CPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2020

Ask a librarian for some good books, be prepared for a long list! I recently asked our staff members to share some their favorite reads in 2020, and the answers that came back were many and varied. We really do read a lot! Not all the books on this list were published in 2020, (some were older books we just got around to reading in 2020!), but all received a solid thumbs up from a member of our staff:

Children’s Books

Picture Books

Chapter Books

YA Fiction

Adult Fiction

Adult Non-Fiction

 

( * – this book was recommended by more than one staff member)

 

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope – book review

No matter what you read lately, whether it’s political, economic, or even comedy relief, the concept of a national divide keeps popping up. It seems there is nothing that we’re not crabby about – which song got the Grammy, whether poodles are better than dalmatians, whether corn counts as a vegetable or a starch. Umpteen books have been written on the divide of “liberal” vs. “conservative,” urban vs. rural, prosperity vs. lazy poor, criminal drug abuser vs. victim of Big Pharma, and into that mix Nicholas Kristof throws out an excellent one, called Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.

Kristof grew up in rural Yamhill, Oregon, a White, conservative town of 1100 people. More than a quarter of the kids he went to school with died of drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents caused by drugs or alcohol. Why did he make it out in one piece, while his friends died slowly of alcoholism, often homeless most of their lives? Why did families lose 3, 4, 5 kids to drugs and alcohol? Why did some do fine?

To keep it real, Kristof explores people in similar situations in places like South Dakota, Oklahoma, New York City, Baltimore, and more, bastions of poverty and drugs in the U.S. What he finds is the same issues, handled differently – humanely – makes a world of difference. In places like Oklahoma, the entire penal code is stacked against poor people. Indigent and need a free legal defender? You are then arrested for being indigent, and fined for your arrest. Now you’re in debt to the state. So you are sent to prison for being a debtor – even if it’s only ONE dollar! Now you have more fines added. People are released from prison – private, for-profit prisons, of course – with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from a mere $25 parking ticket. Can’t make the payments on your fines? Back to jail, and more fines. It’s a gerbil wheel of punishing the poor – even though intervention programs can save $10 of tax money for every dollar spent.

And of course, once you have a felony conviction, you can’t get a job. So people turn to selling meth and heroin. And get convicted, and can’t get hired, and get homeless and depressed and turn to drugs…. Over and over and over. Why are Mexicans taking the jobs from under-educated poor white people? Because the Mexicans can be counted on to show up for work, and aren’t drunk or stoned.

Kristof narrows the biggest issues down to two: One is education. Most of the people he knew didn’t graduate, had parents that barely made it to 8th grade, and grandparents who might not have made it to fifth. If you come from a home where there are no books, no magazines, and no expectations of further education, it’s harder to succeed. He explores one family where the mother had a 5th-grade education, and five children by four different fathers. When the first was expelled from kindergarten twice for behavioral issues, she – with a fifth-grade education – decided to home-school her kids (5 under the age of 6). How much of a chance do those kids have?

The second predictor of success was coming from a two-parent home. If you had two parents – and usually two incomes – you had a much greater chance of being successful. Single mothers with a trail of children left those kids in chaos. More than one child entering Yamhill kindergarten was described as “feral.”

Kristof also explores the programs – often started by those who had had enough – that give people just the right boost, whether it’s paying those $1 legal fees and freeing people from prison or getting them a job or housing or a drug treatment program. Such programs are a lifeline for the people involved, and often get them on the track to permanent success. Unfortunately, many of the government programs to do just that have been eliminated in recent years.

The book is easy to read, informative, and does not preach or even really point fingers. It’s careful to present only facts, though the family situations and the culture of violence surrounding them can be maddening. Despite the grim realities, the book ends up on a positive note. This is one to put on your To Be Read list, and check out these other titles in similar vein:


Hillbilly Elegy
The Left Behind
Evicted
White Trash
Dimestore
Dreamland
Chasing the Scream
Detroit
Broke, USA
Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America
Survival Math
Nickel and Dimed

 

Thanksgiving-themed Books for Kids and Adults


For many of us, Thanksgiving has been a time when family members far and wide gather together, with as many people and as much food crammed around the dinner table as we can fit. Ah, the good old days! Thanksgiving may look a little different this year,  when social distancing and travel restrictions can put a damper on social gatherings.  Never fear! We’ve put together some Thanksgiving-themed reading to help keep your holiday spirit going, even if you’re celebrating from a distance.

For Kids:

 

For Adults:

 

 

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with books for all ages

Each year, Americans observe Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans  whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a month long period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15.

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively.

Check out these books from Cheshire Library that celebrate Hispanic culture and authors!

For  Adults:

For Teens:

For Kids:

My Coronavirus Garden

From our Deputy Director Deb, who is is also our gardening expert:

Late last summer I visited the Charlotte Rhoades Park Butterfly Garden in Southwest Harbor, Maine. Full of color from both the flowers and the many butterflies it was designed to support, this garden was an inspiration. I thought of it often in the ensuring months but a major gardening project seemed like more than I would be able to manage at this point in my life.

The came the coronavirus. Remember March when the state shut down? Then there was April with empty shelves and Governors Cuomo and Lamont’s daily news briefings. May didn’t bring a lot of relief. It was starting to seem obvious that we would be in this situation for the long haul. I needed to do something positive and thought again about the Charlotte Rhoades garden. Maybe this would be the year to pull this off. To plan a garden is to plan for the future, a future that exists outside of the news cycle. The world was a mess and I couldn’t do anything about it, but I could create a garden that would support and nurture the wildlife in my small corner of the world.

Each night for weeks I fell asleep thinking about plants and butterflies and birds. If I started to worry about the coronavirus, I turned my thoughts instead to the Jersey Tea shrub I had just ordered. Or those beautiful fall-blooming asters that would be covered with bees and butterflies come September and October. Or the big clumps of Verbena bonariensis I planned to scatter throughout my garden.

I read books and looked at websites about creating pollinator gardens and sketched out a plan for an irregularly shaped garden about 50 feet long and between 12 and 20 feet wide. There was an existing spruce and 2 shrubs from an earlier planting scheme. And I wanted to incorporate a number of plants from another garden. A 50-foot garden may sound large but it wasn’t nearly big enough for the dozens of plants that I wanted to include. I made list after list. And then crossed out most of the plants on the lists until I had a workable plan. At this point, it was late April and time to get busy.

There were challenges, as there are with any garden. My location was a sandy hillside next to our driveway that turned out to have been a town dumping ground for road sand and hunks of old macadam from long–ago repaving projects. We had to remove the sand and junk from the planting area for each shrub or perennial (there were dozens) and replace it with decent topsoil. This was hard work! Luckily for me (though not for him), my 28-year-old son was stuck at home and was willing to help. He did most of the heavy excavating and moving of soil, alI I had to do was plant, mulch, weed and water. Months later, my garden is taking shape. It has been full of bees in all shapes and sizes as well as butterflies. As I write this, a flock of goldfinches is busy pulling the seeds out of the fading liatris and coneflowers. And I am busy thinking about how to improve the bloom sequence and plant variety in the garden. As any gardener knows, a garden is never completed.

Want to plant your own wildlife garden? There are many wonderful resources online. Check out the website for the Xerces Society for information and plant lists. American Beauties Native Plants, a wholesale nursery partially located in Connecticut, also has great plant lists.

Many of our area nurseries carry native plants such as coneflowers, liatris, asters and goldenrods. Some natives can be more difficult to find. Natureworks, the organic nursery in Northford, had a great selection of milkweeds and asters earlier in the season. Their website also offers lots of excellent information on gardening to support pollinators and butterflies. If you can’t find the plants you need locally, try Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota. They have been around for 40 years and supply over 700 North American species.

Consider joining a local gardening club. Members are knowledgeable and experienced gardeners who are happy to share their experience. Many clubs offer a wide range of educational programs. Cheshire has 2 garden clubs, the Cheshire Garden Club and the Suburban Garden Club.

Gardening has benefits beyond improving the beauty and utility of your yard. Check out this recent New Yorker article on the therapeutic power of gardening.

The library has numerous books on planning gardens for pollinators, butterflies and birds. Search the catalog using keywords such as “pollinators”, “native plants”, “xeriscaping”and “gardening for birds” .

Here are a few :

 

The Pollinator Victory Garden : win the war on pollinator decline with ecological gardening : how to attract and support bees, beetles, butterflies, bats, and other pollinators by Kim Eierman

100 Plants to Feed the Bees : provide a healthy habitat to help pollinators thrive by the Xerces Society

The Wildlife-friendly Vegetable Gardener : how to grow food in harmony with nature by Tammi Hartung

Native Plants for New England Gardens by Mark Richardson

Attracting Birds and Butterflies : how to plant a backyard habitat to attract winged wildlife by Barbara Ellis

Garden Secrets for Attracting Birds : a bird-by-bird guide to favored plants by Rachael Lanicci

The National Wildlife Federation’s Guide to Gardening for Wildlife : how to create a beautiful backyard habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by Craig Tufts and Peter Loewer

For inspiration and specific suggestions for what you can do in your own yard to support wildlife (hint: it involves planting more natives), read Douglas Tallamy’s books Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.