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Dream On!: Supporting and Graduating African American Girls and Women in STEM
Ezella McPherson
In this inspiring exploration of African American women in the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), McPherson provides comprehensive research and first hand accounts through a case study of 16 African American college students and their lived experience pursuing degrees within the field. Organized, clear, and concise, McPherson’s study provides insights through anecdotes drawing on her own experience and through the accomplishments and setbacks faced by her subjects, some of whom eventually leave the STEM track. Sharing their stories from early education up to their college majors, the young women provide detailed insight into a field that is mostly male dominated and has made little space for women, especially minorities.

McPherson’s impassioned yet professional look at STEM and the challenges facing these young women proves illuminating, occasionally heartbreaking, and ultimately heartening. Explaining the “hidden” curriculum and the “cooling out process” that typically pushes students out of the STEM programs, McPherson illuminates causes and consequences of the field’s lack of diversity, noting that women earned “just under 50% of the 666,157 science and engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2016.” Delving into early exposure to STEM programs in early education, the effects of having diverse teachers and culturally responsive teaching, and specific accommodations to draw in African American students, Dream On provides detailed ways to support and motivate women like McPherson’s subjects.

Through inspiring narratives, McPherson's case studies show the perseverance that success in the field demands. Dream On is not only a well-researched account of these women’s experience but also a rousing call to action, for both African American women and the educational system, offering guidance and encouragement to students and urging greater support from schools, teachers, and more. This is a valuable resource for students entering the STEM field but also for the educators and administrators who they will encounter.

Takeaway: Case studies and rousing guidance for African American women entering the STEM field.

Comparable Titles: T.M. Moody's African American Women Pioneers in STEM, Ebony Omotola McGee's Black, Brown, Bruised.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

For Love of Country: Common Sense 2.0
Norman W. Holden
For Love of Country offers a spirited cry for a new American Revolution, a moral revolution in which we return to the spirit of our founders and turn aside from modern corruption and “reverse” what Holden calls “Marxist cultural trends.” Modeling his message on Thomas Paine and the text itself as a Common Sense 2.0, Holden warns that the U.S. could be “one generation away from totalitarianism” due to “a progressive agenda and hyper-politics” that “have sidelined our individual sovereignty and one’s ability to self-govern.” He finds inspiration in the nation’s founding documents, calling for an embracing of principles laid out in the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence that he sees as antithetical to what he views as “the worst form of government: a bureaucratic state of aristocracy sold to us as a benevolent democracy.”

Holden notes that his opinions may “trigger” some readers, yet the civic engagement and concrete steps he calls for (term limits, reduce the size of government, a return to the gold standard) are much less divisive than much contemporary rhetoric, and he fully supports the separation of church and state and vigorously denounces any impulse toward violence. Holden aims to inspire citizens to serve the country, their communities, and to again feel, in the face of the flag and the national anthem, “a heartfelt swell of pride to one’s chest and mist to the eyes.” He sees this mission in contrast to the “Marxist” impulses behind environmentalism, campaigns to “censor” history, and the efforts of “self-appointed global elites [who] seek to cripple our national and individual sovereignty.”

Citations support some claims, but readers may appreciate a deeper exploration of some of his boldest assertions—is crippling sovereignty really the goal of those “elites”? Instead, this brisk,compact, occasionally repetitive text establishes a moral vision for where he believes the country should go. What shines through every page is this patriot’s commitment to American virtues.

Takeaway: A patriot’s call for a commitment to American virtues and smaller government.

Comparable Titles: Mike Lee’s Our Lost Constitution, Joshua Charles’s Liberty’s Secrets.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A-

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Speaking for the Earth
John Meier
A testament to how far we have and haven’t come, Meier's Speaking for the Earth first was written as the official book for the first Earth Day, in 1970, as a call for action decrying the ways that humanity had “disfigured” the land and “scorched” the Earth, and declaring the years to follow as the “environmental decade.” Now, over a half century later, Meier has re-printed the original text as a reminder of how much work remains to be done—and how prescient he was. Speaking for the Earth speaks from the dawn of the movement, with no commentary on later events outside of a brief introduction, but it's clear throughout that Meier’s arguments, predictions, and exhortations were correct—and still urgent. Adept at navigating government circles, Meier crafted the book to break through the language of bureaucracy while still acknowledging the practical realities of industry and regulation.

With direct, inviting prose and much persuasive power, Meier breaks down key issues regarding conservation as he saw them in 1970. He begins with the dangers of chemical weapons and insecticides, despite the claims of military and industrial spokesmen who insisted that neither posed a threat to the public. Smog is another focus, and while that has improved in the U.S. since original publication, air pollution remains a global health risk. (From his 50-years-back vantage point, he predicts electric cars as a potential solution.) Industrial waste, building on lands that should be protected, and the dangers of coal and radiation are also highlighted in potent, clarifying language.

Especially resonant is his argument that, without a public groundswell, the mechanics of American federalism ensure that these life-or-death matters will be in the hands of the states, which—then and now—are especially vulnerable to influential lobbyists who argue that conservation will come at a price that's too high for local industry. Meier's book remains a powerful (and tragically timeless) call to action for citizen conservations to make their voices heard. Meier emphasizes that this is more important now than ever.

Takeaway: Urgent call for conservation and a citizen’s movement, from the first Earth Day.

Comparable Titles: Francois Jarrige and Thomas Le Roux’s The Contamination of the Earth, Benjamin Kline’s First Along the River.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

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Desert Reunion: A Dante & Jazz Mystery
Michael Craft
IIn the sun-drenched paradise of Palm Springs, where the air is thick with intrigue and secrets, Dante O'Donnell and Jazz Friendly make an unlikely yet dynamic crime-solving duo (introduced in Desert Getaway) that leaps off the page, defying stereotypes and capturing readers' hearts. Dante, a white gay man, spends his days as a concierge at a vacation rental agency, while Jazz, a Black ex-cop turned private investigator, navigates the complexities of life with her own specialized set of skills. The third entry in Craft’s series finds the pair in aid of an old friend caught in a web of suspicion and danger: Zola Lorinsky, a retired decorator with dreams of reigniting her once-celebrated career. Her fresh start takes a dark turn when a family reunion at one of Dante's rentals descends into chaos with the discovery of a body.

As accusations fly and fingers point to Zola, Dante and Jazz refuse to let their friend fall prey to injustice. Dante, with his quick wit and unwavering loyalty, and Jazz, with her sharp intellect and unyielding determination, again form an exciting partnership as they navigate treacherous waters of crime and deception. Craft's deftly weaves intrigue and suspense, crafting a milieu where nothing is as it seems and danger lurks in bustling streets and opulent mansions. Craft again smartly balances laughs, tension, and memorable local color.

Desert Reunion is a gripping whodunnit of friendship, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of truth, though seasoned mystery readers won’t be too jolted by the twists. This entry mostly stands alone, but new readers will likely wish for more exploration of the leads’ motivations and inner struggles—starting with Desert Getaway Is recommended. Still, Craft’s skillful storytelling and vivid characters make it hard to resist this series, where shadows lurk beneath the surface of paradise, reminding us that even in the brightest sunlight, darkness can still reign.

Takeaway: Detectives Dante and Jazz shine in this quick-witted Palm Springs mystery.

Comparable Titles: Dean A. James’s Simon Kirby-Jones Mysteries, David Handler’s Berger and Mitry Mysteries.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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The Gray Anarchist
Jeffrey Marcus Oshins
Behind-the-scenes betrayal, intrigue, and dirty politics are just another day at the office in this thriller centered on the highest of stakes in politics, national security, and ecological fragility. Allen Hansen is a sitting senator running for reelection and the leading opponent of the Sentinel Act, a bill crafted to give the FBI unchecked power to collect U.S. citizens’ data, and a corrupt president has ordered an operation to uncover Hansen's past as a college activist and possible eco-terrorist. But it’s two women who are at the heart of this story: Deirdre Owens, the campaign manager for Senator Hansen, desperate to protect him from the press and the plots of the President. Then there’s Lauren Bastini, the radical one-time leader of the Oakland Four, now 73, disfigured from an attempted firebombing of a biotech company, and still committed to the violent destruction of the US Government and of corporate America.

This fast-paced story from Oshins (author of Lake Barcroft) entertains urgent questions— should a politician striving to do right get a pass for the decisions made in youth? Are civilians fair collateral damage in the name of saving the planet?—and all the interested parties will face hard decisions, right or wrong. The action is swift, perhaps too much so at times, as the momentum and mysteries ensure readers won’t get much background on most characters, especially Lauren, now a Muslim and still plotting destruction, and Deirdre, a devotee of BDSM whose lovers are terrified that the world might find out that they like to be dominated.

These potentially fascinating characters still surprise and engage as Deirdre, learning more about the Oakland Four and efforts to ruin the Senator's campaign, faces opposition at every corner, including adversaries eager to spill her own secrets. Lauren, meanwhile, has plans that are literally explosive, adding sharp suspense. Oshins spins an exciting story alive with tension, jolts, and contemporary political resonance.

Takeaway: Quick-moving thriller of old radicals and contemporary politics.

Comparable Titles: Chris Hauty’s Savage Road, John Gilstrap’s Crimson Phoenix.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B

Click here for more about The Gray Anarchist
Girl Braiding Her Hair
Marta Molnar
This audacious and impassioned novel celebrates overlooked women of art in history, entwining the lives of Ellie Waldon, a grief-stricken widow of our era who decides to sell her home after the death of her husband, and Suzanne Valadon, striving for recognition as a painter in 19th-century France. Threatened by unemployment following a careless snide remark about her exploitative boss, Ellie—“a resourceful, self-sufficient woman who knows how to get her job done”—turns to Kickstarter with a bold endeavor: establishing a museum of Unseen Art, even though she acknowledges “The only thing I know about art museums is that I like art.” A century earlier, Suzanne endures a harsh life of toil as a milliner, funeral wreath maker, acrobat, and model, before at last daring to become a painter herself.

Molnar (author of The Secret Life of Sunflowers) deftly blends fiction with history, conjuring the world and spirit of the real Suzanne Valadon, capturing the age, its ethos, and all that women faced when striving to create—and also, with pointed power, the drive to create work that endures. Observing the likes of Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir, and Berthe Morisot, Suzanne self-learns composition, color-mixing techniques, and perspectives. "I will be in a gallery, perhaps even exhibited at the Salon,” Suzanne says. “Maybe someday, I’ll be in a museum." Alternating settings and perspectives, Molnar illustrates a legacy of perseverance, as Ellie discovers that, in the past, Suzanne was as famous as Van Gogh—but history’s “tendency to forget women” has left her work in basements.

While the pacing occasionally is slow, Molnar has crafted an outraged yet rousing examination of women’s perennial struggle for recognition in a male-dominated society—Degas himself, Suzanne notes, “is convinced women can’t be artists.” This insightful, rich-in-detail novel pays welcome homage to women artists of all eras and the time-crossing power of art as Suzanne, in one urgent, illuminating moment, declares, "I want people to hear a whisper when they look at my art. We were here".

Takeaway: Rousing novel of visionary women a century apart entwined by the love of art

Comparable Titles: Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus, Paula McLain's The Paris Wife.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A

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At the Mercy of the Sea: A Country for Castoffs
Amanda M. Cetas
The standout third novel in Cetas’s Country for Castoffs series deftly blends historical fiction and a compelling coming-of-age story centered on the whaling industry in 17th century New England and the lives of three determined, relatable young people, Etienne, Alsoomse, and Abraham, finding their place in a changing world. The humane Etienne, introduced in Thrown to the Wind, is now bound on a ship working as a seaman, while his friend Alsoomse, of the Lenape tribe, is carving a path for herself as a medicine woman in her community. And Abraham, who can’t believe Etienne is friends with a girl, aspires to prove himself a worthy man, hoping to help his father in his whaling business. They are on separate journeys, but their lives intertwine with each other’s and that of the New World itself, as Cetas frankly depicts the religious, cultural, economic, and political realities of the colonies with an emphasis on family and friendship.

Cetas draws deeply on the historical record to create her cast and the enthralling challenges they face. At sea, Etienne is kidnapped by a pirate named Jacob Janssen van den Burgh, a figure based on a real pirate, while Abraham’s story is inspired from the story of the Dayton family of Long Island, whose whaling company and relationships with Native Americans prove fascinating. The diverse perspectives of a European family, a native American family, and a mixed-heritage lineage illuminate the complexities of the era without diminishing narrative momentum. While Abraham is learning to accept both his white ancestry and his mother’s Montauk heritage, Alsoomse is growing to understand her place in her tribe.

Much of the book deals with the emotional turmoil of adolescents trying to make sense of life as they experience their own transformation of mind and body. Other themes explored include whaling and the transatlantic slave trade, which is depicted with searing disgust. This briskly paced and engaging novel’s climax will leave history-minded readers yearning for more.

Takeaway: Illuminating, richly researched novel of coming-of-age in the American colonies.

Comparable Titles: Caroline Starr Rose’s Bluebirds, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America series.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Click here for more about At the Mercy of the Sea
IT WAS HER NEW YORK: true stories and snapshots
C.O. MOED
Through lyric, pointedly iconoclastic prose and a soulful mosaic of photographs, Moed offers a riveting exploration of a mother-daughter relationship so colored by love and care that it transcends familial dysfunction, past hurts, and imperfections. With welcome candor, insight, and sensitivity, Moed bears witness to the decline of the cognitive abilities of her mother, Florence, due to dementia, a phenomenon that she initially misconstrues for more of her mother's established behavior: "None of us really understood that things were changing for Florence. She seemed as she always had been." Yet, over time, Moed finds herself clutching onto those rare moments where her mother truly is the mother she always knew. "I lean in, hoping my body acts like a magnet for her words but she is fading."

Moed places Florence at the heart of New York City—their home—and deftly mirrors the gradual erosion of her mother's memory with the incremental disintegration of the fabric of the city she has long known. "I wanted to take a picture,” she writes, “to capture one last portrait of my childhood before it disappeared into thin air." Striking, moving photographs capture fleeting moments in Moed's life in the never-sleeping: vanishing storefronts, the phone lady, passersby, Coney Island, emergency rooms, the ebb and flow of neighborhoods, even the view from under the family’s Steinway baby grand. These captured moments and Moed’s vivid vignettes (that piano’s “place in [Florence’s] world was as permanent as sky or sun or her fingers, which were ferocious and strong until her last breath”) demonstrate the powerful connection between Moed, Florence, the city, and her music.

While deeply personal, It Was Her New York is universally relatable, an elegy that beckons readers to contemplate their own relationships and the ever-changing world. It’s a kaleidoscope of childhood, family, music, and the passage of time. Moed honors Florence’s legacy as a passionate pianist, frugal teacher, fearless lesbian, lover, and mother, fixed in time.

Takeaway: Beautiful, moving memories of a mother, in words and snapshots.

Comparable Titles: Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, Nina Riggs's The Bright Hour.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A

Maverick Learns to Tie His Skates
Gina Usufzy & Abdul Usufzy
In this adorable children's story of never giving up, independence, and practice, Maverick, a young hockey player, struggles with tying his hockey skates—about as relatable a problem as can be imagined. Frustrated about his dilemma, he receives encouragement from his parents and help from his brother's hockey coach, whose efforts help Maverick succeed in learning how to tie up his skates. Engaging and relatable, Maverick's story of practice and perseverance highlights the joys of facing a challenge, accomplishing a task, and helping others.

Maverick's is a heartwarming story full of family, community and friendships as everyone rallies around Maverick—even Maverick himself, who through determination to succeed through practice, keeps trying until he achieves success. Throughout this interactive story, the Usufzys (authors of Alex the Goalie and other entries in the Adventures of Alex the Maverick Hockey Player series) encourage reflection and include teachable moments by pausing to ask young readers how they would respond if they were in Maverick's situation or how they would feel if they were in Maverick's shoes. Drawing parallels to practicing something that is a passion or dream, such as hockey, to something that may cause frustration, such as learning to tie your shoes, the authors juxtapose the lessons of allowing others to help with building confidence through effort.

Jason Velazquez’s simple but vivid illustrations emphasize faces and feelings, drawing a compelling contrast between Maverick’s expression of frustration and his subsequent delight at his achievement, an emotion communicated by a wide edge of smile and a jauntily stuck-out tongue. This is an empowering and endearing story of a young boy determined to master a tricky task, imparting its positive message to young readers in a straightforward and constructive manner, touching on matters deeper than skates: it is okay to receive help, to never stop trying, and to pass on the lesson to others in need.

Takeaway: Relatable children's story of a boy determined to learn a new life skill

Comparable Titles: Mac Barnett’s Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Tom Percival's Ruby's Worry.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

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HR Data Doodles: Season 3D - Into the HR Metaverse
David Turetsky
Workplace-set comedy tends to emphasize foibles and dysfunction, petty gripes and legitimate grievances. Turetsky’s upbeat HR Data Doodles series, now in its third volume, goes against that grain, showcasing a diverse and engaging cast of human resources professionals who work together to face challenges, adapt to change, and flourish both as a company and as individuals. That approach still feels novel, three books in, even as the cast and the software company at which they work demonstrate how to handle growth and change with aplomb. This volume finds the team at OUPM, post acquisition, handling recruitment, retirement, and other urgent human resources concerns as the company begins an ambitious new project developing next-gen VR … and an HR Artificial Intelligence who eventually will be named Charlie.

As in the second volume of the series, Turetsky’s approach is to favor storytelling over punchlines, though the jokes that are here (including some about gamer focus groups) land with a new consistency. When Teddy, the office’s eccentric comic foil, asks Charlie, the new AI, to tell a joke about dinosaurs, Charlie snaps back “I could, but the jokes are extinct.” The depiction of Teddy as an affable fellow whom colleagues celebrate as “a hoot” exemplifies the spirit of Turetsky’s project: rather than make fun of each other, as in other office narratives, his HR crew has fun with each other, while planning ahead, meeting the needs of all stakeholders, and giving OUPM the tools for success. A new recruiter, brought on to hire the VR team, makes sure to pin down the company’s precise needs before starting her search, noting “We cannot just hire people thinking that we need to do some work for an artificial deadline.”

Diverse, driven, and always listening to each other, the HR Data Doodles series demonstrate all that readers may wish companies could be. Turetsky’s vibrant character design, appealing faces, smart workplace dialogue, and insights into what a fully empowered, ready-to-adapt HR team can accomplish all will please readers looking for positive examples of office teams taking on the future.

Takeaway: Inspiring comics of HR pros facing and shaping the future.

Comparable Titles: Karen Beaven’s Strategic Human Resource Management, Thomas H. Davenport and Steven M. Miller’s Working with AI.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Final Video Game
Craig Speakes
In this action-packed middle grade sci-fi adventure from Speakes (author of the Keeper series), rogue AI manifests as the video game character Razer and traps the minds of children gamers within the program. As a result, kids are stuck in gaming comas with no hope of release. To fight the nefarious AI, the government recruits the best young gamers and hackers with hopes of finding a savior capable of shutting down the dangerous program from within the game. Could Oliver “Oli” Turner be the hero the world is searching for? A 13-year-old struggling to come to terms with the disappearance of his father, Oli must find the confidence to join the battle and protect humanity from the out-of-control AI before mankind is lost to the machine.

Oli’s insecurities get tested in multiple high-intensity battles. Speakes wastes no time setting up the nail-biting action and inviting readers into the unique story world. The virtual game mirrors reality with cityscapes that riff on our own but adds a funky comedic undertone with silly road names (“Fishin’ is Squishin’) and Razer’s unique speech style—the villain calls himself “Big Daddy Razer” and refers to Oli and his friends as “all my brothers from all those cute little fleshy mothers.” Rockets, cyborgs, and drones pose threats as Oli and his friends navigate the simulation, and while some may find the fight sequences a tad repetitive at times, the overall tension and mystery surrounding the AI’s origins keep readers engaged.

While Oli’s bravery helps him learn the valuable lesson of sacrificing for the greater good, his hacker friend Sparky shines bright in the spotlight. Sparky’s intelligence and quick thinking play pivotal roles in saving the day and keeping Oli safe. Her tenacity solidifies her as a strong young female role model many readers will connect with. Within the cautionary tale of putting too much trust in AI, the two develop a tight bond that exemplifies the importance of teamwork and friendship. Young readers interested in video games, AI, and sci-fi will plug into this thrilling adventure.

Takeaway: Thrilling middle grade sci-fi with rogue AI, cyborgs, and memorable characters.

Comparable Titles: James Dashner’s The Eye of Minds, Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller’s Otherworld.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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An Unlikely Arrangement: Brides of Biltmore
Cindy Patterson
The first novel in the Brides of Biltmore series from Patterson (author of Broken Butterfly) infuses a sweet classic romance with a compelling story of personal evolution. Abigail Dupree despairs of her parents’ choice for her future husband: William Arendell, a boorish lout many years her senior. But a scandal in Abigail’s past brought shame upon her and her family, limiting her options for marriage in early 1900s North Carolina high society. When Abigail slips away from the house to avoid a social engagement that will force her to interact with her terrible suitor, she finds herself in a precarious situation. Fortunately, she encounters Garrett Barringer, her father’s handsome and gentlemanly new employee who escorts her back to safety.

Abigail chafes at Garrett’s continued overprotective interference in her life and the complications he creates as she plans to salvage her tarnished reputation, but his presence forces her to look at things in a new way. Abigail’s journey of self-discovery has many twists and turns as she struggles to know her mind and follow her heart while still honoring God and her family. Her lack of self-awareness, while occasionally frustrating, lends authenticity to her character. Readers who are patient with the pace of her growth will be rewarded with an inspiring journey towards greater maturity and self-knowledge.

Though Abigail strives to be “grown up” and independent, she must navigate the many restrictive social conventions of the Gilded Age, which affect everything from her forbidden friendship with her maid Rose to the social graces at parties, including those she attends at the wealthy Vanderbilt family’s new Biltmore Mansion (keep an eye out for a charming cameo by the bold Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore). Abigail’s strong Christian values also affect her thoughts and actions, offering crucial touchstones as she struggles with control, guilt, and forgiveness. Readers who enjoy Regency romance will find all its traditional components here, along with deeper, spiritual reflection on love.

Takeaway: Gentle, slow-burn romance with a convincing heroine at a crossroads.

Comparable Titles: Jen Turano’s Behind the Scenes series; M.A. Nichols’s The Kingsleys series.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-

The Happiest Preschool: A Manual for Teacher
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D.
Making the case that the "the most important goal of all education,” especially at the earliest levels, is “to preserve and enhance curiosity and a love of learning,” psychotherapist Pieper (Smart Love) shares a nurturing and positive alternative to the education of what preschool can be. She presents the S.M.A.R.T program, an initiative whose somewhat tricky acronym reveals its empathetic ethos and approach: "Stay positive, Model kindness, Acknowledge and accept feelings, loving Regulation, and Time with.” Through the testimony of teachers and hard-won first-hand knowledge, The Happiest Preschool provides guidance for the nourishment of preschoolers with an inviting, play-based teaching method that focuses on learning through play and authentic experiences in the classroom.

Pieper reports the heartening results that the S.M.A.R.T. program has achieved at the Natalie G. Heineman Smart Love Preschool. The program removes the standard "rules," such as forcing children to clean up or to participate, instead reinforcing the concept of choice and creating an opportunity for children to understand the "natural consequence of playing." Pieper explores the reasoning behind and impact of this approach, noting that children thrive within it and take behavioral cues from the “respectful, happy, calm, and healthy” classroom, even “when frustrations and conflicts arise.” Throughout, Pieper introduces creative ways for teachers to teach young children respect for themselves and others, group and solitary play, and healthy avenues to express their emotions through modeled behavior and gentle guidance.

Perfect for readers who interact or work with young children, The Happiest Preschool is a positive, persuasive resource guide filled with practical advice, big-picture thinking, and helpful scenarios demonstrating how early education teachers and parents can implement the S.M.A.R.T. principles to not only help the students but also to gain valuable experience and practice themselves for calm, productive classrooms for years to come.

Takeaway: Practical guide to inviting, play-based learning for the youngest students.

Comparable Titles: Mitchel Resnick's Lifelong Kindergarten, Allie Ticktin's Play to Progress.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Click here for more about The Happiest Preschool
SOULSCAPES
Lee Woodman
Woodman’s fifth collection in the Scapes series, following Artscapes, offers an impassioned set of poems which strive toward mysteries of the spiritual realm with a joyful, nondenominational approach. At times, the poet writes from a neo-pagan perspective, as in “A Child Asks.” Woodman writes, “What is God? // I think, not darkly, // God is death,” but informing that line is the poet’s clear conviction that death is not so much an end as it is a transformation. In Soulscapes, the grave is a bed and also a womb where the expired are “beckoned by life-to-be” to bloom anew.

“Benjamin” and “Past Life” also explore life, death, and spirit, contemplating the conjuring of deceased souls and children who remember past existences, while other entries, like “Postcards Way Over the Edge,” in which the speaker receives a postcard from her father in heaven, and “Grasping for Faith, a Ballad” which touches on the trinity, grapple with a distinctly Christian faith. In Woodman’s collection, all of these incarnations of the spiritual are valid channels through which people can access the divine, while poetry itself is a spiritual rite that uses language as a conduit for godliness.

Soulscapes is an entry point; not every poem will resonate with the convictions of all readers, but those seeking an open-hearted, spiritual collection with a welcoming attitude will find comfort in Woodman’s verses. “Fifty Senses,” in particular, summarizes the collection’s devotion to plurality in its declaration that humanity’s senses far exceed five. “I believe sensations beyond my limbs,” Woodman writes, “I experience joy of silent // songs in my sleep—unheard shouts within nightmares. // I swim in space,” and each of these extra-sensory experiences is a connection, however small, to the energy of the universe. The key, this searching collection suggests, is to be open to them all.

Takeaway: Spiritually panoramic poems that celebrate myriad ways humanity seeks the divine.

Comparable Titles: Robinson Jeffers’s “The Treasure,” Brenda Hillman’s “Little Furnace”

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Click here for more about SOULSCAPES
The Orphanage By The Lake: A Captivating Psychological Crime Thriller With A Twist
Daniel G. Miller
Struggling New York PI Hazel Cho lands a big case: demanding client Madeline Hemsley offers a huge fee to Hazel if she can find her young goddaughter, who recently disappeared from an upstate orphanage. But Hazel quickly finds she won't earn her fee easily. Not only is her new client secretive, but she's given Hazel a short deadline. Hazel jumps into the case, which includes the quirky orphanage staff and a strangely reticent local police department. Meanwhile, she fights her own uncertainties, as she copes with her traditional Korean family—and a case that soon becomes very twisty.

Miller (author of The Tree of Knowledge series) has created a delightful new PI with Hazel, who is smart and savvy—and yet human and emotional in a refreshing change from the usual hardboiled shamus. She has a weakness for handsome men and even though she's brave, she almost falls apart trying to buy a new dress. It's fascinating to watch Hazel gradually figure out that one missing girl may be the tip of the iceberg in a ghastly conspiracy. In fact, readers should be warned that the crimes are horrific, going at times almost over the top. Hazel may be sweet, but the story edges toward the gothic.

Still, as the plot unfolds, it will be hard for readers who are open to that darkness to put down the book, as Miller is an expert in ratcheting up the tension and deftly scattering red herrings. He's also given Hazel an equally interesting cast of supporting characters, such as her ditzy but loyal roommate Kenny. Perfectly well-limned is Hazel's increasingly difficult client Madeline: although she starts as a stock character, Hazel shrewdly digs deep, and when she finds the truth about her client, it's heartbreaking. Miller ties together all the loose ends, leaving readers hoping to meet Hazel in a future adventure, so they can cheer her on to another success.

Takeaway: Chilling, deftly plotted mystery series kickoff.

Comparable Titles: Helen Fields, Sam Holland.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

Cameron and the Shadow-wraiths: A Battle of Anxiety vs. Trust
Mark Cheverton
Rising eighth-grader Cameron Poole (introduced in Facing the Beast Within) returns to Camp Pontchartrain for another harrowing clash with monsters sent from a parallel world. A year has passed since he and his friends bravely defeated Malphas, the Demon Lord of Agartha and ruler of monsters, sending the demon to the dark recesses of the Void. Now, a new foe emerges, forcing reluctant Cameron back into battle. With both old and new friends by his side, Cameron once again must wrestle self-doubt and immobilizing anxiety to save the world from evil.

Middle grade series veteran Cheverton, as always, ensures that readers jumping into a new entry will be brought up to speed on pivotal moments from earlier books, and Cameron’s previous heroics are here recapped with wit and vigor. Returning readers will appreciate catching up with this quite-relatable hero, a camper distinguished by his wavering self-esteem and the crippling anxiety that he calls his “Beast.” Cheverton’s passion for accurate and encouraging depictions of mental health concerns in young people again sets this series apart, and amid the adventures Cheverton provides parents and readers with practical methods for addressing anxiety and stress. This is showcased through Cameron’s various therapeutic techniques as well as a list of valuable mental health resources.

But what matters most to readers, of course, is the brisk plotting and the dire dangers Cameron faces, in this case the “sharp teeth and pointed claws” of wraiths from a parallel world, a thinning boundary between realities, and the “buzzing insects” of anxiety inside his head. Readers of middle grade monster mashes won’t be surprised by the outcome, here, though the life lessons (like “the true version of yourself can give you the strength to overcome your greatest fear”) are healthy and important, demonstrated through storytelling approaches to facing self-confidence, friendship, and overcoming dread.

Takeaway: An encouraging middle-grade fantasy for children facing extreme anxiety.

Comparable Titles: Annalise Meriwether’s The Spinner of Dreams, Susan Tan’s Ghosts, Toast, and Other Hazards.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-

Click here for more about Cameron and the Shadow-wraiths
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