On my blog last week:
- a short but select curation of what I’ve been reading online in Sunday Salon
- a celebration of family art night, buttered toast, and more in 5 Things I Loved About Last Week
- a review of an excellent picture book biography of Dr Seuss
- a Slice of Life about what it’s like sometimes to parent my son
In reading, I only managed to finish books I read aloud to my son, but we did read aloud two chapter books and about 35 picture books. I’ll highlight the ones we liked best below.
I had hoped that my son might try to read George Brown, Class Clown: Trouble Magnet independently, but no. So I read it aloud to him. And this is definitely one of those titles that is best for kids to read independently. It does not particularly reward the grown-up reader. Even if you like burps. Since this book is about a boy who is afflicted with magical super burps that cause him to lose control of himself and get into trouble, I couldn’t help thinking about the Captain Underpants series as I was reading. And also thinking about how much I actually enjoy reading the Captain Underpants books aloud. There is plenty to reward the adult reader there, especially the many humorous meta moments. George Brown is much more plodding, much less sparkly. It does have exactly the right text-to-illustration ratio to engage my older son, but I won’t be reading anymore of these books out loud. I’ll be handing it to my third grader next, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to love it (as well as read it independently!).
Three on Three, written by Eric Walters, was another purchase intended to lure my older son into picking up a book on his own. Again, no dice. So we read it aloud this week. This is the first in a trilogy of very similarly-plotted stories about two third-grade basketball players (a boy and a girl who are best friends). The quality of writing is better than what you find in, say, a Bailey School Kids book (although I realize that’s fairly faint praise), and I will say this about Eric Walters: he knows how to craft a cliffhanging chapter ending. Twice as I got to the end of a chapter and moved to close the book, my son gave me the most outraged face and yelled–yes, yelled–“READ!” to me. So I read. I appreciate that Orca publishes this and other high-interest, low-level series for readers like my son, but I will also be glad when he really can read independently and I can save reading aloud for beautifully written stories I want to share with him! I do think this book would be quite popular among boys of a certain age and should be part of elementary classroom libraries.
First Day in Grapes, written by L. King Perez and illustrated by Robert Casilla, is the story of Chico, who is growing up in a family of migrant workers and changing schools frequently as his parents follow the crops and the work. Perez’s writing is really strong, but I did not care particularly for the illustrations, which are attractive but very literal. The illustrator doesn’t go beyond the words on the page to create a richer visual story. Still, a book I found interesting and enjoyable.
For some reason, my son is drawn to stories about Asian culture, so I try to grab those when I see them at the library. This week, we ended up reading The Runaway Rice Cake, written by Ying Chang Compestine and illustrated by Tungwai Chau. It’s Chinese New Year’s, and the Chang family is so poor and hungry that they barely have enough flour to bake the traditional rice cake. Imagine their surprise when it’s removed from the oven, opens its eyes, and runs out the door. A chase ensues, and though the rice cake is eventually caught, it’s lost forever when Da, the youngest son, generously offers it to an elderly woman who is hungry. There’s a bit of the loaves and fishes story here as the family returns home and finds strangers bringing them food, which strangely multiplies when they offer to share it.
Linda Sue Park’s The Firekeeper’s Son, illustrated by Julie Downing, is set in nineteenth-century Korea and focuses on the bonfire signal system that was used to alert the capital of unrest or invasion at the coast. I know very little about Korean history and traditions, so this book was quite informative, though that wasn’t really its intention.
My son and I are huge So You Think You Can Dance fans and in honor of the new season starting a couple of weeks ago, I checked out the very slim selection of books on dance at my library. Bill T. Jones’s Dance, featuring photographs of Jones by Susan Kuklik, was the only book I thought my son would be interested in. But no. This one didn’t pass the nonfiction reading test–meaning he didn’t ask me to get my iPad out and find photos or videos to show him. Still, now he does know who Jones is, so perhaps he’d be open to watching a documentary about him.
Very stupid (and misleading–since the T. Rex shows up on one page) title for a book that’s actually pretty good. Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, shares his training regimen in How to Train with a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals. There is lots of math in this book and much metaphorical thinking as Phelps tries to convey what it’s like to train for years to win gold. I thought this book effectively showed the dedication, effort, and intensity of elite athletes.
Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are incredible in Humble Pie. Can the man do everything? Yes, I think he can.
Carolinda Clatter is an original story written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, who won the Caldecott for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. As I was reading this book and Humble Pie, I realized I should make more of an effort to find books illustrated by great illustrators. So often my book searching at the library sends me to authors–rarely to illustrators. But Gerstein’s work is really worth experiencing. Carolinda Clatter is a cute story of a loud girl born in a place where she’s supposed to be quiet to keep from waking the sleeping giant. But Carolinda can’t really be quiet, and she does wake the giant. But she’s clever in addition to noisy and she finds a way to encourage the giant to go back to sleep and to save her village from the curse of quiet at the same time.
The art is absolutely amazing in Alexis Deacon’s While You Are Sleeping. The story is fine, though not particularly original. (What happens while you’re sleeping is that your toys come to life.) But the art…. how is it that I’ve never heard of Deacon before??
A Peter McMarty book I hadn’t read! T Is for Terrible is the amusing story of a T. Rex who really doesn’t want to be mean and scary: he just can’t help himself. Beautiful, distinctive illustrations, as always, and some funny moments in the story.
We are slowly reading our way through all of Julia Donaldson’s books. I really enjoyed The Spiffiest Giant in Town, which I should have hated because it has two of my least favorite things in it: a cumulative story AND rhyme. But Julia Donaldson can do no wrong, and of course Axel Scheffler’s illustrations are perfect for the story.
I have to confess that my son absolutely hated Philippe Coudray’s Bright Ideas! but I absolutely loved it. He kept complaining that the book was boring, which I suppose it was for him, because he was having a very hard time understanding the humor and processing what was happening visually. But I was pleasantly surprised at the combination of goofiness and sophistication in this book. Definitely one I’ll be book talking in Children’s Lit.
Reading Goal Update:
Nerdbery Challenge: 0/12 books
#MustReadin2014: 6/15 books
YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 5/12 books
Professional Development Reading Goal: 2/12 books
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 51/100 books
Picture Book Reading Goal: 293/350 books
Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 33/100 books
YA Lit Reading Goal: 25/60 books
Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 19/12 books
Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 86/200