My Father’s Dragon won a Newbery Honor in 1949. Unlike most of the older Newberys I’ve read, it didn’t seem like a book published 60+ years ago. It looked and felt like a book that could have been published much more recently. Which I guess is why it has such staying power. It’s a very simple story: Elmer learns that a baby dragon needs to be rescued, so he packs a knapsack and heads off to the island to rescue it. Along the way, he meets many other animals who want to impede his progress, but he pulls out just the right item from his knapsack to distract each of them. I read it as part of a challenge to complete all the books on SLJ’s Top 100 Children’s Novels list. My Father’s Dragon comes in at #49. The illustrations were probably my favorite part of the book. I read it aloud to my two sons, and they were absolutely captivated by the story and eager to read the two sequels.
I read this study of how academics balance motherhood and work responsibilities for a book club on my campus–only none of the academic mothers in the club could find a time to meet to discuss the book. As I always say to my kids, I’m pausing to enjoy the rich irony of this moment. I am sure that I had many thoughts about the book when I read it, but that was three weeks ago, and one of the by-products of motherhood is that I no longer have much in the way of a working memory. So. Inside Higher Ed published an interview with the authors that summarizes the main findings of their study.
After reading Trinity and Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb, I’m starting to feel like a bit of an expert on the history of the atomic bomb. At first, I felt like there was too much going on in this book. Too much information, too much science, too many illustrations. But as I continued to read, the style grew on me. I realized I was understanding more about the science behind the bomb from looking at Fetter-Vorm’s illustrations than I did from reading Sheinkin’s descriptions. I also gained a greater appreciation of the book’s artistry as I got closer to the end. There are some really powerful images later in the book that explore the devastating consequences of dropping the bomb. This is one I’d like to include in my Graphic Novels courses. Very glad to have read it as part of The Hub’s Reading Challenge.
I was inspired to reread Harriet the Spy after reading about it in Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, one of the many, MANY books I’m currently in the middle of reading. At least I think it was a rereading. I am sure I must have read Harriet when I was a kid, but not a single page of it seemed familiar to me. Harriet is #17 on SLJ’s Top 100 Children’s Novels list, and deservedly so. The writing is very strong, and it’s a sophisticated story about a girl who refuses to conform on any level. It’s also, and maybe for that very reason, a discomfiting story. Harriet is horrid to everyone, and she’s absolutely unrepentant, even after her friends find and read her notebook, which is filled with often cruel observations about them. But that’s actually the beauty of the story, I think. Harriet refuses to compromise her vision and her way of getting along in the world just to achieve social acceptance. In the end, her friends seem to be the ones who relent. A strange book, not what I was expecting. I’ll be reading the sequels soon. And in typical Newbery fashion, Harriet the Spy wasn’t even an Honor Book, even though it’s hard to imagine a more distinguished contribution to children’s literature. The 1965 winner was Maia Wojciechowska’s Shadow of a Bull. Which I just started reading. Only I got hung up on this horrible illustration:
And I had to stop reading. On page 5. WHAT IS UP WITH HIS EYES? This illustration is going to give me bad dreams.
I enjoyed Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog, which I read on the recommendation of my librarian, but I didn’t find it a particularly special book. Still, I think it will make a nice read-aloud for my kids if we ever finish the two books we’re currently reading (Frindle and the first Clementine).
I thought Linda Urban’s The Center of Everything was a special book, distinguished in setting, theme, and point of view. Kate Messner’s “not quite” review posted at The Nerdy Book Club captures many of the qualities I appreciated in this story. Mostly, I loved Urban’s sentences, and I’m excited to read more by her. I had been in a reading slump before I read this book, but I read it in one sitting and felt like I was loving books again. So, thank you Linda Urban!