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Staff Picks: Books

Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks

   bell hooks' Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood is an odd book. It’s nonfiction but it reads like a novel. It focuses on hooks’ childhood, but each brief chapter can be savored as an individual short story. hooks grew up in a home with several sisters and one brother, but feeling like an outsider rather than a member of the family. She was curious about taboo topics like death, race, marriage, sexuality, and gender roles, but she could not discuss these subjects openly with anyone. 

   Only one of her grandmothers and her grandfather understood her. Her parents punished her for talking back, warned her that too much reading would drive her crazy, concerned themselves with her lack of interest in boys, then worried about her interest in the wrong boys, and fretted that she would become “funny” (their word for homosexual). Her sisters disliked and excluded her, and her friendship with her brother dissolved as he matured. Despite these shaky relationships, she found mentorship in a pastor, a teacher, and others who encouraged her to embrace her individuality. Her love of reading also inspired her, and she became a poet, and eventually the famous academic and author the world knows her as today.

 This was the first time I read hooks for leisure instead of as part of an academic assignment, and I sped through Bone Black. This book is a nice entry point to get to know hooks’ character and her writing. Her most notorious work is Killing Rage but I am happy to have read Bone Black first to see how her experiences during childhood contributed to her perspective as an adult.



Weekends with Daisy

Sharron Kahn Luttrell had self-diagnosed CDD (Canine Deficit Disorder) when she chose to volunteer as a weekend puppy raiser for NEADS in their Prison Pup Partnership program. During the week, the puppy, Daisy, was raised and trained by Keith, an inmate dog handler at a nearby prison. On weekends Daisy stayed with Luttrell’s family. Here Sharron gradually introduced Daisy to many experiences she could not get inside the prison as part of Daisy’s training to become a service dog.

Though Luttrell was the puppy’s primary trainer on the weekends, the whole family fell in love with her. Sharon found that her parenting skills and insights grew as she focused on training Daisy. The dog helped her bridge gaps between her and her oldest child, Aviva. Her son, the most eager family member to meet Daisy, accompanied his mom to several of the pup’s training events.

The author illustrated the value of this program to the prisoners who participate. Training the puppies helps them develop a positive relationship with another living being. They have to provide constant care, patience and consistency throughout the week. The experience builds self-esteem for the inmate dog handlers, as they watch the puppies learn and succeed, knowing their efforts will make a difference for someone else, if the puppy becomes a service dog. Luttrell sometimes fantasized about how it would be, if Daisy were to fail the rigorous testing to become a service dog, for as the weekend trainer, her family could have ‘first dibs’ on adopting Daisy. As she grew to know Keith better, however, she became properly motivated to improve Daisy’s weekend training and ensure her success as a service dog. Her motivation came not just because it was the right thing to do, but also because she cared about Keith and wanted his success, too.

Cecil’s Everlasting Roar

When Cecil the lion was killed in July 2015, the event precipitated a huge outpouring of grief, anger and disgust among people from all over the world. Cecil was a protected lion who was lured out of his safe haven, the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa, by native hunting guides for the express purpose of letting Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist by vocation and a misguided, self-styled big game hunter by avocation, shoot him dead. Cecil was killed in cold blood only to satisfy an American dentist’s craving to be surrounded by dead animal trophies.
Shortly after the news of Cecil’s demise spread, numerous protests erupted led by conservation groups, animal advocates and just common folks. The anger and sadness resonated and lingered on for more than a month after the careless killing.

However, one positive outcome was a huge surge in donations for animal conservation efforts. Even celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel spoke out against the senseless slaughter and helped raise over $150,000 to aid preservation. Jane Goodall the world renowned primatologist simply stated, “I have no words to express my repugnance.”

The authors of Cecil’s Pride: The True Story of a Lion King are a father and his two daughters, the Hatkoffs. They wrote this children’s book not to dwell on his sudden and inhumane death, but rather to celebrate through narrative a life that was well lived. Photographs by Cecil’s human friend Brent Stapelkamp, underscore the beauty and fullness of his time on earth. Taken over the course of nine years, Brent, a wildlife researcher, tracked, and documented Cecil as he wandered about in the forests and plains of Hwange Park.

Since lions defend their pride and territory against other lions who challenge them, it was known that Cecil was challenged by a long-time rival named Jericho. They fought to see who would gain control. But when other male lions started moving into their domain, something unusual happened; Cecil and Jericho formed an alliance against the interlopers!

After Cecil’s sudden death, it was feared that Jericho would either abandon or kill Cecil’s cubs to start his own family, which is usually the case when the male head of the pride dies. However, in this case another astonishing turn of events came to be when Jericho took in Cecil’s cubs to raise them as his own.

This is a wonderfully touching true story with vivid photos that proclaims that Cecil’s legacy will live on.

Facts about lions as well as the global impact of Cecil’s death are included. New laws and regulations about illegal hunting of lions as well as other endangered species is a hopeful sign that conservation efforts will improve and protect these majestic animals. But as is usually the case, only time will tell if they still have a chance.



I became a fan of Lindy West’s during her time as a writer for the popular feminist blog Jezebel.  She’s wildly funny and writes honestly about topics such as feminism, body image, and abortion.  Shrill, her first book, had me cracking up—sometimes in public, which is an embarrassing situation if you’re sitting in a coffee shop by yourself and suddenly start laughing out loud.  I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any Millennial looking for a laugh alongside insightful commentary on life for young women today.

Reading Without Walls and Surfer of the Century

Gene Luen Yang, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature for 2015-2016, issued a challenge to readers called Reading Without Walls. Yang writes on his blog:

"I want every kid - every reader, really - to explore the world through books. Books have played a vital role in getting me outside of my comfort zone. I believe they can do the same for you. As National Ambassador, I issue you a challenge! I challenge you to read without walls in one of three ways:
1. Read a book about a character who doesn't look like you or live like you.
2. Read a book about a topic you don't know much about.
3. Read a book in a format that you don't normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.
If you really want to go for the gold star, read a book that fits all three criteria! When you finish, take a photo of you and the book (or just the book if you're shy) and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ReadingWithoutWalls. You'll inspire others to do the same!"

This challenge inspired me to finally read a book I'd checked out, but hadn't opened yet. I initially picked up the picture book Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku because I thought the cover illustration looked nice and I didn't know much about surfing. I'd never heard Duke Kahanamoku's name before and knew nothing about his story. Kahanamoku lived a truly incredible and inspiring life. He won six Olympic medals for swimming, introduced the Hawaiian sport of surfing to people throughout the world, acted in over ten films during the 1920s and 1930s, and served as Honolulu's sheriff for 26 years.

In 1960, Kahanamoku was appointed Hawaii's official Ambassador of Aloha. He said, "In Hawaii we greet friends, loved ones or strangers with Aloha, which means with love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawaii renowned as the world's center of understanding and fellowship. Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha. You'll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it and this is my creed. Aloha to you."

Kahanamoku was born in Honolulu in 1890, before the United States' illegal annexation of Hawaii. He passed away in 1968, nearly a decade after Hawaii became the fiftieth state. This book and his story showed me how little I know about the history of Hawaii, and now I can't wait to learn more.

I'm looking forward to checking out:
Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku
Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii
Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii
Unfamiliar Fishes

I Was a Child

I Was a Child tells a deceptively simple story of New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan's childhood in the 70s and 80s in suburban New York City. 

Thanks to simple yet evocative line drawings on every page, it's a quick read, especially because it is a collection of very short anecdotes and seemingly inconsequential details that somehow can take on a feeling of significance in a child's mind. 

Many of the details are familiar to my own childhood--an unused milk box by the front door, L'eggs pantyhose containers, and making ashtrays in school to give to one's parents are just a few. They are mostly the sorts of things I would never think important enough to mention in telling my own story, yet strung together they create a vivid and amazingly specific illustration of a particular family which is humorous, excruciating, and full of love.

The Engineering Book

When I read the title of this 2015 book I almost went on to something else. That was until I read the subtitle: From the Catapult to the Curiosity Rover, 250 Milestones in the History of Engineering. This book represents an intersection of history and science and would be suitable for anyone with an interest in either or both. Beginning in earliest times and continuing through thousands of years into the future, author Marshall Brain (an appropriate last name, in my opinion), gives one page of narrative and one photograph for each of the 250 milestones. He uses a strict chronological approach so it's easy to see the progression of technological advances over time. Many of these inventions and landmarks were produced earlier than I would have thought. For example, plastic is listed under 1856, air conditioning in 1902, cell phones and RFID tags in 1983, and 3D printers in 1984. An interesting one for our area is the entry for 1835, which is about the combine harvester as invented by Hiram Moore, a resident of southern Kalamazoo County. An 1846 Kalamazoo Gazette article discusses this in further detail. The photographs are excellent choices, like the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ad for frozen pizza as the entry for 1957. I think this is yet another splendid KPL acquisition that will inspire me to get my own copy.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and unwittingly I happen to be reading two books perfect for the occasion.

Participating in The Global Reading Challenge, I learned of The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye, which tells the story of Aref, a 3rd grader who will soon be moving from Oman to Ann Arbor, Michigan so his parents can attend graduate school. Each morning, I read a little bit of it to my 10 year old daughter and we learn about Oman as Aref and his grandfather travel around the country, collecting memories and attempting to comfort and sooth Aref’s fears about moving to Michigan.

In addition, I’m listening to The Three Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway. This book tells the story of poverty stricken Japanese-American children living in Maui and Soichi Sakamoto who has the dream of turning them into Olympic champions. Through incredibly difficult circumstances and training routines, they become world class swimmers, but the world events of the late 1930s and early 1940s change their lives drastically.

Take some time this month to learn something new about Asian or Pacific Islander culture or both.

Life Reimagined

This title and its subtitle--The science, art, and opportunity of midlife--caught my eye as soon as I read about it. This is a book that speaks directly to me and one that I expect will provide countless pearls of wisdom. Written by a veteran NPR commentator who spent two years talking to psychologists, biologists, neurologists, and sociologists about this phase of life—midlife—that, as she puts it, “has gotten a bum rap. It has suffered guilt by association, linked inextricably to the ‘c’ word: crisis.” Instead, what she learns during her intense exploration is that midlife is, in fact, a time of great opportunity. Chapters address such topics as brain research; the importance of friends and even long-term romance; dealing with inevitable medical conditions; and finding a purpose. Library Journal Review declares that “This work is a joyous reminder that the middle years can be satisfying, resilient and significant.”

I can’t wait to jump in!

Lonnie Johnson -- inventor of the Super Soaker!

If you have kids (or were ever one), chances are, you’ve encountered a Super Soaker water gun. Well, I just found out who invented it! In the book Whoosh! by Chris Barton, you will learn about Lonnie Johnson, an African-American NASA engineer and inventor who accidentally invented the Super Soaker while trying to solve a problem with refrigerators and air conditioners.