Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 10, 2015

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

From My Shelf

After the Deluge

One minute we were posing for photos with Minnie Mouse; the next moment we returned home from Disney World to find two feet of water due to a burst pipe. We had to leave the house for five weeks so the entire first floor could be gutted.

We were lucky. My parents have extra room so we didn't have to wedge my family of four into a single motel room. The downside? They spoil their grandkids at every turn and let them eat chocolate-covered donuts. And Fox News is always on full blast.

Which is why reading Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic (Gallery Books, paperback, $15) was a lifesaver in my attempts to avoid sugar-crazed children and the latest political debate playing out on TV. I could have been crying over a frustrating situation; instead, I was laughing maniacally at Wilder-Taylor's (Naptime Is the New Happy Hour) hilarious take on modern-day parenting. I was cackling so loudly at her description of wearing the same yoga pants for several days (without doing any yoga) and her side-splitting take-down of parents who insist their children are "highly gifted" that I nearly drowned out O'Reilly. Hers is a voice that cuts through all of the pressure of parenting (the healthy snacks! the competitive fundraising!) and says, "Everybody chill! And eat a sleeve of Thin Mints if you need to."

In this book, Wilder-Taylor smashes the impossible ideal of the perky mommy who has boundless energy to make educational crafts with her kids while still squeezing in her own workout. Wilder-Taylor's genuineness provides relief as she admits that the reality of parenting, though obviously profound, is equally exhausting.

As I tried in vain to prevent my mother from dispensing yet another donut to my children and as I desperately missed my privacy, I thought, "What would Stefanie Wilder-Taylor do?" I calmed the heck down and ate one myself. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

The Writer's Life

Jon Ronson: Shaming and Power

photo: Emli Bendixen

Much has been made over the potential of the Internet to empower citizens, giving a voice to those who otherwise might not be heard. That's the positive side. There's also the empowerment of the angry mob--if you're judged to be out of line, say the wrong thing, tweet the ill-considered joke--you may find yourself without a job, without friends, and with a long list of enemies working diligently to scare you into submission. Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed (our review is below) is an engrossing account of people who have had this experience, and it digs deep into some of the psychology that fuels this behavior and the consequences for people on both sides of the shaming.

Ronson is a Welsh journalist, author, documentary filmmaker and radio presenter, whose books include Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry and The Men Who Stare at Goats

Shaming and online abuse have been attracting attention lately--your book, of course, but also stories about how bad Twitter is at dealing with trolling; the case of a man caught profiting from blackmailing women who's now is trying to force Google to remove links to stories about him; Keith Olbermann being suspended for a week for a snarky tweet, which led to calls for his firing; the Brian Williams fiasco and so on. What's going on? Are we reaching critical mass?

And there's Monica Lewinsky's great TED talk, too. I think with social media, we've sleepwalked into creating for ourselves a surveillance society. We're meting out devastating punishments for the tiniest transgressions. And we're just beginning to realize this can't go on. Especially because we're punishing people with the thing we're most afraid might happen to us--a public shaming followed by a casting out into the wilderness. As I said to one shamed person, "What happened to you is my worst nightmare." And he replied, "Yeah. It was mine, too." I just came back from a U.K. book tour, and at one signing a child therapist told me that every child she sees these days was damaged because of something that happened on social media. I hope my book might help to change things. I've worked hard to make readers really feel the terror. With my book I'm saying, "Here are the people we destroyed. Do we want to keep doing it?"

How does it happen that we've created this surveillance society? It's as if we have 1984 and Brave New World genetically programmed. I think your book is a wake up call, but I wonder if the anger people feel can be tempered, when semi-anonymous retribution is always a tweet away.

We hate the surveillance societies represented in Brave New World and 1984, and we're still creating one for ourselves! Which is why I'm convinced we aren't thinking it through. And as soon as we start thinking it through, we'll start being kinder and more compassionate and less likely to tear our fellow humans apart for nothing. I hope that my book, and Monica Lewinsky's brilliant TED talk, can start a bit of a conversation... and maybe in the weeks and months to come people will just begin to notice that they haven't destroyed anyone in a while....

How do we determine where the line is between public shaming and abuse?

I think a well-meaning public shaming by mainstream people like us can be more devastating to the shamed person than abuse. Which is one reason why my book is against many righteous shamings too. Look at Justine Sacco [whose tweets sent on a trip to South Africa caused a reaction that ruined her life]. A smattering of violent trolls piled into her, but trolls didn't destroy her. Nice people like us did. If you're attacked by trolls, people will be sympathetic to you. And that really helps. When you're attacked by everyone--like Justine was--it's devastating. It's profoundly traumatizing. And she didn't deserve it.

I asked a question recently of Jennifer Jacquet, for her book Is Shame Necessary?, in which she writes about the limits of shaming, citing as an example the criminals forced by judges to wear shirts announcing their crimes to the public, which many people feel is dehumanizing. However, there's a growing sentiment in the United States that the justice system is failing everyone except the wealthy. How can shame be applied in a way that causes change but doesn't cross the line into a metaphorical public flogging?

I'm a fan of the site Everyday Sexism. Women write in with stories about whatever sexist comment was thrown at them that day. There's a vast amount of misogyny out there and Everyday Sexism highlights it in a way that should bring about change. And the sexist is never--to my knowledge--named and shamed. It points out the problem without pillorying anyone. Isn't that lovely? Same with the "I Can't Breathe" protests organized on social media in the aftermath of the death of Eric Garner. By the way, it's funny you should mention the judges forcing criminals to wear placards. In the book I meet one of these judges and I meet criminals forced to walk up and down with the placards. My conclusion is that the kind of social media shaming we mete out is worse than that. When you're holding a placard, passers-by yell out supportive things. "It's going to be okay." When you're being destroyed on social media, nobody yells out anything supportive. We're too frightening. Almost nobody was defending Justine Sacco. Now that we hold the power, it's incumbent upon us to become less monstrous. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Book Candy

Spring Cleaning Your Bookshelf

'Tis the season: Bustle shared the "7 emotional stages of spring cleaning your bookshelf, because the time has come."


Joseph Connolly, author of Style, chose his top 10 books about style for the Guardian, noting that this "is a necessarily random scattering of books that delve really not that deeply into the shallowness of it all."


Video of the Day: Epic Reads presents Book Nerd Problems: Walking While Reading.


Buzzfeed offered "28 signs you were a total bookworm as a kid."


Mental Floss featured "18 retro reviews of children's books from the New York Public Library."

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Invisible Bridge

In Julie Orringer's 2010 novel, The Invisible Bridge (Vintage Contemporaries), a Hungarian-Jewish student named Andras Lévi arrives in Paris in 1937 to study architecture and deliver a mysterious letter. As Europe drives ever closer to the outbreak of World War II, Andras studies at the École Spéciale d'Architecture, works in a theater and falls for Klara, a Hungarian ballet instructor with a daughter and a dark past. Once war begins, the pair must flee back to Hungary, and soon their lives descend into horror.

"We sell The Invisible Bridge over and over again," said Valerie Koehler, the owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex. "There's intrigue, family drama and the Eastern European look at World War II." --Alex Mutter

Book Review


Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes: Stories

by Per Petterson, trans. by Don Bartlett

American fans of Norwegian author Per Petterson's novels, like Out Stealing Horses and To Siberia, will be delighted that Graywolf Press has decided to publish the collection Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes, the book that marked Petterson's literary debut in 1987. These spare, outwardly simple stories offer an early glimpse of the psychological acuity that's distinguished his entire body of work.

Ashes comprises 10 stories set in Oslo in the early 1960s, each portraying an episode in the life of young Arvid Jensen, the protagonist (as an adult) of Petterson's 2010 novel, I Curse the River of Time. Arvid lives in a row house with his family: his father, a shoe factory worker turned toothbrush assembler; his mother, a Dane who cleans a music school at night; and an older sister.

If there's a theme to the collection, it's Arvid's loss of illusions, as in the affecting tale "Like a Tiger in a Cage," where he first senses the inevitability of time's passage, noticing that "it was time that had happened" when he compares a photograph of his mother before his birth to her appearance in the present. "The Black Car," which deals with the unexpected death of Arvid's grandfather, is a complex meditation on the reality of generational succession.

As in his novels, Petterson's prose is uncluttered, evoking comparisons to Raymond Carver, to whom he's acknowledged his literary debt. Though his novels inevitably are more complex, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes possesses all the qualities that make Per Petterson's larger works so impressive. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Per Petterson tells 10 brief stories about the life of a boy in 1960s Oslo.

Graywolf Press, $14, paperback, 9781555977009

Mystery & Thriller

Bridges Burned: A Zoe Chambers Mystery

by Annette Dashofy

Zoe Chambers is a paramedic and deputy coroner who works hard "to find answers for the dead" in Vance Township, a tight-knit Pennsylvania farm community. In her first two books of the series, Circle of Influence and Lost Legacy, Zoe tracked the killer of a prominent town board member and investigated the suicide of a local farmer. In book three, Bridges Burned, Zoe stops a man from re-entering his burning house in an attempt to save his wife. When the raging fire proves fatal, Zoe empathizes with the homeless, unemployed widower, Holt Farabee, and his 10-year-old daughter, Maddie. She offers lodging to the pair in the dilapidated 1850s farmhouse she shares with her aging, infirm landlady. In exchange, Holt, who has handyman skills, agrees to do odd jobs.

Zoe soon forges a bond with Holt and identifies with Maddie--Zoe lost a parent, her father, when she, too, was a young girl. But when police chief Pete Adams--a man whom Zoe has kept at a romantic arm's length for years--learns of the living arrangement, he's not pleased, as his investigation is leading to suspicions about the deadly fire and Holt's past. When Pete tries to caution Zoe, she refuses to listen. Will Zoe's stubbornness lead to further peril?

Small-town dynamics color a suspenseful, well-plotted story rife with red herrings, but it's likable heroine Zoe--her vulnerabilities and deepening challenges--who makes this another winning entry in Annette Dashofy's series. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: The third in a mystery series centered on a paramedic/deputy coroner--this time swept up in a fatal fire investigation.

Henery Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781941962398


American Warlord: A True Story

by Johnny Dwyer

The story of Chucky Taylor is a grisly study in nature versus nurture. Chucky's future was not necessarily bright--he was raised by his Trinidadian-American mother in Orlando until age 17, in Pine Hills, nicknamed "Crime Hills," a neighborhood more like an inner city than a suburb. Chucky was a troubled teen whose defiance landed him in a disciplinary high school, until a phone call from his estranged father, Liberian rebel Charles Taylor, turned Chucky's slow downward spiral into a fiery tailspin.

The Taylors reunited in the midst of Liberia's 1990s civil war. Chucky visited his father's stronghold in the Liberian countryside, where Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia battled other rebel groups for control of the country. Chucky returned to Orlando briefly before a felony gun charge forced him to flee back to Liberia.

Charles Taylor's ascent to the presidency brought Chucky immense power. He was appointed leader of the Anti-Terrorist Unit, a paramilitary brigade and instrument of state terror. Chucky devolved into an unstable drug addict who casually inflicted the worst tortures imaginable on innocent people. He was finally brought to justice in 2009, six years after his father's downfall, when he was sentenced to 97 years in prison.

American Warlord, journalist Johnny Dwyer's first book, skillfully untangles the previously obscure threads of Chucky Taylor's life with a treasure trove of original reporting. Dwyer's fluid prose paints the compelling portrait of a troubled young American made monstrous by his own demons and his father's demonic influence. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The tragic story of the American son of Liberian president and war criminal Charles Taylor.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 9780307273482

Social Science

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

by Jon Ronson

Social media users have real power to judge and punish strangers. They have ended careers, destroyed reputations, burned close relationships and threatened the physical safety of their targets.

At first, journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test) thought that "the renaissance in public shaming was a good thing." He describes the bliss of feeling supported and vindicated as a participant in online attacks, part of a new "democratization of justice." He began to research public shaming in the U.S. and U.K., and over the course of three years, his perspective shifted and expanded. In So You've Been Publicly Shamed, he examines public shamings of the past and in modern courts and prisons; the sketchy science behind "group madness" and the Stanford Prison Experiment; the effects of various shamings on specific victims and perpetrators and their attempts to resist and recover from it. He repeatedly shows how shamers act from a sense that they are serving justice, maintaining the feeling of their own goodness and humanity by dehumanizing their targets. As always, public shaming is used to enforce compliance with community standards, and in response, individuals begin to censor themselves. "We see ourselves as nonconformist," Ronson writes, "but I think all of this is creating a more conformist, conservative age."

Ronson leavens his serious material with humor as he leads the reader through his investigations and developing thoughts. Although his focus is on social media, what he discovers is relevant to all of human society. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A humorous and disturbing investigation of public shaming in the modern world.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594487132


If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran

by Carla Power

When journalist Carla Power sat down in a café with Islamic scholar Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi to study the Quran, she confessed that, despite her degree in Middle Eastern studies, she had never read it. He replied, "Most Muslims haven't read it either."

Power and Akram first met over a research project at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Power is a liberal secular American with a Jewish mother; she grew up in St. Louis and various cities in the Middle East. Akram grew up in rural northern India, and has lived most of his adult life in the U.K. Twenty years after their first meeting, Power proposed a project that would become If the Oceans Were Ink: to study and discuss the Quran with Akram for a year, to understand its influence on the world and in his life, and to challenge what she calls her own post-Enlightenment "fundamentalist beliefs."

Akram is a conservative who promotes education for women, and has written an unpublished 40-volume biographical dictionary of 9,000 Muslim women scholars. He teaches at madrasas and at Oxford, and values critical creative thinking rooted in the study of original texts. Power visits his home village, gets to know his family in Oxford, sleeps over at a mosque during Ramadan and reports on the family's umra pilgrimage. Their conversations break down stereotypes and illuminate fewer differences than she expected. Power displays the diversity and intellectual richness of the practicing Muslim world, and shows how much we have to gain from mutual understanding. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A year of friendly and challenging conversations over the Quran between a liberal Western journalist and a conservative Islamic scholar.

Holt, $19, paperback, 9780805098198


Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science--And the World

by Rachel Swaby

When freelance journalist Rachel Swaby (Wired, Runner's World) read a New York Times obituary about rocket scientist Yvonne Brill that began, "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off to raise three children," she realized how skewed coverage was for women in science, where accomplishments are too often framed in the context of domesticity and marital status. Swaby's response is Headstrong, compact profiles of 52 women who made critical contributions to science and technology.

She describes how Rachel Carson's research into environmental toxins became the driving force behind the Environmental Protection Agency; how female doctors (Helen Taussig) founded the field of pediatric cardiology and developed a test for assessing newborns (Virginia Apgar); how female scientists deduced the orbital theory of electrons (Maria Goeppert Mayer), nuclear fission (Lise Meitner) and the helical structure of DNA (Rosalind Franklin) and coaxed added payloads from chemical propulsion systems (Brill). And actress Hedy Lamarr co-invented a secret communication system that would develop into wireless communications.

Swaby highlights the obstacles these women faced in dealing with their male counterparts, often working for peanuts to stay in the game, and the difficulties they continue to confront in a world where only 15% of women major in the sciences, even though in high school, girls take as many math and science courses as boys.

"If we treat women equally as scientists," writes Swaby, "we can introduce a new generation of chemists, cardiologists, mathematicians while revealing a whole hidden history." What a gift this would be for the next generation. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Fifty-two inspiring profiles of women who made important contributions to science, technology, engineering and medicine.

Broadway Books, $16, paperback, 9780553446791

Nature & Environment

Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature

by Nick Davies

Nick Davies (Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats), professor of behavioral ecology at Cambridge, knows that science today is more likely to depend on DNA analysis than stomping about in a field with a notebook. However, when Davies decided to study the cuckoo bird, he knew more traditional methods were in order, and so he observed wild cuckoos in a marshy area known as Wicken Fen.

In England, the beginning of spring is marked by the first call of the cuckoo bird. Newly returned from wintering in Africa, the cuckoos and other migratory species set about the business of reproduction, but while the other birds build their nests and raise their young, the cuckoo cheats. It lays its eggs in the nests of other species, and when the cuckoo chick hatches, it ejects the hosts' eggs or hatchlings. Then, as an only child, the chick ensures that the host parents will lavish all their attention on it, and the con is complete. Just how exactly does the cuckoo get away with it?

Davies's obvious adoration for his feathered subjects can hook even the most casual of readers, whether or not experimental methodology usually grabs their attention. Written in a series of essays, each addressing a different facet of the cuckoo's life or exploring a question about the bird's behavior, the account skillfully pulls together poetry and lore about the cuckoo, scientific theories from ancient history to modernity and Davies's own experiments and conclusions. Tidy as a woven nest and filled with genuine love for the English countryside, Davies's exposé of the bird world's trickiest customer will astound. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Naturalist Nick Davies's search for answers to age-old questions about the parasitic cuckoo bird, one of nature's greatest curiosities.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 9781620409527


Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets

by Steve Kettman

In the 2012 movie Trouble with the Curve, Clint Eastwood played Gus Lobel, a worn-out, grizzled baseball scout at the end of his career, bouncing from sandlot to sandlot looking for the next hotshot arm. Gus is as far from Sandy Alderson, the general manager of the New York Mets, as one can get and still be in the ballpark. In Baseball Maverick, Steve Kettmann--former San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter and ghostwriter of Jose Canseco's autobiography, Juiced--describes Alderson's build-from-the-farm approach as a "tightly run, analytically efficient, organized system for developing minor-league talent." A Vietnam Marine vet and lawyer from Harvard, Alderson was hired in 1981 by the Oakland A's when the Haas family bought the team and wanted a more businesslike approach to running the franchise.

Alderson transformed the lowly A's into a powerhouse of the '80s and '90s as he mentored his successor Billy Beane to be the sabermetric miracle man made famous in Moneyball. For nearly half his book, Kettmann explores whether that same low-key, analytical, business-focused approach can work in the biggest baseball market in the world with a Mets team that began as a laughingstock in 1962, had several superlative years (1969 and 1986) but had many more miserable seasons and September collapses. Now, with "a critical mass of talent," 2015 is the do-or-die season for Alderson and the Mets: "It's a car with some power under the hood: it's time to do some driving." Baseball Maverick is not so much about Sandy Alderson as it is a savvy story about the business side of baseball--a side that sometimes seems to be doing all the driving. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A seasoned sportswriter's take on the unconventional general manager of the New York Mets and the business side of baseball.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802119988


The Yellow Door

by Amy Uyematsu

Yellow is the derogatory term often used to describe Asians and to represent cowardice, but it is celebrated as the color of royalty, wealth and prestige in Asian cultures. Yellow is also the running theme of Amy Uyematsu's collection of prose poetry, The Yellow Door, which contrasts her experiences as a Christian-raised Sansei (third-generation) Japanese American with the cultural traditions of her Buddhist heritage. The first piece, "Riding the Yellow Dragon," celebrates yellow in all its Asian glory; later pieces examine the alienation and insecurity of her Asian American duality through the metaphor of a dance. She writes in "Carnival Nights in the New Country" of her visit to Japan's Buddhist Obon Festival, hovering on the periphery as a spectator of her own cultural heritage: "Nobody knows me here and I feel safe..../ I am a stranger here only by accident/ of two generations and grandfathers/ who weren't firstborn sons."

Uyematsu (Stone Bow Prayer) touches upon the same alienation in "From Tatsuya to Little Willie G.--An Argument for Dark-Eyed Romeos," as a child asked to a dance by a white boy: "I can't forget that long night/ when everybody stares--/ the message so clear,/ till I'm mad at sweet Andy/ for ever asking." This racial tension appears again with "In Our Yellow Boats," where the endless horizon of azure seas upon which her grandfathers journeyed from Japan fades into the arid desert of a World War II internment camp, in a painful courtship of bitterness and acceptance over livelihoods lost and remade.

The Yellow Door reads like a prose-painted Hokusai woodblock that illustrates the pain of the immigrant experience, but it is also a celebratory dance of acceptance and courage in recognition of one's dual heritage. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: An insightful and compelling narrative captures the pain and joy of the Asian American experience.

Red Hen Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781597094306

Dark Sparkler

by Amber Tamblyn

Hollywood starlets have captivated audiences for decades, and so many have passed on before their time. In Dark Sparkler, a sizzling collection of star-studded poems, Amber Tamblyn (Bang Ditto)--an accomplished actress herself--writes hauntingly of Marilyn Monroe, Brittany Murphy, Sharon Tate, Jayne Mansfield and numerous others. She treats both big names and obscure with deserved gravitas, teasing apart authenticity from gossip, critiquing conventions of desire, unraveling presumptions of femininity, demonstrating agency in a subculture that often renders women as objects.

Tamblyn imagines a full life for child star Samantha Smith, killed in a plane crash at age 13. Barbara La Marr, the 1920s actress widely recognized as the most beautiful girl in the world until her death at 29, receives the phone number for the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Dynamic and poignant, Dark Sparkler poses this question from its outset: "When you find a skull in the woods,/ do you leave it alone because it disturbs you/ or do you leave it alone/ because of what's still living/ inside?"

Facing--and sometimes incorporating--provocative lines like, "I'm not interested in going out with a bang./ I'm interested in going out/ with your father," are peculiar and inspired pieces of original artwork by David Lynch, Marilyn Manson and others. Together they fashion a book glittering with jewels fallen from the silver screen. These poems aren't meant to titillate, however. Instead, Tamblyn employs an extended epilogue to grapple with her own role in the Hollywood pantheon, ultimately crafting in Dark Sparkler an empathetic coda for women whose limelight has suddenly and tragically burnt out. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Actress Amber Tamblyn's wistful collection of poems about famous young women in Hollywood whose lives were cut short.

Harper Perennial, $17.99, paperback, 9780062348166

Children's & Young Adult

The Island of Dr. Libris

by Chris Grabenstein

Literary heroes come alive, thanks to Billy Gillfoyle's imagination and some brilliant engineering on the part of the mysterious Dr. Libris, a worthy successor to the mastermind in Chris Grabenstein's novel Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.

Billy's parents are undergoing a trial separation, so Billy is spending the summer with his mother in a cabin belonging to Dr. Libris while his father stays in their New York apartment. With no TV and a cell phone that died when it fell from a tree, 12-year-old Billy peruses Dr. Libris's bookshelves, and he hears--and sees--the books' characters. The characters seem to be housed on the island, so Billy heads out there and is soon aided by Poseidon. The cast of characters grows as Billy's reading expands. Billy joins forces with Hercules (after helping him defeat Antaeus), Robin Hood and Maid Marian, and they best the Sheriff of Nottingham. One-page "Theta Project" notes penned by Dr. Libris let readers know more than Billy does about the professor's grand plans. When Billy brings neighbor Walter along to see if he can see and hear the characters, too, Billy plays right into Dr. Libris's plans.

The mash-up of stories results in some original twists. Walter suggests they read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland so Alice can give her shrinking potion to the Sheriff of Nottingham. And Billy borrows from H.G. Wells to try to rekindle what drew his parents together by sending them into the past. Though the plot grows pleasingly farfetched, Grabenstein grounds the novel in Billy's authentic emotions. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A clever mash-up of literary heroes thanks to a 12-year-old's imagination and the grand plans of mysterious Dr. Libris.

Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9780385388443

Spectacular Spots

by Susan Stockdale

What at first appears to be a book of simple rhymes and arresting acrylic paintings of spotted creatures turns out to be a fascinating nature study.

Susan Stockdale starts with something easily recognizable: a butterfly. But its "Eyespots" pattern (which potential predators mistake as the eyes of a larger creature) may not be so familiar: It belongs to the buckeye butterfly, found in the Caribbean, Mexico and southern U.S., according to Stockdale's endnotes. The author-artist continues to balance the familiar (ladybugs, chipmunks, cheetahs) and the unfamiliar (the Montezuma Quail, the nudibranch sea slug, the Helmeted Guineafowl), and to reveal unusual members of familiar species, such as the flamingo tongue snail. The carefully arranged juxtaposition of colors, patterns and angles speak to Stockdale's background as a textile designer. The black-and-white polka-dot back and cornflower-blue-spotted snout of a blue boxfish (native to the Indian and Pacific oceans) swimming downward through spotted sea plants, pick up on the coloring of the blue poison dart frog, moving upward in parallel on the opposite page. A double-page spread of a "charging" cheetah accentuates its speed, while a double-page image of "creeping slugs" shows off the colorful coral, sponges and anemones that provide its diet. Children will savor the image of an anaconda ("Spots on snakes") that fills an entire frame.

Endpapers that tease to a jaguar ("way up high") stalking a chipmunk ("on the ground"), a matching game of magnified spots to its animal, plus detailed notes about habitat and class (e.g., mammal, fish, insect, bird, etc.) make this a complete package. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A fascinating nature study of spotted creatures, with arresting acrylic paintings, disguised as a book of simple rhymes.

Peachtree, $15.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781561458172


by Jan Whiten, illus. by Sinéad Hanley

This tale of teamwork is spot-on for toddlers just discovering the world around them.

"One little chooky chick/ pulling at a worm./ Clucky cluck, worm's stuck./ What should chooky do?" The chartreuse-colored chick is soon joined by a rust-colored companion: "Two little chooky chicks pulling at a worm./ Huffy puff, worm's tough./ What should chookies do?" Jan Whiten varies the text just enough, with onomatopoeic words children love to say, and a few vocabulary stretchers (they form a "chooky queue"), always with illustrations to help. As the worm grows longer ("What's wrong? Worm's long") and the chooky chicks increase into a one-sided tug of war, a mystery unfolds. The chicks' wide eyes register surprise in Sinéad Hanley's double-page spreads of a rural scene. She makes an impressive debut, with a springtime palette, gently recurring patterns and screen printing that may put remind readers of Caldecott Honor artist Margaret Chodos-Irvine's work.

Juicy language ("Feathers fly, dusty squall./ Flap, flop--chooky sprawl!") builds to the climax, and the artwork reveals one last laugh for littlest book lovers, who will want to repeat this delectable rhyme over and over. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A tale of teamwork starring a band of irresistible chicks (with a whiff of a mystery), just right for toddlers.

Candlewick, $12.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 2-5, 9780763673277

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