Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 29, 2019


Other Press (NY): Nvk by Temple Drake

From My Shelf

Avid Reader Press: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Magination Press: Red Yellow Blue by Lysa Mullady, illustrated by Laurent Simon

Native America's Overlooked History

As Native American Heritage Month draws to a close, here are four nonfiction books that help to illuminate the all too frequently overlooked history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Vintage, $18), Charles C. Mann offers a sweeping survey of what scholars have learned about the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Ranging from the Incan Empire and the peoples of the Amazon basin to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and the mound builders of Cahokia, 1491 challenges many of the myths that Americans learn about what the Western Hemisphere was like.

West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 (Norton, $16.95) is historian Claudio Saunt's look at what else was happening on the North American continent in the year that the United States of America declared its independence. While the Revolutionary War was being fought, the Spanish first arrived in what would become San Francisco, Russian fur trappers scoured the Alaskan coast and the Sioux discovered the Black Hills.

Since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990, hundreds of tribes have used it to help them recover from museums and cultural institutions not only sacred objects but also human remains. In Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture (University of Chicago, $18.99), Chip Colwell discusses the history of the repatriation movement, as well as past and present struggles over specific artifacts and remains.

Published earlier this month, David Treuer's The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present (Riverhead, $17), challenges the misguided notion that Native American history ended following the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. Treuer (Rez Life) discusses not only his own upbringing as an Ojibwe living on a reservation in Minnesota but also how Native Americans adapted, survived and resisted during times of great upheaval and in the face of racism and oppression. --Alex Mutter


Rp Minis: Cats on Catnip: A Grow-Your-Own Catnip Kit by Andrew Marttila


Book Candy

Subtitle Quiz

Pop quiz: "Can you guess the book by the subtitle?" Mental Floss challenged.

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Open Culture invited font nerds to "Download Hellvetica, a font that makes the elegant spacing of Helvetica look as ugly as possible."

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"In the old city of Baku, Azerbaijan, resides the only museum in the world dedicated to miniature editions of books," Atlas Obscura noted.

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More than 160 "extraordinary" letters between Ian Fleming and his wife, Ann, will be sold at auction next month by Sotheby's, the Guardian reported.

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Vintage books were discovered inside the walls of the flood-damaged Salt Lake City Public Library.


Ingram: Books Make Great Gifts - Take a Look!


Great Reads

Rediscover: Gahan Wilson

Cartoonist, illustrator and author Gahan Wilson died last week at age 89. His "outlandish, often ghoulish cartoons added a bizarrely humorous touch to Playboy, the New Yorker, National Lampoon and other publications in the era when magazines propelled the cultural conversation," said the New York Times. Several collections of Wilson's work have been published, including Nuts: A Graphic Novel; Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics; Is Nothing Sacred?; and The Man in the Cannibal Pot. He also wrote and illustrated a number of children's books, as well as two mystery novels (Eddy Deco's Last Caper, Everybody's Favorite Duck) for adults.

"Some cartoonists can be good by having jokes, gags, and they're funny gags," New Yorker editor David Remnick observed in Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird, a 2013 documentary directed by Steven-Charles Jaffe. "The really great ones develop a private language, a set of characters, a set of expectations, a world. Gahan Wilson developed a world."

"Gahan Wilson is dead. I'd make a joke about it, but nobody joked ever about Death as well as Gahan, or, I suspect, for as long," Neil Gaiman wrote on his website, where he shared his introduction for Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons. Wilson's most recent collection, Gahan Wilson's Out There, is available from Fantagraphics ($29.99, 9781606998458).


Justice Studios: Ultrasquad Novels by Julia Devillers and Ronald Raymond Wells Jr, illustrated by Rafael Rosado


The Writer's Life

Reading with... Jaquira Díaz

photo: Maria Esquinca

Jaquira Díaz is the author of Ordinary Girls (Algonquin Books), a Summer/Fall 2019 Indies Introduce selection. Her work has been published in Rolling Stone, the Guardian, Longreads, the Fader and T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and included in The Best American Essays 2016. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, an Elizabeth George Foundation grant and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Kenyon Review and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. She lives in Miami Beach, Fla., with her partner, the writer Lars Horn.

On your nightstand now:

I just started Everywhere You Don't Belong, Gabriel Bump's debut novel, which is funny and heartbreaking and poignant, about a young black man from the South Side of Chicago who is learning to navigate what it means to be a black man in the world. Also, Maaza Mengiste's second novel, The Shadow King, an intricate and devastating book. I loved her first book, Beneath the Lion's Gaze, and I went back and re-read that one before picking this one up.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My favorite books (when I was about nine or 10) were Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I read these again and again, obsessively. Later, when I fell in love with horror, it was Stephen King's It. I was fascinated with this idea of kids running around fighting a demon clown who lived in the sewers. And then I discovered Shirley Jackson--The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. She was an evil genius and I adored her.

Your top five authors:

Octavia Butler. Toni Morrison. Sandra Cisneros. Julia Alvarez. Shirley Jackson.

Book you've faked reading:

Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I had to take a Hemingway class in grad school, and halfway through the course, I gave up. After reading about 20 of his short stories and A Farewell to Arms, I decided I couldn't read another word. I got an A- in the course. Still don't regret it.  

Book you're an evangelist for:

Keith S. Wilson's Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love, which is brilliant. This book is a marvel. Keith is one of my favorite poets. He examines love and race and power and the universe and masculinity and pigeons. Yes. Pigeons. Get this book!

T Kira Madden's Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. This book is heartbreaking and funny and honest. T Kira Madden writes about family and friendship, about grief, about how girls are vulnerable, and manages to do it with grace and generosity.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I first read Hanif Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us on my iPad and loved it. But the book still called out to me whenever I passed it on a shelf. Eventually I picked up a copy at Books & Books and read the whole thing from cover to cover in one sitting. It's even better when you can cradle it in your arms.

Book you hid from your parents:

My diaries.

Book that changed your life:

Hugo Margenat's Obras Completas. This was my father's book. He used to read it to me when I was little. It was the first time I encountered poetry, my first time reading something that felt expansive, important. It made me want to write. Eventually it became mine--I snatched it from him as a kid and never gave it back. I used to stay up late reading it, imagining myself a writer. I still have it on a shelf.

Favorite line from a book:

"When we were twelve we taught ourselves to fly," from John Murrillo's Up Jump the Boogie.

Five books you'll never part with:

Hugo Margenat's Obras Completas, obviously.

Toni Morrison's Beloved, which changed the way I thought about reading and writing and stories and what fiction can do.

John Murillo's Up Jump the Boogie. I'm not a poet, but this book also changed me. In these poems, I found my neighborhood, my friends, our music, our culture, our experiences. These poems changed everything I thought I knew about writing. They made me listen. They made me sing.

Keith S. Wilson's Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love. I already mentioned how much I love this book. Also, pigeons!

In the Shadow of the American Dream: The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz. This book is so beautiful you often forget you're reading Wojnarowicz's diaries. But also, the book was a gift from my partner, Lars, who gave it to me with my engagement ring the morning they proposed.

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

Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Books you're most excited to read:

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's forthcoming essay collection
Kristen Arnett's Mostly Dead Things
Carina del Valle Schorske's upcoming essay collection on Puerto Rico
Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House
The World Doesn't Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott
Dominicana by Angie Cruz


Book Review

Fiction

Girl, Woman, Other

by Bernardine Evaristo


Accomplished Anglo-Nigerian writer Bernardine Evaristo (Mr. Loverman) won the 2019 Booker Prize for this marvelous epic of black womanhood and queer identity in Britain. Girl, Woman, Other is a sprawling narrative that orbits the opening night at London's National Theatre for The Last Amazon of Dahomey, the breakout play by longsuffering lesbian playwright Amma Bonsu. Amid this triumph, 11 other female and nonbinary characters form a chorus line of intersecting lives shaped by years of racial and gendered progress. Amma's daughter, Yazz, a college student, is proud of her mother, although Yazz is embarrassed by the outrageous ensembles Amma wears, and they splash each other's waves of feminism.

These clashes in outlook and ideology slip and slide throughout the rapid-fire, interlocking stories of dynamic, ambitious people like Amma's best friend and fellow radical, Dominique, and Yazz's guest lecturer, Morgan. Blackness, womanhood, queerness--these concepts become simultaneously clearer and more individualized as the novel progresses, and as each character's circumstance is cemented in time, reaching back generations to Morgan's great- and great-great-grandmothers. Evaristo maintains an assured and graceful hand, though, never faltering in her ever-widening scope. And where social issues could grow prickly, Evaristo turns around with disarming generosity and good faith.

Her novel bursts with the joys and heartaches of seeking and finding one's community and place of belonging. (The indulgent descriptions of food are enough to lift readers' spirits!) Like The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Girl, Woman, Other gauges progress with a wide generational lens, converging back on itself with a measured sense of satisfaction and expectation for what lies ahead. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Bernardine Evaristo follows the splendors and agonies of 12 lives invested in black, queer and female progress in this magnificent, fast-paced epic.

Black Cat/Grove, $17, paperback, 464p., 9780802156983

The Usual Uncertainties

by Jonathan Blum


Reading Jonathan Blum's rhythmic short story collection, The Usual Uncertainties, is a bit like being asked to stare into a row of windows across the street. The strangers inside can't be reached, nor understood, but they can be seen. Readers are invited to watch, perhaps even voyeuristically, the private, intimate, whimsical, bizarre and at times crushingly sad ways humans attempt to love one another--and often fail to do so. The characters in Blum's work try to see one another, too, despite their typically deep divisions (and doubts). Sometimes the characters succeed in connecting with one another. Often they do not.

In the first few pages, a doctor makes rounds at the hospital with his son, who gradually learns how to identify cancer--and understand the power of memory--as he meets his father's patients. Next, a stepson begins a sexual relationship with his stepsister as their parents' marriage falls apart. A Jewish high-end watchmaker falls in love with a Thai casino worker, whom he struggles to trust despite his declarations of passion. Sometimes taking the form of letters, vignettes or even transcriptions, Blum's stories are creative and carefully sewn together, if tough to chew on. They frequently speak to Blum's own experience as a Jewish man growing up in Miami before relocating to Los Angeles.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, Blum creates rich characters who are hard to pin down. Yet they share a common struggle: to connect in a world where connection is fraught. For this reason, these open-ended stories deserve more than one long, thoughtful look. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: This short story collection is a complex experiment with form and function, featuring lovers and families struggling to connect despite differences.

Rescue Press, $18, paperback, 344p., 9780999418659

Mystery & Thriller

Twelve Nights at Rotter House

by J.W. Ocker


During the titular 12 nights at the deserted, haunted Rotterdam Mansion, nothing is as it seems, even for the jaded expectations of horror geeks like Felix Allsey and Thomas Ruth. Felix, a travel writer starting what may be his last book at the notorious Rotter House, has invited Thomas to join him there in order to repair their damaged friendship. They debate the paranormal and discuss movies, as they usually do, until things start to go very wrong. Thomas is convinced of the superstitious happenings while Felix isn't so sure; in the process they remember their shameful past. The two men discover that while Rotter House is indeed a dark place, this is a horror story of their own making.

J.W. Ocker's (author of the Edgar-winning Poe-Land) meta-thriller is tailor-made for an age where genre tropes have been repeatedly ripped apart then put back together. He depicts the obsessions of his nerd characters with great strength,in part because he balances real affection for them with an author's sense of clarity. The tension of the book is in understanding a situation and still becoming helpless in its grasp. And though the final act doesn't quite work in comparison to the preceding pages, this is still a gripping novel with a superb understanding of how slowly to unravel a mystery while playing with the narrative. Fans of Ocker's travel writing and other work will not want to miss his distinctive voice in Twelve Nights. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer

Discover: Twelve Nights at Rotter House is an engrossing, chilling thriller that's perfect for horror acolytes and haunted house fans.

Turner, $16.99, paperback, 304p., 9781684423682

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Trinity Sight

by Jennifer Givhan


Trinity Sight, poet Jennifer Givhan's (Protection Spell) debut novel, is more than a dystopian road trip. Lyrical language and indigenous traditions elevate it into a nuanced examination of faith in the face of cataclysm. The story opens with hints of societal breakdowns caused by the irreversible effects of climate change. Floods, fires and shortages lead to an unsettled and sometimes violent society that only reacts to the changes: "Mother Earth, when she is fed up, will shake herself off."

Archeologist Calliope Santiago is driving in New Mexico when long-dormant volcanoes erupt. Along with burning buildings and overturned vehicles, unbelievably, almost everyone disappears. Calliope, pregnant with twins, can't find her family. She and two surviving neighbors set out to search for their kin. When they meet Chance, a Zuni and a scientist like Calliope, who's also trying to find his family, they form a bond that strengthens their efforts. "I have a feeling my people are unscathed. We're survivors," Chance tells Calliope. Ghosts, dreams and murderous mythical creatures stalk the small group. None of it makes sense to Calliope, who doesn't believe in the Christian Rapture story but, as Chance tells her, "The white man's bible is only one end-of-the-world myth." Calliope thinks maybe "Mother Earth had unfolded herself... spiraling them here, across some hidden fourth dimension of space and across space into this parallel." And if that's so, what will the world look like if they get back? This is an original, emotional story written by a master of imaginative language. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Zuni tradition forms the basis for this riveting dystopian tale of environmental catastrophe.

Blackstone Publishing, $25.99, hardcover, 9781538556726

Biography & Memoir

Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir

by Deirdre Bair


Deirdre Bair is the author of half a dozen biographies that include the 1981 National Book Award-winning Samuel Beckett and 1990's bestselling Simone de Beauvoir. It is readers' good fortune that things didn't go smoothly for Bair while writing these first two books; otherwise there would be no Parisian Lives, a fabulous hybrid Bair dubs a "bio-memoir."

In the first half, Bair details the fairly torturous seven-year process of working on her biography of Beckett. She writes of collaborating with the Nobel Prize-winning playwright: she usually felt "like a marionette whose strings he was pulling, because I never knew where I stood with him." Bair devotes the second half of Parisian Lives to the decade that she spent on Simone de Beauvoir. Although Bair found the trailblazing French feminist an overall easier subject than Beckett--"My two-word phrase for my rapport with her was 'strictly business' "--Beauvoir caused her biographer considerable trouble by dying while the book was nearing completion.

When Samuel Beckett was published, some barbed reviews reflected what Bair came to realize was many male critics' discomfort with the notion of a female writer taking on a serious literary subject. She spent almost two years recovering and vowed never again to undertake a biography. But when an editor who admired Samuel Beckett offered Bair a contract to write about anyone of her choosing....

In the diary that Bair kept at the time, she wrote of deciding to tackle Beauvoir's life, "I'm doing this one for me. I need to write this book." It turns out that she also wrote it for her lucky readers--of Simone de Beauvoir and of Parisian Lives. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: A formidable biographer of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir describes the pleasures and pitfalls of writing about her iconic subjects.

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $29.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780385542456

Bowie's Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie's Life

by John O'Connell


It is difficult to overstate the significance of David Bowie's influence on pop culture and the importance he has held for so many as an icon of music, art, fashion and entertainment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Starman was also a man of books.

Bowie issued a list of the 100 books that had most influenced him for the 2013 Victoria & Albert Museum exhibit David Bowie Is. With Bowie's Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie's Life, journalist John O'Connell offers a freshly annotated reproduction of this list, providing thoughtful historical context and commentary about the books' impact on Bowie and his music.

O'Connell, formerly a senior editor at Time Out--for which he once interviewed Bowie--considers numerous themes. He explores Bowie's picks with regards to the singer's entangled interests in culture, counterculture, love, sex, sexuality, race, racism, sci-fi, science, death and "nerdery." Much of the "traditional" Western canon populates Bowie's list, but so do many outliers. Only two authors appear twice: Anthony Burgess and George Orwell.

O'Connell's brief essays on each book include anecdotes and trivia that will interest both casual and ardent Bowie fans, or anyone curious about ways art begets art. Almost in passing, O'Connell deems Charles White's biography of Little Richard, whom Bowie idolized, "quietly electrifying." The same can be said of Bowie's Bookshelf: it's a quietly electrifying collection, a tribute handled with reverence and respect, celebrating the guiding stars that books can be. --Katie Weed

Discover: These reflections on the books that most influenced David Bowie will interest lovers of Bowie, literature and anyone curious about how artists are shaped by the art they love.

Gallery Books, $18, hardcover, 320p., 9781982112547

Going All City: Struggle and Survival in L.A.'s Graffiti Subculture

by Stefano Bloch


Stefano Bloch is drowning in the works of Kafka and bell hooks when a college classmate tells him, "You must love this class. It's like those books are talking about graffiti writers... about you personally."

With that, Bloch is given a link between the newfound comfort of university life and the world that shaped him. Born into poverty and frequent bouts of homelessness, the son of a troubled single mother, Bloch finds a path with meaning when he joins a gang of boys who write on walls. Equipped with stolen markers and cans of spray paint, they roam neighborhoods at night, asserting their existence with the tags they put on every surface they can find. The more territory claimed by a tag, the more famed is its writer, with the pinnacle being "All City." Bloch achieves that fame by writing "Cisco" across Los Angeles, becoming so well-known that his college classmate knows who he is without having to ask.

Going All City shows why tags are a ubiquitous urban feature, describes the boys who take pride in placing their mark where others have to see it and puts readers within the dangerous and unstable world that spawned graffiti culture. Bloch's memoir follows him out of a pool of paint and blood on a freeway into an academic career. It memorializes the friends who didn't go with him and gives a lucid and informed explanation of the world from which he walked away. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: Stefano Bloch, a self-described "semi-retired graffiti writer," tells how he made a name for himself on the L.A. streets and explains the culture of graffiti in his piercing memoir.

University of Chicago Press, $19, paperback, 240p., 9780226493589

History

Descendants of Cyrus: Travels Through Everyday Iran

by Christopher Thornton


As a professor of writing at Zayed University in the UAE and a former special correspondent to the State Department's International Information program, Christopher Thornton is familiar with a different side of Iran from that usually depicted in the U.S. In Descendants of Cyrus: Travels Through Everyday Iran, each chapter focuses on a specific city or region within the country as Thornton reveals the diversity within a nation often flattened into one stereotypical representation.

Beginning this literary journey in Tehran, he presents Iranian society as "replete with contradictions," specifically ones that highlight the relationships among the government, the country's recent past, ancient history, the needs and wants of the people, and the concept of Persian identity. But more importantly, as his narrative moves from the capital city through Tabriz, the Caspian Shore, Kermanshah, Hamedan, Persepolis and further, Thornton draws back the curtain on the everyday lives of ordinary people across Iran, their hopes and fears. He infuses each location with layers of history, culture and overlapping influences from many different peoples and eras. Every remembrance, paired with history and local color from interviews, reveals to readers a vast and deep co.untry worth exploring, a historical, cultural and even religious crossroads. Thornton's narrative weaves together travel writing with a historically focused lens and a reporter's talent for asking necessary questions in order to find deeper truths and to help readers question what they think they know about a place and its people. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Christopher Thornton invites readers to experience the history and culture of everyday Iran, a place rarely seen in the U.S.

Potomac Books, $34.95, hardcover, 360p., 9781640120372

Essays & Criticism

Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language

by Nicola Gardini, trans. by Todd Portnowitz


For some, the names Catullus, Virgil and Caesar conjure up visions of ancient societies, while for others they bring only memories of textbooks and grammar lessons. For novelist and Oxford language professor Nicola Gardini (Lost Words), they represent beauty in life. "Virgil moves me; Tacitus draws me toward cruelty; Lucretius sends me whirling and drifting and sinking; Cicero has me dreaming of perfection.... Seneca teaches me happiness."

It is an understatement to say that Gardini is passionate about Latin. After an unlikely introduction in middle school (Latin had been removed from the curriculum, but one teacher remained vigilant), he was hooked, and it is Gardini's hope to engage others the same way. With each chapter in Long Live Latin, he spotlights different "episodes" in the life of the language, tracing a lineage of words and authors from the creation of its alphabet to its influence on modern literature.

Gardini has written a loving tribute to Latin as well as a compelling response to those who would call the language "useless." The study, he writes, is "demanding, challenging, exhausting, and like a good hike through the mountains, restorative in and of itself." Gardini explores Latin's origins as a literary language while also sharing his own journey, making his sometimes pedantic explanations more friendly. His enthusiasm is infectious. Whether new to the study or remembering Latin lessons from years ago, interested readers will appreciate his insights, both translational and social. Through Latin, readers "step into the river of history, and there we find a deeper understanding of where we began and where we want to go." --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A passionate Oxford professor of languages explores the beauty and history to be found in the study of Latin literature.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9780374284527

Travel Literature

The Seine: The River that Made Paris

by Elaine Sciolino


Elaine Sciolino was seduced by the Seine at age 28. Sent to Paris in 1978 as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, she arrived with no friends or contacts. She was alone and ill-prepared, yet found two sources of sustenance: an elderly tutor and the river Seine.

The Seine flows through almost 500 miles of France, bubbling to the surface at Source-Seine and carrying the country's ancient history through Burgundy and cities such as Paris and Rouen (symbolized by Joan of Arc) before emptying into the English Channel and onto the beaches of Normandy. Its path is lined with such famous sights as Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. "The most romantic river in the world" has inspired artists of every medium to create countless popular works. The Seine also floods regularly, almost as if it cannot hold so much rich history within its banks and surges as a reminder of its power over France. In The Seine, Sciolino details the enthralling life and times of the river.

Sciolino, Paris bureau chief for the New York Times and one of the only American members of Femmes Forum, a private club of the leading women of France, writes about the Seine passionately yet with a reporter's eye. She brings the waterway to vivid life through surrounding sights and sounds (church bells and multilingual commentaries), yet facts are paramount. In ways big and small--the history of commerce, contamination and cleanups, lighting, origination of the daguerreotype, the officers of the River Brigade and the fascinating role of the "Unknown Woman"--she makes the stories of The Seine undeniably captivating. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Elaine Sciolino turns her reporter's eye on the force of nature that is the river Seine, bringing it to life.

Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780393609356

Children's & Young Adult

The Shortest Day

by Susan Cooper, illus. by Carson Ellis


In The Shortest Day, Newbery Medal winner Susan Cooper honors the history of midwinter "traditions that we still celebrate, whether or not we remember where they came from."

On the winter solstice, "everywhere down the centuries," a stooping sun makes its tired way across the bleak winter sky. People accomplish what they can during this shortest day of the year but, when night falls and the old year dies, these same people gather, "singing, dancing,/ to drive the dark away." Lit candles placed in trees and homes are adorned with bright green and red holly. "Beseeching fires" are tended "all night long" in rituals to try "to keep the year alive." And finally, when "the new year's sunshine blaze[s] awake," the revelers "carol, feast, give thanks,/ And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace."

In an author's note, Susan Cooper discusses how existence on planet Earth is cyclical, with lives being "governed by the patterns of light and darkness." Early peoples, she explains, developed "rebirth rituals" to feel that they had some measure of control in bringing back the sun. The Shortest Day began as a work for the theater--"a joyful celebration of the winter solstice, in music, dance, and words"--and is strongly influenced by northern European beliefs, though many faiths incorporate similar traditions. Here, Cooper's words are perfectly paired with Caldecott Honor artist Carson Ellis's ethereal gouache illustrations. Ellis's paintings masterfully juxtapose the physical world of Cooper's revelers with the spirits and beliefs they are celebrating. This gorgeous volume will remind readers they are a part of the vast history of the world. "Welcome Yule!" --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: This uplifting, illustrated poem for young children shows how ancient winter solstice rituals are still alive in modern holiday traditions.

Candlewick, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-up, 9780763686987

Saturday

by Oge Mora


Fresh off her Caldecott Honor win for Thank You, Omu, Oge Mora crafts a delightful ode to overcoming the bumps in life's road with the help of the ones you love.

Ava's mother works every day of the week except Saturday, which she always carves out as a special day to spend time with her daughter. However, this Saturday, their excursions don't go as planned: storytime is canceled, their hairdos are ruined and their quiet day at the park is interrupted by the loud bustle of other park goers. Every time their dreams are dashed, they pause, close their eyes and let out a deep breath. Ava's mother always reassures her little one, "Today will be special. Today will be splendid. Today is Saturday!" When mom forgets the puppet show tickets at home--"I'm sorry, Ava. We looked forward to this all week, and I've messed up everything.... I ruined Saturday."--the tables turn.

Kids and their grownups will delight in this energetic and humorous story. The warmth between mother and child is etched in every line and image while the repetitive, tender narrative invites reading aloud, but is also quiet enough that families would be just as satisfied enjoying as a one-on-one experience. Mora's cheery, jewel-tone collage illustrations are a feast of colors that pull in readers and invite them to touch the textured renderings. Saturday begs multiple readings, allowing kids to find something new hidden in the illustrations each time. Children and adults alike will appreciate and embrace this gorgeous picture book about enjoying the small moments we share with one another. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library

Discover: In this picture book gem from the award-winning Oge Mora, a girl and her mother anticipate Saturdays as their weekly opportunity to go on their own private adventures--big and small.

Little, Brown, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780316431279

A Day So Gray

by Marie Lamba, illus. by Alea Marley


A friend with a bright outlook turns a gloomy day into a smorgasbord of colorful detail in this cozy picture book from writer Marie Lamba (Green Green: A Community Gardening Story) and illustrator Alea Marley (The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh).

Gazing out a wooden window frame, a little girl with a straight blonde bob and pale, pink-spotted cheeks proclaims, "This day is so gray." At her side, another girl with a head of dark, smudged curls and a brown, ruddy-cheeked face begs to differ. After venturing out into the snowfall, the second girl splashes through a puddle and points out the "deep soft brown" of the tree branches and the silver and blue of the water. Unconvinced, the first girl declares a field "blah brown" and the snow "boring white." Her lighthearted counterpart corrects the complaints with an artist's eye for the subtlety of natural colors. Her buoyant charm slowly loosens the other girl's stiff posture and helps her relax into a comforting evening and a sunset the former naysayer describes as "purple and tangerine."

Lamba's words encourage readers to seek out the tiny scraps of beauty that brighten life's doldrums. Through a combination of scanned and digital illustrations, Marley creates an enchanting soft-focus winterscape drenched in light. Although the brief text and clear illustrations have definite group read-aloud potential, sharing A Day So Gray's subtle beauty as a colors look-and-find exercise could create a lovely one-on-one bonding time for caregivers and children ages four through seven. Whenever a day is gray and lonely, this cozy reminder to look on the colorful side will invite smiles and lift spirits. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: In this ethereal, wintry picture book, a cheerful little girl teaches her glum companion that color and beauty lie in the smallest details.

Clarion, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781328695994

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