Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 2, 2012
From My Shelf
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!
Happy birthday to Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who would have been 108 today!
Every year on his birthday, Dr. Seuss gets a lot of attention, in part because Read Across America Day is held on today in honor of Dr. Seuss. Sponsored by the National Education Association, the day celebrates reading and involves many thousands of events at schools, libraries, bookstores and other places. Those events include readings, plays, reading challenges and more that feature actors, athletes, politicians and authors. Educators may be the most enthusiastic boosters, the NEA notes: at these events, "teachers and principals seem to be more than happy to dye their hair green or be duct-taped to a wall if it boosts their students' reading." The most popular prop on Read Across America Day is the hat from The Cat in the Hat.
This year, Dr. Seuss is garnering even more attention than normal because the movie version of The Lorax is being released today. Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, The Lorax is a 3-D CGI film that stars Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Taylor Swift and Betty White. Some of the stars have been featured in videos for Read Across America Day and are appearing at events today.
The marketing and promotional effort has had an effect: USA Today reported yesterday that five of its top 50 bestselling books are Dr. Seuss titles. Kate Klimo, publisher of Random House/Golden Books said that in 25 years of handling Dr. Seuss titles, "I've never seen the stars so perfectly aligned."
And there's another reason to celebrate Dr. Seuss now: March 12 is the 55th anniversary of the appearance of The Cat in the Hat, which instantly made Dr. Seuss into the beloved children's book author that many of us have had the joy of discovering as children--and then again as adults, for the children in our lives. Happily it's one of those sterling children's books that can be read aloud again and again by an adult to a child--the tale of fun, mischief, near-catastrophe and magic continues to delight even after 20 or 50 or 100 or more readings. That itself is cause for celebration.
So for children--and adults--everywhere: happy birthday, Dr. Seuss! --John Mutter
Bookcase; Author Movie Cameos; Word Origins
Bookcase of the day: For your favorite reading nook, Freshome showcased the Round Window Bookcase designed by Fabio Galeazzo, as part of an "Urban Cabin" in São Paulo, Brazil.
An "Industrial Floor Lamp Bookshelf Trifecta" was offered on Etsy.
You oughtta write in pictures: Mental Floss uncovered "14 movie cameos by the authors of the original books."
Do you know about the connection between carat and carob seeds? Buzzfeed offered "seven surprising word origins."
Further Reading: Urban Fantasy
Where can you find vampires and werewolves having a friendly chat while riding public transportation to work, rogue city gangs of fairies wreaking havoc on an innocent populace or witches using their gifts to locate the perfect rent-controlled apartment? Urban fantasy takes traditional elements of fantasy or horror and introduces them to your favorite cities, blending the mundane with the exotic and adding a dash of mystery, science fiction, suspense or noir, and--in many cases--a great deal of humor. Whether you are new to the genre or a longtime fan, here are a few recent titles to whet your appetite.
If you are delving into urban fantasy for the first time, you couldn't go wrong with a well-chosen story collection, such as Down These Strange Streets, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. This particular collection of 16 stories is superbly eclectic, focusing on beloved characters solving mysterious murder cases in strange and sinister venues.
For those a bit more familiar with the genre, you might consider a series, such as Patricia Briggs's Alpha and Omega series. Anna Latham and Charles Cornick are Omega and Alpha werewolves, respectively, and their adventures together often take a suspenseful turn. Fair Game, the fourth installment of this exciting series, finds Anna and Charles dispatched to Boston to help track down a dangerous psychopath who is targeting the fae and werewolves seemingly indiscriminately. The closer Anna and Charles get to uncovering the killer, the closer Anna gets to becoming a victim herself.
If you enjoy a more diverse population of paranormal creatures, Kim Harrison's Hollows series will not disappoint. Set in a Cincinnati, Ohio, where witches, vampires and other supernatural beings collectively known as "Inderlanders" live and work side-by-side with humans, witch Rachel Morgan runs Vampiric Charms with her partners: a vampire named Ivy and a pixie named Jenks. Together, they take on strange cases, do a bit of bounty hunting to pay the bills and protect the city's residents from the more ominous supernatural element. In the latest adventure, A Perfect Blood, Rachel is roped into investigating a gruesome murder for Inderland Security, and she uncovers an organized group of dangerous, bigoted humans, long thought to be disbanded or dead. Although this splendidly detailed book is the 10th in the series, with the author's well-timed recaps it can be easily read on its own. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library
The Writer's Life
Kambri Crews: Self-Reliance, Storytelling and Healing
New York producer and publicist Kambri Crews always knew that her childhood was unusual--she spent much of it in a tin shack deep with her family in the woods of Texas. But when, in her early 30s, her charismatic and adored father was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stabbing his girlfriend, she had to confront for the first time his violent, destructive behavior. The title of Crews's memoir, Burn Down the Ground, refers to the agricultural technique of slash and burn, and it's aptly named. More than once she's had to torch it all and start over.
Besides growing up in an isolated area, as the child of deaf adults, you were required to take on some adult responsibilities, like translating for your parents. How do you think that shaped you as a person?
Well, you definitely develop a lot of self-reliance and independence, and you learn to think for yourself at a younger age, which isn't a bad quality, especially for a young girl. It's changing now, but girls aren't necessarily taught to be as self-sufficient as boys. I always felt capable of doing anything I wanted, because I already knew how. Even if I didn't really know, I knew it wouldn't take much to learn. That's one of the best qualities I got from having deaf parents and deaf grandparents--learning how to live on my own and take care of myself.
Do you think that better equipped you to deal with the traumas later in your life?
It's not the best feeling in the world to know you don't really have anybody to fall back on, but it sure makes you try really hard to not fail.
I don't think it helped as far as the trauma. My mom's tendency to pretend everything was normal--that's what I started to do. That's why, when my dad attacked this other woman, for the first time I was truly like, let's talk about this. We can't just continue to pretend like everything's normal. It's not normal. It's never been normal. So that got me through the early trauma when I was a teenager--don't ask, don't tell. It's a defense mechanism that worked, but it didn't necessarily lead to healing.
What do you think made you able to move forward?
A sense of humor. I know that's what lead me to work in comedy. And my dad has a great sense of humor. So do my mom and brother, and the deaf community is all about storytelling. It's a very social group of people. The ability to make light and laugh has gotten me through a lot.
Could you talk a bit more about how growing up in the deaf community influenced you as a storyteller?
Sign language is not a written language. The great majority of conversations and storytelling happen in person, and to convey the nuance of words and meaning and emotion, you really need to express it in your face and in your body. When I'm on stage telling stories and I use sign language my friends always say, "I loved the story but I really loved it when you used sign language, because you use your whole body."
Was it a struggle translating this in-person storytelling to the page?
It was actually very useful tool. Recently I saw some tips for writers on Judy Blume's website, and she suggests saying things out loud. I would tell my stories on stage at this little place called Ochi's Lounge, a 50-seat theater I created, then I'd come home and transcribe the show. Or I'd work on a chapter and then read it [at the show]. When you say things out loud, you recognize what doesn't sound right, and you can find where the humor is a lot easier.
Why write a memoir?
It's one thing to know that you have this weird life, but what is the real message? I didn't want to write from anger, because I'm not angry and I don't think anyone would want to read a memoir filled with bitterness. For me, the important part was to show that people are complicated, and love is complicated, and families are complicated. There are millions of people in jail in the U.S., and a lot of them are fathers and mothers. There are people out there who love them. When you really start to pull back the curtain on people, you can see why they landed in jail. If you can get to the root of those things, you can maybe prevent [some] crime. With my father, there were many times things could have gone differently for him. I don't want to blame the world--he's at fault for his own actions--but there were opportunities to help put him on a better track that were passed.
Also, with domestic violence, the more you talk about it, the less likely people are to remain silent. And that's where healing starts: talking about it. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer
First Thing We Do, Let's Shoot All the Bankers
In Mike Cooper's new novel, Clawback (Viking), an assassin has begun shooting the rottenest, worst-performing financiers on Wall Street. "Don't bail them out, take them out!"--it's a good tagline for a thriller, and Mike really hopes it remains fiction. Here he expounds on one of his favorite topics:
What drives people into the streets is the unfairness of it all.
A Tunisian street vendor has his vegetables arbitrarily confiscated, once too often. Egyptians flood Tahir Square to protest decades of entrenched corruption. Muscovites confront riot police in subzero cold after elections are rigged so disdainfully that even Russians can't take it anymore.
And in the U.S.? It's all about inequality.
The richest 700 Americans together now own $2 trillion. The one percent has done awfully well these last 30 years, but that tiny sliver of ultra-wealth is an entirely different world. The average Fortune 400 mogul could spend $200,000 every single day of his life--and not run out of money.
The plutocracy's defenders tell us that such incentives are necessary to make capitalism work. But who, exactly, are these upholders of the free market? These job creators? These innovators and humanitarians?
Mostly, they're banksters. Hedge fund managers, private equity titans, investment bankers. A generation ago, Wall Streeters did just fine, thank you--but they weren't buying yachts the size of Wasp-class aircraft carriers.
Deregulation didn't merely open the doors to unbridled speculation, mind-bendingly complex "structured finance," and the near-total collapse of the world economy. It handed all the winnings to the yahoos running the casino. Just before they set the place on fire, they scooped all the cash off the tables and ran out the back door, laughing.
At some deep level, most regular citizens understand this. The angry resentment of the Tea Party, the determined protests of the Occupiers, the extraordinary volatility in this election year--everyone has a different explanation, but deep down everyone knows they've been had. What's amazing is not that we've seen so many people in the streets, but so few.
The Green Revolution hasn't arrived here... yet. --Mike Cooper
Graphic Novels for the Literary; Book Beginnings and Endings
Lit Reactor recommended "10 graphic novels for the literary minded," arranged by genre "to give you a fighting chance at picking something you might enjoy."
"You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings." Everybody loves a great first sentence, so Stylist.com gathered its choices for the "best 100 opening lines from books."
At the other end of the book, the Atlantic magazine featured "10 fantastic novels with disappointing endings."
The "20 best novels about being a teacher" were showcased by onlinecolleges.net, which noted that within "the pages of the following lay a myriad of fabulous narratives picking apart the various joys, sorrows, and rages present in and out of the classroom. Just about the only thing they share is the desire to showcase teachers as what they really are in the end: all too human."
by Esi Edugyan
Sid Griffith, a light-skinned bass player from Baltimore, narrates as he and his childhood friend, dark-skinned drummer Chip Jones, leave the U.S. for the more racially and musically tolerant Europe to play the smoky clubs of Berlin. They are joined by four German musicians: an aristocrat on clarinet, a burly alto sax player, a blond-haired Jew on piano and Thomas Hieronymus ("the Kid") Falk, a rare German-born black man, on trumpet. Hitler's Germany soon becomes as intolerant of jazz as it is of blacks and Jews, however, and the Hot-Time Swingers flee to Paris in hope of a recording session with their hero, Louis Armstrong.
Edugyan's prose sparkles not only with the jive and banter of jazz musicians, but also with the metaphors of a music built on improvisation. None of the players has the gift of the Kid, who in "one pure, brilliant note" can create "the sound of something growing a crust, some watery thing finally gelling... the very sound of age, of growing older, of adolescent rage being tempered by a man's heart." In a moment of jealousy over the Kid's brilliance, however, Sid betrays him; the war catches up with the other German band members and the two Americans barely escape back to Baltimore.
Edugyan doesn't ignore the racism of the rural South, the inner cities, the clubs and restaurants, but she subtly uses the novel's setting to explore racism's even deeper horrors. Still, Half-Blood Blues suggests that perhaps the universal language of jazz can lead the way to a time beyond such prejudices. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: With a fine ear for the jive and metaphor of jazz, Esi Edugyan's novel recounts the struggles of a multi-ethnic band in Europe on the brink of World War II.
I Hadn't Understood
by Diego De Silva , trans. by Antony Shugaar
Diego de Silva gleefully serves up a book-length comic monologue in I Hadn't Understood. The self-deluded confession of Vincenzo Malinconico is the whole show, and what a show it is. Trying to understand what's really happening in his life, the 42-year-old Neapolitan lawyer comes up with a variety of theories that he tests one by one, so that every perception goes through a legalistic sifting of the facts--but one that's constantly bubbling with wit.
Vincenzo's wife has left him for an architect. His dream woman is eagerly pursuing him. He's been assigned to defend a mafioso suspected of butchering and disposing of murder victims in the back yard. Meanwhile, his 16-year-old son is so committed to studying teenage gangs and violence that he keeps getting beaten up. His daughter joins Vincenzo for meetings at Burger King. His longing for his wife, fears about his reckless son and fumbling conversations with his daughter combine to make Vincenzo a heartwarming, endearing bungler, countering the tightening web of personal and professional problems to build up suspense subtly.
Vincenzo's freewheeling narration is savagely witty, frequently wise; he's easily worked up, often irrational and constantly putting his foot in his mouth. As he gropes his way through life's detours, trying to be an honest lawyer and a good father while sorting out his romantic complications, he may seem like the classic stereotype of the testosterone-driven Italian male as an emotional volcano. But Diego de Silva takes the stereotype and brings it to uninhibited, unrestrained --and endearing--literary life. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: A comic, stream-of-consciousness glimpse into one middle-aged lawyer's chaotic life, nominated for Italy's biggest literary award, the Strega.
The Starboard Sea
by Amber Dermont
Amber Dermont (contributor to Ann Patchett's The Best American Short Stories 2006) makes her novel-length debut with The Starboard Sea, a vividly emotional imagining of a troubled teenage boy confronting the corruption of his privileged world in the months surrounding the stock market crash of 1987.
Jason Prosper and his friend Cal were once the pride of exclusive Kensington Prep, with their good looks, stellar competitive sailing record and seemingly unbreakable bond, but a secret of their life together resulted in Cal's suicide and Jason's expulsion. When his womanizing father generously endows an East Coast boarding school for rich kids with bad records in order to secure Jason's acceptance for his senior year, Jason finds himself adrift, his grief over Cal leaving him unable to return to sailing or make sense of life. When he becomes close to a beautiful, free-spirited girl named Aidan, Jason thinks his prayers have been answered, even though their budding relationship brings up familiar confusion about his sexuality. However, following a hurricane's landfall at school, events unfold that drag Jason into the dark side of prep school hazing and leave him wondering if Aidan might share Cal's suicidal tendencies.
While Dermont ties an impressive knot of themes including grief, hazing, sexuality, racism and the effects of privilege and lack of parental involvement, the voice of her dynamic main character steals the show and exhibit’s Dermont's beautiful prose. She weds the zeitgeist of the materialistic decade with the pain and beauty of adolescence into a satisfying blend of wit, scandal and reflection. The Starboard Sea will satisfy readers' cravings for substantive and enjoyable fiction. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads
Discover: A privileged teen struggling with his best friend's suicide, his sexual identity and the corrupt world of the upper class.
by Peter Cameron
At first glance, Coral Glynn, Peter Cameron's moody 1950s British countryside novel, is like a painting by Magritte: the disparate parts don't go together in any conventional way, but when you look at it for a while, the internal logic becomes apparent.
Coral arrives at Hart House on a wet spring day as nurse to the elderly Mrs. Hart, who is dying of cancer. The house has two other occupants: Clement, Mrs. Hart's son, who is embittered by hideous burns sustained in the Second World War, and Mrs. Prenze, a wicked-tongued housekeeper, who takes an instant dislike to Coral.
To escape the oppressiveness of this assignment, Coral walks in the woods. One day, she comes upon two children playing "Prisoner." A little girl is hanging by her wrists from a tree while the young boy throws pinecones at her. They both insist that this is just a game, so Coral says nothing, but when the girl is found murdered, the local constabulary suspects Coral.
Less than a month after Coral arrives, Mrs. Hart dies. Clement immediately proposes marriage to Coral, although he has barely spoken to her until now. She accepts, and a hasty marriage is planned. On the night of her wedding, with Inspector Hoke due to arrest her the next day, Coral, with Clement's agreement, bolts for London where she builds a new life, circumscribed by work at the National Health and evenings spent in her room in a boarding house.
Peter Cameron's subtle, atmospheric period piece is beautifully rendered and takes several interesting twists and turns until, finally, Coral begins to find her way.--Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: An English manor house, a young nurse, an elderly matriarch, her socially inept son and a creepy housekeeper.
Mystery & Thriller
The Man from Primrose Lane
by James Renner
David Neff's first book, The Serial Killer's Protégé, earned him a reputation as "the best true crime writer since Truman Capote." It also left him with a case of post-traumatic stress which, coupled with his wife's suicide, has left him unable to write anything else. Then his publisher tells him of the unsolved murder of a reclusive millionaire who was found shot in a shack not far from David's Ohio home. His curiosity piqued, David starts to prod at the case... and then it gets much weirder than he ever expected, and turns out to be all about him.
The Man from Primrose Lane deliberately invokes its author's own life to shape its main character; James Renner is a true crime writer who lives in Ohio and the author of The Serial Killer's Apprentice. This makes for some unsettling psychological speculation, but that's nothing compared to the ultimate direction in which Renner takes this novel. It's very hard to say much about what happens without unraveling too many surprises that need to be preserved for the reader, but you'll find yourself wondering if the story can possibly be headed where the clues are pointing, and then it happens, and you'll either say "Oh, wow!" or "What the heck?"
Renner's mix of narrative elements is complex, and some readers will think he's thrown in at least one too many. But even they're likely to tell you that, even after the story goes crazy, this is one of the most compelling thrillers you're likely to read all year. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com
Discover: Renner's thriller hits a point where the only storyline left is the one that seems impossible--and goes for it.
The Helios Conspiracy
by Jim DeFelice
Jim DeFelice is known for his military thrillers, especially in collaboration with bestselling authors like Stephen Coonts (the Deep Black series) and Larry Bond (the Red Dragon Rising series). He goes solo in The Helios Conspiracy, telling the tale of an experimental satellite launch for a clean energy initiative gone wrong and the resulting investigation into the sabotage.
FBI agent Andy Fisher (first seen in 2003's Cyclops One) is not easy to work with. He gives his supervisors endless trouble with his disregard for the rules, does not suffer fools gladly and has a penchant for cigarettes and bad diner coffee with a side of greasy fries (with gravy). The real problem, though, is that he is fantastic at his job--seemingly wild hunches and tangential investigations prove correct again and again. This time, it's a former lover of Andy who is murdered. She was the financial wizard behind the company launching a satellite to gather the sun’s energy and beam it to Earth via microwave transmission. The launch rocket explodes, a heavy-handed energy trader is implicated, the Chinese government sends some shady characters to clean things up, and soon everyone is gunning for Andy and the lead scientist on the project, Andy's old college friend (and potential new paramour).
DeFelice's plot rockets along, keeping reader interest throughout. The real find in The Helios Conspiracy, though, is the character of Andy Fisher: he's foul mouthed, standoffish, sarcastic and damn good at what he does, but without any arrogance to ruin it. Fisher's one-liners and quips fill the pages as readers follow each new wrinkle in the case, as well as playing a welcome counterpoint to the seriousness of the story. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A solid action thriller built on true-to-life science, starring an atypical wisecracking FBI agent.
Biography & Memoir
You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations
by Michael Ian Black
From performing in a comedy troupe to starring in sitcoms to his national standup tours, Michael Ian Black (My Custom Van) knows how to make an audience scream with laughter. When Black takes on topics like sex, marriage and parenthood in You're Not Doing it Right, readers should expect nothing less than a hilarious, poignant look at the timeless trials inherent in human relationships.
In this essay collection/memoir, Black alternates between reliving his youth and his adulthood, describing the affair that later became his marriage in one chapter, only to poke fun at his childhood with a gender role-deploring mother and her lesbian partner in another. Darkly funny rants on why child abuse isn't more common intertwine with raw sentiment as Black tries to identify with the experiences of his own father, who died when Black was 12. While Black's irreverent tone and brutally honest confessions may shock at times, his sardonic wit will leave readers helpless with laughter, whether he claims to hate his first baby or describes how experimentation with legal marijuana derailed his Amsterdam honeymoon.
The most memorable comedians are those who are able to identify common human fears and foibles and find the humor in them. Not only is Black a master of this art, he is equally adept at showing his wit's other edge, a sentimentality as raw as it is moving. Ultimately, this quality elevates You're Not Doing It Right from a funny book to a slyly touching collection most readers will connect with immediately.--Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads
Discover: Michael Ian Black's darkly hilarious yet touching essays.
The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of Rachel Beer: Crusading Heiress and Newspaper Pioneer
by Yehuda Koren , Eilat Negev
Rachel Sassoon was the heiress daughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman who was rooted in Baghdad but proud of the family's new status after he moved them to London in 1860, while Rachel was still a baby. Only nine years old when her father died, Rachel's options were increased by his fortune and broadened by his absence until, long past the standard marriageable age, and with considerable life experience behind her, she made what her family viewed as an unforgivable decision: she married Frederick Beer, who was also of Jewish ancestry but had converted to Christianity. (For this, Rachel was ostracized from the family until Frederick's death, when a brother had her certified as "of unsound mind.")
She found love with Frederick, but more importantly for posterity, she found a newspaper: Beer's Observer drew her interest, but it took her own newspaper, the Sunday Times, to unleash Rachel's creative and industrial spirit. She took on issues of women's rights and suffrage, workers' rights, the arts, criminal justice, and international political and social issues; the Sunday Times was for a decade Rachel Beer's personal soapbox.
Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren's matter-of-fact portrayal of Rachel's life sheds light on the experiences of women and people with Jewish backgrounds in her time, while the stories of the Beer and Sassoon families depict larger issues regarding the era's immigration and business patterns. The First Lady of Fleet Street is an engaging snapshot of several aspects of early 20th-century life as seen through the lens of one remarkable woman. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia
Discover: The biography of a pioneering female newspaper editor in early 20th-century London.
Current Events & Issues
Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan
by Sean Parnell with John Bruning
Since 2001, U.S. soldiers have been traversing the remote mountains of Afghanistan in a war of shifting objectives and recalcitrant enemies. For 16 months of this ordeal, Sean Parnell led one of the most decorated platoons of the war, the "Outlaws" of the 10th Mountain Division, through almost constant fighting in the Bermel Valley near the Pakistan border. Their mission, like the war itself, was to "control the enemy and secure the populace"; more specifically, "to stanch the flow of enemy troops and supplies into Afghanistan." How they carried out this mission is at the heart of Parnell's story in Outlaw Platoon, told with the help of veteran military historian John R. Bruning (The Devil's Sandbox).
When commissioned, Parnell was a 24-year-old kid fresh out of Ranger training. His success as a leader was dependent on his platoon--men with more combat experience, more confidence and, in one particular case, more tattoos ("his muscular frame resembled a Wikipedia entry on pagan symbolism"). He traces the ups and downs of the Outlaw's deployment as they confronted the challenges of a well-trained, well-armed mountain-savvy enemy, not to mention with the ragtag, untrustworthy Afghan National Army allies, manipulative local tribal elders and the sometimes misguided American military brass.
Those courageous Outlaw survivors who finally Humveed out of the valley came away with seven Bronze Stars, 12 Army Commendations for Valor and 32 Purple Hearts. Parnell's dramatic story captures all the gruesome carnage such recognition implies, but also illustrates the bravery of these diverse soldiers indelibly attached to each other by the stress of war. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: A boots-on-the-ground chronicle of a renowned U.S. army platoon in the Afghan mountains.
The Song of the Ape: Understanding the Languages of Chimpanzees
by Andrew R. Halloran
In The Song of the Apes, primatologist Andrew Halloran details his study of chimpanzees while working as a keeper at an animal preserve in southern Florida. By weaving in historical studies, studies of chimpanzees in their natural habitat and the histories of the apes he works with, Halloran is able to illustrate these great creatures' communication systems.
Halloran's first-person, story-telling manner enables him to share humorous as well as heart-breaking accounts of a species that shares much in common with his readers. The importance of the chimps' social system on their language in many ways mirrors the human system, allowing readers to grasp the communication concepts without understanding the grunts, yells and gestures themselves. (In fact, Halloran uses several studies involving humans to parallel the studies of specific apes he writes about.)
The Song of the Ape is a book intended for laypeople who may be intrigued by a species that shares much its DNA with humans. As such, Halloran forgoes scientific jargon in favor of captivating anecdotes and intriguing analogies. His love and awe of the creatures are evident in the passion he shares through this well-documented exploration of how chimpanzees learn, share and use language to thrive in a complex social system. The song of the ape may not be one we understand the words to, but Andrew Halloran shows how understanding the words themselves isn't actually the important part.--Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: How chimpanzees have been communicating with each other, more complexly than we realized.
Children's & Young Adult
Z Is for Moose
by Kelly L. Bingham , illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky
This theatrical comedy from Kelly Bingham (Shark Girl) and Caldecott Medalist Paul O. Zelinsky (Toys Come Home) sets a new standard for the alphabet book.
"Okay, everyone. Let's get ready!" says a Zebra in a referee jersey that zestfully clashes with his stripes. Apple takes the stage first ("A is for Apple"), as Zebra looks on approvingly and checks Apple off his list. Ball lays aside its stuffed bear to steal the spotlight, followed by a coquettish Cat. But what's this? "D is for Moose"? "Moose does not start with D. You are on the wrong page," an irate Zebra announces in a dialogue balloon.
Young letter-learners will adore knowing more than Moose does, as he steps on Hat, shouting, "Is it my turn yet?" then suddenly wises up during Lollipop's turn ("Here it comes!"). But wait! "M is for..." Not Moose! "Wait! No! That was supposed to be me! Moose! With an M!" Moose erupts in a terrible twos–type tantrum. Zelinsky goes to town, breaking the frames and disrupting the established type treatment as Zebra tries to protect everything in Moose's path.
Author and artist convey emotional honesty in this group dynamic. Moose is like the overeager kid that you don't want on your team. But then, like Zebra, you feel horrible that you left him out. He just wants to play. When Zebra sees how crushed Moose is, well, let's just say that toddlers will delight in finding every single cast member on the final page, just like a curtain call. Encore! --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A theatrical comedy that reinvents the alphabet book, from Apple, who starts the show, to Zebra, who directs it.
Letters to Leo
by Amy Hest , illus. by Julia Denos
Fans of Amy Hest's Remembering Mrs. Rossi will rejoice for more about Annie Rossi in this companion novel, which unfolds through letters Annie writes to her newly acquired dog, Leo.
As Annie tries to make sense of her 40-year-old father's often confounding (in a good way) behavior, she encourages him to try new things, advice she reads in You and Your Elderly Parent ("You always sit on a bench in the park. Try something new! Such as a handstand in the park!"). Yet she gets frustrated when he does make changes in ways that affect their routine ("Why in the world would my father go to a dinner party without me?"). Hest does a graceful job of balancing the sense of loss Annie will always feel at the absence of her mother, the dominant theme of the previous book, with her attempts to move forward and rise to the universal challenges of fourth grade (as when her best friend sits with someone else at lunch, "and I have no one to sit with but boys").
Leo makes an ideal companion for Annie on her journey. Some of her letters chronicle her attempts to train him (e.g., "Be quiet at 5:00 a.m.... No pulling off blankets. No licking toes, noses, etc."); others bask in her love for him. Leo goes a long way toward filling the gaping hole left by Annie's mother, and by her sometimes absent-minded father, whose love for both Annie and Leo are never in doubt. Abundant humorous illustrations and the epistolary format make this an ideal choice for kids just starting to embark on chapter books, and its message of healing is salve for all ages. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Annie Rossi's letters to her dog, Leo, which convey her ability to live and love after the loss of her mother.
The Humming Room
by Ellen Potter
Ellen Potter's (Olivia Kidney; The Kneebone Boy) haunting story opens with a girl left orphaned after the murder of her parents, and the suspense never slackens.
Cough Rock is not a place where you'd expect to see a girl clambering along the shoreline. This lonely island is home to an old children's hospital and little else. Within the hospital, however, lives a reclusive man; the orphan girl is his niece.
At 12, Roo Fanshaw may be small for her age, but her fiercely independent spirit makes up for her lack of inches. She does not mind the solitude of her new home--Roo has always preferred the company of mice or flowers to people. But there is something unnatural about Cough Rock. "She stood very still for a moment, listening. No, not listening exactly. It was more like sensing. She tested places in this way.... This place, though, was like nothing she'd ever experienced before. The air was dead, as if all living smells had been deliberately scoured away."
Roo finds the air filled, instead, with rules and secrets. The building's east wing is "strictly off-limits." She hears humming and crying coming from the old girls' dormitory, yet no one is ever there. As Roo explores the house, she brings to light secrets that have long been sealed away behind its walls. In this reimagining of Burnett's The Secret Garden, Potter conjures a curious tale sure to appeal to today's young readers. --Julia Smith, blogger and children's bookseller emerita
Discover: A spirited young girl who unlocks many secrets about her family and mysterious new home.