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Staff Picks: Books

The Immortal Evening

The New York Times Book Review started a feature called “By the Book” a year or two ago. Someone, usually an author, is interviewed about their reading habits. Several of the questions are repeated almost every week like; What is currently on your nightstand?, What book are you embarrassed that you have not read yet?, or What book was a great disappointment to you?

 
Another one of the recurring questions is: “You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?” I’ve noticed that Mark Twain and Charles Dickens get invited a lot. 

 
In Stanley Plumly’s, The Immortal Evening, we learn about an actual dinner party involving three literary giants: William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Charles Lamb. The dinner took place on December 28, 1817 at Benjamin Robert Haydon’s house who was working on a painting called Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. Interestingly, in the crowd around Jesus in the painting, Haydon included the likenesses of Wordsworth, Keats, and Lamb. 

 
If you enjoy poetry and art history, this might be the one for you.


By the way, my answer to the New York Times Book Review question would be: Wallace Stegner, Lorrie Moore, and George Saunders. Who would you invite?


Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar

Here’s something you might not expect … Keith Richards (yes, that Keith, the Rolling Stone) is now a children’s book author! Books about Richards and his famous little rock & roll band would certainly fill a modest library, but Richards as we now know is quite a fan of books. As a youngster, Richards admits that he always wanted to be a librarian. In his memoir, Life, he said that two institutions mattered to him most when growing up; the church, which, he said, belonged to God; and the public library, which belonged to the people.

But, as John Cleese says, “…now for something completely different.” This is Keith’s first foray into the world of children’s literature, and it’s adorable. Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar tells the story of how young Keith discovered a love for music through his grandfather, who was also a musician. To complete the family circle, Gus & Me is illustrated by Keith’s daughter, Theodora Dupree Richards, and it includes an audio disc with a recording of Keith himself reading his story. It’s a sweet inspiring story that will melt your heart. And so, Grandpa or Grandma, unplug your iPod for a few minutes and add this to your favorite youngsters’ (or grand-youngsters’) read-to list. You won’t be disappointed.


Have You Seen My Dragon?

Have You Seen My Dragon?  by Steve Light

This counting book is great because of the intricate black and white drawings that feature full page spreads of a little boy looking for his dragon amidst busy New York City backgrounds. Kids and adults will have fun searching for the dragon and for the little boy and for the consecutive numbers of items from one through twenty page by page. On every two-page spread the item to look for is in color. The first spread features one green dragon on a detailed black and white New York City background… “Have you Seen my Dragon? No? I will look for him.” The next spread features two orange hot dogs on a different detailed black and white background, and the dragon is drawn in black and white and so is the little boy, the next spread features three purple buses on a different black and white background including the dragon and the little boy, and on and on until the last spread which features twenty red lanterns. 

 
Every time you look at the illustrations you discover something you hadn’t seen before; this book stimulates curiosity, picture puzzle skills, and counting concepts. The inside back cover is a map of the dragon’s route. Stop by any of the Kalamazoo Public Library locations and search for more dragon books, they are forever popular!


It’s Okay to Read

Children’s author/illustrator Todd Parr will be the guest speaker at the 37th Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar this year. Parr is the author of many wonderful children’s titles; his whimsical artwork is distinctive, and always makes me smile. His books have positive, reassuring messages about diversity, self-confidence, and acceptance. One of my favorites is It’s Okay to Be Different.

There is a Meet the Author event on Thursday, Nov. 13 at 6:30 pm at the Central Library, for all ages (free event, open to the public). The Youth Literature Seminar is Friday, Nov. 14 at KVCC’s Texas Township Campus, from 9 am - 3:30 pm (registration and fee required). Please check the KPL website for more information.

It's Okay to Read


Mister Orange

Linus Muller is the third oldest child of a family of six children living in New York City.  When Albie, Linus’s brother, enlists in World War II, Linus takes over as delivery boy at the family’s grocery store.  Linus quickly learns his delivery route and gets acquainted with his customers.  Linus dearly misses Albie, and to comfort himself, he has imaginary conversations with Albie’s created Superhero, Mr. Superspeed, who fights against Evil and the War.


One of Linus’s routine deliveries is a crate of oranges to a man whose name is unpronounceable, hence, Linus nicknames him Mister Orange.  One day Mister Orange tosses an orange to Linus, but he doesn’t catch it and he trips and falls down the stairs.  Mister Orange helps Linus up and into his apartment for first aid.  Linus is amazed to see that Mister Orange has painted his apartment walls white and bright and light and calm and with colored squares and rectangles grouped together or on their own… dancing in strong colors, bright blue, and red, and yellow… the colors of Superman!  Linus loves the paintings on the walls!


Their friendship grows and Mister Orange tells Linus that he likes Boogie-Woogie music. It is new and exciting, the perfect city music, with rhythms changing all the time.  New York City gives Mister Orange new inspiration and energy.


Mister Orange asks about Albie, who is now in Europe on the warfront.   Only three years earlier Mister Orange escaped Europe because he was afraid he would no longer have the freedom to paint, his art was in danger of being banned by the Nazis, he was scared that he would never be able to make more paintings and that no one would ever see them!  Painting was Mister Orange’s way of fighting back, of finding out how things might be better in the future.  He equates winning the war with fighting for the future, a future where people have their freedom and everyone is allowed to say what they believe and have an opinion of their own.  Mister Orange tells Linus that whenever people have their freedom taken away they always fight back and winning the war means making certain that the imagination remains free and that’s the most important thing of all!  He helps Linus understand that Albie is working just as hard for the future as is Mister Orange; Albie is fighting so that Mister Orange can continue to paint and Linus must be proud of Albie who is helping to make the future possible.  When Linus accuses Mister Orange of hiding from everything that’s real, Mister Orange explains that Imagination is a Powerful weapon, Imagination is Real, Imagination is Necessary.  Everything that exists starts with Imagination; it’s the first step in everything that humans have ever made.


Mister Orange’s character is based on Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a famous painter who fled from the Netherlands to the United States during World War II.  Mondrian’s paintings were completely new, not the familiar and traditional styles.  He used shape, color, rhythm, to give new ideas to people all over the world. 


Kalamazoo Public Library has several Mondrian art books.  If you’re not familiar with his art, then I suggest checking out a Mondrian book. You can also use Google Images Mondrian for a pleasant revelation of his work and the inspirations derived from his art.


Recovering Priceless Treasures

I stumbled upon the book Priceless:  How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.  The founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, author Robert Wittman recalls a number of cases when he recovers stolen artifacts or artwork, working undercover convincing mobsters and corrupt collectors that he’ll pay big money for their stolen works.  It can take months, even years, of building rapport with the sellers or middlemen before setting up a sting which involves large amounts of cash, priceless works of art, and, very likely, guns or other dangerous weapons.

Wittman struggles with the widely accepted opinion at the bureau that art crime is less important than other types of investigations.  What is even more perplexing to those investigators that take this stance is that arresting those guilty of the theft or selling the stolen property is much less important than recovering the stolen works.  Regardless of this, each time something is recovered, communities celebrate the return of their lost treasures, whether they have been gone a few months or more than a hundred years.

The book starts and ends with talking about the Gardener Heist. The most valuable collection of stolen artwork in the world, the paintings were cut out of their frames in March 1990 and are estimated to be worth more than $580 million.  One painting, Vermeer’s “The Concert”, is estimated to be worth $200 million on its own!  We learn from the book that the heist is so well known and the paintings so recognizable, they could only ever be sold on the black market.

I really enjoyed reading Priceless.  Most chapters are their own little short stories.  This means the book works well for those with similar scheduled to mine that may not give them an opportunity to sit down with a book for long periods of time.  I greatly appreciate that Wittman rescues different types of art and artifacts all with the same dedication to returning them to their rightful owners.  Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did if it makes it onto your reading list!


American Folklife

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: an Illustrated Guide…the title sounds bland, but the book/CD set is anything but! It covers a wide cross-section of folk art and folk lore in the United States.

Most amazing is the accompanying CD. With 35 tracks in all, there are songs from all over the U.S., including a song sung by Zora Neale Hurston, storytelling, personal interviews with many different people about aspects of daily living and the impacts of war and slavery. Some recordings are over 100 years old. Altogether they demonstrate the richness and variety of cultural experience in our country. This would be a great teaching tool to help bring an American history topic to life for your students.

Book

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: An Illustrated Guide
9780844411064

Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut

Parents, friends and relatives – I know you can relate to this story. Who hasn’t seen a child who has given themselves or a child close to them a haircut and yes it is possibly the worst haircut ever. In-between my professional haircuts, I find myself cutting my own bangs – at best it is a hit or miss job.

What happens in this picture book is that big sister Sadie notices that little sister Eva’s hair is too long, too curly, too big – really just too out of control. So one day Sadie asks Eva if she wants her to cut her hair and surprise -- she does. Sadie wastes no time in getting the scissors and the haircut is done.

When Sadie realizes that there is a pile of hair on the bathroom floor it is bad – but Eva likes it! Eva runs to find Mom and Dad who lose their cool. Sadie realizes she won’t be cutting Eva’s hair again and she has to have a consequence. Eva has to get a real haircut. Not unlike when my hairdresser tells me she can cut my bangs in between my regular cut – hum maybe I should hide the scissors – Sadie’s parents are putting theirs where she can’t find them.

Book

Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut
9780062249067

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water

It’s okay to be different and this book is about a little crocodile (well, maybe), who has many brothers and sisters with whom he wants to play, but he cannot play with them because they all like to swim and play in the water, but this little crocodile does not like the water. He even saves up his money to buy a swim ring in an attempt to learn to swim, but, it just won’t happen. He gets very cold in the water and he begins to shiver, and then, he sneezes FIRE!

This little crocodile does not like to jump, either. However, he is VERY good at doing other things such as… flying and climbing, and something else that if I reveal it to you will give away the surprise ending! The illustrations by Gemma Merino are uproarious and simply convey the emotions of The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water.

Book

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
9780735841635

Under the Egg

When Theodora’s grandfather dies, he leaves her a whispered message and the responsibility to care for her drifty mother, their Brooklyn townhouse, and $463 to hold it all together.

Over the course of this layered story, Theo and her new friend Bodhi work on deciphering the message, which sends them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jefferson Market Public Library, the Center for Jewish History.

Under the Egg is an adventure story that gives the reader terrific characters, World War II history, good guys and bad guys, and a lot of wonderful information about art.

Book

Under the Egg
9780803740013