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13 March Reads You Might Have Missed

March at LBYR has been a busy month with releases galore! From sweet bedtime board books to heart-wrenching YA with adult crossover, these new titles include something for every reader.

Ten Tiny Toes by Todd Tarpley, illustrated by Marc Brown

Now in board book, this modern classic illustrated by Marc Brown celebrates the joy of a new baby entering the world. An ideal baby shower gift, featuring diverse illustrations and a heartwarming message about growing up.

The Brother Book and The Sister Book by Todd Parr

Bestselling and beloved author Todd Parr has returned with not one but two books about brothers and sisters of all kinds! These are stories showcasing the uniqueness of families, perfect for soon-to-be big siblings.

Sheep 101 by Richard Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

A clever, charming picture book tailor-made for bedtime reading! What happens when a boy is counting sheep, and sheep 101 gets stuck jumping over the fence? He’ll need help from some familiar nursery characters, each one funnier than the last.

The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, and Caprice Crane, illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld

Meet Esther! Maybe you’ve already heard of the not-so-miniature pig adopted by two dads who got a lot more than they bargained for—Esther the Wonder Pig was a bestselling adult memoir. Now her story is in picture book form, perfect for young readers.

 

The Super Awful Superheroes of Classroom 13 by Honest Lee and Matthew J. Gilbert

The wacky kids of Classroom 13 are back! This installment of the chapter book series sees the students struck by lightning, granting them superpowers. But with great gifts comes great chaos… and a lot laugh-out-loud fun.

 

President of the Whole Sixth Grade: Girl Code by Sherri Winston

Book three in the Presidents series features African American middle schooler Brianna going outside her comfort zone to interview students from a girls’ coding program at an inner-city academy. Will she learn to ignore stereotypes and embrace the world around her?

 

Survival Tails: The Titanic by Katrina Charman

Don’t miss this series starter about animals in peril during important historical events, perfect for fans of the I Survived series! Survival Tails blends historical facts and exciting animal adventures into a winning combination.

 

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Roz the robot has returned at last! The sequel to Peter Brown’s bestselling The Wild Robot is already a bestseller as well. Roz has learned to survive and thrive on a remote island with her animal friends and adoptive goose son, Brightbill, but what will happen when she’s returned to the civilized world? Can she find her way home again despite the technology and humans standing in the way?

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

This is a powerful and tender middle grade novel about bravery and identity, featuring LGBTQ characters historically absent in books for younger readers. Ivy’s hopes and fears as she grapples with her feelings for another girl and her growing family are a welcome addition to the list of coming-of-age stories.

 

The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection edited by Colby Sharp

This collaborative triumph edited by teacher and book advocate Colby Sharp is bursting with ingenuity. Featuring prompts and writing by Kate DiCamillo, R.J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park, Javaka Steptoe, and other renowned authors and illustrators, this book will leave readers itching to create stories of their own.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

John Green called this YA debut “brilliantly crafted, harrowing… heart-wrenching”. What further endorsement is needed? A lyrical, story of grief and forgiveness The Astonishing Color of After deals with the aftermath of Leigh’s mother’s suicide and her journey towards understanding her family history.

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

The Hate U Give meets All American Boys in this timely YA debut about race relations in America, justice, and freedom. A can’t-miss story of Marvin, a black teenager whose twin brother Tyler goes missing at a party during a raid, and the aftermath of the police brutality that ensues.

Top 10 Photo Ops on the Oregon Coast

The Oregon coast is so photogenic that both professional and amateur photographers vie for the best shots, which, given coastal conditions, can be challenging. Greg Vaughn, professional landscape photographer and author of the helpful guide Photographing Oregon, notes that during the long light-drenched summer days, photographers must get up really early and stay out late to capture the “golden hours.” He also notes that cloudy or foggy days are ideal for photographing the forests and waterfalls in the Coast Range mountains, and winter storms make for the most dramatic seascapes.

Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. Photo © Strekoza2/Dreamstime.

While there are stunning vistas around nearly every corner along the Oregon coast, here are some don’t-miss photo opportunities.

Sunset: Astoria-Megler Bridge

This soaring, four-plus-mile bridge across the vast Columbia River is photographic eye candy. Alameda Avenue, carved into Astoria’s steep hillsides, is an excellent perch for snapping photos of the bridge, oceangoing vessels, and the distant hills of Washington State.

Sunrise: Ecola State Park and Haystack Rock

Cannon Beach offers postcard-perfect views of sea stacks and craggy offshore islands. Haystack Rock serves as a looming backdrop to nearly every beach photo taken here, while the scattered rocks of Ecola State Park are more like chess pieces tossed out to sea—perfect as a foreground for sunrise photos.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach.
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. Photo © Tusharkoley/Dreamstime.

Midday: Oswald West State Park

It’s not always easy to get up close and personal with giant trees in coastal old-growth forests, but at Oswald West, it’s as easy as a stroll to Short Sands Beach: The trail winds through a grove of centuries-old Sitka spruce whose massive size will clog your viewfinder.

Late Afternoon: Kites at Lincoln City

Nothing says fun at the beach like colorful kites diving and dancing in the air, and the long breezy expanses of sand at Lincoln City make it a center for kite-flying. Even when there’s not a kite festival on, this is one kite-loving town. Climb the steep bluffs behind the beach for a rare bird’s-eye view of kiting activity.

A giant kite on Lincoln City's beach.
A giant kite on Lincoln City’s beach. Photo © Mogecker/Dreamstime.

Sunset: Yaquina Bay Bridge

Of the many handsome bridges designed by 1930s bridge-design master Conde McCullough, this high-flying structure, which spans Newport’s harbor, is the most striking. With the busy boat basin in the foreground, it’s one of the top photo subjects in the state, particularly from viewpoints east along Bay Avenue.

Morning: Cape Perpetua

Drive up to the top of the cape and take the short Whispering Spruce Trail to a fabulous overlook. Then head back down to the beach, and during low tide, explore this area’s tidepools during low tide.

The view from atop Cape Perpetua.
The view from atop Cape Perpetua. Photo © W.C. McRae.

Sunset: Heceta Head Lighthouse

Rumored to be the most photographed vista in Oregon, this stark white lighthouse wedged into the flanks of a 1,000-foot rocky outcrop is impossible to miss. You’ll run through millions of megapixels trying to capture the crashing waves, deep forests, and offshore crags from a cannily placed highway turnout just west of the Cape Creek Bridge.

Morning Low Tide: Tide Pools at Cape Arago State Park

Rocky tide pools filled with neon-hued starfish, spiky sea urchins, and shell-appropriating hermit crabs make fascinating photo subjects: Some of the best tide-pooling along the coast is at this state park. From the parking area, the north beach trail also offers views of seals and sea lions basking on offshore rock ledges, although this trail is closed in summer when these sea mammals are rearing their young (the south beach trail remains open year-round).

Cape Arago State Park.
Cape Arago State Park. Photo © Judy Jewell.

Mid-Morning: Bandon

Bandon’s beautiful beach is studded with rocky fingers and promontories, but the most arresting vista is of Face Rock, a basalt monolith pounded by waves that from certain angles takes on a human profile. Native American legend claims it’s the visage of a young maiden frozen into rock. It’s a postcard-ready image that bespeaks the beauty and mystery of the Oregon coast.

Sunset: Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

It’s often referred to as the most scenic 12 miles along the Oregon coast, but photographers don’t find it easy to capture the drama of this stunning seascape: It’s hard to encapsulate the vastness of the scene. Of the 11 named stops along this stretch of U.S. 101, Whaleshead Island is perhaps the most photogenic viewpoint, with tripod-ready vistas of a tiny beach flanked by rocky crags and wave-pounded islands.


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The Oregon coast is so photogenic that both professional and amateur photographers vie for the best shots, which, given coastal conditions, can be challenging. While there are stunning vistas around nearly every corner, here are 10 can’t-miss photo opportunities and tips for making the most of cloudy or foggy days.

Natasha Tarpley revisits her classic I Love My Hair!

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness. . .”

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois

 

Natasha Tarpley photoThis year marks the 20th Anniversary of the publication of my first picture book, I Love My Hair! As I celebrate this significant milestone, the quote above becomes even more poignant in my reflections on my career thus far, and where I go from here.

 

Long before I had ever heard of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, I knew what it was like to feel myself split into two. I was born and raised in a quiet neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where traces of the South, reflecting a history of African American migration from the South to Northern cities like Chicago, still flowed through everything from the cooking smells wafting through open windows, to the lilt in the voices of family and neighbors greeting one another from across the street or driveway, calling after children in the purple-indigo dusk, or trash-talkin’ around a table deep into the night. It was here that I discovered that, even within a two-block radius—from the mailbox on one corner to Scott-the-cute-boy’s house on the other, like two covers of a book, there were countless adventures to be had and discoveries to be made. And there were characters galore.

 

It was in my neighborhood, and within the walls of my family’s home, that I also discovered a portal to my own imagination. The books that filled our house, and which my parents read to us at bedtime, the stories that I watched my mother craft on her magical black electric typewriter about me and my three siblings, helped me, a shy, bookish kid, and later a rebellious tween and teenager, stomping around in combat boots and ripped clothing, to find and express my own voice and creativity as a budding writer. In the worlds that I created for myself on the page, I could be anything—from the popular girl at school, to the lead singer of a famous punk band, who also happened to be British. I could invent fantastic characters. My favorites were an egg, who was a private detective and solved crimes in a town located inside a refrigerator, and a kid genie who lived in a Coke can.

 

I Love My HairBut as I ventured beyond the boundaries of my neighborhood and home, beyond the pages of my notebook, I realized that the world saw me, as an African American girl, very differently from how I saw myself. The world said, “You’re not black enough”, but then also said, “because you’re black, you don’t belong”. Even in my beloved books, or in the movies and television shows that I watched, I rarely saw myself reflected. I began to feel that sense of “two-ness” that DuBois wrote about, a gap between the way others saw me, and the complex, multi-layered vision and understanding of who I knew myself to be. When I started writing for children professionally, my mission was to tell stories for those kids, especially African American kids, who might have also felt that their voices and experiences were overlooked.

 

When I wrote I Love My Hair!  back in the late ‘90s, I wanted to create a whimsical, joyful story to contrast with the often serious, message-laden books that featured black children. I believed then, as I do now, that we are facing a similar publishing landscape that skews towards serious issue stories for black kids. In the spectrum of children’s literature, for example, Caucasian protagonists generally get to experience endless story possibilities. African Americans kids deserve this same opportunity. We are not monolithic. We have diverse life experiences, and feel the full range of human emotions and desire. By focusing on narrow facets of African American life (in literature, in music, movies, and the news), we unjustly constrict the imaginations of African American children, and run the risk of creating a codified and false narrative of the black experience, which our children are forced to consume and encouraged to adopt as their own. For those young people who reject this narrative, it can feel as if they are rejecting blackness itself.

 

Though there is still work to do, I am very encouraged and hopeful that the ever-broadening and deepening discussions and strategies around diversity, will lead to the production and introduction of new and exciting books, stories, and voices.

 

They say that from the pages of a book, many stories blossom. Now, I actually don’t know if the mystical they really do say or have said this at all—I kinda just made it up  (I’m a writer, it’s what we do!). Still, I know it to be true just the same. As I mark this 20th Anniversary of I Love My Hair!, I feel so fortunate and a tremendous sense of honor to have been a part of the family stories, personal journeys, and hair styling nightmares and successes that readers have shared with me over the past two decades. It is to them, the countless children, parents, teachers, librarians, and so many others who love and care for our children, who have passed this book from child to child, hand to hand, classroom to classroom, shelf to shelf, that I Love My Hair! owes its long and happy life. I remain forever indebted to you, dear readers, for supporting me as an author, and for giving my work wings. I hope that many more stories will blossom from the pages of I Love My Hair! for many more years to come.

5 Itineraries to the Best Places in South Carolina

Honeymooning? Traveling with kids? Craving the beach? Whatever you’re after, these 5 itineraries cover the best places in South Carolina to visit.

Lowcountry Romance

Spanish moss, balmy beaches, good food—the Palmetto State is a great place for a romantic getaway. This trip centers on Charleston and the Lowcountry.

sunset casting purple and orange huges over Beaufort South Carolina
Enjoy a romantic walk through Beaufort. Photo © John Wollwerth/Dreamstime.

Day 1

Spend your first morning walking or biking around peaceful downtown Beaufort. In the afternoon, take a short drive to Hunting Island State Park and walk on the windswept beach. Then enjoy a tasty dinner at Saltus River Grill on the scenic waterfront. Spend the night at one of Beaufort’s many classic B&Bs, such as the Beaufort Inn or the Rhett House Inn.

Day 2

Drive to Old Town Bluffton, walk down to the beautiful May River, and browse the many local art galleries around Calhoun Street. Visit the relaxing Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge before going into Hilton Head proper. Walk on the beach and enjoy live music and a great meal at The Jazz Corner. Head up to Charleston and check into a romantic room at The Vendue or the Andrew Pinckney Inn.

Day 3

Start your day in Charleston in its bustling heart, Marion Square. Maybe do a little shopping on King Street and at Old City Market afterward. Take a sunset stroll around the Battery and admire Rainbow Row before diving right into a great meal at one of the city’s fine restaurants—maybe the Peninsula Grill.

Day 4

Today you put your historian’s hat on and visit one of Charleston’s great house museums, such as the Aiken-Rhett House or the Edmondston-Alston House. Have a hearty Southern-style lunch, then take an afternoon trip to Fort Sumter. After another fantastic Charleston dinner at Husk, take a stroll or carriage ride through the French Quarter to close the evening.

Day 5

Have a cozy brunch at Poogan’s Porch downtown. Then make the 20-minute drive over the Ashley River to gorgeous Middleton Place, where you’ll tour the gardens. Then stop at adjacent Drayton Hall and see one of the oldest and best-preserved plantation homes in the nation. Return to downtown Charleston for a late afternoon carriage ride through the French Quarter before dining at romantic McCrady’s.


Family Fun on the Grand Strand

This long weekend gives you a taste of life in Myrtle Beach and the rest of the Grand Strand. The area is small enough to stay in one place for both nights, but so popular that travel along the 60-mile-long Strand can be slow. Be sure to leave enough time to get from place to place.

cloudy sky over a clear pool of water at Huntington Beach State Park
Salt marsh at Huntington Beach State Park. Photo © James Kirkikis/Dreamstime.

Day 1

Begin the day at historic Hampton Plantation before taking a guided kayak tour around Winyah Bay or Hobcaw Barony. Have an early dinner on the waterfront in nearby Georgetown, then drive up to Myrtle Beach for the night. If you want to stay away from the resorts, camp at Huntington Beach State Park.

Day 2

In the morning explore Brookgreen Gardens, one of the most unique sights in the Grand Strand. Spend the afternoon in Myrtle Beach: Shop at Broadway at the Beach. After dinner go for a fun, cheesy round of miniature golf under the stars. Or perhaps take in a show at the Carolina Opry, or learn to dance the shag at old Ocean Drive Beach.

Day 3

Spend the morning on the beach. After lunch visit one of the Ripley’s attractions or take in a concert at the House of Blues in Barefoot Landing.


Southern Living in the Midlands

Sandwiched between the coast and the mountains, the Midlands are easily overlooked, but not for lack of attractions. This central section of the state is large and spread out. To fully experience the breadth of the area, bunk one night in Columbia and the next in Camden.

statue in front of the South Carolina state house
The South Carolina State House. Photo © Americanspirit/Dreamstime.

Day 1

Devote a full day to touring South Carolina’s capital, Columbia. Downtown sights include the South Carolina State Museum, the South Carolina State House, and the University of South Carolina. In addition, don’t miss the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. Have dinner in the trendy Vista area and finish with a nightcap in boisterous Five Points. Spend the night at the venerable Inn at USC.

Day 2

Get up bright and early and drive out of town to Congaree National Park to walk along its primordial cypress swamp and old-growth forest. If you have time, go down to Orangeburg to see the Edisto Memorial Gardens. Head east and end the day in Camden. Explore the picturesque historic district with its many antiques shops.

Day 3

Drive up U.S. 1 to Cheraw to see its charming historic district and visit the nearby Dizzy Gillespie home site and park. Scoot over to Darlington and check out Darlington Raceway, the grandfather of all stock car tracks. Spend the rest of the afternoon near Florence at Woods Bay State Natural Area, enjoying the well-preserved Carolina Bay.


High Times in Horse Country

You don’t have to own a horse to enjoy a weekend in Aiken. If you’re here in spring, you can aim to see a polo match on Sunday.

lush flora surrounding Carolina Bay in Aiken South Carolina
Carolina Bay Nature Preserve is Aiken’s most underrated attraction. Photo © Jim Morekis.

Day 1

Explore Aiken’s historic Winter Colony district and racetracks. After lunch, check out the Carolina Bay Nature Preserve. Stay in Aiken at the classy Willcox or the old Hotel Aiken.

Day 2

Get up bright and early to explore Aiken’s Hitchcock Woods on a long, relaxing hike. If you’re here in the fall and it’s a Saturday, you might even catch a fox hunt. Or, if you’re here in the spring and it’s a Sunday, grab lunch after your hike and aim to catch a polo match at Whitney Field.


In the Shadow of the Blue Ridge

This weekend trip highlights the best of the Upstate, from the beautiful natural setting to city life and early American history. Spend one night in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains and another in cosmopolitan Greenville.

people playing in the water at Falls Park on the Reedy River
Falls Park on the Reedy in Greeneville. Photo © Jim Morekis.

Day 1

Begin at the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson before heading over to little Pendleton and enjoying lunch on the Village Green. Head up to Walhalla in the afternoon and check out the unique Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls. Stay in a B&B or camp at Oconee State Park.

Day 2

Spend the day in Greenville: enjoy Falls Park on the Reedy; do some shopping on restored Main Street; and maybe check out artworks by the great masters at the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery. In the evening, take in a minor-league baseball game at Fluor Field. Splurge for the night at the classy Westin Poinsett downtown.

Day 3

Drive to Cowpens National Battlefield outside Spartanburg to learn about this pivotal Revolutionary War battle. After a classic greasy-spoon lunch at Spartanburg’s Beacon Drive-In, head over to York County to check out Historic Brattonsville and its excellently restored upcountry homestead site, complete with living-history demonstrations.


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Honeymooning? Traveling with kids? Craving the beach? Whatever you're after, these 5 itineraries cover the best places in South Carolina to visit.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming coverThe instant New York Times bestseller featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon! B. J. Novak (bestselling author of The Book With No Pictures) described this groundbreaking poetry collection as “Smart and sweet, wild and wicked, brilliantly funny–it’s everything a book for kids should be.”

Meet Chris Harris, the 21st-century Shel Silverstein! Already lauded by critics as a worthy heir to such greats as Silverstein, Seuss, Nash and Lear, Harris’s hilarious debut molds wit and wordplay, nonsense and oxymoron, and visual and verbal sleight-of-hand in masterful ways that make you look at the world in a whole new wonderfully upside-down way. With enthusiastic endorsements from bestselling luminaries such as Lemony Snicket, Judith Viorst, Andrea Beaty, and many others, this entirely unique collection offers a surprise around every corner: from the ongoing rivalry between the author and illustrator, to the mysteriously misnumbered pages that can only be deciphered by a certain code-cracking poem, to the rhyming fact-checker in the footnotes who points out when “poetic license” gets out of hand. Adding to the fun: Lane Smith, bestselling creator of beloved hits like It’s a Book and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, has spectacularly illustrated this extraordinary collection with nearly one hundred pieces of appropriately absurd art. It’s a mischievous match made in heaven!

“Ridiculous, nonsensical, peculiar, outrageous, possibly deranged–and utterly, totally, absolutely delicious. Read it! Immediately!” –Judith Viorst, bestselling author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

 

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Big Thicket Recreation: Hiking, Birding, and More

The Big Thicket National Preserve’s name is somewhat misleading. Sure, there are areas of dense forest seemingly impenetrable by man or beast. But for the most part, this National Park Service property is merely woodsy, with pines, oaks, and swamplands dominating the landscape. It’s what occupies this flora that makes the Big Thicket a national treasure. Outdoor recreation activities include hiking, biking, paddling, and wildlife viewing.

Species from the Gulf Coast, Central Plains, and Southeastern forests coexist with critters from the deserts, bayous, woods, and swamps. Birds from all regions of the country that should never be sharing air space pass through the area on migratory routes. There are 85 tree species, nearly 186 kinds of birds, and 50 reptile species, including a small, rarely seen population of alligators. In short, the tremendous variety of habitats coupled with the thicket’s geographic location results in a unique destination for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.

a thicket of trees in Texas
Big Thicket is woodsy, with pines, oaks, and swamplands dominating the landscape. Photo © mccluremr/iStock.

Sights in Big Thicket

A good place to start is the Big Thicket visitors center (6102 FM 420, 409/951-6725, daily 9am-5pm), seven miles north of Kountze at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and FM 420. The center provides brochures and maps, and includes a discovery room with interactive and educational exhibits related to the history and scope of the Big Thicket. Speaking of scope: It can take awhile to get a full grasp of the Big Thicket’s layout, since it consists of nine separate “land units” (basically separate park areas) over an expanse of East Texas. To get your bearings, be sure to view the visitors center’s 30-minute orientation film and talk to an NPS nature guide about taking a short excursion to several of the ecosystems found in the preserve.

Lake Tombigbee

Lake Tombigbee is in one of only three Indian reservations in Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta reservation (936/563-1100). In previous decades, the tribe was much more active with its tourist activities, offering a museum, guided hikes, and cultural events. Although these resources are no longer available, visitors are encouraged to spend time at the reservation’s Lake Tombigbee Campground (936/563-1221 or 800/926-9038).

Lake Tombigbee offers cabins, tent sites, primitive camping sites, full-capacity RV stations, restrooms with bathhouses, swimming areas, and hiking and nature trails. Fishing is also popular on the lake, though visitors are encouraged to bring their own equipment since rental operations are scarce in the area.

Recreation in Big Thicket

Hiking

Those planning to stick around the Big Thicket for a while can take advantage of many recreational opportunities, including hiking, with eight trails offering more than 45 miles of mild terrain through the muggy forest. The ideal time to plan a hike in Big Thicket is in the late fall/early winter or spring, since the summer is brutally hot. The trails truly offer something for everyone, ranging from wheelchair-accessible half-mile loops to an 18-mile cross-forest trek. Of the eight trails, the following offer the best slices of Big Thicket life:

  • Beaver Slide Trail: In the southeast corner of the preserve’s Big Sandy Creek Unit, this 1.5-mile trail encircles several ponds formed by old beaver dams. The towering shaggy-barked cypress trees are another main attraction.
  • Kirby Nature Trail System: This group of trails offers a lot of flexibility with distance and environments. A printed guide at the trailhead is a handy item to have in your back pocket, providing basic maps and information about the ecosystems and trails, ranging from a half-mile loop through a cypress slough to a 2.4-mile hike traversing the southern edge of the Turkey Creek Unit.
  • Pitcher Plant Trail: For a distinctive trek through diverse ecosystems, take this one-mile trail through a mixed pine forest to a wetland savanna to a mixed hardwood-pine forest. Be sure to keep an eye out for the sundews and pitcher plants as you stroll along the wooden boardwalk.
  • Turkey Creek Trail: To get a comprehensive feel for the preserve’s Turkey Creek Unit and its namesake creek, consider hiking this lengthy trail (15 miles long). Environmental highlights include baygalls, floodplains, sandhill pine uplands, and mixed forests.
trees in swamp in Big Thicket National Preserve
Hike through the diverse ecosystem of Big Thicket. Photo by Larry Rana, USDA.

Biking

Due to the Big Thicket’s remote location, cyclists should bring their own bikes to the preserve (instead of hoping for a nearby rental location). It’s well worth making the effort, however, since a bike will allow you to experience even more of the park’s incredible amount of biodiversity than a mere biped on a hike.

The biggest complaint most cyclists have about the park is its limited access. Bikes are only allowed on the Big Sandy Creek Horse/Bike Trail in the southern portion of the Big Sandy Creek Unit. Fortunately, it’s the Big Thicket’s longest trail, offering 18 miles of beautiful natural scenery. Highlights include a diverse hardwood forest of sweetgum, basket oak, and hornbeam; dense and fragrant upland pine forests; and a mixed area with loblolly pines and beech-magnolia trees. Be sure to check ahead about trail access (it’s occasionally closed during hunting season), and keep an eye and ear out for horses.

Bird-Watching

One of the most popular activities at Big Thicket is bird-watching, and several popular trails, including the Big Thicket Loop and Sundew Trail, offer ideal opportunities for serious and amateur birders, with nearly 185 species in the park either year-round or along one of the two major migratory flyways. Bird migrations peak between March and May, and some of the most sought-after species in the park include the red cockaded woodpecker and the Bachman’s sparrow. In the spring, bird and wildflower enthusiasts flock to the Sundew Trail in the park’s Hickory Creek Savannah Unit to catch sight of a rare brown-headed nuthatch or an eye-catching pitcher plant.

Paddling

The Big Thicket has traditionally been known for its hiking and fishing, but it’s gaining a reputation for its quality paddling opportunities. Canoeists and kayakers are especially fond of the Village Creek area, where they can spend an afternoon or entire day exploring the lush waterway and camping opportunities. Another popular area is the Lower Neches River Corridor, a larger body of water with East Texas-style bayous and swamps leading all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico. Equipment rentals and shuttles are also available—check with the visitors center for a list of currently operating companies.

Backcountry Camping

The Big Thicket is more of a hard-core campers’ destination than a traditional park. There are no developed sites with water and electricity; rather, campers are required to procure a permit for a primitive site. For some, this is an ideal situation, since it offers a true natural getaway without the distractions of a classic campground.

Campers must have a valid Backcountry Use Permit, available for free at the visitors center or headquarters office. Naturalist activities are available with reservations, or on selected weekends. Call 409/951-6725 or visit www.nps.gov/bith to learn about the park and its activities or to find out more about making reservations.

Information and Services

The best place to find out everything you need to know about the Big Thicket (trail maps, boating conditions, nearby restaurants, etc.) is the visitors center (409/951-6725, daily 9am-5pm). It’s seven miles north of Kountze at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and FM 420.

For those interested in visiting the Alabama-Coushatta reservation for fishing or camping, call 936/563-1221 or 800/926-9038. For information about the tribe, call 936/563-1100 or visit www.alabama-coushatta.com.


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Big Thicket National Preserve, located in eastern Texas, is indeed woodsy, with pines, oaks, and swamplands dominating the landscape. Outdoor recreation activities include hiking, biking, paddling, wildlife viewing, and camping.

HBG Big News This Week: March 26-30, 2018

Following is a recap of major news at Hachette Book Group for the week of March 26-30, 2018:

Bestsellers: HBG has 19 titles on the New York Times Bestseller list dated April 1, including two #1s—Russian Roulette by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (Twelve) holds onto the top slot on the Print Hardcover Nonfiction list. James Patterson’s All American-Murder (Little, Brown) remains at #1 on the Sports & Fitness (Monthly) list. HBG’s distribution clients have two titles on the list this week. HBG also has 12 titles on the USA Today bestseller list, see the full list here.

NYTBR cover: The New York Times Book Review runs a stunning cover review of Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels, written by Viet Thanh Nguyen, calling it “Epic . . . Rambunctious . . . Highly entertaining . . . Sorrowful and funny . . . Cheerfully profane.”

Indies Choice Awards: Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (GCP) has been nominated by the American Booksellers Association for the 2018 Indies Choice Book Awards in the “Book of the Year Adult Fiction” category. For more info, read the ABA announcement here. The winners will be announced in Bookselling This Week on May 9.

Trailer to watch: This week, USA Today exclusively announced the 16-city book tour and shared the trailer for President Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s The President Is Missing, coming from Little, Brown & Knopf on June 4. They’ll kick it all off with a joint appearance at BookCon on Sunday, June 3.

Cover reveal: People.com revealed the cover for the highly anticipated memoir from Sally Field, In Pieces, coming from GCP on September 18—read the full story here.

J. Anthony Lukas Prize: The winners of the 2018 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards, honoring the best in American nonfiction writing, were announced this week. Chris Hamby’s Soul Full of Coal Dust: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice(Little, Brown) won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award and a $25,000 prize. The book is scheduled for January 2019 publication.

The Great American Read: Excitement continues for PBS’s forthcoming show The Great American Read—an eight-part television and online series designed to spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have inspired, moved, and shaped us—as well as Black Dog & Leventhal’s companion book, The Great American Read: The Book of Books. It was announced this week that Meredith Vieira will host the eight-part series, which will debut on every PBS station with a two-hour special event on Tuesday, May 22 at 8 PM.

Acquisition news: People magazine announced the forthcoming publication of Hachette Books’ Sell It Like Serhant by Bravo star Ryan Serhant. The announcement was picked up and shared widely and catapulted the book to #1 on Amazon’s Movers and Shakers list within one hour of the post.

Overlooked Natural Wonders in Texas

Texas is blessed with two particularly dynamic national parks (Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains) but with a state this large, there are plenty more natural attractions that don’t get the attention they deserve. Once you get outside the hustle and bustle of Texas’s many major cities, there’s an enormous canvas of natural wonders to explore, from forests and canyons to tropics and mountains. The best times to discover these treasures are during Texas’s temperate spring months (March and April) and its fleeting fall (November). Seasoned hikers and campers from Texas or those undaunted by the heat will brave the brutally hot summer months to play outside. Whether you’re planning a week-long trek through the canyons or a day hike through the Big Thicket, be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Winter months can be deceiving, with sun and clear skies one day and ice storms the next.

palo duro canyon fortress cliffs
The Fortress Cliffs of Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Photo © photosbyjim/iStock.

Palo Duro Canyon

For outdoors enthusiasts, it’s well worth the drive (or flight) to the Amarillo area to witness Palo Duro Canyon (11450 Park Rd. 5, 806/488-2227, www.tpwd.state.tx.us, $5 ages 13 and older). The multihued walls, rock towers, and sheer drops appear to be straight out of a Road Runner cartoon, but there’s nothing comical about the natural beauty of this otherworldly landscape. Bikes offer an especially rewarding method of experiencing Palo Duro, the second-largest canyon in the country.

Enchanted Rock

The Hill Country’s Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (18 miles north of Fredericksburg at 16710 Ranch Rd. 965, 830/685-3636, $6 ages 13 and older) is not quite as impressive as Palo Duro, but it has its own charm and an especially large aura of Native American lore associated with it. This enormous pink granite dome has been a natural beacon for more than 11,000 years. Native American tribes believed the rock wove enchanted spells, especially when its iridescent reflections radiated from the sparkling granite on full-moon nights.

rock formations inside a cave in Texas
Escape the summer heat at the Natural Bridge Caverns. Photo © Pugalenthi/iStock.

Natural Bridge Caverns

Natural Bridge Caverns (26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd., 210/651-6101, Oct.-Feb. daily 9am-4pm, summer hours vary, $21-25 adults, $14-15 children ages 3-11) outside San Antonio is one of the premier caverns in the country. A visit to the caverns is a good way to escape the Texas heat in the summer (the caverns’ temperature is a steady 70°F, although the 99 percent humidity feels like Houston). Visitors descend nearly 200 feet belowground via cement walkways to a surreal world of ancient natural formations with expressive names like soda straws, chandeliers, flowstones, and cave ribbon. Two tours are available. The standard North Cavern Tour is a 75-minute half-mile trek past oooh-inducing stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones, and other formations, some with descriptive titles such as the King’s Throne and Sherwood’s Forest. The other option, the Jeremy Room Flashlight Tour, takes place in a 120-foot-deep chamber filled with some of the more delicate formations—particularly the brittle yet mesmerizing soda straws. Each person gets a flashlight to check out the nooks and crannies of this space at their leisure. For those who really want to get up close and personal with the cavern, sign up for one of the Adventure Tours ($100), a physically demanding three-plus-hour excursion allowing visitors to climb, rappel, and explore the cavern. Caving gear is provided.

Big Thicket National Preserve

Covering nearly 100,000 acres, the Big Thicket National Preserve in East Texas features a diverse range of natural features, from pine trees and cactus to swamps and hills. Summertime can be sticky with humidity, but hiking and camping on a cool spring day can be especially rewarding. To visit, start at the Big Thicket visitors center (6102 FM 420, 409/951-6725, daily 9am-5pm), seven miles north of Kountze at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and FM 420.

twisted trees and greenery in Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas
Dinosaur Valley State Park. Photo © fredlyfish4/123rf.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Just outside Dallas lies a prehistoric natural wonder known as Dinosaur Valley State Park (254/897-4588, daily 8am-5pm, $5 ages 13 and older). Rock formations from nearly 113 million years ago have been exposed by water erosion, revealing some of the best-preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. It’s a fun and fascinating place to visit, whether you’re traveling alone or with the family.


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An Illustrator Walks through New York City

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I would best describe myself as an artist with insatiable wanderlust. I visited 30 countries by my 30th birthday, filling up sketchbooks as I bounced from place to place. Most of these trips were done on my own. I found that art has a magical way of bringing people closer together and breaking language barriers (a Parisian once asked me out on a date by doodling the Eiffel Tower), and for me, it’s the best way to bridge my present experiences and my imagination.

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Wanderlust meets art. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

Full disclosure: I lived in New York City in my early 20s and have visited countless times since. Yet the city is still a mystery to me. While I have my regular haunts (yes, after 10 years some are still there!), the true joy of NYC is still exploration.

As a visitor (whether it’s your first time or not), the city can be overwhelming in its options. The Moon New York Walks book thoughtfully breaks down the city into six walks, with enough options for food, coffee breaks, museums, historical sites, shopping, and even more food to fill your day.

I chose Walk 2 through NoLita, SoHo, the West Village, and the High Line for nostalgic reasons. This was a neighborhood I frequented often for food, shopping, and dancing, and I wanted to see how it had changed (and also because I noticed the book suggested stopping at Magnolia’s, which I did visit, of course, because BANANA PUDDING. But I’m getting ahead of myself…).

First stop: breakfast! I skipped ahead to The Butcher’s Daughter (19 Kenmare Street, stop 8) to get settled, eat, and do my first NYC sketch. I had a delicious kale Caesar salad-something light, because I knew I had to save room for dessert later.

kale caesar salad next to pens and a book in New York City
First up: a kale Caesar salad at The Butcher’s Daughter. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

I looped back around and strolled down Elizabeth Street to explore the various shops. It was around the holidays so there were several pop-up shops that weren’t listed in the book, including The 5th, an adorable pop-up from Australia. They were making free Australian cappuccinos and coffees, yum!

Thomas Sires (243 Elizabeth Street, stop 3) had an eclectic collection of clothes, toys, and accessories. It’s so well curated, you’ll want to take the time to explore every corner of the shop.

Just next door is Le Labo (233 Elizabeth Street, stop 4), part scientific laboratory, part vintage boutique, that mixes customizable fragrances right in front of your eyes.

I took a shortcut to McNally Jackson Books, and serendipitously stumbled upon Concrete Collaborative (211 Mott Street), a shop where, you guessed it, everything’s concrete! I fell in love with the minimalist concrete planters.

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clthing on racks and household accessories on a table in a boutique store in New York City
Find an eclectic collection of clothes, jewellery and even toys at Thomas Sires. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

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A gem of a find: concrete planters from Concrete Collaborative. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

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Ah, McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince Street, stop 10). It’s no Strand Bookstore in terms of quantity (what is?), but it wins in ambiance and has a fantastic selection of books. I sat in the café, took out my sketchbook, and gazed up at the ceiling of floating books.

I headed to Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker Street, stop 27), the sweets shop made famous by Sex and the City and SNL’s Digital Short. Personal opinion, though: skip the cupcakes. It’s all about the banana pudding.

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McNally Jackson is a winner when it comes to ambiance. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

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banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery in new york city
Treat yourself to a serving of banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

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At this point I was chasing the sun and its warmth (December in New York, brrr!), and high-tailed it to one of my favorite places in Manhattan, the High Line. A park perched above the city streets and built on the former viaduct section of the New York Central Railroad, the High Line perfectly encompasses New York City: a little bit of old and new, with a diversity of locals and tourists adventuring about. What I love is that you can see the rail tracks between the plants and benches (some of them even roll!).

artist depiction of the high line in New York City
“The High Line perfectly encompasses New York City, a little bit of old and new with a diversity of locals and tourists adventuring about.” Photo © Genevieve Santos.

My favorite section is the gallery over 17th St. and 10th Ave., with a theatre-like window overlooking the street. Since the park’s opening, I’ve lost hours sitting here, observing the chaos down below, and savoring a rare moment of quiet in New York City.

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Pinterest graphic with photos of a salad next to a book, a sketch of a library scene in nyc, and dessert from Magnolia Bakery

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The History of Norway’s Vikings

Perhaps the most famous period in Norwegian history, the Viking Age was a period of expansion not just for Norway, but for the whole Nordic region. Far from just barbaric, axe-wielding invaders, the Vikings created complex social institutions, oversaw the coming of Christianity to Scandinavia, and left a major impact on European history through trade, colonization, and far-flung exploration.

a viking ship on display in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo Norway
Oseberg ship in the Viking Ship Museum. Photo © Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Norway; licensed CC BY-SA.

The first record of the Vikings was the late 8th-century invasion of Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England. It was quite the way to announce themselves, as at the time, Lindisfarne monastery was considered one of the great sanctuaries of the Christian church in western Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle stated: “In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

Vikings proceeded to raid a monastery at Jarrow in Northumbria, with southern Wales and Ireland falling victim to invasions soon after. Over a thousand Old Norse words influenced modern English, along with more than 1,000 place-names in northeastern England and the Scottish islands. Vikings were well trained, with good weapons and chain-mail armor, and their belief that being killed in battle resulted in them going to Valhalla gave them a psychological advantage in battle for many years.

traditional Viking helmet
Contrary to popular belief, Viking helmets did not have horns. Photo © Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo/Ove Holst; licensed CC BY-SA.

Misconceptions about the Vikings remain today. For example, the myth that Vikings wore horned helmets was actually an invention of 19th-century Romanticism. Although many women stayed to look after the household during Viking raids, some women and even children traveled with the men. One of the most fearsome Viking commanders was a woman, known as the Red Maiden.

The raids produced riches and slaves, which the Vikings brought back to Scandinavia to work the farms. As farmland grew scarce and resistance against the invasions grew in England, the Vikings began to look at targets further afield, such as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland.

During the 9th century, the largest chieftains began a long period of civil war, until King Harald Fairhair was able to unite the country and create the first Norwegian state.

Early Vikings saw Christianity as a heretical threat to their own pagan beliefs. Christian monks and missionaries were active in Scandinavia throughout the Viking Age, but it took until the era of Olav Tryggvason (963-1000) for the tide to begin to change. He is believed to have built Norway’s first church, although information about him is sparse. He did, however, found the city of Trondheim (then called Nidaros), and a statue of him today stands high above the city’s main square.

Following Tryggvason’s death, it was Olav Haraldsson who began to pass church laws, destroyed pagan temples, build churches, and appoint priests. As many chieftains feared that Christianization would rob them of power, it took centuries for Christianity to be fully accepted. For years many people adopted both religions as an insurance policy in case one didn’t work out. Evidence of this can be seen today in the carvings on some of Norway’s oldest stave churches, which feature figures from Norse mythology.

viking brooches on a table
Tortoise-shaped brooches from Brunlanes, Vestfold. Photo © Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo/Eirik Irgens Johnsen; licensed CC BY-SA.

Inside a Viking Home

The ships found in the Viking burial mounds along the Oslofjord are spectacular, but it’s what’s inside them that has given us a far greater understanding of what daily life was like.

The Viking apron-dress was worn suspended over the shoulders by paired brooches hooked through narrow looped straps, and worn over a smock or gown. Fewer finds of clothing exist for Viking men than for Viking women because men tended to be cremated, but it seems that the basics of men’s clothing in Scandinavia changed little throughout the Viking Age. Materials of trousers, tunics, coats, and cloaks changed from leather to wool to linen, but style changed little. Many textiles were made of carefully woven wool, attractively textured and often dyed in bright colors.

The Vikings ate two meals each day. The first was eaten in the morning, around two hours after the day’s work was started (around 8am), while the second was consumed at the end of the day’s work, around 7pm. Exact times would vary seasonally. Beef, mutton, lamb, goat, pork, and horsemeat were eaten, along with fish and whale. Root vegetables, plus plentiful plums, apples, and blackberries were common accompaniments.

While alcoholic beverages (most notably ale and mead) played an important role in festivities, the Vikings had an acute awareness of the perils and dangers of drunkenness.


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