Judd Winick’s graphic novel series about Hi Lo, the boy robot from outer space, gets better with each volume. There’s plenty of action in Book 3, as Hi Lo and D.J. have to travel through a portal to another dimension to bring Gina back, and plenty of humor, but there are also many surprisingly heartfelt and heartrending moments of pain and loss as Hi Lo remembers more of his past. The additional emotional resonance of this volume elevates the series far above similar series for this age group. Bonus points for making the Furback Clan the stars of the new dimension: they’re kitties!!
Marilyn Nelson surprised me with American Ace, a verse novel written from the perspective of a teenaged boy who is white. An author’s note at the end explains her choice: she wanted to write about the Tuskegee Airmen from the perspective of a character who knew nothing about them and was discovering their history and contributions along with the reader. The story she ultimately developed is an important one, I think, for reflecting on race in America. There is much to enjoy at the level of story and character in American Ace as well as rich thematic material to explore.
I adore everything Ralph Fletcher–if you haven’t read Breathing In, Breathing Out, remedy that this week!–but I have mixed feelings about Joy Write. Of course I agree strongly with his claims that writing workshop has become too programmatic and that we have lost sight of what’s really valuable in writing and writing instruction: play, discovery, exploration, voice, writing to think. And I embrace his call to make our writing classrooms places of play and joy. Not all of the metaphors he used in this book worked for me, but greenbelt writing is a powerful way of reconceiving what we’re doing in the writing classroom. I also like the metaphor of feral writing. But overall, this book felt hastily put together. Rather than going deep with any of these concepts, Fletcher skims the surface, offering quotes and testimonials from classroom teachers rather than immersion into classrooms that practice these concepts. Joy Write is a very quick read and a nice refresher and reminder for experienced workshop teachers, but it’s not a book I’d recommend to anyone who isn’t already steeped in Fletcher’s thinking on writing.
I took so many notes on The Journey Is Everything, Katherine Bomer’s guide to “teaching essays that students want to write for people who want to read them.” As a focus for what we should be about in the writing classroom, we could do a lot worse than guiding our students to write things that other people actually want to read, yet how seldom is that part of our thinking? Bomer herself writes like a dream–which is one reason I kept copying sentences into my notebook. One thing I love about her approach to teaching writing is that she never tries to demystify it or pretend that we have more control over it than we really do. There is something mysterious, unknowable, and unpredictable about the way a piece of writing comes out and comes together, especially when we’re writing in a form like essay, which is designed to be more tentative and exploratory. Bomer embraces the tentative nature of writing and encourages writing teachers to do the same. Bomer recommends a great deal of play and exploratory writing, both for our students in their writing and for us in our teaching. For me, this was the very best kind of professional development reading: it made me want to teach, and it made me want to write
A very, very funny story of a snail who has two goals in life–to be the reader’s favorite animal and to get to his salad, preferably a salad without carrots–and who calls directly on the reader to help him in his quest. This book had me laughing out loud and itching to read it (in a bad French accent, of course) to a group of children.
Another powerful story by Ashley Spires, this one about how we manage our fears about doing new or scary things. What I really loved about this book is that Lou doesn’t manage to do the scary thing over the course of the story, but there is a satisfying and encouraging ending nonetheless.
The latest collaboration between Anna Kang and Christopher Weyent also tackles how to manage fear, but this book didn’t work as well for me as their earlier collaborations. The language wasn’t quite as streamlined, and the story not quite as applicable to a broader range of situations. Still, it’s pretty adorable and will probably please fans of the earlier books.
Ame Dyckman tries her best to convince me, but I still kind of want a unicorn! They clearly make terrible pets in this story of “be careful what you wish for.” Very funny illustrations by Liz Climo and perfect pacing by Dyckman. The ending had me laughing out loud. My son is also totally off picture books (insert sad face here), but when he saw this one, he decided we had to read it together and that made me very happy, so thank you Ame and Liz!
And here’s my favorite cat photo of the week–Chipotle and Panda take a nap.