On my blog:
- A collection of links to my favorite online reading
- A short celebration of my 400th blog post
- Reviews of several good multicultural nonfiction picture books
- Lots of questions about why schools aren’t teaching kids to use cell phones for learning
I also guest-blogged last week at Get Outside Yourself, the blog of the English Department at Chadron State College (where I teach):
- A confession about my addiction to starting new books
- A Top Ten post featuring the hardest books to read as nominated by 11 English majors
- 10 tips for bloggers on finding topics and motivation to write
- A list of 10 books every pre-service English teacher should read (reblogged from this blog)
- 5 spoken word poetry videos I have been sharing in most of my classes this semester
In reading, I finally finished some books! (Which means I can start some new ones.)
I think this is my third or fourth time reading Rebecca Stead’s Newbery winner, When You Reach Me, and this time I listened with my ears. I am not a fan of A Wrinkle in Time (have any of you read that book lately? I reread it a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe how boring it was! I still need to read Hope Larson’s graphic novel adaptation), but I love Miranda’s obsession with it. I think it’s funny that she obsessively rereads this one book and never branches out to find other books she might love just as much. I did that as a child too–compulsively rereading a handful of favorites and never even realizing how many more wonderful books I could also have been reading. In any case, I can confirm that When You Reach Me holds up to multiple rereadings and is also excellent on audio.
Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost was another reread for me this week, as my son chose it for our read-aloud. I was so glad that he did, because I think this is an important story. (It’s also a really good read-aloud. Some books just read aloud better than other books, and this is a good one.) We had so many interesting conversations last week inspired by this story.
Inspired by Franki’s post on reading aloud with her third-graders, I decided to try Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George. It has a stupendously great first sentence: “When Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two.” You have to keep reading, don’t you? The Castle itself was probably my favorite character in this fairy tale-like story of a good royal family that finds itself in the middle of intrigue and ambush. But Princess Celie, our heroine, is also a delight: headstrong, clever, and brave, she saves the day more than once with the help of her beloved castle.
I decided I’d better get serious about my YA lit reading challenge, since I’ve only read half of the 60 YA novels I committed to reading in 2014, and it is already October. If I’m going to reach my goal, I have about 30 YA books to read over the next three months. SIGH. All I can say is thank goodness for graphic novels and nonfiction! I started with Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, a graphic novel adapted by Faith Erin Hicks from Prudence Shen’s original young adult novel. Hicks and Shen tackle the age-old jocks vs geeks/geeks vs cheerleaders plot but give it a unique spin. This is a story with heart and one that should be in every middle school and high school classroom library.
Runaway Girl: The Artist Louise Bourgeois is a lavishly illustrated biography of an important twentieth-century artist written for young adults. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan ground Bourgeois’s art and creativity in her childhood experiences and memories (as did Bourgeois herself). They were able to interview the artist (she was in her 90s and still going strong!), so Bourgeois’s own words and thoughts about her art are woven throughout this well-researched text. Bourgeois insists that the art needs to stand alone without biographical context, but I found many of the pieces much more meaningful after I read Greenberg and Jordan’s commentary contextualizing and analyzing the art. The book is really a feast for the eyes with so many photos of Bourgeois herself and her work. There is superb and extensive back matter.Kendra by Coe Booth is the story of fourteen-year-old Kendra who has been raised by her grandmother while her mother, Renee, has been in school earning her Ph.D. Renee was just fourteen when she got pregnant with Kendra, but she didn’t let that derail her dreams of being an academic. Kendra has been waiting patiently for her mother to finish school and finally become the mother that Kendra wants and needs–rather than the mostly absent “older sister” Renee has often pretended to be. Kendra is crushed when Renee makes it clear that she isn’t going to invite Kendra to live with her. In her grief and disappointment, Kendra hooks up with Nashawn, a boy her best friend has a crush on. Booth thoughtfully explores Kendra’s complicated feelings about her parents (her dad lives in the same apartment building and is a strong positive presence in her life, but he can’t get over Renee and move on with his life), her confusion over her sexual relationship with Nashawn, her strained friendship with Adonna, and her tense relationship with her grandmother, who is determined that Kendra isn’t going to be like Renee. I struggled with Nashawn’s character–I found it hard to believe that he would suddenly turn into solid boyfriend material at the end of the story–but otherwise found this to be a strong, engaging, and important YA novel.
I read about a dozen picture books this week with my son but only feel compelled to feature two on my blog.
When Bob Met Woody is an excellent picture book biography of young Bob Dylan, focusing on his childhood and early career struggles and success. Golio is especially good on Dylan’s love of practicing, independence (he refused to take piano or guitar lessons and insisted on teaching himself), and early musical influences. The illustrations by Marc Burckhardt are warm and inviting.
I have to confess that Patricia Polacco is one of a handful of beloved children’s book author-illustrators that I simply don’t get. Objectively, I understand what other readers are raving about, but her books generally leave me with a serious case of meh. (With, perhaps, the exception of Thunder Cake.) So I have been in no hurry to read Thank You, Mr. Falker. But this is a Patricia Polacco book that I can love as much as anyone else. It’s really a love letter to great teachers everywhere. Trisha is so excited to start school because she longs to learn how to read. But unlike the other children in her class, she can’t seem to learn how. She struggles for five years until she finally has a teacher who understands her problem: she’s dyslexic. Mr. Falker not only understands; he decides to do something about it. Trisha is not going to leave his classroom until she learns to read. He employs many unconventional methods to help her learn. As the mother of a son who struggles to read, I found this story poignant, and I finished it wishing that my son could find his Mr. Falker. This is one I will certainly be sharing with the students in my Children’s Literature class.