Books for Women
- April 2006 -
Volume 2 Number 4
Welcome to the seventh issue of More Books for Women.
This issue we welcome the first of our new reviewers, Mary Ellen Kavanaugh,
while continuing to enjoy the recommendations of the Women & Children
First 4. We'll be adding several more feminist bookseller/reviewers over the
next few months, to bring you an even wider selection of books, viewpoints,
priorities, and pleasures. This issue we've also moved the Kids Books column
from the top of the issue to a bit further down (click on it in the table
of contents to the left to go there now). And the Mysteries column will return
If you’re traveling — whether across town or around the world — and are stopping
someplace where people are interested in books, could you take along some
BTWOF fliers and pass them out? We'd love it — and so will the readers
you'll turn on to BTWOF. And it's a great way to strike up a few conversations.
Put the fliers on the literature table, post them in the loo, or pass them
out: I hate standing in lines myself, but I love walking up them and asking
women if they read books. (Someone will almost always hold your place while
you do it.) When I get that "Duh! Does the sun rise in the
east?" look in response to my question, I know I'm on the verge of
a great conversation. Email Leigh@BooksToWatchOutFor.com
or call us at 415-642-9993 if you have a little room in your bag for some
BTWOF fliers and a few minutes to distribute them.
Many thanks! And I hope you enjoy this issue and the books in it.
Yours in spreading the words,
Here’s a new concept in book awards: The Blooker Awards, created by
publishing-on-demand site Lulu.com to recognize
(and encourage) the burgeoning trend in turning blog content into books. The
first Blooker Grand Prize ($2000) went to Julie and Julia: 365 Days,
524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (Little Brown, $23.95),
Julie Powell’s blog-turned-book about the year in her life that she committed to
cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s 1961 classic, Mastering the Art of
French Cooking. A frustrated fiction writer working as a secretary, stuck
in a black hole of not completing anything, and facing the existential crisis
of turning 30, Powell decided to cook her way into a new life. Her husband
told her about blogging, and she jumped in. Within a few weeks she realized
that she was developing a readership beyond her immediate friends and family.
People she’d never met were writing back, commenting, and encouraging her.
By the time she finished she had thousands of regular readers, a market for
her book (100,000 copies in print), and a lot more confidence.
The Blooker Fiction Prize went to Four and Twenty Blackbirds
by Cherie Priest (Tor, $13.95) which Publishers Weekly called a
“classic Southern gothic with an edgy modern makeover.”
Meanwhile, Baghdad Burning, (Feminist Press, $14.95, reviewed in The Lesbian
Edition #15), the “blook” based on a blog kept by an unnamed Iraqi
woman who uses the handle “Riverbend”, has been nominated for England’s prestigious
Samuel Johnson Prize, which carries a £30,000 purse. It won a Lettre
Ulysses award for the art of reportage (€20,000).
Gloria Jacobs is the new executive director of The Feminist Press.
She comes to the press as an activist and a life-long journalist covering
women’s issues. She’s been an editor at Ms. and served on the board
of Women’s eNews, most recently as its Chair. Her publications include Women,
War, Peace on the effects of war on women and women’s role in peace-building
and Women and HIV: Confronting the Crisis for the United Nations
Development Fund and the United Nations Population Fund, and, with Barbara
Ehrenreich and Elizabeth Hess, Re-Making Love: The Feminization of Sex.
Spinsters Ink has just published the first book in its new incarnation:
French Postcard, is Jane Merchant’s tale of an
American woman living in France with her husband and children and her mild
flirtation with the mother of one of her children’s schoolmates. ($14.95.)
More books to come.
Another new publishing division named for women: Spiegel & Grau
is a new Random House imprint named for its cofounders Cindy Spiegel
and Julie Grau. “Naming a house after its (female) founders feels both
old-fashioned and radical and reflects our personal commitment to stand behind
our books,” the two said. Suze Orman’s Women + Money will be their
first book. Look for it in March 2007.
And in the oxymoron department: Gilroy, a 20 year veteran of Christian
publishing, has a new imprint they call “Integrity” which will publish, as
its first book, a new book by Newt Gingrich.
BTWOF was entertained by the New York Times’s somewhat
dismissive review of Gail Sheehy’s Sex and the Seasoned Woman. It was
promptly refuted via a letter from Helen Gurley Brown. Brown countered
the reviewer’s comments about “sloppy and awkward prose,” questioned the reviewer’s
objection to the premise of the book — that women over 50 can and should continue
to be sexual creatures — and cheerfully celebrated being sexually active “pleasurably
[and] reasonably frequently at 84” with a 90-year-old “playmate.” BTWOF
says, “You keep on keeping on!”
People magazine recently chose My Body Politic (reviewed
by Pam Harcourt MBW #5)
as a March Best Pick.
Women Action & the Media
The Center for New Words (CNW) — recently a feminist bookstore, now
a nonprofit celebrating and promoting women’s words — just hosted a third,
spectacular WAM! conference. It was truly a meeting of the minds as
300+ from all across the media and community (as well as the age range) met
to pool information, skills, ideas, and to make more room in the world for
women and women’s visions. Keynote speakers included Maria Hinojasa, Carly
Rivers, and Farai Chideya. Thirty-seven workshops ranged from "Funding Media
in the Service of Social Justice" to "(Web)sites of Resistance: Why Our Blogs
Matter"; from "Exploring Women & Comics" to "Covering Women & War."
And, of course, there was a concurrent film festival, a poetry slam, and a
wonderful rendition of "I Heard It on the (WAM!) Listserv." Critiques of corporate
media were everywhere, and the importance of all the alternatives to it (such
as the Spanish-language media that fueled the massive Immigration Rights rallies
and even this rag you’re reading at this moment) were sub-themes throughout
But the conference isn’t really over: you can download and listen to all
of the keynotes, as well as many of CNW’s readings via their website at
If you work in the media — or want to — or care passionately about it, write WAM! 4 into your schedule for next year.
Celebrate Sisterhood (Bookstore): Share Your Stories & Memories
Sisterhood operated in Los Angeles as a feminist, lesbian, and progressive
center for 27 years, from 1972 to 1999, with a branch at the Woman's Building
in the mid-1970's.
Now co-owners and co-founders Simone Wallace and Adele Wallace
(former sisters-in-law); Simone’s daughter Emily Gold (who grew
up in the bookstore), writer/web-designer Irene Wolt; and educator/author
Ronni Sanlo, are working on a book and website (speaking of
Blogger awards!) to document the history and impact of Sisterhood Bookstore
through the voices of the women who passed through its doors.
If you have memories of the store, visited it, read or performed there,
you're invited to send a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter on your experiences
of Sisterhood Bookstore. It's easy to do on the Sisterhood Bookstore Project
website at http://www.inkwellweb.com/Sisterhood/sisterhood.htm.
Click by for a moment to check it out, enjoy the photos, make sure you're
on the list of women who read or performed at the store, and fill out their
Change Makers bookstore in Oakland is closing its doors on May 1, its
third anniversary. The store opened in the old Mama Bears Bookstore
location as that store was closing. Mama Bears was founded by Carol Wilson
and Alice Molloy, two of the four women who co-founded ICI-A
Woman’s Place Bookstore, one of the — if not the — first women’s
bookstore(s) in the U.S. Carol and Alice, when last I talked to them, were
enjoying being retired. “We were tired,” Carol explained.
Muriel Spark, who was best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,
died April 14 at 88.
New York Times story:
On the Road With Books
Book readers, reviewers, and publishers of Bookwomen magazine
Glenda Martin and Mollie Hoben take readers on the road (to
Alaska, to Utah) and on retreat (Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico)
to indulge in a week or a weekend of books, the landscapes they come from,
and discussions about them. What an essential luxury! Details at:
or call The Minnesota Women’s Press at 651-646-3968.
Chicago novelist, journalist, and poet Achy Obejas will be teaching
a summer writing workshop in the Mexican beach town of Sayulita, from
June 18 to 25. It's part of the Talleres Toltecatl workshop
series. Details at
Mary Ellen Kavanaugh is reading...
MBW's newest reviewer, Mary Ellen Kavanaugh, was the founder
and owner of My Sisters' Words bookstore in Syracuse (1987-2003).
She currently works at a book distributor, Consortium, and has recently
started working part-time at Amazon, the feminist bookstore in Minneapolis.
I've read many an excellent book on her recommendation and am very
pleased to be able to bring her suggestions to you in the pages
of MBW. –CS
My reading tends to go in streaks;
either I’m reading all fiction or all nonfiction. It’s been a
long time since I’ve been on a fiction streak, but so far 2006
has been a fiction reader’s dream come true: In January I read
Beauty, (Penguin, $25.95), in February it was Ali Smith’s
The Accidental (Pantheon, $22.95), and in March, Sigrid
Nunez’ The Last of Her Kind. All deeply satisfying
reads — beautiful writing, masterful plots, thought provoking
themes and interesting characters — do you need any more from
Sigrid Nunez’s (Feather on the Breathe of God) most recent
The Last of Her Kind
, is delicious. I was contemplating taking a day off work
to read it when I got the flu and was too sick to even pick up
the book — and that was a sad day. When I did get to it, I fell
utterly into it. Set at Barnard at the tail end of the 60s, it
evokes all that you might imagine it would. Anne and George are
first-year roommates and have quite dissimilar backgrounds. In
fact, Anne had requested on her application to room with someone
as different as possible. Deeply troubled by her family’s privilege,
Anne romanticizes George’s working class roots. Together the two
young women are moved by all the social change that time period
brought, and their lives are shaped by their reactions to the
events of the day. There is so much in this book about class (how
refreshing – when was the last time you saw class intentionally
handled in fiction?) and race and women. There is an underlying
theme around The Great Gatsby here (shades of Reading
Lolita in Tehran anyone?) and I, for one, would love to know
that there are lots of conversations going on among readers about
the place of Gatsby in our U.S. "canon," what "the great
American novel" is, and whether or not people think The Last
of Her Kind might qualify as a "great American novel." It
does in my book. The title is a reference to a line in Middlemarch.
Excellent reading group choice. 384 pages, Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
Linda Bubon recommends...
Gentle, refreshingly honest, and rarely sentimental,
Great with Child,
by Beth Ann Fennelly, brought back the sensual and emotional memories of early
motherhood. With a poet’s eye and voice Fennelly captures the confusing, scary,
and delicious days of pregnancy and early motherhood in letters she writes
to a newly pregnant former student. This is a great gift for expectant parents
and new moms, especially those who write or paint or make music and worry
about balancing their needs with the demands of motherhood. She holds out
the promise that motherhood can enrich and add meaning to one’s creative work.
Norton, $22.95 (0393061825).
I must mention Greg Mortenson’s (with David Oliver Relin)
Three Cups of
, a remarkable story by a former mountaineer who has quietly been responsible
for the building of 55 schools (with 40 more in process) in Afghanistan and
Pakistan. After attempting a climb of K2, he came down from the mountain beaten, walked
for five days, and then found help and healing in a tiny Pakistani village.
He vowed to come back and build a school for the village, but his early attempts
at fundraising in his native U.S. failed. Finally he turned to the children
in his mother’s school, and a penny drive raised enough to get started. I
cannot begin to tell you how moved and impressed I was hearing this humble
man describe his dedication to girls’ education as a means to world peace
as well as physical and economic survival in this war-torn, impoverished corner
of the world – or how angry I am that my tax dollars are being so misspent
“creating democracy” in Iraq. Viking, $25.95 (0670034827).
Julia Alvarez’s rich new novel,
Saving The World
, tells parallel stories
of two women tied to well-intentioned, altruistic men — one of them is struggling
with mid-life crises and writer’s block in the present, the other is crossing
the ocean from Spain in 1803 with twenty orphan boys who are live carriers
of smallpox vaccine. Alvarez is a great writer of historical fiction, and
the story of Doña Isabel and the doctor Fransisco Xavier Balmis is a fascinating
one, but it was the voice of the contemporary writer, Alma, that kept me hooked
and turning pages. Algonquin, $24.95 (156512510X).
Two of my favorite books from last year are now out in paperback:
Eccentric Wisdom from My Father on How to Live, Love, and See
by Naomi Wolf (Simon & Schuster, $14), is a delight and a
must-read for anyone searching for (or avoiding) the artist within.
Wolf’s father studied and taught poetry all his life and has a
remarkable gift for helping people discover their passion in life
and follow it. In sharing his lessons, while helping Wolf build
a treehouse for her children and renovate a country cottage, he
helps his daughter, her best friend, and all of us. Simon &
Schuster, $14 (074324978X).
by Jeanette Winterson is like no other novel I’ve read, part fairy tale, part
yarn, part poetry, and all Winterson. "My mother called me Silver. I was born
part precious metal part pirate," begins this highly original fable which
fired my imagination and delighted my senses. The orphaned Silver comes under
the "care" of Pew, the old lighthouse keeper, who tells her the compelling
story of Babel Dark and his two women. Just suspend your idea of traditional
storytelling and let Winterson take you on a sensual, memorable ride. Harcourt,
More books recently released in paperback:
Towelhead, Alicia Erian
Red Azalea, Anchee Min
Ya-Yas in Bloom, Rebecca Wells
Ann Christophersen is loving...
The subtitle of an amazingly powerful new book,
"This Is What an Abusive Relationship Looks Like." The reader literally does
see what such a relationship looks like because the book is a graphic memoir,
constructed of drawings the author made during the ten years she lived the
nightmare of psychological and physical degradation familiar to women and
children — and certainly some men — who are abused over time. The text Rosalind
B. Penfold (a pseudonym) uses to complement her graphics really gets at the
dynamic of how abuse works to entrap a person – making her think that things
are really her fault, that if she just tries harder things will get better,
that what she stands to lose is too great a price to pay for leaving. And
how, as a result, she loses all sense of herself as a person who can and should
make decisions on her own behalf. I have read quite a few books over the years
about abuse and listened to a number of experts talk about it — but this book
packs an emotional wallop that reached me at a whole different level. Dragonslippers
would obviously be good to put in the hands of someone in an abusive relationship
or someone who works with victims of abuse. But I also think it is an important
book for people who wonder why “she just doesn’t leave him,” for people who
are interested in better understanding a situation that almost certainly affects
a friend, a co-worker, or a relative (even if that person isn’t talking about
it), or for people who simply want to understand a commonly misunderstood
situation. Black Cat, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, $15 (080217020X).
The evocative cover of Louise Gluck’s new collection of poems,
pictures two mountain peaks with mist and clouds rolling between the one in
the foreground and the one in the back. At the bottom of the page is the suggestion
of a circle composed of irregular splashes of red that abstractly resembles
the beginning of a tunnel. This is Averno, a small crater lake in Italy thought by the ancient
Romans to be the entrance to the underworld. The central metaphor of the collection
comes from the myth of Persephone, daughter of the earth goddess Demeter,
who was snatched from a field, raped, and taken to Hades by the god of that
region to reign as queen and serve as consort. According to the myth, summer
comes to the earth when Persephone is returned to her mother for the season
before rejoining her paramour in the underworld for the rest of the year.
The narrator of the poems conveys the many dimensions of her own experience
and ideas provoked by this myth, including passion, death, marriage, aging,
light and dark, hope and hopelessness. I’ve read it twice now, each time stunned
by the complexity of the poet’s mind and the austere beauty of her language.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22 (0374107424).
Kiran Desai’s new novel,
The Inheritance of Loss
, is terrific. It
is set in — and just above — a town at the foot of one of the major Himalayan
peaks, an extraordinarily beautiful place that Desai describes in such detail
of sight, sound, and smell that it is constantly present. The higher location,
closer to the mountains, is home to those with money and education (and their
servants) while the town below is where "the people" live and carry on a daily
life of labor. The house above the town, home to three of the main characters
— a retired judge, the judge’s precocious granddaughter, and the judge’s cook
— was once grand but is now dilapidated; the placid town below is soon to
be the site of bloody rebellion as idealistic, but easily corrupted, young
Nepali men begin a revolutionary campaign to claim the land that they believe
is rightfully theirs. Class hostility in this story is often the offspring
of British colonialism in India as British-educated Indians, privileged by
their work in the British power structure, are oblivious to the effect of
their privilege on people without these advantages who either bow to the inevitable,
try to access it for their children, or boil at the injustice. Another perspective
Desai offers is that even the privileged pay a terribly high price: being
stripped of family, community, geography, and culture to study abroad has,
in the case of the judge, so maimed him psychologically and spiritually that
his life is virtually empty except for his beloved dog. A counterpoint to
the judge’s story is that of the cook’s son, off in the Promised Land of the
United States loaded down by his father’s dream of prosperity while living
a brutal reality of slave-wage jobs and constant, alienating struggle – and
desperately lonely for the father and countryside he loves. There are many
harsh realities in this novel, the complexities of which the author handles
deftly to make them intellectually and emotionally available to the reader.
There are also great moments of humor, charm, and resolution that offset the
pain of understanding some of the grim realities presented.
A word on the art of this wonderfully crafted novel: After I finished it,
I re-read the first chapter and realized that all the major characters, themes,
and events are introduced there and that the characters are already in the
midst of situations that will be unraveled and described in detail as the
narrative proceeds. The reader isn’t aware of that artful construction, of
course, unless she goes back and re-reads, but she does experience the effect
of it as she reads on. I mention this as an example of the novel’s elegance
and as an example of one of the “invisible” ways great novels work. Atlantic
Monthly, $24 (0871139294).
Tish Hayes recommends.....
Jessica Abel’s graphic novel,
, opens with Carla having
a taco in a Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, and in the first few pages it
presents such a feeling of nostalgia for something irrevocably lost that it
is impossible to not want the full story. We flash back to Carla’s arrival
in Mexico City to search for her roots, for the Mexico of her dreams, and
for an authentic life. Of course she falls madly in love with the city and
doesn’t leave, but her search for authenticity leaves her a little blind to
the reality of the lives around her. I was so caught up in Carla’s world though,
that until her brother comes to visit bringing some outside perspective, I
was just as enthralled as she. The journey from Mexico
back to Chicago is riddled with beauty,
really scary complications, and a lot of discovery. Jessica Abel’s black and
white panels are gorgeous and expressive, and she seamlessly works in historical,
literary, and language lessons. This is a beautiful resonant story, and even
if you’ve never read a graphic novel, I’d recommend taking a look at this
one. Pantheon, $19.95 (0375423656).
The first chapter of
by A.L. Kennedy begins with our narrator,
Hannah, in a hotel with no knowledge of why she’s there, where she’s been,
or where she’s going. We quickly realize that she’s an alcoholic and are brought
up-to-date by memories and flashbacks to discover that, in the timeline of
the novel, the first chapter falls at the midpoint. I was a little discombobulated
at first by the structure, but as I got to know Hannah, it fit perfectly.
Memories are discovered and confessed by the most unlikely connections, so
what seems like a really funny story may become the most heartbreaking thing
you’ve ever heard. If Hannah is off balance, then so is the reader; what makes
Kennedy’s writing great is her ability to take this woman, who you would never
want to know at all, let alone be friends with, and make her so real that
she feels a little like you. I read this book when it came out in hardcover,
but Kennedy’s images are so perfect and clear that the book still runs like
a movie in my head. It still breaks my heart, and makes me laugh, and fills
me with a longing that I think is Hannah’s. Just out in paperback from Vintage.
Air (or Have Not Have)
by Geoff Ryman just won the James Tiptree,
Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands
or explores our understanding of gender.
The small village Kizuldah, in the hills of Karzistan where men and women
play out defined roles, farming is still the way of life, and technology is
barely acknowledged, will be one of the first testing grounds for “Air.” “Air”
is an experimental communications system designed to connect everyone from
New York to Tokyo to Kizuldah, but instead of using bandwidth it will be inside
everyone’s head. As you might imagine, the first test goes horribly awry:
some people die, many more are terrified, and even more want to pretend that
the test never happened. A village woman, Chung Mae, has the deepest exposure
to Air and during the test is witness to the death of an old woman. These
two things not only change her life, they connect her to the swiftly changing
world. She quickly becomes both outcast and prophet, and eventually her neighbors
recognize that it is she who will guide them into the modern world. Air
is less futuristic tale than modern fable, and Ryman crystallizes the conflict
between tradition and technology and suggests that the resolution can only
be determined by the people living in the middle of it. Air continually
surprised me: Every time I thought I knew where it was going, the landscape
shifted just enough to keep me completely intrigued. St. Martin’s, $14.95 (0312261217).
The James Tiptree, Jr. Short List
Note: This is not the list from which the judges picked the winners.
Rather, it is a list of books that the judges found interesting, relevant
to the award, and worthy of note:
Aimee Bender, Willful Creatures (Doubleday, $22.95)
Margo Lanagan, "Wooden Bride" (in Black Juice, Eos, $15.99)
Vonda N. McIntyre, "Little Faces" (SciFiction, 02.23.05)
Wen Spencer, A Brother's Price (Roc, $6.99)
Wesley Stace, Misfortune (Little, Brown $23.95; coming
in paper from Back Bay Books in April $15.95)
Mark W. Tiedemann, Remains (Benbella Books, $15.95)
Pam Harcourt is reading...
I talked about Judith Moore's unflinching memoir
a lot this
month: Reading it I felt stripped of the emotional distance that I often feel
with other writers, because it quickly became clear that she was not going
to hold anything back or find anything too mortifying to tell. I loved the
book for this. Her childhood is awful, and being fat is a part of the awfulness,
but certainly not all of it, and the bad just keeps coming. But she is a great
writer who makes all her experiences seem strange and new and charged; I felt
like I was watching it happen. She writes devastatingly about fat oppression
and her own body, mesmerizingly about food, and lovingly about one amazing
uncle. I highly recommend this brilliant, unsparing memoir. Hudson Street
Press, $21.95 (1594630097).
The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show
offers a warm
story about a Catholic-themed sideshow starring Frankka, a woman who can make
her palms bleed at will. The dysfunctional family made up of the show's performers
is threatened by fame and craziness when a newspaper does a story on Frankka's
gift. Frankka breaks up the tale of her journey with stories about saints,
like Brigid of Ireland (if you need a beer) and Therese of Lisieux (if you
need a little love), and her stories are mesmerizing. I liked being with Frankka
on her search for home; she's a flawed, searching heroine who is funny and
mistrustful. I like the critique of organized religion and was surprised at
how pretty and fairytale-like she made some of the parts about Catholic mythology.
HarperCollins, $13.95 (0060854286).
Best Bondage Erotica 2
, edited by Alison Tyler, is awesome for having
the variety of stories that it does. There are beginners, rodeo girls, a deconstructionist,
a fancy Lady, a jailer, athletes, and many, many different power dynamics.
The stories are funny, sad, and of course mostly super hot. But I appreciate
having the funny and the sad and the complex in there — it makes the heat
seem all the more real. I never felt like the stories were repeating themselves,
and I loved it so much I also bought the first volume. Hopefully, Alison Tyler
feels like editing a third, because her selections rock. Cleis Press, $14.95 (1573442143).
Young Feminist Book Group...
WCF has been running a Young Feminist Book Group for a number of years. It’s
a strong and ongoing group, open to feminist women and men. The group has
just changed its name to Intergenerational Feminist Book Group
to reflect the fact that feminists of any age (and any gender, of course)
are welcome to attend. The group focuses on various social issues facing feminists
today: sexism, racism, militarism, and transgender and queer politics, and
chooses a new list of books to read every six months or so. Here’s their latest
set of selections:
An Autobiography by Assata Shakur, Lawrence Hill Books, 1988, $16.95 (1556520743).
of a Blue-Eyed Devil: My Life and Times in a Racist, Imperialist
Society by Inga Muscio, Seal Press, 2005, $15.95 (1580051197).
This month’s selection is Muscio’s highly anticipated follow-up to
in which she argues that the "history" we learn in school is
a marketing brand developed by white men.
Female Man by Joanna Russ, Beacon Press/Bluestreak, 2000, $15 (0807062995).
Anorexia: Gender and Power at a Treatment Center by Helen Gremillion,
Duke University Press, 2003, $22.95 (0822331209).
Our Lives: Conversations on Solidarity and Difference, by Frida Kerner
Furman and Elizabeth A. Kelly, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, $26.95 (0742541746).
Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution by Paula Kamen, Broadway
Books, 2002, $13.95 (0767910001).
For Very Young Children
I hope you already know the exuberant, primary-colored, joyful books by Todd
Parr. He’s told us all about Mommies, Daddies, and Families (there are all
kinds!), and now he offers
The Grandma Book and
Book. Todd’s books show readers exactly what "inclusive" means: "Some
grandmas live with a grandpa/ Some grandmas live with their friends." "Some
grandpas put extra money in your piggy bank/ Some grandpas put extra marshmallows
in your hot chocolate." Multiculturalism? Todd shows this by making some of
his people purple or yellow or blue. People wear glasses, are often bald or
have very silly orange hair. His books delight children, read aloud well,
and include all our families. Little, Brown, both $9.99 (Grandma: 0316058025, Grandpa: 0316058017).
Margaret Atwood, that irrepressible genius who writes in all genres, has
also created several children’s books; now Groundwood Books has had the good
sense to publish a facsimile edition of her very first,
Up in the Tree.
It’s a very simple story of two big-eyed kids who live happily in a tree until
someone takes their ladder away. Then they have to find a way to get down,
and, of course, back up again. The text is all rhyming — the rhythm and repetition
are charming, not tedious (as I often find Seuss). Atwood wrote, illustrated,
hand-lettered the text, and used only two colors (“to save on costs,” she
tells us in a little introduction). Delightful for two-year-olds and emerging
readers — as well as adult Atwood fans. Groundwood Books, $14.95 (0888997299).
Kevin Henkes is one of my favorite children’s book creators, giving fresh
meaning to words like “charming” and “adorable.” Lilly, his best character
and the star of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and Julius –
The Baby of the World, is a girl (mouse) with a strong sense of identity.
In his new book,
Lilly’s Big Day, Henkes tackles the flower girl issue:
beloved teacher Mr. Slinger is getting married and Lilly is certain he will
want her to be the flower girl – but as her mom and dad gently warn, there
is a niece, Ginger, who is picked for the job. Realizing how much she wants
to participate, Mr. S. suggests she be the flower girl’s assistant, a most
important job. And when Ginger freezes at the crucial moment, Lilly saves
the day. A great book to prepare 4- to 7-year-olds for a wedding. Greenwillow,
For Older Children
by Louis Sachar isn’t as layered or history-rich
as its predecessor, Holes, but it’s a good read nonetheless and will
no doubt make a good movie. The main character, Armpit (because he got stung
by a scorpion there), is again digging holes, but this time he’s making good
money at it working for a landscaper. When one of his Camp Green Lake buddies
suggests using his money to buy (and later scalp) tickets for a rock concert
by teen phenom Kaira DeLeon, he reluctantly agrees. Of course they get caught,
but it leads to a meeting between Armpit, his next-door-neighbor (a 10-year-old
disabled girl), and Kaira backstage, and then the plot really gets rolling.
Lots for pre-teens to discuss in this very contemporary novel. Delacorte,
We’re crazy about Blue Balliett in Chicago because of the local setting for
The Wright 3,
but Chasing Vermeer also won just about every book award out there,
so clearly she’s loved everywhere. The three characters from the first book
return in The Wright 3 to help solve a mystery surrounding Frank Lloyd
Wright's Robie House, and their whole class gets involved in helping to save
it from being dismantled and sold in pieces to different museums. The book
is deftly plotted, and it's beautifully illustrated (with clues embedded in
the illustrations) by Brett Helquist. The subplot — how to get your two best
friends to like each other — will appeal to middle-schoolers. I also liked
how Balliett gets her readers to understand that a house can be a work of
art. Chasing Vermeer, $6.99 (0439372976); The Wright
3, $16.99 (0439693675). Both from Scholastic.