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Staff Picks: Books

The Golden Girls of Rio

Last summer American women ruled the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and now several of those golden achievers have been beautifully illustrated in this picture book by Nikkolas Smith.  Without really narrating a story, Smith still manages to encourage readers with his incredible artwork. The golden girls of gymnastics, swimming, and track & field are highlighted here, including my favorite athlete Gabby Douglas.  Young readers will enjoy browsing through this book and learning more about these Golden Girls.

Rivers of Sunlight

With beautiful paintings and understandable language, Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm demonstrate how the sun’s energy moves water through and around the earth.   In Rivers of Sunlight, scientific principles are explained in age-appropriate ways, making this a great choice for young scientists.  



A Perfect Day

Today is a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Chickadee, and Squirrel. Each of them have exactly what they want for a perfect day: daffodils for Cat, fresh birdseed in the bird feeder for Chickadee, Dog has his wading pool, and Squirrel is enjoying a corncob. Yes, life is perfect and it is, in fact, A PERFECT DAY.

Until, of course, Bear shows up.

After that, well... it's a Perfect Day for BEAR.

The Youngest Marcher

After last month's historic marches, I smiled when I happened upon the book The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. This picture book tells the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest participant in the Birmingham Children's March in 1963. She was nine years old when she volunteered to participate in coordinated action challenging racial segregation.

This book is most appropriate for readers in elementary school. Older readers should check out We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March for more in-depth information on Audrey Faye Hendricks, other young participants, and the history of the march.

Taking Candy From Baby Unicorns?

I really enjoyed reading Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio at the preschools that I visited this month.  How terrible is the dragon?  He stomps on flowers, pops birthday balloons, takes candy from baby unicorns, and spits on cupcakes.  Then just when you think he cannot get any worse, he burps in church.  

The King offers a reward to any knight that can tame the dragon.  Neither the knights nor other townspeople have any luck.  Who will tame the terrible dragon?  

Do you want to hear the rest of the story?  Check out this book.  You will be rewarded. 

Sandra Brown is still cranking them out!

 It has been many years since I have read any of Sandra Brown’s books. I mean decades. However, because I’m boycotting TV I picked a couple of her books up recently. Saying that I’m boycotting TV is really saying a lot. Normally I watch a lot of movies and Netflix but since January, I have been reading in my leisure time. The lighter the content the better. So, I’m catching up on Sandra Brown.


I started with reading Friction. It had a decent story line but more importantly I found it relaxing to read  rather than watching the news. Right now, I’m reading Sting. Sting caught my attention because the book jacket said the main male character is a hitman. He’s the hottie of the story, most of the time his character is the hero, but in Sting, so far he is looking like a criminal. I’m sure Sandra is going to throw a twist in there somewhere. If she is going to surprise me I haven’t figured out how yet. If not, I don’t think I can wrap my mind around rooting for a killer. I don’t care how much of a honey he is, I don’t want to see him romance the savvy businesswoman.

Anyway, Sandra Brown is one of the better-known romance writers and I’m sure she knows what she is doing. I hope so because I was planning to read Mean Streak next or maybe I’ll be ready for a good nonfiction.

Maybe the next 4 years won’t be so long after all! I just finished Sting and there are a couple of surprises. One I never expected but it was a zinger!

Do Gooders: Saints or Syndrome?

What if every single time you bought a coffee from Starbucks, you felt an extreme amount of moral guilt? After all, 2 dollars donated to Oxfam can have a significant effect on real people that are really suffering in the world. This is a fascinating look at the personal stories and science behind and opinions about "do gooders." And we are not talking about merely nice people (sometimes they're not pleasant). These are moral saints, people who take morality to the extreme, who get rid of all their stuff and travel to a foreign country to save lives. 

The book has a nice structure. A chapter about a do-gooder is followed by the history of what culture has thought about do-gooders in general - whether that be philosophy, religion, psychology, literature, or common sense. Throughout history, do-gooders have made is uncomfortable, and therefore we have been skeptical about them.

I think do-gooders come in two different flavors. First, there are people who have intense empathy. When they think about a person drowning, the feel as though their own child is literally drowning. These people can easily become moral saints. Second, there are people who take moral principles seriously. Utilitarian morality, for example, says that we should relieve the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest amount of people. If we took that seriously (as the philosopher Peter Singer has argued), we would instantly donate most of our income to Oxfam, leaving just enough money for us to subsist. That's a haunting thought for some people.

Conclusion: the writing style of this book is very run-on. It took me a lot of patience, but was worth it.



Chicago is Brian Doyle’s most recent novel. It almost doesn't seem like a novel at all, but a series of poetic vignettes and character sketches. It very much reminds me of his essays, in which his joyful and generous spirit is clear through humorous, vivid, and sometimes fantastical observations about his family, sports, nature, and life in general. The narrator of Chicago is a recent college graduate who has just moved to the city for work, and the book mostly describes his encounters with the people who live in his apartment building and his own explorations of the city. Knowing Doyle’s writing, it’s pretty clear the narrator is based on the author, and his love for the city is obvious and believable.

I may not be entirely impartial because I grew up outside Chicago during the time of the novel (it takes place over a little more than a year in the late 70’s), so it was a nostalgic read. However, you don’t need to know the place to be charmed by the many colorful characters, especially Edward the dog.

Sadly, Doyle was diagnosed with a brain tumor last fall, and I fear he might not be writing anything new, but I encourage you to look up his body of work, which includes several novels and many collections of stories, essays, and poetry.

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.

Harry Miller's Run

 Liam and his pal Jacksie are planning to run in the Junior Great North Run and they need to get their training in, but Liam’s elderly neighbor Harry needs some help this afternoon so he and his Mam stop by.  When Harry hears about Liam’s plan, does he have a story to tell!  This short, quirky illustrated novel doesn’t easily fit in a category, but it is caught in my mind.  The evocative language in Harry Miller’s Run is as compelling as the tale told.