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BookExpo America 2016: 11 best moments

From coloring books to big adult non-fiction, here’s what caught our eye at the biggest book event of the year

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Isabella Biedenharn

The publishing industry held its annual BookExpo America conference last week in Chicago, and EW was there — amidst a bewildering number of superstar authors like George Saunders, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Veronica Roth — to report back on all the readerly stuff you can expect in the coming year.

Check out some of the best stuff we saw, below:

1. Coloring books aren’t going anywhere.

Isabella Biedenharn

Not only did some publishers have wall-sized, colorable coloring book displays, but the trend seems to be expanding: It’s not just meditative, zen coloring anymore, or even well-known franchises like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. Now, even best-selling series like Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass and Kiera Cass’ The Selection will be able to fulfill your coloring itch.

2. Mothers: The big theme in buzzy adult literature.

Every year, six books are chosen for BEA’s Editors’ Buzz panel — with nothing necessarily in common except their expected greatness. But this year, there seemed to be a focus on moms. The most obvious of these is Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, out in October, which follows 17-year-old Nadia as she acts out after her mother’s recent suicide. But there’s also Emma Flint’s Little Deaths, the story of a glamorous young mother accused of killing her children, inspired by the real life case of Alice Crimmins; Nathan Hill’s The Nix, a sprawling novel starring an estranged mother and son; Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, where a young girl named Linda finds herself enthralled by a nearby family; and Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America, the only nonfiction title in the group, which chronicles one randomly chosen recent day in America, and the 10 children murdered throughout that day — and their bereft parents, who are strangely hesitant to place the blame on gun violence.

The final “buzz” book, Thomas Mullen’s Darktown, doesn’t fit with this theme but sounds incredible nonetheless: It’s a novel following the black officers in a recently-integrated Atlanta police force in 1948.

3. Innovation continues in the world of kids’ books.

Just look at this stunning book from Workman:

4. Forgotten female spies will finally get their day.

Two of the coolest books we saw starred female spies who played crucial — but largely forgotten — roles in history. One is part of Workman’s new Spy on History series for kids, and tells the story of Mary Bowser, an enslaved woman-turned-Civil War spy who posed as a maid in Jefferson Davis’ Confederate White House. He thought she was illiterate — but she actually had a photographic memory, and the intel she brought to the North was integral in helping win the war.

Similarly, Ben Montgomery’s The Leper Spy, out in October, tells the story of World War II heroine Josefina Guerrero, who used her leprosy to help the U.S. smuggle intelligence across enemy lines because the enemy was too afraid of her disease to search her.

5. We have lots of celebrity memoirs to look forward to:

Isabella Biedenharn

  • Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (August) — for which you could actually get temporary lower back tattoos
  • Taraji P. Henson’s Around the Way Girl (October)
  • Bryan Cranston’s A Life in Parts (October)
  • Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist (October)
  • Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody (November)

6. Two cool new M.C.s may steal your mic — and your heart.

At the YA Editor’s Buzz Panel, Sonia Patel’s novel Rani Patel in Full Effect made a big splash: According to Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press, it’s the story of a “nerdy, flat-chested Indian teen in Hawaii who wants to be a kickass M.C.” As Rani deals with her own traumatic and complicated life, she discovers hip hop, which helps her find herself.

And from City Lights Press, meet Chinaka Hodge, author of Dated Emceesa collection of poems about hip-hop and her experiences in relationships with other rappers. She’s close with Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino, and has collaborated with Hamilton star Daveed Diggs on his album, Small Things to a Giant.

7. The true and fictional stories of sibling pairs will rivet you to your seat.

Sarah Dotts Barley of Flatiron Books, editor of Stephanie Garber’s YA debut, Caraval, promises, “Even if you think you don’t like fantasy, you will love Caraval.” The novel follows two sisters who escape a secluded island to join Caraval, an elaborate performance/game with stakes far higher than the sisters expected. Check out our sneak peek of Caraval, which was one of the YA Editor’s Buzz Books, here.

And at the complete opposite end of the spectrum — adult, nonfiction — is Beth Macy’s Truevine, the tale of two albino, African-American brothers who were kidnapped and forced to perform in a circus in the Jim Crow south. Macy courted the family for decades in order to earn their trust and prove that she would tell their side of the story for the first time.

Finally, we’re utterly intrigued by Affinity Konar’s Mischling, the story — inspired by real events in history — of twin sisters at Auschwitz, who are the subjects of both horrific experimentation, and strange privileges. 

8. Want to read about the history of Tetris? Just choose your format.

In September, Dan Ackerman will release The Tetris Effect: The Game that Hypnotized the World; while Box Brown will tell the story graphically in October with Tetris: The Games People Play. Either way, you’ll want to know about Alexey Pajitnov, who developed the addictive game of falling shapes while in the Soviet Union in the ’80s — which eventually made Nintendo a ridiculous amount of money. Brown, whose book was chosen for a panel on the Best Fall 2016 Graphic Novels, even covers the effect Tetris has on your brain — causing it to release endorphins every time you satisfy a new task, i.e. make a whole row disappear.

9.We spotted famed children’s book author Mo Willems’s face on a table in the Downtown Stage’s green room!

Isabella Biedenharn

According to EW’s Anthony Breznican, also on the scene, rumor has it Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey is responsible for this delightful cartoon.

10. Finally, clear some space on your bookshelf for some of these Big Adult Novels previewed at BEA:

11. And some Big YA Novels: