From the Shelf
Do / You
If you're anything like me, e-mail is deeply ingrained in your life, hardly given a first thought, much less a second. David Hieatt, however, has thought long and hard about it--in particular, e-mail newsletters just like this one. His Hiut Denim Co. boasts incredible growth, thanks to its newsletter "Scrapbook Chronicles." What's the secret to a highly efficient and effective e-newsletter? Hieatt has distilled his wisdom on the subject into the book Do / Open (Do Books, $16.95).
The Do Book series has grown from the Do Lecture series in Wales. These are handy insights into business and life skills offered from one mover and shaker to another. For instance, Predictable Success organizational development company CEO Les McKeown illuminates how to grow a remarkable company in Do / Scale (Do Books, $14.95).
But it's not all boardrooms and shoptalk. These short testaments of roughly 100 pages cover a range of subjects: birth, death, beekeeping, singing. One I especially like, Do / Pause (Do Books, $14.95), is from Oxford educator Robert Poynton, who insists right there on the cover "You are not a To Do list." This idea has been on my mind a lot this year, thanks in no small part to Bay Area artist Jenny Odell's magnificent treatise How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (Melville House, $25.99).
As the digital world encroaches deeper into my daily habits, I find it's important to remember that my natural surroundings are still vital to my wellbeing. Poynton encourages simple behaviors, like taking walks outside. Odell cultivated an interest in birdwatching, which she finds helpful in balancing the scales weighted heavily with web-based obligations.
One thing I've been doing is leaving my smartphone behind. Not for long; for an hour, maybe two. That e-mail will still be there when I get back. Those little red badges can wait while I step out for some fresh air. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Fatima Bhutto
Fatima Bhutto crosses the globe to illuminate the new centers of pop-culture power, while also providing political analysis.
by Steve Sheinkin
Steve Sheinkin tells middle graders the captivating tale of the Women's Air Derby of 1929 and the female firebrands who flew in it.
Heirloom uses timeless techniques to deliver thoroughly modern recipes that are as nutritious as they are delicious.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
10/17/2019 - 7:00PMClick Here To Purchase Your Ticket! Thursday, October 17th 7-9PM Join us for an evening with Chef Sean Brock as he is in conversation with Chef Kelly Fields, discussing his book, South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations....
10/19/2019 - 1:00PMSaturday, October 19th 1-3PM "A bowl of my Mama's gumbo and a little wine will solve any problem you've got," said every single Gumbeaux Sistah ever. Five Southern women wage a hilarious war against the ageism problems of one of their deep-in-trouble sisters using their improbable friendships, evil-genius schemes, oh-so-numerous cocktails, and a shared passion for good gumbo.When southern artist, Judith Lafferty, loses her long-time, prestigious museum job to a much younger man, she finds...
Merry Harry: A Potter Holiday Collection
"Pottery Barn is launching a Harry Potter Holiday Collection," Mental Floss reported.
"The Merriam-Webster of Medieval Irish just got a major update," Atlas Obscura wrote.
The Independent shared "the 20 books Brits lie about reading the most, from War and Peace to 1984."
"When authors get into character--in pictures." (via the Guardian)
Victor Hugo's "most underappreciated work is this lavish four-story house Hauteville House" in Guernsey, Electric Lit wrote.
Rediscover: The Theory of the Leisure ClassWhy does someone buy a car or house they can't afford? Why would working class shoppers purchase luxury consumer goods at the expense of necessities like food or medicine? The answer, according to Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), is social status--or the emulation of it. From tribal societies to feudalism and into the modern day, social stratification has determined the division of labor. The middle and lower classes do work that directly benefits society, such as farming or manufacturing, while the upper (or leisure) class engages in conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure with no benefit to society. Despite this uselessness, the leisure class enjoys a higher social status, and, according to Veblen, lower classes pursue that high status at the expense of their own interests or even happiness. In capitalism, Veblen saw tribal and medieval social structures transplanted to the modern era, where the owners of the means of production replaced lords of the manor or warfaring tribesmen. The phrase "Veblen good" has come to mean an item that is desirable solely because it is expensive, such as luxury cars or overpriced champagne. The Theory of the Leisure Class is available from Penguin Classics ($16). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
M. Randal O'Wain: A Strange Thing
|photo: Saja Mantague|
M. Randal O'Wain holds an MFA from Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program. Originally from Memphis, Tenn., he now lives in southern West Virginia. His essays and short stories have appeared in the Oxford American, Guernica, Pinch, Booth, Hotel Amerika and storySouth, among others. He is the author of the memoir Meander Belt: Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working-Class South, a collection of essays that reflect on how a working-class boy from Memphis came to fall in love with language, reading, writing and the larger world outside of the American South. Meander Belt ($19.95) was recently released as part of the American Lives Series from the University of Nebraska.
In your preface, you write about privileging verisimilitude over accuracy. What does that mean?
Accuracy is fact, right? It's information, it's irrefutable. But we already know that memory is inaccurate. So to ask how could you ever know what is real, what is not real, how you can depend on your own memories... to me, that's a boring conversation. We're trying to get to the heart and nuts of the experience, the human condition, and not a verbatim account of truth.
I heard Kevin Brockmeier read from his memoir A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, about being in the seventh grade. Inevitably, when you write a memoir that uses the techniques of fiction rather than digressive or expository techniques, people will ask this question: "Well, what about dialogue? Is your memory that good?" And his answer was amazing. He said, "You know, pretty often I get asked that question, but nobody ever asks me how I remember the sun motes falling through my living room as I'm laying on my back staring out the window. Nobody ever asks me about those specific concrete details that are just as 'inaccurate' as dialogue." Because we just sort of buy those as being an acceptable form of essential truth. And he said, "I remember some dialogue, and I remember some details, but really what I'm trying to get at is what it was like to be a seventh grader, afraid to go outside or afraid to get up off that floor."
The story presents itself as it is. Either as inhabited space, one that might require techniques of fiction, or as a cerebral space, one that you turn over as a three-dimensional object, that you work with in your mind. Then the exciting part for the reader is watching the writer turn it over. Or if it's an inhabited space, the exciting part for the reader is watching it go by, as if it were cinema. Those are very different feelings. Meander Belt I felt the whole time in my guts. If I were to write it in a way that might come off as more essayistic and therefore more true, I suppose, it would seem so wrong. Because it wasn't a cerebral book. It's a bodily book.
How did this collection come to be?
I read Jo Ann Beard's The Boys of My Youth, Ryan Van Meter's If You Knew Then What I Know Now and Harrison Fletcher Candelaria's Descanso for My Father (also an American Lives book)--those three collections were so impressive. I just loved them. That was how I wanted to write this story. But I was convinced by an agent to turn it into a memoir. I tried for a few years, and failed terribly. When I turned in the final version of the memoir, she dropped me. She said that it wasn't a book that she wanted to read. And that was hard. That was devastating. But it was also freeing.
I'd been publishing these essays throughout the time of working on that memoir, just to kind of stay in the game, keep my foot in the door, test things out. "Arrow of Light," "Rain over Memphis," "Thirteenth Street and Failing" were early, standalone essays. And then there were others I started pulling out and changing. When the agent dropped me, I was like, oh, I'm free! And I went back to the original intent, and it flowed very easily.
What I've learned, what I have to say over and over again to myself, is to trust myself. I gave too much of my trust to a business relationship. Someone who didn't know my work as well I did, or my intent. Obviously we need the gatekeepers and go-betweens, like agents, but maybe we put too much trust in them. It's just a business relationship. Not an artistic relationship.
These essays draw on intimate and often painful details. How do you care for yourself through that process?
Those details are painful at first, and then you get them on the page, and they become something else. They become something that's beyond you. The saddest thing for me was that they didn't hurt anymore. That the book doesn't hurt. I miss it hurting. I extracted, mined very personal details that then were not a part of me anymore.
I don't know if there's ever a way to fully take care of yourself. It's a strange thing to turn memory into art.
What did you learn in writing this book?
That I never want to write about myself again. It was so difficult. There are so many constraints, going back to your initial question about truth. I wanted to tell the truth. And that meant having to talk to family members, to talk to them again and again, to make my poor mom go over it again and again.
There are people out there who keep writing memoir! Memoir after memoir after memoir! What's wrong with you? Haven't you ever heard of the autobiographical novel? Make shit up! The mining of memory, that whole process is very challenging. At times it can feel like you're just this egomaniac, and there are so many other things that a writer can look at besides themselves.
Even though I use a lot of techniques from fiction, I learned a lot about telling the truth. What it means to be vulnerable. So many times I tried to make an excuse for my behavior or apologize for my behavior, but I learned just to let it stand. To be okay with letting it stand. This was helpful for me as a writer and as a person. We're better off if we can be honest with ourselves about how fucked up we are as well as how good we are. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
A Cosmology of Monsters
by Shaun Hamill
Monsters real and imagined haunt the household at the center of Shaun Hamill's debut, A Cosmology of Monsters. After learning his family history later in life, Noah, the youngest of three siblings, narrates this eerie story. He begins in the 1960s, when his parents first meet. His mother, Margaret, turns down a rich suitor to marry Noah's father, Harry, a bookish but financially strapped young man with a penchant for Lovecraft. Flash forward to the early 1980s, and the couple has two daughters, Sydney and Eunice. Money is still hard to come by, but the family agrees to spend what little they have on Harry's dream to build a haunted house. As the project nears completion, Harry's behavior grows increasingly erratic. He dies from an apparent brain tumor mere days before the haunted house opens and weeks after Margaret informs him she's pregnant with their third child.
By time Noah is born, Harry is gone, and the haunted house has become the stuff of family lore. But when Noah starts hearing a strange scratching on his window at night, the boy begins to wonder if something supernatural had inspired his father's obsession with monsters. The rest of the novel unfolds in psychologically rich detail. Motives rooted in real life drive every character, even as the supernatural envelops Noah. Scary and moving in equal measure, A Cosmology of Monsters is an adept mash-up of horror and family drama that treats both genres with great care. --Amy Brady, freelance editor and writer
Discover: In this genre-blurring debut novel, Shaun Hammill creates the story of a family haunted by monsters that's both moving and frightening.
False Bingo: Stories
by Jac Jemc
In her second story collection, False Bingo, Jac Jemc delivers 20 compact, disquieting stories that are starkly realistic yet tinged with a sense of otherworldly menace. Her first collection, A Different Bed Every Time, blurred the lines between reality and fantasy in short, unconventional tales. False Bingo continues this exploration of the intersection between tangible danger and unknown fears.
"Any Other," the first entry, acts as a warning to readers that they should be careful about believing what they read. An encounter in a coffee shop between a man and a woman leads to the kind of unexpected plot switch of which O. Henry would approve. "The Principal's Ashes," dark and funny, takes place in a Catholic elementary school. Mrs. Sayer, a second-grade teacher, begins her year by predicting which of her students will kill the class frog. She teaches Alan Ginsberg's Howl, and has the students re-create part of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. Her goal is "to expose them to experience and knowledge beyond their years" in order to prevent their purity from delivering her the same fate that befell the principal.
Jemc's ability to build an undercurrent of threat in mundane situations is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson. She displays dexterity with characters and precision with words and sentences, creating small worlds that satisfy even as they disturb. Fans of Daisy Johnson and Helen Oyeyemi will relish these stories of mistrust, danger and regrets. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: False Bingo collects disquieting stories of everyday life overshadowed by paranoia and marred by dark edges.
by Jasmine Guillory
Jasmine Guillory (The Proposal) steps away from California and heads to England in Royal Holiday. As always, Guillory's writing explores love from a humorous perspective. Popular stylist Maddie Forest, heroine of The Wedding Party, is heading to England to work with a duchess for Christmas, and she talks her mother, Vivian, into coming along. That way Vivian can leave the country for only the second time in her 50-something years.
Much to Vivian's surprise, she loves Sandringham, the royal estate where the duchess is staying for Christmas. And she's even more attracted to Malcolm Hudson, a member of the royal staff, who is tall, handsome and has a fantastic accent. Malcolm, the first black private secretary to the queen, is drawn out of his typical reserve and into conversation with the beautiful, lively Vivian.
Sweet and sexy, Royal Holiday is a charmingly festive romance, full of vivid details of London tourist spots like Westminster Abbey and the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's refreshing to read a romance novel with a strong, older woman at its center, and readers are sure to fall for Malcolm's charm as easily as Vivian does. With lovely descriptions of the frigid English countryside and the delicious meals that Vivian and Malcolm share, Royal Holiday is the perfect tale of courtship to cozy up to with cup of tea. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this charming, sexy romance from the author of The Proposal, a 50-something woman discovers a new lease on love while vacationing in England.
Food & Wine
Heirloom: Time-Honored Techniques, Nourishing Traditions, and Modern Recipes
by Sarah Owens
In a global food system focused on maximizing productivity at the lowest cost, we are increasingly reliant on fewer, highly processed foods with diminished nutritional value. For Sarah Owens, this diet led to digestive problems and fatigue. However, Owens's commitment to ancient cooking methods restored her health, and she suggests others can do the same once they reacquaint themselves with a traditional approach for preparing whole foods.
In Heirloom, James Beard Award-winning author Owens (Toast & Jam) delivers a passionate manifesto on real food along with dozens of delectable recipes. She devotes the first part of the book to traditional preservation techniques: fermentation, soaking and sprouting methods to maximize health benefits and flavor; brewing homemade vinegars; making bone broth and stock; fermenting dairy; and baking with heirloom grain flours. The second section features a host of seasonal recipes: a rich and delectable (and naturally gluten-free) sweet potato tart with a coconut pecan crust; deeply satisfying and nutritious chicken and fennel sourdough dumplings; and lemony vegetarian cabbage rolls that are a fun and tasty twist on otherwise bland wraps. Owens leaves nothing to waste: kvass, a fermented beverage made from bread, can be enjoyed on its own or used as a braising liquid or a marinade, and the leftover bread can be used to make probiotic granola bars.
Choosing a diet based in ancient customs has allowed Owens to tolerate mainstream food on occasion, but her commitment to time-honored traditions is paramount; she considers it an "act of peaceful resistance." Owens guides readers through a healthy and nutritious diet, while honoring food as our ancestors did. --Frank Brasile, selection librarian, writer, editor
Discover: Heirloom uses timeless techniques to deliver thoroughly modern recipes that are as nutritious as they are delicious.
Biography & Memoir
Wham! George Michael & Me
by Andrew Ridgeley
In the 1980s, two boys from a London suburb dominated the world with outrageously catchy pop songs like "Careless Whisper" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Wham! was the brainchild of Andrew Ridgeley and Georgios Panayiotou (known to Andrew as Yog and to the rest of us as the late George Michael). Best friends since high school, they shared a passion for music that evolved from wearing out records by Elton John and Led Zeppelin into a yearning to craft hits of their own.
The stakes were high for the sons of immigrant fathers (Andrew's from Egypt and George's from Cyprus), for whom a steady job meant far more than silly ambitions of fame. But with a bit of cajoling and several second chances, an outgoing young Andrew convinced a shy, strait-laced George to pursue music. And thank goodness! Their early setbacks only served to push them further along, and the duo formed a bond that set the foundation for their decades-long friendship as well as their explosion into fame.
Ridgeley narrates his memoir, Wham! George Michael & Me, with such heart and generosity, it's nearly impossible to emerge on the other side without a few tear-stained pages. Even through moments of frustration, like when songwriting shifted fully onto George and set him on a path to solo superstardom, Ridgeley brushes aside any hint of bitterness. Instead, he marvels with sincerity at his friend's prodigious talent. This book is more than simply the history for one of the most powerful forces in pop music; it is a dazzling portrait of a friendship weathering the unpredictable nature of fame. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: One of the biggest pop music makers from the 1980s writes movingly about his journey to fame and success alongside his best friend.
Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands
by Dan Jones
Covering almost 400 years of world history, Crusaders is exhaustive yet rewarding. Dan Jones focuses on how the Crusades affected the world, from Pope Urban's call for holy war in 1099 to the decline of conflicts by the end of the 15th century. The book's insight into the people, motivations and often violent events of this period will delight history fans, even as casual readers may need to take their time with the sheer onslaught of information contained within these pages.
As he did in his previous book Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty, Jones writes with absolute clarity. He covers historical players like Saladin and Bohemond and shows how religious ideals played a serious part in the Crusades--but so did realpolitik. The Christians and Muslims who fought over Jerusalem were often atoning for their sins, but also desired the wealth of the Middle Eastern cities in order to expand their empires (and their purses). In compelling detail, the book puts into focus the pragmatism and spiritual fervor that made kings and knights alike travel to far-off lands.
Ultimately even if Crusaders is a dense read, the author's skill as a storyteller makes this an engrossing work for those with an interest in medieval history. There may never be a single definitive text on the Crusades, but this is a fine primer for readers in the 21st century. Crusaders is a satisfying and perceptive offering from Jones. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer
Discover: With empathy and shrewdness, historian Dan Jones describes the pragmatic motivations for Holy Wars that have often been overshadowed by the idealistic ones.
Nature & Environment
A Polar Affair: Antarctica's Forgotten Hero and the Secret Love Lives of Penguins
by Lloyd Spencer Davis
Lloyd Spencer Davis is an acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and author, in great part thanks to his work as a biologist specializing in the mating habits of penguins. Thus, it came as quite a surprise when, 35 years into his career, he discovered that he was not the first to make groundbreaking observations about the sexual proclivities--homosexuality, promiscuity and more--of these birds. He was instead following in the footsteps of George Murray Levick, the physician on Robert Falcon Scott's failed Antarctic expedition in 1910 and the world's first penguin researcher. Not only did Levick make the same rather startling observations, but he later prevented them from becoming public knowledge. Davis needed to find out why.
In A Polar Affair: Antarctica's Forgotten Hero and the Secret Love Lives of Penguins, Davis's 12th book, he combines a biography of Levick with a travelogue of both past and present-day expeditions. Davis also offers a natural history of the sexual habits of the birds themselves, including 16 pages of full-color photographs. Following in Levick's literal and scientific footsteps, Davis uncovers a man constrained by his Victorian upbringing. That upbringing resulted in Levick's judgment of penguins' sexual habits as immoral, and led him to bury his scientific evidence. Thanks to Davis's conscientious and more open-minded research, many years later, the truth is revealed in this insightful book. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: Victorian morals, the sex lives of penguins and Antarctic exploration combine in this unusual natural history and travelogue.
Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada's Arctic
by Adam Shoalts
"Are you insane?" he was asked. Professional adventurer Adam Shoalts wanted to do something "that hadn't already been done" in celebration of Canada's sesquicentennial. What he came up with combined his passion for paddling wild lakes and rivers with his desire for a challenge that would raise awareness about our vanishing wild places. His plan was "unlikely to succeed" and questions regarding his sanity were many, even with respect to the "easy" parts.
Beyond the Trees is the result of Shoalts surviving a months-long, 2,500-mile trek across the Canadian Arctic with nothing but his canoe, a backpack and two barrels crammed with rations (more than 170 pounds of dead weight). He faced down grizzly bears and muskox (sometimes right at his tent opening) and battled severe winds, chunks of ice drifting like jigsaw-puzzle pieces and hordes of blood-sucking insects. Most remarkable (and perilous) was that to chase the ice melt, Shoalts's route required he travel upstream, against the flow of rapids that generally called for parties of six to 12 to travel down safely.
Shoalts approaches the many dangers with smarts and aplomb, while also transmitting the tension in his recounting. Despite the risks Shoalts conveys, Beyond the Trees is an earnest love story to one of the last portions of the Earth that remains undeveloped and where large animals still roam free. Peppered with Shoalts's corny humor and legends of lone trappers' unspeakable deeds, this white-knuckle affair is a travelogue, adventure story and horror-movie-in-waiting that sparks an urge to get out and go. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: An intrepid explorer paddles and portages the vast and treacherous Canadian Arctic, sharing its unparalleled beauty and crucial need for its preservation.
New Kings of the World: Dispatches from Bollywood, Dizi, and K-Pop
by Fatima Bhutto
Shrewdly combining cultural and political analysis, original reporting and a fan's passions, novelist and memoirist Fatima Bhutto's New Kings of the World surveys three booming non-Western pop-culture scenes. Examining the continued global popularity of Bollywood and the recent ascent of Turkey's dizi soap operas and South Korea's K-Pop, Bhutto finds entertainment crafted to appeal to audiences alienated from America's pop culture.
The narratives of the most successful of the dizis, unlike more explicit American soaps, she writes, "put values and principles in battle against the emotional and spiritual corruption of the modern world," achieving "the perfect balance between secular modernity and middle-class conservatism." (She notes that after 20 episodes of one massively popular drama of forbidden love, the leads still hadn't gotten past longing glances.) Bhutto argues that the traditional values celebrated in dizis and Bollywood films appeal to the millions of rural people who in recent decades have, in India and other countries, migrated into cities.
Bhutto (Songs of Blood and Sword) tracks these phenomena as she visits sets in Istanbul, accompanies Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan on a trip to Abu Dhabi and meets fervent fans of Khan in Peru. Her tone alternates between amusement--she notes that Khan has played men named "Rahul" in eight films--and clear-eyed outrage. That anger is strongest when she reports on Bollywood's embrace of the Hindu nationalism of Narendra Modi and labels many 2019 films "Modi mood music." Still, her lively book remains hopeful, especially in its considerations of the complexities of global pop and its audience. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Fatima Bhutto crosses the globe to illuminate the new centers of pop-culture power, while also providing political analysis.
Fresh Pack of Smokes
by Cassandra Blanchard
"I must have turned a thousand tricks over those six years, you name it, I've done it, the perfect whore, young-looking so the men buzzed around me like bees on honey, you have no idea how many men see working girls for a quick blowjob in the car after work before going home." This is the opening of "XXX," the first of 67 entries in Fresh Pack of Smokes by Cassandra Blanchard.
Fresh Pack of Smokes is a gritty, riveting, poetical memoir chronicling a horrendous crack addiction and sex worker's street life. Blanchard doesn't use periods except at the end of each raw entry, to serve a stream-of-conscious telling of a cyclical, drug-addled madness: performing sex for money, buying drugs, getting high, sex for money, more drugs, etc. Her life was a quest to stay high. A brief stint in jail without drugs made her finally smell the urine, see the rats swarming the garbage and feel the punches and slaps of those she loved and those she pretended to love for her next fix. An addict is never fully cured, and she struggles with her demons, but Blanchard survived to tell her story with strikingly harsh, brutally blunt and occasionally wry observations: about a fellow addict ("Candy's hair was her resume"), a bad encounter with a john ("I'm pretty sure he had done things to children") and beatings ("so much blood you swallow the chunks like dark red liver"). Blanchard's writing in Fresh Pack of Smokes is blisteringly immersive. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: A raw, visceral recounting of life on the street as a drug addict and sex worker.
Children's & Young Adult
Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America
by Steve Sheinkin , illust. by Bijou Karman
Who better to tell young adults the story of 1929's Women's Air Derby than the singular Steve Sheinkin? The author of historical deep dives that include the National Book Award finalists The Port Chicago 50 and Most Dangerous, Sheinkin is a history writer of unusual gumption and no shortage of nerve. In Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America, his inaugural woman-centered work of nonfiction, Sheinkin calls "Ladybirds," "Derbyettes" and other press-coined euphemisms for female pilots "patronizing and stupid."
Sheinkin begins by introducing his all-female cast of characters, evoking Little Rascals episodes with scenes of their youthful attempts at flight (as from the roof of a barn). As adults, these female pilots, relative rarities in a male-dominated field, are thrilled when they learn that on August 18, 1929, there will be a Women's Air Derby--the first-ever women's cross-country air race. This was the 1920s, when air racing was a wildly popular American spectator sport, so of course the derby would generate headlines. What the pilots could not have anticipated was how rage-makingly sexist the reporting would be.
Born to Fly is full of emergency landings, nail-biting finishes and (probable) acts of sabotage; when there isn't an archival photo to capture a moment, Bijou Karman's unpretentious line art fills in the gaps. But Sheinkin isn't just good at staging drama: he shoehorns in some basic aviation science while also setting the historical scene. Can it be a coincidence that the spike in women's interest in flying happened so soon after women won the right to vote? Sheinkin thinks not. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Steve Sheinkin tells middle graders the captivating tale of the Women's Air Derby of 1929 and the female firebrands who flew in it.
Stars and Poppy Seeds
by Romana Romanyshyn , Andriy Lesiv
Ukrainian illustrators Andriy Lesiv and Romana Romanyshyn pay homage to the beauty of math in Stars and Poppy Seeds, about a young girl who aspires to count all the stars in the sky.
"Flora loved to count more than anything else." She "counted all of the animals in the world"--even the sea cows, elephants and platypuses. Counting the stars, however, poses a dilemma: "there were so many stars in the night sky that not even all of the numbers she knew would be enough to count them." Disappointed that her "complicated formulae and equations" prove unfit for the task, Flora's mathematician mother urges her to stay optimistic, reminding her that "every task, even the most complicated, begins... with one step."
Lesiv and Romanyshyn cleverly show the ways in which numbers play a vital role in Flora's life: a portrait of her bunny, Pythagoras, is made out of 65 "tiny poppy seeds"; on walks, Flora counts leaves, dandelions and the "buttons on the coats of passers-by." The authors' distinctive art style mesmerizes; the muted, neutral-color illustrations are accented with a red that pops from the page. Each spread illustrates the text's ideas in an abstract yet identifiable arrangement, such as the Milky Way depicted inside the form of a young girl. Though Lesiv and Romanyshyn's art is filled with math concepts that may be foreign to the target age group (such as equations, puzzles and maps), associating them now with the joy of story time will start young readers on the road to a positive relationship with the oft-dreaded subject matter. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: In this lovely Ukranian picture book import, a young math lover sets her sights on counting all the stars in the sky.
by Brittney Morris
In her debut young adult novel, Slay, Brittney Morris tackles the difficulties of code-switching and community building through the experiences of 17-year-old black American Kiera Johnson.
Kiera exists in two worlds. In the real world, she is one of only two black girls at a predominantly white high school and is thus vigilant about policing her hair, body, language and tone to avoid being coded as a stereotype. Inside SLAY, the game she's created, the beauty and nuance of the African diaspora is on full display and Kiera is the "Nubian goddess" Emerald. Black-identified players from all over the globe create avatars with skin shades from "Zendaya to Lupita" and rock "dashikis, Mursi lip plates" and "Marley twists" as they reign over diverse regions like the Desert, Tundra and Swamp (a nod to the presence of black people everywhere). Players compete in duels using inspired cards with cultural references from across different experiences, like "Michael Jackson's glove" or the Gabby Douglas card, which enhances the gymnastic abilities of a player. But, when a teen is murdered over coin in the game, Kiera's secret life as the creator of SLAY is exposed. As her real and virtual worlds collide, Kiera's plans for college, love and SLAY are upended.
While late in the novel, some explorations of gender dynamics feel underdeveloped and out of place, Slay grants readers perspective into experiences of black people from all over the world as they gather, connect and grieve deeply, showcasing their power--even with time and space separating them--to respond with compassion to any trial. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer
Discover: Slay doesn't play games with its bold content and character development, guiding readers through various complex levels that explore the wide, gorgeous African diaspora.