Book Bites: Jacqueline Woodson, More Jacqueline Woodson, and Other Great August Books

Many people know us for our kids' section. We embrace that. Good writing for children, after all, is what turns people into readers in the first place. So it's safe to say that we're pretty excited for Harbor Me. That's the name of the first middle grade novel that Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Children's Literature, has written since her National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming. To us, it's pretty much the kids' publishing event of the year. Even better? Woodson went and wrote another book—this one a picture book—and she's releasing it on the same day. What a time to be alive!

Of course, we're still making plenty of room for other books, too. Just check our list of recent favorites—whether you're in the mood for seafaring YA action-adventure, historical American epics, or darkly funny (and very strange) short stories, we've got just the thing you're looking for.


Ages 5-8

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; Illustrated by Rafael López

There are always things that will make a child feel different or like an outsider. In her new picture book, Woodson, the National Ambassador for Children's Literature, places those feelings in a school setting, which makes this a perfect book for the beginning of school. Simply gorgeous!
—Cathy

READ this lovely story to anyone in your life who's heading off to school for the first (or even second or third) time.
PASS it down to the next generation. This book will stick around for a long time.
Order your copy on our website.

Ages 10-13

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Six 5th and 6th grade students find themselves with one hour a week to discuss whatever they want. At first, they don't speak much at all. But as the school year goes by, they open up about their very different lives. Haley's mom is dead and her father is in prison. Esteban's father has gone missing. Ashton is bullied and Holly struggles with her ADHD. Woodson's writing is spare and elegant, yet accessible. The Blue Willow staff read this together this summer and highly recommend it for all.
—Valerie and team

READ this book. It's as simple as that.
PASS if you're one of those people who believes that children's literature is somehow lesser than. (Congrats, by the way: You're dead to us.)
Order your copy on our website.

Ages 12 & Up

Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

Caledonia Styx, captain of the Mors Navis and its all-female crew, has one mission: to destroy Aric Athair and his regime. Years ago, Athair murdered Cala's family and everyone else aboard their ship except for her and her second, Pisces. Now they have sworn revenge. Athair has built an empire, living at sea with his army of men and Bullets—stolen children taken, along with food and resources, under his harsh tax policy—controlling everything that happens on land or at sea. After a defecting Bullet saves Pisces's life and informs her that her brother is still alive, Cala and her crew must decide if they can trust him enough to let him help them in their mission, or if he belongs with all of the other Bullets they have crossed swords with—at the bottom of the sea. 
—Madeline

READ if you're at all into swashing, buckling, or female empowerment.
PASS if you're the swashless, buckle-lacking sort?
Order your copy on our website.

Adult Fiction

The Line That Held Us by David Joy

Dark and dank, this new character-driven drama set in the Appalachian mountains is full of flawed characters. When Darl accidentally kills another poacher, things go downhill fast. He convinces his buddy Calvin to help bury the body. But Dwayne, a terribly troubled man finds out that they have buried his younger brother and he is out for revenge. God, drugs, and yes, even love, make this another wonderful book from David Joy.
—Valerie

READ because this book earned the coveted "Valerie's Appalachian Drama of the Fall" award.
PASS if you were expecting a story about standing in line for something.
Order your copy on our website.

Whiskey When We're Dry by John Larison

At 17, when her father dies, Jess decides to strike out on her own, disguised as a boy, in search of her brother, Noah, who has become a renowned outlaw. Jess's narration is riveting in her descriptions of both the reality of the late 19th-century west and the fabulously wild escapades she undertakes. Although I found much of her experience to be far-fetched, I nonetheless had a hard time putting the book down, and I was rooting for Jess all the way. The story holds up—no disappointments at any point, but the real impact of the novel is in the powerful writing. Jess's voice and the author's use of language in Jess's words create a memorable piece of storytelling. Highly recommended.
—Alice

READ because this is the kind of riveting epic that will stay with you for a long time.
PASS if you like boring books where nothing happens.
Order your copy on our website.

Baby, You're Gonna Be Mine: Stories by Kevin Wilson

Tolstoy was right: There are innumerable ways in which families can be unhappy, and Kevin Wilson illustrates a chocolate box of examples in his second short story collection, Baby, You're Gonna Be Mine. Each of the ten tales is a perfectly-balanced cocktail, magically pairing bizarre circumstances and complex characters to produce narratives that will knock you flat with their eerie empathy and truth. Wilson's work is witty and melancholic, uncanny and relatable, but above all it is yearning—for connection, for understanding, for love. You will be spellbound by the latest from a master of the story.
—Mary Cate

READ because Ann Patchett says you should
PASS this message on to your friends: Kevin Wilson is a genius.
Order your copy on our website.