The Week in Reading #imwayr 4/20/20

The blog continued to be busy last week as I write a poem every day for National Poetry Month. It’s been a week of forms: nonet, prose poem, elevenie, Pleiades. I also wrote about my new method of choosing books to read based on the color of their cover. Hey, whatever works.

In reading:

One good thing about pandemic reading is that I have to read the books that are actually on my shelf, and it turns out that some real gems are waiting for me to finally get to them. I am sorry I waited so long to read Joyce Sidman’s biography of artist Maria Sibylla Merian, because it is perfection. It’s exquisitely designed as an object, which seems fitting for its subject, since she took such care to make sure that her own books were beautifully designed. It’s absolutely packed with examples of Merian’s art: insects and butterflies practically fly off the page. And the writing…. maybe poets always need to be the ones writing biographies. So many gorgeous sentences. And I loved how Sidman used the metaphor of the transformation of the butterfly through its life stages to describe the trajectory and direction of Merian’s life.

Malaka Ghraib’s I Was Their American Dream is an engaging exploration of identity, culture, and what it means to be an American and a child of immigrant parents. Big questions are centered here, but it’s a breezy feeling book, which makes it a quick, fun read but also means that some of the deeper questions and concerns get a superficial treatment. It’s a good title for a high school classroom library, though.

Jeanette Winter’s Sisters, a picture book biography of Venus and Serena Williams, did not work for me. I could not get past the stereotypical portrayal of the Williams’s neighborhood in L.A.–dirty, graffitied, with the constant sound of “gunfire” accompanying their workouts. Winter is trying to cover the Williams’s careers from childhood through adulthood in this book, which is a lot to cover in 32 pages and not much text. Does she really have enough space to mention gunfire TWICE?

This was a reread for me, and I think I found it even more charming the second time around. Since the rhymes were stretched across several pages, I found it a little more palatable than I usually find rhyme. Basically I could read each two-page spread and pretend there weren’t any rhymes, which worked so much better for me as a reader. VanDerwater’s text is simple but resonates, and Dylan Metrano’s cut paper illustrations are so beautiful. I thought it was quite clever to focus on common birds that children will be able to spot in their own environments.

What’s the plan for this week’s reading? Hopefully finishing the sci-fi novel I’ve been reading forever, making progress on Robert Macfarlane’s lush Underland (it’s big and fat and due back in the library in 2 weeks and it’s also orange-ish, which fits my current reading challenge), rereading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and dipping into the stack of poetry picture books I had checked out for my students in anticipation of National Poetry Month. Sadly, I never got a chance to share any of these books with them, but I may as well read and reread myself since I have them here.

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

  1. I haven’t yet read I Was Their American Dream, so I’ll add that one to my list. I’m sorry to hear that Winter’s book was a disappointment. Especially because I LOVE that cover art. I’ve been enjoying catching your blog posts in my email, Elisabeth! I’m grateful we still have this way to connect when it feels like we’ll never, ever see one another again. LOL

  2. I enjoyed The Girl Who Drew Butterflies very much, along with Everyday Birds, too. I have missed Sisters, but now I won’t be in a hurry for it. I’ve liked reading about those Williams sisters, but perhaps there is a better way to introduce their accomplishments to kids? Thanks, Elisabeth, best wishes in finding those good books!

  3. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies sounds like a beautiful book! I don’t normally read biographies, but the combination of Merian’s artwork and the great writing of the author makes this one sound far more engaging than most! It’s a shame that you didn’t love Sisters, since, if it was done better, it would definitely be a great and educational read for kids. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Thanks for your thoughts on Sisters. I enjoyed that book but I appreciate learning new insights that escaped me!
    Every Day Birds really is charming! I remember having that book in our Mock Sibert and kids really enjoyed it!

  5. I am having the same thought. I actually have to read what is in the house (except for digital books) and that is helpful. I was less than impressed with Sisters. There were several books about Venus and Serena in the past few years and this isn’t the one I’d buy. I haven’t yet read I Was Their American Dream, but enjoyed the others. I have it on my TBR.

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