Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Comfort Books

In times of grief and sorrow, we turn to comfort food. Chicken soup, hot chocolate, chamomile tea, ice cream. But how do we feed our souls? With comfort books.

Now is the time to pull out your family's favorite books: Charlotte's Web, The Little Prince, Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows. Their association with happier days comforts us during this time of distress. These are books the entire family--including teenagers--can gather together to read and reread.

Remember that your children's responses will vary, depending on their age and how much they are able to process of the events in Newtown last Friday. The school psychologist at the Bank Street School for Children, Dr. Anne Santa, encourages parents and teachers to reassure children that home and school are two of the safest places they can be. Hold your youngest on your lap and sit close together on the couch: make new memories with good books. 

A few recent favorites include Masterpiece by Elise Broach, which features a friendship that approaches Wilbur and Charlotte's. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, both by Grace Lin, weave together a quest tale with Chinese folklore, lushly illustrated. Callie's close friendship with a grandfather no one else seems to understand lies at the core of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly; the author also wrote Return to the Willows, a "sequel" to The Wind in the Willows.

Don't be surprised if your child asks for The Tale of Despereaux and Bridge to Terabithia--two novels that help combat fear and process loss from a safe distance. A mouse who bravely entered the dungeon and emerged triumphant, and a boy who honors his friend who has died give us hope. Let your children choose what they wish to read, and then be there to listen, to answer their questions and to hold them close. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

Game of Beers; Literary 'Ink'; Unknown Amazing Writers

HBO is teaming with Brewery Ommegang on a new line of beers based on themes and characters in the Game of Thrones series, adapted from the novels by George R.R. Martin. The first brew, Iron Throne Blonde Ale, will launch nationwide in late March, to coincide with the Season 3 premiere.  


Quotable Tatts: "You know the feeling--you read a phrase in a favorite book, and it's as if it has been inked permanently on your mind," Flavorwire observed in showcasing its choices for the "best literary quotes ever tattooed." Mental Floss found "12 tattoos inspired by famous books" and Flavorwire unveiled "20 amazing J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired tattoos.


Bad reviews by any other name. The Huffington Post gathered selections of "bad reviews of great authors: 9 scathing insults" as well as a few "pen names you may have thought were real."


"Love the New Yorker but looking for something a little cooler, a little more youthful?" Flavorwire suggested "11 amazing writers you haven't heard of yet."


Suzette Field, author of A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature, chose her "top 10 literary party hosts" for the Guardian.


While acknowledging that "television and the Victorian novel are two wholly different media," Flavorwire couldn't resist considering several "Victorian novels that would make great TV dramas."

Great Reads

Further Reading: Gooseberry Patch Cookbooks

For a peripatetic population pining for home, Gooseberry Patch cookbooks are the next-best thing to frequent flier miles to satisfy the hunger for Grandma's pies, Mom's casseroles and Dad's garden harvest.

Two central Ohio homemakers started Gooseberry Patch in 1984, and they've compiled tested recipes from hundreds of contributors (plus anecdotes and stories) into themed cookbooks. JoAnn and Vickie's Midwestern roots are apparent and add to the books' charm.

"Dukabor Soup" in fresh Fresh from the Farmstand: Recipes to Make the Most of Everyone's Favorite Fruits & Veggies from Apples to Zucchini, and Other Fresh Picked Farmers' Market Treats began as a recipe from a Canadian contributor's Ukrainian neighbor; she added Italian sausage to satisfy her husband's penchant for spice. The Harvest Table: Welcome Autumn with Our Bountiful Collection of Scrumptious Seasonal Recipes, Helpful Tips and Heartwarming Memories has a pumpkin spice muffin recipe from Keene, N.H., a town that holds the lit jack-o-lantern record (29,381 for 2012). The mini-memoirs in these cookbooks are as satisfying as the recipes!

The Christmas Table: Make Your Holidays Extra Special with Our Abundant Collection of Delicious Seasonal Recipes, Creative Tips and Sweet Memories, divided into "events" sections (Cozy Christmas Brunch, Caroling-Party Supper, Sweet Treats to Share) includes time-saving tips that harried hostesses will appreciate.

Even the food aficionado whose holiday table offers sophisticated fare gleaned from glossy, high-end cookbooks will enjoy the comforting, old-fashioned appeal of Gooseberry Patch editions and the heartfelt stories of their contributors. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Now in Paper: December

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Ecco, $14.99)
Ben Fountain has written a truly wondrous first novel, the story of Bravo Squad, eight brave survivors of a horrendous firefight with Iraqi insurgents who are being celebrated (and overwhelmed) at Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. They are feted, made part of the halftime show and projected on the Jumbotron--then dropped when their marginal utility has been served. This is a sad story about what war does to us, all of us.

The Confession by Charles Todd (Morrow, $14.99)
When a man walks into Scotland Yard claiming his name is Wyatt Russell, and that he murdered his cousin Justin Fowler during the Great War, war-scarred Inspector Ian Rutledge drives down to the small Essex village where the two men came from. He discovers an isolated, unfriendly place, whose people are in a hurry to get rid of strangers, and a further mystery when Wyatt Russell is found floating in the Thames.

Egypt: The Book of Chaos by Nick Drake (Harper, $14.99)
Egypt: The Book of Chaos is the concluding novel of Nick Drake's ancient Egyptian trilogy, after Nefertiti and Tutankhamun. Rahotep has fallen from his position of power in the Thebes Medjay (police), consigned by his viciously petty boss to only the most superficial aspects of investigations--including the appallingly cruel murder of five young low-level opium runners. This tightly crafted, brooding plunge into the frightening fin de siècle of the XVIIIth dynasty will leave readers satisfied as well as regretful that The Book of Chaos is the last in Drake's series.

The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths (Mariner Books, $14.95)
Forensic archeologist and college professor Ruth Galloway is having a hard time juggling the demands of her life, and things get worse when a team studying coastal erosion discovers what turns out to be a mass grave. Were the deaths accidental or the result of foul play? Galloway and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson unearth a World War II murder plot in the third book in Griffiths's mystery series.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney (Berkley Trade, $16)
Ray Lovell is a private investigator so haunted by an earlier case that he's vowed to never take on another missing persons job. Nevertheless, when a desperate father asks Ray to find his daughter who disappeared seven years ago, he agrees. Penney's first literary thriller, The Tenderness of Wolves, won the Costa Book Award for debut novel in 2006. The Invisible Ones lives up to that pedigree, with a genuinely baffling mystery that takes Ray Lovell well along one path before veering into a direction that will catch most readers off guard.

The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins (Berkley Trade, $16)
When Ace Atkins introduced Quinn Colson in 2011's The Ranger, the army Ranger came home on leave and exposed a corruption ring responsible for the death of his uncle, the local sheriff. In the sequel, The Lost Ones, Colson is done with military service and wearing the sheriff's uniform when the suspicious death of a foster child leads him into a hornet's nest of illegal activity, including running guns and selling children.The second novel in the series is a multi-layered crime novel that proves Ace Atkins is anything but lost in this genre.

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (Random House, $16)
Matthew Pearl gives us a historical thriller set in 19th-century Boston, drawing readers into another stylish mystery with some real people and grounded in fact. One April morning in 1868, in foggy Boston Harbor, compasses on ships go crazy, with disastrous results. A team of young MIT students uses science to investigate the mysterious goings-on, while labor unions and religious activists worry about scientific progress.

The Underside of Joy by Seré Prince Halverson (Plume, $16)
After three years of marriage, Ella thought she knew everything she needed to know about Joe. But when Joe drowns, he takes secrets with him, leading to a custody battle. Halverson's debut novel is a faultless exploration of sadness and shame, anger and forgiveness; a story well told about people we would like to know.

The Last Holiday by Gil Scott-Heron (Grove Press, $16)
If you were young in the 1960s and '70s or were "black and proud" or saw the Temptations play the Apollo, you still might not know Gil Scott-Heron (although you've probably heard of his most famous work, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"). A poet, novelist and, most famously, writer of jazzy, talking, political blues, Scott-Heron died in May 2011 after a long downward spiral through crack, prison, parole and, finally, crack again. Fortunately, in 2003 he began to write a memoir chronicling his Tennessee family, his incessant drive for education and his successful music career--including a key role in Stevie Wonder's 1981 concert promoting a holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, from which The Last Holiday gets its title.

Book Review


A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts

by Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulks's A Possible Life is five loosely connected stories, in which connection--however fleeting--is the point.

Geoffrey, a British schoolteacher taken prisoner in Poland during World War II, keeps his frightening reality at bay by imagining himself on a sunny English cricket pitch. When he is forced to shovel half-cremated bodies of babies, all such images disappear forever. His betrayal by the woman he loves adds to his despair. Putting his life back together begins with a simple act of kindness from a former student.

Billy is sent to the workhouse when he is seven years old in 1859 England. He marries a woman who is subsequently institutionalized, and her sister becomes a "wife" to him. They bear their impossibly difficult lives with dignity, taking solace in each other.

Elena's story forms the centerpiece of the book. She is an Italian scientist in 2029 who discovers that "the defining quality of human consciousness... was not an entity, but a connection... a voluntary self-awareness allowing its possessors to infer thought processes in others."

Jeanne, an ignorant peasant girl in 1822 France, is read to from the Bible by her Master, and comes to understand parables that help her cope with her life. Finally, Anya is a Joan Baez type--a girl with a guitar and a stunning voice--in 1970s New York. She connects only with those things that give meaning to her life so she can turn them into songs.

These five tales are provocative meditations on love, loss, evil and what it means to be human, beautifully rendered by a prose master. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Faulks (Birdsong) writes of five people and five historical times in five disparate stories, subtly related thematically by the concept of "connection."

Henry Holt, $25, hardcover, 9780805097306

Spilt Milk

by Chico Buarque, trans. by Alison Entrekin

Eulálio Assumpção, 100 years old, is trying to tell the story of his life. Time has reduced him to a complaining old man in a hospital bed. His addled babbling is directed at someone--but who? Maybe he's mistaking his daughter for his wife, who either ran off or was killed in a car accident or drowned or died of tuberculosis. His past is a patchwork of lies. His memory is failing. And his morphine medication is making him loopy, pushing the convention of the unreliable narrator into a whole new delirious dimension.

Told in short chapters consisting of solid blocks of monologue, Brazilian author and musician Chico Buarque's Spilt Milk ripples forward and backward in time. Seventeen-year-old Eulálio is smitten by Matilde, a cinnamon-skinned singer at the memorial service for his father. Flighty, selfish Matilde makes a delightful wife but is far from a good mother. He adores her throughout their brief, happy marriage and into the agonies of jealousy, when his friend, a charming French engineer, seduces her.

Eulálio can be a spoiled, racist old cuss. The other characters around him are equally colorful. His mother's devoted chauffeur dies in her bed wearing her husband's pajamas. His father, a handsome senator, is machine-gunned down as he enters his bachelor pad. Eulálio's daughter has him committed against his will. His Italian son-in-law sells Eulálio's home out from under him and runs off with the proceeds.

Against all odds, this blundering, foot-in-his-mouth old grumbler endears himself to us, and the tangled, troubled summation of his life becomes surprisingly sympathetic. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: A brilliant comic monologue by a Brazilian novelist, in which a hospitalized centenarian curmudgeon on morphine becomes entangled in his own deception-filled life story.

Grove Press, $23, hardcover, 9780802120083

Me and the Devil

by Nick Tosches

Is Nick, the narrator of Me and the Devil, really Nick Tosches? There are resemblances: Nick's an aging writer who lives in lower Manhattan and is familiar with the same cultural undercurrents as Tosches, an acclaimed musical historian and novelist (In the Hand of Dante).

It starts when Nick picks up a woman in a bar. As they have sex, he bites her thigh and swallows a few drops of her blood. "It was as if I suckled on her very soul and the inmost mystery of her," he reports, and that experience, as well as the physical rejuvenation that follows, sets him off in pursuit of more young flesh. He gets involved with a college student named Melissa, though Nick realizes that their relationship won't work if he drains her completely, so he needs to find other victims.

Keith Richards (yep, Keith Richards) recognizes Nick's vampiric tendencies and warns him to stop while he still can: "From what I saw, kicking it makes kicking smack look like a frolic in the daisies." In addition, an eerie manuscript turns up, in Nick's own hand--yet he remembers nothing of writing it.

Just when you think you know where things are headed, though, Tosches abruptly changes gears. It's not just a plot twist, but an entire reframing--one that will likely frustrate some readers, but ultimately strikes closer at the novel's deepest psychological themes. Me and the Devil is a profoundly disturbing novel, even more so for refusing to disturb readers in the most obvious fashions. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: By turns profane, obscene, perhaps even blasphemous, Tosches offers fictional account of "the most diabolically f*¢&ed-up year of my life."

Little, Brown, $26.99, hardcover, 9780316120975

The Emperor's Conspiracy

by Michelle Diener

Charlotte Raven leads the life of a lady but, unlike her peers, she was not born into the upper classes--the orphaned daughter of a London prostitute and unknown father spent her youth as a chimney sweep before being taken in as a ward of Lady Catherine Howe. When characters from her past start to pop up at the balls and parties of the well-to-do, she quickly finds herself drawn into a political plot she could not have foreseen but now cannot escape, the epicenter of a collision of the rich and the poor in 19th-century London.

The Emperor's Conspiracy is based on an actual plot to undermine England's economy by smuggling gold out of the country, though Michelle Diener (In a Treacherous Court) has embellished on the original story to add levels of intrigue and romance. Diener's imagination results in a story of murder and mystery, smugglers and thieves, all underpinned by a simple romance. Though some of the characters in The Emperor's Court are conspicuously one-dimensional, particularly when it comes to the "bad guys," the novel's protagonist, Miss Raven, proves subtle and complex. Her struggle to find a balance between her past and her future, forced to decide to whom she will give her alliance--and her heart--proves the most interesting plotline, and one that will leave readers of historical romance looking for more from Diener. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A Regency-era romance about a complex young woman's struggle to bring her past as a pauper in line with her future as a lady.

Gallery, $15, paperback, 9781451684438

The Doctor of Thessaly

by Anne Zouroudi

The mysterious (and fat) Hermes Diaktoros is back in Anne Zouroudi's third book in the series organized around the seven deadly sins. The Doctor of Thessaly tackles envy; it begins with a bride left at the altar when someone throws acid in the face of her fiancé, blinding him. Hermes, who works for a "higher authority" than the police, is immediately on the scene, but the fiancé curiously doesn't want an investigation. That doesn't keep Hermes from looking into the crime, which leads to a shocking discovery.

Part of the pleasure of these books is the atmosphere, as Zouroudi takes her time transplanting her readers to fictional Greek villages. The Doctor of Thessaly tale unfolds in Morfi, and it's a pleasure to follow Hermes as he travels through town, getting to know its residents, and enjoying--or not--the local cuisine. One can almost taste the wine made from a lazy man's overripe grapes and feel the dirt on one's feet--though, as usual, Hermes keeps his tennis shoes pristinely white; he even does a bit of running in them.

This is the first entry in the series that drops a strong hint about who Hermes is and where he comes from: an old villager confronts our fat protagonist with "evidence." The Doctor of Thessaly continues the mythological arc of the series, while whisking readers away to a place where life has a gentler pace and tempo, but people are still capable of committing vicious acts toward each other. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, freelance writer/editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A satisfying mystery in a pleasing location, as Anne Zouroudi continues the arc of her Seven Deadly Sins series.

Reagan Arthur, $24.99, hardcover, 9780316217873

Biography & Memoir

Charles Dickens in Love

by Robert Garnett

In Robert Garnett's in-depth Charles Dickens in Love, there are very few pages about the great writer's wife of 22 years, Catherine. He sent her packing in 1858 with one child, Charles Jr. (though she bore him 10), and any thought of a divorce was unthinkable. Catherine never saw him again; Garnett quotes a friend of hers as saying: "That man is a brute."

Dickens didn't love Catherine; he married her for companionship. He really loved Maria Beadnell, whom he met in 1830 when he was just 18--energetic, ambitious and poor, like young Ebenezer Scrooge. (She's Dora in David Copperfield.) Her parents quickly put an end to it; Dickens was heartbroken. She "seized his imagination early," Garnett writes, "and for years no other woman loosened her grip."

Then Mary Hogarth became part of his life. She was Catherine's 17-year-old sister who moved into the bustling Dickens household in 1837. Dickens was working on Oliver Twist at the time--she's Rose. That same year, she was stricken with an illness and died in Dickens's arms. He worshipped her memory for the rest of his life: "I solemnly believe that so perfect a creature never breathed."

His final love was the 18-year-old actress Ellen Ternan, whom he met in 1857 when she was acting in a Dickens play. She's the reason Catherine had to go, but their relationship had to be kept secret.

Garnett's well-told tale clearly shows how profoundly these women influenced Dickens's characters and inspired his writings. Losing Maria and Mary early on helped establish "his idea of the feminine." Women "became the soul of his novels," even if, as George Orwell caustically put it, these saints of his religion were really "legless angels." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Fans of Dickens will enjoy this well-guided tour through the ups and downs of the great writer's love life.

Pegasus, $29.95, hardcover, 9781605983950

Selected Letters of William Styron

by William Styron

In this masterful collection of William Styron's correspondence edited by his widow, Rose, with the literary scholar R. Blakeslee Gilpin, Styron often discusses how he has to force himself to undertake the "tedious and agonizing process" of writing, but write he did--and, boy, could he write letters: witty, sarcastic, bawdy, loving, long.

Many letters went to writer-friends--Philip Roth, James Jones, James Baldwin, Donald Harington, Peter Matthiessen--but most are to Pop, the father he deeply loved and whose opinion he cherished.

We see Styron as a young editor in New York City, living in a "gloomy dung-heap down in the village" and turning down manuscripts, including Kon-Tiki (he didn't think anyone would read it). Fired from that position, he tells Pop about starting his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness: "I hope when I'm finished with it people will read it." They did, of course, and the reviews were positive.

In 1952, he writes to Pop about a new novel he's undertaken: "The subject fascinates me." The Confessions of Nat Turner receives accolades, too, but also criticism from black writers; letters reveal how much that hurt the author. Subsequent letters chart the birth and growth of Sophie's Choice. Styron's later years were plagued with a suicidal depression that forced him "to the very edge of the abyss." To his surprise, Darkness Visible, his "slender little volume about lunacy," became one of his most popular books.

Selected Letters of William Styron reveals a hard worker, faithful friend and supporter of young writers. These beautifully edited letters will provide hours of laughter, surprise and learning. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A beautifully edited collection of some 1,000 letters brings an intimate perspective on how Pulitzer-winner Styron faced the "agonizing process" of writing head-on.

Random House, $40, hardcover, 9781400068067

Social Science

Dialect Diversity in America: The Politics of Language Change

by William Labov

In Dialect Diversity in America, University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor William Labov details a transformation in vowel pronunciation in parts of the United States that he connects to the nation's pressing racial and political issues. He begins by debunking several popular language-related myths, including the idea that regional accents are fading due to mass media--in fact, Labov argues, differences in pronunciation across regional America are becoming more pronounced. Nowhere is this more obvious, he continues, than in the Northern Cities Shift (NCS), which has produced vowel pronunciations not heard in northern states as recently as 50 years ago. The NCS results in more tense, nasal vowels, particularly short-a sounds: those who speak with the NCS, for example, pronounce the name "Ann" so that it sounds almost identical to the name "Ian."

Labov also explores the political powderkeg that is African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), especially when it comes to using AAVE to teach reading in public schools. And he links NCS and AAVE together in a political analysis of northern states that reveals a fascinating correlation: those states in the forefront of the NCS are also those in the historical forefront of American political issues, ranging from the abolition of slavery to the abolition of the death penalty.

Dialect Diversity in America is written with non-linguists in mind, and Labov's arguments are easy to follow with or without crunching the statistical data he provides. It's an interesting introduction to linguistics as it poses the intriguing question of whether (or how) the sounds we make follow the political changes we embrace. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: A clear-eyed overview of recent language changes in the United States and their connection to regional and national politics.

University of Virginia Press, $30, hardcover, 9780813933269


City of Rivers

by Zubair Ahmed

Zubair Ahmed was a 17-year-old professional video gamer in Bangladesh when his family moved to Texas in 2005. His improbable journey continued at Stanford, where he studied mechanical engineering and worked on the university's famous solar car team. All the while, he wrote poems that revisited the monsoon-drowned streets of his home city and his family's experiences during the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. Ahmed's first poetry collection, City of Rivers, reveals a fresh young voice torn between the rain-soaked streets of Dhaka and the flash-flooded Texas of Joe Pool Lake, where, he observes:

"In nights of rain
The lake begs for more water.
I wish the lake knew
It was man-made."

The juxtaposition of densely urban Dhaka and the wide open, car-centric landscape of modern America runs throughout this fine collection, as Ahmed searches for the links in his itinerant life. One pillar supporting his search is his brother, who, he notes:

"became a mountain, always closer
To the sky than me,
Always large in the distance
Growing larger as I grew nearer.
I am wearing his shirt--
It hangs loose."

Although there may be the gamin heart of a video gamer and techie in this young poet, there is also a wise observer of the world wherever he finds himself in it, even in the cold weather found in the poem "Second Home":

"It snowed four days ago.
I don't feel as cold
As I am supposed to.
I almost believe
I'm as strong as I need to be."

With such a startling first collection of poems, let's hope Ahmed is as strong as he needs to be in order to give us more. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The fresh voice of a young poet/engineer with a Bangladeshi past and a California future.

McSweeney's Books, $20, hardcover, 9781938073021

Special Powers and Abilities

by Raymond McDaniel

Like Denise Duhamel's popular Barbie poems, Raymond McDaniel's Special Powers and Abilities is a clever paean to a pop-culture artifact--in this case, the comic book; in particular, the 30th-century Legion of Super-Heroes. An avid fan since childhood, McDaneil says he wants to treat them as if they were "true," to "restore them to some of the glorious strangeness they would possess were we to see them literally and anew."

For those not in the know, this group is indeed "legion," from the well-known (and, in this case, time-traveling) Superboy and Supergirl to the lesser-known Shadow Lass, Ferro Lad and Brainiac 5--among nearly 40 comrades. The first poem invites with "Welcome, Visitors":

"Is this your first visit to the 30th century?...Look up, and see the sky teem with the teens of ten thousand suns.
A legion."

Next, McDaniel tells us "What to Expect" from these poems about the super-laden boys, girls, lads and lasses: "We will grow up. But we will never grow old."

Clearly, McDaniel is having lots of fun playing with different poetic forms and with the intricacies of seemingly unending permutations of "super" plots about super heroes, like infinite moves in a galactic chess game. There are entire poems about special issues ("Adventure Comics #313, October 1963") and sly, waggish, mischievous poems about his subjects' many super powers and super love lives. Might one expect a sequel to Special Powers and Abilities? To be continued.... --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Witty language fun for comic book fans and non-believers alike can be found in McDaniel's poetic homage to one of the greatest superhero teams in comics.

Coffee House Press, $16, paperback, 9781566893152

Children's & Young Adult

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

by Helen Ward

A city mouse plants a seed of doubt in the mind of his country mouse cousin in this sumptuously illustrated retelling of an Aesop fable.

Helen Ward (Pirateology; Unwitting Wisdom) distills the fable into spare poetic lines and allows her detailed watercolors to tell the real story. The slightly plump, wide-eyed country mouse basks in the riches of his quiet surroundings. Pink-tinted birds match the spring blossoms on a branch where the mouse peacefully perches, and in autumn, butterflies' wings echo the orange-tinted apples ripe on the trees. But the hero's cousin comes to visit, "a fine, sleek city mouse with a lot to say," and boasts of "exotic foods" and luxury where he lives. After the cousin departs, the country mouse sits alone in a field, and "grew less certain of his contentedness."

Ward shows the hero hitching a ride to the city on a truck transporting those orange-tinted apples: "He discovered lights in the dark and automatic ups and downs." Children will delight in sighting the little fellow through the gated door of an elevator. The city mouse's home may be filled with beauty and banquets (in a Christmas-tinged backdrop), but danger lurks in the form of human hands and frisky dogs. The country mouse "longed to be back beneath a night sky lit only by stars, to be safe, to be content... to be home." Ward's retelling and glorious full-page illustrations suggest that sometimes one must leave home to appreciate it fully. The underlying message is one of gratitude. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A pared-down, sumptuously illustrated retelling of an Aesop's fable that suggests there's no place like home.

Templar/Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-up, 9780763660987

Sleep Like a Tiger

by Mary Logue, illus. by Pamela Zagarenski

Caldecott Honor artist Pamela Zagarenski (Red Sings from Treetops) envisions a dreamlike world for debut author Mary Logue's imaginative twist on a bedtime tale.

"Once there was a little girl who didn't want to go to sleep even though the sun had gone away." Despite the familiar opening, children will detect this is no ordinary story. A girl in a crown clutching a stuffed tiger travels by skateboard under a full moon, while a tiger on wheels (also crowned) heads in the opposite direction carrying a giant orange (or is it a sun?) on its back. At home, though the girl says, "I'm not sleepy," her parents tell her to put on her pajamas and brush her teeth. "Does everything in the world go to sleep?" she wonders. Her parents offer examples--their dog, "curled up in a ball on the couch" and their cat "fast asleep... [in] the warmest spot in the house."

Round shapes and other visual motifs suggest movement even when the child is in bed, as if the gears of her brain are in motion. She asks about whales and snails, then cites a tiger in the jungle as "an animal that sleeps a lot." Zagarenski's lush accompanying image echoes Henri Rousseau's paintings in color and composition, and children will recognize the tiger and bright orange sun from the opening image.

Readers will feel they've been on a journey, as the lyrical text shows how the girl emulates the sleeping animals to find her own way into sleep. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A Caldecott Honor artist and first-time author's imaginative twist on a bedtime tale.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780547641027

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