For Kansas Travelers: 8 Wonders of Kansas! Guidebook

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services & Collections Manager

While some Kansans will have no idea of the location of the town of Inman, and more may have never heard of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, there’s always time to discover a regional treasure.  Inman author Marci Penner published the first of her Kansas guides in 2005, entitled The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers.  That lovely first effort was a guide to towns, restaurants, and local details grouped by region throughout the state.  It remains a perennial favorite, and interested travelers are quick to search its pages for undiscovered locales.
With hot summer days and dreams of vacations yet to be taken, I can think of no better way to pass a little time than by exploring Penner’s gorgeous second book, 8 Wonders of Kansas! Guidebook.   Like her first title, Penner’s latest is a guide to Kansas attractions, but the book is so much more.
The groundwork for this book began as a contest.  From June 2007 to October 2010, participants were invited to nominate Kansas attractions that fit into one or more of eight select categories (architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history, and people).  In all, more than 100,000 people from around the world voted, and an amazing 1000 stories, articles, blogs, etc. were generated.  The result?  A compiled display of 216 of the best of what Kansas offers, a terrific book that is a delight to read as well as an excellent travel companion.
Photographer Harland J. Schuster is to be complimented on the breadth of his work.  His introductory remarks allude to the early morning shots, aerial panoramas, and late afternoon vistas that were part of the typical day’s work.  He also notes the generous help that he received from the many local citizens eager to be a part of the project.  And the photography is excellent.  A double-page spread for Konza Prairie, for example, boasts shadowed photos of a distant hillside.  A display of Pillsbury Crossing features a sun-sparkled view of pooled water, as well as a sidebar feature of the falls. And the other 214 wonders are just as appealing as those from the Manhattan area.
Among the overall winners is Greensburg’s Big Well.  Penner supplies us with the history of the project, a 109-foot-deep venture that took a year to finish. Until 1932, the well served not only the town but also the steam locomotives that regularly made stops in the town.  The photo of the well, taken from the depths of the excavation, awes the reader with its focus on obviously hand-tooled walls.
Treated as one top selection are Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.  At 41,000 acres in size, Cheyenne Bottoms is the largest fresh-water marsh in the interior of the United States, says Penner.  She tells us it is also considered the most important migration point in the Western Hemisphere.  And nearby Quivira National Wildlife refuge hosts an amazing 500,000 birds.  If we’re not already convinced these two refuges are to be included, the breathtaking photos of water birds in flight should do the trick.
You can probably guess a few of the other top winners (think of former presidents, salt reserves, and space exploration for starters), but plan to check out the individual category winners as well.  You’ll be surprised how many you recognize.
For architectural honors, for example, one can’t omit the dramatic Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls.  For art recognition, the Stan Herd Earthwork located in Atchison was selected for its exceptional utilization of earth as a medium and farm equipment as a means of application.  Among winners for customs is the old farming habit of using post rock for fencing, particularly in LaCrosse and the Smoky Hills region.
Each selection also includes location, contact information and hours of operation.  And the fold-out cover lists tips on how to use the guidebook and a state map that sports each winner’s exact location in relation to all the others.
Looking for a fun way to spend lazy summer days?  If so, this book is right for you.  It’s perfect for family exploration as well as individual ventures.  Take a little time to explore the many riches of Kansas.

Historic Photos of Kansas by David Knopf

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As I’ve traveled throughout the country, I’ve heard way too many jokes about living in Kansas.  I take them in stride, but always defend my state.  One of the things I love about Kansas is the rich history: the Native Americans, abolitionists, farmers, teetotalers, and educators who made Kansas into the place we know today.  Historic Photos of Kansas gives us a chance to browse through the past.  This beautiful book allowed me to see what my grandmother’s soddy may have looked like or my mother as a little girl on the farm.  There are even a few pictures of Manhattan back in the day.  This glimpse into the past is thoroughly enjoyable.

Our Boys: a perfect season on the plains with the Smith Center Redmen by Joe Drape

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The Kansas Read for 2012 is Our Boys by Joe Drape, the inspirational story of the Smith Center Redmen and the community that cheers them on. We are excited to announce that we will have the author here at our library on Thursday, February 9!

When New York Times sports writer Joe Drape moves to Smith Center, the Redmen have won 67 games in a row, holding the nation’s longest high-school winning streak.  He is determined to find what creates such a successful football program, only to discover a coach that uses football to teach his team how to succeed in life and a town that maintains values of love, patience, and hard work in the midst of struggle.  Our Boys goes beyond being a story about football to teach us about community and raising the next generation.

If you like this book, we have recommendations for more books about sports and community here.

Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger

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Western Kansas is the setting for this page turner, written by a western Kansas historian. Charlotte Hinger’s entrance into the literary world began with the first Lottie Albright mystery, Deadly Descent. In this second book, Lethal Lineage, a deputy sheriff and local historian, Lottie is horrified to find Reverend Mary Farnsworth dead in a windowless, locked room just after assisting with a confirmation in the new St. Helena Episcopal Church. When the pathology report comes back that shows Mary was poisoned, the search begins for the ruthless killer.

Third and fourth generation ranchers are involved in raw land dealings that become part of the story of intrigue. A corrupt sheriff in a neighboring county locks-up Lottie and her psychoplogist sister, Josie, a Manhattan resident, overnight as they research Mary’s death. This sets the stage for the ousting of Sheriff Deal who has the backing of relatives from all over the county. Mysteries galore are unresolved in this local whodunit until the very end.

Snow Melts in Spring by Deborah Vogts

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“There’s no place like home.” I know all of us Kansans get a bit tired of hearing quotes from the Wizard of Oz, but some of them are just plain true. I read Snow Melts in Spring mostly because it takes place nearby, in the area of the world I love more than any other. It’s set in a small town in the Flint Hills and K-State Vet School makes many appearances.

Mattie Evans is a veterinarian struggling to establish her practice after a series of patients that died of unexplained causes. Her staunchest supporter, John McCray asks her to save his son’s horse after a horrible accident. John’s son Gil has been away in California playing pro football for several years. The news of the accident draws him back home to tend to his horse and face painful memories from his past.

Mattie and Gil work together in the midst of many trials, forging a bond of love and faith that is tested when it is time for him to return to his “normal” life. Vogts tells an inspirational story with a backdrop of beautiful grasses and rolling hills.

The Best of Kansas

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Celebrate 150 years of Kansas! The State Library of Kansas has created a list of 150 popular books about Kansas. The list has books for any taste, including fiction, Kansas history, art, nature, and memoir. I’m including a small sampling here, but to see more we’ve created an online list that links to our catalog or come in and see the display at the library.

What Kansas Means to Me : Twentieth-Century Writers on the Sunflower State by Thomas Averill is the Kansas Reads selection for 2011. This collection of 20th century writers describes the spiritual consciousness of Kansans. In the preface Averill states, “Many nations, regions, and political entities have distinct cultural identities, and Kansans have been acutely conscious of an identity. . . since territorial days. This book attempts to present some of the best positive thinking about who we are and why.”

The story of a small town football team with phenomenal success inspired a New York Times sportswriter to move to Smith Center, KS for one year to find out what it was all about. Our Boys: a perfect season on the plains with the Smith Center Redmen is the tale of what he found there. He discovered a coach that is just as concerned with his players’ success off the field as on and a town that demonstrates the best of what America’s heartland represents.

For 17 years the people of Small Plains, KS have wondered about the strange happenings connected with the grave of a teenage girl. It’s never been clear what happened the night she died, but Abby Reynolds starts asking questions in an attempt to find the truth. The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard is a novel full of suspense and unexpected plot twists, a memorable read.