Excuse me as I wax nostalgic for a moment. After two years and 226 books (plus hundreds of articles, manuscripts and lectures), I'm feeling a little teary-eyed that I'm posting my last reading list for grad school. Next month I head back up to Vermont for the last time (at least as a grad student) to present my lecture on nonlinear storytelling and read from my historical fiction novel in verse, and then I'll receive my diploma and officially become Kathryn Gaglione, MFA. In so many ways, the past two years have flown by, and in others, it seemed like they would never end. But here we are, at the end of the grad school reading lists. I hope I have given you some new books to add to your own reading list—I know I have discovered a lot of books to love.
The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry: This is a dense book. Not that I expected anything else from a 560-page history book on the deadliest plague in recorded history. But it still manages to be an understandable and engaging read. (I hesitate to call it “enjoyable” because the subject matter is anything but.)
Journey by Arron Becker: I loved the twist on Harold and the Purple Crayon.
Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen: This is a fun book for the genre—just don't expect it to be on the same level as DiCamillo's award-winning children's books. And don't expect to see any characters of color either.
Locomotive by Brian Floca: It has it all. Great use of typography, a period sepia feel to the illustrations, perfect use of onomatopoeia and rhythm for the theme, the Wild West and trains. Historically-accurate, learning-with-out-realizing-it use of trains.
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle: I'm a sucker for wordless picture books and hidden illustrations.
Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Floca: Marty is a girl after my own heart with a life filled with a diverse group of friends and classmates that make her adventures a little more exciting.
Ballpark by Eileen Meyer, illustrated by Carlynn Whitt: Any baseball lover and picture book lover will love this book. It’s simple with unique illustrations and a good rhythm.
Babe Ruth Saves Baseball! by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Richard Walz: This book lacked substance by not digging deeper into the historical context of the promise.
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, narrated by Arthur Morey: I'm totally in love with the tiny details that Orringer chooses to describe--like the little crystal bowl of pink candy or the golden cascade of whiskey being poured into a decanter. So often historical fiction writers sacrifice something—beautiful prose for plot pacing, historical accuracy for appeal to a modern audience, character development for showing research—yet there’s such a beauty in Orringer’s writing that it highlights the historical context and flushes out the characters rather than dulling everything to make way for pretty words. And then there's the prison camp aspect to this novel, which I didn't handle well. I came away from this book completely drained.
Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Heather Ross: What a great book filled with humor and southern charm! While I’m still disappointed with this books serious lack of diversity, it’s almost understandable because it mostly features a large extended family of double cousins (whose mothers married brothers).
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, narrated by Emily Klein: I love the ending of this book. Not everything has to end happily and be tied up in a neat bow.
One of those hideous books where the mother dies by Sonya Sones: I first read this book ten years ago, and I seriously can’t believe it’s been ten years since its publication. It still feels fairly contemporary, and while the verse feels a little bland in comparison to many of the outstanding novels in verse and poetry collections that I’ve read over the past two years, it’s still a good read.
Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner: I was totally reluctant to read this book, and the cover art of a cat made me question the sanity of all the people praising this book. Seriously? A book about someone's pet cat? And then was I ever taken for a ride! I had to laugh out loud when I discovered I was reading science fiction.