From a dog named Mo and a Southerner adrift in Vermont.
If it's Thanksgiving, that's pumpkin pie you smell. For Hanukkah, it's chocolate. And at Christmastime, it's the aroma of gingerbread. Mo's on the scent of all three. He's the pooch whose adventures are described in Mo Smells the Holidays (Mo's Nose LLC), written by native Memphian Margaret Hyde and illustrated by her friend Amanda Giacomini (the real-life Mo's real-life "mama"). >>>
Mo Smells the Holidays is the latest installment in the Mo series of children's books — after last year's Mo Smells Red and last May's Mo Smells Green — and this time out, (back to school and playing teacher) Mo gets an apple from a student, Mo goes trick-or-treating with his friends, and Mo celebrates the New Year with fireworks. Kids can celebrate too, because this is a "scentsational" journey for Mo and young readers alike. As in Hyde and Giacomini's previous books, this one comes with scented stickers. One sticker, for example, carries the smell of a Granny Smith apple (in the case of Mo in the classroom); another sticker carries the smell of caramel (on Halloween).
And that's not all. According to the story, Mo gives as good as he gets. We see him distributing dog biscuits to his friends waiting to be adopted inside a dog shelter (as Mo once waited to be adopted), and we see him helping out in a soup kitchen (wearing a sporty server's hat).
Children can wear some pretty sporty clothing as well, because in addition to the book series, Hyde and Giacomini have designed their own line of what Hyde calls "funwear": long johns, T-shirts, and hoodies for kids and featuring Mo the cartoon character. According to Hyde, the clothing is all-cotton and all-organic, high-quality and affordable, and it's made in the U.S.A. start to finish, making this latest venture yet another among Hyde's multifaceted interests, which include travel photography (with a line of gift cards in the works) and producing documentary films (The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306 was nominated for an Academy Award earlier this year).
For the time being, though, Mo's getting most of Hyde's attention. She's at work on Mo Smells Blue and Mo Smells Pink, which means Hyde's already got her mind on some scents and the words to go with them.
"In a children's book," Hyde said recently by phone from her home in California, "every word is important. I read the book aloud to hear how it sounds, to hear how it flows. I rehash every word as Amanda lays out the illustrations."
Those illustrations are executed in Japanese ink and brush on rice paper, a difficult process, Hyde said, that leaves no room for error.
Hyde's youngest child, Jasper, leaves the author no room for error.
"Jasper's probably my best editor," Hyde said. "If he doesn't like something, I know I need to change it."
No need, however, to change Mo's proven track record. Mo Smells Red received a Moonbeam Children's Book Award in 2008. Mo Smells the Holidays is due to be featured in the December issue of Family Circle magazine. And as for Mo's lessons in giving, they're lessons Mo's author has taken to heart: A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the Mo books goes to children's charities.
What's a Memphis mother with two young daughters doing running, on a whim, an inn in Vermont?
She's surviving her first snowstorm, and she's surviving the surprise breakup of her marriage to a guy who turns out to be a class-A cad. Last, not least, she's discovering, the hard way, that Currier and Ives got it wrong.
According to Lisa Patton's debut novel, Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press), our picturesque image of a glittering New England winter ignores the fact that the white snow drifts turn to blackened snow banks within a week of winter's early arrival, and they stick around, plowed to the side of the road, until what should be, according to most calendars, spring. Then spring finally arrives and turns the countryside into a mud pit, and summer — all six weeks of it — means a few weeks fighting squads of stinging black flies. But autumn, true enough, lives up to its colorful reputation. Can Leelee Satterfield live up to the responsibility of running an inn — on her own?
She can, and she isn't just whistlin' Dixie in this comic, sometimes bittersweet story of a woman, age 33, who goes from a comfortable upbringing in Memphis to some hard lessons in self-reliance. True grit is what Leelee never knew she had. And in this novel, grit is what it takes for her to go head-to-head with Helga, the inn's dictatorial manager, and for Leelee to get through what has to be the worst New Year's Eve on record. And for the record:
Author Lisa Patton grew up in Memphis, and, like Leelee, she operated an inn in Vermont. Unlike Leelee, she stuck it out for three years. But according to the author, it was actor Treat Williams (who was having dinner at her inn) who got Patton thinking. How? By recognizing the fact that Patton's a vivacious storyteller and by asking if Patton weren't already a writer.
She wasn't then. Patton is now after she moved with her two sons from Vermont to Middle Tennessee, after she worked for years for singer/songwriter Michael McDonald, and after she made the decision to redirect her life. (The question: real estate or writing? The answer: writing, in addition to Patton's full-time work as events coordinator for the Carnton plantation in Franklin.) But don't expect Whistlin' Dixie to be too autobiographically based. True, like Leelee, Patton's marriage broke up. And like Leelee, Patton's friends in Memphis did think she was nuts for going to Vermont in the first place. "But," Patton said in a phone interview, "they never told me I was crazy. I'm the adventurous type."
She's also the charitable type. A portion of the sales of Whistlin' Dixie will go to a program to help single mothers in need. But don't think this is the last we've heard from Leelee Satterfield. From what we know when Whistlin' Dixie closes, Leelee's set to open an inn in Germantown. Will her chef in Vermont, the guy she's fallen for, answer her ad for a cook? Stay tuned. The publisher's already signed Patton to a sequel.
No nor'easters in the Caribbean. And no hurricanes either in the splendid photographs in Caribbean Houses: History, Style, and Architecture (Rizzoli) by Michael Connors, a Memphian transplanted to homes in New York City, Deer Island, Maine, St. Croix, and Havana. With his previous books — French Island Elegance, Caribbean Elegance, and Cuban Elegance — he made his name as an authority on the islands' decorative arts and material culture. Now he's taken in the architecture of the islands in a book brimming with interiors and exteriors captured by a team of photographers. The focus of those photographs and the informative commentary, however, are all Connors' as he traces, over five centuries, the arrival of the European colonial powers — the Spanish, the English, the French, the Dutch, and the Danish — and their townhouses, palacios, and plantation great houses. But Connors' book does not forget those who built these landmarks of a bygone era. Caribbean Houses is, in fact, dedicated to them, and in a phone conversation, Connors added:
"For centuries, they've been unrecognized — unpaid but more accurately slave labor. The Amerindians and the African West Indians were put to task to do the work. It's time that this patrimony be recognized as part of their heritage, so that they too take pride."
You can take Connors' Caribbean Houses as a beautifully sunny Christmas gift.