Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the kidlit version of this weekly meme.
This week on my blog:
- A round-up of some of my favorite online reading
- A celebration of going with the flow
- A slice of life about trying to invite more creativity into my life
I read Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, five or six times last week. I read it once just to enjoy the shifting focus of the dog’s eyes. The spread where he gazes directly at the reader is hilarious. The ending was controversial at my house: my son hated it and said it ruined the whole book for him; my husband pronounced it a work of genius and is calling this his new favorite picture book; and I headed off to 100 Scope Notes to read Travis Jonker’s six theories (be sure to read the comments too). My son wanted to know exactly what happened, but my husband and I preferred to keep it a mystery.
Patricia MacLachlan’s The Iridescence of Birds, illustrated by Hadley Hooper, reminded me a bit of Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida. MacLachlan’s book is more of a biography than Morales’s is–we find out some details about Henri Matisse’s childhood, for instance. But, like Viva Frida, it’s more about how creativity and the artistic spirit can be nurtured and developed. I loved seeing how images and memories from Matisse’s childhood later made their way into his paintings. This book certainly deserves to be in the Caldecott conversation. The text is fairly minimal (two long sentences, more lyrical than informative); the story is really told through Hooper’s illustrations. I especially like the spread where the child Matisse is on one side of the ladder and the adult Matisse stands on the other side.
What a delight Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is! I read this book aloud to my son, and it’s a terrific read-aloud. So much humor in characters, situations, and sentences, excellent pacing, plenty of heart. We are looking forward to Book 2.
Susan Goldman Rubin’s middle-grade/YA nonfiction book, There Goes the Neighborhood: Ten Buildings People Loved to Hate, profiles ten buildings that were controversial when first built but mostly beloved now. Her selections include the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, the Pompidou Center, and the Guggenheium Museum, as well as a couple of controversial houses. Each short chapter details the project from architectural design to construction to critical response and includes quotations and photographs. The book designers had a clever idea: print text and photos in blue ink to mimic architectural blueprints. Unfortunately, I thought the use of the blue ink gave the book a dated look. I also wish that Rubin had included more discussion about the history of architecture and how these particular buildings may have created controversy because they broke with tradition. A discussion of aesthetics might have been helpful as well. Without a greater context, it’s often difficult to understand just why some of these buildings were so controversial.I read Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor very slowly over the past week, a few pages a day, and I absolutely loved it, but I don’t know who the right audience for this book is. If you haven’t read Barry’s earlier book, What It Is, many of the ideas about image and the unconscious mind that are implicit or alluded to in Syllabus may not make a lot of sense. Syllabus might also appeal more to teachers or college professors, as it’s a syllabus and set of daily course plans, heavily illustrated in Barry’s signature cartoon style, along with samples of student work and occasional brief reflections. It’s a snapshot of a semester in Barry’s teaching life, a collection of items you might file in a course binder each week. The materials she includes show what her class did, but not usually how or why. What I love about the book is also what some readers might find frustrating about it: nothing is really explained or described in any detail. That worked for me because I find Barry’s writing and drawing so evocative and suggestive: this book made me wonder and think and question and reflect on every page.
This week, I have lots of reading plans: I am hoping to finish several books I’ve started (including Laini Taylor’s wonderful Days of Blood and Starlight); read something about creativity each day; and finish the horrible, horrible fractured fairy tale that I am currently reading aloud to my son. I hate it. I hate it so much. The writing is so flat, there are so many plot twists that lead nowhere, there are so many pointless descriptions and unnecessary words and sentences. The good news is that my son rarely follows along as I read aloud, so I am editing as I go–tightening the writing and trying to eliminate what offends me–for instance, a sentence about the mood swings and crying jags of tween girls. Maybe the main character is having a mood swing and wanting to cry because she’s stuck in this book! It certainly makes me want to cry. The bad news is that the book is over 400 pages, so it’s going to take us a few more days to get through it no matter how much bowdlerizing I do! Sadly, my son is quite engaged by the story–but that might be because I’m rewriting it as we go.