It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/6/14


Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the kidlit version of this weekly meme.

This week on my blog, I wrapped up my reading year and shared my favorites of 2013. I wrote about my reading goals for 2014 and came up with a fun list of books for Carrie’s #MustReadin2014 challenge. (PS: It’s not too late to write your own list and join us!) I also shared 5 things I loved about last week and a longer-than-usual Sunday Salon post of links to interesting online reading.

I also read a lot last week–and mostly really good books:

kelsey green

I read Claudia Mills’s Kelsey Green, Reading Queen aloud to my older son.  He couldn’t relate to Kelsey’s reading obsession, but he does like contests, winning, and trophies, so he could really get behind her need to win the reading contest and have her name on a plaque. In some ways, this book made me cringe because this is exactly what I don’t like to see schools doing with reading–making it into a competition to try to get kids to read more. But I have to confess that Kelsey is exactly who I was in third grade. I would have wanted the gold star for reading the most, so Claudia Mills gets it right. I am looking forward to the other books in this new series.

tea party rules

No wonder Ame Dyckman’s hilarious Tea Party Rules (illustrated by K.G. Campbell) is showing up on Favorites of 2013 lists: it’s so good! I thought my older son might find this one a little too young, but he declared it a 5-star read, and I agree!

story of pale male

I didn’t love Jeanette Winter’s Tale of Pale Male, but I did love how it sparked my son’s curiosity about urban hawks. We spent some quality time looking at photos and videos of Pale Male and also discovered that he’s still alive and doing well in NYC!

zen ghosts

Zen Ghosts is a book that I like and appreciate more and more the more I reflect on it. Which is kind of appropriate for a story with a zen koan at the center.  And the illustrations are absolutely magnificent.

dunderheads behind bars

This was the only book I read this week that I really didn’t like. Still, David Roberts’s illustrations are vivid and fun.

hyperbole and a half

I finished one of my Christmas books, Hyperbole and a Half. It didn’t matter that I’ve read a number of these pieces on Allie Brosh’s blog. They were just as good the second (or third or fourth) time around. The God of Cake and Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving are two of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Brosh also has a couple of moving and smart pieces about depression. I have no idea how Brosh manages to make such simple drawings so incredibly expressive. Simple Dog is one of my all-time favorite characters. 

day i became

I first read Kendall Hailey’s memoir, The Day I Became an Autodidact, when it was published in 1989 or so. It was directly responsible for my decision to take a year (or two) off between high school and college to do nothing (much) except read and write. Thanks, Mom, for funding my years off! Hailey graduates early from high school and decides to become an autodidact rather than go to college. She reads voraciously, writes, paints, travels, watches a lot of old movies, sees a lot of plays, and acts. There is a lot in this book about happiness and how to live a good life and what family is all about. Hailey is really at her best, I think, writing about her family. After you’ve read The Day I Became an Autodidact, you’re going to want to know what Kendall has been doing for the last 25 years. Check out Book Riot’s interview: Rediscovering a Writer: Whatever Happened to Kendall Hailey? I want to read her collection of essays! Someone publish it!

one for the murphys

I started Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s middle-grade novel, One for the Murphys, a few months ago and abandoned it. It made me mad. I didn’t believe it. I thought that Carley’s emotional transformation happened much too fast and much too easily. She’s in the foster system after experiencing some pretty intense abuse, but it takes her foster mom almost no time to win her over. I wasn’t reading this book from Carley’s perspective but from Mrs. Murphy’s, and as the mom to two traumatized kids adopted from another country’s equivalent of a foster care system, I know that it takes years for kids to begin to trust and love and attach. But then, mostly in a last-minute effort to finish some of the books I’d started in 2013, I decided to give the book another chance, and I’m so glad I did, because it’s very well-written and thoughtful. This is going to be an important book for many kids.

inside writer's reader's notebook no more independent reading

I read two professional development books this week, which I plan to review later in the week.

And now my favorite book of the week:


I loved Nina LaCour’s YA novel, The Disenchantments, so so much. Whenever I really love a book, I can’t articulate why. I just want to thrust copies into people’s hands and grunt loudly at them and maybe wave my arms around, because really, I have no words. It’s just really, really good, and you should go read it right now.

I have one more week of break before I go back to work, though I do have a lot of work to do–like four new syllabi to write! But all those hours I would normally be teaching are hours I can mostly spend reading this week. Yay!

18 thoughts on “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/6/14

  1. Some great reading here! I do agree that the competitive Kelsey was “done right”, even if we might not want that behavior with kids. I loved the first Dunderheads, but I’m with you on the second one. It just felt so forced and missed all the humor I loved from the first one. I’m glad that you got to finish One for the Murphys and I really appreciate hearing how you, as an adoptive mother, reacted to the book. The kids I shared it with have really enjoyed it, so I hope that at some level it’s building the right kind of empathy for kids in those situations.

    • What happened with the second Dunderheads book?! I wanted to abandon it in mid-read, but forced myself through to the end. Great point about the potential of One for the Murphys to build empathy! I’m so glad Claudia Mills is rather prolific because I really like her books.

  2. I’ve not read Kelsey Green Reading Queen, but it does bring up some interesting thoughts. I too agree that reading should not be a competition pitting students against each other, as there is certainly not equal footing for them to all begin on. On the other hand, there are so many kids that would so love the chance to compete in what they are strong in: being readers. Athletes get chances to compete, but we don’t want readers to. Just a rambling thought!

  3. I’ll look for Tea Party Rules, have seen it reviewed well before. I want to tell you that The Day I Became An Autodidact was so important in my daughter’s (& our) lives. It’s a long story, but it enabled her to work with the system & start college early instead of remaining in h.s. which she hated. And on. I’ll go right over to read the interview-loved the book, think many kids might still like to read it! So glad you’re going to join the #MustReadin2014 group, but I also suspect we all will impact each others’ book budget! Thanks Elisabeth!

    • Linda, I’m so excited to find another reader of The Day I Became an Autodidact!! I’ve reread the book countless times since I first encountered it at the age of 16 or so. I read it in the spring of my senior year, so it came just a little bit too late for me to do something different with high school–which I, too, hated! But at least I took some time off before starting college. So glad your daughter was able to start college early! And I agree with you about book budgets. I told myself very strictly and forcefully that I was NOT going to buy any more books for 3 months–gotta get my credit card paid off. And two days ago I placed yet another order, mostly fully of books I saw on people’s lists! BUT NOW I am going to get very serious about that 3-month moratorium! LOL.

  4. Visiting your blog for the first time! Thanks for the great book list! I have One for the Murphy’s on my #Mustreadin2014 list after reading the Nerdy Book club post about it. Interesting that you initially didn’t enjoy it. Tea Party Rules looks great – I’ve read other reviews on it so I’m excited to read it! I’m a huge fan of Jon Muth – and love all of his Zen books. I think my favorite book of his is The Three Questions. I have enjoyed other Jeanette Winter books but don’t know this one at all – is it new? I’ll have to check it out! Happy Reading Week!

    • I don’t think I’ve read The Three Questions yet, so will try to get that from the library this week. The art is just phenomenal in these books. I could have looked at Zen Ghosts all day! I have enjoyed the other Jeanette Winter books I’ve read more than The Tale of Pale Male (which I think is a few years old), but I really think my issue with this book was that I wanted to be reading one of the other two PBs on Pale Male (Meghan McCarthy’s City Hawk and Janet Schulman’s Pale Male with gorgeous illustrations by Meilo So) but my library doesn’t have them. It’s still a fascinating story! I think you’ll like Tea Party Rules–clever and sweet. Love those #MustReadin2014 lists!!

  5. I accepted the grunt review and just requested Disenchantments from the library! 🙂 I was very interested in your reaction to One for the Murphy’s – my reaction/connection was to do with knowing so many foster parents and children in foster care. Some years I have had a third of my class in foster care at some points of the year. I have known some really incredible foster parents. Some, not so good at all. So challenging. This book, for me was quite emotional. So interesting how we all come at books. I just got Not this but That (Miller book) and will be reading it with my Teacher Librarian in a mini professional book club. I look forward to beginning. Have a great reading week! Loved reading your post this week. Lots here 🙂

    • Wow, a third of your class! That makes your role as their teacher even more important! You bring a stability and routine and practice of love & caring that may be absent on a daily basis for so many of your students. I really did end up liking One for the Murphy’s, but it also made me long to read a grittier book on the same topic. But maybe the world of children’s literature isn’t ready for children who try to stab their parents with a knife!! Will be very interested to read your thoughts on the Debbie Miller book!

  6. What a great selection of books this week! I’m definitely going to have to check out ZEN GHOSTS. I’m quite intrigued by that one.

    I used Linda Rief’s specially designed writer’s-reader’s notebooks in my classroom for five years and I really love them (though I wished there were more pages in the notes section). I still have a few extra empty ones that I use as my own writer’s-reader’s notebook.

    • I’m writing a review of Inside the Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook right now–not a favorite of mine. I haven’t gotten my hands on the actual notebook that was designed to go along with the professional development book. I wonder if I would like Inside the Writer’s Reader’s Notebook more if I were using the notebooks in my class. Will have to do a little Googling before I finish up my review. Thanks for sending me off in a new direction with this book!

  7. Oh dear Elisabeth, such great books you have here, as per usual. Kelsey Green idneed sounds like my kind of girl. I was just wondering that except for The Boy who Loved Words, we have few male protagonists who are openly-reading or who are proud to be book-readers, well not as much as Kelsey. I also enjoyed Jon Muth’s Zen series, I think I must have read all three at one go. The Day I Became an Autodidact sounds like a fascinating read, and great to know about your time off just to do a great deal of reading. I think that break is valuable for most, as it gives people space to discover who they really are and what they truly want in life. Do join us as well for the check off your reading list challenge for more booklove and fellow readers as cheerleaders! Pretty similar to Carrie’s #mustreadin2014 which we are joining too! 🙂 Have a great reading week.

    • Great question about the lack of male protagonists who are passionate readers. I’ve noticed that too. Now I’m trying to think of ANY books that qualify. Hmm, might have to turn to my nerdy PLN and ask about this one. I feel like picture books are gender balanced (though that’s only based on an impression, not any kind of evidence!, but I know that at my local-ish bookstore (everything in South Dakota is local-ish!), the early readers and more advanced series sections of the bookstore are absolutely stuffed with pink sparkly books. It’s very challenging for me to find books to buy for my boys there. Boy protagonists of any kind in literary middle-grade fiction seem kind of scarce too. I’ve been planning to join the Check Off Your Reading List challenge. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. I LOVE Tea Party Rules! I was so glad it turned up in our JLG box at work. I enjoyed One for the Murphys, and my students definitely like it. Even though she changes quickly, I think reading the story is especially valuable for my very privileged middle class students.

    • I am so glad I saw Tea Party Rules on several “favorites of 2013” lists. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have gotten it at the library because the cover art wasn’t immediately appealing. But I loved the story and the art once I started reading it. Glad to hear your students enjoy One for the Murphys. It’s one I’ll be book-talking early in the semester in my Children’s Lit class, as I think I have lots of students who would like it too.

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