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Staff Picks: Books

Studio: creative spaces for creative people

Studio: creative spaces for creative people by Sally Coulthard takes you into the studios of dozens of artists and makers. Providing the reader with inspiration and motivation for creating a productive studio space of their own, Studio is full of photographs of the beautiful and interesting workspaces of visual artists, woodworkers, textile artists and more. If you dream of carving out a creative space to explore your artistic thoughts completely and need inspiration, or wish to improve your current studio space to better suit your needs, or just like to look at visually interesting productive spaces – this book is for you. This book would also make a great holiday gift for any creative person on your list.


The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty

Growing up in the subtropical Hong Kong, I had never seen snow in my life before I came to the U.S., and I thought snowflakes were only people’s romantic imaginations for winter.

Then one cold winter morning in Utah, when I was walking to campus, I saw these tiny dusts falling down from the sky. When I looked closer as they fell on my gloves, they were REAL snowflakes!! They were so tiny, yet so sophisticated and beautiful.

This book has included a lot of gorgeous snow crystal photographs and diagrams to show the science behind the formation of a snow crystal. The author Kenneth Libbrecht is a professor of physics at Caltech. I love how he said about his study of snowflakes, “my flaky studies are not driven by practical applications. Instead my motivation is scientific curiosity.” Hence, a whole book dedicated to the beautiful snowflakes!


It's All a Game

Subtitled The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, this 2017 book is a 'colorful and entertaining history of board games that provides a fascinating look into what board games can teach us about ourselves.'  Included are histories and analyses of board games such as chess, backgammon, The Game of Life, Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, the plastic games (Mouse Trap and Operation), and Trivial Pursuit. The subheading of the chapter on Monopoly says, 'How Monopoly went from anti-landlord tirade to celebration of cutthroat capitalism.' The chapter on Clue tells how 'Clue's very British murders created a world of armchair sleuths.' In discussing modern board games, author Tristan Donovan also writes about 'how Germany revitalized board gaming for the twenty-first century.' This is another book that doesn't necessarily need to be read straight through to be enjoyed. I love the dedicatory note in the front: 'To my sister Jade, the queen of overturned Monopoly boards.'


If the Creek don't Rise

This novel is a first for Leah Weiss. You’d never know it. Her words flow like syrup warmed in the sun. I felt like I was there on the mountain, hiding on a tree limb, spying on each character and watching the next person come round the bend.

There are some mean people in this story. Weiss doesn’t just let us hate them, though, and leave it at that. Oh no, some of them get a whole chapter to tell their part of the story and their experience of life on the mountain. By the time they’re through, we see the world through their eyes and get why they’re so hateful. There are no simple answers and no clear-cut ‘who’s right’ and ‘who’s wrong’ to this novel. If you’re looking for that, find a different book. But I suggest you decide to just take it all in and be carried along by Weiss’ lyrical story telling and her very human characters.

I put this title on my Best of 2017 list. Watch for all our staff year-end ‘Best of’ suggestions online soon. In the meanwhile, come down to Central and check out the Best of 2017 physical display for some great reading ideas.


Little Monster Gets the Last Laugh

Little Monster wants to be in a scary story, but finds the dark forest, spooky house, and creepy witch too scary.  He doesn't want to be scared.  He wants to do the scaring.  However, that doesn't work out as planned.  The comical back and forth between a narrator and Little Monster makes Sean Taylor's I Want to Be in a Scary Story a great read aloud.


One Nation Under God...

Pat Mora teamed up with her daughter, Libby Martinez, to write I Pledge Allegiance. It’s about a young Libby’s great aunt, Lobo (lobo means wolf in Spanish). Lobo will say the Pledge Allegiance and become a citizen soon and everyone is excited about it, especially Libby. Libby will lead her class in the pledge also so they prepare together. 

Cute story! Read it and enjoy!


Far From the Tree(2)

I can't say enough good things about Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. This book was the 2017 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature, an award given through the National Book Foundation in November of each year. In this complex story about family dynamics, adoption, love, and more, teenagers Grace, Maya, and Joaquin discover they are biological siblings. As they get to know each other, the reader watches their individual lives unfold and their definitions of family expand. I completely agree with the NBA judges' citation. This book is "uplifting and big-hearted". 

This year's Young People's Literature longlist also includes authors who've visited Kalamazoo Public Library in the past, like Mitali Perkins just recently in 2017, and Jason Reynolds in 2015 and 2016. The whole list is here.  

The National Book Award list is one of my favorite "Best of" lists each year. I mean, other than the KPL "Best of" lists. The entire list is impressive and the winners are chosen by a committee of book industry experts and established authors who work all year long, reading and critiquing books to find the best of the best in each category. You might recognize some big Young Adult author names from this list of judges: Meg Medina (Chair), Brendan Kiely, Kekla Magoon, Alex Sanchez. 


A Garden of Forgiveness for Peace(1)

This parable was inspired by the garden of forgiveness in Lebanon and Beirut. Lauren Thompson created this story with a young girl teaching the villagers about forgiveness. It’s about 2 villages that never knew peace and raised their children to hate each other. One day one wounded child looked to the other side and realized their enemies were as afraid of her people as they were of them. She was tired of the fear and anger. She encouraged the villagers on both sides to instead of throwing rocks at each other to build a garden together.


Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free

 Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW is Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson’s account of becoming a Tuskegee Airman, and getting shot down over Germany during his 19th mission on August 12th, 1944. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp, and was held captive until April 29th, 1945. Jefferson writes about growing up in segregated Detroit and tells how his fascination with aviation influenced his education. He talks about training to become a Tuskegee Airman and his missions overseas. He discusses his experience as a prisoner of war, and also details his life and career after the war.

  

 The most interesting part for me was reading about how many barriers stood in the way of black men to join the Army Air Corps, because no one wanted black men to have the chance to prove they were as intelligent and capable of flying as white pilots. Women faced similar obstacles, as I read about in WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Vera S. Williams. Jefferson writes:

  

 “On September 23, 1942, I was sworn into the Army Reserves. I immediately volunteered for flight training but was told to return home and wait for a position to open up. When I asked when this would be, I was told not to worry about it. I wasn’t sure I would ever be called, but at least being in the reserves kept me from being drafted. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on, but I later learned there was a rigid quota restricting how many blacks could be inducted each month into the training program at Tuskegee,” (24).

  

 Even if someone made it into the program, it was unlikely that he would graduate. The government made sure that only a small percentage of cadets graduated.

  

 “We cadets were all college graduates…there were 90 of us who started…by the end of our nine months of training, only 25 of us had survived. Some were eliminated for flying inadequacies, and some for non-military reasons. Years later, through the Freedom of Information Act, we discovered there had been a quota for how many blacks were allowed to graduate. The phrase used to wash guys out was “eliminated while passing for the convenience of the government,” (26).

 

 Like many black veterans, and talented individuals of color in many industries, Jefferson was not officially recognized for his achievement and sacrifice by the government until much later on in life. He received the Purple Heart in 2001 and collected other prestigious awards too. Of course, his induction into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame at the Kalamazoo Aviation Museum (now known as the Air Zoo) in 1995 stood out for me among his honors.

 

 

 


ELEPHANTINE BABY STEPS

This is a truly captivating book by acclaimed author and illustrator Katherine Roy who had previously written the very well received tome "Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands". Titled How to be an Elephant:Growing Up in the African Wild, this volume focuses on the anatomy, environment, family life and survival skills of a newly born elephant as she matures and becomes part of her herd. Roy vividly captures the way that these 7,000-pound giants live in the African savanna concentrating on the challenges that they face throughout their lifespans.

The accompanying large , earth-tone illustrations are stunning, and show the stages of elephant development, their bone structure, keen sense of smell, their very utilitarian trunks, their use of sounds to communicate, how they cool their bodies in hot weather, as well as several other fascinating elephant facts. These pictures are dynamic in their depiction of real elephant life, making them a wonderful, integral part of this book.

this title would be a great and meaningful addition to any library collection that serves early to middle elementary school kids. It would also be a great read for animal lovers of any age.