May-June 2022

Tales of talking trees and counterterrorism

The latest reads by local authors dive into science, history and collaborative intelligence

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While Fred Bowen’s latest book is geared toward kids ages 8-12, the Silver Spring author says Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association (Margaret K. McElderry Books, January 2022) has a broader appeal. “I’m hoping parents will get the book for their kid, but also read the book with their kid and say, ‘I remember seeing Michael Jordan play.’ Then they can go on YouTube and watch him,” says Bowen, who reviewed many games online to confirm much of the material he documented. The 112-page book, illustrated by James Ransome, traces the “humble beginnings” of the league, Bowen says. He tells how the NBA responded to the times by racially integrating in 1950, introduced the 24-second shot clock in 1954 to speed up play, and added the 3-point field goal in 1979.


Five years after 9/11, a plot to kill thousands of people by destroying passenger aircrafts with liquid bombs was averted. It was an intelligence success that few people know about, explains Chevy Chase’s Aki Peritz in Disruption: Inside the Largest Counterterrorism Investigation in History (Potomac Books, December 2021). The book chronicles the hard work and lucky breaks behind the collaborative intelligence operation, along with a look at how regular people decide to go down dark paths of destruction, he says. The episode “shows that the system generally works,” says Peritz, a former counterterrorism analyst who now works at the Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security at the University of Maryland. “This happened several years ago and nothing’s happened since.”


Laura Gehl was so fascinated by the science of how trees can communicate with other trees that she was inspired to write a children’s book about it. The Chevy Chase author’s latest picture book, Apple and Magnolia (Flyaway Books, February 2022), illustrated by Patricia Metola, tells the story of a little girl who believes the trees in her yard are friends and can help each other. “I have some theme or message in every book that I hope kids will carry with them, and long after they’ve finished the book will spark conversations with grown-ups in their lives,” Gehl says. Before publishing more than two dozen children’s books, she worked as a researcher in a neurobiology lab, taught high school biology and was a science writer.


Too often, people don’t understand there is a diversity and depth of Black male experiences, says Will Jawando. The at-large Montgomery County councilmember says his new book, My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist’s Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2022), dispels stereotypes about what Black boys can be and shows the impact of caring Black men in his life. “[Mentoring] has the power to dramatically change the outcomes for Black men and boys,” says Jawando, who grew up in Montgomery County and now lives in Sandy Spring. “We must enable those relationships—either have them ourselves or hire teachers. There is a role for everybody. If you know someone, connect them with someone.”