For paleontologists, the year 2020 was a big one: a nearly complete skeleton of Stan the T. rex sold at Christie’s for $31.8 million in October, and just last month the Brazilian Society of Paleontology announced a non-avian dinosaur specimen acquired in 1995 by a museum in southwestern Germany appears to be one of a kind and may have also been illegally exported. In short, there’s some exciting developments taking place in the world of fossil studies.
To further pique the interests of the next generation of paleontologists is a recently released book by Dan R. Lynch entitled, fittingly, Fossils for Kids: An Introduction to Paleontology (Adventure Publications, $12.95, 188 pages, ages 6-10). Pocket-sized for ease of transportation, this fully-illustrated volume is an ideal primer for budding scientists and leaves no stone left unturned: scientific terminology such as “extinction event,” “species” and “fossils” stand out in blue text, while Lynch makes a compelling case for studying fossils–that these remains can both tell us about what life was like on earth millions of years ago and how creatures evolved over time. Straight-forward, no-nonsense prose makes what could easily be an overwhelming or dusty topic into a manageable and enjoyable one. A glossary, list of fossil sites studding the American landscape, and suggestions for further reading round out this thoroughly engaging book.
Finally, a gentle word of warning for parents with perfectly manicured backyard greenery: After discussing the various types of fossils, Lynch encourages kids to get into the dirt, a siren call that will be hard to resist, especially since the second half of the book is devoted to discovering fossils in the real world. By dangling the temptation that fossils are everywhere, prepare for some intense outdoor excavation.
Below we offer a rundown of three titles to share with loved ones, and, given the givens of 2020, not a one deals with sleigh bells or other traditional trappings of the season. Yet each is a reminder that hope remains a powerful antidote to overwhelming despair. Hang in there folks, and stay safe.
For young adult fans of historical fiction: The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, Candlewick Press, 416 pages, $21.99.
From the author whose previous books explore, among other things, the sinking of the Titanic and a teenage murderer, you may be wondering how on earth this title makes an appropriate holiday gift. Trust me when I tell you that this chillingly poetic account of the ill-fated 19th-century Donner Party expedition is perhaps one of the most intriguing and expertly crafted stories to appear between hard covers this year. With the voice of Hunger serving as a sort of Greek chorus interspersed among multiple narrators, there’s more to this tale than mere hunger pangs–it is a bone-chilling examination of love, ambition, and blind faith in manifest destiny, all based on Wolf’s near-obsessive research on the subject, as evidenced through the accompanying historical notes, biographies, and further resources. No detail is spared, while middle-grade readers will finish the book pleasantly surprised that they devoured a novel written almost entirely in verse.
For adult offspring:Offerings: A Novel, by Michael ByungJu Kim, Arcade Books, 288 pages, $24.99.
Michael Kim’s debut novel draws heavily from his thirty years of experience in the world of international finance wherein a brilliantly woven narrative explores the simultaneous pull of family loyalty versus duty to one’s profession. Here, during the throes of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Korean-American immigrant and now genius investment banker Dae Joon–known as Shane to his American compatriots–is summoned to his birthplace in a bid to save the country from financial ruin. As the family jangnam, or first-born son, Dae Joon was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the ranks of academia, but the siren song of Wall Street proved irresistible. While Dae Joon toils relentlessly to save the Korean economy from collapse–and, as it turns out, unravel a sordid tale of financial corruption–a mysterious illness threatens the life of his father. Throw in a mysterious romantic interest, and there’s plenty competing for Dae Joon’s time and attention, each creating a cohesive story that’s all but impossible to put down. Offerings has–dare I say it?–a cinematic quality to it, no easy feat for a writer. Here’s hoping there’s a second offering in the works.
For lovers of the great outdoors: The Complete Flower Fairies, by Cicely Mary Barker, forward by Roy Vickery, Folio Society, $149.95. Orders for Christmas delivery must be made by December 10 and 17 for standard and express delivery, respectively.
Struck with epilepsy as a child, South London native Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973) was homeschooled and honed her artistic talents via correspondence courses. By 1911, her watercolors and drawings were gracing postcards, and in 1923 the first book in a series illustrating seasonal flora appeared as Flower Fairies of the Spring. The internationally bestselling Flower Fairies eventually encompassed eight charming volumes that, nearly a century after their first appearance, are now being offered as a limited-edition set by Folio Society. Botanist and Honorary Secretary of the Folklore Society Roy Vickery provides a nuanced explanation of why this collection extolling the virtues of the great outdoors remains a perennial favorite, even among cooped-up urbanites worldwide.
Having a hard time explaining the new normal to your youngsters? Striking the right balance between informative without causing panic is essential, and Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham–the children’s book trio behind the bestselling The Princess in Black series–recently completed a child-friendly coronoavirus public service announcement to help make that task a little easier.
Created in accordance with Center for Disease Control guidelines as of April 8, 2020 and published by Candlewick Press, the free eight-page booklet is a “call to heroes” to join the intrepid problem solver, the Princess in Black, and do their part to slow the spread.
All three creators have children at home and face many of the same quarantine-related issues as other parents: “LeUyen, Dean, and I are all parents self-isolating at home with our children,” said Shannon Hale. “The anxiety and distancing is hard enough on our older kids, but we know that younger kids might be having an even harder time. We hoped that it’d help if a familiar book friend like the Princess in Black talked them through it. Even the Princess in Black is staying home! Even Princess Sneezewort had to cancel playdates! LeUyen had the idea of creating a short comic to download and share widely so caregivers could have an extra tool for talking to kids. Our goal is both to help kids understand what’s going on and to help them feel less alone.”
Joseph Elliott’s debut novel, The Good Hawk (Walker Books, 368 pages, $17.99) takes young-adult readers to a mythical, violent Scotland, where war and plague have ravaged the land and the only children of a local clan to evade capture by enemy combatants are a most unlikely trio who must beat the all sorts of death-defying odds to save their family. Featuring a heroine with Down’s Syndrome, Abby couldn’t put this book down, and neither will your kids. Here’s her take:
Good Friday, readers! In Willow the Armadillo by Marilou Reeder and Dave Mottram (Abrams, $16.99), our bespectacled purple armored protagonist wants nothing more than to become a hero just like the ones she reads about in her books. Does she succeed? Well, I’m not going to spoil it–but clearly, heroes are born in the most unexpected of circumstances. Abby provides her take below.
And: thank-you to all the health care heroes on the front lines right now.
Well, here’s a nice little diversion to start another quarantined day, especially for those among us who have been considering their reading lists in these sequestered times: the first advance review to come in for “Cross of Snow,” earning a “Kirkus Star,” no less, for “exceptional literary merit.” Read the review here: https://bit.ly/2WRUbdd.
In light of the pandemic, Kirkus has graciously lifted its paywall to offer unfettered access to its current issue and entire archive.
New York City is the current epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, its citizens in nonessential professions ordered to stay home in an attempt to slow the virus’s deadly march and prevent a catastrophic overload of the local health care system. Images of a city stripped of people are sobering in their eerie solitude.
Politicans, celebrities, and civic leaders have been spreading the word about why such drastic measures are necessary and how each of us has a role to play in combatting a disease with no vaccine or cure. New York City’s Poster House has redirected its education efforts by encouraging the city’s denizens to look out for one another through a series of specially-designed posters, for which the museum turned to designer Rachel Gingrich. Bathed in cobalt blue and rendered in a punchy collage style, Gingrich’s three digital-only posters are available for downloaded here.
Earlier this week, Poster House released another series of PSA posters by its in-house designer Mihoshi Fukushima Clark, also available for download. Clark’s surprisingly upbeat series focuses on spreading the facts on social distancing and proper handwashing while also addressing the feelings of loneliness and isolation many of us are experiencing. As the virus has spread, so too, unfortunately, have xenophobia and anti-Asian racism. After learning about an increase in attacks on Asians, Clark created this series in an effort to remind viewers that we are all in this together.
Having only opened to the public last summer, Poster House is the first museum in the United States wholly devoted to exploring the history of posters and their role in shaping public perception on everything from cigarettes to disease prevention. Posters are designed to present information quickly, and successful posters convey their messages in five seconds or less.
In conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition on Chinese propaganda The Sleeping Giant, Poster House had been in the midst of a project collaboration with stir-fry doyenne and James Beard award-winner Grace Young. That project has been put on hold, but as word got out about racial discrimination due to fears concerning Covid-19, Young went to Chinatown to document the toll on the Asian community. Filmed on March 15, less than 48 hours before Mayor de Blasio mandated all city restaurants to close, Part 1 shows Young walking through a neighborhood at the vanguard of what would soon envelop the entire country. The scenes feel like they were shot a lifetime ago.
Stay strong, stay safe, readers: We will get through this, together.
Abby looks at two titles today: a new picture book for grown-ups set to the lyrics of Andrew Gold’s theme song for The Golden Girls, and Castle of Books, Alessandro Sanna’s joyous introduction to the worlds waiting to be unlocked by the gift of reading. Both are uplifting celebrations of friendships and a reminder that we’ve all got each other’s back, even when going gets a little dark. Brighter days ahead–
Today, Abby selected her current favorites–no, they’re not new–Restartand The Bitter Side of Sweetcame out in 2017–but she’s reading them purely for pleasure. Sometimes, old favorites provide the best comfort.