My Chinatown: One Year in Poems tells a child’s story of Chinatown in New York, and missing his Hong Kong home. Each spread shows one poem and one illustration, both by Kam Mak. The journey this child makes begins in winter, and he’s missing home. As he travels through the seasons, he finds more to enjoy in Chinatown, and ends on an excited note.
In a world where every child has an imaginary friend, there is one imaginary friend who doesn’t have a child. Follow Beekle as he does the unimaginable and searches for his very own friend. Dan Santat‘s Caldecott winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend is a sweet story of friendship and longing, and the ending is perfect.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel-in-verse with this sort of pace and feel to it. Usually novels-in-verse are on the quieter side, but this book changes the whole genre. There’s movement and depth. After reading it, I know exactly why Kwame Alexander just won the Newbery for The Crossover.
Everything about The Crossover just fits, from the title to the language (and the font and the layout–read only the first poem, “Dribbling” and you’ll know exactly what I mean), and oh, those characters. I’ll give you a tidbit, but only that, because you have to go read it yourself: Josh Bell and his twin brother are middle-school basketball kings who practice daily with their dad, a former basketball-pro. Josh’s troubles begin when his twin brother falls for a girl and his mom grounds him from playing ball.
Beginning with June of 1939, Daniel, a German Jew, flees Germany by boat. He is alone because his parents only had enough money to pay for one person’s passage. The boat’s passengers are refused entry to the United States and Canada, and end up in a Cuban harbour for several days, waiting for permission to land.
Tropical Secrets, Margarita Engle‘s historical novel-in-verse, explores the survival and political plight of Jewish refugees in Cuba. Alternating poems from the perspectives of several characters, including Daniel and Paloma, a daughter of a Cuban official who secretly helps several refugees, provide a well-rounded story.
At first I was a little shocked at the title. Then I read El Deafo, Cece Bell‘s graphic novel/memoir of her childhood: how she became deaf and how she felt about it growing up. Bell shows us the many friends and a pseudo-friend, but most importantly, Bell tells us straight-up how she felt about her hearing aids, other peoples’ reactions to her deafness and everything in between. At one point, Cece is watching a television show with her siblings where a character is called “Deafo”. Cece processes this, laughs, then goes upstairs and has an interesting conversation with herself where she calls herself “Deafo”, gets a little angry and then changes the term and herself into her very own superhero called El Deafo, a superhero who can act on her feelings when Cece herself is too shy.
El Deafo made the rounds through my family quickly, from my ten-year-old on up to my fifteen-year-old, and it won a Newbery Honor for 2014. There isn’t anything else out there like this book and it’s fabulous.
This lovely picture book biography, The Iridescence of Birds, by author Patricia MacLachlan and illustrator Hadley Hooper poses questions to a young child. What if you grew up in a gray French town and found colour wherever you went? Would you grow up to be Henri Matisse? Would you paint what you see and what you remembered?
The language is soft and lilting and oh so beautiful to read aloud, and the art was inspired by Matisse’s work. Read the notes, too, where both author and illustrator give their ideas about understanding Matisse.
He chooses to restore law and order rather than rule an empire. He has a spirit shadow that follows him. His skin turns bright pink when wet. He is impervious to bullets. He is GREEN TURTLE.
Before he was a superhero, Green Turtle was a boy who aspired to take over his father’s grocery store in Chinatown. And his costume only half-clothes him because his mother wouldn’t help him sew the shirt. Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew show us the making of the first Asian American superhero, based on Chu Hing’s original Green Turtle. The Shadow Hero is a story of courage, finding one’s identity and doing good.
Do your kids eat their greens? No? Well then, this cautionary tale is for them. If you don’t eat your vegies, your parts will fall off.
Over-the-top verse by Susan Chandler and whimsical illustrations by Elena Odriozola make What I Do With Vegetable Glue a great read aloud choice.
Rose lives with her dad and her dog, Rain, and goes to a school where no one is as interested in homonyms as she is. She also likes rules and prime numbers and Uncle Weldon, who drives her to school each day. Then the hurricane hits, Rain goes missing and her father loses his job. What I liked most about the book is the surprise of how Rose finds Rain, and what Rose learns about the dog she thought no one else wanted. The last half of the book proves to be a test of character for Rose, and inadvertently her father, with surprising results.
Ann Martin‘s Rain Reign is like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for younger readers.
Michigan is in the midst of winter, but I want to read about spring and summer. Enter Firefly July, a picture book of poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Each poem is very short, some only three lines (one poem is only two lines), but the book is large, to show Sweet’s grand and imaginative illustrations. You’ll recognize the poets: Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Charlotte Zolotow, William Carlos Williams and you’ll recognize the four seasons theme, which ends in winter. Luckily I can always go back to the beginning and read spring again.