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Staff Picks: Books

A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings

Of the 100 buildings pictured and discussed in this 2015 book, only nine are in the United States, the closest to Kalamazoo being Mies van de Rohe's 1945-1951 Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. Hence, this is quite an international volume. The chapters are Pioneers, Rhetoric (Building with a Message), Sacred, Urban Visions, Big and Beautiful, Material Matters, and Lost and Found. I wonder if the wonderful O'Connor/Houghton volume on Kalamazoo buildings gave Mr. Cruickshank the idea for this last chapter title? Excellent photography and concise commentaries are present in each entry. I particularly enjoyed the one on the Stockholm, Sweden, Public Library. There are photos of both exterior and interior, including the central reading room, of which the author says, 'The white walls reflect light down onto the desks below, making the tall cylindrical room the epitome of intellectual enlightenment.' This is truly a spectacular building, along with the other 99 included herein.


Muhammad Ali unfiltered

Filled with intimate color and black and white photos, Muhammad Ali unfiltered is a pictorial tribute to The Champ's life and legacy. My favorite pictures in the book are one of him running behind his children in a stroller on a hill and the telegram he sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. who was jailed in Birmingham. If you want to see more like this, check out the book, and appreciate this legend all over again.


Miss Jane

From Miss Jane by Brad Watson:

“She was born into that time and place, in the farmland cut from the pine and broadleaf woods of east-central Mississippi, 1915, when there was no possibility of doing anything to alleviate her condition, no medical procedure to correct it. It was something to be accepted, grim-faced, as they accepted crop failure, debt, poverty, the frequent deaths of infants and small children from fevers and other maladies.”

The novel Miss Jane is a beautifully-written character study of a girl born alone in every way—an odd duck in a family worn down by hardship, alienated from society due to the unique nature of her disability and in no small part to simple geography. She is alone save for the paternal kindness of a country doctor. But there is something about Jane Chisolm, something deep inside, that allows her to connect with nature and build a meaningful life in solitary. I can’t say enough about this book; Brad Watson writes with empathy for his heroine, an empathy that extends out to all of us experiencing the human condition. Using beautiful descriptions of nature to foster tone and atmosphere in the novel, Watson creates a striking sensory experience that propels Miss Jane to the forefront of great contemporary fiction.


Cat Rackham

Cat Rackham is a cat. Specifically, Cat Rackham is a cat with a lot of issues. Depression? He's got it. Existential dread? Same. Self-doubt? Yes. On the other hand he's also got a nifty green t-shirt, a squishy tuft of hair, and a friend in exuberant, speech-impedimented Jeremy Squirrel, but aside from that he's still pretty much a mess. Mostly wordless, each Cat Rackham vignette in this collection illustrates the poor feline's coping with life's difficulties, with varying degrees of success. Originally published as an infrequent online comic, Cat Rackham is a more-or-less literal embodiment of creator Steve Wolfhard's personal struggles with depression, along with a love of cats and a desire to entertain. Wolfhard's day job as a storyboard artist and animator for sorta-for-kids-although-maybe-not-I-don't-know cartoon Adventure Time shows through, with blobby character designs and a morbid sense of humor dominating each page. If you're struggling, if you like cats, or both, maybe Cat Rackham can help. Or not. He's having a hard time himself.


American Nations

Could the cultural values of the different European immigrants that first immigrated to what we now call the United States still be affecting our election results? Colin Woodard thinks so. He breaks the country up into eleven regional cultures, but he sees most of political history as a conflict between Yankeedom, descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans; and the Deep South, immigrants from the British colony Barbados that landed in Charleston, South Carolina in 1670. In American Nations, Woodard tells the history of the arrival and expansion of these different groups and how they have aligned and broken apart through the next four centuries.


The most fascinating part for me was the Revolutionary War section which showed that the colonies were in no way united about whether or why to start a revolution.


Towers Falling

I remember how nice the day was. How I didn’t want to go to school. I remember being bored in my Focus on Freshman class when the assistant principal ran, red faced and huffing, into the classroom, handed our teacher a piece of paper, and then ran out. I remember the whole class asking if we were on lockdown, if there was an active shooter in our school, or in the high school across town. I remember the teacher struggling with how to explain what had just happened to a bunch of 9th graders. I remember thinking the world was about to change.

It’s hard to imagine that something that happened not that long ago, something I can still remember so vividly, could be a foreign concept to someone else. In Towers Falling, fifth grader Dèja Barnes wonders how something that happened before she was born could have to do with her. How could this bit of history, something that happened 15 years ago, have any impact on her now? The story follows her as she realizes that 9/11 may have happened before she was born, but the effects have touched everyone around her, and ripple outward to affect her life in ways she did not previously understand. This book does such a fabulous job of showing how we are all connected through our small communities that build outward and how we’re all connected as Americans to 9/11 and how history is never something that exists only in the past tense.


They all saw a cat

I discovered this book at this year’s Youth Literature Seminar and had to take it home with me. The book has a simple, repetitive, rhyming text that is great when reading to very young children and gives it a sort of sing-song quality. What I really love about this book though, is the way it is illustrated. The cat meets a number of other animals and each has a different view or perspective of it. The dog and the mouse, for example, see the cat very differently. Some of my favorite illustrations were of how the bee, the worm and the, flea see it. Come check out our copy to see what a snake thinks of a cat!

 


Wet Cement: a mix of concrete poems

Concrete Poetry is poetry where the visual elements and typeface match the topic of the poem. In his latest poetry collection, Wet Cement, Bob Raczka shares the cleverest concrete poems (also called shape poems). Young poetry fans and their caregivers will be delighted by the topics, humor, wordplay, and imagery. It’s a perfect poetry collection for sharing with new readers and is oft requested at our house. It will make you laugh and think and hopefully inspire you to write some concrete poems of your own. My favorite line describes the Big Dipper constellation as a “vessel of stars, my brim overflowing with night.” For a more thorough review and information about writing and learning with concrete poems, visit School Library Journal.


The Princess and the Warrior, A Tale of Two Volcanoes

There have only been a few occasions where I have discovered an author that I would eventually become obsessed with.  Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-tee-YOU) is one of those authors.  I was so excited to read his latest children’s book, The Princess and the Warrior, A Tale of Two Volcanoes. In it, he retells the legend of the two great volcanoes overlooking Mexico City: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.  Once again Tonatiuh's artistic style successfully represents the legends, the people, the history, and the culture of Mexico.  

Tonatiuh is Mexican American and he grew up in both countries.  He has received well-deserved recognitions and awards for his works including the Pura Belpre’ Medal and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book Award. Now more than ever, it is important to continue to highlight diverse children’s books that promote pride, acceptance, and appreciation for all cultures. This book does all this and more.

 


My Tata's Remedies/Los remedios de mi tata

Plants are powerful. You probably know how, after cooling with lots of cold water, aloe vera plant can be a salve to soothe a minor burn. Aaron's Tata Gus is a go-to person in the community when people need a remedy for a burn, scrape, or bump. He’s got remedies for lots of different maladies and his community is grateful for them. As in My Nana’s Remedies/Los remedies de mi nana, these traditional remedies are based in herbs found in the everyday world. It is often elders who have earned the respect of the community with compassion, knowledge, and a history of service to the community. The pages at the end of both books give more detail about the plants and herbs described in the stories. Both books are written in both Spanish and English and are based in the author’s community in the Nogales-Tuscon area in North America.
I like how My Tata's Remedies/Los remedios de mi tata, a Pura Belpre Honor book shows how a community looks out for one another with food and with herbal remedies.