It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?#imwayr 10/15/18


On the blog:

  • Some thoughts about soft starts for our students and ourselves

In reading:


I have always loved the troublemakers best, because with Carla Shalaby, I believe they shine a light on what is unjust, unnecessary, and even cruel in our school systems. I didn’t entirely understand why the troublemakers were my favorite students until I became the mother of a troublemaker. And I realized that every time my son acted out, it was in protest–in protest of nonsensical policies, of learning that didn’t make sense, of teachers who couldn’t stay regulated, of unfair treatment of himself and others. The troublemakers will tell us exactly what is wrong–if we will only listen.

Shalaby’s book is not an easy read. She profiles four elementary students at different schools who, for different reasons, have been labeled troublemakers. She dispassionately recounts the isolation, punishments, private beratings, public scoldings, sarcasm, and cajoling these children receive literally all day long from their teachers–and these are good teachers–in an effort to get these children to be quiet, orderly, seated, compliant. It’s a searing indictment of an institution that so often and so absolutely does not work.

Lest you think it’s all bad news, however, there is that wonderful final chapter that lays out a classroom management approach based on treating children like humans, recognizing and meeting their needs. Shalaby calls this love, which it is, though we might also call it empathy or connection. This is a very short book with a very powerful message–and a must-read by teachers and administrators.

positively izzy

I had one set of feelings about Positively Izzy when I finished it last night, and another set this morning after I skimmed some reviews because I was so confused by the ending. My feelings last night were that this was a sweet, if slow-moving, story about two middle-school girls who navigate friendships and family through the talent show at school. The format is what I think is so appealing about this book–Izzy’s chapters written as an illustrated novel, Brianna’s as a graphic novel. The characters aren’t very detailed or well-rounded, and very little happens. Sometimes that can be very charming, but here I just found it a bit dull.

Then, there is an epilogue at the end which seems to introduce new characters in Brianna’s family and a final spread that I found quite confusing. The final spread is obviously a twist and obviously meant to reveal something about the characters, but I didn’t get it. (Many other readers would, I’m sure.) I had to go to the reviews this morning for help. Review after review was either “I didn’t see the twist coming” or “I don’t understand the ending of this book at all” or “Ever after I figured out the twist, I didn’t understand this book” or, my favorite, “I had to read Goodreads reviews to understand this book.” Me too! Finally, a kind reviewer spelled it out for me clearly and succinctly. And then I was irritated. I think I would have enjoyed this book far more had I known about its twisty little secret from the beginning.


Sparks! is great fun and a good readalike for fans of Hi-Lo and Sidekicks. Two cats escape a lab where evil scientists have been experimenting on them. The experiments have made one of the cats an engineering and technological genius. She invents a mechanical dog suit for them so that they can perform daring heroic acts and save hapless humans who are constantly getting themselves in scrapes. But there is an evil antagonist who is trying to thwart and trap them. The dynamic between the cats is a delight, and despite the silly-sounding plot, there’s a lot of deeper thematic elements about friendship, trust, and overcoming fear.

fake blood

Fake Blood is a hoot. It’s a graphic novel bout a boy who, with some help from his friends, pretends to be a vampire because the girl he loves is obsessed with vampires. Everything goes quite wrong, of course. It’s a strong story about friendship and the power of books and stories to influence our lives. Very well-paced with memorable characters. And there are some very funny scenes.

unwanted don brown

The Unwanted is another must-read nonfiction graphic novel from Don Brown. Once again, I’m amazed at how Brown can take an incredibly complex story–in this case, the many stories of the millions of Syrian refugees who have been forced to leave Syria and try to find a place to live–and write a short, engaging, easy-to-follow explanatory graphic novel that still manages to honor and reflect that complexity. With so much that is misunderstood about the war in Syria and the plight of Syrian refugees, we really need stories that help us understood and empathize. This is that book.

peanut butter and jelly

Another fun entry in the Narwhale and Jelly early reader series. There’s not much to say about Peanut Butter and Jelly, except that it has the engaging conversations between Narwhal and Jelly and the silly situations we’ve come to expect in this series. If you enjoyed the first books in the series, you will enjoy this too.





15 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?#imwayr 10/15/18”

  1. Shaye Miller Avatar

    Wow @ Troublemakers — this is a brand new title to me and now I have to get my hands on it. I’m also excited to learn of The Unwanted — overall, I am so pleased to see such a large number of stories, both fiction and nonfiction, making their way into graphic novels. It seems this genre has exploded and authors, illustrators, and publishers have scrambled to meet that need, beautifully. Thank you for these titles, Elisabeth!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The campus library has Troublemakers, so you can request it there. It’s a short book and doesn’t take long to read, though I had to put it down a few times because I kept wanting to jump into the story and change everything! The Unwanted is excellent–as are all Don Brown books.

  2. carriegelson Avatar

    Appreciate all of your thoughts here – helps to direct me to which titles I want to read and which ones to take a pass on. My students love Clanton’s books so much!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I really enjoy the humor in the Clanton books–it’s just my kind of silly!

  3. Scott Day Avatar

    Read: Tales From the Inner City by Shaun Tan, Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve and Pamela Zagarenski, and Pearl by Molly Idle. Ambivalent about Shaun Tan’s work. Often imaginative illustrations, but stories left me confused or cold. I’ve always been a fan of Pamela Zagarenski’s fanciful illustrations. This time I was fascinated by a rocking horse. Pearl is just beautiful. One of my favorite picture books this year.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I haven’t seen Pearl yet but will be on the lookout. I also need to see Zola’s Elephant! I really like Zagarenski’s work too. I often have that same experience of a Shaun Tan title, but I’ve found that when I teach one of his books and have a chance to talk about it with students, I warm right up. The Arrival is actually the first graphic novel I ever read and will always have a soft spot in my heart for introducing me to one of my favorite formats/genres.

  4. TeachersforTeachers (@ClareandTammy) Avatar

    We love your description of Trouble Makers – sounds like an important book. Sparks looks like so much fun. That one is going on our TBR list too!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think Sparks will be a great fit for so many readers, and like Hilo or some of Ben Hatke’s books, it can span a wide age range. Troublemakers is a must read, I think. And the final chapter is just so lovely–I wish every school would embrace those ideas and truly commit to making schools a humane institution.

  5. halliereadit Avatar

    Okay, I’m so intrigued by Positiveily Izzy now! I have to go read it to find out what happens in it. I recently read Invisible Emmie by the same author which I found to be alright. Also I loved Fake Blood and hope more readers find that adorable graphic novel!

    Here’s my update:

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I like Invisible Emmie well enough. I think you should definitely get Positively Izzy. I would like to talk to a reader who figured out the connection without needing help from strangers on the Internet to see what their reading experience was like. Fake Blood was so good–and not one that I had heard anything about! Glad it was nominated for a Cybils because that’s how it came to my attention.

  6. Michele Avatar

    Yay, the new Don Brown graphic novel is finally at my library. Glad you posted to remind me to go check.
    I love the Narwhal and Jelly series. And that one is especially fun because it makes my students laugh. I’ve had kids who really do not like reading check that one out over and over. That’s always a win!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Such a win! Don Brown is doing such phenomenal work. The Unwanted is one I really need to own because I think it would circulate quite a bit in my little lending library as well.

  7. cweichel Avatar

    I didn’t even read beyond the first few sentences about Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School, before I scooted over and put a hold on it at my library. It sounds like the perfect partner to The Body Keeps the Score.
    I went back to finish this and added The Unwanted and Fake Blood. So many books and so little time!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Interestingly, the children selected for profile in Troublemakers are not the students you might expect. I figured that trauma would be the most obvious root cause of their behaviors. But I think the author made a very smart choice to profile children who aren’t necessarily scoring high on ACES. If we focus on the trauma that children have experienced, I think it’s very easy to let schools off the hook. (Though if focusing on trauma gets us to be more trauma-informed in our practices, that will be good for all children.) It’s not possible to get too caught up in the personal stories of the children or in what they might be bringing to school with them in most cases in this book, so the focus stays squarely on the critique of school. I think you’ll find it pretty fascinating.

  8. Myra GB Avatar

    Troublemakers has been on my radar nw – and your review makes me want to bump it up my to-find stack. I teach allied educators here in Singapore – those who are meant to provide support for students with special needs in mainstream classrooms (Singapore practices inclusion) – I have a feeling that this book will resonate with them.

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