My Reading Life
My reading life began in a language other than English. I was born in Brazil and lived there until 2002, so most of the books I read, except when learning English, were in Portuguese. Some of my fondest memories while growing up were weekly visits to the central library in my home town of Curitiba. My mom would take my two brothers and I, and we would browse the shelves and pick out three books at a time, have our reading cards stamped, and go home with our treasures. After reading each book, my mom would make us fill out a report card describing the plot and our impressions of it. I must confess that I wasn’t a big fan of this part and thankfully the practice didn’t last long, but the reading did. Growing up I loved to read, but the illustrations interested me just as much because I was drawing all the time by the age of six or seven. Some of the authors I enjoyed as a kid where Ruth Rocha, Ana Maria Machado, Monteiro Lobato. When I was seven, my mom took my brother and I to our first book signing of an author and cartoonist called Ziraldo. He is still around and I am a huge fan of his work. Ziraldo autographed a book called “O Menino Maluquinho” for my brother. The book has become a classic Brazilian children’s story about a very kind and energetic, but not-so-well behaved little boy. The format is a mixture of picture book and comic, all in black-and-white, with minimalistic but very expressive line drawings. Its a thing of beauty. Unfortunately my attempts to convince my brother to give the book to me have all been unsuccessful.
Reading in English started when I was learning the language in school, and included a little bit of Mark Twain and efforts to decipher Shakespeare. In high school I spent a year abroad in Canada and that’s when my English skills really improved. I was part of the drama troupe and we put on a production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” I remember vividly when some of the verses would finally make sense to me instead of sounding like an alien language.
During college, my reading interests were broad and unfocused, from school-requirements such as classic Machado de Assis to the beautiful poetry of Fernando Pessoa and Carlos Drummond de Andrade which I still enjoy a lot. I also read translations to Portuguese of “On The Road,” for example, or “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Marcia Marques, or “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera.
After I moved to the United States in 2002, my husband introduced me to some classics from Hemingway, Steinbeck, and James M. Cain. But I have also enjoyed novels like “Life of Pi,” “The God of Small Things,” anything by Nick Hornby, “Time Traveler’s Wife,” “Swamplandia.” I just finished Steve Job’s biography (which I highly recommend) and plan to start “The Hunger Games” (albeit after everyone else).
As a children’s book illustrator, I have been collecting children’s books over the past 10 years. It took having a child (my first son was born in 2007) to get me to actually read the books with more attention. This really impacted my critical sense. Words and illustration in a good picture book take turns in telling the story, so they can’t be considered separately. Our collection is huge and way too long to list here, but some great ones that come to mind that my boys an I both enjoy are “Tickets to Ride” by Mark Rogalsky, “Grandpa Green” by Lane Smith (my favorite of last year – absolutely remarkable), “Cars Galore” by Peter Stein and Bob Staake, “Baloon Farm” by Jerdine Nolen and Mark Buehner (and anything by Caralyn and Mark Buehner), “Psst!” by Adam Rex, anything by Mark Teague, “How I Became a Pirate” by Melinda Long and David Shannon, anything by Peter Brown and “Deep Sea Doctor Dean” by Leo Timmers. Other new and notable ones and big hits in our house are “Press Here” by Herve Tullet, and “Shadow” by Suzy Lee (I’m in absolute awe of this author/illustrator ). An older one but also favorite is “Bootsie Barker Bites,” the boys laugh out lout at it and so do I!
It is such a pleasure to read to my boys now – both in Portuguese and in English as they are fully bilingual – and I hope they will grow up to become avid readers too. I think it is starting to happen even though they still can’t read – when we lose track of time and bed time gets a little too late and we try to tuck them in without reading books first, they let us know loud and vehemently that reading time is non-negotiable. Happy reading to all!
LUCIANA NAVARRO-POWELL is an illustrator, designer, busy mother of two very young children, and wife of a playful guy. She has illustrated several books for children, and wrote and illustrated My Dad Is the Best Playground, a companion to this book. She lives in San Diego, California.