Unless designated otherwise, the following lists some 2023 titles that started off my reading for the new year.
THE BLUNDERS by David Walliams; illus. Adam Stower
With 20+ record-breaking fiction titles (55 million – copies) which have been translated into fifty-five languages, David Walliams remains to be reliable, preposterous, adventurous, silly, clever, rude (sometimes) and very funny! funny! funny!. I seem to be buying a new Walliams title each year and the wild adventures of the Blunders family (and their pet ostrich) who will do anything to maintain their crumbling house (Blunder Hall). The graphic formatting with varied fonts, , the comical illustrations by Adam Stower and the wickedly wild imagination of Mr. W. does not disappoint. The Blunders will likely raise sales of this author’s books by another million or so.
THE BOOK OF WHYS by Gianni Rodarti; translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar; illus. JooHee Yoon (illustrated. nonfiction)
From 1955 to 1958, Italian journalist Gianni Rodari worked wrote two columns “The Book of Whys” and “The Mailbox of Whys” for L’Unita one of Italy’s daily newspapers in which he answered questions raised by kids. The Book of Whys is a selction of Rodari’s answers to the range of questions he received. He sometimes answered with succinct fact, but always with wit and absurdity and philosophical wisdom. There are 138 questions, none taking more than one page (e.g., Why doesn’t the moon fall down? Why don’t people get along? Why do we eat? Why can cats see in the dark? Why do we have to study? Why are we born? Why are grown-ups always right?). Most entries are accompanied by rhyming ditties (cleverly translated by Anthony Shugaar). Proverbs, rhymes, parables are spread throughout). JooHee Yoon’s marvelous, often amusing, full page and border illustrations match the whimsical nature of Rodari’s text. Joon writes:”My hope is for this book to inspire readers young and old to continue exploring this curious world we inhabit, to question the things we take for granted, and to never stop asking, “Why?”. This is a fun, thoughtful, book for the curious-minded.
Wishes are like stirrups that poke us in teh ribs and make us run faster; as long as we’re wishing for things, we’re still alive…”
Dreams are imagesx constructed by your sleeping mind: a sort of slightly demented movie theatre taht opens for business in our brains onc we shout our eyes.
Why do you grow? Because you eat food, and you’re alive. The same is true for plants and trees, which eat through their roots and leaves; each and every leaf is a little workshop that pulls carbon dioxide out of the air, cooking up carbon for the plant and oxygen for us.
I’m of the opinion –
Please attend to my song –
That ‘grownups’ are always right
Except for when they’re wrong….
THE BOOK THAT NO ONE WANTED TO READ by Richard Ayoade; illus. Tor Freeman (2022)
This is a book written by a book. Richard Ayoade offers readers a rather short (108 pages) philosophical treatise on what it means to open a book and continue to read a book and to let readers in on the secrets feelings and attitudes of a book. This extended personification is often amusing (matched by hilarious comical illustrations by Tor Freeeman but what’s funny for some people may not be consider funny by others. For me, the ‘joke’ eventually wears thin even though the latter part of the book is a “telepathic conversation with a book in a library powered purely by your own imagination.”
Excerpt (p. 70)
How people treat books. They have no respect. They act like they own them.
Isn’t that because people do own them?
I don’t know how you sleep. Books aren’t just property. They’re not just things. They are alive!
But aren’t they also things?
So are you?
THE COLLECTORS: short stories edited by A.S. King / YA
Author, A.S. King invited ten YA writers to create a story about being a collector. King writes “‘toss out conventions, as if there were no rules, there was no ‘normal’ and they could be as weird as they wanted. Much of these stories are indeed surreal, odd and weird. Most short story collections, hetter by a single author or a collection of authors will have hit and misses, some better than others and this was definitely the case with this anthology. Some stories were rather long and sluggish (boring) (e.g., “La Concha”by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo) some were too obscure for me (I didn’t get them) (‘Sweet Everlasting” by M.T Anderson). The stories do vary in stylee (conventions were tossed out) but if readers are expecting straightforward narratives, these pieces didn’t always work. “Take It From Me” the tory of a non-binary adolescent collecting pieces of other people’s collections by David Levthan and “A Recording for Carole Before it All Goes” by Jason Reynolds is presented as a transcript recording made to a grandmother with Alzheimer’s was bittersweet were my favourites. The Collectorss may appeal to teenagers who like to delve into teh uncoventional, the weird. The Collectors is the recipient of the 2024 Printz award award for excellence in Young Adult literature., a brave choice, I’d say.
CROSS MY HEART AND NEVER LIE by Nora Dasnes; translated from the Norwegian by Matt Baguely (2020/2023) (graphic novel)
Tuva is a twelvey-year old Norwegian girl who is entering grade 7. She has a good relationship with her single-parent father. She has friends (Bao (loyal) and Linnea (whose loyalty changes when she finds a boyfriend. She is infatuated with a new girl who arrives at the school. Cross My Heartg and Never Lie is a story of tumultuous friendships and the temptation of keeping secrets and sometimes telling lies. It is a story of ihaving a les bian crush. It is a story of growing into our true identity and growing into an comfortable image that remains true to self. This graphic novel, presented as a diary will certainly resonate with many girl tweenagers who want to belong, to be cool and the journey of being a little kid to being a teen.’Dasne’s book is certainly an authetic picture of girlhood. It’s enterataing! It’s engaging.! It’s terrific! Winner of the 2024 Stonewall Children’s Literature Award for LGBTQIA+ books.
IMPOSSIBLE CREATURES by Katherine Rundell
Disclaimer: I am not a fan of fantasy stories but once in a while I give them a chance. Even though I think I have a vivid imagination, i can’t seem to wrap by mead around “IMPOSSIBLE” (i.e., a magical land called the Archipelago where al the creatures of myth still live side by side with humans) situations and CREATURES (e,g,, Hippocamp, Chimaera, Laavellan, Nereid, Ratatoska and yes, dragons). The story centres on the wild adventures of a boy named Christopher who rescues a baby griffin who meets up with Mal, a girl on the run from a Murder and has the power to transform the destiny of the world. I decided to pursue British author Katherine Rundell’s book since I have enjoyed previous adventurous stories (e.g.,The Good Thieves, The Rooftoppers) by her and also because Impossible Creatures was named WATERSTONE’S “Book of the Year, 2023.” There has been noteworthy testimonies from other authors. Michael Morpugo writes “There was Tokien, there is Pullman and now there is Katherine Rundell.’ Philip Pullman claims that readers will ‘seize this with delight’ and Neil Gaiman writes that “Katherine Rundell is a phenomenon.’ There is no doubt millions of young and old readers of fantasy stories will be in Nirvana heaven reading heaven with this book, first in a series. (one is enough for Dr. Larry)
Excerpts to give you a ‘taste’
“I have in my stores the bones of the chimaera and the blood of the cetus, and the sap of the red urchin. But the blood needs six hours of steaming. And the forest has a bush of long-stemmed dew-wort, but it only flowers in the two hours before dawn. So you will wait.” (p. 247)
“The arrows were taken from the quills of a manticore’s tail, fletched with feathers froma hippogriff, and tipped with karkadann poison. You wouldn’t survive being grazed by one. Then they reached the turning.” (p. 286)
ONLY THIS BEAUTIFUL MOMENT by Abdi Nazemian / YA
This title was recently awarded the 2024 Stonewall Award for YA literature. It is one of the best novels in recent years that deals with gay identity for ages 12+. The book is told through three voices in three different time periods. Mood is an out gay teen living in Los Angeles, 2019; Saeed is an engineering student in Los Angeles, 1978 and Bobby is the son of a calculating stage mother who has dreams of her son finding fame in Hollywood. The three stories interconnect in this intergenerational story of an Iranian family where secrets have kept grandfather, son and grandson apart. Nazemian does an exquisite job of depicting the Iranian queer experience and universal gay experiences of accepting one’s self . It is a captivating story of self-discovery, politics and love. Though multi-voiced, the author offers large chunks of narrative to tell engaging stories of passionate friendships, gay culture and making choices. Only This Beautiful Moment is a beautiful beautiful – important – book, deserved of the Stonewall book prize for LGBTQIA+ literature. I know it will be on my list of 2024 favourites.
MY HEART WAS A TREE: Poems and Stories to Celebrate Trees by Michael Morpurgo; illus Yuval Zommer
When I first ordered this book, I thought I was going to receive an anthology of tree poems and tales collected by Michael Morpurgo. No, each of thes selections ( 18 stories and 4 stories was written by the brilliant beloved British author. In the introduction to the book, Morpurgo writes that he was inspired to write this celebration of trees because of the daily walks he takes in the bluebell woods behind his house as well as being inspired by the spirit of poet Ted Hughes whose poem “My Own True Family” opens the door to this collection (“My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree. (Hughes). Morpurgo writes: “I know ever one of the trees I pass. They hear me coming, they listen to me. I listen to them, to the whisper of them, the roaring of them, the creaking of them.”
Morpurgo’s writing offers more than a celebration to the 73 000 species of tress that exist in our world. It is both a reverence and worship of the impact trees have on humanity. Some poems are told by trees themselves (‘The Singing Tree’. Several selections tell stories animals that live inside and outside trees (“Down by the Riverside’; ”The King of the Forest. ‘The Murmuring Elephants and the the Giant Mango Tree’). Some selections describe the people who use trees (‘Oh Don’t Fall Down Over, Don’t Fall Down’; ‘All My Days’). Some poems are presented in rhyming pattern, several not. Each piece is presented with clarity, accessible vocabulary and imagery and appealing narrative. Whether a poem or a story, selections provide information and stir up emotions. Most of all, Morpurgo’s tribute reminds us to appreciate and cherish nature’s wonder that fills our planet. The visual images are as much a WOW! as Morpurgo’s words. The artist Yuval Zommer beautifully dresses each page with lush illustrations often decorated with glorious borders of leaves and branch details. This publication is a marvel. I am pleased to own it and look forward to re-reading it from from time to time.
from “All My Days”
Outside my window still she stadns,
My dear old chestnut tree,
All my days,
All my life.
from “Here is Home”
Here I am still, and this is my tree
Giraffe comes by, elephant and rhino.
We leave them be, they leave us be.
Man comes too, knows to keep away, knows that
Here is my home,
Here is coolm
Here is safe.
A WHALE OF A TIME Edited by Lou Peacock; illus. Matt Hunt (Poetry anthology)
A Funny poem for Every Day of the Year
This I think.
This I know,
A Poem a Day
Helps the reading muscles grow.
In the middle of my career as a classroom teacher, I realized that in my literature-based Language Arts program I really didn’t do justice to the world of poetry. I decided to implement a Poem of the Day program where each day I shared a poem with the students. In fact, after launching this initiative, it was the students who chose the poems to share with their classmates. 180 days. 180 poems. More poems than i got in my school career. More poems than most classrooms experience in any given year.
A collection such as A Whale of a Time offers a poem-a-day experience, whether read aloud to a group of students gathered together on a classroom rug, whether shared side by side with parent and child or whether read independently. 365 days. 365 poems. the poems could be read chronologically or read randomly. The book is organized into monthly chapters so in fact, a collection of 30 or 32 poems could be read at one sitting. No guarantee that all poems will be enjoyed equally but by offering a banquet of poem forms and poem words, readers can come to find some favourites, puzzle over some pieces, re-read poems, or maybe learn one or two by heart (some are very short).
Imagine ‘a poem a day’ to help build confidence and comfort with literary form.. A ‘poem a day program’ has the potential to stretch vocabulary skills, to foster narrative power, to enrich comprehension, and perhaps massage different emotions. The funny poems in this collectionare intended to make readers to smile, to laugh out loud and perhaps to share them with others because “reading and feeling and laughing and sharing are what the funny, sad, surprising, beautiful world of words is all about.” (introduction, Lou Peacock). Of course what makes one person laugh may not tickle the funny bone of another. Humour is an individual thing. This is a joyful read, and with a year full of poems, a ‘whale of a thing’ indeed. (matched by fantastic, comical, joyful, energetic, colourful artwork by Matt Hunt.)
My puppies in the garden When dinosaurs roamed the earth,
He loves to smell the flowers So huge, it was easy to spot ’em,
To help them grow my puppy always You’d frequently see a triceratops,
Sprinkles them with flowers. But never a tricerabottom.
~ Bruce Lansky ~ Celia Warren
Two fantastic “Poem of the Day” Anthologies
I AM THE SEED THAT GREW THE TREE: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year /Selected by: Fiona Walters, illus. Fran Preston-Gannon (2018)
TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT; An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year / Selected by Fiona Walters, illus. Britta Teckentrup (2020)
FYI: The Newbery Awards, 2024
The John Newbery award is a literary award given by the Association for Library Services for Children (division of the American Library Association) to author of ‘the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for Children. The 2024 Newbery winners were announced on January 22.
The John Newbery Medal: THE EYES & THE IMPOSSIBLE by Dave Eggers; illus. Shawn Harris
Newbery Honor Titles:
Eagle Drums written and illustrated by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson
Elf Dog and Owl Head by M.T. Anderson; illus. Junyi Wu
Mexikid written and illustrated by Pedro Martin
Simon Sort of Says be Erin Bow
The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri; illus. Daniel Miyares