Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Recently, I’ve come across some fascinating non-fiction books for kids. I’ve just finished Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone.
Full of wonderful photos, this book tells the story of the men who served in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion out of Fort Benning, Georgia. These soldiers became America’s first black paratroopers and author Tanya Lee Stone uses their story to explore the role of African Americans in the military. This is a great addition to the literature of World War II.
Tanya Lee Stone also wrote Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, another book that sheds light on a little-known aspect of American history.
Courage Has No Color
Last week the application to be a Book Giver on World Book Night became available! What is World Book Night? It's an "annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person." Book Givers give out 20 copies of a book they love to adults and teens who may not have access to reading materials.
The folks behind World Book Night also revealed the titles that will be given out by tens of thousands of people in their communities on April 23, 2014. The list of titles includes some of my favorites, like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.
The deadline to apply to be a Book Giver is January 5, 2014. Apply here. Kalamazoo Public Library will again serve as a pick up site for Book Givers.
Cassia Reyes lives in a peaceful, carefully planned Society where citizens are sorted into occupations and matched with their mates by government officials who use statistical modeling and drugs to ensure the perfect lives for their people. Cassia has no real needs- food, shelter, schooling, and even death are tightly controlled: a planned 80-year lifespan limitation may seem a little cold, but everything is done by the Officials for the good of the people. When Cassia is Matched with her childhood friend Xander, everything appears to be going exactly according to the Society's plans, but when the face of Ky (an "Aberration", prohibited from the same rights as normal citizens) briefly appears on Cassia's screen in error, the perfection of the Society begins to unravel.
While there may be an unavoidable comparison to the Hunger Games (female protagonist who has to choose between the love of two boys, oppressive government and society), the similarities are only surface-level. Matched is thoughtful, less action-oriented, and has more in common with A Brave New World, 1984 or The Giver. The story continues in two sequels, and the scope of the conflict between the Society's ideals and the desire of humans to make their own choices widens.
Want to know more? Meet author Ally Condie on Thursday, November 7th, 6:30 PM at Central library!
You may have heard that Walter Dean Myers is visiting Kalamazoo for a two-day event next week. We are so very honored and excited to have the chance to meet this wonderful author and the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature! It's a very special opportunity for the Kalamazoo community and I hope many will join us. Myers will join us for a "Meet the Author" evening on Tuesday, August 6 at 6 pm at Central Library and on Wednesday, August 7 at 3 pm at Powell Branch Library. For more information, on the Walter Dean Myers visits, please see our website here.
My favorite Walter Dean Myers book is Looking Like Me. In the book, Jeremy talks about all the people that he is either in relationship to others or because of skills, abilities, and interests. I love this book because the poetry is quite wonderful and Christopher Myers' collage illustrations are colorful and engaging. But I also love it because when I read it to kids we talk about all the things that they are. Runners, writers, artists, dancers, readers, players, swimmers, etc. We are all, each of us, so many wonderful things and we can take on a new persona with each new skill we learn. Our potential is limitless! So tell me, what are you? I'm a reader, writer, and hiker to name a few.
Walter Dean Myers in Kalamazoo
A Stronger Kinship is a story about a small town that decided to be fully integrated 100 years before most of the country was integrated. Fully integrated--think about that. At the same time when our nation was fighting a war over race-based human bondage, African Americans in Covert owned property, were elected to powerful political positions, send their children to the same schools as the white kids, conducted business together, were friends, went to the same churches, read the same books from the same library. Covert started on the right foot and never looked back.
Covert was a diamond in the rough, a city on a hill, a promised land for people of color. But this only makes sense if we have historical perspective. Living in the northern states as an African American (or Native American) was no picnic. The author quotes an editorial from the Illinois State Journal, 1862, which captures the feeling of many African Americans after Emancipation:
"The truth is, the nigger [sic] is an unpopular institution in the free states. Even those who are unwilling to rob them of all the rights of humanity, and are willing to let them have a spot on earth on whcih to live and to labor and to enjoy the fruits of their toil, do not care to be brought into close contact with them" (quoted on pg. 45).
If you learned in school that slavery and discrimination were "southern" problems that the "north" fixed in the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation (as I did), then you might wonder why Covert is so special. Sadly, that history is as glossy as when people say the war was about "states rights." The truth is that slavery existed in the northern states too. A book from our reference collection says:
"a British census taken in 1782 counted 179 slaves among the 2,191 people living along both shores of the Detroit River. In 1796, 31 adult black slaves and 16 black children, presumably the children of slaves, lived in the Township of Detroit among a 'free white' population of 238. The actual number of slaves was probably higher becasue many families in Michigan owned Indians as slaves..." (The History of Michigan Law, p. 20).
Even when the Northwest Ordinance banned slavery in 1787, it still existed in practice. Also, I think the ban was repealed in 1807 for ten years (because the Indiana Territories wanted white slave holders to move into their territory for economic reasons). And this is to say nothing about other forms of discrimination that existed in myriad forms at various times. As depressing as it is, slaves were freed only to find out they were not free.
So what was the secret of Covert? Why did Covert happen? Here is the beauty and the thesis of the book. There is no secret. The author, who is coming to KPL to speak by the way, says it best:
"Why did Covert happen? Although it may be the first question that comes to mind, it may not be the most powerful one. The question Covert should raise is, why not? Our puzzlement over Covert reveals a hidden assumption that racism is the norm, that unfairness and injustice are the natural patterns that the nation falls into if given half a chance. That assumption is not surprising, given the horrific and sorrow-filled history of race relations in this country, but Covert reminds us that that terrible history was a choice. That choice may have been made by millions of whites over many decades, but it was a choice, not a given" (208).
It's the story of ordinary people making ordinary decisions. Perhaps they seem extraordinary because "we have such an impoverished sense of the capabilities of ordinary people" (Charles Payne, quoted on pg. 201). It's easy to wallow in the depression of history and throw your arms up. What's your view of human nature? What do you think of yourself? And as you think about these questions, people are doing acts of kindness. We cannot take anything away from the amazing men and women in this book--they were giants.
A Stronger Kinship