On my blog:
- A curation of online reading, including dragon-shaped hedges, 50 Cent, and how to draw
- Even in a difficult week, there was plenty to celebrate
- My three favorite books on writing
- A review of Deborah Hopkinson’s terrific nonfiction picture book, Sky Boys
- A Top Ten list of childhood favorites from the 1970s
I wanted to love Plain Kate by Erin Bow because it does have many things I love in a fantasy novel, including a sarcastic talking cat. But I was so-so on this book, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Something was off in the pacing and plotting for me. The plot hinges upon Kate’s agreement to trade her shadow to a dark wizard, but she has no very compelling reason to trade it in the first place, and it would seem that she has enough common sense to know that you shouldn’t get involved with a dark wizard. The characters are interesting, however, and Bow’s language and sentences are often beautiful.
In researching my post on Middle Grade Resources, I discovered that I hadn’t read Elissa Brent Weissman’s 2011 Middle-Grade Cybils Winner, Nerd Camp. This is a fast-paced celebration of all things smart, geeky, and nerdy. Ten-year-old only child Gabe is excited that his father is remarrying and he’s going to get a new brother–but then he discovers that his new brother is one of the cool kids. Gabe worries that Zack won’t like him if he finds out he’s a nerd, so he tries to figure out a way to hide his smarts from Zack. That’s made a little more challenging given that he’s spending the summer at nerd camp, a summer camp for the gifted. This was a fun read.
My son and I just finished reading Suzanne Selfors’s The Sasquatch Escape out loud, and we both loved it. I think I loved it a little bit more, but then I was still reeling from Timmy Failure and desperately needing a book to restore my faith in humanity, or at least my faith in boy characters in children’s chapter books. Ben Silverstein is sent to the dying town of Buttonville to spend the summer with a grandfather he barely knows while his parents try to solve their marital problems. On the drive into town from the airport, he spots what he thinks might be a dragon. He also spots the girl who will become his best Buttonville friend, Pearl. Ben and Pearl end up rescuing a dragon hatchling and discovering that the new Worm Hospital that has opened up at the old button factory doesn’t treat worms at all. And yes, there is a Sasquatch who escapes. I’m not entirely sure how Suzanne Selfors makes all of this work, but she does. I have ordered Book 2 (though not from Amazon!), and we are impatiently awaiting its arrival.
As my regular readers can guess, I’m a sucker for any picture book with a cat on the cover. So I was very enthusiastic about reading Goyangi Means Cat aloud to my son. We settled in for a lovely story about a pretty kitty. I started reading–AND THEN I DISCOVERED THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT ADOPTION. TRIGGER ALERT!! TRIGGER ALERT!! My son began to freak out on the inside–it was written all over his face. But I valiantly plowed onward through the story, which is actually a sensitive look at an adopted Korean girl’s first days in her new home. Everything is confusing and upsetting–except for the cat. When the cat runs away, Soo Min is distraught, but when the cat returns home, she speaks her first English word–home. What I really admire about this book is that it conveys something real about Soo Min’s experience in a way that few adoption picture books do. So often, adoption picture books can be summed up as follows: Yay! You’re home with us! We love you! We’re your family! Happily ever after! To which I can only go beat my head against the wall.
We are rereading a couple of favorite series right now, Cynthia Rylant’s Mr Putter and Tabby books, my all-time favorite easy reader series, and Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series, which I don’t like quite as much as my kids do, though I am quite fond of the way buttered toast solves all problems.
I meant to keep Elisha Cooper’s gorgeous nonfiction picture book, Train, from the library for another week so that I could quote some lines from it, but it got returned. So you will just have to take my word that Cooper’s writing is so, so good. This may be one that adults like more than kids (my son said it was boring, to which I could only stare with gaping mouth because I was riveted), but I appreciated the detail and scope of the illustrations, as well as Cooper’s gorgeous use of language. The concept is quite clever–it’s a cross-country journey but on four different trains, so the reader learns about a variety of trains. Would make an interesting pairing with Brian Floca’s Locomotive.
My Name Is Elizabeth, written by Annike Dunklee and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe, captures one of the central mysteries of being named Elizabeth: everyone wants to give you a nickname, even though you never gave them permission to call you Liz or Beth. I am generally too quiet and retiring to protest when someone calls me Liz, but this Elizabeth rebels and makes it clear to all her family, friends, and neighbors that her name is Elizabeth, not Beth, Liz, Lizzie, Betsy, or anything else they might come up with. The final page, with her little brother trying to say her name, is really adorable.
10,000 Dresses, written by Marcus Ewert and illustrated by Rex Ray, is about a transgender boy who dreams of beautiful dresses but can’t find any support or acceptance from his family. I was sad that his parents and brother insulted and dismissed him when he shared his desire to wear dresses with them. Luckily, Bailey meets a new friend who likes to design and make dresses, and they begin working together to bring his dress dreams to life. Ewert chooses to refer to Bailey as “her” and “she” throughout the story, which I thought was an excellent way to underscore the theme. My own reading experience of this book was compromised by format: this is the first e-picture book I’ve read, and I was deeply unimpressed. As you would expect in a picture book, many of the double-page spreads are actually a single image. Showing just the left side or just the right side of the book as a single page, which my ebook did, meant that most of the illustrations made no sense. I really disliked the illustrations and style of this book, but that may have been a function of the reading experience. I would like to get my hands on the actual book at some point and see if that makes a difference. This would be a terrific book to spark discussion about transgender children, about kindness and acceptance, and about difference.