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Staff Picks: Books

Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic

Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic By Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Victor Juhasz.

When is it not hot dog season – they really aren’t just for summer picnics anymore, but that was a different case in 1939.

In June of 1939, the United States had 2 very special guests visit - King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. It was the first visit of reigning British Royalty. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to take the opportunity to extend a warm welcome. She had the idea to celebrate the visit with an all American picnic complete with hot dogs. Mrs. Roosevelt loved hot dogs. She loved to eat them and to cook them on the grill. She was famous in her family for her hot dog roasts.

Usually entertaining in the White House meant fancy dinners – hot dogs were never served. Eleanor discovered that Queen Elizabeth was a distant cousin of George Washington. With this news, she decided an all American picnic was in order and really – what is a picnic without roasted hot dogs! Mrs. Roosevelt planned the picnic to take place at Top Cottage in Hyde Park, New York. President Roosevelt was just happy she wasn’t serving spinach. But not everyone agreed with Mrs. Roosevelt’s menu – lots of people didn’t think hot dogs were appropriate- however she stuck up for herself.

On June 11, 1939 the Roosevelt’s hosted the picnic. The hot dogs were served on fancy silver trays. The King ate seconds. The picnic was a success. On June 11, 1989, the 50th anniversary picnic was held. The Queen sent a special message. And what do you think was on the picnic menu…


What a fun book to share with just enough history mixed with the humor of serving hot dogs. Don’t wait until summer to read it.


The Right Word, Roget and His Thesaurus

This lively illustrated biography of Peter Mark Roget is written for children, yet it is smooth, easy reading for adults. I like the list of Principal Events at the back of the book beginning with Peter’s birth on January 18, 1779, in London, England. Roget is pronounced “Roh-Zhay”. Roget is known for writing a Thesaurus, a book containing lists of synonyms (same) and antonyms (opposite) words for finding just the right word. Roget’s Thesaurus provides many ideas. When he told his mother that he was FINE he wanted a better word to describe how he really was, for example: glad, cheerful, dandy, so-so, and splendid.
When Peter was five years old, his father died. He and his younger sister and his mother moved around often and that made it difficult to make new friends. Peter found a friend in books. When Peter was eight years old he started to write his own book, but he didn’t write stories, he wrote lists. He made a list of the Latin words he’d learned from his tutor and next to the Latin word he wrote the English meaning. For example, Ursus is a bear, Volpes is a fox, can you guess what Leo is?
Peter learned that Words were powerful things and when he put them in long neat rows, the world clicked into order! Peter continued working on his book of word lists, then, in 1852 Roget published his Thesaurus, (a word that means “treasure house” in Greek). Peter was suddenly a popular author! However, Peter remained humble and he continued making new lists so that today you can still find the right word!



A young girl pleads with her mother for a pet. Her mother finally agrees, saying any pet is fine, as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed. A pretty tall order….

Sparky is the wonderful new picture book by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhaus that details how the young girl selects a sloth as her chosen pet. Sparky can’t fetch, chase a ball, or roll over. But he is great at playing dead, and he has other unexpected attributes, as his young owner soon discovers.

Expressive pictures pair perfectly with the story, making for a satisfying picture book for the younger set.

Once Upon an Alphabet

Once Upon an Alphabet, by Oliver Jeffers, is one of my favorite alphabet books for kids (but also really fun for adults) since The Alphabet from A to Y with bonus letter, Z! by Steve Martin and Roz Chast. Some alphabet books, like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, are perfect for introducing the alphabet to little ones in an engaging way. But alphabet books aren’t only for teaching the ABCs. Leonard Marcus wrote, in an article in The Horn Book, that “the 26 character Roman alphabet could hardly be handier as a framework for organizing information within a thirty-two-page book, the standard picture book format”.
This organizational format has long worked for adults, too. Ambrose Bierce’s classic work of American satire The Devil’s Dictionary works well because you can open anywhere and read within the familiar framework of A to Z order. Alphabet picture books can be about anything or, like Seinfeld, about nothing at all. Alphabet books are so familiar that, in a way, they have earned the privilege of being able to poke fun at themselves. Once Upon an Alphabet is a series of short stories with really wonderful accompanying drawings. The connections between the words and the text, and among the different entries, is great fun. Plus there are even a few puzzles to solve along the way. And even though this alphabet book isn’t really about anything at all it’s really fun!

A Christmas truce during World War I?!

Did you know that during the first world war the troops on both sides (British, French, and German) along many miles of the Belgium-France border put down their weapons and exchanged gifts, sang carols together, and lit Christmas trees on December 25th? I had never heard of such a thing, which is why books are so great! Shooting at the stars by John Hendrix tells a fictionalized version of a very real event, known as the Christmas Truce of 1914. Unfortunately, this was the first and last time such Christmas fellowship would unfold during four long years of the war. This book, although in our JE collection, would also be enjoyed by older children and adults…be warned that a few pages describe how the soldiers came together to bury their fallen comrades before they celebrated.

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.

Peggy, No Ordinary Chicken

“Peggy” is the title of a book about a chicken. But not just any old, run-of-the-mill, barnyard hen. No, Peggy happens to be one very brave, extraordinary chicken. As such, she joins the Chicken Coop Hall of Fame populated by other famous children’s literature pullets such as Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Tillie, Yelta, the Little Red Hen, Rosie, Lottie, Hilda, and my all-time personal favorite, Minerva Louise.

Written and illustrated by Australian Anna Walker, Peggy enjoys her day-to-day existence living in a small house on a quiet street out in the sticks. Life is very good indeed! However, one windy day, she is blown away by a particularly strong gust, and lands in the busy city and all that that implies – traffic congestion, great restaurants, department stores, big buildings and bustling crowds.

As she roams around, she comes to realize how much adventure and excitement she missed out on by living in the confines of the country. But as she widely wanders, she also wisely wonders how she will ever find her way back home, because after all is said and done, there’s no place like......well you know!

On a whim, she follows a sunflower like the one she remembers growing in her yard. Sure enough, this (along with a little help from a flock of pigeon friends), leads her back to where she really belongs.

The wonderfully detailed illustrations are delightful and well-suited for this satisfying chicken tale. “Peggy” is highly recommended for pre-schoolers, as well as early-ed children.

I Feel Five!

It’s Fritz’s birthday . . . he’s five now and he’s ready to leave that four-year-old year behind.  Finally he’ll be able to snap his fingers and his teeth will start wiggling any moment now.  But as the day goes on, he realizes that change doesn’t always happen so quickly.  The illustrations in I Feel Five! really set this book apart from other growing-up stories; you’ll love the dog.




From Preschool to Prosperity

How can very young children help Michigan’s economy? Simple. Attend a high-quality preschool.

Really? Really!

Tim Bartik, who is an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research here in Kalamazoo, believes that our economic future can be improved by expanding high-quality early education programs and making sure that all children have the opportunity to participate. Dr. Bartik’s new book, From Preschool to Prosperity, is available as a free download here:

While economics might be a subject that can seem intimidating, if you care about kids in our community please take a look at this book. It’s short, readable, and so very important. Let’s keep working hard in Kalamazoo to make sure that all of our kids have the opportunity to reach their potential. 

Hear an interview with Dr. Bartik on WMUK’s WestSouthwest.

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!