On my blog this week, I shared my Sunday round-up of things I’ve been reading online. I celebrated the start of a new semester and the messy learning we’ll do. I wrote a post for the students in my Adolescent Literature course about Finding Time to Read, and I wrote about our discussion on reading like a wolf eats. I also posted about a couple of excellent nonfiction picture books for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.
This week, I read:
As soon as I finished Boxers, I picked up Saints and plan to finish that one today. What a brilliant way to write about a war or a conflict–a pair of books written from the perspective of each side. I knew next to nothing about the Boxer Rebellion. My one image of the Rebellion is Spike, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, killing a slayer during the Rebellion. Not exactly historical. Yang’s historical graphic novel manages to provide a useful introduction to the time period and the issues while also incorporating fantastical elements that make for visually arresting spreads. Thematically, this book was incredibly rich, and Yang also managed to create complex characters with a minimum of text. I’ll be thinking about this book for some time. (And book-talking this week in Adolescent Lit.)
I finally, FINALLY read Jo Knowles’s Jumping Off Swings. It’s one of my #MustReadin2014 books. There were several things I did like about the book. First, it’s a sensitive look at teen pregnancy. There are no easy or comfortable answers here. Hard choices have to be made. Each chapter is written from the perspective of different characters involved in the story, so the overall effect is a chorus of voices telling the story. I love books written from the perspective of different characters. And I also liked that it’s a short, quick read. The length and ease of reading, coupled with female and male perspectives, make this a book that would be an easy sell for reluctant readers. What didn’t work as well for me were the actual voices of the characters. All of them sounded alike to me. They didn’t feel as well-rounded or memorable as I like my characters to be in YA fiction.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is another book on my #MustReadin2014 list, and it’s probably going to end up on my Best of 2014 list. I was hooked from just about the first sentence. Quick announces the plot on the second page: Leonard Peacock is heading off to school with a gun, planning to shoot one of his classmates and then kill himself. The novel follows Leonard on what he plans to be his last day on earth as he tries to bring some closure to the relationships that really matter to him and eventually reveals why he wants to kill Asher Beal and himself. Leonard’s voice is so strong, and the situation and themes so compelling. This is an important book.
I knew a bit about Ben Franklin but learned much more from reading Russell Freedman’s heavily illustrated biography, Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty. Freedman is such a skilled writer. The pacing and clarity of this book really impressed me. Franklin was an incredibly active person who seems to have packed several people’s lives into his 84 years. Not only is there a lot to cover just in terms of the biography, but there is also the historical and political context that many readers need. This book is a model of excellent research writing.
I also read several picture books aloud to my kids:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the true story of William Kamkwamba, a boy in Malawi who taught himself how to build a windmill out of spare junk parts after he read that windmills could be used to generate electricity and pump water. His village was experiencing a terrible famine, and in addition to being hungry, he had been forced to drop out of school when his family could no longer afford the fees. I haven’t read the book of the same name for grown-ups or seen Kamkwamba’s TED talk, but I may have to check them out because the children’s picture book was really fascinating. (And beautifully illustrated!)
Nikki Grimes’s When Gorilla Goes Walking is a charming collection of poetry about a little girl named Cecilia and her cat, Gorilla. I especially liked “Learning the Rules”. I am pretty sure that most of my cats also think they know who’s boss–and it isn’t me. I am not always wild about children’s poetry, but I did enjoy this book.
Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind is a good title to share in my Children’s Lit class. Miss Malarkey is determined to find just the right book for all of her students, and though it takes her awhile, she does it. I like the message here about not giving up on even the most resistant reader, because in my experience, there is no such thing as a kid who doesn’t like to read. There are just kids who haven’t found the right books.