An odd but sometimes-moving imagining of the nocturnal thoughts of the presidents of the United States.

SLEEPING PRESIDENTS

A fanciful look at the dreams of U.S. presidents throughout history.

Phillips, a painter and multimedia artist, offers readers a mix of fact and fiction in a book that’s not so much about the inner lives as it is about the sleeping lives of America’s leaders. Working backward from Donald Trump to George Washington (including separate essays for each Grover Cleveland administration), Phillips’ essays imagine each man’s dreams about various subjects, include his childhood, his parents, and sex. Each essay attempts to capture the personality of the president at hand, and some bring in the viewpoints of other people, as in a dialogue between John and Abigail Adams or the musings of Zachary Taylor’s horse, Whitey. The chapter on Gerald Ford has a blank space in lieu of an essay, while Millard Fillmore, who was also not elected to the office of president, gets a full examination. The essays’ focuses aren’t always what one might expect; for example, John F. Kennedy’s essay is about living under the shadow of his father’s ambitions, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s is about the women in his life. This multimedia coffee-table book is full of the author’s own full-color paintings and illustrations, painted in styles ranging from surreal to abstract, and their effectiveness varies. Mainly, though, this book highlights the challenges of blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. In his quest to enter the presidents’ dreams, Phillips generally gets the history right and does a good job of capturing the essence of many presidential personalities and relationships. However, some of the sexual references can be overly graphic, as can some bodily descriptions, such as one about Cleveland’s testicles. As a result, this book can be unsettling at times. Still, its imaginativeness makes one wonder what the author would have made of the dreams of the current president, who defeated the man who called him “Sleepy Joe.”

An odd but sometimes-moving imagining of the nocturnal thoughts of the presidents of the United States.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-57-861384-0

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Black Book

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2021

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Breathtakingly magical.

THE LOST SPELLS

A powerful homage to the natural world, from England by way of Canada.

Combining poetic words (somewhat reminiscent of Mary Oliver’s poetry in their passion for the natural world) with truly stunning illustrations, this unusually beautiful book brings to readers the magic and wonder of nature. This is not a book about ecology or habitat; this is a book that encourages readers to revel in, and connect with, the natural world. Focusing on a particular subject, whether it be animal, insect, or plant, each poem (rendered in a variety of forms) delivers a “spell” that can be playful, poignant, or entreating. They are most effective when read aloud (as readers are encouraged to do in the introduction). Gorgeous illustrations accompany the words, both as stand-alone double-page spreads and as spot and full-page illustrations. Each remarkable image exhibits a perfect mastery of design, lively line, and watercolor technique while the sophisticated palette of warms and cools both soothes and surprises. This intense interweaving of words and pictures creates a sense of immersion and interaction—and a sense that the natural world is part of us. A glossary encourages readers to find each named species in the illustrations throughout the book­––and to go one step further and bring the book outside, to find the actual subjects in nature. Very much in the spirit of the duo’s magisterial The Lost Words (2018), this companion is significantly smaller than its sprawling companion; at just 6.5 by 4.5 inches when closed, it will easily fit into a backpack or generously sized pocket. “Wonder is needed now more than ever,” Macfarlane writes in the introduction, and this book delivers it.

 Breathtakingly magical. (Poetry. 6-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4870-0779-9

Page Count: 120

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2020

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A well-constructed but hagiographic account of the Big Ten.

THIS IS B1G

HOW THE BIG TEN SET THE STANDARD IN COLLEGE SPORTS

A history of the Big Ten athletic conference of Midwestern schools.

The Big Ten, the subject of Sherman’s lavishly illustrated volume, is an intramural sports conference that includes the universities of Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Maryland; Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State; and Purdue, Northwestern, and Rutgers University. Since its founding in 1896, it’s provided entertainment to generations of fans. In words and plentiful photos, the author—who also wrote Babe Ruth’s Big Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run (2014), among other works—takes readers through the Big Ten’s centurylong history of achievements, which included several firsts both on and off the playing field. The giants of Big Ten history each get their time in the spotlight, including such figures as University of Illinois halfback Red Grange, University of Iowa halfback Nile Kinnick, or former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. Sherman also includes lovingly detailed features on trailblazers such as Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first Black athlete to compete in the conference, back in 1882; and Phyllis Howlett, who became the Big Ten’s first female assistant commissioner in 1982 and helped “to give thousands of young women the chance to be athletes at the college level.” Famous alumni, such as golf superstar and Ohio State grad Jack Nicklaus and President Gerald Ford—shown here during his time as a scowling University of Michigan football player—appear alongside the University of Iowa’s famously ruthless wrestling coach Dan Gable: “He came up with the ‘Iowa style’ of wrestling,” Sherman writes. “The Hawkeyes didn't want to just beat opponents. They wanted them to give up completely.” The author also mentions University of Indiana swim coach Doc Counsilman and his motto, “Hurt, pain, agony.”

As might be expected from a volume like this, the author’s emphasis is on boosterism; it’s a work for Big Ten fans by a Big Ten fan. At one point, Sherman writes, “That’s the Big Ten. Exceptional student-athletes, renowned universities and academic pursuit that knows no bounds,” and it’s true that, as the author points out, “As leading research universities, the Big Ten schools have changed the course of medicine, science, business and social studies.” However, quotes such as these paper over some less appealing facts. Some of these teams bring in millions of dollars to their universities, which has, in turn, been a factor in scandals that have occurred over the past few years, including some that involve allegations of player abuse. Instead, it’s quite clear that the author intends his book as an uncritical celebration of the Big Ten—and as this, it succeeds completely. The author has an impressive talent for providing the perfect quote, the perfect scenario, and the perfect statistic to illustrate his various points. As a result, any reader who’s even been a small part of Big 10 history—by streaming into a big stadium on a beautiful autumn afternoon to cheer on their champions and razz their rivals—is likely to treasure this celebratory volume.

A well-constructed but hagiographic account of the Big Ten.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Big Ten Conference, Inc.

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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