From the Shelf
Reading Without Walls
April 2018 marks the second annual Reading Without Walls program. Throughout the month of April, author Gene Luen Yang challenges readers, educators, librarians and booksellers to read outside of their walls by doing one (or all) of the following:
- Read a book about a character who doesn't look or live like you.
- Read a book about a topic you don't know much about.
- Read a book in a format that you don't normally read for fun.
Below are some recent Shelf favorites to keep you reading without walls:
Martin Rising by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Brian Pinkney
This gloriously illustrated work for middle grade readers celebrate the last months of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through poetry.
Meet Cute, edited by Jennifer L. Armentrout
A diverse cast of couples meet for the first time in this anthology of romantic short stories from 14 beloved YA authors.
Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, edited by Sara Jane Boyers, illus. by Jean-Michel Basquiat
This 25th-anniversary edition of Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat's picture book will inspire new generations of fearless thinkers and courageous creators.
Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias
A 21st-century guide to activism from Marley Dias, founder of #1000blackgirlbooks, that will ignite a spark in teen and pre-teen readers everywhere.
Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy, illus. by Lisa Kennedy
In this picture book, the ceremonial welcome of Australia's Wurundjeri people reads like an illustrated prayer.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi struggles to make her way as a young woman and a painter in a time where women are seen as little more than property.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
A seamstress finds her vision and a young prince gains confidence in himself when the prince hires the seamstress to design his dresses. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor
In this Issue...
by Chelsey Johnson
A self-identified member of the "lesbian mafia" has an unexpected affair with a man, forcing her--and her community--to contemplate love, family and belonging in challenging ways.
by Matt James
A girl experiences her great uncle's funeral in this graceful, beautifully illustrated picture book about death, customs and emotions.
by Lisa Genova
A divorced couple reluctantly reunites when one learns he is dying of ALS.
Review by Subjects:
Words Created by Famous Writers
Compunctious, for example. "Can you guess which famous writer created these words?" Buzzfeed challenged.
Fintan O'Toole recommended "five books to understand the Irish border" for the Guardian.
You know you know. Lit Hub asked: "Guess which Kurt Vonnegut tattoo is by far the most common?"
Electric Lit imagined "10 satirical covers for the terrible books you can't get away from."
Bustle showcased "15 famous authors who dissed classic works of literature in the shadiest ways."
"Only known edition of annotated Ben Jonson plays" was saved for the nation after the U.K. government "intervened, allowing the University of Edinburgh to buy the 'extraordinary' collection."
Alison Oliver: Learning to "Wolf"
|photo: Tara Striano|
Alison Oliver is the illustrator of more than 20 BabyLit board books, which introduce children to classic literature. Sales for the series total more than one million copies. Her first picture book, Moon, was just published by Clarion. Oliver lives in New York City, where she also runs a design studio called Sugar. Visit her online at pure-sugar.com and on Instagram at @alisonoliverdesign.
Where did the idea for this story come from?
Moon came from my own experience with meditation and with our increasingly busy world. More deeply, I remembered times in my childhood where I would find myself playing alone and have the experience of feeling very connected to... everything. It's the same feeling you get after meditating and is something you can access just by being still and quiet. The rewards are great; you gain access to your more intuitive self. Then, when you go back to "doing" you are coming from a more creative and insightful place.
Moon's journey is reminiscent of that of another famous character who "was sent to bed without eating anything" and traveled to a land of "wild" creatures. Has Sendak influenced your work? Any other major influences?
Yes, Max! I didn't realize that Moon went on a similar journey until I finished writing her story. But Max realizes he doesn't want to be so wild and goes home; Moon embraces the wildness she learns from Wolf and brings it home with her. I think what Moon learns from her experience is that true wildness is her nature and it is what she was missing.
Where did the name "Moon" come from?
I named her "Moon" originally as a placeholder because I couldn't think of the perfect name for her (and my cat's name is Moonbeam), but quickly realized how right it is for her. Her adventure takes place at night out in the forest, and it is that open, quiet space that she brings back with her. The moon is generally associated with the feminine qualities of creativity and intuition, and that's what Moon is tapping into there in the forest.
What is your illustrative process like? How do you make your text and illustrations work together? Does one come before the other?
This is the first book I have illustrated and written so I was really figuring out my process for doing both. I made a piece of art first because I knew the two characters and what their relationship was before I really knew what the actual story would be. After that it was a little bit of a back and forth; I would do some sketches and then write some words to go with it, and then finally the rest of the text came. My agent, Susan Hawk, recommended "writing" with art first since I am really more of an illustrator, and it was one of the best pieces of advice I have gotten. We are so used to words first that it feels backwards, but it really isn't. And it also reinforces what the story is about--letting your intuition lead the way!
There is a lot of humor in the illustrations (a wolf poster that changes from the beginning of the book to the end; a book titled only "Plants")--is it important to you to keep a light tone to your work?
Yes, I love humor and I think it's one of the best ways to convey messages. It has always been what I respond to the best. And, I also like putting little hidden things around that you might not catch the first time.
Why wolves, specifically?
Yes, that is very important. Animals reflect qualities to us that we can manifest in ourselves; they are like visual representations of invisible characteristics. Wolf is the epitome of the wild spirit and shows us how to embody that in ourselves by connecting strongly with our intuition. When wolves want to access all their sensory perception, they get very still so they can sense what is there. So, we can learn to "wolf" (or sit in stillness) to be more focused, be more creative and be more gentle and kind. But--wildest of all--to be more intuitive. --Siân Gaetano
Every Note Played
by Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova, novelist and neuroscientist, has a gift for telling accessible stories about complex maladies and their victims. Still Alice explored early-onset Alzheimer's; in Left Neglected, a high-achieving woman suffers a brain injury. In Every Note Played, celebrated classical pianist Richard denies his diagnosis of ALS, until he sits at his Steinway and "the keys want to be caressed, the relationship ready and available to him, but he can't respond, and this is suddenly the cruelest moment of his life." Having chosen performing over his marriage and his daughter, Richard's tragedy is multiple; he suffers alone. Genova alternates Richard's chapters with Karina's, his ex-wife who sacrificed her rising career as a jazz pianist and deferred to Richard's relocations and touring. Richard is unfaithful; Karina grows bitter and vindictive.
Three years after their separation, as he becomes too disabled to live alone, she reluctantly takes him into her home. Their relationship is frosty; she cares for him but both rue their situation. However, as they each reflect on what led to their estrangement, the reader learns that Karina is not blameless. As Richard moves toward his inevitable death, they both hope for forgiveness and redemption.
Genova unsparingly details the tragedy of ALS. But she includes the beauty and joy of Richard and Karina's lives in music, balancing the horrific with the uplifting. Every Note Played is the story of a marriage, as well as a hard-hitting primer on a disease. She includes links to her website and "Readers in Action: ALS," and urges readers to learn more. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A divorced couple reluctantly reunites when one learns he is dying of ALS.
by Chelsey Johnson
Andrea Morales, self-described member of the "Lesbian Mafia," is having an illicit affair. With a straight man. This simple construct provides the jumping-off point of Chelsey Johnson's Stray City, which explores the many ways friendship, love and sex intersect--and the many ways they do not.
Stray City is not built on a fast-moving plot: Andrea (Andy, to her friends) starts her affair with Ryan. She continues her affair with Ryan. She keeps the affair a secret. She questions what the affair means to her, but also what it means to her identity, to her queerness, to the life she has made for herself in Portland. The slow build of Johnson's debut is its best feature, giving Johnson space to explore not only the affair, but how it impacts Andy and the family she has found in Portland. Andy's reflections kaleidoscope inwards and outwards, filling the pages of Stray City with a cast of perfectly imperfect characters. Collectively, this group brings to life a specific place and time--queer, woman-centric, late-'90s Portland--in a way that is at once specific to that moment and yet universal in its truths: we are individuals and lovers and friends and family, and sometimes those things are the same and sometimes they are at odds.
Johnson writes with an energy and emotional intelligence that is at once unapologetic in its honesty and yet tender in its delivery of it. Stray City is a love letter to community, to a nostalgia-inducing era of Portland history, and to anyone who has ever gone looking for one's self and found it in an unlikely place. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A self-identified member of the "lesbian mafia" has an unexpected affair with a man, forcing her--and her community--to contemplate love, family and belonging in challenging ways.
by Anna Quindlen
Nora Nolan loves New York and can't imagine living anywhere else. For her husband, Charlie, however, the city is "not his natural habitat," so when he scores a long-desired permanent parking space on their dead-end street, she indulges his crowing. Anna Quindlen's 10th novel, Alternate Sides, builds from this quotidian victory into a fast-paced novel of family dynamics, societal inequities and, eventually, choosing what matters most to make a satisfying life.
Nora and Charlie have an enviable city home, good jobs and loving, successful college-age twins. While Nora notes Charlie's apparent unrest with his life, overall things are good, and her career as manager of a jewelry museum and her close-knit friendships sustain her. She understands the neighbors, among them George, the self-appointed majordomo, and Jack, dour and short-tempered. All rely on Ricky, the Latino handyman who arrives in his van to fix the pipes, shovel the walks and rescue them from household emergencies. But the peace is shattered when Ricky is assaulted, apparently over a long-simmering parking conflict. Nora and Charlie argue over the incident and its investigation, illuminating their differing perspectives on life, and leading her to make dramatic choices.
Quindlen has a gift for realistic contemporary fiction; supporting characters are richly drawn and their dialogue is often humorous. ("Ice?" Nora asks her son in response to her daughter's text. "I Can't Even" he explains, teasing, "Get with the program, lady!") Quindlen captures the ambience of the city itself in countless details, and readers will appreciate Nora's affection for her New York life. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A New York City couple faces their conflicting perspectives when a violent act shatters their peaceful neighborhood.
by Audrey Niffenegger , Eddie Campbell
Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife) once said that her book The Three Incestuous Sisters is a "novel in pictures" rather than a graphic novel. The 13 stories contained in Bizarre Romance are just that--oddly whimsical, mildly titillating and sometimes poignant tales in pictures. Co-authored and illustrated by Niffenegger's husband, Eddie Campbell (From Hell), the collection considers the wonders and horrors, banality and mystery of love and relationships in all their manifestations--romance, family, friendship and the metaphysical.
Some of the pieces are goofy. In "The Ruin of Grant Lowery," a man ends up in indentured servitude to an ocelot-juggling fairy, and in "Jakob Wywialowski and the Angels," angels are exterminated by flame-wielding pest control experts. What shines as the most memorable are the longer prose pieces--the hauntingly wistful Hurricane Katrina love letter in "Girl on a Roof"; the isolation of success and the desire to connect in "Secret Life, with Cats"; Niffenegger's thought-provoking meditation on religion and art in "The Church of the Funnies."
Campbell lightly illustrates longer prose pieces with simple pen-and-ink sketches. On more comics-driven stories, he uses a more contemporary style. Photographic play on "Motion Studies: Getting Out of Bed" especially stands out.
Perhaps the artistic vision expressed in "The Church of the Funnies" explains the manner in which Niffenegger and Campbell have approached their collaborative debut: "We make things to find out what they are, what they can be, what they might mean. We make things to keep us company in the world. We make things to show them to other people, because we want them to understand." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: The collaborative debut of two storytelling masters describes love in all its beauty, ordinariness, wickedness and regret.
Mystery & Thriller
The Temptation of Forgiveness
by Donna Leon
The Temptation of Forgiveness, the 27th novel in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, is another compelling look at life in modern Venice. After more than 20 years on the Venetian police force, Brunetti is inured to all forms of graft and corruption, but this time even he will be surprised.
Professoressa Crosera, a university colleague of Brunetti's wife, Paola, comes to tell him that she suspects her son is doing drugs. The commissario is at a loss. Crosera refuses to tell him who she suspects is selling the drugs at her son's exclusive school, so Brunetti puts it from his mind until a week later, when the woman's husband, Tullio Gasparini, is found at the bottom of a bridge with his head smashed in.
Is there any way Gasparini could have fallen accidentally? Could it have been an attack related to the suspicion of drugs? Brunetti and his colleagues, including Commissaria Claudia Griffoni, begin to put out gentle feelers, discovering an odd connection between Gasparini and a potential fraud ring.
With underlying themes of parental concern and violence against women, The Temptation of Forgiveness is an appropriate novel in the wake of the #metoo movement, and in a world where many parents fear the terrible things that could engulf their children. The philosophical debates between Brunetti and Griffoni lend a gentle thoughtfulness to the novel, which is placed in historical context by the ancient Greeks and Romans that Brunetti loves to read. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this gentle mystery, Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates an attack on a Venetian man.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear brings back her intrepid duo of female adventurers in Stone Mad, a steampunk western that features Karen Memory and her partner and love, Priya. In this installment, the couple are having a celebratory dinner out in the dining hall of the Rain City Riverside hotel, when they overhear two spiritualists at a nearby table. That is unusual, but not as odd as when a table begins to levitate and, stranger still, Karen and Priya's table flips over on its own. Karen knows she has to find out just what is causing all of this ruckus and jumps into the fray, much to her partner's dismay.
Bear's imaginative and fast-paced piece is filled with spiritualists, illusionists and a mad tommyknocker, as well as great descriptions that easily place the reader in this Victorian Pacific Northwest town. Blending strong elements of feminism and lesbian love, she captures the nuances of an argument between two lovers with perfect pitch. Stone Mad is as much about relationships and how to negotiate them as it is about the strange happenings at the hotel. Readers would do well to read Bear's Karen Memory before starting this one, as there are many references to the previous novel. For those searching for strong female characters in an unusual genre, this is a good series. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Karen and Priya battle a tommyknocker and spiritualists in book two of this adventure series.
Biography & Memoir
No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run
by Tyler Wetherall
Tyler Wetherall is spending her 12th birthday in St. Lucia with her older sister and fugitive father when the phone call comes: Scotland Yard has tracked him to his not-so-secret location, and the girls need to flee to their mother in London immediately. In No Way Home, editor and creative writing instructor Wetherall artfully shares her life in pieces--from early days living as something resembling a family unit to her adolescent years filled with secrecy and surveillance while separated from her on-the-run father, and finally her adult efforts to learn and come to terms with the family legacy.
The first half of Wetherall's memoir reads like emotionally exhausting spy fiction. By age nine, she has lived in 13 houses in five countries on two continents, yet knows nothing of fake identities or legal problems. Reliving the accounts of her siblings as they begin to suss out the family secret is thrilling and gut-wrenching. Wetherall, who kept a journal from a young age, infuses her early memories--filled with clandestine phone calls and surprise visits from black-coated authorities--with a riveting presence of thought and perception.
Aided by her father's 300,000-word prison treatise, Wetherall reveals the saga behind the screens her parents employed to protect their three children. Although it lacks the emotional resonance of Wetherall's childhood account, her father's account of the impact his life had on the relationships, dynamics and paths of the family lends completeness to an undeniably fascinating work. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: In a memoir worthy of the big screen, the author shares her family's life on the run as her father is pursued by the FBI and Scotland Yard.
Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History
by Lesley Adkins , Roy Adkins
Gibraltar, the small territory on the coast of Spain, has been in British hands for hundreds of years, and remains a source of tension between the two nations. Gibraltar, by historians Roy and Lesley Adkins, traces the history of that strain, focusing on the years 1779 to 1783, when the forces of Spain and France laid siege to the British garrison stationed there. One of the longest in modern history, the siege is a story of courage and ingenuity, on both sides of the war.
Using dispatches, diaries, newspaper clippings and other first-hand accounts, the Adkinses put the thoughts and feelings of the participants of the siege front and center, turning what could be a typical dry history of war into one filled with small, tender moments. Gibraltar housed many families, and the book wisely focuses on the plight of the women and children as their homes were destroyed by Spanish artillery. Matters of race and class are always in the background, and the authors call out the injustices of the British Empire and class system.
But, most importantly, the siege of Gibraltar is a riveting story, where a small group of British soldiers and sailors managed to outlast a massive campaign by Spain and France. The Adkinses lean into the terrors and triumphs of the siege, making sure the reader is swept up in each twist and turn of the battle. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Historians Roy and Lesley Adkins bring to life the four-year siege of Gibraltar in 1779.
Voices from the Rust Belt
by Anne Trubek, editor
The borders of the U.S. Rust Belt are not defined, writes author and editor Anne Trubek (The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting), but "anywhere an economy was previously based on manufacturing and has since been losing population can be part of the gang." Her new anthology, Voices from the Rust Belt, aims to scrape some popular stereotypes off these places.
Trubek is founder and editor of Belt Publishing, and many of these 24 essays have appeared in Belt magazine and in Belt's city-themed anthologies. They are all by writers with personal, often life-long knowledge of their particular communities. They tell stories of their childhoods, work lives and night life, of desperate poverty in Pittsburgh, the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and the crummiest gay bar in Cincinnati. An Iraqi-American woman moves to Cleveland with her family and finds the warm Arab community she never had before. An Ohio professor teaches local ecology in parking lots: "I grew up with young forests and orange creeks because my own family had created them.... I give students a similar sense: This is the place where we live, that we have shaped and continue to shape. This is the place where our children will live." Several compare the history of white flight from their cities with the return of white liberals who praise diversity, but often recharge old injustices.
Oversimplified and whitewashed versions of the Rust Belt have too often been told by flyover journalists to serve preconceived political or cultural narratives. This collection is a welcome and humane antidote. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A rich, multifaceted look at the Rust Belt by 24 writers who know it well.
Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory
by Michelle Hamilton , Deena Kastor
Since she was a child, Deena Kastor loved to run. Naturally talented, she won many races as a junior athlete by simply running harder and faster than the competition. But in college, plagued by injuries and her own persistent negativity, Kastor struggled with burnout. After graduation, she moved to Colorado to train with legendary coach Joe Vigil. To her surprise, Vigil emphasized training the mind even more than the body. Kastor details her journey toward mental toughness and a stellar career in her memoir (co-written with Michelle Hamilton), Let Your Mind Run.
"Ironically, practicing positivity showed me just how negative I could be," Kastor admits. She writes about the relentless daily effort of redirecting negative thoughts, sometimes dozens of times during a workout. Gradually, she built up a range of positive approaches: focusing on her breathing, her feet, the landscape, her goals of winning the next race or improving her times. While excelling as a runner remained important, Kastor also concentrated on building character: becoming kinder, more positive, more gracious. She chronicles the daily grind of practice, with its triumphs and setbacks, and tells the stories of key races within a larger narrative of becoming an elite runner and meeting her husband, Andrew. Together (with Vigil), they built a training program that would take Kastor to three Olympics and multiple world records.
Relentlessly positive without being trite, Kastor's memoir will inspire runners and anyone who wants to build a stronger, more agile mind. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Olympian runner Deena Kastor details how she built the mental toughness required for her championship career.
Children's & Young Adult
by Matt James
When her great-uncle Frank dies, Norma prepares to attend the funeral with her parents. She practices her sad face in the mirror even though she is actually feeling "pretty happy." After all, she gets to skip school and she'll see her favorite--"FAVORITE"--cousin Ray. During the long church service, Norma entertains herself by watching the dust motes dancing in the light of the stained-glass windows. Ray climbs and fidgets and stares at the hairy ear of the man next to him. When they are finally released, the cousins slip outside to play, happily shedding the somber mood of the funeral. They read names on gravestones and roll down a grassy hill and find feathers and frogs and sticks.
Matt James's (I Know Here) quiet, child's-eye view of a funeral, with all its mysterious rituals and traditions, is a pitch-perfect introduction to a sometimes-difficult theme. Readers can see Norma's mind working as she studies herself in the mirror and looks at the flower-covered coffin in front of the church, and when Ray asks her if Uncle Frank is still a person. At the end of the day, though, she seems pleased by the experience. "Mom..." she says as she heads home with her parents, "I think Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral."
James's inviting multi-media artwork in The Funeral includes acrylic and ink on masonite and dimensional elements of cut paper, masking tape, rolled-up twine, cardboard and scroll-sawn masonite. The overall effect gives the illustrations depth and carries the story beyond the text. Simply lovely. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A girl experiences her great uncle's funeral in this graceful, beautifully illustrated picture book about death, customs and emotions.
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Twelve-year-old Jerome was always "the good kid": whenever possible, he "skated by. Kept [his] head low." But now that he's dead, he's famous. Jerome was shot just a few blocks from home while playing with a toy gun. Officer Moore arrived on the scene, didn't announce himself, didn't tell Jerome to put down the gun or raise his hands. He shot Jerome before the cruiser even stopped and didn't render aid or call for help as Jerome died.
By many accounts, Moore "is a good cop." His daughter Sarah--who's the same age and grade as Jerome--however, becomes doubtful: "he can't be if he killed a kid, can he?" Sarah sees what her father can't--literally--because she's the only person alive to whom Jerome is visible, with whom he can talk directly. Prodded by the 60-plus-year-old ghost of Emmett Till (whom Sarah can also see), Sarah and Jerome learn the ugly history of decades of racial and police violence, beginning with Emmett's heinous murder in 1955 at age 14. While Jerome tries to understand his own death, often aided by Emmett's gentle conversations, Sarah must come to terms with her father's "racial bias" and figure out how she might "make sure no other kids die for no reason."
Inspired to give voice to the "countless" deaths in her own lifetime due to "conscious or unconscious racism," Coretta Scott King Honoree Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ninth Ward; Towers Falling) adds a fictional name to the long list of black boys killed in police violence. Beyond easy labels of good and bad, right and wrong, Rhodes unblinkingly confronts challenging perspectives and the mutability of truth. Rhodes wrote Ghost Boys because "racial prejudices and tensions... still haunt America" and she hopes that Jerome's story might prompt "meaningful change for all youth." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Jewell Parker Rhodes examines the death of 12-year-old Jerome through the historical lens of Emmett Till's murder and the contemporary statistics surrounding police violence against black youths.