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The Book Beat - May 31, 2021

Hello, Book Friends! Was the heat on in your house this past weekend? It was at my house and, frankly aside from being able to curl up with a good book, I wasn't happy about it at all.

But, as with everything in this crazy thing called life, the rain, dreariness, and blah-ness, gave way to goodness and beauty, in the visage of a sunny, warm Memorial Day.

I put this #RedWhiteAndBlueStack pic up on my #Bookstagram to honor the women and men who have served our country (including my father and father-in-law) and especially those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. It'll be Tuesday when this posts, so I hope you all had a day where you enjoyed time with family and friends, but also spent a few moments thinking about those who lost their lives defending the freedoms we enjoy.

Below you'll find some book news and a review of the one book I finished this past week. As regular readers know, this past week I attended the Publishers Weekly U.S. Book Show and that took up a bunch of my time. I was able to recap two of the three days, which are linked here: Day 1 and Day 2. The final day was all about picture books, which I unfortunately didn't have time to write about. But one of my favorite people, Senator Elizabeth Warren, was the keynote speaker and it was wonderful to hear her speak about her kids' book, Pinkie Promises. It will be released on 10/12.

Now, onto some book news/reviews!

The Kids' Lit World Mourns Two Greats

“When a fictional caterpillar chomps through one apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon, it might get a stomach ache.
“But it might also become the star of one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.” --Julia Carmel

Eric Carle, the illustrator and author of many children's books, most noticeably, The Very Hungry Caterpillar passed away Sunday, May 23 at 91. I've read his Caterpillar book about 500 times, and it made me smile each time (as well as kept my kids quiet and enthralled).

Although he was born in New York, Carle spent most of his childhood in Germany and graduated from art school there. After returning to the U.S., he worked as a graphic designer for the promotion department of The New York Times before author Bill Martin, Jr. asked him to illustrate the book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The seed to create, both text and images, took root and illustrating and writing his own books followed suit.

Caterpillar, Carle's second solo book, was published in 1969. Using tissue paper as the main medium, he created the now indelible images and--inspired by a hole punch--made the book interactive, which was rare at the time. Kids and parents ate it up.

There are many write-ups about Carle's legacy (Guardian, NYT, The Washington Post) and he and his wife also started a picture book museum in Massachusetts. But, beyond the stories and stats, I'll remember the joy in my kids' faces when we read his book for the umpteenth time and the battered yet beloved board books I'm keeping for their kids' kids. Money, fame, and royalty status in the world of kid lit are all well and good, but to have impacted the childhoods (and young parenthoods) of so many of us is the true achievement. RIP, sir.

The world of kid's lit was hit hard this week by a second death of a beloved author/illustrator. Lois Ehlert, illustrator of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (1989) and author/illustrator of 37 other children's books passed away on May 25 at 86.

Lois started drawing and creating art at a young age, even getting her parents to set up a table in their small house for her projects (as long as she kept making art, she didn't need to clean up...sweet deal!). In her early 20s, when working as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, she was asked to illustrate children's books for other authors and her career began. Her most famous book, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom sold 12 million copies and was read by President Obama at the 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll. Her book Color Zoo won the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1997. RIP, ma'am.

New Imprint! Roxane Gay Books

👏🏻 One of my favorite authors, Roxane Gay, started her own book club at the beginning of this year. The popularity of this club has now lead to her own imprint with Grove Books. This imprint will feature fiction, nonfiction, and memoir and release three books a year. Even better? It will focus on underrepresented voices with or without an agent. I can't wait to see what this new imprint has in store.

👍🏻 My fave Roxane books? Hunger and Bad Feminist.

What I Read This Week...

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris - ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5/5

This book has been blurbed as "Get Out Meets The Devil Wears Prada." I have to say, it's pretty spot-on!

Nella Rogers is a 26-year-old editorial assistant who's been working at Wagner Books in New York City for two years. While relatively happy with her job, she's also had trouble getting her bosses to take diversity seriously. As the only Black employee at Wagner, she's tried to hold Diversity Town Halls, but after they are no longer mandatory, none of her fellow employees show up. A hope for a more diverse publishing house--both its employees and the books it publishes--becomes more of a possibility when a new Black girl named Hazel is hired. Nella's hopes of warming to Hazel and working together to bring an enlightened sensibility to Wagner are soon dashed when Hazel becomes the office star and Nella becomes the office pariah. One particular issue is the adverse reaction Nella gets after giving feedback to one of Wagner's biggest authors about the racial stereotypes inherent in his new novel. Then, the notes start coming. "LEAVE WAGNER NOW," the first says. Could Hazel be behind the missives?

The politics of race in a place of business, in particular a publishing house, is the theme running through this book. How Nella has to consistently work twice as hard as her white colleagues to get ahead is the one thread of the theme, while the behind-the-scenes nuggets about how publishers navigate deciding to publish (or more likely not) books by Black authors is the other. Like general issues of racism, these two threads run the gamut from migroaggressions to blatant racism. FYI: Zakiya worked at a publishing house before leaving to write this book, so you just KNOW the little tidbits included in here are true. One: How editors put African authors ahead of African-American authors and consider that publishing the former "enough" when it comes to "being diverse."

About halfway through the novel, the narrative goes OFF THE RAILS...but in a good way. Suddenly, these real issues of racism and lack of diversity veer into horror territory and Nella's inner turmoil becomes even more fraught as she tries to navigate the sinister forces at play. Who really is Hazel? Why does she seem to immediately get the respect of Nella's bosses, while Nella has had to work for it and still comes up lacking? And who is imploring her to quit her job?

Harris does a wonderful job with this debut! It's engaging, revelatory (I knew publishing had a diversity problem but some of the microaggressions mentioned here were especially galling), clever, twisty, and fun. Highly recommend!

What I'm Reading/Listening to Now...

📚 The Unpopular Vote by Jasper Sanchez

Mark Adams is having an especially tough time in high school. Although he's part of a close-knit group of queer kids who offer each other the acceptance and support they don't get in many other spaces, he also has trouble at home. His father, Congressman Graham Teagan, continues to pretend he has a daughter and not a son. And although he's fostered a love of politics in Mark, he's none-too-happy when Mark decides to run for senior class president after the frontrunner bullied one of his queer friends. Identity, family, politics, and romance are all explored in this sweet and sharp YA book. I'm really enjoying it.

🎧 The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The dulcet voice of Tom Hanks narrates this audiobook and so far, it's lovely. I'm hot-and-cold on Ann Patchett. Commonwealth, nay; State of Wonder, yay. But this one is SO GOOD. It chronicles the story of a brother and sister from a well-to-do family in Elkins Park, PA, and their strong connection to their family's mansion, The Dutch House. Patchett has a lovely way with words and when spoken through the voice of Tom Hanks, they're especially affecting.

🎧 Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

My Libby borrow of this just came in, so I plan on starting it this week since I now only have two weeks to finish it. It's the story of three generations of the Sackler Dynasty, the family who owns Purdue Pharma and their role in our nation's opioid epidemic. It sounds so compelling. It follows the family building their reputation with Valium and destroying it with OxyContin.

Book Snaps of the Week!

[I was so thrilled to see one of my #Bookstagram pics featured on Atria's Twitter feed! If you want to see these on the days I post them, follow me on IG @readingwhilemommying.]

Cover of the Week:

Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian's book Midwives (yes, I'm aging myself!) is one of my favorite books of all time. I was riveted reading it back in 1997. At that time, I read most of the Oprah's Book Club selections, and that was one of my favorites.

I picked up his latest and it's on my TBR. This cover, though! 😍 John Fontana designed it, and it features a photograph by Polish book-cover photographer, Magdalena Russocka. Of course, I did a deep dive on IG and found several different shots of the same pic and one that one of Magdalena's models posted. Check them out below!

This book is about a young Puritan woman who escapes a violent marriage, so this image of a "maid" as Magdalena labels her certainly fits the narrative. The font chosen for the typography also has an archaic look that jives with this historical fiction. I also love the center focal point--a trio of three-pronged forks done in red foil. A plot point involves a fork. The matching red foil frame completes this cover's evocative look.

A description of this book is below. It sounds fascinating! I can't wait to dig in.

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary's hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary--a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony--soon becomes herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary's garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. A twisting, tightly plotted novel of historical suspense from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying story of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a great week filled with some great reading!

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