Monday, November 23, 2015

Read-Along, Learn-Along: Nonfiction for Kids and Adults

There is some incredible non-fiction (for adults) making its way through our store this year. Our bestsellers case and our Books We Love table are crammed with great nonfiction titles across all kinds of genres and topics. But if you've been bringing these books home and you've got small children in the house, you might find that your toddler is not always up to reading a five-hundred-page paperback monster that weighs half as much as they do.  You may find that some of your new favorite books are a little inaccessible to the younger members of your household. You may find it difficult to share your joyful reading experience with everyone in the family.

Happily, diligent authors and illustrators are (as you may recall from my previous post about the real bear behind Winnie-the-Pooh) producing excellent works of nonfiction for the newest readers as well. Take the tome from their tiny hands. Read on! These five adult book/picture book combinations for will keep everyone on the same page.


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Aaron and Alexander by Don Brown and
Hip Hop Speaks to Children by Nikki Giovani*


H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Amazing Animals: Hawks by Kate Riggs and
Primates by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks


Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz with art by Mirian Klein Stahl and
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford with art by Ekua Holmes


You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh
I Am Yoga by Susan Verde with art by Peter Reynolds and
Is Something Nothing? by Thich Nhat Han


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
These Hands by Margaret H. Mason with art by Floyd Cooper and
The Art of the Possible: An Everyday Guide to Politics by Edward Keenan 
with art by Julie McLaughlin


*The staff of Brookline Booksmith unofficially, emphatically recommends listening to Hamilton. You know, the musical. We aren't in the music business, but we are absolutely sure about this one.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bear In Mind

Christopher Robin's toys, curated by the New York Public Library

Winnie-the-Pooh has never gone out of style, but lately he's seen a non-fiction renaissance--or rather, she has. Although the stuffed bear and his storybook counterpart are gentleman bears, the live bear behind them both was not. In fact, she was a female cub on sale at a Canadian train station, purchased by a sympathetic veterinarian on his way to to England, to serve in World War I. The vet, Harry Colebourn, brought the bear with him to England, naming her Winnie after his home city of Winnepeg. When he left for France, Winnie moved to the London Zoo, where she met Christopher Robin Milne.

The original Winnie's story has been adapted into not one but two very lovely non-fiction picture books this year:

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh is written by long-time children's nonfiction author Sally M. Walker. It's the first book for illustrator Jonathan D. Voss, but his art has an appropriately mid-century feel, jovial, dynamic, and detailed. (He's also got a great online portfolio--I'm hoping we see more of him soon.)

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear has just come out this month. This one is written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by the prolific and beloved Sophie Blackall (of Ivy+Bean, Caldecott hopeful A Fine Dessert, and many more). Their version of Winnie's history is told as a bedtime story told to a little boy named Cole--fittingly enough, since Lindsay Mattick is Coleburn's real life great-granddaughter.

The third installation of Pooh nonfiction is a little different.

Kathryn Aalto's The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh is a lively exploration of the real model for Milne's Hundred Acre Wood, an English preserve called Ashdown Forest. Full color photos trade off with Milne's illustrations, building a bridge between Milne's ramblings and his creation. Although it's a book about children's books, the primary audience for Natural World is adults who still revel in their imaginary and familiar childhood hideaways, as well those who enjoy the natural beauties of the English countryside. Aalto is a first time book writer, but her chops as a landscape designer and historian serve her well. She's an excellent tour guide, and rather than stealing the wonder out of the Pooh books, she gives them new color and life. You can find Natural World in our Nature section.

Of course, there's nothing like the original. When you'd like to revisit Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood (or visit them for the first time), come find them in the children's section. Whatever the facts of the matter may be, the stories are pretty great.

Monday, October 26, 2015


The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow is one of those books that I wasn't really aware of leading up to its release, and then suddenly everyone I knew was reading it. (Including Clarissa--check out her shelf-talker in Young Adult.) It's a post-near-apocalypse novel, near rather than apocalypse because, on the brink of world catastrophe, a United Nations-operated artificial intelligence named Talis decides enough is enough. He ignores the U.N., bombs a few cities out of existence, makes a few speeches, makes a few rules, and four hundred years later, you have a lot less war...and the Children of Peace.

Greta and the other Children of Peace are the offspring of world leaders, gathered as hostages under the care of a loving but ruthless robot Abbot in former Canada. If any ruler in the world chooses to go to war, their hostage dies. As the book opens, war is looming and Greta is certain of her own death--but danger isn't coming from the direction she expects. The true peril arrives with brash, bewildered Elián, the newest of their number. 

All of the things I loved about this book are wildly big spoilers, so I won't tell you exactly what any of them are. I'll just say that the peril is constant, nailbiting, and real. The relationships that develop are nothing like what I expected. And the the kind of ending you are going to have an opinion about it. I loved it, and I can't wait to read what happens next.

Books to read after, and vice versa: 

Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey -- Amid dangerous rumblings between humans, fairies, and dragons, Tess emerges from a violent and tragic childhood in the woods, into a dangerous, kingless world where witches are burned, and the future is by no means guaranteed to be a romantic and comfortable thing.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore -- The Graceling books are basically superheroes in fantasyland. Gruff, wonderful Katsa's superpower is killing people. Her goal is to wrest control of her life back into her own hands, out of the clutches of people who make her murder for their gain.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins -- You know how it is. Katniss Everdeen, the girl who volunteered, trapped in a game where only one person is supposed to live, and the odds are never in your favor.

Court of Fives by Kate Elliot-- Class politics and family betrayal meet high-risk sports in this complex fantasy, as teenage Jessamy defies her parents and disguises herself to partake in THE FIVES.

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer -- A boy named Matteo discovers he is a clone of the powerful drug lord of the country called Opium, created in case the Patron ever has need of spare parts.

Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes -- Olwen has lived alone on the planet Isis for years, keeping the lighthouse light that protects passing ships. When other humans land, her own humanity becomes a question.

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner--I love The Thief, but skip right over it if you're looking for an ideal female lead. The Queen Attolia is ruthless by necessity, having to protect her throne and her life from threats in all directions, by any means necessary. But she's clever, complicated, and by no means heartless. If you like Katsa or Katniss, try Irene.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein -- If you want a brutal and incredible book about steadfast love under interrogation that is somehow for teen you go. Here's the book! I've heard maybe one person ever say that they weren't that into it.

If you go out and read all of these heart-punchers in a row and your emotions cease functioning normally and You Can No Longer Handle This, please come and consult your Brookline Booksmith children's booksellers. We will be happy to prescribe a restorative fluff. Happy reading!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Every Scary Story

Kidsmith is celebrating Halloween in style this month. In addition to our decked-out displays of Halloween-themed picture books and activity books, we've also got a couple things happening for older kids and teens.

FIRST: Readers who like to take a chance can grab one of our bookseller-selected mystery reads from our TRICK OR TREAT YOURSELF display. (If any of you enjoyed our Blind Date With A Book display this February, come in for a second round!) These are some of our favorite wickedly creepy books for middle grade and young adult readers. Don't you trust us?

SECOND: K-12 readers, let us know the name of your favorite scary book, and be entered to win free advance copies of this year's best and scariest MG/YA books! We'll be drawing our winners on Halloween. (Check out the great and various books people have picked so far on the pumpkins all over our display.)

Head back to the tree in the kids' section to find our display!

Even with all this going on, the kids' booksellers still haven't been able to talk enough about some of our favorite recent Halloween-y books. Here are a few more titles that you might want to check out.


OUR FAVORITE: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel. The best horror stories have something true right at the center of them, and this book does that exquisitely. It's about an anxious boy with a sick little brother, being asked in his dreams by sentient wasps to just...maybe...let them...replace...his brother with a better one, a healthier one. Despite the fear factor and the big themes, this one is good for grade-schoolers and parents alike.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano
Took by Mary Downing Hahn
Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith
The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

Young Adult

OUR FAVORITE: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle is the story of a family that, each October, suffers an unusual storm of accidents, from the minor to the fatal. Hiding beneath the cuts, burns, and bruises, the bubble-wrapped tables and the plaster casts, are the bitter secrets of a family--one that has failed to keep itself safe so badly that now, once a year, everything is dangerous. This book gets dark, but its ghostly atmosphere and fiercely devoted characters will draw you through to the end.

Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski
The Fall by Bethany Griffin
Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Lastly, for those younger princesses, goatherds, and mighty warriors among you, don't forget to join us on Sunday, October 18th at 2 PM for our PRINCESS IN BLACK party, celebrating the second book in our favorite chapter book series! Feel free to dress up, and look forward to crafts and fun!

Monday, October 5, 2015


For the last week, Brookline Booksmith has joined the American Library Association in celebrating Banned Book Week--a yearly recognition of books that have been challenged and banned in American libraries and schools. As much as it's a celebration of books and their freedom to express, it's also a vocal reminder that censorship occurs in our country on a regular basis.

This year, to demonstrate our belief as a bookstore that readers should be allowed access to the books they want and need, we've put our favorite banned and challenged books on display.

A lot of the titles (and the reasons they've been banned for) have come as a surprise to staff and customers alike. You'll notice a lot of classics up there--as well as a lot of children's books. Books for young people are the most frequently banned and challenged literature in the U.S.; classics that appear on school curricula are also targeted.

Censorship is all about ending conversations. We wanted to start one. All week, as we've been sharing our favorite banned books with our community of readers, we've been adding your favorites to the bulletin board outside our front door. We have to say, we love the results.

We are always thankful for a community that would rather be challenged by books than challenge a book's right to exist. Thank you for stopping to look and think about what Banned Books Week means. Thank you for talking to us about the books we love. Thank you for taking part in the conversation. We hope you'll keep supporting books of all kinds. Where a challenge arises, let's keep the conversation going.

Monday, September 28, 2015


This debut fantasy is the most sink-in-and-enjoy book I've read in quite awhile--the kind of book that makes me stop periodically and think, "Why do I bother reading anything that I like less than this? I could be reading this!"

It is also one of those books where I, to be totally honest, just want to rip off the dust jacket and write READ THIS BOOK across the cover instead. The cover is not good. The cover is a red splodge with a vaguely decipherable dragon across the top. The book, on the other hand, is a spectacularly handled regency diversion, a funny, spirited mix of disarmingly likeable characters, court politics, personal feuds, grumpy fairies, surprise dragons, and thoroughly considered, culturally diverse magical practice.

You might be reminded of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell from the premise on its own: England is losing its magic, and everyone wants to know why. Sorcerer to the Crown's protagonists are its superpower, though. Atypically for its genre, none of the three main characters is white. More typical are the harangued young gentleman and the strong-minded young woman who leads him on a chase, but this familiarity is paired with originality; generally speaking, regency heroines aren't nonchalantly traipsing through London with the majority of England's magical power tucked in their reticules.

(The third major player, by the way, is a Malaysian witch named Mak Genggang, who is so delightful that I will just leave her for you to discover on your own.)

It's a thoroughly fun book, and I'm already excited about the sequel--check it out in our scifi/fantasy section!

What To Read Next

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer is my favorite book by the absolute queen of regency romance. There are no bodice-rippers here--she's all family friendly, the long eighteenth century by way of the 1930s. This book features a haughty man of morals finding himself aghast at the cheerfully wild behaviors of a heroine who will remind you very much of Cho's Prunella.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian is the starting point of this quintessential Napoleonic sea epic. Between battles against man and tide, you will learn so much about boats. Just, absolute loads about boats. You will not mind this, and the characters are wonderful.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin is a fantasy novel which drags a distant child of the emperor into the treacherous capital. There, barely restrained gods live, either the potential ruler's best hope for salvation, or an even greater danger to her than her vicious family.

Evelina by Frances Burney is where Jane Austen got her stuff. If you like Gossip Girl and Pride and Prejudice, it's time to back up to the 1770s, where hair is tall, gambling is rampant, and there's nothing worse you can be than a nice girl in London.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is not set in our world, but it borrows a little steampunk and drags it back to the seventeeth/eighteenth centuries. Much like Sorcerer's Zacharias Wythe, newly enthroned Maia is racially an outcast, insecure as the new emperor. It's not an action book. Instead, intrigue, threats, and all, it moves slowly and gently through Maia's growth in a role he never expected.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik is the natural fantasy counterpart to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels, featuring sentient dragons piloted by humans into the Napoleonic wars by brave men (and the occasional woman). Book-loving dragon Temeraire by far outshines everything else in the series, but the action is great and the human hero is noble--which I assume is something you like a little, if you like this genre at all.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell  by Susanna Clarke is a period fantasy that features Dickensian characters, heaps of intricate description, and a particularly good scene with the gargoyles of Yorkminster coming to life.

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix is an upcoming (2016) young adult novel by the author of the Abhorsen series, mixing regency romance, magic, and mystery.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter is a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery featuring a whiningly naive member of the East India Company paired with a jaded ex-member of same, trekking across India in search of a missing author and finding death and corruption along their trail. Complex, textured, and very aware of exactly what kind of role the British had in colonized India, it's a quick-paced, highly readable, fun adventure, absolutely packed with historical goodies.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Alex Is Reading...THE KIDS' CLASSICS

A lot of grown-ups looking for good readalouds come into the store trying to find more than the old standbys. This is understandable, and also wise: there is an endless flow of amazing writing for kids coming out all the time, and by sticking to the oldies, you can easily miss out on lifelong literary loves. A couple of years ago, however, I started to get both nostalgic and curious about the classics I'd been read as a child. My family (which contains no children, but if you don't read aloud to your fellow adults now, you should absolutely give it a try) started reading them over again. To my delight, the books that felt old and important and personal when I was five and six and seven feel freshly wondrous today.

So, to any parent groping for the next good bedtime book: pick something new, and pick a classic. They won't be stale for a child who has never read them, and you may be surprised at how bright and lively they feel to you.

Here are six children's classics that have not stopped making perfect bedtime, daytime, and anytime together reading.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame--The Wind in the Willows is a book with the same satisfactions as Frog and Toad, but much, much longer. The touching friendship of a brave mole and his easygoing companion the river rat is balanced perfectly against their disastrous friend TOAD, who gets way to into motorcars, and especially into motorcars he doesn't own. The book comes in a million and one editions, but I love the big gifty hardcover linked here and seen above, with full-page illustrations by Inga Moore.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett--This one may have to be taken with several coarse grains of Victorian salt, but the saintly Sara Crewe and her troubles are still satisfying to read about. You still envy her that perfect doll, suffer with her as she slaves away for the dreadful Miss Minchin, and there's still smug gladness in watching her get her just rewards. But boy howdy does Frances Burnett look down on her poor friend Ermengarde!

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien--My own mother read me The Hobbit twice, at ages five and eight. I wasn't too troubled by the fatalities of the climactic battle, but as I child I loved (and loved again recently) the appealing pettiness of the dwarves, their various adventures, and the struggles of poor Bilbo (who would rather be home drinking tea) through goblin kingdoms, past hungry trolls, out of Gollum's slimy clutches, into the lair of Smaug, who is as good and greedy and well-spoken a dragon as you're ever likely to find.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis--Okay. Publishing order dictates that you don't start with The Magician's Nephew, and I grant you that it doesn't go down as easy as some of Narnia. But as a kid I was enamored of all the little treasures in this book: hidden attics, magic rings, evil uncles, wild music, practically sacred woods filled with almost dangerous peace, an ancient broken world from which a bone-crackingly terrible queen escapes.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers--Julie Andrews made her look 90% nice, but Mary Poppins isn't nice. She's interesting. As the hapless Jane and Michael Banks (and younger siblings) follow Mary Poppins at her whim, half of the wonder is in the adventures they have, and half is in the awe and love everything they encounter feel about Mary Poppins. You might start to notice repetitions in the themes if you read beyond the first book, but I recommend going forward. There is enormous comfort in Mary Poppins, the snippy, vain, and glorious.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum--The shoes are silver, NOT red. The series doesn't have the melodrama or black and white morals of its recent adaptations. It is delightfully bizarre, a string of slightly brutish heroines tumbling through nonsense-adventures which leave you scratching your head, but glad about it. I link here to the first omnibus, which goes as far as Ozma of Oz and its plucky Bill the Chicken, but the full color Usborne edition of the first book we carry in the store is beautiful and highly recommended.