Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Recently, I’ve come across some fascinating non-fiction books for kids. I’ve just finished Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone.
Full of wonderful photos, this book tells the story of the men who served in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion out of Fort Benning, Georgia. These soldiers became America’s first black paratroopers and author Tanya Lee Stone uses their story to explore the role of African Americans in the military. This is a great addition to the literature of World War II.
Tanya Lee Stone also wrote Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, another book that sheds light on a little-known aspect of American history.
Courage Has No Color
Isn't that a great title? The Impossible Knife of Memoryis Laurie Halse Anderson's latest teen novel and it is incredible as usual! I think this statement about Anderson from a New York Times review by Jo Knowles says it better than I ever could:
“Beginning with the publication of her award-winning young adult novel Speak in 1999, Laurie Halse Anderson has written with honesty and grit, bravely shedding light on such once-taboo topics as rape, eating disorders, suicide and addiction. In doing so, she has helped build the current landscape of contemporary young adult literature. Anderson writes the hard truth, stirring debate and discussion among both fans and objectors, and ultimately creating long overdue conversations about the real issues teenagers face every day.”
Kids and teens need to see themselves and their stories reflected in literature, even the hard stories. And they need to see the stories they may never personally experience portrayed in literature as well. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, Anderson writes with depth and authenticity about the sometimes devastating effects of war and PTSD and about the raw, reality of loving a parent who struggles with addiction. This book will change lives in that wonderful way that literature can. I am honored to have read it and I don't regret for a moment sobbing my way through it.
The Impossible Knife of Memory
I’m not a typical reader of memoirs but something about the description of Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding drew me in. The first thing readers will notice is Lynn Darling’s wonderful voice and the tone of the prose— frank, witty and poetically profound. Next, you’ll find out that the book is about the second act of a woman’s adult life, both the joys and obstacles to finding pleasure and wisdom in her pre-Golden Years. With her college age daughter having flown the coop and her husband having died a decade earlier, 50-something Darling decides to take flight from familiar comforts in an attempt to locate her “essential self” by living off the grid in rural Vermont. Favorably compared to other books with similar themes of personal exploration (Eat, Pray, Love, Wild and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to name but a few), Darling plummets deep into both the real and the metaphoric woods of her being, seeking out answers to life’s household, ontological questions.
Out of the woods: a memoir of wayfinding
Vermont based, veteran children’s book author/illustrator and artist Lizi Boyd’s latest literary effort is a wordless picture book that is deceptively simple. Inside Outside incorporates cool, slightly hidden, die-cut page openings through which readers can catch glimpses of what’s transpired and what is yet to come. This device is used to slyly, yet gently tie in the future and the past to the present, underscoring the continuity of the passage of time.
By means of bright, sharply colored drawings set in a predominantly muted, light brown background, Boyd tells the story of a seemingly self-sufficient young boy doing inside and outside activities over the course of one calendar year. Inside overlaps outside, and outside overlaps inside with each turn of the page, until we come full circle to the initial season once more.
With a collection of animal friends lending a helping wing, paw or claw, the young boy proves that there is no room for boredom no matter what time of year it is. Together they read, make crafts, fly a kite, plant a garden and engage in more activities than I could list here.
This book is great for a “one-on-one” reading session. That way both child and caregiver can pour over the intricate illustrations that show plenty of action both obvious and hidden, and share in the mutual delight brought about by their discovery.
Lizi’s dogs both agree.
From the prolific author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, comes another bittersweet story featuring a young boy named Robbie. Robbie, is an only child; it is summer and his friends Jack and Lizzie are at summer camp. Robert’s parents are musicians who are in the Allegro Quartet. His aloof mother is a violinist and his father is a violist and pianist. They are off on a two month summer tour without Robbie who is staying with his Grandmother Maddy. Maddy and Ellie, his dog, are his two best friends.
Maddy’s house sits on a hill bordered by woods. Maddy’s friends are Henry, who is a doctor and a very good cook. Maddy also has many animal friends who live in the woods, even a bear! One night, Robbie and Maddy camp in a tent on a hill in the starlit woods, but then, Maddy gets hurt! What is he to do?!!! Robbie sends a written message to Henry and stuffs it in Ellie’s collar. Will Ellie find Henry and deliver the message? There is a bear in the woods and Robbie cannot leave his grandma! Read this exciting story and find out!
The Truth of Me: About a Boy, His Grandmother, and a Very Good Dog
Yes, I studied actuarial science before getting my library science degree, which statement probably prompts most of you to think, “I didn’t even know those two sciences existed.” But I bring this up, because I am currently enjoying reading/listening to three books on three completely different subjects, but where numbers and statistics play a big part:
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Triumphs of Experience by George Vaillant
The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong by David Sally
Lewis’ book The Big Short is a well- known bestseller that explains the financial meltdown of 2008. It is fascinating and infuriating and may leave you swearing like a Wall Street bond trader (bond trader is worthy of replacing sailor in that cliché).
In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant tells the story of the Harvard Grant Study, a longitudinal study that started in 1938 and has followed almost three hundred men of which the survivors are in their 90s now. The study was started as an attempt to, “transcend medicine’s usual preoccupation with pathology and learn something instead about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them.” The conclusions are interesting as well as the different factors they study over time that they think might lead to optimum health and the changes in the definition of optimum health.
Sally’s book The Numbers Game is to soccer what Moneyball (written by Michael Lewis who wrote The Big Short) is to baseball. As he crunches the numbers, he comes up with conclusions like launching corner kicks into the box hoping to score a goal is less valuable than just retaining possession with a short safe pass and that the team that takes the most shots on goal actually loses slightly more than half of the time.
Isn’t it great that libraries have books to please all sorts of tastes?
The Numbers Game
J.D. Salinger is famous for two primary reasons (there are plenty of secondary reasons as well). First, he authored one of the most successful and critically acclaimed books written over the past 70 years (The Catcher in the Rye) and secondly, because he vanished from the public eye at the height of his fame, leaving several generations of devoted acolytes and the media to restlessly ponder the reasons behind his retreat into extreme privacy. Shane Salerno and David Shields have co-authored the gossipy, oral history called Salinger (a book based upon a documentary film) with the goal of cobbling together an assortment of viewpoints from those who knew him best. Ex-girlfriends, army buddies, fellow writers, family members, and various muses line up to break their collective silence to share their intimate memories and insights. It's a fascinating look at one of America's most significant writers and provides some new perspectives on both his creative output and his complicated private life.
Here I go again. The library's non-cook is writing about a cookbook. But, the historical aspect of this book is what attracted me to it. There are 100 recipes here, one for each year from 1901-2000, included by 100 different chefs. To give the readers of this blog a flavor (pun intended) of what's in this book, I'll list a few of the recipes: 1909 - Baked Alaska; 1910 - The Comet Coupe (in honor of Halley's Comet that year); 1932 - "The Sun Also Rises" Punch; 1945 - Original Brain Tapioca Ambrosia (not the brain one thinks with, but because of the invention of the ENIAC computer); 1952 - Geraldine's Maryland Crab Soup; 1976 - Firecracker Fourth of July Beef Ribs (to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial); 1979 - Meatball and Potato Pizza. Some of the 100 sound delicious; others I would never consider touching. But I think that's how it would be for anyone looking at any recipe book, not just me. Clever and fun idea - yes. Good photos - yes. Bon appetit - maybe.
The way we ate : 100 chefs celebrate a century at the American table
Reading a book by Jack Gantos can be a wild and crazy ride, in a good way- you never know what’s coming up next. That’s one of the things I like about his books. He doesn’t talk down to kids, either, or try to sugar coat the world. And he’s funny.
His book for kids and young adults, “Dead End in Norvelt”, won the Newbery Award. Now Gantos has written a sequel, “From Norvelt to Nowhere”. Twelve year old Jack lives in a small Pennsylvania town, with his mom; it’s the Cuban missile era. Jack’s mom arranges for him to accompany slightly mad old Miss Volker to New York City. She’s ostensibly going to pay homage to Eleanor Roosevelt, but Jack and Miss Volker are also on the track of an elusive murderer. And that’s just the start of this road trip story, filled with eccentric characters and lots of action.
From Norvelt to nowhere
This is the Rope is about a young girl finding a rope that later becomes part of an African American family’s journey north to a better life. Jacqueline Woodson does a fantastic job of sharing a migration story through a rope. She transforms a simple rope that tied things on the roof of the car into an essential part of the family’s move. This rope moved to New York City with the grandparents and then to the parents and on to the granddaughter who used it to play jump rope. It held flowers while they dried in the sun, diapers that blew in the New York City breeze and then more things on the roof of the car as the granddaughter was driven off to college.
This is a Rope is a great feel good story!
This is the Rope: A story form the Great Migration