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Staff Picks: Books

The War that Saved My Life

Well written with a captivating story, The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a new favorite of mine. Set in England during World War II, the story is told from 10 year old, Ada's perspective. She and her brother, Jaime escape their abusive mother when London's children are evacuated to the country. They find healing and hope in their new surroundings and it's just completely inspiring. I bet you'll love it too! 

The One, the Only - Ivan

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is a picture book account of the life of a wild animal who was born in a tropical forest in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lived with a large family of Western lowland gorillas. He enjoyed this time in his young life until one day poachers came and captured both him and another baby gorilla.

He and the other little one, named Burma, were sold to a man who owned a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. Burma died shortly after being delivered to her new surroundings, but Ivan lived in a home and was treated much like a human child. At age five however, he became too big and strong for his human domestic setting, and had to be moved to a concrete and glass cage at his owner’s mall. In this confining, barren environment, he amused himself by watching television, finger painting and engaging in his favorite activity of all - watching humans watch him.

After spending 27 years in this unfit, deficient situation, there was an outcry in the Tacoma community (as well as around the world), about Ivan’s plight. Letters were written, petitions signed and protests held to release Ivan from the confines of his small cage in the shopping mall.

Finally, Ivan’s owners gave in, and shortly thereafter he was sent to Zoo Atlanta where he was gently adjusted to a new life in a large enclosure populated by other gorillas, green grass and large trees.

In 2012, Ivan died at the age of 50. A memorial service was held in his honor at the Zoo, remembering Ivan’s unique role in representing the need that all animals have to be treated with dignity and kindness.

This is a wonderful book for preschoolers or early elementary kids by Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate who had previously published a novel which was also inspired by these same events. She will be conducting an Author’s Visit at the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Central location on September 22nd, 2015.

The child appealing illustrations in this volume are by G. Brian Karas who spent many hours researching gorillas by watching them at the Bronx Zoo.


Mothman's Curse

I confess that I had never actually heard of the Mothman until last year when a patron asked me for books about the cryptid. Originating in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in the mid-1960s, the legend of the Mothman apparently began when four teenagers reported being chased by a large moth-like figure in the sky. A few years later, the Mothman was blamed, among other theories, for the tragic and seemingly freak collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River at Point Pleasant. While perhaps not as well-known as the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, how could such an American original have escaped my knowing? Mothman’s Curse is a new chapter book that is not-too-scary, depending on your taste, of course. It is, as one review says, a good next step up from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. Josie and her friends live in Athens, Ohio, where they discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of a particular ghost in Athens, "the most haunted town in America". From there, the kids start to unravel the curse of the Mothman. The Mothman’s Curse is a not-too-terrifying read that delves into the fascinating American folklore surrounding this lesser known, at least to me, cryptid.

One Family

Families come in many configurations. And what better way to celebrate families in all their individuality and complexity than this wonderful picture book One Family, by George Shannon.

Simple enough for even very young children, One Family has charming illustrations by Blanca Gomez. Cheerful looking families (and their pets) are shown going about their daily activities. This title has the added benefit of being able to be used as a counting book. I love the little details in the pictures that add to the overall theme- one world, one family.

Maker Resources for Kids

We're having so much fun with our maker programs this summer. Process and learning are our focus, rather than an end product! At our maker programs we offer a selection of supplies and tools on a theme like circuitry or painting. Then we let the kids explore and make what they want to make. There is no right or wrong! It's a beautiful thing. I find inspiration everywhere I go but some of my favorite resources are on our shelves at KPL. I love Pinterest and blogs for ideas but there are also some really standout books on our shelves at KPL with great visual inspiration and expanded instructions for techniques. My current favorites for maker ideas for kids include: Tinkerlab150+ Screen-free Ideas for Kids, and The Artful ParentAll of these books offer great ideas for making and creating that can be more or less complex depending on age and ability of the child (and caregiver!). I hope you'll make something with us at the library soon! It's so fun to see what we come up with together! 

Make Way for Ducklings(1)

 Don’t you love Mr. and Mrs. Mallard?  They work so hard to find the perfect place to build a nest and raise their ducklings; Robert McCloskey’s life-like illustrations are perfect.  Make Way for Ducklings has been a favorite at our house for a long time.  Recently I’ve seen two other “duckling” books that are such nice companions for the Mallard family. . . Little Ducks Go by Emily Arnold McCully, and Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore.  Take a look at these recent books and share them with the duckling-lovers at your house. 



Emmanuel's Dream

Emmanuel’s Dream, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls, tells the true story of Ghanaian athlete Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who was born with only one healthy leg (the other was severely deformed). Where Emmanuel grew up, most kids with disabilities couldn’t go to school, but Emmanuel hopped back and forth two miles each way. He also played soccer and learned to ride a bike – in fact, he became famous after he cycled 400 miles across Ghana, raising awareness that people with disabilities can still greatly contribute to society. My 5 year-old daughter enjoyed this story and the illustrations very much. I highly recommend checking out the list of books in our catalog by illustrator Sean Qualls -- his artwork is exquisite!


Of Whispers and Promises

A young boy loves to frequent the Bronx Zoo but feels very sad when he sees the plight of animals living in empty cages and barren rooms. These feelings are especially intense when he visits the jaguar exhibit. Seeing these big, majestic cats living in unnatural, desolate surroundings makes him want to change both his and their futures. And he sets out to do just that.


A Boy and a Jaguar, is the inspiring autobiographical account of  Alan Rabinowitz, who through his love of animals, managed to overcome a personal obstacle that seemed overwhelming at first.


Alan is a stutterer. During his childhood years, he sometimes had his head and body shake so uncontrollably when attempting to speak, that his teachers placed him in a class for disturbed kids and pronounced to his parents that, “He is broken”.


However, there are two ways that Alan can verbally communicate without stuttering. One is to sing, and the other is to talk to animals. He starts off by telling his pet hamster, gerbil, turtle, chameleon and green garter snake about his dreams and they seem to listen to him. He also promises that if he ever finds his voice, he will also be their voice, and that no harm will come their way. He then goes to the Bronx Zoo great cat house and “fluently” whispers the same vow to the resident jaguar through the cage bars.


When he starts college, he is enrolled in an experimental program for stutterers which relieves him of his speech impediment, but not his continuing feelings of being somehow broken on the inside.


Pursuing his passionate interest in animals, Alan prepares for a career as a wildlife conservationist. He hikes the Smoky Mountains to study black bears, and then lands in Belize to study his favorite species, the jaguar, in it’s natural habitat.


Jaguars are severely threatened by human encroachment into their jungle environment. Alan decides to use his new found voice to help the big cats. He presents his case to save the jaguars from hunters directly  to Belize’s Prime Minister. And his fifteen minute presentation produces success! His wish that the world’s first jaguar preserve be established in the country, comes true.


I love the message that this book delivers about people and animals who can’t speak for themselves. Complimenting the story are Catia Chien’s colorful and evocative illustrations that deliver just the right amount of visual dynamism.


A little book with a big hearted message that should be thoroughly enjoyable for readers of all ages.


Since overcoming his stutter, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation. He is also a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

For more information visit and .

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

 This is sort of a fun read for those who may be looking for a bit of a darker read but aren’t really ready for something scary.  The head mistress of a ladies’ finishing school and her brother are poisoned and rather than report the crime to the local police the seven students decide to hide it in an effort to avoid being sent home and separated from each other.  Disgraceful Mary Jane, Sly Kitty, and Stout Alice (each girl has a moniker) haphazardly cobble together a cover up while Pocked Louise sets her sights on finding the killer.  The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is an interesting read for anyone who enjoys murder mysteries with female protagonists.


The Magic Mirror

Kamara had a hard day at school. One of the boys called her names and used some nasty words talking about her. The one bright spot is that she is on her way to gramma’s house. Kamara knew that gramma would make her feel better. And gramma did. Gramma sent Kamara to clean the mirror upstairs. It was a mirror that had been passed down from her great grandmother to her grandmother and it turned out to be a magic mirror. When Kamara started rubbing the mirror she saw another young girl’s eyes staring back at her.  Through the eyes of women throughout the past centuries Kamara was able to see the violence, hatred and poverty that women of color have faced throughout history. Through it Kamara sees humiliation and determination. She sees pride, beauty and courage.  

There is a lot of history in this very small book. In The Magic Mirror Zetta Elliott does an amazing job of teaching history and courage. She sends the message to young girls that they are not alone.