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Staff Picks: Books

New Shoes

I think of shoes by season and in particular new shoes for Fall. In my family, my sister and I, would always get new shoes for the start of school. We did it all through my school years and we did it again when my daughter went to school. And yes, even throughout her college years. I still think of the beginning of September as shoe shopping time. When I read New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, it brought back those memories but instead of feeling my happiness it brought a sadness for the girls in the story.

In the 1950’s Ella Mae is getting new shoes, not hand-me down shoes from her cousin. On Saturday, Ella Mae and her Mom go to the shoe store but they have to wait for the little white girl to select and try on her shoes first even though Ella Mae was there before the white family. Ella Mae knows colored people always have to wait.

When it is finally her turn, she tells Mr. Johnson that she wants to try on a pair of saddle shoes. Mama sucks in her breath and tells Ella Mae that they’ll do something different. Instead Mr. Johnson points to the back where the paper and pencils are kept. Mama and Ella Mae draw a picture of her feet and Mr. Johnson brings back a shoe box. No trying on in the store is allowed for them. They purchase the shoes but on the way home Ella Mae realizes colored folks can’t try on their shoes and how unfair it is for them. Even though she has new shoes now, she feels bad. When Ella Mae tells her best friend Charlotte what happened, she said it happened to her too. Sometimes the shoes don’t fit and they hurt the children’s feet.

Ella Mae has an idea and Charlotte is eager to help. They both do chores and for pay they take 1 nickel and a pair of outgrown shoes. After a month, they line up the shoes. They get polish, they clean and shine the shoes. They wash the laces and the shoes are almost as good as new. “Ella Mae and Charlotte’s Shoes” opens for business – price 10 cents and another pair of used shoes. The neighbors line up and their children actually get to try on shoes. They are both proud – anyone who walks in their shoe store can try on all the shoes they want!

The author’s note at the end of the book describes Ella Mae as a fictional character but the discrimination that she faced was very real. Charming characters with a compelling experience compliment Eric Velasquez’s beautiful paintings. This is a story worth sharing and discussing.

The War that Saved My Life

Well written with a captivating story, The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a new favorite of mine. Set in England during World War II, the story is told from 10 year old, Ada's perspective. She and her brother, Jaime escape their abusive mother when London's children are evacuated to the country. They find healing and hope in their new surroundings and it's just completely inspiring. I bet you'll love it too! 

The One, the Only - Ivan

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is a picture book account of the life of a wild animal who was born in a tropical forest in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lived with a large family of Western lowland gorillas. He enjoyed this time in his young life until one day poachers came and captured both him and another baby gorilla.

He and the other little one, named Burma, were sold to a man who owned a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. Burma died shortly after being delivered to her new surroundings, but Ivan lived in a home and was treated much like a human child. At age five however, he became too big and strong for his human domestic setting, and had to be moved to a concrete and glass cage at his owner’s mall. In this confining, barren environment, he amused himself by watching television, finger painting and engaging in his favorite activity of all - watching humans watch him.

After spending 27 years in this unfit, deficient situation, there was an outcry in the Tacoma community (as well as around the world), about Ivan’s plight. Letters were written, petitions signed and protests held to release Ivan from the confines of his small cage in the shopping mall.

Finally, Ivan’s owners gave in, and shortly thereafter he was sent to Zoo Atlanta where he was gently adjusted to a new life in a large enclosure populated by other gorillas, green grass and large trees.

In 2012, Ivan died at the age of 50. A memorial service was held in his honor at the Zoo, remembering Ivan’s unique role in representing the need that all animals have to be treated with dignity and kindness.

This is a wonderful book for preschoolers or early elementary kids by Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate who had previously published a novel which was also inspired by these same events. She will be conducting an Author’s Visit at the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Central location on September 22nd, 2015.

The child appealing illustrations in this volume are by G. Brian Karas who spent many hours researching gorillas by watching them at the Bronx Zoo.


Mothman's Curse

I confess that I had never actually heard of the Mothman until last year when a patron asked me for books about the cryptid. Originating in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in the mid-1960s, the legend of the Mothman apparently began when four teenagers reported being chased by a large moth-like figure in the sky. A few years later, the Mothman was blamed, among other theories, for the tragic and seemingly freak collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River at Point Pleasant. While perhaps not as well-known as the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, how could such an American original have escaped my knowing? Mothman’s Curse is a new chapter book that is not-too-scary, depending on your taste, of course. It is, as one review says, a good next step up from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. Josie and her friends live in Athens, Ohio, where they discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of a particular ghost in Athens, "the most haunted town in America". From there, the kids start to unravel the curse of the Mothman. The Mothman’s Curse is a not-too-terrifying read that delves into the fascinating American folklore surrounding this lesser known, at least to me, cryptid.

One Family

Families come in many configurations. And what better way to celebrate families in all their individuality and complexity than this wonderful picture book One Family, by George Shannon.

Simple enough for even very young children, One Family has charming illustrations by Blanca Gomez. Cheerful looking families (and their pets) are shown going about their daily activities. This title has the added benefit of being able to be used as a counting book. I love the little details in the pictures that add to the overall theme- one world, one family.

Maker Resources for Kids

We're having so much fun with our maker programs this summer. Process and learning are our focus, rather than an end product! At our maker programs we offer a selection of supplies and tools on a theme like circuitry or painting. Then we let the kids explore and make what they want to make. There is no right or wrong! It's a beautiful thing. I find inspiration everywhere I go but some of my favorite resources are on our shelves at KPL. I love Pinterest and blogs for ideas but there are also some really standout books on our shelves at KPL with great visual inspiration and expanded instructions for techniques. My current favorites for maker ideas for kids include: Tinkerlab150+ Screen-free Ideas for Kids, and The Artful ParentAll of these books offer great ideas for making and creating that can be more or less complex depending on age and ability of the child (and caregiver!). I hope you'll make something with us at the library soon! It's so fun to see what we come up with together! 

Make Way for Ducklings(1)

 Don’t you love Mr. and Mrs. Mallard?  They work so hard to find the perfect place to build a nest and raise their ducklings; Robert McCloskey’s life-like illustrations are perfect.  Make Way for Ducklings has been a favorite at our house for a long time.  Recently I’ve seen two other “duckling” books that are such nice companions for the Mallard family. . . Little Ducks Go by Emily Arnold McCully, and Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore.  Take a look at these recent books and share them with the duckling-lovers at your house. 



Emmanuel's Dream

Emmanuel’s Dream, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls, tells the true story of Ghanaian athlete Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who was born with only one healthy leg (the other was severely deformed). Where Emmanuel grew up, most kids with disabilities couldn’t go to school, but Emmanuel hopped back and forth two miles each way. He also played soccer and learned to ride a bike – in fact, he became famous after he cycled 400 miles across Ghana, raising awareness that people with disabilities can still greatly contribute to society. My 5 year-old daughter enjoyed this story and the illustrations very much. I highly recommend checking out the list of books in our catalog by illustrator Sean Qualls -- his artwork is exquisite!


Of Whispers and Promises

A young boy loves to frequent the Bronx Zoo but feels very sad when he sees the plight of animals living in empty cages and barren rooms. These feelings are especially intense when he visits the jaguar exhibit. Seeing these big, majestic cats living in unnatural, desolate surroundings makes him want to change both his and their futures. And he sets out to do just that.


A Boy and a Jaguar, is the inspiring autobiographical account of  Alan Rabinowitz, who through his love of animals, managed to overcome a personal obstacle that seemed overwhelming at first.


Alan is a stutterer. During his childhood years, he sometimes had his head and body shake so uncontrollably when attempting to speak, that his teachers placed him in a class for disturbed kids and pronounced to his parents that, “He is broken”.


However, there are two ways that Alan can verbally communicate without stuttering. One is to sing, and the other is to talk to animals. He starts off by telling his pet hamster, gerbil, turtle, chameleon and green garter snake about his dreams and they seem to listen to him. He also promises that if he ever finds his voice, he will also be their voice, and that no harm will come their way. He then goes to the Bronx Zoo great cat house and “fluently” whispers the same vow to the resident jaguar through the cage bars.


When he starts college, he is enrolled in an experimental program for stutterers which relieves him of his speech impediment, but not his continuing feelings of being somehow broken on the inside.


Pursuing his passionate interest in animals, Alan prepares for a career as a wildlife conservationist. He hikes the Smoky Mountains to study black bears, and then lands in Belize to study his favorite species, the jaguar, in it’s natural habitat.


Jaguars are severely threatened by human encroachment into their jungle environment. Alan decides to use his new found voice to help the big cats. He presents his case to save the jaguars from hunters directly  to Belize’s Prime Minister. And his fifteen minute presentation produces success! His wish that the world’s first jaguar preserve be established in the country, comes true.


I love the message that this book delivers about people and animals who can’t speak for themselves. Complimenting the story are Catia Chien’s colorful and evocative illustrations that deliver just the right amount of visual dynamism.


A little book with a big hearted message that should be thoroughly enjoyable for readers of all ages.


Since overcoming his stutter, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation. He is also a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

For more information visit and .

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

 This is sort of a fun read for those who may be looking for a bit of a darker read but aren’t really ready for something scary.  The head mistress of a ladies’ finishing school and her brother are poisoned and rather than report the crime to the local police the seven students decide to hide it in an effort to avoid being sent home and separated from each other.  Disgraceful Mary Jane, Sly Kitty, and Stout Alice (each girl has a moniker) haphazardly cobble together a cover up while Pocked Louise sets her sights on finding the killer.  The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is an interesting read for anyone who enjoys murder mysteries with female protagonists.