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Staff Picks: Books

Appreciating All Animals

Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better is a book written by Tracey Stewart, an animal lover, animal rights advocate and just plain true friend to many species. She is also a convert to vegetarianism, holds a degree in veterinary technology, and happens to be former Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s wife. Her passion for the topic stems from her life-long obsession with animals; and that’s all animals big, small, domesticated and wild. Her belief is that if you are an animal enthusiast, there is no end to the easy and fun ways that you can bring them into your life. And by doing so, you will be sure to experience much more joy in return.

With their kids in tow, Stewart and her husband moved from a Manhattan apartment to rural New Jersey. Now, their backyard serves as a makeshift wildlife rehabilitation center while their home provides both foster and permanent shelter for rescued pets. Ever ambitious in their pursuits, they are currently in the process of establishing a sanctuary for rescued farm animals as well.
When it comes to dealing with other species, the Stewart family code is very simple: Do unto others as you would have them do unto humans. This basically translates into treating all animals with dignity by respecting the unique characteristics and behaviors of each.

The book starts out with a short history of Tracey and her life-long interest in all creatures. It is then divided into three sections. The first of these deals with “Animals at Home”, which she dedicates to her “furry family members”. It’s all about cats, dogs and how we humans can learn to speak their language and understand their actions. She also discusses basic “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to pets. A few of the very many topics covered include keeping your pets safe, finding great pets at shelters instead of pet stores, adopting mutts over purebred dogs, resisting the urge to declaw cats, not cropping the ears and tails of dogs, the virtues of spaying and neutering all pets, choosing an older companion animal, and not passing up a pit bull or black cat that’s up for adoption.
She also offers up recipes and instructions to make your own dog treats and cat toys as well as tips on how to relax your pet using massage techniques, making the practice an enjoyable experience for both pet and owner. (From personal experience, I can tell you, that massage really works! It has helped our pets to become more in tune with us and strengthened our family bonds. Besides rubbing our three cats the right way, I have also applied massage to our pet bunny, Patrick, who very much appreciates the gesture and has responded by being a more mellow fellow.)
The second section of the book is devoted to wildlife that one is likely to find in one’s own backyard. The array is large. From birds, bees, and butterflies, to squirrels, rabbits, moles and more, Tracey offers tips on how to live in harmony with these animals. She tries to be kind and nice to all wild creatures, even bugs. She provides directions on how to encourage certain species to visit and stay on your property by doing things like building a bee house, a worm bin, a squirrel feeder, frog sanctuary, etc.
She also advises the reader to not pester the “pests” that really aren’t. These are animals who got a bad rap among misguided humans by simply existing, like bats and snakes for example.

In the final section of the book, Stewart turns her attention to farm animals. She advocates change for the better in the lives of factory farm animals, as well as supports the farm sanctuary movement, providing useful advice on how to make and donate a care package for such an organization. She also gives advice on how to sponsor a sanctuary farm animal and what that obligation entails.
Forever true to her beliefs and after mentioning that cows are her favorites in this category, Tracey offers up a recipe for a natural bug deterrent that will make any cow very happy, and yet not hurt a fly!
Written in a very approachable manner and profusely illustrated with beautifully colored artwork by Lisel Ashlock, this book is absolutely overflowing with top-notch animal and animal care information. A great resource volume to add to your home library, it would also make a very memorable gift for that special animal lover in your life.

So Bad It's Good

It seems like a month does not go by without a new movie based on a comic book being released. We’ve seen it all – iconic good guys to teams filled with lovable losers. This summer superhero movie fans will be treated to something a little different, a group of super-villains tasked with saving the world called the Suicide Squad. In the late 80’s DC Comics launched the Suicide Squad title during a time in which comics were taking a gritty turn. What could more gritty than a dysfunctional team of supervillains forced to go on covert missions for the government? If they survive, they might get an early parole. If they try and escape an implant in their body explodes. I was a huge fan of the comic because the drama between villains who were struggling with their own morality and the pure evil ones was mesmerizing. It seemed like every issue included either a gruesome death or an internal struggle. Great stuff.

A few years ago, when DC Comics rebooted their entire universe, the Suicide Squad returned. The current “team” is pretty much what the movie is based on. When I discovered that I could read the first five collections of the new series on Hoopla, I was thrilled. In no time at all I devoured all five volumes and rediscovered that almost 30 years later, that even a group of psychopathic, super-powered people can save the world once or twice.

The Secret Museum

This book was recommended to me by a relatively new colleague, but one who evidently has been around long enough to know what books I like! A statement on the cover says, 'Some [museum] treasures are too precious to display.' This pretty much sums up the content of the book, which author Oldfield introduces by saying, 'Usually there is more hidden away than there is on display. There are all sorts of reasons why. As the seed of my idea grew into a seedling, I began to unearth some of these reasons.' Included in this book are a Gutenberg Bible housed at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, the Buckingham Palace switchboard kept by the Museum of London, a piece of Newton's apple tree held at The Royal Society of London, and the original draft of Robert Burns' 'Auld Lang Syne' at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scotland. Discovering the stories behind these artifacts is a delight.

I Heart Homebrewing

When it comes to making beer at home - a.k.a. homebrewing - this is the best book in the universe. It's approachable, easy to understand, entertaining, and very calm (the author's favorite phrase is "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew.") Charlie Papazian was homebrewing before it was cool, and he understands the science but doesn't take it too far. The hobby of homebrewing can be stressful for beginners. What equipment do I need? What process should I use? Do you really need to do that? This book answers all these questions in a practical, no-nonsense way.

Turns out, making beer at home is not that hard at all. Don't be scared.

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk

Kabir and Surishtha Segal have capture the true spirit of India in this refreshing re-telling of a classic nursery rhyme.  The vibrant illustrations of Jess Golden brings to life the tuk tuk, a three-wheeled motorized taxi used in India.  As passengers "bobble-bobble-bobble" their way around town, young readers are introduced to poppa-doppa-doms, a slumbering sacred cow, the Festival of Diwali, and a decorated elephant spraying water on everybody.  As a bonus, the authors have included a glossary of words used in the story.  I can't wait to build a story time around this book!  I'm sure the kids are gonna love it.

Check out Simon and Shuster's trailer and jump on the tuk tuk!

Nina Simone

My last blog was about the newest Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. As I mentioned in that blog, there was music in it by Nina Simone. I enjoyed the music and became curious about what else I could find out about Nina Simone. So, I started digging. The biography written by Nadine Cohodas called PrincessNoire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone tells her disturbing, but yet captivating story.

Nina Simone was born Eunice Waymon in Tyron, North Carolina. Her mother, Kate, was a housekeeper in the home of Katherine Miller. Mrs. Miller saw talent in the young Eunice and offered to pay for a year of piano lessons. Eunice did well the first year and her lessons were continued. At age 11 her piano teacher, Mrs. Mazzanovich, (or Miss Mazzy, as they later call her) and Mrs. Miller planned a recital at the Lanier Library. Eunice walked gracefully to the piano bench and took her seat with the practiced elegance that she had been taught. But, when she looked out at the audience she saw that they were moving her parents to the back of the room. She spoke up and said if they expected her to play then they better move her parents back up front where they could see her. It has been said that her parents were embarrassed by the ruckus she caused.

Mrs. Miller and one of her acquaintances arranged for Eunice to attend the Allen School in Asheville, N.C. Allen School was founded by Women’s Home Missionary Society in1887. It was established to provide a better education for blacks. When it was realized that Eunice’s skills were already too advanced for the music staff at Allen, Miss Mazzy arranged private piano lessons with the well-known pianist, Grace Carroll. At Allen School proper dress, behavior and decorum was expected and Eunice was a model student. She joined the Allen chapter of the NAACP and was the club treasurer. She graduated in 1950. 

She spent a summer semester at Julliard and later applied to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  The whole family moved to Philadelphia for her support. That was one of the reasons her rejection from the Curtis Institute was so devastating. She would have been one of the first black females to attend Curtis, but instead she had to look for work to help support her family. This is the part of young Eunice’s life where Nina Simone was born.

Nina Simone had a hard but interesting life. When she saw an injustice she caused many more ruckuses. If you would like to learn more read Princess Noire: the Tumultuous Life of NinaSimone. We also have in our collection a video called Nina Simone live at Ronnie Scott’sand we have several of her DVDs.


Everything, Everything

One of my favorite books of 2015 was Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I don't buy into that whole "don't judge a book by it's cover" thing as a rule. I think we all pick up books sometimes just because something grabs us about the cover. That's how it was for me with this one. The cover grabbed me, the premise was interesting, and I was hooked. I did almost threw it across the room towards the end and then I picked it back up, finished it, and now haven't stopped talking about it. 

This is the story of a teenage girl who's literally allergic to everything (everything). She has never been anywhere because she might die. Of course she meets a love interest who she communicates with through web messages. And everything (everything) gets more complicated from there. To really live her life, she will have to challenge everything (everything) she's ever known. As a mom, this book made me cry good tears thinking about the utter joy and grief of raising children to grow up and make their own choices. As a person who loves teens and teen books, it made me soar. I've recommended it to every teen book reader I know. It's quick and has everything (everything) I like in a teen book. Angst. Romance. True Love. Meaning of life questions. Voice. Compelling characters. To quote School Library Journal, it's just "wonderful, wonderful."   


The Dinner

Two couples, the men are brothers, meet over dinner. The conversation starts out casually but eventually turns to the real reason they are meeting: a discussion of an unspeakable crime their teenage boys have committed. There are political as well as moral issues; one of the brothers is on the cusp of becoming prime minister of the Netherlands. One of the wives has known and will do whatever it takes to protect her son.

As they inch through an excruciating meal, they don’t agree on how to handle the situation. The book moves slowly but is riveting. As the dinner progresses, the reader trusts Paul, the brother who is narrating the story, less and less.

This is a Book Club in a Bag title from our collection. My book group had a spirited discussion about it – how far will parents go to protect a child?

No baggage

Can you picture yourself hopping on a flight to another country for a 3 week trip with literally just the shirt on your back? In No baggage : a minimalist tale of love & wandering, poet Clara Bensen chronicles how she did just that…only a few months out of a 2 year anxiety/depression-ridden slump…with a guy she had met just a month before on the match site OKCupid. With no luggage (not even a backpack), the pair travels from Istanbul to London, through 8 countries. I am only about 100 pages in, but I can’t put this book down! Everything in this book is fascinating – the minimalism, the newness of their relationship which has only been defined so far as “travel partners,” and the poetic descriptions of the places they’ve been already, such as the “cobbled streets” of Istanbul “stitched together in spiderlike grids.” I love travelogues, but this is by far the most intriguing one I’ve read so far.

All American Boys

Stop everything you are doing and read this book. Then, share this book with someone else. If you know a high school teacher, tell them to have every student that crosses their path read this book. Need a book for a book discussion, reader’s theater, or classroom read aloud? Here is your choice! Let all of the teenage youth in your life read this book. Parents - read this book and talk with your children about racism in America. Talk about violence and the moments that change you forever. Talk about the small things, like stopping for a bag of chips; that lead to big things like a protest with a die in. This unforgettable story of two teenagers is an opening to essential conversation. All American Boys takes place over one week in the lives of Rashad and Quinn, told in alternating voices from award winning authors, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

“Rashad is absent again today.” – The graffiti is a reminder of what has happened and a call to action for students and teachers at Springfield High School. This short phrase will stick with the reader long after the end.

The Walter Award

Jason Reynolds

2016 gives us the inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature – Youth Literature Category. The Walter Dean Myers Award, also known as “The Walter,” is named for prolific children’s and young adult author Walter Dean Myers (1937 – 2014). Myers was a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature as well as a champion of diversity in children’s and YA books. We Need Diverse Books announced on Monday that All American Boys is the first winner of this prestigious award! Congratulations to Jason and Brendan! The American Library Association also awarded All American Boys the 2016 Coretta Scott King Honor Award earlier this month. When Walter Dean Myers visited Kalamazoo Public Library in August 2013, he told us that “Reading is Not Optional.” Take his advice, make reading All American Boys not optional for you!