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Staff Picks: Books

Miss Jane

From Miss Jane by Brad Watson:

“She was born into that time and place, in the farmland cut from the pine and broadleaf woods of east-central Mississippi, 1915, when there was no possibility of doing anything to alleviate her condition, no medical procedure to correct it. It was something to be accepted, grim-faced, as they accepted crop failure, debt, poverty, the frequent deaths of infants and small children from fevers and other maladies.”

The novel Miss Jane is a beautifully-written character study of a girl born alone in every way—an odd duck in a family worn down by hardship, alienated from society due to the unique nature of her disability and in no small part to simple geography. She is alone save for the paternal kindness of a country doctor. But there is something about Jane Chisolm, something deep inside, that allows her to connect with nature and build a meaningful life in solitary. I can’t say enough about this book; Brad Watson writes with empathy for his heroine, an empathy that extends out to all of us experiencing the human condition. Using beautiful descriptions of nature to foster tone and atmosphere in the novel, Watson creates a striking sensory experience that propels Miss Jane to the forefront of great contemporary fiction.

Towers Falling

I remember how nice the day was. How I didn’t want to go to school. I remember being bored in my Focus on Freshman class when the assistant principal ran, red faced and huffing, into the classroom, handed our teacher a piece of paper, and then ran out. I remember the whole class asking if we were on lockdown, if there was an active shooter in our school, or in the high school across town. I remember the teacher struggling with how to explain what had just happened to a bunch of 9th graders. I remember thinking the world was about to change.

It’s hard to imagine that something that happened not that long ago, something I can still remember so vividly, could be a foreign concept to someone else. In Towers Falling, fifth grader Dèja Barnes wonders how something that happened before she was born could have to do with her. How could this bit of history, something that happened 15 years ago, have any impact on her now? The story follows her as she realizes that 9/11 may have happened before she was born, but the effects have touched everyone around her, and ripple outward to affect her life in ways she did not previously understand. This book does such a fabulous job of showing how we are all connected through our small communities that build outward and how we’re all connected as Americans to 9/11 and how history is never something that exists only in the past tense.

They all saw a cat

I discovered this book at this year’s Youth Literature Seminar and had to take it home with me. The book has a simple, repetitive, rhyming text that is great when reading to very young children and gives it a sort of sing-song quality. What I really love about this book though, is the way it is illustrated. The cat meets a number of other animals and each has a different view or perspective of it. The dog and the mouse, for example, see the cat very differently. Some of my favorite illustrations were of how the bee, the worm and the, flea see it. Come check out our copy to see what a snake thinks of a cat!


Six of Crows

 I just finished this book, and it is so great that I just have to tell you all about it! It’s called Six of Crows, and it’s written by Leigh Bardugo. It’s a heist novel, set in a fantasy world, and normally I don’t go for these types of stories, because I’m more into nuanced character studies, but that’s part of why this book is so great. 

Each and every character on the team for the big job in this book is fully three-dimensional, with worries, fears, and short comings. Also, it’s a diverse cast of characters, which is really refreshing. The leader of the team Kaz, is 17 and has to walk with a cane due to an injury, and the author wrote that she included this because she herself has to walk with a cane due to a disability.

A lot of times disabled people are erased from narratives, or if they are included in the story, they are defined by their disability. So I was elated to see a strong, complex, interesting character like Kaz.

I love this book, and I’m excited to start on the sequel. Don’t miss out!

Halloween Reads

I was obsessed with ghost stories when I was a kid, particularly Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark written Alvin Schwartz and ghoulishly illustrated by Stephen Gammell. My love of ghost stories turned into a love of horror movies as I grew up (The Babadook and It Follows being recent favorites of mine), but there a still a few ghost stories that have kept my interest as an adult:

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

All of these books are perfect for fall reading and curling up with a blanket (and at my house, a dog or three) when it gets dark. But don’t blame me if you if they keep you awake at night!

Looking for a shorter, high interest book to read?

Try the Rapid reads series! These books are all in the 100-something page range. They are high interest books, geared toward teens and adults that are reluctant readers or looking to improve their reading skills. KPL recently added another great title from this series, The innocence device, about a future where the world is made up of only prisoners and guards. There is overcrowding in one prison, and a machine named the Innocence Device is introduced that supposedly can determine innocence or guilt, with the result being instant freedom or death. Prisoners discover the machine is rigged and riot to claim control of the prison.

Check out other titles in this series, and also search the subject High interest-low vocabulary books for more books like it.


Girl Mans Up

Girl Mans Up is a teen book by M-E Girard about Pen, a girl who just doesn't fit in the way people want her to. She has to navigate the normal challenges of high school, which include supporting a new friend through an accidental pregnancy, figuring out her changing relationships with her guy friends, and dating for the first time. In addition, she is living the truth of her gender identity and sexuality, while fighting the intense disapproval of her traditional Portuguese parents and others at school and in public. Pen's honest, funny, and thoughtful perspective drew me into this novel, and the other characters were just as interesting. Pick Pen for your new favorite LGBTQ/teen protagonist.

Walking Through a World of Aromas

While preparing for a presentation on diversity in children's literature, I came across Walking through a world of aromas by Ariel Andres Almada.  What a delightful book.  It tells the story of Annie, a young girl that is vision-impaired.  Annie learns to overcome many obstacles and develops an ability to "smell" a world that she cannot see.  I am particularly impressed with the powerful, yet mellow illustrations.  This is a definite must read for preschoolers and early elementary school readers.

Perfume River

The Vietnam war, family secrets, marriage, and father-son relationships: Perfume River addresses all of the above and more...and my curiosity is piqued. Among reviews of this recent addition to our collection, Booklist calls it "thoughtful, introspective fiction of the highest caliber," while Kirkus declares it "a story that's both complex and meaningful." Finally, Publisher's Weekly says "the book speaks eloquently of the way the past bleeds into the present, history reverberates through individual lives, and mortality challenges our perceptions of ourselves and others." 

I'm adding it to my "to read" list. Maybe you will too...

The Serpent King

Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King is that rarest of young adult books; one about normal teens in a small town wasteland, quietly struggling with sadness and pain and the realization that darkness is part of many of us, hidden just below the surface. It's a book that doesn't sugarcoat the problems the characters face, but also doesn't exploit them- you can understand the quiet desperation and the need to make a change, if only you could just figure out how.

Lydia, Dillard and Travis are three friends united by their outsider statuses- Lydia for her outrageous fashion sense and smarts(not an easy thing in rural Tennessee, apparently), Travis by his love of a Game of Thrones-type fantasy world, Internet girlfriend, and ever-present wood staff, and Dill by his preacher father's horrific fall from grace and his family's long, dark past. The three form an unlikely triangle, with each holding up the others as they navigate the end of high school and the difficulties of rural life. Religion and faith play a large part in The Serpent King, but it's never trivialized or ridiculed, and it's a testament to first-time author Zentner's skills that he writes Dill's faith with sensitivity even in the face of powerful external forces.

The Serpent King is a powerful debut novel, and I can't wait to see where Mr. Zentner goes from here.