On the blog:
- A celebration of disruptive, defiant students
- A new reading challenge for October
- A Top 10 list of graphic novels for people who don’t read graphic novels
- A list of 7 readalikes for The One and Only Ivan
- A curation of online reading
Mark Pett’s Lizard from the Park is one I need to reread because a quick skim in the bookstore didn’t do it justice. The art is wonderful, of course, and the story—about imagination and friendship—has potential that I felt wasn’t quite realized. But then I read a review online this morning that made me rethink my reading and suspect that I just didn’t quite get it.
Pepper & Poe is about what I always think of as the Garfield and Nermal situation: settled older cat’s life is interrupted by the introduction of a new, cute, fluffy kitten. Jealousy, meanness, and hurt feelings ensue. But even though it’s been done a million times, it’s a story I never get tired of, and Pepper & Poe is an engaging and entertaining version of it. The way Pepper and Poe reach an entente will also be amusing to readers with mixed cat and dog households. I also really liked Frann Preston-Gannon’s art: she conveys quite a bit of emotion through simple shapes.
I love a story about a pug, but Unlovable really didn’t work for me. I found the moral and the message quite problematic. There was something unnecessarily mean-spirited and cruel about the way the other animals treat Alfred. To be teased is one thing. To be made to feel truly unlovable, as Alfred does, goes too far, I think–at least too far to resolve effectively in a very brightly-colored 32-page picture book. Alfred meets a new friend but feels ashamed of himself and lies about his appearance. The lie is never addressed, because Alfred’s new friend turns out to be a pug too, and then they’re both happy playing together because they look exactly alike. I suspect there’s supposed to be a message about inner beauty and being liked for who you are, but the message that comes across to me is quite different: the only people who will accept you are those who look just like you.
I really enjoyed Gemma O’Neill’s exuberant art in Oh Dear, Geoffrey! The story is not particularly original, but it’s a well-done take on a familiar theme. Geoffrey is awkward and clumsy and struggles to make friends; eventually he finds friends who can appreciate the very qualities that have irritated everyone else. The qualities that at first were a disadvantage–his height and long legs–becomes an advantage once he’s with the right group of friends.
Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep is a clever take on the eternal story of the child who can’t fall asleep. As an adult who struggles to sleep, I found its message more than applied to me too. Chengdu the panda tries various strategies to sleep, but nothing works until he finds just the right bed to sleep on—which happens to be another panda. I laughed out loud several times at Saltzberg’s illustrations.
Bear and Hare Go Fishing is a slight little story about two friends who go fishing. Bear is quite enthused about the fishing itself, while Hare is easily distracted by other things, but they both have fun. Emily Gravett’s art is delightful as always.
I had high hopes for Sophie Scott Goes South because it’s about Antarctic exploration, but it just didn’t work for me. It’s a longer picture book that blends fiction and nonfiction. The fictional part of the story creates a character, Sophie, whose father is the captain of an ice-breaking ship that ferries scientists and supplies to the Antarctic. The story is a kind of diary of a trip Sophie takes with him. There is so much potential here for sharing fascinating information, but all too often, Sophie’s diary focuses on the minutiae of the day’s travels and shipboard routine and it’s boring. The art has an identity crisis: there are photographs, full-spread illustrations created (I believe) by children who followed the author’s updates from her own trip to Antarctica, lots of childlike doodles, maps, and illustrations by the author/illustrator herself as well as a few more elaborate sketches and illustrations by the author/illustrator. The photographs were incredible, and I wish there had been more of them. But overall, too many different styles competing for the reader’s attention. At least for this reader.
We Forgot Brock! Is a terrific story about a boy and his imaginary friend, Brock. I love how Philip’s parents indulge his stories about Brock, all the while giving each other the eye over Philip’s head. Disaster ensues when the two friends are separated at the fair, and Philip inadvertently heads home without Brock. The resolution is highly satisfying. Really strong work from Carter Goodrich, whose picture books about Mister Bud and Zorro are among my very favorites.
Just as perfect as everyone says it is. So simple, yet so profound. A quiet kind of story that lingers and absolutely deserving of Caldecott attention this year.
My son and I continue our reading of James Riley’s fractured fairy tale trilogy. There are moments when Riley manages to write a great zinger of a line, and there is certainly a lot of potential in the mishmash of fairy tales that he’s working with in this book (Bluebeard, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, in addition to Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Jack and the Beanstalk). But every aspect of the writing is underdeveloped–plot, character, theme, and style. Still, that doesn’t seem to bother fans of the series. It has dozens of five-star reviews on Amazon.
I am hoping to organize my week to include more reading time than usual. I’ve started Alex Gino’s George and R.L. Fevers’s Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos and hope to complete them both.