It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/5/14 #imwayr


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

It was a busy week on my blog:

It was a busy reading week too, at least until December 31 at 11:59 pm, when I finished my 200th book of 2014. Then I proceeded to start a whole lot of new books and not make very much progress in anything.

countings by 7s

I’ll be honest: I thought I could resist the charms of Counting by 7s. I didn’t find the voice in the early chapters very believable, and in fact, the whole scenario strained credulity for me. What are the chances that one girl could lose two families? Please let them be very small. Because this is my personal nightmare as an adoptive mom. Nothing, absolutely nothing, terrifies my son as much as the thought of losing me; consequently, nothing terrifies me as much as the thought of being lost to him. Bit by bit, this story reeled me in. I loved the main character, Willow, and I especially loved all of the secondary characters, who are well-developed, interesting, and surprising. (Though I wish Willow’s parents had been more developed; I found it hard to miss them or grieve for their loss except in an abstract way because I barely knew them.) I thought this was going to be a story about grieving for a loss, and it is, but it’s also the story of finding our people and a way to be in the world. This was one of two final titles I completed on my #MustReadin2014 list.

ask the passengers

Ask the Passengers was the final title I completed for the #MustReadin2014 challenge, which brought my grand total to 13/15. I really liked this book at the beginning, but as I continued to read, it began to wear on me. I think it’s an important book–I think all of A.S. King’s books are important books–but it went on a bit too long for me. I want to go buy Astrid Jones an ice cream cone and introduce her and Kristina and Dee and Justin and Chad to the It Gets Better Project.

princess in black

Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s easy reader chapter book, The Princess in Black, is every bit as delightful as everyone has been saying it is. Finally! A main character who’s a princess AND a superhero! There is so much potential for fun sequels here.


I read Sounder for one reason: it was the shortest Newbery Medal winner that I hadn’t already read. (I made a valiant last-minute effort to complete my Newbery goal for the year. Finished 11 of 12–and only got that many read because I decided that Honor books count). I can’t say that Sounder is a bad book exactly. It’s tightly written, atmospheric, and thematically rich. But it’s problematic. First, there are serious issues with the representation of race. William Armstrong is a white author writing about a black sharecropping family in the South. He chooses not to give names to any members of the black family he’s writing about. Only Sounder has a name. I assume he thought he was making the story more universal by calling the main character “the boy,” but I found it off-putting and offensive. The book is also bleak, bleak, bleak. What happens to the boy’s father (“the man”) is really horrible: his family is starving, so he steals a ham, which lands him in jail and then doing hard labor for YEARS as punishment. And since it’s a Newbery and there’s a dog on the cover, you can probably also already guess that the dog dies. I don’t believe in spoiler alerts when it comes to dead dogs in fiction: I’m just telling you straight out that the dog dies. Only it’s worse than you think because FIRST, the dog has to get shot by horrible racist brutes and it’s a very VERY grisly scene, and then he’s horribly maimed for the rest of his long life, which he spends waiting patiently for his master to return home. The master does eventually return–ALSO MAIMED–and then master and dog die. Thank you, Newbery, for yet more scarring for life.

kira kira

Sounder had some competition as my least favorite Newbery of the week because I also read Kira-Kira. I did think it got better towards the end, but so much of it was tedious for me.

invincible louisa

And then there was Invincible Louisa, a biography of Louisa May Alcott written by Cornelia Meigs and winner of the 1934 Newbery medal. Invincible Louisa isn’t a bad book either, just dated, though more readable than you might imagine a biography published in 1933 still could be. If you love Little Women, you might enjoy Meigs’s old-fashioned story. What this book convinced me of, however, is the burning need for feminist biography. Meigs views Bronson Alcott through impossibly rose-colored glasses and apologizes incessantly for his inability to provide responsibly for his family. Meigs presents the Alcotts as a real-life version of the family in Little Women plus a wonderful, loving, if tragically misunderstood, father, but they all seem pretty dysfunctional to me. Mostly I will remember this book for its extreme euphemism surrounding death. If I hadn’t known that Louisa’s younger sister DIES, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have figured it out from this sentence: “It was March when Elizabeth went away.”

extreme animals

Another fun and informative title from Nicola Davies and Neal Layton filled with interesting facts about “the toughest creatures on earth.” I interrupted my saintly husband’s video gaming with our son many times to share fascinating tidbits about shark fat and penguin feathers.

no 1 car spotter

How I loved Aitnuke’s The No 1 Car Spotter! Number One is obsessed with car spotting: he loves to sit by the highway and identify the cars that pass by his African village. In fact, that’s how he got his nickname–from being the first one in the village to spot the cars. It turns out that he’s quite a creative problem solver as well. Each chapter finds him, his family, or his village in a bit of a bind and he figures out a solution. Lots of humor and heart in this very short book by the author of the Anna Hibiscus series. One of my favorite moments will give you a taste of Atinuke’s style and humor. Number 1 is spending the night with his friend, Coca-Cola, whose mother starts to shout orders at her son. “Coca-Cola shot off his mat and started to run around. As I was an able-bodied boy in the vicinity of a shouting mama I started to run around as well.”

around the world

Around the World is Matt Phelan’s nonfiction graphic novel account of “three remarkable journeys” to circumnavigate the globe taken by intrepid adventurers in the 19th century. Thomas Stevens makes his trip by bicycle, Nellie Bly uses every kind of transportation she can in an effort to beat the clock, and John Slocum sets out in a 36-foot sloop. Matt Phelan’s art is exquisite, of course, but what impresses me most about his work is his ability to find and linger on these quiet significant moments of realization and feeling. There’s plenty of action, adventure, and excitement in this book, but what stays with the reader are the quiet moments of reflection that he gives his characters. Phelan’s work always surprises me with its depth and complexity.

explorer lost island

Explorer: The Lost Islands is not a very deep or complex work, but I know it’s going to be popular in my classroom. I only enjoyed one of the short stories in this collection. It was probably a bad idea to read it right after finishing Around the World.

my rows and piles of coins

Even though I’ve read books illustrated by E.B. Lewis before, 2014 is the year that I really fell in love with his work. in 2015, I hope to read many more of the picture books he’s illustrated (over 60 of them!) Tololwa Mollel’s My Rows and Piles of Coins is gorgeous to look at, of course, and also tells a compelling story of a Tanzanian boy, Saruni, who saves his coins to buy a bicycle only to be humiliated when he discovers how much bicycles really cost. How he gets his bicycle in the end is a sweet surprise.
soccer star

Mina Javaherbin’s Soccer Star, illustrated by Renato Alarcao, is a new favorite. Paulo Marcelo Feliciano, who lives in poverty in Brazil, dreams of becoming a soccer star and hearing the crowds chant his name as he scores the winning goal. In the meantime, he can’t attend school because he (and most of his friends) have to work odd jobs to help support their families. He barters lessons with his little sister, who does go to school: she teaches him how to read, and he teaches her soccer moves. The story follows him throughout a day in his life as he takes his sister to school, shares cheese buns with his friends, works for a local fisherman, and meets up with friends for the big soccer game on the beach. This is an important book to share and discuss: Paolo’s story is the story of so many poor children around the globe (my son grew up in Ethiopia, and this could be his story too).

tip top cat


I love C. Roger Mader’s picture books about cats. In Tip Top Cat, our unnamed hero loves to explore his new apartment, especially the balcony, which gives him access to the roofs of Paris. He travels everywhere with full confidence–until his confidence is sorely shaken after a fall. There is some cowering and hiding for awhile, but our intrepid hero is soon on the prowl once again. The cat’s unique perspective brings Paris to life in Mader’s gorgeous paintings.





28 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/5/14 #imwayr”

  1. jarhartz Avatar

    I have to say I had the same reaction to Counting by 7s. It was tough in the beginning, but by the middle of the book it sneakily got to me as did the story’s message. Just bought Soccer Star, #1 Car Spotter and Around the World. Thank you for these.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Hope you enjoy all the new books! Counting by 7s definitely snuck up on me–I’d started it a few months ago and set it aside but wow, did it hook me and hit me hard once I committed. Really loved the story, the characters, the message.

  2. thelogonauts Avatar

    Is it wrong that I started immediately giggling after reading your review of Sounder and then seeing that Kira-Kira was your next book up? (I’m a terrible person.) Where the Red Fern Grows still wins for books with dead dogs that I really didn’t care for/about. Ah well.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It was NOT a good pairing, LOL. Though I think Kira Kira probably had less emotional impact on me because I was still reeling from the horrors of Sounder. I have never read Where the Red Fern Grows and hope I never do! Have you read Gordon Korman’s No More Dead Dogs? It’s a great antidote for those sad dead dog books.

  3. kaymcgriff Avatar

    Lots of good books! I loved, loved, loved Counting by 7s. I wish I could push it into the hands of everyone I know. Maybe if I calm down, I can eventually talk my daughter into reading it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m looking forward to booktalking it in my Children’s Lit and Adolescent Lit classes next semester. Hoping to share it with many new readers!

  4. carriegelson Avatar

    I just ordered No 1 car spotter for my classroom! I LOVE Soccer Star as you know because I shared our reviews with you. Have you read Goal also by Mina – love that one too. Counting by 7s was a read aloud in my children’s classes. I had already read this novel and had to hide it from my children so they wouldn’t read ahead! I adored Willow.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have read Goal and liked it very much. Think Soccer Star is even better! I think there are some sequels to No 1 Car Spotter too–I need to find them. And also check out Anna Hibiscus. Love that your children’s teacher read Counting by 7s aloud to them! That’s a teacher who knows her kidlit!

  5. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    I didn’t know you had an adopted son. You are such a special person. I enjoyed reading your review of Counting by 7s because it is, coincidentally on my #mustread2015 list! I am a year behind with that one. 🙂 After reading your review, I am even more interested in it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have two adopted sons, but I only blog about one of them. I think you will really like Counting by 7s. It seems like a Ricki sort of book!

  6. Crystal Avatar

    No. 1 Car Spotter was one of my recent favorites. It’s so fun. I also really enjoyed Counting by 7s. You had a great pile of books. I loved Soccer Star and have used it at school.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think it was on your blog that I discovered No 1 Car Spotter, Crystal. It’s so hard to keep track of where I find out about books.

  7. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I loved your thoughts about Counting by 7s, and when I first started reading it, I had gotten the ARC at ALA and just couldn’t get into it for the reasons you mentioned. However, something compelled me to give it another go, this time on audio, and I’m so glad I did because the audiobook narrator was amazing. Her voice and cadence was so on point that I thought she WAS Willow.

    I also agree with you about Ask the Passengers. It’s an important book, but yeah, I did find Astrid a tad grating. However, every time I find myself disliking a female protagonist, I have to remember that Kelly Jensen is constantly asking on Twitter how often we are more willing to accept an unlikable male protagonist, but not a female protagonist. So I’m trying to check my prejudices about that because I think she makes a valid point.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Isn’t it interesting how often an audiobook experience can be so different? I’ll definitely recommend the audio of Counting by 7s to my students. Many of them explore audiobooks during our class, and I like to point them to some really strong titles in the hopes that they’ll be hooked on the format. It’s such a great way to get more reading in! With Ask the Passengers, what grated on me was how inept everyone in Astrid’s life is. I wanted her to have one ally, one advocate, one person who truly cared and tried to understand, one person she felt safe with. The prejudices of her family, school, and community wore me out!

  8. Linda Baie Avatar

    I enjoyed Counting By 7s, loved Willow & who she became. I also loved Soccer Star & will look for Rows and Piles of Coins. It sounds like a good story, too. I’ve read others on your list, too, Elisabeth, fun that you gave it a go with those older Newberys. I remember liking Sounder years ago, but now hearing from you, I wonder how I would like it today. Have you read March by Geraldine Brooks, an adult read & look at Bronson Alcott, not a very responsible family man? I remembering enjoying it. Thanks for your ideas from all these books, some good ones to find!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      SIGH to the older Newberys, Linda. I was trying to tackle the Nerdbery challenge, but I’ve given it up. I just can’t tolerate the older Newberys. I have read reviews of March and thought it sounded interesting. I’m considering reading one of the newer biographies of Alcott, as I do find her quite fascinating and would love to know more about her writing life, especially.

  9. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    Love your two end of 2014 lists. Many books I loved on them and others I hadn’t heard of. Thank you for the lists. I also love your nerlution! How ambitious! I cannot wait to hear about it each week 🙂
    I’ve read Ask the Passengers, Kira Kira, Princess in Black, Soccer Star, Around the World, and Explorer, and they are all 4 or 5 stars for me. Great books.

    Counting by 7s is on my #mustreadin2015! I cannot wait to get to it!

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I was so glad to read so many good books in my final reading week of 2014, especially as I was trying to read so many books to reach my numbers goal. Isn’t it fun to put together those year-end lists of favorites? I love looking back on my reading year and realizing just how many wonderful books I read, thanks to the awesome #imwayr community’s recommendations!

  10. readingtothecore Avatar

    Wow, Elisabeth! You were busy last week! There are many Newbery winners I haven’t read, including all of the ones you mention. Reading them all seems like a worthy goal, but after reading your thoughts, I think I’ll stick with trying to read the current contenders before the announcements are made. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I decided to give up the Nerdbery Challenge this year, Catherine. Too many meh or just plain bad books among the older Newberys. I do want to catch up on some Honor books and 1 or 2 Golds from the past 20 years, but like you, otherwise I want to focus on trying to read the current contenders.

  11. Tara Smith Avatar

    I had to laugh at your description of Sounder – I have the same thoughts about these dog-dies-lesson-learned books (Red Fern comes to mind), which can be wearying in their pathos. But, I loved Counting by 7s – Willow is a character I will not soon forget.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I expect I’ll be thinking about Counting by 7s for some time to come as well, Tara. Now that I’ve read Sounder, I am taking a no more dead dogs in fiction vow.

  12. Michele Avatar

    Wow! You did read a lot this week!
    I have Kira Kira, but just haven’t been able to get myself to read it. I want to, just haven’t.
    I loved The Princess in Black too, especially her unicorn/horse!
    My reading will slow down, now that school is back. I have my reading plan though 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m teaching an overload this semester, so I’m guessing I won’t read as much as I usually do either. Kira Kira is worth reading, I think, especially if you’ve read and enjoyed Cynthia Kadohata’s other books. I really hope there will be more Princess in Black books!

  13. cheriee weichel Avatar

    so many great books on this list! We’ve got The #1 Car Spotter in the Library, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. I laughed out loud at your review of Sounder. I can’t remember if I read it or not. I thought it was much older than it is! At least there was The Princess in Black.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I wasn’t sure at first that I was going to like the narrator’s voice in No 1 Car Spotter, but I found myself completely engaged by the story, setting, and characters. I want to read more by Atinuke for sure.

  14. Amy B. Avatar

    Okay, okay…don’t give up yet. Have you read A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park? I only picked it up because I saw a new version with a beautiful new cover – I had been avoiding it for many a year. I read it and I really enjoyed it. It is slow, methodical but has a subtle and satisfying impact. It’s a Newbery you might enjoy – I think. : )

  15. Myra GB Avatar

    I always love reading your sharp and incisive snippets about the books that you read. I also recalled my daughter commenting on one of the GatheringBooks’ ladies review of Sounder – “oh yeah, the dog dies.” She must have read it in 4th grade in their class – it was, as you said, quite tedious and too bleak for her, but she knew that it was an “important” novel that they “must read” for school. 🙂 Loved Counting by 7s – I like how it stretches the borders of reality and fantasy deliberately. I know a few people who have been irked by its stretch of the imagination, but I found taht it was exactly the novel’s strength – that it allows you to root for the protagonist no matter how unlikely the scenario seems to be. You know you’re being taken for a ride, but with Willow Chance at the helm, I’m down with that. 🙂

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