Monthly Archives: January 2020

Books of January

I’ve gotten through 16 books so far this year–which is disastrously low, because January’s reading is supposed to be when I catch up on all the Caldecott contenders! I haven’t had the chance to look at so many of those as usual, but I suppose I can look forward to that for the rest of the year. Here are some selected books and (very) mini-reviews:

4. Pokko and the Drum, Matthew Forsythe: This is about a frog who gets a drum and is too noisy and who ends up in a band; sadly, for some of the bandmates, we cannot eat our friends. Another good lesson is never date a drummer, though do remember I was a percussionist in a past life. This is a really charming book about keeping at it.

9. Crier’s War, Nina Varela: This is an excellent fantasy–layered and complex in exactly the right ways, and structured really well for a series installment. With fantasy, getting the balance of world and characters can be really tough, but this succeeds, and I want to read more about the struggle with what it means to be.

13. Redwood and Ponytail, K. A. Holt: At work, we have this e-reader/audio app so we can access company publications, and while Chronicle published this in hardcover, my employer produced the audio edition (and it won an American Library Association Award). I checked it out not knowing anything about it–including that it was older MG, verging on younger YA, though it all depends on how you count things–and was immediately thrown by the changing POV in verse with a chorus! I really struggle with audiobooks, but because this is verse (which to me sounds like prose read aloud–a recommendation in my ears), the entirety is just under 5 hours, so it’s a good length for me and my ears’ attention span. Anyway, this, particularly Kate the perfection theme, was really harrowing in the back half of the book, but there was the right amount of hope and healing mixed in. It’s also fascinating to think that this book has a place right now, but that for target age readers, the need for books like this is rapidly dissipating. Maybe not everywhere, but certainly enough. (And I wonder if in many ways, it’s going to linger as a book for grownups; there is an older character role model with a very frequent story you don’t hear as often. But, hey, no spoilers.)

15. Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins: Aw, a turtle has an adventure! The turtle I acquired in college–one that was cute and tiny and likely not sold legally–went to spend the summer with a friend and was…short-lived. But here, a really cute turtle has an adventure of heart and bravery when his girl goes away…

16. Fry Bread, by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal: I loved the sweet simplicity about how food connects us to family, but I really appreciated the back matter–and I am typically irritated by back matter, in part because it’s so often just for adult readers, and because we put it in the back so the front of the book is pretty, even if the information is useful simultaneous with the pretty, and it’s either relevant to the story or it’s not, and it’s a pressure from educators when not all books have to be useful in that way, and argh. Here, it reminds us that even when outsiders see a monoculture, there is a multiplicity of experience, observance, celebration, and so on. It’s smart, thoughtful, and kind, and I’m glad for it.

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Filed under Fantasy, MG, Picture Books, Reading, YA