Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 23, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Last-Minute Gift Books

We miss Jon Stewart (although we love Trevor Noah--and Born a Crime), but thanks to The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History by Chris Smith (Grand Central, $30), we can still get a Stewart fix, along with the usual suspects: John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, Asif Mandvi, Stephen Colbert and many others.

Dogs and cats--when they are goofy, perhaps even more when they're goofy, we love them. Goofiness is on full display in Lick Cats and Lick Dogs, photographed by Carli Davidson (Harper Design, $17.99). Following her successful Shake books, Davidson highlights more than 60 images of animals and their tongues; one guess as to which looks the more refined. But who cares about refinement? Love is what it's about, as seen in Unconditional: Older Dogs, Deeper Love by Jane Sobel Klonsky (National Geographic, $19.95). Ruby, a golden retriever, loves flying, fishing and riding in a sidecar. Adopted just before 9//11, she was a comfort to her owners during that tragic time. Ozzie, a large, strong Australian Kelpie-Shepherd, was a shelter dog who found a loving home with a cat and an owner who understood his need to roam (but always come home).

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home" --Bashō is quoted in Jim Dratfield's The Love of a Lab (Lyons Press, $19.95). With quotes ranging from Ethel Barrymore to Steve Jobs, and 100-plus photographs, it's a perfect gift for any dog lover.

Working dogs are the stars of Dogs Who Serve: Incredible Stories of Our Canine Military Heroes by Lisa Rogak (Thomas Dunne, $16). From basic training to active duty to "stand down," military canines, their handlers and their fellow soldiers are celebrated with stories and abundant images. Happy Holidays!

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

Charles Johnson: Practicing Art Without Limitation

photo: Lynette Huffman-Johnson

Charles Johnson is an artist, MacArthur fellow and professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle. A student of the late John Gardner, he has gone on to teach many other writers and has been hailed by James McBride as "one of America's greatest literary treasures." Johnson's body of work encompasses fiction, nonfiction, philosophy, cartooning and screenwriting. In 1990, he won the National Book Award for his novel Middle Passage, which has been adapted into a play, and in 2002 he received the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In his new book, The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling (Scribner), Johnson offers 40 years of lessons on writing, reading, publishing, critical theory and the creative process. Our review is below.

Why write a book about writing?

Around 2010, the poet Ethelbert Miller asked if he could interview me for a year. He asked me 400 questions on every subject you could imagine. He would put a title on my answers, which became kind of like essays. He put artwork with it, too. And after it was done, my agent placed all of it with Dzanc Books, which last year published a 672-page book called the Words and Wisdom of Charles Johnson, which is about everything--Buddhism, fatherhood, the visual arts, you name it.

Some people who read that suggested that there was a separate book that could be conjured from this 672-page book, just on the craft of writing. So I said okay--let me go back over it and expand on and polish my answers, and I added three essays to the book.

Forty years ago, when I first started teaching at age 28, the last thing on my mind was doing a book on the craft of writing. But it's something I know; I spent half my life teaching this. So there's lots I have to say about the subject. And because I'm retired--I'm professor emeritus now--I thought maybe it's the right time to do this.

Why tell students not to limit themselves to one art form?

Because that's how I live. I do many things, and they all reinforce each other. I see myself as being an artist. Sometimes the art I do is literary. Sometimes the art I do is visual. Sometimes the art I do is martial art. It all depends on what I want to do during a given day. And I don't call myself "a writer." I always cringe in a certain way when somebody calls me that. I say, I tell stories: I'm a storyteller. A storyteller and an artist who works in different mediums.

I see my body of work being like a house, or a mansion with many rooms. And there are different kinds of art in all of those rooms. But they all talk to each other. If I haven't written about a subject, it's quite possible that I've drawn something about it, and published that: as an illustration or as a cartoon, an editorial cartoon, as something. All of it connects.

That kind of free-ranging curiosity may be viewed with skepticism, if not outright hostility, by some.

It is a natural and unfortunate human tendency we have to oversimplify things for the sake of making them manageable. We'll say for example, my friend August Wilson, you know, "he's a playwright." And that's true; he wrote 10 plays. But he was a poet, too. And the poetry part of his life is manifest very clearly in the dialogue in his plays. We manage people by putting them in little convenient boxes, constructed by people who can't see beyond the fact that all the arts are interrelated and they are interrelated with the sciences as well.

And now I'm really going to lay one on you: we do that all the time with artists of color. We pigeonhole them constantly. If they're Native American, we want them to write about the Native American experience. They may have a degree in nanotechnology. If they're black Americans, we want them to write about the black experience.

One of the great fights in life--and this is a quote from one of my other interviews--is not to allow anything or anyone to limit you. I truly believe that. No one can really understand and guide your talents but you. No one can understand its depth and breadth but you. You do what brings you joy in terms of the creative process. It doesn't matter what medium we're talking about. This is a gift you have. And I think it's a god-given gift, to be honest about it.

There's a lot of Buddhism in this book.

For an artist, the vision of the Buddhadharma is extremely... helpful. The Buddhist experience is the human experience. It allows us to clear away a lot of cultural and social conditioning. Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Buddhist teacher, talks about it as being like a conceptual painter who has painted over an object. And we have to get rid of that conceptual paint so we can have a fresh experience with whatever phenomenon we're talking about. And that's called beginner's mind. For an artist that's invaluable. One of the things you want as an artist is to experience and give to others a new fresh vision of something.

What books do you recommend to readers of Shelf Awareness that might've escaped their notice?

Chicago Heat by Clarence Major. The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller. The Writer's Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers, edited by Donald Friedman, is a wonderful, wonderful book and it would be wonderful in our educational institutions, K-12, because it would show young people that you don't have to limit yourself if you have a broad talent.

There's a whole list in chapter seven of works I expected my students to know. But by the early '80s, they didn't know them [laughs]. Albert Murray's The Hero and the Blues, if we're talking about a writer of color. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

Any advice to aspiring artists (that isn't in your book)?

For a young writer, getting published should not be the main thing, if you're really serious about your overall body of work. I quote a New York editor [who] said you shouldn't publish your first novel. And secondly, not everybody can be published. And thirdly, you shouldn't see yourself as a failure if you don't get published.

But even more importantly, you should see every book that you do as part of a larger body of work. And how one book advances beyond [or] complements another. And the only way [younger writers] are going to do that is if they ask themselves some serious questions about what it is they're bringing to the table as a writer. What is it they're bringing to literary culture that is not there now? What void are they filling in terms of our literary culture?

There are writers who knew exactly what they were bringing to the table. Zora Neale Hurston knew, in terms of her work in black folklore. Saul Bellow knew, in terms of being a Jewish writer who was finding the universal in the specific Jewish experience. Same thing with Ralph Ellison looking at the black experience.

A lot of young writers want to be a writer before they have a great story to tell. But, okay, what story do you have to tell that is going to be worthy of all the time and energy that you're going to have to put into it, and worthy of a reader's time? Because readers are hard-pressed for time. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Book Candy

Books and the Holidays

Bustle shared "11 reasons why books were always the best present as a kid (yes, even better than toys)"; and "10 literary families that'll make you appreciate your family over the holidays."


Brightly featured "18 authors on the wackiest, weirdest and worst gifts they received as kids."


Mental Floss revealed the "secret history of Mrs. Claus."

"Letters to Santa from fictional characters" were imagined by Quirk Books.


Road trip: "14 literary quotes on going home for the holidays" were showcased by Bustle.

Buzzfeed suggested "29 gifts any book lover should add to their wish list."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Kindred

Science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards and was the first SF author to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Her work explores class, racial, gender and biological divides and power structures, often in alien or dystopian settings. Butler's bestselling novel, Kindred (1979), which is broadly sci-fi in its use of time travel, is an interdisciplinary work, a "grim fantasy," as Butler described it, about Dana, a modern African American woman who is transported back and forth between 1976 Los Angeles and 1815 Maryland.

Dana's time traveling begins on her 26th birthday, when she experiences a spell of dizziness as her house fades away and is replaced by a river on the edge of the woods, where a redheaded little boy is drowning. She becomes entangled in the life of Rufus, a slave owner and one of Dana's ancestors. She and her white husband, Kevin, return repeatedly to the horrors of plantation life where they must make grim sacrifices to ensure Dana's survival. Butler's realistic depictions of slavery and her explorations of intersecting discriminatory power structures has made Kindred a part of many high school and college courses. It was last published by Beacon Press ($16, 9780807083697) in 2004. On January 10, 2017, Abrams ComicArts will publish a graphic novel adaptation of Kindred, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings, with an introduction by Nnedi Okorafor ($24.95, 9781419709470). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review

Mystery & Thriller

Glow of Death

by Jane K. Cleland

Jane K. Cleland weaves together antiquities, marital troubles and plenty of small-town charm in Glow of Death, her 11th mystery featuring antiques appraiser Josie Prescott. Josie is thrilled when she's asked to assess a Tiffany lamp owned by the Towsons, a wealthy couple in her small New Hampshire town. She's even more excited when the lamp turns out to be genuine. But when Ava Towson is found dead and Josie is called in to identify the body, she's shocked: the dead woman is an entirely different person from the one Josie met. As local police investigate the Towsons' marriage and finances, Josie conducts her own parallel investigation, determined to find out who played her for a fool, and why.

Cleland (Ornaments of Death) brings back many familiar series characters, including Josie's appraiser colleagues, police chief Ellis Hunter (Josie's good friend), local nosy reporter Wes Smith and Hank, the resident auction-house cat. A side plot involving a collection of valuable marbles provides interest, though it has no relation to the main story. Josie's tenacity tips over into bullheadedness at times, frustrating both Chief Hunter and the reader, but she ultimately digs up some useful insights into both the Towsons' marriage and the provenance of the Tiffany lamp. An elaborate, entertaining ruse (involving half of Josie's coworkers) helps to flush out the killer, and Cleland wraps up her story neatly, making this a satisfying read for cozy mystery lovers. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: This entertaining cozy mystery involves a genuine Tiffany lamp, a troubled marriage and an inquisitive antiques appraiser.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250102973

Biography & Memoir

When We Rise: My Life in the Movement

by Cleve Jones

There have been numerous books written about the fight for gay rights in the United States, but Cleve Jones's memoir When We Rise offers a perceptive, incisive and personal insider's recollection by someone at the epicenter of that movement since the early 1970s. Born in 1954, Jones writes, "I was born into the last generation of homosexual people who grew up not knowing if there was anyone else on the entire planet who felt the way that we felt." At 18, he came out to his parents and moved to San Francisco, where he immersed himself in grassroots gay politics and intoxicating sexual freedom.

"In the gay community, trying to achieve consensus is like trying to herd cats," writes Jones, explaining that the LGBT community is often divided by barriers of class, race, faith and nationality. Nevertheless, the San Francisco gay community united around Harvey Milk, and when he became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, Jones worked in his office. After Milk was assassinated in 1978, Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and in 1985, he conceived the idea of memorializing those who had died of AIDS and created the NAMES Project Foundation and AIDS Memorial Quilt.

As a political insider, the feisty, funny and insightful Jones makes a powerful narrator for such landmark LGBT decisions as the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the legalization of same-sex marriage. When We Rise is a rousing firsthand history of an activist's life and his passion for justice. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: A gay political insider since the 1970s, Cleve Jones offers a feisty, perceptive and passionate overview of the gay rights movement.

Hachette, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780316315432

Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis 

by Mark K. Shriver

Despite being from one of the most famous Catholic families in the United States and immersed in the Church all his life, Mark Shriver experienced reservations about an institution that has struggled with scandal and controversy. But the election of Jorge Bergoglio as pope in March 2013 seized Shriver's attention and fascination. When the opportunity arose for him to write about this unusual man causing so much fuss in the Vatican, he knew he would do it. He just didn't have any idea what an effect it would have on him.

Shriver, president of Save the Children Action Network and a former Maryland politician, blends historical research with interviews with family, friends and colleagues of the pontiff. From Bergoglio's childhood schools to the confessional in the modest basilica where he made his decision to enter the priesthood to the dangerous barrios where he worked, Shriver takes his readers on a tour of Bergoglio's world. He carefully reveals the unusual character of the Catholic Church's leader: his understanding and love of science, his embrace of other religions, his famous phrase, "Who am I to judge?"--even his disdain for the flashy ornamentation of his position. Shriver's own experiences with the Church in the much wealthier United States allow him to interject his personal reactions, as well as questions and realizations about himself. The juxtaposition of Shriver's revelations about Bergoglio beside his own self-discoveries make Pilgrimage more than a simple biography of Pope Francis, it's a mission of faith that transcends denomination and even religion. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Mark Shriver guides readers through the world of the Catholic Church's humble leader, Pope Francis, while discovering his own faith along the way.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780812998023

Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life I Learned from Watching '80s Movies

by Jason Diamond

John Hughes's films (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) became the roadmap for teens growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s. He tapped into the complex emotions felt by many 15- and 16-year-olds, particularly disenfranchised youths like Jason Diamond. As a Jewish kid growing up in a broken home and left virtually homeless in his teens in Chicago's WASPy North Shore, Diamond was that kid on the outside looking in, envious of the rich and popular while wearing a mask of indifference.

The films served as "blueprints for how I'd wanted life to be" and the happily-ever-after stage from which Diamond would attempt to model his own life. He saw his story echoed in Andie Walsh's (Pretty in Pink) and John Bender's (The Breakfast Club). "We read and watch those things because we want to fit the idea of perfection into a little box and insert ourselves into it for a little while." Diamond moved to New York planning to write a biography of the filmmaker, despite having no qualifications or training to do so; he worked as a barista by day and frequented dive bars at night, haunted by the insecurities and ghosts of his past. But what started off as a wild and reckless attempt to write the next great biography turned into a funny, yet deeply affective and personal coming-of-age tale about accepting and connecting with one's own voice. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The struggles of an aspiring writer who idolizes John Hughes's fictional universe.

Morrow, $15.99, paperback, 304p., 9780062424839

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

by Michael Tisserand

An encyclopedic biography illustrated with many examples of George Herriman's work, Krazy by Michael Tisserand (The Kingdom of Zydeco) is also a captivating history and critique of newspaper comic strips and the artists who created them.

The child of French-speaking mixed race Creoles, Herriman was sufficiently light-skinned to "pass" his whole life as a white man. Raised in Los Angeles from age 10, he first applied his drawing skill and quirky humor to newspaper illustration and cartoons. He later launched several syndicated comic strip characters with Joycean names like Pinky Doolittle, Punky Pheetes and Pedesy Fuzzyplace after cutting his cartoon teeth illustrating sports and political events for the New York Evening Journal. When he picked the character Krazy Kat from his Dingbat Family strip to feature in its own comic, he found the perfect vehicle for his skewed humor. Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse and Officer Pupp not only tickled the whole country's funny bone, they also won the lucrative loyalty of William Randolph Hearst.

A multilingual combination of vaudeville pratfalls and violence, minstrel show imitation, the optimism and good-heartedness of Chaplin's Tramp, and the Beckettian dialogue of Vladimir and Estragon, Krazy Kat was a precursor of the chaos and upheaval of the 20th century. Herriman's vision, sketches and dialogue influenced the epochal comic strips of Charles M. Schulz and Garry Trudeau. With substantial background fieldwork, Tisserand eloquently demonstrates that this self-effacing, mixed-race high school graduate, laboring for 40 years over a schedule of daily cartoons, became the inspiration of a century of artists, intellectuals, filmmakers and writers. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: This encyclopedic biography of Krazy Kat artist George Herriman is also an enlightening history of modern comics strips.

Harper, $35, hardcover, 560p., 9780061732997

The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia

by Andrew Harding

With The Mayor of Mogadishu, Andrew Harding tells the story of Mohamud "Tarzan" Nur's remarkable rise from a nomadic "camelboy," born on the Ethiopian side of the border with Somalia, to become the unlikely mayor of one of the most divided, broken, bloody cities in the world. Harding, a BBC Africa correspondent and veteran foreign affairs journalist, has been in and out of Somalia numerous times over the last 15 years, allowing for plenty of meetings with Tarzan, his family, his schoolmates and his enemies--most notorious of them the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab. Accompanied by his own passel of security guards, Harding takes readers through the war-torn streets of Mogadishu and its drought-stricken surroundings--pointing out terrorism sites and bombed-out churches as a safari guide might the occasional rogue elephant or pack of hyenas at their kill.

Tarzan is a larger-than-life political chameleon. Sent across the border to Mogadishu after his father's death, he lived with his financially burdened aunt until she had to put him in an orphanage. He later left Somalia for London with his wife and children during Siad Barre's dictatorship. Like many in the Somalian diaspora, Tarzan missed his country, despite the chaos and anarchy of the 1990s civil war. When the fighting finally subsided, Tarzan went home and leveraged his refugee connections to be named the mayor of Mogadishu. He is clear in his goal to someday be elected president of Somalia. Concluding that Tarzan might actually achieve his dream, Harding tells Tarzan's intriguing story, warts and all. And what a story it is--better than the movies. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Veteran foreign correspondent Andrew Harding provides a lively biography of Mogadishu's unlikely mayor, Tarzan Nur.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250072344


The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less)

by David Bercovici

The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less) may be short, but it is a delightful, almost dizzyingly deft rundown of exactly what its title suggests: the history of the universe, condensed. Yale geophysicist David Bercovici covers around 14 billion years in roughly 100 pages.

He starts with a bang. Or, rather, the bang: the "unfathomably colossal explosion" from which time began. Bercovici explains that the term "explosion" can be misleading; a more apt word might be "expansion," but even that term proves problematic. Basically, he admits, it's complicated. And so it goes with what followed the bang: the formation of galaxies, stars, elements, solar systems and planets, along with the history of continents and Earth's interior, its oceans and atmosphere, its climate and eventually life and civilization--all complicated.

Bercovici is often wry and funny amid theories and facts. He's quick with analogies and liberal with parenthetical comments. He writes, "the [earth's] mantle flows incredibly slowly; our best (or most popular) analogy is that it flows about as fast as your fingernails grow." Later, on catastrophic climate change, he contemplates a runaway greenhouse effect that could "turn Earth into something truly hellish, like Venus."

Though thin, The Origins of Everything is thick with concepts: billions of years condensed in 100 (more or less) pages is dense. But for determined minds hoping for cogent, clever explanations for what we know of the history of the universe, Bercovici nails it. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A geophysicist offers concise explanations of the formation of the universe and everything that has happened since.

Yale University Press, $23, hardcover, 152p., 9780300215137

Travel Literature

Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse

by Brian Bouldrey

"Real travelers move through both time and place and tend to understand real distances of both the 'here and there' of 'this place and that place,' as well as 'now and then.' And they know that the journey is just as important as the arrival," writes Brian Bouldrey in his introduction to Inspired Journeys. The 17 essays included in this anthology are about people in search of not only their destination, but themselves. Each person is a pilgrim, although not necessarily a spiritual one, looking for a connection to a place, a person or a time. The locations of these pilgrimages are varied--the houses in the Midwest where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived; the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India; the small huts in Cape Evans, Antarctica--and the intent behind each expedition varies as well. Some search for a favorite author's grave; others honor the dead by returning their ashes to a particular destination or by ritually washing the body; others embark on accidental journeys that open portals to cultures, customs and dimensions they didn't know existed.

Each narrative offers an alternative perspective to the typical travel essay, providing more details about the effect the trip has had on the traveler than descriptions of the surroundings. And while some pieces may feel incomplete, this becomes a reflection of the pilgrimage itself, which continues to affect the traveler long after the physical trip is over, just as these essays will linger long after the anthology is closed. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: This array of introspective travel essays provides far more than details of the trips the authors have taken.

University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95, hardcover, 280p., 9780299309404

Reference & Writing

The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

by Charles Johnson

For 40 years Dr. Charles Johnson (Middle Passage) taught creative writing at the University of Washington in Seattle. Over the course of this career he received a National Book Award, a MacArthur Fellowship and the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In The Way of the Writer, he muses on a life of storytelling and condenses his teachings into a rich and compelling guide to the craft of writing and living an artistic life.

To call Johnson multifaceted is an understatement. He considers himself an artist foremost, and has pursued careers in journalism, cartooning and screenwriting. He has also written extensively on philosophy and on Buddhism. He brings this experience to bear--along with his mentorship under John Gardner--in The Way of the Writer, which is composed of essays on a writer's identity and vision, process and craft, and the learning, teaching, business and philosophy of writing.

It's a personal and intellectually rigorous book; Johnson does not simplify writing, but rather invites his readers to assume the challenges of a writing life. There are reading lists and practical advice, but this is more of a graduate course than a beginner's manual.

Johnson, a trained philosopher, urges readers to find a story worth telling first (an "Alpha Narrative"), and to take emotional risks. The best literature, he argues, "has an epistemological mission" that "deepens our knowledge and refines our ways of seeing and experiencing the world." As Johnson has demonstrated, it requires time to craft and patience to master. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This erudite writing manual challenges readers to think more critically about their craft and artistic vision.

Scribner, $16, paperback, 256p., 9781501147227



by Caitlin Moran

Compiling a generous collection of her London Times columns written since 2011 and adding brief introductions for each that tie the anthology together, Caitlin Moran (How to Build a Girl) has composed a manifesto. "After twenty-three years of commenting on things, you're not really just commenting on things anymore. You're starting to... suggest alternatives. You're forming a plan." Moranifesto is the result: witty and intelligent, honest and silly, a shrewd combination of culture, politics and feminism--a conversation worth joining.

Moranifesto is divided into four sections, each including humorous articles intended to entertain--like "I Am Hungover Again," in which she concedes she will "never learn to have just two glasses" because she simply doesn't want to--sidled up next to thoughtful pieces offering social commentary, such as Moran's thoughts--oozing with sarcasm--on "Women Getting Killed on the Internet":

"I'll be frank--it does my head in to see someone who lives in a democracy, wears artificial fibers, drives a car, has a wife who can vote and children whom it is illegal to send to work up a chimney, saying, on the Internet--invented in 1971!!!!--'NOTHING CAN CHANGE!' "

Her love letter to books in "Reading Is Fierce" will endear her to bibliophiles, while her capitulation in "It's Okay My Children Do Not Read" may make them cringe. Moran offers advice, reveals encounters with celebrities and laughs in the face of decorum. She's blunt and colorful, inspiring and authentic. Moranifesto exposes the many facets of this complex, wickedly smart woman. Missing it would definitely be a crime. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A boisterously provocative English writer proclaims her opinions on everything, including Benedict Cumberbatch and abortion, in her personal manifesto.

Harper Perennial, $15.99, paperback, 352p., 9780062433756

Children's & Young Adult

League of Archers

by Eva Howard

The legendary Sherwood Forest sets the stage for Eva Howard's winning adventure series debut, League of Archers.

Twelve-year-old Ellie Dray is a novice nun in Kirklees Abbey, but when the sun sets, she escapes to the woods. There, she joins with her League of Archers, four friends whose illegal poaching on the ruthless baron's land is inspired by Robin Hood and his Merry Men. No one has heard from the controversial hero in the years since the Merry Men disbanded, but the League is determined to follow his example of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, noting that "It's not the man that's important, it's what he stands for." One night, Ellie encounters a mysterious archer in the forest, only to see him shot by an arrow. Ellie leads the arrow-poisoned man to the abbey, where the abbess reveals her true identity as Maid Marian: "And this man was Robin Hood." Soon the villainous baron arrives to arrest Marian, confiscate Robin Hood's body, and falsely accuse Ellie as his assassin. Now an outlaw, Ellie will need the League's help to clear her name and save the day.

Rife with fights and flights, the action-packed League of Archers is a fantastic addition to the Robin Hood canon. Ellie is a delightful heroine. Gentle Marian tells her, "You remind me of Robin in so many ways--his spirit, his faith in himself. And his shooting arm, I think." Surprise cameos from legendary figures coupled with the nostalgic style of Howard's writing keep the spirit of Robin Hood alive and well. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer

Discover: In this engaging middle-grade series debut, a young novice nun accused of murdering Robin Hood must fight to clear her name and save Maid Marian.

Aladdin, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 10-13, 9781481460378

Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson

by Emily Dickinson, Susan Snively, editor, illus. by Christine Davenier

Poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) of Amherst, Mass., is the star of this inviting, lovely Poetry for Kids series debut, illustrated with freewheeling sketches of the natural world by Paris-born artist Christine Davenier (The Very Fairy Princess series; The First Thing My Mama Told Me).

Dickinson had a "quiet and busy" life: gardening, baking and writing nearly 10,000 letters and 1,800 poems that were, according to the introduction, "full of word-play, startling images, puzzles, and surprises." Her poetry is also full of birds ("Hope is the thing with feathers"), bees, beetles and other creatures that scuttled and flew about her family's property. Here, a stellar selection of 35 of her poems is divided into seasonal sections: Summer ("I'm nobody! Who are you?"); Autumn ("Because I could not stop for Death"); Winter ("There's a certain slant of light"); and Spring ("There is no frigate like a book"). Words that might not be immediately grasped (plashless, gentian, obviate) are defined at the end of each poem, and an illuminating section called "What Emily Was Thinking" elegantly distills the essence of each poem. For example, the encapsulation of "I never saw a moor" is "Although she doesn't know the world far from home, the poet has an imagination. She can shut her eyes and be wherever she wishes to go."

Thick, creamy paper and a clean but vivacious design, combined with Davenier's friendly, thoroughly charming ink and watercolor illustrations make this fine collection of Dickinson's poetry an appealing gift for children or adults. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This beautiful Poetry for Kids series debut, winningly illustrated by Christine Davenier, celebrates the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

MoonDance Press/Quarto, $14.95, hardcover, 48p., ages 8-adult, 9781633221178

Sleepy Book

by Charlotte Zolotow, illus. by Vladimir Bobri

This hypnotic, poetic bedtime picture-book classic by the legendary Charlotte Zolotow was originally published in 1958 with striking illustrations by Ukrainian graphic designer Vladimir Bobri (What Is Red?). Here, the Bodleian Library reissues the original Sleepy Book, sure to win over another generation.

"Bears/ sleep/ in/ their/ dark/ caves/ the long/ winter/ through." The big words in all capital letters (a "hand-cut blockletter") stack to form an organic, creature-like shape on a solid gray page. The actual creature, on the opposite page, is a hibernating bear, a cozy snoozer in a snow-covered, kidney-bean-shaped cave. The coziness is contagious; preschooler eyelids may be drooping already. "Pigeons/ sleep/ in/ a row/ pressing/ against/ each other/ for/ warmth." That graphic pile-up of words is an effective design trick: the word placement visually reflects "row" and "pressing against each other." As the pages turn, readers will see that fish sleep with their eyes and mouths wide open and "moths/ sleep/ with wings/ folded together/ they look like/ little/ white leaves/ on walls/ and windows." (They really do.) Horses sleep standing up, seals snooze with their flippers flat against ice. Children will feel a sweet kinship with the animal world--everyone sleeps!

The playful illustrations (a lily-pad frog is wide awake watching the snowy crane sleep, for example) echo a linocut-print or cut-paper style with their bold shapes and artful compositions. The most adorable has to be the caterpillar in its silky cocoon--or, if you're more of a people person, the girl and boy snugly tucked in bed, "warm under their blankets." --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The lovely 1958 bedtime classic Sleepy Book, by Charlotte Zolotow and Vladimir Bobri, has been re-released for a new generation.

Bodleian Library/University of Oxford, dist. by University of Chicago Press, $20, hardcover, 36p., ages 2-6, 9781851244577


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

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

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

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

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

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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