Katie O’Neill’s graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society, was the best book I read this week. Blacksmith apprentice Greta is a bit cranky about having to learn the dying art of blacksmithing when no one even uses swords anymore. But then she rescues a lost tea dragon, returns him to his owner, and discovers that history and culture can be worth preserving, even if most people in the world see very little use for what’s being preserved. The cultivation of tea dragons is also a dying art, but Greta finds herself wanting to learn more about how to raise the very delicate little dragons who grow tea leaves from horns on their heads. The world O’Neill creates is gorgeous, the characters diverse and interesting, and the story quiet but engaging. A really lovely story.
As always, Andrew Clements comes up with a good hook for his middle-grade novels. The Losers Club is about a boy named Alec who is constantly getting in trouble for reading at times when adults think he should be doing something else. His great idea to buy himself more time to read: start a reading club after school. Only he doesn’t really want other kids to join the club. So he decides to call it The Losers Club to scare off potential club members. I got a bit bored by the supporting stories of Alec’s conflicts with the bully and Alec’s crush on the girl, but it’s a quick read that will have wide appeal.
How did I miss this Patricia MacLachlan? All the Places to Love is a beautifully written picture book about home and family. I think it would be a phenomenal mentor text for my students and lead to some amazing writing, as quiet writing about rural places is something many of them like to do.
I loved the illustrations in Flo and the messages–enjoy the little things in life, march to the beat of your own drummer, take your time and notice what’s around you–resonated with me, but the writing often felt underdeveloped and choppy.
I hope Junot Diaz’s first picture book won’t be his last, as Islandborn is pretty stunning. Lola has been tasked with an assignment to draw a picture of where her family is from, but she moved to New York as a baby and doesn’t remember anything about her island. She begins asking her relatives and neighbors for their memories and creates rich, vibrant drawings from their words and her imagination. There’s a powerful message here about home and identity, but conveyed with a light hand. I also appreciate that Diaz doesn’t shy away from what may have been hard about home. After all, people often immigrate because home isn’t safe. I will say that I think the book has too many words. Good picture book writing is closer to poetry than prose, and Diaz writes like a dream, so a bit of tightening would go a long way here.