Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
This is based on a true story. It is World War II and a group of Polish soldiers who are escaping the Germans and Russians by way of Iran purchase a tiny, half-dead orphaned bear cub from a boy. The soldiers name the bear cub Voytek, which means “Smiling Warrior.” Voytek is cared for by Peter and Stanislav and Junusz and Lolek and Pavel… they explain to their sergeant that the bear is their new ‘mascot.’
The soldiers join the British army. The story follows the soldiers and Voytek from camp to camp for five years watching the many different soldiers’ reactions to Voytek. Voytek is a sweet bear. Peter is his keeper and there are a few instances where he aids the soldiers: he carries bombs, he corners a spy, and he entertains. Voytek provides comfort amid the horrors of war. The soldiers have a few other animals: Kaska, a monkey, who rides on the back of a big dog named Stalin and Dottie the Dalmatian.
Soldier Bear has been translated from the Dutch into English by Laura Watkinson. Soldier Bear received the Margaret Bachelder Award, an American Library Association Award given to the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.
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
From the prolific author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, comes another bittersweet story featuring a young boy named Robbie. Robbie, is an only child; it is summer and his friends Jack and Lizzie are at summer camp. Robert’s parents are musicians who are in the Allegro Quartet. His aloof mother is a violinist and his father is a violist and pianist. They are off on a two month summer tour without Robbie who is staying with his Grandmother Maddy. Maddy and Ellie, his dog, are his two best friends.
Maddy’s house sits on a hill bordered by woods. Maddy’s friends are Henry, who is a doctor and a very good cook. Maddy also has many animal friends who live in the woods, even a bear! One night, Robbie and Maddy camp in a tent on a hill in the starlit woods, but then, Maddy gets hurt! What is he to do?!!! Robbie sends a written message to Henry and stuffs it in Ellie’s collar. Will Ellie find Henry and deliver the message? There is a bear in the woods and Robbie cannot leave his grandma! Read this exciting story and find out!
The Truth of Me: About a Boy, His Grandmother, and a Very Good Dog
You Gotta Have Art! After reading this simple picture book, the importance of art in our lives is so obvious, you might be inspired to visit an art museum, such as the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts where children age 12 and under are free. Kalamazoo Public Library has many insightful art books for you. We will assist you with finding them.
The Museum is a simple story in rhyme about a girl’s experiences and emotions on a visit to an Art Museum. She is energized and inspired. “When I see a work of art, something happens in my heart. I cannot stifle my reaction. My body just goes into action.” And “Its rhythm exists in all I see. The museum lives inside of me.” The watercolor illustrations blend beautifully with the book’s subject. At the end of her visit, the girl finds an empty canvas and suddenly she realizes that she can fill it anyway she chooses!
Test your art knowledge and see how many art pieces you can identify in this picture book!
There is an easy rhythm to Mem Fox’s new book titled: Good Night, Sleep Tight, that makes it really funderful for Reading Aloud. Fox has woven several familiar mother goose rhymes into a story about a babysitter named Skinny Doug who has the job of putting Bonnie and Ben to sleep. Skinny Doug tells a rhyme, and the response is: “We love it! We love it!” said Bonnie and Ben. “How does it go? Will you say it again?” and the reply is: “Some other time,” said Skinny Doug. “But I’ll tell you another I heard from my mother:” When I read this book at story time, the parents automatically chimed in and recited from memory the familiar rhymes, including: It’s raining! It’s pouring! The old man is snoring!
Judy Horacek’s expressive illustrations blend beautifully with the text and the happy time spent with Skinny Doug and the adoring Bonnie and Ben.
Mem Fox, an Australian, is a huge proponent of reading aloud to children. I encourage you to check-out her many other picture books and instructional books at Kalamazoo Public Library. Visit Mem’s website for a multitude of read aloud suggestions, ideas and techniques: www.memfox.net. Happy Read-Aloud!
Good Night, Sleep Tight
Would you be willing to risk your life to hide an escaped Prisoner of War? That is the ultimate scary decision that the Crivelli family of Florence, Italy must decide! This World War II story takes place in 1944 when Hitler’s Nazi army is fighting the English and Canadians in Italy. Paolo Crivelli is 13 years old and is ordered to remain at home, his mother is worried for his safety and that of her 16 year old daughter Constanza. When Paolo escapes at night and rides his bicycle into town, he is overwhelmed with fear when approached by the Partisans, or freedom fighters, who demand a meeting with his mother. Mrs. Crivelli is an English woman married to an Italian named Franco, who is in hiding. She makes the decision to hide the two prisoners!
The Crivelli famiy confronts head-on the perils, hardships, and heartache brought about by her choice. Will the Gestapo discover the two prisoners when they raid their home? There is very little food, how will they feed them? Will they ever see their father again? The bombardment in the nearby hills continues daily. Paolo and Constanza mature way beyond their youth as they experience the horrors of war. This is a really well written historical war story. Shirley Hughes is an English author and illustrator who has written more than fifty children’s books. This is her first novel.
Hero on a Bicycle
For a child’s view of a day in the life of Stalinist Soviet Union, read: Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha is ten years old and is in 5th grade and his father is a member of The State Security, which is the Secret Police. Sasha’s mother is dead, for some mysterious reason she never returned home after a hospital stay. Sasha and his dad live communally in a house with several other families. Everyone is always under suspicion, every spoken word is potentially threatening and nobody knows whom they can trust. Sasha is getting ready for the ceremony to join the Soviet Young Pioneers. A young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience. A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings. But in his haste while carrying Stalin’s banner, Sasha accidentally bumps into Stalin’s statue and breaks off the nose on the statue! Did anyone see the accident occur? If the accident is discovered, then it is truly a bleak day for Sasha. This story is an excellent portrayal of a day in the life of a fifth grade student and the bleakness of life in the Soviet Union under the dictatorship of Stalin. Eugene Yelchin was born and educated in Russia, but now lives in California.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose
Are you vacationing in Michigan this Summer? Kalamazoo Public Library has many Michigan travel books. One particularly family-friendly book is: Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids, by Bill Semion, c.2007. The contents are separated by geographic areas, such as West Michigan-North, West Michigan-South, and Upper Peninsula-East, Upper Peninsula-West… you get the picture…(picturesque!) It includes listings of events, adventures, parks, museums, sports, theatres, places to stay, and restaurants.
I also recommend viewing: Under the Radar Michigan, a PBS television show hosted by Tom Daldin, who has a friendly, comfortable presence and a great sense of humor. UTR Michigan is in its third season. UTR Michigan showcases a different Michigan town in each episode, featuring local places of interest, stories, great people, and mouth-watering foods at local restaurants. UTR is a helpful, convincing site for choosing a Michigan town to visit. Episode 318 highlights Grand Rapids, and, if you want to see a hilarious sight, watch the people pedaling on the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser, it’s crazy! To find out the art of coffee roasting and information about the Can-Do Kitchen, watch the inspirational episode featuring Kalamazoo!
Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids
Missing May is a bitter-sweet story about the after-effects of coping with the death of a most-beloved wife and stepmother named May. For many years May and Ob, her husband, a disabled Navy veteran, lived in Deep Water, West Virginia in a rusty old trailer. They were a childless couple until they met Summer, a distant relative who became parentless at the age of six, and who was subsequently “adopted” by May and Ob.
The story begins after May’s death. May was a very loving woman and both Ob and Summer grieve so desperately that they attempt to find May’s spirit. Cletus Underwood, a kid from Summer’s seventh grade class, befriends Ob and senses Ob’s despair. He tells Ob and Summer about a Spiritualist in a nearby county, so, Ob, Summer, and Cletus begin a quest to find The Reverend Miriam B. Conklin, Small Medium at Large. Do Ob and Summer find what they’re looking for to quell their sadness? You will discover the truth after reading this inspirational story that received the 1993 John Newbery Award.
Some little boys want a family dog, some parents don’t want a family dog. Hal Fenton is one of those boys who desperately wants a dog for a birthday present, but his wealthy parents Donald and Albina do not want one. To pacify their son they rent a dog for the weekend; the Easy Pets Dog Agency in London is just the place. Myron and Mavis Carker, owners of the agency, do it for profit, not for the love of dogs. Kayley is the kind teenage caretaker of the dogs. Kayley finds a mongrel, brings it to the agency, and names him Fleck, and pronounces him a rare breed: a “Tottenham” terrier. The Fentons rent Fleck for the weekend. Fleck and Hal are inseparable, that is, until Albina returns Fleck.
Let the adventure begin! Hal and his pal kidnap the dogs at the agency and begin a journey to his grandparents home near the coast of England, all the while being pursued for the tremendous reward offered by Hal’s parents. The delightful story of Fleck, Otto, the St. Bernard, Li-Chee, the Pekinese, Francine, the poodle, Honey, the rough-haired collie, and even Queen Tilly, the Mexican hairless, is both harrowing and heart-warming. Do they make it to their destination? Read it and find out!
This is the last book written by Eva Ibbotson who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 85.
One Dog and His Boy
What are the top two most popular books printed in the English language?
The Bible is the number one most popular book printed in English and the second most popular book printed in English is Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language.
Noah Webster was born on a farm in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1758. Noah didn’t want to be a farmer, he wanted to be a scholar. He went to school at Yale and graduated in 1778 and became a teacher. He soon realized there were no books about America; Noah wanted American schoolbooks! America was a new country and America needed a national language and government. Americans were spelling words any way they wanted, the same word might be spelled ten different ways in ten different places. So, Noah wrote an American spelling book so that Americans would spell every word the same way, every time, everywhere. Noah had the publisher put a blue cover on it so that people could just ask for the “blue-backed speller.” Noah’s blue-backed speller taught spelling and it also listed important American dates, town and states! Two years later he published his second book, a Grammar [noun: study of words; rules for using words].
Then Noah had another big idea: to write a dictionary [noun: a book listing words in ABC order, telling what they mean and how to spell them]. His book would be 100 percent American and it would include new American words, such as skunk, dime and tomahawk. He decided to show where the words came from, all the different origins. He began this wonderful dictionary in 1807 and he completed it nearly twenty years later! Noah’s American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. Noah’s words DID unite America! This is a great book and the bright, fanciful illustrations will keep your attention. [noun: the act or state of applying the mind to something].
Noah Webster & His Words