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Staff Picks: Books

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Ever wonder what would happen if you could throw a baseball at 90% of the speed of light? (Hint: it doesn't end well for the batter, the pitcher, or for that matter, anyone within about a one mile radius.) How would the Earth change if you were to open up a drain in the bottom of the ocean and drained the world's water out through it? (The Netherlands would be very happy about the whole thing.) Could you get drunk by drinking a drunk person's blood? (Answer: ewwwwwww.) The answers to these utterly ridiculous hypothetical questions, and many, many more, are answered in Randall Munroe's book, What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Munroe is a former-NASA-roboticist-turned-internet-cartoonist and hunts down the answers with a trained scientist's eye, no matter how bizarre. The book, already hilarious, is made even funnier by the addition of cartoon illustrations featuring the cast (and geeky oddball humor) of Munroe's XKCD comic strip. If you're looking for the answers, or if you just need a good laugh, check out What If?

Hold Still

I think it’s safe to say that Sally Mann’s extraordinary memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs will end up as my favorite book of the year and one that I highly recommend to those interested in memoirs. Meticulously written with intellectual ferocity, humor, raw candor, and a genuine devotion to the subjects she so elegantly explores. This isn’t simply a “I did this on that particular day” sort of retelling of life events but rather a lyrical investigation into the meaning of family, place and being that deserves to be shelved next to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Patti Smith’s Just Kids

I first stumbled across Sally Mann’s life as a photographer several years ago when I discovered a documentary film called What Remains. The film explores her life and work, the “culture war” controversies that followed her exhibition called Immediate Family, and her passion for creating haunting, lyrical images of family, disease, death and landscape. Now, with the publication of the book, we learn that her talents for writing mirror that of her ability to capture life on film. I was hooked from page one, mostly because her flair for chronicling the past but for her marvelous prose and her openness to dissect through memory (invariably a problematic process), the knotty relations between artists and inspiration, between her love of rural Lexington (Virginia) and the South’s racist legacy, and between the public façade of family and the private secrets buried below. And lastly, the book is full of amazing photographs culled from both her work as well as images of her as a child. Rarely is there a book that I yell from the mountaintop, “read this now”. This is one such work.

One Family

Families come in many configurations. And what better way to celebrate families in all their individuality and complexity than this wonderful picture book One Family, by George Shannon.

Simple enough for even very young children, One Family has charming illustrations by Blanca Gomez. Cheerful looking families (and their pets) are shown going about their daily activities. This title has the added benefit of being able to be used as a counting book. I love the little details in the pictures that add to the overall theme- one world, one family.

Maker Resources for Kids

We're having so much fun with our maker programs this summer. Process and learning are our focus, rather than an end product! At our maker programs we offer a selection of supplies and tools on a theme like circuitry or painting. Then we let the kids explore and make what they want to make. There is no right or wrong! It's a beautiful thing. I find inspiration everywhere I go but some of my favorite resources are on our shelves at KPL. I love Pinterest and blogs for ideas but there are also some really standout books on our shelves at KPL with great visual inspiration and expanded instructions for techniques. My current favorites for maker ideas for kids include: Tinkerlab150+ Screen-free Ideas for Kids, and The Artful ParentAll of these books offer great ideas for making and creating that can be more or less complex depending on age and ability of the child (and caregiver!). I hope you'll make something with us at the library soon! It's so fun to see what we come up with together! 

True Stories, Well Told

In commenting about his piece “Two on Two,” author Brian Doyle advises that writers take their ideas and feelings "out for canters on the open beach of the empty page and see what happens.” This seems to be just what Doyle did in writing about playing two-on-two basketball in the dining room with his children, then four and younger. He captures a precious moment in time, a moment of complete appreciation for his kids and his interactions with them. It’s one of my favorite pieces in this book.

I confess. It was the book cover that drew me in. Yes, I judged the book by its cover, even though we are warned not to do so. I was further intrigued by the title: True Stories, Well Told: from the first 20 years of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. I hadn’t considered the concept of ‘creative nonfiction’ much, though I can say now, after reading the book, that I find it quite compelling. This collection includes some of the magazine's best pieces.

If you, too, are drawn to creative nonfiction, there’s much at KPL to explore, as a reader and/or potential writer!

Remodeling Resources

Both home owners and those renting should browse our various interior decoration and architecture books if they're looking for ideas for renovations or room-specific make-overs. I am contemplating refreshing my kitchen's look and as I browsed our new books section on the first floor, I stumbled across this new book, My Cool Kitchen. There's plenty of applicable ideas jumping off the pages in this page turner of a book that features different approaches to organization, color and design.

The Orchardist

The Orchardist is set in Washington State at the beginning of the 20th century, where William Talmadge lovingly cultivates his orchards of apples and apricots. Talmadge, a reclusive and sorrowful man, unexpectedly becomes a foster father of sorts to two adolescent girls who escape from a brothel owner who has enslaved them.

This novel, a favorite of many book groups with much to discuss, explores the human character, what makes a family, and to a lesser extent, the history of the region.

Many reviewers consider this a strong debut novel from Coplin, with hopefully more to follow. I agree.

Make Way for Ducklings(1)

 Don’t you love Mr. and Mrs. Mallard?  They work so hard to find the perfect place to build a nest and raise their ducklings; Robert McCloskey’s life-like illustrations are perfect.  Make Way for Ducklings has been a favorite at our house for a long time.  Recently I’ve seen two other “duckling” books that are such nice companions for the Mallard family. . . Little Ducks Go by Emily Arnold McCully, and Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore.  Take a look at these recent books and share them with the duckling-lovers at your house. 



The Series Series: Very Short Introductions

This is probably the most aptly named series ever published. Each book in the series is short (96-224 pages) and provides a brief introduction to a complex. These books are written to be very readable to those new to the topic and provides a balanced prospective. If you are looking to learn about a brand new topic, this is a great place to start.

Very Short Introductions include:
Indian philosophy
The Bible

Emmanuel's Dream

Emmanuel’s Dream, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls, tells the true story of Ghanaian athlete Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who was born with only one healthy leg (the other was severely deformed). Where Emmanuel grew up, most kids with disabilities couldn’t go to school, but Emmanuel hopped back and forth two miles each way. He also played soccer and learned to ride a bike – in fact, he became famous after he cycled 400 miles across Ghana, raising awareness that people with disabilities can still greatly contribute to society. My 5 year-old daughter enjoyed this story and the illustrations very much. I highly recommend checking out the list of books in our catalog by illustrator Sean Qualls -- his artwork is exquisite!