Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder“If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.  I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and doing that look-away thing.  Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that one one else sees me that way.”

August Pullman has been homeschooled all his life, safe from the stares and questions of others.  See, he was born with a craniofacial anomaly-his face doesn’t look like most other faces.  He and his family are used to it, but most other people aren’t.  Auggie knows they don’t mean to be rude, or hurt his feelings, but it happens anyway.

He’s afraid it might get a lot worse, too:  August Pullman is about to start middle school.  MIDDLE SCHOOL!  It’s notorious for being horrible for even the most normal of kids. Nevertheless, Auggie bravely goes out into the world-and what he finds will surprise him.  The book is told from many different perspectives: Auggie’s, his sister, his friends, even his bully, and it reminds us that there is always more than one side to a story.  This book humanizes everyone, even those who bully.  It’s the most realistic, most compassionate work on the subject that I’ve ever encountered.

Friends, this book will make you cry.  It will make you think about how we relate to others who are different from us (and, after all, isn’t everyone?).  It will fill your heart with joy.  It’s a great one for parents to read with kids-as a read-aloud, it could work for ones as young as fourth grade, all the way up to grown-ups. It’s a sensitive portrayal of differences, bullying, and the underworld of middle school.  Reading this book will make you a better human, I promise.  Read it with someone dear to you, friends.

Happy reading!

If you liked this one, you’ll love Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco, and you’ll definitely need to check out Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going.

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The Diviners by Libba Bray

diviners“‘Let’s try another question.  Do you have any prophecy for us, Naughty John?  Any fortune-telling?’

The scryer remains still.

‘Do tell us something else, won’t you?’

Finally, there is movement on the board. ‘I…will…teach…you…fear…’ the hostess reads aloud.

‘Sounds like the headmaster at Choate,’ the boy in the fez teases. ‘How will you do that, old sport?’

I S-T-A-N-D-AT T-H-E D-O-O-R A-N-D K-N-O-C-K

I A-M T-H-E B-E-A-S-T.”

Things are not right in New York. The Ouija board spells out a terrifying message for the partygoers, and that is just the beginning. Something sinister is stirring; when dead bodies marked with strange symbols begin surfacing, Evie and her uncle are pulled into the investigation.  What could be killing New York inhabitants in such an frightful way?  Is there something darker at work than a simple murder?

Evie thought New York would be a breeze-she was sent away from her boring  hometown to live with her Uncle Will in New York. Evie was excited-the city lights were practically spelling out her name.  The speakeasies! The shows!  Jazz! However, it’s not all she hoped-Will is the curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, or the “Museum of Creepy-Crawlies”.  Because of his expertise in the subject, Will is needed to consult on the murder cases, and Evie finds herself in the middle of the investigation. Forget shows, short haircuts, and flapper style-now Evie’s life consists of curses, secrets, and racing against time.  Will Evie and Will be able to find and stop the killer before it is too late?

This is one of the rare 500 + page books that doesn’t feel like one at all.  Libba Bray’s Jazz Age New York is full of music, bright lights, and carefree hearts-until the murders begin, at least.  The supernatural elements to the plot are sure to delight fans of the paranormal, while the 1920’s setting adds interest and prevents this from being “just another scary magic book”.  Scary?  Yes, absolutely.  But it’s the very best kind of scary:  eerie, suspenseful, and fresh; you’ll be checking over your shoulder and wondering about old curses as you read.  Libba Bray not only brings us a great historical setting, she also gives us characters that feel like real people.  This winner of a book combines ancient prophecies, Broadway lights, jazz, and murder, all told by a master storyteller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://libbabray.com

Book’s website: http://www.thedivinersseries.com/

Bray, Libba. The Diviners. Little, Brown: New York, 2012. 578 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you will probably love Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series:

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Rebel Angels

The Sweet Far Thing

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

wondershow“Something began to move in Portia’s memory, reluctant as a rusted wheel-the old story she had made for herself, in which Max had run off with the circus.  How many circuses were there?  Fewer, Portia knew, than there had been before. Movie theaters and dancehalls cropped up like pretty weeds, common and alluring, and without the strange elements that came with traveling shows.  Mister had frequently lectured her on the topic of such distasteful forms of entertainment.

But Max loved a good time.  And a circus was certainly that.  Even if he wasn’t still with this circus, someone might have seen him, known him, heard about his beloved daughter.

Only a few miles away, Portia thought.”

All Portia has left of her family are the stories her father used to tell her, and even the stories have grown worn and thin from constant repetition.  Her dad left, long ago; now Portia is the reluctant resident of McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, her days filled with drudgery and brightened only by plans of escape.  When she learns of a traveling circus passing nearby, Portia takes her chance and makes her home as a Normal among the performers in the sideshow.  Here, she puts her storytelling skills to work, running the bally at the freak show.  All the while, she watches the faces in the audience, searching for one she recognizes.

What can I say?  I’m a sucker for stories about carnivals and the circus; there’s no way I could pass this up.  I think you’ll really like this eerie, clever debut novel from Hannah Barnaby.  It’s set during the Great Depression, and is a quirky take on the orphan story, featuring repurposed fairy tale elements and a host of fantastic sideshow performers.  Not only is their a sinister mystery (what happened to all those girls whose tombstones populate McGreavey’s cemetary?), it’s a story about nontraditional families and the importance of promises.  Added bonus:  many of the sideshow characters are based on real-life historical figures!   You can read about them in the Author’s Note at the end.  Let’s hope for more of these stories from this stellar new author.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://hannahbarnaby.com/

Barnaby, Hannah. Wonder Show.  Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2012. 266 pp.  Ages 11-14.

These books have a lot in common with Wonder Show!  I think you’ll love them!

The Final Confession of Mabel Stark

Beholding Bee

The Magician’s Elephant

 

 

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

“‘There it waits.  Beyond my strength.  Promise me,’ pleaded the dragon.  ‘Daughter of men, cast my child upon the winds and into the furnace of the earth.  Call the wind to break open the earth and let out the hidden fire.  You must call the wind, and the wind must become fire.  Do you understand?  Swear it to me!'”

Trei is unusual; a refugee and foreign-born inductee into the kajurai, the flying protectors of the Floating Islands. Even some of his classmates are suspicious of him, thinking him a traitor infiltrating the school to learn the secret of dragon magic. His cousin, Araene, is also a bit different, insisting on being educated as a mage, even if it means she must dress as a boy.  However, their unique experiences prove vital when a neighboring country invades, and when the dragons suddenly and mysteriously leave, taking their powerful magic with them. Though they are barely older than children themselves, Araene and Trei must work together to hatch the last fire dragon’s egg and save their country from destruction.

This detailed and captivating fantasy relates the story of two cousins, both new students, who play key parts in saving their home, the  Floating Islands, from both losing the magic that protects it and from being invaded by a powerful neighboring nation.  The chapters alternate, with one being the perspective of Araene, who took refuge in the mage school after her parents were killed in a plague, and the next being from Trei’s perspective, who is studying to be a kajurai.  Though there is much backstory and many plot twists, they are handled masterfully, and it makes this quite an interesting fantasy (after the first three chapters of setup).  This original story had the feel of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and it was a delightful diversion from final projects. Fire dragons? Floating islands?  Girls who dress like boys in order to go to mage school?  What’s not to love? (Also, isn’t that cover art beautiful?)

Happy Reading!

Neumeier, Rachel. The Floating Islands. Bluefire Books: New York, 2011. 387 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book and you haven’t read A Wizard of Earthseathat would be a great place to start! If you loved the dragon element, another great classic is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series.  I promise, you’ll love them!

Author’s website: http://www.rachelneumeier.com/

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

“He whispers, ‘Want to hear a secret?’

I nod.

‘You’re safe with me anywhere, at all times.’

It turns out, our ‘anywhere’ is the basement, and our ‘at all times’ is the entire day.  We don’t go to school.  We play checkers and make out.  My parents are upstairs watching the news.  And even though it feels like the entire world is freaking out, and even though the entire world is really just our area, and no one else anywhere gives a shit, and they definitely don’t give a shit that there are two boys making out in a basement, that’s what we are, we keep doing it, and there is something sort of beautiful about the fact that we keep doing that even now that we know it’s not what the world is about.

If I could take all the machine guns in the world and bend them into hearts, I totally totally would, even if I got grazed by bullets in the process, which knowing me I probably would, because I’m a little bit of a klutz, but Lio thinks I’m cute.”

A year after 9/11, a sniper is targeting inhabitants of the D.C. area.  Parents are keeping children home from school, and people hurry to their cars after leaving the grocery store or bank.  Everyone is uneasy, hunkered down and hoping for the threat to pass and leave loved one unharmed.  In the midst of it all, Craig and Lio find each other.  Craig’s exuberant nature and generosity help Lio forget about his dead twin, the specter of cancer that still haunts him, and his estranged mother.  Reflective, calm Lio patiently searches the entire city for Craig’s lost menagerie, a motley collection of pets that escaped during a break-in earlier in the year.  However, both boys are frightened and have suffered great losses in their past; being vulnerable is a true challenge for the pair, especially during such frightening times.

This is a story about untidy, realistic love in an unpredictable world.  In that aspect, I feel like it is an incarnation of Every Story Ever Told, and I love Hannah Moskowitz for it.  The text is full of sad-sweet details that instantly disarm the reader, such as Lio’s patchwork-dyed, multicolored hair.  Instead of maintaining such an off-putting hairstyle out of rebellion, Lio does it because he does not want to look like his twin, who died of cancer.  Craig’s big brother still lives at home, quietly working the night shift at a suicide hotline and looking after the family.  Details like that give the story depth, without feeling manipulative or precious.  As Lio and Craig negotiate their various issues against a backdrop of a world that seems to have lost all sense, a quiet optimism emerges in the text.  Yes, the book seems to say, the world is awful sometimes, and our families and loved ones aren’t always what we hope. But somehow it is going to be ok.

I loved this book for several important reasons, but the primary one is the author’s treatment of ethnicity and queerness.  This is a post-race, post-queer book, in which there is no need for coming out, and the characters’ ethnicities are mentioned only briefly and in passing.  This is not a story about an African-American character falling in love with a Caucasian character, nor a story about a gay boy who falls in love with another gay boy.  Instead, it’s just about love.  Furthermore, the book acknowledges something that adults often find uncomfortable: the  depth and intensity of feelings young people experience.  The story affords young readers dignity, validating their relationships and emotions, and I like that very much.

Oh, please read this! It’s such a beautiful and tender story. I really think you’ll like it!

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.untilhannah.com/

Moskowitz, Hannah. Gone, Gone, Gone. Simon Pulse: New York, 2012. 251 pp. Ages 15 and up.

You might also want to try Brooklyn, Burning, With or Without You or The Perks of Being a WallflowerThey have queer content and also the same “feel” to them!

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass

“Congratulations, Future Candymakers! You have been accepted to compete in the Annual New Candy Contest sponsored by the Confectionary Association.  The following participants from Region III will report to the Life Is Sweet candy factory two days prior to the contest: Logan Sweet, Miles O’Leary, Daisy Carpenter, and Philip Ransford III.”

Logan Sweet is the son of the Candymaker.  His father owns the Life Is Sweet candy factory, where they grow their own cocoa beans, keep hives of bees, and can identify the cow who gave the milk by the way the milk tastes.  There is a library, a taffy room, a tropical room, and…a mystery.

Logan has a lot to live up to: both his father and grandfather won the Annual New Candy Contest in years past.  However, he just feels clumsy around recipes; it seems that when he’s trying to create candy, nothing goes right.  How will he manage to invent a candy good enough to win, if he can’t even keep his sugar from boiling over?

The other contestants are just as diverse and interesting as the candies that Life is Sweet produces.  Miles is obsessed with the afterlife, carries around a life vest, and is allegedly allergic to pink and pancakes.  Daisy can never match her socks and is best friends with Magpie, her horse.  Philip keeps a hidden notebook and wears suits that are just as stiff and starchy as his personality.  However, things aren’t as they seem in this sweet mystery.  Each of the characters has a secret, and someone is trying to steal the secret ingredient at Life is Sweet and sabotage the contest! Worse still, if the secret ingredient is discovered, it could mean financial ruin for the factory, and Life is Sweet could lose all of their business.  Logan has to get to the bottom of things before his family loses everything!

Ok. Here’s the thing: my love for candy is second only to my love for reading.  I even made up a weekly holiday, called Candysunday.  You know how most Sundays are full of getting ready for the week, which means grocery shopping and homework and laundry?  Well, that’s a gloomy way to start the week, I’ve always thought.  Candysunday is my antidote for it: basically, I don’t eat any candy during the week, but on Sundays, I can have as much as I want! So, in honor of Candysunday this week, I wanted to tell you about this darling book.

At first glance, the splendid candy factory setting makes you think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but even though the factory is delightful and similar in some ways to Dahl’s, this book is more of a clever mystery than a quirky adventure.  The format is interesting: each of the four contestants tells his or her side of the story.  We not only learn their secret hopes and insecurities, but also what they know about the mystery.  Who has been trying to steal the secret ingredients?  Is there a scandal brewing at the New Candy Contest?

Readers will be drawn to these quirky characters, and appreciate the very real anxieties woven into a fanciful plot.  Without being didactic, the four separate storytellers subtly illustrates how easy it is to make assumptions about others’ actions, and the underlying message of the story is one championing collaboration, rather than competition.  It is a gentle read, sweet without being saccharine, and offbeat without being wacky.  It would be a good read-aloud for families with older elementary-school children, and a read-alone for sixth and seventh graders.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.wendymass.com

Mass, Wendy. The Candymakers. Little, Brown: New York, 2010. 453 pp.  Ages 10-14.

If you liked this one, be sure to check out the original candy wonderland of Charlie in the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  If you liked the mystery part, try Blue Balliet’s The Danger Box or Chasing Vermeer, or The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Oh, and one more thing:  the Pepsicles and Oozing Crunchoramas sound amazing!

 

 

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Image“He wished that he was with his mom in her library, where everything was safe and numbered and organized by the Dewey decimal system.  Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system.  That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad.”

Ben’s mother worked as the librarian in their small town, until she died in an accident, leaving Ben alone and lost.  He never knew his dad.  Now he lives with his aunt and uncle, who are kind, but after losing his mom, he can’t help but wonder about his father: where is he?  Who is he? During a thunderstorm, he discovers a mysterious message that he thinks could be from his father, and he is determined to get to the bottom of things, even if it means getting to New York City on his own.

Half a century earlier, Rose is being pushed to learn to lipread.  She rebels, cutting up her lipreading primer and turning it into a diorama of New York.  She keeps a scrapbook of her favorite movie star, and goes to all her movies.  Even though she can’t hear, Rose can still go to silent movies, and read the dialogue, like everyone else.  When she sees a newspaper headline that says Lillian Mayhew, her heroine, will be in New York soon, Rose sets out for the big city.

Rose’s part of the book is told entirely with Selznick’s intricate, enchanting pencil sketches, while Ben’s storyImage is told with words.  The effect, much like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is rich; this, like its predecessor, is a book to be treasured.  Indeed, Wonderstruck shares several similarities with Selznick’s previous book:  orphan protagonists, museums, secret messages, and adventures that take place in very important cities. I especially loved that the two books were so similar, because I felt bereft after I finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret, as though there was unlikely to ever be another book that made me feel the same way.  I shouldn’t have worried, though: with the release of Scorsese’s magical film rendition of Hugo, followed by Wonderstruck, the stories aren’t over.

ImageMy advice?  This is a book for sharing. Read it to your classroom after recess: the mystery will keep the students engaged, while the ethereal illustrations will inspire even the most timid budding artist.  Read it to your children, to anyone you love who cares about Deaf culture, dioramas, paper art, the American Museum of Natural History, libraries, adventures, thunderstorms, or New York. Read it with hot chocolate and a mind ready to marvel.  Selznick’s world is meaning-rich and stocked with secrets.  He is clearly an author that has not forgotten what it like to dream.  Let’s all hope he has another book dreamed up for us, and soon.

Happy Reading!

Wonderstruck website: http://www.wonderstruckthebook.com

Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck. Scholastic Press: New York, 2011. 635 pp. (I promise, it doesn’t feel like it at all; you are going to wish it would last forever.)  Ages 10 and up.

If you liked this book, try The Invention of Hugo Cabret or the shorter graphic novel, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

Throwaway Daughter by Ting-Xing Ye

“You can’t be two people at the same time-not without ending up in a mental institution.  I’m not just Grace Parker.  I’ve accepted that.  I wasn’t born at Soldier’s Memorial.  I was unwanted by my so-called real parents.  That’s the hard part, like a toothache that won’t go away.  They got rid of me.”

Grace’s parents adopted her from China when she was an infant, and Grace was never interested in her Chinese heritage.  As far as she could see it, she was unwanted and abandoned-why should she try and pursue the culture that rejected her, anyway?  When she stumbles across a newscast covering the massacre in Tiananmen Square, her perspective changes, and she begins the process of exploring her birth country and trying to find her birth mother.

This story is told with many voices: Grace’s, Grace’ adoptive mother, her birth mother, and various family members in China.  It also takes places in two countries, Canada and China.  Grace attends a summer session at an international school in China, and from there tracks down an orphanage worker who cared for her, and after a lot of  guesswork and bus journeys, her birth mother.

I have to admit, I’m fairly obsessed with stories of adoption, but it’s rare to come across one that’s a novel, rather than a memoir.  The memoirs can get repetitive quickly, but this book brings an interesting format, a political angle (with all the discussion of the Cultural Revolution, a part of the book I greatly enjoyed), and the perspective of the adopted child.  I enjoyed it quite a bit!

Happy Reading!

Ye, Ting-Xing with William Bell.  Throwaway Daughter. Seal Books: Canada. 295 pp. Ages 15 and up.

I’m sorry-I wasn’t able to find a website for the author! If you know of it, please let me know! Here is a quick biography, though: http://www.annickpress.com/authors/ye.asp?author=318

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

This book is too good: I had to start with more than one quote!

Mom: “It’s more than that, sweetheart.  Every time you use new Lady ‘Stache Off with triple beauty action, you’re contributing to our economy, our way of life.  Don’t you want to be a contributor to our economy?  Don’t you want to make sure we can have bikinis, cable, and porn?  What are you, a communist?”

A Word from your Sponsor: “The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages.  Of course, it’s not all right for girls to behave this way.  Sexuality is not meant to be this way-an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before.  No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion.”

A plane full of Miss Teen Dream beauty contestants crash lands on a deserted island.  Armed with sequined evening gowns, safety razors, and mascara wands, the young women begin to set up home in the wilderness.  As they are doing so, they uncover conspiracies and corporate abuses of power (Ladybird Hope, head of The Corporation and presidential candidate) is involved in illegal arms trade, and is setting up the plane crash as a ratings boost.  There are pirates, mangy snakes, homemade weaponry, gummy bears, and so much satire that it will blow your mind.

I almost didn’t know how to take this book: there was just so much going on in it!  But not in a bad way; it’s just simply stunning.  In the hands of a lesser author, this could be a disaster, but with Printz award-winner Libba Bray, it’s a minor masterpiece.  She subverts the cutthroat-girl-competition paradigm and writes instead about girls celebrating each other and working together to achieve a common goal (that is, not getting eaten by snakes in the jungle).  The girls discuss identity questions, gender expectations, societal pressures, and consumerist culture, but all in this almost wacky setting, against the backdrop of the island and the looming Corporation.

The book is formatted like a television show, with commercials, Fun Facts pages for each of the young women, alternate endings, and a series of hilarious footnotes.  Bray is both ruthless and clever in her satire: she undermines consumerism by showing us all how ridiculous it can be when taken to its logical extreme.  Careful readers will notice gems such as George Bush’s infamous “misunderestimate”, and several nods to Sarah Palin.  It’s witty, zany, and so multi-layered that I feel like I need to read it again in order to fully appreciate it.  My very favorite parts were where The Corporation would directly address the readers.  Hi-la-ri-ous!

Oh, and did I mention the great characters?  Oh yeah-there’s a lesbian. A transgender girl, a girl who got into the pageant only because she wants to destroy it and everything it represents.  There are girls figuring out their sexual identity.  There are girls dealing with how their minority status excludes them from larger society.  There’s a hearing-impaired girl who is sick of pretending it’s perfectly all right that she’s got a disability, just so she doesn’t make everyone else feel guilty.  The best part is that there are no stock characters in this novel:  everyone is well-developed and acts in a realistic way.  I loved that the two queer girls didn’t fall in love, because you know what? That’s what happens in real life.

This is an intelligent look at capitalism and expectations of women in society, mixed with a lot of madcap action and appealing characters.  I think you’ll like it!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/

Bray, Libba. Beauty Queens. Scholastic: New York, 2011. 396 pp. Ages 15-18.

 

 

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

“Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed.  Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.”

Vera’s former best friend Charlie is dead.  It’s hard enough when your best friend dies, she thinks, but when he stabs you in the back and then dies, it makes things infinitely worse.  Worse still, when he comes back to haunt you, with his ghostly form showing up in the car when you’re kissing another guy, or in the bathroom at school, it is the absolute pits.

Vera is eighteen, living with her father (you will love him, I think.  He’s pretty much the Best. Dad. Ever!), an accountant and recovering alcoholic who invests his whole heart in making sure she has the best future possible.  She works full time at a pizza place, and spends the rest of her time drinking to forget Charlie and the secret she is determined not to tell.  Of course, it’s not as easy as all that-Charlie’s ghost keeps showing up at inopportune times, a silent, shaming reminder urging Vera to tell what she knows and clear his name.

The best part of this book?  The format!  See, the story is told in a creative way-all first person, addressed right to you, and by different speakers.  I think readers will love Ken Dietz, Vera’s dad.  He chimes in during the story, in chapters titled things like “A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Frustrated Dad)” and with flow charts, like “Ken Dietz’s Face Your Shit Flow Chart”.  I kid you not, I actually made a copy of that flowchart and pasted it up on my bulletin board.  And besides Ken and Vera (and even Charlie, who pipes up every few chapters), there is the Pagoda.  That’s right, a building.  The Pagoda is a park building with special significance to Ken and his ex-wife (she left them when Vera was 12), and it gets a few chapters of its own. Trust me, the Pagoda is hilarious-I think it’s the best and funniest part of the novel.

This book combines creative elements (a haunting, a mystery, a talking Pagoda) with a great format (many voices, FLOW CHARTS!), and very common social problems of young people.  I think you’re going to love it! (And others did, too-this is a Printz Honor book, and a nominee for the Edgar Allen Poe mystery award!)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com/ (The website is really funny-the giant header describes her as “a corn lover” and “wearer of magical writing pants”. Awesome!)

All right, folks, since I’m in library school now, I think I’ll change the way I give the book information.  If you hate it, please let me know, and I’ll change it back!

ISBN 9780375865862
0375865861
Personal Author King, A. S.1970-
Title Please ignore Vera Dietz /A.S. King.
Edition 1st ed.
Publication info New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2010.
Physical descrip 326 p. ; 22 cm.