RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

They all saw a cat

I discovered this book at this year’s Youth Literature Seminar and had to take it home with me. The book has a simple, repetitive, rhyming text that is great when reading to very young children and gives it a sort of sing-song quality. What I really love about this book though, is the way it is illustrated. The cat meets a number of other animals and each has a different view or perspective of it. The dog and the mouse, for example, see the cat very differently. Some of my favorite illustrations were of how the bee, the worm and the, flea see it. Come check out our copy to see what a snake thinks of a cat!


To All Misunderstood Cows, Here’s Moo To You

MOO  is written by award winning author Sharon Creech, who also penned Walk Two Moons, The Wanderer, Ruby Holler and others. She wrote this book partly because she lives in rural Maine and partly because over time she has become “enchanted by cows.”

This work of fiction for third graders and older kids is about a family: Mom, Dad, twelve year-old Reena, and seven year-old Luke. The family moves from the big city to Maine, after the parents lose their jobs at a newspaper that goes out of business.

It’s Mom’s idea to just get away from big city life, buy where to go? At this point. Reena blurts out “Maine!” The reaction of her parents is, “Of course!” That is where they had met and fell in love. It made perfect sense to move back. After all, Maine is full of great things - lobsters, blueberries, a beautiful ocean with breaking waves, lighthouses, mountains. But there is one big minus about Maine: Winters are awfully cold there.

There will have to be a period of getting used to Maine’s unique characteristics such as few buses, little traffic, few tall buildings, but mostly to good things. The family moves to a small town on the coast with the ocean just a short block away. They rent a small old house with a woodstove inside and apple and lilac trees outside. As the parents unpack, the kids are let loose to ride their bikes on wide sidewalks and explore their new surroundings.

Since they move to Maine during the summer months, Mom looks for something to occupy the kids. She meets and befriends an elderly neighbor lady who could use some help. Mom “volunteers” the kids to help her with her farm. Mrs. Falala is rather eccentric and bossy, but plays the flute beautifully. As it turns out she also has quite a menagerie of “pets”- Paulie the hog, China the cat, Crockett the parrot, and last but certainly not least a belted back and white Galloway cow named Zora. Oh yes, there’s also a snake named Edna.

Upon meeting cow Zora, the kids, who don’t know a thing about cows, find out that Zora is not only stubborn but ornery as well. But it is their job to take care of her daily needs. The kids scoop and shovel piles of cow dung as well as fill buckets full with feed and water. They do these tasks over and over again and learn a lot about cows in the process. By the end of the book they grow to appreciate Zora and even get to show her at a fair. Supposedly Zora is a prized cow with great lineage. They also grow fond of Mrs. Falala, her flute playing and all of her eccentricities.

A great read that is humorous, sad and heartwarming. A book I found very difficult to put down. In fact, so much so that I read it in just one sitting. Highly recommended and sure to please young and older animal lovers alike.

Dog Lost- Humanity Found

Pauls Toutonghi's "Dog Gone: A Lost Pet's Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home" is the beautifully written true account of one family's life prior to their son's losing his spirited dog, Gonker, and what transpires during the ensuing search for him.

Gonker is a six-year old golden retriever mix who on Saturday, October 10, 1998 is hiking the Appalachian Trail with his best friend Fielding Marshall when, without any warning, he bolts into the woods. Fielding calls and calls for his dog to return, but to no avail; Gonker simply vanishes into the surrounding wilderness.

The book is not only about the meticulous search that the family conducts for their beloved dog(who happens to be especially fond of fresh doughnuts), but also delves into the lives of each member of the Marshall family-father John, mother Ginny, sister Peyton and of course, Fielding. Author Toutonghi becomes immersed in their story. He probes deeply into their family history, highlighting both it's good and ugly faces. He also examines the strong bind between canines and humans from various historical, literary, psychological and philosophical perspectives.

To heighten the tension of the search narrative, it is revealed that Gonker suffers from Addison's disease which requires him to receive an injection every twenty-three days.The author then counts down the days to Gonker's demise at the beginning of each chapter in the final third of the book.

Great read! I thoroughly enjoyed it! This is a great title to pick up in October which, as it turns out, happens to be "Adopt a Shelter Dog Month". So, plunge yourself into this wonderfully heartfelt true story of humans and their relationship with their pets. Then, if you should get inspired, go out and adopt a new four-legged canine friend from any one of the following local animal welfare organizations: Animal Rescue,Animal Control Shelter, SPCA, Animal's Best Friend, Richland Animal Rescue, etc.

Who knows, maybe as with some members of the Marshall family, the life you end up saving  just may be your own.

Unveiling The Cloud Forest Dwelling Olinguito

Olinguito, from A to Z! by Lulu Delacre is an award winning alphabet book written in both Spanish and English. It takes the reader on a journey accompanying an intrepid zoologist searching out the elusive olinguito. An olinguito is a mammal recently discovered to be a separate species. Related to the raccoon, olinguitos live exclusively in the cloud forests of Ecuador.

This beautifully illustrated volume features the many plants and animals who call the cloud forest their home. It also includes the author's notes about the real discovery of the olinguito, as well as additional information about the cloud forest, how the illustrations came to be, on being an explorer, and a glossary of the various cloud forest plants and animals(with their Spanish pronunciations).As an added bonus, there is a built-in puzzle/game that will have younger readers going back to play more than once.

Very creative and truly Magnifico!

Worms For Breakfast: How to Feed A Zoo

What did you have for breakfast this morning? What is usually on your breakfast menu? I bet you are not having dried ants to taste, ¾ pound small oily fish or 1 teaspoon ground cuttlefish bone. But a gorilla will have the ants, a flamingo chick will have the oily fish and a snail will have the cuttlefish bone mixed in his snail trail mix. If this sounds interesting, then you will want to read Worms For Breakfast: How to Feed A Zoo. It is full of information and recipes for feeding all the zoo animals. Feeding time at the zoo is always one of the most popular events and this book is a cookbook for the animals. There are recipes for Predator Popsicles, Presto Pesto Sauce – Koala Style and Elephant-slimming Fruit Fandango. Worms For Breakfast is packed with facts about animal nutrition and feeding them. It also includes how the animals hunt and eat in the wild and how the zoo feeds them so they feel as though they are in the wild hunting for their own food.

The author answers questions about what and how much each animal eats, who cooks and serves the food (a zoo nutritionist) and what does the grocery shopping list look like. There is so much fun information in this book. The photographs and illustrations will keep families busy reading and looking at this book over and over again.

This book really is fun – oh by the way I had an English muffin with peanut butter for breakfast today – hold the ants!

The Bees

In her novel, The Bees, Laline Paull tells the story of the not-so-secret life of an actual bee, in the vein of the rabbits of Watership Down.

Based on the science of bee biology and behavior, the book looks at one bee as an individual--and so, daringly, does the character herself. Flora 717 is a worker bee but is physically different from others--a likely death sentence in the hive’s totalitarian society. But through a chance encounter, one of the “priestesses” who run the hive spares her, and Flora is afforded opportunities not normally available to her “kin” (all Floras are lowly sanitation workers). 

It isn’t clear whether her curiosity is another innate difference or is brought about her experiences, but one after another, Flora is allowed to perform many of the different roles of the hive. Her strength and intelligence contribute to her success, and she comes to the hive’s rescue in various crises.

Flora is not universally appreciated, however. The Sage priestesses in particular see her as a threat to their dominance, and she becomes a fugitive when she breaks the hive’s cardinal commandment through an involuntary action (based on a true natural phenomenon that occurs in one in 10,000 worker bees, according to an interview with Paull).

As in Watership Down, animals (and even plants) are personified without being entirely anthropomorphized. The Bees is a mix of reality and imagination: bees express human thoughts and emotions but communicate primarily through scent and vibration; they not only serve the queen but consider her fertility sacred and worship her in ceremonies of "devotion"; and the male drones are lesser characters in the operation of the hive but also provide comic relief through their self-important and bawdy conduct.

The Bees is a font of fascinating information about these social insects and also calls attention to the environmental threats to their survival, but it is also just a good read. Flora’s story is one that would be compelling regardless of her species, and it certainly made me think about bees differently!


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!

Save the Orangutans

Orangutan Orphanage was written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas, a wildlife photographer whose work has appeared in numerous periodicals. She is also an advocate for conservation and helps raise money for various wildlife organizations throughout the world.

In this informative, endearing and just plain sweet book, she documents her visit to the Orangutan Foundation International’s Orangutan Care Center, where they actively care for rescued orangutans, most of which are orphaned youngsters.

The Center is located in the jungles of Borneo, Indonesia, just outside the Tanjung Puting National Park. Some three hundred orangutans are cared for by a hundred or so good-hearted, local villagers who are specially trained in orangutan care and development. Taking care of the youngest orphans is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week task, where the caretaker plays the role of surrogate mom. This includes round-the-clock bottle feedings, bath times, playtimes and educational outings to teach their charges about their environment and how to get along with other orangs. After years of effort, and a little luck, many or most of these animals will be released back into the wild to live the life that they were intended to live.

This is a wonderfully appealing visual book for animal lovers, both young and old. Additional information is provided on Doctor Birute Mary Galdikas, founder and president of the Orangutan Foundation International, as well as ecotourism, conservation, and how we can all help orangutans survive.

Check it out! You’ll be glad you did.

The Poisoning of Michigan

The environmental history of Michigan in the twentieth century (and beyond) has been one characterized by intermittent disasters with wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of its citizens. One need only examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s maps of Superfund sites (specially-designated toxic waste remediation locations) in Michigan to better understand the current scope of the problems.

We have seen recent examples play out over the last year including the Flint water crisis and the discovery of water contamination stemming from a decommissioned Air Force Base in Oscoda. Citizens of Kalamazoo will be well-aware of the Allied Paper Mill / Portage Creek / Kalamazoo River Superfund PCB remediation process that has dominated the environmental consciousness of Kalamazoo and Allegan counties since the early 1990s - not to mention the subsequent Enbridge oil spill.

As alarming as these scenarios have been, the effects and general contamination produced by each could be described as relatively localized, at least in comparison to a 1973 disaster which resulted in the poisoning of the general population (approximately 9 million individuals) of Michigan through compromised dairy products. This is the subject of The Poisoning of Michigan by Joyce Egginton.

Egginton begins by summarizing the broad strokes of the accident, which began at the Michigan Chemical Corporation where a variety of industrial chemicals were produced. Among these were Nutrimaster, an additive for livestock feed which was shown to increase milk production in dairy cows and have other beneficial effects, and Firemaster, a polybrominated biphenyl (a type of chemical very similar to PCBs) that was being used at the time as a top-notch industrial fire-retardant. The chemicals were nearly indistinguishable to the naked eye, and a paper shortage had led to some extremely questionable techniques being implemented to label the 50-pound brown paper bags in which both Nutrimaster and Firemaster were shipped.

The outcome of this unconscionable confluence of circumstances was that in the Spring of 1973 a truck driver delivered several thousand pounds of Firemaster to the largest agricultural feed plant in Michigan where it was unknowingly combined with livestock feed, dispersed to more than 5,000 farms all over the state and fed to a variety of farm animals for nearly a year before being positively identified.

Egginton goes on to discuss in great detail the efforts of a handful of individuals, including a dairy farmer with a chemistry degree, who worked to pinpoint the cause of what followed: cows lost weight precipitously, milk production plummeted, chickens were born with tumors, animals in general refused to eat and perished. Similar outcomes awaited humans who consumed the products produced by those animals to the degree that a measurable decline in the athletic prowess of Michigan sports teams was noted during the years of peak contamination. All of this took place within an atmosphere which Egginton describes as one characterized by bureaucratic denial, industrial indifference, and the isolation of the afflicted.

Even when viewed alongside such well-known environmental disasters as Love Canal, which would be brought to light five years later, the degree of contamination stemming from the accident remains unparalleled in the United States. Occasionally the event is revisited by the media, and the ongoing effects are measured and discussed, but proportional to its impact, it seems to have become a little-known chapter in the environmental and agricultural history of Michigan.

Lane Smith’s “There Is a Tribe of Kids”

Lane Smith’s picture book titled: There Is a Tribe of Kids is both curious and educational, plus, it’s a reference book. Patrons have traditionally asked librarians questions such as: what do you call a group of this or that, whether it be animals (animal aggregations), or some other group. Familiar animal aggregations are: a school of fish, a flock of geese, pack of dogs, you get the idea. In Smith’s book, a lone child takes us on a journey from animal group to animal group and eventually to a group of children. Lane Smith’s illustrations are truly amazing and full of antics and delightful detail. Lane Smith has written and illustrated many children’s books, and Lane received a Caldecott Honor Award for Grandpa Green. He was named an Eric Carle Artist for “lifelong innovation in the field of children’s picture books” in 2012!