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Staff Picks: Books

The Inquisitor's Tale

 Set in 1242 France, this is not your usual novel for children, but oh, is it remarkable!  Told through the stories of various people, gathered at an inn, the adventures unfold with delight, dismay, and despair.  The Inquisitor’s Tale: or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog is a literary gift for readers.



She Stood for Freedom

"You can never go wrong by doing what is right. It might not be easy, but it is always right," said Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. She Stood for Freedom is the story of a little-known Civil Rights Hero. Born in 1941, Joan was raised in the segregated southern United States. Because of the different ways that they had been socialized, Joan's parents disagreed with each other about segregation. Joan began college at Duke University, her mother's choice. At that time, Duke University was a segregated school - black students weren't allowed to attend. Even so, at this all white institution, some students of conscience including Joan began to connect with black students at other colleges and to help with the civil rights movement in the south.

Joan went on to participate in sit-ins and other demonstrations against businesses and institutions that discriminated against people because of race. After a Freedom Riders bus was bombed in May, 1961, she joined the Freedom Rides movement protesting discrimination in interstate travel. For these actions, Joan and others who had traveled to Mississippi to help were arrested and was imprisoned at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. When she was released, she remained in Mississippi where she was admitted to attend Tougaloo College. Unlike segregated Duke University, Tougaloo was a primarily-black school. Because Tougaloo was the rare place in Mississippi where people could gather together regardless of the color of their skin, it was an institution that provided a venue for writers, musicians, and speakers who were also involved in the civil rights movement.

The brutality that Joan and to a greater extent many of her compatriots experienced at a sit-in at a lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi, is documented in photographs from those events and others. The book includes other primary sources including a letter from the Superintendent of Parchman Penitentiary to Joan’s parents that reflects the institutional racism in the prison system. A younger readers’ picture book edition tells the story without as many details or primary sources. It seems like it would have been easy for Joan, with her privileged background, to step back from doing what she knew was right. She continued down a path of non-violent organizing and action that helped in the passage of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Joan went on to raise a family and to work as a teacher’s assistant in Virginia. Her son, Loki Mulholland, is a filmmaker and wrote this biography. His film, An Ordinary Hero, tells his mother's story and is featured at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Walking Through a World of Aromas

While preparing for a presentation on diversity in children's literature, I came across Walking through a world of aromas by Ariel Andres Almada.  What a delightful book.  It tells the story of Annie, a young girl that is vision-impaired.  Annie learns to overcome many obstacles and develops an ability to "smell" a world that she cannot see.  I am particularly impressed with the powerful, yet mellow illustrations.  This is a definite must read for preschoolers and early elementary school readers.


 Kwame Alexander has written another beautiful novel-in-verse about boys and sports.  It’s funny, sporty, literary, and full of middle school emotion.   Booked is a quick read, but you’ll want to savor this one. 



The Seventh Wish

A banned book just makes me want to check it out. Earlier this year, a Vermont school uninvited beloved children's book author, Kate Messner, from a planned visit due to the content in her latest book, The Seventh Wish . Honestly, I might have missed this gem of a story, had it not been in the news for this reason. But I'm so glad I didn't because it's an important story and a good read. 

The Seventh Wish is about so many things, including Irish dancing, ice fishing, middle school friendships, and the love of a close-knit family. It's also about opiod addiction. In the story, the main character's older sister struggles with drug use and eventually leaves college to go to rehab for her addiction. In the midst of the rest of the main character's life, the effects of addiction on each member of the family are explored. This was, of course, this part of the book that caused it to be censored earlier this year. You can read some of the author's thoughts and details on this summer's events here

Don’t Ban Heather and her Family!

Heather has two arms, two legs, two pets and two mommies. There is a lot of love in her home, but when Heather goes to school, she worries maybe she’s the only child without a daddy. The teacher helps all the students learn that each family has their own special combination of people and that “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.”

Leslea Newman self-published Heather has two Mommies in 1989. It’s been re-published many times since. This most recent version, published in 2015, is the best in my opinion. The pictures make all the difference! Laura Cornell’s watercolor illustrations add color and many comic touches to the story.

For example, when Mama Kate, the doctor, and Heather listen to each other’s heartbeats with stethoscopes, the two pets participate. Kitty Gingersnap is comfortably plopped on Mama Kate’s medical bag, and Midnight, the dog, leans in with her ear flopped over Mama Kate’s knee. The band-aids on Mama’s knee--stuck to the outside of her blue jeans--and at various spots on the sofa, as well as the purple lily attached to Heather’s hair are all chuckle-worthy. Gingersnap and Midnight appear some special place in every home scene, helping out -- mixing cookie batter and ‘cleaning’ the floor-- or just hanging out. (Look for them on the bed at storytime.) The school scenes are just as precious. This is a picture book, after all, and the pictures draw the reader in.

Heather has two Mommies was one of the most challenged books in the 1990’s, because it doesn’t represent some people’s beliefs about what a family should look like. The book endured over time, regardless of efforts to ban it. All kids benefit from seeing themselves and their family lives represented in story and pictures. Children can learn to embrace diversity by reading about all kinds of families and other children.

Hispanic Heritage Month

I am a huge fan of the award winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month I submit these two excellent picks by this author.

The Princess and the Warrior is a re-telling of one of Mexico’s most cherished legends. It is the story of unlikely love between a princess and a lowly warrior. The king issues a challenge to the brave warrior: defeat their enemy Jaguar Claw. Will they end up together? Find out.

My other pick is Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. This is the history of the Day of the Dead Calaveras. Calaveras are those skeletons dressed as ladies called Catrinas, and other characters that you see around the time of the Day of the Dead. The library will be hosting programs for the Day of the Dead at many locations. Check our LINK.

If you’re interested in a jump start on the history of the artist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) who made the skeleton images an indelible part of these celebrations, you’ll enjoy this book.

The Upside Down Boy - El niño de cabeza

In The Upside Down Boy - El niño de cabeza, United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera tells the story, in verse, of a pivotal time in his childhood when his mother and father moved their family to the city so that he could attend school. He tells the story of how his third grade teacher, Mrs. Sampson, invited him to the front of the class to sing a song. He sang “Three Blind Mice” and Mrs. Sampson told him “You have a very beautiful voice”.  The book is dedicated to Mrs. Lucille Sampson, Herrera’s third grade teacher, who, at age 95, was present at the Library of Congress when Herrera was inaugurated as the United States Poet Laureate in 2015. You can hear Herrera tell this story in front of an audience at the Kansas City Public Library on New Letters On the Air.

Juan Felipe Herrera’s Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes is a Pura Belpré author honor book.

B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy)

While working in the chapter books collection of the Children’s Room, B.U.G (Big Ugly Guy), a middle grade chapter book by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, caught my attention. Sammy Greenburg gets bullied (a lot) because he stands up for other kids. When a new 6th grader, John “Skink” Skinner, comes to Sammy's aid, they are fast friends - in part because both are musicians and they both love words. Sammy plays clarinet and Skink plays guitar. Sammy introduces his friend to klezmer music and they aspire to start a band with their friend Julia on violin. The plot thickens when Sammy decides to make a golem, the mythical, hulking, protecting colossus of Jewish folklore, out of his father’s pottery clay. And, of course, that’s how they get a drummer for their nascent klez/punk band. It’s pretty cool to find a middle-grade novel with references to The Klezmatics and even a brief explication of some klez scale patterns. There are inevitable problems when building your own golem to vanquish school yard bullies. You’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends.


Unveiling The Cloud Forest Dwelling Olinguito

Olinguito, from A to Z! by Lulu Delacre is an award winning alphabet book written in both Spanish and English. It takes the reader on a journey accompanying an intrepid zoologist searching out the elusive olinguito. An olinguito is a mammal recently discovered to be a separate species. Related to the raccoon, olinguitos live exclusively in the cloud forests of Ecuador.

This beautifully illustrated volume features the many plants and animals who call the cloud forest their home. It also includes the author's notes about the real discovery of the olinguito, as well as additional information about the cloud forest, how the illustrations came to be, on being an explorer, and a glossary of the various cloud forest plants and animals(with their Spanish pronunciations).As an added bonus, there is a built-in puzzle/game that will have younger readers going back to play more than once.

Very creative and truly Magnifico!