Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Harper: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

From My Shelf

Harlots, Hell and Hope

I've been in a book club for 17 years--a group of dear friends who meet once a week to discuss religious books, a chapter at a time. We drink wine and laugh a lot; we share joys and heartbreak. We've been on a spiritual journey, although we didn't expect the trajectory it's taken when we began. Over the years, as we read--Frederick Buechner, St. Teresa of Avila, Barbara Brown Taylor, Philip Yancey, Phyllis Tickle, Richard Rohr--we grew, diving into areas previously unexplored (or ignored). We recently began jumping off the cliff of accepted theology with Love Wins (Harper One, $15.99) by Rob Bell, whose discourse (heretical to some) on hell and a loving God is hopeful and compelling. Then we tackled Brian D. McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity (Harper One, $14.99), which reassesses the biblical narrative as dynamic and progressive rather than static in the Greco-Roman thinking that's been the Western norm.

Bell and McLaren dig deeply into the political and social contexts of the Bible, as does Jonathan Kirsch in The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible (Ballantine, $18). He brings Dinah, Tamar, Zipporah, Lot's daughters and more to life, using rabbinical writings and archeology to uncover depths of meaning even an attentive read of the Old Testament might not uncover. We are now reading Bell's What Is the Bible? (Harper One, $27.99), which elicits numerous "Whaaaat?" moments (which he loves to do). The best chapter (so far) is "Who Paid Jesus's Bills?" Women, that's who, particularly Joanna (ironically, the wife of Herod's household manager). Or maybe the chapter about what Jesus wrote in the dust, and why. The beauty of these books is that they bring you both the forest and the trees, and reframe stories we think we know, but don't. --Marilyn Dahl

Thomas Nelson: A Very Dinosaur Birthday by Adam Wallace, illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

Book Candy

Literary Characters' Last Meals

The "last meals of famous literary characters" were served up by Quirk Books.


"Which book perfectly matches your personality?" Buzzfeed asked.


Mental Floss explored "how an early female travel writer became an immunization pioneer."


Electric Lit punched in at "the 12 worst workplaces in contemporary literature."


"20 Quirks & Strange Habits. The Weird Side of Famous Writers" is a new infographic created by Jack Milgram.


Steven Pinker recommended "books to make you an optimist" for the Guardian.

Chronicle Books: Oh No, the Aunts Are Here by Adam Rex, illustrated by Lian Cho

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Group

The Group by Mary McCarthy is, in essence, the original Sex and the City. McCarthy's 1954 novel follows eight Vassar College alumnae in 1930s New York City, beginning with one of them getting married in 1933 and ending with her funeral in 1940. These women struggle for independence in an era of suffocating social expectations. Each chapter contends with some major issue, from relationship troubles, financial problems and child-rearing to workplace sexism. Most of the group's obstacles stem from the men in their lives, either husbands, employers, fathers or lovers. Their stories are at once time capsules and relevant reminders of hierarchical structures still not fully flattened.

Mary McCarthy (1912-1989) was orphaned at an early age by the 1918 flu pandemic. For a time, she and her brothers were raised by abusive Catholic grandparents in Minnesota, before being taken in by liberal grandparents in Washington State. She graduated from Vassar in 1933, became a socialist while working as a critic in New York City and remarried several times--autobiographical details that all appear in The Group. The 1963 edition of The Group remained on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. It was also adapted into a 1966 film directed by Sidney Lumet. When Candace Bushnell was asked to create a modern take on The Group, she wrote the first essays that would become the Sex and the City book, TV show and movies. The Group was last published in 1991 by Mariner Books (9780156372084). --Tobias Mutter

Running Press Kids: Nerdcrush by Alisha Emrich


A Different Approach to Story Time

Megan Dowd Lambert is an author, reviewer and professor of Children's Literature at Simmons College. Her book, Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See (Charlesbridge), developed in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, is a practical guide for caretakers on how to read picture books with children. She lives with her husband and seven children in western Massachusetts.

Reading Picture Books with Children introduces the Whole Book Approach, a story time model I developed in association with the Carle Museum that aims to engage children with the picture book as a visual art form. I don't think of the Whole Book Approach as the best or only way to lead story time; instead, I present it as an approach to shared reading that centers children's ideas and questions while fostering critical thinking about how picture book text, design and illustration combine to tell stories and convey information.

There are different story time approaches that all have different goals, and adults should consider this when thinking about how they share picture books with children--whether at home, in libraries or classrooms, or elsewhere. The Whole Book Approach is a means of reading with children, as opposed to reading to children; it has the adult lead story time not as a storyteller giving a performance, but as the conduit through which children receive picture books and as the facilitator of discussions that emerge from that reception.

This means I center children's ideas and questions so that their voices become as important in the shared reading as the text is, and their interpretations take precedence over my own. I don't ask them to wait until the end of the book to speak. I don't steer conversation toward an acceptance of a theme or interpretation that I've predetermined. Instead, I ask open-ended questions (many inspired by Visual Thinking Strategies and Dialogic Reading techniques) to prompt children to read pictures and reflect on design. I welcome spontaneous responses, too. I also often ask children to engage in metacognition--to think about their thinking and provide evidence to support their ideas. This is a cornerstone of critical thinking, since it's one thing to say what you think and quite another to say why you think what you do.

How do I do this? I use the picture book as a whole--its text, art and design elements like the jacket, endpapers, front matter and layout choices--to prompt children's responses and to ground their spontaneous remarks. And, yes, I do incorporate the above book terminology into story time. If three-year-olds can name dozens of dinosaurs, why not provide them with vocabulary like endpapers or gutter and instill a sense of entitlement to, and appreciation of, the physical book? This seems especially important in the digital age, since many picture book design elements don't translate well, or at all, onto e-platforms.

"Endpapers give us clues," I might say. "What do you see happening on these endpapers that could be a clue about the story we're going to read?"

Or I might hold up two picture books and ask kids to consider why one has a portrait (vertical) layout and one a landscape (horizontal) layout. Once I did just this at the Carle with Ludwig Bemelmans's Madeline and Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and a child exclaimed, "That book [Madeline] is so tall because of the... heightful tower!"

I developed the Whole Book Approach as a way of getting kids to talk about art and design, but by making it clear that their thoughts and ideas were important to me, things that were important to them started bubbling to the surface during our discussions. In my experience, children usually first comment on characters, rather than setting elements like the "heightful" Eiffel Tower that dominates Madeline's jacket art. And, time and again, I've found that what might be regarded as the democratizing impact of the Whole Book Approach, or the shifting of power from the adult reader to child readers, can empower them to critically engage with picture book characterization.

When this happens, the Whole Book Approach's focus on art and design can give way to, or become entwined with, ideological discussions about representations of race, gender, class and other aspects of identity. I've led story times in which kids have interrogated what they saw as a false racial opposition between characters in Chris Raschka's Yo! Yes?; examined class inequities and gender dynamics at play in Molly Bang's wordless picture book The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher; embraced Bryan Collier's work with visual metaphors to illuminate the struggle against racism in Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and applauded the depiction of a nurturing, black father-figure in Adam Rex and Christian Robinson's School's First Day of School. Each of these instances, and many more, have reinforced my conviction that we do a disservice to children and to ourselves when we underestimate their capacity to engage in critical conversations.

No matter what story time discussions end up addressing, the key to all this Whole Book Approach work is to keep it child-centered and engaging, even playful. I never want story time to feel like a test, nor to allow inquiry into art, design and text to undermine reading pleasure. But, I reject the notion that critical thinking opposes or eliminates enjoyment. Perhaps story time-as-book-discussion (reading with children) offers a different kind of pleasure than does story time-as-performance (reading to children). But when kids have "aha" moments, or when they boldly read against texts, or when they listen to others' responses and get to know a book they love a little better, the delight they experience is just as real as the pleasure of getting blissfully lost in story. There's room for both kinds of reading experiences at story time, as surely as there's room for the picture book as an art form to not only survive, but thrive, in the digital age. --Megan Dowd Lambert

Book Review


Only Child

by Rhiannon Navin

Rhiannon Navin's poignant and powerful debut novel, Only Child, explores the aftermath of a school shooting from the eye-opening perspective of a child.

Six-year-old Zach Taylor is crouching inside a dark closet with his first-grade teacher and classmates, listening to the "pop pop pop" sounds of a gunman out in the hallway. Hours later, Zach and his mom and dad find out that 19 children and adults have been killed by a disturbed young man, setting off a period of intense sorrow in their family and their community. The father disappears into his work, while the mother is distracted by revenge against the parents of the shooter. Though he has other family members around, Zach is mostly left on his own to deal with the emotional fallout, struggling with mixed-up emotions: "I never knew you could feel more than one feeling inside of you at the same time."

Zach's observations of his parents and the wider world provide an illuminating perspective on the tragedy. He sees everything in a straightforward way, without the complexities of adult thinking, though it is also often confusing and contradictory to him. With his stuffed giraffe, Clancy, his collection of Magic Tree House books for advice and his new hideout, Zach struggles to come to terms with what happened.

Navin makes this unfathomable loss more comprehensible through Zach's eyes. The narrative is both gripping and heartbreaking--and ultimately uplifting--as Zach clumsily finds his way to moving forward, bringing his parents along with him. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: A timely and moving story of a school shooting and its aftermath, as seen through the innocent eyes of a six-year-old boy.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781524733353

Only Killers and Thieves

by Paul Howarth

The McBride brothers, Billy and Tommy, live with their parents and younger sister on a cattle ranch in Queensland, Australia. It hasn't rained for more than a year, the cows are dying and there's hardly any food left in the house. Then, it rains, a blessing for everyone--until tragedy strikes the homestead, a scenario that leaves the brothers turning to the one man their father has always distrusted and disliked, John Sullivan, the local land baron.

Set in 1885, Paul Howarth's debut novel Only Killers and Thieves is the complex story of the McBride brothers, both on the verge of manhood. Overnight they must grow into men when they witness the tragedy, and then navigate its aftermath. Howarth tells the story primarily from the perspective of Tommy, the younger brother, who struggles with doing what he knows is right or doing what is expected of him by his brother and the older men they fall in with. The racial tension between the Aboriginal peoples and the white settlers who have claimed the land for their own purposes is visceral. The imagery the author uses is both brutal and beautiful. Howarth pulls no punches in describing the white settlers' cruelty toward Indigenous peoples--reminiscent of early American pioneers and their dealings with Native Americans. The effects of Tommy's actions haunt him long after the deeds are done, just as this story lingers in the mind long after the book is closed. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A harsh landscape and brutal actions in Queensland, Australia, drastically change a boy on the edge of adulthood.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062690968

The Amazing Mr. Morality

by Jacob M. Appel

Every one of the short stories in Jacob M. Appel's The Amazing Mr. Morality hinges on a choice, most often ethical. The first story, "The Children's Lottery," follows a terrifying selection process where children are chosen to live with pedophiles while their teachers look on helplessly. In the titular novella, a young doctor rediscovers the man who abused him and his mother during childhood, and has the chance for revenge. And in the most tragic story, "Right of Way," a squabble over renaming a street forces a tween to face what he owes his hometown and his family.

Each time, the main character is called to choose, sometimes with obvious ramifications. What makes The Amazing Mr. Morality so delectable is that these characters rarely make the "right" choice. The stories collected here aren't morality plays, with Appel serving judgment on his character's actions through the resolutions to his tales (though a couple of them might get served with poetic justice). Instead, the author is interested in watching the ripple effects of when everyday people break bad: What are the unforeseen consequences for the health of a community when one person decides to stray from the common good? That's where these stories get interesting, especially "Right of Way," the standout story and one which most rigorously follows Appel's ethical experiments to their logical conclusion. The wrongdoers aren't always punished (or rewarded), but someone around them is. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Jacob M. Appel's collection of short stories, The Amazing Mr. Morality, showcases what happens when people break bad.

Vandalia Press, $18.99, paperback, 180p., 9781946684042

Mystery & Thriller

Force of Nature

by Jane Harper

Australian Jane Harper took the mystery genre by storm with her 2017 debut, The Dry, which won numerous awards and is being made into a motion picture. With Force of Nature, the stellar second entry in her Federal Agent Aaron Falk series, Harper has swerved about as far around a sophomore slump as one can get.

The briefest dip into the prologue results in stomach-tightening anticipation that begs the reader to continue: "Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you." Alice's failure to make the rendezvous point following a corporate retreat in the vast Giralang Ranges outside Melbourne--"land that was reluctant to let anything escape"--is of keen interest to Falk and his new partner. Alice is the key to their high-pressure investigation into her employer's possible money-laundering.

Still smarting from the events of The Dry, Falk heads to the dense forest to observe the search and to interview the co-workers who returned without Alice, each with his or her own version of events. Although Falk is mostly outside the hunt and remains enigmatic, Harper skillfully uses him and retreat-participant flashbacks as perfect story lenses. She infuses the narrative with energy and atmosphere as Falk plumbs professional and personal relationships for clues to Alice's fate. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A federal agent discovers that the key to the disappearance of a corporate retreat participant may lie in the intertwined pasts of her and her co-workers.

Flatiron Books, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250105639

A Death in Live Oak

by James Grippando

Few places in the United States evoke as much mystery and potential for danger as Florida's muggy, alligator-ridden swamplands, which is where James Grippando has set his latest legal thriller, A Death in Live Oak. Brimming with tension, this whip-smart novel brings back Jack Swyteck, a criminal defense attorney from Miami with a record of just barely escaping disbarment. This is Grippando's 14th Swyteck novel, but his work shows no sign of easing off the suspense.

In this installment, Swyteck is asked by a white, well-to-do Gainesville family to represent their frat-boy son, Mark, who's been convicted of a murder so heinous it's causing national riots: the lynching of a black college student on a bank of the Suwannee River. Swyteck has never shied away from representing guilty defendants and, at first, he's not entirely sure that his latest client is innocent. But the more he learns about Mark and his family, the more he starts to believe that they might be part of a much larger and more complicated story that goes back decades.

Moving to and fro in time, A Death in Live Oak presents a fast-paced, tautly written story of race, love and justice that speaks to the contemporary moment--while eschewing expectations at every turn. Indeed, it's a novel that will keep even the savviest fans of legal thrillers guessing throughout. Smart, complex and of-the-moment, A Death in Live Oak is the product of an author with a powerful imagination and a finger on the political pulse of a nation. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This smart legal thriller about race and justice will keep readers guessing until the end.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062657800

Biography & Memoir

Boys Keep Swinging

by Jake Shears

Long before starring as Charlie Price in Broadway's 2018 production of Kinky Boots and prior to fronting the bombshell rock band Scissor Sisters, Jake Shears was a scrawny kid from Arizona who answered to the name Jason Sellards. His road to stardom was a rocky path that required no small amount of confidence and determination. Fortunately for Shears, he was born with a knack for both.

Boys Keep Swinging opens with a thoroughly endearing portrait of young Jason, oozing showmanship at every turn. His fate is sealed, though, on the day of his fourth-grade tap performance debut, when his pet rabbit dies and he must dance through the pain. Later, Shears finds an accidental mentor in relationship expert Dan Savage--who, with his husband, looked after teenaged Jason once he came out to his Christian parents--and an eventual champion for his music in Elton John. Chasing dreams from Seattle to New York City, and then worldwide, Shears displays an admirable, if grueling, sense of commitment to performing. His passion, though, comes with its share of sacrifices: broken friendships, burnt bridges and a looming depression also populate the glamorous Oz of stardom.

Scissor Sisters fans will need to look elsewhere for the group's career arc beyond their irresistible 2006 single "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'." What Shears presents instead is an exhilarating yet poignant account of one boy taking flight. And he is just as clever a narrator as he is a lyricist, keenly sketching the gay bars and nightclubs that fostered the electroclash scene in which the band spawned. Boys Keep Swinging is an absolute joy, even for those who don't feel like dancing. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears charts the emotionally fraught course he took from humble beginnings to the international stage.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781501140129

In the Presence of Greatness: My Sixty-Year Journey as an Actress

by Patty Duke, William J. Jankowski

Shortly before her death in 2016 at age 69, actress Patty Duke (with coauthor William J. Jankowski) surveyed her six-decade career on TV, film and stage and produced In the Presence of Greatness. It is a delightful, engaging and upbeat salute to the talented people with whom she worked. "Some of this book is going to sound like I lived an enchanted life, but when I went to work, I often did," writes Duke.

When 16-year-old Duke won an Academy Award re-creating her Broadway performance of Helen Keller in the film The Miracle Worker, she had already co-starred with Richard Burton, Kim Stanley, Laurence Olivier, Helen Hayes, David Niven and Gloria Vanderbilt (who provides the book's heartfelt foreword, calling Duke "the daughter I never had."). Although this memoir focuses on her career with incisive, thoughtful and revealing anecdotes about her coworkers, there is plenty of juicy details about her personal life, including her romantic relationships (dating both Frank Sinatra and his son), a suicide attempt and her battles with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. This is an essential follow-up to her 1987 autobiography Call Me Anna. She corrects misinformation from her earlier book (John Astin is not the father of her son Sean Astin) and revises old perspectives (she learned to embrace Valley of the Dolls and devotes six chapters to the creation of this camp classic).

Patty Duke was a dazzling talent who never stopped working. Her insightful reflections on her 60-year career and coworkers will be catnip to movie buffs. This photo-filled book is a total delight. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Patty Duke's upbeat, insightful and delightful reflections on six decades of costars and coworkers is an irresistible treat for movie buffs.

BearManor Media, $25, paperback, 348p., 9781629332352


The Source: How Rivers Made America and America Remade Its Rivers

by Martin Doyle

Rivers have inspired many a song verse--including Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene" and Robeson's sensitive rendition of Kern and Hammerstein's "Ol' Man River." To Duke University environmental science professor Martin Doyle, however, the country's bountiful rivers shaped the very history, government and economics of the U.S. from its very beginnings. George Washington went surveying out west to look for an easy way to connect the East Coast rivers with the fertile Ohio River Valley. Since then, the nation's 250,000 navigable rivers have powered engines of commerce, migration and leisure. Doyle's illustrated The Source affirms the critical place rivers held in the growth of the country and the valuable role of federal oversight of this rich resource.

New York's Ohio and Erie Canal was the first successful commercial attempt to modify topography by connecting the Hudson River to the Ohio River. From there, the government's controversial role in "channelizing" and managing our inland waters greatly expanded with the establishment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the construction of miles of levees along the Mississippi River and public works projects like the Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Drawing on anecdotal interviews and primary research, The Source covers them all. It is both a solid history and a thought-provoking primer on the role of the federal government in managing natural resources. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In an engaging narrative history, Martin Doyle explores the role of rivers in the growth of the United States and the role of the federal government in overseeing those rivers.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 352p., 9780393242355

Social Science

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

by Elizabeth Catte

Tennessee native Elizabeth Catte gets to the point: popular discourse is wrong about the "who" and the "where" of Appalachia. The United States' current fixation with the region as "the other America" and "the heart of Trump country" distorts the facts and, in her brief book, Catte maintains that the diversity and travails of the people of this region defy the stereotype.

What you are getting wrong about Appalachia, Catte claims, includes the naïve belief that it's primarily West Virginia. Appalachia was officially defined during 1965's federal War on Poverty and includes about 700,000 square miles in 13 states--and was branded as impoverished. While mainstream culture portrays Appalachians as Scots-Irish coal miners, the region's forgotten workers include home healthcare and retail employees, mostly women, and significant Hispanic and African American populations. Economic exploitation (e.g., environmental destruction) and corporate welfare (e.g., tax breaks to big businesses) are well-documented.

Catte's challenges to J.D. Vance and his memoir Hillbilly Elegy start on page one and recur frequently. She characterizes his book, now widely embraced and assigned in classrooms, as "our political moment's favorite text," and Vance as "chief analyzer of the white working class." Her doctorate in public history supports her documentation countering Elegy and other popular media images. Her targets run from "local color" writers and photographers who perpetuated 1880s-era cultural stereotypes through multiple media outlets' broad characterizations of "Trump Country." Highlighting decades of suppressed workers' rights movements, as well as prison facilities that still exploit low-cost labor, Catte expands the perspective on Appalachia. Readers will indeed get more right about this slice of the country after reading her book. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: The people of Appalachia have a much richer culture than the stereotypes used to characterize them as members of "Trump country."

Belt Publishing, $16.95, paperback, 150p., 9780998904146


The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain's Potential

by David Adam

The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain's Potential by British journalist David Adam explores the neuroscience revolution igniting the global scientific community. Cognitive enhancement, in the form of pills, therapy and electrical stimulation, is increasingly relevant in a world where one quarter of the population struggles with some sort of mental disorder. Adam was inspired to research the field after undergoing successful cognitive behavioral therapy to treat his severe OCD (which he wrote about in The Man Who Couldn't Stop). The therapy helped rewire his brain and, much to his astonishment, led to improvements outside his original concern.

Beyond treatment, there are people who try cognitive enhancement for the additional brain boost or mental upgrade it provides. Some turn to ethically dubious "smart" pills, while others experiment with deep electrical brain stimulation--which can activate and release knowledge and behavior from the subconscious mind. Adam compares it with a potential side effect of brain injury, as when a blow to the head causes a person suddenly to develop astute recall skills. In the name of scientific research, Adam experiments with pills and subjects himself to amateur electrical stimulation, sharing the results with a healthy dose of caution.

Adam's approachable and mild-mannered tone, entertaining historical anecdotes and thorough command of the field make this a compelling investigation. It's a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the future of dementia and mental illness treatment. After all, if the performance of one's heart can be improved by medical intervention, then why not one's brain? There is much to admire in Adam's continued effort to investigate ways in which people with mental disorders might gain relief. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: An entertaining and informative account of cognitive enhancement techniques to treat mental disorders and boost brain power.

Pegasus Books, $27.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781681776743

Children's & Young Adult

The Digger and the Flower

by Joseph Kuefler

A crane, a dozer and a digger watch the sun come up. It's "morning and the big trucks [are] ready to work." Bright red Crane hoists; bold orange Dozer pushes; and sunshine yellow Digger digs. Where before there was only flat, black-and-white pixelated ground and a blank white sky, "[t]ogether," they are building "tall buildings for working." A city grows up around them, the three trucks the only pops of color in the gray-scaled world.

Crane and Dozer take a break, exhausted from the day's building, but Digger has "found something in the rubble." A tiny blue and green flower has popped up, another splash of color in the otherwise monochromatic world. Digger is immediately enamored with the fragile plant and begins to visit it every day while the other big trucks build. What had been the tiniest of flowers grows under Digger's gentle care. But so does the city. Soon, "every space ha[s] been filled." Every space, that is, "but one." Before Digger can protest, Dozer cuts down the flower. On the page turn, despondent Digger is shown surrounded by a cloud of black exhaust, holding the dead flower. When the smoke clears, though, Digger sees something: "Little seeds."

Author/illustrator Jason Kuefler's The Digger and the Flower is a tender story, showing that even when life is unfair, there are plenty of reasons to keep on trying. Digger may have lost his tiny city flower but he takes his seeds to "a place no big truck ha[s] ever been," and plants them there. They bloom strong and hopeful, brightly colored against their lush, green background, and the final page shows them ever-so-slowly encroaching upon the city's space. A gentle story with charming illustrations, The Digger and the Flower is sure to win any reader's heart. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor

Discover: Digger the truck discovers a flower and tries to protect it from the ever-growing city.

Balzer + Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9780062424334

The Traitor's Game

by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Kestra was raised as a privileged child of the Dallisors, a clan that holds its power through the patronage of the foul Lord Endrick and his magic. As a member of the ruling class, she hasn't always learned to think about others: "It wasn't my fault," she says, justifying a prank that drove her handmaid away. "I was bored." But Kestra is no ordinary spoiled princess. The 16-year-old has spent three years in happy exile avoiding her cold father and learning to fight. On her way to the compound, in response to a summons from her father, Kestra is captured by rebels who force her to help them with a plot against her family--a plot that will likely get her killed. Kestra's rebel guards don't make her situation any easier. Trina is a hothead who loathes Kestra on principle, while Simon was Kestra's servant and childhood friend--until she got him banished to the dungeons.

Jennifer A. Nielsen (Mark of the Thief; the Ascendance trilogy) whips up an edge-of-your-seat plot in this opening volume to a trilogy. As in Nielsen's other work, no one is quite who they seem to be, and many of the best plot twists are tied to learning a new aspect of a character. Kestra in particular is tested as she realizes that her family may not be the good guys she had assumed them to be. Kestra's narration is shared with Simon, allowing Nielsen to give a broader perspective even while hiding information from the reader. It's sheer pleasure to watch Trina, Simon and Kestra scheme by turns to help and to hinder each other in this classic adventure with a little something extra. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright

Discover: The Traitor's Game is intrigue and adventure with a bold heroine, some forbidden romance and plenty of twists along the way.

Scholastic Press, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9781338045376

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