From the Shelf
Poets Who Contain Multitudes
Recent poetry collections often defy the ballyhooed trend of authors writing concise pieces in order to reach more readers on social media.
Authors such as Tina Chang, Jana Prikryl and Layli Long Soldier are by contrast dizzyingly ambitious; they approach the poem as a space where the contradictions, horrors, and past events that shape being alive in the 21st century can be, if not reconciled, then comprehended. They embrace the words of Walt Whitman in confronting the totality of self: "I am large, I contain multitudes."
The work, for example, of Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang is not always easy to read, yet her scope is what renders her recent book Hybrida so rewarding. Her topics range from her fears for her mixed-race child's safety to the epic "Bitch," about Laika, the first dog in space: "While humans went about their earth lives below, she remained/ chained but floating. Her canine self, a mortal wound." There is anguish in Hybrida but also empathy and care toward language.
No Matter by Jana Prikryl is from a different side of New York, colder and perhaps stranger. She tours a city where David Bowie and characters from Virgil appear within its blocks. This isn't fantasy but not far away from it. Her poems break down time and landscape with a sense of music and play, modernity cracking apart with the immediacy of Kirsten Dunst wearing kicks in Marie Antoinette.
Layli Long Soldier's extraordinary Whereas is musical as well, but it's a much older song. The wrenching title prose poem explores the impossibility of reconciling colonial language with the Lakota experience, written with anger and ache. As do Prikryl and Chang, Long Soldier captures the nature of identity and life in 2020--living with collective memory while fighting to exist in a dangerous and uneasy present. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer
In this Issue...
by Lori Mortensen
This fascinating bio explores the life of Edward Gorey, who "scribbled and sketched" his way toward creating the sweet-yet-dark books that have become beloved by generations.
by Emily St. John Mandel
Mystery, corruption and ghostly apparitions shift and blend in Emily St. John Mandel's imagining of the collapse of a Great Recession-era Ponzi scheme.
by N. Scott Momaday
This incredibly personal collection of poems presents deep reflections on the natural world, indigenous history and the nature of humans, animals and God.
Review by Subjects:
Poetry Short Film 'Siren'
Poetry short film "Siren": "A woman is quietly reading her book in a cafe when a man, who can't take a hint, decides he wants to get to know her better."
"What would your pet read?" (via the New York Public Library)
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter at Home Site offers "magical crafts and activities for everyone stuck inside," Mental Floss noted.
"You've bollixed up my book." The Guardian showcased a letter that "reveals Hemingway's fury at being censored."
Atlas Obscura offered tips for "how to help librarians and archivists from your living room."
Rediscover: The DecameronThe Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio follows 10 young Italians--seven women and three men--who take shelter from the Black Death in the countryside around Florence. Each day, over the course of 10 days, every member of the group must regale the others with a story, for a total of 100 tales throughout their stay. Boccaccio (1313–1375) uses this pastoral escape as a framing device for tragic, comedic, even erotic stories from far-flung sources. Through long chains of translations, Boccaccio was exposed to ancient Indian and Middle Eastern narratives, which he added to or altered for his own purposes. Some tales borrow from Italian oral tradition or other local sources, including a French one shared with Geoffrey Chaucer (which became the "The Reeve's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales). Regardless of each Decameron story's origin, Boccaccio twists them to reward early humanist ethics and mercantile sensibilities, rewarding sophistication and wit while punishing dullness and stupidity. In 2016, Penguin Classics published a selection of The Decameron's 32 best stories in Tales from the Decameron, translated and edited by Peter Hainsworth ($16, 9780141191331). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Julian Peters: Poems to See By
|photo: Maryam Lolo|
Julian Peters is an illustrator and comic book artist living in Montreal, Canada, who focuses on adapting classical poems into graphic art. His work has been exhibited internationally and published in several poetry and graphic art collections. Peters holds a Master's degree in art history, and, in 2015, served as Cartoonist in Residence at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. Poems to See By (Plough Publishing House, $24) is now available.
Would you tell us a little bit about this book? How do you describe it?
Poems to See By is a collection of 24 adaptations of poems into comics. The selections range from 19th-century classics from authors like Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and Christina Rossetti to contemporary or near-contemporary works by the likes of Seamus Heaney, Maya Angelou and Tess Gallagher. Unlike traditional books of illustrated poetry, the comics format allows for almost every line to receive its own visual accompaniment, which in turn allows for a much more intimate and dynamic interplay between text and imagery.
How did you choose the poems for this compilation?
The poems have been chosen to reflect a wide diversity of voices and perspectives, and to explore the six central themes into which the book is subdivided: identity, relationships, creativity, nature, time and mortality. Many, though not all, of the poems were selected in part because they are a standard inclusion in many Introduction to Poetry reading lists, thus facilitating the book's use as a teaching tool.
Some of the poems, like Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" and William Butler Yeats's "When You Are Old," have long been among my personal favorites and have always spontaneously suggested to me a lot of the imagery that went into the comics adaptation. Others, such as Dylan Thomas's "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower" and Langston Hughes's "Juke Box Love Song," initially impressed me more by a particular kind of energy that they exuded, which it was then my task to figure out how to translate into visual form.
What was your process for making poetry visual?
I like to think of my visual interpretations as one possible reading of a poem. It is not my intention to offer the definitive "meaning" of a poem, or in any way limit the range of possible interpretations. Rather, my hope is to open up the poem to further reflections by getting readers to look at it in a new way.
I normally begin with the "emotional atmosphere" that the poem conjures up for me and consider what style or imagery might provide a visual analogy to that. I also look closely at the order in which the various ideas and imagery are presented, with an eye to whether they suggest a way of superimposing some kind of narrative upon the whole (comics being an intrinsically narrative art form).
Why did you want to create this work for young adults?
It was only in my late teenage years that I began to appreciate poetry. At some time between age 18 and 19, poetry went from being this thing that had always left me rather cold to constituting a full-blown passion. I can't quite explain this shift, which I suppose was partly hormonal, but thinking back on that time, it strikes me that one of the important factors was that I had various literature teachers who were very good at communicating their own enthusiasm for poetry. One of the ways they would do so was through frequent impromptu recitals of their favorite works, and the almost physical delight being taken in the delivery of these lines awakened me to the fact that there was more to poetry than just saying things in a complicated way. I like to think of my comics interpretations as my own poetry recitals, my own way of expressing my love for this material. My hope is that some of this passion will be contagious.
Are you interested in doing more works for a youth audience?
Absolutely! I think the works of art and readings that one encounters in one's youth are the ones that determine our most fundamental, bedrock tastes. All told, works of art aimed at children and young adults probably have a greater collective influence than do those created primarily for an adult audience.
I found your comic for "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou to be particularly moving. The colors are bright, the textures are soft, there's a lot of beauty there. But the text is also confined, making the reading experience feel claustrophobic and intense. How did you choose the styles and mediums for each poem?
The imagery in "Caged Bird" is inspired by various kinds of traditional African American quilts, especially the Gee's Bend quilts from Gee's Bend, Ala., and the story quilts created by former slave Harriet Powers in the late 19th century. I wanted imagery that evoked a historical experience while still remaining abstract enough to allow readers to focus mainly on the emotions that would have accompanied these experiences. I also saw these beautiful and inventive quilts, which originally were often made from spare scraps of cloth, as representative of the resilience of spirit that is evoked in Maya Angelou's poem.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?
The book is aimed at young adults, but my hope is that it can be enjoyed by older readers as well. A woman at a pre-launch event told me that she had pretty much written off poetry since her school days but, as she began reading one of the comics interpretations to be included in Poems to See By, she found herself moved to tears. I couldn't ask for a more rewarding response than that. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
The Glass Hotel
by Emily St. John Mandel
In her first novel in more than five years, National Book Award Finalist Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven) abandons apocalyptic settings for another kind of crisis, but again thoughtfully examines the rebuilt lives people precariously arrange after a major collapse.
Mandel opens with the 2018 drowning of beautiful, adventurous young woman Vincent Smith, "plummeting down the side of the ship in the storm's wild darkness." A dying desire to see her older half-brother, Paul, brings her to him somehow, the first of several ghostly visitations that haunt the characters. Mandel then steps back through time to the late 1990s and travels a circuitous route to the moment of Vincent's death, twisting through the '90s club scene, the isolated wilderness of Vancouver Island and a Ponzi scheme that highlights the scams and excesses of the U.S. economy on the cusp of the Great Recession. During a stint as a bartender at a remote hotel, Vincent catches the eye of financier Jonathan Alkaitis and she becomes his companion in "the kingdom of money." When his subterfuge unravels, the repercussions impact Vincent, a chorus of office staff and many innocent investors.
Half mist and dreams, this sophisticated take on the fragility of human connection and the ability to make do with less after the loss of success is a far cry from an acting troupe traveling the post-apocalyptic world. However, its concern with the sanding of life's jagged edges remains true to readers' expectations of Mandel's incisive vision. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Mystery, corruption and ghostly apparitions shift and blend in Emily St. John Mandel's imagining of the collapse of a Great Recession-era Ponzi scheme.
In Five Years
by Rebecca Serle
As in her debut, The Dinner List, Rebecca Serle adds a splash of magic to In Five Years while grounding the story in reality. Dannie Kohan's life is unfolding exactly as she's planned. On the same day she nails an interview for her dream job, her boyfriend, David, proposes. She falls asleep that evening and wakes up in an unrecognizable apartment with a strange man, and, shockingly, realizes this is where she is in five years. Which is impossible, because it looks nothing like her plans.
Serle's novel then brings Dannie back to her current life, with the young woman unable to shake what she saw and what it means. It felt too real to be a dream--was it a premonition? Four and a half years pass, and she and David remain unmarried, supposedly because their high-powered lives have allowed little time to plan a wedding. Until Dannie meets her best friend Bella's new boyfriend, potentially "the one"--and he's the man from Dannie's vision years earlier. Soon after, Bella shares more big news, and Dannie rushes to get married to prevent her foresight from coming true and ruining everyone's lives.
Dannie and David make more money than most millennials and Bella is a trust-fund socialite/artist, but they remain sympathetic as they strive to find romance, rewarding careers and a sense of security in an uncertain world. The moving love relationship at the center isn't between obvious suspects; Serle's understated prose allows heartbreaks to resonate quietly and the final note of hope to land beautifully. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: After experiencing an unexplainable vision, a woman who's meticulously planned out her life grapples with the possibility her plans might go awry.
The Henna Artist
by Alka Joshi
Alka Joshi draws an evocative mid-century portrait of a woman fighting for independence and security in her debut novel, The Henna Artist. After fleeing her abusive husband, Lakshmi Shastri has made a name for herself drawing elaborate henna designs for Jaipur's wealthy women. Along with her intricate designs, Lakshmi provides special sweets and teas for her clients to cure headaches, stimulate desire and (secretly) prevent unwanted pregnancies. But just as Lakshmi is close to achieving financial stability, the arrival of her teenage sister, Radha, upends her carefully constructed world.
Narrated by Lakshmi, Joshi's novel takes readers from the elegant mansions of Jaipur's upper crust to the noisy, chaotic markets where Lakshmi and her savvy street-urchin assistant, Malik, buy the supplies for her business. Already juggling a full appointment book and overseeing the construction of her house, Lakshmi must also take charge of Radha, who has made her way to Jaipur after becoming orphaned. The sisters share the same fierce pride and dogged determination, which serve them well but cause them to clash often. Radha's impulsive decisions, and Lakshmi's reactions, will have far-reaching consequences for them both. Through her strong female characters--Lakshmi, Radha, Lakshmi's wealthy clients and even the city's two maharanis--Joshi's narrative highlights the personal, economic and social challenges of being a woman in a traditional but rapidly changing society. The Henna Artist is a lushly detailed story of family, womanhood and finding the courage to make difficult choices. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Alka Joshi's first novel paints an evocative portrait of an independent woman in 1950s India.
The House in the Cerulean Sea
by TJ Klune
In this sparkling romantic fantasy, TJ Klune (Into This River I Drown) pits a mild-mannered paper pusher against the forces of discrimination, inhumane bureaucracy and precocious children, with hilarious and inspiring results.
"Make sure the children are safe... from each other, and themselves," Extremely Upper Management of the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY) instructs 40-year-old Linus Baker. Linus's thankless task is inspecting orphanages that house magical children. When administration dispatches him to remote Marsyus Island Orphanage, home of six especially unusual children, Linus balks at the group: a distrustful forest sprite, a button-hoarding wyvern, a female garden gnome who swings a mean shovel, a boy who turns into a Pomeranian when frightened, a green blob who likes to play bellhop and "Lucy," the six-year-old son of the Devil. However, their gentle, unflappable caretaker, Arthur Parnassus, unsettles Linus most of all. He exhibits no intimidation at parenting the magical equivalent of a nuclear warhead, and Linus, "a consummate professional," finds himself attracted to the orphanage's master in a most unprofessional manner.
Stuffed with quirky characters and frequently hilarious, this inclusive fantasy is quite possibly the greatest feel-good story ever to involve the Antichrist. Klune constructs a tender, slow-burn love story between two endearingly flawed but noble men who help each other find the courage to show their true selves. Charged with optimism and the assertion that labels do not define people or their potential, The House in the Cerulean Sea will delight fans of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series and any reader looking for a burst of humor and hope. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A repressed orphanage inspector takes a stand for six magical children and their charismatic caretaker in this humorous, inclusive love story.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
by Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series) creates the beautifully rich setting of Crescent City for House of Earth and Blood, her first novel for adults. A half-human, half-faerie living in the bustling metropolis, Bryce Quinlan was never expecting her world to be turned upside down. She's enjoyed a carefree life with her friend Danika. But when a demon brutally murders Danika and her werewolf pack, Bryce abandons her party lifestyle and becomes a complete recluse for years. She's endeavored to move on and continue her semi-legal job as an antiquities dealer. But when the events that scarred her reemerge, and the human convicted for summoning the demon that murdered Danika appears to be innocent, Bryce is dragged back into the world she desperately wanted to leave.
Bryce navigates her city by walking the edges. While paranormal entities rule everything, humans are pushed to the bottom of society. Her bodyguard and partner, the infamous Archangel Hunt, is not very excited to help this seemingly spoiled "party princess" solve the crime, but his forced service to the rulers of Crescent City doesn't give him a choice. As Bryce, Hunt and Bryce's half-brother (and heir to the Autumn Court) Ruhn get closer to solving the mystery, the three learn more than they bargained for about the political and cultural turmoil of their world.
Maas's novel adroitly mixes paranormal fiction and urban fantasy, evoking the work of contemporaries like Nalini Singh. With romance, action and an intricate mystery at the novel's core, new and old fans of Maas will become instant fans of Bryce and her story. --Amy Dittmeier, adult services librarian, Brookfield Public Library, Ill.
Discover: YA author Sarah J. Maas's adult fiction debut offers a dark, gritty world full of paranormal creatures in a fantastical cityscape.
Biography & Memoir
These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson
by Martha Ackmann
Emily Dickinson wrote 1,789 poems that she hid in a dresser drawer. The majority were published posthumously, catapulting her into history as one of America's best-known and prolific poets. Her poetry is genius in its simplicity and accessibility, both internally focused and observant of the natural world. It is additionally remarkable that Emily Dickinson traveled little, never married and was a famed recluse who preferred to live in her parents' home. While biographies and literary criticism of her poetry abound, in These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson, Dickinson scholar and recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship Martha Ackmann (Curveball) adds meticulous detail to the scholarship by placing Dickinson's work in the context of seminal moments in the poet's life.
Ackmann has been surrounded by Dickinson's landscape for years. Living in western Massachusetts (where Dickinson is from) and teaching at Mount Holyoke College (which Dickinson attended when it was the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary), Ackmann is particularly familiar with Dickinson's home, her community and even the views Dickinson would have seen day-to-day. Calling upon her own observations (Ackmann actually wrote sections of the book at Dickinson's desk) and using primary source material, Ackmann centers her work on critical events and influences. These include the monumental, like the Civil War, and the intimate, like the poet's internal struggle between wanting to be distinguished and her hesitancy to publish her poetry. Though at times Ackmann loses the forest for the trees, These Fevered Days will resonate with the many fans Dickinson has accrued since her death. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.
Discover: A scholar with intimate familiarity with Emily Dickinson's physical world uses 10 momentous occasions in Dickinson's life to reexamine and recontextualize her poetry.
Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America's First Humanitarian Mission
by Stephen Puleo
As historian Stephen Puleo (American Treasures) points out in Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America's First Humanitarian Mission, the repercussions of the Irish famine of the 1840s still linger. Broad swaths of American society are descendants of the countless Irish people who fled their homeland during the devastation. English-Irish relations were poisoned for decades, because of the appalling decision of the English leadership to allow thousands of Irish people to starve to death while continuing to force Irish farmers to export their crops to England to meet quotas.
As the potato blight tore apart Irish society, and the English turned a blind eye, the Americans came to the rescue. Spurred by cries for aid from such illustrious statesmen as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, the American populace donated generously. The Jamestown was fitted as a relief ship, and Captain Robert Bennet Forbes was commissioned to undertake the voyage to Ireland with his hold full of supplies, which, in a "happy coincidence," were loaded aboard the Jamestown on St. Patrick's Day, 1847.
Having overcome terrible tragedies in his own life, Forbes was determined to help alleviate the suffering of the Irish. His journey not only marked a pivotal point in American history, but it also laid the groundwork for "the collaborative public-private blueprint... that has guided America's international charitable relief for more than a century and a half."
In this meticulously researched, yet eminently approachable book, Stephen Puleo provides a fascinating glimpse at a little-known facet of a well-known trauma. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: An enthralling history of the Irish famine and the United States' first humanitarian project: sending a ship of supplies to help alleviate Irish suffering.
The Hunt for History: On the Trail of the World's Lost Treasures--from the Letters of Lincoln, Churchill, and Einstein to the Secret Recordings Onboard JFK's Air Force One
by Nathan Raab , Luke Barr
In The Hunt for History: On the Trail of the World's Lost Treasures--from the Letters of Lincoln, Churchill, and Einstein to the Secret Recordings Onboard JFK's Air Force One, rare documents dealer Nathan Raab tells spellbinding stories of tracking down and identifying rare historical documents and artifacts. He includes the announcement of Napoleon's death from a British admiral stationed on St. Helena, an outraged letter from Susan B. Anthony to a clueless autograph dealer and, yes, previously unknown recordings made on Air Force One on November 22, 1963. (He also shares heartbreaking moments of telling someone their family treasure is neither valuable nor authentic.)
Despite its title, The Hunt for History is more than a series of treasure hunts. Writing in a light, conversational style, Raab uses these accounts to illustrate both his education as a documents dealer and his growing fascination with history. Working alongside his father, he learns to authenticate documents, to identify forgeries and to recognize whether an authentic document has the historical significance of a major find. At the same time, he comes to understand how a piece of the past can provide an attachment to history. That understanding becomes deeply personal in the penultimate chapter of the book, in which Raab describes a historical discovery that changed him--the letters and library of a Jewish scientist smuggled out of Germany prior to World War II.
Discover: Rare documents dealer Nathan Raab shares the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of holding a piece of history in your hands.
Cinema '62: The Greatest Year at the Movies
by Stephen Farber , Michael McClellan
While most film buffs cite 1939 as the year the largest number of great films were released, in Cinema '62, Stephen Farber (Hollywood on the Couch) and Michael McClellan persuasively argue that 1962 deserves that honor. The two film scholars write that 1962 was "a rare confluence of art, studio craftsmanship, and commerce that has never been surpassed." By succinctly examining acclaimed, underappreciated, hidden and neglected films, the authors showcase 1962 as a spectacularly varied and vital year in film. This was a year where Golden Age directors (including John Ford, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Busby Berkeley) released films alongside young maverick directors (John Cassavetes, Sam Peckinpah, Roger Corman) and newly imported international filmmakers (Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman).
Even veteran directors were breaking movie taboos. Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent and Edward Dmytryk's Walk on the Wild Side battled decades-old Production Code restrictions to represent homosexuality on screen. Stanley Kubrick's Lolita was restricted to viewers over 18 (which meant its star Sue Lyon couldn't see the film). McClennan, who served on the MPAA ratings board, is an astute historian on the changing morals in films. Other outstanding movies discussed include The Manchurian Candidate, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Cape Fear, The Music Man, To Kill a Mockingbird and one entire chapter on the obstacle-filled making of Lawrence of Arabia (1962's top grossing film and Best Picture Oscar winner).
Cinema '62 is a compelling and entertaining assessment of the films released in 1962 and will help budding film buffs assemble a list of must-see movies. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Forget 1939, Cinema '62 looks at the acclaimed and neglected films of 1962, and persuasively and entertainingly argues it was the peak year for motion pictures.
The Death of Sitting Bear
by N. Scott Momaday
From Pulitzer Prize-winning author (House Made of Dawn in 1969), Oklahoma Centennial State Poet Laureate and acclaimed Kiowa artist N. Scott Momaday comes a vibrant collection of more than 100 new and selected poems, The Death of Sitting Bear.
Presented in three parts, some poems are quick tributes to natural phenomena ("It was full of angry sound/ It was not, but its fury was visible," from "This Morning the Whirling Wind"), but no less impactful for their brevity. Simple moments--a childhood recollection of the sound of fry bread sizzling--are exquisitely detailed. The poet explores complex questions about the nature of animals and humans, and their meanings and representations to each other. God, as an entity, as a spirit, as in nature, is called upon. Other pieces are long-form poetic narratives, such as Part II, "A Century of Impressions," which describes an era in a "one hundred haiku/ elemental exercise/ to nourish the mind." The title poem, "The Death of Sitting Bear," gives voice to the great man himself in stanzas of poetic prose, paying tribute to the elite Kaitsenko warrior's life and death.
Firmly steeped in Kiowa heritage and indigenous oral storytelling traditions, Momaday breathes in the spirit of the Southwest and breathes out masterful imagery onto the page. The poems beg to be read aloud in order to savor the taste of the language, each word carefully chosen to evoke shape, sound, sight, feeling and history with the weight of its intention: "a blackbird holds still/ in the center of sight/ and I cannot/ look away." --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.
Discover: This incredibly personal collection of poems presents deep reflections on the natural world, indigenous history and the nature of humans, animals and God.
Children's & Young Adult
Nonsense!: The Curious Story of Edward Gorey
by Lori Mortensen , illust. by Chloe Bristol
Echoing a style used by the subject himself, Lori Mortensen (Away with Words) and Chloe Bristol use "words and pictures. And pictures and words" to capture the essence of well-known, eccentric creator Edward Gorey (1925-2000).
Gorey was born in Chicago, a brilliant, self-taught child who "gobbled up adventures and mysteries. Comics and poetry." Young Edward skipped grades in school and moved many times with his family, but "scribbled and sketched, sketched and scribbled, wherever he went." As an adult, he took a job in the art department of a publishing company, where he began jotting down and illustrating "stories that mingled sweetness and innocence, danger and darkness, all mixed up with his own brand of silliness." Publishers weren't interested in his work so Gorey published it himself. The "strange stories with curious titles" featured "odd and unfortunate endings" that made some parents angry. But Gorey refused to explain himself, insisting his books should not be taken seriously.
Throughout Nonsense!, Mortensen's stylishly poetic prose calls attention to the element of fun in Gorey's work. Illustrator Bristol's (the Winterhouse Mysteries series) pencil and digital art evokes the sketchy black lines used by Gorey himself. Text and illustration together paint a satisfying picture of an eccentric who developed an endearing (and unusual) way of expressing himself--and garnered an enduring following in the process. As Mortensen's end notes point out, Lemony Snicket, Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman "must all tip their hats to Edward Gorey." As should anyone else lucky enough to happen upon this biography about Gorey's darkly "curious" work! --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: This fascinating bio explores the life of Edward Gorey, who "scribbled and sketched" his way toward creating the sweet-yet-dark books that have become beloved by generations.
by Rob Harrell
In this middle-grade novel about a boy's worst-case scenario--on practically every level--author Rob Harrell (Life of Zarf) deftly tells a cancer story that is authentic, wry, even hilarious and comes with a side of rock and roll.
Like most seventh graders, Ross doesn't want extra attention from his peers. So suddenly showing up at school with an eye patch or a big cowboy hat for sun protection (even inside) or having to use ointment that makes him look like "a scaly, oozing goo-monster" isn't ideal. But shortly before school started, Ross was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in an eye gland, and these horrifying indignities become realities. Not only does he have to deal with sci-fi-like proton radiotherapy treatments, he's also facing bullying at school and ghosting by one of his best friends. Luckily, he still has his other best friend, Abby, who will joke with him about cancer and his art: the goofy Batpig comics he creates are a fun escape. And then, unexpectedly, Ross finds another outlet for his anger, sadness and fear. His charismatic radiation tech, Frank, appalled by Ross's insipid music choices during treatment, introduces him to "music that doesn't suck." Ross is smitten and begins learning guitar himself.
Based on Harrell's own experiences with cancer, Wink cannily captures the lows and highs of middle school. Ross's self-conscious, self-deprecating first-person voice pulls readers in close; we feel his humiliation, his awkwardness, his joy. Harrell's writing has a spark and a flow that makes the juxtaposition of cancer, middle-school drama and head-banging guitar solos the most natural thing in the world. Spot art and comic panels add a sweet, funny bonus to an already spectacular book. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Here is a miraculous thing: a middle-grade novel about cancer that's really about middle school, complete with awkward moments galore, embarrassing parents and a lovable and very human hero.
Jasmine Green Rescues: A Piglet Called Truffle
by Helen Peters , illust. by Ellie Snowdon
The delightfully adventurous Jasmine Green series makes its Stateside debut with the adorable A Piglet Called Truffle. Spirited Jasmine is a veritable animal expert thanks to her farmer father, her veterinarian mother and all the inhabitants (including, ahem, her two siblings) that thrive on the family's Oak Tree Farm. When her mother goes to assist a bovine breech birth, Jasmine tags along for the promise of seeing Mr. Carter's pigs. "There's a sow just farrowed," ever-scowling Mr. Carter reveals. "Eleven, she's had." But visiting the sty, Jasmine discovers a 12th, "a poor little thing" too tiny to survive on its own. Convinced Mr. Carter would kill the runt, Jasmine commits a stealthy pignapping. (Thank goodness she's such an avid reader of her favorite magazine, Practical Pigs.) Jasmine knows she can't keep it a secret from her family for long, so what she really needs to do is convince her parents to let Truffle--named for the remarkable porcine ability to root out valuable mushrooms--stay.
Enhancing Helen Peters's farm adventures with whimsical illustrations, Ellie Snowdon charms with delightful black-and-white, penciled glimpses of pastoral fields, cozy kitchens and two- and four-legged friends. Peters (Evie's Ghost) balances her bucolic narrative with a few realistic reminders of inevitable loss, including a lamb that doesn't survive and a fox's fatal chicken coop attack. With at least three more Stateside installments scheduled, readers are guaranteed additional Jasmine rescues for needy creatures big and small. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: The Jasmine Green Rescues series makes its U.S. debut with an adorable porcine addition to the rest of the Oak Tree Farm menagerie.