Douwlina: A Rhino’s Story
For those who have ever wondered what Animal Planet would look like as a children’s book, may we present Douwlina: A Rhino’s Story. The book tells the true story of Douwlina, a South African white rhinoceros who was orphaned when poachers killed her mother—seeking her horn for its supposedly medicinal qualities—and eventually taken in by a farm family. There, after considerable struggle, her foster family succeeds in readjusting her to life as a rhinoceros, making her comfortable with other rhinos and finding creative ways to teach her habits that she never learned before being rescued from the wild.
Douwlina is a grown-up sort of children’s book. More sophisticated than your average light-hearted animal adventure, the book mixes its anthropomorphic adorableness with a serious message about wildlife protection. Illustrations are minimal, with the most visual focus going to photographs of Douwlina herself, her human caretakers, and other examples of threatened African wildlife. The book hopes to both make children aware of the plight of wild animals and inspire them to do something about it. It accomplishes this task through an inspiring story with an irresistibly charming protagonist—after all, who wouldn’t fall for a rhino who jogs down the street after her human “mother” and presents herself happily to strangers to be scratched on the back? Though Douwlina makes no attempt to downplay the gravity of the problems facing wildlife, the book remains optimistic. After hearing a story like Douwlina’s, it’s hard not to be.
Juan Seguin: Tejano Leader
The latest installment in Bright Sky’s Texas Heroes for Young Readers series, Juan Seguin: Tejano Leader tells the story of the Texas Revolution from a novel perspective. Instead of a recent Anglo immigrant to Texas from the United States—the typical narrator of such stories—Seguin was a Tejano, with more cultural ties to Mexico than America. Yet during the Revolution, he sided with the Anglos in their biracial fight for independence. The book goes on to detail Seguin’s struggles after the Revolution, as conflict between more Anglo settlers and Tejanos complicated life in Texas and forced Seguin to make difficult decisions for himself and his family.
Juan Seguin is a perfect choice for a narration of the Texas Revolution and the events surrounding it, if only because he was present for so much of it: his story takes readers from the Alamo to San Jacinto and beyond, presenting a wide swath of Texas history in engaging, easy-to-read language that nevertheless conveys a great deal of historical information. Everyone from fifth-graders to their parents can learn something from this book and the others like it. Seguin’s story also has a great deal to teach modern readers about family, loyalty, and living in a multicultural society—themes that shine through the historical setting and make Juan Seguin as much about the present as about the past.
Street Food of Mexico
Many Houstonians know the story of Hugo Ortega, the former dishwasher turned award-winning chef who owns Backstreet Café and Hugo’s with his wife Tracy Vaught. Now, along with his brother Ruben, Ortega introduces American readers to the food of his homeland as encountered on its streets. As he explains, Mexican street food is highly reflective of both Mexican history and culture, with virtually all of the food prepared using traditional methods before being sold and eaten on the go; hardly “fast food” as Americans imagine it. With recipes remembered from his childhood, as well as many gathered from his extensive travels throughout Mexico, Ortega presents a personal view of a country through its food.
There’s no question that Street Foods of Mexico is the real deal when it comes to Mexican food: the five-page glossary in the back decoding the Spanish and Mexican terms sprinkled throughout the recipes is proof enough of that. Ortega’s voice also shines through the recipes, sharing stories, facts and memories of the dishes. There’s also the wealth of pictures—many of them taken in Mexico on the very streets from which the recipes come—that bring to life the scenes that Ortega describes. What better way to learn how to cook Mexican street food than to see Mexican street food, being prepared and eaten the way it’s meant to be done? With Ortega’s guidance, American cooks can discover that there’s so much more to Mexican food than what they find at their local Tex-Mex restaurant. It’s rich, it’s varied, and, best of all, it’s now at their fingertips.
Texas Sayings & Folklore
Not many people can say they published a book at age one hundred. Mavis Parrott Kelsey, Sr., a founder of the Kelsey-Sebold Clinic in Houston, can. And how fitting that a man born in 1912, who has witnessed nearly all of the dizzying changes of the twentieth century, should write about something truly timeless: words. Texas Sayings & Folklore is a compilation of thousands of sayings and phrases that have made their way into modern English and, more specifically, into the language of millions of Texans. Kelsey presents a linguistic journey through Texas’ past, bringing history to life through the many colorful turns of phrase that came about, died out, or stayed consistently popular during his lifetime.
But it would be wrong to think of Texas Sayings & Folklore as simply a clump of old phrases divided along mundane lines into categories like “Food & Drink” and “The Weather”. In many chapters, Kelsey chooses not to list expressions and phrases in long tables after a brief introduction, instead presenting the chapter as a narrative that incorporates the sayings into stories and recollections of his younger years. And the chapters themselves are often hilarious in their own right, with “Texas Brags” coming right before “Sayings of the Ancients & Greats”. Instead of a dry and dusty tome, Kelsey has written a fresh and funny examination of the words that liven up everyday speech and make Texas a unique place to live and speak.
Ah, the Hill Country. A peaceful and idyllic escape from the city right in the center of the state. Home to rolling farmland and small, charming tourist stops. And—in the town of Fredericksburg, at least—some truly excellent condiments. That’s because Fredericksburg is home to Fischer & Wieser, a specialty food store famous for its deliciously inventive sauces, toppings, and marinades. In Fredericksburg Flavors, Fischer and Wieser use the products from their store to put their own spin on Hill Country food and add a new level of flavor to Texas cooking.
And add they do. Fischer and Wieser’s dishes have no pretentions: many of the recipes in Fredericksburg Flavors are favorites from the town itself, like a chicken salad recipe from the diner at Fredericksburg Airport, or variations on typical Hill Country staples—chicken, beef, quail, and of course Tex-Mex—dressed up with flavors provided as often as not by Fischer & Wieser’s own sauces. For those who can get their hands on Fischer & Wieser products, or who feel adventurous enough to try their own substitutes, the book is classic Texas food with a twist, from pomegranate-and-mango-chipotle ribs to a cilantro-and-pesto tomato dish. With only a few tweaks on everyday cooking, Fredericksburg Flavors provides a creative new approach to Texas, the Hill Country, and food.
A cookbook? Please. Try a cookbook-slash-entertaining-guide-slash-home-decorating-manual and you’ll have a sense of what Celebrating Home: A Handbook for Gracious Living brings to the table. Christy Rost has learned a thing or two about food and homes from her experiences as a television chef and host, and her expertise infuses every part of Celebrating Home, whether she’s giving tips on dinner party table settings or recalling the saga of furnishing her home’s master bedroom. The recipes are just as varied, ranging from comfort food to impress-your-friends party fare and including everything in between, making Celebrating Home a perfect one-stop source for all things home-related.
With such a wide subject matter, Celebrating Home has something useful to interest any reader. Its elegant yet uncomplicated recipes and helpful decorating hints are perfect for people just moving into their first house, while experienced party-throwers can find some new inspiration for their next meal or event. Rost’s writing is also personal and conversational, reflecting the atmosphere of warmth and familiarity that she strives to create in her home and the homes of her readers. It’s this commitment to comfort and casual gentility that shines through every part of Celebrating Home, the recipes and stories and advice. Here is a book that is truly more than the sum of its parts.
In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Houston’s Major League Baseball team, Houston Astros: Deep in the Heart takes a look at the history of Houston baseball. The book chronicles the ups and downs of the many incarnations of the city’s team, from the first mention of a Houston Base Ball Club in 1861, on through the years of the Buffaloes and the Colt .45s, to the 2011 purchase of the Astros by the Crane Group and the subsequent changes put in place by the team’s new owners. Along the way, sidebars give detailed information about memorable players, games and events. There’s also a detailed game-by-game retelling of the 2004 and 2005 postseasons and the Astros’ only World Series appearance.
“Baseball for all” could the motto of Houston Astros: Deep in the Heart, as it seeks to appeal to casual fans and diehards alike. It’s certainly visually interesting, with a bold blue-and-orange color scheme and plenty of pictures making each page unique. The writing also captures readers’ attention, peppered with anecdotes and quotations from players, managers, and other important figures. Even someone who has never seen an Astros game can be drawn in by the fast pace and conversational style of the book, and longtime fans will certainly find a fascinating new tidbit of baseball history within its pages. After fifty years, the story of the Astros has something to offer everyone – a piece of hometown history that can make any Houstonian proud.
Sophia Rising is not a book about a girl named Sophia who overcomes some great personal obstacle to become a happier and more fulfilled woman. As it turns out, the author of Sophia Rising isn’t even named Sophia. Her name is Monette Chilson. Sophia also isn’t the name of her mother, or sister, or daughter. Sophia is her wisdom. “Sophia”— the Greek word for “wisdom”—is an entity dating back to some of the earliest Christian and Hebrew scriptures. She is seen by some as the female aspect of God; by others, as a philosophical and theological concept representing divine wisdom. Sophia is also the key to Chilson’s approach to spirituality, something she accomplishes through the practice yoga.
For Chilson, yoga is about unlocking the divinity present in every human being—finding the Sophia in everyone. Influenced by her Christian upbringing, Chilson seeks to combine the physical practice of yoga with the spiritual benefits of multiple religions, from her own Christianity to Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism, and Judaism. It’s a tall order for a hundred-and-fifty-page book, but Chilson manages to make her point in a simple yet sophisticated and effective way. Even for those with no interest in actually breaking out a yoga mat, Sophia Rising is a fascinating look at religion and spirituality from a pluralistic perspective. Chilson is the kind of author who can write sentences like “Jesus was a very deep guy” on one page before explaining the finer nuances of half a dozen Greek, Hebrew, and Sanskrit terms on the next. For yoga veterans, Sophia Rising is a fresh look on an old habit; for others, it may just spark a journey to discover their own Sophia.
Another parenting book? More pseudo-science to wade through, more statistics to squint at in disbelief? Think again. Lives Wires: Neuro-Parenting to Ignite your Teen’s Brain is not that kind of book. The product of decades of educational experience and years of scientific research, Live Wires is less of a parenting manual and more of a crash course in adolescent neuroscience with a practical bent. It’s a book that knows what it’s talking about and wants to teach you everything it knows.
There are a number of things that make Live Wires so much more than your typical parenting book. Instead of obliquely mentioning science whenever a point needs to be backed up by a bland “studies show,” the book spends a solid four chapters delving into the inner workings of the teen brain and uses that material to solidly back up the parenting advice found in later sections. Live Wires also represents a refreshing departure from the typical teens-are-alien-mindless-sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll-zombies approach that pervades so much of conventional parenting wisdom. Given the right tools to work with, teens are smart, savvy, and incredibly capable, as the book demonstrates with numerous clear and eloquent essays by teens themselves, detailing memories of important academic and extracurricular experiences. Where other books on parenting miss the mark by being patronizing, alarmist, or just bizarre, Live Wires succeeds. It’s smart, informative, and reasonable, a welcome break from the frenetic despair too often found in its peers.