Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 18, 2014

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Louis Zamperini's Remarkable Story

Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner and World War II airman whose "remarkable story of survival during the war gained new attention in 2010 with the publication of a vivid biography by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival," died July 2, the New York Times reported, of pneumonia at age 97. Unbroken has spent more than three years on the Times bestseller list--a notable achievement for a hardcover book. On July 29, Random House will publish Unbroken in paperback, occasioning a further long run on bestseller lists. In addition, a movie adaptation of Unbroken from Universal Pictures, directed by Angelina Jolie, is scheduled for a Christmas 2014 release.

Zamperini UnbrokenFor those who don't know Zamperini's story, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., provides perspective in his July 8 column. He writes that no one who has read the book will be surprised to learn that "it took that fearsome disease 40 days to claim this 97-year-old man. If Zamperini was nothing else, he was a fighter. Whatever life threw at him, he threw back. Whatever it piled on top of him, he overcame.

"The lessons of his life are manifold and manifest, a master class in moral and physical fortitude, resilience and resistance, the criticality of human dignity, the importance of fight, faith--and forgiveness.

"We could use some of what... Zamperini, in particular, had. He overcame sharks, torture, hunger, gunfire, the Pacific Ocean and his own demons to die peacefully at an advanced age with his family around him. No, he is not a hero. He is whatever comes after that."

In her eulogy, Lauren Hillenbrand said, "His laughter was irrepressible because he looked about him and saw only blessings. The most beautiful thing about this wondrous man was that he wished for all of us to see in our own lives what he saw in his. His story was his gift to us."

Wait for the paperback or buy the hardcover now--you will be amply rewarded. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Jacqueline Winspear: The Home Front

Thirteen years ago Jacqueline Winspear introduced the world to Maisie Dobbs, an unconventional sleuth who rose above her station as a housemaid, encouraged by the patronage of her lady employer and an unusual apprenticeship in investigation, interrupted by her work as a field nurse in the Great War. With 10 internationally bestselling Maisie Dobbs mysteries to her credit, Winspear has now written her first stand-alone novel, depicting the parallel realities of life on the front lines and the home front, with a publication date that coincides with the 100th anniversary of World War I.

The Care and Management of Lies opens with the story of two friends: Thea, a pacifist suffragette living and working in London, and Kezia, a clueless minister's daughter who has become engaged to Thea's farmer brother, Tom. Before her wedding, Thea gives Kezia a book on women's household management, meant as a dig, but which turns into the resource Kezia uses to not only keep the home fires burning and the farm running, but also in the creation of letters filled with home cooking that sustain Tom and his compatriots as they face unbearable conditions at the front.

The idea for this book came to you long before you conceived of Maisie Dobbs or even thought of becoming a writer; can you tell us about that?

Do we have to say how many years ago? I was 26 or 27, and my day job was working in academic publishing, which, as everybody knows, has as much to do with regular publishing as cake baking has to do with the high-tech industry. On the weekends I helped a friend who had a stall in London's Portobello Road market. I would go to jumble sales--like your rummage sales--and I found this book, The Woman's Book, which was absolutely falling to bits. It had been inscribed to a young woman on the occasion of her marriage in July 1914. I remember standing there transfixed, and I wondered: Did he go to war? Did he come home? Was this young woman widowed before she even had the chance to become a wife?

Why not use the idea as part of a Maisie Dobbs book?

I didn't feel like it belonged; they deserved their own story.

Can you remember the name of the young bride who received The Woman's Book?

I do, but I am not going to tell. It wasn't Kezia, who I think was my great great grandmother. One of my cousins had a heart attack six or seven years ago, and because he was bored he started delving into family history. When I saw the name Kezia, I can remember thinking, that's it, I'm going to use that name.

I never forgot that couple, and a story began to grow around them, as it does. I have always been fascinated by the idea of love in a time of war.

What was it like to write your first non-mystery?

It was just different. Every story has a certain pace, a certain rhythm, a certain arc. I wanted this to begin with much more of a pastoral rhythm to it, because a mystery goes through chaos to resolution and the chaos in this story is the same chaos everyone went through during the war.

Creatively, I think I needed to prove that I could do something different. Of course, the time period is one I am comfortable with, but I was worried because I didn't think my publisher would go for the idea. When you've got a series, most publishers, all they want is the next one in the series--as do readers. I was very, very pleasantly surprised when my publisher said, "All right, we like the idea."

Where did the title come from?

I had always loved those old books and articles from the 1800s onward, and they often started with "The Care and Management of...." The Care and Management of Lies just seemed perfect because Kezia and Tom, in a way, tell lies to protect each other and to demonstrate their love for each other. And then there's the whole underpinning of the lie of war and the lies that Edmund [the commanding officer] has to tell: "He died instantly."

Why did you decide to use Kezia's letters with descriptions of meals she would make for Tom as a plot device?

When I spent time at the Imperial War Museum reading through letter collections of just ordinary people, it was interesting the number of times people talked about food. "Thanks for the biscuits, Mom," "I wish I was there for Sunday lunch"....

Nostalgia is a really powerful emotional sense when people are away from home--particularly when they are away from home in a war zone. And there is nothing that speaks to emotional nostalgia as much as food. And they absolutely shared those parts in their letters; it was the collective experience of bringing home into the trenches.

We know that an army marches on its stomach, but with the army it was "calories in and calories out"--they didn't care so much about taste and the emotional experience of eating, which literally caused armies to be on the brink of mutiny. But a lot of slack was picked up from home, with people sending out cakes and favorite things.

When this really came home to me was when I was back in England and I was telling my oldest and dearest friend about my new book. She is a woman whose husband is a career officer and whose son is on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. As it happens, that night, when we were sitting at the kitchen table, her son phoned from Afghanistan at dinner time and asked, "So, what's on the table, Mom?"

In the acknowledgements you mention your husband, who believes in celebrating endings; should we take that as a hint that perhaps you have reached an ending with Maisie Dobbs?

No. No. My husband has always said that you celebrate every step of the way. When you finish a first draft, he says, we are going to break out a bottle of champagne, because when I start a book, I am always convinced that I can never, ever write it or even finish it.

Writing a novel is a journey. It's a journey of creativity, endurance, spirit and emotion.

So, when we last left Maisie Dobbs, it is the mid-1930s and she is on a ship leaving Southampton. What's in store for her?

I'm not telling. There will be a new series of adventures for her beginning in April 2015. They are slightly different. Maisie's back; and there are some people you know and some people you don't know. Her work is going to take on a slightly different hue. --Bridget Kinsella

Book Candy

Literary Tattoos; Authors' Summer Homes

More literary tattoos, please. Buzzfeed offered "27 breathtakingly badass Game of Thrones tattoos," and "26 stunning Harry Potter tattoos that will give you all the feels."


Michelle Harrison, author of Thirteen Treasures and One Wish, "has set this fiendish fairy quiz to see if your folklore knowledge is fair or foul," the Guardian wrote.  


"What do great authors do at their summer homes? Compose our favorite beach reads," Mental Floss suggested in showcasing "the summer homes of 5 legendary authors."


Bustle noted that "5 favorite children's books turn 50 this year (and now everyone feels old)."


"There's nothing quite like the feeling of having your heart metaphorically ripped out of your chest," the Huffington Post observed in featuring "the biggest heartbreakers in literature."


Colossal exhibited a collection of "new paintings on salvaged books by Mike Stilkey."

Book Review


The Hundred-Year House

by Rebecca Makkai

Houses hold secrets--particularly old houses--and Laurelfield, the mansion and setting for Rebecca Makkai's second novel, is no exception. When Gracie and Bruce, owners of the estate, allow their daughter, Zee, and her husband, Doug, to move into the coach house, the young couple is suddenly confronted with bits and pieces of the home's history. Used as an arts colony from the 1920s to the 1950s, the house is haunted by the ghost of Violet Devohr--Zee's great-grandmother, immortalized in a prominent portrait in the dining room--who lurks in the hallways. There are also rumors of buried bodies and other family mysteries.

While Zee teaches English classes at the nearby university, Doug attempts to work on his research project (a book about Eddie Parfitt, a poet who once stayed at Laurelfield). Files that might help him are locked in the attic, which Gracie tenaciously guards, as she objects to Doug's probing into the past. When Bruce's son and daughter-in-law also move into the carriage house, the angst and secrets grow. As readers move through the suspenseful, amusing and slightly crazy story--written in reverse chronology--they'll understand the many intricate moves each character has made, until the full story is unveiled in the prologue at the end. Similar to the way an M.C. Escher drawing seems simultaneously nonsensical and rational, Makkai's novel will keep readers on edge until the last piece of the puzzle drops into place and the whole brilliant picture can be seen at once, sharp and clear. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Long-held family secrets lead readers through a literary house of mirrors--from the author of The Borrower.

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780525426684

The Walk Home

by Rachel Seiffert

There are stories that scream and stories that whimper. Rachel Seiffert's The Walk Home somehow does both and neither--a mostly quiet narrative punctuated by moments of unrest. Set in the years following the Irish Troubles, the novel moves among three generations: Brenda, a middle-aged grandmother, and her brother Eric, the family's black sheep; Brenda's son Graham, who married Lindsey in the wake of an unexpected pregnancy; and Stevie, Lindsey and Graham's only son, whose childhood plays out amidst family tensions rising toward the boiling point.

Though the events unfold in Scotland, the family's Irish heritage simmers beneath the surface. When Eric, Graham's long-ostracized uncle, begins to discuss his biblical artwork with Lindsey, her initial response is tight-lipped. Slowly, Seiffert reveals that there are certain topics that are as explosive as bombs in this fictional world: religion, the past, the brutality of previous generations. Even without a full knowledge of this period, a reader will find enough breadcrumbs to follow. Seiffert's contextual hints are subtle, best detected in her characters: Lindsey's depression belies her disgust at the way old patterns replay, generation after generation, leaving familial fissures in their wake; Stevie's wary interactions with neighborhood boys prove his canniness is evolutionary, protecting him against foes that might attack at the sight of a symbolic patch sewn on his jeans or the mention of a last name. In the low-income setting, allegiances are built on dead relatives and everlasting grudges. For a novel so quiet and spare, The Walk Home's aftershock is formidable and eerie, akin to the pause after a moment of startling violence. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

Discover: A fractured family of Irish émigrés in Scotland reckoning with the impact of the Troubles, from the author of The Dark Room.

Pantheon Books, $25.95, hardcover, 9780307908810

Last Stories and Other Stories

by William T. Vollmann

Along with David Foster Wallace, William T. Vollmann is one of the most challenging writers of our time. Prolific and idiosyncratic, his many books have been voluminous, strange and award-winning--Europe Central, a novel about violence in the 20th century, won the National Book Award. In his "To the Reader" preface to this lengthy collection of 32 stories, he tells us this is his "final book." Is it?

Entering into the world of a Vollmann story is like looking at an off-putting, shocking and discomforting photograph by Joel-Peter Witkin; both artists draw heavily upon erotica, dreams, hallucinations, violence and death. The collection is organized geographically--Sarajevo, Trieste, Veracruz, Lillehammer--all places Vollmann lived. The stories have an eerie ethnographic feel and ably capture what he experienced in each city. While these works may deal with ghosts, vampires or monsters, they are rooted in a place and the myths, legends, languages that surround it (many of the stories are heavily footnoted). The narratives themselves are interesting, but what's more intriguing is the philosophical mood each conjures, their meditations on existence and perception behind a "wall of ill." Last Stories might be read as an expansive bildungsroman, 30 years of semiautobiographical visions from an exotic writer's mind.

For readers who have felt a bit intimidated by Vollmann's oeuvre, beginning at the end with this collection of smaller bites might be wise. A story here and a story there and before you know it, you'll be a fan. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Some of the oddest, most curious stories you'll ever read from one of our era's most unusual writers.

Viking, $36, hardcover, 9780670015979

The Girls from Corona del Mar

by Rufi Thorpe

Mia, the adult narrator The Girls from Corona del Mar, and Lorrie Ann are inseparable adolescent buddies in a middle-class Southern California coastal town. Mia's mother drinks, her father has run off to San Francisco, and she aborts a pregnancy at age 15 with Lorrie Ann's help. Considering Lorrie Ann's kindhearted beauty and seemingly solid, close family, Mia decides, "I was the bad one."

But then life gets in the way of friendship, as it so often does. Lorrie Ann becomes pregnant, marries the simple but stable father and has a difficult childbirth that yields a son stricken with cerebral palsy. Mia wins a scholarship to Yale, develops her talent for classical languages and falls in love with a scholar with whom she travels to Istanbul to co-translate cuneiform poetry. The girlfriends halfheartedly maintain contact with occasional Skype calls, but Lorrie Ann's unraveling life is a distant background noise to Mia's happiness--until Lorrie Ann shows up in Istanbul barefoot, emaciated and addicted to heroin.

In this debut novel, Rufi Thorpe dives deep into the tangled, sometimes tenuous bonds of friendship. The Girls from Corona del Mar fearlessly addresses the difficult decisions many women face (regarding abortion, marriage, child-rearing, professional success and physical self-abuse) while recognizing that these are often more about fate than choice. Eventually, Mia accepts that making choices is frequently just doing the best one can with what life delivers. It is a testament to the nuance of Thorpe's fine treatment of her characters and their friendship that we come to the same conclusion. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The intricate lifelong friendship between two women and the difficulty of holding it together when everything is falling apart.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780385351966

Land of Love and Drowning

by Tiphanie Yanique

Tiphanie Yanique (How to Escape from a Leper Colony) constructs a wide and magical world spanning three generations on the island of St. Thomas in Land of Love and Drowning. In the early 1900s, as the Danish Virgin Islands are poised to transfer to U.S. rule, Owen Arthur Bradshaw divides his love between his wife, Antoinette, who is beautiful but a reluctant mother; his daughter Eeona, still more lovely and also inveterately jealous; and Rebekah, an obeah (sorceress) married to another man. Antoinette gives Owen one more daughter, Annette, just as Rebekah gives him a son, Jacob Esau. The three children grow up relating to one another in unusual ways. War and American influence broaden their world somewhat, and the forces of nature and island magic both influence and are influenced by the disparate forces that are Eeona, Annette and Jacob Esau.

The story begins with Owen Arthur and his women, then follows his children's and his grandchildren's lives. Perspective shifts among the voices of the three children, but Annette, who grows up to be a historian, speaks the loudest. Her island patois persists even as Eeona nags her to "use proper English." As she writes, "is just a story I telling, but put it in your glass and drink it."

The compelling history of the U.S. Virgin Islands as told through this family's intimacies is multiethnic, colorful and vital. Yanique's diverse characters become doctors, architects, teachers, parents, lovers and fighters; their collective story is haunting and exquisite, told with grace, vibrancy and magic. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Ghosts, curses, blessings, loves, births, deaths and family in a lush Caribbean setting.

Riverhead Books, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594488337

The Confessions of Frances Godwin

by Robert Hellenga

The Confessions of Frances Godwin is told in the end-of-life recollections of widow and retired high-school Latin teacher Frances Godwin. She narrates her story in a no-nonsense, practical Midwest voice, yet faced with death and loss, she mostly wants to understand the spiritual value of her life. Despite growing up in a strong Polish Catholic farm family in Illinois under a matriarch who believed that homemade pierogi and a full church confession were central to living a good life, Frances strayed from the church and fell in love with her Shakespeare professor, Paul. While attending a postgraduate Latin seminar in Rome, she met up with him and soon became pregnant with their daughter, Stella--all before Paul divorced his wife and finally married Frances. Despite Paul's good humor, Frances never quite shakes the nagging guilt over her adultery and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. When a grown Stella takes up with a thuggish ex-con and Paul develops aggressive lung cancer, Frances finds herself racking up more sins, guilt and remorse to protect her family.

The complex but homespun Frances, who genuinely wants to understand her life and live her last years well, carries the work. Like Robert Hellenga's previous novels The Fall of a Sparrow and The Sixteen Pleasures, this story is based in the heart of the Midwest with significant interludes in the ancient cities of Italy. He even throws in an imagined dialogue between Frances and an irreverent God and somehow makes it work. Although the story ranges wide, The Confessions of Frances Godwin is firmly rooted in the culture and values of Hellenga's perfectly rendered Midwest. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With open eyes and hope for redemption, a Midwestern widow reflects on her life of good intentions and of disappointments.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620405499

The Awakening of Miss Prim

by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

Prudencia Prim has always prided herself on her orderly mind. A librarian with several advanced degrees, she has made a career out of organizing both thoughts and texts. But when she takes a position as a private librarian in the French village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she encounters a group of eccentric townspeople who challenge her views on literature, religion and even love.

Adjusting to her new situation, Miss Prim (who lives up to both her names) finds herself in a constant state of confusion. Her employer (known only as the Man in the Wingchair) and his fellow townspeople are kind and hospitable, but Miss Prim is nonplussed by her employer's penchant for teaching his pupils Virgil and spending time with monks, and mortified when the ladies of the village calmly offer to find her a husband.

San Ireneo is a modern-day utopia of sorts, a colony of voluntary exiles who have withdrawn from the modern bustle to build a quiet, intellectual communal life. Although Miss Prim (nor, likely, readers) doesn't entirely agree with the village's mores, watching her puzzle over each new idea is both enlightening and amusing. Her conversations with her employer's mother and the gradual revelation of his family history add depth to the man's character and make the novel's conclusion more satisfying.

As light and sweet as the homemade pastries that feature prominently in its pages, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming fable about the beauty of changing one's mind. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A charming fable about a fastidious librarian whose ideas are challenged by unconventional French townspeople.

Atria, $15, paperback, 9781476734248

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Queen of the Tearling

by Erika Johansen

Raised in solitude by a trusted couple, Kelsea Raleigh always knew she'd take her deceased mother's place as Queen of the Tearling. When Lazarus, a Queen's Guard, collects her on her 19th birthday, he warns Kelsea that every Tearling queen lives with a target on her back; proof comes when the group is attacked on their journey to the capital.

Kelsea and Lazarus are half-rescued, half-kidnapped by the Fetch, a masked outlaw who releases them only after assuring himself of Kelsea's worthiness as a queen. Although drawn to the bandit, Kelsea soon has other problems: her uncle, the Regent, would rather see her dead than lose control of the throne, and one of her trusted guards may be a traitor. Worse still, she learns that her mother brokered peace with the Red Queen, a sorceress and the evil ruler of Mortmesne, by offering slaves selected at random from the general population. Kelsea's only hope lies in the mysterious power of two sapphire necklaces passed down through her family, if she can learn to control them. In the fires of treachery, terror and mortal peril, Kelsea must forge herself into her people's sword and shield.

Debut novelist Erika Johansen eschews a typically futuristic dystopia in favor of a feudal society. The return of serfdom and slavery in a world whose founder intended to create a utopia speaks to the darker side of human nature, but Kelsea's naïve bravery and love for her people give hope to the optimist in all of us. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A blend of high fantasy and dystopia about a young queen in perilous times.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062290366


When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation

by François Furstenberg

The 1790s were a pivotal time for the new United States of America. The fledgling nation's ally, France, was in revolutionary turmoil, while relations with England remained tense. Many French refugees--particularly the upper class--ended up in Philadelphia. More than 10% of the city's residents in the early 1790s were French, including five liberal reformers who'd been chased out of Paris by the mobs: Talleyrand (Napoleon's future foreign minister), the Duc de Liancourt (former president of the National Constituent Assembly), the Vicomte de Noailles (who served alongside Lafayette in the American Revolution), the Comte de Volney (a friend of Jefferson) and Moreau de Saint-Méry (who owned an influential bookstore).

The few years they each spent in Philadelphia saw major shifts in American foreign policy--including the signing of the Jay Treaty and the Alien and Sedition Acts--and foreshadowed the coming Louisiana Purchase. As the five men moved among Philadelphia society and traveled through the backwoods of the country, they observed a nation on the brink of dramatic expansion.

While the subtitle is slightly overstated, the broad scope of When the United States Spoke French is fascinating. Concerning himself with much more than just the five émigrés, history professor François Furstenberg (In the Name of the Father) details the adolescent identity crisis of an emerging nation, and how the United States would eventually establish itself as a power to rival England and France. History buffs are bound to appreciate the interconnectedness of this era. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A history of the early U.S., as seen through the eyes of five French émigrés.

Penguin Press, $36, hardcover, 9781594204418

Travel Literature

Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies

by Alastair Bonnett

In Unruly Places, social-geography professor Alastair Bonnett (What Is Geography?; How to Argue) turns our explored, explained and digested world into unmapped possibilities. Bonnett opens the book with a promise to take readers to 47 of the world's most remarkable places, highlighting destinations both unusual and little-known, while examining what drives people to travel.

From the remains of places that no longer exist, to islands charted on maps (though they never actually existed), to fashionably and consciously constructed destinations of our present, Bonnett has organized the book in a way that mimics human exploration. Unruly Places is best enjoyed from start to finish, but true to the spirit of exploration, readers may begin at any point. For those who engage linearly, Bonnett develops a chronological story of exploration and colonization up to the present day, tying one destination to the next with unifying themes (loss, death and independence, to name a few).

Political, cultural and physical landscapes shape our understanding of geography. Our sense of place continues to be, in many ways, a projection of our desires, hopes and fears. Borders shift, names change, histories are forgotten, construction sites appear overnight, natural spaces are "museumified." In each case, the choices we make about our environments provide a cultural lens through which we interpret the world. Bonnett proposes that our need to explore "off the map" is our attempt to excise a shared emptiness, a hollow and homogenized sense of place in a world that is increasingly accessible and documented. --Justus Joseph, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: An inspiring compendium of unusual destinations that will ignite your wanderlust.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 9780544101579

Children's & Young Adult

The Shadow Hero

by Gene Luen Yang, illus. by Sonny Liew

Gene Luen Yang (Boxers & Saints) and artist Sonny Liew (Malinky Robot) imagine a captivating origin story for the Green Turtle, a character created by Chu Hing during the Golden Age of American comics.

Hank works in his father's grocery while his mother serves as a housekeeper and sometime chauffeur for the Olsons. When a robber hijacks the Olsons' car with Hank's mother at the wheel, she is saved by a superhero, and decides Hank should become one, too. Humor abounds as she tries making him a costume, pushing him into a chemical spill and arranging for his martial arts lessons. At the same time, Yang exposes the corrupt underbelly of Chinatown's business world. Yang threads together the plot lines when Hank (as aspiring superhero) attempts to save a woman from some shady characters and, in a comic twist, she winds up saving Hank. Her connection to the underworld brings the Green Turtle face to face with the head of the Chinese mafia.

Through this very human hero and his green turtle alter ego, Yang and Liew debate cowardice versus bravery, vulnerability versus strength, disdain versus compassion. Yang also ties in the impact of the collapse of the Ch'ing Dynasty and the ensuing chaos resulting in immigration to the U.S. His smart, funny afterword lays out the facts and speculations, and explains the subtler shadings of the "origin" story. The audience will extend beyond comics fans, to those who enjoy noir and good old-fashioned storytelling anchored by historical events. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An "origin story" for the Green Tortoise, created during the Golden Age of American comics by one of the first Asian-American comics artists.

First Second/Roaring Brook, $17.99, paperback, 176p., ages 12-up, 9781596436978

Chukfi Rabbit's Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale

by Greg Rodgers, illus. by Leslie Stall Widener

Greg Rodgers's (One Dark Night in Oklahoma) trickster tale delivers an entertaining life lesson about good neighborly behavior with a large helping of humor.

He sets the scene with a storyteller's inflection: "Down here in Choctaw Country most folks'll tell you that Chukfi Rabbit is lay-zeeee." Leslie Stall Widener's (Why Would Anyone Wear That?) watercolors enhance the protagonist's predominant characteristic, as he naps among the dandelions, wearing a smart purple jacket. Folks know to watch their food when Chukfi is near: "Blink once and it'll all be gone." When Ms. Shukata Possum asks Chukfi to help her build a new house, he declines--until Ms. Shukata promises "dinner with fresh homemade butter for everyone who helps." Widener depicts a charming cast of helpers and the mouthwatering meal that awaits as their reward, including tanchi labona ("a Choctaw kind of corn stew"). Rodgers revels in the sounds of the industrious team: Kinta Beaver saw-saw-sawing and Nita Bear using Luksi Turtle's hard shell for her ham-ham-hammering. Chukfi, meanwhile, claims he's sick, and sneaks pawfuls of the tub of homemade butter in the coldwater spring. He magically heals after the house is completed, and magnanimous Ms. Shukata invites him to dine anyway. With the hostess's discovery of the missing butter, Chukfi plants evidence to cast suspicion on poor Nita Bear!

Rodgers adds originality to the classic trickster structure through his onomatopoeic sounds of the animals working and dining, as well as Choctaw names for the characters, while Widener's expressions on the animals convey their camaraderie--as well as Chukfi's mischievous ways. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A charming Choctaw trickster tale that delivers a life lesson with a large helping of humor.

Cinco Puntos, dist. by Consortium, $16.95, hardcover, ages 5-10, 9781935955269

Minnie & Moo: Hooves of Fire

by Denys Cazet

Children who fell for Minnie and Moo's unusual brand of humor (in their beginning reader adventures) will enjoy this chapter book episode, in which the bovine best buddies throw a talent show.

Moo came up with the idea for the First Annual Hoot, Holler and Moo Talent Festival to raise money so that Mr. and Mrs. Farmer could make a down payment on a new tractor. Denys Cazet's drawings before the title page and on the table of contents page show overviews of Red Tractor Farm plus the preparations being made for the show, and the opening scene depicts the cast of characters. Elvis, who introduces himself as "the rooster with the voice that's so melodious, it makes the sun come up every morning," thinks so highly of himself that he continually tries to grab the mic. Among the other contestants are Zeke and Zack, "Siamese turkeys" born joined at the beak; Don Juan del Toro, a "bravissimo" bull who dances to the "Hooves of Fire" named in the title; Porkus, a porcine blues singer and guitarist; and a couple of suspicious coyote magicians who--voila!--make the money box with the ticket proceeds disappear.

A prank involving rolling Porta Potties, and Minnie's suggestion that the sheep use the word "gluteus maximus" as a substitute rhyme for "mutt" ("What's [that]?... A Roman gladiator," one sheep asks) keep the tone light, and Elvis gets a chance to redeem himself when he helps apprehend the thieves. A fun diversion for budding chapter book readers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A chapter book adventure starring the inimitable bovine buddies as they organize a talent show--with plenty of challenges.

Creston, dist. by PGW, $15.95, hardcover, 208p., ages 7-9, 9781939547088

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