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The True Meaning of Smekday came out in 2007, so this spring's sequel, Smek for President, was an unexpected joy. I read both books with my 11-year-old son, who still lets me read out loud to him, although at this point, I'm afraid that every book is going to be the last. If you've already read the first book, then you'll want to read the second one, which is almost as good as the first. If you haven't yet read The True Meaning of Smekday, here are some reasons that you should give this kid's book with crossover appeal a try:

1) The main character is named "Gratuity"-- her mom liked the sound of it-- but is nicknamed "Tip". This kind of offbeat cleverness runs through both books.

2) Tip is a strong, smart, resourceful girl, AND a girl who just happens to be biracial, in a book that's not about race at all, really.

3) There's an alien from the planet Boov whose name on Earth is inexplicably J-Lo, even though he has nothing to do with Jennifer Lopez-- and he is extraordinarily funny. Seriously. Several times while reading these books, my son and I laughed until we couldn't breathe and our faces were wet with tears.

4) Wildly inventive comics are scattered throughout the book like little treats waiting to be discovered. 

5) J-Lo and Tip team up to save the world in an insanely goofy and original way.

6)This story has at its heart a deep and beautiful friendship. It doesn't matter that Tip is human and J-Lo is an alien. They're true to each other.

7) Both books are wonderful read-alouds for an adult and a child to experience together. Honestly, even if you read it to yourself, you're going to want to read parts of it aloud to anyone who happens to be in the room.

I suppose I should mention that there’s a movie based on the first book which was also released this spring. I’m afraid to see it because I can’t believe it’ll be as good as the book, but let me know if I’m wrong, okay? And in the meantime, here’s a list I made of absolutely wonderful read-alouds for a parent to read with children who are perfectly capable of reading to themselves-- but they’ll still allow you the pleasure of reading to them. 

Great stories so often remind us that success is boring. It is the wretched tale of miserable failure which captivates and holds our attention. Here is one story I recently found to be worthy of both watching and reading.
 
The Homesman book jacketThe Homesman by Glendon Swarthout is a spare and ruthless picture of sodbusting subsistance in the Nebraska Territory. The writing draws stark and vivid lines of life for five women on the frontier. After various brutalities drive four of the women into debilitating mental illnesses, Mary Bee Cuddy reluctantly volunteers to drive them back over the plains and across the Missouri River to a charitable churchwoman when none of the menfolk are up to the task. Knowing she will need help on the six-week journey, she rescues a claim jumper from hanging and presses him into service. George Briggs is a cipher and the trip is harrowing: they face hostile weather and deprivation and grueling monotony along with their own inner demons.
 
Mary Bee is an educated and relatively successful single teacher-turned-farmer who is increasingly desperate to marry. Her success is also her failure in that she proves to be stronger in body and spirit than most of the men who surround her. George Briggs, an army deserter, materializes as something of the equal that has thus far eluded her. 
 
A window demonstrating the fragility of their mission opens when a group of unknown and possibly hostile Indians appear on the horizon. They are a "ragtag bunch" possessed of coats and caps and rifles indicating they have, at some point, killed some U.S. Cavalry. There is a tense stand-off:
The Homesman dvd
     "They won't turn us loose," said Briggs. "I count four rifles. If they think we're worth it and come on down here, we're dead."
     Again the bugle blatted. Mary Bee got gooseflesh. Indians were what she had most feared.
     Briggs decided. "All right, I'll try to buy 'em off." He jumped down, fished inside his cowcoat, and handed her his heavy Colt's repeater. "If they come, don't fool with the rifle. Get inside the wagon as fast as you can and shoot the women. In the head. Then shoot yourself."
 
The feature film based on the novel stars Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank. Don't miss this movie. It is a reminder of the riches that lie buried, abandoned and forgotten, at the side of the road to success. 
 
The winners may ride into the sunset, but the losers hold the stories we remember.

Giving Help and HopeVolunteer Ronald Fabricante

by Sarah Binns

At Multnomah County Library, one easily meets people with diverse experiences and passions. Ronald Fabricante, Central Library's longtime computer lab assistant, is the embodiment of this. When I set up a meeting with Ronald he says he'll be easy to spot because he wears steampunk glasses with blue lenses, a great introduction to a man who is an experience connoisseur.

A lifelong learner, Ronald grew up reading, especially encyclopedias, in Manila in the Philippines, and moved to Oregon after graduating high school. Approximately 80 members of Ronald's extended family have moved here from the Philippines. His childhood in Manila inspired him to give back to the community in Portland. “I came from a poor family and a poor society,” he says. “I know what it's like to have nothing, so I want to help.”
Ronald started volunteering in the periodicals department, but moved to Central Library's computer lab over five years ago. Though working full time and studying for a computer science degree, he still helps patrons with technical questions and resume writing. “I love working there,” he says. “I've seen a lot of people who are discouraged, frustrated, for whom it's difficult to find work. I identify every resource I can for them. I'm happy to give them help and a glimmer of hope.”


Ronald Fabricante Quote: "I'm happy to give them help and a glimmer of hope."By now, Ronald's lab visitors know more about him beyond his work as a volunteer. Many of his regulars have become friends with whom he discusses art, books, and poetry. He prides himself in diverse activities that include film dates, watercolor painting, and weekly trips to write poetry at the Chinese Gardens, “a nexus of tranquility” as he says. He also speaks six languages, including Russian and Spanish. 


With all of his interests in technology and art, Ronald describes himself as both traditionalist and modernist. His interest in steampunk, a sci-fi/fantasy genre which combines 19th century technology with futurism, represents him: “I am connected to the past to learn and appreciate its continual relevance, but also look forward to a bright future.” When I ask if his steampunk glasses work, he replies with a laugh that they are functional. It's a fitting response for this technical engineer with the eye of an artist.

 

A Few Facts About Ronald

Home library: Central Library for browsing when volunteering, but most books come from Washington County Library system, nearer where he lives.
 
Currently reading: Wildwood. “I lamented when I finished Harry Potter and I've been looking for something to enjoy as much as I did that series.” 
 
Most influential book: The Da Vinci Code. “It's thought-provoking and has so many elements of fiction, history, religion, and travel.”
 
Favorite book from childhood: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, novels by Filipino hero José Rizal, which expose the abuses of the Spanish colonizers in the late 19th century Philippines.
 
E-reader or paper? Both. Ronald uses an e-reader for textbooks but still loves the way a book feels!
 
Favorite place to read: Portland Art Museum and the Grotto. 
 
 
Thanks for reading the MCL Volunteer Spotlight. Stay tuned for our next edition coming soon! See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.
 
Signs that say Hope and Despair.When you are seeking help, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. This is a selective list of social service organizations and places that offer housing, shelter, mental health counseling, escape from abusive situations and other basic needs for people who are homeless, jobless or going through personal transitions. If you have any questions or need assistance finding services, contact us and we'll be happy to help!


When in doubt, start here: 211info

211info is a comprehensive support hub for referrals to food, shelter, housing, foreclosure assistance, health care, and much more. Calls are confidential, anonymous and free. Certified Information and Referral Specialists assess the situation and refer callers using a locally managed database of over 4,200 programs in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Telephone interpreters are available for help in more than 150 languages. Dial 211 from any phone; text your zip code to 898211; send an email to help@211info.org; or search resources online.


Other resources:

Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare
Cascadia provides mental health counseling for people with psychiatric and substance use challenges.  They provide crisis intervention, addictions treatment, and housing services for people who are very low-income.  Their website includes addresses and phone numbers for services as well as links to additional resources outside of the area.
 
Multnomah County Mental Health & Addictions Services
Provides mental health services to adults, children and families. They serve Oregon Health Plan members as well as people who have no insurance or resources. Their Mental Health Call Center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week; call 503-988-4888, 800-716-9769 (toll free) or 503-988-5866 (TTY). Clasping hands; link to Northwest Pilot Project.
 
Northwest Pilot Project
Provides housing and other supportive services for seniors ages 55 and older who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  Find housing, transportation help, advocacy and referrals to other resources and services. NW Pilot Project recommends calling 503-227-5605 before coming in.

Outside In
Outside In is a community resource for homeless youth.  They provide health services, counseling and shelter, as well as programs and education.

Portland Women’s Crisis Line
Offers 24 hour telephone crisis counseling for victims of domestic and sexual violence; call 503-235-5333 or 888-235-5333.  The organization also offers support groups and direct service counseling for victims of domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse.

Rose City Resource
Street Roots publishes this very comprehensive online directory of services for people experiencing homelessness and poverty in  Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties.  It is continuously updated.
 
Smiling woman; link to Transition Projects website.Transition Projects
This organization can help with a variety of services including housing, showers, food box vouchers, clothing, laundry services, Tri-met tickets, information and referral and housing search assistance.

 

There is so much good teen fiction that I have quite a time (and only moderate interest in) actually getting to the grown-up stuff. Here are two stories I recently discovered and enjoyed.

Seraphina book jacketSeraphina by Rachel Hartman
I discovered Dungeons and Dragons at age 17, and I remember getting pretty excited when my brother told me "There are FOUR kinds of dragons!"  I'd read The Hobbit, The Reluctant Dragon, and a few Norse myths by then, so I knew that all dragons were not the same, but there being actual kinds of dragons was very new to me. Dragon taxonomy, if you will. Years and lots of fantasy later, this book gave me a similar thrill.
 
Among many very cool things about this book (a wry and honest main character, strange dream beings starting to talk back, a sackbut), it has dragons that, by virtue of their ability to assume human shape, can communicate on a level with the humans. But although they look like regular people, Hartman does a great job with keeping them very different. Dragons have a hard time understanding human emotions, so it's a bit like interacting with aliens, or animals, or gods. This had a nice amount of intrigue, a very observant prince, questions of loyalty, medieval music, saints and sayings for all occasions, and a bit of a look at discrimination and hatred.  Good stuff, and the first e-book I read for fun (because it was available and the printed one wasn't). 
 
 An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
I haven't quite finished this yet, but I'm thinking that I have a great recommendation for people who enjoyed reading The Hunger Games. This has some of the sameAn Ember in the Ashes book jacket themes - power vs. powerlessness, fate vs. choice, battle against friends, star-crossed love triangle. It's set in an empire reminiscent of ancient Rome, but this is not historical fiction. The magic of the desert pervades this story... ghuls, jinn, efrit... and yet it is mostly the tale of one young man expected to become a great leader, and of a young woman with nothing but a rebel pedigree, posing as a slave and struggling to save the last relative she has. The perspective changes back and forth between them with each chapter, and the pacing is used well to build suspense. It's on hold so I'll have to turn it in soon, but I'll finish this one quickly.

 

Lately I've been gravitating towards books that give me respite from working full time and going to school part-time. These are the books I've been loving lately:
 
Bee and Puppycat book jacketBee and PuppyCat by Natasha Allegri: Bee is a twentysomething woman who works for a temp agency fighting monsters with Puppycat in SPACE. It's a pastel dream just as gorgeous as the original cartoon.

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa: Sakugawa takes you on a beautiful intergalactic journey where you deal with little and big things like petty annoyances, self-hatred, and anger. Surprisingly calming.The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl book jacket

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae: This is the funniest book I've read in a long time. I loved reading about her family, '90s culture, and the endless embarrassments. As a POC (person of color), this is the kind of voice I've been wishing wasn't so rare.
 
I hope you can find as much solace in these books as I do. What kinds of books help you keep cool when under stress?

                

https://multcolib.bibliocommons.com/item/show/2738523068_the_boy_in_the_black_suit#bib_info

   

  What does a plate of chocolate chip cookies have to do with a funeral home?                                         

Everything if you are Matt and you get a job in a funeral home because your mother is dead and being around people who understand grief is better than going to high school where even your best friend acts strange and uncomfortable with you.  Then you meet Lovey- who is there for the funeral of her grandma Gwendolyn Brown. Matt waits and waits for her to break down, for her voice to tremble, for tears to fall.  While he’s waiting he notices her eyes and her curly hair.  He also notices how confident she is, how calm. Intrigued he attends the reception after the funeral just so he can meet her.  Talking with  her is magical - he takes a chance and asks her on a date.  She asks if she can plan the date.  Yes!  He almost shouts it.  But the date is  different from any other type of date he’s been on and with her he feels different. So different that it makes him feel like baking his mom's special chocolate cookie recipe, breathing and laughing again. Loving again.

If you like a book that will help you see life and -death- in a whole different way, Read The Boy in the Black Suit by Joan Reynolds

Book jacket: Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlinWhen I was approaching 30, I left a job in Seattle and moved to Portland to become a woodworker.  I spent the last of my cashed out 401k on a table saw, hung my hand tools neatly on pegboard and slowly and with great discipline became a master carpenter.  Not true.  I spent about a month dressed in overalls, creating little more than sawdust before stopping to admire my tools with a self-congratulatory glass(es) of wine. And then I panicked and signed on with a temp agency to do mind-numbing office work.

Nina MacLaughlin carried out what I only fantasized about.  After spending much of her 20s working as a journalist in Boston she realized that somewhere along the line, the work that had once inspired her, had grown oppressive.  Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter is her memoir of what happened when she quit her desk job and traded in her cubicle and computer for a hammer, a tile saw and a 50lb bag of grout.

Picking up Hammer Head, I felt an immediate kinship and let’s face it- envy for MacLaughlin.  We share an enormous satisfaction in mastering a new tool and an appreciation for the unique history and warmth that radiates off of a freshly-sanded plank of wood. But by the end, it was her boss Mary that I fell in love with. It was Mary’s Craigslist ad: Carpenter’s Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply, that started MacLaughlin’s journey.  Not much of a talker, Mary offered only the simplest instruction and encouragement (“Be smarter than the tools”), but abundant patience and quiet humor. McLaughlin's inspiring memoir is as much about her own leap of faith towards meaningful work, as it is a love letter to her straight shooting and unflappable mentor.

Oh why weren’t you in Portland in 2001, Mary?

 

Check out this list for more memoirs that will inspire you to follow your bliss.

Do you love urban fantasy? I do. I love that the stories are set in the real world with an action paced plots and supernatural beings. I connect better with a story if it’s set in our modern world. And if there is humourous dialogue-you’ve got me. I become a devoted fan!

Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series is at times so funny I can laugh for a full five minutes about a scene. The stories are pageturners with a mix of supernatural beings that are Nordic, Celtic, Native American, Roman or Greek gods. There are vampires, witches, and werewolves thrown in too.

The Iron Druid is Atticus Sullivan who lives in Tempe Arizona with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon when we first meet him in book one Hounded. The fact that the story is set in Tempe Arizona makes me giggle. Because then it is a nod to sunny noir.

The humor I love best in the series is in the discussions between Oberon and Atticus. There’s comic relief and diversion when Oberon and Atticus discuss snacks like sausage when they are worried about an upcoming battle. If you like your supernatural action story with a side of humor then you might love Iron Druid Chronicles series. I do.

Multnomah County Library's Lucky Day service includes books for kids, teens and adults.  Lucky Day copies are available for spontaneous use and are not subject to hold queues.  Nobody can place holds on these items; it's first come, first served.  That means you might not have to wait at all for the most popular new titles!  You never know what you might find at your neighborhood library - it just might be your Lucky Day!

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