Monday, February 12, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

Winter doesn't seem to want to let go!  Last week the groundhog warned us!  At any rate, when I saw that we had a Level 2 Snow Emergency here (which means to only go out on the roads if it's absolutely necessary) I was so glad that I had gone to the grocery store, but more importantly, the library!  Here's what I've been reading this past week:

Picture Books

This clever picture book would be great to share with young readers who love learning new words. And for those children who maybe aren’t particularly interested in vocabulary, this book certainly would inspire them to read and listen a little more closely. The little boy in this story loves collecting all sorts of words. He organizes them and makes special boxes and scrapbooks for them. When an accident mixes the words up, Jerome sees an opportunity to create new stories, poems, and songs. This could be a terrific mentor text to inspire young writers to find their own words and use them to make their own unique creations.

This is a picture book that would be good to share with young readers as springtime and Earth Day approaches. Digger works with other huge pieces of construction equipment to build buildings, roads, and bridges. When Digger discovers a little flower growing in the last empty lot in the city, he works very hard to take care of it. But commercial development won’t be stopped because of a flower, and Digger’s little friend is cut down. Digger’s reaction is very sweet and heartwarming. This could lead to some good discussions about sustainable growth and how to protect nature in the midst of urban sprawl.

This clever picture book takes young readers on a holiday with a group of words that got bored just hanging around in the dictionary. As the words all make their getaway, readers are introduced to concepts such as onomatopoeia, action verbs, contractions, and other special types of words. The cute illustrations, the fun examples of word concepts, and the glossary at the back of the book make this a good ELA resource to have in a classroom library.

This fascinating picture book biography tells the life story of Elizabeth Cotten, one of our country’s greatest folk singers. As a little girl, she loved music and would sneak into her brother’s bedroom to play his guitar. But because she was left-handed, she flipped the instrument up and around and learned to play it backwards. As an adolescent, she wrote the song “Freight Train”, which became one of her most famous songs. Even though it took many years and a chance encounter with a member of one of America’s most famous folk music families, she never gave up the music she loved so much. Beautiful illustrations rendered in graphite and digital color, along with an author’s note and a good bibliography, make this a terrific nonfiction resource to have on your bookshelf.

This is a nice picture book biography that tells young readers about the early life of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space. The simple text along with the kid-friendly illustrations, make this a good starting point to inspire further research. There’s more biographical information on the last page, but I wish the author had included some photographs of Dr. Jemison and her space adventures.

This is a picture book with a nice message for young readers about being persistent to reach out and become a friend to someone who needs it. Tilly is walking along when she spies a strange looking elephant. It turns out that this strange elephant is actually a tank that misinterprets Tilly’s attempts to be friendly as enemy threats. Even though the gun blasts frighten her, she persists in trying to let Tank know that she just wants to be friends. I’m a little bit bothered, though, about the nature of this friendship between a peaceful elephant and a dangerous machine that fires deadly munitions without warning whenever it misunderstands her intentions. Is this book actually encouraging toxic relationships, where someone that is kindhearted and generous pursues someone that is unstable, reckless, and dangerous? I might be reading too much into this book, but in a world where so many misunderstandings turn deadly, I’m not sure I would want this book on my shelf.

I was thrilled to receive a signed copy of this book from the author. All of our favorite barnyard characters from the Click, Clack, Moo series are getting together for a Valentines party. Little Duck has been working very hard decorating and making Valentines. Once the party starts, they all have a terrific time until an uninvited guest shows up. Young readers will enjoy finding out how Little Duck handles this awkward situation.

Those that have ever introduced a small, fragile new pet to a much bigger dog will definitely smile at the emerging friendship between Smick and Chick. With simple, spare text and digital art enhanced with photos of sticks and flower petals, the story of a big dog becoming friends with a little chick would be a fun one to share with very young children.

This sweet picture book has a terrific message for young readers about friendship. The three friends in this story all have different interests and temperaments. But their diversity serves as their strength, and they get along very well. The softly colored illustrations are very warm and inviting for children. This would be a great book to have on the primary classroom bookshelf.

Middle Grade Fiction

I had this middle grade fiction novel on my Kindle for some time and took advantage of the snowy weather to finally sit down and read it. I had high hopes for this book, as I really enjoyed one of Gordon Korman’s other novels, Masterminds. It has a premise that has the potential to be fun for middle grade readers: Donovan Curtis is an impulsive troublemaker who pulls a major prank at his middle school. Due to an administrative mix-up, he is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction instead of being punished.

Donovan isn’t at his new school for very long before it becomes very apparent that he doesn’t belong there. But because the admission requirements for this school are so rigorous, the instructors are determined to find Donovan’s strengths and help him succeed. He becomes involved with the school’s robotics team and makes a big impact, not through any technical or mechanical talent, but through his ability to bring the power of his personality to bear on the robot and all the other students around him.

The problem with this book is that it relies so heavily on negative stereotypes: gifted kids are unattractive, socially inept nerds; educators and administrators are narrow-minded buffoons; school districts will put the interests of the gifted students above all the other students. As I read, I kept hoping that maybe through the development of the characters and the plot, readers might get the message that these assumptions aren’t true and that each kid is gifted in his or her own way. But the story clings to these ideas throughout. I think that this could have been a terrific book that would elevate the Donovans of the world to believe that they have talents and gifts to share without knocking down the gifted and talented students.


  1. That's so disappointing about the negative stereotypes in Ungifted. I recently read a book like that -- I kept hoping there would be some redemption as the story progressed. But nope. :( Thanks for sharing your recent reads! I'm especially interested in The Word Collector and also in Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. Two of my kiddos are very interested in guitar (and one's a lefty). Have a great week!

  2. Because I taught at a school for gifted students, we also thought Korman's book was terrible, Jana. I'm glad you noticed, too. I shared The Word Collector today, too. We love the same books, I think. Thanks for all the wonderful picture books that are new to me!

  3. I just bought The Word Collector last week and have yet to read it in its entirety. The Great Dictionary Caper does look like a great resource for teaching language and grammar.

  4. You have a couple on your list I just picked up from the library - Digger and the Flower and the Great Dictionary Caper. Thanks for your thoughts on Ungifted. It's not one I've gotten around to reading yet.

  5. I really wish my library had a copy of Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. Since it was recently published I can but hope they bring it in. I have been meaning to read Ungifted since it was immensely popular in our school library, but never got around to it. Your review here has convinced me not to bother.

  6. I just checked our online library database - we still don't have The Word Collector and Libba - woe is me. I hope being snowed in is as romantic as it sounds. Sending you light and sun from Singapore.

  7. The Word Collector is a book I need to read soon! Thanks for your thoughts on Ungifted. I have not read that one yet.