Q&A with Alexandra Alessandri about her new book Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, illus. by Courtney Dawson

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Today, we are chatting with author Alexandra Alessandri about her second picture book, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, which is illustrated by Courtney Dawson.

The book just released yesterday! HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!

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First, here is the publisher’s description of the book:

English, with its blustery blues and whites, just feels wrong to Isabel. She prefers the warm oranges and pinks of Spanish. As she prepares for class at a new school, she knows she’s going to have to learn–and she would rather not! Her first day is uncomfortable, until she discovers there’s more than one way to communicate with friends. This is a universal story about feeling new and making new friends.

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Now, here’s some information on the creators:

Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! (Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School (Sleeping Bear Press, Fall 2021).

Alexandra is represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. When not writing or teaching, Alexandra spends her time daydreaming, relearning the piano, and planning the next great adventure with her family. She lives in Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup, dreaming of Colombia.

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Courtney Dawson - Photo by Anthony Dekleine

Courtney Dawson is a children’s book illustrator of many titles including A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman) and The Stars Beckoned (Philomel). She is inspired by the world around her and all of the good in it. Courtney loves to work on projects that are empowering, inclusive, and whimsical. She also loves rainy days and painting to Sam Cooke in her California studio.

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Now, here’s our Q&A with Alexandra:


1. What was your inspiration for this story?

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School was inspired by my own experience of starting kindergarten in New York. We only spoke Spanish at home, and when I started school, I spoke almost no English. My story was a little different—I literally got lost in the hallways of my school because I misunderstood the teacher—but I wanted to channel those feelings into Isabel’s story.

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2. In the story, your character struggles with the first day of school and not knowing the language. What made you decide to incorporate colors, too? (I couldn’t help but think of the song De Colores while reading it.)

I hadn’t listened to “De Colores” since I was a kid! Thank you for this trip down memory lane.

Though I’m not an artist, I love color—the bolder and brighter the better—and I’m also fascinated by the different names for different shades (I love reading the names on paint chips!) When I started brainstorming for Isabel, I didn’t know I would incorporate color this way, but I knew Isabel was an artist, so I started asking myself, What would the different languages sound like to her? What would she associate them with? For her, Spanish would remind her of home, with the green of her mountains, pinks, yellows, and purples of her mami’s flowers, the brilliant blues of nearby rivers. And, because English is foreign—and scary—for her, she would associate it with storms. As I wrote and revised, I worked at strengthening this connection in both a literal and figurative manner.

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3. The story has the Spanish translation right on the pages. Was that part of your original vision for this story, so that Spanish speakers could read and enjoy it, too?

I’ve always wanted to have my stories translated into Spanish, so my family and Spanish speakers could read and enjoy them. For Isabel, though, I wrote and submitted the story in English with Spanish sprinkled in, as it’s what’s most natural for me. It was my brilliant editor Sarah Rockett who suggested having the book as a both an English and Spanish edition. I celebrated! I didn’t realize just how much I yearned for this, and I’m incredibly excited to be able to share this story with English and Spanish speakers.

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4. The artwork on the pages is beautiful. Did you have any input in the art process?

Courtney’s art is just so gorgeous! I love how she got the essence of who Isabel and the other characters are and how she captured the play of colors in the artwork. When I first saw her sketches, I knew the story was in great hands. I did get to see the art in a few parts of the process, like the cover sketches and interior pages, and I was invited to give feedback, which I appreciated. But most of my feedback was just me gushing about the illustrations—Courtney’s art just blew me away!

See for yourself….

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Congratulations to Alexandra and Courtney! Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is now available wherever books are sold. You can quickly find it here at Indiebound or through her publisher, Sleeping Bear Press.

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About The Storyteller’s Candle/ La velita de los cuentos by Lucía González, illus. by Lulu Delacre

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

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The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We will be marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucía González, illustrated by Lulu Delacre. The book won a Pura Belpré Honor in 2009. You can find our book talks on our new YouTube channel!

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Dora Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonada

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Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from the front cover): Ava Gabriela is visiting her extended family in Colombia for the holidays. She’s excited to take part in family traditions such as making buñuelos, but being around all her loud relatives in an unfamiliar place makes Ava shy and quiet. How will Ava find her voice before she misses out on all the New Year’s fun?

MY TWO CENTS: This #OwnVoices picture book is a heartwarming story about New Year traditions in Colombia, as well as the development of Ava’s personality. While there is some mention of traditions such as buñuelos and the Old Year doll, the highlight is definitely the main character, Ava. She is a quiet, shy character. Ava and her family are busy making preparations for the New Year. As her family shows various Colombian traditions, Ava observes but does not say much. In the beginning, Ava hesitates to say hello or “speak up.” Yet after making buñuelos, Ava begins to giggle. Throughout the book, she begins to question why she is so shy and often shows what she means to say versus what she actually does with a signal or facial movement. As a teacher, her behavior and speech reminded me of a student who had a speech-language need, thus Ava may connect to students who share the experience of finding the words to say in public situations.

The illustrations span across the spread using bold colors and subtle details. The English and Spanish text is written in an authentic manner, one that I appreciate as a frequent Spanglish speaker. Additionally, the text placement allows for readers to focus on the illustrations. Overall, Ava’s character was a joy to follow throughout this story. I appreciated that all of her family members respected her participation, even if she did not verbally respond right away. The days were filled with family traditions, love, and most of all, patience, as they welcomed one another, shy or not.

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades. This is a great addition to any classroom library and as a read aloud. Some ideas to focus on during instruction:

  • Themes: Culture & Traditions
    • The Author’s Note gives readers an insight into the Colombian traditions mentioned in the book, such as the twelve grapes and the Año Viejo traditions.
  • Themes: Character Empathy; Finding Voice
    • Focus on Ava, how she communicates with her family and the feelings she has throughout all her experiences.
  • Mentor Text: Writing in two languages
    • How to use and format both English and Spanish in a narrative text

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Photo by Dawn Yap @ YapOriginals

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alexandra Alessandri is a Colombian-American poet, English professor, and children’s author, who grew up surrounded by plenty of primos and primas. She’s obsessed with coffee and urban murals, and every year, she looks forward to buñuelos and el Año Viejo. When not writing or teaching, Alexandra spends her time daydreaming of Colombia, relearning the piano, and planning the next great adventure with her family. She lives in Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup. Visit her online at alexandraalessandri.com

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From the illustrator’s website

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Addy Rivera Sonda is a Mexican illustrator who loves color and nature. When not drawing, she explores ways to live a more sustainable life. Addy hopes her stories and art can build empathy and lead to a more inclusive world. She currently lives in California. Find her website at addyriverasonda.wixsite.com/portfolio.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EDD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on Reading, Language, and Literacy.  When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD and Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this new Vamos! title, Let’s Go Eat, Little Lobo is excited to take in a show with wrestling star El Toro in his bustling border town. After getting lunch orders from The Bull and his friends to help prepare for the event, Little Lobo takes readers on a tour of food trucks that sell his favorite foods, like quesadillas with red peppers and Mexican-Korean tacos. Peppered with easy-to-remember Latin-American Spanish vocabulary, this glorious celebration of food is sure to leave every reader hungry for lunch!

OUR TWO CENTS: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay centers Little Lobo, his dog Bernabé, and his rooster friend, Kooky Dooky. Little Lobo takes his delivery services to El Coliseo to meet Luchador star, El Toro, who asks Little Lobo to get lunch orders for him and all of his famished wrestling friends before the big show that night. Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky visit different food trucks and food stands in the area to find some of their favorite Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, churros, aguas frescas, and many more delicious treats. 

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat is crowded with fun, humorous characters from cover to cover: from a snake with a sombrero slithering up a utility pole, to a tortoise driving a “Tortas Tortuga” truck with “despacito” blazoned across the side, to “Armor Dillo,” a luchador armadillo covered in armor, and so much more. The illustrations are also action-packed, mimicking the high energy of any good lucha match. The cars speed by leaving zig-zag “vroom” behind. The floor retumba like waves at the rumble of the luchadors’ hungry tummies. Puffs of smoke or exhaust rise as Little Lobo dashes from one place to the next. Elaine’s color choices bring the book to life–resembling Little Lobo’s lively neighborhood. Additionally, readers will find many words for different types of foods, animals, and actions as part of the illustrations. On one spread, when Little Lobo first meets all the luchadores, their names are drawn to match their styles, like the “L” in “Lizarda” is as long as their tongue. On another page, when Little Lobo goes to pick up dessert, there are so many options that the words fill up half the page: “Flan,” “arroz con leche,” “churros,” and more. Raúl and Elaine give every inch of the pages something new for readers to find with every read.

¡Vamos! is also an extraordinary book for showcasing bilingualism in Spanish and English. Some of the speech bubbles offer immediate translation of the Spanish words and phrases: “Un poquito de esto. Un poquito de lo otro. A little of this. A little of that.” Other speech bubbles or words in the illustrations don’t offer direct translations; instead, the illustrations serve as context for translation. An example of this is when Little Lobo sits to watch the lucha, and the vendor shouts, “¡Cacahuates! ¡Palomitas! ¡Soda!” There’s no direct translation on the page but instead the reader can see the vendor toss a bag of peanuts at Little Lobo. On other pages, the English and Spanish serve as a call and response. When Little Lobo and Bernabé make it to El Coliseo for the first time, Little Lobo asks, “¡¿Qué es eso?!” and one of the luchadores responds with, “That’s our bellies. We are very hungry.” Additionally, there’s a food glossary at the end of the book, which readers can refer to if they are unfamiliar with the words. The author also encourages readers to use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up words not found in the glossary, which is a significant way to encourage proactiveness and agency in young readers. 

The heart of this story is not only Mexican food but also love and respect for street food vendors. Raúl does an excellent job at representing the diversity of street food, the types of kitchens where the food is made, and kinds of characters who make the food. After getting the long list of food orders from the luchadores, Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky head outside to shop from the different food vendors. The narration reads, “A food truck is a kitchen on wheels. Food of all kinds can be prepared there. Some food sellers used modified bikes or wagons.” There are also food sellers selling out of a cooler and from a box around their neck. Additionally, in ¡Vamos!, Raúl shows that street food vendors are an important staple of any community and demonstrates how street food vendors support one another. For example, at one point in the story, Little Lobo notices: “At the elotero, the corn boils in the giant tub right on the cart. Macho gives all his husks to Tammy. She uses them to wrap her tamales.” Here, the vendors support one another by sharing supplies to create food that’ll feed a community, but the example also demonstrates how conservation is an innate part of many Latinx cultures; nothing goes to waste. 

By capturing the diversity and beauty of Mexican food and street food vendors, Raúl challenges negative stereotypes that currently may exist around both of these cultures. At a time when street vendors are under constant policing and harassment, a book like ¡Vamos! is essential reading to expand young peoples’ understanding of culinary practices and respect for those who make the food and for those who deliver it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: (From his website) Raúl The Third is an award-winning illustrator, author, and artist living in Boston. His work centers around the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Lowriders in Space was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016-2017 and Raúl was awarded the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration by the American Library Association for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market! is Raúl’s first authorial project, which he wrote and illustrated, and is colored by Elaine Bay.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Señorita Mariposa by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G), illus. by Marcos Almada Rivero

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Rhyming text and lively illustrations showcase the epic trip taken by the monarch butterflies. At the end of each summer, these international travelers leave Canada to fly south to Mexico for the winter–and now readers can come along for the ride! Over mountains capped with snow, to the deserts down below. Children will be delighted to share in the fascinating journey of the monarchs and be introduced to the people and places they pass before they finally arrive in the forests that their ancestors called home.

MY TWO CENTS: Señorita Mariposa is a tribute to the monarch butterfly and its annual journey to and from their ancestral home. Mister G’s lyrical text in both English and Spanish not only demonstrate a fondness of the monarch, but also its journey to Mexico.

The bilingual lyrical text is playful, yet informative. Both languages are side by side, and if the reader looks closely, sometimes the languages alternate on the text. For example, on one page, the English lyrical text is first, and on the following page, the Spanish text is first. It is a great fit for bilingual readers who may read and sing in both languages.

The vibrant, bold illustrations immediately catch the reader’s eye. The illustrator, Marcos Almada Rivero, did astonishing work with the play of colors and tones, as well as detail to the entire scenery that includes different scenes along the monarch’s journey. It warmed my heart that the illustrator used inclusive images, representing children with disabilities, as well as different cultures and religions. Overall, the reader is astounded by the lively images and use of various strokes and textured details. These capture the reader while singing and reading along.

For a look at some of the internal images, CLICK HERE to go to a page on the illustrator’s website.

The author includes a note that includes a website for readers to join in conserving the monarch butterfly (www.mistergsongs.com/mariposa). A fun, engaging bilingual addition to literacy units that focus on animals, migration, and conservation!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades.

  • Writing Mentor Text
    • Students can create their own lyrical text about another animal that migrates while using this text as a writing mentor text.
    • Readers and writers can identify words that describe the butterfly and/or its journey. They can find synonyms for the word and/or use it in their own writing.
  • Rhyming words
    • Readers can identify words that rhyme in either language.
  • Supporting fluency development
    • Readers can reread the text to develop phrasing and automaticity skills
    • Readers can sing along with text in order to build fluency in both languages.
  • Researching beyond the text
    • Students can engage in research on the conservation of the monarch butterfly

Read (and sing) along with Mister G as he reads this book about the amazing monarch butterfly in both English and Spanish!

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the book): Ben Gundersheimer is a Latin GRAMMY Award-winning artist, author, activist, and educator. Hailed as a “bilingual rock star” by the Washington Post, he was originally dubbed ‘Mister G’ by his young students while pursuing a master of education degree. His dynamic bilingual performances aim to dissolve borders and foster cross-cultural connections. Señorita Mariposa, based on his original song of the same title, is his first picture book. He lives in the woods of Western Massachusetts with his wife, Katherine, a rescue mutt, Josie, and cat Chloe Bird.

Learn more about the Mariposa Project and Mister G here!

 

Image result for Marcos Almada RiveroABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Marcos Almada Rivero has written and illustrated several picture books, including the Oscar the Opossum series, and created the artwork for Ben Gundersheimer’s albums. He has degrees in communication and children’s literature and works on animation projects as a writer, illustrator, art director, and animator. He lives in Mexico, where he leads workshops on books and animation at book fairs, at movie festivals, and for children in underserved communities.

Learn more about Marcos and his artwork here!

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EDD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on Reading, Language, and Literacy.  When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: One is a Piñata: A Book on Numbers by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illus. by John Parra

 

The following book is a concept book around numbers in the Latinx culture. Readers who loved reading Green is a Chile Pepper and Round is a Tortilla will need to add this book to their collection!

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

One is a rainbow.

One is a cake.

One is a piñata that’s ready to break!

In this lively book, children discover a fiesta of numbers in the world around them, all the way from from one to ten: Two are maracas and cold ice creams, six are salsa and flavored aguas. With boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this vibrant book enumerates the joys of counting and the wonders all around!

MY TWO CENTS: This book takes you on a reminiscing journey of Latinx celebrations throughout the year. The cover reflects a diversity in ages, backgrounds, and interests that is clearly evident in all its illustrations and the use of English and Spanish words.

While the text is structured with rhyming phrases, the illustrations also open up opportunities for discussion and more counting of items that are culturally authentic to the Latinx culture. Spanish words are in bold, purposefully, so that readers can learn new words, engage with matching it to its bold illustrations, and count all at the same time! At the end of the picture book, a glossary includes the definitions of the included vocabulary in Spanish.

I absolutely love this entire collection and what it represents in the early childhood world, especially the Latinx diversity reflected in the text and John Parra’s illustrations. I also appreciated the representation of the fruit truck and aguas frescas, because it is something I remember (and still love) fondly from my childhood.

Overall, a diverse addition to add to your primary concept library! I highly recommend this book as a read aloud at school and home and as an interactive text to use for students who are learning to count, especially for all students who need to see themselves and others represented in a beautiful way!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades.

  • Math mentor text for counting & identifying numbers in English and Spanish
    • Text introduces numbers
    • Illustrations leave ample room for readers to engage in finding and counting items
  • Lesson on phonemic awareness such as focusing on rhyming words
  • Focus on cultural celebrations and items that represent their own culture or are similar to their culture

Image result for Roseanne Greenfield Thong"ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roseanne Greenfield Thong was born in Southern California where she currently teaches high school. She lived in Guatemala and Mexico where she studied Spanish and attended many fiestas with pinatas, aguas, and chocolate. She is the author of more than a dozen award-winning children’s books, including Round is a Tortilla, Wish, ‘Twas Nochebuena, Dia de Los Muertos, and Green is a Chile Pepper– a Pura Belpré Honor Book. Check out her website here!

 

JP PortraitABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: John Parra is an award-winning illustrator, designer, teacher, and fine art painter whose work is avidly collected. John’s books have received starred reviews and have appeared on the Texas Library Association’s 2×2 Reading List. He has received the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Illustration, the International Latino Book Award for Best Children’s Book Illustrations, and a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor for Gracias/Thanks, written by Pat Mora. Find out more about him on his website here!

 

 

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EDD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on Reading, Language, and Literacy.  When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!