This was originally posted on Island Books’ tumblr
It’s always a pleasure to see the list of finalists for the annual Washington State Book Awards, not least because the judges are some of our favorite people, local booksellers and librarians. We especially wanted to take note of this slate of books, though, since so many of their authors have spent time at Island Books during the past year.
Laurie Frankel visited us to share This Is How it Always Is, a book we chose for our Best of the Year list and also added to our Open Book Club rotation. It’s about a traditional family—mom, dad, and a mob of rambunctious boys—whose stability tilts unexpectedly when the youngest of them makes the announcement that he is really a girl. The novel handles the subject of transgendered children squarely yet tenderly, but the real takeaway here is the universal truth that parenting is always a challenge best met with boundless love. Obviously we’re great fans of Laurie’s book, but also of her as a person. She’s such a great guest that she gifted us with an exclusive essay before she came.
Another finalist in the fiction category is Elise Hooper, who spoke to the Mercer Island Woman’s Club Luncheon about her historical novel The Other Alcott, which examines one of the best-known families in American literature. Hooper’s account focuses on the youngest sibling in the clan, May, a visual artist working in the shadow of her older sister’s reputation, chagrined by her fictionalized portrayal in Louisa Alcott’s bestselling Little Women. Elise put down her writer’s pen and picked up her interviewer’s microphone when she returned for a second author event later in the year.
Legendary librarian and literacy advocate Nancy Pearl was yet another island visitor. Long a favorite of ours for her astute book recommendations, this year she became a first-time novelist via George & Lizzie. The title characters enact a comic, messy love affair that’s one of the most memorable in recent memory. It’s clear from the beginning that everything’s going to work out well in the end, but how that happy ending is achieved has to be read to be believed. Nancy’s appearance was exceptionally fun; rather than simply having her read from her book, we had our two regular bloggers conduct a tag-team interview with her. Given the unexpected sexcapades that permeate the pages, we wanted to call the event “A Threeway with Nancy Pearl,” but we wisely refrained.
The non-fiction category includes David Williams as a finalist for his contributions to Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal, another book that made our Best of the Year list. David has expert knowledge of both the history of our region and its present day features of interest, so we were delighted when he recently treated us to a custom walking tour of our Mercer Island neighborhood.
The Washington Center for the Book didn’t forget about our favorite writers for children when the finalists were named. In the middle-grade category we find J. Anderson Coats and The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming. An imaginative account based on real events, the story sees young Jane sail from the East Coast around the horn to a bustling logging town on Puget Sound. Initially disillusioned by the muddy streets and rough manners of frontier Seattle, Jane’s self-reliance comes to the fore and she eventually falls in love with her new home. We’re great fans of this book, which more than withstands comparison with the classic Little House on the Prairie, and the local setting—at one point Jane commutes to school by canoe past the north end of Mercer Island—makes it even more special. Author Jillian took part in our Seattle7Writers Cookout not long ago.
More local connections are made in Dori Jones Yang’s The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, another historical tale based on truth. In the 1870s 120 boys were sent to New England by the Emperor of China, commissioned to live with American families, study hard, and return home to modernize their native land. Dori’s impulsive and curious hero, twelve-year-old Leon, is determined to follow the Emperor’s rules, keeping the braid that shows his loyalty and resisting such forbidden American temptations as baseball. Eventually, Leon faces a tough decision, torn between his loyalty to his birth country and his growing love for his new home. The story dramatizes both the rigid expectations and the wrenching alienation felt by many foreign children in America today–and richly captures that tension between love and hate that is culture shock. We celebrated the publication of this remarkable novel with Dori around this time last year.
In the award category for young readers, we spy Asia Citro’s name. She’s the author of the Zoey & Sassafras series, a favorite of ours for its combination of fact and fancy, science and adventure. Dragons and Marshmallows, the debut title, is characteristic: a sick baby dragon needs help, but it’s Zoey’s knowledge and training that work real magic. All the books promote STEM studies and educate their readers without them even realizing, they’re having so much fun. We took Asia to the Mercer Island Farmers Market not long ago, where a fine time was had by everyone who stopped by our booth and helped us rescue magical creatures.
The winners of this year’s Washington State Book Awards will be announced at the Seattle Central Library on Saturday, October 13th. How many of our invited guests will take home a prize? Stay tuned!
–James Crossley, Island Books, Mercer Island, WA