This content was originally published in the 2021-2022 Ely Winter Times.
We like to claim author Sarah Stonich as our own, partly because she lived in the area for many years, but even more because she creates scenarios and characters that feel local in the best sense of the word. Readers from other parts of the world might think Fishing is very creative fiction, but we know similar characters live here and it’s likely that real events were the basis for Stonich’s stories. Superficially hilarious and light, the episodes of RayAnne’s all-woman fishing talk show still reaches a depth most humorous books don’t achieve. You might even pick up some angling tips on board Penelope, RayAnne’s classic speedboat, as you meet quirky guests and eccentric production crew. Or maybe you’ll find some helpful relationship advice as you follow the tangled romances and familial drama. Plus there are the life lessons from Dot, RayAnne’s beloved grandma who is a strong presence in both books, but as a ghost in Reeling as she follows RayAnne to New Zealand for the second season. There is some cross-cultural fun but the Minnesota flavor prevails. Whether you’re from Ely or afar, you’ll be glad there are two novels because you won’t want the first one to end.
Speaking of grandmas, our favorite pick for the kids this winter is Grandmother’s Pigeon, a wonderful book that has been out of print for years. When Grandmother leaves on an adventure, her two grandkids discover something mysterious and wonderful happening to a stuffed pigeon in her bedroom. The kids struggle with choosing the right thing to do about this, but eventually hit on the best solution and carry on with their own adventure. Along the way they, and young readers, learn a bit about the extinction of passenger pigeons. Luminous illustrations add an extra tug on the heartstrings. This is a book that adults will be glad to share over and over, which is good because children are going to be asking for it many times.
Our favorite gift cookbook for the season is The Good Berry Cookbook. Although there are some berries in the recipes, “the good berry” refers to manoomin, wild rice. The author, an ethnobotanist, shares stories from her Anishinaabe family life, instructions for foraging in different seasons, and recipes from her own kitchen as well as from chefs from other Native nations and traditions. She takes readers to the field and forests to marvel at the wealth of healthy foods and medicines growing wild around us. We return home able to cook up a quick Bison and Sunchoke stew, or Nutty Manoomin Patties, and a nutrient-dense Fiddlehead-Nettle sauce. Many recipes, like Sweet Potato Corn Pudding with Rose Sauce, can be prepared with ingredients from the grocery store or farmers market. If you give this as a gift, you’ll want to get one for yourself too, or life close enough to your lucky gift recipient that you can share.
Loon Lessons is a deep dive into the ecology, biology, and behavior or the common loon. If you have a question about loons and the answer is known, chances are very good you’ll find it in this book. Written in an entertaining style with plenty of anecdotes illustrating the research data and scientific information, the book covers details about breeding, migration, physiology, calls and their usage, winter life, and loon conservation. Color photos at the center illustrate plumage at various seasons, other species, and chick-raising activity.
Skiing into the Bright Open is much more than an account of the first women’s solo trip to the South Pole. It is an inspirational example of perseverance in fulfilling a lifelong dream despite frequent bouts of self-doubt, limited support from places one might expect it, a need to gain the confidence required by big expeditions, and enormous physical obstacles. For the author there is no joy equal to skiing across a bright white open space. But crossing Greenland, hiking the Himalayas, and striving to feel prepared for Antarctic travel provide plenty of challenges to meet before those magic moments of brilliant light and easy motion. This humble telling of a remarkable accomplishment makes for a good read in a cozy spot, watching winter out the window.
Gichigami Hearts tells stories from an Ojibwe perspective of the Duluth area starting with the formation of the massie gabbro outcropping known as The Point of Rocks and continuing to the author’s family history living near this landform for the past 200 years. A blend of the amusing and the tragic, the spiritual and the embodied, the indigenousa and the immigrant, these stories portray life lived in the light of Anishinaabe ways. Whether native or not, readers will gain perspectives of the land and peoples and their intimate connectedness.
Joy abounds in Josie Dances as a young Ojibwe girl prepares for her first pow-wow. There is so much to do, but with her parents’, aunties’, and community’s help Josie overcomes her anxiety and learns to dance with her feet and her heart. A colorful book with a positive message for all children.