Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Thomas and the Dragon Queen

When the kingdom is at war and the princess must be rescued, but all the knights are at the far-off Borderlands, to whom does the King turn? He turns to Thomas. Thomas, the very newest knight. Thomas, the very shortest knight. Thomas, who has a donkey, a vest made by his Da, and a very short sword.

Thomas may be small, but his bravery and determination lead him to the princess and back home again.

Ann Arbor author Shutta Crum has created a great family read-aloud story in Thomas and the Dragon Queen.


Thomas and the Dragon Queen

Bury Your Dead

One of the best mysteries I’ve read this year is Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. If you haven’t happened across this series about Inspector Gamache, you have some good reading ahead.

This rich telling skillfully weaves several story lines together. Chief Inspector Gamache, of the Sûreté du Quebec, is recuperating both physically and mentally from a recent case, while staying with an old friend and mentor in Quebec City. Soon Gamache is drawn into the murder of an archeologist, who was searching for the remains of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec. Ironically, the man was discovered in an English language library, one of the last bastions of the English speaking minority in the city. At the same time, Gamache is concerned that the wrong man from a previous case may have been wrongly incarcerated, and sends one of his best inspectors to the small village of Three Pines to investigate. (Three Pines and its residents have figured into previous novels in the series.)

Author Penny has managed to juggle all the story lines into a very cohesive whole, with believable characters and well defined settings. I would love to visit Quebec City after reading this book (though maybe in the summer months!) A note to potential readers: if you first read the preceding fifth book in the series, A Brutal Telling, you will understand and appreciate this most recent one even more.


Bury Your Dead

Librarian on the Roof!

Ms. RoseAleta Laurell is one determined librarian who decided to raise money for children’s library services at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart, Texas. For an entire week in the year 2000 she lived on the library rooftop of the oldest library in the state of Texas. When she began her new position as library director, she noticed there were no children in the library… the children said it was for “grown-ups.” RoseAleta exclaimed: “We need more books—picture books, mystery books, adventure books! We need tables just the right size. Comfy chairs. Colorful artwork. And computers. Lots of families around here can’t afford computers.” RoseAleta wrote letters asking for donations for the children’s area, but got no money.

Onward and Upward! RoseAleta ascended to the library rooftop via an electric company bucket, supplied with a tent, a bullhorn, a laptop, two cell phones and a slingshot. She blew kisses and threw water balloons at the dancing children, the high school band played, and, politicians ordered her down, and finally the townspeople noticed! RoseAleta even survived a terribly cold and windy rainstorm that nearly blew her off the roof! Was RoseAleta Laurell’s rooftop fundraiser successful? Did she raise enough money for the Children’s Section? You’ll find out when you read the book: Librarian on the Roof!; a true story by M. G. King.


Librarian on the roof!; a true story

East of Eden

I keep informed about new books and best sellers as part of my job as a librarian, but I have a tendency to read a lot of classic literature.  My favorite classic read this year is East of Eden.  I devoured a number of books by Steinbeck when I was a teenager, but never got around to East of Eden.  After about eight to ten years without reading any of his work, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed his writing as much as I did in high school.  East of Eden is an epic masterpiece that explores the dichotomy of good and bad innate in every human being.  Set mainly in the beginning of the 20th century, the story follows the lives of the Trask and Hamilton families as they try to live the American dream.  Steinbeck’s characters are based on archetypes that are thousands of years old, yet his book perfectly captures the innovation, chutzpah, and greed driving the American spirit.   This book, or any novel by Steinbeck, is perfect if you’re in the mood for a classic.


East of Eden

Let My People Go

 I recently enjoyed listening to Bruce Feiler's audiobook America's Prophet:  Moses and the American Storyas I commuted back and forth from work.  Many times I wished I was reading it, because there were so many great quotes I wanted to right down.  Feiler uncovers the great influence the story of Moses and ideas from what we call the books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible have had all through the history of the United States.

Feiler finds it fascinating that this story of an oppressed people rising up to liberate themselves has resonated with and provided the inspiration for multiple, disparate groups in the United States from Revolutionary War leaders to African-American slaves to leaders of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements.

A particularly interesting chapter details how abolitionists and those who defended slavery, both used the words of Moses to justify their actions. 

Feiler also points out Moses' connection to the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, and the Supreme Court along with interesting tidbits about Cecil B. DeMille's movie The Ten Commandments.

One thing I hadn't given much thought to was that part of Moses' story is that he never makes it to the Promised Land.  Feiler argues that this part of the story is powerful right along with the liberation story, because it reminds people that it may take several leaders, several generations before the Promised Land is reached.  A loss of a powerful leader does not mean the end of a movement. 

If you are interested in U.S. history or religious history, I highly recommend this insightful and powerful book.


America's Prophet
Steve S

Digital Dickens

Suddenly eBooks, and the associated devices that display them, seem to be everywhere, in the media and on the minds of many avid readers and the holiday gift givers who love them. As the way we think about books changes, KPL’s services to readers will change as well, but always with a focus on providing the titles that our community are interested in, no matter the format. To that end, I want to be sure our digital book reading patrons know that KPL has literally thousands of ebook titles available for checkout and download. From high demand bestsellers that can be placed on hold using your library card to public domain titles that are always available, the KPL eBooks webpage is sure to guide you to something you will enjoy reading as well as explain the service to those new to eBooks. There is something slightly incongruent to me about reading classic literature on an ebook reader, but that is exactly what I will be doing this holiday as I reread A Christmas Carol for the first time on a KPL Sony Reader. I have been reluctant to embrace the eBook experience, but as Mr. Dickens said himself: “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”


A Christmas Carol

Bugs and Bugsicles

Have you ever wondered where insects go in the winter time? I sure have. While insects are typically out of sight and out of mind in the winter, they must get through the winter somehow, right? Bugs and Bugsicles is a wonderful new picture book format non-fiction title about the ways that Monarch Butterflies, Praying Mantises, Field Crickets, Lady Bugs, Dragonflies, Honeybees, Pavement Ants, and Arctic Wooly Bear Caterpillars manage to get through the winter - or to make sure their offspring do. While many insects have common strategies, huddling together in a mass to stay warm works well, the book shows other often surprising ways that insects keep it going throughout the seasons.

Explore the variety of children's non-fiction books at Kalamazoo Public Library as read-aloud choices for beginning readers or as entertaining and informative reads for older kids. My five year old daughter and I both enjoyed Bugs and Bugsicles. Now we know where some insects go in the winter.


Bugs and Bugsicles

Lunch Lady to the Rescue!

My 7 year old son Hayden and I are having a great time reading Jarrett Krosoczka's series of graphic novels about an unlikely superhero:  the Lunch Lady.  Using all sorts of gadgets like taco-vision night goggles, a spork phone, and a spatula helicopter created by her lunch lady sidekick Betty, she foils the evil plans of school librarians, cyborg substitutes, and visiting authors.  Lunch Lady breaks out with one of our favorite quotes while taking on a cyborg army, "Should I serve up some whaaamburgers and cries?" 

Hayden is a little behind in his reading skills and these have been great books for him to read to me and get some practice. 


Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
Steve S

Depression: discovered or manufactured?

The title of this book sounds offensive - oh, so depression isn't real? - but it turns out to be more balanced and wide-ranging in scope. The author believes that depression is real, but over-diagnosed; and that drug companies shouldn't have a monopoly on how it is treated. His perspective is from a practicing therapist (psychotherapy), a depressed person (which constantly shows in his writing), and the viewpoint that human suffering has an important existential meaning, something connected to our life that we should understand.

The book can be appreciated on many different levels. The little scientific stories about how diseases and drugs are stumbled upon are fascinating. The medical jargon and disputes were, for me, too technical and repetitive. The personal stories are, well, depressing. But the core philosophical issues that Greenberg raises are engaging. He argues that the "depression doctors," as he calls them, cannot disentangle their drug-philosophy from the worldview that it stands upon, which goes way back in the history of thought; that we are nothing more than the "sum of our parts," bundles of neurons and chemicals that require other chemicals to be cured; that the mind, apart from the brain, has no power (if it exists at all). That depression, in other words, is completely out of our control. Greenberg struggles, lashes out, hates, appreciates, and almost accepts this view at various points in the book.


Manufacturing Depression

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

 Happy Birthday to Jane Austen, one of my favorite British novelists. Born December 16, 1775 she is a popular as ever. Austen was the seventh child of clergyman George Austen and his wife Georgia, and was very close with her family which was considered part of the lower gentry society. She began writing short satirical, comical stories called juvenilia in her youth. Her serious writing began in her twenties. She tragically died at the young age of 41 and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Austen’s works are elegant, witty, romantic realism and often contain a biting social commentary. Although she was not well known in her lifetime, she is an important historical literary figure. Her now well known works have been much studied by scholars and critics, and enjoyed by all. Take the time to revisit one of your favorite Austen titles this month and enjoy a true classic literary gift. Happy Reading!
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” Pride and Prejudice, 1811.


The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen
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