Summary: Acting MCPL Director Anita Vassallo and Outreach Associate Sarah Mecklenburg share their love of historical fiction and recommended books they've enjoyed.
Recording Date: July 11, 2018
Guests: Anita Vassallo is the Acting Director of MCPL. Sarah Mecklenburg is a member of MCPL's Outreach team. Both are enthusiastic readers of historical fiction.
Hosts: Julie Dina and David Payne
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Anita Vassallo: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, third book in the Kingsbridge series. The first book in the series is Pillars of the Earth, the second is World Without End. Circe by Madeline Miller. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.
Books, Movies, and Authors Mentioned During This Episode:
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters
American Girls series by various authors
Aubrey- Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian
Blackout by Connie Willis
Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters
Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Dear America series by various authors
Doomsday by Connie Willis
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Jalna series by Mazo De La Roche
Killer Angels by Michael Sharra
Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear
March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Laurie R. King
Medicus mysteries by Ruth Downie
Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell
Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Year of the Hangman by Gary Blackwood
Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks
Other Items of Interest:
The Dreamer by Laura Innes. A webcomic about a 17 year old high school student who has intense, realistic dreams about a Revolutionary War soldier.
"Game of Thrones Fandom Fun". An episode of the Library Matters podcast in which Game of Thrones fans Anita Vassallo Angelica Rengifo, and Susan Moritz share their love of the books and television series.
Lackadaisy Cats by Tracy J. Butler. A webcomic about anthropomorphic cats set in St. Louis during Prohibition.
Little House controversy. A division of the American Library Association voted to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder's name from a major children's literature award.
Julie Dina: Hi, I’m Julie Dina. In this episode of Library Matters, we are doing something a little different. For the past few months MCPL has invited children ages 10 through 14 to explore literature by recording a video about a book they’ve enjoyed. We’ve collected some of these book talks to share with our Library Matters’ listeners.
We hope you enjoy the enthusiasm these young readers have expressed for their books and for reading as much as we have. You can see these and more of MCPL’s literary explorer videos on our YouTube channel mcplmd. MCPL’s literary explorer program was made possible by grants from the NBC Universal Foundation and Washington’s NBC4.
Book Reviewer 1: Who knew forgotten letters stuck inside a book could change someone’s life. Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick, it’s heartwarming story about a girl named Truly Lovejoy who gets tangled in a mystery of a letter inside a copy of Charlotte’s Web. After Truly’s father gets injured by an IED overseas the Lovejoy’s move from Texas to a tiny town in New Hampshire called Pumpkin Falls.
When Truly finds a letter in an autographed edition of Charlotte’s Web, she follows the clues and is soon roped in a treasure hunt taking her all around Pumpkin Falls. I liked this book because it’s fun and its sweet mystery about friendship and family. I really enjoyed this book and I hope you do too.
Book Reviewer 2: With the Wrinkle in Time movie coming out hundreds of people were introduced to the characters of Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace but did you know that Madeleine L’Engle already wrote a sequel to it? Wind in the door also takes a sci-fi oriented trip but instead of going to the far reaches of space they go deep into Charles Wallace’s mitochondria, which is the body’s main energy producer.
With her companions, old and new, Meg was either prevail over darkness or loss her brother. Wind in the door gives you seven questions through the plot, such as – wait I shall not tell. It is a fast-paced book with several scientific facts that are mind bending. For instance, the microscopic scale from the mitochondria to you is about the same as the scale from you to out the galaxy, neat?
She also had a coming of age story about the creatures that were living in the mitochondria. With vivid characters, strange new creatures and an imagination that trumps all, Madeleine L’Engle has created a wonderful sequel that will thrill readers, young and old, with Wind in the door.
Book Reviewer 3: Some look like giant walking turtles, others are black with wings and look almost like armored ravens, “Shadow Titans!” Emily shouted. I’m Manisha and the book I will be reviewing is Pegasus The End of Olympus by Kate O’Hearn. The book I chose to discuss is about a girl named Emily and her best friend, the winged stallion Pegasus. Emily now has less powers and a different body so she feels as if she’s being judged. But she still has one more promise to fulfill, to rescue Agent B from the evil central research unit.
But while at the facility she finds a monster older than Olympus itself. I would recommend this book to someone else because it is action packed, filled with adventure and busting with excitement. Will Emily defeat the monsters? Will Olympus make peace with the Titans? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Book Reviewer 4: Right, let’s have fun. “Hallo Silver I didn’t see you there.” “I, a lowly Red am about to vanquish you, and if you survive, you should read this.” This is Red Queen. Red Queen is about the teenage girl named Mare Barrow in a world where the people are divided by their blood; Red or Silver. Mare is Red, [Indiscernible] [00:04:10] while Silvers are the nobles. Their Silver blood gives them superpowers.
One day Mare is called by the king to serve him but when she crushes the party, she realizes she has powers but she is a red. Mare latter joins the rebellion in order to give the reds their rights but the stakes are high, and when blood goes against blood, who will survive in the deadly of power. Red Queen is an amazing book about betrayal, loyalty, love. If you like bloodshed and epic battle scenes then you read the Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.
Book Reviewer 5: One second everything is normal, the next is not. In a blink of an eye everyone 15 years and older vanishes into thin air along with phone signals, internet, any way to get help. Gone by Michael Grant is a young adult dystopian series of seven books. In dystopia books somebody threatens the survival of the human race, creating a living nightmare. After an asteroid hits a nuclear power plant in California a radioactive monster is born.
It created an energy barrier that made everyone 15 and older vanish, living the kids to fend for themselves. Some of the kids even develop supernatural abilities, throughout the series the kids fight hunger, lies, plague, fear, and even each other. This series is full of unexpected twists and turns with mutations and monsters that will live your jaw hanging open.
I guarantee that you will be hooked into their world. Full of action, suspense, humor, mystery and fear, this is a series that teens will never forget.
Book Reviewer 6: Hi there, I was just reading this really cool book called Harry Potter and the Sorcery’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. In the beginning of the book, we find out how Harry lives a miserable life with his aunt and uncle, and spoil cousin. But all this is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives in the mail addressed to Harry.
He gets accepted into Hogwart’s school of witchcraft and wizardry. Along the way Harry finds out 11 years ago his parents were killed by the dark lord Voldemort and now he’s planning on coming to kill Harry. Will Harry survive his deadly encounter with Lord Voldemort? Will Harry and his friends be able to protect themselves? Find out in Harry Potter and the Sorcery’s Stone.
I recommend this book for all ages that’s it’s a wonderful introduction to Harry Potter’s life and the wizarding world.
Book Reviewer 7: How ever imagined walking eight hours twice, everyday just to get to the closest water source that’s not even 100% clean? Linda Sue Park describes Nya’s struggles to find water in a Long Walk to Water. Nya has to retrieve water for her family, walking for 16 hours total every day.
One day, Nya’s sister was extremely sick. Her parents went to their tribe’s chief and asked for help. He tells them that the nearest medical clinic is 90 miles away. In Sudan the cars are a rare sight. Nya’s sister walked with her dad for three whole days until they found a small medical clinic. A nurse cared for Nya’s sister and said that the cause of her sickness is because of dirty water. Will the family get clean water? Will Nya’s sister survive? Read a Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park to find out.
Book Reviewer 8: “Olivia?” A voice called out, “Olivia Grace Harrison?” It was the most amazing sight Olivia had ever seen in her life. It was her Royal Highness Princess Amelia Mignonette of Genovia. Until that moment, Olivia was a typical sixth grader who lived with her aunt and step uncle after her mom passed away.
But when the royal sister she never knew suddenly emerges onto the scene to pick her up from school, Olivia’s life changes dramatically. In an instance, she is transformed from an ordinary school girl to a real-life princess. Olivia is whisked away in a royal Genovian limousine and finally meets her dad and family. A dream that until now was unfulfilled.
When her step uncle finds out that she was with her true family, he becomes furious and takes her back to the place where she grew up. Olivia ponders her future. Will she remain with the only family she knew, and live the ordinary life she was used to? Or will she be drawn to her royal roots in Genovia to be with her dad’s family? Will Olivia be able to live in Genovia happily ever after?
There’s only one way to find out. Pick up and read Meg Cabot’s imaginative novel, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.
Book Reviewer 9: Do you like mystery? Then you should read one of the Hardy Boys books. This book by Franklin W. Dixon is called the Secret of the Caves. The Hardy boys are trying to find a missing person called Morgan Todd, but along the way people try to hurt the Hardy boys. One time in Honeycomb caves, very strange things happened. People who seem to be good are just criminals.
I like this book because at first the mystery can get really confusing, but finally the mystery is really interesting.
Book Reviewer 10: For English class, I’m writing a poem and I decided it’s going to be about sounds. Sounds of the wrinkled, squirm creatures that live in tide pools. The problem is my teacher thought it was terrible, she gave me an F. Then I showed it to my dad, a professor of literature, he changed my F into a Fabulous. My dad said not everyone can understand poetry. This is a passage from the book Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.
This is about a ten-year-old girl who is confident, insightful, funny and stays on top of her world. She is a fourth grader dealing with all fourth-grade drama. Being ten years old is in deed confusing. Anastasia doesn’t know if she wants to be a ballerina or an ice skater. She hasn’t decided yet. She has an old grandmother who sometimes doesn’t remember her and makes her sad.
Anastasia has a lot to do with boys, baby brother on the way, friends, her gold fish, and school. Anastasia loves to make a list of what she likes, and what she hates. She is just writing to solve many problems but she will always hate eating liver.
I love this book because it motivated me to start a journal in which I can write in every day. Writing helps me work out difficult situations. I also try to solve my problems by looking at the pros and cons. This way I too, come up happier and wiser. This book will help you stay positive and help you deal with life’s drama, like it helps me.
Julie Dina: We hope you enjoyed these engaging book talks. We are so glad these young shared their enthusiasm for their books with us. You can find all these books in MCPL’s catalogue. Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, on the Apple podcast app, Sticher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also please review and rate us on Apple podcast, we’d love to know what you think.
Summary: In the last few months, kids ages 10-14 from throughout the county have come to MCPL branches to record video book talks about books they've enjoyed. We've collected the audio from 10 of these recordings to share with our Library Matters listeners.
Book talks are brief summaries/reviews designed to convince others to read the book being described. You can see the videos of these and other Literary Explorer book talks on our YouTube channel, mcplmd. The Literary Explorer program was made possible by a grant from the NBC Universal Foundation and Washington's NBC 4.
Check our Calendar of Events for upcoming opportunities for your 10-14 year old child to be a literary explorer.
Host: Julie Dina
Books Loved in this Episode:
(In order of appearance.)
Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick
A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
The End of Olympus by Kate O'Hearn
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Gone by Michael Grant
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
From the Notebook of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot
The Secret of the Caves by Franklin W. Dixon
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
Julie Dina: Welcome to Library Matters. I’m your host Julie Dina. Today’s topic is Reading Challenge 2018. And on this particular topic, I have two experts in that subject. First, I would like to introduce Lennea Bower, Digital Strategies Manager of Montgomery County Public Library.
Lennea Bower: Hi Julie. Thanks for having me.
Julie Dina: Thanks for coming. And also I have Candice Hixon who is also the Library Assistant Supervisor for Kensington Park Library.
Candice Hixon: Hi, Julie. It is great being here today.
Julie Dina: Welcome Candice. So let’s dive straight into the subject, but before we do that, I will like to mention the reason why you guys are the ones chosen to be on this episode. First, Lennea is, and including her team, they’re actually the ones who run the Reading Challenge for MCPL's 2018 Reading Challenge.
Lennea Bower: That is right.
Julie Dina: So, would you tell us a little bit of yourself and also how this got prompted and who actually started all of this.
Lennea Bower: So I’m the digital strategies manager for Montgomery County Public Libraries. I’ve been in this role since December of 2016. Before that, I was a member of our team, which was at that time called virtual services. And we started the Reading Challenge actually at the very end of 2015. Our first Reading Challenge was 2016 and it is an annual event.
And we started doing – the idea of Reading Challenges were getting really popular and we were hearing about them from the branches and some of us were participating in them, so the people who are on our social media team at that time, which was the members of the virtual services unit at that time, Mary Ellen Icaza, now our Assistant Director for Programming and Outreach, Susan Moritz, who is now our head of Children Services at Kensington Park, Mark Santoro from our podcast producers team, and Adrienne Miles Holderbaum also from our podcast producing team, and myself and we got together and started t the challenge then coming up with the first one for 2016.
Julie Dina: What a challenge that-
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Julie Dina: And Candice, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the Reading Challenge as well?
Candice Hixon: Well, I have worked for Montgomery County Public Libraries for about 10 years now. I’ve enjoyed reading since I was very young, probably about kindergarten age. And my mom would bring home books for me when I was five, six years old. She also works for the library. She’d bring me home like 50 or 100 picture books and I would just devour them.
So this is actually the first Reading Challenge I participated in, where I was able to choose a book from different specific categories. I used to participate in the summer reading program when I was a kid though, and I just loved doing that. So I decided I would give this challenge a shot.
Julie Dina: And how has that been?
Candice Hixon: It has been going really well. I’m about half way through the challenge, and I’m hoping to finish it by November so I can read the bonus book as well. And I plan on doing it next year as well, so I really enjoy it.
Julie Dina: So for those of us who don’t know, can you tell us what exactly MCPL's Reading Challenges and what a reading challenge is in general.
Candice Hixon: So a reading challenge is meant to have yourself read books from other genres, different authors, books that you normally wouldn’t read, and to get yourself to read a book every month. I know sometimes we don’t have the time to do that with our busy lives, but this kind of gets you to go outside the box.
The goal is to read a book from each of 12 different categories throughout the year. If you finish a book from each category, there is a bonus challenge at the end. You can join the challenge for free online, through our website, or stop by, or call one of the braches for more information. You can either print out a copy of the challenge or create an account through Beanstalk to keep track of your progress.
Lennea Bower: So one of the things that I want to say about our challenge is that we decided to go with this format because we thought 12 books was going to be a challenge for a lot of people, but still very reasonable number. And we put in the bonus challenge both for us can decide if you want to do an extra one. But also if for some reason just one of the categories does not appeal to you or you don’t feel comfortable with it or, you know, this year most of them are kind of vague and you can go a lot of places with them, but sometimes you’ve had like doing audio book or do a graphic novel and there might be some people for whom that system of reading just doesn’t work, so we wanted to have the bonuses, the built-in option for them, so especially for those who are completing it online.
And we do have prizes every year and you do have to complete the online challenge to be eligible for the prizes. For people who do want to complete it for their prizes, they can complete any 12. You know, they could skip challenge one and complete, you know, two, three through 12 plus the bonus challenge and that would still count as completion for us when we’re looking at who has completed the challenge that are numbers for that. So that is something that we have done.
I’ve also seen other formats for reading challenges or seen some that are like 24 categories so, you know, that is a lot of books for some people.
Julie Dina: Yeah.
Candice Hixon: That is a lot. It is ambitious.
Julie Dina: Right.
Lennea Bower: I’ve also seen some that are like bingo card format or like different fun things, so it is like, you know, complete a row of books, complete a column of books you know. So there are different formats to do it. Ours is, as Candice said, you know, kind of 12 plus the bonus challenge are one of the things we’ve used to talk about as 12 months, 12 books. Again, that idea that you’re reading at least one book every month, but I’ve seen the other formats as well that people I know do their own as well through – especially people who use like Goodreads and stuff like that. A lot of them will set their own annual challenge goal, which might just be a number and not speak to the types of books.
So I think a Reading Challenge is set up by someone else, that's what Candice was saying and it really challenges you to maybe step outside your genre or author preferences, not just read, you know, 15 Robert’s Books although you could do that for several years in a row. But, you know, it really kind of vary what you’re reading and gets some other things in there. And that is what I like, and that's where I started with.
Julie Dina: And she liked that, we expect you might be incorporating some of these other formats that you’ve noticed?
Lennea Bower: You know, I don’t know if we will. I think we’re still – so this is our third year, 2016, ‘17, ‘18, and I think the other formats are fun. I mean, I do think a lot of those are incorporated in like our Summer Read and Learn, which this year is Libraries Rock. And those kind of more creative formats is going to be incorporated in that because those are like do a certain number of activities or pick from different activities and win prizes at different levels, so we don’t have a version of that.
At this point, that is for adults. That program is for kids and teens. And the Reading Challenge is for all ages. So I don’t really know if we’ll look at those other formats, but I do think they’re fun and I think they’re kind of creative and at some point we could look at that, but that is not something we have on the horizon right now or kind of we like this format and we feel like it is working for us and it is growing as a format.
Julie Dina: And for those who are driven by rewards and prizes, can you give us a sneak peek as to some of the prizes that are out there.
Lennea Bower: Well, we don’t have the list of what they’ll be for this year yet. But a lot of times we do incorporate maybe some signed copies of authorized books from different programs, from different authors usually that have visited MCPL. We might also incorporate other prizes that have been available, you know, water bottles and bags or things that we often have – that have often have been included in the prizes. I don’t have any exact list of what it will be for 2018 yet, but those are some things that we’ve used in the past.
Julie Dina: Designer bags?
Lennea Bower: No. Sorry Julie.
Julie Dina: So Candice, can you tell us specifically about your own individual experience with MCPL's Reading Challenge?
Candice Hixon: So far I’ve had a great experience. I have found so many new authors and genres that I enjoy now that I’ve never even thought to read. So I’ve really brought in my horizons. I usually try to pick up crime or mystery novels, but now I’m kind of thinking I’m going to go outside the box even, you know, once this challenge is over, I’m still going to go forward with that and try other challenges. I’m a competitive person, so I knew if I signed up for this, I would finish it and hopefully learn something new about people in the world in general from it. And so far I’ve been doing that, so it has been a lot of fun.
Julie Dina: That is great. And Lennea?
Lennea Bower: Well, I think Reading Challenges background 2015 or so, I set some goals for myself to step outside of some of the genres that I have been reading a lot. I also like crime and mystery novels.
Candice Hixon: Oh, yeah.
Lennea Bower: I also – I read a lot of romance novels. I read a lot of fantasy. And I was really trying to kind of branch out a little bit and not just in other genres, but also maybe authors that I might not have been as familiar with, and reading more authors of color and different – think different other aspects of, you know, perspectives and cultures and stuff that I might not have been aware of. And so I kind of first came across the idea of Reading Challenges through that concept.
And then around the same time, I sort of came across that Adrienne Miles Holderbaum who is at Gaithersburg at that time mentioned that she have been helping a mother and daughter with the Reading Challenge from another, you know, just from an online one that they had found and they had come in, they were reading it together. I don’t know if the daughter was a teen or a tween. I’m not really sure, but they were reading it together and they were looking for books that they could enjoy together kind of as a family activity, and we just thought that that was so cool. So that was sort of where we came. And I found that that experience sort of carries forward.
I think if you’re reading a lot of different things already, sometimes you feel like, “Oh, it is kind of easy to slot things into these categories.” But even so there is always still some categories that are kind of a stretch.
Julie Dina: Yeah. So it sort of pushes you outside of your comfort zone.
Lennea Bower: Yes, definitely has for me.
Julie Dina: So Lennea, being that this is our third year, would you say that more people participate has each year progresses? And also would you say that more people prefer each year than the other?
Lennea Bower: I would definitely say more people have participated. I actually just run a number this morning, kind of looking at it. So the first year, we didn’t have the Beanstalk online component. So what we did was around October we open up like an online form for people to submit.
And we’ve been talking about the challenge all year and so we know there are people who participated all year. But we had a relatively low number that actually completed the form to say that they had completed it. So we don’t really have anyway to track who kind of sign up and maybe started but didn’t go anywhere with it.
So in 2017, we started to move it to Beanstalk, which is where we do to our Summer Read and Learn program and also where we do our 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Program. I should say in 2016 we had a little piece of Beanstalk, but we only run it during the summer months, and so it was more limited and it was only adults. It wasn’t really set up to be a family program.
So last year we had almost 150 people who completed the program. And this year, I might sort of say that there were over 125 people who have already completed the program and we’re recording this in June.
Julie Dina: Wow.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. So – and that is the online program. And, of course, you know, some people aren’t doing it for the prize. They don’t really care. They’re just doing the printed version at home and that is perfectly fine too. And we also find – we get some people, like engaging when we talk about it online and making suggestions for the different categories for other readers like on our social media and so on.
In terms of other people who like the categories more, since we do only do 12 categories plus the bonus, we try to vary them up. And I would say the exception is I think we’ve done a book published this year – every year, because that is kind of different by default.
Julie Dina: Right.
Lennea Bower: But we try to vary the other categories. And so some people love them, some people are like, you know, “Bring back my favorite category from two years ago. You know, I want to do that again.” And I’m like, “Well, the point is kind of stretch yourself.” So, you know, I think we might at some point recycle some of the categories from the older ones, but we just don’t want it to be like every year you pick it up and it is the same because you could get into like a Reading Challenge reroute, which kind of depicts the purpose.
Candice Hixon: Right.
Julie Dina: Candice, could you tell us what resource within our library system would you say our customers use for book recommendations the most?
Candice Hixon: First and foremost from a customer service standpoint, I know there is a lot of customers enjoyed going up to the desk to ask information staff member what books they recommend. I also get a lot of positive feedback about the what do I check out next service. Library staff can give author and title recommendations based off of other books that you have really enjoyed. All you have to do is go on our website and fill out a simple form online and they get back to you with tons of great recommendations. I use it myself. I love it.
Julie Dina: Who best to tell you then are user of the product.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Julie Dina: All right. And Lennea, can you tell us what goes into creating the Reading Challenge and how do you decide what categories?
Lennea Bower: So we’ve used a couple of different models. I think the one we use this year for the 2018 was really successful. And we try to incorporate a lot of staff feedback, so there is only a few of us that are on the social media team or in the digital strategies unit and we don’t always have, you know, all the best ideas.
So this year, we did a model where we asked our digital strategies team, our social media team, and/or what do I check out next team to suggest a reader’s advisers to suggest categories and then we open up. I went through – I kind of eliminated some that were duplicates or were, you know, ones as I said that we try not to duplicate the past couple of years so they duplicated those or things that were really, really similar.
And then we open it up, actually, for all staff to vote on a category. So it was sort of an all staff option for people to vote. And then we went through that picked kind of the top vote getters from what all of our MCPL's staff who participated wanted the challenge topics to be. So that is our model we use this year and I think it worked pretty well.
And then we also kind of kept – I tend to keep the ones that lost in the previous years. It sort of like see topics for the next year so that I’m not offering people blanks, right? I can say, “Well, we’ve these topics suggested, but what else do you think?”
Candice Hixon: Right.
Lennea Bower: And kind of use that to start the discussion for the future years.
Julie Dina: Sounds wonderful. Now, how far along have either of you reach in the Reading Challenge? Have you just started? Are you half way there or are you still thinking about it?
Candice Hixon: I have read six books so far through the Reading Challenge. I have not been reading the books in number order or category order. I’m hoping to finish my list, again, by November so I can read the bonus challenge category and authors debut book.
I’ve heard a lot of positive reviews about Jane Harper’s “The Dry”. It is the first of a mystery series about a federal agent, Aaron Falk, whose best friend Luke passed away due to uncertain circumstances. The interesting part of this story is that Luke served as an alibi to agent Falk when he was accused of murder himself 20 years prior. So from what I hear, there a lot of plot twists, so I’m really looking forward to getting through November so I can read this book.
Julie Dina: I hope he has a good lawyer.
Candice Hixon: Yeah, right.
Female Speaker 1: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Female Speaker 2: Looking for a book to fit a tricky Reading Challenge category or just need something new to read? Talk to one of our enthusiastic well read information professionals at the information desk of any MCPL branch. They’re eager to help you find what you’re looking for. Check this episode show notes for a list of MCPL branch locations and phone numbers. Happy reading.
Female Speaker 1: Now, back to our program.
Julie Dina: Now, and just either of you can answer this. What is the biggest stretch you’ve made to make a book fit into a particular category?
Lennea Bower: I think the biggest stretch that I've made this year is probably for Not Your Princess, which is a collection of short stories and poetry and essays which is edited by Mary Beth Leatherdale and it is about Native American. It is a collection of essays, all these arts and essays and stuff are by Native Americans or First Nations people from Canada, mostly women or people who identify as women writing about their experiences.
And I use that for question six, which is a book fiction or non-fiction about our country or culture you’re not very familiar with. I wouldn’t say it's so much stretch in that – I mean I would love to know a lot more about native and First Nation culture than I do know, so it wasn’t stretch in that way. But it was a little bit of a stretch in that because it was such a kind of short book and such short collection of essays. I felt like, okay, I got like just a littlest window into what does culture are, but you know, it didn’t really open the door to kind of understand them more fully.
Candice Hixon: For me, I haven’t had to stretch too far yet in any particular category, but I guess I would say reading a young adult novel as my book from a different age level would probably be the further stretch because I read young adult novels anyway. So, I mean – but, you know, it still fit the category.
And I ended up reading “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green. It is his latest novel about a teenage girl, Aza, who suffers from an anxiety disorder. And so along with her best friend, she tries to become a detective and search for her like crush’s fugitive father who also happens to be a billionaire.
So if they’re able to locate him, they win like a hefty sum of money. I found that it was really funny and intelligent, and it gives a really to good viewpoint on teens living with mental illnesses. I have read all of John Green’s book so far and none of them disappoint me. So if you haven’t read any of his books, please read them. It doesn’t matter what age you are, they’re really good.
Lennea Bower: I kind of cheated in the same way for the different age level category, actually about a middle grade books, and I don’t read a lot of middle grade, but I read “Tempests and Slaughter” by Tamora Pierce. And I read her books when I was a middle grade reader and a young adult reader. So then “Tempests and Slaughter” is her newest books and it is like a new series about Numair Salmalin who is a character from her “Immortals” series and its his life as a child. So there is a little bit of stretch because I felt like as I was reading them I was like going back into like middle school stuff like I would have read this.
Lennea Bower: If this book had been around, I would have read it when I was, you know 12 or whatever, but it wasn’t around.
Candice Hixon: That is cool.
Julie Dina: Well, while we’re talking about our favorite books, which book would you say has been the most recommended in any categories so far this year?
Candice Hixon: From what I’ve read so far, I believe that “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly has been the most asked for and recommended book that I’ve read. This was actually my pick for the Librarian’s Choice display at the Kensington Park Library. I not only found this book on display, but it was recommended to me by several staff members and by customers. It is a historical fiction book about the lives of three different women from different European countries during World War II. They each play their own role during the war. One young woman is a German doctor who takes on a medical position with the government of Nazi Germany. Another is a young Polish woman who was a courier for the underground resistance movement. Finally there is a single New York socialite who does volunteer work for the French consulate aiding orphans. She ends up aiding women in the rehabilitation whose lives were impacted by Ravensbruck, which was a horrific concentration camp during the war.
Anyways, all of their very different lives end up intersecting and I learned a lot about human resilience during a very dark time in history. I highly recommend it. If you can’t find time to read it, the audio book version is also really, really good. I listen to that because I drive a lot. So I really recommend it if you haven’t read it yet.
Julie Dina: You heard that folks.
Lennea Bower: I don’t know if I – well, I’m not in the branches as much so I don’t have the opportunity to have as much on a daily bases interactions with customers as Candice does about what books are recommended.
One of the books that I read, which was my non-fiction book about history or biography over historical figure was “Prairie Fires” by Caroline Fraser, which is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And it is actually kind of a biography of her and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was a writer. I would say journalist, but she definitely don’t have any kind of sense of journalistic ethics if we would think about them now. She was kind of like in the yellow journalism era.
And it was about both of them and their relationship in sort of where is the – where is the line between reality and fiction and the Little House books that Laura Ingalls Wilder published. And so that was really fascinating and it did win a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t know if it is the most recommended, you know, like day to day in the library sense, but it is highly recommended in a critical sense.
Candice Hixon: I have to read that one.
Julie Dina: Yeah. That is good to know.
Candice Hixon: Sounds good.
Julie Dina: So what kinds of response are we receiving from – concerning the Reading Challenge, what kind of response are we getting from our customers, Candice?
Candice Hixon: I find that a lot of costumers don’t know about the Reading Challenge yet. I tell them about my experience with it and how I’ve found new authors and genres that I really enjoy from it. I show them how to register and they say that they’ll give it a go, so I’m hoping it will become even more popular as we continue to have it.
As Lennea said, it is a growing challenge and I think as customers know that it is there, they’re going to continue to try to complete it and have fun doing it.
Lennea Bower: We hope so. Well, I mean, we – most of the customers I interact with about it are on social media or they’re customers that sign for it because it is in Beanstalk and some of our customers sign up for Beanstalk to participate one of other programs, like a 1000 Books, or Summer Read and Learn. Some of them discover it that way.
I do find sometimes the customers aren’t even 100% aware of the differences between the different programs, although I guess they enjoy them, it doesn’t really matter whether or not they know which program is it.
But most of them, you know, the feedback that we get is really exciting and when we talk about it on our social media and stuff, I would say overwhelmingly we get a positive response from people and people are excited about it and they’re, you know offering suggestions for the different categories and they’re also, you know, telling other people about it.
So I think that overall we get a really positive response for it. As Candice said, I mean, it is still relatively new program. Well, it has been around for a few years. It is not something that we put sort of the resources and effort behind or something like a Summer Read and Learn program, it doesn’t have as many components, it is not in your face in the branches and big signs and stuff all the time.
Candice Hixon: Right, right.
Lennea Bower: So it is more of like for people who are looking for that extra challenge and, you know, what do I check out next team knows about it so they might suggest it to someone if they know that that person really seems to be going through a lot of books and looking for things to stretch their comfort level, you know, they might make some suggestions about it.
So I think that is kind of how – at least to day it has been growing. But now we’re talking about in the podcast, so I’m really looking forward seeing those members spike.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Julie Dina: Let’s spike it up. Can you tell us, and both of you can answer this. Can you tell us something that is really fun or any particular on use your Reading Challenge category either of you have encountered?
Candice Hixon: The most fun reading challenge I’ve encountered will obviously be the laugh reader funny book category. I am reading “Naked” by David Sedaris. It is a memoir by him publisher [Phonetic] [0:25:14], hilarious and dysfunctional stories about his life, travels and family. I have heard of some of his book before, so I decided to give this one a try.
I’m really enjoying it and I expect to be done with it soon. I have been laughing hysterically through it. I even look my husband up accidentally while reading it because I couldn’t stop laughing. So, oh, I highly recommend it and now I’m going to read all of his other books too. So that is another new author that I came across that I never read any of his work before.
Julie Dina: Thank God for Reading Challenge.
Candice Hixon: Yes.
Lennea Bower: Yes it is. I think it is all fun. I think it is fun to be creative and read different things that you haven’t read before and – I mean as Candice said earlier, I mean I am competitive and so sometimes having a little extra incentive to be competitive and kind of have something that you’re aiming for can help sort of – if you’re struggling a little bit about a certain book.
So – I mean, I think it is all fun and – I mean, I think the categories we do anything that makes this kind of creative is there is a lot that you can do to kind of fit things into this category. You’re not going to be forced to read something you really have no interest in because the categories are so restrictive or something.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: You should be able to find something that you’re interested in that fits the category. So hopefully you’re reading will still be fine. And if you want to use it to make yourself get through that, you know, 700 page biography that has been sitting on your shelf as, you know, challenge 11, you can do that, but we’re not saying you have to do that.
Candice Hixon: I’m not doing that.
Julie Dina: It is just a suggestion.
Lennea Bower: It is an option for you if you want to make it and have fun, you know, or less fun or if you want to make it fun, you know, and pick a shorter book or as soon as there is little more fast-paced, read one of – read “Assassination Vacation” or some other book by Sarah Vowell, “Lafayette in the Almost United States” and she is a history writer, historical writer, who writes really, really funny books and she – she is in “The Incredibles,” that is one of the stretchy people, right?.
Anyways, she is the mom I think in that movie and she has been in some other things and she gets a few of her, you know, her friends who read with her, you know, people you might have heard of like Jon Stewart and a lot of other people. So those are fun historical books. If you want to go more on the fun side with that, that is definitely a route you can go. You don’t have to work your way through “Grant” by Ron Chernow, although I read both of those books this year, but you know, you can pick your direction.
Julie Dina: Now, have reading challenges changed your reading habits?
Lennea Bower: I think a little bit. I think my reading how it has kind of changed and I got involved in reading challenges sort of simultaneously, and I think those sort of things complemented each other. Trying to read a little more widely, especially when it came to MCPL was in a public library environment was being asked a lot more to talk about a wider range of books.
So I think that sort of changed my reading habits and then I found reading challenges as a way to make sure that I didn’t just form new slightly wider habits but kept you know, redirecting and expanding them.
Candice Hixon: I would say it has changed my reading habits. I’ve read so many different books now that I’ve never would even picked up had enough been for the Reading Challenge like George Saunders book, again, David Sedaris. I just find that if you don’t challenge yourself to try something new, you won’t do it, like you’ll just continue reading – I’ll continue reading my crime or mystery novels and, you know, James Patterson over and over again because he has a book every week that comes out, so with this challenge, I think I’m going to actually start participating in other reading challenges that aren’t part of Montgomery County Public Library's just to keep going with it, because some of the books that I've read during this challenge have become some of my favorite books that I’ve ever read, so there is that. Yeah.
Julie Dina: Now, I know Candice said she plans on getting into other Reading Challenges other than MCPL's, what about yourself, Lennea?
Lennea Bower: So I do – I have participated in some other Reading Challenges or sometimes I kind of like printout other Reading Challenges and sort to see what I read that fits into the categories or look for categories even if I don’t want to complete that challenge, just kind of look for categories that I haven’t really read anything that fits and say, “Oh, well, maybe I really need to expand my reading in that direction.” So I have the Book Riot’s 2018 challenge printed out to kind of look at. That is a website about books and reading.
The Ripped Bodice which is a romance store – a romance bookstore in LA is doing a summer romance bingo card. Actually I don’t think you have to read romances, but they are a romance bookstore primarily. And so I have that that I was going to printout and see. And that one is kind of fine because it is romance novel readers like to talk about the different tropes, and people who don’t read romance novels talk about them disparagingly. But people who like to read romance novels talk about Romance Novel Tropes, kind of like what their favorite ones are and what they like, and that is a lot of what the bingo cards are.
Candice Hixon: Oh, okay.
Lennea Bower: It is like, you know, fake relationship, secret baby, you know, stuff like that. So, you know, billionaire, you know.
Candice Hixon: Right.
Lennea Bower: It is just sort of like some fun things.
Candice Hixon: Some fun.
Lennea Bower: So that John Green could fit in there –.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: – even though it is a romance novel but –.
Candice Hixon: Yeah, yeah. There is a little bit, you know, not a little bit of romance, but we’ll get too far into that.
Julie Dina: Ooh la la.
Lennea Bower: So those are some difference once that I look at. I don’t know if I actually complete them but just to, again, kind of like take a look out. And a lot of times what they – will come along with these recommendations of, you know, “If you’re looking to fill this category, what about these books?” And then I’ll prove those books and see if there is anything that hasn’t come to my awareness. I might not start to read it, but just kind of keep expanding.
Julie Dina: Thank you so much. Now, for our customers who would like to participate in the 2018 Reading Challenge, could you tell them exactly where they would find this on our website?
Lennea Bower: Yeah. So it is part of our Readers Cafe. And the fastest easiest way to get to our Readers Cafe is to go to the books, movies and music. Drop down on our menu and then look for suggested reading and then you’ll see Readers Cafe, and Reading Challenge is one of the options there. So that – because they’re also – they have children in their life that are participating in either 1000 Books or Summer Read and Learn. When they go to sign them up, they can sign themselves and their kids if they want up for the Reading Challenge at the same time because it is in the same Beanstalk program.
Julie Dina: Thank you so much, Lennea. And also before the show comes to an end, it is a tradition on Library Matters for us to find out what our guests are reading. Candice, can you tell us what is you’re reading right now?
Candice Hixon: I’m currently reading “Go Ask Alice” written by anonymous. I think I read this book when I was like 12 or something or at least I started it and I don’t think I finished it, so I decide to pick it up again. I don’t remember much of it. Anyhow, I know that this book was banned for a while for many libraries. It is very dark book about the nightmares of drug addiction from a teenager’s diary.
Some claim it is a real diary and others claim that it is a work of fiction written in the ‘70s as propaganda to scare kids into not using drugs. Either way, it is very interesting and gives a perspective from someone suffering from drugs addiction. I believe it was banned due to its language and content and not because it was about drug abuse. But it is a short book. It is a classic. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t read it as a young adult.
Lennea Bower: So the books that I’m reading right now – right now I’m reading “The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin, which is a second book in her Broken Earth trilogy which one – I think all three of the books won a Hugo Award or definitely the first couple. And she was the first African-American woman to win that award or – I can’t remember. I think Octavia Butler won some kind of award but it was not that one.
And I’m also just finished “Not That Bad,” which is edited by Roxane Gay. And it is a collection of essays about sexual assaults and some various survivor stories. So it is very, very dark and hard to read. It is like one of those books – I did the audio book and all the essays are read by their authors, so they’re extra emotional. They’re not a great readers, but I mean, it is just this very emotional because they're all very personal essays. It is the kind of book that you want to keep reading, but then you’re like, “No, I have to stop,” right, and like I can only read one or two.
Julie Dina: You got to take a break.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: Yeah, yeah. It is a kind of book that will sort of suck you in to read it but you don’t do that. I don’t think that is probably very good for your state of mental health. Some of the stories are very, you know, just traumatic, the things that people went through. But also, you know, I thought it was really informative. And I read Gay’s other memoirs as well.
And then I also just finished “Beneath a Ruthless Sun” by Gilbert King, which is his follow up to “Devil in the Grove.” And so that is about – both of those books are about racism and other types of prejudice in Florida in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So “Beneath a Ruthless Sun” is his new book that just came out a few months ago.
And I’m really excited which isn’t out yet, but will be when this podcast comes out, “A Reaper at the Gates” by Sabaa Tahir and then “Smoke in the Sun” by Renee Ahdieh, just came out but I haven’t got my hands on yet because – but hopefully by the time this podcast comes out, that would be what I’m reading.
Julie Dina: There is a lot coming out.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Candice Hixon: Oh, yeah.
Julie Dina: Well, I’ve got to say you guys were very informative and this was very fun, no challenge at all. Thank you so much Lennea and thank you Candice for joining us on this episode.
Let’s keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcast app, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcast. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcast. We would love to know what you think. Thank you again for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.
[Audio Ends] [0:35:43]
Summary: Digital Strategies Manager Lennea Bower and Library Assistant Supervisor Candace Hixon discuss the history of the MCPL Reading Challenge; how the 2018 challenge is going; and what they get out of reading challenges with host Julie Dina.
Recording Date: June 6, 2018
Guests: Lennea Bower is the Digital Strategies Manager for Montgomery County Public Libraries. Her unit runs the Reading Challenge. Candace Hixon is the Library Assistant Supervisor at the Kensington Park branch. She is an enthusiastic Reading Challenge participant.
Hosts: Julie Dina, Outreach Associate.
Featured MCPL Resource: Librarians! We encourage customers to approach our trained information professionals at any MCPL branch with requests for reading recommendations, assistance with library resources, or other questions. Find your nearest branch.
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Candace Hixon: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous.
Books, Movies, and Authors Mentioned During this Episode:
#NotYourPrincess edited by Mary Beth Leatherdale and Lisa Charleyboy
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
The Dry by Jane Harper
Grant by Ron Chernow
The Incredibles, animated movie
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Naked by David Sedaris
Prairie Fires by Carolyn Frasier
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
MCPL Resources Mentioned During this Episode:
Beanstack, online resource that provides book recommendations and is also the online home for some MCPL programs.
What Do I Check Out Next? online readers’ advisory service
Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode: