From the Shelf
All Animals A-Board
Animal books, like counting books and abecedaries, are part of the bedrock of children's literature. The following board books excellently showcase animals to teach about opposites, family and, well, the animals themselves.
Steve Light's Up Cat Down Cat (Candlewick, $7.99) is a delightfully illustrated education on opposites for the under-three crowd. On each double-page spread, a black cat and a white cat are shown committing opposite acts through creative methods. "Long" is the white cat playing with a mouse toy, stretched on its back across the spread; "Short" is the black cat peeking into a mouse hole, curled up on only the right-hand page. Sparse text and bold, textured collage illustrations make this board book eye-catching and appealing.
In the new All Natural series, Little Squirrel by Britta Teckentrup is one of two books currently available from Orca Book Publishers ($10.95, ages 0-2) "printed in Germany on 100% recycled paper using eco-friendly inks." Each title in the series focuses on a "young critter out and about in the... world." Little Squirrel makes a cozy home in an oak tree and works hard to save up beechnuts and acorns for the winter. By using a palette of slightly exaggerated colors from the natural world, Teckentrup makes her gentle story pop.
Caregivers looking for an unusual turn on the subject of animals might enjoy sharing Whose Bones? (Phaidon, $12.95) with their two- to four-year-old kids. Gabrielle Balkan and Sam Brewster introduce children to animals starting from the inside out, asking, "Whose bones are these?" On the left-hand page, there is a skeleton; on the right, a list of facts about the animal--then the right-hand page folds out to reveal the outside of the animal. A very cool way to de-creepify the skeleton for young children. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Dana L. Davis
A Black teen standby for the female lead in Broadway's hip-hopera reimagining of Romeo and Juliet puts her career in jeopardy when she falls for the play's Romeo.
by LeUyen Pham
This optimistic book will help even very young children make sense of Covid-19.
by Catherine Hernandez
Catherine Hernandez uplifts the LGBTQ community with shocking beauty in this dystopian tale of fascism and hatred set in a near-future Canada.
Review by Subjects:
The New York Public Library recommended "30+ Bridgerton readalikes to steam up all your nights."
Mental Floss shared "7 surprising facts about Octavia Butler."
Author Peter Salmon chose his top 10 books about great thinkers for the Guardian.
Future Road Trip: Sarajevo Times highlighted "five spots for book lovers" in the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Flow bookcase "was born as a stylistic exercise with the desire to create an object with an 'extreme shape,' " Bookshelf noted.
Rediscover: Eric Jerome Dickey
Eric Jerome Dickey, "who blended crime, romance and eroticism in Sister, Sister, Waking With Enemies and dozens of other stories about contemporary Black life," died January 3 at age 59, the Associated Press reported. A native of Memphis, Tenn., Dickey moved to Los Angeles after college and worked as a software engineer in the aerospace industry, but found himself drawn to the arts. He "was an aspiring actor and stand-up comic who began writing fiction in his mid-30s and shaped a witty, conversational and sometimes graphic prose style," the AP wrote. Dickey also worked on the screenplay for the 1998 movie Cappuccino, wrote a comic book miniseries for Marvel, and contributed to such anthologies as Mothers and Sons and Black Silk: A Collection of African American Erotica.
His nearly 30 novels include Bad Men and Wicked Women, Milk in My Coffee, Cheaters, Chasing Destiny, Liar's Game, Between Lovers, Thieves' Paradise, The Other Woman, Drive Me Crazy, Friends & Lovers, Naughty or Nice and the Gideon crime fiction series (Sleeping with Strangers, Resurrecting Midnight and more). A final novel, The Son of Mr. Suleman, will be released in April by Dutton ($27).
The Writer's Life
Mateo Askaripour: Bold Aims
Mateo Askaripour was a 2018 Rhode Island Writers Colony writer-in-residence, and his work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Lit Hub, Catapult, The Rumpus, Medium and elsewhere. When he's not writing or reading, he's bingeing music videos and movie trailers, drinking yerba mate or dancing in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment. His debut novel, Black Buck (Houghton Mifflin, January 4; reviewed below), is a hilarious, razor-sharp skewering of America's workforce.
What inspired you to take on corporate sales?
This question reminds me of what one of my brothers once told me: "In karate, in order to break a wooden board, you need to aim at what's behind it." The same applies to Black Buck. It wasn't my intention to take on corporate or startup sales; I planned to call into question America itself. Sales and startups were just the most readily available access points, given my experience with them. Plus, they're rich with astronomically high highs and the lowest of lows, and I hoped that any story centered on them would be engaging, entertaining and, if done right, earnest.
Darren, the main character, makes choices that are simultaneously difficult and easy to understand. How challenging (or not) was it to write a character like him?
I'm still in a place where I read reviews, and most people, including those who enjoy the book, seem to dislike Darren for the majority of the book, which I understand. Some have called him an "anti-hero," which calls into question the definition of a hero itself. Many people looked at John Wayne and Hitler as heroes, you see what I'm saying? With Darren, I sought to create someone who felt extremely real, relatable, and worth rooting for. And when his potential is activated by Rhett, his journey, no matter how hard it can be to watch, had to match the intensity that I wanted people to feel while reading. It was also important to me for Darren's path to redemption to be pushed on him rather than be a conscious choice of his own. Writing him wasn't too difficult, but it was hard for me to subject him to so much pain, and then have him turn around and hurt others.
Advice from the elders in Darren's life influences some of the significant decisions he makes. Can you speak to this?
I've never been asked this before, so thank you for the question. It's true, he largely looks to his mom, Mr. Rawlings, and Wally Cat for advice. His mom helps him dress for his first day at Sumwun. Mr. Rawlings tells him to not let the white boys at work beat him down. And Wally Cat gives him so much game it's hard to understand why Darren would ever stray away from it. Darren's shift to Sumwun, and receiving social, spiritual and emotional advice from someone like Rhett, hits the reader harder because he just entered this world and quickly forgets much of what he's been taught, which can happen when you're caught in high-pressure, unfamiliar environments. It's what happened to me.
I have four brothers, two parents and loving friends who have always given me solid advice, but due to vanity, ignorance and plain stupidity, I didn't always listen to them. This brings to mind graven images, people mistaking a finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself, and all of those other metaphors for just how hard it is to discern what's real from what's smoke and mirrors. But sometimes you need to lose yourself in order to find it. That sounds Hallmark as sh*t, but it's true.
What was appealing about using satire and absurdity as devices?
When I began writing Black Buck, I was intentional about the humor, some of the absurdity, but not so much the satire--that was a label other people slapped on later, and one that took me a while to accept. At first, I pushed back, because I thought satire wasn't earnest, but now I realize it's one of the sincerest forms of art out there. Speaking to the book's humor is becoming harder for me. It's easy for me to say that I didn't want to write 400 pages of doom and gloom, especially when most people, at least theoretically, know that racism is bad. But it's more than that. I wanted to use humor, from the very beginning, to invite people into the story so that I could prime them for the heavier themes in the book.
However, I'm aware that for some people, the book is just a funny piece of work, and they never think about it more deeply than that. Last year, a friend asked me if I was prepared for the "double read," where some people will feel the palpable horror that Darren experiences, while others will only see the humor in it. To that I said, yeah, but this work is a mirror, and what people see is only a reflection of themselves. I can't control what readers think and feel, and I wouldn't want to.
Black Buck seems primed for a successful television or film adaptation. Did this come to mind when you were writing?
There are some Hollywood things in the works, for sure, but I wasn't thinking about it while writing Black Buck. Of course I had dreams of the book getting into as many hands as possible, and the thought of bringing it to the screen is something I wanted, but it didn't influence my writing. I only spent more time thinking about it when those opportunities began to materialize, shortly after we announced the book deal in August 2019.
For my next works, especially my fiction, I am thinking about it more, but it's not, as much as I'm conscious of it, affecting what I write, how I write, or why I write.
Liberation is a big theme in your book. How do you see the role of literature, both writing and reading it, in liberatory practices?
Damn, this is a good one. People often describe good fiction as "transporting," which is a liberating act itself. "Escape" is another word. As I'm thinking through this, I'm like, "Yo! This question is big!" For me, writing is when I feel the freest. Full stop. And that feeling--of limitations being defined by my own ideas and ability, or lack thereof--helps me in other parts of my life that are less in my control.
One of the best parts about reading fiction is that it can act as a simulation to experience things you otherwise wouldn't or haven't, which has the power to help you live better. With Black Buck, I didn't want it to be an escape; in fact, I wanted it to take the reader hostage and show them just how real reality is. I was hoping that those who have had experiences like Darren--of being the solitary "other"--would be able to breathe a little easier, at least for a moment, knowing they're not alone. Peace, even if fleeting, is a form of liberation.
Furthermore, I wanted to put together a blueprint of sorts, so that those who are struggling professionally, emotionally, mentally and in many other ways--given how sour the American pie is for some people--would be able to gain a few actionable tips on how to improve their situations. This was my boldest aim, and only time will tell if I've achieved it. --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, writer and editor
by Catherine Hernandez
The deadliest year on record for the trans community was 2020. A study released by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that people who identify as LGBTQ are nearly four times as likely as non-LGBTQ people to be a victim of a violent crime. This is America in 2020, a world that startlingly aligns with the dystopian landscape Catherine Hernandez (Scarborough) manifests in her bold second novel, Crosshairs. Hernandez, a Canadian playwright, novelist and queer woman of color, shepherds her protagonist, Kay, the gay son of Filipino and Jamaican immigrants, through a future Canada in which Black, brown and LGBTQ people are hunted, lynched and sent to concentration camps for "the better" of society.
Kay--born Keith Nopuente--has spent his whole life hiding, caught under the critical eye of his Filipino mother, who wishes to "cleanse" him of his homosexuality. When he slips away after a particularly horrifying encounter with the church, he meets a cast of vibrant, gorgeous characters in the drag scene, who teach him to ease into a wig and transform into Queen Kay. But the world outside the nightclubs is growing increasingly hostile, as economic and social injustice collide to give birth a fascist regime led by the paramilitary Boots, who have started rounding up "Others"--marginalized people--in an effort known as the Renovation. After witnessing one too many attacks, Kay goes into hiding with a white woman masquerading as a supporter of the Renovation. What follows is a heart-wrenching search for freedom, and a poignant attack on the complacency and apathy of so-called allies in an increasingly hostile world. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer
Discover: Catherine Hernandez uplifts the LGBTQ community with shocking beauty in this dystopian tale of fascism and hatred set in a near-future Canada.
by Mateo Askaripour
Peppered with spit-out-your-drink absurdities and killer similes, Mateo Askaripour's debut novel, Black Buck, is an unflinching and satirical look at racism and corporate culture.
Written in the form of a how-to manual-cum-cautionary memoir, Black Buck is about Darren, a young man from Bed-Stuy who's "fine doing my own thing" and working at Starbucks, until a tense and unusual exchange leads to a job at a startup called Sumwun.
Riotous scenes "straight out of Any Given Sunday" and seemingly supernatural portents mark Darren's transition from slinging coffee to his rapid rise at Sumwun. Despite being the only Black person in a brutal atmosphere, surrounded by co-workers who reek "of old money and blood-splattered gallows," as well as "privilege, Rohypnol, and tax breaks," Darren excels professionally.
"Every day in my house was deals day; everything was up for negotiation." "The sell" comes in many guises--not just the corporate and corner hustlers, but the activists trying to "get over" and the mother urging her child on to their fullest potential. It's hard to reconcile Darren's awareness with some of his subsequent deals with devils, yet his messiness is compelling. When it's not heartbreaking, it's certainly entertaining. The highs, lows and twists are masterfully dizzying.
Whether or not a system constructed of "rules... to make [people of color] never able to win" can be turned into a vehicle of freedom by its own means is debatable. Black Buck exhibits an enthusiastic and trenchant heart in grappling with the proposition. --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, writer and editor
Discover: Mateo Askaripour's satirical novel is the story of a young man seeking professional success and personal freedom while enduring the horrors of racism and the consequences of his own actions.
by Ashley Audrain
In this tense, debut psychological thriller, a woman is tormented by the question of whether she is facing the normal struggles of new motherhood, or if there is something wrong with her daughter.
Blythe Connor was never confident that she had what it took to be a good mother; the women in her family have a history of being poorly suited for the role. When her daughter, Violet, is born, she is plagued with doubts. Is she failing in some way, unsuited to the challenges that the rest of the mothers she knows handle easily, or is Violet different from other children? Her husband doesn't see it, and Blythe wonders about her own sanity. Her second child, Sam, is born, and motherhood comes far more easily. Then tragedy strikes, and their family unravels as Blythe struggles to understand what happened.
The Push by Ashley Audrain is claustrophobically narrated by Blythe, addressed to her husband, keeping readers wondering about how trustworthy her perspective is. With only Blythe's observations, often refuted by her husband and minimized by other women, the question hangs over every page: Is what Blythe thinks she sees merely the effect of postpartum depression compounded by grief, or is Violet dangerous? Blythe's family history becomes clearer and her own behavior becomes more unbalanced as the story progresses. Until the breathtaking final page, readers will question whether they are witnessing the fallout of a tragic accident or something far more twisted. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A woman's fears about what kind of mother she will be and what kind of daughter she is raising take on extreme form in this intense psychological drama.
Our Darkest Night
by Jennifer Robson
As the Nazis' hold tightens over occupied Italy, life becomes increasingly difficult for Jewish citizens. Antonina Mazin, the daughter of a doctor, is shocked to discover her father has made a plan for her safety: she will travel to the countryside with Nico Gerardi, a young Christian man, and pose as his wife. No one--not even his family--can know the truth. Jennifer Robson (The Gown; Moonlight over Paris) weaves a rich, compelling story of danger, sacrifice and steadfast love in her sixth novel, Our Darkest Night.
Like so many people during wartime, Antonina finds her life changed in an instant: she must bid her father and her invalid mother goodbye, change her name to Nina Marzoli, and leave her beloved Venice behind. Robson vividly renders Nina's fear and disorientation as she accompanies Nico to his family's farm. Once there, she finds a warm welcome from his younger siblings and his widowed father, but his sister Rosa, who runs the household, greets her with suspicion and disdain. Gradually, Nina settles into her new life, learning how to do chores in the house and on the farm. But a local Nazi officer, a man who was once a seminary classmate of Nico, grows suspicious of Nina, and his investigations into Nina's background may put the entire family in peril.
Robson has a gift for illuminating the struggles and hopes of ordinary people against a backdrop of life-changing events. Powerful, heartbreaking and full of wise, compassionate characters, Our Darkest Night is the story of a woman learning to fight for what--and whom--she loves in the face of great evil. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Jennifer Robson's compelling sixth novel centers on a young Italian Jewish woman living in disguise during World War II.
I'm Staying Here
by Marco Balzano , trans. by Jill Foulston
Marco Balzano's powerful I'm Staying Here, translated from Italian by Jill Foulston, is set during World War II in Curon in northern Italy, closer geographically and culturally to Switzerland and Austria than to Rome. "Our language was German, our religion Christianity, our work was in fields and cowsheds," remembers Trina, the narrator, as she addresses her long-lost daughter. Turmoil outside the village, once easily ignored by "blind faith in destiny, absolute trust in God, the heedlessness of men who wanted only peace," shatters the conscious indifference of the provincial villagers.
Mussolini's Fascist government creates havoc in Curon. "Employees from the Tyrol were dismissed on the spot.... Italians hung up signs in their offices saying IT IS FORBIDDEN TO SPEAK GERMAN and MUSSOLINI IS ALWAYS RIGHT" Trina recalls. Worried townspeople find themselves choosing between Hitler's "Great Option," where they leave Italy and join the still-powerful Reich, or staying put under Mussolini's brutal regime. Trina and Erich, her husband, aren't interested in aligning with either. "We're not Nazis or fascists.... We're not anything, just farmers," her husband says. Instead, they make a daring escape north. Their harrowing journey to survive is a significant portion of Trina's memories. "We haven't escaped the war up here," she says to Erich at one desperate point. "But we haven't become their accomplices," he replies. This lesser-known, melancholy story of World War II shines a light on those whose courage manifests itself in resisting oppression from all sides. Balzano, an award-winning writer in his native Italy, has written a novel perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hannah. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: This historical novel tells the lesser-known story of northern Italian citizens during World War II who must decide whether to stay in their homes or align with Nazi Germany.
The Art of Falling
by Danielle McLaughlin
As the deceptively fearsome novel The Art of Falling begins, a teacher has summoned Nessa McCormack, who lives in a well-heeled suburb of Cork, to her 16-year-old daughter's school, alleging that Jennifer has been bullying another student--Mandy Wilson, who used to be Jennifer's best friend. Although Nessa recognizes the parental obligation to appear distressed at the news, she registers relief at news of the girls' withered friendship: "If Jennifer and Mandy had not been friends, then perhaps Cora Wilson would never have gotten to know Philip and might have confined her affections to her own husband."
Of a lesser, but still acute, concern to Nessa is the debt that Philip has racked up thanks to his atrocious instincts for property investment. Nessa's job at an art gallery is a vital source of both income and pride. She's the project manager for a major acquisition: the studio of the artist Robert Locke, dead nearly 20 years but still an object of some fascination. Everything is going smoothly with the acquisition until Nessa is confronted by a woman who insists that she worked on one of Locke's most celebrated pieces and wants to be credited for her contribution.
The Art of Falling can read like a beleaguered-everymom novel, although Danielle McLaughlin (Dinosaurs on Other Planets) isn't playing Nessa's circumstances for laughs. While the book's characters occasionally behave in implausible ways out of what seems like narrative necessity, McLaughlin's gifted storytelling and dexterous sentences are amply compensatory. At times her plotting verges on masterly, as when she introduces an aspect of Nessa's past that infiltrates her work and family lives with the gentleness of an ice bath. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this blistering debut novel, a project manager at an art gallery finds her past sneaking up on her, further complicating her already frazzled work and family lives.
Mystery & Thriller
The Butterfly House
by Katrine Engberg , trans. by Tara Chace
Fans of The Tenant, the first of Katrine Engberg's Kørner and Werner books, will cheer the publication of its finely wrought follow-up, The Butterfly House. However, it's not quite accurate to report that the Copenhagen Police's odd-couple detectives are, as the saying goes, together again. As The Butterfly House opens, Detective Anette Werner is holed up at home, having just had a baby. Not that this stops her from doing what her more rule-abiding partner, Jeppe Kørner, dubs "rogue maternity-leave sleuthing": when Werner learns of a new case from the police radio she has neglected to return to headquarters, she's off and running.
Early one October morning, a corpse is found in Caritas Fountain, in Copenhagen's Old Market Square. Before she was dumped there, the victim--a middle-aged health-care aide--was cut and left to bleed to death. When another body is discovered in a different fountain the following day, it's determined that the victims have more in common than just their killer.
Engberg nimbly integrates two subplots into her main story, which leans on psychological analysis without being ponderous about it. Like The Tenant, The Butterfly House makes terrific use of its setting's cultural institutions and social mores. (Kørner remarks, upon viewing footage of the killer's means of transporting the bodies: "A murderer on a cargo bike, only in Denmark!") The novel's roaming perspective has a thrillingly nerve-racking effect: each time the viewpoint shifts, readers can't help but wonder if this is the character who's going to get it--or give it. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: The welcome second book in the Kørner and Werner series finds the latter detective blowing off her maternity leave when a corpse turns up in Copenhagen's Caritas Fountain.
Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder
by T.A. Willberg
"The alleyway was quiet tonight, the perfect setting for the conveyance of secrets" as an unidentified woman confides one she's held for seven years. This shadowy intrigue permeates the opening of T.A. Willberg's debut, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, sucking readers into a fun and fast-paced story filled with murder, mystery, lies and Bondian gadgetry in 1958 London.
The how and who of the transmission plunges the narrative into the bowels of the city, where myth and history reside. Behind a loose brick, a carrier cylinder connects with miles of underground pneumatic piping. The piping system, like a "magical, invisible postman," routes hundreds of hidden mailboxes to one location--the Filing Department of the Inquirers, nameless sleuths who guard the city. Because the department operates outside the legal system, no one is sure it exists, only that justice is often mysteriously served.
Marion Lane longs to escape from under the thumb of her grandmother, who disapproves of independent women having their own lives. Marion's life changes drastically when an old friend of her deceased mother offers her a job at Miss Brickett's Secondhand Books and Curiosities. But Miss Brickett's has no customers, and Marion soon understands she's been recruited as an apprentice Inquirer.
Willberg creates an exceptional sense of place, and her diverse (and expansive) cast of characters makes for a long list of suspects when receipt of the secret results in murder. Marion and her cohorts race against time, villains and devilishly entertaining contraptions to throw a wrench in an evil plot. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A young woman in postwar London struggles to find her identity and becomes embroiled in a murder as an apprentice investigator for a shadowy justice organization.
The Bride Wore Black
by Cornell Woolrich
With the 1940 publication of The Bride Wore Black, Cornell Woolrich became one of the founding fathers of noir mysteries and psychological suspense tales. Bride is Woolrich's seventh novel, but it is the first in which he found his intoxicating bleak and nihilistic voice. This riveting, moody and terse novel is an exciting mix of pulpy crime fiction and eloquent, masterful prose, and it earned him the moniker "the Poe of the 20th Century."
The Bride Wore Black is a real trendsetter for hardboiled mysteries. Woolrich keeps readers in suspense by withholding information. Rather than putting his murderous femme fatale, Julie Killeen, front and center, Woolrich presents the story from the points of view of her male victims. Readers are continually introduced to men who don't seem to deserve to be murdered. There's added suspense when the men are often circled by several women, and readers don't know which one is Julie or when she will strike. Another noir novelty is the introduction of Detective Lew Wagner, who's trying to figure out the killer's identity and the reasons behind her murderous actions. Most mysteries would put the detective center stage, but Woolrich also places Wagner at a distance to keep readers off-balance and apprehensive. The twist ending is a double sucker-punch when Woolrich reveals something about the victims and Julie. (It also differs from Francois Truffaut's 1967 film adaptation.)
Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black still packs a wallop with its smoky atmosphere, fascinating characters and clever telling. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: The Bride Wore Black is a delightfully dark pioneer noir novel from 1940 that still feels innovative and keeps readers off-balance without being off-putting.
Nature & Environment
by Ken Layne
Desert Oracle is the outgrowth of a more-or-less quarterly "field guide" (of the same name) to the deserts of the American Southwest, written and published by culture writer and former Wonkette editor Ken Layne. Following the publication of its first issue in 2015, the periodical established a cult following for its quirky and passionate exploration of the desert's landscape, history, myths and inhabitants (human and otherwise).
This incarnation of Desert Oracle is an expansion of the periodical, combining previously published pieces with new material. Beginning with a piece titled "Try Not to Die," Layne introduces readers to the desert's beauty and to its danger. He talks about missing hikers, ancient desert cultures, the rise of western swing, colorful characters from the recent past, UFO and Yucca Man sightings, and the impact of Edward Abbey on the desert conservation movement.
Written in a matter-of-fact style that belies their contents--which are anything but matter-of-fact--the pieces run in length from short to very short. At first the collection appears to be a disjointed assortment of fascinating essays: a musing on ravens is juxtaposed against the story of a medical con man, followed by a complex entry that begins with the Goldstone Deep Space Antenna Station and ends with occultist and rocket scientist Jack Parsons. In fact, the book is held together by what Layne has described in interviews as the "weirdness of the desert": the cruel, the terrible, the sublime and the inexplicable. With an emphasis on the inexplicable. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Desert Oracle is both a hymn to the deserts of the American Southwest and a call to preserve them.
Children's & Young Adult
by LeUyen Pham
How do young children understand Covid-19 and the transformation it has had on their world?
The changes that happened to everyday life starting in spring 2020 are chronicled in Outside, Inside, a book that grew out of Caldecott Honoree (Bear Came Along) LeUyen Pham's "way of coping with events as they unfolded." Using simple language and detail-filled digital illustrations, Pham builds scenes with which young readers will be familiar: "Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed./ Everybody who was OUTSIDE.../ ...went INSIDE." A young girl with warm brown skin (the child of a multiracial family) and her expressive black cat act as the reader surrogate, appearing throughout the book, even as the author/illustrator widens her scope to the whole world--"Everyone. Everywhere. All over the WORLD./ Everyone just went inside, shut their doors, and WAITED."
Outside, Inside, finished in June, contains a sense of hope, although, of course, the virus continues after its publication. The virus is never named, but children and the adults with whom they share this book can use it as springboard to discuss their own experiences--while Covid-19 eventually will leave the central place it plays in contemporary life, young children will remember the disruptions for years. Pham's excellent illustrations (including artistic interpretations of actual moments from the pandemic, such as the picture of a man thanking emergency workers for saving his wife's life) are the heart of this book. Children will likely enjoy following the black cat as it interacts with people both outside and inside, and find comfort in seeing a scary time represented in such a gentle manner. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: This optimistic book will help even very young children make sense of Covid-19.
Roman and Jewel
by Dana L. Davis
Theatrical flair, competition between a rising star and a pop diva and instalove generate excitement, tension and longing in this #ownvoices YA novel.
Sixteen-year-old Black singer and actress Jerzie Jhames nailed her audition for Roman and Jewel, a Hamilton-style multicultural reimagining of Romeo and Juliet. However, superstar Cinny is cast in the lead role and Jerzie is made her standby. While learning the Jewel choreography, Jerzie kisses Zeppelin Reid, the white boy playing Roman. When a video of her perfect rehearsal goes viral--alongside Cinny tanking her own--the star saves face by claiming Jerzie is her best friend. Jerzie maintains the façade, but Cinny has a catch: "stay away from Zeppelin."
That will be difficult. Zeppelin reads Jerzie's mind as though they've known each other for a million years--he "even asks permission before he touches me." And that kiss? It was like "the spark that ignited the big bang." But, also, there is his arrest... and his stolen designer clothes... and his controlling, manipulative pop phenomenon co-star.... All Jerzie has ever wanted is a Broadway career. Could she have Zeppelin, too, or are they as star-crossed as Roman and Jewel?
This third YA novel by Dana L. Davis (Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now) is a charged love story about passionate characters balancing life, work and relationships. It explores the idea of destiny between couples, of accepting a person's flaws, of daring to grasp everything desired. Exhilarating and irresistible, with musical theater references galore, Roman and Jewel is an entertainingly dramatic and satisfying teen romance. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: A Black teen standby for the female lead in Broadway's hip-hopera reimagining of Romeo and Juliet puts her career in jeopardy when she falls for the play's Romeo.
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes
Nikki Grimes, the recipient of the 2017 Children's Literature Legacy Award, returns with yet another impressive poetry collection. Directed toward, but definitely not limited to, middle-grade readers, Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, celebrates the journey of Black womanhood.
Legacy is broken into three parts: Heritage, Earth Mother and Taking Notes. As in some of her previous works (One Last Word; The Watcher: Inspired by Psalm 121), Grimes here uses the golden shovel form, a poetic technique in which writers take "a short poem in its entirety, or a line from the poem" and use the words from the original to create a brand-new poem. Each line of the new poem must end with a word from the original poem. In Legacy, each piece by a female Black Harlem Renaissance poet (including Mae V. Cowdery, Helene Johnson and Alice Dunbar-Nelson) is accompanied by a new one written by Grimes. Each pair of poems features original artwork by a Black female artist, including Nina Crews, Pat Cummings and Andrea Pippins. The poems are about coming of age and loving who you are as a Black child and woman. In Having My Say, Grimes talks about being proud of herself and finding her voice especially, "since we live in a world where I/ will routinely be unseen, unheard, unnoticed if I am/ silent, I must speak because I am both girl and black." Radiant mixed-media art bolsters Grimes's themes, full-page, full-bleed illustrations showcasing images of beautiful Black women, young and old, of all shapes, sizes and shades living their lives and being unapologetically themselves.
The beautifully written Legacy will make anyone, regardless of age, sex or race, feel a sense of pride in being a citizen of the world. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this collection of golden shovel poems for middle-grade readers, Black female poets are recognized and honored for their contributions to the Harlem Renaissance.