On the blog:
I read aloud to my son religiously twice a day–at breakfast and at bedtime. Old School, the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, was breakfast time reading this week, and I found it more satisfying than perhaps any other Wimpy Kid book. Greg wasn’t such an unethical jerk in this one. Not that he’s a model citizen. But he actually seemed to be aware that other human beings exist and have feelings that might be taken into consideration. Illustrated middle-grade novels have been so amazing for young readers, but I do long for them to feature boy characters who aren’t stupid, cruel, or clueless. I long for humor with heart to be able to share with my son. And Old School comes closer to that than any other Wimpy Kid title. It’s also tightly constructed in plot and theme. I really do appreciate what Kinney can do in these books. There were many laugh-out-loud moments for my son–and at least a couple for me as well.
Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown just might be my favorite book of 2015. It’s exactly what I’ve been needing as a reader for a long time–just the book to break the reading slump I feel like I’ve been in for basically all of 2015. Think Jane Austen meets Susanna Clarke meets Philip Pullman. But it’s also uniquely Cho’s own. It’s a page-turner that has so much more on its mind than strong plotting and delicious characters (though I appreciate both Cho’s plotting and her skills at character development). Race and gender issues take the forefront in this historical fantasy that adds magic to 1800s England.
Don Brown’s Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans should feature prominently in Newbery, Caldecott, and Sibert discussions this year. It’s one of the most distinguished nonfiction books I’ve read in 2015. Brown manages to take a very complex story and streamline it into a graphic novel that’s under 100 pages. The focus is very much on the people of New Orleans, whose suffering was multiplied manifold by incredibly inept local and federal government responses to the natural disaster. One of the most telling images is of George Bush–on his way back to the White House from vacation–flying low in his plane over the city. People below are starving, dying of dehydration, drowning, and Bush is insulated and ignorant and later claims not to have realized just how bad things were. (To which an incredulous reporter asked, “Don’t you guys have TV?”) Brown is an amazing writer–he writes beautiful sentences that convey so much information, context, and atmosphere. And the art is even better–emotional, sensitive, evocative, conveying the tragedy, the suffering, and the dignity of the people of New Orleans. Image after image stopped me short.
I tried to appreciate the theme of Little Tree (a growing tree refuses to let go of its leaves in the fall and inadvertently stunts in its own growth as it clings to the past) but ultimately found the story, though clever, a bit heavy-handed and moralistic. I did like Long’s art, of course, and I do see why this title is getting a lot of book love.
Dear Yeti is so much more my speed. Two kids head out exploring, intent on finding a yeti. They do it in a style I can appreciate: they write pen pal letters to the yeti! Unbeknownst to them, the shy yeti receives their letters and begins helping them behind the scenes on their adventures. And they need his help because our two intrepid heroes prepare for their hike much as I do–heading out into the woods with no supplies and little forethought. A charmer of a story.
My favorite picture book of the week, hands down, Night Animals is a hilarious look at fear of the dark and nameless night terrors. The humor comes from the fact that it’s nocturnal animals who are so frightened of the dark–and each other. It’s up to Bat to assure the other animals that they themselves are in fact the “night animals” of whom they are totally terrified. Perfectly paced, full of humor and warmth, with a lovely surprise ending.
Emma Yarlett’s Orion and the Dark is another strong title about fear of the dark. Orion is scared of the dark–that is, until the Dark itself becomes a character, climbs in Orion’s window, and takes him on adventures. Together, they discover that all the scariest places in the house are actually places to have the best adventures. The art is really lovely and unique, and there are adorable page cut-outs of the Dark hugging Orion.
In Little Elliot Big Family by author-illustrator Mike Curato, Elliot finds himself alone after his one friend, Mouse, leaves for a family reunion. He wanders the city streets observing many different (and diverse! Thanks, Mike Curato!) families and begins to feel more and more lonely. Luckily, Mouse eventually shows up to invite him to the Mouse family reunion. The story is predictable, but I find that I really like Curato’s art, especially his choice to set the Elliot stories in 1940s New York. The period details make the stories resonate a bit for me than I think they otherwise would. They have a surprising seriousness and weight, despite the fact that Elliot is a pastel polka-dotted elephant and everything works out in the end exactly as you would expect it to.