It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 8/26/17 #imwayr

A new Kyo Maclear title is always cause for celebration. Operatic is quiet and delicate but powerful. It’s about all the things you might expect a graphic novel set in middle school to be about–identity, friendship, crushes, bullying. It’s also about opera. Maria Callas, to be exact.

Much of the story unfolds in Mr. K’s music class, where students are preparing for their final assignment: finding the song that represents them. Charlie isn’t sure what her song is, because she isn’t sure who she is or what she stands for. Her research into the life and art of Maria Callas illuminates in unexpected ways some dynamics she has observed at school and ultimately leads her to reach out to a misunderstood classmate.

Byron Eggenschwiler’s art is so evocative–by turns restrained and lush as the story requires. While I think the cover will attract certain readers, it’s a little misrepresentative, as I think all the swirls and purple and gold suggest a far more romantic and soft story.

Speaking of covers, this one for Saffy’s Angel, the first in Hilary McKay’s six-novel Casson family series, is pretty terrible. Apparently the publisher just doesn’t know how to market this series, because I found eight different covers online. But try to ignore the cover, because the story is pure sparkle and charm. If you love the Penderwicks, the Fletchers, or the Vanderbeekers, you will probably love the Cassons too. They’re a bit quirkier than any of those other families, with more art and eccentricity and certainly less competent (though very well-meaning) parents. There’s plenty of plot in each novel, but the real treat is the unfolding dynamics among the siblings and McKay’s wonderful writing.

It’s hard to live in a world with no new Elephant & Piggie titles, but at least we still have Pigeon. Mo Willems hits all the right notes in The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! Pigeon throws his usual tantrum; we find out what big feelings are behind the tantrum; and in the end, he discovers he’s actually excited about what he first dreaded. Best for readers familiar with the whole series because one of the best jokes is about a school bus.

I was sooooo excited about a new Unicorn title from Bob Shea, and then disappointed when I actually read the new book. Unicorn is still Unicorn, but somehow the charm of the first book was missing for me.

Tae Keller’s middle-grade novel is smart and thoughtful with engaging characters, a fun hook (science students trying to win an egg drop competition), and a heartfelt core as Natalie tries to understand her mother’s depression and find reasons for her to get well. I loved how the story was structured following the parts of a science experiment.

The only negative thing I have to say about Elizabeth Acevedo’s second novel is that it isn’t written in verse (the verse part of her debut novel, The Poet X, was so strong). But I like to see that she can do such different things as a writer. With the Fire on High is about Emoni, who is juggling parenthood (she got pregnant when she was a freshman) with the demands of being a high school senior. Food is a big theme in this novel, as Emoni is a talented chef who can make magic in the kitchen. There are so many interesting relationships (including a very strong relationship with her abuela, who raised her) and believable characters who come to life on the page. In many ways it’s quite different from The Poet X, but still focused on themes of family, identity, growing up, what it means to be Latina, what it means to be authentic and true to yourself.






15 responses to “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 8/26/17 #imwayr”

  1. Wendi Lee Avatar
    Wendi Lee

    I thought With the Fire on High was written in verse, which I usually don’t care for, but worked so well in Poet X. This is good to know! I am a sucker for pretty covers and have often breezed past Saffy’s Angel, but now I think I’ll give it a chance. Have a great week!

  2. Juliana Avatar

    Hooray for great reading for students!! Did the Elizabeth Acevedo book have recipes? So glad you are back!!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      There were a couple of recipes in it! But they didn’t make much of an impression on me because i don’t even remember what they were. But the food descriptions were great. As someone who must doggedly follow the recipe and can’t really improvise, I loved the main character’s ability to combine ingredients in unusual ways and make food magic!

  3. cweichel Avatar

    I have only read Kyo Maclear’s picture books and had no idea she did graphic novels!
    I really want to read With the Fire on High, but don’t see how I am going to find time for it this year. I think I will have to add it to my #MustReadIn2020 list.

    1. cweichel Avatar

      BTW, I am so happy you are back! I’ve missed you.

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks Cheriee! I needed a bit of a break but hope to be consistently reading and sharing now. I was so excited to see a Kyo Maclear graphic novel. I have loved everything I’ve read by her. I know what you mean about the challenge of trying to squeeze in another fat novel in 2019 when the TBR lists are so very long! Luckily, there’s always that #mustreadin2020 list to look forward to making!!

  4. lindabaie Avatar

    I love Kyo Maclear, the picture books and Bird, Art, Life, did not know about this new title which sounds terrific. I have With The First on High but still haven’t got to it, yet. Still need to read that new Pigeon book, too. Thanks, Elisabeth!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The new Pigeon title is really fun. I shared it with my students on the first day of school and we had a laugh over it. I think you will like Kyo Maclear’s new graphic novel. It’s quiet and sensitive but deeply compelling, just as you would expect from her.

  5. Lisa Maucione (@DrLMaucione) Avatar

    I’m looking forward to reading The Pigeon Has to Go to School to kids this week. With the Fire on High sounds great!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My college students enjoyed Pigeon! I book talked With the Fire on High today–but no takers. 😦 My book talking skills might be rusty!

  6. aaroncleaveley Avatar

    I am also glad you are back! I totally agree with that cover for Saffy’s Angel, I might be tempted to look away instead of inside so I was glad for your review, and I still have to get to town to buy the Pigeon book, so thanks for the reminder Have a great week!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Aaron! I have no idea why I even picked up Saffy’s Angel with that sad cover. I’m rereading the second book in the series right now and think it’s such a good fit for fans of those other books I mentioned. You definitely need the new Pigeon title and pronto!! Have a wonderful reading week!

  7. Shaye Miller Avatar

    I’ve never read Saffy’s Angel, but I’m adding it to my list. And wow are you right — MANY covers to this one. How crazy! The Science of Breakable Things was just wonderful for me. I read it around the same time as Miscalculations of Lightning Girl and remember being so happy to be on a “great middle grade book streak.” I enjoyed With the Fire on High this summer, but especially enjoyed Elizabeth Acevedo narration. What a storyteller with all the great inflection and feeling of each situation. It’s great to “see” you this week, Elisabeth!! Hope you have a wonderful reading week.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I still think about how much I loved Miscalculations! I agree that Science is so wonderful. I read it very slowly because I was so happy to have a middle-grade to love so much! I didn’t realize that Elizabeth Acevedo narrated With the Fire on High. Now I wish I’d listened on audio! I’ve been on such a podcast kick for so long that I’ve been neglecting audio books but have just been getting back into them.

  8. Destiny Park Avatar

    I had never heard of Kyo Maclear until now but I will defiantly have to search for her books. I really enjoy reading graphic novels and your description interested me. I saw “Unicorn Is Maybe Not So Great After All” in another #IMWAYR blog post and it caught my attention. What was the first book?

Leave a Reply to Wendi Lee Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: