Here is more of what I’ve been reading so far in April. If you missed Part I (Poetry and Nonfiction), you can find it here:
Fiction (Children’s): And my ongoing attempt to curate a collection of children’s books for my own library, no easy task in an age of excess. But the project comes with perks, like the joy of reading these four books. All of them, I am happy to say, are keepers:
This is a Poem That Heals Fish, by Jean-Pierre Simeon, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Books, 2007). An absolute treasure of a story about a child trying to understand what a poem is. Every child, every poet, every lover of poetry should have this book. I first saw it reviewed here, on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. If you’ve never visited that site, you are in for a treat.
Bao Phi’s A Different Pond, Illustrated by Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers, 2017). A beautiful book by a Minnesota author and poet I admire. It’s the story of a little boy up early to fish with his dad and all he learns via that experience. He learns about that ‘different pond’ where his dad had fished with his own dad long ago in Vietnam, yes; but also about the world of work and labor, about providing food for a family that struggles to make ends meet, about parental sacrifice, about loving and being loved. Wonderful illustrations throughout.
On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Allemagne (Harper, 2016). A fun and necessary book about a child who spends days glued to her gaming device, until she can’t…and all she ends up doing when there’s “nothing to do.” Darling.
A Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell (Fiewell & Friends, 2017). A Picture Book and the 2018 Caldecott winner. I’m always amazed at how well a story can be told entirely in pictures, in this case with a few whimpers, howls, huffs, and barks thrown in. And the illustrations (by the author) are delightful.
Fiction (Middle Grade): Ditto for Middle Grade fiction on the difficulties of curating in an age of excess. But here are two books that really stand out. Inside Out & Back Again, by Thhanha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011). This is the award winning immigration and transition story of 10-year-old Ha and her Vietnamese family, told by Ha in the form of a long poem. A beautiful and important narrative, delivered in a fun and compelling voice.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers) is exquisite in both story and writing. I can see why it has won so many awards, including the 2017 Newbury, and why it has been up for so many others. In keeping with Barnhill’s own understanding of the best middle-grade fiction, her novel is a “big tent” book where everyone is invited; and at 60+ I felt so. Beautiful characters, a gripping, well-paced story, and plenty of magic. A sheer delight.
Fiction (Adult): The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt (Random House, 1993). Three stories, each inspired by a Matisse sketch. These are lovely narratives told by a master storyteller. Each elevates daily life itself to art. This is another book I likely bought at least in part for the cover. And this is my second time around with it (to keep or not to keep). I loved The Matisse Stories more the first time, so I will let this little volume go (the original hardcover) to make room for a story collection I have my eye on. If anyone has a good home for it, speak up—otherwise to the library sale it goes.
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street Books, 2015). Let me just say this: despite my misgivings about the level and graphic nature of the violence (for which I have a very low threshold), I had a hard time putting this book down. The story is both disturbing and tender and the telling is very, very good. I need to write more about this book and this reading experience and the questions it raised for me. Another day.