Sunday, October 11, 2015

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

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
Teen Lit Rocks, 9/1
Cherry Blossoms and Maple Syrup, 9/2
Bibliophilia, Please, 9/3
The Book Monsters, 9/4
Fly to Fiction, 9/5
Bumbles & Fairy Tales, 9/6
Stacked Books, 9/7
Ex Libris Kate, 9/8
The Book Rat, 9/9
Working for the Mandroid, 9/10
Heise Reads, 9/11
The Hiding Spot, 9/12
Fleen, 9/13
Cuddlebuggery, 9/14

Monday, August 10, 2015

2015 #pb10for10 (Picture Book 10 for 10)

For the past couple of years, I've been participating in Cathy & Mandy's #pb10for10 event to celebrate picture books that are must haves for my classroom to share with students. Plus, I love seeing what books everyone else has on their lists-I always find new books to check out. 

This past school year, inspired by Donalyn Miller's #bookaday for teachers during breaks, I decided to start a #classroombookaday daily picture book read aloud with my 7th & 8th graders. I introduced it on my teaching blog, and then presented on it at #nErDcampMI. I'm super excited that so many teachers are joining in committing to reading aloud a picture book to their students each day of the school year! 
My #pb10for10 list this year is ten of 
my new favorite picture books that I am most excited to share 
with my classes when we get back to school in September.

BEYOND THE POND by Joseph Kuefler
I finished reading the F&G of this at ALA at actually wished I was still in school to read to kids.

MARILYN'S MONSTER by Michelle Knudsen, ill. Matt Phelan
Thank you, Franki, for introducing this book to me! Another one I was wishing I had middle schoolers around to read it to right away. Pair with Beekle.

WILD ABOUT US by Karen Beaumont, ill. Janet Stevens
I think this one will be my first day of school read aloud this year to talk about being ourselves and being accepting of others' differences and why it makes them special.

If they don't understand unreliable narrator after this...

FLOAT by Daniel Miyares
Loved PARDON ME last year, & Miyares' new wordless book is oh, so lovely!

THIS IS SADIE by Sara O'Leary
Some students might need this story.

A great example of fun voice in informational writing + it's hilarious!

THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME by Drew Daywalt, ill. Oliver Jeffers
My students love the crayons, and I so loved this new one!

NINJA BUNNY by Jennifer Gray Olson
Last year's NINJA! by Aree Chung made my students' top 10, so this will be a hit.

I adore the look of this book & am eager to discuss the grass isn't always greener theme with my students.

And a bonus book..
because I already read it to my students last year, but it's a new favorite (for my students and me), so I want to make sure people know about it!
TO THE SEA by Cale Atkinson

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Most Popular Books in My Classroom 2014-2015

I can't believe how little blogging I've done this spring, but sometimes life gets in the way. Even with busy plans for summer, I'm hoping to get back to it more in the next couple of months, especially since I have lots of books to talk about.
Because the end of the school year is at hand this week, I've been working on inventory and weeding of my classroom library. As I was working on that, I was looking over the checkout reports and noticing that some books were checked out much more often than others, which is always a good thing to note. I always find it interesting to see how each year's class can have such a different personality when it comes to the most popular books each year. This is especially evident in the impact of author visits - last year's class had a visit from Lisa McMann and the Visions series, along with her standalone titles, were very popular with the whole group. This year's class had a visit from Jason Reynolds and a writer-in-residence three day writing workshop with Kevin Emerson, and they each got to choose one of his books, hence the extra popularity of three of his books. Visiting in person makes a difference in getting students excited about reading their books.
So, here it is, 
the most popular books with my 7th graders this school year 
(in random order):

ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth

THE TESTING & INDEPENDENT STUDY (series) by Joelle Charbonneau

THE NATURALS & KILLER INSTINCT (series) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

LEGEND (series) by Marie Lu

THE MAZE RUNNER & THE DEATH CURE (series) by James Dashner 
(perhaps the movie release had something to do with this also)

THE PROGRAM, THE TREATMENT (series) by Suzanne Young


THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon

PIVOT POINT by Kasie West


WINGER by Andrew Smith

THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander

BREAKOUT by Kevin Emerson

EXILE by Kevin Emerson

THE LOST CODE by Kevin Emerson

I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore

SIDEKICKS by Dan Santat

SISTERS by Raina Telgemeier

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