On the blog:
- A curation of recent online reading in Links I Loved Last Week
- A reflection on my year of reading nonfiction for Nonfiction November
- A Top Ten list of Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time
Kate Beaton’s new collection of comics delivers a very similar reading experience to Hark! A Vagrant!, so if you loved that book, you will certainly love Step Aside, Pops. The familiar targets of Beaton’s satire are here–I was happy to see some new comics about Heathcliff and Napoleon and, of course, peasants–and there are strong new series about Ida B. Wells, straw feminists, Wonder Woman, and life inside a ballad. As always in a Beaton collection, there are plenty of strips that I simply don’t get because I’m unfamiliar with the source material. But it’s easy to skip or skim and move on to what does connect and engage.
In Brick by Brick, Charles R. Smith Jr narrates the story of how slave labor was used to construct the White House. Smith is careful to bring these forgotten laborers to life and make them real people for his readers. Cooper’s detailed portraits help that effort. Smith notes that being forced to work on the White House (labor for which they got paid–but their wages were given to their masters) was ultimately a good thing for slaves, because they were able to learn valuable skills from other workers–skills that later enabled them to improve their own lives. This is not an easy story to read, but it’s an important one, and extremely well done by Smith and Cooper.
I’m on a quest to read all of the picture books Giselle Potter has illustrated, and that’s what brought me to The Boy Who Loved Words, written by Roni Schotter. It’s about a boy who loves words and collects them, but he doesn’t know what to do with all of them. He accidentally helps a poet who has writer’s block, which leads him to his calling: sharing his wonderful words with others who need them. As probably befits a picture book about the wonders of words, this one is quite wordy, which I both liked and didn’t like. A more streamlined and focused story might convey the message a little more clearly–and also not distract from all the high-level vocab that’s sprinkled throughout in italics. There is a glossary at the end for curious readers, though some words can be figured out from context.
I am so glad I listened to all those rave reviews of James Burks’s Bird & Squirrel graphic novel series. Bird & Squirrel On the Run, the first volume in the series, introduces the reader to adventuresome Bird and fearful Squirrel as they’re getting to know each other and becoming unlikely friends. Both are the targets of the singleminded hunter, Cat. There is a hilarious excursion underground with Mole’s family, and especially with Grandma Mole, who terrifies Squirrel with her predictions of a very violent future. Burks manages a neat trick in this series–a book that has very wide age range appeal. I think it’s very difficult to write a graphic novel series that has such wide appeal. Generally, what works for a second-grader is not going to work for a seventh-grader or a high-school student, but I know my seventh-grade son would love this book, and my college students are going to be crazy about it. Burks’s humor manages to be goofy and sophisticated, and there is an elegant simplicity to story and illustrations.