From the Shelf
Plot and Psychology Among the Pines
Between heat waves here in the Northeast, the summer weather is perfect for porch-sitting and reading. As I do almost every summer, I'm reaching for mysteries featuring whip-smart female sleuths. I love the genre year-round, but cracking open a mystery in the summer takes me back to childhood days spent devouring piles of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books, or (more recently) vacations featuring Miss Marple, Maisie Dobbs or Sara Paretsky's Chicago private eye, V.I. Warshawski.
This summer, there's a new sleuth in town for me: Lane Winslow, a British ex-intelligence agent who has moved to rural British Columbia to rest and heal after her harrowing World War II years. She's barely settled in when she becomes a murder suspect, but before long, she's helping the enigmatic Inspector Darling and his cheerful young constable, Ames, track down the real killer. I loved A Killer in King's Cove so much that I immediately ordered its two sequels, Death in a Darkening Mist and An Old, Cold Grave (both TouchWood, $14.95).
Author Iona Whishaw, who spent her childhood in the Kootenays (where Lane Winslow lives), based her elegant, thoughtful sleuth partly on her own mother's experiences of intelligence work. Each of Whishaw's books not only explores Lane's new surroundings and her character, but delves into the long-term effects of both World Wars on those who survived them. If that sounds depressing, it isn't: Whishaw deftly intertwines plot and psychology, giving readers insight not only into Lane's crime-solving strategies, but the perspectives and lives of her neighbors. The series also follows Lane's inner journey, from complicated family history to postwar trauma to the beginning of new love. Well plotted and laced with dry wit, Lane's adventures are entirely satisfying summer reading. I'm savoring each book and looking forward to reaching the eighth installment in the series, A Lethal Lesson (TouchWood, $14.95). --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
In this Issue...
by Christine Peck , Mags DeRoma
Minimal text and simple yet powerful illustrations create a gratifying tale about a mindful mouse learning to release her intrusive thoughts.
by Catherine Raven
Contrary to her scientist's logic, a reclusive woman embraces her friendship with a wild fox that visits her Montana home, leading to self-realization, in a memoir rich with nature imagery.
by Joseph A. Ziemba , Annie Choi , Zack Carlson
This luridly photo-illustrated, exhaustively researched guidebook pays irreverent homage to zero-budget video horror movies of the 1990s.
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...
Fictional Dead Who Solve Their Own Murders
CrimeReads investigated "seven novels in which the dead step in to solve their own murders."
Mental Floss looked up "the fascinating origin stories and etymologies behind 70 common words."
McSweeney's quiz: "Are you a participant in a child's made-up game or Josef K. from Kafka's The Trial?
Gastro Obscura explored "the 18th-century cookbook that helped save the Slovene language."
"U.K libraries and museums unite to save 'astonishing' lost library from private buyers," the Guardian reported. As a result, Sotheby's has postponed an auction of the material to allow Friends of the National Libraries to try to acquire the entire collection.
Yaa Gyasi's debut novel, Homegoing, published by Knopf in 2016, won the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35" award, the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award for best first book and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. It follows the descendants of an Asante woman named Maame, beginning with half-daughters Effia and Esi. Effia is married to the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, a slave-trading fort in modern Ghana, while Esi is enslaved and shipped to America. Each chapter chronicles the lifetime of one of Effia or Esi's descendants through the modern day. Effia's clan remains for the most part in what becomes Ghana, enduring hardships like warfare, colonialism and native superstitions. Esi's family experiences the horrors of slavery and multigenerational struggles of African-Americans in the United States.
Homegoing's 14 chapters cover seven generations of hard history with intimate character depth. Shelf Awareness's review said: "Rarely does a grand, sweeping epic plumb interior lives so thoroughly. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is a marvel. It reminds readers that, every step of the way, the African diaspora has been shaped by individuals at their best and at their worst, vulnerable human beings craving the safety of a place to call home." Yaa Gyasi's second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, was just released in paperback. The paperback of Homegoing is available from Vintage ($16.95). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Megha Majumdar: Asking Questions that Matter
|photo: Elena Seibert|
Megha Majumdar's debut novel, A Burning, was published last year. Majumdar was born and raised in Kolkata, India, and came to the U.S. as an undergraduate at Harvard University. She received a master's in social anthropology from Johns Hopkins University and works as a senior editor for Catapult Books. Propelled by a suspenseful, fast-paced plot and characters from across India's social spectrum, A Burning (available in paperback from Knopf, $16; reviewed below) explores complex themes of class, race, nationalism and ambition in contemporary India.
Congratulations on the phenomenal success of your debut novel, A Burning. What were your hopes for the book when it was published?
Thanks so much! I hoped it would find readers who would come to it with thoughtfulness and care, who might find it energizing to think with, who might find it an instrument for thinking about injustice in their own lives and communities. I should say I hoped for these things but did not at all expect any of it! Releasing a book in a pandemic was not how I'd imagined it would go.
The story involves the fateful interaction between a poor Muslim girl, a transgender actress and an opportunistic teacher steeped in Indian nationalism. What was it about this unusual combination of characters that caught your imagination?
I was thinking about the characters as ways for me to forcefully ask the central question of the book: How does one pursue big dreams in a time of rising extreme nationalism? What kind of sacrifices and calibrations does that pursuit require? I felt that each character allowed me to open up a facet of that question. The schoolteacher, for instance, was fascinating to write. He's a person who's somewhat disappointed with his life, and then gets an opportunity to claim some power within a political party. What would such a person give up to hold onto this power? How would they find their moral center?
The immediacy of the present in A Burning captures readers' attention and lets them experience events as they unfold. It's a powerful strategy, with favorable comparisons to the works of William Faulkner and V.S. Naipaul. Can you share the advantages of such an approach?
I'm glad you felt so! I was happy to write the places that I know so well--a street where there's a guava vendor, a train station, a new mall. And it was interesting to write not just the textures and visuals of those places but also the hidden logics and the humor and the energy.
You're an editor at Catapult Books--how does being an industry insider affect your writing process?
I find it hugely energizing. Being close to the art of others is an incredible privilege, and getting to discuss structure, scene, sentences with them? Amazing!
Since your home, New York City, was on the frontlines of the pandemic, you had a close-up view of how elected leaders responded to the crisis. What has that experience taught you about power and accountability?
I don't know that I've really had a close-up view, that would be doctors and nurses and frontline workers, I think! But I really appreciate the question and I'm still thinking through it. The profound ways in which we were abandoned by the people in power. The crushing ways in which our systems and institutions let us down. And, at the same time, seeing people come together in initiatives like the one started by the writer Sarah Thankam Mathews, who has been running a mutual aid society called Bed-Stuy Strong. Perhaps going forward we will think differently about community, meaningful political representation, meaningful resource-sharing.
What is fiction's role in helping us process life-altering events?
I see fiction as a field of questions, a chance to ask questions that matter. There's power in the asking.
Does your academic background in social anthropology come in useful when writing fiction?
One thing anthropology taught me was to look for complexity and surprise. How do people reflect on their own experiences? How do they upturn the expectations of ethnographers and other observers? And that attention to what's unexpected, what's not simple or flattened but is full of nuance, is a wonderful kind of attention for a fiction writer to cultivate.
What advice can you offer for emerging novelists honing their craft?
I have so much to learn, and I wish I could turn this question back to the novelists reading this! One thing I'll share is a clarifying question that I bear in mind when I come to my own pages as well as read manuscripts: What is the ambition of this book? It's a separate question from asking what a book is about or what happens in it. What does it want to achieve, what does it want to contribute? Having a one-line answer for that was very helpful for me when I was working on A Burning.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, what are you most excited about?
I'm excited about all the new books coming! Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's My Monticello and Mayukh Sen's Taste Makers, to name two books coming this fall that I think will spark lots of conversation. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Mystery & Thriller
The Cover Wife
by Dan Fesperman
Dan Fesperman's finely tuned espionage novels concentrate more on the emotional toil of being an undercover agent than the action-packed, breathless scenes that drive many spy novels. Fesperman (The Double Game) looks at the real identities behind those clandestine personas and considers the nuances of spy craft--and there is plenty of it in his 12th novel, The Cover Wife.
Set in 1999, The Cover Wife offers a fictional account of the terrorist cell that began in Hamburg, Germany, and would eventually lead to the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. That story alone would make for a gripping plot, but Fesperman ups the ante with CIA agent Claire Saylor, who has a reputation not only for getting results but also for defying her supervisors. Claire is asked to pose as the wife of Winston Armitage, "as American as apple pie," tenured professor of languages, especially Aramaic and Arabic. Winston's scholarly look at the Koran brings a new interpretation that will be, at the least, controversial and, more likely, cause violent reactions, allowing Claire to learn the terrorist cell's plans. While it seems laughable, Winston claims to have proof that jihadi martyrs will be rewarded by 72 white raisins, not 72 virgins. The Cover Wife also involves Mahmoud Yassin, a radicalized Arab youth whose commitment is derailed by his attraction to a Westernized woman.
The Cover Wife smoothly incorporates a gripping plot with insightful character studies as Fesperman illustrates the thrill, frustration and challenges of those whose undercover personalities often overwhelm their humanity and their reality. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: A female CIA agent poses as the wife of a controversial professor to try to learn the plans of a terrorist cell in this nuanced espionage story.
The Wonder Test
by Michelle Richmond
A New York City mother and her teenage son seek a fresh start in a community where property values depend on academic test scores--and underperforming students go missing--in Michelle Richmond's slow-burn thriller The Wonder Test.
FBI agent Lina Connerly has had a terrible year, after the deaths of an informant, Lina's husband and her father. She relocates from New York City to Greenfield, Calif., with her 15-year-old son, Rory, to the house her father left her. Learning of her background, a local cop enlists Lina's help in solving the disappearances of students who later turn up completely shaved, traumatized and unable to talk about what happened. Meanwhile, Rory has acclimated to his new surroundings and starts dating Caroline as the school prepares for the upcoming Wonder Test. Think: the SATs on steroids.
House values in Greenfield have greatly increased over the last five years because the community has had the highest test scores in the country, but the local elite remains unsatisfied. Rory scores well on the pre-tests but Caroline doesn't, and she's seen arguing afterward with an unidentified adult. Then Caroline vanishes. Suspecting a connection between Caroline's disappearance, the students who previously went missing and the Wonder Test, Lina takes Rory on a rescue mission to find Caroline before harm befalls the girl.
Each chapter in Michelle Richmond's immersive novel starts with a Wonder Test question alluding to what's about to happen. For example, Chapter 61's opening--"Humans communicate fear through smell. Why does this matter? Why doesn't this matter?"--portends an imminent violent confrontation. The technique adds a spark to Richmond's incendiary warning of how dangerous unchecked greed can become. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: This immersive, slow-burn thriller uncovers a community's obsession with real estate value when it threatens the lives of a widowed FBI agent and her teenage son.
People Like Them
by Samira Sedira , trans. by Lara Vergnaud
Samira Sedira's first English-language title, translated by Sara Vergnaud, is clearly marked "a novel" on its cover, and yet so much of the story is true. People Like Them is a fascinating amalgam of gruesome headlines--French newspapers in 2003 reported that an entire family was butchered by a neighbor--and Sedira's personal experience at age 44 of cleaning other people's houses. The Algerian-born French novelist, playwright and actor Sedira intertwines these disparate events to create a jarring narrative of privilege and power.
The "carnage behind closed doors" has already happened in the first chapter. The Langlois family--Bakary, Sylvia, their children--are dead. Their neighbor Constant calmly carried out the murders. To reveal the crime's genesis, Sedira chooses Anna as narrator, Constant's not-quite-wife. Once upon a time, city professionals Bakary and Sylvia decided they were "willing to make the sacrifice" for a calmer village life and built a substantial chalet across from Constant and Anna. Proximity made the couples friends--for a bit. But their relationship sours when Anna becomes Sylvia's maid and Constant decides to sink his parents' savings into Bakary's get-rich-quick promises. Socioeconomic differences continue to divide, but most treacherous is race: that Bakary, adopted by Parisian intellectuals out of "extreme poverty in Gabon," is the village's only Black man has fatal consequences.
Sedira plots a tight, terse novel, made particularly intriguing with Anna as cipher: she's always been overlooked but somehow emerges as sole survivor. "There's no such thing as monsters. Only humans," Sedira concludes in her author's note. Indeed, her searing fiction further exposes the reality of monstrous inhumanity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: French novelist Samira Sedira makes her English translation debut with a searing novel that captures the fatal combination of privilege, power and race.
Biography & Memoir
Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship
by Catherine Raven
Catherine Raven, who has a Ph.D. in biology and degrees in botany and zoology, knows that anyone observing her rendezvous with a red fox outside her isolated Montana cabin would say "anthropomorphizing wild animals was corny and very uncool." In her memoir Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship, Raven nevertheless lovingly and poetically recounts the four years of their companionship that led her to introspection and a new direction.
"Pathologically private," Raven was a lifelong loner who fled an abusive home and earned multiple degrees and jobs as a National Park Ranger, then a college professor. Occasionally leaving her remote mountain valley to teach, she was content with wilderness camaraderie: her 300-year-old juniper trees, "Gin" and "Tonic"; the squawking magpie "Tennis Ball." When a yearling fox visits at exactly 4:15 each day, she's intrigued. He settles in next to "his" forget-me-not, she sits nearby; initially she reads aloud from The Little Prince. Eventually, Fox's point of view emerges: Raven is "Hurricane Hands" as she prunes a thicket, as well as "the girl in the blue-roofed house."
Descriptions of the flora, fauna and adventures shared by Raven and her six-pound friend lead to her admission (credible to the reader!) that she's avoiding a "real job," meaning she'd be leaving Fox, then realizing, "I could see that my purpose would be to tell his story." As Helen MacDonald did in H Is for Hawk, Catherine Raven does tell his story, a rare memoir by a scientist-poet of a wild creature leading a human to self-fulfillment. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.
Discover: Contrary to her scientist's logic, a reclusive woman embraces her friendship with a wild fox that visits her Montana home, leading to self-realization, in a memoir rich with nature imagery.
Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood
by Danny Trejo , Donal Logue
"The more I show up in films, the more people are curious about the story of my life. I hope people see through my story that it's possible to make a decision to live a better life, and to change. Once that decision is made, it's possible to stay true to it for the rest of your life." Danny Trejo is known as the "most-killed actor in cinematic history" and he owns several restaurants and cafes, but, as he tells it, his life could have gone down a very different path, with a violent end in prison.
In this candid autobiography, Trejo does not shy away from the less Hollywood parts of his past or his present. He presents a life of bad choices and how it can be turned around, and also shows how even becoming a Hollywood star will not automatically fix everything else that might be going wrong in someone's family life. Even as he worked as an addiction counselor and spoke about his recovery, he was struggling with his children's journeys to sobriety.
Trejo generously shows readers how they can remake the stories they tell themselves about how to be. He sees acting, its process of storytelling, as another way to teach people life lessons, and that they can overcome whatever they are going through. Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood is a brutally candid account of intergenerational struggles with violence, incarceration, addiction and toxic masculinity and, most importantly, how these cycles might be broken. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: From incarceration and addiction to a career as an actor and restaurateur, Danny Trejo generously relates the extraordinary circumstances of his life so far.
Cheyenne Summer: The Battle for Beecher Island: A History
by Terry Mort
The long road to a small but iconic battle between the U.S. and the Plains Indians' "most warlike" tribe is richly recounted in Cheyenne Summer: The Battle for Beecher Island: A History by historian Terry Mort (The Wrath of Cochise: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars). Examining "the antagonists" in detail--the Cheyenne, the U.S. Army and the civilian settlers--Mort constructs a long opening act with an eye toward the inevitable, bloody denouement near what was to become the Colorado-Kansas border in September 1868. Mort spends most of the book detailing various cultural aspects of the antagonists, reserving his keenest observations for the Cheyenne--a culture steeped in nomadism, utterly at odds with the Anglo-Saxon belief in settlement. Mort posits provocatively that it was a "manifest destiny" that nomadism could not withstand the settlement of the Plains and "even the strongest advocates for the Indians understood the Plains nomads would sooner or later have to surrender their way of life." But not without a fight, of course.
While strategically insignificant, the Battle of Beecher Island, between 50 army scouts and a few hundred Cheyenne and Sioux warriors, serves more as an allegory of the larger cultural, demographic and societal shifts that Mort crisply outlines throughout the book. One quibble is the misleading title (the battle takes up a mere 70 pages), but Mort makes up for it with a boldly argued and well-researched study of the limits of negotiation between two fundamentally irreconcilable cultures in 19th-century America. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver, Colo.
Discover: In this deeply considered study, the nomadic Cheyenne face off against the U.S. Army and white settlers, ultimately leading to a heroic stand for both sides at Beecher Island in 1868.
Racing the Clock: Running Across a Lifetime
by Bernd Heinrich
Not many people would go for a short run, much less race as they approached 80 years old, but for biologist and ultrarunner Bernd Heinrich, age is no reason to slow down or to give up on one more 50-kilometer race. In Racing the Clock, Heinrich effortlessly melds his love of running with his love of observing the natural world, resulting in a book that combines memoir and naturalist's diary; he considers the relationship between himself and nature through the physical and spiritual or emotional aspects of long-distance racing. The author of Why We Run and The Naturalist's Notebook turns away from the question of why this sport is so biologically engrained in humanity, and instead looks at what can be learned from how bodies--human and otherwise--change and adapt across the life cycle.
Readers will run vicariously through his memories of races and training long past. More recent notable ventures include tracking a deer through a snow-covered forest and running for several hours in order to keep up with it. Heinrich inspiringly writes of running, "It is the beauty of excellence, seeing what can be done. That is what inspiration is, a source of the real that one can empathize with and join in spirit if not in body. We become one. That alone makes running precious." Through Heinrich's expansive observations, readers will also find a candid account of aging gracefully and of finding community through solitary activities. They'll also discover new ways to understand purpose, health and happiness. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Biologist and ultrarunner Bernd Heinrich inspires readers and runners of all ages as he explores the effects of time on the human body and attempts to set new running records while aging.
Art & Photography
Bleeding Skull!: A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey
by Joseph A. Ziemba , Annie Choi , Zack Carlson
A love of fake blood and DIY aesthetics collides with cockeyed nostalgia for the prurient indulgences of the past in Bleeding Skull!: A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey by Joseph A. Ziemba, Annie Choi (Shut Up, You're Welcome) and Zack Carlson. A follow-up to Ziemba's similarly titled 2013 book about low-budget horror films of the 1980s, Bleeding Skull! is a charming and appropriately rough-hewn homage to the Z-grade, no-budget oddities that helped fuel the titular era's consumer video rental market. Ziemba is creative director of the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and the founder of Bleeding Skull! Video, which works with AGFA and others to preserve and reissue many of the cinematic obscurities profiled here.
The authors' irreverent analysis is augmented by a lovingly preserved collection of film stills, mail-order ads ("If you are into gore, give Dead Meat a shot!") and scans of careworn VHS box cover art, often with fading video rental stickers still attached. Though their filmic subjects' shortcomings are frequently fodder for laughs, the trio's respect for these films and the people who made them is unwavering and unironic. "The inconsistency of the Super 8 film stock, the crude make-up, the mistakes that were left in--all of these random elements create an unmistakably special universe."
Ziemba, Choi and Carlson's exhaustive research, gleefully excessive prose and impressive photographic archive pay hilarious and tender tribute to a motley assortment of small-time auteurs, naïf experimentalists and backwater hucksters whose endearingly inept brainchildren gave birth to a defining new wave of independent genre filmmaking. --Devon Ashby, sales & marketing assistant at Shelf Awareness
Discover: This luridly photo-illustrated, exhaustively researched guidebook pays irreverent homage to zero-budget video horror movies of the 1990s.
Now in Paperback
The Beauty in Breaking
by Michele Harper
Michele Harper, an emergency room doctor and author of the bestselling The Beauty in Breaking--a Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020 and a New York Times Notable Book--devotes case-study-like chapters to patients whose stories spur Harper to draw connections between her work and the larger world. In "Dominic: Body of Evidence," the police haul in a Black man for allegedly swallowing bags of drugs and expect Harper, who is African American, to give him a physical exam without his consent, which she knows is against the law absent a court order; for Harper, this disregard for the man's rights recalls the despicable historical practice of performing medical experiments on nonconsenting Black men. In "Jeremiah: Cradle and All," Harper treats a 13-year-old who has come in with a head trauma--the upshot of a classmate's bullying. After the boy confesses that he owns a gun and intends to use it on his assailant, Harper is required to contact social services and wonders "why, in all my growing-up years, no physician had ever spoken to me alone, to ask if I was safe."
Harper grew up middle class in Washington, D.C., with a physician father who beat her mother. "The job of my youth had been to get out of that house and out of that life," Harper writes. She succeeded, although the celebratory mood of her graduation from an emergency medicine residency was dulled by the coinciding collapse of her marriage.
By the end of The Beauty in Breaking, fortified by the conviction that healing works both ways, Harper has found a restless peace working at a Philadelphia VA hospital, where the beguiled reader hopes that she will continue to gather insights and commit them to the page. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this illuminating memoir, an African American emergency room doctor finds that her patients' stories lead her to make connections between her work and the larger world.
by Megha Majumdar
Megha Majumdar's impressive debut features intricately layered subplots expanding on themes of class, religious tension and discrimination toward India's transgender community. Longlisted for the National Book Award, named a New York Times Notable Book and a Today Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick, A Burning is set in contemporary West Bengal, and confronts India's unsettling lurch toward extreme nationalism--a movement that threatens to destabilize the world's most populous democracy.
Jivan, a young Muslim woman, is blamed for a terrorist attack, not by virtue of compelling evidence but because of her questionable loyalty to the motherland. She lives with her parents in a slum near a railway station. Her troubles begin one terrible night when, after a train filled with passengers is set on fire, witnesses claim to have seen her fleeing the scene of the crime. Already a suspect, Jivan writes a provocative Facebook post designed to generate "likes," which triggers her arrest. So begins an investigation tainted by breathtaking levels of corruption on the part of police and politicians looking to bolster their popularity. Jivan's neighbor is a transgender actress named Lovely, who is on the cusp of hard-earned stardom. She is a hijra, officially recognized in many parts of the Indian sub-continent as a third gender. As the case against Jivan builds, Lovely must determine how much she is willing to sacrifice to help her.
A Burning moves at a suspenseful pace with the same powerful drive toward a conclusion as Kamila Shamsie's Homefire. Majumdar is a phenomenal new voice posing a daring question: Can Indian society as it exists today ever be impartial? --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A misunderstood social media post by a young woman in India propels this intense drama about political dysfunction, Bollywood ambitions and unchecked nationalistic fervor.
Children's & Young Adult
Too Many Bubbles: A Story about Mindfulness
by Christine Peck , Mags DeRoma
Gently, gently, young readers learn how to use mindfulness to push away intrusive thoughts in this brilliantly simple picture book, the first in the Books of Great Character series.
Izzy, a mouse in a jaunty striped top, has a "sort of grumpy" thought: "One little thought bubble. It bubbled up one day, a rough day, and just hung there." This thought, represented by a transparent grey bubble filled with squiggles, multiplies ("pop-pop-popping up") into many colorful bubbles, casting a "super shadowy shadow" on Izzy's day. The lightly colored bubbles intensify in hue until they are incandescent shades of red, orange, yellow and blue; Izzy herself changes from soft blue to angry red when the bubbles fill the scene and push her "clean off the page." What's an overwhelmed mouse to do? Izzy decides to go to a beach where there is "a little more space for all the bubbles." Taking a deep breath in, letting the deep breath out, she blows those bubbles away.
Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma are the founders of boutique children's brand Silly Street, whose mission is to help children grow character through play. DeRoma's charming digital illustrations use color and space to creative advantage in this minimally worded picture book, capturing the feelings that small children might not yet have words for. Too Many Bubbles introduces young readers to the idea of mindfulness, "the practice of being aware in the present moment," as the authors explain in the notes at the end. Young readers are not overwhelmed with concepts or definitions (the author's notes are designed for the adult readers). Instead, they tag along with Izzy as she finds a way to let her burdensome thoughts go. This is an important book. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Minimal text and simple yet powerful illustrations create a gratifying tale about a mindful mouse learning to release her intrusive thoughts.
Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America's Doctor
by Kate Messner , illust. by Alexandra Bye
In this charming biography for young readers, Kate Messner (Chirp; The Brilliant Deep) recounts the life of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and how he became the leading researcher in the fight against Covid-19.
Anthony Fauci, raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the grandson of Italian immigrants, always had an inquisitive, "wide-open mind" that he used to search for answers: he wondered how the world worked, "from the tropical fish in his bedroom aquarium.../ to the vast oceans of sea life, the blazing stars, and the spinning planets." He grew up believing there were solutions to life's problems. After Anthony graduated Cornell Medical College, he became one of the country's leading experts on "what makes people sick... and how to make them well." Dr. Fauci has studied many of the world's most dangerous diseases, including AIDS, West Nile, SARS, Ebola and now Covid-19.
Messner conducted extensive personal research and interviewed Dr. Fauci via Zoom in November of 2020. The book includes backmatter with information on vaccines, "Dr. Fauci's Five Tips for Future Scientists," photos, sources and recommended reading. Alexandra Bye (The Only Woman in the Photo) regularly changes the perspective and format of her vibrant, digital illustrations--including full-bleed double-page spreads as well as vignettes--to create a dynamic reading experience. Her use of light is particularly remarkable as it shines on Dr. Fauci's more optimistic moments or darkens during his tougher times. Messner's accessible text, alongside Bye's superb illustrations, make Dr. Fauci an excellent read-aloud book as well as an easy solo read for children. Messner's open-ended narrative leaves children room to ponder and highlights a key Dr. Fauci quote: "Don't get discouraged. Think about it carefully. Try to work it out." --Kharissa Kenner, Children's Librarian, Bank Street School for Children
Discover: An appealing, kid-friendly account of the life of director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Forever This Summer
by Leslie Youngblood
An 11-year-old Black girl makes the most of a strained family summer away from home in this sincere and enthusiastic middle-grade novel.
Georgie (who prefers this more grown-up name than her family nickname, G-baby, thank you very much) has been dragged to her mom's hometown, Bogalusa, La., for the summer. What can she possibly find to do when her mom doesn't want Georgie traipsing about town, yet spends all of her own time caring for Great-Aunt Vie, whose memory is failing? Even Vie's popular diner isn't the sanctuary it once was, and Georgie feels even younger and more out of place when she meets Markie, who works at the diner though she's only slightly older than Georgie. Markie has more than one chip on her shoulder: as Vie's former foster daughter, she resents having to live with a new guardian, and she doesn't like people taking too much--or too little--notice of her limb difference. (The description and cover art suggest symbrachydactyly, though it's not named in the novel.) Like many tween relationships, Georgie and Markie's frenemyship is shakily forged, but their love for Aunt Vie and desire to learn more about their family histories connects them and drives them to plan a talent show to raise funds for Alzheimer's research.
Forever This Summer is a sequel to Leslie Youngblood's debut, Love Like Sky, but can be read as a standalone. The overly large cast of characters makes for less than smooth reading, but the emotional conflict is heartfelt and not melodramatic, and the setting is wonderfully rendered and detailed. --Sarah Hannah Gómez, doctoral candidate, University of Arizona
Discover: This heartfelt novel has both fun summertime hijinks and discussions of sociocultural concerns all presented in a tween-friendly way.