It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 9/22/14


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

On my blog:

In reading:

I didn’t manage to finish a single book myself, but I did read a lot to my son.

order of unicorn

I am fond of unicorns and planned to enjoy Book 4 in Suzanne Selfors’s Imaginary Veterinary series, but the weaknesses of the series are on full display here. Far too much attention is paid to meaningless details giving no space for plot or character development. It feels like it takes 100 pages just to get the kids out of bed, breakfasted, dressed, and across town to the “worm hospital” in the morning (a cover for the veterinary for imaginary creatures). And it really does take over 100 pages to get to anything unicorn. 100+ pages of set-up is just too much for a middle-grade novel that’s only 180 pages total. My kids continue to enjoy this series, but this will probably be the last one that I agree to read aloud.

viva frida

Last night I asked my son what he’d like for me to read to him. “I really want to read the book about the eyebrow lady,” he said. We’ve read several picture books about Frida Kahlo, and that’s how he knows her: the eyebrow lady. And as you can see from the cover, the famous eyebrows are on full display in Yuyi Morales’s eye-poppingly gorgeous Viva Frida. Morales creates dolls (puppets?) of Frida, Diego, Frida’s dog, and Frida’s monkey, and poses them in various scenes to tell a dreamy story about Frida as an artist. (There are also several paintings–when Frida dreams, the illustrations change to paintings, and then go back to the doll sets when she wakes up). This is not a biography, not an information book. This is a book about artistic inspiration, about what it means to live as an artist. There are very few words on each page, and the book is dual-language Spanish and English. Warm, inspiring, full of joy and love. A very Yuyi Morales book.

baby tree

Sophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree is an absolute delight. When our main character learns that his parents are going to have another baby, he has only one question: where do babies come from? But it’s time to leave for school, so he doesn’t have a chance to ask his mom and dad. Instead, he asks several people he meets over the course of the day, and they all give him different answers, which inspire some terrific art from Blackall, including the baby tree on the cover. Although the answers are all wrong, they contain a nugget of truth, as the boy realizes when he is finally able to ask his mom and dad and hear the truth. Well, except for Grandpa’s answer. The final picture shows the boy sitting down with his grandpa to explain where babies really come from–since Grandpa is clearly clueless. There is an informational aspect to this book, and it would be an excellent choice to read aloud to a child who is wondering where babies come from. There is a helpful page at the end listing common questions asked by the 4-6 year old set with age-appropriate answers for the parent who needs a little extra guidance.

golden rule

I did not want to read a picture book about The Golden Rule (overt moral lessons in picture books are a pet peeve of mine), but I did want to see Gabi Swiatowska’s art. And it did not disappoint. I have a hard time even choosing my favorite spread because there is so much to delight. There were moments in the story that I did like, especially the inclusion of versions of the golden rule from different religious traditions. But I did find the story a bit heavy-handed at times. I think my children’s lit students (who tend to like moral lessons in picture books much more than I do) will love this book, so it’s one I will certainly share in that class. And I will say that it got a strong kid seal of approval from my son. It’s pretty rare that he comments on what we read, but at the end of this book, he said, “That’s actually a good story.” So there you go. Magnificent art and “actually a good story.” (Unlike the other books I read to him? I’m not really sure how to take the “actually” in that sentence!)

right word

I may have to quit the Caldecott if Melissa Sweet isn’t acknowledged for the incredible work she does for Jen Bryant’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. This is the case of an illustrator finding the perfect project for her style. Sweet’s distinctive watercolors and mixed-media collage incorporate many elements that are quinessential Roget: lists, words (obviously), an obsession with symmetry and classification. Read more about her process for creating the art in The Right Word at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. (Bryant’s story is excellent too, though it did NOT get the kid seal of approval. My son actually fell asleep while I was reading this book to him. In his defense, he’d had an emotionally and physically draining day, and he was really tired. I don’t think that under normal circumstances it’s the kind of book that puts kids to sleep.)

hana hashimoto

I finally got my hands on a book that Carrie Gelson has recommended several times on her blog. Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, is a beautifully written story of a little girl who decides to enter the talent show even though she has only just begun taking violin lessons. She can’t really play yet, and her brothers laugh at her and assure her that she will be “a disaster.” Chieri Uegaki roots Hana’s desire to play the violin in her memories of visiting her grandfather, an accomplished violinist, in Japan. Hana creatively solves the problem of not being able to actually play the violin, and the ending is quite satisfying. Uegaki writes gorgeous sentences: this would make an excellent mentor text.

mermaid and shoe


In K.G. Campbell’s The Mermaid and the Shoe, King Neptune’s daughter, Minnow, thinks she has no particular talents or abilities. As her mean sister Calypso frequently reminds her, she’s useless. The only thing she’s good at is asking questions–and that can get annoying. It’s only after she discovers a red shoe and decides to set off on an adventure to learn more about it that she discovers what she is truly good at. A sweet story with a bit of humor and wonderfully dreamy illustrations.

brother hugo and bear

I hadn’t heard of Brother Hugo and the Bear, written by Katy Beebe and illustrated by S.D. Schindler, until I came across it in the comments of a recent Calling Caldecott post. And Schindler’s art should rightly get some attention. Beebe’s story was inspired by a note from a twelfth-century monk who asked to borrow a book from a different monastery because his copy had been eaten by a bear. In Beebe’s version, our poor monk loses his library book when it’s eaten by a bear. His superior asks him to replace it by making a new copy. Quite a bit of the story is devoted to book-making, which does make this a fine story for the bookish to read. Schindler incorporates many elements of medieval manuscript illumination into his art, and there is an interesting note at the end describing the process and tools in more detail.  I don’t see this as Caldecott material, but I am glad that I was able to read it. nana in the city

I loved the spare, simple writing in Lauren Castillo’s Nana in the City, and of course I loved her illustrations. A celebration of grandmas, cities, being brave, and looking beneath the surface.






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

  1. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    Oh my goodness! The Baby Tree sounds so delightful! I am adding it to my list. Maybe, when I can forget the horrors of childbirth and consider having another, I will read it to my son! Too much info? Ha. I hope you have a great week, Elisabeth. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Ricki, why do you think I chose to adopt?! My mom assures me that she has NEVER forgotten the horrors of childbirth! (And only did it once!)

  2. Linda Baie Avatar

    Except for the unicorn book (I’ll pass.), every other book on the list is on mine, Elisabeth. I do have The Right Word, but haven’t opened it yet, but I will. The Baby Tree is going to have to be purchased for my granddaughters. It looks so wonderful! Thanks very much!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Sophie Blackall does such good work. I always love her illustrations, and I loved her writing as well in Baby Tree. The Right Word is one to read slowly and pour over. I had to go back to it after rereading the interview with Melissa Sweet at 7 Impossible Things. So much to look at and think about!

  3. Jennifer | Book Den Kids Avatar

    Aw, I could have used The Baby Tree when I had my last one. 🙂 The Mermaid and the Shoe sounds wonderful.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Have you read K.G. Campbell’s Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters? I loved that one too. Mermaid has a very different feel to it.

  4. Lisa Robles Avatar

    Wow, Viva Frida looks amazing!


    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It wasn’t what I was expecting. I’m looking forward to sharing it with students to see what they think.

  5. Kay McGriff (@kaymcgriff) Avatar

    These picture books sound scrumptions. I am so jealous you’ve got The Right Word. I want it very much!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s well worth owning, Kay! Definitely one I’m going to be sharing a lot.

  6. Michele Avatar

    Great books this week! And, I’m always happy to add to your lists, especially since you often do the same for me 🙂
    I really liked the first book in the Imaginary Veterinary series, but just haven’t felt compelled to read another. My daughter, on the other hand, has read all of them! They appeal to 9 year olds I guess!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think the first book in the vet series was the best. The rest have all taken WAY too long to get to the story–far too much set-up. It seemed really pronounced to me in Book 4. My younger son is reading the series independently right now and enjoying it. Book 5 comes out in January–I’m sure I’ll end up buying it.

  7. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    That’s so funny (and apropos) your son calls Frida the eyebrow lady. I have that book waiting for me at the library right now. I need to pick it up tomorrow.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Looking forward to your thoughts, Beth. I found it a bit thin on a first read, but it really grew on me on a second read. Sometimes I am an impatient reader of PBs, and it’s not a book to rush through.

  8. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    Your son had a wonderful reading week!
    I have Mermaid in my to read pile and Nana coming from the library soon. I will check out the others on Goodreads 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    Have a happy reading week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, yes my son had a wonderful reading week! So glad I have him to read to. I’m currently obsessed with Lauren Castillo–really need to get my hands on The Troublemaker, which I still haven’t seen!

  9. carriegelson Avatar

    Beautiful, beautiful picture books this week! I am so thrilled you loved Hana Hashimoto – it is obviously a favourite of mine. The Baby Tree and Nana in the City are on my must read list for picture books. I love the description – “the book about the eyebrow lady” Too funny.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      We have Suki’s Kimono to read this week too! Such gorgeous sentences in Hana Hashimoto–a real pleasure to read. I think you will like Baby Tree and Nana in the City.

  10. msyingling Avatar

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who wants to read The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. I can’t wait until I get a copy from the library. Glad to know that it’s well put together!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s just gorgeous! There’s an interesting illustrator’s note at the back too. Hope you get your hands on it soon!

  11. Myra GB Avatar

    I will be picking up The Right Word and The Mermaid and the Shoe tomorrow from the library – they would fit our upcoming reading theme for November-December. Frida sounds like a gorgeous book – have you seen the film adaptation of the life of Frida? Pretty powerful stuff there – not for children, though, as you might predict. Baby Tree looks beautiful. I borrowed The Golden Rule from our library and I’m hoping to feature it for one of our Saturday reads in the coming months. Swiatkowska’s art is amazing.

  12. thelogonauts Avatar

    Ha! Love your comment about Melissa Sweet. It is one thing that I have been wondering about, Caldecott-wise. I simply love her illustration/collage/scrapbook style but I have been wondering if she might not get a nod because her previous books did not either. (Does that make sense?)

    Excited to finally get Hana Hashimoto myself – I think I am down to #2 on the library wait list …

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