It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 9/7/15


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

On the blog:

In reading:

francine poulet

A new book from Kate DiCamillo is always cause for celebration in my house. My 7th-grader actually cheered when I pulled Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon from an Amazon box last week. Over the weekend, he insisted that we set aside our current read-aloud to squeeze in this new tale from Deckawoo Drive. I’m not sure how much I would like DiCamillo’s books if I were reading them silently to myself. I don’t think the beauty of her prose can be appreciated through silent reading. This is writing that demands a read-aloud. There is something stately and rhythmic about the pacing of DiCamillo’s sentences. She is so deadpan and so hilarious. She always finds the absurd in her characters, yet there is real warmth and generosity toward their foibles. I was so happy when Baby Lincoln appeared: she’s perhaps my favorite voice to do in the series. (Yes, I do different voices for all the characters.) (Baby’s is very breathy and Southern.) And yes, for those who are concerned, there is plenty of soothing hot buttered toast in the end.


I was never in doubt about the first read in my new Graphic Novels course—Shaun Tan’s wordless graphic novel, The Arrival. The Graphic Novels course focuses on diversity, difference, and global issues, and The Arrival is an obvious fit for those themes. But I had a bigger purpose in sharing it first: many of my English majors have never read a graphic novel before, and the lack of words can be profoundly disorienting to readers who are so dependent on text to make sense of the world. I think reading experiences that profoundly disorient are probably the ones that change us the most as readers and people, so I love being able to foreground an experience like that at the very beginning of the semester. It’s also hard to think of a graphic novel with more beautiful art than The Arrival. It’s a gorgeously designed book from end paper to end paper. And it’s such a rich text for discussion. Our research in interviews and articles by and about Tan introduced us to some interesting ideas about how images work to convey emotional content without necessarily being easy to pin down and explain definitively. We were able to test those theories out in our reading.

billy twitters

For the most part, I’m reading different picture books in my courses, but I made an exception with Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, which I had to read in two different classes last week—and I might have to share it in a third class next week. Brilliant art by Adam Rex and a hilarious story of a boy whose parents decide to teach him responsibility by getting him a blue whale. Of course, the very best thing about Billy Twitters is probably Mac Barnett’s brilliant TED Talk where he shares the results of his experiment to break down the fourth wall by including an address on the book cover so readers can send off for their own blue whales.

inside this book

I really wanted to love this book, but the more I think about it, the flatter it feels. There’s a strong concept and design here: a mother binds blank books for her children to fill with their stories, and the book consists of three books within the main book, each smaller than the last. A brother, his little sister, and his little brother each write their stories in these blank books, and that’s what you find when you open the hard cover: three little booklets stitched into the binding. Unfortunately, the children’s stories are unusually uninspired and boring. If this is supposed to be a story about imagination and creativity, nothing could be less imaginative and creative than the children’s stories. Certainly no reader is going to read this book and be inspired to write their own. Really a missed opportunity to make something awesome here.

if stones could speak

A middle-grade nonfiction title that’s perfect for budding archaeologists, If Stones Could Speak profiles an archaeologist who developed a new theory for Stonehenge after he challenged himself and his colleagues to look at the site with fresh eyes. He invites a colleague from Madagascar to visit the monoliths and share his theory, which is quite different from the accepted interpretation. Although this research team makes some incredible discoveries, this book focuses less on “the real story” of Stonehenge and more on how archaeologists work and think. Lavishly illustrated with photographs, maps, and diagrams and written in a personal, conversational style by Marc Aronson.

best part of me

I recently realized that my classroom/lending library is lacking in picture books illustrated by photographs, so I’ve tried to add a few more books to my collection. The Best Part of Me was a great choice: it’s part of a literacy project led by photographer Wendy Ewald. She asked children to write about the best parts of their bodies and then photographed them. The images are striking black and white photographs accompanied by handwritten texts that are always charming, sometimes funny, and often quite poignant as children explain why they’ve chosen a particular body part. I really appreciated the diverse faces and bodies represented in this book. It’s an obvious choice for a mentor text.







6 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 9/7/15”

  1. Linda Baie Avatar

    I have “The Best Part of Me” requested at the library, but there are several holds ahead. I’ve seen it before & it does sound great. I think of all shared today, I am interested in If Stones Could Speak, in the idea of different theories and how, plus I wonder if they dug deeper to see the “why” a person might hypothesize one way? Is it cultural background? Thanks Elisabeth; happy you liked that new DiCamillo!

  2. carriegelson Avatar

    I am also such a huge fan of Billy Twitters and the Blue Whale Problem. I haven’t seen that Ted Talk so thanks for the link – going to watch it and finish folding laundry! The Best Part of Me really is incredible. I haven’t done a project like this yet but I really want to.

  3. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I am in 100 % agreement with you about Billy Twitters and Mac Barnett’s TED talk.

  4. Shelly Moody Avatar
    Shelly Moody

    Fourth graders in my school are using The Best Part of Me as a mentor text. It’s been amazing to talk with students during my classroom visits about their “best part”. I can’t wait to see the photographs and final writing pieces displayed in the hallway this week. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Kate DiCamillo’s new book! Thanks for sharing!

  5. The Logonauts (@thelogonauts) Avatar

    Great books, as always. I agree with you about Kate DiCamillo and readability. Reading aloud Edward Tulane last year to my third graders made me love that book even more.

    It’s funny, I had about the opposite thought about “Inside this Book.” I think kids will see how facile the “books” are and immediately think, “I could do better!” 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Ha! I was thinking that there might be an “I could do better” element to a child’s response. But Inside This Book did show up on several #pb10for10 lists this year, so clearly there are readers who love it or at least love using it. I actually read Kate DiCamillo’s early Newberys years and years before I read children’s lit regularly (they were probably the only children’s books I read in those years) and I didn’t like them. And I think it was all about readaloudability, which is HUGE for her writing. And I just didn’t realize.

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