Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Old, but good

As we reflect this month on teen novels for adults to read, I offer this item from the teen collection. Actually it isn't a novel, but a collection of short stories, so it does count as fiction. It isn't specifically directed toward a teen audience either, but it's one teens would enjoy. When I was a sophomore in high school, one of the assigned readings from our literature text was 'Cask of Amontillado' by Edgar Allan Poe. I remember being captivated by the tense horror of the story, so I later bought a paperback so I could read more of Poe's work. When I arrived at WMU as a freshman, the first English class I took read 'The Tell-Tale Heart.' Other favorites of mine were 'The Pit and the Pendulum,' 'Fall of the House of Usher,' and 'Descent into the Maelstrom.' It has been many years since I read any of these, so perhaps it's time for me to revisit them.


Complete stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe
David D.

Ship Breaker

For the month of April, I chose a teen title to blog about, and the one I picked was a lucky choice.

“Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi is set on the United States Gulf coast following an unnamed apocalyptic event. It’s pretty much every person for themselves, and life is hard and cruel, although small communities have sprung up. Nailer, a teen age boy, is a scavenger of huge cargo tankers, along with crews of other young people who can fit into the small spaces of the ships to search for prized copper wire. A devastating hurricane upsets the already delicate balance of life, and after the storm has passed Nailer and a friend find a large passenger sailboat that has been wrecked. Amazingly, one person has survived, a teen age girl who claims to be from a very wealthy family. She says they will pay richly for her return- but does she really want to go back, and is she telling the truth?

What I really liked about this book was the imagined look at what life could be in the United States if there was a total breakdown of modern life as we know it. It’s a world where living by your wits and skills are the main keys to survival, and trust is not given lightly. “Ship Breakers” is a National Book Award finalist, and fortunately there is a sequel, which I definitely am going to read.


Ship Breaker

Still one of the best teen books!

Sixth grade was a big birthday year for me. My older sister gave me earrings with my birthstone and proceeded to pierce my ears, using the ice cube/potato/“match-sterilized needle” method, without our parents’ permission. Luckily my earlobes didn’t get infected, and I could hide the evidence from Mom and Dad till my earlobes had healed by keeping my longish hair down around my face.

That same birthday a friend gave me The Outsiders. This book rocked my world. I grew up in a smallish town, where the main social difference I knew to that point were country kids vs. town kids, and we didn’t fight. We just had different lives. I read the book over and over, and then again every few years into my 20s. I knew the first sentence by heart and thought it was cool how the author (S.E. Hinton) wrapped that sentence back into the last line of the book.

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” With this sentence, Ponyboy Curtis launches into an amazing story which just doesn’t quit. He’s about to get jumped by the Socs for being a greaser. The ‘Socs’ are the rich west-side kids, who hold beer blasts, drive fancy cars and jump ‘greasers’ for fun. Ponyboy, his brothers and friends, are ‘greasers,’ the poorer east-side kids. They have a reputation for robbing gas stations, holding gang fights and wearing their long hair greased back. But not all greasers are alike, and neither are all Socs, as Ponyboy learns, after a lot of violence, heartbreak and growing up.

I’ve recently been re-reading The Outsiders, and I can’t put it down. It still grabs my heart. It ranks in my memory right up there with The Pigman and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.


The Outsiders

What Can a Crane Pick Up?

What Can a Crane Pick Up? is a perfect read aloud for young children. Author Rebecca Kai Dotlich has written an easy to share book about a high-interest topic for young children. The rhymes in the book perfectly flow from one to the next and even have some unexpected surprises that will have your toddler or preschooler giggling. And then of course you will be giggling too! It's silly in some parts and at the same time kids will know just a little bit about cranes and their many uses after reading this book. I predict it will be one they'll want to read again and again as they study the engaging and colorful illustrations by Mike Lowery. This book is definitely a gem to add to your story rotation!

See the adorable book trailer here.


What Can a Crane Pick Up?

The Striker

The Striker is a book by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. You can interpret that as by Justin Scott with Clive Cussler taking credit and providing guidance. This is another Isaac Bell Adventure and takes place in 1902. In this book Isaac Bell is just starting out with the Van Dorn Detective agency. This story takes place in Pittsburgh in the coal mines. The Van Dorn agency is hired to find out who has been sabotaging the operations. I could relate to the geographical area of this book. I went to college not too many miles outside of Pittsburgh and used to hitchhike in to town for a weekend. When they described the area they wanted to move their tent city to, they talked about the area where the three rivers came together and then they said just imagine a baseball diamond here. Well, since this book was written in 2013 we know that the famous Three Rivers Stadium home to the Pittsburgh Pirates was built there. I know the area well. I spent the night sleeping in a phone booth just outside of the stadium. I was a college kid with no money, it was snowing and the phone booth offered protection from the wind. The police did make me vacate and find another place, the bus terminal offered warmth. These Pittsburgh police were nice, the ones in book took easily to swinging clubs, cracking heads and putting people in jail or the hospital. In this book they develop the Isaac Bell character. He is young and has a hard time being viewed as a lead detective of a team due to his youthful looks. It is suggested he grow a mustache. In the other Isaac Bell books his mustache is constantly referred to when describing him. Archie, his best friend is an apprentice in this book and just learning the ropes. It seemed odd to have the great Archie being subservient. In the books I have already read, we have experienced Isaac’s and Archie’s love interests and their marriage, their getting shot, they are seasoned professionals. So to now discover them as neophytes was interesting. In this book we are introduced to why Isaac carries a derringer in his hat. We read of him buying the derringer, and the hat and of the many many hours he spent perfecting his drawing the gun, all the time knowing that he has used this trick of a hidden gun to save his bacon later in his life. I think what I liked best about this book was the development of Isaac’s character and the description of what it was like in 1902; the living conditions, the unions, coal and our dependence on it for fuel. This could make a good movie, steam boats blow up, people get shot all the elements of a good movie.


The Striker

Go Whole Grain Like You Mean It

You don’t need a chemistry degree to bake great whole grain bread, but the better you understand things like enzyme activity and gluten development, the easier it will be to create loaves your family loves, rather than cardboard health food. This is what the master does so well in Peter Reinhardt’s Whole Grain Breads. He has developed techniques that take what is great about artisanal bread, and brings it to the world of 100% whole grain. He describes why it works at the molecular level, so that you can use his basic recipes to develop your own signature creations. If your idea of homemade bread is frozen dough that you pop out of a can, then this is probably not the book for you. But as someone who has always enjoyed baking, I found that his techniques are simple to follow, and yield delicious results.


Peter Reinhardt's Whole Grain Breads



Library Dragon on the Loose

Just when Sunrise Elementary thought the library dragon was gone for good – disaster strikes again.

Return of the Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy continues the story of the library dragon.

Miss Lotta Scales, a dragon also known as Miss Lotty, the beloved librarian, is retiring. She devoted 557 years to her job as the Sunset Elementary School Librarian. On her final day Mike Krochip arrives but he brings disaster.

Mike Krochip brings cartons of MePods along with much high-tech enthusiasm. The disaster is that the books are doomed—Mike Krochip wants them all in storage, no need for books he is creating the children’s cybrary! What? Miss Lotty is mad—fire breathing smoking mad and the Library Dragon returns with a fiery vengeance!

The final battle: Mike Krochip vs. the Library Dragon – who will survive?

A very fun read for preschoolers and early elementary readers on a subject very close to my heart. No question about it, I’m rooting for Library Dragon – GO BOOKS! GO LIBRARY


Return of the Library Dragon

The Orange Houses

I have not read much in the way of teen novels lately, but did get around to Paul Griffin’s 2010 effort entitled The Orange Houses. It concerns three rather unlikely allies, brought together by various circumstances into a state of friendship. The novel takes place during the course of a little over one month and the stories of these three individuals are told in alternating chapters.

First, there is Tamika, or Mik, who has been partially deaf since childhood. She attends a tough high school and manages to close herself off to the world around her by using her disability as an excuse.

Then there’s Jimmi Sixes, a nineteen year old war veteran, whose girlfriend committed suicide while he was enlisted. He turns to drugs, and despite trying to straighten up his life, his thoughts are regularly interrupted by a nagging question...Is life really worth living? And if so, then at what expense? Although he is Mik’s protective friend, (especially from the bullies she encounters at school), he is nonetheless detested by her mother as being a bad influence.

Finally, there is Fatima, a rather gentle soul who is an illegal immigrant from Africa. She arrives in New York on a ship all alone, with only the clothes on her back. She is looking and hoping for a better future in the United States and longs to see the Statue of Liberty up close. She is also a whiz at making beautiful, folded paper creations that are endearing mementos to those she shares them with.

This novel is a fast moving and absorbing read, ending in a dreadful outcome that the reader will not soon forget. The “orange houses” in the title refers to the projects, where all three characters reside; a place that offers little hope of redemption, where poverty prevails and where life is put on hold. The book made it onto the 2010 list of the best books for teens.

Reading this novel, brought back very fond memories of meeting one of my favorite teen authors, Robert Cormier, who did a book talk at Kent State University in the late 1970s while I attended library school there.

During the mid to late 70s and beyond, Mr. Cormier had written The Chocolate War, published in 1974 and I Am the Cheese, published in 1977, probably his most prominent and attention receiving books that were later made into movies. His other works included Beyond the Chocolate War, Tunes for Bears to Dance To, After the First Death, and Other Bells for Us to Ring.

His novels were famous at the time for their complex intensity. They covered sensitive as well as controversial themes, such as abuse, violence, revenge, betrayal, and conspiracy.

All in all Cormier, who passed away in late 2000, was considered by many experts as a gifted author and a major influence on teen literature. To this day, KPL still owns many of his books in their collection, and if you are not familiar with his writings, whether you are a teen or not, do yourself a favor and check them out.


The Orange Houses

33 Minutes

This book is the story of Sam Lewis and the events that unfold during the 33 Minutes until Morgan Sturtz kicks his butt at recess (and then around 60 more minutes of aftermath). The author speaks directly to his tween audience, and gets it right. The voice of middle school is heard loud and clear over food fights, fire alarms and friendships. It’s funny, fast paced, heart-warming and breaking all at once. It’s the perfect book to recommend to kids that are starting to outgrow the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. The lessons in 33 Minutes on friendship and staying true to one’s self will stick with the reader long after the worst day of Sam’s life and his middle school years have passed. I think it would be awesome to have a teacher like Ms. Z who can say: “This sucks….Wait. Be patient. You’re not going to be here forever. And in the meantime, even though you and this place don’t fit together so great all the time, be you.” Now, a sigh of relief from me that middle school has passed and that authors like Todd Hasak-Lowy are writing realistic books for tweens to read during the transition of middle school. Meet Todd at Bookbug in Kalamazoo on May 5 at 4 pm!


33 Minutes
Jill L

Tales From Outer Suburbia

“The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth,” sang Geddy Lee, lead singer of my favorite band Rush when I was a teenager growing up in a Chicago suburb. This is not the case in Shaun Tan’s book of mini-surreal masterpieces, Tales From Outer Suburbia. In these suburbs, there is a water buffalo that answers questions in an empty lot, a dugong (manatee type creature) that appears on someone’s lawn, ICBMs in everyone’s backyard, and a man wandering around in a diving suit. 

I found the stories from Tales From Outer Suburbia to be a little too bizarre at first, but my compulsion to finish books that I’ve started carried me through until I slowly became enchanted. The stories feature physical manifestations of the hopes and fears of the people who live in these suburbs and they wove their way into my psyche and released strong feelings of wonder, healing, and letting go. The strange story lines somehow open you up and leave you thinking about them long after you have read them.

I especially identified with a story about two brothers who have a map of their suburb and decide to walk to where the map ends to see what is there. It reminded me of a 10 mile hike my brother and I took to complete the hiking merit badge. We weren’t going to get “out in nature” anytime soon, so we just decided to walk around our Chicago suburb (which, oddly enough, included a stop at the public library to pick up some 8mm films). The experience did have a surreal feeling and it completely changed the way I felt about where I lived. Walking gives you such an intimate connection with your surroundings and it empowered me, as I went to places I had only gone with my parents up to that point.

I was so struck by the book that I asked my son if I could read him the extremely short stories before he went to bed. He agreed and loved the stories and I got to have the nice experience of reading aloud to him that I hadn’t had in several years and to talk a little bit about what it is like to have an older brother who is always right.


Tale From Outer Suburbia


Steve S
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