The Great Zapfino by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Marla Frazee
This nearly-wordless picture book, all rendered in black and white, stars the Great Zapfino, who freezes in the middle of his circus act and flees to take a quieter, less risky job as an elevator operator. But when a smoking toaster means a daring escape is needed, Zapfino’s prior training comes in handy — he finally makes his leap!
There’s so much to discover in this clever book, especially on the spreads of Zapfino’s many elevator rides. As far as I know, this is the first pairing of Barnett and Frazee, two of the most talented people currently creating picture books — reason enough to pick up a copy.
The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan
I found this book on display at my library with a collection of Gothic novels. Yes, please! I love books that are atmospheric with a tinge of eerie and a strong sense of place. The Beguiled is set at a crumbling Southern girls’ school during the last years of the Civil War. Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies has dwindled to five students, ages ten through seventeen, when thirteen-year-old Amelia stumbles upon a wounded Yankee soldier and decides to bring him home. Everyone is charmed by Johnny, and he soon forges connections with every girl and woman at the school.
The book is multi-point of view (one of my favorite storytelling techniques). We hear from every character but Johnny (an approach I used in Miraculous, choosing not to include the voice of the mysterious Dr. Kingsbury). The Beguiled is told as though looking back to the weeks when Johnny convalesced at the school, giving the book a feeling of gathered testimonies and leaving the reader wondering what exactly the story is building toward. The imagery of death and decay is everywhere — the South’s lost cause, the old Farnsworth home, the failing school, Johnny’s gangrenous leg (it’s all very Faulkneresque).
The story relies heavily on dialogue and is told in such close quarters I wondered if the author was a playwright, too (he was). I was so absorbed in this book! The characterization is incredible. The storytelling is a slow, steady unraveling, and because readers never hear directly from Johnny, there’s lots of room for speculation about his motives. I knew “beguiled” meant “one who is charmed or enchanted” but didn’t realize the definition also includes that the charming / enchanting is often deceptive. Who exactly in the story is beguiled becomes the central question. You’ll have to decide for yourself. Expertly crafted and told. If Gothic is your thing, I can’t recommend this one enough!
Fellowship Point by Alice Elliot Dark
Fellowship Point is set in Maine and Philadelphia and follows the decades-old friendship of Agnes and Polly. Agnes is a children’s author with a successful series about a little girl named Nan. What no one knows — not even Polly — is she is also the author of a successful series of adult books, too. A young editor, Maud, who grew up with the Nan books, contacts Agnes to ask if she might consider writing a memoir about her writing life. This opens a can of worms about the child who inspired the Nan stories and about Agnes’s past. On top of this is story is Agnes and Polly’s family history that is intertwined with a stretch of land in Maine called Fellowship Point.
I ADORED THIS BOOK. I DEVOURED IT. It’s big and beautiful and about the internal workings of people. I love internal workings of people books. Both my mom and running partner have now read it, too. Truly a book that is an experience and something I had to share. I don’t say this lightly (as I take these sorts of things very seriously): this is a lifetime favorite, a book I know I’ll never forget and plan to revisit again.
What have you been reading lately?