On my blog:
- I attempt to curate the Internet in this round-up of online reading
- I celebrate unfinals, finales, and tarantulas
- I review S.D. Nelson’s picture book biography of World War II veteran, Ira Hayes
- I slice about reading malpractice
I loved Isabel Quintero’s YA novel, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces. I’m so glad that Kelly Jensen has been such a champion of this book, because her excellent review prompted me to buy it and several recent references to it in her blog posts or tweets inspired me to move it to the top of my stack. Written in diary form, this novel tells the story of Gabi’s senior year. She has plenty to deal with at home: an overprotective mom, a drug-addicted dad, and a little brother she’s growing apart from. She also has plenty to deal with at school: her best friend is pregnant; her other best friend just came out to his family and got kicked out of his house; she has numerous crushes but isn’t sure which boy she really likes; she’s trying to navigate college applications; and she’s discovering herself as a poet and creative writer. Quintero, through Gabi, has a lot to say about body image, double standards, rape culture, female sexuality, and more. This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel that, thanks to Gabi’s sassy voice, is also a lot of fun.
In Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin interviews and photographs six transgender teens about their lives and experiences. The resulting profiles, written in the voices of the teens themselves, are articulate, passionate, deeply moving, and sometimes deeply painful to read. It’s hard to imagine how someone could read this book and not come away with more understanding and compassion for others. I couldn’t put this book down–read it in an afternoon.
If you liked Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. you will want to read Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry. In a series of 50 unrhymed sonnets, Nelson describes her childhood experiences growing up during the Civil Rights Era and moving frequently as her father, an Air Force officer, was transferred around the country. The sonnets describe how she came to understand the power of words and begin to think of herself as a writer and poet. The title piece is fairly devastating. Hadley Hooper contributes illustrations, and there are also some great family photos.
Zeina Abirached’s I Remember Beirut is a very slim graphic novel memoir about Abirached’s childhood during the Lebanese Civil War. Abirached’s first graphic novel memoir about growing up during the Lebanese Civil War, A Game for Swallows, is brilliant, but I’m not sure why she decided to write I Remember Beirut. Her art is striking and distinctive–I loved looking at the pictures in this book–but I found the text very slight. It made me think about the “I remember” freewrites I often have students in my Comp classes write to generate memories and images they then develop into longer pieces. This book is a series of little flashes of memory, random moments that still stand out, boldly illustrated. I never felt the book cohered into a whole. I’m not sure if Abirached is trying to say something about the fleeting, random nature of memory or if I’m just trying to read something more into the text to make it more meaningful and compelling.
This colorful little book contains Neil Gaiman’s famous commencement speech, “Make Good Art.” The text of the speech is quite good, highly recommended for young artists and creative types. I was perplexed by Chip Kidd’s book design choices. White font on a light blue background wreaks havoc with the eyes. The font, text color, and placement of text varies wildly from page to page, which makes the book interesting to look at but very difficult to actually read. On a few pages, I felt like I needed magnifying glasses to read the words. Be prepared!
Dreams of Gods and Monsters is the conclusion to Laini Taylor’s ambitious fantasy trilogy. I loved the first two books in this series. But the third book really didn’t work for me: there is far too much plot, too many self-consciously beautiful sentences, and too much heavy-handed emphasis on theme. It was already a pretty big story, but in the third book, it becomes so much bigger, and it felt overwhelming and unnecessary. So much exposition is required to get all these balls in the air and keep them moving. There is very little space for quiet moments of character development or humor.
My son and I were very sad to see Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide come to an end. I don’t know what I’m going to find to read aloud to him that we’re going to enjoy as much as these books. We read all three novels in a row, and Frederic, Gustav, and Duncan became part of the fabric and language of our lives. We talked about them when we weren’t reading about them, and that’s a rare, rare thing for my son to want to do. We also spent quite a bit of time pouring over Todd Harris’s superb illustrations.
Kiki’s Journey is a book I came across when researching picture books about contemporary Native Americans. There just aren’t very many of those, and I really wanted to love this book–or at least like it enough to purchase it for my lending library. But it’s didn’t work for me. Kiki, who belongs to the Tiwa tribe, lives in Los Angeles; her parents left tribal lands in New Mexico long ago and Kiki hasn’t been for a visit since she was a baby. Her journey involves a spring-break visit to her grandmother, where she feels like an out-of-place tourist. Somehow, over the course of her short visit, she decides that she belongs there after all and that Taos Pueblo is just as much home as the city she’s lived in all of her life. The story, though dealing with an interesting and real issue, seemed unbelievable and the life lessons didn’t feel earned. The characters never came to life, perhaps because the writing, though competent, was not special. I also found the illustrations problematic. I might share it in Children’s Lit next semester anyway and see what my students have to say.
How I loved Monica Brown’s Waiting for the Biblioburro, magnificently illustrated by John Parro. The story is inspired by the life and work of Luis Soriano, a librarian who traveled with his biblioburro to bring books to remote areas of Colombia. That would probably be enough for a wonderful book, but Brown makes it so much better by concentrating on the fictional Ana, who loves the one book she owns so much that she has practically memorized it. She is hungry for more stories but has no way to fulfill that need. Enter the biblioburro, who brings books as well as a provocative invitation: write your own stories. I can’t wait to share this book with more readers.