The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: After all that I had heard about this book, I was sure I wasn’t going to like it. Why I felt compelled to read it anyway, I’ll never know, but I’m glad that I did. While I won’t call it my "favorite" book, there are a lot of things to learn from it, mostly because it felt like an experiment on narration. Fitzgerald played a lot with style, often losing himself in seemingly inconsequential backstories and repetitive dialogue, but then it would come together in these moments of clarity of character and plot that would absolutely amaze me.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott: No, I've never read this book before. Stop judging me!
When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Illustrated by Brian Selznick: I have read several books on various reading levels about Marian Anderson, and I think that this one is my favorite. Maybe it’s because of Brian Selznick’s illustrations or the simplicity of the details, but this book manages to convey more of the heart of what Anderson did in 36 pages than some 300-page biographies.
When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, Illustrated by Diane Goods: A sweet poetic book about growing up in Appalachia. I loved that Rylant didn’t shy away from taboo topics like religious experiences and slaughtering animals as these are very much a part of the southern-mountain experience. She presented an honest portrayal of the events and memories that make us who we are. And the soft illustrations also give the book a nostalgic feel of a cool summer evening.
The Life of Henry the Fifth by William Shakespeare: Yes, another Shakespearean play. I was looking at a specific kind of narration, and this one had exactly what I was looking for. Plus, I love Shakespeare, so any excuse I have to read one of his plays is a good excuse for me.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz: There is a real beauty to how Shulevitz found color and magic during a childhood spent moving from place to place as a refugee. You can literally see why he became an illustrator.
Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov: This was such a great book. I had never heard of Sandy Calder before, so kudos to Stone for exploring such a unique subject. I loved the whimsical illustrations that really fit the circus style while still being contemporary and creative. I also loved how Stone really connected Calder's childhood experiences to the direction his life took as an adult--it's one of the elements of picture-book biographies that make them so powerful for children.
Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson, Illustrated by Hilary Knight: I can’t believe I’ve gone this many years without reading an Eloise book! I was laughing so hard I had tears streaming down my face. While it’s totally ridiculous to think that one little girl could cause so much trouble, I couldn’t help but love this troublemaker of international proportions. Some modern critics might take issue with how people of different nationalities are portrayed, but that just makes me wonder what in our vocabulary will seem outdated in 100 years. Kay Thompson manages to capture what it would be like if our every childish whim were granted. This is also a great look at early picture books and how they have changed. The word- and page-count are very high, and I realized that my attention span for picture books is relatively short.
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, Narrated by Justine Eyre, Cassandra Campbell and Kirby Heyborne: Wow, this book was amazing. Layered and moving and filled with hope. I probably felt an extra connection to this story as it parallels my own family’s story of immigrating to America and the effects of Spanish Influenza on their lives and community. But it’s the complexity of the plot, interweaving duel-plots set during WWI and the Great Depression, that brought this story to life. I loved the story within a story narration, which reminded me a little of Holes. And the sassy, adventurous threesome of friends are just so…well, perfect for a middle-grade audience. In reading Abilene's story, I discovered a little piece of my own.
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff: I have decided that I'm not a big fan of Wolff, though I think her subject matter is fascinating and I can understand why some teens really connect with her work. Her style of writing just doesn't suit my style of reading.
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr: We all know I’m a sucker for Zarr’s books, but there’s a reason for that. It doesn’t matter what kind of character she’s writing—a girl with a bad reputation, a hidden secret, a sick mother, a baby on the way or a musical genius—I can relate to them on a deeply personal level. There’s a quality of realness that you can’t help but connect with. I think a lot of that stems for the plot-forwarding dialogue and the backstory that’s slow to be revealed. Zarr always has such interesting moments for her initiating actions, and she’s a master at interweaving what came before and how it affects what comes after.