Get Graphic Series: Audubon: On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau

Up next in our Get Graphic Series is a non fiction title by Fabien Grolleau. Audubon: On the Wings of the World, takes the reader on a journey through 19th century rural America. John James Audubon was an ornithologist with a goal to create a pictorial record of the all the birds in North America. Traveling with only his drawing materials, an assistant and a gun, Audubon encounters dangerous animals, wild storms, and some not so friendly people.

Audubon: On the Wings of the World highlights not only the beauty of birds in America, but how Audubon’s life revolves around them. As he travels the US, he meets with prominent scientists in the hopes of publishing his book of bird paintings. But, the scientist believe his paintings are more “artistic” than “scientific”- which is something Audubon does not want to hear. This fuels his desire to prove the scientists wrong. He soon becomes obsessed with painting the animals and begins to disregard his family, friends, and even his health. An unlikely stranger meets with Audubon and pulls him from his fascination, changing the course of his career and life forever.

One of the things I love about nonfiction graphic novels is the chance to learn about something or someone I would have glanced over in the biography section. I wouldn’t have picked up a 300 page biography on John James Audubon, but Audubon: On the Wings of the World was just long enough to give me the facts and keep me engaged. Graphic novels are great starting points if you find yourself interested in a nonfiction topic.

Illustrations are key for nonfiction graphic novels. Some might find nonfiction “boring,” but the illustrations create a fun environment for the facts to live. Audubon: On the Wings of the World has wonderful illustrations of not only the story, but of the birds Audubon loved.

If you want to learn more about John James Audubon, give this graphic novel a try!

 

 

Take a Road Trip this Summer!

When I was growing up my family would take a vacation every August, visiting National Parks and historic sites. Road tripping is a great way to see and appreciate this country, its beauty and diversity. I have lots great memories of these trips and feel fortunate to have seen and traveled across so much of the United States and Canada.

As we (cautiously) come out of quarantine, you may be feeling the itch to travel again, but still not sure about flying yet. Why not take a road trip? These books will show you the way.

The Road Trip Survival Guide by Rob Taylor. This handy little book has all the essential information – planning, packing, food (there’s nothing quite like road trip snacks!) and safety with lots of practical tips. It’s filled with ideas such as figuring out how many days to take (always schedule some wiggle room), coming up with a theme for your trip – for instance, follow a Historic Trail such as Lewis and Clark or the US Civil Rights trails or go looking for Epic Tallest Trees (Washington, Oregon, California), recipes for snacks and ideas meals, and how to handle the inevitable problems (no vacation is without at least one!)

The second half of this book has several suggested itineraries which you can either follow or use as a jumping off point. There are ten for the United States, five for Canada and three for Mexico. They cover everything from rural to city, east coast to west. The emphasis is on exploring the outdoors and smaller cities and places that are a little off the beaten path. All of them are family friendly with recommendations for economical food (visit local supermarkets for snacks and lunches) and lodging (stay in smaller towns when possible) If you were hesitant about hitting the road, this book will get you out there with confidence!

If you’re stumped for where to go and what to do, check out Travel North America (and Avoid Being a Tourist) by Jeralyn Gerba and Pavia Rosati. This book is chock full of fun and off-beat travel ideas. The emphasis is on low-impact travel, slowing down and giving back. There’s a chapter on spas and retreats (“the woo-woo ways”), another on choosing a destination by season (wildflowers in spring, the Northern Lights in winter), several road trip itineraries based on a theme (American southwest for art pilgrims), exploring lesser known gems of several cities and practical ideas for traveling with others (“how to travel in a group – without being a jerk”), not just with kids but with elderly members of the family as well.  In addition, this book is loaded with great photos – you’ll be dreaming of and planning several trips in no time!

 

 

Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell

According to a few online sources I found, June is National Iced Tea Month in the United States (International Tea Day is April 21). In honor of this observance, I’d like to tell you about a nonfiction book I read recently which is (somewhat) related– Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell.

Published in 2019, Infused is Lovell’s memoir / travel diary about the global tea industry, highlighting all the places, people, and methods which help to create the amazing teas we (or I, anyway) drink every day. Lovell, also known as “The Rare Tea Lady”, includes recipes and photography to help capture the wonder of tea growing, processing, and of course tea drinking. She starts with her early journeys into China, mixed with meditations on why tea is so meaningful in her everyday life, and also mentions tidbits of tea’s history as a global product. Gradually she traces her growth into The Tea Lady, taking the reader on breathtaking journeys into the hidden places we’ve probably never been in countries like China, Russia, and even the UK.

I’m not a connoisseur by any means, with only a vague sense of ‘that tastes good’ (or not), but I found this book compelling for the care and detail that Lovell put into it. It’s fascinating to meet individual growers and chefs that make the creation of tea their life’s work, especially those that are carrying on deeply rooted local traditions. Lovell also makes a good case for choosing quality, loose-leaf tea over industrially-produced string-and-bag products, though of course the transition is easier said than done (and she can come across as snobbish on this point). Moreover, the writing style is readable, engaging, and thorough, with a restful, poetic level of description. The author’s love for tea and a strong sense of wonder shine through on every page.

For better or worse, I probably won’t change my tea habits too much going forward, but I definitely came away feeling enriched. Tea lovers, history buffs, travel enthusiasts, and devotees of whole, natural food products should try this book.

Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza

Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher have co-written a young adult novel called Sanctuary . This book takes place in a near future where a family struggles to find help and hope under a xenophobic government.

In 2032, all citizens living in America are chipped. The government is able to track your every movement with mandatory checkpoints everywhere from grocery stores to buses to schools. The chips control your life. If you’re an undocumented immigrant, life is a daily struggle. Sure, counterfeit chips exist, but there is always a risk that they will malfunction giving away your location and bringing Deportation Forces running to rip you away from your family.

Sixteen-year old Vali and her family have managed to create a happy life together until the day it all explodes around them. Her mother’s chip has started malfunctioning and they know it’s only a matter of time before the Deportation Forces take her away. With increasing raids, they are forced to flee.

On the run across the county, Vali, her younger brother, and her mother are desperate to make it to her tía Luna’s in California. California has made itself a sanctuary state, much to the anger of the current administration who is in the process of walling off that state from the rest of the country. When their mother is detained, Vali and Ernie are left on their own to travel across the entire United States on the hope that someone will be waiting on the other end to save them. With Deportation Forces closing in around them again, Vali will do anything to make sure they find their mom and make it to sanctuary.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Some of my favorite books to read when I’m searching for hope, yearning for positive thoughts, and trying to find a purpose are young adult books. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo was my latest young adult read that gave me a glimpse into another life. This book focuses on family, friends, love, and the struggle to figure out your future.

Emoni Santiago is a teen mom. Pregnant with her daughter during her freshman year of high school, Emoni works hard to overcome the judgment she faces from strangers and her fellow students. Knowing that she has to provide for Emma, Emoni does whatever needs to be done to help support her daughter and her abuela. Her life is stressful, but Emoni is grateful for what she has.

When she needs a break, Emoni heads to the kitchen and whips up some magic. She is able to look at ingredients and know what will fit well together. Whenever she shares her food with others, Emoni knows that it makes them think of memories, of home, of long-lost family and friends. As much as she would love to become a professional chef, Emoni knows that her family must come first. Now a senior in high school, she is struggling to figure out what to do with her future. Her counselor, friends, and family have all been asking what she wants to do.

Hoping to push her in the right direction, her counselor tells her she should take the new Culinary Arts class. Emoni is beyond excited. Once she starts cooking in that class, she lets her talent free and has to deal with the consequences. Her dreams of working as a chef are so close she can almost taste it.

This book is also available in the following formats:

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

I picked up this book to read because the cover was relaxing and the lines swirling over it looked like map lines. It turns out that I was right! Those are map lines after all and they turn out to be a key element in this book.

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag is set over a hundred years into a dystopian future where rising flood waters have crept up and overtaken the continents. This slow rise of water has obliterated and destroyed the mountaintops and known landscape and has, as a result, left in its place deep wide expanses of open water.

Myra is angry. Why is she angry? Her husband Jacob abandoned her while she was pregnant with their daughter Pearl. To top it off, he took their oldest daughter Row with him when he took off. Myra and Pearl are travelling from island to island on Bird, the boat that Myra’s grandfather made in the attic of their house before he died. Surviving by fishing and trading at the islands they visit, Myra is constantly on the lookout for any information about Row and Jacob.

Their life may be tranquil and at an even keel, but Myra knows that this peace can be interrupted at a moment’s notice. A bad wave, an interaction with violent people and breeding ships, or a fish shortage could all spell disaster for the pair. While stopped at an island to trade, Myra learns that Row may in fact still be alive. This chance encounter leads her to pack up Pearl, search for help, and start the dangerous journey to The Valley. Far up north, the trek to The Valley will be full of breeding ships and savage people looking to steal anything they can and willing to take over any unsuspecting ships. Add in the fact that The Valley might be going through an epidemic and Myra needs to get there as soon as she can to save Row.

On their way to The Valley, Myra and Pearl are hit with obstruction after obstruction with death and strangers littering their path. They eventually end up on board the boat, Sedna. This boat couldn’t be more different than Bird: Sedna has a fully able crew and seemingly all the supplies they could ever need (food, ammo, weapons, building/boat materials). Myra slowly discovers that in order to make it to Row and rescue her, she will have to betray and deceive everyone around her. Is Myra willing to sacrifice Pearl in order to save Row? Is Row even there? Could this all be for nothing? Myra has to decide what she’s willing to do to find out the truth.

This book is also available in the following format:

North Korea Journal by Michael Palin

Michael Palin has taken us on his travels over the years.  We’ve gone with him as he’s circumnavigated the globe in 80 days, gone pole-to-pole, and explored the Himalayas.  This time he’s off to the DPRK, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for a 15-day adventure with a small film crew and some preconceived notions of what he’ll find.

This small book is presented in journal form, his day-by-day activities documented and presented with a copious number of photographs.  Day 3:  Arrive at Pyongyang station.  Day 8:  A journey to the Demilitarized Zone.

On his travels he notes the ever-present images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, painted in pictures or molded in bronze, always equal in size.  He hears music played in loud speakers sounding throughout a city, the soundtrack of their lives.  He sees Senior Citizen ladies in traditional dress dance “formally and carefully, as if in slow motion.”

But the places he goes are not the main message of North Korea Journal.  Palin strives to give us sense of the people he encounters along the way.  Their hesitance to engage with outsiders.  Their love for their Great Leaders.  He asks probing questions, and only sometimes embarrasses his hosts.

Travel Talk – Armchair Traveler

This month in Travel Talk we’re going to explore travel books. I’m not talking about those giant coffee table books that are filled with artsy, professional photography (although those can be fun too). I’m talking about the books that you can settle down with and read, follow someone into a different culture or country and vicariously experience their adventures. These are the kind of books that will give you travel fever, all from the comfort of your armchair. Here are a few of my favorites.

Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage. This is the book that really hit me with the travel bug, not only to see new places, but that you didn’t have to be rich and fancy to go places. Barbara and her husband go on an around-the-world bicycle trip that is full of highs, lows and some scary moments. The writing style is fun and engaging and you’ll find it nearly impossible to put down. A great eye-opener into many different cultures and attitudes. Highly recommended. (Just don’t read the back of the book until after you finish)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Is there anyone that hasn’t read this book yet? Come on – it’s easily one of the funniest books I’ve ever read! Although the chapter on bears might scare you into never camping (or walking in the woods)! Bryson and his friend Katz undertake hiking the Appalachian Trail, underestimating it’s difficulty and the commitment required. Katz is extremely casual in his approach; Bryson is his usual keenly observant, riotously irreverent self and comes away from his experience with a new appreciation of the land and nature. Highly recommended.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. After making several poor life decisions, Strayed gets the crazy idea to walk the Pacific Crest Trail which runs from Mexico to Canada. It’s a long, rigorous hike and Cheryl is not prepared, but she sticks with it and along the way she finds herself. The long days of isolation and forced self-reliance help her find a reserve of strength within herself that she had never known, cleared her mind, settled her emotions and helped set her priorities. An inspiring story of growth and renewal.

These are all memoirs, but a great armchair travel books doesn’t have to be non-fiction. Any novel that sets you in a different place can give you wanderlust; for me that’s just about anything set in Paris or London or on the prairies and mountains of America.

What about you – what have you read that makes you want to dust off your suitcase? Let us know in the comments!

Travel Talk – Worst Travel Experience

If you’ve done any amount of traveling, it’s happened to you – a missed flight, lost luggage, a cancelled tour (anyone book a Thomas Cook tour recently?!) The key, of course, is to not let it ruin your trip; consider it a challenge to develop your coping skills! Sometimes the alternative turns out better than you planned!

Fortunately (so far) my travel experiences have been fairly straightforward – lost luggage (found and returned to me the next day), food poisoning (spent a day sick in bed – in Paris! – willing my insides to stop revolting against me), getting lost (I do this All. The. Time. You’d think I’d learn.) Maybe the worst was when my plane caught on fire which sounds terribly dramatic, but the plane was still at the gate and I think it was a fire in the galley, not the airplane itself. It did mean we had to disembark and wait four hours for another plane which meant I missed my connection in Detroit where I had to stay overnight (the airline paid) and got home a day late. Fortunately, everything was fine in the end and it didn’t ruin the trip and look, it makes a great story!

Here’s Michelle’s epic travel nightmare!

Travel delays are par for the course, but in May of 2011, my husband and I had an epic tale of a return flight.  The trip that should have been hours, but turned into days – all because of the eruption of an Icelandic volcano named Grimsvotn.

Our plane departed a little late from Copenhagen, Denmark, which delayed us when we reached Manchester, England.  We made it in time for the flight but since we arrived less than an hour from takeoff to Chicago, we were told we could not board (even though the plane was about 50 feet away from us).  We had to go through customs, get our luggage and hope we could find a flight quickly.  This would not be ideal, since many airports were starting to cancel flights because of the volcano’s ash that was approached the UK, we knew we had to get out or risk being stuck in Manchester, which could likely be days, not hours.

After a couple of hours, we were booked on a flight to Chicago via London.  We quickly realized that making this flight would land us in Chicago at nearly 8:30 in the evening and we did not have a flight or hotel booked for that night.  Once we made it to Chicago, my sister-in-law picked us up and we went back to her house in the Chicago suburbs.  It would be a short visit before we headed back to O’Hare in the morning. In the morning, we rode the Metra train to O’Hare only to find out that our flight to Moline was canceled.  We made a spit decision to rent a car one-way (not the cheapest option) and finally made it home that night!  As Ann mentioned in her post, it does make for a great story!

Now it’s your turn – what has been your worst Travel Experience? Let us know in the comments! And please, only stories that end well!

Travel Talk – Preserving the Memory

So, you’ve gone on a fabulous trip, or have one coming up. Now the question is, how do you hang onto those happy memories?

Photo book. There are dozens of companies that help you put together a photo album of your trip at a variety of price points and features. These can be lots of fun to make and you don’t need a lot of technological skills. Just upload your photos to the company’s program, choose your templates and go! I love photography and always make a photo album when I get home from a trip – it’s a great way to relive and remember a special time.

Scrapbook. Take all those brochures and ticket stubs and business cards and put together a scrapbook. I also like to include things like candy bar wrappers and small paper shop bags, anything that is unique and different from home. You can add handwritten notes about the different objects or decorate the pages however you want. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to make a scrapbook – it is for your enjoyment. (The same is true of photo books)

Postcards. You’ll find post cards everywhere of course, even if snail mail is on the decline. They’re a great alternative if you’re not interested in photography, or want a perfect shot of a famous landmark or one you wouldn’t be able to get (like a bird’s-eye view of the Grand Canyon) I pass on the kitschy, jokey postcards, but if that’s your jam, go for it. I love museums and like to grab a few postcards of favorite paintings – they are much better quality than anything I can photograph (and sans tourists!) and look lovely in a frame in my house.

Souvenirs. Every major (and many not-so-major) tourist destination will have souvenirs for sale. A lot of times these are, shall we say, not terribly sophisticated or subtle. Again, if that’s your jam, go for it – not judging. But if you’re looking for something more authentic, I suggest that you shop for souvenirs at the local grocery store. Candy bars (both fancy and regular), coffee, tea and mustard made in the country you’re visiting are excellent choices and easy to fit into a carry on (if you don’t go overboard which I tend to do!). If you have checked baggage, you can take home local wines and olive oils; I’ve even heard of people bringing French butter home in their suitcase!

The ultimate goal, of course, is to have something that reminds you of a trip – the different atmosphere, the culture, the inspirational things you saw, the happy memories.

Now it’s your turn – what do you bring home from your travels?