Review: Bluffton by Matt Phelan

Bluffton by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press
Publish date: July 23, 2013
obtained on NetGalley

Because I received this as an electronic advanced review copy via NetGalley, I read it on my iPad. I can’t wait to get my hands on a print copy not only to see the illustrations in color, but also to see the nuanced details that just can’t be replicated electronically. That being said – read it however you can get your hands on it.

This delightful graphic novel tells the story of a boy named Henry who lives in Muskegon, Michigan. Life was going along “as usual” until the summer of 1908, “The summer they arrived” (p. 2). Henry befriends a young Buster Keaton who arrived with his family and a group of Vaudeville Actors for the summer months. They return each summer to The Actor’s Colony at Bluffton, founded by Buster’s father Joe Keaton. This book is part historical fiction and part coming of age as the boys play baseball, fish for perch, and execute practical jokes carefully planned by Buster.

I love that a book that features actors – who depend largely on visual – using primarily illustrations. Phelan uses the graphic novel format to enhance the story, not detract from it. He uses just enough text to fill in gaps, but the rest of the story is told on the faces of the characters, the settings, and actions. I think what I’m looking most forward to about reading this in print form is the opportunity to slow down and really read the illustrations. I have a tendency to not read graphic novels slowly enough – this book made me want to go slower.

Matt Phelan’s Website: http://www.mattphelan.com/
Candlewick Publisher Page for Bluffton – there is a link to a flyer about the book including an interview with Matt Phelan

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

I made a huge discovery about myself. I can walk on the treadmill and read at the same time! I love reading and I am very undisciplined about exercise so it is a perfect combination. As a result, I’ve finally finished a book I’ve been trying to finish for more than a week, started on another, and completed one that has been on top of my tbr pile for far too long.

I finished The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater. A lovely example of a fantasy novel that draws on folklore (something we just talked about in my children’s literature class last week!) I also like the way that we hear the story told from boy Puck and Sean’s points of view – but I tend to love multi-vocal stories. The way that Steifvater writes about the connections that both characters have with horses and the land felt so very authentic to me. I immediately recommended it to my cousin, who could BE Puck (you know, if it weren’t a fantasy fictional story).

I finally read A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. This has been on my tbr pile for a while. My friend, Colby Sharp, is a big fan of Linda’s and I’ve been wanting to read it. I read it in an evening, immediately gave it 5 stars on goodreads, and handed it to my 12-year-old daughter as a “must read”. For more, see yesterday’s blog post. (It needed it’s own post, it was that amazing.)

I reread The Arrival, The Red Tree, Eric, and Sketches from a Nameless Land by Shaun Tan. My children’s literature students read, wrote about, and discussed The Arrival last week. Every time I read Tan’s books, I’m blown away by the way he creates multiple levels of story, and therefore, response. I picked up Sketches from A Nameless Land when I was in Australia this summer, it is amazing to be able to read about Tan’s process and get a glimpse at his creative process. Hoping that this will be available in the US soon.

I started reading A Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz. I absolutely loved A Tale Dark and Grimm because of the way that Gidwitz turns upside down (and inside out) what we think we know about fairy tales. This follow up is not disappointing. I also love that the narrator talks to the reader – nothing like breaking the fourth wall in an artful way.

The First Book Discussion

This week in my children’s literature courses, the students had their first in-depth book discussion. For each book discussion (there are 5 over the course of the semester) they read and write a response prior to coming to class. This week we discussed Grandpa Green by Lane Smith.

I love the first book discussion because the students almost always surprise themselves with how much they have to say and share with each other. They start by talking in groups of 4-5 people, each person having written their response paper from a different perspective. I explain that they will not all see and notice the same things and that is GREAT, it is what is “supposed” to happen. It is a bit nerve-wracking for some who are concerned with finding “the answer” or even “the right answer”.

But then, they begin. They each have their own copy of the book (a course requirement) and I see them turning pages and sharing their thoughts. Sometimes they get immediately into deeper questions, and sometimes they need to spend time looking through and sharing what they notice.

This semester’s classes did not disappoint. The small groups discussed the book for 30-40 minutes before we came together for whole group discussion. They were amazed – one student said, “Wow, that only felt like 15 minutes!”. Some things that they noticed and questions that they asked were:

  • looking at the first and last page to get another perspective of the narrative sequence
  • The way the intensity of the color green was used throughout the book helped differentiate memories and aspects of the garden
  • Who was narrating the story? Was it Grandpa or the little boy?
  • Was the Grandpa still alive or had he died?
  • the use of the color red on the page that Grandpa goes to war
  • was the garden real or imagined?

In two weeks we’re going to discuss The Arrival by Shaun Tan – I can’t wait!

Drama by Rain Telgemeier

I read this on NetGalley earlier this summer and loved it, so many great things including the fact that it’s about the drama kids who are not on stage. My 12-year-old daughter (and huge fan of SMILE) loved it as well. Her favorite part? “There were all kinds of kids and friends and people. Some girls liked boys, some boys liked girls, and some boys liked boys. That isn’t in books enough.”

One of the things that I love about Raina’s writing is how she captures the complexity of middle school kids, not an easy task! Check out author Raina Telgemeier at her website GoRaina.com and on twitter at @goraina. She is running a fantastic contest to celebrate the release of the book (specifics are here).

Happy (belated) Book Birthday to Drama!

I’m Back – It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

I took a few weeks off recently to wrap up Spring Semester 2012. I’m officially finished with coursework for my Ph.D. and now have a whole lot of writing to do (more on that in future posts). I’ve enjoyed taking time in the past week to connect with my reader self.

Last week I read:

After Eli by  Rebecca Rupp was recommended by Paul Hankins on either Twitter, GoodReads, or Facebook (likely all three)! This did not disappoint. Daniel is trying to make sense of his brother’s death and growing up. His voice is thoughtful and honest, and brought me to tears a few times. This is the first complete book I’ve read on my new iP*d through NetGalley. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about reading on an e-device, but the story was so fantastic I barely noticed. Release date: Aug. 14, 2012

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin – I’ve been on the waitlist at my local East Lansing Public Library for a while; and am glad that it finally came in! I remember distinctly sitting at dinner at ALA Midwinter reading Roger Sutton’s editorial mentioning this book, it was the first I’d heard of it. Less than 2 days later it was announced as a Newbery Medal Honor book. It’s one that I want to read a few more times and am thinking of pairing with the beautiful picturebook The Wall by Peter Sis. Lots to think about in the best possible ways.

See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles – this one is getting it’s own review, check back tomorrow!

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle – This was on the “new books” shelf at my library and I thought I’d read something about it (can’t remember were). The dialogue is distinctly Irish, making me think of my father-in-law (born outside of Belfast), and my own Kelly & O’Malley relatives. Mary’s characters is multi-dimensional and the plot intriguing. Another book I want to reread.

This coming week I’m reading:

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinnaire by Mrs. Bunny translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath – My 2nd grade daughter and I are reading this adventure story together. She is quite enchanted with both Madeline (the main human character) and Mr. & Mrs. Bunny. We are looking forward to finishing it this week.

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper – This is was recommended to me by a librarian friend who knows that I like historical fiction and am also looking for books to read by Australian authors in preparation for my first visit down under in a few months.

How to Write A Lot by Paul Silvia – A fabulous little book about academic writing. I’m rereading it for the third time as I return to the final leg of writing my practicum and begin to work on my dissertation proposal. This, along with Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird are my two favorite books about writing.

There will be more… but I’m not sure exactly what yet! I’ve been trying to hold off reading Insurgent thinking it would be good for the airplane trip to Australia, but I honestly don’t think I can wait that long. I’ve also got the 6th and final book in the Nicholas Flamel series waiting for me on NetGalley and am hoping to get Rebecca Stead and Sharon Creech’s newest titles soon as well.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

This week I read:

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu – I won this in a twitter giveaway by @WaldenPondPress, my eldest daughter (6th grade) had just finished it and said, “Mom you HAVE to read this, next, don’t wait!” She was right, I loved it; particularly all of the intertextual references to Narnia, Wrinkle in Time, When You Reach Me, and various fairy tales.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger – This picture book is absolutely stunning. I will definitely be using it as one of the examples of this genre in future children’s literature courses. The use of colors to contrast the various greens and cutouts draw the reader in visually. The varied use of language to describe the color is beyond brilliant. (can you tell how much I love this by my overused adjectives – it really is THAT amazing, go get it NOW if you can!)

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee – Another stunning example of a picture book. The illustrations and the text work beautifully together. The are lovely and lyrical on their own, but together they are amazing. Frazee uses sequencing to enhance the story and the text is an excellent example of how brevity adds to a story. I will be purchasing this one for my shelf soon!

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia – This was a reread for me because the students in my children’s literature course were reading, writing and discussing it this week. It’s the first time I’ve used it in class and wanted to refresh my memory. The writing – particularly of the characters – were just as wonderful the second time through.

This week I’ll be reading:

Also recommended by daughter #1, I’m going to start Divergent by Veronica Roth. I don’t anticipate being able to finish it because of my other reading which includes papers about One Crazy Summer and 27 Language Arts Lesson Plans. Even at the end of the semester, I still read every word of what my students submit and give them some sort of feedback. If I want them to give me thoughtful consideration, than they deserve it back.

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27 Language Arts Lesson Plans to be read and given comments - I figured they deserved a photo too!