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Staff Picks: Books

It’s Time For Global Reading Challenges

April is the accumulation of school team work for Global Reading Challenges here at Kalamazoo Public Library.

In March, 4th and 5th graders who participated in the school challenges showed off their skills for reading and remembering facts from 10 specifically selected titles. After reading, studying, and determining their team strategy each team met their challenge with a battle of other teams at their school. Each school then had 1 team, the team with the most points, selected as their school’s representative team that advances to the Branch Global Reading Challenge.

Oshtemo Branch Library will host our Branch Global Reading Challenge on Monday April 20, 2015 at 7 pm in the community room. Three schools will be represented:

  • Razzle-Dazzle Readers from Martin Luther King – Westwood Elementary
  • Radical Readers from Prairie Ridge Elementary
  • Candy Lollipops from Heritage Christian Academy

The teams will again battle for the chance to advance to the City-Wide Challenge. There each branch library, including Central will have one team. Teams will battle one last time for the chance to become the 2015 Global Reading Challenge Champion. Last year’s Challenge (2014) was won by the Crazy Cougars from Prairie Ridge Elementary. Can Oshtemo’s team do it again?

As you can imagine each Battle is a bit more intense. Same 10 books but not the same questions – each battle requires the questions to be more challenging, more specific in nature – just plain harder! If you have not participated by being in a challenge, being a coaching, being the parent of a team member or a family member you should think about coming to watch this great program. You will be amazed at the skill these students have for remembering the smallest detail from the 10 books.

Join us for some fast paced competition!

Visit our website for more information

Guardians of Ga'Hoole

Want to hook a young reader on a fantasy series? Try out the Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky. 15 books of classic good vs. evil in a land run by owls. Owlet snatching, moon blinking, chaw building, battle claws, trees, weather, flashbacks, ceremonies, maps, sorcery, polar bears, nest maid snakes….it’s all in this series! Fun fast paced chapters that always end on a cliff hanger. Each book leaves you rushing to get the next one. Readers will find many correlations to human social psychology and politics using real owl science. This has been a fun series to read aloud with my tween. The movie is a fun tie in too, check it out!

A Happily-Ever-After Story

In these times, it’s rare to find a story, whether written for kids or adults, that has an unabashedly “...and they lived happily-ever-after” ending to it. That’s not surprising since we live in a cynical period, where to show any interest in a tale soaked through with unrealistic happiness sometimes feels like an unpardonable sin. Well, I fear that I have committed just such a sin by falling in love with Cat & Dog, a picture book written and illustrated by Michael Foreman. And it feels great!

The story is very simple. Homeless mother cat finds a dry place under a highway bridge to curl up with her three kittens. Next morning, she sniffs out a fish delivery van and tells her youngsters that she will be back soon with breakfast. But the van drives off as soon as the cat jumps inside.

While mom is away on her accidental adventure, a scruffy old dog comes sniffing around and ends up befriending the feline brood. Before long they are all asleep in one cozy heap together. Mom returns with stories of the seaside; fish, fresh salt tinged air and of the very nice van driver who finds her in the back and returns her to her kittens.

At the end of the tale, all agree that they should move to the seaside which, thanks to the good graces of the fish van driver, they then do. The van driver also lets them all move into a shed he owns by the harbor, and together they watch the wonderful aquatic world that lays before them at the end of a pier.

This is a touching story with beautiful watercolor illustrations; (the kittens’ facial expressions are especially endearing). It is a heartwarming, gentle tale of new found friends and salvation, that should appeal to young children and all other human beings willing to temporarily suspend reality in the pursuit of joyful feelings.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash, by G. Neri

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” is how Johnny started every concert.  J. R. Cash grew up poor and hungry and he never forgot his roots.  When he was three years old he sang for the first time during the family move from southern Arkansas to Dyess, Arkansas, to farm 20 acres of New Deal land.  His momma played a beat up ‘ol guitar and he sang gospel songs.  The sounds of the guitar comforted J.R.   When he was five years old he began listening to the battery powered radio his daddy bought him while his older brothers and sisters helped farm cotton.  J. R. remembered and could sing all the songs he heard and pretty soon the neighbors stopped by to hear him belt out a tune with his tiny voice.  Throughout his childhood J. R. kept singing and helping the family.  His older brother Jack was his best friend and they became spiritual brothers, too, when J. R. accepted God.  Throughout his youth he always dreamed of becoming a famous singer:  “he felt the music calling like a voice from the middle of the earth, full of mystery and power, reaching up and grabbing hold of his heart.”  His brother Roy told him to follow his gut.  “Someday, you’re going to be somebody.  The world’s your apple, and you’re going to peel it.” 

I like the simplicity and style of this biography.  The text layout on each large page is three columns.  Every big page has an important theme in bold print with an illustration on the accompanying page, keeping it inviting and realistic for children.

At the end of the book are pages devoted to Historical Events in Johnny’s Lifetime; More About Johnny Cash; and a Discography of some of his recordings and compilations.


For Lizzie freedom means learning

 In Lesa Cline-Ransome's book Freedom's School, one day mama told Lizzie and her brother Paul that they “went to sleep ‘slaves’ and woke up free”. Mama said that being free means you have to work harder. “Real freedom means ‘rithmetic and writing.”

Lizzie was eager to learn but it was hard for her and Paul to leave their mama and daddy working so hard in the crop fields. Getting to school was not easy and sometimes they had rocks thrown at them. The first school was burned down. Daddy remarked that “at least they got a little learnin”. Lizzie and mama didn’t answer “Cause they knew that halfway to freedom feels like no freedom”.

Well, Lizzie got her wish. One day mama woke them up and said hurry up and get dressed and we’ll go check on Mizz Howard. They got there to see men working on rebuilding the school and Mizz Howard was ready to start lessons. 

Gordon Parks

Carole Weatherford Boston has written many children’s books; this one, Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, is one of her best.   A teacher told her black students that they would all grow up to be waiters and porters, and Parks did do that work, but then he taught himself photography and the rest of the world opened up to him.  Elegant illustrations and lyrical text help to tell the story of his remarkable life.




The book with no pictures

A children’s book with no pictures, just words? Where’s the fun in that? Well, those words might make you say silly sounds, in strange voices. And you do have to read what’s on the pages, after all….

This deceptively simple, imaginative book is titled (appropriately enough) The book with no pictures, by B.J. Novak. It introduces children to the idea that written words have power, and that words can also provide fun and just plain silliness.

A Thirst For Home: A Story of Water Across the World

Imagine our water supply and how easy it is for us to go to any of our faucets at home and get clear, cool drinking water. We don’t even think about it. I was reminded of this ease or lack of it several months ago. I needed to have a new washing machine installed. Easy enough said the salesman, when it is delivered, they’ll just hook it right up. Nothing is ever that easy – the deliveryman was not able to install the washer and that evening as my husband was tinkering with it, I heard a gush of running water – never a good sound! As my husband ran to the basement to shut off the water I realized this meant no running water until we could schedule the plumber. No shower, No flushing the toilet, no making a pot of coffee, no drinking water – we were lucky and it was only for 1 day – but I really missed running water for that day. Reading A Thirst For Home made me realize how we much we expect to have water.

A Thirst For Home is the story of Alemitu and her mama who live in a small village in Ethiopia. They often walk all morning in the blazing sun to the watering hole. Her mother told her that the watering hole gives them something even more precious than gold! She said they could live a lifetime without gold but not a day without a drink of water. Water is life and it connects everyone and everywhere.

One day Alemitu’s mama takes her to a place where she will find out what is on the other side, but mama cannot go with her. Her mama cries like raindrops and Alemitu catches the tears in the scarf she gave her. Alemitu waits for mama to return. Many weeks later a lady comes and the nannies tell Alemitu that this woman is her new mama. The new mama speaks words she does not understand but stays with her until she falls asleep. Alemitu feels safe again.

Now her name is Eva – it means life. She has a new family with a sister, 2 brothers , a mom and a dad. Every morning when she wakes, she has a glass of cold, clean water. Eva drinks every drop. One night a rain storm makes raindrops bang on the roof and Eva crawls into bed between mom and dad. She feels safe.

In the morning she finds a large puddle outside and cups her hand to take a drink. In that moment Eva realizes she is on the other side of the watering hole. She sees her mama smiling down at her and she knows she is connected to both worlds.

Christine Leronimo wrote this powerful story after she found her newly adopted daughter drinking from a puddle in her family’s driveway. Eva’s story is truly thought provoking. 


Do Bears and Libraries Mix? Silly Question. Of Course, They Do!

 A Library Book For Bear by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton is a humorous picture book about a bear who had never been to the library.


One morning, Bear hears a tapping at his door. He sees the bright-eyed face of his fervent  friend Mouse who is excited to take Bear to the library to show him around, and because he thinks that it’s just a doggone fun place to visit. While previously Bear did promise to accompany Mouse, today he thinks that this expedition will be a complete waste of his very precious time. After all, he already owned a grand total of seven books and believed that this private collection would more than adequately cover his needs for the foreseeable future. But a promise is a promise, so off they go.


Upon their arrival, a very grumpy Bear is once again quick to criticize. In his estimation, the library building is much too big and contains “far too many books”. All this, he declares, is nothing more than pure excess.


But enthusiastic Mouse persists with positives, pointing out that the library is quite exciting and declares that he will find Bear a perfect book about pickles, since pickles is the one topic that Bear seems to find most intellectually stimulating. But no matter which title Mouse suggests, Bear is dismissive of the selections and voices his displeasure in a very loud and disruptive manner.


Before long, he is shushed into quiet by two mothers (one squirrel, the other raccoon), whose youngsters are gathered around a smiling librarian conducting story time. Bear is upset at being told to quiet down and wants to leave the library pronto.


However, on his way to the exit, he overhears the librarian read a story about a very brave bear and a treasure chest filled with very special pickle slices. Oh my, Bear becomes entranced, and it is now he who quickly tells Mouse to quiet down!


After story time, Bear checks out a number of new books including one titled “The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island”, which Bear reads to Mouse back at his home that very same day.


Wonderfully expressive illustrations compliment this top notch choice for young children, that gently promotes libraries and all that they offer!


And it’s a great selection to celebrate “Read Across America Day”, March 2nd, 2015.

Hoot Owl, master of disguise

 Hoot Owl is hungry. He is also clever, and a self proclaimed master of disguise. This wonderful new picture book, Hoot Owl by Sean Taylor, shows Owl first disguising himself as a large carrot to catch an unsuspecting rabbit. But Rabbit, not fooled, hops on by. Owl devises costumes as a birdbath, and as a sheep, with no success. How he manages to snag a tasty meal of pizza makes for a clever solution.

Illustrator Jean Jullien has perfectly captured the spirit of the story, and his large, colorful pictures add to the silliness. This is a wonderful book for sharing with a child!