I feel like I should have far more to show for myself as a reader given that I’ve barely posted reading updates over the last two months and I have been reading, though not at my usual pace. But somehow, I don’t.
Keep Going is Austin Kleon’s best book yet, a thoughtful and helpful exploration of how to, well, keep going creatively when things are going well and especially when creativity is a struggle. There is so much wisdom here about not just creativity but also well-being and living a good life. Expect the usual blend of art, quotations, advice, and reflections.
I loved Book Uncle and Me, Uma Krishnaswami’s very short middle-grade novel about Yasmin, a passionate reader who visits Book Uncle, an older man who operates a free lending library on her street, every day to get a new book. She has a goal to read one book every single day, and Book Uncle is happy to oblige with book recommendations. But then someone in her town writes a letter of complaint to the city, and Book Uncle receives notice that he can’t set up his free library on the sidewalk unless he pays for a very expensive permit that he can’t afford. Yasmin organizes a community outreach effort to restore the free library. It’s a very quick read and really delightful, especially for those avid readers who love books.
The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley is about an unusual girl, the smartest in her class, at least until the new kid, James, arrives. Frances, or Figgrotten as she calls herself, prefers solitude and the company of crows. Her best friend is her elderly bus driver. She thinks big thoughts and has so many wonderings about the universe. One source of conflict is her strained relationship with her older sister, Christinia, who is all stereotypical teenager–oversleeping and slamming doors and rolling her eyes and caught up in drama at school and loving nothing more than a trip to the mall. Her mother keeps assuring Figgrotten that she too will turn into a stereotypical teenager someday soon, but Figgrotten–and this reader–didn’t believe it. This is a really strong title about friendship and family and grief right up until the end, when Figgrotten’s mother turns out to be right and we see the glimmerings of some stereotypical teenaged behavior in Figgrotten’s future. She discovers a pink hair clip, and before you know it, she’s excited about getting a makeover. After the depth and thoughtfulness of the rest of the book, the discovery that the mall isn’t so bad after all felt like a letdown.
I can’t ever get enough of the Penderwick series, or the Family Fletcher series, or, my favorite, Hilary McKay’s Casson Family series. And Karina Yan Glaser’s Vanderbeeker family belongs to that world of quirky families whose small adventures somehow resonate big. The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden was just what I was hoping it would be. This time, the Vanderbeekers beloved upstairs neighbors, Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet, are struggling after Mr. Jeet gets sick and ends up in the hospital. The children decide to surprise the elderly couple with a beautiful garden, but of course it doesn’t work out in the way they plan.
LJ Alonge’s Blacktop is a series of four very short YA novels set around the basketball courts and culture of Oakland. My son and I have now read the first two books, Justin and Janae, for our readalouds, and while there are some issues with the plotting in both books, they’re really enjoyable fast reads, with plenty of voice, humor, and heart. They’re especially good choices for reluctant readers who love sports, and I don’t even have words for how happy I am over the choice to tell two stories from the perspective of boy characters and two stories from the perspective of girl characters. Alonge manages to pack a lot into each book, but the stories never feel rushed. There simply aren’t enough basketball books in the world to satisfy my son’s appetite for them, and these definitely fill a need.