On my blog:
- Links to the online reading I loved last week
- A review of a nonfiction picture book about the Brooklyn Bridge
- A list of ten books I hope every student in my YA lit class will read this semester
It turns out that a couple of the big questions about setting and time period that I had about Lynne Rae Perkins’s 2006 Newbery winner, Criss Cross, would have been answered had I first read All Alone in the Universe. Criss Cross is a sequel of sorts, and although it mostly stands alone, I think I would have enjoyed it much more had I read the books in order. All Alone in the Universe is exactly the kind of middle-grade novel I like best: it’s more on the quiet side and depends on very strong character development, theme, and voice for its impact. It’s a beautiful story of friendship lost and lessons learned. Perkins was an illustrator first and the text incorporates many of her sketches. I often found the images a bit confusing or random in Criss Cross; I think they work much better in All Alone.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown surprised me. With a cover like that, I was expecting lots of humor and a little gore. But Bacigalupi has a lot more on his mind than baseball and zombies in this middle-grade novel. Yes, there are zombies, and yes, there is a gory showdown between the zombies and the baseball team. But there is also a searing critique of the industrialized food system, corporate greed, immigration laws, and racism. And somehow it all mostly works. My son loved this story and also asked a lot of interesting questions about meat processing, feedlots, illegal workers, citizenship, and poverty.
My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish was my son’s next read-aloud of choice–mostly, I think, because of the cover, which is pretty awesome. There’s plenty of (unlikely) plot about evil big brothers and a goldfish named Frankie who gains the power to hypnotize all who gaze into his eyes. There’s not much character development, and the most that can be said about the writing is that it’s competent. Still, it was a quick read-aloud and we enjoyed it.
A Perfectly Messed-Up Story is really picture book perfection: there is a clever story, some metafictional play with book conventions, plenty of humor, and an important lesson about staying calm and accepting–even embracing–life’s imperfections.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but until this week, I’d never read The Polar Express. I have read all of Chris Van Allsburg’s other books, and I’ve read every single Caldecott Medal winner since 1942. But somehow I skipped The Polar Express. I fixed this kidlit shelf of shame problem this week, which was especially fitting given that it was Caldecott week in my Children’s Lit class. The Polar Express feels like a timeless classic when you read it, and of course the art is exquisite. But I have to admit, I found it just a bit boring. There is often something off, for me, in the pacing and structure of Van Allsburg’s picture books. If I were graphing the storylines, they would be more flat and I prefer more of a rising story, at least in a picture book with as many words as Van Allsburg’s books have.
I continued catching up on Geisel Award winners I missed with The Big No-No, Geoffrey Hayes’s graphic novel for the younger set, starring two mice siblings named Benny & Penny. It’s a tale of mistaken identity, mud, and friendship. I wish my library would carry more of these Toon titles, because now I really want to read them all.
Last week, Carrie recommended A Trip to the Bottom of the World, another Toon book by Frank Viva. So good! These books are really beautiful as objects too, with their rectangular design, saturated colors, and non-glossy pages.