Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

The life of Zora Neale Hurston

In Jump at the Sun on Audiobook Kathleen McGhee-Anderson does an excellent job of conveying the vitality, power and pride of Zora Neale Hurston’s personality. By listening to the audio version I made more of a connection with Zora Neale Hurston. Through Ms. Anderson’s voice I could almost see Zora’s eagerness and determination to live her life her way. But Zora was ahead of her time. The heartbreaks and failures did not seem to dim the light in Ms. Anderson’s voice as she communicated Zora’s spunkiness regardless of her adversities. Listening to Zora Neale Hurston’s story it is hard to understand how someone with her talents, gifts and ambitions died broke and unappreciated. A. P. Porter in the book Jump at the Sun said “Being needy didn’t make her humble.” 


Jump at the Sun

Crazy For the Storm

Norman Ollestad's memoir Crazy For the Storm was the perfect book for my long plane ride over Labor Day weekend, which included seven layover hours.  Ollestad tells the story of how a small charter plane with his dad, his dad's girlfriend, the pilot, and him crashed into the Sierra mountains during a blizzard when he was 11 years old.  He is the only one who survives.  The book alternates between chapters about his harrowing descent of the snow and ice covered mountain and his adventurous life up until that fateful day.  The book is definitely a page-turning thriller, but it is also full of psychological meat, as Ollestad tries to cope with his parents' divorce, his mom's new, sometimes abusive boyfriend, his dad's expectations for him, and being a boy very much thrust into an adult world at an early age. Now come to think of it, maybe reading a book about a plane crash wasn't the perfect thing for a plane ride, but it did keep my interest hour after hour and left me wanting to tell everyone about the book. 


Crazy for the Storm


Steve S

Census 2010 will be Here Soon...

I always thought statistics were boring, until I started working on the Central library Reference Desk and learned how often people need statistical information.  Our patrons request statistics for such varied reasons as backing up business plans for small business loans, assessing community needs for grant applications, and protesting environmental racism in specific Kalamazoo neighborhoods. 

Some of the helpful resources I’ve discovered include the:

Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually and detailing nationwide statistics on a wide variety of topics, such as “Out-of-pocket Net prices of Attendance for Undergraduates,” “Number of emergency and transitional beds in homeless assistance systems nationwide,” and “Carbon dioxide emissions;”

County and City Data Book: A Statistical Abstract Supplement, which is useful for identifying local data, and

American FactFinder, an electronic portal to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

We can thank the U.S. Census Bureau for the availability of many of the stats we provide at the Reference Desk.  Read more about what data the Census collects and how it is used, then learn how data will be collected in the 2010 Census.


Statistical Abstract of the United States

My Kid Likes it and I Do Too

Sometimes, when I’m reading one of the hilarious Horrid Henry books to my daughter and Horrid Henry does something particularly horrid, I just have to exclaim, “Horrid Henry is so Horrid!” And then my daughter says, “I like him.” She was also captivated by Rotten Ralph. Rotten Ralph and Horrid Henry have a lot in common. They’ve both done their part to foil weddings, for instance. There’s something compelling for children in stories about kids (or cats) who are really really bad. Sometimes it’s the way they compare to "normal" kids. Horrid Henry has a brother named Perfect Peter. Peter is sort of the straight man for Henry’s practical jokes and is himself an exaggeration of a goodie two shoes character. When Perfect Peter, who subscribes to Best Boy magazine, tries to get back at Henry, hilarity ensues. Henry really is horrid and his horridness leads him to do things that are way beyond what most kids would do. And kids love it. With illustrations by Tony Ross, you can’t go wrong. These “blue dot” books are a transition from easy reader style books to chapter books for kids who are reading. Many of the books with the blue dot on the spine at KPL also make great read-alouds.  


Horrid Henry



The Graveyard Book

As a children’s librarian, I like to read the new award winners.  So when “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman was announced as the Newbery Award winner for 2009, I was curious to read it, since I’d read his “Coraline”.   (which was  made into a film in 2009).

Set in modern day Britain, “The Graveyard Book” begins with the murder of a toddler’s parents and sister by a methodical killer.  Strong stuff for a children’s book, for certain.  The baby manages to escape, and wanders into a graveyard, where he is taken in by a loving  couple named the Owenses, who have no children.  They are ghosts, and long dead, as are the other inhabitants of the graveyard who help to raise the child over the years.  It turns out that Bod (short for “Nobody”)  was the killer Jack’s  real target, and Jack is still out there, searching.

For older children grades 5 and up, or tween  readers, this is an suspense and action filled story  with ghosts, ghouls, and hints of vampires.


The Graveyard Book

I Couldn’t Do It

Fahrenheit 451 has to be one my all time favorite books.  The concepts and theories proposed in this novel first published in 1953 are fascinating in that they take on a different twist with each new technological advance that happens in our society. Take the seashell or thimble radios presented in the novel, for instance. Who, in the 1950s or even 1960s, would have imagined that MP3 players would have people listening to music, podcasts, and news constantly through earbuds today?! From the irony of Montag’s job to the realities that have come to fruition out of Ray Bradbury’s fiction to Clarisse’s character:  I love this story!

That being said, I thought I’d try the graphic novel version of this story. Never having tried reading a novel presented this way, I figured that trying a story I loved would help me overcome any resistence I had to stories shown as strips of images that resemble comic books. Nope.  Didn’t work. Couldn’t make it through the first 10 pages. I flipped through it a few times but couldn’t manage it. Maybe it was that I chose a story I loved. Or, maybe I just discovered I prefer my own imagination to pre-created pictures instead.


Fahrenheit 451:  The Authorized Adaptation

Renovation DIY

As we’re not Dean Johnson and Robin Hartl, my partner and I required lots of technical advice with our recently completed home renovation. The word “completed” here of course means we’re living with a few loose ends. Renovation by Michael W. Litchfield continues to be a very, very useful resource as we wrap up. Now in its third edition, the book offers information on structural carpentry, masonry, foundations and concrete, electrical wiring and plumbing. While formidable projects involving these subjects are definitely covered in the book, I think they’re best left to the pros. Litchfield, founding editor of Taunton's Fine Homebuilding Magazine also covers drywall, trim carpentry, painting, wall paper, hanging cabinets and more including how to inspect a house. With accessible text and plenty of great photographs of real projects in progress, you get a sense of how complicated a project really is before you jump in. Got a few renovation DIY loose ends around your house? Take a look at more books on “That Old House” in the first floor rotunda this month at the Central Branch library.



The World Book at Your Fingertips

Did you know that KPL subscribes to over 70 databases?  Our databases provide access to information that goes well beyond the walls of the library; information about most anything is available, from engine repair to health issues and everything in between.  You can use the databases in house, but some can even be used at home if you have internet access and a library card.

One of my favorite databases is World Book Online.  You may be familiar with the print encyclopedia, but the electronic version offers a multimedia experience that print version can’t compete with: interactive maps, primary sources, videos, pathfinders, and even a timeline builder make this database worth checking out.  World Book Online has three different versions: Kids, Info Finder, and Reference Center.  The Kids version includes encyclopedia articles, science project how-to’s, maps, and educational games among many other child-friendly research tools.  World Book Info Finder is designed with middle-to-high school aged students in mind; included is a biography center, videos, world newspapers, and current events.  Reference Center is for the adult user with computer tutorials, a citation builder, government information, and many other research tools.  Take a look at it today; you might be surprised what you can find.

If you would like help navigating our databases, stop in at the reference desk or your neighborhood branch for assistance.


World Book



The Family Man

Henry Archer answers the phone one day.  That call, from his hysterical ex-wife, leads him to a reluctant involvement in her widowhood, to the coat-check girl at the hair salon, to his ex-stepdaughter (who is the coat-check girl), to movie star shenanigans, and to a new lover.  Complicated?  Yes.  Funny?  Yes.  Also tender and charming.



The Family Man
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