From the Shelf
Spirited Book Club Suggestions
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Can a cultural history book about the ways alcohol and drinking have shaped the American story make for an interesting book club discussion? In Susan Cheever's skilled hands, yes! Drinking in America: Our Secret History makes a compelling case that "drinking is a cherished American custom--a way to celebrate.... It brings people together." What a perfect alignment with the aim of book clubs, and how they've become embroidered into the fabric of American literary culture.
There's plenty to probe in Cheever's well-presented tales: the 200 barrels of beer aboard the Mayflower; how rum inspired American independence; Johnny Appleseed's 66 proof applejack; famous teetotalers; liquor as a creative vice; how the destructive aspects of alcohol led to the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Alcohol stimulates societies: Russians and vodka. The Irish and Guinness. Italians and vino. In every American era, specialty drinks have risen to the fore: the advent of Mint Juleps and Old Fashioneds in the 18th century. Early 20th century Moonshine. Manhattans in 1960s. Piña Coladas and Fuzzy Navels in the '70s and '80s. For discussion: Has America leaned toward any particular "national" cocktails in the 21st century? And like James Bond's "shaken not stirred" Martinis, Hannibal Lecter's "nice" Chianti and Carrie Bradshaw's Cosmopolitans, how do you imagine some of your favorite literary characters might indulge during happy hour?
A bartender friend of mine believes the tide from the Great Recession never reached the shores of the liquor business. Regardless of the economy, alcohol consumption remains a timeless, universal lubricant for rich and poor. But one thought to mull over, perhaps while indulging in a favorite libation: will drinking lose any of its efficacy and popularity given the rise of other recreational escapes such as legalized marijuana?
Whether a book club gathers for discussion over dinner, coffee, tea or snacks--or the conversation is enhanced by wine--Drinking in America is bound to provoke "spirited" conversation--on many different levels. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
In this Issue...
by Melina Marchetta
After a bomb goes off on a tour bus full of kids, police search for two teens who survived but fled the scene.
by Megan Shepherd
In Megan Shepherd's extraordinary middle-grade debut, a girl living in a children's hospital in World War II England befriends a winged horse named Foxfire.
by Cassandra Khaw
Hammers on Bone is a tour de force of moody dark fantasy.
Review by Subjects:
Halloween Fashion; Dracula's Castle
More Halloween fashion tips: Quirk Books offered "five tips for picking your family Halloween costume"; Signature yelled "biblio-boo: 19 bookshelf-based Halloween costumes"; while Bustle featured "5 Jane Austen inspired costumes for the perfect literary Halloween" and noted that "this 'Harriet the Spy' Halloween costume only requires 5 simple steps."
"Airbnb is offering two guests a stay in Dracula's castle on Halloween Night," Mental Floss reported.
Pop quiz: "Can you guess the famous book without its title or author?" Buzzfeed challenged.
"From Bruce Chatwin to Cormac McCarthy," Marcus Sedgwick chose his "top 10 books about borders" for the Guardian.
On this "books print dress" from VintagEnMode, each book "has parody title and writer," Bookshelf noted.
The midnight dawn of Nordic noir began long before Stieg Larsson's Millennium series. Prior to Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, there was Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander, and before him there was Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck. In 1965, Sjöwall and Wahlöö released Roseanna, the first of 10 Martin Beck mysteries (published through 1975, when Wahlöö died), setting the stage for Scandinavian crime thrillers to become the worldwide phenomenon they are today.
The 10 Martin Beck books are officially titled The Story of a Crime. Sjöwall and Wahlöö were meticulous plotters, giving the series a much-lauded depth of character and setting development. They worked on alternate chapters in each book, threading together Beck's exploits as a detective in the special homicide commission of the Swedish national police. Roseanna opens with the discovery of a molested and murdered young woman in the Göta Canal. Interpol identifies her as American tourist Roseanna McGraw, whose case leads Beck and his police colleagues into a morally ambiguous sting operation to catch the murderer. The fourth Beck book, The Laughing Policeman (1968), won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1971. The entire series was republished by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard between 2008 and 2010. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Okey Ndibe: An Immigrant's Story, with Wrestling
|photo: Michel Arsenault|
Okey Ndibe's memoir, Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American (Soho Press, $25), explores the experience of the traveler and immigrant, trying to make sense of all the possibilities and challenges of American culture. Ndibe first came to the U.S. to serve as founding editor of African Commentary, a magazine published by Chinua Achebe. He has taught at Brown University, Connecticut College, Simon’s Rock College, Trinity College and the University of Lagos (as a Fulbright scholar). He is the author of two novels, Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods, Inc., and his award-winning journalism has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian and the Hartford Courant. Ndibe and his family live in West Hartford, Conn.
Given the polarization of national opinion regarding immigration, I have to ask about the title of your book. Did the title come about during the past few months?
The title emerged through an interesting evolutionary process--and then proved rather fortuitous. Throughout the writing of the memoir, my title was Going Dutch and Other Misadventures. But soon after I finished writing, I traveled to Italy and South Africa to take part in literary festivals. In discussions with other writers and readers in those countries, I was rather surprised that few people were familiar with the cultural and social connotation of the phrase "going Dutch." Since I didn't wish to confound my non-American readers, I changed the working title to Robbing a Bank and other Misadventures. It took a perceptive second reader--I believe a member of the marketing team at Random House--to suggest Never Look an American in the Eye. And, of course, once I heard it, I recognized its sheer brilliance. I realized that the title was organic and evocative. It both captures something essential about my book and taps powerfully into the current of one of the great contemporary debates in the U.S. A part of me felt jealous that I had not been first to see that this was the title.
You were born in 1960, and came to the U.S. in 1988 by a combination of writing skill and lucky coincidences involving the writer Chinua Achebe. The section of your book that relates this part of your story also mentions how, as a younger man, you were quite an enthusiast for American wrestling. I couldn't help but think there was a similarity there--how wrestling is executed so exceptionally that the viewer is left wondering which parts are skillfully choreographed and which are random.
I never quite thought about it that way, but your insight strikes the bull's-eye! Come to think of it, that whole experience is part of the ineffable economy of anybody's life, viewed retrospectively. When one looks back on one's life, one often sees certain patterns--the ways in which a number of coincidences, happenstances and seeming accidents intersected with and leavened one's dreams and plans to produce the sum of one's experiences. There emerges a pattern that is at once breathtakingly logical and deeply mysterious.
There's a loneliness that you write about, from your early days in America, that seemed like more a product of your cultural background than literally "being alone"--you had to interact with a lot of people, getting the African Commentary magazine started. Do you look back on those feelings differently now?
Yes, I did interact with a lot of people, but there was nevertheless that sense of being cast adrift, that feeling of a dislocation. I'd suggest that this sensation is a fundamental one, integral (to one degree or another) to the experience of anyone who has ever moved to a different place and different cultural zone, period. There's a shock to the psyche--on several fronts. For example, I had read about winter in books, but how could I--a tropical being all my life--possibly understand even the barest ramification of the word? Remember: I had lived for close to 30 years in a tropical country where, almost year-round, the temperature is 80 degrees and higher. I felt devastated to come from all that heat into a zone that felt absolutely arctic. Another example: in Nigeria, I was used to friends gathering every evening in my apartment--to drink, eat, share stories about our romantic disasters or fortunes, laugh about the absurdities in which our lives were mired, inveigh against corrupt military rulers and so on. Each evening, if I happened to be in town, friends and neighbors would just stop by, no prior arrangement, no invitation needed from me. And when we carried on 'til quite late, some of my visitors would just stake out positions in the two bedrooms or on the couch and doze off for the night. And did I treasure those recurrent, rowdy get-togethers! But in America, people seemed to have other priorities. That, or they were too busy for that kind of daily, unplanned, informal roasts. I found that Americans often required a clearer agenda, some more definite purpose, for social gatherings. And I discovered that that most Americans didn't expect you to just drop by at their homes--invoking the name of friendship. You had to wait to be invited. I've had all these years to adjust to the "American" way. Even though I have lived in America for as many years as I lived in Nigeria, the adjustment--I must confess--is still ongoing. Except that, whenever I return to Nigeria, I also see myself adjusting to certain Nigeria idiosyncrasies--for America has also changed me, profoundly in some respects. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist
Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is best known for fiction that blends courtroom and human drama surrounding controversial topics. While some of her novels have deviated from that template (The Storyteller, Leaving Time), she returns to it in Small Great Things, which depicts the trial of a nurse accused of the wrongful death of a patient through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ruth Jefferson, the only black labor-and-delivery nurse at a small Connecticut hospital, is stunned when two white supremacists demand that she be kept away from their newborn son. Despite those orders, Ruth becomes deeply involved when the infant goes into cardiac arrest. And when the baby doesn't survive, the grieving parents place blame on her, and press criminal charges. To Ruth, the matter is literally black and white--that is, she's been accused of killing a white baby because she is black--and even as the case attracts the attention of prominent black activists, she's confused by her attorney's insistence on building a defense that addresses race as little as possible.
Small Great Things is narrated in the voices of Ruth, the accused nurse; Turk, the baby's father; and Kennedy, Ruth's (white) public defender. While Turk's presentation of the white supremacist worldview is deeply unsettling, the relationship between Ruth and Kennedy evokes a more complicated discomfort, as it becomes an ongoing dialogue about race, privilege and intention. Small Great Things is in the tradition of Picoult's best topical fiction (My Sister's Keeper; Nineteen Minutes)--engrossing, provocative and timely. It's sure to spur discussions that mirror those taking place between her characters. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
Discover: When the newborn son of two white supremacists dies in the hospital, a black nurse is accused of criminal behavior.
by Margaret Atwood
It's easy to sympathize with Felix Phillips, the Prospero figure in Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood's clever version of The Tempest, the latest in the Hogarth series of Shakespeare works reimagined by acclaimed novelists. In 2001, he's the celebrated avant-garde artistic director of Canada's Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, but life is far from perfect. His wife died in childbirth three years earlier, and now his daughter, Miranda, has died from meningitis. One can understand, therefore, why he doesn't care if audiences are baffled by his decision to stage Pericles with extraterrestrials. Then, another cruel blow: his "Machiavellian foot-licker" subordinate gets the festival board to oust him before he can stage his dream version of The Tempest, and Felix drops out of society and is reduced to applying adhesive to his dentures in his abandoned hillside shack.
Several years later, he sees his chance for redemption: he becomes a literacy skills teacher at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute. Rather than follow the syllabus, Felix stages one Shakespeare play a year with inmates as cast members. In 2013, he uses The Tempest as a means to get revenge on his usurpers, two of whom are now government officials running for higher office. Atwood (Stone Mattress) has great fun creating parallels between the tale of Caliban and Ariel and the life of inmates with nicknames like Bent Pencil and SnakeEye. And what's not to enjoy about a novel in which prisoners can use only Shakespearean swears, a limitation that leads to such lines as, "What the pied ninny is this?" --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Margaret Atwood's clever reinterpretation of The Tempest features a theater director staging the play with inmates of a correctional facility.
Siblings and Other Disappointments
by Kait Heacock
Disappointment, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Kait Heacock, publicist at Feminist Press, explores its vast chasm in her debut story collection, Siblings and Other Disappointments. Sad in myriad ways, these stories dissect disenchantment from a variety of viewpoints--between husbands and wives, parents and offspring, siblings, neighbors, crewmates and, often most excruciatingly, within oneself.
Heacock writes about difficult subjects with a smooth grace that acts like a salve, taking some of the sting out of recognizing and relating to them. Living, often simply existing, is painful:
"Peter was an agoraphobic. He couldn't explain what that was a year ago, but he could describe now what it was like to stand by the front door and feel the heat radiate off the knob, so sure it could burn you if you touched it.... He never would have guessed when he rented this one-bedroom basement apartment that it could become his waking coffin, that he would let her death bury him alive."
Heacock sometimes balances the hurt with slivers of salvation. Peter finds solace in the peregrinations of his insomniac upstairs neighbor. An artistic young man finds a small mercy on the fishing boat where he's sent to toughen up. As in life, however, not every story includes an emotional Band-Aid, and Heacock doesn't hesitate to wield her words like a knife. To be human is to wound and be wounded, and the 12 gritty stories in Siblings and Other Disappointments cut to the core. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Twelve emotionally raw stories depict the painful outcome of expectations unmet.
A Greater Music
by Bae Suah , trans. by Deborah Smith
Music serves as a vivid and tactile metaphor for the universality of language and human emotion in Bae Suah's haunting novel of memories and regret over lost love. A Greater Music focuses on a Korean writer recalling a road trip in the German countryside with her sickly lover M, a woman who tutored the writer in German and whose twin loves of music and literature matched her own interests.
The story weaves between her memories of M and two future moments: one when the writer has nearly drowned in an icy lake, and the other when she has abandoned M and is cohabiting with Joachim--an on-again, off-again, penny-pinching boyfriend who is quick to blame the writer for the slightest perceived grievances. Joachim leaves the writer to take an apprenticeship as a welder, and the writer is left alone to wander the streets of Berlin and ruminate over her failed relationship with M. She indulges in digressions about the artistic superiority of composers Dmitri Shostakovich and Bernd Alois Zimmermann and writer Jakob Hein; she contrasts them with what she perceives as the banality of conventional interests and "mental shallowness, poverty of thought" among the masses--until she comes to realize her painful role in "the greater music" of M's heartache.
Suah, a celebrated Korean writer whose first English-translated novel, Nowhere to Be Found, was longlisted for a PEN Translation Prize, writes with a floating, lyrical complexity that resembles the sharpness and ambivalence of a Shostakovich symphony, while maintaining the aura of emotional detachment, self-blame and soul-searching that is characteristic of the best Dostoevsky and Orwell stories. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Acclaimed Korean writer Bae Suah reflects on the intricate relationships among music, language and emotion in this contemplative story of regret and lost love.
Mystery & Thriller
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil
by Melina Marchetta
A week after the Metropolitan Police suspend Chief Inspector Bish Ortley for a physical altercation with a colleague, a bomb explodes on a bus touring Normandy--with Bish's teenage daughter on it.
Bish rushes to the site, and while his daughter is unscathed, there are casualties. As he peruses the roster of kids who were on the bus, he stops cold at one name: Violette LeBrac Zidane, the granddaughter of a man who blew up a British supermarket 13 years earlier, killing 23 people including himself. Violette survived the bus bombing, but disappears from the site with Eddie, another kid from the tour.
This triggers a police search and a swift trial by media. Headlines and Twitter declare Violette guilty of the bombing because of her grandfather and appearance: she has Arab roots. Teens who bear only a passing resemblance to Violette and Eddie are brutally attacked on the street. Desperate to bring in Violette and Eddie before more people are hurt, Bish becomes involved in the search, but in doing so must confront painful events from his past.
There's much complexity and beauty in Melina Marchetta's resonating Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. While large in scope, exploring timely issues such as terrorism, racism, the plight of immigrants and social media's lynch-mob mentality, the book also tells the heartrending personal stories of multidimensional and memorable characters. Bish is like a British (and a quarter Egyptian) Harry Bosch, a relentless cop who believes everyone counts or no one does. In Marchetta's hands, everyone does count. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: After a bomb goes off on a tour bus full of kids, police search for two teens who survived but fled the scene.
by David Lida
In journalist David Lida's first novel, One Life, two lives are featured, although only one is apparently threatened.
Richard is a mitigation specialist. A gringo based in Mexico City, he investigates the backgrounds of Mexican nationals accused of capital offenses in the United States, hoping to dig up enough ugliness and trauma for the courts to consider a lesser sentence--like life without parole. Esperanza came to south Louisiana for the rumored bounty of well-paid jobs cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina. She now faces the death penalty for killing her infant daughter. Richard has always maintained walls between the tragedies he studies professionally and his own life; he is expert at enjoying what he thinks of as stolen moments of happiness. But as he learns about Esperanza's background, living in a dusty village to the rough side of Ciudad Juarez, her stoicism and mystery destroy his detached calm.
One Life's perspective shifts between a third-person view of Esperanza's life and Richard's first-person voice, speaking from a murky future. The reader therefore knows more than either protagonist, although the novel's central secret is reserved for the final pages. Neither a mystery nor a thriller, this story is briskly paced but not rushed: there is time for Richard to mull the emotional holes in his own life, and for Esperanza and secondary characters to consider and reconsider their limited options. Poignant and exquisitely detailed, One Life brings nuance and a personal voice to a deeply tragic story. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A Mexican national facing the death penalty and the investigator who hopes to save her become hopelessly entwined.
Death Among Rubies
by R.J. Koreto
The indefatigable Lady Frances Ffolkes is up to shenanigans again, much to the disapproval of her older brother, the Marquess of Seaforth. Two of Lady Frances's suffragist friends have been receiving threats about their "unnatural" relationship, and Lady Frances is determined to get to the bottom of it. She accompanies Tommie and Gwen to Kestrel's Eyrie, Gwen's ancestral home, and finds Gwen's father, an important English diplomat, stabbed to death with a ruby dagger.
Kestrel's Eyrie is housing French, Turkish and American guests, all of whom are clearly hiding things. But are they merely trying to keep sensitive diplomatic secrets under wraps, or do they know more about Sir Calleford's death than they're admitting? Determined to protect Gwen and Tommie, and to prove that women can sleuth as well as men can, Lady Frances and her redoubtable maid, Mallow, will do anything to solve the crime, even if it means getting on the wrong side of the provincial police inspector. Luckily Lady Frances's handsome beau, Hal Wheaton, is an excellent solicitor, and is quite willing to support her unusual quest.
A charming Edwardian mystery with a delightfully unconventional heroine and her plucky maid as sidekick, Death Among Rubies is an enjoyable follow-up to R.J. Koreto's first novel, Death on the Sapphire. Fans of Rhys Bowen, Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear are sure to enjoy the historical details in this series, and readers who love a strong heroine will appreciate Lady Frances. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: In this charming Edwardian mystery, a fearless suffragist is determined to solve a murder, with or without the help of the skeptical police.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Hammers on Bone
by Cassandra Khaw
When a boy who seems more mature than his 10 years enters John Persons's office in order to solicit an adult-sized murder, the private investigator is understandably wary. But what ultimately makes Persons concede is that, in addition to being abusive, the kid's father is a literal monster.
The novella Hammers on Bone by journalist and short story author Cassandra Khaw pulls readers along on a fascinating ride, full of Lovecraftian horrors and noir motifs twisted just far enough to serve the story rather than the other way around. As Persons investigates his target, he realizes that the case is far bigger than a single monstrous intelligence, but rather an infection, spreading from the young boy's stepfather to enslave an industrial town in Britain.
Persons steps up to the challenge with courage--he is an ancient, magical being, equal to the task at hand. World-weary and bitter from centuries of battle, Persons must decide how far to take his cleansing scourge, and whom to trust along the way. The gumshoe also becomes powerfully attracted to Sasha, a local waitress who proves invaluable to his investigation.
Khaw paints a bleak yet potent alternate reality in which monsters--friend or foe--are devastatingly real. Persons strikes a perfect antihero stance that is emotionally fragile despite his supernatural power. Hammers on Bone is a brilliant blend of two venerable genres as well as a deeply affecting tale on its own. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Hammers on Bone is a tour de force of moody dark fantasy.
Biography & Memoir
Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker, and the World's Most Elusive Fish
by Chris Dombrowski
More than most sports, fly-fishing seems to turn its practitioners into reverent acolytes. Poet and Montana fishing guide Chris Dombrowski (Earth Again) was inspired to write by Norman Maclean's elegiac A River Runs Through It. Dombrowski's Body of Water is an poetic paean to the art of stalking bonefish on the flats along the mangrove shores of Grand Bahama Island. He claims that the cagey bonefish is the Holy Grail of piscine prey, "due largely to its fickle manner and unsurpassed acceleration... the fish is built for departure." At the Deep Water Cay Club ("the most famous bonefishing destination in the world"), Dombrowski meets the club's original guide, David Pinder, Sr., whose knack for finding "tailing bone" brought anglers from all over the world to what began as a private fishing refuge.
Body of Water is Pinder's story and that of his family of 11 children and 48 grandchildren--three generations of guides. It is also a metaphor-laced meditation on the art and practice of fly-fishing, the social and economic history of the Bahamas, the evolution of archipelago geology and the chronicle of Dombrowski's personal struggle to juggle his fishing and poetry obsessions against the financial needs of his own family. The fishing part is clear: find 'em, hook 'em, play 'em and land 'em--the world back home, not so much. In Body of Water, Dombrowski explores the zen-like balance he experiences while bonefishing and makes a good case that out on a skiff in the Bahama flats "we enter the prayerful closet of the senses and close the door." Fly-fishing mysticism at its best. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Poet Dombrowski's first book of prose is both a reverent ode to bonefishing and a practical guide to its gear, casting mechanics and skiff poling.
Around the Way Girl: A Memoir
by Taraji P. Henson , Denene Millner
Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson's Around the Way Girl is a rarity among celebrity memoirs: it's a highly nuanced and deeply introspective story told with emotion and perspective. Raised by a divorced mother and loving but absentee father in "one of the most troubled areas of a city where poverty and hopelessness made neighbor prey on neighbor," Henson learned to become fearless. "Fear is a liar. I make a point of calling its bluff," she writes.
Henson was 17 when she met her "forever love," Mark. Six years later (while attending Howard University as an acting major), she gave birth to their son, Marcell. Henson and co-author Denene Millner (who wrote several books with Steve Harvey) write with aching tenderness and clarity about the relationship ("Youth, inexperience, environment, and the lack of relationship role models made my union with Mark a recipe for disaster") and raising a black son alone in a still-racist world ("The whole world loves a sweet little chubby brown boy. Until they don't").
When her acting career gains momentum (Hustle & Flow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TV's Empire), Henson grapples with consequences of choosing financial security for her family's future over her personal relationships. Unlike some actresses who work to gain fame, Henson truly loves acting and creating characters, and readers get fascinating details on how she finds those characters on and off the script's pages. Henson's memoir is an inspiring account of overcoming adversity and a quest for self-discovery, written with vitality and enthusiasm. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Taraji P. Henson's Around the Way Girl is a remarkable memoir of single motherhood, overcoming adversity and forging a successful acting career.
Children's & Young Adult
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
by Megan Shepherd , illust. by Dan Burgess
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill deserves a spot on the shelf next to the most beloved children's classics--yes, even The Secret Garden.
In World War II England, a fierce, imaginative girl named Emmaline who loves to draw lives in a children's hospital, a converted mansion in the countryside, run by the Sisters of Mercy. Emmaline has a lung disease she calls the "stillwaters," or tuberculosis, as do the other boys and girls, whose doors are color-coded from blue (well enough to go outside) to red (dire indeed). Emmaline starts out blue, but her bedridden best friend Anna is red. She hopes Anna will one day see what she sees: winged horses in the old mansion's elegant mirrors.
Emmaline used to think the winged horses she likes to sketch lived only in the mirror-world, but, to her wonder and delight, she discovers a real one beyond the ivy-covered garden wall, standing near the sundial. A mysterious note from "The Horse Lord" left under the sundial's arm tells her the horse's name is Foxfire and that Foxfire is being hunted by the Black Horse. The Horse Lord asks that "whoever receives this message" help protect her. Emmaline throws herself into the task, sneaking out of the hospital and even risking her life for Foxfire. In clear, gripping, flawless prose, Megan Shepherd (The Madman's Daughter; The Cage) keeps readers vacillating on what's real and what's imagined as Emmaline tries to sort it out herself. This exquisite, beautifully illustrated middle-grade novel explodes with raw anguish, magic and hope, and readers will clutch it to their chests and not want to let go. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In Megan Shepherd's extraordinary middle-grade debut, a girl living in a children's hospital in World War II England befriends a winged horse named Foxfire.
Words: More Than 300 Words to Discover, Imagine, and READ!
by Christoph Niemann
A thick, black-and-white line drawing of a caterpillar gazing up at a butterfly is juxtaposed with the word "change." A lone slice of pizza sits in an open pizza box: "only." Three extraterrestrials grin out of a spaceship: "them." A leafy bit is lodged in between two teeth: "something." Illustrator, graphic designer and animator Christoph Niemann's (The Police Cloud; The Pet Dragon; Subway) playful, illustrated dictionary of 300-plus words challenges its readers to think about the nature of communication, both verbal and visual. He could be a global Pictionary champion, nailing his artistic representations of tricky words such as "both" (two feet sticking out of one pant leg) and "without" (a man in a suit with no pants).
Those who remember Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard's The Important Book know the delights of distilling words to their essence: "But the important thing about rain is that it is wet." What sits at the core of the words "change" or "only" or "them?" Some of the artist's depictions are straightforward, such as those for "car" and "tree," but Niemann also has fun with homonyms ("bowl" and "bowl"), facing pages that interact cleverly, and images like a fish riding a bicycle: "never." Words is a book for browsers, poets and storytellers; a possible guessing game; and an engaging launch pad for all sorts of wordplay. "Check." "It." "Out." --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: More than 300 words are visually interpreted by graphic designer and animator Christoph Niemann in this entertaining, nuanced celebration of language and art.
Du Iz Tak?
by Carson Ellis
It's a bold move to write a picture book in a made-up language, but Carson Ellis (Home) aces it in Du Iz Tak?, which probably means "What is that?"
As a green plant begins to push its way out of the ground, a vaudevillian, man-faced caterpillar examines it silently. A couple of stylishly accessorized winged insects cautiously approach the unfurling green frond. "Du iz tak?" asks one. "Ma nazoot," responds the other, which might mean, "I don't know." Meanwhile, the man-faced caterpillar has climbed a nearby branch to metamorphose into a cocoon: "Ta ta!" As the sprout grows, more and more insects investigate, uttering initially indecipherable comments such as "Ru badda unk ribble." "Su," says another. "Bore inkin Icky," says another. By the next page readers will figure out that "Icky" is a pillbug who lives inside a log (he comes out when called) and "ribble" is a ladder that they need to climb the ever-growing plant. The excitement of figuring out the bugs' language is unexpectedly thrilling. Now we know "Ru" is "we," "badda" is "need," "unk" is "a" and "ribble" is ladder! We're learning bug language!
High drama ensues in the clean, odd, beautiful pages ahead. The insects decide to build an elaborate, multi-level, pirate-flagged "furt" in the plant--excellent for luxuriating with a fruity drink--but the perils of nature (big spider, swooping spider-eating bird, the change of seasons) all take their toll on the plant and inevitably, their splendid furt. Snow blankets the previously festive scene, but on the next spread a crop of new green sprouts appears: "Du iz tak?" A marvel. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Carson Ellis writes a picture book about the life cycle of a plant (and some very fancy and curious insects) in an invented language--and it's brilliant.