From the Shelf
Books on the Brain
Got neuroscience on the mind? Update your library with standout books from these brainy writers.
If neuroscience has a rock star, it might be the energetic, effervescent David Eagleman. Dive into Eagleman's work with The Brain: The Story of You (Vintage, $16), an accompaniment to his PBS series The Brain with David Eagleman. For an even deeper and more nuanced exploration, follow it up with Eagleman's excellent Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (Vintage, $16).
Another celebrity in the neuro field is prolific writer and researcher V.S. Ramachandran. For a sample of Ramachandran's delightful and accessible approach to making sense out of the three-pound mass of jelly in our heads, see The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human (W.W. Norton, $17.95).
To consider neuroscience and the reading brain specifically, look to Maryanne Wolf's Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper Perennial, $16.99), with its rich blend of research and storytelling in its examination of literacy and the brain.
Compelled to bend your mind a bit? Michael Pollan challenges us to consider how we might, or even ought to, reconsider what we think and how we think it with How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (Penguin Press, $28). Known for tackling big ethical and moral questions, Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food) shifts from literal to figurative appetites--those that make us hunger for new ways of looking at the world and at ourselves.
As Eagleman writes, "What a perplexing masterpiece the brain is, and how lucky we are to be in a generation that has the technology and the will to turn our attention to it. It is the most wondrous thing we have discovered in the universe, and it is us." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
In this Issue...
by Cara Robertson
In The Trial of Lizzie Borden, Cara Robertson provides the definitive, in-depth account of one of America's most enduring criminal cases.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson's young adult memoir in verse, Shout, is as bold (and beautiful) as the title suggests.
by G. Willow Wilson
Two servants of the sultan flee rather than surrender to the Inquisition in a breathtaking historical fantasy from G. Willow Wilson.
Review by Subjects:
09/28/2020 - 6:00PMWhat: We're hosting a virtual event with Garth Nix for his new book The Left-Handed Booksellers of London. This ticketed event will take place on Zoom. Attendees will receive a signed bookplate, a limited edition pin, a copy of the book and a chance to ask Garth questions about his book. When: Monday, September 28, 2020, 6:00pm This is a ticketed virtual event and seats are limited. In order to attend, please purchase a copy of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London from Blue Willow...
09/29/2020 - 5:00PMWhat: Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney will appear in conversation with Brandy Colbert to discuss their new book Loretta Little Looks Back. This event will take place on Blue Willow's Facebook Live stream. When: Tuesday, September 29, 2020, 5:00pm CDT We work hard to bring events to our community for free, because connecting readers with authors is central to our mission. But these programs are not free for us to put on! If you’re interested in attending...
Anatomy of a Book
A "17-word look into the anatomy of a book" was offered by Merriam-Webster.
CBS Sunday Morning featured a segment on "the world of Gray Zeitz, who started Larkspur Press more than 40 years ago" and still sets the type "by hand, one letter at a time."
Lenstore created a reading speed test and survey that "gives you a passage from a novel to read at your natural reading speed, followed by questions to prove you understood it."
"Found: A medical manual linking medieval Ireland to the Islamic world," according to Atlas Obscura.
"Beatlemaniac library patron returns a copy of Life magazine 50 years late," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Rediscover: The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji, written by noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th-century, is the world's oldest novel and a classic work of Japanese literature. It follows Hikaru Genji (shining Genji), an heir to the throne who is demoted to a commoner for political reasons. Genji pursues life as an imperial officer, with much of the novel dedicated to his romances and the peculiarities of Heian period court manners, such as the use of titles instead of given names, making the book's many characters sometimes difficult to follow. The text itself is archaic and full of subtle poetic references. The poet Akiko Yosano first translated it into modern Japanese in the early 20th-century.
The Tale of Genji has had an enormous impact on Japanese art. Through June 16, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is displaying paintings, calligraphy, manuscripts and other decorative art inspired by Genji over the past thousand years. The exhibition catalogue, The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated ($65, 9781588396655; distributed by Yale University Press) includes essays and discussions on 120 works, from early screen paintings to modern manga. As for The Tale of Genji, an annotated English translation by Royall Tyler is available from Penguin Classics ($34, 9780142437148). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Frans de Waal: Uncovering Secrets in the Animal World
|photo: Catherine Marin|
Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People. The author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, among many other works, he is the C.H. Candler Professor in Emory University's Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. His new book, Mama's Last Hug (W.W. Norton, $27.95; reviewed below), explores the emotional life of animals. Originally from the Netherlands, de Waal now lives in Atlanta, Ga.
Despite the title character (chimpanzee matriarch Mama), Mama's Last Hug doesn't deal strictly with primates. What expanded your interest to include all mammals?
I have a long-time (childhood) interest in animals, all animals, and started my studies with birds and rats, and only later moved to monkeys and apes. I was trained as an ethologist in the Netherlands, and there studied the world's largest zoo colony of chimpanzees, which gave me many ideas for later work. It started with work on aggressive behavior and politics (I wrote Chimpanzee Politics at the time), but soon thereafter moved to peacemaking, cooperation, empathy and the like.
Speaking of empathy, in the "Body to Body" chapter you note how females--across species--are more nurturing and empathetic than males.
In general, females in all mammals have stronger caring tendencies, and that includes stronger empathy for others. This is true in humans, but also in all of the primates I know. The origin of these caring tendencies is no doubt maternal care, which is obligatorily female and only optional for males. This doesn't mean that males lack empathy. There are species, ours included, in which males care for offspring, care for each other, care for their family. In these species the capacity for empathy expanded and reached other areas of society, including males. I always think in potentials rather than the dominant behavior. The potential for empathy is well-developed in males, and since we are a powerfully cultural species, we can build on this.
One of the recurring themes in your writing seems to be that humans have historically discounted so much when it comes to animals, but you explain how that is changing. What area (or areas) could still use a lot of work on our part?
Within the university we still have entire fields (anthropology, philosophy, humanities, economics) that tend to ignore the biological nature of our species. They will admit that we evolved from other primates but are not ready to say that we think and feel like other animals. Humans are considered extremely special. For example, consciousness was and often is thought of as a uniquely human characteristic. This is where change has to start. It's a different way of positioning the human species--not as separate from nature but as part of it; not as a half-god, but as an animal.
Part of the problem in the world today with the ecosystem (global warming, loss of species diversity) stems from this illusion of our species that we are separate from nature and can do whatever we like with the Earth. It is intellectually a false proposition that is now backfiring. The planet is "protesting."
Does anything still surprise you about the animals in your work?
We still keep being surprised. For example, you may have heard about the recent study in which fish recognize themselves in a mirror. Who would have thought? I have questions about the study, and am not totally convinced, but still we keep expanding our horizon, and keep discovering that all animals, not just the primates, have a complex cognition. My book is more about the emotions, of course, but also here, many new discoveries have been made or are about to be made, offering us a much more complex picture of animal life than we used to have. We are in the middle of a revolution of our understanding.
I think neuroscience will offer new discoveries soon, as scientists who work in this area, mostly on rodents, move away from simplistic animal behavior and learn more about social behavior and mental capacities. Once they start testing those out, we can expect many new discoveries.
What's next for you in your scientific work and/or writing?
I am looking forward to doing less research and more writing and traveling. I am thinking about my next writing project, but it is still top secret. I usually try to stay close to the subject matter I know best, which is the behavior of primates and other animals, hence no doubt that will be central to whatever I do next. --Jen Forbus
Tomorrow There Will Be Sun
by Dana Reinhardt
Dana Reinhardt's entertaining debut, Tomorrow There Will Be Sun, features a high-strung, highly organized narrator. Jenna Carlson is a YA novelist struggling with writer's block; she's also a cancer survivor and mother to 16-year-old Clem. Deploying her meticulous planning skills, which border on the pathological, Jenna arranges a luxury vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to celebrate her husband Peter's 50th birthday.
The action begins as the Carlsons and their friends arrive at a stunning beach villa, their home for the next seven days. Next to a gorgeous, secluded beach and waited on by attentive staff, Jenna tries to let go and relax. While exploring the beach, she befriends Maria Josephina, a woman from a neighboring villa who quickly becomes a confidant. Jenna knows there is something suspicious about Maria Josephina's enchanted life but can't quite put her finger on it.
Despite her best efforts at planning a foolproof trip, things begin to go off-script for Reinhardt's anxious heroine, and bad weather is the least of it. Tomorrow There Will Be Sun reads like the satirical confessions of a control freak while simultaneously being utterly sympathetic. Although plush trappings provide their own sort of comfort, the true luxury of contentment and peace of mind are ultimately what our narrator finds so elusive. Fortunately, there is hope for Jenna, especially when matters beyond her control threaten to upend her carefully constructed life and Maria Josephina offers her a way out. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A fabulous sun-drenched villa in Mexico is the setting for a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation that does not go as planned.
The Unhappiness of Being a Single Man
by Franz Kafka , trans. by Alexander Starritt
Alexander Starritt's translation of selected Kafka stories, The Unhappiness of Being a Single Man, seeks to undo some of the assumptions surrounding the author. His work is so striking and ubiquitous in the Western canon that the term "Kafkaesque" describes a situation both absurd and hopeless; even as required reading for many high school students, his stories are often written off as dour work, fodder for pretension.
While including famous pieces like "The Hunger Artist," Starritt nicely contextualizes those works by placing them side by side with comic parables and lesser-known work. Altogether, the collection serves as a reminder that Kafka, among other things, was excessively funny. "In the Penal Colony" is a perfect example, both deeply disturbing and also clearly a farce. There's a madcap energy to the whole tale that Starritt captures perfectly, even as it reaches its gruesome end.
Likewise, "A Report for an Academy," where a talking ape explains the story behind his ability to converse with humans, elegantly threads the needle between the horrifying and comedic. Kafka's best works reflect the extremes of life, the absurdity and confusion abutting moments of elation and decisive action. The Unhappiness of Being a Single Man nicely makes a case that readers should not forget Kafka's sly sense of humor and, of course, his humanity, when considering his impact on culture. --Noah Cruickshank, director of communications, Forefront, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Alexander Starritt's translation of Kafka's classic stories brings out the dark humor of the master's work.
Mystery & Thriller
The Reign of the Kingfisher
by T.J. Martinson
"What's the difference between a vigilante and a superhero?" Questions of superhero lore have historically been the subject of comics, graphic novels and movies--full of color, spandex suits and a deluge of action through imagery. In The Reign of the Kingfisher, T.J. Martinson novelizes the superhero comics form with such a meticulous yet fluid style, readers may forget there is no artwork.
Following the death of the Kingfisher, an enigmatic, larger-than-life sentinel who dealt with bad guys outside the confines of the law, Chicago's violent crime rate steadily increased. Thirty years later, the mystery of the Kingfisher is given new life via a ransom video. Disguised as a member of the hacker protest group Liber-teens, a man threatens to kill hostages until the cops release the Kingfisher's unpublished autopsy report and admit they helped fake his death.
Retired journalist Marcus Waters is brought in to view the video since he spent his career writing about the Kingfisher. When he provides a big clue the police seem less than anxious to pursue, Marcus's reporter gut and desire to save lives spur him to investigate, aided by a brilliant Liber-teen hacker and a disgraced cop.
In portraying a gripping race against time and into history, Martinson packs the narrative with details that set the stage minutely yet organically. On its face a breakneck thriller, Kingfisher also delves into themes of morality and vigilantism, corruption and justice. Martinson's debut is compelling, artistic and, quite simply, a blast. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The death of a Chicago superhero is investigated decades later when a madman threatens to kill innocent people.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Bird King
by G. Willow Wilson
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award-winning novelist and comics writer G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) again rises to impressive new heights with The Bird King.
Set amid shifting political landscapes of the late 15th century, this gripping fantasy captures a desperate act of resistance in the face of an imposing new empire. Fatima is the favored concubine of an Iberian sultan; nevertheless, she is lonely but for the platonic affection of the royal cartographer, Hassan. The friends while away hours together in the palace, conjuring new installments for the long, unfinished story of the Bird King, the avian ruler who set out for paradise and never returned.
Their languid days reach an abrupt end, however, when emissaries from Christian Spain arrive to demand the Muslim ruler's surrender. And when Hassan's mystical gift for making maps that bend reality, and his taste for other men, come to their attention, the friends flee for the paradise they have long imagined.
To say Wilson is a talented storyteller does not adequately capture the magnificent dimensions of her work. The adventure at hand is a riveting escape through worlds seen and unseen, with high stakes and near-misses, toward a freedom neither Fatima nor Hassan are sure they entirely believe in. Faith is all they have--besides one another. But there is a hefty dose of humor, too. Vikram the Vampire, sharp-tongued anti-hero from Alif the Unseen, emerges as Fatima and Hassan's reluctant guide through the wilderness. While it's not necessary to read one book before the other, only a fool would miss them both. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Two servants of the sultan flee rather than surrender to the Inquisition in a breathtaking historical fantasy from G. Willow Wilson.
Biography & Memoir
The Trial of Lizzie Borden
by Cara Robertson
Cara Robertson's nonfiction debut, The Trial of Lizzie Borden, examines the sensational 19th-century murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, which have continued to captivate the public's imagination for more than a century. Robertson tracks the crime from the family's tumultuous personal history through the murder, preliminary hearings, trial and verdict. Along the way, she manages to reveal fresh insights and details about the crime and the trial, illuminating alternative theories and documenting incriminating evidence, such as Lizzie's previous attempts to purchase poison. Nevertheless, the book returns again and again to the conflicting images of Lizzie that both the jury and the present-day reader are unable to bring together as one: that of a church-going, accommodating daughter, and an ax-wielding manipulator.
Robertson, a lawyer and former legal adviser to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague, has accomplished a herculean task in compiling the minutiae of such a trial and presenting it all clearly and concisely. But she doesn't stop here. Robertson also manages to craft these facts into a compelling, tightly paced courtroom drama that not only asks who may have committed this crime but how someone could have done so--psychologically, emotionally and mentally. By the end, as in the beginning, the reader suspects that Lizzie did, indeed, murder her parents. But the story's real tension resides in examining her words and behavior during the trial. Like most true-crime tales, it is the hypnotic magnetism of the criminal's ability to commit such an act that brings us back to the same evidence, the same statements, the same witnesses, even hundreds of years later, in hopes of understanding something new and disturbingly human. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In The Trial of Lizzie Borden, Cara Robertson provides the definitive, in-depth account of one of America's most enduring criminal cases.
Business & Economics
Totally Wired: The Rise and Fall of Josh Harris and the Great Dotcom Swindle
by Andrew Smith
Every century is shaped by a key event, writes Andrew Smith (Moondust) in the exhilarating Totally Wired: The Rise and Fall of Josh Harris and the Great Dotcom Swindle. For Smith, the 21st century was wrought by the "Dotcom Crash of March-April 2000." Not only did it signal the economic crash of 2008, it predicted the trouble with truth that seemed to characterize the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath.
A key figure of the dotcom era, says Smith, was the enigmatic Josh Harris, one of the "first internet moguls" of the digital age and founder of the website Pseudo. When readers first meet Harris, he has inexplicably moved to Ethiopia. Smith catches a flight to interview him, and what follows is one of the most fascinating portraits of a startup founder in recent memory.
Harris spent his early years as an entrepreneur in New York City's high tech hub, Silicon Alley. He was the mastermind behind baffling experiments in crowd tolerance and voyeurism. One of them, called "Quiet," involved Harris convincing 100 people to stay under surveillance in a deserted warehouse in the city with all the food and drugs they could tolerate. The event was shut down by FEMA. Harris rode the tech wave to unimagined wealth before losing it all in 2000.
The present-day Harris is no less perplexing. Often Smith is left wondering whether the strange incidents that happen when he's in proximity of the man (gunshots, dogs howling) were in fact staged by Harris for reasons unknown. Totally Wired examines just how thin the line is between brilliance and madness. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This thrilling work of nonfiction delves into the unsettling mind of Josh Harris, one of the first startup founders of the dotcom era.
Essays & Criticism
Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country
by Pam Houston
"How do we become who we are in the world?" Pam Houston (Contents May Have Shifted) asks in Deep Creek, her contemplative memoir that explores nature's power to shape our sense of self. "We ask the world to teach us."
After the 1992 publication of her first book, Cowboys Are My Weakness, Houston drove throughout the American West, giving readings while searching for a place to call home. She found it in the remote town of Creede, Colo., on a $400,000 ranch that she purchased with $21,000 ("more money than I had ever imagined having") and a payment agreement with the previous owner.
Life on a 120-acre ranch, Houston learned, meant developing endurance to cope with a grueling travel schedule for work, losses of beloved animals and extreme weather conditions--in Creede, winter temperatures often plummet to 35 degrees below zero and summer brings raging wildfires that ravage the landscape.
"The language of the wilderness is the most beautiful language we have and it is our job to sing it, until and even after it is gone, no matter how much it hurts. If we don't, we are left with only a hollow chuckle, and our big brains who made this mess, our big brains that stopped believing a long time ago in beauty, in everything, in anything."
With reverent and moving prose, Deep Creek's observations of nature's resiliency in the aftermath of dramatic and destructive events are rooted in a personal strength gained from adversity. A survivor of childhood abuse, Houston shows the depth of her perspective while optimistically championing an environment that is continually threatened. --Melissa Firman, writer and blogger at melissafirman.com
Discover: In this compassionate and thoughtful memoir, Pam Houston shows how the natural world has served as a source of strength and healing for her.
Nature & Environment
Mama's Last Hug: Animal and Human Emotions
by Frans de Waal
The title of primatologist Frans de Waal's (Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?) captivating exploration into animal emotion comes from a touching event involving his former dissertation supervisor, Jan van Hooff, and a dying chimpanzee matriarch named Mama. In the video of their encounter, viewers see behaviors they can recognize as their own as Mama consoles and reassures the scientist. Using this story and others involving various mammals in the animal kingdom, de Waal makes his case that humans are not the only species that experiences emotions.
In addition to telling Mama's life story, de Waal discusses the differences between emotions and feelings--"We show our emotions, but we talk about our feelings"--and debunks the idea that most animals act strictly out of instinct: "Nothing could be less adaptive for an organism than to blindly follow its emotions." He examines laughter, empathy and guilt across mammal species, covers topics such as murder and free will, and shows parallels between human politics and animal power structures, ensuring readers are clear on the meanings of alpha male and alpha female. All the while he weaves in wonderfully humorous comments and observations, fascinating facts, study data and pertinent anecdotes. De Waal's vast experience with both captive and wild animals is readily apparent, as is his willingness to let the evidence drive his conclusions, rather than preconceived biases or beliefs. Regardless of whether one is an animal lover or not, Mama's Last Hug offers amazing insights you only need to be human to benefit from. Truly eye-opening. --Jen Forbus
Discover: Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal blows holes in antiquated beliefs that hold humans separate from the rest of the animal kingdom.
The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape
by Suzannah Lessard
Suzannah Lessard (The Architect of Desire) offers a broad cultural examination of place in The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape. The result is a work of great scope that's grounded by an interest in landscapes, the forces that shape them and how they in turn reshape us. Lessard chases big mysteries: "Always behind my readings of landscapes are the questions, Where are we...? and What is our relationship to our surroundings now?"
Lessard begins with a close description of "the village" where she lives near Albany, N.Y. She then travels outward, to visit a nearby friend and consider suburbophobia, and therefore the history of the suburbs--as foil to the city, as military defense concept, as commercial center, as "edge city." Having discussed terms like sprawl, metropolitan area, edgeless or stealth city and more, Lessard uses "atopia" to refer to landscapes "where contemporary development, directly expressing contemporary times, was unrestrained." She is also quite interested in "online" as a place, from its origins in Cold War strategy through the option it provides as escape from real places.
Lessard can speak from a place of economic comfort that may grate some readers, but the value of her decades of research is undeniable. The Absent Hand is often dense, as Lessard draws upon centuries of human history to make her arguments. In this ambitious work, place is examined, deconstructed and incrementally illuminated, even as our landscape changes anew. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This broad social-historical consideration of American landscapes will satisfy and challenge the most serious reader.
by Katie Arnold
Running, for Katie Arnold, has long been a means of solace: a way to escape anxiety and heartbreak, or at least to muffle the chorus of fear. Since moving to Santa Fe, N.Mex., in her 20s, Arnold (a long-time editor and writer for Outside magazine) has run and hiked through the nearby mountains. When her father was diagnosed with cancer, Arnold navigated her wrenching grief the only way she knew how: by running miles and miles and miles.
Arnold's memoir, Running Home, chronicles both her journey as a runner and the narrative of her close but complicated relationship with her dad, David. A National Geographic photographer with a restless soul, he left when Arnold was three, but remained a loving presence in her life, mostly through phone calls and summer visits. Arnold ran her first 10K at age seven, not on her own whim but his, and jumped into a frigid creek when he bet her she wouldn't. She explores her boundless craving for adventure, her need to push herself, as both something she inherited from him and as a way to make him proud. She becomes a marathoner, then an ultramarathoner, facing down her fears along with the blisters, injuries, sunburn and, ultimately, experiencing the pure joy of hours on the trail.
Blazingly candid and vulnerable, shot through with vivid imagery and interspersed with David Arnold's photographs, Running Home is a daughter's tribute to her father, a love letter to running and a powerful meditation on the stories we tell ourselves. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Katie Arnold's incandescent memoir is a tribute to the father she adored and a love letter to running.
Children's & Young Adult
by Laurie Halse Anderson
"Too many grown-ups tell kids to follow their/ dreams/ like that's going to get them somewhere/ Auntie Laurie says follow your nightmares instead/ cuz when you figure out what's eating you alive/ you can slay it."
For two decades, Laurie Halse Anderson has been visiting schools and talking to teens about "rape mythology, sexual violence and consent." For two decades, "girls and boys" have sought her out to "tell [her], shame-smoked raw/ voices, tears waterfalling,/ about the time" they were assaulted. Even on a movie set, she was approached by a "big square guy, head like a paint can," who said, "I am Melinda... A lot of us working on this film/ are like her,/ cuz, you know... it happened to us, too." Anderson has spent 20 years as a repository for these stories of pain. And "those kids" who have shared, she writes, "taught me everything, those girls/ showed me a path through the woods/ those boys led me."
A poetic memoir, Shout is a biography, a call to action, a lesson, a fable, a warm embrace for those who hurt, a guttural scream demanding the pain stop. It's factual as it flows in lyrical verse through Anderson's life; speculative as she works to create a collective noun for teens ("a wince of teens/ mutter of teens/ an attitude, a grumble, a grunt"); direct as she speaks to scared librarians "on the cusp of courage." Shout is for survivors, for abusers and assaulters, for consenting young men and women, for gatekeepers unwilling to let sex through. Immensely powerful, Shout is for everyone. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Laurie Halse Anderson's young adult memoir in verse, Shout, is as bold (and beautiful) as the title suggests.
Noah Builds an Ark
by Kate Banks , illust. by John Rocco
"Noah spied it coming from afar. It started with a cloud peeping over the hill like a curious ghost." There's a storm brewing, and city child Noah responds like an old farmhand. While his father boards up the windows on their home, Noah bangs together an "ark" scaled for mice, salamanders and other outdoor critters. While his mother and sister stockpile provisions, Noah gathers berries and seeds for the creatures. And while his mom rounds up candles, Noah mounts a flashlight inside the ark. Following these parallel preparations, Kate Banks (How to Find an Elephant; The Magician's Apprentice) supplies the signature choreography from the Bible story that underpins Noah Builds an Ark: when the boy, who has just been summoned by his mom, calls the backyard denizens to the ark, they arrive in pairs. When the storm is over four days later, the animals exit the ark "two by two."
When the storm is in full swing, the paralleling continues, abetted by side-by-side illustrations from John Rocco, who does for rain in Noah Builds an Ark what he did for snow in the shiver-inducing Blizzard. While Noah and his family eat and play games by candlelight, the animals nosh and romp inside the ark. While Noah's dad tells stories to his kids, "each little creature [makes] a noise of its own."
Readers needn't be familiar with the Bible story to appreciate Noah Builds an Ark. They needn't even be animal lovers: they require only an appreciation for inspired tales of empathy and ingenuity. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: The resourceful Kate Banks borrows from a Bible story to show how a city child prepares some backyard critters for a coming rainstorm.