On the blog:
- A curation of my favorite online reading from the past week
Antoinette Portis’s Wait is really a perfect little book. Using only three words (hurry, wait, and yes), Portis manages to tell a dynamic and emotionally resonant story of a mother and child trying to get where they’re going in a busy city environment. The mother, of course, is in a hurry, but the child keeps seeing marvelous things that require waiting. Portis is especially good at showing the shifting perspective of the busy scene from a harried adult’s perspective and then from the much more magnified and observant lens of the child.
A Penguin Story has many more words than the other Portis titles I’ve read, and it turns out that Portis writes extremely well. I loved Edna, the penguin who is convinced there is “something more.” Edna is bored by her black, white, and blue world and is certain there is more than ice, day and night, and fish. She sets off on an adventure to discover that “something more.” I was disappointed by her discovery and didn’t think the last third of the story worked as well as the first two-thirds, but this might be one of those titles that works better with actual children. I found the “something more” Edna discovers pedestrian, taking away from the book’s overall sense of wonder and discovery, but child readers might feel quite differently and be amazed to find humans in this landscape.
My son’s verdict? “This is a weird book.” My verdict? Perfection! Perhaps it won’t work for all kid readers, but The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles features exquisite work by Erin Stead and a gentle, whimsical story about overcoming loneliness by Michelle Cuevas.
In Dori Kleber’s More-igami, Joey discovers a passion for folding paper after a classmate’s mother visits his classroom to demonstrate the art of origami. Informed that mastery of origami will require patience and practice, he sets about folding every piece of paper in sight, until his mother finally loses her patience. His solution to the problem of resources takes him to his favorite Mexican restaurant, where he folds napkins until he masters origami. Directions for making an origami ladybug are included. I appreciated the many diverse faces in G. Brian Karas’s illustrations.
I had high hopes for Jennifer Nielsen’s second series (though I was more than ready for it to be over by the end, we did enjoy our read-aloud of the Ascendance trilogy), but Mark of the Thief was a disappointment. My son never quits on a series, but even he doesn’t want to read Book 2. In fact, he fell asleep during the last chapter, where there’s a big reveal, and he didn’t even want me to reread it to him the next day. Flat is the best word I can think of to describe this book. Flat characters, flat writing, flat plotting, flat world-building. There’s so much potential in the premise and the setting (Why haven’t I read more children’s and middle-grade historical fiction set in ancient Rome?), but Nielsen does almost nothing with it.
And then there is Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel, Ghosts. I just heaved a big sigh before I started to write this sentence, because it pains me not to be able to recommend one of her graphic novels. But there are so many problems with Ghosts. It starts off strong. Cat’s family has just moved to a new coastal California town where her little sister, Maya, who has Cystic Fibrosis, will hopefully be a little more comfortable. The dynamic between the sisters is compelling, and Maya’s interest in ghosts, her desire to find out what happens after we die, and Cat’s resistance to such questions is so poignant. There is a great deal to work out and explore in terms of character, plot, setting, and theme. But Telgemeier’s narrative and visual choice is to appropriate Mexican culture and erase Native American history as she develops and resolves plot and theme, and I spent well over half of this book shaking my head in disbelief. I had read articles by Debbie Reese and Laura Jiminez before reading Ghosts, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for just how problematic this book is. (Jiminez’s piece about cultural appropriation is especially instructive, I think. Must-read material for readers struggling to understand the issues.)
Cat is half-Mexican, but her mother has repudiated her Mexican heritage, which is a really convenient plot point leaving Cat totally ignorant of everything Mexican and ripe for education by her new neighbor, Carlos, who family is so very Mexican. Which we know because they eat enchiladas and guacamole and Carlos carries maracas around. The depiction of Dia de los Muertos was also problematic for me. There is actually a long, complex, and serious history to the Day of the Dead celebration: it’s not just floral skulls and parades. For many people, it’s a serious celebration to honor the dead, not an excuse to dress up in a cute costume and party.
And then there are the ghosts. The ghosts are a big problem. They’re happy ghosts who love nothing more than to listen to visitors chat in Spanish and to drink orange soda. The ghosts originate at the crumbling Spanish mission. And here there seems to be complete ignorance of the purpose of the missions in California, what would have happened on that land and in those buildings and just who would have been buried there. Ghosts erases the history and presence of the Native American peoples these missions were designed to colonize, convert, and oppress. The Spanish mission system stole land that belonged to Native Americans, forced Native Americans to convert to Christianity and conscripted them to labor for the Spanish. I have a hard time imagining the ghosts on mission lands wanting to chatter in Spanish and sip orange soda while grinning maniacally.