Shelf Help: Why Wondermore Believes School Author Visits Can be Game-changers

Earlier this week, the Boston Book Festival announced that the Rafael Hernández K-8 Dual Language School in Roxbury and the English High School in Jamaica Plain are the recipients of our highly competitive Shelf Help grant for 2020. The grant helps two school libraries fill their shelves with brand-new books of their choosing—many of which are crowd-donated by BBF festival-goers. In addition, the winning schools are each treated to a memorable visit by a well-known author or illustrator in conjunction with their festival appearance.  

The magic of these school visits happens because of our partnership with Wondermore, a local nonprofit dedicated to children’s literacy. Wondermore specializes in curating author school visits, and we’re excited to see what they have in store for this year’s virtual sessions.

The Hernández School will enjoy a visit by celebrated kids’ author and illustrator Juana Medina in October during the Boston Book Festival Online, which will run from October 5–25. Medina is the author and illustrator of the Pura Belpré Award–winning chapter book Juana & Lucas, as well as for Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas, 1 Big Salad, ABC Pasta, and Sweet Shapes.

The school visits are an integral part of the Shelf Help Program and a way to bring our festival fun to children that may not otherwise have the opportunity. 

Students at the English High School will enjoy a session with Jerry Craft, a New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator who has worked on numerous picture books, graphic novels, and middle grade novels, including the Newbery Award–winning graphic novel, New Kid. It was just recently announced that Universal Pictures is teaming up with LeBron James on a film adaptation of New Kid. Jerry is also the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award–winning syndicated comic strip. He has won five African American Literary Awards and is a cofounder of the Schomburg Center’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival. 

The school visits are an integral part of the Shelf Help Program and a way to bring our festival fun to children that may not otherwise have the opportunity. We were delighted to be able to speak with Wondermore’s executive director, Rebecca Coll, about the organization’s mission and impact, some memorable school moments, and its partnership with BBF.

Could you talk about Wondermore’s mission and how you approach your programming?

Wondermore is a children’s literacy organization. We have been around since 1983, and for the past 15 years we have focused our literacy work on bringing authors and illustrators into Boston-area schools for curriculum-aligned author and illustrator visits.

Wondermore envisions a world in which all children have the opportunity to see themselves in the books they read and are inspired to become lifelong learners. It is well documented that children who love to read become adults who have more opportunities available to them. Our mission is to inspire a love of reading and a love of good books by introducing students to authors and illustrators who reflect our diverse and vibrant communities.

Wondermore envisions a world in which all children have the opportunity to see themselves in the books they read.

Our work has never been more important than it is now. The collective desire for positive social change and the resulting anti-racism protests are on the news every night, dominating social media, and a constant theme of discussion in our communities. Given this recent heightened interest in social justice and the natural alignment with our work, Wondermore will prioritize and emphasize working with Title 1 schools this year. Literacy and sparking a love of reading remain our primary mission, but we now have a unique and timely opportunity to inspire children in the midst of this social turbulence with role models they can relate to and with books in which they can see themselves. We strive to be a part of an anti-racist solution to the social inequities we are currently experiencing in our society.

Students interact in small groups with author Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Wondermore programming comprises a three-part approach: 1) enrich curriculum by selecting books and authors that support academic objectives; 2) motivate and inspire students by creating an environment where students can directly interact with authors and illustrators; and 3) add to school and home libraries by donating copies of the authors’ books to the school and to each participating student to take home and keep.

Note that given the realities of COVID-19 and its impact on schools, we have a plan in place to run our program 100% remotely this school year.

Why is it important for children to connect with authors and illustrators? What impact do you hope that has?

Something magical happens when a student meets an author. Sure, there is the “wow” factor we all feel when we meet someone famous, but an author visit in a school is not about that. Author visits make academic and cultural connections (“mirrors” or “windows”) that enable students to see themselves in the wider world. Students recognize that anyone can be an author or an illustrator if they wish to and if they work at it. Students engage with the curriculum in a deeper, more meaningful way, directly connecting their experience with the experience and work of an author.

Juana Medina on an author visit. She will be head to the Rafael Hernández in Roxbury this year (virtually!).

The impact of this kind of connection is limitless. The most immediate and obvious impact is that when a student meets an author, and particularly an author (or illustrator) to whom he or she can relate, they are motivated to read more of that author’s works. Perhaps students find they want to read more books written in the same genre as the author’s books, or maybe they want to read more books from that particular time period, or books about the same specific subject. Whatever the motivation the student has, the author visit is the catalyst. 

There are other, less obvious impacts, as well. When a child sees herself or himself  in the books they read, they are empowered to imagine themselves in that world, or better yet, they can imagine themselves creating a world that they previously may not have considered. An inspired and motivated student opens doors for herself or himself as they move forward. The empowerment that comes from a confidence in reading can be pivotal in the decisions that a student makes as he or she moves forward in life. 

How do you work with schools both before and after the school visits? 

Wondermore author visits are unique. The fundamental requirement for Wondermore to work with a school is that the school must commit to having every child read at least one book by the author prior to the author’s visit. This ensures the students are familiar with the author’s work, and most of the visit can be focused on what it means to be an author or illustrator. How do authors conduct their research? Where do they find inspiration? How long does it take to write or illustrate a book?

In preparation for an author visit, teachers (or librarians) work with Wondemore to select a book and an author or illustrator that supports their specific grade-level curriculum. Our aim is to add value to the work educators are already doing with their students. If they are studying civil rights, perhaps we select (author) Carol Boston Weatherford’s Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, or maybe (illustrator) E.B. Lewis’ The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial. Perhaps the school has a large Latinx population, then (bilingual author-illustrator) Juana Medina’s Juana & Lucas series would be a perfect fit. Each author visit is planned specifically for that school based on academic connections. 

Our aim is to add value to the work educators are already doing with their students.

Once an author is selected, teachers prepare the students by reading the books together and assigning projects that further enhance the students’ understanding of the work. Taking the civil rights example above, students may prepare a timeline of events that have taken place on the march toward civil rights and perhaps place where the book falls within that timeline (yes, we have had schools do this and it’s amazing!). 

The Wondermore program is a connection that does not stop the moment the author leaves the room. Wondermore follows up with educators to see how we can learn and grow from the experience. Many times we will return to the same school year in and year out, carrying forward what we have learned from working together the year before. For example, students will often write us letters telling us what they liked about the experience, or educators will reach out to let us know how they continued on a theme the author mentioned.

Could you take us inside a school visit? What are some of the magical elements? Do you have a few memorable moments you’d like to share about from a Wondermore session?

Wondermore typically does not conduct “assembly” style visits. We prefer for author visits to take place in a library or classroom where smaller groups of students can have a direct interaction with the author. The ideal size is 40-60 students. An author visit is 45 minutes long and an author or illustrator will conduct up to three of these visits in one day. The first 30 minutes are a presentation by the author followed by Q&A. 

Three examples of “magical” moments:

Last year, at the BBF Shelf Help winning Orchard Gardens Pilot School, the librarian and teachers went above and beyond in preparing their students. Not only had the students read all of author-illustrator Brendan Wenzel’s books, but the art and the music classes got involved, as well. The younger students created brightly colored animal sculptures in the style of Wenzel’s illustrations in his book Hello, Hello. When we walked into the library, these amazing sculptures were on display creating an atmosphere of celebration and creativity. Inspired by the same book, the older students worked with their music teacher to compose a stunning original strings composition, recreating the sounds of the animals with music. The day ended with the older students performing their original score to the delight and joy of not only the other students, teachers, and visitors in the room, but to Brendan Wenzel himself, who was blown away. Read more about this school visit here.

What followed was a robust conversion about research, primary sources, technology, and integrity in data. A remarkable topic to have the rapt attention of so many young students!

During a visit to the Dudley Street School, Raúl the Third, illustrator of bilingual graphic novels and picture books, was asked by a second-grader “what kind of materials do you need to be an illustrator?” Raúl explained that he only needs four things: a red pen, a blue pen, a black pen, and a piece of paper. He told the students that he didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but he always carried his three pens with him (pens he often found lying on the ground) and drew and sketched whenever he could. He shared that these are still the materials he uses for many of his illustrations. The kids in the room were all smiling at each other after that answer, because they realized that every one of them had the tools and the potential to become an illustrator.

Raúl the Third, illustrator of bi-lingual graphic novels and picture books, reads with students from the Dudley Street School in Roxbury.

A final “magical moment” example was during a visit by author-illustrator Oge Mora to the Nathan Hale School. While discussing with first graders what goes into researching a book, Oge explained how, in order to illustrate the book The Oldest Student, she would have to fly down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to learn more about the main character, a former slave who learned to read at the age of 116. Since there was almost nothing about her available online, Oge worked together with a librarian at a Chattanooga library to find old newspapers and articles that were stored only on microfilm. “Microfilm? What’s that?!?” the kids shouted. What followed was a robust conversion about research, primary sources, technology, and integrity in data. A remarkable topic to have the rapt attention of so many young students!

What do you like most about collaborating with BBF’s Shelf Help program?

The BBF Shelf Help program is an ideal complement to the work we do in schools. Both our organizations work towards increasing exposure and access to books for children, and both are Boston-based organizations reaching out into our local communities. 

Partnering with BBF Shelf Help is always a joy, as it often gives us an opportunity to work with authors who are in town for the festival who we may otherwise not be able to work with. The partnership exposes us to new authors and illustrators, affords us the opportunity to work with a new school, and gives us the chance to be a part of a vibrant annual event on the Boston calendar.

Read more about this year’s Shelf Help winners. Books can be bought and donated to the Hernández School’s wish list here or the English’s book wish list or by visiting BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box. 

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Boston’s Hernández School Empties Library Shelves during Pandemic

A grant from the Boston Book Festival aims to rebuild the collection. And you can help.

Books can be bought and donated directly from the Hernández School’s wish list here or by visiting BBF’s donate page.

On March 17, 2020, Ana Carolina Brito, less than a year into her tenure as principal of the Rafael Hernández K-8 Dual-Language School in Roxbury, got official word that the school needed to shut immediately as the COVID-19 outbreak began to spread across Massachusetts. Kids had to stay at home, and teachers needed to figure out a way to continue teaching them.

With just hours to go before shuttering their doors, Brito and her staff decided their studentsover 70% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunchcould not be sent home empty handed. In the days before, school administrators had been conducting phone-tree surveys to understand what the kids did and did not have access to at home. Of the school’s 413 kids, 300 of them reported needing a computer. 

“I just remember thinking, I don’t believe them that we’ll be back April 27 [the original date given that students would return to school],” explains Brito. “And I don’t know how we’ll move Chromebooks that fast. The gap meant that 300 kids would have a delayed start to remote learning.” 

Brito says her gut told her they had to do something now. She decided to empty out the cabinets and give away everything left in the school’s storagepens, pencils, markers, crayons, and even tapeto give the kids something to get them started. “Everything we owned we basically put into the care packages,” she says. 

“We regret nothing in giving away our books, but find ourselves seriously challenged,” says principal Ana Carolina Brito.

Among the supplies that staff began dividing up into hundreds of bags organized by grade level across the dingy basement floor were the dual-language books owned by the school. At Hernández, 85% of students come from Spanish-speaking households and the dual-language collection was already thin. Now, the school’s book storage is completely emptyeven still, the principal says she would do it all over again.

“We regret nothing in giving away our books, but find ourselves seriously challenged because Boston Public School’s funds were frozen in the Spring, and we do not have the funds to re-order essential materials,” says the principal.

Books can be bought and donated directly from the Hernández School’s wish list here or by visiting BBF’s donate page.

A grant to rebuild

Earlier this week, the Boston Book Festival announced that the Rafael Hernández School was one of just two recipients of its annual Shelf Help grant, which aims to help school libraries expand their collections of new, culturally relevant books. The grant, now in its fifth year, awards two schools in need with assistance in putting 50 brand-new books on school library shelves through donations by festival-goers and partners. It also harnesses BBF’s vast network of authors who come to the festival each year to bring a celebrated author to each of the winning schools. 

As part of the Shelf Help award, Hernández students will be treated to a virtual visit by beloved children’s author Juana Medina, organized by local non-profit Wondermore.

This year, kids’ author and illustrator Juana Medina will visit the Hernández Schoolvirtually, of course. The event will be organized by local nonprofit, Wondermore, which is dedicated to partnering with Boston-area schools to create memorable author visits. Medina is the author and illustrator of the Pura Belpré Award–winning chapter book Juana & Lucas, as well as Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas, 1 Big Salad, ABC Pasta, and Sweet Shapes. Her visit will coincide with her appearance at the Boston Book Festival 2020 Online, which will run from October 5–25

“The author visits are a powerful part of the Shelf Help Program,” explains BBF’s executive director Norah Piehl. “The festival’s entire mission is to celebrate books and authors as a community, and we believe that is a unique experience that can inspire readers from a very young age. Plus, we’re just so excited to have Juana Medina, who, I think, will be an amazing fit for Hernández kids.”

For the book donations, the Hernández School has assembled a wish list that includes Angie Cruz’s Dominica and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, as well as many Spanish titles.

For the book donations, the Hernández School has assembled a wish list that includes Angie Cruz’s Dominica and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, as well as many Spanish titlesall books that Brito has chosen to connect with her kids and their own backgrounds, stories, and heritage. The Boston Book Festival and Wondermore donate a portion of the wish list books, but the grant relies on the generosity of the greater Boston community to fill Hernández school’s shelves. 

One of the titles on the Hernández School’s wish list.

“Shelf Help is one of our favorite community programs,” says Piehl, “and we are just so motivated this year to ensure that when the Hernández kids come back to school—whenever that may be—that they have a whole new set of shiny books waiting for them.”

Books can be bought and donated directly from the Hernández School’s wish list here or by visiting BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box. The English High School in Jamaica Plain is our other Shelf Help winner this year, and we’ll be posting more about its library soon. In the meantime, here is English’s book wish list.

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Boston Book Festival Announces Shelf Help Winners

Two local schools get an exciting boost to their library and visits by renowned children’s authors Jerry Craft and Juana Medina. 

The Boston Book Festival, in collaboration with Wondermore, is excited to announce two Boston public schools have won our highly competitive Shelf Help grant for 2020. The grant helps two school libraries fill their shelves with 50+ brand-new books of their choosing—many of which are crowd-donated by BBF festival-goers. In addition, the winning schools are each treated to a memorable visit by a well-known author or illustrator in conjunction with their festival appearance. Read about one of last year’s school visits here.

This year’s awards went to the Rafael Hernández K-8 Dual Language School in Roxbury and the English High School in Jamaica Plain. “We were very moved by the applications this year,” says BBF’s executive director Norah Piehl. “The BBF launched Shelf Help five years ago when we saw a massive need for kids to be able to access more books by authors who looked like them and whose stories were relevant for the times. So many school libraries lack their own resources and the books are quite out of date. And although every year we hear stories of how essential books are to kids, in this time of pandemic and remote learning, it has become more relevant than ever.”

Check out the Hernández School’s wish list and English High School’s wish list or go to BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box.

Visits by renowned author-illustrators

The Hernández School will enjoy a virtual visit by celebrated kids’ author and illustrator Juana Medina in October during the Boston Book Festival Online, which will run from October 5–25. Medina is the author and illustrator of the Pura Belpré Award–winning chapter book Juana & Lucas, as well as for Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas, 1 Big Salad, ABC Pasta, and Sweet Shapes.

Students at the English High School will be treated to a memorable virtual visit by Jerry Craft, a New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator who has worked on numerous picture books, graphic novels, and middle grade novels, including the Newbery Award–winning graphic novel, New Kid. Jerry is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award–winning syndicated comic strip. He has won five African American Literary Awards and is a cofounder of the Schomburg Center’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival. 

Last year, students at the Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Roxbury were treated to a visit from author and illustrator Brendan Wenzel.

“We are thrilled here at English High to receive the 2020 Shelf Help grant from the Boston Book Festival. Our students will be excited to see all the new books. To have Newbery and Coretta Scott King award winner Jerry Craft visit us in October will be a joy and a fantastic way to get everyone talking about reading,” says Dave Barry, the English High School’s librarian.

School shelves in need

The author visits and the book donations will be a big boost to these libraries. At the English High School, Barry, who moved to his new position this year after many years as an English teacher, says that the school had not had a licensed librarian in three years. He is excited about the new collection, which he curated with his diverse student population in mind. “Fifty current, high-interest books would go a long way to helping our collection be more current and attractive.” 

Ana Carolina Brito, principal of the Rafael Hernández School, is similarly excited about the award, especially this year. Brito says that when the pandemic hit in March, she and her staff started filling bags for their students with whatever they could find from the school—from pencils and paper to the school’s already modest collection of dual-language library books. The school is an English-Spanish school. 

With some quick thinking, Ana Carolina Brito, principal of the Rafael Hernández K-8 Dual Language School in Roxbury, collected bags from local grocery stores and started filling them with everything the school had, including their stock of dual-language books.

“We were afraid of the amount of screen time they would have to endure because of remote leaning, and wanted to provide meaningful alternatives,” Brito wrote in her application. “As a result, when we come back, we will find that our already limited supply of bilingual materials will be vastly diminished. We regret nothing in giving books away, but find ourselves seriously challenged because BPS’s funds are frozen this spring, and we do not have the funds to re-order essential material.” 

Help these schools reach their book goals

In this unique year, when students have been learning remotely and spending lots of time at their computers, we are more excited than ever to help the English High School and the Rafael Hernández School rebuild and expand their collections. Both schools have set up wish lists for the public to buy books directly for them. The Boston Book Festival will also be working with its partner publishers on book donations. 

“Winning this grant will be an incredible opportunity for us to rebuild a contemporary, culturally responsive bilingual library for hundreds of students to access,” says Brito. “We are overwhelmingly grateful to be able to curate titles with authentic texts, a wide range of authors of color, and themes that are relevant and responsive to the new world our children are entering into.”

Help us fill their shelves! Check out the Hernández School’s wish list and English High School’s wish list or go to BBF’s donate page. Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box.

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“This is the best day of my life!”: A Second-grader on Shelf Help’s Author School Visit

One of Boston Book Festival’s beloved annual community initiatives is the Shelf Help Program, which provides books to school libraries in need. Librarians apply to the competitive program and two schools are selected among the applicants to receive 50 high-quality books. In addition, BBF partners with Wondermore, a local non-profit dedicated to inspiring young readers, to bring celebrated authors to the winning schools for a memorable visit. 

We talked with librarian Erica Pastor, of the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, who won last year’s Shelf Help competition and enjoyed a lively school visit from children’s author and illustrator Brendan Wenzel. She shared more about her library’s needs, why the Shelf Help program was an important boost to its shelves, and how music came alive during Brendan’s visit!

How did you learn about Shelf Help and what prompted you to apply?

EP: The Director of Library Services, Debbie Froggatt, shared the Shelf Help application with us school librarians in Boston Public Schools. I was in my first year as the school librarian at Orchard Gardens and had spent most of my time that year decluttering the library in addition to teaching classes full-time. But I was starting to also get an idea of how the collection should be developed, and I thought the Shelf Help grant would help me start to add books to the collection that students really wanted to read. 

Could you describe your library, its needs, and its role in your school?

The library at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School is located on the third floor in the east wing of the school. The massive floor-to-ceiling windows flood the library with natural light and afford a spectacular view of downtown Boston. Sturdy, wooden bookshelves, packed full of books, line the walls, and others partition the huge open spaces into separate workspaces. These workspaces consist of spacious tables and chairs. 

The library collection is extensive, but it is at least twenty years out of date. While some books, especially in the fiction section, will always be valued parts of the collection, others, especially the nonfiction, are pretty useless. Some of our books about computers, for example, are more than a quarter-century old. They are kind of fun to look at and show kids what computers used to be like, but other than that, they should probably be thrown out immediately.

Even the books about animals need to be replaced. Many animals have had their habitats, food sources, and status as endangered species changed over the last fifteen years. And we are also in dire need of a huge graphic novel collection. Any graphic novels I have acquired fly off the shelves in less than five minutes. There are no checked-in graphic novels. And these are the books the kids want. For many, graphic novels are their gateway into reading. 

The library has become a space where the entire student body can visit to check out books, browse, do homework, enjoy some quiet space, or help out. It is quickly becoming the hub of the school, as more and more students and teachers realize what a special place it can be, but the collection needs to be constantly updated and we also need various technology devices. 

How did you choose your “wish list” books and what do you hope new titles will bring to your library?

Besides graphic novels, middle schoolers love reading books about characters who are their age or in high school and are struggling with the same issues they have in their lives. Or they love reading about these same types of characters having adventures that they themselves would like to have. They want to read books that tell stories that are not usually told. About a high school girl who wants to enter the beauty pageant at her school but does not think she will win because her skin is too dark. Or the story of a young man who thinks his duty is to avenge his brother, who was shot dead in the neighborhood. Or the book that is told by a red oak tree named Red, who is the community wishtree and tries to find a friend for a lonely girl that lives next door. 

These books are all on the current Project Lit book lists. Project Lit is a reading movement started by high schoolers and their English teacher in Nashville, Tennessee, and there are currently over 600 Project Lit chapters across the country. Each year, youth and their teachers/librarians vote for a list of diverse books that they want to have on the Project Lit lists of the year. 

And these are the books that I selected for our “wishlist.” I have posters of these books on the front desk in the library, and they have become immensely popular with the older students. They come in, point to a book on the poster, and say, “I want to read that one,” or “Ms. Pastor, do you have this book?” Having all of those books in the collection is a way to boost motivation for reading. 

Tell us your favorite part of the author visit!

Brendan Wenzel’s visit was a huge success, and one of the outstanding highlights of the year. One of our visual arts teachers had her second graders make 3D animals from Mr. Wenzel’s Hello, Hello book, which features a variety of endangered species from around the world. Then, the strings teachers worked with his students to develop sounds for each of the animals on the violins, cellos, and percussion instruments. The animal artwork was displayed around the library, and Hello, Hello was projected on the wall. 

As Mr. Wenzel read the book, the strings students played the sound effects for each animal. Mr. Wenzel was clearly moved, exclaiming more than once, “Wow! This is so cool! I’ve never done anything like this before!” 

A 2nd grader sitting next to me said, “This is the best day of my life!” It really was an afternoon to be treasured. The pure joy and creativity of it all was such an inspiration to me to bring many more authors to visit our students and to significantly expand my collaboration with the arts teachers. 

Read more about BBF’s Shelf Help program and donate to Shelf Help by designating it as the gift recipient. If you have any questions, please contact Carlin Carr at carlin@bostonbookfest.org.

 

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BBF 2020: Your First Glimpse at the Lineup

This year, we’re trying something a little different with our lineup announcements—because why not? We’ll be rolling out our lineup gradually through the rest of the summer, along with blog posts, features, and more information about the dozens of creative authors and illustrators who will be joining us online this October.

Reading Like a Writer

One of our most popular formats for fiction programming over the past several years has been a series of sessions we call Reading Like a Writer. In these sessions, writers really open up about the nuts and bolts of their craft. Our host for each session will encourage co-panelists to comment on particular elements of a very short excerpt from each other’s work (these excerpts will also be shared with attendees who register before the event). Each author will also have the opportunity to contextualize the excerpt, discuss their writerly choices, and answer questions from the audience. A unique alternative to traditional readings, these sessions will appeal not only to aspiring fiction writers but also to all readers looking to enrich their reading experience. This year’s Reading Like a Writer sessions include some exciting newcomers to the BBF lineup: award-winning novelist, critic, and short story writer Randall Kenan and debut novelist David Heska Wanbli Weiden, whose new literary thriller, Winter Counts, is among the most anticipated books of the year. We’re also thrilled to welcome back beloved BBF presenters Margot Livesey (The Boy in the Field) and Gish Jen (The Resisters) to participate in Reading Like a Writer this year. Finally, we have not one, but two former One City One Story authors in our Reading Like a Writer series—this time for their novels! We can’t wait to catch up with Anna Solomon (The Book of V.) and Rishi Reddi (Passage West).

Updated 8/26: Unfortunately Gish Jen has had to cancel her BBF 2020 appearance. We’re thrilled that debut novelist Asha Lemmie (Fifty Words for Rain) will join in her place.

Check out our presenters page for more information about these talented fiction writers and to find links to buy their books. And in the meantime, check out our audio recordings of these relevant sessions from years past:

BBF 2019: Reading Like a Writer: Perspective

BBF 2018: Reading Like a Writer: Character

BBF 2012: One City One Story: Anna Solomon’s “The Lobster Mafia Story”

Social Justice and Activism

These topics are relevant every year, and have only grown more urgent in 2020. This year, we’re presenting several authors whose books for adults relate to activism, specifically, transforming a desire for change into real action. Katherine M. Gehl is a business leader who has turned her expertise to political innovation in The Politics Industry. DeRay Mckesson is an activist and educator who turned his work at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in Ferguson and Baltimore into a framework for a new liberation movement in On the Other Side of Freedom. In Why We Act, Catherine Sanderson explores what it takes to transform people from bystanders to activists against injustice. And, in Politics Is for Power, Eitan Hersh of Tufts University urges readers to get off the political sidelines and become engaged in advocacy and activism.

We’re especially pleased to present a series of short programs for children and families that also explore themes of activism and social justice. These sessions will include author Jacob Kramer and illustrator K-Fai Steele for their picture book Okapi Tale, a story about politics, power, privatization . . . and pasta. Innosanto Nagara, author/illustrator of the beloved A Is for Activist, presents his motivational new picture book Oh, The Things We’re For! Renowned muralist Katie Yamasaki brings us Everything Naomi Loved, an ode to changing cities. And poet Zetta Elliott and illustrator Noa Denmon team up for A Place Inside of Me, which traces a journey from anger to healing in the wake of a police shooting.

Check out our presenters page for more information about these inspiring creators and to find links to buy their books. And in the meantime, check out these relevant sessions from years past:

BBF 2015: Racial Justice and Community Activism in the Age of Black Lives Matter

BBF 2018: Youth Activism

BBF 2020 Spring Authors Series: Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter

One City One Story

Finally, as we announced last week, we’re thrilled to welcome Grace Talusan as this year’s One City One Story author and to include her in our BBF 2020 lineup.

Stay tuned, and check back often on our presenters page  for more announcements and updates!

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At Home Boston: Furry Friends Collection

Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. And many people told us about how their furry friends were by their side through it all. The following collection gives us a glimpse into a few of those stories.

To check out more At Home Boston stories, visit BBF’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. We will be sharing submitted stories through the summer.

~

Jennifer Serafyn is a lawyer who lives in Dorchester with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Barkley.

It’s mid-March and our dog doesn’t realize that we’re all home in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. A school day. A work day. She doesn’t mind that when we go for our usual walk in Dorchester Park, we see no one. Not the guy who also has a beagle or the lady who doles out treats from her pocket.

It’s Easter and our dog doesn’t understand that no one is coming over for dinner. She doesn’t know about being over 70 and having lung disease. Instead, our dog jumps onto my lap as we Zoom with family to celebrate virtually. Safely.

It’s mid-May and our dog doesn’t notice that the bike path along the Neponset River is more crowded than usual. She wags her tail and sniffs the grass as runners, cyclists, rollerbladers, and walkers pass by. She doesn’t care that most of them are wearing masks.

Soon it will be June. My sons will turn 9 and 11. School will end. Our dog will continue to meander through the days, unaware.

That’s all we can be sure of.

~
David L. Cozad is a student at the UMass Isenberg School of Management

The Dog Days

It appears, that many in Boston have chosen this difficult time as an opportunity to open their homes to new family members of the canine persuasion. A puppy can certainly provide spurts of joy, especially through challenging times. They are, as advertised, loyal companions.

I grew up with Golden Retrievers and Springer Spaniels running around my childhood home. As I recall, they were always respectful, and obeyed their owners. They were rarely mischievous, and were most often behaving in a manner that would make even Norman Rockwell proud.

If summer was going to be spent inside, then my wife and I felt we needed a new, playful, well-mannered, handkerchief-wearing best friend.

Instead…we ended up with Clancy. Who does not enjoy walks, but will turn our Charlestown flat into a race track. Who isn’t supposed to shed, but leaves my clothes looking as if I spilled the remnants of the hand vacuum. Who will chew on your books, lick your face, and of course bark, somehow all in unison. Who has the bladder of an ant, but much more importantly the heart of a Lion.

~

 

 

Matt is a K2 teacher in Boston who lives with his fiancé Lucas and Neko!

A drowned mouse finally made me get serious about adopting a cat. My fiancé had left a pot overnight to soak and the next morning I watched in disbelief as the doomed vermin’s body circled the drain. I wanted to cover the kitchen in bleach but there wasn’t a clorox product available anywhere in Boston. So with the knowledge that I’d be teaching Kindergarten remotely for the foreseeable future, Neko came into my life the day Governor Baker announced the closure of non-essential businesses. This also led to a frantic trip to the possibly nonessential Petco.

Then came our first vet appointment. I sat in my car in the vet’s parking lot as rain pounded overhead. As I realized this was the first time we’d been separated for any extended amount of time, the call came in: she has heartworms and it’s a poor prognosis. I couldn’t call my best friend, recently pregnant whose mom was fighting Covid, and I didn’t know what to do with bad news alone. But I wasn’t alone. When I got home my fiancé reassured me, we’re going to give her the best life we can, one day at a time, each one a gift.

 

~

 

Kirstan Barnett is a startup investor and the Founder of SheGives.

Restless

It’s 3am and my dog Rikki just gave me a worried look. Up again?

“I can’t sleep,” I say. I flick the light, pick up “Non-Zero Probabilities.” But the words lay pinned to the page like swatted flies. I watch new Killing Eve episodes, play old Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats songs. Still night.

We are – what? – 12 agitated weeks into lockdown, and now this. The thing that got me was Chauvin’s sunglasses. Perched nonchalantly on his head, undisturbed, as if he were at a backyard BBQ. Or anywhere other than kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, on his life. And he was a Father, as we all now know, having seen his daughter Gianna on Stephen Jackson’s shoulders saying “Daddy changed the world.”

Precious child. I pray, safeguard her.

Rikki has her own bed. But she won’t leave me. A Goddess of Protection. She does that thing dogs do, hovers increasingly closely the more agitated I get. “I’m losing it,” I say. I know. And like those weighted Gravity Blankets meant to encourage sleep, she drapes her 70 lbs over me, covering my restless heart with safety.

As if daybreak, or a prayer, could bring peace today.

 

~

 

Lucy is a journalism graduate of Boston University’s class of 2020, currently on the job hunt.

I kept waiting for Amtrak to cancel my train on March 14th. My dad refreshed traffic on Google Maps every few minutes until we had to leave for Stamford Station. My mom, who’d just heard about “social distancing,” hugged me goodbye while holding her breath. I pet my 14-year old black lab, Cleo, and hopped in the car to return to Boston from spring break.

Coming back felt right. This was my last semester at Boston University, my lease in Allston ran until June and I was still a student with classes to finish, even over Zoom. I wanted to end college where I started.

I made it to South Station by 6pm. Life kind of exploded after that — my roommate went back to Connecticut, commencement was postponed, most friends living on campus left.

In mid-April, I said goodbye to my dog one last time over FaceTime. She’d developed a massive skin infection. We had 13 years together, and only 10 minutes on a screen for the end. Same with college — 3.75 years and a pandemic and poof, it’s over. So many goodbyes, gone.

 

 

Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project, in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Follow Boston Book Festiva’s At Home Boston project on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share these stories using the hashtag #athomeboston.

Read more At Home Boston stories:

At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime.

At Home Boston: First stories featured in Boston Globe

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Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Schlesinger on Kids’ Flower Crowns and the Challenges of Reading when Not Commuting

 

We were thrilled to catch up with long-time BBF volunteer superstar, Sarah Schlesinger, who told us about her serious crafting abilities and how she once made flower crowns for a BBF event.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I work in accounting currently for an online retailer but have crunched numbers at a hotel, dot com and non-profit in my career. I am an avid knitter and all-around crafty person. The festival put me to work one year making flower crowns for a children’s event. For the past several years, I’ve volunteered regularly at the Womens Lunch Place, a day shelter in Back Bay.
How did you end up volunteering at the festival? 
I honestly can’t remember! I had never gone to the festival before I volunteered. Most likely, I probably saw a flyer at Brookline Booksmith and it sounded like something I would like to do.
How long have you been volunteering for, and what kinds of different positions have you done during that time? Any favorites?
I have been volunteering at the festival since 2013 and have been an usher, worked at the merchandise table, and assisted in author hospitality rooms and with event booksellers.
What was one of the most memorable BBFs for you and why?
One year I was volunteering at the location of the YA Keynote. To see the line form hours before the talk, comprised mostly of young readers so enthusiastic to hear an author speak, was just a great sight to see.
What keeps you coming back volunteering year after year? I come back each year because I always have a great time.  I love being a part of so many people in the city celebrating books, learning, and discussing. Some of my favorite moments of the festival have been chatting with fellow ushers between events about what we are reading.
Anything interesting you’d like to share about your time in lockdown over the last few months? I realized how much I read during my morning commute on the T. The commute to my home office doesn’t afford that much reading time!
What are you most looking forward to this summer? Mostly I am looking forward to venturing back out into the city and hopefully a return to a bit of normalcy. I look forward to the idea of sitting outside a coffee shop, with an iced coffee, reading, and people watching.
What do you have in the line up for your summer reads? I joined a virtual book group that is reading Deacon King Kong by James McBride, so am looking forward to starting that.

 

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What’s on Your Playlist this Weekend? BBF’s ED gives you five ideas

We had such a great response to our last issue featuring some top picks from the archives that we thought we’d ask BBF’s Executive Director Norah Piehl to dig out some of her faves. What we love about this list is that there’s a little something for everyone, but you’ll definitely see a love for fiction and YA come through in her choices.

“On book festival weekend, I am usually too busy running around checking on everything to actually attend any sessions myself, which is one reason why I appreciate that so many of our sessions have audio archives available online so that I can at least hear what I’ve missed! I oversee the fiction and youth programming at the BBF, and the sessions here are some of my favorites over the past few years.”

Fiction: Campus Novels: Elizabeth Ames, Mona Awad, Jeanne Blasberg, CJ Farley, Host: Lisa Borders

Reading Like a Writer: Perspective: Susan Choi, Daphne Kalotay, Sandra Newman, Host: Dawn Tripp

Ghosts, Golems, and Gigantic Lizards: Katherine Arden, Jonathan Auxier, Camille DeAngelis, Daniel José Older, Host: Stacy Collins

YA Keynote: Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, Host: Kim Parker

BBF Unbound: Writing from Privilege: Laura van den Berg, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Shuchi Saraswat, Hasanthika Sirisena, Host: Kaitlin Solimine

Check out BBF’s full archive here.

 

 

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At Home Boston’s Intern Picks Her Top 10 Stories

Over the last month I’ve had the immense privilege of reading short stories from all over the Boston area as a part of the Boston Book Festival’s community writing project: At Home Boston. At times reading these stories brought tears to my eyes, sometimes they brought a much-needed laugh, overall they made me feel just a little bit closer to the roughly five-million people living in the Boston metropolitan area.

To everyone who submitted: Thank you for your words, your vulnerability, your gifts. I treasure them all. For my own contribution, I collected 10 stories that stuck with me. It was a hard choice as so many of these stories have struck me over the weeks, but I chose ones that rung the loudest for me, ones that I felt compelled to uplift and shed light on. — Campbell Simmons is a graduate student a Tufts and a 2020 Boston Book Festival intern.

 

 

Ginger Webb works as a social worker at Brookhaven Hospice

These days, there are far too many names on our hospice death list. For us they are not statistics, they are people who opted for comfort only. My heart aches reading the long tally. I miss seeing them, but social workers are  “non-essential,” and thus my work is mostly with families over a phone.

It’s the nurses and the health aides who are on the front lines. They put on brave fronts and play the hero, but inside they are scared of this virus: for their patients, for themselves, of bringing it home to their families. But their patients will never know.

Families think our nurses are angels for doing this work, but I know their humanity. I see them cry and swear.  I know how they need a good laugh and a big glass of wine at the end of their shifts.

They are also good shepherds who know their flock: John is feisty, Sarah likes watermelon gum. They smile when a confused patient wishes them Merry Christmas. They comfort each soul as they guide them through the valley of the shadow of death. And sometimes on their way to work, they stop to buy watermelon gum.

 

~

 

Doris Johnson, 84, is a retired Baltimore Public School educator who lives with family in Jamaica Plain. (Note: I am her daughter, Michelle Johnson and submitting this on her behalf.)

Black Lives in Crisis

Can you hear me, see me, cry for me? This message is from a black mother watching us get knocked down again. Yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of hope that there are still people out there who care.

Let’s talk about it. When did you last invite a black family into your home? Do you discuss racial issues with your child? Have you made a difference in your school, your church, your neighborhood? Or are you silent with no understanding of black people’s issues?

Can you hear me? My voice was full of hope when I raised my daughter and son, despite being followed and overcharged in stores, or ignored by clerks because they assume you can’t afford expensive items. Or having the police stopping you for no reason, or putting illegal holds on black boys and girls.

Can you hear me? See me? Cry for me? This message is from an 84-year-old black mother who kept her family together, hoping, caring and loving during extraordinary times. I will not forget the year 2020. Black lives still matter, despite forces that have long held us back. If you care, talk to your family and to your God.

 

~

 

Elissa Jacobs is a writer and writing instructor who lives in Arlington

“I hate you!” my seven-year-old screams. “I’m never going close to you again!” She clomps into the next room, slamming the door in her wake.

My mistake: I tried to get her to FaceTime with a school friend instead of watching another show on PBS.

I find her stretched out on the futon, her head wedged under a pile of blankets. When I lightly touch her back and ask what’s wrong, I hear a muffled sob. She peeks out and asks, “Mommy, can I draw my feelings?”

The resulting piece is an aberration from her usual art. There are no rainbows, no hearts, no dinosaurs. She ignores the purples and glitter pens in exchange for muted blacks and blues. I sit next to her, quiet, and try not to cry at the bruise of emotion spilling out from her small body and onto the paper.

She calls her creation, Giant Teardrop. With every brush of the marker, she feels better, and I feel more heartbroken for everything she has lost and all that she is struggling to make sense of.

 

~

 

Lucy Levin is a journalism graduate of Boston University’s class of 2020, currently on the job hunt. 

I kept waiting for Amtrak to cancel my train on March 14th. My dad refreshed traffic on Google Maps every few minutes until we had to leave for Stamford Station. My mom, who’d just heard about “social distancing,” hugged me goodbye while holding her breath. I pet my 14-year old black lab, Cleo, and hopped in the car to return to Boston from spring break.

Coming back felt right. This was my last semester at Boston University, my lease in Allston ran until June and I was still a student with classes to finish, even over Zoom. I wanted to end college where I started.

I made it to South Station by 6pm. Life kind of exploded after that — my roommate went back to Connecticut, commencement was postponed, most friends living on campus left.

In mid-April, I said goodbye to my dog one last time over FaceTime. She’d developed a massive skin infection. We had 13 years together, and only 10 minutes on a screen for the end. Same with college — 3.75 years and a pandemic and poof, it’s over. So many goodbyes, gone.

And now onto the rest of my life! As if that’s just… possible.

~

 

Sue Katz’s fiction and non-fiction have been published on the three continents where she has lived and worked, first as a martial arts master, then promoting transnational volunteering, and now as a book author.

My Pandemic Calm in Exactly 50 Words

My underlying condition keeps me inside, overlooking Spy Pond from my seventh story window. I am calm, used to living alone in a room, used to being alone as a writer. I’ve been content, prepared for the long haul, until I saw the mouse. Now every shadow is an enemy.

 

~

 

Elana Lev Friedland is a writer who lives in Somerville, and you can find them online at elanalevfriedland.com

Somerville is the most densely populated municipality in New England and it sounds like it.

At quarantine’s start, I’m grateful to be here. My room at the back of the house has views of the neighbors’ backyards. I get to see their dogs. The window I sit next to while working looks out on my landlord’s tiny vineyard, the tree at its center blossoming, growing green.

But the birds in its branches chirp. The birds on roofs chirp. Someone’s hosting karaoke parties. Setting off fireworks. My neighbor putts golf balls around his yard at 11PM. The dogs bark. My neighbors sit around recently acquired outdoor furniture. Talking. Laughing. And there are so, so many of them.

I’m hypervigilant at my best and worst–possessed of a PTSD so deep that I can hear everything, everything, everything. Another neighbor’s power tools. Cars starting, and their alarms. Fireworks. The birthday parade down my street: featuring real sirens, right here, because it turns out my neighbor’s kid is five and his dad is a firefighter. And all I can do is curl up, wait it out.

But, sometimes, I make noise too. I close my windows to dampen the sound. Sometimes, I sing.

 

~

 

Joanne Cassell is a mother, nurse, patient advocate and life long student.

Who are the Real Heroes?

They are calling me a superhero but I don’t feel like one. The superheroes are the people fighting for their lives. Like the psychotic person kept alone in isolation at a time when he needs counseling and group therapy or the person who is dying and the family has to talk to them by phone or the patient who just got extubated and her son is still intubated in the next room.

Before I go to work in the morning I have to make sure I eat and drink something otherwise there is just not enough time. Caring for Covid-19 patients is physically and emotionally challenging. Wearing an N95 mask, the suits and shields all day is a nightmare.  I often get overheated, my throat gets dry and I become lightheaded from sweating and breathing in my own CO2.

Finally, when I get home I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. My face is marked and aged from wearing a mask for twelve hours and my body weak from the long day. I take a hot shower wishing for peace and quiet –  no beeps, or phone calls. I mindlessly watch TV and cuddle the dogs. I struggle to get some sleep, but it often evades me because I am filled with guilt and fear that I could have done more.

 

~

 

Heather Watkins is a disability rights activist, mother, author, blogger, daydreamer, chocolate-lover, and serves on a handful of disability-related boards and projects

As a Black disabled person, I’ve been isolating since mid-February. I have a congenital form of muscular dystrophy that compromises my mobility and respiratory muscles. Since I’m higher risk I’m also hyper-aware of how pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities. I already use a ventilator to sleep with ease. I’ve experienced grocery delivery delays and PCA (personal care assistant) service interruptions because they’ve been affected by virus and are still in recovery.

At the same time, I’m watching stories across the media landscape about just how little Black lives matter as videos on repeat show the snuffing out and cries of “I can’t breathe” and many others take righteous anger to the street. Some days I feel defeated and vacillate from.trying to balance bouts of joy and being kept abreast of current events without burying my head in the sand.

I remind myself there are ways to stay engaged without short-circuiting myself and sense of peace but that’s easier said that done when so much  feels like a battering ram. So I find ways to calm the mind and stay productive through music and communing with family of all kinds, biological and otherwise, finding kinship online and exhaling.

 

~

 

Meghan Flannigan is a Speech Language Pathologist who works in a Skilled Nursing Facility

We started wearing face masks at work on a Thursday. Already, there was talk of a couple residents in my nursing home having the dreaded symptoms. But testing was hard to come by, at least quickly. My coworkers and I constantly checked ourselves. Am I feeling something? Every day we just waited for it to come to us. It wasn’t ever really a question of whether, but when.

The following Monday, I felt chilled at one point, then flushed. My skin suddenly felt sore. I rechecked my temperature at the receptionist desk. Still normal.

In the evening, my temperature spiked. I stayed home. Every day, a new symptom emerged. The chest tightness, the cough, the congestion and phlegm, the night sweats, the loss of taste and smell, the constant worry. I tested negative, then positive for COVID-19 a few days later.

It was an enormous relief when I was finally well enough to return to work. But everything had changed in my absence. Now there were gowns, and N95 masks, and face shields. But too late to protect me. Or our residents. So many empty beds. So many familiar faces, just gone.

 

~

 

Asa Badalucco (he/him) is a trans and queer writer studying at Emerson College.

THURSDAY

I take my testosterone shot on Thursdays. In quarantine, it’s the only way I keep up with the days of the week. If I took my shot today, tomorrow is Friday. If I take it tomorrow, today is Wednesday. It is a good routine; it is my only routine.

I take my shot in front of a big open window with lots of sun, and it’s often the only light I get. I strip to my boxers and get distracted as I watch hummingbirds give quick kisses to pink flowers. I prep my band-aids and syringes and listen to the neighbor’s dog bark. It’s a strange, thoughtful time, as I watch the needle break my skin and remind myself with a small wince just how human I am.

I realize that my transness, my queerness, has become quieter the longer I stay inside. It’s become an affair between me, myself and I, a conversation and embrace that we have just on these Thursday afternoons. I take my Thursdays to check in with my voice, my face, my thin mustache, my smile. No one is holding my hand through this anymore, they’re not allowed to. It belongs to me.

 

Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Follow Boston Book Festiva’s At Home Boston project on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share these stories using the hashtag #athomeboston.

Read more At Home Boston stories:

At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime.

At Home Boston: First stories featured in Boston Globe

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Summer Reading 2020

A lot of things might look a little different during the Summer of COVID, but one thing won’t change—our desire to escape for a few hours into the pages of a good book! Team BBF’s summer travel plans have been curtailed this year, but we’re still making time to head to the park, the backyard, or the sofa for some quality summer reading time. Here’s what you’ll find tucked in Team BBF’s tote bags this summer—along with a stylish mask or two, of course! You can find all our picks on our Bookshop.org page, where your purchases help support independent bookstores—and the BBF, too!

Norah Piehl, Executive Director

If you’re bemoaning the loss of your summer vacation, Yun Ko-Eun‘s new novel, The Disaster Tourist, out in August, might be just the thing to change your outlook. Yona works for Jungle, a Korean travel agency specializing in package tours to areas of the world ravaged by disasters, from hurricanes to nuclear meltdowns. She heads to a remote Vietnamese island to inspect one of Jungle’s vacation destinations—and what she discovers there is a mix of clever absurdity and mounting dread, as she uncovers cruel inequalities and environmental degradation.

This spring, we’ve been moved by reading true stories from hundreds of Bostonians, submitted as part of our At Home Boston project with the Boston Globe. It turns out that award-winning novelist Zadie Smith has spent her time in lockdown reflecting and writing as well—and the result is Intimations (out July 28), a collection of six brand-new short essays probing the meaning of this unprecedented time and our individual and collective responses to it.

If you need a break from introspection, there’s nothing better than a great romantic comedy; ever since I read Talia Hibbert‘s fantastic Get a Life, Chloe Brown last summer, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its companion novel. Take a Hint, Dani Brown is British novelist Hibbert’s second novel about the vibrant, funny Brown sisters, and this one features a decidedly anti-romantic protagonist who may find herself falling in love despite her best intentions.

Finally, I’ve always been fascinated by cities and their design. I’m eager to pick up Jason Diamond‘s The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs (out in late August), which offers a hot take on the American suburban milieu as a hotbed of artistic inspiration and cultural significance. As a reluctant suburbanite myself, I look forward to viewing my neighborhood with renewed appreciation—after all, where else am I going to go this summer?

Carlin Carr, Director of Operations and Outreach

As I write this, I’m hours away from starting a week’s vacation, so it’s exciting to think about some good books to read with the extra time. I usually like to take a big trip somewhere, often India, but since that’s not happening this year, I thought I’d read A Burning by Megha Majumdar. It’s a debut novel that I’ve heard great things about, and I especially like the idea of the main character being a young Muslim girl from the slums. I’m looking forward to traveling back to India this way.

I also got really excited about Roddy Doyle‘s new book, Love, after seeing that he’ll be speaking at Harvard Book Store. I haven’t read him for years, but I went through a phase where I read tons of Irish writers and his books were just so funny. I thought a few good laughs could be a good way to mix up summer of 2020.

I’ve also been making my way through a big book of MLK speeches. It’s something I’m doing slowly, week by week, because it takes some time to really absorb the power and beauty of his words. I’ll keep working my way through that.

Ellie Manning, BBF 2020 Intern

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
I fell in love with Ariel Lawhon’s writing in the first chapter, and I could scarcely put the book down. Heroism, femininity, relationships, and the courage to face war with little except stubbornness, brandy, and a tube of red lipstick, Code Name Hélène is a powerful, gripping story based on the true events and life of a woman, Nancy Wake, fighting with the resistance against Nazi-occupied France in WWII.

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell
Michael Kingman, branded a traitor for the crimes of his father, has a family legacy to live up to and a past to confront to do it. In a world where the nobility can use magic at the price of their memories, Michael must face the political corruption of the High Nobility of the Hollows in order to find the truth about his family, and himself. But who’s memories can he trust, if not his own?

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
This is Maas’s debut adult fantasy novel. I’d never read anything by Maas, but I loved the novel’s strong heroine, murder and romance plots, and the clash of angels and demons in the fantasy elements.

Bree Reyes, BBF 2020 Intern

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore is a fun coming-of-age story with a time travel twist. Oona Lockhart celebrates her birthday every year just like everyone else. But instead of turning one year older, she hops to a completely different age, forward or backward in time. Her character development as she grapples with her reality makes this book both profound and relatable in a magical way.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
If you need an escape from the summer heat, Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party has the perfect setting and plot. On an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands, a group of friends are welcoming the New Year together. But then one of them is found dead. Fans of a good murder mystery with an engrossing cast of characters will find this one really enjoyable.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
For those of you who might be stuck in a reading rut, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is an amazing collection of stories that is best savored rather than rushed. Each story explores the complications and importance of relationships in the face of cultural connections and barriers. Her writing style has a lovely balance of dialogue and detail that makes even the simplest of interactions enchanting.

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