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Staff Picks: Books

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.


Future Shock

Naomi Alderman’s fantastic feminist allegory, The Power, begins with teenage girls realizing they can conduct electricity through their hands and how that can come in “handy.” Research into the phenomenon uncovers that all newborn female babies have the physical trait that makes it possible to conduct electricity and teenage girls learn that they can bring the ability to life in older women.

Women led revolutions start to take place around the world and women move into positions of power in government, the criminal underworld, and as spiritual leaders. But possibly the most satisfying moments are when women are able to fight back against their attackers. Great companion to the #MeToo movement. 

The New York Times Book Review named Alderman’s meditation on power one of the 10 best books of 2017.


The final words

“You hop into a car, race off in no particular direction, and blam, hit a power pole. Then it’s off to jail.” Those arresting lines begin the story Triumph Over The Grave, one of the five stories included in Denis Johnson’s posthumous collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Johnson, who passed away last May after battling liver cancer, gave grace and significance to the desperate and damaged characters who inhabited his stories - particularly in his masterpiece story collection, Jesus’ Son. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, which sadly his publisher says will be the final words from Denis Johnson, solidifies Johnson’s place as a true master of his craft and one of the greatest literary voices of his generation.


Future Home of the Living God

Louise Erdrich's latest novel, Future Home of the Living God, is a suspenseful and topical story, covering themes including reproductive rights, the treatment of Native Americans, and religious intolerance.

Cedar Songmaker is a young, pregnant woman eagerly anticipating motherhood while at the same time in fear for her own survival and that of her baby. The book takes the form of a journal she is writing to her unborn child, recounting the events leading up to its birth, in case she does not live to tell the tale in person. The reason? Many biological organisms are no longer developing as expected. Scientists aren't sure exactly what is happening—evolution is described as running backward or sideways, and the government's response is increasingly autocratic.

Cedar seeks out her Native American birth mother in order to find out about any genetic diseases in her family, and in the process she is forced to come to terms with the truth of her own origins and her adoptive white parents. Cedar is a spirited protagonist and her personal situation, as well as the environmental and societal changes surrounding it, cause her to question who and what she can trust and to take drastic measures to keep her freedom.


What is a bardo?

I was introduced to George Saunders on a list of “smart summer reads” that I found at Cody’s books in Berkeley, California and have loved his books ever since. However, I didn’t make it far the first time I picked up his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. I was turned off by the citations below the statements from every character and I didn’t really know what he was doing. I had not read the jacket cover or anything about the book. 

Then I saw Lincoln in the Bardo on several of my library colleagues’ best of 2017 lists and my wife enjoyed it so I gave it another try. 

Bardo is a term that comes from Tibetan Buddhism signifying the state of existence in between death and rebirth, but in the book it seems closer to the idea of purgatory. Saunders was inspired to write the novel after reading about Abraham Lincoln making several visits to the crypt to hold the body of his young son Willie who passed away at the age of 11. He started to imagine what that depth of grief must have been like, especially as the casualties of the Civil War started to escalate. 

Saunders has no lack of imagination. I recommend taking this sometimes sweet, sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying and sometimes overwhelmingly sad journey into the bardo.