On the blog:
This past week was my spring break. I had visions of lots of reading, blogging, writing, sleeping. I’m not sure I did lots of any of those things (I definitely didn’t do lots of blogging!), but I had a good week. And one of the best things that happened did involve books: my son asked me to spend the weekend reading picture books to him. It’s only for this weekend, he warned me–to keep me from getting too excited.
If I had known he would want to spend the weekend snuggling on the couch reading picture books, you can bet I would have been more prepared. Since he informed me several months ago that it was time for him to grow up and for us to stop reading picture books together (insert big frowney face here), I haven’t been in the habit of keeping stacks of picture books around. I buy them, read them to myself, and take them directly to my office to share with my students. Still, my home TBR pile was large enough to keep us busy for most of the weekend and we were also able to revisit a few old favorites.
For myself, I started a bunch of books but only finished two:
Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch profiles several scientists who are working on a research boat and investigating the effects of all that plastic on ocean life. If you aren’t already familiar with the plastic trash vortex, you should probably start learning about it in a different book. Plastic Ahoy! isn’t about the plastic so much as it is about how to practice science. Three young female scientists are each profiled working through the scientific method to develop hypotheses, collect evidence, test their hypotheses, revise their hypotheses, and further experiment. For the right reader, this book offers some fascinating information about the plastic itself (most pieces are the size of pencil erasers and the patch itself is not visible from the air), about the importance of oceans (phytoplankton make two-thirds of the air we breathe!), and, especially, about the practice of science.
Liz Prince’s graphic novel memoir, Tomboy, is an engaging and provocative look at gender expectations, gender stereotypes, and identity. Even more, it’s about what happens to us when we don’t fit into the very limited cookie cutter identities that are available to us as boys and girls. Although the book often has a humorous, warm-hearted tone, it’s not always easy to read. There are real challenges here–the cruelty and bullying of peers as well as Liz’s own internalized hatred of all things female and, therefore, of herself. There is much insight along the way–for Liz and for the reader–and a happy ending. This is one of those books that all humans need to read. The artwork is very simple, rather childlike. Not my preference for a graphic novel, but I do think it works well for this story.
The story of Finding Spring is fairly predictable: a young bear is bent on finding spring, but unfortunately for him, it’s not yet even winter. He explores, meets many different animals who give him advice about finding spring, gets amusingly confused (mistaking snow for spring), but ultimately finds the most glorious spring. What’s really special here is Berger’s cut-paper art. I marveled over the spreads with what looked like a bazillion painstakingly handcrafted snowflakes, flowers, and birds. There is something rather stiff and static about the images that didn’t quite appeal to me, and the book also photographed a bit dark, I thought. But I still think Berger’s work is incredible.
Yes, I am the last person in the world to read The Book With No Pictures. It’s a clever concept but I didn’t think it worked very well in execution. There isn’t enough silly to be funny. Maybe if you were reading it to a four-year-old? But even then, there’s far too much of the adult reader voice complaining about how silly what they have to read is. If only it actually were silly!
Well now. I am still thinking about The Flat Rabbit. I don’t know what to make of this book. When I finished reading it, my son paused for a long moment and said, “Well. That was awkward.” That wouldn’t have been my word, but I do see what he means. I sort of like it. I think?
Such gorgeous illustrations by Jon J. Muth and a profound and moving answer to why we’re here and how we can best use our time and resources.
G. Brian Karas’s As An Oak Tree Grows is a lovely book about the two-hundred-year lifespan of an oak tree, but it is not one I can recommend to anyone. I was very disturbed by the erasure of Native Americans and Native American history in this book. The oak tree is planted as a seed by a Native American boy. There are two spreads at the beginning of the book that show him and his family. And then we turn the page from 1775 to 1800, see a house, farmers, and white people and learn “The boy grew up and moved away. Farmers now lived here.” Um, what? That’s a lie: the boy did not peacefully or by choice grow up and move away and invite white farmers to live here. The boy and his people were violently forced from their land. I realize that it’s difficult to know how to acknowledge and honor the truth appropriately for this audience and within this story. But the denial and erasure of Native American experience is damaging to all readers.
On a happier note, Oliver Jeffers’s Once Upon an Alphabet is quirky good fun for all. I loved how weird and inconclusive many of these stories were.
There Goes Ted Williams is another excellent nonfiction picture book by Matt Tavares. This one focuses on Ted Williams’s incredible career–twice interrupted by war. I had no idea that Williams was also a fighter pilot who flew 39 combat missions in Korea and even crashed a plane! Williams’s dedication to practice and his strong work ethic make valuable lessons for young readers.
Since my son only wanted to read picture books this weekend, I decided we should pull out some old favorites–and that meant Mr Putter and Tabby! I mentioned that Pour the Tea is my favorite, so he very sweetly asked me to read that one to him. In some ways, this book is the outlier in the series–there is no Mrs Teaberry, no Zeke. No zany comical relief. But there is the heartfelt story of how Mr Putter finds Tabby. There are lines in this book that bring tears to my eyes. I very much admire the wistful but warm tone Rylant creates throughout.Wistful but warm is also an accurate description of The Lion and the Bird. I choked up reading this one too–mostly because of context. My son and I spent A LOT of time over the weekend talking about how he will one day grow up and leave home. He’s struggling with that right now, not ready to lose the family that he feels like he just found. All reassurances about how I will always be his mom fall on deaf ears. And of course I’m the worst person in the world to be reassuring him about anything because I can get teary just thinking about him growing up and moving out and not being able to see him every day. The spread where the bird flies away and the lion is left to head home alone and the words “And so it goes. Sometimes life is like that” really got to me. This was a reread for me, although I liked this book (and especially the lovely illustrations) the first time I read it, I found it too quiet. This time, I found it just right.