From the Shelf
Take a Seat at the Writer's Desk
These three books by masters of narrative nonfiction are a godsend to aspiring writers looking for an inexpensive alternative to a costly MFA degree.
In Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (Random House, $17), Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor, the late Richard Todd, provide an intimate look at the painstaking process of fashioning creative nonfiction. As expected, most valuable is their chapter on being edited and editing. "You have to learn how to be edited," Kidder writes, while Todd modestly concedes that, for an editor, the "surest way to harm a piece of writing is to impose one's own style on it."
John McPhee has spent nearly six decades as a staff writer at the New Yorker, and during that time his writing has encompassed subjects as diverse as the college basketball career of Bill Bradley, oranges and geology. Part memoir, part instruction manual, Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16) generously, and often humorously, invites readers into McPhee's creative process, with an especially useful discussion of narrative structure, something he cautions is "meant to be about as visible as someone's bones."
The intensely focused career of Robert A. Caro couldn't be more of a contrast with the breadth of McPhee's. Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing (Knopf, $25) collects a series of pieces that focus on Caro's deep engagement with the lives of two men--New York City planner Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson--that began in 1966 and continues to this day, as he works on the fifth volume of his epic Johnson biography. Early in his career as a journalist, an editor admonished Caro to "turn every page," and the book's insights into mining documents, as well as the art of interviewing, are especially instructive. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
In this Issue...
by David Wong
This absurdist science fiction satire will make new and established fans of the series laugh out loud.
A systematic indictment of the cult of personality and mythmaking of Silicon Valley from a humanities perspective.
by Stephanie Kent , Logan Smalley
The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book connects readers to a telephone-based party line of book lovers talking about their favorite books.
Review by Subjects:
10/28/2020 - 6:00PMBookworks hosts Kelly Wendorf for her new Sounds True book, Flying Lead Change. REGISTER HERE A new approach to leading and living inspired by two profound sources of ancient wisdom: original peoples and Equus (the horse), grounded in evidence-based principles of neuroscience. Kelly Wendorf reveals how to use seven core principles to lead without dominance or coercion--through care , presence, safety, connection, peace, freedom, and joy. For leaders at work, at...
10/28/2020 - 7:30PMPoets Sherwin Bitsui, Tommy Pico, Casandra Lopez, and Tacey M. Atsitty, all published in the anthology, along with editor Leanne Howe, talk about the book. REGISTER HERE This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries. Opening with a blessing from Pulitzer Prize-winner N. Scott Momaday, the book contains powerful introductions from contributing editors who represent the...
10/29/2020 - 6:00PMBookworks hosts Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, collaborators on the new Darkdeep novel, The Torchbearers. Please purchase books below. To join the free Zoom webinar, register here: REGISTER HERE Ally Condie is the coauthor of the Darkdeep series, as well as the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Matched trilogy. Her other novels include Summerlost, an Edgar Award finalist for best juvenile mystery, Atlantia, and The Last Voyage of Poe...
10/31/2020 - 2:00PMBookworks hosts Sergio Troncoso, author of the new UNM Press book, A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant's Son. The reading is co-sponsored by the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and Director of History and Literary Arts at NHCC, Valerie Martinez, moderates a conversation with Mr. Troncoso. REGISTER HERE Email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read our virtual events page for safety and security details. *** How does a Mexican American, the son of immigrants,...
Speaking English, American Style
"Mapping the differences in how Americans speak English: a geographic look at words, accents & dialects." (via Open Culture)
"A reader that never sleeps: 9 thrillers set in New York." (via the New York Public Library)
Lit Hub asked: "Where do reading lists come from? (And why do we love them?)."
Readers can watch LOA LIVE, online programs inspired by Library of America publications.
Atlas Obscura examined "53 letters deciphered by a groundbreaking English Codebreaker."
Tami Charles and Bryan Charles: A Gift for Those Who Come After Us
|(photo: Krisann Binett)|
Author Tami Charles is a former teacher. Her love for writing was sparked when she noticed a need for more diverse books. Her books include the middle-grade novel Like Vanessa and the picture book Freedom Soup. Shelf Awareness spoke with Charles about writing for her son, her purpose in the world and the message she hopes to spread with All Because You Matter (available October 6 from Orchard Books).
How did the story of All Because You Matter come about?
This story was born from love and a deep desire to keep my son, Christopher, little forever, which I think most parents can relate to! I wanted to keep him shielded from the cruelties of the world. But as he grew older and had questions about injustices against people of color, I needed to do something. What better way than to write Christopher a love letter to remind him of all the reasons why he matters to me, and to the world?
I took all of the words I had bottled up during the years of watching him grow, and I put them into a poem. The words for All Because You Matter came to me in a dream, and the art is masterfully done by Bryan Collier.
My son and I have used All Because You Matter as a springboard for many productive, yet sometimes uncomfortable conversations. As his mom, it's my job to nourish Christopher's curiosity. Writing this book has given him permission to put it on full display. It is my hope that it does the same for all families.
Your son is the model for the young boy in the story.
All Because You Matter is as much Christopher's book as it is mine and Bryan's. So you can imagine his delight when he received an invitation from Bryan to do a photo shoot for the book. That was worth missing a day of school! Christopher's image on the cover and throughout the entire story is a gift to our family. This kid will have bragging rights for years to come!
Like the young boy in the story, have you ever questioned your own existence in the world?
I'm a full-grown adult, and I still sometimes question my place in the world. For those reasons, I strongly feel that this is a book for everyone, with a message that we all need to hear. We matter. Children matter, especially.
For the times when my confidence has slipped and I questioned my purpose, I was instantly reminded of it when I would see my son thrive in school, or when I saw my book in young readers' hands and the joy it sparked on their faces. We all have a gift to leave those who will come after us--something to remind us of the very reason why we exist. This book will be my offering.
There are words of other languages in the story such as "barrios" and "Mahal kita." What is the significance of the use of those languages?
Oh, trust me, I wanted to use even more world languages in the text! Picture book word counts can be restrictive, alas. I'm a lover of languages, culture and travel. I also come from a multicultural family. Seeing different parts of the world has truly opened my eyes to the fullness of what it means to be human, but particularly, a person of color. Diversity is a beautiful thing and I aim to show that in my work because it represents who I am and the family and friends I surround myself with.
|Bryan Collier and Tami Charles|
In All Because You Matter, my hope is to honor children of color and the diverse backgrounds from which they come. The phrase "Mahal kita" (meaning "I love you" in Tagalog) is from the Philippines. To my ear, the words literally sound like love. "Barrio" and "montañas" are Spanish for "neighborhood" and "mountains," each word representing beauty and strength.
I use multiple languages in this text to show that BIPOC are not a monolith. We are multi-dialectal, multifaceted, a full-spectrum rainbow of experiences and talents to share with the world.
What is the message you hope adults and children will receive from reading All Because You Matter?
My first hope is that when readers are done with the book, they are compelled to turn back to the first page. Read it again. Find something new. A hidden gem in the art? A stanza that resonates with you? Think deeply about how the message applies to your life, no matter your race or background. Is it a love letter that you wish to share with someone special in your life? Is it a call-to-action that maybe you, as a teacher/adult/ally, want to use to spark deep, healthy conversation about race? Whatever feeling this book leaves you with, share it with others. Spread the message widely to those who need it most. --Kharissa Kenner
Bryan Collier: The Power of Art
Bryan Collier is the author of Uptown, winner of the 2001 Coretta Scott King Illustration Award and 2001 Ezra Jack Keats Award for New Illustrator and the Marion Vannett Ridgeway Award for a first-time author and illustrator. Collier also received a 2002 Caldecott Honor for Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. Originally from rural Maryland, Collier now calls Harlem home. His love for art led him not only to a career as an author and illustrator but also as a director for Harlem Horizon Art Studio, an art program designed for young people based out of Harlem Hospital. Shelf Awareness spoke with Collier about the practical and metaphorical aspects of creating All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, available October 6 from Orchard Books.
How did you and author Tami Charles work together on this book?
After a few initial meetings, I knew I wanted Tami and her son to be the stars of this project, so we got together and did a photo shoot in a library.
Why did you choose to use watercolor and collage for this project?
I like watercolor and collage as a medium because collage itself is a metaphor for taking fragments or separate moments and constructing or piecing them together to create something whole or complete.
The use of partial faces as representation for the ancestors is profound. How did you come up with that idea?
The faces or voices represent our present selves, as well as ancestors. This serves as a reminder that we never walk into a room alone, they all come with us.
The fade on the young boy stands out. Is there a reason why you chose that hairstyle?
That high-top fade brought back some memories. But it was what Christian was sporting, so he and Tami get the credit for that great look.
Why is All Because You Matter an essential story?
All Because You Matter is literally happening right outside our windows and has been happening for years. This book speaks to injustice, police brutality, equality--all those difficult yet necessary conversations that we must have with our children to remind them that they are important. We are important. --Kharissa Kenner
Plain Bad Heroines
by Emily M. Danforth , illust. by Sara Lautman
In her adult horror debut, Emily M. Danforth (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) offers an indulgent greenhouse of grotesqueries shadowed by gothic elements and pepped up with metafiction and mystery, illustrated with deliciously unsettling black-and-white line drawings by cartoonist Sara Lautman.
In 1902, at Brookhants School for Girls in Rhode Island, student Clara Broward falls into a vast subterranean nest of eastern yellow jackets while fleeing from her cousin and toward her sweetheart Flo Hartshorn. The insects sting both girls to death. Their deaths mark the beginning of a disastrous time for Brookhants, as a malignant force, tied to a red-bound book, targets students and tears at the already strained bond between principal Libbie Brookhants and her life partner, Alexandra "Alex" Trills.
In the present day, Brookhants is known as one of the U.S.'s most haunted sites. High-profile horror film The Happenings at Brookhants is set to begin production at the old school, starring current it-girl Harper Harper and the normcore Audrey Wells. The film's writer, Merritt Emmons, is invited to join the preproduction team. Sparks of romance and conflict fly among the three 20-somethings right away, their chemistry intense and volatile. Each woman has her own dreams and her own agenda. Strange occurrences befall each of them, and the buzzing of yellow jackets follows them to Brookhants, where a labyrinth of suspicion, betrayal and malevolence awaits.
Danforth delivers her narrative in an urbane, droll voice akin to a Victorian novelist writing for BuzzFeed. And the brooding atmosphere and careful characterization make Plain Bad Heroines an easily cultivated obsession. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In Emily Danforth's chilling adult debut, a curse that destroyed a boarding school over a century ago returns to bedevil three women involved in a movie about the school's haunted history.
Three Little Truths
by Eithne Shortall
Irish author Eithne Shortall (Grace After Henry) has created a delightfully gossipy, suspenseful little world in Three Little Truths. Perfect for fans of Desperate Housewives or Liane Moriarty's novels, Three Little Truths explores the varied secrets that even the friendliest neighbors may be hiding.
The story is set in Dublin, where the closely terraced houses mean that everyone knows everyone else's business. Pine Road seems like an ideal place to raise a family, but three women, all new to the street, are facing a variety of problems. Martha's family has recently moved to Dublin after a home invasion in Limerick, and she and her teenaged daughters are still struggling with the aftermath. Edie, who inherited her house, is hopeful that she and her husband, Daniel, will be starting a family soon. Robin, who seemed to be destined for great things, somehow has become nothing but the girlfriend of a small-time crook. She finally left her boyfriend after he endangered their son, and they are reluctantly back in her childhood bedroom.
As the weeks elapse, Martha, Edie and Robin, and the rest of the women of Pine Road, will find their lives intersecting in unexpected ways. And their WhatsApp text thread, woven between chapters, helps document the school scandal, neighborly drama and the women's devotion to their families and to the goings-on of Pine Road.
Hilarious and heartwarming, Three Little Truths explores reality in the wake of trauma, new love and the delicate complications that make up a marriage. Shortall may not be well-known to an American audience yet, but Three Little Truths is sure to be widely appreciated. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this enjoyable Irish novel, three women face secrets and drama on their cul-de-sac.
Where the Wild Ladies Are
by Aoko Matsuda , trans. by Polly Barton
In the sharply written linked stories of Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, contemporary takes on Japanese folktales lift a veil from a world where the living and the dead work side by side. Strikingly feminist slants on otherworldly creatures figure strongly. A woman who was told all her life that she was "just a girl" discovers one day that she might be a fox. A woman responding to a breakup through a regimen of hair removal is paid a visit by a deceased aunt who urges her to cultivate the power of her hair.
Although this collection is full of spirits, it focuses more on the challenges of connecting with one's self and others than on chills. Otherworldly women may confound a man with their unorthodox approach to door-to-door sales. Another one will babysit for a single mother. Several ghosts who knew each other in life come to work for the mysterious Mr. Tei, who hires people with special talents, living or dead. A woman discovers that some incense left behind by her late father has unusual properties, and comes to a realization about how she wants to use it. No knowledge of the source material is required, however interested readers will find a list and summary at the end of the collection. These stories are sometimes charming, sometimes surreal, and always intriguing. This first full collection of Matsuda's work to appear in English will leave readers eager for more. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Traditional stories take on vibrant contemporary forms in this engrossing collection.
Mystery & Thriller
They Never Learn
by Layne Fargo
With They Never Learn, Layne Fargo earns high marks for a cerebral plot about female rage that centers on a college professor who thoughtfully plans to--without hesitation--murder men she believes deserve to die.
Fargo's highly entertaining standalone novel takes a similar tack as her incisive 2019 debut, Temper--women taking revenge on men who've gotten away with bad behavior. For Gorman University English professor Scarlett Clark, that retaliation takes the form of murders she disguises as suicides or accidents. Her victims are rapists and domestic abusers whom the college refuses to take action against or whose victims are too afraid to press charges.
Scarlett's 16-year pastime goes undetected until her latest casualty--starting quarterback and alleged rapist Tyler Elkin. Scarlett poisons him, then posts a suicide note on his Instagram account. She doesn't expect that Tyler's star status will prompt the Pennsylvania college to begin reviewing previous suicides. Despite that scrutiny, Scarlett moves forward to murder her department head, who has a reputation of seducing students and who is after a fellowship she wants. They Never Learn also follows Carly Schiller, a shy freshman who is overly protective of her roommate.
Fargo, co-creator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters, realistically draws together Scarlett's and Carly's stories while skillfully keeping the surprises coming. Scarlett's unflinching penchant for dispatching predatory men emerged from growing up in an abusive home. Even when her vigilant nature crosses the line with overt violence, Scarlett remains an empathetic character. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: An unflinching college professor taps into her female rage by murdering men accused of being rapists or domestic abusers.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick
by David Wong
The future is simultaneously familiar and utterly ridiculous in Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick, the second Zoey Ashe thriller from David Wong, after Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits. As the story opens, Zoey is addressing a hostage crisis in one of the many businesses of various degrees of shadiness that she inherited from her extremely shady father. She and the team--whom she also inherited, and thinks of as the Suits--appear to resolve the situation, only to discover later that it isn't over when a corpse is shipped to Zoey. Even worse, the corpse gets up and rampages through her house.
The city of Tabula Ra$a is a funhouse mirror of modern society viewed through a superhero comic or a James Bond movie, where no laws are enforced and would-be supervillains get implants to give them superhuman abilities. Not having associated with her father during his life, Zoey is still relatively new to this world of constant scrutiny and the hatred that her sudden power can provoke. Although rich with commentary on celebrity culture, social media and toxic masculinity, readers will be laughing too hard for it to ever feel preachy, with dialogue such as "No, this requires finesse. Andre, send in the giant robot monster."
Readers who have not read the previous Zoey Ashe novel will easily gain their footing in this universe, but those returning will find all of the biting satire, sophomoric humor and laugh-out-loud moments they loved in the original. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: This absurdist science fiction satire will make new and established fans of the series laugh out loud.
by Cory Doctorow
"Yes, it was good opsec," the hacker narrator/hero of Cory Doctrow's alarming digital-security thriller Attack Surface muses about a colleague's hand-soldered, key-encrypted USB sticks, before offering this caveat a couple lines later: "But it was such boy-spy-adventure-novel stuff."
Doctorow's latest, a smart standalone set in the near-future world of his earlier books Little Brother and Homeland, aspires to liberate the globetrotting tech potboiler from the genre's longstanding boyishness. Attack Surface offers clutch-your-throat suspense, especially when its tech surveillance companies seize control of self-driving cars, and in vivid scenes detailing the process of espionage and surveillance, but its story of a spy coming in from the cold is ultimately warm, communal and committed to social justice rather than heroic violence. Much of the story is set in Northern California's East Bay, at protests or at planning sessions powered by vegan soul food, and the camaraderie and idealism prove infections. "Spy Adventure Novel" doesn't cover Doctorow's achievement: this is a Radical Tech Cozy.
The plot follows Masha, a San Francisco whiz kid, out of the shadowy realm of government and private surveillance. She's an engaging protagonist, her seen-it-all jadedness buoyed by the hope she feels in her friends' political organizing--a hope threatened by techniques Masha herself pioneered. Doctorow's depiction of reckless tech companies surveilling, harvesting data and spreading misinformation on behalf of client nations and police departments rings all too true. The book is terrifying, especially because--to borrow a term from the blurbs on a thousand paperback thrillers--it's all so plausible. But its hopefulness is, too. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This high-tech surveillance-state thriller offers real hope and warmth, even as it scares readers into permanent airplane mode.
by Alexa Martin
In Snapped, Alexa Martin (Intercepted; Blitzed) continues to write with amusing flair about professional football players finding love. Her novels can all stand alone, but as each wife or girlfriend becomes part of the Lady Mustangs who support their players, the cast of quirky, hilarious side characters just keeps growing.
Elliot Reed, who is biracial, is thrilled to have gotten her dream job. She's the communications manager for the Denver Mustangs, her father's favorite football team. Elliot is determined to honor her father's memory by promoting the Mustangs to the best of her ability. But then, Black quarterback Quinton Howard Jr. starts kneeling during the national anthem, in protest of racism in the NFL and of the organization's refusal to acknowledge how dangerous football can be.
Elliot is horrified, because she thinks Quinton is going to cost her her job. But as Elliot meets with Quinton, she begins to realize that Quinton not only may be right, he's also extremely attractive. As a friendship blossoms between them, Elliot can't help wondering if maybe it could turn to more. But the team management is still furious with Quinton, and she's not sure how to both save her job and protect her feelings for Quinton.
Less breezy than the other books in the Playbook series, Snapped deals with some heavy topics: systemic racism, chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the loss of a parent. But Quinton and Elliot's friendship also has some funny, lighthearted moments, and altogether Alexa Martin has written a lovely romance, perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory or Alisha Rai. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this socially conscious romance, a Black pro football player, who has been kneeling during the national anthem, and the team's communications manager start falling for each other.
We Saw Scenery: The Early Diaries of Merrill Markoe
by Merrill Markoe
A book full of an author's poignant childhood diary entries sounds like a vanity project; blessedly, We Saw Scenery: The Early Diaries of Merrill Markoe is not that. The multiple Emmy Award-winning comedy writer has augmented some of her youthful jottings with drawings and snappy, bewildered and trenchant present-day observations, and the result is a marvelously oddball coming-of-age memoir with laughs and a talking hippo.
The entries begin in 1958, the year Markoe's parents moved the family, which included her brother, Glenn, from New Jersey to Miami. Several wittily vexed entries call to mind a Lynda Barry comic ("MARCH 3, 1961/ GLENN IS AN IDIOT and I can not live a good life without him teasing me every minute of the day..."). Other entries seem at first blush like the usual kid stuff. But as the entries accumulate, a picture emerges of a child negotiating more than typical tweenage insecurity about fitting in: Markoe's parents and teachers seem to delight in cracking down on her clowning. Her diary becomes a refuge where she can write the lines that the grown-ups in her life don't want to hear.
Markoe the child couldn't have known that her diary entries would put in stark relief the way that the unladylike behavior of girls of her generation was all too often discouraged. Readers of We Saw Scenery will probably be nearly as overjoyed as Markoe when, in 1966, her parents drop her off at UC Berkeley, where she finally finds a crowd that wants to hear her jokes. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: The Emmy-winning comedy writer has annotated and illustrated some of the funnier and more illuminating diary entries from her exasperating childhood.
What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley
by Adrian Daub
Silicon Valley and its take on technological improvements and problem-solving have so shaped contemporary life that its moguls are often uncritically held up as maverick geniuses who have broken past norms to build a new world. But, as Adrian Daub, professor of comparative literature and German studies at Stanford University, deftly explicates in What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley, the so-called genius of leading tech thinkers may be less about inherent radical individualistic enlightenment and more the repetition of sophomoric platitudes cushioned by financial safety nets and tight-knit communities.
Daub's text focuses on tech's favorite buzzwords, such as "dropping out," "disruption," "failure," "communication" and "genius." He explores Silicon Valley's philosophical underpinnings--and perhaps most importantly, the misunderstandings or misinterpretations--that have turned these phrases into industry jargon, intentionally obscuring their real meanings. Most importantly, Daub demonstrates how often tech endeavors to solve problems it causes in the first place. Under Daub's concise, witty and often pointed analysis, the mythology surrounding such well-known names as Theil, Theranos, Facebook, Palantir and even Pixar are deconstructed to reveal old conservative motifs dressed up in futuristic euphemism. As such, the destructive impulses of Silicon Valley are revealed for what they are, as is "the nonchalance with which tech companies destroy livelihoods and entire professions in the name of innovation." Daub makes clear that "what tech calls thinking" often bypasses decades of thought in unrelated fields grappling with similar problems, and why that is a problem that needs closer attention. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: A systematic indictment of the cult of personality and mythmaking of Silicon Valley from a humanities perspective.
Essays & Criticism
The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book: An Interactive Guide to Life-Changing Books
by Stephanie Kent , Logan Smalley
The Call Me Ishmael Project began with an impassioned conversation between book lovers Stephanie Kent and Logan Smalley in a pub. Arguing over the best opening lines in literature, they finally agreed to compromise on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Moments later, they noticed the pun in the phrase. What would happen, they wondered, if readers could call Ishmael and leave a voice message? Several hours later, they had a working phone number with a message that challenged readers to tell "Ishmael" a story about a book they loved.
Thousands of anonymous voicemail messages later, Kent and Smalley have created a directory to those messages: The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book: An Interactive Guide to Life-Changing Books. Inspired by the yellow pages, the book is an alphabetic listing of messages about books, each with a four-digit extension a book lover can use to hear a related story when they call the Call Me Ishmael phone number. The directory is divided so one can search for calls by subject (creatively defined), by title or by author. Scattered throughout the directory are transcripts of messages, references for bookish places and "literary surprises."
Some of the messages are reviews of well-loved books--famous, obscure and everything in between. But many of them are deeply personal accounts of an individual's engagement with a particular volume at a particular moment. Beware: it's easy to get sucked in. The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book is a book lover's rabbit hole: engaging, quirky and wholly seductive. --Pamela Toler, author and blogger at History in the Margins
Discover: The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book connects readers to a telephone-based party line of book lovers talking about their favorite books.
Children's & Young Adult
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
by Sheela Chari
Based on the Peabody Award-winning middle-grade podcast series of the same name, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel uses a dynamic multi-platform approach to tell the story of a too-smart-for-his-own-good 11-year-old who suspects a nefarious connection between missing kids and a charismatic billionaire inventor named Oliver Pruitt.
In the opinion of South Asian American Mars Patel, Oliver Pruitt is one of the only grownups who "gets" kids. The podcaster at times even seems to speak directly to Mars: "Hey there! Yeah, you! Are you searching for adventure?... Something BIG is happening soon." It's not long before sixth graders from H.G. Wells Middle School begin to disappear. Though the adults in Mars's life are strangely unconcerned, he is unwilling to let it go. As one, then two, then three of Mars's group of friends vanish, it becomes clear that the remaining three pals are on their own. Is this the BIG adventure Pruitt was talking about? To find their friends and figure out what's happening, the tweens will need to access their best qualities and most powerful skills.
Readers of this fast-paced mystery do not need to have listened to the serial podcast to become utterly absorbed in the action on the pages. Throughout the book, Sheela Chari (Finding Mighty) includes text messages, images and podcast "screenshots" with listener comments. Alternating points of view give a glimpse into each child's struggles and dreams. This terrific start to a book series contains intriguing characters, conspiracy theories, customized drones, holograms and a tantalizing mystery that could be leading readers anywhere in this world... or beyond. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Based on a popular podcast, this lively sci-fi adventure follows Mars Patel and his friends as they try to discover if a famous billionaire inventor is behind some mysterious disappearances.
On Account of the Gum
by Adam Rex
Talk about a story with a big buildup. In On Account of the Gum, Adam Rex's divine comedy of errors, a kid who falls asleep chewing a bubble-tastic blob awakens to a rude surprise: "That's the gum. Right there. That you got in your hair."
The kid's family members have a go with the scissors, only to lose them in the sticky pink morass. No problem: the kid's family consults the Internet, which yields advice on how to get scissors and gum out of hair. Unfortunately--and who could have seen this coming?--the prescribed two sticks of butter get stuck in there too. On it goes, thanks to a sabotaging surfeit of well-meaning family members and community helpers--e.g., "Your grandpa, who said that your aunt was mistaken, is mostly to blame for the noodles and bacon." Not that the omniscient narrator is without culpability: "Because of the grass that you got in your hair, I assumed that your rabbit could help us in there?"
Rex (School's First Day of School; Nothing Rhymes with Orange; Unstoppable), a master of meshuggaas, hastens along the humor with caricaturish illustrations in a fruity palette perfectly suited to the asimmer-with-irritation kid's hair wear, which comes to resemble a Carmen Miranda hat gone berserk. But underneath the silliness, On Account of the Gum harbors a substantive, empowering message. To borrow the book's idiom: There's a point to all of this rat-a-tat rhyme/ It turns out the kid had the cure the whole time. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: In this picture-book comedy of errors, a kid finds that having bubble gum-blighted hair isn't as big a problem as the would-be solutions administered by well-meaning relatives and others.
I Am a Capybara
by Michela Fabbri
I Am a Capybara is debut author Michaela Fabbri's fun and fanciful portrait of one particularly self-aware capybara, who sees life as a series of small delights--including the joys of dressing like a whale!
This charming story begins with an explanation of what a capybara is not: "not a mouse... not a beaver... not a bear, nor a marmot." But, apparently, a capybara is the biggest rodent in the world. And the capybara narrating this particular story is a thoughtful soul, a lover of poetry and the opera, a capybara who wants to watch "the world go by, to play, to explore, to stroll, then to rest and look around again." This singular rodent (who admits to a tendency toward laziness) takes pleasure in connecting quietly with other animals. Though the capybara has a serious expression, "I laugh a lot under my bristles... and amuse myself with things that I never thought could amuse me." This includes dressing up as a whale for laughs and wearing a bowtie to go out. Furthermore, as a self-professed tough guy, this capybara nevertheless knows how--and when--to enjoy a really good "cuddle clump" with its fellow capybaras.
Fabbri's subtle art in gentle earth tones is ideal for her wholly charismatic subject. Fabbri uses body language and spare, well-chosen details to make her deadpan rodent--even with its "eyes always half open"--thoroughly charming. The abundant white space gives a clean, uncluttered feel to the art, and the scratchy, broken line is superb. The delicate drawings invite readers to get to know this diverting capybara, one among many, who looks at life differently, and might make an especially good friend. Gently reassuring, I Am a Capybara is a sweet and unconventional appreciation of the small wonders that surround us all. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Michaela Fabbri gives readers a taste of poetry, friendship and other small wonders through the eyes of a capybara that delights in dressing up as a whale.