Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Scholastic Press: Beastly Beauty by Jennifer Donnelly

St. Martin's Essentials: Build Like a Woman: The Blueprint for Creating a Business and Life You Love by Kathleen Griffith

Margaret Ferguson Books: Not a Smiley Guy by Polly Horvath, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Bramble: Pen Pal Special Edition by J.T. Geissinger

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

Soho Crime: Broiler by Eli Cranor

Berkley Books: We Love the Nightlife by Rachel Koller Croft


Jon Yaged to Head Macmillan Trade; Promotions at Macmillan Children's

Jon Yaged

Jon Yaged has been named president, Macmillan Publishers US (Trade), filling the spot vacated by Don Weisberg when he became CEO of Macmillan Publishers, following the surprise departure late last year of John Sargent from the top spot at Macmillan.

Yaged, who has been president of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group for 10 years, will report to Weisberg, who said in a memo to staff, in part, "In this year of extraordinary change, it has become even more imperative that the president of the U.S. Trade Publishers have a clear vision not just for the company we are, but for the company that we want to be. A company that is always looking to grow and evolve how we work to best reflect our global audience. A company that invests in our employees, authors, and in the communities in which we operate.

"Jon's accomplishments in his 10 years as president of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group speak to these values. MCPG is known for being an extraordinarily collaborative, inclusive, innovative, and high-performing team, due in no small part to Jon's leadership. This success has led to a tremendous growth in our kids' business; sales have more than doubled since he joined the organization, with even better gains in profit as well.

"And while Macmillan has never been a place where a one-size-fits-all approach works, Jon's common sense approach to business and more importantly, his ability to nurture and develop talent at all levels and functions will translate across all publishers."

Yaged began his publishing career at the Walt Disney Company, eventually becoming v-p, U.S. publisher of Disney Book Group. He also served as chief operating officer of social media marketing company House Party and earlier practiced entertainment and technology law.


In related moves, Jen Besser has been promoted to president of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. Before joining MCPG in 2017 as senior v-p and publishing director of Roaring Brook Press, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, and First Second Books, she was publisher of G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers at Penguin Young Readers and earlier worked at Miramax Books and Disney-Hyperion.

In an announcement, Yaged said Besser is "universally valued as a colleague and mentor, unquestionably respected for her taste and judgment, and widely known for her savvy and unflappability. From the most literary novel to a media tie-in, Jen has done it all and done it with grace and success. There is no better person to take the helm of MCPGl"

Allison Verost is being promoted to senior v-p, publishing director for Roaring Brook Press, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, First Second Books and Priddy Books. She was formerly senior v-p and deputy publisher, Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, and joined the company in 2011.

Yaged said Verost is "widely regarded as an innovative thinker, a dedicated and passionate leader, and an inspiring person to be around. She has an innate ability to simply and effectively resolve complex situations and has a complete understanding of the marketplace, enabling us to position our books, our creators, and our imprints for success. Allison unfailingly makes those around her better."

And Mariel Dawson has been promoted to v-p, marketing, from executive director of advertising and promotion. She joined the Group in 2009 from St. Martin's Press. Yaged called Dawson "a trusted partner and resource for the sales team, editors, authors, and agents, as well as being a respected leader within the entire marketing and publicity team. She is one of the most innovative and creative people I've had the pleasure of working with--always looking to do what's never been done before and pushing the boundaries of what's expected."

University of California Press: May Contain Lies: How Stories, Statistics, and Studies Exploit Our Biases--And What We Can Do about It by Alex Edmans

Michaela Goade: 2021 Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner

Michaela Goade is an artist and graphic designer; she lives and works in Juneau, Alaska, where she was raised. Inspired by the coastal wilds of Southeast Alaska, she aims to capture its magic and honor its vibrant cultures. Goade is from the Raven moiety and Kiks.ádi Clan from Sitka, Alaska. She has illustrated Encounter (written by Brittany Luby; Little, Brown) and Raven and the Tide Lady (written by Pauline Duncan; Sealaska Heritage). This week, Goade won the 2021 Caldecott Medal for illustrating We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom and published by Roaring Brook Press.

Congratulations, Michaela! Thank you for chatting with Shelf!

Gunalchéesh! Thank you so much!

How does it feel to win the 2021 Caldecott Medal?

It has felt so surreal! Not that long ago, winning a Caldecott Award seemed like a far-fetched dream. As the shock begins to settle, what I'm feeling most is a LOT of gratitude. Gratitude for the Caldecott committee, water protectors around the world, the Native kidlit community, author Carole Lindstrom, editor Mekisha Telfer and the amazing Roaring Brook team that worked so hard to bring this book to life.

We Are Water Protectors is a picture book that is a call to action inspired by Indigenous environmental movements. How did you feel when you read the text?

I was captivated from the first read-through. With a minimal amount of text, Carole was able to convey hope and inspiration while also speaking to the story's gravity and urgency. I was immediately inspired by the possibilities this presented for the art.

Were you excited to be a part of telling this story?

Yes, there was SO much excitement! It was also an honor and responsibility to be trusted with this story. I really wanted to do right by everyone and make the Standing Rock water protectors proud.

What was your approach to making Lindstrom's text visual?

In general terms, I wanted the art to sing with life and spirit, especially the water. I wanted water to be another main character that would change in form, color and energy. I wanted to focus on the water protectors and the incredible diversity, unity and YOUTH leadership found at this historic gathering, and not directly depict the forces they were up against. To me, highlighting everything they were fighting for instead of against felt powerful. My favorite line from the book is "We fight for those who cannot fight for themselves."

A thing I particularly love about this book is how it melds the literal and figurative, how you use color and line to make the book feel both dreamy and down-to-earth. How did you accomplish that? Is that something you set out to do?

Dreamy and down-to-earth--I love that articulation! I'm not sure if that direction was entirely intentional when I first began this book, but it definitely evolved in that direction over time. I spend a lot of time in my own little dream world, so on one hand I think it comes quite naturally, but this project helped me realize just how much I love exploring those pockets of magic and cosmic energy within a story, especially if it's a more literal one. And when you spend a lot of time in nature, it is easy for those lines to blur. In traditional Tlingit cosmology, there isn't a clear boundary between reality and a supernatural realm, and that is something that has always resonated with me.

Is there anything in particular that you, as illustrator, hope readers take from We Are Water Protectors?

Oh, that is hard to narrow down! I hope readers leave the book feeling a sense of connection, both to each other and to the land. I hope readers are inspired to think about how they are currently in relationship with the land, and come up with ways to be water protectors themselves. For our Indigenous children (and adults), I hope they feel seen and know that their stories and voices are incredibly important. I hope readers everywhere gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous-led movements/environmental justice issues that affect us all and recognize how important it is that we amplify and lift up Indigenous voices all year long.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?

I would like to thank everyone who championed this book, embraced its message and helped nurture future water protectors. It has been so incredible to witness, and it fills me with hope! I also want to thank the water protectors of Standing Rock and beyond, who are doing this work day after day and putting their bodies on the line. They're defending the sacred and fighting for us all. Gunalchéesh! --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

GLOW: becker&mayer! kids: The Juneteenth Cookbook: Recipes and Activities for Kids and Families to Celebrate by Alliah L. Agostini and Taffy Elrod, illus. by Sawyer Cloud

Tae Keller: 2021 John Newbery Medal Winner

Tae Keller was born and raised in Honolulu, where she grew up on purple rice, Spam musubi and her halmoni's tiger stories. After high school, she moved in search of snow, and now lives in New York City. She is the author of The Science of Breakable Things. This week, her sophomore novel for middle-grade readers, When You Trap a Tiger (Random House Books for Young Readers), became the 100th title to win the John Newbery Medal.

Hello, Tae! Congratulations! Is it intimidating/exciting to join the Newbery Medal winner ranks in such a significant year? 

Yes, both! But I think it would feel intimidating and exciting in any year. I've looked up to these authors for so long, and now my book is next to theirs? How is that possible?!

This is your sophomore novel for middle-grade readers. Your first book, The Science of Breakable Things, received a ton of accolades. What is it like to receive the Newbery for the second? 

Completely surreal. I'm proud of this book. I'm proud of the amount of work I did and how much of my heart I poured into it. But I never thought this could happen. When the Newbery committee told me the news, I just kept thinking, "Are you sure? Are you sure you're sure??" It definitely hasn't sunk in yet.

Would you tell us a little bit about the process of writing this story? What was the inspiration? How did you integrate folktales?

Writing this book was a journey, with so many ups and downs. There were points when I thought I couldn't pull it off--so many plot questions I didn't know how to answer, characters I couldn't get right and so much self-doubt. I probably would've given up if it weren't for my husband and my mom, who kept insisting that I could do this, and that this book was special. I'm so lucky to have them in my life, and so grateful that I (begrudgingly) listened, because when I did push forward, the process was so rewarding. I researched my family history and broader Korean history. I read and analyzed Korean folktales. I dug into my own feelings about identity and family. And I learned so much about myself in the process.

For more on how I reworked traditional Korean tales, I wrote up a mythology guide here.

Each character in the book is a whole, distinct person, including the tiger, who is particularly difficult to pin down. How did you develop the voices in this novel?

Through trial and error, to be quite honest. This book went through 20 revisions, and I learned more about my characters with each one. Writing this book felt like peeling back layer after layer after layer.

How do you hope middle-grade readers respond to When You Trap a Tiger? What do you want them to take with them?

I want them to know that they're not alone, in love and loss and heartbreak and healing. I hope they feel seen.

Are you writing anything at the moment that has you excited? Is your third book already in process?

I'm actually working on two books, both coming out in 2022. One is Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, about identity, redemption and a hunt for aliens. The other is Mihi Ever After, which is the first in a light-hearted fairytale series for younger readers.

Has this past year changed how you write at all? Given you ideas you wouldn't have considered before? Challenged you in new ways?  

This is a great question. Yes--2020 and all that came with it has changed the way I write because it changed the way I live. Like so many of us, I'm still trying to process the world right now. And I'm still trying to figure out what it means to tell a contemporary story for kids whose current childhood looks so different from my own. It's a lot to think about.

But one of my personal takeaways has been how important it is to have balance. That's part of why I'm so excited to have two different publishing strands--a lighter, younger series, along with my slightly older middle-grade, where I can tackle all these challenging themes and questions.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?

Whatever you're afraid to do--those big projects and impossible dreams--do it. Keep going. Keep working. Believe your support system when they tell you you can do it. And if you don't have those people in your life, let me be the one to tell you: you can do it. It's possible. Wow, it's possible. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Assassins Anonymous by Rob Hart

How Bookstores Are Coping: 'Very Optimistic'; Plans for February

In Salisbury, N.C., South Main Book Company has "maintained normalcy" throughout the pandemic, owner Alissa Redmond reported. The store never had to close its doors, due to the state government recognizing bookstores as essential purveyors of educational materials, and the store's profits were up in 2020 compared to the previous year. Redmond noted, however, that she purchased the store on December 31, 2019, so she can't totally account for why that occurred.

While there are a handful of customers who still request deliveries, which the store offers free of charge within city limits, and others who ask to have their purchases brought out to their cars, the vast majority of customers buy books in-store. The store's average sale per customer is up around 20% compared to past years, and that's despite store hours being reduced during the pandemic. Redmond added that she still sometimes has to turn away customers for not wearing masks, but that's become less common in recent months.

Looking ahead into 2021, Redmond hopes to return the store to its full pre-pandemic hours by February. She's also hired a local marketing firm to revamp the store's online presence, and while she's "doing okay by Bookshop," she'd like to drive more traffic to the store's own website and e-commerce page. Said Redmond: "I am very optimistic for 2021."


In West Hollywood, Calif., Book Soup is open only for curbside pick-up, reported Julia Cowlishaw, CEO of both Book Soup and Vroman's. There are acrylic barriers in place at staff work stations, masks are required and social distancing must be maintained. Cowlishaw noted that during the fall, Book Soup was open for limited browsing as well as curbside, and the hope is to return to that in February. 

Sales, she continued, are "definitely below pre-covid revenue." The store is hosting fewer events overall and online events don't drive sales the way that in-person events did. Many of the office buildings, hotels and music venues in the neighborhood have rermained closed throughout the pandemic, and that's had an effect on foot traffic. She added that Book Soup's layout makes social distancing very tricky, so customer capacity is quite limited.

When asked about her outlook for early 2021, Cowlishaw said Los Angeles County continues to operate "with a fairly strict safer-at-home policy," and she and her team don't anticipate many improvements until later in 2021 after most of the population is vaccinated. Meanwhile, the Book Soup team is having fun planning online events that focus on the "legendary music scene" in West Hollywood, as well as signed book campaigns. --Alex Mutter

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Summer Romance by Annabel Monaghan

International Update: Record Sales for Irish Booksellers, Qatar's Largest Bookstore Opens

The Covid-19 pandemic "contributed to a stellar year for the Irish book trade in 2020," with sales of €161.5 million (about $196.6 million)--a figure surpassed only in 2008--and a €14 million (about $17 million) increase on revenue in 2019, according to Neilsen BookScan, the Irish Times reported. A total of 13.1 million books were sold last year, almost a million more than in 2019--an increase of 7.8%.

Bookshops were closed for months in 2020, with the first lockdown in April prompting the lowest-ever recorded book sales for a single week, but this "was countered by 21 weeks of double-digit percentage increases on the same weeks in 2019, suggesting that customers were buying in bulk when they had a chance," the Irish Times noted. Books published in Ireland sold 2.3 million copies, bringing in €32.1 million (about $39 million) in revenue. About a third of sales came from school textbooks and study guides.


Alif has opened the biggest bookstore in QatarGulf Times reported that the 4,000-square-meter (about 43,000 square feet) showroom is located in the heart of Doha's city center and "houses a one-of-its-kind showroom offering customers a large collection of books, a wide range of international lifestyle products, and a selection of technology and entertainment goods."

"Alif meets the needs of the avid reader, the modern-day student, and the lifestyle connoisseur all in one place," said CEO Ramzi Rizeq. "At Alif, we strongly believe that people are at their best when they are inspired the most. This is why we want to be the catalyst that motivates people to learn, innovate, create, and excel in everything they do and at the same time empower the people of Qatar to continue discovering."


British indie bookstores Darling Reads in Horbury and Maldon Books in Maldon were named joint winners of the 2021 National Book Tokens Newcomers of the Year award, presented to new bookshops "based on how they've welcomed National Book Tokens customers... to their bookshop during their first year of trading."

Congratulating the winners, the Booksellers Association noted: "Darling Reads opened its doors in July 2020, and Maldon Books in December 2019. After an incredibly tough year, the number of people opening new bookshops has increased, which speaks volumes about their appeal and importance to the book industry and the local high street."

"We're absolutely over the moon to have won this award from National Book Tokens," said Asher Woolford and Laura Iveson of Darling Reads. "We've worked really hard over the past few months to establish ourselves in our local community and, despite everything, continue to supply our wonderful customers with books. This feels like real validation of that, and the team at National Book Tokens (and the Booksellers Association) have been so supportive and helpful while we have been finding our feet in this industry."

Maldon Books owner Olivia Rosenthall noted: "Opening a bookshop in such a difficult and uncertain year has had its challenges, but our customers and the local community have continually kept us going, and for that we will always be grateful. The support we have received has been phenomenal, and we're so thankful to everyone who has shown us such kindness from the very beginning and throughout the ups and downs of 2020.... We can't wait to see them and open our doors again."


"The funniest part of this job is definitely reading, but, boy, what a race against time trying to read everything!" La libreria del Golem in Turin, Italy, posted on Facebook. "How many books can you read together to always be on track... sometimes your hands aren't enough and you can keep them up with your feet!" --Robert Gray

Kuo-Yu Liang Forms Ku Worldwide Consultancy

Kuo-Yu Liang

Industry veteran Kuo-Yu Liang has formed Ku Worldwide, a global pop-culture publishing consultancy focused on helping publishing, gaming, comic and other media companies with business development and strategy, product distribution, event production and strategy, publishing and sales.

Liang said, "After 30-plus years in this industry that have given me so much, I wanted to take my passion and expertise and partner with companies to help them grow and develop new business. In a nutshell, I can help companies make money, save money, and save time."

He began his publishing industry career as a sales rep for Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, and worked his way up to associate publisher at Del Rey. Among the authors Liang published were Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, Philip Pullman, R.A. Salvatore and J.R.R. Tolkien. In his position as director of licensing and business development, Liang acquired licenses to publish original IP for Star Wars, Halo, Major League Baseball, and Peanuts. (Incidentally, while at Random House, he met with Jeff Bezos to discuss a new Internet bookstore Bezos was building called

Liang joined Diamond Comics in 2003 to launch a division called Diamond Book Distributors. As v-p, sales, marketing and business development, he built a new business from the ground up to distribute books, collectibles, comics, games, graphic novels and manga into bookstores, e-commerce, libraries and schools, and launched an international division with teams in Australia, Canada, China, Japan and the U.K., with customers in 71 countries. In 2006, he launched the Diamond Kids Group to develop a new market for middle-grade and young adult graphic novels.

In 2018, he joined ReedPOP, a division of Reed Exhibitions, as global director, business development, and worked on BookExpo, Comic Con Africa, Comic Con Seoul, Emerald City Comic Con, MCM, PAX West and Singapore Comic Con. When Covid-19 devastated the event industry in 2020, he added global director of sales to his role and led the team to transition to selling digital media for the ReedPOP portfolio of websites, including Dicebreaker, Eurogamer, Nintendo Life and Rock Paper Shotgun.

He is a new board member of the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) and is an adviser to Shelf Awareness and the Sharjah International Book Fair. He is also a past advisory member to the Bertelsmann Synergy Board, Lucasfilm Licensing and ReedPOP Global Strategy Group.

He may be reach via e-mail or at 917-769-6595.


'The Joy of Speaking to a Local 3rd Grade Class About Entrepreneurship'

Posted on Facebook yesterday by Angela Shores, owner of Adventure Bound Books, Morganton, N.C.: "So much happens before and after the bookstore closes each day, and even on days the store isn't open. This morning I had the joy of speaking to a local 3rd grade class about entrepreneurship! The class sent questions to help prepare (pic 2) and they listened intently to what I shared. In a class reflection time, they summarized my presentation (pic 1). This is the third year I've shared with the 3rd grade class of students and every year it is more exciting because the bookstore keeps growing and adding to its story. Not long ago I came across my planner from 2016 when I first wrote down, as a lifetime dream, that I wanted to own a bookstore. It wasn't a 3 month, 1 year, or 3 year goal; it was a lifetime dream. I'm grateful I didn't wait! From idea (2016) to opening day (6-22-2018) to where the store is today, it's been the best adventure and I look forward to the next chapter! (Yes. All of those corny adventure and bookish terms were on purpose.)"

Indie Booksellers Share Their 'Favorite Travel-Inspired Reads'

"We asked independent bookstores across the U.S. for their favorite travel-inspired reads--here are 19 books they recommended," Departures noted, adding: "Our real-life escapes may have slowed down temporarily, but our sense of adventure doesn't have to--thanks to the globe-traipsing lens of literature. Reading offers the possibility to carry us around the world in one sitting--all sans passport and magnificently illuminated by our living room lamp. Here, the nation's top independent booksellers share their favorite travel-inspired reads, stories landing us in time zones (and periods) far and wide, be it the 1960s Italian Coast or 19th-century France."

Personnel Changes at Melville House

Michael Barson

Michael Barson is joining Melville House as senior publicity executive. He has worked in publicity at Putnam, Riverhead, Pantheon and Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Co-publisher Dennis Johnson noted that the coronavirus has so altered the media landscape that the company had decided to use the opportunity to "recalibrate and innovate" its publicity program, and the width and breadth of Barson's experience "couldn't have been more ideal."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jon Fasman on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Jon Fasman, author of We See It All: Liberty and Justice in an Age of Perpetual Surveillance (PublicAffairs, $28, 9781541730670).

Tamron Hall: Alexi Pappas, author of Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas (The Dial Press, $27, 9781984801128).

The View: Bevy Smith, author of Bevelations: Lessons from a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie (Andy Cohen Books, $24.99, 9781250311788).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Charles M. Blow, author of The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto (Harper, $26.99, 9780062914668).

TV: The Fact of the Body

HBO has acquired the rights to adapt Alex Marzano-Lesnevich's book, The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the project is "in development and envisioned as a limited series." Jeremiah Zagar (Hustle) will co-write the script, exec produce and direct the potential series, with Jeremy Yaches and Melissa Bernstein on board as exec producers.

"I am honored that Alex has entrusted me with this material. As a fan of the book, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to bring such a powerful and profound story to life," Zagar said.

Marzano-Lesnevich added: "I've long been an admirer of Jeremiah's work, particularly his visually-driven, haunting approach to storytelling. This is a dream pairing to me. I can't wait to see the story come to life in his hands."

Books & Authors

Awards: Costa Book of the Year

Monique Roffey won the £30,000 (about $41,055) Costa Book of the Year award, honoring the "most enjoyable" book, for The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story, the Guardian reported. Roffey's novel bested other Costa category winners The Louder I Will Sing by Lee Lawrence (biography), Ingrid Persaud's Love After Love (first novel), The Historians by Eavan Boland (poetry) and Natasha Farrant's Voyage of the Sparrowhawk (children's).

Chair of the judges Suzannah Lipscomb said the novel was "utterly original--unlike anything we've ever read--and feels like a classic in the making from a writer at the height of her powers... It's a book that will take you to the furthest reaches of your imagination--we found it completely compelling. The Mermaid of Black Conch is an extraordinary, beautifully written book--full of mythic energy and unforgettable characters, including some tremendously transgressive women."

Roffey commented: "I really wanted this book to be seen and read, so this time last year we were all ready to go, then Covid-19 hit us all and the book fell into a black hole and disappeared, got swallowed up. And now this. It's been a rollercoaster. I'm 55 now, I've been writing for 20 years--really there's no superlative that I could use that's enough to describe what a great breakthrough this is."

Reading with... Janice P. Nimura

photo: Lucy Schaeffer

Janice P. Nimura is a historian living in New York City whose first book, Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back, was one of the New York Times's top 50 nonfiction books of 2015. Nimura received a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment of Humanities to support her research on The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine (W.W. Norton).

On your nightstand now:

Isabel Wilkerson's Caste, which feels like it might be the most important book of 2020. Saidiya Hartman's Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, because I'm drawn to the place where archive and imagination intersect. Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, though I promised myself I'd re-read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies first. And Tana French's latest, The Searcher, but I'm saving that for when I really, really need it.

Favorite book when you were a child:                                             

It's a little weird how much I adored Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, since they're all about curing children's bad habits, but I was a serious rule-follower. Also, the four Mary Poppins books, so much darker and more ambiguous than Disney. I guess I had a thing for witchy women who understood how to let children figure things out. Oh, and can't leave out D'Aulaires' Greek Myths. I grew up without religion, but when I had something to pray for, I prayed to Athena. Sometimes Artemis.

Your top five authors:

I can't pick favorites--they change over time, like I do. But I love it when the authors who inspire me also inspire each other. Take a group like Helen Macdonald (Vesper Flights), Ed Yong (I Contain Multitudes), Merlin Sheldrake (Entangled Life), Robert Macfarlane (Underland) and Michael Pollan (How to Change Your Mind). They're all writing about different aspects of the natural world in elegant, mind-stretching ways, and they're all in conversation, in their writing and in real life. Same with Madeline Miller (Circe) and Emily Wilson (The Odyssey), illuminating classical antiquity via storytelling and translation.

Book you've faked reading:

Proust. I don't get the appeal, but I do love madeleines.

Book you're an evangelist for:

At the moment, Louise Aronson's Elderhood. Gen X is pivoting from raising children to caring for parents, and we're just beginning to confront our own gray hairs. Aronson is a brilliant and empathetic storyteller, a searing critic of the state of American healthcare and a persuasive advocate for a new way of thinking about age. She belongs in the pantheon of narrative medicine with Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawande, Victoria Sweet, Paul Kalanithi.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent. No regrets there, gorgeous inside and out.

Book you hid from your parents:

Whatever I happened to be reading when it was time for bed. Rule-follower, remember? A flashlight under the covers was a major transgression.

Book that changed your life:

A Japanese Interior, a memoir by Alice Mabel Bacon, a New Haven schoolteacher who spent a year in Japan in 1888. I pulled it off a dusty shelf in the subterranean stacks of the New York Society Library, where it had probably stood untouched since it was published. Alice led me to her dearest friends--three Japanese girls sent to America for a decade in the 1870s--and their story became my first book, Daughters of the Samurai.

Favorite line from a book:

In the great green room

Goodnight Moon was my first encounter with words as incantation. I can still hear the pauses for the page turns. Goodnight nobody. Goodnight mush. My pulse slows and my shoulders loosen.

Five books you'll never part with:

I hold on to the ones that are portals to worlds I want to be able to revisit at will: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael books, Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, Harry Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern. Otherwise, I'm constantly parting with books--I love having them all around me, but I also love putting them into new hands. What use is a book if no one ever reads it?

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. That one cracked me open and let the light get in.

What you read when you're writing:

Fantasy, avidly, especially quests with satisfying endings. Researching and writing a biography can feel like a solitary, arduous journey. I love escaping into another world, and remembering that my own is hardly arduous--I don't have any actual monsters to slay. True confession: I'll take a galloping good yarn over High Culture most days. And sometimes--well, actually a lot of the time--I flip ahead to see how it ends.

Book Review

Children's Review: I Sang You Down from the Stars

I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illus. by Michaela Goade (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18.99 hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780316493161, April 6, 2021)

A young Indigenous woman joyously awaits the birth of her child in this celebration of family and tradition by Cree and Trinidadian writer Tasha Spillett-Sumner (Surviving the City), accompanied by dazzling illustrations by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade (We Are Water Protectors).

"I loved you before I met you," the mother says. "Before I held you in my arms,/ I sang you down from the stars." From among sprays of leaves and berries, readers see her gazing up past the silhouettes of mighty evergreens into an amethyst sky at sunset, longing for a child. The swirling white plume of a falling star's trail mingles with chimney smoke from her nearby home. Following the sweeps of stardust, she finds a white eagle feather in a strawberry patch, "the first gift in a bundle/ that will be yours." After becoming pregnant, she continues to gather items to add to the baby's bundle, including soft green fronds of cedar and sage, a river stone ("so that you always/ remember you belong to this place") and a lilac and seafoam star quilt she hand-stitches. After the birth, the mother sees stars reflected in her daughter's eyes as stardust flows through her hair and swirls around the carefully selected items in the baby's bundle. During a celebration of family and friends--most of whom share her brown skin tone while a few appear white--she realizes the baby is like a bundle filled with love and hope for the future. In the heartwarming final spread, she cradles the baby under a deep violet, star-speckled sky and recounts again how she sang her down from the stars.

While the assembling of medicine bundles is practiced primarily by Indigenous cultures, Spillet-Sumner's tender free-verse tribute to the joy of welcoming a new baby should resonate with any caregiver who has excitedly awaited a child's arrival. Her spare, uplifting lines sing with gratitude, reverence and elation. Goade's ethereal watercolor and mixed-media illustrations soar across the page, overflowing with gorgeous touches like the mother's ever-present silky-coated dog. The stardust swooshes recur, sometimes framing insets that show traditional dances, sacred images from the natural world and allusions to both Cree and Tlingit stories. I Sang You Down from the Stars will make a beautiful gift for an expecting family as well as a read-aloud to assure children they are loved. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Shelf Talker: An Indigenous mother-to-be gathers significant items for her child's medicine bundle in this joyful picture book about welcoming a new baby.

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