Sunday, March 29, 2015

New children's books include Louisiana subjects

             Looking for great children’s books? The spring offers lots of wonderful new titles.
            A couple of children bring home a bunny one spring who turns out to be the Easter Bunny in “The Littlest Bunny in Louisiana: An Easter Adventure” by Lily Jacobs, illustrated by Robert Dunn. As the bunny makes the rounds, readers are treated to Louisiana locales such as Sam Houston State Park, Tiger baseball and the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. At the book’s conclusion, readers are challenged to find the 20 eggs hidden among its pages. Sourcebooks, which published this cute title, also published the localized holiday books “A Halloween Scare in Louisiana,” written by Eric James, illustrated by Marina Le Ray, and “Santa is Coming to Louisiana,” written by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Robert Dunn and Jim Mitchell.
            Michael J. Rosen incorporates a variety of felines to teach poetry to children in “The Maine Coon’s Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers,” beautifully illustrated by Lee White. Each poetic turn highlights a type of cat, such as Turkish angora, Burmese and Ragdoff. For the British Shorthair, perched on a car peppered with his paw prints, the haiku reads: “paws plant mud-daises, along the polished hillside, parked on the cat’s street.” For the Birman tossling the ball of yarn, “up to bat again, white-mitted kitten hits! runs!, fields! slides into home!” In the back of the book are details about the spotlighted cats.
            Another lovely book that teaches children about nature with breathtaking photos of birds in flight is “Sweep Up the Sun,” by Helen Frost with photography by Rick Lieder. The prose is lyrical and inspirational while the photos both delight youngsters and provide lessons in bird identification. Like Rosen’s haiku book, “Sweep Up the Sun” offers details in the back about the birds used in the story.
            We have to admit, pop-up books amaze and delight us, especially modern pop-ups with their intricate designs. Shawn Sheehy takes readers through a woody neighborhood in “Welcome to the Neighborwood.” There’s a hummingbird, garden spider, a potter wasp and the underwater stickleback, among others, and all combine at the end in a magnificent display. “Neighborwood” is a fabulous introduction to nature with children sure to love the creatures leaping from its pages.
            Just in time for baseball season is “Growing Up Pedro” by Matt Tavares, which at first glance appears to be about Pedro Martinez, three-time Cy Young winner and part of the Red Sox World Series team. The book does center around Pedro but the story details his close relationship with his brother, Ramon, who also played Major League Baseball. Because of this touching sibling relationship that lasted throughout their careers, even when they played against each other, “Growing Up Pedro” has to be one of my favorite children’s sports books. Sports fans, Sox fans or fans of a moving story will not want to miss this book.
            Ellen Ellzey, a high school teacher from Sulphur, has self-published a young adult fantasy titled “Crimson Ashes” which takes place in Louisiana and revolves around Alida Mouton who has a harsh reputation, an abusive uncle and a living fire inside of her. Her best and only friend, Angeline, knows her secret until a beautiful boy named Casey Comeaux starts following her. While Alida struggles with deceit, murder, voodoo and homelessness, he and his friends try to push their way into her life, changing it forever. The book is currently available as a digital download on Amazon, but print copies will be available soon.
            Leif Pedersen, the Lake Charles author and creator of “The Adventures of the Swamp Kids,” has published “A Zoo Ta-do” that takes place in New Orleans and incorporates Tim Banfell’s illustrations and photography from New Orleans FOX-8 TV anchor, John Snell. “I knew from the outset that if I was going to give children a true and vivid visual overview of the Swamp Kid’s visit to the zoo, it would require that I pair the two into the storyline and I am very pleased with the resulting outcome,” Pedersen wrote me by email. “As I’m sure you are aware, many of the animals/reptiles at Audubon Zoo are unlike any others found in the world and this treatment gives them what I had hoped for. And Tim masterfully ‘dropped’ his illustrated characters into each scene beautifully.” The book includes comments by Audubon Institute President and CEO Ron Forman.

New adult releases
            Maggie Collins, a former English teacher and resident of Loreauville and current educational diagnostician with the Jefferson Parish Schools, has published her novel “Celestial Blue Skies,” which was shortlisted for the Ernest Gaines Award in 2014. The novel was also nominated for the Push Cart Prize. Collins has a bachelor’s degree from UL and a master’s from UNO and participated in the fellowship with the Center for Black Literature. She is currently writing another novel titled “A Vampire in my Farm Town Utopia” as well as a nonfiction book, “The Last of the Traiteurs and Tea Men.” “My book ‘Celestial Blue Skies’ is dedicated to my Uncle Roman Auzenne of Leonville,” Collins wrote me by email. “He was a great storyteller who inspired my novel.”Collins will sign and discuss her books Saturday, April 4, at the Iberia Parish Public Library Main Branch on 445 Main Street in New Iberia. 

George Takei
            George Takei, known for playing the character Hikaru Sulu in the “Star Trek” series, will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Brown Auditorium as part of this year’s Lyceum Series. Takei has performed in television, film and on Broadway since his “Star Trek” days and performed voice-overs in films such as “Mulan,” “Mulan II” and “Batman Beyond: The Movie.” He’s also narrated documentaries and is the author of several books, including his latest, a biography, “To The Stars: Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu.” 
             A documentary on Takei’s life and career titled “To be Takei” came out last August. 
      A vocal advocate, Takei has a large social media following, including yours truly, which veers from humorous and sarcastic posts to political. Takei was detained in two U.S. internment camps during World War II, one of which was located in southern Arkansas about 100 miles from Monroe. He is chairman emeritus and a trustee of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, has served as the spokesperson for human rights campaigns and was cultural affairs chairman of the Japanese American Citizens League. He was appointed to the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission by former Pres. Bill Clinton and the government of Japan awarded Takei the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, for his contribution to U.S.-Japanese relations.

Book events
            The 29th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival concludes today at various venues in New Orleans. For more information, visit http://www.tennesseewilliams.net/
            The Writers’ Guild of Acadiana will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Nobles in Lafayette.


Louisiana Book News is written by Cheré Coen, the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.