I will admit it, I'm in a reading funk. After more than a year of detailed reading for school, it has lost some of its appeal. Which makes my reading of Danalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer more than a little ironic. The thing is, I read a lot of really good books for this unit that at any other point in my life would have become instant favorites. Hell, I even found a classic British book that was right up my alley (hope you didn't fall off your chair hearing that). So while I was probably overly critical of some of these books, know that they were are pretty good reads. Unfortunately, I'm just not a good reader at the moment.
Amazing, isn't it? That a self-professed bibliophile and YA lit fanatic can suddenly stop enjoying reading. Actually, it's not that amazing nor surprising as it's a pattern well establish with kid readers. They go from loving books to hating books to loving them again over a course of days or years or decades. I don't believe in reluctant readers—I only believe in readers who need to find the right book at the right time. (I'm paraphrasing Anita Silvey there.)
So I'll keep reading and analyzing and looking for good books, and hopefully I'll find that passion again. And find it soon! I have grad school to finish.
“Dead to Me” by Cinda Williams Chima: I am all for short stories. I love the way that they compress a timeline and get to the heart of both character and plot in so few words. But I HATE teasers disguised as short stories. And no matter how much I love Cinda and her writing, this “short story” had a critical lack of “story.”
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Ralph Cosham: Now these are short stories done right. I was surprisingly delighted by this book as my disdain of classic Brit Lit is well documented, and I was expecting to completely dislike Holmes as he is often portrayed as egotistical and pretentious, belittling others to more fully highlight his own intelligence. However, these short stories highlight his intelligence through his compassion for those who have been wronged as well as those who have made poor decisions in their lives. But even more impressive is Doyle’s plotting ability—though the crimes/actions are relayed in rather long monologues given to Holmes by clients, it is the adventure in solving the mystery that makes these stories fun and engaging.
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka: I’m usually not a fan of the first-person past narrator with an abstract timeline in picture books, but this one worked for me, even if the topic was a bit overly sentimental. Maybe it was because the illustrations were crayon and watercolor collages that provided authentic childlike images to ground the voice.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull, illustated by David Diaz: I remember learning about Wilma Rudolph back in middle school, and I remember a lot of the instances in this book from the character actor who came to my school—she even brought one of Rudolph’s gold medals and a pair of her Olympic running shoes that were displayed in our trophy case for the week. This author picked the best moments of Rudolph’s life to share.
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Danalyn Miller: While I found some of the information repetitive and self-congratulatory, there was a lot of good content about talking about books with kids7mdash;how to connect them with books, help them increase reading ability and confidence, and set a good reading example. It might be geared towards educators, but the topic is just as important for parents and writers to be aware of and strive to implement in the learning environments they create. It reminded me of Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children or Jim Trelease’s The Read-Alound Handbook.
All in a day by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Nikki McClure: It was the illustrations that made this book work for me as well. Rhyming picture books with idyllic themes tend to wear thin on me because they are overly sentimental. But if anyone can get away with being sentimental, it’s Rylant (i.e. When I Was Young in the Mountains). She picks her imagery well and doesn’t get carried away/lost in the poetry.
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurliff: This is a very telling book filled with generalized descriptions that don’t make any details stand out: “King Barf wore a gold crown on his head, gold chains around his neck, gold armor on his chest, gold rings on all his fingers. His saddle was gilded gold. His boots had gold buckles” (68). The action passages use simple—often passive—structure that is incredibly narrator centric: “I stood frozen for a minute and I almost ran back just as fast as I had come” (82). The concept is intriguing, as most fractured fairy tales are, but it offered nothing truly special. The author missed so many great opportunities to bring this magical world to life.
Here by Wisława Szymborska, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak: I picked up this poetry hoping to find something to connect with by reading a Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet; what I didn’t expect to find was a kindred spirit. I am terribly saddened that Szymborska passed away a year and a half before I discovered her poetry, but I am so glad that she left such an amazing body of work that I can explore for years to come. I loved looking at her line and stanza breaks. It’s amazing how her cheekiness and self-deprecating humor can be so evident in such few, well-chosen words.
Hora de dormir del conejo: Rabbit’s Bedtime by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, translated by Annie Garcia Kaplan: I’ve been thinking a lot about bilingual books—and by that I don’t just mean books that are either translated or use dialogue that’s a hybrid of English and another language—I mean books that feature two languages. Here had the Polish on one page and the English translation on the facing page, and this rhyming picture book had the Spanish text with the English translation below. While I don’t know more than the basics of Spanish and a few words in Polish, I found it interesting to see the choices in translation. Sometimes rhythm and rhyme were sacrificed for clarity, and other times the poetry of both languages fit so perfectly, it was hard to tell which was the original language.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley: I love that because of Linda Aronson's The 21st Century Screenplay I have a name for this storytelling form—fractured tandem. I love that it’s mysterious without being a mystery, fantastical without being a fantasy and melancholy without being depressing. But the best part is watching all of the threads come together in the end. Someday I’ll be brave enough to write a story in this form, too.