On the blog:
- A curation of some of last week’s best online reading related to teaching
- A celebration of book talks, brainstorms, bright colors, and cranky cat ears
- A big reveal: the secret to being a great writing teacher
- A review of a picture book biography of Hank Aaron
- A slice about doing homework with my son and the evils of popcorn reading
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, is a gorgeous full-color introduction to dozens of young Native artists, poets, activists, and more. The book is so beautifully designed and so visually appealing. The text was actually secondary to the visuals for me, but there is also plenty to read–short (mostly 1-3 page) poems, interviews, short stories, and essays by and about contemporary Native life. There is plenty of hardship here but also much hope.
Derf Backderf’s nonfiction graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, is a book that I’ve known about since it was published in 2012 but never had any intention of reading. I know some people are really fascinated by serial killers and extreme psychopathology, but I am not. I like to live in a shiny happy world of shiny happy well-adjusted people. And there is nothing shiny or happy about My Friend Dahmer. Backderf paints an extremely vivid portrait of high school in the 1970s in a suburb of Akron, Ohio. Backderf and his group of friends were the closest thing Dahmer had for friends in high school, though he was more their mascot than their friend. There were plenty of signs of serious mental disturbance which were apparently not noticed by any of his teachers, counselors, or administrators, though his classmates considered him exceptionally weird. This is a deeply personal and specific story at the same time that it’s a damning look at a system that turns a blind eye to family breakdown and mental illness. There are extensive author’s notes and footnotes at the back, which also makes this a good mentor text for research.
Oh, Maggie Stiefvater, how do you do it? The Raven Boys is utterly ludicrous and overwritten, and yet somehow I fell in love with it. I have started and abandoned it more than once in print, but audio was just the thing for me, even though I also hate the voice of Will Patton, the actor who narrates the story. And yet somehow I loved how he narrated this story. I’m going to take a short audio break from the Aglionby boys, but I do plan to continue with the series.
David Bouchard’s If You’re Not From the Prairie was too long and repetitive for my taste (also the rhyme, how I hate the rhyme!), but the poem does have its moments of beauty. The premise here is that if you’re not from the prairie, you can’t understand the strange beauty of the land or the often intense harshness of the environment. The paintings by Henry Ripplinger are quite beautiful.
I am continuing to work my way through the Geisel Award winners. Kate McMullen’s One Funny Day was a 2010 Honor. This is a more advanced easy reader consisting of three chapters that combine to tell a three-part story. It’s April Fool’s Day. In Chapter 1, Wagner is the victim of several April Fool’s jokes. In Chapter 2, several situations that seem like they should be April Fool’s jokes aren’t jokes at all, much to his chagrin. And in Chapter 3, he pulls his own big April Fool’s prank. Well-written and delightfully illustrated by R.W. Alley.
My son and I decided to finish out the Mr Putter & Tabby series with the final three books we hadn’t yet read. Mr Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball is as fine as any in the series, though Tabby doesn’t get quite as much of a role as I think she deserves. Mr Putter and Mrs Teaberry decide to join a baseball league for the elderly. In fact, many of the ball players are so old that Mr Putter feels decidedly young by comparison. Zeke interferes and nearly loses the game for Mr Putter’s team, but in the end he saves the day.
In Mr Putter & Tabby Spin the Yarn, Mr Putter and Tabby decide to pay a visit to Mrs Teaberry’s knitting club. All that yarn is simply too much for Tabby, who loses her mind. Zeke has his own obsession with the fake fruits and vegetables on top of one of the old lady’s hats. Quite a bit of chaos ensues, which gives illustrator Arthur Howard full scope for his considerable skill.
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau is a marvelous picture book biography of self-taught artist Henri Rousseau, who didn’t even begin painting until he was forty years old. Author Michelle Markel focuses on Rousseau’s later years of living in poverty, making art, and receiving much ridicule from art critics for his work. Rousseau saved the bad reviews but apparently wasn’t daunted by the criticism because he just kept painting and exhibiting his work. Amanda Hill’s illustrations are simply gorgeous and borrow their style and spirit from Rousseau’s own work. This is a must-have title about following your dreams, believing in yourself and your work, and making beautiful art.