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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Fall Is Falling!

Whew! We have been bustling this week! School is closing in on our students, and there's still time for some last-minute vacation reading on top of those assigned books (which, by the way, you can still find at the back of the kids' department). Meanwhile, in the book world, FALL is closing in. Fall is book season in the same way that fall is apple season--you can get new and delicious books all year around, but when fall arrives, the books come out in bushels. I have definitely caught the first hints of autumn air on my walks to work this week--and in the store, it's getting harder to pick which amazing new release to talk about first.

Aside from Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes and The Day the Crayons Came Home, here are a few more (okay, more than a few) titles that have come out in the last month or so that we are delighted to share with you.

Clarissa's Picks:

Baba Yaga's Assistant is a witchy, folk lore-ish graphic novel by Marika McCoola, with art by Emily Carroll of Into the Woods. In this graphic novel a girl named Masha does the unlikely--instead of keeping out of notorious witch Baba Yaga's way, she figures out how to become her apprentice. It's a great new take on Russian folklore if you've heard the stories before, and a great introduction if you haven't.
Court of Fives is fantasy writer Kate Elliott's first young adult novel. High-stakes sports in an otherworldly setting mix with the complex and inescapable forces of class and race in a dense but pacy fantasy with a heroine you will love.

Amy's Picks:

Moira Fowley-Doyle's The Accident Season is a YA novel about secrets, family, and one family in particular that, each October, suffers violently bad luck. If you like Holly Black, or Diana Wynne Jones's Time of the Ghost (unforgivably out of print), this book should be very much up your alley.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia is about Alex, a girl whose schizophrenia gives her delusions that she can't always separate from reality. It's manageable, until she meets a boy named Miles. Miles starts to change Alex's ideas about what kind of life she's allowed to live--the question is, did Alex make him up?

Alex's Picks:

I have been waiting MONTHS for Alex Gino's George. It's a middle grade novel, accessible, heartfelt, and with wonderfully real fourth-grade voices, about a transgender girl named George. She's still figuring herself out and hasn't come out to her family when the book begins, but George wants to live as the glorious girl that she is. It will just take a little planning. Great for fans of Wonder or Fish in a Tree.

The Sky Is Falling by Mark Teague is the story of Chicken Little, but with way more dancing. Can chickens outsmart a fox with their smooth moves? Well, if you have read James Marshall's wonderful Wings, you know a chicken can do anything she sets her mind to.

The last books up there are officially multi-bookseller picks: 

Amy has read Stephanie Tromly's Trouble Is a Friend of Mine THREE TIMES. I have read it once. (I haven't given Amy her book back. Yet. Yet!) Zoe has new girl problems--and then she has Digby, the obnoxious, obsessive, voracious food-thief who suddenly wants her to break all kinds of laws to solve one or two missing persons cases. It's a quick read that will happily blindside anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes, but also kind of wants to give him a punch in the nose.

Finally, a new and terrifying YA horror anthology: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by  April Genevieve Tucholke. We've all been passing around our staff advanced copy of this one, and I saw bookseller Kat taking her own copy home. If you're already preparing yourself emotionally for Halloween (and I assume you are), start here. Here is a very good place to start.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Alex Is Reading...LOIS LANE: FALLOUT

Lois Lane: Fallout is a YA novel about amazingly wonderful teenager Lois Lane moving to Metropolis, joining the Daily Planet's experimental student arm, and immediately putting it at jeopardy by threatening the big, the bad, the powerful, and their crafty weapon design program that uses zombiefied teenage virtual reality MMORPG players as guinea pigs.

It is kind of like reading the book distillation of Veronica Mars (or iZombie, maybe?)  plus Batman Beyond. There is peril, there is bravado, there is technologically questionable science, there is THIS MYSTERIOUS AND CHARMING PERSON ON THE INTERNET WHO ONLY GOES BY SMALLVILLEGUY. I really love these things, you guys. They make such a fun book together. SUCH a fun book.


But Lois is not the only mystery-solving girl in the world of kid/YA fiction. There are more, and they are so wonderful, and you should read about all of them.


Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler -- Even more than Nate the Great, Cam Jansen introduced me to mystery stories. She is one cool character. Also, she has a photographic memory, which I pretended I also had for about two years after my first Cam Jansen book. You can find her BOTH in our leveled readers and in First Chapter Books.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry -- I think I threw this at every gift-buying adult shopping for a 9-13 year old that I met in November and December. This is the completely delightful and very funny story of a Victorian girls' school after the headmistress and her brother die mysteriously one night at dinner. With these two buried in the back garden, the girls are free for the first time ever! But someone is going to find those bodies...and someone killed them to begin with.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction et. al. -- Yessss, at last a Marvel comic gets onto one of my blog posts. Hawkeye is about two Hawkeyes: the sad Clint Barton man Hawkeye, and the exceptionally perfect, sublime, and superior Hawkeye Kate Bishop. The first two books are about both of them (and you should read them, because they completely rethink what superhero comics are allowed to do, and are beautiful), but in book three, Kate is all on her own. How does that go? We just got this series into the store, and I am so stoked about it.

Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene -- THE CLASSIC. We have the first couple books in stock in Intermediate fiction, as well as some volumes of three different spinoff series in our First Chapter Books section! You may also find some vintage books in our Used Book Cellar, in various states of expurgation.

Scarlet Undercover by Jennifer Latham -- What is this?! A black Muslim orphan girl detective? OH YES. If you like Gwenda Bond's Lois Lane, you will definitely love Scarlet, whose gradeschool client is absolutely right in thinking that her brother is up to something really, really not quite right.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin -- Okay, I've DEFINITELY written about this before, but come on! Halloween, dead millionaires, an underwhelming girl named Turtle who is secretly (not that secretly--how could you love any character more than Turtle?) the very, very best, and a delicious ending that is probably only one small part of what got this book its Newbery.

Sammy Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanen -- I ate these up so fast in middle school. Sammy is just the coolest and best. Her adventures are always action-packed, the plots are quirky, and at least one of them involves nuns. You can sometimes find a few of the books used downstairs, sold only, I imagine, in a truly desperate moment by their former owners.

In conclusion: if you have other favorite girl detectives, please immediately tell me everything.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Silly Alarmed Bookseller

This happens not infrequently. I should be used to it.
If I am supposed to know you and I don't...I have no excuse.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Alex Is Reading...UPROOTED

As soon as it came out, I heard about a dozen ravingly positive reviews of Naomi Novik's new adult fantasy novel Uprooted (including Clarissa's--check out her shelf talker in Sci Fi). I finally pushed aside the vast piles of upcoming kids' books I absolutely have to read, and gave Novik's departure from Napoleonic dragon battles some precious reading time. Verdict before plot: if the first fifty pages don't grab you, KEEP GOING. It will be reading time well-spent. From that moment (really, page fifty, I mean it quite literally) 'til the end of the book, Uprooted is a tense, fast-pasted, highly creative and sometimes (satisfyingly) gruesome fight-for-your-life against the raging, dangerous and extraordinary power at the heart of a forbidding wood.

The plot of Uprooted is basically this: seventeen-year-old apparently average village girl Agnieszka is snatched from home by a magician called the Dragon, who protects the villages from the evil powers of the forest, but no one likes him much because he's a jerk. Everyone is surprised her pretty friend doesn't get taken instead, but it turns out this is because Agnieszka is incredibly magical, and in a really weird way, too. Which is good, because it turns out her weird way of doing magic is the best chance local humankind has of stopping the woods in its tracks before it kidnaps, murders, and buries the entire country in malevolent carnivorous trees.

A lot of the most interesting stuff, aside from the monsters, is how Novik writes about magic in this book, especially when the ways that Agnieszka and the Dragon experience the same spells are completely different. Complicated, original magic is one of the coolest things about good fantasy. Smart girls learning magic (and possibly frightening everyone in the process) is even better, and as it turns out, that is a genre that exists for all ages. So please, pick up the Novik, but do not stop there. Here are some suggestions for the entire family.


Among Others by Jo Walton -- (Found in SF, and currently on our bargain table) The magic learning doesn't really take place in school in this book, but the protagonist, while plowing through hundreds of sci fi novels and processing the death of her twin sister and the looming threat of her mother, is forced to learn how magic works, in order not to do any more damage than she already has by using it.

Circle of Magic by Tamora Pierce -- (Available online; recommended for middle school+) This quartet gives one volume to each of four young students of magic, who all use a different medium. The first three books are about girls Sandry, Tris, and Daja. The magic is neat, and the characters are among my favorites by Tamora Pierce. 

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness -- (Fiction/SF) You can find this trilogy of magical academia, Oxford, and women's friendships in both adult fiction and science fiction, and they delight our readers from both sides of the aisle.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett -- (SF) Like most Discworld novels, this one stands alone just fine, as it tackles collegiate sexism through a girl who has the appalling gall to want to study magic at university.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell -- (Kids' Graphica) Antimony Carver is a poker-faced girl with a mysterious past, going to a boarding school populated with possessed students, sentient robots, ghosts, and monsters. She also learns magic from the gods that live in the nearby wood. This is an awesome, awesome graphic novel series that unfolds slowly, beautifully, and sometimes painfully, page by page.

Lirael by Garth Nix -- (YA/SF) The sequel to Sabriel stands firm enough without its predecessor. The first large chunk of it takes place in a vast library inside a glacier. There, teenage Lirael learns step by painstaking step how to use a power she does not want to gain the things that she does. The mythology of these books is always tremendous, and Lirael fails to make right choices in all the places that result in an extremely satisfying story.

I've previously mentioned Nnedi Okorafor's upper middle grade Nigerian fantasy Akata Witch, and I emphatically continue to recommend that. I'd also advise anyone who digs around in used bookstores to keep their eye out for Monica Furlong's Wise Child, Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics and Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. They're three very different but all very good books that I'd put in your hands if I could get them into my own. Last of all, it's not quite in the theme of the list, but I recommend Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and truly all McKillip novels for a delicious sense of place, magic, and wildness in full flower.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Harper Lee: The Mystery Thunders On

Go Set a Watchman drama is all over my various Internet feeds today. If nothing else it brings up questions about what constitutes a draft, a true draft, and what is an entirely new piece altogether. I probably would have let sleeping dogs lie, but our culture has an obsession with reboots and sequels and prequels. If we can resurrect something popular from the grave, we’re going to do it, no matter what. This is not to suggest that Watchman’s story is similarly disheartening to, say, the threatened Point Break remake, but there are similar themes at work here. There is no bad press in a situation like this; whether they like it or hate it, people will buy it. Some will buy it and never read it, fascinated by the story behind the story.

Ultimately the questions surrounding this book are things that only Harper Lee can answer, and she either won’t or can’t. Last May we had an event with Marja Mills, a Chicago Tribune journalist, who lived very closely with the Lee sisters for two years in 2001. Harper and her sister Alice welcomed Marja into their home and neighborhood, and for the next 18 months, Mills extracted a tremendous amount of  information about the private lives of the Lee sisters and published it in a book The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee. Mills is a warm and personable woman, who had many sweet anecdotes about the pair of Alabama born sisters. Because Harper was and is so private and eschewed the public eye so often, it is difficult to determine her true wishes for Go Set a Watchman. There is, naturally, controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the memoir, but one would have to assume that Marja Mills captured a modicum of truth in her work on the Lee sisters. I would urge anyone who is even the least bit curious about Harper Lee to read Mills’ book. It is in every way a book crafted with respect and care, and through its intimacy with its subject, might shed some light on the mystery surrounding this beloved American author.

Today is Watchman's release date, and many readers are disappointed by the book already; whether that disappointment is “Christmas morning syndrome” wrought by the building hype of the literary world, or whether it is a response to the unexpected changes exhibited by well-loved characters doesn't really matter. You are not required to read Lee’s new novel. You are welcome to believe what you like regarding whether or not the Harper Lee of 1960 would have published the book or not. However, what we must remember, as we do or do not read the book, is that to the millions of people who have read To Kill a Mockingbird and to the millions more to come who will read it, Atticus and Scout Finch can still remain as they always have been inside the very specific world of their original story.

Go Set a Watchman needn’t be the death knell of your favourite novel, nor should it change what has come before it. In truth, writers make all kinds of twists and changes to their characters while they are still wretched and unfinished on the page, before an audience finds them worthy of love. Go Set a Watchman is being published largely unedited, in accordance with Lee’s wishes, but it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s possible Atticus’ development is commentary, but it’s also possible that the character you’ll interact with in this new novel is merely a prototype of the one in Mockingbird, before receiving his final coat of paint, so to speak. 

It would be naive to suggest that you keep these characters unchanged in your heart, and that no one can ever change how they made you feel or think about the world, but in essence, that’s what I’m suggesting. Fiction is a world ultimately free from reality. We are drawn to or repelled by characters for reasons unknown. In life, human beings are forced into three dimensions, capable of disappointing their loved ones and making copious mistakes. “To err is human”, after all, but reading fiction requires a suspension of belief; would it be so outrageous to let these characters remain, suspended in your imagination, in the various forms and manners you’ve known them to inhabit for all these years? I think a character conceived in fiction could be the most malleable, safest thing in the world, free from the constraints of our real world entropy. But only if we let it be free.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Alex Is Reading...WINGS OF FIRE

WHEW. This last Thursday's event with Chris Colfer and his fourth Land of Stories book was a huge success! I was told by one fan that it was "the best book signing [they'd] ever been to," and from up at the register and outside with the loooooooong line, I saw so many glowingly happy faces. This kind of hectic day really is one of my favorite things about the job.

Our next kids' event is coming right up! Tui Sutherland, (local!) author of the Wings of Fire series, will be with us on the NINETEENTH OF JULY AT 2PM. The seventh book of the series, WINTER TURNING, has just come out, and it is time to celebrate!

(Look at this awesome cover art. LOOK.)

If you haven't read Wings of Fire already, it is not too late to start. They are quick-paced, action-packed dragon adventures, featuring warring tribes, peril, and cool dragon powers. The main characters are a growing cast of slightly unusual dragonets (young dragons, of course!)--starting with five dragonets from different groups, who have been raised in isolation with the hopes that they will fulfill a prophecy to end the war. But while they do want the war to end, they quickly discover they are not so interested in acting on the orders of any adult dragon they meet. Instead they set off to fix things in their own way--if only they can keep from being killed in the process.

In short: this series is dragon Game of Thrones for kids (9+ is the recommended age), and it is awesome.

If you have read the whole series, and you are looking for something to feed your reading appetites when the last page is finished, here are a few more books you might check out until, some day in the hopefully not too distant future, Wings of Fire eight comes out.

IN THE MEANTIME, top three:

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin -- In a fantasy landscape based on China and Chinese mythology, a young girl travels through legend and story in the company of a dragon to make her poor family's fortune.

Dragon of the Lost Sea by Lawrence Yep -- An evil witch has trapped the sea in which dragon princess Shimmer and her people live inside a single pearl. Although Shimmer is an outlaw, she may be the only hope of her people. Alongside a poor human boy named Thorn, Shimmer quests for the missing pearl that will restore her home, and perhaps her people's faith in her.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson -- A graphic novel about a villain (Ballister), a hero (Goldenloin), a morally questionable benevolent organization (the Organization), and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, a shapeshifting girl sidekick with ten times the personality of everyone else, who is much more than Ballister expects.

A Few More Great Choices:

Dealing With Dragons series by Patricia C. Wrede

The Thickety series by J.A. White

Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

We hope to see you on Sunday! Until then--happy reading!

Monday, July 6, 2015

I Don't Want It to Be Over!

That might be the most lack luster book I've ever drawn. You should see the real cover. It's beautiful!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Alex Is Reading...BOOK

I already had the idea for this post in my head when a new book came in. (Today, it came in. Good timing.) It's called Book. Written by David Miles and illustrated by Natalie Hoopes, it's a lovely collage, a love letter to the paper book. (It doesn't care much for electronics, so if you have too soft a soft spot for your e-reader, it might hit you where you're vulnerable.) It's also the newest addition to what I think is a genuinely lovely and not often named genre of books that let art come--literally--alive.

When I was working on my last post, Christopher Myers's My Pen started me thinking about books that carry their characters into whole, physical worlds built out of their or other people's creativity. The popular Quest and Journey books by Aaron Becker are perfect examples, where a girl's crayon is her key to exploring a vast, vibrant, beautifully painted world. In Robert Sabuda's (typically!) fantastic pop-up The Dragon and the Knight, knight and dragon chase each other through not only the fairy tales they come from but the physical pages of the books those fairy tales are in.

For middle-grade readers, Michael Ende's The Neverending Story is the cornerstone of a tradition wherein child characters walk straight into the stories they are reading--Cornelia Funke's Inkheart books and Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories series are two well-loved instances.(Incidentally, Chris Colfer will be signing copies of the fourth book in this series at the Booksmith on July 9th!) In young adult, Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar provides catharsis to its teenage protagonists through the act of writing their truths. Jasper Fforde's adult mystery/fantasy Thursday Next series is an irrepressibly self-referential epic traipse through the lives of characters who know they are characters, moving from book to book and pun to pun at a hectic pace.

A central conviction behind fiction writing is that good stories are real in their consequences, in their emotional impact, in the images and lives that they conjure in our heads when we read and write and tell them. It's always about creating something out of the thin air of our imaginations and having it stick, as if it were as solid as we are. So the characters who get to walk, really and truly, into their art and their books are very particularly about us.

Lots of characters get to do things we can't, but these characters get to do the thing that is one step beyond us. They are doing the thing that we always feel is just past our fingertips--solidifying the flights of their imaginations into worlds that will hold up under their feet. It's throwing metaphor out in front of them and finding continents, skies, seas, and every living thing, there to really breathe and touch. It's the moment in The Magician's Nephew where Aslan starts singing, and Narnia happens out of a dark expanse of not-yet-imagined. What a wonderful thing that is! It's no wonder there are lots of stories about it.

And it's no wonder that picture books are an incredible medium for stories like this. Art is all about taking a blank world, paper or canvas or screen, and filling it with life. Imagination is the realm of people who haven't forgotten to use it--especially children. Last week we read Harold and the Purple Crayon in storytime, and I was struck by it in a new way. When I was little, nothing about that book worried me. I understood that each piece of Harold's adventure would safely lead to the next, because Harold had his crayon and his wits, and that was all it took. (I also really liked the part about pie.)

As an adult, I still have faith in Harold, but for the first time I find it a little eerie--because there is nothing in either the pictures or the words of that book, aside from Harold's hand and his mind, that he hasn't created himself. There is no point at which he walks out the front door. He knows he has a bedroom, but it exists because he draws it at the end. That's incredible! Many stories have characters falling into books or starting in our world, but Crockett Johnson didn't need any of that. All he needed was a little boy with a simple tool and a mind that made things real, and the whole world grew up around him. It grew up with such strength that all it took was a few purple lines, and we never questioned where it started or where it ended. We just believed that it was real.

That's taking joy in what stories are, and what they can do.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Amy Went to BEA!


The last weekend in May I had the privilege of attending BEA (for those of you who don't stalk follow the publishing world, BEA stands for Book Expo America and is the big book conference in the US). It was an amazing experience. It was also a very crowded one.

I went into the experience with the plan to make the most of it. I printed schedules and maps for each day. I color-coded them. Then before I could even use them they were destroyed in a freak water-based incident.

I don't like to talk about it.

Anyway, I was up late the night before because I procrastinate and for me packing is an event - a terrible game of possibilities.

That's what happens AFTER I make a list.

That's how I ended up in a train station at 5AM with forty five minutes of sleep and a large, very orange suitcase.

But we got there with lots of coffee and I got to see some amazing things.

I went to some cool panels that usually went like this:

I even got to give Jory John my business card. Jory John has a business card with Stick Figure Amy on it. The very idea is madness.

As member of the ABA (American Booksellers Association) I was allowed to attend some really amazing events. I saw Moïra Fowley-Doyle (whose debut The Accident Season is out later this year and is amazing), Nicola Yoon (same with the later this year and brilliance for her debut Everything Everything). And at one of these events I even had the privilege of meeting Jacqueline Woodson. Then poor Jon Klassen. I say "poor Jon Klassen" because I pretty much swooned at him.

Then on Friday I went to the Children's Breakfast and saw Oliver Jeffers, Rainbow Rowell, Nathan Lane, and James Patterson speak. Oliver Jeffers drew pictures as he spoke and if I wasn't already madly in love I was definitely a goner by that point. 

There was an author speed dating and I saw (if I recall) 16 authors in rapid succession for six minutes at a time. Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri were wonderful. Adam Silvera is utterly charming. Gitty Daneshvari is hysterical. My brain pretty much exploded.

At tea I got to sit with Leigh Bardugo who recognized me from the internet.

And she's just an amazing person.
Also, Six of Crows is beyond brilliant. Read it when it comes out.

Then there was Scott Westerfeld.

And one of my packing fear came true when I spilled tea on my dress. 
And one of the weirdest things of the conference was just seeing these amazing authors walking around and trying not to freak out.

I leaned down to fix my shoe and:
I was so surprised I started choking and had to flee the scene.

It felt impossible. Like some alternate world. I couldn't possibly be in the same building as these people. 

I ended up in a room with Libba Bray after getting elbowed in the head trying to get in line for her signing (I abandoned the line at that point) and I totally panicked. I knew she'd just been signing for almost two hours and so when I saw her I couldn't think of anything better than to thrust the book at her and say: "I have an awkward and unfortunate question, will you sign this?"

Which is how this happened:

The whole experience was amazing.

I feel like, for the sake of my job and the possibility of going again I need to point out that I did see a couple of our sales reps and took notes on panels and signings that were well attended and the big buzz books this year. 

I did so many more things than I had the chance to stick figure (and some stick figures I started but couldn't finish or had to cut short). I couldn't manage to cohesively put together a short strip about seeing the Merry Sisters of Fate (Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff) all together. Or hearing Leigh Bardugo defend a woman's right to wear whatever she wanted to someone who wanted to shame cosplayers. Or even getting a free evening to sit in Bryant park and unwind a little and get some writing of my own done.

Or just the sheer amount of coffee involved in the whole experience.

And I went to BookCon that weekend too and got to watch Marissa Meyer and Leigh Bardugo play Truth or Dare and Margaret Stohl on a Women in Marvel panel for Black Widow: Forever Red (which is also really good).

The whole five days were amazing. Exhausting and sometimes overwhelming but just amazing.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Alex Is Reading...Picture Books With Characters of Color!

 Interior art from ONE FAMILY.

This one's not apropos of any single book I'm reading this week, but instead is a short answer to one very frequent customer request: PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHARACTERS WHO ARE NOT WHITE. There is plenty of wonderful stuff out there that fits this bill, but it can be hard to find, especially when all you can see is the skinny spines on our (very) full shelves. For next time you're in, here is a list of books from the classic to the shiny and new.

16 Picture Books with Main Characters of Color
The New Small Person by Lauren Child--Not all new siblings are welcome...ESPECIALLY NOT THIS ONE. Absolutely delightful book about how to turn unwanted family additions into your closest friends and allies.

Keats's Neighborhood by Ezra Jack Keats--This volume collects twelve classic picture books by Ezra Jack Keats, showing the everyday lives of young children (usually Black) living in the city.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams--It's a colorful, heartful classic that I really can't recommend enough. A working class family suffers setbacks but, ever loving, manage to save the money to buy a beautiful easy chair for their hard-working mother.

The Rain Stomper by Addie Boswell, illustrated by Eric Velasquez--Jazmin the baton twirler is disappointed when the parade is rained out, but she starts a parade of her own, joyfully stomping the rain in time to the thunder. The whole neighborhood joins in.

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin--A simple, delicious book about a family out for dim sum.

Stone Soup by John J. Muth--The traditional story of sneakily getting a stingy community to share their way into a delicious meal for everyone, as carried out by Buddhist monks. Gorgeous watercolors and a great readaloud text.

My Pen by Christopher Myers--This lovely book about the freedom and power of imagination rides along on Myers's intricate ink drawings, and is based on his experiences as a young black artist.

Float by Daniel Miyares--Float came out this month, and it's a beautiful, contemplative addition to the library of picture books about imagination. Like My Pen, it features a young child who follows their creativity through adventures of their own making. 

We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs and Julie Cairns--A bright and rhythmic counting book filled with Maasai characters, wild animals, and counting in Swahili.

Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat--What is NOT to like about a book where a young girl scientist makes a killer robot that has psychic power over dogs? Caldecott winner Santat's illustrations are delightful, and there's a surprise under the dust jacket...

 Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson--A little boy and his grandmother travel farther and farther outside the "nice" parts of town, but the nicest things are waiting for them at the end of their story.

Bigmama's by Donald Crews--When the family heads down to Bigmama's for the summer, it's a joyful, loving celebration of family and good times.

Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers--The award-winning picture book story of ballerina  Misty Copeland, illustrated with vibrant pantings by Myers.

Mimi and Ling and Tariq and Mika by Annalien Wehrmeijer, illustrated by Deborah Van de Liejgraaf--This series of board books features children around the world with their pets. It also features in-book finger puppets of those pets, so little readers can play along.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Rachel Isadora--A dynamic retelling of the fairytale that moves the story to Africa, with Isadora's trademark style.

5 Ensemble Picture Books with Characters of Color 
These books feature broader ideas more than they do stories, and part of their broadness is in their inclusion of racial, ethnic, gender, age and family diversity.

10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

 One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanch Gomez

Love Always Everywhere by Sarah Massini

Peace Is an Offering by Annette LeBox, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

We usually have these books on our shelves, and you can follow the links to find them online. (And do you have favorite picture books featuring characters of color? Let other people know in the comments!)

Happy reading!