Quick Picks, Nor’Easter Edition

You can be excused for feeling a little apocalyptic if you happen to live on the East Coast, but once you’ve got the lights and heat back on, consider picking up one of the following books for you or the kids–they are all a welcome salve for these windswept times and reminders that love and compassion come in all shapes and sizes.

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First up is National Book Critics Circle Award winner Louise Erdrich’s latest offering, Future Home of the Living God (Harper, $28.99), where evolution seems to be coming to a standstill: animals stop reproducing while others revert back to prehistoric proportions and children are born with disturbing abnormalities, leading to an increasingly fascist government regime where pregnant women are incarcerated. This is bad news for four-months-pregnant Cedar, the adopted daughter of loving parents and the protagonist of this cautionary tale. Cedar decides its time to meet her Ojibwe birth parents in Northern Minnesota, where she reconnects with her spiritual side. Told in diary form by Cedar, Future Home of the Living God touches on prescient, lightening-rod themes of reproductive rights, faith, and environmental disorder with equal parts verve and candor. Newbies to sci-fi would do well to start here.

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Meanwhile, offer the kids have something far less dystopian in nature, like Paul Griffin’s Saving Marty (Dial Books, $16.99). Here, lonely Lorenzo is looking for a friend, and finds one in Marty, a pig that thinks it’s a dog. Instant friendship ensues, and when Marty grows into a robust 350-pound porker, Lorenzo is ready and willing to do anything to save his best friend from being shipped away. Middle-grade fans of Griffin’s When Friendship Followed Me Home will find similar themes of compassion and friendship in Saving Marty.

Another book of porcine proportions is The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, and Caprice Cane (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99), which shares the real-life story of Esther and her owners. In 2012, Steve and Derek adopted Esther and welcomed her to their animal sanctuary. Much like Marty in the previous book, Esther was destined for corpulent greatness–eventually tipping the scales at over 600 pounds. But Esther’s size was no match for Steve and Derek’s love and patience–rather than give Esther away, they moved to a country farm in 2014, founding the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary where they continue to care for all sorts of creatures. Young readers will snort with joy watching Esther grow from a tiny piglet into a massive pink hog. Corri Doerrfield’s lively illustrations are sweet and perfectly in tune with the text.

New Picture Book Biography of Jane Austen Glitters

Jane Austen’s novels criticizing sentimentalism, the British landed gentry, and women’s dependence on marriage have remained in print continuously since 1832, when the publisher Richard Bentley purchased the copyrights of all six of Austen’s works. For the past 186 years those stories have thrilled readers around the globe. Now comes a picture-book biography for children attempting to piece together Austen’s rise to fame.

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Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel (Holt, $17.99, 48 pages) explores Austen’s modest upbringing and how she quietly forged a career as an author at a time when most women aspired to fortuitous marriages to secure their economic status.

Though little is actually known about Austen’s childhood since she kept no journal or diary, author Lisa Plisco admirably examines just how Austen developed her plucky wit and delightfully biting sense of irony. (Spoiler: Austen read a lot of books.) Illustrator Jen Corace’s vibrant mixed-media illustrations show a rosy-cheeked Austen, likely an homage to the portrait of Austen completed in 1810 by her sister, Cassandra.

Have a future wordsmith on your hands? Give her this beguiling introduction to a great woman of letters.

                                                                                                                                                                                           Image courtesy of Holt Books for Young Readers

This review first ran on the Fine Books & Collections Blog on February 23, 2018.

Winners of 2018 Newbery and Caldecott Awards

Award season continued its forward march this week with the announcement of the American Library Association’s (ALA) winners of the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Awards on February 12th. This year’s Newbery winner was Hello, Universe (Greenwillow Books, 320 pages) by Erin Entrada Kelly, while Matthew Cordell’s wordless picture book Wolf in the Snow (Feiwel and Friends, 48 pages) took home the Caldecott Medal.

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Hello, Universe explores the complicated tween world unexpected friendships, bullying, and self-acceptance, told from the point of view of four protagonists. While there’s no dialogue in Wolf in the Snow, there’s plenty going on: a girl in a red parka discovers a lost wolf pup during a blizzard and helps it find its family. The tension and shifting dynamics between girl and wolf are rendered in deceptively simple pen-and-inks and watercolors. Both books explore what it’s like to be an outsider, and how doing the right thing can often mean have to face one’s fears as well.

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Both awards recognize the year’s most outstanding contributions to American literature and picture book illustration for children, and though the ALA awards list has grown in recent years, the Caldecott and the Newbery remain the most noteworthy.
The awards were announced at the ALA’s annual midwinter meeting which was held in Denver, Colorado. The complete list of winners can be found at the ALA’s website here.

This story first ran on the Fine Books & Collections Blog on February 16, 2018. 

#GiltyPleasures at the Library Company of Philadelphia

Ok, Philadelphia Eagles fans may think nothing can top their team’s proud designation as Super Bowl champions, but we’ve got something for bookish folks that’s sure to please.

 

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On January 29, the Library Company of Philadelphia opened its latest exhibition to the public on sharing special collections in a digital world. Entitled #GiltyPleasures–a play on the word for gold-covered binding and illumination–the show is the logical extension of a social media initiative launched two years ago by Concetta Barbera and Arielle Middleman, the Library Company’s digital outreach librarians. Almost daily, devoted Instagram followers find postings ranging from century playing cards, watercolors, photographs, and recently, a slightly doctored WWI recruitment poster showing–what else–a bald eagle trouncing a black-feathered foe sporting Patriots insignia on its chest.

 
“We wanted to share our passion for the Library Company’s collections with the online community,” Barbera and Middleman said. “We also wanted to introduce new and whimsical ways to engage with special collections. However, no virtual environment can fully mimic the experience of seeing and interacting with these materials in person, and we hope that #GiltyPleasures fills that gap.”

 
Billed as the library’s “greatest hits,” #GiltyPleasures hopes to inspire visitors while celebrating the qualities of this institution founded by Benjamin Franklin back in 1731. Bonus: This week the Library Company is participating in #ColorOurCollections, a weeklong social media coloring festival where institutions share free coloring content with their social media followers, so break out a fresh box of crayons!
 

 

#GiltyPleasures runs through April 6 and can also be viewed here.

This story originally ran on Friday February 9th at the Fine Books & Collections Blog. 

Image: Bull, Charles Livingston, 1874-1932, artist. Join the Army Air Service, Be an American Eagle! ca. 1917 1 print: 27 X 20.5 in.

Love in the ‘Burbs: The Single Life in Westchester

A look at dating and the singles scene through the eyes of seven county residents.

Living the single life is synonymous with urban living, but plenty of would-be lovebirds roost in Westchester, too. In fact, according to a 2016 census report, nearly half of the county’s 974,542 inhabitants are single, meaning a lot of people from Mount Kisco to Mount Vernon are looking for that special someone. And it’s not just 20-something college grads, either: One-third of the participants in this story are either divorced or widowed residents in their 50s or older. So, what is it like to be single in the suburbs? We asked some of our county’s eligible singles, who enthusiastically shared their experiences and tips on dating in Westchester.

Read my whole story over at Westchester Magazine, and be sure to take the poll on dating, too!

Interview with Abigail, Episode One: Tracey Baptiste

Last week, children’s book author Tracey Baptiste visited The Voracious Reader bookstore in Larchmont, New York, to talk about her latest book Rise of the Jumbies (Algonquin 2017). Afterwards, Abbie had a chance to sit down with the award-winning author and ask Baptiste a few questions about characters and craft.

First, a little background: Raised in Trinidad on a steady diet of rich fairy tales filled with mythical beasts and monsters, Baptiste eventually decided that the world beyond her island ought to learn about these tales, too. Rise of the Jumbies is the second in the Jumbies series for middle-grade readers. Jumbies are creatures that roam the Carribbean at night, with the sole purpose to devour wayward children. Their queen is Mama Dl’eau, a merciless sea creature who turns people into stone.

In book one, Baptiste’s main character, Corrine, must stop a jumbie from taking over the island. Corrine returns in book two, which gets even darker with an exploration of the slave trade–important, Baptiste says, for all children to learn about, even when it’s difficult to fully comprehend. Rise of the Jumbies illustrates that though there’s much pain associated with Caribbean history, beauty can rise from it as well.

Listen to Abbie’s interview here.

 

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(Yes, that’s a press badge–never leave home without it!)

Photo credit: Barbara Basbanes Richter

90 Shakespeare Documents Recognized on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register

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Above: The first recorded purchase of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, less than two months after it was entered in the Stationers’ Register. Richard Stonely, a government accountant, spent 12 pence on two books, Venus and Adonis and John Eliot’s The Survey, or Topographical Description of France, in addition to 10 shillings on food and 3 shillings, 12 pence on clothes.

Since 1997, UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register has raised awareness of the state of preservation of civilization’s documentary heritage by nominating a series of books or other documents that speak to our common history. Looting, war, illegal trading, and general lack of interest stirred UNESCO members to establish an annual list of documents that have national or global social relevance. The first inductees into the program included the Archangel Gospel of 1092, a collection of Mexican Codices, and a Holy Koran, and since then the register has grown to include the Magna Carta and the Gutenberg Bible. This international initiative calls for the preservation or, in some cases, the reconstitution of a country’s documentary heritage — creating a sense of permanence for these materials in an increasingly impermanent (read: digital) world.

This year, 90 documents relating to William Shakespeare’s life have been added to the register, mostly dealing with his baptism, burial, property records, and business transactions. Six of those documents hail from the Folger Shakespeare Library collection — the only American institution included — while the remaining 84 documents are in the United Kingdom’s Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the National Archives, Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, the College of Arms, the British Library, and London Metropolitan Archives.

The Shakespeare documents are accessible to anyone with internet access: they’ve all been scanned and uploaded to an online repository called “Shakespeare Documented,” launched on the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death in 2016. With (appropriately) 400 items in its holdings, the site bills itself as “the largest and most authoritative resource for learning about primary sources that document the life and career of William Shakespeare.” This comprehensive portrait of the playwright offers hundreds of print and manuscript documents for in-depth examination, including contemporary accounts (and gossip), anthologies, literary criticism and diary entries–all providing testimony to how Shakespeare became a household name.

“The fact that these resources — supplied by a number of institutions — have been digitized and are widely available means that a vital part of the documentary record is able to speak to us from centuries past. If libraries are diary of humankind, this group of documents represents one of that story’s most exciting chapters,” said Folger Shakespeare Library Director Michael Witmore.

In an age where longevity of e-data is of increasing concern, to quote the Bard himself, “What’s past is prologue” (The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I). In other words, we cannot forget history’s lessons, or we are forever doomed to repeat them, and UNESCO’s initiative is a positive step in the right direction.

Credit: Richard Stonley. Diary labelled “KK.” Manuscript, May 1593 to May 1594. Folger Shakespeare Library.
This story appeared on January 26th on the Fine Books & Collections blog.