Delightfully disturbing picture books to share with your friends

Why do I read picture books? Because they make me laugh and they are full of fantastic illustrations, of course. Also, it’s an easy evening’s entertainment to have an impromptu storytime while sipping cocktails before you settle in for dinner or break out Settlers of Catan. These have reduced my friends to abject hilarity, and if they can do that for the 30-somethings, imagine the impact on the under-7 set.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

“Have you seen my hat?” “No. I haven’t seen your hat.” “Okay, thank you anyway.” This little book masters both deadpan delivery and a refreshing politeness of dialogue. The illustrations are spare and almost expressionless, but convey the bear’s distress beautifully. Another brilliant example of the age-old maxim: rabbits are trouble. It does not end well, but that’s part of the book’s delight.

Bunny days by Tao Nyeu

A sweet little set of stories about the harrowing adventures of a group of bunnies. Wonderfully illustrated, mild little tales, until you start to think about what it would actually mean to run a rabbit through a dryer or a sewing machine, at which point the giggles set in. Boy, those goats are so absent minded! And I love that the bear is always right at hand with whatever industrial implement will set the bunnies to rights.

Beware of the Frog by William Bee

William Bee is a strange and heartless storyteller, who captures the same kind of callous consequences as an un-Disneyfied Grimm’s fairy tale. This is the story of Mrs. Collywobbles (who is sweet and aged) and her merciless guardian frog. Don’t mess with it (unless you’re Mrs.Collywobbles), and maybe not even then. For more excellent William Bee humor, see the snarky and delightful Whatever.

Egg Drop by Mini Grey

“The egg was young. It didn’t listen. If only it had waited.” What happens when an ambitious egg decides it wants to fly? Oh yes, gravity wins. As you wait for the inevitable, contemplate the silly, slightly steampunk illustrations of chickens in goggles and eggs turned flying machine. Mini Grey is a master of textures, so her images make this simple story magical and hilarious.

The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers

Something about the bear with little stick legs just gets to me. There’s a bandit in the forest, removing tree branches. Recriminations abound between the peaceful woodland denizens, but after a hunt and a trial, the culprit is brought to justice. I can’t decide what disturbs me more: the casual maiming of trees, or the litigiousness of the woodland creatures; but I love the paper making apparatus and Oliver Jeffer’s engaging drawings.

~Jenny, Central Library

What do we do after the world ends? Part III: Survive

Available in epub and regular print at the libraryWell, guess what, the world hasn’t actually ended yet. (Hooray). That being the case, here’s a selection of books that looks at what we can do to prepare ourselves, or better yet, head that day off.

Just in Case: How to Be Self-sufficient When the Unexpected Happens by Kathy Harrison
And here’s a good source of practical advice. This book takes an overwhelming topic and breaks it down into manageable tasks. I also really enjoy Kathy Harrison’s relaxed approached to disaster – she’s not trying to instill panic or paranoia, she’s trying to ensure comfort in the face of the unexpected. It’s also a pretty great handbook in case of zombie apocalypse.

Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and A Better World by Joel Salatin
Oh, Joel Salatin, you fascinating curmudgeon. If the mild and joyful farmer’s memoirs leave you wanting more, jump into the thick of the agribusiness food debate with Joel. He’s challenging, interesting, and highly opinionated. I can almost guarantee that something in this book will tick you off, but some other part will almost certainly prove totally compelling. You may not agree with him, but he’ll certainly give you plenty to think about.

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende
Initially I was drawn to the book because it is about the author and his wife spending 18 months in a Mennonite community learning about self-sufficiency. That seemed like an extreme experience, and I wanted to know more about the path that took them there and what they learned. It surprised me to discover that this book is less of a memoir and more of a thoughtful contemplation on the role of technology in our lives. The experiment turned out to be far less extreme than I expected, but ultimately far more radical, as they transition back into urban life.

The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local FoodTown that food saved -- find it at the library by Ben Hewitt
From the title, it sounds like a celebration of the new locavore culture, right? Well, kind of. It’s more of a balanced consideration of the changes happening in a community based in a historical agricultural context. There is an exciting new agripreneurial in Hardwick, VT, but Ben Hewitt spends some time appreciating the sturdy, older food culture that makes the new possible. It’s a fascinating look at how personality and drive can create dynamic change.

How to Build your Dream Cabin in the Woods: The Ultimate Guide to Building and Maintaining A Backcountry Getaway by J. Wayne Fears
When you’re ready to go off grid, you could do a lot worse than consult J. Wayne Fear’s practical and interesting guidebook. He does a thorough job of covering the important factors to consider when investing in property, but tailors the book beautifully to the back country get-away. Very detailed, but also accessible and engaging.

                         ~ Jenny, Central Library

What do we do after the world ends? Part II: Farm

Feeling paranoid about survival yet? Or maybe just have more time than money on your hands and want control over your food? The farm memoir just might be the thing for you. I myself am a dedicated armchair farmer: the hard work these farmers are writing about is alternatively repellant and massively inspiring. It’s also a good time of year to be dreaming about vegetables and contemplating the rewards of self-sufficiency. Whether Find in SPL catalogyou end up reading in your garden or going gung-ho for chickens, these writers have a lot to say about our current culture of food.

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball
Kristin Kimball’s entertaining memoir about her shift from New York City journalist to farmer and wife is engaging on multiple levels. She deftly balances the seduction of a food centered life with a city dweller’s distrust of neo-hippie ideals. What I appreciate about this book is that it portrays neither uncomplicated bliss nor happily ever after, but a deep satisfaction in work and life that grows over time.Made from Scratch available at the Library

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich
Ok, so this isn’t the most recent of Jenna Woginrich’s books, but it is a great place to make her acquaintance. Jenna possesses a rare and wonderful ability to share her failures as well as her successes in a way that is consistently encouraging to the fledgling urban farmer and frequently hilarious. Jenna wants us to succeed. She wants us to think about survival and self-fulfillment and about achieving our dreams. That she can do that without irritating your socks off is a true measure of her talent. And if you want to know what happens next, check out her Cold Antler Farm blog.

Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin
Oh, Joel Salatin, you fascinating curmudgeon. If the mild and joyful farmer’s memoirs leave you wanting more, jump into the thick of the agribusiness food debate with Joel. He’s challenging, interesting, and highly opinionated. I can almost guarantee that something in this book will tick you off, but some other part will almost certainly prove totally compelling. You may not agree with him, but he’ll certainly give you plenty to think about.Find Michael Perry's Coop at SPL

Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry
If you don’t know Michael Perry’s work, then go read Truck: A Love Story and be introduced to our slightly goofy, often moving, verbal genius of a narrator. While this is the third of his memoirs, it’s the first that delves deeply into his childhood and continues the funny and heartbreaking story of his life. One of the best features of Michael Perry’s writing is that while it is deeply personal, it is also a remarkable portrait of his community in rural Wisconsin.

The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
You may or may not have heard of The Fabulous Beekman Boys or of Beekman 1802 but the story of a former drag queen and a Martha Stewart perfectionist and their love affair with a decrepit mansion is nothing if not interesting. The Boys are characters, the house and the goat farmer and the garden are all characters, and their adventures are legion. This is a memoir that speaks simply about the quest for perfection and about holding onto love when reality has become cold, expensive, and full of goat excrement. I only wish there was more about Polka Spot, the insanely bouncy narcissistic llama.

Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese by Brad Kessler
If you’re into cheese, or goats, or tracing the origins of words, then this is a great book for you. This is a wonderfully written, lyrical memoir about the author learning goat herding and cheese making. Alternatively fascinating, earthy, practical and peaceful, I’ve suggested it to practically everyone I know. The only caveat is that goats are graphic in their sex lives, and Kessler is a master at evoking imagery, so be warned that the combination can be potent and slightly alarming.

                                                              ~ Jenny, Central Library










What do we do after the world ends: Fight (Part 1)

The post-apocalyptic young adult novel is a genre that has been around for years, but seems to be holding steady and even picking up in frequency. I find them fascinating. Why? Because this is one of the new frontiers in speculative fiction – an acceptance that the world is likely to change radically in our lifetimes and a thought experiment into what that might look like. There are several really great aspects to young adult literature, if you can get over the inevitable love triangle: the plot will be fast paced, the world building will be original and committed and usually the protagonDivergentist will survive and triumph in ways you weren’t expecting. The Hunger Games is one of the best of these, but here are some other gems to consider:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
In the Chicago of the future, when you turn 16, you choose your faction. The choice is irreversible, and if you fail the initiation of that faction, you will almost certainly die. Beatrice Prior makes an unexpected choice and stumbles into both a conspiracy and a crisis of self-identity that will shake the factions to their core.

Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
Nigeria in 2070 is a technologically and magically advanced culture that continues to struggle with questions of race and sex. Ejii is haunted by witnessing her father’s public beheading at the age of nine and has conflicted feelings about his murderer, Jaa. In a quest to understand and control her own powers she follows Jaa into the desert.

Restoring Harmony by Joëlle Anthony
The story of a journey from a small Canadian island outside Vancouver down to Oregon and back again. Doesn’t sound that far, does it? But after the Great Collapse of 2031, oil is only available to government vehicles, and North America has become a dangerous place for a girl traveling on her own. Beset by crime syndicates and food shortages, Molly McClure struggles to reunite her family.For the Win

For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Economics, video gamers and union politics for a global workplace. For child workers across the globe, the dystopia is now, and the players may have more power than they know. If you don’t have much experience with massively multiplayer online games, this is an immersion course, and an interesting speculation into the role they could play in our near future.

Blood Red Road by Moira YoungBlood Red Road
Mad Max reimagined as a girl named Saba, searching for her kidnapped twin Lugh in a dusty, drug-riddled world. After Lugh is taken, Saba follows and is captured herself, forced to fight as a gladiator as she narrows down his trail.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield
If you somehow managed to miss the original craze over this series when it came out in 2005, pick it up now before the upcoming movie (still in development) drives the holds list up. Tally Youngblood is 16, and on the cusp of a mandatory surgery that will turn her “pretty” like the rest of her world. When one of her friends runs away, Tally is forced to follow and over time begins to question whether being pretty is worth the price.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
After the Second Civil War – one fought over reproductive rights and the right to life, America’s new laws mandate that every child conceived will live and be taken care of until the age of 13. From 13-18, however, the child’s guardians will decide whether or not to have that child “unwound” and their bodies harvested for the good of others. It may sound farfetched and chilling, but the world is sensitively presented, and even the three young protagonists, marked for unwinding, are conflicted about their right to avoid their fate.

                   ~ Jenny, Central Library