It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 3/16/15


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

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In reading:

This past week was my spring break. I had visions of lots of reading, blogging, writing, sleeping. I’m not sure I did lots of any of those things (I definitely didn’t do lots of blogging!), but I had a good week. And one of the best things that happened did involve books: my son asked me to spend the weekend reading picture books to him. It’s only for this weekend, he warned me–to keep me from getting too excited.

If I had known he would want to spend the weekend snuggling on the couch reading picture books, you can bet I would have been more prepared. Since he informed me several months ago that it was time for him to grow up and for us to stop reading picture books together (insert big frowney face here), I haven’t been in the habit of keeping stacks of picture books around. I buy them, read them to myself, and take them directly to my office to share with my students. Still, my home TBR pile was large enough to keep us busy for most of the weekend and we were also able to revisit a few old favorites.

For myself, I started a bunch of books but only finished two:

plastic ahoy

Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch profiles several scientists who are working on a research boat and investigating the effects of all that plastic on ocean life. If you aren’t already familiar with the plastic trash vortex, you should probably start learning about it in a different book. Plastic Ahoy! isn’t about the plastic so much as it is about how to practice science. Three young female scientists are each profiled working through the scientific method to develop hypotheses, collect evidence, test their hypotheses, revise their hypotheses, and further experiment. For the right reader, this book offers some fascinating information about the plastic itself (most pieces are the size of pencil erasers and the patch itself is not visible from the air), about the importance of oceans (phytoplankton make two-thirds of the air we breathe!), and, especially, about the practice of science.


Liz Prince’s graphic novel memoir, Tomboy, is an engaging and provocative look at gender expectations, gender stereotypes, and identity. Even more, it’s about what happens to us when we don’t fit into the very limited cookie cutter identities that are available to us as boys and girls. Although the book often has a humorous, warm-hearted tone, it’s not always easy to read. There are real challenges here–the cruelty and bullying of peers as well as Liz’s own internalized hatred of all things female and, therefore, of herself. There is much insight along the way–for Liz and for the reader–and a happy ending. This is one of those books that all humans need to read. The artwork is very simple, rather childlike. Not my preference for a graphic novel, but I do think it works well for this story.

finding spring

The story of Finding Spring is fairly predictable: a young bear is bent on finding spring, but unfortunately for him, it’s not yet even winter. He explores, meets many different animals who give him advice about finding spring, gets amusingly confused (mistaking snow for spring), but ultimately finds the most glorious spring. What’s really special here is Berger’s cut-paper art. I marveled over the spreads with what looked like a bazillion painstakingly handcrafted snowflakes, flowers, and birds. There is something rather stiff and static about the images that didn’t quite appeal to me, and the book also photographed a bit dark, I thought. But I still think Berger’s work is incredible.

book with no pictures

Yes, I am the last person in the world to read The Book With No Pictures. It’s a clever concept but I didn’t think it worked very well in execution. There isn’t enough silly to be funny. Maybe if you were reading it to a four-year-old? But even then, there’s far too much of the adult reader voice complaining about how silly what they have to read is. If only it actually were silly!

flat rabbitWell now. I am still thinking about The Flat Rabbit. I don’t know what to make of this book. When I finished reading it, my son paused for a long moment and said, “Well. That was awkward.” That wouldn’t have been my word, but I do see what he means. I sort of like it. I think?

the three questions

Such gorgeous illustrations by Jon J. Muth and a profound and moving answer to why we’re here and how we can best use our time and resources.

as the oak tree grows

G. Brian Karas’s As An Oak Tree Grows is a lovely book about the two-hundred-year lifespan of an oak tree, but it is not one I can recommend to anyone. I was very disturbed by the erasure of Native Americans and Native American history in this book. The oak tree is planted as a seed by a Native American boy. There are two spreads at the beginning of the book that show him and his family. And then we turn the page from 1775 to 1800, see a house, farmers, and white people and learn “The boy grew up and moved away. Farmers now lived here.” Um, what? That’s a lie: the boy did not peacefully or by choice grow up and move away and invite white farmers to live here. The boy and his people were violently forced from their land. I realize that it’s difficult to know how to acknowledge and honor the truth appropriately for this audience and within this story. But the denial and erasure of Native American experience is damaging to all readers.

once upon an alphabet

On a happier note, Oliver Jeffers’s Once Upon an Alphabet is quirky good fun for all. I loved how weird and inconclusive many of these stories were.

there goes ted williams

There Goes Ted Williams is another excellent nonfiction picture book by Matt Tavares. This one focuses on Ted Williams’s incredible career–twice interrupted by war. I had no idea that Williams was also a fighter pilot who flew 39 combat missions in Korea and even crashed a plane! Williams’s dedication to practice and his strong work ethic make valuable lessons for young readers.

mr putter and tabby tea

Since my son only wanted to read picture books this weekend, I decided we should pull out some old favorites–and that meant Mr Putter and Tabby! I mentioned that Pour the Tea is my favorite, so he very sweetly asked me to read that one to him. In some ways, this book is the outlier in the series–there is no Mrs Teaberry, no Zeke. No zany comical relief. But there is the heartfelt story of how Mr Putter finds Tabby. There are lines in this book that bring tears to my eyes. I very much admire the wistful but warm tone Rylant creates throughout.lion and birdWistful but warm is also an accurate description of The Lion and the Bird. I choked up reading this one too–mostly because of context. My son and I spent A LOT of time over the weekend talking about how he will one day grow up and leave home. He’s struggling with that right now, not ready to lose the family that he feels like he just found. All reassurances about how I will always be his mom fall on deaf ears. And of course I’m the worst person in the world to be reassuring him about anything because I can get teary just thinking about him growing up and moving out and not being able to see him every day. The spread where the bird flies away and the lion is left to head home alone and the words “And so it goes. Sometimes life is like that” really got to me. This was a reread for me, although I liked this book (and especially the lovely illustrations) the first time I read it, I found it too quiet. This time, I found it just right.

25 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 3/16/15”

  1. I do believe that sometimes a book needs its time to be fully appreciated. It sounds like The Lion and the Bird, found its time for you and your son. (After reading your comments, I know I need to read it) I’ve just purchased Tomboy and hope to get at it, but I’m trying desperately to catch up on my 2015 novels to read list. Sigh. I’ve got As An Oak Tree Grows, waiting for me to pick up from the library. I appreciate your comments about the lack of native peoples’ perspective in the book. I’ve got one of our teachers reading Tim Tingle’s How I Became a Ghost. She tells me that some of her students find it disturbing. I just say, it’s a good thing you are there to unpack it with them.

    • I agree, Cheriee. I always try to reread a picture book when it’s one that my PLN adores and it doesn’t connect with me. Often, it’s just a question of timing. I think you will appreciate Tomboy. Prince has thought about so many different aspects of gender, gender stereotypes, and identity. I started How I Became a Ghost and then set it aside for something else and never got back to it. I need to remedy that because I did think it was interesting. And yes, disturbing–as it should be!

  2. Interesting about As An Oak Tree Grows, that someone at the publishing end didn’t catch it. I wouldn’t read it to anyone I know. I know a lot of the books you shared this time. I’ve had and used The Three Questions often in the past, but Myra reviewed it as you know, & now you both are reminding me about it. Will get it out and share with my students. I think The Lion and The Bird is a very favorite book this year. I liked it better than The Farmer and The Clown, although both are similar. It’s just so sweet, maybe? And the illustrations just please me. Happy to hear about your weekend reading PBs again. Nice to be nostalgic now & then.

    • I agree about Lion and Bird and Farmer & Clown. F&C didn’t connect with me at all–disappointing since I usually love Marla Frazee. It’s really special to me to have this bonus picture book reading time with my son months after he informed me he was over PBs and wouldn’t read them with me anymore. We have continued to read them this week and I am cherishing every moment!

    • I shared Flat Rabbit with a small group in my Children’s Lit class yesterday. They were so flummoxed. I loved listening in on their conversation. They were so engaged by the story even as they were perplexed.

  3. Once Upon an Alphabet was good fun for me. I am glad you enjoyed it, too. It was quirky!
    I agree about Plastic, Ahoy! It has a fairly specific audience, but I thought it was a great addition to my library. I liked the text features and found it to be engaging. My science geek husband enjoyed it.

  4. You did get some reading done!
    I was shocked with As An Oak Tree Grows. Karas is such a reliable author-illustrator, I was surprised that this one so neglected US History. Come on, how in the world do you skip over such an important part of widely recognized history?
    I’m glad your son felt the need to have another weekend spent reading. Maybe he wasn’t quite ready to give it up 🙂

    • I wish he’d never be ready to give it up, Michele! Glad I wasn’t the only one shocked by As An Oak Tree Grows. I was also shocked that more reviewers didn’t mention this huge, huge….. I can’t even call it an oversight because it’s such a deliberate denial of reality.

  5. It sounds like you had a nice week! 🙂

    I’m a huge fan of The Three Questions, and have been considering getting Once Upon an Alphabet for awhile. The Ted Williams book looks like one I should have for my boys/ baseball & softball fans/ and history buffs.

    I’m really curious about Tomboy. In your opinion is it appropriate for middle grade (4th & 5th grade) kids? I’m pretty careful about what I put in my classroom because of where we live (the South/ Bible Belt). I do get requests from parents every year that I NOT allow their children to read the Harry Potter series (rolling eyes). Is there anything too controversial…?

    Thanks for some great book recommendations! I hope your week is a great one!

    • I love Jon Muth’s work, so I’m not sure how I missed 3 Questions before this! Tomboy…. there is a lot of content that I think would be very questionable for that age group. Most 4th/5th grade readers aren’t mature enough for the book period, I would say, and the few who are might have parents who object. The book does follow Prince to adulthood and focuses quite a bit on the horrors of middle school and sexual awakening in high school.

      • Hey– thanks for that. I hadn’t heard of it before and wanted to get a bit of background on it. I love getting a new book into the classroom– if it’s one that the kids will like AND it’s appropriate. Think I’ll skip this one! 😉

  6. Isn’t The Three Questions oh so beautiful!? Now I want to reread The Lion and the Bird. Love how books can feel different over different reads. Picture book reading all week? You needed to invite me!! I would have brought the coffee and sweets.

  7. I enjoyed the vision of you just cuddling and reading picturebooks to your child – I am doing the same thing with my 13 year old girl as we read aloud Siege and Storm together – and we are having such fangirling moments with a few of the characters, Sturmhond in particular. I love sharing that with her. And yes, she absolutely loved TOMBOY. We found it by accident in New York while we were doing our bookhunting. She didn’t stop reading it as soon as she started it – read it while we were having lunch, in the subway, while buying our theatre tickets, and by the time dinner rolled in, she was done with it. She adored it.

    • Your daughter’s experience reading Tomboy sounds like mine–read it all in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down. Really wonderful book. Though painful to me to read in parts, especially thinking of my 6th grade son and all he still has to go through before he makes it to adulthood. People who are super nostalgic about being younger must have forgotten what middle school was like!

  8. Have you also read BJ Novak’s One More Thing? He has a wacky sense of humor, but I like it. I have to agree about what you said in regards to The Book with No Pictures; when I read it I could not imagine reading it to a child. I imagined someone reading it to me when I was in elementary school, I didn’t think I would like it. It’s cute, but as you said, there’s just a little too much adult voice in it … and also pictures were always my favorite part of children’s books when I was younger. 🙂

    • I will look for Novak’s One More Thing. I have read good reviews of it. An elementary teacher recently shared with me that she read the book to several classes, all of whom loved it. So I know it does work with some children. But I’m skeptical! Think I’ll loan it to someone in my Children’s Lit class who is working with children and have them testdrive it!

  9. The Book With No Pictures. I ordered it personally (fell in to all the buzz) … but didn’t like it at all. I brought it to school and on a whim tried it with a kinder class. They LOVED it. Then a first grade class. They also loved it. I donated my copy to our collection.
    I still don’t really care too much for the book but I can totally see the looks on the kiddos faces changing. Disbelief “You are reading us a book with no pictures?” to giggle after giggle.
    I guess I can’t call them all.

    • Buzz is the reason I bought too! Loved hearing your experience about how well this book worked with “live children”, LOL. Always interesting to test-drive books with kids. We don’t always know what’s going to be a hit–or a miss!

  10. Still reading H is for Hawk, Anne Ursu’s The Immortal Fire, and West of the Moon. Loved Jeffers’s book. Also loved I Don’t Want to be a Frog, Wolfie the Bunny, Grandpa Green, and In Search of The Little Prince. Will pick up The Three Questions.

    • Loved Wolfie the Bunny. Still need to get my hands on I Don’t Want to Be a Frog–read several good reviews over the past couple of weeks. I still haven’t read any Anne Ursu. Can you believe that?! I know I’ve got some wonderful reading ahead of me.

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