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Staff Picks: Books

The Excellent Lombards

This coming-of-age novel by Jane Hamilton centers on Mary Frances “Frankie” Lombard and her family’s sprawling apple orchard. Her idyllic life on the farm begins to fray in the complexities of family dynamics, love, and loss as the future of the farm becomes increasingly unclear.

Hamilton writes almost a love letter to a threatened way of life. One reviewer says it “takes us back to being a child and believing in one thing wholeheartedly.”

There is much to discuss and appreciate in this novel. It would be a good book group choice.


Missing Brazil

Probably, like many of you, I spent a lot of time watching the Olympics over the past two weeks. Because of all the commercial breaks, I also got time to read. I reviewed my books-to-read list and discovered that there was not just one, but two books about Brazil.

Crossing the River: a Life in Brazil by Amy Ragsdale

Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio by Misha Glenny

I went with Amy Ragsdale’s story about her family’s year in Penedo, a small town in northeastern Brazil. Her father passed along to her the value of travel and experiencing other cultures. This was something she wanted to pass on to her children and she wanted to escape her fast-paced life in the United States.

If the Olympics gave you a little taste of Brazil and you want more, settle down with Ragsdale’s book and see how Brazilian culture transforms her family.


One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment

 In 1980, the Chinese Government enacted a one child policy, mandating that each family could only have one child in hopes of curbing the rapid population growth of the country. This controversial policy was put into place to avoid facing another disaster like the Great Chinese Famine from 1959-1961 that killed an estimated 15 to 30 million people

However, there were unintended consequences. At the beginning of this year the one child policy was lifted, but millions of families are still have to live with the unique challenges it caused, such as the gender imbalance caused by widespread infanticide, and millions of unauthorized second children who live unacknowledged by the state, unable to attend school, or even get a library card.

In OneChild: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, Mei Fong explores the aftermath of this policy through well researched analysis, and by following families to capture the repercussions through a more personal lens. This book is a really fascinating, eye-opening read. I definitely recommend it. 


I Am Princess X

In fifth grade May and Libby created Princess X together. For years after the two continued the story of the princess in the purple dress and red chucks who wields a katana. That is, until Libby and her mom drive off a bridge on a rainy night. Three years later, lonely May discovers a sticker of Princess X on a shop window. No one could have created it, except for Libby. It seems impossible, but May wonders if her friend might still be alive. 
This clever murder mystery trails May on her quest to find out what exactly happened the night that Libby and her mom died, and to find Libby if she did indeed survive. Fans of webcomics, suspense, and puzzles will love this book! I sure did!


Under the Big Black Sun

In 1981, my family flew to Hermosa Beach, California to visit my Aunt Sally and enjoy the California sun. I was a 13 year old Middle School student, had never been outside of the Midwest, and my idea of California was all about Hollywood movies and a 1950’s idea of beach/surfing culture. Walking around the sleepy beach town that first day opened my eyes to the dark menace that was the early 80’s punk rock scene in and around LA, including sleepy Hermosa Beach. That brief glimpse, and the cassettes that I purchased during that trip, changed the trajectory of the remainder of my youth and ultimately influenced my view of the world. Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk provides the real story behind what I glimpsed when I was 13. Told through chapter-length tales from some of the scenesters that survived that dangerous and nihilistic time, Under the Big Black Sun is a vibrant front-row seat into a legendary scene the likes of which we aren’t likely to see again.


Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

As a child walks through her town, she greets the summer morning, the big orange sun, the walking sticks and butterflies . . . “Hello, chill in the air.” And they reply to her; “Hello, it’s time to bring out your thick sweaters and scarves.”

Simple, thoughtful text is matched with lovely illustrations with many small details to catch the eye of the youngest listener. Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn is a beautiful picture book about the changing season.

 


Sewers and the Rats That Love Them

There are some kids out there who ask why the sky is blue, what stars are made of, and if magic is real. Then there are kids who ask where the stuff in the toilet goes after you flush. And some adults wonder too. Or maybe I’m the only one.

Anyway, I stumbled across Sewers and the Rats That Love Them, by Kelly Barnhill, after reading The Mostly True Story of Jack and searching Barnhill in the catalog to see what else she has written. I was delighted to discover this book of gross and learned from its 28 pages of sanitation information facts about the history of waste removal, the steps of wastewater treatment, and why sewers make terrific homes for rats. I thought the book was really cool and it made me grateful for indoor plumbing, which is probably my favorite modern invention. Indulge your kids’ or your own curiosity with this interesting book, and maybe look into Barnhill’s other peculiar nonfiction titles, such as Sick, Nasty Medical Practices, The Bloody Book of Blood, and Animals with No Eyes, among others. I won’t even think you’re that weird.


Twenty Yawns

I’ve been reading Jane Smiley’s Twenty Yawns at storytime lately because I really like it. I think it’s one of the best summer themed bedtime books. A child spends the day at the beach with her parents. Later on, at bedtime, mom falls asleep while reading a bedtime story. She sees the pictures she has drawn on her wall looking at her, but it’s not scary. Lucy goes to find her bear, Molasses, and brings all the stuffed animals back to her bed where she tucks them in. Then all the pictures yawn. The stuffed animals yawn and so does Lucy. They fall asleep.

The illustrations are gorgeous. In 2015, illustrator Lauren Castillo received a Caldecott honor for Nana in the City, which she also wrote. Jane Smiley, a well known author of books for grown-ups, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1992 for her novel A Thousand Acres. In Twenty Yawns, she has crafted a peaceful read for children and families to end a busy summer day.

 


ANIMAL MOVEMENT AND PLAY

Julie Paschkis, the author/illustrator of “Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems”, is a painter who has won awards for her artwork accompanying other picture books. Here, her illustrations depict folk art patterns that are both colorful and vivid; the perfect complement to the simple yet reflective poems. The poems appear in English on one page, and in Spanish on the opposite page. Despite her considerable abilities in constructing beautiful verse, she states that she is not a poet per se, nor a native Spanish speaker for that matter.Nonetheless, this slim volume depicts wonderfully all sorts of animals in motion- fluttering, slithering,leaping,stretching and the like.

A beautifully illustrated poetry book that is both fun and playful. Be prepared for young readers wanting to reread this many times over!


Required Reading

Toni Morrison said it best: this book is required reading.

In college I'll never forget reading one of the greatest works of African American literature ever to be put on paper: Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. For a white person first understanding what it's like to be black in America, this was a powerful experience for me. I was finding my way into an empathetic and complex understanding of the greatest tragedies in America. I distinctly remember the end of the book (or was it the beginning?): the narrator sitting in a basement room, with many lights, and books, and jazz and whiskey, plotting his reemergence into the great white world.

Now, many books and years later, Between the World and Me reawakens me. This book had the same effect on me as Invisible Man and There Eyes Were Watching God and The New Jim Crow, probably greater. The weight of the words and sentences has a physical effect on the body, a sad truth that slowly settles and creeps in. It's personal. He makes it personal. Every single word and sentence of this little book was chosen carefully for maximum effect and truth.

Another fascinating theme of this book is its atheistic, materialistic, physical outlook on the issue of racism in America. He says it as plain and real and physical as possible, and he says it many times: racism is the destruction of the black body.