Prescribing Books

Lots of Alabama’s pediatricians are prescribing Pete the Cat. 

We’re talking about Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses, to be exact. It’s a children’s book by Kimberly and James Dean, and it’s being prescribed by pediatric healthcare providers statewide as part of Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s 11th annual Rx for Summer Reading campaign to encourage families to read aloud together.  

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses is the featured book for Rx for Summer Reading.

For 14 years, Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s partnerships with pediatric practices and clinics across our state have placed more than 1.7 million brand-new books in the hands of Alabama’s youngest and most underserved children. Currently, 52 of Alabama’s pediatric practices and clinics serve as Reach Out & Read-Alabama program sites in 30 counties, impacting 40 percent of the state’s children under the age of five. 

Actor and Alabama native Clayne Crawford reads Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. Through his Clayne Crawford Foundation, he partners with organizations across our state to help children, women and veterans.

Even as clinics adjust to new safety measures and logistics to keep families and children safe during the pandemic, well-child visits are still highly encouraged to prevent more disease and to keep children on track with regular vaccinations, says Polly McClure, RPh, statewide coordinator for Reach Out and Read-Alabama. “We remain committed to supporting families with young children, continuing to provide books and encourage reading aloud at every checkup from six months through five years of age.” 

The evidence-based Reach Out and Read-Alabama program builds on the ongoing relationship, beginning in a child’s infancy, between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children. The idea is to give parents the tools and knowledge to help ensure that their children are prepared to learn when they start school.

With more than 15 peer-reviewed studies and a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Reach Out and Read is an effective intervention that incorporates early literacy into pediatric practice. During regular, one-on-one visits with the doctor, families grow to understand the powerful and important role they play in supporting their children’s development. 

Parents gain the confidence and skills that enable them to support the development of their child, early language and literacy at home. And the children get books of their very own.

Teaming up with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the lead agency for Alabama’s Early Intervention System, Reach Out and Read-Alabama practices and clinics are hosting events throughout the summer that give parents practical information about building moments and routines to help their families manage during these anxious times. In addition, information about services and support through Early Intervention referrals and Child Find (1-800-543-3098) will be available for parents and caregivers at each event.  

Using Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses as a basis to explore new feelings and emotions as well as the world in which we live, each event provides one simple reminder to families that spending time together with books can offer a safe harbor, even if only for a few moments each day.

 “We are excited about our partnership with Reach Out and Read-Alabama and the summer reading campaign,” says Betsy Prince, coordinator of Alabama’s Early Intervention System/Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. “This provides a great opportunity to get the word out about early literacy and about the importance of Early Intervention in supporting infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and their families.”

According to the Urban Child Institute, children’s experiences in their earliest years affect how their brains work, the way they respond to stress, and their ability to form trusting relationships. During these years, the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, setting the stage for social and emotional development. Language blossoms, basic motor abilities form, thinking becomes more complex, and children begin to understand their own feelings and those of others. 

“I have found the Reach Out and Read program to be a critical component of our primary care clinic,” says Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, medical coordinator of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and founder of the Troy Resilience Project. “It is incredibly powerful to not only be able to talk about but also demonstrate the power of books and reading for our children and families every day, as we are able to observe how children interact with books as well.” 

“Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses seems to be the perfect book for this summer,” says McClure. This book, in particular, promotes positive thinking, which is so important in these uncertain times.

“I look forward to sharing this book in our clinic for the upcoming summer reading program,” Dawson says. “I love that it gives parents and kids the chance to feel a little brighter while promoting literacy and relationships and building a healthy foundation for every child and caregiver to become more resilient.”

Go to Reach Out and Read-Alabama to learn more about the Rx for Summer Reading program and how you can help get books to children.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama kicked off its 11th annual campaign on its Facebook page with a live virtual event on Friday, June 19. Guest speakers included Betsy Prince of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services; Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and the Troy Resiliency Project; Anna Dailey of Dothan Pediatric Clinic; and Alabama-born actor Clayne Crawford of the Clayne Crawford Foundation who read Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. You can listen to Crawford reading the book here.

Fox 6 Books: June

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. You’ll find nonfiction with Harper Lee, timely historical fiction, a usable guide to important self-care and a twisty thriller set in Germany.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Furious Hours:  Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep, is set in 1970s Alabama when the story of a serial killer caught the attention of Harper Lee who wanted to write her own gothic true-crime work (like Truman Capote’s In Cold Bloodwhich she helped him research 17 years earlier).

Lee attended a trial and worked obsessively on the book about a man accused of killing five family members for insurance money. Cep’s reporting is based on materials no one has written much about, including a surviving first chapter of a book Lee called The Reverend, which sat in a briefcase for years in Alexander City. In this well-written work of nonfiction, Cep takes up the story of Reverend Willie Maxwell after he himself has been killed. The trial is for the vigilante who shot Maxwell at the funeral of his last victim. The same savvy lawyer who helped Maxwell avoid punishment is representing the man who shot him. This book is a moving tribute to one of our most revered writers and an intimate look at racial politics in the Deep South.

Year of Wonder:  A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks, feels awfully timely right now. In the 1660s, a small village in England quarantined itself after residents were stricken with The Plague.

This is a work of historical fiction because this really did happen in the remote village of Eyam, and some of the characters (including the rector and his housemaid) are from the sparse historical record. In this book that housemaid, Anna, is the heroine, and the story is told through her eyes. As the disease takes half of the villagers, Anna emerges as a healer. (Somebody had to after the village midwives and herbalists were killed during a witch hunt.) The Plague was devastating, of course, but the deterioration of Anna’s community was another thing to overcome in a terrible year that eventually became a “year of wonders.”

Healing Yoga, by Loren Fishman, MD, is a practical guide from a renowned expert on rehabilitative medicine who shares usable advice and easy-to-understand techniques to pursue self-care right at home.

The book is full of postures proven to treat 20 common ailments—from headaches to insomnia from backaches to shoulder pain from bone loss to bunions. Learn strategies to restore your body, relieve your pain, and ease your mind with yoga. Some 170 photographs will illustrate healing techniques Dr. Fishman has invented, refined and validated with the help of thousands of patients through decades of research.

Broken Glass, by Alexander Hartung, is the first of two books (so far!) in the Nik Pohl thriller series set in Munich. The story is a page-turner, the protagonist is flawed but heroic and the city provides an interesting setting for this police procedural. (I love reading books set somewhere I’ve been, and having visited Munich last fall, it was great to see this amazing city again in these pages.)

In this novel, one woman is missing, another is dead and the two women look remarkably similar. Nik (who gets suspended from the police force fairly early in the story) has to figure out what else they have in common—something powerful people want to keep hidden. There are several twisty parts to this story, which make it highly entertaining.  

Blood Ties, the second in this series, came out last December, but read this one first to get a real sense of Nik Pohl’s character.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: May

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. I think they are perfect for right now: fiction that you can get lost in, an important picture book for young readers, a way to cope with anxiety and a cookbook to remind us of better days.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton, is the story of a boy coming of age in 1980s Australia, and it is gritty and funny and heartbreaking all at once. There’s magic here as well as crime, violence, mystery and a character you won’t forget anytime soon. Eli Bell doesn’t know his real father, but his mother and stepfather are heroin dealers. He has a brilliant brother who does not speak. As a young child, their sitter was a notorious ex-felon (a national record-holder for number of successful prison escapes). Eli lives in a neglected neighborhood of Polish and Vietnamese immigrants, but he’s determined to follow his open and big heart, become a journalist and grow up to be a good man. People have called this book “electric,” “mesmerizing,” “thrilling.” I think this debut novel is all those things including amazing.

The Cat Man of Aleppo is a picture book for young readers by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, both of whom are local writers. It’s the true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who, in the midst of a terrible civil war in Syria, took care of the hungry, abandoned cats he found on the once-beautiful streets of Aleppo. When most people fled, Aljaleel, an ambulance driver, stayed behind to care for his neighbors who could not leave. He soon realized that they were not the only ones who were suffering. So he used what little money he had to feed the city’s abandoned cats. When that wasn’t enough, he asked the world to help, and the world did. Today, people from all over support Aljaleel’s efforts to house and care for orphaned children and shelter and treat abandoned animals. This is a beautiful (and beautifully illustrated by Yuko Shimizu) story of love and compassion and determination and courage.

You Are Here:  An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds, by Jenny Lawson, is something I found on a reading list for people who are experiencing anxiety. And who isn’t to some extent right now? Part therapy, part humor and part coloring book, Lawson (who wrote the equally hilarious book Furiously Happy) uses art therapy to help readers cope with anxiety and negative feelings. Lawson has always been candid about her personal struggles, something that helps readers cope with their own. Some of the material in this book is dark, but there’s lightness here, too. Lawson doodles and draws when she is anxious, and she sometimes posts these pieces online. Fans would come to her book signings with printouts of these drawings for her to sign. This is an entire book of these funny, smart, sometimes-irreverent drawings (all printed on perforated paper so you can tear them out, hang them up, give them to friends). That and things like fill-in-the-blank lists allow you to make Lawson’s book your own. 

Always Home:  A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories is a brand-new cookbook and more by Fanny Singer. Singer is the daughter of food icon and activist Alice Waters, and she grew up in her mother’s kitchen at Chez Panisse. (As a baby, she was swaddled in dish towels and slept in a big salad bowl.) She also learned the lessons of an edible education—knowing what you’re eating and how it got to your plate This is more than a cookbook; it’s a culinary memoir about the bond between mother and daughter, food (of course) and the need for beauty in our lives. Dozens of well-written vignettes accompany recipes for dishes like roast chicken, coriander seed pasta and her mother’s Garlicky Noodle Soup.  And they highlight an amazing life of food, people and travel.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: April

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. Each of these books will take you somewhere else. And right now, while we’re unable to travel (even outside our homes for the most part), they offer windows to the wider world.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Everything Lost is Found Again:  Four Seasons in Lesotho by Will McGrath is part memoir, part essay collection and offers an up-close-and-personal journey to Lesotho (this small, land-locked kingdom is surrounded by South Africa and is a place few of us have been, I’m guessing).

The author taught high school there, while his wife worked with families devastated by the AIDS epidemic. The subjects here can be serious and sad (there are lots of AIDS orphans in Lesotho; Old Testament retributions are not uncommon), but a lot of this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Truly funny. And that’s truly necessary right now. But best of all, this book takes us to a place of joy and resolve in the face of hardship and incredible love of life—a place where a stranger might reach out and hold your hand as you walk down the street. 

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins is perfect for right now if you find your attention span shorter than usual. Actually, I would recommend any of Collins’s accessible, beautiful poetry. Also, this is National Poetry Month, so poetry is timely.

I absolutely adore Collins’s literate and totally accessible take on the everyday—things like the scrawled comments of a book’s previous readers or forgetfulness or having insomnia (After counting all the sheep in the world/ I enumerate the wildebeests, snails/ camels, skylarks, etc./ then I add up all the zoos and aquariums/ country by country.) Collins served two terms as our country’s Poet Laureate. He has been called “the most popular poet in America” by the New York Times, and his conversational style and smart, witty and approachable, works are why. 

Abraham:  A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler, the author of Walking the Bible, highlights the common heart of the world’s three monotheistic religions:  Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

All three share Abraham, and so Feiler takes readers on a journey to understand this common patriarch. He travels through war zones, explores caves, talks to religious leaders and visits shrines to uncover some little-known details of the life of a man who connects the faiths of half the world. Read it and understand your neighbors better. Read it and understand that many conflicts are not really necessary.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel is finally here! Fans have waited eight long years for this final book in Mantel’s historical fiction trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. This saga started with Wolf Hall and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (both of these won the Man Booker Prize). Both of those books also are available for download, but you might want to own them. 

In this last book, (which picks up after the beheading of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife), Mantel traces the final years of Cromwell, who always has had to rely upon his wits with no great family to back him, no private army at his disposal. But this blacksmith’s son—a common man—rose to the very highest levels of wealth and power in a very fickle court and changed the course of a country before he was done.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

National Poetry Month

I can always count on my poet friend Irene Latham to remind me of National Poetry Month.

Musings of an Old Man by Nancy Milford

Her postcard featuring a work from Baldwin County artist and writer Nancy Milford (“Musings of an Old Man”) was a sweet reminder to live my poem.

In happier times, whenever I sent a package to my kids in college, I always included a poem. Always. The poem tucked in with food or other little treats reflected what was going on my my life or their lives at the moment. Sometimes these poems were just about the season we were in at the time. (I also always had the postman stamp these packages “spoiled” just for fun.)

Irene is the author of wonderful books of poetry and fiction and narrative poetry and poetry picture books for children and adults including Leaving Gee’s Bend; Don’t Feed the Boy; The Color of Lost Rooms; The Cat Man of Aleppo (out Apirl 14); Meet Miss Fancy; Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship; Dictionary for a Better World; and more.

Read them, enjoy them and here are some other poetry resources for you:

Irene’s own tips for writers including an editing checklist and books to make you a better writer and Author ABCs. There are resources for young writers here, too.

The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 to support poets and bring their work to as many people as possible. The organization celebrates poetry all year long, but this month is especially special. You can search a curated collection of more than 10,000 poems by occasion, theme, form, keywords or poet’s name. I also love their poem-a-day. There are materials for teachers there, too, which should help parents these days.

Fox 6 Books: March

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in March. All are brand new and all are well worth your reading time.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, and it’s a page-turning, witty, satirical commentary on race and privilege and transactional relationships. Alix (pronounced uh-leeks in the French way, although Alix is not French) Chamberlain, a blogger, speaker and lifestyle guru, hires Emira Tucker, a young black woman, to be a babysitter for her toddler. While at the nearby high-end grocery one evening, Emira is accused of kidnapping 3-year-old Briar. Of course, the encounter with the store’s security guard is filmed by a bystander; of course, that video will eventually go viral. Alix, who considers herself “woke,” resolves to make everything right, but it turns out that the person who filmed the incident is someone from Alix’s past—and that person will connect the two women in ways they didn’t expect. Some readers will find this book funny, others will discover it makes them uncomfortable. Either way, it’s worth reading. 

Yellow Bird:  Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country by Sierra Crane Murdoch is a work of literary journalism based on a true story. Lissa Yellow Bird is released from prison in 2009 and returns home to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota to find it drastically altered by an oil boom. Her tribe is forever changed by its newfound wealth yet struggles with violence and addiction. The non-native oilmen who come to work there are mostly down on their luck, just seeking employment after the recession. Then one of these men, Kristopher “KC” Clarke, goes missing from his reservation worksite. While no one else seems too concerned, Lissa becomes obsessed with finding him. Her search for justice becomes a pursuit of her own redemption for her crimes and offers an unflinching look at generations of trauma. The book is the result of eight years of immersive investigation that included Lissa’s extensive email, Facebook and text messages; photographs and audio recordings; and interviews with more than 200 people.

The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin is the second novel by ER doctor-turned-author, and it is inspired by the real-life experience of a fellow physician. Writing with both a sense of humor and a deep understanding of her settings and subjects, this is a story about the power of friendship (not romance) and the dangers of intolerance and the wrongness of medical discrimination. Georgia Brown and Jonah Tsukada are best friends and co-workers at a Charleston hospital. There is humor and drama in their day-to-day:  attending a fainting passenger on an airplane, an undercover ops-style investigation into the hospital’s practices. But then Jonah is called out for providing care for transgender patients, and the hospital plans to fire him. The two friends come up with a plan to get the hospital to reverse its decision, but that plan spirals out of control, putting careers, friendships and patients’ rights at risk.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin is a a debut novel that is attracting a lot of buzz right now. Claire Thomas is 7 years old when her college-age sister, Alison, goes missing on the last night of the family’s vacation at a resort on a Caribbean island called Saint X. Alison is found several days later in a nearby cay, and two local men who work at the resort are arrested. But there is little evidence, so they are soon released and the mystery of what happened to Alison is unresolved. Years later in New York, Claire happens to see Clive Richardson, one of the men accused of murdering her sister, and she sets out to uncover exactly what happened to Alison that terrible night. Her search also becomes an obsession to understand the sister she never really had a chance to get to know.  

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: February

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in February. Timely page turners include a picture book to celebrate Black History Month (and our state), a novel about words, another about food and a survival guide that will make a great guy gift.

The Slave Who Went to Congressby Marti Rosner and Frye Gaillard with illustrations by Jordana Haggard, is a timely way to celebrate Black History Month and the bicentennial of our state. This picture book celebrates the remarkable story of Benjamin Turner, who spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave in Selma before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1870. Turner, who taught himself to read, was the first black Congressman from Alabama and among the very first in the House of Representatives after Emancipation. An amazing man of strength, determination and compassion, he rejected the idea of punishing his white neighbors who had fought for the Confederacy, and he supported racially mixed schools and the right to vote for former slaves. Turner also argued that land should be set aside for former slaves so they could create new lives for themselves. Written in the first person and beautifully illustrated, this book for young readers makes Benjamin Turner’s story come alive.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is about Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical and inseparable twins who love words. As toddlers, they had their own twin speak; as adults, they make their livings with words. But their shared love (and obsession) of words is driving them apart. Daphne, a grammar columnist, is devoted to preserving the elegance—and rules—of Standard English. Laurel, a poet, approaches language in a decidedly less-structured way. Their differences take a really bad turn when they begin to fight over custody of their prized, shared family heirloom—Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition. This super-smart novel is a fun and enjoyable celebration of language as well as an exploration of self. It has a great bookgroup guide, too.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones is a story of friendship, self-discovery, love and food. Lots of really good food. Widowed American food writer Maggie McElroy learns of a paternity claim against her late husband’s estate and heads to Beijing to sort it all out. It’s a working trip—her magazine editor asks for a profile on rising culinary star Sam Liang. Turns out, Sam is the grandson of a chef who cooked for the Emperor and in 1925 wrote The Last Chinese Chef, which became a food classic. In China, Maggie finds out more about her husband than she expected, of course. But, with Sam as her guide, she also discovers more than she expected about a cuisine rooted in centuries of history. It’s this discovery that’s most transforming for Maggie who finds herself easily drawn into Sam’s delicious world—especially its family of cooks and customers.

While looking for a Valentine’s Day gift for my guy, I was reminded of How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier. It’s already in our home library, so my gift search continues. Your search might stop here. This is a  fun and informative 320-page book is full of practical advice for “roughing it” in the woods, where, as the author says, “every necessity is free.” Of course, it’s important to know what you need and don’t need. In these pages, you’ll learn how to build a shelter, how to make a soup hole (in the ground), how to fish with your bare hands, how to make a fire with just a spark, how and when to steal food from a bear, how to signal for help and what kind of plants you can (and can’t) eat. Or how to play it safer:  Avoid mushrooms altogether; the risks outweigh the gain. A few quick takeaways:  Ice is never safe. Wolves are not to be feared. Spruce-needle tea has as much vitamin C as fresh orange juice. All birds are edible.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: January 2020

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in January. A great way to start the reading year!

How to Walk is by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the best-known Zen teachers in the world today. IMG_6341In this little book, he shows how the everyday act of walking (walking!) can offer opportunities to realize and express gratitude. I usually walk with a friend or, if alone, listen to the podcast Stuff You Should Know. But this book, which I first saw at Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this past summer, kept calling for my attention. It’s tiny, but filled with Hanh’s practices, meditations and touching stories. Each one shows how each step has the impact to increase our concentration, insight and joy. He makes it sound easy: “When you walk, arrive with every step. That’s walking meditation. There’s nothing else to it.” Of course, there’s more to it. But Hanh’s gentle guidance is there every step of the way to help readers become more aware of each step and of their breathing. Jason DeAntonis’s pen-and-ink drawings are the perfect playful accompaniment. Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, has been teaching mindfulness for more than 70 years, and he has written scores of books including the other tiny, tip-filled books:  How to See, How to Eat, How to Relax and How to Love.

I should have already read Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson. I think everyone in the entire state of Alabama should read this book. IMG_6338That it should be taught in high schools. I’ve heard Stevenson speak (he’s amazing) and this book has been on my shortlist for a while, but the new movie out now made me finally get to it. It is, as the subtitle says, a “story of justice and redemption.” It also is about the sweet, overwhelming power of mercy. Stevenson, one of the most influential lawyers of our time, founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, wrongly condemned and those underserved (or just flat-out forsaken) by our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. The story, I’m sure, is transitioning to the big screen quite well. It’s one of political dealings, legal wrangling and tangled conspiracies—and a black man accused of killing a young white girl in south Alabama in the 1980s. But Walter’s is just one of several cases detailed here that, together, have made Stevenson a champion for justice and mercy.

Under Stevenson’s leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. He led the creation of EJI’s highly acclaimed cultural sites, the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in 2018. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards, including 40 honorary doctorates, the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, and the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides promises a thrilling twist, and it delivers. IMG_6343I never saw it coming in the day and a half it took me to devour this book. Alicia Berenson was living a lovely life as a famous painter married to a famous fashion photographer—until she shot her husband five times in the face and then stopped taking. She refused to talk—to try to explain her actions—and that made Alicia even more famous. She ends up housed at a secure psychiatric unit in North London. And criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to unlock her silence and figure out why exactly she shot her husband. This therapist-turned-detective is very good at uncovering clues, and he ends up finding out more than he ever expected.

Dreyer’s English is by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, and in this book, he champions clarity in a way that is informative, interesting and even entertaining. IMG_6339We are not all writers, but yet, we are. We all write all the time:  emails, texts, more texts, blogs, online reviews, more emails. In his book, Dreyer shares much of what he has learned in his more than two decades of professional life. And it’s a playful, useful guide for writers of any sort who want to simply write better.  He offers lessons on punctuation—from the underappreciated semicolon to the en dash. He explains the basic rules of grammar; “Only godless savages,” he says, “eschew the series comma.” He advises against what my kids’ elementary school teachers called “dead words” like “very” and “actually.” And he says it’s OK to start a sentence with And (thank goodness!) and But (even better!).

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: November

It’s not too early to think about gift giving. And when you give the gift of a book, it just keeps on giving. All these are worth wrapping, and I brought them with me to WBRC Fox 6 on November 5.

 Inland is the latest book by Tea Obreht, and it’s awesome. Two remarkable lives intersect in the lawless, drought-ridden Arizona Territory in 1893. Nora is a tough frontierswoman awaiting the return of her husband who has gone in search of water. Her two elder sons have vanished after an argument, and Nora waits with youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking them.

The other main character, Lurie, is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sets out on a momentous expedition across the West with camels! The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense in this great book by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tiger’s Wife, which I also loved.

Ordinary Girls:  A Memoir by Jaquira Diaz is a Barnes & Nobel Discover Great New Writers Fall 2019 selection. These selections are pretty much always spot on. Jaquira Diaz has won two Pushcart Prizes and has been published in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Guardian. This shining life surely seemed unlikely when she was growing up a black sheep in housing projects in Miami and Puerto Rico. She will tell you she was a juvenile delinquent—arrested over and over, a street fighter, a runaway, a high school drop out and a suicide risk. She always longed for love and security and a family and a home. This incredibly candid and beautiful and powerful memoir is a true story of survival and more. Diaz says she was a kid who loved to read. “You could say that books saved me.” But as much as she loved books, she didn’t see people like herself in the pages. “I wrote Ordinary Girlsfor girls and women who are like the girl I was, like the woman I am now. For those who never saw themselves in books.”

God Save the Queens:  The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop by Kathy Iandoli recognizes that the history of hip-hop has, for far too long, revolved around men. But women have always been incredibly important to this musical movement. From rap’s earliest moments, they have been out front and keeping pace with their male counterparts. These “queens” have paved the way for Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and those who will top the charts after them. Music journalist Kathy Iandoli offers a fast-paced, heavily researched history of ambition and spirit and attitude and girl power. She tackles issues of gender, sexuality, violence, body image and objectification and more in this feminist history of hip-hop.

The Ryman Remembers with a foreword written by Will Campbell is a hybrid kind of cookbook that traces the colorful history of a building and those who played within its walls and ties it in with easy-to-follow recipes for foods from all over– just like the people who have played here.

Readers might be surprised to know just who has been on the beloved stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Long before bluegrass and country music legends played here, orchestras and symphonies from New York, Boston and Chicago played the Ryman. Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Nijinski and the Ballet Russe all danced on its wooden stage. Charlie Chaplin, Katherine Hepburn and American explorer Robert Edwin Peary appeared here, too. Then, of course, there was the Grand Ole Opry, which made its home at the Ryman beginning in 1943. Over the next 30 years, the greats of country music played here—from Hank Williams to Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash and Elvis and more. After falling into disrepair, the Ryman has been restored and is once again a thriving theater. It is, in fact, Nashville’s most revered venue.

The recipes here make this book extra special and trace a Southern heritage of favorite foods associated with famous names who have played this stage—ranging from Amy Grant’s Buttermilk Fudge to Nashville Symphony conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn’s Soul Pasta to John T. Hall’s favorite Hot Water Cornbread to Dolly Parton’s Beefy Cowboy Beans.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: October

Let’s get cooking! It’s not too early to think about holiday dinners with friends and family. A new batch of cookbooks is just what we need right now. I brought these with me to WBRC Fox 6 on October 1.

Seeking the South:  Finding Inspired Regional Cuisines by Rob Newton with Jamie Feldman is part inspiring travelogue, part user-friendly cooking guide. “There’s no genre of American cuisine as storied as Southern,” Newton writes. “It has the longest history, most distinct terroir, and the most pronounced traditions of any food in the country, built largely by enslaved Africans and their descendants. For these reasons and more, Southern food can be a tricky topic, with a tendency to rile people up both in and out of the geographic boundaries of the South itself.”

Newton, born in Arkansas, is the executive chef at Gray & Dudley in Nashville. This new book, with lovely photos of foods and places, showcases a new kind of South that draws from all corners of the world for its modern cuisine. Consider Hot Potlikker (a Chinese-style hot pot from Mississippi made with potlikker from cooking greens); boiled peanuts with lemongrass, star anise and lime; heirloom tomatoes with peanut chaat; charred okra with Sichuan pepper, garlic and green onions. Familiar recipes here include buttermilk biscuits, deviled eggs, BBQ Gulf snapper and fried chicken. But then there are lots of favorite foods prepared in a brand new way:  Raw collards with coconut and grapefruit; fried bologna sandwiches with chow chow; turnip and potato pancakes  with yogurt, dill and dillybeans.

The book is divided into five chapters representing different regions of the South—Upper South, Deep South, Gulf Coast, Coastal Plains and Piedmont, and Low Country and Southeast Coast. “I wanted to tell the story of the Southern food that I knew and loved:  dishes that went beyond the clichés and illustrated the diverse bounty across its many distinct regions,” Newton writes. Each chapter features appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts that define each region in beautiful, delicious ways.

Kindness & Salt:  Recipes for the Care & Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors by Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell features food and hospitality advice and prep techniques and tips especially for the home cook. Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell are the owners of Buttermilk Channel and French Louie in Brooklyn. The book, with a fun retro cover, features 100 recipes for the foods and drinks that draw their passionate customers from around the corner as well as across the globe. They believe that every great meal starts with two essential elements:  kindness and salt. “Kindness,” they write, “is the spirit of warmth and hospitality that underlies every meal at their restaurants. Salt is shorthand for cooking carefully and brining out the best in your ingredients.” There are 21 foundational recipes from a chapter called Pantry that include aioli, parsley pistou, oven-dried tomatoes and hollandaise sauce. These are everyday items to elevate your dishes.  From there, you’ll find hundreds more for salads and veggies (radishes with butter and black olive salt), fish and shellfish (mussels Normande), birds and beasts (cast iron-roasted chicken) as well as baked things (cornbread with chile-lime butter). There’s an entire chapter devoted to cocktails and another for brunch dishes, reflecting the full range of what makes their restaurants popular. But everything is carefully explained, tips are given freely and techniques are detailed so the home cook can easily re-create this bistro cuisine, which is, after all, inspired by home cooking.

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley is a cleverly named James Beard Foundation Book Award winner that is all about real food. Namely, indigenous American fruits and vegetables, wild and foraged grains, game and fish. “Locally sourced” takes on a whole new meaning in this breakout cookbook by Sean Sherman, the Oglala Lakota chef and founder of The Sioux Chef, a group of people—from chefs to growers to food truckers and food lovers—committed to revitalizing Native American cuisine.  There’s no fry bread here. It does not rely upon European staples such as wheat flour, sugar and dairy products. The dishes are indigenous to the Dakota and Minnesota territories, but home cooks can find most of these ingredients quite easily. (There’s a list of suppliers at www.sioux-chef.com if you have difficulties.) A short guide to using this book lists straightforward techniques and simple tools such as a cast-iron skillet and a deep stockpot and essential ingredients including salt, honey, sumac and herbs. Each chapter features a short essay to explain the foods and food traditions of the recipes that follow. You’ll learn about and how to cook crispy bean cakes, deviled duck eggs, rabbit braised with apples and mint, autumn harvest cookies and real wild rice. Sherman shares space in the book with other chefs he met at the Native American Culinary Association’s “Native Chef’s Symposium.” You’ll find recipes like Chef Lois Ellen Frank’s Coriander-Cured Elk with Dried Chokecherry Sauce and Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz’s Two-Fruit Jam Scattered with Seeds. All in all, this book is a beautiful, thoughtful celebration of truly homegrown culinary traditions.

Buttermilk & Bourbon:  New Orleans Recipes with a Modern Flair is a new cookbook by Jason Santos, a Hell’s Kitchen runner-up and an expert on Bar Rescue. Turns out, a birthday trip to New Orleans inspired Santos to open his Boston restaurant Buttermilk & Bourbon. “I love everything about that city,” he writes, “the food, the people and the passion!”  In his restaurant and in this book, he relies upon food that is authentic in flavor and prepared in inventive, surprising ways. Consider Buffalo Duck Wings, New Orleans BBQ Shrimp with Jalapeno Grits and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Mac & Cheese. The chapter on adult beverages is particularly fun with a Boston-Nola Hurricane; a Who Dat? made with chocolate-mole bitters and rye; a rum-fueled Lagniappe; and a Cajun Bloody Mary, of course.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.