David Sedaris’s new collection of essays, Calypso, might be my favorite. (If you’re new to Sedaris’s work, though, try Me Talk Pretty One Day or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim first). There is a vulnerability and unresolved sadness to some of these pieces that I think he tends to polish into something harder and edgier in most of his earlier work. These pieces have the trademark Sedaris wit and bite but many of them have something more as well. Vulnerability is the closest I can come to capturing what that is–the vulnerability of feeling deeply and exposing those feelings, of sitting with losses that can’t be understood, of finding a way to capture the raw pain of grief.
What to Do When I’m Gone is really wonderful. It’s a collaboration between a mother, who writes the text, and a daughter, who illustrates it, and it consists of the reminders, advice, lessons, comfort and more that a mother leaves to her daughter after she dies. There is wit and wisdom as well as poignancy. It’s hard to write well about grief and keeping on, I think, but this book does it very well. (And now a message to my own mother: Mom, where is the book about adulting that I need you to write for me??
A slim little poem-letter-essay about having dreams and holding onto dreams and keeping on even when you don’t make it in the way you thought you would. Takes just a few minutes to read, and will probably please all the Jason Reynolds fans out there.
What an odd little book! I have to confess, I have no idea what to say about The Van Gogh Cafe. As always with a Cynthia Rylant book, there were sentences that stopped me in my tracks with their craft and beauty. It’s a very short (not even 60 pages) and focuses on magical happenings at a cafe in Flowers, Kansas. There are two main characters, a father and a daughter, though they are not really developed into characters. It’s a book that’s more about ideas and images than plot and people. I expect that you could have interesting conversations about the book with a group of children, but I am not sure it would ever be my choice as a read-aloud.
I was so overpowered by the paintings in All Around Us that I could hardly pay attention to the text. But that’s quite lovely too. There is a grandfather who shows his granddaughter how to honor the earth and find beauty, joy, and meaning all around her in simple things. It’s a story that emerges from the author’s cultural background and has something wise to say to all of us.
I loved the art and the message in My Hair Is a Garden, and the text really worked for me once the metaphor took over. But I wish the metaphor had controlled the text all the way through, as certain passages towards the beginning felt overlong and wordy and not quite as artfully crafted.
Picture book perfection. The whole experience of this book, down to the feel of the paper itself, was perfect. One I really want to share with my preservice teachers but they are going to have to get out of their seats and huddle close so they can see the details of the illustrations. The powerful message of acceptance here is handled with such subtlety, largely through the illustrations and a very few words from the grandmother.
A story so many of us can relate to–being afraid to try something new and then slowly learning the skills we need, thanks to the support and patience of a mentor/teacher.
The Day You Begin is a powerful book (beautifully illustrated by Rafael Lopez too) about finding a place in a community when you initially feel like an outsider. I love that Woodson includes so many different examples of what might make a child feel different or insecure about his or her story and then shows the path to belonging–making connections, finding ways we’re similar, being curious about difference.