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Staff Picks: Books

Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover

Did you know that NASA ran a competition for members of the public to pick a name for Curiosity? The winning name for the nine-foot self-propelled rolling laboratory was submitted by Clara Ma, a sixth grader from Kansas. I like how the book about Curiosity begins: "Wherever you are in the world right now, I'm a very long way away." This new large-format non-fiction book is narrated by Curiosity in the first person and tells the story of the rover's mission, design and development, launch and landing, and continuing exploration of the red planet. With excellent illustrations that tell the story along with an anthropomorphized rover that doesn't talk down to readers, this is a great choice for the science and technology minded. If you are curious about the technology that humans are developing and using to explore other worlds, I think you will really enjoy this one. 


Jubari Jumps

This picture book is such a delight, and it brings back so many memories of my youth.  Young Jabari is finished with his swimming lessons and is excited about becoming a "great jumper".  But as his turn to jump from the high diving board gets closer and closer, he begins to feel more and more...hesitant.  I love how Jabari's dad reassures him and helps him face his fear. SPLASH!  If only I had a book like this to read before I took my first jump from a high diving board.  Gaia Cornwall has done a nice job with this story and the illustrations.  Young swimmers will enjoy it.


A VERY BIG FRIENDLY UMBRELLA

Amy June Bates makes her debut as both co-author and illustrator of the brand new JE book titled The Big Umbrella. Amy's co-author is her seventh-grade daughter Juniper, who came up with the idea for this story while sharing an umbrella with others in a rainstorm.

The tale starts at the front door of a house where there stands an umbrella with a smiley face, eyes, and a nose. This very friendly looking umbrella is picked up by a young girl who uses it to shelter herself from a heavy rain. Various other people who all happen to be different from each other, ( some tall, some hairy, others big or slender etc.) also embrace the cover that the big red umbrella provides. Each one is welcome because there is always room for everyone who seeks refuge from the pouring rain.

A wonderful , gentle story with appealing illustrations and a great message of acceptance and giving! I highly recommend it.


Hello Wildcat Moto

Moto and Me: My year as a Wildcat's Foster Mom is a recent nonfiction children's book written by wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas. Sometime ago, she lived out in the African bush in a tent on the Masai Mara wildlife reserve in Kenya. Originally, she had only planned on staying just a few months, but instead fell in love with the area and ended up remaining there for almost three years taking animal photos.

The book starts out describing her close encounters with various wildlife such as hyenas, hippos, and snakes just to name a few. However, her most exciting, enduring and most heartfelt relationship was with a lost and helpless serval kitten who became separated from his mom during a forest fire. Local reserve animal rangers ask Suzi to be the two-week-old serval's foster mom, to teach him how to survive, and when he was old enough , to release him back into the wild.

Suzi names the young serval cat Moto, which means "fire" in Swahili, the language spoken by most people living in the Masai Mara region. She feeds him, bathes and brushes him and presents him with a plush toy named Mr. Ducky. In time, she allows him to venture outdoors to learn to catch his own prey , under her watchful eye. 

This informative book boasts many pleasing and amusing photos, as well as very good information on the caring of servals, ( and no, they should never be considered by anyone as potential  pets).    It especially resonated with me because it carefully links the importance between wildlife rescue and release. It's a winner for anyone in love with all things wild and wild felines in particular.


 

 

 


Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!

In Marley Dias’s new book, the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks describes the background of the movement that she created and how young people can organize to change the world. Dias writes about how reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming changed her life, how she realized that there were not nearly enough books that reflected kids like her. Her school reading list at the time was filled with stories about white boys and dogs: Shiloh, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows… all great books, she says, but why no black authors? Great question. When Marley’s mom asked her what she would change about the world, she said she’d like to make it so that kids everywhere could read books with black girls - books that accurately reflect the wide range of kids' identity and experience. Children are better off when they see themselves reflected in the books that they read. As Jacqueline Woodson says, "Seeing a story on a page about a black child written by a black author ... legitimizes your own existence in the world, because you're a part of something else. 'Look, I'm here in this book.'" 

Marley Dias's activism has been effective in motivating change within the institutions that control how books are created and discovered. Read Marley Dias’s story, as she tells it, because it is inspiring. She includes practical information about how to be an effective activist and how their adults can help. Young people have always changed the world and Marley Dias, with support from caring adults, truly has done so. Here's an excerpt to get you started reading Marley's book right now, if you so choose.


Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

I'm excited about the new picture book biography of Elizabeth Cotten, Libba. Elizabeth Cotten is best known for her song "Freight Train". She taught herself to play guitar and wrote the now-famous song by the time she was eleven. Playing and singing was deferred while Elizabeth Cotten made a life in segregated North Carolina. Then, in her 50s, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began working in a department store. It was there she met Ruth Crawford Seeger, part of that famous American folk-music family. She began working for them as a housekeeper and started playing again. 

This new picture book biography is important because it tells the story of a hugely influential American songwriter. Written by singer-songwriter Laura Vieirs with illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, there is a lot of American history addressed in Libba: music, guitar, segregation, privilege, and much more. It's a great one to share with your family. 


Bird Balloon Bear by Il Sung Na

Many of my family's all time favorite picture books were created by Il Sung Na. Bird, Balloon, Bear is a new favorite. In this charming story, Bird, is looking for a friend when Bird spots Bear. As Bird works up the courage to say "Hi", Balloon shows up. Bear and Balloon run off to play and Bird steps back shyly. You'll have to check out what happens next is this sweet story. Be sure to take a careful look at the beautiful illustrations while you're at it.


Stolen Words

During the Native American Heritage program last November, I sat listening to one of the presenters explain how as a young child she was adopted away from her Anishinaabe heritage.  Now, as an adult, she was determined to learn the culture and language of her elders.  This memory came rushing back to me when I picked up this book, Stolen Words by Melanie Florence.  This nicely illustrated picture book introduces the not-so-long-ago practice of the Canadian residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families.   In this story, a young Cree girl asks her grandfather to tell her words in his Cree language.  When he explains that his Cree words were stolen from him as a child, the little girl decides to help her grandfather get his words back.  Historical picture books are great way to introduce young children to the past and to discuss how the past and the present are always connected.   

 


Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing

Save the date: Kwame Alexander is coming to visit Kalamazoo on February 28th

In the book Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, use original poems to celebrate twenty poets who, for the three authors of this book, had to be interesting people with poems that they loved. I love how Kwame Alexander opens the book with the premise that poetry can be fresh and freeing. You can make up your own rules about writing! What a wonderful notion that the connections around different senses of words and the way punctuation looks on the page conveys a feeling to other people. These original elements of style are unique to the poet and their poetry. The poems in the first part pay tribute  to Nikki Giovanni, Naomi Shihab-Nye, Langston Hughes, and others in this way.

Poetry expands our thinking about everyday things. You definitely do not need to know the twenty poets that the poems in Out of Wonder celebrate. You might want to read them after you read these poems celebrating Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Chief Dan George, Mary Oliver, and many more. The collage illustrations by Ekua Holmes, who also illustrated Carole Boston Weatherford's Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, add to the sense of the poems and make it even more accessible to young readers and listener watchers. The title, Out of Wonder, Alexander writes in the preface, comes from a quote by renowned poet and children’s book author Lucille Clifton who wrote, “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

For more information about Kwame, visit his website. His new literary focused web show, Bookish, airs weekly on FB Watch.


Papillon- One Remarkable Cat

Papillon, the very fluffy kitty who has the amazing ability to float like a cloud in the sky, is at it again in A.N. Kang's sequel Papillon Goes To The Vet. This time Papillon must make an unexpected trip to the kitty doctor after accidentally swallowing a yarn toy during a robust playtime session. The toy gets stuck somewhere in his belly, making him feel sick with a case of the hiccups to boot. His owner, Miss Tilly, transports her kitty, via bike, as he forlornly sits in the front basket

The vet sees the obstruction on an x-ray and Papillon is ordered to spend the evening at the clinic, where he feels sad, scared and lonely. His cries for help only make the hiccups worse, but the silver lining is that after one particularly ferocious hiccup, the fluffy toy pops out of his mouth.

The other cat patients present at the clinic are quite impressed with Papillon's post recovery antics, and come to see him as the very talented and special cat that he truly is. Next day this remarkable floating cat returns home with a fresher spring in his step and a mouth that will be determinedly closed when around any yarn toys that happen to be lurking about!

This book is chockfull of extremely expressive illustrations that are sure to please both young and old cat lovers alike. As fate would have it, author Kang herself has an amazing fluffy black and white cat named Papillon as well!