This week on my blog:
- A curation of some of my favorite online reading from the week
- A celebration of teachers who get it, snarky course hashtags, and uninterrupted stretches of time for reading
- A recommendations post for historical fiction, featuring Top Ten lists by Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke
- A Top Ten list featuring the nonfiction books I most want to read right now (a couple of which are in my Monday post today!)
- A slice of life on the language my son has taught me, the language of trauma
Steve Jenkins and Robin Page’s Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look The Way They Do is every bit as gorgeous as that cover leads you to believe it will be. Jenkins creates 25 portraits of animals, mostly faces, some familiar (panda, giraffe), some decidedly not (thorny devil, axolotl). The information is presented in a Q&A format with a simple question (“Dear sun bear: Why is your tongue so long?”) and simple answer (“I love to eat ants and termites. With my long tongue, I can reach into their nests and slurp them up.”). I found the information about each animal’s distinctive feature so fascinating that I often wished for more text, but I do realize more text would destroy the effect and muddy the purpose. This is nonfiction for the youngest readers that will still appeal to older readers. The backmatter includes scale drawings comparing each animal to a human, a map showing where the wild population lives (I love that there is a tiny wild population of hamsters!), and a list of foods in its preferred diet. There is also a bibliography.
Abby Hanlon’s early chapter book, Dory Fantasmagory, is absolutely fantastic. Dory, nicknamed Rascal by her family for reasons that will become obvious to the reader very, very quickly, is desperate for her older siblings to play with her and include her in their games, but they find ways both mundane (complaining to mom) and creative (scaring Dory with the story of Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a baby thief) to avoid their little sister. Dory eventually wins them over–at least temporarily–and there is much mischief, imagination, and adventure along the way. There are drawings on every page, and the pictures tell the story just as much as the words do.
Somehow I missed this Elephant & Piggie story when it was published earlier in the year. In My New Friend Is So Fun!, Piggie makes a new friend, which prompts much jealousy and woe from Gerald. Of course things turn out right in the end. How does Mo Willems write so many perfect books??
I gave myself a special treat this week and reread a favorite middle-grade title, Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. It’s so comforting to sink into a favorite book. I think one of my reading goals for 2015 is going to be more rereading!
Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave circulated like mad in my Children’s Literature course last spring: everyone who read One and Only Ivan and loved it (nearly the whole class) wanted to read Home of the Brave–especially after it was enthusiastically book-talked by several students. This is a powerful story about a Sudanese refugee named Kek who moves to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin, also refugees. Kek’s father and brother have been killed in the war, and his mother is missing. Applegate’s spare verse works extremely well for this story, though I did have some problems with the first-person narration, given that Kek is newly arrived in America and doesn’t speak English. I also wish that Applegate had included some information in the back about how she researched and wrote the story and how she worked to make sure it was culturally accurate. I’m going to have to do a little research on my own before I book-talk this next semester. But I did love this story–especially Kek’s relationship with Gol, the cow.
Jay-Z is a very short (32 page!) graphic novel about the life and work of “Hip Hop Icon” Jay-Z. It’s a great idea for a graphic novel, and Jay-Z would seem to be a good subject. But wow, this book was boring. It’s set up as an interview between Jay-Z and a reporter who asks questions about his rise to stardom and business interests. Although I don’t think the book works at all, it’s still one I would want to have in my classroom library. I can see plenty of reluctant readers picking this one up, breezing through it, having a successful reading experience (and I can accept that it’s probably more engaging for its target audience than it was for me), and wanting to read something else (perhaps another book in the American Graphic series).
I’m on a quest to read all of Donna Gephart’s books after enjoying Death by Toilet Paper so much. In Olivia Bean Trivia Queen (this woman can write a book title!), the trivia-obsessed Olivia has just one goal: to make it onto Kid Week on her favorite TV show, Jeopardy. Partly it’s because she really does love trivia, but mostly it’s because her father has moved to California with his new family (which just happens to include Olivia’s former best friend) and she thinks the only way she can afford a trip to visit her dad is to get sent there by Jeopardy. The TV/trivia plot keeps things moving briskly, but the heart of the story is how Olivia comes to terms with the inadequacies (and more than inadequacies) of her gambling-addict Dad and with the pain of losing him and her best friend.
Pen & Ink: Tattoos & The Stories Behind Them is an expanded book version of the tumblr of the same name. Isaac Fitzgerald interviews a variety of people about their tattoos. He writes the story and Wendy MacNaughton illustrates. It’s a charming and surprisingly thought-provoking book. I read it in one sitting, but it’s also the kind of book to dip into and read two or three stories at a time.