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Staff Picks: Books

Studio: creative spaces for creative people

Studio: creative spaces for creative people by Sally Coulthard takes you into the studios of dozens of artists and makers. Providing the reader with inspiration and motivation for creating a productive studio space of their own, Studio is full of photographs of the beautiful and interesting workspaces of visual artists, woodworkers, textile artists and more. If you dream of carving out a creative space to explore your artistic thoughts completely and need inspiration, or wish to improve your current studio space to better suit your needs, or just like to look at visually interesting productive spaces – this book is for you. This book would also make a great holiday gift for any creative person on your list.


The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty

Growing up in the subtropical Hong Kong, I had never seen snow in my life before I came to the U.S., and I thought snowflakes were only people’s romantic imaginations for winter.

Then one cold winter morning in Utah, when I was walking to campus, I saw these tiny dusts falling down from the sky. When I looked closer as they fell on my gloves, they were REAL snowflakes!! They were so tiny, yet so sophisticated and beautiful.

This book has included a lot of gorgeous snow crystal photographs and diagrams to show the science behind the formation of a snow crystal. The author Kenneth Libbrecht is a professor of physics at Caltech. I love how he said about his study of snowflakes, “my flaky studies are not driven by practical applications. Instead my motivation is scientific curiosity.” Hence, a whole book dedicated to the beautiful snowflakes!


It's All a Game

Subtitled The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, this 2017 book is a 'colorful and entertaining history of board games that provides a fascinating look into what board games can teach us about ourselves.'  Included are histories and analyses of board games such as chess, backgammon, The Game of Life, Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, the plastic games (Mouse Trap and Operation), and Trivial Pursuit. The subheading of the chapter on Monopoly says, 'How Monopoly went from anti-landlord tirade to celebration of cutthroat capitalism.' The chapter on Clue tells how 'Clue's very British murders created a world of armchair sleuths.' In discussing modern board games, author Tristan Donovan also writes about 'how Germany revitalized board gaming for the twenty-first century.' This is another book that doesn't necessarily need to be read straight through to be enjoyed. I love the dedicatory note in the front: 'To my sister Jade, the queen of overturned Monopoly boards.'


If the Creek don't Rise

This novel is a first for Leah Weiss. You’d never know it. Her words flow like syrup warmed in the sun. I felt like I was there on the mountain, hiding on a tree limb, spying on each character and watching the next person come round the bend.

There are some mean people in this story. Weiss doesn’t just let us hate them, though, and leave it at that. Oh no, some of them get a whole chapter to tell their part of the story and their experience of life on the mountain. By the time they’re through, we see the world through their eyes and get why they’re so hateful. There are no simple answers and no clear-cut ‘who’s right’ and ‘who’s wrong’ to this novel. If you’re looking for that, find a different book. But I suggest you decide to just take it all in and be carried along by Weiss’ lyrical story telling and her very human characters.

I put this title on my Best of 2017 list. Watch for all our staff year-end ‘Best of’ suggestions online soon. In the meanwhile, come down to Central and check out the Best of 2017 physical display for some great reading ideas.


Little Monster Gets the Last Laugh

Little Monster wants to be in a scary story, but finds the dark forest, spooky house, and creepy witch too scary.  He doesn't want to be scared.  He wants to do the scaring.  However, that doesn't work out as planned.  The comical back and forth between a narrator and Little Monster makes Sean Taylor's I Want to Be in a Scary Story a great read aloud.


One Nation Under God...

Pat Mora teamed up with her daughter, Libby Martinez, to write I Pledge Allegiance. It’s about a young Libby’s great aunt, Lobo (lobo means wolf in Spanish). Lobo will say the Pledge Allegiance and become a citizen soon and everyone is excited about it, especially Libby. Libby will lead her class in the pledge also so they prepare together. 

Cute story! Read it and enjoy!


Far From the Tree(2)

I can't say enough good things about Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. This book was the 2017 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature, an award given through the National Book Foundation in November of each year. In this complex story about family dynamics, adoption, love, and more, teenagers Grace, Maya, and Joaquin discover they are biological siblings. As they get to know each other, the reader watches their individual lives unfold and their definitions of family expand. I completely agree with the NBA judges' citation. This book is "uplifting and big-hearted". 

This year's Young People's Literature longlist also includes authors who've visited Kalamazoo Public Library in the past, like Mitali Perkins just recently in 2017, and Jason Reynolds in 2015 and 2016. The whole list is here.  

The National Book Award list is one of my favorite "Best of" lists each year. I mean, other than the KPL "Best of" lists. The entire list is impressive and the winners are chosen by a committee of book industry experts and established authors who work all year long, reading and critiquing books to find the best of the best in each category. You might recognize some big Young Adult author names from this list of judges: Meg Medina (Chair), Brendan Kiely, Kekla Magoon, Alex Sanchez. 


A Garden of Forgiveness for Peace(1)

This parable was inspired by the garden of forgiveness in Lebanon and Beirut. Lauren Thompson created this story with a young girl teaching the villagers about forgiveness. It’s about 2 villages that never knew peace and raised their children to hate each other. One day one wounded child looked to the other side and realized their enemies were as afraid of her people as they were of them. She was tired of the fear and anger. She encouraged the villagers on both sides to instead of throwing rocks at each other to build a garden together.


ELEPHANTINE BABY STEPS

This is a truly captivating book by acclaimed author and illustrator Katherine Roy who had previously written the very well received tome "Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands". Titled How to be an Elephant:Growing Up in the African Wild, this volume focuses on the anatomy, environment, family life and survival skills of a newly born elephant as she matures and becomes part of her herd. Roy vividly captures the way that these 7,000-pound giants live in the African savanna concentrating on the challenges that they face throughout their lifespans.

The accompanying large , earth-tone illustrations are stunning, and show the stages of elephant development, their bone structure, keen sense of smell, their very utilitarian trunks, their use of sounds to communicate, how they cool their bodies in hot weather, as well as several other fascinating elephant facts. These pictures are dynamic in their depiction of real elephant life, making them a wonderful, integral part of this book.

this title would be a great and meaningful addition to any library collection that serves early to middle elementary school kids. It would also be a great read for animal lovers of any age.


Autumn

Autumn is one of four seasons--portions of the year which are distinguished from each other by particular characteristics of daylight, temperature, and weather. In autumn, the whole world seems to be preparing for restor death. The days grow shorter, the temperature cools, and plants and animals prepare for the cold months of winter. Wild animals migrate to warmer places or take on calories and build warm shelters, deciduous trees drop their leaves to conserve energy, and humans, who in this country call autumn “fall,” get out their warm clothes, turn on the furnace, and rake the fallen leaves from their yards.

Autumn is also a book by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, and the above paragraph is a feeble attempt to imitate his writing style. Autumn is a collection of short essays on a curious variety of topics: apples, plastic bags, infants, fever, lice, churches, dawn, and chimneys, to name a few. Most of the pieces consider natural and man-made things or physical experiences, but a few discuss more abstract concepts like loneliness and forgiveness or the works of particular writers or artists.

These pieces are presented as Knausgaard’s introduction to the world for his unborn daughter, and according to the book jacket, it is "the first of four volumes marveling at the vast, unknowable universe around us." Each piece describes its topic in precise details which I, for one, rarely ever think about. Some of Knausgaard’s observations are quite frank and disturbingly graphic, yet each piece eventually moves beyond concrete facts to the strange ways we relate to the thing being considered. For example, Knausgaard concludes an essay called "Vomit" (of which I confess I skimmed the beginning description) with a memory of a time when one of his children vomited, like this:

"… but it was neither disgusting or uncomfortable, on the contrary I found it refreshing. The reason was simple: I loved her, and the force of that love allows nothing to stand in its way, neither the ugly, nor the unpleasant, nor the disgusting, nor the horrific."

With his keen attention and the connections he makes between the mundane and the deeply personal, Knausgaard shows the very familiar things that make up daily life in a fresh and vivid light, in the same way that the world can look brand new just after an autumn rain.