From the Shelf
There Is Poetry in Baseball, and Vice Versa
Baseball remains the sport nestled closest to our literary souls. In the preface to If God Invented Baseball: Poems (City Point Press), E. Ethelbert Miller writes: "There is no future without baseball. There is no past either.... Here are poems that celebrate and interpret the game. They are for everyone who has experienced the magic released when three holy things come together: bat, ball and glove."
And so they are. Miller is not the first poet to see this, of course. Donald Hall has always been up for a metaphorical game of catch: "Baseball, I warrant, is not the whole/ occupation of the aging boy." ("The Seventh Inning," The Museum of Clear Ideas, Mariner)
And I love Martín Espada's "The Trouble Ball" (The Trouble Ball: Poems, Norton): "On my father's island, there were hurricanes and tuberculosis, dissidents in jail/ and baseball. The loudspeakers boomed: Satchel Paige pitching for the Brujos/ of Guayama."
When she was 81, Marianne Moore threw out the first pitch at the Yankees' home opener in 1968. From "Baseball and Writing" (New Collected Poems, FSG): "Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting/ and baseball is like writing./ You can never tell with either/ how it will go/ or what you will do;/ generating excitement--/ a fever in the victim--/ pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter."
I bought If God Invented Baseball right around Opening Day. I knew I'd love this collection because Miller is one of my favorite poets. He's also the only one I've actually seen play ball. (Well, it was softball on the Commons Lawn at Bennington College, but that counts, right?)
In "The Knuckleball," Miller writes: "Every black man should be born/ with a big mitt./ How else can one catch the world/ that flutters in unpredictable ways." Great baseball poetry must first be great poetry, and I think Miller's new collection is. "The knuckleball is Bebop/ Don't be baffled by its strange beauty/ Just keep hitting it with your ears." --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Futhi Ntshingila
In this fable-like novella, a young girl fights for the life she wants against the backdrop of AIDS and poverty in modern-day South Africa.
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Twelve-year old Charlotte and 11-year old Ben individually face tumultuous weeks but are connected by their online Scrabble game.
by Dunya Mikhail
The Beekeeper tells the story of kidnapped Iraqi women and children through the lens of a remarkable rescuer.
Review by Subjects:
Celebrating National Library Week (and Poetry Month)
To celebrate National Library Week (and Poetry Month), Brain Pickings shared some of Nikki Giovanni's "wonderful poems celebrating libraries and librarians."
Mental Floss checked out "11 ridiculously overdue library books (that were finally returned).
The New York Public Library was "feline good with our favorite literary cats."
Mental Floss revealed "10 surprising former librarians."
Bustle suggested "10 easy ways you can support libraries during National Library Week."
Secret codes hidden in the books of a Scottish library "are a way for elderly readers to keep track of what they've already read," Atlas Obscura reported.
Rediscover: Polio: An American Story
It has been nearly 40 years since a case of polio originated in the United States. Prior to the development of a vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1955, polio was a recurring scourge on humanity, causing death or paralysis among those afflicted (a stele from 13th-century BCE Egypt depicts a man with a withered leg believed to be a victim of polio). Thanks to a robust global eradication program, cases of naturally contracted polio are down to double digits worldwide. Full eradication has been hampered by conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, though these numbers are a far cry from the mid-20th century, when polio killed or crippled more than 500,000 people every year.
The epidemics of the 1940s and 1950s made polio the most feared disease in the United States. The efforts of millions of parents to keep their children away from places they believed spread the virus--like swimming pools and beaches--failed to prevent nearly 60,000 annual cases. Only Jonas Salk's vaccine, and an enormous vaccination effort promoted by the March of Dimes (created by the disease's most famous victim, FDR), made summer safe again. In Polio: An American Story (2005), medical historian David M. Oshinsky chronicles the polio epidemic in the U.S. and the race to discover an effective vaccine. Oshinsky's book won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for History and is available in paperback from Oxford University Press ($16.95, 9780195307146). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Rory Kress: Unraveling the USDA and Puppy Mills
|photo: Andrea Flanagan Photography|
Rory Kress is a journalist and Emmy Award-winning television producer. She received her master's degree with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and got her start writing for the Associated Press in Jerusalem. Kress's first book, The Doggie in the Window (reviewed below), is an investigation into the origins of her dog, Izzy.
After buying a dog from a pet store, your journalist nature was piqued by her quirks and you decided to investigate where she came from.
Yes. I was as naïve and foolish as anybody else, and I had no right to be because I am a journalist and this is what I do. I should have been asking more questions than I did, and I take responsibility for that. I ended up tracking back to where my own dog came from and seeing it for myself. It took me a very long time after I physically went there to emotionally connect with where she came from and who she is. It was a place that to me was very, very foreign. It was as alien to me as, gosh, the furthest reaches I've ever traveled to on this planet.
We hear a lot about the horrors of puppy mills--dog-breeding operations in which the health of the animals is disregarded in order to maximize profits--but The Doggie in the Window takes a new perspective on the industry. How so?
I think there's a lot of literature out there about puppy mills and illegal dog breeding. That's all horrible, but where my take on this differs is where we're either being obfuscated by or lied to by our government, and as taxpayers we need to ask better questions. Our consumer dollars really do matter once you follow the money.
The USDA, of all things, is who regulates this. It's such a strange thing to look at my dog and look at a piece of packaged meat I get from the store and say, "Wow, the same agency oversees these two very, very different things." But I almost didn't pick up this topic because so many people have written about it. Then, when I started pulling the thread of the government and the USDA and the regulations and the legal puppy mills and what that means, that's when I became shocked. The more I dug and the more I realized no one was talking about this part of it--government complacency at best, complicity at worst--it was just shocking to me.
An interesting twist transpired while you were writing this book.
I can laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn't so fun. I had to completely rewrite the book in February 2017, almost cover to cover. The book was due--full manuscript--back to my publisher April 1. Trump gets voted in, gets inaugurated and 15 days later pulls all the USDA reports that I'd been using to research the book for the last two years. Suddenly the entire story changed. The story was originally that if you look up these USDA reports--the federal reports--they kind of tell you nothing and they're meaningless. But at least you could see if breeders had a license. Now you can't even do that. If a pet shop wants to buy from a licensed breeder, they can't access that information without an FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request. And I can tell you, having spent a lot of time FOIA requesting things, it's a very high bar to entry. You have to ride them and you have to stay on them, sometimes even show press credentials. Otherwise they'll say they're too backlogged, and they'll get to it next year.
Nobody's going to do that. So I had to completely rewrite the book. Originally it was about the fact that the USDA kind of rubber-stamps these places and doesn't actually put anything on their inspection reports, and the state reports prove that. But now the federal reports are gone.
What was the rationale for pulling the reports?
I will never understand why this was a priority. Breeders pay a small license fee; it doesn't cost that much to be a dog breeder, so there's not that much money to be made, there's not that much political influence from them. So why, 15 days into a new administration, is this a priority? They hadn't even named an agriculture secretary yet.
They've kind of defended it by saying they're trying to make it better, trying to improve it, but that's very hard to quantify. I do know that I'm putting this out there at a time when this country is very divided, but this is a truly bipartisan issue.
You examine things like the Canine Care Certified designation for dog breeders and Puppyspot.com for people looking for dogs, which operate using proprietary data. Do you think these are positive for the industry?
There are so many people saying to consumers, "trust me, I'll make it easy on you. Don't worry about it." I'm a busy person, you're a busy person; there are people out there telling us to trust them, telling us that they're animal lovers. But what am I trusting you to do? What are your criteria? Why should I trust you? After all, you're making money on this. Even the USDA is. Why should I trust anybody but myself? I have a lot more respect for the average consumer, I think, than the pet industry does. I think you can tell with your own two eyes if you go to a breeder and you meet them and you look around the facility--common sense kind of tells you, "yeah, this is a good guy, this is a bad guy." And the same thing is true with shelters. There are going to be bad actors on both sides.
What do you hope people take away from The Doggie in the Window?
Small and simple changes can make a world of difference. Know where the regulations are, where the framework is and where you as a consumer can actually do something without having to be an expert or a scientist; you just need an Internet connection and a pair of eyes. It's not that hard to get this right if you want to.
You can vote with your dollars--where you buy from if you buy. You need to physically go, get on a waitlist, think about where you're putting your money. If you're going to adopt, research the shelters, make sure you're adopting from a shelter that engages in best practices and treats the animals well. You as a consumer matter. Who you vote for matters. What you do really matters. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
We Kiss Them with Rain
by Futhi Ntshingila
Fourteen-year-old Mvelo lives in a squatter town on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa, amid "the chaos of human lives engaged in surviving anew every day." She is pregnant after an unwanted sexual encounter with a traveling minister. Her mother is dying of AIDS. These are the facts of Mvelo's life, and in a different storyteller's hands, they could easily result in a story without hope. But for Futhi Ntshingila, "someone with nothing to lose has a chance to arm-wrestle with God, and maybe to win."
This "maybe" is the heart of We Kiss Them With Rain, Ntshingila's third novel. Mvelo never knows if she will win or not, but throughout this slim but powerful novel, she takes chances and pushes forward on the assumption that maybe, just maybe, she can. A series of coincidences and hidden identities that rival a Shakespearean comedy dapple the bleak landscape of Mvelo's life with spots of humor and moments of love. Her story is not about endurance or even survival, though of course she must do both things at far too young an age. It is a story about joy and hope and courage, and what it means to lift up others and be lifted oneself, and how one young girl found her voice in a world seemingly determined to take it away. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: In this fable-like novella, a young girl fights for the life she wants against the backdrop of AIDS and poverty in modern-day South Africa.
by Bruce Holbert
Being an adult is hard for many, impossible for some. The White family of Grand Coulee, Wash., falls near the hopeless end of the spectrum, their lives running to violence, booze, estrangement and recklessness. This is the focus of Whiskey, told with a strong hand by Bruce Holbert (The Hour of Lead, Lonesome Animals), who infuses the upbringing of brothers Andre and Smoker with just enough humor to bridge the hard stuff.
Told in three alternating time periods, the novel begins in August 1991 with "Exodus," which finds the Whites on ever-diverging paths. Andre's marriage is ending, his parents are aging far from gracefully and Smoker's daughter needs rescuing, setting the brothers off on a road trip involving a mysterious preacher and a bear lured from a tree with a picnic ham tied to a rope.
As the brothers discuss life, love, blame and shame, Holbert takes readers through five decades of family saga--sections "Genesis" and "Lamentations." The meeting and courtship of matriarch Peg (a hell-raiser who "could put a year's living into a long weekend") and Pork (who would maim for her) begins when "they took the wrong turn that was each other" and lived life with a full head of booze-fueled steam.
Andre and Smoker's childhood is bleak, ducking thrown dishes just a normal day's calisthenics. Holbert's descriptions and dialogue, however, are to be savored, particularly as the brothers struggle to come to terms with their destructive past and accept who they have become. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A biting yet often comic saga of a central Washington family who wrestle with their demons, each other and those around them over five tumultuous decades.
The Recipe Box
by Viola Shipman
Nourishment--especially of the heart and soul--forms the basis of The Recipe Box, a moving novel about the inextricable bonds of family by Viola Shipman (pen name for Wade Rouse). The story is a multi-generational chronicle of the Mullins family of Suttons Bay, Mich., and their agricultural orchard nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Samantha "Sam" Nelson was given her great-great-grandmother's recipe box at age 13. After high school, she chooses to leave the Mullins Family Orchard and Pie Pantry and attend culinary school. She later takes a job at a Manhattan bakery run by a demeaning reality TV chef. At work, she is befriended by Angelo Morelli, a young man who delivers organic produce to the bakery and is trying, like Sam, to chart his own path. When Sam loses her job, she retreats to the family orchard to reassess her life. There, she gains a new appreciation for the long-held family business and the cherished wisdom of her ancestors. But when Angelo arrives for a visit, Sam is torn between staying at the orchard or returning to the New York culinary scene.
Shipman (The Charm Bracelet) traces more than a century of Mullins family history, showing how the orchard--and those who passionately tended to it--evolved and endured. The inclusion of scrumptious recipes sweeten this wholesome story where food and baking become acts of love. Shipman has sensitively crafted another tender, deeply resonant novel that readers can savor. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: The history of a family-run orchard and pie shop enlightens a young pastry chef as she re-evaluates her own life.
Let's No One Get Hurt
by Jon Pineda
"I know I'm not a woman yet. But I'm also not a girl. I'm a poem no one will ever translate." With Let's No One Get Hurt, Jon Pineda (Apology) offers a wild, yearning, strong-willed protagonist and a novel with both tenderness and violence at its core. Pearl lives in an abandoned boathouse with her father and two other adult men. Dox and Fritter are father and son, and they form a family of sorts, subsisting on catfish and crayfish from the river, mushrooms and wild rice from the woods and building scraps from the wealthy subdivision nearby.
Pearl's coming-of-age and her troubled liaison with the upper-class boys who live in the development near her makeshift home define the novel's timeline. As she grows up, her old dog, Marianne Moore, is dying. Her father, a former poetry professor who named the dog after one of his favorite subjects, also suffers from increasingly poor health. Fritter paints a never-ending mural of pitch black, and Dox noodles on his cigar-box guitar.
Pearl's mother was a scholar who said that "poems were never finished, that they were only abandoned." Pearl likes to think that maybe all abandoned things are poems. She lives in an abandoned place; maybe she lives inside a poem.
Let's No One Get Hurt is thick with the lush warmth of the American South and the harshness of a life scavenged out-of-doors, and Pineda's teenaged girl's perspective is spot-on. This novel of exploration, exploitation and the poetry in it all will stun readers of all kinds, especially those who appreciate strong characters and tough choices. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A teenaged squatter with a poet's heart and a stolen fly-fishing rod struggles to map her own way.
Mystery & Thriller
by Alan Parks
Harry McCoy grew up in a children's home, is prone to drunkenness, takes speed, likes to use his fists, romances a heroin-addicted prostitute and consorts with criminals. He has more in common with the crooks he chases than with his fellow detectives on the Glasgow Police Force.
On January 1, 1973, McCoy is summoned to Barlinnie prison by an inmate with a tip: a young waitress named Lorna will be killed the following day. Although he's on the scene on January 2, McCoy can't stop a teenager named Tommy Malone from fatally shooting Lorna and then himself at a bus station. McCoy has previously tussled with the wealthy Dunlop family, for whom Tommy was working as a groundskeeper. Now he's forced to grill Jimmy Gibbs, the former dirty cop running the Dunlop house; more gallingly, Gibbs is dating McCoy's ex. After another young woman--like Lorna, a turner of tricks--is murdered, McCoy bears down on the Dunlops, knowing full well how "bulletproof the rich really were."
Alan Parks's thrilling debut teeters on a cultural tipping point: heroin is becoming Glasgow's drug of choice, Barlinnie seems to be run by hippies, one of McCoy's love interests is an outspoken feminist, and he can't get behind the new music--embodied by the androgynous David Bowie, who makes a wordless but tasty cameo in the book. Bloody January's classic-noir feel is reinforced by McCoy's reluctance to let go of the past, no matter how badly it treated him. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this classic noir-flavored debut set in 1973 Glasgow, Detective Harry McCoy grapples with both a horrific crime and changing times.
Biography & Memoir
The Beekeeper: Saving the Stolen Women of Iraq
by Dunya Mikhail , trans. by Max Weiss
Dunya Mikhail, in The Beekeeper: Saving the Stolen Women of Iraq, gives voice to victimized women and one daring rescuer who hope that "people will know the truth about what's happening."
Since 2014, ISIS, called Daesh in Iraq, has terrorized the Yazidi area of northern Iraq by killing men who will not convert to Islam and kidnapping women and children. Those enslaved are raped, tortured, forced into the sex trade and even work with chemical weapons. The unlikely hero of this story is Abdallah, a beekeeper in Iraq until he organized a network of rescuers because "[o]ur mountain has melted from the tears and beseeching of the families." Mikhail, now a United States citizen, is a journalist and poet from the Yazidi area. The book is a series of heart-wrenching conversations between Mikhail and several Yazidi women, interspersed with her reminisces of the brutal world that replaced the Iraq of her childhood.
Abdallah's network consists of often unnoticed farmers, taxi drivers or shopkeepers. His ability to find ransom, plan escape routes across countries and remain calm in the face of terrorists is striking. The fearlessness of the captives who trust those they don't know in order to escape is a testament to the will to survive. As Abdallah says, "Hope is our daily bread."
Headlines cannot do justice to the suffering of victimized groups across the globe. As the surviving Yazidis bear witness, the very least the rest of the world can do is listen. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: The Beekeeper tells the story of kidnapped Iraqi women and children through the lens of a remarkable rescuer.
Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, but You Can Read Them Too
by Louie Anderson
In 2015, Louie Anderson was hired to play Zach Galifianakis's mother, Christine Baskets, on the FX comedy series Baskets. Since he felt that he was channeling his mother to portray the character, he started writing letters to his mom (who died in 1990) to update her on his life and career, ask her questions and try to sort out his childhood. Anderson was the 10th child (of 11 kids) in a poor family dominated by a violent and abusive alcoholic father.
Over the three years he penned these letters, Anderson won an Emmy award for his performance on the series, sorted through troubling family history, grieved the sudden death of his younger brother, and tried to strengthen the ties with his remaining siblings and family. Anderson has made a career out of poking fun at his dysfunctional family and food addiction, so there are some laughs throughout. (Anderson once dreamt he'd died and was embalmed with butter. "People were walking by me, paying their respects and saying, 'God, he smells good.' ") But the comedian primarily delves deeper to reveal painful family secrets, forgive the past and curb his destructive behaviors by joining Adult Children of Alcoholics and entering therapy. Anderson also looks back on his four-decade career, celebrating successes (his animated Life with Louie TV series), acknowledging his failures (losing his job hosting Family Feud) and appreciating his career resurgence.
Hey Mom is an articulate, insightful and openly emotional series of letters that will resonate with those recovering from traumatic childhoods and with fans of Anderson's 1989 book, Dear Dad. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Louie Anderson remembers his traumatic childhood and 40-year career through articulate and emotionally raw letters penned to his late mother.
The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic
by Benjamin Carter Hett
Parliamentary politics seldom makes for propulsive reading. Yet, with the fate of Weimar Germany and tens of millions of lives on the line, the machinations of men like Paul von Hindenburg, Kurt von Schleicher and Heinrich Brüning in the late 1920s and early 1930s becomes the stuff of thrillers. In The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, historian Benjamin Carter Hett (Burning the Reichstag; Death in the Tiergarten) delves into the death throes of interwar German democracy.
The Weimar Republic's tumultuous foundation made it a fragile system. Created after losing World War I, this parliamentary government became a scapegoat for the humiliating reparations and territorial losses imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. Between hyperinflation in the early '20s, mass unemployment during the Great Depression and a constant simmer of political violence, it was a miracle this system lasted as long as it did. By the early '30s, the Reichstag was paralyzed by radicalized extremes on the left and right--the Communists versus the Nazis--with a crumbling center-left and center-right unwilling to unite against either force.
Still, Hitler's takeover was far from inevitable. Hett shows how personal blunders--often by Reich president and octogenarian war hero Paul von Hindenburg, though also by other conservatives seeking to use Hitler's populist power for their own gain--allowed the Nazis to seize control. Weimar's final destruction came with the 1933 Enabling Act, when the Reichstag--freshly purged of Communists and crawling with armed stormtroopers--gave Chancellor Hitler extraordinary powers. The Death of Democracy is an accessible account of the many missteps that led to that moment, and teaches a few chilling lessons for the modern day. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A concise account of how the Nazis took control of the Weimar Republic.
Our 50-State Border Crisis: How the Mexican Border Fuels the Drug Epidemic Across America
by Howard G. Buffett
Howard Buffett, philanthropist and law enforcement officer, knows from personal experience what the Mexico-U.S. border crisis looks like. He regularly sees unauthorized immigrants crossing his ranch lands in Arizona. In this well-written, in-depth analysis, Buffett links the U.S. drug epidemic to the use of the border by Mexican drug cartels. Politicians may consider them separate issues, but Buffett's discussions with ranchers, migrants, Border Patrol and other law enforcement officials show readers that the two are inextricably entwined. As long as there is demand for drugs in the U.S., the Mexican cartels will find a way to get them here, whether by using human "mules," shooting packages across open fields with T-shirt cannons, digging extensive tunnels or dropping the drugs by plane.
Buffett reflects on why so many migrants flee their native countries--many are starving or have faced such extreme violence and death threats that the dangerous trek across desert lands where they face heat stroke, dehydration and rape seems like the lesser of the evils. He suggests Mexico step up and enforce stricter rules on the cartels, and that the U.S. help. He touches on the American pharmaceutical industry's role in the drug crisis, but doesn't hit them with any real force. He also considers the effects a full border wall would have on nature and animal migrations. His book is not a call-to-action, per se, but rather a way to open much-needed discussions on how to resolve this multifaceted problem. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A frank discussion on the American drug epidemic and the Mexico-U.S. border.
The Doggie in the Window
by Rory Kress
Neither Rory Kress nor her boyfriend had ever owned a dog when they moved in together. But the journalist longed to add a furry friend to her household. Kress had heard stories about illegal puppy mills and was leery when she received a recommendation for a pet store where she could buy a puppy. However, the store touted its policy of selling dogs only from USDA-licensed breeding facilities, so the first-time pet owner felt confident that Izzy, her new Wheaten Terrier, did not come from a puppy mill. When her journalistic nature kicks in, though, Kress sets out to discover exactly where Izzy came from. What she uncovers is shocking.
With the determination of a dog after a bone, Kress delves into the world of government-regulated dog breeding. She digs through research, follows paper trails and interviews people throughout the industry. Representatives from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), breeders, retailers, veterinarians and other animal scientists--as well as those who have purchased the canines--contribute to Kress's investigation. Her findings are eye-opening, often heartbreaking but not hopeless. They offer potential dog owners much-needed information on which to base their decisions--when acquiring a companion as well as making voting choices.
The Doggie in the Window is a thoroughly researched probe enhanced by Kress's personal experience as a cog in the system. Her raw honesty draws readers into her experiences and journey, encouraging them to take away valuable lessons and to take action for fundamental change. This is a definite must-read for all animal lovers. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A journalist and first-time dog owner goes in search of her beloved pet's origins and uncovers a world of government-licensed puppy mills.
Children's & Young Adult
You Go First
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Benjamin Boxer and Charlotte Lockard have a lot in common: they're both smart, they love playing online games of Scrabble together and they're both having a terrible week. Unfortunately, they're about a thousand miles apart. In Pennsylvania, 12-year-old Charlotte's dad just suffered a major heart attack and her best friend is slowly pulling away. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, Ben's parents have announced they're divorcing and his only real-life friends have disappeared into the crowds of middle school. As Ben comes to understand his own loneliness, he begins to wonder if Charlotte could be his friend outside of the game, too. " 'Do you think our generation relies too much on digital communication?' " he texts her. " 'Never thought about it,' " she responds, " 'Why?' " And an Internet-age friendship is born.
Told in Charlotte's and Ben's dual points of view over the course of a week, with charming cityscape illustrations dividing each of the days, You Go First by Erin Estrada Kelly is a delicate look at friendship, bullying and coming of age. Ben and Charlotte are sympathetic characters, each with their own charm. Ben's persistent heart and logical nature are relentless; his initial response to his parents' impending divorce--"it just didn't make any sense, and he lived in a world of sensible things"--is achingly heartfelt. Charlotte's struggles with losing her best friend while also facing the potential loss of her father are introspective and profound. You Go First is a brilliant follow-up to Entrada Kelly's Newbery winner, Hello, Universe, and challenges readers to rethink the rules of friendship. --Kyla Paterno, former YA and children's book buyer
Discover: Twelve-year old Charlotte and 11-year old Ben individually face tumultuous weeks but are connected by their online Scrabble game.
by Justina Ireland
Life would have been very different for Jane McKeene if the dead hadn't "rose up and started to walk" in Gettysburg two days after she was born. As a black child born to "the richest white woman in Haller County, Kentucky," Jane might have become a "proper house girl" or even "taken Aunt Aggie's place as House Negro." Instead, now 17-year-old Jane attends Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls, located just outside of Baltimore. She and her classmates learn the fine art of killing the undead ("shamblers") who have terrorized the country since the end of the War Between the States. Jane's education at Miss Preston's is important: a trained student from Miss Preston's may be hired as an Attendant to a fashionable white woman. As an Attendant, Jane will keep "her charge from being killed by the dead, and her virtue from being compromised by potential suitors." The War may be over, but the popular Survivalist Party freely compares black people with "apes" and "livestock" while it focuses on "securing the safety of white Christian men and women" and restoring the nation to "its former glory."
When sweet-talking, also multiracial ex-beau Jackson Keats asks Jane to help him find his missing sister, Jane sneaks out of school accompanied by her "passing light" classmate and nemesis, Katherine Deveraux. In their search, the two girls and Jackson find themselves swept up in a plot wherein white families and Attendants are going missing. Witty and subversive, Ireland deftly tackles important issues from our nation's past and present. Themes of racism, power and humanity are blended into this action-packed adventure with a cast of well-developed characters who practically jump off the page. A neat conclusion ties up most plot points, but readers will hope for a sequel. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Since the onset of the undead plague, black and indigenous peoples are being trained to protect white Christians who are struggling to re-impose pre-Civil War values on the nation.
by Sophie Blackall
Caldecott medalist Sophie Blackall (Finding Winnie) illuminates the isolated and ritualistic life of an old-fashioned lighthouse keeper, showing the allure of the iconic structures.
New to his post, the young lighthouse keeper does the constant repetitive tasks necessary to keep his beacon lit--polishing the lens, refilling the oil, winding the clockwork--his actions shown in arched cutaways and porthole insets. In time, his industrious wife joins him, helping with regular tasks and tending the lighthouse when her husband lies ill. Soon, under the serpentine display of an emerald aurora, the lighthouse says "Hello! ...Hello! ...Hello!" to their first child. Around their red-and-white home, the sea shifts through the seasons. Fishscale ripples glow in rosy sunset tones, storm waves evoke Japanese woodcuts and "[t]he sea turns into a carpet of ice" for lounging leopard seals. When the Coast Guard brings an automated light, the family leaves for the mainland, but a gatefold spread shows the lantern from their house on the coast shining a greeting back to their old home.
Blackall's Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations feel nostalgic and comforting, showing a small but homey microcosm warmed by rugs, wooden furniture and a coal stove. The circular shape of the lighthouse walls acts as a motif, reappearing as the frames of insets, the wagon-wheel pattern of the quilt and a reflecting telescope lens. An author's note on lighthouses provides a more in-depth overview of the daily life, duties and dangers of lighthouse keepers. This romantic glimpse into history will captivate readers age four through eight. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Caldecott medalist Blackall looks lovingly at a time when lighthouses and their keepers guided ships to safety.