And now we come to the bitter-sweet end of the semester. It's been a wild ride, and I've learned a lot. I will admit that I'm dreading next semester a bit, and not just because I'm expected to have a publication-ready manuscript by the end. I don't remember being this sad about graduating from high school or my undergrad program, and my master's graduation is still more than six months away. But there's something magical about belonging to a place like VCFA, and it's hard to imagine being without it.
Now on to the list.
For this packet, I looked at a lot of board books and fantasy novels. (I didn't realize until now that three of the four novels I read in the past month were fantasy.) I'm not planning on ever writing fantasy, but you learn a lot from reading both inside and outside the genre you write. For example, I learn a lot about plotting from action/adventure novels, and picture books are great examples of writing tightly.
Little Master Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver: I don’t know why I keep coming back to this series—perhaps with the hope that it will get better. Unfortunately, there’s no story in this story. I know that concept picture books don’t necessarily need a plot, but there should be a story (see Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert and Gallop! by Rufus Butler Seder). This book uses fun sounds and have beautiful coloration; I also really liked the use of text as graphics. But I still need a reason for the story.
I love my mommy by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Emma Dodd: I sat down and read a stack of board books of authors and illustrator teams, as well as taking another look at some of my favorite classic picture books. With this book, I struggled with the POV. It’s a first person toddler narrator (which I don’t particularly care for), and the sentence structure and word choice don’t fit the voice. What toddle refers to his "grubby nose" or can form the sentence "She even helps me learn to pee!" This book made me long for David Shannon’s No, David!
How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? by Varsh Bajaj, illustrated by Ivan Bates: If I read one more board book with bad rhyme, I might cry. Bajaj messes with syntax to make rhymes fit: "'How many kisses do you want, young fellow?' Mommy Duck asks, fluffing Little Duck yellow." And at other points loses the pentametric rhythm to make a sentence work: "'I want FIVE,' she says with a neigh, settling down in her warm bed of hey."
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd: This was a re-read, but I read it to my friend’s one-year-old daughter to see if she would sit through the entire thing before her nap. Despite having the attention span of a fruit fly, she did pay attention and insisted on turning all the pages. Although I’m not a huge fan of the rather van Gogh-esque illustrations, I think this is perhaps the best example ever of a rhyming bedtime book.
This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers: I found this book funny but also kind of message-y. I don’t mind a lesson revealed on the final page or two, but this one takes more pages to reveal. It makes me wonder if the writing could have been tighter.
Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, illustrated by Mary Anne Knab: While the customs and traditions take a bit of an idealized view of what life was like for families in the poor farm villages of Poland, there are a lot of good tidbits here about holiday customs, birth and death rituals, and children’s games. In a way, reading this made me kind of sad knowing that a people with such a rich cultural heritage weren’t able to observe most of these customs and traditions because of war, poverty and disease that plagued Poland and followed those who fled the country in the early 20th century. Within two generations of coming to United States, most of these traditions and games were forgotten and replaced by more Western European activities.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: It has been years since I’ve read this book, and I totally thought it was a wordless picture book. I was shocked when I opened it and found all those words! And frankly, the illustrations are so amazing, the words seem kind of pointless.
Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy, narrated by Rupert Degas: I seriously love the dialogue during action sequences in this series. It’s probably because Landy has a background as a playwright that he does dialogue so well. Or perhaps he was a playwright because he does dialogue do well? I’m still terrible at speaker tags, but I think I’m decent at finding the balance among action, exposition and dialogue.
Dare You To by Kaie McGarry: The beginning was a bit rough with some really cliché descriptions and romantic troupes, but the characters were engaging, the issues felt authentic, and even the premise of a guy who can't say no to a dare was kind of fun. Plus, there's baseball. 'Nough said.
A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty: This book reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust with its alternate fantastical reality. While I love reading books like this (Stardust is an absolute favorite of mine), my mind doesn't works this way as a writer, which makes it all the more impressive to me.
A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na: This was a re-read that I asked my friend who had never before seen this book to read it aloud to his three kids—eight months, three years and six years—to watch how they (both reader and audience) reacted to the book. This is a rather "quite" book with very few words, giving it a rather lulling quality. All three kids focused the illustrations, which even I find mesmerizing, as their father read to them. It might be a bedtime book, but it had the same calming affect even in the middle of the day.
Little Blue Truck Leads the Way by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry: There’s an overuse of fragments and loses rhythm in places: "I’ve got His Honor the mayor inside. I’m important! Move aside!" It’s an interesting perspective in the illustrations. Told in close third person narration from the Little Blue Truck’s POV, but not visually seen through his eyes nor on his "street level." Not sure how I feel about this.
Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin, illustrated by Kristina Swarner: The illustrations for this book are perfectly ethereal—love the focus on the sky and heavens—but the resolution didn’t leave me satisfied. However, I love the concept of this book and that Sinykin addresses death from a religious perspective so beautifully.
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, narrated by Steve West: I usually love Mark Twain—when all the kids in my class complained about reading Huck Finn, I gobbled it up for the third time, and I think his short stories are absolutely brilliant—but this book was...bad. Seriously. I hate morally driven books, and I hate poorly researched historical fiction almost as much.
The Napping House by Audrey Wood, illustration by Don Wood: This was another re-read that I asked me friend who had never before seen this book to read it aloud to his three kids. The pacing of this book is so perfect, and it showed with the ever-increasing speed my friend read this book. The kids giggled at their father’s silly voices and the three-year-old tapped his hand against his father’s arm.