It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 3/30/15


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

On the blog:

  • Links to my favorite online reading from last week
  • A review of the gorgeous nonfiction picture book, A Butterfly Is Patient
  • A slice about talking to my son about racism and police brutality

In reading:

I continue to be apparently unable to finish anything. I wouldn’t exactly call it a reading slump, but it’s definitely reading slumpish. I did finish one book for grown-ups:

lena finkle's magic barrel

Anya Ulinich’s graphic novel, Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, is the semi-autobiographical story of Lena Finkle, Russian immigrant, writer, recently divorced mother of two, as she grapples with family, art, relationships, adulthood. It’s funny and painful and deeply intelligent. I read this book more slowly than I have ever read a graphic novel, savoring the story and art over the course of nearly a week. Definitely one of my top ten reads of 2015.

The picture book reading continues at my house, much to my delight. Here were our favorites from last week:

the dumb bunnies

The Dumb Bunnies has basically recast The Stupids as bunnies and given them a visit from Goldilocks. My son loved The Dumb Bunnies so much that I had to read it to him twice. But what’s not to love for a tween boy who’s not yet too old for bathroom humor? Porridge gets poured down pants and Goldilocks is flushed down the toilet! Picture book lovers who also like slapstick will probably appreciate the allusion to Goodnight Moon in the cover art and the heavy nod to James Marshall throughout. Little did I know there is a whole series of books starring The Dumb Bunnies. I imagine we’ll be reading all of them over the next couple of weeks.

shooting at the stars

Shooting at the Stars shares the fascinating true story of the spontaneous truce called on December 25, 1914, between the two sides fighting in World War I. John Hendrix’s illustrations vividly bring the futility of trench warfare to life. The story is both heartfelt and heartbreaking, because we know that the very next day, both sides went back to fighting–and they would continue fighting for four long years. I did struggle a bit with the language in this book. Hendrix devises a clever conceit for telling the story in the form of a letter written by a soldier to his mother. But I found the text both very lengthy and very complex as a read-aloud. This seemed to me to be a picture book best suited for middle-school readers.

have you seen my dragon

I fell hard for Steve Light’s clever counting book, Have You Seen My Dragon? I am not usually wild about black and white picture books (or counting books for that matter), but this one worked so well with its limited use of color (used only for the object to be counted). The dragon hides amid Light’s detailed pen-and-ink illustrations of city life, and we had fun looking for the little boy and his pet on each page. This book made me nostalgic for New York City–indeed, for any city. I think some of its appeal was probably lost on my son. But I appreciate a picture book that can work in different, equally effective ways for both adult and child readers.

night of gargoyles

Eve Bunting’s Night of the Gargoyles is a gorgeously written story of what happens when night falls and the museum building’s gargoyles come to life, descend from their rooftop perches, and explore the city. David Wiesner’s marvelous illustrations might give younger readers bad dreams, so this is not a title I’d recommend for the very young.

willys pictures

In Willy’s Pictures, Anthony Browne’s monkey alter-ego re-envisions classic paintings ranging from The Birth of Venus to Edward Hopper’s Early Morning Sunday, inserting monkeys and other visual jokes. I suspect that this book may appeal more to adults who are familiar with the paintings that Willy reimagines. There are captions to each of the paintings, but it doesn’t add up to any kind of coherent story. There is a fold-out spread at the end that reproduces the original paintings–though unfortunately the reproductions are much too small to be really useful to readers. Still, my son spent a good ten minutes flipping back and forth between the original painting and the monkeyified version. I love Browne’s work, so I was happy to absorb myself in his paintings.

i am abraham lincoln

Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series is such an engaging and empowering way to write history. In I Am Abraham Lincoln, Abe tells the story of how he grew up to fight for justice and human rights. The seeds for Lincoln’s Presidential acts were sown in childhood experiences such as seeing a group of boys torturing a turtle, losing a fight, and witnessing a group of slaves chained and bound. Lincoln was also a big reader, and Meltzer emphasizes just how much Lincoln learned from books. I Am Abraham Lincoln humanizes history and makes activism accessible to all readers. Christopher Eliopoulos’s illustrations are incredibly engaging.


Naked! was a reread for me but a first-time read for my son, who giggled throughout. Nice to know a worldly sixth-grader can still be amused by Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s illustrations.

shoeless joe and black betsy

Shoeless Joe Jackson had a lot of superstitions about his bats. They had to be made from hickory wood, and not just any hickory wood: only wood from the north side of the tree would do. They had to be seasoned with tobacco juice and massaged each night with oils. He tucked his bat into bed beside him every night and carried them wrapped in cotton cloth. He even took them to South Carolina over the winter months because he believed that bats didn’t like cold weather. Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy tells a fictional story of how Shoeless Joe might have developed some of his superstitions. This is an engaging look at a real baseball character and the feats he would go on to perform with his special bat, Black Betsy. A lengthy Afterword shares more biographical information about Jackson and addresses the Black Sox Scandal. There is also a page listing Jackson’s stats from each year of his career. Reading this totally made me want to watch Field of Dreams again, so I enjoyed discovering in the author’s bio on the jacket flap that Phil Bildner’s love of that movie inspired him to write this story.


22 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 3/30/15”

  1. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I, too, am not usually a fan of counting books or black and white illustrations, but I fell in love with Have You Seen My Dragon.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      We certainly do share a lot of similar reading tastes!!

  2. Linda Baie Avatar

    I’ve put Lena Finkle on my list for the summer-intriguing! So many fun picture books that you & your son are sharing, Elisabeth. I’ll look for the Gargoyle book and the Shoeless Joe one too. Somehow I do enjoy baseball books about those historical characters. Thanks-keep reading those pic books!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I don’t care for baseball at all, Linda, but I really do enjoy the baseball PBs. My son and I have read so many of them and I just keep discovering new ones. I so hope he’s going to stick to the PB kick for awhile because I’m enjoying sharing those books with him.

  3. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    Lena Finkle looks like a book I’d enjoy. I’m a big fan of wonderful GNs!
    I love hearing about your son loving hilarious PBs. Naked is so funny, I can’t blame him for laughing 
    I also love Willy books! I am a big fan of apes in literature, and his are some of the best picture books.
    I don’t know the others—thank you for sharing.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Lena Finkle is one that will stick with me. I love the rich complexity and nuance that’s possible in GN format! I’m enjoying revisiting some of my favorites that my son had missed–like Naked!

  4. Scott Day Avatar

    Night of the Gargoyles looks amazing. I love David Wiesner Will certainly pick up Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel. Am still reading H is for Hawk (working through this book slowly. Sometimes Macdonald’s vulnerability is disarming). Still reading The Immortal Fire (Anne Ursu is such a wonderful author, and the final book in her trilogy poses some intriguing questions). Started reading Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, and Echo. Also reading two philosophy books by Rebecca Goldstein (not my usual fare. but I read a review about Rebecca Stead’s upcoming book and felt compelled to read Goldstein, who the reviewer mentions).

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have a couple of Goldstein’s novels on my shelf but have never read them. Very curious what you think. I cannot WAIT for Rebecca Stead’s new book–definitely my most anticipated new book of 2015. I started Abigail Thomas’s new memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It. Loving the short chapters–perfect for my current reading attention span. But I do want to get to H Is for Hawk soon.

  5. Cheriee Weichel Avatar

    I agree so much with the inclusive lit post. A Rock is Lively is beautiful, but doesn’t circulate as much as other geology books. Still, I want to see A Butterfly is Patient. I love nearly anything Eve Bunting does, so I shall have to find and read The Gargoyle book. And then there is Anthony Browne. I am always encouraging primary teachers to do author studies, and Browne is one of my favourites. And as for Naked, just looking at the preview images at Amazon had me laughing. That one most certainly goes in my shopping cart for when I am rich again. Finally, I’m so sorry you had to have that talk with your son. I too hope that someday these kinds of talks won’t be necessary.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My son definitely doesn’t like the Dianna Hutts Aston books as much as I do. I think he liked Butterfly more than the other titles we’ve shared in the series. They’re just such beautiful and richly written books. I am slowly working my way through all of Eve Bunting’s books. There are so many!!

  6. Michele Avatar

    Lots of great picture books here! My personal favorite is Naked! I chuckled the whole way through – and I was at a swim meet! I love reading it out loud to the young ones. We get a little robust with our “naked”s! The kg and 1st graders were super disappointed it didn’t win a Geisel, since we had used it in our Mock unit.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Naked! is so funny. I agree that it would have been a great choice for a Geisel Award.

  7. carriegelson Avatar

    Isn’t Naked fun? My students asked me to read this book multiple times – at Grade 4 they found it hilarious! I also loved your online links in your Sunday post. I read all of them. Lots to think about. Jason Reynolds is every kind of brilliant. Happy reading this week 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m so glad I got to meet Jason Reynolds at NCTE and practically have a one-on-one conversation with him since only one other person was sitting at my table during the round-table session Reynolds presented at. Rereading Naked! this week made me want to reread I’m Bored! too. Will have to get that one at the library this week. Glad you enjoyed this week’s Sunday post! I think my mom would stop reading my blog if I stopped doing Sunday posts–those are her favorites. I’m not sure what that says about my content the rest of the week!!

  8. Ricki Ginsberg Avatar
    Ricki Ginsberg

    After your review of Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, how can I NOT want to read it?! It is great to see it makes the top list so early in the year.

    Thanks for sharing your parenting experiences on our blog. It is always nice to see the variety in kids. I hope you have a splendid week, my friend. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Ricki! Such a busy week, hard to find time to read, but I am in the middle of a middle-grade I’m enjoying, Under the Egg. I’m a sucker for art intrigue novels!

  9. vgpratt Avatar

    I love Have You Seen My Dragon, too. It is a clever book. My fourth and fifth graders enjoy it–partly, I think, because it sparks their imaginations!

    I’m curious to get to some of the books you listed this week. I’m especially intrigued by Night of the Gargoyles! A book written by Eve Bunting but illustrated by David Wiesner seems like an amazing combination. You have a great list of picture books this week! I get what you mean about being a bit reading slump-ish (Is that a Peter Reynold’s Ish reference? Sometimes life gets in the way of my reading! Hopefully the slump will get better! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I don’t know about your 4th and 5th graders, but looking at the pictures in Have You Seen My Dragon made me want to whip out some markers and start coloring! Night of the Gargoyles is GORGEOUS and would make a great title to share with those 4th and 5th graders. “Ish” is such a helpful concept, isn’t it? So many things in life need an “ish” added.

  10. Myra GB Avatar

    I think I must have read Night of the Gargoyles years ago – my goodness the collaboration between Bunting and Weisner – really magical. Shoeless Joe sounds like something I must add to my multicultural text set. I have just fallen madly in love with PBBs. Hope you get your reading groove back. I’ve been reading so many wonderful YA novels that I am afraid of starting a new one for fear that it might not live up to the last ones I just read. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I was very surprised to find Wiesner illustrating another author’s books. I had no idea he did that! Need to do more research. I am definitely in a YA reading slump–need to read something short and snappy to get me out of it!

  11. […] my original post about Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: Anya Ulinich’s graphic novel, Lena Finkle’s Magic […]

  12. ALR Avatar

    LOVELOVELOVE Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World Series!! My students last year did too! We wrote to him to ask if he would be writing a book about Malala, and he responded that yes, she has made his list!

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