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Staff Picks: Books

These Girls Pack a Punch!

 Do you need more dinosaurs, time travelers, and girl power in your life? If so, I have two fantastic graphic novels for you.  First up, is Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn, the writer named by Wired Magazine as " the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years." This suspenseful mystery starts with a slow burn as four paper delivery girls head out to cover their route the morning after Halloween in 1988.  After the girls accidentally set off a strange machine, the story kicks off at break-neck speed, and soon the girls are facing off against dinosaurs, laser-blasting knights, and sub-human creatures that might just be from the future. It’s intense, fast-paced, wicked fun, and the series is only just beginning. 


Also, make sure to check out the Lumberjanes series by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson. Lumberjanes follows five “hardcore lady types” spending the summer at a crazy camp surrounded by bizarre supernatural mysteries. The girls fight werewolves, solve riddles, and avoid the ever-watchful eye of their group counselor in this manic, off-beat, fantastic read. This series has been out for a while, but you can catch up on Hoopla digital.

Both of these series are a great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and mystery with fabulous artwork. So what are you waiting for? 

Puppets from some of everything!

 To say that Ashley Bryan has been around for many years is an understatement. After all, he is only 92. His work has been recognized by many and he has been the recipient of many awards. The book Ashley Bryan’spuppets: making something from everything is not only full of amazing, clever and unique puppets but also full of great and thoughtful prose.        

Ashley Bryan grew up in NYC during the depression. He and his sister started salvaging for things they could reuse at a young age. He made his first puppet at age eleven. His puppets are made from tangled fishing nets, weathered bones, sea glass, and driftwood….whatever else he can find. He sees possibilities in all things. His characters and poems include Anansi: the trickster and storyteller, Kwesi: conquering strength (who looks like an elephant) and Animata: good character (made of shells and an upside down champagne glass as a crown).

Jojo: his storyteller says:

               In every finger of my glove I tap tall tales of peace and love

               The fingers of my well-gloved hands store stories told in foreign lands. 

I wish I could share every amazing and unique picture. But that would get me into trouble so I will suggest that you read this or one of his other fantastic books and you’ll see what I mean.

Not All Comic Book Characters Wear Capes

Graphic novels have a reputation for being all about superheroes and explosions, but they can be a really great format to tell more nuanced stories as well. I’d like to shine a spotlight on two evocative, character-focused, slice-of-life stories that really shine in a graphic novel format.

The first is a manga called Solanin by Inio Asano. The story follows Meiko, a recent college grad, and her friends a group of 20-somethings living in the background of a Japanese city. Over the course of the summer they grapple with all of the challenges of new adulthood: starting careers, finding their purpose in life, and how to break it to their parents that they’ve moved in with their boyfriend. Though the characters are Japanese, the themes are universal. Solanin is a novel with fantastic art work, and a story that will stay with me for a long time.

The second graphic novel is called Token by Alisa Kwitney, with illustrations by Joelle Jones. Token is a story about fifteen year old Shira Spektor, living in Miami, Florida in 1987. She lives with her father in an apartment building on South Beach, and spends most of her time with her best friend, a spunky 80-year-old woman who shoots straight from the hip. When her father starts dating his secretary, and the girls at school turn decidedly nasty, Shira turns to shoplifting. Just when she feels that there’s no one she can talk to, she meets a tall handsome stranger. She is falling in love for the first time just as everything else in her life seems to be falling apart. Token is fun, flirty, and timeless.

Both books have a lazy summer vibe perfect for the upcoming warmer months.

Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps: Mapping the Modern World

I've read a lot of books in my life, but I have never seen a book quite like this. Martin Vargic is an artist who is interested in how maps can convey information. He draws original maps not just of the physical world as it is, but of abstract concepts such as the Map of the Internet, and the Map of Literature. Each map includes an astonishing amount of detail and information, but at the same time is a work of art. 

In addition to the abstract maps, he also includes world maps that highlight diverse aspects of the world, such as obesity, the probability of being struck by lightening, and metal bands per capita (Finland has the most). 

This is a book that, if you let it, will take up hours of your time just looking at the details. Truly a strange and unique work of art. 

An Early Favorite for 2016

It’s not even mid-year but it is likely The Last Painting of Sara de Vos will be one of my top ten fiction books of the year.

Three continents, three centuries, three lives are linked by a rare 17th century painting. Add in art forgery, death, deception, and love from the Dutch countryside in the 1600s to an art collector in New York City in the 1950s to an art scholar in Sydney, Australia in 2000 for an enthralling novel.

Although there are no illustrations, I can see in my mind the painting in question, “At the End of the Wood,” from the vivid description.

I’m recommending this book to all my reading friends. Look for it on my “Best of 2016” list in the late fall.



The Iranian photographer Abbas has been taking emblematic and emotionally charged photographs since the 1970’s. Often focusing on world religions and politics, Abbas’s latest collection, IN WHOSE NAME?, points the lens at the Islamic world after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The 173 black-and-white photographs made by Abbas in 16 countries over a seven-year period represent a unique perspective on the Islamic world that attempts to overcome the implicit bias of western politics and attitudes and to present the subjects and situations as they were found and without judgment. The photographs are striking and thought provoking on a number of levels and the included honest and raw journal entries from the photographer only add to the dramatic effect.

The Kinfolk Home

Kinfolk is a popular magazine and website for those who possess a minimalist approach to architecture, interior design and life style consumption, or at the very least, for those who aspire to integrate a bit of thoughtfully designed simplicity and elegance into their living and working spaces. Author Nathan Williams has collected several images and a small amount of background text on over 30 individuals and families from Japan, Europe and The United States. For those browsing only for the images, there’s lots of Scandinavian designed furniture, white walls, natural light, wood floors, large fig plants, and austere use of color—all of it inside of highly manicured and curated homes and apartments. As someone who leans toward such an approach to design, I found this book endlessly helpful in offering up ideas and examples of spaces sparsely adorned yet beautiful in their arrangement.

My Pen

A young boy feels small when he compares himself to rich and famous people. But then he remembers his ink pen. His pen creates many different worlds and adventures for him. It helps him tap dance on the sky and sail to Africa in a newspaper boat. His pen draws beautiful pictures of everyone he loves and does many other things. Discover it all for yourself!

Christopher Myers, author/illustrator, brings these amazing worlds to life with his black-and-white drawings.

A Story for Black History Month!

Sean and Sonya Hollins released their new book Benjamin Losford and his Handy Dandy Clippers on February 9, 2016. Their book release was at a Black History Month program at the Powell Branch that evening.

This true story is about a runaway slave named Abraham Losford. Abraham made it as far as Canada and later traveled back down to settle in Howell, Michigan. He opened the first barber shop in Howell cutting hair with the clippers he used as a slave. After establishing his business he headed back down south to get his wife and kids. His wife had passed away but he was able to return with his son, Benjamin. He taught Benjamin his trade and later past his clippers off to Benjamin so he could become a next generation barber. Benjamin used his father’s handy dandy clippers and opened his shop in Edmore, Michigan.

Kenjji, the illustrator of Benjamin Losford and his Handy Dandy Clippers, did a fantastic job of bringing the story to life.

At the program Sonya spoke about her career beginnings. Her interest in writing began in the 3rd grade. She had a fantastic teacher that lit a spark in her imagination the never waned. This teacher was her inspiration and later her mentor.

This is a great true story that really needed to be told.

Rethink for 2016

Rethink the Way You Live by Amanda Talbot is hybrid of a book that tackles a wide range of topics by way of brief, think pieces while at the same time supplying the visual reader with a healthy dose of photography depicting upscale home and work interiors (readers of Dwell Magazine will enjoy). The text of the book surveys the relationship between technology, design, sustainable lifestyle practices, and architecture. I enjoyed the book for the images more so than the for-the-privileged messages but for those who have an intellectual curiosity in grappling with the impact of consumerism, processed culture and time-sucking technology, this book may provide a starting point to begin to reassess the importance of time, space, community and nature in one's life.