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Staff Picks: Books

Coding for Kids!

While computer coding is a deep topic, like math and technical fields, it never hurts to set foundations early. Kiki Prottsman and DK have created a fun way to set these foundations with the new “My First Coding Book.” The basics of coding have to do with learning logic and the words used to describe certain actions and ideas. My First Coding Book teaches young readers these concepts, with fun illustrations, and lift-the-flap style games. This book is very cute, great fun, and I recommend it to anyone (even adults) who want a better sense of how this computing stuff -- at its core -- really works.

NYRB Classic Series

For all of the various ways we as readers can discover new authors and titles (amazing librarian recommended titles being a fantastic one), there are still those moments, even as a librarian, that the girth of new and exciting books to choose from overwhelms me, leading to a kind of mental paralysis. To get around this, I've recently decided that what I need is to focus my reading efforts. I am going to try my hand at reading only books published as part of the New York Review Books series (NYRB) for the next couple of months. I'm starting off this project with Arthur Schnitzler's Late Fame. From their web site:

The NYRB Classics series is dedicated to publishing an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction from different eras and times and of various sorts. The series includes nineteenth century novels and experimental novels, reportage and belles lettres, tell-all memoirs and learned studies, established classics and cult favorites, literature high, low, unsuspected, and unheard of. NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.

The Word Collector

Like many in the library profession, I am a fan of words. So is young Jerome, who has a unique way of collecting them and sharing them. To be enjoyed are both the story and the artwork.

The House of Broken Angels

I've mentioned before that I like audiobooks which are narrated by the author, so when I found a new book written and read by the author of Into the Beautiful North, one of my favorite of KPL's Reading Together selections, I was doubly excited. The House of Broken Angels more than lived up to my expectations. I would recommend it in any format, but the book is so full of vivid characters and a mixture of English, Spanish, and Spanglish, that Luis Alberto Urrea's narration is the perfect way to give voice to its rich language.

The House of Broken Angels recounts a few days in the life of a large Mexican-American family, as the central character, Big Angel, is preparing to die. As morbid as that may sound, the story is tender, funny, and lively. The perspective shifts from one character to another, revealing their inner thoughts at least as much as their words and actions. The novel paints a colorful and true-to-life portrait of family life in its glory and despair, and everything in between. 

A Donkey Named Winslow

Sharon Creech is a multiple award winning author of Moo, one of my all time favorite J fiction books. So, when i saw that she had published another, titled Saving Winslow, just this past September 2018, i grabbed it and read it in one sitting. The book is a short 165 pages making it a very engaging, quick  read.

This time , the story revolves around middle schooler Louis and a donkey named Winslow. Louis is surprised when his father gives him a day-old , gray, mini-donkey from Uncle Pete's small farm. The newborn donkey's mother is too sick to care for him, so both adults hope the animal will fare better under Louis's attention, this despite his track record for nurturing young animals in the past  have never been successful. Louis however, is undaunted by his past pet failures , and accepts the mission to care for this pitiful donkey, even though is parents and others tell him not to get too attached to the young animal because it will probably end up dying in a day or so. Undeterred, Louis is determined to succeed this time.

The ending is a somewhat surprising revelation about the special bond between boy and donkey, and the special love that letting things go requires. A well written book that will tug at the heartstrings of any school aged child who loves animals. Sharon Creech has done it again!

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

"I wrote Ghost for all the young people who feel like they're suffocating, who feel like they're gasping for breath, exhausted from running for their lives, and sometimes FROM their lives. It's for both the traumatized and the triumphant." - Jason Reynolds, 2016 National Book Award Finalist                                                                                                                                                                           The Track series by Jason Reynolds has been a teen favorite for the last two years. The stories of elite track team members, Ghost, Patina, and Sunny, have captured our hearts and we can't wait to have all four books in our hand when Lu comes out in October. We're hosting teen book clubs each month to celebrate these amazing books over pizza. Join us September 20 for Pizza and Pages: Ghost. Free copies available now in Teen Central. 


Night Job

Karen Hesse is renowned for Out of the Dust, a Newbery Medal winning dust bowl story written in verse, and other great reads. Hesse has some wonderful picture book collaborations, too, where words and pictures combine to make something really special. The new picture book, Night Job, with illustrations by G. Brian Karas, is a great example. The story seems pretty mundane: dad brings child to work as custodian at a large middle school. But what makes the book special is the representation of father and child in their everyday lives. Sure, they ride a motorcycle to and from work, but it's a mode of transportation, nothing flashy. There's something really poignant about shooting baskets in the big-kid-gym while dad works or falling asleep in an office until dad is done and it's time to go home.

9-11 Literature

Author Bryan Charles grew up in Galesburg, Michigan and attended Gull Lake High School in the early 1990’s. His sophomore effort is a memoir detailing the ups and down’s of trying to be an aspiring writer in the Big Apple, after having relocated from Kalamazoo to New York City in the late 1990’s. He quickly discovers the cruel realities associated with big city living, with much of the early part of the book chronicling his frustration with having to work at a soul-crushing job instead of being recognized as the next Don DeLillo. The best-written part of the book (first having appeared in a literary journal as The Numbers), and certainly the book’s emotional core, contains a harrowing passage that describes his escape from one of the World Trade towers on September 11, 2001. Other novels and collections of short stories that attempted to meditate on the post and pre-9-11 world include:

Falling Man: A Novel, Don DeLillo

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud 

The Submission by Amy Waldman 

The Zero by Jess Walter 

Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace

Netherworld by Joseph O'Neill

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

There are some who would say I need this book, and desperately. I picked it up even though I'm not Swedish, and thought I would share it with those who might be interested. Subtitled How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, this book is, at it says on the back cover, 'A charming and practical approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.' In Sweden there is a practice known as dostadning, which is a form of decluttering. Author Magnusson defines this as a 'surprisingly invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings [that] can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner rather than later, before others have to do it for you.' The difference between this and other methods of clutter control is that there are elements of fun and joy involved, meaning that the process is not burdensome, but rewarding.

On the Camino, by Jason

Here’s why I recommend On the Camino, by Jason:

  • I like graphic novels. I like travel memoirs, where the traveler(s) journeyed on their own steam, just as much. Combine those aspects; I’m generally hooked!
  • Jason’s wry sense of humor had me chuckling often.
  • The artist’s portrayal of himself and other hikers as animals lent a quirky perspective to his tale of hiking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile path through the north of Spain.
  • Yet, this tale isn’t all quirk and humor. I appreciated his humility and his honesty about his doubts along the way. He pondered whether he fit in or not with the other hikers and why exactly he chose to hike the trail. He described his fears when he was sure he was lost along the way.
  • I became curious about the logistics of creating the graphic novel. I wondered, did Jason take notes along the way? Did he draw each day after he’d finished hiking, or did he chronicle the whole trip from memory once the hike was over?
  • Maybe you’ll read this and have your own thoughts about what journey--physical or otherwise--you might chronicle and how you might do it, if you were drawing a memoir. For myself, I’m still pondering.