On my blog this week:
- A round-up of some of the best teaching posts I read this week
- A celebration of The Brown Bookshelf
- An ambitious new reading plan for Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesdays
- The Top Ten Books That Make Me Cry
- A reflection on #nerdlution Round 2
This week in books read:
My favorite book this week was definitely My Name Is Jason. Mine too by poet Jason Reynolds and artist Jason Griffin. The two Jasons decide to move to New York together to pursue their dreams of becoming a writer and an artist. The story of their struggle to make ends meet and to keep pursuing their dreams even through hardship is told through Reynolds’s poetry and Griffin’s paintings. It’s a clever and creative take on an old story. This is a book every high school teacher needs to have in their classroom library.
I read one of 2014’s Printz Honor books, Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. It’s interesting, and it’s a page-turner, but it didn’t entirely work for me, although I did admire Gardner’s sentence-level craft. Every part of the story–plot, setting, characterization, theme–seemed underdeveloped.
I loved Peace, Locomotion, the sequel to Woodson’s verse novel Locomotion, about a twelve-year-old aspiring poet living in a foster home after his parents die in a fire. This sequel is told through a series of letters that Locomotion writes to his little sister, Lily, who has been adopted into a different home. Woodson tackles a lot of deep and difficult material here, but she has such a light touch as a writer and the decision to tell the story through letters gives it a focus and coherence that I thought the first book somewhat lacked. This is definitely my new favorite of her books.
Professional development reading: Michael Cart’s history, Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism. Planning to post a review later in the week.
Reading with my son:
The weirdest book we read this week was most definitely Mannekin Pis: A Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed on a War by Vladimir Radunsky. If you have been to Brussels, Belgium, you might have come upon the state of the Mannekin Pis, perhaps wearing one of his many (many!) costumes.
(This one is so elaborate, you can hardly tell what’s going on!)
It’s an odd statue to be so closely associated with a nation. I lived in Belgium for two years but don’t know if I ever learned the story behind the statue. I know it has something to do with Belgian rebellion against its occupiers, but I’m not even sure which occupiers. Radunsky’s version of the story turns it into a kind of heroic folk tale about a little boy who lost his parents in the war (but don’t worry! He finds them in the end!) and had to pee really bad. So he peed over the city wall right onto the enemy. And everybody started laughing and forgot about their silly war. More or less. There is a serious anti-war message here, but mostly the book earned giggles from my boys because (1) penises and (2) pee.
Theodore Taylor III won the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award for his work illustrating Laban Carrick Hill’s When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop. I’ll write about this title more later in the week.
Bike for Rent!, written by Isaac Olaleye and illustrated by Chris Demarest, is set in Nigeria and tells the story of Lateef, who really wants to be able to rent a bicycle from Babatunde but can’t afford it. He works and saves money to rent a bike, crashes Babatunde’s best bike, and then goes to work for him to pay off his debt. We liked this story, but I wish the art were more appealing.
I got impatient with my libraries and decided to order Duncan Tonatiuh’s 2014 Pura Belpre title, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote for myself, and I’m glad I did. We love Tonatiuh’s distinctive art, and I appreciate the strong text he writes to accompany his art. This allegory about migrant Mexican workers coming to America to find work was kind of scary! I was so relieved when Papa Rabbit burst in to rescue Pancho! Tonatiuh includes a detailed Author’s Note about migrant workers with suggestions for further reading. This is a book I could imagine using at the high school school and college level as well. I think it could spark a really good conversation about social justice and the social, economic, and political issues involved in the U.S. dependence on migrant labor.
A Rock Is Lively is another insanely beautiful nonfiction title written by Dianne Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. The text is poetic, yet informative, and the art is so beautiful.
The Moon Over Star, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by the amazing Jerry Pinkney, was another favorite this week. My husband read the book aloud to one child, then found himself coming into the room to listen to me read it aloud the next day to our other child. The story is just that well-written. It’s about a family (who happens to be African-American! Yay!) watching the moon landing. There is a skeptical grandpa and a dreamer granddaughter, and their relationship and interaction is at the heart of the story. This is a quiet and very lovely book.
Because Amelia Smiled, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, shows the power of “pass it on” and how one small positive action (Amelia smiles, which in turn makes her neighbor, Mrs. Higgins smile, and because Mrs. Higgins is feeling kind, she bakes cookies for her grandson in Mexico, who then passes that kindness along to his students, etc.) I liked how Stein attempted to tell a global story and to connect people all over the world, and the final page coming back to Amelia was clever. This story didn’t always work for me because some of the actions were bizarre (taking a trip to Paris to get a haircut, for instance), but I appreciated the message and it seemed to test well on actual child readers (meaning, my kids liked it a lot!).
The Kiss Box, written by Bonnie Verburg and illustrated by Henry Cole, has–in just one short week–become notorious in my house. Sometimes we read books as therapy, and this was one of our therapy titles. And wow, was it powerful! My son was crawling off the couch in an effort to get away from me as I read this book aloud, and then afterwards, he collapsed into my lap and held onto me for dear life–for about two hours straight. The power of books! Amazon assures its customers that The Kiss Box is “A reassuring story about separation and love,” but my son found nothing reassuring about this story. His assessment the day after: “That book was horrible! It gave me nightmares!” Here’s what gives a traumatized adopted kid nightmares: moms going away! I travel for business a few times a year, and it’s always really hard on my son. He needs the message in The Kiss Box–that moms love their kids even when they have to go away from them, that moms will come back. In The Kiss Box, the mother has to go away for unspecified reasons (one spread shows her traveling in a train, dressed for work), and the little bear has some separation anxiety. He eventually makes a kiss box to hold her kisses so that he can give himself one as needed while she’s away. I am not sure that my son is going to be remotely amused when I give him a kiss box next time I go away, but I think somewhere deep inside, he will find it reassuring.
We read Miami Jackson Gets It Straight, the first in a fun chapter book series by Patricia McKissack and Frederick McKissack. The drama was fueled a bit too much by a grade school gender war that I didn’t find fully believable (not my own experience in elementary school and not my kids’ experiences now either), but Miami is a strong, dynamic character and there is plenty of interest and drama created by his adventures at school and at home. I am constantly looking for well-written series featuring African-American characters, and this seems like a winner. I also found a 2008 profile of Patricia McKissack on The Brown Bookshelf that is worth a read. We have read many of McKissack’s books and have many more to go–she’s written over 150!
We also read Marty Maguire Digs Worms, the second book in Kate Messner’s chapter book series. I really liked the ecological focus of this title. It would be a terrific read-aloud for Earth Day activities. It would also be a terrific read-aloud for the science curriculum, as the whole story is really about a science experiment (complete with journaling!).
Nerdbery Challenge: 0/12 books
#MustReadin2014: 3/15 books
YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 0/12 books
Professional Development Reading Goal: 2/12 books
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 12/100 books
Picture Book Reading Goal: 50/350 books
Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 3/100 books
YA Lit Reading Goal: 7/60 books
Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 3/12 books
Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 24/200