Sunday, March 21, 2010

Searching for juvenile chapter books

Juvenile chapter books are big in our house right now. My son is an avid reader (Yay!) and he devours every chapter book. When we go the library I make sure to find books featuring African American characters and present them to him- sometimes it takes more looking than a young child might thing to do.

And I love finding books featuring African American boys. He’s very young still, so I have to be careful when I’m in more of the YA section rather than juvenile. Those 12+ themes are still too much for him, I think.

So on my last trip home I saw my 1970s copy of Sounder, by William H. Anderson. I remember a little about the story and that I was very affected by it. I think I may have read it in 3rd or 4th grade.

I’m going to re-read it, though, to see if he’s ready for it.

We may even be able to see the movie with Paul Winfield (I think there is a remake also with Carl Lumbly).

I’m starting a list of books to check out for him and pre-read. Today, via Twitter, I saw mention of Eighth Grade Superzero, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

Here are some other possible titles on my list.

Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor – which is rated for grades 5 – 7 (Yay!)

Locomotion (and other titles) by Jacqueline Woodson

The Ziggy series from Sharon Draper

Mildred Taylor’s (author of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry) books – we have a few already.

Donovan’s Word Jar, by Monalisa DeGross (we enjoyed Donovan’s Double Trouble)

What chapter books featuring Black characters do you remember reading? What books have the kids in your life enjoyed? Post suggestions in comments.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Getting my reading mojo back

I haven’t been reading for awhile. I realized at the end of February that it had been a long while, maybe even months since I’d really read something in the way I loved. Falling in love with a book, staying up too late to read and sneaking in a few pages whenever I could – at lunch during work, while the kids put on their pajamas – just bits and pieces.

Last semester I took my first class in an MFA program and we had a heavy reading load (heavy for me, a fulltime working mother of two). So I had lots of pages that I was obligated to read. Some of the work we read was very enjoyable too. But some of it was just trudging through to learn more about the craft – it was fiction I wouldn’t have chosen on my own.

I think that was part of my reading drought of a couple of months. I was just taking a break from the grad school reading list and dealing with some surprises at home.

But I really missed it.

And I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to read. I wished for a new Octavia Butler novel and came close to re-reading the Patternmaster books again (for perhaps the fourth time).

Then I remembered how many authors I’m following on FB and Twitter and that Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant’s new novel, Uptown, was going to be out at the beginning of March. I was excited – I just wanted something that would be engaging, modern and smart.

So I bought it the week it was out – even though the B&N closest to our house didn’t have it. We drove to another location that had it … and luckily I had a gift certificate designated for my kids to get their own stacks of books.

Anyway, back to Uptown. I didn’t really have dedicated time to get into it until I took a trip by myself two weeks later. (Travelling alone by air is one of my favorite things – there’s always a coffee shop in the airport, snacks and books and magazines. And no one to talk to or answer to!).

Once I had the time and got into the novel, I was hooked. It was everything I said above – engaging, modern (really timely plot) and smart.

Deberry and Grant gave us real characters with real problems – there were challenges, but they didn’t seem contrived. Big enough to propel the story, but not so far fetched that I didn’t connect with the characters.

By the time I learned what Avery’s secret was, I was aching to know.

And somehow, I felt sad for Dwight. I feel I should have hated him outright, but it didn’t happen that way. In fact, I think he got a raw deal and no one could show him how else to handle it.

When you read the book, make sure to read the author’s letter at the end. And do save it until the end. It’s a nice essay about the role place can play in a novel. The setting isn’t just a backdrop – it should be a dynamic part of the work.

Now that I’m reading again, I’m looking forward to getting some of the books I’ve missed and am hearing good things about. I think Attica Locke’s Blackwater Uprising has next. I’ll have to see if anyone has it in stock today. Others on my list are Wench, by Dolen Perkins - Valdez, Tiphanie Yanique's collection, and Leonard Pitts' debut novel.

What else should I check for?