At our last meeting we began with the novel-in-verse: Booked by Kwame Alexander. We all agreed that the premise of this book was nothing new: a middle school kid passionate about a sport, with a crush on a girl, a terrible teacher and a nice librarian, a best friend with whom he competed, parents contemplating a divorce, and other 'stuff' that had been done before -- again and again -- in books for young readers. However -- we agreed that this story -- told in very short and tight poems, with a minimum of words, condensed so that only the most necessary details were revealed -- was well done by Alexander. We also liked the footnotes related to various words that Nick had to learn, given that his dad was a linguist. Half of us loved the book; the other half didn't hate it, but were less enthused. One reader who is not a big fan of novels in verse wasn't thrilled with it, but as a horse-lover she was at least pleased that the section where Nick takes his 'crush', April, on a date to ride horses was accurate as it described how to take care of a horse. We also liked the fact that it mentioned many other important books for kids throughout the story, even though a bit gratuitously. We agreed that it would be good for reluctant readers because of its brevity, and also for readers with short attention spans, since they could just read a few poems at a time. Some felt that Alexander's previous book, the 2015 Newbery Award winner The Crossover was a better book overall.
We had mixed reactions on the picture book, The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window by Jeff Gottesfeld; illus. by Peter McCarty. We all agreed at first that the brown ink drawings provided an appropriately somber mood for this World War II story. However, upon further discussion, we decided that maybe it might have been better if there had been a bit of color -- specifically in the depictions of this chestnut tree which was the only thing Anne Frank could see from her window as she and her family were sequestered/hidden in the rear annex of her father's factory in Amsterdam. We felt that some color would have added more to the story, since the tree seemed to be one thing that brought joy to Anne. One of our readers, who is also an artist/illustrator pointed out that the illustrations related specifically to the war -- the Nazi soldiers invading the city, the bombers flying overhead -- were drawn at a slant, as if everything was topsy-turvy and 'out of whack'. We had a problem with the personification of the tree as a 'she,' and felt the story would have been stronger told in a different voice. We also wondered what would be the best age for a young reader of this book, given some of the unpleasant subject matter related to Anne and her family. We also thought it would be useful for middle school and even high school kids as an introduction to Anne Frank and her story, and it might encourage them to read Anne Frank's diary. We were pleased that the excellent 'Afterword' at the end of the book contained more details about Anne Frank, her family, the saving of her diary, and the tree itself. We learned that this specific tree had been struck by a lightning bolt, and after repeated efforts to save it over a ten year period, had died in 2010. However it was heartwarming to learn that saplings of this tree have been planted in 11 locations throughout the U.S. and in other places around the world. We were glad we had read this little-known story about one very significant tree.