This was a book I knew I needed to be in the right place emotionally to read. Which I did, at last, yesterday.
And I thought it magnificent.
While I’ve read and admired other works by Reynolds, this may well be my favorite to date. The man has a way with language that is remarkable. Structured as a series of experiences/encounters/events for fifteen year old Will as he heads down in an elevator to take revenge on his brother’s killer, Long Way Down is powerful, gut-wrenching, and, all and all, extraordinary. Reynolds weaves together what happened, what is going through Will’s mind and his body, glimpses of the pain of others (notably his mother), layering who Will is within his progression down and engagements with a series of people from the past, some close to him, all connected to him somehow. The sensory details are blowing in your face, literally as many of the visitors are smoking, but vividly and viscerally throughout. The boy’s fear, anger, confusion, and pain are communicated in a myriad of ways, obvious and not. Reynolds plays with words in so many ways — with titles, with placement on the page, with anagrams (and these were so perfect and that isn’t always the case when writers try to do them), and far more.
This has definitely shot to the top of my list of favorites of the year.
Ironically, 2017 was both challenging and good for me. The challenges came in politics, in world events, in grappling with my privilege, in recognizing my need to change, in tense conversations, in pain global and personal. The good was because I was on sabbatical for seven of the twelve months, a happy and productive time that brought me back to school this fall refreshed. I don’t have resolutions as such, but here are some words I’m living by these days and will do so all the more deliberately and consciously in 2018:
- I’m listening a lot as I follow difficult and important conversations about diversity, race, identity, gender, and more.
- I’m pondering what I thought I knew, what I thought was true, and how to reconcile this for me today.
- I’m avoiding assumptions.
- I’m trying to be more outspoken and more visible as an ally — hard for me as both an introvert and shy in unfamiliar situations.
- I’m learning always, reaching out to know more in areas that are necessary for me as a person, human being, teacher, world citizen, and more.
- I’m reading out of my comfort zone.
- I’m leaning into discomfort — to be honest, trying to.
- I’m regularly rethinking my teaching so it better serves all my students.
- I’m still championing and drawing attention to Sierra Leone in particular and other parts of Africa that I don’t know as well too.
- I’m trying hard to be always willing to change.
Reading Roger’s Sutton’s post about Patrick McDonnell’s Caldecott chances for his delightful The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way)*, made me think fondly of McDonnell’s illustrations for the Mac Barnett-penned The Skunk which I, along with my follow jurors Marjorie Ingall and Frank Viva, honored with a New York Times Best Illustrated nod back in 2015. Both these books and other work by McDonnell have always felt to me full of sly homages to the George Herriman comic, Krazy Kat which ran from 1913 to 1944. So today I did some poking around a bit and learned that MacDonnell is a longtime and serious fan, witness his 1986 Krazy Kat: the Comic Art of George Herriman (You can read an essay adapted from the book here). And then, for another layer, I came across Gabrielle Bellot’s “The Gender Fluidity of Krazy Kat” and Chris Ware’s “To Walk in Beauty”, reviews of Michael Tisserand’s recent award-winning biography Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White. In these I learned that both gender fluidity and race are aspects of this ground-breaking comic that so clearly inspires Patrick MacDonnell.
I mean, just take a look at McDonnell’s little cat:
Here’s a taste of Herriman’s strip, one from 1917 in which Krazy gives pal Ignatz a smooch.
Here they are side by side:
A wonderful added bit of depth to a worthy Caldecott contender this year.
*Check out this delightful video of a book chat I was honored to feature, between Mcdonnell and Victoria Stapleton.
Here are ten of the many beautiful, thoughtful, and intriguing indie press books that I have loved and not mentioned (I don’t think) here yet this year. They’d all make spectacular gifts for the season. Please do check them out, my other indie spotlight posts, and the many other wonderful books coming from the vibrant independent publishers world.
Do seek out Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini’s rollicking Chicken in the Kitchen from Lantana.
From Toon Books there is Liniers’ delightful Good Night, Planet featuring a toy’s nighttime adventures.
Gecko Press gives us Chatharina Valckx and Nicolas Hubesch’s utterly charming chapter book/picture book hybrid: Bruno: Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far.
Akiko Miyakoshi’s The Way Home in the Dark from Kids Can Press is a dreamy picture book featuring a bunny mother and child making their way home through a dark city to bed.
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee with art by Man One is a vivid celebration of food truck culture in L. A. and comes to us from Readers to Eaters.
Inspired by Psalm 21, Nikki Grimes and Bryan Collier have collaborated for Eerdmans on a moving and gorgeous story of bullying and understanding, The Watcher.
Don’t miss Anushka Ravishankar and Chrstiane Pieper’s too funny HIC! from Tara Books.
From Elsewhere Editions there is Feather an elegant picture book by the distinguished creators, writer Cao Wenxuan and illustrator Roger Mello.
We are fortunate that Tilbury House has brought out the first North American edition of Brazilian Rogério Coelho’s wordless reverie, the surreal Boat of Dreams.
The absorbing picture book biography, Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone , written by Alice Brière-Haquet and illustrated by Bruno Liance, comes to us from Charlesbridge.
This is always a terrific list. You can see the list in greater detail (with covers and lengthy annotations) here. Congratulations to all involved, judges and creators alike.