It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/2/15


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

On the blog:

Nothing! It was a crazy week with lots of unexpected work extras, and I decided to take a blogging break.

In reading:

wide open world

John Marshall’s Wide-Open World, a nonfiction account of a six-month round-the-world volunteering trip he took with his family, was my audiobook for the past couple of months. Marshall engagingly narrates the story himself. As soon as I started reading, I decided I want to do some voluntouring before my son grows up. Never mind that we’re all pretty challenged travelers in my house. Not all of Marshall’s family was on board with his idea to quit their jobs, take a leave of absence from school, rent their house, and head off to Costa Rica, the first stop on their adventure. His wife loved the idea, and his teenaged son came around, but there was strong resistance from his teenaged daughter, a freshman in high school who is described as a stereotypical device-obsessed teen. Reconnecting as a family was a huge part of the impetus for this trip, and Marshall’s descriptions of family life, especially his attempts to rekindle his marriage, are a big part of the appeal of this story. These are nice people, well-meaning, good-intentioned, loving–but also real people, occasionally cranky, sarcastic, and fed-up with each other and world travel. The family’s travels take them to a monkey sanctuary in Costa Rica, organic farms in New Zealand, a school in Thailand, and an orphanage in India. I sometimes felt that Marshall got bogged down in the less-important details of travel–the logistics, the small irritations–and lost focus of the bigger human interest story he was telling. At the same time, though, the petty details of travel are a big part of the experience. Marshall ends the book with a reflection on the ways that the trip changed each person in his family. This was one of my favorite parts of the book. While the results weren’t what Marshall expected, his children were undeniably changed in positive ways to become more compassionate and more committed to social justice: both of them begin to understand their own values and what it means to be a citizen of the world, and both commit in their different ways to making a difference.milo speck

I wanted so much to love Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, because Linda Urban is probably my favorite middle-grade author (though it’s such a rich and wonderful field, it’s hard to choose a favorite). I loved the first couple of chapters–the voice, the sentences, the goofy plot, the humor. But as the story went on, it began to fall flat for me, and I am trying to understand why I didn’t love it. I feel like I ought to have loved it–it ought to have been smack in the middle of my reading wheelhouse. Every positive I can think of about it, though, I end up qualifying with a “not quite.” It was clever, but not quite clever enough. Whimsical, but not quite whimsical enough. Funny, but not quite funny enough. I felt like the story wanted to be very Flora & Ulysses-like, but Urban couldn’t quite let herself go enough to get there.

sunny side up

Sunny Side Up was definitely my favorite read of the week and a new favorite graphic novel. There is so much to love about this story. It tackles some very difficult subject matter: Sunny has been sent to stay with her grandfather in Florida because her older brother, Dale, is struggling with addiction. This is subject matter that I don’t think we see treated often enough in middle-grade fiction. There’s a wonderful–and clever–subplot about reading comic books. There’s plenty of humor with the retirees who live in Grandpa’s retirement community. There’s a complex time frame that enables the reader to be fully engaged putting together the sequence of events and understanding cause and effect. Most of all, there is the character of Sunny herself, who is confused and angry and scared and trying very hard not to be any of those things. Of course nothing is easily sorted out by the end of the story; that’s not the nature of addiction or family secrets. But the reader does feel that Sunny has come to a place of acceptance and understanding and will be okay once she goes home.







17 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/2/15”

  1. Linda Baie Avatar

    Wide Open World sounds good. My daughter has several friends who have taken off around the world with younger kids, one working a tech job that can be done anywhere, & one family sailing. Interesting to think about what would happen in a family on such an adventure.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m fascinated by families that do this. As soon as I started reading this book, I started cooking up a plan to do something similar before my son graduates, but we do have some special challenges that might get in the way! Still, I can dream!

  2. Lisa Maucione (@DrLMaucione) Avatar

    I’m currently reading Milo. I am having a hard time sticking with it. It doesn’t sound like it’ll get better. I’m curious now to know how it turns out.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m not sure I would have stuck with it if I hadn’t been reading it aloud to my son.

  3. Jane Whittingham Avatar

    I really enjoyed Sunny Side Up, and like you said I appreciated that they didn’t just neatly wrap everything up at the end with a perfect ending – that wouldn’t be fair to the characters or to readers, some of whom might experience challenges like this at home, and know that life rarely neat and tidy. I hadn’t heard of Milo, but I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to check it out! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I do wonder about audience with Sunny Side Up. Unsurprisingly, I’ve read several critical reviews online calling it unsuitable for its audience. I disagree, of course, but do wonder if the frank treatment of drug use will keep the book out of the hands of some young readers who need it. I seriously adore Linda Urban and it pains me not to like her new book! I feel like there is something wrong with me!

  4. Cheriee Weichel Avatar

    According to Goodreads, I am reading Milo. But the truth is that I have been ‘reading’ Milo for a very long time. In actual truth, I have abandoned it, but haven’t found the courage to admit it. I agree with you though. I too love Linda Urban.
    I have 3 copies of Sunny Side in the library. They went on display this morning and already I have a very long list of readers who want to put a reserve on it. I hope our Scholastic book fair brings it in!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Cheriee. That’s funny. It was a read-aloud for us, and I never suggest abandoning unless my son suggests it first. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would have finished. I’m so glad there’s already a long line of readers for Sunny Side Up. It’s a great story and very impressive work from Jenni and Matt Holm.

  5. Michele Avatar

    I’ve needed a blogging break too! I’ve managed to get my Monday and Wednesday posts done, but the rest I haven’t had time to get to – way too much going on!
    Milo Speck was a challenging one for me too. At first I didn’t have as much love for it as everyone else seemed to have. But then I started thinking about it as a read aloud, and it seemed to work better. However, I haven’t convinced any students to give it a whirl yet. I’m hoping once the Newbery season is done, my reading students seem to be getting through those books only right now.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I worked on a couple of posts last week and just couldn’t get them finished in a reasonable amount of time so ultimately decided to make it a blogging break, desperately needed. Just too much else going on last week. Trying to get back to it this week, though. I would love some kid opinions on Milo. My son’s only response when we finished was “Huh.” Usually he has A LOT to say about a book.

  6. Laura Cooper Avatar

    Thanks for sharing Wide Open World Sounds like a book I would LOVE! And phew–felt the same exact way about Milo.

  7. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

    Wide Open World was really engaging and interesting. Made me want to read more nonfiction travel books, a genre I used to love but haven’t read much of in the past few years. Glad to know I’m not the only one not loving Milo.

  8. Katie Logonauts Avatar

    Thanks for sharing these! I appreciate your honest take on Milo – I always find critical reviews more useful that effusive ones.

    I’m looking ahead to NCTE in a few weeks. Would love an opportunity to connect, grab coffee, etc!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Me too! I will be in touch closer to time and we can swap #s. I am always up for coffee!

  9. reedjudd Avatar

    Just last week I came across “Milo Speck” and I opted not read it. It is however on my list of upcoming reads so I am interested to see if I enjoy it. I also enjoy Linda Urban’s work as an author, so hopefully it pans out. Thank you for the great list!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It has gotten many good reviews, so I was wondering if somehow it’s just me! I love Urban’s other novels, though. Have you read A Crooked Kind of Perfect? One of my very favorite middle-grades ever. I hope you’ll pick up Milo and see what you think.

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