Choosing books to give to friends and loved ones is easier with help from the reading experts at your local library. The 2021 holiday Gift Guide published by Vernon Area Public Library takes the stress out of the hunt for the perfect presents for readers. The free guide includes ideas for all ages and interests. Printed copies are available for pickup at the library or look online anytime at VAPLD.info/GiftGuide.
To create the guide, Vernon Area librarians first came up with long lists of all their favorites from 2021, then narrowed them down to the top five in each of 12 categories arranged by age and interest.
The 65 selections are thoughtful and diverse. Adult picks range from acclaimed fiction like The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir to must-read nonfiction like The Light of Days by Judy Batalion and Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown.
There are also recommendations for teens, grade school kids and tots, including delightful reads like Pawcasso by Remi Lai and Something’s Wrong! by Jory John.
This year's Gift Guide has been published early to help shoppers get ahead of the supply chain issues that we are all seeing headlines about. The message in the news is clear: this holiday season, shop early.
Shopping near home helps support your local economy. In our area, you might try Book Bin of Northbrook or Barbara’s Bookstore in Vernon Hills. Independent booksellers and libraries are both important parts of a healthy literary ecosystem.
Whenever you need a book recommendation, you can turn to your library. Whether you plan to borrow or buy, feel free to ask a librarian for suggestions. These reading experts are at your service, and they are great at matching readers with just the right book
A well-written memoir or autobiography is a transformative experience, letting you gain hard-earned wisdom from someone else's experiences, without getting up from your chair. Memoir and autobiography are broad headings, collecting books as varied as their authors. These new releases run the gamut from science to sports, reveal the personal histories of familiar figures, or paint a picture of a life so unexpected that reality feels like fiction.
In Beautiful Country, civil rights attorney Qian Julie Wang reflects on a childhood marked by poverty and secrecy as an undocumented immigrant. Fleeing harsh Communist rule in China for the freedom of New York, Wang’s parents found their experience as professors held no weight here. They were pushed into exhausting, low-paying work, while the odds were against Wang in the public schools. Inspiring, emotional, and at times heartbreaking, this memoir shines a light on the dignity and courage of immigrants in the face of unimaginable challenges and xenophobia. [e-book | print]
Closer to home, Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner is a candid and thoughtful look at how three Black girls navigated growing up in the 1970s in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. Intertwining her experiences with those of her younger sister and her best friend, the author juxtaposes their struggles and successes, placing them within the societal pressures on the community at large. Turner’s roots in journalism are clear in her beautiful writing; she creates compelling portraits of each girl and explores the meaning of friendship, sisterhood, loss, and resilience. [e-book | print]
Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard seamlessly combines memoir and nature writing in Finding the Mother Tree, a peek into the world of tree communication and intelligence. Simard clearly explains the groundbreaking discoveries about unexpected forest societies. She also delves into her own captivating journey from young tree-lover to minor science celebrity (she even inspired a character in Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Overstory). Finding the Mother Tree is an eye-opening work about the wonders of nature, our unique bond with the environment, and the risks of scientific discovery. [e-book | print]
Despite his years as a wildly successful actor and director, Stanley Tucci has shown that he isn’t defined only by his cinematic career. Over the past few years, he has quietly branched out into the culinary world, writing cookbooks and creating a travel special. In his memoir Taste, he tells his life story through the lens of his passion for food, and he does so with his signature charm and wit. From childhood dinners with his Italian American family to his roles in foodie films, Tucci explains how food has brought him closer to the most important people in his life. [e-book | print | large type]
After the successful March series, which chronicles the early days of the civil rights movement, John Lewis and Andrew Aydin collaborate again on Run, a continuation of Lewis’s remarkable life story. Focusing on the period after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this thought-provoking memoir in graphic novel form draws readers into the conflicts between the previously unified activists. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis had a front-row seat to the ideological changes among the organizers as they grappled with questions of integration, nonviolence, and war. [e-book | print]
Whether you admire her passion for tennis or are interested in her activism, All In by Billie Jean King is an intimate, honest autobiography of a formidable opponent on and off the court. From a young age, King noticed the gender inequality in the world of sports. With fame came the opportunity to do something about it, from the famous Battle of the Sexes matches onward. But stardom also brought challenges, most notably a lawsuit that led to her traumatic outing and threatened her career and stability. Through it all, King found ways to triumph and channel her energy into fighting for equal rights in numerous arenas. [e-book | print]
When you think of black-and-white films, does your mind go back to the Golden Age of Hollywood? Monochromatic cinematography is still relevant today, with many modern filmmakers using the technique to achieve a unique atmosphere and a wide range of emotional responses in audiences. From classic to contemporary, these black-and-white movies create an unforgettable viewing experience, without the distraction of technicolor.
Visit the library to check out DVDs or Blu-rays, or place your selections on hold and pick up at the drive-up window.
Considered one of the greatest films of all time, All About Eve (DVD and Blu-ray) is a must-have on any list of black-and-white movies. The indomitable Bette Davis stars as Margo, an aging Broadway superstar trying to stay in the limelight. She finds herself up against an unexpected foe when the young and not-so-naïve Eve worms her way into every aspect of Margo's life. Witty, charming, and absorbing, this Best Picture–winner undoubtedly stands the test of time. Keep an eye out for a brief appearance by Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest film roles; rumors are that she faced the wrath of Davis for her inexperience on set.
Having studied journalism in college and with his father having been a newsreader during the Cold War era, George Clooney was naturally drawn to the story told in Good Night and Good Luck (DVD, Hoopla). As director, he chose to shoot in grayscale to seamlessly integrate archival footage of notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy. A star-studded cast portray journalist Edward R. Murrow and his CBS news team as they recreate the unbearable stress and tension of the times, exposing the truth behind Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusades. Thoughtfully constructed to avoid slipping into the melodramatic, this film is a tribute to the power of fearless journalism.
The first Polish movie to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Ida (DVD, Hoopla, Kanopy) is a subtle and haunting film that lingers long after the credits roll. On the cusp of taking her vows as a nun in Soviet-era Poland, orphaned Anna is told to visit her last remaining relative, only to learn a shocking truth about her family history and even her name. Prompted by the discoveries, she embarks on a journey to find answers, accompanied by her larger-than-life but clearly troubled aunt. The pair form an unlikely bond as they are faced with dark revelations.
Roma (DVD and Blu-ray) caused a stir when it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, raising questions about the place of streaming movies in the world of traditional filmmaking. Drawing heavily on director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in Mexico City, Roma is a domestic drama about Cleo, the indigenous live-in maid for a well-to-do family, the marital instability of that family, and how their lives orbit and intersect each other. While the cinematography is stunning and there are subtle hints of important class commentary, the star of the show is Yalitza Aparicio, the first-time actress who masterfully portrays Cleo.
With movie heavyweights Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro leading the credits, it’s no surprise that Raging Bull (DVD and Blu-ray, Hoopla, Kanopy) is ranked as the fourth greatest movie of all time by the American Film Institute. At times a brutal watch, this biopic follows the rise and fall of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, and how his violent streak extended far beyond the ring. As the unsympathetic LaMotta spirals out of control in his quest for greatness, his personal demons start to destroy his relationships and ambitions. De Niro encapsulates the toxic masculinity and ferocity of LaMotta, even training as a boxer under LaMotta himself. Look for Joe Pesci in his first major role after being discovered by De Niro in a low-budget film.
Simple but powerful, 12 Angry Men (DVD) is a classic that transcends time and place. Henry Fonda stars in this courtroom drama that examines the crucial role of the individual in the justice system. Viewers feel the claustrophobia and tension of the stuffy jury room and the raw emotions of the unnamed jurors as they get at the heart of truth and justice, good and evil. The story is told not through showy sets or effects but through good, old-fashioned acting. (Don't be put off by the colorized DVD cover; the film is in black and white.)
It's very early to be talking about the winter holidays. But the supply chain stories you're seeing in the news will also affect bookstores this gift-giving season. Words to the wise: shop early. But also, don't sweat it: your library can help you zero in on just the right books for every reader on your shopping list.
The 2021 Gift Guide is available online now or in print at the library beginning the first week of October. Check these pages for expert recommendations for the thrill seeker, the hopeless romantic, the doer, and all the other adult readers in your life. You'll also find top picks for teens and kids of all ages, including future readers.
The great book you're looking for might have been published last year or the year before! Browse the 2020 Gift Guide and the 2019 Gift Guide for more top picks.
The readers' pages on VAPLD.info round up suggestions from librarians (avid readers, all), what's popular with readers in local book clubs, and recent selections of book discussions hosted by the library. This is a great place to look for suggestions for adult readers.
Book Talk pages on VAPLD.info recommend reading for grades K–8. Youth librarians, who know a thing or two about great books for kids, frequently update these selections with top picks for students at each grade level.
NoveList Plus is a clever online tool that lets you look for fiction and nonfiction by category, subject, genre, mood, setting, grade level, and reading level. If you know of authors your gift recipient has particularly enjoyed, you can find "read-alikes" here, too. This is also a great source for finding award winners for all ages. Access this tool anytime with your Vernon Area Library card number.
Vernon Kids on Goodreads: Browse the shelves of books that Vernon Area youth librarians give 4 or 5 stars. You'll find picks here for pre-readers, independent readers, and young teens in a variety of categories including board books, bedtime stories, adventure fiction, humor, nature, and a lot more. No login or account required.
Get personalized reading recommendations: If you know a bit about your gift recipient's reading preferences, fill out a brief form to tell a librarian about them. Then one of the reading experts at your library will custom-curate a list geared to that reader. The list will be delivered pronto to your email inbox.
And now you're ready to head to your favorite bookseller, local or online, to place your order. Then, sit back and wait for that gift-giving moment, knowing you've chosen thoughtfully.
If you find yourself mixing up hot new reads because they could be cover twins, you’re not alone. Once publishers find a style that grabs readers’ attention, they like to run with it. You might have noticed this while browsing your favorite genres: women staring wistfully into the distance (historical fiction), bold and striking typography (literary fiction), or cartoony covers with flowing script (rom-coms). We’ve pulled several cover doppelgangers that even librarians have been known to mix up. No matter which of these pairs you pick up, you’re in for a good read.
For dramatic but discussable reads with seasonably appropriate covers, we’ve got you covered. Fans of dysfunctional family sagas will be hooked by the secrets in The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo, which interweaves an Oak Park family’s most chaotic year with stories from their past. [e-book | print | audiobook | large type]
In A Good Neighborhood, author Therese Anne Fowler warns from the first page that this will be a tragedy, complete with a Greek chorus of neighbors that chimes in throughout. Tensions run high when a new neighbor demolishes everything to build a mansion. What follows is a compelling but devastating story about privilege, race, and forbidden love. [e-book | print | audiobook | large type]
Despite the similar covers and shared setting of 20th-century New York, these two reads head in different directions. The Godmothers by Camille Aubray is a sweeping saga about four women who must lead the less-than-legal family business after their husbands go off to war. [e-book | print | large type]
More leisurely-paced and character-driven, The Lost Family by Jenna Blum centers on Peter, a Holocaust survivor who has found success as a chef in 1960s Manhattan and the family he never intended to have. Told through the point of view of Peter, his wife, and his daughter over three decades, his survivor’s guilt and traumatic past slowly lead to more and more fractures within the family. [e-book | print | audiobook]
These botanical book covers bring us back into contemporary settings and are just asking to be discussed (book clubbers, take note). When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson is for anyone who enjoys well-developed characters and stories of determined women. Moving and at times suspenseful, this book explores issues of motherhood, friendship, and loyalty as three women from different walks of life try to survive under Saddam Hussein's regime. [e-book | print | audiobook]
After a fifteen-year publishing hiatus, Julia Alvarez returns with Afterlife, a compact but powerful story about grief, the immigrant experience, and family. Retired professor Antonia is already overwhelmed by the sudden loss of her husband, but finds her life turned even more upside-down by the unexpected arrival of a pregnant, undocumented teen. [e-book | print | audiobook | large type]
Almost creating a negative film effect of each other, these covers both feature a striking trio of figures, hinting at the journeys within, both literal and figurative. Three inseparable orphans navigate war-ravaged Laos with the help of a dedicated local doctor in Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon. As the group is given the chance to evacuate, their lives take them in unimaginable directions over the years, making for a thoughtful but often heartbreaking tale. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Beautifully translated from Korean, Kim Ae-ran’s My Brilliant Life is a short and poignant look at how a teenager with a terminal illness tries to make the most of his time by writing the story of his beloved parents and filling his remaining days with empathy and wisdom. [e-book | print]
For something lighter, the skylines and cutesy cursive titles are a sure sign of a satisfying romance. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn is a quirky slow-burn romance about a calligrapher who ends up falling for her complete opposite after hiding a message in his wedding invitations. Charming and occasionally steamy, this love story is both an ode to New York City and to finding your place in the world. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Crossing the country to Seattle, Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur is another great story about the attraction of opposites. Laid-back astrologer Elle and sensible accountant Darcy agree to make it through the holiday season by faking a relationship but, as always, this leads to not-fake feelings and plenty of heartwarming rom-com moments. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Take a whirlwind tour of highly acclaimed cinema from around the world. While the Oscars, Golden Globes, and other U.S.-based ceremonies give nods to international films in a few categories, lots of countries host their own annual awards. The honorees are worth checking out. We’ve picked several recent winners to add to your watch list, no passport required.
Visit the library to check out DVDs or Blu-rays, or place your selection/s on hold and pick up at the drive-up window.
The winner of multiple categories of the Japan Academy Film Prize and Mainichi Film Awards, Best Feature Film at the Asian Film Awards, and the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Shoplifters (DVD and Hoopla) met with resounding critical and commercial success. Understated and moving, this is a story of a found family trying to survive on the fringes of society. Director Hirokazu Koreeda excels at profiling the humanity of his characters, raising thought-provoking questions about what it means to be a family.
One of Australia's highest-grossing films of all time, Lion (DVD and Blu-ray) swept all twelve categories at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. Based on the autobiography A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, Lion tells the story of an Indian boy who becomes separated from his family and is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. As an adult, he tries to find his origins and understand his identity. With compelling performances by Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, this emotional journey remains true to its source.
Despite Iranian courts banning him from filmmaking for twenty years and preventing him from leaving the country, director Jafar Panahi has continued to create internationally acclaimed films. His docufiction Taxi (DVD, Kanopy) won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. This portrait of modern-day Tehran blurs the lines between fact and fiction, making social commentary possible under the guise of what might be scripted dialogue. As Panahi navigates the streets of Tehran as a taxi driver, he captures conversations on religion, politics, and life, as his passengers come and go. From the mundane to the profound, the entire cinematic world is limited to his taxi, but speaks to the trials and tribulations of everyday Iranians across the country.
Chaitanya Tamhane’s directorial debut Court (DVD and Kanopy) is notable for using non-professional actors and first-time crew members. The filmmaker's choices to work outside the confines of conventional filmmaking came together to create a compelling movie and win India’s National Film Award. The timely drama follows the trial of a social activist who is accused of inciting a local worker’s suicide through his protest songs. Long, uncut scenes and minimal camera movements add to the film's sense of authenticity.
After premiering to acclaim at Cannes, the Mauritanian-French drama Timbuktu (DVD and Kanopy) went on to win five categories at the Africa Movie Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. When extremists occupy the city of Timbuktu in Mali, their brutal restrictions and laws are at odds with the lively West African culture and the local sect of Islam. Soon a cattleman and his family are caught in the crosshairs. Equal parts terror and beauty, and woven through with outrage and wit, this thoughtful film is much more than a political statement.
Both of director Benedikt Erlingsson’s feature films have won the Nordic Council Film Prize, including his 2018 comedy-drama Woman at War (DVD). In this offbeat and sharp movie, eco-activist Halla plots increasingly serious acts of sabotage on an industrial plant in Iceland. When a long-forgotten adoption application resurfaces, she has to reevaluate what she’s willing to risk in her fight for the environment. The quirky treatment of a serious topic and the building tension make for an unforgettable viewing experience.
For even more hours of viewing from around the globe, check out an International Roku: watch the latest Korean dramas, Nigeria’s Nollywood movies, anime on Crunchyroll, telenovelas on Univision, and lots more.
The headlines about our climate can be overwhelming. Your library is here to help you sort through the news and zero in on useful information on a topic that matters to you — sustainability.
Though large-scale changes are needed to halt and reverse the effects of industrialization on our planet, individuals can make a difference. There are things each of us can do right now to make our day more Earth-friendly. You'll find them in the Sustainable Living guide, a succinct reference that includes
The top tip may surprise you: eating a plant-based diet (even part of the time) is the best thing you can do to combat climate change. It's also a lot better for you!
Another top tip is to skip bottled water whenever you can: Not only is tap water purer (no micro-plastics! quality controlled!) and easier on the Earth, but it saves a whole lot of money.
Look to the Sustainable Living guide when you have questions about how and what to recycle and where to responsibly dispose of household waste. You'll even find tips for toxin-free cleaning and making your holidays more eco-friendly.
The guide will be updated as new information becomes available. View the guide now.
Students in grades 7–12: You can help others without leaving home and earn volunteer hours, too! The library has rounded up online service projects that you do right where you are, anytime between now and December 10.
The program is completely flexible:
Do what you can, when you can! And you'll make a positive difference in the world. Browse the available projects and do what interests you. This season's activities include:
An online form makes it easy to submit your completed activities to the library's teen volunteer coordinator. When the online program wraps up in December, you'll receive a certificate recognizing you for your good works. Verification of service hours is available in December as well.
Learn more and get started at VAPLD.info/TeenVolunteers.
It’s human nature to be drawn to stories of the unusual and unexpected. These days there’s no shortage of marathon-worthy media to quench our thirst: true crime podcasts, nearly unbelievable nature shows, and docuseries taking us behind the scenes of cults and corruption. Something about the combination of being stunned and learning something new keeps us coming back for more. If you're a curious-minded reader, check out these page-turners.
Discover an overlooked and unbelievable tale from World War I in The Confidence Men by Margalit Fox. This is the larger-than-life story of two British officers and their outlandish escape from a Turkish prisoner of war camp, an escape that involved a Ouija board, seances, and buried treasure. Fox draws on the memoirs of the officers to create a fascinating, fast-paced read that goes beyond the prison break to examine the era’s zeal for spiritualism and the powers of persuasion. [e-book | print]
Deep in the mountains, there’s a community with no cell phones or Wi-Fi, where even the use of a microwave can put a person on the government’s radar. Though it sounds ripped from the pages of a dystopian novel, Stephen Kurczy's The Quiet Zone uncovers the realities of life in Green Bank, West Virginia. The town is situated in the National Radio Quiet Zone, where radio transmissions are legally restricted to facilitate scientific research and military intelligence. Award-winning journalist Kurczy separates fact from fiction, giving readers a peek into the impact of the restrictions and other unusual influences on local culture. [e-book | print]
The Organ Thieves by Chip Jones mixes true crime, science writing, and social history to shed light on the medical injustices inflicted on Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. Jones tells the moving and tragic story of Bruce Tucker, a Black laborer who entered a hospital with a head injury in 1968 and had his heart transplanted into a local businessman. Tucker's family was never notified and the case led to a major lawsuit and legal questions about the concept of brain-death. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is a look at the intersection of ethics, consent, and racism, shining light on one more name in a long history of unethical medical treatment. [e-book | print]
In The Woman They Could Not Silence, bestselling author Kate Moore (The Radium Girls) delves into the 19th-century practice of sending unwanted wives to asylums. In the summer of 1860, when Elizabeth Packard's controlling husband could no longer tolerate her intelligent and independent nature, he had her committed to the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville. Packard witnessed the institution's horrors, including that she was not the only sane woman confined there. Moore meticulously details Packard's fight for freedom and her campaigns to expand for women’s rights and asylum conditions. Narrated by the author, the award-winning audiobook conveys Moore's and Packard's passion for equal rights. [e-book | print | audiobook]
In Secondhand, Adam Minter pulls back the curtain on the curiously lucrative secondhand industry. From the local Goodwill to flea markets across the globe, Minter offers an engaging look at the people who profit from our unwanted items and the consequences of a consumer market built around fast-fashion and disposable goods. Try the energetic audiobook to keep you company during your next closet cleanout and you might walk away with some sustainable shopping strategies. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Brandy Schillace’s Mr. Humble & Dr. Butcher is possibly the most curious of the titles on this list, introducing readers to the controversial and ambitious Dr. Robert White. After transplanting a monkey’s head to the body of another in 1970, White was adamant that head and brain transplants for humans would be the next medical breakthrough. Grappling with the ethics of his research and his own deep Catholic faith, and despite his run-ins with animal rights activists and skeptics, the eccentric White continued his quest and even hoped to find a way to prolong the life of the soul beyond death. This is an eye-opening look at the scientific fervor of the Cold War period and the costs of medical innovation. [e-book | print]
Because virus levels are high in Lake County and indoor gatherings are discouraged, seating is unavailable in the library building. But that doesn't mean there's no space to sit, read, or work on your laptop. Try one of the new outdoor spaces for studying, meetings, or tutoring sessions:
Both options are open air, offer high-speed Wi-Fi access, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please limit your use to 2 hours to make room for other visitors. Children under 10 must be accompanied by an adult.
To access either space, park in the main lot and follow the walkway toward the back of the library building. From inside the library, exit through the Youth Program Room. View a map.
To learn more, view the info page, stop by any public service desk at the library, or call 224-543-1485.