Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 24, 2012

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

From My Shelf

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Last week we wrote about handselling books and the power of recommendations--from a bookseller, from a friend, from book reviews. Those are proactive means of promoting a book, and are powerful, but there is another way to "handsell" a book, one that is passive. Maybe it could be called secondary advertising. It's selling by book cover.

On an airplane, do you notice what people are reading? Do you surreptitiously contort a bit to see a cover? Do you think about the (usually) men who are reading genre thrillers quite openly while women seem to hide romances? Same thing on the bus or subway or in cafes at lunchtime. Checking out book covers brings many pleasures; it also subtly imprints a book in your mind. After you've seen 12 people reading American Dervish or The Rook, you think, hmmm... maybe you'd better check it out. If two or three people on the bus are reading Pity the Billionaire, your political leanings are validated (at least for one zone). Or you spot people reading the latest Michael Connelly, The Drop, and you realize that one of your favorite authors has a new book out. And it's always interesting to check out someone's bookshelves or to casually place a very impressive title on your own coffee table (don't forget a bookmark about halfway through).

With e-books, there are no book covers. There's no tipping point reached by cover art, no visual validation of your own reading tastes. What will replace this passive advertising? Is it even a worry? A recent survey found a plateauing of e-book reader adoption (December sales notwithstanding)--52% of readers say they are "not at all likely" to buy an e-reader; additionally, e-reader owners buy almost as many printed books as e-books. Good news for people who like cover art, for publishers who devote so much time and money to cover art, and for those of us who like to see what others are reading (or proclaim our own good taste). There are many good reasons to use e-books, but don't forget--it's really hard for authors to sign them. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: Thomas Caplan

Thomas Caplan is the author of the new thriller The Spy Who Jumped off the Screen (Viking), which features an introduction by Bill Clinton. Born and raised in Baltimore, Caplan is the author of three previous novels and has worked both as an executive in his family's jewelry firm and as a political speechwriter. He lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but travels frequently to Europe, especially England.

On your nightstand now:

I am savoring Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding, a beautifully composed, subtly insightful novel. Directly beneath it is The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. I am late getting to this, which has been recommended by many friends whose taste I respect. Then there are Douglas Waller's biography of Wild Bill Donovan, the father of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the C.I.A., and Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken, the story of a resourceful and resilient American bombardier's survival after his plane crashed in the Pacific theater of World War II. Finally, I have an old paperback of Eric Ambler's A Coffin for Dimitrios. I remember this as one of the greatest of all thrillers and it seems high time to read it again. Like my father, I have long been an avid fan of the genre and, over the years, have devoured many brilliant, pulse-racing ones from which, incidentally, I've learned a great deal--both about human nature and how the world works.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Peter Pan, closely followed by David Copperfield.

Your top five authors:

This is an impossible question and, of course, must be prefaced by the phrase "other than William Shakespeare." Five writers I admire and whose works continually play in my mind are: F. Scott Fitzgerald, for the deceptively simple poetry of his prose, his faith in romance and understanding of aspiration, especially in an American context; Evelyn Waugh, not only for the brilliance of his satire but the grandeur of his themes; Rudyard Kipling, for sheer adventure and the utter satisfaction of wanderlust; Tennessee Williams, for his unparalleled ability to entwine the carnal and spiritual nature of human life, often in a single sentence; and T.S. Eliot, for the literally haunting precision of his imagery.

Book you've faked reading:

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. It was when I was at school. I don't know why I didn't read it, really. I would have been 16, so perhaps I had a girl on my mind. I did read it much later and greatly admired it. Deservedly, I remember, I received a 10 (out of a possible 100) on the quiz.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Jaws by Peter Benchley.

Book that changed your life:

Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, which reawakened, in young adulthood, a love of England with which I seem to have been born.

Favorite line from a book:

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us...." --The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Hamlet, which is a play, of course, but one I first came to as a reader in school. It compresses more wisdom into exquisite poetry and captivating drama than any other work I know. With the King James Version of the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, Shakespeare's canon forms the foundation of the English language.

Book Candy

Literature-Inspired Nail Art; Cool Bookcase; Typewriters

Drawing fingernail inspiration from the Lord of the Rings nail art featured recently at the Daily What, Flavorwire compiled "15 great works of literature-inspired nail art," advising serious lit nerds to "extend your love of books to the very tools that let you turn the pages and proclaim your great taste in reading material to the world all at once."


Bookcase of the day: Shoebox Dwelling featured Gabi Malacha's bookcase 45x, "comprised of several sets of L-shaped wooden components," and noting that the modular shelves "might look precarious at first glance, but don't let this impression fool you." 


For typewriter aficionados, we offer the classic--"Typewriters and the men who love them"--and the colorful--"Tyree Callahan's Chromatic Typewriter."

Great Reads

Further Reading: Charles Dickens at 200

February 7 is Charles Dickens's 200th birthday, so it comes as no surprise that we are seeing a plethora of tributes to Britain's first literary superstar. New film adaptations of both Oliver Twist and Great Expectations--the latter starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes--are slated to hit the big screen this year, and the BBC recently aired two new miniseries adaptations of Dickens novels. New York City's Morgan Library, home of the largest collection of Dickens manuscripts and letters in the world, has a special exhibit of Dickensiana on display through February 12.

The celebrations don't stop there; these titles will also give fans a chance to celebrate Dickens's birthday.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tail tells a delightful story of an unlikely friendship between a cat, a mouse, a raven and Charles Dickens himself--complete with writer's block. This illustrated novel is not just for kids, however; children will enjoy the adventure tale contained herein, and adults will delight in the clever allusions to Dickens characters throughout.

Becoming Dickens offers a new approach to the standard Dickens biography, telling the story of Dickens's growth into a novelist and ending early on in his career. Dickens expert Robert Douglas-Fairhurst draws on both biographical fact and a careful analysis of Dickens's own characters to provide fresh insight into how a child growing up in poverty transformed himself into one of the most famous writers in Britain.

For those looking for a more hands-on experience of Dickens's life, Charles Dickens: The Dickens Bicentenary 1812-2012 is just what the doctor ordered. Published by Insight Editions in association with the Charles Dickens Museum of London, this oversized book features full-size images, photographs, drawings and removable facsimiles of documents from the Dickens archives, letting readers get elbow-deep--literally--in the life and times of this well-loved author. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm


Reads for Downton Abbey Fans--and Geeks

For Downton Abbey fans, author Emma Straub (Other People We Married) suggested "three rich and snooty reads" on NPR, noting that the "lives of heiresses are complicated matters, which of course means they provide excellent material for books."


If your reading tastes lean more to the nerdy side, NPR also featured Lev Grossman's picks for "three reads for your inner geek," suggesting novels "featuring protagonists with above-average SAT scores, who would get your Star Wars references, and who would never beat you up and take your lunch money. Though they might, if provoked, correct your grammar."


For those devoted readers who "love a book--or an author's body of works--so much that you need an outlet that allows you to express that love," Flavorwire offered "10 cult literary traditions for truly die-hard fans."

Book Review


The Night Swimmer

by Matt Bondurant

When Elly Bulkington's husband, Fred, is stricken with survivor's guilt after September 11--he was supposed to be at a meeting at the World Trade Center but traded places with a coworker--he enters, with Elly's support, a Irish brewery's contest to win a pub on the country's southwestern coast. Their arrival in the small seaside town offers the couple opportunities--a new business and a stab at novel-writing for Fred, and the challenge of a new ocean for Elly, a former competitive swimmer who feels most herself when in the water.

With Elly narrating, The Night Swimmer explores how these separate endeavors strain the Bulkingtons' marriage. Elly spends increasing amounts of time on the nearby small island of Clear, obsessing over making an open-water swim to its lighthouse, while Fred becomes more interested in the pub's inventory than its business prospects. And though the locals view the couple with some suspicion, Elly is increasingly drawn into local conflicts and intrigues, determined to unravel the island's mysteries.

Matt Bondurant (The Wettest County in the World) does not lay out or wrap up his mysteries neatly, but that doesn't entirely matter: what stands out in The Night Swimmer is its atmosphere and its narrating voice. Elly's struggles with the elements in storms and on the ocean are vividly conveyed, as are her puzzlement over Clear's secrets and her efforts to unravel them... even as what she learns makes her question whether she and Fred should even be in Ireland at all. Bondurant infuses his third novel with a pervasive sense of foreboding and a final act that hits with the impact of an Irish gale. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: An atmospheric story of a couple's struggle to find their way in a strange (in more ways than one) new place.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781451625295

Mr g: A Novel About the Creation

by Alan P. Lightman

"As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe." From that offhanded beginning, Alan Lightman spins a beguiling tale of the birth of a universe called Aalam-104729, which bears a striking resemblance to our own, as told from the perspective of none other than the Creator himself, a humble character known only as Mr g.

Mr g. shares the Void with two bickering relatives, Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, who are skeptical about his science project. They're a pair of kibitzers, second-guessing nearly every detail of his audacious undertaking. The Creator's most intriguing conversations are reserved for a being known as Belhor, who jousts with him on the subjects of free will, the nature of good and evil, and the problem of human suffering.

There's nothing dogmatic about Lightman's approach to his material. Mr g studiously avoids intervening in the workings of his universe, instead establishing three fundamental laws (symmetry, relativity and causality), and then setting it in motion so that everything "happened on its own by trial and error, with no need for meddling by outside parties." There are even moments of humor, as when an impatient Creator decides to perform an "experiment" to speed up the process by which consciousness emerges from "billions of planetary years" to "mere moments."

As he demonstrated in his 1992 bestseller, Einstein's Dreams, Lightman is able to write with the keen insight of a scientist and the lyricism of a poet. If you approach this with an open mind, you are certain to find something worth pondering in this delightfully original novel. Who knew cosmology could be such a blast? --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Theoretical physicist Alan Lightman offers a beguiling version of the Creation, as told by God himself.

Pantheon, $24.95, hardcover, 9780307379993

The Odds: A Love Story

by Stewart O'Nan

If ever a couple were in need of a run of good luck it would be Art and Marion Fowler. Downsized from their middle-class jobs and facing foreclosure, they travel by bus from their Cleveland home to Niagara Falls on a snowy Valentine's Day weekend to relive their honeymoon of 30 years earlier. They're improbably committed to risking their remaining cash at the roulette wheel, "a fantastic last-ditch escape from the snares of their real life."

The Fowlers know failure guarantees both financial and marital ruin. But Art is ardent and romantic, desperate to ensure Marion is having a good time and fretting over when he'll give her the diamond ring he's brought with him. Marion, the realist of the pair, still can't shake her bitterness over Art's two-decades-old affair. Niagara Falls, decked out for the holiday weekend, is as much a character in this story as the troubled honeymooners. O'Nan evokes the surge of romantic impulses it inspires, its natural beauty wedded to kitschy attractions.

The Odds is a realistic fairy tale about the gravitational pull of an enduring relationship. In deft, knowing strokes, Stewart O'Nan exposes all the tenderness and tension, the compromises and evasions that lie at the heart of any long-term marriage. "The happiest she'd ever been was with him," Marion realizes, "and the saddest. Was that the test of true love?" Anyone who's experienced those emotions and doesn't confess to seeing at least a cloudy reflection in the mirror O'Nan has so lovingly crafted isn't telling the truth. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: In his 14th novel, Stewart O'Nan offers a bittersweet portrait of a long-term marriage.

Viking, $25.95, hardcover, 9780670023165

The Underside of Joy

by Sere Prince Halverson

Seré Prince Halverson's debut novel is a faultless exploration of sadness and shame, anger and forgiveness; a story well told about people we would like to know.

Ella Beene left an unhappy, childless marriage in San Diego and migrated up the coast to Northern California, where she met Joe Capozzi. His wife, Paige, had walked out on him four months earlier, leaving him with a three-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son. They fall in love, and Joe's children, Annie and Zach, become Ella's. This is the family she was longing for.

Joe's dreams of being a photojournalist ended when it became necessary for him to take over the family grocery store. He still loves to take pictures and one morning he sets out for the beach to do just that. This time, he doesn't come back. A rogue wave catches him and pulls him under.

After three years of marriage, Ella thought she knew everything she needed to know about Joe. But Joe took secrets with him. When Paige shows up at Joe's funeral and makes it clear that she wishes to reclaim her children, Ella is devastated. Paige had suffered from postpartum depression and, fearing that she would harm the children, left to seek help. She insists that she sent many, many letters to Joe and the children--letters that Ella never saw.

The custody battle takes unexpected turns. The truth about Paige and what happens between these two women brings an eminently satisfying conclusion to the novel. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: When a man drowns, a custody battle ensues between the children's mother and the woman who married him--a story well told about people we would like to know.

Dutton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780525952596

Mystery & Thriller

The Whisperer

by Donato Carrisi, trans. by Shaun Whiteside

Donato Carrisi's debut thriller, The Whisperer, isn't for the faint of heart but it is most definitely for the connoisseur of fine fiction. A race to find the monster who has kidnapped and murdered five young girls, leaving only their arms behind, creates the foundation of the plot--then a new arm is discovered, but forensic evidence indicates the child is still alive. As the investigation proceeds, Carrisi probes the psyches of the sleuths--criminologist Goran Gavilia, missing person specialist Mila Vasquez, homicide investigator Sarah Rosa--each of whom harbors secrets that will waylay their efforts and build the novel's suspense. Carrisi carefully, effectively toggles the point of view between a limited third-person vantage point, an unknown first-person perspective and a series of prison reports; this alternating frame of reference catches the reader off-guard with well-crafted plot twists.

The translation of The Whisperer, though, is a bit awkward and inconsistent at times, and readers may be confused about the location of some scenes or find a stiffness in dialogue. These small details aside, The Whisperer is a hauntingly exciting, graphically thought-provoking psychological thriller--start this one early in the day, because you won't want to put it down and you won't want to turn out the lights. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A gruesome murder investigation that sets an early high bar for the psychological thriller in 2012.

Mulholland Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9780316194723


The Shadow of Your Smile

by Susan May Warren

Baby, it's cold outside, but things are heating up as Susan May Warren returns to the fictional town of Deep Haven, Minn., the frosty setting of several of her previous novels.

Since the murder of their daughter, ex-sheriff Eli Hueston can't connect with his wife, Noelle. When he's not busy fishing, Eli is making time with Noelle's gorgeous redheaded friend, Lee. Things get even messier when a random act of violence leaves Noelle with no memory of her husband. While the search for the criminal responsible for Noelle's amnesia goes on, Lee's daughter and Eli's son develop a romance of their own, keeping the novel's action at a jitterbug pace rather than a slow waltz. Warren keeps readers guessing as to which woman Eli will end up with, and her characters are all so darn sympathetic that you can't help but hope they'll all embrace polygamy so everybody wins.

The Shadow of Your Smile is an inspirational romance, though, so while it may feature rugged male characters chopping wood for their women, saving them from dangerous situations or whisking them away on snowmobiles, there are no graphic sex scenes, and each character turns to their intimate relationship with God as individual conflicts come to a head. Warren makes room for the Lord without being cheesy or preachy, proving that kick-butt characters in skinny jeans can be believers--and still be cool. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Susan May Warren returns to Deep Haven for another inspirational story of romance and redemption.

Tyndale House, $13.99, paperback, 9781414334837

Food & Wine

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

by Tom Mueller

The first oil wars--the battle for resource supremacy in the West--took place in the Mediterranean climes of ancient Greece and Rome. Olive oil, not crude, served as the source of life and sustenance, a salve and aphrodisiac that also cemented peace and provoked war between nations and linked the earthly to the divine. This catalyst of civilized life is the topic of Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller's delicious treatise expanding upon an article he wrote for the New Yorker in 2007.

Between tidbits of ancient and modern folklore, Mueller presents olives in their natural, pristine beauty--a fruit simultaneously cherished, abused and plundered with Mafioso-like zeal for the glory of country and of wealth. True olive oil, distinct in its fruitiness and chemical composition, is not a commodity to be tampered with or rendered tasteless by inferior fruits and by-products that assault consumers in watered down, cleverly disguised vintages lining today's supermarket shelves. That EVOO that Rachael Ray hawks on her popular Food Network programs? Maybe it's not so real after all.

Extra Virginity educates even as Mueller bemoans the lack of distinction in what we consume. "Olive obsession is an ancient obsession," he writes. "The fruit and fragrance of good oil are tempered with bitterness, as life's beauty is." Maybe it's about time we took inspiration from his words, stood up and gave ourselves the genuine taste of life. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A delicious account of the fruit that is our ancient source of life, sustenance, peace and beauty.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393070217

Biography & Memoir

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband

by David Finch

With a great deal of wit and sincerity, David Finch shares pearls of wisdom gleaned from over a year of journal writing during the effort to be a better husband and father. At the age of 30, Finch was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome--a mild form of autism--and he readily acknowledges that this diagnosis put him on a path to save his marriage. Armed with a medical explanation for his perfectionism, his difficulty in social situations, his odd sense of humor and his tendency toward self-absorption, Finch begins an impressive project to minimize the negative effect of his quirks through the creation of a journal of best practices. These practices range from the general ("Use your words") to the more specific ("Laundry: Better to fold and put away than to take only what you need from the dryer") and potentially could be useful axioms all husbands.

The Journal of Best Practices, based on a popular New York Times article, surprises the reader with its overall upbeat tone. Finch writes unreservedly of his revelations; some are painful, some are straightforward, but all are cathartic. His story of his struggle to empathize--something particularly difficult for someone with Asperger's, but also, he points out, somewhat difficult for men, in general--is an extremely amusing and compelling illustration of his predisposition to take instruction too literally. This poignant memoir is a great read for those with Asperger Syndrome and the neurotypical alike. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library

Discover: The heartwarming, humorous story of a man balancing his home life and an Asperger Syndrome diagnosis.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781439189719

Current Events & Issues

The Good News Club

by Katherine Stewart

Journalist and novelist Katherine Stewart has written a powerful exposé about the innocuously named Good News Club, a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) that has nearly 3,500 branches in public K-6 schools around the country. In 2001, the Supreme Court, in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, ruled that an outside organization may proselytize after hours in public schools. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Souter wrote that "it is beyond question that Good News intends to use the public school premises... for an evangelical service of worship calling children to commit themselves in an act of Christian conversion."

Stewart visits a school in Seattle where the Club's presence has resulted in arguments between students over who is going to hell. She attends a CEF convention where Matthew Staver of the Liberty Counsel gives a speech telling attendees that any opposition to the Club is the work of Satan. She explores the rise of Christian fundamentalism since the '60s and '70s, and examines the influence Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice and owner of a popular Christian radio talk show, has had in shaping their judicial strategy. She covers the Texas textbook wars and the influence of the Christian Right in rewriting textbooks to suit their beliefs.

Howard tells us that she has met a number of nice people in the Clubs, but their good intentions "have been harnessed in service of a national agenda that will ultimately erode our communities and undermine our public schools." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: The truth about a Christian Right organization whose goal is to infiltrate public schools.

PublicAffairs, $25.99, hardcover, 9781586488437

Essays & Criticism

Writer, M.D.: The Best Contemporary Fiction and Nonfiction by Doctors

by Leah Kaminsky, editor

Gifts for both observation and storytelling are common in those who choose to become physicians; those same gifts can make for great writing. Leah Kaminsky, a practicing family physician in Australia, is one such physician-writer, and she's also the editor of Writer, M.D., a collection of fiction and nonfiction by others who practice in both disciplines.

In her introduction, Kaminsky notes that the works she's chosen "aim to look behind the doctor's mask." After a foreword from Jerome Groopman, the nonfiction section features 10 essays, including selections from Abraham Verghese, Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande; these are followed by six pieces of fiction from writers like Ethan Canin and John Murray (as well as Kaminsky herself). The majority of the contributors are well-known writers, and some readers may recognize these pieces from prior publication. They're still worth revisiting, though, especially in the context of Kaminsky's desire to look deeply into the mind of the physician, not only as a healer but as a human being.

With honesty, intelligence and empathy, the physician-writers in Writer, M.D. tackle difficult topics--guilt and grief, tragedy and trauma, disease and despair--even as they explore the gloriousness of the medical profession, the amazing diversity of true healers and the ever-present hope for those who seek to follow in their literary and medical footsteps. --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: A soulful collection of writing by today's leading physician-writers.

Vintage, $15, paperback, 9780307946867

Children's & Young Adult

Jazz Age Josephine

by Jonah Winter, illus. by Marjorie Priceman

Using the rhythm and pacing of blues lyrics, Jonah Winter (Diego) unspools the biography of dancer, singer, performer and activist Josephine Baker. Marjorie Priceman's (One of Each) loose line and expressive illustrations evoke the sensuality of the dances that rocketed Baker to the top.

Together they tackle some difficult moments in Baker's life in a way that picture book audiences can handle. They counter a sobering image of Josephine as a girl, huddled on the floor to sleep ("newspapers for a sheet--/ rats crawlin' all around,/ a nibblin' at her feet") with a picture of her Granny on the opposite page holding her and saying, "Someday you're gonna be a princess--/ you know what Granny says is true," as a fantasy tiara appears upon Josephine's head. Winter and Priceman portray her early dances and her inborn sense of showmanship. A tragic event interrupts Josephine's impromptu performing on the night when "there were white folks chasin' black folks--/ on the black folks' side of town." Winter marks this as the pivotal moment when Baker leaves St. Louis, and Priceman's stop-action sequence of her escape portrays a confidence that she'll find what she's searching for--and she does in Paris.

This portrayal of Baker as someone who adheres to her beliefs from childhood plants the seeds for her later work in the French Resistance and the U.S. civil rights movement. In the finale, "dressed to the hilt," Josephine wears a tiara. You know what Granny says is true. Brava! --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A picture-book biography of Josephine Baker that captures the performer's sensuality and convictions with a blues-like narrative and effervescent illustrations.

Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781416961239

The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate, illus. by Patricia Castelao

"Hello. I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It's not as easy as it looks." So begins Katherine Applegate's (the Animorphs series) redemptive story of friendship. The narrator, an ape named Ivan, could well take his place alongside the likes of Babe, Charlotte and Wilbur.

Ivan's friends include an elephant called Stella and Bob, "a dog of uncertain heritage." Ivan lives in the Big Top Mall off I-95 with shows three times a day, 365 days a year. His domain's walls depict "a waterfall without water and flowers without scent and trees without roots." Characters develop gradually, filtered through Ivan's wisdom and hard-won experience, His taut, unadorned language reveals his views of himself and his world: "Gorillas are patient as stones. Humans not so much." Ivan perceives his surroundings through an artist's eyes ("the late-day sun reminds me of a ripe nectarine"), and uses whatever materials frequent visitor 10-year-old Julie passes to him to draw his surroundings.

When a baby elephant, Ruby, arrives at the Big Top Mall, she acts as a catalyst for the animal clan. Ivan's wisdom, his art and his loyalty to his friends all contribute to the building suspense. The climax may be a bit over-the-top, but it befits life under the big top, and it's just as satisfying as the all-threads-tied-up resolution. The book's airy design, short chapters and Castelao's soulful black-and-white illustrations make this book especially attractive to readers just embarking on chapter books. Adults reading this aloud with children will find it just as rewarding. --Ellen Loughran, consulting librarian

Discover: An animal hero that will take his place with other courageous and beloved animals such as Babe, Mrs. Frisby, Charlotte and Wilbur.

HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9780061992254

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