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Staff Picks: Books

God got arrested?

While putting books away in the children’s section, the title God got a dog caught my eye. It’s a short book of 16 poems written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Marla Frazee, both of whom are big names in children’s literature. 

Flipping through and first reading “God took a bath,” I got a sense this book wasn’t just for children. In fact, it would probably be more appreciated by adults. In poems with titles like “God found God,” “God went to the doctor,” and “God got cable,” Rylant plays with our beliefs about God in an irreverent, but not blasphemous way.

Make a trip to the children’s section to see if you can find God   got a dog.

A Walk with Me

Let Gwen Frostic take you on a walk with her amazing original block-prints of elements of the nature.

A walk with Me was illustrated and written by the famous Michigan block printing artist Gwen Frostic back in 1958. Sixty years have passed by, but I can still feel and relate to her love towards the nature through her delicate poems and block-prints – the birds, the moon, the sea - my heart was so full as I was turning the pages. I don’t think anyone can describe and capture the nature better than she did.

This book is not JUST another book. It is an art. The paper, the colorful block-prints on each page ...Oh! It is a pleasure just to look at this book. I admire the time and effort she spent on creating these marvelous art books.

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.

National Book Award Winners

The winners of this year's National Book Awards were announced in a ceremony in New York last night.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart

Young People's Literature:
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

You can check out all the winners at KPL.

Animal Ark

Animal Ark is a beautiful work of photography and poetry. In this National Geographic Kids book, Photo Ark creator Joel Sartore celebrates “our wild world in poetry and pictures” by joining the playful and powerful words of Newbery Medal award winner Kwame Alexander with bright and colorful animal photographs. This new non-fiction picture book is currently available at all KPL locations.

Animal Cuteness Overload

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World In Poetry and Pictures by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore , with captivating poetry by Newbery Award winning author Kwame Alexander, observes the natural beauty, diversity and fragility of the animal world.

This mesmerizing and amazing book features more than forty unique full-color animal photographs accompanied by lively haikus, each set against a solid black or white page. The message here is simple: it's steadfast focus is on the conservation of the "natural" in the planet we all live on.

Although officially a children's book, this brilliant collaboration between photos and text will certainly please anyone interested in nature and the animals that inhabit it.

300 Arguments

Slimmer than a bloated, philosophical treatise and far weightier than pap self-help drivel, Sarah Manguso’s formally clever 300 Arguments offers readers a powerful collection of epigram-sized nuggets bursting with personal wisdom, truth and naked self-analysis about what it means to desire, regret, love and investigate one’s inner life. It is a magnificent little book that bobs and weaves with sly, aphoristic intelligence, periodically sneaking up on the reader with taut punches to the gut. Here's a review from NPR.

Novels in Verse

Before poetry month comes to a close, I want to highlight some novels written in verse. Through a series of short poems, an author can tell an amazingly rich story, despite the limited scope for details and dialog. 

Most recently, I read A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes, who is coming to KPL on May 9. The book combines sections in the voice of the title character with poems in the voice of the Virgin Mary, which are in a book Mister is reading during a challenging time. 

One of my favorites is Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, which is written as the diary of a boy who is learning to love poetry. The title poem pays homage to a poem by Walter Dean Myers, and others throughout the book are modeled after other famous poems. Speaking of dogs, God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee imagines what it would be like if God had a life like an ordinary human.

All the novels in verse I've come across are written for children and young adults, but there is much in them to be appreciated for any reader. They seem particularly well suited to addressing difficult topics such as grief and the darker chapters of history, such as Jacqueline Woodson's memoir of growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Brown Girl Dreaming. Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone takes place during the Armenian genocide. 

Other authors who frequently write in verse include Kwame Alexander and Margarita Engle. Novels in verse are not a replacement for regular fiction, but like graphic novels, you can read through them quickly for the basic story, or better yet, you can linger to enjoy the nuances of language.

Leaves of Grass

I suppose that one of the primary elements of a “classic” work is that it feels unsullied by the bearing of time, that it defies the swings of fashion, that it transcends the circumstances of its historical origin, and resists and survives the ideological checks often imposed upon its vision by contemporary optics. These works, while not encased in perfection or untouchable to fair and leveling criticisms, feel lively and relatable even as they grow distant from their author’s original conception. One of these books for me is Walt Whitman’s epoch poem Leaves of Grass.

Years after I first wandered through its sprawling breadth, I can still pick it up today and it will have something profound to say about me and about us. Whitman’s scope was both grand and granular, personal and universal, going where no American writer had previously gone and where few have tread since. His project was to mine the American project with both questions and answers, to boast of its unique exceptionalism and to expose its deeply woven flaws with beauty, intelligence and reverence. As a modern work, birthed over a half of the 19th century, it still holds up as a broad, crowded work of lyric genius that you can pick your way through, hopping around to ignore certain sections while zeroing in on others.

Nikki Giovanni is still the bomb!

She’s been around a long time. She’s done her time and speaks her mind. I heard her speak last spring and now whenever I read her works I hear her voice while reading it. I can picture her talking about Amos ‘n’ Andy and why the show was popular as well as important to Black families. In her book Chasing Utopia I can hear her reaffirming my feelings about how fantastic Nina Simone was. Ms. Giovanni talks about meeting Nina Simone in a bookstore in Harlem and that even though she was famous she (Ms. Giovanni) invited her to a party. Her mother told her Nina Simone is not coming to your party and Nina Simone came.  

The best thing about poetry is that you can do a hit and run. You can touch on a topic and move on to hit on another one and Nikki Giovanni does that well. In her poem Werewolf Avoidance, she suggests “that our poems should be strong in our emotions and our words that might make us difficult to live with”. She’s not talking "namby-pamby poetry" when she talks about Sarah Palin in her poem, The Lone Ranger Rides the Lonesome Trail Again. Sometimes she's spicy, sometimes she's sweet. Nikki Giovanni does it well.