Sunday, December 15, 2013

New children's books in time for the holidays

             Multi-faceted, award-winning musician and author Johnette Downing of New Orleans has just released another fun-filled children’s book. “How to Dress a Po-boy” shows how the traditional New Orleans sandwich is made, from Blue Plate Mayonnaise to hot sauce and “debris,” with delightful illustrations created from collage. In the back is a brief history of the po-boy with definition of words used throughout the book.
            Downing is the author of several Louisiana-themed books, all making great holiday gifts for young children, including “My Aunt Came Back from Louisiana,” “Why the Crawfish Lives in the Mud” and “Today is Monday in Louisiana,” among many others.
            Other children’s books for those on your holiday list include:
            “What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo” by Grace Millsaps and Ryan Murphy, illustrated by John Clark IV and Alyson Kilday, is an explanation by a father to his daughter what animals do at night when she spots the zoo animals sleeping during the day. The manuscript was awarded Best New Orleans Children’s Book at the 2012 New Orleans Children’s Book Festival.
            William Joyce of Shreveport, known for his innovative books, TV series and films, has just published two new Moonbot books, “The Mischievians” and “Sandman and the War of Dreams” (Book four of “The Guardians” series for ages 7-11). Publisher Weekly said of his new publications, “Clever touches abound in Joyce’s whimsically imagined portraits of the creatures, with their odd tufts of hair, spindly appendages, and assorted suction cups, horns, and accessories.”
            If you’re like me and still are in awe of Joyce’s Academy Award-winning film, “Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore,” for a limited time you can purchase a
Morris Lessmore Holiday Bundle, including the Morris Lessmore picture book, DVD of the animated short and a 12-inch by 9-inch print and limited edition sketchbook at
            Dr. Maitland Deland, an oncologist and chairman of the Health Education Authority of Louisiana, has started a new children’s series titled “Baby Santa,” which introduces young readers to the youngest and most rambuctious member of the Claus family. In the first installment, Baby Santa helps dad save Christmas, illustrating what parents and kids can accomplish when they work together. For more information, visit
            Just in time for the holidays is “Donkey Otie’s Forever Birthday Story” by Vicky C. Branton with Darren Cranford, illustrator, and Terry Ververgaert, colorist. Little Donkey Otie, who carries Mary and Joseph into Bethleham, tells the Christmas story to other animals in this delightful, easy to read book for young children. There’s also a birthday certificate in the back with related biblical references. The book is also available in French.
            Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the bestselling series “Amulet,” edits the second collection of comics in the “Explorer” series, this one surrounding hidden places in “Explorer: The Lost Islands.” There’s the entrepreneurial rabbit of “Rabbit Island” by Jake Parker, stories of friendship in “Carapace” by Jason Caffoe and “Loah” by Michael Gagné and a young teen discovering herself in “Desert Island Playlist,” among others. Kibuishi himself offers a tale of greed, ego and redemption in “The Fishermen.” A fabulous collection of tales, “Explorer” is sure to be a hit for any comic lovers.
            Jennifer Smith Culotta of Baton Rouge has self-published a tale of a stubborn young girl who refuses to take off her favorite shoes in “The Girl With the Red Rubber Boots.” The book is illustrated by Brittany Hanson and includes a vocabulary list in back.

New releases
            Carolyn Kolb, who teaches Louisiana history at Tulane and is the author of “The Dolphin Guide to New Orleans,” compiles lovely essays about various aspects of New Orleans in “New Orleans Memories: One Writer’s City.” There are reminiscings about Mardi Gras, music (reading about Werlein’s on Canal was a nice trip down memory lane), writings and my personal favorite, food, from nectar ice cream sodas and that fabulous Leidenheimer bread to making groceries at Schwegmann’s with its political ads on shopping bags and cocktails to make the experience a little nicer. Naturally, the former Kolb’s restaurant opens the food chapter, although the author is not related.
            The essays were once printed as monthly “Chronicles of Recent History” in New Orleans Magazine, but expanded and updated for the book. “New Orleans Memories” is just that, a beautiful look back on a unique and fascinating city and its traditions, culture and places that may or may not still be there. I whole-heartedly recommend this book for the NOLA native in your life.
            Closer to home, Philip Andrepont, Patrick Morrow and Warren A. Perrin collect stories and photos for “St. Landry Parish,” part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. Culling from almost 300 years of Louisiana history (St. Landry Parish is one of the oldest in Louisiana and Opelousas the third oldest city), the book celebrates the culture and history of sports figures, politicians, musicians, les gens de couleur libres (free people of color) and more. The variety of photos and stories represents the diversity of the parish — Acadians, Creoles, African Americans and Native American. Check it out; you might find a few relatives!

Honoring family
            Alice J. Voorhies has compiled a lovely tribute to her mother and the history of her family titled “The Promise: In Memory of Joyce V. Voorhies, 1920-2007.” Alice promised her mother she would write her story but Joyce passed away before the task was done; the book is Joyce fulfilling that promise. Voorhies is descended from the Loreauville Broussards and Vedrines, growing up in New Iberia with her colorful parents and siblings. The book naturally contains family history but is full of personal and humorous stories that bring those memories to life, complemented by photos, genealogical information — even recipes in the back. Jeannie Kreamer brought this book to my attention, calling it  “a delightful and humorous memoir” that made her laugh out loud in parts. It most definitely is, filled with heart-warming memories from all members of the family. If you’re looking to learn more about New Iberia history through one family’s writing, or view how a family history is published well, check out Voorhies’ masterful tribute.

            Kirkus has named the best non-fiction titles of 2013 and they include “Five Days at Memorial,” a recounting of what happened at Memorial Medical Center of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, written by Pulitzer Prize–winning medical journalist Sheri Fink, and “Men We Reaped: A Memoir,” by Jesmyn Ward, the author of “Salvage the Bones.”

Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at