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Staff Picks: Books

Little Monster Gets the Last Laugh

Little Monster wants to be in a scary story, but finds the dark forest, spooky house, and creepy witch too scary.  He doesn't want to be scared.  He wants to do the scaring.  However, that doesn't work out as planned.  The comical back and forth between a narrator and Little Monster makes Sean Taylor's I Want to Be in a Scary Story a great read aloud.

One Nation Under God...

Pat Mora teamed up with her daughter, Libby Martinez, to write I Pledge Allegiance. It’s about a young Libby’s great aunt, Lobo (lobo means wolf in Spanish). Lobo will say the Pledge Allegiance and become a citizen soon and everyone is excited about it, especially Libby. Libby will lead her class in the pledge also so they prepare together. 

Cute story! Read it and enjoy!

Far From the Tree(2)

I can't say enough good things about Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. This book was the 2017 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature, an award given through the National Book Foundation in November of each year. In this complex story about family dynamics, adoption, love, and more, teenagers Grace, Maya, and Joaquin discover they are biological siblings. As they get to know each other, the reader watches their individual lives unfold and their definitions of family expand. I completely agree with the NBA judges' citation. This book is "uplifting and big-hearted". 

This year's Young People's Literature longlist also includes authors who've visited Kalamazoo Public Library in the past, like Mitali Perkins just recently in 2017, and Jason Reynolds in 2015 and 2016. The whole list is here.  

The National Book Award list is one of my favorite "Best of" lists each year. I mean, other than the KPL "Best of" lists. The entire list is impressive and the winners are chosen by a committee of book industry experts and established authors who work all year long, reading and critiquing books to find the best of the best in each category. You might recognize some big Young Adult author names from this list of judges: Meg Medina (Chair), Brendan Kiely, Kekla Magoon, Alex Sanchez. 

A Garden of Forgiveness for Peace(1)

This parable was inspired by the garden of forgiveness in Lebanon and Beirut. Lauren Thompson created this story with a young girl teaching the villagers about forgiveness. It’s about 2 villages that never knew peace and raised their children to hate each other. One day one wounded child looked to the other side and realized their enemies were as afraid of her people as they were of them. She was tired of the fear and anger. She encouraged the villagers on both sides to instead of throwing rocks at each other to build a garden together.


This is a truly captivating book by acclaimed author and illustrator Katherine Roy who had previously written the very well received tome "Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands". Titled How to be an Elephant:Growing Up in the African Wild, this volume focuses on the anatomy, environment, family life and survival skills of a newly born elephant as she matures and becomes part of her herd. Roy vividly captures the way that these 7,000-pound giants live in the African savanna concentrating on the challenges that they face throughout their lifespans.

The accompanying large , earth-tone illustrations are stunning, and show the stages of elephant development, their bone structure, keen sense of smell, their very utilitarian trunks, their use of sounds to communicate, how they cool their bodies in hot weather, as well as several other fascinating elephant facts. These pictures are dynamic in their depiction of real elephant life, making them a wonderful, integral part of this book.

this title would be a great and meaningful addition to any library collection that serves early to middle elementary school kids. It would also be a great read for animal lovers of any age.


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.