Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Have an animal in your home? Lots of us do. I have suggested cat stories before, since I have three cats of my own, so now I’m writing about dogs, which are the animals I grew up with. Dogs bring pleasure to our lives, but they can also do a lot more. Enjoy the following reads. 

The Second Chance Dog, A Love Story, by Jon Katz. 
In 2007, a few years after purchasing Bedlam Farm in upstate New York, Jon Katz met Maria Wulf, a quiet, sensitive artist hoping to rekindle her creative spark. Jon, like her, was introspective yet restless, a writer struggling to find his purpose. He felt a connection with her immediately, but a formidable obstacle stood in the way: Maria’s dog, Frieda. A Rottweiler-shepherd mix who had been abandoned by her previous owner in the Adirondacks, where she lived in the wild for several years, Frieda was ferociously protective and barely tamed. She roared and charged at almost anyone who came near. But to Maria, Frieda was sweet and loyal, her beloved guard dog and devoted friend. And so Jon quickly realized that to win over Maria, he’d have to gain Frieda’s affection as well. While he and Maria grew closer, Jon was having a tougher time charming Frieda to his side. Even after many days spent on Bedlam Farm, Frieda still lunged at the other animals, ran off into the woods, and would not let Jon come near her, even to hook on her leash. Yet armed with a singular determination, unlimited patience, and five hundred dollars’ worth of beef jerky, Jon refused to give up on Frieda, or on his chance with Maria. Written with stunning emotional clarity and full of warm yet practical wisdom, The Second-Chance Dog is a testament to how animals can make us better people, and how it’s never too late to fine love. 

James Herriot’s Favorite Dog Stories, by James Herriot. 
When James decided he wanted to be a vet, he knew that he wanted to be a dog doctor, so he could spend all his time with dogs. As everyone knows, James Herriot became much more than a dog doctor. But no animal was dearer to his heart, and no animal provided him with more heartwarming and wonderful tales, then man’s best friend. Enjoy ten of James Herriot’s most beloved stories about dogs. There is Jock the sheepdog, rescued from neglect by a doting mistress. There is Brandy, a mutt who’s only happy (and healthy) when he’s digging in a dustbin. Others are Border collies, dachshunds, and even Tricki Woo, the memorable Pekingese. In the books pages the celebrated Yorkshire vet brings to life these animals’ human counterparts, painting them with warmth and humor in equal measure. This collection of tales is a welcome gift from one of the greatest storytellers of our time. 

Haatchi & Little B; the inspiring true story of one boy and his dog, by Wendy Holden. 
When Owen, known to his family as “little buddy” or “Little B, met Haatchi, the lives of one adorable little boy and one great, big dog were destined to change forever. Owen has a rare genetic disorder that leaves him largely confined to a wheelchair. He also found it difficult to make friends. Haatchi was abused and left for dead on railroad tracks. He was struck by an oncoming train, and although his life was saved, his leg and tail were partially severed. He was massively disabled and totally dispirited. But then Little B’s father and stepmother decided to introduce the big dog and the boy to each other, and an unbelievable bond was formed that transformed both boy and dog in miraculous ways. This story is a true story of a little boy and a very special big dog and the most wonderful pair you will ever read about. 

Elle & Coach; diabetes, the fight for my daughter’s life, and the dog who changed everything by Stefany Shaheen. 
When her oldest daughter, 8 year old Elle, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Stefany confronted a terrifying new reality; without constant monitoring and treatment, Elle could face grim consequences, even death. Treatment meant shots of insulin, testing blood sugar levels, pricking fingers numerous times a day. Tests have to be done before meals, snacks, activities, before bedtime, during the night and several other times during the day. When Elle’s blood sugar levels repeatedly dropped without warning the stress took its toll on the entire family. Along the way Stefany and Elle heard stories about the growing field of medic-alert dogs; four-legged friends who are celebrated for having the ability to detect seizures, alert people with diabetes when blood sugar levels rise too high or fall too low, and several other medical conditions. They decide to give a dog a try. Enter an adorable, hardworking yellow Lab named Coach. When he joined the family, life gradually improved. Elle seemed at ease for the first time since her diagnosis. Could a dog really make a difference in Elle’s life? Would Coach have a positive effect on her health? The journey had struggles, humor and inspiration, but they did arrive at an answer. A compelling story of overcoming, Elle & Coach reminds us of the power of the human-animal connection, and the profound nature of a mother’s love for her daughter. 

Lessons from Tara; life advice from the world’s most brilliant dog, by David Rosenfelt.
Loyal readers of the Andy Carpenter series are familiar with Tara, Andy’s golden retriever sidekick. This book tells you about David and how he became a slightly nutty canine rescuer and the dog that started it all. Here is a book about the inspirational pooch who taught David everything he knows. Through Tara and many other dogs he has saved over the years, David learned about being able to share his emotions, about guts and resilience and so much more. This book is infused with David’s trademark wry and self-deprecating sense of humor and will move readers to tears and laughter. 

--Arlette Dubord, Technical Services Assistant

Monday, February 1, 2016

Mind nourishing books to share with children

As adults resolve to get fit and eat better in 2016, it is also a great time to grow a child’s mind - both their curiosity and vocabulary. From babies to students just learning to read, invite your child to snuggle on your lap and enjoy a great book. You’ll find plenty of mind nourishing titles in the Children’s Room at the Peter White Public Library.
I Will Chomp You by Jory John.  Sometimes toddlers can be demanding. In this book a grumpy monster threatens to “chomp”’ the reader if he or she turns any more pages. The monster seems irrationally irate - sound familiar parents?  But it is not until the middle of the book that the audience learns the monter's prized cake collection is featured on some of the last pages. He does not want to share. This tale about communicating emotions is a fun read-aloud that both children and parents will enjoy. Although be warned – you might want cake after reading it. 
As a young girl I loved stories of the Hundred Acre Wood – of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. I never knew that A.A. Milne’s inspiration was a real bear, named Winnie, who spent most of her life in the London Zoo. Winnie caught the eye of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, and the rest is history. Winnie’s story is truly fascinating and lovingly presented by Lindsay Mattick in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. It recently received the Randolph Caldecott medal for its illustrations by Sophie Blackall. After a Canadian soldier rescued Winnie from a trapper who planned to shoot her, the soldier and his company took Winnie as a mascot to the warzone. When that became too dangerous she was temporarily lodged at the London Zoo, where she captured visitors hearts and remained for the rest of her life. Mattick’s descriptions of the relationship between the Winnipeg native Harry Colebourn and Winnie points to what a special bear Winnie was and why she was the inspiration for the best known children’s literature of the 20th century.  
A grandparent’s love for a grandchild is captured beautifully in Mr. Frank by Irene Luxbacher.  In the book Mr. Frank, a tailor, makes an outfit that he deems “perfect.” With illustrations depicting clothing from each decade passed, he compares the outfit with the other special outfits he has sewn over a 50 year career. Yet they all seem less grand than the garment he tailored for this one customer. After Luxbacher reveals the outfit is a superhero costume for Mr. Frank’s grandson, readers are left with the image of a young boy eagerly watching his grandfather create art with love.    
With its rhyming, short text the story of NHL legend Bobby Orr’s childhood is now accessible for the youngest readers in The Boy in Number Four by Kara Kootstra.  Ontario author Kootstra captures the commitment, drive, and love of hockey Orr had as a young boy. Regan Thomson’s illustrations of predawn and after dark practices, driveway drills, broken bones, wins, losses, and a play-by-play of a specific game engage readers as they cheer on the boy wearing jersey number four. An afterword by Orr, who was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979, offers a glimpse into his boyhood dream, like many young boys and girls today. His story is relatable to all those who loved to play outdoors with their friends.
The dynamic duo are back in Mo Willems’ latest installment of the “Elephant and Piggie” series. What happens when your best friend finds your favorite food, well, disgusting? This is the story in I Really Like Slop. What Piggie finds delectable, delicious, and a very important part of pig culture –green  slop- Gerald finds stinky, unappetizing, and just plan yucky. But in a heartwarming display of friendship, Gerald agrees to try Piggie’s slop. This easy to read and fun to digest tale of friends accepting and engaging their cultural differences opens the door to multicultural conversations with young readers.
When babies learn first words, “happy” might be included in that vocabulary list. Emma Dodd creates a rhythmic prose in her book Happy, capturing the joy of language at an early age. Using flecks of gold and a beautiful night sky, Dodd draws a mother and baby owl engaging in typical parent - toddler behavior – all the things that bring the young one sheer happiness. Parents won’t mind when their child uses another new word for this book: “more.”

--Jenifer Kilpela, Youth Services

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Young adult novels

Some of the best books in the library are cataloged as Young Adult books and can be found in the Teen Area.  The main characters are usually teens who deal with their problems without the experience and confidence of adults.  The books come in all genres and hold the interest of readers older than fourteen years of age.  Try one of these well-written and complex stories on your next visit.

          Bone Gap by Laura Ruby begins as realistic fiction with the very human story of 14 year-old Finn, who daydreams, gets into fights but doesn't fight back, and sees people in a different way.  He notices their shape and movement more than their faces, but in the small community of Bone Gap, he knows who everyone is.  His older brother Sean is big and strong and does everything right; and he takes care of Finn.  It's the two of them against the world.  Their lives change overnight when the most beautiful woman in the world is found in their barn.  Her name is Rosza, she is a great cook, and she makes the brothers happy.  As quickly as she came, she leaves - taken by a man that Finn can’t describe, even though he saw Rosza get into his car and disappear down the road.  There are several mysteries taking place at the same time, eventually unraveled through the separate narratives of Finn and Rosza.
          At some point, the story transforms into surreal fantasy, paralleling the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, who was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld, just like Rosza was kidnapped and hidden from sight. Finn is fearless in his quest to find Rosza and becomes the hero of the story.  There are several allusions to the myth beginning about halfway through the story such as the superhuman strength and persona of the kidnapper.  References to the pomegranate seeds that Persephone ate, resulting in six months above the ground and six months below, are found in Rosza's cookie recipe with an especially delicious pomegranate filling, and her inner struggle to stay connected to her grandmother in Poland, while, at the same time, wanting to start a new life in the U.S. with Finn and Sean.  This is a story about perspective - inner beauty versus physical beauty and the value of acceptance for each individual viewing the world from a slightly different viewpoint.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds begins in Matt’s senior year in school as he reels from the recent death of his mother.  He can't seem to forget the images of his mother's funeral, but needs to get back to the reality of school and work.  He ends up working for the funeral home and, drawn to the grieving families, sits in on the funerals held there.  It's like therapy, so he puts on his black suit each day to blend in with the mourners.  While Matt is trying to get himself together, his father starts to hit the bottle as he grieves his wife's death and ends up in the hospital.  Matt is without parental guidance at this point, but relies on his best friend, Chris, and his new friend and romantic interest, Lovey, who just lost her grandmother and primary caregiver.  The two lost souls connect on several levels, including a secret they share without knowing it.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is science fiction at its best, elevating the zombie theme to a new level of sophistication.  Ten year-old Melanie is collected from her cell each morning by three guards with rifles and delivered to her classroom with 30 other students who are strapped into their wheelchairs.  Melanie can’t remember any other way of life and enjoys the stories taught by her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau.  She is clearly the most intelligent student in the class, but begins to realize that her brain cannot control snapping jaws and body functions when she smells human flesh without the disinfectant chemicals used by school personnel.  She is a “hungry,” a human shell powered by a contagious grey fungus that destroyed most of the people in England twenty years ago.  When other “hungries” breach the school’s defenses, Melanie and three human school administrators make a break for safety.  Will they survive?  This thriller is currently shelved in New Adult Fiction. 

Mosquitoland by David Arnold features Mary Iris Malone, who uses the pseudonym MIM. She has just been displaced from her home in Ohio to the mosquito infested state of Mississippi with her father and brand new stepmother, prompting her to run away and hop a bus back to Cleveland to tie up loose ends with her mother, who now resides in a rehabilitation facility.  Lucky for her, she sits next to a grandmotherly woman. This woman ignores Mim's teenaged flippancy and penchant for being impulsive, allowing a chance to share their quests with each other - their reasons for being on the bus.  Mim is also unlucky enough to meet up with "pancho man," forcing her to face the moral dilemma of doing the right thing by reporting his suspicious activities, which would also blow her anonymity and reveal her as a runaway, or saving herself.  On the next phase of the journey, Mim tries hitchhiking and meets her next two traveling buddies, the handsome Beck and the charming, childlike Walt who bring humor and goodness into the adventure.   Throughout the story, Mim reflects back in time to analyze her mother's mental illness and her father's over-reaction to any hint of odd behavior she displayed as a child.  Will a family history of mental illness affect her also, or can she hope to live normally and unmedicated? This coming-of-age novel truly depicts the growth of the main character, who learns a little bit about herself from each of the quirky characters she meets along the way.

--Lynette Suckow, Reference Desk

Monday, January 11, 2016

2015 Favorites

Here are more of my favorite 2015 books.
Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the second of editor Ron Riekki’s loving tributes to the landscape and people of the Upper Peninsula. Here is an anthology of short stories and poems set in the U.P. or written by women with a connection to the U.P. Organized according to the seasons, the writings reflect rugged landscapes, both harshness and beauty, in what we see all around us and those more hidden and internal landscapes of the heart and mind. The writings, from the 1840s to the present, include Carroll Watson Rankin (old Marquette), Elinor Benedict (Rapid River), April Lindala (Marquette), Beverly Matherne (Negaunee), Jane Piirto (Ishpeming), Roxane Gay (Houghton) and Ellen Airgood (Grand Marais). The pieces will make you laugh, cry, get angry, want to hibernate or sigh in recognition and awe.

Miss Emily, the American debut novel by Irish writer by Nuala O’Connor, brings Emily Dickinson to life by imagining the poet’s private family life. Told through the alternating voices of Emily and the Dickinson family’s new recently arrived Irish maid, 18-year-old Ada Concannon, this story imagines how Emily might have overcome her demons and defied her family to help her young friend. Not only is the story a joy to read for its sense of 1860’s Amherst and its study of Dickinson family relationships, but Ada’s Irish prose voice is as poetic as Emily’s verse and recognizably echoes some of the poet’s themes such as nature, birds, feathers and hope.

Amy Stewart’s novel Girl Waits with Gun is based on a true story of Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the U.S. Set in Paterson, N.J. in 1914, Kopp and her two sisters are riding home when their buggy is hit broadside by an arrogant and drunken factory owner. The buggy is smashed and the horse hurt. Stubborn Constance embarks on a determined drive for justice and compensation which leads to a terror campaign of bricks, threats and bullets courtesy of the Black Hand gang. Progressive Sheriff Heath and his men work day and night to protect the Kopp family. Constance figures out a career path and how she can contribute to saving the family farm. Along the way readers learn about the 1913 Silk Workers’ Strike, the place of women, the lot of workers, and jail conditions in the early 20th century. A lot of history in a very fun book.

Barry Estabrook’s riveting Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat explores pigs, the commercial pork industry and alternative approaches to raising these intelligent, playful and social animals. Estabrook’s fondness for pigs shines through each chapter. He discusses both domestic and wild pigs and includes a tale of a feral pig hunt in Texas. He shows us the conditions under which most commercial pork is raised in the U.S., reveals resulting environmental conditions for neighbors and waterways near our pig farms, visits farms with alternative approaches to raising pigs, discusses diseases in both pigs and humans, includes both policy and science, and portrays the personalities of farmers, corporate owners, lawyers, government inspectors and chefs. I’ll still eat and enjoy pork but I will be much more aware of its source.

These last two books are my very favorites of the year, although there are many more by terrific authors that I can’t wait to read.

Last year I read and loved Anthony Marra’s 2013 debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. This year, Marra has brought us a collection of tightly linked stories, The Tsar of Love and Techno. The stories are told in different voices and bounce back and forth in time and place from 1937 Kirovsk (a Siberian nickel mining and smelting disaster of an outpost) to 2013 Chechnya (and Outer Space). The characters’ lives intersect in amazing and unexpected ways including a connection to a landscape painting of a bland, peaceful meadow. Each story stands alone but together they create a remarkable portrait of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the war in Chechnya. The characters are both courageous and flawed. One rewrites history by brushing out images of purged people from photos; another, after wartime capture, finds his imprisonment in an old well the most serene time of his life. The landscape is melancholy, polluted and full of land mines, yet there is enough love and repentance that you close the book with a sense of hope and gratitude.

Last week I began this list of my favorite 2015 reads with a book whose main character is a librarian. I’ll end this week’s column with another librarian. Erika Swyler’s debut novel The Book of Speculation is a magical, marvelous, whimsical, rather dark (except for the electric boyfriend who emits sparks and can make lightbulbs shine) tale. Simon Watson is about to lose his job due to budget cuts at the library. He lives in his family’s home that is crumbling into Long Island Sound. An antiquarian bookseller mails him a damaged book, a log book written and illustrated by a traveling circus proprietor in the late 18th century. As Simon reads, he realizes the book is about his family whose young females, including his mother and grandmother, worked as circus mermaids and tarot card readers, and drowned on July 24. Simon’s long-absent sister Enola, and her electric boyfriend Doyle who work in a traveling carnival, decide to visit. It is early July. Simon frantically struggles to understand and break the curse that kills the women in his family. Simon’s story alternates with the histories of the original traveling circus’ characters, including the Wild Boy, the Proprietor and the Fortune Teller, each of whom factor into the lives of Simon and his neighbor and love interest, fellow librarian, Alice.

Happy Reading in 2016.

--Cathy Seblonka, Collection Development/Reference Librarian