READING DIARY: December / January

This posting presents a record of the books I’ve listed in my reading diary.  There is a pattern to this list: Non-fiction/ Fiction/ Non-fiction…

December 24 WRITING RADAR Jack Gantos

Gantos has been a favourite author since I first read the Joey Pigza series. This book is Gantos’s how-to recipe book and practical guide inviting writers to use everyday happenings to inspire their writing. Wish I had this book when teaching my students about notebook writing.

December 27: PATINA Jason Reynolds

This book is the second in Reynold’s Track series celebrating he lives of young adolescent students determined to beat the odds, to show others (and themselves) that they ‘ain’t no junk’. Patina (Patty) Jones has a mother whose legs had been amputated and a will that lets her own legs outrun everyone on the track. Jason Reynolds is at the top of the heap of children’s literature authors for the 21st century and Patina was one of my top five children’s literature reads of 2017.

December 28: THE ROBIN: A Biography Stephen Moss

Everything you wanted to know (and things you might not have wanted to know) about the robin. Yes, a ‘biography’ of red-breasted feather friend presented in 12 calendar months (about 10 pages each of text with splendid colour plates and lovely poem excerpts).

December 31  A MODEL WORLD Michael Chabon

Short stories by Pulitzer Prize winning author.  Hit and miss, which for me is usual for short stories collections. Part Two of this book (The Lost World) revolves on the life of a single character, Nathan who struggles to cope and make sense of the world after his parents divorce.

January 2 WILD THINGS: The Joys of Reading Children’s Literature as An Adult Bruce Handy

With a title such as this book offers, I felt a need to read this book which takes us on a journey of Children’s Literature classics (Goodnight Moon, The Cat in the Hat, The Ramona Series, The Narnia Series, Charlotte’s Web) providing background information on the creators of great children’s books and insights into their significance.)  A great read for those of us who treasure children’s literature treasures.

January 4 A BOY CALLED BAT Elana K. Arnold

Bixby Alexander Tam (BAT) has a mother who is a veterinarian who one days brings home a baby skunk for her son to take care of.  Do skunks make good pets? Will Bat get to keep the skunk beyond the first four weeksof Thor’s life (skunk’s name)? Humour is filtered throughout this novel which is noteworthy for it’s endearing portrayal of an austic young boy.

January 6 HOW TO SEE by David Salle

A collection of criticisms helping us to consider the what’s and how’s of contemporary artists.and their creations.

January 9  SNOW & ROSE Emily Winfield Martin

Emily Winfield Martin deserves kudos as a storyteller and illustrator in this re-imagining of the fairy tale, Snow White and Rose Red.  Strong potential for a Read Aloud in the classroom.

January 11 BETWEEN YOU & ME: Confessions of a Comma Queen Mary Norris

Lessons (and stories) about the idiosyncratic, complex, and confusions of grammar and spelling – and comma – usage from a person who’s worked in the copy department for The New Yorker magazine.

January 16 AFTER TOMORROW Gillian Cross

A family of refugees  from Britain encounters many survival challenges when they settle into the countryside of France. Though set in the future, the issues and problems of being a refugee resonates with the plight of hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes in recent years.

SHOUT OUT

Speaking of children’s literature, go and  see PADDINGTON 2 (with or without kids). This one is  as good and clever and funny the first PADDINGTON movie.  And perhaps read the Michael Bond books.)

SHOUT OUT

I LOVE NEW YORK: 3 books

NEW YORK CITY HAIKU: from the readers of the New York times

GOING INTO TOWN: A love letter to New York by Roz Chast

An absolute gem of a graphic memoir that leads readers to discover and/ or re-discover the joys of New York City by genius cartoon artist, Roz Chast.  I wanna be a part of it!!!

I NEVER KNEW THAT ABOUT NEW YORK Christopher Winn

A superb, succinct guide taking readers on a trivia and historic tour of The Big Apple.

LARRY’S FAVOURITES 2017

Looking through my 2017 diary record of books, films and theatre, some things stand out as being my favourites of the year. I have reduced each list to five items, listed alphabetically by author or title.

FAVOURITE PICTURE BOOKS

Once in a Blue Moon Danielle Daniel

Her Right Foot Dave Eggers; illus. Shawn Harris

The Gold Leaf Kirsten Hall; illus. Matthew Forsythe

Out Angela May George; illus. Owen Swan

Teacup Rebecca Young

FAVOURITE NOVELS (Middle Years)

Wishtree Katherine Applegate
The Stars Beneath My Feet David Barclay Moore
Patina Jason Reynolds
Orphan Island Laurel Snyder
The Warden’s Daughter Jerry Spinelli

FAVOURITE YA NOVELS

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian Sherman Alexie (re-read)
The Marrow Thieves Cherie Dimaline
Turtles All the Way Down John Green
Shooter Caroline Pignat
The Hate U Give Angie Thomas

FAVOURITE ADULT BOOKS

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me Sherman Alexie
A Man Called Ove Frederick Backman
The Heart’s Invisible Furies John Boyne
Insomniac City Bill Hayes
Theft By Finding: Diaries: 1977-2002 David Sedaris

FAVOURITE MOVIES

BPM
The Florida Project
I, Daniel Blake
Maudie
Three Billboards Over Ebbing Missouri

DOCUMENTARY FILMS / ANIMATION

Faces / Places
Human Flow
Loving Vincent
Manifesto
The Red Turtle

FAVOURITE PLAYS (Local)

John (Berkeley Street)

Middletown (Shaw)

Mr. Shi and His Lover (Tarragon)

Our Town (Theatre Rusticle)

Tartuffe (Stratford)

FAVOURITE PLAYS (New York)

The Band’s Visit
A Doll’s House: Part 2
Sweeney Todd (revival)
The Wolves
Sunday in The Park with George (revival)

FAVOURITE PLAYS (London)

The Ferryman
Follies
Lady Day
Romantics Anonymous
Twelfth Night (The Globe)

ETC.

What is a ‘Good’ Teacher? David Booth & Richard Coles (professional read)

Sit Deborah Ellis (short stories)

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense For Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups Chris Harris; illus Lane Smith (poetry)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (NT Live)

Batsheva Dance Company (dance)

25 BOOKS TO END THE YEAR

During November and December, I’ve read a batch of children’s literature and adult books covering a range of genres that includes poetry, script, short story, historical fiction, nonfiction. An attempt has been made to organize this list under headings by author, theme or genre.

 

MIDDLE YEAR NOVELS

The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

After reading the Mr. Terupt series, I look foward to delving into any new books by author Rob Buyea who really knows the trials and tribulations of middle school students. Presented through the voices of boy and girl characters, this story questions – and explodes – the procedures and values connected to standardized testing.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Was enticed by great reviews to read this book by this first time author. Moore has presented us with a 21st century fictional hero, a boy named Lolly, addicted to leg0-building.  His mother (gay) does her best to make ends meet and to love her son unconditionally.  Lolly carries the load of the memory of his brother who was shot and the threat of harassment from the local crew. The Harlem setting is an essential ingredient in this novel, as is the language that give authentic voice to the characters. I expect this one to be winning award. It needs to be read. It’s at the top of my list for 2017.

from the New York Times review, Holly Goldberg Sloan, October 16, 2017

The Stars Beneath Our Feet “is the right story at the right story at the right time and its set in the right place. It’s not just a narrative, it’s an experience.”

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

The author personalizes the story of Fidel Castro’s call to arms of volunteer teachers to bring literacy to all of Cuba through the experiences of Lora, a brave 12 year old who chooses to live in the remote regions of the country to help fulfill the revolutionary premier’s mandate. So good to have an another Paterson book to read.

Bad Dad by David Walliams

Every year I look forward to reading a new novel by this fantastic – and funny – British author. Bad Dad is the story of a bad dad, champion race car driver,  who gets entangled with a crime boss and his henchman, all for the love of his son. Funny (and yes, poignant).

 

MICHAEL MORPURGO

Listen to the Moon

Morpurgo is a master storyteller and this is a fine example of historical fiction, told through various voices, about a young girl who survives the crash of the Lusitania and ends up on The Isles of Scilly where she is cared for by a loving family – and tormented by a community who thinks she is of German descent. Remarkable!

Lucky Button

After being taunted by bullies, Jonah finds comfort in the local chapel where he discovers a lucky button connecting him to Nathaniel a foundling boy from the eighteenth century. An informative read about abandoned children, family – and Mozart.

Pinocchio

A retelling of the classic story as told by Pinocchio. I read this book in advance of seeing a not-very-good production of the play at the National Theatre in London. Read this book, skip the play. Emma Chister Clark illustrates.

Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of OZ

Yes – that Toto. Yes, that Wizard of Oz Great retelling of the iconic story. Vibrant illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark add to the delight of this book.

 

YOUNG ADOLESCENT NOVELS

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Set in the future, the white population has lost the ability to dream and as a result The Indigenous People of North America are being hunted for their bone marrow which holds the key to restoring dreams. A story of survival and battle of cultures. Winner of the Governor General’s Award, 2017.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Russell Picket, a billionaire disappears. Aza and Daisy decide to investigate, not just because of a hundred-thousand dollar reward, but her investigation will bring her closer to Pickett’ son, Davis. Fans of this popular YA novelist will likely continued to be engaged with the storytelling and depiction of teenage friendships.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This free-verse novel presents the story of 15 year old Will boards an elevator and sets out to avenge his brother’s fatal showing. During the ride, seven ghosts who knew Shawn board the elevator revealing several truths that the troubled teenager needs to know. From the jacket cover: “Jason Reynolds is crazy. About stories. Jason Reynolds is also tired. Of being around young people who are tired of feeling invisible.”

 

THREE NOVELS ABOUT GAY TEENAGE BOYS DEALING WITH THEIR PRESENT (and FUTURE) RELATIONSHIPS

Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell (Canadian)

Alan’s brother is cruel and threatens to out his brother at school.

Vanilla by Billy Merrell (American)

Told in free-verse format, alternate voices.

Release by Patrick Ness (British)

Adam’s troubles emerge from his religious family, sexual harassment from his boss, and deep feelings for a former boyfriend, and loyalty to a new boyfriend.

 

AN IRISHMAN, A JAPANESE, AN AMERICAN and A BRIT: Four International authors (adult)

Smile by Roddy Doyle

I’ve admired books by this Irish author. In this book, a guy walks into a bar, confronts a lonely man who doesn’t want any company and is reluctant to dig into his past. I need to talk to someone about the ending of this story.

Autumn by Ali Smith

Rave reviews for this British title shortlisted for The Man Brooker Prize 2017 which for the most part, describes the relationship and exchanged views between a 101 man and his former neighbour. Described as ‘bold and brilliant’ and ‘transcendtal’ and ‘ever-inventive’, I didn’t get it.  (The first book in a series. Next up Winter. I will pass on these).

A Cat, A Woman, and Two Women by Junichiro Tanizaki

When at the check-out counter of Waterstones Book Store, the clerk suggested I buy this featured book by Japanese author Tanizaki. The title is a perfect summary for this story about a cat who plays a vital part in a broken marriage. (123 pages)

Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

A past and present journey through rural Missississippi.  I picked this one up because I was intrigued by the voice of the 13 year old main character named Jojo who joins his drug-addicted mother (Black) as she sets out to meet Jojo’s father (White) who is about to be released from prison. Strong writing and a wrenching narrative have helped to  put this book on many top ten lists of the year.

 

SCRIPTS (of three plays I recently saw)

Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams

A banquet of funny, harrowing, gutsy, stories of politics, family, business, sexuality, loyalty and a football game, revealed by black men who work in barber shops. Six barber shops. In six cities. In one day.

Follies book by James Goldman; Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Brilliant!

Indecent by Paula Vogel

Vogel’s script is centred on the controversial play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch, written in 1907, first performed in Yiddish and German and later setting a scandal for its depiction of an affair between two women when performed in America in 1923.

 

SHORT STORIES

Sit by Deborah Ellis (ages 11+)

Ten seated children from around the world, each facing a challenge and a difficult choice/  Bravo to master storyteller Deborah Ellis.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (adult)

A collection of stories set in both Vietnam and America, drawing deep into the experience of leaving the country of birth and/ or settling into an adopted homeland.

The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent by Steve Venright (not a children’s book!)

A collection of poetry, prose and artful quips. This author writes so far out of the box that there seems to be no boxed walls to contain his explosive thoughts. Mr. Venright, you are Sir Real. What a mind!  Very funny too! (“Time heals all wounds, but if I were you I’d see a doctor just the same.””You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, but you only have to break one to make a baby.”)

 

SHOUT OUT

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups

by Chris Harris, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Standing on the shoulders of Nash, Silverstein and Prelutsky

Chris Harris’s confirms that he’s a poet gone nutsky!

 

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups

Where does the sidewalk end? It doesn’t. It continues on into  the 21st Century in this funny (and thoughtful) collection of poems and funny (and thoughtful) illustrations. For poetry lovers –  and non-poetry lovers –  young and old and in-between.

 

PICTURE BOOKS, 2017

At this time of year, top ten lists, awards and holiday season highlight some of the favourite (and popular) picture books available for young readers. The following list outlines some recent Dr. Larry Purchases, with 2017 publication dates (unless noted otherwise). A shout out is  given to the winners of the 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards and a special shout out to Pembroke Publisher’s newest release What is a “Good” teacher by David Booth and Richard Coles.

GOOD MORNING, CANADA, Andrea Lynn Beck

Shout Out to this colourful and informative picture book which is the TD Grade One Book Giveaway given to over 550 000 children. Beck’s book is a tribute to Canada’s 150th birthday, inviting readers to say good morning to the beaver, the moose, the Canada goose, the kayak and the people of Canada coast to coast.

WILLY AND THE CLOUD by Anthony Browne

Why is everyone having a wonderful day, except Willy?A dark cloud has settled over Willy, a cloud that really has nothing to do with rain. Browne’s gorilla character helps readers understand that the best way to face our problems is to confront them.

SINGING IN THE RAIN by Tim Hopgood (song by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown)

I bought this book because it gave me ‘a glorious feeling’ that put ‘a smile on my face’ and made me wanna sing to and sing with children.

HERE WE ARE: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

This excellent book is the one I’ll be giving for the holidays to young people in my life to arouse their curiosity and to help them consider their place on the earth.

TOKYO DIGS A GARDEN by Jon-Erik Lappana; Illus. Kellen Hatanaka (2016)

Tokyo’s grandfather remembers a time before cities had eaten up the meadows and ruined the homes of the deer, foxes, birds and salmon. When an old woman gives Tokyo three seeds to plant   helping him to grow wishes and a garden place. 2016 Winner of Governor General’s Literary Awards for Children’s Literature.

THE SNOW KNOWS by Jennifer McGrath; Illus. Josee Bisaillon

A lullaby to creatures sleeping, stepping, pondering, pitter-skittering, trotting hiding and sliding in a snowy winter landscape. This Canadian picture book was the winner of the Marilyn Baillie  Picture Award.

WHEN WE WERE ALONE by David Alexander Robertson; Illus. Julie Flett

A young girl is curious about her grandmother’s hair and clothing, language and stories. This picture book takes a gentle, yet informative approach in a residential school. Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature.

LIFE by Cynthia Rylant; Illus. Brendan Wenzel

Life begins small. Then grows. Even for elephants. This beautiful picture asks the question, “What do you love about life?” and award-winning author Cynthia Rylant and award-winning artist Brendan Wenzel (And the Cat Saw) introduce us to a snake,  a turtle and a bird that help remind us that “in every corner of the world there is something to love.”

THE BOY & THE BINDI by Vivek Shraya; Illus. Rajni Perera (2016/2017)

Canadian author Vivek Shraya tells the story ofa young boy is fascinated by the dot on his mother’s forehead. When he is given his own bindi to wear, it  allows him to express and celebrate his difference.

THE TOWN IS THE SEA by Joanne Schwartz; Illus. Sydney Smith

A young boy looks out at the sea and  thinks about all in his town ‘that spreads out this way, and that’. Most of all he thinks of his father who is a miner and works under the sea, deep down in the coal mines. Listed as one of the New York Times best illustrated picture books of 2017.

THE TRAGIC TALE OF THE GREAT AUK by Jan Thornhill

Author and artist Jan Thornhill tells the tragic story of the extinction of The Great Auk, a bird that couldn’t fly or walk very well but avoided its predators until humans took to the sea. This Non-Fiction selection was awarded the $30 000 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, 2017.

SHOUT OUT

WINNERS OF THE 2017 CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK CENTRE AWARDS

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

  •      TRAGIC TALE OF THE GREAT AUK written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

  •      THE SNOW KNOWS by Jennifer McGrath; Illus. Josee Bisaillon

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

  •      CANADA YEAR BY YEAR by Elizabeth MacLeod; Illus. Sydney Smith

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

  •      THE MARK OF THE PLAGUE by Kevin Sands

John Spray Mystery Award

  •      SHOOTER by Caroline Pignat

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

  •      EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR

SHOUT OUT

What is a “Good” Teacher?

    by David Booth and Richard Coles, Pembroke Publishers

An important resource for novice and experienced educators who are encouraged to reflect on their past, current and future teaching.  The book is framed around thirty characteristics of excellence of teaching that help educators be the best they can be for their students. David Booth and Richard Coles have included voices that provide theoretical and classroom practices that help teachers consider:

  1. The Need to Know Our Students
  2. The Significance of Building Community
  3. The Essential Need to Reflect on Our Teaching

READING BOOKS ABOUT READING BOOKS

I am always interested in reading books about reading books. Some titles listed below are framed on children reading books. Other titles are targeted towards adults who enjoy reading books (children’s literature and /or otherwise) and who are inspired to reflect upon how books help shape our lives – and our teachings. Listed alphabetically by author, the titles are featured using a colour code:

  • Children’s Literature
  • Non fiction for grown-ups

 

WILD THINGS: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature As an Adult by Bruce Handy.

I had to own this book, a tribute to American book classics (e.g., Where the Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat, The Runaway Bunny) and a reflection on how children’s books have been – and need to be – significant to shaping the tastes of those who choose to read Children’s Literature (and other books)

I’D RATHER BE READING: A library of art for book lovers by Guinevere de la Mare

A small books with short essays, poems, photos, quotations and illustrations celebrating the pleasure of reading.  The following message that ends the book gave me food for thought (p. 94)…

ALL BOOKS ARE SELF-HELP TECHNICALLY. 

THE LOSERS CLUB by Andrew Clements

Alec is addicted to books. He is always reading books in class and as a result he doesn’t pay attention to his teachers. When he’s forbidden to read books at school, Alec invents an after school club where he plans to be the only member except more and more kids are lured to join ‘The Losers Club’. Hooray for the Alec’s in the world! Hooray for Andrew Clements!

BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz

Who gets to  decide what books can read? One of the school parents complains about certain books that should be banned from the school library (e.g. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) because they are not appropriate to read. Amy Anne Ollinger (and friends) is determined to fight back and initiates a secret banned-books library out of her locker which ignites a school-wide storm of book reading.

READING WITH PATRICK: A teacher, a student, and a life-changing friendship by Michelle Kuo

When asked to persuade someone to read Reading With Patrick in 50 words or less, Michelle Kuo said: “It’s an intimate story about the failure of the education and criminal justice system and the legacy of slavery; about how literature is for everyone, how books connect people, and the hopte that with enough openness and generosity we can do the hard work of knowing each other and ourselves.” (The New York Times, July 30. 2017)

LAUGH OUT LOUD by James Patterson with Chris Grabenstein

Jimmy wants to make reading fun for kids because “the more reading is fun, the more it gets done! and so he is determined to fulfill a dream despite the pessimism from the grown-ups in his life and build the most incredible book company in the entire world. Filtered throughout Laugh Out Loud is references to popular children’s literature titles. And of course, there is a meta aspect to this book since Jimmy is really the prolific (and popular) author of such books as The  Middle School, I Funny, The House of Robots  and the Daniel X series of books.

MY LIFE WITH BOB: Flawed Heroine Keeps Books of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

For over twenty-eight years, the author has kept a single book, a journal that serves as a record for every book she’s read. BOB is Pamela Paul’s Book of Books. By reading about the author’s book choices, perspectives and relationships with those texts, readers are encouraged to contemplate their own choices and connections to books.

READ! READ! READ!: Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater; Illus. Ryan O’Rourke

Poems about all kinds of reading including cereal boxes, maps, road signs, magazines and birthday cards.

An open book
will help you find
an open heart
an open mind
inside yourself
if you’re inclined
An open book
will make you kind.

SHOUT OUT

Best Illustrated Books of 2017

(according to the New York Times, Sunday November 12, 2017)

ON A MAGICAL DO NOTHING DAY by Beatrice Alemagna  

FRIDA AND HER ANIMALITOS by Monica Brown, Illus. John Parra                                                       

FEATHER by Remi Courgeon                                                                                                                            

KING OF THE SKY by Nicola Davies, Illus. Laura Carlin

                                                               

MUDDY: The story of blue legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, Illus. Evan Turk     

                     

A RIVER by Marc Martin                                                                                                                                 

THE WAY HOME IN THE NIGHT by Akiko Miyakoshi                                                                               

A TOWN BY THE SEA by Joanne Schwartz, Illus. Sydney Smith                                                         

PLUME by Isabelle Simler                                                                                                                             

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The Case of R.B.G vs Inequality by Jonah Winter; Illus. Stacey Innerset

TEN PICTURE BOOKS: Diversity, Equity, Caring, Inquiring

Many recent picture book publications have been written to tap into the inquiring minds of young people to help them consider their identities, their place in the world and their relationships with others. Simple texts. Strong messages.

I am offering the following titles, with excerpts from the texts, to help us consider the need for literature to raise questions, to answer questions, to provide comfort and to build compassionate understanding.

 

WHY AM I ME? Paige Britt, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Why am I me…
… and not you?

ONCE IN A BLUE MOON by Danielle Daniel
Once in a blue moon,
skipping in the sun,
I see not one but two rainbows
painted across the sky.

QUESTIONS ASKED by Jostein Gaarder; illus Akin Duzakin, trans. from the Norwegian
How do I talk?
How do I find the exact words I need from all the words in my head?

Can I be sure that all my memories really happened?

WHAT COLOR IS THE WIND by Anne Herbauts

The little giant passes through the town.

What color is the wind?

The color of curtains, laundry, clothes…

But the window disagrees.

It is the color of time.

LOVELY by Jess Hong
Lovely is you.
Lovely is me.
We are all…
Lovely

MOST PEOPLE by Michael Leannah; Illus. Jennifer Morris
Most people want to make other people – even strangers – feel good.
Most people are very good people.
Some people do bad things.

IMAGINE by John Lennon; Illus. Jean Jullien
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us,
and the world will be as one.

LOVE THE WORLD by Todd Parr
Love making art.
Love sharing your heart.
Love yourself.
Love the World.

TEACUP by Rebecca Young

Once there was a boy who had to leave his home… and find another.

In his bag, he carried a book, a bottle and a blanket.

In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.

 

SHOUT OUT
HER RIGHT FOOT
by Dave Eggers; Art by Shawn Harris

A fine specimen of nonfiction text.
A sublime tribute to the Statue of Liberty.
A powerful message of acceptance.

“This 150 woman is on the go.”

“Give me your tired. Your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

FALL INTO FICTION

This month’s entry highlights 16 novels I’ve recently read. A few of these will indeed be on m top ten end-of-the-year list. Am proud too, to highlight the publication of my new book TAKE ME TO YOUR READERS!!! (the title, says it all.. YES?)

 

THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie

I so loved Alexie’s recent memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, that I decided to re-read his very special young adult novel that really gets into the head, heart and turmoils of a Native American teenager. Congratulations Mr. Alexie on the  10th anniversary edition of this remarkable – and important – novel!

SOLO by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

Another fine free-verse Young Adult novel by Newbery award author (The Crossover) Kwame Alexander. The central character, Blade is rich. His father is rich and but he is a washed-up, drug addict rock star. Blade and his father each play music to ignite their souls. Is being the child of a celebrity a good thing? Is Blade going to follow in his father’s footsteps? Blade’s girlfriend’s parents forbid the two teenagers to continue their relationship. A secret is introduced in the middle of the novel that sets Blade off to find answers to his past and seek hope for his future.

POSTED by John David Anderson

Yikes! All cell phones are banned at a Middle School. Frost and his friends dream up a scheme to communicate only through sticky notes, a great idea, until mean messages are displayed and a sticky-note war unfolds.  Another terrific novel about tweenagers struggling to fit in.

WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate

Stop reading this review and just go and get the book! Sure to be an award winner (please!), Katherine Applegate tells a beautiful story of a talking tree (!), an animal community blending together, an immigrant young girl longing for a true friend and one-word hate message carved in to the tree’s bark that is unsettling / devestating. I wish I had a class of my own to share this novel with. I wish that teachers everywhere will serve this novel to their students! A perfect read aloud. Ms. Applegate, I love your books (Home of the Brave: The One and Only Ivan; Crenshaw)

NEW BOY by Tracy Chevalier

Marketed as an Adult Novel, this for me, reads like a good YA novel. It is the 1970’s. Osei Kokote (“O”) arrives at a suburban Washington school. He is the only black boy in the school. O’s appearance tests loyalty and betrayal, friendships and love interests and issues of belonging, bullying, respect, racism. The book is written as an imagined Othello story for our times. The story of being an outsider should resonate for many readers. I haven’t made my mind up about the choice to centre this on sixth grade students because the relationships and conversations didn’t seem authentic for that age group.

THE LOSERS CLUB by Andrew Clements

Andrews is a top-notch author for writing about foibles in school settings that 8-11 year olds can identify (and laugh) with.  Don’t let the title fool you. Alec can’t stop reading throughout and his teachers are annoyed by this and lay down the law. When the opportunity arises for Alec to create a new after school club (i.e. “The Losers Club”) where the only mandate activity is to read a book independently. No book talks. Just bring a favourite book.  The club starts with only two members but as things unfold, many more students choose to join the club where books are heroes. Any novel that celebrates reading is a draw for me (and for young reading addicts, Clements fans, and/or otherwise). A great book list of Readers Club titles appears at the end of the novel. Quibble: How many titles are listed from the last 10 years, where some sensational novels have been published?

BUBBLE by Stewart Foster

11 year old Joe has lived his entire life in a hospital room. His condition demands that he never leave the room, even for a minute. Because of the threat of spreading germs, visitors are kept to a minimum. Conversations with his sister, hospital staff and friend across the ocean who lives life like Joe help him cope with loneliness. Along with the care of his nurses, dreams and  superheroes keep Joe alive. Is there a happy ending in story for this brave young boy who is trapped by a medical condition? Readers will certainly root for Joe (as much as they’ve done for August Pullman).

REFUGEE by Alan Gratz

I consider this one of the top three novels on this list. A must-read for middle school students! Three refugee stories set in different times and places: Joseph escaping Nazi Germay in the 1930’s, Isabel escaping Cuba riots in 1994 and Mahmoud escaping the violence and destruction of Syria in 2015. Throughout the novel,  Gratz narrates each of the action-packed escape stories, one after the other.. Timely indeed! Read it! Share it! (Please!)

ALL THE DIRTY PARTS by Daniel Handler

Should I include this book here or move down below to grown-up reads? This gutsy erotic book is more adult than young adult.  Daniel Handler (of Lemony Snicket fame) has written a short novel (less than 140 pages) that explodes the male teenage adolescent sexual psyche.  Just guessing that the book will get banned from secondary schools but banning books is a great lure to get young adults – MALE teenagers – reading. The book should be read… but moreover it should be DISCUSSED and not leave those teenagers left to ponder, question and connect on their own. There is ‘sex’ on every page (ok every other page) but this novel is for sure more than ‘all the dirty parts’.

ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson

Oh the trials of trying to fit into Middle School (a popular theme indeed!). This is a wonderful graphic novel about bullying and belonging (again?!), The story is framed by Imogene family’s family in the local Renaissance Fair offers the book a rather unique background setting and takes the trials and tribulations of adolescence outside the school halls.

THIS IS JUST A TEST by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Lang Shang

Oh the trials of being a 13 year old! David Da-Wei’s mother is Chinese, his father Jewish. David’s Bar Mitzvah approaches and his family can’t really afford a big party. His grandmothers don’t see eye to eye (or kreplach to wonton). He worries about talking to girls. Set in 1983-1984 David worries about the threat of nuclear war (he and his friend, Scott build a fallout shelter_.  David also is twinned with a Russian boy who is unable to have his own Bar Mitzvah and so David will carry the honors for Alexi too. David, however is worried that his Bar Mitzvah twin may be a spy. Diverse families? Nuclear worries? Russian spies. Is this really 1984?

ORPHAN ISLAND by Laurel Snyder

This is a beautiful story set on an island inhabited by orphans. Each year the eldest child is replaced by another child brought to the island’s shores. This year is different when Jinny contemplates staying on the island with the people and surroundings she loves.

A Few For The Grow Ups

THE HEARTS INVISIBLE FURIES by John Boyne

Boyne’s fame in the world of children’s literature has come to us through The Boy In the Striped Pajamas. Boyne has become one of my favourite top-of-the-list authors with The Absolutist, The History of Loneliness, Beneath the Earth.  His new publication knocked me out. The story is centred over 7 decades revealing the journey of a gay Irish man. Funny. Moving. Entertaining.  I shared this book with some friends who provided me with these email comments: (“I regret every moment I have to put this book down.” (David S); “I’m on page 350 and don’t want to leave my apartment until I finish the book.” (Eleanor G); “I just finished the novel and I feel a loss now that I am not reading Boyne’s book.” (Leonard M).  Darn any critics who aren’t as enamored as me and my friends. This will surely be my favourite adult read of 2017.

GINNY MOON by Benjamin Ludwig

After seeing the documentary Life Interrupted, I’ve been intrigued with reading about autistic characters. I tend to enjoy reading novels with teenage or child characters and in Ludwig’s book we meet Ginny Moon who reads Robert Frost poems for English class, must eat nine grapes every day for breakfast and is devoted to taking care of her baby doll. Ginny has been in foster care, (“forever home”) for years and sneakily sets up an escape to be reunited with her mother who is addicted to drugs and once abused Ginny. An engaging  adventure!

CHILDREN PLAYING BEFORE A STATUE OF HERCULES by David Sedaris

I think Sedaris is funny funny funny. When I see his name on a book, I’m intrigued. This is a collection of 18 short authors that Sedaris is ‘ready to pick a fight’ for (e.g., Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Dorothy Parker, Tobias Wolff, Flannery O’Conner.) I read these stories chronologically and as with most collections, I enjoyed some titles more (‘The Girl with the Blackened Eye’ by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘People Like That Are the Only People here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk’ by Lorrie Moore than others (‘In The Cemetary Where Al Jolson is Buried’ by Amy Hempel). But I don’t want to get into a fight with Mr. Sedaris. (He might write about it!)

THE LAWGIVER by Herman Wouk

The author wrote this book at ninety-seven years of age (!). Wolk claims he always wanted to write a book about Moses and the premise of The Lawgiver is that a movie is going to be made of Moses’s life. Told mostly through emails, letters, transcripts the story of the making of the movie and the characters that include a writer/director, financeer, lawyers and Wouk himself. Was hoping to love this more than I did but it got a bit too convoluted for me and I didn’t seem to care whether the movie got made or not!

SHOUT OUT!

TAKE ME TO YOUR READERS

by Larry Swartz

Take Me to Your Readers

Hot off the press, this Pembroke publication is intended to help educators lead students to read read read by offering them quality literature..  The book includes a huge range of recommended book lists and presents over 50 response strategies drawn from classroom experiences. Huge thanks to teachers who have invited me into classrooms to share books with their students, and to those guest voices who shared their best literacy practices with me. Hugs to Maria Martella (Tinlids) for inspiring the title.

Five chapters include…

  1. Connected by Books (Motivating readers)
  2. Connected by Genres
  3. Connected by Theme
  4. Connected by Response
  5. Connected by Curriculum

HA! HA! HA!

As a new school year begins, I would like to offer books that can ignite laughter in the classroom and promote a love of reading. I have fond memory of introducing a humour unit into my grade 2/3 classroom many years to launch an integrated approach to learning. I took the initiative to bring in twenty joke and riddle books which provided an authentic independent reading program.  I read aloud a funny novel (The Mouse and The Motorcycle) , we read funny pictures (The Dumb Bunnies by Sue Denim (Dav Pilkey) being a favourite, and funny poems (hooray for Dennis Lee and Shel Silverstein), we delved into comics, funny poems, shared funny events of our lives (and our families’ lives) and for homework the students were invited to watch funny television shows and ‘review’ them for their comedic effects. Filtering smiles and laughter into the classroom, I believe was a good thing setting the tone for a ACTIVE JOYFUL LEARNING and putting into action the words featured on a banner that hung in our classroom “Oooo we, ain’t we a-havin’ fun!” (from the picture book, The Dancing Skeleton by Cynthia De felice; Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker)

Of course, what’s funny to one person may not be funny to others and that’s a plus in introducing funny books to children. They either ‘get it’ or not.  Some kids may ask “What’s So Funny?” others may share an aha response and laugh out loud. Children’s literature is certainly an important vehicle to tickle the funny bone of young readers, a perfect vehicle to build community and to inspire, motivate and stretch readers of all ages. I offer the following titles hoping they bring smiles and laughter into your classrooms.

AUTHORS OF FUNNY PICTURE BOOKS

Denim, Sue. (aka Dav Pilkey) THE DUMB BUNNIES (series)

Drew Daywalt;  Illustrator Oliver Jeffers. THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT (sequel: The Day the Crayons Came Home)

Klassen, Jon I WANT MY HAT BACK (trilogy includes: This is Not My Hat; We Found a Hat)

Litwin, Eric; Illustrator James Dean PETE THE CAT (series)

Rubin Adams; Illustrator Daniel Salmieri. DRAGONS LOVE TACOS (sequel: Dragons Love Tacos 2)

Watt, Melanie. SCAREDY SQUIRREL (series)

Willems, Mo. ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE SERIES (e.g., We Are in a Book) (also: DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS (series)

SOME PICTURE BOOK TITLES

Barnett, Mac; Illustrator Brian Biggs NOISY NIGHT

Haughton, Chris. SHH! WE HAVE A PLAN

Maclear, Kyo; Illustrator Isabelle Arsenault SPORK

novak, b.j. THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES

Pham, LeUyen. THE BEAR WHO WASN’T THERE

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse; illustrator Tom Lichtenheld DUCK! RABBIT!

SHOUT OUT!

Books that Drive Kids Crazy by Beck and Matt Stanton

  • DID YOU TAKE THE B FROM MY _OOK?
  • THIS IS A BALL

Books That Drive Kids CRAZY!: This Is a Ball

 

Check out the cover of this picture book. The premise of this book is that the visual cues do not match the verbal text. One page reads, ‘This is a bike.” and the illustration on the opposite page shows a line drawing of a car. (Ha! Ha!). To test the humour quotient, I visited a grade one class to read the book aloud.  The kids howled and howled (really!). (I did too!).  A funny book, and not a mention of underwear anywhere. (I have already given copies of this book to my 6 great nieces and nephews.

FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

(Chapter book series)

  • IVY & BEAN by Annie Barrow and Sophie Blackall
  • BAD GUYS by Aaron Blabey
  • MY WEIRD SCHOOL by Dan Gutman (also: My Weirder School)

3 Novel titles (ages 9 -11)

  • FLORA AND ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES by Kate Di Camillo
  • WORD OF MOUSE by James Paterson with Chris Grabenstein
  • ANYTHING BY DAVID WALLIAMS (e.g., Mr. Stink, Demon Dentist, The Boy Who Wore a Dress)

3 Novel titles (ages 12 -14)

  • WORD NERD by Susin Nielson
  • I FUNNY (Series) James Paterson
  • ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL by Jesse Andrews

And for  the grown ups: Anything by DAVID SEDARIS

  • BARREL FEVER
  • ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY
  • DRESS YOUR FAMILY WITH CORDUROY AND DENIM
  • LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS
  • THEFT BY FINDING: DIARIES (1977 – 2002)

 

 

 

SUMMER READING: Two by Two

July took me to London England to teach a drama course. A terrific time was had by all. I can’t go on a plane without having books to keep me company. Also, during down time (!) from seeing 13 plays, I looked forward to relaxing and reading during the london trip, and after.  The list below outlines two titles under different categories which summarizes ten books I read in July.

TWO BRITISH NOVELS

THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS by Ruth Hogan

An intriguing title and an intriguing premise. Short story writer, Anthony Peardew (!) has collected lost objects throughout of life, but upon his death he leaves all his belongings to his assistant Laura who has been given the mission to return all the objects to their owners. The narrative flows fairly smoothly even though the story switches back and forth in time,  switches from real-life events to incidents with a ghost and is interrupted by short short stories about different objects.  I rather enjoyed the book but my engagement  wavered with the varying story elements.

THE MUSIC SHOP by Rachel Joyce

After reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (one of my favourite books this past decade), I seek out any writing by this British author.  Frank owns a music shop, not just any music shop, but one that is restricted to only vinyl. When Ilse a woman in a pea-green coat faints one day in front of Frank’s store, they mysteries of both character’s pasts gradually unfold. Will they fall (and stay) in love is the big question, but bigger still is the challenge of overcoming odds, staying true to one’s convictions and dealing with life’s adversities and having hope make this a mostly engaging read.  Music itself is an important character in this novel.  Didn’t love the last quarter of the book (where the novel skips forward to a couple of decades into the future.  Good enough book. Not as good as Harold Fry.

TWO MEMOIRS

INSOMNIAC CITY: New York, Oliver, and Me

This book documents the authors life and observances when he chose to come to New York after grieving over the death of his partner. When he falls in love with Oliver Sachs, writer and neurologist he encounters a deep and endearing relationship with Sachs, who came out at the age of 75. Together the two authors face illness and death when Sachs is diagnosed with cancer. Hayes is honest in his sharing of his love as it unfolds.  He pays tribute through photography and words to New York streets,  buildings, characters and  conversations that certainly make you (me) wanna be a part of it. Beautiful book. I wept.

BIRDS ART LIFE by Kyo Maclear

Kyo Maclear is known to me as a picture book author and illustrator (Spork, ). In this memoir, the author shares her experiences of birdwatching within the environs of Toronto. This memoir is more than respecting and celebrating the world of wings.  Maclear shares insights into being a daughter, wife, parent, artist, an urban citizen, and a lover of nature. A philosophical tone permeates and references to history and literature add to the author’s thoughts.  Photographs and drawings are interspersed throughout the book. A worthy companion to H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

TWO SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS

ONCE UPON A PLACE compiled by EOIN COFLER; illus. P.J. Lynch

No, not “Once Upon A Time,” but “Once Upon a Place” in this collection of short stories and poems by 16 Irish writers.  A range of stories, mysterious, adventurous, grim, funny each capturing a sense of place (a park, the sea, a garden, a tower, a library).  As short story collections go, enjoyed some better than others but I always am intrigued with how the Irish do tell a story quite differently than others (that’s a good thing).

SEEDFOLKS by Paul Fleischman

Fleischman presents thirteen different voices in thirteen different stories in abookcentred on a garden that transforms a neighbourhood. Each of the voices, young and old, convey a sense of what it means to be a member of a community, what it means to be an immigrant (or neighbours of an immigrant) and what it means to have hope to thrive and to belong. Seedfolks will be presented as a play at the New Victory Theatre in New York and I certainly look forward to seeing it.

TWO CHILDREN’S NOVELS

BUBBLE by Stewart Foster

Joe is not allowed outside the London hospital room that he’s been living in since infancy.  He longs to let the bubble burst to see the outside world. Will he? Should he? And whatin the world will he choose to experience?  The book certainly inspires compassion in the reader, but for this reader I was often perplexed about the adventures Joe chooses to take and the character who is responsible for risking Joe’s life. despite sincere and earnest intentions to be a guiding spirit for they eleven year old boy. Bubble was first published as The Bubble Boy in the United Kingdom.

POTTYMOUTH AND STOOPID by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

From the book jacket: “I can’t give away the whole story, but here’s a hint: it involves a TV show, a funeral, an evil cheerleader, and a couple of delicious McFlurrys.”  Patterson and Grabenstein have written a funny book (What again!?) filled with a stew of comical adventures.

TWO SCRIPTS

THE FERRYMAN by Jez Butterworth

I was fortunate to be able to get a ticket for this ‘hot’ West End Play by Britain’s hot playwright. The play takes place in a farmhouse in Ireland and with 21 characters we are presented with a story cloth woven with regret, revenge, loss, secret love and turmoil during the time of “The Troubles”. Flawless acting top to bottom. Reading the script afterwards offered the opportunity to dig deeper into the rich storytelling of Irish folk.

TWELFTH NIGHT: A Shakespeare Story by Andrew Matthews; illus. Tony Ross

Technically, this isn’t a script but this book in a series by Orchard Classic Books of Shakespeare plays told economically, comically and clearly.  I went to a terrific production of the play at The Globe Theatre and enjoyed reading this delightful book on the tube ride back to the hotel. Recommend any title in this series to make Mr. Shakespeare accessible for young people.

SHOUT OUT

YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME: A memoir by SHERMAN ALEXIE

              Product Details

Product Details

This title is sure to be on my top ten list of great books for 2017. In this memoir, Sherman Alexie is given a forum to deal with the demons of the complex relationship he had with his mother. The book also is a staggering account – told in pr and poetry formats – of the native writer’s history of belonging to a family, living on a reservation, being a husband, a father, a writer and a Native American.

 

 

 

READING DIARY: June 2017

Listed below are 10 book titles I’ve read during the past month (completed on dates mentioned). An eclectic mix of children’s literature and grown-up selections. Some of these choices were inspired by reviews and I guess I should someday learn not to give in to the lure of glowing criticisms. Then again, what some love, others don’t. And as my Aunt Esther always said, “That’s why God made chocolate and vanilla!”

June 1st: BEARTOWN by Frederik Backman (novel)

Since reading (and loving) A MAN CALLED OVE, I’ve been drawn to read all the titles by this Swedish author. None has compared to the enjoyment of OVE. Beartown is the most recent publication and this book is about hockey, hockey, hockey. Why would I read a book about hockey when I don’t even watch the game on TV? But of course the story is not ‘just’ about hockey. It’s about living in small towns, it’s about the politics of living in a small town, it’s about teenage rivalry, teenage power, teenage trauma. The book is about classism, racism, sexism. It’s about community. It’s about heroes. It’s about a junior ice hockey team determined to win the national finals.

June 3: REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (graphic autobiography)

Oh, the trials and tribulations of girl friendships. Oh the mean girl syndrome. This graphic autobiography is the author’s personal recount of belonging to a group, not belonging to a group, wanting to belong to a group, being loyal to our friends, being true to oneself. A great addition to stories about bullying.

June 6: THE RULES DO NOT APPLY by Ariel Levy (memoir)

One of Ariel Levy’s claim to fame is the National Magazine Award for Essays in Criticism in 2014 for her piece “Thanksgiving in Monglolia”. Having read the story online, I didn’t really need to read this memoir about the author’s unconventional experiences as a writer, as a wife, as a woman. I think women contemplating independence, faithfulness, adventure will get more out of this book than I did. For me, the essay, which frames this autobiography, tells me enough about Levy’s story about being married, being pregnant and being financially secure and her experience of loss for each of those life events.

June 8: SWEAT by Lynn Nottage (script)

When I saw this play in New York, it punched me in the gut because it seemed to jump off the page of today’s news and politics and also because of the despair that filters through the lives of the characters who find solace and rage when they come together  in the local bar.  Research for the play took Nottage to Reading, Pennsylvania where she playwright investigated the lives of down-and out factory workers struggling to keep their lives, their families and their friendships in balance. The script digs into issues of class and race, despair and hope. Sweat is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2017.

June 10: OSLO by J.T. Rogers (script)

OSLO is the Tony Award winning the play about the back-channel talks in 1993 in Oslo Norway between the Israelis and Palestinians. I was lucky to see the live production of this play at Lincoln Centre.  It’s a complex, dense (fictional) account of the real historical meetings that provides a gripping account of diplomacy and politics. Reading the play helped me to re-examine (and understand just a little bit better) the issues of a divided nations coming together and the struggle of working towards peaceful negotiations that still today remain a dream. I look forward to seeing this play again sometime… and re-reading the script.

June 12: THE GOAT by Anne Fleming (children’s novel)

Didn’t love this one because I kept thinking whether young readers would like this on enjoy itand I’m not sure they would. I picked up a copy after learning that this book is set in New York (ILNY) and brings together a number of characters who live in the same apartment complex.  There were several holes in the story for me. Once you learned about one character and began to care for his/her story, we are quickly taken to another situation that seemed to digress. An adventure with the goat character who lives on the roof of the apartment building concludes the book.  I felt that this book could have been improved with formatting (more chapters with chapter titles) and a bit more vivid  description of characters/ of events. I guess the goat served as a metaphor for being an outcast (?). Great cover.

June 17: THEFT BY FINDING: Diaries 1977-2002 (Diary)

I think David Sedaris writing is hysterically funny and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Even if you might not laugh at the same things as he does (or I do) you can’t deny that Sedaris is a guru of  recording and reflecting on day to day observations, foibles, quirks and truths.  This volume is drawn from the author’s diaries from 1977-2002.  I can’t wait for the next volume. Though the book should inspire us to take pen to paper when struck by overheard conversations, quirky behaviours and remarkable relationships, we might not tend to do so, certainly not with the panache and insight of this author.  These diary entries at least ignites us to pay attention to day to day observations, foibles, quirks and truths. Yer funny, Mr. S.

A taste: February 8, 1996, New York

“In the paper there’s a story about a fifty-five-year old cancer patient who paid her twenty-year      old neighbor to kill her. The kid went with strangulation, but she revived and then tracked him down, claiming that because she was still alive, he had to give her money back. They argued, and he beat her to death with a power drill.”

June 20: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng (children’s novel)

Reading reviews online (and on the back cover of the book) lured me into picking up a copy of this first novel by author Jack Cheng. The author has indeed captured a strong voice for his central character and the story events are believable/unbelievable enough for the stuff of a good novel. See You In The Cosmos was hit and miss for me. The beginning and ending chapters of the book worked better than the middle. Hard time believing that an 11 year old would leave his mother behind on her own, travel to the desert and then to Las Vegas and then to LA and be quickly taken care of by strangers and ‘family’ characters. Maybe if Alex was older. Maybe if everything that happened to Alex didn’t happen so fast. Maybe if I believed that the rocket adventures were more probable for this character, I might have enjoyed the book a bit more and come to think that this book is the ‘best book I’ve read in a long, long time’ (Holly Goldberg Sloan). But Alex’s daring adventures and space dreams and stories of missing and suffering family members are indeed the stuff of fiction and I give Mr. Cheng credit for his novel way of telling the story (taped messages on an iPod that will be launched into space. Probably this one will be on top ten lists at year’s end.

BTW: After reading the novel, I was struck by the coincidental feature article in New York Times Magazine (July 2, 2017): “An ambitious new initiative to beam messages into space may be our best shot yet of learning whether we’re alone in the universe. There’s just one problem: What if we’re not?”

June 22: THE WORLD’S WORST CHILDREN: 2 by David Walliams (short stories)

This is a sequel to Walliams’s first short story collection of ‘worst children’.  Funny author. Rude author. Walliams writes so far out of the box, that there was probably never a box that could contain this wild and crazy guy. Again, the presentation and formatting of the text is brilliant. And  the author’s genius is once again matched (surpassed?) by Tony Ross’s brilliant brilliant comic illustrations that fill the pages. Which story will you read first (‘HUMBERT the Hungry Baby’; ‘Gruesome GRISELDA’, ‘HARRY Who never, Ever Did His Homework’. Can’t get a nine, ten or eleven year old boy (or girl) to enjoy reading – Mr. Walliams has come to the rescue. BTW: A third volume of worst children is forthcoming. Can Walliams children get any worse?

June 24 THE SOPRANOS by Alan Warner

Wanted to read this one because I plan on seeing the musical version of the play (Our Ladies of Perpetual Succor) which is playing in London after successful runs at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and The National Theatre. The front cover praise tells us that this book is fantastically original. Indeed it is… BUT… I really struggled with the lingo and dialect (“the Seconds joined the Sopranos in a two-parter, cuddled in the neath, the Thirds waited and bassed the thing…”and decided I wasn’t going to persevere. I may give it another go. But will wait for the musical.

June 27 THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS by Arundhati Roy

The author’s claim to fame was the Booker Prize novel The God of Small Things written 20 years ago or so. This new one – receiving – critical acclaim is rather dense. We often read to take us to faraway places but a glossary is needed (for me) for much of the vocabulary as well as a Cast of Characters list to keep track of relationships.  I gave it 60 pages and set this aside. Not sure I will return to this one. Author Daniel Pennac tells us that one of the readers bill of rights is ‘not to finish a book.’ Not that I needed permission. Sample: “She visited the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and spoke to one of the less mercenary Khadims whom she know well about Zainab’s illness and asked him how she could neutralize Seeda’s siflie jaadu.” (page 46)

June 30 THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame

I read this classic piece of British literature many years ago and picked it up for a re-read since I am planning to see a musical version of the story in London this summer.  No wonder this one is a classic, probably best as a read aloud. Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad are appealing anthropomorphic souls and Graham’s descriptions of the friends adventures and countryside setting is indeed ‘classic’.