Looking for some good LOOT in Youth Services?

18938098Here’s a little secret – I love a good heist story. Art, jewels, artifacts, being launched into a world of daring,  intrigue, and glorious fiction – I love it all.  Just as its title would suggest, the middle grade novel Loot: How to Steal A Fortune by Jude Watson (Scholastic Press, 2014) falls solidly in this category and stands up to the challenge! For the 4-7th grade reader who enjoyed the 39 Clues (Scholastic Press, 2008) series, Loot will not disappoint. (In fact, Jude Watson is one of the authors of 39 Clues series).

Twelve-year-old March leads an unusual life. Unlike most kids his age, he does not go to school, hang out with his friends nor participate in clubs or sports teams.  Instead, he has grown up learning the craft of his father — a world renowned jewel thief.  The jewel thief’s jewel thief.  Traveling the world together, March has learned all the tricks of the trade which are about to be put to the ultimate test.

As the story opens, March watches his dad’s last heist go terribly wrong.  Soon March is bent over his dad, pocket heavy with stolen treasure, and hearing his father’s last words: FIND JEWELS.   As March dodges police and an assassin, he sets off on an epic adventure.  Along the way he discovers that “FIND JEWELS” was not instructions for a last heist, but rather “Find Jules” the name of his long lost twin sister!  That is just the tip of the bejeweled iceberg.  Orphanages, con-men, betrayal, corrupt cops and cursed jewels are just a few of the things that stand in the way of March and Jules disappearing into a life of luxury

What makes this story awesome?  It is filled with not one but seven clever capers all pulled off by sassy smart kids.  Like in 39 Clues, this brother-sister combo need each other to survive in this lonely world of thievery and make some fabulous friends along the way.  But, unlike 39 Clues, their relationships are complex.  I also appreciate that there is no sappy romance which would have diluted this story.  Loot: How to Steal a Fortune is just pure adventure with crazy twists and turns along the road.

For the middle grade reader looking for some high style adventure, this is a great book! From the moment you open it until the moment you close, you are on one wild ride! For similar heist-stories try these:

Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Mystery on Museum Mile  by Marcia Wells

Swindle by Gordon Korman

The Heist Society  by Ally Carter

MollieMollie is a Youth Service Library Assistant. While she loves a good heist story, she knows she would never stand up to the pressure. If you have suggestions for future heist stories please email her at memulligan@cityofportsmouth.com.

Mix Messages – Dancing in the Kitchen Mix

floyd 2-2Vengo

“Hey, I made you a mix tape.”

When I was a teenager in the eighties, those words meant magic could happen.
Mix-tapes were pocket sized treasures decorated with art, favorite lyrics, or magazine collages (in the eighties we loved ourselves a good magazine collage) and filled with new songs and artists. A mix could be a treasure map, guiding the listener to insights and feelings the mix-maker wanted known through the carefully crafted playlist. How many crushes were revealed by a mix tape? How many broken hearts mended with the help of a mix? Mixes captured moments, made for special occasions: a dance, a birthday, a road trip. Aren’t songs in a way time machines? Zipping us back to our past?

Mixes had a charming vulnerability. Not just from the feelings revealed by the mix, but the tape itself. Occasionally one would hear a clicking sound from the “play/record” buttons pressed too slowly. Mixes could include partial songs, when the mix maker missed the beginning after waiting hours by the radio (while probably crafting a magazine collage). Some tapes had blurry whirring sounds after being eaten and repaired with a pencil. Gutted and discarded cassettes were a silent testament to tapes damaged beyond the fix of a splice or a pencil, or of a relationship damaged beyond the repair of a mix.

Even as cassettes disappeared, I loved a good mix. I gave mix CDs as favors for my 30th Birthday Party, my Wedding, and friends’ baby showers. Mixes friends have made me through the years still get heavy rotation.

Using the Best Albums 2014, I thought it would be fun to make you a mix. From the CDs I listened to, I picked songs that are good for shaking winter out of our bones. Unlike many mixes, I didn’t select songs for the lyrics. Future playlists will have that criteria, but these songs are for getting down.


The playlist is also available on Spotify. The library is not endorsing Spotify, but you can hear the playlist if you use the site. You can join for free. Not all of the songs are available on Spotify. Another reason to swing by the library and check out the CDs.

Album titles link to the CD in the library catalog. The entire albums are worth a listen. Song titles link to the video on YouTube. I link you to the official video when possible.

Here’s my “Dancing in the Kitchen” Mix for you.

Ana Tijoux, “Somos Sur
Album: Vengo

Stromae, “Ta fete
Album: Racine Carree
It was hard to choose one song. I wanted to suggest at least five, but then it isn’t a “mix” as much as the CD. Give the album a listen!

Strand of Oaks, “Goshen ‘97
Album: Heal

St. Vincent, “Bring me your loves” (not the official video)
Album: St. Vincent

Hassan Hakmoun, “Ohio” (This song wasn’t available on Spotify – subbed with Balili)
Album: Unity

Alvvays “Adult Diversion
Album: Alvvays

Ty Segall, “Who’s producing you?
Album: Manipulator
(not available on Spotify and not the official video)

Black Keys, “Fever
Album: Turn Blue

Xylouris White, “Fandomas
Album: Goats

First Aid Kit, “My Silver Lining
Album:  Stay Gold
You might be swaying more than dancing to this song. This is one song I selected because of the lyrics. After this long winter, aren’t we all looking for our silver linings?

Happy Shaking!

Mix Messages is written by library assistant Heather Armitage. She enjoys reading fiction and humorous essays, traveling, trying new vegetarian recipes, and dancing in the kitchen. She’s grateful her dog, Floyd, doesn’t judge her moves. If you have suggestions for future Mix Messages, please email her at hearmitage@cityofportsmouth.com.

Monthly Link Pack – April 2015

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– Are you a good speller? Then you should take the New York Public Library’s Surprisingly Tricky Spelling Bee Quiz. No spell check. No auto-correct. No phoning a friend. Just you and the timer. Good Luck! Let us know how you do in the comments.

– My cousin told me about Unroll Me. It’s a service that identifies your subscription emails and allows you to unsubscribe from the ones you don’t want anymore, while keeping the ones you do want — like the library newsletter for instance.

– Every year, following the awards season, we create a list of award winning and noteworthy movies in our collection. You can place holds on these popular DVDs online yourself, or you can fill out one of these forms the next time you’re in the library.

– One of the library blogs I read on a regular basis is the Swiss Army Librarian. He has a regular blog feature called Reference Question of the Week. I always learn something new. I continue to believe that a public library would make a great setting for a sitcom. I’m thinking Portlandia meets Party Girl. #right

– Do you post videos on YouTube? If so, you might like to know about this fairly new feature on YouTube called cards. Cards make your videos more interactive.  They allow you to “inform your viewers about other videos, merchandise, playlists, websites and more.” I haven’t played with this feature yet but I’m sure I will. To learn more click here.

– The Highlights of My Day is a blog with a highlight from a book, everyday.

–  I’m a BIG podcast fan. One of the first podcast episodes that got me hooked was the Giant Pool of Money in 2008. Serial raised the bar in 2014. If you are looking for something new, check out this list of Best New Podcasts of 2015. If you’re not sure what a podcast is, or how to listen to them on your device — make a device help appointment.

– I thought I would write about Meerkat but I guess it’s dead already. You can read all about it here. Apparently, Periscope is the way to go now. Can we agree that Periscope is the best name for this type of app?

– You can download 100,000 Free Art Images in High-Resolution from The Getty or 422 Free Art Books from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. via Open Culture.

– If you are a real library geek you might actually enjoy this. I did. Ten hypnotic minutes of real-time book requests from the British Library’s book delivery system. via No Shelf Required.


– SNAPSHOT of the 5 Most Popular Adult Books at PPL right now (3/31/15)

1. The girl on the train / Paula Hawkins.

2. A spool of blue thread : a novel / Anne Tyler.

3. All the light we cannot see : a novel / Anthony Doerr.

4. The nightingale / Kristin Hannah.

5. Dead wake : the last crossing of the Lusitania / Erik Larson.


The Monthly Link Pack is a blog series curated by Jennifer Moore, library clerk, maker, and sustainable style blogger. If you have a suggestion for something that should be included in a future blog post, email her at jamoore@cityofportsmouth.com.


Transgender Teens & GLBTQ Reading

Lisa reviews teen literature about transgender identity and acceptance, and shares our Teen GLBTQ Reading List. 

xxxxxAlmost Perfectalmostperfect

by Brian Katcher

(Teen Fiction)

Almost Perfect is an almost perfect book which honestly deals with the sometimes hard truths that can accompany friendship, love, and sexuality. Sage is new to school after being homeschooled, and Logan is fresh from a breakup with his long-term girlfriend. The two become friends and, shortly thereafter, something more. When the relationship begins to take tentative steps toward the physical, Sage reveals that she is biologically a boy. Logan, initially angry, tries to understand his attraction to Sage and what it might mean about his own sexuality. The author captures the emotions of what both characters are feeling so convincingly that when I wasn’t reading the book I found my mind wandering back to the pages, worrying how these two would resolve their feelings for one another.

xxxxrethinkingnormalRethinking Normal

by Katie Rain Hill

(Teen Biography)

Katie Rain Hill, a college student at the University of Tulsa, has bravely penned a very candid memoir about her transition from Luke to Katie at the age of 15. Thanks to journals, stories, and other materials she kept as a child, she was able to recall much about her younger self and share the story of what it felt like to be in the wrong gender. She talks about the discomfort she felt in her body from a very young age, her attraction to boys, and the ever widening gap of understanding between herself and her parents, particularly her father.  She maintains her searing honesty as she talks about the teasing she experienced in elementary school, dating in high school and later in college, and her friendships with other girls. Katie walks the reader through her first tentative steps toward living as a girl, through gender-reassignment surgery, and ultimately to her life beyond her parents’ home.

xxxxGracefully Grayson gracefullygrayson

by Ami Polonsky

(Youth Fiction)

Ami Polonsky’s short novel deals with a number of very serious issues in relatively few pages. She tackles the loss of a young child’s parents, bullying, and transgenderism without making the reader feel overwhelmed.  Grayson is in sixth grade and has learned that it is best to remain as quiet and as invisible as possible to avoid the scrutiny of other people. Grayson has long known that while she is outwardly a boy, she is in every other way a girl. But without anyone in whom she can confide, she suffers in silence and intense loneliness. In a surprise move, Grayson decides to audition for the school play for the part of Persephone. She does it for the opportunity to wear a beautiful gown and let other people see her as she really is, at least for the duration of the play. Grayson’s bravery forces the adults in her life, and her peers, to examine and judge themselves rather than her.

Additional GLBTQ Reading

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Fraternal twins and burgeoning artists Jude and Noah are inseparable until puberty hits and they find themselves competing for boys, a spot at an exclusive art school, and their parents’ affections. Told in alternating perspectives and time lines, with Noah’s chapters taking place when they are 13 and Jude’s when they are 16, this novel explores how it’s the people closest to us who have the power to both rend us utterly and knit us together. – – School Library Journal

Fan Art by Sarah Tregay

“High school senior Jamie has a crush on his best friend and finds ways to share that news with the help of several friends.”– Provided by publisher

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

In alternating chapters, eighteen-year-old Darcy Patel navigates the New York City publishing world and Lizzie, the heroine of Darcy’s novel, slips into the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack and becomes a spirit guide, as both face many challenges and both fall in love.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

High school junior Leila’s Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates at Armstead Academy, and if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. when a new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual, so she struggles to sort out her growing feelings by confiding in her old friends.

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

Teen Biography. “Arin Andrews shares all the hilarious, painful, and poignant details of undergoing gender reassignment as a high school student in this winning teen memoir.” — Provided by publisher

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Teen Nonfiction. “Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Each honest discussion, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.”   — Amazon.com

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is that they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl. Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt and her well-intentioned but old-fashioned grandmother. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

The summer after graduating from an Iowa high school, Dade Hamilton watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate, ends his long-term, secret relationship, comes out of the closet, and savors first love.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

When two teens, one gay and one straight, meet accidentally and discover that they share the same name, their lives become intertwined as one begins dating the other’s best friend, who produces a play revealing his relationship with them both.

I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan

While trying to cope with his alcoholic mother and absent father, a lonely New York City teenager develops a confusing crush on another boy.

Love and Lies: Marisol’s Story by Ellen Wittlinger

When self-confident Marisol, moves to Cambridge, to work and try to write a novel, she falls under the spell of her beautiful but deceitful writing teacher.

Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

Kyle and Judy’s parents announce they are taking in a fellow (and mysterious) student for a month. Kyle has just come out of the closet to his family and fears he’ll never know what it is like to date a guy. Judy is pretending to be born-again to attract a boy.  Both are intrigued with this new boy, who claims to be a vampire.

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Fern feels invisible in her family, where grumpy eighteen-year-old Sarah is working at the family restaurant, fourteen-year-old Holden is struggling with school bullies and his emerging homosexuality, and adorable, three-year-old Charlie is always the center of attention, and when tragedy strikes, the fragile bond holding the family together is stretched almost to the breaking point.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Harry and Craig take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys. 

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

In Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, Sahar and Nasrin love each other in secret until Nasrin’s parents announce their daughter’s arranged marriage and Sahar proposes a drastic solution.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Tired of being known as “the gay kid”, Rafe decides to assume a new persona when he comes east and enters an elite Massachusetts prep school–but trying to deny his identity has both complications and unexpected consequences.

Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin

Feeling humiliated and confused when his best friend Tessa rejects his love and reveals a long-held secret, Luke must decide if he should stand by Tessa when she invites a girl to the prom, sparking a firestorm of controversy in their small Indiana town.

 If I Told You So by Timothy Woodward

Sean Jackson’s choice is to take a landscaping job in Georgia with his father, or to stay in his small New Hampshire hometown and take a job at the local ice cream shop. He stays home and deals with the pressures of a young man who struggles with trying to tell his father that he is gay.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Ari Mendoza is an angry loner with a brother in prison, but when he meets Dante and they become friends, Ari starts to ask questions about himself, his parents, and his family that he has never asked before.

The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George

Jesse is having secret trysts with Emily, the popular student council vice president, but when they find themselves on opposite sides of a major issue and Jesse becomes more involved with a student activist, they must make a difficult decision.

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Told from three viewpoints; Brendan, a wrestler, struggles to come to terms with his place on the transgender spectrum while Vanessa, the girl he loves, and Angel, a transgender acquaintance, try to help.

Love Drugged by James Klise

Jamie Baes has a simple strategy for surviving high school: fit in, keep a low profile, and above all, protect his secret–he’s gay. When a classmate discovers the truth, Jamie does all he can to change who he is.

Ash by Malinda Lo

In this variation on the Cinderella story, Ash grows up believing in the fairy realm that the king and his philosophers have sought to suppress, until one day she must choose between a handsome fairy cursed to love her and the King’s Huntress whom she loves.

How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity edited by Michael Cart

Presents twelve stories by contemporary, award-winning young adult authors, some presented in graphic or letter format, which explore themes of gender identity, love, and sexuality.  Shelved with the teen short story collection.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Astrid copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by staring at the sky and imagining that she’s sending love to the passengers in the airplanes flying over her backyard. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it. Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to.

In Mike We Trust by P. E. Ryan

As Garth is wrestling with the promise he made his mother to wait a while before coming out, his somewhat secretive uncle shows up unexpectedly for an extended visit.


LisaThis Youth book review was brought to you by Lisa Q. Harling. When not conducting Story Times or reading the best that kids’ authors have to offer, Lisa enjoys writing witty PSAs on Facebook, playing with her dogs and keeping up with her two adventurous sons. If you have suggestions for future book reviews, email her at lqharling@cityofportsmouth.com.

Camp NaNoWriMo: April

campWriting shouldn’t just happen one month a year, and if challenges like NaNoWriMo are what get you moving you’re in luck! During your 2 month stay at Camp NaNoWriMo in April and May, you can write at a more leisurely pace. You can set your own word-count goal over 10,000 at any time during each monthly session.

One of the best parts of Camp NaNoWriMo is that all types of writing, not just novels, are allowed and encouraged! You can also choose to be placed into a digital “cabin” where you can meet new writers and participate in critiques and sharing sessions.

Here is the FAQ page for Camp NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo: http://campnanowrimo.org/faq 

While we won’t be hosting any events at the library, we do encourage you to visit us and write in our cozy cubbies, in our sunny cafe (that might still have a view of a small snowy mountain range), or on our quaint couches.

Come April, I’m writing short stories. What about you?

As for graphic novel reviews, I’m almost finished with The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple, so look forward to that next time! Here are some things that I really like right now that you should check out.

Hot Dreams, music by Timber Timbre

Mr. Tall by Tony Earley


This post was written by Stacia Oparowski, a library assistant in technical services. Besides reading and reviewing graphic novels, she also participates each year in NaNoWriMo and writes the November updates. If you have a suggestion for a graphic novel she should review or if you would like a graphic novel recommendation, please email her at soparowski@cityofportsmouth.com.

Research Tips from Richard: Life at Harvard’s Widener Library

Researchers love making pilgrimages to the leading libraries in the world. The city of Boston is so blessed. For Portsmouth area residents, a trip to Boston amounts to a bus, train, or car ride, some fifty-seven miles south.    widener1

I know that an annual $250 fee for a Harvard College library card is not for everyone. ( Editor’s note: independent researchers can apply for a free, 3-month Visiting Researcher Card) This plastic card, however, opens up the resources of more than seventy libraries on campus, embracing a collection of more than seventeen million volumes, making it, in short, the largest academic collection in the world. For me, the cost is a bargain, and with one swipe of the card in the entrance gate, I share the same privileges as if I were the president of the university.

Every time I mount the steps of the Widener Library, the chief flagship depository, I know I am going to find something for the day’s effort. The periodical section is especially outstanding. All the electronic gadgetry is readily available. A superb staff is most helpful in every way. For a snack, one does not have to leave the building; a person simply heads to the basement café with its ample food and beverage vending machines. The whole experience is a researcher’s paradise.

But the Harvard library visit is not limited to the confines of Widener. While in Cambridge, one finds time to stroll around Harvard Square, a beat-of-life crossroads of every national, ethnic, racial, spiritual, religious, and political group. I am never alone, as vendors, students, street theatre, sidewalk musicians, panhandlers, and soapbox orators crowd the scene. Restaurants, bookstores, tobacco shops, ice cream parlors, and coffee houses abound.

For those inclined, one might wander over to the Revolution Books store, a place devoted to Communist, Socialist, and leftist literature. A red door marks the entrance. As a friend had gone to Red China as a tourist, I decided to stop by to purchase a few gifts.

mao1In keeping with my interests in libraries and as a historian, I recalled that Mao Zedong (also known as Mao Tse-Tung) had worked as a librarian at Peking University in 1918. Think of how world history might have changed if Mao had remained true to his library calling, along with writing poetry as a sideline. Who knows, Mao might have conceivably landed an exchange position at Widener as an expert on Chinese literature and culture. Mao chose to pursue a different career.

Speculation aside, I urge all committed students and scholars to at least walk around Harvard Square, and if so inclined to procure a Harvard library card. They will have the opportunity to search for rare and hard-to-get, even unique, items that he would not have discovered elsewhere.

For myself, I have enjoyed many happy hours at one of the finest library systems on the planet.

Happy treasure hunting!

To access the Harvard libraries, contact:
By e-mail: asklib@fas.harvard.edu
By Web: asklib.ncl.harvard.edu
By telephone: 1-(617)-682-9043

RichardResearch Tips is written by Richard E. Winslow III, Local Historian Emeritus, who has worked in Special Collections at the Portsmouth Public Library for 30 years. He is a local historian and author on topics such as the Naval Shipyard, the Gundalow, submarines, shipbuilding, privateers, Frank Jones, and more.

Meet Gutenberg the 3D Printer!

A few weeks ago we asked our library patrons to help us name our brand new 3D printer. Wow! What a great turnout we had – you all offered up some fantastic monikers for this exciting new machine.

White_buildplate_Rabbit_RepBut as we surveyed the list, the printing team all agreed – it could only be one name. Gutenberg.

Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. Gutenberg, who made information accessible to the people, no matter their social status or wealth. It may even be said that the library wouldn’t exist without him. He embodied the mission we carry on today. He changed the world.


Plus, we can call the printer Gute (pronounced GOOT) for short!










Uh, no. But close enough.

We want to acknowledge all the AMAZING suggestions. In no particular order, the other entries:

  • The Copycat
  • PAM (Printing And Making)
  • PAC (Printing And Creating)
  • Ditto
  • Echo
  • Scotty (As in, Beam Me Up!)
  • Philip the Fantastic MakerBot
  • Bob the Builder
  • Magic Maker
  • Robot
  • Angela
  • Printalina
  • SusanBot 3.0
  • The Cool-Plastic-Thing-Maker-Inator
  • Monster Printer
  • Printer-Bot
  • Fembots from Austin Powers
  • Imagination Creator
  • Art Bot
  • Harry Potter
  • The Printinator
  • The People Replacer
  • Floyd
  • Demmi
  • Jeff
  • Daedalus
  • D’Amazing Box

You can see that it was no easy choice! But a big congratulations to the winner, Maureen, who’ll have $5 in free printing, beginning April 1.

Confused about the whole printing thing? Visit our website for guidelines and recent prints. We’ll also be printing LIVE in the lobby or youth services once a week. Just visit our Facebook Events page to find out when!

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Any questions? Email us at libtech@cityofportsmouth.com.

Real Laughter, Real Love: Amy Poehler’s Yes Please

A couple of weeks ago I said a fond farewell to a favorite TV show of mine. After a seven season run, Parks and Recreation closed with a look into the far future of its characters, a narrative conceit inspired by the finale of Six Feet Under and one that’s eminently satisfying for the fans. I wish every show ended as this one did. We knew the friendships would endure, the conflicts smooth out, and the characters move purposefully in life and in their careers, weathering bumps and slumps with aplomb.

2015-02-11-705598parks_and_recreation_5056431f846b0Okay – I’m not writing a review of Parks and Rec, but bear with me. It was one of the only shows left on television whose characters were kind to each other, whose plot didn’t hinge on misunderstandings or cruel pranks, but that still made you (me) fall off the couch laughing time and again. And the largest part of its appeal, for me, was its main character, the hero of Pawnee, Indiana:  Leslie Knope.

We ought to give credit where it’s due – Greg Daniels, Michael Schur, the late Harris Wittels, and other writers on the show certainly shaped its characters – but the “single-camera documentary” style (pioneered by The Office in Britain) allowed for more improvisation from its actors than any other format. And Amy Poehler… well, she’s a comic genius.

81yNb5R70oLShe lent the character of Leslie Knope – ambitious, kind, open, sharp, witty, strange, confident, stubborn – all of her own heart. I unashamedly say that I love Leslie as if she were a real person. She is walking, campaigning, binder-making, pep-talking, hugging proof that audiences can root for a nuanced female character. She doesn’t have to be strong all the time, nor is her purpose defined by her relationship to others. Like all of us real-life women, she tries her best and sometimes gets it wrong.

All this is to say that I didn’t know how much of Amy Poehler there truly was in Leslie Knope until I read Yes Please.

Part humor, part auto-biography, part self-help, this book is its own lovable character. It’s not as biting as Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, nor as self-conscious as Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, nor as cohesive as Tina Fey’s Bossypants, all of which Poehler claims as inspiration. Yet there is something of each of these in Yes Please – honesty, radicalism, drive, and wisdom. In a chapter titled “Plain Girl vs. The Demon” she talks about the critical inner voice that plagues us all:

When the demon starts to slither my way and say bad s*** about me I turn around and say, ‘Hey. Cool it. Amy is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.’ Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works.

Even demons gotta sleep.

Conversational, clear insight is Poehler’s M.O. The advice dispensed in Yes Please is easy to take, as it comes from experience, humor and reflection. Motherhood, divorce, success, failure, sex, insomnia – all these are visited in the scattered narrative of Poehler’s life and times, organized loosely into inspirational sections titled SAY whatever you want, DO whatever you like, BE whoever you are.

These are clichés and not particularly accurate headings. I promise you the content is better. Yes Please can seem disjointed– many parts are magnificent, but they don’t always connect. By way of introduction, Poehler calls the book a “collection,” a “thick stew.” She writes:

Sometimes this book stays in the present, other times I try to cut myself in half and count the rings. Occasionally I think about the future, but I try to do that sparingly because it usually makes me anxious. [This] is an attempt to present an open scrapbook that includes a sense of what I am thinking and feeling right now.

From this point of view, the lack of cohesion is charming and real. The only place it seemed to fail was in what I’d call the “filler” elements of this book. Apology letters from the brain and the heart – guess which one’s better? A place to write in your own birth story, after reading Amy’s and after consulting with your parents. “Plastic Surgery Haiku.” None of these are particularly riveting nor humorous to me – but perhaps you’ll disagree. At any rate, prose is where Poehler shines, heartfelt and funny, serious and sardonic. If nothing else, you should really skip forward to “My Boys,” her essay about her sons and her privilege. Even for the childless among us, it accurately captures the feeling of a sudden change in perspective:

When your children arrive, the best you can hope for is that they break open everything about you.

91vr0RlSX5LAnd she continues to succeed when she plays with the medium, allowing Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur to provide footnotes to her chapter on the show.

Which brings me to my favorite part of Yes Please – a behind-the-scenes view of life in comedy. Poehler traveled from amateur college theatre, into the avant-garde artistic freedom of improv comedy (particularly with the troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, of which she is still a part), through the heady maelstrom/gauntlet of Saturday Night Live, and on to her current position as a certifiable Queen of Comedy – movie star, television heroine, and co-host of the Golden Globes. It is a travesty that she’s never won an Emmy, by the way.

Poehler’s humble story of her career, the accidents and perseverance that account for her success, is fascinating. Here is where her title makes the most sense. Yes is the operative word in improvisation – cooperate with your partners, create something together – and please signifies gratitude – for the partnership and the opportunity.

It is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please.

She explores the paradox of American womanhood, of juggling expectations and desires, of attending to her career and her children, throughout her writing, and then neatly challenges the whole paradigm while describing her final days at SNL, heavily pregnant and supercharged:

When you are pregnant you can get away with a lot of s***. Women really are at their most dangerous during this time. Your hormones are telling you that you are strong and sexy, everyone is scared of you, and you have a built in sidekick who might come out at any minute.

This is a sentiment not often visited in the media, and it’s a powerfully subversive one.

71st Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press RoomThere is celebrity gossip in these stories, and the strength of collaborative friendships – we get chapters on both Seth Meyers and Tina Fey – and a lot of hard work. And we love her for it as we loved future president Leslie Knope. We cannot begrudge her the random chances that led to her fame, as they are dwarfed by her years of tirelessly pursuing the laughs. On paper as on stage as on screen, she will make you laugh. And you will love her for it. And that’s the bottom line of Yes Please.

For more Amy Poehler, watch Smart Girls at the Party or the upcoming Disney Pixar film Inside Out.


LauraLaura Horwood-Benton is PPL’s Public Programming & Community Relations Librarian. She enjoys literary and speculative fiction, vegan baking, drawing and traveling.  If you have suggestions for future book reviews OR library events, email her at lkhorwood-benton@cityofportsmouth.com.

Lighthouse Fiction – Lighting Different Directions


What to read next if you loved The Light Between Oceans (2012) debut novel by  M.L Stedman?  There are a number of fictional lighthouses that you can visit from many eras.

tothelighthouse Virgina Woolf‘s classic To the Lighthouse (1927) is set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. One of her most popular works, a recent edition calls it “a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflicts within a marriage.”

edge-of-the-earthA different tale of marriage, across the globe, is set in late 19th century California: Edge of the Earth (2013) by Christina Schwarz. Gertrude Swann arrives as the newlywed wife to the 2nd assistant lighthouse keeper, leaving her life of comfort as an educated young women in Milwaukee. She becomes teacher to the 4 children of the chief keeper, using the opportunity to study marine biology. In her explorations she uncovers a secret that will change everything.

PointofDirectionThough Point of Direction (2014) by Rachel Weaver is a recent book, I’m calling it a hidden gem because it’s a first novel and Goodreads is doing a giveaway until March 15, 2015!  Listed by NPR as a “book that pulls you in,” it contains descriptions of Alaska and modern lighthouse living that do just that. Anna and Kyle agree to be caretakers of a remote Alaskan lighthouse over the winter, where they haul and split wood, bake bread in the cook stove, smoke and can salmon, and build a greenhouse.

Library Journal says, “Weaver is also superb with the setting and atmospherics, bringing the cold, the wind, and the unpredictable and sometimes furious sea powerfully to life….a powerfully engaging psychological novel perhaps most essentially about forgiveness.” Themes include abandonment and personal failures. Anna wonders:

What are we doing out here…avoiding life? living it?  In my mind, I see the lighthouse as I did that first day we drove up in the skiff.  It towers over the island, straight and tall against a backdrop of mountains. I see it clearly for what it is; something to lean against, a place for me to catch my breath.

harborAnother new title is Raffaella Barker’s From a Distance (2014), with a Norfolk VA lighthouse. And one can keep traveling onto Lattitudes of Melt (2000) by  Joan Clark, in 1912 Newfoundland. Or, read a Swedish thrilller: John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor (2008; translated 2010). More romance than lighthouse is Diane Chamberlain’s Keeper of the Light (1992), in which the widow of the keeper knows the secrets in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

lighthousekeepingReturning to a Scottish lighthouse, we can count on quirky, British author Jeanette Winterspoon’s Lighthousekeeping (2004) for a winding set of “fables within a fable” (Booklist). “A Beginning, a middle and an end is the proper way to tell a story. But I have difficulty with that method,” says Silver, a 10 year old orphan who goes to apprentice with Pew the blind lighthouse keeper in 1969. She sluices the stairs, polishes the instruments, washes the socks and learns that to “tend the light” is to learn and tell stories.

One of these books may just be the illumination you need today!



Hidden gems is a blog series by Cathy Okhuysen of the Public Services staff at PPL, lover of historical and general fiction and contemplative music singer. If you have suggestions for something that should be included in a future blog post, email her at ccokhuysen@cityofportsmouth.com.

From the Director’s Pocket: March 2015

From the Director’s Pocket is a new series from – you guessed it! – our director, Steven K. Butzel. He’ll be sharing interesting links and stories with us each month.

One of my favorite apps is Pocket. It lets me easily save articles, videos and more for viewing later at any time, on any device. I don’t even need an Internet connection. So what have I been Pocketing lately? Here are a few items:

At Aetna, a C.E.O.’s Management by Mantra

Amazing story about the CEO of a major corporation who adopted yoga, meditation and mindfulness as part of his recovery from a near death experience, and then integrated these practices across his entire organization.

We’re taking a page from this book at the library – we’re hosting six-week mindfulness courses, and will soon announce a new weekly drop-in meditation.

atwarAre you familiar with the expanding role of the “Military-Internet Complex”? Recently, I’ve been reading about it in Shane Harris’s new book @War. It offers an alarming look into the world of cyber espionage and cyber warfare, including a detailed discussion of the role of the National Security Agency and its collaboration with the FBI, the military and major US corporations.

On a related note, I pocketed this article from Wired Magazine’s website:

How the NSA’s Firmware Hacking Works and Why It’s So Unsettling

Lastly, I was fortunate enough to travel to Kenya last year with a group of librarians, nurses and teachers. We toured the country for two weeks and saw some pretty incredible sights and met a lot of terrific people. Unfortunately, we also witnessed a lot of poverty and hardship. With that in mind, I was thrilled to learn about the opening of this water project in Kakamega, Kenya as their new well was installed. Learn more about the organization behind it.

423321_10151340812650128_2056627420_n That’s it for now, but stay tuned for more updates. In the meantime, what good content on the Internet have you pocketed lately?

SteveFrom the Director’s Pocket is a blog series curated by Steve Butzel, Portsmouth Public Library director, dog lover, Phish (the band) aficionado, nonfiction reader, and natural resource, sustainable energy and international affairs enthusiast. If you have suggestions for something that should be included in a future blog post, email him at skbutzel@cityofportsmouth.com.

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