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Staff Picks: Books

Owls: Our Most Charming Bird

 Because they are such a rare sight, it is easy to forget how magnificent owls are. Every feature that makes us stop and stare actually serves a very useful purpose. Those large piercing eyes ensure that they’ll never lose sight of their prey. And those round moony faces actually serve as satellite dishes to capture all sound and direct it towards their ears. All the better to hear their next snack.

 Matt Sewell has captured the charm, and majesty of 47 different owls in his pleasing watercolor illustrations. Check this book out today, and discover your new favorite owl! My personal fave? The Greater Sooty Owl. They have little speckles that look like stars in a night sky.  


You Say To Brick

Anyone who has seen the moving documentary, My Architect, will know of the complicated brilliance of the architect Louis Kahn. A new biography, You Say To Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn by Wendy Lesser, fills in the detail and the greater context that aren’t possible to cover in a documentary film format. Kahn was an enigma of a man, with facial scarring from a childhood accident and often appearing disheveled from all-night drafting sessions, he was a self-described terrible businessman (his buildings were all completed late and over budget) but possessed an irresistible charisma and an almost mystical approach to architecture that left an indelible mark in his field and on the world.


Cute Story

Rose is written by local Kalamazoo author, Jessica Aguilera. It’s a cute story and Jessica did the illustrations herself by using cutouts that she layered together and then photographed.

Rose was self-published.


Steven Universe: Art and Origins

Animated series Steven Universe is one of the most beautiful shows on television right now, and has inspired a large and devoted fandom. I think what sets the show apart is that every element of the show is carried out thoughtfully – from the story and development of the characters, to the sound editing, even the tiniest details nestled into the background are often purposely drawn in to foreshadow future events.

It’s always a treat to watch a new, perfectly polished episode of Steven Universe, but it is fascinating to flip through this book and see early character designs and to read Rebecca Sugar’s early thoughts about who the characters were when she pitched the pilot and who they have now become. In this book we get to see rejected episode storylines, unfinished storyboards, and we also get to read about the creator’s childhood, the projects she was working on in college, and the cartoons she watched growing up. A must read for any fan of the show.


The Singing Bones

Inspired by the folktales and fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Shaun Tan's The Singing Bones is neither a retelling of these old stories nor a picture book but instead a combination of the two. The Singing Bones combines short snippets of text with weird and beautiful sculptural illustrations that offer us a new look at these classic stories. While we all know the story of "Snow White", for example, the depiction of the evil Queen as a blood-red, spiky-topped demon face is a strange new way of seeing that character. On the other hand, the illustration for "The Boots of Buffalo Leather" is so utterly weird that you'll want to look up this forgotten tale just to see what could have inspired it.


Flying Couch

There’s something about graphic memoirs that allows them to resonate with me in a way that normal memoirs do not. When a person’s life story is illustrated in frames that capture snapshots of their life, it’s even easier to put myself in their shoes and feel their experiences.

If you’re looking for a particularly beautiful graphic memoir, look no further than Flying Couch, by Amy Kurzweil. This book encompasses two stories: it is centrally focused on Kurzweil, and her experience finding her identity as a Jewish woman, and along the way, the memoir is interlaced with her grandmother’s story of surviving the holocaust by assuming the identity of a Polish gentile girl. I loved learning about a culture so different from my own, and traveling with Kurzweil as she goes from Michigan, to New York, Israel, and Germany. I heartily recommend it.


Strong Female Protagonist

Mega Girl discovered she had superpowers at age 14. Super strength, invulnerability and the ability to leap over buildings in a single bound. It was great at first, but now she’s all grown up, and realizes that it takes a lot more than punching killer robots to fix the world’s problems. At age 18, Alison decides to hang up the cape and enroll in college to find a more meaningful way to change the world but the past has a way of always catching up.

This graphic novel is a fresh and critical examination of the superhero genre, questioning and overturning comic book tropes we often take for granted while exploring what it actually means to be a hero. We have the first volume here at the library, and the series continues online at strongfemaleprotagonist.com


I like a warm, rustic look

This book has a lot of great ideas! A lot of them are simple, easy and inexpensive. I think I’ll try a couple of them but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pull it off. The most striking thing about Liz Fourez’s home is how clean and fresh it looks. The reused wood and re-purposed household utensils add pizzazz and create a calming environment. Very fengshui, at least what I know about fengshui. I like the clean look of the overstuffed chairs at the dining room table but I’m afraid of the antique grater dish towel holder. I’d probably scrape my knuckles every time I reach for a towel, but it’s a clever, neat idea. 

I guess I like A touch of farmhousecharm: easy DIY projects to add a warm and rustic feel to any room because it's full of easy DIY ideas that anyone can do. 


And Still We Rise

There’s still time to go see And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations, the quilt show on display at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum (KVM.) But hurry, it ends June 4. Give yourself plenty of time both to appreciate the amazing artistry and also to take in the depth of the stories depicted.

The quilts have so much texture, vibrancy, passion woven into them. Many depict painful, brutal episodes of racist treatment of African-Americans in the United States’ story. The very first in the display is 3-dimensional. Instantly, you are face to face with the picture of many Africans stuffed into the hull of a slave ship headed to Virginia, while one man escapes to ‘freedom’ into the ocean. Many others offer deep celebration of the inventive, intellectual, creative, athletic, entrepreneurial, political and heroic triumphs of various African-American individuals and groups in the past 400 years.

Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, founder of the Women of Color Quilters Network, curator of this exhibit and author of the book by the same name, will be at KVM this Sunday, May 21. If you plan to go, tickets are free, but required.

Each quilt has an artist’s statement. These appear in the book, alongside photos of their quilts. Reading the book, you have a second chance to absorb what they had to say about their piece and remember.


Love at First Stitch

With zero knowledge in dressmaking, I was able to make a dress and a skirt all by myself with Tilly Walnes’s Love at First Stitch!

This book is the 2014 Best Sewing Book in the British Sewing Awards. It includes seven cute projects to teach you the necessary dressmaking skills with clear instructions and photographs. You will learn a new skill in every project, including inserting invisible zippers, gathering, making waistbands, stitch in the ditch…

This is by far my favorite sewing book. It doesn't only teach you the skills, it also shows readers that sewing can be a form to express our feelings. Sewing is not an old fashion; sewing can be fun and modern! We all have the ability to create. 

Also, patterns are included. One more reason why I love the library!