Month: January 2019

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High Wizardry in Children’s Books

High Wizardry in Children’s Books

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

Reading magical fantasy is just fun. You never know where an author will take you, and that unlimited imaginative possibility is what keeps readers coming back for more. When Harry Potter swept the literary world into a wizard frenzy, many adults rediscovered the excitement of reading children’s literature. Why stop there? Here are some magical tales, old and new, that will whisk you away to enchanting adventures, no matter your age.

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell combines excitement with creepiness and humor. Readers who enjoy Roald Dahl may want to give it a try. “Once there was magic,” it begins, but now Warriors work tirelessly to rid the world of all magic, good or bad. What will happen if the very worst kind of magic sneaks back in? Cowell’s illustrations throughout are also a delight.

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery by P. G. Bell wastes no time. She hooks the reader from the very first railroad track being laid down the center of Suzy’s living room floor. If Suzy is to understand anything ever again, she knows she must find a way to get on the Impossible Postal Express.

If you like your tales to sound magical as you roll the words off your tongue, try Garret Weyr’s new book, The Language of Spells. Weyr’s mesmerizing writing easily transports you to the time of Grisha’s birth in 1803, a time when dragons were not so scarce. Grisha is an ordinary dragon who meets Maggie, an ordinary girl. “Magic is funny in that way: It chooses those who might not choose themselves,” writes Weyr. “In fact, one of the many rules governing the world of magic is that if you pay attention, you will understand how magic has chosen you. And why.” Such an invitation is hard to resist.

The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Kahn Gale puts a spin on the Merlin legend by telling the story through the eyes of Nosewise, Merlin’s pet dog. When Morgana puts a magical amulet around his neck for fun, Nosewise is surprised to hear his thoughts come out as actual words. Now that he can speak, what else can he do, and will it be enough to save his master?

In Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Morrigan is cursed, and everyone knows it. Anything unfortunate that happens in her village is immediately blamed on her, and she must write an apology — “one to the Jackalfax Jam Society for a ruined batch of marmalade,” for example. The worst part of the curse is that Morrigan is doomed to die on her eleventh birthday…until Jupiter North arrives.

Diana Wynne Jones was one of the great fantasy authors who wrote classics for kids, teens, and adults. In the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, a series of six books and four short stories, the Chrestomanci is a sort of supervisor for the magical version of England. The first one written is Charmed Life, but another good entry point is Witch Week, which takes place in a world very much like ours. Wynne Jones’s Dalemark Quartet, beginning with Cart & Cwidder, consists of three seemingly unrelated books taking place in a vaguely medieval fantasy world, and a fourth book set in the present that ties them all together in mind-blowing ways.

For a more modern fantasy that blends with science, try Diane Duane’s Young Wizards books. The first book, So You Want to be a Wizard, introduces Nita and Kit, young teens who have just discovered wizardry and are on their “ordeal,” a big quest that each new wizard has to complete. In Duane’s world, the purpose of wizardry is to fight entropy, and their spells are full of mathematical calculations. The tenth book in the series, Games Wizards Play, is the most recent, and she’s still writing.

For some magic in Manhattan, join us at the library to celebrate J. K. Rowling’s wizard phenomenon on Harry Potter Book Night, February 7, from 6:00-8:00. Kids are invited to dress in character if they wish and enter Hogwarts on the library’s 2nd floor. Each House will be represented, as well as many different classrooms. Librarians and members of the local chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance will present activities, crafts, snacks and photo ops to create a magical experience for Harry Potter book lovers.

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New Year New Manga

New Year, New Manga

By Grace Benedick, Teen Services Librarian

The new year is always a good time for change, and at Manhattan Public Library we’re gearing up for a small change in our Young Adult collection. We’re dividing the graphic novels into three sections. The sections are Young Adult Graphic Novel Manga (YAGN MANGA), Young Adult Graphic Novel Series (YAGN SERIES) and plain-old Young Adult Graphic Novel (YAGN). Any single volume graphic novels will be found in YAGN. Manga series and one-shots will be found in YAGN MANGA, and all other multi-volume graphic novels and comics will be found in YAGN SERIES. If you’ve browsed the graphic novels in the Children’s Room, you’ll be familiar with the approach, and if you’ve looked closely while browsing the graphic novel shelves in young adult, you’ll have seen the new sections on the spine labels.

If you’re an avid manga reader, you’ll be aware that most manga translations are published a few years after the original debut in Japan. So you may not be surprised to hear that some of the following series are brand new to the English-language market, despite having aired as anime shows some time ago.

Hiromu Arakawa, the author of the cult-favorite, “Fullmetal Alchemist” has a new series that just arrived at our library: “Silver Spoon” is a “slice-of-life” story about an aimless teenager enrolled in an agricultural high school. The first volume released in 2011 in Japan, and hit shelves in the USA in 2018.

The lesbian coming-of-age series, “Sweet Blue Flowers” by Shimura Takako, came out in 2013 in Japan but had its English-language release in 2018, and the complete series is out now.

The many avid Naruto fans will be pleased to find the sequel series, “Boruto: Naruto Next Generations” now on library shelves. This series was created by a team comprised of Masashi Kishimoto—creator of the Naruto series—along with Mikio Ikemoto and Ukyo Kodachi. A note for slightly less avid fans: the manga aligns with the character’s ages in “Boruto: Naruto the Movie” which was released in 2015, not the currently airing anime. For the un-initiated, “Naruto” is about a ninja growing up in a world populated with mythical creatures, who is looked down on by his peers but hopes to become leader of his village and “Boruto” is the story of his son.

Readers who prefer their fantasy on the darker side, and can’t get enough “Tokyo Ghoul” to satisfy their appetite, can now tide themselves over with “Happiness” by Shuzo Oshimi, another series featuring a normal-high school boy turned blood-thirsty vampire.

For those who just want something light, romantic or funny, we’ve recently acquired some classic 2010’s shoujo manga series, as well. “Ao Haru Ride” or “Blue Spring Ride” by Io Sakisaka is about a high school girl who reunites with her middle-school crush only to find that he has become a very different person. It’s not possible to pick up right where they left off, but it may be possible to start over.

Horimiya” by Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara starts with the trope of a girl who is polished and popular at school but has a less-than glamorous home life that she’s hiding from her peers. Naturally, she strikes up a romance with a boy who is unpopular at school but considered cool elsewhere. However, as the series progresses neither the romance nor the hidden home life are the central plot-lines. Rather it’s about an expanding friend group and their escapades and comedic dialogs.

Sweetness and Lightning” by Gido Amagakure is about a single dad who is failing miserably to provide decent meals for his young daughter, until one of his students starts teaching him to cook. This series is all about the food, and it includes recipes.

Another “slice-of-life” series, with a cast of characters of all ages, “Barakamon” by Satsuki Yoshino, is a series about a calligraphy prodigy whose ego lands him in trouble in the art world and takes a break by moving to a rural island village.

For more great graphic novels, check out the list “2019 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Nominees” on the Young Adult Library Association’s “The Hub” website.

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A Life among the Birds

A Life among the Birds

By Marcia Allen, Collections Manager


               Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife: an unusual title for a very unusual career.  Skaife, as it turns out, had a lengthy career in the British military that took him to various locations throughout the world.  When he retired, he wasn’t aware of many options for an ex-military officer, but years of commitment to military service was the first requirement for his next great adventure.  He applied for and was accepted for the position of Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, which made him partly responsible for the security of the Tower of London.

Skaife’s actual career as ravenmaster began in 2005 when the current ravenmaster, Derrick Coyle, informed him that the ravens liked him.  To test Skaife’s mettle, Coyle led him to a cage and urged him inside, warning him to keep his distance and avoid looking the two largest ravens in the eye.  When one of the birds hopped to a perch next to Skaife and looked him over, Coyle told Skaife that he would do.  From that moment, Skaife became one of the trusted assistants. 

                Skaife’s wonderful new autobiography, The Ravenmaster, alludes to his childhood experiences and to his military career, but it’s more of a tribute to the ravens he loves.  He speaks of the individual personalities and the unusual quirks he has noted over the years.  He addresses the tragedies that have taken place, like one raven’s attempt to fly from a high perch with clipped feathers. He reveals mistakes that he made, like changing the typical routine, an event that made one night’s rushed securing of the cages a disaster.  

                Skaife also shares much of raven lore he has discovered. The tower always houses six or seven specially banded ravens, which belong to the corvid family that also includes crows and magpies.  Ravens, however, are three time larger than crows and have a wingspan between three to four feet.  They tend to have a shaggy look about them, and they make a croaking sound rather than a cawing sound.  According to old legend, the tower will crumble and the fate of London will take a hard turn should the ravens ever leave.  The thousands of tourists who walk through the tower grounds every year always seek out the birds and want to hear about their care and behavior.

                Ravens, according to Skaife, live by a strict set of rules.  They will not be hurried and their pecking order is not to be tampered with.  Their favorite treat is a dog biscuit soaked in animal blood.  They are preyed upon by foxes, so the staff members of the tower are always on the lookout for the foxes.  The ravens are also talented thieves, capable of stalking tourists carrying desirable sandwiches that they can swiftly grab.  They are also very effective communicators, and Skaife is the first to admit that he imitates their sounds in order to talk to them.

                Clearly, the author has a love for the ravens, and he cannot accept the fact that others sometimes link the birds to death and to ruin. Skaife is a big fan of Charles Dickens, the famous writer who kept a beloved raven, Grip, among his own menagerie.  And Skaife fondly remembers the time George R. R. Martin came to visit the tower, spending as much time as possible observing the tower ravens.

                The Ravenmaster is a delight to read.   The author seems a humble man who has happily found his life’s calling.  His appreciation for the ravens is clear throughout, and the knowledge he shares is amazing.  You won’t want to miss this captivating tale.

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What’s in a year?

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult and Teen Services Manager

What’s in a year? There is really no true difference between December 31st of one year and January 1st of the next, but that change of year still feels significant. Reflection over what has happened during the length of one rotation around the sun seems like a good way to measure the progress we’ve made in life, or a reasonable length of time to turn ourselves in a new direction. I’ve never been particularly good with New Year’s resolutions, but as this year came to a close, I found myself seeking out how others had recorded a year of their lives, in the hopes of gaining insight from their experiences.

Noelle Hancock spends a year attempting to live up to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice “Do one thing every day that scares you” in her memoir “My Year with Eleanor.” After getting laid off from her life-consuming but lucrative job as a blogger for an entertainment web site, Hancock realized that she had been using her career as an excuse to avoid anything that caused her anxiety and almost everything caused her anxiety. With some urging from her therapist, she tackled one thing that scared her every day. This led her into a year of challenges as large as swimming with sharks and as small as taking on the guy that “reserved” an entire row of seats in the movie theater. Along the way she learned lessons about what fear really means and how to manage it in her world. I don’t know that she found all of the answers for arranging her life by the end of the book, but she was asking questions that lead in a positive direction. Hancock’s memoir is entertaining as well as enlightening. She openly shares her failures and weaknesses and invites us to laugh along with her. Her one-year life assignment shows how one can find themselves stuck in a rut and choose to steer in a different direction.

Cold Antler Farm” by Jenna Woginrich is less of a self-improvement book and more of a chronicle of a way of life that is completely different from what most of us experience. Woginrich shares about her experiences on her six-acre homestead in terms of the farming year, starting with the first signs of the spring thaw and proceeding through to the quiet of winter. She has goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, and work horses, as well as an extensive garden. She portrays the good and the bad – lazy afternoons of curling up in a hammock with a good book when the chores are done, as well as the extreme cold of winter morning chores in upstate New York. My favorite chapter was about the ruckus her animals make when they realize she’s awake but hasn’t come out to feed them. I appreciated this glimpse into an existence that is so different from my own. I wasn’t inspired to move to the country, but Woginrich’s story did encourage me to ponder the food that I eat, to think about how I spend my time, and to consider my connection to my dwelling space. She does an excellent job of sharing the struggles she goes through in trying to determine what her life should be without attempting to convert the reader.

Woginrich also incorporates ancient holidays and discusses how they are tied to the rhythms of the agricultural year. She celebrates Beltane, the start of the gardening and farming season, with a neighborhood potluck and a bonfire. She tells about how Halloween developed from Samhain, a quiet day to reflect. By the end of October, the harvests would have been gathered in, allowing time to contemplate the year’s efforts and losses.

A year is really just 365 days in a row, but the progress of the seasons gives us a chance to measure our progress and to see where we need to make changes. I wish you a 2019 filled with reflection, enlightenment, and good books.