Bookworm: Ready to feel all fizzy inside?
“American Pop: A Novel”
- By Snowden Wright
- c. 2019, Wm. Morrow
- $26.99, $33.50 Canada; 386 pages
Look out stomach, here it comes. Oh, how you anticipate that first swallow of great-grandma’s recipe, the one with the secret ingredient you know but you’re not telling. True, you might share that secret someday but, in the meantime, as in the new novel “American Pop” by Snowden Wright, be careful what you spill.
Fiona Forster wondered how well she really knew her husband, Tewksbury. When she married him before they came to America, he told her he was a doctor. She believed him then but as she lay on the wooden floor of their cabin, she had her doubts. If he was a doctor, then why didn’t he ease her labor pains?
Tewksbury was a doctor – and he was enterprising. When he realized that potions he’d had back in Scotland could cure patients in America, too, he set up a small shop in their Mississippi Delta town, and it flourished. By the time his son, Houghton, was old enough to run the place, the shop had begun to serve refreshments.
Houghton always said that he came up with the delicious drink that everyone was talking about, all because of Annabelle. He’d fallen in love with her the minute he saw her but winning her hand was no easy feat. Annabelle’s family had money and her father wasn’t about to let his only child marry a soda jerk.
But Houghton was no mere soda jerk. He was the creator of Panola Cola, so-named after the Mississippi county where it started. Houghton alone carried the recipe in his head. He was patriarch to his adult children: eldest son Monty, a heartsick veteran destined for politics but mourning a devastating loss; Harold, who’d had an unfortunate accident as a boy; and twins, Ramsey and Lance, both holding a secret oozing with jealousy.
Houghton never wanted his children to want, but a little hardship made them ready for the future. One day, one of them would take control of Panola Cola, and he’d reveal the secret of his recipe at that time. Until then, he’d keep a cap on it …
Imagine, if you will, a nighttime soap opera written in bathtub gin, narrated by Burl Ives with snark and a side dish of history. Imagine that it makes you snort just before tearing your heart out and ruthlessly crumpling it. That’s “American Pop.”
Taking readers to the mid-19th-century, through elegant speakeasies, Hollywood movie studios, and two wars, to the mid-1980s and back, author Snowden Wright tells a witty tale of a prosperous and proper Southern family with fangs, claws, and tender souls. Of course, that can be humorous, but Wright won’t let you laugh for long: while this novel is about a handful of main characters, other Forsters move in and out of chapters with anger and well-meaning, leaving pain as sharp as busted glass.
Grab this book and be prepared to feel all fizzy inside. Grab it but leave the bookmarks at home; you won’t need ‘em. You’ll be too tempted to read “American Pop” in one long gulp.
“Meet Miss Fancy”
- By Irene Latham, illustrated by John Holyfield
- c. 2019, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
- $17.99, $23.99 Canada; 32 pages
Ever since you were a little kid, you’ve had a great big wish. You’ve always wanted that one thing. You’ve schemed and asked, begged and plotted, but you still don’t have it. As in the new book “Meet Miss Fancy” by Irene Latham, illustrated by John Holyfield, whatever’s stopping you just isn’t fair.
More than anything in the world, Frank adored elephants.
He loved everything about them: their big long trunks, their “flap-flap ears,” and the way their feet looked like the bottom of a tree. He thought about them, drew them on paper, and imagined what they might feel like. Frank loved elephants, but he’d never seen a real-life one.
That’s why he became super-excited when his mother mentioned Miss Fancy, how she was retiring from the circus, and that the city was hoping its schoolchildren might raise the money to afford to buy her. And they did. They did!
On the day that Miss Fancy finally arrived, Frank was there to welcome her. She was enormous and loud, and he couldn’t wait to meet her in person, but as Frank followed the crowd into Avondale Park, he was stopped by a small sign at the entrance.
“No Colored Allowed.” And that meant Frank.
But that couldn’t be! How was he supposed to feed peanuts to Miss Fancy if he couldn’t go to the park? Mama said it was the law, but that didn’t make Frank feel any better, and so he did his second-best: he tossed peanuts over the fence to his big friend while he thought.
There had to be a way inside, right? Miss Fancy had escaped from a park a time or two – and if an elephant can get out of a park, why couldn’t Frank get in? Alas, even that was impossible, so Frank had to face facts: he simply wasn’t ever going to meet Miss Fancy – but then, Miss Fancy had other ideas…
Have you ever wanted something so much that it consumes you, only to see it just out of reach for the worst of reasons? That frustration is what your child will find inside “Meet Miss Fancy.”
Based lightly on a true story about a real elephant in Birmingham’s Avondale Park, this book is a real double-delight. Author Irene Latham brings a big tale to kids who admire pachyderms but have no access to them, and to those who are just starting on a path toward understanding Black history. Indeed, this tale shows a small side of injustice, but in a gentle way that even little children can grasp.
The other side of the delight is the artwork by John Holyfield; it’s colorful and packed with fun action and plenty of detail. Don’t be surprised if you find your child paging through this book later, just to look at those pictures within.
Any 5-to-8-year-old who loves a good animal story with a happy ending will sit still for this one. You’ll love its afterword, too. For you and for your child, “Meet Miss Fancy” is a big attention-getter.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.