being a teacher, building community, writing

Using Improv to Boost Narrative Writing with Students

When I speak to children about their writing a few complaints often come up; I have no ideas, I get stuck, I hate writing, and my stories are boring. I get their frustration, I feel the same way as I stare at my computer and try to be creative. Writing is often seen as a solitary quiet thing by kids, something meant only to be shared with a demanding adult that does not matter, does not entertain, and does not serve a purpose beyond getting it done for school. Despite being constantly immersed in communicating with one another, writing is often seen as something that will never be used and therefore not worth any real investment.

Knowing this, I wanted to change the way we do writing and tr to bust it out of its solitary quiet ways (not saying there is anything wrong with that, that’s my preferred way of writing). Enter writing groups, story teling kits, and improv.

Writing groups are fairly easily explained; students select a few peers to be a part of their writing team and we build in time throughout our class for them to meet, read each other’s work, be a sounding board and offer up encouragement and feedback. These require more planned setup in the beginning of the year as students often don’t know many people beyond their chosen peers. I will often watch how kids interact for a few weeks and then create some loose groups. It is also a good idea for kids to interview each other to see if they will be a good match. If students don’t want to partner or team with anyone, then they can team with me.

Storytelling kits or loose parts and their use I have written about previously, I love the soft start they allow kids to have into writing and also how it reminds us that writing is really storytelling.

Improv is also fairly easy to explain. Using known exercises to generate ideas and dive deeper into their stories, there are many ways to get kids to think beyond a basic storyline and consider how they want their story to unfold and also how they want it to be understood by their audience. But which exercises or improv games work well?

For generating story ideas:

  • One Word at a Time – In a partnership or more, you each offer one word at a time to build a story that makes sense. You have to create a mood and a climax in the story, which makes it even harder.
  • What Happens Next? One student acts out an action determined by group members, once they feel they have finished that action (such as walking in the woods) they ask “What happens next?” as a way to continue the story, the idea is to build out a story as coherently as possibly. You can offer up starting actions to all groups and then have them share in the end where they ended up, it is a great way to help students remember that the same beginning can leading many different directions.
  • Genre Circle – a game that focuses on listing all of the different associations with whatever genre is presented. This is also a great game to re-introduce book genres for students. When kids are stuck trying to think of what type of story they want to write, this game can be used to get them to think of what types of elements they are drawn to writing about.

For adding details and building out scenes

  • I Am a Tree – a game where one person stands in the middle, strikes a pose, and declares “I am a tree” – the rest of the group then jumps in striking poses by adding details in order to set the stage for the story.
  • Advance & Expand – A great game for creating a concrete understanding of when to zoom in or out in a story. This is a skill many students need help with and so having someone else “control” when to fast-forward or when to slow down is helpful. You can use this game with drafts, asking their writing partner to either tell them to expand or advance certain sections, or you can act it out.
  • Genre replay – Starting out with their story idea, students play out or share the scene they have written, then they replay it our rewrite it using a different genre. How would the beginning of their story sound if it was written like a murder mystery, a love story, or a horror story?
  • Character circle – a great game to help with coming gup with characters and fleshing out their characteristics, if you know your character well you can determine how they would navigate the given situation you have placed them in. The writer is in the middle of the group and the group shouts out different names, the writer selects one they like, then the group starts to shout out different characteristics, they can be outward or inward characteristics and together you build the character. There are many other games as well that can be used for this.

For building confidence and community:

  • Gibberish – a game for those who don’t mind being a little silly, it gets easier once you do it together. At first, you walk around pointing to things and naming them correctly, then next round you point to things but say incorrect names for them then, then third round you make up gibberish names, 4th round you try to teach others the gibberish name for the thing you are pointing to and explain what it does all in gibberish. You can also have students tell jokes or stories all in gibberish as a way to understand story structure – how can they build suspense for example all in gibberish? There are a lot of games that involve gibberish and they are great for when kids feel like they do not have the right words or stories to tell.
  • 8-Beat Story -A narrative circle game where each person moves the story along based on the following story structures: Once upon a time, and every day, until one day, and because of that, and because of that (again), and because of that (again again), until finally, and ever since then…. – Start with an initial action and then add on using the prompts. Great for trying out story starters and building confidence in storytelling abilities, as well as thinking of story structures.

So there you have it, a few further ideas to help kids sink into writing, get more physical, build community and also dive into storytelling. The world of improv has a million ideas that can easily be adapted into your writing and speaking instruction, hopefully, this offered you up a few places to start.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can still offer virtual and in-person work.  If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being a teacher, books, Reading

17 New Graphic Novels You Don’t Want to Miss

As summer winds down and my new job beckons, I have been reaching for graphic novels more and more. What is not to love? They are colorful snapshots of experiences that surround us. They feel like rest and recovery. They tantalize even on my most tired days as a reader. And there are so many great ones.

In the last few weeks, my mailbox has been filled to the brim with beautiful new ones coming out soon or recently published and I knew they were too good not to share. I hope you give all of these a chance, order from your local indie, put them on hold at your library, add them to your collection, and leave a review. There are so many ways to support creators even if you cannot buy their book outright.

Published: May 17th, 2022

Great for: Any age

Bree can’t wait for her first day at her new middle school, Enith Brigitha, home to the Mighty Manatees—until she’s stuck with the only elective that fits her schedule, the dreaded Swim 101. The thought of swimming makes Bree more than a little queasy, yet she’s forced to dive headfirst into one of her greatest fears. Lucky for her, Etta, an elderly occupant of her apartment building and former swim team captain, is willing to help.

With Etta’s training and a lot of hard work, Bree suddenly finds her swim-crazed community counting on her to turn the school’s failing team around. But that’s easier said than done, especially when their rival, the prestigious Holyoke Prep, has everything they need to leave the Mighty Manatees in their wake.

Can Bree defy the odds and guide her team to a state championship, or have the Manatees swum their last lap—for good?

Published: May 2nd, 2022 – out in English and Spanish!

Great for: Any age but middle grade and up will probably relate more

Sue just wants to spend the summer reading and making comics at sleepaway camp with her friends, but instead she gets stuck going to Honduras to visit relatives with her parents and two sisters. They live way out in the country, which means no texting, no cable, and no Internet! The trip takes a turn for the worse when Sue’s mother announces that they’ll be having a surprise quinceañera for Sue, which is the last thing she wants. She can’t imagine wearing a big, floofy, colorful dress! What is Sue going to do? And how will she survive all this “quality” time with her rambunctious family?

Published: July 19th, 2022

Great for: Middle school and up (mild drug use with a warning message)

Luis Fernando and Luisa Teresa are twins, and they finally have the chance to stand on their own. Fernando is staying local in Mexicali, Mexico, and Teresa is planning to cross the border every day so she can go to a private school in Calexico, California.
 
Suddenly on his own, Fernando realizes that without his twin around. Desperate to not be alone in middle school, he finds himself making friends with the first kid who’s willing to give him a chance . . . only this new friend says and does a lot of things that Fernando isn’t too sure about.
 
Teresa is ready to thrive and stand on her own two feet, but she soon finds herself failing under the pressure of crossing the US/Mexico border every day. She no longer has to worry about being compared to her brother — but now she doesn’t have his support when she could really use it.
 
At home, both twins have a chance to reconnect. But instead, they find themselves pushing each other away. After all, being on their own is what they always wanted . . . right?

Published: August 2nd, 2022

Great for: Any age

Can five overlooked kids make one big difference?

There’s George: the brain

Sara: the loner

Dayara: the tough kid

Nico: the rich kid

And Miguel: the athlete

And they’re stuck together when they’re forced to complete their school’s community service hours. Although they’re sure they have nothing in common with one another, some people see them as all the same . . . just five Spanish-speaking kids.

Then they meet someone who truly needs their help, and they must decide whether they are each willing to expose their own secrets to help . . . or if remaining invisible is the only way to survive middle school.

Published on: August 16th, 2022

Great for: Any age

VIctoria has always loved horses. But riding in competitions is high stakes, high stress, and shockingly expensive. And even though Victoria’s best friend Taylor loves competing, Victoria has lost her taste for it.

After a heartbreaking fight with Taylor, Victoria needs a new start―at a new stables. A place where she doesn’t have to worry about anything other than riding. No competition, no drama, no friends.

Just horses.

Edgewood Stables seems ideal. There are plenty of horses to ride, and Victoria is perfectly happy giving the other riders the cold shoulder.

But can she truly be happy with no friends?

Published on: July 5th, 2022

Great for: Any age

What makes a hero?

Brave Star Knights are heroes who go on adventures. But Tad is just a frog, and frogs can’t save the day. Can they? Determined to out-hop his mud-dweller fate and pursue his dream of being a knight, Tad finds himself on a quest with a surprise group of adventurers, including the Star King!

It’s a race against time as Tad searches for a way to take the Star King to the moon so that he can bring peace to the forest—and prove that anybody can be a hero.

Even a frog.

Published on: August 2nd, 2022

Great for: Any age

Twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.  

Published on: August 9th, 2022

Great for: Any age

Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy.

But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s notebook. Tristan chases after it–is that a doll?–and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world.

Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left Black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price.

Published on: September 6th, 2022

Great for: Any age

Trying out for middle school cheerleader means: performing in the giant school gym, with the whole school watching, and risking total humiliation. If Christina can make it through this, she can make it through anything. ​​​​​​​ As one of the only Asian American kids in her small Texas town, Christina just wants to fit in. Luckily, her best friend, Megan, who is Iranian American, can totally relate. The two girls have always been inseparable and relish creating elaborate fantasy worlds together. But middle school is a reality-check, and suddenly popularity is way more important than playing pretend. ​​​​​​​ When cheerleading tryouts are announced, Christina and Megan literally jump at the chance to join the squad. But does fitting in actually equal belonging? Will they survive the terrifying tryouts? And most importantly, will their friendship withstand the pressures of heated competition and rivalry

Published on: September 13th, 2022

Great for: Any age

Twelve-year-old Mia is just trying to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her true autistic self. While she wishes she could stand up to her bullies, she’s always been able to express her feelings through singing and songwriting, even more so with her best friend, Charlie, who is nonbinary, putting together the best beats for her. Together, they’ve taken the internet by storm; little do Mia’s classmates know that she’s the viral singer Elle-Q! But while the chance to perform live for a local talent show has Charlie excited, Mia isn’t so sure. She’ll have to decide whether she’ll let her worries about what other people think get in the way of not only her friendship with Charlie, but also showing everyone, including the bullies, who she is and what she has to say.

Published on: Spetember 27th, 2022

Published on: September 27th, 2022

Great for: Middle grade and up due to the war realities of his memoir but younger students can absolutely handle it with guidance

Muhammad Najem was only eight years old when the war in Syria began. He was thirteen when his beloved Baba, his father, was killed in a bombing while praying. By fifteen, Muhammad didn’t want to hide anymore—he wanted to act. He was determined to reveal what families like his were enduring in Syria: bombings by their own government and days hiding in dark underground shelters.
 
Armed with the camera on his phone and the support of his family, he started reporting on the war using social media. He interviewed other kids like him to show what they hope for and dream about. More than anything, he did it to show that Syrian kids like his toddler brother and infant sister, are just like kids in any other country. Despite unimaginable loss, Muhammad was always determined to document the humanity of the Syrian people. Eventually, the world took notice.

Published on: May 31st, 2022

Great for: Any age but younger students may appreciate it more

He’s a super-nice kid in an ultra-mean world.
He believes even the worst people are good inside.
He’ll always be there for you… even if you boot him out of your castle, pit him against a mechanical giant, put him on top of a pole in a lightning storm, and trap him in a booming dance party that lasts all night long.
He’s Your Pal Fred.
 
In a brutal world far in the future where only the savage survive, a life-size toy suddenly activates. Fred was built to be a best buddy, and his relentless kindness never fades, even when everyone else is rude. Determined to make the world a better place, he has the bright idea to talk the two most powerful and battle-hungry warlords, Lord Bonkers and Papa Mayhem, into being friends. It’s a mission doomed to fail, unless Fred can find a way to inspire everyone to play nice! 

Published on: April 12, 2022

Great for: Any age

Tyler’s brain is different. Unlike his friends, he has a hard time paying attention in class. He acts out in goofy, over-the-top ways. Sometimes, he even does dangerous things―like cut up a bus seat with a pocketknife or hang out of an attic window.

To the adults in his life, Tyler seems like a troublemaker. But he knows that he’s not. Tyler is curious and creative. He’s the best artist in his grade, and when he can focus, he gets great grades. He doesn’t want to cause trouble, but sometimes he just feels like he can’t control himself.

Publishes on: October 18th, 2022

Great for: Any age

Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby and hanging out with her best friend Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and “growing up.” That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have “presentable”, “good hair”.

But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn’t understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment, and the much-needed help of Camila and Tia Ruby―she slowly starts a journey to learn to appreciate and proudly wear her curly hair.

Publishes on: April 23, 2023

Great for: Any age

Sixteen-year-old Christine takes their first solo trip to Mexico to spend a few weeks with their grandparents and tía. At first, Christine struggles to connect with family they don’t yet share a language with. Seeing the places their mom grew up—the school she went to, the café where she had her first date with their father—Christine becomes more and more aware of the generational differences in their family.

Soon Christine settles into life in Mexico, eating pan dulce, drawing what they see, and growing more comfortable with Spanish. But when Mom joins their trip, Christine’s two worlds collide. They feel homesick for Texas, struggle against traditions, and miss being able to speak to their mom without translating. Eventually, through exploring the impacts of colonialism in both Mexico and themselves, they find their place in their family and start to feel comfortable with their mixed identity.

Publsihes on: March 21st, 2023

Great for: 12 and up but just depends on your students.

High-school senior and notorious wallflower Hawkins finally works up the courage to remove her mascot mask and ask out her longtime crush: Regina Moreno, head cheerleader, academic overachiever, and all-around popular girl. There’s only one teensy little problem: Regina is already dating Chloe Kitagawa, athletic all-star…and middling English student. Regina sees a perfectly self-serving opportunity here, and asks the smitten Hawkins to tutor Chloe free of charge, knowing Hawkins will do anything to get closer to her.

And while Regina’s plan works at first, she doesn’t realize that Hawkins and Chloe knew each other as kids, when Hawkins went by Belle and wore princess dresses to school every single day. Before long, romance does start to blossom…but not between who you might expect.

Publishes on: October 18th, 2022

Great for: Any age

Cory’s dance crew is getting ready for a major competition. It’s the last one before they graduate eighth grade and go their separate ways to high schools all over New York City, so they have to make it count! The group starts to have problems as their crew captain gets increasingly intense about nailing the routine, and things go from bad to worse when Cory’s parents ground him for not taking his grades seriously. He gets stuck with a new tutor, Sunna, who he dismisses as a boring nerd… until he catches her secretly practicing cool yo-yo tricks. Cory wants to learn the art of yo-yo, and as his friendship with Sunna grows, he ends up missing practice and bailing on his crew — and they are not happy about it. With mounting pressure coming from all sides, how is Cory supposed to balance the expectations of his parents, school, dance, and his new friend?

Which did I miss?

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can still offer virtual and in-person work.  If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, Student Engagement, student voice

5 Steps to Reading Reactivation for Dormant Readers

I was in a reading frenzy the first week of summer vacation. Lounging on my nap couch, bringing a book to the pool, lying in my hammock, and feeling on top of my reading life. And then we went home to Denmark, jetlag and worries of the future crowding my mind, and all of a sudden the reading bonanza I was in disappeared. Just like that. I finally finished a book yesterday, a 10-page slog at a time, wondering where my concentration and drive went. It’s not that I don’t like to read, it is that I don’t have the energy to.

The guilt of not reading is a constant companion because I see the books staring at me and the time beckoning. Yet I know that once my sleep gets figured out, once a few major decisions fall into place, once my brain believes that I am resting, then the reading will continue. I am secure in my own identity as a reader, it may be on pause right now, but I will restart it soon.

I see these same emotions play out in our classrooms as well; kids who were reading champions, who never went without a book, all of a sudden floundering. Losing the drive, the motivation, the love of settling into the pages of a book and seeing only work, stress, and perhaps even guilt like me. But a major difference between the students in my care and myself is that for some reading appears to be lost for good. An activity they were good at, something that has now slipped out of their grasp. And for some they don’t think it will or even want it to ever come back.

So many of my students believe that to be a reader, one must be actively reading at all times or making plans for their next read, and these false notions of what it means to be a reader can lead them into further disconnection with reading and seeing reading as part of their future identity.

This is why we must consider and change how we speak about reading and the act of being readers. This is why we must actively share our reading journey, leaving no part untold, so that the readers in our care can truly see and understand that once a reader, always a reader, even if it lies dormant. I share my reading pauses with my students so they can see how I slowly get back into active reading. I don’t stop calling myself a reader just because I do not have a book in my hands, just because I do not feel like reading. I am merely at rest, still solid in my knowledge that I am a reader.

So how do we make space for these conversations?

Step 1: We first discover how each child sees themselves as a reader. If they declare themselves non-readers, then we ask when this started? What caused it? What actions did they take? How do they feel about that? Having surveys and follow-up conversations allow us to start these conversations from day one, but that doesn’t mean that every child is ready to share honestly with us. Why should they? They have no reason to trust us on the first day of school. So make sure to come back to these conversations as the year progresses, this also recognizes the damage that can be done to their active reading lives in our care despite our best intentions. Children stop reading all the time for many reasons, we should have a way o uncovering that throughout the year. I plan 6-weeks check-ups throughout our year so that this conversation will be checked on at least every 6 weeks but we have lots of other informal check-ins as well.

Step 2: Create action plans to reframe their language. While children are often at the mercy of adult plans, it is vital that we activate them as problem-solvers and active participants in their own goal setting. What is a realistic goal? Can they try a book on in our independent reading time? How many pages are they willing to try? If not reading with their eyes, will they read with their ears? Will they read with a partner? Will they listen to a read aloud? Also writing down these plans and goals is important because we often forget the nuances of how we got to this plan. Accountability is also built through check-ins. This helps us reframe the language that they use about themselves. Adding partial sentences such as “not yet” or “right now” can be a way to start the refrain. So when a child says they hate to read it can be reframed as ” I hate to read right now.”

Step 3: Give it time. We often confuse our power thinking that if we tell kids to read then they simply will. Some will for sure, and as we know, others will dig their heels in and refuse every positive attempt we make to give it a try. This can be an indication of how comfortable they feel as readers who are disconnected from the act of reading. It can also be a window into the reading trauma they carry with them, or even just disdain. Whatever is the root cause, it can sometimes take months for some children to even try to reactivate as readers and while our own rush to help them become active readers again is a driving force, we cannot let that cloud our decisions. Forcing someone to read through the use of grades, computer programs, or other negative external measures will most often backfire in the long run. What we are looking for here is an initial activation or reactivation of feeling like a reader. So meet them where they are at and take small steps together, be mindful of the child at the center of this, not just the adult pressure to “make them a reader.”

Step 4: Reworking mindset long-term. How do we speak about reading and who our readers are? What is the language that our curriculum wraps them in? How do we show the importance of reading through the actions we take? I constantly have to remind myself that the year I have with students is only one small part of their lifelong reading journey and that my well-meaning intentions can lead to significant long-term behaviors in reading, both positive or negative. So how I invite them into this work matters greatly; am I judgement-free, am I firm in my conviction that they too can find value in reading (notice that I am not using the word joy yet because for some joy can be too big of an ask in the beginning), and I am calm in my approach. Yes, this work is urgent but it must also be centered in peace in order to make space for the many components of a child’s life. Am I holding them to high expectations while also supporting them in an individual plan? Checking in with students through both casual and planned conversations is a great first step but also tracking what we discuss and the ideas we have is another. I keep a binder with my noticing and conversations so that I can track how I am supporting them and also how they speak about themselves.

Step 5. Celebrate small growth. Too often we are intently focused on the major transformations and miss so many milestone moments along the way. This is why I am not in favor of many major individually-based reading celebrations where children have to reach an adult-determined milemarker that automatically excludes those who are developing at a different pace. Each child has something to celebrate, whether it is trying a book for the first time in a long time, actually reading a page on their own, actually engaging in conversation for the first time about their reading identity, or even just being willing to speak to you at all. Paying attention to all of these mini-milestones and recognizing them in genuine ways through positive interactions can make a major difference in how children view their reading journey. Being an adult cheerleader as they reconnect, reactivate, or finally activate in the first place is a necessary part of the adult support we provide.

Seeing the determination in a child that has declared themselves a non-reader as a force of good rather than bad, can be a powerful tool as we help children see their own power. Their convictions and dedication to not reading are a sign of the strength they have and what we can potentially help them tap into as they envision themselves as readers. It takes motivation to be a dormant reader in a classroom filled with books, how can that motivation be used in a pursuit of reactivation?

Helping a child recognize and see a path forward back to reading is not just a central tenet of the work I do, but it also encapsulates the humanity that is the center of the classroom we co-create. Every child, no matter where they are at on their educational journey, deserves respect from me – whether they love to read or not. So making space for identity formation, for reframing the language children use to describe themselves, offering that up to other adults who support them, and then taking actions based on the notion of possibility is what we can do as we plan for future students or reconsider our own reading curriculum.

As for me, I have a new book to read, a shorter one that will be out in the fall. One whose cover called my name and whose pages seem manageable even in my sleep-deprived state. I am going to give it a whirl and pay attention to how I feel. I know my inner reader is still in there, waiting to be reawakened.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being a teacher, being me

But Do They Run Into Our Classroom?

I initially wrote this post four years ago but rediscovered it this morning as I started to dream about the year ahead. It is not surprising that it still rang true to me as the past few years teaching during COVID have placed even more expectations on the type of experiences we create with and for students. Perhaps you feel the pressure too?

For twelve years I have been sharing my thoughts on this blog.

Twelve years of good.

Twelve years of not-so-good.

Twelve years of let’s try this and see how it goes.

Twelve years of let’s figure it out together. Let’s change it. Let’s disrupt. Let’s center kids and the voices who have been ignored for so long.

Twelve years of simply needing to get it out so that my brain could process whatever it was and move on.

So many years and words documenting trying to be more than I am as a teacher.  Of living, breathing education. Of late nights and early mornings trying to come up with a new idea, a twist on an old idea, of more pathways, of centering kids in new ways so they can hopefully feel safe, find value, and be seen. The years have flown by even as the days sometimes have dragged by. I have loved it for so long but the past few years, now more than ever, the pressure to be not just a teacher but to be a life-changing one, to handle everything thrust at us with grace, ease, and innovation, has become an insurmountable mountain of expectation that is crushing us all. To not just have great lessons but also make it look easy for those watching has become the norm rather than the exception.

And the pressure builds as we take on the responsibility not just to help them understand, but to create spaces that can compete with everything else that pulls kids in. So what no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how there would be this unbelievable pressure to be an amazing teacher.  To be the kind of teacher that truly changes lives.  To create the type of environment that students cannot wait to be a part of.  What no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how much social media would lead me to believe that I was doing it all wrong, most of the time, because my students are not always those students that love school.

It is fed by the statements that surround us…

“If they didn’t have to be there, would they really show up?”

“Students should be running into your classroom not running away…”

“If they don’t love it, then you are doing it wrong…”

“If they are on their phone, your lessons must not be engaging enough…”

And while I get the sentiment behind these statements, I also think of the danger of them.  The unattainable versions of reality that really none of us can ever live up to.  These notions of creating such over-the-top unforgettable classroom experiences that make kids want to run into our schools, choosing us and our classroom above everything else.  Every. Single. Day.  Who can live up to that?

For fourteen and a half years, I have chased the mirage of being a perfect teacher as the markers continually move.  Of trying to be the type of teacher that created those types of experiences that would make students flock to our classroom.  That would make students want to come to school.  And while there have been days where it almost felt like that, I have never fully achieved it, not for every child, because let’s face it, it is a completely unrealistic notion.  And it is a notion that is driving teachers to feel as if no matter what they do, no matter how hard they work, they will never be enough.  They will always be lacking.  How exhausting and debilitating is that?

So I am going to give it to you real straight because that’s what I always try to do; most of my 7th graders would probably rather hang out with each other than walk through our door.  Most of my 7th graders would not run into our classroom if given the choice.  They would probably rather sleep, watch Youtube, make TikToks, or simply hang out.

And I am okay with that.

Because that’s normal child development.  Because it is okay for our classroom to be low on their choice of experiences.  Because it is okay for our classroom to not be something they think about when not in school.  Because it is okay for kids to not be excited about the idea of going to school.

What is not okay is for them to hate it once they do get in our rooms. 

There is a big difference.

And so that is where we do the work.  To create experiences that make students want to engage within our learning.  That makes students feel as if they matter once they are there.  That makes the time fly, the minutes pass until the next class, where they can hopefully experience that again.

So while most of my students would probably not volunteer to come to our classroom, once they are there, many of them love it.  Many of them love what we do, who we are, and how we grow.  Many of them would choose to stay once there.  And to me, that is what matters.

So the next time you hear someone state, “But would they choose to come?”  It’s okay to say, “Probably not” and not feel like a horrible teacher because what you realized is that the question was wrong all along, not you.  Because what you realized is that you can teach your heart out and still have a hard time competing with everything that surrounds young people these days.  Because what you realized is that the question should have been, “If given the choice would they choose to stay?”

And to that I can honestly answer, “Yes, most of the time I think they would…”. And if my answer is no, then my follow-up question is, “What needs to change?”

It turns out that perhaps I never needed to be a perfect teacher, I just needed to be real.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being a student, being a teacher, building community, new year, writing, Writing Identity

Updated: Using Oral Storytelling Kits/Loose Parts with Middle Schoolers

I wrote this blog post last year, what follows is an updated version of it in case you are interested in loose parts or storytelling kits with older students. Scroll down to see the update.

A few years ago I traveled to do a day of learning with passionate educators in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows in British Columbia. After flight cancellations and changes in airports, Denise Upton, one of the district’s helping teachers, graciously agreed to pick me up and take care of me during the stay. While together, she told me excitedly about Story Workshop, oral storytelling grounded within playful literacy, that they were doing with children as part of their literacy approach. She shared all of the work that they did with students in order to give them natural materials to manipulate and create stories with before they ever sat down to write. She spoke of Indigenous oral storytelling traditions and how they were working on bringing the rich traditions of the peoples’ whose land their school buildings sat on and whose tribal members were within their school population back into the classrooms as a way to honor, teach, and preserve a broader envisioning of writing I was inspired and intrigued. Particularly, after she told me how they were using these material kits with their upper grade levels as well and that the response they had was incredibly positive. After a whirlwind visit, the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while, hoping to someday become something I wanted to do with my own 7th graders.

Well, after a year of teaching unlike any other, after too much screen and not enough togetherness. After once again teaching kids who repeatedly told me how much they hated writing, how writing was so hard, whose sentences were forced across the pages, I decided that someday was now. With a commitment to reconsider every unit and every idea we build our classroom learning on, taking our writing in a much more tactile and playful direction was exactly what I need right now to get excited about next school year. Hopefully, my incoming students will think so as well.

So with a loose idea of what it was Denise had shared with me, the seeds started to grow; what if I build some oral storytelling kits for kids to use in partnerships, trios, or by themselves before we begin to write? What if I collect natural materials for them to manipulate and play with as they share stories from their own lives and also from their imaginations? Surely someone had done this before?

The answer is yes, many have! None of my ideas shared here are really original but I got so many questions on social media when I shared the kits I was building that I figured a blog post would be nice. If you are learning about Indigenous storytelling, there are so many wonderful resources shared, such as this one. If you google “Loose Parts”, you can see a lot of information. If you follow the work of Angela Stockman, she has been sharing so many ideas for years and is truly inspirational. If you are trained within Montessori, you know this work. If you know Reggio Emilia principles, then you know these ideas. If you have worked with younger grades, you probably do this already. There are so many resources out there, so dig in and learn.

My purpose for these kits is to get kids talking more before they write out stories, whether they be stories from their own lives or stories they invent. I want them to build scenes or entire stories together or individually depending on the exploration we are doing. I want them to play with their imagination and ot be forced into written production as quickly as we have done in the past, I want them to build community through story, I want them use their hands more. I want English to have more joy and I want it to authentically fit into the identity-centered work we already do in our literacy explorations.

Building the Kits

I had a million ideas right away and needed a way to ground them so I started by focusing on ideas for what to put in them and also building the kits to give me a more tangible sense of what it would look like. I hate so much that educators are almost always forced to purchase things out of their own pocket, so I spent school budget money to purchase the toolboxes. I bought two different kinds, five altogether, so that I can share them between tables – I typically teach 28 students at a time, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough kits to share materials between 10 different groups if need be. I also needed the kits to not take up too much space in our classroom, be easy to store and move, as well as have different size compartments. The first kind I bought was this one and the second kind was this one.

All the boxes are removable in both kits so we can spread them out on the different tables as needed.

Once I had the boxes, then I got more serious with my materials. I had a few guidelines I wanted to follow:

  • Natural materials whenever possible
  • Different sizes of things to use
  • Material that doesn’t necessarily look like “one” thing in order for them to be used for many things
  • Low cost and easy to replace

Then I wrote a list, there are so many lists floating on the internet but I posted mine to Instagram and got even more ideas as well as a huge “Duh!” moment. Notice on my original list, I have nuts on it. That is not going to work at all for some of my students due to their allergies. After a helpful educator made me see the light, I updated my original list.

I knew that if I felt like spending a ton of money, I easily could just order all of these things but I don’t want to. So, instead I turned to my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and asked if anyone had any materials they could donate. So what you are looking at in the kits above, almost everything is donated from kind strangers or friends who happened to have materials lying around. Amazing!

So right now in the kits I have:

  • Seashells, all sorts, all sizes.
  • Pine cones – I need to gather more.
  • Small popsicle sticks – they are pointy and I don’t know if I love that.
  • Wine corks that do not have wine labels on them.
  • Small cork buttons.
  • Wood buttons – I bought a giant bag off the internet.
  • Wool yarn in different colors – I have cut lengths of string in a variety of lengths.
  • White rocks.
  • Feathers – I think I may add more of these.
  • Glass beads.
  • Slices of wood.

I also purchased felt mats in green, gray, and brown for the kids to use as a background. They can use more than one if we have enough left over, again I went with natural tones as a way to center us in nature even if the story takes place in a different setting.

Things I would still like to add:

  • Beach pebbles for more color
  • More cork
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Acorns
  • Large popsicle sticks

Ideas for use

So while the kits themselves are a lovely work in progress and bring me happiness right now as I plan, what matters more than the stuff in them is making space for them to be used with our students. So as I planned for the first two weeks of instruction (I do this in order to be able to walk away for a while, not because I want to work all summer), I planned with the kits in mind.

My two-week plan can be viewed here, but please know that it is so much a work in progress, that some of the ideas in it are my own, and others are based on the incredible work others have kindly shared, and that I have given credit to those whose work I am borrowing from or copying. Please feel free to also borrow or use my ideas, just give credit. The kits will be utilized, hopefully, on the third day of school in an activity where students continue to think of the stories they carry and start to build scenes from their own lives that they then, in turn, share with their peers at their tables. After their initial appearance, they will continue to be integrated into our work as we start our first longer writing exploration; personal narrative. Students can use events from their own lives or springboard events from their own lives into a fictional story.

I also want us to think of how the kits may help us work within the emotions we have tied up with our writing, how we can use them to go deeper into story and how stories can weave us together even when we don’t see eye to eye. I am hoping that as we explore our own identities and how that makes us view and react to others, these tangible items will ground us and make us feel safer within our burgeoning community. I am hoping that having these tactile explorations will bring more playfulness into our classroom, as well as more joy. We will also create expectations of how to use the kits with each other. My main focus for that is to be respectful of the material and of what is shared within their stories, but I will ask the students to also think of how to use the materials, how to clean up in order to preserve the kits, and how to work together. It really all ties into the community work we do throughout the year.

My own children helped me eagerly build the kits and have since then also used them. It has been amazing to see them build scenes, stories, and whole worlds using just these materials and then walking me through their stories that they now see so clearly. Even my son who has repeatedly that he hates writing has been using the kits and telling me his stories. I hope I will see the same willingness to try in my 7th graders.

Update

I rolled these kits out with students a few times and the results were mixed. Some LOVED them and jumped right in building scenes, drafting stories, and using them to get their imagination flowing. Others not so much, they played with the materials after a while and built embankments and such (yes, even in 7th grade). But you know what, that actually makes sense to me; some kids will love storytelling this way, others will not. Much like we explore different ways to draft, this then became another choice for it.

And for some kids they allowed a freedom they hadn’t felt in a while as they sat in front of screens, so as I think of rolling them out next year; they will be a choice, not a force as so many other things are in our classroom. Not meant to be yet another way to force kids into a specific mold of what a writer is, but instead offering them ways to discover how they write best. How they would like to play with words and story. I will also dive a little further into how we care for the materials, most were kind to the things, a few had to be reminded. That all comes down to the make up of our classes and the energy the students bring into our space.

Ideas for use

A few ways you can use kits like these:

  • Draft your story, scene, or storyline
  • Poetry creation
  • Introduce yourself
  • Partner story creating
  • Summarizing a read-aloud, article, or other media
  • Create scenes to then act out
  • One child creates a scene, the other writes the story without knowing what is but just based off of the components shown

Even with mixed success, they are still exciting to me. They offer us more hands-on opportunities, more ways to use oral storytelling before jumping into typing or handwriting, and also offer us a way to create build community; stories bind us together and trusting each other with our stories is powerful.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being a teacher, books, Reading

Favorite Reads of Middle Schoolers According to My Students 2022

In a year again unlike any other that I have taught, I was curious to see how reading would continue to be impacted by COVID and all of the other world issues. And impacted it was; from kids who had not read a single book the previous year to kids who had fallen out of love with reading. From kids who continued to see no purpose of reading beyond pleasing the adults to kids who had no idea who they were as readers or what they wanted. We dove in, book-talked, book-shopped, and discussed throughout the year who we were as readers and what we needed to sustain ourselves.

The most read books in our classroom space were:

There were a lot of repeat favorites this year but also a huge shift in finding texts on TiK Tok, you will see this in some of the more mature titles on this list which are books I do not have in our collection but that still passed from hand to hand rapidly. Kids can read whatever they choose here and I also read and enjoyed many of them myself. Some of the books are therefore fine for all 7th graders, some are more mature, I am including them all so that you can make your own decision.    All home adults are informed of the range of books that are present in our classroom library so that students can choose something that speaks to them.  Not all of these books are in my library but are books that the students have found and read independently.

There are also a lot of books on this list that are being challenged in other states for a variety of reasons. I think once again the fact that they are being read, passed on, and recommended by kids speaks volumes of the power of these books.

Other things I noticed were:

  • The most requested authors are Jason Reynolds, Alice Oseman, Angie Thomas, Tahereh Mafi, and Jeff Kinney.
  • Mystery, crime, and romance were the most sought after types of books, as well as any shorter books.
  • Free verse books and graphic novels were still the most popular formats of books.
  • Social justice books continue to carry a deep impact and are passed from hand to hand but many kids also wanted fun or really fast-paced books this year that didn’t take on heavy topics because they felt the world was heavy enough as it is.
  • Kids reading interests range widely, some students gravitated toward more traditional literature this year while others solely devoured lighthearted middle grade – this shows the incredible need for a broad and inclusive selection for all of our students.

To see the list from 2016 go here

To see the list from 2017 go here

To see the list from 2018, go here

To see the list from 2019, go here

To see the list from 2020, go here

To see the list from 2021, go here

Without further ado, here they are as reported by my seventh graders this year.

Heart Stopper Series by Alice Oseman

Charlie and Nick are at the same school, but they’ve never met … until one day when they’re made to sit together. They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is more interested in Charlie than either of them realised.

This was the most recommended book this year!

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Part of our overcoming obstacles book club.

In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.

Huda F Are You by Huda Fahmy

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.
 
Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Instead of giving him lunch money, Rex’s mom has signed him up for free meals. As a poor kid in a wealthy school district, better-off kids crowd impatiently behind him as he tries to explain to the cashier that he’s on the free meal program. The lunch lady is hard of hearing, so Rex has to shout.

Free Lunch is the story of Rex’s efforts to navigate his first semester of sixth grade―who to sit with, not being able to join the football team, Halloween in a handmade costume, classmates and a teacher who take one look at him and decide he’s trouble―all while wearing secondhand clothes and being hungry. His mom and her boyfriend are out of work, and life at home is punctuated by outbursts of violence. Halfway through the semester, his family is evicted and ends up in government-subsidized housing in view of the school. Rex lingers at the end of last period every day until the buses have left, so no one will see where he lives.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Part of our overcoming obstacles book club.

Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Diary of Anne Frank adapted by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky

A timeless story rediscovered by each new generation, The Diary of a Young Girl stands without peer. For both young readers and adults it continues to capture the remarkable spirit of Anne Frank, who for a time survived the worst horror the modern world has seen—and who remained triumphantly and heartbreakingly human throughout her ordeal.

The Little Book of Black Holes by Steven S. Gubser & Frank Pretorius

Black holes, predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity more than a century ago, have long intrigued scientists and the public with their bizarre and fantastical properties. Although Einstein understood that black holes were mathematical solutions to his equations, he never accepted their physical reality―a viewpoint many shared. This all changed in the 1960s and 1970s, when a deeper conceptual understanding of black holes developed just as new observations revealed the existence of quasars and X-ray binary star systems, whose mysterious properties could be explained by the presence of black holes. Black holes have since been the subject of intense research―and the physics governing how they behave and affect their surroundings is stranger and more mind-bending than any fiction.

After introducing the basics of the special and general theories of relativity, this book describes black holes both as astrophysical objects and theoretical “laboratories” in which physicists can test their understanding of gravitational, quantum, and thermal physics. From Schwarzschild black holes to rotating and colliding black holes, and from gravitational radiation to Hawking radiation and information loss, Steven Gubser and Frans Pretorius use creative thought experiments and analogies to explain their subject accessibly. They also describe the decades-long quest to observe the universe in gravitational waves, which recently resulted in the LIGO observatories’ detection of the distinctive gravitational wave “chirp” of two colliding black holes―the first direct observation of black holes’ existence.

The Little Book of Black Holes takes readers deep into the mysterious heart of the subject, offering rare clarity of insight into the physics that makes black holes simple yet destructive manifestations of geometric destiny.

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Part of our overcoming obstacles book club.

Astronomy-loving Calliope June has Tourette syndrome, so she sometimes makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But it isn’t long before the kids at her new school realize she’s different. Only Calliope’s neighbor, who is also the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is―an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?

As Calliope navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that they might be moving―again―just as she starts to make friends and finally accept her differences.

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Part of our dystopian book club:

The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to dim. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. Now, she and her friend Doon must race to figure out the clues to keep the lights on. If they succeed, they will have to convince everyone to follow them into danger. But if they fail? The lights will burn out and the darkness will close in forever.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Part of our overcoming obstacles book clubs.

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language? It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

What About Will by Ellen Hopkins

Twelve-year-old Trace Reynolds has always looked up to his brother, mostly because Will, who’s five years older, has never looked down on him. It was Will who taught Trace to ride a bike, would watch sports on TV with him, and cheer him on at Little League. But when Will was knocked out cold during a football game, resulting in a brain injury–everything changed. Now, seventeen months later, their family is still living under the weight of “the incident,” that left Will with a facial tic, depression, and an anger he cannot always control, culminating in their parents’ divorce. Afraid of further fracturing his family, Trace begins to cover for Will who, struggling with addiction to pain medication, becomes someone Trace doesn’t recognize. But when the brother he loves so much becomes more and more withdrawn, and escalates to stealing money and ditching school, Trace realizes some secrets cannot be kept if we ever hope to heal.

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
    Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
    Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
    Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
    Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
    And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.
 
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Long Way Down – The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff

Part of our overcoming obstacles book club.

Will’s older brother, Shawn, has been shot.
Dead.
Will feels a sadness so great, he can’t explain it. But in his neighborhood, there are THE RULES:

No. 1: Crying.
Don’t.
No matter what.

No. 2: Snitching
Don’t.
No matter what.

No. 3: Revenge
Do.
No matter what.

But bullets miss. You can get the wrong guy. And there’s always someone else who knows to follow the rules…

Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. Chuck Bell takes center stage as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshiping, basketball star his sons look up to.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Part of our overcoming obstacles book clubs.

Dill isn’t the most popular kid at his rural Tennessee high school. After his father fell from grace in a public scandal that reverberated throughout their small town, Dill became a target. Fortunately, his two fellow misfits and best friends, Travis and Lydia, have his back.

But as they begin their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. His only escapes are music and his secret feelings for Lydia–neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending–one that will rock his life to the core.

Manning Up by Bee Walsh

Jack is at the top of his game. He’s a senior running back on the football team, dominating every opponent in his way. To everyone else, Jack is totally in control. In reality, he struggles with an eating disorder that controls every aspect of his daily life. When Jack starts using steroids, he feels invincible, but will the steroids help him win the big game, or will he lose everything he’s ever worked for?

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Part of our overcoming obstacles book clubs.

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Part of our overcoming obstacles book clubs.

Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life — until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father’s prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Part of our overcoming obstacles book clubs.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

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?

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.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why — or even who Tobias Hawthorne is.

To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch — and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes. Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a conwoman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Part of our overcoming obstacles book clubs.

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dreadlocked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court.

But Josh has more than basketball in his blood. He’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander. Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Part of our dystopian book clubs.

Imagine a world where families are allowed only two children. Illegal third children—shadow children—must live in hiding. If they are discovered, there is only one punishment: Death.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

In Be Prepared, all Vera wants to do is fit in―but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range―Russian summer camp.

Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Adult Book

It’s an ordinary Thursday morning for Arthur Dent . . . until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly after to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and Arthur’s best friend has just announced that he’s an alien.

After that, things get much, much worse.

With just a towel, a small yellow fish, and a book, Arthur has to navigate through a very hostile universe in the company of a gang of unreliable aliens. Luckily the fish is quite good at languages. And the book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy . . . which helpfully has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown by Steve Sheinkin

As World War II comes to a close, the United States and the Soviet Union emerge as the two greatest world powers on extreme opposites of the political spectrum. After the United States showed its hand with the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the Soviets refuse to be left behind. With communism sweeping the globe, the two nations begin a neck-and-neck competition to build even more destructive bombs and conquer the Space Race. In their battle for dominance, spy planes fly above, armed submarines swim deep below, and undercover agents meet in the dead of night.

The Cold War game grows more precarious as weapons are pointed towards each other, with fingers literally on the trigger. The decades-long showdown culminates in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world’s close call with the third―and final―world war.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover – Adult Book

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. And when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life seems too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

Minrs by Kevin Sylvester

Part of our dystopian book clubs

In space. Underground. And out of time.

Christopher Nichols and his family live on a new planet, Perses, as colonists of Melming Mining’s Great Mission to save the earth. Dozens of families like Christopher’s have relocated, too, like his best friend Elena Rosales.

A communications blackout with Earth hits, and all of Perses is on its own for three months. It’s okay, though, because the colonists have prepared, stockpiling food and resources to survive. But they never prepared for an attack.

Landers, as the attackers are called, obliterate the colony to steal the metal and raw ore. Now in a race against time, Christopher, along with a small group of survivors, are forced into the maze of mining tunnels. The kids run. They hide. But can they survive?

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her and her grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat and gets as far as the mainland before she is caught and forced to abandon Yujiin. She and her grandfather are devastated, but Manami clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can reclaim the piece of herself that she left behind and accept all that has happened to her family.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
               
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn

A family secret is at the root of Mary Downing Hahn’s story of supernatural events in Maine. Thirteen-year-old Ali is eager to spend her vacation with Aunt Dulcie, helping to care for her little niece, Emma, in the lake house where Dulcie and Claire, Ali’s mother, spent summers. Claire, who is phobic about water, is dead set against her going but is forced to agree. The vacation by the lake turns unpleasant when Ali and Emma meet a mean, spiteful kid named Sissy. Emma idolizes and imitates Sissy, becoming bratty and hostile and accepting Sissy’s dangerous dares. Sissy keeps talking about Teresa, a girl who drowned under mysterious circumstances when Claire and Dulcie were kids. At first Ali thinks Sissy is just trying to scare her with a ghost story, but soon she discovers the real reason why Sissy is so angry: she is the ghost of Teresa and blames Claire and Dulcie for her death.

Button Pusher by Tyler Page

Tyler’s brain is different. Unlike his friends, he has a hard time paying attention in class. He acts out in goofy, over-the-top ways. Sometimes, he even does dangerous things―like cut up a bus seat with a pocketknife or hang out of an attic window.

To the adults in his life, Tyler seems like a troublemaker. But he knows that he’s not. Tyler is curious and creative. He’s the best artist in his grade, and when he can focus, he gets great grades. He doesn’t want to cause trouble, but sometimes he just feels like he can’t control himself.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Part of our overcoming obstacles book club.

Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules—like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space—her swimming pool—where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Part of our dystopian book club.

No one knows why Juliette has such incredible power. It feels like a curse, a burden that one person alone could never bear. But The Reestablishment sees it as a gift, sees her as an opportunity. An opportunity for a deadly weapon.

One touch is all it takes. One touch, and Juliette Ferrars can leave a fully grown man gasping for air. One touch, and she can kill.

Juliette has never fought for herself before. But when she’s reunited with the one person who ever cared about her, she finds a strength she never knew she had.

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines

To everyone who knows him, West Ashby has always been that guy: the cocky, popular, way-too-handsome-for-his-own-good football god who led Lawton High to the state championships. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.

Two years ago, Maggie Carleton’s life fell apart when her father murdered her mother. And after she told the police what happened, she stopped speaking and hasn’t spoken since. Even the move to Lawton, Alabama, couldn’t draw Maggie back out. So she stayed quiet, keeping her sorrow and her fractured heart hidden away.

As West’s pain becomes too much to handle, he knows he needs to talk to someone about his father—so in the dark shadows of a post-game party, he opens up to the one girl who he knows won’t tell anyone else.

West expected that talking about his dad would bring some relief, or at least a flood of emotions he couldn’t control. But he never expected the quiet new girl to reply, to reveal a pain even deeper than his own—or for them to form a connection so strong that he couldn’t ever let her go…

Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift

Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who’s mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.

Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery’s most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.

Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross…and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.

Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery’s fate is in the hands of rivals..? Fiancées..? Partners..? Whatever they are, it’s complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.

Teen Titans Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo

When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom–and Raven’s memory–she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.

Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.

But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past…and the darkness building inside her.

Deltora Quest Series by Emily Rodda

The kingdom of Deltora is turned upside down when the King and Queen both die mysteriously and their young son, Endon, is given the Belt of Deltora and pronounced kind.  Endon’s best friend, the orphaned Jarred, then discovers a plot to strike at the royal household from within!  Before he can warn his new kind, Jarred is accused of murder and barely escapes the castle with his life, but this does not stop the intrepid warrior from pledging his allegiance to Endon and the Kingdom of Deltora.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Part of our dystopian book club.

A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the OASIS, a vast virtual world where most of humanity spends their days.

When the eccentric creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a series of fiendish puzzles, based on his obsession with the pop culture of decades past. Whoever is first to solve them will inherit his vast fortune—and control of the OASIS itself. 

Then Wade cracks the first clue. Suddenly he’s beset by rivals who’ll kill to take this prize. The race is on—and the only way to survive is to win.

Warcross by Marie Lu

Part of our dystopian book clubs.

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Lies like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

In Gap Mountain, California, everyone knows about fire season. And no one is more vigilant than 18-year-old Hannah Warner, the sheriff’s daughter and aspiring FBI agent. That is until this summer. When Hannah and her best friends accidentally spark an enormous and deadly wildfire, their instinct is to lie to the police and the fire investigators.

But as the blaze roars through their rural town and towards Yosemite National Park, Hannah’s friends begin to crack and she finds herself going to extreme lengths to protect their secret. Because sometimes good people do bad things. And if there’s one thing people hate, it’s liars.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year—before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of exams and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people—I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.

Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden. I don’t know what Solitaire is trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden. I really don’t.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Everyone in Fairview knows the story.

Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

Whispering Pines by Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski

Rae’s father vanished without a trace—and Rae knows what happened to him. But no one believes her when she says that her father didn’t run off, that he was actually taken. Now, a year of therapy later, Rae’s mother decides they need a fresh start, and so they move to a new town in the hope that life can return to normal.

The problem is, there is nothing normal about the town of Whispering Pines.

No one knows this better than Caden. He’s lived in Whispering Pines his entire life, and he’s seen more than his fair share of weird—starting with his own family, as the town is the perfect home base for his mother’s ghost hunting business.

When several kids go missing and then show up like zombies with their eyes removed, many locals brush it off. Just another day in Whispering Pines. But Caden has a dark secret, one that may explain why someone is stealing eyes. And Rae, who knows how it feels to not be believed, may be just the person Caden needs to help him put things right.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse-Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him.

Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin

After getting kicked off the basketball team for a fight that was absolutely totally not her fault (okay maybe a little her fault), Mara is dying to find a new sport to play to prove to her coach that she can be a team player. A lifelong football fan, Mara decides to hit the gridiron with her brother, Noah, and best friend, Quinn―and she turns out to be a natural. But joining the team sets off a chain of events in her small Oregon town―and within her family―that she never could have predicted.

Inspired by what they see as Mara’s political statement, four other girls join the team. Now Mara’s lumped in as one of the girls―one of the girls who can’t throw, can’t kick, and doesn’t know a fullback from a linebacker. Complicating matters is the fact that Valentina, Mara’s crush, is one of the new players, as is Carly, Mara’s nemesis―the girl Mara fought with when she was kicked off the basketball team. What results is a coming-of-age story that is at once tear-jerking and funny, thought-provoking and real, as Mara’s preconceived notions about gender, sports, sexuality, and friendship are turned upside down.

Verity by Colleen Hoover – Adult Book

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.
 
Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of the night her family was forever altered.
 
Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents could devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue loving her.

Tyrell by Coe Booth

Tyrell is a young African-American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her — and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman

On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work–Chernobyl–has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who’ve always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina’s estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother’s secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they’ve wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend’s life? Would you risk your own?

Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen-year-old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for. Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world. When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Adult Book

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Adult book

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come rising to the surface.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – Adult Book

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers

Claire and her mother are running out of time, but they don’t know it. Not yet. Claire is wrapped up with the difficulties of her bourgeoning adulthood ¿ boys, school, friends, identity; Claire’s mother, a single mom, is rushed off her feet both at work and at home. They rarely find themselves in the same room at the same time, and it often seems that the only thing they can count on are notes to each other on the refrigerator door.

When home is threatened by a crisis, their relationship experiences a momentous change. Forced to reevaluate the delicate balance between their personal lives and their bond as mother and daughter, Claire and her mother find new love and devotion for one another deeper than anything they had ever imagined.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Melissa by Alex Gino

Part of our overcoming obstacles book club.

When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

Melissa thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

Part of our overcoming obstacles book club

I AM NOT STUPID FUNNY.
I AM STUPID FAST.

My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and then I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing!

Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most important, will it get me girls―especially Aleah?

So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah’s house in the night. But deep down I know I can’t run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Part of our dystopian bookclubs

After America’s Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement. According to their Bill of Life, human life may not be terminated from the moment of conception until the age of thirteen. But between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, the child may be gotten rid of by their parent through a process called “unwinding.”

By repurposing a teen’s organs and other body parts in living recipients, the unwound child’s life doesn’t technically end. According to society’s leaders, unwinding leads to a healthier and safer community, as troublesome and unwanted teens are used for the greater good.

Curtis is a rebel whose unwinding was ordered by his parents. Rita, a ward of the state, has been slated for unwinding due to cost cutting. And Lev, his parents’ tenth child, has been destined for unwinding since birth as a religious tithe. As their paths intersect, they start to fight for their own destinies. But do they stand a chance of escaping their fate or proving their lives are worth saving?

The Martian by Andy Weir – Adult Book

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Adult Book

A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father – a crusading local lawyer – risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father – a crusading local lawyer – risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer

The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.

But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.

Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken — Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good — powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

It’s been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother and she’s still adjusting to her new life in rural Nebraska. Then, one by one, students at her high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair.

As the body count rises and the terror grows closer, can Makani survive the killer’s twisted plan?

Harry Potter and the Half-Bloog Prince by J.K. Rowling

The war against Voldemort is not going well; even the Muggles have been affected. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.

And yet . . . as with all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Harry receives some extraordinary help in Potions from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. And with Dumbledore’s guidance, he seeks out the full, complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort — and thus finds what may be his only vulnerability.

Once Upon a K-Prom by Kat Cho

Elena Soo has always felt overshadowed. Whether by her more successful older sisters, her more popular twin brother, or her more outgoing best friend, everyone except Elena seems to know exactly who they are and what they want. But she is certain about one thing – she has no interest in going to prom. While the rest of the school is giddy over corsages and dresses, Elena would rather spend her time working to save the local community center, the one place that’s always made her feel like she belonged.

So when international K-pop superstar Robbie Choi shows up at her house to ask her to prom, Elena is more confused than ever. Because the one person who always accepted Elena as she is? Her childhood best friend, Robbie Choi. And the one thing she maybe, possibly, secretly wants more than anything? For the two of them to keep the promise they made each other as kids: to go to prom together. But that was seven years ago, and with this new K-pop persona, pink hair, and stylish clothes, Robbie is nothing like the sweet, goofy boy she remembers. The boy she shared all her secrets with. The boy she used to love.

Besides, prom with a guy who comes with hordes of screaming fans, online haters, and relentless paparazzi is the last thing Elena wants – even if she can’t stop thinking about Robbie’s smile…right?

Muhammad Najem War Reporter by Muhammad Najem & Nora Neus, illustrated by Julie Robine

Muhammad Najem was only eight years old when the war in Syria began. He was thirteen when his beloved Baba, his father, was killed in a bombing while praying. By fifteen, Muhammad didn’t want to hide anymore—he wanted to act. He was determined to reveal what families like his were enduring in Syria: bombings by their own government and days hiding in dark underground shelters.
 
Armed with the camera on his phone and the support of his family, he started reporting on the war using social media. He interviewed other kids like him to show what they hope for and dream about. More than anything, he did it to show that Syrian kids like his toddler brother and infant sister, are just like kids in any other country. Despite unimaginable loss, Muhammad was always determined to document the humanity of the Syrian people. Eventually, the world took notice.
 
This tenderly illustrated graphic memoir is told by Muhammad himself along with CNN producer Nora Neus, who helped break Muhammad’s story and bring his family’s plight to an international audience.