Top Book Picks from 2021

Quite a bit of snow has fallen in Western Michigan in the past week and our community even received a few snow days from school or work. What better way to spend a snowy day than diving into a new book. Here are a few recommended books from Barnes and Noble’s Best Books 2021 list! 

Call Us What We Carry

This book of poetry was written by Amanda Gorman, whose poem “The Hill We Climb” was read at the 2021 Inauguration. Gorman’s book would be a great choice if you enjoyed Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise and want to explore more poetry.

Harlem Shuffle

Goodreads describes this book as a “gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s.” 

Under the Whispering Door (B&N Exclusive Edition) (B&N Speculative Fiction Book of the Year)

This book is a tale about a ghost who is not ready to go to the afterlife but learns quite a bit about death and grief along the way. It is a perfect book for a young reader or someone looking for an engaging story.

The Sentence

Barnes and Noble describe this book as “The inimitable and award-winning voice of Louise Erdrich is back, and this time she is taking on a tumultuous year with the help of a lovable, quirky cast of characters. An unexpected ghost story that is both a timely novel with laugh-out-loud moments as well as a beautiful commentary on identity. Erdrich cements herself as one of America’s greatest living authors.” 

You can view the whole list here for even more recommendations. We hope something catches your attention and turns out to be a page-turner! 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year from the Big Read! We hope your year is off to a great start and will be filled with many blessings. 

It is always sad to come to the end of the holiday season and the excitement surrounding Christmas and the New Year. We are now in the time, since we live in Western Michigan, where the snow will be piling up during these winter months. Yet, the New Year lends a time to reflect on our past year and remain hopeful about the future.

A new year means that the preparations for our 2022 Big Read and Little Read programs have begun and our team is working behind the scenes to choose a book, coordinate events, and engage our community with literature. We also will continue to update our blog with book recommendations, poems and excerpts, and updates from our program. 

We hope that in addition to your New Years’ resolutions, you will continue to read and write alongside us as 2022 progresses!

Reflections on The Big Read 2021

It is the final Monday of 2021, so here are a few reflections on the Big Read 2021. Our 2021 program focused on Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise and our Little Read book was Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard. Through our partnerships, we were able to host lectures, discussions, art seminars, documentaries, a Fry Bread meal at Hope College, a dance performance, and more. 

This year stands out from past years because the program selected its first book of poetry. Our program director, Deb Van Duinen, felt a bit nervous about choosing a book of poetry at first since poetry can be challenging. Yet, it also encouraged readers to dive into a book they ordinarily would not have. The events with Joy Harjo and Jack Ridl talked about poetry and the many ways to approach a challenging subject. 

Throughout November we were able to welcome numerous Native American speakers to our program, such as Joy Harjo, Kevin Noble Maillard, Angeline Boulley, Lydia Whirlwind Soldier, Debbie Reese, and Cynthia Leith Smith. These authors discussed their books and themes related to their Native American heritage. I enjoyed Joy Harjo’s event because she talked about her heritage, her poetry, and her experiences as the current poet laureate. 

Over 12,000 Lakeshore readers of all ages engaged in our program. These readers read Harjo’s An American Sunrise or Maillard’s Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story. 

We have already begun planning and exploring books for next year’s program and are thrilled to share the Big Read 2022 program with our Lakeshore readers in the upcoming year. 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

This week we’re sharing another holiday-themed poem that many know and love. 

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was originally written by Clement Clarke Moore, but the poem was originally published anonymously on December 23, 1823 in a newpaper in Troy, NY. It was not until 1837, 14 years later, that Moore received credit for writing the poem. Clement was a professor, so claiming credit for the piece was not considered a scholarly piece that would support his profession. 

Did you know? 

  1. The reindeer names “Donner and Blitzen” are based on words meaning “thunder” and “lightning.”
  2. The poem was originally titled “A Visit”. It was later expanded to be “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and then eventually became known as “The Night Before Christmas”
  3. The Carnegie Mellon Hunt Library houses 400 editions of A Visit From St. Nicholas.
  4.  A Visit From St. Nicholas was illustrated in 1863.

A Visit from St. Nicholas

By Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Merry Christmas from the Big Read! We wish you well during the holiday season. 

The Twelve Days of Christmas

This past summer, we published a post about how songs can be considered a form of poetry.

Songs as poems are especially apparent throughout the holiday season with Christmas music playing in stores, over the radio, at Christmas events, and so many other places. 

Today marks twelve days until Christmas, so it is the perfect time for us to highlight the song (and poem), “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

A Few Facts: 

  1.  This song first appeared in print in 1780 and was originally a poem. The form of the poem was “Cumulative Verse,” which means that the form has patterned verse creating a longer story like all of the things someone receives for Christmas repeated.  
  2. If someone were to recreate this song, then they would likely spend more than $30,000 on the gifts. The recipient would receive 364 gifts. 
  3. After listening to this song, you may be wondering what a “calling bird” is? A calling bird is another name for a song bird. Since this song dates back a few centuries, it is thought that the lyric is actually “Four Colly Birds”, which refers to four blackbirds. 

An excerpt from The Twelve Days of Christmas: 

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
12 Drummers Drumming
11 Pipers Piping
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Ladies Dancing
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

You can find the full lyrics to the song here. We encourage you to pay careful attention to the pattern and stories within the song that characterize it as a cumulative verse form.

If you were to receive one of the gifts from the twelve days of Christmas, which would you prefer? I would probably prefer three French Hens since they would be helpful when making Christmas cookies. As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments! 

Busy Bee

It’s that time of year again. With the holiday season comes the busy season of getting Christmas gifts, going to holiday events, or taking exams if you are a student or teacher.

The holidays can be a hectic time and also a sad time. I struggle sometimes to enjoy the holidays and feel like I am in the spirit to celebrate amidst all of the busyness. December often flies by, so I wanted to share a poem about hope in a busy season. 

Work without Hope
By: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

This holiday season, I hope you can find a moment amidst your busy schedule to enjoy everything around you and have hope for all that is to come.

Reflections on An American Sunrise

Our 2021 Big Read Lakeshore programming has come to an end. Even though our events are over, we hope that the discussions are only just beginning about An American Sunrise and the themes within this collection of poetry. 

Joy Harjo’s poem “An American Sunrise” reminds us of the fact that even though something has ended, there are hopeful and hope-filled new beginnings. 

An American Sunrise (poem) 
By: Joy Harjo 

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We
were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.
It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.
Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We
made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing
so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin
was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We
were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin
chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin
will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We
had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz
I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,
forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We
know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die

An American Sunrise Takeaways

In many of our Big Read events, this poem was discussed or referenced. Joy Harjo spoke about it in a discussion with Hope College Creative Writing students as well as in her author event. Big Read team members and Professor Moreau’s English Education students also used this poem when they led various Big Read book discussions. Talking about this poem in these events and in discussion with others allowed me to look at the poem from different perspectives.

  1. It is beautiful that Harjo chose to name the poem an American Sunrise. A sunrise represents hope and rebirth as a new day is dawning. She could have chosen a sunset or another image, but she chose this hopeful image despite some of the sad images in the poem. In her discussion with Hope College students, she mentioned that she wrote this poem first for her collection after she was leaving a university to pursue a new career path. Change is difficult to accept, but it also brings so many new possibilities. The sun is setting on our November programming, but there is so much to still discuss and look forward to! 
  2. I never realized until I was discussing this poem with others that the line endings and the capitalizations are significant in this poem. This poetic form is called the “Golden Shovel” and means the poet borrows from another poem and uses the words as end lines of their own poem. An American Sunrise borrows from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool.” This stood out to me because Harjo borrows from another poet and incorporates their work into her work creating another dimension. In our program, we hope to incorporate many different perspectives and learn about art, writing, history, and so much more.   
  3. The poem represents unity through the use of “we” instead of “I” or “me.” This poem even ends with the word “We.” Harjo’s word choice connects the reader and the author. A lot of division occurred throughout United States history when considering the Native Americans, so this language and the ability to come together is another theme that brings hope. It is also our hope at the Big Read Lakeshore to bring people together over a common book and the themes within the book. 

Our Big Read month has been a wonderful learning experience once again. On behalf of our Big Read team and Hope College, I thank you for your participation in our program. May we all continue to listen, learn and live differently because of what we’ve learned. Comment below with your biggest takeaways from our program! 

Jack Ridl | Poetry is what poets write

Click here to listen!

In this episode, Dr. Deb Van Duinen has a conversation with Jack Ridl. Jack Ridl taught at Hope from 1971 until retiring in 2006. With his wife Julie, Ridl founded the Visiting Writers Series at Hope College, later named the “Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series” in his honor, He is the author of several collections of poetry, and has also published more than 300 poems in journals and has work included in numerous anthologies. He has given readings of  his work and led workshops at colleges, universities, art colonies and other venues around the country.

The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

This morning, my mother, here 

for the holidays, is washing 

the breakfast dishes, when Al, wiry, 

coated with dry wall dust takes

her hand and says, “I bet you loved 

Sinatra. Dance?” The acrid smell 

of plaster floats through the room. 

Frank is singing, “All or nothing

at all,” and Al leads my mother 

under the spinning ballroom lights 

across the new sub-floor. He 

is smiling. She is looking over 

his shoulder. The other guys 

turn off their sanders. Al 

and my mother move through 

the dust, two kids back

together after the war. Sinatra

holds his last note. “It’s been 

seven years since I danced,” 

my mother says. “Then 

it was in the kitchen, too.” 

Al smiles again, says, 

“C’mon then, Sweetheart!” 

biting off his words like the ends 

of the good cigars he carries 

in his pocket. Sinatra’s singing

“My Funny Valentine” and 

my mother lays her hand in Al’s.

And they dance again, she looking 

away when she catches my eye,

Al leading her back

across the layers of dust.

Jack Ridl

First published in Poet Lore
First place winner, Poet Lore Prize, chosen by David St. John
From Broken Symmetry

Recommendations from Jack Ridl:

Best poetry site for your goals: The First Sip

Two anthologies: How I Love the World edited by James Crews  and Poetry of Presence edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai

Watch our 2021 event with Jack himself!

Jack Ridl’s Work:

Ridl is the author of two other full-length collections, and three chapbooks, including Outside the Center Ring from Puddinghouse Publications, a collection of circus poems published in 2006, and Against Elegies, which was selected by Sharon Dolin and former Poet Laureate Billy Collins for the 2001 Chapbook Award from The Center for Book Arts in New York.

In 1996, The Carnegie Foundation named Ridl “Michigan Professor of the Year.” He was chosen by the Hope College students for the “HOPE Award” given to “Hope’s Outstanding Professor Educator,” was selected the student body’s “Favorite Professor” in 2003, and has twice been asked by the students to give the college’s commencement address.

More than 85 of Ridl’s former students are now published authors, and nine of his students appeared in “25 under 25,” in blind judging, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Of his poems, Naomi Shihab Nye has written, “Jack Ridl writes with complete generosity and full-hearted wisdom and care. His deeply intelligent, funny, and gracious poems befriend a reader so completely and warmly, we might all have the revelation that our lives are rich poems too. What a gift!” and “Jack Ridl is a superstar in the realm of compassionate, transporting, life-changing poetry.”

The Thanksgiving Story

As Thanksgiving approaches this week and as our Big Read program comes to an end, we want to share some suggestions and reflections on the first “Thanksgiving Story” that we often hear.

In elementary school, I remember that me and all my classmates were assigned to play the role of either the pilgrims or the Native Americans. We created construction paper hats to reflect which role we were assigned and then wore them while we ate our Thanksgiving feast.

At the time, I didn’t think anything about it. However, after attending many of our Big Read 2021 events and learning from our amazing speakers, I realize how damaging, hurtful, and untrue this version of the historical first Thanksgiving Story is. The story of Thanksgiving makes it seem that the pilgrims and Native Americans existed together peacefully. This wasn’t the case and, there are so many other historically inaccurate ideas embedded in this version of those events.

The Kruizenga Art Museum at Hope College acquired an art piece by Wendy Red Star for our Big Read program (among others) and it specifically addresses Thanksgiving. 

In his Big Read gallery talk earlier this month, Charles Mason, curator of the museum reflected on the piece and some of its meanings. below are some of the things he shared with those of us in attendance.

  1. A self-portrait of Wendy Red Star is the focus of the piece with her wearing the traditional Crow ceremonial costume. Wendy Red Star poses at a table with a group of skeletons wearing dollar-store feather headdresses like the headdresses often made in schools for Thanksgiving. The Kruizenga Art Museum tell us that:

“The skeletons remind us that while Thanksgiving is meant to celebrate the early English colonists’ survival after a difficult first year in a new land, for Native Americans the arrival and survival of European settlers in North America resulted in millions of Native deaths from disease and white violence over the decades and centuries that followed.” 

2. A cartoonish inflatable turkey looms behind the table while the tabletop is spread with an array of canned foods, oatmeal creme pies, cigarettes, and more. While some have a turkey and all of the trimmings for Thanksgiving, the foods scattered on the table represent what Wendy Red Star ate for Thanksgiving. The curator, Charles Mason, explained the purpose of this during one of his tours at the Kruizenga Art Museum:

“These visual elements remind us that the legacy of the first Thanksgiving’s abundance has not been passed down equally to everyone, and that many Native Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty and ill-health as a result of having their lands stolen and their cultures suppressed by numerous governments, corporations and individuals over the past 400 years.” 

The Last Supper 1498 Replica For Sale | 1st Art Gallery

3. The title and the visual aspects of the photograph reference the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. This references the ties between Christianity and Native Americans. Many religious groups ran boarding schools or attempted to assimilate Native Americans. The description of this painting explains the choice behind this:

“By injecting this reference to an icon of European Christian art, Red Star reminds us that European colonization of the Americas was driven at least partly by the desire to spread Christianity and that many Christian churches and organizations played a shameful role in efforts to suppress Native American culture and force the assimilation of Native American people into mainstream white society during the 19th and 20th centuries.”

If you’d like to see more of the art in the KAM’s Big Read exhibit, go here.

If you’d like to read over some excellent curriculum resources for more accurately and empathetically understanding and talking about the first Thanksgiving story, we recommend materials from the Oklahoma City Public Schools Native American Student Services. You can access them here.

Happy Thanksgiving! May our traditions this year help to “interrupt the cycle of ignorance”, something that Dr. Debbie Reese, one of our Big Read authors, encouraged us to do.

Fry Bread

This past week the author of the book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, Kevin Noble Maillard, joined us to talk about the making of his book. Maillard talked with us about his writing process, read Fry Bread to us and shared some of his family stories around fry bread. 

In addition to participating in our Little Read author event, Maillard also had an article about fry bread published in The New York Times. This timing couldn’t have been more perfect for our Lakeshore community (perhaps we should consider The New York Times one of our Little Read media partners?!).

In this article, Maillard reflects,

“Fry bread is one of those beloved yet divisive family foods. As with potato salad or matzo ball soup, often the only thing people can agree on is that everyone else is wrong. In Indigenous cultures, fry bread can inspire fierce clashes over ingredients and judgmental whispering about technique. But it is also the subject of more serious academic disputes about the dish’s colonial origins and health implications.” 

Hope College’s Phelps Dining Hall served fry bread and Navajo tacos this week for the community to enjoy.

In the back matter of his book Fry Bread, Maillard describes how fry bread is a simple dish made of flour, salt, baking powder, and oil. It has its origins when the United States Government pushed Native Americans onto reservations, and Native American families had to improvise with the food they had. As a relic of colonial This is one of the reasons that fry bread became a popular dish. It also made it possible for there to be so many variations in recipes and techniques when making fry bread. Fry Bread came out of a painful experience.

While some Native Americans see fry bread as “the antithesis of Indigenous vitality” others see it exactly as that – as a beauty and rich family food tradition that came out of a painful past and that speaks to the resilience and vitality of Native Americans. Maillard concludes that these differing views mirrors the story of a diverse and vibrant Native America.

Thoughts from Hope College Student, Isabella Smith  

What do I like about Fry Bread?

It has been a joy getting to experience a new kind of story. It is more than just a telling of a story or a creation, but Fry Bread provides an experience to teach about the culture and love that goes into the foundation of the delicacy. I knew parts of Native American history from my education, but I have not been exposed to much of the culture.

Fry Bread is seen and heard.

Maillard and Martinez-Neal came together and made all parts of fry bread come to life. Through the story and the textured illustrations, I can not only see the fry bread, but the process of making the delicacy. “Flat like a pancake / Round like a ball / Or puffy like Nana’s softest pillow.” They are different shades of color and filled with various flavors to make each batch unique. I learned that I can’t just try fry bread once; I need to try them all!

Fry Bread is a hidden culture.

I love the history that is not deliberately told through Fry Bread but described. Fry bread is time, place, art, nation, etc. because it is an all-encompassed item throughout Native American history. I love how I can see how fry bread traveled through time and tradition. 

Fry Bread encourages me to consider what is my fry bread.

At the end of the book, it says, “Fry bread is you.” This made me wonder what my “fry bread” would be. Coming from a Bolivian family, music has always been a part of my life. I am not as familiar with what most people would consider the classics, but I cherish the fact that I have been surrounded by music throughout various aspects of my life.

Thank you Isabella for your thoughtful reflections on Kevin Noble Maillard’s Fry Bread. To our readers, I would invite everyone to learn something about Native American culture and reach into considering what their “fry bread” is. What is your family’s “fry bread”? Tell us in the comments.