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Staff Picks: Books

Hey Dreamer

I keep reading and re-reading Jason Reynolds' new book,  For Every OneThe book is actually a letter in the form of a long poem that Reynolds performed at the Kennedy Center in 2011. It's a beautiful letter of encouragement to teens (or anyone) learning to make sense of their dreams. I hope to gift it to every graduate I know. The official release is April 10 and many copies are on order for KPL locations. You can place a hold through our website or by asking in person. 

I was happy to get a chance to read an advanced reader copy through our Teen Top Ten program here at the library. In this program, teens have access to hundreds of Advanced Reader Copies given to KPL from teen publishers. In exchange for access to not-yet-published books, teens write short reviews that get sent back to the publishers. To date, Kalamazoo's Teen Top Ten group has written over 250 reviews and has 60 registered members. We'd love to have you join us!  


Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!

In Marley Dias’s new book, the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks describes the background of the movement that she created and how young people can organize to change the world. Dias writes about how reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming changed her life, how she realized that there were not nearly enough books that reflected kids like her. Her school reading list at the time was filled with stories about white boys and dogs: Shiloh, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows… all great books, she says, but why no black authors? Great question. When Marley’s mom asked her what she would change about the world, she said she’d like to make it so that kids everywhere could read books with black girls - books that accurately reflect the wide range of kids' identity and experience. Children are better off when they see themselves reflected in the books that they read. As Jacqueline Woodson says, "Seeing a story on a page about a black child written by a black author ... legitimizes your own existence in the world, because you're a part of something else. 'Look, I'm here in this book.'" 

Marley Dias's activism has been effective in motivating change within the institutions that control how books are created and discovered. Read Marley Dias’s story, as she tells it, because it is inspiring. She includes practical information about how to be an effective activist and how their adults can help. Young people have always changed the world and Marley Dias, with support from caring adults, truly has done so. Here's an excerpt to get you started reading Marley's book right now, if you so choose.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt

Gary Schmidt, two-time Newbery Honor-winning author and National Book Award Finalist, offers an emotional and heartbreaking account of love and loss in his latest teen book Orbiting Jupiter.

After being incarcerated at a juvenile facility, Joseph is released into the care of a loving foster family. Though released into a new future, Joseph cannot separate himself from his past: a daughter named Jupiter. The product of a teenage pregnancy, Jupiter was relocated during Joseph's incarceration, and no one will tell him where she is. Joseph will sacrifice whatever he must to finally meet his daughter.

With themes of teenage pregnancy and juvenile incarceration, this book seems as if it would be hard to read. To the contrary, Schmidt's portrayal of Joseph, his foster-brother Jack, and the world in which they live give the reader an intense emotional connection that is somehow heartwarming and heartbreaking.

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.


The country’s initial devotion to religious and intellectual freedom, Andersen argues, has over the centuries morphed into a fierce entitlement to custom-made reality. So your right to believe in angels and your neighbor’s right to believe in U.F.O.s and Rachel Dolezal’s right to believe she is black lead naturally to our president’s right to insist that his crowds were bigger.—New York Times’ Hanna Rosin

According to author Kurt Andersen, America is a nation of grifters and the grifted. His historical survey of America’s credulous embrace of the superstitious and various forms of magical thinking begins with Martin Luther’s break with the Catholic Church and quickly transitions to a scrutinizing inquiry into the extremely bizarre practices of the puritans and pilgrims. They were arguably the Islamic State of the 17th Century when one considers their extremism. He finishes this readable, breezy examination of uncritical, irrational cult thinking, by arguing that America has long had a unique and troubling relationship between fact and fiction, reality vs fantasy—a bond between utter nonsense and the social and legal freedoms to defend that very nonsense. Example after example, from religious hocus pocus to New Age fads marketed as science, Andersen rips apart America’s infatuation with constructed realities. There are uneven, somewhat sloppy areas of argument when Andersen attempts to draw threads of historical continuity that when situated under the microscope, possess reductive claims. He clearly needs to read a bit further about postmodern thinking and its leading thinkers because he does a disservice to the reader when attempting to link them to various cultural and social developments of the 1970’s. However, Andersen’s book will appeal to skeptics who have grown weary of America’s ‘if you can invent and sell it to the masses, well, then it must be true’ bar for reality.

How to Eat a Lobster : And Other Edible Enigmas Explained

I think this must be one of the smallest books the library owns (4-3/4" x 6"), but there is certainly a lot in it. As implied by the title, it is a book of procedure. How many would know that it takes six tools (skewer, towel or dishcloth, mallet, kitchen knife, butter knife, and paring knife) to open a coconut? Step-by-step instructions are given for this task. Most of the book details how to eat various commodities, such as a papaya, pigs' feet, asparagus, and artichoke. There are pages on how to eat something messy or spicy and even how to recover from a tongue burn. Mealtime etiquette is covered, along with hints such as how to stop yourself from choking. The dedication in the front of this book is priceless: 'TO MY MOM: Thanks for supporting me through the years. I'll never forget the time you were worried I'd mess up cooking dinner for the first time, but then you proceeded to set the taco shells on fire yourself. I love you.'

Future Shock

Naomi Alderman’s fantastic feminist allegory, The Power, begins with teenage girls realizing they can conduct electricity through their hands and how that can come in “handy.” Research into the phenomenon uncovers that all newborn female babies have the physical trait that makes it possible to conduct electricity and teenage girls learn that they can bring the ability to life in older women.

Women led revolutions start to take place around the world and women move into positions of power in government, the criminal underworld, and as spiritual leaders. But possibly the most satisfying moments are when women are able to fight back against their attackers. Great companion to the #MeToo movement. 

The New York Times Book Review named Alderman’s meditation on power one of the 10 best books of 2017.

The final words

“You hop into a car, race off in no particular direction, and blam, hit a power pole. Then it’s off to jail.” Those arresting lines begin the story Triumph Over The Grave, one of the five stories included in Denis Johnson’s posthumous collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Johnson, who passed away last May after battling liver cancer, gave grace and significance to the desperate and damaged characters who inhabited his stories - particularly in his masterpiece story collection, Jesus’ Son. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, which sadly his publisher says will be the final words from Denis Johnson, solidifies Johnson’s place as a true master of his craft and one of the greatest literary voices of his generation.

Hot Pink!

New York Fashion Week has come to a close, but London Fashion Week is just starting up! That’s right, we are right in the middle of the first Fashion Month of 2018, a time I personally refer to as The Highlight of my Instagram Feed.


While it is always a delight to see the latest trends sashay down the runway, a true fashionista knows that you can’t really understand where fashion is going until you know where it’s been.  Many are familiar with the revolutionary influence of Coco Chanel, but few know about her contemporary, the avant garde visionary Elsa Schiaparelli.

A mastermind ahead of her time, Elsa Schiaparelli set in motion all of the fashion paradigms we take for granted today. Make sure to check out this book to read about the inventor of runway shows, ready to wear collections, bolero jackets, culottes and most importantly—hot pink!

Also, click here to see some of her most famous works


Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins visited the Powell branch in 2016 for the Embracing Forgiveness program. In 2017, they published Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Friendship and Forgiveness. Andrew was a dirty cop in Benton Harbor who caused Jameel McGee, a completely innocent man, to be arrested and imprisoned. Andrew employed many dishonest and illegal shortcuts in order to more easily obtain search warrants, make arrests stick, and skim from confiscated money. He did these things because he believed he was doing his part to clean up the city, and thought he had earned the right to do so. The book's chapters alternate between Andrew and Jameel's perspectives. I have a powerful quote from Jameel's reflections while in prison that I want to share with you: "I'd spent so much time being angry at everyone who put me here...I had to stop blaming everyone else and spending all my time being consumed by anger and a desire for revenge. All anger had done so far was turn me into someone I didn't like, someone I did not want to be," (107). 
Jameel brings up a key point here. Both men saw the need to change their ways because they didn't like who they had become. Andrew never envisioned that his childhood dream to become a cop would warp into a corrupt, self-serving role. Jameel saw how his anger affected him and sought a new path. The two also found religion, and that helped pave the way for their new outlooks. I have to commend both men. Andrew admitted he was wrong and tried to amend his errors. We all know how hard it is to admit when we're wrong and to openly and sincerely apologize for it. Jameel was dealt a bad hand but chose to forgive and move forward. The story inspires even more so once Jameel and Andrew meet after the main events of the book and develop not only a working relationship, but a friendship. I highly encourage you to check out this amazing story.