Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Mariner Books: Everyone This Christmas Has a Secret: A Festive Mystery by Benjamin Stevenson

Grove Press: Brightly Shining by Ingvild Rishøi, Translated Caroline Waight

Running Press Adult: Scam Goddess: Lessons from a Life of Cons, Grifts, and Schemes by Laci Mosley

Broadleaf Books: Trespass: Portraits of Unhoused Life, Love, and Understanding by Kim Watson

Nancy Paulsen Books: Sync by Ellen Hopkins

Running Press Adult: Cat People by Hannah Hillam

Beaming Books: Must-Have Autumn Reads for Your Shelf!

Dial Press: Like Mother, Like Mother by Susan Rieger


London Book Fair: HarperCollins's Brian Murray on Books' 'Unbelievable Ride'

Sales growth of 10%-20% at the height of the pandemic was an "unbelievable ride" that was unprecedented, and while recent sales are down compared to that peak, book people should remember that sales are still "way up" compared to 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, Brian Murray, president and CEO of HarperCollins, said in the opening keynote at the London Book Fair, which started yesterday. The business has stabilized and is now back to a more traditional growth rate of 2%-3%.

Among the biggest challenges to the book world now are inflationary jumps that Murray called a "shock to the system that we're not out of yet" but which "we're managing well." The double-digit increases of the past several years in the costs of fuel, energy, and labor were something new for the current generation of publishers. Adding to the problem: in the past decade, the price of books has not kept up with inflation. While this makes books "a fantastic value," prices need to adjust, and "we're seeing that in the marketplace." He called this a long "delayed and overdue" development.

HarperCollins hosted a busy party Monday evening at London's National Gallery, where fair attendees mixed with masterworks by J.M.W. Turner and others. Pictured: HarperCollins president and CEO Brian Murray (l.) with HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne. (photo: Matt Baldacci)

Another important challenge is consumer consumer spending trends. 2020 was an exceptionally good year for book sales because readers had more discretionary income and more discretionary time since they couldn't travel, or go out to eat, or to the movies, or see sports events. "Books were it for a while, and it was a nice ride while we had it," Murray said. "I often refer to it as we had a pandemic party in the industry, and the end of 2022 was the hangover, and we're just getting through the hangover now."

The independent channel is "doing well" in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, Murray continued. "It's nice to see readers have come back and rediscovered their love affair with booksellers. People realized they like that connection with the local bookseller and they like their advice and liked experiencing that serendipity of walking into a local bookshop " He called this "a very healthy thing for the publishing industry."

Murray also praised James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble, for doing "a wonderful job." With a back-to-basics approach, Daunt has made the bookseller more efficient and lowered returns. Murray praised the new B&N store layouts, with tables of books in the front now instead of nonbooks. He also noted that Daunt "took advantage of the pandemic," speeding up the already planned redesign of B&N stores. For the first time in years, B&N will have a net expansion of stores, reversing the decline under the previous regime.

Asked about labor relations and the recently concluded agreement with the HarperCollins union, which had gone on strike, Murray said, "We're very happy it's behind us." He added that the company strives to have good relationships with all employees and its unions, and said that, especially in a time of great change, communication is key, including by the company with employees and by employees with managers and senior management, as well as by the company when hiring staff and bringing people on.

Murray called the development of AI simultaneously "fascinating" and "scary," adding that it feels "we're on the cusp of a new wave of technology" comparable with the growth and development of cell phones and social media, although each of these waves occur faster and are more compressed than their predecessors.

There is no single AI tool that will solve all problems, Murray continued, but instead there are many "little applications" to help HarperCollins publish better. Among examples, HarperCollins is testing AI for translations, text-to-speech, first drafts of marketing copy, summarizing manuscripts, and getting the best metadata for online retailers.

At the same time, "AI content generation scares me," Murray said, noting that the ability of machines to create stories and books will, among other things, challenge copyright, which was devised only for human-created creations. "I haven't seen a solution for book publishers, but we're aware and keeping our eyes open."

Asked about efforts in the U.S. to outlaw or otherwise circumscribe TikTok, Murray called BookTok a "phenomenon" that has had an "astounding" impact on book sales, both backlist and frontlist, as influencers have reached "millions and millions" of followers. If there is some action taken against TikTok, "I would hope that those influencers will continue to do what they're doing today but find a different platform."

Regarding the Justice Department victory blocking the purchase of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House, Murray said he was "not surprised" by the DOJ victory and that the advice "we received was that this was not going to be an easy case to win." Antitrust cases are all about "how you define the market," and the Justice Department used "the novel approach" of making it a monopsony case.

He didn't say whether HarperCollins would make an offer, but said HarperCollins has "a long track record of integrating different companies." He added that he thinks HarperCollins and S&S is "a better fit" than PRH and S&S. The judge's decision intimated that another publisher might be able to acquire S&S. "The bar is higher," Murray said, "but the door is not closed." As others have said, he noted that a possible purchaser of S&S could be a financial buyer. --John Mutter

Peachtree Teen: Compound Fracture by Andrew Joseph White

Parentheses Books Coming to Harrisonburg, Va. 

Parenthesis Books' future home

Parentheses Books is tentatively set to open this summer inside Liberty Street Mercantile, a new indoor market at the corner of Gay and Liberty Streets in Harrisonburg, Va. WHSV reported that owner Amanda Friss decided to open an indie bookshop in the city last year, "and over the last several months the business has begun to take shape." A $50,000 Kickstarter campaign was successful and the Liberty Street Mercantile building is being transformed into a new indoor market that will feature other small businesses.

"We ended up raising almost $56,000 and those funds were the bulk of what we needed to open the store. Without that I'm not sure it would have been possible," she said, adding that some delays in construction should not interfere with a summer launch. "Right now it has floors that still need to be finished, it has walls, it has paint, the windows still need to be put in, but it's getting there."

Community support has been key throughout the process. "One of the fun things about the Kickstarter campaign was as it was happening I got to speak with a lot of people and hear how excited they are that this store and finally an independent store [will be] here in Harrisonburg," Friss said.

Noting that the store has begun to take shape, which is making her even more eager to open its doors officially, Friss added: "I am most looking forward to the space being finished and filling it with books and finally being able to share it with everybody because I've been working on it for so long now and I am just so excited."

On her Kickstarter page, Friss wrote that prior to moving to Harrisonburg 10 years ago, she "lived in New York City where I worked in a magical little bookshop called Three Lives and Company. I love books. Reading them. Talking about them. Working at Three Lives taught me that bookstores are more than just stores that sell books. They are vital to our communities because they help foster relationships. They serve as safe spaces in which people can connect. In a world that's becoming dominated more and more by digital communication, I like to think of bookstores as little beacons of humanity."

Inner Traditions: Expand your collection with these must-have resource books!

The Ezra Jack Keats Awards

The Ezra Jack Keats Awards were presented during the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival, April 12-14, 2023, at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The beauty of presenting the EJK awards--given annually to an outstanding new writer and new illustrator and co-administered by the De Grummond Children's Literature Collection at USM--at the festival is that creators who are newer to the world of children's literature are embraced by the more seasoned authors and artists in their field.

Kyle Lukoff

The opening keynote speaker on Thursday was Kyle Lukoff, a former bookseller and librarian who's now a full-time author. He received a 2022 Newbery Honor and a Stonewall Award, and was a National Book Award finalist for his novel Too Bright to See (Dial); his picture book When Aidan Became a Brother (Lee & Low), illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, was a Stonewall Award winner, a Charlotte Huck Honor Book, and a 2020 ALA Notable Children's Book. Lukoff spoke about being "against metaphor"--books that use animals to stand in for "any kind of difference." That said, he believes that The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd, is the perfect metaphor. He believes "good picture books have more in common with formalist poetry." As a trans man, Lukoff said the book's "inner emotional landscape was mine." When it comes to nature versus nurture, Lukoff believes "the answer is always both." In Brown's book, running away means "becoming another person," Lukoff said. "Becoming trans means finding your own path and also causing a rupture with those who love you."

Gene Luen Yang

"You have to know your past if you want to create a future," Lou Richie told Gene Luen Yang, inspiring Yang's five-year journey to create Dragon Hoops (First Second), a 2021 Printz Honoree. Yang used this idea as the frame for his acceptance speech for the 2023 Southern Mississippi Medallion, also presented at the Fay B. Kaigler Festival. Richie is the varsity basketball coach at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., where Yang taught computer science. Yang came to understand the concept when he researched the Chinese Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901); he found both sides of the conflict compelling, and the result was his 2013 NBA finalist Boxers & Saints (First Second), published in two volumes, each representing one side.

Yang spoke of the history of dehumanizing Chinese characters in U.S. comics, dating back to the late 1800s. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years. "Yellow peril villains" began to appear in comics, such as Chin Lun in DC Comics Batman series, and Egg Fu, also in DC Comics. For Yang's recent makeover of Shang-Chi for Marvel Comics, he wanted to bring the hero in line with other human-to-superhero Marvel figures such as Peter Parker/Spiderman (and the Green Turtle in Yang's The Shadow Hero). "Our culture should humanize, rather than de-humanize," he said. He gives Shang-Chi a human back story, and the comic series stretched from five issues to 24 issues. Yang's fans will recognize the way the graphic novelist transformed the human to the supernatural on an everyday scale in his award-winning 2007 graphic novel American Born Chinese (First Second). On May 24, Disney + will release a TV series based on the book, starring Oscar winners Michelle Yeoh and Ben Wang, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Yang thanked librarians in the audience: "You preserve the past; you do this to influence the future."

Ezra Jack Keats Award winners (front, l.-r.) Kari Percival, Doug Salati, (back) Pauline David-Sax, Zahra Marwan
(photo: Kelly Dunn)

And the future looks bright, when viewed through the lens of the Ezra Jack Keats Award winners and honorees. "Love makes windows and mirrors into disco balls," said EJK Writer Honoree Pauline David-Sax, giving a nod to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's paradigm-shifting observation of what books can do for children who have often felt unseen or uncelebrated. David-Sax's Everything in Its Place (Doubleday), illus. by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, was inspired by the Sirens, New York City's oldest all-women motorcycle club, with members of all races, body shapes, cis and trans, gay and straight. "You never know a Siren 'til you see the patch on her back," she said, thanking "the librarians who let disco-ball books shine, to light up children's lives."

EJK Writer Honor recipient Juliana Perdomo, speaking by video from her home in Colombia, said she began Sometimes All I Need Is Me (Candlewick) as a comfort to herself. She wanted to present children in all of their diversity. Nigerian American fine artist Chioma Ebinama, who received an Illustrator Honor for her picture book debut, Emile and the Field (Make Me a World), with text by Kevin Young, said in her video message that illustrating this book was "a childhood dream come true."

Zahra Marwan, EJK Illustrator Honoree for Where Butterflies Fill the Sky (Bloomsbury), which she also wrote, spoke of her statelessness--she was born in Kuwait to a father with no citizenship. As a result of her book, Marwan said, "Strangers in Kuwait send me photos of butterflies, saying 'I thought of you,' " and she expressed her gratitude to the people in her adopted state of New Mexico, "who celebrated me in a place where I wasn't born."

"Over 60 languages are spoken in my town," said Kari Percival, EJK Writer winner for How to Say Hello to a Worm (Rise X Penguin Workshop). When Percival was offered a plot in her local urban community garden, she invited others to join her, for "springtime meetups with children and their grown-ups." Their questions and the answers they arrived at together inspired her book. "Questions are a gateway to knowing, and to knowing what we don't know," Percival observed.

"I wanted to convey the joy of being a little boy on that kind of day," said Doug Salati, EJK Illustrator winner for Hot Dog, which he also wrote (Knopf). Salati had observed a dachshund experiencing utter freedom on a sunny beach not far from Manhattan, and felt a kinship he wanted to capture in images and words. "I want to remain open to playfulness and a sense of wonder," he said.

Linda Williams Jackson

"The book that one person thinks might harm his or her child might be the very book that will help someone else's child," said Linda Williams Jackson, author of The Lucky Ones (Candlewick), Midnight Without a Moon (Clarion), and A Sky Full of Stars (Clarion), speaking on the closing day of the festival. "What do these three people have in common?" she asked, showing photos of Oprah Winfrey, Sam Cooke, and Morgan Freeman. "They are all from Mississippi. They are all avid readers," Jackson said, "The right book can change the trajectory of a child's life." For her, that book was The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou by Kristin Hunter. She found it in the public library. The 11th of her mother's 13 children, and the fourth of her father's eight children, Jackson did not have books in her house. She discovered the Rosedale, Miss., public library later in her childhood. It was on the white side of town, and as Jackson put it, "Jim Crow had died a slow death." But, she said, "Once I could see myself in a book, I could read any book."

Jackson wondered what might have happened if she had not discovered The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou. What if she had not become a reader? She urged the audience to check out We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) for resources on how to fight banned books. "You never know what's going on in a child's home," Jackson said. She wants children to know: " 'It's not your fault; you will survive.' You never know whose life you might change." --Jennifer M. Brown

SIBA Panel on Supporting Trans/Nonbinary Staff & Community

The Southern Independent Bookstore Alliance invites booksellers across the country to a May 18 panel discussion: A Conversation on Supporting Trans/Nonbinary Staff & Community. Topics include store and customer responses to local/state anti-trans legislation, best practices to address needs of trans/nonbinary staff, and community outreach and support.

Candice Huber, owner of Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop in New Orleans, La., and SIBA's member relations coordinator, will moderate. Panelists are Libertie Valance, a founding member and co-owner of Firestorm Books in Asheville, N.C., and E.R. Anderson, executive director of Charis Circle, the nonprofit programming arm of Charis Books in Decatur, Ga.

The discussion will be available on Zoom at 1 p.m. on May 18 and is open to booksellers who are members of their regional bookselling association. For more information, click here.

Obituary Note: Joan Clark

Joan Clark, a Canadian author who spent much of her life in Newfoundland and Labrador, died April 11. She was 88. Clark wrote more than 15 books, including the novels An Audience of ChairsLatitudes of Melt; and Eiriksdottir: A Tale of Dreams and Luck. Her work has been translated into at least six languages and published around the world.

In a tribute posted on Instagram, Penguin Random House Canada described Clark as "a central figure in our literary lives at Penguin Random House Canada, being published by Penguin Canada, Doubleday Canada, as well as Knopf Canada.... Joan will be missed by all who shared in her joy of discovery."

Friend and fellow author Kevin Major told CBC that Clark "was a very vital force within the cultural and literary community of Newfoundland.... I think by coming here it maybe propelled her writing in a different direction than she would have thought beforehand. It was a mutual relationship, the landscape and the history of Newfoundland and Joan's ability to write about it. That was a great coming together and we should be very thankful for that."

Clark did not set out to be an author. She told CBC in a 2012 interview that she started writing during her first child's nap times, and soon filled three notebooks with what became the manuscript of her first novel for children, Girl of the Rockies. Its publication kick-started her career in 1968, and she continued to write novels aimed at younger readers.

In 1988, Clark published her first novel for adults, The Victory of Geraldine Gull, which garnered nominations for several honors, including the Governor General's Award and the Books In Canada First Novel Award. Clark is the only writer to receive both the Marian Engel Award, recognizing her body of work in adult fiction, and the Vicky Metcalf award, honoring her contributions to children's literature. She was presented with the Order of Canada in 2010 for her work in the literary arts communities in Alberta and Newfoundland. In addition, she was a two time winner of the BMO Winterset Award. 

"Joan was a very generous woman with her time and very helpful to other writers," said Major. "She was very supportive of any activities that could bring writers together." Clark served as Writer in Residence in locations such as Banff Centre of the Arts and the University of New Brunswick, where she completed her last novel, The Birthday Lunch

Dean Cooke, founder of the CookeMcDermid Literary Management Agency, represented Clark beginning with her 2001 novel Latitudes of Melt, the international success of which he credits as being a pivotal moment in establishing his agency. 

Cooke noted that Clark remained focused on improving the literary industry for generations to come: "I don't know if authors today are aware of the efforts that she made on their behalf on things like copyright protection and the income that was generated by library lending and photocopying.... Anyone who cares to look into her career and all of the activism that she engaged in, around publishing and writing, can only be grateful ultimately to Joan for the things that she contributed. And it was out of sincere love for writers, writing and publishing."


Image of the Day: Bank Square Books Hosts Lisa Jewell

Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., had a great turnout for a Sunday afternoon book signing with author Lisa Jewell. The store reported that Jewell "was incredibly warm and took time to talk with every person in line. One reader even brought an entire stack of books for Lisa to sign and she happily obliged! A few of our staff scored advance copies of Lisa's new book, None of This Is True [Atria, Aug 8] and can't wait to start reading it!" Pictured: Lisa Jewell (seated), Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square Books (standing, r.), and event host Sherry Fritzche.

Bookshop Marriage Proposal: Aaron's Books

"Our stores are the best... places to get engaged! I love when this happens in any bookstore, and it recently happened at Aaron's Books How fun!" the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association posted on Monday, showcasing a special moment over the weekend at Aaron's Books, Lititz, Pa., which had noted: "It's not every day we have a proposal in the shop! Congratulations to Kevin and Karli, and thanks for letting us be a part of your big day."

Personnel Changes at Sourcebooks

At Sourcebooks, Katie Stutz has been promoted to assistant marketing manager for Bloom Books and Sourcebooks Casablanca.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: J. Ryan Stradal on Here & Now

Here & Now: J. Ryan Stradal, author of Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club (Pamela Dorman Books, $28, 9781984881076).

Tamron Hall: Anthony Chin-Quee, author of I Can't Save You: A Memoir (Riverhead, $28, 9780593418888).

TV: City on Fire

Apple TV+ has released a trailer for City on Fire, the upcoming, eight-episode series inspired by Garth Risk Hallberg's novel. The project, written and executive produced by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl, The O.C.), will make its global premiere May 12 on Apple TV+ with the first three episodes, followed by one new episode weekly through June 16.

City on Fire stars Wyatt Oleff, Chase Sui Wonders, Jemima Kirke, Nico Tortorella, Ashley Zukerman, Xavier Clyde, Max Milner, Alexandra Doke, Omid Abtahi, Kathleen Munroe, John Cameron Mitchell, Geoff Pierson, and Beth Malone. 

The series is produced by Apple Studios for Apple TV+. Schwartz and Savage wrote all eight episodes and serve as showrunners and executive producers under Fake Empire. Jesse Peretz directs four episodes and serves as executive producer. Fake Empire's Lis Rowinski serves as co-executive producer.

Books & Authors

Awards: International Booker Shortlist

A shortlist for the International Booker Prize, honoring the "best work of international fiction translated into English, selected from entries published in the U.K. or Ireland," has been released. The winning book will be named May 23, with the £50,000 (about $62,150) prize money, divided equally between the author and translator. In addition, the shortlisted authors and translators each receive £2,500 (about $3,105). This year's shortlisted titles are:

Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey
Standing Heavy by GauZ', translated by Frank Wynne
Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel
The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox
Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated by Chi-Young Kim
Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches

Chair of the judges Leïla Slimani commented: "I think it's a very cool, very sexy list. We wanted each book to feel like an astonishment and to stand on its own. These books are all bold, subversive, nicely perverse. There is something sneaky about a lot of them. I also feel that these are sensual books, where the question of the body is important. What is it like to have a body? How do you write about the experience of the body? These are not abstract or theoretical books, but on the contrary, very grounded books, about people, places, moments. All these authors also question the narrative and what it means to write a novel today."

Reading with... Amparo Ortiz

photo: Melanie Barbosa

Amparo Ortiz is the author of the Blazewrath Games duology and has published short story comics. Saving Chupie (HarperAlley, August 1) is her full-length graphic novel debut. When she's not writing, she teaches ESL to college students and watches a lot of K-pop videos. Her YA novel Last Sunrise in Eterna (just published by Page Street Kids) covers a pivotal week in the life of a teenage girl compelled to travel to the island of Eterna, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Last Sunrise in Eterna is the story of an angry goth girl who has seven days to save her mom from the elves she despises. 

On your nightstand now:

I have several ARCS, three physical and one digital. Physical books are ARCs of Destiny Soria's (D.L. Soria) upcoming adult debut, Thief Liar Lady, as well as Yamile Saied Méndez's September 2023 rom-com, Love of My Lives. Both authors are dear friends of mine, so they're automatically required to send me everything they ever write and endure my fangirling. The third physical book is R.F. Kuang's The Dragon Republic. I started this series back in 2020, but I kept pushing the sequel off because I was terrified of stressing out even more the second time around. Wish me luck, please. As for the digital ARC, I have When Ghosts Call Us Home by Katya de Becerra, which I've already started and am loving. It's just the right amount of creepy mystery, parasocial relationships gone wrong, and heartbreaking family dynamics.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I didn't start reading novels for fun until I was 14, and that was also the start of my fantasy obsession in literature. However, my favorite book back then remains the same today: Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. It broke my heart and pieced it back together all in one sitting, and I'd never read a book that quickly in my life. I loved how uncomfortable, angry, helpless, and alone I felt reading it, even though I've never related to her main character's specific plight. Anderson made me realize how much power words have without having to stuff the page with them. I wish I could say I learned to do the same, but I've yet to master such simplicity in deepening a character's voice and perspective.

Your top five authors:

1) R.F. Kuang. My favorite world-builder in fantasy to date, and I also love how nerdy she is with her references and research.

2) Jonny Garza Villa. There should be academic studies on how Jonny creates the absolute sweetest yet most tense love stories in young adult fiction! I want to live in their brain.

3) Courtney Summers. Unapologetic rage and revenge while exploring power dynamics through a feminist lens? Sign me up always.

4) Jason Reynolds. One of the very first contemporary realistic books I read was Ghost and it hooked me from the very start. It also made me impulse-buy everything he's ever written.

5) Marjane Satrapi. This one is kind of cheating for me because I saw the Persepolis movie first, then I went back to read the graphic novels. The way Satrapi works with panel structure, imagery, and cultural symbolism remains my greatest teacher in developing scripts.

Book you've faked reading:

High school was a wonderful time to pretend I'd done my reading for Spanish class. In Puerto Rico, our Spanish classes are mostly literature/literary genre-heavy, and English is mostly grammar/ESL-heavy. I'm guilty of pretending to have finished Cervantes's Don Quijote de la Mancha. At the time, I considered it too long for my taste. Maybe I'll actually finish it one day.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I will always tell everyone to read anything Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes, but Mexican Gothic is the book I love talking about the most. This is largely due to my love of horror in general, and Latinx feminist gothic narratives specifically, which we desperately need more of. It was such a trip to read it in 2020, too--the perfect year to freak myself out more. Or maybe not. Jury's still out.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Definitely Cullen Bunn's Death Follows [illustrated by A.C. Zamudio]. It turned out to be one of my absolute favorite graphic novels of all time, but when I first saw it in a bookstore, I noticed the haunting, grotesque cover of a smiling man with rotting teeth, and immediately went over to read what it was about. I was overjoyed when the book matched the cover's intensity.

Book you hid from your parents:

They bought me all my books, so I never really hid anything from them. Even when I started making my own money, they'd go with me to bookstores, and knew what I was purchasing. Not specifying how much profanity a book contained was something I did often, though. It was great fun to see them raise an eyebrow whenever I said a brand-new curse word they hadn't heard me say before, but they figured it was from watching all those horror movies they had on 24/7 at home.

Book that changed your life:

Refer back to Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, but a more recent breakthrough happened after reading Courtney Summers's Sadie. Such a phenomenal novel about a young girl seeking revenge on the man who murdered her sister, and one I will always come back to.

Favorite line from a book:

"One day, when a girl was born in Rosario, the earth would shake with anticipation for her future and not dread." --Yamile Saied Méndez, Furia

Five books you'll never part with:

Karuna Riazi's The Gauntlet
Adrianna Cuevas's Cuba in My Pocket
Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X
Tracy Deonn's Legendborn
Andrea Beatriz Arango's Iveliz Explains It All

All five books shaped the way I write my own stories, as well as entertained me or taught me something about myself. If a book can do all three, it becomes an instant classic in my eyes, and I'll happily throw the gauntlet down for each and every one.

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

Jonny Garza Villa's Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun. I'm obsessed with the way Jonny makes readers root for their characters immediately and wholeheartedly, even at their most flawed. Also, their love stories are impossible to stop thinking about long after you've finished reading them.

Book you wish you had written:

Any and all of the She-Hulk comics. She's my favorite Marvel super-heroine, and it remains my dream to write a story about her someday. Additionally, a very special shout-out to my girl, Ava Ayala, aka White Tiger. She was my very first collaboration with Marvel Comics for the Marvel Voices: Comunidades anthology, and I'd love to return to her world someday, too.

Book Review

Children's Review: Gnome and Rat

Gnome and Rat by Lauren Stohler (Knopf, $10.99 hardcover, 80p., ages 6-9, 9780593487822, June 13, 2023)

The classic odd-couple pairing gets a fresh addition with Lauren Stohler's Gnome and Rat, a sunny and lighthearted graphic chapter book featuring the antics of the titular forest friends.

Gnome and Rat share a tree stump home in a cozy corner of The Enormous Forest. One morning in Gnomevember, Gnome wakes with glee to celebrate his hat's birthday. He removes the red, pointy cap from beneath a protective glass cloche, serenading it and spiffing it up before donning the hat to greet Rat in their kitchen. Rat sits tackling a crossword puzzle and feigning ignorance as to the special day; readers know before Gnome does that Rat has secretly decorated for this occasion. The two celebrate this "happy, happy Hat Day" with cupcakes--the voluminous frosted peaks mimic Gnome's cone. Through four more whimsical adventures at home and in their woods, Gnome remains mostly focused on his hat (with occasional thoughts of sausages) while Rat plays the ever-supportive companion and comedic straight man.

Stohler (The Problem with Pajamas) helpfully sets the stage by offering readers a distanced view of The Enormous Forest at the book's start, with its rolling hills, Duck Pond, and Mushroom Trail. Her delightfully detailed architectural sketch of the Gnome Home would have fit right into a vintage Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. She echoes the cheery red of Gnome's hat in white-spotted toadstools throughout the Forest, and the overall illustrative effect is vivid yet cozy. Expressive characterization and exaggerated body movements are supported by onomatopoeic pops and emphatic text in an impressive variety of comics panel layouts.

Chapter titles like "Hat Day" and "Back Hat It Again" hint that Gnome's beloved headwear takes center stage throughout the book. Each vignette may be read independently, although recurring side characters and small illustrative details unify the reading experience. A particularly strong throughline involves a casual exchange between Gnome and a turtle at the end of chapter three that rewards careful readers with amusing visual gags at the ends of the next two stories. Fans of modern graphic novel friendships like Narwhal and Jelly or Norma and Belly should find similar camaraderie and capers here, with subtle nods to classics like P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog. Go! and Arnold Lobel's antithetical amphibian pals.

With no cap on potential hat-related forest adventures for Gnome and Rat, it will be a treat to see what this jolly series celebrates next. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Shelf Talker: Over five energetic chapters set in a vivid forest, an ebullient Gnome and his patient pal, Rat, celebrate Gnome's beloved hat in a jolly and expressive graphic early chapter book.

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