It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/16/14 #imwayr


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

On my blog this week:

I had a terrific reading week:

seven wonders of sassafras springs

Betty Birney’s The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs was a serendipitous discovery at the library this week. I was searching for something else in the B’s and spotted a very plain mustard-colored book printed on thick textured paper. It looked like a book published in the 1940s. My public library has a fairly stringent weeding policy. I couldn’t help pulling this book off the shelves to see how it had survived the rigorous purging of older books. It turns out that it’s not old; it’s only old-fashioned. I opened it up and discovered it was illustrated by Matt Phelan, so of course I had to check it out. And what a delightful story!

Eben McAllister, stuck in a rural farm community that he finds incredibly boring, dreams of travel and adventure. When his father catches him reading a book about the seven wonders of the world, he challenges his son to find seven wonders in their little town. The reward? A train ticket to visit some relatives in Colorado–a real adventure of his own. (The story is set in 1923.) The catch? He only has seven days to find seven wonders. Eben sets off on a journey that takes him all over town and into conversation with many people he’s never talked to before.

This is really a book about the wonder and power of story itself. Setting, characterization, language, and theme are all beautifully crafted.

snicker of magicI finally read Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic. I found myself rather meh about it for the first fifty pages or so and really not wanting to be meh given how many readers in my PLN adore this book. But finally something clicked for me, and I ended up loving it just as much as everyone else does. 
jinxs magic

I loved Jinx’s Magic so much. Sage Blackwood is brilliant at writing character and dialogue. I don’t even need a plot (though she’s kind enough to give us a pretty good one): I’d be happy to eavesdrop on her characters chatting away as they go about their daily business.

opening minds

I took so many notes on Peter H. Johnston’s Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives that at times I felt I might as well be copying the whole book word for word. It’s a small book (a little over 100 pages), but packed with so many important ideas. Johnston argues that the way we use words in our classroom has a huge impact on the development of self-worth, values, ethics, and mindset in our students. I think this book actually impacted me so much as the parent of a struggling, insecure learner that I read solely through those parenting lenses. I struggled to set aside all of the insights I was having as a parent to think about how I might use this book in my teaching practice. Or rather, I had so many insights into my son and into the ways I need to change the ways I use language with him that my brain was too busy with that to consider applications to my classroom. But I already know this book is going to go on my shortlist of annual PD rereads, so I will have other opportunities to think about what it means to me as a teacher. I am hoping to write a longer review later in the week.

fortunately the milk

Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk was the one dud for me this week. I listened to this book on audio, and while of course Gaiman does a brilliant job narrating, it was obvious that the success of the story depends upon Skottie Young’s illustrations. This is simply not a story that works at all without the pictures. The premise is wispy thin, and that’s really all there is: there is nothing that you can identify as character development, theme, or setting, and even the use of language, usually a strong point for Gaiman, seemed a bit strained.

jacobs new dress

I can’t recommend Jacob’s New Dress highly enough. This is a book that explores gender norms in a warm, affectionate, and hopeful way. Jacob loves typical little boy things and he also loves some typical little girl things, like wearing dresses and playing princess. He gets teased by Christopher, and he definitely gets his feelings hurt. When he asks his mother to help him make a dress he can wear to school, she hesitates and there’s a beautiful moment in the text where her hesitation gives Jacob a “can’t-breathe” feeling. Jacob’s parents were especially interesting to me, as they clearly want to support their son but feel conflicted. They are comfortable with him wearing dresses at home; at the same time, their impulse is to discourage him from wearing dresses to school because they know he is likely to be teased and bullied. His mother ultimately helps him make a dress, and his father, while acknowledging that wearing a dress wouldn’t be his own personal choice, agrees that Jacob looks great. The writing by Sarah and Ian Hoffman is sensitive and positive without being heavy-handed, and the illustrations  by Chris Case are very engaging. I read this book to my older son (who will be a sixth-grader), and it led to a rich and interesting conversation about kids who are different, bullies, and why it’s important to be true to yourself.

up tall high

Up! Tall! and High! by Ethan Long certainly deserves its Geisel Gold. This is going to be a great title to recommend to all my readers who love Mo Willems.

one gorilla

I should have hated Anthony Browne’s One Gorilla. It has two huge strikes against it: (1) it’s a counting book and, except for Mac Barnett’s Count the Monkeys, I LOATHE counting books; and (2) it’s full of gorillas and monkeys, which I find to be rather terrifying animals. But it’s Anthony Browne, so of course I loved it. My son and I poured over the illustrations.

iggy peck

Iggy Peck, Architect, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts, didn’t quite work for me, though my husband and son loved it. I think the problem, for me, is that I came to it confused about what it was, and my expectations got in the way of my enjoyment. For some reason, I thought this was a more serious look at a child who loved to build things and grew up to become an architect. But it’s not serious at all. It’s actually a whimsical and wacky story. Which normally would work just fine for me because I love whimsy and wackiness. But in this case, I was disappointed. Part of that may have been the writing: I don’t like rhyme, and some of the rhyme felt forced to me. But I did adore Roberts’s illustrations. As an object, this book is practically perfect.

that summer

I was very impressed by the writing in Tony Johnston’s My Abuelita and have been looking for more of her books. (Which shouldn’t be hard to find because she’s written over 70 of them!) That Summer is the first one I found at the library, beautifully illustrated by Barry Moser, and boy, is it a tearjerker. It’s narrated by a boy whose younger brother has a terminal illness, and it’s about the last stages of that illness and the brother’s death. Very hard material, very well done.

mr putter and tabby fish


We continued rereading the Mr. Putter and Tabby series with Mr. Putter & Tabby Feed the Fish, which features a couple of my all-time favorite illustrations of Tabby, who likes the pet fish Mr Putter purchases from the pet store just a little too much. These books are so, so perfect.





26 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/16/14 #imwayr”

  1. kaymcgriff Avatar

    Wow! What a lot of reading you’ve done. I enjoyed reading about the picture books. I don’t know as many of those as I would like. It must be the week for a Snicker of Magic. I’ve seen it all over the place. It only makes me want to read it even more.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s a #heartprint book for sure! I’ve had several lackluster and slow reading weeks, so it felt great this week to finish so many books–and so many very good books at that!

  2. Christina Avatar

    I have Jinx’s Magic sitting on my bookshelf, sounds like I should move it to the top! I’ve heard a lot of great things about Opening Minds, so it sounds like I need to read it!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think Opening Minds is an especially important title for elementary teachers. I only teach one course for pre-service elementary teachers and can’t really think of a way to shoehorn the book in, so I think I’m going to have to live it and model it rather than have my students read it. I liked Jinx’s Magic even more than Jinx. Can’t wait for Book 3!

  3. Michele Avatar

    So many great books this week, Elisabeth! I’m so glad you ended up loving Snicker! It took me a few chapter before the love set in for me too 🙂 And yes, I recommend Circa Now next. I had the same love for it as I did Snicker!! Ninja is one I’m glad I purchased… it’s a rereadable book 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Just what I wanted to hear about Ninja! Because PBs are relatively pricey, I do try to only purchase ones that I can read and share many times. I feel at loose ends bookwise since I finished Snicker, so I definitely need recommendations!

  4. Adolescent Literature in the Classroom Avatar

    “Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives” is a book that I received from one of my cooperating teachers when I completed my student teaching this spring. It is one that she keeps handy, and I love what I have seen so far! I love receiving recommendations from other professionals as to what help them in their every day teaching.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I hope you’ll think about exploring Twitter at some point, because that’s my main source for discovering great professional development books and websites. I follow mostly teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators on Twitter, and the teachers tweet frequently about what they’re reading and how they’re learning!

      1. Adolescent Literature in the Classroom Avatar

        Is Twitter something that I can just do online? I don’t have a SmartPhone and don’t plan on getting one. If so… it is definitely something that I will look into once all of my summer classes are complete.

  5. Linda Baie Avatar

    Opening Minds is just terrific, I think. I went to an all day session with Peter Johnston last summer & loved the day with him, & with a colleague. Then I read it over a number of weeks with our intermediate teachers-lots of conversation around this, & the earlier Choice Words. You read so many good ones this week, Elisabeth. A teacher at our school had her class look for their own ‘seven wonders’ in our town after reading the “seven wonders” book. I still haven’t read it, but she thought it was delightful too. I’ll look for That Summer!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      There’s so much to think about in Opening Minds and Choice Words (which I read last summer). I’m sure you would enjoy “Seven Wonders” so I hope you can find it. It’s always fun to have those serendipitous library discoveries–a book you’ve never seen or heard of that turns out to be a delight!

  6. msyingling Avatar

    Sbicker, Milk AND Circa Niw were all ones that hit high on the “meh” meter for me, mainly because I couldn’t come up with the names of students to whom I would give the books! Circa was really, really sad and… odd. I hope you find some books that click. Lately, I’ve some of the new sports books by Green and Lupica.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I was thinking about this very issue with Snicker: who would I give this book to? And I’m still not really sure. I was wondering about kid appeal as I was reading, but I have read numerous comments on other teachers’ blogs about students loving the book, so I think it must have huge appeal for the right reader. I decided to give it to my mom today, though I’m not sure it’s her kind of book. We’ll see! I need to read more middle-grade sports books…. need to discover some good authors to share with my son!

  7. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    I found your review of SNICKER to be very, very interesting. I have loved it from the first page, but I am not quite finished. I love how I can always expect honesty on your blog. It is great to hear that you ended up loving it.

    I loved your review of THE SEVEN WONDERS. It made me want to go to a library (or even a used bookstore) and try to find my own gold nugget. Thank you for sharing this one. I will try to find it in my own library!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I hope you can find “Seven Wonders,” Ricki. It really is a good story. I always enjoy it when I am reading a book at the same time as someone else in my nerdy PLN. The ending of “Snicker” really worked for me–hope you love it too!

  8. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    So many good books!
    Snicker of Magic is going to be one I get to eventually. I have wanted to read it since NCTE, but just haven’t gotten to it yet.
    Fortunately the Milk does look like one that you need the illustrations, so I hope I like it. Maybe a reread is in order for you?
    I love Anthony Browne and specifically his gorilla books. So good!
    Jacob’s New Dress sounds FASCINATING and very important. Thank you for sharing!

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I still have several unread on my shelf from NCTE too. A reread of Fortunately the Milk is a good idea! I did look up some of the illustrations and they’re delightful. Anthony Browne is amazing, and I still have many books by him still to read! I hope you can find Jacob’s New Dress–really a nice story. My son is still talking about it.

  9. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I’m glad you eventually fell for A Snicker of Magic. I feel personally invested in making everyone love that book as much as I do. 😉

    Interesting that you didn’t like FORTUNATELY, THE MILK because that is one of the few Gaiman books I actually really liked. Otherwise, I just don’t get his appeal. I think I liked the book because I could see using it as a mentor text with other kids emulating the style of the story and calling it Fortunately, the ______ <—- Insert noun of your choice here. But I think I like Gaiman's funny better than his creepy. I heard Gaiman speak at an event in Ann Arbor last summer and he is actually really funny and super genial. I wasn't expecting that at all coming from someone who writes such creepy, morose stories.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Beth, I was thinking about you as I was feeling kind of meh about the first few chapters of Snicker. I did NOT want to have to confess to you that I didn’t love it. So I was very relieved to fall in love with it! I hadn’t thought about using Fortunately the Milk as a mentor text, but I do think it would work extremely well to inspire more writing.

  10. Adolescent Literature in the Classroom Avatar

    The children’s librarian where I am interning just ordered this book after I showed it to her. It should be arriving tomorrow, and I am excited to read it. During one of my library classes, this one was discussed as being a controversial one in many areas. I have always been a believer that if someone doesn’t like the content of a book that they have a right not to read it. However that doesn’t mean that they should take it out of the hands of others. Recently there was a family in the news that was raising a child (born female) that claimed from the time she was little that she was a boy. The way that the family handled the situation was amazing, and the child is now living a happy life as their son. It would have been so sad had the child been forced to live as a girl and been continually sad.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Libraries do such important work protecting the rights of readers. No one should have the right to determine what someone else should read. Let me know what you think of Jacob’s New Dress. I found it a very sweet and empowering story for all children. I’m looking forward to reading it to my students in Children’s Lit next semester.

      1. Adolescent Literature in the Classroom Avatar

        I will let you know! I had so much fun today interning as the children’s librarian is allowing me to help her with collection development. So far she has ordered quite a few of the books that I suggested. Today after reading many of my blogs, I gave her another list. Each time that I find a book that I feel would benefit her collection, I cross-reference it with the Wyoming state database as well as the local library to see if they already have it. Many that I gave her today she hadn’t yet ordered. It is exciting to be able to assist in this way after years of working towards my library endorsement. Although I wasn’t thrilled to have to be taking so many classes immediately upon receiving my bachelor’s, I am pleased to say that each class has been complimenting the others which makes it more fun.

  11. carriegelson Avatar

    I am glad that you loved Snicker – I hope to get to it in the next month or so. Love seeing some of my favourite books here – One Gorilla, Iggy Peck (felt the same way you did on my first read but students loved it when it was read aloud and I LOVED the illustrations!) Mr. Putter and Tabby – love them all. Sigh.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Snicker is a special book; I hope you will love it too! (And don’t tell Beth if you don’t!) Too funny about Iggy Peck–one reason I love sharing books with my students and my kids is that I can experience the book a bit differently and find things to like or appreciate in a book that doesn’t really do it for me. Funnily enough, with Iggy Peck my husband happened to be listening while I read it aloud, and he loved it so much, he’s talked about it every day this week!

  12. Myra GB Avatar

    How could I have missed That Summer when we had our Loss and Heartbreak theme! I am definitely pinning this one on my Pinterest board so that I can find it soonest. I am glad that your “meh” experience with Snicker of Magic was transformed eventually – I fell in love with the story, loved the cast of characters, and its whimsical voice. I know what you mean about Anthony Browne. It’s like he can do no wrong! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I had no idea what That Summer was about when I started reading it out loud to my son. He complained that it was too sad of a book, but he seemed very absorbed by it and described it to my husband later, so I think it made an impression. Thanks to middle grade, I have had a couple of really terrific reading weeks. Snicker was such a delight. Sooo glad I ended up loving it!

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