Tim has a long history with the bookstore. As a loving Schwartz Books customer and a complete author event geek, Tim has met many authors and had them sign his books. His first ever author event was with Mickey Mantle, back when Schwartz had a store on the corner of Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue. That event had a line all the way around an entire city block--and Mickey stayed until he met every last customer! Tim retired from the School District of Waukesha after teaching elementary school children for 30 years, and now he gets to work at those author events. His interests include all types of children's literature, nature, art, sports, and lots of favorite authors for adults such as Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, Nevada Barr, David Mitchell, and Sherman Alexie.
This is the fictional story of Kofi Offin. He's on the verge of manhood. It’s based on the real lives of people in an 1860 West African Asante village, in the nation now known as Ghana. Kofi lives a loving family life. He's "smitten" with a young woman, who also likes him. He's bullied by a cousin and must find a way to defeat him. He struggles with school, where a teacher refuses his traditional language. He knows the history of warfare between two villages that once lived as one, and he will soon learn that greed and power and revenge can usurp family love. How will he keep any comfort or integrity or hope in the face of brutality? Kwame's introductory note says that this was a hard story to write, but it needed to be told. He needed to open a door, and his lyrical, graceful, powerful writing does just that. Now we must walk through, with "eyes unshut" and our "heart unlocked." It's an intensely profound walk. Do join me.
Jacob Black's life begins at nine years old, when the “Trips” are born: his identical triplet sisters. He wanted puppies instead. They're cuter. He was actually lonely, but the babies will be his parents’, not his. He studies them for a school research project. They change every day, becoming individual selves. When Lizzie stops crying to look at him, he picks her up, and she suddenly smiles straight at him. That’s it. Life begins again! I absolutely love Jacob's voice. He's honest in a calm, matter-of-fact way. He's funny. He's wise. He's the creation of a talented, Newbery Medal-winning author, and he'll be a joy for any reader near his age! It’s a loving story of friends and family and new beginnings.
Fabrizio is a thirteen-year-old Italian servant boy who wants to learn magic. His master refuses to use the tricks that once got him into trouble, but there's new hope. Their king has ordered his master to steal a book from the ancient city of Venice, one that shows a new way for the king to become rich by taxing his merchants. Fabrizio must get them to the city of magic, or his frail old master will be killed. They'll need to find Venice and the friar who's writing the book, while eluding others who would kill for it. Surely magic is the way to get this done. It's a story of suspense, with healthy doses of wisdom, set in a fascinating and complex city, and it’s based on a real book, over 500 years old, that changed history. Another smart and compelling novel from one of our best children's writers.
Winning the American Revolution fully opened land west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers, and the way forward was the rivers. A great migration built fast-growing towns like Pittsburgh, where flatboats (and later steamboats) were made for moving surplus farm products down the Ohio and Mississippi. Many thousands of young farmers and rivermen floated to southern states each year, creating a unique river culture. Buck studied this history and decided he had to try the same flatboat trip himself in our age of massive river barge traffic, a crazy notion for an amateur on the water. Lots of river dwellers told him he'd die. He helped build his own flatboat, and the 2,000 mile adventure with a crew full of characters turned out to be awe-inspiring. The book ties his very personal journey to our past and to the ever-changing United States, as it’s seen from the rivers today. While Buck writes with strong and sincere words about the "profoundly tragic" role of American slavery and the devastation of indigenous nations, this is mostly a story of our constant expansion, rough independence, and ingenuity. Buck uses a lively blend of historian’s love of research and storyteller’s blunt humor to describe how he revels in the challenges and meets people of all kinds. I confess that along with my intense anger over America’s brutal history, I have a soft spot for the romance and marvelous details in this story. I enjoyed every bit of Rinker Buck’s wild river ride!
Searching for peace of mind in a troubled world? Here's a thought. Limit your thinking and live in the moment, just like a dog! Howl each day's greeting, bark your fears, sniff everywhere, wag till you drop, greet people with a big wet kiss (limited to those who understand), throw your fur (um, hair) to the wind. Maybe circle before you sleep. This sweet, heart-healing book even suggests ways to translate doggie lifestyle into human activity. Hooooowww perfect!
Jess Walter is a very fine writer. The Cold Millions is one of my favorite novels, and with this collection he's delivered again, in style. These contemporary stories are hilarious and clever views of love and pain. They ride life's ironies like bucking broncos while staying on a clear-minded literary path. I felt a kinship with some characters, while others were fascinating strangers, but the sharp conversational tone was always a breath of fresh air. There’s plenty of redemption and even some happy endings. Walter dares to tell us, in writing, that writing can’t hope to capture the depth of living; but his characters have extraordinary dimensions, and they were a whole lot of fun!
Dani Shapiro has a gift for showing us how the smallest decisions and quirks of fate change everything. Signal Fires opens with a tragic accident. Lies are told and secrets kept to stop the very bad from becoming unlivable, and the effects reverberate through the lives of two families. It’s a story of the hope and fear of being a parent, and being a child, about the fierce love and smoldering regret, the shame of guilt. The story of life. In the hands of a talented writer we look at characters and understand: Yes. That could be me. It’s also the story of a universal energy binding us all and a way forward to living. The past and the future seem alive in the present. Shapiro is a talented writer. She tells truth with uncommon clarity, and this is beautifully written truth.
The Fan Brothers have amazed me again! Several of their picture books are among my favorite combinations of story and illustration. Lizzy is the latest gem, about a girl who walks to the park with her parents and runs straight to the cloud seller. His clouds are in the shapes of many animals, but Lizzy wants an ordinary one. She learns to follow the Caring for Your Cloud instructions exactly, and the result is a lesson in love beyond anything she had imagined. The beautiful pictures enhance the unique and tender-hearted storytelling in a way that must be seen to be understood.
Horse is based on the life of a truly great American racehorse in the middle 1800s named Darley, who came to be known as Lexington. It's also the story of Lexington's glory being rediscovered many years later at the Smithsonian, by lovers of animals and paintings. The stallion's history is endearing, and through his courage and grace, Brooks reveals the nature of people and of America, on the brink of Civil War and as we live now. She’s adept at showing the beautiful Kentucky landscape, the personality of the horses, and the spectacle of racing in a society where whites casually own people. All this in stark contrast with the anguish and terror of being owned and used at the owner’s whim. It’s the enslaved young trainer Jarret’s close connection with the horse that fully exposes the single-minded profit motive for possessing them both. Jarret tells us that, in the end, it's only horses who are honest, and in the end a memorable story needs heart and strong characters. This novel has both, in human and equine form.
Once again, David Sedaris lovingly, and with full frontal honesty, embraces the strange ironies of being human: the cold pandemic realities, the oddly positive final days of a tough relationship with his father, America demanding that Black Lives Matter, the fortress of love he’s built with his sisters and with Hugh. The shopping! The best thing about reading Happy-Go-Lucky is that it flows so fast. This is a credit to marvelous writing and storytelling. It's like canoeing a river and immediately knowing you won’t need the paddle. The current carries you, and if you don't run full speed into all the worldly snags and boulders put in your way, then you're just not on the right trip. So enjoy the ride and throw the paddle overboard. That endangered turtle you just cruised past will make better use of it.
Salati's picture book is an instant summer classic. The baking-hot, crazy-complicated city sidewalk is no place for a little dog who just wants a curious sniff. It's all "too close! too loud! too much!" When the frustrated pup finally refuses to budge, the person at the other end of the leash takes them both on a fabulous journey to the beach. Being a hound lover, my first reaction was that this dog is such a... dog. And there's so much more here to admire. Facial expressions throughout are beautifully telling and fun. The illustrations are unique and dramatic, with details offering sweet surprises big and small. The poetic story is told with subtle strength, and this gift to the heart is wrapped in a perfect ending. Come and get one for the children you love, and perhaps another for your own life-tested soul.
This is the 19th volume in the Cork O'Connor mystery series, featuring the Northern Minnesota PI with both Irish and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) heritage. In Fox Creek, Krueger brings the focus back to Henry Meloux, a beloved Ojibwe friend and mentor to Cork who is well over 100 years old. A woman has come to Henry for help, not knowing that she’s been followed to his doorstep. He’ll need every ounce of his skill, vision, and enormous heart to lead her and the people he loves away from the forces on their trail. It may not be enough. Henry knows that one way or another his time to leave this life is near. When Krueger did a Boswell author event a few years back he told us that his indigenous fans say "not bad for a white man" about the way he develops Ojibwe characters. I laughed and felt relieved to hear validation of my true fondness for these fictional people. I’m a fan!
Families are held together in such unusual ways, and Johannes Bargaard has a family stretched so thin he hasn’t seen his beloved brother Anton for decades. Ski jumping is the one thread from their glory days that’s unbroken, but time is running out for Jon and Anton to do more than hide the frightening secrets that pushed them apart. Jon’s been told he has younger-onset Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to trust his own mind or if he can finish writing one last successful novel. Their father’s funeral may be the only time left to fully uncover the bitter past. Geye gets the little details right as he brings his characters’ world to life, and his spectacular winter scenes of ski jumpers taking flight, from Chicago and throughout Minnesota to Madison and Lake Placid, surrounded me with a beautiful literary warmth. The Ski Jumpers, just as Northernmost did before it, will surely have me looking for Geye’s next book!
The last attempt on Andrew Haswell Green's life, the one that succeeded, came in November of 1903. It was Friday the 13th. This we're told on page one, and with the end of his remarkable life a new mystery began. Did the people of New York really know the man they credited with the very existence of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Public Library, and a unified Greater New York City? Jonathan Lee gives us a novel of this renowned and yet somehow obscure historical figure. With a unique talent for using words and phrases, Lee unwinds the details of a life and a death. He opens a window into the heart of someone who knew mayors, governors and presidents, but was so often alone. It’s possible that over a century later we feel closer to him than people of his time, so who cared enough to kill “the father of Greater New York” on his own Park Avenue doorstep? The Great Mistake is beautifully crafted and thought-provoking historical fiction, a novel of substance and style for lovers of literary intrigue.
This just became my definitive summer picture book! School empties and the children are "free as the sun." Just imagine everything a group of kids could do to live their joy on a Brooklyn city street, on a day that lasts forever. Yes, of course there's an open fire hydrant, and a stickball game, an ice-cream truck, and a big kid helping with scraped knees, and... I think they even snuck in an image of Woodson herself writing Another Brooklyn. I have vivid memories of the sun finally going down against my own exhausted body on summer days that almost didn't end, and I'll never get enough of Woodson's gorgeous storytelling or enough images of childhood summer joy!
Two men, one black and one white, college roommates and friends so close that a single "self" has emerged. Their combined talent was clear in Ain't Burned All the Bright, a loving word-picture of family rising through our desperate times; now we get the inside story of how it all came to be. One man graduated from college, the other dropped out to make art, and together they decided New York City could be the place to express their newfound freedom, to struggle and grow together. What I love most is the sense that they're focused on me, on telling their truth to a reader of Jason's poems, a viewer of Jason's art, and a recipient of this hard-won culmination of beauty and success!
It's a pleasure (and a relief!) to find a non-fiction writer who’s concise and plain-spoken, one who gets straight to the point. Frans de Waal is that writer, and his points are extraordinary. He has hard-earned insights into gender and sex among hominid apes (yes, that's us and our close genetic family). He’s a self-proclaimed feminist who’s not interested in condemning chimpanzee societies for being male dominated, admiring bonobos for female domination, or dismissing the individual variations found in members of every species. A naturalist just wonders why life works the way it does, and his wondering comes with tested science about nature and nurture related topics like sexual pleasure and reproduction, social organizations and group hierarchies, the toys genders choose, our emotional tendencies, nurturing young, competition and cooperation, altruism, friendship, and all types of violence. There is a wide variety of research discussed, including studies done in captivity (zoos and primate centers), which always makes me uncomfortable, but by looking at human sex, gender and society related to other primates and animals in general, de Waal blasts needed light through the murky debate over what people see as right and wrong. I’m personally very grateful.
I love Henry Cole's illustrations! He uses finely detailed black and white drawings with soft color highlights in just the right places, all to show us the beauty and intricate workings of nature. With a companion picture book called Nesting, he taught us how robins build their nests and raise their hatchlings. This book reveals what beavers do best and how their construction makes a new habitat for many other species. Cole's words are clear and direct. Together, the pictures and the story teach us and also create suspense. Oh, and Building has a young Lego builder's stamp of approval! A six-year-old named Landon liked it and compared the beaver dams to the Mitchell Park Domes he'd just visited!
Milman gives us a vision of Earth devastated by insect loss, and perhaps we're already on the verge. Many recent studies show dramatic declines in insect species and in the populations of those remaining. Land development, pesticides, and climate change seem to be the key culprits. It may be tempting to say, "Great! Less ants and flies in the kitchen. Less mosquito bites and bee stings. Maybe less disease." Tempting, but insects aren't 75% of all animal life for nothing. They're essential to everything. They pollinate much of our food, they decompose dead plants and animals into soil and soil nutrients for new life, and they feed birds, frogs and endless other creatures we love. Life as we know it collapses without insect biodiversity. It's not a pretty picture, but this is an exceptional book, Milman kept me fascinated with mind boggling numbers and descriptions of extraordinary habitats and insect attributes. He's a compelling, bold writer with a vital wake-up call to change our behavior and adjust our attitudes about what makes life beautiful. Right now.
I like honesty, direct but gracefully written, especially when characters can't help telling the truth and then wonder if they're wrong. Lee's collection of stories has exactly that. The main characters are Asian Americans of many ethnicities and experiences. They talk about their lives (and the nasty treatment they face routinely) with a confidence and wry humor that grabbed my attention. I wasn't in tune with the places and foods and some of the jargon, but it didn't matter. Lee made me believe in the people. I trusted him with the film director, college professor, chef, restaurant owners, TV news crew, and the man we meet during three stages of his life, from Tokyo teenager to B movie semi-star to later-life tea shop chain owner. Lee brings suspense and sudden, quirky surprises to their days and makes them true. I'm grateful for these flesh and blood nuances of living that lay stereotypes to waste. I enjoyed every minute!
It’s an elaborate story, woven in great detail with dragons and ogres and loving orphans, animals who converse with people, heroes alongside a treacherous villain, and a town which, once very lovely, has fallen apart. The demise of Stone-in-the-Glen began with a fire that destroyed perhaps the most beautiful library imaginable. Everything started to crumble from there, including the will of most citizens to support and believe in one another. They do have a polished and beloved Mayor, a world renowned dragon slayer, who tells them he can fix it all, while also telling them to suspect everyone else. Most of the townspeople have become reclusive and have no desire to understand the remarkable Ogress nearby, but the struggling orphans and the Ogress will meet. Perhaps there is magic in the world, and there certainly is magic in Barnhill’s beautiful words and her thoughtful perceptions of life.
I'm trying to understand why Mandel's writing casts a spell on me. I don’t have a complete answer, but I’ve decided on this: her style is steady and beautiful, she’s smart without sounding pretentious, and her characters feel true. There's a flesh and blood intimacy about them that makes me feel safe in their world, even as we’re brought to the edge of catastrophe. When tragedy comes, I want to face it with these fictional people. This novel builds on The Glass Hotel (which I loved!) and Station Eleven (which I now must read!). It brings the past and future together as if connections across time are waiting to be discovered. It throws our reality into doubt by questioning how we came to be, and it shows us that technology will never hide our humanity. I’ll forgo the summary and just say that Mandel has created a dazzling story with humble simplicity, then tied it tight with a perfect ending.
Chester woke up one morning to a confusing new life. He had always loved playing with words, in poems and songs, but today? No matter the time, Chester Van Chime just could not... match words with corresponding sounds at the end! "He tried not to panic. He played it real cool and picked up his backpack and walked to his... learning place with teachers and stuff." His friends tried to help him, but nothing was done until Chester remembered that words should be... fun! These pictures and the story are clever and silly enough to make an old bookseller giggle. That's tough to do!
It's 1774 in Massachusetts, the eve of the American Revolution. Thirteen-year-old Noah Cope has just watched his minister father get tarred and feathered because he's loyal to the Church of England and to the King. His father will die from the burns within days. Noah's hatred for the rebel Sons of Liberty and his loyalty to his father's memory are powerful, but events on the horizon will challenge all of that. He'll need to work for his family, and he has a lot to learn. He'll get help from his boss, a young freed Black man who becomes a true friend, and he'll learn about the hypocrisy of both sides as they talk about Liberty while acting like tyrants and keeping slaves. Will he ever find someone worthy of his loyalty? Avi has written about early America and great moral dilemmas many times (The Fighting Ground, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Something Upstairs), but the struggle over what loyalty means to us has never seemed more timely. His ability to show us American crisis so deeply and clearly through the eyes of a boy becoming a man proves once again what I’ve long believed. Avi is among our most gifted writers for kids.
Once again, Taylor has done us a great service, this time by adapting her history of The Green Book for young adults. Published from 1936 to 1967, The Green Book was a guide for Black travelers, listing businesses that welcomed African Americans. It was essential for the safety and support they needed to enjoy travel despite the constant potential for racial hatred and violence. In its later days, it also became a voice for demanding civil rights. Taylor’s details about the development and use of the book are fascinating, and her work includes much more. She explains the Black economic progress that came from owning and working with automobiles, and the social change that grew from the mobility they allowed. She's added marvelous photos of children to the adaptation, while keeping many that she took herself as she traveled the country searching for surviving Green Book locations. Taylor is adept at using the past to help us understand race in America today, and she's given us a deeply affecting look at Black people's long, agonizing struggle to get basic respect and justice. More than any other book I've read, Overground Railroad made clear the endless, malicious obstacles put in the way of basic living, solely because of skin color. It's a powerful and sometime frightening book. Young adults need this story, and I'm grateful to have read both the adult and the children's versions.
This is the story of four seasons in the life of a young girl and her brother, encouraged by a loving grandmother to lift their arms and fly above the obstacles of life. Springtime storms may trap them indoors. Summer conflicts can hold them in silence. Dark autumn skies make their room much too quiet. Winter brings a move away from neighbors and friends. Lift your arms, close your eyes. Fly, and imagine what can be! It's the second lyrical, sweet picture book from Woodson and illustrator Rafael Lopez, and it's inspired by a monumental book about enslaved people "lifting up and flying away home: The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Dianne Dillon, which is among the greatest of children's books. Here, Woodson and Lopez have beautifully honored and extended their work!
Daniel Black tells the story of a father and his son. As the opening author's note explains, Daniel is the son, writing what he imagines his dying father might have said to explain himself in the aftermath of a troubled and broken family. As his father asks Death to allow him time, he writes to Daniel on days when he's not too sick: about being raised by a harsh grandfather who taught him that love was showing respect without emotion; about wanting to prepare Daniel for the cruel realities of being a Black man by making him tough; and about the fear and bitterness he felt over not getting the type of son he wanted and expected. I'll admit it. This book messed me up. I mean, really, how many times can a man can say, "I almost... I wish I had... I should have... found a way to show my love and acceptance?" It's too damn personal, but I might just read it again. Because the writing is exquisite. The father's voice rings true and clear with a sincere emotion that he's never before expressed. And because it beautifully raises the question that matters to a damaged child: are there things a parent can do, or not do, which are unforgivable?
They didn’t call it Bronzeville in the 1920s, 30s or 40s, back when the women and men interviewed for this book were born. They all agree on that. It was just where they lived, a tightly-knit community of hard-working people with a variety of backgrounds and income levels, arrivals from Europe, and African Americans who’d moved north. Children played on the sidewalks and at Lapham Park. They started working very young and knew that any trouble they got into would mean neighbors giving a full report to their parents. Look out then! I’m grateful to Dr. Jones for this warm story of strong people. She tells us about successes of the earliest Black people in Wisconsin and Milwaukee, and she shares detailed stories from a thriving community that’s come to be lovingly known as Bronzeville. She also explains the injustices of housing restrictions and loss from freeways built through the heart of a neighborhood still remembered, then shows us how Milwaukee African Americans continue today to “make a way out of no way.” It’s a story that this life-long Milwaukee area resident did not know and one I needed to know. Thank you, Dr. Jones!
With long strings of memorable words built into dramatic, thought-inspiring illustrations, Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin show us how hard and how wonderful it can be to breathe through these frightening times. Mother's news story that never changes, Father's incessant cough heard from his isolation, Brother's endless video gaming, and Sister's protest preparations. A family suffocating. An oxygen mask must be around here somewhere! It is, but not to be found in a box. It's in all the tiny and monumental signs of love that sometimes get overpowered and overlooked. This is a desperate and gorgeous word-picture of whole life rising in the face of despair. Something to savor again and again. Do this just for you. Come and get the book!
Whitehead starkly defines his characters' world as he unwraps their stories with a direct, graceful style and unique symbolism. I met him once at a Boswell Book Company event. I saw the genius in his eyes; the sincerity, too. And he’s funny! Once again, he drops us into another time. Harlem, 1959, was a much harder place than the one where I was born (that same year). Ray Carney is a loving family man with a small furniture company and modest ambitions for upward movement. He stays at the edges of the hustles all around him, but everything heavy pulls at the edges. He “was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked" until his beloved cousin Freddie draws him into a heist. I like Ray, and in Whitehead’s masterful hands he becomes real. I haven’t read a better American novelist, living or dead. He stands with James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and E. L. Doctorow. Back-to-back Pulitzers ain’t bad. By giving us the past, Whitehead leads us toward the future. He's the new King of American historical fiction, the new voice as powerful as Doctorow’s. The torch of greatness has been passed.
"It only takes one mouse to believe in you." That was the lesson mother gave to Clarice and her brother, Charles Sebastian, but it takes a lot of believing to think any mouse can survive a ship divided by mutiny and prowled by hungry cats and angry sailors. When Clarice and Charles Sebastian get separated, they have constant doubts about each other's survival and how in the world they'll ever find each other again. Their determination to try takes them on an epic journey. Along the way they'll face great loss while discovering friendship and love in the most surprising places. As she did with her Unwanteds series, McMann writes with warmth, wisdom, and a perceptive view of humanity through the eyes of remarkable characters, some human and some animals with tremendous heart. This book may just renew your power to believe!
Hope can be tough to come by these days, but Jane Goodall certainly has it. She is truly "a beacon of hope." People from all over the world look to her for it, and it's not wishful thinking. She has very specific and detailed reasons to be hopeful, and she thinks what people see in her is an unflinching honesty about the nightmare scenarios we face on Earth combined with a sincere belief that we can still overcome them. She freely admits there are times when she feels down, but at 87 years old, long after her revolutionary studies of African chimpanzees, she still travels the world working with people and nature, collecting the most amazing stories! She believes that hope is a survival trait which humans have developed, but that it must also be nurtured and reinforced. Her travels give her a fierce belief in "the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit." She discusses each of these reasons for hope in profound dialogues with Douglas Abrams, who wrote The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is a book I've badly needed, a renewal of my sense of purpose and possibility from one of our wisest elders!
The Sentence is both hilarious and deadly serious, sly and sincere. It's hard-edged and beautifully tender, with biting humor as a balm for life’s wounds. Erdrich is a national treasure, but you probably knew that. What I knew of her was limited to her Birchbark House children's writing. I also knew that her flowing autograph is a signed book nerd’s dream, and her beautiful jacket photos take my breath away. I'm a shameful book collector who’s picky about his crushes. Oh yes, the story. If I tell you very much, I’ll ruin good surprises. So, I’ll just say it’s a ghost story, an exploration of the spirit world inside our own. It happens in Erdrich’s very own book store, Birchbark Books, with Louise as a subtle character. And the ghost is an annoying, complex, recently dead regular customer. Above all, we get to see into the heart of a Minneapolis bookstore during the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. This book is priceless American truth! And it's about people who love books.
Ah, friendship! Norman the porcupine does absolutely everything with his "bestie" Mildred, the tree. From baseball to chess, from reading to bird watching, even playing "tree" together. Just the two of them, until... "who is that?!" What can Norman do to stop Mildred's new connection? It's an elaborate plan, and let's just say, it's not good. This is a tale of jealousy and redemption for the ages. My favorite picture books somehow combine sweet illustrations with clever story lines. Higgins has done just that!
I’ve read a lot of history, but rarely have I seen a story as dramatic as Lafayette’s. I knew a little about him from other books - the Frenchman who helped George Washington finally win the American Revolution. I also assumed that Lafayette Hill in Milwaukee is one of the many tributes to him across the United States. But the twists and turns of this man’s life took me by surprise. Raised at the highest levels of aristocracy, he left as a young man to fight for glory and American liberty. Returning to France as a hero, he went from a pivotal role in Paris as the Bastille was stormed to a man hated by both extremes during the French Revolution. He spent years in European prisons, and later returned for a grand parade of love on a tour of every US state. Along the way he saw the hypocrisy of freedom fighters who continued to own slaves and worked to end it. He even tried to convince his father figure Washington to do the right thing. Duncan tells the story with suspense, riveting details, and bold conclusions. This is history at its entertaining finest!
Temperance Flowerdew came to Jamestown Colony in 1609 and married Virginia's first two Governors, but her life was not recorded. Denise Heinze imagines her world, from surviving the hurricane that nearly wrecked her transatlantic fleet to living a warm family life in harsh conditions. It's a convincing portrait of a strong and optimistic person determined to report for posterity what a woman of her time could not actually write or say. The novel is dedicated to "all the women gone missing from history." Heinze uses period language and well researched details to get the right tone and character voices, making me feel the gravity of a new colony holding off disaster. Temperance may well have been this extraordinary woman of faith who fought to establish a king’s colonial foothold and must hope her children will make amends for her purchase and profitable use of Africans. Still, I can believe that she may also have seen the Powhatan people as more than savage and that she perhaps even stood toe-to-toe with a man like John Smith!
National Book Award-winner Louise Erdrich and illustrator Jim LaMarche have given us a great gift, a magical story of family love with words and pictures perfectly orchestrated for suspense and joy. Grandmother is full of surprises, and when she sails away to Greenland on the back of a porpoise, the family thinks she's gone forever. As they finally decide to explore her bedroom, they find the beautiful mysteries are only beginning. Erdrich's dramatic and whimsical storytelling combined with LaMarche's unique perspectives deliver a picture book thrill reminiscent of Chris Van Allsburg's finest work. Just be careful with that stuffed pigeon!
This is Krueger's latest in the mystery series featuring Sheriff Cork O'Connor, a man with both Irish and Ojibwe heritage. It's entertaining for the storytelling and fascinating for the cultural complexity. The series features Cork as a law man with Indigenous family and friends, as well as a white Irish police lineage going back to Chicago city cops. This entry is special, because we meet Cork at the beginning, as a 12-year-old boy whose father Liam is the Sheriff of a county including Minnesota Boundary Waters and the Iron Lake Reservation. Cork and his friend find a haunting scene in a sacred place called Lightning Strike. It’s the body of a respected Ojibwe man who is a family friend. Is there a killer out there, or did he take his own life? Krueger does two things extremely well here. The first is developing a political and cultural context to show the impact of the 1956 Indian Relocation Act on indigenous people and communities, after the law encouraged them to move off reservations and into large cities. The second, as he also did in his stand alone novel This Tender Land, is creating great characters who face tough social stress. The children in both books are extraordinary. Cork is a kid with heart, relentless curiosity, and the knack for investigation skills that he’ll need as a Sheriff throughout the series. I enjoyed every last minute!
Firekeeper's Daughter is a thriller. We know on the first page, when we’re given a glimpse of what’s to come - a revolver pointed at our narrator's face, but the novel doesn't happen at break-neck speed. It's the very personal story of Daunis Fontaine just after her high school graduation. It's deliberate, like her talent for science, and strong, like her ability to play varsity hockey with the boys. She was born a scandal, but her wealthy, white, sixteen-year-old mother insisted on keeping her Ojibwe father’s family in her life. Daunis balances two worlds, loved by both and never completely fitting with either. Now she’s ready for college, looking to be a doctor in the safe world her money and light skin allow her. It's a life her father's Firekeeper family wouldn't expect to have, and things aren't going as planned. Daunis will fight through traumatic losses and walk straight into danger to protect her people, all while pretending she's not falling in love. She's an impressive character, with a toughness and raw honesty that I wish I had. It’s a powerful teen novel, an eye-opening experience, and I learned so many cultural lessons as I was being drawn into the suspense. This is sure to be one of my top books of 2021!
Some people claim that Wisconsin is the nation's most haunted state. Milwaukee certainly has its share of high-profile spirits dating back many decades, and as a person who knows and loves this city, I enjoyed every minute of learning about their haunts. Lardinois writes their mysterious stories at a level just right for kids about eight to ten years old, but she kept this old guy captivated with details about very familiar places. As a baseball fan, I was stunned to learn that the Pfister Hotel ghost has frightened so many well-known pro baseball players that some now refuse to stay there, and one admitted to keeping a baseball bat in his bed at night for protection. The Lake Park Lions Bridge claims the sinister laughter of unseen children, and Grant Park's Seven Bridges Trail routinely freaks out ghost hunters. These are places I know well, and there are so many more! Lardinois adds just enough historical information about the locations to keep a history lover transfixed, and the graphic design adds a perfect mood. This is a winning addition to the Spooky America series, from the founder of Gothic Milwaukee!
These characters are beautiful outcasts, different in ways too clear to miss, ways that push them out. They're beautiful for how they fight to keep what’s best about the Earth, and life, in spite of the most painful circumstances. They focus on the people, objects, natural places, and stories that stand side by side with the indignities of humanity. In the brutal siege of 15th century Constantinople, in a beloved and threatened 20th century Idaho forest, in a harsh Chinese prisoner of war camp, and in the containment of a ship blazing through future space, they dream of possibilities. From the opening it seems the time to save a healthy Earth has past. This is the story of saving an ancient piece of tattered writing, an ancient story rescued from the decay of time by these outcasts, as they fight for hope. Doerr's extraordinary details of living in these places make the characters all the more real as he makes a dramatic case that saving stories may indeed have the power to save us as well.
Here two stars have aligned. The first is Kate DiCamillo - a fine storyteller, an original voice in children's literature, a two-time Newbery Medalist. She is not shy. She’ll tell children about the world’s great terrors, then offer characters who rise above their traumas. Sophie Blackall is the second star - a creator of elegant pictures that perfectly suit my eye, a two-time Caldecott Medalist. In this wise and wonderful novel, Beatryce is found, filthy and covered with blood, by a fierce and “uncompromising” goat named Answelica, and by Brother Edik of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Answelica abides nobody, so when Beatryce is found, near death, clutching the goat's ear, it's clear that she's special. She has no memory of how she came to this place, but there is a King looking for this dangerous girl of whom the prophecy speaks. It’s a clever story, made warm with humor and love, and it’s a tribute to the power of reading, writing, storytelling, and strong women and girls. I gladly align my fragile star with the strength of theirs.
In some ways it has a classic western feel: the tough towns always primed for violence, death in an instant, or more slowly if water isn't found soon, the clanging of rail spikes as the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific hammer toward their convergence. In other ways it surprises: the "miracles" revealed by the Ringmaster of a traveling magic show, the wisdom of a prophet with no memory who knows what's on the horizon, the truly amazing quality of the writing. Ming Tsu is a Chinese American orphan, raised by the white killer-for-hire who trained him. "For a long time it had ceased to trouble him to kill." He married a white woman after her father laughed at his proposal and was beaten for it, then convicted of miscegenation and sentenced to work the railroad line. Now he's got scores to settle and a wife to find, even though a judge ruled they were never married. He's wanted, but whites likely wouldn't know he's coming except that he's "bigger than them Chinese normally is." Oh, he's coming, and just pray he’s not coming for you! The novel has a mysterious air about the fleeting aspects of memory, what we try to hang on to and what we try to get back. These characters often frightened me and always filled me with wonder. Remarkable!
Give it some time. That’s my advice about Brood. Let the book peck at you for a while and you’ll be rewarded. I didn’t know that I completely loved it until the last three pages. Then I suddenly knew. Completely. This book is all of life told in the story of four backyard chickens. Our narrator’s voice comes straight at us - a bit sassy, sly, mostly sure-minded - even as she maintains a subtle neighborhood diplomacy. The contrast is wonderful. Chickens help her tell us boldly about loss and the inescapable hardships of living, but she’s not bitter. She sees the beautiful workings of her simple birds, and of people: her chicken-hesitant friend Helen, her staunchly independent mother, her very reasonable husband Percy, the awkward neighbors, and how all of life creates dust. Mix in Minnesota’s climate extremes and a changing neighborhood. You’ll get a growing sense that you’re reading something very special, richly human. Let Brood peck at you. There’s nothing quite like it.
This book is easy to read, and not because it's simple. Ishiguro creates tremendous emotional depth with a graceful narrative flow. That must be how you win a Nobel Prize: expertly crafting writing that sounds so natural. Klara observes the world and its people with open curiosity, at first untainted by her limited experience, but she’s always learning. Her ability to analyze human behavior with sincerity, consideration, and objectivity is something I would love to possess, but Klara isn't human. She's a machine, waiting for a future with a human family who would buy her as their child's Artificial Friend. She looks forward to being displayed in the storefront window, where nourishment from the sun will make her stronger, and she can see more of the city's intensity. Then there’s a wider world out there, where her status will be friend, family, and possession. Klara feels the effects. She has her own intentions, and her personal story has an unmistakable living warmth. Can Klara love and be loved? Is she ultimately being used for her owners' needs alone, or do they care for her as they would care for a person? One thing I can say without hesitation is that I wish Klara was my friend!
Battles for the land just west of the Appalachian Mountains were as vicious and unforgiving as they were complicated. The places that became Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana sustained the lives of many First Nations long before they were claimed by the French, taken by the British, and finally flooded by Americans. In the heart of this storm was Daniel Boone, a man who became legendary by helping colonists and land speculators struggle through the mountains. As a "long hunter" who spent months at a time hunting and trapping for furs, Boone's knowledge of the land, his calm under pressure, and his determination in the face of any hardship made him the right man to defy the Indian fight against encroachment. It's a fascinating and disturbing story of constant westward expansion despite horrific costs on all sides. Boone has a daughter briefly kidnapped, two sons and other relatives violently killed, and is himself captured and adopted into a powerful Shawnee warrior's family before a harrowing escape. I've read a lot about the forces colliding on this continent, and these authors have done exceptional work. The storyline is crisp. The extensive details are riveting. The occasional fearless use of cheeky statements does nothing to detract from the authors' academic commitment and fair-minded approach. If you like to know about the very hard truths of American history, you want this book. Though I'll caution you: the brutality described here can be terrifying. You may not want these images in your head.
This is my first ever superhero novel; amazing but true. I don’t often read comic books either, but this hero intrigues me. I was also touched by Smith’s book dedication: “For Chadwick Boseman. Rest easy, my king.” And I like Smith’s writing. The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away is a unique and well written children’s novel. So, here I am in new territory. T’Challa is the 13-year-old Prince of the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, where his father is King, the ruling Black Panther. He should be having a relaxed return to America, a vacation with his friends Sheila and Zeke in the small Alabama town where Sheila is visiting her grandmother. T’Challa has been warned by his father to avoid trouble like he had in his last trip, to Chicago where he first met his friends, but he knows trouble can come. He brought his protective suit, after all, and he’ll need it. There’s a strangely talented man in town, and a voice in his dreams, calling him to show he’s worthy. He’ll have to defy his father to protect his friends. Smith has a knack for dialog and characters, the good ones and the truly creepy villains. He’s made me want to go back and read the book where these kids first met.
It's a literary gift to suddenly find profound inspiration. Finding that it comes from a local author makes it rare. Margaret Noodin is a professor of English and American Indian studies at UW-Milwaukee. She earned two degrees from Minnesota schools, and it’s where she learned the language of the poems in What the Chickadee Knows. They’re conceived and written in Anishinaabemowin, side by side with her English translations. It’s “the language of the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe people centered in the Great Lakes region.” I don’t know the language, but the words are visually thrilling. I can begin to imagine their lovely sounds, and I love seeing the continuation of First Nations languages. Their descriptions of the land and life, time and loss, sorrow and celebration have the feel of a natural world we all long for. They're simply stated, and beautifully complex. They speak of love, while also confronting the tragedy of our history. This is one of the most precious book discoveries I've had, and it's very exciting to know that Noodin teaches up the street from Boswell!
It’s a small northern Wisconsin town, tucked up against a massive forest, a place where they know Milwaukee folks won’t understand. Sometimes you just shoot coyotes when their numbers cross a line and you start losing cows. It’s a place where two young boys have father problems, and the problems suddenly get big, so the kids run. There’s a young new sheriff in town who had to leave his home, too. He was looking for a quiet place away from his Houston mistakes, maybe a dog, and some distance from complications, but he won’t get that now. The boys are out there alone, and distance doesn’t work anymore. Their stories drew me in right away. Many of the characters seem familiar because they’re like me. Any glimpse of close human connection brings a sense of both need and dread, in equal measure. The suspense works well, too, as lines get drawn and necessarily crossed. The emotions feel true, as an intense fight for survival draws out their full force. I enjoyed the ride!
I haven’t read many books from the self-help section of our store, but I’m truly glad I read this one! Kross is a smooth and entertaining writer, blending top-flight brain research with compelling real-life stories to give us a fast-paced manual for using our inner voice in ways that reduce stress. The book fascinated me, and it actually helped me. As the director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, Kross is always looking for better scientific understandings of the human brain. He respects the mindfulness movement, but he also understands that consciousness is the greatest adaptation we've developed, allowing us to look at ourselves in order to create and plan and problem solve. The trouble is, for many of us, that chatter too often takes control. Ruminating, negative "thought spirals" drag us down. Kross is very open about how this sometimes happens to him, and he tells great stories about people we know from popular culture. The graceful mix of amazing research studies and anecdotes comes together in a toolbox for controlling the conversations we have with ourselves, and now he's piloting a promising curriculum for children based on his work. Thank you, Ethan Kross!
Don't let the format fool you. EO Wilson is highly intellectual and wise, one of the world’s premier scientists and writers. His lifetime body of Harvard research on ants and the evolution of species as they spread across continents is as revered as the body of books he's written about life on Earth. But it’s the act of discovery that’s driven him, the “grubbing around,” finding things nobody had ever seen, learning what nobody knew. The graphic format is perfect for that man, who never grew out of his childhood “bug period.” The pictures make the physical, sensory intensity of his work jump out, and they make his intellect clearer and more personal as he takes us back to his childhood and then forward to now. I appreciate the way he gives us the lowdown about scientists and their sometimes bitter divisions over theories, and also the way he talks directly about his own white privilege when he realized that he could do things which others would be denied. He’s open to seeing his own mistakes and to learning from anyone, including adversaries. It’s a relief to feel such pure honesty and humility during this time of political manipulation. It's a beautiful book about a literally wonderful man!
Jess Walter carries us back to the Pacific Northwest of the early 1900s, using vivid details to show us the raucous, vibrant, fast growing town of Spokane. The heart of the story is two Dolan brothers jumping trains to get work, fighting for workers’ rights with the hard-nosed bosses and cops who routinely use men and then dump them as bums. Workers want decency. They have fearless leaders, but the people with wealth and power aren’t giving anything away. They don’t play nice, and they have ways of controlling it all. The brothers believe in the cause, but they're also looking to settle down in this new whirlwind home. Their stories and the way they turn phrases had me smiling ear to ear, and then shaking my head in amazement at their resilience. I think I’ll remember their hard-earned wisdom forever. It’s a suspenseful novel, a window into early days of labor battles, delivered with a sharp, clever style. It’s entertaining, and also very timely considering the gap between rich and poor has never been greater than it is now. The plot twists and characters are fascinating, many based on real events and people. The ending is satisfying. I stayed tied to each page.
We know early on that the story is about a financial crime, a massive Ponzi scheme, but the book’s greatness is that the big money crime becomes a perfect vehicle for building extraordinary characters, settings, and themes. Vincent Smith begins and ends the novel as her life (yes, a girl named Vincent) shifts on a grand scale, at lightning speed, from 13-year-old vandal to... wow! St. John Mandel is so talented at revealing all of her characters that their personal trajectories become riveting. They somehow feel both unique and universal. In the process, we travel to the sharply contrasting and richly drawn landscapes of wealth and struggle, the spectacular hotel in a remote Canadian forest, the concrete indifference of New York City, Dubai, and desolate small towns. Yet in every mind and in every place the questions seem the same. Can we feel anchored anywhere to this world, or are we all adrift? Is anything certain or clearly real? In just 300 pages St. John Mandel has given us a penetrating, memorable look at our shared, and so often maddening, human experience.
There's a humanity to this novel that runs deeper than most, a gradual but constant movement through the earthy details of life and love. It's powerful, like the glaciers that form a vital part of the setting, and the longer I read the more it overtook me. We see the members of one family, several generations apart, and find the connections between a man who becomes a legendary survivor in 1890s Norway and a woman looking for the meaning of family and happiness in present-day Minnesota. Their struggles are timeless and universal. We know the descendants will continue, their blood crossing generations in defiance of personal isolation and beautiful but treacherous landscapes. I wondered at times how they did it. So did they, but their love is the greatest answer to how and why. I understand Geye's characters, and I think they would understand me. What greater compliment could I give a novelist?
This is a loving family story told by an eight-year-old boy who's just starting his summer vacation, with third grade still far off in the distance. To an adult, it's a sweet and simple book, but it sounds just like a child working through all the normal fears and celebrating the joys of growing up. It's not simple for him. Just before his father leaves on a professional art camp trip, Billy makes a birthday wish that something exciting will happen. Then he faces his own troubling thought that maybe his wish is the reason things have gotten too exciting. He has to cope with losing a neighbor, the endless complications his feisty little sister causes, and some scary house issues. He has a strong and creative family to help him, and the excitement can be great, too! Billy will be just fine. This is a companion novel to The Year of Billy Miller. In an introductory letter to the reader, Kevin Henkes says he had an unusually hard time letting go of Billy and his family after finishing the first book, so he went back to write about them again. I can see why. Give this to a young reader looking for a very relatable fictional friend.
Neva Beane loves words. She looks them up in her collegiate dictionary and lets them roll around her thoughts until she finds the right one to use. They help her solve the problems of being 12 years old. She says her love of words puts her between weird and interesting, much closer to interesting; she questions everything, like her new body and the friendships that might be gained or lost, but words help her find answers. This summer her parents are “traipsing” around Europe on a concert tour, trying to revive their music career, so it’s life with grandma and grandpa and teen brother Clay, who’s intent on his community activism despite the family’s fears. Sometimes it feels like she’s falling into a deep hole, but others see a very real girl with a soft power. I loved Neva’s strong, sincere voice from the first page to the last. She’s a role model to admire in this beautiful family story about a girl finding the definition of herself.
Virgil Wander’s name is ironic because he’s been in one place for a long time, a beautiful but rugged Lake Superior town that’s well past its best days. Then Rune arrives, a magnetic man with a talent for making and flying wonderfully unusual kites, a man closely tied to everyone’s past, and a sign of their future. As he meets Rune, Virgil is recovering from a concussive near-death crash into the lake. It’s changed him; he’s more direct, more openly emotional, a little irreverent. He’s told to “watch out.” Maybe his name is a calling. It’s easy to like Enger’s characters. Their intelligence and sincerity make a winter setting feel warm and open to unlikely renewal. And the story is engaging, expertly crafted for anticipation and suspense. If you want a great holiday read, and a welcome reprieve from negativity, Virgil Wander is perfect!
Marion Lafournier left his small Minnesota reservation town. He keeps going back, and he’s not sure why. Maybe walking away from his first boyfriend in Minneapolis at 18 years old could explain it, but it’s more than that. He’s with guys he meets through an app who are hiding in the shadows, but he’s comfortable being out and he wants a relationship. So why keep returning to a place where nothing happens? When he finds a Revenant, a spirit in the form of a dog with a bloody maw, being back starts to look like destiny. The kids always said the dog that died under that schoolyard merry-go-round was still around. Now it seems to be leading him back to the murder of a popular boy, and looking back might be a key to moving forward. Staples gives us a beautifully complex picture of family in its many forms. Ojibwe tradition is blended with modern America and universal humanity. The voices are strong. The stark honesty of Staples’ characters and the grace of his writing make this debut memorable.
This is the story of four generations of Cherokee women and their men in Oklahoma and Texas. The words are uncomplicated, all the more beautiful for their graceful, plain-spoken style. The writing is easy to love, and so are the people. We feel their strength and sorrow, the excited warmth of new romance and the hot anger of losing it. Everyone is confused about the reasons everyone else does things. Welcome to humanity, but the simplest human joys are right there for you, for anyone who can see them and try to hold on. The book is just as gorgeous as the awe-inspiring mess of being alive. It grows and deepens like life itself. Justine says, “You’ve got to keep moving, whatever you do,” and in less than 300 pages we’re moved through rich details of full people, daily survival, and love no matter what else comes. An exceptional debut!
Natalie Hunt drove down Route 66 to college in Arizona, away from her tainted Midwest childhood, and left her past self in the rearview mirror. She introduced herself as Finn, her middle name, tried on a few different ways of living, and by chance became the nanny to a U.S. Senator's four-year-old granddaughter. Amabel is precocious and lovable. As Senator Martin's son and daughter-in-law, Ammy's parents have successful and carefully managed lives with just the right public facade, but Finn isn't the only one with a hidden past. Ammy is convinced that a young woman is following her, and so begins the possibility that everyone's cover will unravel and expose the humanity behind the stainless persona. I was absorbed by this novel, by its quick start and strong pace, and I like the way Dimberg uses politics as the context for people's lives without letting political issues become a distraction. The characters are well developed, Finn having a bold determination to find the truth mixed with a lot of self doubt. Her mutual attraction with Amabel's father Philip is a subtle but important element of the story, never becoming a nanny stereotype. Above all, the tragedies and the suspense moved me. Deeply. I truly look forward to Dimberg's next work!
Ready or not, here it comes! Valentine will grab you, make your eyes stop in their tracks, and then push you until the pages run out. The 1970s West Texas town of Odessa is a hard world. The land is hard, so flat and long under an endless sky that distances don't make sense. It's covered with pumpjacks drawing oil from everywhere and filled with a pervasive, oily smell. People's words are hard too, piercing and often unforgiving. The novel opens with fourteen-year-old Gloria down on that hard ground at dawn after being viciously assaulted, looking up at the roughneck who did it, while he sleeps it off in the front seat of his pickup. She'll walk, badly injured, for three miles to the only house in sight, where Mary Rose Whitehead and her daughter Aimee Jo will open the door to her. Mary Rose will sometimes wish she'd left it closed, but she sure as hell wasn't gonna let this guy finish Gloria off. So begins the stories of several women and girls in the orbit of this crime, a time and place where they've all heard nasty comments about girls like Gloria Ramirez, and they've all been given cheerleader uniforms before they were out of diapers. They'll play the game of smiling sweetly for the men, to a point, but don't count them out. They're not giving in, and they'll keep moving on, and, yes, there are some good men involved, too. Wetmore's writing style fits them so perfectly it's stunning. An absolutely amazing debut. Get ready!
Sharon Robinson turned 13 in January of 1963. It was a world-changing, heartbreaking year for the civil rights movement, and she lived at its center. Her father, the baseball legend and lifelong activist Jackie Robinson, was deeply involved with raising money for the cause, working side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, so Sharon heard firsthand about the roller coaster ride of the movement. The Birmingham bombings and children's marches were dinner topics, and Sharon joined the March on Washington, hearing her father speak before Dr. King. This is an enlightening story of the pivotal year in American history, but it's equally a tender story about the loving family of an American hero and the story of a girl just becoming a young woman. Sharon needed to be involved with the social change happening all around her, and talking to classmates about segregation in her mostly white Connecticut town creates a tension that leads to real personal growth. The book is honest and clearly explains ideas of racial inequality in ways that children will understand. It's a gift to lovers of history and baseball, and it's a wonderful addition to coming of age stories for kids in their early teens.
Kevin Henkes is a star picture book author and illustrator. With Sweeping Up the Heart, he proves again that he's also a talented writer for older kids. Twelve-year-old Amelia's fantasy spring break is ruined when her father won't take her to Florida. She has no memory of a mother who died when she was just two years old, and her father doesn't seem able to connect with her life. Things are looking dismal, but Amelia's love for making clay animal figures at a local studio changes everything and leads her to new friendship, a renewed family, and confusing, unfamiliar feelings. I think middle grade readers will truly enjoy Henkes' characters. The kids and the adults are creative, positive people. They make perceptive observations about life and still sound so natural. This book is a quick read with a mature wisdom, and it's very easy to love!
Simon is a very normal 12-year-old boy with interests that don't quite match his Air Force father's love of nature and sports. He'd rather work on his video game character, a level-thirty High Elf Druid, or write his own fantasy story about a boy named Max who is being chased by something otherworldly and evil. Simon also seems a bit too focused on aliens. He's pretty sure that they exist, that they're very frightening, and that they've actually contacted him on a family camping trip, using owls as messengers. He's not alone in his beliefs. His brother's girlfriend lives in a house on the Air Force base where an alien believers group meets. They tell him that his contact with aliens is real, but his parents are treating him like he's losing his mind. Simon hates upsetting his mom, but he's sure that they just don't understand! I really liked the suspense of this middle grade novel. It's a little scary, and the ending isn't what I expected at all. Smith also does a great job with Simon's character, the perfect voice for a boy who's struggling to grow up in a strange and confusing situation. I'm looking forward to reading more of Smith's adventures.
One of Tommy Orange's characters, Dene Oxendene, explains that Gertrude Stein once wrote about the place of her Oakland, California childhood, about going back there and seeing so much development that there was no there there anymore. Dene tells us that this is what happened to Native people across the Americas, ancestral land buried by "glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory." And yet Urban Indians have made cities their own. "Being Indian has never been about returning to the land." The novel has 12 characters who eventually come together at the Big Oakland Powwow, people so diverse and also deeply intertwined, sometimes in ways they don't even know; but Dene seems central. He's won a project grant to document long ignored stories from Oakland Indians on video, with no director's agenda, just letting the "content control the vision;" and that's exactly how I see this novel, as the characters' stories, told forcefully. They are often frightening and confusing, but with moments of revelation and clarity and power. They feel true, not crafted to turn out the way you or I would want. The people sometimes survive, sometimes don't, and for some we're not even sure at the end. This book is a brilliantly written, unflinching look at life as it is and the constant battle to find a sense of place.
Warlight is set in England, just after the end of World War II, with streets still in rubble and unused. A boy and his sister are left by their parents, supposedly for important work in Singapore, put in the hands of apparent strangers for protection in a disrupted and still dangerous post-war world. None of it makes sense to the teenagers. The narrator, Nathaniel, asks questions without clear answers about his fragmented history. He tries to, as he says, "order" his life by collecting pieces of a hidden past as he finds them, about who he is, who his family has been, and what family really means, which he understands can never be fully revealed. Ondaatje's prose isn't sparse but clean, detailed without the unnecessary, which nicely balances the novel's mysterious feel. He paces the book with a consistent movement, never hurried, building the story like an unsteady march through an ambiguous landscape. The result is a complicated wisdom about being human. I'm left thinking I was in the hands of a truly remarkable writer in full control of his craft.
Sedaris has a unique style, very bold and still unassuming and natural. He plainly talks about the most harrowing and awkward aspects of life as if they were absurd curiosities. He can write about the endless contradictions in his family and give me a group hug feeling - thank you for being at least as weird as us! He writes about insults from a judgmental world with a sly but biting sense of humor that often brings a growing smile rather than a lol guffaw. And his odd but beautiful attempts at relationships with wild animals are fascinating. A fox named Carol befriends him, and he fed WHAT to a snapping turtle with a giant tumor on its head!? Last year he was at Boswell for a 7:00 event and showed up by 4:30 to start signing books and having long conversations with the very first fans who arrived. How can you not love this guy?
This is American history at its best, a wealth of details from primary sources, yet written so smoothly and with such style that it becomes a captivating story. Joseph was respected, even admired, by everyone who met him - soldiers and army officers, traders and settlers, a wide public following and U.S. Presidents. Howard, a Civil War general, fought with Sherman and went on to direct the Freedmen's Bureau, becoming responsible for the progress of millions of former slaves during Reconstruction. He founded Howard University with the ideal of educating blacks and whites together, and then led the violent campaign to force Joseph to the reservation. Sharfstein's words draw portraits of fascinating individuals over decades of their lives, as well as the rugged and beautiful Northwest landscapes of Washington, Idaho, a new Yellowstone National Park, Montana, and Alaska. The book's scope of time, from the early 1800's to the mid 1900's, is impressive!
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I was only six years old when the Braves left Milwaukee, but I felt the anger, even from some of my young friends. Then the Brewers arrived, and I lived across the street from Dave Bristol, their first field manager, for three incredible summers. It was amazing, playing on the County Stadium field and in the dugout and bullpen with his children. I've always wondered why that terrible and wonderful transition happened; this book gave me everything I needed. It's the political and economic story of the joy and early success that surrounded the Braves' arrival in 1953, and the rage over their bitter departure in 1966. More than that, the book explains how the Braves' move was the beginning of great change in Major League Baseball, with shifting franchises and expansion extending the league coast to coast, and with frustrated fans in many cities seeing their teams move in large part due of broadcast revenues with the advent of television. Steele's research into the actions and reactions from the entire spectrum of Milwaukee's community, and nationwide, is excellent. A fascinating read!
Tom, just one of his many names, is different. As an alba, he does age, but at a rate much slower than most humans. An alba (short for albatross, a bird known to live longer than most) may well live a thousand years or more, and the implications are stunning, often heart wrenching, and always dangerous. The people he comes to know, including the actor and playwright William Shakespeare, are fascinating and well developed by Haig. Accusations of witchcraft are common in Tom's early years, during the 1500s and beyond, forcing him to continually move and change identities to avoid constant suspicion. He fears being used by people with complicated motivations. The revelations of Tom's life and the wisdom he gathers about time, loss, and the need to insulate himself from painful human connections are drawn beautifully in sequences and identities ranging from deep into the past to the future. Haig is not writing science fiction here, but rather making us believe that this could actually be happening. I don't typically compare authors, but I felt changed by this book in ways similar to reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks, and Slade House. This is an excellent novel!
Combining beautiful color illustrations (Audubon Prints, Edward Curtis photos, George Catlin paintings, historic maps, and much more) with exceptionally deep research, Edmonds brings together 25 years of work to chronicle Midwestern birds and people. As a staff member at the Wisconsin Historical Society, he had access to high level expertise in the fields of archaeology, history, ornithology and American Indian spiritual practices; he also understands (and offers us) the latest avenues for electronic research, as well as good old fashioned digging into library collections and museums. Edmonds' discussions of the ways people have worshiped, thought about, studied, and used birds for food, profit, enlightenment, and healing over thousands of years explore our human perceptions of nature and our cultural tendencies. Fascinating stories about conflicting viewpoints, sometimes with real conflict, between conservationists and frontier hunters, Native American and Christian religions, university academics and folklore believers make this an engaging reading experience. Edmonds writes with the skill of a historian who loves a story; he's both a birder and an intellectual at heart.
Fish Girl is the creation of a powerhouse author/illustrator team, the first graphic novel for either of them; and it surely lives up to my expectations. David Wiesner is a three-time winner of the Caldecott Medal for the year's best illustrated children's book. His medal winners--Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam--are all unique in their ideas and beautifully designed. Napoli is a respected linguistics professor who has written dozens of children's books, including the middle grade novel Three Days, perhaps the most intense, suspenseful, and unique children's novel that I've ever read.
Fish Girl is the story of a developing friendship between a young mermaid and the human girl who becomes her friend. Fish Girl has been kept at a theme park named Ocean Wonders by Neptune himself, the god of the seas! He controls this building full of aquariums with sea creatures from around the world, and he shows his power to crowds of spectators, for money. As Fish Girl begins to struggle with her past and her hopes for the future, she starts to discover what it means to be a mermaid in the heart of a human world. Simply told and yet strongly emotional, this is a lovely graphic novel of innocence and wisdom for upper elementary age kids.
How in the world did this decades-long murderous conspiracy fall from American history's collective memory? The extended ‘Reign of Terror’ carried out in early 1900s Oklahoma has so many spectacular and infamous connections to pieces of our American identity that it doesn't seem possible to have missed hearing about it. When the Osage Nation acquired what seemed to be relatively useless Oklahoma land from the Cherokee, they just wanted a quiet place to live; but when large underground tracks of oil were discovered there, everything about their lives changed forever. The terrifying, sad story is expertly told by David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, whose ability to keep diverse characters fresh and create compelling suspense is truly impressive. Grann weaves together a story that includes very carefully researched history about: the West and U.S. expansion; the Texas Rangers, and how one former Ranger became the heroic lead investigator of these crimes during the earliest days of J Edgar Hoover's five decades in leading the FBI; the nation's first uses of careful evidence gathering and fingerprinting; and the ridiculous willingness of many white Americans to throw away lives considered less important than their own, for the sake of greed. Reading this book was like watching a train wreck - I couldn't have been at once more horrified and also transfixed.
Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train Girl, an adaptation of her NYT Bestselling adult novel Orphan Train, is a well researched portrayal of the sometimes agonizing situations endured by more than 150,000 "orphaned, abandoned, and homeless" children between 1854 and 1929, before the time of foster care programs, as they were taken by train from the American east coast to the Midwest in hope of finding new lives with new families. The story is told through the awkward, developing relationship between a struggling modern day foster child named Molly, who badly needs another chance, and a rich old woman named Vivian who seems to understand this girl in ways that nobody else can. Molly tries to survive with her current, frustrated foster parents after she's caught stealing a ragged library book, and her restitution is to complete a "service project" by helping Vivian clean out the attic of her large, beautiful home. The narrative moves between their story and the life of Niamh, a young Irish immigrant girl arriving at Ellis Island in 1929 who has felt more heartache from tragedy than any child ever should. She continues with such resilience, like Molly, having no other choice than to live on, and proving that as long as we're here humanity and love will find us, whether we want it to or not. This is a beautiful, deeply effecting book, so well tailored to children.
Kline opens the book with a brief prologue, including a statement from the novel's narrator Christina Olson that painter Andrew Wyeth was actually afraid to show her the finished painting Christina's World, which he'd created from inside her home. She explains that Wyeth's 1948 masterwork is not a portrait of her at all. It's wrong in nearly every way, except for the feeling that it captures of her relationship to this house, built by her ancestors, the home in Maine which was the focus of her entire life. An inserted print of the painting, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, closes the book.
This novel is Christina's story, told by her, imagined by Kline, of the tremendously brave and desperate life she led, and how it culminated in an iconic painting by a man I think of as the American art world's John Steinbeck. Like Steinbeck, Wyeth shows us both the pain and beauty of hope and survival, in unmatched detail. Kline's brilliance is that her words carry the intense sorrow and fierce pride which make humanity both terrifying and spectacular. Her book is noble, and so important to understanding American culture. This is a great piece of deeply researched historical fiction.
Having great respect and admiration for Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and others, I still don't believe there is a voice in American literature more powerful than E.L. Doctorow's. His historical fiction ranges in time from the crisis of the Civil War to the complexity of modern life in New York, with books such as Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, World's Fair and others receiving the highest awards given to a novelist.
I heard Doctorow speak, and even got a bit of help from him during the signing, at the Newberry Library in Chicago on his tour for The March. The book imagines General Sherman's raging assault through the heart of the Civil War South. Someone asked him if he'd read Sherman's personal memoir. He said that he had, but that he mostly studied photographs taken with the newly developed cameras of that era, suggesting that the truth in these pictures was the most essential guide to the details of any historical period. It made me realize that Doctorow's fiction has that same effect on me, giving me a highly detailed and moving picture of the people and places he interprets.
This collection of stories, all published previously in other collections, were placed in sequence for the book by the author himself, apparently as his last contribution to his work's publication before he died on July 21st, 2015. I had read most of these stories, but what a thrill to reread them in the order he chose! We lost one of the greatest when he died.
American Revolutions is a highly engaging, extremely well documented history of our nation's formative years. Taylor continues the brilliant work he began with American Colonies as he details the complex, sometimes shocking upheavals caused by shifting alliances among ‘American Indians,’ Europeans, and Africans. The struggle for control of North American land and people's lives was often brutal, and the Revolutionary War itself ‘embroiled everyone, including women and children,’ as loyalties changed and American families divided, Patriot vs. Loyalist. Taylor's clear, concise writing style allows him to quickly discuss overriding ideas, which he supports with uncommon details. As an example, Benjamin Franklin helped to lead the Patriot cause, all the while his brother remained the Royal Governor of New Jersey. Lovers of North American history rejoice!
Seventeen-year-old Justyce is a smart, strong, and also very confused young man attending a mostly white, elite high school Academy and working toward the Ivy League. He is disturbed and amazed that he's constantly judged by the color of his skin rather than the content of his character. It invades everything that happens in his world, even when his actions are genuinely heroic; and racial profiling quickly leads to personal trauma. Even the people closest to him, a very wise teacher and his best friends Manny and Sarah Jane, don't fully understand. So he begins writing letters to someone who would. Dr. King, of course, can't answer him, but it's the questions that matter. What would you do in my situation, Martin? How was it possible that you stayed so steady in your beliefs? How can I live the way you did? Justyce is in crisis, and maybe the letters to Martin just aren't enough. This is a very well written, quickly moving novel with dialog that felt so real I thought I was looking out the window at our troubled American life. An exceptionally important and highly recommended teen novel!
Coates has become an essential voice on race in America. His non-fiction writing, such as We Were Eight Years in Power, and his public speaking, such as his testimony on reparations before Congress, have given him a reputation for true brilliance. My sense is that this first Coates novel, The Water Dancer, will immediately add "great American novelist" to his resume. The depth of this book is astounding, and its narrator, Hiram Walker, I believe will soon be considered one of American literature's most important characters. Walker is one of the "Tasked," a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation, whose mother is also Tasked and whose father is the plantation owner, a leader among Virginia's "Quality." Hiram Walker knows he's different from others. He has a capacity to remember all that he hears or sees, which amazes the "Quality," and a certain ability to "Conduct" himself, which he struggles to understand. It's a power derived from remembering the stories of so many people who are lost, sold away, taken down. Coates shows us with intricate and haunting detail the human cost of slavery to everyone involved, and his writing is rock steady but bold. Walker's voice is smart and strong, and Coates successfully makes the one they called Moses, Harriet Tubman, a pivotal character. At once magical and profoundly real, this novel has a rare feeling of both completeness and greatness.
Hiaasen is one of my favorite writers for kids and adults. His characters and plots are always funny, a little weird, and often environmentally charged. The main characters go after people who disregard and damage nature, using bold and sometime shady tactics. Hiaasen has been reporting on Florida development for decades, so the stories are usually set there. In this case, teenage Billy's mother loves eagles and moves the family to follow different nests. Meanwhile, his father left them for Montana and a new life with a wife and daughter from the Crow Nation. Dad is elusive, maybe has a secret government job, but Billy finds him. The rest is a race involving Billy's love of snakes, grizzly bears near Yellowstone, a Florida panther, and a rich guy trying to trophy hunt large endangered animals. Billy's family is brave and determined. Hiaasen's writing is smooth and natural, a fast, fun middle grade read!
Woodson was recently named our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and she's a perfect choice! I was extremely impressed with her last adult novel, Another Brooklyn, and I'm reminded now of how amazed I was then at the power of her simple, direct, graceful style. Her characters have experiences and conversations that suddenly trigger in me the deep emotions which they feel. In this case a small group of 6th grade "special" students in New York are left by their teacher for a single hour a week in a room by themselves, just to talk about anything they choose. Gradually, almost unwilling, they become one group, true friends, who trust each other with their stories. The book's narrator, Haley, has been raised by a loving uncle since she was three years old, when her mother died and her father went to prison. Now dad is coming home. Esteban's father has been taken away by immigration authorities. I think you'll quickly admire these six children as much as I did; they'll tell you, straight out, about the beauty of multiple languages, and exactly what America should really look and sound like. This novel was a profound experience for me. Woodson tore my heart out and then gave me most of it back.
Did a 58-year-old man (me) really just read a novel written by a vlogger and internet science teacher whose company's videos have over two billion YouTube views? Did he really read a novel about twenty-something art school graduates and scientists who understand social media? Wouldn't happen, right? It almost didn't, but this book is cool from page one, a gripping mystery about smart, funny, honest, and very confused young people trying to understand a world-changing event! Twenty-three-year-old April May is walking home on a New York City sidewalk at 3:00 am when she looks up to suddenly find a huge, impressive, armored robot sculpture standing directly in her path. April's a bit jaded by seeing so much in New York that's remarkable, but this is different, strange enough to make her immediately call her irritated friend Andy out to film her with the statue, which she affectionately names Carl. Within hours of launching their video, it's clear that Carl's impact will be extraordinary, and April was the first to see him. I love Green's sharp, natural dialog, his clever but nonthreatening use of math and science and music, and how April talks to us directly about her steep, deeply human learning curve. She's openly confused about the allure and cost of instant fame, and about hateful divisions growing from fear. She's equally clear about the ultimate beauty of people who unite against ugliness. This will be a fast, fun, thought provoking read for adults of any age.
As a teacher, Bruchac was my go-to author for middle grade and young adult books written about America's First Nations. His exceptional writing ability and prolific writing production, along with his own Abenaki ancestry, gave his books the quality and credibility that made me keep going back. His biographies of Sacajawea and Pocahontas are unique and inspiring. Code Talkers, about Navajo Marines using their language as a secret code during WWII, is iconic. And his horror stories based on Native American legend, such as Skeleton Man, glued my reluctant 5th grade readers’ bugged-out eyes to books. Peacemaker is based on the most important story in the oral tradition of the Iroquois Confederacy. Twelve-year-old Okwaho shows us how the vicious warfare between these nations ended because of one man's persuasive power. I’m drawn to both the tension and the simplicity of this book, and I'm thrilled to see writing about peace! Our constant need to focus on war has me so weary, and I’m just grateful to Joseph Bruchac for writing so well about a moment when peace happened despite long odds.
Why would a totally unknown and exceedingly proper English butler suddenly appear at a very American family's front door? That's simple enough. His service was given to the family by a relative who died, and his service is much needed. When Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick arrives, speaking a formal Queen's English, insisting on gentlemanly behavior, and teaching about the nobility of playing the game cricket, Carter Jones and his mother and three sisters are struggling with the first day of a new school year. Carter's life is not at all simple. His little brother Currier has died, his Army father is deployed overseas, and sixth grade is about to begin! Carter has a few good reasons to be angry, and his sharp, amusing exchanges with the demanding butler make that clear. He also needs to take a big new step in life, and the butler may be just the gentleman to help him do that. Gary Schmidt has a way of writing about loss and redemption that touched me. By the end of this uncommon novel, I felt a warm sense of connection with its characters.
Even though I'm still haunted by certain scenes from his novel, The Underground Railroad, I needed more Colson Whitehead, and man did I get more! The Nickel Boys tells the story of Elwood Curtis, who was a good kid. Always. He loved to learn, did the right things under his grandmother's protection, and felt the urgent need for change that he heard on his record album of Martin Luther King's speeches. It was the best gift he ever got. He was on his way to take college classes as a high school student in the early 60s when he stumbled into trouble and was sent to Nickel Academy, a fictional Florida reform school based on a real-life version of hell. Whitehead learned a lot about Marianna, Florida's Dozier School for Boys from the Dozier survivors' website and from the University of South Florida archaeologists who excavated the secret graveyard where so many boys' bodies were dumped after their "discipline." Elwood held on tight to Dr. King's ideals during his time there. I needed more Colson Whitehead because he's such a great writer. In his steady hands, with his understated style, I can feel that the book, and the life it represents, will continue through the horror. And I feel inoculated by Whitehead against any tiny temptation to believe reactionary white voices. Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization?! Please do not claim to understand terror until you've read one of Colson Whitehead's portraits of how it was inflicted on African Americans.
Faust is on a mission to learn about and teach us about the American health care system, how it's financed and how it works. Or actually how it doesn't work, because it's badly broken, and we all know it. He's traveled to all 50 states and listened to countless stories of terrible suffering from people who can't maintain insurance, or who have it and can't afford what it costs to use it. These are hardworking people who've played by all the rules and been cast aside for many reasons, mostly because covering them isn't seen as profitable. Yes, Faust is furious about it. He tells us that in very raw terms, but he's also done exhaustive homework and explains why the current system cannot be repaired with little tweaks. To him, it's a "basic principal of fairness" that every American has equal access to health care and, beyond that, justice resulting from healthy food and a healthy place to live. A Single Payer system is the only way to begin getting this justice, and he believes it will cost much less than we pay for all the tricks we now endure. A moral imperative, and an essential book in building the groundswell required to get it done.
God Is A Tornado. With those desperate words, painted on the water tower for all to see, twelve-year-old Odie and three other children run from the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota, which trains children to give up their culture. Odie and his older brother are the only white kids there, little Emmy Frost is the daughter of a beloved teacher, and Moses is a Sioux boy who lost both his mother and his tongue to an attacker at a very young age. They've seen cruel school leaders preach about a protective God who’s done nothing but deliver them loss. They all have reasons to flee. This is not a children's book, but rather a classic American novel of the Great Depression (1932) and a riveting story of kids trying to find their place in the world. They escape along the rivers in a canoe, headed for a possible home with an aunt in St. Louis, and along the way they meet a fascinating group of characters: the leader of a Healing Crusade, a kidnapper who forces them to work and sees God in "this beautiful, tender land," an adult Sioux who understands Moses, a stranded family among many without jobs, and Odie's first love. The beauty of this novel is in the deeply developed children characters, who got into my heart and have stayed there. Kent Krueger is the type of writer who reaches for wisdom and truth. In this book, he often finds them.
Bud Selig loves the game of baseball. That's very clear throughout the book, and nobody seems more qualified to tell an insider's story about how the game has changed over the last 50 years. From his childhood ballpark excursions across the country with his mother to his time after leaving the Commissioner's job and entering the Hall of Fame, Selig has seen it all. He's effusive in praising the people he loves, both inside and outside the game, but the most compelling aspect of this memoir is how honest he's willing to be about his frustrations and the people who caused them. One perfect example of this is Selig's expression of deep friendship with Henry Aaron and the irritation he felt with representing baseball as Commissioner to witness Aaron's iconic home run record being broken by Barry Bonds, a man he obviously does not like. This book is genuine and fast moving, and I was fascinated by it. I admit to a bias. I was lucky to have lived across the street from the first field manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Dave Bristol, for the three summers his family stayed in Milwaukee. I went to lots of games with his kids and played in the County Stadium clubhouse and bullpen. They even let us kids shag batting practice in those days. That all happened because of Bud Selig! He brought us baseball again after the Braves left. With a warm forward by baseball fan and master historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this book is a one of a kind look at America's Pastime from a proud man who has always called Milwaukee his home.
In this sequel to Shaffer's first mystery novel featuring former President Obama and Vice President Biden, old "Uncle Joe" Biden himself tells us the story, and once he sets out to get justice, he just can't stop himself. "I was on a roll like honey drizzle." He says things like that a lot, dated puns and snarky political references. He's been invited to Chicago for a day by the Obamas to meet an activist rapper who could help if Biden ever decides to make his run for President. When Barack's Blackberry disappears from the Tribune Tower meeting site, and it seems connected to the shooting of a young community leader who works with the Obamas, Uncle Joe is off and running! There are serious elements to the mystery, of political corruption and gun violence, but this book is really about the fun: Chicago with a green river over the St. Paddy's Day weekend, the reluctant friendship between the Bidens and Obamas that feels a lot like family, Biden's homespun humor and sincere do-gooder flair. Go ahead and take a few days off from our political insanity. Get a nostalgic chuckle with one or both of Shaffer's books.
Lawrence is worried. The young fox is the only animal who doesn't have any type of collection to share for show-and-tell at school, but Papa fox has a solution. A beautiful, mysterious, and just a little bit frightening trip through the forest will give Lawrence the perfect collection for a special fox like him, and sharing it will start a new adventure with his classmates. Farina and Salati have created a warm combination of story and pictures about the important theme of growing personally in the face of fear. With details highlighting the love of family, the natural world, exploration, and classroom friends, this picture book is a true delight!
Piper Milly doesn't know exactly what it means to shine, and it doesn't help that her mother died when she was very young. Mom was a star musician with a shining personality, and Piper's father has just earned a job as music director at the prep school where mom's awards are still displayed. Now Piper will be going to that very same school herself. She doesn't expect her love of astronomy to impress any of the wealthy, talented, and sometimes cruel kids at Chumley Prep, where she'll have to live in her mother's shadow. But Piper has heart, and some people at Chumley may actually notice. This is the first children's book written together by the wife and husband team of J.J. and Chris Grabenstein (Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, and so much more!). I truly enjoyed it for the fun, and I also loved the characters, who defy stereotypes. The important message about being rewarded for kindness make this a wonderfully uplifting story!
Taylor has done America a great service by documenting the history of The Green Book and what remains today of the locations it listed. The Green Book, published from 1936 to 1967, was a guide for black travelers, showing businesses that welcomed African Americans. It allowed them a degree of the safety and support they needed to enjoy travel despite the constant potential for being targeted with racial hatred and violence. In its later days, it also became a voice for demanding civil rights. Taylor’s details about the development and use of the book are fascinating, but her work entails so much more. She's created an impressive history of the African American economic progress which grew from having and working with automobiles, and from the increasing mobility and business opportunities they afforded. It's also personal for her, inspired by her stepfather Ron, a decorated Vietnam marine whose stories amazed her and moved her to travel across the country while searching for Green Book businesses and photographing them herself. Taylor is adept at using the past as a context to understand race in America today and what we can do to fight for equal treatment. Most importantly, this book is a smart and deeply affecting look at black people's long and agonizing struggle to get basic respect and justice. More than any book I've read, Overground Railroad made me understand the endless, malicious obstacles put in the way of basic living, solely because of skin color. It's a powerful book. I'm already eager to read it again.
New Kid is the first graphic novel ever to win the Newbery Award for best children's book of the year, and it's a heartfelt pleasure to read. Seventh grader Jordan Banks wants to go to art school, but mom says he's smart and needs the real world experience of Riverdale Academy Day School, where most of the kids are white and wealthy and won't understand his neighborhood. One of the teachers even mixes up the names of the few black kids in his grade, and she doesn't have it straight by the end of the year! Still, Jordan is making friends, he's sincerely confronting the people who slight him, and he's learning that anyone can make judgments that turn out to be wrong, even him. He's got an art teacher who's pushing his talents, too, so maybe all the struggle will be worth it. This graphic novel has a lot of great qualities - a lovable, artistic main character who shows us drawings from his own sketchbook, a collection of other characters with depth and charm, and plenty of humor mixed in with the wisdom. I expect, and hope, that we'll see more of Jordan Banks again soon!
With Prairie Lotus, Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park has written a gem of American historical fiction for middle grade readers. In her author's note, Park says it's a story she's been writing nearly all her life. "It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings." To reconcile the attitudes of Laura Ingalls Wilder's characters toward people of color while honoring the books, Park gives us 14-year-old Hanna, the half Asian daughter of a white father and a mother who was both Chinese and Korean. After her mother's tragic illness and death, Hanna and her father leave California in 1880 for the Dakota Territory, where four Little House books were also set. Hanna will need all the loving wisdom Mama gave her in order to be strong in the face of challenges and injustices from people who have never lived around a Chinese person and react very badly. The things Hanna and Mama wanted for her - going to school, designing beautiful dresses, even walking safely in town - can seem impossible, but it's the details of meeting these problems on a frontier that make the book so textured and meaningful. Hanna is a strong, determined girl who will search for ways to treat everyone justly, and to find just treatment for herself. This is richly developed Americana, and I am deeply grateful!
Justyce McAllister is back in this sequel to Dear Martin, which is flat out the best and most important teen novel I've ever read. This time he's not the main character. In Dear Martin, Justyce wrote private letters to the late Martin Luther King, asking how he stayed strong under the constant judgement (and trauma) that comes solely because of skin color. In Dear Justyce, he's receiving the letters, from a childhood friend named Quan, who is not headed to the Ivy League like Justyce. Vernell LaQuan Banks Jr. is just trying to survive juvenile detention after working so hard to be a good kid, while everyone around him seemed to want him to fail. His family was a mess, a frightening mess. Then he found people who understood him well, in the wrong place, and he's in serious trouble. He's not one to make excuses for his decisions, but really what could he have done differently? He hasn't completely give up though, and Justyce isn't ready to quit on him either. Stone didn't intend to write this book, until she got texts from two kids she met because of Dear Martin. They wanted her to write their story, about "like black kids, you know... Not like Justyce. Cuz Justyce had hope." I think Stone wrote their story like nobody else could. The voices are urgent and real. Masterful writing, compelling, suspenseful, and vital reading for the urgency of now!
Bob is a tough dog with a strong independent streak and a soft heart. He was once a stray after being thrown from a truck window with his siblings, but he and his sister survived. Now he has a home with a family. Bob made his first appearance in the Newbery Award-winning book that I loved reading aloud to my 5th graders, called The One and Only Ivan. He still has times when he can see both Ivan and his outgoing, determined young elephant friend Ruby. He also has lots of neighborhood animal connections with very interesting personalities, and they all come together in the face of a storm brewing on the horizon. The best aspect of both these books is that the animals talk to you in human voices with their own viewpoints. Applegate has a wonderful knack for showing us animal expressions that seem very familiar, and their perspectives on the confusing humans and the other animals in their world are cheeky and insightful. It has the effect of being both fun and meaningful. A worthy sequel to a great original!
At 11 years old, Michael is forced to move in with his aunt after his mother goes to prison. It’s there that he sees his next door neighbor, Bunny, for the first time, and he’s immediately fascinated. It’s not sexual attraction. Michael has known he’s gay since about the time he got there, and the two are so different in so many ways. But once they become friends it’s clear that neither one has ever felt so understood. For the first time, another person sees the fear and pain they’ve suffered. The Knockout Queen is a glaring look at the mess life can become, for kids and their families, for lovers and friends of all kinds. It’s an unblinking view of the fickle and sometimes inhuman realities that come from being human. Still, I loved it. Michael is the most riveting retrospective character I’ve met, as he looks back to a time when he was just beginning to see that love and people are deeply flawed and unexpectedly violent. The sincere way he throws out his stark, super-smart observations of everything, without hesitation, is endearing and magnetic. Best of all, he’s so damn funny! And he never accepts that what he sees is all that’s possible, giving him a resilience which easily carried me through to the end. Thorpe is a gifted writer, showing us with rare clarity how our complicated emotional world operates. She has a very special voice, and one that I want to hear again!
Macdonald hopes this collection of essays, both old and new, will convey her sense of wonder at the curiosities of the natural world. In a time of frightening environmental loss, she tells us that we need more than science. Science can define and help mitigate the current great extinction humans are causing, but we need literature as well, to communicate what the losses mean, the value of those things disappearing, "so that more of us might fight to save them." Her objective is beautifully met. These essays have me more in love with nature and more ready to fight for it than ever. She’s even convinced me to hope, and given me comfort by revealing mysteries beyond understanding. Her prose moves quickly and gracefully from the concrete science to the emotions we feel and their moral and political implications. She sees in marvelous detail the love and heartbreak of sharing the world with other creatures and their habitats. (An autistic boy dances in complete harmony with a parrot.) She examines how we attach our own personal meaning to their lives. (A massive flock of cranes reflects the movement of refugees searching for safe rest.) Her unique perspectives open worlds I never would have imagined. (A skyscraper raises her into immense airspace filled with flying and floating life.) And they close the gaps between us. (A total solar eclipse erases the differences between all watchers.) The broad range of topics, the wit alongside intellect, and the stunning depth of wisdom all left me awed, and gratefully surprised! Best of all, Macdonald openly show us herself, a complex person with an inspirational passion for life, a force of nature in her own right. Humanity needs this book.