope that Derek B. Miller continues to provide us all with his well-plotted mysteries.

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YA Sci Fi and Fantasy

YA Sci Fi and Fantasy

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

There is one aspect of being a teen that has really improved over the last few decades. Fiction for teens/young adults has come a long way since I was that age. I recently found myself on a binge-read of young adult science fiction and fantasy and, apparently, I’m in good company. An article from The Atlantic by Caroline Kitchener, “Why So Many Adults Love Young-Adult Literature” shares that about 55% of today’s YA readers are actually adults. Kitchener suggests several reasons for this trend, but the one that fit my experience best is that YA books are really good books. J.K. Rowling taught us with Harry Potter that it doesn’t really matter what age a book is intended for if it’s a great story.

I first picked up Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood because she came to our library to lead a teen writing workshop. I didn’t have to get far into it, though, before I was reading it because I had to find out what happened next. Asa is the youngest daughter of the ruler of several planets that are experiencing a food shortage. She’s a dedicated sister and citizen, but also impetuous and willing to bend the rules for a good cause. In order to save her sister, she disguises herself to enter into an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir of a nearby kingdom. The bride and groom have to decide if they can trust each other enough to protect the alliance that may be the only way their kingdoms can be saved. Packed with adventure, royal intrigue, and a great story of a strong young woman coming into her own, Inherit the Stars is a binge-worthy read.

In Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Jason Reynolds has filled us in on the back-story of Marvel’s critically acclaimed black & Puerto Rican successor to Peter Parker. Miles is a typical kid in a Brooklyn neighborhood, trying to navigate the world around him and grow up into someone his parents can be proud of. He goes to a boarding school, hangs how with his friends, secretly crushes on the school poet, and sometimes puts on a spider suit and saves people’s lives. Miles was bitten by a very curious spider a few years back and ever since, has abilities and senses that he is still learning to control. He also struggles with a family history that makes him question if he is really able to always be the “good guy.” It seems that his spidey-sense isn’t working right lately, and he’s been having the strangest dreams. It doesn’t help that his history teacher is feeding his classmates a version of slavery that rewrites the ugly past. Through the novel, Reynolds explores themes of growing up, race, and identity with humor and a thrilling story-line.

In Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Brooklyn teen Sierra Santiago is looking forward to a summer of hanging out with her friends and painting a mural on a neighborhood abandoned building, but things start to go downhill when nearby murals start to fade and shift. She has been a confident young woman that enjoys the loving surroundings of a good family and a supportive neighborhood, but now she isn’t sure whom to trust. Meanwhile her abuelo periodically seems to become more aware of his surroundings while saying things that are frightening and confusing about shadowcatchers and murals and how very sorry he is. His words cause her to rally her friends to help her find the answers to the puzzle and learn more about herself along the way.

Check out the young adult section at the library for exciting reads that can deliver you to another place or another time in your own life.

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Delightful Picture Books for Spring

Delightful Picture Books for Spring

By Jennifer Bergen, Youth Services Manager

The spring offerings from children’s book publishers have been delighting librarians with some unusual characters paired with the perfect text and outstanding illustrations. Here are a few titles to put on your list to share with the young children in your life.

The Big Umbrella” by Amy June Bates begins with a dreary raincloud, and a sleeping red umbrella by the front door. When opened, the umbrella becomes the star of the story, smiling and spreading its arms wide as a child in a raincoat and blue boots leads it on an adventure. Children’s faces are obscured by hoods or the umbrella, but you can see interesting legs added to the umbrella’s shelter – an athlete, a ballerina, an enormous chicken? There’s room for everyone, even Bigfoot. Bates’ simple text, accompanied by sweet watercolor illustrations, gets an important message out: “Some people worry that there won’t be enough room under the big umbrella. But the amazing thing is…there is.” The story beautifully highlights our best qualities – friendliness, acceptance, generosity and positivity. It’s perfect to share with a toddler or in a group setting.

Petra” by Marianna Coppo features another unlikely main character, a rock. Petra isn’t just any rock: Petra is a “fearsome, fearless, mighty, magnificent mountain!” Until the next scene, that is, when a dog shows up and carries the gray, round, small stone away in his mouth. The rock then explores being different things – an egg, an island, or a child’s painted elephant. Who knew life for a rock could be so adventurous? This is a quietly silly story that kids can relate to, and they will probably want to go find a pet rock to paint after reading time is over.

Brendan Wenzel’s new picture book, “Hello Hello,” is an artistic gem. Vibrant animals with texture, movement and personality are displayed on every spread. Sparse text accompanies the creatures as they greet each other: “Hello Beauty, Hello Bend, Hello Neighbor, Hello Friend.” The rhythm and rhyme make it perfect for a read-aloud, but kids will want to go back to the book to check out each critter more closely. You can’t help but smile when you look these animals in the eye. Wenzel, who just received a Caldecott Honor for his 2017 book “They All Saw a Cat,” has produced another winner for kids.

Sheep 101” by Richard T. Morris, with art by LeUyen Pham, will soon become a bedtime favorite. Imagine counting sheep to fall asleep and you’ve already reached 100, but that Sheep 101 throws a wrench in the process. This story begins with Sheep 102 breaking the fourth wall, talking to the reader (who is also the sleepless sleeper), and not in a nice tone, either. “Do you see we’ve got a sheep down?..I’ve got my eyes on you, sleepyhead.” Sheep counting digresses until the Lego helicopter crew flies in to save the night. Whumpa-whumpa-whumpa. “Uh, Land of Nod, this is Sandman, over. We have a visual on 101.” If giggles give your littles ones good dreams, you will want to end with this prize every bedtime.

Honey” by David Ezra Stein is about a young bear, only in his second year, and his favorite thing: “Warm, golden, sweet, clear, slowly flowing, spicy, aromatic, sparkling with sunlight – Honey!” It is also a story about waiting, because when bear rouses from his winter sleep, it is too soon for honey. While he waits, bear experiences other pleasant things in his surroundings, which momentarily take his mind off the sweet, sticky, gold treat he desires. He dances in a rainstorm, swims in a pond, and plays in a waterfall where he was “very busy for a long time.” Finally, honey time arrives, and of course it was “just as good as he’d remembered.” This story follows Stein’s first book about the bear, “Leaves,” and I can only hope there will be more to come for this loveable character.

To receive a list of great new picture books each month, sign up for Email Book Lists from the library’s webpage at

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Have You Read These? You Should Have

Have You Read These? You Should Have

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Everybody has an opinion on the best books to read. There are hundreds of lists online of the 10 best books to read, or the 25 books everyone should read, or the 100 books you need to read before you die. But if you’re looking for a dozen great novels, look no further than the list of the Greatest Books Ever Written on the website of the “Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy is the tragic story of Anna Karenina, a married noblewoman and socialite, and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. Called by Dostoyevsky “flawless as a work of art,” the novel explores several topics, including politics, religion, morality, gender and social class.

To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.  Small town lawyer, Atticus Finch, takes on the task of defending a black man accused of raping a white woman in Depression era south. Despite the serious topics of rape and racial inequality, Lee diffuses her storytelling with warmth and humor.

The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story of the young, mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his obsession with the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. The novel explores the idealism, social upheaval, and excess of the Jazz Age. It is a cautionary tale of the American Dream.

One Hundred Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The story of seven generations of the Buendía Family in the fictional town of Macondo, and the inevitable and inescapable repetition of history. The characters in the novel are controlled by their pasts and the complexity of time.

A Passage to India,” by E.M. Forster. The novel centers on the alleged assault of a young Englishwoman and an Indian doctor in 1920s India. It explores both the chasm between races, and between individuals struggling to make sense of their humanity.

Invisible Man,” by Ralph Ellison. This tells the story of an unnamed African American man whose color makes him invisible. It addresses the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the twentieth century, including Black Nationalism, and issues of individuality and personal identity.

Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The story follows the adventures of a nobleman who sets out with his squire to revive chivalry and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. Don Quixote does not see the world for what it is, but prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story.

Beloved,” by Toni Morrison. Set after the American Civil War, it tells the story of Sethe born a slave and escaped to Ohio, who eighteen years later is still not free. She is haunted by the memories of Sweet Home, the farm where she was enslaved, and where many hideous things occurred.

Mrs. Dalloway,” by Virginia Woolf. The novel chronicles a June day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party she will host that evening. The story moves forwards and backwards in time, and in and out of the characters’ minds to construct both an image of Clarissa’s life and English society during the years between the world wars.

Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe. The novel tells the tale of Africa’s encounter with Europe as it establishes a colonial presence on the continent. Told through the fictional experiences of Okonkwo, a wealthy Igbo warrior in the late 1800s, it explores one man’s futile resistance to the devaluing of his traditions by British political and religious forces.

Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte. The novel follows the emotions and experiences of Jane Eyre, including her growth to adulthood and her love for Mr. Rochester, master of Thornfield Hall. The novel contains elements of social criticism, and explores classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism.

The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker. This is the story of the life of African-American women in the Southern United States in the 1930s. An eloquent portrayal of black women’s lives supported by faith, love, and trust in the face of brutality, poverty, and racism.

The choice of what you read is up to you, but have you read these books? They are all available in multiple formats at your library. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but every one of the books on this list have been recreated on film.

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Library Resources

Library Resources

By Linda Henderson, Adult Services Librarian

“I didn’t know they did that!”  When I do presentations in the community about our online resources, people always remark about the variety of online services we offer at no cost.  The Manhattan Public Library offers online access for you at home to magazines, genealogy, auto repair, e-books and audio books for adults and young people, movies, instructional videos, foreign language tutorials, and many other resources –all available with just a Manhattan Public Library card.

The library offers 22 full-text magazines online.  Better Homes & Gardens, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic, Seventeen, This Week, Ranger Rick, The New Yorker, Men’s Journal, Wired, Rolling Stone and more give our public a wonderful chance to read, just as if you were holding the magazines in your hands. No need to squint at fine print or small photos; if you are online, it’s easy to enlarge text and zoom in on images to catch every detail.

Savvy consumers still check Consumer Reports for professional reviews, and it is also available online and fully searchable through the library, with new reviews, comparisons, and articles on all sorts of products.  Yearly run-downs of the best new autos, appliances, phones, and other devices offer consistent, readable insight into which products offer solid value, and which bargains shouldn’t be missed.

For in-depth financial research and analysis, check Morningstar or Value Line. Comprehensive investment info is searchable with your library card.

As librarians, we take pride in recommending new books for patrons to read, but you can also search Novelist Plus to get recommendations, reviews, articles, and reading lists.  Hoopla is a new and very popular source for streaming or downloading music, audiobooks, movies, tv episodes, and e-books.  Download the Libby app to access e-books and audiobooks from the Sunflower eLibrary.

Many educational sites are available through the library offering chances for growth, from children’s learning to advanced technical materials for adults.

Young children can develop reading skills using a variety of excellent sites.  BookFLIX lets kids read along with videos of many classic storybooks, on any e-device.  Tumblebooks offers online picture books, ebooks, and graphic novels, along with puzzles and games for children to enjoy.

Learning Express Library includes tutoring for elementary, high school, college, and adult students.  Prepare for SAT, GRE, and other standardized tests; gain skills in computers, in math and grammar, and in office work to improve writing, business skills, resumes and more.

Mango Languages specializes in language tutoring, offering fun, conversational courses in 74 different languages, naturally including English instruction courses for those that speak other languages.

Popular provides beginning and advanced courses in business work, software, and technical and creative skills, including design, programming, graphic art, animation, and web development, all using suites like Adobe Creative Suite, AutoCAD and many others.

Car trouble?  From loose panels to engine overhauls, and all types of maintenance in between, the Auto Repair Reference Center offers repair and service information for your specific vehicle by year, make and model. There is guidance on how auto components work, and all sorts of care tips to extend the life of your car or truck.

The library site offers access to quite a few general research sources, as well.  Explora offers flexible searching for books, journals, and more.  Encyclopedia Britannica remains an authoritative work with children’s, young adults and adult reference portals. Images, videos, dictionaries, and more e-books and magazines are available.

Explore family roots.  Heritage Quest has expanded with much more information.  Genealogy Connect serves up over 600 genealogy and reference publications.  Note that our other resource, Ancestry, is only available at the library, but you can e-mail articles, save them to USB media, or print your results.

Kansas State Library Online Resources offers many more opportunities—Skill building, business, health, and history. Spanish resources are also available. You may need a Kansas Library Card which we can give you quickly with just a phone call.

You only need a Manhattan Public Library card, and a library card is simple to acquire: just bring a photo ID (like a driver’s license) and a proof of address to the library, and we will handle the rest.

To access all the resources in this article, go to and click on “Online Resources,” then log in with your library card number. If your group would like a demonstration of these resources in the library or at a meeting place, please contact Linda Henderson at  I would love hearing from you!