Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

The Ever-Expanding Desert Island Library

A few weeks ago, contributing editor Bob Gray wrote a column about the books he'd pack to be stranded with on a desert island. Unbelievably, he chose only five, and challenged me to do the same. (Bob writes about readers' responses to his question below.)

I can't do it. The easy way out is to start with the religious text of your choice. But... oh, my. I went through my collection (not library--according to Harlan Ellison, your library consists of the books you haven't yet read), got up to five, saw Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. I've read it twice and want to read this mesmerizing novel again. Then, anything by Ron Carlson, a writer whose prose rewards many a rereading (Five Skies, the Idaho Rockies, gentle melancholy and tough men; Return to Oakpine, the importance of home, work and friendships forged in high school). And Ernest Gaines: the brilliant A Lesson Before Dying.

Marooned with all Robert B. Parker's Spenser books--what an opportunity to read them in sequence, delighting in favorite passages. Connie Willis or Sheri Tepper (Grass) for science fiction; both for grand ideas, Willis for wit (To Say Nothing of the Dog). For spiritual sustenance, Barbara Brown Taylor (Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith; An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith--perfect for being deserted, since getting lost is a holy art to Taylor--God does some of his best work with people who are seriously lost.)

Michael Dirda: any collection of his essays will do (Book by Book; Bound to Please; Classics for Pleasure). He writes so well about books it's almost as good as reading them (sometimes better). He's a library in and of himself.

Must stop now. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

P.S.: John Donne. Mary Wesley. Flannery O'Connor. Henning Mankell....

Book Candy

15 YA Books for Adults; Books in Dance

"Young-adult books are almost inescapable, even if you haven't visited the teen section of your local library since high school," Mashable noted in featuring "15 young-adult books every adult should read."


Words that dance. Flavorwire drew back the curtain on some "beautiful dance performances that incorporate books."


Pop quiz: Buzzfeed asked: "Who Said It: Pablo Neruda or Taylor Swift?"


Do you love Hamlet? "You're sympathetic to the fate of the high-born slacker with daddy issues." Flavorwire explained "what your favorite Shakespeare play says about you."


Mark Lowery, author most recently of Pants Are Everything, shared the "top 10 embarrassing moments in children's books." in the Guardian.


Bookish DIY: Bloomize offered step-by-step instructions to "fold a heart page marker."


Stranded on a Desert Isle with More Professors than Gilligans

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe may have been my first desert island read, but Gilligan's Island probably had more archetypal impact upon me. The S.S. Minnow offered a peculiar vision of 1960s diversity (two sailors, two one-percenters, a celebrity, an all-American girl and an academic). The Professor intrigued me because he was the only passenger with the foresight to bring books on the ill-fated "three-hour tour." Once stranded, he begins writing "a chronicle of our adventures on the island," telling Gilligan: "I think it's a book people will buy, don't you?"

Last month, we invited Shelf Awareness readers to submit their own desert island reads. While the most popular choice by far was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the responses also showed that if we were all stranded together, our tropical library would be impressive indeed.

"I'd be glad to be alive following the shipwreck but would have the work of a pessimist, that tiny old students' portable Schopenhauer with the red & black cover, in a secret pocket," wrote author Valerie Trueblood, whose list also included Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Antonio Machado's poems, Hardy's Complete Poems, Eudora Welty's stories and Janet Lewis's "perfect" The Wife of Martin Guerre.

Annie Carl, a bookseller at Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Wash., chose The Neverending Story by Michael Ende ("My favorite book, and one I can read over and over."), Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke ("A book I've never read because 'I just don't have to time for such a long book!' I totally would on a desert island."), The Complete Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson "for perspective. And giggles," Spirit Horses by Alan S. Evans "because I love horses like I love books, so I need to have a beautiful horse book to assuage my addiction" and the collected works of Jane Austen "for comfort during the long, terrifying desert nights (I'm picturing episodes of Lost here)."

What else is now shelved in our desert island library, thanks to you? Here are some highlights:

  • The Bible and "a really good book on tropical survival."
  • The I Ching "so I could figure how to handle being stranded on a desert island," Jonathan Franzen's America "to help me remember how peaceful it is to not have a crazy family around" and Maira Kalmen's Principles of Uncertainty "so I could be inspired to make black ink from a dead beetle, red and blue ink from berries. Sheets of dried palm for paper, and a brush from the hair of a rodent. Then paint my life with commentary."
  • Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Norton Anthology of American Literature and Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • "Christopher Moore's Island of the Sequined Love Nun, of course."
  • "I'm with Margaret Thatcher (on this, if nothing else); I'd bring along a survival manual! And maybe a couple of Norton Anthologies for pleasure reading."
  • The Ashley Book of Knots, "along with some rope and be able to entertain myself almost endlessly."
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill, The World According to Garp by John Irving and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • Henry Beston's The Outermost House, Collected Works of William Butler Yeats and Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are ("If I can't finally learn how to meditate on a desert island, there is no hope of me ever learning.")
  • Finder by Carla Speed McNeil, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, Metamorphoses by Ovid and Julian May's Galactic Milieu Trilogy
  • David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, "several" Maeve Binchy books and "a Thomas Friedman book--anything but The World Is Flat; perhaps the recent That Used to be Us."
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell, West with the Night by Beryl Markham, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby and A Midwife's Tale by Martha Ballard
  • Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, Jane Austen's Emma, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer's The Madness of a Seduced Woman, Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire and Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

I'll end this desert island sojourn with a line I used last Friday in my Shelf Awareness Pro column: Among booksellers (and, by extension, all readers), "Our island is never deserted, and there are always plenty of great books to read." --Robert Gray, contributing editor.

Book Review


Whistling Past the Graveyard

by Susan Crandall

Starla Claudelle can't seem to do anything right, and her grandmother makes sure she knows it. During the summer of 1963, Starla is caught defying her punishment, and--convinced "Mamie" is sending her off to reform school this time--she decides to run away. Starla plans, as only a nine-year-old can, to find her mother, the woman who left her when she was three to become a star in Nashville. Quickly figuring out she can't walk the whole way from her small-town Mississippi home to Tennessee, Starla hitches a ride with a kind black woman traveling with a white infant. Unbeknownst to Starla, she's just bought her ticket for a trip that will help define her life.

Whistling Past the Graveyard's themes of hope, faith and innocence are plunked down in one of the nation's darkest time periods. With an exceptionally strong voice for her young spitfire narrator, Susan Crandall reminds readers that while the depth of hate was extraordinary, there were some people who used their gifts to encourage love, compassion and tolerance.

This young girl who shuns society's idea of a "lady" represents light in the darkness; with her idiosyncratic language and her brassy spunk, she is at turns humorous, endearing and heartbreaking. Through it all, she is convincing--readers won't be able to help but love and admire Starla Claudelle. With echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Whistling Past the Graveyard is a timeless tale. In 1963 or 2013 alike, celebrating the good in others in a precious gift. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: From the author of Back Roads, a delightfully complex story about defying the odds to find the gifts we have tucked inside us.

Gallery, $24.99, hardcover, 9781476707723

Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman

by Minka Pradelski, trans. by Philip Boehm

Sociologist Minka Pradelski's research into the effects of the Holocaust on its survivors grounds her moving but surprisingly playful debut novel, Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman. When Tsippy Silberberg's Aunt Halina passes away in Tel Aviv, she leaves Tsippy a curious inheritance: an incomplete silver fish service in an old brown suitcase. While she could have the cutlery shipped to her, Tsippy decides a trip to Israel may help her recover from a strange addiction: Tsippy is hooked on ice-cold temperatures, to the point that she eats only unthawed bags of vegetables from the freezer section of the grocery store.

When her hotel gives her reserved room to another traveler, she books into an allegedly better establishment, and finds herself chosen for a dubious honor: Mrs. Kugelman, a survivor of World War II, tells Tsippy stories of her hometown of Bedzin, Poland, so that her long-dead friends and neighbors may live once again in the retelling.

At first, Tsippy tries to escape. Soon, however, she begins to hunger for more stories of Bedzin, a village that doesn't match the terrifying picture of Polish history Tsippy gleaned from her father. The stories eventually change character, though; as Mrs. Kugelman says, "Peaceful times give way to war... I can't spare you."

Pradelski builds two charming and often humorous stories, that of Tsippy's search for her identity and that of the people of Bedzin. The resulting dual narrative manages to carry off both sweetness and pathos seamlessly, leaving the reader to ponder the power of hope over sorrow. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A Polish Holocaust survivor in Israel chooses a young Jewish woman visiting from the U.S. to hear the stories of her friends, family and town before the Nazis destroyed everything.

Metropolitan Books, $26, hardcover, 9780805082128

Memories of a Marriage

by Louis Begley

In 1950s Newport, R.I., well-born Lucy De Bourgh marries Thomas Snow, son of a local garage owner and his bookkeeper wife. Thomas is definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, a theme that Louis Begley explores thoroughly in Memories of a Marriage, an intensely intimate portrayal of a couple from several perspectives.

Philip narrates the story of Lucy and Thomas. He runs into her at the ballet one evening and recalls knowing her many years before--she was a hell-raiser, and free with her sexual favors. They agree to meet for dinner at her apartment.

Early in their conversation, Lucy offers condolences to Philip for his wife's death; he reciprocates with condolences for her divorce and Thomas's subsequent accidental death. "What do you mean?" Lucy replies. "I couldn't have gone on living with that monster. You went on seeing him, of course, just like all the rest of my friends. Yup, everything he wanted fell into his lap, including that celebrity second wife, and he never acknowledged that he owed it all to me."

Philip is puzzled by her bitterness and unfairness to Thomas, a good-looking, brilliant investment banker who became a Wall Street pundit. Philip becomes obsessed with the contradictions in the story, both as a friend of Lucy and Thomas--and more particularly as an author sussing out a good story. He seeks out Thomas's second wife, Jane, and several mutual friends to get their recollections of what happened. The picture that emerges is infinitely complex, leading Philip to understand how incompletely he knew the pair--or their marriage. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Begley, a stellar storyteller (About Schmidt; Wartime Lies), takes a deep plunge into the swamp a marriage can become.

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385537469

Letters from Skye

by Jessica Brockmole

In the epistolary tradition of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and 84, Charing Cross Road, Jessica Brockmole's Letters from Skye is a captivating debut novel.

When Elspeth Dunn, a young Scottish poet living on the remote Isle of Skye, receives a fan letter from a cheeky college student in Illinois, she never expects it to change her life. But though her correspondence with David Graham provides a bright spot in the shadow of World War I, it has disastrous consequences for her family. When David volunteers as an ambulance driver in France, Elspeth remains on Skye, but continues to write--and worry.

Years later, after an air raid on her Edinburgh house in 1940, Elspeth disappears, leaving her daughter, Margaret, holding a yellowed letter addressed to "Sue" and a few clues to her mother's (and her own) history. Margaret begins a cross-country search into Elspeth's past, chronicling her journey in letters to the RAF pilot she loves.

In two parallel series of letters, the book evokes the rugged landscape of Skye, the cosmopolitan bustle of London and the privations of army camps in northern France. Despite the strains of wartime, family worries and love gone wrong, Brockmole's characters write with warmth and wit, sending letters and telegrams across the Atlantic and the English Channel. While the letters trace the love stories of two young couples, they also offer reflections on family, duty and the perennial question of whom we love. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A warm, witty novel of love and loss in wartime England and France, told in two parallel series of letters.

Ballantine, $25, hardcover, 9780345542601

Mystery & Thriller

Close My Eyes

by Sophie McKenzie

Award-winning author of many books for teens and children in the U.K., Sophie McKenzie makes her U.S. debut with the decidedly adult novel Close My Eyes, a fast-moving tale of psychological suspense full of twists and genuine surprises. Told from the point of view of a woman whose fragile emotional state and inability to move on from a terrible trauma have rendered her tremendously vulnerable to manipulation, Close My Eyes quickly draws readers into her world where the lies are so tightly woven that reality itself starts to lose its meaning.

Geniver Loxley is a novelist whose career and personal life have settled into a state of permanent, cloudy hold. Eight years prior, she gave birth to a stillborn child--a daughter she'd named Beth. She is haunted by vivid dreams of her lost child that seem more real than the fog of her waking hours. While deeply affected as well, Geniver's wealthy and successful husband, Art, has been able to move forward emotionally in a way that seems impossible for Geniver.

One day Geniver receives an unexpected visitor whose information is so shocking it calls into question everything she knows to be true: Art was involved in a scheme to give away their baby and convince Geniver that Beth had died in utero. Geniver dismisses the woman's story, but the possibility that it might be true lodges in her craw and she can't let it go. But perhaps grief really has driven her mad.

The continuing question of whether or not Geniver really has imagined it all--and we with her--creates a chilling and unsettling feeling that pervades this page-turner right up to its last word. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Discover: A woman who hasn't gotten over the stillbirth of her daughter receives new information implicating her husband, and it's not clear if it's real or, in her growing madness, she imagined it.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250033895

The Rules of Wolfe

by James Carlos Blake

The first rule of writing noir is to make a location your own. James Carlos Blake has done just that in The Rules of Wolfe, his second novel (following 2012's Country of the Bad Wolfes) about the multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-criminal Wolfe family. His turf is the 2,000-mile-long border between Mexico and the U.S., with the Wolfes settled on the Gulf end where Brownsville, Tex., rubs up against Matamoros. When Eddie Gato, the great-grandson of the family's 109-year-old matriarch, Catalina, gets crosswise with the Sinaloa cartel in Sonora, his cousins Frank and Rudy Wolfe jump in a family-owned Beechcraft and fly to El Paso to rescue him.

The brash Eddie is in trouble because he wouldn't follow the oldest family rule: "any Wolfe who wants to work in the family 'shade trade' must first get a baccalaureate degree." When the ruling Three Uncles reject his argument that "a college degree was unnecessary to be a competent smuggler," he takes his ambitions to San Luis Potosi, where the Mexican side of the family runs the weapons distribution end of the business and becomes a guard at the mountain ranch of cartel boss La Navaja (the knife). But Eddie and the girl of the boss's second-in-command seduce each other; when El Segundo discovers them, Eddie kills him. He and Miranda steal the boss's Escalade and take off for the border with every cartel assassin after them.

Blake's "border noir" then turns into a long, volatile bilingual chase scene full of killing, car crashes, drugs, double-crosses and desert storms. Blake doesn't just know the territory, the language and the players--he also knows how to tell a great story. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In Blake's second novel featuring the Tex-Mex Wolfe family, a young cousin ignores the family rules and winds up with an army of Mexican cartel assassins chasing him back to the border.

Mysterious Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802121295

The Twelfth Department

by William Ryan

Set in the 1930s, William Ryan's The Twelfth Department is the third thriller starring the thoughtful Captain Alexei Korolev of Moscow's Criminal Investigation Division (after The Holy Thief and The Darkening Field). Ryan brilliantly captures the tensions facing Korolev, a man with a conscience who fought for the Bolshevik Revolution yet doesn't approve of the deadly tactics used by Stalin's NKVD (Internal Security Division) in the hunt for "traitors" to the Communist Party.

As The Twelfth Department opens, however, Korolev is moderately hopeful. It's the summer of 1938, his 12-year-old son, Yuri, is coming for a week and Korolev has some long overdue vacation time. Then Professor Boris Azarov, head of the mysterious Azarov Institute, is found shot to death. Reluctantly, Korolev starts to investigate, only to be told by an NKVD colonel that his involvement is no longer necessary and he should forget anything he'd heard about the case.

Not one to tempt banishment to a gulag, Korolev heads off into the countryside with his son--only to have the case follow him. Thugs show up, Yuri vanishes, and a different NKVD colonel asks for Korolev's help, leaving Korolev in a desperate race to find both Azarov's killer and Yuri, while walking a precariously narrow path between the opposing forces within the NKVD.

Korolev is one of the most likable detectives in modern fiction, and his precise but practical approach to solving crime in such a restrictive society is both intelligent and fascinating. The Twelfth Department will appeal to fans of historical mysteries and students of Soviet Russia alike. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Ryan returns with another darkly atmospheric thriller set in Stalin's Moscow.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312586522

Biography & Memoir

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

by Howard Norman

Howard Norman writes in several genres: books for young readers, translated folk tales, scholarly essays and, perhaps most recognizably, novels such as The Bird Artist. I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place is yet another departure. It's a memoir--but, this being Howard Norman, it's no ordinary memoir. Norman captures five incidents in his life, watershed moments of "arresting strangeness." Far from being an overstatement, those words prove mild once the reader considers some of the events.

The first recollection takes place when Norman is 15, enamored of his brother's girlfriend and working in a bookmobile. His mostly absent father, having told the family he is in California, is hanging out in a drugstore across the street from one of the bookmobile stops. Norman wins $666 in a random radio contest; his father immediately seeks him out for his "share." About the girlfriend, the less said the better.

The final recollection is very sad. Norman and his wife allow a friend to stay in their D.C. home while they spend time in their Vermont farmhouse, about which he says: "Everything I love most happens most every day." While in their home, the woman brutally kills her young son and herself in their dining room. This horrendous act eventually causes Norman to seek solace among his beloved birds--this time in Point Reyes, Calif.

Each recollection is serious, poignant, filled with meaning for Norman and, in turn, for the reader. What isn't said tells us as much as what is--and all of it is important in order for us to begin to understand this complex, extraordinarily sensitive, caring man and writer. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A memoir like no other, filled with birds, mysterious occurrences, people we don't meet every day--all overlaid with the poetic sensibility of a master of the written word.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, hardcover, 9780547385426

Apologies to My Censor: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China

by Mitch Moxley

Mitch Moxley is an idealistic upstart on a mission to become a journalist in an economically booming, pre-Olympics China. Instead, he finds himself the unwitting propagandistic mouthpiece at the state-run English-language paper, China Daily, and a stranger in a strange land whose job evolves from foreign lackey to a sort of cultural ambassador.

Apologies to My Censor, Moxley's chronicle of his five-year, "coming of age" odyssey living as an expat in Beijing, begins in 2007, when he finds himself trying to make a living in a bizarre, Judd Apatow-esque bachelor universe thousands of miles away from home, surviving alongside a sea of fellow misfits who glorify China by day and engage in drunken revelry by night. Life in China brings manic highs and depressing lows: beauty in the remotely backward villages of the Xinjiang countryside; boredom and desperation in English voice recording; temporary fame as music video actor and calendar pin-up; happiness and heartbreak with a Korean-Russian lover.

Despite the country's "beautiful and ugly, thrilling and boring, inspiring and infuriating" qualities, its vibrancy continues to draw Moxley back. Though he infuses Apologies with much insight and color commentary as to the cultural divides between East and West, it's his own interior development that makes his memoir a success. What aspires to become a cultural document of the here and now instead delivers the classic tale of a young man who finds himself and his voice against all odds. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A young man's journey of self-discovery while experiencing life as an expat in China.

Harper Perennial, $14.99, paperback, 9780062124432

Essays & Criticism

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)

by Chuck Klosterman

It's fitting that the "Ethicist" for the New York Times Magazine should be interested in writing about villainy. After all, Chuck Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) has covered nearly every other facet of popular culture. Centered on a theme more abstract than those of his past works, I Wear the Black Hat examines society's most vilified figures and what their condemnation reveals about our collective ethos.

Reading Klosterman is akin to staring through a kaleidoscope of cultural references, rotating it slightly and seeing something both completely unexpected and strangely logical. A discussion of the Monica Lewinsky scandal segues neatly into a study of celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar serves to clarify a character study of O.J. Simpson. Even Batman earns a place in the line-up. In each case, we are pushed beyond questions of individual psychology to more wide-sweeping implications. For example, the question is not why Hitler was evil, but what our interpretation of his evilness reveals about society as a whole.

Klosterman's range of interests, which has led to bylines everywhere from the Guardian to Spin, is evident in his unusual entertaining style. A self-described media addict and voracious consumer of Internet content, he never takes readers' attention for granted. His strange humor provides all the necessary incentive to follow him through far-flung analogies and even the occasional personal tangent. --Annie Atherton, intern at Shelf Awareness

Discover: Chuck Klosterman draws upon society's most publicly condemned figures in an entertaining contemplation of villainy.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781439184493

Children's & Young Adult

Best Foot Forward: Exploring Feet, Flippers, and Claws

by Ingo Arndt

Enticing, crisp full-color photographs of paws, claws and "clingy toes" lead young readers into a guessing game about which "foot" propels which animal.

Ingo Arndt, whose photographs have appeared in National Geographic and BBC Wildlife, introduces six creatures with a full-spread close-up photograph of the underside of its foot ("Whose foot is this?" reads the text), then with a turn of the page, readers discover its often surprising owner in its natural habitat. Each of these six lead the way to other creatures whose feet serve a similar purpose (e.g., "feet that dig"; "feet that jump").

What appears to be the pad of a kitten's foot in one close-up full-spread photograph turns out to belong to a tiger, revealed in its majestic beauty on the left-hand page of the next spread. Arndt then introduces a quartet of feet--arranged in a windowpane--belonging to other animals with "feet that walk." He offers some detail about each foot's design: the "soft and springy" sole of an elephant's foot helps "cushion its walk," for instance. A double-page photograph of a duck's foot leads into other examples of "feet that swim," including the flipper of a seal.

Arndt also uses his photographs to show how different characteristics help the animal in its habitat; the tokay gecko's ribbed toes assist in climbing smooth surfaces, while the red-eyed tree frog emits a sticky liquid from its toes that help it hold tight to branches and leaves. A highly intriguing book for budding scientists and animal lovers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An enticing photographic book for budding scientists that masquerades as a guessing game about which foot propels which creature.

Holiday House, $16.95, hardcover, 36p., ages 5-8, 9780823428571


by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Two-time Caldecott Honor artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger digs deeply into the emotional lives of youngest children with a picture book that acknowledges cruelty's vicious cycle.

A large gray bull yells "GO AWAY!" at a smaller brown bull. Bold black type and all capital letters indicate the gray bull's ferocity, while the brown bull's woeful eyes betray his hurt feelings. Next, a rabbit, hen and turtle stand together as the rabbit asks, "Wanna play?" With a turn of the page, the brown bull has grown in size, and he yells, "NO!" The rabbit scampers off, and the hen's and turtle's eyes grow wide in surprise. He scares them off, too, one at a time. "CHICKEN!" he says. "SLOW POKE!"

Seeger features characters in a thick black outline and solid colors to keep the focus on the animals' body language and facial expressions. A ghosted gray split-rail fence provides the gauge for the brown bull's growing physique and also underscores the sense of the animals being literally penned in by the bull's energy. Each time the brown bull makes fun of the farm creatures, he puffs up ever larger. But when a goat calls his bluff ("BULLY!"), his ego deflates. He apologizes. The turtle, who'd been poised to retreat, turns around. The constraining fence now reveals an opening, and the three head off together.

Seeger acknowledges that bullying can start early in childhood and shows that a little kindness can go a long way to reverse its effects. --Jennifer M. Brown

Discover: An insightful picture book from a two-time Caldecott Honor artist that exposes the cycle of cruelty that bullying sets in motion.

Roaring Brook Press, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9781596436305

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