Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 15, 2022

William Morrow & Company: Southern Man (Penn Cage #7) by Greg Iles

From My Shelf

Still Reading, Still Masked 

Is there a developing Covid-19 pandemic lit genre? Probably. Watch for masks. I still mask up regularly and take note of face masks appearing more often in the books I'm reading. 

In fact, there's a story titled "Masks" in Roddy Doyle's new collection, Life Without Children (Viking, $25). A man is taking his precious lockdown walk, but the "masks on the footpath disgust him. They lie flat on the ground. Most of them are blue. They don't make sense.... the usual rubbish--the cups, the plastic bags--make a kind of careless sense. The masks, though--they're diseased, vile. They're private."

For A Different Distance: A Renga (Milkweed Editions, ($16), poets Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr exchanged poems by e-mail for a year to sustain connection. Naïr at the grocers in March 2020: "One out for one in; gloved, masked, sanitised before/ and after each yield./ The pigeons strutting the same/ sidewalks heed no distancing." Hacker in May: "but I/ hurry, forget tomatoes,/ get out of harm's way/ (masked, gloved) as fast as I can./ Food shopping once was/ community, communion./ Poison in the chalice now." 

When can we unmask? The future, as imagined by Sequoia Nagamatsu in How High We Go in the Dark (Morrow, $27.99,), does not bode well after the release of a 30,000-year-old Arctic plague "He handed me a box of nitrile gloves and a respirator face mask. 'We don't have funding for anything else, but we try to be mindful of the pathogens we may bring back with us. Probably nothing to worry about ninety-nine percent of the time.' " Wrong!

The Chekhov-meets-Covid-on-the-Hudson cast of Gary Shteyngart's at once entertaining and poignant Our Country Friends (Random House, $28) layer face masks over their life masks: "He looked at the two lovers, examining them afresh, wondering, without malice, if they would survive as a couple in the difficult years to come, in the city, in their masks."

Still reading, still masked. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

The Writer's Life

Baptiste Paul and Young Vo: Going New Places, Trying New Things

Baptiste Paul
Young Vo

Baptiste Paul is a Caribbean-born children's book author whose debut picture book, The Field, was inspired by his childhood in St. Lucia. His follow-up to The Field, Climb On!, is now available (NorthSouth, $18.95). Animator and illustrator Young Vo's debut picture book is Gibberish (reviewed in this issue; Levine Querido, $17.99). Here they discuss their books' shared themes, friendship, teamwork and language as cause for celebration.

Baptiste Paul: Our books Gibberish and Climb On! are about letting someone else show and teach you about something new. Gibberish is a book about learning to see the world through a new lens. Is that what you intended?

Young Vo: When I first wrote Gibberish, it was about making friends. It evolved to crossing the language barrier, then the idea of learning someone's name. You could say that all those things are in Gibberish. The moment that Dat and Julie connected their drawings and words for a tree was when those ideas took shape for me. The first time we saw Dat and his Mah, they stood next to a coconut tree. When Julie first talked to Dat, she jumped from a tree. A tree was a great contact point because it showed how differently they saw the world, and at the same time, how similar things can be. In Gibberish, once you can see from someone's perspective, their strangeness falls away, and commonalities begin to come through. 

Baptiste, in Climb On! the dad must do something out of his comfort zone. Is that something you have experienced as a parent?

Paul: Being a parent puts us in a lot of uncomfortable positions. Hiking is an activity that I enjoy, but when my daughter asked to climb the mountain, I had already climbed it several times and I was not planning on doing it again. I knew how exhausting it was. And now I'm even older! But how could I deny her a first experience with a view of my homeland from the top? 

Vo: Have your personal stories shown you the value of teamwork? 

For me, teamwork was not one of the original sparks for Gibberish but was instead an organic by-product when I tried building a relationship between Dat and Julie. They started to work together when Julie shared her colored pencil and sketchbook. This is very true in my own life, but unlike Dat, my first class in school was very different. The school I went to didn't have an ESL (English as a Second Language) program, so they put me in a class for special needs children. They didn't know what to do with me, so they gave me a piece of paper and a pencil, which was perfect because I loved to draw. I drew what I knew and what I saw, and my teacher and classmates helped put words to my drawings. During recess, I helped push my friends in their wheelchairs, get things out of reach and clean up when needed. We eventually worked together through the alphabet. 

Paul: I am glad you asked about teamwork because growing and playing futbol we supported each other, just like the characters in Climb On! Teamwork is about helping. In Climb On!, when the dad and the daughter struggle at different stages of the hike, the other one is there to offer support. 

Talking about what language means and our cultural inheritance... in terms of my language, I grew up with both a sense of pride and shame. At home Creole was celebrated and at school it was forbidden. Some of our teachers punished us if we spoke Creole at school. I actively choose to pass on the pride versus the shame--I aim to show that it's worthy of books as well.

Vo: As a kid, I didn't know I was a Vietnamese refugee. I didn't fully understand what made me different. My differences were in the background of my mind. I guess that's the beauty of a child's mind. Those differences didn't move into the foreground until someone yelled at me from a car, "go back where you came from." I didn't quite put it together until the friend I was walking with said, "that was dumb." From that moment, I learned that people saw me as different. There were many similar moments like that growing up, but it was not until I had to write an essay on my Mah that the significance of being a Vietnamese refugee came into view. My Mah's stories and my experience growing up blended together, giving me a new layer of understanding.

So, how do these ideas and feelings emerge in Gibberish? One way was to show the journey. We first see Dat and his Mah on the very edge of the page, looking out to the ocean, almost being pushed into the water. Next page, we see them sailing into the dark; during the page turn was the refugee camp. On the following page, a dark sea, and we see a plane flying into a new day. Another way is simply the name Dat, a common Vietnamese name.

I hope young people learn to be brave like Dat: go to new places, try new things and know it's ok to feel a little lost sometimes. I hope young people want to be kind like Julie: step out of the crowd, talk to someone new and help someone who is a little lost. 

Paul: Just like you said, "be brave... go to new places... try new things...." I think a book like Climb On! could be the spark that a young person needs to experience the beauty that exists in this world. I hope young people use this book as a springboard to get outside and enjoy nature. For me, partaking in outdoor activities is one of the most peaceful and rewarding parts of my life. It is a gift that I hope young people will also enjoy.

Book Candy

Saving Ukrainian Culture Online

"Saving Ukrainian cultural heritage online: 1,000+ librarians digitally preserve artifacts of Ukrainian civilization before Russia can destroy them." (via Open Culture)


"Picture books celebrating Irish stories" were showcased by the New York Public Library.


To celebrate Jack Kerouac's 100th birthday, listen to him reading from On the Road.


"Please don't whinge about being knackered, you prat," Merriam-Webster advised in showcasing 10 favourite British words.


Mental Floss featured "11 famous authors who never actually existed."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Worlds of Exile and Illusion

The first three novels in science fiction/fantasy master Ursula K. Le Guin's Hamish series--Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions--were written in the late 1960s and take place in the same universe as her best-known works, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974). In Rocannon's World, the leader of an ethnographic research team is stranded on an alien world after a rebel faction within the galaxy-spanning League of All Worlds attacks his research ship. In Planet of Exile, a League of All Worlds colony has been abandoned on a distant planet with no contact ever since the League sent out an urgent call for aid to help fight a new enemy known as the Shing. And in City of Illusions, set centuries after Planet of Exile, the Shing have obliterated the League of All Worlds and rule over its core planets, including Earth, where a man with no knowledge of his past travels across the ruins of North America.

These first three Hamish stories are now available in a single volume, Worlds of Exile and Illusion, with a new introduction by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Amal El-Mohtar (This Is How You Lose the Time War, with Max Gladstone), part of the Tor Essentials backlist line.

Book Review


Peach Blossom Spring

by Melissa Fu

Debut novelist Melissa Fu draws on her family's history to create a captivating story of immigration, family secrets and deep love in Peach Blossom Spring. Fu begins her narrative in 1938, as the Japanese army continues to advance in China. Meilin, a young mother working in her father-in-law's antiques shop, is forced to flee to the countryside with her young son, Renshu, and her husband's family. Hidden in Meilin's luggage is an elaborate hand scroll featuring vividly drawn scenes from myth and history. The scroll and its stories bring comfort to Meilin and Renshu as they travel through often dangerous conditions, searching for safety. Eventually settling in Taiwan, the two build a new life for themselves, though it is marked by grief and always shadowed by the possibility of further upheaval.

Diligent and serious-minded, Renshu does well in his studies, eventually earning a place at a university in the U.S. Fu chronicles Renshu's adjustment to life in a new land, his reinvention of himself as Henry Dao, a Cold War-era physicist with an American wife, raising their daughter, Lily. When Lily starts asking questions about her Chinese heritage, Henry finds himself reluctant to answer her queries, even angered by them. Meanwhile, Meilin has lived quietly for many years in Taiwan, making the long journey to spend a summer with Henry and his family only once.

Fu writes sensitively about the concerns of multiple generations of immigrant families. Richly described, with deeply compassionate protagonists, Peach Blossom Spring is a haunting tribute to immigrant families and a gorgeous meditation on how stories can shape identity. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Debut novelist Melissa Fu's captivating story of a Chinese-Taiwanese-American immigrant family is a gorgeous meditation on stories and identity.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780316286732

The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.

by Lee Kravetz

The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. is an evocative novel sure to enchant lovers of historical fiction as well as fans of Sylvia Plath. Lee Kravetz's tale is part literary mystery and part poetic rivalry--and wholly fascinating. It's told from the points of view of three women: a present-day master curator who works for a famous Massachusetts auction house; a young psychologist employed at an asylum in the 1950s; and Boston Rhodes, a poet of the late 1950s and early '60s, whose genius is eclipsed only by her vituperative streak.

Journalist and psychotherapist Kravetz (Strange Contagion) skillfully weaves the narrative threads into a depiction of the complicated life of a literary genius: perfectly balancing intrigue and poetry, he uses the women as windows into the life of Sylvia Plath. The curator is presented with a set of journals that seem to be an early handwritten draft of The Bell Jar. The psychologist encounters a new patient, a young woman named Sylvia, who has just had a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, Rhodes is angry that a new female poet has joined her poetry workshop, one who threatens to overshadow Rhodes's own writing.

Kravetz's debut novel, perfect for readers who enjoyed The Paris Wife or Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, is both lyrical and plot-driven, a difficult balance for any author to strike. Intriguing even for those who have not read The Bell Jar, it is perhaps even more gripping for longtime Plath loyalists. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Discover: This expressive historical novel explores a tantalizing mystery surrounding the work of Sylvia Plath.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780063139992

Mystery & Thriller

Reptile Memoirs

by Silje Ulstein, trans. by Alison McCullough

"You can always turn around... but by then you might already have become someone else." Silje Ulstein's Reptile Memoirs is a dark, visceral novel of shame, trauma and secrets, told in two distinct timelines. In 2003, the living room is "heavy with smoke at five o'clock in the morning in Ålesund's coolest basement apartment" when three flatmates decide to get a baby python as a pet. In 2017, an 11-year-old girl goes missing from a local market after quarreling with her mother, the wife of a local politician. As the mysterious threads of each story begin to intertwine, readers must ponder questions of truth and personal identity, what ends justify their means and if it is possible ever to really start over. Ulstein's disturbing, thought-provoking debut is translated from the Norwegian by Alison McCullough.

A young woman in 2003 finds it easier to relate to her pet python than to other humans. The mother of the missing child in 2017 worries over her lack of maternal feeling. A 60-year-old detective assigned to the case struggles to outrun his own losses. Their first-person perspectives triangulate the events of each timeline, and chapters titled "Reptile Memoirs" offer the point of view of Nero, the python. Readers are made increasingly uncomfortable as this psychological thriller builds through evil acts and awful accidents to a crashing conclusion.

Enigmatic and intricate, this first novel will chill even the most hardened of Scandinavian noir fans with its considerations of human nature, self-determination and animal instinct. --Julia Kastner, librarian, teacher and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A grim, cold-blooded thriller questions whether anyone can ever really start over.

Grove Press, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780802158864

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Kaiju Preservation Society

by John Scalzi

A job with a mysterious government agency turns out to be literally out of this universe in The Kaiju Preservation Society, a hilarious science fiction romp from John Scalzi (The Last Emperox).

Jamie Gray is laid off from a corporate job with a food delivery app just before the coronavirus epidemic hits New York City. But a customer offers a lead on a job with an animal rights organization that involves extended periods of fieldwork and no contact with the rest of the world. After six months of making ends meet as a delivery driver, Jamie accepts, flies to Greenland and discovers the actual fieldwork will be on Earth in an alternate universe, one populated with massive Godzilla-like creatures known as kaiju. Jamie expects a job that's mostly grunt work, but supporting the agency also means assisting scientists with tests that involve getting up close and personal with the kaiju. It also involves corralling rich tourists, ones who finagle visits in exchange for funding--and not all of them have animal welfare in mind.

Scalzi rightly calls The Kaiju Preservation Society a "pop song" of a novel, "light and catchy, with three minutes of hooks and choruses for you to sing along with." But don't underestimate the ability of an excellent pop song--especially one with a streak of biting satire--to linger in someone's head. This is a high-energy, banter-filled adventure, which will brighten the day of fans of Scalzi's Lock Innovels as well as monster movie aficionados. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This is a witty variation on Jurassic Park, in which at least most of the humans attempt to get things right and persevere against forces of unrestrained greed.

Tor Books, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780765389121


Sadie on a Plate

by Amanda Elliot

Foodies with a hunger for juicy cooking-show competitions will eagerly lap up every last drop of Sadie on a Plate, Amanda Elliot's delicious rom-com.

Sadie Brooke Rosen--a saucy, 27-year-old chef in Seattle--has her up-and-coming career dismantled by her jealous boss and beau when the local media highlights her menu dishes, instead of his, in a feature about his restaurant. Suddenly unemployed and with her confidence shaken, Sadie is selected to compete on Chef Supreme, a popular reality TV show where chefs battle to win big money and national recognition.

On the plane bound for New York City, where the show is taped, Sadie meets handsome and charming Luke Weston. There is an instant chemistry between the two as they share passions for food and cooking. Sadie enjoys upscale presentations of Jewish foods; Luke leans toward Korean influences. Once in New York, they have dinner together and part ways--until the next day, when they learn they are both affiliated with Chef Supreme. Sadie is a contestant; Luke, a fill-in judge. Sadie, keeping their attraction secret, competes among talented chefs with distinct methods, personalities and quirks. Can she regain her confidence and rise to the top of the cut-throat pack?

Elliot writes thrillers and character-driven novels for middle-grade readers and young adults under the name Amanda Panitch (Never Missing, Never Found). In Sadie on a Plate, her first adult romantic comedy, detailed food descriptions, recipes and kitchen culture--along with a diverse cast--spice up a well-plotted story warmed with romance, humor and heart. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This deliciously appealing rom-com is about a jilted chef who competes on a high-stakes TV cooking show.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 352p., 9780593335710

Kamila Knows Best

by Farah Heron

Kamila Knows Best by Farah Heron (Accidentally Engaged) is set in Toronto, the hometown of 30-something Kamila Hussain, an accountant with a flamboyant streak and a huge heart. She lives with her father and her adorable Instagram-famous dog, Darcy. The novel sings to the enchanting tune of Jane Austen's Emma: Kamila is a modern matchmaker, blind when it comes to her own heart, especially concerning her friend Rohan.

Kamila's world is exactly as she likes it: she has a wide social network, a job at her father's accounting firm and a volunteer position at the local animal shelter. Though she is a fashionista with a head for numbers, her true passions include puppies and hosting parties. But Kamila's life wasn't always so easy; a difficult relationship with her late mother cast a long shadow over her childhood, leading to a lifetime of self-doubt she works hard to overcome.

Kamila's story is suffused with the multicultural underpinnings of her Indian Muslim family, complete with the auntie network that is the heart of most South Asian communities. Leading readers through a series of entertaining twists and turns, Heron's heroine labors mightily to match two seemingly suited friends, all the while trying to keep her childhood nemesis Jana away from Rohan.

Kamila Knows Best, a treat for fans of Soniah Kamal's Unmarriageable, is a welcome addition to the delightful genre of Bollywood-flavored romantic comedies, complete with recipes for the fragrant rice dish and star anise mocktails Kamila loves to serve her friends. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Discover: A modern day Canadian-Indian matchmaker navigates the pitfalls of romantic love in this delightful comedy inspired by Jane Austen's Emma.

Forever, $15.99, paperback, 368p., 9781538735008

By Any Other Name

by Lauren Kate

A romance editor finds a big secret and an unexpected romance of her own in Lauren Kate's (The Orphan's Song) bookish ode to the romantic comedy, By Any Other Name. When Lanie Bloom's boss leaves the publishing house she works for, Lanie inherits her roster, including the notoriously reclusive bestselling romance author Noa Calloway. With that promotion comes a big reveal--when Lanie learns that Noa is actually a man named Noah, she feels betrayed.

As her relationship of three years is falling apart, Lanie focuses on her career. Top priority? Helping Noah overcome his writer's block, turn in a manuscript that's already six months late and save Peony Press from financial ruin.

By Any Other Name is the kind of book that would easily translate to the big screen, full of shenanigans--breaking into an ex's apartment!--and sweet moments. When he says he's "used up" all of the romantic landmarks in the city, Lanie is determined to show Noah all her favorite places in New York City, hoping to spark his creativity. More than just a successful plot device to force the characters to spend time together, the series of non-dates doubles as a fun romp around the city and provides the perfect backdrop for memorable cinematic scenes.

At its core, By Any Other Name is a funny, heartwarming and low-heat romance novel about two people deeply involved in publishing a romance novel. Readers who love books--and love--will be right at home within these pages. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Discover: A big secret sparks a slow-burn romance between a reclusive bestselling author and his editor in this rom-com romp through publishing and New York City.

Putnam, $16, paperback, 304p., 9780735212541

Biography & Memoir

Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft

by Lynn Cassells, Sandra Baer

Before Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer were featured on the BBC's This Farming Life, they were simply two women dreaming of a few acres of their own. To their surprise, they fell in love with Lynbreck Croft, a large piece of land in rural Scotland, and upended their lives to turn it into a sustainable working farm. In Our Wild Farming Life, their engaging joint memoir narrated by Cassells, the women explain how they began picturing--and eventually creating--a life centered on living in symbiotic rhythm with the land.

Cassells and Baer met while they were working for the National Trust; they shared a deep interest (but no training) in sustainable farming. Cassells recounts their early journeys to view pieces of land near their home in southern England and how their travels eventually led them much farther afield. She details the process of buying Lynbreck and throwing themselves into learning about the land's history and the crofting practices passed down by generations of local farmers. Along the way, she introduces readers to the cast of animal characters, including chickens and cows, that now populate Lynbreck's acreage. Readers learn all about their first several years at Lynbreck and its challenges and joys. Cassells's practical, down-to-earth style occasionally flounders in too much detail but, for the most part, is clear and compelling.

Warmhearted and candid, Our Wild Farming Life invites readers on its authors' journey and prompts them to consider how to live more sustainably by supporting local farmers. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Two women share a warmhearted, candid account of building a sustainable farm from scratch in rural Scotland.

Chelsea Green, $19.95, paperback, 224p., 9781645021650

Social Science

Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now

by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, Philip Wang

Asians in the U.S. have undoubtedly encountered the question "Where are you from?" followed by the cringe-inducing "Where are you really from?" Journalist Jeff Yang, Phil Yu (creator of the blog Angry Asian Man) and Phil Wang (cofounder of Wong Fu Productions), with help from numerous contributors, tackle these questions and much more in the enlightening and entertaining Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now.

The well-researched volume encompasses a range of subjects that are both academic (e.g., the founding fathers and mothers of Asian America) and pure fun (full-color illustrations of Stuff Asians Like or items found in the Asian home, such as "photo albums full of pictures of 'uncles' and 'aunties' you don't recognize"). Are there pieces about fashion? Check. Music? Sure. Film and TV? Definitely. Want to know when the term Asian American was coined? (Answer: the 1960s, by college student activists who called themselves the Asian-American Political Alliance, inspired by their African American counterparts.) Delve into the history of yellowface in Hollywood. Learn the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Explore Undercover Asians (Enrique Iglesias, Hailee Steinfeld et al.). Listen in as actors Sandra Oh, Dustin Nguyen and Dante Basco discuss the obstacles they've encountered while seeking to create meaningful representation.

As inclusive as Rise is, the authors point out that it isn't comprehensive because Asian American pop history is expansive and evolving. By the end of this immersive book, it's clear the question isn't about where Asian Americans are from but rather where they're headed. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: This gorgeous, entertaining book takes readers on a fun trip through Asian American pop culture history from the 1990s through the 2010s.

Harper, $28.99, hardcover, 496p., 9780358508090

Reference & Writing

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative

by Melissa Febos

In Body Work, her fourth book, Melissa Febos (Girlhood) delivers a boldly feminist essay collection that explores how autobiographical writing can help one face regrets and trauma and extract meaning from the "pliable material" of memory. Composed of four long essays, this concise yet weighty work offers writing as "a primary means of digesting and integrating... experiences and thereby reducing the pains of living."

The essay "In Praise of Navel Gazing" affirms the importance of women airing their stories of abuse and thereby challenging the power structures that aim to keep victims silent. Febos, a former dominatrix, explains in "Mind F---: Writing Better Sex" how she asks her writing students to produce five-sentence sexual histories to force them past familiar tropes. A sex scene is crafted like any other, she insists, with unlimited vocabulary (and the sex depicted doesn't even have to be good). She quotes from successful sex writing by the likes of Garth Greenwell and Cheryl Strayed. "A Big Shitty Party" warns of the dangers of writing about real people; Febos advises readers to take out the specifics--and any cruelty--and to run a draft, if possible, past the people portrayed as main characters. "The Return" employs religious language for the transformation writing can achieve: a change of heart and a confessional attitude are the keys to gaining necessary perspective on an experience.

These forthright essays make a clear case for writing as (incidentally) therapeutic. Practical and empowering, they prepare would-be writers for an "emotional confrontation with the self." --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: These forthright feminist essays explain and exemplify the art of honing autobiographical narratives that free the writer from shame.

Catapult, $16.95, paperback, 192p., 9781646220854

Children's & Young Adult

The Ogress and the Orphans

by Kelly Barnhill

A ragtag band of orphans and a kindhearted ogress fight xenophobia and cynicism with empathy and love in this bewitching fairytale-style fantasy from Newbery Award-winner Kelly Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon).

Stone-in-the-Glen was once a model town, but it has become a shell of itself and its citizens have grown apart since that terrible night when the Library burned. Drawn to the town's need, a compassionate Ogress builds a home on its outskirts and comforts her neighbors with anonymous deliveries of food and handmade cards. Her shyness and differences make her an easy target for the conniving Mayor, who steers his disgruntled constituents into blaming the Ogress for the town's problems. The clever orphans know the truth, but the adults won't believe them. Led by Anthea, a teenager unwillingly aging out of the Orphan House, the children and the Ogress set out to repair the rift that fear, misinformation and parasitic leadership have created in their community.

Barnhill delivers a plea for empathy with deft charm, soothing the presence of cruel neighbors and hints of a menacing dragon with talking stones, books that slow the passage of time and chatty crows. Despite the deceptive simplicity of the story, characters act in wonderfully complex ways: bullies turn out to have soft hearts while kindly people don't always take a stand for what's right. Deeply moving and often hilarious, The Ogress and the Orphans will encourage readers to live by the Ogress's adage: "The more you give, the more you have." --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth experience manager, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Newbery Award-winner Barnhill spins a charming, impactful fairy tale about the dangers of division and the power of empathy.

Algonquin Young Readers, $19.95, hardcover, 400p., ages 10-up, 9781643750743


by Young Vo

Animator and illustrator Young Vo, a Vietnamese refugee to the United States, tells a heartwarming (and autobiographical) tale about a young boy finding his way in a new world where he can't speak the language. Vo's debut picture book is illustrated with vividly expressive mixed-media art, and the synergy of his words and images creates a meaningful story sure to resonate with pre-, beginning and confident readers.

Gibberish takes place over the course of Dat's first day of school. He doesn't speak the language of his bus driver, teacher or fellow students. When they talk, all he hears is gibberish. Dat feels isolated and unhappy: "Without knowing gibberish there was no place to sit, no place to stand, and no one to play with." As Dat muddles through this lonely day, every time he tells someone his name, they mangle it, never pronouncing it correctly. But unexpected encounters on the playground and the bus ride home brighten Dat's day and change his whole outlook.

Vo inventively uses black-and-white and color illustrations, as well as two drastically different artistic styles, to set tone and tell a visual story. The gibberish speakers are portrayed as grayscale, "Rubber Hose" (think Steamboat Mickey) monsters (at least, to start), while Dat is in full color and illustrated in a more contemporary style. Dat being surrounded by scary, incomprehensible beings elicits strong emotion--it is easy for a person of any age to identify with his fear. But there is a happy ending. The ingenuity and playfulness of the art, as well as the book's overarching message, make this title a must for any child's library. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In this wonderfully engaging debut picture book, a boy must adjust to living in a new country where everything people say sounds like gibberish.

Levine Querido, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781646141104


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

Butternut, the brave storytelling rabbit, is back--and this time her home is on fire!

In my family read-aloud THE PERILOUS PERFORMANCE AT MILKWEED MEADOW, a merry troupe of turkeys organizes a summer show in the meadow, but a fire burns their playhouse to the ground. Who started the fire and why? Called "witty, whimsical, wise" in a Kirkus starred review, this middle-grade animal adventure sequel about trust and forgiveness features show-stopping illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati.

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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