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Staff Picks: Books

Dear Martin

I devoured this book. Earlier this year I was struck by PIECING ME TOGETHER by Renee Watson, and THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone was right up there with them. Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and on his way to Yale. One night he's trying to help his drunk ex-girlfriend get home, only to be the one that lands in handcuffs (which is putting it mildly). After his encounter with police profiling, he starts to really notice the injustices and inequalities in his life from all directions. Justyce decides to write Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. letters to express his frustrations and study his writing to try and understand what MLK would do in those situations. What I loved about this book that I didn't get out of the other two mentioned, was how Justyce asked questions not just about the white people he encountered but about his own standing and where he came from - how does he fit in? He says in one of his letter, "It's like I'm trying to climb a mountain, but I've got one fool trying to shove me down so I won't be on his level, and another fool tugging at my leg, trying to pull me to the ground he refuses to leave." Nic Stone does an amazing job capturing nuance and complexity in this book. We'll be reading this for our January Pizza & Pages program at Central. Teens can register starting December 19!


Far From the Tree(2)

I can't say enough good things about Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. This book was the 2017 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature, an award given through the National Book Foundation in November of each year. In this complex story about family dynamics, adoption, love, and more, teenagers Grace, Maya, and Joaquin discover they are biological siblings. As they get to know each other, the reader watches their individual lives unfold and their definitions of family expand. I completely agree with the NBA judges' citation. This book is "uplifting and big-hearted". 

This year's Young People's Literature longlist also includes authors who've visited Kalamazoo Public Library in the past, like Mitali Perkins just recently in 2017, and Jason Reynolds in 2015 and 2016. The whole list is here.  

The National Book Award list is one of my favorite "Best of" lists each year. I mean, other than the KPL "Best of" lists. The entire list is impressive and the winners are chosen by a committee of book industry experts and established authors who work all year long, reading and critiquing books to find the best of the best in each category. You might recognize some big Young Adult author names from this list of judges: Meg Medina (Chair), Brendan Kiely, Kekla Magoon, Alex Sanchez. 


National Book Award Winners

The winners of this year's National Book Awards were announced in a ceremony in New York last night.

Fiction:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Non-Fiction:
The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

Poetry:
Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart

Young People's Literature:
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

You can check out all the winners at KPL.


Binti

I love science fiction. I love the sleek spaceships and visiting other worlds.  I love  imagining how current trends may impact future society. But the stories being told in this genre are so limited.  Think of the last science fiction movie you saw, or saw advertised. Who was the main character? Was it a man? Did he have blue eyes? Was his name Chris? Yeah, I thought so. Why is it that when we get the chance to travel off planet, we’re always stuck with the same guy who can only classify aliens into two categories: the ones who look like supermodels in tight spandex, and the ones who don’t?  

 

There are so many aspects of space travel that have yet to be explored, and stories that can only be explored by people who aren’t Chris. That is why Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is so refreshing.  Binti is the story of a girl from the Himba tribe in northern Namibia. She sneaks off in the night to catch a ride on the spaceship heading off to Oomza University, where she’s been accepted to complete her studies. Her plans are violently interrupted when aliens board and attack the ship.

 

Coming in at a succinct 97 pages, this story is gripping and fast paced. It is the mark of a master to guide the reader from point A to point B with no excess frills, or empty exposition. To pull that off in science fiction, a genre known for elaborate world building and description is incredible. Winner of the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and finalists for many others, this is one space adventure you do not want to miss.

 


Phantom Limbs

I have had an e-reader for years but I rarely purchase any e-books. I find plenty of e-books available through KPL's Overdrive and Hoopla services. I use the new Libby app from Overdrive to search for my books, place holds, and transfer them to my device. Recently, I borrowed Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner and I've been thinking about it ever since I finished reading it. This profound story about loss, love, and friendship, has affected me deeply and I'm so glad I stumbled across it via my Overdrive browsing. Otis and Meg were inseparable best friends, and first loves, until Otis' brother tragically dies. Otis is forced to move on without Meg in his life but he has never quite forgotten her. Like a phantom limb, the pains of his losses are always there. Suddenly, Meg resurfaces and as you'd figure, makes his life much more complicated than he'd planned. As Meg and Otis work through their new proximity to each other, the secondary characters make this well-written book all the more interesting. I don't think anyone who reads it would soon forget it. And anyone who's suffered the loss of a loved one, will see themselves and others through the characters here. Everyone processes loss in their own way and we are never the same again once we've lost someone or something that we loved deeply.   

We don't yet have this title in print at KPL's Teen Central but we will soon. In the meantime, you can borrow it from KPL's Overdrive service on many e-formats.


Steven Universe: Art and Origins

Animated series Steven Universe is one of the most beautiful shows on television right now, and has inspired a large and devoted fandom. I think what sets the show apart is that every element of the show is carried out thoughtfully – from the story and development of the characters, to the sound editing, even the tiniest details nestled into the background are often purposely drawn in to foreshadow future events.

It’s always a treat to watch a new, perfectly polished episode of Steven Universe, but it is fascinating to flip through this book and see early character designs and to read Rebecca Sugar’s early thoughts about who the characters were when she pitched the pilot and who they have now become. In this book we get to see rejected episode storylines, unfinished storyboards, and we also get to read about the creator’s childhood, the projects she was working on in college, and the cartoons she watched growing up. A must read for any fan of the show.


Echo

When more than one patron and all the youth librarians you know, say you should listen to a particular audiobook, you must listen.  Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is an incredible book but it might be the best audiobook I've ever listened to. It's so good that I want to keep driving around instead of parking my car and getting to work. It's a story within a story about a young boy named Frederik, living in the heart of the Black Forest, during the early Hitler years. His father, an accomplished cellist, is deemed a Jewish sympathizer and is arrested and taken from Frederik. He's left to figure out how to navigate this most dangerous new world without him. But did I mention, Frederik does carry with him a magical harmonica. And that's just Part 1. Part 2 opens in Pennsylvania! This incredible story is suspenseful and superbly performed, with multiple voices and musical pieces throughout. It's historical fiction and fantasy combined into one amazing story. Available from KPL in print, Ebook, and audiobook as Compact Disc or through our downloadable service, Hoopla.


The Singing Bones

Inspired by the folktales and fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Shaun Tan's The Singing Bones is neither a retelling of these old stories nor a picture book but instead a combination of the two. The Singing Bones combines short snippets of text with weird and beautiful sculptural illustrations that offer us a new look at these classic stories. While we all know the story of "Snow White", for example, the depiction of the evil Queen as a blood-red, spiky-topped demon face is a strange new way of seeing that character. On the other hand, the illustration for "The Boots of Buffalo Leather" is so utterly weird that you'll want to look up this forgotten tale just to see what could have inspired it.


Princess in Black

I have new reader in my life and their favorite book right now is any title from Shannon Hale and Dean Hale's Princess in Black series. The writing is great and the books are entertaining for kids and adults. KPL owns so many books by Shannon Hale and they are all just as excellent. Some are novels and others are graphic novels. She writes for kids, teens, and adults. Other favorites of mine include the Books of Bayern, a retold fairy tale series for tweens and teens, Real Friends, a graphic memoir about middle school, and Dangerous, an action packed dystopian fantasy for teens.


Strong Female Protagonist

Mega Girl discovered she had superpowers at age 14. Super strength, invulnerability and the ability to leap over buildings in a single bound. It was great at first, but now she’s all grown up, and realizes that it takes a lot more than punching killer robots to fix the world’s problems. At age 18, Alison decides to hang up the cape and enroll in college to find a more meaningful way to change the world but the past has a way of always catching up.

This graphic novel is a fresh and critical examination of the superhero genre, questioning and overturning comic book tropes we often take for granted while exploring what it actually means to be a hero. We have the first volume here at the library, and the series continues online at strongfemaleprotagonist.com