Living with Jackie Chan just might be my son’s new favorite book. It was a reread for me, and I enjoyed it even more reading it aloud to him and experiencing the story through his eyes. He hung onto every word, and at the end of each chapter, it was “Just one more!” He loved the character of Larry, and I loved voicing Larry. (I can do four different read-aloud accents: pirate, Long Island, Irish, and robot. There’s not much call for pirate and robot, but there’s a Long Island character or an Irish character in every book we read! I really need to develop my repertoire.)
I was wary of reading Son of Interflux aloud to my son. It was my own favorite Gordon Korman novel in the 1980s when I was a teen reader, and I wasn’t sure how it would hold up. Sometimes it’s a delight to revisit favorite novels from your past, and sometimes it’s a real let-down. Given the quality of most of the middle-grade Gordon Korman titles I’ve read aloud to my son in the past couple of years, I didn’t exactly have high hopes. His books are competent, and they have their place, but I had decided that my teenage love for Son of Interflux, Don’t Care High, and A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag must have reflected my own relative lack of experience as a reader. At most, I was hoping to be amused. But I’ve got to say, this reread and read-aloud has convinced me that Son of Interflux is actually a YA comic novel masterpiece (with one caveat). It’s cleverly plotted and tightly written and really, really funny. And it’s a terrific read-aloud because the sentence-level writing is so strong. There are lots of quirky characters (the main character’s best friend, Phil, got the honors of being from Long Island, and I also tried out a new accent for the deranged painting teacher, Querada. I channeled Julian Sands playing Franz Liszt in the movie Impromptu. It’s a combination of sounding like you just learned how to speak words yesterday and like today you’re trying to form those words through a mouthful of rocks. I think it was pretty successful, but as with pirates and robots, not a lot demand for it in the books we read.) and so much going on, but it all weaves into the one dominant plot. Son of Interflux kind of makes me cranky because if Korman can write like this, why are so many of his books merely competent? And it makes me curious: are there other Korman comic masterpieces that I’ve missed? I mean, the man has published over 80 books! And I’ve read just over 20 of them. The one caveat I have here is the problem I almost always have with Korman books: very underdeveloped female characters. I think he has gotten better at writing female characters: in the Masterminds and Swindle series, the girls are not noticeably less dimensional than the boys. (They’re all fairly two-dimensional.) But in all of the stand-alone titles that I’ve read, the boys are fairly three-dimensional and the girls very one-note.
I am hoping that Shannon Hale’s Real Friends has broken the reading slump I’ve been in (starting many, many books and committing to none). It’s a tender, often sad, ultimately uplifting graphic novel memoir of the challenges of elementary-aged friendships. Hale captures something real and true and painful about the way kids interact with each other and the way that adults don’t notice. Or rather, adults often do notice but choose to do nothing. Again and again, Shannon’s emotional needs are dismissed, and we see how those unmet needs begin to transform themselves into anxiety and compulsive behaviors. There is a nuanced Author’s Note at the back that gave me even more to think about.
I have read many picture books as well but didn’t added them to my list and now I can’t remember what I’ve read. SIGH.