Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the kidlit version of this weekly meme.
This week on my blog:
- A slice about the art of slow grading
- A review of a picture book biography of Civil War doctor, Mary Walker
- A celebration of reading, black bottom chocolate pie, and more
- A curation of online reading related to teaching, reading, and writing (and cats!)
I bought Firebird, written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers, for the art, but I ended up loving it for the writing. Copeland is a ballet dancer, and I thought Firebird was going to be a memoir of some part of her story. It’s not, exactly. Firebird is about Misty Copeland in the same way that Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida is about Frida Kahlo: both books are really about becoming artists, becoming yourself. In Firebird, an unnamed little girl dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, but it feels like such an unlikely dream. The older, wiser narrator encourages the little girl to stay focused, to work hard, and to believe in herself. Although the book is about art and dance, it’s applicable to any child with a dream–that is, to any child. The writing is poetical, lyrical, and inspirational, which doesn’t usually appeal to me, but I found Copeland’s images and use of language vivid and memorable. Myers’s art is getting a lot of praise, and that’s why I bought the book: to see the art. I have mixed feelings about it. The cover is a fair preview of what you will find inside: striking paintings of dancers against plain, somber backgrounds. There was something a bit lacking to me in the art: the bland backgrounds function as a kind of stage and rehearsal space and ought to highlight and heighten the movement and energy of the dancers, but it didn’t work that way for me. Still photographs of Copeland performing Firebird (you can Google images) are much more striking. This is one I may need to read again to truly appreciate.
Mac Barnett takes the old game of Telephone and puts a twist on it. The story begins with a mother bird sending a message across the telephone wire to tell her son it’s time for supper. Each bird who receives the message passes it on in a different way to the next bird, and when it finally reaches the wise old owl, it’s totally incomprehensible. But he’s not the wise old owl for nothing. Clever and charming and thoroughly elevated by Jen Corace’s brilliant art. (A little aside: my younger son could not read the title of this book because it’s written in cursive, and he is not learning to read or write cursive at school.)
Sandra Markle’s The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit’s Amazing Migration, illustrated by Mia Posada, follows the unlikely early life of the godwit, a bird born in Alaska who migrates to New Zealand. Godwits fly nonstop on the 7,000-mile journey, which takes them a full week. Incredible! The journey is really the remarkable thing, but Markle informs us about the bird’s birth and first few months of life and makes that interesting and dramatic as well. A strong nonfiction title, written to be comprehensible as a read-aloud for very young readers.
I’m still trying to figure out what I thought about Matthew Quick’s Boy 21. The strength here is the main character’s voice and situation. I had many problems with this book, but I couldn’t put it down, and that was largely a function of Finley’s strong, compelling voice. I found the other characters underdeveloped and often unbelievable–and I don’t even mean Russ, the kid who pretends/believes he’s an alien from outer space. I didn’t fully understand the setting, and that’s a really important part of this story. The racial tensions of the town were interesting but, again, underdeveloped, and as a result, the final plot business–where the big mystery about Finley’s mother is revealed and tied to the disappearance of Finley’s girlfriend–didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I can’t quite stop thinking about the book, though, so there’s something there, even though it didn’t work for me.
I plan to review Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books: A Guide to the Illustrations by Heidi K. Hammond and Gail D. Nordstrom later in the week.
Nerdbery Challenge: 1/12 books
#MustReadin2014: 9/15 books
YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 7/12 books
Professional Development Reading Goal: 9/12 books
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 95/100 books
Picture Book Reading Goal: 555/350 books
Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 69/100 books
YA Lit Reading Goal: 36/60 books
Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 25/12 books
Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 140/200
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