Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Prince and The Dressmaker

I'm pleased to announce that I am a Round One judge for the Cybils Awards in the graphic novels category. I was a judge in the same genre for the 2011 awards and it cracked my knowledge of graphic novels wide open. Having lived overseas since then, I was unable to judge until now. Get ready for a lot of graphic novel reviews!

I'd heard lots of chatter about how good The Prince and the Dressmaker is, but had no idea what the plot was. The cover made me think it would be a Cinderella tale, so imagine my surprise when I learned that the titular prince enjoys wearing dresses and the dressmaker is hired to hide this part of his identity.

Jen Wang's illustrations drew me in with their warmth; I especially loved the attention to the expressions of all characters, even just in the background. I also enjoyed the different outlandish costumes that the dressmaker designed.

There is a real push for more books that help readers feel seen and The Prince and the Dressmaker will be that book for many. I especially loved the ending and the refreshing acceptance it shows. What a fun start to my renewed graphic novel reading!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Third Mushroom

After reading a particularly disturbing article in the newspaper, it was really nice to settle in to The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm. It was a bit of a palate cleanser to finish up this book, which just makes the reader feel good. Aside from its many charms, that is the main reason I will be recommending it widely: we all need something to make us happy right now.

A little time has passed since The Fourteenth Goldfish, but the characters are mostly the same. Ellie is still earnest and funny, her Grandpa Melvin is still a crotchety teenager, and her best friend Raj is still cool and goth. But just when she thinks things have settled into a comfortable groove, it all falls apart. Her relationships change and a loved one is hurt. Growing up is difficult, but Holm creates a novel full of sweet moments that will be reassuring to adolescent readers.

I read The Fourteenth Goldfish aloud to a class a few years ago and have already recommended this book to some members of that group. They're in eighth grade now, so this would be an easy novel for them, but heart warming and worth reading.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grace Lin Fever!

I'm living a lot of reading lives right now: my present involves a lot of board books for my son, as well as parenting books. I am also thinking ahead and reading picture books to be prepared for when my son graduates to them. I continue to read middle grade and YA novels for when I return to the classroom, and I occasionally sneak in an adult book for myself.

I've added another facet to my reading life: early reader books. This is a huge gap in my repertoire and one I want to fill as my friends' children get older and my son ages. No matter where we are living when he reads on that level, I want to have a list of books I can find for him to read.

This brings me to Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin. I've been on a bit of a Grace Lin kick lately and this is a great start to my early reader list. The six stories are short and cute, and all tie together in the end. I marvel at how Lin was able to tell such fun stories in so few, simple words. It's a skill that earns her an immediate place on my new "Read All Early Reader Books By This Author" list. I'm really excited to delve into this new (to me) genre.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dumpling Days

Dumpling Days is the perfect example of Rudine Sims Bishop's brilliant theory that books can be windows or mirrors into readers' lives. There is so much in Grace Lin's middle grade novel that I haven't seen elsewhere, which means that the young girls who resemble the protagonist, in this case, Taiwanese-American Pacy, probably haven't either.

Although there have been two other books written about this character, Dumpling Days was my introduction to Pacy. I don't feel that I missed anything by starting the series at the end, although there may be backstory that I didn't catch. In this novel, Pacy's family is traveling to Taiwan for a vacation and we get to see the country through her eyes. While the stories are tied together by some constants, such as the art classes that Pacy and her sisters take, many of the chapters could be read as separate vignettes (or mentor texts, thinks the teacher in me).

What was especially notable for me was that Dumpling Days discusses things I've never seen in a book before. For example, Pacy's older sister gets a makeover and photo shoot in Taiwan, and has stickers placed on her eyes to create folds. This was a very common plastic surgery at the middle school (!) where I taught in South Korea and was a fact of life for many young adults, but I have never read about it before. I love that young readers who are curious about it can see someone else's opinion in a novel; Pacy's sister likes the look but Pacy doesn't. There is no judgment, it is one small part of their trip, but could be so important for a young reader who is looking for that mirror in a book.

This book is fun and makes me want to check out the rest of the series, as well as making sure it's on the shelf in every classroom I teach in from now on.