From Francie & Finch
Carole Levin used her English history chops to create a charming children's storybook about Queen Elizabeth 1. She'll be at the shop next Saturday for a book talk and signing. This will be an event for kids and adults alike. Mark your calendars!
Check out our calendar offerings below that include the One Book One Nebraska 2018 selection, a book talk with acclaimed author Ellen Petry Leanse. Plus Journal Club!
We hope you'll also enjoy our bi-weekly Shelf Awareness for Readers that includes book reviews, author interviews, giveaways and fascinating features.
If you see a book you like, you can click on it and order directly from our website. We offer free shipping and you'll find different formats like audio, E-books, CD's, vinyl and large print to choose from. This is a great way to support your local, independent bookstore.
Either way, we hope you’ll stop down at the shop to say hello, browse our in-store offerings and check out our upcoming events.
Thu, 2/8 - 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. Book talk and signing with Ellen Petry Leanse, author of The Happiness Hack
Sat, 2/10 - 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Storytime and art work with Carole Levin, author of The Secret History of How England & Elizabeth I Defeated the Spanish Armada. Recommended for ages 8+. Plus illustrator Karissa Bettendorf.
Tue, 2/13 - 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. Poetry Reading and signing. One Book One Nebraska, Nebraska Presence - An Anthology of Poetry
Wed, 2/21 - 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Journal Club with Catherine Griesen
In this Issue...
by Laurie Halse Anderson , Emily Carroll
Laurie Halse Anderson's 1999 award-winning novel is reinvented in graphic novel form with illustrations by Eisner Award winner Emily Carroll.
by Robin MacArthur
A lyrical and moving novel about three generations of women who reconnect when one of their own goes missing.
by Saadia Zahidi
Saadia Zahidi's first book explores the stories, statistics and culture-shifting power of a new generation of working Muslim women.
Review by Subjects:
Inspiring Love Letters for Valentine's Day
Bustle delivered "21 love letters by authors to inspire your own Valentine's Day notes."
Mental Floss shared "13 mnemonic sentences to boost your general knowledge."
"Which hero is your literary crush?" Penguin Random House asked.
Remember "when New York rioted over Macbeth?" OZY does.
Composer, performer and author Kerry Andrew picked her "top 10 books about the Scottish Highlands and Islands" for the Guardian.
Rediscover: The Ancient Olympics
The opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics airs tonight from Pyeongchang, South Korea, kicking off two weeks of skating, skiing, sledding and other sports that would have left the original Olympians scratching their heads. The city-states of Ancient Greece created the Panhellenic Games, of which the Olympics were the primary event, on a four-year cycle that celebrated culture as much as athleticism. From roughly 776 BC to 394 AD, contestants wrestled, ran and raced horses, among other events, for personal accolades and the honor of their home cities. The games were also important forums of Hellenic religious and artistic life, and became political tools for querulous city-states--though the Olympic Truce meant spectators and athletes were free to travel to the games even in times of war. After a long decline, the Ancient Olympics ended when Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned all pagan festivals. The modern games began in 1896.
Cambridge University classicist and athletics coach Nigel Spivey sculpts an unflinching monument to antiquity athleticism in The Ancient Olympics: A History (2004), with depictions of brutal events and athletes desperate for victory. Spivey also explores an underbelly of the games unfortunately familiar in its modern iteration: cheating and bribery. The Ancient Olympics strips away mythology to display the original Olympics as nakedly as its participants. It was last published in 2012 by Oxford University Press ($18.95, 9780199602698). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
John Fowler: An Inside Look at Dian Fossey
|photo: Isabel Fowler|
John Fowler holds a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Georgia and an M.S. in Technology and Science Policy from Georgia Tech. Fowler appeared in the pages of Dian Fossey's classic Gorillas in the Mist and in Farley Mowat's Woman in the Mists. After 21 years working in zoological parks, he is now a research professional in Tallahassee, Fla. A Forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dr. Dian Fossey (reviewed below), a memoir about his experience as Fossey's research assistant, is his first book.
You say you weren't really qualified to be a student research assistant when you first traveled to Rwanda, yet Dr. Terry Maple seemed confident and made great efforts on your behalf.
I have never really discussed that with Terry, but I think that for him it was more intuitive on his part than anything. He knew me from his study-abroad program the previous summer, and I think my enthusiasm may have played a part. We had a good rapport, and I think he was always looking for potential grad students he could mentor and develop. I'm sure the timing of the opportunity played a role as well. Other than that, he wasn't certain of anything, and just took a chance on me.
As it turned out, I was qualified to be what Dian wanted as a student research assistant, with "assistant" being the key word. I realized eventually that independent research students working on their theses in a graduate program should've taken precedence over an undergrad like myself, but that hadn't fit well with Dian's needs, which by then were more of an occupancy of her territory and the battling of poachers rather than conducting research. Dian's people skills were combative and resentful and with her departure imminent, she could neither work collaboratively nor relinquish control, and needed to have what she thought were her own loyal people in place. That said, it was a phenomenal learning experience for an undergraduate in zoology like myself and I made the most of it, including getting credit for it toward my undergrad degree.
Heading into Rwanda, I was blissfully ignorant of what I was getting myself into and I didn't heed the warnings about those who hadn't lasted there. Upon arrival, I soon learned Dian was the biggest obstacle to overcome, and realized why others came and went. I didn't want to become one of those statistics. I stuck it out because I had made a commitment to Terry, and to Dian, too, to stay for a year. Even with all the conflict and adversity, I knew what a special opportunity it was and how worthy the gorillas were of our efforts. I also knew I would regret having left early if I did. Terry Maple would also point out that my airfare ticket to Rwanda was one-way only.
Your depictions of the environment and all of the amazing wildlife are very vivid.
Those images are still with me, perhaps even more vivid having written them down. I also still have my field notes, letters and photographic slides which I used to corroborate the memories. There were things I had nearly forgotten, but recalled upon re-examining my notes and letters and photos. Some of the events I took directly from these, like encounters with the forest elephants. That's how I could recount the details of how many there were, the sizes and who had tusks. Re-creating the world of Karisoke and those experiences are what drove my writing of this book. I even wanted to re-create Dian as the most astonishing creature of all at the center of that world. I knew there had yet to be a full-rounded written portrayal of her, up close and personal.
Readers are certain to fall in love with the gorilla Bonne Année from your captivating descriptions. What are your most meaningful memories of her?
Seeing her for the first time, her plaintive, sincere face, and the way she grasped me with arms and legs when I first picked her up is what comes to mind. I can even remember her celery breath. Another poignant recollection is the moment she tried to feign an interest in feeding among the members of Group 5, which Dian described as "displacement behavior." It was a heartbreaking scenario. She was in the middle of a full assault, but was just trying to fit in as if nothing was happening, much like a new school kid might do while being bullied by others in the lunchroom.
The allure and great work of zoos enticed you to join the Audubon Zoo after Karisoke. What important things do you see happening today?
The first thing I noticed was the improvement of conditions for zoo animals. Bars and concrete were giving way to grass and shrubs and open spaces. This became a better experience for zoo-goers as well, and a better platform from which to provide public awareness about animals and their habitats. I see public education and awareness as a great contribution of zoos, as well as their work to preserve species. A zoo or aquarium is where humans can first see animals not familiar to them, and where they can develop appreciation for myriad other species that occupy the same planet. Those places accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association have to maintain high standards for animal care, as well as education, research and conservation components. I was an AZA Professional Fellow for most of my career as a zoo curator, and can attest to the standards.
While at Zoo Atlanta, I was proud to coordinate the release of peregrine falcons into the city of Atlanta. This was a project initiated by the zoo in a cooperative effort with state and federal agencies. As a zoo, we contributed our animal husbandry and publicity skills to turn a cityscape into habitat for an endangered species. As a result, Atlanta is proud to host a resident breeding pair of the once endangered peregrine falcon. Many years later, a pair of these once-rare birds still nests and raises new young each year in downtown Atlanta.
This effort parlayed into our raising bald eagle chicks for release into the state of Georgia. It took our understanding of captive animal breeding and hand-rearing to make that possible, as well as the public outreach for which zoos must succeed at to generate revenues. We had the expertise for raising the birds from babies, and the state provided a wild release site on the coast. Zoo Atlanta's promotion of the effort brought well-deserved recognition for Georgia's commitment to re-establishing wild populations of this bird, which is our national symbol, by the way. Thanks to these kinds of efforts, the bald eagle, which was once absent from most states, has recovered well and is no longer listed as an endangered species.
Since you've answered the question you set out to, is A Forest in the Clouds the beginning and the end of your writing career?
I don't have another true story with all the spectacle and complexity of A Forest in the Clouds but now that I've honed my writing skills, I'd love to bring the zoo world to life, perhaps in fiction. Let's see what happens next. --Jen Forbus, freelance
Heart Spring Mountain
by Robin MacArthur
"How easy to pass along our flaws--our anger, sorrow, reserve, withholding," says Deb, a middle-aged hippie, to her 20-something niece, Vale, in Robin MacArthur's gorgeous first novel. Heart Spring Mountain opens in 2011 New Orleans. Tropical Storm Irene has hit Vale's home state of Vermont, and she has just received word that her mother, a heroin addict she hasn't seen in eight years, walked out into the storm and hasn't been seen in days. Though apprehensive, Vale decides to return home, where she reconnects with her aunt, her cousin and her grandmother. As they join forces to search for their missing family member, they discover that their family secrets run much deeper than addiction.
The novel moves back and forth through time to show how three generations of women inherited the traumas of their ancestors: addiction, poverty and perhaps (if Vale's mother's stories about their Native origins are true) dispossession and racist oppression. Each chapter unfolds from the perspective of a different character, a structure that lends the story an expansive richness. MacArthur further underscores the importance of history and relationships by drawing parallels between the women's family history and the traumas affecting entire populations: "the storm and the opioid crisis... are, in some ways, symptoms of the same illness," Deb thinks. "Pharmaceuticals and crude oil. Hurricanes and heroin. Flooding and Fentanyl. All of them making their way upstream." Lyrical and faintly political (but never pedantic), Heart Spring Mountain is a timely wonder of a debut. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A lyrical and moving novel about three generations of women who reconnect when one of their own goes missing.
Fools and Mortals
by Bernard Cornwell
So much ink continues to be spilled about William Shakespeare that often it takes a novel perspective to bring out something strikingly new about the Bard. In Fools and Mortals, Bernard Cornwell finds that perspective in the form of a sibling, Richard. The author of the Sharpe and Saxon Tales series uses the somewhat devilish younger Shakespeare as a vehicle for a fun, amusing caper about the writing and first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
While a part of William's theater company, Richard is barely on speaking terms with his brother. Playing women's parts (ladies were banned from being actors at that time), but quickly growing too old for those roles, Richard craves a greater place in his brother's world. When a play written for the wedding of a patron's granddaughter is announced, he jumps at a chance to play a man, and is accidentally thrust into a conspiracy to steal the play and ruin his brother's career.
Fools and Mortals is silly fun, a thrill ride through Elizabethan England where actors were knaves and puritanical mores were on the rise. In his acknowledgements, Cornwell notes that much of the book is fictitious, and that's the best way to read it. Those looking for a historical record of Shakespeare should head to the biographies, but for anyone wanting to read about the Bard dueling with swords and wooing bar-maidens, Fools and Mortals is a good bet. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: In Fools and Mortals, the author of the Sharpe and Saxon Tales series tells a fun, fanciful story of how A Midsummer Night's Dream came to be.
The Infinite Future
by Tim Wirkus
In an ambitious second novel, Tim Wirkus (City of Brick and Shadow) opens with a foreword introducing himself as the messenger. He knew narrator Danny Lazlo, Wirkus tells the reader, as an enigmatic classmate at Brigham Young University. The two were briefly reacquainted when Danny gave Wirkus a manuscript by obscure Brazilian science fiction writer Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie entitled The Infinite Future.
Danny first hears about Salgado-MacKenzie during a research trip to São Paulo, while working on a flailing attempt at the Great American Mormon Novel for the highly suspect Young Religious Novelist Grant. Librarian Sergio Antunes, Danny's liaison, introduces him to Salgado-MacKenzie's stories of spaceship captain Irena Sertorian and her valiant crew, who travel the universe facing deadly peril and ethical dilemmas in the style of classic Star Trek. Sergio, a lifelong fan, also shows Danny a book proposal indicating the existence of an unpublished Salgado-MacKenzie novel. Soon, however, Sergio renews contact, claiming to have found a lead on Salgado-MacKenzie's whereabouts through Dr. Harriet Kimball. The feminist scholar was excommunicated from the Church of Latter-Day Saints and once translated some of Salgado-MacKenzie's work. She regrets never finding out whether he was "a raving crank or one of the greatest minds of his generation." Together, the three undertake a journey to find the man at the heart of the mystery and seek out The Infinite Future in the most unlikely of places.
As Wirkus the character muses, "any story that creates a more potent and delightful version of itself in the reader's memory" has pulled off a magical metamorphosis, and Wirkus the author has given us just such a story. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: The Infinite Future follows a man in search of a mysterious Brazilian author and also contains that author's long-lost unpublished science fiction novel.
Mystery & Thriller
The Silent Room
by Mari Hannah
Did he jump or was he pushed? Northumbria's Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan frequently fields this question, but it's never been more pressing. Ryan's boss and friend Detective Inspector Jack Fenwick has been accused of harboring illegal firearms, and is caught on camera fleeing the prison van that was taking him to jail. Fenwick appears to be escaping, but Ryan is convinced his friend was abducted.
Ryan intends to aid in the investigation; instead, Professional Standards' John Maguire, acting on a personal grudge, suspends Ryan on the grounds that he was AWOL when Fenwick disappeared. Maguire's fair-minded boss Eloise O'Neil supports the suspension, feeling obliged to consider the possibility that Ryan is Fenwick's co-conspirator.
Determined to find Fenwick's missing notebooks and clear his friend's name, Ryan is hamstrung by his lack of access to the police station's incident room. Fortunately, Fenwick has earned loyalties beyond Ryan's: their retired colleague Grace Ellis volunteers her home as a base of operation; it was once a police house, and when she bought the place, the incident room's hardwiring was still connected. Her ex-lover, a former MI5 operative, rounds out the undercover team, presiding over the resurrection of what Grace calls the "silent room."
The first stand-alone thriller from 2017 Dagger in the Library Award-winner Mari Hannah, The Silent Room balances a crime novel's obligation to be spine-tingling with a literary novel's acute sense of place. Readers get to know Northumbria and its environs, as well as Norway, where things get really dicey, especially for Ryan and O'Neil. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author
Discover: Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan faces obstacles to clearing his boss's good name when his own gets smeared.
Food & Wine
Hawker Fare: Stories and Recipes from a Refugee Chef's Isan Thai and Lao Roots
by James Syhabout , John Birdsall
Hawker Fare: Stories and Recipes from a Refugee Chef's Isan Thai and Lao Roots is a vivid, inspiring collage of chef James Syhabout's life, family and the flavors of his youth.
Syhabout earned two Michelin stars for his Oakland, Calif., restaurant Commis, but his debut cookbook sets out to instead highlight dishes he serves at his restaurant Hawker Fare--the Lao and Thai dishes he grew up eating.
Sticky rice and padaek, fermented fish sauce, provide the foundation for many. Syhabout builds on these with myriad colorful and flavorful recipes for snacks, tum som, noodles and soups, laap and goi, meats, aws and moks, sauces and condiments, as well as desserts. Standouts include Lao Green Papaya Salad, Khao Mun Gai (Poached Chicken and Rice) and Aromatic Fish Salad Laap.
An introduction by Anthony Bourdain cements Syhabout's celebrity, but his work sparkles on its own. Expletives pepper his writing, also seasoned with creative verbs. On his Coconut Milk and Tapioca Soup with Melon and Crushed Ice, he writes that his mom would "freestyle it." He includes advice on preferred brands for prepared ingredients, and where to find fresh produce and meat. Some can be difficult to get in Western markets, he admits, like buffalo skin ("Honestly, even I have a hard time sourcing this stuff"), while others are easy, such as lemon grass ("easy to find these days at all Asian markets [or] Whole Foods"). Ultimately, he says, "If the label says Thailand or Vietnam, it's probably legit." As legit, no doubt, as Hawker Fare. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Michelin-starred chef James Syhabout shares recipes and stories from the Isan Thai and Lao cuisines of his childhood.
Business & Economics
Fifty Million Rising: The New Generation of Working Women Transforming the Muslim World
by Saadia Zahidi
According to Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum, Muslim women are going to work in greater numbers than ever. Across the Middle East and North Africa, women from a range of sects, generations and families are launching careers outside the home. They are entrepreneurs, service workers, clothing designers, corporate executives. Their growing economic power is revolutionizing their homes, families and societies. In Zahidi's first book, Fifty Million Rising, she delves into these shifting cultural, social and economic patterns.
Zahidi, who grew up in a Pakistani Muslim family, has an economist's love of data. Her narrative is packed with statistics on subjects including marriage, divorce and childbirth rates across the Muslim world, as well as the number of companies with female executives. But her primary focus is the stories she has captured: vivid anecdotes from women (many, but not all, millennials) who are blazing new paths. Sharing their journeys and struggles are women like Mozah, who runs a catering business out of her home in Cairo; Sara, a Pakistani doctor who founded a telemedicine start-up; and Diajeng, the CEO of an online fashion platform. Although many of them face financial challenges, pressure from male relatives and other obstacles, they are determined to succeed. Zahidi explores the effects of their success on family structures, community norms and the potential for future generations of Muslim women, while celebrating their "grit, resilience and a hunger for achievement." Fifty million working Muslim women are indeed rising--and so are their numbers. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Saadia Zahidi's first book explores the stories, statistics and culture-shifting power of a new generation of working Muslim women.
Psychology & Self-Help
Modern Loss: Candid Conversations About Grief. Beginners Welcome
by Rebecca Soffer , Gabrielle Birkner
Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner's Modern Loss follows the encouraging success of their online movement of the same name, a much-needed forum for people to engage in open, authentic dialogues about grief. In this eclectic collection of essays, more than 40 contributors share their insights on bereavement with a respectful balance of humor and honesty that focuses on the loss one actually feels instead of what society expects one to feel. The message comes across loud and clear: grief should be experienced in whatever way feels genuine and right, whether or not it is conventionally acceptable.
Modern Loss is divided into sections highlighting topics related to the grieving process. In the section "Data," Soffer coins the phrase "emotional digital sneak attack": seeing an image on Google Earth of one's deceased father mowing the lawn of one's childhood home, for example. Such "digital dust" sometimes can cause anguish, as when Soffer received an e-mail from her deceased mother offering to bake her favorite chicken dish. The message somehow landed in her inbox a year after her mother's death. At the same time, though, having access to such history of a deceased loved one can be comforting and precious.
Soffer and Birkner's easy conversational tone encourages the reader to explore what it means to build happy, healthy and resilient lives despite the repeated shattering of normalcy that is part and parcel of bereavement. To read these stories is to appreciate the relief that comes with sharing experiences and their attendant emotions with others on the same journey. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A fresh, original and often entertaining approach to living a meaningful life while dealing with grief and loss.
I, Mammal: The Story of What Makes Us Mammals
by Liam Drew
Liam Drew's first book, I, Mammal: The Story of What Makes Us Mammals, is an infectiously enthusiastic introduction to mammalian biology. Drew takes the reader along on an idiosyncratic survey of the various attributes and unusual physical features--live birth and the scrotum, for example--that, taken together, help to define why mammals are mammals. Far from a dry list of mammalian characteristics, I, Mammal looks to Drew's personal life, especially his experience of fatherhood, to show how all of our lives are shaped by these distinctive features.
Helpfully, Drew also possesses abundant wit and a sly sense of humor. On the question of why mammals developed scrotums, Drew writes: "It's like a bank deciding against a vault and keeping its money in a tent on the pavement." That Drew then goes on to debate the merits of the long-popular and somewhat technical "cooling hypothesis" is emblematic of the author's approach. Drew is an entertaining writer that never gives short shrift to his complex subject matter.
Behind Drew's occasional silliness lies a serious, awe-filled appreciation for unlikely products of evolution, especially the platypus. The author's delight in sharing bizarre facts about humans and our evolutionary cousins is tempered by his insistence that "what we define as individual traits are always bound together, and it is within these bonds that a meaningful notion of mammalianness can be found." I, Mammal positions human beings within a vast, incredible family tree. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: I, Mammal provides a witty guided tour of attributes that define mammals, as well as a distinctive perspective on humans and our evolutionary heritage.
Nature & Environment
A Forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dian Fossey
by John Fowler
As a young pre-veterinary college student, John Fowler applied for and was accepted into a year-long research assistantship with Dr. Dian Fossey at Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda. Fowler knew little about Fossey at the time but was enticed by the rare opportunity intimately to study the mountain gorilla in its African habitat. When he left the United States in January 1980, he anticipated exciting adventures and priceless education, but what he found instead was a hostile environment led by an alcoholic struggling to keep her position before her murder in 1985.
A Forest in the Clouds is Fowler's firsthand account of life in Fossey's research camp, nestled among the Virunga Volcanoes. It paints a dramatically different picture from the acclaimed primatologist's articles in National Geographic or her book, Gorillas in the Mist. It also illustrates an amazing corner of the world and a spectacular species only a few DNA chain links away from humans.
Fowler's raw honesty, his awe and respect for the natural world and his talent for storytelling make A Forest in the Clouds both mesmerizing and terrifying. Humorous anecdotes, like Fowler's experience having a gorilla pee on him in the night, balance the grim realities of wildlife--and human life--he must face. Readers will feel transported to the wilds of Africa, where Fowler educates them on raising a baby gorilla, camp cuisine and surviving the greatest challenge, Dian Fossey. A Forest in the Clouds is a brave and beautiful memoir any animal lover will devour. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Decades after her gruesome murder, Dian Fossey's research assistant answers the question, "What was she like?"
Children's & Young Adult
Speak: The Graphic Novel
by Laurie Halse Anderson , Emily Carroll
Laurie Halse Anderson's 1999 young adult novel, Speak, is a seminal work in young adult literature that helped to pave the way for many of the incredible works we've seen in the almost 20 years since its publication. This new edition, Speak: The Graphic Novel, adapted by Anderson herself and illustrated by Eisner Award winner Emily Carroll, is as painful as it is prepossessing.
Right before her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda attended an end-of-summer party. For reasons unknown to her peers, Melinda called the police and busted the party. Now, on her first day at her brand-new school, she is already an outcast, despised by almost all of her classmates, including Rachel, her "ex-best friend." Melinda, dealing with a trauma that is left unspoken for most of the work, quickly draws inside of herself, becoming small and almost completely silent. "It's getting harder to talk," she thinks, "My throat is always sore, my lips raw, like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis." She falls into a deep depression, feeling as if there is "a beast" in her guts, "scraping away at the inside of [her] ribs." The illustrations accompanying this thought--a wolf, bare tree limbs, blood drops--are all black, pressing in on the text, surrounding and suffocating it.
Using pencil and charcoal, the entire graphic novel is illustrated in grayscale, allowing the work to be as visually dark as its content. Strong lines, overlapping panels and clever use of blank space show Carroll's skill in creating Melinda's stifling, near-silent world. Speak: The Graphic Novel is hypnotizing and heart-breaking, with the kind of empowering finish that unshackles protagonist and readers alike. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Laurie Halse Anderson's 1999 award-winning novel is reinvented in graphic novel form with illustrations by Eisner Award winner Emily Carroll.
A Couch for Llama
by Leah Gilbert
This charming and silly picture book begins by announcing that "[t]he Lago family's couch was very well-loved." But now, after playing host to many cozy activities, including "snuggling... fort building, and hiding and seeking," it's clear that the couch has seen better days. The family decides it's time to replace it. After trying a couch that is "too big" and one that is "too small," the Lago family happily finds a replacement that is "JUST RIGHT." They pack their perfect new couch on top of their car and head home. Unfortunately, before they get there, the new couch flies off the car and into a field, where it lands at the feet of a rather startled llama.
Llama is intrigued. He sniffs and brays and tries to share his lunch, but the couch doesn't say anything or seem very hungry. It doesn't taste good either, so Llama concludes the couch is useless. But, just as the Lago family discovers their couch is missing, Llama realizes his new couch is not as boring as it seems.
The illustrations showing Llama making friends with the couch are not to be missed. Llama has a big round belly and teeny-tiny legs, making his jumping and twirling very comical indeed. He exudes plenty of emotion, moving from a "stubborn, couch-loving kind of llama" to a dejected, couch-less llama in a jiffy as the family takes away his "smooshy-mooshy, fluffy-puffy cushions" that he "completely" loves. A Couch for Llama manages to be both tender and action packed, and shows the rewards of spreading the happiness around. It's a thoroughly entertaining read, especially while ensconced on a suitably comfortable couch of one's own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: When a family tries to bring a perfect new couch home from the store, it falls off the car, landing at the feet of a very startled llama.
by Gloria Chao
Mei Lu is a 17-year-old Taiwanese-American freshman at MIT. According to her parents, her life is all planned out: she will become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy League graduate. But what they don't know is that she's a germophobe ("bacteria-ridden patients" make her "skin crawl") who feels more at home in a dance studio than an operating room. She also has a crush on a "nerd-hot" Japanese-American boy. Straddling two worlds without fully belonging to either of them, Mei attempts to navigate her new independence while still trying to respect her immigrant parents' hopes and dreams.
In American Panda, Gloria Chao skillfully and effectively puts the reader in Mei's shoes, highlighting how it feels to be a first-generation American. One notable way she does this is through transcripts of voicemails from Mei's mom, aunt and grandmother that include gossip ("I heard from Mrs. Tian who heard from Mrs. Lin..."), guilt trips ("Why you never pick up? I know you're not in class!") and health and beauty tips ("I read about these spoons that fight fat.... Your belly needs it!"). Sprinkled between chapters, these snippets simulate what it's like to be on the receiving end of constant criticism and advice, albeit well-meaning. Additionally, the Mandarin words that are scattered throughout--constant reminders that children of immigrant parents are living in two worlds--further cement the reader in Mei's experience.
Between embarrassingly funny scenes of Mei's mother fussing over her and emotionally charged, tense familial interactions, there's a sweet narrative about Mei falling in love and coming into her own through dance. It's in these in-between moments, when Mei's true self shines, that Chao does some of her best work. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: An eye-opening, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking story of a Taiwanese-American girl's struggle with breaking tradition to be herself.
Pray Me Stay Eager
by Ellen Doré Watson
A boisterous collection of poems both formal and free, rhymed and dissonant, Pray Me Stay Eager is a wise and whimsical tribute to aging with lust and wonder. Director of the Poetry Center at Smith College, Ellen Doré Watson (Dogged Hearts) addresses subjects as diverse as flushing intrusive ladybugs down the toilet and fantasizing romance with a fellow airplane passenger in the poem "LAX to BDL" ("I only see us with our clothes on--real lust lately/ gone underground from lack of habit & hope... I hang back as we deplane, and here he/ comes, looking rumpled, sluggish, kind of watery, just like me"). Her narrators are mothers, ex-wives, daughters and lovers musing on the earthy roots of the abstract and the abiding verities of the mundane.
The source of the collection's title, the disjunctive poem "Not a Thing" captures the prayerful nature of its several odes and what she calls "field guides." It begins with a cautionary declaration: "I haven't been known to address the Lord... it's a human wow I'm after the shiver-spank/ of a Zulu choir." Watson's supplicatory poems not only "pray for eager," but also advise us as we age to "praise longing, it's what keeps us un-/ finished" and accept that "maybe we'll never again be the selves/ we remember, but isn't complication fun? ...who knows/ the wonders to come of our rack and ruin." In "Ode to Awe," the fitting final poem of this vibrant collection, Watson optimistically twists the definition of the abstraction awe from "outsized excitement" to "outside" and concludes: "If I ever see God,/ it'll be out of doors./ I turn the mat around/ --it says Welcome/ as I leave." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Ellen Doré Watson's witty, warm and agile poems explore the roots of abstraction and the illuminations of the ordinary.