Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird, a True Story by Stephanie Spinner; illustrations by Meilo So; Alfred A. Knopf ($17.99).


This lovely picture book tells the remarkable true story of Irene Pepperberg and her groundbreaking intelligence experiments with her African gray parrot, Alex (short for Avian Learning Experiment), who learned to recognize shapes, sizes and colors; to count, add and subtract, and to speak and understand hundreds of words. Meilo So’s brilliantly colored illustrations are a marvelous accompaniment to Spinner’s lively text, with her sensitive portrayal of Alex as a remarkable creature and her interesting treatment of the exacting work that goes into scientific research, starting with Irene’s use of the “model-rival” method (she and an assistant would pretend to teach each other a word, to pique Alex’s interest). The lessons would exceed Pepperberg’s wildest expectations: Alex invented a word for apple (he called it “banerry,” a combination of banana and cherry), he understood the concept of zero, he could make requests (“want a nut”). If he got tired of working, he would say “wanna go back.” Children will be amused to learn that “no” would become a favorite word. Alex died young for a parrot, at 31 of heart failure. His last words to Pepperberg were “you be good I love you” and “you’ll be in tomorrow?” Pepperberg told her own extraordinary story in “Alex and Me.” If New York is emphasizing nonfiction in its core curriculum, books like this one would be a good place to start.

– Jean Westmoore


The Forgotten by David Baldacci; 432 pages, Grand Central Publishing ($27.99)


David Baldacci brings back Army Special Agent John Puller in “The Forgotten,” a follow-up to 2011’s “Zero Day.” After receiving a letter from his aunt, Puller arrives to visit her in picturesque Paradise, Fla., only to discover she has died. He believes she was murdered, but the local police aren’t interested in his opinion. In his search for the truth, Puller must endure the wrath of both local law enforcement and the people who knew his aunt.

Baldacci is a master when it comes to writing about small-town conspiracies and a lone hero who fights to clean up corruption. The final reveal will surprise even hardcore thriller junkies.

– Associated Press


In the House of the Interpreter by Ngugi wa Thiong’o; Pantheon 256 pages, ($25.95)


“In the House of the Interpreter” is the second volume in the African writer’s series of memoirs. It’s a work of understated and heartfelt prose that relates one man’s intimate view of the epic cultural and political shifts that created modern Africa.

The elegiac “Dreams in a Time of War” covered Ngugi’s childhood in rural Kenya.“In the House of the Interpreter” tells the story of Ngugi’s four transformative years in an elite school for top black students.

This is a book about the creation of modern Africa from the collision of a series of powerful opposing forces — nationalism and colonialism, rural tradition and capitalist modernity. We see these changes through the eyes of a group of bright, ambitious teenagers.

The students know they’re at Alliance to become members of Kenya’s small African intelligentsia; for the British, this new black educated class will be a force of moderation and assimilation. But the students can’t help but develop other ideas, inspired by the leaders of newly independent former colonies. When he leaves the Alliance campus, Ngugi enters a world of checkpoints and armed British soldiers. He finds his family and old neighbors relocated into a concentration camp similar to the “strategic hamlets” of the Vietnam War. From these painful personal experiences, a writer is born.

– Los Angeles Times