Mural of a flock of birds on a public building in Cincinnati, Ohio

On the Road

Reading art: How public artworks can inspire another look with these books


Dec 07, 2022

Cincinnati, Ohio is known for many things. Chili-topped pasta. The birthplace of Neil Armstrong. A penchant for public art. While I find their chili obsession questionable, Ohio’s third-largest city was able to perfect one thing—their murals.

While traveling with the Digital Bookmobile, I’ve been able to enjoy public art in some of the country's artsiest cities. Little did I know that just a few hours from home, there was a city that had murals and sculptures that rivaled that of Portland, Chicago or Los Angeles.

This discovery started as all great discoveries do—on a quest for a bagel. After working up quite the appetite talking all things Libby with fellow book lovers at the Books by the Banks festival, I set off across the city for lunch. As I came across each design, I scrolled the website for ArtWorks, the nonprofit arts organization responsible for the 230 outdoor murals spread across the city. While the website did a great job providing information about the artist and inspiration behind each piece, I found myself wishing they included recommended media related to each work of art. So when I got back to my hotel, I hopped on the Libby app to track down what I thought would make great read-alikes for some of the pieces I saw.

Faces of Homelessness


This mural was created by Artworks in collaboration with Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Strategies to End Homelessness. The design depicts 6 real members of the Cincinnati community that have experienced housing instability. The purpose of the mural is to show that homelessness can impact people from all backgrounds and experiences.

Borrow: Rich by Nikki Grimes

When the local library sponsors a poetry contest for the kids in the community, Damaris Dances, the shyest student in Dyamonde Daniel’s class enters to win.

Dyamonde doesn’t know much about Damaris, other than that she never raises her hand in class, hardly eats during lunch and she always seems to run away when Dyamonde sees her outside of school. Soon Dyamonde finds out why Damaris is always hiding, and convinces her new friend to share her secret with the world—through her poetry.

Rich is the perfect book for introducing topics like homelessness to middle-grade readers in a tactful and compassionate way.

Connected through the Generations

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

This mural was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of YMCA of Greater Cincinnati. The mural represents the interconnectedness of the work toward an equitable future for all by minority leaders throughout history.

Borrow: Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

This memoir was written by the youngest participant in the 1965 voting rights march. At just 15 years old, Blockmon marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to stand along Martin Luther King, Jr. in the fight for the rights of African Americans.

With stories detailing her efforts protesting, and the time she spent in the hospital and in jail as a result, this tale of a girl standing up for what she believes in will inspire teen readers everywhere.

The Hands that Built Our City

The 99% Invisible City

Back in the 1930s, artist Winold Reiss created a set of mosaic murals in Cincinnati Union Terminal displaying scenes of the city’s various manufacturing laborers. When Union Terminal was demolished 30 years later, 9 of the murals were relocated to Duke Energy Convention Center, where they were later turned into this new one.

Situated on the side of Duke Energy Convention Center, this mural includes both the hands of the laborers in the original Union Terminal piece, and those of 2 convention center employees and an Artworks youth apprentice that worked on the design.

Borrow: The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars

If I had to name just one person to represent the stories of the hands and minds that build our cities, it would be Roman Mars. As the host of the 99% Invisible podcast, Mars has told countless stories of the hidden design of every day cities and the people who made it all happen.

Now, leaning into the same curiosity that drove his podcast to popularity, Mars puts pen to paper for his new book. The stories within cover a variety of topics, ranging from water fountains to city skylines to elevator brakes. Mars’ storytelling toes the line between informative and engaging expertly, and I can guarantee that after reading each story, you'll always come away having learned something.

The Cincinnati Strong Man: Henry Holtgrewe

Book of World Records 2022

Before TV and social media, feats of strength were often passed along by word of mouth by those that witnessed the spectacle in person. Touted as the strongest man on earth, legend has it that Henry Holtgrewe was able to lift nearly 300 pounds with one hand and the weight of an entire baseball team on his back.

This mural, inspired by turn-of-the-century commercial advertisements, commemorates the “Queen City’s” once strongest resident.

Borrow: Book of World Records 2022 by Scholastic

Seeing is believing in Scholastic's book which outlines some of the world's greatest achievements in recent years. Learn about the longest-ever music video, the most expensive fish in the world and more astonishing stats.

If you’re skeptical about the claims surrounding Henry Holtgrewe, don’t worry. The facts you’ll find in the Book of World Records 2022 are undoubtedly true.

Borrow these books from your local library on the Libby app.


About the Author

Marissa Gillett has a passion for travel and love of reading that led her to join OverDrive’s Digital Bookmobile team in 2019. As the full-time traveler with the Digital Bookmobile, she helps library patrons across the U.S. and Canada learn how to use the Libby app. On her long drives between cities, she’s usually listening to magical realism fiction or adventure memoirs.


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