Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Isabelle, a young dancer, is the newest girl in the American Girl series. Isabelle by Laurence Yep is the first book in the series, 2 others: Designs by Isabelle and To the Stars, Isabelle have also been published.
The first book, Isabelle, sets up the characters, her family, friends and the setting. Isabelle is excited about starting her first year at the Anna Hart School of the Arts, a prestigious school for the arts in Washington D.C. She can’t help comparing herself to her older sister, Jade, who also attends Anna Hart and is an amazing ballerina. Actually all the kids at Anna Hart are exceptionally talented. Isabelle questions her dance ability and wonders if she can navigate the new school.
As Isabelle prepares with her class for the Fall Festival, she continues to doubt her own ballet ability. What she doesn’t doubt is her desire and sense of style for designing Jade’s and her own costumes for the program. As the Fall Festival draws closer, Jade gives Isabelle some spot on tips for her dancing that allows for her to finally give the performance she has been dreaming of. And Jade and her both have amazing costumes as well. Both Jade and Isabelle are noticed by a professional Director and dancer and are asked to perform in the Nutcracker – a dream come true.
Fans of American Girl will enjoy this new series. The books are fun and read quickly.
I have this vague recollection of learning about Marie Curie at some point, knew she had won the Nobel Prize, and knew she had worked in the area of radium and cancer treatment. That was about all I knew.
Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science’s First Family is a joint biography of Marie and her daughters Irene and Eve. Their struggles against the extraordinary prejudice towards women in science are described, along with their tours of the US to raise $50,000 to buy radium for research, and the health effects of their work.
Its not all science… the relationship between Marie and her daughters, Marie’s near nervous breakdown over a love affair, and Irene’s blindness about Communist regimes are all described.
This very readable book was written with the cooperation of Irene’s daughter who provided access to family letters and journals.
Those interested in science, women’s struggles in the sciences, mother / daughter relationships, the 1920’s would enjoy this book.
Marie Curie and her daughters : the private lives of science's first family
It won’t surprise you to learn that Early Bird likes to wake up early. Then she “stands as tall as she can,” and she “takes a deep breath of fresh morning air.” Then we follow her through pages of simple shapes and solid blocks of color as she makes her way to the garden where she finds . . . the Early Worm!
There’s much more to this book than one might expect: strong action words and design elements that support the story line, plus a sweet surprise at the end.
Have you heard of an animal called the tapir, but have little or no idea what it looks like, much less what it’s up to on our fair earth? Well, The Tapir Scientist is just the book to correct this unfortunate state of affairs! With text by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop, it explores the world of this unusual looking creature, whose closest living relatives happen to be the rhinoceros and horse.
The focus is upon the field investigation work of Pati Medici, an animal conservation scientist who is one of the founders of the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil. It is dedicated to helping endangered animals such as tapirs survive.
The tapir actually existed in prehistoric times and surprisingly, its appearance has not changed much over 12 million years. What has changed is where they live. Once roaming all over Europe, Asia and both North and South America, their natural habitat has shrunk to parts of South and Central America, as well as Southeast Asia. It is South America’s largest mammal, and there are four distinct species all of which are endangered.
Tapirs are rather solitary, nocturnal animals who are difficult to see, much less count, capture, study and track as Pati and her team sets out to do. However, they persevere knowing that their work is crucial, since tapirs play a major role in propagating forest plant life. Being fruit loving herbivores, they eat, digest and then let’s just say “plant” seeds from one area to another. Without them, forests and all the animal life found within may very well disappear.
This book is part of a series by the Montgomery and Bishop team called “Scientists in the Field.” Author Sy Montgomery has taken on many challenges in the past including swimming with piranhas and chasing gorillas among other things. Nic Bishop is a renowned nature photographer. His photos have captured many animals in their full, natural glory. Fun fact: Nic used to live in the Winchell area of Kalamazoo for many years before relocating to New Zealand.
KPL owns a number of titles in the “Scientists in the Field” series, including The Tarantula Scientist, Snake Scientist and Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, as well as a few others. Both author and photographer have won many awards, and their works have been noted as being distinguished examples of the best science books for youth. (Although as an animal loving adult, I too found it to be engaging.)
With it’s lively, information laden text and beautiful pictures, The Tapir Scientist is a wonderful Brazilian animal travelogue!
The Tapir Scientist
This is a high-school love story with a subplot about protesting arts funding cuts at their high school. The chapters bounce back and forth between Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls and Claudia Clarke, newspaper editor. They are both seniors at West Charleston High School in South Carolina. T-Diddy was born in the Bronx, but was sent to live with his uncle Albert two years ago to avoid trouble with the law. T-Diddy is the star quarterback of the Panthers and he is pumped by the defeat of their Powerhouse rivals: Bayside Tornadoes.
Although Claudia is turned-off by playas like T-Diddy, she soon realizes his clout with his social media skills at bringing classmates together to protest Arts cuts. T-Diddy is dedicated to restoring arts funding to their school and so is Claudia. They realize the power of collaboration. Their Principal, Dr. Brenda Jackson, aka Cruella, supports the cuts made by the school board, including the drama guild, the poetry club, the choir, and the marching band, library closure three days a week, and several teachers and staff lay-offs. However, these cuts become unacceptable to T-Diddy, Claudia, and the rest of the student body.
As Omar and Claudia spend more time together, their young love blossoms. Omar’s Uncle Albert supports their protests and provides knowledge he gained during the Civil Rights Movement.
This is definitely a worthwhile read for all teens and reinforces the power and strength of togetherness.
He Said, She Said
I saw A star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith on a recommended list, and I’m so glad that I did. Historical fact skillfully blends with fiction to make a story that’s hard to put down.
It’s the story of five very different women, brought together in 1930 by a single shared experience- each of them had a son who was killed in World War I. That heartbreaking fact made each of them each a “Gold Star Mother”, an actual United States government designation. Thousands of women all across the country were offered the chance to travel to Europe to visit the final resting place of their sons, with all expenses paid by the United States.
In Smith’s novel, the five “Gold Star” women who are the focus couldn’t be more different. Cora, the youngest, is a librarian from rural Maine. Then there is Minnie, wife of an immigrant Russian Jewish chicken farmer; Katie, an Irish maid from Massachusetts; Wilhemina, the emotionally fragile wife of a banker, and Bobbie, a rich socialite from Boston. Joining hundreds of other Gold Star women, they travel by ship to France, where unexpected experiences and chance meetings will change their lives forever.
I did a little research and discovered that in 1929, Congress passed legislation that allowed mothers and widows of sons who died in service between the years of 1917 and 1921 the right to make a “pilgramage” to Europe to visit the resting place of their son. By 1933, when the project ended, almost 6,700 women out of an eligible 17,389 had made the trip.
It’s a fascinating story, and well told. For a change of pace, also try author April Smith’s mystery series featuring FBI agent Ana Gray. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed in those, either.
A star for Mrs. Blake
About twenty years ago, I stumbled on a documentary called Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It told the story of the investigation into the murder of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the subsequent conviction of three teenagers, casting doubt on whether the teenagers were guilty of murder or just guilty of wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, and enjoying horror films.
Over the years, the documentary filmmakers who made the original Paradise Lost have produced two other films: Paradise Lost: Revelations and Paradise Lost: Purgatory. These documentaries and other information about the case convinced some high profile people like: Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to lobby for the release of these teenagers.
After a bizarre plea deal, they were released on August 19, 2011 after serving over eighteen years for crimes they possibly didn’t commit.
Now, Damien Echols, who was on death row for those eighteen years, tells his story in Life After Death. Watch the documentaries and read his book and decide who you believe.
Life After Death
In the 1950s and 1960s it was not unusual to see lots of Volkswagen Beetles around the Kalamazoo area. One that I remember with fondness was owned by two of my esteemed colleagues, FDC and GO, long past the time that the car was in its heyday. I always enjoyed seeing that car go by. Today there is the New Beetle in colors that vary quite a bit from the original Type 1. About six months ago KPL acquired a well-documented history of the VW Beetle. I particularly liked looking at the ads that are interspersed throughout the text. Anyone interested in automotive history or advertising practices of the mid- to late 20th century would appreciate this fine effort.
The People's Car : a global history of the Volkswagen Beetle
Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a familiar name to many vegans; she’s written a number of vegan cookbooks, including the classic Veganomican, an essential recipe collection and culinary guide for those who avoid cooking with animal products, and she has a popular website focusing on vegan baking and cooking, Post Punk Kitchen. Her latest cookbook endeavor is Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildy Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week, and let’s just say I’m in love. Isa Does It is chock full of over 200 delicious and easy-to-make recipes, highlighted by beautiful photos and charming illustrations. As with all her recipes that I’ve made, I’ve found them to be fairly quick (between a half-an-hour to an hour to make) and layered with complex flavors. This is a great cookbook for people who aren’t vegan, too; as a vegetarian, I find I’m occasionally disappointed by vegan cookbooks because they use a lot of uncommon ingredients or dairy replacements that I wouldn’t want to buy. Isa Does It relies on fairly common ingredients, making it a great choice for not only vegans, but also for vegetarians and for omnivores looking for ideas for “Meatless Mondays.”
Isa Does It
I was browsing the first floor rotunda at the Central Library and discovered a cool display of science themed books. The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans caught my eye. Extinct humans? I'd never really thought about it that way, but later species of hominids we know about from fossil records were other branches on the tree of human evolution. From the earliest hominids to Homo sapiens, each of the chapters in this large format illustrated book profiles one human species. I enjoyed the vignettes at the beginning of each chapter that take the reader into the world of these species finding food, making art, finding food, making stuff, finding food, and so on. It's fascinating to consider how some of these species coexisted in time until one, the last human, outcompeted them all.
This fascinating book is based on an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. If this topic interests you, you might also enjoy the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins site.
The Last Human