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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 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.



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.

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.

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.

You're Safe With Me

As soon as I saw You're Safe With Me, by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry, I wanted to tell you all about it. In this brand new Grow neighborhood book, Mama Elephant comforts the young animals of the forest through a scary storm. She soothes their fears about the rain, lightning, thunder, and wind. The unique and beautiful illustrations will awe readers of all ages. The art alone will make you want to take this book home with you and the sweet, simple story makes for a calming read.


Dumplin', by Julie Murphy, is a teen novel set in small town Texas starring Willowdean Dickson. Willowdean is fat. But she's fine with it-or is she? She seems fine with it until she starts dating, then all these new feelings muddle her confidence. Her mother, former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant winner and current pageant coordinator, doesn't make Willowdean feel any better about herself. The struggling adolescent eventually decides to join the pageant to prove to herself and to everyone else that just because she doesn't look like their perception of a beauty queen, it doesn't mean she shouldn't compete alongside everyone else. Moreover, she doesn't have to do anything extra to "earn" life's joys; she doesn't have to compensate for anything; she doesn't owe anything to anybody.

The parts of Dumplin' I liked most had nothing to do with the pageant; I enjoyed following Willowdean's experiences with life challenges: mourning her aunt, navigating romantic relationships and friendships old and new, and reaching an understanding with her mother. Kick back, relax, and ride along with Willowdean before the movie comes out this year.

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.

Shade, the Changing Girl

 Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in? Like everyone else is doing a great job at life, and you’re just trying to make sure you don’t look like a fish out of water? Well amplify that feeling by a thousand, and you’ll understand what it’s like for Loma Shade. Bored with her life on the planet Meta, Loma steals the “madness coat” that belonged to her hero and poet Rac Shade and uses it to take over the body of a high school mean girl and experience life on earth.


But they don’t call it the madness coat for nothing. Loma’s struggling to get a grip on her new life, all of the feelings that come with the teenage experience, and reality itself. Each frame bursts off the page in psychedelic whimsy while the story itself stays grounded with award winning YA author Cecil Castellucci’s sardonic wit.  

Shade the Changing Girl is wonderfully weird, and available to check out today.