Thursday, May 9, 2013
I haven't been keeping up with my reading journal the way I'd planned, but I sure have been reading. That's about all I did this winter--curl up on the couch with a good book. My favorite book since I wrote last has been Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt. Richard Peck wrote the review for the New York Times. I won't try to top that, but there were all kinds of reasons why I loved this book. The first was the voice--the narrator, Doug, had a very distinctive way of addressing the reader, asking numerous time, "You know how that feels?" And as the book progresses these questions shift from being confrontational, angry, hurt, to expressing joy, wonder, gratitude. The Doug's growth is displayed in his questions.
Another reason I loved this book was because each chapter began with a reproduction of an Audubon print of a bird and Doug's description of the print. I have always believed in the healing power of art and Doug comes under that spell. His ability to see his world in the world of Audubon's birds opened up new ideas of how pictures convey their meaning. I'm an artist, with an art degree, and I learned about composition from reading this book.
This is the last reason for liking the book that I'll give, but it's not the last reason I have--Doug has to reach outside his family to find adults who will give him the support and help that he needs to overcome so many obstacles in his path. And he finds help in many strange places and in turn is able to help others. The message is important--that there are people who care about you even when your parents can't or don't. Doug feels as if he is entirely on his own at the beginning of the book, with no one who can take his side, and by the end of the book he has built a community of caring people.
If you haven't read this book, you should--it's a great story, powerfully written.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Little Brown and Company, New York
Illustrations are India ink and watercolor on paper
Text set in Caslon Book, display type is P22 Franklin Caslon
48 pp. counting pasted down endpapers
Patrick McDonnell is the creator of Mutts, the comic strip. His soft watercolor and ink illustrations have the same whimsical feel as the comic strip. The squirrels are identical. The text tells the story of Jane Goodall as a young child, her love for nature and animals and her budding interest in studying animal behavior. One page of biography in the back matter fills in some of her adult accomplishments. There is also a note from Jane Goodall herself, urging the reader to make a difference in the world.
Ornamental engravings from the 19th and early 20th century underlie the text pages and suggest Jane's scientific bent. Also included are a few photographs and some drawings by Jane herself. The book has a quiet, playful, intimate feel. The palette of the watercolors is muted. I think I would have identified with Jane when I was younger and might have been inspired by her persistence to follow her dreams of studying wildlife in Africa. While not strictly a biography, this book introduces very young readers to a very important person whose work has had great impact on the world.
The Little Dump Truck
written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Bob Kolar
Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York
illustrations created in Adobe Illustrator on a Macintosh computer
32 pp. counting pasted down endpapers
Cardboard cover with no jacket--the corners of the book on rounded and the paper is very heavy stock
This is a rhyming truck book, with no real story, beyond detailing a day in the life of a little dump truck and its driver. Each 4 line stanza begins, "I'm a little dump truck"-- The meter is snappy and clipped, the rhyme solid, though no surprises. I really like the subdued palette and the composition of the illustrations but find the super-hard edges of the computer art difficult to look at.
written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Chronicle Books, San Francisco
illustrations are gouache on Arches hot-pressed paper
bood design by Kristen M. Nobles
Typeset in Hiroshige and Ruling Script
Chinese calligraphy by Jianwei Fong
32 pp. not counting endpapers
The story of a young Chinese girl who yearned to study and go to university, like all her brothers. Each page has a touch of red in it, often lots of red, Ruby's favorite color. A warm family story.
All the Way To America: The Story of A Big Italian Family and A Little Shovel
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
a Borzoi Book, Alfred A Knopf, New York
illustratations are gouache on Arches watercolor paper
The story of 4 generations of Dan Yaccarino's family as they moved from Italy to New York City to the suburbs and back to the city. It reminds me of Janet's St. Patrick's Day story, only this family is Italian, not Irish. The tiny shovel is the unifying element--it is passed from one generation to another and is shown pictured with D.Y. on the jacket cover.
40 pp. counting pasted down endpapers
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Meanwhile, I picked up Lorna Doone, a story I remember reading quite a while ago and getting totally engrossed in it. I have a friend named Lorna whose mother read this while pregnant, hence the name. I've gotten about 60 pages in, and while it is readable (though challenging, since it is written in dialect), I am not caught up in it yet and wonder if it is really worth wading through all 600+ pages of packed type. I looked it up on Wikipedia, learned that while it was inspired by historical events, it declines to pass itself off as "based on true events" like so many movies these days. It insists on calling itself "a romance." Will I finish this book or not? Should I keep in on the bookshelf or not?
So, while debating the virtues of reading Lorna Doone, I have become distracted by Chasing Cezanne, by Peter Mayle. A disappointing book, written almost entirely in generic or cliched descriptions. I think I'll finish tonight but it makes me question my previous intention to read a Year In Provence, if this is a sample of his writing.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
"There is a story telling voice," I wrote in my notes. "There are gestures and facial expressions." And yet the best story teller I ever heard (and I haven't heard that many) did not use gestures, facial expressions, and she told it in her own voice. She stood very still, with her hands behind her back and spoke in a normal tone of voice. And I can almost hear her tell that story nearly 30 years later. Her connection to the story--letting the story take over the space--was so powerful that I remember her story and I have retold that story and it has changed my life in subtle ways.
It was a story about three brothers who set off to win the king's daughter. The older two muscled their way through the world, ignoring the small animals in their path, wreaking havoc wherever they went. The youngest brother took care not to harm the ants, bees, and ducks (if I remember this right) and even aided them. When the king set him three seemingly impossible tasks these small creatures came to his aid and he won the princess.
The story teller prefaced this tale with the story of one of her kindergarten students who requested that she retell this story. Normally the teacher would not retell a story so quickly, but the girl had a reason. A bee had been trapped in her window at home. Her mother set out to kill it, but the girl, inspired by the story she had heard at school, quoted the youngest brother, saying, "Don't harm it. It has done us no harm." She and her mother caught the bee and set it free outside. The teacher told us this anecdote to demonstrate the power of a good story. I too usually try to capture misplaced insects and bugs and set them free outside, inspired by the power of the girl's example.
Here are the notes I have from this wonderful teacher and story teller:
"Sit so I can see your eyes," she asks her class.
"All it [story telling] is is talking a story." She tells it in her own voice and the children listen.
The story is important and the telling is the most important thing--that it is being told.
"I only tell stories I like." Anything worth telling is worth retelling.
She suggested we read Amos and Boris to get started.
She said she reads a story 2 or 3 times.
Tells it to herself.
Practice at dinner time.
"Once you tell a story it's yours for life."
3 - 7 - 12 are the magic numbers
Story telling builds memory. The more you tell stories the freer children are to tell their stories.
True stories are marvelous.
Value of Mother Goose -- 11 good riddles [I'm not sure exactly what this last line means except I think it means Mother Goose is a good place to look for stories and telling riddles is a good way to get started.]
And now I can recycle this sheet of paper which has floated around my writing room for years and years and years. End of story.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Books I’ve read this year but have not written up:
Hope Anita Smith
Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company
New York, 2009
Torn paper illustrations
Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs
at least as good as the first one—I love these stories, told in poems, about a 14 year old baseball player/poet.
I Never told and Other Poems
Myra Cohn Livingston
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
Ill. by G. Brian Karas
Atheneum Books for Young readers
The Old Woman Who Named Things
Ill. by Kathryn Brown
Harcourt brace & Company
wc on Waterford paper
Just finished reading:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
By Helen Simonson
Random House trade paperback
Copyright 2010, 355 pp., 25 chapters + Epilogue
I loved reading this book, and it fit very well with our recent SCBWI Oak Park network discussion on Reading Like A Writer, Francine Prose. Simonson obviously loves sentences. She writes really fun and beautiful ones. She has a great sense of humor which is totally in the repartee and unspoken thoughts, not in slapstick or coincidence. I have been rereading some of the book and am a bit more critical the second time around. Certain phrases are perhaps over-used, such as “acid tone to the voice.” And the word “Humpbacked” occurs at least twice in the 355 pp. as an adjective not referring to whales. I did not notice the repetition when reading the book for the first time. It is only because I made note of (what I think is) the second mention—a beautiful sentence describing the gibbous moon rising—that I was struck on rereading by an earlier occurrence of the word. This does not significantly detract from the book, but I think it is something to be aware of, especially when writing a longer book—we authors fall in love with certain turns of phrase and can repeat ourselves unwittingly. I know my vocabulary and sentence structure, just in writing this, have been influenced by the book.
And something I’m curious about—the main characters are 68 and 51. Does this mean that twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings will not respond to the characters and the story the same way I did? I remember having trouble engaging with characters who seemed so much removed from me in age, when I was younger. But I may have been a shallower reader. And certain books have reeled me in even against my will and made me care deeply about characters with whom I felt I had little connection—Color Purple, Beloved, She’s Come Undone, and Shipping News all come to mind as books with characters I felt had little in common with myself and yet I came to love them. And the reason is they were so well-written that I could not stop reading.
Also just finished:
I Am The Messenger
by Markus Zusak
Alfred A. Knopf
Zusak also wrote The Book Thief, which is one of my favorite books of the last 10 years. I Am The Messanger is not up to The Book Thief, and it was written earlier. I felt I could see Zusak learning to use language in innovative ways, developing his unusual and appealing characters--he was learning a lot in writing this book that came together in an amazing way in The Book Thief. His themes include the power of small acts and the goodness of ordinary people. I have read The Book Thief twice. I feel that I Am The Messenger, while I'm glad I read it, is not a keeper for my over-crowded bookshelves.
The Boss Baby
Written and Illus. by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books, copyright 2010
Book design by Ann Bobco
Text set in Heatwave
Illustrations are rendered in black Prismacolor pencil and gouache on Strathmore 2-ply cold press paper
40 pages, counting the end papers, with pages 1 & 40 pasted down
The art for this book is tremendous, with great humorous touches and a wonderful “Mad Men” look, and the text is also full of humor, using many business terms (boss, perks, meetings, executive gym, 24/7, out of the box.) Told in a very straight-forward, tongue-in-cheek way, this book makes a wonderful read-aloud, which parents will totally love. That makes me wonder who the real audience for this book is. It is not the baby itself, who would be way too young to understand the terminology or the humor. It might well be an older sibling who feels displaced by the baby—this book would provide a way of laughing at the situation, while describing pretty much what has happened. And it might make a child wonder if he or she was a boss baby when first born.
Written and Illus. by Marla Frazee
Voyager Books, Harcourt, Inc., copyright 2003
Illustrations done in graphite and watercolor on Strathmore 2-ply hot press paper
From the CIP—“Twelve people set aside their fears and ride a roller coaster, including one who had never done so before.” There is almost no story-line. The author describes people waiting in line, checking their height, deciding not to ride, getting aboard, and the ride itself. The beauty and genius of the book is in the illustrations, where the twelve riders are differentiated and fleshed out in the drawings. Facial expression and gesture convey way more than the simple text as the ride is taken. This is a book to study for subtle characterization, esp. through pictures.
Very defined time-line—waiting in line, riding the roller coaster, and getting off. However, each of the twelve riders has been through a unique experience on this shared ride. The relationships of the 6 pairs are worth examining in detail.