Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Poetry to Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable

The late poet Lucille Clifton would often preface her readings with something she'd heard from an old preacher: "I come to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." As we move from Women's History Month to National Poetry Month, refresh your shelves with these dynamite collections from Black women poets past and present, whose works comfort and afflict.

How to Carry Water, edited by Aracelis Girmay (BOA Editions, $28), offers a sampling of Clifton's remarkable body of work from 1965 to 2010. Likewise, savor Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks (Harper Perennial, $14.99)--the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize, in 1950--which offers a career-spanning spread of the "We Real Cool" poet's powerful words.

In Magical Negro (Tin House, $15.95), Morgan Parker's follow-up to her stellar debut, There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé, Parker is again sharply devastating and irreverent. Then see The Black Condition Ft. Narcissus by jayy dodd (Nightboat, $15.99), a blxk trans femme whose personal, political, deeply moving poetry alternately sears and aches: "all the girls at the party/ look better than me/ & i'm proud. (i'm embarrassed)/ sometimes i believe they are too,/ embarrassed i mean,/ for me." Soak up the also moving, musical & More Black by t'ai freedom ford (Augury, $18), winner of the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry. A sampling: "i spy dark things dancing in my periphery/ i cross the street but it is only the trees/ poplocking in the wind--my knees are dark things/ they click like triggers when i walk i fail/ to notice the sudden flinching--my body's/ post-traumatic."

And for a trove of breakout writers, immerse yourself in The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic, edited by Jamila Woods, Mahogany L. Brown and Idrissa Simmonds (Haymarket, $19.95), showcasing more than 60 incredible Black women poets. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Kaitlyn Greenidge: 'I Write for Black Women'

photo: Syreeta McFadden

Kaitlyn Greenidge's debut novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, won the 2017 Whiting Award and was among the New York Times Critics' Top 10 Books of 2016. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and is a contributing writer to the New York Times. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her new book is Libertie (Algonquin, reviewed below), a novel inspired by Susan Smith McKinney Steward, New York's first Black female doctor.

Was there a defining moment that made you decide "I'm going to be a writer."

I grew up surrounded by books and reading in a home that encouraged imaginative play and storytelling. So becoming a writer always seemed like an option and a very real possibility. I was lucky that way.

And you certainly choose fascinating topics: eugenics/manipulated research in Charlie Freeman, a should-be-better-known-icon in Libertie. How do you decide?

I love history, particularly the stories that get left out of overarching narratives because they are deemed too niche, strange, uncomfortable or hard to understand. There's so much in the archives waiting to be discovered. I think a big misconception is that our current moment is somehow one that has never before been experienced. One of the pleasures of studying history is finding the ways the past mirrors the present, and is also completely different and points to radically different outcomes.

Speaking of history, because Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward was a real person, how did you decide what parts of her biography you would use in Libertie?

I used the parts that served the story I was trying to tell. I was aided in that Dr. Smith McKinney Steward's descendant Ellen Holly has already written an excellent and well-researched family history and accounting of her ancestor's life. So, the record is out there--the doctor's life is pretty well documented for those who wish to look. So that freed me up to truly make this a piece of fiction.

In between your two books, you became a mother. The mother/daughter bond is prominent throughout Libertie. Did your own experience of motherhood influence Dr. Sampson and Libertie's evolving relationship?

Not really... besides the birth scenes. I was mostly inspired by talking about motherhood and mothering with women I know who mother and also are fiercely ambitious about having a professional life and are unapologetic in their ambitions. I've been blessed to know a lot of artists who are also mothers, who don't necessarily go the cliché route of "motherhood ruins you." It has always been more nuanced conversations, about the joy found in some aspects of parenting, how this perspective does and doesn't inform creative life, and how one has a full community life as an artist even if one isn't as a mother.

In your piece, "Escape Through Death," about Henrietta Duerte, you confessed your 14-year-old self's "deepest desire... to become an undertaker." Back then, you didn't yet know of Duerte's coffin-smuggling stop on the Underground Railroad, but you memorialized her brilliant lifesaving method in Libertie's first chapter. The short piece was quite the intriguing teaser--any chance we might see Henrietta in a future title of her own?

If so, someone else may have to write her. I love her story and find it fascinating, but everything I wanted to say about it--the metaphor of death and freedom and liberation; the deep connections between Philadelphia's Black abolitionist community and Haiti and Haitian immigrants; and the use of dress as a marker and a disguise in liberation--are currently in the novel.

You also write short stories, cultural commentary, op-ed pieces, book reviews, personal essays. Do you have a preference for genre? Do you have a different approach to fiction vs. nonfiction writing?

No preference for genre. Nonfiction and fiction are both about asking questions and hopefully inviting a reader into an ongoing conversation.

Do you have a specific audience in mind when you're writing?

I write for Black women. If others enjoy as well, I am really happy that they connect to the work. But if I were to write a piece that everyone except Black women connected to, I would feel, on some level, that I'd failed.

The penultimate sentence in your New York Times essay "Who Gets to Write What?" is like a battle cry: "Imagine the better, stronger fiction that could be produced if writers took this challenge to stretch and grow one's imagination, to afford the same depth of humanity and interest and nuance to characters who look like them as characters who don't, to take those stories seriously and actually think about power when writing--how much further fiction could go as an art." Four-and-a-half years have passed since the piece first pubbed... dare I ask--are writers getting any better?

The contemporary fiction I read is mostly by Black, queer, and Black and queer writers. There are some extraordinary people working right now and there are scenes in literary fiction being published that I know wouldn't have been published five years ago. But they probably would have 45 years ago. Tommy Orange, Torrey Peters, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Maisy Card are all extraordinary. 

Art is cyclical--it's less about getting better, and more about looking for those books and pieces that have always done what I described above--inviting people into a conversation, always going deeper. They're out there. They just aren't necessarily a part of "the canon" and definitely aren't regularly taught to others. Simone Schwarz-Bart's The Bridge of Beyond; Michelle Cliff's No Telephone to Heaven; Carlene Hatcher Polite's The Flagellants are all books like this.

What might your devoted readers expect from you next?

I'm not sure! I hope more writing. I'm really enjoying writing short fiction again. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Book Candy

Fictional Matriarchs

Author A.K. Blakemore chows the "top 10 matriarchs in fiction" for the Guardian.


"Self-soothe with this video of a 120-year-old book of fairy tales being restored," Lit Hub suggested.


"Brutal early reviews of 20 classic 20th-century novels," served up by Mental Floss.


Gastro Obscura invited readers to "eat like England's first non-royal ruler with this propaganda-filled cookbook."


"Weaved bamboo installation by infinity mind extends within bookstore in Shanghai," designboom reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry, the prolific novelist and screenwriter--and legendary bookseller--"who demythologized the American West with his unromantic depictions of life on the 19th-century frontier and in contemporary small-town Texas," died March 25 at age 84, the New York Times reported. McMurtry wrote more than 30 novels and several books of essays, memoir and history. His work also includes over 30 screenplays, including the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain (with Diana Ossana, his friend and writing partner). His greatest commercial and critical success was Lonesome Dove, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and was made into a popular TV miniseries. For 50 years, McMurtry was also a serious antiquarian bookseller. While living in the Washington, D.C., area, he opened Booked Up in 1971 with a partner, and in 1988 launched a much larger bookstore in Archer City, Tex., which he owned and operated until his death.

McMurtry's other books include the novels Cadillac Jack, Somebody's Darling, The Desert Rose, The Last Kind Words Saloon, Streets of Laredo and Buffalo Girls; as well as nonfiction works Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, Books: A Memoir, Literary Life: A Second Memoir and Hollywood: A Third Memoir. Lonesome Dove is available in paperback from Simon & Schuster ($21).

Book Review



by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Kaitlyn Greenidge wowed the literary world with We Love You, Charlie Freeman; her follow-up, Libertie, shows no hints of sophomore slump. Inspired by Susan Smith McKinney Steward, New York's first Black female doctor (and the third U.S. Black woman to earn her medical degree), Greenidge alchemizes history into a gorgeously affecting story of a powerful mother, her headstrong daughter and the complex challenges they must deal with as Black women before and beyond the Civil War.

The titular Libertie is the freeborn daughter of Dr. Sampson, a woman so powerful that Libertie introduces her with a riveting opening sentence: "I saw my mother raise a man from the dead." Libertie recognizes her mother's "magic" when coffins are delivered to Brooklyn and enslaved escapees rise into freedom. At "eleven, nearly twelve," Libertie begs to help, to learn, to fulfill Mama's dream of having "a horse and carriage together, with 'Dr. Sampson and Daughter' written in gold on the side." But as Libertie matures, she recognizes that her dark skin and her mother's lighter one mean very different lives, that degrees of color are inextricably linked to both privilege and oppression. As Mama attends to more white women during Reconstruction--even as they dismiss Libertie's darker, assisting hands--Libertie's sense of betrayal solidifies into polarizing resentment.

Greenidge writes with an effortless flow, her prose enhanced with songs, chants and verses that remind readers how words have other functions beyond straightforward storytelling. As her characters grow into self-awareness, readers, too, are granted the illuminating gift of bearing witness. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Inspired by the life of New York's first Black female doctor, Libertie superbly examines the mother/daughter bond through a 19th-century lens rife with race and privilege.

Algonquin, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781616207014

The Arsonists' City

by Hala Alyan

Hala Alyan's sophomore novel, The Arsonists' City, is a heartfelt and moving family saga that spans both generations and continents.

The Nasr family has always had a family home in Beirut, even as generations of Nasrs have moved across the world: Mazna, born in Syria, and Idris, in Lebanon, now live in California, their adult children scattered in Brooklyn, Austin and Beirut. But when Idris's father dies and Idris decides to sell his family home, three generations of relatives descend on the house to try to talk him out of it--or maybe talk themselves into it. The resultant piling-on is as emotional (and occasionally hilarious) as one would expect, with long-buried secrets and tightly held grudges brought to the surface, testing bonds of parent and child, brother and sister, friend and lover.

Alyan (Salt Houses) is an excellent storyteller; the many threads of the Nasr family's history are all tightly woven through The Arsonists' City, and the characters across its pages are fully developed, complex and familiarly imperfect. That alone would be enough to set The Arsonists' City apart from other epic family sagas, but the novel becomes something even larger in Alyan's capable hands: an exploration of the legacy of war and violence, the decisions people make to survive and the lies they tell themselves--and those they love--to accept those decisions. "We don't choose what we belong to," writes Alyan. "What claims us." But with The Arsonists' City, she does raise questions about what we choose to do with that belonging, and what power lies in the mere fact of claiming--by a people, by a place, or both. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In an epic saga that spans multiple countries, a gifted novelist explores concepts of belonging, war, secrets, love and family.

Houghton Mifflin, $26, hardcover, 464p., 9780358126553

Mystery & Thriller

The Hiding Place

by Paula Munier

Paula Munier (Blind Search) delivers a tightly plotted adventure in her third Mercy Carr novel, The Hiding Place. March in Vermont may technically be spring, but the weather is still frigid--and treacherous. For former military policewoman Mercy Carr, this spring may be particularly so. Mercy digs into the cold case that haunted her long-dead sheriff grandfather and uncovers a nest of secrets.

Munier's story begins with an unwelcome surprise: an army vet who knew Mercy's deceased fiancé shows up claiming that Mercy's dog, Elvis, belongs to him. Mercy is devoted to Elvis, but the dangerous nature of her sleuthing work makes her wonder if the dog wouldn't be safer with someone else. When the man who shot her grandfather escapes from prison and Mercy's grandmother is kidnapped, Mercy must work with game warden Troy Warner and his dog, Susie Bear, to find her and crack the cold case before any more lives are lost. (As she's debating whether she should give Elvis up, the dog joins their rescue team, again proving his aptitude for the work.) They encounter a host of colorful personalities, including a salt-of-the-earth café owner and an elegant animal lover who may not be what she seems. While solving mysteries is often a way for Mercy to ignore her tangled personal life, this case forces her to confront her feelings about several tricky situations, including her relationship with Troy. Twisty and tense, with occasional heroics by the dogs, The Hiding Place is a satisfying entry in this series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Paula Munier's twisty third Mercy Carr mystery features a kidnapping linked to a cold case that haunted Mercy's sheriff grandfather.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250153074

Biography & Memoir


by Melissa Febos

Combining intimate memoir with eye-opening cultural investigation in seven essays, Melissa Febos (Abandon Me) lucidly articulates the infuriating and redemptive ways women's lives are shaped.

At 12 years old, Febos, with "a body like those women in the magazines," could compel boys to touch her, even when she didn't want them to, a lesson that "disempowerment is power." As she recalls being branded a slut, Febos critically etymologizes the term, arguing that society--with sex ed that normalizes male but not female masturbation, that considers sex a "moral duty" yet demands purity--invented the slut. She disparages movie plotlines that suggest women want stalkers, divulging her own and interviewees' victimizations by voyeurs for which police did nothing ("Lady... I would move"). Women grow up thinking it is their job "to accommodate [men] and their uncontrollable urges," which spawns situations of empty consent, wherein it is easier to say yes to unwanted encounters instead of soothing a man's bruised ego or accepting the possibility of rape.

Girlhood presents undeniably telling evidence of society's disservice to girls. Febos shares small moments that took tenacious grip of her psyche to demonstrate the everyday surviving required of women. They must tolerate the male gaze "as privilege." They must follow beauty standards resembling "physical powerlessness." Yet Febos shares how looking deeply within and acknowledging the "man-sourc[ed]" self alongside her real identity allowed her to jettison internalized misogyny and listen to her body. Girlhood delivers the hard truths society must recognize about its patriarchal norms while encouraging women to resist those precepts by choosing consistent, healing change. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: These seven illuminating essays unpack the experiences of living as a female under the destructive influence of patriarchal norms and warped ideals of femininity.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781635572520

The Beauty of Living Twice

by Sharon Stone

Actress and human rights activist Sharon Stone's brave, contemplative and inspiring memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, is a tale of survival: surviving physical and sexual abuse as a child, an aneurysm and stroke that derailed her life for two years and the 13-year legal fight to regain the custody of her first adopted son.

Stone's acting career skyrocketed with 1992's Basic Instinct. She was 34 and writes, "I was aging out of the business I hadn't really gotten into yet." The role earned her a Golden Globe nomination, but she remembers when her name was read at the ceremony, many in the audience laughed. That disrespect and sexism continued on the sets of other films (including one unnamed director who wouldn't direct her unless she sat on his lap). Even though she produced the 1995 western The Quick and the Dead, she had to fight for her choice of director and co-stars. (She personally paid Leonardo DiCaprio's salary when the studio didn't want him.) In 2001, she suffered a stroke. "My right vertebral artery... was torn to a fine shred and I was bleeding into my face, my brain, my head, and my spine," she writes. Doctors told her family she had a 1% chance of survival. "No one told me those odds," she writes. "I read them in People magazine." Her painful and arduous recovery took more than two years.

Stone's tough and touching memoir reveals the traumas, setbacks and gritty determination to survive and thrive that have previously been hidden beneath a beautiful façade. This will be a book club favorite. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This is a candid and remarkably inspiring memoir of abuse, loss, survival and revival for readers who appreciate gritty tales wrapped in Hollywood glitter.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780525656760

Every Day Is a Gift

by Tammy Duckworth

U.S. senator Tammy Duckworth's Every Day Is a Gift isn't the typical politician's memoir. She doesn't have an ax to grind, a campaign to hype, a decades-long career in politics to relive. She has a remarkable story to tell.

Born in Thailand in 1968 to an ethnically Chinese mother and an American serviceman father, Duckworth moved around Southeast Asia for her dad's communications work until it dried up. In 1984, the family relocated to Hawaii, where they relied on food stamps and income from odd jobs. Her father's patriotism rubbed off on her: after graduating from the University of Hawaii and while pursuing a master's degree, Duckworth joined ROTC and did basic training--"the best decision of my life." Although she believed it was a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq, she volunteered to go overseas, spending eight months as a helicopter pilot before her Black Hawk was shot down. Duckworth lost her legs but not the drive to serve ("Working hard was my superpower"). She won a House seat in 2012, a Senate seat in 2016, and the rest is literally history: Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while holding office.

Every Day Is a Gift is a compelling and deeply humane book. One needn't be a Democrat to admire Duckworth's efforts to improve the lives of veterans, nor to appreciate her sense of humor: during the victory party after she won her House seat, Duckworth had her staff play ZZ Top's "Legs." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: All politics aside, this memoir by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth is a gripping and fiercely humane book.

Twelve, $30, hardcover, 288p., 9781538718506


Endpapers: A Family Story of Books, War, Escape and Home

by Alexander Wolff

In 2017, former Sports Illustrated journalist Alexander Wolff (Big Game, Small World) set out to explore his family's German roots. The result is Endpapers: A Family Story of Books, War, Escape and Home, a fascinating mixture of memoir, journalism, history and an up-close look at one family's complicated relationship with Nazi Germany.

Two biographical narratives stand at the heart of Endpapers. Wolff's grandfather, Kurt Wolff, was a leading publisher of contemporary literature in Germany, publishing authors whose works would later be burned by the Nazis. In 1933, he fled Germany with his wife, Helen, and took refuge in the United States, where they founded a new, equally influential, publishing house. They left behind Kurt's family from his first marriage, including Wolff's father, Niko, who served in the German army, spent time in a POW camp and emigrated to the U.S. in 1948.

In the course of tracing their stories, Wolff discovers family secrets. He learns the intricacies of which family members escaped being labeled as Jewish by the Nazis. He realizes how deeply his grandmother's family, the Mercks of Merck Pharmaceuticals, were involved with the Nazis. And he eventually confronts the questions of guilt, shame and accountability that many Germans of his generation struggled with decades earlier.

Ultimately, Endpapers is not only the gripping story of one family's history, but an important exploration of responsibility for the past. It will appeal to those concerned with how the United States should recognize past atrocities as well as to history buffs. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: In the course of investigating the gripping family history that his father had never told him, journalist Alexander Wolff takes up the task modern Germans call "working off the past."

Atlantic Monthly Press, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9780802158253

Psychology & Self-Help

Listen Like You Mean It: Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection

by Ximena Vengoechea

Ximena Vengoechea is a successful researcher and manager from Silicon Valley. She shares a trove of fascinating, practical insight and wisdom about how and why cultivating judicious listening skills are the cornerstone to improving any relationship--in both personal and professional arenas. Vengoechea believes more conscious listening is able to condition the human psyche to stay in the present and remain carefully attuned to what is heard and experienced. Deconstructing and defining what it truly means to listen, Listen Like You Mean It presents ways listeners can expand their perceptions while fostering more responsive openness.

There are two threads to listening: what is being said and what is implied. The human mind can often muddle the two. Information about cultivating better listening skills is presented alongside interviews with experts and numerous case studies where Vengoechea troubleshoots and offers in-depth analysis of actual conversations rife with complications and red flags. These constructs demonstrate ways to listen more acutely in order to navigate and initiate more productive communication regardless of circumstance. Vengoechea believes a majority of people employ "surface listening" and don't dig deeper into underlying emotional contexts of conversations. By focusing on becoming a more empathetic listener--anticipating the needs of others and hearing what is not said--conversation can thus become richer and deeper and yield more positive, effective results.

In a world that's become more virtual--filled with an array of distractions--Vengoechea's timely, necessary handbook on real-world strategic listening will greatly benefit those who seek to improve upon their own communication skills. -- Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This insightful, wisdom-filled handbook details how to become a more consciously empathetic listener and communicator.

Portfolio, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780593087053

Children's & Young Adult

Peter Lee's Notes from the Field

by Angela Ahn, illus. by Julie Kwon

In the winsome Peter Lee's Notes from the Field, readers are treated to an entertaining firsthand look at how rough it is to be the second-smartest kid in the family.

"Canadian-born Korean" Peter Lee, soccer star and aspiring paleontologist, is older brother to genius L.B. (do not call her Charlotte unless you want her to throw a fit), and their parents are always taking her to enrichment programs like college science labs. But this summer Peter is finally getting his dreams realized--a distant museum is hosting a paleontology camp, and the whole family, including Hammy and Haji (short for grandma and grandpa in Korean), is road tripping to Alberta for the program. Peter is certain he'll be the star, but between an asthma attack at the dig site and the heartbreaking revelation that he's less special than he thought, the whole excursion sours and he decides to retire from paleontology. The rest of the summer is even more distressing as Hammy starts exhibiting signs of dementia and L.B.'s social awkwardness (and brilliance) grates on Peter.

Angela Ahn (Krista Kim-Bap) captures the heart-wrecking anguish that comes when your lifelong ambition is destroyed with the respect and pathos it deserves. Neither the Lee parents' insistence on excellence for their children nor Hammy's lapses in memory are depicted cartoonishly. Julie Kwon (illustrator, The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee) illustrates as if her art is Peter's own drawings, her focus shifting along with his from paleontology to family. Peter Lee's Notes from the Field is a winner. --Sarah Hannah Gómez, Ph.D. candidate, University of Arizona

Discover: An aspiring scientist looks for a new purpose in life after a disappointing experience at paleontology camp in this fetching middle-grade novel.

Tundra Books, $17.99, hardcover, 312p., ages 8-12, 9780735268241

The Hunt Is On

by Nie Jun, trans. by Edward Gauvin

In The Hunt Is On, set in a fantastical version of medieval China, Nie Jun (My Beijing) combines breathtaking illustrations with a thrilling and unpredictable quest. Hunt, the first in a YA graphic novel series, balances dynamic action sequences with a nuanced exploration of environmental commodification and resource scarcity.

Brothers Xinyue and Qiliu and their mother, Bu Ren Niang, are "aweto seekers," magical thieves who roam the countryside in search of deities called chadolos. Each chadolo contains an aweto, a primitive magical being with the ability to bring life to the land it inhabits. Aweto are coveted for their agricultural value and can be sold at very high prices; as a result, they have become vanishingly rare.

Xinyue and Qiliu botch a raid on a local village where a dying chadolo begs Xinyue to save its child. Xinyue, keeping the baby chadolo a secret from his brother, begins to suspect that it contains a priceless "celestial aweto," rumored to grant eternal life. The chadolo's presence soon threatens to undermine Xinyue's bonds with his family--but it may also hold the key to Xinyue's true identity and fate.

Jun's watercolor illustrations pulse with energetic movement--the huge, temperamental chadolos erupt out of the earth in swirling explosions of color each time they appear. Jun's expressive character designs imbue his protagonists with nuance, wit and humanity, and his brisk narrative (translated by Edward Gauvin referring to the French translation and the original Chinese text) remains fresh and unpredictable, building toward a conclusion as exhilarating as it is devastating. --Devon Ashby, marketing and sales assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this thrilling graphic novel, the lives of two brothers in an alternate medieval China are upended after one is secretly entrusted with the care of a rare and powerful magical being.

Graphic Universe/Lerner, $9.99, paperback, 136p., ages 12-up, 9781728420219

Blue Floats Away

by Travis Jonker, illus. by Grant Snider

Children's literature blogger, podcaster, elementary school librarian and author Travis Jonker follows up his debut picture book, The Very Last Castle, with a title that sneakily teaches as it enchants. Blue Floats Away, illustrated by Grant Snider (What Color Is Night), is a full reenactment of the water cycle through one inquisitive and brave iceberg's travels around the planet.

"Little Blue lived near the North Pole with his parents. They were close." But one day, "CRACK--Blue was suddenly on his own, floating away." There isn't much a child glacier separated from his parents can do other than follow the tide. And that is exactly what Blue does. He begins to see "new things/ Beautiful things." He learns from his new friends about "wind and ocean currents. Things that could get him home." However, the farther south Blue floats, the hotter it gets and the smaller he shrinks. Until... "Blue mixed with the ocean water, evaporated, condensed, and was transformed." As a cloud, enterprising Blue brings himself back to his parents. "Were they ever surprised."

Jonker's simple language makes this picture book an excellent read-aloud that is also approachable for the four- to six-year-old set, while his author's note ages the book up for kids 6-8 by describing the water cycle, explaining that "polar ice is in real trouble" and listing ideas to help save the planet. Snider's use of artistic mediums children will know intimately--cut paper, colored pencil, ink--makes the book all the more friendly to young readers. Blue's drawn-on smiley face and cut-paper backgrounds offer children a chance to make their own Blue Floats Away-style stories, perhaps even with messages as important as Jonker and Snider's. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this beguiling picture book, a little iceberg gets lost, then finds his way home, by listening, learning and planning.

Abrams, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781419744235

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