Reading ReflectionsPicture BookThe book I chose, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, I found on the shelf in my library dedicated to kidsat age 5. Though I can see an advanced 5-year-old reading this book, I thought some of the subjectmatter and vocabulary would go over a kid’s head. There’s one passage in particular: “Since Duck was aneutral party, he brought the ultimatum to the farmer.” I am doubtful that children around age 5understand even the concept behind the word “ultimatum,” let alone recognize, read and understandthe word itself. That the typing the cows do is on a typewriter also strikes against the approachability ofthe books for children. I like that the book is a satire of labor relations, but the forcing of the conceptinto a picture book doesn’t really work. It doesn’t have the elegance of the books we brought to class,Where The Wild Things Are and Knuffle Bunny, which in 32 pages create likable, meaningful characters.The art is nice, though I get the feeling that some of the art was rushed; though the book alternatesmovement and stillness in the art, the compositions are a little too subtle for a children’s book. The eyeis not drawn through the paintings easily, and some compositions feel forced until you notice that theartist intended to create perspective. It’s a nice book in all, but probably would best be appreciated byreaders a bit older than 5.Easy ReaderI chose The Berenstain Bear’s Sleepover for my easy reader. I loved the Berenstain Bears when I waslittle, so that colored my choice, but the book is a good example of the examples we talked about inclass of short, declarative sentences and congruent illustrations. Some of the longest words were“Audience,” “laughed,” and “tripped,” which can easily be figured out from context. There are someparental bonuses, too, with the name of the family whose cubs sleep over being Bruin, or bear. It was avery simple story that ended a bit quaintly, with the bear parents falling over, fast asleep from runningafter the children all night. The back of the book has a code for the books that “I Can Read!”, theumbrella publishing company, puts out—this is one of the lowest level books, and it shows in thewriting. With that, it is well-done, and would probably be a good companion with the Cat in the Hat, asdiscussed in class.Chapter BookFor this, I chose the Graveyard Book. I know that this is technically a scifi/fantasy book, but since it wonthe Newberry, and as it is aimed at younger readers rather than older, I will include it in this section. Iwill probably put this book on my reluctant readers list. It is very chronological, with the point of viewvery rarely stepping outside the head of Bod, the main character. There are a few interstitial passagesabout the Jacks, but those are rather well-explained and planned for. I enjoyed the slow realization thatBod’s guardian, Silas, is a vampire, and the confrontations with the old man in the shop and the ghoulsbegins to set up the reader for more unpleasantness ahead with the homicidal Jacks. The Sleer, arguablythe most villainous character, is also the most relatable; though ancient, powerful, scary and hungry, the
Sleer most wants companionship. The parallel romances, or perhaps proto-romances, with Liza andScarlett, were very enjoyable and yet they could fly over the heads of readers who don’t want romancein their books. The setting of the graveyard is fascinating as well, with Bod’s family of ghosts and colorfulneighbors.The Giver by Lois LowryJonas is a boy in an extremely orderly world. Every family in his community has exactly 2 children; everychild has exactly one job assigned to them for life; and every action is presided over by the Book ofRules. Jonas enjoys his place until he gets his job assignment: being the Receiver of Memory for thecommunity. The former, mysterious Receiver, now titled The Giver, helps Jonas see the flaws of hisperfect world and to fight back against the order imposed on the community.The linear, chronological plot works in tandem with the emotional reveals of the story--the reader learnsthe restrictions of the community, such the fact that the community has no sunlight or snow, or that noone can see color, as Jonah does. The conflict of the narrative, that of a newly-emotional and pubescentJonah fighting against his non-emotional, oppressive town, can easily reflect the struggles of children inlate childhood. Trying to reconcile a sheltered childhood, traditionally featuring loving and supportiveparents and small communities such as churches, with new realizations about an apathetic large-scalecommunity culture, such as ones city or state, can provide common ground with Jonas for childrenreading.Even though the plot is tight, some holes are left in the story that readers may find diminish enjoyment.Most of these come from the mechanics of memory in the novel. How are memories transmitted bytouch, and why do they return back to the community were they originate if the Receiver leaves? Howcan one move differently in a memory each time one thinks of it, when memories must be fixed? Theseholes may never bother some other readers, and the strength of the allegory--that one must rememberthe past of one’s own community—can engross even the most grizzled sci-fi fan. Small details of theenvironment in the books may be Othering to some readers--the author expects children reading toknow something about being in snow enough that not knowing what a sled is becomes a tragic loss, andislands are "out there, somewhere" and not in the experience of the characters. The ending is alsoambiguous as to whether the characters are going to be saved or if they die of exposure, which may beupsetting to some readers. Even with these problems, the book is a great introduction to the morematurely-themed books of YA fiction, and has an emotional punch that will surely keep readers hooked.Sci-fi/Fantasy booksI read The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.Percy Jackson, the protagonist of The Lightning Thief, is a typical fish-out-of-water in this book. Hediscovers that he is the child of a Greek God and must stay at a supernatural summer camp to keepGreek monsters of legend from attacking him every waking moment. He meets new friends in what I liketo think of as the “Harry Potter mold”: the protagonist, a sensible girl who keeps his actions in check,
and a comic-relief male friend. Though further into the series this classification falls apart, thesimilarities are enough to either annoy or spur reading. I liked how, in the beginning of the book, itseemed that all the protagonists were disabled in some way: Grover “walks funny,” Percy has severedyslexia, and his teacher is wheelchair-bound. These are all explained as being caused by magic: Groverwalks oddly because he’s disguising his satyr’s hooves; Percy’s teacher is really the legendary centaur,Chiron, whose wheelchair magically hides his horse half; and Percy is dyslexic only when reading English,because he has the inborn ability to read Ancient Greek. I would really have liked to have seen actuallydisabled heroes for once, but I can’t say that I’m displeased with the series for it.I do have a problem with the Greek gods being described as “following Western Civilization” throughoutthe ages, which means they are always at the center of it. The book tells us they have moved fromGreece to Rome to London to New York. This excludes a huge portion of potential readers, for one. Itmakes it seem these cities were more “civilized,” not what they were—the most powerful parts of aEuropean empire. It also ignores that the Byzantines, whose civilization lasted into the Enlightenment,considered themselves Western. In the book, there is also only one afterlife, ever—the Greek one. Non-western people don’t seem to exist. All of this is very exclusionary and protectionist of Western andAmerican culture, when all that was really needed to explain why Greek Gods live in New York couldhave been that the gods take vacations.Information BooksFor this I found the book “Explorabook” by John Cassidy and “Exploring the Cultures of the World:Japan”.Explorabook held an important part of my childhood, so I cannot look at it with an unbiased eye. Inaddition to being informational, the book holds ideas and materials for many experiments with mirrors,hair dryers, and other household objects. It was from this book that I learned that stars appear to havepoints because our corneas are scratched, and that the human eye wants to turn upside-down thingsright-side-up so much that it ignores features turned the wrong way on an upside-down face. Forparents, there are hilarious little asides that kids surely won’t get, but won’t detract from the enjoymentof the book. One of them is a little side panel that tells kids to “tune in next week!” with a picture of DickTracy. Perhaps most adults now wouldn’t get the reference to the comic-turned-radio-show, but still Ienjoyed it. The book itself holds a mirror and a scratched piece of plastic to do experiments with lightrefraction, and facts about bacteria, light waves, magnets, and optical illusions. The book sources theseonly in the acknowledgements, not within the book itself—though given the conversational tone of thebook, footnotes would have weighed it down unnecessarily. The book seems to be aimed from ages 8up, but I could not find an age recommendation on the book itself.The second book I read, “Exploring the Cultures of the World: Japan”, was a little more elementary intone. Amazon recommends it to grades 4-6, which I think is a little too old for the extremely simplistictone and explanations of the book. The book authoritatively declares things about Japan, such as “Thediscipline and simplicity of Zen is seen today in almost every Japanese art.” The tone is a bitcondescending and simplistic—the Japanese have Zen, therefore it is in everything they do. This neatlydiscounts, of course, all video games, manga, and anime that Japan produces that glorifies hedonism oris beautiful in gaudy ways. The sources are not listed, but the proofreader is, which puts alarm bells inmy head. The author says in her author’s note that she prepared by eating Japanese food, talking towaiters in Japanese, and listening to Japanese music. I was a little taken aback—does this author haveno concept of cultural imperialism or how awful it sounds to try to write about a culture based on the
strength of its food? I was highly disappointed in this book and I would not stock it in any library—thelack of sources alone, when talking about an entire culture, makes it suspect, but the incrediblecondescension of it alone without any justification overrides what little academic value it may have.Fairy/ Folktale BooksFor this I read the Brown Book of Fairy Tales, collected by Andrew Lang, and The Illustrated Book ofWorld Myths, by Phillip and Mistry.As I said in class, the Brown Book, and any of the Fairy Books that Lang collected, are probably bestgiven to children with disclaimers attached. They are fairly multicultural but very racist. The antagonistof the first story—who causes harm to several nations and royal families through his evil, lying ways—isa black man, described as being darker than night, who is eventually drawn and quartered to muchfanfare. There are other stories from “savage” nations where the darker character, whether it is a manor an animal, is inevitably the villain. There is also condescending speech about different cultures andraces, with asides like “as those people are wont to do” about eating live birds and the like, whileEuropean fairy tales are valorous or ridiculous, not how people usually are.The second book I read was the Illustrated Book of Myths, which was notably absent of all thexenophobia of Lang. This is a DK publication, and I love the way that DK lays out its pages—mostly whitespace, with cultural artifacts and explanations from each time and culture presented. Native Americantribes are presented as separate and distinct entities, not lumped together under “Native Americans”without distinction, and the same with different African nations and ethnicities. There is still a heavyemphasis on Western culture, with Greek and Roman myths presented in the same subcategory withonly one non-Eurasian story.Poetry BooksFor this assignment, I chose “Poetry for young people: William Carlos Williams” and “Awful Ogre’s AwfulDay.” I found both in the children’s department of my library under their poetry section.I was very surprised to see William Carlos Williams included in the collection as a children’s poet. I knowfrom my days as an undergrad that Williams aimed to rebel in his poetry against the overwroughtstream-of-consciousness poetry from the likes of Joyce and Eliot. Seeing him presented to kids as astand-alone, friendly figure is a little odd. I also find his poetry not to be set aside lightly, but to behurled across the room with great force, so I was interested in how they would make his dreckapproachable. The book presents his poems as-is, which is not hard, considering the longest is hardly200 words, alongside brief explanations of the themes and many oil paintings of the subjects of hispoems. The illustrations are far too small to be really effective, I thought. Some lack details explicitlystated within the poem, such as a poem, Late for Summer Weather, which describes a couple walkingand, in detail, what they wear, while they are depicted in shadow in the illustration. In all, though, thismight be what haters of Williams like me may need to hate him less; seeing an explanation of “The RedWheelbarrow” was enlightening. I’m still unsure of how useful this is as a children’s book, but it mayappeal to readers who want a dash of color with their reading, not a whole picture book.
In “Awful Ogre’s Awful Day,” we see an ogre whose absolutely loves being awful. He likes smelling gross,insulting people (which, in ogre, is a complement), frightening villagers, and beating up relatives as ahearty hello. I loved the changing tempo of the poems to the mood of the storyline—Awful Ogre’spoems about himself and his qualities are all a bit long, with complex rhythms and longer sentencesover many stanzas, but mealtime poems are short and staccato, while his love poem to a fellow ogress isflows with rhyming couplets. I love the illustrations, too. Awful Ogre is a green-haired, green-eyedCyclops who absolutely loves his disgusting, mean life, and his absolute enthusiasm for trouble comesout in every page. The illustrations are fabulously detailed, too, which means Awful Ogre’s breakfast ofScream of Wheat is dutifully laid out, as well as many other background details not mentioned in thepoem. This would be a great book for little boys who think that poems are girly and stupid, and mayeven be for transitional readers who need in-depth illustration to get eager about the subjects theyread.