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Staff Picks: Books


When a little girl comes home from school one day and asks her grandfather how to say something in his first language, Cree, he is sad because he cannot. Stolen Words, by Melanie Florence, is a recently published picture book that uses the modern-day relationship between a granddaughter and grandfather to tell the story of how residential schools systematically removed children from their families in order to replace their language and life ways. It conveys the great injustice that the residential schools perpetrated on native communities. With an optimistic and touching resolution, Stolen Words is a good introduction to the history of residential schools, a tool of European colonization established as institutions in North America and elsewhere.

As much as anything, Stolen Words helped me to appreciate another picture book about the Canadian residential schools: Shi-shi-etko by Interior Salish and Metis author Nicola I. Campbell. Shi-shi-etko, the title character, whose name means “she loves to play in the water," seems perhaps nervous but hopeful - “only one, two, three, four mornings left until I go to school”. The prose and pictures combine to portray a family’s loving efforts to help their daughter preserve her culture in the lead up to Shi-shi-etko being taken, by cattle truck, to residential school. This picture book, unlike Stolen Words, is set in the times when these schools existed, not looking back from contemporary times. The portrayal of a family doing what they can to persevere amidst the intentional misuse of power – racism – makes Shi-shi-etko a powerful book. Residential schools existed in the United States, too. How recently did the last residential school in Canada close? The answer, which is in the author’s introduction, might surprise you. 

What Is Hip-Hop?

I absolutely LOVE THIS BOOK!  Beautifully written in rhyme, it provides younger children with a great introduction to the history of Hip Hop music.  Anny Yi's amazing 3-D clay art form kept me laughing all the way through.  From DJ Cool Herc to LL Cool J, Flava Flav to De La Soul, Salt-N-Pepa to Eminem… I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane and seeing all the Hip Hop artists represented.  Anyone who grew up on Hip Hop will want to read this picture book.  Listen here to author Eric Morse as he talks about his exposure to Hip Hop music and writing this wonderful book.  


Meatless? A Fresh Look at What You Eat

When I talk to others about being vegan, I always say that it's not for everyone, but it is for me. It has worked for me for the past 6 years. Meatless? A Fresh Look at What You Eat takes a similar approach; it's not for everyone, and that's okay. We don't have to compare ourselves to each other, and what is healthy and comfortable for one person may not be for another. 

Author Sarah Elton offers a brief history of meat eating and explains why people consider a flexitarian, vegetarian, or vegan diet, including cultural, religious, and environmental reasons. She shares ideas about how to adopt a new way of eating if the reader wants to try it. The book's tone is non-judgmental and informative. It doesn't attempt to persuade, scare, or guilt readers into limiting or removing animal products from their diets. Adults may modify their eating habits to lose weight or improve their health, or to test out a new trend (Beyoncé did it, right?). Kids may simply be curious. If so, this book is a great resource.

Animal Ark

Animal Ark is a beautiful work of photography and poetry. In this National Geographic Kids book, Photo Ark creator Joel Sartore celebrates “our wild world in poetry and pictures” by joining the playful and powerful words of Newbery Medal award winner Kwame Alexander with bright and colorful animal photographs. This new non-fiction picture book is currently available at all KPL locations.

She Looks Just Like You

Amie Klempnauer Miller is a mom who had hoped to get pregnant, but didn’t. After two years of trying and no conception, partner Jane decides she’ll give it a go. She gets pregnant after the first round of insemination. “That’s my family,”….Jane quips. “Wave a little sperm at us and we get knocked up.” Thus begins their journey toward motherhood. After eighteen years of partnership, their duo is on the path to becoming a trio.

Miller becomes stay-at-home Mama and Jane becomes Mommy, the primary breadwinner. Miller recounts in great detail the ups and downs, comic moments and exhaustion, plus the challenges to their relationship involved in becoming pregnant as a lesbian couple and raising their daughter, Hannah. We journey with them, up to Hannah’s toddlerhood. She shares the ways in which their family is just like any other family, the ways in which she is just like any other mother--and the ways in which she is not, as a nonbiological lesbian mom.

Miller’s memoir, She Looks just like You: A Memoir of (Nonbiological Lesbian) Motherhood, is funny, gritty and intriguing. I didn’t want it to end.

Take a picture of me, James VanDerZee!

Years ago when I worked in archives, I would spend hours and hours looking through photos taken during the Harlem Renaissance era.  Most of those photos were taken by James VanDerZee, a brilliant African American photographer who had the ability to capture the true essence of his subjects.

VanDerZee was born in Lennox, Massachusetts in 1886.  As a young boy, he fell in love with "a huge contraption called a camera" and immediately taught himself how to take photos and develop the film in his own closet darkroom.  At 18, he moved to New York City when the Harlem Renaissance was beginning. After working several jobs, VanDerZee opened his own photography studio and began his journey photographing everyone and everything.  His photos were so well-produced, his services were in high demand for the next 60 plus years.

Andrea J. Loney introduces young readers to this amazing man in this well-written and illustrated biography picture book.  I recommend it for family reading.


Raindrops Roll

It's no secret that April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorite picture book authors. This week I discovered her nonfiction book for young readers, Raindrops Roll. Her incredible photography and rhyming text make this pick a huge hit at my house. All of us, adults and kids, spent some time poring over the pages and repeating the lyrical rhymes. Check this one out today!

Incredible Bugs!

While shelving new children’s non-fiction books, I discovered Superstats: Incredible Bugs, part of the Superstats book series. The bright, clear photographs, surrounded by fun and interesting facts about insects, spiders, and other tiny creatures, immediately took me in. With quality images like a Dorling Kindersley “DK” book, and being full of factoids like a Guinness World Records book, I consider this book a winner. While Incredible Bugs’ suggested reader age range is 7-10 / grades 2-4, sharing the large photographs and more basic fun facts may be enjoyable to younger readers as well.


The Catawampus Cat  by Jason Carter Eaton is the tale of a somewhat off kilter feline who mysteriously arrives one Tuesday morning into an unnamed town.

First to notice the slightly askew cat is Mr Grouse the grocer, who tries to straighten the cat out, but to no avail. In the midst of the cat straightening attempt excitement, the grocer and his wife tilt their heads as well and make a very happy rediscovery!

Next the town barber spots the cat and is so taken aback that he accidentally clips his customer's hair at an angle, much to the woman's delight!

And so it goes on, everyone who notices this unusually positioned cat sets off to try new things with wonderful results. The cat's slightly slanted, catawampus perspective becomes the town's obsession.Even the mayor declares that there be a Catawampus Cat Day in the feline's honor.But when the day arrives and the mayor declares "we are all different now, just like you", the cat responds with something out of the ordinary that dismays his adoring public.

A fun, humorous book with appealing illustrations  by Gus Gordon, that is sure to please preschool, and early elementary kids!

Rolling Thunder

This picture book, with spare text and rich illustrations, captures the emotion of the Rolling Thunder Run, a motorcycle rally held each Memorial Day in Washington D.C. to honor American armed forces.  It follows one young boy’s experience of riding with his grandfather:  “Grandpa rides for Joe and Tom, friends he lost in Vietnam.”  It’s a poignant glimpse of one family’s moment at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial.