The Week in Reading #imwayr 4/13/20

It’s been a busy week on the blog. My poetry project for National Poetry Month is to write a daily poem alongside Virginia Woolf’s Diary. Some of them are about her, and some of them are about me, and there is one for every day of the month so far. I haven’t revisited her Diaries since I was in my twenties, and I wasn’t sure I was going to care to spend so much time with them right now. But they have been the perfect pandemic companion.

In addition to poems, I curated six must-read articles of the week from my copious Internet reading and shared concerns about how some schools are presenting remote learning.

In reading:

I have started and abandoned so many books over the past month that I was beginning to think I no longer know how to read. But Jason Reynolds has saved me. Patina was a little heavy on the issues for me and a little light on plot, but I loved the glimpses of Ghost and Coach, and Patina herself is a strong, interesting character. And I am reading again and able to focus and hoping to find Sunny somewhere on my shelves.

Fantastic art by Katherine Roy and admirably concise text by Richard Ho. The best compliment I can pay this art is that my son kept pausing his video game to examine it over my shoulder!

I was quite interested in learning more about astronaut Mae Jamison, but this book didn’t quite deliver. It’s a nice introduction and a worthwhile addition to a classroom library, but I think we have to find ways of writing about women’s achievement that go beyond “they told her she couldn’t do it because she was a girl, but she persisted.” And I think we need to find more complex and realistic ways of writing about achievement than “if you believe in yourself, dream big, and work hard, you can achieve anything you put your mind to!” This book is light on the biography, heavy on the inspiration.

Excellent picture book biography of photographer James VanDerZee, who was a pioneer in his field and whose photos of Harlem captured an era. Gorgeous illustrations by Keith Mallett. Interesting back matter that includes a selection of VanDerZee’s photographs.

Beautiful art and beautiful writing in A Map into the World. It’s a quiet story but surprisingly resonant and would make a fantastic mentor text for memoir and slice of life writing.

I have issues with Jonah Winter’s Elvis Is King. The deeply inconsistent use of Southern dialect is one. Sprinkling a few “ain’t”s and one very startling “theyselves” into the writing makes it sound silly, a parody of Southern speech. Equating poverty with dirtiness, as Winter does more than once, is classist and offensive. And repeatedly referring to Elvis’s looks and appeal to girls detracts from any serious consideration of him as an artist. The distinctive art from Red Nose Studio has worked brilliantly in other picture books, but I think it’s rather ugly here.

I found Sulwe rather magical. Lupita Nyong’o’s text is strong, poignant, and hopeful, and Vashti Harrison’s art is so beautiful. It’s a book with an important message handled with very little didacticism. And I have no idea how in a story about skin color, colorism and external beauty Nyong’o made me believe that inner beauty is most important, but she did.

What have you been reading this week?

10 responses to “The Week in Reading #imwayr 4/13/20”

  1. I’ve read & loved most of these & adored A Map Into the World. New to me is the bio of James VanDerZee & though I know about Patina, still need to read it! Thanks, Elisabeth, hope you & your family are doing well & have a good week ahead, too.

  2. I loved reading your poetry Elisabeth. It makes me wish I was participating this year, but I remind myself that there is always next year, and there is nothing stopping me from writing a poem a day when all the chaos of my life calms down and I am settled into my other home.
    I actually liked the artwork in Elvis is King, but that might be because it reminded me of characters created by Ronnie Burkett, a Canadian puppeteer.

    • P.S. I LOVE your poetry.
      P.P.S. I love the articles you curated–I, too, worry about how this online learning was put together and how everyone says we should focus on trying to be as normal as possible when IT IS A PANDEMIC!

  3. Another yay for Jason Reynolds. Most of my students call Sunny either their favourite or least favourite of the four Track books, I hope you find it. The dedication is awesome. I remember really enjoying Katherine Roy’s art in Neighborhood Sharks, and How to be an Elephant. I was unaware of her newer book and I want to find a copy of Red Rover. Thanks for all the thoughtful reviews, hope you and your family are doing well.

  4. Sulwe and A Map Into The World both sound beautiful! Also, I’ve seen two different picture books about Curiosity this week—how neat! I’ve also had times where I can’t seem to stick with any books, but I’m glad you seem to have gotten out of that! Thanks for the great post!

  5. I’d love to go back and read the Ghost series with my kiddos. As Aaron said, people seem to either really like or really dislike Sunny. But I think it may have been my favorite — different since it was in diary format. Sulwe was deep and stunning — love that one. Based on the cover, alone, I’ve not looked forward to Elvis Is King. But I know I need to find it at some point. Have a great rest of your reading week, Elisabeth!

  6. I need to finish Jason Reynolds’ Track series. I have half read!
    Sulwe and Red Rover were on our Mock Caldecott list this past year. The kids really enjoyed Sulwe.

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