From the Shelf
Youth Media Awards: Celebrating the Women
Monday, January 28, was a remarkable day for the children's literature community. Yes, the ALA Youth Media Award Winners were announced, bringing surprise and joy to many. But it was remarkable for another reason: all the Newbery Medal and Honor winners were women. All the Printz Medal and Honor winners were women. Except for one Honor recipient, all the Caldecott winners were women. The Pura Belpré Medal? Women. Coretta Scott King Medal? Women!
Did you notice? I noticed right away. Of course, I am hyper-aware of gender in the children's literature community--I've been talking about gender issues actively for a year now. Last March, in honor of Women's History Month and motivated by #metoo, I co-founded the kidlitwomen* project with Karen Blumenthal. Initially, we highlighted essays about the concerns faced in our community. This grew into the kidlitwomen* podcast, which I produce and frequently host.
There, we've talked about gender discrepancies and the awards (episodes 32, 33), which makes what happened on January 28 so noteworthy. I do hope, though, that by celebrating these women's accomplishments, people don't misunderstand our mission. It's never been girls OR boys; it's girls AND boys (episodes 2, 3). The intention of the project and the podcast has never been to pit people against each other--it has always been about trying to examine the equity problems in the children's literature community and find ways to fix them.
That doesn't mean things don't get uncomfortable! There's a lot to talk about and a lot to unpack, but it's the only way things will start to change. I hope you join the conversation!
In this Issue...
by Soniah Kamal
If Jane Austen lived in modern-day Pakistan, this is the version of Pride and Prejudice she might have written.
by Tehlor Kay Mejia
In Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut young adult novel, Dani Vargas becomes enmeshed in a social revolution when she is forced to spy on her husband for his political enemies.
by Tjawangwa Dema
The poems in Tjawangwa Dema's The Careless Seamstress viscerally explore the intersection of labor, gender and identity.
Review by Subjects:
05/26/2020 - 7:00PMTough Broads Book Club meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. This month's book will be The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.
05/28/2020 - 7:00PMWhat: Elizabeth Wetmore will appear in conversation with Valerie Koehler to discuss her bestselling novel—and Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick—Valentine! This event will take place on Blue Willow's Facebook Live stream. If you have a question for Elizabeth, please complete this Google form to submit it. When: Thursday, May 28, 2020, 7:00pm We work hard to bring events to our community for free, because connecting readers with authors is central to our...
100 Words Turning 100
A video features "a whopping 100 words that are turning 100 this year" with Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy.
"See a dazzling, exuberant Renaissance calligraphy guide," courtesy of Atlas Obscura.
---The "ultimate Stephen King quiz" was posed by Mental Floss.
From Virginia Woolf to Tove Jansson, author Charlotte Runcie picked her "top 10 books about women and the sea" for the Guardian.
A new library in Hanoi shows children "the benefits of aquaponics in an urban setting," Inhabitat reported.
Rediscover: Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem has spent decades advocating for women's rights. She graduated from Smith College, spent two years in India, followed by a tenure at the Independent Research Service. Steinem worked for several magazines in the 1960s before her 1969 article, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation," gained national recognition. In 1972, Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes founded Ms. magazine, which had a trial run of 300,000 copies that sold out in eight days. She has since continued to fight for women's rights around the world.
In 1983, Steinem published Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, which collects many of her most famous articles. "I Was a Playboy Bunny," originally published in 1963, recounts her undercover employment as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club, where women faced constant mistreatment. "If Men Could Menstruate," originally published in 1978, pictures a world in which men menstruate and share their suffering as badges of honor rather than the shame bestowed on women. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions has since sold more than 500,000 copies and been reprinted three times, most recently with a new introduction by Emma Watson and new material from the author. The latest edition of this feminist classic is now available from Picador ($20, 9781250204868). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Jen Beagin: What Houses Reveal About Their Owners (and Vice Versa)
|photo: Beowulf Sheehan|
Jen Beagin is the author of Pretend I'm Dead and the forthcoming Vacuum in the Dark (Scribner, $25; reviewed below). Both novels center on Mona, a cleaning lady in the process of finding herself. Beagin received an MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine, and received the 2017 Whiting Award in Fiction. She lives in Hudson, N.Y.
You previously worked as a cleaner. What was it like to see the insides of so many other people's homes, offices, spaces?
I cleaned houses off and on for about seven years, first in Santa Cruz, then San Francisco and finally in Taos. It can be a strange business. There's nothing else quite like it in the service industry. You're alone in someone's house for hours at a time on a regular basis and you're cleaning deeply, moving things around. You're cleaning under the bed. You're going over every surface. You've seen their pubes, their pictures, their medicine, their receipts. You know what they eat, read, drink, look at. You know how much money they spend on things they don't need. You eventually find that thing they're hiding. You don't have to open drawers, believe me. If you clean someone's house long enough, these things reveal themselves. You can tell how happy or miserable someone is. You can see it in the quality of the dirt. A deeply despairing person's dirt has a particular stickiness and an odor I've never been able to accurately describe. But people have lots of layers.
I think I would have had a different experience had I not been a white, native English speaker who wore cool sneakers, drove a cool car and had read the same books. My clients invited me to their parties, weddings, seminars. They took me out for sushi. They urged me to join their cults. They fought in front of me. Cried. Told me their stories. Walked around in their pajamas.
You said in a previous interview that you see yourself in your character, Mona. Do you think you and Mona have grown differently between your two novels? Do you still see yourself in her?
The thing is, I'm pushing 50. That makes Mona half my age. So we've absolutely grown differently between the two novels. She has only aged two years, whereas I've aged 10, and, boy, has it been a long decade. I left my boyfriend of 11 years for a woman I met at a dog park, for instance. I moved seven times, lived in four different states, plus Europe briefly, almost killed myself in Florida, etc. I would say I've grown more than Mona because I take more personal risks than she does. The main difference between us is that she's a lot lonelier. I haven't given her many friends, and the poor girl's been through the ringer. But so have I. She is definitely a version of me--we share many, many of the same qualities and have similar histories.
We come to know Mona quite well in the novel, but not her house so much. What is her house like?
You know, I wish I'd spent more time in Mona's house in this novel. I think that would've been wise. It wasn't a conscious decision, but I think it says a lot about Mona, right? Her over-involvement in the lives of others, the fact that she doesn't know where she belongs, etc.
But I would say Mona's house is carefully decorated. She suffers from rearrange-itis. She will hang a painting, for example, and then rehang it over and over until it feels right. She moves her rugs three inches to the left, five inches to the right, etc. Her place is clean and free of clutter. Most of her stuff is used and had a whole other life before it came into hers. She's often very attached to objects that have belonged to others, objects that have had some prior history, and she collects things like airline barf bags, bird figurines, books.
You mentioned that you'll likely write a third Mona book. When you are working on a new piece, what is your writing process like?
In terms of my writing process, the hours between 4 and 7 a.m. are my best, before I've had coffee, which actually puts me to sleep, weirdly, and during these hours I write in bed, on my phone. I usually encounter some problem in the writing by seven, and will take a short nap. Naps seem to be part of my process. Then I continue writing and/or editing until noon, still in bed, but with my laptop, after which I usually call it quits. Afternoons and evenings have never been good for me, because my inner critic is wide awake and berating me.
I'll make a very rough outline after I've written 40 or so pages, an outline I usually abandon. I'm not big on plot, as you may have noticed. I've always envied writers who outline. It's probably a very useful tool. But it's something I've never learned how to do properly. I often write sentence to sentence, and I tend to live that way, too.
I don't want to say much about the third Mona book because I haven't started it yet. Right now, I'm working on something set in this house I'm living in. It's an ancient Dutch farmhouse built in 1737. I'm living in what's supposed to be the living room, which I keep heated with a wood stove. I have the setting and a few of the characters, and I've written some scenes. Nothing is mapped out, but I'm comfortable being lost for now. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
by Soniah Kamal
Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal is a distinctly entertaining update of Pride and Prejudice. It features all of the memorable plot details of Jane Austen's masterpiece but is cleverly reworked to reflect the state of modern society in the Muslim country of Pakistan.
Kamal introduces the downwardly mobile sisters of the renowned Binat clan, their fortunes having fallen after their father's estrangement from the wealthy side of his family. They move from the high-society city of Lahore to the small backwater town of Dilipabad, much to the dismay of status-obsessed Mrs. Binat and her younger daughters. Jena and Alys, the sensible older sisters, work as teachers at the prestigious British School of Dilipabad to support their family. Alys, our protagonist, is a liberated woman on the cusp of turning 30. Proudly single, she cannot abide her mother's undignified efforts to ensnare rich, unsuspecting husbands for her daughters.
An over-the-top society wedding gives the sisters a perfect opportunity to meet eligible young men. Alys, with her boyish haircut and unfashionably tanned skin, ignores the admiring glances of potential suitors. She cannot imagine giving up her independence but is perfectly happy to help Jena find Mr. Right. It's only when she gets to know the enigmatic Mr. Darsee that Alys, through a series of comedic misunderstandings, begins to understand the true desires of her heart.
Marriage is the ultimate goal for many Pakistani girls, primarily because they have no other realistic choice. Kamal (An Isolated Incident) uses her comedy of manners, infused with tender humor, to comment on the sorry state of affairs for too many young women from this part of the Indian subcontinent. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: If Jane Austen lived in modern-day Pakistan, this is the version of Pride and Prejudice she might have written.
Vacuum in the Dark
by Jen Beagin
In Vacuum in the Dark, Jen Beagin explores questions of home and belonging through the story of Mona, a 26-year-old house cleaner in Taos, N.Mex. Mona is trying to restart her life after a doomed relationship with a not-so-good-for-her boyfriend she calls Mr. Disgusting. She cleans houses and makes art and sometimes combines the two activities by taking self-portraits in her clients' homes while wearing her clients' things.
"I like how cut-and-dry it is," Mona says of cleaning houses. "How black and white." But in reality, Mona's experiences as a house cleaner are anything but. They exist solidly in the murky grey area of smudged boundaries and complicated relationships: she has an affair with the husband of one of her clients, whom she calls Dark; talks to Fresh Air's Terry Gross in her head; and finds herself posing for the work of a Hungarian artist couple who grieve the loss of their daughter.
Mona made her first appearance in Beagin's 2015 novel, Pretend I'm Dead. Readers unfamiliar with Beagin's debut, however, will have no trouble diving straight in to Vacuum in the Dark, which stands on its own as a book about boundaries and self-discovery. Mona's story is not always easy to read, but her sometimes cringe-worthy decisions feel real to their very core, depicting a young woman stumbling through life as best she can, trying to find where she ultimately belongs. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: Twenty-six-year-old Mona works as a house cleaner and tries to figure out what comes next for her in Jen Beagin's second novel.
by Rachel Ingalls
Binstead's Safari by Rachel Ingalls (Mrs. Caliban) introduces Millie, the neglected wife of an academic who blames her for being uninteresting. She insists on joining him on a research trip to Africa, and unexpectedly blossoms during the journey to safari camp. People are drawn to her, and her sexuality is evident to one particular man. Her husband is shocked to see her become the center of attention, and as her confidence grows, her willingness to live in the shadows disappears. Millie realizes "life was too short to waste time trying to find excuses for not doing the things you really wanted to do."
In the mid to late 20th century, when the story takes place, it was typical for a woman's worth to be measured as wife and mother. Millie's sister says, "All the things I have... how good they'd be if only I'd had any choice in the matter." The attitude toward Africa and its citizens was similarly paternalistic. Animals were killed during safaris to display man's natural superiority, and native Africans were considered a backdrop to white privilege. Binstead's Safari displays all of these assumptions, yet readers shouldn't dismiss it as outdated. Not only does the novel tackle gender issues that were emerging then and are still relevant decades later, but surprises the reader with a dark turn of events that brings the novel to an unsettling conclusion. This new edition encourages contemporary readers to consider how gender roles have changed--or not--since its initial 1983 publication. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: In this classic novel of feminine frustration and empowerment, a neglected wife discovers confidence in herself on an ill-fated trip to Africa.
A Murder Unmentioned
by Sulari Gentill
Fans of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher will love this sixth entry in the Rowland Sinclair series by Sulari Gentill (Gentleman Formerly Dressed). Rowland, one of the heirs to the large Sinclair fortune, has returned home to Australia with his group of artistic, communist friends after an eventful trip to Europe. Appalled at the rise of Hitler, he is busy seeking audience with various Australian officials, in hopes of preventing the spread of fascism to their country. Suddenly events much closer to home become dangerous in other ways.
Police arrive at Rowly's home, where he resides with his friends Milton, Clyde and Edna, to announce that the gun that killed his father has been found on his family's ancestral estate. The friends are shocked to learn that Rowly's father was murdered 13 years earlier, presumably by a burglar.
The group then proceeds to investigate, to the dismay of Rowland's proper older brother, Wilfred. Tensions mount, and when a body is found and potential danger to Wil's children is discovered, the brothers have to work together to solve their father's death as the police breathe down their necks.
With funny repartee among Clyde, Milton, Edna and Rowland, yet still with a clear eye on the important political developments of the era, Gentill engages the reader. Rowland's struggle to please both his conservative brother and his liberal friends is all too real, and the solution to the mystery will keep readers guessing till the end. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this engaging historical mystery, aristocratic Rowland Sinclair must solve his father's murder or risk being tried for the crime himself.
Death Is Hard Work
by Khaled Khalifa , trans. by Leri Price
There are two main preoccupations in Death Is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa's novel about life during the Syrian civil war: the fear of the checkpoint and the question of one's obligations to the dead and the living. When Abdel Latif dies--surprisingly, of old age rather than from a barrel bomb or a sniper's bullet--his children Bolbol, Hussein and Fatima must transport his rapidly rotting body to his home town for burial. Prior to the civil war, the trip would have been easily accomplished in a morning. Now, it will take days--days fraught with stops, interrogations, insurgencies and brutal, sudden death.
Along the journey, the siblings, whose "grudges... had heaped up like worn-out cloths in a locked wardrobe," bicker and fight and resume their childhood roles. They resist reconciliation, much like their fellow citizens who continue to kill and maim each other over the course of the book, to the point where the "inhabitants of the city regarded everyone they saw as not so much 'alive' as 'pre-dead.' It gave them a little relief from their frustration and anger."
This isn't an overly miserable or joyless tale--the pre-war flashbacks are vivid, especially the floral life tended to by the now-deceased Latif, creating a poignant contrast to the war itself. There are also slivers of humanity even during encounters with the most hardened combatants. Remembrance and hope allow both the reader and the characters to endure. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa
Discover: Death Is Hard Work explores the obligations humans have toward the living as family and society both decay.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Priory of the Orange Tree
by Samantha Shannon
Samantha Shannon's (The Bone Season) standalone epic fantasy artfully blends Eastern and Western draconic mythologies and shines a heroic spotlight on women and same-sex couples.
A thousand years earlier, the world nearly ended in dragonfire. Now, in the Western queendom of Virtudom, the national religion holds that as long as a queen descended from dragon-slaying Saint Galian Berethnet holds the throne, the monstrous dragon known as the Nameless One cannot return to lead his plague-sowing minions. Far in the East, however, humans worship benevolent water-dwelling dragons as gods.
As lieutenants of the Nameless One begin to show themselves, the legend that Berethen queens can keep him at bay falls apart. The nations must stand together, but when the East believes the West is filled with dragon-hating plague vectors, and the Westerners call Easterners heretics, only a few brave souls have any chance of brokering peace.
The Priory of the Orange Tree isn't our grandfathers' epic fantasy novel. It is a clever combination of Elizabethan England, the legend of St. George and Eastern dragon lore, with a dash of Tolkien. Shannon's feminist saga has enough detailed world-building, breath-taking action and sweeping romance to remind epic fantasy readers of why they love the genre. Occasionally political exposition bogs down the pacing, but the inclusion of giant talking mongooses and brilliant female warriors more than makes up for that. The major story draws to a definite close, but much work remains for the characters at the conclusion. Readers will beg for a sequel that explores more of this mythos-rich setting from dragon-back. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: This epic fantasy--Samantha Shannon's first standalone novel--takes place in a women-led world of dragons and mage-craft.
Biography & Memoir
The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation
by Jodie Patterson
Taking readers through the journey that led to become an LGBTQI activist, Jodie Patterson bravely shares her experiences in The Bold World, a heartfelt memoir that illustrates the power of love, family and self.
A child of the '70s, Patterson grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side. And while her family's money made some things easier, she still knew "that for Black people, grabbing what you want in this world is not easy. And more often than not, the effort it takes will break your spirit in two." Patterson chronicles her struggles as a young black woman, one trying to live up to the standards of a demanding father while simultaneously surrounded by the quiet strength of females and "sheroes." She also illuminates her growth and discoveries, wonderful realizations such as "sometimes the king is a woman." She details all the successes and failures that ultimately enable her to embrace Penelope, the transgender son who forces this wife, mother and entrepreneur to rethink her views of the world in order to make room for her child.
Patterson's stark honesty in this powerful debut instills her story with authenticity. Her triumphs as well as her mistakes will endear her to readers, allowing them to connect with her and identify with her plight. Her compassion, determination and strength is inspiring, and The Bold World will surely open hearts and minds to beautiful new ideas and possibilities. --Jen Forbus
Discover: An African American mother turns to the strength of her family to embrace her transgender son and ultimately fight for the rights of the entire LGBTQI community.
Essays & Criticism
The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power
by David Shields
"This book aims to be a short, intensive immersion into the perils, limits, and possibilities of human intimacy," writes David Shields at the start of The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power. He achieves his ambition in five chapters using a grab bag of personal observations ("Desire is indistinguishable for me from distance"), quotations (some confusingly attributed) and jokes. Many elements are graphically sexual and all are in service to what seems to be Shields's thesis: that the modern heterosexual relationship is irredeemably flummoxing.
As in How Literature Saved My Life, Shields writes incisively and entertainingly, which he likely realizes goes a long way toward deflecting any charge of self-absorption. However, as readers turn pages--and they will--they may question his suggestion that The Trouble with Men is a noble undertaking: "With all the 'memoirs' being written that are naive victim narratives, I thought it might be useful to write a book that tries to ask interesting questions about pain rather than simply invoking it as a badge." Shields's conceit is that The Trouble with Men is a letter to his wife, and throughout the book she comes across as unremittingly cruel--e.g., "What could possibly have been your motivation to call my uncle (to whom I bear a strong resemblance) 'homely'...?" Is The Trouble with Men an act of spite? Will Shields have hell to pay when his wife reads it? If so, fret not: his oft-mentioned masochism will surely serve him well. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: David Shields's salmagundi of observations about modern heterosexual relationships is engaging, infuriating, obscene and hilarious.
Health & Medicine
Living Light: The Art of Using Light for Health and Happiness
by Karl Ryberg
In Living Light, psychologist Karl Ryberg summarizes a lifetime of research into the role of light in the health and well-being of the human species: "It is my belief that good-quality light in our daily lives is far more important than we might think," he argues in the introduction. He goes on to state that light (and light therapy) can be used to treat a host of health issues, "including sleeplessness, insomnia, depression, and even infertility."
Some of these claims seem radical at first, but Ryberg backs them up with his own research and experience as a light psychologist. This research is further supplemented by other studies, all of which are referenced in a comprehensive list of further reading recommendations and end-note citations. Despite its reliance on science, however, Living Light does not veer into technical jargon. On the contrary, Ryberg offers a comprehensive background on what light is, how the eye and brain receive it and its importance. Further chapters break down the differences between natural, electric and super lights, all of which is accessible and understandable for the average reader. After building this scientific foundation around the principles of light science, Ryberg then offers concrete, actionable steps readers can take to improve their own light health, including "eye yoga," sunbathing and healthy diet tips for optimal light absorption.
Ultimately, Living Light is a concise book packed with insights into human biology and psychology, the science of light and how the two intersect in our day-to-day lives--whether we recognize it or not. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A psychologist explores the science of light and the role it plays in human health and well-being.
The Careless Seamstress
by Tjawangwa Dema
With a natural approach to the physicality of her characters' lives and struggles, Botswanan poet Tjawangwa Dema uses her work to explore large questions of gender, identity and labor. The pieces in The Careless Seamstress live at the intersection of these themes, showing how one moment or action brilliantly encapsulates the whole.
In the finest example of this, "Lares," a group of women are confronted with deciding the fate of a baby orphaned in childbirth. "Let me tell you what it's like/ to carry a child that's not yours/ while you fetch water with a steel bucket pissing on your head," the narrator laments. She speaks on behalf of her group who, at first, agree the child should be killed and buried with his mother. Here work, survival and maternity are intertwined and treated with open eyes and frank prose.
Questions of care also arise in "The Three-Body Problem," as a woman considers how her mother has given her life over to taking care of her brother. Seeing that "He is her life's work," the narrator wonders "When she is gone,/ who will inherit her language/ of worry...," well aware that the expectation is for her to take up her mother's labor. Like the group in "Lares," the women of "The Three-Body Problem" must give themselves over to saving the men in their lives. With an unflinching eye, Dema forces her reader to witness that giving, and question whether it is worth it. --Noah Cruickshank, director of communications, Forefront, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The poems in Tjawangwa Dema's The Careless Seamstress viscerally explore the intersection of labor, gender and identity.
Children's & Young Adult
We Set the Dark on Fire
by Tehlor Kay Mejia
At the Medio School for Girls, young women are trained to fit into traditional wife roles: either Primera (First), with a "wise and discerning nature" and "quick wit and loyalty"; or a Segunda (Second), displaying "beauty and bravery... nurturing warmth, and... passion that lurk[s] beneath." Medio's religion states it is the right of prominent, wealthy men to marry both a Primera and a Segunda. This religion of binaries is also to blame for the literal wall that divides the upper class from the lower classes. Resentment over the injustice has festered, and now social and economic upheaval threatens the divided state.
Seventeen-year-old Daniela "Dani" Vargas is a "star Primera student." She is also a fraud--from an impoverished town outside of the wall, she used forged identification papers to get into school and has worked hard to propel herself into a higher class. Awaiting a proposal from "the capital's most promising young politico," all Dani has to do is lie low until she graduates. But then, a rebel sneaks into the school and destroys Dani's forged papers, offering her new, unimpeachable papers in exchange for help--Dani agrees to spy for the insurgency on her soon-to-be husband, Mateo, and his family. At graduation, Mateo takes Dani as his Primera, as expected, but stuns her with his choice of Segunda: her passionate and beautiful rival, Carmen.
As Dani grows to understand Mateo's manipulative nature and finds allies in unlikely places--including love with someone she once thought an enemy--her desire to help the revolution grows. Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut creates a lush and beautiful Latinx-inspired world featuring complex female characters. With thrilling adventure, unexpected twists and a cliffhanger ending, readers will clamor for the next installment of Dani's story. --Clarissa Hadge, bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.
Discover: In Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut young adult novel, Dani Vargas becomes enmeshed in a social revolution when she is forced to spy on her husband for his political enemies.
The Storm Keeper's Island
by Catherine Doyle
For centuries, Arranmore Island has bestowed the power to wield the elements on a chosen Storm Keeper, who uses those abilities to protect the island and its magic. Eleven-year-old Fionn Boyle travels to Arranmore to spend the summer with his grandfather Malachy, who, unbeknownst to him, is the current Storm Keeper. Upon Fionn's arrival at his ancestral home, Arranmore awakens: flowers disappear then resprout, and tides keep their own rhythm. The time has come for the island to choose a new keeper. But an ancient darkness lurks beneath the island's surface--will Fionn work up the nerve to face his destiny and prevent evil from rising again?
In her middle-grade debut, Catherine Doyle (Blood for Blood YA series) brings to magical life an actual island off the northwest coast of Ireland. Arranmore is a land "full of secrets" and "impossibility," capable of "shifting and stretching and blinking"; when Fionn steps on Arranmore for the first time, he has "the most absurd sensation that the island [is] opening its arms and enveloping him." Doyle's vivid imagery and colorful language ("the sun was sitting in the sky like a plump orange") engages the senses as she weaves together an atmospheric setting.
To ground the fantasy in this "perfect summer adventure," Doyle also focuses on real-world concerns like Alzheimer's and depression. Both are well represented, integral parts of the narrative that add realism to the myth-based story. The Storm Keeper's Island is a beautiful blend of Irish legend and self-discovery. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: The Storm Keeper's Island is an atmospheric middle-grade novel that follows a young boy to an island off the coast of Ireland where he will discover his destiny.
The Very Impatient Caterpillar
by Ross Burach
Truck Full of Ducks author Ross Burach playfully educates readers about metamorphosis in his rib-tickling picture book The Very Impatient Caterpillar. "Meta-WHAT-now?" asks the eager insect. Using dialogue reminiscent of that during a long car ride with a toddler, Burach's book takes its audience through the caterpillar's transformation into beautiful butterfly: "Am I a butterfly yet?"/ "No."/ "How about now?"/ "No."/ "Now?"/ "No. Be patient!" It learns to build a chrysalis and begins not-so-patiently waiting... "TWO WEEKS?!" How can this itchy little insect "just be patient and let nature take its course" for two whole weeks? What can one do in a chrysalis for that long? More importantly, the caterpillar wonders, "What if I need the bathroom?" The payoff for the arduous task is--of course--a stunning new body, complete with wings. But can the caterpillar wait that long?
Burach illustrates this delightful picture book using bold colors that reinforce the caterpillar's hyper excitement in a cartoonish style that plays up the slapstick humor. The abundance of rich greens helps young readers identify the story's natural setting while also building momentum for the final reveal: the vivid, bright "BUTTERFLY!"
The subtle lesson about patience blends quietly into the noise of this loveably loud insect. Story time toddler audiences will likely be on the edge of their seats waiting to see if this hyper-active caterpillar will succeed. Unlike the bug's reaction to its wait, the human response to The Very Impatient Caterpillar is almost sure to be, "Again!" --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: An anxious little insect is put to the hilariously arduous test of waiting in order to reap its reward in Ross Burach's picture book The Very Impatient Caterpillar.