Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Out of the Classroom and Into...a New Job!

Things have changed a bit since the last time I posted (which was far too long ago)!

I am no longer teaching middle school language arts, as I left the classroom at the end of the semester, and this week started my new role as the National Literacy Consultant for Custom Education Solutions

It was a difficult decision to leave my students behind, yet I am thrilled to be able to share my experience and passion for getting good books into kids' hands with other teachers.

So what does this mean for this book blog? 
I'm not totally sure yet. 
I don't think I'll be posting here as often, but am working on ideas to share through Custom Ed.
And you can still find me talking books on twitter @heisereads & my 
new literacy consultant account @CustomeduLit, and on goodreads.


If you are in the Midwest, I hope to see you in one of the Custom Ed showrooms to help you customize your curriculum and choose books for your students sometime soon!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

2015 Books I'm Buying as Gifts this Season

I have been woefully neglectful of my blog this year, but have been wanting to share some of my favorite 2015 books. In the spirit of the season, I'm giving recommendations for titles that could make great gifts. Each title is one I am gifting to someone this winter.

~~~~~~~Picture Books~~~~~~~
TO THE SEA by Cale Atkinson
Sometimes Tim feels invisible at school-until one day, when Tim meets Sam. But Sam isn't just any new friend: he's a blue whale, and he can't find his way home! Returning Sam to the sea is hard work, but Tim is determined to help. After all, it's not every day you meet a new friend!
This picture book about the power of friendship by new talent Cale Atkinson is brought to life by charming, dynamic illustrations.
BERNICE GETS CARRIED AWAY by Hannah E. Harrison
Perfect for a new generation of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day readers, this charming story about a grumpy cat gently shows how far a little sharing can go. Bernice is having a truly rotten time at her friend's birthday party. First, everyone else gets a piece of cake with a frosting rose. But not Bernice. Then, everyone else gets strawberry-melon soda. Bernice gets the prune-grapefruit juice. And it's warm. The last straw is the one lousy (squished) candy she gets from the piƱata. So when the balloons arrive, Bernice knows just what she has to do: grab them all. And then, poor cross Bernice gets carried up, up, and away. Luckily, she figures out just how to make her way back down to the party...and she brightens lots of other animals' days on her way.
Hannah Harrison’s gorgeous animal paintings come alive in her second picture book. Her “exceptionally polished” debut, Extraordinary Jane, received starred reviews from KirkusPublisher’s Weekly, and  School Library Journal. 
BEYOND THE POND by Joseph Kuefler
Just behind an ordinary housefilled with too little fun,Ernest D. decides that today will be the day he explores the depths of his pond.
Beyond the pond, he discovers a not-so-ordinary world that will change him forever.

~~~~~~~Middle Grade~~~~~~~
FIREFLY HOLLOW by Alison McGhee
{for the niece who loves animals and is starting to read longer books}
Firefly. Cricket. Vole. Peter. Can four creatures from four very different Nations help one another find their ways in the world that can feel oh-so-big? Delve into this lush, unforgettable tale in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web and The Rats of NIMH, from the author of the New York Times bestselling Someday.
Firefly doesn’t merely want to fly, she wants to touch the moon. Cricket doesn’t merely want to sing about baseball, he wants to catch. When these two little creatures with big dreams wander out of Firefly Hollow, refusing to listen to their elders, they find themselves face-to-face with the one creature they were always told to stay away from…a giant.
But Peter is a Miniature Giant. They’ve always been told that a Miniature Giant is nothing but a Future Giant, but this one just isn’t quite as big or as scary as the other Giants. Peter has a dream of his own, as well as memories to escape. He is overwhelmed with sadness, and a summer with his new unlikely friends Firefly and Cricket might be just what he needs. Can these friends’ dreams help them overcome the past?
Firefly Hollow is nothing short of enchanting, reminding us all that the very best friend is the one who wants you to achieve your dreams. Full-color tip-in illustrations and dozens of black-and-white drawing provide added glow.
THE WILD ONES by C. Alexander London
{for the nephew who likes adventure in his stories and will appreciate the humor and detailed world-building}
When a country raccoon used to a soft life winds up all alone in the big city, there's no telling what he'll do to survive -- and to save his fellow wild animals in the process.
Kit, a young raccoon, has lived his whole life under the Big Sky in the comfort of his parents' burrow. But when a pack of hunting dogs destroy his home and kill his parents, Kit finds himself in Ankle Snap Alley, a city in the midst of a turf war between the Wild Ones and the people's pets who call themselves The Flealess. There he follows the clues his parents left behind to uncover the secret that they died for–the existence of an ancient truce that gives Ankle Snap Alley to the Wild Ones. But The Flealess will stop at nothing to keep that secret buried forever–and Kit is in serious danger.   Perfect for fans of the Warriors, Spirit Animals, or Redwall series, this first book in the Wild Ones epic is sure capture young readers' imaginations and take them on a great adventure. 
CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate
{for the niece who is creative and still believes in magic}
In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.
ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson
{for the niece that has no fear and is starting to deal with friendship issues}
For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, a heartwarming graphic novel about friendship and surviving junior high through the power of roller derby. 
Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid's life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole...and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl. 

~~~~~~~Young Adult~~~~~~~
I'LL MEET YOU THERE by Heather Demetrios
{for the friend who is ok getting emotional with her romance reads}

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper. 
ALL-AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
{for the person who asks me what book I think everyone needs to read this year}
In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?
But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth. 
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir
{for the friend who wants the start of an epic story with strong characters and a fully realized alternate world}
Laia is a slave. 
Elias is a soldier. 
Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. 

What books are you buying as gifts this year?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

ALL-AMERICAN BOYS & Why My Students Needed to Read This Book


Title: ALL-AMERICAN BOYS
Authors: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster imprint)
Release Date: September 29, 2015
Number of Pages: 320
Source of Book: Bound Manuscript from Publisher
Recommended for: 7th grade & up

      In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
      A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?
      But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
      Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

My thoughts:

I'm not sure my words will be able to adequately express the importance of this book and the urgency I feel to get it into hands of my urban teens specifically, and all teens generally. 

This is a book to start conversations, in our classrooms and with each other. It's a book to make you take a step back and look at bias in your own life. 

The power in this book lies in the stripped down simplicity-two boys, two views, one incident, which, through the honesty and realness of the characters who are dealing with complex issues of race, community, perceptions, stereotypes, and assumptions, is able to address a timely issue in a way teens will be able to relate to without feeling lectured at. 

Reynolds and Kiely have written a story that stays true to the teen voice and the inner struggle of trying to understand things that don't make sense, and wanting to change but not knowing how, wanting to fight for what's right in the face of outside pressures, and how that all impacts relationships with family and friends. 

It's a gut-wrenching book because of how easy it was for me to picture my own students' faces and voices in place of Rashad's & Quinn's, and in how it made me think about privilege while keeping the focus on these characters and the many real people who have been affected by racial incidents of police brutality. I especially appreciated that the two characters were the forefront, but had friends, teachers, and family who all affected their actions and decisions in a true to life way. 

It's honest, real, powerful, and oh so important. 

It's a book people need to read. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This book is so important I chose to use it as a shared read aloud with my 8th graders. We were lucky enough to have Reynolds & Kiely visiting Milwaukee on tour and our local independent bookstore, Boswell Books, facilitated having them visit our school. Jason visited my students last year, and they couldn't stop talking about how much they enjoyed the visit and asking when he would be coming back. There was such a strong connection from them for what he shared, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to host him again so soon, and for this book in particular. 

I've never heard a classroom full of 8th graders as quiet as when I've been reading this book.

We've already had powerful discussions about perceptions vs lies; how knowing someone's story can change our views; what our immediate reactions might teach us about biases; our anger, hurt, and fear about the realities of racism; how hard it can be to say what you're thinking with difficult topics; the way media portrays black youth; the difficulty of standing up for what's right; and how the way we present ourselves can impact opinions. 
I'm eager to see where time for deeper analysis will take these kids.

I'm so proud of the respect they've shown this topic and their willingness to embrace this book - they've been thoroughly engaged from the first page through the serious, funny, and relatable. I only get them for two years, we only read this book for two weeks, but I know the impact will last far beyond that.

Thank you Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely for writing this book that provokes thought, addresses perceptions and realities, and begs for discussion. 
My 8th graders may not yet realize or know how to thank you for all of this
...but it matters...they matter...they are seen...they are seeing...and this book shows them that.

I asked my 8th graders to share initial thoughts after we finished the last page of the book. This is what they had to say:
"All-American Boys is amazing. I'm literally at a loss of words to explain how I feel. It was so powerful." (Larry)
"I think this book is really good. But there's more than just good. There is a deeper meaning to the book." (Harrison) 
"This book is so powerful. It has let everyone know about racism that has been going around lately." (Madelyn) 
"[The authors] produced a thoughtful way to write about what is going on these days."(Malik) 
"I feel this book had a goal to have you look at society different and it did..." (Alex) 
"I liked this book a lot! It is definitely a part of my Top 10. I think it is a different way to talk about police brutality. I am scared for my black family." (Aalisiyah) 
"All-American Boys was a really powerful story. Altogether the story was amazing." (anon) 
"This book gives the best inside look on black and white societies and perspectives of teenagers." (Kimi) 
"All-American Boys really affected me. Why are black people portrayed as the bad guy? I think this book shows that this is wrong. People appear to be more racist than they think. It's sad that not many people notice this." (Carlos) 
"I think most people can relate to this book." (Rosita) 
"These are things that are happening today, police brutality. It's not just in the book, it's in real life this stuff happens in real life. And it's not fair." (Roman)

Those reactions, and the discussions that will follow, are why I feel this book was so important to share with my urban students, and why I hope All-American Boys will be shared widely with students across the country.

Friday, September 11, 2015

LITTLE ROBOT Blog Tour & Giveaway


I'm so thrilled to be sharing Ben Hatke's newest book, LITTLE ROBOT with you today! It is a fabulous, charming story enhanced by its nearly wordless graphic format. Thank you to First Second for providing a review copy and a copy for giveaway!

     When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it's all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!
     #1 New York Times Bestselling author Ben Hatke brings his signature sweetness to a simple, moving story about friendship and overcoming fears that will appeal to readers of all ages.

My thoughts:
Ben Hatke's illustrations are charming, and this nearly wordless graphic novel with chapters is an entertaining read of friendship and determination. The story of a girl who goes on adventures with her tool belt and comes across a lost robot hooks the reader right away. Adventure begins and suspense is built when we see the robot ends up being hunted by a larger scarier robot trying to get him back. The main character's ingenuity with mechanics and fixing things has a great message. Not only are the illustrations just plain fun to look at, the story itself is a delight. I so appreciate that the young girl is a tinkerer and engineer. Little Robot is about exploration, ingenuity, technology, and friendship. A strong addition to a classroom graphic novel collection.





Ben Hatke writes fantastic, imaginative, engaging books. Check them all out!


Visit the other blog stops for more chances to win.

Blog Tour Schedule

Read Now Sleep Later, 8/31 http://www.readnowsleeplater.org/
Teen Lit Rocks, 9/1 http://teenlitrocks.com/
Cherry Blossoms and Maple Syrup, 9/2 https://innocencewalker.wordpress.com/
Bibliophilia, Please, 9/3 http://www.bibliophiliaplease.com/
The Book Monsters, 9/4 http://thebookmonsters.com/
Fly to Fiction, 9/5 http://flytofiction.blogspot.com/
Bumbles & Fairy Tales, 9/6 http://bumblesandfairytales.blogspot.com/
Stacked Books, 9/7 http://stackedbooks.org/
Ex Libris Kate, 9/8 http://exlibriskate.com/
The Book Rat, 9/9 http://www.thebookrat.com/
Working for the Mandroid, 9/10 http://www.workingforthemandroid.com/
Heise Reads, 9/11 http://www.heisereads.com/
The Hiding Spot, 9/12 http://thehidingspot.blogspot.com/
Fleen, 9/13 http://fleen.com/
Cuddlebuggery, 9/14 http://cuddlebuggery.com/


 
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