Alice Cary

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If you are the sort of person who can’t bear to part with sentimental objects—“That belonged to Mamaw!”—this book is for you. Packed inside The Heirloomist: 100 Heirlooms and the Stories They Tell are photographs and stories of 100 items belonging to everyday as well as famous people, including Gloria Steinem, Rosanne Cash and Gabby Giffords. Their treasures might be a Rolex watch or a Rolleiflex camera—or simply scribbled notes, ticket stubs and even a plateful of spaghetti and meatballs. 

After becoming curator of her family’s important items, Shana Novak turned to other people’s stuff. Her photography and storytelling business, The Heirloomist, has documented over 1,500 keepsakes since 2015. No matter their financial value, she writes, “all are priceless, precisely because their stories will play your heartstrings like a symphony.” Take, for example, the daughter of a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11. Several years after that tragedy, she and her mother opened a toy chest and found an old Magna Doodle, on which her father had written: “Dear Tiana, I love you. Daddy.” 

The Heirloomist is meant to be shared with loved ones, especially those who harangue you to declutter. They may even start rummaging through basement boxes with a freshly appreciative eye. 

Shana Novak’s gorgeous, poignant The Heirloomist documents 100 treasures beloved by everyday and famous people.
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After sharing a year with Mouse in Mouse’s Wood, young readers can now enjoy a day on the river with Mouse on the River: A Journey Through Nature, a quiet picture book full of charm. As the titular hero spends the day rowing down a river that eventually meets the sea, the most dramatic event is a passing rainstorm—making this a good choice for a soothing bedtime tale.

William Snow’s rhyming text moves the story along as Mouse begins his solo journey early in the morning, while fellow anthropomorphic friends wave goodbye from the dock. This is very much an experiential book, with a multitude of details to scour, beginning with the full-spread map showing Mouse’s planned route. Numerous die-cut flaps encourage keen observation as they reveal cozy, detailed interiors of buildings along the way, including a floating house, a café and a treehouse. Additional fold-out flaps appearing as trees enhance the sense of Mouse’s ongoing progress, enlarging several scenes beyond the book’s borders. Once the journey is complete, an illustrated list of Mouse’s equipment—as well as depictions of flora and fauna encountered along the way—will encourage enthusiastic readers to go back and find these items. 

The star of this show is Alice Melvin’s rich illustrations, which are chock-full of details: squirrels having tea inside a bright cafe; a fox waiting on a customer in a well-stocked bakery; Mouse camping snugly in the rowboat underneath the stars. The book brings to mind another one that quickly became a favorite in our house when my girls were young: Welcome to Mouse Village, written by Gyles Brandreth and illustrated by Mary Hall.

Mouse on the River is a well-planned, enchanting adventure worthy of repeat enjoyment.

Mouse on the River is a well-planned, enchanting adventure in which the most dramatic event is a passing rainstorm—making this richly illustrated picture book a good choice for a soothing bedtime tale.
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Adam Higginbotham’s international bestseller, Midnight in Chernobyl, chronicled the disastrous 1986 nuclear reactor explosion in Ukraine that was caused by a Soviet program plagued with a toxic combination of unrealistic timelines and dangerous cost cutting. His new book, Challenger: A True Story of Heroism and Disaster on the Edge of Space, describes a surprisingly similar catastrophe that very same year, this time at the hands of NASA: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger that killed all seven people aboard. Hefty, compelling and propulsive, Challenger overflows with revelatory details.

Reading this book is like watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion. One can’t help but hear a drumbeat of dread while getting to know the astronauts—Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Dick Scobee and Michael Smith—and their families. Details will stay with readers long after they close the book: McAuliffe’s appearance on The Tonight Show, her husband’s increasing anxiety at launch time, the horror and disbelief of the families as they watch their loved ones die, the grim details of the recovery efforts and the attempts of professionals both to warn against the mission and to bring to light why it failed.

Among the latter is engineer Roger Boisjoly, who, over a year before the explosion, wrote a memo voicing fears to senior management, stating, “It is my honest and very real fear that if we do not take immediate action . . . we stand in jeopardy of losing a flight along with all the launch facilities.” Unbelievably, in the hours just before the mission commenced, Boisjoly and a team of 13 other engineers unanimously advised against the launch, yet their concerns were not even voiced up the command chain. After the explosion, physicist Richard Feynman sought to bring clarity to the commission tasked with investigating the tragedy. The scientist noted that “the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product to the point of fantasy.”

Higginbotham excels at delineating not only the science, technology and history of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, but also the bureaucratic snafus and mismanagement that led to the catastrophe, including economic pressures and a nonstop race to get people into space. As with Midnight in Chernobyl, Challenger proves Higginbotham is a master chronicler of disasters, demonstrating an unflinching ability to pierce through politics, power and bureaucracies with laser-sharp focus.

Challenger proves Adam Higginbotham is a master chronicler of disasters, piercing through politics, power and bureaucracies with laser-sharp focus.
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In 1940, Safiyyah lives in the Grand Mosque of Paris with her parents, grandmother Setti, toddler sister and several other families. Smart, curious and spunky, she loves exploring the city—especially the map room of the nearby library, as she dreams of becoming a world explorer. Her carefree ways quickly change, however, as Nazi soldiers approach and invade, plunging her orderly world into the chaos of World War II. Setti warns Safiyyah, “There will come a day when you have the choice to use what you’ve been given in one way or another. . . . There is no use in a million maps unless they lead you to light.”

Hiba Noor Khan’s debut novel, Safiyyah’s War, is a beautifully written, well-plotted work of historical fiction based on the heroic efforts of Mosque activists who forged identity documents for Jews, hid them in the mosque and led an estimated 500 to 1700 through the catacombs to safety. Khan does a particularly good job at making Safiyyah not only an eyewitness but also a bold heroine who dives into action, risking her life for others. 

As Paris becomes increasingly dangerous, Khan introduces a diverse, multigenerational cast that enriches the soul of this novel. There’s Setti, who longs for her native Algeria, which she was forced to leave as a teenager; Safiyyah’s father, who tends to Mosque business and taught Safiyyah to always help others; Monsieur Cassin, an elderly, well-known botanist who shows Safiyyah the wonders of an adventurous life; Timothée, a refugee shepherd boy from northern France; and Hana, a Jewish classmate whose parents have been captured by the Nazis and who comes to live with Safiyyah’s family. 

Khan builds an intricate drama around these characters, ramping up the tension with each chapter as Safiyyah carefully observes what is going on outside in the city as well as within the confines of the Mosque. Adept at investigating, Safiyyah soon finds herself helping the resistance out in unimaginable ways, especially during the novel’s thrilling climax. 

Safiyyah’s War brings WWII Paris clearly into focus as it shows how people of all ages—from different cultures and religions—can band together in the face of evil. Khan is a writer to watch, and Safiyyah is a heroine worth remembering.

Hiba Noor Khan’s debut novel, Safiyyah’s War, is a beautifully written, well-plotted work of historical fiction based on the heroic efforts of activists at the Grand Mosque of Paris who led Jews to safety.
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What happens to a family after a dangerous, life-changing and historic journey? That’s the focus of Veera Hiranandani’s wonderful Amil and the After, which follows 12-year-old Amil and his family, who, during the Partition of India in 1948, have just migrated to Bombay from what would become Pakistan. It’s a worthy companion novel to Hiranandani’s Newbery Honoree The Night Diary, which tells the story of that journey through the perspective of Amil’s twin sister, Nisha.

Amil and Nisha’s Hindu father tells them, “Everything is broken. Pakistan and the new India are like two eggs sitting on a ledge, having no idea what they’re going to grow up to be.” Similarly, his children are also in a precarious state before transformation. While Nisha flourishes on schoolwork and writing, Amil is dyslexic and loves to draw. Amil begins making a series of drawings about their new life as a way of honoring their Muslim mother, who died in childbirth. 

“I thought we were over the bad stuff here in Bombay,” Amil confesses. “We’re safe and getting back to a normal life, I guess, but I’m still sad a lot of the time.” Everyone is trying to find their way, from their father to their homesick grandmother and Kazi, their beloved Muslim cook. Nisha is slowly emerging from selective mutism, and both Amil and Nisha help each other through occasional panic attacks stemming from their harrowing escape. Hiranandani depicts the twins’ relationship exceptionally well, deeply developing her characters as they bounce their thoughts and fears off of each other. 

This is an excellent work of historical fiction, seamlessly and sensitively integrating the personal and the political. A particularly empathetic young man, Amil wonders why he and his family managed to survive their migration while others perished or ended up in refugee camps instead of a comfortable apartment. After befriending Vishal, who is homeless and without family, Amil wonders why his new friend is “a boy exactly like he was, just unlucky instead of lucky.” 

With Amil and the After, Veera Hiranandani masterfully presents a powerful, unvarnished examination of difficult subject matter while paving the way forward with hope and love. 

With Amil and the After, Veera Hiranandani presents a powerful, unvarnished examination of difficult subject matter while paving the way forward with hope and love.
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In her first picture book, You Broke It! (Rise x Penguin, $18.99, 9780593660409), New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck takes an irreverent look at the endless barrage of reprimands that parents routinely fling at their offspring—“Sit still!” or “Get the hair out of your eyes!”—and twists them in ways that will leave both parents and young children with smiles.

A different parent is featured on each spread, admonishing their young in ways that will make readers laugh out loud. The featured chastisers include various animals and natural forces. A whirling tornado tells their child, “You’re making a mess!” while a worm issues a “Stop squirming!” decree. My own favorites are the cat’s “Stop playing with your food!” to the kitten eyeing a nearby mouse, and a crocodile who warns their toothy youngster, “Stop biting!” 

Finck’s lively illustrations consist of minimalistic line drawings with one burst of muted color on each spread—a pink mouse, a blue tornado, a bit of green on a turtle. In true cartoon style, this artistic simplicity nicely focuses the reader’s attention on the irony at hand, helping kids immediately tune in to each joke without visual distractions.

You Broke It! is a book that parents and children are likely to relish and remember, especially in the midst of those inevitable nagging sessions that occur. Both young and old will enjoy poking fun at popular admonishments, and each will perhaps leave with renewed understanding about the loving aspect of such conflicts. Finck’s final pages certainly bring this message home when an octopus says, “Keep your hands to yourself!” and the child responds, “I am just being me.” With that, You Broke It! concludes with the perfect illustration: a parent and child embracing in a big octopus hug.

You Broke It! is a book that parents and children are likely to relish and remember, especially in the midst of those inevitable nagging sessions that occur in parenting.
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“Some women had worn love beads in the sixties; others had worn dog tags,” Kristin Hannah writes in The Women, her salute to American women who were nurses in the Vietnam War. It’s a book she has long wanted to write—since 1997—but didn’t feel ready to tackle until now. As she’s done before in runaway bestsellers like The Nightingale, The Great Alone and The Four Winds, Hannah demonstrates her knack for blending broad sweeps of history with page-turning plots to immediately engross legions of readers in even the most difficult of subjects.

The story covers more than 20 years, beginning in 1966 when 21-year-old Frankie McGrath impetuously joins the Army Nurse Corps, hoping to follow her beloved brother, Finley, to Vietnam. Her well-to-do parents live on Coronado Island in California and are very much concerned with keeping up appearances. Frankie’s father keeps a “Wall of Heroes” in his office filled with portraits of their family’s military veterans, even though he, to his shame, was declared ineligible to serve. Frankie’s life changes when one of her brother’s friends tells her, “Women can be heroes.”

Frankie arrives in Vietnam as a clueless, newly minted nurse, but she rises to the horrific circumstances and ends up finding her calling in life, as well as a turbulent romance. She slowly grows into a highly skilled surgical combat nurse, and the scenes of her working are particularly immersive, showing readers the traumatic experiences that soldiers, nurses and doctors experienced on a daily basis.

Over 265,000 women served during the Vietnam era, including about 10,000 American military women stationed in Vietnam during the war, most of them nurses. And yet, after the war, these women were met with remarks like “There were no women in Vietnam.” That’s the reaction Frankie gets when she returns home, and the last half of the book deals with her struggle with Americans who have little idea of or respect for what she’s been through. Her parents compound her feelings of shame and confusion when they reveal that they explained her absence to their friends by pretending Frankie had been studying abroad. Amidst so much misunderstanding, she relies on the support of two lifelong nursing friends as she deals with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and depression.

In true Hannah fashion, The Women delivers a compelling read as well as a new understanding of the Vietnam era.

Kristin Hannah demonstrates her knack for blending broad sweeps of history with page-turning plots in this salute to military and civilian women who served during the Vietnam era.
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When civil rights activist Medgar Evers met the love of his life, Myrlie Louise Beasley, the 25-year-old had graduated from college and fought in World War II. Myrlie, 17, was a gifted singer and pianist. They married a year later, on Christmas Eve 1951, forming a bond that is the heart of Joy-Ann Reid’s moving biography, Medgar and Myrlie: Medgar Evers and the Love Story That Awakened America.

Readers familiar with Reid’s MSNBC show, “The ReidOut,” will recognize the passionate voice that fervently guides the narrative. This love story, she writes, is also about Medgar’s “deep and unfaltering love for Mississippi,” as well as “the higher love it took for Black Americans to love America and to fight for it, even in a state that butchered more Black bodies via lynching than any other.” The Everses could have easily joined the northern exodus of many Black families to more hospitable places, but the couple wanted to raise their children in their home state, fighting to obtain the basic human rights that they were denied.

Reid argues that Medgar’s accomplishments have been overshadowed by the many events and assassinations that took place after he was gunned down in his carport in 1963, leaving the quiet, formidable Myrlie to raise their three children and carry on her husband’s legacy. But after reading this book, readers will long remember Medgar’s courage, as well as Myrlie’s devotion and bravery—especially since the couple knew he was likely to be the victim of an assassination attempt. The details are searing: Their house had no front door because that might have left them too vulnerable, and the children regularly practiced shooting drills in their own home, diving to the floor and crawling soldier-style to the safety of the bathtub, preparing for the horrors that soon arrived on their doorstep.

Reid draws on a variety of sources, including her own recent interviews with Myrlie. She portrays a sweeping history of Civil Rights activism, describing clashing strategies and factions, including the fact that the national office of the NAACP refused to provide Medgar with the security protection that might have saved his life. Myrlie never stopped fighting to have her husband’s killer prosecuted. It took 30 years for Klansman Byron De La Beckwith to be convicted of homicide and sentenced to life in prison; without Myrlie, justice would never have prevailed.

Page by page, Medgar and Myrlie paints unforgettable portraits of two American heroes who faced American racism with unimaginable courage.

Page by page, Joy-Ann Reid’s Medgar and Myrlie paints unforgettable portraits of Medgar and Myrlie Evers, two American heroes who faced American racism with unimaginable courage.
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A lion dies, and his lonely, bored reflection goes in search of something new to represent. Such is the unusual premise of Marion Kadi’s fanciful Harriet’s Reflections, which follows a girl who learns valuable lessons about herself in the process of becoming attached to this strange alter ego. Kadi’s spare, humorous text gives momentum to this fun, surprising romp. 

After the lion’s reflection scouts around—nixing the idea of reflecting a flower or a duck—he spots Harriet and leaves behind a trail of puddles (a lovely detail) as he makes his way to peer in her window. The next morning, as Harriet heads to school, the beastly reflection is waiting and pounces with wild abandon into Harriet’s reflection in a water puddle. It’s a great scene, as the unsuspecting Harriet remains oblivious with her nose in her book, while her own reflection reacts with wide-eyed shock.

Kadi’s boldly colorful, swirling art is the star of the show, lending energy to each scene and adding oodles of personality to the lonely, soul-seeking lion as well as to Harriet, who at the start of the tale is miserable at school and sports a big frown. Each page bursts with vibrantly contrasting oranges, blues, greens and yellows; Kadi’s style is reminiscent of Matisse in both style and color, and the lion’s swirling mane and adorable, mischievous expressions are endearing. 

Harriet initially finds that her fierce new reflection makes her happier at school. However, problems soon arise, as she and her reflection begin romping “around the schoolyard like wild beasts” and “devouring their lunch and showing off their fangs.” Harriet comes to yearn for her own reflection and devises a clever way to reclaim it. 

Harriet’s Reflections is a creative tale about trying on new personalities as well as finding one’s true self. Young readers will enjoy every humorous step of Harriet and her lion alter ego’s search for a balanced coexistence.

Marion Kadi’s boldly colorful, swirling art is the star of this fun romp, lending energy to each scene and adding oodles of personality to the lonely lion as well as to Harriet.
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Tulsi, a girl in the mountains of northern New Mexico, became pen pals with Vanessa, who lives by the sea in Tanzania. Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw’s Like You, Like Me, which is based on the real-life friendship between her daughter Tulsi and her pen pal, Vanessa, shows how alike two girls and their worlds can be, despite living in very different places. Through collages made from painted papers and oil sticks, Kostecki-Shaw has created a vibrant exchange that celebrates global connectedness. It’s a delightful follow-up to her earlier book, Same, Same But Different, which featured two pen pals in India and the United States.

On the title page spread, the words that each child writes form a curving, yarn-like thread that crosses the page, stretching from one to another. The endpapers feature bright collage maps of New Mexico and Tanzania, along with a number of geographical facts about each place that will ground young readers and perhaps inspire them to seek out more information. Children will enjoy the intriguing local details of each girl’s home: Tulsi describes ponderosa pines that “smell like butterscotch candy” while Vanessa writes, “my city wears the sweet smell of frangipani.” They compare notes on pets, siblings, school and pastimes in spare prose that is both informative and authentically childlike. Kostecki-Shaw enlivens her cheery, earthy collages with patterns and stamped textures, from the multicolored feathers of a red-tailed hawk to blue spots on a galloping cheetah. An imaginative sense of dreamlike wonder pervades the book from time to time, such as when Tulsi flies on the back of a soaring hawk while Vanessa clings to a cheetah’s neck.

“My life has definitely gotten a lot more beautiful because of people I’ve met.” Read our interview with Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw. 

The girls repeat a refrain, “Like you, like me,” to each other as they discover similarities between their lives, and Kostecki-Shaw finds a variety of creative ways to accentuate these connections. The first spread, for instance, features Tulsi on the left-hand page, sitting on a couch as she writes to her friend, with snow-covered mountains visible past her window. On the right-hand page, Vanessa also writes from a couch, while an ocean sparkles outside her window. In the center of this spread, each couch seems to blend into the other. Elsewhere, the two girls’ shadows merge across the pages as they each play different musical instruments. By the end of the book, the friends gaze directly into each other’s eyes, saying, “I see you!” and “I see you too!” Like You, Like Me is a wonderful celebration of global friendship.

Through collages made from painted papers and oil sticks, Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw has created a vibrant celebration of global connectedness based on the author’s daughter and her real-life pen pal.
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The mysterious, flamboyant Pietro Houdini calls himself “Chemist. Painter. Scholar. Master artist and confidant of the Vatican.” Whatever he may or may not be, to Massimo, the narrator of The Curse of Pietro Houdini, Pietro is a savior. On the day that they meet in August, 1943, 14-year-old Massimo’s parents have been killed in the bombing of Rome, and Massimo lies beaten in a gutter. Pietro immediately takes Massimo under his wing, and the two head up the hill to seek shelter in a towering abbey in the Italian village of Montecassino.

The Curse of Pietro Houdini boasts a little bit of everything—a truly fascinating setting; an account of pivotal, yet little-known events of World War II; rich, quirky characters; tragedy, suspense, warmth and humor. Readers will quickly discover that unusual, dangerous times call for creative acts of deception on the part of both main characters, whose relationship forms the heart of this unforgettable, cinematic story. Massimo, who narrates the events from an adult perspective, notes: “The man I knew was a thinker and a storyteller and a liar who had as little reverence for the facts as P.T. Barnum.”

The abbey houses over 70,000 manuscripts and works of art, many of them moved there from museums for safekeeping during the war. Now, with an Allied bombing seemingly imminent, two real-life German officers, Julius Schlegel and Maximilian Becker, are secretly carting them out as quickly as possible, sending them back to the Vatican. Pietro hatches his own scheme—”the first art heist within an art heist in the history of the world”—to paint over three undiscovered Titians and sneak them out with Massimo’s help. Along the way, the plotting pair encounter a rich cast of characters and endure many suspenseful, heart-pounding and heartbreaking moments.

Derek B. Miller—the author of How to Find Your Way in the Dark and Norwegian by Night—has shown the range of his talents in six previous novels, but this may be his masterpiece: an epic novel that manages to convey an extraordinary yet realistic story encapsulating the horrors of war. As Pietro explains, “That’s what art does, my child. It opens our hearts to the human condition.”

Read our interview with Derek B. Miller for The Curse of Pietro Houdini.

The Curse of Pietro Houdini boasts a little bit of everything—a truly fascinating setting; rich, quirky characters; tragedy, suspense, warmth and humor. Derek B. Miller has shown the range of his talents in six previous novels, but this may be his masterpiece.
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Rachel Hawkins’ The Heiress is a riveting, juicy romp set in Ashby House, a 15-bedroom mansion in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina that is home to several generations of the McTavish family. As in her previous thrillers The Villa, The Wife Upstairs and Reckless Girls, Hawkins excels in examining how the trappings of excessive wealth can launch dysfunction into hyperdrive. 

After growing up in Ashby House, Cam McTavish desperately tried to flee this fate, and has been living an unassuming life as an English teacher in Colorado with his wife, Jules. Although he has left his inherited fortune mostly untouched, he still owns Ashby House, and after the death of his uncle, Cam is summoned back to the mansion, which is desperately in need of repairs. The couple is greeted by Cam’s Aunt Nelle and her entitled grandchildren, Ben and Libby—all of whom resent the fact that Cam owns the house they live in. He’s seen as a double interloper, as his late mother, Ruby, adopted him at age 3. 

At the center of the story is Ruby, who was abducted at age 3 and found months later living with a family in Alabama. Her life has been tumultuous ever since; as an adult, she earned the moniker “Mrs. Kill-more,” having married and left behind “a pile of dead husbands.” Hawkins delivers this narrative in a series of letters written by Ruby shortly before her death, which have just the right amount of devilishly delicious black humor—a delicate balance that’s hard to achieve. 

One of the great delights of this thriller is the carefully crafted way that Hawkins allows the plot—along with the rich, twisted family history—to unfold. She uses old news accounts, emails and chapters narrated by both Cam and Jules, along with Ruby’s letters. Hawkins seamlessly intertwines all these different modes of storytelling while deftly hinting at the many secrets harbored within the walls of Ashby House. 

When Cam turned 18, Ruby gave him a watch inscribed “Time Brings All Things To Pass.” Indeed it does, and in The Heiress, the twists, turns and betrayals just keep coming, all guided by Hawkins’ skilled hand. The resulting suspense will be quickly devoured and long enjoyed.

In The Heiress, the twists, turns and betrayals just keep coming, all guided by Rachel Hawkins’ skilled hand.
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As a child, author-illustrator Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw was so shy that she didn’t want anyone else to see what she was drawing. “I was either in a cardboard box or in the closet—that’s where my studio was, and I would just draw all the time,” she remembers, speaking over Zoom from her home studio in the mountains of North Central New Mexico, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Now, Kostecki-Shaw no longer hides her creative talents and instead uses art to foster communication and friendships around the globe. Like You, Like Me, her latest book, was inspired by a pen pal relationship between her daughter, Tulsi, and a slightly younger girl in Tanzania, Vanessa. Kostecki-Shaw has been homeschooling her son and daughter for nine years, and she used letter writing as a skill-building exercise. Her children wrote not only to her, but also to their cousins and neighbors. They even kept little mailboxes in the woods. Later, Tulsi wrote to authors she liked, and eventually, she asked for a pen pal. One of Kostecki-Shaw’s friends—a librarian at an international school—helped Tulsi and Vanessa connect.

Read our starred review of Like You, Like Me.

The girls gave Kostecki-Shaw approval to use their names in the book. “They were pretty excited,” she reports. Kostecki-Shaw’s vibrant, torn-paper collage art shows the girls communicating from across the world, discussing the details of their lives: ponderosa pines, African drumming, red-tailed hawks and cheetahs.

A number of spreads feature each girl side-by-side on their own page, mirroring the other in creative ways and making it easy for readers to notice the similarities and differences between their two worlds. About midway through the book, Tulsi looks at a flicker feather that she wants to share with her friend. Kostecki-Shaw says, “I just tilted Tulsi’s head up, and thought, maybe this is a point where they could actually look at each other, even theoretically.” In the finished spread, the flicker feather picked up by Tulsi magically appears on a beach in front of Vanessa, as she holds onto a shell that appears in Tulsi’s possession in the next spread. “It almost feels like they’re in the same place,” Kostecki-Shaw says, “even though the backgrounds are different. From this point on, they’re looking at each other.” Like You, Like Me, she says, is a book about “coming together and sharing more and more.”

Like You, Like Me is a companion to Kostecki-Shaw’s earlier book, Same, Same but Different, which is also about two pen pals: Elliot in the United States, and Kailash in India. As a child, Kostecki-Shaw had a pen pal in Belgium, and for the last 15 years, she’s had an adult pen pal from France. “She once sent me a small hand-sewn envelope with fine red earth clay from where she was born in France,” Kostecki-Shaw says, “and I sent her flicker feathers and a tiny clay flicker bird I made. That’s where the inspiration came from for Vanessa and Tulsi sharing the shell and feather.”

“I love just sharing the inspiration that comes from connections with people you meet around the world, whether it’s through traveling or pen pals, or however you meet them.”

Kostecki-Shaw grew up in St. Louis, and her global curiosity was initially ignited by her father, who traveled often and widely for his work—the basis for her book, Papa Brings Me the World. “I remember just wanting to go with him, to see all those places,” she says. Her first book, My Travelin’ Eye, was inspired by difficulties with a lazy eye, which made learning to read a struggle. “I loved stories so much, and I loved books,” she recalls, “so I would copy all the art and ask everyone to read to me. I loved that books showed me other places to go.”

As an adult, after working for a number of years as an artist for Hallmark cards, she traveled to Nepal and taught English, and she also spent about five months in India. “Before I wrote Same, Same but Different,” she explains, “my life looked so much like Elliot’s. And now my life looks a lot like Kailash’s in some ways. It’s much more connected to nature. We live on a little homestead and we have goats and chickens and ducks, and we’re just a little bit more rooted in community.”

Several years ago, she and her family built her art studio themselves, with the help of a builder friend. “It was so empowering to me as a woman and as an artist to create my own space,” she says. Like You, Like Me is the first project she’s completed in that space, and she relished being able to spread out while creating collages with hand-painted papers and oil sticks. “It just felt so freeing. I would cover surfaces and just paint papers for days, making all kinds of patterns,” she says. “I was thinking a lot about the seasons and nature here in New Mexico, and the color palettes of photos from Tanzania, and looking at patterns that would show up in the ocean, leaves and flowers there.”

She uses a variety of techniques to add texture. “Texture is one of my favorite things. In addition to carving and stamping shapes,” she continues, “I printed with rubber bands and miscellaneous small objects, splattered wet paint and scratched dry paint with an old raggedy paintbrush. I made textures by pushing and pulling paint blobs around with a small piece of chipboard and a brayer, and I printed patterns with oil sticks. Basically, kindergarten play.”

As a child, she feared writing: “Even now, I have to face that little bit of fear of writing until I get far enough into the story where everything fades away, and I’m just having fun in the story and making art.” Now, as an author-illustrator, Kostecki-Shaw loves being able to simultaneously adjust both words and art, letting them “just dance together until they find their way.” She adds, “I love just sharing the inspiration that comes from connections with people you meet around the world, whether it’s through traveling or pen pals, or however you meet them. They just open you up to new ways and make your life so much more beautiful, whether through a conversation or an experience. My life has definitely gotten a lot more beautiful because of people I’ve met.”

 

Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw conveys the joy of fostering international friendships through the vividly textured Like You, Like Me.

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