Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 3, 2023


Graphix: Unico: Awakening (Volume 1): An Original Manga Created by Osamu Tezuka, Written by Samuel Sattin, Illustrated by Gurihiru

Shadow Mountain: A Kingdom to Claim by Sian Ann Bessey

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Immortal Dark (Deluxe Limited Edition) by Tigest Girma

Bramble: Swordcrossed by Freya Marske

Soho Teen: Only for the Holidays by Abiola Bello

Berkley Books: Hair-raising horror to sink your teeth into!

News

Amazon Results: Sales Rise 'Only' 8.6% in Fourth Quarter; Pressures Continue

In the fourth quarter ended December 31, net sales at Amazon rose 8.6%, to $149.2 billion, and net income fell to $278 million from $14.3 billion. For the year, net sales rose 9.4%, to $514 billion, and there was a net loss of $2.7 billion compared to a net gain of $33.3 billion in 2021. The company estimated that net sales in the first quarter of this year will be between $121 billion and $126 billion, or 4%-8% more than the same period a year ago. The company expects "slower growth rates" in the next few quarters, according to CFO Brian Olsavsky.

Although low by historical standards, the sales gain in the fourth quarter slightly beat analysts' expectations, but earnings per share were 3¢, 17¢ less than expected. That and a number of factors led to a more than 5% drop in the price of Amazon stock after markets closed yesterday. For one, Amazon's cloud service, Amazon Web Services, which in the past has grown much faster than the rest of the company's businesses and produced huge profits, had a sales increase of 20.2%, to $21.4 billion, its lowest gain since Amazon began reporting its sales, and below analysts' expectations. Advertising sales were 19%, also slower than in the past. And sales at Amazon's online stores, which includes product sales and digital media content, fell 2%.

As the pandemic sales bump has receded, the company has cut staff--including some 18,000 executive positions--and slowed openings of new warehouses. It's also come under some pressure from workers. Several warehouses have unionized, and OSHA has cited the company for workplace violations at several warehouses.

CEO Andy Jassy said, "In the short term, we face an uncertain economy, but we remain quite optimistic about the long-term opportunities for Amazon."

Still, as the New York Times noted, "John Blackledge, an analyst at Cowen & Company, estimated in December that if investors stripped out the profitable cloud computing and advertising businesses, the rest of Amazon, which includes its retail operation, studios, devices and other consumer efforts, lost more than $25 billion in 2022."


Henry Holt & Company: A Banh Mi for Two by Trinity Nguyen


Bookmarks Coming to Midland, Mich., This Spring

Bookmarks, a new and used bookstore with titles for all ages, will open in downtown Midland, Mich., this spring, the Midland Daily News reported.

Owner Tricia Crivac has found an 880-square-foot space at 126 Townsend St. and hopes to have the store open by late March or early April. Crivac hopes to create a welcoming, family-friendly environment, and in addition to books she'll carry things like games and puzzles.

While Bookmarks won't serve any food or drink, there is a dessert and coffee shop next door; Crivac will encourage customers to bring their cookies and coffees along when they browse for books. The shop will have a space where people can sit and read, and she hopes eventually to host book clubs there.

"I hope it's a gathering place and a place where people are comfortable," she said. "I love books, I love the feeling of being in a room full of books. It will be a place that is nice, relaxing and peaceful. People can just come and talk about books or even just relax with friends."

Crivac is also the owner of a contractual accounting business, and she plans to continue working there part-time. At opening, the store will have limited hours and she and her two teenage will run things day-to-day. Hours will expand following the grand opening, and Crivac may hire additional help in the future.

She noted that she's wanted to open a bookstore in downtown Midland for a few years but could never find a suitable space. When the storefront at 126 Townsend became available, she and her husband took a look and decided to give it a shot.

Crivac told the Daily News that a Facebook post about her plans drew a lot of positive attention. "I am very excited to open. I am very excited to see all the people that have made comments on the Facebook page and just really looking forward to being more a part of the community."


GLOW: Sourcebooks Landmark: Remember You Will Die by Eden Robins


For Sale: Breakwater Books, Guilford, Conn.

Breakwater Books, Guilford, Conn., has been put up for sale by co-owners Paul Listro and Richard Parent, who had purchased the bookshop in the fall of 2019 from Liza Fixx.

The current owners noted that Breakwater Books, a "charming bookstore, nestled among shops and restaurants on the Guilford Green, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. This is a profitable business in a supportive, academic community. The green itself is a shoreline destination with lots of foot traffic. The space is bright and inviting, with ample space for events of up to 60 people and a large but cozy children's section. Stocked with a wide selection of books, this store is a true gem and a rare find for existing booksellers or anyone looking to make good on their dream of owning a bookstore."

For more information, contact breakwaterbks@gmail.com or call 203-453-4141.


Main Point Books, Wayne, Pa., Is Expanding

Main Point Books, Wayne, Pa., is expanding. Owner Cathy Fiebach told SAVVY Main Line that she is finishing the basement, which will hold a larger children's department and bigger special event space. While the N. Wayne Ave. space is under construction, the bookstore has opened in temporary pop-up store.

"Construction is underway and moving quickly!" Main Point Books posted on its website. Meanwhile, we've packed and unpacked more boxes than we can count--we stopped at 300--and we're OPEN at 122 East Lancaster Ave., next to Holland Floor Covering (the old Main Line Sporting Goods storefront). Come and see us. We're excited to be able doing our favorite thing--finding great books for our customers."

Current plans call for Main Point Books to be back in its newly revamped store by the end of March, with a major combined celebration of the expansion and its 10th anniversary on tap for April 29 on Independent Bookstore Day. 


CSK John Steptoe Illustrator Winner Janelle Washington

Janell Washington
(photo: Class Style Productions)

On Monday, January 30, Janelle Washington won the 2023 Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for her illustrative debut, Choosing Brave (Roaring Brook Press), written by Angela Joy.

Congratulations! Choosing Brave is a picture book about how Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till helped spark the civil rights movement. How did you get involved in this project? What did you think about the text the first time you read it?

I got involved in this project after receiving an e-mail from Roaring Brook Press editor Connie Hsu in March 2020. Connie told me she could envision my paper cuts and silhouettes bringing Mamie's story to life and asked if I would be interested in reading the manuscript. I responded yes, and she e-mailed it to me. I printed the manuscript and read through it; after one reading, I was in tears! I absolutely loved Angela's style of writing. I felt like I was reading the words of a song or poem. While reading the text, I started to visualize potential art for the book and knew I wanted to be a part of bringing Mamie's story to life.

Your artist statement on your website says, "Using paper as my medium, I unearth forgotten or untold stories that highlight the struggles and perseverance of Black people in America. I explore themes of history, identity, family, and feminine beauty in Black culture." Did this story feel like a perfect fit for you?

Yes, this story was a perfect fit, especially as my debut book! I grew up knowing about Mamie and Emmett's story, but the focus was always on what Mamie did, not so much on who she was outside of being Emmett's mother. I strongly felt that the information Angela unearthed on Mamie needed to be read by everyone, and I was honored to be a part of telling her story.

Did you have an immediate vision for the illustrations? Did it feel to you like the text lent itself to a specific kind of look?

I did have immediate visions for some of the illustrations. Some of the text is very descriptive; I could envision what was happening in and around Mamie's life while reading the manuscript.

The text did lend itself to a specific look. At the beginning of sketching, there was text I had issues figuring out the placement of the art for. I didn't want the art to overpower the text, so I had to regroup and focus on allowing the art to tell its own story while keeping the focus on Mamie. Doing this allowed me to simplify the art and created a ripple effect where Angela went back and changed some of the text so it would work with the illustrations.

You used a very limited palette for Choosing Brave. Why is that?

I used a limited palette for Choosing Brave because the focus was on Mamie's story rather than her life's background noise. Learning more about her, I also felt like her life lacked a lot of colors. She grew up a child of the Great Migration, so she was leaving the scariness of the South. Her father walked out of her life at a young age, and she married a problematic man; she had many troubles in her life. Even watching documentaries of her, she didn't smile that much, so I wanted each color I used to have a special meaning. In Choosing Brave, Mamie and Emmett's love and connection to each other are strong. I used colors that represented them and showed their bond. The primary colors, red for Mamie and blueish green for Emmett, not only represent each person, but the meaning of the colors changes and moves throughout the story to go along with the feeling of the text.

Your statement also says, "My work represents the act of understanding and appreciating those that came before me, giving space to their struggles and achievements while highlighting the joy and beauty of being Black in America." How does it feel to win a Coretta Scott King Award for a book about Mamie Till-Mobley?

It feels fantastic! I am so honored to win for my first illustrated book! Last year I attended ALA in Washington, D.C., for the first time with the Macmillan team and attended the Coretta Scott King Breakfast. Sitting at the table with Angela and the team listening to the winners speak, I felt proud and happy for everyone. Before this, I didn't even know that there was a CSK breakfast, and just being there I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. While there, I even dared to think that it might be me on the stage one day. So, to come full circle so quickly is surreal!

Your illustrator's note at the end of the book talks about all the research you did to get into the right place to create the art for this book. Would you tell our readers more about that research and its importance to your process?

As a paper-cut artist, I love research; this is the first step I take for any art I create. Focusing on research before sketching helps me mentally pinpoint what is essential to the design. I re-read the manuscript several times, underlining important words and descriptions, and Googled keywords to help me see the bigger picture. For example, Googling the words whistle or wolf whistle led me down a rabbit hole that eventually got me thinking about what is sound and how to show sound. Doing this research gave me the idea of using the sound wave connected to the train to show Emmett moving from one location to another. In a way, researching is almost like paper cutting before cutting. I gather all my information and "cut away" to determine the artwork's overall composition.

Are you working on anything now?

At this point I am in conversations with my agent, Adriana Dominguez, focusing on what type of books I would like to illustrate, what stories I would like to tell and hoping a manuscript that will connect with me like Angela Joy's writing will make its way to me. Outside of that, since I am a fine artist, I am currently creating paper-cut art for my August solo show focusing on mental health.

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

Let's continue to amplify stories like Mamie Till-Mobley while also standing up against the forces that create circumstance where a story like Mamie's must be told. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness


2023 CSK John Steptoe New Talent Award Winner Jas Hammonds

Jas Hammonds
(photo: Kay Ulanday)

On Monday, January 30, at ALA's LibLearnX conference, Jas Hammonds won the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent for their debut, We Deserve Monuments (Roaring Brook Press).

Congratulations! We Deserve Monuments was one of the buzziest books of 2022--everyone was talking about it! How has it felt to get so much love on your debut?

It's been incredible and a bit surreal. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my debut novel receiving so much love from librarians and booksellers and educators, but I'm extremely grateful! 

A little birdie told me you got the call on your birthday! Is that true? What was that like?

My birthday was actually on a Friday, and I got the call on Sunday--but I'm in the camp that makes their birthday a weeklong affair so I was still very much in celebration mode. I was lounging in my pajamas reading a book when I got the call, and I was shocked. I don't even remember what I said when they told me the news. I was filled with gratitude and so much joy. I still feel like it's all a dream.

Would you give our readers your two-sentence pitch for We Deserve Monuments?

Seventeen-year-old Avery Anderson's life is uprooted when her mother moves the family down to rural Georgia to care for the dying family matriarch. As Avery gets to know her estranged grandmother, she uncovers a trove of family secrets and falls in love with the girl next door.

What was your inspiration for this book? How long did you live with it before you decided to write it down?

I initially wanted to write a ghost story. I had this image of three friends in the woods, telling a chilling story of an angry ghost who haunted their small town. I toyed with that version of the story for a few months, but eventually that ghost became my main character's grandmother, Mama Letty. Over the course of the story, Avery learns the truth behind Mama Letty's anger and grief. There is only one scene in the book that has stayed the same from the very first draft (and I always love to hear people guess which one they think it is!).

You're a flight attendant who does a lot of writing and reading while traveling. How are you able to get so much done while on the road?

I write a lot in hotel rooms on layovers or on airplane tray tables during my cross-country commute. I love being a flight attendant because it gives me so much flexibility with my schedule. If I need to write a scene set at a bar in Austin, Tex., I can pick up a layover and see it for myself. I'm constantly interacting with new people and overhearing so many conversations--a writer's dream! I get a ton of reading done when I'm working red-eye flights and all the passengers are asleep and there's nothing to do. Finally, I love seeing book trends in real time and seeing what a majority of people are reading as I pass by with the beverage cart.

We Deserve Monuments, like Sabaa Tahir's All My Rage, deals with intergenerational relationships and trauma that gets passed through families. What was it like to write such an emotional work?

Writing about generational trauma was very difficult. In my family in particular, there are a lot of stories that are lost to time because people have passed away, there are no records, minimal photos, etc. I had many long conversations with my mother while writing this book, and it was a new kind of coming-of-age for me to get to know her in this way. She's the only member of the Black side of my family I've ever really gotten to know--everyone else died before I was six. There's a lot of unpacked grief that's still hard to talk about. Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to shifting gears in future projects and writing something cozy and feel-good and not quite as sad... though who am I kidding, it will probably sneak its way in there anyway! (P.S. All My Rage was one of my favorite reads of 2022, and I'm so thrilled for all the love Sabaa is receiving for it.)

Did you have to do any research for the book?

So much! I spent a lot of time researching musical artists of the '50s, '60s, and '70s (including a super cool trip to Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis!). Music is one of my biggest inspirations, and I often need to hear scenes before I can write them. I also did a lot of research about the Jim Crow era, segregation academies, underground gay and lesbian bars, juke joints and the civil rights movement. A lot of the research didn't even make it into the final version of the book, but all of it is important for me to know as a writer and as someone descended from a line of Black women with roots in north Florida and rural Georgia.

Have you revisited the book since it published? Is there anything in it that you are particularly happy/proud to have included? Is there anything you wish you could add?

I listened to the audiobook post-publication, and that was a beautiful experience (Tamika Katon-Donegal is a star, check it out)! Mostly, I'm just happy that it exists. I'm happy that my debut is one that celebrates queer Black joy. The only thing I wish I could change is a typo that I found in the hardcover because it killed a piece of my little perfectionist heart hahaha.

Are you working on anything new?

Yes! I am currently in edits for my second YA novel, due out summer 2024. I say We Deserve Monuments is a book I wrote when I was angry at the world, but this second book is one I wrote when I was angry with myself. It's very personal, and I'm anxious/excited to see it taking shape.

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

Thank you. If you've read my book, bought it, borrowed it, reviewed it, told a friend about it, selected it for a book club--thank you for witnessing my heart in the form of a novel. It means more than you could ever know. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness


Obituary Note: Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan

Poet Linda Pastan, "who drew inspiration from seemingly ordinary events--a children's carpool, a high school reunion, the hurried sunset of a late fall evening--and distilled them into lines of concentrated beauty," died January 30, the Washington Post reported. She was 90.

Pastan began writing poetry in adolescence and won a collegiate poetry contest, sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine, during her senior year at Radcliffe. She embarked on her career as a poet relatively late, however, publishing her first collection, A Perfect Circle of Sun (1971), the year before she turned 40. 

Over the next half-century, Pastan published several poetry collections, including two--PM/AM (1982) and Carnival Evening (1998)--that were finalists for the National Book Award. In 2003, she received the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Her most recent work, Almost an Elegy, was published last year.

Pastan's other books include A Fraction of Darkness (1985), The Imperfect Paradise (1988), Heroes in Disguise (1991), An Early Afterlife (1995), The Last Uncle (2001), Queen of a Rainy Country: Poems (2006), Traveling Light: Poems (2011), Insomnia: Poems (2015) and A Dog Runs Through It (2018). 

Throughout her writing career, Pastan "experienced what she described as an inescapable 'impulse to condense.' She at times drew from biblical sources, particularly the figure of Eve, as well as the epics of Homer. But she was perhaps best known for poems that captured in short, spare lines the unnoticed emotional freight in everyday occurrences," the Post noted.

As Maryland's poet laureate from 1991 to 1995, Pastan declined to write official poems for grand occasions. Her goal, she told the Post at the time, was "just to make poetry a little more visible to people, so they'll perhaps be tempted to take a chance and read some themselves."

Author and Norton editor Jill Bialosky tweeted: "Honored to have published Linda Pastan’s last work and to have worked with her on many other volumes. A masterful poet who moved so many readers with transcendent poems about ordinary life. RIP dear Linda."

From the poem "Almost an Elegy":

You are becoming 
transparent--a pane 
of antiqued glass 
flawed perhaps, though
you don't break. 

You are a secret 
whispered once 
from mouth to ear 
that nobody bothers 
to tell.


Notes

Image of the Day: Palentine's Day Grown-Up Book Fair

The Novel Neighbor, Webster Groves, Mo., hosted its Palentine's Day Grown Up Book Fair on Wednesday evening. A $10 ticket to the book fair, at Perennial Artisan Ales, gave attendees 10% off book purchases, half-off their first beer, and $5 ice cream sandwiches.

Grace Hagen, director of operations and inclusion, reported: "It was our biggest Grown Up Book Fair yet and we had an absolute blast celebrating the season of love! The $10 entrance fee went to support The Noble Neighbor, our nonprofit that provides free books and author visits to systemically under-resourced STL schools--with over 350 attendees we raised over $3,500! And a huge thank you to the best partners a bookstore could ask for, Perennial Beer and Sugarwitch Ice Cream."


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Julie Otsuka on Fresh Air

Today:
Fresh Air: Julie Otsuka, author of The Swimmers: A Novel (Anchor, $16, 9780593466629).

Tomorrow:
Good Morning America: Eleanor Shearer, author of River Sing Me Home (Berkley, $27, 9780593548042).

Also on GMA: Linsey Davis, co-author of The Smallest Spot of a Dot: The Little Ways We're Different, The Big Ways We're the Same (Zonderkidz, $18.99, 9780310748809).


TV: Long Division

Trevor Noah's Day Zero Productions is developing a series based on Kiese Laymon's novel Long Division. Deadline reported that Laymon, a MacArthur grant recipient, will write the pilot and exec produce the series adaptation alongside Noah, Day Zero President Sanaz Yamin and Mainstay Entertainment's Norman Aladjem and Derek Van Pelt.



Books & Authors

Awards: Dublin Literary Longlist

A longlist has been released for the €100,000 (about $109,180) Dublin Literary Award, which is sponsored by Dublin City Council to honor a single work of fiction published in English. Nominations include 29 novels in translation with works nominated by libraries from 31 countries around the world. If the winning book has been translated, the author receives €75,000 (about $81,885) and the translator receives €25,000 (about $27,295).

The shortlist will be announced March 28 and the winner May 25, as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin. Check out the complete International Dublin Literary Award longlist here.


Reading with... Eleanor Shearer

photo: Lucinda Douglas-Mendies

Eleanor Shearer lives in the U.K. For her Master's degree in Politics at the University of Oxford, she studied the legacy of slavery and the case for reparations, and her fieldwork in Saint Lucia and Barbados helped inspire her first novel, River Sing Me Home (Berkley, January 31, 2023), based on the stories of women who tried to put their families back together again after the abolition of slavery.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

After the abolition of slavery, a mother in the Caribbean tries to find her stolen children.

On your nightstand now:

I'm currently reading Lustrum by Robert Harris, which is the second in his trilogy about Cicero and ancient Rome. I love the way he is able to draw you into quite a complicated and unfamiliar world by anchoring you in something universal--like ambition or betrayal.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was very young, my mother used to read me Anne of Green Gables, and I always hear it in her voice whenever I return to it! When I was older and reading for myself, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman probably had the biggest effect on me, especially as someone mixed-race who was figuring out what that meant. Reading a book with such nuanced racial politics helped me feel my way around race in our own world.

Your top five authors:

Annie Proulx--because of the way she writes about the natural world and brings to life these incredible landscapes, like Newfoundland in The Shipping News and Wyoming in Close Range.

Hilary Mantel--because no one else does historical fiction quite like she does.

Andrea Levy--because of the way Small Island and The Long Song deal with the painful parts of Black history whilst still having hope, humour and humanity.

Kazuo Ishiguro--because I recently read almost all of his work in very quick succession and loved how each book was so different in some ways (genre and setting) but treads familiar thematic ground of memory and what it means to serve one another.

Jane Austen--because the characters she created still feel so fresh hundreds of years later, and she is the master of acute social observation.

Book you've faked reading:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have read and enjoyed The Hobbit but found I could never get into the other books. But lots of my friends are passionate fans, so I have sometimes hidden this from them.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Barkskins by Annie Proulx. It's a sweeping, multigenerational epic about America and forests and the destruction of nature, starting in the 16th century and going all the way to the modern day. I recommend it to everyone I know. One of my favourite things about it is that way that it ties together so many different parts of the world, with characters visiting places as far away as China or New Zealand. We so often learn history in these siloed ways that mean we forget that different countries' histories did intersect, and I think the book shows this beautifully.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It caught my eye in an airport bookshop, and I'm so glad it did because I devoured it in one sitting on the flight. It's incredible.

Book you hid from your parents:

I am lucky to have very open-minded parents when it came to books, so I never had to hide anything from them! We all happily read "serious" books alongside more fun and lighthearted ones. I was reading Twilight as a teenager while my mum had her romance novels set in the south of France and my dad had his John Grisham thrillers. It's a judgement-free zone!

Book that changed your life:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It was a combination of the right place and the right time. I studied it in English class with a truly wonderful teacher called Mr. Douglas, and he really brought the book to life for us. From then on, I knew I would always love literature.

Favorite line from a book:

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." --Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

Five books you'll never part with:

Ironically, these are the books I'm most likely to part with, because I'm a huge believer in lending out books to friends if I've really loved them!

Real Life by Brandon Taylor. Set over a single weekend, achingly beautiful and with such precisely observed interactions between different characters.

Small Island by Andrea Levy. As the granddaughter of Caribbean immigrants, this book that captures their experience so perfectly is one of my all-time favourites.

Omeros by Derek Walcott. An epic poem by the Saint Lucian Nobel laureate. I have reread it about three or four times, and every time I get something more from it.  

Beloved by Toni Morrison. Another book that seems to get better and better with every reread, and some of the images in it have seared themselves into my mind forever.  

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. A nonfiction book about octopuses and their incredible, but almost alien, intelligence. Kickstarted a lifelong fascination with octopuses for me!

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

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I won't give too much away, but the ending of it completely blindsided and destroyed me. I would love to experience that feeling again, though I would have to set aside a morning to be an emotional wreck if I did!

Book you unexpectedly enjoyed:

I read Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and absolutely loved it. I'm not typically a romance reader but have wanted to get into it recently, because I think it's good for writers to explore genres outside the ones they write in. This book convinced me I'd made a good call. I was completely swept along by the love story, and the characters felt fully realised and emotionally complex.


Book Review

Review: Happily: A Personal History--with Fairy Tales

Happily: A Personal History-With Fairy Tales by Sabrina Orah Mark (Random House, $27 hardcover, 224p., 9780593242476, March 14, 2023)

Sabrina Orah Mark's Happily: A Personal History--with Fairy Tales is a bubbling cauldron filled with ingredients as diverse as parenting and premonitions, mythological creatures and marriage, mothers and sons and fairies and witches, and always there is magic. Regular readers of her column in the Paris Review (also called "Happily") know that to follow the path of crumbs laid out by Mark is to enter willingly into a dream sequence of an essay, where one incongruent thing can lead to the next, forming its own kind of coherence and truth. In this collection of 26 essays, Mark demonstrates both a scholar's knowledge of fairy tales and the particular wisdom of a woman, both mother and daughter, navigating a world fraught with perils more viral than villainous.

Mark works easily in uncertainties, wondering aloud at countless maybes. In the opening essay ("Ghost People"), she walks a perimeter of concern around her son, who, she learns, is making Ghost People out of wood chips on the playground at school. After a brief narrative to set readers on her chosen path, she turns to Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, asking, "Maybe because Geppetto understands that sometimes the things we create to protect us, to give us good fortune, need first to thin us into a vulnerability where the only thing that can save us are those things that almost erased us. Where the only thing that can bring us back to ourselves is what brought us to the edge of our being in the first place. Or maybe it's just that Geppetto is lonely." At first glance, these two moments don't match, hanging loosely together as they do. But as Mark works, weaving between her personal stories and her careful observations of the fairy tale material, she proves herself worthy of every confidence, tying her children and the story of Pinocchio to the 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in a haunting and reflective resonance.

In another essay, Mark explains that "Fairy tales are homemade stories turned inside out. You can see the threads, the stitching line, the seams." Mark's essays do much the same work, often ending somewhere far from where the reader may have expected; however, it is always exactly as it should be, the only "ever after" that could have come from such a "Happily" beginning. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

Shelf Talker: These 26 essays are a cauldron bubbling with ingredients as diverse as parenting and premonitions, mythological creatures and marriage, mothers, sons, fairies and witches--and always there is magic.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: World Read Aloud Day--Maybe You Heard the Voices, Too

Maybe you heard it, too. On Wednesday, all over the planet, the sound of children's reading voices was being carried on a word breeze. It couldn't drown out the usual cacophony, so perhaps you thought you'd just imagined it. But imagining all those voices was the point of World Read Aloud Day

LitWorld and Scholastic teamed up to celebrate the 14th annual WRAD in 173 countries with 24 hours of free, virtual programming spanning across time zones. Internationally, children's book authors (including Dav Pilkey sharing his upcoming graphic novel Dog Man: Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea) read aloud and offered pre-recorded messages from 13 countries through Storyvoice.

In anticipation of the big day, WRAD author ambassador Rebecca Elliott said, "It's so exciting to know that millions of people are going to be coming together on World Read Aloud Day to celebrate the joy of story-telling and story-sharing, and I just feel so incredibly honored to be this year's Author Ambassador. I can't wait to bring The Owl Diaries along to the celebrations." 

WRAD author ambassador Rebecca Elliot reading from The Owl Diaries.

Caitlin Cassaro, executive director of LitWorld, noted that "WRAD has morphed into a beautiful world-wide movement, touched and transformed by every child, community, and country that takes part and comes together for this special day."

Billy DiMichele, senior v-p, creative development & corporate social responsibility, Scholastic: "Research continues to quantify the power of reading aloud, from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report which strikingly shows the positive family moments it creates to new, preliminary findings from the University of Trento in Italy that reading to elementary and middle school students can boost intelligence and literacy skills, including vocabulary, comprehension and more."

On WRAD, if you'd dialed up the volume a bit on your imagination ears (you know, the ones that can "hear" the sound of wind or rain or a train just by reading those words on a page), you might just have picked up the sound of voices rising in the Philippines, South Africa, the U.K.Trinidad & Tobago, JapanZimbabwe and more.

Indie booksellers listened for the reading voices, too:

Water Street Bookstore, Exeter, N.H.: "It's (always) a good day for a read aloud!"

2 Dandelions Bookshop, Brighton, Mich.: "Today is World Read Aloud Day so we thought we'd each share one of our most favorite books to read aloud. Do you see any of yours in these pictures? It was a CHALLENGE to only pick one--which book do you consider your favorite read aloud?"

Whitelam Books, Reading, Mass.: "Day one of Black History Month AND World Read Aloud Day?! We don't get this confluence often, here are some of our favorite titles celebrating Black joy, perseverance and people!"

Read Between the Lynes, Woodstock, Ill.: "Today is World Read Aloud Day! Here at Read Between The Lynes, our team will be reading Groundhog's Runaway Shadow by David Biedrzycki. Will you be reading aloud today? If so, what book or books will you choose?"

McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, Mich.: "Happy World Read Aloud Day to all you readers out there!"

Hipocampo Children's Books, Rochester, N.Y.: "Hipocampo at RCSD School #33 for World Read Aloud Day!"

Canadian Independent Booksellers Association: "Today is World Read Aloud Day! There is something magical about sharing a story with other people. Today, why not spend some time reading aloud to someone you care about?"

I like CIBA's advice to "spend some time reading aloud to someone you care about." WRAD is geared for the kids, but it's also a yearly reminder adults might consider. Maybe you already do. 

My wife and I are both lifelong readers, professionally and avocationally. We've read aloud to one another many times over the years, though not habitually. That situation changed last fall when she had surgery on one eye and was unable to read for about six weeks. Audiobooks filled the void at first, but rather quickly I began reading books aloud to her as part of the healing process... for both of us, I suspect. Though I'll never win any awards for my reading voice, there's a gift in the effort. When she was able to read again, my time spent reading aloud declined, but we feel this is something worth sustaining.

In her memoir Coming into the End Zone, the late Doris Grumbach, who read her work in public hundreds of times and had a regular slot on NPR as a book reviewer for several years, wrote: "I dislike reading my work aloud, hearing all the errors that are, too late, cemented into print, noticing the rhetorical slips, the grating infelicities.... The sound of my own voice gives terrible legitimacy to faulty prose."

I'm pretty sure the sound of my pedestrian voice gives no "terrible legitimacy" to anything, but like all those kids who lifted their reading voices to the skies on World Read Aloud Day, I still hope to be part of the global bookish choir. --Robert Gray, contributing editor


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