Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
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
If you’re interested in American guitar history, you’ll want to explore this comprehensive new work about C.F. Martin and his contemporaries’ early technical developments in guitar design and manufacture. In a relatively short period of time before 1865, C.F. Martin and other builders developed and incorporated significant refinements, most notably an X-braced top capable of withstanding the higher string tension to which a steel-stringed guitar would be subjected. While Martin may or may not have invented X-bracing, his guitars were to the first to exploit this bracing system on a large scale.
Of course, folks in Kalamazoo get pretty excited about that other well-known granddaddy of the American guitar, Orville Gibson, who famously applied violin building techniques to mandolins and guitars. Arched-top mandolins and guitars? Yep, invented right here in Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is rightly proud of the stack and factory on Parsons Street where luminaries such as Lloyd Loar, Thaddeus McHugh, Ted McCarty, and others ran with Orville’s early ideas and made industrial design and musical instrument history.
From a business history standpoint, these two icons of American guitar manufacture are very different. Orville Gibson sold his nascent business and patent to a small group of Kalamazoo industrialists in 1902. Gibson Guitar relocated its headquarters to Nashville in 1981. The Heritage Guitar Company continues to build in the Parsons Street building today. C.F. Martin & Company, still located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, remains a family owned business more than 175 years later.
Your Kalamazoo Public Library has lots of great books on guitar history. This new work is definitely worth checking out. I like it because it focuses on little-known technical history before the American Civil War – no dreadnaughts to be found here. The full color plates of many of the very earliest C.F. Martin instruments in this large format book are truly gorgeous to behold.
Inventing the American Guitar
Sometimes it's surprising when younger readers ask for scary stories or when their parents say, "I don't know, she just likes scary stuff." Fair enough. For those horror loving youngsters, I am happy to say we have the first book in an exciting new series by James Preller. Scary Tales #1 is called Home Sweet Horror. This isn't a collection of unrelated short stories - like the classic Alvin Schwartz books. Instead, each chapter takes the reader further along into a family's new house and the horrors that lurk within. Take a look at this one to make sure it's not too scary for your young reader. The big blue dot we put on the spine indicates that this transitional reader's reading level is appropriate for 2nd and 3rd graders and up. You can look forward to the next book in the Scary Tales series: I Scream, You Scream!
How is climate change affecting wildlife? That's the question A Warmer World considers. Of course there are many more questions around climate change that could be at the top of human civilization's priority list. How will climate change affect low-lying coastal communities? How will climate change affect the availability of fresh water? How will climate change affect the availability of food for humans? Since climate change will affect children to a greater extent than it will affect people who are adults now, it makes sense for parents and caregivers to educate our children about what's happening and why. Children and animals have this in common: they didn't create this problem but will need to adapt to it.
A Warmer World
Don't you love it when adults open a sentence with "When I was a kid..."? Well, when I was a kid, the Guinness Book of Records was a dense paperback with tiny little black and white pictures and tiny print. And we loved it! Who could forget the guy with the longest fingernails, the longest beard, the person with the most tattoos, and all those other weird world records. The Guinness Book of Records was fascinating, in part, because it was kind of a freak show. Kids still love the Guinness Book. The 2014 edition of the venerable compendium is out now and, as it has been for many years, is a full color, large format edition with lots of photo-illustrations. Guinness World Records itself is a record holder as the best-selling copyrighted book series of all time. You can borrow a copy at the library if you're curious about the world's first digital photograph (earlier than you might think) or the most baking sheets buckled over the head in one minute or the largest ridable bicycle or the largest collection of vacuum cleaners or ...
The Biggest, Fastest, most... Guinnessest!
There's been quite a bit of buzz about Suzy Lee's picture book creations in the last few years. They are wonderfully imagined yet seemingly simple picture books that get better with repeated readings. I was excited to see a new book illustrated by Lee and written by Jesse Klausmeier, Open this Little Book. When I opened the book I was glad I did. I don't want to say too much about it, except that it is wonderfully self-referential and is a wonder of design, in my opinion. This book is just perfect for repeated sharing with children. Open this Little Book has its own delicious internal logic and closure that is somehow deeply comforting to parent and child alike. I am hopeful you take time to enjoy it!
Open this Little Book
I just love Jessica Souhami’s books. I think it must be her background as a puppeteer that makes these folk-lore based picture books so good. Sausages, for instance, is a wonderful story about being careful what you wish for. In Souhami’s newest offering, Foxy!, the storyteller and illustrator puts her own spin on a trading-up trickster tale told in different ways the world over. In this wonderfully illustrated version based on a North American version of the story by Clifton Johnson from 1897, the fox is the trickster and he’s looking for a meal. What an entertaining read-aloud!
I'm really enjoying Laurel Synder's chapter book Any Which Wall, which also happens to be the June 27 selection in KPL's Bookworms book group at Children's Room. Bookworms is for kids in grades 1-3 (or there-abouts) with their adults. You can pick up a copy of Any Which Wall at the Children's Room desk. I like this book because it's about magic. It also features Henry and Emma and Roy and Susan -interesting characters who are children of various ages. It's well written and it's pulled me right in. I'm curious what you think about the book, about "common magic", and where you would go if you had a magic wall that could take you to any place and any time.
Bookworms is a free program and a great way to enjoy Summer Reading with other readers!
Any Which Wall
If you have ever appreciated the incongruity of a little house amisdst high-rise city buildings you will enjoy Mrs. Noodlekugel by Daniel Pinkwater. When two siblings, Maxine and Nick, move into a new apartment, Maxine discovers a cute little house set in the backyard of the their tall apartment building. Meet Mrs. Noodlekugel, her piano playing cat Mr. Fuzzface, and four farsighted mice.
Mrs. Noodlekugel is a short chapter book that’s perfect for early elementary students who are ready to move on from early readers to chapter books. Loaded with Daniel Pinkwater whimsy, this is a book that adults will also enjoy.
The Dark is a brand new picture book from two children's books luminaries: Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. Laszlo is a boy who is afraid of the dark until he actually gets to know it. The dark lives in the basement but comes to visit Laszlo upstairs in his room one night. Then Laszlo goes down to the basement. All of this sounds terribly foreboding but is refreshingly resolved.
The Dark could be helpful with those ever common afraid of the dark childhood fears. But the way that the dark and Laszlo are presented with language and illustration is well worth the read for any age.
Sitting in front of the town's general store, Ms. Pettway explains to Alex why Belle the mule is allowed to browse freely in her garden. The mule is revered in the little farm town of Gee's Bend, Alabama, for her role in the civil rights movement. In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Gee’s Bend to speak, encouraging everyone assembled to register to vote. People from Gee’s Bend took the ferry to Camden across the river in order to register. Belle helped to convey citizens from Gee's Bend all the way around - the long way - after racist ferry operators closed the ferry to the people who wanted to register to vote.
Belle is especially revered in the town because she is one of the two mules that served to honor Dr. King's wish that mules from Gee's Bend pull the farm wagon that would hold his burial casket. King had visited Gee’s Bend on several occasions. Community members from Gee’s Bend traveled elsewhere to march in protest with him. Based on a true story, this picture book portrays one moment in the American civil rights movement. The story was passed on to the author by the Reverend James E. Orange, who worked with Dr. King and remembered his connection with the community of Gee’s Bend.
Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend
At the beginning of The Chamber in the Sky, the fourth and
final book in the Norembugan quartet, Brian and Gregory are lucky to be alive.
The Thusser horde have already colonized the minds of the inhabitants of the
Vermont subdivision where it all began after The Game of Sunken Places. Brian
and Gregory, along with their blue-blooded elfin companion Gwynyfer have to
find a travelling chamber that contains the off switch to the centuries-long
game if they hope to make it back to Vermont. M.T. Anderson is a fine
storyteller and funny. What a unique blend of laugh out loud moments along with
genuinely thrilling plot twists and turns. The four-part series will probably be
most enjoyed by 10 and ups.
The Chamber in the Sky