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Staff Picks: Books

An Excess Male

An article in my news feed detailed how, because of the One Child Policy, males vastly outnumber females in China. "An Excess Male" is a dystopian novel that isn't that much of a stretch as what could happen. As is a reality in China, males are competing to get a wife. Though in this novel, a woman can have up to three husbands, and the main family has decided to go to the max. This book details how an unconventional family try to get along with each other and somehow still fit into society. Each of them faces personal difficulties that threaten to tear the family apart. 

I was impressed that this is Maggie Shen King's debut novel. I grew to love each of the characters, and laughed and grew frustrated with them. The conclusion, while a bit open ended, left me wanting a sequel. I wanted to know what happened next, and I am left letting my imagination run wild with the possibilities!


Spy of the First Person

The playwright and actor Sam Shepard died of complications from ALS last year. He leaves behind a final work, composed and transcribed with the assistance of family and friends. Spy of the First Person is both bleak and poetic. The slim novella is stripped of adornment, the prose is spare and haunting, and its themes are familiar to Shepard’s previous work. Not surprisingly, the story echoes the truth of the author’s predicament, even as the disease is only referenced obliquely. Echoing the somber, minimalist work of Samuel Beckett, Shepard’s swan song is the culmination of a cryptic voice, one that confronts its mortality through the expression of the fragments of life lived, seen and ended.


You're Safe With Me

As soon as I saw You're Safe With Me, by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry, I wanted to tell you all about it. In this brand new Grow neighborhood book, Mama Elephant comforts the young animals of the forest through a scary storm. She soothes their fears about the rain, lightning, thunder, and wind. The unique and beautiful illustrations will awe readers of all ages. The art alone will make you want to take this book home with you and the sweet, simple story makes for a calming read.


Dumplin'

Dumplin', by Julie Murphy, is a teen novel set in small town Texas starring Willowdean Dickson. Willowdean is fat. But she's fine with it-or is she? She seems fine with it until she starts dating, then all these new feelings muddle her confidence. Her mother, former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant winner and current pageant coordinator, doesn't make Willowdean feel any better about herself. The struggling adolescent eventually decides to join the pageant to prove to herself and to everyone else that just because she doesn't look like their perception of a beauty queen, it doesn't mean she shouldn't compete alongside everyone else. Moreover, she doesn't have to do anything extra to "earn" life's joys; she doesn't have to compensate for anything; she doesn't owe anything to anybody.

The parts of Dumplin' I liked most had nothing to do with the pageant; I enjoyed following Willowdean's experiences with life challenges: mourning her aunt, navigating romantic relationships and friendships old and new, and reaching an understanding with her mother. Kick back, relax, and ride along with Willowdean before the movie comes out this year.


Friendly Greetings to All

A recent addition to KPL's Je Nature category is Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel, who previously authored They All Saw a Cat. In this outing, Brendan introduces us to black and white cats, then zebras, panda bears and colorful parrots, fish, tigers, lizards, etc. The list goes on and on.

The idea is that a world to see is a world to know and that knowledge usually begins with a friendly greeting of Hello Hello.

With rhythmic text, exuberant art and an important message relating to conservation and protecting our diverse planet, each of these encounters celebrates nature's differences and yet marvels at its wonderful similarities. It also makes a point to mention that many of the animals depicted in the colorful illustrations happen to be threatened or endangered.

A worthwhile addition to any picture book collection and especially recommended for kids 3 to 6 years of age.


Shade, the Changing Girl

 Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in? Like everyone else is doing a great job at life, and you’re just trying to make sure you don’t look like a fish out of water? Well amplify that feeling by a thousand, and you’ll understand what it’s like for Loma Shade. Bored with her life on the planet Meta, Loma steals the “madness coat” that belonged to her hero and poet Rac Shade and uses it to take over the body of a high school mean girl and experience life on earth.

 

But they don’t call it the madness coat for nothing. Loma’s struggling to get a grip on her new life, all of the feelings that come with the teenage experience, and reality itself. Each frame bursts off the page in psychedelic whimsy while the story itself stays grounded with award winning YA author Cecil Castellucci’s sardonic wit.  

Shade the Changing Girl is wonderfully weird, and available to check out today.  


God got arrested?

While putting books away in the children’s section, the title God got a dog caught my eye. It’s a short book of 16 poems written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Marla Frazee, both of whom are big names in children’s literature. 

Flipping through and first reading “God took a bath,” I got a sense this book wasn’t just for children. In fact, it would probably be more appreciated by adults. In poems with titles like “God found God,” “God went to the doctor,” and “God got cable,” Rylant plays with our beliefs about God in an irreverent, but not blasphemous way.

Make a trip to the children’s section to see if you can find God   got a dog.


A VERY BIG FRIENDLY UMBRELLA

Amy June Bates makes her debut as both co-author and illustrator of the brand new JE book titled The Big Umbrella. Amy's co-author is her seventh-grade daughter Juniper, who came up with the idea for this story while sharing an umbrella with others in a rainstorm.

The tale starts at the front door of a house where there stands an umbrella with a smiley face, eyes, and a nose. This very friendly looking umbrella is picked up by a young girl who uses it to shelter herself from a heavy rain. Various other people who all happen to be different from each other, ( some tall, some hairy, others big or slender etc.) also embrace the cover that the big red umbrella provides. Each one is welcome because there is always room for everyone who seeks refuge from the pouring rain.

A wonderful , gentle story with appealing illustrations and a great message of acceptance and giving! I highly recommend it.


The Center Will Not Hold--The Work of Joan Didion

For fans of the writer Joan Didion (or those who are curious), who possess access to a Netflix account, be sure to check out Griffin Dunne's poignant documentary portrait Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. The title of the film derives from a reference to Didion’s rephrasing of a line from a Yeats poem (The Second Coming). The reference suggests that much of her work was concerned with both chronicling and seeking to understand collective and individual disorder, appearances, and the fraying of once cohesive social narratives. Her rich, full bodied, observational journalism from the 1960’s and 70’s (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album) to her novels (Play It As It Lays, A Book of Common Prayer) through to her heart wrenching memoirs The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, Didion’s body of work remains canonical, must-read literature.


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.