Book Bag: ‘This Park Prohibits Bicycles, Dogs, Balls & Romantic Gestures: A Mo Willems Sketchbook’; ‘Everett’ by Jenifer Ruff; ‘John William Ward: Am American Idealist; by Kim Townsend

Last modified: Thursday, January 08, 2015

By Mo Willems


Cartoonist, children’s author and former TV animator and writer Mo Willems, who lives in Northampton, spent a year in Paris with his family between the summers of 2013 and 2014. Aside from crafting art and other material for new books, Willems used his time in the City of Light to take a few pictures.

Not of over-exposed sights like the Eiffel Tower, however. As Willems explains in this small, humorous sketchbook — he’s released sketchbooks annually for over 20 years — most artists soak up the ambiance and culture in Paris to recharge their creative circuits. He, by contrast, “took pictures of signage with my smartphone ... spending a year desperately trying to grasp a foreign language and culture can make things that should make sense, like signs, confusing.”

To these pictures of signs — the type that use androgynous figures and no words to convey their meaning — Willems has appended his own explanations. For instance, a sign with a big-bellied humanoid sitting on a large “L” shape — perhaps indicating a seat or bench reserved for pregnant women — includes the caption “Sports Bar.”

A more mysterious sign shows two figures: one, slightly hunched, holding what looks like a cane, and another cradling a white bundle in its (her?) arms. Willems’ interpretation? “Second Wife Zone.”


By Jenifer Ruff

World Castle Publishing


Northampton native Jenifer Ruff, who attended Mount Holyoke College and Yale University, studied biology and public health and later worked in the health care industry. But in recent years, Ruff, now living in North Carolina, has turned to fiction writing, using her background as a student and exercise instructor for the inspiration for two dark thrillers.

“Everett,” her debut novel, is set on the campus of Everett College, a prestigious school in New Hampshire that attracts ambitious students like Brooke Walton, a blonde beauty with perfect grades who’s intent on graduating No. 1 in her class and going on to medical school.

Brooke wows a lot of people on campus, professors and classmates alike, including Ethan Altman, a handsome former athlete who wants more than just the friendship he develops with Brooke — and Brooke’s willing to lead him on if it will enhance her prospects. But Jessica Carroll, a wealthy and spoiled socialite, is less than enamoured with Brooke, sensing she’s not all she appears to be.

Indeed, perfect Brooke shows early on she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. Like shoplifting an expensive chemistry book from the campus bookstore. Or trashing Jessica’s Volvo because Jessica, somehow, has discovered a few secrets about Brooke that could derail her perfect future.

Jessica might be more of a threat if she weren’t drinking so much, popping prescription pills like candy and looking down her nose. She should be watching her back: Brooke’s got plans for her that could involve using equipment she stole from her uncle’s police cruiser ...

Huff, whose father, Blaise Bisaillon, once served as the director of the Forbes Library in Northampton, has a sequel to her novel, “Rothaker,” due out in spring.


By Kim Townsend

Published by Amherst College

John William Ward, president of Amherst College from 1971 to 1979, had a biography that the Amherst Bulletin once described as “an American success story.” The grandson of poor Irish immigrants, Ward attended Harvard University, later earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota, wrote a definitive study of President Andrew Jackson and then taught at Princeton University and Amherst, earning many awards for his work along the way.

Ward would enter the rough world of Boston politics after his tenure as Amherst president, appointed by Governor Michael Dukakis to head a state commission investigating corruption allegations in the awarding of state and county building contracts. As Kim Townsend relates in “John William Ward: An American Idealist,” what became known as the Ward Commission ended up saving taxpayers billions of dollars and making state politics more democratic.

But Ward’s life also had its share of struggle — periods of depression, fights with Amherst College faculty during the tumultuous 1970s — and would end in tragedy when he committed suicide in 1985. Townsend, a professor emeritus of English at Amherst, covers the full story in his biography, offering a close look at the dramatic changes that took place on the Amherst campus in the 1970s.