On my blog:
- A small Sunday Salon with links to some online reading I especially enjoyed last week
- A celebration of dogs, mail-order injera, and NCTE funding
- A review of Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books
- A review of two picture book biographies of Helen Keller
- An update on my #MustReadin2014 reading challenge progress
Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener is one of those very good books that somehow wasn’t quite the right book for me at the right time, even though, objectively, I very much admire what it achieves. It’s distinguished in every way and deserving of the Newbery talk I’ve been reading. Beautiful sentences, compelling and creepy plot, strong characters, a fine theme about story. Plus, that gorgeous cover. If this hadn’t been (over)due at the library, I probably would have waited for a time when I was more in the mood for this kind of story, because I have a feeling that if I’d read this book at a different time, I would have loved it. As it is, I am in very strong admire with the book, but that’s okay too.
My son absolutely adored Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. He likes read-aloud time, but he rarely begs for it to go on longer. At the end of every chapter of Rump, however, he asked for “just one more”–music to the ears of this mama. AND he now knows that fractured fairy tales are a thing–a thing that he likes. (We’re now reading The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which is delightful.)
I don’t know what to say about Roz Chast’s memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, except that you need to read it. You’re probably familiar with Chast’s comics, and she does use comics to great effect in this memoir, but she also mixes in memoir writing and drawings, with the occasional photograph. Chast is very, very funny, even–especially?–when writing about decidedly not-funny things; that humor, dark and bleak as it sometimes is, is absolutely necessary for this story. This is not a happy book: it’s a memoir about Chast’s attempts to take care of her elderly parents during their decline in their 90s. She describes their aging, dementia, and death in devastating detail. This book is absolutely unflinching–both in its examination of all the ways we lose control of our bodies and minds in extreme old age as well as in its reflection on Chast’s own complicated feelings about her parents and her childhood. I doubt my description has made anyone think this is a must-read, but it really is: it’s important and hard and very funny and definitely a book that’s going on my list of favorite reads from 2014.
And now for something entirely different: Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl. This early reader, written by Jessie Haas and illustrated by Alison Friend, is going to be a great favorite with the horse-mad students in my Children’s Lit class. This first volume in the series mostly introduces the two main characters and brings them together: real adventure will have to wait for later volumes.
It’s too bad that A Is For Musk Ox was published in the same year as Z Is for Moose. I think it doesn’t get the attention it richly deserves. On the surface, they are awfully similar books: in both, you’ve got an unconventional animal wreaking havoc with an alphabet book and a cranky zebra who’s trying to get everything back on track. But writer Erin Cabatingan and illustrator Matthew Myers make this story their own. I found Joseph, the musk ox, quite engaging as he manages to connect every letter of the alphabet to the glories of the musk oxen. A fun read-aloud and a bit of a tongue-twister: it’s challenging to say musk oxen repeatedly.
My son pronounced Sector 7 “boring,” an evaluation I found completely outrageous (It’s a David Wiesner book! It’s so pretty! There are clouds shaped like cool fish creature things!) until I realized that I was kind of bored too. I did love the pages with the cool fish creature things, but there were far too many spreads of factory scenes and not enough whimsy for my taste.Actual Size, another stellar nonfiction title about animals from Steve Jenkins, provides so many opportunities for wonder and incredulity. Jenkins’s paper collages are magnificent, and he’s also so good at zeroing in on just the right detail to convey information. Every part of this book is thoughtfully designed–from the fold-out pages to the use of white space to the title page and copyright page.
I loved Raul Colon’s wordless picture book about a young artist who travels to Africa in his imagination and has incredible adventures illustrating the different animals he finds there. A beautiful story about art and imagination. Wouldn’t it look pretty with a shiny gold sticker on the cover?? (If the Newbery and Caldecott committees recognize only white authors and illustrators for yet another year, my head may explode. #WeNeedDiverseBooks and we especially need diverse books to win major book awards!) Katherine Applegate’s Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is nonfiction picture book perfection. I so admire the clarity, simplicity, and sensitivity of this book. Each line is poetry. But in a good way. Not in a call-attention-to-its-own-luminous-prose-kind-of-way. At first, I thought G. Brian Karas’s illustrations were kind of ugly, but they really grew on me, and I ended up believing they were the perfect complement to Applegate’s prose. This is a brilliant introduction to Ivan’s life (and to animal welfare issues) for the youngest readers, but it will keep the attention and interest of readers of all ages. (Even my husband wanted to read it!) There is interesting back matter, including a note from one of Ivan’s zookeepers at Zoo Atlanta, some photos, and one of Ivan’s paintings.
I am eventually going to have to purchase all of Elise Gravel’s Disgusting Creatures series, because we loved the first two that we read, The Slug and The Rat. Interesting facts about the “disgusting critters” in question are paired with silly cartoon illustrations. I wished that each book were a bit heavier on the factual information and a bit lighter on the silly cartoons, but as an introduction to nonfiction writing for young readers, this series can’t be beat.
Reading Goal Update:
Nerdbery Challenge: 1/12 books
#MustReadin2014: 10/15 books
YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 7/12 books
Professional Development Reading Goal: 9/12 books
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 103/100 books
Picture Book Reading Goal: 572/350 books
YA Lit Reading Goal: 37/60 books
Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 26/12 books
Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 143/200