Children’s Reads for AAPI Heritage Month

Cover photo: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated Dung Ho

Growing up in Singapore, I didn’t really have very many books where I saw someone like me. I never really felt like I was part of either my American side or my Singaporean side. It didn’t help that in 6th-grade science class that I was used as the example for gene differences and anomalies, like how my eyes were slanted, my hairline had a widow’s peak, how I had one hitchhiker’s thumb and one regular thumb, and how my second toe on my left leg is longer than my big toe and on the right leg it is not, etc. Quite literally I became the class “specimen” somehow, and I felt so uncomfortable with who I was after that. It felt like my body in some sense was as complex as my personal heritage and the question, “Where are you from?”.

I had no books that showed that I was normal, just different and that is okay. I think the only book that even came close was this book about Singaporean kids, but that book mostly just made me wear swimming goggles while chopping onions (according to that book, all Singaporean children did this). Here are a bunch of newly released kid’s books that celebrate being a proud child of Asian American heritage. I truly wish I had these growing up.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho is about embracing your features as a part of how you are. When a girl notices that other girls have different eye shapes than hers, she finds beauty in her own eyes “that crinkle like crescent moons”.

Click here for more information about Joanna Ho

Click here to buy the book

Toasty by Sarah Hwang
Toasty by Sarah Hwang

This book is about how you don’t need to change to fulfill your dreams. Toasty is a piece of toast that has a pair of arms and legs and dreams of being a dog. While dogs sleep in a dog house, Toasty sleeps in a toaster. While trying to run with the dogs in a park, Toasty becomes in danger when the dogs try to eat him. But soon Toasty meets a little girl who has always wanted a dog but is allergic to dogs, so Toasty becomes the perfect pet for her!

Click here for more information about Sarah Hwang

Click here to buy the book

Amira's Picture Day by Reem Faruqi
Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim

Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can’t wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There’s just one hiccup: it’s also school picture day. How will Amira figure out how to be at two places at once?

Click here for more information about Reem Faruqi

Click here to buy the book

Laxmi's Mooch
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Laxmi has never really paid attention to the hair on her upper lip until some kids at recess start to bully her saying she looks like an animal. Laxmi starts to notice more body hair and starts to become anxious. When Laxmi’s parents start to teach her that body hair is normal and happens to everybody, regardless of age or gender, she starts to accept her body hair and gains self-esteem.

Click here for more information about Shelly Anand

Click here to buy the book

The Most Beautiful Thing
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang

Weaving the story of Kalia and her grandmother, spanning across time from Laos to immigrating to the USA. When Kalia decides that she wants braces to fix her smile, her grandmother, who only has 1 tooth, shows her that true beauty is found between people who love each other the most.

Click here for more information about Kao Kalia Yang

Click here to buy the book

Recommended Reads by Asian-American Authors

In any given year, I read a fair number of books by Asian-American authors. The breadth of books by emerging and established Asian-American authors is exciting and encouraging, and I’m frankly thrilled that there are more great books by AAPI authors than I can possibly get to tackling in my TBR pile. This was not always so, and I’m envious of kids today who can read Linda Sue Park, Minh Lê, Grace Lin, Arree Chung, and Gene Luen Yang (to name just a few) along with Beverly Cleary (RIP), Roald Dahl, Sydney Taylor, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and all the children’s authors I loved to read as a kid. I wonder what it would have done to and for my identity, my sense of worth and belonging, had those narratives been widely available and celebrated in my youth. That representation is one of the many reasons our Reading Rock Stars and Real Reads programs are so, so important. I’m definitely making up for lost time now with the rich variety in AAPI adult lit today, and I hope to see even more of it in the years ahead.

I’m of course distressed and alarmed by the rise in attacks against Asian-Americans this past year, and it’s been a struggle to make sense of that hate in the context of my work at TBF. A person who has the capacity to randomly and viciously attack another human on the street is, I would venture to guess, not reading literature. So what does the call to action to amplify AAPI voices mean when the aggressors, or those that sympathize with their racist sentiments, are not listening or interested in learning? Who are we talking to when we talk about amplifying AAPI voices if those who most need to hear that message are not going to receive it? It’s yet another reason why it’s so important for children to be exposed to the perspectives and experiences of others through literature so they don’t grow up unable to see the humanity in people who look different from them.  I’ve concluded that we—the readers and writers, the ones who care about and champion the inherent diversity within the human story—have the important job of even more loudly proclaiming our support for the AAPI community, for the Black community, for the Latinx community, and for all diverse communities—to show that there are more of us than there are of them.

So read more AAPI authors with me, with TBF, and share the books you like and love with those around you, and let’s show up those bullies.

Charles Yu’s National Book Award-winning Interior Chinatown is structured as a screenplay exploring and exposing stereotypes in American film and culture through the experiences of Willis Wu, an aspiring actor who is trapped in a hall of mirrors of clichéd roles where there is no place for Asian humanity in a binary world of black and white.
Twitter: @charles_yu

We loved hosting Kevin Kwan at the 2020 Texas Book Festival for his latest bestselling novel, Sex and Vanity, where he retells and reimagines E.M. Forster’s Room with a View through multi-racial and fabulously wealthy characters on Capri.
Instagram: @kevinkwanbooks
Twitter: @kevinkwanbooks

If you missed reading Ocean Vuong’s poetic and celebrated debut novel in 2019, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is most definitely worth picking up, with a narrative constructed a Vietnamese son’s letter to his illiterate mother.
Instagram: @ocean_vuong

I knew A.H. Kim in my childhood when our parents were part of a close immigrant community in Buffalo, New York, and am so proud that she’s published her first book, A Good Family, that’s a page-turner about family members behaving badly, with vivid details on the lives and flaws of the aspirational class.
Instagram: @ahkim.writer
Twitter: @AhkimAuthor

Susan Choi, another TBF alum who was at our 2019 Festival for her National Book Award-winning Trust Exercise, is a book I’m still thinking about, with its complex narrative structure, unreliable narrators, and layered treatment of adolescence, power, and abuse.
Instagram: @susanmchoi

Shirkers filmmaker Sandi Tan’s newly released Lurkers details the lives of three families who live on Santa Claus Lane in an LA suburb that feels very LA in the you-don’t-know-your-neighbors kind of way. Its dark humor and subject matter are not for the sentimental, but perfect for readers who will appreciate Tan’s cinematic style, unflinching portrayal of race, family dynamics, sexual predation, and alienation.
Instagram: @_sanditan_
Twitter: @sanditan

Don’t be intimidated by the page count in Chang-Rae Lee’s latest masterpiece, My Year Abroad. Just jump in and ride the waves of this wildly creative and crazy narrative. Lee’s latest is a departure from his more somber earlier work. Here, you meet and fall in love with Tiller, a somewhat lost college student looking for purpose and direction, and the mesmerizing Pong, a Chinese entrepreneur chasing fulfillment via material excess and chemistry-laden concoctions. Tiller is haunted by the past as he tries to find absolution in the present and his place in the disorienting landscape of American materialism, tribalism, complacency, dishonesty, and aspiration. Lee writes with such precision that you can’t help but experience the novel as both the very entertaining/disturbing story of Tiller’s experiences and the telescoping out to an ever-widening lens on the American condition of hope, longing, and dislocation. Lee’s writing is exuberant–sentences that hum and sing, chock-full of clever allusions and philosophy. It’s a surfeit but go ahead and feast along, just like his characters do.

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 for Women’s History Month

Sunday, March 8 was International Women’s Day, but Women’s History Month lasts all of March. We asked various women’s organizations throughout Central Texas to share their recommended reading for the month — here’s what they shared:

Peggy Terry with Folktales’ Black Women’s Literary Society and theAustin African American Book Festivalrecommended the following books they’ve read over the years:

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler

Ami Kane with Girls Empowerment Network also recommended Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin recommended Educated by Tara Westover, writing, “I enjoyed the book because it is a story of resilience of a woman whose story could have been so different but she chose to believe in herself and pursue a life of high education in order to learn and grow in her professional life but also her personal life. It is deeply personal and inspiring. I recommend to anyone and everyone!! I laughed, cried, and was inspired the whole way :)”

Dorothy Marchand with the Texas League of Women Voters recommended the Texas State Historical Association’s Texas Women and the Vote, “which is a compilation of short essays on Texas women whose stories intertwine with the history of Texas women’s voting and election history since the nineteenth century,” she wrote. The ebook is free to download here.

Lesley Landry with SAFE Austin shared a variety of books the SAFE Book Club has read over the years:

  • Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by c
  • B**** Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  • Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples
  • Shrill by Lindy West
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Madame President by Helene Cooper
  • Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett
  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd
  • America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

What the TBF community is reading this Black History Month

This month, in honor of Black History Month, we asked the Texas Book Festival community to share book recommendations and updates on what they’re currently reading. Make sure you add these reads to your list!

Maya Smart, who serves on the TBF Board of Directors, is reading Daina Ramey Berry’s A Black Women’s History of the United States, a recent debut.

Gigi Edwards Bryant, who also serves on the TBF Board, shared the following story about what she and her family are reading, along with a video of her reading with her grandchildren:

“When our grandchildren visit I read stories to them that I have found throughout the year.  They get to take the book home and read it with their parents after we read it. For Black History Month we read Sing a Song, How ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, Inspired Generations, by Kelly Starling Lyons. My daughter-in-law was videoing us because I wanted to send the clip to the author, which I did. The second book, which is being read in parts, is The Assassination of Malcolm X by Allison Strak Draper (children’s edition.  The autobiography of Malcolm is a favorite in our family, which we have all read. My last reading for myself, which I recommend, was Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl, MD.  This is my historical perspective for the month.”

TBF Board member Leslie Wingo said she plans to read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. She also shared that her kids are reading Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Legacy and the Queen by Kobe Bryant. She also shared this must-read article written by Austinite Karen Valby, which highlights the lack of representation for people of color in Hollywood and the YA fantasy novels that are picking up Hollywood’s slack.

Hopeton Hay, who hosts the KAZI Book Review on KAZI in Austin, recommends:

“John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights by Brandon Winford.  John Harvey Wheeler was president of M&F Bank (founded in 1908, it is 2nd oldest black-owned bank in nation), in Durham, North Carolina from 1952-1978 and a civil rights lawyer.  He was one of the leading activist in Durham in the successful efforts to integrate the city. In 1956, was the first African-American to bring an integration suit in the state of North Carolina. In 1963 he supported student sit-ins against racial discrimination in employment. In 1964 he became the first black delegate from North Carolina to attend the Democratic National Convention, he served on President John F. Kennedy’s Committee for Equal Employment Opportunity and Urban Housing 1961-1965.”

Dave McClinton, the Austin artist who created the 2019 Festival poster for TBF, recommends:

“The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd: A fun read that makes me pine for my university days.

Rusty Brown by Chris Ware (graphic novel): The detail sends me into a rabbit hole and the emotional depth of the drawings is staggering.

No Name in the Street by James Baldwin: His writing makes me assess the relevance of my own creative output.

Logo Modernism by Jens Muller: I love logo design. It’s how I make my living.”

Don Tate, a local children’s author and illustrator, recommends:

“Currently I’m reading How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram Kendi. It’s a must-read for anytime of the year. It’s made me rethink my understanding of what the word “racist” means and who can have racists ideas (racist ideas aren’t limited to white people). Since I’ve begun reading the book, I find myself putting my own thoughts and actions into check when I go out into the world and do things and say things that I now understand as supporting racists ideas and policies. The book is written as a memoir, and the author is self deprecating, which serves as a reminder that we are all fallible.

I also read Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. It was absolutely one of the most educational, entertaining, and eye-opening books I’ve read in a long time. The stories that he tells about his childhood growing in apartheid South Africa had me fuming one moment and cracking up laughing in the next. It’s also a book that challenged a few of the stereotypical images formed in my head about life for a Black people in South Africa—Africa period. Some of Noah’s stories seemed right out of my own life growing up in very white Des Moines, Iowa. His stories are universal.

As far as children’s books, I’ve enjoyed Freedom Soup by Tami Charles and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara, a story about the Haitian New Year tradition of preparing and eating Freedom Soup. It’s a story of culture and history and passing down family tradition, that dates back to the Haitian Revolution.”

Happy Valentine’s Day! Dive into these romantic reads

I’m a hopeless romantic, a devoted lover of love stories, and a shameless fan of romance novels, so Valentine’s Day is basically my Super Bowl. Often, we consider these books guilty pleasures, but I’m out here, loud and proud, to tell you there’s nothing guilty about disappearing into a fun, lighthearted story about two people falling in love. Here’s a roundup of some of the romance novels I’ve read and loved over the past year or so, in honor of Valentine’s Day!

Well Met by Jen Deluca

I grew up attending the Texas Renaissance Festival every year, so a romance novel set at a Renaissance faire was basically made for me, so I knew when I picked this one up that I was done for. And I was right — This debut novel from Jen Deluca was one of my favorite reads of 2019.

About the book: “Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him? The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying? This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.”

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren, a legendary romance duo made up of two women, has never written a bad book, in my opinion. I’d recommend pretty much any Christina Lauren book you can get your hands on, but The Unhoneymooners is my favorite book to gift to girlfriends looking for a lighthearted romance (and it helps you pretend that you’re on a tropical vacation, so it’s a win-win).

About the book: ‘Olive Torres is used to being the unlucky twin: from inexplicable mishaps to a recent layoff, her life seems to be almost comically jinxed. By contrast, her sister Ami is an eternal champion . . . she even managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a slew of contests. Unfortunately for Olive, the only thing worse than constant bad luck is having to spend the wedding day with the best man (and her nemesis), Ethan Thomas. Olive braces herself for wedding hell, determined to put on a brave face, but when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. Suddenly there’s a free honeymoon up for grabs, and Olive will be damned if Ethan gets to enjoy paradise solo. Agreeing to a temporary truce, the pair head for Maui. After all, ten days of bliss is worth having to assume the role of loving newlyweds, right? But the weird thing is . . . Olive doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, the more she pretends to be the luckiest woman alive, the more it feels like she might be.”

Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke

If you love astrology (this Virgo does) and fate, Star-Crossed will leave you seeing stars.

About the book: When childhood sweethearts Justine (Sagittarius and serious skeptic) and Nick (Aquarius and true believer) bump into each other as adults, a life-changing love affair seems inevitable. To Justine, anyway. Especially when she learns Nick is an astrological devotee, whose decisions are guided by the stars, and more specifically, by the horoscopes in his favorite magazine. The same magazine Justine happens to write for. As Nick continues to not fall headlong in love with her, Justine decides to take Nick’s horoscope, and Fate itself, into her own hands. But, of course, Nick is not the only Aquarius making important life choices according to what is written in the stars. Charting the ripple effects of Justine’s astrological meddling, Star-Crossed is a delicious, intelligent, and affecting love story about friendship, chance, and how we all navigate the kinds of choices that are hard to face alone.”

The Wedding Date series by Jasmine Guillory

Festival author Jasmine Guillory is one of the biggest rising stars in modern-day romance novels, and each installment of The Wedding Date series focuses around the love life of a different character from the series. There are already four Wedding Date books out, with a fifth coming later this year (I’ll be the first to read it!) so you’ve got plenty of catching up to do.

About The Wedding Date, the first book in the series: ‘Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist. On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend… After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about each other… They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century—or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…”

One Day in December by Josie Silver

Sometimes romance novels are just that — stories about two people falling in love. One Day in December goes beyond a simple love story, following along with its characters over ten years, with a close look of the messiness that comes with relationships, friendships, family, and growing up.

About the book: “Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn’t exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic… and then her bus drives away. Certain they’re fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn’t find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they “reunite” at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It’s Jack, the man from the bus. It would be. What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.”

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Sometimes you fall in love with a man. Sometimes you fall in love with . . . well, a man who isn’t entirely a man, and you have to deal with the consequences. That’s all I’ll say about this one, because spoilers!

About the book: “Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks. Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.”

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

What if the son of the president of the United States fell in love with the Prince of Wales? Good question. Festival author Casey McQuiston answered, with my favorite summer read of 2019. I read this entire book in one sitting with my toes in the sand, and I barely stopped thinking about it the rest of the summer.

About the book: “When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse. Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.”

As far as unconventional romances go, I also really loved Less by Andrew Sean Greer (a story of lost love and love lost as a man travels to the wedding of his ex-boyfriend), Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki (a graphic novel about a teenager in an on-again, off-again relationship), How Not To Die Alone by Richard Roper (a charming read about a man whose job it is to find the next-of-kin of those who passed), and These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (a YA story about witches fighting for their lives and falling in love).

And if you’re more of a nonfiction reader, I have a few favorite relationship books I’ve recommended to many throughout the years: Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller; The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love by Jenna Birch; Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating by Moira Weigel; Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, and of course, anything by Esther Perel.

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy reading! Feel free to share your romance recommendations with me at

Here’s what the TBF community is reading

The Texas Book Festival office has closed down for the holidays, but don’t worry, we’re still here in spirit, cozied up somewhere with a hot drink and a good book. Before we left for the holidays, however, we wanted to make sure we passed along the books we’re planning to dive into over the break. Here’s a roundup of what TBF staff and other members of the Festival community are reading this holiday season. Happy holidays!

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, a 2019 Festival author. This novel about students at a performing arts high school in the 1980s was overwhelmingly the most popular among TBF community members asked about their holiday reading plans: Claire Burrows, Lois Kim, and myself, Katey Psencik, are all planning on reading it over the break (if I can get off of the library hold list, that is).

Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez, a TBF 2019 author. In this novel, Mendez looks at three high school students in El Paso, Texas. —Lucy Vélez

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luselli, which tells the story of an artistic couple and their two children on a summer road trip from New York to Arizona. — Claire Burrows

Fleabag: The Scriptures by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, which gives a look inside the Emmy-winning TV show, including scripts and commentary. —Nicole Wielga

Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga, a memoir about Moraga’s mother, who grew up picking cotton in California and moved to Tijuana to be a “cigarette girl” in the 1920s, and how her journey impacted Moraga’s life. —Lucy Vélez

The Story of a Goat by Perumal Murugan, a novel about a poor elderly couple who live in a farming village in India who acquire a (perhaps) magical goat. — Lois Kim

Reinhardt’s Garden by Mark Haber, the humorous story of a Croatian man who sets off on a worldwide trip to find his hero, who is rumored to have disappeared into the South American jungle. —Maris Finn

A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar, a novel which follows Nidali, a young girl living in Kuwait, Egypt, and eventually, Texas. —Anna Near

Severance by Ling Ma, a 2018 Festival author. The novel examines an office drone maneuvering her way through the end of the world. —Nicole Wielga

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, in which the famed actor tells the haunting story of his childhood in Japanese internment camps. — Claire Burrows

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman, which is one, long, continuous sentence depicting nearly every thought that enters the brain of a middle-aged Ohio woman. —Katey Psencik

A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib, a poetry book about Journey (the band), grief, Michael Jordan and more. —Maris Finn

Cabañuelas by Norma Elia Cantú, a novel about a Laredo, Texas native moving to Madrid to research the traditional festivals of her hometown. —Lucy Vélez

The Guardians by John Grishamwhich was one of the headlining books and authors at the 2019 Festival. Grisham’s latest thriller follows the story of a lawyer murdered at his desk in a small Florida town, the man who went to jail for his death, and the battle to prove his innocence. —Anna Near

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, a novel about a Polish astrologist whose neighbor dies under suspicious circumstances. —Katey Psencik

You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another by Chris Ying, which argues that good food is the unifying factor between millions of people and explores the ways cooking keep us connected across physical, cultural and political lines. —Nicole Wielga


Day of Sales at BookPeople: Buy a Book and Support the Texas Book Festival!


TBF Day of Sales

BookPeople in Austin, TX

Tuesday, May 29, 9am-11pm

Join us for Texas Book Festival’s annual Day of Sales at local Austin bookstore, BookPeople! On Tuesday, May 29, a portion of proceeds from all books sold at BookPeople will be donated to the Texas Book Festival. Buy a book and help support the Texas Book Festival as well as a great indie bookstore!

Not sure where to start? Check out our list of recent favorite reads! Whether you’re buying for yourself or someone else, we’ve got recommendations for every sort of reader here.


Lois recommends:

God Save Texas – Lawrence Wright

Essential reading for every Texan! Wright takes the reader on a highly entertaining journey through some of the most colorful aspects of Texas’s history and identity, made rich and meaningful through Wright’s personal experiences and reflections.



Chemistry – Weike Wang

Refreshingly acerbic in style, Weike Wang’s novel features a confused young Chinese-American scientist’s reluctance to stay on the path of achievement in both love and career.





Julie recommends:

Everyone Knows You Go Home – Natalia Sylvester

Beginning with the appearance of a dead father, this novel is about family truth and fiction, the ways in which the past plays on the present, and the experiences of families who immigrate north over the border between Mexico and the U.S.



The Line Becomes a River – Francisco Cantú

Cantú’s mesmerizing chronicle of his life as a border guard opens up an important perspective on the urgent conversation of migration over the Mexico/U.S. border.





Claire recommends:

This One Summer – Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

This graphic novel is the beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story of summer-best-friends Rose and Windy as they face the fragile transition from childhood to adolescence.




March – John Lewis

The March graphic novel trilogy is Congressman John Lewis’s riveting account of his first-hand experience with Civil Rights, from his childhood in rural Alabama to meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. to marching to Selma.




Maris recommends:

The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer

Greer Kadetzky’s trajectory changes when she meets Faith Frank, a charming famous feminist, in her freshman year of college. This sharp, sweeping novel follows Greer on her journey to find purpose in her post-college life.



Brass – Xhenet Aliu

Desperate to escape her small working-class Connecticut town, Elsie saves up tips from her waitressing job. But her plans change when she meets the brooding Bashkim. Narrated in equal parts by Elsie and her daughter Luljeta, Brass is a sparkling debut.




Lydia recommends:

You Bring the Distant Near – Mitali Perkins

This gorgeous novel follows three generations of the Das women as they emigrate to New York, struggle with culture shock and keeping tradition, grieve, grow, raise children, become American, and learn—over and over again—how to love.



Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert

Danny Cheng’s college plans seem set with a scholarship to his top choice art school and his work in an exhibit in a hip San Francisco gallery, but discovering long-hidden painful family secrets, as well as suppressing his feelings for his best friend and his guilt over his part in a recent tragedy threaten to derail his future.




Lea recommends:

The Terrible Two – Mac Barnett

Great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the reluctant reader in your life, this series follows two best friends/ pranking partners whose hijinks will have readers laughing out loud!




Grandma’s Purse – Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Great for talking about family history and connections with grandma! Kids and adults alike will love these beautiful illustrations.

Books for Budding Feminists: Some Recommended Reading

Reading more about women of history and women of today is something we can all aspire to, and with graduation coming up, there’s plenty of opportunity to inspire young adults to learn more about the place women occupy in the past, present, and future. If you (or people you know) are interested in learning more about women’s lives, struggles, and female trailblazers, this list of recommended reading from our intern Aliya should get you started!


Text Me When You Get Home – Kayleen Schafer

Text Me When You get Home started because of the author’s own journey in discovering the love and support women can provide for each other. As someone who previously prioritized male recognition over female relationships, Schafer had to teach herself that there can be more than one kind of love story to a person’s life, and that can be just as important as any romantic relationship. As a memoir, tell-all, and compellation, Text Me embodies the spirit of so many current movements that highlight the female bonds every woman can relate to, but don’t necessarily speak about. It’s all in the title, Text Me When You Get Home.


Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine – Michele Lent Hirsch

After having struggled with her own heath issues, Michele saw an opportunity to shed light on an issue people don’t realize exists until they’re experiencing it. Even though females are some of the most primary demographic for many illnesses, they are often overlooked or have their symptoms underestimated. In Invisible she shares three women’s stories alongside her own, and how each of them experienced being young, ill, and woman.   


Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain – Abby Norman

In Ask Me About My Uterus Abby Norman reflects on her experience struggling to find a diagnosis for the horrible pain she’d had for years and presents poignant examples of the way women’s symptoms are often disregarded in the medical community. After being forced to drop out of college and end her career as a dancer, she decided to take control and find her own diagnosis. A powerful call to action on all fronts, this book strives to shake current assumptions and strike forth in a new way of approaching women in heath.


I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope – Chessy Prout & Jenn Abelson

Chessy took her trauma, having been sexually assaulted as a freshman in high school, and created possibility. This memoir not only tells that story, the one of shame and pain and triumph, but it also shifts the focus back at the culture that allows things like this to happen daily without recognition. Featuring concrete ideas to force change in an unforgiving society and the empowering voice of a young girl, it’s hard to read this book and not feel inspired.


Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World – Ann Shen

A beautifully illustrated adult picture book, Bad Girls has everything you never learned in school about amazing women. The passion, drive, and rule-breaking tendencies of each woman paved the way for others to come and proved something in their own right about the true strength women possess. From spies to artists and Joan Jett to Marie Curie, it spans decades, professions, and status quos with moving biographies and watercolor portraits.


Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You – Ann Shen

The follow up to Bad Girls, Legendary Ladies takes the world of celebrating women to a mystical realm where magical stones repair the earth and home is a volcano. As another beautifully illustrated picture book it takes very conceptual characters and shapes them into tangible biographies, making us feel as though we can be just as strong and powerful. I can say reading just one a day fills me with the pride and inspiration to combat any obstacle put in my path with the same dignity they signify, only maybe fewer talismans.


Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum – Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Many times women and girls on the autism spectrum go undiagnosed and unrecognized because they don’t fit the traditional symptoms that are often found in men. Jennifer has had this experience personally and details her journey into discovering her identity and her diagnosis for the reader in a book sprinkled with careful wit, playful honesty, and a whole lot of strength. Going against the medical mainstream can be difficult, but for Jennifer that’s what she’s been doing her whole life as a “misunderstood miracle.”



Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World – Rachel Ignotofsky

With the STEM field so present in the world of innovation right now Women in Science comes at the perfect time to highlight some of the forgotten ladies that made it what it is. Not only that, but in addition to biographies from Jane Goodall to Patricia Bath it contains a collection of quirky, unique renditions, an illustrated glossary of scientific tools and terms, and relevant statistics on women in STEM. In a field often dominated by the opposite sex, it’s powerful to see the unspoken framework of women who built it for those to come.


Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win – Rachel Ignotofsky

A sister to Women in Science, Women in Sports takes on the record breakers and trailblazers of the athletic community. We all know Billie Jean King and Simone Biles, but do we know Toni Stone or Patti McGee? After reading this you will, not to mention so many more women who fought against an environment structured to make them feel and act inferior to their male counterparts. A true testament to the not only physical but also psychological strength of the female athlete, Women in Sports will leave you impressed, grateful, and ready to stand.

Elizabeth Crook on her new novel “THE WHICH WAY TREE”

Elizabeth Crook’s latest novel The Which Way Tree is an epic southern tale. It chronicles the dangerous endeavors of Samantha Shreve, a 12-year-old girl growing up in Austin, Texas, just after the Civil War. After witnessing a panther kill her mother, she sets out with a hodge-podge team of characters to slay the evil beast—which, around these parts, is known as El Demonio de Dos Dedos. Told from the point of view of her older brother Ben, the story feels both authentic and intimate.

Crook is the award-winning author of five books, including Monday, Monday, a fictional account of the 1960 mass shooting at The University of Texas at Austin, which won the 2015 Jesse H. Jones Award for fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. Our intern Marisa asked her a few questions about her new book, which is available at your local bookstore or library now!


What was the research process like for this book?

A lot of fun. It involved the usual plunge into history books, articles, old authentic journals and letters from the period—a lot of reading and note taking about everything from the politics of the time to the specifics of daily life. And then of course it involved deciding what was relevant to the story and what wasn’t—and leaving a lot of it out. It was more fun than it sounds! Essentially, as a writer, you have to know the history intimately enough to step into that time every day and get around without being recognized as an imposter.


In your mind, how does this book veer from or continue themes you’ve explored in your previous books?

That’s hard to say: my books differ vastly in subject matter. The most common theme is humanity running up against inhumanity during various kinds of chaos.  For the most part my characters, in all five books, tend to be good people trying to make their way through actual historical, and often violent, events. They often make grave mistakes in the ways they try to navigate. The books portray some amount of loss and sadness but aren’t depressing, I hope. There’s a big difference between a book that makes you sad at moments and a book that leaves you depressed. I wouldn’t want to write the latter. The Which Way Tree deals with heavy subject matter, as my other books do also, but what readers often comment on is the humor in Benjamin’s storytelling.


Why did you decide to write this book now?

When my son was fourteen he got lost in the canyons in Bandera County one night, and was finally located by search helicopters after a nine hour hunt, during which a mountain lion was spotted trailing through the canyon into which he had disappered. It was the scariest night of my life and left me obsessed with mountain lions and their attacks on humans. I read everything I could find on the subject. I guess I wrote this story partly because I had run out of real life accounts to obsess over.   


What challenges did you face writing this book and how did you try to overcome them?

Actually The Which Way Tree presented fewer challenges than my other books and was more fun to write. Every chapter rolled naturally into the next. I suppose the greatest challege was how to frame it. A boy Benjamin’s age wouldn’t simply sit down and write this tale, so I needed to give him a plausible reason for doing so. It took some figuring and brainstorming, but in the end I decided to write the story as testimony to a war crime, under mandate of a judge, in order to justify its existence.  


The book tells the story of an epic tale, akin to that of “The Whale” (Moby-Dick) which you mention several times throughout. Yet, the book itself isn’t too lengthy. How did you manage that?

Benjamin is recounting events that deal with a small cast of characters during a brief amount of time. He doesn’t elaborate, he just tells what happened. So the story covers a lot of ground quickly. For instance, here’s the brief paragraph at the end of a chapter, when Benjamin and three other characters set out to fetch a panther tracking dog:

“We fed the goats, turned the chickens loose in the yard to scratch, tossed cobs out for the pigs should they come up from the creek, mounted up and started off. It was about noon at that time.” Having Benjamin tell the story kept me from wasting any words in describing how things are done. They’re just done.  


When writing books that take place in a different time period, do you ever feel a pressure to make them relevant to today? If so, why and how do you achieve that?

No, I never strive for that. If I’m telling a story set in the past, it stays where it’s rooted. If there are themes relevant to today, it’s only because human nature tends to lead us into the same kind of predicaments repeatedly.