Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

An American Saga

As a literature professor at the Naval Academy, James Webb--former combat Marine, Senator from Virginia and Secretary of the Navy--taught British and Irish poetry of the early and mid-20th century. T.S. Eliot's "Gerontion" and "Journey of the Magi" are "masterpieces that I had read at least a thousand times," he said. But unlike the gerontic's disenchanted voice ("I was neither at the hot gates/ Nor fought in the warm rain") or the magi's ambivalent tone ("This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?"), Webb's new memoir, I Heard My Country Calling (our review is below), unconditionally celebrates his Scots-Irish heritage and bone-deep commitment to his country.

Disagreements among the men in his family on U.S. leaders' objectives bolster patriotism, not diminish it: "The communists lost 1.4 million soldiers in the [Vietnam] War, by their own count. On a tactical level, they did not win the war. But understandably, after observing the Johnson administration's policies during two years in the Pentagon, my father was personally concerned about his son fighting in a war whose strategy seemed vague and misdirected. He never ceased to be proud of my service. As a father, I felt similar emotions when my son volunteered to fight as an infantry Marine in Iraq," Webb explained.

Asked if he identifies with Will Goodrich, the Harvard-educated Marine (nicknamed "Senator") in his 1978 novel Fields of Fire, who is mistrusted and shunned by both the military and the intelligentsia, Webb replied, "One of life's realities is that if you are willing to question prevailing orthodoxy you will have your share of people who disagree with you." With his latest book finished, Webb intends to spend some time considering his next career move: "In one way or another, I will always remain involved in issues that affect our country's future." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: Aidan Harte

photo: Damien Sass

Irishman Aidan Harte was studying classical sculpture in Florence when he began writing Irenicon (Jo Fletcher/Quercus, April 1, 2014), a historical fantasy set in medieval Italy. Irenicon was shortlisted for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut, and Lawrence Osborne called Harte "a brilliant new voice in historical fantasy." In a previous life, Harte created the show Skunk Fu for the BBC and Cartoon Network. His sculpture can be viewed at the Sol Art Gallery in Dublin, the Sculpture Company in London and at

On your nightstand now:

The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer. This short novel, set in the 17th century, is about a Polish Jew whose family is murdered in a pogrom and is subsequently enslaved by brutal peasants. It doesn't sound it, but this is a gentle love story infused by melancholy wisdom. Singer wrote The Slave in the early '60s when the world was still realizing the scale of the Holocaust. It's an example of how the best writing is rooted in its time and transcends it. The Slave looks obliquely at the horror and--remarkable thing--finds some solace in the darkness.

Singer was a funny guy. He said he kept writing in Yiddish because ghost stories ought to be told in dying languages.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. Clearly it was an odd child that relished this quixotic mix of paranoia, farce and theology. I continue to reread it annually. I think something of the memorable finale, where the protagonist confronts God, found its way into [my] Wave Trilogy.

Your top five authors:

Impossible! Irenicon is more grounded in history than most fantasy, so let me narrow it down to writers of historical fiction: Shakespeare, Patrick O'Brian, Cormac McCarthy, Neal Stephenson and Hilary Mantel. Besides being idiosyncratic stylists, all of the above do justice to their characters: they do not condescend. It's sometimes hard to imagine, but the gentlemen and women in the graveyards were every bit as contented and aggrieved as we are.

Book you've faked reading:

"Faked" is so damning. What about those books that you haven't read but convince yourself you have? They're like islands you haven't visited yet but you know the coastline intimately. Do they count? Can you triangulate a book if you're read the work that inspired it, and the work it inspired? Gabriel García Márquez's Macondo is a few miles beyond the Castle of Kafka, but if you get to Allende's House of Spirits you've gone too far. Of course, the fun of actually visiting is watching our preconceptions shatter. Dodging the question? Damn right I am. Next!

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. That book's got brio. I'm currently writing a sci-fi [novel]--my first--and Bester's rapid pacing is my ideal.

Science fiction goes through fallow periods where authors feel duty-bound to educate readers on contemporary physics, but lengthy technical exposition makes lousy science and lousy fiction. It reads like a textbook, and not accidentally--that's what it aspires to be. Happily, hard science fiction dates swiftly, so a new generation comes along that realizes being entertaining isn't sinful. That's what made William Gibson's Neuromancer such an event. Sure, all that cyberpunk tech was rad, but the book moves. You can feel the spirit of Bester pumping adrenaline into every line. I think we're due another shot.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I rarely pick books for their covers. Perverse, I suppose, since my other job is visual art. I love those old Penguins with the orange stripe and title and author written in the same functional typeface. No sales pitch, just the facts. It's like keeping a secret from the world. That said, I was hooked by the covers of the Pocket Canons. This was a series by Pentagram reprinting books of the Bible in a pocket-sized edition. The cover of Job was an old bum in the street, Isaiah was a building being shredded by a hurricane and Exodus was a grainy Polaroid taken from a car on an endless motorway. I'm a sucker for killer titles, however. No way could I leave Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress on the shelf. As I recall, the cover illustration was an airbrushed nightmare--chrome space ships buzzing about a lemon crescent. Oh my, it was nasty, but that only sealed the deal: it's an iron law of science fiction that the more luridly terrible the cover, the better the book contained therein.

Book that changed your life:

You find Melville or Hemingway growing up and you think, well, that's fine, but no one's that good today. I did, anyway. There's a three-page passage in Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses where two Texas boys working on a hacienda break 16 mustangs over four long days. All McCarthy does is tell you what happens. Not a single line tells you how to feel about it. It kills me every time.

Favorite line from a book:

"Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly up." --Job 5:7. Ain't that the truth.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

With densely wrought books, like Moby-Dick, you find treasure each reading. Indeed, it's part of their design. So the first time is necessarily the most superficial. The tales I'd love to experience afresh are short stories. Shirley Jackson's The Lottery springs to mind. That first time hurts sweeter than a paper cut.

What we can expect from the next installment of the Wave Trilogy:

Peace. War. Not necessarily in that order.

Book Candy

Literary Hoaxes; 'Brutally Honest Fan Mail'

CBC Books revealed "5 literary hoaxes."


"Which horror story by Neil Gaiman features monsters stuck inside the walls?" The Guardian offered an "amazing monsters in fiction quiz."

Noting that there is "something thrilling about reading books when you're young and looking for how to be in the world," Flavorwire recommended "15 teen feminist books everyone should read."


Last year, Australian writer Patrick Lenton "compiled a massive list of every single book that was referenced in the Gilmore Girls series, and set out to read each one in an attempt to complete what's known as the 'Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge,' " Buzzfeed reported.


British children's book author David Walliams shared a piece of "brutally honest fan mail" from an 8-year-old fan named Molly.


Noting that "science fiction and fantasy publishing is a tough game," io9 revealed "10 great authors who disowned their own books."

Book Review



by Michael Smerconish

For his first foray into fiction, political commentator and radio host Michael Smerconish points his sharp satirical arrow at the U.S. political system and the role modern media play in corrupting democracy. Stanislaw Pawlowsky is a radio DJ who falls into the role of talk host when his Floridian station switches from rock music to conservative punditry. Provided with a "consultant," Stanislaw changes from a pot-smoking sloucher to Stan Powers, Tea Party activist. He doesn't share the political beliefs he's espousing, but he enjoys the income his fictional ideology rakes in.

A shocking announcement from the Democratic president leaves the upcoming election in upheaval, and as the conservative voice of the I-4 corridor in a crucial swing state, Stan has unmatched influence on the eventual outcome at the polls. This is his golden chance at fame and national syndication, and he must be willing to sacrifice anything--including his moral compass--to grab it.

Using a pointedly moderate voice, Smerconish aims at many factors that have made politics in the U.S. a battlefield where compromise and cooperation are as career-threatening as a radio personality dropping the f-bomb on air. His target may be a large one--encompassing dysfunctional primary elections, irrelevant mud-slinging and old-fashioned greed--but Smerconish certainly hits the bull's-eye.

The novel's colorfully diverse cast and party-neutral tone make this powerful satire attractive to most any reader. Funny, disturbing and most importantly thought-provoking, Talk has a lot to say; we should be listening. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: An industry insider satirizes the destructive power of modern media on U.S. politics.

Cider Mill Press, $24.95, hardcover, 9781604334906

The Falling Sky

by Pippa Goldschmidt

Pippa Goldschmidt's The Falling Sky revolves around Jeanette, a young astronomer deeply dedicated to her work but uninspired by the competitive bureaucracy of postdoctoral research. The stars and galaxies make sense to her in a way that people do not; she is a talented and intelligent scientist whose rational lens often fails her in navigating the world of human relationships. In a Chilean observatory, she makes a discovery that could turn the scientific world on its head; what she will do with this new and disruptive evidence will similarly upend her personal life. Amid the commotion, a new love affair with an old friend and the disorder of her professional ambitions combine to reawaken a childhood trauma, a tragedy from which her family has never recovered.

The Falling Sky incorporates hard science (Goldschmidt is an astronomer as well as an accomplished writer) with the story of a young woman struggling to find and establish her own place in the world. Artists, romantics, philosophers, mystics, feminists, photographers and scientists will all identify with aspects of Jeanette's journey. Those familiar with the Edinburgh setting will be pleased by its evocation. But perhaps the most remarkable and unusual element of Goldschmidt's striking debut novel is Jeanette's perspective: the reader sees her world as she does, with an emphasis on objectivity, data points, the relativity of time and space, and the search for connections between distant galaxies. As Jeanette sighs, "the lack of information is appalling," but her story comes around to a satisfying conclusion nonetheless. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia, with Hank Kastner, guest blogger

Discover: An astronomer's professional and personal journey, both eased and challenged by her scientific mind.

Freight Books, $13.95, paperback, 9781908754141

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Jeff VanderMeer

When Control is given the assignment of director at the Southern Reach, all he knows is that this has-been government agency is his last chance at a decent career. At first glance, the Southern Reach is a shadow of its former self: an underfunded group of scientists and bureaucrats assigned to research the elusive and mysterious phenomenon known as "Area X," which descended on the nearby coast decades earlier. The former director disappeared on the latest mission into Area X, and in her absence, Control finds the agency to be full of ghosts and madmen. She left behind strange writings, a plant that won't die and a trail of undecipherable signs. Control begins to suspect that the Southern Reach is less like a quietly decaying husk and more like a fetid, festering nurse log on the verge of bursting into a terrifying display of life. Worse, it seems that Area X is much closer than anyone suspects.

Authority is the second volume in his Southern Reach trilogy, and Jeff VanderMeer (Shriek) takes full advantage of the form. The creeping, atmospheric horror of Annihilation is submerged just below the surface in Authority, giving VanderMeer more room to develop his characters and move the plot forward. At its core, Authority explores the uneasy relationship between humans and true wilderness. The horror here is that loving nature can be a self-destructive impulse, and everything seems to point to the fundamental, terrifying impossibility of peaceful coexistence between man and wild. --Emma Page, bookseller at Wellesley Books in Wellesley, Mass.

Discover: An elegant, creepy environmental thriller from a master wordsmith.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15, paperback, 9780374104108

Food & Wine

My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve

by David Hagedorn, Cathal Armstrong

My Irish Table is an internationally recognized chef's homage to family dinners, Irish food and a father who inspired a son's love of cooking.

Cathal Armstrong, owner of several Washington, D.C.-area restaurants (Restaurant Eve, Eamonn's), is from a large Dublin family. His father grew more than 60 kinds of produce in a backyard garden that became the family's primary food source. He cooked dinners that stretched into the night and influenced Armstrong's culinary style, which combines Irish farm-to-table standards with sophisticated French culinary technique. Armstrong captures the current preference for traditional recipes prepared with rustic elegance and adds a few surprising twists. Spanish Omelet with Aioli may not be classically Irish, for instance, but it reflects those values.

The cookbook itself is beautiful. It is logically organized by menu type--breakfast, snacks, main courses, more ambitious recipes from Restaurant Eve and, of course, dessert--with plenty of photographs. The layout is thoughtful; you won't have to turn a page while cooking a dish, which makes the book easy to use in the home kitchen. Armstrong introduces most recipes with personal anecdotes, which adds a warm, celebratory note.

Armstrong is justifiably proud of his accomplishments as a successful restaurateur and leader in the sustainable-food movement, but he recounts his memories of hosting President Barack and Michelle Obama's anniversary dinner and his mother's simple cheese on toast with equal reverence. My Irish Table is a reminder of how central food is to memory and celebration, and that food, carefully prepared from the best ingredients, is a gift. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Simple, family-friendly fare in this tribute to a chef's Irish roots and his inspiring, supportive father.

Ten Speed Press, $35, hardcover, 9781607744306

Eggs on Top: Recipes Elevated by an Egg

by Andrea Slonecker

More than three decades after it was hatched, "The Incredible Edible Egg" jingle still has a spot in American pop culture. But there's nothing last-century about the recipes in culinary instructor Andrea Slonecker's Eggs on Top, an homage to the ovoid nuggets of protein.

"Learn to Cook an Egg and You Can Cook Anything," the cover announces, and from the introductory Egg Primer through the concluding Eggs on Leftovers chapter, Slonecker gives cooks all the help they need to prove her claim. A brief overview of the basics--what differentiates large from jumbo or A from double A, shell color, parentage (chicken, duck, "adorable" quail)--includes a defense of eggs' nutritional value, debunking the theory that they raise cholesterol and contribute to heart disease. She sorts out the carton claims, too, defining free-range, humane and other considerations. The photos throughout illustrate eggs in various degrees of doneness: a nine-photo spread shows the interiors of eggs boiled for different lengths of time, and poaching is broken down into clear steps.

With egg literacy out of the way, Slonecker encourages cooks to create impressive main dishes, ranging from a snazzy breakfast of Sri Lankan crepes to an Earthy Stew of Chickpeas and Swiss Chard with Crunchy Eggs (which is to say, deep-fried). Slonecker even suggests beverage pairings, such as a flute of champagne alongside leeks vinaigrette and herbed quail eggs.

A conversational tone, whimsical fonts and layout, and clear step-by-step coaching will encourage even a novice cook to get crackin'. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A multitude of ways to enjoy eggs from a food writer and culinary instructor.

Chronicle, $24.95, paperback, 9781452123684

Biography & Memoir

Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years

by Ron Capps

Ron Capps's debut memoir is an incisive look at the cost of combat and peacekeeping missions, and the limits of extreme violence humans can tolerate when they're powerless to stop it. Seriously Not All Right is also a harrowing and ultimately redemptive look at Capps's climb out of the post-traumatic stress disorder pit and what he did to help others once he succeeded.

Capps served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming a civilian foreign service observer in hot spots like Kosovo and Darfur. In the latter role, Capps performed his duties admirably and professionally, but wartime memories manifested themselves at the worst moments, resulting in his admission that he was "seriously not all right" before he sought help. Capps's emotional breakdown felt imminent; he tried to balance desk work while old movies of genocidal horror spooled out in his head. Capps's meandering and sometimes unsuccessful attempts to get aid bear witness to both the challenges combat veterans face in obtaining the support they need and the many dedicated helpers bound by bureaucratic obstacles and limited resources. Eventually, Capps took his method for battling depression and shared it with others; he created the Veterans Writing Project to give voice and solace to fellow veterans.

In addition, Capps's diagnosis of what is awry with American statecraft and military intervention is spot on, the learned wisdom of one who has been there and done that. This is a well-written, timely memoir, with scene after vivid scene that lingers, that provides a possible healing path for veterans. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: An admirable, important memoir from a combat veteran and observer of genocide.

Schaffner Press, $25, hardcover, 9781936182589

I Heard My Country Calling

by James Webb

The title of James Webb's memoir, I Heard My Country Calling, is borrowed from a 1912 poem by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, who influenced the Woodrow Wilson administration to join Britain and France in the war against the Central Powers. Webb, author of the novel Fields of Fire, a former Secretary of the Navy and decorated Marine, heard his own call through his father's dedicated military service. Living in England while his father--a World War II pilot and scientist--instructed members of the Royal Air Force helped young Webb appreciate Britain's pride and loss as its empire crumbled in the postwar period.

If Europe represents the past for Webb, Asia has always been the future. A mango in an Air Force base commissary was Webb's teenage epiphany, its flesh and sticky juice his holy communion, transforming him into "a blood brother to the people... in the far realms." Unreservedly proud of his service in Vietnam, Webb challenges the prevailing notion that the war was fought incompetently by the U.S. and its allies. He asserts that far from being a "dirty little war" where the bombs did all the work, the Vietnam War "was the most costly [ground] war the U.S. Marine Corps has ever fought" in terms of body count. Despite what he considers the country's heroic efforts, Webb concludes the war was lost due to U.S. leaders' inability to understand the enemy's insular form of terrorism that combined seduction with violence.

Whether the reader agrees with Webb's perspectives on the Vietnam War, his narrative makes for a deeply sobering, poetic read. It reflects the author's sharp cultural acumen and an unwavering sense of responsibility laced with stoicism. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Discover: A riveting memoir of a military brat, boxer, Marine, Secretary of the Navy, senator and novelist.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 9781476741123


Sextant: A Young Man's Daring Sea Voyage and the Men Who Mapped the World's Oceans

by David Barrie

Almost entirely outmoded because of the ease of GPS tracking and usually relegated to the maritime swap meet, the sextant was once a critical tool for sailors to pinpoint their location at sea. With it, they could measure the angle between two visible objects and then calculate their own position in relation to them on a nautical chart. Here sailor David Barrie brings us the history of the sextant, the men who used it and what it helped humankind accomplish.

The adventures of sailors like James Cook, Robert FitzRoy and Joshua Slocum provide a backdrop for Barrie to discuss the development of the sextant, whose origin came by way of navigational principles developed by Sir Isaac Newton and the resulting instrument--the octant. Admiral John Campbell found the octant insufficient; making alterations to it, he invented the sextant in 1757.  

Barrie not only documents the stories of these men, he recounts his own transatlantic journeys using a sextant. "The practice of celestial navigation extends our skills and deepens our relationship with the universe around us. What could be more wonderful than to join the long line of those who have found their way across the seas by the light of the sun, moon and stars?"

Even for armchair adventurers with no sea legs to speak of, Barrie's Sextant is a compelling read, ensuring that at least the memory of this significant navigational tool is not lost to antiquity. --Jonathan Shipley, freelance writer

Discover: An ode to one of the most important navigational instruments ever created.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062279347

Nature & Environment

The Reef: A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change

by Iain McCalman

With The Reef, Iain McCalman (Darwin's Armada) has composed "a passionate history" of the Great Barrier Reef, opening with his own long-awaited voyage (part of a reenactment of Captain Cook's original trip). He then shifts to the role of historian and chronicles the Great Barrier Reef as known to Western society over the last few centuries.

The Reef is divided into three parts. Beginning in 1770 with Captain Cook and proceeding through later explorers who helped chart the reefs in the 1800s, the first part, "Terror," emphasizes the threat the reef posed to ships and their navigators, and the fear of cannibals and others thought to inhabit the area. In Part II, "Nurture," the reef begins to offer refuge for those seeking to escape civilization or make a fresh start; naturalists arrive, captivated by the biodiversity and beauty of the area while beginning to realize that coral is a resource that can be exploited. In the last part, "Wonder," the scientific community takes an interest and activists fight to defend the unusual and changing ecosystem. Returning to the personal nature of his prologue, McCalman's epilogue speaks to the grim consequences of climate change but holds forth hope as well.

This work's strengths include a coherent structure, friendly narrative style and a reasoned culminating call to action that does not disrupt its primary role as a comprehensive history. Plentiful notes indicate strong research, but McCalman's writing is accessible to any reader interested in the intersection of science, nature and history. From perceived threat to resource to paradise destination to climate-change indicator, the Great Barrier Reef is fully explored in this engaging study. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A history of the discovery, exploitation and beauty of the awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef.

Scientific American, $27, hardcover, 9780374248192

House & Home

Cloth: 30+ Projects to Sew from Linen, Cotton, Silk, Wool, and Hide

by Cassandra Ellis

"We are all born to make," Cassandra Ellis (Quilt Love) notes in the introduction to Cloth. "I make, therefore I am." Ellis, a longtime collector of vintage and unusual fabrics, drew inspiration from five of her favorite natural materials to create the projects in her second book.

Each section starts with a primer on the material's history and characteristics: the different weaves and weights of cotton, the delicacy and strength of silk, the complex process of curing and tanning leather. Ellis also considers the ethics of each material, from the ecological benefits of organic cotton to the political implications of handwoven cloth (khadi) in India. Her enthusiasm for textiles as both raw materials and finished products is evident on every page.

The projects range in size and complexity from simple linen slippers and tea-dyed silk drawstring pouches to a wooden stool topped with fluffy sheepskin and a tartan wool overnight bag. Many of the projects are home goods or accessories (handbags, curtains, a braided rag rug, a kimono silk quilt), but a few are wearable (a dark denim apron, a tie-dyed shawl). All of them use high-quality materials to transform humble objects into daily luxuries. A handy back pocket contains the corresponding paper patterns. For the adventurous crafter, Ellis includes a primer on natural dyeing.

Lavishly illustrated and full of practical tips, Cloth embodies the William Morris esthetic by which Ellis lives: like the objects in its pages, it is both beautiful and useful. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A practical, beautiful collection of projects made from five luxurious natural materials.

Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, $35, hardcover, 9781617691096

Children's & Young Adult

Love and Other Foreign Words

by Erin McCahan

Readers will fall for Josie Sheridan, the charming and funny genius narrator of this contemporary novel about navigating the rough waters of love in its many forms.

Josie, who turns 16 during the course of the book, likes to have a formula for everything. She does not like change. She feels at home in her family--she's the youngest of three daughters of happily married parents--and with their neighbors, the Wagemakers. Auntie Pat and Uncle Ken Wagemaker are her parents' closest friends, and their children, Sophie and Stu, are Josie's closest friends. Josie's banter with Stu, also a genius, provides the high points and through line of the novel. When Josie's middle sister, Kate, brings home Geoff, and announces their engagement, it rocks Josie's world ("Are we to have no more confidences as sisters now?" Josie asks Kate). Josie decides she needs to fall in love in order to earn credibility with Kate and halt this marriage. But Josie discovers that though she has a passion for words and speaks many languages, love is one she can't seem to master.

Erin McCahan achieves a rare feat: she creates a family with distinct, admirable characters. Josie's parents are there for her but also give her room to navigate uncharted waters. The exchanges between Josie and her father are among the best in YA literature. As with her oil-and-water reaction to Geoff, Josie sometimes misses what's right in front of her. Readers may see the ending coming before Josie does, but that's also what's so lovable about Josie. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Sixteen-year-old Josie Sheridan is an unforgettable narrator who, for all her genius, can't seem to master the language of love.

Dial, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9780803740518

Help! We Need a Title!

by Hervé Tullet

The genius creator of Press Here once again involves readers in the action--this time as the audience that inspires his characters to improve upon their story.

"Hey! Someone's watching us!" says a blonde character outlined in black brushstrokes, dressed in a pointy hat (we later learn she's a "beautiful, kind fairy"), to a pig painted in broader pink outlines. Some freely applied green paint in the upper left corner of a gray frame suggests a curtain. The self-conscious duo invites others onstage (a dog, a snake), as they direct questions to the audience ("Who are you? What do you want?"). They consider what readers might want: "We could try adding a bit of background color," says the snake. "Maybe they'd like a landscape?" says a blue pastel stick figure with a block-shaped body, "I'll go find one!" They introduce other elements--a comical red-scribbled "bad guy" with frog-like eyes and the word "Boo!" inside its cavernous mouth. Out of ideas, they consult a pro: "Hey, author!" they yell. A photo of Hervé Tullet appears above a drawn-in body and a primly organized table; on it is a sheet with the previously introduced characters all lined up ("Uh-oh! He doesn't look too happy," it says). Though he insists he's not finished yet, the characters coax the author to "at least try!"

While the characters may be critical of their author, youngsters will be thoroughly entertained by the interplay between Tullet and his creations. This could launch all kinds of discussions about the ingredients for a good story. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An interactive flight of fancy in which the characters in a book egg on their author, the creator of Press Here.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 64p., ages 4-8, 9780763670214

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