On my blog this week:
- A curation of online reading, with articles about teaching, children’s lit, and productivity
- A celebration of school starting, football uniforms, books, and more
- A review of two excellent picture book biographies by Barbara Kerley and Edward Fotheringham
- A list of the top 10 books I want to read right now but don’t own
It was a very good week in reading:
Comics Squad Recess is a collection of short comics by Dan Santat, Raina Telgemeier, Jarrett Krosoczka, Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm, and more. My favorites were Dan Santat’s and Ursula Vernon’s, but all of the stories were enjoyable. I bought the book for my 6th-grade son’s classroom library, but my 3rd-grader may abscond with it first. A very quick read (I think it took me about 20 minutes to read the whole book) and much to amuse and delight.
Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters is a graphic novel memoir of a summer road trip Raina and her family (minus their dad) made from California to Colorado. Interspersed with vignettes from the road are flashbacks to key moments in her relationship with her younger sister. The complexity of family relationships is wonderfully portrayed here. It’s the kind of story where not much happens–and yet everything significant is happening. It’s a story about growing up and growing apart and growing together.
The Fourteenth Goldfish is my new favorite Jennifer Holm novel. I loved the voice of the main character, Ellie. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit here: Ellie’s scientist grandfather has discovered a cure for aging and has been aging in reverse. He’s now fourteen years old–at least in appearance–and pretending to be Ellie’s cousin, Melvin. Somehow Holm gets this information across early, and the reader doesn’t even question it. Much of the novel’s drama concerns Ellie’s relationship with her grandfather/cousin and her growing interest in science, which I found compelling. But there is much more going on here. There is Ellie’s relationship with her parents, who are divorced but friendly; the growing pains she’s experiencing with her former best friend, Brianna; and a new friendship with Raj. Holm accomplishes something very tricky here: a novel that’s fast-paced as well as reflective, a novel that’s all character and plot yet also asks the most important questions: Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? How do we live our lives meaningfully, with purpose? One of my favorites of 2014, for sure.
When I was a little girl, I had fantasies of growing up and becoming an archaeologist. That was before I discovered that archaeology–the actual sitting and doing of it–looks really tedious. There was nothing tedious about the way nineteenth-century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann practiced archaeology. In Laura Amy Schlitz’s words, he was a “storyteller, archaeologist, and crook,” and his story makes for entertaining reading. Schliemann believed that the events depicted in Homer’s epics were at least partially true, and he set out for Turkey to discover the lost cities described by Homer. Although he did make some important discoveries, he was a menace at a site: he dug with abandon, falsified his findings, stole some of the things he discovered, and ignored evidence that didn’t fit the narrative he wanted to find. Laura Amy Schlitz’s slender biography, The Hero Schliemann, (well illustrated by Robert Byrd) is both informative and highly opinionated. Schliemann is an exasperating and often unlikable character, and you get the feeling that the author also found him exasperating and unlikable. She is not entirely unsympathetic to his desire to paint a heroic narrative for himself, however. I have largely avoided reading biography since I finished my Ph.D. dissertation (on feminist biographies of 18th-century women writers), but I do love biographies written for children. All the boring parts are left out!
Dogs on Duty: Soldiers’ Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond is a lavishly illustrated (with photographs) look at military working dogs throughout history. The text is straightforward and clear, and the many photographs are incredibly engaging. I can see this book appealing to many types of readers.
My TBR list exploded as I skim-read Booklist’s 1000 Best Young Adult Books Since 2000, which my campus librarian set aside for me. The list is divided into fiction (contemporary fiction, graphic novels, historical fiction, mystery & suspense, and speculative fiction) and nonfiction sections (arts, history, poetry, science, and social science). Although I primarily used the book to add to my TBR pile, I did have some insights about my knowledge of YA lit as well. I know contemporary fiction and graphic novels really well. There were very few titles in these sections that I hadn’t at least heard of, though much, of course, that I haven’t read. Historical fiction gets a bit sketchy for me, and then mystery & suspense is, well, a complete mystery to me. I don’t read these books, and I don’t know these books. I’m sensing a reading challenge!
I was so excited to get my hands on Aaron Becker’s gorgeous new wordless picture book, Quest, a follow-up to Journey. It’s beautiful and magical and imaginative, and I absolutely have to buy a copy.
Memoirs of a Goldfish had me laughing out loud in the bookstore. The text did get a bit wordy for me as the story went on, but I appreciated how it works on multiple levels. Older readers will see the story a little differently than younger readers, but it’s a story that works for all ages. I’m also thinking about mentor text possibilities with the memoir/diary format. And Tim Bowers’s illustrations are perfection.
I had a mixed response to Bob Staake’s My Pet Book. I wanted to love it–because I love Bob Staake’s other work and because I love the idea of the story. A kid who keeps a book as a pet? Yes, please. But this book didn’t work for me as well as it seems to be working for others. The plot development where the pet book goes missing made no sense to me (and ok, it’s a story about a PET BOOK, so perhaps I am being too picky, but suddenly there’s a maid and she sweeps up the book and takes it to a charity organization and why?). The illustrations began to feel overly busy, overly colorful, overly loud, and the rhyme generally felt forced. I’m going to give this one another chance in a couple of weeks and share it with actual children (mine) and see if my response chances.
Deborah Freedman’s Scribble is a delight. Two sisters get into an argument as they’re drawing: the big one criticizes the little one’s drawing of a cat, and the little one retaliates by scribbling all over the big one’s drawing. And there the drama really starts, because the little sister enters the world of the scribbles and tries to make things right, and she’s thwarted and helped by the scribbly illustrations (the princess and the cat) that come to life. Freedman’s books are exquisite works of art. The combination of the preschooler-style scribble drawings and Freedman’s own detailed and precise style works beautifully here. Another new favorite.