RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

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.  

To All Misunderstood Cows, Here’s Moo To You

MOO  is written by award winning author Sharon Creech, who also penned Walk Two Moons, The Wanderer, Ruby Holler and others. She wrote this book partly because she lives in rural Maine and partly because over time she has become “enchanted by cows.”

This work of fiction for third graders and older kids is about a family: Mom, Dad, twelve year-old Reena, and seven year-old Luke. The family moves from the big city to Maine, after the parents lose their jobs at a newspaper that goes out of business.

It’s Mom’s idea to just get away from big city life, buy where to go? At this point. Reena blurts out “Maine!” The reaction of her parents is, “Of course!” That is where they had met and fell in love. It made perfect sense to move back. After all, Maine is full of great things - lobsters, blueberries, a beautiful ocean with breaking waves, lighthouses, mountains. But there is one big minus about Maine: Winters are awfully cold there.

There will have to be a period of getting used to Maine’s unique characteristics such as few buses, little traffic, few tall buildings, but mostly to good things. The family moves to a small town on the coast with the ocean just a short block away. They rent a small old house with a woodstove inside and apple and lilac trees outside. As the parents unpack, the kids are let loose to ride their bikes on wide sidewalks and explore their new surroundings.

Since they move to Maine during the summer months, Mom looks for something to occupy the kids. She meets and befriends an elderly neighbor lady who could use some help. Mom “volunteers” the kids to help her with her farm. Mrs. Falala is rather eccentric and bossy, but plays the flute beautifully. As it turns out she also has quite a menagerie of “pets”- Paulie the hog, China the cat, Crockett the parrot, and last but certainly not least a belted back and white Galloway cow named Zora. Oh yes, there’s also a snake named Edna.

Upon meeting cow Zora, the kids, who don’t know a thing about cows, find out that Zora is not only stubborn but ornery as well. But it is their job to take care of her daily needs. The kids scoop and shovel piles of cow dung as well as fill buckets full with feed and water. They do these tasks over and over again and learn a lot about cows in the process. By the end of the book they grow to appreciate Zora and even get to show her at a fair. Supposedly Zora is a prized cow with great lineage. They also grow fond of Mrs. Falala, her flute playing and all of her eccentricities.

A great read that is humorous, sad and heartwarming. A book I found very difficult to put down. In fact, so much so that I read it in just one sitting. Highly recommended and sure to please young and older animal lovers alike.

Thunder Boy Jr.

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illus. by YuYi Morales. My mother’s name is Agnes. My sister’s name is Lillian. But my name is Thunder Boy Smith Jr. and people call me LITTLE THUNDER. That is not a normal name. I HATE MY NAME! I am named after my father: Thunder Boy Smith Sr. and people call him BIG THUNDER.

My mother wanted to name me Sam, Sam is a normal name. I want a name that sounds like me. I want a name that celebrates something cool that I’ve done. I’ve climbed a mountain, maybe my name should be TOUCH THE CLOUDS. I like to go to garage sales with my mom, so maybe my name should be OLD TOYS ARE AWESOME. Little Thunder continues the possibilities of names for himself. Finally, his father tells him that he is going to give a new name to his son. The name he gives him will light up the sky. This is an engaging story that is fun to read.

We Found A Hat

We Found A Hat is Jon Klassen's third and final book in a loose trilogy of picture books ostensibly about ridiculous animals wearing ill-fitting hats. This time around, the animals in question are a pair of sleepy tortoises, the hat is a white cowboy hat, and the setting is the desert just before nightfall. The problem? There's two tortoises but only one hat! How will they decide which one gets the hat (which, hilariously, is too large for either of them) and will they decide without conflict? Readers of the previous two "hat" books may be expecting some cartoonish violence by now, but without giving too much away, the resolution to We Found A Hat is much stranger, and sweeter, than might be expected.

The Inquisitor's Tale

 Set in 1242 France, this is not your usual novel for children, but oh, is it remarkable!  Told through the stories of various people, gathered at an inn, the adventures unfold with delight, dismay, and despair.  The Inquisitor’s Tale: or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog is a literary gift for readers.



She Stood for Freedom

"You can never go wrong by doing what is right. It might not be easy, but it is always right," said Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. She Stood for Freedom is the story of a little-known Civil Rights Hero. Born in 1941, Joan was raised in the segregated southern United States. Because of the different ways that they had been socialized, Joan's parents disagreed with each other about segregation. Joan began college at Duke University, her mother's choice. At that time, Duke University was a segregated school - black students weren't allowed to attend. Even so, at this all white institution, some students of conscience including Joan began to connect with black students at other colleges and to help with the civil rights movement in the south.

Joan went on to participate in sit-ins and other demonstrations against businesses and institutions that discriminated against people because of race. After a Freedom Riders bus was bombed in May, 1961, she joined the Freedom Rides movement protesting discrimination in interstate travel. For these actions, Joan and others who had traveled to Mississippi to help were arrested and was imprisoned at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. When she was released, she remained in Mississippi where she was admitted to attend Tougaloo College. Unlike segregated Duke University, Tougaloo was a primarily-black school. Because Tougaloo was the rare place in Mississippi where people could gather together regardless of the color of their skin, it was an institution that provided a venue for writers, musicians, and speakers who were also involved in the civil rights movement.

The brutality that Joan and to a greater extent many of her compatriots experienced at a sit-in at a lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi, is documented in photographs from those events and others. The book includes other primary sources including a letter from the Superintendent of Parchman Penitentiary to Joan’s parents that reflects the institutional racism in the prison system. A younger readers’ picture book edition tells the story without as many details or primary sources. It seems like it would have been easy for Joan, with her privileged background, to step back from doing what she knew was right. She continued down a path of non-violent organizing and action that helped in the passage of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Joan went on to raise a family and to work as a teacher’s assistant in Virginia. Her son, Loki Mulholland, is a filmmaker and wrote this biography. His film, An Ordinary Hero, tells his mother's story and is featured at the National Civil Rights Museum.