It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/21/14 #imwayr


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

On my blog:

In reading:

dumbest idea ever

I loved Jimmy Gownley’s graphic novel, The Dumbest Idea Ever!, a memoir about how he became a graphic novelist. Gownley has some important things to say in this book about creativity, inspiration, and effort, but it’s also a quick fun read about a kid in middle school and high school trying to manage his life and find time for sports, homework, friends, and comic books. This is a book that will appeal to many readers–a must for every middle school and high school classroom library.

absolutely almost

Absolutely Almost is unusual in that it is a literary middle-grade novel featuring an absolutely ordinary kid who’s average in most things and below average in school. Albie’s struggles with school and learning were so poignant to me. It was hard for me to read the scenes with his parents, who put so much pressure on him to achieve in ways that he simply can’t. He works so incredibly hard and improves dramatically on his spelling tests, but because he doesn’t get 100%, his father doesn’t even recognize his progress. This is a book parents need to read, and it’s also a book that teachers need to read and share with their students.

I’ve read a couple of Lisa Graff’s other novels as well and found myself incredibly impressed by the stylistic differences between this book and her other books. She can write so lushly and evocatively, but that wouldn’t be a voice or style suited to Albie’s first-person narration.

bunny days

The cover of Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu suggests a story full of pastel prettiness with happy bunnies and bears. And each of the three short tales in Bunny Days does end with the assurance, “Everyone is happy.” But this is a bizarre little book. I absolutely loved it, but it’s probably not for everyone.

The hapless bunnies have a series of misadventures that involve household appliances. First, they get muddy and Bear saves the day by throwing them into the washing machine (conveniently located in the field). (He hangs them out on the line to dry. The image of little bunnies clipped to a line with clothespins is both hilarious and mildly disturbing.) Then Mrs Goat accidentally vacuums them up when she’s vacuuming over their burrow. Bear saves the day by slicing open the vacuum bag and then blasting the dusty bunnies with an industrial fan. In story #3, they don’t get dirty, thank goodness, but something even worse happens: they are separated from their tails as they’re playing hide and seek in a hedge that Mr Goat happens to be trimming with large hedge clippers. Once again Bear saves the day by sewing their tails back on. I had to share the spread of the little rabbit peeking between its fingers as Bear stitches its tail back to its bottom: apparently this image has been highly traumatizing for some small children, at least if we are to believe Amazon reviewers.

photo (2)In a review that’s definitely worthy of the 100 Scope Notes One-Star Review treatment, one Amazon customer notes that her “relatively tough toddler” cried when he saw the bunnies tails being cut off and sewn back on. She concludes, “Don’t buy if you like bunnies….or your children.” Which is my new favorite sentence ever.

im bored

I’m Bored, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, cleverly explores the eternal problem of bored kids (well, eternal except in my house. I am not sure my children know there is a word for the condition of feeling bored. Not that they’re never bored. They just don’t know they can complain about it. Let’s keep it that way.) She encounters a potato who is even more bored than she is, and as she tries to explain to the potato why he shouldn’t be bored playing with her, she discovers that she’s actually not bored at all. And the highly bored potato gets exactly what he deserves in the end.

buffalo music

Buffalo Music, written by Tracey Fern and beautifully illustrated by Lauren Castillo, is the fascinating story of how one Texas pioneer woman helped to re-establish a national bison herd after the animals were nearly hunted to extinction. It’s a fictional story but based on the efforts of a real person, Mary Ann Goodnight, who witnessed the disappearance of the wild herds in her area of Texas, took in orphaned buffalo calves, and built one of the first captive buffalo herds in America. She even sent some of her yearlings to Yellowstone National Park to help re-establish their herd.

This was a special story for us to read: we live a few miles from Custer State Park, which has a large bison herd, and there are also a couple of buffalo ranches on our drive to Rapid City. It still amazes me that I live in a place where you can actually take buffalo sightings for granted!

ruler of the courtyard

We enjoyed Rukhsana Khan’s Ruler of the Courtyard, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. It’s the story of how one young girl allows her terror of chickens to overwhelm her good sense and how she pulls herself together and overcomes her fear. I normally like Christie’s work, but I found the illustrations in this book rather ugly.

bad bye good bye

Bad Bye, Good Bye is an exquisitely written and illustrated story for the youngest readers about the challenges of leaving home and moving to a new place. Deborah Underwood’s text is so spare and poetic, and Jonathan Bean’s art is brilliant. Every writer who wishes to write in rhyme needs to study Underwood’s writing, because she is one of the few authors who consistently manages to surprise and enlighten with her rhyme–even when using the simplest of rhymes.

21 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/21/14 #imwayr”

  1. I’ll have to take a look at the Gownley book. Have to admit to being somewhat traumatized by bunny with tail in sewing machine- that’s a job for hand stitching, not machine stitching! Okay, now I want to read the book to get the full picture!

    • A job for hand stitching–that’s hilarious and so true! The images of the bunnies in the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner are a bit traumatizing too. Such a wonderfully bizarre book!

  2. Wow! What a great heap of books this week! I need to get to Absolutely Almost soon. I have it sitting on my bookshelf taunting me right now.

    I loved I’m Bored. Such a fun book.

    Buffalo Music looks fantastic. I will definitely be seeking that book out.

    • I think you’ll like Buffalo Music–Lauren Castillo’s illustrations are so perfect for the story, and it’s written in a lovely, colloquial style. I have so many books sitting on my shelves taunting me–and I just ordered two more. SIGH. It’s an illness–but one I don’t really want to recover from.

  3. While reviews that point out great books you haven’t seen before are wonderful, it can be just as useful to be steered clear of something that looks good but is a bad match for your tastes. That bunny book certainly qualifies! You might like my post today about violence in picture books ( )

    The buffalo book looks great and is now on my wish list. Have you seen The Camping Trip that Changed the World? I loved it and you might too–it’s a picture book about Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir.

  4. I always love reading other readers comments about Absolutely Almost. I just adored that book. I had trouble with the scenes with the parents, but it’s really hard being a parent. You always want your child to be perfect, mostly so bad things don’t happen to them. When we see them having troubles, sometimes it’s easier to get mad than understand. I had that trouble with my daughter at her swim meet this weekend. I definitely got the bad parent award. I had to apologize to her today. Parenting is tough! I thought this book really showed that. And since it was me looking in, it was easy to get mad at the parents 🙂

    • Your comment really made me think, Michele. It IS hard being a parent. Not sure why I didn’t have more compassion for Albie’s parents. Maybe because I don’t have much compassion for myself either when I mess up, LOL!

  5. Love the look of Buffalo Music and that it is illustrated by Castillo! I really look forward to reading Absolutely Almost. I am hearing so many truly wonderful things.

    • I think you will love Absolutely Almost. Be sure to read Katherine Sokolowski’s post at the Nerdy Book Club about it today! Really want to get my hands on Castillo’s other books now!

  6. I love the Dumbest Idea Ever as well! Another biography that kids are going to truly enjoy!
    I also want to read Absolutely Almost, but I need to get my hands on it.
    Love the PBs you shared–I need to go add them to my TBR.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

  7. Great round up! I am waiting still for Absolutely Almost from the library. I am suspicious of your Amazon reviews for Bunny Days – almost sounds Snicket-esque as a book, and I really wonder whether serious people actually complain about children’s books or if only bored but humorous people do.

  8. Hi Elisabeth, I’ve read about Bad Bye Good Bye in Leonard Marcus’ latest review for the The New York Times. Would have to find that one in our libraries soon. I’ve been reading so many good things about Absolutely Almost. I am toying with the idea of creating another higher-degree course elective that looks at multicultural MG/YA Fiction and Graphic Novels and its use in promoting inclusive practices in the classroom – this one sounds like a perfect book to add to my would-be reading list. 🙂 Not familair with the Rukhsana Khan title you shared here, too bad about the illustrations.

    • Generally the PBs for the youngest readers (2 words per page) don’t captivate me at all, ESPECIALLY when they rhyme. How I hate rhyme! But Bad Bye Goodbye worked for me on every level. A new favorite. I love your idea for the new elective. I have been wanting to create an upper-division children’s lit course on diverse literature, but I don’t have enough room in my schedule to teach all of the courses that I already “own” in my dept, so it’s probably not a good idea to add more! But I think my students could really benefit from a course focusing exclusively on diverse lit. Not sure if other readers share my reservations about the illustrations in Khan’s Ruler of the Courtyard–maybe they really appeal to some readers? Hope you can get your hands on the book sometime because I’d love to know your thoughts.

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