From the Shelf
Islamic New Year
Muslims around the world just celebrated the start of a new year, the year 1441 A.H. on the Islamic calendar. A.H. stands for "after hijrah," which refers to the migration of Prophet Muhammad and the beginning of the Muslim era.
Muhurram, the first month of the year, is considered a time of deep reflection and is second only to Ramadan in significance. This year, the holy days of Muharram overlap with the tragic anniversary of 9/11. It is deeply distressing that so much violence has been committed in the name of a religion that is, at its core, about peace and unity. As Islamic scholar and former Roman Catholic nun Karen Armstrong points out, there are some forms of religious practice that are bad; just as there's bad cooking or bad art, you have bad religion, too.
Whenever I am asked about introductory resources for non-Muslims seeking to understand the faith, I recommend Islam: A Short History (Modern Library, $17), Armstrong's excellent analysis of the fastest growing religion in the world. She underscores the important point that fundamentalists perverting religion as a tool of oppression and using violence to justify their own domination are not representative of Islam.
Another standout resource is The First Muslim (Riverhead, $18), Leslie Hazelton's fascinating biography of Prophet Muhammad that deconstructs his life and religious awakening. She explores how he became the messenger of God, approaching her subject with an agnostic lens and uncovering truths otherwise obscured by blind devotion.
Eloquently written and spanning the religion's origins and evolution, Reza Aslan's No God but God (Random House, $18) addresses the future of Islam and the necessity of a reformation within Islamic communities worldwide. He argues convincingly that such a reformation has already begun post-9/11. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
In this Issue...
by Dina Nayeri
In her first work of nonfiction, Dina Nayeri delves into the difficulties of the refugee experience.
by Jonah Winter
Thurgood, a picture book introduction to the first black justice on the Supreme Court, will inform and inspire readers of all ages.
by Kassandra Montag
In this engrossing post-apocalyptic novel, a mother goes on a desperate search for her missing daughter.
Review by Subjects:
From City Lights Bookstore
01/17/2020 - 6:00PMThe NetWest program of the North Carolina Writers Network and City Lights Bookstore will host an open mic night at the bookstore on Friday, January 17th at 6 p.m. Folks are encouraged to bring their poetry or short pieces to share. Sign-ups begin at 5:45 p.m. for a 10-minute reading session. The North Carolina Writers' Network connects, promotes, and serves the writers of this state. They provide education in the craft and business of writing, opportunities for recognition and...
01/20/2020 - 5:00PMCome celebrate Gary Carden’s 85th birthday at City Lights Bookstore on Monday, January 20th at 5 p.m. Gary will share stories and tall tales of Appalachia. An award-winning playwright, Gary is also the author of Mason Jars in the Flood and Appalachian Bestiary. Stop by and wish Gary a Happy Birthday! For more information please call City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, NC at 828-586-9499.
Guess Classic Novels
"Can you guess these classic novels from their Library of Congress subject categories?" Lit Hub asked.
"A California type foundry is keeping vintage printing alive," Atlas Obscura noted.
David Lynch named his five favorite books of all time for Far Out magazine.
Patrons at the Hakone Honbako book hotel in Japan "are promised a good night's sleep, and--with luck--a good read to boot," the Asahi Shimbun reported.
The Vatican Library has been digitized and is available online.
England's poet laureate Simon Armitage's cancer poem was engraved on a pill to honor a planned new research center, the Guardian noted.
Rediscover: Dorothea Benton Frank
Dorothea Benton Frank, author of 20 novels set primarily in the Lowcountry of coastal South Carolina, died September 2 at age 67. She was born and raised in Sullivan's Island, S.C., at the entrance to Charleston harbor. Most of her books are literal beach reads, taking place on summertime South Carolina barrier islands. Frank published her first novel, Sullivan's Island, in 1999. Her other works include Plantation (2001), Pawley Island (2005), Bull's Island (2008) and All Summer Long (2016). Many of Frank's novels feature strong matriarchs, family drama, romance and, of course, the beach. Her final novel, Queen Bee, was published by Morrow in May ($27.99, 9780062861214). It follows a Sullivan Island beekeeper/librarian who must deal with her overbearing mother, nicknamed Queen Bee, and the unexpected return of her dramatic sister.
Cassandra King, author and wife of the late Pat Conroy, called Frank "a force of nature" with "such a big heart," the Post and Courier wrote. She recalled how much Conroy liked Frank, saying they "were so funny together. She called him Fat Boy and he called her the Dotted One."
The Writer's Life
Dana Thomas: Making the Case for Slower Fashion
|photo: Michael Roberts/ Maconochie Photography
Dana Thomas is the author of Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano and Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. She lives in Paris and is a regular contributor to the New York Times Style section. Her book Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion--and the Future of Clothes has just been released by Penguin Press.
Fashionopolis highlights the importance of learning the origin stories of our clothes. What's the origin story of Fashionopolis?
When I was on a book tour for Deluxe in 2007, in one day I heard two bits of news that made my radar go up. First, Oscar de la Renta CEO Alex Bolen told me over breakfast at the Royalton that the company had just bought the family-owned factory in the Bronx that produced its evening gowns. Bolen said that he liked that he could hop in a car and head up to the factory to see how production was going--that it was close by, that they had control of their supply chain. That afternoon, I was at a Brooks Brothers event, and the company spokesman told me that the brand was soon opening a factory in Long Island City to produce all of its neckties. The company was bringing that manufacturing back to the U.S., and it was only 20 minutes away from headquarters on Madison Avenue. This got me thinking: After decades of offshoring, is garment manufacturing reshoring happening? I snooped around, and it felt too early to write something about it--reshoring wasn't quite a trend yet. But I kept a file in my drawer, and if I saw a story on a company bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., I clipped or printed it and dropped it into the file.
I was working on a book proposal on the subject when John Galliano flamed out at Dior, and I put that proposal aside to write my second book, Gods and Kings. Once that book was published and I'd finished touring, I was cleaning up my desk and file drawers and came across the "Made in the USA" file. I started snooping around again, and found that in those intervening eight years, a reshoring movement had truly taken form. What's more, sustainability was becoming increasingly important. Deluxe, for me, was about companies that sacrifice integrity for the sake of profits. Gods and Kings was about sacrificing the creative for the sake of profits. And Fashionopolis is about sacrificing humanity and the environment for the sake of profits. They are, in a sense, a trilogy.
Your book is scrupulously researched, with a terrific range of interview subjects from around the globe. How did you find all the innovators and activists you profiled?
Some--such as Natalie Chanin, Stella McCartney and Julie Gilhart--I knew through my 30 years of covering the fashion industry. They, in turn, suggested others: it was Natalie Chanin who told me, for example, about organic cotton doyenne Sally Fox. Stella McCartney turned me on to Evrnu, Bolt Threads and Modern Meadow. I learned about Selfridges' movement in sustainability from its annual New Year campaign, Bright New Things. And one of the Bright New Things I read about was Unmade. Basically, I just did what reporters do: follow leads, ask for more leads, take advantage of chance introductions, write down everything and keep every contact that comes my way. I call it "casting a wide net." Pull it in, and it's full of fish.
Fashionopolis is wonderful fodder for a dilemma I've been having. I don't think we should go back to a time when one couldn't leave the house without a hat on, but when I watch, say, The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which even characters' casual clothes are dapper, I can't help but feel that we've lost something. Is it unconscionable to think this way when being permitted to wear T-shirts, sweatpants and other low-cost items in public has made life easier for people who don't have the financial reserves for tailored clothing?
I would say part of the lifestyle that existed during the era of The Dick Van Dyke Show--at least when it comes to consuming fashion--is worth harking back to. Meaning: one bought much, much less, and wore it much, much more. The average female consumer didn't have 10 little black dresses; she had one. And it could be dressed up with pearls, or a brooch, or a scarf, or a jacket, or, yes, a hat. I still have my mother's LBD from then. It's well-made, it's stylish, it's timeless. It's as old as I am, yet every time I wear it, I get compliments. So, I'd say, don't buy 10 hoodies; buy one good suit instead. Chic, after all, is chic.
This is probably a wildly unfair question, but I can't resist: Do you know the origin stories of the clothes you are wearing right now?
Ha! I’m wearing an eight- or 10-year-old Uniqlo navy blue washed-silk shift. The label says it was made in China. So, I'm slightly busted, because it is from a fast fashion brand (though when I bought it, I don't think I realized Uniqlo was "fast fashion"). But I have not consumed it in a fast fashion manner. Thank goodness it wasn't made in Bangladesh. I woulda changed! --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
After the Flood
by Kassandra Montag
After the Flood, the first novel by Kassandra Montag, is the atmospheric post-apocalyptic story of a mother's quest. Myra, who lived in Nebraska before the deluge came, has spent the last seven years in search of her elder daughter, Row. Row's father snatched her away just before Nebraska flooded, leaving behind a pregnant Myra. Myra gave birth to another daughter aboard the small boat her grandfather built in the attic of their home. Pearl has spent her entire life on this ship, roaming with Myra from island to island, at the tips of former mountain ranges.
This new, watery world is a terrifying place, full of bands of roving pirates and very little food besides fish. Myra and Pearl are floating in what used to be British Columbia when they hear of a girl matching Row's description at a colony on the edge of Greenland. Setting off on an epic journey down the Rockies to the Caribbean, and back up north to Greenland, Myra will battle pirates, the elements and her own fears all the way.
Beautiful, violent and horrifying, After the Flood is the poignant tale of a mother's desperation. When Myra and Pearl join the crew of another ship, the relationships among crew members become a microcosm of humanity in the wake of disaster. Myra's story will resonate with fans of The Road or Station Eleven, and make readers wonder just how well they would handle the end of the world. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this engrossing post-apocalyptic novel, a mother goes on a desperate search for her missing daughter.
Welcome to America
by Linda Boström Knausgård , trans. by Martin Aitken
In Welcome to America, Linda Boström Knausgård's second novel (her first published in the U.S.), young Ellen struggles against her own maturation. After the death of her father, Ellen decides to stop speaking to anyone. She blames herself for her father's death after having silently wished it many times, and she fears her future with her intense, explosive brother and narcissistic, flippant mother. While her mother and brother seemingly find ways to move forward, the dark underbelly of their family--her brother's emotional abuse, her mother's self-absorption and inability to face the imperfect truths of her life, the history of her father's mental illness--remains unchanged.
Sparse, sleek and exacting, Boström Knausgård's prose mimics the childlike view at the center of the novel, just as it allows Ellen a mature voice. There is an uncanniness to this perspective. It is both young and old, all-knowing and continuously limited, yearning and terrified. Often, Ellen focuses on her perceived connection to God in conjunction with her disconnection from those around her, who she believes act "as if I didn't exist." While the novel is written as one continuous meditation on the inner workings of a family, the true arc of its tale depends on Ellen's devastatingly futile desire not to grow up: "the whole idea of growing up felt completely wrong. I wasn't going to let it happen." Stalled in this perpetual desire for childhood--or, really, suspicion of adulthood--Ellen provides a haunting and evocative portrait of the process of trauma and the awareness of personal isolationism, even within the structures of faith and family. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Linda Boström Knausgård's Welcome to America is a poetic family drama that offers new perspective on what literature normally considers "coming of age."
From the Shadows
by Juan José Millás , trans. by Thomas Bunstead , Daniel Hahn
Though a solitary being, Damián Lobo is never fully alone, as the television interviewer that "existed only in [his] imagination" can attest. His constant interviews--complete with imagined supportive audience, commercial breaks and ratings--are interspersed with reality as he narrates every aspect of his life.
Following a minor theft at an antiques mall, Damián hides from the security guard in an empty wardrobe. Before he can escape, the wardrobe is loaded into a truck and delivered to a bungalow on the outskirts of the city. Voyeurism overtakes caution, and instead of sneaking out before he is discovered, Damián observes the small family (husband, wife and teenage daughter) as they go about their day. When he discovers a hidden closet behind the wardrobe, he makes a secret home of it, becoming like "a moray eel hiding in a crevice in the coral."
From this vantage point he spies on his unwitting hosts at night, and during the day washes their dishes, cooks their meals and makes their beds, all while leaving no trace of himself behind. The husband and teenage daughter assume the mother, Lucia, is responsible, while Lucia herself attributes the mystery to a benevolent spirit.
Translated by Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn, From the Shadows is the first book by prestigious Spanish author Juan José Millás to be published in North America. It is a penetrating parable of suburban family life that is effectively rendered through Damián's neurotic (and yet oddly discerning) imaginary interviews. Millás tells a compelling story of human connection in a way that is sometimes crude but also darkly funny, insightful and ultimately surprising. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: An allegorical story in which a man who lives half in reality and half in imaginary television interviews hides away in a strange family's home and cares for them under the guise of a spirit.
Today We Go Home
by Kelli Estes
When Larkin Bennett returns home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, she's grieving the death of her best friend and fellow soldier, Sarah, and struggling to deal with the tragedy that caused it. Among Sarah's possessions, Larkin finds a diary written by Emily Wilson, an ancestor of Sarah who lived and fought as a man during the American Civil War. In her second novel, Today We Go Home, Kelli Estes weaves a thought-provoking narrative of two pairs of strong women, a century and a half apart, fighting to be taken seriously on and off the battlefield.
Estes (The Girl Who Wrote in Silk) draws readers into the lives of both her protagonists, highlighting their contrasts and their similarities. Emily decides to follow her father and brothers into battle because she can't bear the thought of staying home. Larkin is proud of her service to her country, but wracked with guilt over her role in Sarah's death. She struggles with both PTSD and a new direction in life after her honorable discharge. Readers gradually learn more about that day in Afghanistan, and follow Emily through battles and marches. Both stories ask subtle but insistent questions about the treatment of women in the U.S. military (past and present), and the tensions between family, ambition, honor and love. Today We Go Home is a compelling examination of war and its contradictions, and a moving story of two women fighting for their own places in the world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Kelli Estes's second novel explores the experiences of female soldiers in the American Civil War and the present day.
The Secrets We Kept
by Lara Prescott
International intrigue, secretaries serving as spies and a literary masterpiece figure in The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott's debut novel set during the height of the Cold War. This fast-paced narrative focuses on the women in the typing pool at the Central Intelligence Agency. Unbeknownst to their CIA colleagues, Irina and Sally have been tapped for a clandestine mission: smuggling Boris Pasternak's acclaimed novel Doctor Zhivago out of Russia, where it is banned, so that it can be published abroad.
With a plot that sweeps between the Soviet Union and Washington, D.C., The Secrets We Kept is rich with historical details reflecting the tense times of the 1950s. The Soviets "had their satellites, but we had their books," recalls the novel's mysterious narrator, from an unknown vantage point somewhere in the future. (True to the book's atmosphere, Prescott keeps her reader guessing throughout about the speaker's identity.) "Back then, we believed books could be weapons--that literature could change the course of history."
Prescott goes beyond the political into the personal by adding a secondary layer to the novel's prominent themes of secrecy and women's identities. In addition to the Cold War as a backdrop, the Lavender Scare (a witch hunt within the U.S. government during the '50s to out closeted gays and fire them from their jobs) was in full force. When Irina and Sally realize that their feelings for each other go beyond friendship, they face the choice of being true to themselves or living a lie. "We unveil ourselves in the pieces we want others to know, even those closest to us. We all have our secrets." --Melissa Firman, writer at melissafirman.com
Discover: This novel inspired by a true story celebrates the power of literature and secretaries-turned-spies, in the face of the fears and prejudices that defined the 1950s.
Mystery & Thriller
The Bone Fire
by S.D. Sykes
In 1361, the Black Death is again sweeping England, and Oswald de Lacy has decided that for the sake of his family, he must take them to stay with his friend Godfrey on the isolated Isle of Eden. Once the portcullis closes behind them, it will not open again until spring. When they arrive, not only do they find that the plague is not far away on the island, but a murder occurs soon after the fortress is secured. Oswald has some previous experience investigating crimes at his own manor and in Venice, so he begins investigating which of the guests and members of the household is the murderer among them.
The fourth in the Somershill Manor mystery series by S.D. Sykes (after City of Masks), The Bone Fire combines elements of the traditional country house mystery with the oppressive atmosphere of 14th-century England during the plague. Other friends seeking sanctuary from Godfrey, a knight overseeing the defense of the fortress, tradesmen in Godfrey's employ and the household servants are all confined together, knowing that one of them must be a murderer, but that leaving the walls means potential exposure to the disease. Deft characterization introduces new readers to the members of the de Lacy family without slowing the pace with excessive explanation of previous events. This claustrophobic mystery full of medieval atmosphere will be as engrossing as an entry point to the series as it will be to returning fans. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: This medieval mystery about a disparate collection of guests trapped between the plague outside and a murderer among them will thrill new readers and series fans alike.
Biography & Memoir
The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You
by Dina Nayeri
No matter their ethnicity, country of origin or the political intricacies of their situation, refugees flee their homes in search of safety, opportunity and hope. Novelist Dina Nayeri, who fled Iran as a child with her mother and brother, delves into the experiences of many refugees--their varied details and their broader parallels--in her first nonfiction book, The Ungrateful Refugee.
Nayeri (A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea) begins with her own story of seeking refuge: a long, winding journey with her mother and brother between relatives' houses, refugee camps and, eventually, a new, unfamiliar home in Oklahoma. The middle of Nayeri's book explores her visits to refugee camps, her interviews in several countries with those seeking rescue and those seeking to help them, and her return as an adult to Barba, to the former Italian hotel where she once lived as a refugee. Her story, and the others she tells, have overlapping layers and complexities, but all of them are characterized by waiting, legal trouble, separation from loved ones and a desperate, repeated swing between despair and hope.
Blistering in its unequivocal critiques of legal systems that keep refugees in limbo, yet strikingly layered and nuanced in its storytelling, The Ungrateful Refugee is timely, unsettling, compassionate and deeply compelling. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: In her first work of nonfiction, Dina Nayeri delves into the difficulties of the refugee experience.
Business & Economics
Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion--And the Future of Clothes
by Dana Thomas
In the thorough and invigorating Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion--and the Future of Clothes, Dana Thomas suggests that being fashion-forward means knowing the origin story of our favorite pair of jeans.
Fashionopolis begins with a historical overview of the textile industry, which clings to two ideas from manufacturing's enduring 250-year-old, mass-production model: products must exist before they can be sold, and the more that are made, the cheaper the per-unit cost. In times of "fast fashion" and even faster machines, that's a recipe for a throwaway-clothes culture. Unfortunately, some apparent antidotes to the problem--Sewbots, 3-D printing and other environmentally friendly modern breakthroughs--come with other costs. She acknowledges that industry people have foretold that at a certain point, direct-to-consumer sales, while a move in the green direction, will mean the end of department stores. And, of course, robots, which promise efficiency that can keep down expenses for a conscientious company, kill jobs.
Thomas pins her hopes on the examples set by a batch of forward-thinking companies ranging in size from petite to extra-large. Stella McCartney, for instance, has long been a proponent of sustainability in the fashion industry, and Stony Creek Colors produces indigo, which, until the company's founding in 2012, hadn't been commercially farmed in the United States for more than a century.
Thomas (Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster) approaches Fashionopolis as both an intrepid investigative reporter and an aesthete. One of her many interviewees tidily fuses Thomas's two main concerns--the environment and good design--when she says, "If people still had seamstresses in their families, they wouldn't be chucking things away like they do." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This trenchant look at how clothes are produced today is both an environmentalist cri de coeur and an homage to good design.
Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond
by Alexandra Horowitz
Alexandra Horowitz, director of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University, has conducted extensive scientific research observing and studying dogs--how their brains are wired and sensory systems operate. In Our Dogs, Ourselves, she probes the "dog-human bond," and how "domestic quadrupeds" can tell us much about ourselves. She also explores how dogs' place in society is steeped in great contradiction.
When humans began to domesticate wolves, they "changed the course of the species development." Horowitz recounts how dogs came into human lives and share our world. She examines the ramifications of dog ownership--from strict specifications required of purebreds to mutts adopted from shelters--and care, and clashes surrounding dogs as legal property, as well as arguments for and against dog neutering and spaying. To great effect, Horowitz (Inside of a Dog) overlaps personal and scientific research as she playfully examines dog behavior and cognition and the ways canines are often spoiled. Some dogs are treated like people and members of families, receiving carefully selected names and indulged with special food, toys, socialization goals and costly medical care. She also scrutinizes communication between dogs and humans and why dogs are often thought of as "mirror animals" who hear the phrase "I love you" uttered to them daily by two-thirds of North Americans.
History, facts and data are woven along with entertaining personal anecdotes and asides, allowing Horowitz's findings to be delivered in an appealing, accessible way that readers, especially dog lovers, will savor and absorb. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An entertaining, scientifically based look at humans' long and complicated relationship with dogs.
I Will Destroy You
by Nick Flynn
Nick Flynn's fifth collection of poems is riveting, the verses scalding in their passion. The title piece, "I Will Destroy You," is not just a promise to an unknown visitor, to a traumatic memory felt deep in the bones, but a nod to the incendiary quality of his poetry as a whole. Here is a writer whose intensity owes something both to St. Augustine--whom he name-checks in the final poem--and to the unfiltered Sturm und Drang of punk rock. But Flynn never loses sight of form or intent in his pursuit of artistic (and personal) truth. Works like "Uncloudy Day" and "Saltmarsh" are tightly controlled in their meter and structure, keeping the reader in a state between chaos and discipline. Like many great artists, Flynn (who's also written three memoirs, including Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) is able to hold two opposing ideas within himself and find harmony from this conflict.
That uneasy state is appropriate for I Will Destroy You. The poems collected cross-examine films, dead rock stars, fatherhood and the key memory of Flynn's mother, sometimes interpolating them into rich and unexpected patterns. In the concluding "Saint Augustine," he can't stop returning to his mother's death, unable to stay in the present and with God despite the saint's words. Still, he can find the beginnings of closure within this book and in the relentless work of self-interrogation. It appears that will have to be enough. Ultimately, I Will Destroy You is a superb book that will appeal to fans of Flynn's previous writings while sating the poetry reader who needs some raw power in verse. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer
Discover: Poetry fans will appreciate the power of Nick Flynn's disturbing and beautiful fifth collection.
Children's & Young Adult
by Jonah Winter , illust. by Bryan Collier
Jonah Winter is no stranger to United States Supreme Court Justices. With previous picture books about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to his credit, it should come as no surprise that Thurgood is an exceptional introduction for young readers to the nation's first black justice--even older readers will likely learn new tidbits about the man's life.
From a very young age, Thurgood Marshall honed his power of persuasion: at six, he convinced his parents legally to change his name from Thoroughgood; in school he excelled in debate and attended trials with his father, where "they would sit, watching lawyers argue about justice and injustice, guilt and innocence, truth and falsehood." Winter explains that "this sloppy kid with untucked shirts and ink-stained pockets had a knack for arguing." That knack took him first to law school, then to the NAACP as a lawyer and eventually landed him in front of the U.S. Supreme Court where he won 29 cases, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education.
Winter's theatrical staging of Marshall's biography mimics a lawyer presenting facts to a jury, drawing readers into the case so they can come to a unanimous decision: Marshall is undoubtedly an American hero. Accompanying Winter's persuasive text are Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King Award winner Bryan Collier's (The 5 O'Clock Band) forceful illustrations. His distinctive mix of watercolor and collage emphasizes the strong emotion of Winter's subject matter, the energy of the man himself and the lasting impact Marshall made on the nation. The jury is in: Thurgood is a resounding winner. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Thurgood, a picture book introduction to the first black justice on the Supreme Court, will inform and inspire readers of all ages.
Cornelia and the Jungle Machine
by Nora Brech
"I don't want to live here," says Cornelia.
A moving truck sits on the lawn of a large, gloomy house. Cornelia, slumped in a chair, looks around a cluttered room. When she vents her dissatisfaction to her stressed parents, they suggest that "if [she's] not going to help," she should "go and have a look around outside."
Along with her scruffy gray dog, Cornelia crosses an isolated island-of-a-hill, down to a sea of dense trees through which signs of fun can be seen: a treehouse. A long rope ladder descends, and Cornelia hangs onto her dog as she climbs up into an increasingly whimsical world. A boy named Frederik, wearing an eyepatch and a huge grin, waves at her from a hammock on the deck of his nautical-themed treehouse. Frederik welcomes Cornelia inside, where he lives with his many inventions. The "best" by far is the "Jungle Machine," which does exactly what its name suggests: a jungle is conjured, complete with exotic birds and animals, vines and a river to sail along--all the way to a dock outside Cornelia's new home. When she asks if she can visit again, Frederik invites her to come back "every day" if she wishes.
Illustrative details abound in this atmospheric picture book of a mere 112 words. Brech perfectly depicts an oversized, overstuffed, gothic-looking mansion and the frustration of its new young inhabitant, who is small in comparison. Colors brighten as Cornelia's world expands, and both the forest and Frederik's tree-based home seem to contain more light and air. At the end of this mysterious, magical day, Cornelia, it seems, really does want to "live here." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: A girl feels oppressed by her new home, until she discovers her young neighbor and his wild inventions in a treehouse next door.
by Thanhhà Lại
In April 1975, the U.S. implemented Operation Babylift, a mass evacuation of children from South Việt Nam. Twelve-year-old Hằng and her five-year-old brother, Linh, presented themselves at the airport as orphans. Deemed too old, Hằng was helpless as Linh was torn from her arms and carried onto the airplane. An American volunteer pressed a card into the distraught Hằng's hands: "405 Mesquite Street, Amarillo, Texas."
Six years, two months and 15 days later, Hằng is finally on her way to reunite with Linh. Stranded at a rest stop, she ends up in the new, red truck of 18-year-old Leslie Dwight Cooper, who just that morning renamed himself LeeRoy and embarked on a post-high school adventure to become a cowboy. Hằng's singular determination to find Linh takes the unlikely pair on a wild ride, but Linh, now 11 and living happily as David with a new mother he adores, remembers nothing of his faraway past. Hằng must figure out which stories she can share to convince her brother of their connection.
National Book Award winner Thanhhà Lại (Inside Out & Back Again) makes her YA debut with Butterfly Yellow, inspired by her own background of fleeing war as a child and spending her adolescence in Texas. While readers might find deciphering Hằng's diacritical-laden Vietnamese syllables a challenge, LeeRoy's ability to understand Hằng bodes well for their evolving communication. As LeeRoy and Hằng grow from wary strangers to possible soulmates, Lại suffuses the unlikely relationship with gentle humor, yet remains unblinkingly candid about Hằng's left-behind experiences. Dedicated "In memory of the thousands of refugees at the bottom of the sea," Lại personalizes history with compelling characters, lively interactions and engrossing storytelling. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In National Book Award winner Thanhhà Lại's Butterfly Yellow, Vietnamese refugee Hằng arrives in the U.S. determined to find her younger brother--but reunion is just the beginning of getting him back.