Month: February 2020

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Teaching Emotional Intelligence with Children’s Picture Books

Teaching Emotional Intelligence with Children’s Picture Books

By Hannah Atchison, Children’s Librarian

Everyone feels things differently. Even for grownups, understanding our feelings and putting them into words is difficult. For a child it is even harder. Teaching a child what a complex emotion feels like and how it should be processed and expressed is hard work for everyone involved. Have no fear; your local children’s librarian is here. In the children’s section at the public library there is a variety of picture books about characters who are learning about their emotions and how to understand and express them in a healthy way. Here are a few of my favorites.

Joy” by Corinne Averiss. A girl tries her best to bring joy to her grandmother. She gathers some useful objects for catching things and takes them to the park to look for ‘joy.’ She has trouble catching it and worries that she won’t have any to give to her grandmother.

This Beach is Loud!” by Samantha Cotterill. A boy goes to the beach with his dad. He is very excited, but when they get there he becomes overwhelmed and experiences sensory overload. His father is patient with him and talks him through it until he feels better.

Simon and the Big, Bad, Angry Beasts: A Book About Anger” by Ian De Haes. Whenever Simon gets mad, his anger turns into a beast. The beast gets bigger and fiercer until one day Simon gets mad for no reason at all and his beast becomes a dragon. Simon must learn how to control his temper.

The Snurtch” by Sean Ferrell. When Ruthie goes to school, the Snurtch, which appears as a floating ‘beast,’ is always with her. He throws crayons, pulls hair, burps loudly and makes the other kids not want to play with her.

The Little Bit Scary People” by Emily Jenkins. The girl in this book talks about some of the people she sees who scare her a little because they look or act a little different, but then she thinks about what kinds of nice qualities they have, things they do when they are home or having fun, and that helps her not feel afraid of them.

Can I Keep It?” By Lisa Jobe. This book is about learning empathy. A boy catches different animals outside and asks his mother if he can keep them. His mother tells him what the animals like to do and asks him where he thinks they would like to live.

How it Feels to Be a Boat” by James Kwan. In this book you learn empathy while imagining you are a boat. The book tells you about all the things you are experiencing and how it might make you feel.

“F is for Feelings” by Golden Melanie Millar. This book is an alphabet of feelings with examples for each.

The Brain Storm” by Linda Ragsdale. This book is about a boy who wakes up in a very bad mood, which is pictured as a scribbly ‘storm’ that follows him around above his head. He can not make it go away and brings it to his grandmother who tries to help him understand it. This book is entirely made of pictures. There are no words.

I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness” by Susan Verde. This book is about finding peace and making sense of emotions using yoga.

My Blue is Happy” by Jessica Young. This book uses colors to talk about emotions. The girl in this book talks about how colors feel differently to her than to other people.

It is important for caregivers reading these stories to ask their child questions while they are reading to make sure they are engaging with the story. This is always a good thing to do when reading to children but is especially important when the stories are about complex subjects like emotions. With books like “The Brain Storm” and “How it Feels to Be a Boat” where there are pictures without words, caregivers can use these as an opportunity to ask questions. For example, “How can you tell Simon is feeling angry? What is his body doing?” This is a difficult subject to teach. If you need more resources or suggestions, your librarians are here to help.

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Looking Back as We Look Forward

Looking Back as We Look Forward

by Chelsea Todd, Children’s Services Librarian

Image result for finding langstonI was watching the previews to a movie recently, when I noticed that almost every preview I saw was a re-make or continuation of a movie I’d already seen. Many of them based on books I read in my childhood. It seems to have become common in both media and literature to tell the same story- sometimes from different perspectives or in different time periods, but with the same themes that drew us in the first time around.

It got me thinking: what is it about these stories that we love enough to see them over and over? Aren’t there new and more exciting stories to tell as time passes?  I’ve concluded that, as time goes by, it is really about wanting to share something that influenced and molded us into the people we are today. It’s about preserving and passing them forward, but also looking at these stories with fresh eyes and new understandings of their relevance.  So, I will choose to enjoy and share each new telling of these stories, but also not forget where they originated or that there are also new stories to enjoy.

If you’re looking for some well-loved stories to dive back into, here are some of my favorites:

Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott is a story, set during the civil war, of four sisters learning to make their way in the world with very different talents and interests to guide them. Any of your historical fiction lovers would enjoy this one! Alcott’s follow-up novel, “Little Men,” continues the story of the March family.

The Princess Diaries” by Meg Cabot: This ten-book series revolves around the life of Mia Thermopolis as she strives to find balance between becoming a princess and being a normal teenager. These books are aimed at high school readers, but there is also a spin-off series for younger readers about Mia’s younger sister, called “From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.”

Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer is a series that begins with 12-year-old Artemis who is a self-declared criminal mastermind. This series has a wildly entertaining group of supporting characters such as Butler, Artemis’ bodyguard; and Captain Holly Short, a fairy who is a member of the LEPrecon unit determined to stop him. Colfer followed this series by releasing the books as graphic novels, as well as writing a book about Artemis’ younger brothers entitled “The Fowl Twins.”

The Story of Dr. Doolittle” by Hugh Lofting has also had some grand retellings, and will again in 2020, however its worth reading the original classic about the quirky doctor who works better with animals than he does with humans, and the adventures they go on together. There are several sequels to this classic.

The Call of the Wild” by Jack London is a naturalist piece set in the Yukon in the late 1890s that explores the motif Man vs. Nature, and centers around the harsh life of a sled-dog named Buck and his owner Thornton as they struggle to survive the wild unknown.

If you’re looking for some newer stories to love, you might try one of these more recent books:

The Loser’s Club” is written by the late Andrew Clements who has given us many realistic fiction books that humorously reflect adolescent life. Here he tells the relatable story of Alec, a boy who keeps getting in trouble for reading during class, which leads him to starting a club for readers called, you guessed it: The Losers Club.

Amina’s Voice” by Hena Khan explores the trials and tribulations of school, popularity, and finding oneself from the perspective of a Pakistani-American girl. This focuses on 11-year-old Amina who is discovering the importance of her culture amidst all the changes happening in her life.

 “Finding Langston” by Lesa Cline-Ransome is about a young African-American boy in the late 1940s who has lost his mother and moved to a new town where he must face a new school and new bullies, but also discovers the library and his namesake- poet Langston Hughes.

 “Paxby Sara Pennypacker is a recent William Allen White award winner, and tells the heart-warming story of a boy and the fox that he saved as a baby. Ultimately after being separated, both Peter and Pax know that they must find each other again.

Find all the classic or contemporary stories worth reading- or re-reading- at Manhattan Public Library. If you need even more suggestions, our staff are here to help.

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Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River”

Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River”

by Marcia Allen, Collections Services Manager

I just finished a wonderful new book that straddles a couple different genres.  Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River” is one captivating piece of fiction that manages to be both a riveting mystery and an intimate portrayal of damaged family dynamics.  Let me explain what makes this an outstanding read.

Mickey is a deeply troubled police officer.  Why the difficulties?   Her younger sister, Kacey, is a drug addict with a long criminal record.  Alternating chapters in the book are flashbacks to a childhood of neglect the two shared.  The mother of the girls died of a drug overdose, the father abandoned them to the girls’ grandmother when he could no longer tolerate the older woman’s hostility, and the grandmother is bitter and cold toward the girls, a woman who doesn’t want the children.  A school trip to a ballet when the girls were small is particularly poignant in its depiction of neglect. As a result, both girls flee home early: Mickey to a career in law enforcement, and Kacey to a world of crime and drugs that worsens over time.  Mickey lives each day in fear that Kacey will overdose as she has done a few times in the past.

And that’s where Mickey’s concern only deepens.  The section of Philadelphia where the siblings grew up is riddled with opioid-related crimes and deaths.  While Mickey is hardened to drug-related deaths, she’s now become aware that a predator is killing young women who use drugs and who are involved in prostitution, exactly like Kacey.  Several recent deaths have similar patterns of brutality.

What does this mean to Mickey?  She anticipates that soon she will find that Kacey has suffered the same fate as the other victims.  Since she hasn’t seen Kacey for some time and since another prostitute has said that Kacey is missing, she begins an investigation on her own, trying to locate her sister before another murder takes place.  Working solo as she does, she begins taking desperate measures in searching for her sister.

While the murders and the absence of Mickey’s sister are focal points for this tale, the character-building of this complicated story is equally compelling.  Mickey suspects her old partner might know more about the predatory killings, but when she attempts to shadow him, she learns about his compassion for those who live on the streets of Philadelphia.  When Mickey confronts her grandmother about hurt feelings of the past, she realizes the older woman had her own heartbreaks. When Mickey temporarily leaves her young son with her landlord, Mrs. Mahon, she learns about the woman’s amazing past.  And we learn, as does Mickey, that Kacey is much more than just another drug addict on the streets.

What else is so appealing in this story?  The revelations that Mickey confides in the book’s flashbacks.  We know, for example, the difficulties that Mickey has finding safe care for her son, yet we don’t know that full story until late in the book.  We know that the father of the girls abandoned them to the grandmother, yet we don’t know about a cache of letters and cards long concealed until the latter part of the story.  We realize that Mickey deeply loves her struggling sister, yet we don’t know the depth of Kacey’s suffering until we reach the conclusion.

This fine tale is gritty and ridden with betrayals and hard feelings, but it is also uplifting.  We discover with Mickey that there are those for whom love is always present.  Don’t miss this affecting tale of complex family relationships.

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Best of the Best in Children’s Books

Best of the Best in Children’s Books

by Jennifer Bergen, Programs & Children’s Services Manager

Looking for new children’s books with a range of styles, topics and diverse characters?  Try the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) list of Youth Media Awards for 2019.

In 1922, the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished American children’s book became “the first children’s book award in the world,” according to ALSC’s webpage. On the newer end, the Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996 for outstanding books that portray the Latino cultural experience, and the American Indian Youth Literature Award was started in 2006. Getting a shiny sticker on the cover of your book means selling more copies, making it onto more booklists, and most importantly, reaching more readers and inspiring more young minds.

Here are a few titles from the amazing books on the awards list at

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is a short but powerful work of art. The text is a poem which was first performed by Alexander in a video on ESPN’s website,, a site that highlights “the intersections of race, sports and culture.” The poem’s video is inspiring on its own, but the poem paired with Kadir Nelson’s striking illustrations will leave readers in a dazzle of emotions — proud, angry, sad, amazed, hopeful. The Undefeated is a poem to be read aloud, and then studied again alone, feeling the power behind the bold, persistent, and talented black leaders, athletes, soldiers, slaves, musicians and children. It’s no wonder The Undefeated walked away with not one, but three impressive awards last week – the Caldecott Medal for best picture book, the Coretta Scott King Award for best art by an African-American illustrator, and a Newbery Honor for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

This year’s Newbery Medal winner is a graphic novel by Jerry Craft called New Kid, the tale of 12-year-old Jordan Banks’ entrance into a mostly white, elite middle school in a current day setting. Jordan finds out quickly that the new school brings many challenges, from racism and bullying to making new friends and trying new activities. His old friends don’t know what to think of him anymore. He doesn’t know what to think of girls anymore. Luckily, Jordan has his Dad and Mom to fall back on, as he humorously records his trials and failures by drawing in his notebook. Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, calls his book “funny, sharp and totally real!”

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopéz, won the Belpré award for best illustration. Beautiful, bright scenes of Venezuela contrast with the dreary grays and browns of war, there and in the United States, when Teresa Carreño’s family is forced to flee her country in 1862. Teresa’s amazing talent at the piano is soon recognized, though, and at the age of 10 she had already performed with famous orchestras and large audiences when President Lincoln invited her to play for his family. The picture book focuses on her visit to the White House and the power of music to lift broken hearts.

Winning the picture book award for American Indian Youth Literature, Bowwow Powwow: Bagosenjige-niimi’idim celebrates an Ojibwe powwow through the eyes of a young child, Windy Girl, and her dog Itchy Boy. Brenda J. Child’s story, translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, brings together the historical and present day powwow traditions. As the dancing goes late into the night, Windy falls asleep and dreams of amazing dog dancers and all of their dance styles, fancy clothing and drum beats. The American Indian Library Association (AILA) also gives an award to best middle grade and young adult books, and lists several honor books, creating a great booklist for anyone wanting to read more stories with Indigenous characters.