Norah Piehl

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For My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings (7 hours), actor Zosia Mamet (“Girls,” “The Flight Attendant”) has gathered a who’s-who of creative folks, including fellow actors like Busy Philipps, musicians like Patti Smith, writers like David Sedaris and chefs like Kwame Onwuachi. Each contributed an essay about food or a food-related memory, and the collection of nearly 50 essays offers a veritable smorgasbord of cuisines and emotional resonance. Some essays are funny and sweet, while others engage with more serious subjects, such as depression or disordered eating. Because the essays are short (most run well under 10 minutes), listening to the collection feels like browsing a gourmet buffet. Many contributors read their own works; others are read by notable audiobook narrators or actors, including Mamet herself. The audiobook comes with a PDF of recipes associated with each essay. 

If you’re the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you’re cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight. 

If you're the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you're cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight.
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When Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney died in late 2021, he left behind an inspiring legacy, including the illustrations for more than 100 published books. It turns out that he also left behind an unfinished memoir about his boyhood during the late 1940s and ’50s, when he grew up on an all-Black block on East Earlham Street in Philadelphia.

According to a note from Pinkney’s editor, Andrea Spooner, Pinkney had not yet completed the dozens of graphite drawings he had intended to incorporate into Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life when he died. But he had finished the text and created many preparatory sketches as well as specific instructions for the book’s design. Fortunately for readers, Pinkney’s publisher chose to move forward with publication, using the available materials to achieve Pinkney’s goal of creating a visually immersive effect while also giving the book a lively, improvisatory feel. As it so happens, using sketchbook pages to illustrate a memoir about a young person’s growing identity as a visual artist is particularly apt: The narrator, like the art, is a work in progress. 

Pinkney, who had five siblings, describes seizing any available area in his overstuffed childhood home for drawing, including a favorite spot under the piano. He recalls how visits to his New Jersey relatives inspired his lifelong love of nature, and how much he admired his father’s ability to build things with his hands. Pinkney also writes frankly about the obstacles in his path, including segregation at school and coping with a learning disability. (He was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult.) 

The most powerful aspects of Pinkney’s story involve the adults who recognized his innate artistic talents and gave them space to flourish. An elementary school teacher appointed Pinkney “class artist” to alleviate his difficulties with reading, and the owner of the newsstand where Pinkney found his first job allowed him to sell his drawings along with newspapers and introduced him to his first artistic mentor. Even Pinkney’s father, who worried about his son’s ability to make a living as an artist, encouraged his talents by letting him draw on the walls of his bedroom. Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that a life in art can be made possible through hard work and dedication, and by giving talented young people the tools and support they need to succeed.

Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that young people can have successful lives in the arts if they receive the tools and support they need.
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In the midst of a messy divorce and plagued by writer’s block, Emily accepts an invitation from her longtime best friend, Chess (now a lifestyle guru), to spend the summer at a luxurious Italian villa. It turns out, however, that the villa has a sordid history: Nearly 50 years earlier, in the mid-1970s, it was the site of a scandalous celebrity murder that in turn inspired a bestselling feminist horror novel. Emily’s growing obsession with the villa’s history inspires her to write at long last—but investigating that long-ago crime and its aftermath opens up old fissures in her relationship with Chess. Will the villa’s dark history repeat itself? 

Rachel Hawkins’ gothic novel The Villa (8 hours) has a wonderfully complicated narrative: Inspired by everything from Fleetwood Mac and Mary Shelley to the Manson murders, it includes not only two separate narratives with two sets of characters but also a novel-within-a-novel, podcast episodes, blog posts and more. Aided in some moments by music, the talented narrators—Shiromi Arserio, Julia Whelan and Kimberly M. Wetherell—prove more than up to the task of guiding listeners through the emotional atmosphere that Hawkins has so superbly created.

Three talented narrators guide listeners through the complicated emotional atmosphere that Rachel Hawkins has so superbly created in The Villa.
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If you’ve done any amount of air travel, you know that airports are perfect places for people-watching. And if you’ve ever encountered a flight delay, you’ve seen firsthand how overcrowded terminals combined with the frustration of changed or canceled plans can become a recipe for a uniquely stressful environment. That mixture makes a busy Chicago airport the perfect setting for You Are Here: Connecting Flights, a collection of linked short stories written by a dozen of the most acclaimed Asian American writers for children and young adults and featuring Asian American characters discovering their strengths and voices.

You Are Here opens with Christina Soontornvat’s contribution, which follows a boy named Paul as he prepares to pass through airport security with his parents, little sister and grandmother for a flight to Thailand. He learns that his grandmother has a secret in her carry-on bag, which begins a chain reaction that reverberates throughout several other stories.

The collection takes place on the weekend before Independence Day, so many characters are heading off on summer adventures, such as Mike Chen’s Lee, a talented Chinese American guitarist who’s en route to visit his uncle, and Susan Tan’s Ari, who’s navigating the recent divorce between her Jewish mother and her Chinese father. Others are preparing to discover their heritage through visits to their family’s countries of origin, though Meredith Ireland’s Mindy isn’t as eager to visit her Korean birthplace as her white adoptive dads seem to be.

Many characters experience racism and must find ways to counter stereotypes, including some that are internalized. Characters’ paths cross just like they would at a real airport, and careful readers will enjoy discovering how the stories intertwine in clever and revealing ways.

You Are Here was edited by We Need Diverse Books co-founder Ellen Oh, and it’s the first release from Allida, a new imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books led by author Linda Sue Park and editor Anne Hoppe; both Oh and Park also contribute stories to the volume. In the book’s back matter, biographies of each author indicate who wrote which story and what contributors like Grace Lin, Minh Le and Erin Entrada Kelly have in common with their characters.

You Are Here vividly illustrates the talents of a diverse group of creators as well as the rich and varied range of Asian American experiences and identities.

You Are Here vividly illustrates the talents of a diverse group of creators as well as the rich and varied range of Asian American experiences and identities.
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In previous bestselling, award-winning books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck and The Marvels, author-illustrator Brian Selznick has centered his richly imagined, deeply cinematic stories on children growing up alone and navigating worlds both dangerous and wonderful. Selznick explores similar themes in Big Tree, but this novel’s children aren’t human; they’re the seeds from a massive sycamore tree.

Louise and her brother Merwin (a nod to the poet W.S. Merwin) have spent their entire lives packed onto a seedball alongside their countless siblings, dangling from a branch of their enormous tree. Like all parents, Mama hopes to give her children “roots to settle down, and wings to bravely go where [they] need to go.” Louise is a dreamer, while Merwin is more of a pragmatist, and when a fire ravages their forest, the two must work together to find a safe place to put down roots. But the world and time itself have more in store for the siblings than even Louise’s wildest flight of imagination could conjure.

It’s not uncommon for middle grade novels to focus on the natural world, but Big Tree’s devotion to plants rather than animals sets it apart. People do make an appearance in the book’s final chapter, but even then, their presence takes a backseat to Louise and Merwin’s story, which spans millennia and poses provocative questions about the relative prominence of the human species when compared with the vast history of planet Earth.

Like many of Selznick’s novels, Big Tree is, well, big. At more than 500 pages, it’s epic and substantial, filled with significance, yet its text is spare and often feels like a fable. The narrative unfolds through both words and pictures, and some plot points are only conveyed visually. Exquisite double-page spreads of Selznick’s signature pencil artwork compose much of the book.

Louise and Merwin’s story is an odyssey, a survival tale and an invitation to think both philosophically and scientifically about the world around us. It’s truly awe inspiring, and it’s sure to prompt readers to bring a sense of wonder to their next walk in the woods.

Big Tree is an awe-inspiring odyssey, a survival story and an invitation to think both philosophically and scientifically about the planet we call home.
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Tracy Kidder’s 2003 bestseller, Mountains Beyond Mountains, profiled international humanitarian and activist Dr. Paul Farmer, who died in 2022. In Rough Sleepers (8.5 hours), Kidder focuses his attention closer to home with a moving portrait of Dr. Jim O’Connell, head of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. After graduating from Harvard University Medical School in the 1980s, O’Connell deferred a prestigious oncology fellowship to pursue what was supposed to be a one-year stint providing medical care to Boston’s homeless citizens. Decades later, O’Connell has built a multimillion-dollar program that serves as a model for other cities seeking to improve public health services for their homeless populations. 

Rough Sleepers moves between a chronicle of O’Connell’s life and career and Kidder’s present-day observations of O’Connell and his colleagues at work. Kidder’s narration (with a Boston accent that he dials up and down as needed) adds further intimacy to the book’s very personal stories. It feels almost like we’re riding along in the van with O’Connell as he checks on his patients. Listeners will connect with the humanity of O’Connell’s patients and admire the medical professionals who tirelessly treat them with the care and compassion they deserve.

Also in BookPage: Read our starred review of the print edition of Rough Sleepers.

Tracy Kidder’s narration of Rough Sleepers (with a Boston accent that he dials up and down as needed) adds further intimacy to the book’s very personal stories. It feels almost like we’re riding along in the van with Jim O'Connell as he checks on his patients.
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Jojo Moyes’ novel Someone Else’s Shoes (12.5 hours) starts with a lighthearted premise—the accidental swap of two nearly identical bags belonging to two very different women, Sam and Nisha—but soon takes on weightier themes. These include explorations of the ebb and flow of both long marriages and female friendships, as well as considerations of mental and physical illness and emotional abuse. 

With excellent pacing and expression, British actor Daisy Ridley (whose deep alto voice will be familiar from her role as Rey in the Star Wars saga) capably narrates both the humor and serious undertones in Moyes’ novel. Ridley pulls off Nisha’s American accent and brings to life a range of voices for a well-rounded cast of secondary characters, including Sam’s longtime best friend and her clinically depressed husband, and both women’s professional colleagues. 

Although the novel is long, the story breezes by, propelled by the plot’s steadily mounting tension that’s relieved by moments of levity and even some slapstick elements. Listeners will relish this uplifting story of transformation and second chances.

British actor Daisy Ridley (whose deep alto voice will be most familiar from her role as Rey in the Star Wars saga) capably narrates both the humor and serious undertones in Jojo Moyes’ novel.
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Twelve-year-old Addie is still working through the aftermath of a family crisis when her dad, a futurist, decides the two of them need a change of scenery for the summer. He’ll oversee a university research lab where talented students are experimenting with using virtual reality as a tool to teach everything from nutrition to empathy. While her dad is engaged with his work, Addie is more than happy to retreat into the VR headset she borrows from the lab. Entire days go by as she explores a virtual world without ever leaving their small campus apartment.

Virtual reality is easy and fun, but real life and real relationships can be scary, and Addie is initially hesitant to form a friendship with her new neighbor Mateo. His life, filled with family, hobbies and volunteer projects, seems so uncomplicated compared with Addie’s. But as Addie begins to open up to Mateo, she’s inspired to hatch a plan for a new way to use VR to make other kids’ real-life anxieties a little more manageable.

Bestselling children’s author Wendy Mass (The Candymakers, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life) has more than two dozen books under her belt, so it seems funny to refer to her as a debut author, but with Lo and Behold, she’s making her graphic novel debut. The book is a collaboration with comics artist Gabi Mendez, who’s also a first-time graphic novel illustrator, and the two work well together. Mass has always been skilled at portraying the hidden thoughts and emotions of young people, and Mendez is adept at capturing Addie’s changeable moods, from loneliness and worry to excitement and elation, in her expressive face and body language. 

Mendez also excels at depicting the virtual reality worlds that Addie explores, creatively using background colors and patterns to differentiate the VR world from the real one. Mendez’s rich, vibrant artwork beautifully expresses the natural world, too, and her evocation of the play of light and shadow under a tree is especially effective. 

Readers who, like Addie, are excited about the potential of virtual reality technology won’t want to miss the incredibly cool augmented reality feature included in the book, which further enriches an already full and complex story.

Bestselling author Wendy Mass’ first foray into graphics follows a girl who retreats into virtual reality rather than navigate the complications of real life.
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Bradley Graeme and Celine Bangura used to be best friends. Then Brad joined the popular football crowd, leaving Celine to lean into nerd culture and her TikTok account. Though Celine has no shortage of self-confidence, she’s always resented Brad for choosing popularity over loyalty. Their friendship fallout feels especially painful since Celine and Brad are among the few Black students at their school. Shouldn’t they be supporting each other?

But the former besties still have plenty in common. They both aspire to get accepted into Oxford or Cambridge and pursue careers in law, so it’s not surprising that they both find themselves in a competitive program run by one of the U.K.’s most prominent Black lawyers, a woman who is Celine’s personal hero. At stake is a university scholarship—if the participants can survive a series of leadership and team-building challenges in the forests of England and Scotland. Brad and Celine will have to overcome their differences and get along, but their reconciliation might be more complicated—and more romantic—than either of them expect.

Author Talia Hibbert’s fantastic Brown Sisters rom-com trilogy won over adult romance readers with her signature blend of witty dialogue, self-discovery and true love. She makes her YA debut with Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute, and the result is sheer delight. 

In her previous books, Hibbert has skillfully explored complicated family dynamics as well as themes of mental health and disability, and she does so here as well. Brad speaks candidly about having obsessive-compulsive disorder and the strategies he’s learned to manage it. Celine gradually realizes that she could benefit from therapy, especially once she recognizes that she might have selected her career goals for the wrong reasons. Along the way, both teens find the courage to be honest—with others and with themselves—about their desires. 

The novel’s dialogue is fast-paced and funny, and thanks to a hilarious glossary, U.S. readers can learn a great deal about U.K. secondary school and youth culture. Hibbert’s book launches Joy Revolution, a new imprint curated by YA authors Nicola and David Yoon and dedicated to YA romances by and about people of color. Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute will leave readers eager to discover what else Joy Revolution will publish.

Adult romance author Talia Hibbert makes her YA debut with this rom-com about two former BFFs who must work together in order to achieve their ambitious goals.
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In Have I Told You This Already? Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember (4.5 hours), Lauren Graham, the beloved actor and bestselling author of Talking as Fast as I Can, offers conversational, witty essays about everything from changing trends in undergarments to the process of coming to terms with aging, from adventures in pandemic cooking to the ways in which adopting an ailing dog can resurrect old anxieties. Graham also provides some behind-the-scenes glimpses of Hollywood, all delivered with the same down-to-earth, self-deprecating humor that makes her so endearing. Longtime fans will likely feel a little “Gilmore Girls” nostalgia while listening to her deliver these frank, honest anecdotes.

Read our review of the print edition of Have I Told You This Already?

Longtime fans will likely feel a little “Gilmore Girls” nostalgia while listening to Lauren Graham’s frank, honest anecdotes.
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As a New York Times critic-at-large, Maya Phillips has one of the more unusual (and to many, most enviable) beats: writing about comics, superheroes, anime and fan culture, among other wide-ranging but culturally relevant topics. Phillips’ Nerd: Adventures in Fandom From This Universe to the Multiverse (9.5 hours) collects nine essays on everything from New York City as a superhero haven to the evolution of Saturday morning cartoons. She explores the intersections of race, sexuality and mental illness through the characters and tropes she knows and loves, and this cultural context means there are plenty of entry points to her essays, whether listeners are already part of a dedicated fandom or just enjoy smart cultural criticism. 

Phillips, who narrates her book, unabashedly confesses to her own fandoms, and her voice conveys not only her clear fondness for these characters and worlds but also her appreciation for the growing acceptance of so-called “nerd” culture. Some of Phillips’ essays are strikingly personal, all are deeply thoughtful, and her passion is contagious. Perhaps Phillips will make fans of us all.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Nerd.

Maya Phillips, who narrates her own book, conveys not only her clear fondness for imagined characters and worlds but also her appreciation for the growing acceptance of so-called “nerd” culture.

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