Also published on this date: Wednesday, January 26 Dedicated Issue: Running Press's 50th Annivesary

Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Simon & Schuster: Fall Cooking With Simon Element

Tor Nightfire: Devils Kill Devils by Johnny Compton

Shadow Mountain: Highcliffe House (Proper Romance Regency) by Megan Walker

Simon & Schuster: Register for the Simon & Schuster Fall Preview!

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time Kaliane Bradley


Parthenon Books Coming to Syracuse, N.Y.

Parthenon Books is set to open in downtown Syracuse, N.Y., this spring at 335-337 S. Salina St. WSTM reported that store manager Selena Giampa hopes it will help bring new life to the area just outside of Armory Square.

"People want things to do other than go to bars and restaurants," said Giampa. "You know, for years I've been saying the one thing missing from downtown is a bookstore.... The sort of people that live downtown, they're exactly the kind of people that would come into a bookstore and hang out and look for that, especially if it's in walking distance."

Giampa told WSTM she wanted to be a part of the effort to revitalize downtown and thought the bookstore would have something different to offer the community: "We are going to offer mostly new books, which is different from the other independent stores in Syracuse. We'll have a small selection of used books, we're going to have really cool local-themed gifts and stationery and we're going to have a café."

The location is scheduled to open in April with a community-centered focus. "We want to let community groups come and gather and also hold things like local author events, things like that," said Giampa.

Believe in Syracuse celebrated the announcement in a Facebook post: "Syracuse will once again be home to a bookstore in Downtown! Parthenon Books Syr will be the place to find books, grab a coffee, and connect!" 

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Kromeklia Bryant Promoted to GM of Solid State Books in D.C.

Kromeklia Bryant

Kromeklia Bryant has been promoted to general manager of Solid State Books, Washington, D.C. Bryant has been a part of the bookstore since its inception in 2017, working as a bookseller, storyteller and the leader of "Knits n' Yarns," a crafting/book group, and proved herself to be a loyal advocate for the store. Before joining Solid State Books, she had a long career in retail and nonprofit management.

Co-owner Scott Abel said, "We're so happy for Kromeklia to step into this role. From the moment she joined the team as a part-time bookseller, her passion for books was evident and her infectious energy has inspired employees and customers alike to express their joy of reading. She's a natural bookseller and a good leader. She made herself indispensable, and we're really excited to see her guide the team moving forward."

Graphic Universe (Tm): Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit by Josh Hicks

Jason Chin: 2022 Caldecott Medalist

Jason Chin

Jason Chin is a children's book author and illustrator; his book Grand Canyon received a Caldecott Honor, a Sibert Honor and the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award. His other acclaimed nonfiction titles include Redwoods, Coral Reefs, Island: A Story of the Galápagos, Gravity and Your Place in the Universe. He lives in Vermont with his wife and children. Watercress (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House) is the 2022 Caldecott Medal winner.

Well, what a lovely morning you've had! Congratulations! Not only did your illustrations for Watercress win the Ralph Caldecott Medal but you and author Andrea Wang won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the picture book category. How are you feeling?

I'm feeling a mixture of emotions including disbelief, joy and gratitude. The Caldecott AND a Newbery Honor AND the APALA?! I can't believe it. It's surreal.

You are certainly not new to receiving accolades for your work; you even received a Caldecott honor in 2018 for Grand Canyon. What's it like to win the medal?

One thing that feels different is the list of people who have won it before now, artists who I've studied and admired for years. I am still coming to terms with the idea that my work is worthy of the same recognition as theirs.

Do the wins feel different this year, considering so few people are able to gather and celebrate?

I feel for the recent winners who haven't been able to celebrate in person. When I received the Caldecott Honor for Grand Canyon, the celebration at ALA was a memorable part of the experience. I certainly hope that we are able to meet in person this year.

You've illustrated other people's text as well as your own--did you work with Andrea Wang directly during the creation of Watercress? Did you set out to make the family in the book look like her and her family?

Our editor, Neal Porter, introduced me to Andrea before I began making art for the book. Over a few conversations (in person and later on the phone) we got to know each other, which turned out to be very important. I was hesitant about illustrating such a deeply personal story, but our conversations put my mind at ease.

I didn't try to make the protagonist or her family look like Andrea or her family, but I did have her family photos as reference, and they influenced the illustrations.

You say on your website that Trina Schart Hyman was your mentor. There is something about the way you've used plants to visually combine two different times and places in Watercress that reminds me of Hyman's outdoor illustrations.

Trina's work always inspires me. I grew up with it. I studied it and imitated it as a child. I met her in high school and learned about art and about being an artist from her. I still wish I could draw like her. As an adult I've tried not to imitate her art as much as to imitate her approach to art. Her devotion to her craft, the emotional connection she formed with her characters and her passion for books inspire me to this day.

Is there anything that you are hoping readers will take from Watercress?

I hope that many readers, no matter their background, will relate to the protagonist and see themselves reflected in her story. I hope that it helps readers feel seen, and to know that if they feel embarrassment or shame, they aren't alone.

Are you working on anything new?

My next book, which is slated for this fall, is called The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey. It is about the scale of small things and what we are made of, from cells to atoms to the smallest subatomic particles.

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

I would like to say how grateful I am to all of the people who had a hand in making this book. This was a true collaboration and I'm so grateful for their efforts, especially Neal Porter and Jennifer Browne, and of course Andrea Wang. We were all inspired by her words, and I am so glad that the Newbery committee recognized them. --Siân Gaetano, children's/YA editor, Shelf Awareness

GLOW: Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura: Wild Life: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Living Wonders by Cara Giaimo, Joshua Foer, and Atlas Obscura

Andrea Wang: Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winner

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang is the author of the award-winning The Nian Monster and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando. She was inspired to write Watercress (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House), which just won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, by her experience growing up in rural Ohio as a child of Chinese immigrants. Wang holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family.

Huge congratulations! This morning Watercress received a Newbery Honor and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the picture book category. How are you feeling?

Thank you!! Oh my goodness, I am completely floored. It's so incredible to be recognized by APALA and the AAPI community--it means so much to me. And to receive a Newbery Honor was the proverbial icing on the cake. I had no expectations at all since picture books are rarely Newbery winners, so I was stunned when I got the call. I'm deeply moved by both awards and so grateful that it means Watercress will reach more readers.

In 2017, you received an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature honor for The Nian Monster. How does it feel to win the award?

The year that I received the APALA Honor, A Different Pond by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui won the award. I remember being so thrilled for them and in awe of their work. A Different Pond was an important mentor text for me as I wrote Watercress, and for my book to have won the award now is a true full-circle moment. I am so proud to be among the APALA winners and honorees--each of our books is important for AAPI representation and I'm incredibly grateful to those who have come before me for paving the way.

Watercress is such a lovely, touching picture book and it's based on a personal memory of yours. What inspired you to turn this memory into a book?

This memory just wouldn't let me go. I finally had to write about it in order to process the experience and figure out why it was a pivotal moment in my life. Even then, I didn't really believe it could be a book--especially a book for young readers. Thankfully, my agent Erin Murphy, editor Neal Porter, artist Jason Chin, art director Jennifer Browne and the whole team at Holiday House saw its potential.

Why did it feel important to write this story now? Did the story as you viewed it always include two different time periods?

I actually wrote the first draft of this story many years ago. At first, it was a personal essay that I wrote in the wake of my mother's passing, and, over time, it changed form and became a picture book. I never expected it to be published during a pandemic which has seen an exponential increase in anti-AAPI racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. But while I would never have wished for any of those things to have happened, I think it's important that Watercress and books like it have come out now, in order to counter racism and show readers our experiences.

When I decided to rewrite the story as a picture book, it did always include two different time periods. I wanted to honor my parents' experience growing up in China and acknowledge the suffering they had gone through. I also wanted readers in the U.S. to see a side of China that they might not have seen before, and to portray our common humanity.

Did you and Jason Chin work together during the creation of this book?

Yes, this book was a true collaboration! Because the story is so personal, Neal felt that it would be helpful to have Jason and I meet. We ended up meeting at an NCTE conference and afterwards, I shared old family photos with him. From time to time, we'd chat on the phone and share family stories or discuss details that he was considering including. We laughed about '70s-style clothing and reminisced about the CorningWare on the table, which both our families had. When Jason mentioned using the gutter to transform the cornfield from one page to the bamboo grove on the other, I was blown away by his creativity--and then, by the art itself!

Is there anything specific you hope readers take away from the book?

I'm often reminded of that saying--to be kind to one another because you never know what that person is going through. I hope that readers see that we all have personal experiences that have shaped who we are and influence our behavior. And that we shouldn't be quick to judge someone unless we know their history. And on the flip side, to feel encouraged to share our personal stories so that we can be better understood. Even the hard stories. Maybe especially the hard stories.

Are you working on anything new?

My next picture book, Luli and the Language of Tea, illustrated by Hyewon Yum, comes out from Neal Porter Books/Holiday House in May 2022. It's also about the immigrant experience and how food (or in this case, a beverage) can bring people from different backgrounds together. I'm currently working on my second middle-grade novel and two nonfiction picture books about Chinese Americans.

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

Just endless gratitude for the readers, booksellers, librarians and educators who make it possible for me to share my stories! Thank you! --Siân Gaetano, children's/YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

International Update: Children's Nonfiction Titles Soar in U.K., Pandemic Spurs Comeback for Spanish Booksellers

Children's nonfiction books have posted record sales in the U.K. in recent years. The Bookseller reported that charting the shift in the BookScan era of publishing in Children's & Young Adult Non-Fiction (CYANF) shows the category "evolving from, broadly, a more schools-book focused sector to one in which the vast bulk of the revenue is derived from trade titles. In the 2000s, Reference & Home Learning was the key sub-category, regularly earning around half of CYANF's TCM [total consumer market] totals. But of course, a lot of those materials subsequently moved to digital and Reference & Home Learning's sales hit an all-time low of £7.4 million [about $10.1 million] in 2019."

Beginning in the mid 2010s, however, sales of narrative-driven nonfiction and titles that focus on personal development and mental health have surged, with overall CYANF totals "rising from £31 million [about $42.4 million] in 2010 to exceed the £50 million [about $68 million] mark for the first time in 2019--its TCM42 revenue of £52.1 million [about $72.3 million] in 2021 is a record high," the Bookseller noted. Children's General Non-Fiction is now the dominant sub-genre.

Young Adult General Interest & Leisure also set record sales last year, "shifting £3.2 million [about $4.4 million], largely down to Manchester United's number 10. Marcus Rashford and Carl Anka's You Are a Champion (Macmillan Children's) generated £1.2 million [about $1.6 million] in 2021, 38% of the category’s revenue."


Restory, Barcelona

Independent bookstores are making a comeback in Spain, particularly in big cities. The Christian Science Monitor reported that in Barcelona and the broader Catalonia region, 15 bookstores opened in 2020 and several more in 2021. "For a country that endured Europe's longest lockdown and one of its highest Covid-19 death tolls, it's a point of light for readers and writers. Tired from working online and watching bad news on their TVs, many Spaniards found comfort and escape in physical books, and emerged from lockdowns with a renewed appreciation for the cultural and social cachet that bookstores bring to a neighborhood."

Álvaro Manso, spokesperson for Spain's Confederation of Booksellers' Guilds and Associations (CEGAL), which represents around 1,100 stores, called it "a very positive development," adding that sales in 2021 were higher than before the pandemic, with a forecast of 20% growth when full-year sales are calculated. "Normally the book sector doesn't see double-digit growth."

Carmen Ferrer, president of the Guild of Booksellers of Catalonia, noted that the upward trend among young readers has been particularly encouraging: "We've gained new readers, especially children--as well as people in the 30-to-40 age bracket, who were not reading before due to [child] care responsibilities and who have now resumed reading. Parents want their boys and girls to read and have forged this habit for their kids in these difficult times."

Pavel Milev, co-owner of Restory in Barcelona, also noted that young readers have surprised him with their passion for books: "It has given us hope and energy to see how many young people come in here and then return seeking advice, wanting to open horizons through reading. It is very, very gratifying. But the truth is people from all generations and social classes show up here."

CEGAL's Manso is optimistic about the online options for indie booksellers, pointing out that many bricks-and-mortar stores transitioned online during the pandemic; around 800 are on a platform that allows consumers see whether a book is available in a store in their area. "This has been a success," he said. "People use the page to geolocate a book and then go fetch it from a local neighborhood bookshop or buy it online. It is a way for independent bookshops to have a presence online."


After more than 40 years in business, Canada's northernmost independent bookstore, the Yellowknife Book Cellar in Yellowknife, N.W.T., "has a new owner who says she will focus on keeping the legacy of community building through literature," CBC News reported. Judith Drinnan, who launched the store in the 1970s and "built it into an institution that delivers books around the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and serves libraries and schools throughout the North," sold the business to Jennifer Baerg Steyn.  

"I'm someone who travels specifically to see independent bookstores," said Baerg Steyn, who joined the shop as an employee after moving to the N.W.T. from B.C. "[Bookstores] are amazing institutions that are just essential to the community and I've really seen that here with the Book Cellar.... We have a system of roots that have spread out from the store that are hopefully bringing life to other communities with literature. We tell stories about ourselves... our communities and those things are essential to understanding who we are and where we are."

Last year, Baerg Steyn said she mustered up the courage to ask Drinnan, who had been thinking about a transition for the business, if she might be willing to sell. "This is very much her baby. Even though she's handed over the store, this is her legacy," said Baerg Steyn. "We wouldn't have the book store without the years and hours of devotion that she put in." 

She added that many features of the Book Cellar will stay the same, but she plans to make a few additions, including bringing in audiobooks from ethical suppliers, expanding the French section and introducing more non-book retail items, CBC News wrote. She also wants to hire additional staff to expand the hours of operation, and when the pandemic subsides, to host open-mic nights and regular story time for children. "These are all fantasies that come in a world that's not Covid-distanced," she said. "We really want to root ourselves as deep as we can with the community here." --Robert Gray

Obituary Note: Jeff Haight

Jeff Haight

Jeff Haight, former owner of Gibson's Bookstore, Concord, N.H., died January 20. He was 82. Michael Herrmann, the bookshop's current owner, posted on Facebook: "Sad news to relate. Jeff Haight, owner of Gibson's from 1977-1994, has passed away. A great friend and a great book lover. We will miss him terribly."

After attending Hamilton College and earning his Ph.D. in history at the University of Rochester, Haight lived in New York City, where he was a professor at Queens College. A position at the now defunct Windham College brought him to Vermont in the 1970s. 

Haight was also a bookseller for many years, and in 1977 purchased Gibson's Bookstore from the late Bruce Luneau, who had owned the business since 1961. In 2012, Shelf Awareness featured a photo of the three owners--representing 50 years of bookstore stewardship--who happened to be in the store at the same time on December 23. Herrmann had called it a "Festivus miracle."
During his years in New Hampshire, Haight taught at multiple universities, including the University of New Hampshire, both the Durham and Manchester campuses; New England College; and Franklin Pierce University. His obituary in the Concord Monitor noted: "A teacher to his core, he was still lecturing and grading papers in late December."


Image of the Day: Amah Faraway at Linden Tree

Linden Tree Books in Los Altos, Calif., hosted the launch for local author Margaret Chiu Greanias's picture book Amah Faraway (illustrated by Tracy Subisak; Bloomsbury). The reading was held in front of the bookstore, and the window featured a Lunar New Year-themed display. Photo: Chi Yeh

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Valerie Bertinelli on Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray: Valerie Bertinelli, author of Enough Already: Learning to Love the Way I Am Today (Harvest, $27, 9780358567363).

Tamron Hall: Jason Reynolds, author of Ain't Burned All the Bright (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $19.99, 9781534439467).

TV: Survival of the Thickest

Michelle Buteau will star in a comedy series for Netflix based on her book of essays Survival of the Thickest. Deadline reported that the comedian, who hosts the streamer's reality show The Circle and starred in the movie Always Be My Maybe, created the new project with Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, showrunner of NBC's The Carmichael Show and co-executive producer of New Girl. Netflix has given the series, from A24, an eight-episode order. Buteau and Sanchez-Witzel are exec producing alongside Ravi Nandan and Alli Reich from A24. 

"It's been so damn amazing finding a home with Netflix," said Buteau. "To say I'm excited to continue my relationship with them is an understatement. I'm over the moon and I'm under it. Danielle has been a dream partner and I can't wait to share what we've been cooking up."

"Michelle Buteau is many things: a brilliant writer, a gifted stand-up comedian and an empowering performer," said Pakosta, head of comedy at Netflix. "But above all else, she is one of the funniest people alive. Paired with Danielle Sanchez-Witzel--one of TV's sharpest visionaries--Survival of the Thickest will bring Michelle's unique point of view to life."

Books & Authors

Awards: PROSE Finalists; Portico Literature Winner

The Association of American Publishers has unveiled finalists for the 2022 Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) Awards honoring scholarly works published in 2021. To see the 106 finalists in 39 subject categories, click here.

The subject category winners will compete for five awards--excellence in biological and life sciences, humanities, physical sciences and mathematics, reference works, and social sciences. The winners of those awards will compete for the top prize of the PROSE awards, the R.R. Hawkins Award.

"This year's PROSE Award entries overwhelmingly raised the bar in quality, content, and diversity, reflecting the profound expertise that goes into creating scholarly publications in every conceivable area of study," AAP chief operating officer Syreeta Swann said. "Our panel of 24 judges has reviewed more than 560 entries, in the process singling out 106 titles to be honored as finalists. From this list, our judges then identified 39 outstanding titles to be honored as category winners."


Sally J. Morgan won the £10,000 (about $13,680) Portico Prize for Literature, which celebrates "outstanding writing that best evokes the spirit of the north of England," for her debut novel Toto Among the Murderers, the Bookseller reported.

Chair of judges Gary Younge said: "Finding a winner among this year's shortlist was not easy but ultimately, while all were serious contenders, we were in broad agreement. Sally J. Morgan's Toto Among the Murderers vividly evokes a period in recent history with themes that carry clear, if painful echoes, to today--a time when women in the north, in particular, lived in mortal fear of sexual violence made explicit by daily headlines about mass murderers targeting vulnerable women. But what comes through is the determination of Toto, the main character, to refuse to allow the fears to define her as she lives a life of reckless adventure, longing and love."

Lynne Allan, chair of the Portico Library, added: "It was a strong field of shortlisted books each one powerfully evincing the 'spirit of the north' in varied and profound ways. The historic Portico Library houses a special collection whose volumes narrate the stories of people and events of the past which have lessons and warnings for the present and future. Sally's book does exactly this; it evokes an era many would like to forget, a time when women feared for their lives. The issues raised have a disturbing contemporary resonance highlighting the fact that despite some gains, violence against women remains a global pandemic."

Reading with... Jacquelyn Mitchard

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the author of 12 novels for adults, seven novels for teens and five children's books. Her debut novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the first selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club in 1996. Born in Chicago, Mitchard now lives on Cape Cod with her family, including her nine children and one grandson. The Good Son (Mira, January 18, 2022) presents a powerful question: What do you do when your child does something unimaginable?

On your nightstand now:

Sharing pride of place are The Mirror and the Light, the final book in Hilary Mantel's trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, and my pal Christina Baker Kline's newest novel, The Exiles. I loved Mantel's trilogy so much I had to stop reading it and read a couple of other books at times so that I wouldn't have to face finishing it.

Favorite book when you were a child:

It was National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, the story of a young English girl who wins a horse with a shilling raffle ticket and ends up winning the Grand National steeplechase. I still love it. Like all girls, I loved horses--that is, I loved them until I actually got one. But the book is hypnotically, beautifully written and I realize now how much I've patterned my own writing after Bagnold's.

Your top five authors:

I'm going to leave out all my close friends, whose books I read, of course, like religion, and name these:

Anything Elizabeth Strout or Ann Patchett writes, I'm going to read like Christmas morning. Charles Finch writes the most absorbing, elegant British mysteries about Charles Lenox, a Victorian peer of the realm who is a detective--for free. Charlie also is an award-winning book critic and writes literary fiction, just as terrific. Edward P. Jones wrote The Known World, set in antebellum Virginia, on and around the Townsend plantation, about the lives of slave owners, both white and Black, a story that challenges every stereotype about humanity and inhumanity. It won the National Book Critics Circle award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and should have won everything else, as well. Eleanor Catton wrote The Luminaries, a tale of shipping, banking and the New Zealand gold rush, that should have comprised everything I wasn't interested in but enthralled me. Please let me also include Julia Phillips, who wrote the most amazing novel set in Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth, which is her first novel, for which I am so jealous I could fall over. This book has one of the most poignant and powerful endings of anything I've ever read.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses by James Joyce. If all the writers who faked reading Ulysses were to turn purple, the New York Times bestseller list would look like a bunch of grapes.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I buy it for people and bring it to dinner parties instead of a bottle of wine. I force my poor MFA students to read it, and every time they do, I read it again, marveling at its heart and intricacy and narrative power. It's a post-apocalyptic story, so science fiction, and I don't read science fiction, although my mentor, Ray Bradbury, was one of the great science fiction writers of all time. This book is about art and survival and love and evil and everything.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I wouldn't have cared if it was blank inside, just so I could have it near me, but it was filled with a great, wild story.

Book you hid from your parents:

Another Country by James Baldwin. My mother actually hid it from me, but I found it and then hid it from her.

Book that changed your life:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It remains my very favorite book of all time. I was that girl who grew up in a tough neighborhood, dreaming of the way that stories could set you free. My firstborn daughter is named Francie Nolan, after the main character in that book.

Favorite line from a book:

"There's a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven.... It grows lushly... survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it." --A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Five books you'll never part with:

I have purchased and parted with more books than many small libraries, but I will always keep my signed copies of The Homecoming by Ray Bradbury; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which was given to me by my agent, and which has some letters from Betty Smith to her agent tucked in the middle); a first edition of True Grit by Charles Portis; and the 50th-anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is signed to me by Nelle Harper. She actually sent it to me, after a neighbor of hers told her about one of my books, but I'd moved away from the house where I had lived for a long time and the people who bought the house just kept the padded envelope in the garage for ages until one day they remembered it and called me. I drove over there with my oldest kid, who was then only about 14, and when we unwrapped it, we both burst into tears. So now you notice, that's only four books, right? There were five. Someone once gave me a signed first edition of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, which I utterly treasured, but my husband sold it for $1 when we had a garage sale--and that title says it all. The man is lucky to still be alive.

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

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I want to experience the realization about the lives of the children at the boarding school just one more time so I can be totally knocked off my perch, aghast.

Book you read that taught you most about writing:

That would be Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. Almost nothing huge really happens in that book. Some people live their lives. A man struggles with alcohol after the loss of his much-idealized first love, but that kind of thing haunts many lives, doesn't it. But McDermott won the National Book Award for this book because it's so imbued with humanity, grace, humor and an indelible sense of place. I think about it all the time and how quietly ambitious it is

Book Review

Children's Review: The Aquanaut

The Aquanaut by Dan Santat (Graphix, $24.99 hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9780545497602, March 1, 2022)

Dan Santat (Sidekicks; The Adventures of Beekle) mixes the silly with the serious in the delightful adventure graphic novel The Aquanaut. Caldecott winner Santat, using his trademark illustrative style, creates a spirited and thrilling story for middle-graders.

Sophia, Santat's young protagonist, has lived with her Uncle Paul since her father died at sea. He had been doing research with his brother to help expand the mission of their marine park, Aqualand: saving endangered sea life. Sophia is depressed, doing poorly in school and struggling with the tragedy. Uncle Paul is so wrapped up in guilt and trying to maintain the mission of Aqualand--which, because his single investor wants it to be more of an attraction, is slowly turning into Sea World--that he's oblivious to Sophia's struggles. When she reaches out to him for help, his response fills her with guilt and sorrow, "Sophia, you have to understand. I promised your dad that I would preserve our life's work.... His legacy is important and I need you to be patient." This rejection makes Sophia particularly open to befriending a peculiar visitor to the marine park: an aquanaut in an old-fashioned diving suit. A diving suit that happens to be piloted by four rare sea animals on a mission. Sophia and the aquanaut have a connection, and they're soon off finding plenty of trouble for all the right reasons.

The authenticity of the characters keeps readers personally invested in their experiences. Sophia's anguish is clear when she enlightens her uncle, "They've been more of a family to me than you have lately.... I need them. I need someone." Meanwhile, the marine characters provide a lightness to the events--their bumbling efforts to understand the human world (what they call "space") are amusing and uplifting. Santat's sarcasm may elude young readers, but they are sure to understand his environmental messages: a father crab tells his child that a discarded can was "used to hold liquids for humans to drink." He continues, "It might be a great new shell for you to replace the small one you're wearing."

Santat's thick broken line creates a feeling of motion and energy; his dramatic use of shadows and his character's bulging eyes enhance the intensity and suspense; and his thoughtfully orchestrated use of panels heightens both the humor and tension. The Aquanaut is a moving and entertaining read that should engage adventure and science fans of all ages. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Shelf Talker: This graphic novel leads readers on a gripping adventure with a young girl and her incredible friend from the deep, dark depths of the ocean. 

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