Julie Hale

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In 2010, musician Patti Smith published Just Kids, a radiant memoir about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and their lives as bohemian babes-in-the-woods in New York City. Set in the 1960s and ’70s, the story of their coming-of-age as artists—Smith’s first full-length work of prose—won the National Book Award. 

In her new memoir, M Train, Smith trades the circus atmosphere of the psychedelic era for the here and now, offering readers a remarkably intimate look at her life in New York City. Throughout M Train she bounces between home and her favorite Greenwich Village café, where she writes in her notebook and ponders the past. Memories of her Philadelphia childhood, her extensive travels and her marriage to the late musician Fred “Sonic” Smith provide points of departure for the narrative.

Not as tightly constructed as Just Kids, M Train has a meandering quality that reflects Smith’s inquisitive, exploratory spirit. Music and speaking engagements make her a frequent flyer, and the journeys she recounts in the book are filled with surreal moments. When she falls ill before giving a talk at Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, she’s allowed to rest in Diego Rivera’s bed. During an unexpected rendezvous in Iceland, she sings Buddy Holly songs with chess legend Bobby Fischer. Things are equally uncanny on the homefront. Just weeks before Hurricane Sandy strikes, Smith purchases a run-down bungalow (which she fondly names the Alamo) on Rockaway Beach. Somehow the house survives the storm.

Smith turns 66 while writing M Train, but she’s still a bit of a kid. At home, she falls asleep in her clothes, ignores the mail and neglects household chores. Her writing style is at once poetic and direct. Like her trademark attire—boots, cap, coat—her narratives have a plainspoken beauty that transcends the times. An American original and a magical writer, Smith makes the reader believe in the redemptive power of art.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

In 2010, musician Patti Smith published Just Kids, a radiant memoir about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and their lives as bohemian babes-in-the-woods in New York City. Set in the 1960s and ’70s, the story of their coming-of-age as artists—Smith’s first full-length work of prose—won the National Book Award. In her new memoir, M Train, Smith trades the circus atmosphere of the psychedelic era for the here and now, offering readers a remarkably intimate look at her life in New York City.
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A white-hot novel documenting the friendship that arises between two very different women, Veronica is a heady, hallucinatory narrative—another walk on the wild side from a writer who has never shied from tackling potentially contentious topics. Mary Gaitskill’s work (which includes the short story that inspired the 2002 film Secretary) is often characterized by a dark eroticism and probes the raw emotional states of characters on the edge.

Veronica is narrated by a has-been fashion model named Allison whose career peaked during the ’70s, and who, having survived that era of glitter and excess, is now paying the price. Suffering from hepatitis C, Allison, all but broke, lives in California, in a drab quarter of San Rafael. The narrative spans only a single day, but it covers a great deal of ground, moving in and out of the present as the 46-year-old Allison looks back on her life. As a teenage runaway during the 1960s, she ends up in San Francisco, living in a purple rooming house and selling flowers in nightclubs, until she meets Alain, a bigwig in the modeling industry. He takes her as his mistress, and her ascent as a model ensues.

But when, a few years later, Alain betrays her, Allison’s career stalls, and she is forced to work at an ad agency in New York. There, she meets Veronica, an editor with attitude. Outspoken, brash, older by a decade, Veronica is frumpy and unhip, the antithesis of Allison and an improbable ally. Yet the two develop an enduring friendship, and the durability of their bond stands in contrast to the disposability of Allison’s relationships with her fellow models and with various lovers.

Learning that Veronica has AIDS, which she contracted from a promiscuous, bisexual boyfriend, triggers a complex range of emotions in Allison, including feelings of guilt. In the end, she finds in Veronica’s decline a reflection of her own journey, as her looks begin to fade, and she is forced to come to terms with her humanity. Gaitskill’s lively portrayal of the carefree ’70s and affluent ’80s, her superlative powers of description and delicate handling of sensitive topics have resulted in a profound narrative about beauty and mortality, loss and redemption.

 

A white-hot novel documenting the friendship that arises between two very different women, Veronica is a heady, hallucinatory narrative—another walk on the wild side from a writer who has never shied from tackling potentially contentious topics.
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August 29 marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history and the storm that delivered a near-mortal blow to the city of New Orleans. An estimated 250 billion gallons of water inundated the Big Easy when its levee system failed, damaging four out of every five homes in the city.

Those and many other sad statistics can be found in Gary Rivlin’s Katrina: After the Flood, a clear-eyed account of New Orleans’ efforts to come back from the 2005 catastrophe. In the opening chapters, Rivlin provides a recap of the incomprehensibly awful first days of the flood. He then moves forward to tell a larger tale of bureaucracy gone epically awry—a story of city rebuilding strategies hatched and abandoned, of planning committees formed and dissolved, of political rivalries old and new. Writing in an authoritative yet accessible style, he tracks the ways in which these factors slowed New Orleans’ rebirth. 

A question central to the city’s future is whether damaged communities that stand a good chance of flooding again—areas like the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East—should be redeveloped or written off. Resolving that question and settling upon a general restoration strategy turn out to be agonizing tasks for government officials and citizens alike. 

Rivlin weaves in powerful personal accounts from a cross-section of survivors—black and white, working class and affluent. While it’s clear that the city remains a work in progress, there is some good news. A new flood-protection system has been built and the city’s population has increased, thanks in part to an influx of artists and entrepreneurs. 

A skillful storyteller, Rivlin delivers a fascinating report on a city transformed by tragedy.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

August 29 marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history and the storm that delivered a near-mortal blow to the city of New Orleans. An estimated 250 billion gallons of water inundated the Big Easy when its levee system failed, damaging four out of every five homes in the city.
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It’s a match made in heaven: Aziz Ansari, one of America’s top comics, and the subject of love. In Modern Romance, Ansari delivers dispatches from the front lines of dating in the digital age and proves to be as befuddled by love as the rest of us. 

The “Parks and Recreation” star is up front about the fact that his own lack of success with the ladies provided the motivation for writing the book, but it’s much more than a comic romp. For research assistance, Ansari enlisted NYU sociology professor Eric Klinenberg, and Modern Romance is filled with their findings—case studies, factoids and hard data that demonstrate how dating has evolved in our device-driven era, a time when the quest for amour is both aided and complicated by the omnipresent Internet. 

A smartphone is like “a 24-7 singles bar,” Ansari says. “Press a few buttons at any time of the day, and you’re instantly immersed in an ocean of romantic possibilities.” Of course, navigating that ocean can be a challenge. While technology expedites connection, it comes with its own set of singular difficulties, and Ansari explores many of these, providing survey-supported info on the best way to initiate a date (phone call versus text message), how to take a winning photo for a dating site (girls, avoid using pix in which you’re posing with an animal or guzzling a Bud) and more.

Ansari broadens his scope by reaching into the past—he talks to seniors at a retirement home about what their love lives were like—and pondering timeless questions: How prevalent is cheating? Do you need to get married? His report on the contemporary pursuit of a perfect partner mixes solid research with hilarious riffs—all delivered Ansari-style. It’s an irresistible pairing. 

It’s a match made in heaven: Aziz Ansari, one of America’s top comics, and the subject of love. In Modern Romance, Ansari delivers dispatches from the front lines of dating in the digital age and proves to be as befuddled by love as the rest of us.
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Welcome to the Neighborwood by master paper craftsman Shawn Sheehy is at once a breathtaking work of interactive art and a fact-filled exploration of the great outdoors. Young readers learn about the habits and survival skills of seven different creatures through pop-up models of the places they call home. Each burrow and nest bursts from the page in 3-D form, and Sheehy complements these visual astonishments with information about each animal. In easy-to-absorb prose, he explains the ways in which they adapt to the wild, construct homes and flourish.

In magical, surprising spreads, a garden spider hangs from a leaf, its web a delicate backdrop, and a honeybee surveys its complex comb. Tucked in the branches of a leafy tree, a hummingbird’s nest opens wide to reveal its winged inhabitant. Filled with color and detail, these pages truly pop, a testament to paper’s remarkable potential as a creative medium.

A former science teacher, Sheehy has said that his goal as an author is to create an awareness of and respect for the environment in young readers. Providing an intriguing peek inside an ecosystem, this book enchants even as it instructs.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Welcome to the Neighborwood by master paper craftsman Shawn Sheehy is at once a breathtaking work of interactive art and a fact-filled exploration of the great outdoors. Young readers learn about the habits and survival skills of seven different creatures through pop-up models of the places they call home. Each burrow and nest bursts from the page in 3-D form, and Sheehy complements these visual astonishments with information about each animal. In easy-to-absorb prose, he explains the ways in which they adapt to the wild, construct homes and flourish.
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As host of “The Thistle & Shamrock” on National Public Radio (NPR), Fiona Ritchie has bewitched many a listener with carefully curated playlists of traditional Celtic tunes, stories of her native Scotland, and, of course, that accent—mellifluous with a bit of a burr. No one is better qualified to take stock of Scots-Irish music than the NPR host, and in Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia, she does just that. Ritchie co-authored the book with Doug Orr, a longtime advocate of folk music who is president emeritus of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. Although their backgrounds are different—Orr is a North Carolina native—the two music lovers achieve perfect harmony on the page, offering in-depth perspectives on a migratory and enduring art form.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford, known as the Minstrel of the Appalachians, performing at “Singing on the Mountain” at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, ca. 1940. 

Beginning with medieval-era ballads, Wayfaring Strangers traces the history of Celtic music from its European roots to its arrival in America via Scots-Irish immigrants during the 18th and 29th centuries. Many of the new arrivals from the Old Country settled in the southern Appalachians, where their lonesome ballads and sprightly fiddle tunes became part of a rich mix of regional sounds. Meeting and melding with English, German, and African-American styles, their music became part of a blend that would provide the underpinning for bluegrass and modern folk. 

Naturally enough, Wayfaring Strangers lingers in the misty glens of Ireland and Scotland. Paying tribute to Celtic culture, the book provides plenty of background on the instruments, themes and song styles prevalent in those countries. Special sidebars spotlight the fiddle, the harp, and the bagpipes, as well as ballad types and traditions. The authors move smoothly through 400 years of history and arrive in contemporary times to consider the Scots-Irish-influenced music of Doc Watson, the Carter Family, Bob Dylan and Bill Monroe. Interviews with musicologists further clarify the musical ties between Scotland and Ireland, which are symbolized, respectively, by the thistle and the shamrock.

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Doc Watson playing guitar in 1987.

“’Connection:’ how often we use this word,” Ritchie writes. “It holds the promise of tangled textures below the surface, of stories to be told, of discoveries to be made.” As it happens, she shares a special connection with her co-author. During her inaugural trip to the United States in 1980, Ritchie studied for a semester at UNC-Charlotte, where Orr, coincidentally, was a vice chancellor. Impressed with the city and its dynamic music scene, she settled there the following year. She found an early supporter in Orr, who was instrumental in establishing Charlotte’s NPR affiliate, WFAE-FM. Ritchie started out at the station as a volunteer and made her debut, at Orr’s urging, as a radio host in 1981 with “The Thistle & Shamrock.” Two years later, the show was launched nationally by Public Radio International. It’s now one of NPR’s most popular offerings.

No doubt it’ll be Ritchie’s voice fans hear in their heads as they read Wayfaring Strangers. Filled with maps, woodcuts, paintings, and photographs of impossibly picturesque Scottish and Irish locales, the book is a treasure trove of imagery and information. A companion CD with 20 tunes by folk favorites like Dougie McClean, Pete Seeger, Jean Ritchie and Dolly Parton, who contributed the book’s foreword, is bound to inspire a bit of impromptu string-band jamming. Music lovers, prepare to be transported.

 

Photographs by Hugh Morton; © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As host of “The Thistle & Shamrock” on National Public Radio (NPR), Fiona Ritchie has bewitched many a listener with carefully curated playlists of traditional Celtic tunes, stories of her native Scotland, and, of course, that accent—mellifluous with a bit of a burr. No one is better qualified to take stock of Scots-Irish music than the NPR host, and in Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia, she does just that.

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Budding young naturalists will learn from—and love—Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston. A quietly powerful picture book that explores the changing of the seasons and life in the woods, it’s also a story about the rewards that come from taking time to look closely at the world. The narrator is a resourceful young girl who visits her tree house each day, watching in solitude as the forest around her transitions from fall to winter. Armed with binoculars, sketchbook and pencils, she spies on animals as they hunt for food and prepare for the snowy season to come.

The book begins in September and moves through October and November, passing through all the phases of fall until the first sign of snow. The glories of autumn come alive on the page thanks to Jim LaMarche’s magnificent acrylic, colored pencil, and ink illustrations. Johnston’s understated yet poetic text is filled with arresting imagery. From her perch, the narrator sees a fox that “shines like a small red fire” and a lynx “the color of moon” with “Egypt eyes.” Her sense of wonder and reverence for nature will inspire explorers of all ages. Capturing the transitional quality that makes autumn such a magical time, Winter Is Coming pays tribute to the mysteries of nature while teaching readers about the importance—and pleasures—of simple observation.

Budding young naturalists will learn from—and love—Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston. A quietly powerful picture book that explores the changing of the seasons and life in the woods, it’s also a story about the rewards that come from taking time to look closely at the world. The narrator is a resourceful young girl who visits her tree house each day, watching in solitude as the forest around her transitions from fall to winter. Armed with binoculars, sketchbook and pencils, she spies on animals as they hunt for food and prepare for the snowy season to come.

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Ah, the metric system—the logical way of meting out the world that confounds most Americans. Readers who have failed to crack its code will find comfort in John Bemelmans Marciano’s Whatever Happened to the Metric System? How America Kept Its Feet, an intriguing look at why the system failed to take hold here.

The metric system is a surprisingly inflammatory topic—an issue with political, social and financial implications that has generated plenty of heat across the centuries. Marciano traces the system back to Revolutionary-era France, when a restructuring of measurements resulted in metrics as we know them today.

Cutting through the confusion and antipathy that have long surrounded the issue in America, Marciano provides a clear-eyed account of how Americans hung onto their inches, ounces and pounds. In 1875, Congress signed the Treaty of the Meter, which led to the establishment of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, the agency that oversees the metric system, but Americans still had the option of using customary English units of measurement. A century later, when President Gerald Ford sanctioned the Metric Conversion Act, transition to meters and kilos seemed like a sure thing. But America stepped back from the brink again when the act met its end during the budget cuts of the early 1980s.

Today, the United States is one of only three nations in the world that have not adopted the metric system. Yet Marciano makes important points about America’s adherence to tradition. “To be for a metric America is to be for a global monoculture,” he says. Through the use of its customary system, America is “preserving ways of thinking that were once common to all humanity.”

Marciano’s narrative provides an overview of measurement in all its manifold forms, including currency, clock and calendar. Each chapter is broken up into easy-to-absorb sections that bring fluidity and logic to a complex tale. Weighty stuff, but the gifted Marciano makes light work of it.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Ah, the metric system—the logical way of meting out the world that confounds most Americans. Readers who have failed to crack its code will find comfort in John Bemelmans Marciano’s Whatever Happened to the Metric System? How America Kept Its Feet, an intriguing look at why the system failed to take hold here.
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For many parents, getting the little ones to consent to sleep is a contest of wills requiring the skills of a diplomat. Fortunately, a terrific new picture book has arrived that can help families keep the peace. Sleep Tight, Anna Banana!, by mother-and-son team Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal, shows that bedtime can be a blast, especially when the company includes a group of irresistible critters intent on making mischief.

Tucked in bed, flanked by her favorite stuffed pals, Anna Banana has her nose deep in a book despite her parents’ orders to go to sleep. Soon her fuzzy friends start to complain. They’re tired! Grizzler, Foxface, Whaley and the rest of the crew urge Anna to put out the light, but she’s too interested in her book to pay attention. When she’s finally ready to sleep, her friends give her a taste of her own medicine by pulling some pranks—a musical serenade, a sprint around the room—that make it impossible for her to snooze. After a bit of negotiating and an apology from Anna (“I’m sorry, my little peeps.”), the gang settles down for sweet dreams. Or so it seems . . .

First published in France, Roques’ appealing tale brims with late-night merriment. The story’s ebullient illustrations, presented panel-style and executed in mixed media by Dormal, bring this one-of-a-kind slumber party to life. Who knew that hitting the hay could be such fun? Once little readers become acquainted with Anna Banana, they’re bound to look forward to bedtime!

For many parents, getting the little ones to consent to sleep is a contest of wills requiring the skills of a diplomat. Fortunately, a terrific new picture book has arrived that can help families keep the peace. Sleep Tight, Anna Banana!, by mother-and-son team Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal, shows that bedtime can be a blast, especially when the company includes a group of irresistible critters intent on making mischief.

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Could there be a less propitious setting than the Tropicana Poker Room in Atlantic City on a Saturday morning? As Colson Whitehead reveals in The Noble Hustle, a darkly humorous work of participatory reportage that finds him (a decided amateur) attempting to play poker with the pros, the answer is a resounding no. On a typical Saturday morning, folks trickle into the Trop for the weekend tournament—regular types the author sorts into three different but equally undesirable categories: the Methy Mikes, the Robotrons and the Big Mitches.

Whitehead’s previous book was the acclaimed zombie novel Zone One, an emotionally scouring horror story with a post-apocalyptic setting and all-too-plausible plot, the writing of which seems to have taken a toll on him. The Noble Hustle opens right after he has wrapped Zone One. Grantland magazine has offered him the assignment of reporting on the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas, but he’s reluctant to take on the project.

“Now that I was done with the book, I was starting to feel human again,” Whitehead says. “I wanted to rejoin society, do whatever it is that normal people do when they get together. Drink hormone-free, humanely slaughtered beer. Eat micro-chickens. Compare sadnesses. . . .” Yes, that’s sadnesses, plural, and the usage is all too apt, as Whitehead, we learn, is four days into a divorce. And living in a crappy apartment. And struggling with the “rules of solo parenthood.”

Despite—or maybe because of—Whitehead’s blue mood, Hustle is a hoot. Casting himself as hapless protagonist and letting his comedic sensibilities—however cynical—steer the narrative, Whitehead proves an ideal observer of poker culture. Once he agrees to cover the tournament, which will be broadcast on ESPN, he has six weeks to prepare, and so he begins practicing at the Trop, working with a poker coach and playing against writer buddies in games that are casual rather than cutthroat—all pretty much to no avail. “By disposition,” Whitehead writes, “I was keyed into the entropic part of gambling, which says that eventually you will lose it all.”

At the WSOP, he holds his own for a while, but by the end of the first day, he’s “a lump of quivering human meat.”

Whitehead writes with authority about poker and provides plenty of play-by-play action, but the tale he tells is much more than that of an odds-against-him novice. It’s also the story of a writer befuddled by fatherhood and middle age. Whitehead may not triumph at the tables, but his new book is a winner.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Could there be a less propitious setting than the Tropicana Poker Room in Atlantic City on a Saturday morning? As Colson Whitehead reveals in The Noble Hustle, a darkly humorous work of participatory reportage that finds him (a decided amateur) attempting to play poker with the pros, the answer is a resounding no. On a typical Saturday morning, folks trickle into the Trop for the weekend tournament—regular types the author sorts into three different but equally undesirable categories: the Methy Mikes, the Robotrons and the Big Mitches.

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Kristy Dempsey revisits a watershed moment in performing arts history in her sparkling new book, A Dance Like Starlight. The story’s spirited young heroine, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, lives with her mother in Harlem. The year is 1951. Struggling to make ends meet, the girl’s mother takes in washing. She also sews costumes for the ballet school, and the girl often accompanies her there. It’s a magical place, and the girl harbors secret hopes of joining the other students in class. When she dances by herself in the theater one day, the ballet master takes note. He’s impressed by her grace and invites her to take lessons.

Although the girl is forced to stand in the back of the studio during ballet class, she works hard and grows as a dancer. When she sees a concert at the Metropolitan Opera House featuring ballerina Janet Collins, the first African American to be hired by the revered institution, the performance proves incredibly inspiring. “It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me, only for me, showing me who I can be,” the girl says.

A gifted ballerina, Collins was instrumental in breaking down racial barriers in the world of the performing arts. Dempsey skillfully intertwines the true story of Collins’ performance with that of her ambitious young heroine, building an inspiring narrative out of brief, poetic lines. Floyd Cooper’s expressive mixed-media paintings capture the transformative atmosphere of the theater and communicate the girl’s sense of awe and wonder as she watches Collins dance. His illustrations of old New York have a wonderful retro glow that adds to the magic of Dempsey’s story. A bravura performance from start to finish.

Kristy Dempsey revisits a watershed moment in performing arts history in her sparkling new book, A Dance Like Starlight. The story’s spirited young heroine, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, lives with her mother in Harlem. The year is 1951.

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Award-winning author Doreen Rappaport delivers another perfectly polished historical gem with To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt. In this impressive picture-book biography, she skillfully blends the personal and political stories of the nation’s 26th president, adding Roosevelt’s own words to the mix through quotes that enrich the narrative while delivering a sense of the plainspoken eloquence for which he was famous. (Proof that Teddy was ahead of his time in the sound-bite department: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”)

This thorough yet kid-friendly narrative provides a fascinating peek into the politician’s early years. Born in New York City in 1858, Roosevelt suffered so badly from asthma as a boy that he had to sleep sitting up. He was a serious reader of books about science and history, but he was also a mischief-maker who loved pulling pranks. He graduated from Harvard University in 1880 and embarked on a political career studded with milestones, serving as U.S. Civil Service Commissioner, as New York City’s police commissioner and as assistant secretary of the Navy. In 1898, when the United States went to war with Spain, he established the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known as the Rough Riders, whom he led in the famous attack on San Juan Hill. At the age of 42 he became the youngest president of the United States, earning a reputation as a “trust-buster” and an advocate of conservation projects.

Rappaport, whose previous biographies include Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, hits all the high points in Roosevelt’s life. C.F. Payne’s detailed illustrations have a timeless authenticity, and they successfully reflect the many moods of a multi-faceted man: stern speechmaker, intrepid explorer, fun-loving father. A reading list and timeline of key events add to the appeal of this inspiring biography.

Award-winning author Doreen Rappaport delivers another perfectly polished historical gem with To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt. In this impressive picture-book biography, she skillfully blends the personal and political stories of the nation’s 26th president, adding Roosevelt’s own words to the mix through quotes that enrich the narrative while delivering a sense of the plainspoken eloquence for which he was famous. (Proof that Teddy was ahead of his time in the sound-bite department: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”)

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The Snatchabook, an irresistible new release from Helen and Thomas Docherty, is the tale of an unlikely little book bandit and the reason he went to the bad side. When young readers get wind of what goes on in this thrilling story, they may stand sentry at their shelves.

Set in Burrow Down, a hillside in the woods that’s home to a furred and feathered menagerie of readers—squirrels, possums, owls and rabbits, bibliophiles all—The Snatchabook harks back to the classics, bringing to mind the insular, animal-inhabited worlds of A.A. Milne and Richard Scarry. The Dochertys’ forest-dwelling characters live in dens and hollow trees—all cozily appointed, of course—and possess decidedly human dispositions. They talk and walk upright and, perhaps most importantly, they apply human-style logic to the solving of problems.

A problem is exactly what they’re faced with when, all around Burrow Down, books begin to disappear. During a snug night of reading in bed, bunny Eliza Brown is astonished when her book whizzes away through an open window. The Owl clan and the Squirrel family have the same experience, as books inexplicably vanish from their hands and shelves. Who could possibly be behind the thievery?

Eliza, determined to solve the mystery, assembles a stack of volumes to tempt the culprit. When he takes the bait, she finds herself face to face with the guilty party—a wee creature with wings, a billowy tail and a melancholy demeanor, who admits that he’s a “Snatchabook” and confesses to his crime: “I know it’s wrong, but can’t you see—I’ve got no one to read to me!”

Eliza soon reforms the Snatchabook, and, while the inhabitants of Burrow Down snooze, he replenishes their denuded shelves. In the end, the mischievous little outsider becomes a part of the book-loving community. Best of all, he’s read to regularly by Eliza.

The Snatchabook is a tale that feels wonderfully old-fashioned (high praise these days!). Helen Docherty employs a Seuss-inspired writing style, complete with clever rhymes, and Thomas Docherty brings Burrow Down to life through his antic watercolor illustrations. He packs the pages with wonderful details (check out the cool carrot design on Eliza’s bedside lamp), and his large-eyed animals are adorable.

Parents, prepare yourselves: Burrow Down is a place the little ones will want to visit again and again.

The Snatchabook, an irresistible new release from Helen and Thomas Docherty, is the tale of an unlikely little book bandit and the reason he went to the bad side. When young readers get wind of what goes on in this thrilling story, they may stand sentry at their shelves. Set in Burrow Down, a hillside […]

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