Reviews of the Week with Frank Mortimer, Heidi Tyline King, Michelle Nijhuis, and More!

The Booklist Review of the Day, posted to the top of the Booklist Online home page each day of the week, spotlights exceptional upcoming titles that are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

The Reviews of the Week, posted each Monday, offers a comprehensive look at the previous week’s awardees—while also piquing interest for the week ahead. Catch up on the week of March 1 below, then dive into the week at hand with today’s Review of the Day, Home Is Not a Country, by Safia Elhillo. For the full week-in-review treatment, subscribe to our newsletter, Booklist Reader Update.

Monday, March 1

Bee People and the Bugs They Love, by Frank Mortimer

Beekeeping has become popular worldwide, especially in urban areas. There, budding ecologists nurture the insects that pollinate crops and generate the liquid gold of honey. Mortimer installed some beehives in his suburban New Jersey backyard, and rapidly discovered an entire subculture of apiarists whom he finds more than simply idiosyncratic. There’s the elderly beekeeper who drives a yellow and black Cadillac and removes bee swarms from trees and suburban house walls. There are the purists who think the smoke beekeepers use to calm bee colonies constitutes cruelty to animals but end up killing their charges. Mortimer learns how to maintain his bees and their hives by a lot of trial and error and by enduring a few stings. He also discovers that swarms of what passes for bee lore on the internet are simply false, and rectifies much misinformation.

Tuesday, March 2

Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch, by Heidi Tyline King and illustrated by Ekua Holmes

This lushly illustrated picture-book biography tells the story of MaVynee Betsch, an opera-singing African American environmentalist and activist. During the 1930s, in Jim Crow–era Jacksonville, Florida, where most beaches were for whites only, Betsch’s grandfather bought some shoreline property and turned it into American Beach, a resort open to everyone. Both locals and celebrities enjoyed its sunshine, but when Betsch’s retired from her career as an international opera singer in 1977, she discovered that the property was being taken over by developers. Betsch was determined to save the natural setting and devoted her fortune and the rest of her life to environmental activism. As a result, American Beach was finally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

Wednesday, March 3

Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis

Self-described “itinerant biologist” turned journalist Nijhuis tracks the many-faceted evolution of the great debate over whether we should protect other species, and, if so, which ones and how, questions we’ve grappled with ever since we invented technologies that enable us to quickly drive species into extinction. Nijhuis parses thorny social and ethical issues, while anchoring this exceptionally comprehensive and enlightening history of conservation to incisive profiles of many ardent and intrepid individuals devoted to protecting animals and their habitats. Taxidermist and zoo director William Temple Hornaday took paradoxical measures to help keep bison alive. With millions of birds being slaughtered every year for their feathers, indomitable and eloquent Rosalie Edge championed avian preservation. British evolutionary biologist and tireless popular-science advocate Julian Huxley helped build the foundation for international conservation. Nijhuis spotlights key moments in the evolution of ecological thought and practice inspired by the likes of biodiversity defender Edward O. Wilson, Nobel Prize–winning political economist Elinor Ostrom, and pioneering conservation biologist Michael Soulé. 

Thursday, March 4

Jayden’s Impossible Garden, by Mélina Mangal and illustrated by Ken Daley

Jayden loves nature; however, there aren’t many places to explore near his apartment in the city, a fact of which his mother often reminds him. But that doesn’t stop the boy from observing the urban birds and squirrels and collecting acorns. One day, Jayden bonds with his wheelchair-using neighbor, Mr. Curtis, who loves nature as much as Jayden does, and they begin transforming part of the apartment building’s lawn into a garden. Mr. Curtis shows Jayden how to reuse materials, like empty coffee cans and milk cartons, as planters, and soon the entire neighborhood is abuzz with butterflies and hummingbirds visiting the garden. Daley’s soft pastel illustrations utilize vibrance and interesting perspectives to show the varied life that finds its way into cities, as well as a sweet intergenerational friendship. 

Friday, March 5

Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts, by J. Drew Lanham

Lanham, a birder, wildlife ecology professor, writer, and poet, improvises on the practice and language of bird watching in this provocative collection. As he considers nature’s intricacy, beauty, and mystery and humankind’s ironies, tragedies, and joys, his poems shimmer with precise observations conveyed in a walking-in-the-woods cadence energized by alliteration and near and internal rhymes. Here, too, are incisive prose pieces titled “Field Mark,” as in a characteristic trait used to identify species. For Lanham, birding requires empathy: “Be the bird.” And how he envies sparrows and all wild things for their freedom. As a Black man, Lanham the watcher is all-too often watched and imperiled, as he explains with sharp-beaked, drilling candor in “Nine Rules for the Black Birder.” He offers a “Lifeless List,” a tally of racial violence and destruction, instead of a typical birder’s life list. A self-appointed “taxonomic committee of one,” he offers alternatives for bird names commemorating “white-supremacist men” and suggests new collective terms, including “A Mattering of Black birds.” Lanham laments humankind’s pillaging of the land, calling for us to be more attentive.'

About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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