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Staff Picks: Books

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.

Heating & Cooling

I like a book I can read in an hour—it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. But admire Beth Ann Fennelly's Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs so much I read it twice. As the subtitle suggests, it's a collection of very short memoir pieces, many shorter than this post, covering a range of subjects from childhood memories to snapshots of marriage and parenthood to seemingly trivial incidents from her life. She probes these small events with curiosity and close attention, infusing them with significance. Recurrent themes include grief, faith, and intimacy. Several pieces address the nature of memory as Fennelly questions the attitudes and perspectives of her memories of certain events. 

Heating & Cooling is a good, quick, summer read that is a refreshing new take on memoir and also very funny.

Did you hear about the man who fell through his harp?

I don’t know what I could tell you about the plot of Contrary Motion that might make you want to read it. Newly divorced, neurotic, almost good enough to be a big city orchestra concert harpist Matthew Grzbc (No, I did not forget a vowel.) is the star of this one. Do I have you yet? 

Contrary motion refers to a technique in harp playing where the hands move in opposite directions on the scale.  That isn't working either?

Well, I picked it up because the author, Andy Mozina, is a professor of English at Kalamazoo College and I thought I would see what one of our neighbors is writing. Before I could even get to it, my wife grabbed it and read it in a couple of days. She loved it. I did too. Great writing can you draw you into any kind of story. Give Mozina’s funny, quirky, and poignant novel a try.


The author of "Box Turtle"  is John Himmelman, an award -winning author and illustrator  of over 80 books! He also happens to be a naturalist who has traveled throughout both North and South America studying wildlife.

This book is beautifully illustrated with colorful depictions of a box turtle and her journey which begins in a New England forest in 1892. With the passage of time the little turtle's forest home is invaded by newly built houses and cars driving on a dirt road. One of these cars slightly damages her shell. Despite the injury, the turtle survives and becomes a pet for a young boy who before entering college releases the turtle back into the woods.

Box turtles live on land, not in ponds or water and should never be considered for pets.The Eastern box turtle can live anywhere from 40 to well over 100 years in age. Supposedly, the oldest living box turtle on record was believed to be about 145 years old!

This is a great book for kids with a valuable conservation message.

An Excess Male

An article in my news feed detailed how, because of the One Child Policy, males vastly outnumber females in China. "An Excess Male" is a dystopian novel that isn't that much of a stretch as what could happen. As is a reality in China, males are competing to get a wife. Though in this novel, a woman can have up to three husbands, and the main family has decided to go to the max. This book details how an unconventional family try to get along with each other and somehow still fit into society. Each of them faces personal difficulties that threaten to tear the family apart. 

I was impressed that this is Maggie Shen King's debut novel. I grew to love each of the characters, and laughed and grew frustrated with them. The conclusion, while a bit open ended, left me wanting a sequel. I wanted to know what happened next, and I am left letting my imagination run wild with the possibilities!

Spy of the First Person

The playwright and actor Sam Shepard died of complications from ALS last year. He leaves behind a final work, composed and transcribed with the assistance of family and friends. Spy of the First Person is both bleak and poetic. The slim novella is stripped of adornment, the prose is spare and haunting, and its themes are familiar to Shepard’s previous work. Not surprisingly, the story echoes the truth of the author’s predicament, even as the disease is only referenced obliquely. Echoing the somber, minimalist work of Samuel Beckett, Shepard’s swan song is the culmination of a cryptic voice, one that confronts its mortality through the expression of the fragments of life lived, seen and ended.

Secret Marvels of the World

This is another of Lonely Planet's publications, and it describes, as indicated in the subtitle, 360 Extraordinary Places You Never Knew Existed and How to Find Them. Most of the places in this book I 'never knew existed,' but I'm not so sure I would want to know 'how to find' some of them. I did enjoy paging through this book, learning about pink lakes in Senegal and Australia; The Karoo in South Africa, where one can see a giant South African flag the size of 66 soccer fields; the Billionth Barrel Monument in Brunei, which celebrates a milestone in oil drilling; and Tashirojima, Japan, which is an island on which cats outnumber humans six to one. There are American sites as well, such as the Lunchbox Museum In Columbus, Georgia; Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska, which has non-working automobiles set up like Stonehenge; and the world's largest maze on the Dole Pineapple Plantation, about 40 minutes from Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. All in all, this is a fun volume to explore.

Friendly Greetings to All

A recent addition to KPL's Je Nature category is Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel, who previously authored They All Saw a Cat. In this outing, Brendan introduces us to black and white cats, then zebras, panda bears and colorful parrots, fish, tigers, lizards, etc. The list goes on and on.

The idea is that a world to see is a world to know and that knowledge usually begins with a friendly greeting of Hello Hello.

With rhythmic text, exuberant art and an important message relating to conservation and protecting our diverse planet, each of these encounters celebrates nature's differences and yet marvels at its wonderful similarities. It also makes a point to mention that many of the animals depicted in the colorful illustrations happen to be threatened or endangered.

A worthwhile addition to any picture book collection and especially recommended for kids 3 to 6 years of age.