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Staff Picks: Books

It’s Okay to Read

Children’s author/illustrator Todd Parr will be the guest speaker at the 37th Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar this year. Parr is the author of many wonderful children’s titles; his whimsical artwork is distinctive, and always makes me smile. His books have positive, reassuring messages about diversity, self-confidence, and acceptance. One of my favorites is It’s Okay to Be Different.

There is a Meet the Author event on Thursday, Nov. 13 at 6:30 pm at the Central Library, for all ages (free event, open to the public). The Youth Literature Seminar is Friday, Nov. 14 at KVCC’s Texas Township Campus, from 9 am - 3:30 pm (registration and fee required). Please check the KPL website for more information.

It's Okay to Read


Mister Orange

Linus Muller is the third oldest child of a family of six children living in New York City.  When Albie, Linus’s brother, enlists in World War II, Linus takes over as delivery boy at the family’s grocery store.  Linus quickly learns his delivery route and gets acquainted with his customers.  Linus dearly misses Albie, and to comfort himself, he has imaginary conversations with Albie’s created Superhero, Mr. Superspeed, who fights against Evil and the War.


One of Linus’s routine deliveries is a crate of oranges to a man whose name is unpronounceable, hence, Linus nicknames him Mister Orange.  One day Mister Orange tosses an orange to Linus, but he doesn’t catch it and he trips and falls down the stairs.  Mister Orange helps Linus up and into his apartment for first aid.  Linus is amazed to see that Mister Orange has painted his apartment walls white and bright and light and calm and with colored squares and rectangles grouped together or on their own… dancing in strong colors, bright blue, and red, and yellow… the colors of Superman!  Linus loves the paintings on the walls!


Their friendship grows and Mister Orange tells Linus that he likes Boogie-Woogie music. It is new and exciting, the perfect city music, with rhythms changing all the time.  New York City gives Mister Orange new inspiration and energy.


Mister Orange asks about Albie, who is now in Europe on the warfront.   Only three years earlier Mister Orange escaped Europe because he was afraid he would no longer have the freedom to paint, his art was in danger of being banned by the Nazis, he was scared that he would never be able to make more paintings and that no one would ever see them!  Painting was Mister Orange’s way of fighting back, of finding out how things might be better in the future.  He equates winning the war with fighting for the future, a future where people have their freedom and everyone is allowed to say what they believe and have an opinion of their own.  Mister Orange tells Linus that whenever people have their freedom taken away they always fight back and winning the war means making certain that the imagination remains free and that’s the most important thing of all!  He helps Linus understand that Albie is working just as hard for the future as is Mister Orange; Albie is fighting so that Mister Orange can continue to paint and Linus must be proud of Albie who is helping to make the future possible.  When Linus accuses Mister Orange of hiding from everything that’s real, Mister Orange explains that Imagination is a Powerful weapon, Imagination is Real, Imagination is Necessary.  Everything that exists starts with Imagination; it’s the first step in everything that humans have ever made.


Mister Orange’s character is based on Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a famous painter who fled from the Netherlands to the United States during World War II.  Mondrian’s paintings were completely new, not the familiar and traditional styles.  He used shape, color, rhythm, to give new ideas to people all over the world. 


Kalamazoo Public Library has several Mondrian art books.  If you’re not familiar with his art, then I suggest checking out a Mondrian book. You can also use Google Images Mondrian for a pleasant revelation of his work and the inspirations derived from his art.


Recovering Priceless Treasures

I stumbled upon the book Priceless:  How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.  The founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, author Robert Wittman recalls a number of cases when he recovers stolen artifacts or artwork, working undercover convincing mobsters and corrupt collectors that he’ll pay big money for their stolen works.  It can take months, even years, of building rapport with the sellers or middlemen before setting up a sting which involves large amounts of cash, priceless works of art, and, very likely, guns or other dangerous weapons.

Wittman struggles with the widely accepted opinion at the bureau that art crime is less important than other types of investigations.  What is even more perplexing to those investigators that take this stance is that arresting those guilty of the theft or selling the stolen property is much less important than recovering the stolen works.  Regardless of this, each time something is recovered, communities celebrate the return of their lost treasures, whether they have been gone a few months or more than a hundred years.

The book starts and ends with talking about the Gardener Heist. The most valuable collection of stolen artwork in the world, the paintings were cut out of their frames in March 1990 and are estimated to be worth more than $580 million.  One painting, Vermeer’s “The Concert”, is estimated to be worth $200 million on its own!  We learn from the book that the heist is so well known and the paintings so recognizable, they could only ever be sold on the black market.

I really enjoyed reading Priceless.  Most chapters are their own little short stories.  This means the book works well for those with similar scheduled to mine that may not give them an opportunity to sit down with a book for long periods of time.  I greatly appreciate that Wittman rescues different types of art and artifacts all with the same dedication to returning them to their rightful owners.  Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did if it makes it onto your reading list!


American Folklife

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: an Illustrated Guide…the title sounds bland, but the book/CD set is anything but! It covers a wide cross-section of folk art and folk lore in the United States.

Most amazing is the accompanying CD. With 35 tracks in all, there are songs from all over the U.S., including a song sung by Zora Neale Hurston, storytelling, personal interviews with many different people about aspects of daily living and the impacts of war and slavery. Some recordings are over 100 years old. Altogether they demonstrate the richness and variety of cultural experience in our country. This would be a great teaching tool to help bring an American history topic to life for your students.

Book

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: An Illustrated Guide
9780844411064

Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut

Parents, friends and relatives – I know you can relate to this story. Who hasn’t seen a child who has given themselves or a child close to them a haircut and yes it is possibly the worst haircut ever. In-between my professional haircuts, I find myself cutting my own bangs – at best it is a hit or miss job.

What happens in this picture book is that big sister Sadie notices that little sister Eva’s hair is too long, too curly, too big – really just too out of control. So one day Sadie asks Eva if she wants her to cut her hair and surprise -- she does. Sadie wastes no time in getting the scissors and the haircut is done.

When Sadie realizes that there is a pile of hair on the bathroom floor it is bad – but Eva likes it! Eva runs to find Mom and Dad who lose their cool. Sadie realizes she won’t be cutting Eva’s hair again and she has to have a consequence. Eva has to get a real haircut. Not unlike when my hairdresser tells me she can cut my bangs in between my regular cut – hum maybe I should hide the scissors – Sadie’s parents are putting theirs where she can’t find them.

Book

Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut
9780062249067

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water

It’s okay to be different and this book is about a little crocodile (well, maybe), who has many brothers and sisters with whom he wants to play, but he cannot play with them because they all like to swim and play in the water, but this little crocodile does not like the water. He even saves up his money to buy a swim ring in an attempt to learn to swim, but, it just won’t happen. He gets very cold in the water and he begins to shiver, and then, he sneezes FIRE!

This little crocodile does not like to jump, either. However, he is VERY good at doing other things such as… flying and climbing, and something else that if I reveal it to you will give away the surprise ending! The illustrations by Gemma Merino are uproarious and simply convey the emotions of The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water.

Book

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
9780735841635

Under the Egg

When Theodora’s grandfather dies, he leaves her a whispered message and the responsibility to care for her drifty mother, their Brooklyn townhouse, and $463 to hold it all together.

Over the course of this layered story, Theo and her new friend Bodhi work on deciphering the message, which sends them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jefferson Market Public Library, the Center for Jewish History.

Under the Egg is an adventure story that gives the reader terrific characters, World War II history, good guys and bad guys, and a lot of wonderful information about art.

Book

Under the Egg
9780803740013

The Mad Potter

The arresting photo on the cover of this book caught my eye and I was quickly drawn into the quirky world of George Ohs, who called himself The Mad Potter.

Born in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1871, George Ohs was a largely self-taught potter, making items like no one had ever seen before. It wasn’t until long after his death that the art world came to appreciate what he called his “mud babies.”

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius tells his fascinating story and is illustrated with intriguing historic photographs.

Book

The Mad Potter
9781596438101

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster

Vacationing on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula’s scenic west coast shoreline is a wonderful choice. More than one hundred years ago Buster Keaton’s family and their vaudeville team vacationed in Bluffton, near Muskegon. Matt Phelan wrote and illustrated a graphic novel titled: Bluffton: My Summers with Buster.

The story, told in remarkable drawings, is about a boy named Henry Harrison who lives in Muskegon year round. Henry hears about the vaudevillians and is captivated by the performers and their animals! He and the young Buster Keaton form a summer friendship and they hang out and play baseball with other kids. When summer ends, kids go back to school, but not for Buster! Buster travels around doing vaudeville acts, then returns to Bluffton the next summer. Bluffton offers a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s most well-known silent screen actors and the few summers he lived on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Go back in time and watch Buster Keaton’s black and white slapstick silent films on KPL’s Hoopla site. It’s accessible directly from the KPL catalog, just enter Buster Keaton in the search field.

Book

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster
9780763650797

Inside Out and Outside In

Vermont based, veteran children’s book author/illustrator and artist Lizi Boyd’s latest literary effort is a wordless picture book that is deceptively simple. Inside Outside incorporates cool, slightly hidden, die-cut page openings through which readers can catch glimpses of what’s transpired and what is yet to come. This device is used to slyly, yet gently tie in the future and the past to the present, underscoring the continuity of the passage of time.

By means of bright, sharply colored drawings set in a predominantly muted, light brown background, Boyd tells the story of a seemingly self-sufficient young boy doing inside and outside activities over the course of one calendar year. Inside overlaps outside, and outside overlaps inside with each turn of the page, until we come full circle to the initial season once more.

With a collection of animal friends lending a helping wing, paw or claw, the young boy proves that there is no room for boredom no matter what time of year it is. Together they read, make crafts, fly a kite, plant a garden and engage in more activities than I could list here.

This book is great for a “one-on-one” reading session. That way both child and caregiver can pour over the intricate illustrations that show plenty of action both obvious and hidden, and share in the mutual delight brought about by their discovery.

Lizi’s dogs both agree.

dogs-reading-598.jpg

Book

Inside Outside
9781452106441