On the blog:
- A curation of my favorite online reading from last week
- A celebration of the end of the semester and my students’ learning and unlearning
- A review of Maira Kalman’s quirky alphabet book, Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag
- A slice of life focused on a track meet but really about trying to parent my son through trauma
A graphic novel about roller derby? I’m in! And Roller Girl is every bit as delightful as the reviews would have you believe. I was expecting a fun, enjoyable story, which I got. What I wasn’t expecting was such a thoughtful look at the complexities of gender, gender roles, and identity. Jamieson is especially strong on friendship and mother-daughter relationships. The text and the graphic elements work together brilliantly to tell this story. It’s funny, sweet, and thought-provoking. One of my favorite books of 2015, and a really impressive debut.
Displacement is a travelogue by Lucy Knisley about a cruise she takes with her elderly grandparents. Her grandparents are seriously failing–to the point where it seems dangerous for them to travel. Knisley is anxious and stressed as she feels like she has sole responsibility for their safety and happiness on this trip, and her narrative shows just how challenging it is to keep her grandparents safe and happy. There is kindness and love in Knisley’s portrait of her grandparents, but there is also a sharp and dispassionate writer’s and artist’s eye observing and reflecting on this experience. I finished the book feeling a bit like I felt after reading Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?–though not wrung through the ringer in quite the way Chast’s book wrings you. Though there are moments of humor, Displacement is not an easy read. Knisley makes an interesting decision to close each chapter with excerpts from her grandfather’s World War II memoir. At first, I wasn’t sure where she was going with this: the contrast between her grandfather in his 90s and her grandfather the dashing and thoughtful war vet was so great. But I think that was the point. She’s looking for connections between the grandfather she knows now and the man he was long before he became her grandfather. Knisley is never heavy-handed with her philosophical musings, but this is a book that can’t help asking questions about how we should live.
I first fell in love with Denise Duhamel years ago when I was a high school teacher Googling lesson plans on teaching poetry. I came across Bill Moyers’s very good “Fooling With Words,” and there was Duhamel’s brutal “When You Forget to Feed Your Gerbil,” which still slays me. A little more Googling turned up “Snow White’s Acne” and her Barbie poems (be sure to read Buddhist Barbie). I love sharing these poems with high school students. “Wait, you can write poetry like this?!” Yes, you sure can. There is a clear autobiographical narrative thread to Blowout, which tells the story of the end of Duhamel’s marriage and its ugly aftermath. I always find Duhamel a brave writer, willing to turn a very critical eye on herself.
Bruce Perry’s The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook is a must-read for teachers and others who work with traumatized children. I had to read this book in short bursts with frequent breaks because the content is so difficult. Perry writes about some very extreme cases of child abuse and neglect. But he is always focused on what we can learn from these cases and from children’s capacity to heal. As the mother of a child who experienced serious trauma, I found this to be an incredibly hopeful book that helped me understand my son a little bit better and also understand why certain therapeutic interventions have worked so well with him. Perry makes some big arguments in this book about what children need from parents and other caregivers. The most interesting, to me, focused on the need for extended family.
My son and I continued our nightly picture book reading, and there were quite a few books that I enjoyed this week, but I’ll only highlight a few of my favorites.
A new book by Deborah Freedman is always cause for celebration. by mouse & frog is a delightful metafiction about a mouse who is trying to write and draw a story that keeps getting interrupted by the very exuberant Frog, who has clearly been highly influenced by his reading of children’s literature.
I love Raul Colon’s art for Arthur Dorros’s Abuelo, which contrasts a boy’s outdoor adventures with his grandfather with the boy’s new life in the city, where his memories and the lessons he’s learned from his grandfather sustain him.
I have no idea how I missed David Soman’s Ladybug Girl series until now, but I made up for it by reading four books in the series this week. They are often beautifully written with strong themes. Jacky Davis’s illustrations use white space very effectively, and the matching expressions on Ladybug Girl’s and Bingo’s faces are often hilarious.