Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

Literature & Libations: History with a Twist

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Both native New Yorkers, they live in Seattle, Wash. Dangerous to Know (Forge) is the second of their Lillian Frost & Edith Head mysteries.

photo: David Hiller

Historical fiction and cocktails make a perfect pairing. A drink with provenance is an uncommonly vivid chance to experience a bygone era in a glass. While writing our Lillian Frost & Edith Head mystery novels, we often enjoy a period-appropriate libation--after reaching the day's word count.

But the Golden Age of Hollywood, when our books are set, was no golden age for cocktails. By the time Prohibition ended in 1933, many of America's best bartenders were plying their trade on other shores, and a generation of drinkers had grown accustomed to mixers meant to mask the taste of inferior liquor. The cocktails that held sway in the late 1930s were the simplest to prepare: the martini, the Manhattan, the old fashioned.

We prefer to turn the clock back even further. The Last Word appeared on the 1916 menu of the Detroit Athletic Club. Aside from its inclusion in a long-out-of-print 1951 collection, the drink had been utterly forgotten. Then in 2003, bartender extraordinaire Murray Stenson rediscovered the recipe and featured it at Seattle's Zig Zag Café--the same bar where, coincidentally, we plotted Lillian & Edith's Agatha Award-nominated debut, Design for Dying. Within five years, a drink that could have been poured at the premiere of D.W. Griffith's landmark silent film Intolerance had become what the Washington Post called "the Official Drink of the Classic Cocktail Renaissance." Like that, the best historical fiction aspires to shed new light on a century-old artifact.

The Last Word, from Ted Saucier's Bottoms Up! (1951)

½ oz. gin
½ oz. maraschino
½ oz. green chartreuse
½ oz. lime juice
Shake. Strain. No garnish.

Book Candy

Favorite Fictional Libraries

For National Library Week, Quirk Books shared "our favorite fictional libraries."


Look it up. Kory Stamper explored "why dictionaries still matter for kids today" at Brightly.


Pop quiz: "Can you guess the classic book by these extremely vague descriptions?" Buzzfeed challenged.


"Old books smell like chocolate and coffee, according to science," Bustle reported, citing researchers at the University of London's Institute for Sustainable Heritage and its "Historic Book Odour Wheel."


Mental Floss shared "15 things you might not know about Of Mice and Men."


"Poet's Pacific paradise: Pablo Neruda's homes in Chile." The Guardian visited "two of the Pacific-facing homes where the poet found inspiration."

Walter Foster Publishing: Fresh and Contemporary

The preeminent publisher of art instruction books, Walter Foster Publishing began like many California entrepreneurial success stories: In 1922, Walter Foster, a caricaturist, sign painter and Vaudevillian performer, among other talents, started publishing instructional art books in his home in Laguna Beach. In the beginning, he did it all: writing, illustrating, printing, binding--all of it! Walter was driven by his belief that anyone who wanted to draw or paint could do so with just a little help and encouragement.

Eventually, Walter Foster Publishing, an imprint of the London-based Quarto Group, grew into a world-renowned, trusted publisher of quality art-instruction books. It continued to grow its line of books for adults and launched a children's drawing book program that includes several licensed titles with Disney, Nickelodeon, Dreamworks, and others.

Anne Landa (left) and Rebecca Razo

However, it's been over the past decade or so that Walter Foster has "really hit its stride," says Rebecca Razo, publisher of Walter Foster and the forthcoming Laguna Press. "Anne Landa, group publisher of Quarto Southern California, took over running the business in January 2015, at which time we revamped our program." This includes adding a wider range of titles, not just for serious fine artists, but also for art hobbyists, crafters, and weekend art enthusiasts, as well as introducing more intuitive approaches to teaching art. "And we've modernized the aesthetic of our list across the board," Razo adds.

Walter Foster books enjoy a longstanding, solid reputation in the art and craft market at such retail establishments as Hobby Lobby and Michaels, as well as art supply chains, including Blick and AC Moore. And its presence continues to grow in the book trade. "One of the things we hear over and over again from people around the world is: 'I grew up with Walter Foster books!' " Razo says. But the company also wants booksellers and librarians to know that, as Razo puts it, "We're not just your parents' and grandparents' instructional-art book publisher." The list is "as fresh and contemporary as it is practical and useful," she says, adding, "And we've struck a perfect balance between continuing to serve the needs of our core audience--the serious fine artist--and publishing for those who just want to pass the time making great art."

"Being part of the Quarto Group has enabled Walter Foster to spread its wings," Anne Landa, group publisher, Quarto Southern California, says. Quarto's mission is, Landa continues, "to make and sell great books that entertain, educate and enrich the lives of adults and children around the world. We're constantly looking for new ways to create and deliver content that people need."

Since 1996, Walter Foster Publishing has been part of The Quarto Group, which specializes in illustrated nonfiction, is domiciled in the U.S., and is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Quarto has 48 imprints around the world that publish in 50 countries and 39 languages through traditional and non-traditional channels focusing on subjects that range from art 'how-to,' graphic design and home improvement to cooking, gardening, motoring and crafts. Its 400 employees are in the U.S., U.K., and Hong Kong. In the U.S., The Quarto Group has five creative hubs: in Lake Forest, Calif. (where Walter Foster is located); New York City; Beverly, Mass.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Seattle, Wash., where becker&mayer, its the most recent acquisition, is based.

Walter Foster Jr. Grows Up Fast

Walter Foster Jr., was founded in fall 2014 as The Quarto Group implemented a broad plan for children's publishing in the U.S. that included bringing in sister imprints from the U.K. In addition to Walter Foster Jr., MoonDance and Seagrass, Quarto's global children's business includes Wide Eyed Editions, Frances Lincoln Children's Books, Small World, QEB, Words & Pictures and Ivy Kids.

Walter Foster Jr.'s mission statement is "Encouraging creativity and sparking imagination in children of all ages." This remains the company's focus, says Anne Landa, "whether that includes expanding our original line of learn-to-draw titles with new and existing formats and licenses, or continuing to develop on-trend enthusiast categories with titles such as Words to Live By or our new line of Board Books: ABC Yoga and ABC Love."

The imprint's list has quickly developed from traditional art and craft how-to titles to a more well-rounded active nonfiction list of some 20 to 40 books a season. Landa says these books are "unique, fun, and have a purpose--whether it's encouraging a young child to take an interest in learning about literary figures or great artists in a humorous way, learning about grammar and mathematics with a fun twist, or finding their creativity and learning how to draw or paint with their fingers or with step-by-step lessons from experts. We have the historical know-how based on 95 years of art instruction that has now passed down to the children's lists; we have something for everyone."

Reflecting the imprint's myriad subjects, Walter Foster Jr.'s markets range from art and craft stores such as Michaels and Hobby Lobby, to small indies "and many places in between!" Landa adds. "And we have a fantastic foreign rights team that ensure our books are published in every language possible," one of the many advantages of being part of The Quarto Group.

Walter Foster Jr., has grown organically, which the company plans to continue "by publishing to strong verticals within product type" as well as publishing series extensions and through continued strong backlist sales. Landa adds, "Our new licensed titles should also enable growth as we look to further expand our account base."

Book Review


One of the Boys

by Daniel Magariel

With his fiction debut, Daniel Magariel shows he knows how to pack a knockout punch in a short jab. Tight and disturbing, One of the Boys explores the sinister damage an acrimonious divorce inflicts on two teenage boys caught between their unreliable mother and violent, cocaine-addicted father. Vulnerable and looking for some stability, the brothers want to believe that their father loves them and really will provide the safe new life he promised after they leave their mother in Kansas.

The suburban Albuquerque apartment he finds them, however, soon becomes a place that swings between a frat house and a crack house. For weeks at a time their dad disappears into his bedroom with his drugs and various women while the boys grow up fast, learning to cook, drive, buy groceries, manage school and sports, work part time at the Stop-N-Go, and somehow pay the bills. The drugs soon make their dad increasingly abusive and paranoid--until the binges end, and remorse and promises return. The brothers know the cycle: "Our dad was an act with a single end. His trajectory: down, down, down." In telling this bleak story from the younger brother's perspective, Magariel puts an exceptional spin on what is sadly a predicament common to many adolescent children of bitter divorce. The narrator's yearning for stability, his resilience and his confusion drive the narrative. Magariel doesn't pull his punches. This incisive debut is as heartbreaking as it is unflinching. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In his taut first novel, Daniel Magariel tells the evocative story of two teen boys forced to grow up too fast in a home shaken by divorce, drugs and violence.

Scribner, $22, hardcover, 176p., 9781501156168


by Jerome Charyn

Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991) was the secretive yet celebrated author of Being There and The Painted Bird, an oeuvre as contradictory as the man himself. While the former was a lighthearted tale about a hapless gardener turned political pundit, the latter was a dark allegory about the moral destruction of World War II that drew on his experience as a Jew hiding from the Nazis in Poland. Kosinski was an author weighed down by accusations of plagiarism who nevertheless enjoyed fame, befriending movie stars and appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

In Jerzy, Jerome Charyn (The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson) offers a fictionalized biography of Kosinski told through the voices of people who knew him over the course of his career, revealing the many shades of his persona. It is a minimalist and unsentimental story of an elusive, larger-than-life character.

Charyn takes poetic liberties with some of the holes in Kosinski's real life. In the novel's first vignette, Kosinski resists Peter Sellers's attempts to play the main character in the film adaptation of Being There, until finally he relents and sees his character taken from him. In another, he dates Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Joseph Stalin, slowly turning her into a character he can use in a story about his liberation at the hands of the Red Army. 

In Jerzy, Kosinski can't seem to forgive himself for using true events as inspiration for his greatest work of fiction. But, in Charyn's hands, Kosinski the man is vindicated, proving that life is itself a work of art. --Josh Potter

Discover: Jerzy is a fast-paced, minimalist exploration of one of 20th century's most elusive literary figures.

Bellevue Literary Press, $16.99, paperback, 240p., 9781942658146

Mystery & Thriller

Follow Me Down

by Sherri Smith

Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) has said having a happy home life is probably why she can explore such dark places in her novels. After reading Sherri Smith's twisted Follow Me Down, one might think Smith's home life is full of joy, too.

Mia Haas gets a call from the police chief of her North Dakota hometown, asking if she's heard from her twin brother, Lucas; he's suspected of murdering one of his high school students and has disappeared. Reeling, Mia rushes home from Chicago to look for him.

From childhood, Lucas had been beloved by everyone in Wayoata, but Mia finds the town has developed a lynch-mob mentality against him, demanding his arrest without any evidence. But there's plenty of vicious gossip, labeling him murderer and rapist and molester of underage girls--including the one who ended up dead. When Mia keeps insisting he's innocent, Wayoata's residents turn against her, too--violently. This doesn't stop her from rooting out the truth, but saving her brother might cost Mia her life.

Smith's first thriller--her previous titles are historical fiction--is deliciously creepy, full of nasty characters and wry observations such as: "They fancied themselves Sex and the City type gals, without the city," and "It said something about the town that the welcome sign was always in some state of defacement while the antiabortion sign remained unscathed." Mia may be flawed, but she's fierce and loyal to Lucas. Smith will likely gain some loyalty, too, from readers who will follow her down whatever dark path she travels next. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A woman returns to her hometown to help locate her twin brother, the missing suspect in a girl's murder.

Forge, $24.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780765386700

A Twist of the Knife

by Becky Masterman

Edgar Award nominee Becky Masterman (Fear the Darkness) knows how to open a novel. In the prologue of A Twist of the Knife, FBI rookie Brigid Quinn witnesses her first live execution by electric chair. It's a ghastly scene, but Brigid isn't against the death penalty--she believes some people "simply need to be put down."

Thirty-five years later, when Brigid--now retired--receives news that her elderly father has been hospitalized in Florida, she returns to her hometown after many years away. While there, she reconnects with former colleague Laura Coleman, who saved Brigid's life on a case they worked together.

Laura is now working as an investigator for a criminal defense lawyer who handles appeals. Her current case involves Marcus Creighton, a man on death row for killing his wife and three children. Laura is certain Creighton is innocent, and though Brigid isn't so sure, she agrees to help Laura dig up info that could stay Creighton's execution. But with five days to go, can they do it in time?

In her third outing, Brigid remains an arresting character. She promises "to tell the truth in these stories... even if it makes me look bad." Au contraire--her bluntness and dry sense of humor make her riveting. Her time spent with family allows readers to learn more about her past, with Brigid discovering painful truths that challenge what she thought she knew about her kin. Twist also examines, without judgment, the limitations of the justice system, and how even when good people do what they believe is right, their actions can bring devastating consequences. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Brigid Quinn and former FBI colleague Laura Coleman attempt to prevent an inmate's execution, while Brigid deals with her ailing father and family secrets.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250074515

Graphic Books

The Damned, Vol. 1: Three Days Dead

by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, Bill Crabtree

Eddie has a secret power granted by a demonic curse: he can come back to life once he's been killed (so long as someone touches him). This makes him a perfect foil for a powerful gangland demon who's looking for a missing courier in a desperate play for peace between the demon's crew and a rival gang. When mob boss Alphonese "Big Al" Aligheri revives Eddie for one last job, it becomes clear that there's more to the game than just drug running and trading in mortal souls. Complicating matters is the fact that Eddie's still in love with his beautiful yet ethically ambiguous ex-girlfriend, especially when her current mob-boss boyfriend becomes a suspect in Eddie's investigation.

Originally published in 2010, The Damned: Three Days Dead has been newly colored by Bill Crabtree. Every page shows off a muted palette that's perfect for a Prohibition-era story about the supernatural and the mob. Graveyards and city streets share the same gray tones, while bursts of color call out important moments.

More than a mere mob and demon tale, Three Days Dead fills in a compelling story with small bits that will entice close readers. Where does Eddie go to when he's dead? Who is following him in the underworld? The final panel of the volume leaves readers wanting more, without a clichéd cliffhanger. The Damned series gets off to a promising start with this first volume. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A Prohibition-era, demon-led mafia trades in human vice and mortal souls in this freshly colored comic.

Oni Press, $9.99, paperback, 152p., 9781620103852

Food & Wine

Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking from New York's West Village

by Maya and Dean Jankelowitz, recipes by Julia Jaksic

As they brainstormed names for their New York City restaurant, Maya and Dean Jankelowitz toyed with calling it "Jack's Wife Freda" in honor of Dean's grandparents, and grandmother in particular. According to Maya, people said no one would invest in their restaurant "with that ridiculous name." But they chose it anyway--and had great success. Now, their cookbook, Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking From New York's West Village, offers a chance to re-create some of their most popular dishes at home, with recipes written by the restaurant's chef, Julia Jaksic.

The dishes reflect flavors Maya and Dean grew up with, Jewish cuisine that draws from both Maya's Israeli background and Dean's South African roots. The recipes are succinct and easy to follow. Gorgeous photos accompany each recipe, and pictures throughout depict the joyful bustle of the restaurant itself. Breakfast hits include a fuchsia Eggs Benny--with beet Hollandaise and latkes in lieu of English muffins--and Rose Water Waffles. The lunch menu offers the seasonally adaptable Maya's Grain Bowl as well as a dill-filled Matzo Ball Soup. The dinner menu boasts perennial favorites like Zucchini Chips, Chicken Livers on Toast and Freda's Fishballs.

Vegetarian options are numerous, and a handful of recipes will please vegans and gluten-free eaters, too. But Jack's Wife Freda is at heart an omnivore's delight, a vibrant mix of ingredients, flavors, textures and cultures. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This cookbook shows how to re-create a popular New York restaurant's beloved Jewish comfort food in your own home.

Blue Rider Press, $30, hardcover, 256p., 9780399574863

Biography & Memoir

My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew

by Abigail Pogrebin

Abigail Pogrebin's casual relationship with Judaism never troubled her until she realized that, despite the wonderful people in her family and the accomplishments she attained, she felt spiritually devoid of purpose. Not having paid much attention previously, she decides to observe all 18 Jewish holidays over the course of a year in hopes of understanding what Judaism has to offer her. She tackles the task eagerly, with an earnest commitment to observe the holidays and study the traditions associated with each beforehand. She speaks to fellow Jews, interviews rabbis, reads the Torah and its commentaries, and tries to participate fully.

Pogrebin's exploration takes her down unexpected paths. She encounters things that lead her to feel conflicted about her own practices, traditions and perceptions. When it comes time to celebrate Hanukkah, for example, she is distressed to learn that in its time of origin, the Jewish people were divided according to what constitutes authentic Judaism, and draws parallels to how the ultra-Orthodox see secular and Reform Jews today. Pogrebin also shares humorous stories, like the time she nearly drove her family mad trying to learn to blow the shofar, a ram's horn that is sounded to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Throughout My Jewish Year, Pogrebin engages candidly with the holidays and traditions, confessing when not every part of the practices come alive for her, noting what resonates, what doesn't and why. In reading this memoir, it becomes apparent how many people around Pogrebin share her search for meaning, a journey other seekers will relate to. --Justus Joseph, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A previously unobservant Jew takes readers through her year of religious observance and finds moving insight and comical disconnections.

Fig Tree Books, $22.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781941493205

Captain Fantastic: Elton John's Stellar Trip Through the '70s

by Tom Doyle

After conducting a series of interviews with Elton John for British music magazine Mojo, Tom Doyle (Man on the Run) realized that he wouldn't have enough space to include some of the best material. Thus, the idea for Captain Fantastic: Elton John's Stellar Trip Through the '70s was born. Based on primary sources, including additional interviews and John's personal diary, this enthralling biography recounts the best and worst of the glam singer's biggest decade.

It opens on Reginald Dwight, the "moon-faced twenty-one-year-old" who would become Elton John, poring over his extensive record collection. Music was a way for the shy but ambitious young man to express his thoughts and feelings to the world. That passion for music led John to team up with Bernie Taupin, a budding lyricist who also felt like an outsider to the hip world of rock 'n' roll. He was "the brother I always wanted," John tells Doyle.

Doyle's biography follows the pair from their first songwriting successes to John's painful engagement to Linda Woodrow and through the singer's late-'70s struggle with drug addiction. Doyle includes anecdotes from friends and family, and fascinating excerpts from John's diary. "Went to the fair with Mick and Pat: I won a coconut and two Goldfish!!" wrote John in 1969. Insights like these help to humanize a celebrity who often seems larger than life.

Well-researched and compassionate, Captain Fantastic is an engaging and moving account of a life lived hard. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor.

Discover: Music writer Tom Doyle offers a fascinating glimpse at Elton John's life in the 1970s.

Ballantine Books, $30, hardcover, 336p., 9781101884188

Political Science

You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen

by Eric Liu

Political tension and uncertainty can produce feelings of helplessness amid injustice and dramatic change. While such thinking is understandable, Eric Liu (A Chinaman's Chance) presents effective strategies for individuals and groups to harness their potential by amplifying their voices and elevating causes.

Defining power as "the capacity to ensure that others do as you would want them to do," Liu focuses You're More Powerful Than You Think not on personal or professional empowerment but on the political. It's an arena he knows well. A former White House speechwriter, policy adviser and deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton for domestic policy, Liu offers a seasoned perspective regarding the influential impact of global campaigns such as Brexit and movements that include, among others, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Feel the Bern and $15 Now in the United States.

Each of these initiatives represent "a moment of citizen power [and] a deeply optimistic surge" with the same three core concepts that ordinary people have adopted throughout history, with positive results. "Because power creates monopolies and is winner-take-all, you must change the game. Power creates a story of why it's legitimate. You must change the story. Power is assumed to be finite and zero-sum. You must change the equation."

Embracing one's power can feel daunting at the onset but becomes achievable through experience, he writes. "True alienation is deadly silent and sullen. The upheaval and ruckus of our times are hopeful at heart. People still believe change is possible." --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: A former White House official explores the psychology of power and how to implement effective strategies to produce meaningful change.

PublicAffairs, $25, hardcover, 256p., 9781610397070

Essays & Criticism

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables

by David Bellos

Since its publication in 1862, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables has been a perennial bestseller, inspiring multiple Hollywood film adaptations and the beloved Broadway musical. Its origins, argues translator and biographer David Bellos, are as compelling as the novel's story of revolution, love and redemption in 19th-century France. In The Novel of the Century, Bellos delves into Hugo's inspiration, his approach to writing and the physical production of Les Mis, while exploring the novel's enduring appeal. As Bellos notes in his introduction, "Most plans to conquer the whole world with a story go awry. Les Misérables is a wonderful exception."

Bellos (Is That a Fish in Your Ear?) divides his book (like Les Mis itself) into five parts, which cover a swath of topics related to the novel: Hugo's personal life; his politics; the historical events that shaped the novel and appear in it (notably the Battle of Waterloo and the uprising of 1832); the novel's evolution over time; and Hugo's monumental effort to get it in shape for publication. Each section ends with an "interlude," a deeper dive into a smaller, quirkier motif: contemporary French systems of coinage and color, the novel's use of "high" and "low" language, even a rumination on the enigmatic inner life of Jean Valjean. This is not a work of textual criticism, but it provides plenty of historical context and cultural insight for readers who love Hugo's story.

Accessible--even breezy--but well researched and informative, The Novel of the Century is a treat for fans of Hugo's masterwork. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Translator and biographer David Bellos explores the origins, historical context and enduring appeal of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780374223236

Children's & Young Adult


by Mal Peet, Meg Rosoff

Mal Peet--British author of the Carnegie Medal-winning Tamar and The Murdstone Trilogy--died in 2015 before he could finish his YA/adult novel Beck. Printz-winning author Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now) completed Peet's novel, but says, "Beck is Mal's book. Like all his work, it's bold and compassionate, unsparing, moving, and joyously, mordantly funny."

On her deathbed in Liverpool in 1918, Beck's mother squeezes her hazel-eyed, brown-skinned son's hand, unaware of the brutal life he'd face. After years in a "dire and loveless" Catholic orphanage, Beck is shipped to a Christian Brotherhood home in Montreal. There, the mixed-race boy the priests disturbingly nickname "Chocolat" is locked in a room with the lascivious, pink-eyed, naked-in-a-bathtub Brother Robert, then caned--and much worse--for violently resisting him. Beck is sent off to work on a remote Ontario farm as slave labor. Bleak, yes, but young adults are likely to see a gleam of hope in the fierce, brave boy who won't let himself be whipped twice. "I fookin' hate 'em," he tells the Home Boys' Society inspector, before fleeing again.

Heading south to the Detroit River, Beck lands in the home of a Prohibition-era bootlegger and his girlfriend, a black couple who, finally, give the young man "the tiniest inkling of the faintest possibility of a life that wasn't simply one hell followed by another...." Down the road, he encounters a half-Scottish, half Siksika (Blackfoot) woman named Grace McAllister, who also makes him feel that "faint possibility"--and much more. Whether a hardened heart can--or should--leave itself vulnerable to love is brilliantly explored in this powerful, beautifully written coming-of-age odyssey. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Mal Peet began this exquisite YA novel about an English orphan shipped off to Canada in the 1920s; after his death, Printz-winning author Meg Rosoff finished it.

Candlewick, $17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 14-adult, 9780763678425

Niko Draws a Feeling

by Bob Raczka, illus. by Simone Shin

Everywhere Niko, a budding artist, looks, he sees something that calls out to be drawn. "It might be a mother bird building her nest. Or the low autumn sun peeking out from behind a cloud. Or the ice cream truck ring-a-linging down the street." Inspired, he draws and draws. But when he shows his pictures--fantastic, abstract scribbles of line and color and shape--to other people, they just don't get it. "What is it?" they ask. "It doesn't look like the ice cream truck." Niko explains: "It's not the ice cream truck.... It's the ring-a-ling." They ask, "Where's the bell?" Patiently, Niko repeats: "It's not the bell. It's the ring-a-ling." Discouraged, Niko seems ready to retreat into himself when he meets the new girl next door, who turns out to be a kindred spirit, one who experiences his art, rather than trying to pigeonhole it.

The creative process is clearly near and dear to the hearts of Bob Raczka (Fall Mixed Up; Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems) and Simone Shin (If I Could Drive, Mama). In Niko Draws a Feeling, Raczka provides possibly the best description of artistic inspiration ever: "[I]t felt like a window opening in his brain. An idea would flit through the open window like a butterfly, flutter down to his stomach, then along his arm and fingers to his pencils, where it would escape onto his paper in a whirlwind of color." Shin's mixed-media, digital and acrylic artwork wonderfully captures the passion and poignance of a misunderstood artist. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this sensitive picture book, no one understands the abstract work of a young artist until he meets a new friend.

Carolrhoda Books, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-9, 9781467798433

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