It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/29/14



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

On my blog last week:

In reading:

I am in the middle of a reading emergency! I miscounted my annual book total. I thought I was at 196, just four away from my goal of 200. But when I counted on Sunday morning, I discovered that I was only at 188! Several more recounts confirmed it: 188. Four titles seemed very doable in four days. But TWELVE?!

I still haven’t given up hope. Never say die!

I read a lot of great books last week:

halfway home

Christine Mari Inzer’s self-published graphic novel, Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan, is a delightful short travel narrative chronicling Inzer’s trip to Japan to visit her grandparents. I really like graphic novel travel narratives, and this one reminded me of Lucy Knisley’s French Milk and Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage, which is not bad company for a teenaged graphic novelist to be in. Inzer reflects a bit on what it means to be both an insider and an outsider. She was born in Japan and lived there until she was six, but then moved to America with her Japanese mother and American father. Mostly, though, her narrative captures snapshots of excellent meals and sightseeing, usually accompanied by her grandmother. This is a sweet and often funny book, made more special by the age of its author/illustrator. A great choice for a classroom library–and a terrific mentor text for student writers/graphic novelists.

fish in a treeLynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree (published Feb 5, 2015) was one of my two most coveted NCTE ARCs (the other was Lisa Graff’s new novel). Fish in a Tree isn’t one I wanted for me so much as for my students, however. Hunt’s first novel, One for the Murphys, was one of the most popular books in my Children’s Lit class last spring. It was that “just right” book for more than one reluctant reader: I had so many requests for “another book just like One for the Murphys.” And I think my students will be equally excited about Fish in a Tree, maybe even more so, since they are all pre-service teachers, and Fish in a Tree is about the relationship between a girl with undiagnosed dyslexia and a special teacher who figures out what’s wrong and how to help. For me, this book didn’t entirely work–for the same reasons that I thought her first novel didn’t entirely work (unrealistic, underdeveloped secondary characters, too feel-good of an ending)–but I still liked it quite a bit, I think it’s important, and I can’t wait to give this to many of my readers next semester.

child of africa

Monica Edinger began writing Africa Is My Home: A Child of The Amistad as a nonfiction biography but then decided she didn’t have enough information for a straight biography. Instead, she used the archival information she found to fictionalize the story of an actual African girl who was on the Amistad. Magulu, a nine-year-old girl from Sierra Leone, is pawned for food by her father and ends up on the Amistad, sailing to Cuba with other captured slaves. The best thing about this book is the information about African and African-American history, especially the rebellion on the Amistad and the subsequent trial, which makes me wish that Edinger had stuck to her original plan of writing nonfiction. The writing itself is competent but not special. Robert Byrd’s colorful illustrations and the overall elegance of the book design elevated the story for me.

voice that challenged a nation

The Voice That Challenged A Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Civil Rights is another excellent photo-biography by Russell Freedman. One thing I really admire about Freedman is his ability to narrow and focus, to select a particular perspective for telling a nonfiction story. Marian Anderson’s long career is an effective lens for viewing the Civil Rights movement. Informative, engaging, and full of wonderful photographs that bring the subject and time period to life.

tales of bunjitsu bunny

I don’t think I’d so much as heard of John Himmelman’s Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny until it showed up on the Jonker-Schu Top Books of 2014 list. What a delight! It’s a 100+ page illustrated chapter book whose short stories feature Zenlike life lessons as learned and experienced by Isabel, the Bunjitsu bunny. I read it in one sitting but think it would be best spread over several readings.

criss cross

Criss Cross is one of those polarizing Newberys, and now that I’ve read it, I understand why. I LOVED this book, but I also understand why many readers HATE it or just don’t get it. Very, very little happens in the 300+ pages of the story. There is almost no plot to speak of. The characters are difficult to tell apart through much of the story. The setting is vague. (It’s set in the 1970s but you wouldn’t often know it, and I have no idea where in the U.S. it takes place, though I’m guessing Michigan, since that’s where the author is from.) The format occasionally varies (a chapter in haiku, one of my favorites; a chapter in Q&A form) but not consistently or to any great purpose. The writing is sometimes lyrical and sometimes incredibly flat and repetitive. There are illustrations (photos and drawings) throughout, though they don’t seem to contribute much. I cannot imagine a single reader I would give this book to. But I still loved it and think it absolutely deserved the Newbery, and here’s why: it’s incredibly rich in theme, and all of the craft choices that may make some readers scratch their heads wondering how THIS book won the Newbery actually enact the theme. The book is about what Virginia Woolf called “moments of being”–moments in our lives when maybe nothing outwardly is happening but we experience life with intense awareness. Everything feels connected. That’s a part of this story too–those little moments of connection in life–connections sometimes made but often just barely missed. I marveled at the craft of this book throughout. All of the different literary elements contribute to the theme. So incredibly hard to do!

lost in translation

Lost in Translation is a beautiful small illustrated book of untranslatable words from other languages. Some of these words we absolutely need to adopt in English. Akihi, for instance, happens to me all the time. That’s a Hawaiian word for “listening to directions and then walking off and promptly forgetting them.”




But my favorite new word, poronkusema, doesn’t really apply to my life. It’s just a great word that means “the distance a reindeer can comfortably travel before taking a break.” poronkusema

I’m not quite sure what I would do with this book in the classroom, but I feel like there must be some mentor text or research possibilities here.

little white duck

Na Liu’s Little White Duck: A Childhood in China is a graphic novel memoir I’ve had on my shelf for awhile. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to read it–and it turns out that the right moment is when you’re trying to read 12 books in 4 days. I loved this memoir of the author’s childhood in China in the 1970s and early 1980s, but I don’t understand why it ended so abruptly. It’s about half the length it actually needs to be!

nicola davies

Nicola Davies’s informative nonfiction book, Deadly!: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Creatures on Earth, hilariously illustrated by Neal Layton, is another book I’ve been saving to meet a particular reading need (12 books in 4 days!) I learned so many interesting things about dangerous creatures and shared many facts with my husband and son as I was reading. I’m looking forward to book talking this one in my children’s lit class.

body keeps the score

I have been reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma very slowly over the past three months or so. Van Der Kolk is an expert on innovative, effective ways of treating trauma. This book is essential reading for anyone whose life is affected by trauma (which means virtually all teachers, since so many of the children we teach have trauma in their backgrounds). I’m hoping to post a longer review next week.

santa clauses

Wonderful haiku by Bob Raczka telling the story of Santa Claus’s December.

kid sheriff

This is a picture book that I just didn’t get. I mean, I “got” it. But the story and the artwork bored me. I’m going to have to read someone else’s rave review before trying it again. That’s one of the many beauties of the picture book: you can easily reread and re-experience.

all different now

Angela Johnson’s All Different Now, a lyrical picture book about Juneteenth, the first day of freedom for slaves in Texas, is a must-read both for the quality of the writing and the quality of the art. E.B. Lewis is so, so, SO good.

And now that I’ve finished writing this post, I am off to read. I have three books to finish today!







21 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/29/14”

  1. Michele Avatar

    You are certainly a reading machine right now! Keep going for those picture books 🙂
    I had to read Kid Sheriff several times, and it wasn’t until I read it with kids, using my most “authentic” accent 🙂 did I really get the humor. I liked the sarcasm (“give him a minute”), the wild west voices (“diney-o-saur”) and I really loved reading it to kids and seeing their a-ha moment when they realize that Kid Sheriff really knew what he was doing.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Sadly, I long ago surpassed my picture book reading goal! I only have full-length novels and nonfiction left to fulfill the goal. SIGH. I so loved reading about your experience reading Kid Sheriff. I will try reading it aloud in my Children’s Lit class next semester, complete with “wild west voices” and see how it goes!

  2. Linda Baie Avatar

    You’ve made me put Criss-Cross on my list for “classics”. I’ve never read it, & now I think I must! What a wide variety of books shared here, Elisabeth. I’ll also look for Lost In Translation and All Together Now-both appealing to me. Happy New Year! Sorry for the mis-count-good luck!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Criss Cross is wonderful, Linda, a very quiet but very deep book. Not for everyone, certainly, but a bold and right choice for the Newbery committee! All Together Now is a must-read, really a must-own. Important, moving, gorgeous art.

  3. Tara Smith Avatar

    Reading machine is an apt term for you, Elisabeth! Lots of wonderful books, too. I came home from NCTE with Fish In a Tree, too – and loved it, even though all you say about its weaknesses are true. It’s been in circulation in my classroom ever since, too – and has led to some interesting discussions. I’m in agreement about Criss Cross, too – none of my kids have ever been able to stick with it. Sadly.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m not surprised about Criss Cross. I cannot think of any 14-year-old reader I’ve ever known (including myself!) who would have liked this book and stuck with it. But what a book! I am looking forward to discussing Fish in a Tree next semester with my Children’s Lit students. I know it’s going to be one of the most popular books in the classroom.

  4. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    So much to comment about! First of all, if Halfway Home reminds you of French Milk, then I MUST read it! French Milk is one of my favorite travel narratives.

    I’m going to have to seek out Lost in Translation. I am fascinated by words in other languages that don’t have direct English translations. But that’s probably because Schadenfreude is one of my favorite words because of its practicality despite never creating our own English version of the word. Ever since then, I have loved learning about words in other languages that don’t have English translations.

    I loved seeing all of your Christmas pictures. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Lost in Translation is a delight. Might be one I end up purchasing because I think I would enjoy looking through it periodically. So glad to find another fan of French Milk!

  5. alybee930 Avatar

    You can do it! Pick up a stack of picture books that you have been wanting to read. You’ll have fun and meet your goal. 🙂 And wow! you have a bunch I haven’t seen before.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I wish PBs counted for the numbers goal I’m trying to reach!! I blew past my PB goal months ago–not that I stopped reading them, of course. I am now obsessed!

  6. Gigi McAllister Avatar

    Hi Elisabeth, I loved Fish in a Tree so much! Unfortunately I am with the ” I don’t get it” crowd with Criss Cross, but I read it as an audio so maybe it made a difference. All Different ?Now looks beautiful!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I cannot imagine Criss Cross as an audio. I’m not sure I think the drawings and photos really add that much to the book, but the format changes from chapter to chapter are more noticeable visually than aurally I think. (Is that the right word??) For whatever reason, now was just the right time for me to read Criss Cross. Not sure I would have appreciated or liked it if I had read it at a different time.

  7. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    You gave and received some AMAZING books this Christmas! I am jealous of you and your family 😉
    I hope to read Fish in a Tree this week–here’s hoping!
    Thank you for sharing the other titles as well. Going over to GRs to look some of them up.

    Happy new year, and happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think you’ll enjoy Fish in a Tree. I was so happy with all my Christmas books! Can’t wait to wrap up my 2014 reading tomorrow and then settle in with a fat stack of NEW books–not a single one I feel obligated to read for a challenge!

  8. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    I will admit that One for the Murphys was one of the books I didn’t get to, but after reading your review–holy cow, I missed out! I will surely get to it, along with Fish in a Tree. Thank you for these rave reviews. You keep me in line!

    Happy New Year, my friend!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Ricki! I was surprised by how much my students adored One for the Murphys. It makes a good fit for readers who like Wonder, Out of My Mind, or Absolutely Almost. Happy reading this week!

  9. readingtothecore Avatar

    You have been busy! For some reason, I still haven’t read One for the Murphys, so I guess I’d better get busy with that before Fish in a Tree comes out. Although I read it a few years ago, I enjoyed Criss Cross. I think your quote from Virginia Woolf is exactly right: “moments of being” we experience with intense awareness. Thank you for sharing your perceptive insight into a puzzling book. I think I might have to read it again. Happy New Year, Elisabeth!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m looking forward to reading the companion novel, All Alone in the Universe. Kind of wish I’d read it first, but I don’t think I would have gotten to either one without the Newbery Challenge! Glad you also enjoyed Criss Cross. It IS a puzzling book and an unusual choice for the Newbery, I think.

  10. thelogonauts Avatar

    Great list, and I am so impressed by all the reading you are planning to cram in here at the end! I too, did not like Kid Sheriff, but I think it will be part of our Caldecott discussion with the kids, so I might think differently after gauging their reactions.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      One more day of reading and I still have 5 books to finish. I may have to set my alarm for 5 a.m. to make sure I have enough kid-free time tomorrow to get it done! I’m also hoping that my response to Kid Sheriff will change after sharing with my students and more discussion. Happy reading!

  11. cheriee weichel Avatar

    What a great list Elisabeth. I too have many readers who want more like One For the Murphys. I direct them to one of my favourites, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson.
    I loved reading your review of Criss Cross. I adored it when a read it a few summers ago. I think your review is more astute and articulate than mine, but would love to get your feedback on my response to it.
    I did purchase a copy for our library, but my elementary students just don’t get into it. I like to think it is just because they don’t have the life experience to grasp the significance of those sartori moments.

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