An errant button searches for a new purpose in life in this clever kids’ book from debut author/illustrator Olson and photographer Kester.
Olson chronicles the adventures of Norman, a red button with huge, illustrated eyes and copper-wire limbs. After Norman is pulled from a coat, he considers new jobs he might hold—a superhero, a photographer, a firefighter, a plumber, and a dog walker—before finally realizing that buttons are best at being attached to something else, like the nose of a teddy bear. The idea of a button fulfilling other jobs is humorous in itself; Olson’s illustrations take the joke to its fullest extent, with poor, flammable Norman running away from a campfire, for instance, or getting dragged through the mud at the end of a dog’s leash. Norman’s own button’s-eye-view photographs go unappreciated in the story itself, but the manipulated photos by Olson and Kester are sure to be a hit; the compositions highlight the silliness of each concept and reveal Norman to be a lovable hero. Olson’s short, accessible sentences, peppered with button-centric turns of phrase (“well-rounded individual,” “hanging on...by a thread”) will delight independent readers and adults reading to youngsters.
A funny, pun-heavy title about finding your purpose by embracing your talents.
A probe’s discovery of organic molecules on a moon of Saturn—proof positive of alien life—prompts an international team of scientists to embark on a dangerous journey in Morris’ (Der Riss, 2018, etc.) hard-sci-fi novel.
In 2031, a long-range automated spacecraft confirms biological material on Saturn’s ice moon Enceladus, where a liquid ocean exists beneath the frozen surface. The prospect of extraterrestrial life awaiting discovery in the solar system prompts a worldwide effort under NASA to recruit, train, and finally send several scientists on a 2046 mission to explore below Enceladus’ surface in the Valkyrie, a manned vessel described as “a drill that could swim, not a submarine that could drill.” Its co-pilot is Martin,a cool-headed Jet Propulsion Laboratory contractor who seems to have no fear of death due to a personal tragedy; the epic unfolds from his point of view during the risky, monthslong voyage. Morris is an exponent of highly technical sci-fi that details aerospace exploration and innovation practically down to the last rivet. Happily, he also pays heed to the human element, an aspect that can feel poorly engineered in many other hard-sci-fi books. Early on, for instance, the crew deals with an emergency when the mission commander, Amy Michaels, who’s in a relationship with engineer Hayato Masukoshi, becomes pregnant despite the fact that doctors told her that she was infertile. Morris also gets plenty of altitude from the brainy, minuscule crew’s problem-solving, as they cope not only with the challenge of having another mouth to feed, but also missing supplies and malfunctioning propulsion. The fact that the stakes on Enceladus may only involve unicellular organisms is no drawback; the author’s gift for narrative even endows the collision between a space rock and an automated vessel with something like emotional weight. The book also adroitly handles the tricky question of alien intelligence. Lengthy nonfiction postscripts, written in a similarly supple style, describe the science in the story; it’s hopefully not a spoiler to note that the Valkyrie is an experimental concept in real life (and the head of the firm behind it,as well as businessmen Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, is mentioned in the novel).
This debut fictional memoir features an adoptee who yearns for her biological mother.
Lexie Saunders is 5 years old when she discovers that she is adopted. The scene is a heartbreaking one. Before tucking Lexie into bed, her adoptive mother explains to her: “I picked you out of a nursery of babies.” After reasoning that she has been abandoned by her biological mother, the young girl asks, “Didn’t she love me?”—a question that her adoptive parent cannot answer. As Lexie falls asleep, she confides: “So began a lifetime of missing Mama. It was like living with a hole inside me.” The book opens at an unconventional moment—on Dec. 26, 1951—six weeks before Lexie’s birth. She narrates her birth mother’s story from inside the womb, explaining the reasons that the baby has to be given up for adoption. She recalls “Mama” being escorted to a “home for unwed mothers” by Lexie’s embarrassed grandmother. Lexie’s biological father, disparagingly called “Junior Sperm Donor,” is also described evading his responsibilities and declaring his intention to marry another girl. The narrative follows Lexie’s coming-of-age, the bonds and rifts with her adoptive family, and her escalating desire to fill the emotional hole inside herself by finding her biological mother. In this self-assured first novel, Bierkan is a powerfully evocative writer, and the way she depicts the bond between mother and unborn child is uncanny: “I breathed the lavender she dabbed behind each of her ears after a bath while she stroked my bottom nestled just behind her belly button.” This sense of safety is brutally juxtaposed with Lexie being “unceremoniously dropped into the arms of the first of many faceless strangers” after her birth and the scent of lavender growing “more and more faint.” In this poignant work filled with emptiness, loss, love, and hope, the prose is startlingly realistic, and readers will be forgiven for mistaking the book for nonfiction. The result is a deeply affecting story that may prove a source of comfort to those with similar adoption experiences.
A masterful adoption tale: heart-rending and life-affirming in equal measure.
A year’s worth of valuable insights about kindness.
In 2015, Cameron (One Hill, Many Voices, 2011) dedicated a whole year to becoming a kinder person. The abundant lessons she learned comprise this book, and early on, she makes an important distinction between being kind and being nice: “Nice doesn’t ask too much of us…holding the door, smiling at the cashier….[Kind] means thinking about the impact I’m having in an interaction with someone and endeavoring to make it rich and meaningful.” She makes a convincing case for doing the latter, noting its benefits to physical health, mental health, and even business success. She then works her way through the many obstacles to being kind, including fear, time constraints, impatience, and resentment. Other sections examine how to react to unkind interactions, how to be kinder to oneself, and dozens of related concepts. To conclude each chapter, the author writes a powerful “Kindness in Action” paragraph with reflective questions and clear invitations to help readers truly apply the book’s principles. As a longtime blogger, Cameron knows how to captivate an audience; her prose is, by turns, humorous, astute, logical, eloquent, and sincere. There are no distracting tangents, and there’s no meaningless “fluff” to fill space. Cameron is also genuinely open about her own weaknesses; for example, she writes that when she first committed to the idea of being kinder, she “all-too-quickly resumed my cranky ways, stopping and starting kindness like a sputtering engine.” Cameron’s anecdotes are consistently memorable, and her analysis of them is often brilliant. Overall, this well-organized book is engaging enough to read quickly but profound enough to savor slowly.
A thorough, genuine, and highly effective self-help work.
A debut psychological study that asserts that our instinctual aversion to disgusting biological phenomena also shapes our ideas about legal and political issues—with dysfunctional consequences.
Lieberman (Psychology/Univ. of Miami) and Patrick (Law/Univ. of Central Florida) link together the universal human revulsion at things such as rotting food and diseased flesh with our sense of moral conviction, particularly regarding different types of sexual behavior. They trace this notion back to a genetically programmed disgust reflex that makes humans avoid things that harbor disease-causing microbes, such as bad-smelling, bad-tasting, maggoty food or animals with blotchy skin or open sores. They argue that people also adapt these emotions to judge prospective mating partners: One feels an aversion to sex with those who look unhealthy or too old or young to be fertile or with family members, because mating with close relatives confers a high risk of genetic abnormalities. The Darwinian survival mechanism of disgust, they contend, also lends itself to social bonding: When one paints marginalized individuals or groups as disgusting, it’s easier to convince others to help expel or exploit them. This plays out in politics, when officials apply metaphors that elicit disgust to racial minorities or gay people, and in criminal cases, when prosecutors label defendants with terms such as “scum” or “filth” or display gruesome crime scene photos. The authors make a cogent plea to eliminate such visceral feelings from law and policy in favor of more rational, tolerant principles: “If we are going to claim a moral high ground,” they write, “it will not be built atop disgust.” They illustrate this by examining the inconsistent rationales for banning various taboo sexual practices. Lieberman and Patrick draw on a wealth of research to make their case; for example, they note that putting test subjects in a room that has an unpleasant odor causes them to make harsher moral judgments. They also convey it all in lucid, readable prose. The result is an occasionally gross but always engrossing account of how the mind cobbles together seemingly self-evident attitudes out of repurposed, subconscious mental processes.
A stimulating treatise on how lofty ideals can grow from primitive, unreliable urges.
In Karayaka’s debut novel, a young boy finds a father figure in a mysterious old fisherman, starting him on a swashbuckling quest on the high seas.
Levend and Orion, two old friends, return to Levend’s hometown ahead of a party scheduled for the following day. Both men recognize an old boat on the docks, and when a group of local boys ask how the men know the vessel, Levend begins to tell a tale about when he was 14 and confided in an older fisherman calling himself “Mr. Ben Ice.” Levend grew to trust Mr. Ice, who was missing an eye, a hand, and a leg, and followed him out to sea on a search for fish. However, young Levend quickly realized that Mr. Ice had a sinister history and that his own life was now at risk. The boys listen to Levend’s story with bated breath, and after Orion reveals his connection to the tale, they enjoy a drama replete with pirates, secret elixirs, combat, and betrayal. At the center of all of it is the mystery of who Mr. Ice really was. And what of Benice, the wife whom he longed for? Karayaka’s novel is an occasionally violent page-turner that sometimes rewinds the action to allow different narrators to fill in events from alternate perspectives. As a result, it features three different time periods and a plethora of plot twists. However, the aforementioned violence is understated, and the narration keeps all the details clear and concise, making it suitable for younger readers. The writing style is reminiscent of the prose in the 1993 English translation of Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, featuring turns of phrase that offer nuggets of wisdom. Eason’s (The Gobblings, 2017) illustrations at the start of each chapter are done in a classical style, reminiscent of boys’ adventure books from the 1950s and ’60s, and use a light color palette to evoke a sense of mysticism. It all comes to a touching conclusion, and readers are left with a lasting moral.
A Treasure Island for the modern era, recommended for middle-grade readers and fans of pirate-adventure tales.