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Staff Picks: Books

Friendly Greetings to All

A recent addition to KPL's Je Nature category is Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel, who previously authored They All Saw a Cat. In this outing, Brendan introduces us to black and white cats, then zebras, panda bears and colorful parrots, fish, tigers, lizards, etc. The list goes on and on.

The idea is that a world to see is a world to know and that knowledge usually begins with a friendly greeting of Hello Hello.

With rhythmic text, exuberant art and an important message relating to conservation and protecting our diverse planet, each of these encounters celebrates nature's differences and yet marvels at its wonderful similarities. It also makes a point to mention that many of the animals depicted in the colorful illustrations happen to be threatened or endangered.

A worthwhile addition to any picture book collection and especially recommended for kids 3 to 6 years of age.


Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy

Here's another book that's good either for browsing or for reading all the way through. English author Harford has in this volume written a chapter of five or six pages about 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy. I was not surprised to find that all this takes place in exactly 50 chapters. Included are many obvious inventions, like the elevator, air conditioning, clocks, paper, batteries, etc.  But there are also many that I never would have thought to be inventions, although I have to acknowledge that they were, like management consulting, intellectual property, tax havens, and insurance. The fact that this book is written in a breezy, entertaining way makes it appealing to a wide range of audiences.


Shade, the Changing Girl

 Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in? Like everyone else is doing a great job at life, and you’re just trying to make sure you don’t look like a fish out of water? Well amplify that feeling by a thousand, and you’ll understand what it’s like for Loma Shade. Bored with her life on the planet Meta, Loma steals the “madness coat” that belonged to her hero and poet Rac Shade and uses it to take over the body of a high school mean girl and experience life on earth.

 

But they don’t call it the madness coat for nothing. Loma’s struggling to get a grip on her new life, all of the feelings that come with the teenage experience, and reality itself. Each frame bursts off the page in psychedelic whimsy while the story itself stays grounded with award winning YA author Cecil Castellucci’s sardonic wit.  

Shade the Changing Girl is wonderfully weird, and available to check out today.  


The Ghosts of the Past: Annie's Ghosts

When I recommend books to patrons, I don't normally recommend the latest book. I normally recommend the books that I keep going back to. This book isn't a classic, but I've probably read it 3 times. Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret is the true story of Steve Luxenberg's journey to find out about his mother's sister, a sister that his mother only revealed upon her deathbed. The book is Steve's journey to learn more about this aunt, condemned to a mental institution, and the family her never spoke of her. Luxenberg explores life in 1940s and 1950s Detroit and in Eloise, the institution to which is Aunt was committed.


Vacationland

Those who are familiar with writer/comedian/actor John Hodgman's previous books of fake facts may be surprised by Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches. (Those who are not familiar with his books may recognize him as the PC from the Apple television commercials or from his appearances on The Daily Show.) Rather than tongue-in cheek, Vacationland is an honest, humble, and heartfelt--yet still very funny--memoir of loosely connected essays, which do concern various vacation escapades but also wander into many other topics. In addition to recounting the mishaps of home-ownership, country life, and being a weird dad, Hodgman offers his personal insights on adolescence, only children, bullying, becoming an adult (or not), grief, and his own race and class privilege. 

I listened to the Vacationland audiobook (available on Overdrive) which is read by Hodgman himself. I usually prefer audiobooks narrated by the author, particularly ones by humorists (another good one is Jessi Klein's You'll Grow Out of It), and as I hoped, Hodgman's dry and self-deprecating humor really shines through in his reading.


God got arrested?

While putting books away in the children’s section, the title God got a dog caught my eye. It’s a short book of 16 poems written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Marla Frazee, both of whom are big names in children’s literature. 

Flipping through and first reading “God took a bath,” I got a sense this book wasn’t just for children. In fact, it would probably be more appreciated by adults. In poems with titles like “God found God,” “God went to the doctor,” and “God got cable,” Rylant plays with our beliefs about God in an irreverent, but not blasphemous way.

Make a trip to the children’s section to see if you can find God   got a dog.


Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover

Did you know that NASA ran a competition for members of the public to pick a name for Curiosity? The winning name for the nine-foot self-propelled rolling laboratory was submitted by Clara Ma, a sixth grader from Kansas. I like how the book about Curiosity begins: "Wherever you are in the world right now, I'm a very long way away." This new large-format non-fiction book is narrated by Curiosity in the first person and tells the story of the rover's mission, design and development, launch and landing, and continuing exploration of the red planet. With excellent illustrations that tell the story along with an anthropomorphized rover that doesn't talk down to readers, this is a great choice for the science and technology minded. If you are curious about the technology that humans are developing and using to explore other worlds, I think you will really enjoy this one. 


Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me

My favorite graphic novels tell true stories. I especially like reading graphic memoirs and learning about other people’s lives.

In Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me: a graphic memoir, Lorina Mapa combines the personal and political, weaving together past and present: her father's death, her teen years and her family's experience with the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. Music had a big influence on teenaged Mapa. She obsessed about many bands and songs, one day playing Duran Duran’s “Tiger Tiger” 27 times in a row, till her brother threatened to throw the tape deck out the window! On a more serious note, most of her family engaged in the campaign to successfully elect Corazon Aquino and remove dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power. The death of her father several years later brought all the memories back; her graphic novel brings them to life for her readers.

Bonus: the last pages include a discography of Mapa’s 1980's music favorites as a teen!


Let’s Talk About Death

In the US, death is hidden from the public eye. When people are sick or aged, they go to a hospital or nursing home. When people die, their bodies are taken discretely to the morgue, and then to a funeral home. The average American will only see a dead person in the context of a funeral, or if they are witness to some tragedy.

In “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” Caitlin Doughty pulls back the sheet (pun intended) on the death industry, specifically about her first job at a crematorium, and attending mortuary school. Through her experiences she contemplates how our separation from death has given us knew fears and anxieties, as well as given funeral homes control over our death traditions. She ends stating her intention to changing the funeral industry to allow us to be more directly involved with caring for our dead.

In her follow-up book “From here to eternity: traveling the world to find the good death” Caitlin travels to the world to observe the different rituals around death. She emphasizes that what is considered proper and respectful to the dead in one culture might be off-putting and disturbing to another. For instance, we shy away from open funeral pyres and natural burial, while many cultures would consider the embalming process of the US horrifying. What she believes is important is to be present and involved in the death process, as it is important to our grieving process and to honor the dead.

Learn more about Caitlin Doughty at Ask a Mortician and Order of the Good Death.


Bone

Jeff Smith's classic fantasy comic Bone first came out in 1995. As I was only a toddler at the time (sorry if I just made anyone feel old), I am reading the entire complete series now for the first time. It's an obvious choice for comic lovers of all ages; hopefully this post will allow more new readers to discover it. Bone is about three...well...bones who are on the run from their angry fellow villagers of Boneville. Their names are Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. Lost in the desert, they find a map that leads them into a seemingly idyllic valley. The book leads them on various adventures from there.

Bone is great because it incorporates the hallmarks of fantasy (dragons, royalty, monsters) with interesting characters, a clever sense of humor, and a satisfying pace. You can read the entire thing as one big volume (1,332 pages) or check out the smaller in-color volumes. They read as chapters that can be savored in one sitting, or a few days for younger readers. The first part of the story is called Bone: Out of Boneville. This is an excellent book to add to your fundamental comics education, especially if you seek non-superhero material. Enjoy!