Posted by: montclairlibrary | August 8, 2022

August 2022 Events

Join us for in-person events for kids and adults this month. Remember: Masks are required inside all library locations so we can all stay healthy and keep having in-person events! (And if you’re not feeling well, please stay home and take care of yourself.)

August 9, 2022 – 6:00–7:30pm
Poetry of the Senses: A Creative Writing Series
Come take a break from the demanding news of the day with The Poetry of the Senses, a series of six creative writing sessions at Montclair Branch Library. Each session will focus on finding inspiration from one of the senses, such as by viewing touching and tasting a blackberry, examining and smelling a lavender flower, looking at a painting, or visiting the library’s garden under the blue sky in the wind. Sessions will consist of inspiration time (model poem, discussion, sense experience), writing time, and sharing time.

August 11, 2022 – 10:15–10:45am
At toddler storytime, you’ll find songs, active rhymes, and stories, especially for kids 18 months to 3 years old. There’s also always lots of time to play and make friends.

August 18, 2022 – 10:15–10:45am

August 23, 2022 – 6:00–7:30pm
Poetry of the Senses: A Creative Writing Series

August 25, 2022 – 10:15–10:45am

Posted by: montclairlibrary | July 12, 2022

July 2022 Events

Join us at Montclair Library in July for fun events for all ages. Remember: Masks are required inside all library locations so we can all stay healthy and keep having in-person events! (And if you’re not feeling well please stay home and take care of yourself.)

July 12, 2022 – 6:00–7:30 PM
Poetry of the Senses: A Creative Writing Series
Come take a break from the demanding news of the day with The Poetry of the Senses, a series of six creative writing sessions at Montclair Branch Library. Each session will focus on finding inspiration from one of the senses, such as by viewing touching and tasting a blackberry, examining and smelling a lavender flower, looking at a painting, or visiting the library’s garden under the blue sky in the wind. Sessions will consist of inspiration time (model poem, discussion, sense experience), writing time, and sharing time.

July 13, 2022 – 1:00-1:45 PM
Yoga Storytime
Join Librarian Pat this summer for Yoga Storytime. Pat invites you to make shapes with your body, practice deep breaths, and enjoy a few stories.

July 14, 2022 – 10:15–10:45am
At toddler storytime, you’ll find songs, active rhymes, and stories, especially for kids 18 months to 3 years old. There’s also always lots of time to play and make friends.

July 20, 2022 – 1:00–2:00 PM
Traveling Lantern Theatre
Mr. Sharky, your snaggle-tooth camp counselor has planned a fish-fact-filled voyage to the bottom of the sea. All hands-on deck as we get underway for Camp Ocean.

July 21, 2022 – 10:15–10:45am

July 26, 2022 – 4:00–5:00 PM
Teens: Let’s make Tiny Art!
Come in and make a mini masterpiece for our tiny art show, featuring tiny paintings by teens all around Oakland! (And yes, you can have your art back when the show is over.) Don’t miss out on this opportunity to earn raffle tickets for our Summer Program, which includes prizes like a Nintendo Switch, an electric guitar, beats earbuds, and so much more! No registration required, all teens welcome. All supplies will be included!

July 26, 2022 – 6:00–7:30 PM
Poetry of the Senses: A Creative Writing Series

July 28, 2022 – 10:15–10:45 AM

Posted by: montclairlibrary | April 16, 2022

Tell Your Friends: Vote YES on Measure C

Protect access to local libraries for everyone in Oakland – without raising taxes – by voting YES on Measure C on the June 7 ballot. Ballots will be mailed to Oakland voters the week of May 9.

Measure C will extend an existing, voter-approved parcel tax (which you may remember as Measure Q from 2004). Oakland’s libraries are largely funded by two parcel taxes, overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2004 and 2018 for 20 years each. The measure passed in 2004 expires soon and must be extended to keep libraries open and maintain library services. Bottom line: Without Measure C, our neighborhood libraries will be forced to cut hours and services, and some will likely close.

Recent polls show a lot of Oaklanders aren’t even aware of Measure C, and the campaign could use your support getting the word out. Here are four ways to help the Measure C campaign, courtesy of FOPL:

  1. Spread the word about all OPL has done during the pandemic
  2. Tell all the Oaklanders you know to VOTE YES ON C to protect access to local libraries for everyone in Oakland – without raising tax rates. Did you know that Measure C funds can be spent only for Oakland Public Libraries? You heard that right – the City cannot spend this money for any other purpose. And the measure includes exemptions for low-income seniors and residents, community oversight and regular independent audits. We voters have approved this funding in the past. Let’s approve it again!
  3. Sign up to phone-bank and ask your friends to join. Supporters are phone-banking on Mondays from 5 to 8 pm. If you can sign up for even ONE three-hour session, you would be giving OPL some high-quality support. Please go to the VolunteerSignUp ASAP! 
  4. Be ready to vote YES on the June 7 ballot!

Learn more and find out how you can help at

Posted by: montclairlibrary | February 11, 2022

Banned Books

Banned Books Week isn’t until September, but lately every week is starting to look like Banned Books Week with all the challenges to books and libraries (including actual book burnings) around the country.

After you’ve taken a minute to learn about the deeper issues behind book banning and some ways to fight it, or maybe even formed your own banned book book club, check out one of these 14 books spotlighted by The Atlantic recently as frequently banned or challenged. As Emma Sarappo writes, “The following 14 books employ difficult, sometimes upsetting imagery to tell complicated stories. That approach has made them some of the most frequently challenged, or outright banned, books in America’s schools; it also makes them perfect examples of what literature is supposed to do.”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Book burning photo by Patrick Correia via Creative Commons

Posted by: montclairlibrary | August 4, 2021

For the Birds: Books about birds and birders

OPL recently hosted a book launch for Alex Harris’s new book, Birds of Lake Merritt, “a richly illustrated birding guide to the nation’s first official wildlife refuge.”

The world of birds is wide and fascinating, from obsessive bird watchers to birds that navigate huge swathes of the globe without a map to the romances and intrigues of the birds in your own backyard. Here are 12 more books to help you learn more about the lives of birds and those who observe them.

If reading about birds makes you want to make your outside space more bird-friendly, this post from the OPL blog from December 2020 has lots of book recommendations.

Note: Descriptions are from the OPL catalog except where noted, although they may be condensed or edited for clarity.

Bird books for grown-ups, a list from the Friends of Montclair Library

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman (598 ACKERMAN)
“Beyond highlighting how birds use their unique genius in technical ways, Ackerman points out the impressive social smarts of birds. They deceive and manipulate. They eavesdrop. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They play keep-away and tug-of-war. They tease. They share. They cultivate social networks. They vie for status. They kiss to console one another. They teach their young. They blackmail their parents. They alert one another to danger. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. They may even grieve. This elegant scientific investigation and travelogue weaves personal anecdotes with fascinating science.” (See also Ackerman’s The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent and Think)

Birds of Berkeley by Oliver James (598.09794 JAMES)
This charming, full-color field guide to 25 birds easily found in Berkeley proves that even the city’s avian residents are a little quirky. James takes a delightfully creative approach to his write-ups of each species, inviting you to imagine that a Cooper’s Hawk, for example, is Steve McQueen in a ’68 Mustang, and you, “a pigeon in a rental car with a poor turning radius,” are fleeing through traffic.

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker (598.07234 STRYCKER)
A fun and profound look at the lives of birds, illuminating their surprising world–and deep connection with humanity.

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, edited by Billy Collins (821.008 BRIGHT)
A former U.S. poet laureate joins a top bird illustrator to create a collection of images and classic and contemporary verse devoted to a variety of birds, in an array that include poems by Chaucer, Robert Browning, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, John Updike, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens and many more.

Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird by Tim Birkhead (598 BIRKHEAD)
Describes the senses of birds that enable them to interpret their environments and interact with one another, drawing on cutting-edge science to explain how bird senses compare with those of humans and how they are able to detect distant and extraordinary elements from an upcoming storm to the Earth’s magnetic field.

Bird Brains: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends by Budd Titlow (ebook)
Through a hundred short vignettes, Bird Brains looks at the antics, behaviors and idiosyncrasies of wild birds and the often wild and wacky lives of birders–those who are always ready and willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice and “twitch off” to some exotic locations just to add another checkmark to their life lists.

Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition by Peter Tate (398.24528 TATE)
A beautifully illustrated odyssey into the world of birds looks at the myths, legends, and superstitions surrounding some of the world’s best-known birds, drawing on traditions from every corner of the globe to explore the stories of some thirty avian species, from doves and geese to cranes and blackbirds.

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker (598.07234 STRYCKER)
The author tells the story of how he traveled across forty-one countries in an attempt to see half of the world’s birds in one year, sharing the challenges that he faced, as well as the birds and bird-lovers he found on the way.

The Meaning of Birds by Simon Barnes (598 BARNES)
An illustrated examination of the lives of birds looks at how birds achieve the miracle of flight; why birds sing; what they tell us about the seasons of the year; the uses of feathers; what the migration of birds can tell us about climate change; and much more.

City Birding: True Tales of Birds and Birdwatching in Unexpected Places by Kenn Kaufman (598.07234 CITY)
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the French Quarter of New Orleans, some of the country’s best-known birders observe birds in places where thriving bird life comes as a surprise in this funny, informative and thought-provoking collection of true stories.

What It’s Like To Be A Bird : What Birds Are Doing, And Why — From Flying To Nesting, Eating To Singing by David Allen Sibley (598 SIBLEY)
This book answers the important questions, like “Can birds smell?” and “Do robins ‘hear’ worms?” Covers more than 200 species, many of them with life-size illustrations.

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose (598.07234 ZICKEFOOS)
A wild bird rehabilitator and nature artist describes her painstaking efforts to rescue injured birds and her experiences when those birds come back to visit, looking at the personality and quirks of individual birds of different species

Posted by: montclairlibrary | July 3, 2021

Picture books for owl fans

On July 8, the library is offering a virtual program about owls with an East Bay Regional Parks naturalist – including the opportunity to dissect an actual owl pellet – stop by the library to pick up your own regurgitated owl waste – supplies are limited!

Owls, with their wise reputation and ambassador-of-the-night status, seem like perfect bedtime story main characters. If you’d like to learn more about owls, check out one of these 20 picture books, from non-fiction to traditional stories to explorations of siblinghood, friendship and neighbors who are different from you. Authors seem to find owls particularly suited to stories about night and bedtime, of course, and for safely exploring fears about the dark and being lost.

(Descriptions mostly from the library catalog with occasional fine-tuning and editorial comments.)

20 Picture Books About Owls, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

Owls by Gail Gibbons (J 598.97 GIBBONS)
Gibbons is the queen of simple non-fiction picture books that introduce readers to the key facts about a subject, and this book is a good introduction to and overview of owls around the world, including “the twenty-one most popular types living in North America,” their habitat and life cycle.

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien (J PICBK TAYLOR)
Hoot Owl flies through the night and assumes numerous disguises – with decidedly mixed results – in his attempts to catch a meal.

Whoo Goes There? by Jennifer A. Ericsson (J PICBK ERICSSON)
Cumulative rhythmic story of a hungry owl watching for his dinner.

Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan (J PICBK SRINIVASA)
Little Owl enjoys a lovely night in the forest visiting his friend the raccoon, listening to the frogs croak and the crickets chirp, and watching the fog that hovers overhead.

A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na (J PICBK NA)
While other animals sleep at night, some quietly and others noisily, some alone and others huddled together, a wide-eyed owl watches. (Also available in Spanish.)

Whooo’s There? by Mary Serfozo (J PICBK SERFOZO)
An inquisitive owl keeps track of the comings and goings of woodland creatures all night long.

Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli (J PICBK PIZZOLI)
Owl takes drastic measures to have a good night’s sleep.

“I’m Not Sleepy!” by Jonathan Allen (J PICBK ALLEN)
After staying up all night as all owls do, Baby Owl insists that he is not sleepy, despite his yawning and stretching and acting very grumpy. (See also the popular “I’m Not Cute.”)

Oliver the Curious Owl by Chad Otis (J PICBK OTIS)
A curious owl and a friendly bug ask questions that lead them on a grand adventure away from–and back to–their home tree.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson (J PICBK WADDELL)
Three owl babies whose mother has gone out in the night try to stay calm while she is gone.
(Also available in Spanish.)

Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton (J PICBK HAUGHTON)
While his mother is away finding food, a newborn owl falls out of his nest and anxiously tries to find her, receiving help from various forest animals. (Also available in Spanish.)

Night Owl by Toni Yuly (J PICBK YULY)
A baby owl flies through the night, listening carefully to different sounds as he tries to find Mommy Owl.

Owl Love You by Matthew Heroux & Wednesday Kirwan (J PICBK HEROUX)
Illustrations and simple, rhyming text reveal many ways to show love as a mother owl promises to play with, teach, protect and care for her baby from sunset to sunrise.

Owl Eyes by Frieda Gates (J 398.24 GATES)
Retells the Mohawk legend of Raweno the Everything-Maker and the exasperating Owl.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen (J PICBK YOLEN)
On a winter’s night under a full moon, a father and daughter trek into the woods to see the great horned owl in this book about patience and humans’ connection to the natural world.

White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies (J 598.97 DAVIES)
When a family of barn owls moves into a nesting box nearby, a young girl and her grandfather look for them every night. “Lyrical text provides intriguing facts about the wondrous world of the barn owl.”

Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley (J PICBK QITSUALIK)
“When Tanna’s father brings home an abandoned owl, she is not eager to take care of the needy, ugly little bird.” When the owl begins to “sprout a beautiful adult snowy owl coat,” Tanna is “relieved not to have to care for it anymore, but also a bit sad. This heartwarming story based on the author’s own life experience teaches young readers the value of hard work, helping and caring–even when the thing you are caring for does not love you back.”

Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge (J PICBK JUDGE)
Hoot the owl is excited to teach his younger sister all of his wisdom–but much to his annoyance, Peep is more interested in capturing the magic of the world around her than in listening to his advice.

Owl Bat, Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (J PICBK FITZPATRI)
In this wordless picture book, an owl family and a bat family endeavor to share living spaces on the same tree branch, where initial wariness is overcome by the curiosity of the families’ babies on a wild and stormy night that compels them to set aside their apprehensions.

Who’s Next Door? by Mayuko Kishira (J PICBK KISHIRA)
When Owl moves in next door to Chicken, they must find a find a creative way to enjoy each other’s company despite their different schedules.

Posted by: montclairlibrary | March 23, 2021

Finding Children’s Books

Children's books on shelf, photo by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

A children’s librarian commented the other day that many parents and kids were having trouble finding books to read without the usual option of rummaging through the shelves to find something that inspired them. Until it’s possible to roam the library and see what catches your eye again, here are some ways to find children’s books that your kids will love:

OPL’s Children’s Services Blog
This blog on the OPL website profiles new books and highlights lists of books about timely topics (like holidays and history).

OPL’s Book Me! Service
They may not be sitting behind a desk every day right now, but librarians still love to recommend books! Fill out a form about what you like (and dislike) and a librarian will send you a personalized reading list. Available for adults and teens, too.

Award-winning books & ALSC Notable Children’s Books
The annual list put together by the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children features “books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.” The current year’s Newbery, Caldecott, Belpré, Sibert, Geisel and Batchelder Award and Honor books are automatically added to the list, so you don’t have to search them up separately.

Recommendation Lists
Lots of entities publish lists of recommended reading by age group, from NPR to Common Sense Media to Scholastic to the Children’s Book Council to IndieNext.

Reading by Theme
If you’ve got a kid who’s passionate about a specific topic, from tigers to time travel, themed reading lists are for you. Discover books by topic at places like Reading Rockets, What Do We Do All Day and BookRiot. (From time to time, we publish themed lists for kids, too.)

Read-Alikes and Lexile Scores
Lastly, two more resources that can be useful but require a little more investigation and curation on your part:
Enter the title of a book your child enjoyed at What Should I Read Next and the site will recommend similar books. For example, enter The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and get a list of other books that match Fantasy Fiction, Fathers and Sons, Greek Mythology and more. Be prepared to weed out things that match on some categories but still aren’t appropriate for your child’s tastes or maturity.

If you know your child’s Lexile score (many schools test for it), you can look up books at their level on the Lexile website, although sometimes it can be hard to find books that match their interests, even if the level is right. For example, middle schoolers with high Lexile scores still might not be interested in reading Machiavelli’s The Prince or Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, even if they’re technically able to comprehend it.

When viewing kids’ books in the OPL catalog, if you scroll down to the bottom of the book listing you’ll also see the book’s Lexile score and recommended grade level (the “Accelerated Reader” level) and you can browse by either of these criteria.

Screenshot of Lexile Measure and Accelerated Reader Level info in the OPL catalog
Posted by: montclairlibrary | March 23, 2021

20 Books for 2020

Books can distract us from reality, connect us to diverse stories, provide context for our current situation, and help us do something as complex as find a path through difficult times or as mundane as plan our next meal. Here are 20 books – some new, some old; some fiction, some non-fiction – that embrace, encapsulate and assuage the times we’re living through.

Note: I’ve mostly linked to the hard-copy book listings for simplicity, but many of these books are available from the library as ebooks and/or audiobooks if you search for them. Quotes are from the publishers’ blurbs unless otherwise noted.

(Side note: If you’re looking for a laugh, SparkNotes put together this list of book titles – from 100 Years of Solitude to A Series of Unfortunate Events that sound like they were made for 2020.)

  1. Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak (FIC HORNAK)
    This is the “warm, wry, sharply observed” story “about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays” when one of their members returns from treating patients of an epidemic. Those of us who’ve been largely housebound with our families for a year now might think a week sounds kind of quaint, but like all good stories of forced proximity, the Birch family’s isolation leads to simmering tensions and surprising revelations.
  1. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May (818.603 MAY)
    “An intimate, revelatory book exploring the ways we can care for and repair ourselves when life knocks us down….A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat,” from solstice celebrations to dormouse hibernation. May’s book provides some context and comfort as we all endured a year where many things were scaled back and canceled.
  1. Together, Apart by Erin A. Craig, Auriane Desombre, Erin Hahn, Bill Konigsberg, Rachael Lippincott, Brittney Morris, Sajni Patel, Natasha Preston, Jennifer Yen (YA SS TOGETHER)
    “A collection of teenage love stories set during life in lockdown during the COVID-19 epidemic. There’s flirting and romance through window signs and over Skype and Zoom. There’s a determined girl with a mask-making business, and two boys who meet through socially distant dog-walks. It’s about finding love in unexpected place during an unprecedented time. In other words, it’s like real life.” (adapted from back cover and Goodreads info)
  1. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (303.4833 ODELL)
    Our lives shifted dramatically in the past year, and for many of us this shift involved some forced simplification – of tasks, of travel, of goals. Local author Odell’s book is “a galvanizing critique of the forces vying for our attention that redefines what we think of as productivity, reconnects us with the environment, and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about ourselves and our world. Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing.”
  1. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (SF WILLIS)
    This book, in which a history student from the year 2054 travels back to the 14th century while unforeseen complications in her own time jeopardize her return, will simultaneously make you feel better about not living through a pandemic in the Middle Ages, wistful for the medical advances in Willis’s invented future, and awestruck at how Willis, writing in 1992, predicts everything from toilet paper shortages to American resistance to quarantine rules. (If you feel like this one’s too long to tackle on paper, the audiobook is very well done.)
  1. The Thank-You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time by Nancy Davis Kho (ebook)
    Local author Kho’s often humorous book is part memoir and part how-to guide to identifying the people who’ve influenced your life and crafting letters to let them know how much they mean to you. Gratitude is scientifically proven to increase happiness, and if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t wait to tell people how much they mean to us.
  1. Sourdough by Robin Sloan (FIC SLOAN)
    A lot of us took the opportunity of being home more this year to try our hand at sourdough bread. In this fun little novel by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, “a software engineer is left a sourdough starter from sibling bakers after they’re forced to close their shop, a gift that leads to a new vocation, a legal dispute, and a venture into a secret market that fuses food with technology.” You’ll recognize lots of Bay Area locations and archetypes.
  1. Milk Street Cookish: Throw It Together by Christopher Kimball (641.555 KIMBALL)
    Cooking more these days? This book “uses techniques from around the globe, ingredients that don’t necessarily require a trip to the grocery (six or fewer per recipe) and recipes that take less than an hour to make,” according to the NY Times.

    A few other cookbooks that were popular this year as we ate in more and coped with sporadic and sometimes seemingly random shortages of ingredients:
    Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish
    Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat
    Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African-American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin
  1. The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr (381.4564 LORR)
    Speaking of shortages, raise your hand if you gave way more thought to groceries and how to get them in the last 365 days than ever before. “Combining deep sourcing, immersive reporting, and compulsively readable prose,” Lorr’s book is “an extraordinary investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store” and the workers, truckers, farmers and other people who help get the products on the shelves.
  1. For Small Creatures Such as We by Sasha Sagan (390.0973 SAGAN)
    “Part memoir, part guidebook, and part social history,” for many of us this timely book helped provide structure to the cycle of an unusual year. Sagan “invites us to appreciate the everyday wonders of life through the eyes of science, sharing a worldview instilled by her unique upbringing, which she delightfully recounts for us. Read this book and feel a bit better about our world, our universe, and our place in it.” (The Guardian)
  1. The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham (973 MEACHAM)
    “Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame division and fear. Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day.”
  1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (305.5122 WILKERSON)
    From the pandemic to politics, economics to ideology, this year highlighted some deep divides between Americans. Wilkerson explores another divide, “how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings. Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate….Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.”

  2. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
    There were plenty of non-fiction books released in 2020 that looked at our current political situation from all angles, but many people also took a fresh look at Lewis’s 1935 novel, “a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy in which an American president becomes a dictator in order to save the nation from welfare cheats, rampant promiscuity, crime, and a liberal press.”
  1. Our Time is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America by Stacey Abrams (324.60973 ABRAMS)
    In this history of voter suppression and roadmap for how to overcome it, Abrams, who became a powerful positive force this year, “weaves together the experiences of those who have fought for the vote and the right to be seen throughout our nation’s history, linking them with how law and policy deny real political power.”
  1. The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris (BIO HARRIS)
    Our newest Vice President, Oakland’s own Kamala Harris, writes about “the core truths that unite us, and the long struggle to discern what those truths are and how best to act upon them, in her own life and across the life of our country.”
  1. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi (305.80097 KENDI)
    As the nation erupted in protest last summer over police violence towards Black people, books like Kendi’s flew off the shelves as Americans worked to understand the roots of the problems embedded in our society and explore possible solutions. “In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.”

    There are too many good books on this topic to pick just one – see also this list OPL put together in summer 2020.
  1. The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú (363.28509 CANTU)
    Refugees and immigration continued to be at the forefront of American consciousness, as misinformation and government policies exacerbated an already difficult situation. Cantú, a former Border Patrol agent, puts together “A beautiful, fiercely honest, and nevertheless deeply empathetic look at those who police the border and the migrants who risk – and lose – their lives crossing it. In a time of often ill-informed or downright deceitful political rhetoric, this book is an invaluable corrective.” (Phil Klay)

    For more fiction and non-fiction by and about immigrants from many places, see this list from Oprah Magazine.
  1. All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K Wilkinson (363.7056 ALL)
    Climate change became even more apparent last year, from the pandemic to wildfires and blizzards and other natural disasters. This book collects stories of women fighting climate change, from communities to laboratories to boardrooms. Bonus book: Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World, edited by John Freeman (808.83935 TALES) collects fiction, essays and poetry from around the world by writers like Margaret Atwood and Edwidge Danticat.
  1. Land on Fire: The New Reality of Wildfire in the West by Gary Ferguson (634.9618 FERGUSON)
    Smoky days and orange skies drove home the new reality of wildfire season for Californians last fall, as a record number of acres burned across the state. In this book, nature writer Ferguson explores the science behind increasing wildfires, “the extraordinary efforts of those responsible for fighting wildfires,” the ongoing research to find a solution and “how nature reacts in the aftermath of flames.” For more personal accounts of fire’s toll, check out Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy by Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano (363.37 GEE), about the Camp Fire that ripped through Paradise, CA in 2018 or Brian Fies’s graphic novel A Fire Story (BIO FIES), about losing his home in the 2017 fires.
  1. Public health and viruses were at the forefront of everyone’s mind this year, for obvious reasons. From books about past epidemics to tales of those on the front lines fighting infection, people snapped up information and several new books sped into print, like The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski (ebook), in which epidemiologist Kucharski looks at the science of how things spread, “from ideas and infections to financial crises and fake news,” and Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis (362.1962 CHRISTAKI), in which physician and sociologist “Christakis explores what it means to live in a time of plague — an experience that is paradoxically uncommon to the vast majority of humans who are alive, yet deeply fundamental to our species as a whole.” For more pandemic fiction, see this list we put together in August.

What books got you through 2020? Feel free to add them in the comments.

Illustration credit: Dumpster Fire by EFF Photos via Flickr/CC

Posted by: montclairlibrary | October 23, 2020

Witchy Books

Witchy novels, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

Witches pop up in all sorts of stories and settings, not just horror stories and fairy tales – from the halls of academia to Gilded Age New York, from ancient Greece to modern Salem, from literary fiction to fantasy, from scary to romantic to funny. This list is a mix of adult and YA books; there are a lot of good YA witch books, maybe because teenagers, like witches, often feel like outsiders. Books about witches also seem to be awesomely inclusive, so if you’re looking for books that embrace a range of cultures, gender identities and body types, you’ve come to the right genre.

(Quoted descriptions are from the books’ publishers unless otherwise noted.)

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry (FIC BARRY)
In 1989, “a high school field hockey team discovers that the witchcraft of their Salem forebears may be the key to a winning season.” This book is “dense with ’80s iconography–from Heathers to Big Hair” and celebrates “teen girldom in all its glory” and variety.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (FIC HARKNESS)
When Yale historian and reluctant witch Diana Bishop discovers a magical manuscript, she attracts the attention of vampires, including the menacing but very attractive Matthew Clairmont. Also a TV series.

The Once & Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (FIC HARROW)
Witchcraft and women’s suffrage! “In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. But when the Eastwood sisters — James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna — join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement.”

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman (FIC HOFFMAN)
The new pre-prequel to the much-loved Practical Magic and its prequel, The Rules of Magic tells the “the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men.”

Circe by Madeline Miller (FIC MILLER)
Miller fleshes out the story of the witch Circe from The Odyssey as the daughter of the sun god, banished from immortal society, hones her powers and interacts with a broad cast of characters from Greek mythology, from Daedalus to Medea.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (YA FIC THOMAS)
“In Yadriel’s traditional Latinx family, women become brujas and practice healing magic, and the men become brujos and help spirits to the land of the dead. Yadriel is a man, but his family refuses to let him complete the ritual to become a brujo because he’s trans. With the help of his friend Maritza, Yadriel completes the ritual without his family’s knowledge. When Yadriel’s cousin is murdered afterward, he and Maritza try to find out why — but in doing so, they accidentally raise the ghost of Julian Diaz, another murdered teen. As the three try to help Julian and discover what happened to Yadriel’s cousin, Yadriel and Julian begin to fall in love. This fun and delightful young adult contemporary fantasy recently became the first novel written by a trans author to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list.” (Buzzfeed)

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas book 1) by Zoraida Cordova (ebook, YA)
“Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she’s not sure she can trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.”

The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams (YA FIC WILLIAMS)
“After new student Cassandra Heaven joins seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl’s babysitters club, the girls learn that being a babysitter really means a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from evil.”
Or, as Cosmo put it, “What if the Babysitters Club were…witches?” Also an ebook.

Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz (FIC DeLaCRUZ)
“Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid live in North Hampton, out on the tip of Long Island. All three women lead seemingly quiet, uneventful existences. But they are harboring a mighty secret– they are powerful witches banned from using their magic. When mysterious, violent attacks begin to plague the town and a young girl disappears over the Fourth of July weekend, they realize it’s time to uncover who and what dark forces are working against them.” Also a TV series.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (FIC McKAY)
“New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women — some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance — find work as mediums. Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions.” Or, as Cosmo puts it, “For those who wish Edith Wharton was just a little witchier.”

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (YA FIC MAHURIN)
“If you’re looking for a magical trilogy that’s big on romance, start with Serpent & Dove. Lou is a witch in hiding, forced into a marriage with Reid, a man who’s sworn to burn every witch he can expose. Theirs is a slow-burn romance that readers will root for.” (Bookriot) Also an ebook.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe (FIC HOWE)
“Connie Goodwin is an expert on America’s fractured past with witchcraft. A young, tenure-track professor in Boston, she’s earned career success by studying the history of magic in colonial America – especially women’s home recipes and medicines….But beyond her studies, Connie harbors a secret: She is the direct descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Salem, an ancestor whose abilities were far more magical than the historical record shows. When a hint from her mother and clues from her research lead Connie to the shocking realization that her partner’s life is in danger, she must race to solve the mystery behind a centuries-long deadly curse.”

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson (YA FIC ANDERSON)
“While investigating the supposed suicides of her best friend, Riley, and mean girls June and Dayton, sixteen-year-old Wiccan Mila Flores accidentally brings them back to life.”

Posted by: montclairlibrary | September 5, 2020

Book Club Sept. 15

Flavors of Oakland cookbook

Please join us via Zoom Tuesday, September 15 from 6:30-7:30pm to discuss our next Oakland-themed book selection, Flavors of Oakland by Elazar Sontag and Anya Ku. This cookbook – written by a pair of authors who were still in their teens at the time – profiles 20 Oakland residents and the stories behind the recipes they chose to share.

Extra credit: If you’re interested, we’ll have time for people to share the story of a recipe that’s significant to them – it should be a fun way to get to know our neighbors and stay connected!

We’ll be sending the Zoom link to book club subscribers next week – if you’d like to be added to the list or have any questions, please contact

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