It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 2/1/16


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

On the blog:

In reading:

water is water

I’ve been wanting to read Water Is Water for awhile, though more for Jason Chin’s illustrations than for Miranda Paul’s text. Not that I have anything against Miranda Paul’s text. I just couldn’t figure out how a picture book about the water cycle was going to be anything but boring. I especially couldn’t figure out how Paul was going to make the topic accessible for very young readers. But the combination of Paul’s simple, rhythmic text and repetitive structure with Chin’s marvelous illustrations really does work–and really does make the water cycle comprehensible and even interesting.

Chin’s illustrations are absolutely deserving of the awards buzz–they’re so beautiful. I did find the last few pages of text confusing, as the water cycle disappears in favor of…. well, I’m not sure what. Suddenly instead of water in its many forms, we have tree roots, apples, and apple cider. Yes, trees need water if they’re going to grow apples, but that connection wasn’t made.

thie bridge will not be gray

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray is an extra long (104 pages!) nonfiction picture book about the building of one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. And yes, it does explain why the Golden Gate bridge is orange instead of a more proper bridge color like gray. (Mostly because one man took it into his head that the bridge should be orange and wouldn’t rest til everyone else agreed.) I

f you know Dave Eggers’s work, you will be aware you’re reading a picture book by Eggers. For me, it worked. For other readers, some of the asides and repetitions may seem pretentious. The text makes for a very good read aloud: there’s something stately in Eggers’s prose, and he does a wonderful job of remembering that children may be children, but they can also be sophisticated thinkers.

The real star here, though, is Tucker Nichols’s cut-out paper collage art. So simple, so elegant. It’s a bit early for me to be picking favorites of the year, but this is definitely going to be on my list of favorite illustrations of the year. (Bonus: the book jacket unfolds into a poster! Now I need two copies of the book.)

station 11

I am so very late to the party on Station Eleven. I thought it couldn’t possibly be as good as all the reviews said; I couldn’t possibly enjoy it as much as all those other readers. But it’s absolutely that good. I loved it so much that I spent the entire day on Sunday reading the final 8 pages (a few sentences here, a few sentences there) because I didn’t want it to end.

Mandel manages something very rare: a post-apocalyptic novel with heart. I find post-apocalyptic fiction so interesting but I rarely read it because it’s just too unrealistic. What happens in these novels when people have to survive is that we all turn into giant assholes, and I just don’t buy it. People are naturally social, we cannot survive alone, and it simply doesn’t make sense that it’s every man for himself to the violent deadly end in so much post-apocalyptic fiction. Mandel manages to write a world that can be very difficult and ugly at times but where people, for the most part, still retain their humanity, and there can still be something like understanding and compassion even for the people who don’t.

Structurally, the novel is really interesting: several stories and time periods woven together where the full scope of the connections only become clear at the end. Mandel also manages another neat trick: there’s not a single moment of overwriting in the whole book! This one will definitely be on my top 10 for the year. Loved every moment of it.

just mercy

It has taken me almost a year to finish reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read, but it’s really a hard read. Stevenson is a lawyer who works tirelessly to advocate for those who have been treated most unjustly by our judicial system: death row inmates; the mentally ill; the poor; children who have been sentenced as adults; racial minorities. He documents so much grotesque miscarriage of justice, corruption, and abuse in the judicial system. It’s clearly a system that is broken.

For so many of Stevenson’s clients, there has been no justice at all. Once Stevenson and his law firm begin advocating for them, there is at least some hope, but all too often, judges and prosecuting attorneys refuse to even consider the new evidence Stevenson and his research team turn up. The lack of care, compassion, and yes, mercy, in the court system is incredibly frustrating to read about, and one wonders how Stevenson keeps on. He’s an excellent writer, and his work is truly making a difference for people who have been unfairly treated. Although this is a very frustrating, even enraging, book to read, it’s not bleak: Stevenson and his firm advocate successfully for many of their clients and win releases and retrials for many of those unfairly imprisoned or improperly tried.

big magic

I listened to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear on my commute over the last couple of weeks, read by Gilbert herself, and I enjoyed it very much, but I have to confess: I finished it last week, and I do not remember one single thing that’s in it. It’s charming, encouraging, inspirational, but not very big on substance that’s going to stick with you.





28 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 2/1/16”

  1. Michele Avatar

    I agree with you on the Water is Water text – at some point it seems to not connect. I would continue to pass the text along to use with teachers for the water cycle, just not as the only one they use! There is a fun youtube video that someone put together with a song and motions to go along with the book. Good for classroom use!

    1. Crystal Avatar

      Yes, Emily Arrow has a great video to go with Water is Water

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I was at least pleasantly surprised that I could care about the water cycle at all! I know it’s important, but there are some subjects that just make my eyes glaze over, and that’s one! I’ll look for the video and share both with my Children’s Lit class. Thanks!

  2. Jane Whittingham Avatar

    I want to get a copy of This Bridge Will Not Be Grey, I love stories about real people who looked at the world a bit differently and did things their own way – very inspiring! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s a little different, but I really loved it. Not sure it will work for all readers, though.

      1. Jane Whittingham Avatar

        Well, that’s OK, not every book should or the library would be a boring place indeed 🙂

  3. Gigi McAllister Avatar

    Hi Elisabeth,
    Now I need to find out more about the Golden Gate Bridge. You also have me intrigued by Station Eleven because I also missed the party.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Station Eleven is one of the most delightful novels I’ve read in forever. Adored every page! And I think I got sucked into the story from about page 2, which is unusual for me with adult fiction (and one reason why I don’t read that much of it).

  4. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    I wonder if the reason you feel like you don’t remember anything about Big Magic is because you listened to it as opposed to read it. I have the same problem with books I listen to. I very vividly remember lessons I learned from Big Magic. Particularly the martyr vs. trickster chapter and the story of the young American who went to Paris and attended the costume party dressed as a giant lobster. But more important than the specific lessons, I just loved the tone of the book. How Gilbert models throughout the entire book that creativity should bring us joy, not torment.

    I definitely need to check out the Dave Eggers text. I actually haven’t read anything by him, but I am a big supporter of his 826 organization. We have one here in Michigan and I just love that it exists.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      That’s very possible, Beth. I really enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice (I’ve listened to her narrate Eat Pray Love and also listened to the Big Magic podcast) and so I loved the experience of listening to the book, but I really didn’t retain much. I am definitely not an auditory learner (I feel like I can actually feel wires crossing in my brain when my husband tries to explain game rules to me) so even though I enjoy audiobooks, it’s not the best format for me if I’m really trying to focus and learn. Some day I’m going to get myself to a city with an 826 organization and go buy some pirate supplies or something! I love the work of that organization too–really liked hearing more about it at his talk at NCTE.

  5. Tara Smith Avatar

    A picture book by Dave Eggers? I’m in!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I know! I think it’s a natural fit.

  6. Linda Baie Avatar

    I love This Bridge Will Not Be Grey, a gift for my daughter who loves all things Eggers. And you’re right, the illustrations are amazing. Cut paper art makes me want to dive in, but I never know where to start! You’ve made me want to read Station Eleven again. I did enjoy it very much. And I’ve bookmarked Just Mercy, sounds tough, but something I want to know about. Thanks Elisabeth.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      So glad you loved This Bridge and also loved the art. It’s so beautiful! I really, really want to take that dust jacket off and hang up the poster. Just Mercy is a tough read, for sure. Enraging how often innocent people are imprisoned. Also enraging how often unjust sentences are given for crimes that don’t warrant life in prison! Have you read anything else by Emily St John Mandel? I’d like to read another of her novels now.

  7. Kellee from Unleashing Readers (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    I agree about Water is Water! I loved it and loved it then liked it then was confused. Overall it was beautiful, but I wish it had stuck with more informational.
    I NEED This Bridge Will Not Be Grey! Eggers is brilliant and the artwork looks amazing.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Wish I understood what the author was thinking with Water Is Water. I feel like there’s something I’m just not quite getting. I think you will like This Bridge.

  8. Wyoming Jen Avatar
    Wyoming Jen

    I lived in the Bay Area and the Golden Gate Bridge is impressive! It is also the bridge with the highest tolls!
    I certainly need to add Just Mercy to my list. I live true crime books and TV. I’ve binged Serial podcast, Making a Murderer on Netflix, and any true crime I can find. Thanks for another suggestion!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Just Mercy is a must-read, I think. I was just hearing about the Making a Murderer doc on a podcast yesterday. I’m a little afraid to start watching because I worry that I’ll need to binge watch and cheat myself out of sleep!

      1. Wyoming Jen Avatar
        Wyoming Jen

        It takes like 10-11 hours to watch. I did it in one day before the semester started!

  9. Crystal Avatar

    I want to see the Eggers book. I too had difficulty with Water is Water for the same reason. I like it, but it becomes disjointed.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The Eggers book is really interesting. I love that it’s 100+ pages too. There’s not that much text, so it’s a very deliberately paced book and the length allows the illustrator so much scope to tell the story visually.

  10. Myra GB Avatar

    Glad to see so many new titles here that I would most definitely be checking out – particularly the Eggers one. I didn’t like Big Magic – perhaps it’s the academic in me who writes about creativity that didn’t like it – although I know we write for different audiences. But perhaps what I didn’t agree with in her book is how she perceives art to be an ornament of the soul – that is again very evidently a statement that comes from a position of privilege. For others, art may be their only salvation – and could prove to be life-saving, a fact that she did acknowledge, but dismissed ultimately.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I definitely struggled with different aspects of Big Magic. I think I’ll probably have a student in my Creative Mind class read it and review it this semester–will be interested to see how it appeals or not to a 20 yr old reader.

  11. Andrea Payan (@payanar) Avatar

    I definitely need to check out This Bridge Will Not be Gray. It sounds like a read-aloud book for my students this year. I am listening to Big Magic now and enjoy the author’s reading of the book. I think it is one of those books that might be one that for some people is just the right message at just the right time and for others it is inspirational but not life-changing. I loved your thoughts on Station Eleven. I completely agree. Have a great reading week.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My son and I took a couple of mornings over breakfast to read it aloud. I liked the pacing. I definitely enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s narration of Big Magic–she’s a good reader, so personable and charming and warm. Glad you liked Station Eleven too! It’s my current favorite book!

  12. The Logonauts (@thelogonauts) Avatar

    I really liked how Water is Water worked, but you are right about the weird left-turn into ecology at the end. Have put a request in for This Bridge Will Not Be Gray.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ll be interested in your thoughts! It’s unique.

  13. cheriee weichel Avatar
    cheriee weichel

    I enjoyed Water is Water. I love the text & I love the images. I just ordered this Bridge Will Not be Gray and Station Eleven from the library. I do find that I don’t always listen closely to audiobooks. Except some, like Between the World and Me, which I feel I must listen closely to because something powerful is happening in these words.

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