Alice Cary

Pull up a chair and dig into a four-course feast of picture books! These books offer innovative depictions of what it means to express gratitude, to share a meal and to be both welcoming and welcomed.


“Every year when the first snow falls, we make thankful chains to last us through December,” explains the narrator of Thankful. She is stretched out on her bedroom floor, surrounded by a halo of colorful construction paper, hard at work transforming it into a paper chain. As she lists the things for which she is thankful, readers glimpse scenes of her life with her parents, new sibling and pet dog, at her school and with her friends. 

Author Elaine Vickers’ text is wonderfully evocative. The girl’s list includes concrete and sensory observations, such as gratitude for “the spot under the covers where someone has just been sleeping” and “a cloth on my forehead when I feel sick.” In a humorous beach scene, the girl reflects that she is thankful “for wind and sand—but not at the same time.” 

Readers will be entranced by Samantha Cotterill’s outstanding and unique art. To create her illustrations, Cotterill creates miniature 3D interiors, populates them with cutout characters, then photographs each diorama. She includes charming details, including real lights in various rooms and shining car headlights, along with construction paper chains so realistic in appearance that you’ll feel you could almost touch them. Colorful and original, Thankful will spark young readers to create their own thankful chains—and may inspire them to try their hand at making diorama art, too.

Let Me Fix You a Plate

The excitement of family gatherings is at the heart of Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens, inspired by author-illustrator Elizabeth Lilly’s annual childhood trips to see her grandparents. The book follows a girl, her two sisters and their parents as they pile into a car and drive first to West Virginia to their Mamaw and Papaw, then continue to Florida to visit their Abuela and Abuelo, before they finally return to their own home.

Lilly’s energetic illustrations capture these comings and goings, as well as the abundant details the narrator observes in her grandparents’ homes. At Mamaw and Papaw’s house, she sees a shelf of decorative plates and coffee mugs with tractors on them, eats sausage and toast with blackberry jam and helps make banana pudding. Abuela and Abuelo’s house is filled with aunts, uncles and cousins and the sounds of Spanish and salsa music. The girl picks oranges from a tree in the yard and helps make arepas. 

Throughout, Lilly’s precise prose contributes to a strong sense of place. “Morning mountain fog wrinkles and rolls,” observes the girl on her first morning in West Virginia, while in Florida, “the hot sticky air hugs us close.” Lilly’s line drawings initially seem simple, almost sketchlike, but they expertly convey the actions and emotions of every character, whether it’s Mamaw bending down to offer her granddaughter a bite of breakfast or a roomful of aunts and uncles dancing while Abuelo plays guitar. Like a warm hug from a beloved family member, Let Me Fix You a Plate is a cozy squeeze that leaves you grinning and a little bit breathless. 

Saturday at the Food Pantry

“Everybody needs help sometimes” is the message at the heart of Saturday at the Food Pantry, which depicts a girl named Molly’s first trip to a food pantry with her mom. 

Molly and her mom have been eating chili for two weeks; when Molly’s mom opens the refrigerator, we see that it’s nearly empty. In bed that night, Molly’s stomach growls with hunger. Molly is excited to visit a food pantry for the first time, but she isn’t sure what to expect. As she and her mom wait in line, Molly is happy to see that Caitlin, a classmate, is also waiting with her grandmother. Molly greets her enthusiastically, but Caitlin ignores her. “I don’t want anyone to know Gran and I need help,” Caitlin explains later.

Molly’s cheerfulness saves the day, and the girls’ interactions contribute to a normalizing and destigmatizing representation of their experience. Molly asks her mom questions that reveal how the food pantry differs from a grocery store. Mom must check in before she begins shopping, for instance, and there are limits on how many items customers can have. “Take one bundle” reads a sign in the banana basket. 

Author Diane O’Neil captures her characters’ trepidations head-on. Mom smiles “just a little, not like when they played at the park” at the volunteer who signs her in, and Molly is confused and sad when her mom tells her to put a box of cookies back because “the people in charge … want us to take sensible stuff.” Gradually, however, the occasion transforms into a positive experience for all. 

Food insecurity can be a sensitive topic, and O’Neil—who went to a food pantry when she was a child—handles the issue in a reassuring, informative way. A helpful end note from the CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository explains that millions of people in the United States need help just like Molly and her mom, and provides readers resources to find it. 

Illustrator Brizida Magro is a wizard of texture, whether depicting Molly’s wavy hair or the wonderful array of patterns in coats, sweaters and pants. Her ability to capture facial expressions and convey complex emotions is also noteworthy; it adds to the book’s emotional depth and makes the eventual smiles all the more impactful. The pantry shoppers’ diversity of skin tone, age and ability underscores how food insecurity can affect anyone. Saturday at the Food Pantry brims with sincerity and a helpful and hopeful spirit.

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

“In one place or another, at one time or another, in one way or another, every single one of us will find ourselves in search of acceptance, help, protection, welcome,” writes Mary Lee Donovan in her introduction to A Hundred Thousand Welcomes, illustrated by Lian Cho.

With poetic text that reads like an invocation, the book is a fascinating around-the-world tour that explores the concept of welcome. On each page, a household from a different culture entertains guests. Many pages include the corresponding word for “welcome” in that culture’s language, including words and phrases in Indonesian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Lakota Sioux. Back matter from Cho and Donovan explains the inspiration that sparked their collaboration and offers more information about the many languages spoken throughout the world and a detailed pronunciation guide to all of the words in the book.

Cho’s art is a multicultural feast of families and friends enjoying each other’s company. There’s a German chalet where kids play in the snow, a Bengali family greeting visitors who arrive in a small, colorful vehicle and more. The disparate scenes culminate in two shining spreads. In the first, people of all ages and nationalities share a meal at a table that’s so long, it can only fit on the page thanks to a breathtaking gatefold. In the next, an equally long line of kids sit atop a brick wall, chatting with each other and gazing up at a night sky full of stars as one child turns around and waves at the reader.

Although many picture books celebrate the fellowship of friendship and the love that flows during family gatherings, A Hundred Thousand Welcomes encourages readers to go one step further, to ready their own welcome mats and invite neighbors and strangers alike into their homes and hearts.

Four picture books offer innovative depictions of what it means to express gratitude, to share a meal and to be both welcoming and welcomed.

There’s no denying that Nick Offerman is one of America’s more intriguing celebrities. The man who made Ron Swanson famous in “Parks and Recreation” is also a touring comedian, saxophonist, professional woodworker and author of books like Paddle Your Own Canoe and Good Clean Fun. His latest is Where the Deer and the Antelope Play, which Offerman has subtitled in his frequently reflective, self-deprecating style: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside. And boy does he.

Offerman divides his observations among three very different adventures, all devoted to exploring his relationship with America’s landscapes and past. He’s an entertaining raconteur and prone to digressions (Sirius Radio commercials that annoy him, for example, or his irritation with people who don’t make eye contact as he jogs past). The result is an undeniable immediacy, as though readers are spending the day hiking right beside him.

Offerman’s first quest is a culture lover’s dream: He spent a week in 2019 hiking in Glacier National Park with his “bromance partners,” author George Saunders and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. The pals have great discussions about nature, America’s deplorable treatment of Indigenous and Black people, and the writers Wendell Berry and Aldo Leopold, two of Offerman’s heroes. There are humorous missteps as well, bringing to mind Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, although Offerman’s descriptions of the glorious trails will leave readers ready to make a beeline to Glacier.

The second section examines farming and land use, framed by repeated visits to Offerman’s friend James Rebanks, an English sheep farmer in Cumbria, England, and author of the ecological books The Shepherd’s Life and Pastoral Song. Rebanks embraces a robust, self-sufficient agrarian lifestyle that Midwestern-born Offerman admires and is thrilled to jump into. As always, his enthusiasm is contagious. 

Finally, Offerman and his wife, actress Megan Mullally (whom he clearly worships), set off in the fall of 2020 in their newly acquired Airstream trailer on a COVID-19 road trip to explore places like Sedona, Arizona, and the banks of the Rio Grande. It’s fun reading about these two actors on the road, facing everyday issues and sometimes-humorous misfortunes. Offerman’s frequent solo hikes during this trip offer him a chance to ramble (and rant) on a variety of subjects, many of them political.

Laced with humor, intellect and fierce passion, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play is an entertaining getaway to a variety of unexpected American vistas.

Readers of Nick Offerman’s latest work of comedic, ecological greatness will feel as though they’re spending the day hiking right beside him.

Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall are two of the most decorated children’s book creators working today, so their first collaboration qualifies as a major event. The Beatryce Prophecy is an illustrated fantasy tale about a girl, a goat and the power of the written word, and DiCamillo’s and Blackall’s many fans are going to adore it. BookPage spoke with the author and the illustrator about the surprises and joys of working together for the first time.

Kate, you’ve said that you wrote this story by “following the goat and the girl.” Can you introduce us to Beatryce and Answelica? Did this story begin with them?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloKate DiCamillo: Beatryce is a girl who can read and write in a time and place when it is against the law for a girl to do either. And Answelica is the hardheaded, large-souled goat who becomes Beatryce’s friend and protector.

OK, that’s the introductions—now, on to the thornier question of where the story began. I’ve gone back through my notebooks, and all I can find is a few words right before I started to write: monk, moon, goat.

Two of those words became central to the book. Which is to say, I started with the goat, and she led me to the rest of the story—a story that was a complete surprise and wonder to me.

You began writing it in 2009, then you put it away for almost a decade, only to rediscover it while cleaning out a closet. Do you remember why you initially put it away? How do you think the years between impacted the book?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I don’t know why I put it away. I can’t find any notes about that. My guess is that I wanted a story that was lighter, funnier (my mother had passed away at the beginning of the year), and I had this story about a squirrel and a vacuum cleaner and poetry that seemed funny to me.

When I did unearth the early draft of Beatryce, it had been so long that I was able to read it as something that I didn’t write—and that helped me see that there was something there, a story that needed to be told. Does that make sense?

“I feel like I became my true self when I learned how to read.”

Kate DiCamillo

As to how the years in between impacted it—I guess just that. There was this sense of urgency. As if the story had been waiting, as if Answelica and Beatryce had been waiting. They needed me to tell their story.

And all the closets (and drawers and file cabinets) have been cleaned now!

You’ve dedicated The Beatryce Prophecy to your mother. Beatryce’s mother, Aslyn, plays a critical role in the novel, instilling strength, courage and a love of books and stories in her daughter. Are there connections between your mother and Beatryce’s mother?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: It wasn’t until the book was done that I started to think about my mother’s impact on me as a writer, but most importantly as a reader. I struggled to learn to read. Phonics didn’t make sense to me. And I was so desperate to read. I remember crying to my mother in first grade about how I didn’t understand phonics. And she said something like, “Oh, for the love of Pete, don’t get so upset. You’re smart. We’ll just work around it.” And then she made me flash cards. A word on each flash card. And she had me memorize the words. And that worked for me.

Word by word, my mother gave me the world. She taught me to become myself.

This isn’t the first of your novels to function as an ode to reading, writing and storytelling. Why do you return to these themes?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I feel like I became my true self when I learned how to read. I felt, then, as if anything was possible. I still feel that way about books and stories. They let us be ourselves, discover who we are and who we can become. I guess I keep returning to this thematically because I can’t get over the wonder and gift of books, stories, the written word.

I think readers love your willingness to ask big questions and to explore big ideas and emotions. “Who could understand the world?” and “How much could a heart hold?” are two of the questions posed by The Beatryce Prophecy. What does it feel like when you’re writing and a question like that comes out?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: What does it feel like? It feels like a cry from my 8-year-old heart. I remember doing an event in Boston and a boy raised his hand and said something like, “Why do you pose all these philosophical questions in books for kids?” And I said, “Because kids are the ones who are brave enough to ask those questions. When you’re an adult, you stop asking, you stop wondering.”

“When my editor sent a new piece of Sophie’s art, I couldn’t resist emailing her directly and saying, ‘This art, this art. What a gift in such a dark time. You are drawing my heart.'”

Kate DiCamillo

Did you always envision The Beatryce Prophecy as an illustrated novel? How did Sophie come to be involved with the book?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I knew as I was working on it that it had to have (at least) illuminated letters. And when I was done writing, I asked my agent and Candlewick, my publisher, “Is there any way that Sophie Blackall could illustrate this?” And miracle of miracles, it happened. Sophie said yes.

Author photo of Sophie BlackallSophie Blackall: In Iate 2019, I received an email from Chris Paul, the creative director at Candlewick Press, with Kate’s manuscript for The Beatryce Prophecy attached, along with an outline of the publishing plan for the book. It mentioned a special slipcase edition. The words slipcase edition are hypnotic to an illustrator. But even without the slipcase, I would have said yes on the spot.

Sophie, you were probably one of the first people to read The Beatryce Prophecy ever, in the whole world. What did you think the first time you read it?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: When the email with the manuscript arrived, I was about to step out the door, on my way to somewhere or other. I read the first page. I put down my bag, took off my coat, canceled the something or other and, with goosebumps on my arms, read The Beatryce Prophecy from beginning to end. I felt a rush of gratitude for these characters. I felt I already knew them like dear friends. The honor of being one of the earliest readers is not lost on me, but I have also been impatient to share this book with the world. Keeping it a secret was almost too much to bear.

Authors usually don’t communicate directly with illustrators. Sometimes they don’t even meet each other! But you emailed back and forth as Sophie worked on the illustrations during the pandemic. What was this correspondence like?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I can’t remember who emailed first. I know I was bursting to talk to Kate. I tried to be restrained, but my messages tumbled out, all essentially thanking her for this gift. The gift of a story that brought me solace and comfort and joy during an otherwise uncertain and worrying time. The gift of Beatryce and Answelica, Brother Edik and Jack Dory and Cannoc. The gift of beautiful things to draw: a mermaid and a wolf, seahorses and bees, meadows and moons.

“Kate DiCamillo writes up. Her sentences, which are full of beautifully arranged, interesting and even challenging words, are honest, fearless and clear.”

Sophie Blackall

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I had already written the text and Sophie was working on the illustrations during the pandemic, and technically (as you say) we shouldn’t have communicated directly, but we already knew each other. Every once in a while, when my editor sent a new piece of Sophie’s art, I couldn’t resist emailing her directly and saying, “This art, this art. What a gift in such a dark time. You are drawing my heart.”

And things like that.

You both realized, independently of each other, that you were thinking about Joan of Arc as you developed Beatryce’s character and appearance. What impact did this historical figure have on Beatryce?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I was working on Beatryce’s story when I took a trip to Washington, D.C. I was in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and I walked into a room with this huge Joan of Arc triptych (“The Adoration of Joan of Arc” by J. William Fosdick), and it just kind of . . . undid me. I took a picture of it and kept the art nearby. It just felt like the story to me, like Beatryce.

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I think the image of Joan of Arc popped into my head at the moment when Brother Edik cuts Beatryce’s hair. Beatryce, like Joan of Arc, is a girl who defies expectations. Like Joan, she is determined, brave and resourceful. Like Joan, she carries hope in her heart and faith that “we shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.”

Sophie, what other things did you research as you worked on these illustrations? How did that research find its way into your work?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I worked closely with the creative director, Chris Paul, who had a detailed vision for the way the book would look, inspired by wallpaper, textile and type patterns of the designer William Morris, who in turn was inspired by medieval paintings and illuminated manuscripts. This was another gift, because after reading the manuscript I found myself strolling through museums and poring over books on Morris and medieval manuscripts, making involuntary sounds of delight, and so we were very much on the same page.

Can you tell us about the nuts and bolts of illustrating the book?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: Considering we were hundreds of miles apart and in the midst of a pandemic, Chris and I worked very closely on the art direction for this book. It is a beautiful object and we considered every fraction of every inch of every page. There are stories within stories, which gave us many creative opportunities. Ordinarily I work with Chinese ink and pencil and watercolor, but because we were all sheltering in place and I wasn’t sure about sending physical art, I decided to work digitally. The beauty of this was that once I had found what the characters looked like, I could direct them in a scene as though they were actors in a film. I would find myself talking to Jack Dory, for instance, asking him to lift his chin a little. Raise his arm. Look a little more pleased with himself. And I could move the images around and experiment with scale and perspective far more efficiently than if I was using pencil on paper.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Beatryce Prophecy.

I have to ask about goats. Kate, there are a number of prominent animal characters across your body of work, from Ulysses the squirrel to Despereaux the mouse and Winn-Dixie the dog. Was Answelica always a goat? Did you know much about goats before beginning to work on the book? Did you spend time with goats as you worked on it?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: Ha! I wish that I could spend some time with goats. I didn’t. I haven’t. But this character of Answelica arrived so clearly, so emphatically, that it really was just a matter of following along behind her. I did spend quite a bit of time gazing at goat eyes in various books. They’re spectacular, those eyes, and I’ve always been fascinated by them.

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I hold a special affection for Answelica. When I was 10, I had a goat. Her name was Josephine and her ears were like velvet. I had to give her away when we moved (we moved a lot), but the Josephine year was a good one. All children should have a goat year.

Kate, what do you love most about Sophie’s illustrations in the book? Do you have a favorite illustration in the book?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: There’s a two-page spread of Beatryce being spirited away and a story in the sky above her (like a constellation) that literally makes my heart skip a beat.

Every piece of art that Sophie did is so heartfelt, luminous. It’s a gift to me and to the reader.

Sophie, what do you love most about Kate’s storytelling in the book? Do you have a favorite passage you could share with us?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: E.B. White once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting [their] time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.”

Kate DiCamillo writes up. Her sentences, which are full of beautifully arranged, interesting and even challenging words, are honest, fearless and clear.

As for a favorite passage, I might choose a different one tomorrow, but right now I am going to give you one that arrives quite early on. Brother Edik has discovered Beatryce, sick and lost, guarded by a fearsome goat. He tells the goat, Answelica, his plan to care for the child, which gives us a sense of the transformative relationship between the three. The way he feels at the end of the passage is how I felt while reading this book.

Brother Edik bent and gathered her in his arms. Her skin was hot to the touch. She was burning with fever.

“She is very sick,” Brother Edik said to the goat who was staring up at him. “The first thing we must attempt to do is to bring the fever down. And we must wash her. We must remove the dirt and blood. She has come from some war, I suppose. Do you not think it so?”

Answelica nodded.

“Lord help me,” thought Brother Edik, “I am conferring with a goat.”

He walked out of the barn and into the light of day carrying the child. The frost had melted. The world no longer shone, but it was very bright.

Answelica was at his heels.

He turned and looked back at her. He saw that the goat’s eyes were gentle, full of concern.

Strange world! Impossible world!

Brother Edik felt his heart, light within him, almost as if it were filled with air.

At one point, Beatryce tells Brother Edik, “Stories have joy and surprises in them.” What surprises did you encounter as you worked on this book? What joys?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: While making the drawings for the book, I was so immersed in illuminating the world of Beatryce’s story that there were times I would look up and not remember making the lines on the page. It was as if the images appeared fully formed. When I wrote to Kate about this phenomenon, she reported something similar as she was writing The Beatryce Prophecy. As though this story and its characters already existed. That’s magic right there.

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: The surprise for me was discovering (when I was done) how much my mother’s spirit is in these pages.

The joy? The joy was in getting to do it—getting to tell the story—and then to watch Sophie tell the story again in art. Talk about joy.

Author photo of Kate DiCamillo courtesy of Catherine Smith Photography.

Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall are two of the most decorated children’s book creators working today, so their first collaboration qualifies as a major event.

In a return to the fantasy genre of her Newbery Medal-winning The Tale of Despereaux, author Kate DiCamillo spins the tale of a young girl named Beatryce, who is discovered in a monastery barn in the company of an unlikely source of comfort: a frighteningly ornery goat named Answelica.

Feverish and crying, Beatryce is found by a kindhearted monk named Brother Edik, who has foretold that a child “will unseat a king.” Because the prophecy specifies that the child will be a girl, the message “has long been ignored.” So begins the marvelous story of Beatryce, Answelica, Brother Edik and Jack Dory, a lively and illiterate orphan. Brother Edik learns that Beatryce’s mother taught her to read and write, a rarity at a time when even boys aren’t often taught such skills. Meanwhile, the king and his henchmen are trying to track down Beatryce. The story quickly becomes a suspenseful, fast-moving tale of female empowerment and an ode to the written word and the power of love, all told in DiCamillo’s signature heartfelt style.

DiCamillo is often at her best when writing about animals, and Answelica is an unforgettable wonder as memorable as Winn-Dixie the dog and Ulysses the squirrel. In the beautifully spare prose that has become one of her hallmarks, DiCamillo poses big questions, such as “What does it mean to be brave?” and invites readers to discover their own answers. The Beatryce Prophecy is full of dark forces, but hope and love prevail, and Beatryce comes to understand that the world is “filled with marvel upon marvel, too many marvels to ever count.”

Two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall brings DiCamillo’s ragtag band of characters to life in joyful, energetic black-and-white illustrations. She establishes the powerful bond between Beatryce and Answelica from the start in a radiant mangerlike scene that wouldn’t be out of place on a holiday greeting card. The book’s medieval atmosphere is underscored by a series of illuminated letters that begin each chapter, and additional decorative flourishes throughout remind readers that this is indeed a special tale with a distinctive setting.

The Beatryce Prophecy is certain to be cherished. “What does, then, change the world?” DiCamillo’s omniscient narrator asks. The answer is as masterful as DiCamillo and Blackall’s creation: “Love, and also stories.”

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover the story behind Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall’s first collaboration.

In a return to the fantasy genre of her Newbery Medal-winning The Tale of Despereaux, author Kate DiCamillo spins the tale of a young girl named Beatryce, who is discovered in a monastery barn in the company of an unlikely source of comfort: a frighteningly ornery goat named Answelica.

With realism and a strong thread of empowerment, author Kao Kalia Yang shares a story based on events she experienced as a child living at Thailand’s Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in From the Tops of the Trees.

Yang captures the rhythms of camp life from the start. Her family sits in the shade of a large tree that provides “a great umbrella of cool.” She and her cousins play while the adults sew and discuss the war that forced them to cross a treacherous river to reach safety. “They are scared to return to the old country. They are scared to go to a new country,” Kalia reflects.

Yang hints delicately at the difficulties of camp life in a way that’s well suited for young readers. After she hears the adults talking about war, Kalia’s father reassures her that she’s safe. “Your hands and your feet will travel far to find peace,” he tells her. When she wonders why she must live behind a gate and whether “all of the world [is] a refugee camp,” he puts her on his back and climbs a tree to give her a glimpse of the wide world that awaits her.

Illustrator Rachel Wada uses linework to direct the reader’s attention, bringing some elements into sharp focus and allowing others to recede into the background. While many of the book’s scenes are full of joy, Wada’s earth-tone palette conveys the limitations of the camp’s environment, which is devoid of the lively colors readers are used to seeing on the pages of many picture books.

The spreads in which Kalia and her father climb the tree and gaze far out past the borders of the camp to see mountains in the distance “at the place where the sky meets the earth” are wonderful. Readers will feel as though they’re climbing alongside father and daughter and sharing their awe-inspiring view of the vast freedoms the world has to offer.

The author’s note makes Yang’s powerful story even more impactful. She includes a photograph taken by her mother that shows her in her father’s arms among the treetops. She also describes the lives she and her family went on to lead beyond the confines of the camp’s walls. Rooted in one family’s specific experience, From the Tops of the Trees offers an inspiring and universal vision of hope.

With realism and a strong thread of empowerment, author Kao Kalia Yang shares a story based on events she experienced as a child living at Thailand’s Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in From the Tops of the Trees.

“I guess you haven’t had your adventure yet,” 18-year-old Emmett Watson tells his 8-year-old brother, Billy, who responds, “I think we’re on it now.” And indeed they are, having set out in Emmett’s powder-blue 1948 Studebaker Land Cruiser, planning to head west on the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental roadway. In light of their father’s recent death, their unlikely goal is to track down their mother—who abandoned them years ago—at a July 4th celebration in San Francisco. 

After mesmerizing legions of readers with the story of Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced in 1922 to spend the rest of his life in an attic room of a grand hotel in A Gentleman in Moscow (2016), Amor Towles takes to the open road in his superb, sprawling, cross-country saga, The Lincoln Highway. Although this great American road trip is quite a change of pace and scenery, Towles continues to transport readers, immersing them just as completely in the adventures of the Watson brothers he did in the seemingly claustrophobic lives of Count Rostov and his young sidekick, Nina. 

Like Nina, young Billy is a creative, intelligent and essential companion to his older brother, and like Rostov, Emmett has had his own brush with the law. As the novel opens in June 1954, Emmett has just been released from an 18-month sentence in a juvenile work camp, having landed on “the ugly side of luck” in a manslaughter case involving a teenage bully. Soon after the Watson brothers start their quest, however, their grand plans are upended by two friends of Emmett’s from the work camp, Duchess and Woolly, who “borrow” the Studebaker and head to New York—forcing Emmett and Billy to stow away on a freight train and head east in hot pursuit.

Packed with drama, The Lincoln Highway takes place in just 10 days, with chapters narrated by a variety of characters. Towles’ fans will be rewarded with many of the same pleasures they’ve come to expect from him: a multitude of stories told at a leisurely pace (the novel clocks in at 592 pages); numerous endearing and sometimes maddening characters; and pitch-perfect plotting with surprises at every turn.

As if that weren’t enough, the novel is chock-full of literary references: a Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation that sets the brothers off on their journey; allusions to The Three Musketeers (Emmett, Duchess and Woolly); a memorable Black World War II veteran named Ulysses; and scenes reminiscent of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Ultimately, The Lincoln Highway is Towles’ unabashed love letter to books and storytelling. 

Late in the novel, a character tells Billy, “There are few things more beautiful to an author’s eye . . . than a well-read copy of one of his books.” Towles has created another winning novel whose pages are destined to be turned—and occasionally tattered—by gratified readers.

The pages of Amor Towles’ novel are destined to be turned—and occasionally tattered—by numerous gratified readers.

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