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Staff Picks: Books

Harry Miller's Run

 Liam and his pal Jacksie are planning to run in the Junior Great North Run and they need to get their training in, but Liam’s elderly neighbor Harry needs some help this afternoon so he and his Mam stop by.  When Harry hears about Liam’s plan, does he have a story to tell!  This short, quirky illustrated novel doesn’t easily fit in a category, but it is caught in my mind.  The evocative language in Harry Miller’s Run is as compelling as the tale told. 



Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout!

Available as an eBook and a print format book, Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn it Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood, is a beautifully illustrated new collection that is chock full of great songs, proverbs, rhymes, and stories. I’m excited about this new title because it provides lots of great activities for caregivers to talk, read, sing, write, and play with their young children while providing a personalized historical perspective. Brian Pinkney’s swirling illustrations represent the constant movement that makes up the lives of children. Patricia McKissack, often with her husband Frederick L. McKissack, has authored many books including biographies, picture books, novels for older readers, and fascinating history. This wonderful new collection, with something for readers or read-tos of all ages, is a very welcome addition!

Feline Piano Composer and Player

Based on a true story, Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed by Leslea Newman with illustrations by Amy June Bates is a real winner for both music lovers and cat enthusiasts.

The book introduces us to Moshe Cotel, a composer for the piano who lives in a very busy and loud city. But far from it being a distraction, Moshe uses the urban noise as the starting off point for his numerous compositions.

One day, while on his usual afternoon walk around the neighborhood, he hears the forlorn "mew" of a tiny, lost kitten. He picks up the black and white tyke, names her Ketzel, and brings her back to his apartment.

Shortly thereafter, a letter arrives in the mailbox from the Paris New Music Review announcing a piano competition contest with one stipulation: No piece may be longer than sixty seconds!

Moshe exclaims that creating a musical work of such brevity is impossible, so he places the letter aside, not giving it another thought. On the other hand, the next day he decides to give it a try. From the outset, he is completely stymied by the task. Whatever he starts, he cannot finish. He takes his failures so hard that he temporarily stops playing the piano.

One day Ketzel creeps across the piano keys with all four paws much to Moshe's auditory delight. He proclaims Ketzel to be a musical genius who has composed the unbelievable: A piece for piano with a distinct beginning, middle and end that lasts only twenty-one seconds! So he names the solo composition "Piece for Piano: Four Paws", and sends it off to the contest judges.

A few weeks later, he receives a letter saying that although he didn't win a prize, the submitted work does merit a certificate of special mention, which comes with an invitation to attend a concert where the piece will be played.

Moshe sneaks Ketzel into the concert hall in his vest pocket and every time the young pianist chosen to perform the work mentions Ketzel by name, the kitten responds with a loud, emphatic MEOW!

Animals are forbidden from entering the concert hall but after Moshe reveals that Ketzel is the actual composer of the piece, both are allowed to remain. Several encores later, "Piece for Piano:Four Paws" turns into musical history.

Ketzel becomes quite famous and receives a royalty check in the amount of nineteen dollars and seventy-two cents which purchases many cans of yummy cat food.

An engaging tale, wonderfully reminiscent of Nora, the piano playing cat of YouTube fame!

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Rocky, a wonderful cat companion of one of my colleagues, Keith.



If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don't!

Occasionally while reading in the various book review publications I will stop at the children's section just to see what's new. An ad for this one caught my attention so I thought I would check to see if KPL owned it, and, sure enough, we did. As one of three books we have by Elise Parsley, a children's author who lives 21 miles from a beach in South Dakota, this is a funny story. It begins, 'If your mom says to get ready to play at the beach, she means with a boat, or a frisbee, or a shovel. She is NOT talking about the piano.' The illustrations are well done. I love the ending too. Next on my list might be Ms. Parsley's If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T!

The life of a Pullman Porter

The Pullman Porter: AnAmerican Journey touched my heart. Not just because there is a lot information that is not generally known but also because my father had been a porter many, many years ago. My brothers, sisters and I romanticized his journeys and thought my dad looked handsome in his uniform. We were not aware of how demanding, degrading and difficult the job was. After all, what did being a Pullman Porter have to do with shining shoes, babysitting, making beds and other forms of servitude?

 After reading this book, I realized also that my dad was traveling and learning things about this country. He was able to learn what was important to share with his children and to teach us what we needed to know in order to survive in America. The Pullman Porter: An American Journey was written by Vanita Oelschlager. Vanita Oelschlager publishes books for children that teaches morals and values I personally appreciate her acknowledgement of the Pullman Porters.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, is the 2017 Newbery Medal winner! The Newbery Medal is awarded by the American Library Association to "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."  The Girl Who Drank the Moon reminded me of an older book, Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. Both books take place in two worlds. In Piercy's book, the main character travels in time to bridge two worlds, one dystopian and one utopian. One really interesting thing about The Girl Who Drank the Moon is how its two worlds exist side-by-side but are kept separate by the mythology that the people have been taught. Barnhill gradually connects these worlds together.

Though the two worlds in The Girl Who Drank the Moon, one dystopian and the other human centered and nurturing, seem very different from this world, there are some parallels. Elements of both of these worlds exist in our own multi-faceted world. Is our own world made of multiple worlds kept separate by beliefs, mythologies, and traditions? I think we can safely say that it is. 

There is quite a lot to think about in The Girl Who Drank the Moon. It's also a great story. The library has print copies of the book with more on the way, but everyone should know that the 2017 Newbery Medal winner is available in an ebook format via Hoopla. That means you can start reading with just a few clicks.

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History

Here’s the first book to be added to my “Best of 2017” list . . . Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History.  The late Walter Dean Myers wrote this spare book about the life of Frederick Douglass and illustrator Floyd Cooper has created magnificent paintings to accompany Myers’ words.  What a stunning collaboration!  This biography is a worthy addition to our shelves.



Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe

When Jacqueline Bouvier married John F. Kennedy, she wore an exquisite silk dress made by Ann Cole Lowe.  I did not know that Ann Cole Lowe was African American until I discovered this wonderful picture book written by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Laura Freeman. Despite dealing with segregation and prejudices, Cole’s designer fashions were highly sought after by the Vanderbilts, the Rockerfellers, and the Roosevelts. In addition, she established a prosperous design studio on Madison Avenue in New York City. Included at the end of the book are citations for further readings on Ann Cole Lowe and other historical African American fashion designers. This book is a great read for young children and just in time for Black History Month.


Snowman Goes From Being Lonely to Being Perfect With a Little Love and New Friends

The Most Perfect Snowman, written and delightfully illustrated by Chris Britt, is about a simple,lonely snowman named Drift, who has arms made out of sticks and a nose and mouth made of coal.

He dreams of wearing some splendid items of clothing like a hat, scarf, mittens and of possessing a pointed carrot nose. like so many other more stylish snowmen, who would often ridicule his plain looks. 

One day three children come upon Drift and much to his delight share with him a scarf, hat, mittens as well as a pointy carrot nose. Upon donning his new togs, the kids proclaim him to be a perfect snowman and all spend the rest of the afternoon in fun play.

Once darkness begins to set in, the kids say goodbye and head home.During the night ,a blustery blizzard blows most of Drift's clothes away. All is not lost because he befriends a scared, cold and hungry tiny bunny who asks for his help to survive. Sure enough, Drift gives the bunny his scarf for warmth  and his carrot nose to relieve his hunger. With these acts of kindness and generosity, he proves that he truly is the most perfect snowman!


The Poet's Dog

Patricia MacLachlan creates another heartwarming chapter book for readers of all ages with The Poet's Dog. This is an excellent book to read aloud with children. The relationships between pets, siblings, friends and poets will show you goodness, humor and love. “Dogs speak words, but only poets and children can hear. When you can’t find a poet, find a child.” Thank you to the author for these words. I love looking at the world through the eyes of children, and this book does that perfectly. Does the dog save the children, or do the children save the dog? You’ll have to read for yourself and see if you can decide!