A Crooked Kind of Perfect

This book has been sitting on my tbr pile for quite a while now. I read Hound Dog True last year (based on my friend Colby Sharp’s gushing about it, yes he gushed) and loved it. Urban is clearly a gifted storyteller, particularly when it comes to character and voice.

I sat down last evening with my daughters for “family reading time” and decided it was time to read A Crooked Kind of Perfect. I finished it before going to sleep and am still thinking about it today, right now even. I love books that stay with me like that – make me want to go back, reread them, mull over the language, and think about what it is that made me respond this way.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect hits home with me personally in a variety of ways – but I think perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t read it yet is because I needed to read it this week. I’m going to defend my practicum study this thursday. I’ve been working on it for far longer than I thought I would due to a variety of reasons (like breaking my arm). It had gotten to a point where every time I looked at it all I could see was the “crooked” – the holes, and time that felt wasted, and paper that hadn’t been defended. It seemed like I would never finish it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quit my ph.d. program in the past two years – just so I wouldn’t have to deal with finishing it.

The chapters in the middle of the book where Zoe decides to quit were so spot on. The way that the sentence length shortens, she blocks out all possibilities, and is just sure that quitting is the only way to go.

Quitting

It is no big deal that I am quitting.
It isn’t.
It really isn’t.
It’s not like quitting the piano.
That would be a tragedy. (p. 84)

What I love about this is that it’s ok for Zoe to quit. She does it for a few pages. Her parents don’t chastise her or push her, they just sit with her, and let her quit. And eventually there is a key change, and she decides not to quit. My husband, writing group and friends have done this for me with my practicum. They have watched me struggle, and listened, and pushed at just the right times. But ultimately I am the one that decided not to quit.

Perfectionism is rampant in our society. It is something that is presented in movies, television shows, the news, books, and each other; often in ways that we aren’t even aware of. We judge each other harshly and don’t stop to acknowledge that there is more to life than first place, a gold medal, or the most money.

Here is a book that celebrates hard work, at something that wasn’t exactly the way Zoe imagines, but that turns out to be about more than being a prodigy, more than getting applause for a performance. It is realistic in so many fabulous possible ways.

Zoe’s mom works hard, she misses some of her daughters events – but Zoe doesn’t hate her for it.

Zoe’s dad lives with OCD, or at least symptoms similar to it. He does not “struggle” with his issues, he lives with them. He is a father who loves not only his daughter and wife, but extends it to another child who needs a positive adult presence in his life.

Zoe deals with friend problems, something not uncommon for middle school aged children. But those problems do not define her, she feels yucky about them and moves on. Just like she does with quitting. This is a book about real people, living real lives.

So this thursday, I will defend my practicum (I might wear multi-colored toe socks). It will not be perfect – because such a thing does not exist. It will however be mine and it will be done and I will move forward with my dissertation and finish. That will by my crooked kind of perfect. I think we’ll get a cake and some Vernor’s to celebrate.

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading…

Be sure to check out the fabulous teachmentortexts to see what others are reading!

This week I read:

Homer written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper

The calm and steady character of Homer the dog are integrated into every aspect of this book; from a simple yet meaningful text to gorgeous water color illustrations. Framed, single-page spreads show Homer’s vantage point from the porch throughout the day. Occasional double-page spreads with full bleeds “speak” for Homer without needing text. This is a dog who is completely satisfied with his life.

House Held Up By Trees written by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen

I reread this book in preparation for a discussion about realistic fiction in my children’s literature course this week. Kooser’s prose is beautifully written and the accompanying illustrations showcase a variety of points of view. The color palate is subtle and is a great example of green representing life, even when it seems it may not go on.

Grandpa Green written and illustrated by Lane Smith

I’ve read this book many times and was not disappointed on this reread. The students in my children’s literature course are also reading (and rereading) it in preparation for our first class discussion and their first papers. I’m always struck by the intricacies of the illustrations and the different ways that I think about the grandson and his grandfather.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

This story has not disappointed. Schlitz’s ability to weave together magic, history, social class, and mystery create a tale that engaged me from the first page. She gives enough information to bring me in without making things predictable. I’m looking forward to finishing off the last few chapters tonight!

This coming week:

I’m still working on No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, it’s next on my tbr stack. I also picked up The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater at the library yesterday. I’ve not read any of her books, but she is going to be at our local independent bookstore this coming friday and I’m planning on taking my daughter. I was hoping to get her newest, The Raven Boys, but it was checked out.

It’s Monday, What Are YOU Reading?!

Thanks to my amazing colleagues over at Teach Mentor Texts for hosting this meme each week. Please check out their blog if you haven’t already!!!

This past week I read:

Same Sun Here by Silas House & Neela Vaswani 

I’m still processing this book. What I love best about it is the way that it can push against adult assumptions about the ways that children and young people think. So often I hear statements like, “kids don’t notice that” but THEY DO. This is a lovely story told through an exchange of letters between pen pals. Though at times a bit didactic, the overall premise and story are lovely and thought-provoking.

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

This book did NOT disappoint. I love stories that push you to figure out connections when it seems as if there isn’t one. As an Irish girl myself, I’m particularly fond of the ways that Creech’s writing is similar to some oral storytelling traditions. Both Naomi and Lizzy are multi-dimensional, rich, intriguing characters who are accompanied by an intriguiging supporting cast.

I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson

I read this in preparation for an upcoming meeting. An instructor of one of our sections of multicultural and diverse children’s literature course selected this as a required text for students. All three instructors for the course invited the rest of us from the MSU Children’s Literature Team to read the book and discuss it at our next meeting. I’m looking forward to the discussion. This book hung over me for a good while after I finished it. It is a multi-dimensional story that invites the reader to consider classicism, racism, family, friendship, and incest.

Voice in the Park by Anthony Browne

This is a book that I have read more times than I can remember. It used to be the first book that students in my children’s literature course discussed and wrote about. We still use it in the course as a model. The richness of the illustrations and multi-vocal text never cease to provide new insights and responses. I reread it every semester 2-3 times in preparation for our “elements of illustrations” discussion.

This coming week I’ll be reading:

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the LIfe and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson with artwork by R. Gregory Christie

I’m super excited to read this book. I had requested in from my local library before I left for Australia but didn’t have time to give it a good read. I love historical pieces that stretch me as a reader and this one has that potential.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Another book that I’ve heard some buzz about that I can’t wait to read. I met Laura at a conference last year and she was absolutely lovely and so generous with her time. I loved Good Masters Sweet Ladies and can’t wait to read this one!

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

I’m working on creating a “school-year” reading routine for myself. During the summer months I have some more flexibility and don’t need to be quite as plan-full. Thankfully, our local library had some great new books to get me started!

Remember to check out Teach Mentor Texts to see what others have been reading!

What I read last week:

The Hueys in The New Sweater written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers is a genius – both as a storyteller and illustrator. When we talk about picture books in my children’s literature course, I want the students to understand the role of brevity – both in text and illustration – and this is fantastic example.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combination story by Monica Brown illustrations by Sara Palacios

This thoughtful story about a young girl who is a “creative, unique, bilingual, Peruvian-Scottish-American, soccer-playing artist” is published with both english and spanish text. I love the potential discussions that could follow a reading of this about identity, how we define ourselves, and diversity.

The Obstinate Pen written and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer

Funny story about a pen that people just don’t want to listen to, when a young boy finally does some wonderful things happen.

The Insomniacs written by Karina Wolf illustrated by The Brothers Hilts

I loved this quirky story about a family who is adjusting to moving across multiple time zones and finding a rhythm that works for them. As someone who struggles with insomnia, it is refreshing to read – and see – it set in a positive “light”. (I know it’s a bad pun, couldn’t help myself.)

Isabella’s Garden written by Glenda Millard and illustrated by Rebecca Cool

Rich, vibrant illustrations accompany this sweet add-on story in the style of “the House the Jack Built”. This is particularly close to my heart because I was able to see some of the original artwork at an exhibit in Sydney, Australia over the summer.

What I’m reading now

Same Sun Here by Silas House & Neela Vaswani

So far I’m loving the dual voices in this book about pen pals from New York City and Kentucky.

It’s Monday, June 11 – What Are You Reading?

Be sure to check out the host of “It’s Monday…” TeachMentorTexts to see what others are reading! 

This week I had a VERY productive reading week and am feeling energized by it!

I finally finished Graceling by Kristin Cashore and absolutely loved it, particularly the rich, multidimensional characters of Katsa and Po. I think something that I appreciate about this as an example of YA fantasy is that while there is a romance element to the story, it is not what defines the characters – particularly the female characters Katsa. I can’t wait to read Fire and Bitterblue.

I also read Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker. This is a lovely story about 2 young girls who think that they have nothing in common, but come to find out that they do in more ways than they imagined possible.

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Australia, I’m reading as much children’s and YA lit by Australian authors and illustrators as I can get my hands on. I read the following picture books:

Sun Mother Wakes the World adapted by Diane Wolkstein and illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft is an absoultely stunning creation story based on beliefs of the indigenous peoples of Australia. The illustrations are stunning and a thorough author’s note at the end explains known origins of the story.

Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow with illustrations by Bronwyn Bancroft tells the story of Ally and her mother’s trip to Australia. Ally’s dreams of becoming an artist are enlightened and encouraged by her new friend Pauline, who is an aboriginal artist. Bancroft’s illustrations (which remind me a bit of Faith Ringold’s paintings) are beautiful and add a depth to the connection between the child and her new artist friend.

W is for Wombat: My First Australian Wombat by Bronwyn Bancroft is an ABC board book full of Bancroft’s delightful illustrations that a first glance may seem like a simple text. After multiple readings, it made me think about assumptions that I hold as well as similarities between the U.S. and Australia (hawk, island, river) and differences (dingo, joey, platypus, and quokka).

Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks is a truly unique story that begs to be read and discussed multiple times. I could say much more, but need to reread it a few times first. The complexity is incredible – I love the way it pushes me to think about how picture books and children’s literature can be defined.

Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson with illustrations by Freya Blackwood
Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House by Libby Gleeson with illustrations by Freya Blackwood

Molly and her Dad by Jan Ormerod & Carold Thompson

Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker – I was familiar with both Window and Mirror by Baker but had never read this title. Like her other stories, Baker asks readers to reflect on their place in the world and their role in the environment.

I read all of the following Mem Fox titles (which by no means represent all she has written!):

Hello Baby illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild illustrated by Marla Frazee

The Goblin and the Empty Chair illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon

The Magic Hat illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Possum Magic illustrated by Julie Vivas

Koala Lou illustrated by Pamela Lofts

I’ll be writing more about some of these titles during July and August when I am in Australia.

This coming week I’ll be reading…

… more titles by Australian authors and illustrators.

And though not children’s literature, I’m also reading Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers – inspired by Paul Hankin’s post over at Nerdy Book Club. Anyone interested in teaching and/or reading should read it!

It’s Monday June 4, What Are You Reading?

This past week (or 2) I read:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is an absolutely stunning book. I read this via NetGalley and was absolutely blown away by the writing – the characters are rich and multi-dimension and the story drew me in. There were a few twists that I didn’t anticipate that made me love it even more. Wein clearly did her research before writing this amazing work of historical fiction. I’m sure we’ll be seeing some medals on the cover come next year!

Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett is a lovely and honest story about siblings. I picked up an ARC of this at ALA Midwinter and had forgotten it was sitting on my daughter’s shelf. This past week while researching Australian children’s authors and illustrators, I remembered that this was by Aussie Sonya Hartnett and was able to locate it after a bit of searching. I myself am and older sibling, and parent to two daughters so this book rang true from multiple perspectives. I love how Hannah names her hands and uses them to help her work through needing to grow-up just a big. The charcoal illustrations add to the story, particularly the personalities of Sadie & Ratz.

The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. I’m not sure how I haven’t read this Clementine story before this, my 2nd grader’s teacher recommended it to me and as with Clementine’s other stories, I wasn’t disappointed. I love the voice of this character, it feels authentic without going over the top – particularly the way that she thinks through things. I also love that the adults in Clementine’s life seem to “get” her and go with her free-spirited, unusual way of thinking.

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner is an adventure mystery that has a number of twists and turns (both literal and figurative) that  will keep you guessing about the outcome.

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea asks readers to think about things that do and don’t grow as well as what they will become. The rhyming, illustrations and interactive fold-out pages make this a picture book that will be popular with a variety of young readers.

Look! Look! Look! At Sculpture by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace is a picture book that invites readers to consider the different ways to look at sculpture along with some friendly mice. Not only does this book encourage us to rethink how to enjoy sculpture, but is also shows readers how to create some of their own.

Next week I’ll be Reading…

I’m still working on Graceling – I want to read it when I have time to just sit and devour it. I also broke down and bought Insurgent – am looking forward to talking with my oldest daughter who as already read it. Lastly, I’m preparing for my upcoming visit to Australia by researching and reading books by Australian Authors and Illustrators (picture books through YA). If you have any favorites or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you!

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

This past week I read:

Drama by Raina Telgemeier – I read this on NetGalley, it’s amazing. I’m going to write another blog post about it this week so I can go into depth.  For now, mark your calendar for September 1, 2012 so you can run to your local independent bookstore to pick it up!

Wideness & Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keefe by Susan Goldman Rubin – Georgia O’Keefe has been a favorite artist ever since I saw and exhibit of her work in London 20 years ago. This biography spans her entire life and includes photographs, O’Keefe’s own artwork, and artwork of others. A very readable and thorough example of the biography genre.

Hugs From Pearl by Paul Schmid – I read this at my local library when I took my girls this weekend. It is a lovely story with illustrations that made me want to hug Pearl, even though she is a porcupine.

Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead – Another book I read at the library. The illustrations for this cumulative story really made me love it and want to reread it. I’ll be adding this one to my own library soon!

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald – I spent some time in my daughter’s 2nd grade classroom this week, her (amazing) teacher recommended this to me. I’d heard of Stink and new of the books (I live with 2 Judy Moody fans) but had never read them. Great story, am planning on reading the one about the stinky shoes soon.

Marty McGuire Digs Worms by Kate Messner – I love Marty! She is a fabulous character with a voice all her own. I wanted to read this before the #martymcguire twitter book club this week with @MrSchuReads & @Colby Sharp on Wednesday, May 23 at 8pm EST.  Author Kate Messner (@katemessner) will also be there for the fun! (Full disclosure:  Marty reminds me very much of my youngest daughter who loves to dig for worms and is going into the third grade.)

Up Next:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore – I’m 10 pages in and don’t want to stop reading. Can’t believe I haven’t discovered this one sooner!

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner – For the first time, I recieved an envelope in the mail addressed me & my blog. I was doubly thrilled to find this book inside because I love Kate’s writing!

There will be more read, I’m just not sure what yet!