Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I love attending the Circus Maximus Antique Toy Show every May and November at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center. It's such a festive gathering, and the architects and contractors certainly did a nice job on the new and renovated buildings there. Looking at this book isn't quite as good as being at the show, but there are compensating factors, such as being able to read the histories of many toys I played with as a child. Arranged by type of toy rather than chronologically, the author provides two-page narratives with photographs of toys from the 1940s to the 1990s. Here are Play-Doh, Tonka Trucks, Rubik's Cube, Frisbee, Etch-A-Sketch, and Magic 8-Ball, along with many others. I especially enjoyed being reminded of the Vac-U-Form, since my cousin John in Grand Rapids had one. I can still remember how the plastic smelled when we heated it up!
Toy time! : from hula hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hungry Hippos : a look back at the most- beloved toys of decades past
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd is a delightful book about a quirky, mountain town called Midnight Gulch. Felicity Pickle and her family move "home" to Midnight Gulch where her mother grew up. Felicity and her sister are tired of wandering and hope their family can settle in and stay. As Felicity makes friends and explores, she discovers many secrets about the history of the town's magic and her own family. She may just find that there is still a snicker of magic left in Midnight Gulch.
Natalie Lloyd's debut novel is as enchanting as the picture of ice cream on the cover from Dr. Zook's Dreamery Creamery. She has a beautiful way with words and even seasoned chapter book readers will pick up new expressive vocabulary like "spindiddly" from this book. It's also a great choice for kids who like a non-scary mystery, which is a common request in the Children's Room.
A Snicker of Magic
As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. I love graphic novels –stories told using both pictures and words—because you can glean so much of the emotion and action of the story from the artwork. I recently read two poignant memoirs, which explore the final years of the lives of beloved parents.
In Tangles: A story about Alzheimer’s, my Mother, and Me, the beauty is in the great detail that Sarah Leavitt shares with the reader. Some of the details are frustrating and heartbreaking to read and see, as her mother gradually loses more and more of her capacity to thrive; still, the little daily challenges and special moments shared by family are what make caregiving for an ailing loved one so rewarding.
Joyce Farmer illustrates the final four years of her father and stepmother, Lars and Rachel, in Special Exits: A Graphic Memoir. Her writing and drawing style are much different than Leavitt’s, but again, you feel the full emotion of her experience supporting them in their final years.
I was struck by the role of cats in each of these books. Note p. 192 of Special Exits, where the beloved Siamese cat, Ching, is loving on her “Daddy” so much that he can’t breathe. In five cartoon boxes, author Farmer paints love and affection between cat and human, while deftly illustrating the frailty of her dying father. In Tangles, (p. 65-66) Mom adores Lucy the cat, who actually wants nothing to do with her. Even though Leavitt admits to feeling some jealousy of her mother’s adoration of the cat, she makes little books with cards and photos about Lucy, which her mom then carries around with her. The picture of the cat hiding under the covers on Mom and Dad’s bed is simple, yet priceless.
We have quite a few other memoirs in our graphic novel collection.
Special Exits: A Graphic Memoir
Pro-lifers yell “Right to life!” Pro-choicers yell “women’s right to choose!” End of discussion, right? This book is an attempt to solve that problem. From conservatives to communists, from Jews to Jehovah Witnesses, we need a way to make decisions together — especially about public policy — if we are to get along. We need a “metamorality,” a universal language, a “common currency,” says the philosopher/neuroscientist Joshua Greene; we need an ethical code that transcends each particular one.
And his answer is…drumroll please….utilitarianism! (I can feel your excitement). A moral philosophy invented by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the 1700’s, utilitarianism is amazingly simple: maximize happiness and reduce suffering, as much as possible. Instead of talking about rights, principles, commands or duties, perhaps we can all agree on this one thing: happiness is good; suffering is bad.
Can we agree on that?
Probably not. That’s why the book is 300+ pages. And still, probably not. Nice try though., right?
As for me, I must say, I am convinced. This book has fundamentally changed some of my opinions. This is one of the most important books I have read this year, perhaps in my entire life. It has certainly brought together several intellectual strains that have been floating around in my head for decades now. To explain, I have always admired the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, whom I named my son after. Kant has a strict, rule based, "no exceptions" morality (never life, never cheat, never steal); in other words, your basic religious morality with a rational spin. John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, founder of Utilitarianism, I have admired from a distance. Now, finally they come together in a harmonious embrace. Which, for me, means a lot (check out my personal blog for more). In fact, I emailed the author and told him so. He emailed back right away said “that makes it all worthwhile.” Whether you hate utilitarian thinking or not, this book is amazing on many different levels: brain science, psychology, philosophy, politics, and religion. A bright, interdisciplinary guy and a good writer.
I appreciate that Tonya Bolden took on the awesome responsibility of researching this story. It is an amazing story with a wellspring of information.
Sarah Rector was a Creek Freedman born in Indian Territory in 1902. Her grandparents had been slaves to Creek Indians and her grandfather was among the Blacks in the Company D that joined the pro-union First Indian Home Guard which was formed to fight against the confederate army.
The story that Tonya Bolden tells is about Sarah receiving an allotment of land as a child and then, as fortune has it, after her father had been struggling to pay the taxes and would have given the land away he leases it to Devonian Oil Company and oil is struck big time. Sarah becomes the richest black girl in America!
And although, oil gushes from the wells on her land, that is not the crux of Sarah’s story. Her story is what happens after she becomes the richest child of the “colored” race. Besides a new house and a car, wealth brings newspapers articles, marriage proposals, half truths, lies, assumptions, mistrust and accusations to and about Sarah’s family.
Read this very interesting, troublesome and yet comforting story to see why Tony Bolden titled it Searching for Sarah Rector: the richest black girl in America. It will yank at your heart strings and send you tumbling in so many different directions that you will want to know more. I hope that I learn from the example that Miss Bolden set by telling both sides and explaining the half truths of this intriguing story.
Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America
Was Einstein one-of-a-kind? Was he original, special, unique—so unique that nobody else could have possibly come up with the theory of relativity? There will never be another Einstein. Or, was he made, a product of the time, a small part in a larger collaborative scientific environment—at the right place at the right time? There are many Einstein’s.
Of course the answer is probably in the middle, and we sometimes forget that there are many other geniuses in history and alive today. (Good Will Hunting is a great movie on the subject). Einstein does get a “special” place, “relatively” speaking; we give him more “space” and more “time” than any other genius (puns intended)—perhaps deservingly so. Look up genius in the dictionary, you see Einstein’s silly little wise grin.
The author of this book thinks that, on the whole, genius is a product of a particular culture and that major scientific advances could have been made by many different people at any given time. Nobody is that special. Science is collaborative. Einstein disagrees: “Einstein believed that ‘great men’ shaped history and that advances in the arts, in the humanities, and in science were due to the contributions of outstanding individuals who labored in the solitude of the creative process” (27). Isaac Newton particularly comes to mind here. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, a contemporary of Einstein, stressed the collective nature of science a little more.
To become an Einstein, I believe many stars must align. First, geniuses really do exist, they are different; they have an Intel Quad-Core processor, we have an abacus. My mom said life’s not fair and she’s right. Second, education and upbringing. If the flower isn’t watered, if the fire isn’t kindled, if the…you get it. Einstein was well read and widely read. “I am really more of a philosopher than a physicists,” he once said. The fact that he read Kant’s ideas on space and time has a lot to do with how he developed his own ideas. Third, a thriving culture of learning is required, especially for science types. Also, it’s very important to remember that you don’t have to be a “genius” be do great things (indeed, Einstein considered ‘moral geniuses’ like Jesus and Gandhi).
What do you think?
Einstein and oppenheimer
What's Your Favorite Animal? looks like a new Eric Carle book. And it is. But it's also by Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems. Whew! Each of these Childrens' Lit luminaries expounds in words and pictures on their favorite animal. Many of these two-page spreads will make you laugh out loud. This is a fantastic choice for any fans of these Picture Book power-hitters. I like to read What's Your Favorite Animal? aloud. It's a great way to instigate a discussion about why we like the things we like.
What's Your Favorite Animal?
Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records by Mark Carwardine is a fascinating and addictive book about truly amazing animal records. It is quite comprehensive, utilizing the traditional animal classification system of groups, orders, families and species for organizational purposes.
The main goal is to “celebrate the wonders of the natural world and particularly its diversity.” For example, the box jellyfish found off the coast of Australia carries enough venom in it to kill sixty adult humans. At least seventy people have died from its stings, more so than from shark and crocodile attacks combined in that part of the country. In fact, some succumbed in as little as four minutes from the time they came in contact with the jellyfish’s tentacles.
The book also points out that quite a few of these record breaking animals are endangered and close to extinction, such as the white, black, Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses. These rhinos hold a number of records including thickest skin on a mammal.
This volume will captivate kids with fantastic photographs and keep them reading and learning astonishing facts which are presented in a fast and fun way. A great gift for your young nature lover or a good reference volume just to have in your own book collection.
Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records
Time. So many clichés about time. Time goes so fast….if I only had more time….time heals….time flies….time is running out. Seriously friends....NOW is the TIME! Read The Fault in Our Stars! The movie comes out this June, and you need to connect with the characters before seeing it on the big screen. As a Teen Services staff member when a book comes out by John Green, it instantly becomes the top slot on my To Read list. TFIOS fills all of my expectations from this author. The story takes us along when Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer, meets Augustus at a cancer support group for kids. The typical coming-of-age story, but with a terminal twist. You are instantly vested in the characters from the beginning. I read this book quickly, trying to get myself to the happy ending I was sure was coming. I laughed when they laughed and cried when they cried. Take time to read it for yourself.
Are you already a John Green fan? Perhaps you've already read this book. It is not new, it was published in 2012. If you're a teen, tell your parents why they should read it. If you're an adult, find a teenager to recommend it to. Then join us at the Central Library on Tuesday, June 3 at 6:30 to celebrate An Abundance of John Green. You'll have the chance to record your own video about why someone else should read any of John Green's books! Check out the event page for more info, a Nerdfighter video and the TFIOS movie trailer!
The Fault in our Stars
There are many recent books about various aspects of the 1960s – 50 years ago. I’m drawn to these books as the time when I grew up but was not old enough to fully understand and appreciate the significance of many events.
I grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the NY World’s Fair in the summers of 1964 and 65. I remember many of the major exhibits. Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America tells the back story of the politics of the fair told against the times: the Kennedy assassination, the US and the Soviet Union, Malcolm X and racial issues, color TV, the Ford Mustang, Disney World, the Beatles.
This is a history of the mid 1960s with the World’s Fair as a reflection of the times. It is fascinating reading if you attended the fair or not.
Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America