On my blog:
- A round-up of links to some of my favorite recent online reading
- A celebration reflecting on why it’s important to celebrate even when you don’t feel like it
- Some advice for new bloggers who are struggling to find topics and time to write
This week I’m hoping to get back into the reading groove. You know you haven’t been prioritizing what’s important when you’re staying up late Sunday night to read picture books just to have something to post on your blog on Monday! But now I am back on track with my #nerdlution (to read a picture book a day). And I started this week off right: I shut off the devices and read for an hour first thing this morning.
Thanks to a generous donation, my campus library has been able to purchase a bunch of new books that I wanted for the Juvenile collection–Geisel and Sibert Award and Honor books! When I saw the piles of new books on display, I entirely forgot about using my library voice and squealed quite loudly. The students who were using computers looked at me funny. And then I proceeded to sort through the books, mumbling aloud to myself about the different titles. Which only made them look at me more funny and pop their headphones in.
Books for emergent readers are so hard to write well. I was appalled by the poor quality of so many of these texts when my kids were at that reading stage three years ago. But I can happily recommend Chicken Said, “Cluck!” for the quality of its writing and its storyline. Chicken is determined to help in the garden, and the children are equally determined to shoo her away. There is much clucking and shooing, which is tedious for the adult reader but no doubt delightful for a child. When a grasshopper infestation threatens to destroy the pumpkins, Chicken is able to show just how useful a chicken in the garden can be. Sue Truesdell’s illustrations are quite charming.
I love the work that TOON Books is doing in the early reader category. Jeff Smith’s Little Mouse Gets Ready is a solid introduction for the youngest readers to comics/graphic novels. The storyline is very simple and charming: Little Mouse takes quite a long time to get dressed only to be told by mama mouse that mice don’t wear clothes. That’s it: mouse puts on clothes over the course of the story and then, in one spread, loses them. But it works.
Eleanor Davis’s Stinky, a graphic novel chapter book, was my favorite of the three Geisels I read this week. Stinky is a swamp monster who’s horrified when a kid invades his swamp. He’s determined to scare the kid off, but the kid has other ideas, including adopting Stinky’s pet toad, Wartbelly, and renaming her Daisy. A sweet and colorful story of plans gone awry and unlikely friendships.
I couldn’t quite get a handle on the intended audience for Sandra Markle’s How Many Baby Pandas? It’s a counting book, but you only count up to 8, so it would seem to be for the very youngest of readers. The text, however, while written clearly and simply, is not for the very youngest readers: there are many spreads with 2, even 3, paragraphs of text on the page. I’m just not sure that the reader who is engaged by the information presented in the text is going to want to be asked on the opposite page to count 3 very obviously visible pandas. But if you can overlook the unnecessary counting part, this is an excellent nonfiction text focusing on giant panda babies. I learned a lot about the breed and also got lost in the terrific photographs, which Markle took at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Center in China. There are two especially eye-catching photos of a group of scientists sitting with baby panda cubs on their laps which gave me some serious scientist envy. I want to hold a baby panda cub!
I have no idea how I could have been living in a world with Cozy Classics AND NOT KNOWN ABOUT THEM. AND NOW THAT I DO KNOW ABOUT THEM, I WANT–I NEED— TO OWN ALL OF THEM! AND TALK ABOUT THEM IN ALL CAPS WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! BECAUSE THEY ARE THAT AWESOME!
So here’s the deal. Jack and Holman Wang take 9 classic novels (including Moby Dick and War and Peace) and translate them into board books consisting of 12 words (yep, just 12 words) and 12 illustrations featuring felt figures. Look at that amazing cover of Lizzie Bennett tramping through the mud and wind to get to Jane. Look at the illustration below where Mr Darcy insults Lizzie’s beauty. GAH!
I am not going to be satisfied until all 9 books are sitting on my shelf. And also: of the 9, TWO ARE JANE AUSTEN NOVELS! Thank you, Jack and Holman Wang, for being awesome.
The Blacker the Berry is a sequence of 13 poems by Joyce Carol Thomas about African-American children. Color is the theme that ties the poems together–all the different shades of African-American skin color, which Thomas generally likens to various berries. Each poem is written in the persona of a different child who expresses what it’s like to live in their skin. Thomas focuses on the positive to convey the message that all people are beautiful. The berry metaphors felt a bit forced and heavy-handed to me by the end, but I did love the first poem, “What Shade Is Human?” Floyd Cooper’s gorgeous illustrations make this a special picture book.
J. Patrick Lewis’s Freedom Like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans is a very strong poetry collection stunningly illustrated by John Thompson. Lewis writes praise poems for 13 African Americans who are famous for their work as activists, athletes, and musicians. I wish there had been a bit more variety in the subjects chosen for praise, as Black Americans have made contributions in many fields besides sports, music, and Civil Rights. The collection is balanced in terms of gender: there are 7 men and 6 women featured. The poems are consistently strong but still somewhat overshadowed by Thompson’s incredible work. Many of the illustrations are portraits, most paintings but a few pencil drawings, but there is also a haunting empty bus to accompany the poem about Rosa Parks and a typewriter to illustrate the poem for Langston Hughes. Thompson’s website features a few of the images, so click through if you’d like a better sense of what the book looks like.
Nikki Grimes’s Talkin’ About Bessie tells the story of Elizabeth Coleman, the first African-American female pilot, through a sequence of poems written in the personae of Coleman’s family members, friends, and acquaintances. The final poem in the sequence, in praise of flying, is written in Bessie’s voice. If you’re looking for a nonfiction picturebook biography of Coleman, Louise Borden’s Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman is very good and makes a nice pairing with Talkin’ About Bessie. Through her poetry, Grimes is able to capture something essential and important about Coleman’s personality, will, ambition, and drive that I think a straightforward nonfiction treatment finds it harder to express. E.B. Lewis’s illustrations are brilliant. When is this man going to win a Caldecott?
I guess it was just the week of poetry picture books, since I also read Ralph Fletcher’s A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets. I found this collection a little uneven. There are a couple of very strong poems that are going to stick with me, several useful poems about writing poetry that I would want to share with students, and a handful of poems that I didn’t think fit the topic or the collection very well. Still, I did enjoy the book and think it’s a must for writing workshop classrooms.