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Liz

Mysteries for Young Readers

posted by: February 24, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Captain CoconutCover art for The Queen's ShadowCover art for Warren the 13thYoung sleuths looking for a case to solve can have their pick with the latest selection of new titles. Each of these books holds secret lessons on science and math that will help burgeoning detectives spot clues and decode puzzles.

 

Captain Coconut and the Case of the Missing Bananas by Anushka Ravishankar introduces a new “First Chapter” series from India, led by the crazy and entertaining Captain Coconut, detective extraordinaire. When he’s not inventing booby traps and reading pulpy detective stories, the Captain has readers using simple arithmetic to solve crimes. Chapters are interjected with Bollywood-esque songs praising Captain Coconut’s numerous talents while the accompanying illustrations belie many jokes at the Captain’s expense.

 

The Queen’s Shadow, by acclaimed picture book author Cybèle Young, uses the framework of a mystery in an animal kingdom to study the special kinds of vision different animals have — from the trinocular vision of the mantis shrimp to the panoramic eyesight of goats. Young interjects her narrative with sidebars detailing these feats and uses her illustrations to demonstrate the ways animals’ vision differs from our own. Readers will be impressed by the creatures she features, some of whom are strange and exotic, but many of which are fairly common and all the more interesting when seen in this new light.

 

Fans of Gravity Falls and Roald Dahl will want to check out Warren the 13th and the All Seeing Eye, an action-packed story about an orphan who cares for the hotel his ancestors built. Minded by his devious aunt and dim-witted uncle, Warren’s days of riding dumbwaiters and exploring hedge mazes are interrupted when he takes up the task of thwarting his scheming relatives’ plans for treasure hunting. To prevent the mysterious “All Seeing Eye” from falling into the wrong hands, Warren must uncover the secrets of the Warren Hotel with some creative thinking and the help of his friends. With a cast as kooky as the Addams family, Warren the 13th is a fast paced, art-driven story first conceived by its illustrator, Will Staehle, and further developed by writer Tania Del Rio, who has promised a sequel this fall.

Liz

Liz

 
 

The Smell of Other People's Houses

posted by: February 11, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Smell of Other People's HousesAlyce is trying to figure out how to attend the dance try-outs that could secure her future when she's supposed to be working on her father's fishing boat. Dora is trying to build a life for herself away from her abusive parents. Ruth is just trying to get by and avoid the attention of her domineering grandmother. Hank is running away with his brothers. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's novel The Smell of Other People's Houses interweaves the stories of four teens as they confront their personal challenges and begin to gain control in determining how their life choices are made.

 

Set in Alaska during the Reagan administration, Hitchcock makes the Last Frontier seem like home with her descriptions of daily life — hanging out with friends, shopping at Goodwill, eating blueberries — interspersed with that which is wholly new to “Outsiders” (anyone from the mainland United States). By writing this story, she brings to light many challenges of Alaskan society — limited resources, Native rights and government representation—as well as many challenges that are not unique to Alaska — alcoholism, divorce, and abuse. Fans of Rebecca Stead will find a compatible voice in the naturalistic way Hitchcock includes the historical aspects of the ’60s, juxtaposing her characters’ development with Alaska’s acceptance of statehood into the U.S., in this emotionally-driven tale. 
 

Liz

Liz

 
 

Thunder & Lightning

posted by: January 29, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Thunder & LightningLauren Redniss’ latest book is an odd duckling among graphic novels. Rather than following any kind of paneled format, it contains passages of text interspersed with vibrantly-colored photogravure etchings and atmospheric pastel drawings that take up the entire surface of the page, resulting in an effect that is more like a book of hours than Peanuts. Those who enjoyed Cynthia Barnett’s book Rain will find an evocative companion in Thunder & Lightning.

 

In Thunder & Lightning, Redniss seeks to depict how weather has shaped our world and how we have adapted in a constant attempt to better predict and manipulate the weather. She has gathered the research of a wide variety of historians, scientists and environmental activists, and heavily peppers the text with their quotations, always opting for clear, plain-spoken statements from the mouths of experts rather than a summary of their findings. From this, fantastic stories emerge — of how the US military experimented in making their own rain during the Vietnam War, of hidden utopias in an Icelandic archipelago covered in permafrost year round, of the outdoor air conditioning engineered to cool the Kaaba in Mecca — along with poignant anecdotes of the natural disasters that are still fresh in our memories — Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Irene, the Chilean mine collapse, the summer wildfires in California. Through these tales, one becomes infected with Reniss’ wonder towards the sky and what it might bring, for even as we deepen our understanding of the climate and learn to create clouds, the forecast remains mysterious.

 

Liz

Liz

 
 

The Invention of Nature

posted by: January 13, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Invention of NatureIn his lifetime, Alexander von Humboldt was a superstar — a fearless adventurer, penniless aristocrat and brilliant polymath. He befriended and collaborated with many of his illustrious contemporaries, including Thomas Jefferson, Simón Bolívar and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He was the personal hero of Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, and his work was the basis for their great achievements. But he is largely forgotten in the English-speaking world, despite lending his name to numerous places and even species. In her latest book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, author Andrea Wulf seeks to reestablish Humboldt’s celebrity and pay homage to his genius.

 

In keeping with a biography of a man whose curiosity knew no limits, Wulf’s take on Humboldt’s life is multi-faceted and includes detailed, interwoven narratives of the scientific fields his work impacted. She examines how his personal relationships, politics and ethics were formed and how he used his beliefs, in turn, to enact change in the turbulent world around him. Humboldt undertook two major expeditions — one to South America and another stretching across Southern Russia into the Mongolian steppes. The product of these voyages emerged as theories he developed about the interconnectedness of the natural systems that are the foundation of our understanding of biology today. His major work Cosmos can easily be seen as the precursor to the major documentary phenomena of 2006, Planet Earth. And yet Humboldt also famously brought a sense of wonder and poetry to his work that helped to form the Romantic and Transcendental movements in the arts. Reading about Humboldt’s remarkable achievements and the fantastic experiences of his journeys instill one with a sense of wonder and curiosity about what is outside.

 

This book has been released alongside a spate of literature on the natural world, including the 2015 edition of The Best of American Science and Nature Writing (edited by Rebecca Skloot), and many of these new titles will be make for good pairings alongside this denser read. The Curious Nature Guide and Cabinet of Curiosities will be particularly useful to any budding naturalists inspired to get out and explore the world around you, like Humboldt did.

Liz

Liz

 
 

Unfinished Business

posted by: December 22, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Unfinished BusinessIn 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” addressing some of the challenges remaining from the second-wave feminist movement of the 1970s, particularly those that led to the devaluation of caregivers. In the article, she described how her transition from a career as director of policy planning for the State Department to professorship in the Harvard Law School for the sake of providing better care for her teenage sons was frequently viewed as giving up by her colleagues. Unfinished Business is a continuation of this discussion, allowing Slaughter the chance to address some of the criticism that arose from her original article and further refine her ideas.

 

Slaughter points out how necessary and valuable the work of caregivers is but how little respect and compensation they are likely to receive in exchange. While she primarily writes from her own experience in white collar labor, she tries to be as inclusive as possible, incorporating the responses to her article she received from people of different classes, industries, sexual orientations and race. She also makes a point of examining how trends have changed between the baby boomer, Gen-X and millennial generations. While she does not hide her own party affiliations, she shows how concern over caregiving transcends party disputes.

 

Her arguments are well researched and persuasive, and her suggestions for change are timely and practical. Employers are encouraged to fully utilize the flexibility now allowed by technology to accommodate the scheduling needs of their workers who are caregivers. The time people spend attending events in their children’s lives, supporting their aging parents and being present in communities outside of the office develop the soft skills highly prized in the modern business arena. For true gender equality to be achieved, there needs to be a destigmatization of men’s work in the home, allowing for men to care for their children without being emasculated, manage a household on their own terms and define how they provide for their family outside of the rigid constraints as a “breadwinner.” Anyone trying to juggle a career and family will want to check out this book for its empathy and encouragement.

 

Liz

Liz

 
 

Between the Covers with Luke Pearson

posted by: November 25, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for HildaI sat down with British illustrator and comic artist Luke Pearson while he was in town for the Small Press Expo to discuss his recent work and his ongoing graphic novel series, Hilda.  

 

Between the Covers: How has Soft Spot [the animation you’ve been collaborating on with fellow comic artist Phillippa Rice] been going?
Luke Pearson: Phillippa is the driving force behind Soft Spot. All the stop motion stuff is entirely her. I’ve been doing smaller bits within those episodes. We haven’t collaborated that much before, so it’s nice to have something that’s actually both of us. We’re both just kind of experimenting and playing around.

 

BTC: You’ve also joined the pantheon of people working for Adventure Time doing some storyboarding.
LP: I’ve boarded four episodes overall and I’m hoping I can do more at some point. They’re very time consuming because I’ve always done it freelance with quite big gaps in between. It’s quite hard to get back in that mindset.

 

BTC: You’ve spoken before about how you’re inspired by Scandinavian myth in the creation of your own series, Hilda, but I see a lot of original world building and myth making.
LP: The Scandinavian folklore is like a jumping off point really. So much fantasy in general comes from those same stories and people just twist them and reinvent them in their own way. What I was trying to do with that was portray them in a way that is closer to how they are in the oral tales, rather than sticking a grand mythology onto them. There’s tons of stuff in Hilda which is just made up as well. I think as it goes on, it’s evolving into its own thing and the place she lives in has less of a point of reference with a real world place.

 

BTC: Hilda exploring the world seems like a central theme. Are you also figuring out what the rules for that reality are as you go along, or is it building on something you already know?
LP: It’s not really building towards something I already know. There are certain things that I have had locked down in my head from the start, I’m not totally winging it. But I don’t have a big bible that I wrote beforehand with all the stuff in there. I think that would feel counterproductive. As time goes on my tastes and interests change, when I draw each book I want to feel like I can change my mind about things. I’d rather do that than be a slave to this thing I made up five, six years ago that maybe I don’t agree with anymore.

 

BTC: Do you consider your audience as you’re working? Do you censor yourself because you know you need to appeal to kids?
LP: I don’t censor myself because I know they’re not for really little kids. It wouldn’t cross my mind to do a super dark Hilda story. What’s the point? I would just do a different comic. I want it to be a little bit scary and weird. I think kids can handle more than some people can give them credit for. If there’s a scary thing in the story, I want them to actually be scared of it. I don’t want to just put some big, goofy monster in that everyone is acting afraid of but isn’t actually scary. I always aim to resolve things in a way that is comforting.

 

BTC: Your next book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is going to be coming out next year. Is there anything you can share about that project?
LP: It’s a bit different to previous ones in that it’s the first one where I feel like you probably do need to have read at least one of the other ones to get it. I’ve always been reluctant to do that in previous books, I wanted each one to be a standalone thing, but as I get deeper into the series it makes less and less sense. I feel like people enjoy the way the world is growing and it feels like a shame to gloss over all the other things.  The start of the book will be the kind of things Hilda’s been getting up to. Hilda has so many magical-ish friends and tricky ways that her mom is getting slightly irate. She’s off on adventures all the time, possibly covering up how dangerous they may or may not be. It will be the first story where Hilda and her mum actually go on an adventure together.

 

BTC: I really like the way you’ve been portraying their dynamic. They’re obviously parent and child but they get along and it’s not stereotypical, you convey a more complex relationship.
LP: I’ve just naturally become more interested in exploring the mom character. She was just there in the first couple of books to explain how Hilda exists in the world, because she can’t live on her own. That character’s just been evolving to the point where, in this one, they’re co-leads. It’s tricky to do but I want the child reader to slowly pick up on the fact that she’s not just a mom, she is a person. It seems like in a lot of children’s fiction the parent is just a source of comfort or a source of antagonism and that’s it. They’re like a caricature. I like the idea of a kid empathizing and relating to the mom in a personal way rather than relating their idea of their mom. It’s hard to see your own parents like that until you get older.

 

BTC:  Are you finding any of your own childhood emerging when you’re writing?
LP: I had a pretty comfortable, pleasant childhood but stuff does kind of come through. The last book all the stuff where she joins the Sparrow Scouts, that was kind of based on my experience as a scout.

 

BTC: Did you enjoy scouts?
LP: Yes and no, which I think I was trying to get across for Hilda. I like the idea of it and I did have fun at times, but I also didn’t enjoy it that much for not quite the same reasons as Hilda. I was just always very shy. I liked messing around but I always felt like I wasn’t very good at actual, legitimate scout stuff. As a kid I basically only enjoyed sitting and drawing and making stuff up.

 

BTC: What are you reading right now?
LP: I’m actually reading the Earthsea series for the first time. It’s really good. I’ve only read the first book so far but it’s incredible. I’ve had this boxed set since I was a kid, I think they were my mom’s. I’ve been carrying them around forever.

The next Hilda book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is due to be released in Spring of 2016.

Liz

Liz

 
 

Native American Heritage Month

posted by: November 23, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Hiawatha and the PeacemakerCover art for Sitting BullJust in time for Native American Heritage Month are two narratives of famous Indians by famous Indians for children. In response to the misrepresentation in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” Hiawatha and the Peacemaker sets the record straight on the legend of two Indians who united the warring tribes of the Eastern Great Lakes region to form the Haudenosaunee — what would become of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy and the oldest participatory democracy in the world (formed well before the American Revolution). This epic tale is written by Robbie Robertson of The Band fame (who was immortalized in a biography of his own last year), with page-popping illustrations by Caldecott winner David Shannon. Sitting Bull is the latest biography in a series of Lakota histories written and illustrated by S. D. Nelson, who uses the famous chief's life story to contextualize the conflicts making up the American Indian Wars. The book begins with a first-person account of the major events in Sitting Bull's life, dotted throughout with direct quotations and photographs from the time period, followed up by a detailed timeline and concluding with an author's note discussing Nelson's thoughts as a member of the Sioux.

 

Despite the fact that they represent different tribes and different time periods of Native American history, both stories tell of how Indians have borne the brunt of adaptation in the face of great adversity and conflict. What is most interesting about this pair of stories is how they have incorporated mediums characteristic of the Indian arts. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker includes a CD, not of an exact reading of the text but of Robertson's musical performance of the legend that parents and kids will both enjoy listening to. Nelson has formatted his work in the form of Ledger Book Art: palimpsests that evolved as interred Indians repurposed the accounting cast offs from the U.S. government, examples of which can be seen at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Liz

Liz

 
 

Between the Covers with Gemma Correll

posted by: November 16, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Pig and PugI managed to catch up with one of the Small Press Expo’s special guests, British illustrator and cartoonist Gemma Correll, while she was in town for the convention. Gemma has recently released Pig and Pug, a picture book about an unlikely friendship, and The Worrier’s Guide to Life, a comic strip collection that strikes a humorous balance between The New Yorker cartoons and cat memes.

 

Between The Covers: Is there anyone at SPX you’re excited to meet?
Gemma Correll: I know Kate Beaton’s here. That’s quite exciting. But I’ll probably be too scared to say anything. I thought comics people were meant to be really introverted, but it seems like everyone is really outgoing.

 

BTC: That’s one of the reasons I like your work so much, because you’ve pretty much nailed what I feel like as an introvert. When you make comics about any social anxieties or issues you’re working through, do you think it’s therapeutic in any way?
GC: Yeah, it is very therapeutic. That’s why I started doing that kind of comic in the first place. I’ve always done diary comics and if I’m anxious about something I tend to draw to get through it. I draw on planes a lot because I get really anxious on planes. But I feel like I look really aloof because I’m drawing. I’m not trying to be rude.

 

BTC: How many sketchbooks have you filled to date?
GC: If we count from when I left college, about 30 — some are bigger than others though.

 

BTC: You’re just finding other ways of interacting. Pig and Pug, that’s a story about two friends who don’t like each other at first but, in spite of themselves, they start to become friends. Would it be wrong to classify them as “frenemies”?
GC: Yeah, I think that’s probably the right word.

 

BTC: Was that a theme you felt tied to, or were you more drawn to the animal aspect of Pig and Pug?
GC: It’s kind of a bit of both. The first thing was that it’s a pug. If it’s a pug I have to do it, it’s like a law.

 

BTC: Have you gotten tired of pugs yet?
GC: I never get tired of doing pugs. I just worry about other people getting tired of me doing pugs all the time. The story is for really young kids and it’s very simple and very funny. I do like the undertones of them being frenemies but really loving each other. It’s one of those things when people are similar in temperament and they clash. I went and visited the author [Lynne Berry] in Nashville. She doesn’t have a pug, she has Boston Terriers but Boston Terrier isn't alliterative. But she does have a pig. And the pig was really sweet and really, really grumpy. She would kind of snort at you unless you fed her.

 

BTC: That sounds like my dog.
GC: Yeah, that’s what my pugs are like as well — grumpy unless you’ve got treats for them.

 

BTC: What do you think it takes to be a pug aficionado? I don’t think there’s really a term for people who really love pugs, is there?
GC: No. There should be. I was going to say pugaphile, but that sounds pretty weird. Not pugaphile. [laughs] Yeah, pugs are kind of cat-like in certain ways, so I can see the similarity with a cat-lady because they’re lap dogs and pug people get obsessive with pug stuff. You’ll have everything with pugs on it. I’ve got a ridiculous amount of stuff with pugs on them.

 

BTC: And you’ve contributed to that with your pug merchandise.
GC: I know, it’s my own fault. It seems to be a certain kind of person who loves pugs, generally. Maybe more odd people? Which is fine, I’m one of them.

 

Cover art for The Worrier's Guide to LifeBTC: You’ve been really prolific recently. As well as Pig and Pug, you have the line of “Doodling…” activity books, How to Be a Girl and The Worriers Guide to Life. What do you think is the most effective habit that you’ve developed to produce so much work?
GC: Drinking coffee. I don’t know. I’ve always just drawn so much that it just kind of comes naturally. If I’m not drawing, I feel a bit lost. I find it hard to say no to things and I’m always working on my own work anyway.

 

BTC: You’ve had some interesting side projects recently, including a mural — is that right?
GC: I painted a mural of my characters. It was a local project in Norwich to brighten up an underpass. I didn’t really have the time to do it, but I really wanted to do it.

 

BTC: Your work actually covers a pretty wide range of interests. Is it just natural because you have that many interests or do you think about your audience?
GC: Yeah, it comes out of having so many interests and, quite often, I worry that I do too much different stuff. I can’t help myself. I love pugs and I love drawing them but I don’t want to only draw pugs.

 

BTC: But there are some running themes in your work, including gags about millennials. You’re still young enough to be a millennial, what is your take on the way they’re portrayed in media?
GC: Well, it’s pretty negative, isn’t it? Every generation above thinks the next generation is ridiculous, so I like making fun of that. I am a millennial and I do drink coffee every day and have tattoos. But I don’t think people see how millennials are affected by finance and housing issues.

 

BTC: You recently helped to get Eat More Comics kickstarted, how was that process?
GC: It was really, really good. Although The Nib doesn’t exist on Medium.com anymore, it was such a good online anthology. I feel like it all deserves to be remembered. Some of the things on there were really hard-hitting and clever. A lot of those comics have disappeared into the void of the Internet.

 

BTC: I guess it’s exemplifying a weird stage in Internet publishing. You have to preserve content in some way, if it’s not going to be online. That’s why print’s not dead.
GC: No, it’s not. I don’t think you could ever get what you get from a book on the Internet.

 

BTC: So is there anything you’re working on right now?
GC: I am working on a feminist coloring book. It’s not connected to the “Doodling…” books, it’s more in depth. I’m having a lot of fun with it. The publisher is Seal Press in New York and they publish a lot of social, political and feminist books.

 

BTC: Did that evolve out of your working with How to Be a Girl or was it something you were already planning?
GC: It came out of my Four Eyes comics. I’ve done a few which are not explicitly feminist comics but have the theme of body image and things like that. I think they saw it online and thought they could do something with it. So I worked with them to come up with something that is partly educational and partly fun.

 

BTC: That’s always an extremely difficult challenge, to find a good balance between those two. But there is such a great outpouring of work in the feminist bent making it into pop culture. Which is exciting.
GC: There’s a lot of books like Caitlin Moran’s books and humor books about feminism but there isn’t a coloring book yet.

 

BTC: But now there will be! What are you currently reading?
GC: At the moment I am reading Girls Will Be Girls. It’s a feminist book by and about Emer O’Toole, an Irish writer. It’s a humorous book about various concerns — there’s a whole chapter on body hair. It’s part memoir, part essays.

 

BTC: What drove your research for the feminist coloring book?
GC: It is such a wide theme. I wanted to put a lot of basic stuff in because some of the people who are reading it will be more knowledgeable than others. Also, because it’s an American publisher I’ve been reading up about American feminism, like the Seneca Falls conference. The Emer O’Toole book I was reading anyway. That’s just good for seeing how you can write about feminism in a funny way.

 

Liz

Liz

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Liz

Liz

 
 

Witches of America

posted by: October 29, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Witches of America by Alex MarWitches of America is in some ways the antithesis to other spiritual narratives that have been popular recently, such as Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, which focus on practitioners reinventing themselves outside of their respective religions. It is author Alex Mar’s narrative as she investigates Pagan worship in contemporary American society, first as a documentarian for her film American Mystic, which profiles different practitioners of alternative religions, and then as an initiate into the Feri, a self-described “sex cult,” struggling against her inherent skepticism and upbringing as an atheist to experience transcendence for herself.

 

While Mar has a down-to-earth attitude in the face of mysticism that many readers will relate to, she is also honest about her biases and attempts to approach the weird without judgment. In spite of the sensationalism the subject matter inherently conjures up, her exploration reveals how practicing Pagans are seeking answers to questions all spiritual people ask, including what it means to have a higher calling and what actions it takes to live a “good” life. As an investigator, Mar comes across as a sympathetic interlocutor, actively trying to immerse herself in a society that is extremely conscious of its outsider status and protective of what that status entails. As she puts it, “Groucho Marx would have understood the witches: their clubs do not necessarily want you as a member.” The results of her mining are revealed in her personal development and include several thoughtful observations regarding skepticism and faith.

Liz

Liz

 
 

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

posted by: October 21, 2015 - 7:00am

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage coverAutomatons! Higher mathematics! World domination! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua contains everything inquiring minds could ask for. A history of the nascent development of computing, it contains a detailed and thoroughly researched account of the collaboration between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in their creation of the Analytical Machine (now known as a computer). Not limited to just explanations of the mechanical and theoretic processes, Padua also delves into contextualizing the machine’s creation with profiles of the people, culture and time period that had an influence on its formation. Any dryness you might expect of such subject matter is diverted by speculation of what Sherlockian adventures could have happened if the groundbreaking machine actually managed to be produced in the Victorian era of its imagining.

 

Padua’s zeal for her subject is infectious and her research has yielded amusing vignettes of the characters who were involved in the creation of computation, including cameos by George Eliot, Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria. Despite her frequent demurrals to expertise, she concisely breaks down the complex engineering of her subject (with diagrams!) so that it is understandable for those of us who aren’t engineers, mathematicians or wizards. Be warned: It is text heavy for a graphic novel, primarily because the number and density of footnotes rivals those of the late Terry Pratchett. Like The Great Pratchett, however, the footnotes contain amusing digressions whose levity make them worth the effort. 

Liz

Liz

 
 

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