On my blog:
- I attempt to curate the Internet but settle for a few cat stories and photos, some teaching articles, and a few pieces on #Ferguson and diversity
- I celebrate reading and a last-minute rush to finish my 2014 reading goals
- I look back on our year in food (with links to lots of kid-approved recipes)
- I compile a list of the 10 books that blew my mind in 2014
Blizzard is based on the true story of Rocco’s experiences as a child in the 1978 New England blizzard that socked Rhode Island with forty inches of snow and sixteen-foot snow drifts. The story itself is quite engaging. The snow plows take a week to get to Rocco’s street, and his family and his neighbors are running low on supplies. Rocco creates some makeshift snowshoes, grabs his sled, and sets off for the neighborhood grocery store to stock up. But the art is the star: Rocco’s use of negative space and white is brilliant. He comes up with so many different ways to make snow interesting and visually arresting. This book is deservedly receiving some Caldecott buzz.
How I love Sergio Ruzzier! A Letter for Leo is picture book perfection. It’s simple, elegant, spare, witty, gorgeous, just a little bittersweet, and the slightest bit odd. It is a book for the very youngest reader as well as for the adult who has to read the book aloud over and over again. There is a simple and satisfying story: Leo delivers mail, and his one dream is to get a letter himself. At the end of the story, he gets a letter. The book felt fresh and new to me at the same time that it had the feel of a classic I’ve always known. I have no idea how Ruzzier managed to pull that off, but it’s impressive!
I had very low expectations for Catch That Cookie! until I saw David Small’s name on the front. (The curmudgeon in me gets cranky with most holiday stories.) Then my expectations skyrocketed. And they were fully met. This is a fun and clever story about a boy who refuses to believe that gingerbread men can run away–until his gingerbread man does. A hot pursuit and much hijinks ensue. Sadly, there is some rhyme in the form of rhyming clues left for the student detectives who are trying to locate the runaway gingerbread men. But if you like that sort of thing, it’s fine. David Small’s work is superb as always.
Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel, The Shadow Hero, is a superhero origin story starring a Chinese superhero. Diversity in superhero comics is pretty rare, and the fact that the hero is Chinese is really important to the story. Race, ethnicity, and prejudice are explored in interesting ways, but there is also plenty of action and excitement and fight scenes. I most appreciated the humor, especially in the scenes with our superhero’s mom. It’s her idea for her son to become a superhero in the first place and her pressure and interference are often very funny.
You’ve already met Maggie. She’s the feisty precocious protagonist of a hundred excellent middle-grade novels. But you know what? I never get tired of stories about her. And Megan Jo Sovern does have something fresh to offer in her blend of several familiar tropes from middle-grade fiction: the precocious girl, the quirky family, the sick parent plot. I loved Maggie’s voice which felt very real to me. It’s hard to pull off a character who is lovable but not always likable. Maggie is immature, judgmental, and often clueless–even though she’s a straight A student who is absolutely obsessed with knowledge and learning. Besides Maggie’s voice, what I liked best about this book were the family dynamics. Maggie’s parents are quirky and loving and flawed, and her sisters at first seem like stereotypically vacuous mean-girl types, but they become more interesting and well-rounded as the story goes on. The format itself is not fresh (a la Ponyboy in The Outsiders, the novel is Maggie’s memoir of an important year in her life, and the circular narrative begins and ends with the same words and scene), but it’s a much-repeated format for a reason: it works. One of my favorite middle grades of the year.
Finally! A funny middle-grade illustrated novel that features boys capable of a full range of human emotions! Who would have imagined that you could have comic cartoons AND a heartfelt, important story? Why aren’t there more books like Milo Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze? Milo is once again the new kid, having to adjust to a new house and a new school. That’s dramatic enough, and Milo’s attempts to make friends and find his people and his place are an important part of the plot. A thinner thread concerns his unrequited love for Summer Goodman, who barely knows he’s alive. The plot with Summer contributes some Wimpy Kid-like antics to the story. The heart of the story, however, is grief and memory, family and love. Ever since Milo’s mother died, a fog has settled over his family. His father goes through the motions, but there is no warmth and love anymore, and certainly no laughter. It’s ultimately up to Milo to find a way to remember his mother and to fully grieve for his loss. This book really surprised me. It sneaks up on you.
I have no idea why it took me over a year to read Jane, The Fox, and Me. It’s gorgeously illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Isabelle Arsenault, and it features guest appearances by Jane Eyre! What more could a bookish reader want? Helene is miserable at school because she’s targeted by the mean girls, who write rude things about her on the bathroom walls and find various ways to humiliate her. She takes refuge in Charlotte Bronte’s novel. On a mandatory school camping trip, she has a magical nature moment where a red fox approaches her. The story ends with Helene making a friend and feeling like she has found a place to belong. This bare summary of the plot doesn’t begin to convey the depth and richness of the story. This is one of those books that manages to say a lot of very deep and profound things in very few words. Arsenault’s images are so beautiful.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is an important book that needs to be read and talked about. It’s about seventeen-year-old Hayley, whose father suffers from PTSD after his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Andy copes with alcohol and drugs, and he’s not usually available as a parent. Hayley works hard to keep things running smoothly at home and to hide the truth of her home life when she’s at school. I loved many things about this book. Anderson conveys the terror of having an alcoholic parent who is suffering from PTSD. Hayley is an interesting character, damaged in obvious ways from her early life experiences but still looking for hope. There are a couple of things that didn’t work as well for me. There are a few short chapters in italics that provide Andy’s perspective, and they seemed intrusive and unnecessary. I liked the quirky Finn, who becomes Hayley’s boyfriend, but I didn’t find their relationship very believable. Finn has plenty of family problems of his own, but they aren’t developed very well. Still, one of my favorite YAs of 2014.
I concluded my professional development reading challenge of 12 books with Patrick Allen’s Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop. I’ll post a review later this week.