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February 2015 Staff Picks

Becky’s Pick: Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes, Little and Big by Pete Seeger (CD)


Love banjos and singing funny songs super loud in the car? This might be your next favourite road trip album! While being adored by children, Pete Seeger’s album is something that I consistently reach for as an adult. There are familiar tracks like Skip to my Lou and There Was an Old Lady (Who Swallowed a Fly) mixed in with titles that might be new to you like Alligator, Hedgehog or Mister Rabbit. The lyrics are engaging, and more complex than other children’s music. While other artists rely on repetition to draw in younger listeners, Seeger’s music is rooted in storytelling and folk imagery. Sixty years after these folk classics were recorded they can still make you smile.

 Brenda’s Pick: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all the light

I bought the book All the light we cannot see in an airport, quickly and desperate for something to read on a long flight. I am so glad I picked this book! This fictional story opens with very short and descriptive chapters which set the stage and draw the reader into a place and a time and the lives of two young people. The author, Doerr, crafts his words and builds a beautiful tale set in both France and Germany before and during WWII. Marie-Laure, a blind French girl and Werner, a gifted German boy, are caught up in the upheavals surrounding them. They do not meet until the end of the story, but all leads up to that meeting. It is the author’s portrayal and deep understanding that is so compelling. The novel is uplifting because of the richness of the composition.

 Brenda’s Pick: Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

four seasons rome

I just had to read something else by this author, so I found the memoir written in 2007 Four seasons in Rome: on Twins, Insomnia and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Again, he wrote a thoroughly delightful book while he was in Rome on a prize sabbatical year and just beginning the research work for the novel All the Light… His reflections on parenthood with very young twin boys, on writing, on travel and on the city of Rome and the Italian countryside are funny, insightful, gorgeously descriptive, and honest. Read consecutively or on their own, these are both excellent and very different books penned by a prize-winning author.

 David’s Pick: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned by Lena Dunham

not that kind of girl

Lena Dunham shares stories about her past, her upbringing, and her multiple neuroses. Written as an homage to classic advice books for young women (i.e., Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl), but updated for the internet age. Dunham is a master/mistress of oversharing and some of her observations are brutally perceptive and very, very funny. A good companion piece to a season or two of “Girls”.

 David’s Pick: The Comeback by John Ralston Saul

the comeback

With ongoing treaty negotiations, Prime Minister Harper’s apology for the devastation caused by the residential school system, and the Idle No More movement, the resurgence of Indigenous culture has become a central national issue in recent years. Saul provides a pocket history of colonialist policy and the Indian Act before launching into a more hopeful narrative about the increase in political activism among Canada’s First Nations and the revitalization of Indigenous philosophy and political resistance. As one who has claimed in the past that we are inherently a Métis nation, Saul holds a hopeful vision of a future in which Canada lives up to its treaty obligations and the Indigenous peoples of these territories assume a position of political and cultural prominence alongside the descendants of settlers.

Joanne’s Pick: The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams

big tiny

This memoir is both humorous, highly entertaining and informative. Dee Williams is a feisty individual who decided people matter more than things and that things take up too much of our time and money. She simplifies her life by downsizing from her newly renovated home to a tiny house on wheels she built herself. Williams downsized to the point that she can list all her possessions on one piece of paper. This memoir details her experience building the house and downsizing so she can spend more time with friends and family and the things that matter most in life.

Mark’s Pick: The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C.M. Millen

ink garden

C.M. Millen has produced a beautiful, children’s illustrated story about discovering colourful dyes for illuminating manuscripts. In this book, each page is a painting that bring to life the ancient story of bringing colour to the world of books. The illustrations are accompanied by Millen’s own rhyming poetry about young Theophane. This is a delightful story that will surely bring a smile to your face.


Sandra’s Pick: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters at The End by Atul Gawande

being mortal

Atul Gawande, Boston surgeon, author, and staff writer for the New Yorker, has written a deeply personal and professionally revealing exploration of aging and death.

Part of his book concerns our perceptions of elderly people, the reality of nursing homes, and how we can age with self-respect. The other part is a journey into palliative care, where Gawande fearlessly reveals the struggles of his profession and shares his search for a better way to approach a terminal diagnosis, such as having difficult conversations with patients. He naturally, and with raw honesty, comes to understand how the finitude of one’s time can be a gift. The realization changes his personal life and affects how he deals with the lives of his patients. He learns how simple but powerful words, such as “I am worried,” can change someone’s treatment decisions, life, and death, for the better.

In our aging and death-denying society Being Mortal is an important book to read, share, and discuss. The real stories he shares are a wonderful way for us to learn that we can change the narrative of our lives to have better endings.

 Sonia’s Pick: Jane, The Fox & Me by Fanny Britt

jane fox me

A hybrid between a graphic novel, a picture book, and an urban garden, Jane, the Fox & Me depicts adolescent loneliness on the mean outskirts of school popularity. Its main character, Hélène, lives in a world of grey washes and heavy charcoal markings – except when she escapes into “the best book I ever read, even if I’m only halfway through,” Jane Eyre. Clever, slender and wise despite subsisting on burnt porridge and brown stew for many years, Jane Eyre lives in a world that mixes periwinkle blues and rose hues with the occasional grey. But will Jane Eyre alone provide Hélène with the nourishment, confidence and hope that she needs to weather the bullies and stop imagining herself as a sausage? Anyone who has read Jane Eyre or been in Hélène’s shoes suspects not. So when a quiet turn of fate brings colour into Hélène’s life, one red fox and a few sneaky, leafy sprigs at a time until finally the pages bloom with colours – more colours than in Jane Eyre’s parallel universe – the reader rejoices. Isabelle Arsenault is a fantastic illustrator who brings this familiar, yet artfully conceived storyline to life.