Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A with Don Tate

The Texas Book Festival Celebrates Black Literature! For the month of February, the Texas Book Festival is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and notable contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. Last week, TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terry shared a fantastic list of books coming out in 2018 that she recommends reading, and today, award-winning children’s author and illustrator Don Tate has taken the time to answer some questions we had for him. In addition to being an award-winning author and the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children, Austinite Don Tate is an outspoken advocate for diversity in publishing, a founding host of The Brown Bookshelf, a Texas Book Festival author, and a long-time TBF supporter and volunteer.

When you’re finished reading here, we recommend you check out the fantastic kid lit blog The Brown Bookshelf, “a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, with book reviews, author and illustrator interviews.” The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later series for Black History Month features interviews with large number of amazing black authors and illustrators of children’s, middle grade, and young adult literature.

Happy reading!



Texas Book Festival: What draws you to Children’s literature? Was writing for kids a conscious choice or more the age group you felt inspired to speak to?

Don Tate: Early in my career, I worked at an educational publishing company. My job was to design and illustrate children’s basal books and teaching proucts. The job required some travel to library and literacy conferences. I was inspired by teachers and librarians, who were passionate about children’s literacy. I wanted in on that! Eventually, I illustrated a book for that publishing house called Retold African Myths, written by Eleanora E. Tate.  That was thirty-something years ago, and I’ve never looked back. I love using my art to tell stories for young people. Writing came much later, though—like twenty years later!


TBF: I know you’ve written about how, as a kid, you were drawn more to art and drawing than to reading (largely because of the terrible lack of black representation in literature when you were growing up). But how did you first get into art and illustration?

DT: I’ve been an artist as long as I’ve been on this earth. There wasn’t a moment when I accidentally discovered that I liked art. As a child, my hands were always busy drawing and making stuff. I made things like choo-choo trains and cars from empty toilet paper rolls. I created elaborate puppets from socks or from patterns I created. I created macramé wall hangings from twine and beads.  I always had some kind of project in the works. Thankfully, my mom supported my artistic endeavors, even when it meant tearing the house apart and putting it back together. I attended a vocational-technical high school. My core area of study was commercial and advertising art. While there, I became less interested in creating art for art’s sake, though. I liked creating art for a specific purpose: a magazine layout, a t-shirt design, a story! I liked commercial art, or narrative art.


TBF: What’s your illustration process look like? How does that compare to your writing process?

DT: My illustration and writing process are similar. When I visit schools, I tell kids that writing is similar to painting a picture. With a picture, I use a paintbrush, a pencil, or some other drawing tool. When I  write, I paint with words. I create worlds using very visual word choices.

With my illustrations, I begin with a rough draft. Same with a written manuscript. The first draft of an illustration or a manuscript is messy. But that’s okay, that draft is like a lump of clay that I can then mold into a story. Because my books focus on history, writing and illustrating both require a lot of research. And before any of that reaches my editor’s eyes, I revise my words and illustrations many times.


TBF: What sort of stories do you look for in your writing and/or illustrating? What are some of the elements that you were drawn to in past books you’ve written and illustrated?

DT: I like stories about little-known people who’ve done great things in the face of adversity. These stories inspire me. In my book,  It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low), which I wrote, a homeless man and former slave with no art training becomes one of the most important outsider artists in the country. In Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree), which I wrote and illustrated, an enslaved poet becomes the first African American in the south to get a book published, at a time when it was against the law to teach a black man to read. With Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge), which I also wrote and illustrated, a weak and sickly child grows up to become known as the Father of Bodybuilding and “The Strongest Man on Earth.” These men overcame great obstacles to achieve success. These stories inspire kids to work hard and never give up.


TBF: Tell us about your work on the kid lit blog, The Brown Bookshelf:

DT: The Brown Bookshelf was started by YA authors Varian Johnson and Paula Chase-Hyman. They wanted to start an online initiative to support African American children’s book creators, whose works often fly under the radar of the publishing industry. I was invited  to join a whole team of writers and illustrators to contribute to the blog. Together, we work to shine a light on the myriad of diverse voices creating books for young people. February is when we host our “28 Days Later” campaign, where we highlight an African American book creator each day of the month with interviews and guest post. Be sure to check out our 2018 campaign!


TBF: I know you do a lot of school visits and events with kids: what’s it like getting to meet your audience like that? What’s one of the best stories that’s come out of interacting with your young readers?

DT: I love meeting my young readers. While they are excited about meeting me, I am equally as excited to meeting them. I’m thankful to school librarians for bringing us all together—authors and illustrators and readers. I’ve had a lot funny and interesting experiences while visiting schools, however one of the most memorable moments happened this past October at the Texas Book Festival. Students at Brushy Creek Elementary School in Round Rock sang a tribute to me and my book Strong as Sandow:


TBF: What advice would you give to young authors and illustrators of color? What encouragement?

DT: Polish your craft. Writers: Read and write a lot. And stop worrying about having to find an illustrator, that’s what publishers do. Illustrators: Draw a lot, practice. There is more of an emphasis on diversity in publishing lately, so opportunities are broadening. I’m seeing more faces of color on the covers of children’s books, lately. Most times, however, the creators of those books are not People of Color.  Everyone is answering that call for more diversity, so we’re easily marginalized.  So, Author or Illustrator of Color—get to creating, your voice is needed. While it’s important for a Black child to see Black people represented in the books they read, it’s equally important that they know Black people write and illustrate the books they read. They know this by opening that book jacket flap and seeing a book creator that looks like them.


TBF: What, at least to you, is the best part of writing for kids?

DT: Supporting literacy. Knowledge is power, and therefore books are powerful.


TBF: What are you working on now?

DT: I have several books on the publication horizon that I illustrated:

Par-tay! Dance of the Veggies (and Their Friends)

Written by the legendary Eloise Greenfield and published by Alazar in April, 2018.

Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band

This book, written by Michael Mahin and published by Clarion in July, 2018, is the fictionalized account of the true story seven homeless street kids who helped inspire a new genre of music called spasm.

No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas

Written by Tonya Bolden and published by Knopf in October, 2018.

So that’s it for me this year—dancing kids, dancing veggies, and potatoes galore!



February Reads: TBF Loves Books About Love

Whether you’re into celebrating Valentine’s Day or Bah-Humbugging it, love is a central theme in much of literature the world over, and many of our favorite books feature love (and its many complications) as a powerful motivator in the main character’s actions. So, in the spirit of February’s day of hearts and candy, we offer some recommended reading about the many types of and words for L-O-V-E. 


Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Not only this one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, but Marquez so brilliantly captures the idea of love in a way that transcends expectation and cliché. Interweaving the impulses of love and desire with the reality of society, aging, and dying, Marquez captures all the competing intensities of love.



Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

If you’re a pragmatic romantic like me, you like your love stories served up with a cold splash of irony. Nothing was more enjoyable in college than taking a course that had every Jane Austen novel on its syllabus. So when Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice came out a couple of years ago, I had to read it right away. It’s light and clever and I won’t give away how Sittenfeld devises the romantic plot for literature’s second most famous couple, but it’s no surprise that she makes Elizabeth Bennet a writer.


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

This book had been on my TBR list for a very long time. It finally was available through the Austin Public Library a few weeks ago and I could not put it down. The story centers on Rachel and Nick’s love story. Nick is bringing home his American girlfriend to meet his family in Singapore for the first time and to attend his best friends wedding. The twist: Rachel has no idea that Nick’s family is wildly wealthy and that the wedding they are attending is between an heiress and a billionaire. I normally have a hard time with books where I know than the main character does, but I was laughing the entire book and enthralled with the Nick and Rachel’s love story. Read it before it hits theaters this summer!



The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

I have a particular love for romance novels and have zero qualms discussing it, though I often feel as though it is the genre with the most pitfalls as well as potential. It is certainly the most maligned of literary genres—to be fair, much of that disgust may have been earned once upon a time (admit it, someone says “romance novel” and many readers imagine a mass market paperback in which a shirtless, uncommunicative hunk throws a powerless simpering maiden over the back of his horse and rides into the sunset, consent be damned).

However, the state of the romance novel today is infinitely different from the average early 1970s Fabio-esque tumble in the hay. Romance writing commands more than half of the publishing market in the US, with readers beyond the stereotypical light browser. More and more often, we’re seeing diverse characters and pairings—realistic interracial romance, positive queer love stories, genuine representation of love interests with disabilities—and believe me, we’re celebrating.

With that (much too longwinded) introduction, I am excited to whole-heart-eyes-edly recommend Jasmine Guillory’s new novel, The Wedding Date. This sweet love story starts with a perfect rom-com-worthy meet-cute in a stalled elevator, and goes on to follow two genuinely charming humans as they fall in love: Alexa, a hard-working mayor’s aide for the city of Berkley, CA, and Drew, a children’s doctor living in LA. These characters feel like admirable and relatable people doing their best with the baggage they bring to their new relationship—insecurities, demanding careers, past heartbreaks, long-distance dating, and of course, racial tension in all its major and minute forms.  Alexa, you see, is black, and Drew is white. Guillory skillfully navigates the trials (and infinite joys) of interracial dating without side-stepping the tough (and true) parts, but to be clear: this is not a book about issues of race, this is a book about two humans falling in love. I highly recommend celebrating love along with the characters of The Wedding Date.



Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

While Ethan Frome might not be romantic (far from it), Edith Wharton creates an incredible, troublesome love triangle in this short book. With perhaps one of the all-time best endings (no spoilers!), it’s a book I come back to every so often to marvel at the subtle interactions between characters and the fateful choices they ultimately make.




Next Year, for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

This tender, engrossing novel follows Kathryn and Chris, romantic partners of nine years, as they open up their relationship to other people and discover the elasticity, compassion and possibility that come with allowing deep love to evolve. With a touch of humor, the characters unpack nuanced emotions as they navigate their new boundaries, wading into waters of jealousy, loneliness and the definition of commitment in an earnest effort to figure out the very best way to love one another. This book is terribly romantic. It also includes a subplot that follows the couple’s slow drift away from close friendship with another couple, offering an angle on the shifting roles and boundaries of friend love, as well. A wonderful read that reminded me that real love is so much bigger than the heart-shaped box we tend to put it in.


Celebrate Black Literature: Peggy Terry Recommends 2018 Reads

As we continue adding to our 2018 TBR lists (and wondering feverishly when we’ll ever sleep again), friends and fellow readers keep giving us more forthcoming titles to add. This fantastic list of recommended titles being published in 2018 comes from Peggy Terry, an Austinite, long-time avid reader, and one of the Texas Book Festival’s Community Ambassadors.

In addition to her work in human resources, Terry is an integral part of many community organizations: she’s been a Texas Book Festival volunteer since 2014 and has been active with the Austin African American Book Festival since its start in 2007. She is also a founding member of Folktales’ Black Women’s Literary Society in 1993 and has been the co-chair “for over a decade (or two).”

Happy reading, y’all!

Above: Peggy Terry (center, wearing grey) with the Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society in November, 2017


Returning authors:

Down the River Unto the Sea – Walter Mosley 2/20/18.

Mosley introduces a new character – Joe King Oliver.  Oliver has been forced off the New York police force.  Now he works as a private detective.  He receives a card in the mail with information about the case that framed him.

American Histories: Stories – John Edgar Wideman 3/20/18

In this singular collection, John Edgar Wideman, the acclaimed author of Writing to Save a Life, blends the personal, historical, and political to invent complex, charged stories about love, death, struggle, and what we owe each other. With characters ranging from everyday Americans to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Nat Turner, American Histories is a journey through time, experience, and the soul of our country.


Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave – Zora Neale Hurston  5/8/18

Hurston’s previously unpublished work.  Compiled in 1931, Ms. Hurston records Cudjo’s story providing a first hand account of memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.


A View of the Empire at Sunset – Caryl Phillips 5/22/18.

A biographical novel of the life of Jean Rhys, the author of Wide Sargasso Sea.

Raisins in MilkDavid Covin 6/1/18

This is a coming of age novel of a Black girl, Ruth-Ann Weathering, born in Mandarin Florida in 1900. It traces events from 1913 – 1920.

On the Come Up – Angie Thomas 6/5/18

Follow up novel to The Hate U Give.   Ms. Thomas returns to the world of Garden Heights for a story about an aspiring teen rapper and what happens when you get everything you thought you wanted.

Praise Song for the Butterflies – Bernice McFadden 7/3/18

A contemporary story that offers an educational, eye-opening account of the practice of ritual servitude in West Africa.


Chariot on the Mountain – Jack Ford 7/31/18

Story based on little-known true events.  Slaves set free but are dragged back a gang of slave catchers. Kitty, the emancipated slave, goes to court charging her cousin (the slave owner’s nephew and leader of the slave catchers) with kidnapping and assault.



Survival Math: Notes of an All American Family – Mitchell Jackson 8/14/18

Combination of an autobiographical tale mixed with an examination of cultural forces.  Jackson presents a microcosm of struggle and survival in contemporary urban America.

Black Leopard, Red WolfMarlon James, Fall, 2018

This will be the first of three fantasy novels and James calls it an African GAME OF THRONES.



These re-releases of previously published books give us a great opportunity to re-read works of a bygone time.

Not Without Laughter – Langston Hughes (originally published 1930)  1/16/18

Our greatest African American poet’s award-winning first novel, about a black boy’s coming-of-age in a largely white Kansas town

Black No More – George Schuyler (originally published 1931)  1/16/18

The landmark comic satire that asks, “What would happen if all black people in America turned white?”



The Blacker the Berry – Wallace Thurman (originally published 1929)  1/16/18

The Blacker the Berry was the first novel to openly address color prejudice among black Americans when released in 1929.



Dessa Rose – Sherley Williams (originally published 1986)  1/16/18

In 1829, in Kentucky, a pregnant black woman helped lead an uprising of a group of slaves headed to the market for sale. She was sentenced to death, but her hanging was delayed until after the birth of her baby. In North Carolina in1830, a white woman living on an isolated farm was reported to have given sanctuary to runaway slaves. In Dessa Rose, Sherley A. Williams asks the question: “What if these two women met?”

The Darkest Child – Delores Philips (originally published 2004)  1/30/18

Tangy Mae is the 6th of 10 fatherless children.  She is the darkest–and in her mother’s eye, the ugliest.  Her mother pulls each one from school to earn money to support her.  But Tangy is smart and has been chosen to help integrate the local high school.

Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted – Frances Harper (originally published 1892)  2/28/18.

Iola lived a life of comfort until the death of her father when she learns that she is of mixed race and is sold into slavery.  With the end of the Civil War, Ms. Leroy devotes her life to the uplift of the Black race.


Wild Card – other books I am most looking forward to:

May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem – Imani Perry 2/19/18

Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office.


A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law Sherrilyn Ifill,‎ Loretta Lynch,‎ Bryan Stevenson,‎ Anthony C. Thompson

Ifill is the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.  Lynch was President Barack Obama’s Attorney General.  Stevenson is a best selling author (Just Mercy), MacArthur Fellow and death penalty lawyer. This book is short, but it should be a fun read.



The President is Missing – Bill Clinton & James Patterson 6/4/18

The White House is the home of the President of the United States, the most guarded, monitored, closely watched person in the world. So how could a U.S. President vanish without a trace? And why would he choose to do so?

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower – Brittney Cooper 2/20/18.

This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen – Sarah Bird 9/4/18

Previously a slave, Cathy Williams rejected the life of servitude she would have had as a woman at the end of the Civil War, disguised herself as a man, and enlisted with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.

Monday’s Not Coming – Tiffany D. Jackson 6/5/18

The mystery of one teenage girl’s disappearance and the traumatic effects of the truth.


Martin Luther King Jr. Related:


Martin Rising: A Requiem for a King – Andrea Davis Pinkney, Author, Brian Pinkney, Illustrator.  1/2/18

Pinkney covers the final months of Martin Luther King’s life—and of his assassination—through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayered meaning.


A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History – Jeanne Theoharis 1/30/18

Explodes the fables that have been created about the civil rights movement.

The Heavens Might Crack: The Death of Martin Luther King Jr. – Jason Sokol 3/20/18

A vivid portrait of how Americans grappled with King’s death and legacy in the days, weeks, and months after his assassination

Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last 31 Hours – Joseph Rosenblum  3/27/18

An “immersive, humanizing, and demystifying” (Charles Blow, New York Times) look at the final hours of Dr. King’s life as he seeks to revive the non-violent civil rights movement and push to end poverty in America.


The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age – Patrick Parr 4/1/18

This work is the first definitive, full-length account of King’s years as a divinity student at Crozer Theological Seminary.



To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Fight for Economic Justice – Michael Honey 4/3/18

This work challenges us to think about what it would mean to truly fulfill King’s legacy and move toward his vision of “the Promised Land” in our own time

Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Social Gospel – Gary Dorrien 1/9/18

Dorrien’s work centers around King and the mid-twentieth-century Black church leaders who embraced the progressive, justice-oriented, internationalist social gospel from the beginning of their careers and fulfilled it, inspiring and leading America’s greatest liberation movement.





Black Panther: The Young Prince – Ronald K. Smith  1/2/18

T’Challa has been sent from Wakanda by his father to the South Side Middle School in Chicago.  When strange things begin happening around the school, T’Challa starts down the path to becoming the Black Panther.



Marley Dias Gets It Done (and So Can You!) – Marley Dias 1/30/18

Marley Dias explores activism, social justice, volunteerism, equity and inclusion, and using social media for good.

Strange Fruit, Volume II: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History – Joel Christian Gill 2/1/18

A collection of stories from early African American history that represent the oddity of success in the face of great adversity.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi 3/6/18

Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut novel.

Tyler Johnson Was Here – Jay Coles 3/20/18

This debut novel tells the story of twin brothers who go to a party that ends with one of them dead at the hands of a police officer.  The surviving twin must cope with the death, help his mother, and learn what justice really means.



The Parker Inheritance – Varian Johnson 3/27/18

A mystery is explored when the granddaughter finds a letter to her grandmother who left town in shame.  A boy from across the street helps in deciphering the story.



Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood – James Baldwin 8/24/18

This re-released picture book is James Baldwin’s only children’s book, depicting the environment and daily life of two boys coming of age in Harlem.

After the Shot Drops – Randy Ribay 3/6/18.

A powerful novel about friendship, basketball, and one teen’s mission to create a better life for his family

The Beauty That Remains – Ashley Woodfolk 3/6/18

Told from three diverse points of view, this debut novel tells a story of life and love after loss.




Books We Can’t Wait to Read: Lea’s and Lydia’s 2018 Picture Book Picks

For our final TBF 2018 Book Picks preview, our resident #KidLit nerds Lea and Lydia are looking at some of the amazing picture books coming out this year! The majority of these books are spring and summer catalogs, and there are so many more exciting picture books coming out this year. Lea’s already hustling to bring many of these authors to Texas elementary schools for Reading Rock Stars visits, and we can’t wait to see these books on the shelves and in the hands of young readers.

And don’t forget: you can check out the rest of our 2018 Book Preview posts here.

Happy reading, y’all!


Mae Among the Stars

Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington; January 9

We’re so excited to have Roda as one of our Reading Rock Stars authors in Dallas and Fort Worth this year! It’s easy to fall and in love with and be inspired by Dr. Mae Jemison’s story. The book is the perfect way to start to talk to children about their dreams and how they can achieve them.







Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa; March 13

One of the most anticipated picture book releases of the year! Junot Díaz’s first picture book started with a promise to his goddaughters “two decades ago, when they asked him to write a book that featured characters like them, Dominican girls living in the Bronx.” With Díaz’s brilliant storytelling touching on the themes he does best—immigration and traditional culture, family and memories, and finding where you belong—along with bright, fluid illustrations from Leo Espinosa, this book is sure to be one you read over and over again.

Don’t miss Junot Díaz speaking and signing copies of Islandborn at Bookpeople, April 4 at 6:30pm




Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Loren Long; January 9

I LOVE Matt de la Peña! Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this book shows children all the different ways love can be expressed. Share it with the child in your life to start a conversation about all the different ways you love them and that they can love others. An inspiring and heartwarming story, you definitely need this on your shelf!


Don’t miss Matt de la Peña and Loren Long speaking and signing copies of Love at Bookpeople January 20, 11:30am.



Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and The Rainbow Flag

Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno; April 10

I have become such a fan of non-fiction picture books and I cannot wait to see this one! The Rainbow flag feels like it’s been a symbol of queer pride forever, but that’s not the case! This picture book brings the story of the flag and will teach children about the inspiring Harvey Milk. It’s a great primer on activism and I’m saving a spot on my shelf for it!






Alma and How She Got Her Name

Juana Martinez-Neal; April 10

When read this book, I couldn’t help but say “awwwww” this entire time! A veteran Reading Rock Stars author/illustrator, Juana Martinez-Neal takes you through sweet Alma’s name and her family history. It’s a wonderful way to talk to your children about family, their history and why it’s important to feel pride in your story and your uniqueness. Beautifully illustrated, I am looking forward to sharing this with students as soon as I can!




They Say Blue

Jillian Tamaki; March 13

Jillian Tamaki has been one of my favorite graphic artists since I first read Skim, the YA graphic novel she co-wrote with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, and her following books This One Summer and Super Mutant Magic Academy have only cemented her place on my best bookshelf. Her first picture book, which follows a young girl exploring the colors of the world around her, is a gorgeous, wonder-filled ode to the beauty of nature and perspective.





The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra

Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ana Aranda; March 7

I laughed out loud the entire time  I read this adorable book. While it has been out awhile, I am looking forward to having its illustrator, Ana Aranda, join us for Reading Rock Stars in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s such a silly feel good book! The illustrations are so fun and you and your child will be sure to laugh and wonder how the goats will escape the mighty chupacabra!






Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea

Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Rebecca Green; May 1

Rebecca Green is one of my favorite illustrators, and this story by Elizabeth Suneby about a resourceful, science-loving boy who devises a sustainable way to make the monsoon season in Bangladesh safer for his mother is a sweet, inspiring story about sustainable technology and family love.







Books we haven’t read yet but can’t wait to get our hands on:


Books We Can’t Wait to Read: Lydia’s 2018 Middle Grade picks

Happy 2018, y’all! I started off the New Year making a list of all the books I desperately cannot wait to read this year, and even though I’ve gotten a good start, the list keeps growing.

Part 1 was my preview of young adult books I can’t wait to read, and this part 2 is a list of many (but of course, not all) of the middle grade books (books aimed for ages 10 and up) coming out this year that I’m excited to read and share with other readers. There’s stories of magic, family ties, first love, first grief, growing up, or in some tragic stories, not being able to grow up because life was taken away. I’m especially drawn to authentic coming-of-age stories told by #OwnVoices authors about children and lives we don’t see too often in books and media. Add some magic, mystery, and maybe a witch or two, and I’m not leaving my couch until the book is done. Happy reading!

Don’t forget: check out Julie’s 2018 adult fiction and non-fiction picks and Lydia’s 2018 YA picks too!


Books I’ve read and loved (and will re-read and re-read):


Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble

Anna Meriano; January 2

I have been holding my breath waiting for this book for almost a year, ever since Houston author Anna Meriano told me about her story of the youngest sister in a family of Mexican-American pastry brujas, and all the anticipation only made it that much sweeter (sorry, I had to).

Set in small-town Texas, youngest sister Leo finds out more than she ever expected when she sneaks into her family’s pastry shop the day before Día de los Muertos (when she’s supposed to be at school) and witnesses a magical coming-of-age ceremony for her older twin sisters. The following adventure mixes all my favorite ingredients of family love (and rivalry), friendship, good intentions gone awry, and even features real recipes you can try yourself (the magic is optional). I’m already waiting for the next in the series.


Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring

March 27: Angela Cervantes

Have you always wished you could run away and secretly live in a museum, bathing in a fountain and uncovering the secret of an ancient statue, just like in The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler? Did you love Under the Egg and Chasing Vermeer as much as me? Well good news: 2018 is THE YEAR of the Art History Mystery (yes, that’s a genre, I just made it up), and we’re off to a great start with this gem by Angela Cervantes.

Paloma wanted to spend the summer reading Lulu Pennywhistle mystery books by the pool, but instead she’s visiting Mexico with her mother. She isn’t looking forward to being away from her friends and taking summer Spanish-language classes, though she is hoping to find out more about her late father, who grew up in Mexico. Immediately after arriving, however, Paloma makes new friends and is drawn into the mystery of Frida Kahlo’s missing peacock ring. she sets off to solve a few mysteries of her own.


Ghost Boys

Jewell Parker Rhodes; April 17

This new book by the award-winning author of Towers Falling, Ninth Ward, and many other celebrated books broke my heart—as it should. The titular ghost boys are spirits of the many, many young black American boys murdered in racial violence. One of these is the main character, Jerome, a timid twelve-year old boy gunned down by a racist police officer while playing in the lot next to his house, and readers follow his confused, frightened ghost as he wanders the city, stuck, wishing he could either go back to his life or move on to what comes next. He’s joined and comforted by the ghost of Emmett Till, who helps him understand why he was murdered, why the police officer is claiming he did the correct thing, and why there are so many ghost boys like him and Emmett. Jerome ends up becoming friends with the only living person who can see him: Sarah, the daughter of the police officer who murdered him, a white girl his own age, and she joins him on his search for understanding and change.

This story hurts. Rhodes doesn’t offer any easy answers, and while her prose is beautiful and there are moments of sweetness and even triumph, it is not an easy read. However, I recommend it as one of the most important books coming out this year.


Drum Roll, Please

Lisa Jenn Bigelow; June 26

Growing up is hard, and even harder when several big changes come at the same time. Quiet Melly dreads her summer music camp, even though her best friend is going with her, because she’s already homesick: not just for her house, but the home she has with both her parents, who have just decided to split up. It’s even harder when her best friend ditches her at camp, she starts to worry she’s not good at playing the drums, even though she loves it, and she starts to develop a crush on another girl, Adeline.

Anyone who’s ever felt overlooked, “like a mouse,” and felt too scared to even talk to the person they like will love cheering Melly on as she finds her inner rockstar and drums up the courage (pun lovingly intended) to share her feelings with the girl she likes. I’m recommending this sweet, authentic story to everyone this year.



Currently Reading:


J.A. White; July 3

Neil Gaiman famously misquoted G.K. Chesterton in his epigraph for one of my all-time favorite novels, Coraline. The original Chesterton quote went something like: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.” I whip that quote out whenever I hear someone say a piece of media might be “too dark” or “too scary” for the age group it was intended for—usually for books like Coraline, and, I expect, Nightbooks.

Yes, this book is scary, but it’s clever and fresh and stars the sort of tentative, anxious underdog I love to root for. The idea of a vicious witch luring children into her Brooklyn apartment and imprisoning them in the library is not an impossible stretch of the imagination for a kid (nor is her booming side business of selling magic-infused essential oils to hipsters), and the frightening here is balanced with Alex’s creativity, bravery, and refusal to give up.


Books I haven’t read yet, but CANNOT WAIT to get my hands on:



Cynthia Kadohata; February 6

The 11:11 Wish

Kim Tomsic; February 13

One True Way

Shannon Hitchcock; February 27

Midnight in the Piazza

Tiffany Parks; March 6

The Night Diary

Veera Hiranandani; March 6

Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort

Will Taylor; March 14

Hurricane Child

Kheryn Callender; March 27 – Recommended to me by the fantastic Kelly Starling Lyons!

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Roshani Chokshi; March 27

Out of the Wild Night

Blue Balliett; March 27

The Parker Inheritance

Varian Johnson; March 27 – Johnson is a local Texas author!

Gone to Drift

Diana McCauley; April 3

You Go First

Erin Entrada Kelly; April 10

Be Prepared

Vera Brosgol; April 24

All Summer Long

Hope Larson; May 1

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed; May 8

Lions and Liars

Kate Beasley; June 5

Flor and Miranda Steal the Show

Jennifer Torres; June 12

The Girl with the Ghost Machine

Lauren DeStefano; July 3

Where the Watermelons Grow

Cindy Baldwin; July 3

City of Islands

Kali Wallace; July 3


Abby Cooper; July 17


Barbara Binns; July 31

Books We Can’t Wait to Read: Lydia’s YA picks

Happy 2018! I never make official New Year’s resolutions, but every January I tell myself, “Okay, this is definitely the year I’m going to read at least 150 books and keep track of every book I read in this handy reading tracker app/ spreadsheet/ Goodreads/ fancy journal,” and then somehow every December I find myself racking my brain, trying to remember all the amazing books I read and re-read that year. I read a lot, I’m just not very organized about it.

But for real! 2018 is my year, and it is already off to an amazing start for literature as a whole, but especially in young adult and middle grade books. 2018 is so promising, in fact, that I’m splitting my “2018 books I’m excited about” lists into two parts, for YA and middle grade.

This first part, a collection of YA books I’ve read and love or am greatly looking forward to, is a subjective puddle of unbridled and disorganized enthusiasm, with titles listed in order of publication date.

Obviously, this list is based both on my own taste and on the limited publishing catalogs available for 2018 (you’ll see it’s very front-loaded). There are certain things I’m predisposed to like in a book: if there’s a murder at a boarding school, preferable a boarding school that has the potential to be blanketed in a suffocating layer of beautiful, deadly snow, I’m there in a heartbeat. Is the story an inventive take on existing legends, folklore, or religion, such as the Robin Hood tale or West African folklore? I need it.  If the premise just sounds banana-pants crazy and amazingly hilarious—say, a high schooler leading a gang of resurrected teenage girls, or a teen journalist getting kidnapped by reclusive Siberian hermits—I want to have read it yesterday. My biggest soft spot is for real world/slice of life stories of complicated families, positive/realistic portrayals of queer life and love, and books that tackle all-too-real issues in today’s turbulent social climate (which are even better with a side of triumph and indefatigable humor).

Also, if you’re looking for some stellar “adult” fiction and nonfiction recommendations, our Literary Director Julie Wernersbach has a great list of 2018 books to check out.

Happy reading, y’all!


Read It, Loved It, Super-Duper Recommend:


Truly Devious  Maureen Johnson; January 16

From the moment I opened this book, I knew it was for me. The dedication reads: “For everyone who has ever dreamed of finding a body in the library.” How does she know, I whispered, and turned the page.

Johnson’s new book is a clever mystery about an 80-year-old unsolved murder at a progressive self-guided boarding school in remote Vermont, but it’s also a coming-of-age story starring Stevie, an observant true-crime aficionado dealing with imposter syndrome, great ambition, an anxiety disorder, and a modern-day copycat murderer. With the current resurgence in true crime media and interest in criminology, Stevie’s struggle to solve these mysteries—while learning where the line between investigation and invasion is—will resonate with a lot of readers.


The Prince and The Dressmaker  Jen Wang; February 13

Confession: I’ve read this perfect gem of a graphic novel twice and I will re-read it so many more times in the future. This friendship-turned-love-story between an ambitious, brilliant dressmaker and a delightful, sensitive prince who plays with gender expression is sweet, unique, and perfect for Valentine’s day. Wang’s art is fluid and lively and gorgeous, and her deft storytelling enchants as well as avoids the expected. I’m buying another copy the moment this book is published so I can loan it to everyone I know. Happy Valentine’s day, y’all.


Children of Blood and Bone: The Orisha Legacy  Tomi Adeyemi; March 6

Let’s be real: it’s impossible not to judge this book by its gorgeous cover. I’ve had this book on my GIVE IT TO ME list ever since the cover reveal, but even with my expectations set that high, I was not once disappointed. This smartly paced, brilliant fantasy built on West African culture and folklore features immersive world-building and my favorite sort of slow-burn, conflicted romance. Children of Blood and Bone has been collecting rave reviews and deserves every word.


Inkmistress  Audrey Coulthurst; March 6

I adored Coulthurst’s debut last year, Of Fire and Stars, and was so happy to get my hands on her second book, whose story follows Asra, a troubled demi-god and healer fighting to save Ina, the girl she loves, after a risky spell goes horribly awry and Ina sets out to seek revenge against the king. Coulthurst’s second novel is a darker, deadly return to the fantasy world we first saw in her debut and offers the same intricate plotting, fantastic world-building, and original, genuine queer relationships I loved in her first book.


The Astonishing Color of After  Emily X. R. Pan; March 20

This was another book I’d been watching for advance copies of ever since I heard of it, and I’m so glad I read it this early in the year, since I’m definitely going to read it again. Emily X. R. Pan’s lyrical debut is a heartfelt portrait of grief and the haunting magical realism that grows out of loss. Leigh’s story of discovering herself through art, family, and navigating different cultures will stay with you for a long time.


Emergency Contact  Mary H.K. Choi; March 27

This delightfully snarky and unexpectedly soft-hearted modern-day romance has some local excitement for us Texans. Penny is a freshman starting at University of Texas and dealing with all those freshman woes—finding her groove, missing (and not missing) her mom, getting used to her new roommate, and getting involved with her new roommate’s super-cool friend (who the new roommate has made her promise to not date). Choi’s writing is thoughtful and witty, and you can’t help but fall in love with Penny and Sam as the two slowly, carefully unwrap their own hearts over text and try not to wonder what might—or can’t—come next.


Dread Nation  Justina Ireland; April 3

Buckle up, y’all, this is one wild ride from start to finish, and I cannot think of two characters I’d rather accompany on a zombie-infested trek through post-Civil War America than Jane and Katherine, two outstanding students at the prestigious Ms. Preston’s School of Combat for ladies. This fantastical take on the years following the Civil War was partially inspired by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but takes a fun premise and turns it into powerful allegory for the black American experience through history and the way black lives have been (and still are) valued in American society.



Currently Reading:

People Like Us  Dana Mele; February 27

We’re not yet a month into 2018 and I’m already reading my second Boarding School Murder Mystery novel (and I’m not even sorry). So far, this story has a promising cast of characters, including a bi/pansexual main character, a cyber-puzzle with deadly consequences, the usual backstabbing and toxic gossip, and of course, murder most foul. 2018 is looking like a promising year if we’re already blessed with two stellar, unique examples of this quite specific flavor of book.


The “I’ve never hit pre-order so fast” list (e.g., authors I already adore whose forthcoming books I am desperate to get my hands on):


The Belles  Dhonielle Clayton; February 6

Co-founder of Cake Literary, co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series, COO of We Need Diverse Books, take no nonsense writer, lauded sensitivity reader, and all around rockstar-with-great-shoes Dhonielle Clayton brings us the opulent WOC-led fantasy of our dreams.



Leah On the Offbeat  Becky Albertalli; April 24

This third installment comes from the author of Simon VS. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, and gives us more of the cool, cynical, rockstar we loved in Simon. I can’t waaaaait.




On the Come Up  Angie Thomas; May 1 (no cover art yet)

I read The Hate U Give twice last year, and gave a copy of it to all of my friends. Getting to see Angie Thomas at Austin’s African American Book Festival was one of the highlights of my year, and I can’t wait to read what she’s recently called “the book of my heart”.



Ship It  Britta Lundin; May 1

I’ve followed Britta Lundin on Twitter for a while now so I’m already familiar with how hilarious and nerdy she is, and have been loving her work on this little show called Riverdale (maybe you know it?) Now she’s written a coming of age novel about fandom and the queer teens learning about themselves through fanfiction and fanart and, of course, shipping fan pairings. I wish I could go back in time and hand this book to my teen self, but I’m happy to read it as a grown-up too.


Puddin’  Julie Murphy; May 8

Julie Murphy is back with another wickedly funny and super sweet story featuring hilarious, stereotype defying characters you spend the whole book cheering for. We were so lucky to have  her at the Texas Book Festival and now we’re even luckier she has another book coming out already! If you liked you Dumplin’ and Ramona Blue (and who didn’t!), hit that pre-order button now.



From Twinkle, With Love  Sandhya Menon; May 22

Did you love When Dimple Met Rishi as much as I did? Did you fangirl over Sandya Menon at the Texas Teen Book Festival as hard as I did? Are you as ready for Twinkle and her equally-instagrammable cover as I am? *fans self in anticipation*




A Thousand Beginnings and Endings   Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (editors); June 26

This anthology of 15 stories re-imagining folklore and mythology from East and South Asia features some of my favorite authors and is edited by two brilliant people whose taste and authority I trust implicitly. I don’t read enough short stories, and I’m so looking forward to diving into this collection.



Finding Yvonne  Brandy Colbert; August 7

We were so lucky to get to host the inimitable Brandy Colbert at the 2017 Texas Book Festival for her dazzling book Little & Lion, and I can’t wait to dive into what promises to be another heartfelt story of beauty and hurt and the sort of honest, complicated truths we learn from real life. Colbert doesn’t give her readers any easy answers and I’m here for it.




Uhhh, That Sounds Awesome (or, books by authors I haven’t read yet but the premise has me hooked):

Love, Hate, and Other Filters  Samira Ahmed; January 16

Let’s Talk About Love  Claire Kann; January 23

The Dangerous Art of Blending In  Angelo Surmelis; January 30

The Hazel Wood  Melissa Albert; Jan 30

This Is Not A Love Letter  Kim Purcell; Jan 30

Winterfolk  Janel Kolby; February 6

After the Shot Drops  Randy Ribay; March 6

Tyler Johnson Was Here  Jay Coles; March 20

Picture Us in the Light  Kelly Loy Gilbert; April 10

The Way You Make Me Feel  Madeline Goo; May 8

Undead Girl Gang  Lily Anderson; May 8

Love and Other Carnivorous Plants  Florence Gonsalves; May 15

Anger Is a Gift  Mark Oshiro May 22


Mariam Sharma Hits the Road  Sheba Karim; June 5

The Bird and the Blade  Megan Bannen; June 5

Dear Rachel Maddow  Adrienne Kisner; June 5

Monday’s Not Coming  Tiffany D. Jackson; June 5

Sometime After Midnight  L. Phillips; June 12

Not The Girls You’re Looking For  Amina Mae Safi; June 19

Notes from My Captivity  Kathy Parks; July 10

I’m Not Missing  Carrie Fountain; July 10

Wrong in All The Right Ways  Tiffany Brownlee; July 17

Heretics Anonymous  Katie Henry; August 7

The Forest Queen  Betsy Cornwell; August 7

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish  Pablo Cartaya; August 21

In Another Time  Caroline Leech; August 28










From the Lit Director Desk: 2018 Reads

It’s been very cold here in Austin. Sam and I have been bundling up in our library. 


I am nothing if not ambitious. With 2018 upon us, my list of books to read in just the first half of the new year is… well, it’s maybe all just a bit unwieldy. And I perhaps am not awake enough hours of the day to read every single book I’m excited about thus far in 2018. But, oh, I can dream! And I can list.

Below are some of the books that I’ve read and loved so far (largely fiction) along with lists of even more 2018 reads I’m excited to jump into. This is by no means a comprehensive or “best of” list, it’s simply what I’ve read and particularly enjoyed and those additional books that have intrigued me as I’ve gone through publisher catalogs, read excerpts here and there, and perused the thousands of other 2018 book lists making the rounds. It isn’t even close to the number of books I’ve tagged on Edelweiss, goodness knows.

In addition to the books below, I happily point you to this phenomenal list, generated by 2018 novelist R. O. Kwan, of 46 Women Writers of Color to Read in 2018. Read widely, my friends. Read everything. I am trying to.

If you’re still working your way through your 2017 TBR pile, allow me to please pour upon you all of the books I was excited about in the first half of last year. Now, let’s all quit every responsibility, pull up a comfy chair and start pre-ordering some new reads from your local indie bookstore.


Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
On Sale 1/9/18

Jamie Quatro is on fire. This novel of desire, spirituality, infidelity and temptation is a meditative, passionate dive into the nuances of love and mercy. When an intellectual affair becomes something more, obsession takes over, as does guilt, want and the deep examination of a faithful and meaningful life. Indeed, it is difficult not to be obsessed with this story that is by turns sultry, psychologically astute, emotionally wrenching, and obscenely well-written. I snapped through these pages and cried in public at the end. A divine and devouring book.


Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot
On Sale 2/6/18

This book reads like a wildfire. Full of ferocious intellect, searing emotion and fearless self-examination, Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir surges through the complexity and conflict of love, trauma, identity and mental illness with language that crackles and burns right off the page. I was blown open reading her honest dispatches of life with her mother, the madness of romantic heartbreak, and her ventures toward love and stability. Brave is an easy word to describe this book, but it isn’t enough. Resilient, courageous, powerful, aware, alive, unforgettable; this slender memoir is huge.


An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones
On Sale 2/6/18

Beginning with an accusation that tears apart a passionate young newlywed couple, this novel examines the deep consequences of America’s racially-biased criminal justice system, the pressures of family expectation, and the effects of years piled up on young love. Chapter to chapter, I held my breath as Jones built an emotionally complicated, multi-layered relationship between Celestial and Roy, casting their fate as a couple against the inevitable evolution of their independent lives and teasing out the ways in which we hold on to and let go of the ones we love most. Celestial’s journey of self-actualization in respect to her art is particularly compelling. Brilliantly paced and beautifully written, An American Marriage dives into the gray areas of love both romantic and familial, presenting a triangle of desire without any easy answers and a stark, powerful rendering of personal loss in the face of injustice.



The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border by Francisco Cantú
On Sale 2/6/18

Cantu’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. This beautifully written, immersive firsthand account of Cantu’s work put me squarely in his shoes, walking those southern trails and coming face to face with both the people making the life-threatening journey north and the people tasked with tracking them. Cantu’s clean style lays bare his earnest effort to understand both sides and to portray the humanity of the migrants and of his fellow guards. This book is also a valuable crash course in the history of the border, the reason for surges in migration, and how the issue has played out over decades. The Line Becomes A River should be required reading, right alongside Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How This Ends.


White Houses: A Novel by Amy Bloom
On Sale 2/13/18

If there’s any single living novelist I would want to tell the story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, it’s Amy Bloom. No one writes intimacy and desire the way she does. Bloom weaves history and heart from the imagined, companionable voice of Hick, a writer who raises herself by her own gumption, work ethic and skillful pen from a cold, poor childhood home into the White House, where she becomes First Friend to the First Lady. This is a terribly romantic novel about two extraordinarily talented women whose love lasted decades, through war and White House politics and arguments and other lovers, through FDR and old age and the tumult of a connection and affection that could have destroyed them all, if it had been made public. I’m so grateful to Amy Bloom for casting this epic American love story in her gorgeous prose. Enchanting and endearing, White Houses is an irresistible read.


Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester
On Sale 3/13/18

Clear you calendar, turn off your phone and put up an away message before you sit down with this book. I’m giving you fair warning, because once you start turning these pages, you won’t want to stop until you’re done. Everyone Knows You Go Home begins with the appearance of a dead father on his son’s wedding day, an engaging, mesmerizing opening that kicks off this novel about family truth and fiction, the ways in which the past plays on the present, and the extended experience of families who immigrate north over the border between Mexico and the United States. Chapters pivot in time between a couple making their way over the border and the family that subsequently grows up in Texas. Sylvester has a keen talent for submersing readers in a character’s emotional psychology while keeping the story snapping along, building a gripping, tender narrative populated by rich and memorable personalities. Who writes a family’s history? What truths and fiction create our family dynamics? How do those stories travel across countries? I loved every page of this novel.


The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
On Sale 4/3/18

Robust, immersive, and socially engaging, The Female Persuasion strikes up conversations about feminism, youth, privilege, activism and family in a story perfectly poised to get readers talking. Each distinct, deeply thoughtful character presents an opportunity to consider our own expectations of the world at large, who we think we are, and who, in the end, we turn out to be. Juxtaposing a young woman in her twenties with a feminist icon in the late stages of her career, Wolitzer casts an interrogative eye on the evolution and presumptions of American feminism. The strength of this novel lies in Wolitzer’s keen talent for presenting morally ambiguous decisions, fully inhabiting her characters and the psychology of their choices. Bring your book club. You’re going to want to talk about this one.


And Now We Have Everything by Meghan O’Connell
On Sale 4/10/18

Informative, entertaining, and real as f*ck, this book is an investigation into what no one ever fully tells you about pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and motherhood. Meaghan O’Connell holds nothing back, laying out everything from lofty pre-pregnancy expectations to the surreal trip of childbirth to the turbulent postpartum months. Her searing honesty and biting humor make this an indelible, personal read. I felt like I was getting all of the real dirt on this whole having-a-kid-thing from my very best friend. If your friend just had a kid and you don’t know what to say, give her this book. If YOU just had a kid and are wondering if you’re losing my mind, holy pajamas, read this book!


There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange
On Sale 6/5/18

This kaleidoscopic novel examines the lives and relationships of Native Americans in modern Oakland. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, giving this the feel of a linked collection of stories that build in urgency as they overlap and zero in on the story’s central event, the Big Oakland Powwow. Orange is a powerful writer with a searing ability to cut through to dynamically different characters’ world views. It’s staggering that this is his debut. The voices in There There include an adolescent boy dancing in regalia behind his aunt’s back; a woman struggling to maintain sobriety and reconnect with her family; an internet-obsessed boy who tracks down his father; a college-age young man attempting to document the individual stories of indigenous people living in modern Oakland. The characters in this novel cover wide ground as they define themselves in the traditions they hold or shirk, the violent history that has been airbrushed with Thanksgiving stories, the addictions and loss that tear through families, and the meaning and consequences of what ultimately happens at the Powwow. Pre-order this one now and wish for June to get here already.


Currently Reading: 










Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Girls Burn Brighter: A Novel by Shobha Rao
Speak No Evil: A Novel by Uzodinma Iweala
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath
by Leslie Jamison
All the Names They Used for God: Stories by Anjali Sachdeva



Up Next (the TBR Shortlist): 

Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
Tomorrow or Forever by Jack Kaulfus
Florida: Stories by Lauren Groff
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
The Beekeeper: Saving the Stolen Women of Iraq by Dunya Mikhail
The Parking Lot Attendant: A Novel by Nafkote Tamirat
Well, That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey
How to Love the Empty Air Cristin Aptowicz
See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism, and Commentary by Lorrie Moore


The Ever-Growing TBR Longlist for the First Half of 2018, in No Particular Order and with Absolutely No Regard for the Realities of Time, Space and Any Life Responsibilities Beyond Reading, Because I Just Want to Read It ALL:











When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullor and asha bandele
The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon
Lake Success: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart
My Own Devices by Dessa
How to Love a Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs
Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers
The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kushner
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Warlight: A Novel by Michael Ondaatje
All Our Wild Wonder by Sarah Kay
Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave by Zora Neale Hurston











A State of Freedom: A Novel by Neel Mukherjeea
Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad by Krystal A. Sital
Love War Stories by Ivelisse Rodriguez
Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makai
Red Clocks: A Novel by Leni Zumas
Tropic of Squalor: Poems by Mary Karr
Neon in Daylight by Hermione Hoby
The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani
Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change by Tao Lin











Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell Jackson
If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi: Stories by Neel Patel
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Sadness is a White Bird: A Novel by Moriel Rothman-Zecher
Stray City by Chelsey Johnson
Open Me by Lisa Locascio
A Thirsty Land: The Making of an American Water Crisis by Seamus McGraw
Whiskey by Bruce Holbert
The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
Motherhood: A Novel by Sheila Heti
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride
Collision Theory by Adrian Todd Zuniga
The Third Hotel: A Novel by Laura van den Berg
Don’t Skip Out on Me: A Novel by Willy Vlautin











Austin Author Bonus! 

I highlighted 10 Books Coming from Austin writers in 2018 for the January issue of Austin Monthly.


Phew! And we haven’t even seen fall catalogs yet. I’d better get back to turning pages. Happy New Year, book lovers!


Book Club Guide to Texas Book Fest

Calling all book clubs! The Texas Book Festival is a great opportunity to discover your group’s next big read and to meet the authors you’ve been reading and discussing all year. This year, we’ve curated several sessions with book clubs in mind. Of course, we hope you’ll join us at EVERY session this year (and as soon as you figure out the human cloning technology to make this possible, please do let us know). All of these sessions are FREE and open to the public. The authors will sign copies of their books immediately afterwards. 



Sunday, November 5 3:00-4:00
Bring Your Book Club!

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweenty, Rumaan Alam, Amita Trasi
Location: Omni Hotel Ballroom
Bring your book club to the Festival to meet authors Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (The Nest), Rumaan Alam (Rich and Pretty) and Amita Trasi (The Color of Our Sky) as they discuss their new work. With wit, style, and characters you won’t stop discussing, these authors explore family, friendship, self-discovery and more in page-turning stories you’ll be eager to share.



Saturday, November 4 10:30-11:15
Family Forms
Amanda Eyre Ward and Emily Robbins

Moderated by Jardine Libaire
Location: Capitol Extension Room 2.016
The boundaries of love are tested in new novels by Texas writers Amanda Eyre Ward (The Nearness of You) and Emily Robbins (A Word for Love). From surrogate parenting to being a third party witness to a clandestine affair, Ward and Robbins discuss the particular nature of love just to the side of center and what draws them to write about the gray areas of human family and connection.



Saturday, November 4 11:00-11:45
Thank You For Being A Friend
Lisa Ko and Rakesh Satyal

Location: Capitol Extension Room 2.026
Sustaining friendships are at the centers of new novels by Lisa Ko (The Leavers) and Rakesh Satyal (No One Can Pronounce My Name). The friendships formed by characters as they immigrate to America and acclimate to life in New York and Cleveland become fundamental to their development and to the story. Join Ko and Satyal as they discuss writing foundational friendships.




Saturday, November 4 11:30-12:15
A Piece of The World
Christina Baker Kline and Sarah Bird

Location: Omni Hotel Ballroom
Celebrated Texas writer Sarah Bird sits down with Christina Baker Kline, friend and author of the mega-bestselling book club favorite, Orphan Train Girl, to discuss following up on her phenomenal success, the joys of the writing life, and Kline’s stunning and atmospheric novel of friendship, passion, and art, A Piece of the World.





Saturday, November 4 12:15-1:00
Vintage Writers on Reading
Will Schwalbe and Ariel Lawhon

Location: Capitol Auditorium
An intimate seminar for readers interested in the behind the scenes of being a writer. William Schwalbe (Books for Living) and Ariel Lawhon (Flight of Dreams) will talk about their respective reading and writing habits. Special tote bags with complimentary advanced readers copies will be handed out!





Saturday, November 4 12:15-1:00
Family History, Family Destiny
Min Jin Lee and Hala Alyan
Location: Capitol Extension Room 2.014
Setting their new novels against the backdrop of very different, very contentious points in history, Min Jin Lee (Pachinko), Hala Alyan (Salt Houses) and Rodrigo Hasbún (Affections) open up generational stories of displacement and destiny in Korea, Kuwait City, Bolivia and beyond. Join them as they discuss how political forces shaped the lives, structures and fates of their characters and how history drew each of them to the page.




Saturday, November 4 2:15-3:00
Stephanie Powell Watts and C. Morgan Babst

Location: Capitol Extension Room 2.016
What does it mean to come home again when home has been ravaged by a hurricane, or family neglect, or poverty, or time? What would constitute home then? In new novels by C. Morgan Babst (The Floating World) and Stephanie Powell Watts (No One Is Coming to Save Us), characters learn that not all homecomings are created equal. Join them as they discuss writing about what comes after the storm of time.





Sunday, November 4 1:30-2:15
Unexpected Connection

Rachel Kadish and Jessica Shattuck in Conversation
Location: Omni Hotel Ballroom
Soon after meeting in a Boston writers’ group, Rachel Kadish (The Weight of Ink) and Jessica Shattuck (The Women in the Castle) learned that they shared an unexpected bond: Kadish’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors; Shattuck’s were members of the Nazi party. Join them as they discuss their friendship, the questions they asked one another, and how their family histories informed their new historical novels–and offer context for current event.




Sunday, November 5 2:00-2:45
It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s…. My Family?
Ladee Hubbard and Daryl Gregory
Location: Capitol Extension Room 2.012

You think your family is strange? Master storytellers Ladee Hubbard (The Talented Ribkins) and Daryl Gregory (Spoonbenders) introduce us to vastly different families with talents the likes of which you’ve never seen. But these powers are not all they’re cracked up to be. These authors will challenge what you think you know about human limitations and the strength of human spirit.




Sunday, November 5 11:00-11:45
Unraveling WWII
Cristina García
Location: Capitol Extension Room 2.036
Cristina García, bestselling author of the classic Dreaming in Cuban and finalist for the National Book Award, talks with author Natalia Sylvester about García’s new novel, Here in Berlin. This portrait of a city through snapshots excavates the stories and ghosts of contemporary Berlin, still pulsing with its past and WWII.






Browse More TBF Book Club Books!



From the Lit Director Desk: What I’m Reading

IMG_9937I’ve been to some very cold places this year in the name of books. 


The beginning of February saw me return from one book conference in time to promptly turn around and fly out to another book conference. I had just enough time to empty my suitcase of one load of books and make room for another. (Pity me, I know. Play the world’s smallest violins. My dishes were dirty for weeks! The cat did not learn how to do laundry in my absence!)

The great thing about flying in airplanes is that I’m too terrified to look out the window (the ground is so far away) or into the faces of my fellow passengers (which one of these people will be the one to fix the mask over my face when this steel machine goes down???) so I keep my head down and read. And drink tiny little bottles of airplane wine. And hope for the best. I read quite a lot this month. Here are a few of the books that stood out to me. There have been tons of great new books to read and 2017 has barely begun. Get to a bookstore! Browse around! There are good books afoot!


right way to be

The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction of Disability
edited by Sheila Black, Michael Northen and Annabelle Hayse

Available now! // Cinco Puntos Press

I’m so grateful to Cinco Puntos Press for sending this beautiful anthology my way. Twenty-seven writers present stories about “disability” in all ways the word can be defined. This is the first time – the first time – that short fiction by writers with disabilities, featuring disabled characters, has been anthologized. In addition to unfolding underrepresented perspectives, this book is just chock full of beautiful, lyrical writing. I am mesmerized, story to story. I’m a fan of anthologies in general and love being able to flip between a panoply of voices and styles between two covers. I’m thrilled to have this collection on my shelf.



Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
On sale May 16 // Transit Books

I’ve just begun this sweeping story of family, inheritance and history by Ugandan novelist and short story writer Makumbi. Longlisted for the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Debut African Fiction, Transit Books is publishing this debut novel in the US in May. Moving through time, it follows the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan across generations. I’m really getting into the layers of Kintu Kidda’s journey and family life early on in the book, in the section set in 1750 in Buddu Province, Buganda. The tension of ritual, of tradition adhered to, subverted and manipulated, runs through Kintu’s large family and underscores the violent political turmoil incited by the region’s royalty. The ways in which the characters are bound to one another by blood, tradition, social norms, expectation, love and friendship create a rich and engaging emotional plot. There’s a lot more of this story to come, which is amazing, because Makumbi has already packed so much into the first 100 pages. This book already feels like several novels in one.


we are never meeting

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby
On sale May 30 // Vintage

Hallelujah, all praise be, our year is saved thanks to Samantha Irby. This collection of ab-so-lute-ly hilarious essays reads like a long, wine-laced night with the good friend with whom you can discuss all of your totally honest and unpopular opinions about sex, life, love, mental health, aging, family, money, work, and being alive in a seriously less-than-perfect world. Irby is by turns irascible and endearing, self-deprecating and self-assured. In fashioning herself as an anti-hero with a penchant for cheap and dirty meals, doomed relationships and a happy life of cranky spinsterhood, Irby cracks sharp jokes with one hand while revealing poignant emotional vulnerability with the other. I don’t know whether or not it’s a good idea to glean dating advice from this book, but, I have to say, I have found her stories of romance and relationship-building both informative and reassuring. (Date someone who is the opposite of you, that person will know how to pack real road trip snacks; I will remember this advice forever.) If you’re shy and prefer to avoid attention in public, do not read this book outside of your home. You will laugh out loud, a lot, and people will look at you. I also do not recommend attempting to read this book at the gym. Especially don’t try to read the essay about exercising while you are trying to exercise. Take it from me: you cannot laugh this hard and elliptical at the same time. Samantha Irby is also the author of the essay collection Meaty and writes this blog over here.


goodbye vitamin

Goodbye Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong
On Sale July 11 // Henry Holt and Co.

I ate this book right up. Yes, it has a tremendous cover, a cover that, at thirty-almost-six years old, intimidated me just a smidge. Am I hip enough to read this book?! Embrace the lemons, my friends, and get to page one, because you’ll forget yourself and be hooked straight away. This book is all humor and big, big heart. Told in dated entries that begin on December 26, it’s the story of Ruth Young, a thirty year old woman recovering from major heartbreak in her parents’ home, where she stays on after Christmas to help her mother manage her father’s rapidly developing Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s and broken hearts sound like a hoot, I know, but I promise, Khong delivers the hard stuff of heartache and health in memorable characters and tender, hilarious situations. This book has some of that oddball Miranda July dark humor I enjoy, with notes of Palahniuk’s ‘broken humans in extreme but somehow functioning and believable circumstances’ style, along with some deadpan emotional lines that punched me right in my Amy Hempel heart. As Ruth comes to terms with her parents’ marriage, her relationship with her father and family, and her own messy emotions, the story lifts right off the page and soars with hope. Khong was executive editor of Lucky Peach and is also the author of All About Eggs: Everything We Know About the World’s Most Important Food. This book will be called the perfect summer read, because it comes out in July, but, I promise, you’ll love it any time of year.


abandon-me separation-kitamura dear-friend

New Books On Shelves Now That I Really Enjoyed:

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
A Separation
 by Katie Kitamura
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Why I Am Not A Feminist by Jessica Crispin
Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


exit-west all-grown-up sorry to disrupt the peace

Books to Look for in March: 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace : A Novel by Patty Yumi Cottrell
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hanna Tinti

TBF + BookPeople Present: ANTHONY DOERR

Anthony Doerr Web Slider (1)

We’re pleased to announce we’ve teamed up with BookPeople to welcome Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, to Central Presbyterian Church in Austin to speak about and sign his highly acclaimed novel on Thursday, April 6th at 7:00PM.

Tickets are now available and include a paperback copy of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.
VIP tickets support the Festival and come with a set of limited edition TBF cards featuring the art of Jack Unruh!


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If you, like us, are among the thousands of readers who were stunned by Doerr’s beautiful, wrenching novel set during World War II, don’t miss this opportunity to hear him discuss this unforgettable story and meet him in person. Doerr will be signing books at Central Presbyterian Church after he talks. We hope you’ll choose to support the Texas Book Festival’s literacy programs by selecting a VIP ticket. Every dollar funds our mission to connect readers with authors and to strengthen libraries and literacy across Texas.

In addition to his phenomenally bestselling, award-winning recent novel, Doerr is also the author of two story collections Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. He has won four O. Henry Prizes, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, the National Magazine Award for fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Story Prize.

Here’s a little preview of what we have to look forward to on April 6th: 


We hope you’ll join us and BookPeople for this very special event. Purchase your tickets now!