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Staff Picks: Books

From Orphan to Dancer!

This is truly a feel-good story. It all started when Michaela was living at an orphanage in Sierra Leone with her best friend Mia. Of course, life was not easy on the orphanage, especially for Michaela. She missed her parents and she had a condition called “vitiligo”, which she got teased for. One day the wind blew a dream in to her. It was a picture of a ballerina. What Michaela liked most about the picture was how happy and beautiful the dancer looked in her pink tutu. To be happy like the dancer was something she wanted for herself and it became a dream that she held unto. The orphan children had to escape Sierra Leone. It was a long and dangerous walk to West Africa. But, Papa Andrew led the children to a better place and he found families for some of them. Mia and Michaela were adopted by Elaine DePrince. Elaine made sure that Michaela would have the lessons and life that she needed to make her Ballerina Dreams come true.

This book was written by Michaela and Elaine DePrince. I admire them so much. Michaela for a beauty inside and out that allowed her to pursue her dream and Elaine for continuing to go to West Africa to adopt girls. This makes me wonder what other dreams has she made come true. What amazing people!

One Plastic Bag

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia is the story of one person making a difference.

In the village of Njau in Gambia, a young woman named Isatou notices discarded plastic bags littering roads and pathways. Her first impression is that the many plastic bags make a rainbow of beautiful colors.

A few years later, an older and wiser Isatou listens as farmers and butchers relate to her that goats in the village are ingesting the bags which then become twisted around their intestines leading to death. The bags’ ultimate ugliness becomes clear. The massed piles of bags turn into mountains of permanent garbage that attract pests, hurt livestock and cause disease.

She, along with several women friends, devise a plan to wash and dry the bags, cut them into strips and roll these into spools of plastic thread. They then teach themselves to crochet with the thread. The end products are colorful purses that are a hit among the women in the village.

With the money earned from the sale of the recycled bag purses, Isatou and her friends envision a cleaner and more beautiful village. Building upon her success with the plastic bags, Isatou and a Peace Corps volunteer begin the Njau Recycling and Income Generating group.

This inspirational, true story is retold by Miranda Paul, an avid recycler herself. She traveled to Gambia as a volunteer teacher, fair-trade promoter and literacy advocate who met Isatou and learned of her work to better her community, it’s people and their animals by cleaning up the environment.

The accompanying striking illustrations were created by Elizabeth Zunon, who grew up in the Ivory Coast of West Africa. She used multihued paper as well as leftover shopping bags to create evocative collages that make the perfect complement to this story.

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer

 Fannie Lou Hamer has been called “the spirit of the Civil Rights movement” and this oversize book uses her perspective to tell the story of a lifetime of freedom-fighting.  Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer uses poems, songs, and collage illustrations that were inspired by Hamer’s work for civil rights throughout her remarkable life. 


New Shoes

I think of shoes by season and in particular new shoes for Fall. In my family, my sister and I, would always get new shoes for the start of school. We did it all through my school years and we did it again when my daughter went to school. And yes, even throughout her college years. I still think of the beginning of September as shoe shopping time. When I read New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, it brought back those memories but instead of feeling my happiness it brought a sadness for the girls in the story.

In the 1950’s Ella Mae is getting new shoes, not hand-me down shoes from her cousin. On Saturday, Ella Mae and her Mom go to the shoe store but they have to wait for the little white girl to select and try on her shoes first even though Ella Mae was there before the white family. Ella Mae knows colored people always have to wait.

When it is finally her turn, she tells Mr. Johnson that she wants to try on a pair of saddle shoes. Mama sucks in her breath and tells Ella Mae that they’ll do something different. Instead Mr. Johnson points to the back where the paper and pencils are kept. Mama and Ella Mae draw a picture of her feet and Mr. Johnson brings back a shoe box. No trying on in the store is allowed for them. They purchase the shoes but on the way home Ella Mae realizes colored folks can’t try on their shoes and how unfair it is for them. Even though she has new shoes now, she feels bad. When Ella Mae tells her best friend Charlotte what happened, she said it happened to her too. Sometimes the shoes don’t fit and they hurt the children’s feet.

Ella Mae has an idea and Charlotte is eager to help. They both do chores and for pay they take 1 nickel and a pair of outgrown shoes. After a month, they line up the shoes. They get polish, they clean and shine the shoes. They wash the laces and the shoes are almost as good as new. “Ella Mae and Charlotte’s Shoes” opens for business – price 10 cents and another pair of used shoes. The neighbors line up and their children actually get to try on shoes. They are both proud – anyone who walks in their shoe store can try on all the shoes they want!

The author’s note at the end of the book describes Ella Mae as a fictional character but the discrimination that she faced was very real. Charming characters with a compelling experience compliment Eric Velasquez’s beautiful paintings. This is a story worth sharing and discussing.

The War that Saved My Life

Well written with a captivating story, The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a new favorite of mine. Set in England during World War II, the story is told from 10 year old, Ada's perspective. She and her brother, Jaime escape their abusive mother when London's children are evacuated to the country. They find healing and hope in their new surroundings and it's just completely inspiring. I bet you'll love it too! 

The One, the Only - Ivan

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is a picture book account of the life of a wild animal who was born in a tropical forest in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lived with a large family of Western lowland gorillas. He enjoyed this time in his young life until one day poachers came and captured both him and another baby gorilla.

He and the other little one, named Burma, were sold to a man who owned a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. Burma died shortly after being delivered to her new surroundings, but Ivan lived in a home and was treated much like a human child. At age five however, he became too big and strong for his human domestic setting, and had to be moved to a concrete and glass cage at his owner’s mall. In this confining, barren environment, he amused himself by watching television, finger painting and engaging in his favorite activity of all - watching humans watch him.

After spending 27 years in this unfit, deficient situation, there was an outcry in the Tacoma community (as well as around the world), about Ivan’s plight. Letters were written, petitions signed and protests held to release Ivan from the confines of his small cage in the shopping mall.

Finally, Ivan’s owners gave in, and shortly thereafter he was sent to Zoo Atlanta where he was gently adjusted to a new life in a large enclosure populated by other gorillas, green grass and large trees.

In 2012, Ivan died at the age of 50. A memorial service was held in his honor at the Zoo, remembering Ivan’s unique role in representing the need that all animals have to be treated with dignity and kindness.

This is a wonderful book for preschoolers or early elementary kids by Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate who had previously published a novel which was also inspired by these same events. She will be conducting an Author’s Visit at the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Central location on September 22nd, 2015.

The child appealing illustrations in this volume are by G. Brian Karas who spent many hours researching gorillas by watching them at the Bronx Zoo.


Mothman's Curse

I confess that I had never actually heard of the Mothman until last year when a patron asked me for books about the cryptid. Originating in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in the mid-1960s, the legend of the Mothman apparently began when four teenagers reported being chased by a large moth-like figure in the sky. A few years later, the Mothman was blamed, among other theories, for the tragic and seemingly freak collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River at Point Pleasant. While perhaps not as well-known as the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, how could such an American original have escaped my knowing? Mothman’s Curse is a new chapter book that is not-too-scary, depending on your taste, of course. It is, as one review says, a good next step up from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. Josie and her friends live in Athens, Ohio, where they discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of a particular ghost in Athens, "the most haunted town in America". From there, the kids start to unravel the curse of the Mothman. The Mothman’s Curse is a not-too-terrifying read that delves into the fascinating American folklore surrounding this lesser known, at least to me, cryptid.

One Family

Families come in many configurations. And what better way to celebrate families in all their individuality and complexity than this wonderful picture book One Family, by George Shannon.

Simple enough for even very young children, One Family has charming illustrations by Blanca Gomez. Cheerful looking families (and their pets) are shown going about their daily activities. This title has the added benefit of being able to be used as a counting book. I love the little details in the pictures that add to the overall theme- one world, one family.

Maker Resources for Kids

We're having so much fun with our maker programs this summer. Process and learning are our focus, rather than an end product! At our maker programs we offer a selection of supplies and tools on a theme like circuitry or painting. Then we let the kids explore and make what they want to make. There is no right or wrong! It's a beautiful thing. I find inspiration everywhere I go but some of my favorite resources are on our shelves at KPL. I love Pinterest and blogs for ideas but there are also some really standout books on our shelves at KPL with great visual inspiration and expanded instructions for techniques. My current favorites for maker ideas for kids include: Tinkerlab150+ Screen-free Ideas for Kids, and The Artful ParentAll of these books offer great ideas for making and creating that can be more or less complex depending on age and ability of the child (and caregiver!). I hope you'll make something with us at the library soon! It's so fun to see what we come up with together! 

Make Way for Ducklings(1)

 Don’t you love Mr. and Mrs. Mallard?  They work so hard to find the perfect place to build a nest and raise their ducklings; Robert McCloskey’s life-like illustrations are perfect.  Make Way for Ducklings has been a favorite at our house for a long time.  Recently I’ve seen two other “duckling” books that are such nice companions for the Mallard family. . . Little Ducks Go by Emily Arnold McCully, and Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore.  Take a look at these recent books and share them with the duckling-lovers at your house.