It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 11/2/14 #imwayr


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

This week on my blog:

In reading:

sam and dave dig a hole

I read Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, five or six times last week. I read it once just to enjoy the shifting focus of the dog’s eyes. The spread where he gazes directly at the reader is hilarious. The ending was controversial at my house: my son hated it and said it ruined the whole book for him; my husband pronounced it a work of genius and is calling this his new favorite picture book; and I headed off to 100 Scope Notes to read Travis Jonker’s six theories (be sure to read the comments too). My son wanted to know exactly what happened, but my husband and I preferred to keep it a mystery.

iridescence of birds

Patricia MacLachlan’s The Iridescence of Birds, illustrated by Hadley Hooper, reminded me a bit of Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida. MacLachlan’s book is more of a biography than Morales’s is–we find out some details about Henri Matisse’s childhood, for instance. But, like Viva Frida, it’s more about how creativity and the artistic spirit can be nurtured and developed. I loved seeing how images and memories from Matisse’s childhood later made their way into his paintings. This book certainly deserves to be in the Caldecott conversation. The text is fairly minimal (two long sentences, more lyrical than informative); the story is really told through Hooper’s illustrations. I especially like the spread where the child Matisse is on one side of the ladder and the adult Matisse stands on the other side.

heros guide

What a delight Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is! I read this book aloud to my son, and it’s a terrific read-aloud. So much humor in characters, situations, and sentences, excellent pacing, plenty of heart. We are looking forward to Book 2.

there goes the neighborhood

Susan Goldman Rubin’s middle-grade/YA nonfiction book, There Goes the Neighborhood: Ten Buildings People Loved to Hate, profiles ten buildings that were controversial when first built but mostly beloved now. Her selections include the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, the Pompidou Center, and the Guggenheium Museum, as well as a couple of controversial houses. Each short chapter details the project from architectural design to construction to critical response and includes quotations and photographs. The book designers had a clever idea: print text and photos in blue ink to mimic architectural blueprints. Unfortunately, I thought the use of the blue ink gave the book a dated look. I also wish that Rubin had included more discussion about the history of architecture and how these particular buildings may have created controversy because they broke with tradition. A discussion of aesthetics might have been helpful as well. Without a greater context, it’s often difficult to understand just why some of these buildings were so controversial.syllabusI read Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor very slowly over the past week, a few pages a day, and I absolutely loved it, but I don’t know who the right audience for this book is. If you haven’t read Barry’s earlier book, What It Is, many of the ideas about image and the unconscious mind that are implicit or alluded to in Syllabus may not make a lot of sense. Syllabus might also appeal more to teachers or college professors, as it’s a syllabus and set of daily course plans, heavily illustrated in Barry’s signature cartoon style, along with samples of student work and occasional brief reflections. It’s a snapshot of a semester in Barry’s teaching life, a collection of items you might file in a course binder each week. The materials she includes show what her class did, but not usually how or why. What I love about the book is also what some readers might find frustrating about it: nothing is really explained or described in any detail. That worked for me because I find Barry’s writing and drawing so evocative and suggestive: this book made me wonder and think and question and reflect on every page. 

This week, I have lots of reading plans: I am hoping to finish several books I’ve started (including Laini Taylor’s wonderful Days of Blood and Starlight); read something about creativity each day; and finish the horrible, horrible fractured fairy tale that I am currently reading aloud to my son. I hate it. I hate it so much. The writing is so flat, there are so many plot twists that lead nowhere, there are so many pointless descriptions and unnecessary words and sentences. The good news is that my son rarely follows along as I read aloud, so I am editing as I go–tightening the writing and trying to eliminate what offends me–for instance, a sentence about the mood swings and crying jags of tween girls. Maybe the main character is having a mood swing and wanting to cry because she’s stuck in this book! It certainly makes me want to cry. The bad news is that the book is over 400 pages, so it’s going to take us a few more days to get through it no matter how much bowdlerizing I do! Sadly, my son is quite engaged by the story–but that might be because I’m rewriting it as we go.





20 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 11/2/14 #imwayr”

  1. Tara Smith Avatar

    There Goes the Neighborhood sounds like a book my sixth graders would love to read – especially when we are in our non-fiction unit, and they need to find topics to research.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think There Goes the Neighborhood would give students several ideas about possible topics to research. It’s a good mentor text for shorter research projects as well.

  2. thelogonauts Avatar

    Love the idea of the Hero’s Guide as a read aloud. Bummer that your other fractured fairy tale isn’t working out for you.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Hero’s Guide really does read aloud extremely well. I’m excited about starting the next one in the series!

  3. Linda Baie Avatar

    I loved the idea of There Goes The Neighborhood, too, & wonder if students won’t be able to research each building to see ‘why’ the controversy. I still haven’t reviewed it, but Sam & Dave… is so funny, love that you have another kind of controversy at your house about it! Loved too the MacLachlan book, I’ve managed to get quite a few books about Matisse whom I adore, so this was a plus for me. Finally, Elisabeth, your last paragraph made me dissolve into giggles. I’m sorry for the reading of that awful book (at least to you). You really can quit, maybe a lesson for the son, too? Thanks for all!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My son remembered reading the Jeannette Winter Matisse book and asked if this was the same guy who did those cut-outs when he got old and couldn’t paint. I was amazed that he made the connection because it’s been awhile since we read the other book. I keep pushing heroically on with the terrible book, Linda, and we’re now about halfway through. My goal is to finish by the end of the week. My son is oddly into it, and I don’t want to deny him whatever reading pleasure he’s finding in the book. He will probably want me to read the new Wimpy Kid book to him next, and let me tell you, that’s going to seem like some Newbery-deserving prose after this book!

  4. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    Thank you for your thoughts about Syllabus. I think I will start with What It Is first, as you suggest. It looks very interesting to me. Books that make me ponder are my favorite, and I agree that too much detail isn’t always appropriate. I hope you have a terrific week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think Syllabus came at a good time for me. Sometimes you find that right book at the right time. I am planning to reread What It Is next for my creative books challenge.

  5. Gigi McAllister Avatar

    I love that you are revising the fractured fairy tale as you read! The Hero’s Guide had been on my list for so long it almost seems wrong to read it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Gigi. Hero’s Guide is really fun–much better than I was expecting. Glad there’s a whole series to read!

  6. Michele Avatar

    I had to read Sam and Dave several times… each time brought me closer and closer to the book love I now have for that book! I really want to talk to some older kids about it and see what they think. I’ve read Travis’ post, but now I need to go read the comments!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I can’t wait to share Sam & Dave with my students next semester. I’m very curious about what college students will say. I agree it’s a great book to share and discuss with older kids.

  7. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    I loved your short analysis of Sam and Dave! So true!
    The Hero’s Guide is such a great series! I need to read the newest, but I loved the first two. Such great world building and definitely funny.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen are so brilliant. They’re must-buy authors/illustrators for me for sure. I’m looking forward to the second Hero’s Guide. My son is obsessed with Gustav–talks about him all the time, LOL.

  8. carriegelson Avatar

    I can’t wait to read Sam and Dave. I love hearing the reactions in your family! My son loved all of The Hero’s Guide titles. A LOT. Have a happy reading week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s not surprising that my son would find the ending of Sam & Dave frustrating–he really likes his world to be as black and white as possible! I hope you can share it with your little ones, because I’m curious what smaller children would notice and want to talk about.

  9. bluestockingthinking Avatar

    Must get your first two titles!!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      They are definitely must-read and must-share!

  10. Myra GB Avatar

    Now I’m intrigued to find out exactly what the title of that fractured fairy tale is – I have the first clue – over 400 pages long, hmmm… any more tidbits you care to share? hhehehehe.
    Thanks for sharing Syllabus – sounds like a book that I’d enjoy. I have just organized a book club in my own teacher training institution – mostly a group of academics coming from different specializations – this could be a good book that I’d most likely booktalk. 🙂 I have the first book in the Laini Taylor trilogy – and I still have this illusion that I’d get to read the trilogy before year ends. Hehe. I sincerely doubt it though, but I’d most likely purchase the last two books in the series – been reading so many great reviews about them. I’m currently addicted to the Grisha trilogy – have you read the novels yet? You have to! Such a surprisingly great read! I’m in book two and I just relish every chapter. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Myra, I am so hoping to finish the awful book before Monday–we still have 100 pages left, but we’re going to have some marathon read-alouds tonight and tomorrow! I try not to be too cranky about books on my blog. I try to remember that it’s better to be nice. BUT I have such serious problems with this book, I think I’m going to have to write briefly about it. How wonderful to have a book club at your institution! I haven’t had any luck pulling together a faculty club, but I do have a small but committed group of students in a YA book club, and I’m loving that! I love the Laini Taylor books so much–just finished the 2nd one yesterday on audio (they’re wonderful on audio!)–and downloaded book 3. I have heard wonderful things about the Grisha trilogy–think I’ll put Book 1 on my #Mustreadin2015 list!

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