Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Second Grad School Reading List

I was helping some friends move yesterday, and probably my favorite part of "helping" was playing with their four-year old to keep her occupied while her parents tried to get something done. After her nap, all Little Miss M wanted to do was read books. It didn't matter what they were about or how old they were or what type of illustrations they featured as long as she got to hear a story.

M is often my source for picture book recommendations. Her mom takes her to the library and lets her pick about a dozen books to check out. With very little guidance, M ends up with a good mix of award-winners, best-sellers, old favorites, and some odds and ends. If we get through the entire book, I know it's a good one. If we talk about it afterwords or read it more than once, I know it's a keeper.

So in honor of M, here is my eclectic reading list for my second grad school submission.

Barnett, Mac. Oh No! Not Again!: (or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (or at Least My History Grade) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat: I like seeing how text and illustrations work together to create a narrative, but the illustrations carry this book. But it is a creative concept that plays up on funny moments.

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg: This book is my favorite read from this packet. It’s great poetry, a solid plot and complex characters all rolled into a tight package. I’ll probably come back to this one again.

Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra by Stephen Costanza: Interesting theory on why the Four Seasons include poetic notes. Love that this is based in history but interjects plenty of artistic license. Gave me some good ideas on how to mix history and fiction.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher P. Curtis: When I started this book, I found the stories mildly amusing, but after awhile, the vignettes about the town and its quirky residents got a little old. There was so much story here, and it wasn't coming together. Then, about two-thirds of the way through the novel, everything changed. The action started and the vignettes began to come together to create a powerful plot. I also liked the way the author used sound (specifically onamonapia) to add another dimension to descriptions.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going: The ambiguous ending feels like another beginning and makes me keep writing Troy and Curt's story in my head. For a child of the '90s, I felt an especial affinity for the homage to Kurt Cobain, yet this book manages to be contemporary and authentic, which can probably be attributed to it’s fantastic dialogue.

My Garden by Kevin Hanks: This book was sweet, cute and imaginative, but it was missing Hankes' usual flair for vivid characters, which is why I picked it up in the first place. I was hoping to see how is used character to drive plot in such few words. The “punch line"” at the end was clever even if it did lack the power Hankes' books usually carry.

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca: I will admit, I was surprised by how much I liked this book. I love Jack and Annie's relationship and how they work together to solve problems. This is a great example of how simple details can build characters in a short manuscript.

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: This is a cute story that uses plot well. It’s kind of a high concept picture book: Twilight meets Ballet Shoes maybe. It was an interesting choice to use a second-person narration, but it works with this content.

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose: This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read forever but has sat collecting dust on my bookshelf since it was published. I’m really glad I finally picked it up as it contains some great theories on how to read looking at craft but still allow yourself to enjoy it.

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder: So I have this thing about emotionally manipulative books, and I think novels in verse are the biggest culprit. While I read this book fairly quickly and stayed engaged in the story, I was also slightly annoyed by it. Why the line breaks? It felt like the poetry was used as a framework for being overly emotive rather than being a catalyst for the story.

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