In this third installment of Leo LaFleur’s fantasy series, an errand boy, having completed deliveries to a witch and a warlock, undertakes his most daunting task yet: to deliver a package to the fairy queen. Dreamy illustrations with flushes of color follow him as he shrinks, traipses through flowered fields, and rides a daisy through the sky, finally entering into fairyland with the help of a ghostly friend. Youngsters will be enthralled by this fantasy adventure that promises more yet to come.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (February 27, 2021)
The devastating consequences of harvesting the Amazonian rain forest are brought to light for the next generation in this delicate picture book. Zonia is a member of the Asháninka, the largest Indigenous group still living in the Peruvian Amazon. In wispy scratches and waxy lines, Zonia’s day unfolds on the parchment-like pages, following her as she hangs with sloths and plays hide-and-seek with crocodiles. Her sorrow over a destroyed portion of the forest will inspire young activists to call for change.
DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (February 27, 2021)
Eli Brown’s Oddity is a delightful, action-packed fantasy featuring a colorful cast and magical trinkets.
All Clover knows about her mother is that she died when Clover was a baby, and that she was fascinated with oddities—objects with strange properties that Clover’s father, Constantine, loathes. Constantine has tried to carve out a stable life for his daughter, but all of this is snatched away when he is murdered. Forced to flee, Clover hopes to find her mother’s old colleague. Along the way, she is forced to uncover her past and face the most dangerous oddity of all.
The frantic pace of Clover’s flight mirrors her inner turmoil as she comes to terms with who she is. Other characters, including a hot-tempered doll, Susanna, and a pompous rooster, Hannibal, add comic relief while also providing Clover with a new, albeit untraditional, family.
While the focus is on Clover’s self-discovery, the book also touches on sensitive subjects, including racism and dilemmas around making a living; dishonest behaviors raise the age-old question of whether the ends justify the means. Alongside Widow Henshaw, a former slave and a mother figure to Clover, Clover wrestles with tough questions to decide what it means to be who she is.
The book is set in an alternate America where territory disputes with France ended in war, rather than with the Louisiana Purchase. While the setting and names are changed, the American spirit, all about hard work and freedom, rings strong, along with less desirable elements, like a power-hungry senator who warmongers and who raises questions of what true patriotism entails, making the world believable, even as magic abounds.
A fiery heroine, a cruel twist of fate, and a few strange friends make Oddity a fantasy novel not soon forgotten.
VIVIAN TURNBULL (February 27, 2021)
Michelle Duff’s Jacinda Ardern follows the political trajectory of the world’s youngest woman leader, whose commitment to “relentless positivity” has changed the course of New Zealand’s politics.
Ardern’s 2017 election introduced New Zealand’s hyper-macho culture to a more consensus-seeking leadership style. Her platform, based on kindness, inclusivity, social justice, and gender equality, and her commitment to tackle issues like housing and homelessness, child poverty, education, health, domestic violence, the increasing gap between rich and poor, and climate change, were a welcome breath of fresh air to a nation weary of trudging the same old path, year after year, and seeing little change. “It felt, for a short breathless moment, as though it wasn’t just Ardern who had won the election. It felt as though it was all of us,” writes Duff.
When shots rang out at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019, leaving fifty-one dead and about fifty wounded, Prime Minister Ardern’s response was decisive, immediate, and empathetic. Donning a hijab, she personally consoled survivors, called on New Zealanders to unite against evil and not against its victims, then had gun law reform passed within days.
The book highlights Ardern’s strong, dignified response to the stereotypes that still color perceptions of women in power. That she won an election, negotiated a coalition, established a new government, attended to national emergencies, represented her country on the world stage, gave birth, continues to fulfill her role as a mother, and manages it all with wisdom and grace goes a long way toward refuting patriarchal gender stereotypes.
While it remains to be seen what Ardern’s long-term legacy will be, Duff’s engaging book shows her leading New Zealand to discover and live its “better self,” and changing the whole game of politics for the better.
KRISTINE MORRIS (February 27, 2021)
An Anthology of Navajo Literature
Esther G. Belin, editor
Jeff Berglund, editor
Connie A. Jacobs, editor
Anthony K. Webster, editor
The University of Arizona Press
Softcover $24.95 (432pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon
For too many people, Diné or not, Diné writing remains invisible within the greater literary landscape. The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature changes this. Its vibrant catalogue of literary works, including poems, short stories, and novel excerpts that are accompanied by author interviews, makes it an essential addition to university libraries and literary curricula.
Diné have always had a deep and intricate relationship with language. “Understood more fully, ‘Diné bizaad’ [the Navajo language] means ‘Diné their language, languages, voice, voices, word, words, etc.” It’s through the development of written stories, which “directly correlates to The People’s history with Western, formal versions of education,” that those outside of The People first became aware of this culture’s literary richness.
From unascribed poems composed in Indian boarding schools to Blackhorse Mitchell’s Miracle Hill to work by contemporary authors, the legacy of Diné writing is long and impressive. Suitable as an academic textbook, library reference, or lay primer, The Diné Reader reclaims Diné voices, giving them the showcase they deserve: as works of literary merit, worthy of scholarship and celebration.
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (March 26, 2021)