Barbara’s Picks, Apr. 2012, Pt. 4: How Does Michelle Obama’s Garden Grow?

Johnson, Suzanne. Royal Street. Tor. Apr. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780765327796. pap. $14.99. FANTASY
What makes this urban fantasy debut especially arresting is that it’s set in post-Katrina New Orleans, with Johnson drawing on her own experience during the disaster while dreaming up plenty of darkness on her own. As Katrina batters the city, the border between the modern world and the Otherworld collapses along with the levees, and the undead are released to roam the streets. Then the wizard charged with protecting the city from supernatural forces vanishes, leaving protégé-assistant Drusilla Jaco with a lot to handle‚ including undead pirate Jean Lafitte, who wants her to walk the plank. Sounds like really good chills.

Mignola, Mike & Christopher Golden. Joe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated Novel. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780312644734. $25.99. GRAPHIC NOVEL
It’s hard to argue with a book by the award-winning creator/writer/artist of Hellboy (Mignola) and the award-winning, best-selling author of such novels as The Myth Hunters (Golden), who have also paired up to give us Vampire. Here, after rising waters swamped lower Manhattan in 1925, the area is known as the Drowning City. Now, 50 years later, those who refused to leave inhabit the buildings’ top stories and navigate the street like canals. When her employer, Orlov the Conjuror, is kidnapped, 14-year-old Molly turns to Victorian detective Simon Hodge (who goes in for magic and steampunk mechanics) and sidekick Joe Golem for help. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Obama, Michelle. American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities. Crown. Apr. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9780307956026. $30. GARDENING
You can have healthy food that’s delicious and affordable, too, and who better to make the case than Michelle Obama? Inspired by daughters Sasha and Malia, who wanted to improve the family’s eating habits, the First Lady decided to plant a vegetable garden on the South Lawn, even as she took on the issue of childhood obesity. Here she doesn’t just advocate for school and community gardens but explains how they can be set up, how they can bring folks together, and what healthful eating and exercise can do for everyone. Lots of full-color photography of gardens nationwide but especially the White House garden; a great and inspiring break from our current blues.

Winslet, Kate with Keli Thorsteinsson. The Golden Hat: Talking Back to Autism. S. & S. Apr. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781451645439. $29.95. PSYCHOLOGY
Though her son, Keli, was diagnosed with a severe form of nonverbal autism, Margret Dagmar worked hard to find a way to communicate with him. Oscar winner Winslet joined with Margret and Keli to create a documentary about their efforts and eventually to found Helping Autism Learning Outreach (HALO). Inspired by a poem Keli wrote about a golden hat that allows autistic children to communicate, Winslet conceived an awareness/fund-raising project that involved giving a hat to buddies like Angelina Jolie, Oprah, and Daniel Craig, who would take self-portraits in the hat before passing it along. Here’s the resulting project, complete with poems by Keli. Touching, and I hope it helps.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.