It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/17/14


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

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Well, this is a first. I didn’t read a single picture book last week. I don’t know where my reading life went last week. But I hope I find it soon!

one came home

Amy Timberlake’s Newbery Honor, One Came Home, was a book I included in a recent post on middle-grade historical fiction featuring recommendations from Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke. Historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre, but so many of the books Carrie and Maria recommended sounded so good that I couldn’t help but embark on a new reading plan. (I’m reading Beholding Bee right now–really great!) One Came Home kind of has Newbery written all over it: not only is it historical fiction, but it features that spunky girl character that Newbery loves. There’s a pretty good murder mystery, plenty of adventure, and the memorable voice of Georgie, the main character–not to mention some details of a historical event I’d never heard of, the great passenger pigeon nesting of 1871.

land of stories

In thinking about what I want to say about Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, I realized that I very rarely write about books I loathe on my blog–for the very good reason that I very rarely finish a book I loathe. Picture books and read-alouds with my son are the two exceptions to my general rule that life is too short to read bad books. Since picture books are just 32 pages, I’ll read to the end even if I hate it. But I won’t waste time writing about it on my blog because I typically read 15-20 picture books a week, not all of which I feature in a Monday post. I’d rather focus on the books I liked. With read-alouds, I will only stop reading if my son tells me he’s bored or doesn’t like a book. Since he’s a struggling reader, read-aloud is the only way he can read most books, and I know he likes to be current on the books that are making the rounds in his classroom. I will therefore read books aloud to him that I would never choose to finish on my own. I also just feel kind of bad panning a book. I know that it takes a lot of work to make any kind of book, even a bad one, and I also know that every book has its reader. And in the case of The Land of Stories, many, many readers. This is a best-selling series. But this is a bad book.

So much tedious description (every chapter could have been cut in half), full of nonsensical and jarring similes (the main female character is described as trembling like a small dog–more than once), without any characterization, theme, or plot whatsoever. Sure, a lot of stuff happens: it is nearly 500 pages, after all. But none of it happens because of anything else. The quality of the writing at the sentence level is often quite embarrassing, especially when you consider the editorial team behind this book. I had to edit as I read aloud simply to make the sentences fluent and the scenes flow.

What bothered me most about the book, however, was its stereotypical portrayal of girls and women. I was constantly having to skim ahead so that I could cut offensive sentences that I didn’t want to read aloud to my son–like the one where Connor observes his sister crying and thinks about the film they saw in health class that showed how girls of her age get really emotional and moody and cry for no reason. Or the scene where Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood call each other bimbos and harlots. Or the one where Goldilocks puts on a dress and feels “vulnerable.” Because pants are strong and dresses are weak?

diary of wimpy kid long haulLet me tell you, compared to The Land of Stories, the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book is some literary prizewinning stuff. I know that I liked it much more than I probably otherwise would have, simply by virtue of juxtaposition. You know what you’re getting in a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, so I don’t really need to review this. If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.  I think the stories always suffer when Greg is spending too much time with his family and not enough time with friends and at school. The Long Haul is kind of my Diary of a Wimpy Kid nightmare actually: the horrible Heffley family all cooped up in a van together for an entire book with virtually no relief in the form of other characters. I missed Rowley! And Fregley!

This week, I am trying to finish a couple of books before leaving for NCTE on Wednesday. I doubt I read very much while at the convention, though I do hope to sneak away for a bookstore visit at some point and binge on some new picture books that I’ve been wanting to read.





13 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/17/14”

  1. Michele Avatar

    One Came Home is the last Newbery book from last year that I have yet to read.
    So sorry you didn’t like The Land of Stories! I loved the first 2 books! I read them once and listened to the audio once each and I’m in the middle of the third one now. There is definitely something to say that it’s ok not everyone likes the same book!
    I just brought a second copy of Wimpy Kid in to school because there was such a long wait for it. I loved seeing the happy expression on the little girl’s face when I gave it to her today!
    Hope to see you in a few days!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve been trying to get my son to take the new Wimpy Kid to his classroom because I know a lot of kids would be eager to read it, but he’s holding onto it for himself for now, LOL. How wonderful that you got a second copy of it to share with all those eager readers. I still have to read Paperboy from last year too. Eventually I’ll catch up–only to get more behind as next year’s winners are announced!! I would imagine that Land of Stories would be better with Colfer himself narrating and doing different voices!

  2. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    I hope we can see each other at NCTE! Your reflection on NCTE is right on point.
    I also loved your Creative Life post. Creativity is so important.
    I’d wondered about the Colfer book, but you shared what I feared–that it wouldn’t be as good as it sounds. Also, saddens me that there are stereotypical woman…….
    No Rowley in the new Wimpy Kid book?! Sigh. It won’t be as good. My favorite were the last 3 partially because of the Rowley stories.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I was sad about no Rowley too. Rowley is my favorite! You’re right: not as good. But I can’t help finding Wimpy Kid books enjoyable. Nicole has a hilarious and right on review of Land of Stories at Amazon–just search for the 1-star reviews, LOL. She shares some actual sentences from the book, which I would have done too, only my copy has moved to my son’s classroom, which is a good place for it! I am planning to attend your graphic novels sessions at NCTE so I’ll be sure to say hi.

  3. Linda Baie Avatar

    Well, I loved One Came Home, quite different from the usual historical fiction, don’t you think? I did love the rough & tumble of what Georgie and the one who went with her finally (can’t remember his name) did, took on, figured out. It was a different look at those times. I also enjoyed the pigeon background. I was much influenced a long time ago by a Muir book who told so beautifully about the demise of those pigeons, & to find more of the story her was great. As for the Colfer, I don’t care for him anyway, so will never read it, but some of the younger students do like his work.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I agree, Linda–One Came Home was definitely different from much other historical fiction I’ve read. I loved the character of Georgie, and Amy Timberlake is a wonderful writer. I’ll have to look for that Muir book.

  4. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I didn’t read a single picture book last week either. I also just realized for the past four weeks, the only posts I have put up on my book blog are It’s Monday posts. I need to get back to writing book reviews but I’m so gosh dang busy I don’t have time. 😦

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I know what you mean, Beth. Book reviews take forever to write too–at least for me. Of course, everything takes me forever to write, LOL. I like how the Monday posts are a less pressure, more informal way to quickly capture my reading. It’s challenging enough just to find time to read some weeks–there’s certainly no time to write about it too!

  5. carriegelson Avatar

    Oh my goodness, this post made me laugh in all kinds of ways! Love your honesty. One Came Home is truly superb so I am so glad you read it. Enjoy NCTE. How do you decide what to attend? So much looks amazing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have an NCTE system! I always see Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle because they’re terrific speakers and always leave me feeling inspired. Then I look for authors of my favorite professional development books and add those. Then I look for people in my PLN and add those sessions. My first year attending, I tried to attend sessions on topics that interested me, but now I go for the speakers. I end up learning about a diverse and eclectic range of topics that way! Some years, I go to a lot of author or illustrator talks, other years not so much. This year, I’m super excited to see Susan Roth, Melissa Sweet, Jon Klassen, and Jacqueline Woodson! And Linda Urban, always Linda Urban–she’s another terrific, inspiring speaker. This year, I’m also excited to meet many in my PLN!

  6. Cheriee Weichel Avatar

    I’m glad to hear that I am not the only one who couldn’t get into The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. I ended up abandoning it shortly after starting it. I agree. Life is to short to read bad books. And besides, there are so many jewels waiting for us. I’ve added One Came Home to my to read list for next year. I might have to quit work to keep on top of my reading lists.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I only wish I could have abandoned, LOL. But at least I knew Book 2 is Chris Healy’s fractured fairy tale series was waiting for us, so I knew we’d be reading some good sentences again soon! All the “best of” annual lists are coming out and my reading list is exploding! I’ll join you in that reading sabbatical!

  7. Myra GB Avatar

    AHA. That’s the book. 🙂 So thankful that you shared your thoughts with us Elisabeth. One of my GatheringReaders book club members, a lovely 10 year old girl who just moved back to the US (she’s now based in Chicago) absolutely adores this series – she is also a reluctant reader – reading some books with great relish and abandoning those that do not speak to her as well. So when she spoke very highly about this book, I was intrigued, but I did have my reservations. Again, thank you for being very candid about what did not work for you in this book. I enjoyed One Came Home! Just finished reading it last week. 🙂

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