Dog-ear: Book of Barely Imagined Beings; Animal, Mineral, Radical; The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

Since 2007, Orion has given an annual award to a book that deepens our connection to the natural world, presents new ideas about the relationship between people and nature, and achieves excellence in writing. What follows are short reports from Orion staff on some of their favorite Orion Book Award contenders. Read about the finalists here, and check back next week for news about our winners.

If you’re a person who enjoys books as physical objects, as I do, then you might enjoy having Caspar Henderson’s The Book of Barely Imagined Beings in your library. It’s a beautiful, old-fashioned-looking book, with intricate illustrations in black and red ink, and gold on the jacket. One can almost imagine an ancient monk hunching over the manuscript for long hours, crafting illustrations of creatures wondrous and strange, from the waterbear to the flatworm. And though I’ll quibble a bit with the title’s accuracy—the animals in this bestiary are not only imagined but, in fact, real and currently alive—this is a lovely book full of beautiful illustrations and sentences about such real creatures as the iridogorgia, the xenophyophore, and, yes, the human being. —Madeline Cantwell

BK Loren’s new collection of essays, Animal, Mineral, Radical, includes several that first appeared in Orion, including “Got Tape?” and “Snapshots of My Redneck Brother.” It is a varied and passionate book about people and place and what nourishes us—language, landscape, the people we love—and the complex relationships among all of these. Loren writes out of a belief that humans will always need carefully crafted words, words that “breed compassion.” In her introduction, she writes, “I believe in the power of language in the same way I believe in the power of the earth. It will survive.” And, in this book, they are inextricably connected. —Hannah Fries

Described as the “Korean Charlotte’s Web,” Sun-Mi Hwang’s barnyard parable, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, is about as charming as it gets. Sprout, an egg-laying hen, wants nothing more than to escape her confinement in the chicken coop to hatch and raise one of her eggs. Artful, poignant, and often funny, the tale ponders love, loyalty, and perseverance. After you read it, be sure to look up the movie version, Leafie, A Hen into the Wild. —Kristen Hewitt