My semester is officially over. After five months of reading writing, researching and driving myself crazy, I'm not sure how to fill all of this down time. You know, to edit those two manuscripts I've been promising to get done, catching up on work and sleep and friends, reading texts for next residency... Okay, so maybe there's not a lot of down time after all.
Getting back to the point, here's my final reading list for my first semester of grad school. It's pretty much all history/historical fiction and novels in verse. (If you haven't picked up on this over the past five months, I'm working on a historical fiction novel in verse.)
Writing Great Books for Young Readers by Regina Brooks: I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now and was excited to read some contemporary advice on writing for young adults. This is a fantastic book for brand-new YA writers, but it didn’t have the depth I was looking for. Though there are some really good reminders, especially in the chapter on dialogue.
My Mom's Having a Baby! by Dori H. Butler, illustrated by Carol Thompson: The plan was to read this book for Banned Book Week in October. That didn’t happen, but I still read it looking specifically at what makes age-appropriate content. While I found a one-page spread that I felt talked about sex a little too graphically for the audience, I can understand why many parents would be comfortable sharing it with their own children. For a book that tries to give a scientific look at birth in an accessible way, I respect Butler for making the hard decision to be as frank as she was.
Columbus by Demi: I’ve been a fan of Demi for a lot of years now. She chooses the most fascinating subjects to explore and her illustrations reflect the historical traditions she tells. With very little judgment and great respect, Demi manages to balance the hero we celebrate with the fallible man whom he really was. As for the illustrations, the seascapes are especially impressive, but the Portuguese court scenes also deserve special mention for their attention to detail and beautiful overlays. Unfortunately, I felt like I was reading the captions on paintings in a museum rather than a historical adventure.
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly: While I didn’t love this book anywhere near as much as I loved Donnelly’s Revolution, she’s still a wonderful storyteller who knows how to create a well-rounded narrator and somehow make history seem so freaking contemporary. Her skill makes me jealous.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: This was a reread for me, but I haven’t read it since it first came out while I was in high school, so I might as well have been reading it for the first time. And rereading it reminded me of why it won so many awards. Hesse is a master of the novel in verse and weaves an amazing story steeped in history and compassion and hope.
My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt: There are so many things to love about this novel in verse. There’s emotion and mystery and a true poetic structure, though I could have used more breathing room from the sadness. While the poetry was more abstract than I write, I loved the way I could get into Angel’s head and really understand her situation in life that is totally foreign to my own. I’m finding that there are kind of two schools to novels in verse: those influenced by modern free-verse poetry and those influenced by traditional epic poetry. And I was fascinated that this book of contemporary verse uses and epic poem (Paradise Lost) as a backdrop.
Winnie’s War by Jenny Moss: I think this book came at the perfect moment for me as it deals with the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. While the beginning was a little rough, the ending got better and better until I almost regretted coming to the end. It had me laughing then crying and finally ending with a smile.
The Wright Brothers by Lola M. Schaefer: This was a history written without much excitement. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this semester, it’s that through research and solid facts don’t always translate to a good book, but without them, you can’t have a good book either.
Amazing Sharks! by Sarah L. Thomson: Granted, this book was sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, but it was a little too preachy without enough informative content. I actually agree with the principles in this book, but instead of telling me that we need to save the sharks, I would have liked to see more about what make them interesting creatures, critical to their ecosystem and what is causing their demise. Why not teach me more about sharks and let me draw my own conclusions as to why we need to save them.
Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt: I’ve only ever read Voigt’s realistic fiction for older readers, so it was interesting to see how she handles an animal fantasy for younger readers. You could totally see the influence of E.B. White in this adventure novel that gives you a new perspective on family and growing up.