It’s Monday! What Are You Reading #imwayr



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

On my blog:

  • Links to the online reading I loved last week
  • A review of a nonfiction picture book about the Brooklyn Bridge
  • A list of ten books I hope every student in my YA lit class will read this semester

In reading:

all alone in the universe

It turns out that a couple of the big questions about setting and time period that I had about Lynne Rae Perkins’s 2006 Newbery winner, Criss Cross, would have been answered had I first read All Alone in the Universe. Criss Cross is a sequel of sorts, and although it mostly stands alone, I think I would have enjoyed it much more had I read the books in order. All Alone in the Universe is exactly the kind of middle-grade novel I like best: it’s more on the quiet side and depends on very strong character development, theme, and voice for its impact. It’s a beautiful story of friendship lost and lessons learned. Perkins was an illustrator first and the text incorporates many of her sketches. I often found the images a bit confusing or random in Criss Cross; I think they work much better in All Alone.

zombie baseball beatdown

Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown surprised me. With a cover like that, I was expecting lots of humor and a little gore. But Bacigalupi has a lot more on his mind than baseball and zombies in this middle-grade novel. Yes, there are zombies, and yes, there is a gory showdown between the zombies and the baseball team. But there is also a searing critique of the industrialized food system, corporate greed, immigration laws, and racism. And somehow it all mostly works. My son loved this story and also asked a lot of interesting questions about meat processing, feedlots, illegal workers, citizenship, and poverty.

my big fat zombie goldfish

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish was my son’s next read-aloud of choice–mostly, I think, because of the cover, which is pretty awesome. There’s plenty of (unlikely) plot about evil big brothers and a goldfish named Frankie who gains the power to hypnotize all who gaze into his eyes. There’s not much character development, and the most that can be said about the writing is that it’s competent. Still, it was a quick read-aloud and we enjoyed it.  

perfectly messed up story


A Perfectly Messed-Up Story is really picture book perfection: there is a clever story, some metafictional play with book conventions, plenty of humor, and an important lesson about staying calm and accepting–even embracing–life’s imperfections.

polar express

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but until this week, I’d never read The Polar Express. I have read all of Chris Van Allsburg’s other books, and I’ve read every single Caldecott Medal winner since 1942. But somehow I skipped The Polar Express. I fixed this kidlit shelf of shame problem this week, which was especially fitting given that it was Caldecott week in my Children’s Lit class. The Polar Express feels like a timeless classic when you read it, and of course the art is exquisite. But I have to admit, I found it just a bit boring. There is often something off, for me, in the pacing and structure of Van Allsburg’s picture books. If I were graphing the storylines, they would be more flat and I prefer more of a rising story, at least in a picture book with as many words as Van Allsburg’s books have.

big no no

I continued catching up on Geisel Award winners I missed with The Big No-No, Geoffrey Hayes’s graphic novel for the younger set, starring two mice siblings named Benny & Penny. It’s a tale of mistaken identity, mud, and friendship. I wish my library would carry more of these Toon titles, because now I really want to read them all.

a trip to bottom of worldLast week, Carrie recommended A Trip to the Bottom of the World, another Toon book by Frank Viva. So good! These books are really beautiful as objects too, with their rectangular design, saturated colors, and non-glossy pages.







30 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading #imwayr”

  1. thelogonauts Avatar

    Definitely some new ones to check out – just added Perfectly Messed Up to my library request list yesterday! Intrigued by the broader issues in the zombie book too…

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m not entirely sure Zombie Baseball Beatdown works–I think the issues kind of take over the story and I began to feel lectured (even though I agree with Bacigalupi). But it’s worth a read. Perfectly Messed Up Story is a delight!

  2. Melanie Meehan (@MelanieMeehan1) Avatar

    How did you miss Polar Express??? Love that one! Thanks for the All Alone in the Universe review. I’ll be on the lookout for it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I know, of ALL the Caldecotts to miss….. My children’s lit students have read basically zero Caldecotts but they’ve almost all read that one. I really loved All Alone in the Universe. Not much happens in terms of plot, but plenty is happening on the inside.

  3. Gigi McAllister Avatar

    Hi Elisabeth, Perhaps I should have read All Alone.. before Criss Cross also. I just didn’t get it. Unfortunately I have not found a student who really connected with Zombie Baseball… I love the Perfectly Messed up Story! The Trip to the Bottom of the World looks great!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I guess I’m not surprised students aren’t connecting with Zombie Baseball… I think the story inside is rather different from what the cover promises! Though there IS a zombie baseball beatdown….

  4. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    Glad you filled in your Polar Express gap. It is a book that actually lives up to its reputation 🙂
    I wish I’d know to read All Alone!!! Criss Cross just didn’t do it for me, so maybe reading it first would have made it better.
    Zombie Baseball looks interesting, so I will have to try to find it. And love McDonnell’s stuff, so the Perfectly Messed Up Story looks like one I’ll like.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Criss Cross is certainly one of those polarizing Newbery titles, which I totally get. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, but I also can’t think of a single 13 or 14 year old I’d recommend it to. I was a very bookish girl at that age, and even I wouldn’t have liked it then. I love McDonnell’s books too–clever, sweet, plenty of heart, quirky.

  5. vgpratt Avatar

    Hi, Elisabeth! I’d never heard of All Alone in the Universe…; I’m glad to know about it before reading CrissCross. Like others, I’m very interested in reading A Perfectly Messed-Up Story. I teach gifted kids– many of whom struggle with perfectionism, so I like to use literature to remind them that mistakes are okay, or maybe even GOOD because they help us learn. Thanks for some good recommendations!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I definitely recommend reading All Alone before reading Criss Cross. I think Criss Cross would be a richer and more enjoyable reading experience if the books are read in order. Ah, perfectionism! I talk about that a lot in my Methods courses because most of my pre-service teachers are infected by it (as was I). I love sharing Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing too.

  6. Cheriee Weichel Avatar

    I’m so thankful you turned me onto All Alone in the Universe. I can’t wait to learn more about those beautiful characters from Criss Cross. I really appreciate your reviews of these zombie books. I shall feel more confident recommending them to readers, especially the first one. I would like to read it myself but I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed already by these piles of books.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      One reason I love reading aloud with my son is that I read books I would NEVER pick up on my own. He’s really into fantasy and magic right now–and apparently zombies, since we read two zombie books in a row. Most of the other characters in Criss Cross don’t appear in All Alone–it’s Debbie’s first-person narration. But you find out much more about the town, time period, setting than in Criss Cross, and Debbie is such an interesting character to me.

  7. Kendra Avatar

    Zombie Baseball and Zombie Goldfish look like books I should be recommending to my son. The Big No No I’ll be checking out for my First Grade Friends!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My son loved both of them! There are several others in the Zombie Goldfish series, but I think I’m going to keep that to myself because I don’t really want to read more of those aloud!

  8. Michele Avatar

    Perfectly Messed Up Story was one of those surprises for me – I did not expect to be laughing out loud!
    I enjoy the Toon books too, but I have yet to find a student who loves them. I know one will come around, but they’ve been a hard sell so far. Surprising.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Interesting about the Toon books, Michele. My Children’s Lit students rarely pick them up either when I book talk them. Too arty? I laughed out loud at Perfectly Messed Up Story too. That’s one I’d like to own.

  9. readingtothecore Avatar

    I enjoyed Criss-Cross, so now I’ll look for All Alone in the Universe. I agree with your son about the cover of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish. Zombie books aren’t really up my alley, but I’m glad to know about them. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      If you enjoyed Criss Cross, you will enjoy All Alone in the Universe, I think.

  10. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    We live by the Essex Steam Train. Each year, they take kids on the Polar Express. It is such a great memory for me that I always feared I wouldn’t love the book. I haven’t wanted to tarnish my memory of the train rides, so I haven’t read it. You are making me feel like this is a mistake!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      How wonderful, Ricki! That sounds so delightful–what a memory to have! I’ve never seen the movie of Polar Express either and doubt I will remedy that unless we decide that we just can’t do Elf one more year as our Christmas movie. (I hope we never decide that!)

  11. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    Loved the way you described A Perfectly Messed-Up Story. I whole-heartedly agree!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Such a great book, isn’t it?

  12. Linda Baie Avatar

    I am less familiar with the early, early readers, but The Trip To The Bottom of The World looks like something I need to get for my granddaughter. I haven’t read The Polar Express in years, remember enjoying it with kids at Christmas & that’s about it. I enjoy some of Van Allsburg’s quirkier books, like Jumanji and Just A Dream. Thanks for the update on the Perkins’ books-haven’t read either, but you’ve made me want to read this one. Finally, Paolo Bacigalupi is a former colleague’s husband. I just met her for breakfast and she shared how hard Amazon had been on his books (publisher in conflict). He has written some good ones, but I haven’t read this, sad to say. I enjoyed Shipbreaker a lot. Thanks for all, Elisabeth.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Trip to the Bottom of World is so lovely–gorgeously designed, elegant use of repetition, sweet and engaging. Interesting connection you have to Bacigalupi! I’ve still got to read Shipbreaker. Someday! I’m sure Amazon’s conflict with Hachette was difficult for many writers. Really unfortunate!

  13. carriegelson Avatar

    Messed up Story is absolutely perfection in a picture book! Yes, agree! I love the many layers of woe – appeals to readers of all ages in my opinion. Loved it. Trip to the Bottom of the World is so so great! I have one little reader who likes to read this book aloud to me every few weeks. I never tire of it because it is so beautiful.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      How sweet that you have one little reader who wants to share Trip aloud with you every few weeks! I love that story! That’s #booklove for sure!

  14. ipushbooks Avatar

    I keep hearing the same (good) things about Zombie Baseball Beatdown–moving it up the list! Also I love the term “kid lit shelf of shame.” And I have a confession: I have never read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Had to laugh at your nerdy book kidlit shelf of shame confession! Until last year, I’d never read anything by Eric Carle or Lois Ehlert–and I’ve been teaching Children’s Lit for 6 years now!! I listened to Number the Stars on audio last year as a reread–I enjoyed it, but I don’t think you’re missing all that much, LOL. I’m sure other readers would chime in to say those are sacrilegious words!

  15. Myra GB Avatar

    My 13 year old girl had such a blast with A Perfectly Messed up Story – and like your son, she also devoured Zombie Baseball Beatdown – but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. All Alone in the Universe looks like an interesting title. Nice to hear your thoughts about Van Allsburg’s picturebooks – I always thought he could do no wrong. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Van Allsburg work is really interesting. I need to go back and reread everything, given that I read most of his works before I started teaching Children’s Lit and reading PBs so obsessively. I’m sure I’d like it even more now.

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