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Staff Picks: Books

Becoming Bach

In this wonderful picture book, Johann Sebastian Bach tells readers about his childhood filled with music.  Everywhere he went, there was music.  It was his destiny to grow up and become a "Bach."  Tom Leonard's colorful illustrations will guide you through the pages of this delightful biography. And, prepare you for KPL's upcoming Bach in Jammies programs at the Central Library and Oshtemo Branch in partnership with the Kalamazoo Bach Festival.


Novels in Verse

Before poetry month comes to a close, I want to highlight some novels written in verse. Through a series of short poems, an author can tell an amazingly rich story, despite the limited scope for details and dialog. 

Most recently, I read A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes, who is coming to KPL on May 9. The book combines sections in the voice of the title character with poems in the voice of the Virgin Mary, which are in a book Mister is reading during a challenging time. 

One of my favorites is Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, which is written as the diary of a boy who is learning to love poetry. The title poem pays homage to a poem by Walter Dean Myers, and others throughout the book are modeled after other famous poems. Speaking of dogs, God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee imagines what it would be like if God had a life like an ordinary human.

All the novels in verse I've come across are written for children and young adults, but there is much in them to be appreciated for any reader. They seem particularly well suited to addressing difficult topics such as grief and the darker chapters of history, such as Jacqueline Woodson's memoir of growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Brown Girl Dreaming. Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone takes place during the Armenian genocide. 

Other authors who frequently write in verse include Kwame Alexander and Margarita Engle. Novels in verse are not a replacement for regular fiction, but like graphic novels, you can read through them quickly for the basic story, or better yet, you can linger to enjoy the nuances of language.


Call Me Tree - Llámame Árbol

Written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, Call Me Tree is a beautiful journey that imagines life as a tree, from a seed in the ground to an árbol standing tall. Written in both English and Spanish, the sparse, lyrical wordings perfectly complement the rich and expressive imagery exploring nature, connectedness, and individuality.


Big Cat, Little Cat

 Elisha Cooper’s books are always a joy.  His use of line is simple and elegant; here, a white cat welcomes a small black cat to the home and teaches it “when to eat, when to drink, where to go, how to be.”  They live together, play together, and the black cat becomes older and larger as the white cat then begins to age.  Then one day the white cat went away.  “And that was hard.  For everyone.”  Big Cat, Little Cat is a lovely book for young pet lovers. 

 

 


Jake the Fake Keeps it Real

When Jake starts sixth grade at the middle school where big sister Lisa has always been a super star, Jake’s not sure what to expect. He got into the selective Music and Art Academy with his performance of “Song for My Father” on the piano. Now he’s not sure he can do what it takes to be successful there since he’s not really that interested in playing the piano. As Jake warms up to his new environment and makes new friends but keeps the old, hilarity ensues.
Writers Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach are responsible for some terribly funny books and movies, mostly for adults. I have been a fan of illustrator Keith Knight’s comic strips for a while and was excited to see this new work in the children’s chapter book domain. Jake the Fake Keeps it Real was a really funny read. The way the cartoon illustrations expand on the narrative make this a real pleasure to read. If you like Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, or Dork Diaries, I think you will really enjoy Jake the Fake.


Triangle

Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett's latest collaboration is, as you might imagine if you've read any of their other books, not exactly your typical children's book. Triangle and his friend Square are devious little shapes, playing pranks on each other and wandering through a landscape of shapes and things without shapes. Is Triangle as smart as he seems? Is Square really as clever as he thinks he is? And more important- will Square get out of the spot he's in at the end?

 


Steamboat school : inspired by a true story, St. Louis, Missouri 1847

Steamboat School is wonderful picture book that highlights yet another little known Black History fact.  It tells the story of the courageous and determined Reverend John Berry Meachum who ran a school on a steamboat that sailed up and down the Mississippi River. The story begins with young James, a free black growing up in Missouri during the 1840s.  While attending Reverend John’s school in the basement of a church, with only candle lights to see, James comes face-to-face with the harsh reality of the 1847 Missouri law which made it illegal to educate any Blacks (slave or free) in the state.  Author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator Ron Husband have create an inspirational must-read with Steamboat School.


Who Squeezed the Sasquatch?

Don't Squish the Sasquatch is my go to choice right now to read aloud with kids of all ages.  While boarding an empty bus, Señor Sasquatch lets the driver know that he hopes it doesn't get too crowded because he does not like to get squished.  But what else could happen when the bus goes on to pick up Miss Elephant Shark, Mr. Octo-Rhino, Miss Goat-Whale, and Miss Loch Ness Monster Space Alien?  The combination proves to be explosive.

How will they revive Señor Sasquatch?

Kent Redeker's silly story mixed with Bob Staake's goofy illustrations just beg for you to ham this one up.  Check this one out and start practicing your Sasquatch voice.  

I just found out that there is a sequel: Don't Splash the Sasquatch!  Don't get in my way as I run to get it or you might get squished.


Rad Women

Rad Women Worldwide and Rad American Women A-Z tell the stories of women who did amazing things, some well-known and, maybe more importantly, some not so well-known. From Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, Rad American Women A-Z came first and focuses on American women. Rad Women Worldwide focuses on forty women from all around the world who moved beyond boundaries. From punk rockers to polar explorers to authors, organizers, athletes, artists, and more, both of these great collections of biographical profiles feature amazing cut-paper illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl. Both are great for all ages but reside in the library's Children's and Teen materials collections. Check them out if you are interested in being inspired and learning some real-life amazing stories!

 


Olivia's Birds

Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf was published in 2011 when its author and illustrator, Olivia Bouler, was just 11 years old. When Olivia learned of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, she offered to donate her paintings of birds to anyone who donated money to the Audubon Society; she helped to raise over $150,000 for recovery efforts. The book offers interesting facts about birds, but what really stands out are Olivia's beautiful illustrations. Her book also includes kid-friendly tips on how to preserve our planet.