On my blog this week:
- Sunday Salon, a round-up of online reading
- A celebration of 5 Things I Loved About Last Week
- A couple of nonfiction picture books that inspire curiosity
I read so many good books this week:
I finished listening to I Am the Messenger on audio. Markus Zusak has been all over my YA Shelf of Shame, but no longer! This is a book I have started at least half a dozen times and always abandoned, though I can’t imagine why, because it’s absorbing and engaging from the very beginning. There is nothing heroic about our hero, Ed Kennedy. He’s overwhelmingly an underachiever. In the first scene, he thwarts a robbery; after that, he begins to receive playing cards in the mail with people’s names and addresses on them–people who need help in some kind of way. And Ed figures out what they need and helps them. Though it’s not nearly so easy as my description makes it sound. The book is really about how Ed discovers that he wants something more from himself and from his life and how he realizes that he is actually capable of that something more. I did think the role of Audrey was incredibly underwritten: it’s difficult to see why Ed pines for her, and equally difficult to root for the two of them getting together at the end. At least for me. But wow. What a book. Really, really good. There is also some terrific Ed Kennedy fan art online that I happened to see this morning–put a smile on my face.
After I finished Half a Chance on Friday, I moped around the house wondering what else I could possibly ever read that would be half so pleasing to me as this book was. It has everything I love in a book: a strong setting (lake country in New Hampshire–very near where I used to live); memorable characters (Lucy is an aspiring photographer who is once again the new kid in town and who is struggling with the fact that her famous photographer father prioritizes his career over his family); and themes worth grappling with (art, family, friendship, aging, memory loss, animal conservation). Lord packs a lot into this slim novel, but she is always in control of the material. An affecting and deeply satisfying book.
I assuaged my sadness over finishing Half a Chance by picking up The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, which I had started last month and needed to finish. Unlike Half a Chance, True Blue Scouts is filled with all kinds of things I do not like in a book: quirk to the extreme (I like quirk, but a little goes a long way), Southern accents galore (one of the main characters is named J’miah, for heaven’s sake), talking animals (talking animals WITH Southern accents, no less), absurdly exaggerated villains, swamps, Yeti-like creatures, and extensive direct address to the reader. But no matter. I loved it. It totally worked for me.
A new Sy Montgomery-Nic Bishop title would always be a must-read for me, but a book about cheetahs, my number one favorite animal? Of course I was crazy about Chasing Cheetahs. First, I interrupted my students’ independent reading time to share cheetah facts with them and wave photos in their faces, then I followed my husband around the house reading him snippets from the book and making him look at every single photo. I have already decided that I want to stop being me and start being Dr. Laurie Marker, who started the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia to try to address the plummeting cheetah population. Turns out that the liberal application of goats and dogs do quite a bit to conserve cheetahs. Anyway, the book is absolutely fascinating, and it’s full of gorgeous photographs, and I am totally quitting my current life today and heading off to Namibia to save the cheetah.
My older son and I just finished reading The Waffler, by Gail Donovan. This is an engaging story about a boy who has trouble making up his mind. His principal calls him a waffler, and unfortunately the nickname sticks. His teacher decides to break him of his waffling, and much drama ensues. But Monty ultimately makes the right choices–unlike some of the adults in his life. This worked really well as a read-aloud.
Hudson Talbott’s It’s All About Me-Ow is a great read for cat lovers. The premise is an older, wiser cat teaching some kittens the art of understanding and training their humans. We certainly recognized the behaviors and antics of our six cats (including a propensity to vomit on the rug) somewhere in this story. This one is a bit complicated as a read-aloud–there are several detailed charts and diagrams that I think actually lose some of their humor and appeal when read aloud.
Lois Ehlert is probably the only children’s book author and illustrator left on my Children’s Lit Shelf of Shame. There is something about her work that doesn’t appeal to me in a big way. Partly it’s the giant font of the text in so many of her books. I have no idea why that’s so off-putting to me, but it is. But it’s also her collage, which often seems like a hodge-podge of different things that don’t come together in a visually pleasing whole. I realize that her collage IS a hodge-podge, but the point there, I think, should be for everything to come together in some kind of seamless whole. Which it doesn’t for me. But I realize that I am in the minority there.
In any case, I bought her new autobiography a few weeks ago and have been waiting to read it until we could read a few of her other picture books. I liked Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf better than I expected to, but I still had problems with it, especially with the narrator. Of course there is the gigantic font which makes me want to thrust the book far, far away from myself to read. But the sentence-level writing was often rather confusing, which is odd, given that it’s a fairly straightforward nonfiction story about the life cycle of a sugar maple tree. The confusion comes from the unnamed and unseen narrator who sometimes seems to be a child and sometimes seems to be an adult remembering being a child. The narrator doesn’t add much to the story, so I wonder why she didn’t choose to present the story as an informational book without a first-person narrator.
Don Brown writes and illustrates Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa, a picture book biography about the bold and unconventional explorer who was basically a nurse and servant to her parents until she was thirty years old. Largely confined to her home and educated only through the books she read from her father’s library, Kingsley is certainly an unlikely African explorer, but off she went after her parents died. Brown has written several biographies about women explorers, scientists, and adventurers that I’m going to have to find. (We’ve already read his title about Mary Anning.)
Richard Collingridge’s When It Snows features gorgeous magical paintings (we especially loved the spread set in the land where snowmen live) and a nice message about the magic and wonder of reading. It’s a Christmas story–not exactly season-appropriate–but I couldn’t resist it when I saw it on the New Shelf at the library.
I feel like we’ve read a lot of new sibling/sibling rivalry stories lately, but I Wanna New Room has very detailed and fun illustrations and does offer something a bit new in the format (a series of letters written between Alex and his parents). Readers of Orloff and Catrow’s previous collaboration, I Wanna Iguana, will be pleased to spot the iguana in this story.
It’s a book by Deborah Hopkinson: of course it’s going to be good! I suppose I would call this one historical fiction, though it also has some delightful metafictional moments that perhaps appeal to the adult reader more than to the child? It’s a tall tale about young Abe Lincoln and his pal, Austin, who is there to save him when they cross the creek and fall in. John Hendrix’s illustrations are superb.
Monica Brown and Raul Colon collaborate on My Name Is Gabito, a biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Brown takes some of the images from Garcia Marquez’s adult fiction and shows how those images had roots in his childhood experiences. Another good title to emphasize the importance of creativity and imagination, though I didn’t find this book as engaging or appealing as Brown and Colon’s other collaborations.
Reading Goal Updates:
Nerdbery Challenge: 0/12 books
#MustReadin2014: 6/15 books
YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 2/12 books
Professional Development Reading Goal: 2/12 books
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 39/100 books
Picture Book Reading Goal: 169/350 books
Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 17/100 books
YA Lit Reading Goal: 167/60 books
Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 14/12 books
Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 59/200