Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
We are living in a time when the use of the English language in writing is at a level that could use some improvement. Now comes Charles Harrington Elster with a book that “shows you how to navigate the hairpin turns of grammar, diction, spelling, and punctuation with an entertaining driver’s manual covering 350 common word hazards and infractions, arranged in order of complexity for writers of all levels.” The key word here is “entertaining.” It’s easy to become engrossed in the 350 “accidents.” Some examples are “Don’t write included with it,” “It’s a safe-deposit box, not a safety-deposit box,” and “It’s fall through the cracks, not fall between the cracks.” The book is nicely indexed and there’s even a quiz entitled “Are You Roadworthy?” I love the cover.
The accidents of style : good advice on how not to write badly
One of the recent popular directions in fiction is to vampire-ize or vamp-up the story line of a classic. Being curious, I decided to do some research to take a more in-depth look at some of the interesting titles in this subject area because I am always on the look-out for unique and quirky book titles. Why you wonder? Just chalk it up to my librarian’s bookish sense of humor.
We’ll begin with a few of the classics for you to enjoy such as Wuthering Bites and Little Vampire Women. Also included are Romeo & Juliet & Vampires, Shakespeare Undead, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. Ok, I know Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang isn’t a classic but the title just screams "read me"!
The vampire craze also infected children and teen books as well. Just take, for instance, Bunnicula the (supposedly) Vampire Rabbit, and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Don’t forget Sucks to be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampireas well as A Practical Guide to Vampires, and Eighth Grade Bites!
More titles jumped out at me like Dracula in Love, Dead and Dateless, Love Bites, and You Suck, a Love Story. Hmmm. I was beginning to notice another theme. Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, Fanged and Fabulous, and Hearts at Stake. Yep, I definitely found another theme.
I even found a holiday title All I Want for Christmas is a Vampire so I guess I have a lot of Late Night reading to sink my teeth into (sorry I just couldn’t help it), and you can too just by checking out these highlighted titles or the Library’s catalog for more vampire fiction. But don’t worry if all these titles suck the daylight out of you, you can always join The Reformed Vampire Support Group for therapy. Happy Reading!
The Undead Next Door
Do we move around more than prior generations of Americans? Are we less religious, more violent, and more indifferent to the needy? Are we more greedy and materialistic? Claude Fischer takes on these subjects and many more in Made in America: a Social History of American Culture and Character. You will be surprised by many of his findings and develop a more nuanced view of American history. I think one of the reasons we have such a different view of American history than what Fischer paints is that we have mostly heard about the upper classes and how they lived, rather than the majority of Americans.
Fischer's book is concise, which may leave you wondering how he can draw such big conclusions with so little evidence until you realize that there are 102 pages of notes and a 107 page "Work Cited" section at the end of the book. Plenty of information for those who want to look more into his conclusions.
Made In America
145 years after its original publication, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland still manages to mesmerize readers, artists, and more than a few directors. Alice was a childhood favorite of mine, and I’m happy to return to it as an adult for the Classics Revisited book club this month. KPL has many different incarnations of the book, including copies with the iconic John Tenniel illustrations, audio recordings of the book, and even an annotated version. We also have Disney’s classic movie and Tim Burton’s recent adaption (my favorite movie version, Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, is available via MeLCat).
You can join Classics Revisited on October 21st at 7pm to discuss Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. If Alice doesn’t interest you, take a look at our blog to see upcoming book selections and dates.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Austrian wunderkind Daniel Kehlmann’s latest title Fame: a novel in Nine Episodes is, as the title would suggest, a collection of nine separate yet interconnected stories that all address the absurdity, irony, and utter despair that goes hand in hand with being famous in our modern hyper-connected culture. In my favorite of the nine episodes entitled The Way Out, a film celebrity named Ralf Tanner seeks reprieve from his life in the limelight by impersonating an impersonator of himself only to find people telling him he’s not that good at impersonating Ralf Tanner and gradually finds himself somehow switched with the impersonator that he is impersonating who, it turns out, is better at being Ralf Tanner than the actual Ralf Tanner! Not all of the stories are this mind-binding, yet they all are just as intriguing and entertaining. Kehlmann’s work is translated from German and his previous novel Measuring the World (2006) is one of the biggest selling books in the German language ever.
Fame: a novel in nine episodes
Or, if he can’t, The Candymakers certainly can! Author Wendy Mass’ latest novel for upper elementary readers starts out like it might parallel Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that there are four children chosen to take part in a candy-creating/making contest at the Life is Sweet candy company. The four are a part of a larger group of thirty-two who will be competing for the best new candy created especially for the contest. So, gather ‘round and join Logan, Philip, Daisy, and Miles as they begin their creative endeavors.
On the surface, this appears to be just another story about four children who each want only one thing: to win the candy contest. About a third of the way into the story, the surface opens up and things really begin happening! Each of the four children brings with himself/herself a secret that, when exposed, will affect the outcome of the contest. Each also shares just a bit about family and past memories, which could also hurt their chances in the contest.
Wendy Mass weaves a tangled web of fantasy about children who are motivated by so many outside factors that they often don’t understand at all. Logan’s parents (owners of the candy factory) have hidden him away from prying eyes for about eight years. Philip’s father seems to stop at nothing to take over others’ businesses, all in the name of greed. Daisy’s family didn’t even tell her when her birthday is so that she won’t blow her cover! And, Miles? Miles is into the afterlife, and is allergic to a great many things, including chocolate chip pancakes.
I’m sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with winning a candy-making contest. Trust me! You will be drawn into this story quickly and you will take on the characteristics of each of the children as their part in this drama unfolds. While some of the surface-opening surprises are really surprises, there are a good many things that happen that the reader can figure out on his/her own. The ending chapters contain at least two “surprises” that I would never have thought of as I was reading this story.
Choose this for a “back to school” read-aloud for your 3rd-4th-5th grade classroom. Then, sit back, and enjoy some good old fashioned chocolate candy/toffee/gum/licorice or gum as you get drawn in to the world of the Candymaker.
There is no shortage of books about baking and I am a sucker for just about every one of them. My latest attraction is Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. If you go through the pastry program at the CIA, you end up with a deep understanding of how baking works, how ingredients behave under various conditions, how far you can push the limits. That knowledge lets conjure up all sorts of wonderful things.
Well, this book is rather like being a CIA student at home. There are recipes for yeast breads, quick breads, cookies, pies and cakes, plus custards and frozen desserts (what’s a good cake without ice cream)? Beautiful photos and easy to understand text will guide a cook to success.
Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America
Dinosaurs seem to be perpetually intriguing to kids, and here are three new picture books for children ages 3-8 that should appeal to dino fans who just can’t get enough about them.
Brontorina is born to dance and she dreams big. There’s only one problem- she’s a huge dinosaur, and is too big to fit into Madame Lucille’s ballet studio. She towers over the pint sized kids in class, and how can she find ballet slippers large enough, anyway? In James Howe’s book Brontorina, Madame Lucille decides that “The problem is not that you are too big. The problem is that my studio is too small.” In the final pictures of this charming story about acceptance and pursuing your dreams, Brontorina and the children pirouette and jump in Madame’s new open air studio.
Husband and wife duo Kate and Jim McMullan have another winner in I’m Big!, following others by them such as I Stink (a garbage truck with an attitude). In their newest tale, a gigantic sauropod gets separated from his pack and meets other varieties of dinos in his search, including some hungry carnivores. Using his wits, the creative sauropod eludes them, because as he says, “I’m a whole lotta lizard!” Large colorful illustrations add to the fun.
Wouldn’t it be fun to have a dinosaur guest at your birthday party? Erin thinks so, and she invites one, in Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex by Lisa McClatchy. Erin even offers the dino enticements such as an extra large cake, goody bags, and games. A T rex takes up a fair amount of space, however, and helping blow out the candles makes the frosting fly. A lot of the fun in this story is in the humorous pictures- an illustration of a puzzled pizza delivery person with 25 pizzas (with pepperoni for the meat eating T rex, of course) is great.
Our library staff are glad to help you find just the right book for children, whatever their interests may be! Come and check out our wide selection.
Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy living with his grandfather in Chicago, is at the center of this short book of connected stories. Showing the contemporary life of a young boy, the story is filled with challenges and successes as Ray and his grandpa go through their days.
Cynthia Leitich Smith will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar, which will be held Friday, November 5, 2010. This annual celebration of youth, books, and reading is now in its 33rd year.
If you’re an adult with an interest in children’s books, we’d love to see you at the Seminar! Cynthia Leitich Smith will also be our guest at a free program for families at the Central Library on Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m.
I was employed at Kalamazoo College in an earlier life so I was particularly interested to read Gail Griffin’s new book which chronicles the horrific deaths of two students on campus in 1999. Griffin’s extensive research introduces us to the people involved, the circumstances of their relationship, and most fascinatingly, the mixed reactions of the campus community during the aftermath.
Through interviews as well as police and campus records, Maggie Wardle and the student who shot her, Neenef Odah, become more than mere subjects in an investigation. I feel as if Maggie was someone I knew. It’s been several days since I finished the book, and indeed I find myself still digesting the story and—because I’m familiar with the campus and with many of the faculty and staff involved—reliving the pain, particularly as the 11th anniversary of the deaths approaches. Griffin, herself, is Parfet Distinguished Professor of English at the College, so her recounting is not wholly impersonal. She was there. And it is that fact that gives us the unique perspective into how the entire campus was affected during the months and years after.
Obviously, this is not an easy story to read, but it was both thought-provoking and fast-moving, and I didn’t want to miss a word.
“The Events of October:” Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus