Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
What do you know about “the other Ellis Island?” Between 1910 and 1940, Angel Island was the port of U.S. entry for thousands of Asians seeking a new life in America. Russell Freedman’s new book: Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain tells the story of those who passed through, those who were detained, and those who never made it any further into the U.S. before returning to their country of origin.
Especially poignant are the poems that were carved into and painted on barracks walls: “Nights are long, the pillow cold; who can comfort my solitude? . . . Shouldn’t I just return home and learn to plow the fields?” Discovered by a maintenance worker long after the facility closed, the poems have been preserved and incorporated into the public areas of this National Historic Landmark.
Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
Looking at the illustrations in this picture book, I get some reassurance that we might yet see spring here in Michigan!
A boy in Pakistan competes in Basant, the annual kite festival; whoever captures the most kites becomes “king” for a day.
The story is full of excitement and the artwork adds lovely details, combining to present an exuberant celebration of wind and flight.
King for a Day
It won’t surprise you to learn that Early Bird likes to wake up early. Then she “stands as tall as she can,” and she “takes a deep breath of fresh morning air.” Then we follow her through pages of simple shapes and solid blocks of color as she makes her way to the garden where she finds . . . the Early Worm!
There’s much more to this book than one might expect: strong action words and design elements that support the story line, plus a sweet surprise at the end.
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
Have you ever browsed the non-fiction shelves for good books for your preschooler? You should! There are more and more wonderful books about real things that are perfect for very young kids. One of my favorites is Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop. The words are just right for a very young child and the photographs are superb.
This is a book I go to over and over, whether it’s for storytime or sharing at home or to recommend to another parent. The next time you’re at the library, ask us to show you some of our favorite non-fiction books.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog
Professor Don Tillman is pretty sure that the best way to find a female life partner is to create a thorough questionnaire for women to answer; having the results will streamline the difficult process and present him with the one woman who is perfect for him. Don has a little trouble with social cues (maybe more than a little trouble) so he enlists the help of a couple of friends (of which he has four, if you count one child) to help him behave more appropriately on dates.
The Rosie Project is sweet and funny; Don is a man who doesn’t need to be fixed, he just needs someone to love.
The Rosie Project
Bob Graham’s books always catch my eye... his stories are often about the ordinary things that happen in families with young kids and the illustrations have all kinds of interesting things to look at.
In The Silver Button one thing happens: Jodie draws a duck and then her baby brother takes his first step. But what else is happening? Subsequent pages show other parts of the neighborhood and then we realize that myriad things are happening and all at the same time!
This book is a little unusual, but very satisfying.
The Silver Button
Do you ever listen to “StoryCorps” on NPR? Here it Kalamazoo, it airs on Friday mornings and I’m frequently within listening range as I’m getting ready for work. I’ve read several of the books that Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorp, has put together from transcripts of some of the recordings.
This new one, Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, is a treasure. The very short, very personal stories are all good reminders of how we are connected to each other and how those connections bind us together in so many interesting ways.
Ties That Bind Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps
“A dark night. Fox breaks into the henhouse. He reaches in. He grabs a chicken!!! He stuffs it in his pocket. Fox runs!”
Uh oh. When fox gets home and pulls that chicken out of his pocket he gets a big surprise. Outfoxed has comical illustrations that add a hilarious angle to this picture book.
Although it still feels like summer today, there are some early signs of autumn. A sure sign of changing seasons can always be found in the Children’s Room of nearly any public library.
Here at KPL there are displays of books about back-to-school, apples, pumpkins, and leaves. One that caught my eye is Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber with pictures by Leslie Evans. The linoleum-cut illustrations show a variety of leaves, while the graceful words describe colors, shapes, and textures of them.
Come visit your library and see what’s on display today.
I do love the picture books that Lucy Cousins creates! Her stories and illustrations are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, featuring strong colors, chunky shapes, and concise yet complete storylines.
The latest is Peck, Peck, Peck, a square yellow book with finger-size holes punched through the heavy cover. “Today my daddy said to me, “It’s time you learned to peck a tree.” But once this essential skill is learned, will the little woodpecker stop at trees? I’ll bet you know the answer to that question!
Peck, Peck, Peck
Stories about spunky kids appeal to me. Bean, the narrator of Jeannette Walls’ new novel, The Silver Star, is one of them. When their mother doesn’t return after a short trip, Bean and her older sister Liz decide to get out of town ahead of the busybodies who will think they can’t handle things themselves. They head to Virginia to re-introduce themselves to their Uncle Tinsley, who they haven’t seen since Bean was a baby. Fortunately, trouble doesn’t follow them. Unfortunately, new trouble is waiting. But spunk and guts and a little sass will take you a long way, as Bean and Liz find out.
The Silver Star
Recently I’ve read a couple of very good books about resistance efforts during World War II in several countries. Shirley Hughes, who is best known for her picture books for very young readers, has now written Hero on a Bicycle for older children.
In 1944, 13-year-old Paolo lives in Florence with his mother and sister; their father has quietly disappeared into the mountains. They are quite certain he is working for the resistance, but no one talks about that. Paolo would love to have an adventure; every night he secretly rides his bicycle through the quiet, dark streets of his town. Suddenly, when the possibility of a real adventure comes to him, Paolo has to make a quick decision. Can he become a real hero?
Hero on a Bicycle
Teddy wears a dress shirt, tie, and suit every day; he has two and alternates them. He’s also pretty sure he’s engaged to Mia and shows his love by sometimes connecting their wheelchairs by a bungee cord because he has a power chair and Mia doesn’t. Teddy and Mia are two of the teen residents of the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center, a state nursing facility now run by a for-profit corporation.
In Good Kings Bad Kings, a novel by Susan Nussbaum, the voices of Teddy, Mia, and other residents and staff of the ILLC use their own words to tell the heartbreaking story of youth in residential care. I dare you to not care.
Good Kings Bad Kings
Hilary McKay is one of my favorite authors (her series that includes Saffy’s Angel is terrific) and now she’s written a couple of stories for kids who are ready to read short chapter books. Lulu and the Dog from the Sea is her newest. Lulu is certain that the stray dog living on the beach just needs a friend . . and it could be her!
Lulu and the Dog from the Sea
Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old soldier from Texas. After he and his squad are declared heroes as the result of a horrific firefight in Iraq, they are brought home for a whirlwind Victory Tour across the country, ending with a special halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys game. Billy’s youth, questions, and observations about the disconnect between his two worlds gives the reader a provocative look at how we perceive our warriors.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
There’s been a lot of talk in the book world about this teen title: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This is the summary from the library catalog: “In 1943, a British fighter plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France and the survivor tells a tale of friendship, war, espionage, and great courage as she relates what she must do to survive while keeping secret all that she can.” It’s a complex, poignant, horrific, and deeply moving story, told from the perspectives of two incredible characters.
Code Name Verity
Hannah’s hands have names . . one is Sadie and one is Ratz. Most of the time, her hands are well-behaved, but sometimes they just can’t help being naughty. When 4-year-old Baby Boy is around, it seems like Sadie and Ratz have more trouble than usua, especially when they get close to ears. Sibling rivalry and general mischief-making are seen here, but it’s very interesting how Hannah realizes that Sadie and Ratz need some time out as she struggles to prove that Baby Boy is not always the little darling that he seems. In fact, by the end of the story, we suddenly have two new characters: Colin and Scraps. Hmmm.
Sadie and Ratz