cover image Book: My Autobiography

Book: My Autobiography

John Agard, illus. by Neil Packer. Candlewick, $15.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7236-2

Although ostensibly a reference source, Agard's history of books is better regarded as a long, freeform meditation, or perhaps even a prose poem. Arranged chronologically and narrated by a personified Book, the history starts with human storytelling%E2%80%94"Before Book, there was Breath"%E2%80%94before surveying the development of alphabets and printing (hieroglyphics, papyrus, and the rise of publishing houses are among the topics discussed), eventually working its way up to e-books. Agard (The Young Inferno) is at his best when writing against the grain, and the work's strongest moments come when he considers the politics of books: what happens when people are too poor to buy them, or when authorities consider them disturbing enough to burn. "Believe me," Book says, "I have been destroyed by hands that considered themselves holy. They threw me to the flames as they would later throw women who wisdom was beyond theirs and whom they called witches." Packer's witty, elegant illustrations make one wish for larger pages; in one, a Roman centurion reads in the bath, his feather-studded helmet still on his head, his toe stuck up the faucet. Ages 10%E2%80%93up. (Oct.)