It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 4/14/14 #imwayr


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

On my blog this week:

I read so many good books this week:

i am the messengerI finished listening to I Am the Messenger on audio. Markus Zusak has been all over my YA Shelf of Shame, but no longer! This is a book I have started at least half a dozen times and always abandoned, though I can’t imagine why, because it’s absorbing and engaging from the very beginning. There is nothing heroic about our hero, Ed Kennedy. He’s overwhelmingly an underachiever. In the first scene, he thwarts a robbery; after that, he begins to receive playing cards in the mail with people’s names and addresses on them–people who need help in some kind of way. And Ed figures out what they need and helps them. Though it’s not nearly so easy as my description makes it sound. The book is really about how Ed discovers that he wants something more from himself and from his life and how he realizes that he is actually capable of that something more. I did think the role of Audrey was incredibly underwritten: it’s difficult to see why Ed pines for her, and equally difficult to root for the two of them getting together at the end. At least for me. But wow. What a book. Really, really good. There is also some terrific Ed Kennedy fan art online that I happened to see this morning–put a smile on my face.

half a chance

After I finished Half a Chance on Friday, I moped around the house wondering what else I could possibly ever read that would be half so pleasing to me as this book was. It has everything I love in a book: a strong setting (lake country in New Hampshire–very near where I used to live); memorable characters (Lucy is an aspiring photographer who is once again the new kid in town and who is struggling with the fact that her famous photographer father prioritizes his career over his family); and themes worth grappling with (art, family, friendship, aging, memory loss, animal conservation). Lord packs a lot into this slim novel, but she is always in control of the material. An affecting and deeply satisfying book.

true blue scouts

I assuaged my sadness over finishing Half a Chance by picking up The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, which I had started last month and needed to finish. Unlike Half a Chance, True Blue Scouts is filled with all kinds of things I do not like in a book: quirk to the extreme (I like quirk, but a little goes a long way), Southern accents galore (one of the main characters is named J’miah, for heaven’s sake), talking animals (talking animals WITH Southern accents, no less), absurdly exaggerated villains, swamps, Yeti-like creatures, and extensive direct address to the reader. But no matter. I loved it. It totally worked for me.

chasing cheetahsA new Sy Montgomery-Nic Bishop title would always be a must-read for me, but a book about cheetahs, my number one favorite animal? Of course I was crazy about Chasing Cheetahs. First, I interrupted my students’ independent reading time to share cheetah facts with them and wave photos in their faces, then I followed my husband around the house reading him snippets from the book and making him look at every single photo. I have already decided that I want to stop being me and start being Dr. Laurie Marker, who started the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia to try to address the plummeting cheetah population. Turns out that the liberal application of goats and dogs do quite a bit to conserve cheetahs. Anyway, the book is absolutely fascinating, and it’s full of gorgeous photographs, and I am totally quitting my current life today and heading off to Namibia to save the cheetah.

the waffler

My older son and I just finished reading The Waffler, by Gail Donovan. This is an engaging story about a boy who has trouble making up his mind. His principal calls him a waffler, and unfortunately the nickname sticks. His teacher decides to break him of his waffling, and much drama ensues. But Monty ultimately makes the right choices–unlike some of the adults in his life. This worked really well as a read-aloud.

it's all about meow


Hudson Talbott’s It’s All About Me-Ow is a great read for cat lovers. The premise is an older, wiser cat teaching some kittens the art of understanding and training their humans. We certainly recognized the behaviors and antics of our six cats (including a propensity to vomit on the rug) somewhere in this story. This one is a bit complicated as a read-aloud–there are several detailed charts and diagrams that I think actually lose some of their humor and appeal when read aloud.

lois ehlert

Lois Ehlert is probably the only children’s book author and illustrator left on my Children’s Lit Shelf of Shame. There is something about her work that doesn’t appeal to me in a big way. Partly it’s the giant font of the text in so many of her books. I have no idea why that’s so off-putting to me, but it is. But it’s also her collage, which often seems like a hodge-podge of different things that don’t come together in a visually pleasing whole. I realize that her collage IS a hodge-podge, but the point there, I think, should be for everything to come together in some kind of seamless whole. Which it doesn’t for me. But I realize that I am in the minority there.

In any case, I bought her new autobiography a few weeks ago and have been waiting to read it until we could read a few of her other picture books. I liked Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf better than I expected to, but I still had problems with it, especially with the narrator. Of course there is the gigantic font which makes me want to thrust the book far, far away from myself to read. But the sentence-level writing was often rather confusing, which is odd, given that it’s a fairly straightforward nonfiction story about the life cycle of a sugar maple tree. The confusion comes from the unnamed and unseen narrator who sometimes seems to be a child and sometimes seems to be an adult remembering being a child. The narrator doesn’t add much to the story, so I wonder why she didn’t choose to present the story as an informational book without a first-person narrator.

uncommon traveler

Don Brown writes and illustrates Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa, a picture book biography about the bold and unconventional explorer who was basically a nurse and servant to her parents until she was thirty years old. Largely confined to her home and educated only through the books she read from her father’s library, Kingsley is certainly an unlikely African explorer, but off she went after her parents died. Brown has written several biographies about women explorers, scientists, and adventurers that I’m going to have to find. (We’ve already read his title about Mary Anning.)

when it snows

Richard Collingridge’s When It Snows features gorgeous magical paintings (we especially loved the spread set in the land where snowmen live) and a nice message about the magic and wonder of reading. It’s a Christmas story–not exactly season-appropriate–but I couldn’t resist it when I saw it on the New Shelf at the library.

i wanna new room

I feel like we’ve read a lot of new sibling/sibling rivalry stories lately, but I Wanna New Room has very detailed and fun illustrations and does offer something a bit new in the format (a series of letters written between Alex and his parents). Readers of Orloff and Catrow’s previous collaboration, I Wanna Iguana, will be pleased to spot the iguana in this story.

abe lincoln crosses a creek

It’s a book by Deborah Hopkinson: of course it’s going to be good! I suppose I would call this one historical fiction, though it also has some delightful metafictional moments that perhaps appeal to the adult reader more than to the child? It’s a tall tale about young Abe Lincoln and his pal, Austin, who is there to save him when they cross the creek and fall in. John Hendrix’s illustrations are superb.

my name is gabito

Monica Brown and Raul Colon collaborate on My Name Is Gabito, a biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Brown takes some of the images from Garcia Marquez’s adult fiction and shows how those images had roots in his childhood experiences. Another good title to emphasize the importance of creativity and imagination, though I didn’t find this book as engaging or appealing as Brown and Colon’s other collaborations.

We also enjoyed:lemon sisters chocolate covered cookie tantrum you're a hero daley b tale of gilbert alexander pig

 Reading Goal Updates:

Nerdbery Challenge: 0/12 books

#MustReadin2014: 6/15 books

YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 2/12 books

Professional Development Reading Goal: 2/12 books

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 39/100 books

Picture Book Reading Goal: 169/350 books

Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 17/100 books

YA Lit Reading Goal: 167/60 books

Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 14/12 books

Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 59/200


21 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 4/14/14 #imwayr”

  1. Didn’t you just love that reader? I don’t know if you ever watched the show House, but as I listened to I am the Messenger I imagined that Jesse Spencer (Dr. Chase) was reading me the story! I am looking forward to sharing this one with my high school book club! Have a great week! ~Megan

    • Excellent reader! That makes such a difference. I had several high school students who were obsessed with Zusak and horrified that I hadn’t read Messenger or Book Thief. Finally, FINALLY, I’ve crossed one of those off my list!

  2. I loved The Book Thief, but I haven’t gotten around to I Am the Messenger. Maybe I’ll follow your lead and listen to the audio book. Also loved Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, and so many people have enjoyed Half a Chance…the list grows ever longer! Thanks for sharing!

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed Book Thief. I’ve tried that one numerous times and haven’t made it through, but I am feeling more confident now that I have finished Messenger and liked it so well. The audiobook is well worth it! Loved the reader. If you loved Touch Blue, I am certain you’ll also really like Half a Chance!

  3. I just finished I Am The Messenger this week as well. I definitely agree with you about the character of Audrey being underwritten. I need to read both Half a Chance and The True Blue Scouts. They both sound amazing. Have a great reading week!

    • I have started and abandoned Appelt’s two other novels many times and can’t get them to click for me. Will try again this summer probably. I definitely understand why True Blue didn’t work for you–it’s really over the top!

  4. You have a lot of great books on this list! I absolutely have to read I Am The Messenger and the Appelt novel. I can never resist picturebooks with kitties! 🙂 I nominated you for the Liebster Award over on my glo!

    • I have no idea what the Liebster Award is! Off to research…. and thank you! I do think you will enjoy I Am the Messenger. I am trying to read Book Thief this year as well, though I understand they’re very different books, so my love of Messenger may not transfer to Book Thief! And I totally agree about cats in PBs–or any kind of book, really. Just read a review of Erin Bow’s Plain Kate, which I didn’t think was my thing–but then discovered there’s an awesome talking cat in it. So now I know it’s EXACTLY my thing!

      • I didn’t know anything about the award either! I think it’s pretty cool. I will now have to look up Plain Kate myself–I love talking cats! 🙂

  5. What a huge pile of books this week. I like The True Blue Scouts more than I expected also. I am not really into animal fantasy as a general rule, but somehow it just worked. I will have to grab My Name is Gabito for the Latin@s in Kid Lit challenge too. Thanks for the title.

    • I need to read the other Monica Brown-Raul Colon collaborations for the Latin@s in Kid Lit Challenge. I loved Tito Puente and thought My Name Is Gabito was very well done. True Blue Scouts was so much fun–and the first Kathi Appelt that I’ve made it through! Will definitely be picking up her other novels, though they seem quite different in tone.

  6. I actually laughed out loud when I read your phrase, “YA Shelf of Shame.” That is hysterical. I like all of the pictures, too. I have read many of the books on your shelf. Some are fantastic and others are over-rated, in my opinion. If I could make a recommendation, I would strongly suggest NEVER FALL DOWN and BALL DON’T LIE. Those two are big favorites of my students, and I love them. Thank you for sharing these books this week. I loved your post. 🙂

    • I am happy for the recommendations! There are so many books on my “Shelf of Shame,” and I’m only trying to read 12 this year–and the more great ones I can read, the better! I’d like to be able to book talk both Never Fall Down and Ball Don’t Lie, so will look for those next at the library. Thanks for the comment, Ricki!

  7. Love this post! Isn’t it wonderful that you loved two different MG novels – one because it had everything you loved and one even when it didn’t! I also adored this novel by Lord. So fantastic! I got so excited seeing The Lemon Sisters here – read it a while ago and had been trying to remember the title. I can’t wait to find and read Chasing Cheetahs! I love the Scientist in the field titles! And like you, cheetahs fascinate me! Big congratulations on the dent that you are making in your YA shelf of shame!

    • I have a student doing an independent study this summer for Adolescent Lit and we are going to focus on MG novels and nonfiction–I’m so excited! I liked The Lemon Sisters quite a bit–especially the art. You will love Chasing Cheetahs–so much fascinating information. The Cheetah Conversation Fund website is also worth checking out! (Especially after you read the book–there are updates on some of the cats in the book). Glad I decided to go ahead with my Shelf of Shame challenge this year, as the books so far have been very good. I’m kind of stuck right now in a Jerry Spinelli novel, though. But I can’t expect to love everything I read!

  8. Fun to read all your comments, Elisabeth, and amazingly, my daughter adores Cheetahs, now as an adult too, so I will look for that book for her. I have quite a few of the books you shared, & some also are on that shelf of shame too. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to them! Thanks for the ideas, especially Gabito!

  9. Oh wow, a picture book biography about Gabriel Garcia Marquez! That one I have to see! I loved the Julie Paschkis one on Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People. These are the literary heroes of my youth – so glad to see their stories in picturebook format. This is the second time I am seeing I am the Messenger being shared this week. After reading The Book Thief, I just know that I would have to read another Markus Zusak seeing how distinctive and unique his voice is. I used Uncommon Traveler as one of my text-sets for my higher-degree class, I enjoyed the narrative, the artwork not so much. I had to smile at your description of Lois Ehlert’s picturebooks. 🙂

    • I don’t think I’ve seen the one on Pablo Neruda–I must find that one! I also love that these important stories get treatment in picture book format. I wish I had known about some of these books when I taught high school–I think using picture book biographies would be an excellent way to introduce some of the poets and writers I incorporated into my curriculum.

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