In January, our staff looks at newer and on-order books for kids, teens, and adults at the library—a trove of fresh ideas and hidden gems for the new year.
I‘m excited about five new books that we have in the Children’s collection.
The first is Brown: The Many Shades of Love by Nancy Johnson James and Constance Moore. “Mama’s brown is chocolate–clear, dark, and sweet. Dady’s brown is autumn leaf or like a field of wheat.” Sweet and simple watercolor illustrations fill each page with a celebration of the many colors of brown skin.
The second book is I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gorrdon C. James (creators of Crown: an Ode to the Fresh Cut). “I am a roaring flame of creativity. I am a lightning round of questions, and a star-filled sky of solutions. I am an explorer, planting a flag on every square foot of this planet where I belong. I am a sponge, soaking up information, knowledge, and wisdom. I want it all, and I am allllll ears.” The dynamic painted illustrations pull us from page to page in a super celebration of everything that makes kids special.
Another book I was enthralled by is Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock by Aslan Tudor, Co-Written by Kelly Tudor “As Native Americans we want to protect the Earth and water from getting polluted and harmed because these are sacred lands and waters to us. We want to keep our homelands from getting harmed.” Clearly drawn maps and beautiful photographs help to illustrate the story of the effort to stop the pipeline from being built through the sacred Standing Rock area, told from the perspective of one of the children who stood up for his rights.
The next book is the middle grade novel, Tune it Out by Jamie Sumner, author of Roll With It. “Lou has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But the two of them have been performing the country fair and street corner circuit for so long that Lou can hear only the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds of loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.” Sumner brings home the poignancy of the middle school experience all over again. You are guaranteed a moving and special experience, reading her new book.
My final offering is middle grade novel That’s What Friends Do by Cathleen Barnhart. This is her debut novel. “Samantha Goldstein and David Fischer have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.”
This year, I want to treat myself to more great comics. Here are all the new graphic novels in my hold list right now, plus one I’ve actually read:
Something Is Killing the Children by James Tynion and Werther Dell’Edera
Sometimes I just want something scary and action-packed to rip through in an evening. This book looks like it will deliver. Basically, kids have been going missing from a certain small town, and some escape and return with tales of horrifying monsters. Enter the mysterious woman who has one mission: to kill the monsters. Tynion’s previous horror series, The Woods, brought on the creepy space monsters and a quick, twisty plot, so I have high hopes for this one as well.
Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne
Do you ever come across something and just think, “Oh, this was made for me“? That’s how I felt discovering Beetle & the Hollowbones. Key elements: a goblin witch, a sorceress aunt, a friend named Blob Ghost (?!), gorgeous art done in a sunset color palette, soft gothy vibe. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while!
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
Even when she writes about difficult topics, Allie Brosh’s autobiographical comics always set off a bout of laugh-until-it-hurts. I can’t wait to get my hands on her new collection and might reread her older comics (in print and collected on her website, Hyperbole and a Half) in the meantime.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Lora feels abandoned by former friends, but makes a new one during her Halloween-adjacent birthday séance in this middle-grade graphic novel. First off, the house-haunting Alexa reminds me of a certain technological product, and I think that’s hilarious. That aside, we all need to have fun on our own right now, so this cozy tale of supernatural friendship really grabs me.
Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter
What I know about this book: various anthropomorphic animals go on some kind of fantasy, D&D style quest together. Why I want to read it: is that adventurer a beefy snake with huge muscled arms? Fingers crossed.
Maids by Katie Skelly
Based on true events, this is a true-crime story about the Papin sisters who work as live-in maids for a wealthy family. This looks like the kind of book I won’t be able to put down.
Softies: Stuff That Happens After the World Blows Up by Kyle Smeallie
I came across this one while making book lists and it grabbed me immediately. Earth has just exploded – now what? The last surviving human, a 13-year-old named Kay, gets scooped up by alien pals for space adventures. I’m hoping for a book packed with charm, action, and sappy feelings.
Measuring Up by Lily Lamotte and Ann Xu
Cici needs to cook the perfect food in Measuring Up in order to win a contest and pay for her grandmother’s birthday plane ticket. Cooking and graphic novels is a great mix – I love seeing visuals of the delicious food as I read about it (and take notes for my own menus).
Remina by Junji Ito
Remina’s first English release was just this past December, and I’m excited to dive into another work by Ito full of that grotesque art I’ve grown to love. This one is about a planet that suddenly appears from a wormhole. The discovery of the planet Remina is met with celebration – but that quickly sours when Remina is seen destroying everything in its path on the way to Earth.
Finally, the only book on this list I’ve actually read: The Magic Fish by Le Nguyen Trung
This was my favorite book of all 2020. It’s billed as a book about 12 year old Tiến and his struggles coming out to his mother, Hiến. It’s about that, but it’s just as much about Hiến, her longing for the family she left behind, and her search for connection after years of fighting the distance. The fairy tales shared between mother and son weave throughout the book and tie into each other seamlessly. As a theme, their intermittent storytelling brought home both the impermanence of oral histories and the power of choosing your own story. On top of that, the art was truly gorgeous. There’s lots of well-researched and well-drawn fashion choices throughout – on everyone, not just the glamorous princesses. I absolutely cried at the end and I want everyone I know to read this book.
The next few months bring us many engrossing tales from lesser-known authors and independent publishers. Here are a few that I’m excited to carry soon:
Cathedral by Ben Hopkins: It’s the turn of the 13th Century, and construction begins on a new cathedral in the Holy Roman Empire. Cathedral follows the people surrounding this massive building – the builders, merchants, nobles, and church administrators – as they fight to gain power. If you like sweeping epics by Ken Follett and Umberto Eco, this is the book for you.
Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle: In 1942, a young man leaves his home on the Cherokee reservation to work for a resort housing diplomats and wealthy prisoners of war. When a young girl goes missing, he must prove his innocence while fighting against racism and classism. First-time novelist Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is believed to be the first enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to become a published author.
Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons by Keith Rosson: This new collection of stories will appeal to fans of fantasy and magical realism with a touch of evil. Publisher’s Weekly opined, “The premises [of these stories] often look like very dark Monty Python sketches.” If you’ve finished Kelly Link’s stories and are yearning for more, this book awaits.
Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem by Gary Phillips: In the mood to start a new series? In this series set in the 1920s, Arctic explorer Matthew Henson returns to Harlem to become a bodyguard for a controversial religious leader…and save the world from total destruction. This classic pulp will appeal to fans of the genre and to fans of Indiana Jones.
In Memory Of by Spencer Bailey looks at contemporary memorials from around the world. Through photographs and essays, the book describes how and why these monuments exist. Sir David Adjaye OBE, designer of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, says it best in his forward, “the narrative of memorials is a device to project the many things facing people across the planet: nationhood, citizen rights, human rights, climate action. Memorial form is an important act of un-forgetting.”
Jason Reynolds, hero of YA, recently shouted out Mahogany L. Browne’s Chlorine Sky and now I’m hoping to read it for the 2021 Reading Challenge #1: A novel in verse.
Xiaolu Guo’s A Lover’s Discourse is a thoughtful, dark-humored novel full of questions and conversations. Part of it takes place on a houseboat the narrator and her partner live on in a London canal—so maybe it counts for Challenge #20: A book with a journey by bus, boat, bike…? Dark, Salt, Clear: The Life of a Fishing Town definitely has a journey by boat as Lamorna Ash writes about joining a fishing crew in Cornwall, and Li Juan’s Winter Pasture brings another journey as she sets out for the winter with a family of Kazakh herders.
The Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits has one of the most intriguing book descriptions this winter (Tsarist Russia, women and knives!). Another description that hooked me is the one for Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, which “draws on indigenous Abinhinaabeg beliefs to create a bold, affecting portrait of an urban landscape and its network of living beings. Mashkawaji, two years after falling into ice and being frozen, remembers and experiences the world through a sensory connection to people, animals, and plant life in Toronto from her place under the ice.”
The Fact of a Doorframe is one of my most dog-eared, well-loved poetry collections, so I’m excited for the new biography The Power of Adrienne Rich.
And…I was born in Florida but moved away when I was little, and don’t remember it, so it’s always seemed very mysterious! I’m curious to read Milk Blood Heat, a collection of stories by Dantiel W. Moniz described as exploring “the sultry lives of Floridians in intergenerational tales that contemplate human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance, and the elemental darkness in us all.” Morgan Rogers’ new novel Honey Girl also involves a trip to Florida (as well as a summer in New York) but more importantly, it’s reported to have astronomy and queer found family and love and therapy and friendship and I can’t wait to check it out.
My pick is a virtual reading series of Maria Dahvana Headley’s lauded new translation of Beowulf (which you can find at PPL). It begins with a reading by Miz Cracker in beautiful, beautiful old English and goes from there in a wild range of voices. Twenty-two readers bring this tale to glorious life: you can watch them all at your own pace here.
The series “launched on December 1 with the incomparable Miz Cracker, the New York City drag queen, writer and comedienne, and has continued through the subsequent weeks with Booker Prize finalist Diane Cook, cabaret performer Justin Vivian Bond, Anika Noni Rose, Esmé Weijun Wang, Ari Shapiro, Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara), and a double whammy by Alan Cumming.”
“I’m having quite a complicated day here!” –Anxious People by Frederik Backman
The title was irresistible to me, being a member of the group myself, and I have liked or loved everything I have read that he has written. That’s why I had no choice but to plop myself on the waiting list a month or two ago. Last week, my name came up.
Irritated by too many adverbs? Incensed by a proliferation of adjectives? Backman has an unfussy style of writing; he might be your kind of guy. Always, the stories have a quirkiness about them, the characters weighed down by life while managing also to be adrift. I think of John Irving for some reason, although they don’t have a whole lot in common other than their occupying my head in a similarly inevitable way. To force analogies further, Backman inhabits the same corner of my mind as film director Bill Forsythe (Local Hero; Comfort and Joy; Gregory’s Girl): humorous with a dollop of melancholy… only maybe Backman is more melancholic with a dollop of humor.
What’s Anxious People about? “This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps more than that.”
Yes, there is more than that. There are pistols and bridges. There are children and old people, pizzas, cigarettes, bad coffee, emotional darkness. There is love and impatience and connection and coincidences and letters. It’s complicated. I loved it.
But enough! More important is how you feel about it. Get yourself onto the hold list if you aren’t there already. If you currently are patiently (or not so patiently) awaiting your turn, you have a treat in store. While you’re waiting, maybe read something else by Frederik Backman. There’s not a loser in the bunch.
I wish you a year of reading that feeds your soul.
As ever, thanks for reading. You can find our full booklist of ideas from this post here at I Am Every Good Thing: January 2021 Staff Picks. If you’re looking for more ideas, that is our very favorite thing! We’re happy to help. Try our Your Next (Great!) Read service for kids, teens, and adults to get personalized lists of print or eBook recommendations from our staff. Our Reference staff is also available Monday-Friday, 10-4, at 871-1700 ext. 725.
“It’s cool to make cheese. It’s more than a distraction. There are big pots and thermometers, curd knives and skimmers, cultures, colanders. It is all about patience and alchemy, and yards and yards of cheesecloth. It’s hard to be sad when there is so much happening, most of it slow and magical. And it ends with cheese!” -from Eileen’s Picks
Is the sun back yet? We keep staring at the calendar! As we near the winter solstice, our staff members weigh in with a few ideas—novels, nonfiction, movies, graphic novels, video games, picture books, new books—to help us through the snow. You can also check out the Teen Holiday Gift Guide, and if you’re looking for eBooks, try our cloudLibrary list (Staying) Home for the Holidays.
What would my far-away nephews like to read this December? I settled in for a long winter’s night of research recently, dreaming of a list of picture books to sail them (and their parents) through the winter. Here are just a few from the idea pile: my nephews love rich pictures and all the details, so my picks skewed that way, as well as towards journeys and joy.
Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers has a dreamy, imaginative voyage and may be a special story for young ones who are missing someone—which it feels like we all are, these days.
Lift has a magical transporting elevator, but who gets to push the button? It’s a sweet story as an older sibling learns she wants to share an adventure with her younger brother. (Lift is worth requesting from MaineCat, but you can also find author Mînh Le and illustrator Dan Santat’s great picture book “Drawn Together” at PPL or on cloudLibrary).
Layla’s Happiness, written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, shines with love of family and a garden as Layla shares her delight in the profound riches around her: stars! seeds! spaghetti! music! poetry! I love the rollicking movement and great perspectives of Ashleigh Corrin’s illustrations, like when I’m looking down through glowing fireflies at Layla dreamily looking up.
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe made me smile this year with its mushroom house, beautiful colors, beleaguered frog parents, the determined, talented Pokko and a wonderful animal parade: it’s a really fun read-aloud, too.
And…2021, I’m looking forward to you. There are a lot of new novels for adults headed our way (find them under our “Explore” tab and click “New Titles”) and I’m curious about The Theory of Flight, City Of A Thousand Gates, Remote Control, Across the Green Grass Fields, My Brilliant Life, To Cook a Bear, The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry, and so many more.
Class Act by Jerry Craft
This graphic novel is a sequel to New Kid (winner of the 2020 Newbery Medal). Jordan Banks is returning to the upper-crust (and mostly white) Riverdale Academy Day School for eighth grade. This title focuses more on his friend, Drew. The two are now in their second year, and the racial issues continue to be complicated. Drew—who has darker skin than his friend Jordan—is treated differently by fellow students, and teachers. His new haircut causes unwanted touching by other students. The complications of race and economic complexities run through the story, from Jordan’s dad being pulled over by the police to students from a poor inner-city school coming for an eye-opening tour to Drew and Jordan going to wealthy Liam’s mansion. Jordan and Drew need to navigate the feelings of friends in their neighborhoods. Craft tackles all of this with honesty, empathy, and humor. Each chapter opens with parodies of covers of popular graphic novels such as Amulet and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (Scattered throughout the book in a Where’s Waldo kind of way are sketches of young adult authors like Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson.) Craft has created another winner – hopefully there will be a volume 3.
The Silvered Serpents (Book #2 in the Gilded Wolves series) by Roshani Chokshi
This sequel to 2018’s The Gilded Wolves was one of my most anticipated releases this year and did not disappoint in delivering non-stop action, decadent settings, and careening romance. After the dramatic conclusion of the first book, Séverin’s team has nearly fallen apart. Out of desperation, Séverin whisks his team from Paris to Siberia in a race to uncover a mysterious and powerful artifact. What they find is an untouched, abandoned ice palace full of frozen animals, broken goddesses, and deadly traps. Could this forgotten place be the answer to a series of disappearances and grisly murders? At the center of all the heady action, fantasy and romance is a quieter story of five unique, troubled young people who need each other to survive in more ways than one. This is not a standalone book, so be sure to check out the The Gilded Wolves, too!
The Barren Grounds (Book #1 in the Misewa Saga) by David A. Robinson
Morgan and Eli are two indigenous children who meet in foster care at the beginning of this new series, hailed as “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle grade fantasy.” For Morgan, this might be just another stop in an endless series of homes since she was taken away from her mother as a baby. For Eli, it’s his first time away from the home he has always known. On the very night Morgan promises her new family she won’t run away again Eli disappears through a portal in their attic. Determined to bring him home before her foster parents wake up, Morgan steps into a world where winter may never end, and where the last inhabitants need her help.
Megan’s Escapism Picks for 2020
Want to forget about everything terrible? Yeah, me too. I recommend removing yourself from reality entirely with these tried and tested fantasy faves.
Weathering with You
Another gem from Makoto Shinkai of Your Name, Weathering with You is an animated movie about Hodaka, a runaway teen boy, and Hina, a newfound friend, who begin a business magically manipulating the weather. Tokyo is going through an unnaturally long streak of constant rain, but Hina is able to summon the sun with prayer. I loved the ending to this one and the animation is gorgeous as always.
Promare is the first feature length movie by Studio Trigger, known for shows like Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia. I went into this expecting intense, dramatic visuals with zany colors and exaggerated expressions and Promare delivers wholeheartedly. After a worldwide calamity of spontaneous human combustion, those who have the power of fire – the “Burnish” – are feared for their destructive abilities. The movie begins at full throttle with a dramatic fight between a heroic firefighting brigade (with mechs!) and militant pyrokinetic fighters and keeps the action high throughout.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
I’ve adored the Fire Emblem series since I played my first one, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade. The games have the perfect blend of tactical thinking and fantasy-fueled story. The latest installment, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is impossible to put down. There’s a wizard knight school, tight-lipped mercenaries, branching story paths, and character backstory up to your ears. As a professor at the monastery, the player guides their class of students as they train to become knights while investigating unknown agents working against the archbishop and their own mysterious past. This came out in July of 2019 and I’m still playing it a year and a half later!
Rolled & Told
Rolled & Told is a great resource for the Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast. These books combine short adventures, new items and monsters, comics, art, and articles in a very approachable format. I’m always impressed with the variety of content. The book itself is also just a joy to flip through – the many contributors’ love of D&D just pours out of it. Check it out if you already like 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons and want to pick up some new tricks, or if you’re interested in the game and want to dip your toe into the worlds and stories it has to offer!
The Adventure Zone series
This series is the graphic novel adaptation of a Dungeons and Dragons podcast by the McElroy family. Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t love podcasts and I’ve barely listened to the first adventure of The Adventure Zone. But even if you aren’t already a fan, these books are pure goofy fun, with the bonus addition of some delightful art. My favorite so far is the second book, Murder on the Rockport Limited – I just love a good train mystery and whiz kid detective combo.
Nyneve, a young witch, casts a glamour on herself every day to hide her incredibly long hair. In this world, the length of your hair determines the power of your magic, and those with powerful magic are conscripted into the Witch Guard. Though her peers all fight to prove themselves the strongest and become one of the guard, Nyneve holds a deep grudge against the order and would do anything to stay out of their clutches – even, in a moment of desperation, cut off her hair and throw away all her magical power. The hook for this one grabbed me immediately and I was amazed by the art once I started reading. Out of all the witchy graphic novels I’ve read recently (and there are a lot!) this one is a star.
Patema, a teen girl who lives in a underground community, goes looking for a missing friend and falls down a hole… into the sky. She is saved by Eiji, a boy who lives in the above-ground world. With opposite gravity, ground, and sky, they have trouble connecting, but the two join forces when the leader of the above-ground world hears about the “invert” girl and tries to capture her. Though not as visually impressive as Weathering with You or Promare, my partners and I got a kick out of the cartoonishly evil villain. This was my first watch of 2020 and I still remember it fondly.
While it’s good to see the other side of 2020, we are headed for quite a bit of change. One way we can take care of ourselves during times of uncertainty – especially during those dark winter months – is to find a comforting distraction. Here are a few exciting books set for release in January 2021:
Outlawed, by Anna North: Horse-roving lesbian and nonbinary bank robbers in the Old West…need I say more?
The Rib King, by Ladee Hubbard: A once-wealthy white family with an all-Black household staff decides to market the scrumptious rib sauce of the cook…using a caricature of the groundskeeper. What can go wrong?
Shipped, by Angie Hockman: Two professional rivals at a cruise line are up for the same promotion. When they are tasked to boost reservations for the company’s Galapagos Island cruise, the rivals find themselves stuck on the same ship.
Black Buck, by Mateo Askaripour: The only Black employee at a New York City startup hatches a plan to channel his disillusionment and help other Black salespeople.
Perhaps one of these new releases will help you start the 2021 PPL Reading Challenge?
“ ‘I see the past as it actually was,’ Maeve said. She was looking at the trees. ‘But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.’ ” ― Ann Patchett, The Dutch House
I am listening to Tom Hanks narrating Ann Patchett’s beautiful novel, The Dutch House. A sprawling novel, it takes place over five decades, following the paths of deeply-bonded siblings Danny and Maeve, who grew up in a house that is more a work of art than cozy haven. Abandoned early on by their beloved mother and forgotten in many ways by their father, they try to make their way in the world, always together.
Tom Hanks’ well-known voice is a comfort and a joy to hear. He is a fantastic reader and does different voices for every character. I don’t usually stray outside reading teen and middle grade fiction, working in the Children’s Room as I do, but I feel that I have become an instant Ann Patchett fan, listening to this mysterious and beautiful book.
It’s cold. It’s dark. The danger of wallowing is real, but distractions abound.
Wesley McNair’s prose poetry Dwellers in the House of the Lord, a haunting and affecting story of the author’s family in a haunted and affected state, is beautiful and disturbing. I am glad to have read it and urge you to pick it up, but it isn’t what I am looking for to comfort me as I anticipate my annual winter tailspin.
Learning something new and productive usually helps me put the brakes on that. Hopefully in lieu of the blues, I’ve been slowly, ponderously, oh-so-cautiously making some simple cheeses with the help of Home Cheese Making: from fresh and soft to firm, blue, goat’s milk, and more: recipes for 100 favorite cheeses by Ricki Carroll. I have thought about making cheese for years and now I have, several times. Delicious halloumi, tasty paneer, some surprising goat cheese that exceeded expectations by a mile. Bookmarks and sticky notes sprout from its pages, ideas and aspirations for next time, advice and admonitions, lessons learned from the last endeavors.
It’s cool to make cheese. It’s more than a distraction. There are big pots and thermometers, curd knives and skimmers, cultures, colanders. It is all about patience and alchemy, and yards and yards of cheesecloth. It’s hard to be sad when there is so much happening, most of it slow and magical. And it ends with cheese! That’s okay by me.
If cheese doesn’t hold my attention this weekend, I have an ace up my sleeve. My turn on the waiting list has finally come up and I have a week with something I have been anxious to get: the dvd A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is mine for 7 whole days! I get to spend that time with Mr Rogers AND Tom Hanks. That is bound to warm up the cold and brighten up the dark. And all I have to do is watch.
As ever, thanks for reading—and our warm wishes to you for a safe and healthy New Year.