From the Shelf
It's Cold Out There; Read Some Poems
"The idea of the poet crops up again and again in de Chirico's paintings' titles," translator Stefania Heim observes in her introduction to the poetry collection Geometry of Shadows by Giorgio de Chirico (A Public Space Books), citing his works The Uncertainty of the Poet, Delights of the Poet and The Nostalgia of the Poet.
I've always loved de Chirico's art and now, thanks to this gem of a book, I love his poems ("I search more and more for refuge in that/ sacred temple where two Goddesses hold/ hands: true Poetry and true Painting.").
Reading de Chirico has inspired me to share some other great collections I encountered last year, all so different from one another, each earthshaking in its own way. I hope this scattering of lines will lure you to these poets:
From the poem "Civil War Reenactment, Look Park, Massachusetts," in Battle Dress by U.S. Army veteran Karen Skolfield (Norton): "I tell them what I know of war,/ the battle charge to come. They want to know/ why you don't hold bayonets like knives/ ...and the children are not scared/ and when I say you know this is not/ what real war is like they say I know, I know."
From "On the Night of the Election," in Franny Choi's Soft Science (Alice James Books): "I guess/ it's an old question:/ is there anything that works/ that isn't a machine for killing,/ or doomed to collapse, or stolen/ from the sweat of the hungry?"
From "Corner Store Still | Life," in Bodega by Su Hwang (Milkweed Editions): "She, a generation without proof of birth--/ Not a single memento containing any/ Modicum of mirth. Holding her tongue/ With a fury untouched--a solitude so great,/ She remains mighty in anonymity."
From "The Librarian," in Library of Small Catastrophes by Alison C. Rollins (Copper Canyon Press): "Today the librarian learned that only humans can pick/ up on sarcasm intuitively, that AI has yet to grasp/ these finer nuances. The librarian lives in the gray,/ she never mistakes what it looks like for what it is."
It's cold out there. Read some poems.
In this Issue...
by Kiley Reid
In this conversation-starting debut novel, a public incident of racial profiling recalibrates the relationship between a 20-something black babysitter and her white employer.
by Victoria Turk
Advice for minding one's digital manners, with helpful tips on how not to behave on social media, the new rules of online flirting and the perils of workplace group chats.
by Jarrett Pumphrey , Jerome Pumphrey
Hand-crafted stamps in muted colors illustrate this pleasingly understated picture book celebrating the natural rhythms of farm life and family.
Review by Subjects:
Name the Answer: An Eponym Quiz
"Do you know these words that come from names?" Merriam-Webster presented an eponym quiz.
Atlas Obscura visited the Hobbit Café in Houston, Tex., for a "taste of Middle Earth, in the middle of the Bayou City."
"Bathroom reading: this 18th-century toilet was disguised as a book," Mental Floss noted.
Author Fay Bound Alberti picked her top 10 books about loneliness for the Guardian.
Dance magazine reported that "brief dance performances unfolded in unexpected corners" of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Artori Design's Superhero bookshelf "gives a 'floating-on-air' feeling," Bookshelf noted.
Megan Angelo: The Future of Social Media Stardom
|(photo: Alison Conklin)|
Megan Angelo has written about television, film, women and pop culture, and motherhood for publications including the New York Times, Glamour, Elle, the Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire and Slate. She is a native of Quakertown, Pa., and a graduate of Villanova University. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family. Followers, just published by Graydon House, is her debut novel.
How did you develop the concept that became Followers?
Followers started in a small moment that ended up figuring into the book. I was writing in my journal, and in the vain way of a mom and a writer, I thought, "Someday my kids will read this! And my grandkids!" Then I realized that no, they probably won't, because I write in cursive. Where I am, kids don't learn cursive in public schools anymore.
Immediately I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to write a story that hinges on someone not being able to read something crucial that's written in cursive?" Obviously, that story would have to be set in the future, and I had never thought before that moment about writing something set in the future. But I knew that whatever future I built had to be more grounded in things like the cursive revelation--the kind of thing your grandparents tell you about, not the kind of thing that's true sci-fi--and the book started coming together from there.
How did your journalism background inform your plot?
I blogged for years at a number of different places. The site Orla works at isn't based specifically on any of them. It's more of a click-driven horror show come to life. I had a lot of fun writing Ingrid, her boss, because she became a mouthpiece for the rules of blogging, which can be so demoralizing. Headlines always sound like a breathless, annoying person charging into a restaurant and collapsing at your table interrupting everyone with their drama. Traffic rules all. There's a snarky undertone, especially when it comes to celebrity stuff. I think that's starting to fade a little now. But I'm someone who made money in the past being snarky about stars, and sometimes it was fun, and other times I'd wonder, "What would this person think if they saw this? They're still a person."
Marlow's entire life is a live broadcast. What would be the worst life experience to have sent out to the entire world? Why do you think we're so fascinated by the lives of others when we cringe at the thought of exposing our own lives?
I'm going to say the first thing that came to my mind: I think the worst thing to have broadcast would be pulling your Spanx on.
I think that while traditionally people loved consuming gossip but valued their own privacy, we're starting to come into more of a balance between those two things. Instagram in particular has given us the opportunity to cast our own lives into the light that used to be reserved for celebrities. We can make our breakfasts and our parties and whatever look glamourous and heightened. And we're sharing more. Nobody reads those user agreements. When we hear the occasional report on how much of our data is being collected and distributed, we get spooked for a second and then go back to our normal lives.
I'm including myself here. I'd go so far as to say I've even taken advantage of some privacy-breach type stuff. I have Googled something I want to find. Let's say it's a pair of black boots. If the search results don't satisfy me, I put my phone down and think, "I bet the next time I pick up my phone, Instagram will put a bunch of black boots in my feed, and that's how I'll knock out this black-boot thing."
The thought-altering "device" introduced in the book is brilliantly creepy. What gave you the idea of such an intrusive piece of technology?
I've always hated holding my phone. I find it so clunky and inconvenient. I don't like typing, I don't like having my hand curled around something and my head bent over it. I don't like the way it looks to have it out on a restaurant table or during a conversation. I get annoyed when someone has their text alerts on deafening volume and they keep going off. I was coming from a crotchety place, thinking about how I'd make all of this more elegant and less intrusive. Once I'd solved all those problems, I thought, "Great! No more ugly phones!” Then I thought, “Yeah, but it's really creepy that the solution I just came up with means a phone that would see into your thoughts."
About six months after I sold the book, Elon Musk started talking about "Neuralink" computers that would work a lot like the devices in Followers do. You can always count on Elon Musk to back up your wildest ideas.
Your characters feel so realistic even though the story is largely about their environment.
Each of these women is wholly motivated by something they want for themselves. They're not trying to save the world, or do something for someone else, or even to win someone else over romantically. I love how pure and unapologetic they are in their ambition. Orla wants to be great, Floss wants to be known and Marlow wants to be free. For each woman, to some extent, the other two are standing in the way.
What will we see from you in the future?
I'm working on another book. It's about a trio of mothers who attend the same exercise studio and all have ties to a murder that happens in their town. In the aftermath of the murder, they're called upon to help avenge it, and in the process they discover that their barre studio is not quite what it seems to be. The book is about regular, largely invisible women getting wrapped up in something dangerous and extraordinary, and it's also about race and politics and guns and motherhood. And barre! It looks at the history of women in America during the last century through a speculative lens. --Jacki Fulwood
Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid
Alix Chamberlain is the white owner of a small, successful Philadelphia business. She has a toddler and an infant as well as a book to write, so she hires 25-year-old Temple University graduate Emira Tucker, who is black, to babysit three days a week. Alix considers Emira a godsend and wants her to know it. Kiley Reid's debut novel, Such a Fun Age, is about the way that good deeds fueled by even the best intentions can fizzle under the weight of unacknowledged self-interest.
One Saturday, Emira gets a phone call from Alix at nearly 11 p.m.: she's in a jam and needs care for her toddler. Emira can use the cash, so she drops everything to kill time at an upscale grocery store with the two-year-old.
At the market, a middle-aged white woman sees Emira with the white toddler and alerts a security guard, who confronts Emira, suggesting that she has kidnapped the child. Alix is appalled by the incident and wants to prove to Emira that she isn't just another entitled white person. Reid, who is black, has an acute understanding of well-meaning white people's sometimes squirmy racial sensitivity. A lesser writer would have taken the book's powder-keg material--which does, of course, ultimately explode--and set it off with too-easy satire. The strength of Such a Fun Age lies in Reid's even hand with both Emira and Alix, whose points of view switch off fairly regularly throughout the novel. Neither character is archetypal: Emira is levelheaded but frustratingly aimless, and Alix is entitled without being risible--well, until the book's end. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this conversation-starting debut novel, a public incident of racial profiling recalibrates the relationship between a 20-something black babysitter and her white employer.
Nietzsche and the Burbs
by Lars Iyer
Lars Iyer (Wittgenstein Jr.) makes nihilist philosophy hip and fun in his highly entertaining tragicomedy Nietzsche and the Burbs.
The novel introduces a group of disaffected teenagers finishing their last year of secondary school before heading out into the big, uncaring world: Art, Merv, Paula and the narrator, Chandra. The foursome inducts into their clique a new student, whom they nickname Nietzsche due to his gloomy disposition and pessimistic outlook on life. They sense he is intellectually superior, perhaps braver, and thus look up to him as a kind of leader. The four get him to front their rock band, called Nietzsche and the Burbs, believing music can save them from the banality of life. For his part, Nietzsche plays in the band--though not as enthusiastically as his friends would like--and spends most of his time developing a philosophy of the suburbs, posting on his blog about his conclusions while participating in the parties and the general hullabaloo of high school.
Iyer writes in short, emphatic elliptical sentences, a little maddening in their repetition but effective in creating a mood of rebellious adolescence. The style works in portraying the young characters' molten thoughts and emotions, as well as in satirizing the suburbs and school life.
The brilliant, relentless drive of the narrative of Nietzsche and the Burbs demands a certain amount of stamina from readers. But the payoff is great. Perhaps not since Don DeLillo's White Noise has a novel so funnily and savagely lifted the veil on Western postmodern culture. What's underneath is hard to explain. Some may find darkness, others beauty. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Lars Iyer explores philosophical ideas through a band of misfit adolescents in this intellectually thrilling and hilarious novel.
Mystery & Thriller
by Paige Shelton
Paige Shelton (The Loch Ness Papers) departs from her cozy Scottish mysteries in Thin Ice, the riveting first entry in an Alaskan suspense series. Beth Rivers, known to the world as thriller writer Elizabeth Fairchild, recently was kidnapped by a crazed fan, Levi Brooks, and was badly injured while escaping from him.
Fleeing to a remote Alaskan town, population 500, Beth is hoping to find safety. But instead, she discovers that Benedict is a town full of secrets. She thought she'd booked a room at a hotel, but it turns out that Benedict House is actually a halfway house for female shoplifters. And Beth's new dorm-mates are possibly not the only people in Benedict with criminal pasts to hide.
After talking to the local police chief about how to blend in and hide her past as Elizabeth Fairchild, Beth decides to take over the publication of the town's very occasional local newspaper. When a woman turns up dead, apparently by suicide, Beth uses her cover as the local reporter to help Benedict's police chief investigate the situation.
Back home in Missouri, the police have been unable to trace Levi Brooks, and Beth begins to worry that somehow Levi has chased her all the way to Alaska. Suspenseful and intriguing, Thin Ice captures the intensity of life in a spartan setting and the fraught nature of Beth's mental state in the wake of her suffering. Shelton's fans are sure to enjoy this compelling departure from her typical writing style. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this suspenseful Alaskan mystery, a writer tries to avoid her past after escaping from a crazed fan.
Bryant & May: The Lonely Hour
by Christopher Fowler
The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a specialized division of the London police; as the PCU's chief puts it, "If the Met doesn't want to touch it, it comes to us."
The PCU is notorious for its most senior detective, the getting-on-in-years Arthur Bryant, a walking anachronism. Bryant wears a trilby, peppers his speech with old English slang and has an adversarial relationship with technology--and sometimes with his long-suffering partner, detective John May.
As Bryant & May: The Lonely Hour opens, a man named Dhruv Cheema has been found hanging by his ankles, his throat cut, on London's Hampstead Heath. While Bryant and May are investigating the possibility that Cheema was sacrificed in a satanic ritual, the Met hands the PCU another case: a man's body has just been pulled from the Thames. His throat was pierced with the same weapon used on Cheema: a surgical instrument called a trocar. What's more, both men died at the same lonely hour: 4 a.m.
The 16th book in Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit series (Bryant & May: Strange Tide) is a cracking good caper twined with whip-smart PCU-centered subplots. The Lonely Hour is also a love letter to London, especially evident in the book's excerpts from Bryant's "Peculiar London" walking-tour guide. All this is laced with impious humor from the Monty Python school. Bryant's attempt to console the chief about his dead cat: "She had a good life.... I could have used her for all kinds of experiments but I hardly ever did." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In the ceaselessly droll 16th Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery, Bryant and May investigate multiple deaths occurring at the same oddly early hour.
Biography & Memoir
A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman's Harrowing Escape from the Nazis
by Françoise Frenkel
Françoise Frenkel's decision to open a bookshop in Berlin soon after World War I will eventually save her life. Frenkel, who was a Polish Jew, has loved books since she was a child, and her years spent living in Paris have given her a passion for French literature. When she learns that Berlin has no stores that sell books written in French, she decides to launch one, which lends this rediscovered memoir its title, A Bookshop in Berlin (originally published in 1945 as No Place to Lay One's Head). Frenkel carries out her plan despite the French Consulate General's warning to her that memories of the war will probably cause Berliners to "burn it to the ground."
Not only does Frenkel open La Maison du Livre, she manages to create a French cultural center that attracts German customers as well as foreign residents. The contacts she makes through her store give her an advantage when she--with many other refugees--flees to France in the late 1930s. Armed with a French residency permit and a letter that says she has, through her bookstore, "rendered significant service to France," Frenkel is taken in by a French family who shelter and guide her through varying forms of safety for almost a year, until at last she's able to cross the border into Switzerland.
Throughout her memoir, Frenkel maintains a voice of cool detachment as she tells about the horror of Kristallnacht, the fear she feels when she receives no news from her mother after Hitler invades Poland, and the rapidity with which daily living turned into a death threat for European Jews. A Bookshop in Berlin echoes through time as a warning that resonates today. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: Hidden away in a French attic until it was rediscovered in 2010, Françoise Frenkel's memoir will inspire readers while keeping them absorbed in her story of bravery and hope.
Rachel Maddow: A Biography
by Lisa Rogak
Emmy Award-winning news host Rachel Maddow once said, "I am a childless, middle-aged, potbellied lesbian, and I don't have that much to be excited about in my life other than having a great job." But prolific biographer Lisa Rogak (Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart) has created a breezy and compelling biography by detailing captivating facets of Maddow's workaholic nature. Her hour-long MSNBC TV show airs five nights a week, 50 weeks a year. "It takes me a good solid ten hours to prep an hour of TV," Maddow reveals. "I live what I think of as my own life between two A.M. Saturday morning and seven A.M. Monday morning."
Maddow's love of news started early. Her mother remembers three-year-old Rachel teaching herself to read by reading the morning newspaper. After college, she became a regular contributor on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC TV show. After ratings rose when she substitute-hosted Countdown with Keith Olbermann several times, MSNBC created The Rachel Maddow Show for her in 2008. Rogak periodically veers away from the all-consuming TV show to peek inside Maddow's private life. She and her partner, photographer Susan Mikula, have been together since 1999. When they met, they were both dating other people. Rogak also discusses the cyclical depression Maddow has had since puberty but only recently made public, when she realized that it could help others suffering from depression.
Fans of the political commentator will discover new aspects of Maddow's life on and off camera in this first-rate biography that constantly showcases Maddow's deprecating, droll wit. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Lisa Rogak's first-rate biography of Rachel Maddow offers new perspective on the droll MSNBC political commentator.
The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter's Journey to Reconciliation
by Peggy Wallace Kennedy , Justice H. Mark Kennedy
Although readers of The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter's Journey to Reconciliation shouldn't expect an image rehabilitation of its subject, Peggy Wallace Kennedy writes with some sympathy for her father, who had a rough childhood. For that matter, so did his daughter.
George Wallace, the notorious segregationist and four-term governor of Alabama, was an absent father in both senses; he was also a womanizer. His restlessness kept the Wallaces largely in poverty until he finally won the governorship in 1962. Before he ran for office, Wallace was known for his progressive views, but "Daddy was willing to bend his moral universe toward power," Kennedy writes. She is also clear-eyed about her father's cynical tactics: "Daddy understood the power of hate and fear and exploited these feelings to gather support." Although Kennedy doesn't draw an explicit connection, it will be hard for readers not to link her father's apparent megalomania with her own mental health challenges, which she describes with devastating frankness.
Even as a teenager, Kennedy knew that her father's politics were ugly, and in The Broken Road she intermittently expresses regret that she didn't confront him: "Was I lost in the trappings of the advantages I now see?" (Some of those advantages are evident in the book's two dozen black-and-white photos, which include posed shots of Alabama's first family.) Kennedy explains that her activism on behalf of civil rights during her adult life is "part of my commitment to make things right." So is this courageous, unblinkered memoir. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This brave and sobering memoir by the daughter of the notorious segregationist seeks to elucidate her father's character while still holding the man to account.
A Crisis of Peace: George Washington, the Newburgh Conspiracy, and the Fate of the American Revolution
by David Head
Following Britain's 1781 surrender to the Continental Army in the Battle of Yorktown, the American colonies rejoiced: independence and peace were near! History professor David Head (Privateers of the Americas) investigates why commander-in-chief George Washington and the Confederation Congress, however, feared a different result.
Plagued by complicated financial growing pains and a constant struggle to define itself as a unified government, Congress had been unable consistently to pay the army's soldiers through the grueling war. Officers and soldiers, worried that peace would see them returned to civilian life with no restitution for years of sacrifice, were brimming with resentment. They "believed in republican government and creating the world anew," but they also wanted to be honored and paid. As Congress continued to struggle, the possibility of mutiny grew, culminating in March of 1783 with the Newburgh Conspiracy. An inflammatory, anonymously written letter circulated through the military camp urging stronger demands of Congress, including a threat of military refusal to disband. With the revolution on the verge of self-destruction just months before the war's conclusion, it was only Washington's poise that kept the infant American nation from tearing apart, Head writes. "Washington understood his men and his country. In an hour of grave danger... Washington knew how to inspire his officers' perseverance by asking for their trust."
Head dissects the events leading up to and through the so-called conspiracy, tracking financial records, correspondences and congressional documents to paint a vivid picture of a newborn nation in crisis. Meticulous and balanced, A Crisis of Peace lays out the vitally important circumstances that led to a critical moment in our nation's history and Washington's indispensable role in preserving the peace. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Historian David Head examines Washington's critical role in holding a fractured nation together when mutiny was threatened at the end of the Revolutionary War.
Psychology & Self-Help
Kill Reply All: A Modern Guide to Online Etiquette, from Social Media to Work to Love
by Victoria Turk
In Kill Reply All: A Modern Guide to Online Etiquette, from Social Media to Work to Love, Victoria Turk navigates the uncharted terrain of digital social manners, explaining how online behavior can affect one's real-life relationships. Along with colorful commentary on the quirks of modern Internet culture, Turk offers advice in four main areas: the workplace, friendships, the art of romance and social media communities. Smartphone etiquette receives special attention, with guidelines for sexting, appropriate times to send nude photos and the secret vocabulary of emojis.
Turk is features editor at Wired U.K. and a journalist focused on the cultural impact of modern technology; she has a flair for humorous writing and her anecdotes are as entertaining as they are constructive. There is a charming British tilt to Turk's advice, including a brief section entitled "How do you address an email to the Queen?" The title of Kill Reply All refers to an online habit that, in her opinion, demonstrates a complete lack of online decorum: the overuse of the "reply all" feature in response to large group e-mails, creating an unwieldy e-mail thread. In an effort to rein in the out-of-control inbox, Turk suggests that e-mail should be used only as a last resort, especially in the workplace. She is a disciple of the Inbox Zero school of thought, which advocates a Marie Kondo-style of inbox cleanup.
Kill Reply All will speak to those who grew up in the analog era but who have, for better or worse, wholly embraced the technology revolution. It picks up where etiquette experts like Emily Post left off, providing a necessary counterpoint to the wild west nature of the smartphone-dominated digital age. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: Advice for minding one's digital manners, with helpful tips on how not to behave on social media, the new rules of online flirting and the perils of workplace group chats.
And Then We Grew Up: On Creativity, Potential, and the Imperfect Art of Adulthood
by Rachel Friedman
There are plenty of books about people who follow their artistic dreams to glory. Rachel Friedman asks, "How about some books where we focus on gracefully giving up on something?" And Then We Grew Up: On Creativity, Potential, and the Imperfect Art of Adulthood is a fine specimen of the sort.
The book evolved out of Friedman's disappointment that she hasn't reached a level of financial solvency in her chosen creative field. Even after she became a published author--her first book was the travel memoir The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost--she had to take a part-time job as a managing editor to make ends meet. She wanted to know if her disillusionment is shared by others who, like her, fully intended to earn a living as an artist.
Friedman had a ready-made subject sample: her cohort of 20-odd years earlier at Interlochen, the fabled Michigan performing arts camp where she studied viola. In college, she felt as though she had hit a creative wall as a musician and stopped playing. She has wondered ever since if this was a mistake. Friedman tracked down some of her fellow campers. There's Daniel, an actor who transitioned to screenwriting and then took a job as a creative director at a Los Angeles special effects studio. There's Jenna, a violin prodigy who is now a high school orchestra teacher. From these and more, Friedman hopes to learn who is still reaching for the stars and to what extent they have accepted compromise--and in And Then We Grew Up, "compromise" is usually a gentler way of saying "day job." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this amiable look at the state of the artist, the author tracks down the people with whom she attended a performing arts camp 20 years earlier.
Children's & Young Adult
The Old Truck
by Jarrett Pumphrey , Jerome Pumphrey
Inspired by the strong women in the authors' lives and brought to life by more than 250 individually crafted stamps, The Old Truck is a quietly powerful ode to hard work and perseverance.
A farming family--mother, father, daughter--cheerfully toils through the seasons, feeding chickens and loading their red truck with produce even as the vehicle grows older--"And older./ And older still," until it settles into the weeds by the now-weathered barn. In a playful story bridge, the "weary and tired" truck dreams of sailing the seas, braving the skies and chasing the stars with the little girl. The girl--first seen as a bump in her mother's belly--works side by side with her parents, carrying baskets and tinkering with the tractor and truck engines. Time passes. Now a grown woman, the next-generation farmer hauls the old truck out and works day and night to repair it. Finally, she's rewarded with a satisfying (and boldly printed) "VROOOOOOOM!!" much to the panicked chickens' alarm and readers' delight.
This is a book that invites close and frequent reading. Attuned listeners will hear in the minimal text comfortable repetition with variations: "On a small farm, an old truck worked hard./ The old truck worked long." Keen-eyed children will catch small details: the way the barn gradually fades from red to brown and the foliage and crops change with the seasons. Author/illustrators and brothers Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey use a natural, earthy palette to express the simple joys of self-sufficiency and a connection to the land. Place this beauty on a low shelf with easy access. It will likely be in regular circulation among discerning young readers. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Hand-crafted stamps in muted colors illustrate this pleasingly understated picture book celebrating the natural rhythms of farm life and family.
by Lesa Cline-Ransome , illust. by James E. Ransome
In Coretta Scott King honoree Lesa Cline-Ransome (Finding Langston) and CSK medalist James E. Ransome's (The Bell Rang) Overground Railroad, Ruth Ellen and her parents, along with many other black people, join the Great Migration, traveling from the agricultural south to the urban north. Through handsome collage, pencil and watercolor illustrations and lyrical free verse, the family's hopeful journey to find better jobs, homes and rights shows readers a major moment in the large scope of African American history.
In contrast to the earlier safe houses known as the "underground railroad," new developments in transportation meant that real railroads (and buses and cars) became the means of escape for people still tied to the land through sharecropping. Young readers will likely be drawn in by the author's riff on a familiar phrase in the title, as well as the spare but poetic language in which Ruthie narrates her long day's journey, starting in a North Carolina town at daybreak and ending in New York City later that night.
The family gets its first taste of change when they leave the train's colored section after Washington, D.C. But children will recognize that, despite the family's optimism, white people in the north still harbor prejudice. Ransome's bold, multimedia double-page spread expertly depicts this by showing a set of wary eyes peeking over a newspaper as a lady in a flowered dress holds her hand over an empty seat. Despite this sad state of affairs, "Mommy and Daddy say/ jobs/ education/ freedom/ are waiting in New York for us." Throughout, Ruthie reads aloud to her mother from the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," paying tribute to the characters' ongoing search for freedom. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: A beginning glimpse into an important era in black history, the Great Migration, as seen through the eyes of one fictional family.