On my blog this week:
- A collection of online readings about Ferguson in Sunday Salon
- A celebration of pie, conversations, coming home, and a most excellent Thanksgiving
- A review of Lita Judge’s lovely nonfiction picture book, Born in the Wild
John Corey Whaley’s Noggin has a preposterously goofy concept that will no doubt be a hook for many young adult readers: terminal cancer patient Travis gets a second chance at life when his head is successfully attached to a new, cancer-free donor body. The rub? He’s been dead (well, cryogenically frozen) for five years. His parents’ lives were changed by his death in ways he only slowly understands over the course of the novel, and his old friends have moved on. And of course he’s now a “freak.” Whaley has fun with the high concept, but it’s really a vehicle for a much more nuanced and thoughtful exploration of what it means to grow up and grow apart from friends and family. This is a surprisingly wistful and bittersweet novel. I am glad that I read and discussed it in YA Book Club because I don’t think I would have appreciated or understood the book nearly as much without Hannah‘s and Kelsey‘s insights.
Time for a title from my YA Shelf of Shame! I have checked Sonya Sones’s One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies out from the library and started reading it probably a dozen times and never made it very far. This time, I was determined to push through. I think this book would have strong teen appeal, and the voice of the main character, Ruby, is strong and believable. There’s an interesting hook: Ruby’s mother has died and she has moved to California to live with her famous movie star dad, who has also been an absentee father for all of Ruby’s life. But I did have problems. There are three big plot twists or reveals towards the end that most readers will see coming for many pages. Ruby’s emotional arc doesn’t feel fully developed, especially her grieving process for her mother. And I have no idea what the purpose of the verse in this verse novel was–beyond creating a lot of white space and making the book a super fast read. It is really written in prose chopped up into something that looks like verse. It probably didn’t help that I was reading Caminar, a very well-crafted verse novel, at the same time. I do like verse novels, but writers need to be very conscious and careful of craft, and I simply didn’t find this to be a very well-written book.
I picked up an ARC of Skila Brown’s Caminar at NCTE 2013 but just now got around to reading it. What a powerful and interesting story! (Written very intentionally and powerfully in verse.) This middle-grade title set in 1981 in Guatemala tells the story of Carlos, who inadvertently finds himself in the middle of the Army’s war with the rebels. Brown beautifully depicts the struggle between Carlos and his mother as he tries to grow up and gain more independence and she tries to keep him sheltered and innocent for as long as possible. That tension underscores Carlos’s journey (a literal and metaphorical journey), even after his mother is lost to him. It’s a richly evocative and incredibly moving story.
I actually finished Brown Girl Dreaming a couple of weeks ago but forgot to write about it. There were so many things I loved about this book. I want to reread it again soon. I’m so glad it won the National Book Award, though if Travis Jonker’s stats on Newbery/National Book Award overlaps hold, we shouldn’t be holding our breaths for a Newbery.
I am so enjoying Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide series. We finished the second book, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, and are now halfway through Book 3. Todd Harris’s illustrations add considerably to the charm.
Loved the message about creative attempts and failure in Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer, and adored David Roberts’s illustrations, but the rhyme is killing me.
I almost didn’t pick up Molly Idle’s Flora and the Penguin, because I was very so-so about Flora and the Flamingo. I admired it but didn’t fully connect to it. I’m so glad I picked up Flora and the Penguin, though, because I thought it worked extremely well. Here the simplicity of all that white space worked so much better, the illustrations under the flaps seemed more purposeful, and there was a stronger emotional arc, at least for me. Reading it did make me want to revisit the first book and try to appreciate it more–something I’m sure I will do next semester in Children’s Lit during our Mock Caldecott unit.
Bob Graham’s Vanilla Ice Cream is a surprisingly deep meditation on the connectedness of seemingly random experiences and events. The text is very spare and simple with several wordless spreads. The book begins in India and follows the journey of a sparrow halfway around the world where its path will cross toddler Edie’s. Not much happens: the sparrow snacks a lot; Edie gets her first taste of vanilla ice cream. But the reader is left with plenty to ponder, and this is certainly a book I’ll be thinking about for awhile.