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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature

Didn’t I just do one of these? Yup. But see, the thing about a good Unexpected Jolt post is that the minute you finish one, you’ll notice about a million things that you could have included a mere day later.

Yes, once again (and so soon!) I’m giving you a peek into the adult books with connections of some sort, no matter how tangential, to children’s literature. Today’s Theme: Children’s Authors Writing for Adults. And I’m beginning with my new favorite:

Thirsty Mermaids by Kat Leyh

If the name “Kat Leyh” rings distant bells in that cranium of yours, it’s probably because she penned the 2020 graphic novel Snapdragon (which, in a bit of mismarketing, was renamed from its original, better title, Roadkill Witch). Leyh later would go on to do the cool-guys-don’t-look-at-explosions SLJ cover of myself and Travis Jonker, thereby solidifying her status in my brain of Favorite Chicago Artist of All Time. Now her adult GN Thirsty Mermaids is out and it is a delight. Three mermaids with a penchant for alcohol, turn themselves into humans to get a bit more drink. Trouble is, they now can’t figure out how to change themselves back. Part of the reason Leyh’s books work as well as they do is the sheer boundless waves of honest affection that radiate from the pages. Even when the story itself is weird weird weird weird weird.

Magic City by Jewell Parker Rhodes

While technically this book was originally released in 1997, it didn’t have this stellar book jacket. Ms. Rhodes has longevity on her side, and while most of us in the children’s literature sphere may know her primarily for her middle grade novels (Ghost Boys being one of her most recent and most famous) I’ve worked long enough in the realm of adult literature to know that she’s in my library’s Mystery and Adult Fiction section.

This book, you may have guessed, takes place during the Tulsa Race Massacre.

With a new Afterword from the author reflecting on the 100th anniversary of one of the most heinous tragedies in American history; the 1921 burning of Greenwood, an affluent black section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as the “Negro Wall Street”, Jewell Parker Rhodes’ powerful and unforgettable novel of racism, vigilantism, and injustice, weaves history, mysticism, and murder into a harrowing tale of dreams and violence gone awry.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921. A white woman and a black man are alone in an elevator. Suddenly, the woman screams, the man flees, and the chase to capture and lynch him begins.

When Joe Samuels, a young Black man with dreams of becoming the next Houdini, is accused of rape, he must perform his greatest escape by eluding a bloodthirsty mob. 

Meanwhile, Mary Keane, the white, motherless daughter of a farmer who wants to marry her off to the farmhand who viciously raped her, must find the courage to help exonerate the man she accused with her panicked cry.

Magic City evokes one of the darkest chapters of twentieth century, Jim Crow America, painting an intimate portrait of the heroic but doomed stand that pitted the National Guard against a small band of black men determined to defend the prosperous town they had built.”

The Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching: Getting to Know the World’s Most Misunderstood Bird by Rosemary Mosco

She captured our hearts already this year with the book Butterflies Are Pretty . . . Gross (still the best title). Now in September you’ll be able to think upon our pigeon neighbors.

Here’s a plot description. I am only including it because it includes the wonderful term “chunky pigeon milk” and I think we all need to take a moment to appreciate it fully:

“Fact: Pigeons are amazing, and until recently, humans adored them. We’ve kept them as pets, held pigeon beauty contests, raced them, used them to carry messages over battlefields, harvested their poop to fertilize our crops, and cooked them in gourmet dishes. Now, with The Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching, readers can rediscover the wonder. Equal parts illustrated field guide and quirky history, it covers behavior: Why they coo; how they flock; how they preen, kiss, and mate (monogamously); and how they raise their young (on chunky pigeon milk). Anatomy and identification, from Birmingham Roller to the American Giant Runt to the Scandaroon. Birder issues, like what to do if you find a baby pigeon stranded in the park. And our lively shared story together, including all the things we’ve taught them. Ping-Pong, for example.”

Lights Out in Lincolnwood by Geoff Rodkey

I was halfway through ordering a copy of this novel when I happened to glance at the author’s name and came up short. Geoff Rodkey? Of such books as the rather inspired We’re Not From Here? Well, this is a treat. I think you’ll get a kick out of this one too. Check out this description:

“It’s Tuesday morning in Lincolnwood, New Jersey, and all four members of the Altman family are busy ignoring each other en route to work and school. Dan, a lawyer turned screenwriter, is preoccupied with satisfying his imperious TV producer boss’s creative demands. Seventeen-year-old daughter Chloe obsesses over her college application essay and the state tennis semifinals. Her vape-addicted little brother, Max, silently plots revenge against a thuggish freshman classmate. And their MBA-educated mom Jen, who gave up a successful business career to raise the kids, is counting the minutes until the others vacate the kitchen and she can pour her first vodka of the day. 

Then, as the kids begin their school day and Dan rides a commuter train into Manhattan, the world comes to a sudden, inexplicable stop. Lights, phones, laptops, cars, trains&;the entire technological infrastructure of 21st-century society quits working. Normal life, as the Altmans and everyone else knew it, is over.

Or is it? 

Over four transformative, chaotic days, this privileged but clueless American family will struggle to hold it together in the face of water shortages, paramilitary neighbors, and the well-mannered looting of the local Whole Foods as they try to figure out just what the hell is going on.”

Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett by Marta McDowell

I’d say that this is probably the least surprising inclusion of the day. In fact, I’d only truly be surprised were I to find that this is the first time someone has written such a book. Out in September, the publisher (Workman) describes it in this way:

“In Unearthing The Secret Garden, best-selling author Marta McDowell delves into the professional and gardening life of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Complementing her fascinating account with charming period photographs and illustrations, McDowell paints an unforgettable portrait of a great artist and reminds us why The Secret Garden continues to touch readers after more than a century. This deeply moving and gift-worthy book is a must-read for fans of The Secret Garden and anyone who loves the story behind the story.”

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.