It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 10/27/14 #imwayr


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

This week on my blog:

  • A curation of some of my favorite online reading from the week
  • A celebration of teachers who get it, snarky course hashtags, and uninterrupted stretches of time for reading
  • A recommendations post for historical fiction, featuring Top Ten lists by Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke
  • A Top Ten list featuring the nonfiction books I most want to read right now (a couple of which are in my Monday post today!)
  • A slice of life on the language my son has taught me, the language of trauma

In reading:

creature features

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page’s Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look The Way They Do is every bit as gorgeous as that cover leads you to believe it will be. Jenkins creates 25 portraits of animals, mostly faces, some familiar (panda, giraffe), some decidedly not (thorny devil, axolotl). The information is presented in a Q&A format with a simple question (“Dear sun bear: Why is your tongue so long?”) and simple answer (“I love to eat ants and termites. With my long tongue, I can reach into their nests and slurp them up.”). I found the information about each animal’s distinctive feature so fascinating that I often wished for more text, but I do realize more text would destroy the effect and muddy the purpose. This is nonfiction for the youngest readers that will still appeal to older readers. The backmatter includes scale drawings comparing each animal to a human, a map showing where the wild population lives (I love that there is a tiny wild population of hamsters!), and a list of foods in its preferred diet. There is also a bibliography.

dory fantasmagory

Abby Hanlon’s early chapter book, Dory Fantasmagory, is absolutely fantastic. Dory, nicknamed Rascal by her family for reasons that will become obvious to the reader very, very quickly, is desperate for her older siblings to play with her and include her in their games, but they find ways both mundane (complaining to mom) and creative (scaring Dory with the story of Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a baby thief) to avoid their little sister. Dory eventually wins them over–at least temporarily–and there is much mischief, imagination, and adventure along the way. There are drawings on every page, and the pictures tell the story just as much as the words do.

my new friend is so funSomehow I missed this Elephant & Piggie story when it was published earlier in the year. In My New Friend Is So Fun!, Piggie makes a new friend, which prompts much jealousy and woe from Gerald. Of course things turn out right in the end. How does Mo Willems write so many perfect books??

liar and spy

I gave myself a special treat this week and reread a favorite middle-grade title, Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. It’s so comforting to sink into a favorite book. I think one of my reading goals for 2015 is going to be more rereading!

home of the brave

Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave circulated like mad in my Children’s Literature course last spring: everyone who read One and Only Ivan and loved it (nearly the whole class) wanted to read Home of the Brave–especially after it was enthusiastically book-talked by several students. This is a powerful story about a Sudanese refugee named Kek who moves to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin, also refugees. Kek’s father and brother have been killed in the war, and his mother is missing. Applegate’s spare verse works extremely well for this story, though I did have some problems with the first-person narration, given that Kek is newly arrived in America and doesn’t speak English. I also wish that Applegate had included some information in the back about how she researched and wrote the story and how she worked to make sure it was culturally accurate. I’m going to have to do a little research on my own before I book-talk this next semester. But I did love this story–especially Kek’s relationship with Gol, the cow.


Jay-Z is a very short (32 page!) graphic novel about the life and work of “Hip Hop Icon” Jay-Z. It’s a great idea for a graphic novel, and Jay-Z would seem to be a good subject. But wow, this book was boring. It’s set up as an interview between Jay-Z and a reporter who asks questions about his rise to stardom and business interests. Although I don’t think the book works at all, it’s still one I would want to have in my classroom library. I can see plenty of reluctant readers picking this one up, breezing through it, having a successful reading experience (and I can accept that it’s probably more engaging for its target audience than it was for me), and wanting to read something else (perhaps another book in the American Graphic series).

olivia bean trivia queen

I’m on a quest to read all of Donna Gephart’s books after enjoying Death by Toilet Paper so much. In Olivia Bean Trivia Queen (this woman can write a book title!), the trivia-obsessed Olivia has just one goal: to make it onto Kid Week on her favorite TV show, Jeopardy. Partly it’s because she really does love trivia, but mostly it’s because her father has moved to California with his new family (which just happens to include Olivia’s former best friend) and she thinks the only way she can afford a trip to visit her dad is to get sent there by Jeopardy. The TV/trivia plot keeps things moving briskly, but the heart of the story is how Olivia comes to terms with the inadequacies (and more than inadequacies) of her gambling-addict Dad and with the pain of losing him and her best friend.

pen & ink

Pen & Ink: Tattoos & The Stories Behind Them is an expanded book version of the tumblr of the same name. Isaac Fitzgerald interviews a variety of people about their tattoos. He writes the story and Wendy MacNaughton illustrates. It’s a charming and surprisingly thought-provoking book. I read it in one sitting, but it’s also the kind of book to dip into and read two or three stories at a time.






13 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 10/27/14 #imwayr”

  1. Linda Baie Avatar

    I still want to read Creature Features, Elisabeth. This makes me wonder if the book wasn’t in the works while he was creating his animal book, and he used some of the work on that more expanded one about animals while working on this one? Anyway, always love the books by Jenkins, maybe Page, too. That Elephant & Piggie is another delight, agreed! Thanks!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Creature Features is terrific, especially for lower elementary. I was thinking that panda on the cover would be the best image, but there are several that I think are just as incredible. I was thinking that in The Animal Book, Jenkins must use works he did for other books. There is a very neat feature on the making of Creature Features here:

  2. Michele Avatar

    I loved Creature Features too and I agree, I think it’s written for the younger crowd, but older kids will enjoy its simplicity.
    And did you know there will be a new Elephant and Piggie next week????
    I’m glad to hear about Olivia Bean. I loved TP too, but have not read her other books. Will have to look into them!
    I need to get to Liar and Spy – it’s one of our state books this year.
    Have a great week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Yes, I’ve pre-ordered the new Elephant & Piggie. Still not sure how I missed My New Friend! Liar & Spy is one of my favorite middle-grades. The state book awards get so many wonderful books into my tiny local library. I try to read all the PB and children’s, though I don’t think I ever make it through all the YA!

  3. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I have a signed copy of Home of the Brave but haven’t read it yet. I really need to get to that one.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s well worth reading–a powerful story.

  4. carriegelson Avatar

    I just put Home of the Brave on hold at the library. Looking forward to it. I read Olivia Bean a while ago and really enjoyed it. I am also a huge fan of Liar and Spy. Such a fan of those characters and the huge world in that one apartment building. I think I need to reread that book now too. Creature Features is amazing isn’t it?! Jenkins and Page are just beyond the beyond in all that they do for nonfiction and curiosity!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      So glad to see you’re a huge fan of Liar & Spy! Stead is such a restrained writer, but she does indeed create these huge worlds. Her stories linger with me long after I finish them. I also appreciate how interesting and believable her adult characters are. I’ll be curious about your thoughts on Home of the Brave.

  5. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar

    I was excited to read your review of Home of the Brave. I love Katherine Applegate and would read just about anything by her. I wasn’t aware of this book (shame on me!). I read about Creature Features a week ago and thought it looked like good fun. You just reminded me to add it to my list. Thank you!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I wasn’t aware of this book either, Ricki–not until I posted a request for help on Twitter in the spring when I was searching for One and Only Ivan readalikes (I still say Ivan is a very tough book to find readalikes for! I wish someone would do a blog post!). Someone chimed in that Applegate had a verse novel that some of my students might enjoy. I felt very silly for never having heard of Home of the Brave!

  6. Cheriee Weichel Avatar

    I read My New Friend is So Fun with a group of kids today. We were all reinfatuated with Mo Willems. He is brilliant! I loved Liar and Spy. I’ve ordered Dory Because it sounds so fabulous and put Home of The Brave on my to reads list.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Mo Willems is indeed so brilliant! How many classic books can one author have in him?! (Let’s hope a whole bunch more!) Dory is a delight, and Home of the Brave needs to be read and discussed.

  7. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    The Jay Z book is a big hit in my classroom. It has help many of my students realize that biographies can be interesting.
    I loved Liar & Spy, but your other novels in this book are ones I need to read. Thank you for the reminders!

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

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