Month: October 2018

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Local History and The Food Explorer

Local History and The Food Explorer

By Mary Swabb, Adult & Teen Services Librarian

Humans are naturally inquisitive creatures. At some point in life, many people become fascinated with their family history or the local history of where they live. Detecting one’s family history can be thrilling; however, it can also be a daunting task to begin or continue if information is sparse. Manhattan Public Library (MPL) has numerous resources to help patrons address these curiosities. Not only can be accessed on library computers for free, but there are numerous books within MPL’s collection that residents might find helpful.

If you’re interested in exploring your family’s history in Manhattan, Kansas, MPL has a non-circulating Kansas History Reference book collection where volumes of local historical significance are kept. The Official State Atlas of Kansas: Compiled from Government Surveys, County Records, and Personal Investigations by L.H. Everts & Co. is part of this collection and contains a variety of maps, including historical county maps. These maps allow library patrons to see where family members lived, and how local landscapes have changed overtime.

In addition to the Kansas History Reference book collection, MPL also archives local papers such as the Manhattan Mercury, which can be utilized to find birth announcements, obituaries, marriage announcements, and other articles about family members. Historical back issues of local papers can be accessed via microfilm. The library also has microfilm indices where names or dates can be looked up to help narrow down which microfilm reel needs to be utilized. The newspaper indices are one of the best ways patrons can learn about their relatives’ lives.

If you’re interested in more generally exploring local history, you might check out Frontier Manhattan: Yankee Settlement to Kansas Town, 1854-1894 by Kevin G.W. Olson, Manhattan by James Earl Sherow, or The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone.

Frontier Manhattan: Yankee Settlement to Kansas Town, 1854-1894 follows the adventures of Isaac Goodnow and five other New Englanders as they settle between the Kansas and Big Blue rivers on the Great Plains frontier. The book chronicles the first forty years of Manhattan, elucidating the various forces that settlers had to overcome in founding the town amidst the backdrop of the Civil War era. Frontier Manhattan is packed with rich historical details and written in a very amusing and accessible way that will hold readers’ interests.

In Manhattan, Sherow features prominent local events from 1854 to 2013. He provides an overview of Manhattan’s founding and explains how early social reformers established a land grant university that would become Kansas State University, formed a mutually beneficial alliance with Fort Riley, and navigated the ecological forces of the Flint Hills. This book provides valuable details in a concise way, and it’s a great introduction to the history of Manhattan.

The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats follows voyaging botanist and agricultural explorer, David Fairchild as he searches for “food that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.” Ultimately, Fairchild’s journey transforms America into a more diverse food system. Fairchild is credited with bringing kale, mangoes, avocados, dates, nectarines, soybeans, and pistachios to American farmers. The book also touches on other native sons of Manhattan, Charles Marlatt and Walter Swingle. Stone’s biography vividly narrates Fairchild’s adventures over five continents and his insatiable desire to discover new produce varieties and promote agricultural development.

If you’re interested in local history, especially, as it revolves around agriculture and food, MPL will be hosting a book discussion of The Food Explorer at 7 p.m. Monday, November 5, 2018. The discussion will be led by William Richter, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and former K-State first Associate Provost for International Programs. This discussion kicks off a series of events taking place during K-State’s Science and Communication Week, many of which revolve around The Food Explorer. Daniel Stone will visit K-State on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 and the Riley County Historical Society and Museum will be offering a driving tour, Where the Adventure Began: Touring the Home Town of the Food Explorers beginning November 7, 2019. More information about Science and Communication week events can be found at

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New Adult Titles that Defy Categorization

New Adult Titles that Defy Categorization

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

Daniel Mason, who gained much attention for The Piano Tuner some years ago, has written yet another remarkably complex novel.  At first glance, The Winter Soldier seems like a straightforward piece of historical fiction.  But a reading of the novel reveals something altogether different.  You be the judge of this excellent tale’s nature.

Lucius, the son of a wealthy Viennese couple, is a promising medical student at the beginning of World War I.  Because he wants to be a part of the war effort, he has made arrangements to travel to what he believes to be a professional field hospital.  An accidental fall leaves him with a broken wrist, but he continues on his way to his field hospital.  Unfortunately, it is an abandoned church in the middle of nowhere, with few resources and lots of wounded men.  In addition, the doctors in attendance have all deserted because of an outbreak of typhoid.  The only person in charge is a mysterious nun, Margarete, who continues to treat even the most serious of the wounded.  Since Lucius has never previously performed surgery and is hampered by his wrist, she becomes his teacher, and the two form an adequate medical team.

In fact, the two become much more than medical partners.  Gradually, our war story transposes into romance, and Lucius realizes that the person who has taught him so much about medicine and about caring is actually a mysterious character.  When the two are separated by the devastation of war, Lucius begins a journey that becomes more puzzling with each new discovery.  It seems we actually have an historical novel/romance/mystery all in one.  Not a bad thing in a tale that has great emotional depth and realistic psychological repercussions of war trauma.

For an equally complex story, you might also consider Stuart Turton’s The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.  This novel has all the markings of an English murder mystery.  Aiden Bishop is one of many guests at a rather shabby country estate.  When the book begins, he has just regained consciousness in a nearby forest, knowing that he heard a woman scream and believing he saw some kind of pursuit going on.  He is baffled by the confusion of his memory, but thinks his return to the estate will answer all questions.

But that is not to be the case.  Soon he meets an imposing figure known only as the Plague Doctor.   The figure tells him that he has been assigned the challenge of solving the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, and he must do so in the next eight days.  To help him with the investigation, he will be assigned to the body of a different guest each day, so that he can discover what the other guests might know about the circumstances.

That is only the first of the unusual elements of the story.  Time travel becomes crucially important in the story, as the murder has not yet been committed, so Aiden is an actor in a drama that unfolds day by day.   He must determine which characters can be trusted and which pose danger to him.  Further, if Aiden does not uncover the true crime, all events are predicted to begin over again, so the days will be repeated in unending cycles.

Baffling, isn’t it?  That is because author Turton has introduced a whole series of unexpected events.  His lengthy tale swiftly becomes a mystery/ time traveling fantasy that Aiden may or may not be able to crack.  What is initially confusing becomes an intriguing adventure in space and time.  How did Aiden wind up at the estate?  Who is Evelyn Hardcastle?  What is this creepy Plague Doctor?  Too many questions, and only eight days to solve the mystery.

The new fall novels are always special, and this year’s offerings are wonderfully creative.  Stop by the library and check out some more mind-bending tales.

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By Rhonna Hargett, Adult and Teen Services Manager

I am one of those people who soaks up cooking shows like a Victoria sponge but doesn’t really do much in the kitchen. I sit with my family and share my very opinionated views about what flavors go together or whether the gluten has properly developed in a contestant’s bread, but I haven’t baked bread in years, and even then my expertise involved dumping ingredients in a machine and pushing buttons. But it has become clear to me lately that my health (and age) might dictate that I become less of an observer and more of a participant in the food world. Here’s what I found to help me.

The first thing that struck me about Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual was its size. At less than a ½ inch thick, this looked like a food guide that I could actually manage to read all the way through. Food Rules grew out of a phrase from one of Pollan’s former books, In Defense of Food. This phrase sums up much of his philosophy: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He gathered hundreds of rules from tradition and culture, researched to find the most helpful and valid, and boiled them down to 64 rules. The idea of 64 rules can sound a bit overwhelming, but Pollan doesn’t expect you to follow every rule. I read it with an attitude that there might be a few helpful nuggets in it, and I found that to be true. The book did not influence me to change everything about the way I eat, but I think a few of the tips will start to make an appearance in my food choices. There is an overabundance of health information available to Americans, and most of us just don’t have time to sort through all of it. Food Rules boils it down and makes it easier to navigate the grocery aisles and create a healthy diet.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan discusses the subject from a very different angle in Food: A Love Story. Gaffigan manages to fill over 300 pages with his love of food, making me chuckle throughout. He gushes about the wonders of cheese, fawns over bacon (the candy of meat!), and dotes on french fries. He explores the many facets of American food that he has experienced in his travels, sharing his map of the significant food areas of the U.S. and his recommendations for the best dishes in each, except seafood (which he calls seabugs). He has nothing good to say about seafood, which he admits could be a result of his landlocked Indiana upbringing. Gaffigan does not claim to be an expert. “What are my qualifications to write this book? None really. So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating, I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book.” His ability to laugh at himself and his ability to share a genuine love of good food blend to make an enjoyable exploration of American cuisine.

Ironically, both books inspired me to tweak my eating habits, Pollan through healthy suggestions and Gaffigan through encouraging me to laugh at myself and my eating foibles. Both authors have an appreciation of quality ingredients, and both persuade readers to savor every bite of a truly excellent meal. Our society is obsessed with food but never seems to find a place of confidence in what to eat. Pollan and Gaffigan provide guidance as we grapple with our dietary issues and, each in their own unique way, help readers to worry less and enjoy food more.

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Puberty: How to Start the Conversation

Puberty: How to Start the Conversation

By Jennifer Bergen, Children’s Services Manager

A library customer recently came in asking for books or DVD’s to explain PMS to her 9-year-old daughter. The daughter avoided eye contact, while a male family member chuckled nervously. I immediately remembered the embarrassment of learning about puberty when I was young. Kids need to know, and trusted adults need to inform them, but the question is how to do that with sensitivity. Just bringing up puberty can lead to giggles, confusion, or all-out fear, depending on your audience. Books can help parents introduce the topic, provide facts and photos, and reassure kids that they are not alone in this journey.

Luckily, we’ve come a long way since Judy Blume’s 1970 novel, “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret,” which was still the go-to when I was kid in the 80’s. Now, children’s fiction is full of characters going through this phase of life. Additionally, I recently went through our nonfiction collection and ended up with a nice sized pile of books on my desk to review.

Girls can begin puberty as early as 8 or 9 years old, and some books are designed for these younger readers. The Care and Keeping of You from American Girl Publishing is colorfully designed with kid-friendly illustrations. It covers territory from hair care to periods. In Why Do I Have Periods?, girls will find good, concise information with more realistic illustrations or photos. The text is larger print, making it easier for younger readers to take in. The photos of some of the girls, including the one on the cover, are less happy, but that may resonate with girls who experience pain and cramping with their menstrual cycle.

The Girl’s Body Book and The Boy’s Body Book by Kelli Dunham are great choices for kids on the younger end of the puberty scale. They are longer, so kids may not read straight through, but they can easily find the topics they are interested in and read a short section to find out more about it. The books also include chapters about getting along with parents and family members, figuring out school, and friendship skills.

Lynda Madaras’s classic bestsellers What’s Happening to My Body? for boys and for girls are longer volumes packed with information. Madaras also has shorter books for younger ages, and workbooks that prompt readers to reflect on what they are learning.  For a Christian perspective, try Where Do Babies Come From and How You Are Changing from Concordia Publishing’s “Learning About Sex” series. Karen Gravelle’s The Period Book and What’s Going On Down There are slim paperbacks that some readers may find less intimidating. The text is straight-forward and full of useful Q & A’s, and the illustrations around the edges provide some comic relief. Humor helps young readers relax a little if they are stressed about the subject matter.  There are lots more options in the library collection, mostly in the Dewey Decimal 612’s, and also as downloadable e-books.

One of my favorite books is Growing Up: Inside and Out. It works for both boys and girls, and covers some sensitive but important areas in more detail than other books, such as suicidal thoughts, consent, sexual assault, and LGBTQ awareness. Author Kira Vermond doesn’t avoid difficult issues and frequently admits that it is all pretty complex and there are not always easy answers. This book is lengthy and covers a lot of territory, but the chapter titles and the index are helpful for skipping around as needed. It is the kind of resource that is handy to have available during the adolescent years.

If you think it will be a hard sell to get your child to read a book about puberty, there are some very short videos in the library’s DVD collection. Let’s Talk Puberty for Boys is animated, which helps to keep the topic light and create less embarrassment. The library also has My Changing Body for boys and for girls, and Start Smart: Puberty for Girls, all of which are only 10-20 minutes long. The videos might not give enough detail if your child is worried about something specific, but they provide a good introduction to this mysterious, transforming phase of life called puberty.