Ian Brown’s son, Walker, was born with cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC). There are fewer than 300 cases around the world. Despite Brown’s best efforts and numerous therapy sessions, Walker will be severely impaired for life. Mentally he functions like a three-year-old, with the added burden of physical impairments too.
Brown and his wife cared for Walker for a decade before finally deciding to put him in a long-term care facility that suited his needs.
Brown speaks candidly about his thoughts and fears as a parent, his guilt, and the stress he put on his marriage.
Why I picked it up: There are severely impaired children at my school, and for several years my wife worked with physically impaired children as a school nurse.
Why I finished it: Brown shows that Walker may have a gift for living entirely in the now, and suggest that it might be good to emulate him. “Walker is an experiment in human life lived in the rare atmosphere of the continuous present.”
There are also funny and touching moments, like when Brown wishes that his son would say anything to him so that they could share communication, even if it was “f--- you, dad.”
I'd give it to: Nancy, a science teacher who would like the detailed passages about the sequencing of the gene responsible for CFC and the minute differences that separate it from other syndromes. Gillian, who favors a single-payer health system like Canada’s, because the Canadian L'Arche community where Walker ends up has serious philosophical differences with the United States regarding long-term care.
Peggy Orenstein travelled the United States giving lectures to women on how to raise daughters, including dealing with their budding self-esteem and behavior issues. Then she gave birth to a daughter, and faced making decisions herself. Orenstein discusses how the cult of the princess has taken over American girls: pink is the only acceptable girlie color and gender-specific toys are marketed to younger and younger girls. Some examples are anecdotal, others are scientific, and some come across as freakish, like when Orenstein travels to a beauty pageant for girls as young as four.
Orenstein’s daughter grows up over the course of the book, moving from princess dresses to a Wonder Woman phase. Serious topics are discussed in stories, including narcissism and the premature sexualization of girls via Halloween costumes.
Why I picked it up: I have a seventh grade daughter who has outgrown her pink bedroom, necessitating a new paint job. Back in the day, she told us that when she grew up she wanted to be a “fancy girl.” We spent a lot of time worrying about what that meant!
Why I finished it: Orenstein clearly wants a certain outcome for her daughter, but finds herself bumping up against keeping her daughter from what she wants because it might be damaging or programming her. Interviews with the parents of the girls in the kiddie pageants are both surprising (the amount spent on outfits and makeup) and humanizing, and overcome the reality TV seen in Toddlers and Tiaras.
I'd give it to: My college friend Jayson, who has five daughters, all born in an eight year period! There’s gotta be something in here for both him and his wife, Julie, although, with five girls in the house, I think they have a book to write, too.
Dungeon is a series of six interrelated, humorous sword-and-sorcery, graphic novel series created by French comic greats Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar (and often drawn by other French artists). At the center of the story is a dungeon populated by monsters (including the bureaucrats and assistants who run the place) where adventurers come in search of loot but usually find only death.
In the first story, after Herbert (a duck) sells the Dungeon’s backup lighting system for a fortune, a cloud of frogs lays siege to the dungeon. With no way to escape and a limited air supply, the Keeper orders the torches extinguished. To stop four thieves from stealing all of the treasure, vampires are set loose.
In the second, Marvin (a dragon) is stuck running a daycare. He takes the kids on a field trip with Herbert into the dungeon’s septic system where they discover a unique ecosystem and battle the creatures who live there.
Why I picked it up: Dungeon is an awesome series, and one of my favorites.
Why I finished it: I’m a huge fan of Larcenet’s art in his very serious graphic novel, Ordinary Victories. I never thought I’d see him draw a ninja attacking a group of vampires, or a duck with a giant toilet brush out to unplug a massive sewer.
I'd give it to: My daughter’s friend Grace. She’d love the adorable, clueless but monstrous Grogro. He wants to help, but it’s not a good idea to give him any responsibility. He wants to play, so he disguises himself (badly) as a little kid in the daycare. And when it comes time to save his friends, he uses their unconscious bodies as clubs.
Short, one-page comics tell the adventures of Benjamin Bear and his friends.
English translation of a selection of Coudray’s Barnabé comics.
Why I picked it up: Had to read it because of the guilty looking, oversized penguin in the fridge on the cover.
Why I finished it: The gags are sweet and the drawings simple yet beautiful. The subtle way he breaks the panel borders in the first comic (about fishing) let me know this was going to be unusually good. My favorite gag is where Benjamin takes a fish and a bird to see what’s under the sea. The fish starts in a bowl and the bird in a cage, then they swap places under water (the bowl is upside down to trap air for the bird).
I'd give it to: Vanessa, my astronomy-obsessed niece, for the comic that shows how the moon really becomes full.
On a packed train headed to Seoul, a young Korean woman traveling with her children is raped at knifepoint. Korean witnesses claim that the assailant was an American, aggravating the country’s tense relationship with the U.S. military presence. Army investigators George Sueño and Ernie Bascom run into dead ends as officers refuse to help, not wanting to believe that one of their soldiers could be responsible. Sueño and Bascom are reassigned but continue to work the case when another woman is raped and murdered.
Why I picked it up: I've read mysteries (mostly about serial killers) from around the world, set in different times, but I'd never read one set in South Korea in 1974.
Why I finished it: The tensions between Korea and the American military forces are evident in nearly every aspect of life, and the political agendas on both sides threaten the progress of the investigation. Sueño's diligence is admirable despite the diplomatic and racial obstacles he faces (especially from other Americans).
I'd give it to: Pam, who loved the action and clashing of cultures in Peter May's The Runner, set in modern day Beijing featuring a Chinese detective and an American forensic pathologist.
Sonja lives in a decrepit lighthouse with her cat, Victuals. Her father died, but not before his sightings of a strange lizard man created a minor tourist industry. All Sonja is left with is half of his tombstone and a room full of his inventions. Then one day her beloved cat goes missing.
Why I picked it up: ReMIND was one of the books picked for YALSA's 2012 Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults list. Their blurb about an urban legend coming to life intrigued me.
Why I finished it: The story is weird, but the art really sold me. Often a single two-page spread contains a mix of goofy cartoonish expressions, sheer beauty, amazing colors, and a script that ties it all together nicely.
You can still read the entire book online.
I'd give it to: Qathi, who is exploring a wide variety of mediums in art school and would appreciate the different styles Brubaker blends together. Plus she’d really dig the cat who comes back as a loquacious hero.
This book has information on how to expand a garden by growing vegetables and fruits vertically using tepees, hanging pockets, climbing walls, and the like.
Why I picked it up: I’ve been thinking about how to grow more veggies in my garden and where to plant more fruit trees without moving into a new house.
Why I finished it: Hart shows how to make a garden tepee using poles bought at stores or just sticks in your yard, while giving consideration to the best materials based on what you’re growing (beans can get heavy). After explaining the importance of watering, she shows how to water smartly by going over the pros and cons of different methods like drip irrigation, aqua spikes, and milk jugs buried under ground.
I'd give it to: Mercy, who lives in a small condo and could use the book to turn her balcony into a productive garden.
A book full of incredibly clever infographics mocking infographics and the designers who abuse them.
Why I picked it up: Richard at Backstage Library Works handed me a copy at ALA Midwinter. He had enjoyed it and correctly determined it would appeal to my sense of humor.
Why I finished it:
* The Periodic Table of the Elements (c. AD 1500) features just earth, fire, air, water, and aether
* What your drink order says to your date includes "Rum & Cola: I just turned 21"
* Sleeping Arrangements accurately illustrates Cold Night, Hot Night, Stormy Night, and Fight Night
I'd give it to: David Malki!, not just for the helpful To Beard or Not to Beard pros & cons, but because he’s more likely than anyone to imbibe this meta-metainformation and somehow produce yet another meta level above it. And make money doing it.