It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/15/14 #imwayr



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

On my blog this week:

  • A curation of some of my favorite online reading
  • A celebration of birthdays and books
  • A list of fifteen of my favorite Newberys
  • A review of Steve Jenkins’s nonfiction picture book, Eye to Eye
  • A top ten list of picture books that I wish had won a Caldecott

In reading:

I finished two professional development books that I hope to review in the next couple of weeks:

reading ladders

Teri Lesesne’s Reading Ladders: Leading Students From Where They Are to Where We’d Like Them to Be


Meenoo Rami’s Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching


I wanted to look at Stardines: Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Carin Berger, after reading a blog post by Betsy Bird called Always Bridesmaids, Never Brides: Caldecott Almosts. Berger is one of nine illustrators Bird identifies as highly deserving of a Caldecott. Berger does exquisite cut paper and collage work. For Forever Friends, her illustrations were delicate and charming. For Stardines, they’re quirky and humorous, just like Prelutsky’s poetry. I am not the right reader for most children’s poetry: I don’t like rhyming couplets, and I don’t like nonsense verse, and it seems to me that most poetry published for children drowns in both. Certainly Prelutsky’s book does. These are silly poems about fantastical creatures: stardines, slobsters, plandas, etc. You get the idea. If you go for this sort of thing, it’s probably wonderful. But I was mostly interested in the art, which is quite elaborate and interesting.

negroe speaks of rivers

As I was putting together my post last week about my own “Caldecott Almosts,” I thought about E.B. Lewis. His work illustrating Jacqueline’s Woodson’s picture books impressed me. But I knew I had found my Caldecott Almost when I saw the work he created to illustrate Langston Hughes’s The Negro Speaks of Rivers. I have no idea why this book didn’t win every illustration prize when it was published in 2009, because the art is INCREDIBLE. Every possible mood and color of a river is depicted. My favorite illustration is probably Lewis’s self-portrait to illustrate the line, “My soul has grown deep like rivers.” An absolutely stunning book.

leroy ninker saddles up

My son is a great fan of the porcine wonder that is Mercy Watson, so I knew I had to read Kate DiCamillo’s latest, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, to him. Leroy Ninker discovers that he needs just one thing to be perfectly happy: a horse. His horse, the homely Maybelline, dearly loves a compliment and inspires Leroy to deliver many fine “poeticals.” DiCamillo’s sentences are made to be read aloud, and once again, Chris Van Dusen contributes terrific illustrations. And yes, there is buttered toast.

nanny piggins and the wicker plan

My son and I also read the second Nanny Piggins book by R.A. Spratt, Nanny Piggins and the Wicked Plan. My son finds Nanny Piggins disturbingly amoral; he finds it very difficult to understand the humor in this series. For adult readers, the humor is largely language-based. Spratt writes some very clever sentences and employs irony and understatement to great effect. But for kid readers, I’m guessing that the humor is largely situational and character-driven as Nanny Piggins outsmarts all of the evil adults, and yes, it’s the kind of story where all the grown-ups who aren’t pigs fall somewhere on a spectrum between cruel and moronic. We will probably read the third book but only after we read a few wholesome stories to settle my son’s concerns about Nanny Piggins’s moral code.

great american dust bowl

The Great American Dust Bowl, written and illustrated by Don Brown, is a nonfiction graphic novel about the dust storm of April 14, 1935, one of the worst of the 1930s. Brown plunges the reader into the storm, then steps back to explain why the dust storms started happening in the first place, then returns the reader to the storm to experience the storm itself and its consequences. It is truly terrifying stuff. This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers: my third-grader could read it, but it’s also a book I would choose to have in a high school classroom library. Maybe because I had just finished Teri Lesesne’s Reading Ladders, I couldn’t help but start thinking of reading ladders for this book: Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn, Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time Ever, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. It would also be a good book to study in a unit on “environmental catastrophe.” Brown also reminds the reader that dust storms are not a thing of the past: the final page describes environmental and climate events of 2011 and 2013. There is a small amount of useful back matter: a bibliography and source notes and two stunning photographs, one of a dust storm in 1935 and another of a dust storm in 2011. death by toilet paperDonna Gephart’s Death by Toilet Paper is an excellent middle-grade novel about seventh-grader Ben, whose family has been plunged into poverty after the death of his father the year before. Ben’s mother is trying to make ends meet while going back to school, but she’s behind on the rent and threatened with eviction. Ben puts a lot of pressure on himself to help out by entering sweepstakes and contests. He’s convinced he’s going to win the jackpot and be able to help his mother keep their apartment. Toilet paper enters the story through a series of letters Ben writes to the Royal-T toilet paper company, whose superior product Ben wishes his mother could still afford, and through the fascinating toilet and toilet paper facts shared at the beginning of each chapter. There’s a lot going on here–friendship issues, bullying at school, a grandfather who is losing his memory–but Gephart weaves the different themes and plot elements together effortlessly. Plenty of humor and heart.
this one summerJillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s YA graphic novel, This One Summer, is a book that is going to stick with me for awhile. Jillian Tamaki’s art is especially beautiful and tells much of the story without words. This is a book about what it means to be a girl in a misogynistic culture that so often views women as sexual objects and what it means to grow up and discover that you aren’t the center of the universe and you don’t always understand what the people closest to you are going through. Profound and challenging and absolutely lovely. 
diego bigger than life

Carmen Bernier-Grand tells the story of painter Diego Rivera through first-person free verse poems in Diego: Bigger Than Life. Bernier-Grand focuses on Rivera’s development as an artist, though she also includes ample references to his colorful personal life (Diego loved the ladies, and the ladies loved Diego) and key emotional crises (the death of a child, the death of Frida Kahlo). Rivera comes into his own as an artist once he finds a way to infuse his paintings with his political and social beliefs. David Diaz lavishly illustrates. This title is probably best suited for middle school and high school classrooms and libraries.

my season with penguinsSophie Webb’s Sibert Honor book, My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal, tells the story of a season she spent working with scientists and researchers at a penguin colony in Antarctica. The book is set up like a field journal with dated entries and sketches. There is plenty of scientific information about penguins here, but I found some of the more personal details about the travel and living conditions most memorable.

Reading Goals Update

Nerdbery Challenge: 1/12 books

#MustReadin2014: 8/15 books

YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 5/12 books

Professional Development Reading Goal: 8/12 books

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 87/100 books

Picture Book Reading Goal: 518/350 books

Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 62/100 books

YA Lit Reading Goal: 31/60 books

Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 22/12 books

Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 130/200






22 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/15/14 #imwayr”

  1. Tara Smith Avatar

    So many books to love here! Dieogo sounds lovely, and Gephart’s book is just destined to become a classroom favorite.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I agree, Tara: Gephart’s book is going to be a favorite. Now I’m eager to read her other books, especially How to Survive Middle School (which I bought for my son’s classroom but didn’t have time to read.)

  2. Iron Guy Carl Avatar

    Thanks! There are several books that look interesting for boys. I’ll take a look, especially that Dust Bowl book

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m always looking for books that are interesting for boys. The Dust Bowl book would have big appeal, I think: compelling story, not very text-heavy, cool illustrations.

  3. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    I enjoyed both of those professional development books you listed. Thrive was a great resource that I wish I had in my first years of teaching, and I am always thinking about Teri Lesesne’s Reading Ladders. You had a VERY productive week! I was glad to read all of the reviews. I am a Dust Bowl fanatic (is that odd to say?), so I need to check that book out. I never liked history in high school, but I love history in my books! I hope you have a terrific week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Ricki, I am seeing reading ladders everywhere now! I seem to be incapable of finishing a book right now without thinking of 5 other books to pair it with on a ladder. I think you will love Don Brown’s Great American Dust Bowl–really a strong graphic novel. I am so glad that there are so many excellent informational books for kids because I am learning so much through my reading these days.

  4. Gigi McAllister Avatar

    Thrive is sitting on my shelf just waiting. I have always been interested in Teri’s book but have not read it. Do you think a Death by Toilet Paper would be good for 4th grade?

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Gigi, I think it would make a terrific read-aloud for 5th or 6th. Not sure it would work as well for 4th. Would probably depend on the group. Teri’s book is a very quick read and I appreciated how clearly she mapped out what an effective literacy program should look like. The book is under 100 pages and packs a lot in.

  5. carriegelson Avatar

    Laughing here – was going to ask if there was buttered toast. And yes, buttered toast! Hurray. I am completely intrigued by My Season with Penguins. Will be looking for this title. Thanks! Death by Toilet Paper is going on my TBR list immediately.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I was so happy about the buttered toast! What can’t be cured by buttered toast?! Death by Toilet Paper is one I think you would like. Great middle-grade title. My library has another field journal title by Sophie Webb that I’m going to have to get–I think the focus is on birds in that one too.

  6. Michele Knott Avatar

    You had a great reading week! I, too, love Mercy and her buttered toast! I have Leroy, but just haven’t gotten to it yet. I loved the quirky toilet paper facts in Death by TP. We had a great lunch time discussion about the over/under the roll fact 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Michele. So glad you enjoyed Death by Toilet Paper as much as I did. Can’t wait to read Donna Gephart’s other books. She’s a new-to-me author. Sometimes the quirk factor in Kate DiCamillo’s books is a little much for me, but I thought it worked beautifully in Leroy Ninker. I found the story very charming.

  7. Linda Baie Avatar

    I had the school buy Thrive for all the core teachers last spring. I liked it a lot, hope it was inspiring for them, too. I loved This One Summer, too, and have The Negro Speaks of Rivers, both gorgeous in their own unique ways. Thanks especially for that penguin book. Since all of our students do field work, it will be a wonderful one to have. And, love hearing your ideas about the dust bowl. I haven’t read that one, but loved The Worst Hard Time-still can’t imagine how awful it must have been. Thank you!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Linda, I bought Thrive for all my graduating pre-service teachers. I’m so glad to find a book I think they will all benefit from that’s short and more generally focused on the profession. Great American Dust Bowl would be an excellent book to introduce students to the time period and maybe start an obsessive interest, because it is truly fascinating and horrifying!

  8. thelogonauts Avatar

    Always great list. Will definitely check out the Dust Bowl one. We show an older PBS video about the dust bowl to the fourth graders when they get to that unit, and the personal stories of the interviewees always makes a big impression on them. Would love to have more resources to follow that up.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Great American Dust Bowl would be a terrific title for 4th graders. The illustrations tell much of the story too, so there is a lot to be done there with visual literacy. Sounds like this book would make a good pairing with the video since it shows what happened through the experiences of different people caught in the storms.

  9. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    You have a handful of books here that I truly enjoyed and a handful I definitely need to read.
    Wasn’t Dust Bowl, Thrive, Reading Ladders, and Stardines very well done?! I enjoyed all of them as well.
    I really want to read Nanny, Summer, and Toilet Paper–all on my TBR 🙂

    Happy reading this week!

    1. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

      AH! I didn’t even mention the penguin book! I LOVE PENGUINS! I’ll need to check out that one too.
      (I have an adopted penguin named Frank. Not from Antarctica, but South American 😀

      1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

        An adopted penguin named Frank! That’s awesome, Kellee. You will certainly want to read MY SEASON WITH PENGUINS then! This One Summer was one of those books for me where you finish it and don’t really want to read anything else right away because you know nothing will measure up!

  10. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I immediately put The Negro Speaks of Rivers on hold at my library. I must read that one. Langston Hughes is my favorite poet so I can’t wait to see E.B. Lewis’s illustrations paired with that powerful poem.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Lewis’s illustrations are magnificent, Beth. It’s a book I’m going to have to own. It’s absolutely mystifying to me that it didn’t get more attention during awards season.

  11. Myra GB Avatar

    So many wonderful books here. I know about The Negro Speaks of Rivers – but we don’t have copies here in our libraries! Such a shame, really. I would most likely buy my own copy – the art work I can tell is glorious just by the book cover alone. Diego is definitely a book I will have to add to my list of PBBs on Pinterest. This One Summer also looks exactly like my kind of reading material – will be on the lookout for it. 🙂

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