It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/2/14

IMWAYR

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

On my blog:

In reading:

plain kate

I wanted to love Plain Kate by Erin Bow because it does have many things I love in a fantasy novel, including a sarcastic talking cat. But I was so-so on this book, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Something was off in the pacing and plotting for me. The plot hinges upon Kate’s agreement to trade her shadow to a dark wizard, but she has no very compelling reason to trade it in the first place, and it would seem that she has enough common sense to know that you shouldn’t get involved with a dark wizard. The characters are interesting, however, and Bow’s language and sentences are often beautiful.

nerd camp

In researching my post on Middle Grade Resources, I discovered that I hadn’t read Elissa Brent Weissman’s 2011 Middle-Grade Cybils Winner, Nerd Camp. This is a fast-paced celebration of all things smart, geeky, and nerdy. Ten-year-old only child Gabe is excited that his father is remarrying and he’s going to get a new brother–but then he discovers that his new brother is one of the cool kids. Gabe worries that Zack won’t like him if he finds out he’s a nerd, so he tries to figure out a way to hide his smarts from Zack. That’s made a little more challenging given that he’s spending the summer at nerd camp, a summer camp for the gifted. This was a fun read.

sasquatch escape

My son and I just finished reading Suzanne Selfors’s The Sasquatch Escape out loud, and we both loved it. I think I loved it a little bit more, but then I was still reeling from Timmy Failure and desperately needing a book to restore my faith in humanity, or at least my faith in boy characters in children’s chapter books. Ben Silverstein is sent to the dying town of Buttonville to spend the summer with a grandfather he barely knows while his parents try to solve their marital problems. On the drive into town from the airport, he spots what he thinks might be a dragon. He also spots the girl who will become his best Buttonville friend, Pearl. Ben and Pearl end up rescuing a dragon hatchling and discovering that the new Worm Hospital that has opened up at the old button factory doesn’t treat worms at all. And yes, there is a Sasquatch who escapes. I’m not entirely sure how Suzanne Selfors makes all of this work, but she does. I have ordered Book 2 (though not from Amazon!), and we are impatiently awaiting its arrival.

goyangi means cat

As my regular readers can guess, I’m a sucker for any picture book with a cat on the cover. So I was very enthusiastic about reading Goyangi Means Cat aloud to my son. We settled in for a lovely story about a pretty kitty. I started reading–AND THEN I DISCOVERED THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT ADOPTION. TRIGGER ALERT!! TRIGGER ALERT!! My son began to freak out on the inside–it was written all over his face. But I valiantly plowed onward through the story, which is actually a sensitive look at an adopted Korean girl’s first days in her new home. Everything is confusing and upsetting–except for the cat. When the cat runs away, Soo Min is distraught, but when the cat returns home, she speaks her first English word–home. What I really admire about this book is that it conveys something real about Soo Min’s experience in a way that few adoption picture books do. So often, adoption picture books can be summed up as follows: Yay! You’re home with us! We love you! We’re your family! Happily ever after! To which I can only go beat my head against the wall.

mr putter and tabby soup mercy watson goes for a ride

We are rereading a couple of favorite series right now, Cynthia Rylant’s Mr Putter and Tabby books, my all-time favorite easy reader series, and Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series, which I don’t like quite as much as my kids do, though I am quite fond of the way buttered toast solves all problems.

trainI meant to keep Elisha Cooper’s gorgeous nonfiction picture book, Train, from the library for another week so that I could quote some lines from it, but it got returned. So you will just have to take my word that Cooper’s writing is so, so good. This may be one that adults like more than kids (my son said it was boring, to which I could only stare with gaping mouth because I was riveted), but I appreciated the detail and scope of the illustrations, as well as Cooper’s gorgeous use of language. The concept is quite clever–it’s a cross-country journey but on four different trains, so the reader learns about a variety of trains. Would make an interesting pairing with Brian Floca’s Locomotive.

my name is elizabeth

My Name Is Elizabeth, written by Annike Dunklee and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe, captures one of the central mysteries of being named Elizabeth: everyone wants to give you a nickname, even though you never gave them permission to call you Liz or Beth. I am generally too quiet and retiring to protest when someone calls me Liz, but this Elizabeth rebels and makes it clear to all her family, friends, and neighbors that her name is Elizabeth, not Beth, Liz, Lizzie, Betsy, or anything else they might come up with. The final page, with her little brother trying to say her name, is really adorable.

10,000 dresses

10,000 Dresses, written by Marcus Ewert and illustrated by Rex Ray, is about a transgender boy who dreams of beautiful dresses but can’t find any support or acceptance from his family. I was sad that his parents and brother insulted and dismissed him when he shared his desire to wear dresses with them. Luckily, Bailey meets a new friend who likes to design and make dresses, and they begin working together to bring his dress dreams to life. Ewert chooses to refer to Bailey as “her” and “she” throughout the story, which I thought was an excellent way to underscore the theme. My own reading experience of this book was compromised by format: this is the first e-picture book I’ve read, and I was deeply unimpressed. As you would expect in a picture book, many of the double-page spreads are actually a single image. Showing just the left side or just the right side of the book as a single page, which my ebook did, meant that most of the illustrations made no sense. I really disliked the illustrations and style of this book, but that may have been a function of the reading experience. I would like to get my hands on the actual book at some point and see if that makes a difference. This would be a terrific book to spark discussion about transgender children, about kindness and acceptance, and about difference.

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16 thoughts on “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/2/14

  1. I had to read Mercy a couple of times before I learned to love her! I think some of the other books in the series are better than the first one. Thanks for writing about Nerd Camp, I’m intrigued but had not heard much about it!

  2. Several kids in my class loved The Sasquatch Escape this year, so I brought it, and the second book in the series, home to read this summer. There is a sequel to Nerd Camp coming out soon (out now?) that I’m looking forward to reading too. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Don’t align with dark wizards and don’t take magical candy from strangers! I’m picky about fantasy because there is so much of it, and if it isn’t really outstanding, I don’t have as much patience. Ner Camp and the sequel fill a huge need for realistic MG funny fiction!

  4. Lots of interesting books Elisabeth. I will like train too, I suspect, but unless one is interested, it probably is boring. As for Nerd Camp, it may be written well, but I teach in a school for gifted children, & I don’t care for the stereotype of gifted kids being nerds. We have all kinds of kids in our school, not just nerdy ones. And as for the adoption book, I am wary too of how it’s approached. There is more than one adopted child in my extended family, & you’re so right, too often it’s supposed to be this loving thing & happily ever after as you said, but it is complicated, just as raising any child is. Thanks for My Name Is Elizabeth, too. I just had a class write about their names after researching, including asking their parents why “that” name. Wish I had had that picture book, too! Thanks so much for all!

  5. Today I started interning at a public library. I was thrilled that they started my experience in the children’s library. Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson books must be a favorite as one of the staff members pulled the one that was checked in for her child as the rest were checked out. This is a series of books that I have never read, but I may have to start so that I can see what all the fuss is about. I recently read “Flora & Ulysses” by the same author and enjoyed it. I can’t say that it was one of my favorite books of all time, but it was definitely cute and one that children will definitely enjoy.

    • Mercy Watson books were very popular in my Children’s Lit class this past semester. I need to revisit a couple of Kate DiCamillo’s other novels, maybe as read-alouds with my kids. I am also interested in the work she is doing as National Ambassador for Children’s Lit (though that may not be the right title!)

  6. Elisabeth, thank you so much for sharing the book, 10,000 dresses. I hadn’t heard of it until I read your review, and I am very grateful you shared it! It looks like it teaches wonderful lessons. I will have to get my hands on it! I hope you have a terrific week. 🙂 I look forward to reading about your adventures next week!

  7. Buttered toast kind of does solve lots of things . . . Mercy Watson is very popular in my room. I am a HUGE fan though of Mr. Putter and Tabby – I just breathe deeper and more calmly saying the titles out loud. LOVE! Thankfully, I have a bunch of Mr. Putter fans right now too! I have Nerd Camp but haven’t read it yet – maybe I can get my son reading this too. He likes humour. I really like the My Name is Elizabeth title. Beautiful colours.

    • I agree about Mr Putter & Tabby–such excellent and fine books. And there are a few moments in the series that bring tears to my eyes. Love that you have a bunch of Mr Putter fans! My kids are HUGE fans, though my students have been pretty much immune to Cynthia Rylant’s many charms! I will try again next year. Your son might enjoy Nerd Camp–quick read, fun story about camp and accepting yourself.

  8. I am also a fan of the hot buttered toast. It is my favorite aspect of the Mercy Watson books. I found the illustrations in 10,000 dresses to be a bit unusual, but am happy to have a book with the topic available for young readers.

    • I was inspired by Mercy Watson to have hot buttered toast for lunch one day this week, and it was pretty glorious! I am hoping to get my hands on a couple of the other picture books discussed on the CBCBC listserv this past month. Will probably just request their purchase at my library. Then many readers can benefit!

  9. I own a Kindle Fire which I hardly ever get to use. I could understand its appeal with thick novels, but I know what you mean abaout e-picturebooks – they’re not just suited for it, especially if there isn’t anything at all that makes the electronic aspect of the book enhance the experience of the book – but then again that’s already an iBook or perhaps an app – I think we still need to figure out how to navigate our way around these issues. Junko Yokota gave a wonderful lecture about this during the AFCC and I was amazed by the many things I am missing out on by not reading these iBooks or e-books and story apps. But that’s for another day. Love the books you featured here, I don’t think I know most of them. Goyangi Means Cat sounds like a book I could also add to my multicultural text-set. 🙂

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