Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 19, 2020

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Celebrating with Our Father Figures

Father's Day is this Sunday! Dads, Grandpas and people who inhabit those roles should love these picture books, no matter their or the gift-giver's age.

The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey (Norton, $17.95, ages 3-5) is an ode to hard work and perseverance. A farming family--mother, father, daughter--cheerfully toils through the seasons, loading their red truck as the vehicle grows older, "and older still," until it settles into the weeds. With her dad, the girl tinkers with the tractor and truck engines. Time passes. Then the next-generation farmer, now a grown woman, hauls out the old truck and works day and night to repair it. The natural, earthy palette expresses the simple joys of self-sufficiency and connection to the land and family.

Daisy's goal during her grandfather's visit is surprisingly challenging: "I have to make him smile before he leaves!" But his arrival is marked with grumbles. Daisy asks her mother for advice. "He shows love in other ways," she assures Daisy. Indeed, when Daisy sneaks into Yeh-Yeh's room with her latest surprise, she discovers evidence of his affection. Xindi Yan's Pixar-ready illustrations and Katrina Moore's sweet text about familial communication invite smiles all around in Grandpa Grumps (little bee books, $17.99, ages 4-8).

After a few edits from his wise friend the sea, a retired mariner's messages of misanthropy spark an intergenerational friendship in Swashby and the Sea (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, ages 4-7) by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. When a lively girl moves in next door to Captain Swashby, he writes "No trespassing" in the sand. The sea "fiddle[s]" with the message, leaving the word "sing." The captain scrawls more rude messages, but the sea rewrites them, encouraging the child to "wish" and "play." When the seafarer corrects her wishing technique and lectures her on using proper sand, she invites him to join her. He pushes back, insisting "Swashbys don't play," but the sea has one more mischievous trick in store. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Crafting Strong Female Protagonists in YA Fantasy

Rosanne A. Brown
(photo: Ashley Hirasuna)

Namina Forna 
(photo: Melanie D'Andrea)

Rosanne A. Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jimenez-Porter Writers' House program. Her debut YA fantasy, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin ($18.99, Balzer + Bray), about a princess and a refugee faced with a deadly situation, is now available.

Namina Forna has an MFA in film and TV production from USC School of Cinematic Arts and a BA from Spelman College. The Gilded Ones, her debut novel, will be published by Delacorte in 2021.

Here, Forna and Brown discuss feminism, spirituality and writing about contemporary Black girls.

Namina Forna: I loved A Song of Wraiths and Ruin! There were so many twists and turns! I went in expecting a romance and got so much more. The world-building, the depth of the characters and the arcs they go through. How did you come up with that idea?

Roseanne A. Brown: Thank you so much! I got the idea for ASOWAR when I was a junior in college. I was walking back from a therapy appointment thinking to myself, "Wow, if a ghost possessed me right now, they'd probably just give me my mind back because there is a lot going on in there." From there, I was absolutely taken with this idea of a character who dealt with supernatural possession and how that would interact with mental illness, and wanted to know what kind of world would create a person like this. Thus, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin was born. What inspired The Gilded Ones?

Forna: The kernel for The Gilded Ones came when I was a freshman in undergrad. I started having dreams of a girl in golden armor kicking ass on the battlefield, and I thought, "Hmmm, I wonder what she's about." At the time, I was grappling with questions about what it meant to be a woman, feminist issues and I knew I wanted to talk about it. Then I went to grad school, and I was sitting in a lecture hall when these words fell into my head: "I was nine years old when first I learned I could not die." From that came The Gilded Ones.

Brown: You know, one thing I find interesting is that religion is a big part of both our books but not in a way people might expect. The magic system is deeply tied to the deities in my book, but one of my main characters, Karina, is practically an atheist. I know for me I spent a lot of time researching African Spiritual Traditions and I wanted to create a world that showed a more complex view of spirituality and morality than we often see associated with the African diaspora. I wasn't concerned with whether or not it was right or wrong to be religious as much as I was concerned with how spirituality informs the choices people make.

Forna: For TGO, I really wanted to look at the tools of patriarchy. What are the structures that are in place to support patriarchy and to ensure that everyone falls in line? And what happens when you start questioning them? Religion plays such a huge role in social conditioning, which is why it was one of the big things I examined, and my main character starts off religious but over time, starts to question everything she's been taught.

Brown: Exactly. How do you go against something that has shaped your entire life but that is also extremely oppressive? How do you work within an institution that has brought you personal salvation but that you see implemented to harm others?

Forna: Right?! The interesting thing is, the questions I ask in TGO are the same ones I asked in undergrad. It was my young adult self asking these questions of how I wanted to move in the world. Is that the same with ASOWAR?

Brown: Yes! That's what I love about writing YA, you are reaching readers just as they're asking these really big questions about themselves and the world around them. Many are stepping outside of their childhood bubble for the first time and challenging a lot of the institutions they were raised to believe in without question.

Forna: Yeah, like with ASOWAR, religion basically defines the world the characters live in, but when your protagonist's mother dies, there's that whole arc where she goes against the religion to try to resurrect her mom. She's on her own against these forces outside her control.

Brown: Karina is certainly up against a lot! I think that's something so many Black girls can relate to because far too often, Black girls don't have people to save them in fantasy or in the real world. So I really wanted to write a character who is powerful and full of agency, but she also deserves to be saved and cared for by others.

Forna: And for me, I actually wanted to fight against that when I wrote TGO. Because even though Deka is physically strong, she's emotionally vulnerable--not weak, but vulnerable. So that's why I gave her the love interest she has, because he holds her up when she needs support. And I think this is the difference and the allowance that an African-based fantasy allows. Outside the white gaze, Black girls can be damsels in distress, too--in as much as a super-powered girl can be a damsel in distress.

Brown: But that's the thing, there's space for those stories. People say fantasy's dead, everything's dead. But no, we're just starting to get there.

Forna: Especially African-based fantasy. People are like, there are so many of those. But there are so many cultures and worlds to explore.

Brown: There's definitely this perception that there are way more of us than there really are, when the truth is it's because we are so hyper visible, we stick out, especially in a landscape as homogenous as YA SFF has historically been. And people start to assume all the Black-centered fantasies must be the same when the truth is that they are all so different from one another because there are so many nuances.

Forna: Sometimes, I think we're like mermaids--even rarer than unicorns. You actually have to search the bottom of the ocean to find us, but when you do, we sort of stick out. I think things are changing, the industry is opening up. There'll be more worlds to explore, and I, for one, can't wait to see it.

Book Candy

The History of a Favorite Font

Typeface video: Vox explored "how Cooper Black became pop culture's favorite font."


Illustrator Tom Gauld posed "mathematical problems for novelists" in the Guardian.


Open Culture explored Thought Forms, "the pioneering 1905 Theosophist book that inspired abstract art.


"Corrugated steel shelves line a church-turned-poetry-shop in Shanghai," Colossal reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Fire Next Time

Writer and activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) scrutinized racial, sexual and class disparities in American culture. He was raised in Harlem by an impoverished mother and abusive stepfather, where mistreatment by white police officers, a search for solace in religion, and the realization that he was homosexual all greatly influenced his future writing. Baldwin, disillusioned by the oppression of black and gay men in the United States, moved to France at age 24, where he remained an avid supporter of the Civil Rights Movement.

Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963) contains two essays exploring the role of race in American history and the intersections between race and religion. "My Dungeon Shook" warns Baldwin's 14-year-old nephew about the immense historical and contemporary challenges black men face in the United States. "Down at the Cross," the longer of the two essays, chronicles Baldwin's early exposure to and later rejection of Christianity, plus his experiences with the Nation of Islam. Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me was conceived as a modern version of Baldwin's letter to his nephew. In 2016, Scribner published The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward with contributions from Natasha Trethewey, Isabel Wilkerson, Edwidge Danticat and more. The Fire Next Time is available from Vintage ($13.95). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


28 Summers

by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand tugs on readers' heartstrings with great aplomb. In 28 Summers, she begins at the end of a long-term, unconventional romance and weaves the captivating story of star-crossed lovers through 28 years of history. 

The 1978 movie Same Time, Next Year--an American romantic-comedy-drama--serves as inspiration to the structure of the story and to main characters Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud, who are fans of the film. Mallory and Jake developed an easy, flirtatious camaraderie over the phone while Jake and Cooper, Mallory's brother, roomed together at college. The two meet face-to-face only in 1993, while in their 20s--after Mallory inherits a Nantucket beach house from her aunt. Mallory plays host to soon-to-be-married Cooper and his friends, who gather on the island for his bachelor party on Labor Day weekend. The gathering goes bust on many levels, but Mallory and Jake forge an intimate bond--a soulmate connection--amid the mayhem and vow that every year, on Labor Day weekend, they should meet up again, just like in the iconic film.

For the next 28 years, the couple fulfills their pact, having contact with each other for only one weekend annually, where they secretly rekindle their romance and share the travails of their private lives--the challenges and sacrifices of dating and marriage to other people, parenthood and career pursuits. Careful plotting binds this deeply moving, powerful story. Hilderbrand (Summer of 69; The Perfect Couple) successfully entwines a host of surprising twists where multi-faceted characters become ensnared in thought-provoking romantic dilemmas. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Star-crossed soulmates rekindle their romance, love and perpetual loyalty one weekend every year--for 28 years.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 432p., 9780316420044

Swan Song: An Odyssey

by Lisa Alther

The norovirus is going around the British cruise ship Amphitrite, and further danger is posed by the very real possibility of a pirate attack. But much more daunting to Jessie Drake, the ship's physician, is accepting the recent death of Kat, her partner of 20 years. Lisa Alther's Swan Song: An Odyssey is a pleasantly bouncy ride down the conduits of later-life grief.

When Jessie, who considers herself to be in "early old age," flew from Vermont, where she lives and works, to Hong Kong to fill in for the Amphitrite's ailing physician for six weeks, she was expecting something "along the lines of the Love Boat." To be fair, the Amphitrite has its share of telegenic characters, including a former priest turned high-seas gigolo and a World War II veteran and his much younger, much randier wife. But Jessie's dealings on board aren't as lighthearted as she had anticipated: the ship's lead medical officer, who did his residency with Jessie and got her the Amphitrite job, wants to revisit their decades-old botched romance, and the Amphitrite's chanteuse may want more from Jessie than she feels ready to give.

Swan Song proceeds not at a brisk clip but languidly, accommodating not only romantic entanglements but various characters' agonized introspection, a shipboard mystery and sightseeing along the Mediterranean. Alther, whose previous novels include the feminist classic Kinflicks, has looked into the heart of late-in-life grief and divested it of the maudlin; the result is something smarter, darker and better. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In this wistful but resolutely unsentimental novel, a getting-on-in-years physician hopes to dull the pain of her partner's death by taking a job as a cruise ship doctor.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780525657545

The Daughters of Erietown

by Connie Schultz

Unaccepted college admissions offers--a generation apart--symbolize working-class families' thwarted dreams in memoirist Connie Schultz's first novel, The Daughters of Erietown.

When rural Ohio high school senior Ellie gets pregnant in 1957, she and her boyfriend, Brick, trade his basketball scholarship and her nurse training for a rental house and his union card. Brick tolerates the menial labor at Erietown Electric, while Ellie budgets their funds and nurtures firstborn Samantha and their son. They're content, but eventually Brick's frustration and good looks lead him to infidelity, a mistake with devastating repercussions. Ellie's stoicism preserves the family, and both she and Samantha flourish with the rise of feminism. (Ellie buys Sam Our Bodies, Ourselves; Sam gives her mother Marilyn French's The Women's Room.) But when Sam gets a full scholarship to Smith, consistently class-conscious Brick demands she decline the "charity."

Schultz opens the novel in 1975, as the family takes Sam to nearby Kent State, then moves back to 1957, emphasizing that now Sam is fulfilling her parents' dream. Continuing through 1994, The Daughters of Erietown spans four decades of shifting social mores and illustrates how a family's love can temper the impact of even the most hurtful secrets. A Pulitzer-winning journalist, Schultz wrote …And His Lovely Wife: A Campaign Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man, about her role while her husband, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, ran for office. With this novel, she demonstrates a deep affection for working-class families and a knowing eye for regional culture. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y.

Discover: A teen marriage in 1954 results in decades of both love and struggle, as the couple and their children face changing social mores as well as their own flaws and challenges.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 480p., 9780525479352

The Lightness

by Emily Temple

The Lightness, Emily Temple's debut novel, spins a darkly fascinating tale of female coming-of-age. Teenaged Olivia, left reeling from her Buddhist father's abandonment, arrives at the Levitation Center, a site of spiritual energy her father was known to visit. The area is also home to an isolated camp for troubled teenaged girls, in which Olivia enrolls. There, she is drawn into the orbit of three intense and magnetic girls--Laurel, Janet and their leader, Serena--as well as the attractive, 20-something male camp employee they all claim has special powers. Together, the girls are determined to transcend the mundane and learn to levitate, no matter what sacrifices are demanded.

Temple proves herself to be virtuoso of dark, playful prose. Olivia's first-person narration teases and unwinds her tale, twisting it through claustrophobic sequences at the camp, memories of her abusive childhood and snippets gleaned from spiritual, scientific and literary sources alike. While Olivia's voice controls the novel's sense of gravity, the slick but brittle, hard-shelled but tender-bellied girls around her are just as compelling. As the central foursome descends into more dangerous depths, the novel bears the weight of its slow-burn tension and raw emotion with a firm foundation. Ultimately, despite the story's haunting images and devastating themes, it's the girls at its center who ground this story, which is obsessed with mysticism, physics and fairytales. Dressed in heavy robes and tinged with blood, Temple's novel is ultimately a portrait of young women, vulnerable and powerful, who believe the world has more to offer them. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A forceful, visceral debut novel delves into a world of female grief, longing and rage to illustrate the everyday horrors four teenage girls are desperate to transcend.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062905321

The Last Train to Key West

by Chanel Cleeton

Key West in the 1930s is a crossroads, drawing local fishermen and their families, World War I veterans sent to work in government labor camps, and émigrés from Cuba. In The Last Train to Key West, Chanel Cleeton's third sweeping novel featuring the Perez family, the paths of three very different women--battered wife Helen, Cuban newlywed Mirta and former New York society girl Elizabeth--intersect as a hurricane bears down on the island.

Nine months pregnant and trapped in an abusive marriage, Helen spends her days serving key lime pie at Ruby's diner and her nights trying not to trigger her husband's temper. Mirta is struggling to adjust to her new reality after being married off abruptly to a New York businessman whose dealings might be on the shady side. And Elizabeth, accustomed to flirting her way through life, hopped a train to Key West (without telling her mobster fiancé) in a last-ditch effort to find her brother, a doctor who has disappeared.

Cleeton (When We Left Cuba) expertly narrates her story through the eyes of all three women, giving a multilayered glimpse into the island's intertwined and sometimes conflicting communities. As the storm gathers force, all three women head (separately) north to Matecumbe Key, where they must make snap decisions that could have far-reaching effects. Cleeton's compelling, vividly described novel combines a scrappy, adventure-filled setting with plenty of action, and three heroines who will each discover their own grit and gumption during stormy times. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Chanel Cleeton's third historical novel traces the intertwined lives of three women on Key West in 1935, during a deadly hurricane.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 320p., 9780451490889

How the Penguins Saved Veronica

by Hazel Prior

British author Hazel Prior's (Ellie and the Harp Maker) second novel delivers a dose of the warm fuzzies in a story of aging without giving up, the meaning of family and the healing power of baby penguins. 

Wealthy, irascible Scottish octogenarian Veronica McCreedy believes she has no family and prefers to live alone, calling other people "irksome." When an epiphany leads her to Patrick, the grown grandson she never knew she had, his aimless lifestyle fills her with disdain. Suffering through a bad breakup, Patrick finds his chilly grandmother equally disappointing. Turning aside from humans once more, Veronica sees a moving documentary about penguins and decides to bequeath her fortune to the delightful birds. She also decides to travel to Antarctica for a long visit with the scientists who study them, despite the scientists' fervent protests. One voyage south and a purposely missed return trip later, Veronica's adventures on the ice, including bonding with a young woman scientist and raising a penguin chick, begin to thaw her heart. Meanwhile, Patrick gets a package containing Veronica's teen journals from 1940 and learns the devastating truth behind her frosty persona.

Reminiscent of A Man Called Ove mixed with Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, this life-affirming dramedy scores big on the cuteness index. However, Prior also delves into trauma and healing in a serious and sensitive manner. Readers willing to overlook the occasional plot stretch will find a heartwarming story of family and redemption. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Wealthy, misanthropic octogenarian Veronica has trouble connecting with her newly discovered grandson, but a visit to Antarctica changes her life.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 368p., 9781984803818

Mystery & Thriller

The Wise Friend

by Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell is one of the most consistent horror writers working today, and his 33rd novel proves his reputation. Arriving in the British occult footsteps of Arthur Machen and M.R. James, The Wise Friend is an unsettling and eerie novel that will please fans of literary horror and make new ones of those unfamiliar with Campbell's long career. The book opens with Patrick Torrington and his son finding the diary of his aunt, an artist whose mysterious suicide ended her increasing preoccupation with magic. The pair visit the occult sites described in her journal, but the search unearths horrific consequences for Patrick and the people he loves. Now he must stop his son from unwittingly carrying out a dark ritual before it's too late.

Like his literary horror forbears, Campbell uses slow, patient craft and plotting in order eventually to pull the rug out from under the audience. The last hundred pages of The Wise Friend are able to do what they do (i.e., scare the pants off readers) because they're built on a stable foundation, something not all horror novels have. If there's a flaw to the novel, it's that the characters aren't always three-dimensional, but that can be forgiven when the writing is this sharp. An absolute must-have for misty, dark nights. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer

Discover: This occult thriller follows a father and son whose explorations unearth supernatural terror.

Flame Tree Press, $14.95, paperback, 256p., 9781787584020

Biography & Memoir

Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper

by Andrew Coté

Acclaimed beekeeper Andrew Coté chronicles a year of hard work, adventure and just plain fun in Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper. Beekeeping is almost as old as civilization, and the Coté family has been doing it for four generations. "I bleed honey. It runs deep in my veins," Coté explains. His easygoing narrative, recounting his apian experience from his childhood in Connecticut to his current position as president of the New York City Beekeepers Association, will educate and entertain even the most bee-phobic reader.

Coté structures the memoir around the 12 months of both the bees' and the beekeeper's tasks. Winter months in the northeast are quiet, so Coté uses the time to visit beekeepers around the world. His visits to Africa and Asia reveal common interests--"most obviously a shared affection for the little four-winged creatures that transcended language barriers." His nonprofit organization, Bees Without Borders, works to "alleviate poverty via beekeeping endeavors." In summer, bees are active and the possibility for unfortunate interactions between humans and bees means that Coté is on call to, among other things, remove swarms from high above Times Square, pose with bees for advertising and capture bees from neglected hives in Queens. "Beekeeping in New York City is never boring," Coté points out, and thanks to this delightful memoir, readers will have a new appreciation for these complex insects and the humans who care for them. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Andrew Coté knowledgeably and humorously chronicles a year in the life of a New York City beekeeper.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781524799045

Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson

by Annye C. Anderson with Preston Lauterbach

Annye C. Anderson's memoir of her stepbrother Robert Johnson stands as an act of love, a rich oral history, a pointed straightening of the record and, above all else, an illumination. Anderson and music historian Preston Lauterbach (The Chitlin' Circuit; Beale Street Dynasty) flesh out what's publicly known of the Depression-era blues great Robert Johnson, the doomed, epochal singer and guitarist who died at age 27 and is reputed to have sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads.

Brother Robert, assembled by Lauterbach from his interviews with 93-year-old Anderson, strips away the legend to reveal the man, who of course developed his chops the way all musicians do: practice and dedication. Anderson paints Johnson as an enthusiast and showman, a shimmying performer who would ask his audiences, "What's your pleasure?" Far from the haunted figure of lore, this Johnson plays the spoons, yodels along with Jimmie Rodgers on The Grand Ole' Opry and knew every hymn in the book, despite rarely attending church. If Johnson was the hard-living vagabond of myth--if he did have hellhounds on his trail--Anderson never saw it, though she admits, "I didn't have him in my pocket." Revelations abound, both in Anderson's memories of Johnson's short life and in her recounting of his family's struggle, as Johnson's legend grew, to claim their inheritance. (Johnson's "Crossroad" boasts almost 24 million YouTube views.) The book concludes with an interview with Anderson, Lauterbach and music historians Peter Guralnick and Elijah Wald. It pulses with discoveries. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: At long last, the truth about blues legend Robert Johnson, revealed by his stepsister.

Hachette, $28, hardcover, 224p., 9780306845260

Parenting & Family

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad

by Mike Birbiglia with poems by J. Hope Stein

By the time a significant number of fathers began publishing books about the trials of parenthood, moms could be forgiven for thinking, "You're a little late to the party, guys." The New One is not an offering that will inspire this reaction. For one reason, comedian and actor Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk with Me) has written a very funny book. For another, Birbiglia claims original territory--new-dad jealousy--and marks it with both jokes and, just when the reader is poised for another punchline, devastatingly blunt confessions.

Birbiglia never wanted to be a parent. Among the arguments on his seven-point list of reasons why not: "I don't know anything" ("My brain is like a Snapple cap. It can hold one piece of information at a time"). His no-kids position is uncontroversial when he marries Jen, a poet whose work features in The New One: she doesn't want kids either. Until one day she does.

After baby Oona comes on the scene, Birbiglia can still see the humor in his situation, but he finds himself experiencing an unexpected status nosedive: "I am demoted to the intern of the family." He also didn't foresee that the baby would be an all-consuming force who would hold Jen's attention hostage. Birbiglia writes that at his personal nadir he had this thought: "I get why dads leave."

In The New One, Birbiglia toggles easily between the droll and the pitch-black thanks to what seems to be his innate cheerfulness. He never manages to stay on the dark side for too long. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Comedian/actor Mike Birbiglia writes about his jealousy of his new baby with genuine wit and occasional perplexity.

Grand Central, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9781538701515

Children's & Young Adult

All the Birds in the World

by David Opie

An imploring kiwi wonders where it fits into its "feathered family" in David Opie's delightful author/illustrator debut, All the Birds in the World, a guide to birds' distinctive features and commonalities for young readers.

After first dispensing with the species' uniting features, Opie then offers an exploration of the differences among more than 100 birds' attributes and appearances. Opie dedicates a sweeping double-page spread to each feature, surveying eggs, nests, foot shape and more. On a page with 14 bird heads in profile (plus kiwi), the text reads, "All birds have beaks of different shapes and sizes. Birds use their beaks to smash seeds, tear apart meat, sip plant nectar, gulp down fish, and hammer into wood to get grubs." Opie's softly hued and magnificently detailed illustrations celebrate birds from many regions, and his writing, imposed only on the right-hand page of every spread, informs without overwhelming young readers. Meanwhile, Opie punctuates every array with a beseeching brown kiwi whose distinctive font and plaintive questions--"But what about me?"--play empathetically off Opie's straightforward text. Ultimately, to readers' relief, Opie celebrates our featherless friend and situates the kiwi squarely among its peers, despite its unusual appearance.

Opie's comprehensive illustrations invite rereading, the birds' eyes rendered with particularly tender expressiveness. While the kiwi's metaphorical insecurities may prove understated for younger children, its presence affirms one can fit in while standing out from peers. Fledgling bird watchers will appreciate strong backmatter that includes a guide to the title's many colorful birds. Opie (illustrator of Dozer's Run) confides his long-held fascination with birds in an author's note, and his enthusiasm for the avian world shines through this colorful, informative picture book. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Discover: This instructive, colorful debut picture book highlights avian diversity.

Peter Pauper Press, $16.99, other, ages 4-8, 9781441333292

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones

by Daven McQueen

While talking about race may be complex in 2020, in the 1950s, when the civil rights movement became a topic most in the U.S. could no longer ignore, blatant and subversive racism were the norm in society. This is the background in which Daven McQueen's evocative YA debut, The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, unfolds.

Ethan Harper, a biracial teen, is sent to spend the summer of 1955 in rural Alabama. Living primarily on the West Coast with his white father, he is unprepared for the prejudices he encounters--a reality, Ethan later learns, his Black mother faced daily growing up. Not long after his arrival, he meets a quirky red-headed girl named Juniper. As their friendship blooms, the two are forced to navigate ignorance and violence as segregation slowly unravels in the South. Ethan watches horrified as innocent lives become collateral damage. Following a series of tumultuous weeks, Ethan thinks back on his summer with Juniper, what he's gained and lost: "She's the reason... The whole reason I made it through this summer. She showed me that people can be good and there can be hope, even when it hurts."

In the foreground of McQueen's novel are characters so vulnerable, their emotional complexities mirror those we struggle with and cherish in our own lives. McQueen's writing also reveals the precarious balance between hope and sorrow related to these controversial themes. How do families navigate shifting perspectives on race from one generation to the next or as relatives migrate to geographical regions with differing cultural norms? How and when do we stand up to confront injustice?

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones is a work of historical fiction crafted to hook readers through an accurate depiction of what it means to discover--and grow into--one's identity. --Rachel Werner, Hugo House and The Loft Literary Center faculty

Discover: An emotional YA novel that faithfully recounts the U.S.'s historical blind spots regarding race and inclusion through a budding friendship between two teens of different races.

Wattpad Books, $10.99, paperback, 312p., ages 12-up, 9781989365168

I Hate Reading: How to Read When You'd Rather Not

by Beth Bacon as told by her kids, Arthur & Henry

A droll how-to offers guidance for those young readers who would Rather Not. Read, that is.

Much as we hate to admit it, reading is not everyone's favorite activity. I Hate Reading: How to Read When You'd Rather Not is for kids who would prefer to do math, throw up or even look at blank pages over reading. But it's also for kids who love humor in their books, especially humor that includes words like "butt" (as in the oft-repeated refrain: "Eyes on book. Butt on chair"). In the vein of Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe's Warning: Do Not Open This Book! and Ryan T. Higgins's Be Quiet!, this illustrated work of metafiction sneakily leads reluctant readers down the dangerous path to becoming enthusiastic page-turners, even as it explains exactly how not to do so.

Written by a mother (Beth Bacon) as told by her children (Arthur and Henry), I Hate Reading is packed with hilarious tips to avoid reading (get a bloody nose, offer to wash the car). Bacon specializes in books that validate the challenges many young kids experience with reading, including The Worst Book Ever; The Book No One Wants to Read; and Blank Space. Designed with blocks of color, playfully-sized fonts and plenty of white space, this visually appealing book may make striving readers feel less alone even as they discover that books can make them laugh. After all, as one tip says, "Funny books seem to go by fast." Indeed they do. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Kids who dread their teachers' recommended 20 minutes of reading a day may change their minds after experiencing this silly, laugh-out-loud manual on how to avoid reading.

HarperCollins, $12.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 6-10, 9780062962522


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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