Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Paul Thurlby, a British illustrator, is making a name for himself in the children’s book field by (among other things) naming the books after himself. And so we have here Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife. This is a visually rich collection of his wonderfully unique, simple yet colorful, drawings of 23 different creatures, each with a fun fact about the animal that helps make witty sense of the accompanying captions. Every animal is represented in a style that is reminiscent of poster ads from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.
One example is “Armed to the Teeth” that informs us that, “Sharks are always growing new teeth to replace those that fall out”. Or how about, “Chill out - KEEP COOL” referring to the fact that iguanas must “...move into the shade to lower their body temperature.”
I read this July, 2013 title during a recent “Tales on the Trail” program that the Powell Branch Library holds along the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. Kids, both young and old, were wildly interested in the text as well as amused by the cool art.
So, Thurlby’s imaginative fusion of strong visual design with wordplay and fragments of information works well on his intended audience. In fact, it should entertain little readers for more than just a single reading.
This book might also appeal to all animal lovers who are young of heart, for there is far more here than first meets the eye!
Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife
In terms of food preparation, we're living in a time when even the microwave seems too slow. With that thought as a backdrop, please consider this 2013 offering by Ms. Caitlin Freeman. She has written this book of dessert recipes that derive their inspiration from famous artists and their works. I would probably have been one of the last on the library staff to pick up this book; however, I had a wonderful art history course at WMU during my undergraduate days, the memory of which this volume caused me to recall. I think it would take even an experienced cook a lot of time and patience to make these treats, but the pictures make them look so good that I'm sure someone out there will want to give Matisse Parfait, Mondrian Cake, and Warhol Gelee a try.
Modern art desserts : recipes for cakes, cookies, confections, and frozen treats based on iconic works of art
In the past, I’ve enjoyed reading many non-fiction books about cats, my all time favorites being Dewey, Kitty Cornered, and Cleo. Now I think that I might have to add a new title to that list, Paw Prints in the Moonlight by Denis O’Connor.
This book was given to me as a pre-publication copy about ten months ago by a colleague, to whom I will always be grateful to for bringing it to my attention. It features the then twenty-nine year old author, Denis, who at the time lived in North Cumberland, England in a stone house circa 1876, complete with three-foot thick walls. One icy, stormy January evening, he discovers a silver grey cat screaming in agony and distress, twisting and turning in a trap, caught by the hind leg. Upon releasing the animal, he retreats back to the warmth of his dwelling. However, guilt induced concern makes him return to the scene and goads him into following the cat’s bloodstained tracks to an old barn. There he finds what turns out to be a female who, despite her injuries, has been driven by maternal instincts to return to care for her two, very tiny and bedraggled kittens. Being a cat and nature lover, Denis scoops up the entire group and carries them off to the local veterinarian. After examining the three creatures, the vet only has grim news: The mother cat is near death and her two youngsters are not faring much better. The vet proclaims that there is no hope for any of them, and suggests to Denis that the humane thing to do would be to put the entire lot down and thereby end their individual miseries.
While talking to the vet however, Denis notices that one of the kittens has moved to his outstretched hand and snuggles up to it. So he decides to deposit the little guy into a pocket of his sheepskin jacket and leaves the clinic. As he is walking out the door, the vet warns him not to get his hopes up for the kitten because, “The wee thing will suffer and die no matter what you do.”
Back home, the writer takes on the role of nursemaid to the tiny, shrew-sized kitten, who barely clings to life; the sole survivor of the storm’s havoc upon his feline family. He fills the ink sac of an old fountain pen with some warmed up evaporated milk, adds a few drops of halibut oil, and then feeds this concoction to the kitten who lays motionless in a blanket-lined box near a blazing fireplace. As he accomplishes that first feeding, Denis realizes that he has accepted a do or die mission that will require plenty of determination on his part, an unyielding will to live on the part of his charge, and a more than fair measure of just plain old good luck for both of them.
After a few stressful days, the kitten begins to rouse. A few weeks later, he seems to be out of the woods, showing a greater interest in his surroundings and becoming much more active. To encourage further progress, while at the same time assuring the cat’s safety while he goes off to work in a nearby college, Denis ingeniously decides to utilize a wide-bottomed, clear glass jug, covering it with cotton wool and placing the kitten within this new enclosure, next to the fire. Upon his return from work, he finds the kitten standing on its hind legs, peering out from inside the jug welcoming him home.
Thusly, the author names the little survivor Toby Jug. He grows into a truly beautiful adult cat with emerald green eyes, and long black fur that extends down to his nose where bloom a white moustache, mouth, throat and chest. It turns out that Toby Jug happens to be a Maine Coon; one of the largest of all domestic cat breeds. He also happens to have a personality all his own.
Author and cat develop an extremely close bond; Toby’s favorite pastime being sitting on Denis’ shoulder. Unfortunately, after only twelve too short years filled with many adventures together, cat and owner are separated by Toby’s death. That day, Denis makes a promise that he would write and publish a story of the life that he and Toby shared together.
Despite all the aspects that I found very attractive about this account, there was one that bothered me throughout. It was the author’s decision to let Toby wander at will in the fields and woods near his home. Denis states that Toby was his pet, but “...also his own cat who had enough of a wild streak to give him his natural rights and dignity as an animal.” Even though there were several close calls with wildlife and the elements, the cat was still allowed access to the outdoors at his discretion.
Personally, I could not let any of the three beloved felines who currently share our living quarters that same sort of freedom. The many dangers that are out and about, and the inherent risks that they could pose to their health and safety, are concerns that would constantly gnaw at the back of my mind.
This book took over twenty years to write due to the author’s sorrow and pain when he had to recollect their great times together that culminated in the loss of his wonderful friend. It took me ten months to complete reading it, because I found myself re-reading chapters multiple times. Simply put, I did not want the story to come to its inevitable end.
This is a heartwarming tribute that would appeal not only to cat lovers, but to anyone who has ever had a very special relationship with any animal. I absolutely love and recommend it. But make sure you have a box or two of tissues handy when reading. Believe me, you’ll make good use of them.
And if you keep your cat next to your heart like I do, please keep it indoors next to you. That’s the only place where it can revel in and enjoy the natural rights and dignity of being your true friend!
Paw Prints in the Moonlight
I love crafting books and crafting blogs and I always have! Nothing gives me more inspiration than reading stories about projects other people have figured out. At least right now with a full-time job and a toddler at home, that's what works for me. Hand in hand: crafting with kids, edited by Jenny Doh, is a book I really enjoyed recently that gave me lots of fresh inspiration for crafting with my girl at home. Not only is it full of inspiring parents who have simple and effective ideas for crafting with children, each person featured is a blogger with a blog full of other ideas. I love it! I've always loved making things but it can be hard as a parent to involve children in the process. As an adult, I can become product-oriented and it's important for me to remember that young children are more process-oriented. They want to experience things, not just get a finished product put together. And in that experience, they can practice all kinds of wonderful skills like fine-motor development, conversation, measurements, etc. If you're looking for some fresh ideas from real parents who craft with their children, this book has plenty. And if you are a parent who just likes to unwind with a craft book, even though you have no intention whatsoever of adding new projects to your long to-do list, don't worry....I'm right there with you and I won't tell. You can just soak up that inspiration and save it for a rainy day when you need the perfect new activity to keep everybody smiling! Happy crafting!
Hand in Hand: crafting with kids
There seems to be a real spike in the number of writers who are taking an interest in blending fiction with nonfiction, memoir and essay. The best of these are often clever and inventive hybrid texts that underscore the creative possibilities and evocative power of blending a traditional, linear narrative with a more fragmentary and poetic approach to language and style. Ali Smith’s new book Artful is simply an undefinable book that like the works of W.G. Sebald (The Rings of Saturn), J.M. Coetzee (Elizabeth Costello) and Geoff Dyer (Zona), strives to dismantle the narrow rules of what literature is and can be. The book is framed as a series of academic essays about art and literature channeled through a grieving narrator who is literally haunted by their dead lover, who we discover was the author of the papers (in reality, it was Smith herself who delivered these lectures). Smith’s project is to show us that fictional storytelling can be a vehicle for expressing fresh ideas about literature without that discourse being academically prose-less and obtuse, that it can explore the complex and beautiful marriage between art and life with originality.
What are ABCers? They are a spunky group of kids in motion in their neighborhood and the park. They are doing all sorts of lively and interesting activities while learning their ABCs.
ABCers by Carole Lexa Schaefer and illustrated by Pierr Morgan is such a fun ABC book – one which stands out from the crowd not only with the creative use of the letter for the word and activity but also for the kid friendly artwork.
As the kids make a b-line around the park they discover “D is for Dogwalkers, E is for Eek! Squealers” as the dogs greet them. The kids are in constant motion.
Join the fun. It is worth sharing again and again from “ A is for arm linkers to Z is zee end.”
It's time for Music and Make Believe again! This week the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra String Quartet and Kalamazoo Public Library will collaborate to bring you this special program. Preschoolers will enjoy hearing the story, The Maestro Plays, and completing a craft in the children's room. Then we all go upstairs, where the KSO String Quartet will be waiting to illustrate the story again with music. Kids will love the interaction with the orchestra members and the beautiful music.
We'd love for you to join us at one of the 5 Music and Make Believe sessions this week. Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30 and 10:30 am at Central. And Thursday at 10:30 am at Eastwood.
Register on our website or call 553-7804 for more information.
The Maestro Plays
When I read the new picture book Sky Color, I was reminded of a fascinating piece from Radiolab called "Why Isn't the Sky Blue?". In different ways, Peter Reynolds' new picture book and the Radiolab program acknowledge that the color concept of a clear blue sky may be largely a social and linguistic construction.
In Sky Color, Marisol has the opportunity to share in painting a mural in her school library. When she can't find the color blue, which she thinks she needs for the sky, she thinks a bit more on how to represent the sky on her mural. That night, she has a dream and realizes she may not need the color blue to present the color of the sky after all.
Sky Color is the third in a series of picture books by Peter H. Reynolds about creativity. The first two titles are The Dot and Ish.
How does creativity work? Moreover, how do we harness creativity, both individually and as a group? These are the questions explored in the book Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired magazine and author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide.
The book is divided into two parts, “Alone” and “Together,” where Alone uses current brain research to discuss individual creativity, and Together explores history to uncover the roots of societal and group creativity. In Alone, Lehrer distinguishes two types of individual creativity. The first is what I call the “Aha!” creativity. These Eureka moments occur most often when one is not overly-focused, letting one’s mind drift and broaden enough to make subtle connections between seemingly-unrelated points of knowledge. In contrast, the second type of individual creativity is reminiscent of the Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” That is, in order to materialize one’s new ideas and Eureka moments, one must maintain enough focus and persistence to carry the concept to completion. While these two creative processes, non-focused and hyper-focused, may inhibit one another, they are complementary ways for an individual's creative ideas to be realized.
In part two, Together, Lehrer discusses how creative outputs of societies and organizations often depend on how they are structured, both physically and socially. For example, the dynamics of cities with high population densities almost force their inhabitants to interact with a diverse range of people and ideas, enabling various forms of thought and action to synergize in new ways. On a smaller scale, companies have gone so far as to design their campus architecture in ways that maximize casual communication and idea sharing among disparate departments. There is even historical evidence to show that groups seeking competitive advantage by hiding their innovations from one another (with non-disclosure agreements, etc.) actually hamper the group's own creative potential in the long run. These are fascinating conclusions for both groups and individuals about how diverse experiences and cooperation are often invaluable for creativity.
In conclusion, I’ve learned a lot about "how creativity works." The main concepts I’ve gleaned from Imagine are: on a personal level, a state of non-focus (almost akin to boredom) allows one to see the big picture and let those “Aha!” moments arise. On the other hand, many incredible works of art, literature, and science have been created by persistent focus and sustained concentration. On a social level, exposure to new ways of doing and thinking—often through unintended or casual collaboration—is the best way to create novel concepts among groups. Imagine helped me understand the creative process and gave me some new ideas of my own.
I note that, in "reading" the audiobook version of Imagine, this is the first audiobook I’ve heard that was narrated by the author themself. Thereby, I have no basis for comparison, but if you’re interested in the audio version of this book, I think that the author does a pretty good job of narrating the stories, conversations, and research throughout.
Publication Issues: Self-Plagiarizing and Quote Fabrication
Imagine—or rather, its author’s reputation—has been marred in the media by the author’s oversight on two critical publishing issues. The first is that Lehrer “self-plagiarized” by virtually cut-and-pasting portions of his magazine articles into the book without citations. Second – and most infamous – is his fabrication of a quote by folk rock legend Bob Dylan. It seems that, in centering the first few chapters of the book on Bob Dylan’s creative process, Lehrer basically conjured up a short but non-existent quote by the artist, perhaps to bring the narrative together. Not a good move.
Jonah Lehrer, as a fairly young but brilliant journalist and author, received ample notoriety and job opportunities prior to finishing Imagine. Did Lehrer simply stretch himself too thin as an impressive new writer? Whatever the case, I strongly think that (omitting the Dylan quote) Imagine is an excellent book that I would strongly recommend to readers interested in the creative mind, the artistic process, and the ways that groups can innovate.
Imagine : how creativity works
Peter McCarty is a Caldecott honoree illustrator; that is, he won an award for his artwork for his picture book: Hondo and Fabian. His most recent picture book is Chloe, featuring a little bunny who has a mother and a father and twenty brothers and sisters; Chloe is in the middle.
One day, Chloe’s dad surprises everyone and brings home a new television set for some family fun. After dinner the family watches a television program. However, watching television is definitely not fun for Chloe who decides that playing with the tv box and bubble wrap packaging is much more entertaining and imaginative. Soon, each of Chloe’s siblings dumps the tv show and joins their sister Chloe. Even mom and dad can’t resist Chloe’s bubble-wrap popping and bigbox playtime!
Peter McCarthy’s calm, ethereal, sometimes comical illustrations are adorable. He’s written several children’s books and the first book that got my attention is Honda and Fabian, a story about a dog and a cat. Baby Steps is based on a month by month chronicle of his daughter Suki’s first year of life with the most beautiful, delicate life-like drawings of a baby.