Happening now! Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on February 5: a fun children’s book about some important Birmingham history by a local writer; an unusual salute to the Tuskegee Airmen during Black History Month; and hot, new (I mean brand-new) fiction.
Meet Miss Fancy is a heartwarming story by Irene Latham with illustrations with illustrations John Holyfield about the courage to dream big is set in 1913—when Jim Crow laws ruled a segregated Birmingham. Frank has always loved elephants and wants more than anything in the world to pet one. When a circus elephant retires to a Birmingham park, he sees this as his big chance. But Avondale Park is segregated. The NO COLORED ALLOWED sign is large and unmistakable. Frank realizes that his dream will remain just a dream unless he can change things. This children’s book is based on the true history of Miss Fancy, the elephant who lived in Avondale Park for 21 years—from 1913 to 1934—sometimes escaping to roam the neighborhood and look into people’s windows. Irene wrote this book with help from Jim Baggett, from the Department of Archives and Manuscripts at the Birmingham Public Library, who knows Miss Fancy’s story better than perhaps anyone.
There have been a lot of books published about the Tuskegee Airmen, but The Tuskegee Airmen Chronology by Daniel L. Haulman with a foreword by Charles E. McGee Colonel (Ret.) 302nd Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group is different. It’s a detailed timeline of the Red Tails and other black pilots of World War II. By detailed, I mean almost day to day. The book is an overview of the formation of the first military training for black pilots in the U.S. and the deployment of these men overseas to North Africa and then to Sicily and Italy. These combat flying units included the 99thFighter Squadron and the other three squadrons of the famous 332nd Fighter Group. The book also has lots of information about the many Tuskegee Airmen who were not fighter pilots (including the thousands of black men and women who worked as crewmen on the ground to support their brothers in the air). For the Twelfth Air Force, the Tuskegee Airmen flew P-39 and P-40 fighters to support land and sea forces in the Mediterranean Theater, but they are perhaps best known for flying P-47s and red-tailed P-51s to escort Fifteenth Air Force B-17 and B-24 bombers deep into enemy territory. These men were actually fighting two wars: the Nazis in Europe and racism here at home. But their bravery and exemplary service showed the world that black men could fly and fight just as well as whites. In fact, the Tuskegee Airmen fighter escorts lost fewer bombers than did their white counterparts, and the Airmen pilots shot down 112 enemy aircraft.
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman is a darkly humorous psychological thriller that is new on bookshelves. It’s part of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club, so it’s quite popular right now. The author, Catherine Steadman, is an actress and writer based in the U.K. so her story has a very visual quality to it. (I imagine we can expect a movie sooner rather than later.) In the novel, Erin, a documentary filmmaker, and Mark, an investment banker, are honeymooning on Bora Bora when they make a grim discovery while on a scuba diving excursion: A plane has gone down in the ocean, but a suitcase full of money and diamonds has floated up. When they take these ill-gotten goods home with them, life quickly begins to unravel.
I’m a huge fan of Tana French’s crime-novel thrillers, which are brilliantly written, perfectly plotted and set in Ireland. Most times, her characters travel from book to book, but this stand-alone, brand-new novel, The Witch Elm, is different. Toby Hennessy is one lucky guy—lucky in life, lucky in love, lucky in general until suddenly his luck runs out. After a night out with friends at the local pub, he is badly beaten by two burglars and left for dead. When he wakes up, he soon realizes life will never be the same; he will never be the same. So he retreats to his family’s ancestral home to care for a dying uncle. When a skull is found in the trunk of an old elm tree, Toby is forced to realize that his past is just as precarious as his future.