A Reading List with a Wisconsin Twist
This will not be a typical summer, for sure. Just as it has upended life all spring, the coronavirus will surely alter a lot of summer vacation plans. However, there’s one getaway the coronavirus can’t touch, and that’s the escape that comes from getting lost in the pages of a great book. If you can read, or even just listen as someone reads to you, you can travel anywhere. The Department of Public Instruction lists 485 public libraries in Wisconsin on its website, which means no matter where you live in this state, you’re within reach of a public library and all the escape and adventure it has to offer. And you can begin this adventure without having to leave your region. To help set you on your way, we reached out to some libraries located in communities served by electric cooperatives and invited them to make recommendations for a summer reading list. We had only one requirement; in keeping with the spirit of this feature—called Wisconsin Favorites, after all—we asked that all suggested books be written by a Wisconsin author, or be about, or set in, Wisconsin.
The libraries we contacted enthusiastically generated great lists, which we expected. What we didn’t expect was that we’d end up with such a diverse list of book titles, spanning all genres, styles, and age groups. Of five separate lists, we had only two crossover authors/titles. One was a book by New Auburn author Michael Perry, “Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace.”
“This book details the author’s experiences and conversations with his octogenarian, cannon-shooting neighbor Tom Hartwig, who, armed with an arsenal of stories and an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide, offers guidance and inspiration,” wrote the team at the Iola Village Library, adding that Perry’s books are “funny, heartwarming, and endearing stories about everyday life.”
Another Wisconsin author who made several book lists is Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative member Jerry Apps. Cara Hart, director of the Black River Falls Public Library, noted that any of Apps’ books would be an enjoyable read, but for our purposes she recommended “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Wisconsin,” which she described as “the first comprehensive history of the CCC in Wisconsin. It takes readers around the state, creating a map of where and how more than 125 CCC camps left their mark on the landscape.”
The Black River Falls Public Library is located in Jackson
County, home to the headquarters of Jackson Electric Cooperative. Jackson Electric has supported the library by donating to the summer reading program. In addition, the Friends of the Black River Falls Public Library received this year’s Mike Anderson Memorial, an award named for former longtime manager of Jackson Electric Cooperative and presented annually to an organization that provides support for and meets a community need. Among others, Library Director Cara Hart recommended these books:
“Babu’s Song,” by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen.
This Wisconsin author focuses on books for children and young adults. This book is set in Tanzania, where Bernardi’s mute grandfather makes him a wonderful music box and then helps him realize his dream of owning a soccer ball and going to school. “ ‘Babu’s Song’ highlights the value of education and power of
compassion,” Hart said.
“Wisconsin Moments in Time,” by Lori Chown.
This book contains beautiful photography from Wisconsin’s most memorable destinations.
“Iron Lake,” by William Kent Krueger.
Krueger is a previous Jackson County Community Read author whose books take place in northern
Minnesota and Wisconsin. “I would personally recommend the Cork O’Connor series,” Hart said. In this title, she explained, Cork O’Connor has lost both his wife and his job as sheriff and falls into emotional isolation. As a wild blizzard buries his lakeside town, a despised though influential resident is found dead, and a young Ojibwe Indian boy seems to have left home in a hurry. An old sage warns Cork that a cruel spirit with a heart of ice is near.
“The Flavor of Wisconsin” and “The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids,” by Terese Allen.
Allen is a Wisconsin chef and author focusing on Wisconsin cuisine. In this book, she examines the explosion of farmers’ markets; organic farming and sustainability; the “slow food” movement; artisanal breads, dairy, herb growers, and the like; and how relatively recent immigrants have contributed to Wisconsin’s remarkably rich food scene. “I read ‘The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids’ to my kids and made one of the venison dishes with them,” Hart said. “It was a blast cooking with them while learning about Wisconsin food.”
The Iola Village Library is located in the community where Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative (CWEC) is headquartered. The co-op makes a yearly Operation RoundUp donation to the library to help support the summer reading program, and also contributed to the library’s new addition in 2018. In addition, Lila Shower, CWEC’s vice president of accounting and finance, is a member of the library’s board of directors.
The Iola Village Library has two Wisconsin collections, one focusing on books about the history of Wisconsin and the other on local authors. The library team, including Director Robyn Grove and Lisa Bauer, head of children’s programming, drew from those collections in making the following suggestions:
“A Century of Excellence: 100 Greatest Packers of All Time,” by Mike Jacquart.
This book is everything you’d expect from the title: the author’s picks of the 100 greatest Packers to help mark the team’s 100th anniversary celebration.
“Five Pounds and Screaming,” by Shawn Williams.
This story follows a young couple and their struggles with small-town living, their urge to have children, and with each other. It documents the everyday (but also magical) time between after the honeymoon and into the delivery room. “Shawn has lived in Iola many years and we have had the pleasure of knowing him and his family,” the Iola library team wrote. “His daughter attended library story times and other events growing up.”
“Midwest Medley: Places & People, Wild Things & Weather,” and “The Port Side of Shadows: Poems of Travel: Inner, Outer and Uncharted Places,” by Patricia Williams.
Williams, who lives in central Wisconsin, began writing poetry and non-fiction in 2013 after retiring from a teaching career in K-12 art, then as a professor of design history at UW-Stevens Point. She views art, design, music, and the literary arts as natural partners—all creatively examine life and living.
“Pioneer Publisher: The Story of Krause Publications’ First 50 Years,” by Arlyn G. Sieber.
“This book is an excellent history of Krause Publications and biography of its founder, the late Chet Krause,” the Iola library team wrote. “It contains lots of black and white and color illustrations and related local and family history.”
“Pioneers of the Pinery” and “A Photo Album of the Past” by Malcolm Rosholt.
In the first title Rosholt talks about frontier and pioneer life in Wisconsin. The second contains pictorial works of frontier and pioneer life in Wisconsin.
“Sirens: An Alarming Memoir of Combat and Coming Back Home” by Laura Naylor Colbert.
The alternate title to this book is “How to Pee Standing Up.” The book details the story of Laura’s time in Iraq and how it affected her. As a daughter of a Vietnam War Military Police officer and a sister to an Army Infantry Medic, Laura joined the Army National Guard as a military police officer in 2001 during her freshman year of college at UW-Madison and received her honorable discharge in 2009. She served 16 months on active duty, spending over a year in Baghdad, Iraq. Laura’s love of travel, living abroad, and serving others brought her to her current position as a middle-school principal in Waupaca.
“Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Volume One, Commencement,” by John Jackson Miller.
This volume collects issues zero through six of the Dark Horse comic-book series “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.” Miller resides in Scandinavia, four miles from Iola, with his wife and children.
The Evelyn Goldberg Briggs Memorial Library is located in Iron River, where Bayfield Electric Cooperative is headquartered. This library is distinctive for the large mural along the outside depicting the history of the library, as well as the historic Columbia School bell that was removed from its former location a few years ago with help from Bayfield Electric Cooperative and installed on top of the building. The co-op has also provided support through monetary donations. Library Director Jacqueline Pooler recommended the following books:
“Wildheart: the Daring Adventures of John Muir,” written by Julie Bertagna and illustrated by William Goldsmith.
A graphic novel for upper elementary-middle school, “This is the story of John Muir’s adventurous life, from his wild and playful boyhood in Scotland to his legendary exploits in America, where he became an inventor, a global explorer, and the first modern environmentalist—and even made friends with a president!” Pooler noted that Muir immigrated to the United States and settled with his family in Portage at the age of 11 and went on to make his mark on environmental protection.
“Boys of the Brule,” by Ross Fruen.
This book explores the lure of northern Wiscosnin’s outdoors in “a love story that chronicles a family’s seven- generation home on the revered trout stream and the rituals and activities of a group of friends who have gathered there every year from boyhood to senior citizenship,” according to publisher notes.
“Murder of the Red Cliff Rez,” by Mardi Oakley Medawar.
In this mystery, the normally quiet Red Cliff Rez is rocked when the widely disliked tribal attorney has been found murdered in his office. Everyone is sure that the man responsible is his cousin, who has disappeared into the reservation. Reservation Police Chief David Lameraux has to turn to the only person he’s sure can find the missing suspect. “Mysteries are a very popular genre across the country,” Pooler said. “Reading a novel set in the backyard makes the mystery all the more appealing.”
“Johnny’s Pheasant,” by Cheryl Minnema.
This is a story for preschool readers about a boy who spies a pheasant that he believes is sleeping and his grandma fears is dead, but they learn they were both wrong when the pheasant departs, leaving behind a gift. This book won the 2020 Charlotte Zolotow award for best picture book published in the United States. The award is administered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a children’s literature library of the School of Education, UW-Madison.
“Ace of Aces,” by Carl Bong and Mike O’Connor.
This book tells the story of Superior-born Richard Bong, one of America’s most decorated fighter pilots. Bong took his P-38 into combat and shot his way to the very top of the list of American Fighter Aces, with a count of 40 Japanese war planes.
“Truck: A Love Story,” by Michael Perry.
The author chronicles a year during which he struggled to grow his own food, live peaceably with volatile neighbors, and fix his pickup truck, at a time when he also fell in love and befriended a paraplegic and quadriplegic biker team. “For many, this book is laugh-out-loud funny!”
“Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist,” edited by Gary Groth.
According to the book cover, “Norman Pettingill was an avid trapper from Northern Wisconsin and a self-taught artist who, in 1946, began drawing and selling postcards depicting the world he knew and loved. By merging his fascination with nature and backwoods culture with his wild sense of humor, he drew an out-of-control hillbilly wonderland….” Pooler noted, “Pettingill was one of the early setters of Iron River. Though not all images are age appropriate, each illustration is chock full of character and humor.”
“Freedom Train North: Stories of the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin,” by Julia Pferdehirt.
This book is aimed at upper elementary-middle school students. The intrdocution states, “Between the covers of this book are stories of men, women, and children with dreams of freedom. Each is a true story of the Underground Railroad and the part played by the people of Wisconsin.”
“Wisconsin Indian Literature,” Edited by Kathleen Tigerman.
“This book is a unique anthology that presents the oral traditions, legends, speeches, myths, histories, literature, and historically significant documents of the current twelve independent bands and Indian Nations of Wisconsin.” (Amazon). Pooler added, “Though much of early Wisconsin history dwells on the immigrants to the area, the voices of the first Wisconsin residents need to be heard as well.”
The Lena Public Library is located in the service territory of Oconto Electric Cooperative. The library is a past recipient of funds raised through the co-op’s Employee Charity Program, through which co-op employees select a different school, organization, or agency to support and hold fundraisers throughout the year. Oconto Electric has also sponsored the library’s summer reading program with a grant through the co-op’s Community Change program. Library Director Amy Peterson recommended several fun mystery series with Wisconsin ties:
The Loon Lake Mystery Series, by Victoria Houston.
Houston writes a series of cozy mysteries set in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The lead character is police chief/fly fisherman Lew Ferris, who solves murders with the help of a retired dentist. Peterson noted that although Loon Lake is a fictional town, its features are pulled from the actual area, so readers familiar with the Northwoods will recognize the setting.
The Chloe Ellefson Mysteries by Kathleen Ernst.
This is a series of historical fiction written by a former guide at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle River. The books’ main character, Chloe Ellefson, is also a curator at Old World Wisconsin, whose work often finds her unraveling mysteries that take her deep into different historical times and places. Ernst continues to write new Chloe Ellefson mysteries, but the series began in the 1980s. “Those books can be kind of fun because they didn’t solve everything by Google then,” Peterson noted.
David Cubiak Door County Mysteries by Patricia Skalka.
The main character of this series is Detective David Cubiak, who escapes from Chicago to Door County, where he joins the police force and uncovers some dark truths as he solves murders. Skala uses a lot of Door County landmarks in this series, which makes the books especially fun for anyone who’s familiar with the peninsula. For example, “If you’ve been to Sturgeon Bay or you’ve been to Fish Creek, she might talk about a restaurant that you’ve been in,” Peterson said.
Noshes Up North Mystery Series by Mary Grace Murphy.
These cozy murder mysteries are written by a retired schoolteacher from Oconto. Set in a fictional Wisconsin town, the stories’ central character is retired schoolteacher Nell Bailey, who struggles with her weight and writes a food blog and restaurant reviews that get her in trouble.
“Frontlines: World War II – Personal Accounts of Wisconsin Veterans,” by John Maino.
This is one of three books written by Maino, a retired Green Bay sportscaster, that tell the personal stories of veterans Maino has worked with and gotten to know.
“Bodyguard to the Packers,” by Jerry Parins.
The author is a former police officer who worked as director of security for the Green Bay Packers for many years. In this book he recounts his experiences safeguarding many of the greatest names in NFL history while keeping Lambeau Field safe for fans.
Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
This beloved series, published between 1932 and 1943, are based on the author’s childhood experiences growing up in a settler and pioneer family in the late 1800s. Her story begins in a little log cabin in Wisconsin.
“Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, and illustrated by Lois Ehlert.
The illustrator of this classic children’s book, in which lowercase letters climb a coconut tree until they bend the tree and tumble out, and are rescued by their older relatives (capital letters), was born and raised in Wisconsin.
The Sparta Free Library is located within Oakdale Electric Cooperative’s service territory. The co-op has supported the library through the CoBank Sharing Success program. Currently serving as interim director is Youth Services Coordinator Aimee Schreiber, or “Miss Aimee,” as she is affectionately known to her youngest patrons.
No surprise then that Schreiber’s selections cover all ages, from the littlest on up.
“Sport: Ship Dog of the Great Lakes,” by Pamela Cameron and Renee Graef.
In this picture book, it’s 1914 and the crew of the Hyacinth, a lighthouse tender ship patrolling Lake Michigan, rescues a puppy from the Milwaukee River and names him Sport. For the next 12 years, Sport lives the exciting life of a beloved ship dog. This story based on historical documents and photographs from the Milwaukee Public Museum.
“Waiting,” by Kevin Henkes.
Everyone is waiting for something different in this gentle story from Wisconsin author Kevin Henkes. Owl, Pig, Bear, Puppy, and Rabbit all wait for wonderful and interesting things to happen outside their window, until one day they are joined by a new friend, who has a surprise in store! “This calm, cozy book feels like a snuggly hug from a loved one,” Schreiber noted.
“The Cardboard Kingdom,” by Chad Sell.
In this children’s story, your imagination is only limited by how much cardboard you can get your hands on. “Wisconsin native Sell’s magnificently drawn graphic novel rejects stereotypes and teaches lessons about acceptance, understanding and identity without being heavy-handed,” Schreiber wrote.
“Roll,” by Darcy Miller.
The summer before sixth grade, Lauren (“Ren”) Hall’s parents move him into his grandparents’ old country home. When Ren meets his new neighbor, a spunky girl named Sutton, who is training a kit of Birmingham Rolling pigeons for competition, his coming-of-age story begins in earnest. “Prairie du Sac resident Miller’s sweet, funny, flawed, characters will appeal to all readers who love honest, well-written fiction,” Schreiber wrote.
“Deadly Flowers,” by Sarah L. Thomson.
In this book for teens, Kata, a 15-year-old orphan, has trained many years alongside other young girls to become a “deadly flower,” feudal Japan’s female ninjas. She is the most promising student of Madame Chiyome, but when she embarks on her first mission, a dangerous, mythical twist complicates her assignment. “With fun, sparkling dialogue and an action-driven plot, Kata’s story will leave readers ready to practice their ninja and their friendship skills,” Schreiber noted.
“Hooper,” by Geoff Herbach.
Adam Reed, high school basketball superstar, spent his childhood in Poland under less-than-ideal circumstances. Now state-side, basketball is his passport. When Adam is selected to play on an elite AAU team along with some of the best players in the state, he faces challenges with on-court team bonding and off-court moral dilemmas. Herbach, a Plattville native, engages readers with an unexpected novel seemingly about basketball, but really about prejudice, privilege, and family ties.
“The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.
This story is set on the campus of a small northeastern Wisconsin college, where five teammates navigate love, family, and mental health challenges with a backdrop of baseball. As the season counts down, these five confront unearthed secrets, unwise alliances, and undying bonds. “Harbach’s novel is warm, intelligent, and expansive, sweeping up hearts and minds while reminding readers why baseball is such a beloved sport,” Schreiber said.
“The Coincidence of Coconut Cake,” by Amy Reichert.
In the heart of Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to craft her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. Restaurant critic Al publishes a scathing review of Luella’s after visiting on the worst day of the chef’s life. The stage is set for a You’ve Got Mail meet cute and a delightful jaunt through Milwaukee’s tastiest locales, with Lou and Al falling lightly and sweetly toward love.
Remember that your local public library is also a great resource for other sources of free entertainment, including ebooks, magazines, newspapers, and DVDs. Pay a visit or give your library a call to pick up a few items, then relax, put your feet up, and escape inside a great story.