It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/22/14


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

On my blog:

  • I attempt to curate the Internet but settle for a few cat stories and photos, some teaching articles, and a few pieces on #Ferguson and diversity
  • I celebrate reading and a last-minute rush to finish my 2014 reading goals
  • I look back on our year in food (with links to lots of kid-approved recipes)
  • I compile a list of the 10 books that blew my mind in 2014

In reading:


Blizzard is based on the true story of Rocco’s experiences as a child in the 1978 New England blizzard that socked Rhode Island with forty inches of snow and sixteen-foot snow drifts. The story itself is quite engaging. The snow plows take a week to get to Rocco’s street, and his family and his neighbors are running low on supplies. Rocco creates some makeshift snowshoes, grabs his sled, and sets off for the neighborhood grocery store to stock up. But the art is the star: Rocco’s use of negative space and white is brilliant. He comes up with so many different ways to make snow interesting and visually arresting. This book is deservedly receiving some Caldecott buzz.

letter to leo

How I love Sergio Ruzzier! A Letter for Leo is picture book perfection. It’s simple, elegant, spare, witty, gorgeous, just a little bittersweet, and the slightest bit odd. It is a book for the very youngest reader as well as for the adult who has to read the book aloud over and over again. There is a simple and satisfying story: Leo delivers mail, and his one dream is to get a letter himself. At the end of the story, he gets a letter. The book felt fresh and new to me at the same time that it had the feel of a classic I’ve always known. I have no idea how Ruzzier managed to pull that off, but it’s impressive!

catch that cookie

I had very low expectations for Catch That Cookie! until I saw David Small’s name on the front. (The curmudgeon in me gets cranky with most holiday stories.) Then my expectations skyrocketed. And they were fully met. This is a fun and clever story about a boy who refuses to believe that gingerbread men can run away–until his gingerbread man does. A hot pursuit and much hijinks ensue. Sadly, there is some rhyme in the form of rhyming clues left for the student detectives who are trying to locate the runaway gingerbread men. But if you like that sort of thing, it’s fine. David Small’s work is superb as always.

shadow hero

Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel, The Shadow Hero, is a superhero origin story starring a Chinese superhero. Diversity in superhero comics is pretty rare, and the fact that the hero is Chinese is really important to the story. Race, ethnicity, and prejudice are explored in interesting ways, but there is also plenty of action and excitement and fight scenes. I most appreciated the humor, especially in the scenes with our superhero’s mom. It’s her idea for her son to become a superhero in the first place and her pressure and interference are often very funny.

meaning of maggie

You’ve already met Maggie. She’s the feisty precocious protagonist of a hundred excellent middle-grade novels. But you know what? I never get tired of stories about her. And Megan Jo Sovern does have something fresh to offer in her blend of several familiar tropes from middle-grade fiction: the precocious girl, the quirky family, the sick parent plot. I loved Maggie’s voice which felt very real to me. It’s hard to pull off a character who is lovable but not always likable. Maggie is immature, judgmental, and often clueless–even though she’s a straight A student who is absolutely obsessed with knowledge and learning. Besides Maggie’s voice, what I liked best about this book were the family dynamics. Maggie’s parents are quirky and loving and flawed, and her sisters at first seem like stereotypically vacuous mean-girl types, but they become more interesting and well-rounded as the story goes on. The format itself is not fresh (a la Ponyboy in The Outsiders, the novel is Maggie’s memoir of an important year in her life, and the circular narrative begins and ends with the same words and scene), but it’s a much-repeated format for a reason: it works. One of my favorite middle grades of the year.

milo sticky notes

Finally! A funny middle-grade illustrated novel that features boys capable of a full range of human emotions! Who would have imagined that you could have comic cartoons AND a heartfelt, important story? Why aren’t there more books like Milo Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze? Milo is once again the new kid, having to adjust to a new house and a new school. That’s dramatic enough, and Milo’s attempts to make friends and find his people and his place are an important part of the plot. A thinner thread concerns his unrequited love for Summer Goodman, who barely knows he’s alive. The plot with Summer contributes some Wimpy Kid-like antics to the story. The heart of the story, however, is grief and memory, family and love. Ever since Milo’s mother died, a fog has settled over his family. His father goes through the motions, but there is no warmth and love anymore, and certainly no laughter. It’s ultimately up to Milo to find a way to remember his mother and to fully grieve for his loss. This book really surprised me. It sneaks up on you.

jane the fox and me

I have no idea why it took me over a year to read Jane, The Fox, and Me. It’s gorgeously illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Isabelle Arsenault, and it features guest appearances by Jane Eyre! What more could a bookish reader want? Helene is miserable at school because she’s targeted by the mean girls, who write rude things about her on the bathroom walls and find various ways to humiliate her. She takes refuge in Charlotte Bronte’s novel. On a mandatory school camping trip, she has a magical nature moment where a red fox approaches her. The story ends with Helene making a friend and feeling like she has found a place to belong. This bare summary of the plot doesn’t begin to convey the depth and richness of the story. This is one of those books that manages to say a lot of very deep and profound things in very few words. Arsenault’s images are so beautiful.

impossible knife of memory


The Impossible Knife of Memory is an important book that needs to be read and talked about. It’s about seventeen-year-old Hayley, whose father suffers from PTSD after his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Andy copes with alcohol and drugs, and he’s not usually available as a parent. Hayley works hard to keep things running smoothly at home and to hide the truth of her home life when she’s at school. I loved many things about this book. Anderson conveys the terror of having an alcoholic parent who is suffering from PTSD. Hayley is an interesting character, damaged in obvious ways from her early life experiences but still looking for hope. There are a couple of things that didn’t work as well for me. There are a few short chapters in italics that provide Andy’s perspective, and they seemed intrusive and unnecessary. I liked the quirky Finn, who becomes Hayley’s boyfriend, but I didn’t find their relationship very believable. Finn has plenty of family problems of his own, but they aren’t developed very well. Still, one of my favorite YAs of 2014.conferring

I concluded my professional development reading challenge of 12 books with Patrick Allen’s Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop. I’ll post a review later this week.





20 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/22/14”

  1. Linda Baie Avatar

    This time, I know I’m replying to you, Elisabeth! So many good books here, so thank you, especially for that sweet review of A Letter For Leo, will look for it! And I like hearing that you enjoyed The Meaning of Maggie. There have been mixed reviews, so glad to hear your ideas from it. Have a good holiday with your family.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I remember reading some mixed reviews of Maggie too. I need to look for those again because I’m not sure what readers aren’t liking about it. I read a couple of reviews on Amazon complaining about references to parents drinking cocktails and smoking cigarettes, but that’s a silly thing to complain about in a story. I thought the voice was consistent and the situations believable.

  2. Katie Avatar

    As someone who grew up in New England (and currently lives there), I love the sound of Blizzard! Thanks for sharing such awesome books!
    Teaching Voracious Learners

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I lived in New England for 8 years (loved it so much!). Blizzard is a great New England story!

  3. carriegelson Avatar

    Well I am drinking my second very strong cup of coffee of the morning. I have luxurious t . . . i . . . m. . .e. . . so I figure this is kind of like having coffee and talking books with you! I just read and loved Blizzard this week too. I was at the bookstore yesterday and buying a bunch of nonfiction for my classroom. I almost put this title in my basket because I love everything Rocco but I resisted. I am very sure this is just temporary resistance but it makes me appear like I have will power. If I happen by another book store this afternoon and this book is in stock . . . The Impossible Knife of Memory was one of my first reads of 2014 so the details are a little hazy but I count it as one of my favourite YA titles of the year as well. Milo is on my shelf and I just slipped it onto my TBR pile – perhaps it will allow me to really meet my reading goals by December 31st Oh these crazy goals . . . 🙂 My problem is that I am trying to meet my Goodreads Goal and my novel goal so I am flipping back and forth between novels and picture books and then with all of the book reading, I get in the blogging mood and start lists. And then I remember I should do the laundry . . . Sigh! Happy reading this week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      That’s too funny, Carrie, because I always congratulate myself on my restraint in bookstores too! I decided I loved Blizzard enough to need my own copy of it, so have ordered. (So much for restraint!) I’d like to get Letter for Leo too. Loved that story. Milo was a very fast read. I read it aloud to my son and it worked quite well. I was finding the writing itself uninspiring, but it became much more eloquent as Milo began to figure out how to remember his mother. I was worried that it would be too upsetting for my son to listen to. Dead mothers are SUPER traumatizing and triggering for him both because of his past before I adopted him and because of his fears about losing me (just last night he interrupted our story–Mr Chickee’s Messy Mission by Christopher Paul Curtis, which has NOTHING to do with dead mothers–to ask me how much longer I think I will live. Ummmm…..???) but I think it was a bit therapeutic too, especially all the smart things the author has to say about the importance of remembering. We were able to have a couple of good conversations about the different ways people deal with grief and why Milo’s dad wasn’t able to be a good dad for awhile.

  4. Tara Smith Avatar

    I loved Maggie and also Knife of Memory. It’s books like these that keep me ever mindful of how lucky I am as a teacher at a time in which so many amazing writers are at work on books for my kids (and me!).

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It really is a wonderful time to be an obsessive reader of children’s and YA lit!

  5. thelogonauts Avatar

    Lots of great books! I am especially intrigued by Blizzard – must be good, as the library wait list is more than 30 people deep!

    I look forward to your review of Conferring too. It’s a book I have read and re-read a few times, but I still always find myself hanging back and not wanting to interrupt much once kids finally get quiet and working. Ah well.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I struggle with the reading conferences too. Always have. I don’t think Conferring has really helped me figure out my problem. I am determined to do better next semester. I had mixed feelings about the book but I’m still not exactly sure what I felt was missing. Have to think about it a bit more before I write my review later in the week. That’s quite a long waitlist for Blizzard! I know it’s showing up on a lot of year-end best lists.

      1. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

        Conferencing is one of the hardest parts of workshop. Hard to make them efficient and not time consuming and get to as many kids as possible.

  6. Lisa Patrick Avatar

    Maggie was one of my favorite reads this year. I have loved Milo for a long time. My children’s lit. students really connect with this book. Alan Silberberg writes about grief in a profound and real way that I rarely encounter in children’s literature.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      So glad to find another Maggie lover! I’m really not understanding the mixed reviews for this title–or why it’s not getting more serious Newbery buzz. I found it much more distinguished in terms of voice and theme than some other books that are getting more love this year. You really nail it with Silberburg: he writes about grief in a profound way. I found the last third or so of Milo deeply moving.

  7. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    I’ve read two of them, and I enjoyed them as much as you: Catch that Cookie and Shadow Hero. Your Cookie mini-review cracked me up! I, too, loved that Shadow Hero has a diverse super hero–it was such a great book!

    Happy holidays, and happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

      And forgot to say: I am so impressed with how much you read each week. You blow my mind! And you always read books that just sound so amazing!

      1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

        LOL, Kellee. My favorite reading strategy is to read a lot of books at once–that means that something is always about to be finished! I wouldn’t be reading as much right now if I weren’t trying to finish off my reading challenges. I’m so close! Glad you loved Shadow Hero. It was so good! Gene Luen Yeng can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. (Still sad that Boxers & Saints got no Printz recognition last year. Still think it was one of the most distinguished YA of the year.)

  8. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    That’s it. Your review of The Shadow Hero cinched it for me. I definitely need to read this book now.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think you’ll like it! And I know you have students who will want to read it!

  9. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    I very much agree with your comments about Impossible Knife. It is such an important book that must be read–and read widely.

    Thanks for your honest comments on our blog today. I feel a bit alone that I didn’t absolutely love the first Harry Potter book, so it was nice to have an ally. I also agree that superheroes aren’t normally my thing, so I am glad to hear that Shadow Hero was entertaining for you. I am looking forward to it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You’re welcome, Ricki. Your comments about HP really got me thinking about my own response to the series. I loved it when it first came out, but I know that’s because I didn’t read children’s lit then and it was a communal reading experience that I was sharing with my other (adult!) friends. I do think there’s some good storytelling there (especially starting with Book 3, which I think is quite a strong novel–and movie!), but I don’t think the books hold up very well as good writing, and the last 3 are in desperate need of strong editing. I think Shadow Hero is a must-read. I am so excited about sharing it in my classes next semester.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: