It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/1/14 #imwayr


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

On my blog this week:

  • A curation of online reading, with articles about teaching, children’s lit, and productivity
  • A celebration of school starting, football uniforms, books, and more
  • A review of two excellent picture book biographies by Barbara Kerley and Edward Fotheringham
  • A list of the top 10 books I want to read right now but don’t own

It was a very good week in reading:

comics squad recess

Comics Squad Recess is a collection of short comics by Dan Santat, Raina Telgemeier, Jarrett Krosoczka, Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm, and more. My favorites were Dan Santat’s and Ursula Vernon’s, but all of the stories were enjoyable. I bought the book for my 6th-grade son’s classroom library, but my 3rd-grader may abscond with it first. A very quick read (I think it took me about 20 minutes to read the whole book) and much to amuse and delight.

Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters is a graphic novel memoir of a summer road trip Raina and her family (minus their dad) made from California to Colorado. Interspersed with vignettes from the road are flashbacks to key moments in her relationship with her younger sister. The complexity of family relationships is wonderfully portrayed here. It’s the kind of story where not much happens–and yet everything significant is happening. It’s a story about growing up and growing apart and growing together.

fourteenth goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish is my new favorite Jennifer Holm novel. I loved the voice of the main character, Ellie. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit here: Ellie’s scientist grandfather has discovered a cure for aging and has been aging in reverse. He’s now fourteen years old–at least in appearance–and pretending to be Ellie’s cousin, Melvin. Somehow Holm gets this information across early, and the reader doesn’t even question it. Much of the novel’s drama concerns Ellie’s relationship with her grandfather/cousin and her growing interest in science, which I found compelling. But there is much more going on here. There is Ellie’s relationship with her parents, who are divorced but friendly; the growing pains she’s experiencing with her former best friend, Brianna; and a new friendship with Raj. Holm accomplishes something very tricky here: a novel that’s fast-paced as well as reflective, a novel that’s all character and plot yet also asks the most important questions: Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? How do we live our lives meaningfully, with purpose? One of my favorites of 2014, for sure.

the hero schliemann

When I was a little girl, I had fantasies of growing up and becoming an archaeologist. That was before I discovered that archaeology–the actual sitting and doing of it–looks really tedious. There was nothing tedious about the way nineteenth-century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann practiced archaeology. In Laura Amy Schlitz’s words, he was a “storyteller, archaeologist, and crook,” and his story makes for entertaining reading. Schliemann believed that the events depicted in Homer’s epics were at least partially true, and he set out for Turkey to discover the lost cities described by Homer. Although he did make some important discoveries, he was a menace at a site: he dug with abandon, falsified his findings, stole some of the things he discovered, and ignored evidence that didn’t fit the narrative he wanted to find. Laura Amy Schlitz’s slender biography, The Hero Schliemann, (well illustrated by Robert Byrd) is both informative and highly opinionated. Schliemann is an exasperating and often unlikable character, and you get the feeling that the author also found him exasperating and unlikable. She is not entirely unsympathetic to his desire to paint a heroic narrative for himself, however. I have largely avoided reading biography since I finished my Ph.D. dissertation (on feminist biographies of 18th-century women writers), but I do love biographies written for children. All the boring parts are left out!

dogs on duty

Dogs on Duty: Soldiers’ Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond is a lavishly illustrated (with photographs) look at military working dogs throughout history. The text is straightforward and clear, and the many photographs are incredibly engaging. I can see this book appealing to many types of readers.

booklist's 1000 best young adult books

My TBR list exploded as I skim-read Booklist’s 1000 Best Young Adult Books Since 2000, which my campus librarian set aside for me. The list is divided into fiction (contemporary fiction, graphic novels, historical fiction, mystery & suspense, and speculative fiction) and nonfiction sections (arts, history, poetry, science, and social science). Although I primarily used the book to add to my TBR pile, I did have some insights about my knowledge of YA lit as well. I know contemporary fiction and graphic novels really well. There were very few titles in these sections that I hadn’t at least heard of, though much, of course, that I haven’t read. Historical fiction gets a bit sketchy for me, and then mystery & suspense is, well, a complete mystery to me. I don’t read these books, and I don’t know these books. I’m sensing a reading challenge!

aaron  becker

I was so excited to get my hands on Aaron Becker’s gorgeous new wordless picture book, Quest, a follow-up to Journey. It’s beautiful and magical and imaginative, and I absolutely have to buy a copy.

memoirs of a goldfish

Memoirs of a Goldfish had me laughing out loud in the bookstore. The text did get a bit wordy for me as the story went on, but I appreciated how it works on multiple levels. Older readers will see the story a little differently than younger readers, but it’s a story that works for all ages. I’m also thinking about mentor text possibilities with the memoir/diary format. And Tim Bowers’s illustrations are perfection.

my pet book

I had a mixed response to Bob Staake’s My Pet Book. I wanted to love it–because I love Bob Staake’s other work and because I love the idea of the story. A kid who keeps a book as a pet? Yes, please. But this book didn’t work for me as well as it seems to be working for others. The plot development where the pet book goes missing made no sense to me (and ok, it’s a story about a PET BOOK, so perhaps I am being too picky, but suddenly there’s a maid and she sweeps up the book and takes it to a charity organization and why?). The illustrations began to feel overly busy, overly colorful, overly loud, and the rhyme generally felt forced. I’m going to give this one another chance in a couple of weeks and share it with actual children (mine) and see if my response chances.


Deborah Freedman’s Scribble is a delight. Two sisters get into an argument as they’re drawing: the big one criticizes the little one’s drawing of a cat, and the little one retaliates by scribbling all over the big one’s drawing. And there the drama really starts, because the little sister enters the world of the scribbles and tries to make things right, and she’s thwarted and helped by the scribbly illustrations (the princess and the cat) that come to life. Freedman’s books are exquisite works of art. The combination of the preschooler-style scribble drawings and Freedman’s own detailed and precise style works beautifully here. Another new favorite.





19 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/1/14 #imwayr”

  1. Ana @ things mean a lot Avatar

    I didn’t know about Quest! This has made my day 😀

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s so beautiful! I feel sure you’re going to love it! Journey was a huge favorite in my Children’s Lit class last semester, so I know my students will need to read Quest as well.

  2. carriegelson Avatar

    Oh – I love the look of Scribble. Would love to have this in my classroom. I hear you on My Pet Book. Cute but not one I would purchase. Bluebird is my favourite from Staake. Can’t wait to get a copy of Quest as well. My students LOVE Journey. Great list this week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It was a very fine reading week! I found a cheap used copy of Scribble, as it doesn’t appear to be in print right now. Deborah Freedman just might be my favorite author-illustrator. If your students love Blue Chicken and Snail & Fish, I think they would respond to Scribble as well. Quest is a must-have, of course. LOL.

  3. thelogonauts Avatar

    Fun list! Can’t wait to give The Fourteenth Goldfish a try, for sure! Glad I’m not the only one who didn’t think much of My Pet Book (personally I wanted some more insight into proper book maintenance). Will definitely be checking out Scribble.

    Thankful to hear that the Schliemann biography doesn’t sugar coat his work and focuses on his off-kilter and destructive style. As a former archaeologist, I think it’s important not to mythologize this kind of work, even in a kids’ biography. Pfew.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You might enjoy the Schliemann biography. Schlitz has some interesting things to say about Schliemann’s desire to be heroic and famous and how that desire led him to some poor ethical choices. The Fourteenth Goldfish is wonderful!

  4. Linda Baie Avatar

    Scribble looks delightful, Elisabeth, & I think I would like The Hero Schlieman. What an interesting story, & you’re right, it doesn’t sound like he made the job painstakingly boring at all! Thanks also for the ‘list’, expensive, but maybe my library will have it! Have a good week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The Booklist book is VERY pricey! Not one I’d get unless my library had it, but a good resource for building a solid YA library. I was excited to discover many Jan Greenberg nonfiction titles I didn’t know about. Started ILL requesting this morning!

  5. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    “It’s the kind of story where not much happens–and yet everything significant is happening.”

    I love this description of Sisters. And this is the reason I love character-driven books over plot-driven ones!

    Love Memoirs of a Goldfish. The author is actually a newscaster here in Detroit so it was strange seeing his name on a picture book for kids. And the best part is, one of my students recommended it to me. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m all about character-driven over plot-driven too, Beth. I think that’s why I’m finding my home as a reader in middle-grade fiction! Love it that a student recommended Memoirs of a Goldfish to you! I didn’t realize the author was a newscaster.

  6. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    It was a great reading week! Comic Squad and Sisters are both so good! I’m sure Quest was amazing (I can’t wait to read it–on its way from the library). I have Pet Book and Memoirs also on request. I can’t wait to read them all.
    Also, I really enjoyed your Sunday post with all of the online reading. I had missed many of those.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I know you will love Quest–such a wonderful story about the power of the imagination–and there is a strong friendship at the center of the book too. Glad you enjoyed the Sunday post! I think it’s my mom’s favorite thing that I post every week, so I hate it when I miss a week. Feel like I’m disappointing my mother!

  7. Gigi McAllister Avatar

    Hi Elisabeth, I am so excited that Aaron Becker has a new book out. I just requested it from my library. My 4th graders always love when I read Memoirs of a Goldfish. Scribble looks really interesting. I have Comics Squad and Sisters here on my counter. Hoping to get to them soon, but tonight I start Brown Girl Dreaming finally.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Brown Girl Dreaming! Lucky you! Can’t wait to get that one. I discovered Scribble when I was poking around Deborah Freedman’s website a couple of weeks ago. Makes a nice pairing with Journey and Quest, actually (children drawing their world and the world coming to life).

  8. readingtothecore Avatar

    I loved The Fourteenth Goldfish and Scribble! Can’t wait to get Quest and My Pet Book and Memoirs of a Goldfish look adorable. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Memoirs of a goldfish is really fun–and one for all ages. I don’t know why Scribble wasn’t on my radar before given how much I love Deborah Freedman’s other books!

  9. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    Thank you for your honest review of MY PET BOOK. I loved the overly loud illustrations, but I can see how others might find them to be jarring. The plot was indeed peculiar. I think the concept was what made me love it most. As a parent who won’t be getting a pet for quite some time, I think this concept will be a good resource for my son. You want a dog? Until we are ready to get one, let’s make this book your pet. Ha.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      One thing I love about the Monday community is hearing a variety of opinions about books. When I don’t like something, someone else can almost always point me to what’s enjoyable or worthwhile about it so that I can reconsider my opinion and think a little more deeply about the book. Love your idea of getting books for your son as pets! Of course, we’re a SEVEN pet household, so we clearly have some kind of problem….

  10. Myra GB Avatar

    I had to laugh out loud when I read that your TBR exploded with Booklist’s 1000 Best YA Books – I have to get my hands on that as well. Quest sounds like a real keeper. I can’t wait for the third book in that supposed trilogy. I tried checking whether we have The 14th goldfish in our library – sadly, we don’t have it yet. The premise sounds like the movie 17 Again. 🙂

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