It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 10/20/14 #imwayr

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

On my blog:

  • A small Sunday Salon with links to some online reading I especially enjoyed last week
  • A celebration of dogs, mail-order injera, and NCTE funding
  • A review of Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books
  • A review of two picture book biographies of Helen Keller
  • An update on my #MustReadin2014 reading challenge progress

In reading:

night gardener

Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener is one of those very good books that somehow wasn’t quite the right book for me at the right time, even though, objectively, I very much admire what it achieves. It’s distinguished in every way and deserving of the Newbery talk I’ve been reading. Beautiful sentences, compelling and creepy plot, strong characters, a fine theme about story. Plus, that gorgeous cover. If this hadn’t been (over)due at the library, I probably would have waited for a time when I was more in the mood for this kind of story, because I have a feeling that if I’d read this book at a different time, I would have loved it. As it is, I am in very strong admire with the book, but that’s okay too.


My son absolutely adored Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. He likes read-aloud time, but he rarely begs for it to go on longer. At the end of every chapter of Rump, however, he asked for “just one more”–music to the ears of this mama. AND he now knows that fractured fairy tales are a thing–a thing that he likes. (We’re now reading The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which is delightful.)

can we talk about something more pleasant

I don’t know what to say about Roz Chast’s memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, except that you need to read it. You’re probably familiar with Chast’s comics, and she does use comics to great effect in this memoir, but she also mixes in memoir writing and drawings, with the occasional photograph. Chast is very, very funny, even–especially?–when writing about decidedly not-funny things; that humor, dark and bleak as it sometimes is, is absolutely necessary for this story. This is not a happy book: it’s a memoir about Chast’s attempts to take care of her elderly parents during their decline in their 90s. She describes their aging, dementia, and death in devastating detail. This book is absolutely unflinching–both in its examination of all the ways we lose control of our bodies and minds in extreme old age as well as in its reflection on Chast’s own complicated feelings about her parents and her childhood. I doubt my description has made anyone think this is a must-read, but it really is: it’s important and hard and very funny and definitely a book that’s going on my list of favorite reads from 2014.

bramble and maggie

And now for something entirely different: Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl. This early reader, written by Jessie Haas and illustrated by Alison Friend, is going to be a great favorite with the horse-mad students in my Children’s Lit class. This first volume in the series mostly introduces the two main characters and brings them together: real adventure will have to wait for later volumes.

a is for musk ox

It’s too bad that A Is For Musk Ox was published in the same year as Z Is for Moose. I think it doesn’t get the attention it richly deserves. On the surface, they are awfully similar books: in both, you’ve got an unconventional animal wreaking havoc with an alphabet book and a cranky zebra who’s trying to get everything back on track. But writer Erin Cabatingan and illustrator Matthew Myers make this story their own. I found Joseph, the musk ox, quite engaging as he manages to connect every letter of the alphabet to the glories of the musk oxen.  A fun read-aloud and a bit of a tongue-twister: it’s challenging to say musk oxen repeatedly.

sector 7

My son pronounced Sector 7 “boring,” an evaluation I found completely outrageous (It’s a David Wiesner book! It’s so pretty! There are clouds shaped like cool fish creature things!) until I realized that I was kind of bored too. I did love the pages with the cool fish creature things, but there were far too many spreads of factory scenes and not enough whimsy for my taste.actual sizeActual Size, another stellar nonfiction title about animals from Steve Jenkins, provides so many opportunities for wonder and incredulity. Jenkins’s paper collages are magnificent, and he’s also so good at zeroing in on just the right detail to convey information. Every part of this book is thoughtfully designed–from the fold-out pages to the use of white space to the title page and copyright page.  


I loved Raul Colon’s wordless picture book about a young artist who travels to Africa in his imagination and has incredible adventures illustrating the different animals he finds there. A beautiful story about art and imagination. Wouldn’t it look pretty with a shiny gold sticker on the cover?? (If the Newbery and Caldecott committees recognize only white authors and illustrators for yet another year, my head may explode. #WeNeedDiverseBooks and we especially need diverse books to win major book awards!) ivan remarkable true storyKatherine Applegate’s Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is nonfiction picture book perfection. I so admire the clarity, simplicity, and sensitivity of this book. Each line is poetry. But in a good way. Not in a call-attention-to-its-own-luminous-prose-kind-of-way. At first, I thought G. Brian Karas’s illustrations were kind of ugly, but they really grew on me, and I ended up believing they were the perfect complement to Applegate’s prose. This is a brilliant introduction to Ivan’s life (and to animal welfare issues) for the youngest readers, but it will keep the attention and interest of readers of all ages. (Even my husband wanted to read it!) There is interesting back matter, including a note from one of Ivan’s zookeepers at Zoo Atlanta, some photos, and one of Ivan’s paintings.
slug rat

I am eventually going to have to purchase all of Elise Gravel’s Disgusting Creatures series, because we loved the first two that we read, The Slug and The Rat. Interesting facts about the “disgusting critters” in question are paired with silly cartoon illustrations. I wished that each book were a bit heavier on the factual information and a bit lighter on the silly cartoons, but as an introduction to nonfiction writing for young readers, this series can’t be beat.



Reading Goal Update:

Nerdbery Challenge: 1/12 books

#MustReadin2014: 10/15 books

YA Shelf of Shame Challenge: 7/12 books

Professional Development Reading Goal: 9/12 books

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 103/100 books

Picture Book Reading Goal: 572/350 books

Chapter Book & Middle-Grade Reading Goal: 71/100 books

YA Lit Reading Goal: 37/60 books

Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge: 26/12 books

Number of Books Total (not counting picture books): 143/200






17 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 10/20/14 #imwayr”

  1. thelogonauts Avatar

    Isn’t it odd when different authors come up with a very similar idea around the same time? So many fractured alphabet books!

    I am interested in Draw and just put in a library request, sweet. Got to hear Stephin Merrit talk this weekend about his new book with Roz Chast, 101 two-letter words. Perfect for the sarcastic Scrabble aficionado in your life.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My husband and I are doing PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in November, and he has started early–he keeps sharing new ideas for PBs with me, and this morning he was trying to puzzle out something clever for an alphabet book. I had to keep telling him, sorry, that’s been done already! Draw is one that’s sticking with me–so lovely. I’m going to enjoy sharing it with students.

  2. Linda Baie Avatar

    Wow, another Steve Jenkins I haven’t seen-looks terrific. I also need to see Draw! Since we do so much journaling at our school, I imagine it will be a good one for the library. I loved Rump also, & there’s another coming, Jack, in the spring! I still haven’t read The Night Gardener, in our Newbery stack now, & students are liking it. So many interesting ones to read!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Glad to hear students are liking Night Gardener–it manages to be literary and a page-turner, which I appreciate! Draw is just gorgeous–I think you’ll like it. Like you, I keep discovering new-to-me Steve Jenkins’s titles.

  3. Michele Avatar

    So many good books on your list this week! Ivan is a book I could go back to over and over, similar to it’s chapter book counterpart! I don’t think my young readers really appreciate the beautiful language of the book yet.
    The Night Gardener was one of my favorite reads this year, but I can completely respect that not every book is right for everybody. There are a few books I did not care for that everyone else looks at me like I’m crazy when I say that!
    Rump was such a fun read. I can’t wait for Jack this spring!
    Have a great week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      We’re looking forward to Jack too! I was so impressed by Applegate’s beautiful language in the nonfiction PB about Ivan. (Funnily enough, One and Only Ivan is one of those books for me that everyone loves and I don’t! But I try not to say that too loud around here, LOL. I assign it in Children’s Lit because EVERYONE loves it so much!! And I suffer through rereading it…) The Night Gardener is incredibly well-written. Not sure why it didn’t connect more strongly with me…

  4. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    The Night Gardener is one of those books I keep meaning to get to but haven’t yet. I feel like I really need to before January though (despite the fact that I still cling to all hope that A Snicker of Magic will be taking home the shiny gold sticker :p)

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Night Gardener gets a nod–I do think it’s distinguished in every way. Not sure what my Newbery frontrunner is right now. Maybe Brown Girl Dreaming? I still have a lot to read before January! I have kept up with Caldecott hopefuls, but I often get behind on my Newbery reading.

  5. carriegelson Avatar

    I agree – a lot of perfection in Ivan! I am a huge fan of G. Brian Karas (love Neville)so I was thrilled that he was the illustrator of this title. Everyone gravitates to this book. It is constantly being read in my room. A is for Musk Ox was in our favourite read aloud bin last year. Kids love it! I just got Musk Ox Counts and look forward to sharing it with the kids soon. I am so pleased your son enjoyed Rump – it has wide kid appeal!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Karas’s art is really perfect for this story. I have got to get my hands on Musk Ox Counts!

  6. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    I’m glad you got to read Maggie & Bramble! Isn’t it a cute story?!
    I have Ivan in my huge library PB pile. I SO look forward to reading it.
    I’m so glad your son loved Rump. It is a wonderful story, and I couldn’t put it down either.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Maggie & Bramble is so cute! So glad to see another quality early reader series that I can share in Children’s Lit.

  7. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    There are so many books to comment on–I don’t know where to start! I enjoyed the Bramble and Maggie series too. The books were so charming and fun! I liked your review about The Night Gardener. I haven’t read it, but I have been hearing so much about it. I completely understand your comment that it was a great book but not at the right time. This happens to me too! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I definitely recommend Night Gardener–very well-written and a page-turning story. Funny how some books just aren’t quite what you’re looking for at that moment!

  8. Cheriee Weichel Avatar

    I loved The Night Gardener, but I understand that sometimes it just isn’t time for a book. This is the second Bramble and Maggie’s book I’ve read about today. I must get some tomorrow when I am book shopping! I’ve caved and ordered the entire Disgusting Creatures series from Kidsbooks.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, I caved and ordered two of the Disgusting Creatures books after I kept reading about them on–it seemed like anyway–every blog every Monday! They are very fun nonfiction texts for the youngest readers, though my 6th grader found them engaging enough too. I have so many readers who are going to love Bramble & Maggie (college-aged readers, LOL). I just can’t get my hands on enough girl + horse books (not a type of story I’ve ever been interested in, so I’m very dependent on my PLN to recommend titles!)

  9. Myra GB Avatar

    Hi there Elisabeth. I must have read The Night Gardener at a time when I needed just my right dose of creepy and ‘wanting’ and ‘longing’ and so it spoke to me a great deal. Will be reviewing it actually for our upcoming reading theme. Too bad about Sector 7 – one of the GatheringBooks ladies, Fats, calls herself a cloud-catcher, hence, her being enamoured with Sector 7. 🙂

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