Thursday, January 19, 2012

Morris the Third: Nonfiction

Okay! A whirlwind round-up of the last third of the titles, since my ride to the airport will be here in half an hour.

Swirl by Swirl, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes

Wow. This is a match made in author/illustrator heaven. Krommes's exuberant scratchboard illustrations fit seamlessly with Sidman's poetic text, combining to emphasize the power, grace, and ubiquity of nature's spirals. Each page is filled with things to discover, without being too busy or overwhelming. The text is lyrical while still remaining perfectly accessible to a K-2 audience, and while still managing to impart an impressive amount of good information (expanded upon by the author's note at the end).

Possible awards? Perfectly eligible for Caldecott and Sibert, say I.

Coral Reefs, by Jason Chin

The watercolor illustrations are ingenious. The text, in comparison, is a bit pedestrian. Sam thinks the text is uneven in terms of reading level as well, but I haven't examined it closely enough, on the sentence level, to know whether I agree.

Possible awards? I'd be surprised if this placed anywhere, though the illustrations are commendable.

Amelia Lost, by Candace Fleming

Another one that's at the top of many Newbery lists, but I'm not seeing it. It does what it does very well, but I think Sam has managed to convince me that it doesn't actually rise to the level of "literature." I think if you're looking for literary nonfiction, Swirl by Swirl is actually closer to the mark.

But! It is very, very good. I can only imagine how difficult it is to create suspense in a story where the reader knows the ending going in, but Fleming does. She also deals with the less pleasant aspects of Earhart's life and personality unflinchingly, but gracefully. A perfectly paced, information-packed examination of a fascinating woman.

Possible awards? I mark it "Sibert" but maybe the Newbery committee will disagree with me.

Heart and Soul, by Kadir Nelson 

I think I have the same problem with this book that Sam has with Coral Reefs. In taking on a very ambitious project - a chronicle of all of American history through the eyes of African Americans - I think Nelson struggles to find his footing in terms of tone. The narrator's point-of-view limits - or should limit - the vocabulary she uses, so it feels awkward to me when she's telling anecdotes one moment and spitting out a page full of facts and dates the next. I think this worked better with the collective narrator of We Are the Ship.

The illustrations, of course, are gorgeous. They are also very static. This may be a deliberate choice - the creation of a sort of African-American National Portrait Gallery. Either way, it does lend the book a different feeling than more dynamic illustrations would give it.

Possible awards? Caldecott, Sibert (though is it strictly nonfiction?), Coretta Scott King.

And with that... I'm off to Dallas!

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