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Staff Picks: Books

Take a picture of me, James VanDerZee!

Years ago when I worked in archives, I would spend hours and hours looking through photos taken during the Harlem Renaissance era.  Most of those photos were taken by James VanDerZee, a brilliant African American photographer who had the ability to capture the true essence of his subjects.

VanDerZee was born in Lennox, Massachusetts in 1886.  As a young boy, he fell in love with "a huge contraption called a camera" and immediately taught himself how to take photos and develop the film in his own closet darkroom.  At 18, he moved to New York City when the Harlem Renaissance was beginning. After working several jobs, VanDerZee opened his own photography studio and began his journey photographing everyone and everything.  His photos were so well-produced, his services were in high demand for the next 60 plus years.

Andrea J. Loney introduces young readers to this amazing man in this well-written and illustrated biography picture book.  I recommend it for family reading.

 


Raindrops Roll

It's no secret that April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorite picture book authors. This week I discovered her nonfiction book for young readers, Raindrops Roll. Her incredible photography and rhyming text make this pick a huge hit at my house. All of us, adults and kids, spent some time poring over the pages and repeating the lyrical rhymes. Check this one out today!


Incredible Bugs!

While shelving new children’s non-fiction books, I discovered Superstats: Incredible Bugs, part of the Superstats book series. The bright, clear photographs, surrounded by fun and interesting facts about insects, spiders, and other tiny creatures, immediately took me in. With quality images like a Dorling Kindersley “DK” book, and being full of factoids like a Guinness World Records book, I consider this book a winner. While Incredible Bugs’ suggested reader age range is 7-10 / grades 2-4, sharing the large photographs and more basic fun facts may be enjoyable to younger readers as well.


CATAWAMPUS RUMPUS

The Catawampus Cat  by Jason Carter Eaton is the tale of a somewhat off kilter feline who mysteriously arrives one Tuesday morning into an unnamed town.

First to notice the slightly askew cat is Mr Grouse the grocer, who tries to straighten the cat out, but to no avail. In the midst of the cat straightening attempt excitement, the grocer and his wife tilt their heads as well and make a very happy rediscovery!

Next the town barber spots the cat and is so taken aback that he accidentally clips his customer's hair at an angle, much to the woman's delight!

And so it goes on, everyone who notices this unusually positioned cat sets off to try new things with wonderful results. The cat's slightly slanted, catawampus perspective becomes the town's obsession.Even the mayor declares that there be a Catawampus Cat Day in the feline's honor.But when the day arrives and the mayor declares "we are all different now, just like you", the cat responds with something out of the ordinary that dismays his adoring public.

A fun, humorous book with appealing illustrations  by Gus Gordon, that is sure to please preschool, and early elementary kids!


Rolling Thunder

This picture book, with spare text and rich illustrations, captures the emotion of the Rolling Thunder Run, a motorcycle rally held each Memorial Day in Washington D.C. to honor American armed forces.  It follows one young boy’s experience of riding with his grandfather:  “Grandpa rides for Joe and Tom, friends he lost in Vietnam.”  It’s a poignant glimpse of one family’s moment at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. 

 


Bees: A Honeyed History

While I was passing by the "New Arrivals" cart, this book practically jump into my hands.  In other words, I could not help noticing this gigantic yellow book about my favorite insect.  Bees: a honeyed history is a wonderful oversize book for kids and presents nearly every fact about bees.  Abrams is dedicated to publishing "stunning visual books" and any young reader could easily spend hours going through the pages of this one admiring Piotr Socha's beautiful illustrations. The text was written by Wojciech Grajkowski and translated by Agnes Monod-Gayraud.  


Cute Story

Rose is written by local Kalamazoo author, Jessica Aguilera. It’s a cute story and Jessica did the illustrations herself by using cutouts that she layered together and then photographed.

Rose was self-published.


Round

Round,” a 2017 title by Newbery-Honor winning poet Joyce Sidman, and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, is a wonderful new addition to our “Concepts” picture book neighborhood. Designed for children aged 4-7, the story explores many of the circular shapes found in everyday life, both big and small, with charming illustrations that inspire interest in the basic geometry of the world.


What Elephants Know

What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein is an engrossing read that has garnered effusive praise from numerous reviewers including animal advocate Jane Goodall. It has also won the South Asia Book Award. Dinerstein is a wildlife scientist currently serving as the director of biodiversity at RESOLVE, an organization devoted to wildlife preservation solutions. Earlier in his professional career he spent a great deal of time in Nepal, studying both elephants and tigers. Both Nepal and these two particular species are central to this novel.

It is told in first person by the narrator, Nandu,, who survives being abandoned in the Nepalese jungle by being cared for by a pack of wild dogs or dholes. He is rescued by an old man , Subba-sahib, the owner of an elephant stable used by the king for tiger hunt expeditions. Nandu comes to see the old man as his father and a sweet protective female elephant, Devi Kali, as his mother.

The book's main focus is on Nandu, now age twelve,who is very fond of animals and treats them all with respect.By saving a tigress during a royal hunt, Nandu brings upon himself both praise from the king and scorn from his entourage. The latter hatch a plot to close down Nandu's father's elephant stable, but Nandu tries to save the day with a plan of his own.

This book is a quick-paced fun informative read for all animal lovers from fourth graders to adults.I'ts just that good and that important.

The Kalamazoo Public Library is sponsoring a visit by author Dinerstein scheduled in mid October, not to be missed.


Steven Universe: Art and Origins

Animated series Steven Universe is one of the most beautiful shows on television right now, and has inspired a large and devoted fandom. I think what sets the show apart is that every element of the show is carried out thoughtfully – from the story and development of the characters, to the sound editing, even the tiniest details nestled into the background are often purposely drawn in to foreshadow future events.

It’s always a treat to watch a new, perfectly polished episode of Steven Universe, but it is fascinating to flip through this book and see early character designs and to read Rebecca Sugar’s early thoughts about who the characters were when she pitched the pilot and who they have now become. In this book we get to see rejected episode storylines, unfinished storyboards, and we also get to read about the creator’s childhood, the projects she was working on in college, and the cartoons she watched growing up. A must read for any fan of the show.