July 2020 Staff Picks

The Carry Home: Lessons From the American Wilderness
by Gary Ferguson

The American Wilderness has long been a refuge for those looking to escape – escape from their past, from tyranny, and from grief.  For Ferguson and his wife Jane the wilderness was a shared refuge that was an important part of their long and loving marriage.  When Jane died tragically in a canoe accident in 2005, Ferguson returned to the wilderness that they had shared to both work through his grief and to honor her final wish that her ashes be scattered in five of the wild places that they had shared and cherished.  Ferguson has given us a book that is an ode to both his wife and the American Wilderness.  It’s a love story and an adventure.  It’s a book about what really matters.

An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice
by Khizr Khan

This classic tale of the immigrant experience is beautifully written by Khizr Khan, a Pakistani-American who, along with his wife Ghazala, made enormous sacrifices to create a better life for themselves and their children.  Captivated by the promise of America, they worked, struggled, and studied to reach their lofty goals.  These sacrifices would ultimately pale in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice awaiting them – the loss of their son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan - who was killed in a suicide attack in Iraq.  The gift of reading a book like this is the opportunity to see America with fresh eyes.  Khan sees this country differently than most of us, remaining full of wonder and gratitude for his adopted homeland.  The reader who spends time with Khan is likely to feel a bit of the same.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
by Robert Putnam

Robert Putnam – Harvard sociologist and author of the influential Bowling Alone – rose from humble beginnings in Port Clinton, Ohio in the 1950’s to be a world-renowned intellectual and advisor to several U.S. Presidents.  Putnam remained connected to his hometown and saw that more recent generations didn’t seem to be doing as well as many of his contemporaries - the Class of 1959.  Something seemed fundamentally different about the Port Clinton – and the America – of today than that of his youth.  Not wanting to succumb to nostalgia for “the good old days” he combined a rigorous academic examination with compelling personal stories of success and struggle to vividly demonstrate how inequality and opportunity have changed in his lifetime.  Is it harder to get ahead in America now than it was then?  What kind of a chance does a child from a difficult home have to succeed?  Many of us have deeply held political beliefs about questions like these.  Putnam has data.  It’s worth the time to set aside opinions and listen to what the facts are about the state of inequality in America.

Hamilton and Peggy!
by L.M. Elliott

If the highlight of your quarantine was finding out that Disney+ was releasing Hamilton this summer, you’re going to want to check out this book on the lesser known Schuyler sister. Although Peggy feels overshadowed by her sisters, she is smart and clever and forms a close friendship with Hamilton, which ends up making her an important person in the middle of the American Revolution. Filled with information about spies and traitors and some juicy information about family and friends, this is a great read for any Hamilton fan.  

Dread Nation
by Justina Ireland

The Civil War but with zombies. Need I say more? In this alternate-history horror story, the Civil War ends when the North and South join forces to fight the living dead but really, they just send Black and Native children to battle for them. Jane McKeen is a biracial girl who is strong in battle but as she’s fighting for her freedom, she discovers some of the monsters she must fight are not zombies.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
by Ben Philippe
Norris, a Black French Canadian, is forced to move to Austin, Texas for his junior year of high school. He has no plans of making friends and instead, he labels his classmates as cliché characters from American sitcoms and bad ‘90s teen movies. Despite his resistance, Norris begins to open up to his classmates. But when he screws everything up at prom, he has to find a way to fix things. The humor in Norris’s snarky voice and observations of American stereotypes is one of the best parts of this book.

*Additional recommendations can be found here.

Picture Books

Inside Out and Back Again
by Thanhhà Lai

The American Immigrant experience has stretched across generations of people with hopes and dreams of a better life which is never easy or smooth. Based on the author’s own experience, follow H` as she struggles with leaving Saigon to make a home with her family in America.
Overdrive Link

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis

With humor and love, Curtis paints a moving portrait of an all-American family from Flint, Mich. as they make a trip to see their grandmother in Birmingham, Ala. While there, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church occurs, which allows readers to gain important understanding of an event that served as a catalyst to unite people across the nation in supporting Civil Rights and to show their love for their fellow Americans.
Overdrive Link

50 trailblazers of the 50 states: celebrate the lives of inspiring people who paved the way from every state in America!
by Howard Megdal

Kids will find inspiration among this mix of exceptional individuals who embody the American spirit. Each biographic snippet gives the basics of the person's character and contributions which serve as a great source of American pride and perseverance.

Picture Books

Grover Cleveland, Again!
by Ken Burns

With the presidential election happening later this year, now is the perfect time to learn about our previous Commanders in Chief. Published in 2016, it gives a brief overview of the first 44 presidents. Gerald Kelley’s marvelous illustrations round out this great introduction to the presidents.

The Undefeated
by Kwame Alexander with illustrations by Kadir Nelson
*Available on OverDrive

Winner of several awards and honors, this picture book is a tour de force full of impactful words and powerful images. Alexander and Nelson masterfully stitch past and present together by recounting the triumphs and struggles of black Americans. An absolute must-read.

John, Paul, George, & Ben
by Lane Smith
*Available on Hoopla

Lane Smith relates the childhoods of five founding fathers, but in the telling he takes some... liberties. Smith complements the witty text with delightful collage-style art that evokes the time of the American Revolution. A true-false section in the back helps separate fact from fiction in this hilarious book.