Our 2015 Favorites

As the year comes to a close, our librarians wanted to share their favorite books, movies, television series, and music that either came out in the past year, or that we just discovered in 2015.

All of these titles are available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library collection, so why not start off 2016 with an awesome new read from this list?

Fiction & Nonfiction
Young Adult Titles
Juvenile Fiction & Picture Books
Movies & Television


A God In Ruins
by Kate Atkinson

Using the slipperiness of time and narrative, Kate Atkinson plays with her reader, and story, like a kitten with a ball of literary yarn. In this novel from the award-winning author of Life After Life, the second half of the 20th century plays out in the rewarding, yet crumbling, lives of Teddy Todd and his beloved family.

Where The Bodies Were Buried
by T.J. English

The fascinating true-life account of the trial and history of notorious Boston crime figure Whitey Bulger. While the reports of Bulger’s violence and illegal activities were terrifying, what was even more shocking were the revelations about the relationship between certain gangland leaders and federal law enforcement during the FBI’s fight against organized crime, particularly in 1970s and 1980s. Author T.J. English had incredible access to some of the figures (both underworld and aboveworld, as it were) whose lives intertwined with this decades-long case.

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge
by Michael Punke

The Revenant is based on the real-life case of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and explorer who achieved sort of a folk-hero mythos due to a series of incredible life events. During an 1823 fur trapping excursion, Glass was savagely attacked by a bear. Severely mauled, he was subsequently left for dead by his team, particularly the two men entrusted with tending to his wounds who stole his goods and gear, including his prized rifle. Against all odds he survived the attack and set out on a quest for revenge against these men, battling the harsh arrival of winter, hostile tribes, other trappers, and starvation.

Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
by Elizabeth A. Fenn

Our understanding of the history and experiences of the indigenous peoples of North America during the era of European colonization is undergoing significant and exciting expansion and reinterpretation. A stellar example of this is Encounters at the Heart of the World, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for History. It's a work that reveals the voices of North American natives that have been missing from standard histories for far too long.

It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis, Audiobook Narrated by Chris Hunt

Known more for Main Street and Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis wrote the less remembered novel It Can’t Happen Here in 1935, when the threat of fascism loomed across the globe. The story — in which an aw-shucks, dissembling demagogue skillfully pulls off the 1936 presidential nomination of the Republican Party and then wins the general election — swiftly descends to a tale of the formation of an American totalitarian state. Lewis’s novel, as superbly read in this 2008 audiobook, might not have been so frightening if we weren’t going through a vaguely similar presidential cycle right now.

Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America
by T. J. Stiles

What more can be said about the lucky boy general of the Civil War and the loser of the Battle at the Little Bighorn? When you’re Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer T. J. Stiles apparently a lot, and the result is Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. Stiles focuses on Custer as a product of his Gilded Age times, devotes the bulk of his narrative before the fateful year of 1876, and pushes the story of the epic defeat to the epilogue. Having written excellent bios of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Stiles has completed his great trilogy of three nineteenth century icons.

The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?

by Dale Russakoff

A New York Times Bestseller, The Prize is very well written account of the difficult, sometimes misguided, fight to reform our one city's failing urban school district. Russakoff, who spent several years as a journalist with the Washington Post brings her in-depth and objective reporting skills to this hot-button issue.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larson

From the author of The Devil in the White City and In The Garden of Beasts, this might be the best Erik Larson narrative non-fiction yet. Dead Wake well researched detailed narrative of the sinking of the luxury liner that finally led to the United States' entry into the First World War.

The Lake House
by Kate Morton

Morton’s books fascinate and satisfy. Impeccably plotted with fascinating characters, in The Lake House readers meet Alice as a teen just before Midsummer’s Eve when her baby brother disappears. Years later, we're reintroduced to Alice as a soul-weary police detective attempting to solve that cold case.

The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi

National Book Award Finalist Paolo Bacigalupi (Ship Breaker) presents a thrilling, prescient novel about the struggle for survival via water rights in a dystopian, drought-stricken United States.

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee

While this "second" novel from the acclaimed author of the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, probably won’t make many "best of" lists, it is certainly the book that generated the most conversation about books and reading this year. For that alone, it deserves mention.


Extraordinary Means
by Robyn Schneider

One of our staff's favorite Young Adult novels this year was Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. The premise of an untreatable form of tuberculosis emerging is plausible. And while the YA trope of terminally-ill teen protagonists might seem overdone, Extraordinary Means makes the reader look at the characters and the greater issues of medical ethics in a whole new light. The conversations this story will start make it a terrific pick for any book group.

Carry On
by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is another entrant in the “Chosen One” genre of fiction, à la Harry Potter. Rowell’s characters are superb and may be the best thing about this very good book. Overall, Rowell has created an affectionate parody that perfectly satirizes this beloved genre, while still creating characters and a story that will probably be a beloved part of the genre canon.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the
Vietnam War

by Steve Sheinkin

More focused and accessible than Sheinkin's previous works Bomb and The Notorious Benedict Arnold, it tells the story of Daniel Ellsburg, a Harvard graduate, Marine Corp volunteer, and Cold War defender who gradually begins to view the Vietnam War as unwinnable. He leaks the Pentagon Papers: a top secret document that reveals a history of deception by the Executive Branch, a deception designed to save face and win elections.

All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Sure to be a discussion starter, the two authors of All American Boys tell the story of two teens, one black and one white, who find themselves at the center of exploding racial tensions, all because one wanted to buy a bag of chips.

Finding Audrey
by Sophie Kinsella

Because sometimes all it takes is one person to make a real difference in someone’s life, Finding Audrey demonstrates that better than any book we've read lately. A very uplifting and inspiring tale.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
by A. S. King

The titular character of A. S. King's new novel is struggling with some real life issues, including that she has no plan after graduating high school. Then she begins to have visions of a horrible future, one that she has power to divert.


The Marvels
by Brian Selznick

Following up The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, this new book by Brian Selznick is even more amazing. This time the first 400 pages of the book are a wordless visual narrative, followed by 250 pages of text. The two seemingly-unrelated halves of the book create an intricate story of family and theater and secrets, appropriate for middle grades (or all ages, really.)

Rufus the Writer
by Elizabeth Bram, Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

In this picture book by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, the creativity and imagination Rufus uses to write stories for his friends is inspiring.

Imaginary Fred
by Eoin Colfer, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

In this story by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, the imaginary friend doesn’t have to go away after his friend doesn’t need him anymore. He gets a life!

Red: A Crayon's Story
by Michael Hall

Red is a picture book that embraces being oneself, instead of trying to be something else, without being heavy-handed or didactic. It's a charming tale that kids and grown-ups will enjoy reading together. The message of empowerment is an added bonus.

Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña, Illustrations by Christian Robinson

In this vibrant illustrated finalist for the E.B. White Read-aloud Book Award, CJ’s grandmother gives perfect answers to CJ’s questions as they ride across town on the bus.

The Thing about Jellyfish
by Ali Benjamin

This is a achingly beautiful book about Suzy Swanson, a 7th grader who falls somewhere on the autism scale. She responds to the accidental drowning of a friend through silence and the study of the Irukandji Jellyfish - a creature whose venom is among the most dangerous in the world and has caused numerous drowning deaths. Informational text and the difficulties of middle school are brilliantly balanced in this novel.


Mad Max: Fury Road

The latest entry into George Miller's post-apocalyptic francise, Mad Max: Fury Road is a taut ballet of non-stop action, insane physical stunt work, and gonzo visual storytelling. Charlize Theron's Furiosa completely steals the spotlight from Tom Hardy's Max. It's not just a kick-ass road violence story with strong heroines; it’s somehow a story of respect and caring.

The Martian

Different mediums require different methods to tell a story effectively, and adapting a book into a movie is a difficult art. The film version of The Martian is not only one of the best book-to-movie adaptation ever made, it’s one of the best science fiction movies of the past couple decades. It’s smart, funny, stunningly gorgeous, scientifically rigorous, and deeply human. It’s a fully worthy partner to the novel, and should be available for checkout sometime in January. Place a hold now to get an early spot in line.

Ex Machina

Multiple staff members put Ex Machina on their 2015 lists. The film is a hard science fiction thriller written and directed by Alex Garland, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac (both in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) in powerhouse performances. The film, which plays out as if Stanley Kubrick was directing an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, relies heavy on ideas surrounding the implications of artificial intelligence. Ex Machina is perhaps, the smartest film of the year.

Wayward Pines

A little bit Twin Peaks mixed with a bit of LOST, Wayward Pines is based on a series of novels chronicling the strange situation of Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), who finds himself in a bucolic Idaho town following a mysterious car crash while investigating the disappearance of two other agents. It gets points for sheer audacity with how increasingly ludicrous certain plotlines get, but that’s half the fun.


A tantalizing mix of family, hip-hop, and intrigue, Empire, created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, is a cutthroat, prime-time drama with all the wonderfully addictive hallmarks of a soap opera. Actress Taraji P. Henson is a revelation in this series.


by Adele

Adele returns with one of the most anticipated albums of the decade. If we thought our ears were on fire when she was 19, what will happen when she turns 30? This album is also available digitally to Library users on Freegal Music.

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Hamilton, available digitally on hoopla, is a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton’s life. There is absolutely nothing like this Broadway show—it’s diverse, it’s fascinating, and it’s catchy. As one of our staffers said, it was the "best thing that happened to my ears in 2015."

by Taylor Swift

To quote our Media Relations Coordinator, "I might be slightly embarrassed to admit that the album 1989 made me a Taylor Swift fan. It’s the most perfect pop album I’ve heard in about 20 years. The fact that Ryan Adams covered 1989 and every song holds up and takes on a more somber, but wiser tone without actually being 'better' is a testament to how solid T. Swift’s songs are."

And many thanks to our library staff who helped contribute to this list and descriptions, including: Crystal, Rachel, Anna, Ron, and Clare in Youth & Family Engagement; Eli in Special Collections; Kaite in Readers' Services; Andy and Courtney in Public Affairs; Heather in Executive Services, John in the Digital Branch; Jill and Ryan in Customer Services; Joel in Branch Administration; and Susan at the Waldo Branch.

In a hurry? Grab a book bundle!

So you just found out that little Jimmy from down the road is staying the weekend and you have GOT to keep him busy. The only thing you know for sure is that he loves to read and wants to be either a ninja or a paleontologist when he grows up. Problem is, it’s 4:55 and the library closes in 5 minutes. What are you going to do???

Don’t start pulling out your hair! We’ve got you covered. Central Youth Services has a selection of thematic book bundles that can match any interest. We select 5 or 6 picture books and nonfiction titles under one subject and bundle them together for your convenience. Here are just a few examples of the book bundles that are available for checkout today.

BEDTIME BLUES – Stories of folks who can’t, won’t and may never sleep again!
Snoozefest by Samantha Berger
Time for Bed, Fred by Yasmeen Ismail
The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin
Chicken Bedtime is Really Early by Erica Pearl
No Sleep for the Sheep by Karen Beaumont
Max and the Won’t Go to Bed Show by Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton

I WAS A POET BUT I DIDN’T KNOW IT - Rhyming books are a great tool in learning to read. They help kids recognize sounds, predict patterns and feel the rhythm of spoken and written language.

Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy
One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root
Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That by Victoria Allenby
Rap a Tap Tap by Leo and Diane Dillon
Teacher: Sharing, Helping, Caring by Patricia Hubbell

THIS BOOK IS HILARIOUS! – Or maybe you are just looking to tickle your funny bone!

Weasels by Elys Dolan
Worst in Show by William Bee
Everybody Sleeps (but not Fred) by Josh Schneider
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

In a hurry? Grab a bundle! Check it out!

Rachel Helm is an artist, reader, and home repair enthusiast. She has traveled extensively on Nevada State Route 375 "the Extraterrestrial Highway", but can currently be found hard at work in the Central Library Youth Services department.

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As-salaamu Alaykum

Islamic culture is central to the lives of many people in our community. Luckily, there are books that assist non-Muslims in understanding. They also remind Muslim children that they belong.

With rhyming text, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan with illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini gently introduces readers both to colors and to Islam. It is simple and informative without feeling stilted or preachy. Preschool and early elementary kids will really like it. In addition to definitions in context, parts of the main girl's religion and culture are explained clearly in an index at the back of the book.

Standing up for your beliefs and identity can be scary, especially when there are bullies. So, what will be the main character's response when he experiences that situation in My Name is Bilal by Asma Monin-Uddin and illustrated by Barbara Kiwak? It takes courage for Bilal, a Muslim-American boy, to affirm his identity. However, he comes to support his sister who is being teased because of her head-scarf. His teacher is also Muslim and guides Bilal to appreciate his heritage. For older elementary students who will benefit from seeing a role-model cope with what they face, this is a great book.

Another book for kids in older elementary grades is One Green Apple by Eve Bunting with pictures by Ted Lewin. It speaks to people who are new to the United States and may be closer than the other books in terms of the challenges that resettled refugees face. The main character, Farah, does not know English and, like all of the females in her previous home. wears a head scarf. Her classmates are kind and helpful. This story, told through her eyes, depicts a class trip to an apple orchard.

The title of this blog is the typical Muslim greeting that means Peace be upon you. I learned this from reading the extra material in the back of My Name is Bilial. Therefore, I will end this blog with something else I learned there. Wa alaykum as-salaam, the reply, And peace be upon you.

About the Author

Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas. She has worked in public libraries in Nevada and Missouri for eleven years. Currently, Anna Francesca is Kansas City Public Library’s Education Librarian.

Book Review: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke

publication date: 2015
pages: 400
ISBN: 978-0803741737

This book contained horror and thriller stories. The characters in the stories included everything from serial killers, ghosts, the Bone Collector, a demented March Hare, and zombies. The inspiration for the stories varied, as well. Each author listed the inspiration for the story at its end, from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein to Nirvana’s 1993 song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.”

My favorite story was “Verse Chorus Verse” by Leigh Bardugo, who is most famous for her YA book Shadow & Bone. “Verse Chorus Verse” was about Jaycee Adams, an up-and-coming star who was sent to rehab. When Jaycee got out of rehab, her mother noticed something different about her – a strangeness and a darkness. The story explored themes of guilt, innocence, karma, and ambition while being distinctively creepy. The author infused the story with suspense and dread, like when Jaycee called her mom Kara from the rehab center:

Her daughter had a beautiful voice – even just talking – sweet and husky, a star’s voice. But that night it had been panicked, trembling, barely a rasp. . . .
“Mama, please come get me. Please. Oh god --” The phone had clattered as if Jaycee had put it down in a rush. But the handset must not have settled in the cradle, because Kara could still hear Jaycee and now her daughter was sobbing.
“Please,” Jaycee begged, but she wasn’t talking to her mother anymore, Kara felt sure of it. Then Kara heard the whir of some kind of machine starting up. It sounded almost like a power tool, maybe a saw. Something about that metallic whine had raised the hairs on her arms.

Another passage I liked from the book came from the story “M” by Stefan Bachmann, told from the perspective of a blind girl:

And suddenly Misha wished everyone were blind, every single person at that long table with its clinking silver and hissing lamps. Because what good did seeing things do, really? For all their squinting, peering eyes, they did not know who was good and who was wicked, who was strong and who was cowardly, who was murdering in their house, and who was trying to save their lives. Eyes were tricks in bone boxes, but everyone believed them.

The stories presented varied examples of thrills and horror. But they were, at times, repetitive. Many stories used Frankenstein as their inspiration. And many more featured birds, bones, and water. Additionally, almost all the stories had a young woman as the narrator and many of those had a victimized young woman narrator. Several stories felt boring, instead of eerie or suspenseful, because an earlier story had already included that theme, mood, twist, etc.

If you’re interested in the macabre, I would certainly recommend this collection of short stories.

4/6: worth reading

About the Author

Jill Anderson

Jill Anderson has a business degree and JD from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She's lived in Kansas City for several years and has worked at the library since 2014. She loves to read anything and everything and you can find YA reviews and more on her book blog at www.thebookbabble.com.

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Book Review: Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

Robert Graves

Robert Graves was a fascinating man. A poet and novelist of some note, he was also a respected classical scholar and translator. Like many of his generation, he served in the British Army (Royal Welch Fusilliers, to be exact) during World War I. In that war, he was severely wounded and taken for dead. His war experiences exacerbated lung problems he had all his life; despite these problems Graves lived for ninety years.

Part of his breathing problems came from a battered nose, which he got while at Charterhouse, a British prep school by “playing rugger with soccer players.” Boxing in the army worsened the condition of his nose. When he returned to England to recuperate from the war, he was operated on by an army surgeon; he was glad to have the free service, but had no choice in the surgeon, and the one who operated on him botched the job somewhat, so that throughout the remainder of his life, he had trouble breathing through one nostril. As he put it, that experience left him with a nose that “no longer serve[d] as a vertical line of demarcation” between the two sides of his face.

To many readers, Graves is best known as the author of I, Claudius and Claudius the God, two historical novels written in the guise of newly unearthed memoirs of the 4th Roman Emperor, Claudius, and "translated" by Graves into English (Graves actually did pen several exemplary translations of Greek and Roman works for Penguin.) Those two novels are witty, well-written, and meticulously researched — Graves got his facts right.

In the 1920s, though, Graves was primarily a poet, one of many poets who served Britain during WWI, surviving like his compatriot, Siegfried Sassoon, to be a strong critic of the war, and of war itself; though the British didn’t invent the term FUBAR, ineptitude and poor communication led to all sorts of disasters in the war.

Read more of Bernard Norcott-Mahany's 2015 reviews of books about the First World War:

January 12, 2015
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

February 5, 2015
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

March 13, 2015
Tarzan the Untamed by Edgar Rice Burroughs

April 6, 2015
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry

May 4, 2015
Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

June 3, 2015
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings

July 8, 2015
Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship by Victor Appleton

August 3, 2015
August 1914 by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

September 1, 2015
His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

October 2, 2015
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

November 11, 2015
Ashenden; or, the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham

In 1929, he published Goodbye to All That, a memoir of that war and his part in it, but also a witness to the changes that war had wrought. Many young men entered the war full of patriotism tinged with a faith in God and the rightness of their cause, but left that war, shaken in their patriotism, many now atheists, and skeptical of any emotional call from any ideology. By the time this book came out, Graves himself had settled in Majorca, and the title of the book was suggestive of Graves’ desire to give up all of his past and start anew.

The book covers Graves’ life and the world in which he lived up until the mid 1920s. So he speaks of his early years, and of his years at Charterhouse, where he confesses to a romantic devotion to a fellow student. Despite his fond memories of his school crush, it does not keep Graves from turning an ironic eye on the foibles of British Public Schools just as he later does on the foibles of the British army.

The book was a success, and the profits from the sales of the book left Graves financially secure. Graves seems to admit that any autobiography, though based on the events of one’s own life, remains somewhat fictional. There are ways of going about telling one’s story. In the book’s opening paragraphs, he notes that he will follow the conventions and speak of the first memory he has – that of being hoisted on his father’s shoulders to see a parade going through Wimbledon (where Graves lived as a young boy) in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Graves was two at the time. It is not that Graves has such an early memory that I find noteworthy, but that he feels compelled to set the scene within the frame of conventional tropes of the autobiography.

Graves is a master stylist, and a good storyteller, but his clear focus on the tropes of his medium does suggest some remove from his subject. And this may be the reason both for the book’s popularity — it reads like one of Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novels but with greater pathos — but also why others in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, such as Siegfried Sassoon, another poet officer, and perhaps the greatest of the English poets who fought in, and survived the war, and J.C. Dunn, who had been medical officer with the Fusiliers, both of whom wrote their own accounts of their lives and war service, had issues with the book.

Graves and Sassoon had been friends, and came to know each other better during convalescence, but when Sassoon chose to publicly repudiate the war in 1917 and call for the government to work to some peace with Germany, an offense which was against the code of military conduct, and could result in a court martial, Graves along with a psychiatrist, W.H.R. Rivers, worked to have Sassoon declared “impaired due to shell shock” (in this effort, they were successful). Sassoon did not thank them. Graves presents the incident in such a way that he comes out the hero, saving Sassoon from being summarily dismissed from the army and sent to a military prison. What Graves does not report, though, is Sassoon was opposed to Graves’ intervention, nor does Graves report that he, too, suffered from shell shock. In writing of poetry written during the war, Graves indiscreetly used a poem of Sassoon’s not meant for publication, but shared privately with Graves, as an example of one of Sassoon’s lesser efforts. Sassoon saw such publication a betrayal.

Dunn too took Graves to task for his memoir. Dunn, though, was much more regular army than either Graves or Sassoon and may have been more upset by liberties he perceived that Graves took with the truth.

This autobiography may not be a model of veracity in the genre, but its eloquence and humor make it a worthy read and a fine farewell to our year of looking at World War I through literature.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Book Review: 1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt

History is full of revolts, conflicts, and wars. Juliet Barker in her book 1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt examines the English clash that rocked the country through all levels of society.

In 1381, a boy king, Richard II, sat on the throne after his grandfather Edward III had died after a long reign. Many feared that his rich, powerful, and hated uncle John of Gaunt would attempt to seize the throne.

England was still struggling to recover from the population loss caused by the Black Death. The land belonged to large landholders — both private individuals and ecclesiastical entities — where much of the population worked as villeins or serfs with little or no freedom or opportunity to improve their lives. The landholders held firm to their domination of the villeins and did not want the system to change.

Others who lived in urban areas such as London were craftsmen or worked in service to large houses. Smaller towns survived as market towns for the surrounding rural area. England seemed to always be at war with either Scotland or France, so the biggest issue in these urban areas became the collection of taxes and other revenue to support the wars. By 1381, three separate taxes had been collected. All men and women over a certain age had to pay. Many felt these taxes to be unfair, or they clashed with unscrupulous tax collectors, and were ready to revolt. John of Gaunt received much of the blame for the poll tax collection as it paid for him to go to war.

This book is part of our Kauffman Collection, a selection of titles intended to enhance the Library’s collection with significant works in the humanities and other genres.

Wat Tyler has been considered to be a leader of the revolt which began in June of 1381. The rebels started by attacking property of royal and high level officials who had been charged with collecting the poll tax. Houses, records, and other property were destroyed throughout southern England. Many people lost their lives and the strife continued. The authorities could do little to stop the violence. The rebellion spread to London. Prisoners were set free. The rebels demanded to meet with the king to present their grievances to him. Richard II met with the insurgents and granted their demands of freedom from their landlords and pardons for their recent actions.

The meeting with the monarch failed to stop the violence, which continued to spread throughout the country. No person or institution was safe from the wrath of the rebels. The hated John of Gaunt lost much of his property during the revolt, including Savoy Palace, his London home.

The authorities were finally able to stop the rebellion, and some leaders lost their lives. The King rescinded his promises of freedom for the serfs and many went back to their former estates. The King tried during the course of his reign to bring freedom to the villeins, but Parliament disagreed. One permanent change brought by the Peasants’ Revolt was that no one tried to force another poll tax on the population.

In the end, nothing much changed for the daily life of the people of England. The aristocracy still forced peasants to work their land, but the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 shook England to its core. Once order had been restored and the leaders punished, it remained in popular history as a display of what ordinary citizens could attempt against established institutions. Their failure to achieve their goals did not matter as history cheered on what might have been.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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Bluford Branch Manager April Roy Honored with National Award

The American Library Association has recognized April Roy’s role in building the Kansas City Public Library’s Bluford Branch into a community haven, honoring her with its coveted I Love My Librarian Award.

Roy, who has managed the Bluford Branch for a little more than three years, traveled to New York City to accept the award Thursday night, December 3, 2015. It celebrates the accomplishments of exceptional public, school, college, community college, and university librarians nationwide, drawing nominations from library users.

This year’s 10 recipients were selected from more than 1,300 nominees, according to the ALA. Roy receives a $5,000 cash prize, a plaque, and a $500 travel stipend to attend the awards reception, and a separate plaque is awarded to the Kansas City Public Library.

“I am a librarian because I love it. So to win an award with ‘love’ in the title is perfect for me,” says Roy, who recently marked her 10th year overall with the Library. “It gives validity to some of the ‘outside the box’ thinking that has made my work such a success and a joy.”

She was nominated by Kansas City children’s author and Bluford Branch patron Christine Taylor-Butler, who noted, “Once April transferred to Bluford (in August 2012), the library blossomed.

“Where I used to walk into a mostly unused space, the library now buzzes with activity,” Taylor-Butler wrote. “… For adults and children, Bluford has become the place for homework help, job search assistance, refuge, or to find a passion for reading. She knows many of the visitors by name, and they’ve responded by putting out the word that Bluford is a place where people can feel welcome.”

The Bluford Branch has seen circulation of books and other materials increase as Roy has increasingly tailored its collection to the Prospect Avenue corridor it serves. Beyond that, it has emerged as a hub for community activity, featuring a far-reaching health and fitness initiative that includes free evening exercise classes, health fairs, and chronic disease self-management workshops. The lineup complements a permanent Health and Wellness Center that the branch houses in partnership with Truman Medical Centers.

Taylor-Butler also pointed to the Bluford Branch’s distribution of some 800 children’s books each month through community events and festivals. And she cited Roy’s efforts in arranging a surprise appearance by novelist George R.R. Martin – author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, adapted by HBO into Game of Thrones – for a science fiction workshop.

“I would invite you to Kansas City to see what ‘gold’ April has spun from the limited resources she was given to work with when she first arrived,” Taylor-Butler wrote in nominating Roy for the I Love My Librarian Award. “She turned the Bluford library into an oasis for a community that has little else to claim as its own.”

Roy joined the Library as an assistant children’s librarian at the Plaza Branch when it opened in 2005, and later served as children’s services supervisor. A graduate of the University of Missouri graduate, she worked previously with the Mid-Continent Public Library.

The I Love My Librarian Award is administered by the Chicago-based American Library Association and co-sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the New York Public Library. The Carnegie Corporation hosts the awards reception.

“I just have to decide,” Roy says, “if it is in poor taste to mention the Royals while I give my acceptance speech in New York.”

If you think it's cold here, try going to Antarctica!

As winter’s chill begins to sink in and I start complaining about how cold it is outside, I can’t help but think about Antarctica. Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, most freezing-est land mass on planet Earth, but for some reason intrepid folks keep going down there. One of the worst attempted Antarctic trips took place over 100 years ago, led by an adventurous Brit named Sir Ernest Shackleton.

In 1915, Shackleton embarked on what would become one of the more disastrous exploratory expeditions in recorded history. His plan, to cross Antarctica from sea to sea by way of the southernmost point on planet Earth (the South Pole)…an 1,800 mile trek through a freezing wasteland. His ship the Endurance departed December 5, 1914, from a small island in the South Atlantic Ocean and almost immediately encountered ice that slowed the journey to a snail’s pace until eventually the ship became trapped, immovable, frozen in an ice floe. After nearly 9 months, stranded on an unmoving ship, the hull cracked and water began to enter the boat. Shackleton and his crew fled the boat and made camp on a large, flat ice floe, which they hoped would over time drift the 250 miles toward an island known to hold provisions. When, after several months, the floe hit against an impassable wall of ice, Shackleton took desperate measures and ordered his crew to board a series of small open air lifeboats that took them across 720 miles of treacherous ocean to eventual rescue. Shackleton’s crew of 28 men (all of whom survived, in case you were worried) spent nearly 2 years on this voyage, most of it spent freezing in makeshift camps, and in the end they never even made it to Antarctica!

So next time you start to feel a chill, check out one of these books from the library and find out more!

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally Walker
Byrd and Igloo: A Polar Adventure by Samantha Seiple
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong
Trial by Ice: A Photobiography of Sir Ernest Shackleton by K.M. Kostyal

Or, you can take a look at the South Pole for your self through the United States Antarctic Project webcams.

About the Author

Rachel Helm is an artist, reader, and home repair enthusiast. She has traveled extensively on Nevada State Route 375 "the Extraterrestrial Highway", but can currently be found hard at work in the Central Library Youth Services department.

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Thank You

We have so much to be thankful for and Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to celebrate gratitude itself! But there are so many things to be thankful for all year long, and here are a few books that help us do just that.

Thank You For Me! by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Kristina Stephenson is an example of a book about thanks that works anytime. Readers can follow the rhymes and celebrate what they do. This joyful book is a treat for preschoolers.

A terrific book for early elementary kids that expresses gratitude for the world around us is Gracias= Thanks by Pat Mora and illustrated by John Parra. This bilingual book in both Spanish and English features children from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is more complex than Thank You For Me!, and therefore works wonderfully for kids who are beginning to think more deeply about gratitude.

Feeling Grateful by Shelly Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly, PhD along with photographs by Shelly Rotner, uses photographs to depict some of what children are grateful for. Use this book to trigger thoughts and to start conversations about the gratitude kids have for their belongings and their connections to others.

Here are a few things for which our patrons are thankful:

  • "Animals, Granny and Poppy" -Quillan, age 19 months
  • "Engines (Trains)" -Aarish, age 2
  • "Kitty, apples, Aarish" -Cyrus, age 2
  • “God” -Loloita, age 10
  • "My family” -Venessa, age 10
  • “Good food and football” -Anthony, age 12

If you want to share what you are thankful for, please type in the comments section below.

I am ending with this last gratitude anecdote. It warms my librarian heart. While I was at the Plaza Branch Library, a two-year-old girl named Mona told me what she is thankful for: "Books." She then proceeded to pull a chapter book off of the shelf and toddle it over to her mom.

About the Author

Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas. She has worked in public libraries in Nevada and Missouri for eleven years. Currently, Anna Francesca is Kansas City Public Library’s Education Librarian.

The Beat Goes On by Ian Rankin

I started reading Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus novels a couple of years ago and the character immediately became one of my favorites, ranking alongside Spenser, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, Alex Delaware, and V.I. Warshawski. John Rebus is simply a fascinating police detective.

The Beat Goes On collects all of Rankin's Inspector Rebus short stories and presents them in chronological order. Reading through them is a delightful journey through the history of this character.

I tend to be cautious about short stories in the mystery genre. The short form is too short to create truly compelling whodunits. The mystery aspect must necessarily be rather simplistic, due to spatial constraints.

The reason Rankin's short stories work so well is because the mystery isn't the point. He uses these stories to offer snapshots of Rebus' life. The cases he works on in the pages of this collection range from the mundane to the bizarre, and a couple of the stories are written from the point of view of other characters, but all of them show us a bit more of Rebus' personality. These stories add detail and dimension to the man and his world.

Devoted readers of the Inspector Rebus novels have watched the character develop over the years, certainly, but each individual novel takes place in its own bubble of time. What chronology we have for Rebus exists in our own minds, as we connect those bubbles together. The short stories in The Beat Goes On span the decades from the mid-1980s through 2010—the full span of the first nineteen Rebus novels. By presenting them in chronological order, all in one place, Rankin makes the evolution of the character explicit. It's really quite wonderful.

That being said: I wouldn't recommend this collection for anyone who's looking for an entrée into the world of Inspector Rebus. These are snapshots from various periods of his life—embellishments and elaborations—but they don't go into depth. Characters come and go without a great deal of explanation as to who they are, or the full nature and history of their relationship to Rebus. These are stories written for fans who already know the background from the novels.

For those of us who are already fans, these are welcome moments to spend with one of our favorite characters.

One other thing I noticed, apropos of nothing much, Rankin has a thing for setting short stories during the holidays. Several of the stories in The Beat Goes On take place during Christmas and New Year's. There are a few appearances by people dressed as Santa and Rebus spends a couple of evenings patrolling New Year's festivals. I don't know why I'm so taken with the presence of the holidays in these stories but it's a phenomenon which struck me.

American Public Square Series Debates Hot-Button Issues – Get This, with Reason and Respect

Here’s a novel idea for these mean-spirited, finger-jabbing, high-decibel times:

Civilized debate.

The Library and American Public Square, an organization founded by Allan Katz, a UMKC professor of public affairs and political science and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, kicks off a series of spring discussions of some of the city’s most polarizing issues—minus the invective that too often feeds polarity—in early December.

Topics range from what to do with Kansas City International Airport to the future of the city’s new streetcar system.

American Public Square will address other issues at additional events held across the area throughout the spring.

KCI Up in the Air
December 2, 2015 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Experts on both sides of the debate join University of Missouri-Kansas City professor and moderator Scott Helm in examining the future of Kansas City International Airport. Remodel or rebuild? Stay with multiple terminals or move to just one? The panel includes Skopos President Kevin Koster, a member of the KCI Airport Terminal Advisory Group; Rockhill Strategic President Jon Stephens, interim executive director of the Kansas City, Kansas, Chamber of Commerce; and Pitch writer Steve Vockrodt. There are fact checkers and a “civility bell.”

A Streetcar Named …
January 20, 2016 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.

Kansas City’s new streetcar line will run from the River Market through downtown and to on Crown Center. Where should it go in the future? North to KCI? South to Brookside and Waldo? East? Is this the future for public transit in the city? If so, who pays for it?

Who Can Help Johnny Read?
March 16, 2016 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Third-grade reading proficiency is a major factor in determining youngsters’ future success. What’s being done – and what more needs to be done – to insure that local schools are helping their students make the grade?

Cents and Sensibility
May 11, 2016 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.

Where are our tax breaks and economic development dollars going and who is reaping the benefits? Are we getting the best bang for our bucks?

The format draws from town hall meetings of the past, emphasizing decorum. Speakers who cross the line on politeness are dinged by a “civility bell.” Applause is prohibited. There are on-the-spot fact-checkers.

It’s designed to be an antidote to today’s political rancor. Katz introduced the concept in Tallahassee, Florida, where he served as a member of the Tallahassee City Commission. It fostered a near-complete halt in negative political advertising by local candidates there.

In addition to the free events at the Library, American Public Square also is offering — with paid admittance — these events as part of two separate programming series:

Religious Literacy: What We Don't Know is Hurting Us
December 10, 2015 | Breakfast: 7:30 a.m., Program 8 a.m.
Village Presbyterian Church
in Prairie Village, Kansas

Part of APS’ Faith Fellowship series, it examines the state of religious literacy in contemporary America – why we need it, why we don't have it, and what it means to be religiously literate. Moderator Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and a host and contributor at KCUR, is joined local religious leaders including Rabbi Mark Levin and Helen Stringer of KC Oasis.

All in the Family
January 28, 2016 | Dinner 5:30 p.m., Program: 6 p.m.
Pierson Auditorium
in UMKC’s Atterbury Student Success Center

Part of APS’ Dinner at the Square series, it spotlights the evolution of the family in contemporary America. Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus will serve as moderator.

For additional paid programming, please visit
the American Public Square website.

Katz launched American Public Square—formerly called The Village Square—after joining UMKC’s faculty in August 2012. It, in turn, has inspired similar initiatives elsewhere in the country, most recently in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

“Political dialogue in America represents a food fight,” Katz told the Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle last month. “What we’ve discovered is people who are willing to come together and have a fact-based conversation, and who disagree significantly about what the facts mean, can actually come away with a different understanding of those facts.”

Book Review: Ashenden; or, the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham

Ashenden; or, the British Agent, by W. Somerset Maugham is not the first secret agent novel in English. Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) may hold that honor. Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, “His Last Bow,” (1917) which has Holmes doing secret agent work and outwitting a German secret agent, also precedes Maugham’s work, though Doyle’s work is a short story.

Maugham’s novel, though not the first secret agent novel, was quite influential. Later spy novelists, such as John LeCarre, Ian Fleming, Eric Ambler and Len Deighton, all give a nod to Maugham as inspiring their own work. For instance, James Bond’s boss at MI-6 is “M,” just as the book's titular character Ashenden’s boss in this novel is “R.” Apparently, the idea of using a letter began with Sir Marshall Smith-Cumming, the first chief of MI-6, who signed all documents with his initial (“C”), and the use of “C” continued, as many read it as “chief.”

Maugham himself was a secret agent during WWI and he based Ashenden’s experiences on his own during the war. There is a lot of the British Public School in Ashenden – he is well read, always polite, and has a wry way of looking at the world. There’s quite a lot of Maugham in Ashenden.

The novel has more of an edge than do British cozy mysteries (where everyone is polite and the murder/trouble, once solved, leaves no bitter aftertaste). In one chapter, Ashenden teams up with a colorful Mexican assassin, nicknamed the “Hairless Mexican,” though he prefers to be called “the General,” to eliminate a German spy. The information Ashenden gets, however, is not clear and the Mexican kills a man entirely innocent. Only after the man has been eliminated does Ashenden get information from MI-6 exculpating him. This does not bother the amoral General, but regret lingers in Ashenden’s mind.

At another point, Ashenden must use the love of an Indian separatist, Chandra Lal, who has been working with the Germans in hopes of forcing the British to give up India, for Giulia Lazzari, a cabaret entertainer, to get the man to cross from Switzerland into France, where he can be apprehended by British authorities for trial and execution. In this adventure, Lazzari appeals to Ashenden’s (and British) ideals in suggesting that it is wrong to use a man’s affections to trap him. Ashenden, however, remains impassive through Lazzari’s appeal, pointing out in turn that Lazzari’s own continued good fortune is dependent on her assistance, a point neither he, nor the British government will bend on. The capture, trial and execution of Lal happens “off-stage,” with little mention by Ashenden. Ashenden has grown hard in the service of his country.

In another case, Ashenden must trick a very friendly and engaging Britisher, living in Switzerland with his German wife to wait out the war, into returning to Britain, where he will be tried and executed for passing secrets to the Germans. The striking thing in this whole episode is that Ashenden clearly likes the man, and is quite taken by the affection of husband and wife towards each other. Again, we do not see the result of Ashenden’s actions, but we do see the German wife becoming increasingly despondent at her husband’s protracted absence, and the couple’s little Dachshund begins to howl in anguish over his missing master. Ashenden has no doubts about the man’s guilt, and feels little regret for his actions. And yet, we readers get no clear evidence of the man’s guilt, and after the mistake with the Mexican, we wonder if another mistake was made here. And by witnessing the wife’s slip into despair and the Dachshund howling for his master, Maugham makes the whole scene very disturbing.

The book’s concluding chapters deal with a mission to Russia after the abdication of Nicholas II, when the Russian government, now a republic under Alexander Kerensky, to try to keep Russia in the war. We know from history that Britain failed in its attempt to keep Russia in the war. And so, we know that Ashenden’s efforts will be a failure. What we don’t get is a clear sense of Ashenden getting out of Russia as the Bolsheviks take power. In the final chapter (SPOILER ALERT), we largely follow the adventures of a Mr. Harrington, an American businessman who is loud and proud of being an American, and who loves (much to Ashenden’s annoyance) to read aloud, something Ashenden sees as akin to barbarism. In the final chapter, Harrington travels about Petrograd trying to get hold of his laundry which has not been returned, and the book concludes with the sobering image of Harrington dead in the snow, tightly holding his recovered (but still unwashed) laundry.

The book does not hold together as a novel. It is more a series of stories which are grouped together as the adventures of Ashenden. That said, the book is a pleasant read (Maugham was a master of English prose style and the short story), and suggests, if it does not outright condemn, the various compromises made in wartime.

If you read the book, be sure to see Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Secret Agent, starring John Gielgud as Ashenden and Peter Lorre as the General, which is based on some of the novel. The film like the book does a good job of stressing the messiness of the spy business.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Top 2½ Percent: We Earned a 4-Star Rating from Library Journal

The Kansas City Public Library remains among a select group of public libraries across the country, earning a 4-star designation from Library Journal.

The Journal’s ratings, measuring the contributions that public libraries make to their communities, were released by the trade publication on Monday, November 2, 2015. Only two other Missouri libraries, the North Kansas City Public Library and St. Louis County Library, were accorded 4-star status.

Nationally, fewer than one in 30 public libraries — 261 of 7,663 — received 3-, 4-, or 5-star ratings from the trade publication. Only a little more than 2 percent earned four or five stars.

“Kansas City is lucky to have such a passionate Library staff, one that is so committed to its mission of literacy and lifelong learning,” says Library Director Crosby Kemper III. “This 4-star designation underscores that.”

The New York-based Library Journal bases its ratings on per-capita library use in four areas — circulation, library visits, internet computer usage, and program attendance — as reported to state library agencies and compiled nationally by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This year’s index uses that data from the 2013 fiscal year.

The Journal classifies libraries according to their yearly expenditures, and awards three, four, or five stars to the top libraries in each category. The Kansas City Public Library is among 112 libraries with budgets between $10 million and $30 million, the second-highest spending group. In that category, it was one of 20 earning four or five stars.

Book Review - Love & Profanity

Love & Profanity edited by Nick Healy

publication date: 2015
pages: 231
ISBN: 978-1-63079-021-7

Love & Profanity: True, Tortured, Wild, Hilarious, and Intense Tales of Teenage Life is a collection of over 40 short stories ranging in length from one to nine pages that attempts to capture the intensity and singularity of teenage life. These autobiographical stories were written by authors – mostly from the Midwest – like Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, & Alison McGhee. The stories explore themes like bullying, cars, music, and struggling to fit in.

Generally, I thought these stories lacked the fire and strength necessary to plumb the depths of this universal subject matter. Perhaps it was because the stories were so short that it was difficult to develop characters or plot. Perhaps it was because the similar themes and writing styles were tiring after a while. Perhaps it was the entire construct of capturing teenage life, as though it was something separate from “real” life.

The authors often included guidance or advice. This was sometimes intrusive but was sometimes very effective, as in this passage:

"And when, years later, you begin to see how easily hate is internalized, how fathers break daughters and how girls break each other, how selfishness and survival masquerade as one and the same – knowing all this, will you forgive yourself for what happens next – the indelible moment when you see the bruises blossoming on Carrie’s arms and think, Well, dumb slut, you deserved that?"

The collection certainly contained some worthwhile reading. A few of my favorite stories were Polypropylene by Ali Catt; Just Back from the Dentist by Kyra Anderson; Suspended by Kyle Minor; Girl/Thing by Anna Vodicka; and The Latter Days of Jean by Rebecca Standborough.

There were a few exciting or funny moments, such as this ludicrous description of the new kid in school:

"Tall, skinny as a twig with a long Appalachian face and dark stubble that made him seem weary and a good four or five years older than the rest of us, the kid looked like Abraham Lincoln costumed to play a few of Brando’s scenes in The Wild One."

The book also had a great index, which separated the stories by subject matter. So, if you were interested in stories about “teeth getting knocked out” or “making out or doing it or thinking about doing it,” you would be able to find the perfect story.

If you are interested in short-form writing or in a particular study of teenage life, you might want to pick up this book.

3/6: more good than bad

About the Author

Jill Anderson

Jill Anderson has a business degree and JD from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She's lived in Kansas City for several years and has worked at the library since 2014. She loves to read anything and everything and you can find YA reviews and more on her book blog at www.thebookbabble.com.

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Money Matters Workshops at the Library

The Kansas City Public Library is one of 21 nationwide recipients to receive a $100,000 grant to help launch a two-year program aimed at improving financial literacy.

We have partnered with the Women's Employment Network and other local agencies to provide a range of services, including workshops, web resources, and individual financial coaching, to residents who are looking to enhance their money-managing skills but may lack access to reliable, unbiased education opportunities and resources. The Money Matters Workshop Series is projected intended to reach hundreds of residents in areas most in need served by our North-East, Bluford, and Southeast Branches.

Currently, workshops are being held at these three locations and we are looking to expand to local area community centers, social services agencies, and religious facilities. The Money Matters Workshops will cover banking, budgeting, credit management, and protection against identity theft.

The Women's Employment Network and other financial opportunity centers will also offer free individual financial coaching sessions to workshop participants. The Money Matters Workshop Series and coaching are open to anyone but specifically targeting:

  • Young women are entering the workforce and women newly assuming primary responsibility for managing household finances.
  • Immigrants—primarily Somalis and Latinos–living near the Library's North-East Branch at 6000 Wilson Rd.
  • Adults 55 and older who are preparing for retirement or managing income in retirement.

Workshops include:

Banking Basics focuses on empowering participants to utilize and develop relationships with either a bank or credit union, access banking products and successfully use money management tools.

Budgeting: The Money Diet focuses on creating a household spending plan. Participants will get an overview of the components of a budget, gain tools to help with expenses, and explore ways to save on everyday expenses.

Give Yourself Credit focuses on how lenders view credit, being smart about selecting a credit card, teaching participants how to read their credit reports, and improving credit scores.

Yes, I am Janice Brown: Be safe from Identity Theft focuses on education participants on how to identify the warning signs of identity theft, how to protect their children, and being proactive if identity theft occurs.

For a full list of upcoming workshops and to register, please visit kclibrary.org/moneymatters.

This program is made possible by a grant from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Investor Education Foundation through the Smart investing@your library initiative, a partnership with the American Library Association.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Latoya Woods works with the Library's H&R Block Business & Career Center as a Financial Literacy Specialist. She develops financial literacy workshops as part of the FINRA grant offered at three Library branches and other community agencies.

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