Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I like teen books. They’re clever, easy to read, and they usually end well, even if the story gets messy in the middle. Here’s what I liked, especially, about Notes from the Blender:
It’s told in two different voices: a boy and a girl (unrelated) whose single parents have hooked up and gotten pregnant. Suddenly Declan finds he’s going to be step-brother to his biggest crush. Popular, beautiful Neilly, whose parents divorced when her father came out, now finds herself estranged from her mother, yet oddly open to making friends with Declan, one of the least cool kids in school.
There are four positive gay characters in the story, including Neilly’s father and his fiancé. Neilly likes her new stepdad-to-be, and she proudly defends her father’s sexual orientation.
Declan’s lesbian aunt is minister at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church he attends. The way the adults in the church are portrayed is pretty realistic of UU communities. Unitarian Universalism doesn’t get much press in our culture, but teens who are UU’s deserve to have their church show up positively in novels. He has a close relationship with his aunt and her partner, which deepened after his mother died.
Declan’s dad gets to be a real man with feelings, grief and awkwardness, who generally communicates well with Declan (even though he botched the chance to tell Declan about his new love, before there was a baby on the way.)
Authors Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin also paired up for A Really Awesome Mess in 2013.
Notes from the Blender
If you grew up to the music of the ’60s or grew up in Detroit or both, you are likely to relate to Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America.
The question asked is… can a song change a nation? In 1964 “Dancing in the Street” was recorded at Motown’s Hitsville USA by Martha and the Vandellas. Martha Reeves arranged her own vocals and the song was released with the expectation it would be an upbeat dance song.
Ultimately it became a sort of anthem for the summer of 1964: Mississippi Freedom Summer, Vietnam War, free speech movement, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The song took on a new meaning for many and was eventually recorded by more than 30 artists or groups.
A good dance song or an activist anthem for the changing times…. either way, this is an interesting look at the mid-1960s.
Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America
Redheaded Erik has always tried to do his best, but lately he wonders why everything seems to be going wrong. In soccer he passes the ball to the other team and in class he can’t see what has been written on the chalkboard. His Mom thinks he needs to sit closer to the chalkboard or try to be more organized. When Erik creates a self-painting in art class, he paints his hair green. That can’t be right! Erik has always been a red head. That’s when they discover that Erik might be color blind.
Color blindness, also known as Color Vision Deficiency (CVD) affects a significant percentage of our population. After Erik’s parents take him to the Dr. they are better able to help him cope with his CVD. Letting Erik’s teachers know that many shades of brown, green, gold and orange look very similar to him is the first step to helping him. Color coding at school makes it hard for Erik and other kids who have CVD. Working with the teachers and staff to make changes in paperwork and text books make it easier for Erik to read his school work. Sometimes just writing the color on the color coded items makes all the difference in Erik being able to differentiate between his assignments. For example if the teacher writes on a green chalkboard with yellow chalk, Erik can’t read the board. If the teacher writes on the green chalkboard with white chalk he can read what has been written on it.
The book includes an “All about color and vision” section to be shared and to help readers understand more about color vision deficiency.
It is nice to see a picture book on this topic. I encourage families and care givers to read and share this book.
Erik the Red Sees Green
Have you ever browsed the non-fiction shelves for good books for your preschooler? You should! There are more and more wonderful books about real things that are perfect for very young kids. One of my favorites is Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop. The words are just right for a very young child and the photographs are superb.
This is a book I go to over and over, whether it’s for storytime or sharing at home or to recommend to another parent. The next time you’re at the library, ask us to show you some of our favorite non-fiction books.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog
Everyone knows the children’s rhyme – “Old MacDonald had a farm” – and who doesn’t love making the animal sounds and singing E-I-E-I-O as a chorus. There are many picture books of this classic rhyme and I enjoy a good farm animal storytime with Old MacDonald. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a new book, Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora.
Old Mikamba watches over a wide variety of animals on his game farm in the plains of Africa. Kids will discover a whole new set of fun animals and their sounds all followed by the familiar E-I-E-I-O. On this farm there is a baboon with an OOH-HA-HA here and an OOH-HA-HA there. Other animals like the elephant BARAAA-BARAAA, the zebras WHINNY WHINNY, the warthog SNORTS and the hippo GRUNTS all along with Farmer Mikamba and the many E-I-E-I-O’s. So much fun to see and hear the African animals.
Rachel Isadora, a longtime favorite illustrator of mine, uses bright oranges, yellows and greens of Africa. Old Mikamba is in traditional dress including his hat and sandals. Her collage work of the animals is a wonderful introduction to the African wildlife. Go ahead and sing your heart out with the animal sounds and E-I-E-I-O’s. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Old Mikamba Had a Farm
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that Ron Burgundy: Let Me Off at the Top! My classy life & other musings, the new book by legendary fake news anchor Ron Burgundy, is by far the best movie tie-in fake biography of a fictional character that I’ve read this year. The book not only presents the rich, dare I say majestic, life story of Mr. Burgundy, but also offers readers the kind of practical advice that only comes from a life lived at top speed without brakes. That is, the life of a local TV news anchor. Burgundy’s tips on parenting, like instilling confidence in a ten-year-old by teaching them to drive on the freeway, along with his essential “rules for living through a prison riot” are priceless, pure Burgundy and worth their weight in gold. As the man himself says in the introduction to Let Me Off at the Top!, this book is a gift. If you are a silly person looking for a very silly read, it is a very nice gift indeed. Stay classy.
Ron Burgundy: Let Me Off at the Top!
If I was forced into compiling a list of my favorite film directors, Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom) would be number five or six, perhaps even four given my mood. Regardless, he’s one of my go-to directors when I want to laugh, cry (well, not really) and be intellectually moved and artistically impressed. So I was pleased as punch to find out that a new, beautifully conceived book about Anderson and his singular cinematic vision was coming out this winter. The coffee table-sized book is a kitchen-sink assortment of analysis, interviews, and references to those touchstones which have inspired the director. The Wes Anderson Collection is a fan’s must-have tome. You can view a Q and A with the author here.
The Wes Anderson Collection
If you’re interested in American guitar history, you’ll want to explore this comprehensive new work about C.F. Martin and his contemporaries’ early technical developments in guitar design and manufacture. In a relatively short period of time before 1865, C.F. Martin and other builders developed and incorporated significant refinements, most notably an X-braced top capable of withstanding the higher string tension to which a steel-stringed guitar would be subjected. While Martin may or may not have invented X-bracing, his guitars were to the first to exploit this bracing system on a large scale.
Of course, folks in Kalamazoo get pretty excited about that other well-known granddaddy of the American guitar, Orville Gibson, who famously applied violin building techniques to mandolins and guitars. Arched-top mandolins and guitars? Yep, invented right here in Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is rightly proud of the stack and factory on Parsons Street where luminaries such as Lloyd Loar, Thaddeus McHugh, Ted McCarty, and others ran with Orville’s early ideas and made industrial design and musical instrument history.
From a business history standpoint, these two icons of American guitar manufacture are very different. Orville Gibson sold his nascent business and patent to a small group of Kalamazoo industrialists in 1902. Gibson Guitar relocated its headquarters to Nashville in 1981. The Heritage Guitar Company continues to build in the Parsons Street building today. C.F. Martin & Company, still located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, remains a family owned business more than 175 years later.
Your Kalamazoo Public Library has lots of great books on guitar history. This new work is definitely worth checking out. I like it because it focuses on little-known technical history before the American Civil War – no dreadnaughts to be found here. The full color plates of many of the very earliest C.F. Martin instruments in this large format book are truly gorgeous to behold.
Inventing the American Guitar
As librarians we frequently recommend books, music, and films to our patrons, but sometimes this goes the other way and our patrons suggest library materials to the librarians. This happened to me recently when a loyal KPL patron brought me this book and told me it might appeal to my interests. He was right. This 2013 title by Chris West uses a unique concept in that it covers the dual subjects of British postage stamps and British history. Mr. West takes 36 stamps and in a few pages gives a summary of the history behind the subject of each one. Topics include the coronation of Elizabeth II, the 800th anniversary of Ely Cathedral, and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One can read any or all of the 36 chapters. The color illustrations of the stamps are beautiful and really enhance the impact this book makes.
History of Britain in thirty-six postage stamps
Sally Spencer writes top-notch suspense novels. Backlash was a little slow going at first. But then it really took off. It was one of those mysteries that once you got into it you couldn’t put it down. It had a very interesting plot and ending. As a matter of fact, the ending was a real shocker! At least, I certainly didn’t expect it.
Well, currently, Monika has her hands full. She’s on her own and still missing Charlie. Chief Superintendent Kershaw’s wife is missing. Monika is caught up in trying to balance between handling the disappearance of the Chief Inspector’s wife and the disappearance of a young prostitute, who no one really cares about. Backlash is a clever mix of suspense and drama as Monika appears to blow off the Chief’s wife as a priority and is mainly focused on the streetwalker. Some question the handling of his case and wonders at her motives. To them she appears callous and uncaring and some question that she might be carrying a grudge. Could that be the problem? Even Monika questions that.
Backlash: A Monika Paniatowski Mystery