Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Some Assembly Required

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers. She brings humor and grace to so many of the hardest things in life. Her voice has challenged me and made me laugh out loud throughout the years but never more than when reading her newest book Some Assembly Required:a journal of my son's first son. It is a beautiful look at the first year of parenting from an overly involved grandmother's perspective and it is co-written with Anne's son, Sam. I found it both poignant and heartwarming. Many quotes were hastily scribbled down to remember and share with others. Parenting is tough and parents are imperfect people wanting to do the absolute best they can for their children. Some Assembly Required reminds us that it truly does take a village and nobody is perfect. This newest book is a follow-up to Operating Instructions, Anne's journal of her son's first year. Another great book full of Anne's characteristic humerous and vulnerable writing.


Some Assembly Required

A New Offering of Children’s Books

Dogs—big ones, small ones: the varieties are nearly endless. A new offering of children’s books here at the library about dogs provides something for almost any child who wants a story about canines.

Middle grade readers who like funny mysteries will enjoy The Trouble with Chickens: a J.J. Tully Mystery by Doreen Cronin. J.J. is a former search and rescue dog, so he’s not very impressed when two chicks named Dirt and Sugar, and their chicken mom, ask for J.J.’s help in tracking down their missing siblings. They offer J.J. a cheeseburger if he will help. What dog could resist such an offer? This is the first in a new series by Cronin, author of Diary of a Worm, a best-selling picture book.

Little Dog, Lost is the story of a small town, a boy named Mark who wanted a dog, and Buddy, a dog who had lost her way. Newbery Honor award winning author Marion Dane Bauer has written a satisfying chapter book story with evocative illustrations that will appeal to children. This would also make a good read-aloud story.

Switching gears a little, Stay; the True Story of Ten Dogs tells the true story of Luciano Anastasini, who works for a circus. His family have been circus performers for generations, and when an accident means he can no longer work as an acrobat, Luciano has the idea of developing an act with dogs. But he chooses dogs from the pound, the ones nobody else wants. In the book’s introduction, author Kate DiCamillo says. “It is a story of second chances, belief and love. Mostly, though, it is a story of the miracles that can occur when we (dog or human) are extended the grace of being well and truly seen by another.” Wonderful photographs showcase the personalities of Luciano and his talented dogs.



The Trouble with Chickens: a J.J. Tully Mystery


I watched the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart interview author and dog lover Maria Goodavage about her latest book entitled Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes which was published last March, and I immediately put it on my must read list. By the way, MWD is the acronym for Military Working Dog.

Throughout history, dogs have been used in numerous martial roles: Attacking enemies, protecting fighters, as well as alerting soldiers when they detect danger. They have also been deployed as trackers, messengers and first aid deliverers, especially in high risk areas where humans would more likely than not be able to get through. But today their most common job is to sniff out explosives.

This book is an engaging account of the dedicated canines who play significant roles in our military’s efforts both past and current. While the exploits of military working dogs have been documented in earlier war efforts, much of the information in this volume concentrates on the hostilities in Afghanistan. In 2010, working dog teams in that country were credited with finding more than 12,500 lbs. of explosives. Current figures show that the Department of Defense has some 2,700 U.S. military working dogs in service throughout the world, with about 600 found in actual warzones.

Ironically, MWDs are classified as equipment by the Department of Defense. It’s a designation that fell upon military dogs after the Second World War, when the military started purchasing canines. Of course handlers see their dogs as anything but equipment. Handlers put their lives on the line for their devoted canine companions, and the reverse is also true. A common refrain among handlers who have been deployed is “war would have been hell without my dog.” Dogs and their soldier counterparts spend almost every minute together. Handlers and their canines eat, sleep, play and work together. As a result it’s not surprising that extremely close bonds are formed. Some soldiers feel so close to their dogs they have even shared their honorary medals with them, and many make a point of adopting their dogs when they return home.


So the military’s practice of categorizing soldier dogs as mere equipment seems odd, out of touch and somewhat heartless. After all, these animals are hard working and vibrant partners who should be treated with respect, kindness, and love, all of which their soldier handlers freely lavish upon them.

Many of the dogs used by the armed forces are German Shepherds and Belgium Malinois, although other breeds are also occasionally drafted. I can especially appreciate the use of German Shepherds. My step mother-in-law used to breed these very disciplined canines. They are highly intelligent, aggressive and have a keen sense of responsibility and devotion to owner and family. They are natural protectors and enjoy having a job to do, which makes them highly suitable for military purposes.

This book is written in an easygoing style which relies heavily on first hand accounts, observations and quotes from those involved with MWDs. It also chronicles the stories of soldiers whose dogs did not come home, dying at the hands of the enemy; an all too common and heartbreaking reality of this world.

Over the years MWDs have become an invaluable part of the complete modern army. As former Four Star General and current CIA Director, David Petraeus put it: ”The capacity they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine.”

So here is a salute and a heartfelt thank you to our military and their canine heroes!

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Maria Goodavage
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes

Another Anniversary!

Last month I wrote about a 60th anniversary, that of the classic 1950s TV show starring Lucille Ball. Now I'm writing about another 60th anniversary, that of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. There has been a lot of news coverage of this, probably due in no small part to the fact that only Victoria reigned longer. This book caught my attention when I saw its author in two separate interviews on the cable news channels. Sally Bedell Smith clearly admires the queen, and I was impressed when I found out that Elizabeth has an 80% approval in the UK. Is there anyone in the USA who can approach that? KPL has this 2012 book in five formats: digital audiobook, e-book, large type, compact disc, and the regular print edition. I wonder what other 60ths are out there waiting to be celebrated this year?


Elizabeth the queen : the life of a modern monarch
David D.

Fighting for a Safe Harbor

Some say that prostitution is a “victimless crime,” because presumably everyone involved participates willingly. Rachel Lloyd, in Girls Like Us, demonstrates that many girls and young women recruited and trafficked into the commercial sex industry are clearly victims of the system.

Lloyd, the executive director of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, was once a victim of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE.) She was eventually able to escape, through the support of a caring church community and some adults—surrogate parents, in essence-- who reached out to her, offering her a chance for educational and professional success, beyond the life she knew.

In Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World where Girls are not for Sale, an Activist Finds her Calling and Heals Herself, Lloyd breaks it all down: how the neglect and abuse most girls experience prior to exploitation sets them up to become victims of CSE; the methods pimps use to keep the girls from leaving; the stigma that surrounds girls, once they’ve become commercially sexually exploited. She also describes in detail what factors must be present to support someone leaving and successfully thriving, after living ‘in the life.’

Lloyd, along with several of the girls served by GEMS, successfully persuaded the New York State legislature to enact the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which aims to protect –rather than prosecute—children subjected to sex trafficking.


Girls like us: fighting for a world where girls are not for sale an activist finds her calling and heals herself

Vacationing in Michigan

For the past few summers I’ve spent my vacations getting to know my home state better.  Whether exploring the U.P.’s Tahquamenon Falls, visiting the “most beautiful place in America,” Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, or stopping in for a beer at one of Michigan’s many craft breweries, I’ve discovered that there’s a lot to do and see in Michigan.  If you’re thinking of spending your vacation close to home, the library has all sorts of books to help you plan your Great Lakes State vacation

• Best Tent Camping Michigan gives details on the state parks and national forest campgrounds in Michigan.
• If you’re the outdoorsy type, Michigan offers plenty to do in beautiful settings.  Check out Weekend Canoeing in Michigan, Hiking Michigan, or Road Biking Michigan.
• If you’re not the outdoorsy type, the Detroit and Ann Arbor travel guide can help you plan a vacation in the city.
• Only have a day trip in mind?  Fun with the Family Michigan suggests great ideas for short trips.
• And don’t forget Weird Michigan, a fun collection of all the oddities and strange legends around the state.



Best Tent Camping Michigan



I'm All Amped Up

While leaving work on Friday, I noticed the newest release from sci-fi writer Daniel H. Wilson, Amped, sitting on a cart just waiting for me to take it home. I was very excited since I had heard so many good things about Wilson’s previous novel, Robopocalypse, and had already read a few good reviews of Amped. A friend of mine once stated that there are rarely any “new” ideas in science fiction novels. Most stories can be traced back to an idea that had been previously formulated in either book or film. The premise of Amped can be traced to the plotline most recently established in the comic book series X-Men. In Wilson’s novel individuals with technological implants (“amps”) are being persecuted by regular people (“reggies”) just like the mutant super-heroes in the comic book and movie series. When the main character Owen Gray discovers that the technology implanted in him by his father does much more than control his seizures, his life begins to spiral out of control. Soon he finds himself in a trailer park in Oklahoma hiding out with other amps while Senator Joseph Vaughn begins to push for more restrictions on the rights of “enhanced humans.” In the trailer park Owen meets Lyle Crosby, an amp trained to be a member of an elite military group. When Lyle confronts Owen about his role in the impending war between amps and reggies, he must decide if he wants to take his amp to the next level. The consequence of such a move could also lead him on the path to darkness and evil.

Amped fits the requirements of both a summer book and blockbuster. It took me less than three days to read and it was filled with fights, explosions, and super-powered people. There was nothing new in the already established storyline of “extraordinary people being hated for their abilities” but I enjoyed Wilson’s story nonetheless. If you are a fan of science fiction that contains amped up action and dialed down techie-talk, then you should add Amped to your summer reading list.


Kevin King

Play the Drums!

Drumming, by Ian Adams, is a good introduction to playing drum set. This new nonfiction title for beginning drummers shows the different kinds of equipment used to get started playing the drums along with good advice on safe drumming (ear plugs) and finding a teacher. An explanation of musical notation specific to drums, grooves and styles, inspiring highlights on influential rhythmic creators like Stewart Copeland, Cindy Blackman, and DJ Afrika Bambaataa plus great images of drummers from a wide variety of musical genres make this a great read for upper elementary, middle school, and teen readers.




Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It

This book was chosen as one of Kalamazoo Public Library’s Global Reading Challenge titles for 2012.  It is a Coretta Scott King Award winner.  Brendan Buckley just completed fifth grade and he learned a lot from Mr. Hammond, his fifth grade teacher… how to do averages, notebook journaling, and rock collecting. Brendan digs rock collecting!  He is a scientist and keeps a notebook of Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything in It.  He asks questions, no question is unimportant, and nothing in the universe is too small to ask about.  The front part of his notebook is titled:  “Questions” and the back section is titled:  “What I found Out”.  Here is a sampling of his questions:


How do they get the ripple in fudge ripple ice cream?

Do boys fart more than girls?

Is quartz the most common mineral in the earth’s crust?


Brendan and Khalfani, his best friend, practice Tae Kwon Do and try to live by the tenets of the discipline.  They also hunt for rocks, er, minerals together.  Brendan’s father is a detective and happens to be black, and his mother happens to be white.  He is very close to his grandmother Gladys, his father’s mother, and he sorely misses his paternal grandfather who died a few months earlier.  Brendan’s mother’s parents were never part of his family because they objected to their daughter’s interracial marriage.   Soon after the story begins, Brendan quite unexpectedly meets his Grandfather Ed DeBose, President of a local rock club, at a rock club show at the mall.  Quite naturally, any kid would be interested in finding out why his grandpa doesn’t like him.  Brendan insists on meeting Ed, but his mother would be furious!  Brendan wants to unearth Ed’s racism, after all, Brendan is a confident, well-adjusted kid and is very accepting of his skin color.   Why won’t Ed be accepting of his only grandson and where will this new discovery lead?


Sundee T. Frazier, who is biracial, weaves a delicate story using geology as a metaphor for different skin colors.  I highly recommend this book.


Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in it



Alan Collinge goes after the Student Loan Industry

The book is really about putting basic consumer protections into student loans: bankruptcy, the right to refinance with another lender, and statute of limitations on collecting. Also, interest rates can be as high as 30%, student loan companies don’t have to get a money judgment in court to start collecting the debt, they are exempt from the Truth in Lending Act, and state-run non-profits are apparently exempt from the Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act (explains the harassing phone calls).

But of course this book is also about digging up the nasty stuff, the whistleblowers, the horror stories, the corruption of student loan industries, Attorney General investigations, the million dollar lobbyists, how they “went to bed” with the federal government and universities. One email was sent to a student loan company reminding them that a certain financial aid worker "likes tequila." The problem of universities receiving kickbacks from student loan companies was so big that Congress passed the Student Loan Sunshine Act of 2007 to stop it. If you don't remember "choosing" who to borrow from when you went to college, you were part of it.

It’s unfortunate that the author’s personal story, while sad, contains one glaringly bad life decision. In order to pay off his student loans better, he quit his nice UC Berkeley job to look for a higher paying job. He didn’t have a job lined up. Ouch! Well, we know how that goes—there were no jobs, he defaulted on his loans, and his life was ruined. But Alan Collinge is no joke. He started, got the attention of the likes of Hillary Clinton and Michael Moore, and has make significant change in the laws since then.

Part of the root cause of this problem, of course, is the cost of college in the first place. (check out Strapped: Why America's 20 and 30 something's can't get ahead) Why does tuition keep going up? Collinge argues that at some point our government decided to shift the financial burden from the federal government (investing in college directly with taxes) to the students (loans). Have you heard someone say “college is a business”? And why do they keep you so long? Remember the idea of a “four year degree”? Well, only 37% graduated in four years in 2003. Why did I need a Master’s degree to be a librarian? We have a lot of good books on higher education.



The Student Loan Scam
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