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Staff Picks: Books

Poverty can't be Solved and other Myths

Philosopher Peter Singer makes a compassionate, practical and moral case that we all should be giving more to end extreme poverty - the 1/3 of people living on 2 dollars/day. But first we have to get past the myths, barriers, and excuses that we tell ourselves.

Poverty can’t be Solved 

Wrong. 28 billion would do the trick (that’s the cost of education, sanitation, and healthcare for all according to the book and the website). To put that into perspective, if all Americans gave 3 dollars—that’s a billion already. Skip the latte tomorrow—there’s another 4 dollars you could donate. Moreover, the annual income of the richest 100 people could end poverty four times over. Finally, if the richest nations of the world gave 1 percent of their income—that would end poverty too.

We Need to Fix the Deeper Issues First

Yes, that’s correct. The organizations that fight extreme global poverty (like Oxfam) agree. They fix the deeper issues. They are not dropping bags of money from airplanes.

Charities Take Your Money 

Instead of helping poor people, your money goes to “administrative” purposes instead, right? Wrong. Not if you pick good charities. This book shows you how.

Government Should Do It

Government’s clearly don’t give enough to solve the problem, and America is actually near the bottom of the list in terms of percentage of national income, as opposed to gross amount. In 2006 we gave only .18% for example. Governments could give more, and so could we.

I Give Locally

That’s great, but 1/3 of the world lives in extreme poverty. Can you imagine living on less than 2 dollars a day? It’s all about perspective. This is not the Ice Bucket Challenge here (no disrespect; that was a great and successful campaign). But children are dying on a daily basis from routine, preventable diseases. The people that live in the United States, generally speaking, are much better off.

I Need to Save for my Future

Young people (including me) are especially guilty of this. The truth, of course, is that you can invest in many things.


Separated @ birth : a true love story of twin sisters reunited

This book was sooooo up my alley! Separated @ birth is about Anaïs and Sam, two young Korean women adopted and raised in France and New Jersey, respectively. Both have adoption papers from South Korea listing them as single births, so they never had any reason to think they were anything but. Until Anaïs’s friend finds a picture of actress Sam online, and the resemblance cannot be denied. Using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, the two young women with identical birthdates get in touch with each other…then they plan a Skype session, which both are nervous yet eager for. Check out the book to find out how their story continues! If you like this book, you may also like Identical strangers: memoir of twins separated and reunited (which I blogged about a couple years ago).


Oddball Michigan

The subtitle of Oddball Michigan is A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. I take issue with the contention that the 450 attractions covered are 'really strange,' although I must say the Kalamazoo-area ones would probably qualify. I immediately turned to the local section and found the sites where Elvis was supposedly seen -- years after his death. The other Kalamazoo venue is the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, listed because it was on this facility's parking lot that comedian Tim Allen was arrested by the Michigan State Police for trying to sell 1.4 pounds of cocaine. Among the other West Michigan sites included are the musical fountain in Grand Haven, Bear Cave in Buchanan, and the WZZM-TV Weatherball in Grand Rapids. For locations that open and close, further information is given -- phone, hours, cost, website, and directions.


Tibetan Peach Pie

It is hard to believe that the iconic counter-culture writer Tom Robbins is now an octogenarian. Yet reading his rollicking new memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie, leaves little doubt that it has been a suitably wild and unconventional 82 years. Fans of Robbins, a writer who can eke out more sheer fun and joy in a single sentence than many writers can manage in their whole career, this is a must read. For those unfamiliar with Robbins, it’s never too late to love this guy, but I might suggest that you start with some of his better known novels - Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, Even Cowgirls get the Blues, etc. – and then circle back to get the full story on Robbins.

Chickens in the Road

This Spring I read Farm City by Novella Carpenter, one of two titles that were picked for the “Reading Together” program that the library sponsors with several other organizations in the community. The book was thoroughly enjoyable and told of the author’s attempt to become an “urban farmer,” as she lived in downtown Oakland, California. Since I liked this topic so much I decided to seek out other books where people are doing the same in going back to the land and becoming self-sustaining.

My next choice was a book entitled Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn. The author was previously a romance writer who after a divorce moved with her three children to rural West Virginia where some of her other relatives had lived and she had visited the area many times growing up. She depicts her struggle in adjusting to being a full time farm owner where everything she raised, crops and animals, were either eaten by her family or sold at the market.  Of course there were many struggles along the way; a partner who stopped paying his share, building a brand new home on a rather precarious piece of land, many roads that continuously flooded, and the overwhelming amount of nonstop work. When that farm was no longer manageable, she sold it and bought one more suitable to her. Through her can-do attitude and a great sense of humor, she is now not only a successful farmer, but conducts workshops at her farm for others wanting to learn all the skills connected with farming, and she writes an almost daily blog, also called Chickens in the Road, as to what’s going on in her farm life. An extra plus is that there are many wonderful pictures of the farms and her family. This book was thoroughly enjoyable and you find yourself pulling for her to succeed. And succeed she did!

400 Extraordinary Places

This book was received in the library at the end of 2012, but for those who haven't seen it, it's worth the time. In one- and two-page summaries, '400 extraordinary places' are described. Being another fine publication from National Geographic, it's a given that the photographs are of high quality. Even if one doesn't intend to travel to any of these locations, the reader can learn about, and maybe encounter for the first time, exotic places such as Torres del Paine (Chile), Fernando de Noronha (Brazil), islands in the Adriatic Sea (Croatia), Koh Lipe (Thailand), Petra (Jordan), and the Orkney Islands (Scotland), among many others. Closer to home, the book has a couple of pages on New York City and other U.S. destinations.


Carla's Comfort Foods:Favorite Dishes from Around the World

I love looking at cookbooks. A new one, Carla’s Comfort Foods, caught my eye recently. The author, Carla Hall, is currently a co-host on the ABC talk show “The Chew” and is owner and executive chef of an artisanal cookie company.

Especially with fall and cooler weather approaching, comfort foods sound particularly appealing to me. The author has found inspiration from flavors from around the world, incorporated them into new takes on standbys like meats, seafood, soups and grains. She includes a section on vegetarian entrees and desserts, too. Wonderful photos add to the book, and provide incentive for the aspiring cook.

How could you not want to try Dijon Tarragon Salmon, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Black Bean Empanadas, or Salted Peanut Chocolate Pudding Tarts? Let the cooking and eating begin!

Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey

There is a farm in Costa Rica that has the most unusual crop! They grow butterflies and this book Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey tells their story!

It takes the upmost care to begin with a butterfly egg that changes into a caterpillar and then a pupae. There are so many things to consider and many things to watch out for. Their caregivers have to watch out for birds, frogs and snakes. They have to protect the environment from grasshoppers that just want to eat the plants that are needed for their habitat. The growers have lots of tricks and techniques to keep the caterpillars, and later the butterflies, fed.

This wonderful book by Lorre Griffin Burns provides us with many facts and adventures about butterfly life in a greenhouse in Costa Rica. Ellen Harasimowicz provides us with great pictures from everyday life on the farm.  This journey begins there with such great care and attention it is amazing to be able to follow along with the details of the butterfly raising process.

Check this one out. It’s a keeper!

Do less

Over the last few years I’ve come to the startling realization that I am indeed getting older. This realization has created a longing in me to use my precious time as fully and enjoyably as possible. Sifting through hideous clothes in the closet trying to find something decent to wear (and failing), sorting through endless papers stacked on my countertops and reading the Facebook statuses of distant acquaintances are things that bog down my spare time and rob me of full life enjoyment. As a cataloger at KPL, I get to see most of the new books before they go out on the shelves, and one topic that keeps jumping out at me is the minimalist lifestyle (which can be found using the term “simplicity” in KPL’s catalog). One such title is Do less : a minimalist guide to a simplified, organized, and happy life, which I appreciate because it is concise and I don’t have time to fool around. This book focuses on having more time to enjoy by decluttering many aspects of your life, even how many friends you are trying to keep up with on Facebook and how many digital pictures you take. It gives very practical tips. The best quote from the book is, “It’s so tempting to think more is better, when in face more complicates your life.”


With exceptionally vibrant collage artwork that gives the illustrations an exciting three dimensional effect, and informative yet not over-bearing text , “Parrots Over Puerto Rico” by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore is the true story of the bright green and blue feathered parrots who had lived in Puerto Rico for millions of years before they almost became extinct in the last century.

Their history of survival echoes Puerto Rico’s history as well; well before humans even inhabited the island and when hundreds of thousands of these majestic birds thrived in their nesting holes up in the tall trees.

Parrot numbers started to dwindle when people came in droves and hunted them for food, when invader birds and other predatory animals were introduced into the ecosystem, when settlers systematically cut down their forest habitats, and when hurricanes ravaged whatever precious wild nesting spaces remained.

In 1937, most of the over two thousand remaining parrots lived in El Yunque, a mountainous tropical rain forest. By 1967, twenty-four parrots were found in that same rain forest; by 1975, only thirteen remained.

Luckily, people started to notice their precipitous decline. With aid from the U. S. federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was initiated. And now, after many years of effort by determined scientists, the parrot population has started to grow once more. Currently there are 300 birds in two protective aviaries, and over 150 in the wild.

My husband and I  traveled to Puerto Rico in the late 1980’s, and once again three years ago. On our first two visits, the El Yunque rain forest was on our “must see” list. It’s truly a natural treasure. And even though we didn’t see any of the parrots in the trees above us, just the possibility of getting a glimpse of their vivacious plumage was thrilling enough.

This book won the Sibert Medal in 2014, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.