On my blog:
- A reading-themed weekly round-up of online posts and essays I’ve enjoyed
- A celebration of my son’s unusual love language, snow, NCTE, and more
- 4 Questions to help new teachers figure out what to teach
- A list of books about creativity I’m hoping to read this month
- A review of Duncan Tonatiuh’s nonfiction picture book, Separate Is Never Equal
Well, this is a first. I didn’t read a single picture book last week. I don’t know where my reading life went last week. But I hope I find it soon!
Amy Timberlake’s Newbery Honor, One Came Home, was a book I included in a recent post on middle-grade historical fiction featuring recommendations from Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke. Historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre, but so many of the books Carrie and Maria recommended sounded so good that I couldn’t help but embark on a new reading plan. (I’m reading Beholding Bee right now–really great!) One Came Home kind of has Newbery written all over it: not only is it historical fiction, but it features that spunky girl character that Newbery loves. There’s a pretty good murder mystery, plenty of adventure, and the memorable voice of Georgie, the main character–not to mention some details of a historical event I’d never heard of, the great passenger pigeon nesting of 1871.
In thinking about what I want to say about Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, I realized that I very rarely write about books I loathe on my blog–for the very good reason that I very rarely finish a book I loathe. Picture books and read-alouds with my son are the two exceptions to my general rule that life is too short to read bad books. Since picture books are just 32 pages, I’ll read to the end even if I hate it. But I won’t waste time writing about it on my blog because I typically read 15-20 picture books a week, not all of which I feature in a Monday post. I’d rather focus on the books I liked. With read-alouds, I will only stop reading if my son tells me he’s bored or doesn’t like a book. Since he’s a struggling reader, read-aloud is the only way he can read most books, and I know he likes to be current on the books that are making the rounds in his classroom. I will therefore read books aloud to him that I would never choose to finish on my own. I also just feel kind of bad panning a book. I know that it takes a lot of work to make any kind of book, even a bad one, and I also know that every book has its reader. And in the case of The Land of Stories, many, many readers. This is a best-selling series. But this is a bad book.
So much tedious description (every chapter could have been cut in half), full of nonsensical and jarring similes (the main female character is described as trembling like a small dog–more than once), without any characterization, theme, or plot whatsoever. Sure, a lot of stuff happens: it is nearly 500 pages, after all. But none of it happens because of anything else. The quality of the writing at the sentence level is often quite embarrassing, especially when you consider the editorial team behind this book. I had to edit as I read aloud simply to make the sentences fluent and the scenes flow.
What bothered me most about the book, however, was its stereotypical portrayal of girls and women. I was constantly having to skim ahead so that I could cut offensive sentences that I didn’t want to read aloud to my son–like the one where Connor observes his sister crying and thinks about the film they saw in health class that showed how girls of her age get really emotional and moody and cry for no reason. Or the scene where Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood call each other bimbos and harlots. Or the one where Goldilocks puts on a dress and feels “vulnerable.” Because pants are strong and dresses are weak?
Let me tell you, compared to The Land of Stories, the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book is some literary prizewinning stuff. I know that I liked it much more than I probably otherwise would have, simply by virtue of juxtaposition. You know what you’re getting in a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, so I don’t really need to review this. If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. I think the stories always suffer when Greg is spending too much time with his family and not enough time with friends and at school. The Long Haul is kind of my Diary of a Wimpy Kid nightmare actually: the horrible Heffley family all cooped up in a van together for an entire book with virtually no relief in the form of other characters. I missed Rowley! And Fregley!
This week, I am trying to finish a couple of books before leaving for NCTE on Wednesday. I doubt I read very much while at the convention, though I do hope to sneak away for a bookstore visit at some point and binge on some new picture books that I’ve been wanting to read.