There was much that I loved about Sharon Creech’s Moo, including the Oreo cow on the cover. When I lived in New Hampshire, one of the great treats of my life was driving past a field of Belted Galloways.
There’s just something happy-making about Belted Galloways–more so than other cows. Moo is the story of an urban family that moves to rural Maine and befriends some neighbors with Belted Galloways. Told from the perspective of Reena, the twelve-year-old daughter who discovers an interest in cows, country fairs, and 4-H work, Moo develops themes of family, friendship, aging, and place, but most especially of the joys of wonder and the power of connection. It’s a thoughtful story and a quick, enjoyable read (though not without some sadness at the end). But I am still confused about the stylistic inconsistency and wish I understood why Creech vacillates between the verse novel and prose–sometimes within the same very short chapter.
All-American Boys has been sitting on my stack of books for over a year now, waiting for just the right reading moment. I am glad I finally got to it, but I finished the book feeling conflicted. I wanted to love it and fully expected to love it, but I did not love it. It’s an important book, a useful book, and a necessary book. But it’s also a didactic book, and I think its didacticism often gets in the way of its artfulness. All-American Boys leaves very little space for a reader to work–to make connections, draw conclusions, and even reflect. I do see this book changing minds, building understanding and empathy, and even leading readers to question their own racial prejudices and biases, which is tremendously important work that needs to happen. But I would have liked to have seen as much emphasis on literary elements as on social critique. Still, it’s a novel I will be trying to get into the hands of my students.
Debbie Levy’s picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only book I was determined to leave NCTE with, and it was well worth the long wait in line. It’s a well-researched and extremely well-written look at how RBG grew up to become a dissenting voice protesting unequal treatment and speaking up for what is right for all people. Smartly illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, I Dissent is an inspirational addition to the literature of social justice and should spark great discussion (and perhaps some activism!).
Jean-Michel Basquiat is not the most obvious choice as a subject for a children’s picture book biography, and reading this book, I get the feeling that only Javaka Steptoe could have created such a powerful and beautiful children’s story out of this life. I didn’t even need the author’s note at the end to understand just how influential and even necessary Basquiat’s life and career were as examples and inspiration for Steptoe. Some truths of Basquiat’s life–notably his drug addiction and early death from a drug overdose–are necessarily obscured (though the author’s note at the end fills in the details), but there is one hard truth that Steptoe keeps as the core of this book–what it’s like to live with a parent who has mental illness. Steptoe’s writing is elegant, clean, often lyrical, and the illustrations capture the spirit and energy of Basquiat’s own style while still being very much their own works of art. One of the strongest nonfiction picture book titles of the year, with ample and interesting back matter.
I read quickly through Mac Barnett’s Rules of the House at the bookstore the other day, and I know I liked it, but I don’t remember a single thing about it.
Sally Lloyd-Jones weaves two of my very favorite picture book themes together in Baby Wren and the Great Gift: accepting who you are and what you’re good at rather than coveting the talents of others and noticing and praising the wonders of the natural world. Lyrical writing is really essential to this story, and there were a couple of lines that didn’t sound right to my ear. (One example: “The baby was little and brown and a wren.”). But there are no false steps in Jen Corace’s vibrant artwork.
A.N. Kang’s artwork is the star of The Very Fluffy Kitty Papillon. There is not much to the story: Papillon is so fluffy that he literally floats away unless he’s weighted down by something, and the something he ends up preferring is a friendly little red bird. The spread of Papillon outfitted in different costumes is especially charming.
So simple, so powerful, and such a perfect marriage of author and illustrator to tell this surprisingly deep story. Stephen spots a beetle and decides to kill it. Then he reconsiders and decides not to. That’s really all there is to it, but the moral question at the center of the story resonates far beyond the simple text. One that will no doubt provoke much discussion and reflection.