Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Guest Post: Dev Petty - There's Nothing to Do

I adore Dev Petty's Frog books and kids' giggling reactions when they read these stories of a complaining frog whose highly entertaining reasoning for his opinions cracks me up. Add in Mike Boldt's bright, enthusiastic illustrations that jump off the page, and it's a pairing made for read aloud heaven.

I was lucky enough to meet Dev in person at nErDcampMI this summer, and am honored to host her on the blog today to celebrate the newest Frog book, that I think will be a hit with all kids who have ever claimed to be bored, THERE'S NOTHING TO DO!
Frog can’t find ANYTHING to do—even when his animal friends make good suggestions, like sleep all day, lick between your toes, or hop around and then stare off into space. Will he find a fun and exciting way to spend his day? Featuring the beloved Frog, this new story is sure to bring a smile to every kid (and adult) who has ever felt like there was nothing to do. This is another surefire crowd pleaser that lets every kid know that being bored . . . doesn’t always have to be boring.
And don't miss the first two books in the series:
I DON'T WANT TO BE A FROG & I DON'T WANT TO BE BIG
Small Books Can Help Kids Ask Big Questions

Being an actual, real, live parent is a different beast entirely than the parent I thought I would be before I had kids.  I began this adventure waiting for the moments when I could answer fun life questions with total parental sureness (and hopefully having also prepared an Instagram-worthy meal with colors and multiple food groups, and wearing mascara).  Having had a strange childhood, I expected the best times would come when I felt really confident in my answers.  And it's true, when it's about friendships or school, or math, I usually have a pretty solid reply.  But my FAVORITE moments as a parent?  When I am stumped.  I love when my kids ask me things I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA HOW TO ANSWER.  Examples:  “Why are we here?”  “Why am I me?”  “Why do I have to get a job?” “Why do you have to work?”

So I guess as a parent and a picture book author, I've found a huge draw to writing books which ask questions that are open-ended.  The kind of questions kids ask their parents in the middle of dinner and find their mom, with a crumpled face, standing in the kitchen ten minutes later, trying still to figure out an answer worth giving.  I love it when my kids ask me questions and I begin with “I JUST DON'T KNOW...”  It forces me to think about my own life and to think about how to write books that speak to that unsureness.  We all share a lot of knowledge, but perhaps- more interestingly- we share a lot of NOT knowledge...that space in the in between where we're just figuring things out.  Parents, kids, grandparents, siblings, friends.  We're all just muddling through, wondering a lot of the same things.  The fun is that we share the not-knowing and find ourselves in the wild variety of what we figure out.

I hope that kids take away from my books that it's okay to ask questions and to be uncomfortable.  It's in those moments of wondering, waiting, wishing, sometimes being angry or not knowing where to put your hands (why I wear pockets!) that we learn things.  Kids can sometimes feel bad when they don't know the answers, so I hope my books remind them of the joy of not knowing.  In my latest, THERE'S NOTHING TO DO!, my little somewhat-sarcastic, oft-complaining Frog character wrestles with an empty day and the deep desire to do something fantastic with that day, something really, really super, but he doesn't know what.  This story is a direct result of my life with my kids who are not lazy (seriously, never, they always want to be doing something or other), but they often don't know what to do.  They have expectations, hopes, big dreams of what a lazy Sunday may hold for them and no real idea of how to find that special thing to do.  

Most of my books, in fact, center around those subtle questions that speak to our inner desires as kids...to accomplish, to create, to not be too idle for too long.  I have two daughters and I sometimes can't comprehend the complexity of the world in which they find themselves.  It is surely more complicated than my 1970s childhood, if only because it predated call-waiting and even answering machines.  I went out looking for my pals if they weren't home and had long swaths of time to be alone, sometimes adrift, sometimes unsure.  Things were, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, less specific.  I see how my daughters now have specific skills, favorite authors, apps they're hooked on, friends they always do or don't hang out with.  They are much more sure than I ever was, and maybe more sure than I am now.

I love helping kids discover that they share concerns, wonders, questions, fears, and a whole lot more not-knowing than knowing.  That not-knowing creates friendships, fun, and thankfully (at least for ME) picture book ideas!

Dev Petty is a Berkeley native who writes picture books that, hopefully, make you laugh a little and think a little.  She used to be in visual effects, working on The Matrix trilogy and many other film projects and loves making picture books because they're sort of like little, paper movies.  Her debut book, I DON'T WANT TO BE A FROG, has been published in eight languages and sparked two follow-ups including her latest, THERE'S NOTHING TO DO!. She is also the author of CLAYMATES and more stories to come.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My #TheEdCollabGathering Session: I'm White, So Now What?

I was honored to again participate in The Ed Collab Gathering this weekend. If you aren't already aware of it, it's one of the best, FREE, PD opportunities out there. Free, streamed online into the comfort of your own couch, and quality sessions that you'll want to listen in on.

And, the better part (if anything can be better than PD in your PJs!)? You aren't left with FOMO from your session choices because all the sessions are streamed live via Google Hangout, and then are available immediately afterwards as video playback!
I presented a session with my friend Teresa Bunner, one of my edu-mentors, around race and equity and our responsibilities to our students as white educators. Here's the link if you'd like to listen in and do some thinking around your journey related to bias, privilege, and equity: I'm White, So Now What? Making a Place for Conversations Around Race in Schools. We no longer have the luxury to not bring these conversations into our classrooms, and that work starts with us as teachers.

Videos from this Fall Gathering will be up until the Spring Gathering in April. So take some time to look at the session topics, and see if there are any that appeal to your needs for support or growth. It's well-worth 45 minutes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Books You'll Want to Preorder for Fall

Just in time for back-to-school, these are books I read and loved...
and predict you'll be wanting to read and share with your students this fall. 
Go ahead and preorder them now!

Picture Books


Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson - Sept 5
Come With Me by Holly M. McGhee, illus by Pascal Lemaitre - Sept 5
Sarabella's Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner - Sept 5
Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas - Sept 12
Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, illlus by Selina Alko & Sean Qualls - Sept 12
There's Nothing to Do! by Dev Petty, illus by Mike Boldt - Sept 19
It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk, illus by Edwardian Taylor - Sept 19
Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin - Oct 1
After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat - Oct 3
That Is My Dream! by Langston Hughes, illus by Daniel Miyares - Oct 3
La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo, illus by Jaime Kim - Oct 3
Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi - Oct 10 (wordless)
Blue vs. Yellow by Tom Sullivan - Oct 10
A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert, illus by Lauren Castillo - Oct 24
Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illus by Bryan Collier - Nov 14

Early Readers

King & Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse
by Dori Hillestad Butler, illus by Nancy Meyers - Sept 1
The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate 
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illus by LeUyen Pham - Sept 5
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes - Sept 19
That's My Book! and Other Stories by Salina Yoon - Sept 19
Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy by Laurel Snyder, illus by Emily Hughes - Oct 3
Elephant & Piggie Like Reading: It's Shoe Time! by Bryan Collier - Oct 24

Middle Grades

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez - Aug 22
Patina (Track, book 2) by Jason Reynolds - Aug 29
All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson - Sept 5
Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm, illus by Matthew Holm - Sept 12
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate- Sept 26
And a bonus middle grade (since I apparently only read advanced copies of books with girl main characters) that is already out, but I only just read it: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Young Adult

Warcross by Marie Lu - Sept 12
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds - Oct 17
Dear Martin by Nic Stone - Oct 17

*When possible, please support independent bookstores or your local library.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

2017 #pb10for10 (Picture Book 10 for 10)

I always love participating in Cathy & Mandy's #pb10for10 event to celebrate picture books that are must haves for my classroom to share with students and seeing what picture books everyone else shares. These would all be fabulous #classroombookaday choices also! I inevitably end up with a longer wish list and shopping cart and a maxed out hold list at my library. So get ready, and then go check out other educators lists today! 

The thing is, I have such a hard time limiting things to just 10, so as you know if you've seen my posts before, I always get a bit creative with my numbering. And this year is even more special because I have a new job!
I'm transitioning from being out of the classroom as a literacy consultant into a new role as a K-5 school library media specialist.
I am beyond excited, especially to be back sharing books with kids again, and I approached this year's list a bit differently because I've been thinking so much about the picture books I'm eager to share with students once we get back to school, but I also know the books I might choose to read with my K-2 kids might be different from what I choose for my 3-5 kids.
So with all of that in mind, I'm sharing my 10 books for K-2 AND my 10 books for K-5, PLUS my 5 I'll for sure share with both grade level groups, so there's another 10 when shared twice (I told you it was creative counting this year!). I know Cathy will call me out on this (I know, I know, I make it my own, but I love the concept!), but that's ok, because it's more love for picture books, which is always a good thing! :)

You can see my previous year's #pb10for10 lists by clicking on the year:
  2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Podcast Interview About #classroombookaday

I was honored to be invited to participate in a Books Between podcast by Corrina Allen last week. It was a great conversation on the start of #classroombookday, why it was so successful, and includes MANY book recommendations! I wasn't expecting the final version to be an hour, but it is, so make sure you have time if you're sitting down to listen.

You can find the podcast & a typed list of all of the book recommendations right here.
*Corrina also asked me about some non-picture books I've been reading and loving lately (and that starts around 55:00 on the recording).

Happy (listening &) reading!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Books to Add to Your Summer TBR

If you're looking to add to your summer TBR stacks (and let's be honest, if you're reading this blog, you likely are), below are some ideas on where to start. These are some of my favorite recent reads I'd recommend for teachers to share with students.

Picture Books
Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon, illus by Kristy Caldwell
When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson, illus by Julie Flett
Shark Lady by Jess Keating, illus by Marta Álvarez Miguéns
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams
Claymates by Dev Petty, illus by Lauren Eldridge
That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares (wordless)
My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illus by Julie Flett (board book)
My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne del Rizzo
Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner, illus by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Life by Cynthia Rylant, illus by Brendan Wenzel
Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illus by Kadir Nelson
My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! by Susan Verde, illus by Katie Kath
Out! by Arree Chung
A Perfect Day by Lane Smith
Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty, illus by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Early Readers
Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan, illus by Marc Boutavant
King & Kayla series by Dori Hillestead Butler, illus by Nancy Meyers
Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder
Fergus and Zeke by Kate Messner
My Kite is Stuck! and Other Stories by Salina Yoon (book #2)
Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton (book #2 in the early graphic novel series)

Middle Grade
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
The Time Museum by Matthew Loux (graphic novel)
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds (out Aug 1)

Young Adult
In a Perfect World by Trish Doller
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - if there's anyone left who hasn't read it yet!
The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

*When possible, please support independent bookstores or your local library.

Monday, July 3, 2017

#classroombookaday is on Nerdy Book Club Today

I'm honored to be the guest poster over on the Nerdy Book Club blog today. 
I'm grateful for the opportunity to share the origin story of #classroombookaday & testimonials from some wonderful teachers who have seen the power of shared stories to positively impact their own classroom communities. I also started a #classroombookaday group on Facebook last week, so if you're participating and want to join our community, join us there.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Three YA Books You Need to Read

There are some books that strike harder than others. Some that leave a lasting impact that has you thinking about them days, weeks, months, years beyond when you finish reading them. Books that just won't let go. They haunt you, make you see things differently, affect your actions, push you to look around you and recognize the truth of what's happening. These three young adult books have done that for me. I keep talking about them because I want all teachers to read them. Though one is already available to buy, the other two don't publish until October, but they should definitely be on your radar. (And all three authors will be at ALA next week, so if you're going, you might want to make getting a copy of these books a priority.)

I had already read two of these books when I wrote my blog post in March, A Text Set to See Themselves In - Providing the Mirror or Window to get to the Sliding Door. At the time I said "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." Well, I can now say for certain, all three of these are powerful books that need to be in teens' hands as quickly and as often as we can get them there. I feel a sense of urgency about telling teachers to buy and share these books because I know exactly which former students of mine would have been changed for the better by reading these stories. Lives would have been affected by seeing themselves and their lives and their neighborhoods in these books. That's a powerful thing to hand to an adolescent.

Please, buy/get The Hate U Give, Long Way Down, and Dear Martin. Read them. And then make sure the teens in your life do also. I promise you will not be sorry, and you will not walk away from any of these books the same you walked into them. They represent the power of story to change, validate, and affect the lives of the children in our society to make a better future for themselves, their neighborhoods, and all of us. My thoughts on each are below.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
240 pages
67 seconds
7 floors
6 visitors
Each with a piece
of the story
not known
until now.
Will grieving
his brother
with a
gun
and a
target
thinking he knows
what he has to do
following
The Rules
wondering
what
to do
who
to be
and what
comes next.

Jason Reynolds is masterful in the way he can use such sparse language in these free verse poems for such a powerful and emotional impact. I'm going to be talking about and sharing this book for a very long time.

Jason's skill at putting words together that grab your heart and head, bringing you into the lives of his characters, kids just trying their best to do what's right and live the way they've been taught, astounds me. Long Way Down is no different. This book is going to have an impact. The type of impact that makes you question what you thought you knew and how life can be. This is a must-read and must-share in classrooms (7th & up), especially in those rooms where you have teens who are living Will's life with the rules he's been taught to life by.

I can't wait to get my hands on a finished copy, to reread, sit with his words and turns of phrase, and find the spots that bear repeating to kids in our classrooms. I can picture the faces in my head of the former students I wish were still in my classroom so I could put this book right into their hands.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
A powerful debut that grabs the reader from the start and doesn't let go. You will ache from the injustice Justyce faces as he navigates a world that sees him primarily for the color of his skin, and secondarily for everything else beneath it. 

Another teen having to navigate a complicated world more messed up than he deserves. His story will strike a chord with the teens you know who look like Justyce and will seem themselves in his story, those who have friends who look like Justyce and want to better understand their stories, and, perhaps most importantly, those who judge and avoid teens who look like Justyce because just maybe it will give them a reason to think again. 

An important book to add to the conversation about police brutality and race relations in America and how it impacts the lives of black teen boys. Pair this with All American Boys & The Hate U Give, and open up conversations with teens, and adults, in your life.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Powerful. Important. Impactful. When people talk about window & mirror books, this is what they're talking about, with the potential to be that sliding door for many. 

Starr's voice is fantastic, and feels oh so real. For a debut book, this is a standout. It is written so well, and draws you into the story and makes you want to be a part of it. We care about these characters and their lives and the outcome. 

This book, and Starr's insights made me feel like I could know my students' lives better. A must-read for 8th & up, and a book that needs to be shared with students. Pair with All American Boys for an effective pairing to start conversation.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Repost: When Tragedy Happens, I Turn to Books

*I wrote this post a year ago after the tragic mass murder in Orlando. I'm reposting it today, one year after the senseless killings, in the hope that it will help us all think about ways to grow more empathy in our classrooms and our world.
Design by Ashley Heafy.
When tragedy happens, I turn to books. When huge nationwide news story tragedies happen, I turn to books. When local tragedies happen in my town, I turn to books. When personal tragedies happen in the lives of my students, I turn to books. When I don’t know what to say, but can only cry inside and out for what has happened that has hurt people, I turn to books because they can speak for me. When students are hurting, I instinctively turn to books and search high and low for just the right book for that moment in their lives that might help them through. Books have the power to heal, to inspire, to provide escape, to gain understanding, to show kids they’re not alone in the world, to change people’s opinions, to create community, to develop empathy.
We have the opportunity in our classrooms to create safe spaces for kids, and communities where all are accepted. One of the best ways I know to do that is by sharing stories, all kinds of stories, so students better understand the world around them, and the people in it. This is why I turn to books, and am ever so grateful for the authors who write those stories that help kids see the world in a different way.
Books I have read that I recommend to kids to help build empathy for, and understanding of, those around us.
Young Adult
The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne
All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Winger by Andrew Smith
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Shine by Lauren Myracle
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman (poetry)
Non-Fiction Choice

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History...and Our Future! by Kate Schatz

Middle Grades
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
The Best Man by Richard Peck (September release)
Pieces of Why by K.L.Going
The Fall by James Preller
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

What are some of the books you share with students to help build empathy and tolerance?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How a Job Change Caused a Reading Slump

So I've been in a slump. A reading slump. It's been a weird transitional time for me. I left the classroom last January to work with teachers as a literacy consultant - providing professional development and helping educators select the right books for their classrooms. It's been great, but I desperately missed talking books with kids. And the biggest change, that I was unprepared for, was how my reading life started to change (though, looking back, I should have realized it would happen).

I was no longer reading with the specificity of a particular student in mind who would love the book. I was no longer able to take a picture book I'd read right in to share for #classroombookaday the next day. I was reading for myself and for an unknown, generic student image. It was hard. I still enjoyed reading and finding books that I knew would connect with students, but didn't realize how much it was affecting my reading life. Along with that, I was adjusting to and learning new things in my new job, and that left less brain power for reading. Whenever I was feeling really overwhelmed with the new job, I could simply look at my goodreads "read" shelf and realize I wasn't making enough time to read anymore. Then, in February this year, I transitioned into an independent contractor role as a literacy consultant. Now I was working from home being self-employed. Things changed again. I was often missing my motivation because I wasn't interacting daily with teachers about books. Over the last 16 months I've gone in and out of slumps and had trouble connecting with books and committing to ones to read completely.
I'm still feeling a bit in a slump, but am hopeful I'm on track to getting my reading mojo back. You see, I'm starting back to grad school (again!) next week. I'll be working toward my MLIS (Masters in Library & Information Science) and school librarian certification. And I'm really excited.
It's going to be a busy summer of learning, grad course work, and attending/presenting at a few conferences, but I'm so looking forward to it, and am hopeful that I'll be rising out of the slump again. I'm excited again about books - excited to share picture books and #classroombookaday this summer at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Chicago and nErDcampMI, & excited to hear about new books at ReadingCon & ALA. I'm excited for the learning I'll be doing along the way toward the MLIS degree. I'm excited to get to talk with teachers about what books connected with their students this year. It's ok to have slumps' all readers do. Accepting that helps with the guilt, and finding something to re-inspire you helps get back on track.

Today I pulled together a stack of picture books I've loved this year as I was prepping for my presentations this summer. It reminded me that although I was slumping, I was still connecting with some books (even if not as many as I would have liked).
I hope to see you along the way this summer, and if so, please say hi. I'd love to hear what you're reading!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Happy Children's Book Week! #CBW17

Love Graphic Novels or know of a child who does? Well known graphic novel illustrators such as Gene Luen Yang, Jeffrey Brown, Charise Mericle Harper, and many more came together to create One World, Many Stories—a FREE & DOWNLOADABLE graphic novel that you can access at Every Child a Reader here
What’s more? Kids can engage with the story and personalize their copy by coloring in the black and white pages! Create your own activity hour and share a picture of your child’s copy with hashtag #CBW17 on Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram!

Happy Children's Book Week!

And don't forget to
  vote for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
by the end of the week!

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 everychildareader.net/vote 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 everychildareader.net/vote. 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 everychildareader.net/vote. 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.
 
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