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Staff Picks: Books

Hey Dreamer

I keep reading and re-reading Jason Reynolds' new book,  For Every OneThe book is actually a letter in the form of a long poem that Reynolds performed at the Kennedy Center in 2011. It's a beautiful letter of encouragement to teens (or anyone) learning to make sense of their dreams. I hope to gift it to every graduate I know. The official release is April 10 and many copies are on order for KPL locations. You can place a hold through our website or by asking in person. 

I was happy to get a chance to read an advanced reader copy through our Teen Top Ten program here at the library. In this program, teens have access to hundreds of Advanced Reader Copies given to KPL from teen publishers. In exchange for access to not-yet-published books, teens write short reviews that get sent back to the publishers. To date, Kalamazoo's Teen Top Ten group has written over 250 reviews and has 60 registered members. We'd love to have you join us!  

 


Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!

In Marley Dias’s new book, the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks describes the background of the movement that she created and how young people can organize to change the world. Dias writes about how reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming changed her life, how she realized that there were not nearly enough books that reflected kids like her. Her school reading list at the time was filled with stories about white boys and dogs: Shiloh, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows… all great books, she says, but why no black authors? Great question. When Marley’s mom asked her what she would change about the world, she said she’d like to make it so that kids everywhere could read books with black girls - books that accurately reflect the wide range of kids' identity and experience. Children are better off when they see themselves reflected in the books that they read. As Jacqueline Woodson says, "Seeing a story on a page about a black child written by a black author ... legitimizes your own existence in the world, because you're a part of something else. 'Look, I'm here in this book.'" 

Marley Dias's activism has been effective in motivating change within the institutions that control how books are created and discovered. Read Marley Dias’s story, as she tells it, because it is inspiring. She includes practical information about how to be an effective activist and how their adults can help. Young people have always changed the world and Marley Dias, with support from caring adults, truly has done so. Here's an excerpt to get you started reading Marley's book right now, if you so choose.


Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing

Save the date: Kwame Alexander is coming to visit Kalamazoo on February 28th

In the book Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, use original poems to celebrate twenty poets who, for the three authors of this book, had to be interesting people with poems that they loved. I love how Kwame Alexander opens the book with the premise that poetry can be fresh and freeing. You can make up your own rules about writing! What a wonderful notion that the connections around different senses of words and the way punctuation looks on the page conveys a feeling to other people. These original elements of style are unique to the poet and their poetry. The poems in the first part pay tribute  to Nikki Giovanni, Naomi Shihab-Nye, Langston Hughes, and others in this way.

Poetry expands our thinking about everyday things. You definitely do not need to know the twenty poets that the poems in Out of Wonder celebrate. You might want to read them after you read these poems celebrating Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Chief Dan George, Mary Oliver, and many more. The collage illustrations by Ekua Holmes, who also illustrated Carole Boston Weatherford's Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, add to the sense of the poems and make it even more accessible to young readers and listener watchers. The title, Out of Wonder, Alexander writes in the preface, comes from a quote by renowned poet and children’s book author Lucille Clifton who wrote, “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

For more information about Kwame, visit his website. His new literary focused web show, Bookish, airs weekly on FB Watch.


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. 


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.