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Staff Picks: Books

Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!

In Marley Dias’s new book, the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks describes the background of the movement that she created and how young people can organize to change the world. Dias writes about how reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming changed her life, how she realized that there were not nearly enough books that reflected kids like her. Her school reading list at the time was filled with stories about white boys and dogs: Shiloh, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows… all great books, she says, but why no black authors? Great question. When Marley’s mom asked her what she would change about the world, she said she’d like to make it so that kids everywhere could read books with black girls - books that accurately reflect the wide range of kids' identity and experience. Children are better off when they see themselves reflected in the books that they read. As Jacqueline Woodson says, "Seeing a story on a page about a black child written by a black author ... legitimizes your own existence in the world, because you're a part of something else. 'Look, I'm here in this book.'" 

Marley Dias's activism has been effective in motivating change within the institutions that control how books are created and discovered. Read Marley Dias’s story, as she tells it, because it is inspiring. She includes practical information about how to be an effective activist and how their adults can help. Young people have always changed the world and Marley Dias, with support from caring adults, truly has done so. Here's an excerpt to get you started reading Marley's book right now, if you so choose.

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

I'm excited about the new picture book biography of Elizabeth Cotten, Libba. Elizabeth Cotten is best known for her song "Freight Train". She taught herself to play guitar and wrote the now-famous song by the time she was eleven. Playing and singing was deferred while Elizabeth Cotten made a life in segregated North Carolina. Then, in her 50s, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began working in a department store. It was there she met Ruth Crawford Seeger, part of that famous American folk-music family. She began working for them as a housekeeper and started playing again. 

This new picture book biography is important because it tells the story of a hugely influential American songwriter. Written by singer-songwriter Laura Vieirs with illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, there is a lot of American history addressed in Libba: music, guitar, segregation, privilege, and much more. It's a great one to share with your family. 

Bird Balloon Bear by Il Sung Na

Many of my family's all time favorite picture books were created by Il Sung Na. Bird, Balloon, Bear is a new favorite. In this charming story, Bird, is looking for a friend when Bird spots Bear. As Bird works up the courage to say "Hi", Balloon shows up. Bear and Balloon run off to play and Bird steps back shyly. You'll have to check out what happens next is this sweet story. Be sure to take a careful look at the beautiful illustrations while you're at it.

Stolen Words

During the Native American Heritage program last November, I sat listening to one of the presenters explain how as a young child she was adopted away from her Anishinaabe heritage.  Now, as an adult, she was determined to learn the culture and language of her elders.  This memory came rushing back to me when I picked up this book, Stolen Words by Melanie Florence.  This nicely illustrated picture book introduces the not-so-long-ago practice of the Canadian residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families.   In this story, a young Cree girl asks her grandfather to tell her words in his Cree language.  When he explains that his Cree words were stolen from him as a child, the little girl decides to help her grandfather get his words back.  Historical picture books are great way to introduce young children to the past and to discuss how the past and the present are always connected.   


Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing

Save the date: Kwame Alexander is coming to visit Kalamazoo on February 28th

In the book Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, use original poems to celebrate twenty poets who, for the three authors of this book, had to be interesting people with poems that they loved. I love how Kwame Alexander opens the book with the premise that poetry can be fresh and freeing. You can make up your own rules about writing! What a wonderful notion that the connections around different senses of words and the way punctuation looks on the page conveys a feeling to other people. These original elements of style are unique to the poet and their poetry. The poems in the first part pay tribute  to Nikki Giovanni, Naomi Shihab-Nye, Langston Hughes, and others in this way.

Poetry expands our thinking about everyday things. You definitely do not need to know the twenty poets that the poems in Out of Wonder celebrate. You might want to read them after you read these poems celebrating Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Chief Dan George, Mary Oliver, and many more. The collage illustrations by Ekua Holmes, who also illustrated Carole Boston Weatherford's Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, add to the sense of the poems and make it even more accessible to young readers and listener watchers. The title, Out of Wonder, Alexander writes in the preface, comes from a quote by renowned poet and children’s book author Lucille Clifton who wrote, “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

For more information about Kwame, visit his website. His new literary focused web show, Bookish, airs weekly on FB Watch.

Papillon- One Remarkable Cat

Papillon, the very fluffy kitty who has the amazing ability to float like a cloud in the sky, is at it again in A.N. Kang's sequel Papillon Goes To The Vet. This time Papillon must make an unexpected trip to the kitty doctor after accidentally swallowing a yarn toy during a robust playtime session. The toy gets stuck somewhere in his belly, making him feel sick with a case of the hiccups to boot. His owner, Miss Tilly, transports her kitty, via bike, as he forlornly sits in the front basket

The vet sees the obstruction on an x-ray and Papillon is ordered to spend the evening at the clinic, where he feels sad, scared and lonely. His cries for help only make the hiccups worse, but the silver lining is that after one particularly ferocious hiccup, the fluffy toy pops out of his mouth.

The other cat patients present at the clinic are quite impressed with Papillon's post recovery antics, and come to see him as the very talented and special cat that he truly is. Next day this remarkable floating cat returns home with a fresher spring in his step and a mouth that will be determinedly closed when around any yarn toys that happen to be lurking about!

This book is chockfull of extremely expressive illustrations that are sure to please both young and old cat lovers alike. As fate would have it, author Kang herself has an amazing fluffy black and white cat named Papillon as well!

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.