From the Shelf
Poetry as Touchstone
Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, told the New York Times, "Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for." Her poem "The Hill We Climb" (coming in March from Viking, $15.99) evoked the pain and loss leading up to this milestone Black History month, along with hope for the future. "Quiet isn't always peace," she wrote.
Kevin Young's superbly curated collection African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song (Library of America, $45) traces the image of "America" through centuries--from James M. Whitfield to Carrie Williams Clifford to Gwendolyn B. Bennett to Langston Hughes to Joshua Bennett--and readers feel the undercurrents of activism and the reverberation of poets building upon the canon of those who came before them.
The poems in Natasha Trethewey's Monument (Mariner, $15.99) take on even greater complexity in light of her memoir, Memorial Drive (Ecco, $27.99). That Atlanta's Memorial Drive, with its monument to the Confederacy, would also mark the site of her mother's murder drives home the ceaseless perpetuation of grief and pain.
Toni Morrison wrote in her collection The Source of Self-Regard (Vintage, $16.95), "Writers... can disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, a coma despots call peace, and they stanch the blood flow of war that hawks and profiteers thrill to. That is their peril." A coma despots call peace. Quiet is not always peace.
Gorman's closing lines move us forward in hope: "We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the West. We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.... We will rise from the sun-baked South." And we hear the echo of another inaugural poet, Maya Angelou: "Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,/ I am the dream and the hope of the slave./ I rise/ I rise/ I rise." --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Ae-Ran Kim
An achingly beautiful story of a teenage boy whose body is aging faster than it should--and all the life lessons he is forced to learn in his too-short time.
by Dantiel W. Moniz
Dantiel W. Moniz's alluring debut collection of 11 stories set in the eternal Florida heat is an incandescent and rebellious arrival.
by Gideon Sterer
Under neon and moonlight shadows, woodland animals take over a country fair after the humans go home for the night.
Review by Subjects:
From Fountain Bookstore
05/16/2021 - 10:00AMPurchase of book from Fountain either in the book, ebook, or Libro.fm audiobook is required. Young Adult (or YA for short) is a very diverse and exciting genre. Our book club is subtitled Adults Who Read YA, so this group is open for those 18+ years old. Email the store to join and to get meeting directions. By attending you agree to our Code of Conduct: Our event provides a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression,...
05/17/2021 - 6:30PMPurchase of book from Fountain either in paper, ebook, or audio is required. Fountain of Evidence features discussions on books in the popular true crime genre, but may occasionally read fiction based on true crimes. Ages 21+ only. Email the store to join and to get meeting directions. By attending you agree to our Code of Conduct: Our event provides a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual...
05/19/2021 - 2:00PMRooted in pathos and told in Sendker’s signature gentle style, THE HEART REMEMBERS is, at its core, a novel about love’s ability to unify us in the face of hardship. Written from the alternating perspectives of Julia’s estranged son, an empathic 12-year-old named Ko Bo Bo, and her brother, U Ba, Ko Bo Bo’s uncle and caretaker, THE HEART REMEMBERS delves into Julia’s enigmatic past and the personal and political events that fractured her family. Hosted by the owner of Fountain Bookstore...
05/20/2021 - 7:00PMGET TICKETS HERE Join the Friends of the Chesterfield County Public Library on May 20 as they celebrate their 50th anniversary with a virtual visit from Nick Bruel, author of the Bad Kitty series. Bruel, a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of both picture and chapter books, will highlight his soon-to-be-published Bedtime for Bad Kitty, a picture book for young children or anyone who has resisted bedtime with the same determined ferocity as Bad Kitty....
05/20/2021 - 2:00PMThreat management expert Spencer Coursen shares lessons learned from his decades of global experience as a combat veteran, supervisory special agent, and private security professional to help you avoid life’s most common “safety traps” which often hide behind our own false sense of security — because sometimes feeling safe, is the most dangerous thing we do. Hosted by Fountain Bookstore owner Kelly Justice. Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management...
Empowering Picture Books with Black Characters
"Empowering picture books with Black characters" were recommended by the New York Public Library."
"A dream deferred is a dream denied." Mental Floss shared "20 inspiring quotes from Langston Hughes."
Merriam-Webster looked up "words from 1921: 100 years old and still around."
"Rarely-seen illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy are now free online, courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery." (via Open Culture).
Author Una Mannion chose her "top 10 books about children fending for themselves" for the Guardian.
Mallika Chopra: A Messy, Meditative Journey
Mallika Chopra is a mom, media entrepreneur, public speaker and published author. She is the author of children's books Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement, and More, Just Feel: How to Be Stronger, Healthier, Happier and More, and the upcoming Just Be You and My Body Is a Rainbow (Running Press Kids). Chopra has taught meditation to thousands of people and enjoys speaking to audiences around the world about intention, balance and living a life of purpose.
Would you please tell readers a little bit about your journey?
I am a natural entrepreneur so have had many, many projects--I refer to my work, like my personal life, as a messy journey!
In my book for adults, Living with Intent, I share insights I learned while seeking meaning and balance as a mom and entrepreneur--overwhelmed often by work, family and too many responsibilities! As I began to speak to audiences around the world, the most common question I received was, "How do we teach meditation and mindfulness to children?" I learned how to meditate when I was nine years old from my father, Deepak Chopra, so I feel privileged to be able to share my own experiences with others. The Just Be Series--which includes Just Breathe, Just Feel and Just Be You (coming out in March)--share many of the tools, lessons and insights that I learned as a child, and have had the opportunity to teach throughout my life.
Just Breathe and Just Feel were directed at the 8-12, middle-grade audience. Why did you choose that age range?
I love writing for middle graders because this is an age when kids are curious, aware, ask tons of questions, love to be silly, are open about how their bodies react to situations and express feelings innocently. My books are written to guide an experience: when children breathe deeply, name feelings, explore their likes and dislikes or feel connected to nature, the experience belongs to them. It is not intellectual, but rather about their individual insights and knowingness.
Just Be You is also for the middle-grade audience. It is dedicated "to you, the reader. You are the inspiration, the hope, and the light of the future." How do you think children approach a book like this?
Just Be You is about asking questions, setting intentions and celebrating your special self. My intent with this book is to honor children's natural inclination to explore, dream, wonder, imagine and think about the values they want to live by. Children are living in a hyper-stimulated world where we often put too much pressure on them to achieve goals or define (often by adults) who they are early on. Hopefully this book gives children (and the adults in their lives) space to embrace uncertainty, possibilities, belonging and the lifelong journey of self-discovery. In my personal experience, when you know yourself beyond the labels, then you feel more secure, belonging, and confidence.
Your other upcoming title with Running Press Kids, My Body Is a Rainbow, is a picture book about feelings for ages 4-8. Why a picture book?
I often speak at schools. The Just Be Series has been a great curriculum of sorts to use in middle schools because I can engage with kids who love sharing how their body feels, how their mind races and how they can calm down with a tree pose or silent meditation. (Middle school kids love to demonstrate!)
With the younger children, I have found that colors, movement and imagination get them really engaged in the experience. My Body Is a Rainbow helps guide kids into using color, breath and attention in the body to become familiar with feelings, control overwhelming emotions and dream infinite possibilities.
What are you up to next? Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?
I am so excited to be a "mindfulness consultant" on Stilllwater, a new, animated children's series on Apple TV+. The show, based on Zen Stories by Jon Muth, aims to teach subtle life lessons through a wise panda (Stillwater) who develops a special friendship with three siblings who live next door. This series is so well done--it's joyful, beautiful, insightful! I feel lucky to be linked to it, as it's another offering to teach kids how meditation, mindfulness, self-reflection and service can help them be resilient, purposeful and happier.
Julie Matysik: Cultivating a Sense of Play
Julie Matysik is the Editorial Director of Running Press Kids. Prior to working at Running Press, Matysik was the Editorial Director of Sky Pony Press, which she helped found in 2011. She has worked with a number of bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators, including Mallika Chopra, Beth Vrabel, Stacy McAnulty, Robb Pearlman, Thrity Umrigar, Charles Santore, Elly MacKay and Iza Trapani.
Would you tell us a little bit about what the job of Editorial Director entails?
Of course! Like many jobs in publishing, I do feel that my role as Editorial Director is constantly evolving and changing. My main focus, however, is to ensure the quality and consistency of our list while encouraging our small-but-mighty kids' team.
In an average week, I'm likely working on reading and/or acquiring new projects from agents, licensors and ideas generated in house by our team. I am usually editing a manuscript (or two) or even writing some of our early concept board books. I'm reviewing various illustration sketches or final art with our Creative Director, Frances Soo Ping Chow, and authors, making sure our books maintain an element of play in both the text and the illustrations. I'm also often in the midst of preparing copy or presentation materials for various sales meetings. One day never quite looks like the other. But that's the best part of working in publishing, at least for me. I like turning on my computer each morning and discovering challenges to solve and amazing projects that I cannot wait to see in print.
When you moved to Running Press Kids, did you have in mind a specific kind of program you wanted to develop or expand?
In my move from Sky Pony, I wanted to help make the Running Press Kids list more cohesive in its publishing program. My goal was to work with Frances to bring the kids list more in line with its parent imprint, Running Press's, dedication to publishing books that "amaze, delight, inspire, and entertain"--and to try to achieve this across all age groups we publish for (toddler through young adult). I've also always been a strong advocate for books--especially picture books--that encourage kids to engage with the world. Running Press Kids already had some beautiful books with this focus, so together with the creative team, we were able to grow the list in that direction.
The picture book program is one of your particular focuses. This includes upcoming titles like I Affirm Me: The ABCs of Inspiration for Black Kids and Dolls and Trucks are for Everyone. Would you please tell our readers a little bit about these books?
Absolutely! Nyasha Williams's I Affirm Me: The ABCs of Inspiration for Black Kids is a book of affirmations for young Black children to help nurture and embrace their authentic selves and to find self-acceptance amid strong role models. In a similar way, Robb Pearlman's Dolls and Trucks Are for Everyone, illustrated by Eda Kaban, reassures preschoolers that they can be whomever and whatever they want and feel themselves to be.
Is there anything new coming up that you're especially excited about?
This month we have a fabulous picture book publishing by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Wendy Leach titled A Small Kindness. The book follows a group of children starting their first day of school and, like a game of tag, each does one kind thing for another. As the kindness spreads, so does the color, moving the book from a monochromatic palette to a bright, vibrant rainbow. And of course, we have two new books by Mallika Chopra publishing this year!
While I've focused mainly on picture books here, we are publishing a fantastic group of books across age groups from toddlers to YA. I especially hope middle-grade readers will feel empowered by two of our upcoming illustrated anthologies: Earth Squad: 50 People Who Are Saving the Planet by Alexandra Zissu and illustrated by Nhung Lê, and We Got Game!: 35 Female Athletes Who Changed the World by Aileen Weintraub and illustrated by Sarah Green.
Rediscover: And Still I Rise
And Still I Rise was Maya Angelou's third poetry collection when it was first published by Random House in 1978. She had already written three of her total seven autobiographies, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), and a variety of songs, scripts, short stories and essays. Angelou was also a visiting professor at several universities, a theatrical producer and had appeared in the TV miniseries Roots. The release of And Still I Rise continued a pattern developed early in her career of alternating the publication of autobiographies with poetry collections.
And Still I Rise contains 32 poems divided into three sections: Touch Me, Life, Not Softly; Traveling; and And Still I Rise. Part one has a joyful atmosphere and celebrates Angelou's many personal strengths. Part two focuses on hardships such as addiction, abuse, poverty and racism. The titular third section finds many of the strengths mentioned in part one evident in Angelou's wider community. In 1993, she read "On the Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's inauguration, becoming the second poet to perform at a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost at JFK's in 1961. Angelou's recording won the 1993 Grammy for Best Spoken Word. And Still I Rise is still available from Random House ($18). --Tobias Mutter
My Brilliant Life
by Ae-Ran Kim , trans. by Chi-Young Kim
Areum is two years old when doctors first notice there is something wrong: he is aging faster than he should be, a result of a rare and uncurable disease. Ae-ran Kim's novel My Brilliant Life is told from Areum's perspective, as the now-16-year-old sets out to write his own story--and that of his parents--before he dies. "This is the story of the youngest parents with the oldest child," he writes in the first pages of this fictional memoir: the story of 32-year-old parents to a 16-year-old boy living in the dying body of an 80-year-old man.
My Brilliant Life, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim, is an achingly beautiful story of a boy forced to come to terms with aging and death far earlier than any child should. More than that, though, it is that boy's attempts to share all that he has learned, all that he wants the world to know. "People say it's a miracle that I've lived this long.... But I believe that the larger miracle exists in the ordinary, in the living of an ordinary life and dying at an ordinary age. To me the miracles are my [family]... the middle of summer and the middle of winter." Kim's novel so perfectly captures the voice and sense of longing in young Areum that it is easy to forget that My Brilliant Life is a work of fiction. As Areum and his thoughts and feelings and family come to life on its pages, the novel delivers an important reminder that life is truly what one makes of it--even if, and sometimes especially when, that life is cut too short. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: An achingly beautiful story of a teenage boy whose body is aging faster than it should--and all the life lessons he is forced to learn in his too-short time.
Milk Blood Heat
by Dantiel W. Moniz
Dantiel W. Moniz's debut collection, Milk Blood Heat, is a hypnotizing revelation. In these 11 stories, love, grief, rebellion and hunger swirl about girls and women (re)possessing their bodies and spirits. Set amid Florida's retention ponds, under a sun like "a wax lemon melting, oozing light," characters on the brink of change consider the fugitive qualities of darkness and light, how they play both against and with one another, alternately freeing and restricting.
The titular "Milk Blood Heat" is as playful, melancholy and heartbreaking as its two 13-year-old girls from vastly different worlds who become blood sisters. Ava, "newly thirteen, hollowed out and filled back up with venom and dust-cloud dreams," plays at being a monster, "unnatural and unfamiliar in her body." She's among a few teenagers in this collection, and Moniz blesses them all with tender and brutal complexity, adeptly avoiding the usual gratuitous stigmas about teenage girls.
In "Tongues," 17-year-old Zey bucks against the decree from church and family that "she can be looked on, but not look." In "An Almanac of Bones," Sylvie is being raised by her unconventional grandmother while her mother travels the world. As they prepare for an upcoming "moon festival," Sylvie--always "interested in discarded things"--finds solace in the structure of animal bones and the mysteries of the deep earth where she's "a glorious creature, spare and glowing."
Moniz's debut is a beautifully unsettling gospel of light and dark, declaring "you could be both things and still be loved." --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, editor and writer
Discover: Dantiel W. Moniz's alluring debut collection of 11 stories set in the eternal Florida heat is an incandescent and rebellious arrival.
by Annabel Lyon
Consent by Canadian novelist Annabel Lyon (The Sweet Girl) is an insightful and unnerving piece of literary fiction that follows two women as they grapple with their guilt and despair in the aftermaths of their sisters' deaths. Sara, who has spent years pursuing a career as an academic, returns home after her mother's death to care for her mentally disabled sister, Mattie. She is distressed to learn that Mattie has married her mother's handyman, Robert, and forces him out of the house on the grounds that Mattie couldn't legally consent to the relationship. Years later, Sara is devastated by Mattie's accidental death, brought on by Robert's unexpected reappearance. Meanwhile, promising graduate student Saskia is drawn away from her studies when her volatile sister Jenny is paralyzed after a car accident. Following Jenny's death, Saskia discovers hints of a secret past that sets her on a collision course with both Sara and Robert.
A slow-burn exploration of love and duty, Consent is a precisely crafted, emotionally resonant accomplishment with an explosive ending. In poignant but unsentimental prose, Lyon guides readers through Sara's and Saskia's development, their complex relationships with their respective sisters, and the emotional nuances of both caretaking and losing a sibling. Far from being melodramatic, the novel manages to keep a cool head even while conveying the extremities of human experience. And even as Sara and Saskia become grounding forces for the story, the novel keeps readers always guessing about what the two of them will do next. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A chilling and powerful story of the lengths imperfect sisters will go to in order to protect one another, Consent will appeal to fans of thoughtful literary thrillers.
A Prayer for the Living
by Ben Okri
Best known for the 1991 Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road, Nigerian author Ben Okri has maintained a prolific output of lauded fiction, poetry and essays. His provocative collection, A Prayer for the Living, presents 24 stories and a single poem that include previously published pieces from 1993 onward.
Okri's longest stories prove the strongest, as if they are claiming the space for comparatively intense narrative development. In "Dreaming of Byzantium," "unreality makes the world" for a man who awakes in a luxurious hotel with a woman claiming to be his wife ready for their Istanbul explorations. "Alternative Realities Are True" follows a London detective solving murder out of synch with time. And "Don Ki-Otah and the Ambiguity of Reading" is a quirky Don Quixote-riff complete with a meta-reference to Okri himself.
Okri imaginatively plays with various literary forms among his more compelling shorter pieces. The titular "A Prayer for the Living" is a survivor's snapshot homage to the missing and dead. "The Lie" is a modern fable about a king's "search for truth." Two atmospheric short-shorts are labeled "stoku," an amalgam of story and haiku that Okri created in 2009. Inventiveness aside, Okri is equally assured with more forthright approaches: in "Boko Haram" (1), (2) and (3), he writes of tragedy so horrific as if its presentation required division over three parts separated in between by some 100 pages filled with other stories.
Writing across countries, citizens, centuries, Okri effortlessly showcases his literary fluency. Even beyond specific details of time and place, global audiences will discover resonating enlightenment and entertainment between these taut pages. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Booker Prize winner Ben Okri collects 24 inventive short stories and a single poem in which he showcases his fluency across countries, cultures, even centuries.
Mystery & Thriller
by Allie Reynolds
It seems nothing good can happen in an abandoned ski resort during a snowstorm. In Shiver, the gripping debut thriller by British writer Allie Reynolds, five former competitive snowboarders gather for a reunion weekend at Le Rocher, a secluded spot in the French Alps. They haven't seen each other in more than a decade, but old wounds remain fresh: last time they were at Le Rocher to train for an elite competition, fellow snowboarder Saskia Sparks mysteriously vanished. Each member of the group had a complicated relationship with the hyper-aggressive and possibly sociopathic Saskia--particularly Milla, who serves as the story's no-nonsense narrator and whose drive to win sometimes overrides her basic morality. As the off-season weather turns increasingly hostile, it doesn't take long for the group to realize they've been lured to the resort by someone who knows their secrets--and isn't afraid to seek revenge. Trust among the group withers, and Milla longs for the intimacy she experienced with her former friends as she tries to uncover who could have murdered Saskia, all while concealing her own role in the crime.
An ex-freestyle snowboarder who spent several years traveling internationally, Reynolds writes with the same fast-paced intensity of an energy drink-fueled trip down the slopes. Alongside its central mystery, Shiver offers an intimate look at the convoluted relationships of athletes who excel at a sport most people are too cautious even to attempt--including what happens when the truth becomes inescapable, both because of the blizzard and other equally unpredictable forces. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this fast-paced thriller, five former competitive snowboarders find themselves in an elaborate trap concocted by someone who knows their deadly secrets.
by Marina Adair
Three Men and a Baby meets Regarding Henry in this charming romance from Marina Adair (RomeAntically Challenged). Levi Rhodes meant to leave the tiny town of Rome, R.I., 16 years ago to sail around the world. But his sister got pregnant, and Levi couldn't leave her alone. So, he stayed and ran the family marina and bar. Now, however, his niece has both her stepdad and her bio dad back in her life, so she doesn't really need Levi. It would be the perfect time to set off on that round-the-world sailing trip. Except, it seems to Levi that maybe Beckett Hayes needs him instead.
As the primary caretaker for a brother and father with autism, Beckett considers herself a master of handling tricky situations. She opened her own concierge business, so she could best work around family needs, as well as her side gig training therapy animals. She has been happily juggling things for years. Her busy life leaves no room for serious dating, which is fine, except that she can't stop glancing at Levi.
Sweet and sensitive, Hopeless Romantic is a funny romance that gently manages heavy issues like loss of a sibling, parental abandonment and caring for loved ones on the autism spectrum. Can two people who have spent a lifetime putting other people first finally find love for themselves? Readers will hope so, as they enjoy Levi and Beckett's flirting and laugh out loud at the antics of Rome's zany residents and Beckett's many animals. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this charming, quirky romance, two people who have spent their lives caring for their families finally try to find love for themselves.
Biography & Memoir
We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends
by Billy Baker
Some 40% of adults say that they're lonely, compared to about 20% in the 1980s, meaning that there is "a full-blown loneliness epidemic, one that would only become worse with the arrival of a virus that forced us apart." Experts agree that friendship is vital for physical and mental health--the human species thrives on social connections--which is what led Billy Baker's editor to ask him to do an article about how many middle-aged Americans are suffering from a dearth of friendship.
Baker, a writer at the Boston Globe, was 40 at the time, and had settled into a comfortable routine of work and family. His editor's request, however, made Baker realize how rarely he actually hung out with his friends and started him out on a quest to rectify the situation, which he documents in We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends. Baker is specifically writing to the middle-aged male experience, but his advice is broadly applicable. Entertaining and informative, We Need to Hang Out is a timely, fascinating look at the crisis of loneliness in modern society. Baker walks readers through some of his attempts at making new friends and reconnecting with the pals of his college days. He shares funny anecdotes, and painfully awkward moments where no one shows up to an invitation, but slowly his adventures lead to some genuine friendships, which is truly encouraging for anyone who has ever needed a friend. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this fascinating memoir, a middle-aged man explores the loneliness epidemic in the U.S.
Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice
by Ellen McGarrahan
Ellen McGarrahan used to believe in an objective reality. That changed when she devoted a year of her life to learning the truth about the 1976 crime that led to the execution of Jesse Tafero, for which she volunteered to be present. While researching the riveting Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice, McGarrahan found herself bombarded with self-serving, conflicting testimonies. As a prosecutor put it to McGarrahan, "Murders don't usually happen in front of a busload of bishops."
The murders at the center of Two Truths and a Lie occurred on February 20, 1976, when a Florida state trooper and his Canadian-constable friend approached a Camaro parked at a rest stop 15 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. Inside the car were Tafero, a drug dealer and fugitive convicted rapist; his girlfriend, Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, and her two children; and Walter Rhodes, who was on parole for armed robbery. After Trooper Black and Constable Irwin engaged with the Camaro's occupants, an altercation broke out that left both officers dead.
Readers of Two Truths and a Lie shouldn't expect a polemic against capital punishment, although it's possible to read the book as a slow-build evisceration of the American justice system's classism. Nor should readers expect McGarrahan's lucidly written deep dive to produce crystalline clarity about the case. McGarrahan would come to realize that this wasn't the point. "I'm writing a book about Jesse Tafero" was her opening gambit when reaching out to an interview subject, but Two Truths and a Lie is equally about Ellen McGarrahan. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this gut-wrenchingly good deep dive, a private investigator examines the 1976 crime that may have led to the wrongful execution of a man she watched die in the electric chair.
Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob
by Russell Shorto
Russell Shorto is known for writing about the past. Over six nonfiction books, he's tackled narrative histories about Jesus (Gospel Truth), the world's most liberal city (Amsterdam) and notable founders of the U.S. (Revolution Song). In Smalltime, Shorto intimately mines his own life, his "normal small-town America childhood," contrasted against the history of his Sicilian American family and their ties to the mob. He delivers a beautifully rendered, spellbinding saga about family secrets and taboos.
Shorto's inspiration to explore his own life began when he and his extended family paid an after-Christmas visit to a distant cousin, once a successful jazz singer in Las Vegas who "came home" to Pennsylvania and continued to croon lounge songs publicly with a "local geriatric combo." At a break in his musical set, Cousin Frank, now in his late 70s, casually asked Shorto when he was finally going to write about his grandfather, Shorto's father's father, and his connection to the mob. That question sparked the reluctant Shorto to learn more about his grandfather--a man for whom Shorto was named--who was once a mob boss in Johnstown, Pa., when it was a bustling steel mill town.
The journey Shorto takes to trace his grandfather's life is eventful, entertaining and enlightening. He investigates his grandfather's origins, who he was, and how and why he came to establish a criminal network of gambling. Smalltime is a thorough, immensely moving and empathetic portrait of Shorto's namesake, and how his Sicilian American immigrant experiences shaped the course of history. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Russell Shorto offers a deeply engrossing portrait of his mob-connected Sicilian American grandfather.
Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth
by Avi Loeb
Part survey of thrilling new discoveries, part memoir of a restless intellect and part polemical airing of grievances, this curious volume from Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb challenges readers--and Loeb's contemporaries in the sciences--to take seriously the likelihood that we are not alone in the universe. Loeb's "first sign" of intelligent life from elsewhere in the cosmos: 'Oumuamua, a peculiar object that skipped into and then out of the solar system in 2017, zipping through so quickly that astronomers charted it for only 11 days. Scientific consensus has labeled 'Oumuamua, the first interstellar object humanity has ever tracked through our solar system, as a comet, despite the many peculiarities of its behavior.
Loeb asks readers to consider a bolder hypothesis: the possibility that 'Oumuamua "must have been designed, built, and launched by an extraterrestrial intelligence." Extraterrestrial finds Loeb testing that claim, explaining how his life and his research has brought him to make it, considering its implications and lamenting the reluctance of many scientists to consider such a possibility at all. He encourages his contemporaries to approach the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence with the open minds of children, and, perhaps inevitably, he trots out the story of Galileo facing trial for heresy for his break with scientific orthodoxy.
Fortunately, Loeb's infectious sense of wonder breezes away the faint sourness of those passages. Loeb proves adept at illuminating cosmic complexities for a lay audience, especially when it comes to the mysteries of 'Oumuamua. He's just as strong at stirring hopeful awe at his vision of humanity--and possibly other civilizations--launching probes powered by lightsails across the vast emptiness. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A Harvard astrophysicist stirringly argues not only that alien life is likely but that we've already recorded evidence of it.
Children's & Young Adult
The Midnight Fair
by Gideon Sterer , illust. by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Ask 100 children what might happen if you put wild animals in charge of a country fair in the middle of the night--there's a good chance that variations of their answers appear in this gloriously imaginative wordless picture book by Gideon Sterer (From Ed's to Ned's) and Mariachiara Di Giorgio (Professional Crocodile).
Dozens of animals watch from the nearby woods as evening turns to night and the swirling, neon-bright magic of a country fair begins to wind down. A worker switches off the main power switch and drives away. But the night of thrills, games and fried dough is not over. Emerging from the trees is the second shift of fairgoers: bears, rabbits, owls and deer. What follows is a fanciful wordless story with myriad familiar fair tableaux: the ring toss, magnificent carousel horses, cotton candy bigger than the indulger's head... all enacted by local wildlife under the inviting glitter and glow of lights.
Lush watercolor, gouache and colored pencil artwork by Di Giorgio is spectacular not just in its liveliness and beauty but in its remarkable depth and perspective. On first "reading," viewers might focus on the main action: animals lining up for rides, waiting at the concession stands, playing games. But look again! In the foreground of these positively frame-worthy illustrations, roller-coaster riders' expressions range from thrilled to terrified, and weasels crack up over a buddy's grinning head in the cutout face of a wooden bathing beauty. Surprise after surprise emerges for the keen-eyed reader, and not a detail is neglected. The Midnight Fair--like a ride on a Ferris wheel--will likely elicit entreaties of "Again, again!" --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Under neon and moonlight shadows, woodland animals take over a country fair after the humans go home for the night.
by Charles Trevino , illust. by Maribel LeChuga
Anyone who has felt a rush of frigid wind as they stepped onto a beach on a winter's day knows the exhilaration of the child protagonist in Charles Trevino and Maribel LeChuga's alliterative and observant Seaside Stroll.
The book opens on an adult and child bundling up to take a beachside winter stroll. Poetic sibilance--"slow steps--shuffle, straddle, saunter"--soothes while also hinting at the action to come: child, caregiver and doll "spin" and "swing" at the "spectacular... sparkling" seaside. In one scene, a sudden wave leaps up over a rock, causing the child to drop a doll into a tide pool: "Swish... swirl... surge... surprised!" LeChuga (Ten Beautiful Things) uses playful mixed-media illustrations to round out each action, showing with the page turn the child's face alight with relief as the doll is "saved!" After an afternoon of exploration, the pair trudge home, the sun setting at their backs. The story ends as cozily as it begins with a steamy tub soak, a story, silence and sleep.
The play between text and art highlights the natural world's impermanence as the child explores. The changing perspectives of the illustrations allow readers to experience the story through multiple views, while the text, refreshingly devoid of pronouns or first names, lets readers make their own choices about the narrator. The back of the book features an author's note with a brief lesson on parts of speech and a discussion of the importance of the story's structure which is "meant to capture the wonder of exploration and discovery." --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, and co-creator, Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: A child, an adult and a toy doll sojourn to the seaside one sunny winter afternoon in this comforting picture book.
Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued
by Peter Sís
Hans Christian Andersen Medalist and Caldecott Honoree Peter Sís (The Pilot and the Little Prince; The Wall) revisits the occupation of Czechoslovakia, his homeland, in this tender picture book about a 10-year-old girl and the unassuming hero who saved her life--and hundreds more--on the eve of World War II.
Englishman Nicolas Winton visited Prague in December 1938. Recognizing the looming danger to Jews in Czechoslovakia, the resourceful Renaissance man quickly arranged the transport of hundreds of children by train from Prague to England. Little Vera left her family behind to board one of Winton's eight trains, escaping the Nazis for a foster family in London with whom she waited out the war. Humble Nicky "never told anyone about the children." Decades later, and only after his wife unearthed Winton's records and went public, word of Winton's heroic efforts spread and led to the public reunion of Nicky, Vera and other rescued children. Winton saved 669 lives.
With an earth-toned palette and characteristically intricate details, Sís reveals the characters' intersecting stories through alternating spreads, shifting between cool blues and honeyed sepia tones to cue transitions. Pointillistic flourishes and illustrative elements carry through the story; variety in scale and perspective ensure Sís's illustrations remain every bit as captivating as Nicky and Vera's unfolding tales. An author's note reveals Sís's connection to Winton's story as well as additional information on the rescue efforts and real-life Vera.
With quick work and no expectation of thanks, Nicky Winton changed the course of Vera's life. Sís does them both justice with this stunning biography. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Discover: This intricately illustrated biographical picture book recounts the inspiring story of a modest Englishman who saved 669 children during World War II.