Circle by Jeannie Baker; Candlewick, Press, $17.99.
With simple, lyrical text and gloriously detailed, gorgeous collages, an Australian-author illustrator tells the amazing true story of the migration of the bar-tailed godwits, shorebirds that make the longest unbroken journey of any animal in the world, traveling more than 7,000 miles from Alaska to Australia and New Zealand. Baker’s lovely double-page illustrations are a wonder, starting with one depicting a broad expanse of beach, a boy in a wheelchair with binoculars and a flock taking flight. “They follow an ancient invisible pathway for six nights and six days until they know they need to stop.” Then, a cityscape of concrete and fishing boats greets the flock looking for food and somewhere safe to rest, but “the places they remember are gone.” So this tale of an ancient mystery, this invisible path that takes feathered creatures across the globe, is also a tale of the interconnectedness of all things, and a clarion call to protect the shore areas such intrepid travelers depend on, an issue particularly acute in China and South Korea, stops along the birds’ journey.
– Jean Westmoore
Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah; Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $16.99, 277 pages. Ages 8 to 12.
Emma Shevah, who is half-Irish and half-Thai, was highly praised for last year’s debut novel, “Dream On, Amber” and her new book, inspired by the life stories of adopted Asian children and their families, is equal parts funny and poignant, told in the irrepressible voice of Dara Palmer, an orphan adopted from Cambodia. Dara is dramatic, loves making faces and singing and dreams of becoming a movie star, constantly inventing movies in her mind starring herself and romantic lead Bradley Porter. Her dream of winning the lead as Maria in “The Sound of Music” at school is dashed when Miss Snelling (Dara calls her “Miss Snarling”) picks another girl and Dara is crushed. She becomes convinced it’s because she doesn’t resemble an Austrian nun. Or could it be that the drama teacher feels Dara could benefit from acting lessons? The book is sprinkled with funny illustrations and the story hums along in Dara’s hilarious voice: “Let’s face it, school in real life is sleeve-chewingly boring.” But Dara’s journey to self-revelation, her coming to terms with abandonment by her birth parents and adoption by the English Palmers (she refers to it as “alien abduction”) and her growing awareness of her own attitudes and her poor relationship with sister Georgia, adopted from Russia, give this funny, wonderful book a beating heart.
– Jean Westmoore
Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country by Craig Pittman; St. Martin’s, $26.99, 336 pages.
Craig Pittman thinks it might have been around the time of the 2000 election recount – you know, all that hanging-chad stuff. Sometime around then, Florida usurped California’s role as the capital of crazy. The Golden State was long mocked for its touchy-feely encounter groups, free-form alternative lifestyles and wheat-germ serial killers. But in this millennium, Florida has left that place in the dust.
Hence Pittman’s new book. When it comes to weirdness, you can’t compete with Florida. Maybe because the state is the country’s reservoir tip, all of the craziness collects in the phallic peninsula.
“Oh, Florida!” grew from a blog Pittman wrote for Slate a couple of years back.Pittman deftly moves from comedy to tragedy with the stories of Terri Schiavo, Trayvon Martin and others with lives caught in the motors of the media machine.
Oh, Florida! brings readers in for laughs, but then gets them to stick around for the tale of a maddening, fascinating and wonderful place.
– William McKeen, Special to the Tampa Bay Times