being a teacher

On Book Bans…Again

I keep thinking about book bans.

About the kids whose existence we say doesn’t belong in the stories on our shelves. About the kids whose lives are not accepted in our spaces; classroom, libraries, hallways, and schools.

About the lives we don’t share in our book clubs, read alouds, or mentor text explorations. Because we are scared to be challenged. because we are directed to censor. Because we are told to remove titles. To withdraw invitations. To not share things that may potentially offend.

About the kids whose lives need to be validated and protected in this continued time of hate in the US.

In the land of the free, we have always known only some are truly free. Free to be the center of attention. Free to hold the power. Free to be held up as something worth paying attention to.

Why do I care while I sit in Denmark, a country that has prohibited book banning since the 1800’s (yes, really!)?

Because what is banned in the US, doesn’t get translated to other countries at the same rate.
Those authors don’t get invited to conferences, to schools, to gatherings at the same rate.

Their sales are hurt by the book bans, it is not a badge of honor, which then hurts further publications.

When they write from their own experience, book bans and challenges once again show them that the story they carry is not one that is palatable to share with the world. That they should be ashamed to share who they are.

Because what is gatekept, simply not purchased, not shared, not published, or not even written out of fear of how it will be challenged and banned, directly impacts kids’ reading experiences globally.

The US publishing industry is the biggest in the world.

That means that once again the US sets the tone for the reading lives of so many others. Even those who will never set foot in the USA.

That means when a school board removes books, it limits sales, and that directly impacts the books I can access here in Denmark, a country far way from the hallways of American schools.

But it’s not just that.

It’s personal.

It is my own kid’s identity that is constantly put under the microscope as being “too mature,” as “indecent,” as being sexually inappropriate. It is my own kid’s identity mirrored in stories that are being banned outright or shadowbanned in the spaces of our schools and libraries. As if they control who they love or who they are. As if their very existence is one that is too mature for other children.

All because some adults decided that the bankrupt moral code they follow is more important than honoring the identity of my child. Than protecting my child. Than creating a society that respects the lives of the very children we produce.

And it angers me.

And it scares me.

Because when we remove the stories of others, we leave a void of misunderstanding. Of fear. Of thinking that there is somehow something morally wrong with simply existing in the LGBTQ+ community.

Of others telling my kid that they are probably just confused. Of telling our kid that they certainly can’t know these things because they are too young. Of failing to understand something that is simply who they are. Of others asking my kid when they will grow out of it. Of others asking my kid questions that no kid, or adult, should be asked. And thinking it is okay. And telling us to lighten up. And failing to see how every question is another cut, another punch, another closed door.

And I am so sick of “well-meaning” adults thinking that they somehow know better than we do as the parent of our own child. They don’t see how the words they so carelessly spew, the actions they support, and the hate they spread directly impacts our child, impacts us as a family.

So yeah, I may be in Denmark but I Am still going to fight with everything I can.

I am going to fight so that kids can see themselves in the stories we share. So adults can feel the value that sharing their stories have.

I fight because the youth of Denmark deserve a chance at being seen globally.

I fight because we cannot say we value kids and then support book bans at the same time.

The fight has not just begun, it has been going on for a long time. But it is ramping up and just like there are groups that are organized just to orchestrate book bans, so must we.

So what do we do? PEN America, whose images are used in this post and whose latest report is well worth a read, has a few ideas. They say to

  • Identify
  • Document
  • Assess Safety
  • Notify and Communicate
  • Block, Mute, Report
  • Bolster Your Cybersecurity
  • Reach Out
  • Take Care of Yourself

Read more here.

But we also take a moment to check in with the kids we have in our care. How are they? How do these book bans and challenges affect them? How do we continue to fight back?

I know it is scary to speak up.

I know it is scary to place a book in our classrooms that may potentially cause a challenge.

But think of the kids you validate. The kids who need you to show them that you have their back.

That their story matters because they matter,

I think of how our actions now will reverberate for years to come. Of the kids who will search for questions on our shelves and come up empty-handed versus the kids who will find themselves and find peace.

Of those who will find love on our shelves. Of those who will find power.

I fight back for those kids, and for those who don’t even know which questions to ask yet.

I fight for my own kid, how can I not?

Who do you fight for?

PS: Are you looking for coaching or virtual presentations? I am available and would love to support your work. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can travel if needed. In fact, I will be in the US and Canada in February 20223.  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

I Got Hacked…

Yesterday, I received the following email about my Instagram account

At first, I laughed but thought I would check my Instagram account anyway.

And it was gone.

No username, no email, no phone number.

According to Instagram the more than 2,900 posts I have created never existed in the first place. I tried everything Instagram help center articles told me to do, consistently getting absolutely nowhere. When Instagram says you don’t exist there are no reports to file, no forms to fill in, no support to receive. They just keep referring you to the same article over and over.

So I emailed the hacker back.

They wanted $2,000 in bitcoin to release my account back or they are selling it to others to use however they see fit. No guarantees. That kind of money is not something we have to spend. So I cried while I raged, I know it is so silly to cry over something like this, but my account hold years of photos and videos, connections with people all over the world, and represents years of building connections with others. Since we moved to Denmark it has been one of my main ways to stay in touch with friends, former students, and all of those we left behind.

Instagram has been my favorite way to post the last many months as I transition into Denmark and make literary connections here. The people in Denmark have no idea wo I am, Instagram and all the years of posts helped me introduce myself.

I spent the rest of the day frantically securing every account I could think of while getting bombarded by bots saying they could help me recover my account – they can’t, they are just another way to scam you.

Meanwhile, 40 emails in as I went back and forth with the person who hacked my account, they said I could pay $200 in bitcoin to recover it. After discussing with my husband, I did.

And then I got this.

And that’s not something we can do. So I am starting over. All those years of posts are gone but I am still here. I can’t recreate all of the content, I will re-post some things, but I have to look forward as well.

So please come and follow me on my new account @pernilleripp I know there isn’t much to look at right now, but there will be. I will continue to post book recommendations, ideas, quotes, and snapshots from our life. I continue to want to learn and spread ideas. I am really hoping there is some sort of silver lining in all of this, I haven’t found it yet, but I will.

If you haven’t secured your accounts with two-factor authentication, do. It doesn’t guarantee anything but perhaps it would have stopped this.

If you want to help me, please share my new Instagram account with those who used to follow or may want to follow now.

aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me

On Change

We have settled in. Sort of anyway. The kids know how to get to school, when to leave, where the parks and library are. We meal plan, have Friday night movie nights, and try to be outside as much as possible as fall is here and the leaves are changing. We have ideas for how we want to fill our time and sometimes they come to fruition. I have never felt so adult in my life.

And yet, I still feel unsettled. My routines are partially in place, I get to work on time, get home on time, cook meals, and put the kids to bed. But the other things that make up a life are still not there really. I am out of my reading routine, I am not sure when to call people that I normally talk to, I am posting on social media at the wrong time. I don’t even feel like I know how to dress anymore. And what am I even anymore now that I am not teaching kids actively?

And so I dream of the things I want to do, waiting for that right time. When life has finally settled more. When the kids seem to be okay. When I feel right for longer stretches of time. But when will that happen? Do we ever really feel well-rested and fully ready to take on anything?

Change is hard when ordinary life is overwhelming. When we tread water and try to just make it to the finish line of the day.

Change is hard when we have been in the same place for a long time. We know how to make things work, so why rock the boat?

Change is hard when we have to worry about the daily lives of others, make sure that we don’t up-end too much because who knows how it will reverberate in the future.

Change is hard when it is just us trying to make our way.

It seems there is no time when change is not hard.

I have wanted to winter bathe for years. In Wisconsin, there wasn’t much time for it. But here in Denmark, it is everywhere. I spoke my idea aloud to my husband, tried to sign us up for a membership (sauna included after the dip) but was told there were no open member spots.

Friday night, I got sick of waiting for the time to change. For life to feel under control enough for me to take more on. After all, there is no guarantee that that will ever happen. I cannot think of a time in my life when time was abundant and energy was too.

So Saturday morning we drove to the ocean and ran into it. 53-degree air temperature. It was not warm, not winter either. And we ran out and huddled in our towels and laughed. This morning we did it again.

Enoe is gorgeous and 10 minutes from our apartment

We don’t have access to the sauna. I don’t have my flip-flops, they are in a shipping container coming our way. We each have one towel which tends to be damp most of the time. There is sand everywhere in our car. We are probably not doing it right, I think we are supposed to sit in the water for longer.

But we feel alive. And we like it. And we want to do it again. It was just the change I needed to feel good about the now we are in.

Change is funny that way. We can wait for the right time in our lives to finally change. We can wait for the big moments such as a move across the world to finally change. We can wait for others to tell us, to make us. Or we can simply take a step and make the change we have wanted for so long.

I could have waited for our membership to go through. I could have waited to get the right gear. To grow bolder. To grow older. For the time to feel more right.

But I didn’t. Because the change was needed now.

How often do we wait for the right time in our classrooms to change? How often do we think, “next year”, or when I switch grades, or when the time is better. Or even when I am not just trying to survive every day. Our routines save us time and time again but at what cost?

So what are the changes you have been dreaming of? What have you been too afraid to do?

The time will never be right, so consider what you can tweak? What can you replace so it doesn’t feel like more is added? What is that unit? That lesson? That shift in practice you have wanted to try?

If you are scared, tell yourself it is a pilot. Allow yourself to try and know that it doesn’t have to be permanent. We jumped at the chance of moving home because we knew we could return to the US if it didn’t work it (it wouldn’t be easy to relocate don’t get me wrong but that door is not closed).

If you feel there is no time, audit your schedule; where can you fit it in? (What might you pause in order to try something new).

If you feel there is no support, involve your students in the planning. Their excitement often carries us through.

If you don’t know what to change but know there is a need; ask your students. What works? What doesn’t? What are their dreams and hopes? What can you plan together?

I spoke of moving home to Denmark for years, casually mentioning it, and always thinking “some day.” But to take the leap, to say yes, and actually do it has been the scariest adult thing I have done since having children. And it is easy to get paralyzed by that. It is easy to feel like that change was enough change and now we settle into our routine as quickly as we can.

But it turns out there are still many other new things to try.

The change continues. What is the life I have wanted to have for so long? What are the routines I wanted to change? How do I want to raise my children? How do I want to live my one and precious life to quote Mary Oliver?

Because we can wait for the time to be right.

Or we can embrace the time that is now.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, change never is, but it can make us feel alive again.

Don’t wait. It’s not as scary as it sounds.

In fact, you could say, come on in, the water is just fine.

PS: Are you looking for coaching or virtual presentations? I am available and would love to support your work. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can travel if needed. In fact, I will be in the US and Canada in February 20223.  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, 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.