Middletown Strong: Looking Up with Russell Library

Artist Retrospective︱Kyle O'Neil

November 29, 2023 Russell Library Season 3 Episode 9
Middletown Strong: Looking Up with Russell Library
Artist Retrospective︱Kyle O'Neil
Show Notes Transcript

We are thrilled to bring this episode to our listeners on the last day of Indigenous People's Heritage Month! The Russell Library recently had the pleasure of partnering with Kyle O'Neil and her father and Wangunk Elder, Gary O'Neil, to showcase Kyle's 20 year retrospective journey as an artist. This conversation includes a retelling of Briana and Christy's experience hosting this beautiful event, along with sound bites of conversation from Gary and Kyle taken during a guided tour of the collection. We invite you to view Kyle's incredible artwork at the library throughout the month of December.

The land the Russell Library sits on is Wangunk land; we are honored to bring awareness and recognition to the Wangunk people, who are sometimes referred to as a “lost tribe.”

Book Recommendations

Misewa Saga 1: The Barren Grounds by David Robertson
Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Collection edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr
First Laugh -Welcome, Baby!  by Rose Ann Tahe, Nancy Bo, and Jonathan Nelson
Powwow Day by Traci Sorell
We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson 

This podcast uses music by Ashutosh, under a creative commons license:
Time by ASHUTOSH | https://soundcloud.com/grandakt
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

 Hello and welcome to Middletown Strong, looking up with Russell Library. I'm Christy Billings, along with Briana Gagnon. Hello. And today we're so excited to be able to talk to, talk to you about an event that's very close to both of our hearts. We had a wonderful artist reception with Kyle O'Neilland her father, Gary O'Neil. 

On November is Native American Heritage Month. Gary O'Neil and Kyle O'Neil are members of the Lost Tribe in Connecticut called the Wangunks.  They are direct descendants of the Jonathan Palmer line.  The land the library sits on is Wangunk land. As well as all the Middletown area and beyond, uh, to the River Bend, East Hampton and East Haddam.

So we want to honor their stewardship of the land.  Uh, so we're going to talk a little bit about Kyle O'Neil and how she is an artist extraordinaire. And a little bit about Gary as his, in his role as a Wangunk elder and um, helping Kyle with her art.  So, Briana, how did this artist reception come about?

So, Gary and I met over the summer. So, I was a part of the geo mission for summer reading this past year, and I had come up with this idea of doing bookmarks based on historical Figures from the Middletown area. So one of the figures I thought of was just honoring the Wangunk tribes. Since this is their land, the library's sitting on it.

It's only right that we recognize them. And so I was scouring the internet and Gary's name came up, but I couldn't find any sort of contact info.  So I went out on a limb and reached out to a Wesleyan professor. I didn't hear back from her for a while, but eventually I did, from her personal email, and she gave me Gary's phone number and email address.

Before I had the chance to even call him, he popped into the library out of the blue on a Saturday when I was here, and we met. The first of many times. Yeah. He is, he is great about his timing. Yes. He has impeccable timing. He does.  And so he came in, and I just went over my idea of the bookmarks with him, and he was all on board.

So I did some research based on some information he'd given me, some information from Jesse Nasta. Um, put together this bookmark with Sue Hohner, who is in charge of all the graphics here at the library. Thank God for Sue. She is amazing. So she put this bookmark together, I showed it to Gary, and he loved it.

Loved it.  And so from there,  the idea of doing a art show kind of came up, and I don't really remember how. But it did.  And so, we were like, yeah, like, if we can make this happen, let's make this happen. And here we are, in November, and we've had this successful art show, as well as a talk about the Wangunk, and something that I knew I wanted to do, working at the library, was do something with the Indigenous community.

And I'm like, Before I retire, like this is something I want to say that I was able to do, because I've always been really passionate about learning about the indigenous community ever since I was little. My dad was like a huge part of just bringing me to educational powwows with my cousin and I was always reading about different tribes.

So it was like, I just want to partner with a tribe that's from Middletown because it's just so important to bring,  bring people together and to learn about their culture and that this was their land and honoring them.  So I'm just really glad that everything happened the way it did. It was phenomenal.

It was. And 

as things just 

rolled out, they just kept, things kept working out. Um, I mean, it was a lot of hard work too, but, um, Kyle's art, um, it was an artist retrospective,  um, and  we will have the art up on the wall through December. So we encourage people to come in and take a look. We've had several different private tours with people, which has been really nice.

Um, the mark.  folks. And then 

we had residents from Heritage Commons retirement community come in recently. There was a group of 10 of them that came and Christy and myself just walked around the library and pointed out. The different series that were hanging on the wall of all the different types of work that Kyle's done and they were so happy to see it.

They loved it. 

They had such good questions, too. I really enjoyed the tour with them  and Kyle has exhibited internationally. been in Argentina. Uh, she's exhibited here in Connecticut. Um, her art is just very moving. I think one of the residents said that there just was emotion when you looked at her work and I loved the way she phrased that.

Like, I think there is something that touches all of us with different pieces.  Um, we're going to jump over now to, um, a time that Briana and I walked around and looked at the art with Kyle, and she's going to talk a little bit about, uh, some of the pieces that she did, starting with, um, some that are, um, made after she was at the water. 

We started talking a little bit this morning about, like, these 


Sort of in honor of the beach.  Maybe a little bit about waves. I love how you picked the purple colors. And so I just was interested to know a little bit more 


um, what you were thinking when you made it. Were you thinking about the ocean a little bit?

Yeah. Yeah? That's cool.  And then the city ones. Did you get to go visit New York City? No.  

My dad's friend from up the continent  was in New 

York.  I can't, I have to have my knees.  

But you've 

been to 

which one? I've been to New York. You've been 


New York. So it inspired you to do some of the paintings, that you have your, um,  this collage and then your cityscape? 

Yeah. Yeah?  I love how you made the buildings all different colors. That was really cool. Yes.  I love all the different colors. And the one next to it is my absolute favorite painting out of all of them. Yeah. Well, 

That's my favorite. 

Is it a painting kind of, or what's it called?  What do you call it? Do you call it a painting?

It's a 

monoprint. It's 

a monoprint.  Ah, I knew that.  Thank you. 

So that monoprint, actually, I love the blue that's on your nail 

polish because it's the 

same blue that you have in your artwork. Yes, it's blue. And 

your socks are red.  Oh, there's blue on there too? Nice.  Are 

those two your favorite? Yes.  

My daddy doesn't like the blue nails.

What color does 

dad like?  



You want to come over and look at these?  

Talk about these are the new ones. 

What do you have a lot of different, what? What? It starts with 

T.  Textures. 

A lot of different textures on these.  I think that is what makes them so interesting. 

How long does it take to make something like this? I'm sure it doesn't happen very quickly because the clay has to be fired.  

What do you do first kind of when you start? What's the first thing you do with your clay pieces?  Roll it. You roll it out? Roll it out. Yeah.  And then after, you put the textures in, right?

Yes.  And do you glaze them?  

Um. You gotta wait, what do you say? You have 

to wait. Wait for what? So hot.  

Okay, so the clay dries, and then you put the, the, the black.  And then does it, when it fires, is it overnight?  

Yes. Yeah. Very 

cool.  So let's talk a little bit about, um, The tour that we did with Mark, um,  uh, it also like everything else that came together beautifully, um, we had reached out to the organization and they thought it would be wonderful to have the folks from Mark come, um, their friends and, um, I don't know if it's classmates, but friends of Kyle's and, um, Her dad came with her and did the tour.

We had maybe, how many do you think? 

I think we had at least 15 to 20 people there. Yes. 

If not more. And they were great. They were. Good questions, you know, um, made good comments about the art as well.  So Kyle uses different kinds of tools to create her art. I think most of us think of paint and paint brushes.

When we, um, when we think about art, but Kyle uses something a little bit different and during one of the visits Gary When Gary was here because he would he would pop in and we'd go over stuff and then poof he would be gone but Kyle's dad had left some of her tools here just kind of on accident so one of the things she uses is called a brayer  and it looks like a roller and that she uses to roll the ink, uh, and the paint with.

And then she creates texture with all kinds of very cool things. Um, and so let's listen to Gary and Kyle talk a little bit about her tools and about her technique.  What do you 


to get it on the paper, Kyle? And this is a big one, but she has a smaller one she uses. What is this?  A roller. And so just show how you go.

Let's make believe I'm, I'm a piece of paper. No.  Okay. I'm a piece of paper. Just show them how you do it.  And she goes back and forth, back and forth, and she has to make sure you don't have what, too, too much, too much ink. And that's one of the problems sometimes having too much ink. And so I'm going to, uh, do this again.

So just show them one more time, Kyle, how it's done  with the roll. 

So the ink is there, it has an inking plate, which uses. Then, these are some of the things she might use to prep with. And you'll notice on the others, this is one that, uh, this was the caning, 

and... Okay,  

here's one where she used it. You can see some of the caning power. 

And so she would ink this, she has an inking plate, and then what'd you do with it? This? 

Okay, so the ink is on here. Let's make the link. Hold this. Okay, this is the paper. So what do you do next? Show them what you do with the ink that is off.  And then she has something she rubs. It's called a brayer.  And that's how that's 

done.  Very nice. Very nice. And she has all different  

tools that she 


She uses textures.  And so, one of the challenges in, when you're an artist, you have to be very careful  how you, when you do your model prints, can you put all the same color all together, or you have to move around?  You move around. And that's a hard lesson to learn, that you have to learn. Just like with our textures, you don't see all our textures in one place. 

So those are all different, and these are... Fire it in a kiln and show it from over there. Those are the older ones. 

I have a 

question for Kyle. When you're making these clay pieces,  do you have something in 

your mind that you want to achieve? Are you trying to build something in particular?  

Are you trying to do something, or do you just use your mind and just your imagination and you put textures different places?

What do you do? I use 

my mind and textures like this.  Different places. 

Different places.  So there's not a plan before you go in. You just see what happens.  

But you know, if you look at 'em, you can see it's all  relative. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, yeah. And it's so interesting. My pottery, I have nothing but texture all over it.

And I mean, that's our similarities. But Kyle is much more, um,  spontaneous. Is that a nice way to phrase it? Yes. Yeah.  And this is interesting because, uh, as you know, we are. Um, from the Wangongs, the original people from Middletown, the original caretakers. But we recently did a ceremony for the Venture Smith Day in East Haddam, and these are some of our relatives, and some relatives you'll see at the opening on Friday night.

Who's coming from Florida, Kyle? Jackie. And who is Jackie? Your sister?  Cousin. Cousin. Okay, so she's coming to... for a long weekend to enjoy all of the exhibits.  This is 

my other favorite one of yours, Kyle. I love this one. This 

one I did, um, city, city, um... It's a cityscape? A cityscape. It's really 


Yeah, it looks like 

a city.

With water, though, right? Is there water in the front? 


what city is it, Pat?  New York. New York? 

There you go.  

This is her trip to New York.  And, uh, what's the name of this call, Kyle? Yeah, but it's a city...  

City Hall. City Schemes. City Schemes.  

Now you can see where she uses the other material. This is from the elevator. 

The linoleum from the elevator.  And those are, that's your signature, those dots.  

I love that you use 

everyday stuff. It's kind of like a disguise. Nobody would 

guess that that was an elevator. 

He's from the elevator, right? Do you like this 

one or do you like the other one still? 

Oh, I like this one too. 

There's just something that  speaks to me. 

Yeah, that one I really like the city 

one.  And 

then you can see the elevator if each turn around  the, um, the elevator, um, the tile on the floor. You'll see that in these over here as well.  

Let's talk about our favorite pieces of art. Briana, do you have a favorite? 

I really love the, well, I have two favorites. 

One of them is of  the, so it's  the New York City skyline one. I don't remember. The title. Cityscape. So I really loved the cityscape that Kyle made, which is inspired by New York City's skyline. And it's beautiful. And we have it hung up on our purple wall, kind of near where the young adult section is. And it just looks beautiful there.

And that's just my favorite to point out to people because she was so inspired by this skyline She just made this beautiful piece of art out of different pieces of different pieces of paper. 

I think so Um, yeah and made a collage. Yep. So, um, I love that one too. Unfortunately, somebody owns that one So we can't even um can't even Like see if we could purchase it, but people were very kind and let us borrow some of the art because many of Kyle's pieces were sold.

Yep, and she makes so many individual pieces. So it's not like she makes a print and sells it. It's one of a kind Yeah, what's your other 

favorite? I love the comforts from the past series, it's Beautiful. And so what Kyle did when she was making this art was actually use part of a rocking chair That's been in the family for generations And used that and made imprints on each piece of art.

There are three in the collection. Um, and it's just, it goes to this general theme of just family being so involved when it comes to Kyle and Gary. Um, like, everyone in their family grew up being rocked in that chair. And the fact that they can see that as soon as they see the art, it's just so moving.

And I just, I think that's one of my favorite pieces or just collection that Kyle did. Just the fact 

that it brings the 

family together just in those pieces and they're beautiful on top of that. And we have them up against a brick wall, which I think is perfect. So let's go to Kyle and let her and Gary talk a little bit about Childhood Memories. 

Childhood Memories. The name of the show is Comforts in Our Paths. Things that comforted us and made us feel good. So we were all rocked in these chairs, and so, for the family, when they, this was the most important exhibit Kyle had done. Because each one of us had been rocked, or, Been in those chairs,  so.

But we really, we're really proud of Kyle as our, as a family.  

Thank you very much, Kyle, for showing us your painting. Applause 


we want to thank, um, Russell Library because Russell Library has given Kyle this wonderful opportunity to, uh, exhibit her work. 

So we have a picture that Gary let us use of the family. And today when we did the tour, you talk so eloquently, Briana, about the family and the history behind, behind that picture. I'd love for us to share that a little bit with our listeners. Yeah. Yeah. 

So in, it was this, um, this framed piece that had a bunch of different pictures of Gary's relatives.

And they showed some relatives that were in the service. And I remembered that in the talk that Gary gave on November 20th,  how invested his family was in serving in the armed forces. So I believe he mentioned that it goes as far back as the civil war. I don't know if it goes back further, but his relatives were all very involved and many indigenous people were, which I don't think is talked about as much as it should.

They were always willing to.  And it was just this beautiful series of photos that just shows the different,  I guess, eras that his family were in and  just how dedicated Gary is in general and just being the genealogist of his family and remembering all these stories and passing them on so that his family's remembered because he was basically given the opportunity to  start kind of keeping track of  Well, who was this?

Who was that? As his family was starting to get older, someone needed to be the one to take these stories and start telling them to the next 

generations. I love the story he tells that when his grandmothers kind of passed that on to him. He was younger, so I think this was just the beginning of that. So, um, his grandmothers had talked about the fact that at some point they would no longer be here, which I think is very precious.

I don't think... In our,  in my collective memory, I can think of anybody doing this. So I think it's an amazing thing. And they expressed that it was like checking out a library book and that library books had to be returned eventually and that they would have to be returned at the end of their lives and that somebody needed to be, you know, able to take care of the family.

Um, and I think they were talking about his new baby brother that was coming home.  So beautiful. But the fact is he is the person, he is the elder in the family, uh, he worked making sure he had all the names of everybody down. He has a lot of dates down. And I think we are, we are terrible at this.

Everything lives in the cloud and it's not going to be helpful someday in the future. So there's. This is amazing and Jesse Nasta from the Middlesex County Historical Society, which is so happy that he had this kind of information was just gold. So good for, good for his family, for him, for taking on this.

Um, we got to meet Gary, um, we had met him previously, we got to see him speak at Venture Smith's day, which when that comes around next year, we'll have to do more of a longer podcast because that was an amazing event. So Venture. Thank you. Smith was a former enslaved person who was able to get his freedom.

And Gary's family and Venture Smith's family have intermarried. And so Gary was there to talk about how they all fit together. And it was a beautiful piece. I remember before this, um, the talk, Gary and several members of his family, um, did a saging and Gary has a beautiful piece of feathers. Was it Turkey?

Turkey. Yep. And he uses that to, um, Light the sage and to let the sage smoke drift and it's really very moving  When he came to do his talk, that was one of the pieces on the table  He was wearing beautiful Moccasins that were made for him by a woman in Maryland who does beading and does things like this in a pouch Around his neck.

So I'd asked what that might be used for and he spilled tobacco  But other things as well  and I'm just very moved  by the fact that Gary is so involved to help educate us and to tell us. Some of these things that have happened in the past that are we're really horrible and hurtful  We can't lose sight of this.

This could never happen again We have to make sure that this is going forward that we are lifting up indigenous voices and making them heard Yeah, it's very important to us  Let's talk a little bit about the reception  it was so unique so amazing So go ahead and talk a little bit about how that came about and a little bit about that night.

Yeah, so a group of us at the library, myself, Christy, Sue that we mentioned earlier, and Denise came together and  Denise was really a key in just making the room flow. We just, we transformed that room from a basically a room full of books to a room with books and art.  And it just, it looked beautiful. We Thank you.

We made sure that we walked through with Gary and hung all the art up in places that it would look good, and it just, it looks like it was meant to be on our walls, and I really would love to keep him forever. I know we can't,  but I'm glad we get to keep him through December.  Um, and so we had also hired a local caterer, Theo Freeman, who made the best food I have ever had.


amazing. I'm drooling right now just thinking about it.  

Yes, and he just, everything was so seamless. It was. It was amazing and people stayed they ate they enjoyed the art. They enjoyed each other's conversations and company It's a wonderful community event. Yep, and Kyle's family came we talked a little bit about that with them  Where Kyle's cousin came up to be with her she was so pleased so it was really nice Yeah, and her mom and dad were both here too, which is beautiful  We talked a little bit about the pieces we have like around 30 I think Something like that.

Um, so we have them up at the library still. Please come see them, um, only through the month of December. And again, we are, we are just grateful for the trust given to us, um, by Kyle and her, and her dad, um, to be able to bring this to the community, to the Middletown community. So thank you 

for listening.

Yeah, thank you so much, and we hope that you come see the art if you haven't already. It's...  It's a one of a kind experience and it's something that you need to see if you live in Middletown or the surrounding areas, for 

sure.  Stay tuned for Shelf 


Hello and welcome to Shelf Life. I'm Christy Billings with Stephanie Rush. Kate. McCarthy Bond, and Briana Gagnon. Thank you very much for joining us today. We are going to be talking about  Indigenous Peoples Month and we're going to be highlighting and celebrating some books by indigenous authors and about indigenous people.

So thank you for joining us.  I just want to say a little bit about  We if you may have listened already to an interview  that Briana and I did about a beautiful, uh, art exhibit that we have here at the library by Kyle O'Neill. Um, and I'm just going to say a little bit about the proclamation that the City of Middletown, um, did in honor of Indigenous Peoples Month.

Uh, whereas the Wangunk people have persisted to this day through their resiliency and spirit, the City of Middletown honors the original custodians of the land. So I just wanted to start with that. Um, Steph, do you want to start with your 

book? I do. So I brought two today. I mixed it up. I'm doing picture books today.

Wow. I know. It's kind of a curve ball for me. So I will, I will preface with my reasoning. Um, so I had mentioned this to maybe all of you. Um, so I looked back at indigenous books that I had read recently in the past year or so, and I realized that all of the indigenous books I had read. Um, it had come out after that the authors were problematic.

Interesting. Yeah, um, and so I actually had a really hard time choosing books for this, which was unfortunate, because they were great stories, but I, you know, afterwards it had come out that the authors, I'm not going to name them, but the authors either had, um,  not been up front about their indigenous heritage, or had borrowed from cultures that, um, they were not supposed to share outside of the cultural...

Um, traditions. So, um, those books had been kind of called out for that. So, uh, I ended up going with picture books today because those were a safer bet.  And it's so funny, Christy, one of the books you bought, brought, was my original pick. Oh gosh. And then at the last minute I switched, so we're good. We're good.

Okay. So you're going to talk about yours. I won't talk about that one. This is still good. Yeah. Okay. See, we don't typically talk about what we're doing and we very rarely overlap, but this is the second time I've been like Christy 

almost brought that book. Isn't that interesting? We were on the same page.

Yeah. Okay. So I brought two picture books today. I'll start with my first one. It's called First Laugh, Welcome Baby. So, uh, this is by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson. I'm gonna do my best, folks, about pronunciations. We're just gonna try our best. If we're not right, please bear with us and give us credit for trying. 

So we're going to do the best we can with these pronunciations. So this is called First Laugh Welcome Baby.  And this story follows the journey of a newborn baby in a Navajo community. So the story shows the different ways that members of the family and the community interact with the baby. They bring him along on errands.

They're making food for him in the kitchen. They're bringing him along on horseback rides and they play peekaboo and they give kisses and they splash water and they tickle him all in hopes of cracking a smile. So we're going through this book and they're all interacting with the baby and I'm thinking What is happening?

Why are they really, what is going on with this? Um, and for pages and pages he doesn't smile until he finally does. And it turns out that the story ends with the baby's first laugh, which is a cultural ritual in the Navajo community. And he's welcomed into the family and the tribe, and it's said that whoever makes the baby laughed first, forges a special connection with them for life.

This is known as the First Laugh Celebration, and it's not something I was familiar with. Um, but I was really intrigued by this. They spend the whole story trying to get this baby to just crack a smile and laugh, and in the end he does, and it's celebrated as the welcoming of the baby into the community.

I love that. With the first laugh! Um, and then there's a part in the back of the book that also talks about other cultures and how they celebrate the arrival of a new baby, and I thought this was a really special, um, tradition within the Navajo culture that I'd not heard about. And I thought it was lovely that it turned into a picture book.

That is so cool. And just sort of an aside, today one of our former co workers, Kathleen, came in with her little granddaughter. So I got to hold her. And yeah, like we all do, we all want to make the baby smile. Yeah, make them laugh. But first, laugh. 

I love that. First laugh celebration in the Navajo community.

That is 

amazing. So that 

was a cool tradition I learned about. My second book today is called Pow Wow Day by Tracy Sorrell and illustrated by Madeline Goodnight. And this is actually another book about tradition.  It paired really nicely. So, Pow Wow Day is a story of Young River. It's a story about community and tradition and about the common shared experience of not being able to participate in something that you love.

For whatever reason, um, maybe you're injured, maybe you are sick, maybe you're not old enough. And it's about that feeling we all know well of being in a place where we want to participate and we just can't. And how frustrating that feeling is to watch everybody around you having fun. Um, so, River is...

She's sick this year, and it's her favorite day of the year, it's PowWow Day. This is a celebration they have every year, there's dancing, and there's competitions, and there's drums, there's music, and everybody's dressed up, um, but this year she's too sick to participate, and she wakes up and she's like, it's Pow Wow Day!

And then she remembers that this year she cannot be an active member. And we follow her through the emotions of not being able to fully participate in something that brings you joy. And I thought it was just a beautiful way to illustrate that, um, it's okay to not be able to fully show up for whatever reason.

And in the end, she finds that being there, even if she can't participate, is still special. Being part of the day, even though she can't dance, being part of the day, even though she can't feel the rhythm, is still special in its own way. Um, and I like that it highlighted this very specific tribal tradition.

and paired it with this emotional journey of feeling left 

out. The crushed expectations. Everybody 

knows that and we don't talk about it enough. I don't feel, especially with kids, that resilience of being able to say, I am sad, I am disappointed, and that's normal and that's okay. So I thought this book was really beautiful at that.

Um, showing that like everybody gets disappointed. Everybody deals with not being able to do the thing you want to do, and 

that's life. That's a great way to learn. I mean, you know, to understand this as a normal emotion. Yes. And to say, 

next year will be my year. Next year I can dance, and next year I will be able to fully participate in this thing that I love.


Briana, I think you've been to powwows. 

Have you? Cool! I've gone to an educational powwow up at Hammond Asset. Cool. And there were a bunch of... Various indigenous people that were there that taught us about the meanings behind some of the dances they did, the things they were saying. 

Did they do the jingle dance?

That was one of the traditions they talked about 

in this book. I don't know if they did that there, but I think there was some grass dancing. Cool. Maybe. Um, but I've been to a Veterans Day Pow Wow at the Mashantucket Biquat Museum. Cool. They're actually having one on Saturday. Tomorrow? Um, tomorrow. Um, they're really cool.

It's just,  it's such an, it's just a powerful feeling just being able to be in that space. and learn about something that they've been doing. 

And that's what I liked about this book, like, even though she couldn't dance, she was still experiencing the beauty and the magic of being part of this tradition and being part of this community.

So, um, those were some picture book recommendations for you.  

Love it. Yeah. Briana, wanna go 

next? Yeah. So I'm going to talk about a dark fiction anthology that's, was, Sorry, that 

was creepy. Phenomenal.  

Sorry, I didn't realize how 

creepy that was gonna be. I can't wait to hear about this. It goes with the theme.

Yes. Um, so it's called Never Whistle at Night, an indigenous dark fiction anthology edited by Shane Hawke and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. And a quote I have in the summary that I found was a bold, clever, and sublimely sinister collection that dares to ask the question, Are you ready to be unsettled?  I went into it completely open to whatever in the world I was going to be reading and I was very unsettled every single story I read.

Um, there's a lot of pretty famous authors, um, Stephen Graham Jones was actually Um, he read the, he had an introduction, um, so he kind of explained what we would be getting into reading this book. Um, and I will say I did not sleep very well after finishing it.  It's a dark 


So you don't whistle at night because you're letting the ghosts follow you?

Is that what I remember? 

So, many indigenous people believe that one should never whistle at night, and there's different stories in different tribes that kind of go with this statement. Um, Like, things will come after you, and so a lot of these stories play on. This idea of, like, what's lurking and what's going to follow you home if you  whistle at night or you do something else that you probably shouldn't be doing. 

Oh, wait. Okay, I was like, why does that sound familiar? Um, are you familiar with the TV show Reservation Dogs? I haven't seen it, but I want to see it. Okay, so there's an episode in the most recent season where they say don't whistle at night. because someone goes off into the woods to use the bathroom and of course they whistle and they conjure a spirit and I'm just making that connection that they they say don't whistle at night for various reasons and so this is dark fiction. 

But not horror question 

mark. It was very horrifying to me. So I read it as horror more so than dark fiction, but like I was 

under of the understanding. It was, it was horror, but it being called dark fiction seems very specific. 

Mm-Hmm, . Okay.  Yeah, definitely don't read it at night 

and don't listen, don't 


That's great. Cool. I love that.  Did you, were you, had you completed your thought?  

I think I did. Okay. Kate, scratch that.  

So, in a complete 

role reversal, usually I do picture books. Yeah! Middle grade. Yes!  So, this is 


of our brand new books. Um, it's book one of 

the,  um, 

Sorry, Misawa series, Misawa Saga. Um, it's a swampy Cree story.

Um, and I'm just looking at the glossary because I think in my head as I've been reading this book I've been mispronouncing everything.  Um, the first book is called The Barren Grounds by David Robertson and he actually is, um, a sought after speaker and educator. Dave is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and currently lives in Winnipeg where the story takes place. 

And it's about these, um, two children, Morgan and Eli, who are foster children. Um, they are from two separate families. And, um, they are living with, uh, Eli has just joined Morgan and her foster parents, um, recently. So he's been, this is a new experience for him. And she has been through several families before where she did not feel... 

She did not feel like she was welcomed into their family. They're both indigenous children. Um, and so she has, Morgan has a lot of anger.  And Eli senses that and is always questioning why are you so angry? Why are you so upset? And so,  she's afraid of letting herself get close to people and also she doesn't know anything about her heritage.

Whereas Eli is very firmly rooted in his heritage, in his indigenous culture. And so, um, it's a story about Morgan. Who is at a school and she feels she's bullied and she feels very alone. And one of their assignments in their writing class is to write a poem. So she writes this poem.  And, um, the teacher's like,  What makes you passionate?

She reads the poem and she's like, You have to do this again. Where is your passion? What is, you know?  And so, um, Eli, on the other hand, is an artist. Like, you know, draws amazing things. And he's got this drawing pad that his dad gave him before he moved into the foster care system. And so, they're walking to school and the drawing pad gets... 

So,  um, so it's about the two of them, it's about finding themselves and, um, the description is Narnia meets traditional indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle grade fantasy series from award winning author David Robertson. It Narnia, there's a lot of references. Um, there's a picture that's drawn, which, um, Eli draws, and he puts it up in this attic room 

that they have, 

and suddenly they find themselves drawn into the world of Miss Sawa,  and through their adventures, and through, um,  You know, they're, they're adventuring, they're search, um, in Missoula, they're helping this culture, um, Morgan begins to find 


Okay, I have to ask, the cover. So, as you all cannot see, I'm going to describe it. So there's two indigenous young people and then we have some animals that look like they are anthropomorphic and they're in clothes. How, can you explain how they come into the plot? Because I, I, are there talking animals?

Yes. Okay.  

I was trying to figure out how much I should say, 

but I mean, I'm looking at the cover and I'm very curious. I was like, you have to tell me it doesn't make any sense. So, 

um, so Eli draws this amazing picture and he, so they've put it up on the wall and they're like, Eli and Morgan are like, where's air coming from?

Like why suddenly it's snowing. Right. And so they're drawn into this picture and they see, um,  

uh, Ocheck, who is a fisher. 

And, um, they're suddenly, they, they find themselves drawn into this world. So this is Ocheck and this is Eric, the squirrel, who's like the comic relief. Amazing. 

Yes. Of the story. Because the way you're describing it, I was like, okay, where did the talking animals come 


Yes. So Ocheck, um, in Misawa, it has.  A human has previously come into the world and taken the summer birds and so now it's permanently winter in Mississauga. Cool. Do you see the connection? Yes.  

Okay. Yes. No, Narnia has a really good comparison. Yes, 

absolutely. And so, um, Morgan and Eli are there to help Ocheck and Eric.

Find the, bring back the summer birds to Missoula because everybody's dying and suffering and the, the, it, the animals are disappearing. So the creatures, they don't call them creatures, they call them, um, I think they call them beings. Okay. of Misawa are all dying because there's no food. And so the four main characters who are Eric, Morgan, Ocheck, and Eli have to go and find and bring back the summer birds.

And, um, so this is, this is where, this is what's going on here. And so, um... Ocheck has had to keep Eli and Morgan's secret  from the other animals in the village because of humans have 

been there before. 

And have been terrible. Exactly right. Ooh, 

isn't that an interesting way to make that story happen. 

Yes, absolutely.

I mean, not 

subtle. No, but that's good. Yeah, what 

I have to say is I started this book two days ago and I just finished it right before. Yeah. Wow. 

It is so good. Kate was like, I'm going to finish it before we start. Literally 10 minutes 

before. I 

just jumped in and I was like, wow, this is so good. And, um, so the, I didn't want to read too much on the back because I think there's a little bit of a spoiler.

But you don't really get to that yet. You're just getting hints of what happened to Morgan and how she ended up in the foster care system. And probably most likely Eli, um, you know, how they ended up in the foster care system and did they actually belong in the foster care system. And I think historically that's probably happened to indigenous cultures where the children were just, 

you know.

I appreciate that this is a middle grade book, but it seems to be tackling some really real world stuff. Yeah. And not in a way that is juvenile. Like not in a way that is condescending. Exactly. It trusts that the reader can handle the content. 

Absolutely. And it's not done. It's definitely not done in a horrific way because Morgan starts to have these dreams.

Mm-Hmm. while she's in Mesa  and she has these dreams of this woman and she starts to, you know, because she always resented her mother. Mm-Hmm. . And it was like.  You know, my mother didn't want me and so then she starts while she's in Mississauga. She starts remembering her mother and she also starts learning some of the Cree language that Eli knows and so So anyway, so it's about It's a lot about like coming to terms with what really happened to these kids and while they're in the foster care system but also Finding themselves.

That's really interesting. And so, um, I thought it was a great book. Again, finished it in three days. And it's a 

series. It's, 

this is book one. It's called the Missawa Saga. And Barren Grounds is the first one. And the reference is because when they go through to Missawa, they, They arrive in the barren grounds.

It's really 

interesting. Cool. I think I want to listen to this. It sounds amazing. 

Yeah, I 

bet it would be awesome audio. And I love that the squirrel's name is Eric. For some reason I am delighted that the squirrel has just a human name.  

Well, it's A R I K. 

Oh!  So ocha 

is that makes more sense. Mm-Hmm. In my mind, I was doing the like typical, like American English.

Yes. ERIC. So we learned that 

Eric's full name is Eric 

Cia.  . Even better, Eric. I take, I what I said, 

and the squirrel is just hilarious. And Eric, Eric and Oche have this thing going on where, oh, Oche is hunting for food and. 

I think Eric definitely provides the comic relief because there's a couple of moments 

where I just laughed out loud because it was really funny. If you can't have a comic relief squirrel, what are you doing?  

The squirrel can never be the heavy. Yeah, it has to be.  

Definitely has a 

dry sense of humor, so.

That's great. All right, 

Christy, what'd you bring? The funniest thing is that I also have a story about someone that's in foster care. So we're seeing 

a lot more of those stories. And of 

course, it's  not funny, haha, just funny that we both decided to pick a story this way because this has been tragedy throughout the years where children are taken from their families, um, indigenous children are taken either and put into schools or into the foster care system.

So. The book I chose is The Seakeeper by Diane Wilson, and I had to bring the picture of the cover. This is so beautiful.  Our copy is out, which is great. I'm 

glad somebody... It's like embroidered flowers. It's very pretty. Listeners, look it up. It's very 

pretty. Yes, and I feel like it would have been... um, an indigenous type of art, and that is why they picked like the beading, the beading and yeah, with flowers and bees and, um, the three sisters, the corn, uh, being grown right on the cover.

It's beautiful. So the seed keeper, um, is the story of this young girl who, um, has.  Diane Wilson uses seeds, both literally and metaphorically, to make social commentary and to trace the hard history of the Dakota people in Minnesota. So briefly, the U. S. government signed a treaty granting the Dakota a portion of the traditional lands in perpetuity and then broke it so the West was settled with white people.

The starving Dakota rose up when the promised food wasn't delivered. They were massacred and hanged in the country's largest mass execution. This is not something we learned. in any schooling that I ever had. Uh, the rest were imprisoned and marched to the reservation in South Dakota. The women, the seed keepers,  sewed precious heirloom seeds into the hems of their clothing.

So that those are, this is the story of the seed keepers. Um, eventually the Dakota were allowed to return to their homelands, but the children were taken away to abusive boarding schools. And when these students grew up and had families of their own, often they were broken, suffering depression.

Addictions and health issues that lurking social services swooped in and put the children in foster care. So that brings us to our main character, Rosalie Ironwing.  She loses her father when she's 12 and her and she has no mother. She's alienated from her people and she's put into this foster care system. 

Eventually, to escape this whole situation, Um, she agrees to marry a local white farmer that she barely knows when she turns 18. And he eventually embraces  GMO agriculture, um, and so she and he have a disagreement on this. She's learned about seed keeping, um, she says, sometimes I was working in the garden, a wordless prayer opened between me and the earth as if we shared a common language.

And I understood best when I was silent. Um, I loved this book. I, it just so,  um,  It was just really beautiful and powerful. It's a Christy 

book. It is. It is absolutely a Christy book. This is like a 100 percent a Christy book. Yes. 

Absolutely. And then this just came across the desk today. Okay. It is a nutmeg nominee.

I love that one. Did it come across the desk 

because you were looking at it? No. Okay. 

Somebody must have returned it because I went to look for that copy and it was not there. So. I pulled our regular copy because the nutmeg one was missing and now I know it was missing because you had it. That's so 


So, sorry about that. That's 

okay. I picked two others. No, please, I'm looking forward to hearing you talk about this book. So, 

It Is A Nutmeg nominee is called We Are Water Protectors, um, and The story is, um,  I'm going to just go, it's by Carol Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goad. The illustrations are so phenomenal.

Stunning. Stunning is just absolutely the word. The colors, um, and, and, um, the story is of the water protectors. And there had been a prophecy called the Seven Fires Prophecy. And it says if humans choose the natural path, They will proceed towards peace and unity and a healthy mother earth. And if they do not, there will be a black snake that will take over the world.

take over the earth. And many native nations believe, um, this path is symbolized by oil pipelines and the black snakes that crisscross our land are bringing destruction and harm. Um, so in 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stood up against the titans of industry to protect their region's water and sacred barrow grounds.

One of the  pictures that I'll just share with my folks that are here, and everybody has to check out the book and see it, is people, um, that are protesting, um, what was happening, and absolutely stunning pictures of, um, of our indigenous People, like, standing up and saying what was, what was truth. 

And what I love about this story, among other stories that are like this, is that it's an accessible introduction to activism for young readers.

Yes. Like, it shows that this is why we fight for what we fight for. This is why this cause is important. And here's a way you can do it.  And I was reading a little bit about the author in the back, and she said that, um, she was unable to physically be there for the protests of the DAPL in 2016. And she thought to herself.

How can I still use my voice? So she wrote a book and I think that also highlights that, like, it may not always be safe to protest. It may not always be accessible to protest, but there are ways that you can participate. There are ways you can use your voice to still be a part of the resistance, even if you physically cannot do the thing for whatever reason.

I thought that was a lovely way to bring that to young readers. So, 

and we are trying to raise indigenous voices today. So I think that's a great way for us to finish up. Yeah. Um, so let's just quick do title and author. Kate? Uh, I 

did book one of the Massawa Saga called The Barren Grounds by David A.

Robertson. Brianna? 

I did Never Whistle at Night, an indigenous dark fiction anthology, edited by Shane Hawke and Theodore C. Van Alst 

Jr. I will never whistle at night again, I will just 

tell you. I can't whistle, so it's fine.  Um, I brought First Laugh, Welcome Baby by Rose Ann Tahe. and Nancy Bow Flood, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, and Pow Wow Day by Tracy Sorrell, illustrated by Madeline Goodnight.

I had a picture book, We Are Water Protectors, by Carol Lindstrom and Michaela Goad, and The Seed Keepers by Diane Wilson. So stay tuned for Turn That Shhh 


Hello and welcome to the segment we're calling Turn That Shhh Up. Up! Projects at Russell Library that are too good to keep quiet. It's starting to feel like winter and the library is ready for cozy weather and shared stories. There are classic titles at our book sale, mysterious revelations about the library, and smooth jazz in the Hubbard Room. 

Joining me is Shannon Bear Larry from our Digital and Emerging Technologies Department.  Hey, Shannon. Hey, Kim. What's going on?  We've had a paranormal investigation at the library. So tell me, have you ever had a ghostly experience at Russell? 

think so. This was, so if you listen to the urban 

legends  podcast, maybe 

it's that one.

Maybe it's not, maybe this was just a conversation I had with fellow coworkers. I can't recall right now. Um, but this was, I was a ghost in the secrets tour last. Halloween. Not this past Halloween. And... You were haunting the reading room. I was haunting the reading room. Um, and I was on the side of like the zero to seven hundreds.

The non fiction on 

the third floor at the glass ceiling. And, um,  I 

saw, I didn't have my glasses on, so I can see any, I see weird things without my glasses sometimes. Things blend together. People are, look differently and then they come close up and I'm like, Oh, that's what you really look like? So, I thought I saw something in the biography section. 

Don't really know. It was just kind of like 

a shadowy thing.  

And I was like, it's probably because I don't have my glasses on. And it's dark in there anyway. But then I came to 

find out, Briana, who's also on the 

podcast, um, she was putting books away up there. And she felt a presence or something. Or maybe she felt something touch her.

She wasn't really sure, but she felt something or somebody watching her. Hmm.  It could have been anybody watching her, you never know. But I just thought it was funny because it was in the same section that I thought I saw something. So that would probably be my only, like, spooky, ghosty experience at Russell.

Do you have any, Kim? You know, 

unfortunately, no. I've wanted to have one. Um, but yeah, I'm just not channeling that energy, I don't think.  

It's a special thing, I guess. I don't know. Quite a few of our co workers have had 

experiences. Well, yeah, and that's, you know, part of the reason we brought in the Eastern Connecticut Paranormal Society.

Yeah. Um, because we wanted to get down to the bottom of it and see if they were picking up some of what our co workers were picking up. So on Saturday, December 9th at 3 p. m., they're going to come back to the Russell Library to discuss the results of their investigation. Over two nights, the group experienced shadow figures, mysterious voices, and the occasional unexpected creature.

Wait, what do you mean when you say unexpected creature? Um, let's just say that they or their instruments attracted a bat. Oh. In the reading room that followed them all the way down to the lobby.  

Interesting. So bats are known in our library. Yes. They hang out in our facilities. department is, you know, they have had quite a few encounters with a couple of bats here and there.

Yes, I have not had an encounter with a ghost, but I have had a couple of encounters 

with a bat.  I just wonder if Dracula is going to come out somewhere. 

So, um, if you're interested in hearing what the Eastern Connecticut Paranormal Society found, definitely check 9th at 3 p. m. They're going to talk about their methods and share some videos. about what they found. So to register, please visit the library's online calendar. 

Oh, I think that'll be fun. Yeah.

Yeah. No, it was funny. Um, I was out, um, with a fellow coworker. We were out at Osa and just grabbing a cocktail. And one of my friends, who's the bartender there, he messaged me and he was like, so,  Is the library haunted? And I was just like,  well, it's, it has ghostly creatures in there. And he was like, oh my God, tell me about it.

So. You know, the word is getting around that  Russell has some spooky things going on. Yes. Yeah, fun stuff.  

So, um, Also in the Hubbard room, but significantly less scary, Noah Behrman is going to return on December 16th at 2 p. m. For an afternoon of live music. He's going to perform as part of his group Stank Eye Jones and the Vagabond Librarians, which released a debut album in 2023.


that is the best name ever. Right? Oh my god, St. Guy Jones and the Vagabond.  That's 

so good.  

Bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Curtis Noah Saad will then join Noah to create music in celebration of Noah's 50th birthday. So if you see Noah, tell him happy birthday. We do have additional details on our website, so definitely check out our online calendar for details. 

On Friday, December 29th, the Library will present the Mr. Magic Family Magic Show. This all ages program features interactive magic, the art of illusion, and the potential to win prizes. It's a performance guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Performances in the Hubbard Room, again on December 29th, um, a show at 1.

30pm and another one at 3. 30pm. Sounds like fun. 

Yeah. Who doesn't love magic?  You know, I wonder if we'll ever get a hypnotist in here.  That'd be cool. We had one of those in my, um, oh my god, dating myself. My  senior thing in high school. I don't know, it was an event and, um, The hypnotist hypnotized one of, like, the students as Tarzan, and then he had to go find his Jane.

His Jane was my best friend who was sitting right next to me, and then he really acted like Tarzan. Oh, wow. It was, I was, because some people can't be hypnotized, I guess. Yeah. And some can be. So he picked very well because he got hypnotized. One second. I was like, what?  I don't know if I can be 


No, you have a pretty strong force of will. I don't,  I don't think so.  

I don't. So I haven't tried 

it, but yeah. Well, I think that's something, you know, hypnotists if you're out there and you'd like to perform at the library.  

Please come by because then we can interview you for the podcast. 

Yes! We love interviewing interesting people for the podcast. 

So, and don't forget to stop by the library to check out Kyle O'Neill's 

art exhibit on the library's first 


It is really cool. I enjoy having art in the 

library again. Oh, I love it. Coming from a fellow artist, the artwork is unique. It's so cool and 


a lot that 

you can get out of 

it. It's just, I loved it.

And the, so thanks to Sue, Denise, Christy, and Briana for putting it all on, but 

Sue who works, Sue Hohner who works in our library as well,  also an 

artist and just made everything. Just impeccable like it's very beautiful and well done. 

Yeah, you'll definitely see the library in a different way I mean the patterns, the colors, the tableaus that are all created by Kyle O'Neill's art are truly magnificent.

Yes.  So, um, thank you to everybody who worked on that Shannon, you're right and Russell Library appreciates all of the support that we receive from the community. Thank you for listening and please visit our website to learn more about our events and resources. Middletown Strong is now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many of the places you listen to podcasts. 

Please subscribe, and feel free to share what you learn with others. Russell Library has too many exciting things going on to keep them quiet.  Talk to you next 

time. Before I talk to you next time. Yes. Um, also on our, we have a web page now on the Russell Library web pages. Oh, yes. 

Dedicated to Middletown 


We also have an email. So if you'd like to contact us, it's MiddletownStrong at RussellLibrary. org. Um, you can see all our wonderful faces and see like our latest podcasts and more things on there. So check out the website too. So. All of 

our pictures are on it. It's fun. I know.  All right. Thanks, Shannon.