On my blog this week:
- A curation of some of my favorite online reading
- A celebration of birthdays and books
- A list of fifteen of my favorite Newberys
- A review of Steve Jenkins’s nonfiction picture book, Eye to Eye
- A top ten list of picture books that I wish had won a Caldecott
I finished two professional development books that I hope to review in the next couple of weeks:
Meenoo Rami’s Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching
I wanted to look at Stardines: Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Carin Berger, after reading a blog post by Betsy Bird called Always Bridesmaids, Never Brides: Caldecott Almosts. Berger is one of nine illustrators Bird identifies as highly deserving of a Caldecott. Berger does exquisite cut paper and collage work. For Forever Friends, her illustrations were delicate and charming. For Stardines, they’re quirky and humorous, just like Prelutsky’s poetry. I am not the right reader for most children’s poetry: I don’t like rhyming couplets, and I don’t like nonsense verse, and it seems to me that most poetry published for children drowns in both. Certainly Prelutsky’s book does. These are silly poems about fantastical creatures: stardines, slobsters, plandas, etc. You get the idea. If you go for this sort of thing, it’s probably wonderful. But I was mostly interested in the art, which is quite elaborate and interesting.
As I was putting together my post last week about my own “Caldecott Almosts,” I thought about E.B. Lewis. His work illustrating Jacqueline’s Woodson’s picture books impressed me. But I knew I had found my Caldecott Almost when I saw the work he created to illustrate Langston Hughes’s The Negro Speaks of Rivers. I have no idea why this book didn’t win every illustration prize when it was published in 2009, because the art is INCREDIBLE. Every possible mood and color of a river is depicted. My favorite illustration is probably Lewis’s self-portrait to illustrate the line, “My soul has grown deep like rivers.” An absolutely stunning book.
My son is a great fan of the porcine wonder that is Mercy Watson, so I knew I had to read Kate DiCamillo’s latest, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, to him. Leroy Ninker discovers that he needs just one thing to be perfectly happy: a horse. His horse, the homely Maybelline, dearly loves a compliment and inspires Leroy to deliver many fine “poeticals.” DiCamillo’s sentences are made to be read aloud, and once again, Chris Van Dusen contributes terrific illustrations. And yes, there is buttered toast.
My son and I also read the second Nanny Piggins book by R.A. Spratt, Nanny Piggins and the Wicked Plan. My son finds Nanny Piggins disturbingly amoral; he finds it very difficult to understand the humor in this series. For adult readers, the humor is largely language-based. Spratt writes some very clever sentences and employs irony and understatement to great effect. But for kid readers, I’m guessing that the humor is largely situational and character-driven as Nanny Piggins outsmarts all of the evil adults, and yes, it’s the kind of story where all the grown-ups who aren’t pigs fall somewhere on a spectrum between cruel and moronic. We will probably read the third book but only after we read a few wholesome stories to settle my son’s concerns about Nanny Piggins’s moral code.
The Great American Dust Bowl, written and illustrated by Don Brown, is a nonfiction graphic novel about the dust storm of April 14, 1935, one of the worst of the 1930s. Brown plunges the reader into the storm, then steps back to explain why the dust storms started happening in the first place, then returns the reader to the storm to experience the storm itself and its consequences. It is truly terrifying stuff. This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers: my third-grader could read it, but it’s also a book I would choose to have in a high school classroom library. Maybe because I had just finished Teri Lesesne’s Reading Ladders, I couldn’t help but start thinking of reading ladders for this book: Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn, Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time Ever, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. It would also be a good book to study in a unit on “environmental catastrophe.” Brown also reminds the reader that dust storms are not a thing of the past: the final page describes environmental and climate events of 2011 and 2013. There is a small amount of useful back matter: a bibliography and source notes and two stunning photographs, one of a dust storm in 1935 and another of a dust storm in 2011. Donna Gephart’s Death by Toilet Paper is an excellent middle-grade novel about seventh-grader Ben, whose family has been plunged into poverty after the death of his father the year before. Ben’s mother is trying to make ends meet while going back to school, but she’s behind on the rent and threatened with eviction. Ben puts a lot of pressure on himself to help out by entering sweepstakes and contests. He’s convinced he’s going to win the jackpot and be able to help his mother keep their apartment. Toilet paper enters the story through a series of letters Ben writes to the Royal-T toilet paper company, whose superior product Ben wishes his mother could still afford, and through the fascinating toilet and toilet paper facts shared at the beginning of each chapter. There’s a lot going on here–friendship issues, bullying at school, a grandfather who is losing his memory–but Gephart weaves the different themes and plot elements together effortlessly. Plenty of humor and heart.
Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s YA graphic novel, This One Summer, is a book that is going to stick with me for awhile. Jillian Tamaki’s art is especially beautiful and tells much of the story without words. This is a book about what it means to be a girl in a misogynistic culture that so often views women as sexual objects and what it means to grow up and discover that you aren’t the center of the universe and you don’t always understand what the people closest to you are going through. Profound and challenging and absolutely lovely.
Carmen Bernier-Grand tells the story of painter Diego Rivera through first-person free verse poems in Diego: Bigger Than Life. Bernier-Grand focuses on Rivera’s development as an artist, though she also includes ample references to his colorful personal life (Diego loved the ladies, and the ladies loved Diego) and key emotional crises (the death of a child, the death of Frida Kahlo). Rivera comes into his own as an artist once he finds a way to infuse his paintings with his political and social beliefs. David Diaz lavishly illustrates. This title is probably best suited for middle school and high school classrooms and libraries.
Sophie Webb’s Sibert Honor book, My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal, tells the story of a season she spent working with scientists and researchers at a penguin colony in Antarctica. The book is set up like a field journal with dated entries and sketches. There is plenty of scientific information about penguins here, but I found some of the more personal details about the travel and living conditions most memorable.
Reading Goals Update
Nerdbery Challenge: 1/12 books
#MustReadin2014: 8/15 books
YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 5/12 books
Professional Development Reading Goal: 8/12 books
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 87/100 books
Picture Book Reading Goal: 518/350 books
Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 62/100 books
YA Lit Reading Goal: 31/60 books
Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 22/12 books
Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 130/200