Depleted Soil, Dirty Water, Bird Brains & Big Ag: ATXSciWri’s Best in Fest Shortlist

guest post by Austin Texas Science Writers

For the past two years, one mission of Austin Texas Science Writers has been to uncover the best science and nature writing. In Fall 2018, we launched the ATXSciRead book club in collaboration with BookPeople. Our book club has tackled sci-comm classics, like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; welcomed authors near (Karen Olsson) and far (Deborah Blum, Katherine Eban); and sought out new voices on topics ranging from botany and indigenous knowledge (Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass) to race in medicine (Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat).

Here, we share our most anticipated science and environmental titles at the 2020 Festival.

Perilous Bounty by Tom Philpott

Teresa Carr – Board Vice President, Independent Science and Health Journalist

Compared to 50 years ago, today’s industrial agriculture produces far more food on less land — but at a cost of less diversity in crops, depleted soils, and heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides. In Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of Agriculture and What We Can Do to Prevent it, veteran journalist and former farmer Tom Philpott makes the case that poor stewardship of natural resources have put American farming — and the global food supply — in grave danger.

I can’t bring myself to read too much doom-and-gloom these days, so I’m looking forward to Philpott’s reporting on the innovators who are developing resilient, soil-building, and water-smart farming practices that could very well prevent the looming crisis.

The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman

Julie Grisham – Board President, Science and Medical Writer

As a daydreamer, I often find myself staring out the window and watching the birds in my yard. And as a writer who frequently covers neuroscience, I know that studying bird brains has helped scientists uncover many new findings about how human brains work. So I’m excited about Jennifer Ackerman’s new book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Ackerman’s book highlights recent research on birds, ranging from parrots to pigeons to penguins and more. Full of anecdotes and facts, it will make you think about our feathered friends in a whole new way.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

K. Angel Horne – Director-at-large, Nature Interpreter

While “activist fiction” doesn’t often make it to beach towels or wine-and-cheese-style book clubs, if one still has the luxury of literature in the fall of 2020, they are basically obliged to crack the spine of a darkly comedic examination of modern humanity framed by factory farming — don’t you think? Have you, after all, felt “cooped up” these long months? Have your grocery-store forays become a different beast altogether? Released this year, the book is not only timely, but lyrical and acute. It is a heist story and political commentary pregnant with complexity and presented through consciousness both homosapien and avian. Its deservedly lauded author, Deb Olin Unferth, has served us this opportunity wrapped in rich prose. Unferth is a Chicago native now teaching at UT Austin and running the Pen City Writers, a creative writing program at a max security penitentiary in South Texas. It is clear she is dedicated to uplifting the voices of those marginalized and confined, human and otherwise.

WASTE by Catherine Coleman Flowers

Eileen McGinnis – Board Secretary, Climate Activist

At first glance, a book about sewage might seem like a curious pick. But Catherine Coleman Flowers’ WASTE: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret is about so much more. Her book tells the story of rural communities of color throughout the United States that lack access to safe water and waste infrastructure. Flowers is the perfect guide: founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, she grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a Civil-Rights-Era battleground now enmeshed in a struggle for basic sanitation.

In a time of intersecting crises, WASTE promises a necessary — and deeply personal — education in environmental justice, as well as a path forward to building a more inclusive environmental movement.

You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

Emily Moskal – Director-at-large, Communications Specialist

Listening is the crux of many of life’s most important connections. Author Kate Murphy wants to improve your life with a simple adage: listen better. In You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, Murphy explores the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience behind this oft-neglected personal skill.

Superman’s Not Coming by Erin Brockovich

Nika Sarraf – Student Board Member, Environmental Science Student

Erin Brockovich’s newest book, Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It details the water crises being faced by Americans throughout the United States, and what we can do as individuals to help preserve this resource. Brockovich is no stranger to advocating for environmental issues, and she continues to do so by stressing the importance of citizen science and individual responsibility.


Recommended Young Adult and Children’s Literature to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Young Adult

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez

Camila Hassan is a girl struggling to hold herself to her mother’s high standards at home and play her best on the fútbol field without her family knowing about her sport. Set in Argentina, Furia provides readers with secrets, romance, and a coming-of-age story for young adult readers and will be featured at this year’s festival.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land is the story of two sisters, one in New York and the other in the Dominican Republic, who find each other after their father dies tragically in a plane crash. Elizabeth Acevedo’s book will be featured in the festival this fall, and TBF will be welcoming Acevedo as a keynote speaker at the Texas Teen Book Festival on Saturday, October 31. RSVP here.

Running by Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is another author attending the 2020 Texas Book Festival to discuss her YA debut Running (RSVP here). Her book follows Cuban American teenager Mariana Ruiz as surprising information about her father is revealed in his campaign to become president. 

They Call Me Güero by David Bowles 

Texas author David Bowles’ book of poetry shares twelve-year-old Güero’s experience as a Mexican American border kid trying to navigate middle school. These poems follow Güero as he creates trouble with his misfit friends, becomes interested in girls, and spends time with his family. Bowles will also be featured at TBF 2020 to present his book Rise of the Halfling King (Tales of the Feathered Serpent #1). RSVP here!

Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano 

Released this February, Anna Meriano’s third book of the Love Sugar Magic series titled A Mixture of Mischief takes a turn when Leo Logroño’s long-lost abuelo becomes part of her life. With Abuelo Logroño’s return, he begins to teach Leo more about the magic of the brujas as her family’s bakery Amor y Azúcar is under threat of its new neighbor, the Honeybee bakery. RSVP here to see Meriano at this year’s TBF!


¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third

Texas Book Festival author Raúl the Third’s latest ¡Vamos! book offers readers descriptions of Little Lobo’s favorite street food eats along with some Spanish vocabulary. RSVP for his TBF session here!

Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez

Rebecca J. Gomez is another author attending the 2020 festival. Federico and the Wolf is a Mexican American retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and it even includes Federico’s celebratory salsa recipe for readers to recreate. RSVP for Gomez’s TBF session here!

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña

My Papi Has a Motorcycle takes readers on a ride with Daisy Ramona and her papi through their neighborhood. This award-winning author and illustrator duo captures the love a daughter has for her father and for the community she has come to know. Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña will be attending the 2020 Texas Book Festival – RSVP for their session here.

Accordionly: Abuelo & Opa Make Music by Michael Genhart

When a young grandson’s Opa and Abuelo visit him at the same time, he comes up with a creative way to connect the two grandfathers who don’t speak the same language. Accordionly takes inspiration the family of author Michael Genhart, who is also a TBF author. RSVP for his session here!

When Julia Danced Bomba by Raquel M. Ortiz

When Julia Danced Bomba is the story of a girl who learned the Afro-Latino dance bomba by letting go of her control and listening to the music. Rachel M. Ortiz’s bilingual picture book connects readers to her Puerto Rican heritage and reminds them to enjoy themselves while learning new skills.

Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez

Inspired by the author’s childhood memories, Octopus Stew follows young Ramsey as he tries to save his grandmother from the monstrous octopus they are trying to cook for dinner. Eric Velasquez’s book has two alternate versions of events and includes his family’s recipe for octopus stew, so readers can join in the adventure. 

My Shoes and I by Rene Colato Lainez 

Just before leaving for his journey from El Salvador to the United States, Mario’s mother sends him a pair of new shoes to carry him to her. The bilingual picture book My Shoes and I tells the story of a young boy and his father crossing over three borders, mountains, and rivers to reunite their family. 

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

In her picture book memoir, Yuyi Morales tells of her migration to the United States and the meaning of the items she brought with her. Dreamers is about the author’s own dreams and the dreams of others who have left home to follow them.

Book-to-film adaptations for kids of all ages

by Ami Gandhi

I begin this post with two confessions: one, I am a former high school English teacher so analyzing books and movies is something I do for fun, and two, my five and eight-year-old boys helped me with this post. While I have read most of the books below, they have watched many of the movies more recently; in fact, they’ve watched a lot of movies (and thankfully read a lot of books) during the past six months. I used to be strict about screen time until, that is, we entered the age of the Coronavirus Pandemic and my boys came home from school one day last spring and just never went back! Currently, kids all over this country are experiencing various forms of “going to school”, from virtual to hybrid to in-person. My kids happen to be full-time virtual students, which means that they pretty much don’t ever leave my house, and since they’re five and eight, they pretty much don’t ever leave my side!  They still want to watch shows and movies during their free time but now I feel guilty about it because they already spend a lot of time in front of screens in order to “attend” school. I’m guessing that a lot of you parents out there can relate, which is why I suggest that you transform your kids’ movie-watching experiences into legitimate (as certified by me 😉) literary and film analysis assignments! You can even have them write proper essays if you’d like, though I don’t recommend it. 😊

Remember the phrase “compare and contrast” from probably all your years of schooling? Side note: I still say “compare and contrast” in my daily conversations with my husband and kids, no joke. Chances are your kids are already being asked to compare and contrast for school so why not give them additional practice (it’s good for their brains!) while also allowing, nay inviting them to watch more movies! As a former English teacher, the rule in my house has always been “read the book first, then watch the movie,” and my kids have followed this with series like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It helped that I started reading the books aloud to them when they were too young to watch the movies and then my older son finished both series on his own. Reading before watching is important to me because I want my kids to have the opportunity to exercise their imaginations and visualize the images  (like the Great Hall at Hogwarts with its suspended candelabras and starlit ceiling!) before seeing the film director and set designers’ interpretation of the authors’  words.

Other reasons to have you kids read (or listen to you read) before watching a movie is to introduce them to well-known characters and stories before they’re mature enough to watch the movies, as in the case of the Star Wars series and the Marvel Universe. Little Golden Books has a book for each Star Wars film and there are many versions of Marvel stories out there for preschoolers and elementary-aged kids. We have not allowed our kids to watch any Marvel live-action films yet but they’ve met all the heroes and villains through children’s books so they/re able to participate in this pop culture phenomenon of our time.  The Star Wars movies, on the other hand, my kids have watched (all nine since March, not surprisingly), and reading the books first helped them to understand the characters and complex plots in the movies. Watching the movies was a much more enjoyable experience for them because they weren’t struggling to make sense of what they were watching.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to surreptitiously turn your kids’ entertainment into educational experiences, and to sweeten the deal I offer you some questions to (nonchalantly) ask your kids. By now these conversations naturally arise between me and my kids, and sometimes my kids are the ones to start the discussion. As a matter of fact, I was inspired to write this post after my younger son, who had listened to the audiobook for The BFG, watched the movie and was outraged at the differences between the two. Yes, you read me right: my five-year-old started the compare and contrast analysis of The BFG simply because he was confused and mad that the movie doesn’t reflect the book perfectly! So try out the following questions on your kids and you may end up having enriching and enjoyable conversations with them!

  1. What happens in the movie that doesn’t happen in the book? Why do you think the filmmakers decided to include these scenes? How do these scenes make the movie more exciting or entertaining for you?
  2. What happens in the book which doesn’t happen in the movie? Why do you think the filmmakers left these parts out?
  3. Are the characters in the movie the way you imagined them in your mind while reading the book? Do they look and sound and act as you’d imagined them? In what ways are they the same and in what ways are they different?

Of course, I think you should always start with “How did you like the book? How did you like the movie?” and then encourage them to explain their opinions. Here is a list of fantastic books that have corresponding movies, many of which my family has enjoyed and discussed. Please be sure to check movie ratings and reviews to check for appropriateness for your children.

Movies based on illustrated children’s books: Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (we love this one!), Where The Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax ( love this one too!), The Grinch (three film versions!), The Polar Express, Curious George, Paddington, Peter Rabbit, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Movies based on children’s classics (middle-grade): The Chronicles of Narnia series, Charlotte’s Web,  Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, A Little Princess, White Fang (animated and live-action), The Call of the Wild, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Cheaper By The Dozen, A Wrinkle in Time, Alice in Wonderland ( both animated and live-action)

Movies based on contemporary classics (middle-grade): Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, The One and Only Ivan, Bridge to Terebithia, Tuck Everlasting, Coraline, Harriet the Spy, Holes, The Giver,  Ramona and Beezus, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (two versions), The BFG, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches (we love Roald Dahl books and movies!)

Movies/Series based on contemporary/popular fiction (middle-grade): the Harry Potter series, The Last Kids on Earth (Netflix), The Babysitter’s Club (Netflix), Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Captain Underpants (Netflix), The Magic Schoolbus (Netflix)

There are so many more options out there beyond these titles and while many of these titles can be found on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, etc., many of them can also be found at your local public library. Now you have all the information you need to compare and contrast to your heart’s (and brain’s!) delight! Enjoy, and kiss your screen-time guilt goodbye!


Ami Gandhi is a former high school English teacher and current full-time Mom to five and eight-year-old boys. She has always loved reading, discussing, and writing about books, and both attending and working with the Texas Book Festival is one of the highlights of her year!








Recommended reading to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Beginning on Sept. 15 and continuing into mid-October, the United States recognizes and celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. To commemorate this month, the Texas Book Festival reached out to Texas publishers to compile a list of recommended reading by Latina/o or Latinx authors. The recommendations below were provided to our team from Arte Público Press and the University of Texas Press.

Agent of Change by Cynthia Orozco

Cynthia Orozco’s book tells the story of Adela Sloss-Vento, an essayist and activist within the Mexican American civil rights movement. Agent of Change is a captivating portrait of an influential female leader, and we can’t wait to host Orozco at the 2020 Texas Book Festival.

American Tacos by José R. Ralat

Another author from our 2020 festival, José R. Ralat tracks the history and diversity of the taco across the United States. From crunchy tacos in California to breakfast tacos in Texas, Ralat details the origins and evolution of this classic Mexican street food using exciting interviews and interesting history.

Borderlands Curanderos by Jennifer Koshatka Seman

Jennifer Koshatka Seman’s book gives the history of two curanderos, or faith healers, who healed Mexicans, Indigenous people, Tejanos, and Anglos in Mexico and the South Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Apostles of Change by Felipe Hinojosa

A story about the urban crisis in 1960s American cities, Apostles of Change provides the history of Latinx activists who created a revolution against urban renewal in church communities throughout the United States. In looking deeper at movements in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Houston, Felipe Hinajosa explains the intersection of faith and politics and how these radicalists used that connection to create change.

Chican@ Artivistas by Martha Gonzalez

Martha Gonzalez, Grammy-winning singer of Quetzal and Chicana/o studies scholar, writes about the politics within musical, performance, and visual art that has come out of East Los Angeles since 1995. Chican@ Artivistas weaves Gonzales’ own experiences with the progression of art in this community and explores the political engagement that comes with the industry.

Reading, Writing, and Revolution by Philis M. Barragán Goetz

In Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Philis M. Barragán Goetz examines how escuelitas, grassroots Spanish-language community schools, were formed to meet the needs of Mexican Americans and later helped shape the identities of many in the United States. 

Trust Me by Richard Z. Santos

Texas Book Festival author Richard Z. Santos’s debut novel Trust Me untangles the secrets and deceptions of those Charles O’Connell meets after moving to New Mexico for a new job. This story is one of suspense and surprise, as hidden connections and schemes are unearthed with the beginning of Charles’ fresh start.

The Moths and Other Stories / Las palomillas de la noche y otros relatos by Helena María Viramontes

This bilingual collection of eight short stories follows young female characters as they come of age in Mexican American society. Helena María Viramontes’ writing deals with sexuality, oppression, and religion and shows a true understanding of the experiences of women like those in these stories.

A Latino Memoir by Gerald Poyo

Gerald Poyo’s memoir brings readers into five generations of his family’s history and migration about the Americas and his own experiences in growing up in both North and South America. A Latino Memoir explores transnationalism and its impact on Poyo’s life.

The Soledad Children by Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane

After discovering that schools in California were using English-language IQ tests to disadvantage Mexican American students, attorneys at California Rural Legal Assistance began a journey to bring justice and equal education to these children. The Soledad Children was written by two of the attorneys that filed Diana v. State Board of Education and provides a deeper look into the inequity of classrooms across the United States.

The Paper Lawyer by Carlos Cisneros

Texas author Carlos Cisneros writes about a real-estate attorney that, after being fired from her original position for sending an email containing racial slurs, finds herself practicing social security disability law. This legal drama is a social commentary on prejudice, ethics, and immigration. 

Manhattan Tropics / El trópico en Manhattan by Guillermo Cotto-Thorner

Soon after moving to New York from Puerto Rico, Juan Marcos Villalobos realizes many differences and discriminations Puerto Ricans experience in the city. Though the book was originally published in 1951, this bilingual version from 2019 remains relevant in its description of race and class issues and cultural pride.

Picture books to ‘get outside’ when it’s too hot to actually go out

guest post by Ami Gandhi

I grew up in the northeast where we lived for summer. November through April were often cold and rainy, sometimes snowy, and unless you were a winter sports enthusiast (which I was not), you spent a lot of time indoors, yearning for May. May heralded the beginning of summer (okay not technically) and the sweet promise of long days playing outdoors. I also grew up in the 1980s so summer for me meant more freedom than my own kids get. I was kicked out of the house right after breakfast and allowed back in at dinnertime, and no, this wasn’t considered bad parenting. 😊 We spent days running through backyards (fewer fences in the northeast), traipsing through suburban swaths of woods, building ground forts and makeshift treehouses, and riding bikes from neighbor to neighbor to find the best snacks. It wasn’t all fun and games of course (mosquitos, ticks, intense humidity, etc.), but it was almost always bearable (if not heavenly!) to be outside.

I’ve been in Texas for nine years now and in those years May has taken on a very different meaning for me. It still heralds the beginning of summer, but for many people summertime in Texas means more time indoors than out. Admittedly this is not the case for all Texans but these days I’m only happy to play outside with my kids until about noon after which we head back in until late evening. I love living in Austin, I truly do, but during the blazing hot summers, I often long for the northeast so my own kids can run through backyards, build tree forts and bike from neighbor to neighbor in search of snacks (well, during non-pandemic summers, that is). The upside, however, of the painfully high summer temps is that we do a lot of reading in the afternoons. I like to read seasonally and luckily there are many wonderful children’s books about the joys of summertime. What are the kids in these books generally doing, you ask? Yup, you guessed it: running barefoot through the grass, exploring woods, and building tree forts, and the next best thing to actually doing these things is reading about them!

When it comes to nature-celebrating children’s books, my absolute favorite author and illustrator is Jim LaMarche, and I especially love his books The Raft and Pond.  In The Raft, a boy named Nicky has to spend his summer with his unconventional “river rat” grandmother because his father has to travel for work. Initially, he’s less than thrilled to be stuck with her in her cabin in the northern wilderness because he can’t imagine how he’s going to pass the summer. One day he spots and catches a log raft drifting downriver and spends the rest of the summer observing and sketching the bountiful wildlife that is drawn to the raft. He learns how to pole around the river and he delights in exploring the different parts of it, the teeming wildlife, and his newfound passion for drawing. Turns out that Nicky may be a river rat just like his grandmother! I love how this gorgeous book honors not just the gifts of nature but also a kid’s ability to constantly grow and learn and develop new interests and joys.

Pond tells the story of three kids who discover water bubbling up behind their house and, believing that the dry expanse was once a pond, decide to build a dam. At first, they’re simply trying to have fun and keep busy during their summer vacation but as they watch and wait for their puddle to grow, they find deep pleasure in the entire ecosystem which springs up around their pond and also in how it provides a place for their community to gather together during different seasons. My kids love this book because they themselves have spent the last couple summers constructing rock dams in the drainage creek behind our uber-suburban house, but only before noon, of course. 😊

The Hike by Alison Farrell is a newer book, released in 2019, and an entertaining and educational story about three girls, Wren, El, and Hattie, who set off on a hike together and experience nature’s wonders along the way. As a parent, I have to wonder why these young girls are allowed to hike to the top of a snow-capped peak unchaperoned but anyway, there are different parenting styles.😊 My kids love following these girls on their hike through woodlands and berry patches, over a river and past a waterfall, and finally to the peak. Various plants and animals are identified along their route and some nature education is provided at the end via glimpses into Wren’s sketchbook. The illustrations are colorful and whimsical and quite funny at times, like when Wren and El are draped over a fallen log because they feel sick from eating too many thimbleberries (did you know there’s such a thing as thimbleberries?). Wren says, “We may have eaten too many berries,” and El, green in the face, replies, “Is that possible?” Oh yes, El, overeating is definitely a thing. 😊

I’m embarrassed to admit that nature-lover that I am, I didn’t know about the historical figure Anna Comstock until I read Out of School and into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jessica Lanan. This is a lovely picture book with watercolor-like illustrations which highlights the life of Anna Comstock, scientist, artist, educator, and author in a time in which most women did not pursue professional work, much less in multiple fields! As a child, Anna loved running barefoot in the grass and exploring nature. She always understood the value of human connection to the natural world, so much so that as an adult she advocated for nature education in schools. Anna loved insects, which is just awesome, and when she couldn’t find the books about insects that she wanted to read, she simply wrote them! What I love about Out of School and into Nature is that it has universal appeal. It’s great for nature-loving families, science-loving families, history-loving families, and families that want their kids to read about women who defy the gender conventions of their time and find great success. And it also happens to be a great picture book!

Oh man, I could go on and on about children’s books that celebrate the great outdoors, which I already have, so I will wrap-up with one last recommendation: Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley. This book is a playful romp between two sisters who are sent outside to play by their mother (she probably grew up in the 1980s too). The younger sister is ecstatic about spending the day outside but her older sister is nonplussed and sourly ignores her sister’s plea to play. (Incidentally, another good book like this but about brothers is Outside by Deirdre Gill.) Big sister’s disinterest drives little sister to resort to a popular younger-sibling ploy: fabricating a fantastically enticing story! She describes an amazing tree fort that has all possible amenities that can be dreamed up by a kid’s imagination. It may even be made of candy! Then again little sister’s description of the tree fort is so deliciously detailed you may just wonder, is she making it up? Whether she is or isn’t, the tree fort becomes something the sisters can enjoy together. I love how this whimsical yet thoughtful story inspires my own kids to get creative and design their own secret tree forts.

In fact, all of the books in this post inspire my kids to think outside the proverbial box and get outside to play and explore and learn, and learn not just about the natural world but also about how to cooperate and connect with it. In about a month or two I’ll be out there all day with my kids, dreaming up tree forts, building rock dams, sketching suburban wildlife, traversing roadside creeks…you name it! But for now, we’ll be out there from eight AM to noon and spend the peak sun hours nestled under a blanket fort, reading and rereading these books!

Ami Gandhi is a former high school English teacher and current full-time Mom to five and eight-year-old boys. She has always loved reading, discussing, and writing about books, and both attending and working with the Texas Book Festival is one of the highlights of her year!

Recommended reading to celebrate Women’s Equality Day

On Aug. 26, the United States celebrates Women’s Equality Day in recognition of women gaining the right to vote. This year, as we look back on 100 years the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted in 1920, the Texas Book Festival has compiled a list of novels that celebrate women and explore their role through the years. 

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Author Mikki Kendall takes a look at the exclusive nature of the feminist movement in the United States by calling attention to it is forgetting. This debut collection of essays focuses on intersectionality and examines the role of feminism in issues such as educational inequality, gun violence, and poverty, among other topics.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Former First Lady Michelle Obama details her journey from early childhood to eight years in the White House in her memoir. Her story is vulnerable and honest, and it empowers readers to stand up against bullies and advocate for progress.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Lara Prescott’s debut novel uses Boris Pasternak’s iconic Dr. Zhivago to tell the stories of female spies in the 1960s and Pasternak’s real-life muse and lover. This historical imagination reveals the power of a love story and its role in ending the Cold War.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir explores her experiences and identities as a Chinese-American growing up in California. The award-winning author weaves her mother’s stories into her own to untangle contradictory tales of female oppression.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, Black feminist and civil rights activist, uses her collection of essays and speeches to critique the failures of second-wave feminism and draw attention to those who have been overlooked. Lorde focuses the anger in her essays toward change and hope for the better.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

In Brit Bennett’s new novel, two identical twin sisters go down two very different paths until the lives of their daughters become intertwined much later. This story tells of these women growing up and finding contrasting racial identities all the while detailing the strength of the bond between family 

The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace

This book of poetry by Amanda Lovelace uses the symbol of the witch to represent women, with sections titled “the trial,” “the burning,” “the firestorm,” and “the ashes.” Lovelace’s poems have been described as relatable and encouraging, and they come with a mission to uplift women to take action in their own equality.

8 travel-related reads to transport you through the dog days of summer

Summer is finally drawing to a close — apparently. (This was news to me since in my mind we’re somewhere around week 10,000 of the weirdest March ever.) During a summer like this, we have to readjust our typical definition of “travel”: goodbye long flights and Airbnbs, hello cautious trips to the grocery store, and infinite masked loops around the Zilker hike and bike trail. But if you’ve found yourself longing for a jaunt out of town lately, I’ve got you covered. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite reads featuring adventurous protagonists and exciting locations. You may not be able to travel for real, but these books will certainly transport you as you sweat your way through the dog days. 

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Things aren’t going so hot for Arthur Less. No one wants to read his novels, his boyfriend of the past decade is engaged to someone who isn’t him, and worst of all, he’s about to turn 50. So Arthur turns to his dusty pile of invitations to obscure literary events — and accepts every single one of them. The result is a gorgeous, meditative trip around the world full of humor, insight, and self-discovery.

A Double Life by Flynn Berry

Based on the true story of Lord Lucan, this riveting mystery stars Claire, a London doctor whose father is suspected to have brutally murdered the family babysitter nearly thirty years ago. But no one knows for sure — he vanished without a trace that same night. Now an adult, Claire becomes determined to infiltrate her father’s cold, snobbish circle of upper-class friends and discover the truth about what happened. As she wanders down the rabbit hole of her father’s past, her mission leads her to some unexpected places — including on a fateful trip abroad.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

As a traveler, it can be hard to tell if you’re getting the authentic experience of a place or just the gussied-up tourist version. But Frances Cha’s sharp feminist portrait of contemporary South Korea leaves no room for doubt. The novel stars four young women, all living in the same apartment building, whose lives and relationships interweave in unexpected ways. Covering a diverse range of topics from sex work to billionaire boyfriends to Kpop to the power of friendship, If I Had Your Face feels at once relatable and brand-new.

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt

A darkly funny little novel that I once heard described as Arrested Development in book form, French Exit follows formidable widow Frances Price and her adult son Malcolm as their impending bankruptcy forces them to flee the Upper East Side for Paris. With them is a cat called Small Frank, who happens to house the reincarnated soul of Frances’s dead husband. Balancing hilarity and poignancy to brilliant effect, this novel takes you on a trip that — like its protagonists — you never saw coming.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

When 31-year-old Chloe Brown is nearly flattened by a Range Rover, she realizes it may be time to reevaluate her life. Right now, her fibromyalgia keeps her from going out much, and her idea of fun is a weekend full of coding. But when she decides to make a bucket list including bullet points like “move out,” “travel the world with nothing but hand luggage,” and “do something bad,” things begin to turn around — especially because the “something bad” turns out to be a sexy ginger handyman named Red. Steamy and heartfelt, this rom-com is the ideal “beach” (or maybe bathtub) read.

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

Aimless American grad student Andrei Kaplan was born in Russia, but he doesn’t really remember what it was like — he hasn’t returned since he was six. That changes when his older brother sends him off to Moscow to care for his ailing grandmother. As Andrei absorbs himself in pickup hockey, meets new friends, and begins to acclimate to life in Putin’s Russia, he must learn to strike a balance between American effusivity and Russian reserve — or there may be serious consequences.

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Technically, the “holiday” in Guillory’s title is of the winter variety — but since all of 2020 has been a time warp anyway, there’s nothing wrong with a little Christmas in August. In this charming royal rom-com, Vivian Forest sets off on her second-ever trip out of the country with her daughter Maddie, who’s been unexpectedly assigned to style a British duchess. Vivian is instantly drawn to the crisp accent and cool formality of private secretary Malcolm — and he clearly likes her back. But when the fairy lights come down, the Christmas tree wilts, and Vivian heads back to California, what will become of their romance?

In the Woods by Tana French

The first book of Tana French’s utterly unputdownable Dublin Murder Squad series will transport you to the rolling fields of Ireland, but this trip is far from idyllic. Starring detective Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, the novel centers around the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the woods of a Dublin suburb. It’s standard enough stuff for Rob — he’s a Murder Squad pro, after all — except that a mysterious event from his own past took place in the very same woods. As a proud Tana French addict, I highly recommend sticking around in Dublin and finishing her series of fast-paced, expertly crafted thrillers.

Back to school: An intern’s favorite reads from high school

As a high school student, reading can be hard. When I was in high school, I was constantly busy with sports, events, and other classwork. Sometimes I struggled to meet reading deadlines — even though English has always been my favorite subject and is now my college degree. With the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, required reading can serve as either solace or a stressor for young adults. As I enter my senior year of college, I am looking back at what I have considered the most influential novels assigned to me in my high school years. Even though this year does not look how I expected, I find comfort in knowing I still have the opportunity to read and discuss novels that, like those below, have opened the world to readers before me.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple tells the story of two African American sisters who are separated at a young age and for twenty years live very different lives across the world from each other. Celie, who lives in rural Georgia, writes to her sister Nettie about the hardships she endures in letters that form the novel. Alice Walker’s novel is one of pain and strength and displays an unbreakable bond between sisters.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien writes 20 short stories inspired by his time in the Vietnam War. Each vivid and imaginative episode blurs the line between fact and fiction and avoids generalizing the experience of war. O’Brien depicts horror, longing, sadness, and even joy in his quick-paced and unforgettable book.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi’s memoir Persepolis illustrates her coming-of-age story as the Islamic Revolution takes place in Iran. The graphic novel follows Satrapi as she grows and changes with the world around her. This gripping tale of a young girl longing to find herself is important for school-age kids while remaining an interesting read for adults.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
S.E. Hinton uses powerful characters to reveal a disparity of class and violence between two groups of teens, the Greasers and Socs, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Outsiders was published as Hinton turned 18, and through time it continues to prove it is a novel for teenagers written by a teenager.

Lawson Freeman is a fall Literary Programming intern at TBF. 

Recommended reading about racism in the United States

Right now, people are wondering what they can do to not only better understand the racism faced by Black communities in the United States on a daily basis but also how to support anti-racist initiatives and organizations in their neighborhoods and cities. We want to share a few resources to help the TBF audience grow consciousness and responsiveness by better understanding the history of racism in this country. Our selected resources show our response to the crisis faced by many communities of color across the nation. 

Email us at if there are any additional resources we’ve missed that you think we should share.

@WellReadBlackGirl, a monthly book club focused on sharing the work of black writers (see the club’s full reading list here):

View this post on Instagram

Thank you for tagging #wellreadblackgirl and sharing your book pics – the #WRBG timeline is 🔥👏🏾😍 Excellent recommendation from @stewartdantec 📚 ・・・ If you are looking for a book to read during this time of distancing, this is your book. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Part memoir, part manifesto, part history, @austinchanning takes readers on a journey of remaking democracy. As the promise of equality have run hollow in the lives of African-Americans, Brown fights for a way forward that has black dignity at the heart of a better world. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This is indeed a brilliant and landmark book of race, religion, and politics that is apart of a long tradition of black thinkers dreaming a new world. YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #austinchanningbrown #wellreadblackgirl #blackwriters #wrbg #wellreadblackgirls

A post shared by Well-Read Black Girl (@wellreadblackgirl) on

Recommended reading from The Stacks podcast (see their list of 50+ nonfiction books here).

View this post on Instagram

I don’t even know where to start. • • We have to stop being ok with the White terrorism that is America. We have to stop being ok with executions of black bodies becoming a normal part of our social media feeds. We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t understand our history. If we think this is new. If we think this is normal. • • If you’re Black: I see you. I feel you. I’m exhausted too. We are beautiful. We are worthy. We matter. If you’re not Black: stop the performative solidarity and figure out what you can do. Work on yourself. Work on your community. Support the people who are doing the work. Get okay with the idea that if change is to come, you’re going to have to readjust your relationship to your privilege. • • I just put together a list of 50+ nonfiction books that deal in anti-Black racism and anti-racism. This stack is just the tip of the iceberg. • • Please share your favorite books that deal in anti-Black racism. • • Keep reading. Do the work. #thestacks

A post shared by The Stacks (@thestackspod) on

Anti-racism reads from @movingpartspsychotherapy on Instagram:

Recommendations from Tiffany Jewell, author of This Book is Anti-Racist. Visit her Instagram profile for more recommendations and resources.

Recommendations and resources from @southasians4blacklives:

Recommended books and articles from @expansive.hd: 

Recommendations shared by followers of artist @jane_mount on Instagram (here’s the full list):

View this post on Instagram

thank you all *so* much, for such a great list of antiracism books. there were so many (and are still so many others I could’ve included!) that I limited it to only non-fiction (I’ll do a separate fiction one later!) and still you can see I had to squeeze them in. 📚 if you are overwhelmed, please don’t be!! start with one in the middle like Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, and Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. If you are a young reader, the two outside leaning ones on the right are particularly for you (Tiffany Jewell’s This Book Is Anti-Racist and Kendi and Jason Reynold’s Stamped), but don’t feel limited! 📚 any other suggestions or comments, please comment below for everyone! hope this is helpful ❤️. 📚 yes you can repost the image as long as you don’t alter it in any way and tag me in the image and in your caption! 📚 extra special thanks to @marmarfrick for suggesting this stack! 😘 📚 Ideal Bookshelf 1162: AntiRacism 📚 #antiracism #antiracist #idealbookshelf #soyouwanttotalkaboutrace #howtobeabantiracist #stampedfromthebeginning #meandwhitesupremacy #thisbookisantiracist #stamped #betweentheworldandme #thecoloroflaw #blindspot #thewarmthofothersuns #goodtalk #minorfeelings #imstillhere #thefirenexttime #thenewjimcrow #whitefragility #mindfulofrace #justmercy #whentheycallyouaterrorist #whyimnolongertalkingtowhitepeopleaboutrace

A post shared by Jane Mount (@jane_mount) on

Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist (listen to him speak about the death of George Floyd on Democracy Now):

The Antiracist Research & Policy Center, founded by Ibram X. Kendi:

More resources:




Care and feeding: Tales of bread-baking during quarantine

guest post written by Ali Haider, Executive Director of Austin Bat Cave

I have a baking problem. With all of this time at home, I should be writing, but instead I am baking. Every few days, I order sacks of bread flour. My office, outfitted with a small but mighty space heater has been converted to a warm proofing room. I’ve conformed my work schedule around the tending of my sourdough starter, and I have a baking schedule that I keep to more religiously than I’ve ever kept to any prayers. With my morning coffee in one hand, I feed my starter and then walk the dog. My starter’s name is Scheherazade. The same name I imagine giving my daughter except the only child I have is this starter. A dozen or so timers set throughout the day remind me that it’s time to knead or stretch or fold my dough. 

Care and feeding. 

It’s gotten so bad that on days that I don’t bake, Siri chimes in and asks if I want to set a timer. Siri is on this schedule with me and is checking in. She sounds worried. She pleads with me. Bake, Ali.  

This all started a few months ago. A few days into the New Year, my brother visited and brought with him a loaf of bread that he’d baked. Knowing how much I love cooking, he urged me to give bread a go. To make things easier, he recommended a popular New York Times recipe that used a method developed by Sullivan Street bakery owner Jim Sullivan that involved no kneading. Just mixing a few simple ingredients that most of us have on hand: flour, salt, water, and a dash of yeast. 

I love complicated recipes with lots of ingredients and very particular steps that use up a lot of bowls and involve whisking this and tempering that and layering all the ding dang things to combine together in a culinary feat of deliciousness. I love mastering technique. But anything involving dough has always eluded me. Even banana bread comes out overcooked. Dry. Burnt. Dense. Bread was too complicated. I always wound up with messy countertops furred in flour and more dough stuck to my hands than what I ended up cooking. No thanks. 

The secret with this recipe, however, was mixing the ingredients into a shaggy dough and letting it sit overnight. Time, not talent, was the trick. Every step of the way, I thought I’d messed something up. This doesn’t look right, I kept saying. Nevertheless, I popped it into the oven and prayed. Less than an hour later, the bread was cooling on a wire rack and the sound of crust crackling was musical. You know that class they take in Harry Potter where they turn one thing into another? Transfiguration? The cat professor teaches it. Meaning the woman who can magic herself into a cat. That’s what this felt like. A soupy mix of flour transformed as if by magic into a delicious, nourishing loaf of bread. 

One of my favorite things about cooking is imagining how the heck somebody identified this process with these ingredients could somehow be delicious. Cooking can feel like time traveling. What did that first person see? What did they taste? How did they feel? Somebody looked at stalks of wheat and figured out not only how to mill the berries but also that it could be mixed with water into this paste that would react with fire and become something worth eating. And not simply eating for fuel. But eating to savor. Bread is meant to be shared. It is communal and sacred. A gift that sustains us physically, mentally, spiritually. It is our divinity. 

I don’t know exactly what it was about bread that dug its hooks into me, but as soon as I baked my first loaf, I wanted to do it again. And again and again and again. I baked a loaf of bread every day for nearly two months. The last time I’d maintained something that consistently was when I got sober. The two felt linked. 

Baking bread is mostly babysitting. You check in now and again, but the most used ingredient is time. Bakers will often tell you that if you’re having trouble with your dough, let it rest. Give it another thirty minutes, and when you come back to it, it’ll be easier. One of the most crucial steps I’ve found in baking is autolyse, which is a very fancy science-y sounding word that essentially means just mixing flour and water and letting them sit. The flour becomes fully hydrated and simply by waiting, becomes more extensible—stretchy–and easier to handle.  

I love this about baking. Bread demands of me patience. We do not set the timeline. With bread, it is enough just to be patient, and gluten will form. The recipe I’m currently using takes about 26 hours from step one to step bread. 

Just a few weeks before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Washington state, I made a sourdough starter. My first sourdough loaf was a complete disaster. Disappointed and grumbling, I went back to the no-knead method, but the promise of tangy sourdough with a creamy crumb kept calling me back. I tried again. Around this same time, I noticed that baking bread was a good way of getting my body and mind into a meditative and more peaceful state. On days that I baked, I noticed that I was kinder, softer, more appreciative of those around me. Because I was baking so much bread and not wanting it to go to waste, I began giving loaves away to friends, family, people following me on Twitter. Baking was meditative. Baking for others was restorative. 

For the past few years, I was lost and aimless. Sobriety gave me some direction. Baking gave me a sense of purpose. I have always enjoyed cooking for others. Coming together with friends and loved ones over a meal you’ve prepared is a balm. Knowing the people in your life well enough that you can pick and choose ingredients and design a meal that not only sates but also pleases them gives me the kind of joy that sits deep in my belly. I feel content and peaceful. 

I was bemoaning (on Twitter, of course) that with all this quaran-time on my hands, I was planning elaborate, delicious dinners but hadn’t touched a goddamn word of my novel, and a dear one replied, “Cooking is writing, walking is writing, gazing out the window is writing.” And she is exactly right. I am pouring myself into a creative endeavor. The thing I fell in love with about writing was the craft and learning how to build something—a story, a poem, characters—that made readers feel something. Bread is not so different. The same things that I love about writing are what I love about baking bread. When you execute it well and deliver it still warm into somebody’s hands, they get to sit with it at the kitchen table or at their desk and eat it with fresh butter and a sprinkle of salt, and if I really did my job, they’ll be moved and sustained. I will have done my part to give them a small comfort. I can’t think of anything more deserving of my time than that. 

Syed Ali Haider is a writer and the Executive Director of Austin Bat Cave. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Juked, Cimarron Review, and Aster(ix). You can read his bread blog at, and if you live near Austin and want a free loaf of bread, hit him up on Twitter at @SyedARHaider.