On the blog:
- Links to my favorite online reading from last week
- A review of the gorgeous nonfiction picture book, A Butterfly Is Patient
- A slice about talking to my son about racism and police brutality
I continue to be apparently unable to finish anything. I wouldn’t exactly call it a reading slump, but it’s definitely reading slumpish. I did finish one book for grown-ups:
Anya Ulinich’s graphic novel, Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, is the semi-autobiographical story of Lena Finkle, Russian immigrant, writer, recently divorced mother of two, as she grapples with family, art, relationships, adulthood. It’s funny and painful and deeply intelligent. I read this book more slowly than I have ever read a graphic novel, savoring the story and art over the course of nearly a week. Definitely one of my top ten reads of 2015.
The picture book reading continues at my house, much to my delight. Here were our favorites from last week:
The Dumb Bunnies has basically recast The Stupids as bunnies and given them a visit from Goldilocks. My son loved The Dumb Bunnies so much that I had to read it to him twice. But what’s not to love for a tween boy who’s not yet too old for bathroom humor? Porridge gets poured down pants and Goldilocks is flushed down the toilet! Picture book lovers who also like slapstick will probably appreciate the allusion to Goodnight Moon in the cover art and the heavy nod to James Marshall throughout. Little did I know there is a whole series of books starring The Dumb Bunnies. I imagine we’ll be reading all of them over the next couple of weeks.
Shooting at the Stars shares the fascinating true story of the spontaneous truce called on December 25, 1914, between the two sides fighting in World War I. John Hendrix’s illustrations vividly bring the futility of trench warfare to life. The story is both heartfelt and heartbreaking, because we know that the very next day, both sides went back to fighting–and they would continue fighting for four long years. I did struggle a bit with the language in this book. Hendrix devises a clever conceit for telling the story in the form of a letter written by a soldier to his mother. But I found the text both very lengthy and very complex as a read-aloud. This seemed to me to be a picture book best suited for middle-school readers.
I fell hard for Steve Light’s clever counting book, Have You Seen My Dragon? I am not usually wild about black and white picture books (or counting books for that matter), but this one worked so well with its limited use of color (used only for the object to be counted). The dragon hides amid Light’s detailed pen-and-ink illustrations of city life, and we had fun looking for the little boy and his pet on each page. This book made me nostalgic for New York City–indeed, for any city. I think some of its appeal was probably lost on my son. But I appreciate a picture book that can work in different, equally effective ways for both adult and child readers.
Eve Bunting’s Night of the Gargoyles is a gorgeously written story of what happens when night falls and the museum building’s gargoyles come to life, descend from their rooftop perches, and explore the city. David Wiesner’s marvelous illustrations might give younger readers bad dreams, so this is not a title I’d recommend for the very young.
In Willy’s Pictures, Anthony Browne’s monkey alter-ego re-envisions classic paintings ranging from The Birth of Venus to Edward Hopper’s Early Morning Sunday, inserting monkeys and other visual jokes. I suspect that this book may appeal more to adults who are familiar with the paintings that Willy reimagines. There are captions to each of the paintings, but it doesn’t add up to any kind of coherent story. There is a fold-out spread at the end that reproduces the original paintings–though unfortunately the reproductions are much too small to be really useful to readers. Still, my son spent a good ten minutes flipping back and forth between the original painting and the monkeyified version. I love Browne’s work, so I was happy to absorb myself in his paintings.
Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series is such an engaging and empowering way to write history. In I Am Abraham Lincoln, Abe tells the story of how he grew up to fight for justice and human rights. The seeds for Lincoln’s Presidential acts were sown in childhood experiences such as seeing a group of boys torturing a turtle, losing a fight, and witnessing a group of slaves chained and bound. Lincoln was also a big reader, and Meltzer emphasizes just how much Lincoln learned from books. I Am Abraham Lincoln humanizes history and makes activism accessible to all readers. Christopher Eliopoulos’s illustrations are incredibly engaging.
Naked! was a reread for me but a first-time read for my son, who giggled throughout. Nice to know a worldly sixth-grader can still be amused by Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s illustrations.
Shoeless Joe Jackson had a lot of superstitions about his bats. They had to be made from hickory wood, and not just any hickory wood: only wood from the north side of the tree would do. They had to be seasoned with tobacco juice and massaged each night with oils. He tucked his bat into bed beside him every night and carried them wrapped in cotton cloth. He even took them to South Carolina over the winter months because he believed that bats didn’t like cold weather. Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy tells a fictional story of how Shoeless Joe might have developed some of his superstitions. This is an engaging look at a real baseball character and the feats he would go on to perform with his special bat, Black Betsy. A lengthy Afterword shares more biographical information about Jackson and addresses the Black Sox Scandal. There is also a page listing Jackson’s stats from each year of his career. Reading this totally made me want to watch Field of Dreams again, so I enjoyed discovering in the author’s bio on the jacket flap that Phil Bildner’s love of that movie inspired him to write this story.