Two children’s picture books, an author who takes us to the seas, a fictional visit to old Deadwood, S.D., and stories about a woman who loves to travel. Today we offer a wide variety of early summer reading by Minnesota authors.
‘The Shared Room’
Award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang and artist Xee Reiter tell the touching story of a Hmong family healing from the grief of losing a young daughter in their new children’s picture book “The Shared Room” (University of Minnesota Press, $16.95). Both women are Hmong-American, live in St. Paul, and are mothers.
Told in Kao Kalia Yang’s lyrical prose, the story begins in “an old house on the east side of St. Paul.” It’s a balmy winter day: “The ice grew thin over puddles of dark water and cracked like broken glass.” A 10-year-old boy in the family tells of the “hot sweaty” day his sister drowned. Since then, “a quiet entered the house. No matter how loud the boys became, or how hard the younger girl laughed or cried, there seemed a sound barrier over the family. A hush like winter had settled in their home.” His parents were sad, but they always came when their other children needed them.
One day the parents ask the boy if he would like to move into his sister’s room. He had not cried before this but now the boy realized, “She’s never coming back?” Then: “His hands covered his eyes and his face so all he saw was the water of his world spilling over in the dark of his closed palms.” The boy settles into the room, which he finds peaceful. And as St. Paul is covered with snow, the family keeps each other warm, “their little girl’s memory like the fire before them, a melt in the freeze of their hearts.”
Complementing the words are Xee Reiter’s tender, spare watercolor illustrations that offer young readers close-up portraits of lovely Hmong faces of children and adults.
Although the story is about death, this is not a dark book. It shows that family love can heal and it touches on big topics children are eager to learn about, especially in these days of pandemic.
Publishers Weekly review was right: “This Hmong-authored and -illustrated book places at its center a Hmong American family, giving children in an underrepresented community a valuable mirror. At the same time, both text and illustrations leave room for readers from many backgrounds to find themselves in the story.”
Kao Kalia Yang has won Minnesota Book Awards for “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” and “The Song Poet,” commissioned as a youth opera by Minnesota Opera to premiere in spring of 2021. Her debut children’s book, “A Map into the World,” is a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book. The book she co-edited, “What God is Honored Here? Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Indigenous Women and Women of Color,” was named a Best Book of fall 2019 by 40 national publications. This is Xee Reiter’s debut book.
Kao Kalia Yang and Xee Reiter will host a ZOOM launch for their book at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 9, moderated by Erik Anderson, University of Minnesota Press regional editor, co-sponsored by The Dougy National Center for Grieving Children & Families, In Progress, and AmazeWorks. Register at: z.umn.edu/sharedroomlaunch. You will receive the event meeting link in your registration confirmation email.
‘The Streel: A Deadwood Mystery’
I huddled in the snow and prayed to the Virgin Mary to take Lily’s soul. This had indeed been a blighted Christmas season. I had been driven from my job, come to find my brother to tell him of our mother’s death, and now I would be the bearer of yet more bad tidings.
Brigid Reardon and her brother Seamus immigrated to America during the potato famine in Ireland. How Brigid ended up in the “raw and dirty world” of Deadwood, S.D., in 1880 is the story Mary Logue tells in “The Streel: A Deadwood Mystery” (University of Minnesota Press, $22.95).
Logue has published 13 mysteries, nine in the Claire Watkins series, as well as poetry and young adult nonfiction. In this first in a series featuring Brigid Reardon, she gives us a protagonist who might not understand the ways of a boom town where men go into the mines digging for gold, but she is smart and unafraid to stand up for herself and her brother when Seamus is suspected of murder.
When the siblings arrive in America, Seamus heads to Deadwood with their countrymen Billy and Paddy to work their jointly-owned gold mine. Brigid remains in Minnesota, where she gets a job as a maid for the wealthy Hunt family. Her mistress is kind, but her son, charming, spoiled Charlie, is to be avoided. When his attentions become “improper,” clever Brigid bargains with Charlie’s father for a train ticket, making clear that’s the price he has to pay for his son’s bad behavior.
In Deadwood, Brigid lives with the three men, learning to live in perpetual mud and snow, until Lily’s body is found. Seamus was crazy for the woman everyone knew was a streel (prostitute). Seamus was the last to see Lily alive, and he needs to disappear before he’s arrested.
Brigid is alone with their two friends, and she has to deal once again with Charlie Hunt, who arrives in Deadwood eager to buy the mine Seamus and their friends own. Charlie is handsome and knows how to treat a woman, wining and dining Brigid and keeping her off balance so he can get the mine at a good price. Meanwhile, Brigid is searching for Lily’s murderer so her brother can be exonerated.
Logue does a wonderful job of putting the reader into what is barely a town at the end of the civilized world, with Brigid having only one other “respectable” woman for a friend and learning to be friendly to the town’s other prostitute. From Galway to New York to a grand house in St. Paul that could be on Summit Avenue, and then to Deadwood, Brigid learns she can depend only on herself as she builds a life in the new world.
In a starred review Publishers Weekly said: “A well constructed plot, lilting prose, and a heroine who’s determined to escape constricting female roles make this an exceptional regional historical. Readers will look forward to Brigid’s further adventures.”
Logue will discuss and read from “The Streel” in a ZOOM virtual appearance at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, presented by Next Chapter Booksellers. For free registration, go to nextchapterbooksellers.com/event. At 7 p.m. June 16 Logue will do a virtual event presented by Once Upon a Crime. Register at: crowdcast.io/e/mary-logue-the-streel–/register.
‘Stone Wall and Other Stories’
The people and animals, along with each country, city and unique countryside flowed through her open mind, along with the love of foreign languages and unique lifestyles.
Ten stories of a woman who loves to travel, and learns something about herself wherever she goes, make up “Stone Wall and Other Stories” by Connie Claire Szarke (Newman Springs Publishing, $17.95). In these days when we are so distracted we can hardly concentrate, good short fiction can keep us engaged.
We meet Gloria Spencer when she is in her mid-40s, having just tripped and hurt herself on an island off the coast of Ireland where a kind man takes her into his cottage and makes her comfortable. It’s a sweet meeting but the wrong time for intimacy, and Gloria leaves with regret.
In Italy she tracks down a once-beautiful boy with whom she shared a few glorious days when she was young. And in a funny story, told mostly in the dialogue of her hairdresser, she hears a horror story about a woman arrested for murder in Paris (she goes anyway). Gloria and her friend Kathy spend a few terrifying days in Italy after Gloria believes she’s witnessed a murder in the land of the Mafia.
We learn about Gloria’s personal life in a story about her lawyer-husband defending a huge chemical company that poisoned children in India. The longest and most detailed story isn’t about Gloria, except for a mention. It focuses on a Los Angeles lawyer who loses everything and heads to the Minnesota woods, where he develops a friendship with an old Native American fisherman. This is an interesting story, and it eventually brings us to Gloria in a later story, but it does take the focus off her for a long stretch.
Szarke is also author of the trilogy “Delicate Armor,” “A Stone for Amer” and “Lady in the Moon, A Novel in Stories.”
‘Bold Sea Stories’
I glanced below just in time to see a slop of water shooting up through the open centerboard trunk.
A chill settled in my stomach. Persistence had entered Superior’s open waters and already I was having problems.
That’s experienced sailor Marlin Bree recalling a harrowing time on his 20-foot, homemade wooden sailboat off Lake Superior’s north shore. It’s one of the 21 adventures in his book “Bold Sea Stories” (Marlor Press, $14.99). The articles have won 23 awards and honors, including two Grand Prize awards for writing from Boating Wrtiers International.
Bree, who co-authored the boating bestseller “Alone Against the Atlantic” with Minnesotan Gerry Spiess, takes his readers sailing on various seas. There’s Helmer Aakvik, who fought a storm on Lake Superior and became a legend. He writes of the Viking replica Hjemkomst, which “braved Superior, crossed the Great Lakes and made it to the Big Apple. And here the voyage began to go wrong.” When the ore boat S.S. Daniel J. Morrell was torn apart, did the only survivor live because he saw the spirits of his deceased shipmates?
Bree keeps the tension high as he describes navigating through incredible waves, ice storms and unfamiliar waters. Each of these stories is based on the author’s experiences or interviews. Among his previous books are “Wake of the Green Storm,” “In the Teeth of the Northeaster” and “Broken Seas.”
Author John Coy and photographer Wing Young Huie salute what dads do in their new picture book “Dads” (Carolrhoda Books, $19.99) which honors father’s fixing, cooking, cleaning, building, reading and singing, as well as sometimes correcting. Most of the book is made up of color and black-and-white candid pictures of dads and their kids of all ethnicities, in groups or sharing time alone. Coy is an award-winning author of young adult books, including “Hoop Genius.” Wing Young Huie photographs the diversity of everyday life in Twin Cities neighborhoods. The author of five photography books, he owns Third Place Gallery in Minneapolis. The men previously collaborated on “The Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land.”