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STAFF PICKS

October 2019

Jo's Picks

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

by Ibi Zoboi
(Dutton Books for Young Readers)

This middle-grade read by National Book Award finalist Zoboi who also scored high points with her YA Afro-Latino Brooklyn twist on Pride and Prejudice last year (Pride), is a near-historical set in 80's Harlem. Our protagonist (and by the time you are done reading, you will feel you have built a close relationship with her) is 12-year old Ebony-Grace who lives with her head in the sky- in the stars to be more accurate. She longs to work at NASA like her beloved grandfather, one of the first black engineers. Unfortunately due to some trouble at home, she travels from the south to Harlem to spend the summer with her father. Harlem is noisy and crowded, and scary and exciting especially for such a sheltered girl who hides in her rich, imaginary world, but eventually Ebony-Grace realizes that there is a place for her here too. Comic-style illustrations further enrich this coming-of-age tale of resilience, acceptance, community, and dreaming big.

 

Red at the Bone

by Jacqueline Woodson
(Riverhead Books)

Jacqueline Woodson, the Young People's Poet Laureate and multi-award nominee and winner, is a master of incandescent prose which cuts to the marrow of the story. In this, a novel, she moves backwards and forwards in time, telling the story of an unplanned pregnancy which brings together two families of different socioeconomic backgrounds. She examines the ties that bind and divide, and the full scope of human emotion, not to mention identity, racism, parenthood and grief. How she conveys such larger than life characters, such complexity and scope, is magic. Coming in at barely 200 pages this is a spare and powerful book.

Pumpkin Heads

by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks
(First Second)

Rowell is a NY Times #1 best-selling author and Hicks is an Eisner-award winning artist and together they concoct a perfect tale of friendship, endings and beginnings. Deja and Josiah have worked every autumn at the best pumpkin patch in the world. They are best friends who see each other once a year, but this year is their last. They are high school seniors and everything will change. But what if, instead of just hanging and slanging food at the Succotash Hut, they go out with a bang? Eat all the treats and do all the things, and maybe Josiah can finally talk to the girl he's been crushing on for so long? Warm and toasty, sweet and spicy, beautifully rendered in autumnal tones by Hicks, this is the perfect graphic novel to curl up and drink a pumpkin latte with.


Alice's Picks

Kafka

by Robert Crumb & David Zane Mairowitz
(Fantagraphics)

I can't think of a more perfect pairing than Franz Kafka and Robert Crumb. David Zane Mairowitz, an author who has also written about Camus, and other graphic novels and radio dramas, provides the text. This is a wonderful, strange little book, the perfect explication in images and words of the life and creative inquiry of Kafka. Angst, alienation, lust, dismay, horror - and above all, deep, exciting artistry! An excellent book.

 

On the Natural History of Destruction

by W. G. Sebald
(Vintage Canada)

This is the last book that the extraordinary author W.G. Sebald wrote before his untimely early death. It's drawn from lectures he gave on the German silence about the catastrophic levels of death suffered by German civilians from Allied bombing. It is a difficult topic to think about and write about, given the scope of the Holocaust, but he does it with deep clarity and balance. The ongoing silence matters, as it incorporated the level of guilt and denial concurrently. To discuss the extent of the carnage and destruction requires the full story, and Sebald delivers it here. An incredibly moving, sorrowful, and complex book, written in his inimitable style. Read it along with his novel Austerlitz, and with such authors as Aharon Appelfeld, Primo Levi, and Anna Akhmatova.

 

Anne-Marie's Picks

It Began With a Page

Written by Kyo Maclear, Illustrated by Julie Morstad
(Tundra Books)

Picture books have the power to create worlds for children. When I open 1976’s Oh What a Busy Dayby Gyo Fujikawa, I am instantly transported back to its adult-free universe where children played hard, dressed-up, fought, hid in secret places and imagined their futures. As a kid I spent hours poring over and redrawing its scenes. Significantly, the kids featured were racially diverse and girls dreamed of becoming doctors. Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad’s picture book biography of Fujikawa, It Began With a Page makes it clear just how groundbreaking this was at the time. Gyo Fujikawa was a second generation Japanese American whose passion for drawing was evident from an early age. She found solace there when she felt invisible at school, and in 1926 her talent earned her a place at art school when few women and even fewer Asian American women attended college. With spare, insightful text and evocative illustrations which nod to their subject’s artistic style, Maclear and Morstad weave the story of Fujikawa’s remarkable life, as she explores her Japanese heritage through art, moves to New York City for an art career, and endures the internment of her family in prison camps on the West Coast in the 1940s. Against a backdrop of postwar social change, she submits her first solo book Babies and is turned down by a publisher who objects to its racial diversity. Declaring, “We need to break the rules,” Fujikawa stands her ground and Babies is published in 1963, followed by more than 50 other titles which go on to sell millions. It Began With a Page is an inspiring account of a trailblazer who defied publishing conventions to create inclusive worlds for children.

Sharon, Lois & Bram's Skinnamarink

Sharon Hampson, Lois Lillienstein & Bram Morrison, Illustrated by Qin Leng
                                                (Tundra Books)

Continuing on a nostalgic theme, Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Skinnamarink is a jolly book version of this classic children’s song made famous by Canada’s beloved trio, Sharon, Lois & Bram. An introduction has been added, along with some new verses, and Qin Leng’s fluid ink and watercolour illustrations thrum with the cheerful chaos of kids, adults and animals making music: “When we all sing together, it’s such a lovely sound.”



Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations