Turning Over a New Leaf
Labor Day has come and gone, which, for us at the bookstore, is a true marker that the summer season is coming to an end. We've shifted back to our fall hours, a new window display is up, and some mild weather means both our front and back doors are being propped open more days than not.
For many, fall means a change in routine--a new school year, a return to work, a fresh start--and I am no exception! While I've returned to Eight Cousins the last three summers, this will be my first full year at the bookstore after graduating from the University of New Hampshire in May. I'm looking forward to putting names to faces that frequent the store year-round, and getting to know Falmouth a bit better each day.
I'm excited to use this space to highlight what staff members are reading and to pass along some of our bookstore happenings. Happy reading!
What We're Recommending . . .
This Tender Land begins in a boarding school for Native Americans, in Minnesota. The school was established to "educate Indians," who were removed from their families and eventually used for forced labor at local farms. The school is a dreary and miserable place, and the cruelty of the headmistress and her staff is reminiscent of Dickens. Four orphans--Odie, his brother Albert, Mose (a Native American at the school) and recently orphaned Emmy--manage to escape the school, steal a canoe, and head down a local river with the goal of reaching St. Louis, where Odie and Albert have some relatives who, they hope, will provide shelter. With the school authorities in pursuit, the four tackle the challenges of the river. Kruger has set the novel in the early days of the Depression, yet it is the dispossessed and poor who welcome the four children into their camps and share what little food they have.
Reviewers have described Kruger as a master storyteller, and in This Tender Land he is at the top of his craft. The novel is not only a wonderful adventure story, it is testament to the resilient human spirit. Young Odie will capture readers' hearts as he struggles toward a promising future, while discovering his past. Highly recommended!
Katherine Howe’s novel moves back and forth in time, from 1661 England (which her protagonist, Connie Goodwin's distant ancestors escape for “a land of peace, to a place named for peace,” a village named Salaam, in Massachusetts) to present-day Massachusetts. As she pores over records of deaths and wills in the town halls of Salem and Marblehead, Connie slowly begins to trace her family history and the devastating effect the women have had on their husbands and loved ones. The one exception to this curse was her ancestor Temperance Hobbs, whose husband survived to the age of 110. Finding Temperance’s potion is Connie’s one hope for her husband Sam’s survival—but she must first crack a coded message and find the key to unlock the ancient recipe that Temperance has hidden.
Is there any truth to this witchcraft? In Katherine Howe’s hands, we are led to believe in supernatural, unexplained powers. This subject is one that Howe has explored in previous novels, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and The House of Velvet and Glass, and an area in which Howe has first-hand knowledge: she is descended from three women who were tried for witchcraft in Salem.
The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs unravels slowly as Connie’s ancestry is revealed and illuminates the struggles her female forbears faced as the new land eventually became the United States. Laws against witchcraft slowly changed, but the stigma attached to accused women never disappeared. I found it difficult to put this books down as the tension mounted and Connie became trapped in a race against time. I recommend Katherine Howe’s books not only for enjoyable reading but for the light shed on a part of American history rooted in New England.
Gladwell’s “inspiration” for his latest book was the arrest and subsequent suicide of Sandra Bland, the arrest for a minor traffic violation. Her interaction with a state trooper descended into chaos very rapidly. Bland’s ultimate arrest could have been averted had each party understood their inherent differences. Gladwell began to study historic interactions with strangers, beginning with Cortes and Montezuma, Neville Chamberlain’s remarkable meetings with Adolf Hitler, and 20th century misjudgments on the part of the CIA where Cuban spies were concerned. Gladwell refers to psychological experiments that reveal the human tendency to lean toward trusting what has been presented, termed the “default to truth.” This default to truth is often coupled with gut feelings as to what the other person’s facial expression reveals.
Although he is often criticized as being a pop psychologist, I have found the case studies Gladwell presents very interesting and the lessons learned applicable to daily life. In our world today, there are frequent interactions with strangers, or persons with whom we are not familiar. For the most part, we are not fully prepared to make a valid judgment—what Gladwell terms a conundrum because we have no choice but to talk to strangers. His guidelines may not work 100% of the time, however if they just give us time to pause and perhaps recall the cases and experiments he presents, we will be on the road to a more rational assessment of a situation. Humans need to accept the limits of their ability to decipher strangers.
In Children's Books:
I love reading stories about kids and teens uncovering family and cultural history. After graduating high school, I spent a year researching my own family history and can’t help but think these kinds of stories inspired that interest. This fall we have two fantastic middle grade books that focus on this topic: Some Places More than Others by Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together) out now and I Can Make This Promise by debut author Christine Day coming out October 1.
Renée Watson is a phenomenal writer; her realistic fiction is tinged with poetry. Every one of her books is a gem. In Some Places More than Others, Amara visits Harlem with her father. She has always lived in Portland, OR and wants to know more about his east coast side of the family, see where he grew up, and understand why her father and grandfather haven’t spoken since before she was born. Her week in Harlem doesn’t exactly go according to plan. She has to spend time with her cousins who really don’t seem to want her there. Her independent trek is foiled by a very confusing subway system and her dad works a lot. Although her list of must-visit sights in New York include Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, her grandfather insists that she see iconic spots in Harlem such as the Apollo and the Schomburg Center. The more she explores, the more Amara connects with the neighborhood, statues, museums, art, history. Amara learns that family dynamics can be complicated, sometimes the only way forward is to apologize, and that knowing your family, your community helps you create your own place in the world.
In I Can Make This Promise, Edie knows that her Native American mother was adopted by white parents and she assumes that all connections to her mother’s family history have been lost. After finding a box of letters signed by Edith and photographs of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Edie, she conducts her own research and discovers that her mother’s family is closer than she realized. The tension between Edie’s desire to understand more about her family and her mother’s internal struggle with her own personal history is profound. Her mother’s adoption occurred just a few years before Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (for further reading, see An Indigenous People’s History of the United States For Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese). Edie can’t understand why her mother won’t share her story, but both Edie and the reader come to understand that the story comes with personal loss and cultural trauma. Although some connections once severed cannot be rebuilt, by the end of Day’s engaging book, Edie and her mother are actively re-forging community connections.
Both Some Places More Than Others and I Can Make This Promise are recommended for kids ages 9-12 who like realism and stories about navigating friendship and familial relationships. I also highly recommend both books to teachers and librarians for grades 4-7. These two books will make fantastic core or companion reading texts for units on identity as well as the intersection of family and social history. Some Places More Than Others has a lesson plan embedded right in the story!
I have long been intrigued by Melinda Gates. How does someone find equality in a relation when their partner is in some way larger than life? Whether the partner’s fame is the result of their family, their fortune, their business success, their athletic success or something else, meeting someone with a high profile and creating a successful partnership has been shown to be a very difficult endeavor.
Melinda Gates shares her story with us in The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. It is read by the author, so you feel you are being treated to a private meeting with her. The book also includes much about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And as you can tell from the book title, much of the work is around women receiving the opportunity to live better lives.
Fall is in the air with these authentic Tartan notebooks from Waverley West. Choose your favorite from a variety of color combinations. Each notebook comes with an expandable end pocket, perforated pages at the end of the notebook, and a built-in bookmark. Notebook pages alternate between plain pages on the left side and lined pages on the right side. Available in three sizes: 5" x 8.5", 4" x 5 1/2", and miniature that comes with a sweet and equally-miniature pen!
Available for Pre-Order:
In Children's Books: