Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 8, 2015

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

In Praise of Mothers

What mother or grandmother wouldn't savor some time reading together with their children? Here are some favorite recent picture books and novels that celebrate mothers in nuclear, blended and extended families.

On a Sunday morning in Last Stop on Market Street, CJ's nana transforms what he sees as misfortune into an opportunity. Author Matt De la Peña and illustrator Christian Robinson capture the essence of what's special about the relationship between grandmother and grandchild. in When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, Cardell the coyote pup has a "perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy." He loves his mother, and his father's new family. But when Otis comes along, Cardell has to share Mama. Otis wisely gives Cardell space to see there's room for both of them in Mama's heart.

Twelve-year-old Twig carries the enormous burden of keeping secret her family's curse in Alice Hoffman's Nightbird. Hoffman contrasts Twig's faith with her mother's fear, and suggests the child has something to teach the parent. The deceptively light-hearted graphic novel Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson probes themes of friendship, single-parent families and the rewards of perseverance when 12-year-old Astrid enrolls in Junior Roller Derby Camp without her best friend.

The 12-year-old narrators of both Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai and Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia spend the summer with their grandmothers and discover a great deal about who they are. Bà, Mai's paternal grandmother, opens up a world to the girl as the two make a pilgrimage to discover what happened to Bà's husband, missing in action during the Vietnam War. And Delphine and her two sisters travel from Brooklyn to rural Alabama. This is Williams-Garcia at her finest, laying out the complexities of family dynamics and the importance of accepting the past in order to be whole. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Sarah McCoy: Writing a Legacy

photo: Emily Martin

Historical novelist Sarah McCoy gained acclaim for her second novel, The Baker's Daughter (2012). She calls Virginia home, but currently lives in El Paso, Tex., with her husband, an army physician, and their dog. McCoy's third novel, The Mapmaker's Children (see our review below), explores the life of Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, and her connections to a modern-day woman struggling with infertility.

What inspired you to write The Mapmaker's Children?

All my books have come to me differently. That's both a blessing and a curse--I don't have a formula! The Mapmaker's Children started with a line, which kept echoing in my head: "A dog is not a child." I started asking questions: Who was saying it? Where was she? That woman became Eden, the book's contemporary narrator.

The more Eden said this line, the more I heard the pain in her voice. It was a bitter statement--she was falling apart inside. I knew she wasn't in control of something important in her life. And I knew her voice was contemporary--21st century. Sarah Brown's story came later.

Did you visit any historical locales related to John Brown and his family?

I did! I went home to Virginia to visit my parents, and my dad drove me to Harpers Ferry, the scene of John Brown's raid. We walked the streets of Charles Town, the town next to Harpers Ferry. We went to the bank, the post office, the jail where Brown was held. We also went to Harpers Ferry itself and visited the museums dedicated to Civil War history. I read John Brown's letters to his wife, Mary, written while he was in prison. I also read some of his letters to his Underground Railroad colleagues.

Since I wanted to set the modern-day story in the same area, my dad and I also walked the residential streets. We drew maps, talked to locals. There were all these beautiful houses, and I knew Eden would live in one of them.

When you talked to librarians and other researchers, did you interview anyone related to John Brown?

I didn't interview any of John Brown's descendants. That was deliberate. His story is part of their heritage and their family lore. But we're so far removed from John Brown's time--it's history to the rest of us. And I did not set out to write a nonfiction, biographical account of Sarah Brown. That was not my purpose. I wanted to make that very clear.

Sarah Brown and her mother and sisters moved to California several years after John Brown's death. Did you visit their home there?

I did. I visited Sarah's grave--which was a powerful experience. I could feel her spirit as I sat there, urging me on to write this book. When you are writing a story you feel a responsibility to honor the spirit of someone who really lived--it is much more of a weight in a beautiful way. It's not just storytelling; it's a tribute. I was writing about someone's legacy, and also creating my own legacy. I believe books can be a legacy, as much as children or anything else.

And I went to the Saratoga Museum in Red Bluff, Calif., which is the only place in the world that has any of Sarah's artwork on display. I purchased a pamphlet about Sarah's life--about 20 pages printed on plain computer paper. She was known as the most charismatic and attractive of all John Brown's children. I even saw a newspaper clipping to that effect! But today, there is very little information about her life.

Sarah's story in the book starts with a bout of dysentery that leaves her barren (and parallels Eden's modern-day struggle with infertility). Did that really happen?

I get that question a lot--"Did such-and-such really happen?" My answer is always that I use as much fact as I can to elevate the fiction. Sarah did have dysentery and I read that she "carried the scars" for the rest of her life. But there is no specific evidence that she was barren. She loved family and children--she later started an orphanage and served as its headmistress. But she never married and had no children. I chose to weave that incident into the story.

Eden discovers a ceramic doll head early in the book, and its history plays a pivotal role in the plot. How did you decide to bring that element in?

I love a puzzle. I love a mystery. You have all these different pieces and you have no idea how they're going to click together. I know I have smart readers, and I try to make an intellectual journey for them as well as an emotional one. The detail about dolls and the Underground Railroad was historically fascinating, but it was even more fun to weave it into the book for my readers.

Eden's husband brings home a new puppy who becomes a driving force in her life. How did you decide to include him?

I knew there was going to be a dog in the story when I started hearing that first line: "A dog is not a child." A pet is something you nurture and grow. For Eden, it's a struggle to nurture and grow a child. But the creation and development of a family unit with pets is no less worthy than having a child. Just because you don't have a child does not mean that you can't create a family.

I thought a lot about families as I was writing this book, both in terms of Eden's and Sarah's stories. And the truth is there's not just one Rubik's Cube answer, where everything lines up and this is how you constitute a good family. People suffer trying to attain that stereotype, and it often doesn't line up with their real world. I hear that story over and over from women in my generation.

It can be scary to admit that your life or family isn't turning out the way you planned.

There's something to be said for finding contentment and for forming a family that looks different than you thought it might. Eden and Sarah both learn not to be afraid of how their lives are turning out--even though it's not what they planned.

There are many parallels between Sarah and Eden.

Both of them are strong-willed and modern women for their times. Both of them want to fit into the social mold of their times, in a certain way, and yet they have a capacity for so much more.

Sarah believes that she's broken, flawed, because she can't bear children. Eden is facing the same pressures in a totally different time and context. As modern women, we think we've come a long way--and we have, in terms of education and opportunity. But now we think we have to do everything and be the best at everything. Our moms' generation drove themselves almost into the ground--are we going to make that same choice? And if we decide to do something different, are we going to be okay? Will we be judged? That's exactly what Sarah Brown had to deal with--if she took this different path and pursued her art, would she still be validated?

The idea of legacy is strong in the book, both in Sarah's and Eden's stories.

Part of the purpose in writing two intertwined narratives was to show that the generations are all tied together--that concept of a legacy. You are worthy of remembering, no matter who you are or what you're doing. If you're doing your best to live your life, what an awesome thing you're giving the world and history. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Book Candy

Books for Mother's Day

For our Mother's Day edition of Book Candy, we're featuring lots of book lists, including "Books for Mother's Day: The Mother Lode" from Women's Wear Daily.


Glamour suggested "8 books to give to and read with your mom this Mother's Day."


Bustle is seriously into the holiday, recommending "17 books we should all give our moms to read, because there's something special about sharing a book with your mother" and "11 motherhood books that show the honest experience of being a mom, like that not everything is always perfect."


The Huffington Post found "10 great gift ideas for a writer mom on Mother's Day" and "Mother's Day reads: Eight great mother characters in literature."


Also from Bustle: "11 mean mothers from literature to help put your mom's nagging into perspective." 

Great Reads

Rediscover: Three Caldecott Winners

Marcia Brown, who illustrated, translated and wrote many children's books and won the Caldecott Medal--the children's world's most prestigious award for book illustrators--three times, died late last month at the age of 96. Only one other person won as many Caldecotts as Brown, who in her illustrations used "a diverse range of styles and media, including woodcuts, collage, pen-and-ink drawings, watercolors and gouache," the New York Times said.

Brown won Caldecotts in 1955 for Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper (Aladdin), which she translated from Charles Perrault's version; in 1962 for Once a Mouse (Aladdin), her version of the fable from India; and in 1983 for Shadow (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), which she translated and adapted from the Blaise Cendrars poem "La Féticheuse." But these weren't the only times she was honored: she also illustrated six Caldecott Honor Books (runners-up) and won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for contributions to children's literature.

She often told and retold traditional stories and folk tales from around the world. In a 1994 interview with Jerry Griswold, Brown commented: "I feel somewhat like Joseph Campbell: that we're on the top of a big pyramid and the apex is at the bottom and all peoples have similar emotional and psychological problems--reactions to the world, to death, to these great big forces in life--and they express themselves differently up here on the surface but basically man is man, and he has very similar problems way down there at his beginning."

Book Review


Where Women Are Kings

by Christie Watson

In Where Women Are Kings, British novelist Christie Watson (Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away) brings readers into an intense cross-cultural story of love, one that spans physical and emotional boundaries--to the detriment of a seven-year-old boy, Elijah. Born of Nigerian parents who live in England, Elijah has spent most of his life being shifted from one foster home to another. Based on things he remembers from his birth mother, he believes a wizard lives inside him and he must fight hard to keep that wizard contained; otherwise, he does terrible things.

When Elijah is placed with yet another family after an accidental kitchen fire at his previous home, his new foster parents, Nikki and Obi (a mixed-race couple), begin to unravel the mysteries surrounding Elijah. They discover his body is covered in scars and he has severe disruptive behaviors that cause Elijah to lash out when confronted with things that trigger hidden memories.

Written in revolving points of view, the reader slowly learns the truth about Elijah's terribly abusive childhood, and the feelings he holds deep inside regarding his new parents, grandfather, school friends and birth mother, Deborah. Watson's portrayal of these characters is forceful and potent as she slowly and with increasing intensity discloses the appalling truth of Elijah's past. The story is graphic in places and may make readers cringe, but the love that pervades the story is liberating; it's doubtful there will be many dry eyes by the end. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: In this tale by the author of Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away a seven-year-old boy who has been brutally abused believes a bad wizard lives in his body.

Other Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781590517093

Stella Rose

by Tammy Flanders Hetrick

When her best friend Stella Rose dies of cancer, Abby St. Claire--single, independent and wracked by grief--becomes guardian to Stella's teenage daughter, Olivia. Moving from her city apartment to Stella's house in rural Vermont, Abby steps gingerly into her new world, mourning the loss of her friend while trying to care for a teenage girl bereaved and seemingly bent on self-destruction. Through the turbulent first year after Stella's death, Abby and Olivia navigate life without her, sometimes clashing, other times clinging to one another. Their journey is aided by a series of monthly letters Stella left behind for each of them--but even Stella's wisdom can't shield her daughter and her best friend from heartbreak.

Debut novelist Tammy Flanders Hetrick writes Stella Rose in Abby's voice, exploring the complicated emotions of grief: anger, sadness, exasperation, even joy. Stella's monthly letters wind through the book like a ribbon, providing a few touching moments but also highlighting her absence; they can be only a hollow substitute for Stella herself. Abby's job at a local museum and her attraction to two men, and Olivia's struggles at school round out the story, guiding both women through their time of loss and into an exploration of living beyond it. The plot's climax veers toward melodrama, but a supporting cast of down-to-earth characters stabilizes the story and gives both Abby and Olivia a safe place to land.

Warmhearted and sincere, Stella Rose is a sensitive portrait of loss, friendship and the families we choose. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A big-hearted novel of love and loss, narrated by a woman grappling with grief while caring for her best friend's teen daughter.

She Writes Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781631529214

Paris Red

by Maureen Gibbon

"That day I am seventeen and I am wearing the boots of a whore." So begins Maureen Gibbon's Paris Red, a novel of art, love, sex and survival in 1860s Paris. Victorine, the red-haired narrator, is not a whore herself; the boots were a gift. She works instead as a brunisseuse--silver burnisher--along with her best friend and roommate, Nise. The two sometimes pick up men, though, and this new one, Eugène, is different from the others: he wants them both. Unlike Nise, Victorine pursues experience headlong, wanting to feel it all, and it is she who wins Eugène's devotion. In the process she puts ambition above friendship, losing Nise, choosing instead a position as Eugène's model and muse. She purchases oils and pastels for him, poses for sketches and paintings, and luxuriates in the role of his lover.

Paris Red is a sensual, luscious novel, filled with tastes, smells and sounds, as well as colors. Eugène is actually Édouard Manet, strolling the streets under a false name, but Gibbon's focus here is Victorine, the real historical model for Manet's Olympia. She finds a home for her passion for color in his studio, and plays model-actor in Eugène's world, while also learning about--and never losing--herself.

In powerful, vivid prose, Gibbon (Thief) pulls her reader into a sensory Paris that cuts across class lines, painting a strikingly intense and intelligent young woman in Victorine. The overall effect is erotic, but also clever and perceptive, a remarkable glimpse into a moment of art and time. Readers will never view Olympia the same way again. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The model for a famous Manet nude is exquisitely fictionalized as a young woman voracious for experience.

W.W. Norton , $24.95, hardcover, 9780393244465

The Mapmaker's Children

by Sarah McCoy

John Brown's 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Va., in an attempt to start a slave insurrection, led to his execution and fanned the flames of dissension already smoldering across the country. But the story of Brown's family, especially his daughters, is less well known, though they supported his antislavery work. Taking Brown's daughter Sarah as her central figure, Sarah McCoy weaves a richly layered story of love and sacrifice in her third novel, The Mapmaker's Children.

McCoy (The Baker's Daughter) juxtaposes Sarah Brown's story with that of Eden, a woman living in modern-day New Charlestown, W.Va.--mere miles from Harpers Ferry. Lonely and isolated, struggling with infertility and the chasm it has opened in her marriage, Eden stumbles upon a porcelain doll head in a hidden root cellar. With the help of an inquisitive neighborhood girl, she begins investigating the doll's history, which leads them to the Underground Railroad and a surprising connection to Sarah Brown.

While the rich historical detail in Sarah Brown's chapters (including letters, telegrams and newspaper articles) can make Eden's modern-day setting feel a bit bland by comparison, both women are vivid, complicated characters. Their stories gradually intertwine, until the final chapters lead to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

In vibrant yet unassuming prose, McCoy tells a story of womanhood past and present, asking deep questions about family, courage and love. Readers will enjoy solving the historical puzzle of the doll's origins, but the book's biggest strength is its portrayal of Eden and Sarah: two brave women bound together by the difficult, noble work of building worthwhile lives. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The Civil War-era story of Sarah Brown, artist and abolitionist, and that of modern-day Eden, struggling with infertility.

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780385348904

Mystery & Thriller

The Alchemist's Daughter

by Mary Lawrence

Bianca Goddard, daughter of an infamous alchemist, earns a living by making salves and remedies for the poor of Southwark, using chemical skills she learned from her father. So when her friend Jolyn, a former muckraker of the muddy Thames riverside trying to work her way up in Tudor society, comes to her complaining of stomach pains, Bianca quickly mixes her a peptic brew. To Bianca's shock and dismay, a few minutes later Jolyn convulses and dies.

Many people, including the local constable, assume that Bianca poisoned Jolyn. But Bianca knows that her brew was harmless, and quickly deduces that the stomach pains of which Jolyn had complained must mean she'd already been poisoned before she arrived.

Desperate to prove her own innocence and to find her friend's killer, Bianca begins an investigation into the seamy side of London life: a trail that leads her from the riverside scavengers all the way to a wealthy merchant who owns ships that sail the river's length.

Those who enjoy C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake mysteries or Sam Thomas's Midwife mysteries are sure to enjoy The Alchemist's Daughter. Set in a familiar time, but focusing on  the oppressed and poverty-stricken rather than the lords and queens who usually frequent Tudor books, The Alchemist's Daughter is an unusual story. With her first novel, Mary Lawrence has done an excellent job of bringing the 1540s--with all their noise, filth, intrigue and interest--to life. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A Tudor woman with a scientific bent must prove she is innocent of poisoning her friend.

Kensington, $15, paperback, 9781617737107

Food & Wine

A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden

by April Bloomfield, J.J. Goode

A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden opens with a startling statement: "I've developed a bit of a reputation for meat, particularly the odd parts--what I call the not-so-nasty bits." April Bloomfield (2014 James Beard Best Chef in New York City) then explains that meat is like action films with "lots of explosions and excitement... [but] not even the juiciest steak or crispiest pig's ear gets me happy like nice peas."

Greens is not actually a vegetarian cookbook--collards are paired with bacon grease, and anchovies abound. And although readers may be tempted to jump right to the recipes, Bloomfield's introduction is entertaining and informative as she describes her earliest culinary influences and current inclinations with colloquial wit and droll observations: "thinking about someone cramming delicate herbs in a cup measure makes my bum cheeks clench." Vegetables are intimately tied to a time, place and season, and she provides invaluable insights into shopping at farmer's markets: "You never want to go to the market stubborn."

The initial recipes are ordered according to season: Pot-Roasted Artichokes with White Wine and Capers leads to Roasted Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata and If-It-Ain't-Broke Eggplant Caponata. The second half begins with pastas, polentas and pastries, and ends with "chilly weather treats" like Buttery, Not-Quite-Mushy Brussel Sprouts and vegetable juices, sauces, dressings and pickles. The entire cookbook reads as if Bloomfield is preparing the recipes alongside the home cook, providing a broader appreciation for the ingredients and preparation. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: In her celebration of everything green, Bloomfield makes the case that vegetables can be just as satisfying as meat.

Ecco, $34.99, hardcover, 9780062225887

Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen

by Kathy Patalsky

Kathy Patalsky's Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen perfectly matches her Healthy. Happy. Life. brand: "This food-filled, wellness-seeking, happiness-embracing adventure starts in your kitchen and ends wherever you wish." As a child, Patalsky's love of animals drew her to a plant-based lifestyle; she became a vegan in 2002. While the more than 250 vegan recipes in this collection "are rich in life, rather than death," the sins of the meat and dairy industries are not the focus of this upbeat, cheerful cookbook. Patalsky welcomes "new vegans, savvy long-time vegans, non-vegans, part-time vegans, wannabe vegans and even 'I will never be' vegans."

Her role is a culinary playmate, and to facilitate this role she includes a list of helpful kitchen tools (most will be familiar to any home cook, except possibly "nut milk bag") and staples for the vegan pantry (which may be less familiar--for example, nutritional yeast). The recipes are grouped loosely by course. Breakfast offerings include Cranberry-Nut Farro Porridge and Peanut Butter Toasted Coconut Oatmeal Bars. Old standbys are reinvented, like the Eggless Salad Sandwich and the Toasty Tuxedo Grilled Cheese. As expected, salads, soups and veggie burgers abound, but with a twist: Sweet Potato Veggie Burger with Avocado or the BBQ Peanut Burger. Vegetarians are often forced to create entrees out of side dishes, but Patalsky suggests veggie sides that are truly side dishes; her entrees deserve to be front-and-center, and her desserts are just as tempting as any bakery offering. Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen celebrates why "there is no diet on earth more uplifting to one's body, mind, and soul than a vegan one." --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Why a plant-based diet is not only spiritually fulfilling, but physically satisfying as well.

Houghton Mifflin, $25, paperback, 9780544379800

Biography & Memoir

Stepdog: A Memoir

by Mireya Navarro

Journalist Mireya Navarro has faced many challenges: leaving her home in Puerto Rico for college in Washington, D.C.; writing for the San Francisco Examiner for a decade; earning a spot at the New York Times, covering Miami, Puerto Rico, Houston and, eventually, 9/11. But she wasn't prepared for Eddie, her stepdog.

Immersed in her career and loving New York, Navarro was elated when she discovered a kindred spirit in Jim, also a Times journalist, based in Los Angeles. A bicoastal romance blossomed, and while Jim's two children accepted her, Eddie, Jim's barking, spotted, "big galoot" of a protective rescue dog, was a tough sell.

The two kept Navarro's New York apartment, plus the L.A. house, maintaining their own careers and giving the kids stability. A wedding, however, did not sway Eddie. Typically, Navarro would awake to the dog "in hysterics, jumping on me, jumping on Jim and trying to get between us, preventing me from getting close enough to our man." Many walks, belly rubs and standoffs later, the intruder-wife came to accept "Edweirdo" as "the one common denominator that everyone loved." Ever the journalist, Navarro studied pet behavior and consulted a "dog shrink," and 10 years into her relationship she concluded that Eddie symbolized the stress of becoming a "step" in a family.

Stories from Jim's and Navarro's careers, trips to Puerto Rico and their loving marriage balance the tales of Eddie the terrible. Navarro's memoir ends with advice: "Top 10 Do's and Don'ts when you find a dog in your romance." Readers will recognize that she's tried them all. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A journalist's memoir of marrying a man and his dog, and working to gain the canine's love.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399167799

Psychology & Self-Help

The Bitch in Your Head: How to Finally Squash Your Inner Critic

by Jacqueline Hornor Plumez

"Society makes girls and women more vulnerable to self-criticism," psychotherapist and career counselor Dr. Jacqueline Hornor Plumez writes in The Bitch in Your Head. Plumez refers to the often pervasive, interior female voice of disapproval that preys upon secret vulnerabilities--even in seemingly successful and confident women--as "The Bitch." This destructive, demoralizing force is behind accusatory self-talk and insults like, You look fat.... Why didn't you...? How could you say that...? You're a horrible person/mother/wife/friend. Plumez demonstrates that "naming and 'externalizing' a problem makes it easier to recognize and fight." By examining "The Bitch" as a syndrome of sabotage, the author makes an informative and compelling case that identifies why women beat themselves up, and often feel inferior and unworthy to the point they fear losing love, health and approval.

According to Plumez, "The Bitch" takes many forms. It can permeate all aspects of life, starting in childhood and reappearing at pivotal moments, from dating to marriage and divorce, parenting and work, and even in the golden years. It has the capacity to interfere with sleep, diminish productivity and exacerbate self-defeating tendencies, guilt, depression and phobias. Over the course of 16 thought-provoking chapters, detailed case studies reveal stories of women trying to combat and keep "The Bitch" at bay. Plumez's strategies, tools and techniques transform this negative inner voice from insulting and demeaning to encouraging and empowering, which can, in turn, improve a woman's quality of life. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An enlightening psychology book aimed at women trying to silence their critical interior voice.

Taylor Trade Publishing, $16.95, paperback, 9781493007905

Art & Photography

Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan

by Andreas Marks

Stare long enough at an image in Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan and you will find that the din of a busy Edo bridge feels familiar; the breezes on the water almost drift off the page. The prints in this collection document bygone Japan, location by location, from verdant shrines to Ryogoku, home of Tokyo's sumo hall. Whether it's Technicolor train scenes or the spare beauty of Mount Fuji, this volume encompasses a large swath of Japanese history and culture, made all the more edifying by art historian Andreas Marks's knowledgeable prose.

One of the book's most appealing facets is its inclusion of different styles, periods, and locations. Well-known masters like Utagawa Hiroshige stand alongside artists from every region and period. Stylistically, the differences are striking. In the "Temples and Shrines" section, Kawase Hasui's color-drenched "Iris Garden at Meiji Shrine" follows Tamagawa Shucho's "View of Shinmeigu Shrine in Shiba," a crowded scene in pale peaches and grays. These sometimes disparate images converse with each other, illuminating the stylistic mores that dominated their respective eras. Marks's commentaries place a given work within its wider historical context, helping unversed readers discern necessary information.

With its glossy pages and bold colors, Japan Journeys does justice to its content, gathering a curated set of woodblock images that give the reader a holistic view of the artistic tradition. It's an essential gift for lovers of Japanese landscapes and city scenes, and an ideal entrée for art lovers who are less familiar with the style. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer

Discover: A vibrant collection of Japanese woodblock prints contextualized with art historian Andreas Marks's insightful notes.

Tuttle Publishing, $19.95, hardcover, 9784805313107

Children's & Young Adult

Enormous Smallness: A Story of e.e. cummings

by Matthew Burgess, illus. by Kris Di Giacomo

From the first lines of this picture-book biography of Edward Estlin Cummings (1894–1962), debut children's book author Matthew Burgess sets up the kind of juxtaposition the poet loved: "Inside an enormous city/ in a house on a very small street,/ there once lived a poet/ I would like you to meet."

The "enormous smallness" of the title stems from Cummings's experience as a small child encountering Nature's "illimitable being." Kris Di Giacomo's (My Dad Is Big and Strong, But...) opening scene, in a spumoni ice cream–colored palette, shows a snapshot of a street framed by trees. She spotlights a bird on a branch, its song a flurry of floating letters. This is 4 Patchin Place in New York City, Cummings's home for nearly 40 years. "Peek inside and you will see/ the room where E.E. writes his poetry." The poet leans out of the window to witness the birdsong. Downstairs, "the love of E.E.'s life," Marion Moorehouse, calls him to tea by ringing "an elephant/ with a bell in its belly." Burgess tells the poet's story through internal rhymes and wordplay characteristic of Cummings, while Di Giacomo's visual motif of birds and elephants appears on nearly every page. The author includes major life events and poems, always circling back to a playfulness born in the poet's childhood and carried through his entire life, nurtured by parents and teachers. 

What makes this such an appealing children's book is the author and artist's focus on Cummings's ability to channel and hold on to the inventiveness of childhood. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A biography of many children's favorite poet that demonstrates the importance of an open heart and a sense of wonder.

Enchanted Lion, $17.95, hardcover, 64p., ages 6-9, 9781592701711

Tad and Dad

by David Ezra Stein

In this charming father-son tale, Tad grows from tadpole to full-fledged frog but never outgrows his wish to be near his dad.

"As soon as I could wiggle," says Tad, "I swam everywhere with my dad." David Ezra Stein's (I Am My Own Dog) predominantly watercolor illustrations (with some marker and crayon in the mix) simulate the underwater life of a pond as Tad and Dad swim beneath its surface. In his daily refrain, Tad says, "Dad tried to tuck me in at night,  but--SPLASH! I followed him to his bed." These consistently appear as a trio of vignette illustrations that also serve to chart Tad's growth. The "SPLASH!" gets bigger as Tad grows larger. In between, Stein varies the father-son activities: swimming, jumping and singing ("The pond was alive with the sound of music," says Tad in a nod to Julie Andrews's Maria). A final full-page "SPLOOSH!" when Dad tries to tuck him in at night marks Tad's maturity. Stein sympathizes with parents of young children, as Dad registers his sleep deprivation through wide-eyed frustration ("Why do you want to sleep in my bed?... Are you trying to drive me bananas?").

A surprise twist proves Tad's gut instinct about what Dad likes best was right all along. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A tadpole grows to full-fledged frog but never outgrows his dad--from a Caldecott Honor artist.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9780399256714

The Feast for the King

by Marlies Verhelst, illus. by Linde Faas

It's the king's birthday, and all of the animals' special treats are going missing! Who is the thief, and where's the beef?

Tarantula placed an "extra tender piece of beef" atop King Lion's birthday cake. He leaves to find his knife and when he returns, "the tender piece of beef is gone!" Linda Faas pictures an eight-legged chef dwarfed by his toque. First, Tarantula checks Gorilla's mouth: "You smell like bananas," Tarantula observes. Gorilla is making a banana soup for the monarch's big day. Faas creates a balanced composition in which the gorilla swirls across the right-hand side of the spread, with Tarantula picking up on the primate's white teeth, wide eyes and rimmed nostrils, and a growing mound of banana peels rises from the left-hand side.

"Gorilla did not take the meat. Who is the beef thief?" the refrain repeats, as Tarantula checks with Snake, the herbivore Giraffe, Elephant, Crocodile and others. Faas makes the most of each double-page spread, whether Snake dangles from a vine, supporting a tray of eggs with his tail, Giraffe extending a long neck or Crocodile coiling around the perimeter of the pages.

When everyone brings their offerings to the birthday banquet, the culprit becomes clear in a satisfyingly humorous ending. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A birthday cake for a carnivore is missing its extra tender piece of beef, and the chef plays detective.

Lemniscaat, $17.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-up, 9781935954446

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