It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/15/14


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

On my blog:

In reading:

gabi a girl in pieces

I loved Isabel Quintero’s YA novel, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces. I’m so glad that Kelly Jensen has been such a champion of this book, because her excellent review prompted me to buy it and several recent references to it in her blog posts or tweets inspired me to move it to the top of my stack. Written in diary form, this novel tells the story of Gabi’s senior year. She has plenty to deal with at home: an overprotective mom, a drug-addicted dad, and a little brother she’s growing apart from. She also has plenty to deal with at school: her best friend is pregnant; her other best friend just came out to his family and got kicked out of his house; she has numerous crushes but isn’t sure which boy she really likes; she’s trying to navigate college applications; and she’s discovering herself as a poet and creative writer. Quintero, through Gabi, has a lot to say about body image, double standards, rape culture, female sexuality, and more. This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel that, thanks to Gabi’s sassy voice, is also a lot of fun.

beyond magenta

In Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin interviews and photographs six transgender teens about their lives and experiences. The resulting profiles, written in the voices of the teens themselves, are articulate, passionate, deeply moving, and sometimes deeply painful to read. It’s hard to imagine how someone could read this book and not come away with more understanding and compassion for others. I couldn’t put this book down–read it in an afternoon.

how i discovered poetry

If you liked Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. you will want to read Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry. In a series of 50 unrhymed sonnets, Nelson describes her childhood experiences growing up during the Civil Rights Era and moving frequently as her father, an Air Force officer, was transferred around the country. The sonnets describe how she came to understand the power of words and begin to think of herself as a writer and poet. The title piece is fairly devastating. Hadley Hooper contributes illustrations, and there are also some great family photos.
i remember beirut

Zeina Abirached’s I Remember Beirut is a very slim graphic novel memoir about Abirached’s childhood during the Lebanese Civil War. Abirached’s first graphic novel memoir about growing up during the Lebanese Civil War, A Game for Swallows, is brilliant, but I’m not sure why she decided to write I Remember Beirut. Her art is striking and distinctive–I loved looking at the pictures in this book–but I found the text very slight. It made me think about the “I remember” freewrites I often have students in my Comp classes write to generate memories and images they then develop into longer pieces. This book is a series of little flashes of memory, random moments that still stand out, boldly illustrated. I never felt the book cohered into a whole. I’m not sure if Abirached is trying to say something about the fleeting, random nature of memory or if I’m just trying to read something more into the text to make it more meaningful and compelling.

make good art

This colorful little book contains Neil Gaiman’s famous commencement speech, “Make Good Art.” The text of the speech is quite good, highly recommended for young artists and creative types. I was perplexed by Chip Kidd’s book design choices. White font on a light blue background wreaks havoc with the eyes. The font, text color, and placement of text varies wildly from page to page, which makes the book interesting to look at but very difficult to actually read. On a few pages, I felt like I needed magnifying glasses to read the words. Be prepared!

dreams of gods and monsters


Dreams of Gods and Monsters is the conclusion to Laini Taylor’s ambitious fantasy trilogy. I loved the first two books in this series. But the third book really didn’t work for me: there is far too much plot, too many self-consciously beautiful sentences, and too much heavy-handed emphasis on theme. It was already a pretty big story, but in the third book, it becomes so much bigger, and it felt overwhelming and unnecessary. So much exposition is required to get all these balls in the air and keep them moving. There is very little space for quiet moments of character development or humor.
heros guide to being an outlaw

My son and I were very sad to see Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide come to an end. I don’t know what I’m going to find to read aloud to him that we’re going to enjoy as much as these books. We read all three novels in a row, and Frederic, Gustav, and Duncan became part of the fabric and language of our lives. We talked about them when we weren’t reading about them, and that’s a rare, rare thing for my son to want to do. We also spent quite a bit of time pouring over Todd Harris’s superb illustrations. 
kikis journey


Kiki’s Journey is a book I came across when researching picture books about contemporary Native Americans. There just aren’t very many of those, and I really wanted to love this book–or at least like it enough to purchase it for my lending library. But it’s didn’t work for me. Kiki, who belongs to the Tiwa tribe, lives in Los Angeles; her parents left tribal lands in New Mexico long ago and Kiki hasn’t been for a visit since she was a baby. Her journey involves a spring-break visit to her grandmother, where she feels like an out-of-place tourist. Somehow, over the course of her short visit, she decides that she belongs there after all and that Taos Pueblo is just as much home as the city she’s lived in all of her life. The story, though dealing with an interesting and real issue, seemed unbelievable and the life lessons didn’t feel earned. The characters never came to life, perhaps because the writing, though competent, was not special. I also found the illustrations problematic. I might share it in Children’s Lit next semester anyway and see what my students have to say.waiting for the biblioburro

How I loved Monica Brown’s Waiting for the Biblioburro, magnificently illustrated by John Parro. The story is inspired by the life and work of Luis Soriano, a librarian who traveled with his biblioburro to bring books to remote areas of Colombia. That would probably be enough for a wonderful book, but Brown makes it so much better by concentrating on the fictional Ana, who loves the one book she owns so much that she has practically memorized it. She is hungry for more stories but has no way to fulfill that need. Enter the biblioburro, who brings books as well as a provocative invitation: write your own stories. I can’t wait to share this book with more readers.





12 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/15/14”

  1. Melanie Meehan Avatar

    Wow, you read a lot this week, Elisabeth. I loved Brown Girl Dreaming, so I am going to be on the lookout for How I Discovered Poetry. THank you for so many titles that would not normally be on my radar!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve been reading some of these books FOREVER, Melanie, so really, I just finished a lot this week! How I Discovered Poetry is so wonderful and very appropriate for upper elementary.

  2. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    I don’t even know which book to comment about because I have a comment for all of them! I was so excited to receive Beyond Magenta at ALAN, and I really want to read it. Everyone seems to be raving about Gabi. I need to get a copy of it! I am going to ask my library. 🙂 I love the word Biblioburro. The book seems like good fun. Thank you for sharing all of these great books with us. You are an animal, Elisabeth.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Beyond Magenta is heartbreaking: I know the point of the story wasn’t to point how crappy so many parents are, but really, so many parents are really crappy! Gabi is not perfect, but it’s pretty delightful and also deals with a lot of important stuff.

  3. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I’m so happy you and your son enjoyed the Hero’s Guide series together. That’s one of my favorite series too. I wonder what book you could move on to next… hmmm… I know you didn’t care for it, but The True Meaning of Smekday has kind of that same type of humor to it… sort of the subverting of genre that the Hero’s Guide does with fantasy, just with science fiction instead.

    That’s really strange about the Chip Kidd art in the Neil Gaiman speech book. I mean, he’s the guy who is known as THE graphic design guru. *Scratches head*

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I thought maybe it was just me not getting the graphic design brilliance of the Neil Gaiman speech book, but many of the reviews on Amazon (for what that’s worth) note similar problems reading the text and trying to understand why all the font changes are necessary. My son actually listened to True Meaning of Smekday on audio last year and liked it a lot–the very best way to experience that story because the narrator is so brilliant!

  4. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    Like Ricki said, SO MUCH TO SAY!
    I have Gabi to read as well. I plan on reading it before ALA MW.
    LOVE Neil Gaiman, so need that one.
    Need to read the newest Heroes book–loved the first 2.
    Have Beyond Magenta to read from ALAN–looking forward to it.
    And I can completely understand where you are coming from re: I Remember Beirut, but I thought of it almost as what you said: fleeting memories about her childhood that together tell a true and tough story.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    P.S. I know I’ve told you before, but I love your online reading links. I need to read more of them because whenever I have a chance to read them I always find them so informative. Thank you.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The 3rd Hero book is such fun. There’s perhaps an overabundance of plot but it’s all very fun. Lots of amusing metafictional moments too. I appreciate a series that gives the adult reader plenty to chuckle about! A Game for Swallows is one of my favorite graphic novels and I think I might have brought unreasonable expectations to I Remember Beirut. I’ll have to reread it at some point and try to appreciate it a bit more! Thanks for the comment about my Sunday posts. I’m glad that my addiction to reading the Internet can turn up links that others find informative!

  5. carriegelson Avatar

    My son also loved The Heroes books. He also enjoyed The Vengekeep Prophecies when I read it aloud to both kids. It doesn’t have all of the humour but definitely interesting characters and lots of fun and suspense. I think second title is out now too. Maybe try this series. I ended up getting really into the first Laini Taylor title but doubt I will keep going. Your review here confirms my decision. I echo Kellee’s comment about your Sunday Salon posts. I really appreciate them!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks for the recommendation of The Vengekeep Prophecies: I’m off to order. My son and I are reading Milo: Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze (I think that’s the title) right now and I can tell I’m liking it more than he is. We need more fantasy adventure! I think the 2nd Laini Taylor is actually my favorite of the 3, though I did love the first book as well. The reviews of Book 3 are largely positive, but my husband felt exactly as I did. As I was reading the second half, every time he saw me reading, he’d say “Splat”–as in, lots of plot about to splat down on the page. And sure enough, there’d be 25 new developments within 3 pages! I needed a nap after I finished!

  6. Linda Baie Avatar

    I have How I discovered Poetry, will move it up, Elisabeth! Thanks for the other reviews, too. I do love the Biblioburro, special to think about people bringing books to those isolated. As for Beyond Magenta, so happy to see something like this. I read and reviewed The Letter Q a few years ago, something like the Magenta, those who’ve come out tell their stories. I have a former student who transgender at the end of high school. How he would have loved this book. Have you read Better Nate Than Ever? It is for a slightly younger group, but tells about a boy who loves (sneaks) feminine clothing, and so on. It’s a great story about examining feelings, NOT ignoring them. and being there for a friend.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It will take almost no time to read, Linda, and well worth it. I think the poetry, as poetry, is much stronger than the verse in Brown Girl Dreaming. I haven’t read (or even heard of!) The Letter Q so will need to find that one. So important to have all of these diverse books and to booktalk and share with our students. At NCTE, the theme came up repeatedly of using diverse books as mirrors, not just windows, and I’m curious about the connections my students in Adolescent Lit next semester will be able to make with some of the titles I’m asking them to read (including Beyond Magenta).

Leave a Reply to carriegelson Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: