On Christmas Eve, small-town bachelor farmer Harley Jackson discovers a newborn calf in his barn with the image of Jesus Christ on its back flank. “Well,” he says, “that’s trouble.” Billy, Harley’s best friend and occasional employee, tries to convince Harley to cash in on the bovine miracle, but Harley is reluctant. One night after a hot date with Mindy, a manic pixie dream girl in steel-toed boots, Harley neglects to close the cows’ stall door. Soon the secret has quite literally left the barn, and pilgrims arrive in droves. Harley, Billy, and Mindy try to handle the media circus but they are quickly overwhelmed. Big-time super-agent Sloan swoops in to handle crowd control, social media, and relations with the Vatican. Now all of Swivel, Wisconsin, is wrapped up in the Jesus Cow: some love it, some hate it, but everybody wants a piece of it. Harley struggles to retain some sense of normalcy and privacy while pondering big questions of faith: is the Jesus Cow really a miracle? And does it matter as long as people believe in it?
Why I picked it up: I read a blurb in Shelf Awareness that caught my attention. Midwest + religion + funny seemed like a good fit for me. It was only after I got the book that I realized I’d read and enjoyed some of Perry’s other works, including his memoir about being a volunteer firefighter, Population: 485.
Why I finished it: I do love a small-town comedy of manners. The cast of characters is quirky enough to love, but not so quirky as to annoy: Meg, the quiet, deeply-devoted Catholic widow who owns a scrap-metal/towing business and runs the local food pantry; Klute, the self-important blowhard whose plans to become a big shot developer have been consistently thwarted by Harley’s refusal to sell out; and Carolyn, the disgraced academic who fled to Swivel to reinvent herself as a used-oil recycler. I was grateful that Perry never falls into the trap of local-yokel caricature.
It's perfect for: My friend Bob, a retired English teacher and community theatre star who loves big ideas. He’d get a kick out of Billy, whose shotgun-wielding, beer-and-beefers exterior belies a rich intellectual and spiritual inner life.
Everyone is talking about Everything, Everything, the beautifully heartfelt YA debut that became an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. And thanks to Odyssey Award-winner Bahni Turpin’s brilliant narration, this audiobook is a true listening treat. But you don’t have to take our word for it… Author Nicola Yoon was so excited about the audio, she paid a visit to our Penguin Random House Audio recording studios in Woodland Hills, CA to see—and hear—Bahni in action! Here’s what Yoon had to say about the experience: “Getting to listen to the amazing Bahni Turpin read my words was just thrilling!! Bahni really brings Madeline to life. I might have teared up a little bit listening to her read.” Read more and listen to a clip of this Earphones Award-winning audio here.
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Jason Schmidt's life was crazy by anybody's standards. His parents divorced early, and neither of them was thrilled to raise him. At the age of three he tricycled three miles to his mom's house; his dad never noticed he was gone. Most of the adults at his father’s place were dodgy addicts who, at best, ignored him. He regularly saw folks shooting up, snorting coke, and smoking marijuana. When the house where he lived was raided by police, Jason was taken away from his father and bounced around in foster care before being sent to live with his grandparents in Los Angeles. Eventually his dad got him back and took him to live in Seattle.
Jason’s dad believed in the sort of freedom that meant not living by the same rules as the “straights,” but for Jason that freedom often meant malnutrition, dodgy housing, and living in filth. His dad did whatever he saw as necessary to get by, including committing welfare fraud, dealing heroin, and anything else he could to game the system and fly beneath the authorities’ radar. But when his dad came down with AIDS, it was on Jason to maintain what little semblance of normalcy they had left. He ran their household and managed his dad's meds so his father didn’t abuse them.
Why I picked it up: I was checking out author visits at Third Place Books and saw that Schmidt is local. I'm always looking for non-fiction books about impossible barriers being overcome to share with the kids at the Denney Juvenile Detention Center in Everett. And when it is a local author who I might be able to wrangle a visit out of, all the better.
Why I finished it: While Jason admits many of the details were filled in from foggy memories and that names were changed to protect the innocent, his story rings true and horrendous. Not only did his father drag him through a life of illegal activity and crappy environments, he physically and mentally abused Jason.
Ultimately Jason was lucky -- unlike may of his peers, he didn't succumb to addiction. And even more so in that he found an adult who saw his potential, got in his corner, and pulled what strings he could to give him a chance at a future, securing him an interview at Evergreen State College and loaning him the money to attend. For those of us who work with vulnerable teens, this is a powerful reminder of what a difference we can make.
Readalikes: Part of Jason's struggle was that he had been put through such an emotional wringer by his dad, he couldn’t realize what damage had been done until he started getting deep into therapy. This reminded me of another historical non-fiction memoir set in Seattle, My Fluorescent God by Joe Guppy. Joe had a bad reaction to stomach pills while visiting Mexico, which triggered a mental breakdown. He ended up in the mental ward of one of Seattle’s hospitals, struggling to get back to the stability and life he once knew. That Joe is now a psychiatrist helping others to deal with these sorts of issues made his book more fascinating.
A beautifully voiced debut captures an intimate story of change and acceptance that Booklist calls “relatable and real.” Twelve-year-old Davis lives in an old brownstone with his mother and grandmother in Brooklyn. He loves people-watching in Prospect Park, visiting his mom in the bakery she owns, and listening to the biggest operas he can find as he walks everywhere. But Davis is having a difficult summer. As questions of sexuality begin to enter his mind, he worries people don’t see him as anything other than “husky.” Ultimately, Davis learns to see himself outside of his one defining adjective. He’s a kid with unique interests, admirable qualities, and people who will love him no matter what changes life brings about. Find Husky and other powerful LGBTQ stories that encourage understanding and celebrate everyone for who they are at www.readproudlistenproud.com.
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Princess Pinecone is the smallest warrior in the kingdom. For her birthday she wants something to help her win battles: a warrior’s horse. Instead her parents buy her an adorable, round pony.
Why I picked it up: I’ve been waiting for it since reading this article.
Why I finished it: Look at that pony. It’s super cute. How could I not finish it.
Plus how would Pinecone and her cuddly mount survive a battle with fierce, tattooed, armored warriors armed only with spitballs? (The picture of the battle itself is hilarious. In the midst of the action there’s a human cannonball, a few warriors wielding tennis rackets, a Viking eating a hot dog, and a snorkeler who must have taken a wrong turn.)
Readalikes: It’s perfect to pair with Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s chapter book The Princess in Black, about a princess who secretly fights monsters that is also full of adorable illustrations.
“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.”—Toni Morrison Step into the studio in this VIDEO to see acclaimed author and recent MacArthur 'Genius Grant' Winner, Ta-Nehisi Coates, record Between the World and Me, a bold memoir and exploration of America’s racial history, written in the form of a letter to his son—resulting in a uniquely intimate and intensely personal audiobook. Longlisted for the National Book Award, Between the World and Me is a vital listen which has been praised as “so memorable because the material is charged with emotion and a tone of self-disclosure.” (AudioFile) Don’t let your patrons miss out on this important audiobook download. Click to learn more and see the video.
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You probably already know about Neverland; its Mermaid Lagoon and Pirate's Cove are as much a part of every child's mind as the first day of school and the last cookie in the jar. But in case you've forgotten or never visited, Peter Pan is here to take you there, along with Wendy Darling and her brothers, Michael and John. Here you go: first star on the right and straight on 'til morning!
In this unabridged, un-Disneyfied version of the classic tale, Raquel Jaramillo’s full-color photographs of costumed models complement J.M. Barrie's lyrical, sly commentary on human behavior. Tinker Bell has an otherworldly aura, Peter Pan and his lost boys wear clothes that look exactly like what little boys would stitch together from rags, and Captain Hook's lined, world-weary face contrasts perfectly with his excessively fancy uniform. Jaramillo sometimes takes a snippet of text and superimposes it on the photograph, providing powerful lessons in what words and pictures can do together.
Why I picked it up: I put a hold on this at my library because I thought it was miscataloged -- one copy had an adult call number and the other a juvenile call number. Then I opened it up and saw a full-page spread of Peter Pan's face, his expression perfectly balanced between cockiness and vulnerability, and I was hooked (so to speak).
Why I finished it: Ostensibly this is a children's book. Wild adventures? Yes. Goofy grownups? Check. Pretty pictures? Yes, they’re absolutely gorgeous. But then there's the other stuff, like Tinker Bell's potty mouth, the occasional narrative switch to the present tense that makes the reader feel like she's part of the writing process, and the surprisingly sophisticated and poignant romance between Wendy and Peter. There's no pandering here, as evidenced by Barrie's final characterization of children: innocent, gay, and heartless. I think the honesty of this book, conveyed in both words and pictures, will enchant readers of any age. (Now that I know that Raquel Jaramillo, the photographer, is also R.J. Palacio, the author of Wonder, I’ll have to give that one a try as well.)
Readalikes: The Oz books by L. Frank Baum and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are both classic fantasies which show children taking on adult responsibilities in a faraway land before returning home with a sigh of relief and a store of newfound wisdom.
Odyssey Honor-winning narrator Rebecca Lowman (Eleanor & Park) adds even more heat to City on Fire, the hot debut by Garth Risk Hallberg that’s already burning up galley chats; book buzzes; and holds lists everywhere. Booklist calls City on Fire in a starred review, “both a compelling mystery and a literary tour de force.” In addition to seeing the cinematic book trailer, don’t miss your chance to hear a clip of Lowman bringing this big-hearted, 1970s New York story to life, alongside some special guests including Bronson Pinchot and Macleod Andrews. It’s truly phenomenal listening that will have your whole city (or at least your whole library!) firing up their headphones. Click here to listen to a clip and watch the trailer.
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Oliver is a smart, rich kid with two loving if clueless parents. Junie Blue is a street-wise kid with an abusive father and an employer with a criminal reputation. Oliver loves June, and they love to lie to each other. When June tells Oliver that she’s breaking up with him, Oliver doesn’t believe it. Once the rumors start that June has a winning lottery ticket she’s hiding from her employer, Oliver is determined to rescue her.
Why I picked it up: Chris Lynch writes edgy, quick reads with compelling characters.
Why I finished it: Oliver and June’s banter is clever and often funny. I was intrigued by the idea of a rich, naïve boy crazy in love with a clever girl set on changing her life, and I couldn’t wait to see how things would play out.
Readalikes: Paper Towns by John Green, another story of mis-matched love that’s filled with pathos, suspense, and humor. It features the quiet and studious Quentin who lives across the street from Margo, a feisty, adventurous young woman who seems out of reach. After years of watching Margo, they spend one wonderful night together getting revenge on her cheating boyfriend. Then Margo suddenly disappears, and Quentin sets out on a cross-country trip to find her.
Adam hates his terrible stuffed animal, Koala. He keeps trying to get rid of it, but it’s always there.
Why I picked it up: That’s a beautiful use of white space on the cover.
Why I finished it: I always thought my teddy bear’s eyes were following me, too. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched so many monster movies when I was little. There is something slightly sinister about the way Koala keeps showing up again and again, no matter where Adam hides or abandons it.
Readalikes: Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny about Trixie’s love for her stuffed rabbit. The animated short is as good as the book -- Willems wrote it for his daughter, Trixie, and they are the voices in the cartoon.
Ten essays explore the landscape of eastern and central Washington State through historical and scientific research, Native American traditions, and the author’s own boots-on-stony-ground explorations. Earthquakes, ice age floods, meteorites, and mines are described in compelling prose alongside stories of painters, potters, root-diggers, and entomologists whose fascination with the details of their surroundings invites everyone to look more closely at the familiar.
Why I picked it up: Last year I thoroughly enjoyed Nisbet’s award-winning biography of naturalist-explorer David Douglas and hoped the combination of human history and geography would add to my understanding of Washington State.
Why I finished it: Nisbet is as conversant with details from the journals of Lewis and Clark as he is with schoolchildren and elders of the Sahaptin and Spokane tribes who still today gather to dig, roast, and make bread from small potato-like biscuitroot whose flowers appear amid sagebrush and basalt along the Columbia Plateau. His portrait of rockhound/artist/paleobotanist Wes Wehr and his insatiable fascination with the blending colors in fossils validates the value of amateur naturalists everywhere.
Readalikes: Geologist David R. Montgomery’s King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon focuses on the reigning symbol of Pacific Northwest natural history to tell the tale of how mankind affects the natural world.
Almond loves football. He grew up loving football and playing in backyard games. But now the overwhelming horror of the neurological injuries that players from pee wee to pro endure, and the huge inequities the money machine creates, are impossible to ignore. He's stopped watching football and he thinks you should, too.
Why I picked it up: When Almond was interviewed on Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter's podcast, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, he talked about how much hate mail he's gotten because of his stance. He made some thought-provoking comparisons between how Americans love football and how we feel patriotic about the violent origins of our country.
Why I finished it: I'd watched the Frontline documentary and knew about about the NFL's cover-ups and denials about players' brain injuries. Almond expands on the injury problems by adding a moral element: it's the people who watch the games that turn a sport into a monopolistic industry that chews up and spits out young athletes. As much as we might blame the NFL or the NCAA, the coaches or the TV networks (and Almond does, too), we really need to look at ourselves.
You might have seen the audiobook's narrator, Peter Berkrot, in Caddyshack. Hear an interview about his experience on the set and the story of how he ended up becoming a prolific audiobook performer in the podcast I Was There Too.
Readalikes: Almond disputes some of the points Chuck Klosterman made in defending football, but Almond's essays bring together personal history, pop culture touchstones, literature, thoughtful argument, and humor in a way that reminded me of Klosterman's book on his first love, heavy metal -- Fargo Rock City.