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Staff Picks: Books

The River Why

I recently borrowed this 1983 novel by David James Duncan from my parents, and as soon as I began it, I wondered why I’d never picked it up before. The River Why is a hilarious, quirky, and heartfelt coming-of-age story with a conservation message narrated by the highly earnest Gus Orviston. The son of two passionate but very different fisherpeople, Gus moves to an isolated fishing cabin on an Oregon river as soon as he graduates from high school—in part to escape the maddening relationship between the people who taught him his deep love of fishing. Gus also wants to live by what he calls an "ideal schedule," allotting as much time as possible each day to fishing, spending the bare minimum on necessities such as eating and sleeping.

Gus gradually discovers that as much as he loves fishing, his life is lacking something. Several friends and acquaintances—particularly his eccentric little brother Bill Bob, the only member of the Orivston family who doesn't like fishing—guide Gus in discovering the deeper meaning of life.

I liked this book so much, I wanted to share it with others by writing a review, but at the time, KPL did not own a copy. So I used the suggest an item feature on to request that the library purchase a copy, and they did. Check it out! 

The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook

I really don't know what draws me to cookbooks. I don't cook, and I don't think I would like a lot of the entrees advocated therein. But, here's one that attracted my attention, probably because it has a regional focus -- and it's our region. Chicago-based food writer Amelia Levin has assembled a collection of recipes from the four states around Lake Michigan -- Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. These recipes are either inventions of local cooks and/or contain ingredients native to these four states. An example from the Michigan recipes is 'Enchiladas de Berrien Springs,' a dish served at Leaning Shed Farm in that community. Some sound really good, like 'Michigan Peach Crisp' and 'Strawberry-Rhubarb Hand Pies.' From Salt of the Earth, a restaurant in Fennville, comes 'Cranberry-Nut Bread.' Good photographs of food, cooks, and restaurants give the reader a great culinary tour of our part of the Midwest.

The Kiss

I came upon this book because it included a piece from an author I have recently discovered, Ada Limón. As it turns out, this collection of essays and stories contains works by other authors I enjoy—among them Pico Iyer, Aimee Bender and Markus Zusak—which in turn made me read more. 

Also included:

She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.
“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.
“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feelings she gave him a thimble. ~ J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I did not realize that kissing was a first date taboo. I’m such a sinner. ~ Roxane Gay

You leaned in to kiss me outside on the spring sidewalk among Brooklyn’s many broken tulips, petals all tipsy from traffic, and I felt like I could breathe again. Like it was not a kiss, but a resuscitation. ~ Ada Limón
I look forward to reading more.


Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Today is Harry Potter's birthday, and J.K. Rowling's, too. The series is remarkable in its appeal to a wide range of readers (and read-tos). For that reason, Kalamazoo Public Library has copies of the books in this most well-known series in a variety of formats and in a variety of locations. The audiobook (and eAudiobook) versions of the Harry Potter books, voiced by Jim Dale, are standouts. The larger format and more heavily illustrated, yet unabridged print editions that began to come out a few years ago are another great way to enjoy this modern classic. And, soon to be released 20th anniversary editions with cover art by Caldecott Medalist Brian Selznick are something to look forward to in the very near future. It's always nice to have something to look forward to. Like a birthday. Happy birthday, Harry!

The Story of a Loving Beautiful Relationship

Rescue & Jessica- A Life Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky is a fictionalized true story. The book focuses on the bond between young Jessica and her service dog named Rescue.

Rescue is a black lab pup who was destined to be trained as a seeing eye dog.However, it soon becomes clear to his trainer that Rescue might be better suited being a service dog; a canine helper doing such everyday chores as opening doors, fetching items, and turning on lights for people with disabilities.At the same time ,Jessica contemplates life as an amputee, after operations to remove one leg and then the other it is suggested that she acquire a service dog.

Before Jessica meets Rescue she becomes worried about how the dog will be able to help her with daily routine functions. On the other hand, Rescue is wondering whether he will be able to make a connection with his new companion who needs his help.Once together, it becomes clear to one and all that Rescue and Jessica were meant to save each other.

In the book's afterward, it is revealed that author Jessica Kensky is also an amputee who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Rescue is also the name of her real-life service dog.

Told with compassion and sensitivity this story is recommended for children ages 4-7.



Animals that Work Together

I recently discovered a wonderful new children’s non-fiction series entitled, “Animal Teamwork.” Books on Elephants, Wolves, Gorillas, and Meerkats are now part of the collection. Each book details how the animals live and work together, and like many great non-fiction picture books, extra facts added to each page provide additional chances for young readers to learn more about these incredible creatures.

Reservation Blues

I am currently enjoying Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. His first novel starts with legendary bluesman Robert Johnson wandering on to the Spokane Indian reservation, looking for Big Mama of the mountains. He leaves his guitar behind, which compels Thomas Builds-the-Fire to start a band.

Thomas asks the first two people he meets to join the band, despite the fact that they have picked on him his whole life. From there, the mystical guitar leads them in inspired performances, catching the attention of Native Americans across the West. 

A description of the book says that it is about the rise and fall of the band Coyote Springs. Right now, I’m enjoying the rise, and hoping the fall section is as entertaining.

D C-T!

If you are of a certain age and you like puzzles, then you--and perhaps by extension, your children--may have a fond memory, as I do, of William Steig’s clever book from 1968, C D B! Written in a sort of code whereby the letters and numbers, spoken aloud, reveal an exclamation or question, this compact book provided loads of entertainment in my family. My favorite exchange: R U C-P? S I M. I M 2.

Therefore, I was thrilled to see this new book all about New York City, D C-T!, written in the same vein. Filled with new puzzles and illustrations somewhat reminiscent of Steig’s drawings in C D B!, the visual clues here are specific to the Big Apple, including a Times Square scene where M-L-10 can be seen on a marquee, and C-Q-R-T appears by a drawing of an apartment door covered with chains, locks, and pieces of heavy furniture.

If you liked C D B!, you’ll love D C-T!

Silence : In the Age of Noise

Isn't it ironic that I'm writing about silence on the eve of the noisiest day of the year? Erling Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot -- the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. In this small book translated from the Norwegian, he discusses the 'silence around us, the silence within us, and the silence we must create.' He further tells why silence is essential to our sanity and happiness, and how it can open doors to wonder and gratitude. Silence seems to be in short supply in this modern age, and the author indicates that 'there are very few people who are able to avoid noise altogether. We learn to live with it because we think that we must, but noise is and remains a disturbing element that reduces our quality of life, not only for people, but for animals as well.' There are many other well-said thoughts here, such as, 'Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.'

A Dog Named Doug

A Dog Named Doug by Karma Wilson and illustrated Matt Myers is a fun book for children and adults, especially for anyone who has a dog or knows a dog who loves to dig holes. This story features a daring dog named Doug who cannot stop digging. There is much repetition of the "D" sound throughout the book, "Once there was a dog named Doug. Doug liked to dig, but when Doug dug... " Doug meets a ground squirrel who challenges him to dig holes and longgggggg underground tunnels. Consequently Doug digs to the White House, a farmer's fields where Doug digs a hole SO big that a huge tractor falls into the hole! Doug digs to mountains and all the way to China! Doug digs directionally: North, South, East, and West! The simple, expressive, colorful illustrations are excellent and this is a helpful book for teaching alliteration and homonyms. The Kalamazoo Public Library has many books by Karma Wilson and many books illustrated by Matt Myers.