Alfred King is an excellent choice to be this month’s Guest Picks columnist, as he also reviews books for The Free Lance-Star newspaper, where he often writes on new non-fiction, including politics, sports and history, as well as thrillers. “An avid reader all my life,” is how he describes himself, and he has helped Central Rappahannock Regional Library in turn by serving on its board.
When Glory came out in 1989, movie audiences were excited to see a relatively unknown side of the Civil War that highlighted the sacrifices of the Massachusetts 54th, a “colored” volunteer regiment. Gripping as the story that unfolded on the screen was, there was much more to it, of course. In real life, other people’s stories became part of the regiment’s history as the Civil War gripped the nation.
John Mercer Langston, along with Frederick Douglass, acted as a recruiter for the 54th. As an abolitionist and orator, he was an excellent choice, and this task was just one of Langston’s civic accomplishments. Although he had spent most of his life in a free state, John was familiar with plantation life. His father had been a white plantation owner in Louisa County, Virginia—not far from Spotsylvania. His mother had been his father’s slave. But his parents’ story was not a common one for the era. His father freed his mother, and, although they were not allowed to marry for legal reasons, they lived together as man and wife for the rest of their days, their children considered to be freeborn.
Is Arts & Crafts class your favorite camp activity? Does working with yarn, felt, and fabric put you in a happy, creative place? Then, Knit, Hook, and Spin: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Fiber Arts and Crafts, by Laurie Carlson, might be the best book ever. It has directions for all kinds of fun. With its very clear instructions, you can learn to weave, knit, crochet, and even spin your own yarn if you like.
A boy and his mother are canoeing on a pond in the Adirondack Mountains. It is peaceful place, maybe even dull. Or, is it? The boy asks his mother, “What’s down there?”
So many things! His mother tells him about them, from the minnows, crayfish, and bullfrogs to beavers hunting “delectable roots” found in the mud and otters clawing for freshwater mussels.
And, over the pond? A great blue heron catches one of those minnows for his dinner. A moose munches a mouthful of waterlilies. As the sun sets, mother and son paddle back to shore and head for home. In the dark, life goes on at the pond. Raccoons come out to prowl, and catfish glide as they seek their suppers in the cool of the night.
Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Pond does several things very nicely. First, it tells a soothing story, perfect for bedtime. But it also introduces an ecosystem, making the science of living things and the secrets found below a pond’s surface very accessible, and it manages to do so without sounding like a textbook.
Rolling down the highways, watching the usually dull scenery go by, you might never guess that there are interesting places to explore not that far from the interstate. For some people, being a hiker means doing the Appalachian Trail, preferably all the way through. But there are a lot of other trails, many just as scenic, within an hour or two or a day’s drive of our area.
Li Lan, a lovely but unassuming girl from a scholarly family fallen on hard times, is rather taken aback when her father casually asks her one night if she would like to become a ghost bride.
Her nursemaid is furious. Even suggesting such a thing is unlucky, although Li Lan would be living with a rich family, and it’s probable that all of her family’s debts would be taken care of.
Ghost brides were an old tradition brought to Malaya (colonial Malaysia) from China, where a young man who had died might still be given the precious gift of a wife to honor his memory.
But who is Li Lan's ghost groom? The only son of a wealthy family who was odious in his manner and appearance, whining and fat. He saw Li Lan just once when he was alive, but so entranced was he by her beauty that he is still pressuring his family to make a match. Yes, still. He thinks he has everything she might want in the land of the dead, and he isn’t giving up, although Li Lan is equally determined to resist him—especially after she meets a young man who she believes suits her far better and is very much alive.
In Carole Lexa Schaefer’s The Children’s Garden, there are so many things to see—and do! It’s the children who are watering, weeding, and scattering seeds. They are also the ones who enjoy the many vegetables and herbs. Brightly colored illustrations, by Pierr Morgan, are cheerful and relatable.
Young readers and listeners may be inspired to start their own gardens, whether on a windowsill, in the backyard, or by taking part in a community garden. Gardening teaches children how nature works and to value their own work in the world. Gardening also allows them to enjoy the literal fruit of their labors and is a great way to spend more time outdoors.
Provensen and Provensen. Alice and Martin. Martin and Alice. Two illustrators and writers working so closely together that their styles were indistinguishable. It was the same style really, gentle drawings so delightful in their clarity that they subtly underscored the text of the dozens of children's books that they illustrated.
It’s time to “throw on flip-flops and breathe the sweet air.” Time for lemonade stands and “hide-and-seek until the darkness wins.” A Fourth of July parade, an ice cream truck, a trip to a silver lake—there’s so much to enjoy in Tom Brenner’s new book, And Then Comes Summer.