On my blog:
- A collection of links to this week’s best online reading about teaching, reading, and writing
- A celebration of doodling, team sketchbooks, creativity challenges, and healing
- A reflection on my year, so far, in reading nonfiction for Nonfiction November
- A review of Dream Something Big, a nonfiction picture book about the building of the Watts Towers
- A Top Ten List of Books I Want to Reread
Part of my November creativity challenge is to read something each day about creativity. This week I finished two books that relate:
David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity is probably best suited for serious Lynch fans or filmmakers, as many of the very brief chapters focus quite specifically on his films, sometimes too technically for the casual movie fan to follow. The book starts off strong: Lynch practices transcendental meditation and believes that this practice helps him gain access to his unconscious mind, where he fishes for the big ideas in his artistic work. The beginning of the book suggests that Lynch will share how this process has worked for him and how he uses meditation to create. But after the first few chapters, there is very little about meditation and not very much about big ideas. Lynch reminisces about this and that, often in a free association kind of way, and barely touches on a topic before moving on to the next. Overall, not a lot of substance here.
Lynda Barry created Picture This to explore a single question: why do we stop drawing? If you want answers or need lots of words to help you think about that question, this isn’t the book for you. It’s more suggestive and evocative than anything else. There are comics and cartoons plus some interesting written reflections on Barry’s own artistic process. But the bulk of the book is weird drawings and doodles plus lots and lots of full-page cartoons of one of Barry’s alter-egos, the nearsighted monkey. This is definitely not a book for everyone, and I do understand readers who were disappointed, thinking they were getting one thing (“Do you wish you could draw?,” the cover asks,”Take Art Lessons from a Monkey”) when really they were getting something else. This isn’t a book about how to draw, though it will encourage you to doodle and use drawing as a kind of active meditation. I like the way Barry is always able to get me thinking–and quite often that thinking comes from image and the juxtaposition of images, not from words. It’s a very different way for me to use my brain.
This week, I finished Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in Laini Taylor’s magnificent trilogy. I was planning to wait until next year to read Book 3 because I have so many unfinished reading challenges from 2014 that I need to wrap up in the next 6 weeks. But I can’t wait. The story is just too compelling. I’ve listened to the whole series on audio, brilliantly narrated by Kristine Hvam.
I enjoyed Dana Alison Levy’s middle-grade novel, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. If you like the Melendy family, the Penderwicks, or the Casson family, you’ll probably like the Family Fletcher. There are two dads and four boys adopted from a variety of backgrounds, and the episodic story follows the family through a school year of adventures and misadventures. There’s not a lot in the way of plot, but plot really isn’t the point. The story works because of its characters, who are interesting, engaging, and believable.
I strongly dislike the Skippyjon Jones books (I know, I know), but I adored Judy Schachner’s Bits & Pieces. It is not a perfect picture book: it feels as if Schachner hasn’t sufficiently fictionalized this story of her somewhat dim-witted real-life cat, Tink. The pacing is off at certain points as Schachner tries to squeeze 20 years of her cat’s life into one 32-page picture book, and in an effort to cover a lot of ground at the end of the story, the amount of text per page dramatically changes (single sentences at the beginning of the book; giant paragraphs at the end). But though I can objectively recognize that this book needed a little more work, it was still the perfect picture book for me. There are moments of absolute cat perfection early in the story. If you love cats–and especially if you’ve known a dim cat or two and loved them anyway–then this is the book for you.
Ben Clanton’s Rex Wrecks It! is so good. Poor energetic Rex gets excluded from other kids’ fun because he has an unfortunate habit of wrecking everything. The story of how they all learn to play together, despite Rex’s propensity for destruction, is quite satisfying.
The new Elephant & Piggie is, of course, wonderful. I know I always say this when I review a new Mo Willems, but seriously, how does he keep making one classic picture book after another? Piggie has a surprise for Gerald, but he’s going to have to wait, and, well, it’s not easy.
Chris Haughton’s Shh! We Have a Plan is gorgeously colored–those saturated blues and purples and then the eye-popping reds, oranges, and pinks of the flock of birds–and quite funny as the three who have the plan bumble their way through the story, trying and repeatedly failing to catch the bird, never learning from the littlest one who could show them the right way. Very simple spare text and repetition makes it suitable for the very youngest readers, but it also has strong older kid and adult appeal.
Extraordinary Jane is a lovely story of a very ordinary dog who doesn’t seem to have any particular talents. Jane and her family work for a circus, and all of the other dogs have very special gifts. Jane tries to figure out what’s special about her. It turns out that simply being a very good dog is special enough. Hannah Harrison’s artwork is extraordinary–there is so much to enjoy visually in this book.