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Staff Picks: Books

An Early Favorite for 2016

It’s not even mid-year but it is likely The Last Painting of Sara de Vos will be one of my top ten fiction books of the year.

Three continents, three centuries, three lives are linked by a rare 17th century painting. Add in art forgery, death, deception, and love from the Dutch countryside in the 1600s to an art collector in New York City in the 1950s to an art scholar in Sydney, Australia in 2000 for an enthralling novel.

Although there are no illustrations, I can see in my mind the painting in question, “At the End of the Wood,” from the vivid description.

I’m recommending this book to all my reading friends. Look for it on my “Best of 2016” list in the late fall.

 


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.


Lea Leads the Way

In this book, Lea Leads the Way, Lea is still in Brazil with her family. The plan for the next portion of the trip was for the whole family to visit the rainforest where Zac is living and going to school. However since her Dad’s hiking accident, he is unable to continue traveling. The family decides that Lea and Zac will continue on without Mom and Dad.

Lea is set for an animal adventure. She has never been to the rainforest before and she is excited to be traveling with Zac and visiting his host family who live in the middle of the rainforest. She loves taking photographs with the camera her Grandmother gave her. She is especially hopeful of capturing the wildlife in the rainforest in photos. While Lea is on her trip, she is writing a blog and posting pictures so that her classmates from school can follow her trip. During a hike with Zac, they discover a baby sloth that is badly injured. Lea decides to do all she can to help the little sloth survive. Zac knows about a wildlife sanctuary and they take the baby sloth there for care. As Lea learns more about the rainforest and what is happening to the area, including poaching of the wildlife, she wonders if she did the right thing.

This is another interesting American Girl series. Readers will enjoy the locale and facts about Brazil and the culture.


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!


Samira and the Skeletons

Today, Samira learned that there is a skeleton inside her!  Yes, a real skeleton with bones and everything.  Her teacher says, “Just look at your lovely teeth!  That’s your skeleton peeping out of your mouth.” Yikes!   This is a terrible situation . . . that skeleton even goes to gym class with her, where Samira has to “run here, run there, jump and hop around and climb and do a somersault—with a body full of bones!”  Samira and the Skeletons is a great blend of humor and science; you can find it in the “Growing Up” neighborhood of picture books.

 


Another great Sally Spencer mystery!

A young mother is found dead, one of her children is missing. DCI Monika Paniatowski has just returned to work after maternity leave. Her nurturing disposition makes her vulnerable and the plight of the children sends her in directions she wouldn’t normally go.


Thicker than Water is another great mystery by Sally Spencer. Monika has become as likable as Inspector Woodend once was. The story is engaging and suspenseful. I couldn’t put it down. 


The Princess and the Pony

For a story that's laugh-out-loud funny, adventurous and definitely not your typical princess story, check out Kate Beaton's, The Princess and the Pony. The story features a princess who wishes to be a great warrior wishing for a strong, heroic pony for her birthday. What she gets instead is a small, round-ish pony. Booklist calls it "the perfect combination of heartwarming and hilarious." It's a book that adults love to read and kids love to hear read!


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.

 


Green Island

Green Island is a sweeping story of Taiwan from 1947 to 2003 told through the lives of three generations of the Tsai family.

Dr. Tsai is a respected, wealthy doctor. When he speaks out after the February 28 Massacre, the anti-government uprising, his life and that of his family is changed forever.

The story is told from the perspective of his youngest daughter, born as the story begins. As she grows up and eventually moves to California, she is still witness to her father’s legacy and a husband who also speaks his mind. The family scars have lingered.

This is a moving, well-written story of family, betrayal, and survival. It is also a good introduction to the Chinese Nationalists who were overthrown by the Chinese Communists after World War II and Chiang Kai-Shek.

This story stayed with me long after I finished reading. To me, that is a true compelling story.