Iowa Center for the Book: Great Reads from Great Places

Grasshopper Jungle book coverThe Iowa Center for the Book (ICB) is a program of the State Library of Iowa and an affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Founded in 2002, ICB’s mission is to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy, and libraries. Bookmark this page and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  The Iowa Center for the Book is funded in part with a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

From the Iowa Center for the Book

The Iowa Center for the Book has selected Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (DB80786) as the 2021 title for the Great Reads from Great Places program. Great Reads from Great Places is a program from the Library of Congress Center for the Book to showcase the literary heritage of the nation’s states and territories. Each book is selected annually by the Center for the Book affiliates and highlighted during the National Book Festival. The books may be written by authors from the state, take place in the state, or celebrate the state’s culture and heritage. 

About the Book 

Austin and Robby didn’t exactly mean to start the end of the world here in Ealing, Iowa but that’s what happens when they unleash an army of six-foot-tall praying mantises and now this is the truth, this is history … and nobody knows anything about it. 

Funny, intense, complex, and brave, Grasshopper Jungle brilliantly weaves together everything from testicle-dissolving genetically modified corn to the struggles of recession-era, small-town America in this groundbreaking coming-of-age stunner. 

About the Author 

Andrew Smith is the award-winning author of several Young Adult novels, including the critically acclaimed Grasshopper Jungle (2015 Michael L. Printz Honor, 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Carnegie Medal Longlist) and Winger. He is a native-born Californian who spent most of his formative years traveling the world. His university studies focused on Political Science, Journalism, and Literature. He has published numerous short stories and articles. The Alex Crow, a starred novel by KirkusPublishers Weekly, and Booklist, is his ninth novel. He lives in Southern California. Find out more at

See what titles other States chose for their Great Reads from Great Places 

Library Chat Podcast: September 2021

In September’s Library Chat library staff discuss Banned Books Week and more.  We also discuss two podcasts focusing on banned books.

Library Chat Podcasts:  September 2021

Library Chat Booklist:  September 2021

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020

  1. George by Alex Gino DB82273 
    It was challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community” 
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds DB98926 and BR23102 
    It was banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people 
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely  DB83370 
    It was banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now” 
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson DB49958 and BRN27713 
    It was banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity 
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie DB65403 and BR21549 
    It was banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author 
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin DB100015 
    It was challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views 
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee DB77672BR12850 and LT10965 
    It was banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience 
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck DB48515, BRN19107 and LT4820 
    It was banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students 
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison DB49914BR12618 and LT5895 
    It was banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse 
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas DB101117BR21874 and YA LT Tho 
    It was challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

Every year the Office for Intellectual Freedom, a part of the American Library Association, compiles a list of the 10 most challenged books of the previous year. 

Book Reviews from Deena

Heart shape filled with books on shelvesCheck out these book reviews from Deena.  Deena was a member of the Library’s Patron Service Team who recently retired.  She has generously continued to share book reviews with us.  Thank you, Deena!

Let us know if you would like any titles added to your booklist or head over to BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) to download the titles now.  Need more information about BARD?  See our BARD Page.

When We Were Sisters by Emilie Richards  DB98713

Cecilia and Robin were foster sisters.  Robin went on to marry and have children.  Cecilia became a singer, who made it big.  Cecilia is making a film about foster care and asked Robin to talk about their shared experiences.  The two women uncover long-buried secrets about their lives when they were in foster care.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes  DB33245

Charley, a mentally handicapped young man is given experimental surgery to improve his intelligence by a recommendation of his teacher.  At the same time a mouse, Algernon is given the same surgery.  To gauge his mental ability, he “races” the mouse in a maze.  Before his operation, the mouse almost always wins. After the surgery, Charley becomes a genius.  He realizes how he was taunted and made fun of by other people before his surgery.  After a while, Algernon goes back to the way he was originally and Charley realizes it will happen to him too.  This book is what I would classify as a modern classic.  This story has been made into a movie twice.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica  DB92975

Quinn’s roommate, Esther, is missing.  As Quinn investigates she comes to believe Esther was trying to kill her.  Meanwhile, Alex living in another state meets a mysterious girl, who won’t tell him much about herself.  The parallel stories finally converge and Esther is found with the help of Quinn’s friend. This is an interesting psychological thriller with a surprise ending.

Book Reviews from Deena

Check out these book reviews from Deena.  Deena was a member of the Library’s Patron Service Team who recently retired.  She has generously continued to share book reviews with us.  Thank you, Deena!

Let us know if you would like any titles added to your booklist or head over to BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) to download the titles now.  Need more information about BARD?  See our BARD Page.

The Crush by Sandra Brown  DB55058
Oren asks his old, friend, Wick to join him in a search for a killer of a doctor at the hospital.  Their number one suspect is Dr. Rennie Newton.  Dr. Newton served on a jury recently that acquitted Rick Lozada of murder.  Lozada is convinced Dr. Newton is interested in him and he tries to woo her.  The lives of all the characters become tangled when a second murder follows.  This is romantic suspense at its best.

Have You Seen Luis Velez?  DB96316
On the way out of his apartment to go to school, Raymond hears someone call “Have you seen Luis Velez?” and he sees an elderly woman.  When Raymond returns he sees the same woman, and as he visits with her he learns she is blind.  She explains she is looking for Luis Velez, who used to come by weekly and help her with her shopping and banking.  She has been unable to contact him.  Raymond volunteers to help Millie by taking her to the bank and going grocery shopping with her.  As Raymond and Millie become friends, Raymond decides to try to help find Luis Velez for Millie.   As their friendship deepens Raymond’s life begins to change along with his relationship with his family. This is a heartwarming story about kindness and stepping in to help.

A Time for Mercy by John Grisham  DB102496
Jake Brigance returns with a capital murder case. Drew Gamble has shot and killed his mother’s boyfriend, who was a policeman, after he physically assaulted his mother.  Drew is only sixteen years old but looks a lot younger.  Jake becomes a pariah in Clanton, Mississippi and his income dries up as the town turns against him for taking the case. Jake masterly defends Drew and becomes involved with his family.  This is the third book in the Jake Brigance series.

Book Reviews From Deena

Check out these book reviews from Deena.  Deena was a member of the Library’s Patron Service Team who recently retired.  She has generously continued to share book reviews with us.  Thank you, Deena!

Let us know if you would like any titles added to your booklist or head over to BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) to download the titles now.  Need more information about BARD?  See our BARD Page.

Cemetery Girl by David Bell  DB80299
Tom and Abby’s daughter, Caitlyn has disappeared.  They are still holding out hope of finding her four years later and Caitlyn is returned to them at the age of 16. Tom is bent on finding the man who took her and punishing him, but Caitlyn says she is in love with her kidnapper.  Tom finds the kidnapper and negotiates to return Caitlyn to him in return for finding out what happened to Caitlyn.

Auggie & Me: three Wonder stories by R. J. Palacio  DB93356
This is the companion book to Wonder (DB74228).  Wonder is about Auggie, a middle schooler with a facial deformity, who is going to a new school, Beecher Prep, for the first time. He meets those who accept him and those who bully him.  The companion book, Auggie & Me,  takes a look at three of the characters and their relationship to Auggie. The first section is Julian, the bully. Julian spent the summer with his grandmother who tells him a story of growing up in France during World War II.  Through the story, Julian realizes how he was wrong in his treatment of Auggie and he feels remorse.  The second story is about Auggie’s best friend, Chris. Chris lives in another city and they are not together as much as they used to be.  They become closer again while doing homework and remembering past times.  The third story is about Charlotte, who was Auggie’s friend when he first came to the school.   Charlotte has lost her best friend to another more popular group of girls.  This is a great book for kids and adults alike.

Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb  DB80354
Nora Bonesteel is an elderly woman living in the mountains of Tennessee. Nora has the “sight”, which means she knows things before they happen and she also sees ghosts.  Nora is pleased the Havertys from Florida have bought the old Honeycutt place and are fixing it up. The Havertys are “summer people”, but decided to stay for Christmas. The Havertys have put up a Christmas tree, but the tree has been mysteriously knocked over several times. Nora is invited into the old home where she has not been since she was a girl and she remembers attending Christmas parties in the home.  Nora is able to solve the mystery of the tree being tipped over.  In a parallel story the sheriff and his deputy go out on Christmas Eve to arrest an older man for a minor traffic accident.  The old gentleman is not quite ready to be taken to jail.

Book Reviews From Deena

It is with mixed emotions that we announce library staff member, Deena’s retirement.  It is difficult if not impossible, to sum up, Deena’s achievements over her years of dedicated service to the Library and the Iowa Department for the Blind.  Her vast knowledge of our collection and experience helping patrons find the books they are looking for has been such an asset.  You will be hearing from Deena through blog posts in the future because she has generously provided us with book reviews for later blog posts.  Please help us in thanking Deena for her service and wishing her all the best.

Check out these book reviews from Deena, a member of the Library’s Patron Service Team. Let us know if you would like any titles added to your booklist or head over to BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) to download the titles now.  Need more information about BARD?  See our BARD Page.

Plainsong by Kent Haraf  DB49056, LT 7463

A young high school girl, Victoria becomes pregnant and her mother kicks her out of the house.  She gets help from one of her teachers who arranges for Victoria to live with two old bachelor ranchers. They come to care about Victoria and her child. Some of the other interesting characters living in Holt, Colorado are; Maggie Jones, who lives with her elderly father suffering from dementia, Tom Guthrie, a teacher who helps to support Victoria, Tom’s sons Ike and Bobby learning to live without their mother, and Tom’s wife is depressed and gone to live elsewhere.

March Forward Girl by Melba Beals   DB90630

Childhood memoir of growing up in the hostile Jim Crow South that led to Beals’s activism and desire for equality.  Melba grows up in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1940’s and longs for freedom and equal treatment.  Her grandmother is the guiding force in her life and raises Melba and her brother while her mother works. Melba eventually volunteered to be one of nine black students to enroll in Little Rock’s all-white Central High School in 1957.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell  DB93135

This is a psychological thriller about a young seventeen-year-old woman, Ellie who was kidnapped by someone she knew and held captive in a basement.  The reader learns how each of her family members deals with Ellie’s disappearance. Her mother, Laurel, after a number of years moves on and falls in love with Floyd who has a young daughter, Poppy aged nine who looks a lot like, Ellie. Laurel adores Poppy but believes Floyd is keeping things from her.  This book will keep you guessing until the end.

Camino Winds by John Grisham  DB99615

Bruce Cable, bookstore owner from the book Camino Island returns.  Camino Island has a hurricane and many houses and businesses on the island are destroyed or badly damaged.  Nelson Kerr, author and a friend of Bruce’s appears to have been killed during the storm, but his death is suspicious. Bruce and his friends investigate and find it was related to the book he was writing.