From the Shelf
Honoring the Growing Season
As we emerge from both winter and the pandemic, I've been delighting in blooming trees and green, growing plants--and reaching for books that inspire me to pay attention to the natural world. Tovah Martin's The Garden in Every Sense and Season (Timber Press, $16.95) is a joyful tour through a year in the garden, with brief essays highlighting particular plants. Through the lens of the five senses, Martin encourages readers to dig (literally) into the dirt and let the plant kingdom restore their souls.
I always return to Mary Oliver in the spring. Her collections, including Thirst, Why I Wake Early (Beacon Press, $16 each), A Thousand Mornings (Penguin, $17) and others, prompt me to notice birds, trees, flowers and other wildlife in my neighborhood. Oliver's keen eye for detail and unsentimental imagery--she celebrates nature's darkness as much as its light--helps sharpen my own eyes and soul.
This winter's PBS series based on James Herriot's memoirs prompted me to pick them up again, starting with All Creatures Great and Small (St. Martin's, $8.99). Herriot's wry accounts of his life in rural Yorkshire, serving as a veterinarian to pets and farm animals, are full of colorful characters. His vivid writing celebrates growth and rebirth while acknowledging the necessary rhythms of the seasons: he loves the Yorkshire Dales and their residents, human and animal, as much in deep winter as he does in full green summer.
Finally, Robert Macfarlane's The Lost Spells (Anansi, $26), gorgeously illustrated by Jackie Morris, is a celebration of creatures with whom we humans share our world. Moths, owls, curlews, foxes and others flit in and out of the pages, their elusive magic captured by Macfarlane's pen and Morris's brush. Each of these books brings home the truth of Oliver's famous line: "Attention is the beginning of devotion." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
In this Issue...
by Choi Eunyoung
Choi Eunyoung's remarkable debut collection features seven stories of Korean women, candidly assessing their lives past and present.
by Rita Williams-Garcia
This YA novel skillfully reveals the lives and suffering of enslaved Black plantation workers through their interactions with a white slave-owning family.
by Kathleen Ossip
Kathleen Ossip's poetry depicts the personal experience of an unignorably political time through its restless and relentlessly thoughtful expressions of daily life.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
09/16/2021 - 6:00PMEVENT Postponed THE GARDEN DISTRICT BOOK SHOP HOSTS KENT BABB TO CELEBRATE HIS NEW RELEASE, ACROSS THE RIVER: LIFE, DEATH, AND FOOTBALL IN AN AMERICAN CITY The Garden District Book Shop is thrilled to host an evening celebrating the recent release of award-winning sportswriter Kent Babb’s, Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City. What is sure to be a classic work of sports journalism, Across the River is an investigation into the...
The Morgan's Three Gutenberg Bibles
The Morgan Library & Museum's latest Collection in Focus video focused on the institution's three Gutenberg Bibles.
The Cambridge Dictionary's About Words blog looked up "hitting the ground running (idioms and phrases in newspapers)."
Author Erin Kelly's top 10 books about ballet were featured in the Guardian.
"Watch an AI-powered robot take the fun out of 'Where's Waldo,' " Mental Floss suggested.
Ly Tran: I Write for that Little Girl
|(photo: Joseph Vidal)|
Ly Tran emigrated with her family from Vietnam to the United States in 1993. In House of Sticks: A Memoir (Scribner), Tran traces her coming of age at the intersection of multiple roles and identities, perpetually navigating shifting positions within her family and her broader surroundings. Tran graduated from Columbia University in 2014 with a degree in Creative Writing and Linguistics, and has received fellowships from MacDowell, Art Omi and Yaddo.
You structure House of Sticks in five sections, though at one point you had plans to structure the story through the steps of a manicure. How did you land on the final shape of the book?
When I first drafted the proposal for my memoir, I came up with the idea to conceptually link a set of chapters to a manicure step, born out of my time in the nail salon. "Remove Old Nail Polish," for instance, would be an exploration of my parents' past, all that they left behind to escape persecution and how we had to shed that past to adopt a new life here in America. "Cut, File, and Buffer" would be about our quest for assimilation into American society, changing our Vietnamese names into American ones and trying to fit in.
The structure was instrumental in helping me figure out the major themes and motifs of my memoir, but as my story eventually evolved beyond it, beyond the confines of the nail salon, I had to let it go and give equal weight to other salient parts of my life, choosing a more straightforward and chronological rendering to do so.
House of Sticks is haunting yet overflowing with empathy. Trauma looms, but so do love and your lifelong desire to understand others and their actions. As you crafted the memoir, how did you approach this balance of the dark and the light, trauma and forgiveness?
I began with the dark, because I was still, in many ways, emerging from darkness at the start of my writing journey. I knew that forgiveness and understanding were my destination, and I had to write my way towards that understanding. The very first drafts of my memoir were dark and oppressive, focusing only on the trauma, only on the sad parts. It was painful revisiting and working through those memories, but I kept thinking of where I wanted to end up. In fact, the final chapter of my memoir was one of the first chapters I wrote, knowing that that's where I wanted to end up, not just in the story but in my own life as I was living it. Once I'd gotten all the darkness out of my system and onto the page, I was finally able to infuse the narrative with light and humor, redemption and forgiveness.
You've long taken comfort in the idea of yourself as the light, first considering this expression of inner strength as a kid: "But Mom, what if I'm the light?" I was reminded of the conclusion of Amanda Gorman's poem "The Hill We Climb": "For there is always light, / if only we're brave enough to see it. / If only we're brave enough to be it." What, for you, does it mean now to be the light?
Perhaps shaped by my exposure to Mencius at a young age, I have always believed in the intrinsic goodness of humanity, and I have always believed in the power of love and compassion and forgiveness to heal even the deepest of wounds. I spent the last six years of my life working on my manuscript, and during this time, the world seemed to fall apart at the seams, culminating in an unprecedented year of pandemonium, with a deadly virus claiming countless lives, George Floyd's heart-shattering death exposing further the bigoted underbelly of our nation, and the chasm of our collective consciousness ever widening.
Your question is one that I often ask myself: What does it mean for me to be the light during these dark times? What does it mean to enter the scene as an artist, a writer? The answer I always come back to is love. To love ecstatically, to love uncompromisingly. To be compassionate towards those who are suffering. Being the light is to nurture compassion, first and foremost within myself, and then to imbue my writing with that fundamental mandate.
In a poignant section, you recall your hospitalization for hypothermia and your brother's developing Raynaud's disease from frostbite. You remember that the doctors "gently admonish my parents and advise them to bundle their child up more. As if they had the bundles to do so." What do you hope readers might learn from your sharing this part of your past?
I think it's so easy sometimes to fall into the trap of comparing our own lived experiences to that of others, applying judgment when we see others failing where we've succeeded. We say things like, "Well, if I was able to do it, why couldn't they?" This eventually becomes an attack on the other's character, accompanied with a sense of self-righteousness: "Must be something wrong with that person that they can't just pull themselves up by their bootstraps like the rest of us." I've unfortunately been guilty of it myself. But I hope that, by sharing my past, readers will be able to open their hearts and minds to realities different than their own, and to pass that torch of understanding to others so that we, as a society, can move towards balancing the playing field for the disadvantaged.
House of Sticks stands out for its exploration and interrogation of silence. In what ways does this memoir, and memoir in general, combat silence?
For a very long time, I was afraid to tell my story for fear that no one would believe me. Many times, I doubted the veracity of my memories because I had never met or heard of anyone else who had gone through what I went through. And it seemed every time I did try to speak up, every time I told the truth, some awful consequence followed. Of course, this would deter anyone who was already predisposed to silence from speaking up further, which is what I did.
But there was a thought that entered my mind one day, a small, quiet thought that grew louder and louder as time went on until I couldn't ignore it anymore. And it was: What if there's another little girl out there going through the same thing I went through? And what if she was feeling what I felt? An inability to speak up because she didn't know anyone else who did? Because she didn't believe in the truth of her experiences or was made to distrust her perception of the truth?
I write for that little girl.
Who do you most hope reads this book?
Anyone on the brink of identities, anyone who feels alone and lost, anyone who is losing hope. --Katie Weed
Rediscover: Lois Ehlert
Lois Ehlert, the author and illustrator "whose cut-and-paste shapes and vibrant hues in books including Chicka Chicka Boom Boom put her among the most popular illustrators of books for preschoolers of the late 20th century," died May 25 at age 86, the Associated Press reported. Ehlert graduated from Milwaukee's Layton School of Art and worked in graphic design before she began illustrating children's books in her 50s, starting with 1987's Growing Vegetable Soup. In addition to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which has sold more than 12 million copies across all formats, Ehlert's works include Holey Moley; Hands; The Scraps Book; Mice; Ten Little Caterpillars; RRRalph; Lots of Spots; Boo to You!; Leaf Man; Waiting for Wings; Planting a Rainbow; and Color Zoo, which received a Caldecott Honor.
"Every book Lois made grew out of her love of folk art, nature, and most importantly color," said Allyn Johnston, v-p and publisher of S&S Children's Publishing imprint Beach Lane Books, who edited 29 of Ehlert's 38 books. "She never took herself too seriously--in fact, her subtle and impish sense of humor was one of her biggest creative strengths. And what she cared about most was inspiring young children to pay attention to the beauty of our world, to make things of their own, and to laugh and have fun while doing it."
by Choi Eunyoung , trans. by Sung Ryu
Women alone populate the extraordinary seven stories in Shoko's Smile by bestselling Korean author Choi Eunyoung, who makes her English-language debut, smoothly translated by Sung Ryu. From daughters to grandmothers, Choi's narrators remain in motion, not only physically but chronologically, each assessing significant past events that shape their current lives.
In the first three stories, childhood experiences create lingering effects deep into adulthood. In the titular "Shoko's Smile," a Japanese student's visit with her Korean host family will engender an epistolary relationship that lasts decades. In "Xin Chào, Xin Chào," a Korean woman recalls her family's close friendship with a Vietnamese family while living in Germany. A woman is visited in her hospital bed by the 16-year-old version of a cousin with whom she shared a close bond as a child, in "Sister, My Little Soonae."
Suddenly truncated relationships haunt "Hanji and Youngju" (about a Korean geology graduate student and a Nairobi vet who develop an intense friendship while living in a French monastery) and also "A Song from Afar" (featuring a Korean woman who arrives in St. Petersburg to visit an older schoolmate who studied Russian literature). Missing loved ones dominate "Michaela," about a mother who visits Seoul to glimpse her hardworking daughter, as well as "The Secret," in which a grandmother faces death without her beloved granddaughter; the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster looms in both.
Choi writes assuredly, her sentences direct and unadorned, yet the simplicity belies intricate narratives often hinging on unpredictable details--a nipple caterpillar tattoo, an Antarctic burial, a 1997 cassette tape. As they long, endure, transform (and not), Choi's exceptional women are well-primed for their close-up. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Choi Eunyoung's remarkable debut collection features seven stories of Korean women, candidly assessing their lives past and present.
The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu
by Tom Lin
Warning: the number of corpses could actually exceed the page count in Tom Lin's addictively gruesome debut, The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu. Set between the Utah Territories and California in the late 1800s, Lin's novel manages to enhance a wild, wild western with Odyssean devotion, magic realism and historical racism, to create quite the unlikely love story gone awry.
Orphan Ming Tsu doesn't remember his immigrant Chinese parents; he was raised instead by a "caretaker" who "treated [him] like a son" but also trained him to be an efficient killer. Ming carries a notebook in which six scribbled names will determine his destiny: a labor recruiter, a gang boss, a sheriff, a judge, two brothers, each of whom helped shatter his life 10 years ago by stealing his wife, Ada, and damning him to railroad chain gang labor. Accompanied by a blind, death-foretelling Chinese "prophet," Ming will methodically wreak revenge.
For all his life, Lin's protagonist has seemingly discarded his Chinese roots--raised by a white man, unable to speak Chinese, repeatedly disowning his "countrymen"--and yet Ming cannot escape his Asian skin, the denigrating labels, his erasure with the lazy moniker "John." His Chinese ancestry cost him his white wife: anti-miscegenation laws gave Ada's father the power to destroy his marriage and sentence him to dehumanizing labor. With dexterous agility, Lin showcases Ming's multi-faceted identity as a native-born American, a builder of transcontinental railroads, a rebel against racist laws, a killer of injustice--and maybe even a hero who might finally get the girl. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Debut novelist Tom Lin creates a wild, wild west hero who, in the name of true love, embarks on an epic quest for gruesome revenge.
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid's captivating Malibu Rising opens with a prologue about the California beach enclave's history of catching fire throughout the decades: "It is simply what Malibu does from time to time." The prologue ends with the omniscient narrator foretelling that on August 27, 1983, another fire will engulf the coastline, having started at 28150 Cliffside Drive.
That address belongs to surfer/swimsuit model Nina Riva, daughter of famous singer Mick Riva. Nina's husband has just left her for another woman, but Nina decides to throw her huge end-of-summer party anyway; it's an annual tradition for her and her three siblings: pro surfer Jay, photographer Hud and baby sister Kit. The main narrative unfolds over the 24 hours leading up to the party, but the story also travels through the 1950s-'70s to show the beginnings of the Riva children, starting with how the before-he-was-famous Mick met their mother, June. The young lovers buy a small house on stilts right on the beach in Malibu, before celebrities and multimillion-dollar mansions showed up. Mick and June have big dreams and make beautiful babies, but life has different plans for them.
Reid (Daisy Jones and the Six) draws readers in with silky prose about gorgeous people living in a place with heavenly vistas. She pulls back the glittery curtains, however, to reveal her characters' heartbreak, dashed dreams and innocence lost. The siblings and their mother each have their flaws and struggles, but they're immensely affecting, especially Nina, in their intense love for one another--something not even fire can destroy. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Years of pent-up emotions explode at an infamous annual Malibu party in this absorbing and moving family drama.
Mystery & Thriller
Palace of the Drowned
by Christine Mangan
Off-season Venice, with its cooler weather and lack of tourists, becomes a refuge for London novelist Frances "Frankie" Croy, as Christine Mangan (Tangerine) develops Palace of the Drowned into a perceptive character study. Mangan's accomplished second novel spins on low-boil psychological underpinnings, with a threat of violence; Palace of the Drowned shrewdly echoes Patricia Highsmith, Gaslight and All About Eve. When a fatality does occur late in the story, it's a surprise but not unexpected.
Frankie, whose fame peaked about 20 years before, with the success of her first book, has fled to Venice to escape fallout from a drunken public meltdown at a London publishing gala, during which she attacked a critic who'd savaged her latest novel. This being the pre-social media world of 1966, Frankie believes she can hide from the press at her friend Jack's vacant palazzo. Frankie, who revels in being alone, has barely arrived when she's approached by Gilly Larson, a young admirer who claims they have met before. The complicated dynamic between the two women, based on lies, secrets and jealousy, propels the story. Venice emerges as a strong character, with Mangan skillfully exploring the city's myriad facets, culminating in the worst flood in the city's history, which occurred in November 1966.
With Venice's maze of streets, "sulphuric tang" and "impermanence" reflecting Frankie's fragile mental state, Palace of the Drowned also works well as a sophisticated story about friendship, the creative process and loving the unlovable. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: The complicated dynamic between a novelist seeking refuge in Venice and a younger woman propels a sophisticated story about friendship and the creative process.
Hang the Moon
by Alexandria Bellefleur
Alexandria Bellefleur (Written in the Stars) pairs a hopeless romantic with a skeptic in Hang the Moon, her charming second queer contemporary romance. Bisexual Annie has given up on dating and her jet-setting life in the United States, but she decides to spend the last two weeks before she moves to London in Seattle with her best friend Darcy. Since the visit is a surprise, Darcy's not home, but luckily her younger brother, Brendon, is nearby to let her into Darcy's apartment--and to convince her that love is real after all.
Romance enthusiast Brendon founded a dating app and has been in love with Annie since he was a teen. But after years of lackluster attempts, she's staunchly opposed to the whole concept of love, even as Brendon shows her around the city and reminds her why love is still worth a try. Still, he's her best friend's brother and he's looking for forever, while she's about to leave the continent: "She needed to remember her reasons and treat them like a mantra. Do not kiss Brendon. London. Dating equals disappointment. Lots of strings. Tangled, messy strings."
Hang the Moon reads like a classic rom-com, updated for the 21st century. Bellefleur peppers the book with Seattle landmarks and traditions and occasional nods to classic rom-com films. Snappy banter and modern dating humor brighten this grounded yet optimistic romance, and though the story feels complete, readers will ache for just a few more pages as they fall in love right along with Brendon and Annie. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Readers will laugh, swoon and be swept away, along with the characters, in Alexandria Bellefleur's sparkling romance.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
by Clint Smith
Every part of the U.S. has deep, often unacknowledged ties to the institution of chattel slavery. In How the Word Is Passed, his first nonfiction book, poet and educator Clint Smith (Counting Descent) visits eight locations with complicated histories relating to slavery, illuminating those histories for his readers and connecting each place to the larger narrative of racism in the U.S.
Smith begins in his hometown of New Orleans, where new markers are documenting the city's relationship to the transatlantic slave trade. They contrast with the many streets, schools and other public sites named after enslavers. This disconnect--the honoring of whites and the erasure of Black stories, no matter the era--continues as Smith embarks on his nationwide self-guided tour of places bearing the deep scars of slavery. He visits Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate, where some of the guides dodge questions about Sally Hemings; the notorious Angola Prison, which barely acknowledges its history as a slave plantation; and Galveston Island, Tex., where celebrations of Juneteenth have a long and proud legacy. Eventually, Smith travels to New York City--not exempt from this reckoning despite its location far north of the Mason-Dixon Line--and to Goree Island, Dakar, Senegal, once a transition point for millions of slaves and now a memorial to their suffering.
Each place, no matter its current approach, is vital to a holistic understanding of slavery in the U.S. Smith's work is a passionate, thought-provoking, brilliantly observed call for Americans to take a new, uncomfortable but essential look at their own history. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Poet Clint Smith's stunning first nonfiction book illuminates the history of slavery in the U.S. through several key sites.
Body, Mind & Spirit
Chicken Soup for the Soul: I'm Speaking Now: Black Women Share Their Truth in 101 Stories of Love, Courage and Hope
by Amy Newmark , Breena Clarke
Chicken Soup for the Soul: I'm Speaking Now: Black Women Share Their Truth in 101 Stories of Love, Courage and Hope by Amy Newmark and Breena Clarke features an astonishing range of poetry and prose crafted by students, teachers, medical and legal professionals, best friends, mothers, a former prisoner and a great-grandmother about being Black in North America.
The poem "Breakfast in Newport" by Zorina Exie Frey is set in a restaurant; the author, treated disdainfully during her visit, leaves a generous tip for the "working-class racist" waitress, a powerful feeling of satisfaction familiar to those who choose to go high when others go low. Some stories joyfully celebrate beloved elders and treasured family recipes that feel like an ancestral hug, others reflect on the hostility of white roommates at university, loving Black men while fearing for their lives and inspiring a child to embrace his "beautiful crown of curls." Each piece is augmented by a memorable quote from influential Black women of the past 100 years and organized into sections addressing identity, roots, self-discovery, everyday struggles and comfort food, among other topics.
"Shopping While Black" is laced with a humor that stirs awe, while "I Am Not the Nanny" confronts shockingly real parenting fears. Chicken Soup for the Soul: I'm Speaking Now is a timely and fearless collection in which emerging writers share space with published authors as they heed Clarke's eloquent call: "I'm speaking now because why should I wait any longer?" --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: A powerful compilation of stories and poems by Black women across a spectrum of experiences.
Moonlighting: An Oral History
by Scott Ryan
Scott Ryan's authoritative and gossipy oral history of Moonlighting (1985-1989), the screwball comedy/detective show hybrid starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, should delight fans and create new enthusiasts. Few TV shows were as wildly inventive, or as fraught with backstage drama that hindered production and created headlines. The cost and length of shooting each episode was double that of most shows. While most TV series filmed 24 episodes per season, Moonlighting struggled to produce 67 episodes over five seasons.
Audiences tuned in to Moonlighting for the witty banter, sexual tension and its irreverence and innovation. Characters broke the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience. One episode featured a seven-minute dance number directed by Stanley Donen, and another episode, spoofing Taming of the Shrew, was performed in iambic pentameter. There was always friction between Willis and Shepherd, but real trouble began in the fourth season. Pregnant with twins, Shepherd filmed all her scenes at once to be spliced into eight future episodes. A writers' strike shut down production for 22 weeks. Then, Willis left to film Die Hard. Suddenly, Moonlighting was a rom-com with a couple never in the same room together. Rivalries, apathy and exhaustion increased. Ryan insists the bad behavior "can't be laid at the feet of one person." But, there's plenty of finger-pointing by the insiders interviewed--including creator Glenn Gordon Caron, Shepherd, co-stars, directors, writers and producers. The only one MIA is Willis (who comes off fairly unscathed by coworkers).
Moonlighting: An Oral History is an illuminating, juicy and gossipy treat for TV lovers. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: This delectable oral history details how great writing and combustible onscreen chemistry overcame backstage feuds, oversized egos and chaotic working conditions to create a TV classic.
by Kathleen Ossip
Critically acclaimed poet Kathleen Ossip's July offers a revelatory and lived-in reflection on tumultuous times. Comprised of three sections (Occasions, July and The Goddess), the collection begins with standouts like "Bluebird," "On Boredom" and "Found Under a Chair Cushion" that capture the more fleeting but still memorable portraits of daily life, family relations and the expansive nature of quotidian details. The volume ends with a series of more deeply meditative and transcendent near-prayers. The standout is nonetheless the book's middle, titular section, which delves into one woman's vacation with her college-aged daughter during the deeply surreal month of July prior to Trump's election.
Part unconventional travelogue, part cultural critique, part lyrical exploration of motherhood, this second section is an always surprising series of revelations, ruptures and recognitions. Ossip's writing leaps forward in associative bounds that turns the chaos of existing in the world during such times into a work of kinetic and emotionally uncanny art. The juxtaposition of "Disney World: Faces of two-year-olds/ ...[that] look like the faces of/ the damned"; the little pleasures of "frozen lemonade"; and the knowledge of "shooting today in Munich and bombing in Kabul" encapsulates the emotional and intellectual range of Ossip's piece. With her athletic lyricism, turbulent layouts and wide-ranging subject matter, Ossip (The Do-Over) challenges readers to hold multiple conflicting and unimaginable truths in their heads at once. Doing so, she suggests, may not solve the moral or political dilemmas of contemporary life, but it is a start. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Kathleen Ossip's poetry depicts the personal experience of an unignorably political time through its restless and relentlessly thoughtful expressions of daily life.
Children's & Young Adult
A Sitting in St. James
by Rita Williams-Garcia
The masterful Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer; Clayton Byrd Goes Underground) depicts the brutality and inhumanity of slavery in the antebellum South by intertwining the lives of the white Guilbert family and the Black people they enslaved in this shocking and dramatic novel.
In 1860s St. James, La., Madame Sylvie prepares to sit for a portrait with a well-known artist. As Madame gets ready to partake in this even-for-her-time mostly antiquated tradition, she nags her family into getting their affairs in order. Madame's son, Lucien, scrambles to make a profitable marriage for his "quadroon" daughter, Rosalie (who, as the product of the rape of a Black woman, Madame refuses to acknowledge), to bring honor and financial stability to the family's failing plantation. Lucien's son, Byron, a West Point cadet, agrees to marriage with a young lady from a prominent family even though "he didn't share his father's or grandfather's lust for Black women, or for women of any color, for that matter"; Byron hides from his future wife, father and grandmother that he is in love with a charming fellow cadet, Robinson.
With an extensive cast of characters, Williams-Garcia uses history to create the drama, constantly exposing how white slave owners depended completely on those they enslaved: Thisbe, Madame's personal servant (whom Madame named after a beloved dog), is in charge of getting "Madame on and off the chamber pot and wip[ing] her behind." Mature content and themes are treated with nuance and subtlety, but Williams-Garcia makes the cruelty clear: there is abuse, rape and child murder. Williams-Garcia's extensive research to create this work of historical fiction brings the U.S.'s sordid past into the present; in this traumatic and heartbreaking novel, she uncovers the vicious, disturbing realities enslaved people faced. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children
Discover: This YA novel skillfully reveals the lives and suffering of enslaved Black plantation workers through their interactions with a white slave-owning family.
All of Us
by Kathryn Erskine , illust. by Alexandra Boiger
Kathryn Erskine (Mama Africa) focuses her sweet sophomore picture book on kindness, bonding and acceptance. The delicate, calming art of Alexandra Boiger (She Persisted series illustrator) expands Erskine's sparse text into a universe of shared, though differing, experiences.
A girl on a tree swing (with a friendly fox peeking out from behind her) receives a balloon from a boy who hangs down from the tree. A girl with a long braid and hearing aids watches this exchange and then joins the two children (and the fox) as they chase the balloon down a hill. Other children are all around now--watching the ducks, bicycling in the background--and the whole crew gets together to blow up balloons and play hopscotch. Their imaginations take over and the balloons carry them off to sea, where the diverse group of children see "breathtaking sights" and hear "remarkable sounds." The children even pray together: "Some pray out loud, some close their eyes. Some look to earth, some to the skies." (The fox sits respectfully by.) Eventually, their imagined travels come to an end: "All kinds of kids, thoughtful and free. Sometimes in groups, sometimes.../ ...just me." (And a friendly fox, of course.)
Erskine's text is bright and hopeful and her rhyme scheme consistently scans. Boiger's mixed-media artwork is charming, her illustrated children emotive and joyous. Additionally, the diversity in the group isn't simply depicted through skin tone: one child has forearm braces, one wears a yarmulke and another a kufi, they are tall and short, large and small, all happy to be together. All of Us is a brilliant pairing of talents that shows the beauty in difference and the joy in connecting with others. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In this delightfully illustrated picture book, the universal yet different experiences of childhood (and humanhood) are depicted with love and care.