In Look Up: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard, Annette LeBlanc Cate uses witty text, hand-drawn lettering, and pleasant, approachable colored-pencil art to encourage readers to notice the birds that share our environment. The author/illustrator covers a bevy of concepts relating to our feathered friends, and describes how she became an avian enthusiast and the simple ways that anyone can become one, too. In a casual, friendly style, the author advises beginners to start with a simple list of the birds that they see in their own surroundings. She is also an advocate for sketching and journaling. Easy-to-follow tips for better bird-watching, including useful ideas such as looking in the margins of a line of sight, and searching at dawn and dusk, allows the novice to spot birds that may otherwise be missed.
Identifying birds is covered at length, but not in the same style as a general field guide (which she highly recommends using as well). Instead, common birds are separated by color palette, shape, detail, and song. Throughout the book, familiar birds are introduced, and each page builds upon the previous until more involved concepts such as habitat, migration and classification are touched upon. Cate also stresses the value of keeping a sketchbook and encourages those who don’t believe they can draw to start with the basics and go from there. Even the endpapers are full of good information and funny quips. A useful bibliography and index, which also include bird commentary, completes the irreverent but highly informational package.
In One Gorilla: A Counting Book, illustrator Anthony Browne takes the reader through a bevy of primates. A one-time Children’s Laureate of the United Kingdom, Browne draws on his lifelong fascination with gorillas and apes of all sizes. Using his signature strokes and employing the technique of varying dry and wet brushes, each page becomes a lifelike, head-on portrait of the featured creatures. Generous white space keeps the focus on the intense, breathtaking images of monkeys, chimps, and orangutans, among others. Browne reminds us of our own relationship to this group of animals with an arresting self-portrait, followed by a double-paged spread of diverse humans: “All primates. All one family.”
Two-time Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka takes a familiar childhood rite of passage and infuses it with his trademark watercolors in Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. Raschka has said that when formulating ideas for his books, he is very influenced by events that took place in his own childhood. In this case, a young girl and her father first go to choose a bike. Then, she haltingly goes through the stages of becoming a proficient rider, helped along with words of encouragement. Readers are urged on by the fluid illustrations that mimic the forward energy of a bike in motion. A final parenthetical grace note after she has finally mastered the skill will bring a smile to every adult reader's face.
The American Library Association has announced the shortlists for the second annual Carnegie Medal. Named after business magnate and renowned Gilded Age philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who provided a portion of his considerable wealth to the building and promotion of libraries nationwide, these two medals honor the best of the previous year in adult fiction and nonfiction categories. The three nominees in the fiction category are all heavy-hitters: Richard Ford, for Canada, his sprawling novel set both in the wilderness of Montana and north of the border starting in the 1950s; Louise Erdrich's The Round House, a novel that touches on moral and legal issues set in the Ojibwe community, which has already won the National Book Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories examining the world of relationships, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz.
The nonfiction shortlist also features three strong candidates: The Mansion of Happiness: a History of Life and Death, by Jill Lepore, which takes on the methods we use to examine the big questions of what our mortal time means; National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan for his biography Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, the portraitist of so many Native Americans; and David Quammen's Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, which investigates the zoonotic microbes that move from animals to humans, such as rabies and Ebola. The winners for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced in Chicago on June 30 at the American Library Association annual conference.
Cities are constantly abuzz with activity in every direction. But how much of what goes on around a person is seen? And how much noticed? In her book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz gets to the bottom of how people can do their best to take note of the world around them. The author starts by taking her dog around a large city block in Manhattan. As Horowitz is a dog behaviorist by training, she is well aware that the things a dog notices on a walk are not the same as those a human does. (Dog walkers, of course, notice more of the same things as dogs than do other humans.)
After this control walk, Horowitz then invites others to take similar walks with her. She takes along a sound designer, who notices much more of the clatter of the city, things that Horowitz herself had largely tuned out. She realizes, however, that along with the noise of traffic and construction she has also come to ignore pleasant sounds such as birds, and children playing. Another walk is with a child, whose perception and interests are considerably different from the author’s. Additionally, Horowitz accompanies a geologist, an artist, and a number of others, all of which expand her own horizons of what she can discover on a walk around the block. She urges all of us to simply pay attention, and the rewards of looking can be marvelous.
Heading out on a lifetime of adventures is considered in two new books for young readers. Flight 1-2-3, written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout, is an ultra-clear counting book featuring the people and activities found at an airport. Intentionally using a typeface that is used in airport signage worldwide, the sleek, digitally-created images allow for first-time flyers to experience this new setting calmly and without fear. Perfect as an introduction to this often unfamiliar place, it covers elevators, security agents, and the gates, along with other concepts that a young child will encounter in the terminal and concourses.
Barbara Kerley’s The World is Waiting for You, full of incredible National Geographic photos, is truly a young explorer’s dream. This photo essay encourages the young and young-at-heart to follow whatever path they might choose. While many books focus on inner journeys, this is one that strongly pushes for literal treks. The text presses the reader to tackle apathy and laziness, and push forward to “climb”, “soar”, or even “poke around for a while”. Kerley, author of other National Geographic titles such as One World, One Day and A Cool Drink of Water, is a former Peace Corps volunteer whose belief in sharing the world with kids shines through. Photo credits and inspirational quotes complete the book, which will likely inspire young readers to see the featured places themselves.
Jennie Shortridge’s contemporary novel, Love Water Memory, takes the reader into the unsettled and uncomfortable mind of a woman suffering from dissociative fugue. In this uncommon condition, often caused by a traumatic experience, a person instantly develops a complete amnesia. As the book opens, Lucie is found wading in the waters of San Francisco Bay, hundreds of miles from the Seattle home she shares with her fiancé Grady.
Short chapters using the alternating narrations of Lucie, Grady, and Lucie’s estranged aunt Helen make for a compelling read. Grady, an engineer at Boeing with a dark past of his own tries his best to understand Lucie’s condition. With the help of his large Native American family, Lucie attempts to reconnect with the world that she has utterly forgotten. There are no easy answers; Lucie and Grady are only weeks from their planned wedding, but no longer truly know each other. Helen is the only family Lucie has, and the story of her connection and estrangement from Lucie ties many threads together. Grady’s point of view, as a person trying to understand an amnesiac, provides a good counterpoint to Lucie’s own thoughts. The theme of water flows through the book from the initial rescue of the wading Lucie, Grady’s connection to swimming and his own childhood tragedy, and the surfeit of tears shed during the reconnection process. Successful in taking a baffling medical condition and making it the focus of the novel, Love Water Memory is a look into a world few people ever experience.
Alice Munro is often described as “one of the best living writers of short stories in the English language”. While that may be said to avoid too many comparisons as to who is truly the best, the qualifiers are really not necessary. This is proven with her latest collection, Dear Life. In interviews, Munro states that a few of this set of stories are her most autobiographical.
One of the most striking aspects of Munro’s stories is the misdirection she frequently provides. Just as the reader is settling in on what is believed to be the main character or main idea of a story, a tangent takes one off into a myriad of different directions. Often taking place in the area Munro knows best, rural Ontario near Lake Huron, these are mostly slice-of-life stories about regular people. In “Haven”, for example, a young girl goes to live with her aunt and uncle, two very different people from her missionary parents. Her eyes are opened to another way of life, and her childhood ends. Another story, “Pride”, describes two small-town misfits who eventually forge an uneasy friendship. The male protagonist explains his female acquaintance as having a “strange hesitation and lightness about her, as if she were waiting for life to begin. She went away on trips of course, and maybe she thought it would begin there. No such luck.”
The author tucks those sorts of breathtaking lines throughout the fourteen stories. Travel, especially by train, takes on a large role, likely a metaphor for our lifelong journeys. The final, titular story, certainly one of the most autobiographical, has many interwoven themes. But above all, the wordplay of Munro’s own dear life, while she has witnessed so many holding on for dear life, leaves readers in awe of her writing powers.
The renowned author of African literature, Chinua Achebe, has died in Boston at the age of 82. He is best-known for his seminal 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, read by millions worldwide, and featured in the curriculum and reading lists of countless high schools and universities. This novel follows the life of Okonkwo, a proud Igbo man living in turn of the 19th century Nigeria, and the cultural changes that he must face and accept as British colonialism takes hold of the area and the only life he knows. Achebe also wrote a number of follow-up novels to this groundbreaking story. Confined to a wheelchair for the past twenty years following a car accident, he lived in the United States for the last two decades of his life, and was a professor of African Studies at Brown University in Providence.
Achebe also was a strong proponent of the rights of the people living in the once-breakaway Nigerian state of Biafra. His book There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra was published last year. Explaining the Nigerian civil war that took place in the late 1960s, this mélange of memoir and history reminded the world of an oft-forgotten war. Achebe also wrote an allegorical folktale which was republished last year with Mary GrandPré's illustrations. How the Leopard Got His Claws tells the story of a short-lived coup and the resulting return of the original power players, in terms that are understandable for all ages.