It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 3/31/14 #imwayr



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

This week on my blog:

This week in reading:

beauty queens

I am no longer afraid of my YA Shelf of Shame! I finished Beauty Queens this week and I’m currently in the middle of I Am the Messenger and Grasshopper Jungle, and I have to say that my gentle readers were right: there are a lot of excellent books on my shelf! Beauty Queens is batshit insane. There’s really no other way to put it. It’s got the highest of high concepts: a plane of beauty queens crash lands on a deserted island. It’s the anti-Lord of the Flies! But Bray ramps the plot up even more with an evil corporation, a delusional dictator, and a ship load of reality tv show pirates. I am not one to use the word rollicking to describe, well, anything, but this is a rollicking book if ever there was one. It’s stuffed to the seams with satire, but there is also a serious and thoughtful analysis of gender roles and identity. I listened to it on audio, brilliantly narrated by Bray herself, and I have discovered that everything is funnier when you say it in Tiara’s voice. Please tell me that Bray narrates some of her other books, because I’d listen to her read anything! My husband is listening to it now and also loving it. (He has discovered that everything is funnier when you say it in MoMo B. Cha Cha’s voice.)

buried bones mystery

I am always on the lookout for chapter books featuring African-American characters, and I felt like I hit the mother lode in this series by Sharon M. Draper, which features four African-American boys who work together to solve a mystery. I read this book aloud to my older son, who is not ready to read this one on his own yet. I didn’t find this book particularly engaging in terms of plot, character, or writing, but he seemed to like it quite well and get caught up in the mystery. My second-grader will be able to read this one independently, so I’ll be giving it to him next.

We shared a lot of picture books together last week, and I’ll highlight some here:


After seeing it on several #imwayr lists last week, I couldn’t wait for a library trip and had to order a copy of Sparky! for myself, and I am so glad I did. I read it aloud three times in 24 hours to different audiences and adored it each and every time.

lesters dreadful sweaters

I have to be honest: my son hated this book. But I ADORED it! K.G. Campbell’s illustrations of the dreadful sweaters that Lester’s Cousin Clara can knit so lickety-split are wonderfully weird, and the story of how Lester inadvertently found an outlet for his Cousin Clara’s questionable talent is quirky and charming.

best friends forever

I checked out the third Bink & Gollie book for one of my students in Children’s Literature, but when my son saw it, he wanted me to read it to him again. So I did. I don’t think it’s nearly as strong as the first two books, but there is still so much charm in Tony Fucile’s illustrations.

very smart pea

How could there be a Mini Grey book I didn’t know about??!! Carrie Gelson clued me in, I clicked a few times on my computer, and two days later, there I was reading The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-To-Be, which is utterly delightful as all Grey’s books are and also a very strong fractured fairy tale.

fabian escapes

I am so in love with Peter McCarty’s art. The contrast between Hondo’s day inside and Fabian’s day outside is amusing, and there is something so wonderful about Fabian’s wedge shape.

enemy pie

Enemy Pie, written by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King, is a delightful and clever story about how to turn an enemy into a friend. My son was telling me last night about a girl at school who wrote up her enemy list (he was not on it, thankfully, though he had teased her earlier in the year and hurt her feelings), and we agreed that she needed someone to make an enemy pie for the three kids who were on it. Think I’ll read this one aloud in Children’s Lit this week.

what does it mean to be presentWhat Does It Mean to Be Present?, written by Rana DiOrio and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, helps children understand the value of living in the present moment. Another one I want to share in Children’s Lit.

dog and bear two friends

I was very excited to find one of Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Dog and Bear stories at the library. I love these stories for early readers. It is so hard to get the language right in a book like this–simple but not simplistic–and especially hard, I think, to write a story that equally engages a child and an adult reader. Dog and Bear nails it perfectly.

dream carver

Dream Carver, written by Diane Cohn and colorfully illustrated by Amy Cordova, tells a story inspired by the real-life artists of Oaxaca, Mexico, who carve large, whimsically painted wooden animals. I liked the message here about imagination and pursuing your dreams, and Cohn incorporates a number of Spanish words into the text.

my pal victor

My Pal, Victor, written by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and illustrated by Robert L. Sweetland, is a dual-language English-Spanish book about two friends who enjoy doing everything together. At the end of the story, you find out the friend is in a wheelchair. This book has a strong positive message about people with disabilities, but it is unfortunately seriously marred by the illustrations, which are inconsistent and often poorly drawn.

my colors my world

Another dual-language English-Spanish book, Maya Christina Gonzalez’s My Colors, My World celebrates the joy of finding vivid colors even in a monochromatic desert landscape. I found this story a bit inconclusive (the final line doesn’t quite work to bring closure), but the illustrations are lush and beautiful.

papa and mePapa and Me, written by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, celebrates the love between a father and son as it details the different activities the two enjoy together throughout a day. Gutierrez’s illustrations are pleasingly trippy, and Dorros incorporates Spanish words throughout the text which are seamlessly clarified in English.

henris scissors

I have decided that Jeannette Winter’s nonfiction picture books are very hit or miss for me. I should have loved Henri’s Scissors, because it incorporates several of my favorite picture book elements: it’s about an artist trying something new; it’s about inspiration, imagination, and following your dreams; there’s a cat; there are folk-art style pictures. But it fell flat for me, and I’m not sure why. I am going to have to read it again and try to figure out why I didn’t like it. And although I thought the final spread was lovely, sending the main character off to heaven at the end creates a bit of an issue for non-Christian readers.

ugly cute animals

I couldn’t resist buying Ugly Cute Animals at the Scholastic Book Fair. It has a sloth on the cover! I love sloths! Not all of the animals in this book actually qualify as ugly and cute: llamas, for example, may have ugly dispositions but I don’t think anyone would call them ugly, and while the fennec has large ears, it is only adorable. Perhaps the writers should have googled ugly cute animals and tried to include some of the homely faces that pop up! Still, there are lots of good photos and enough information to engage early readers.

My Wednesday nonfiction picture book post will focus on four more excellent titles that we read this week:

elizabeth leads the way how ben franklin stole the lightning noisy paint boxdizzy


Reading Goal Updates

Nerdbery Challenge: 0/12 books

#MustReadin2014: 6/15 books

YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 1/12 books

Professional Development Reading Goal: 2/12 books

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 32/100 books

Picture Book Reading Goal: 142/350 books

Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 11/100 books

YA Lit Reading Goal: 15/60 books

Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 13/12 books

Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 49/200




19 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 3/31/14 #imwayr”

  1. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    Wow, girl. You had an epic reading week. So much to comment on! First of all, I did not realize there was a sequel to Hondo and Fabian so I must seek that one out immediately!

    LOVED Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters. So hilarious and clever. How come your son didn’t like it?

    And Beauty Queens… sadly Bray does not narrate any of her other audiobooks but all of her other audiobooks have AMAZING narrators. The narrator for The Diviners is absolute perfection. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out so I can listen to her again. But yes, Libba is a rockstar audiobook narrator. One of my favorite moments at NCTE in Vegas was meeting her and telling her, “You know, if this author thing doesn’t work out you can totally make it as an audiobook narrator.” I felt very proud of myself that that gave everyone around me a good laugh. 😛

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Great quick thinking at NCTE! I am just bowled over by the brilliance of the audiobook. I am going to try Bovine on audio next, I think, though it’s too bad she doesn’t narrate it herself! (Well, after I finish I Am the Messenger, which I am loving on audio.) My son is probably the least quirksome person I have ever met. He almost never loves the quirky books (Sparky! left him cold too. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? He also thinks sloths are gross, so maybe that’s part of it?). I was very surprised to find Fabian Escapes at the library, as I had no idea there was a sequel either. Total serendipity–which is one thing I love about libraries. My son and I read a lot last week–he kept asking for “just one more” story each night, and I can’t resist that, as he knows all too well!

  2. nerdybookgirl Avatar

    I need to check out the Libba Bray book. I like her Great and Terrible Beauty series although I don’t think I finished the last book. Must re-read that as well!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I didn’t finish the Great & Terrible Beauty series either, tho I did like the first book. I am not a huge series fan in general. I have tried to reading Going Bovine many times and abandoned, but now that I have finished and loved Beauty Queens, I’ll definitely be trying Bovine again!

  3. Michele Avatar

    I just came upon Enemy Pie today! Loved it, like the dad’s thinking 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Loved this title too! Definitely one that’s sticking with me.

  4. Crystal Avatar

    I adored Libba Bray reading Beauty Queens. She is awesome! I thought Sparky was fun too. Wow! You read a ton of books this week. I had to add What Does it Mean to Be Present to my reading list. Have a great week.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I need to reread What Does It Mean to Be Present–because apparently I wasn’t very present when I was reading it, since I barely remember it one week later! 🙂

  5. Linda Baie Avatar

    What a lot of great books, Elisabeth. I just found Going Bovine at a favorite used bookstore. May not get to it soon, but I will. Maybe the way to go is more audio? I see a lot of talk about Grasshopper Jungle, & am glad you’re feeling better about the YA. I can’t seem to keep up, but I do love all those books! Your picture books look good. I understand about the sweater book & your son, but bet I will love it too! I’ve also seen Dog and Bear-will look for it, looks very cute. Thanks, Elisabeth!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I agree, Linda–so hard to keep up with YA. I do a much better job keeping up with what’s new and important in children’s and middle-grade. I try to hit the highlights with YA and have some familiarity with new titles, but I wish I had more time to read the books. I found Going Bovine on my shelf last week–didn’t even realize I owned it! So I’m ready to go with it, though I may try audio first.

  6. carriegelson Avatar

    First of all congratulations for starting to tackle that YA shelf of shame and what a book to begin with. I remember reading this book a few years ago and thinking the same thing – Whoa! Seriously? Lord of the Flies flavour sort of not really but . . . What a book. LOVED Sparky! And so glad that you are also a Mini Grey fan! I adore the book Enemy Pie as well. Just so good.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I am definitely feeling much better about tackling my YA Shelf of Shame! Wish high school teachers would start offering Beauty Queens instead of Lord of the Flies. Such a tedious book. But perhaps I would have loved it had I not had my high school English teacher beating us over the head with the search for symbolism.

  7. ipushbooks Avatar

    Batshit insane is also an apt description for Grasshopper Jungle. Oh, how I loved that book! Interesting that you mentioned that book and Libba Bray in the same paragraph. I recently wrote that Grasshopper Jungle is perhaps the best YA book I’ve read since Going Bovine. Try giving that another shot–you’ll probably be in the mood for it now 🙂 I also enjoyed Beauty Queens–esp. the campiness–but I think Going Bovine is her masterpiece.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You have sold me on Going Bovine! Moving it up in the TBR stack! I had to put Grasshopper Jungle down to finish a couple of books for my Contemporary Lit class but I’m so eager to get back to it–loving it!

  8. Myra GB Avatar

    Oh wow, I don’t even know where to begin here, Elizabeth, you’ve read so many great books the past week, I am positively envious! Great to see your list of picturebook biographies too – will definitely add them to my list. I’ve read a lot of good things about Libba Bray’s writing, but haven’t had a chance to read any yet, her YA novels are just so dauntingly-thick! But your review of Beauty Queens convinced me that I should really give her novels a try. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Myra, I know just what you think about these dauntingly thick YA novels. Many of the books on my YA Shelf of Shame are gigantic! No wonder I keep putting them off! I am loving the picture book biographies this year–just can’t get enough of those. My son and I are learning about all kinds of wonderful and interesting lives!

  9. Earl @ The Chronicles Of A Children's Book Writer Avatar

    Sparky is such a winner! What Does it Mean to Be Present seems interesting. I wonder if it’s like Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda by Lauren Alderfer. Have you read that one? Mindfulness is introduced to younger readers in this interesting picture book.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Sparky is making the rounds in my children’s lit class right now. Everyone loves it. Except, you know, my own kid. I haven’t read Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda, but will definitely check it out. I am always looking for engaging titles that introduce younger readers to calming techniques!

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