The best books on courageous little girls who satisfy their curiosity and change their world

Judith Mitchell Author Of Boville
By Judith Mitchell

Who am I?

I’m an unfocused history omnivore, a perpetual student of many disparate subjects, and a visual artist. My childhood dream was to become an archaeologist, but by the time I reached graduate school I‘d become incapable of committing to one specific epoch. I’ve explored ancient times on my own. The older I get, the farther back in time my interests reach. As another interest of mine is mythology, the first book on my list is the answer to this manqué archaeologist’s/mythologist’s prayer. I‘ve recently written and illustrated a story taking place around 15,000 years ago, involving the painted caves in Europe. I ascribe these powerful images to a Paleolithic spirituality which I deeply enjoyed “creating.”


I wrote...

Boville

By Judith Mitchell,

Book cover of Boville

What is my book about?

Young Alma and her cat, Oyster, live in the dreary, rain-soaked village of Boville. Everyone grumbles through the puddles, except for Alma’s friend, Zephira, a strange old woman living under the mountain which blocks the sun from Boville. Zephira tells Alma tales of magic and enchantment, and Alma recounts her own observations of the odd “Hateful Sleeper,” this mountain surrounding Boville.

Zephira suggests that Alma ask the mountain why the weather in Boville is so unpleasant. Alma knows that climbing the Sleeper is dangerous, and forbidden, but her curiosity gets the better of her. She and Oyster bravely inch up the fearfully steep, slippery rocks to pose her question to the mountaintop. Earth-changing results occur from her courageous quest - and “Boville” becomes “Beauville.”

The books I picked & why

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Mythago Wood

By Robert Holdstock,

Book cover of Mythago Wood

Why this book?

This book ticks my favorite boxes: history, England, myth, and wilderness. Mythago Wood is the brilliantly conceived, exquisitely written—and occasionally chilling—is the first in a series about an enchanted, primeval patch of English forest, where mythical and legendary beings are formed by the forest itself. These tangible entities interact with nearby humans as they live out their legends, fighting epic battles, following tragic quests, then melding back into the woody matrix, their existences marked by the boundaries of their myth. Humans are irrevocably changed by these experiences, and not always for the better.

Holdstock blended English history, folklore, and myth, creating intensely real, exciting characters, both those born of the forest and the humans who blunder into mythic times and spaces. Time and events are layered, overlapping beginnings and endings, creations and disappearances.

Mythago Wood

By Robert Holdstock,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mythago Wood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Deep within the wildwood lies a place of myth and mystery, from which few return, and of those few, none remain unchanged.

Ryhope Wood may look like a three-mile-square fenced-in wood in rural Herefordshire on the outside, but inside, it is a primeval, intricate labyrinth of trees, impossibly huge, unforgettable ... and stronger than time itself.

Stephen Huxley has already lost his father to the mysteries of Ryhope Wood. On his return from the Second World War, he finds his brother, Christopher, is also in thrall to the mysterious wood, wherein lies a realm where mythic archetypes grow flesh and…


All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen (translator),

Book cover of All Quiet on the Western Front

Why this book?

I’m interested in the history of twentieth-century Germany and the effect on ordinary Germans of both World Wars. Some of my north German relatives fought in and survived the First World War, and Rilke’s poignant viewpoint touches me greatly. I found this book to be a winner, even as the German soldiers lost everything.

Learning as much as possible about the feelings held by the “other side” of a conflict is fascinating and personally expanding. Remarque's novel is not about dates and battles, but rather presents sensitive views of the feelings and reactions of those caught in any War and participating, willingly or unwillingly, in the abstract dates and battles of WWI. Rilke’s descriptions of events and emotions are overwhelming.

All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen (translator),

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked All Quiet on the Western Front as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story is told by a young 'unknown soldier' in the trenches of Flanders during the First World War. Through his eyes we see all the realities of war; under fire, on patrol, waiting in the trenches, at home on leave, and in hospitals and dressing stations. Although there are vividly described incidents which remain in mind, there is no sense of adventure here, only the feeling of youth betrayed and a deceptively simple indictment of war - of any war - told for a whole generation of victims.


Confederates

By Thomas Keneally,

Book cover of Confederates

Why this book?

Keneally’s novel, Confederates, stands out among other good Civil War novels. His Twain-like vernacular writing style brings the reader into his characters’ minds remarkably well.

Having lived for 6 years in the South, I find the landscapes familiar and the inflections and attitudes very relatable. Without necessarily identifying with Johnny Reb morally, I slog through icy mud with the threadbare Rebels, survive another day and a half without food, see comrades perish from various causes, and find desolation everywhere. It’s all painfully vivid. I empathize with these Boys in Grey; they are the grunts next to whom we readers march, fight, and starve. While I remain critical - horrified - at the South’s indefensible motives, I’m grateful for my intimate acquaintance with those who fought and died for their homes.

Confederates

By Thomas Keneally,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confederates as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thomas Keneally's epic of the Civil War takes us into the lives of four remarkable characters in the embattled Virginia summer of 1862; a southern hospital matron who is also a Union spy, a British war journalist with access to both sides and two foot soldiers under Stonewall Jackson.


The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt,

Book cover of The Goldfinch

Why this book?

The Goldfinch was hard to put down. I read late into many nights.  It’s difficult to write a short review of so vast a book, and I’m still not sure why I felt so connected to Theo. I’m a Manhattan native, and many of the locations in this book are endearingly familiar, adding authenticity. And, I’m an artist. But those aren’t really the points.

Tartt’s oddball characters are credible, reminding me of people I’ve known, and she doesn’t manipulate the reader into judging them. Her labyrinthine plot develops in exciting ways, some inevitable, some unpredictable, some discomforting. Always, the hidden presence of Theo’s stolen Goldfinch painting remains as a powerful undercurrent. 

After finishing the book I felt dazed, pondering once again whether Life has Meaning - a good gift to get from any book.

The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Goldfinch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014 Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the…


Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

By Rebecca Wragg Sykes,

Book cover of Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

Why this book?

British Paleo-Archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes’s compelling book combines hard science, tantalizingly reasonable postulations, and poetry. It appeals to our “humanity.” Kindred is an almost wistful examination of our closest Hominid relatives - the Neanderthals. For over 300,000 years, Homo Neanderthalensis successfully survived several ice ages and drastic changes in weather, food sources, and landscape. Although they are not manifestly with us now, they exist in our imagination and provoke our curiosity.

We want to know them; Neanderthal genes still survive among our own. Sykes introduces our Neanderthal cousins, fleshing out their bones by bringing their appearance, their everyday tasks, their diets, their various habitats - even their possible way of speaking - into focus for us laymen by presenting the latest scientific evidence. Misconceptions are corrected. The icing on this delicious Paleolithic cake was, for me, Sykes’s poetic passages which open a path into each chapter, transporting me into the Neanderthal world with sensitivity and a lyrical immediacy.

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

By Rebecca Wragg Sykes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Kindred as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** WINNER OF THE PEN HESSELL-TILTMAN PRIZE 2021 ** 'Beautiful, evocative, authoritative.' Professor Brian Cox 'Important reading not just for anyone interested in these ancient cousins of ours, but also for anyone interested in humanity.' Yuval Noah Harari Kindred is the definitive guide to the Neanderthals. Since their discovery more than 160 years ago, Neanderthals have metamorphosed from the losers of the human family tree to A-list hominins. Rebecca Wragg Sykes uses her experience at the cutting-edge of Palaeolithic research to share our new understanding of Neanderthals, shoving aside cliches of rag-clad brutes in an icy wasteland. She reveals them…


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