Despite being a lifetime book lover and professional librarian, I just recently discovered my favorite book genre, microhistories.
Microhistories give the reader what I call an “ant’s-eye view,” or in other words, a view of something from the ground up. I love to dive deep into one specific topic and explore every nook and cranny history has to offer.
It’s so refreshing to learn about a topic with a more focused perspective. Luckily for me the Provo Library offers plenty of options when it comes to microhistories. If you need a place to start, the library has you covered. Listed below are some of my favorite microhistory reads.
In my eyes, Mark Kurlansky is the king of microhistory. If you’re new to the microhistory genre, you can’t go wrong with any books by Mark Kurlanksy, but I highly recommend starting with this book. Kurlansky gives the readers a history lesson on The Big Apple (New York) when it was the Big Oyster, and how this salt-water bivalve influenced its economy, culture, and food scene.
Imagine chemistry class spun into a series of delightful short stories and you’ve got a fun, new way to learn about the periodic table. You’ll walk away from this read feeling like a genius and wondering why it took you so long to find chemistry funny.
Talk about digging deep! This book explores the many uses of human cadavers. What role do cadavers play in space exploration? You’ll have to read the book to find out. WARNING: If you’re squeamish, you may have a hard time getting through this one (but please try, I promise its worth it!).
Where do fonts come from? This book answers that question along with many other questions you might not even know you had about fonts. You’ll learn about the typographers behind the typefaces and find yourself thinking twice about the font you choose for your next school assignment (that is, if your teacher hasn’t assigned Times New Roman 12 pt.).
There’s so much more to the banana than meets the eye. Split ways with any preconceived notions of your favorite yellow fruit and learn about origin of the banana. The combination of science, history, and politics makes for an informative and entertaining read. Quite appealing, right?
We have a tradition here at the Provo City Library to do a Mock Caldecott—both to help us understand the process that the real Caldecott committee goes through to pick "the most distinguished book in children’s literature," and to help us get to know and love the picture books that came out in the past year. The Caldecott is awarded specifically to illustrators of children's books, and only American illustrators are eligible (check out a few of our recent favorites from international illustrators here).
This year our group of 26 children’s book friends picked one winner and four honor books.
This book is about a bear that goes on a journey down a river. The story is fun, but the illustrations were what made the book for our Mock Caldecott group. First of all, we loved the color. You may notice that the bear at first is not even fully colored. It is only when he goes to the river that he becomes the rich brown bear that is depicted in the rest of the book. Plus, if there are also other details that show that the closer to the river something is, the more color there is on that thing. The use of color tells as much of a story as does the actual story.
We also loved the use of line and motion for the book. The way that the river jogs through the pages is brilliantly done and it gets us to want to turn the page to see what is happening next. Speaking of page turns, the one where readers know that a waterfall is coming is pure perspective brilliance.
Yeah, we really liked this book.
In this story a young astronaut goes on a field trip (on a spaceship school bus) to the moon. However, once there, the moon-visitor gets distracted and starts coloring with crayons on a notepad. There is so much to draw that soon the spaceship school bus leaves, stranding the young cosmonaut. He ends up meeting a group of aliens who are enthralled with the box of crayons he uses for art. This wordless picture book is full of brilliant colors that pop against black, grey, and white backgrounds.
This picture book tells the story of a Native American family that spends time together making fry bread. The illustrations are beautiful. We loved the vivid expressions on the characters' faces, the diversity of the family (they don’t all look like the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans, which is a breath of fresh air), and the extra details that add so much to each illustration. Plus, for added happiness there is a recipe in the back!
This story is about Rabbit who always stays close to home, prefering to listen to his friend Dog's stories of adventure on a motorbike. But one day, Dog is gone and leaves his motorbike to Rabbit. Our group loved the details and the lines of motion in this story. We especially loved the full-page spreads that showed the emotions connected to all of Rabbit’s feelings and adventures.
Stone doesn’t go very far—and yet there is so much that happens. From the various creatures that come and use the stone to all the light and dark moments there is a lot that happens in one small place. Our group loved how the illustrations depicted so much—each illustration has a unique feeling that matches the various moments for the stone. These are illustrations that beg to be looked at multiple times so that you can see all of the things hidden in the pictures.
This past year, I’ve been trying to understand American society from perspectives outside my own. I’ve been troubled by the resurgence of white nationalism and by my own sense of helplessness to change anything. I’ve been troubled too by my own ignorance.
So I’ve been reading. It may not be much, but educating myself seems like a good place to start. The following books are several I’ve found helpful in understanding racism, both in the country at large and in my own hidden biases.
A couple of notes before I jump to the books: my list is hardly comprehensive (a more thorough list is available here) and is based on my own reading experiences. Though I’ve read and list several books that are specifically about anti-black racism, it’s especially deficient in understanding the racism that other minority groups face. That’s something I hope to correct with further reading and action. But hopefully this list can serve as a starting place for others like me who’d like to start their antiracist education.
Eberhardt is a Stanford social psychologist who has dedicated her career to researching implicit bias. Her book combines research data, illustrative stories, and personal experience to show the ways we all, generally unknowingly, make assumptions based on race. She also explains how these biases can have drastic consequences, particularly in the criminal justice system, but also in day-to-day human relationships. BIASED particularly shines in arguing, with extensive data, against a color-blind attitude that “doesn’t see race.” Even if we aren’t consciously focusing on race, are brains are noticing it, and only by acknowledging that reality can start to change our assumptions
This book is a challenging book with ideas that are often uncomfortable, but I recommend it for anyone who’s willing to confront their own shortcomings. DiAngelo emphasizes again and again that the way we think of racism isn’t particularly accurate or helpful. Racism isn’t just men in white hoods with ropes in their hands. It isn’t restricted to the past, and it isn’t restricted to bad people. Because we tend to think of racism only in its most dramatic forms, white people are often horrified, hurt, and denying if their racist words or actions are called out. DiAngelo calls on white readers to let go of this defensiveness and instead engage in meaningful listening, dialogue, and change.
Kendi’s book offers a new perspective on racism. He argues that there is no neutral territory in the fight against racism; there’s no such thing as being simply not racist. You are either racist, or you are antiracist, and to be antiracist is to actively promote policies that produce or sustain racial equality and to fight against policies that produce or sustain racial inequality. Antiracism is active. Antiracism is activism. In any given moment, an individual is being either an antiracist or a racist, and the goal should be regular self-evaluation in that regard.
This novel might seem like an odd fit in a list of social justice nonfiction books, but nothing else I’ve read has so effectively shown the lingering effects of slavery and colonialism in modern society. Gyasi follows two branches of an African family, one remaining on the continent, and another brought forcibly to America, through more than 200 years of history. With exquisite writing and vibrant characters, Gyasi reveals the consequences of anti-black racism, present and past, personal and structural.
Based on the subtitle of this book, “The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist,” and its story of a famous white nationalist who changed his views through education and friendship, you might think I’m recommending it as a kind of how-to guide to unmaking a racist. In fact, that’s what I expected going into it.
Instead, I came away certain that Derek Black was the exception, not the rule, and I felt more alarmed about the rise of white nationalism than ever. That alarm is precisely why I recommend this book, though. Derek Black (before his change of heart), his father, and their followers used a variety of tactics to make white supremacy more palatable and “nice,” which allowed their ideas to subtly infiltrate American media and politics. RISING OUT OF HATRED is hauntingly eye-opening and a necessary read for anyone who thinks racism is a problem of the past.
For the last few years, Provo City Librarians have participated with the Children’s Library Association of Utah in choosing books for consideration for the Beehive Book Awards. This state award highlights books that motivate young people to read, and the awards winners are determined by votes from the public. We would love your input on which books should be considered for the 2021 awards!
Here are some Young Adult titles up for consideration. Visit the library’s Teen Corner to see the full list of over 40 nominees, and pick up a ballot to cast a vote before the end of January!
Elsa’s mother is a well-known scriptologist- a person who can craft and alter worlds using a special writing tools. In fact, Elsa came from one of these worlds. When her mother is kidnapped, Elsa must discover her own gifts and travel through the real and imagined worlds with the help of a secret society of mechanics and alchemists in order to save her. This steampunk fantasy with a splash of alternate history is the first in a series.
In this medieval or Arthurian toned graphic novel, Lady "Poppy" Pyppenia’s father, the king, has passed away. Though she is the next in line of succession to the throne, he uncle has instead assumed the rule, but that doesn’t stop the threats to her life. She and her royal guard, Cyrenic, whom she finds herself falling for, go in search of who may be trying to kill her and uncover a complicated and unexpected conspiracy that runs deeper than they could have imagined.
A squad of misfits and leftovers isn’t exactly the dream team Legionnaire Tyler Jones imagined when he thought he would get first pick from the graduates of Aurora Academy. The team, including a snarky scientist, a stow away recently awakened after being frozen 200 years, and a violent combat strategist, must pull together in this fast paced scape opera.
Zan and Priya were inseparable, the sort of friendship that spans distance and time. So, when Priya has to move away, Zan knows they will be able to maintain their friendship. That’s why Zan knows that something isn’t right when her friend stops responding to her messages and eerily un-Priya-like posts begin to appear on her social media.
Ollie loves to read and recently saved a book from a woman who was threatening to throw it in the river. It’s a haunting story about a “smiling man” who grants wishes, but at a high cost. When on a school fieldtrip Ollie sees the names of the people from the book in the graveyard of an old farmhouse, she can’t help but wonder if the “smiling man” might be real.