Friday, April 28, 2017

Where Will You Celebrate Children's Book Week? #CBW17

Join fellow children’s books lovers to celebrate the 98th annual Children’s Book Week next week! Over 700 bookstores, libraries, and schools are participating with activity hours, author readings, and more. Find the nearest location to you celebrating Children’s Book Week on a BRAND NEW interactive map on the Every Child a Reader website hereI know I'll be celebrating in Milwaukee with Boswell Book Company!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Have You Voted? #CCBA17

Have your children voted yet for the Children’s Choice Book Awards? Elmo has! Check out what he has to say about his love of books and his vote. 
Have your students vote at until May 7th!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Looking Ahead to Children's Book Week

Are you planning on celebrating Children’s Book Week? 
Now is a good time to get ready for May 1-7, and Every Child a Reader has FREE resources for you! 
Teachers, librarians, bookstores, and parents can find activity pages, bookmarks and much more on the Every Child a Reader website here
I'm honored this year to be one of the Children's Book Week Champions, so I'll be posting information weekly leading up to the big celebration for the 98th annual CBW on May 1st.

And don't forget Voting for the 10th Annual Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards is taking place NOW until May 7th. You can check out the 2017 finalists here, and vote at And, the Every Child a Reader Instagram will have daily features on finalists in every category to help you make your choice.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Voting is Open for the Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards

One of the things I loved most about teaching was sharing books with students and hearing their opinions on them when they finished. Especially in middle school, those kids won't hesitate to tell you their honest opinions! I particularly loved when they were enthusiastically emphatic one way or the other.

A great way to have your students participate more widely in sharing their thoughts about books is through the Children's Book Council's book awards. Voting happens from now through the Children's Book Week celebration the first week in May.

I'm honored this year to be one of the Children's Book Week Champions, so I'll be posting information weekly leading up to the big celebration for the 98th annual CBW.
Voting for the 10th Annual Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards is taking place NOW until May 7th. You can check out the 2017 finalists here, and vote at And, the Every Child a Reader Instagram will have daily features on finalists in every category to help you make your choice.

Good luck in making your selections, and Happy Reading!!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Text Set to See Themselves In - Providing the Mirror or Window to get to the Sliding Door

Books have the power to open eyes, hearts, and minds. These three books are particularly powerful for the raw, honest, real way they deal with police brutality and how it impacts black teens in our society - the same ones that sit in front of us in our classrooms - in their every day lives. I could too easily see my students in the pages of these stories, which makes them all the more impactful. These are the kinds of books our teens need to see in their classrooms, read, and discuss.
For me, teaching mostly kids with different backgrounds than I come from, these books were a window into other lives. I was not from the same culture or neighborhood as most of my students, or where many of these incidents are happening. In seeking ways to better relate to the reality of my students' lives and communities, I turned to books. How could I get to know them? How could they trust me? I'm not sure if I ever did it as best as I could, but books were one big way I could try. Books were an entry into conversations. They were a window for me to try to better understand where my students might be coming from. They were a way for me to gain perspective. They were a way for me to look at my own biases and privilege. They were the window I needed to be able to open the door. And these three books seared deep into my heart. 

For some of my students, these books would be windows also, in a different way, into the lives of their classmates. But for many of my students, these books would be mirrors - and how often do they really have that? Reading about kids that talk like them, react like them, think like them, have the same concerns they do? Seeing kids who look like them, have friends like them, are surrounded by families like theirs, live like them in neighborhoods like theirs? Not very often. Seeing themselves on the cover of a book? Rarely. And that is why books like these, and initiatives like We Need Diverse Books so we can get more books like these, are important - because kids need both those windows and mirrors. They need to be able to see themselves in books, that kids like them can be the main character, that they have value, the validation for their thoughts, that they are loved, that their lives matter. When I shared All American Boys as a read aloud with my 8th graders, I could see it in their faces and hear it in their comments each day - what this book meant to them, how they could relate to it, how real it felt to them, what it made them think. I had that same class of students in mind when I was reading The Hate U Give and Dear Martin.
I have often heard reference to books being mirrors and windows, but it wasn't until last fall when I became aware of the source, and the deeper explanation. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop originated the idea that many now reference. She talks about windows as "offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange." And about mirrors, "...we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience." But she also talks about sliding glass doors which "readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author." The thing is, it's the third part of it, the sliding glass door that seems to often be left out, but is perhaps the most important part - it's the part that, in my interpretation, allows us to step into those other worlds and become part of them for the time we are in that book - and isn't that the power of reading? Being able to develop empathy, understanding, new perspectives by living in someone else's shoes for a short time. Especially for books as powerful as the ones being written about these real issues that are affecting kids in their lives today, this mirror, window, sliding door access becomes even more important for them to see they have a place in our society, no matter what perspective they may bring. 

And that's the thing about the windows, they're different for everyone because background knowledge and experiences are what you bring to any circumstance and they impact how you see things. What Jason, Brendan, Angie, & Nic have done with their books is create incredibly readable books providing windows and mirrors, and hopefully opening these sliding doors for teens, and adults, in our society. My students were living with these fears, and through the characters these authors created, I was able to see through their windows and was better able to have a sense of what many of my students were living with. Without these books, I wouldn't have had that perspective or been able to walk through that door. So read their books. Think about them. Share them. Talk about them. Put them in your classrooms and on your shelves for teens to find themselves, their friends, or new perspectives and understanding in.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Celebrating Read Across America: Why What We Do Matters

I'm all about any day that lets us celebrate reading with our students. Any chance I have to encourage more excitement around reading is something I want to talk up in my classroom. That's why I enjoyed Read Across America Day. Even with my middle school students, I celebrated Read Across America Day every year I taught. But as I reflected on my past celebrations last night, I realized something interesting. My way of celebrating Read Across America Day evolved as my knowledge about best practices for motivating adolescents to read increased.
Early in my career, I would decorate my classroom the night before, and the day of we would celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday with cupcakes and a bookmark design contest. Yes, you read that right, on a day of celebrating reading, my students did a crafty project instead of actually reading. Now, that's not to say it wasn't a fun activity - it was, and the bookmark had to be done around a theme of encouraging or celebrating reading. It also built classroom community as I selected finalists in each class period for favorite designs and then had students vote on their favorite that would be copied for each student to have. I even had a reading display that stayed up year round where I displayed the winning bookmark designs from over the years. I loved it and it was a fun day "off" for my middle schoolers. But was it really meeting my purpose?

You see, as my understanding of the research in reading achievement and engagement grew, I realized that the number one thing students need to be doing is reading things they're interested in and able to read. And here I was, on a day that was all about celebrating reading, and neither my students nor I were reading anything! I of course had the best of intentions, but wasn't going about it the right way. As my beliefs evolved, I knew that a day celebrating reading should allow students to read as much as possible. Often when I would tell my students it was the end of their independent daily reading time, they would groan and ask for more time to read. Well, what better day to let that happen than Read Across America Day. We would get comfy and read independently for the whole class period along with sharing a picture book (or two or three) read aloud. I would also have a "read-in" during my RtI class time on that day, and with other grade level group in a special spot in the building.

That's not to say we shouldn't still have cupcakes and decorations to make it feel like more of a celebratory day - those are fun things for the classroom community. But if the focus is on celebrating reading, we should make sure the celebration doesn't take over the reading part. What we do, and where we devote our time matters. It matters for the time we spend, and it matters for the messsge it sends to students. Having multiple and varied opportunities to read throughout the day makes it's own sort of celebration around reading and keeps the focus where it should be - reading being its own reward. And what better day to "just" read for a day of school than Dr. Seuss' birthday? I hope you have a great day celebrating reading tomorrow, and spend a lot of time reading with your students.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Picture Book Favorites of 2016 - Booktalk Video

For Picture Book Month back in November, I booktalked some of my favorite new picture books and shared via video. In case you missed it over on Lit Perks. Although my job situation has changed, and I'm now an independent contractor doing literacy consulting through BALB Literacy Consulting, I didn't want you to miss out on some of these great recommendations.

There is such power in reading aloud, sharing experiences with text, and celebrating the joy of picture books in all grade levels. I hope you gain some inspiration and find some new-to-you titles to add to your collection and share with students no matter what grade you teach.
*Disclaimer: This video could lead to numerous book purchases. Plan accordingly. :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Granting Permission to Abandon Books

Encouraging Risk-Taking in Choice Reading
You know Ryan. If you're a teacher, you've met him in your classroom. He's the one who comes in every day and appears to be reading, yet after a month, he's still pulling out the same book when reading time starts. You just know that book isn't working for him, so what do you do? Well, if you're me, you encourage him to find another books. Phrases like these were common in my classroom: If you're getting distracted from your reading, it's likely because your book isn’t catching your attention – think about putting that one aside and go to the bookshelves to pick out a new one. If you haven’t finished that book in over three weeks, is it because it's not working for you? Have you thought about choosing a new one? If you’re not feeling that book right now, but think you might like it – put it on pause – you can always pick it back up later, but it might help to find a new one to read now.
I am a mood reader. When it comes time to choose my next book from my toppling stacks of books I want to read, I sometimes don’t know where to turn. There are so many good books and not enough time to read all the ones I want to! So I start by looking at covers, summaries, authors, series, recommendations of friends or students, etc. I then read the first paragraph or two of the book I think I want to read to get a taste for it. Often, depending on my mood, it may take several tastings of different books before I find one that is right for me at that time. So if as the strongest reader in my classroom I want to be the model for my students, why wouldn’t I allow them the same freedoms in choosing their next book to read?
The things I do to choose my next book are a process I talk through with my students at the start of their year with me. To engage my 7th and 8th graders in reading, they need to have choice in what they read. However there’s more to it than just giving them choice in deciding what they want to read; they need to have the autonomy to decide what they don’t want to read as well. Sometimes it takes me more than just the first paragraph or even chapter of a book to know it’s not working for me – sometimes I get halfway through before I realize it’s not right for me at that time. Being aware of what I do helps me know how to talk to my students about their reading lives. I share my reading experiences with my students; I tell them how I started reading The Hunger Games when it first came out and paused it about 40 pages in. I didn’t pick it back up for several weeks, but once I did and got to the start of the games, I couldn’t stop. I tell them how I might be reading a fantastic new book that is garnering lots of praise, yet my life is in a bit of upheaval and my brain just isn't allowing me to focus on that type of serious book at the moment, so I need something lighter that I can get hooked on. If I, as the most experienced reader in my classroom, have this experience why wouldn’t my students have similar experiences? Well, they do…often. But here’s the thing – many kids (and some adults) feel like once they start a book they have to finish it. Who made that rule? Not me. Not this reader.
The first few charts we make in my classroom when discussing the classroom library and selecting books.
My goal is to get my students engaged in reading as much as possible as thoughtfully as possible during their time with me, in the hope that they will continue after they’ve moved on to high school and beyond. Part of that reading lifestyle is knowing how, why, and when to choose a book to read – or choose not to finish a book they've started reading. Two of the first mini-lessons I teach/model and charts we co-construct in my classroom at the beginning of the year are “How We Choose Books” and “Why We Might Abandon a Book.” Not only do these charts set the tone for the reading work we will be doing and guide students to know how to accomplish these two parts of being a reader, the conversations also give me insight into the diverse students in my room and the depth of their knowledge about books and attitudes toward reading. From the very first week of school, I'm encouraging students to become the ones in charge of their reading life and decisions they make about books, and that kind of autonomy can be empowering and lead to increased engagement.
Abandoning books is highly encouraged in my classroom. I always say, “Life is too short, and there are way too many good books out there, to waste time on one that isn’t working for you.” There can be numerous reasons a book doesn’t work, and those reasons often lead to students reading slower (thus reading less) or avoiding reading time in class (thus distracting others and reading less), meaning they’re not meeting the goal for becoming engaged readers and increasing their volume of reading. This is why I encourage my students to abandon books. Of course, none of this works if we haven’t laid the groundwork of acceptability for abandoning books in the classroom. It doesn’t need to have a negative connotation. When we give permission, it becomes just another thing readers do as part of their repertoire of tools for choosing books.
Allowing and encouraging my students to abandon books leads to a willingness to try different things in their reading lives. Maybe that student never wants to read fantasy books, but might be willing to give one a shot for a few pages. That’s pretty low risk for possible reward. The permission to abandon and pause books leads my students to take more ownership of their reading lives. My students have the power and confidence to say they need a different book because they’re not committed to it for 300 or more pages once they start. As a result, they can find the right book for them at the right time.
Try incorporating abandonment into your classroom reading routines. Allow students the freedom to not only choose which books they want to read, but acknowledge those that aren't working for them as well. And share your stories of choosing books and reasons for abandoning or pausing books with them. You may be surprised at the risks they are willing to take if they know they don't have to be stuck with a choice that they realize isn't right for them at that moment. And all of the Ryans in your class might find that there actually are some books out there that could be interesting enough to them that they'll want to race through the pages, just like he did in my classroom.
Image from designer, illustrator, letterer Risa Rodil at

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Something New in the Works

I have something new in the works. And I'm hopeful it will get me back to blogging more here, and offer other opportunities. Stay tuned as plans, details, and website are finalized, & I'll be back soon to tell you more!

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