Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What I'm Reading Now: Books #51-60 (Uniquely Different)

For the rest of my contribution to the ReFoReMo Picture Book Challenge (2015), I’m going to be picky. While there are other books I’m reading, I want to start narrowing my focus.

The books I’ve chosen for today’s post are all UNIQUELY different in one way or another. Maybe it’s the story, maybe the subject, and possibly it’s the overall design. Regardless, these are the ten books that are currently in my stack of reading that are UNIQUE.
51.WEASELS by Elys Dolan 2014 Candlewick Press
(PB/3rd POV/twisted facts-weasels-humor)

WHY: One of my friends had a ferret when we were little. I hated that thing. (I have pet rodents, so it’s not a species was this particular ferret I disliked.) Any book that twists facts and makes something that I don’t find interesting--somehow interesting again, is a winner! (And besides…everyone knows what WEASELS are like!)

WHAT: Right from the first page, the reader realizes this book is different.
                             “Weasels. What do you think they do all day?”
From that point forward, Elys questions everything we believe we know about weasels and proceeds to twist it around. (Weasels are quite ingenious!)

HOW: Taking the ordinary and questioning everything about it to the point of the absurd creates humor. This mentor text is a great example of that. Try listing ten things you know about a subject… as Elys as done, in questions. Then answer them. But allow your answers to be ridiculous!

ADDITIONALLY: My 13 year old and husband loved this book!

52. REDWOODS by Jason Chin 2009 Flashpoint
(NF/PB/3rd POV/wordless narrative pb-forestation-Redwoods)

WHY: Creative approaches to nonfiction catch my attention and Jason Chin is only getting better! (See author link or his newest book, GRAVITY for more info.)

WHAT: On the text only level, this is a straightforward, bare bones nonfiction text covering the essential information about Redwoods. Or so it seems. Add the illustrations and another story layer evolves. Jason is smart by combining the two levels. Separately, they are unique. Together, they tell another story, a narrative fantasy story.

HOW: It might be wise to start with the illustrations alone. Think of it as a wordless picture book. Tell the story out loud. Plot is there, characters, conflict. Then toss in the text. Notice how the two match and at what point the story changes. I can’t wait to get my hands on a few other of Jason Chin’s books to investigate this unique pairing!

53. OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK by Jesse Klausmeier illustrated by Suzy Lee 2013 Chronicle Books (PB/3rd POV/Unique structure-interactive-colors-size)

WHY: OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK and the gimmick of the “little books” sucks you in! Little hands will love this!

WHAT: Beyond the 3-D design of turning each “little book” as they get smaller and smaller, I love the repetitive structure and how by getting smaller, the conflict gets bigger.

HOW: Backward and forward. Think about how a simple narrative can change when you tell it from the end to the beginning. As much as I was captivated by opening and unveiling each step toward smaller and smaller books, I was thrilled to read from middle to end (by story structure- in reverse-- from the climax to the original inciting incident). Play around with this concept. Forward and backward or backward to forward?

54. HAVE YOU SEEN MY DRAGON? by Steve Light 2014 Candlewick Press
(PB/1st POV/Dragons-New York-Maps)

WHY: There is something about picture books with limited color. It’s like when I choose to take black and white photos. The subject in image becomes obvious (or in the case of this book--hidden.)

WHAT: I love the journey the MC takes throughout Manhattan to find his dragon. Similar to the next book, A WALK IN LONDON, the central story revolves around discovery of a new surrounding. But each book is told in very different ways.

HOW: As a mentor text, I can’t help but think how my stories would be different if I let the story be led by another character (other than the MC). For instance, it is the dragon that we are really following as he leads us around to key points of interest. The MC is searching for him. (And as the title suggests, so is the reader…) Steve Light was tricky with this one.

55. A WALK IN LONDON by Salvatore Rubbino 2011 Candlewick Press
(PB/Ist POV/travel-London-facts)

WHY: Like many, I love to travel, but I’m limited in funds. Relaying on books to take me places, even as a child, I found that I can learn quite a bit from any good book to take me there.

WHAT: Such an enjoyable book! It’s perfect for the curious and fact-driven child (and adult). Although the plot is minimal: a child is visiting London for the first time with a parent, the entire book is set up like one of my favorite dictionaries, RICHARD SCARRY'S STORYBOOK DICTIONARY. The character’s walk you through while various points of interest and facts are labeled throughout the book.

HOW: I’m thrilled to post that there are MORE of these wonderful books by Mr. Rubbino! Paris and New York are the two other destination books in this series. As a writer, pick up one. It’s a historian’s dream! I envision ways to write many nonfiction books using this design. As a teacher, these books would make a great addition to any geography or travel unit. (I also would recommend reading these if you plan on writing a story that is set in any of these locations.)

56. ONCE I WAS A CARDBOARD BOX...BUT NOW I’M A BOOK ABOUT POLAR BEARS! by Anton Poitier Illustrated by Melvyn Evans 2009 Tony Potter Publishing
(NF/3rd POV/Polar Bears-Global warming-recycling)

WHY: Again, a title drew me in! While I was perusing the shelves of my local library, I hesitated when I read this title and said, “How?” That one little question made me pull the book off the shelf and read it at that very moment. I think as writers, that’s what we all want of our books. Not just the re-readability that is desired, but also that sense of immediacy from our audience that calls out to them, coaxing them to open the book from the beginning.

WHAT: Bare-bones--This straightforward nonfiction book is about polar bears. It is complete with a table of contents, subheadings etc. What makes it unique and punch that extra “ohhh" factor is the inclusion of a sidebar on each right hand page that explains what happens to cardboard boxes when they are recycled. The really “tight” part of all this is how they come together on the last page: Global Warming. Ah, ha! See?

HOW: Again, that ability of a title to make me want to pull it off the shelf makes this book automatically make it on my list of “Catchy Titles”. The text is a mix of expository writing mixed with narrative (the polar bears on each page “talk” to the reader) and argument (from the introduction about cardboard to the last page about the connection). classrooms could use this book to identify the differences. Writers should use this text as a mentor in innovation and design. It’s definitely an idea that is “out of the box”!

57.BILLY TWITTERS AND HIS BLUEWHALE PROBLEM by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Adam Rex 2009 Disney/Hyperion Books (PB/creative NF/1st POV/Whales-humor-responsibility)

WHY: Whales are fascinating. I’m sure as a book lover, one could think of dozens of whale-themed books without even glancing at Google. Combine a hot topic with innovative story by Mac Barnett and the wonderful images by Adam Rex = success!

WHAT: The genius behind this story is the narration. Dialogue is key! Mac has completely convinced me that this is a story but all the while, he drops fantastic facts into the narration through dialogue and dilemma. Genius at work!

HOW: As a writer who loves a great story but is attracted to all things Nonfiction, this is an amazing find. While a straight-forward nonfiction text packs facts in tightly like an abridged encyclopedia, this text slips them in sideways but leaves the reader feeling like somehow we now know MORE than we would otherwise. It would be helpful to me as I continue to study this text, to place clear transparencies over the pages and mark where the nonfiction elements are compared to the narration to analyze the structure further. (I’ll post my process and progress when I do!)

58. A BOOK by Mordicai Gerstein 2009 Roaring Brook Press
(PB/3rd POV/story elements-perspective[visual and written]-genre studies)

WHY: I’m very familiar with Mordicai Gerstein, the artist, but I can’t remember reading a book like this by him before. I was curious to see what A BOOK would actually be about.

WHAT: What I soon realized is that A BOOK is about what a book is… the story, the genre, the perspective, the conflict etc.There are slightly over 1200 words but the pace is quick. The various characters add to the explanation of what a book is in dialog so that the MC (a little girl) becomes the reader, following along.

HOW: As a teacher, A BOOK would be a great opening for a unit on narrative writing. There is so much to pull from: genre, dialogue, character etc. As a writer, it offers a new way to look at our subjects. Mordecai was smart to illustrate the book from a bird’s eye perspective to give that “looking into” feel that drags us in. He also uses dialogue and questions to interact with the reader. What are other ways that writers can draw the reader into the book without relying solely on illustration?
59. LOOK TO THE STARS by Buzz Aldrin. Paintings by Wendell Minor 2009 G. P. Putnam’s Sons (NF/1st POV/Space travel-history-autobiographical)

WHY: From the time I was little, I’ve wanted to be a scientist for NASA. (Obstacles I couldn’t overcome at the time blocked my path, but I was able to teach units on space travel for nearly 10 years!)

WHAT: I found this book interesting in that the author is in many ways, writing an autobiographical account. The book is set up as a nonfiction with the subject of space travel, but since it is told in 1st person perspective, the reader has insight into Mr. Aldrin’s personal experiences and opinions.

HOW: This would be an excellent choice for older students to study how to incorporated personal stories with nonfiction. Experience is a great teacher!

60. 13 WORDS by Lemony Snicket. Illustrated by Maira Kalman 2010 Harper Collins
(PB/3rd POV/context clues-word choices)

WHY: I love the strangeness of this book. I have read 13 WORDS before--many times. It confuses me and at the same time, impresses me. I love challenges.

WHAT: The incredibly delicious thing about this story is that it is created around a building of words that are introduced one page at a time, adding to the contextual meanings and solidifying the plot. It makes me wonder (and I’ve met Daniel Handler before...I should have asked), was the story written FIRST as a narrative and then taken apart word by word as if walking backwards in your tracks?

HOW: As I have posted before, I think it would be a fun writing challenge to come up with a list of random words and create a complete story around it. My friends and I often play a shorter versions of this, “Napkin Poetry” (our name for our twist on the classic exquisite corpse writing exercise), but to create a full-fledged narrative plot would truly be a challenge.

Other books from the ReFoReMo Challenge that I have also read:
POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT by Anna Staniszewski Illustrated by Tim Zeltner
THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Jon Klassen
SHARK vs. TRAIN by Chris Barton Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

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