It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/12/16



There was much that I loved about Sharon Creech’s Moo, including the Oreo cow on the cover. When I lived in New Hampshire, one of the great treats of my life was driving past a field of Belted Galloways.


There’s just something happy-making about Belted Galloways–more so than other cows. Moo is the story of an urban family that moves to rural Maine and befriends some neighbors with Belted Galloways. Told from the perspective of Reena, the twelve-year-old daughter who discovers an interest in cows, country fairs, and 4-H work, Moo develops themes of family, friendship, aging, and place, but most especially of the joys of wonder and the power of connection. It’s a thoughtful story and a quick, enjoyable read (though not without some sadness at the end). But I am still confused about the stylistic inconsistency and wish I understood why Creech vacillates between the verse novel and prose–sometimes within the same very short chapter.

all american boys

All-American Boys has been sitting on my stack of books for over a year now, waiting for just the right reading moment. I am glad I finally got to it, but I finished the book feeling conflicted. I wanted to love it and fully expected to love it, but I did not love it. It’s an important book, a useful book, and a necessary book. But it’s also a didactic book, and I think its didacticism often gets in the way of its artfulness. All-American Boys leaves very little space for a reader to work–to make connections, draw conclusions, and even reflect. I do see this book changing minds, building understanding and empathy, and even leading readers to question their own racial prejudices and biases, which is tremendously important work that needs to happen. But I would have liked to have seen as much emphasis on literary elements as on social critique. Still, it’s a novel I will be trying to get into the hands of my students.

i dissent.jpeg

Debbie Levy’s picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only book I was determined to leave NCTE with, and it was well worth the long wait in line. It’s a well-researched and extremely well-written look at how RBG grew up to become a dissenting voice protesting unequal treatment and speaking up for what is right for all people. Smartly illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, I Dissent is an inspirational addition to the literature of social justice and should spark great discussion (and perhaps some activism!).


Jean-Michel Basquiat is not the most obvious choice as a subject for a children’s picture book biography, and reading this book, I get the feeling that only Javaka Steptoe could have created such a powerful and beautiful children’s story out of this life. I didn’t even need the author’s note at the end to understand just how influential and even necessary Basquiat’s life and career were as examples and inspiration for Steptoe.  Some truths of Basquiat’s life–notably his drug addiction and early death from a drug overdose–are necessarily obscured (though the author’s note at the end fills in the details), but there is one hard truth that Steptoe keeps as the core of this book–what it’s like to live with a parent who has mental illness. Steptoe’s writing is elegant, clean, often lyrical, and the illustrations capture the spirit and energy of Basquiat’s own style while still being very much their own works of art. One of the strongest nonfiction picture book titles of the year, with ample and interesting back matter.


I read quickly through Mac Barnett’s Rules of the House at the bookstore the other day, and I know I liked it, but I don’t remember a single thing about it.


Sally Lloyd-Jones weaves two of my very favorite picture book themes together in Baby Wren and the Great Gift: accepting who you are and what you’re good at rather than coveting the talents of others and noticing and praising the wonders of the natural world. Lyrical writing is really essential to this story, and there were a couple of lines that didn’t sound right to my ear. (One example: “The baby was little and brown and a wren.”). But there are no false steps in Jen Corace’s vibrant artwork.


A.N. Kang’s artwork is the star of The Very Fluffy Kitty Papillon. There is not much to the story: Papillon is so fluffy that he literally floats away unless he’s weighted down by something, and the something he ends up preferring is a friendly little red bird. The spread of Papillon outfitted in different costumes is especially charming.


So simple, so powerful, and such a perfect marriage of author and illustrator to tell this surprisingly deep story. Stephen spots a beetle and decides to kill it. Then he reconsiders and decides not to. That’s really all there is to it, but the moral question at the center of the story resonates far beyond the simple text. One that will no doubt provoke much discussion and reflection.





18 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/12/16”

  1. carriegelson Avatar

    Love your comments about Radiant Child. Just incredible.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I love this book! Really want my own copy!

  2. Billbrarian Avatar

    I listened to Moo on audiobook last week and really enjoyed it. It was great. You’ve also given me some good books to purchase for my library as well. Wonderful post!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks! There are several Sharon Creech books I haven’t read–I should look for them on audio.

  3. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    Even though I loved ALL AMERICAN BOYS, I agree with you that it’s didactic. I’m convinced that it’s because Simon & Schuster expedited the publication of this book due to the content’s timeliness. I think if it had more time in the revision and editing process, some of that didacticism would have been edited out.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I was thinking about the timeline from writing to publication too. Many of my students have read the book and loved it, so I don’t think the didacticism is a turn-off for them.

  4. The Logonauts (@thelogonauts) Avatar

    I felt like All American Boys didn’t have as much to say to someone who is familiar with the issues but might provide insights for kids who don’t really understand the pressure and tension with police.

    I also really enjoyed Radiant Child but wished that the author’s note had included some examples of original artwork too for context.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Great point about the audience for All American Boys. I’m sure this is one reason it’s been such a powerful read for many of my students. Radiant Child sent me straight to the Internet to look up Basquiat! And then I was even more astonished by what Steptoe achieved in his illustrations. Such a beautiful and powerful homage to Basquiat.

  5. Michele Avatar

    I’m reading The Hate U Give, which reminds me a lot of All American Boys. What I love even more about this one is seeing how conflicted the characters are. I think it’s a great side to look at because conflicts like this can’t be see in black and white.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ll have to look for The Hate U Give. Sounds like one many of my students would like to read after All American Boys!

  6. crbrunelle Avatar

    Moo was fun. I Dissent and Radiant Child are two that I loved.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I didn’t read nearly as many nonfiction PBs as I usually do, but the ones I did read this year were wonderful.

  7. lindabaie Avatar

    I may have to purchase Radiant Child, too many holds at the library! So many have praised it. I loved Moo, enjoyed the parents’ actions, letting the kids experience things without hovering, and of course the whole landscape of a farm and a small town. Thanks for the other picture books too, fun to hear about the basic story.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Linda. I also sometimes have to purchase a copy of a book if the holds list is too long. Maybe the Denver Public Library system needs to buy more copies!! I think I am going to have to purchase Radiant Child for my very own too as I can imagine wanting to share it in multiple classes. I used to live in New England, and the setting of Moo was such a pleasant reminder of a place I love. (Though now New England feels so crowded to me–and with far too many trees! I’ve gotten so accustomed to the wide open space and vistas of western South Dakota!)

      1. lindabaie Avatar

        My ‘home’ state is Missouri, and while I love Colorado and the mountains, I miss driving into the country to see all the farms and animals in the fields. Colorado has quite a different look.

  8. cweichel Avatar

    I adored Moo and All American Boys. If I Dissent wasn’t already on my list, it sure would be now! I must find Stephen and the Beetle. It looks like the kind of book I used when I was teaching critical literacy with kids at school!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You will love I Dissent. It’s hard to read anything about RBG and not fall in love–she’s just such a cool and admirable person. I am so happy to have a PB to introduce her to more readers. I think Stephen and the Beetle is a title that’s going to stick with me. Might even end up on my top 10 of the year list. I loved the illustrations. They are not pretty exactly, but they’re incredibly powerful and exactly right for the story. A work of art and philosophy in every way.

  9. Myra GB Avatar

    I own a copy of Stephen and the Beetle (bought from our research project). I will now have to read it soonest based on your review. I have a feeling I’d love I Dissent as well.

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