being a teacher, books, picture books

Our Favorite First Week of School Picture Books

For the past many years, our first day of school has included a read-aloud of a picture book.  This central part of our classroom journey starts us off right, inviting students in to share a moment of wonder, of laughter.  It starts discussions and sets the tone for the year to come.  This is why selecting the first picture book to read aloud is such a big deal for me; what tone do I want to set?  Which book will help students gain an ounce of trust when it comes to the experience we are about to embark on?  Usually, I have students choose the book they want me to read aloud to them, sometimes I choose for them, but in case you need a few ideas, here are the picture books I love choosing from.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanna Kaufman

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoet

Mixed – A Colorful Story by Arree Chung

Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

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What if by Samantha Berger and Mike Curato


Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel

My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am Not) by Peter Brown

After the Fall by Dan Santat

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Baa Baa Smart Sheep created by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

 Let Me Finish written by Minh Le illustrated by Isabel Roxas.


Ferocious Fluffity written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, books, Literacy, Reading Identity

On Boy Books and Girl Books

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I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, I think it comes with the territory when you share the love of books.  And while I love pairing books with potential readers, I have also noticed a pattern that causes me to pause, that should cause all of us to pause.

I get asked for a lot of books featuring male lead characters for male readers.

When I ask why the need for a male lead, I am often told that “they” just don’t think a boy will read a “girl book.”  That a boy will not like a book about feelings.  That a boy only wants books that have action.  That have other boys in it.  That feature characters that look just like them or at the very least think like them.

As if every single boy thinks alike.

When written like this it is easy to see the problem; when we assume that there is such a thing as books for girls and books for boys, we are continuing a tired and sexist narrative that has only furthered the power inequity that already exists within our society.  We are creating a new generation of mansplaining, of groupthink, of toxic masculinity.  Of girls only liking one thing, and boys liking another.  Of men and women being from different planets.  Of readers being shaped more by their assigned gender than their actual interests.

We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about girls because they see little value in what girls do.

We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about feelings because they are somehow above all of that.

We are furthering the stereotype of what it means to be a boy which translates into what it means to be a man and not seeing the incredible harm in that.

Because what about the boys that love a good tearjerker?  What about the boys that don’t like sports?  What about the boys that love to experience the emotional development of a character?  What about the boys that love a great female lead character?  What about the girls who don’t fit into the opposite boxes?  Do they not deserve to have books suggested to them, no matter the gender of the protagonist?

And I think of my own children, my three girls and one boy, whose reading interests are as varied as their personalities.  Sure there are Minecraft books being read by Oskar, but not until Thea reads them first.  Sure there are unicorn books with pink sparkly covers being read by Augustine but not until Oskar sees if the unicorn gets rescued first.  I would hate for anyone to assume that they knew who they were as readers based only on their gender.

So when we claim that a read-aloud featuring a female protagonist will likely not catch the attention of our boy readers, we have whittled the male reading identity down to practically nothing.  Males – good.  Sports – good.  Action – good. We have diminished what it means to be a reader who develops with the books they read.  We have diminished what it means to identify as male.  We have diminished their chance to learn from a perspective that may at first seem foreign but in the end may just be more similar than they ever thought.  We have effectively boxed our boys in only to then wonder why they may act a certain way.

How often does this thinking then translate into the very books we recommend to the boys we teach?  To the girls?  How often do our assumptions about their needs as a reader surpass what they actually need?  How often does this translate into the read alouds we choose?  The texts we bless by spending our time on them as a community?

And I realize that I don’t get asked the opposite very often.  That often when I am asked for a recommendation for a female reader, the gender of the protagonist is hardly ever brought up.  That instead the most common descriptor is a strong story development, a story that will hold their attention.  Why do our boys not deserve the same?

So I am wondering if we for once and for all, can we all agree that there is no such thing as a girl or a boy book?  That kids need to be exposed to characters that inspire them, no matter their gender.  That kids need to be exposed to characters that will expand their worldviews and invite them into new worlds that they knew little of before, no matter their gender.  That kids need to be exposed to great books, without us adults thinking that they will only read a certain type of book based on what we see in front of us.

We must give them a chance to experience more than what they are.  Books allow us to do just that, but not if they never read them.  Not if we never recommend them.  That’s on us, which means we can change it, so let’s do that starting now.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



being a teacher, books, Literacy, Reading

How to Easily Do A Book Talk


One of the pillars of our reading community is the daily book talk.  While I used to do them once in a while, I was spurred on by the wisdom of Penny Kittle to do one every single day, which I have now fully embraced for the past few years.

So in the last few years, I have done a book talk almost every single day right after we finish our independent reading.  It takes less than two minutes and is fairly simple.  I used to plan them out much more but realized that it added another level of work to my already jam-packed day and that it didn’t seem to make a difference to the students whether I did a pre-scripted one or one that was more spur of the moment.  So this is what our book talks look like now.


  1. Pick the text you will book talk – note this can be a chapter book, audiobook, a collection of short stories or whatever you feel like blessing as Linda Gambrell reminds us.
  2. I like to book talk a variety of new books I have read as well as older books that haven’t been discovered yet. One place I look to for inspiration is what my students have recommended in the past.
  3. Decide your angle:  Are you book talking it because you read it and it was amazing?  Because you abandoned it and need someone to prove you wrong?  Because you added it to the library but haven’t read it?
  4. Prepare your visual.  I like to project the cover of the book so that students can easily write down the tile.  I also put any genres abbreviations on the slide and whether or not is a more mature book.
  5. Have the physical book ready to hold up and hand to someone or place on a designated book talk shelf or display.

During the book talk:

  • Keep it short and sweet.  I tend to say a few sentences about the book and why I liked it/abandoned it/purchased it and then read either the first page, the inside flap or the back cover.  I love these teasers as they are already made for us.
  • Have the book ready to hand out.  The only time I break this recommendation is when I just finished a book and I want to book talk it to all of my classes.  Then I try to find extra copies beforehand, such as from our school library.
  • Students should have their to-be-read list out which is located either in their readers’ notebook or using the Goodreads app.  This is a routine expectation we start with the very first week.


  • Start to transfer ownership of the book talks to students fairly early on, you should not be the only one book talking a book.  I love using the 30-second book talk idea to help students become more comfortable with the format and also ensure that everyone participates.
  • If I am the one doing the book talk there is only one given, if it is students, then there can be up to three depending on their length.  Again, this is short and sweet, not the actual teaching point of the class.
  • If many students want to book talk their book, consider making it the teaching point and dedicate a lesson time for it or have them do a speech about their favorite book.
  • Keep an anchor chart or some sort of visual of which books you have book talked, not only does it provide a reminder to students about the books shared, but it also allows you to ensure that you are providing inclusive book talks that do not just fall under one genre, cultural heritage or some other category.
  • Place book talked book the same place so that students know where to find them.  We have a book tree that serves as everyone’s place to recommend books so that is where they go.
  • Check to see if there are book trailers available.  I still think the book trailer for The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen has convinced more students to read the book than I ever have, and I love that book.

I have loved doing daily book talks and also getting them from students and I now see them as a vital component of any thriving reading community.  When we book talk a book it is the invitation into a relationship with that book for all of our students, what a powerful teaching tool that is.


books, picture books, Reading

My Favorite Picture Books of 2018 (So Far)

Every year I post an end of the year favorite book list but I thought this year, inspired by Colby Sharp, I thought it would be fun to add the titles as I discovered them.  Now, these may have come out in 2018 or simply have been read by me in 2018.  So here you are, in no particular order, my favorite picture books of 2018.  To follow along with these live follow me on Instagram.

The list of favorite chapter books for 2018, can be found here.

To see all of our favorite books through the years, go here.


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being a teacher, books, Literacy, Reading

My Favorite Books of 2018

Every year I post an end of the year favorite book list but I thought this year, inspired by Colby Sharp, I thought it would be fun to add the titles as I discovered them.  Now, these may have come out in 2018 or simply have been read by me in 2018.  So here you are, in no particular order, my favorite books of 2018.  To follow along with these live follow me on Instagram.

PS:  My Favorite Picture Books of 2018 can be found here.

Middle Grade or Younger

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi  (Author), Hatem Aly (Illustrator)

Wonderland by Barbara O’Connor (Author)

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden  (Author)

Courage by Barbara Binns

Minrs 3 by Kevin Sylvester (Final book of the Minrs trilogy)

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes 

Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Rebound by Kwame Alexander

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Enginerds by Jarrett Lerner

Winnie’s Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut, art by Sophie Blackall

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Lions and Liars by Kate Beasley

Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Mac B. Kid Spy  by Mac Barnett illustrated by Mike Lowery

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly

The Endling by Katherine Applegate 

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Graphic Novels

Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab and Jackie Roche

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Speak – The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Click by Kayla Miller

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees



Young Adult

Dry by Jarrod Shusterman and Neal Shusterman

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram  (Author)

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Wicked Deep

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Tradition by Brendan Kiely

Day of Tears by Julius Lester

The Fandom by Anna Day

Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

#Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse



First Generation by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Agata Nowicka

Dog Days of History by Sarah Albee

#NotYourPrincess – Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charlieboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Two Truths and a Lie – Histories and Mysteries by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson

being a teacher, books

How I Am Growing – A Few Professional Development Books to Boost Your Work

Ah, summer.  Lazy days spent at the pool.  Trips and travel.  Sleeping in and ice cream.  Kid movie nights and dates with my husband.  Yet, every educator also knows that summer can mean growth, new ideas, new energy as we unpack the last year and focus on the next one.  Sometimes it comes from stepping away, from reflection, from taking a break from all things education.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a neatly wrapped package, a new book to help us see our world a little differently.  So what am I reading this summer to help me develop my craft?

We are toying around with the idea of doing one whole class novel this year so when I saw Kate Roberts’ new book, A Novel Approach – Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice I knew I had hit the jackpot.  But I am going to let you in on a little secret; you don’t have to even be considering whole class novel for this book to apply to you.  Kate’s wisdom is for all English teachers and her ideas have already shaped my thoughts for the year ahead.

When Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher announced to the world that they were working on a book together, I was so excited.  After all, I have looked to their work for a long time as a guide for how to grow my practice.  Now with the release of 180 Days – Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents the wait is over. I get to present alongside Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller at NCTE this year – yes, really – so I cannot wait to see her discuss these ideas live!

While I love our classroom library and feel like there are a lot of great ideas within it, I am always looking for tips on how to improve it.  Enter Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan who with their new book, “It’s All About the Books – How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries that Inspire Readers” set out to provide us with just that; more practical ideas for how to utilize the books and space we already have to increase student engagement.

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I am not good at teaching grammar, there I said it.  I know how to teach it within one-to-one conferences, but how do you teach it to the whole class so that it actually transfers into their work?  Enter the genius that is Jeff Anderson who had to figure out just that.  Lucky for us, he then decided to write a book about it!  I have heard nothing but positives about Mechanically Inclined – Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop.

One of my largest areas of growth is centered on equity work and how I can be a better teacher and human being in America today.  I am so grateful for the leadership of Valeria Brown and her group #CleartheAir.  They have recently announced their book club titles for the upcoming year and are starting with Carla Shalaby’s Troublemakers, Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School.  I cannot wait to unpack this book with them.

The next book in the #CleartheAir book club is White Fragility – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo.  The power of the title alone means I cannot wait for September to come around.  There is also an October book, but I am not sure I will have time this summer to read it so I will save that title for a later post.  I highly encourage you to join the conversation!

And finally, the book I seem to be recommending the most this summer is still Sara Ahmed’s Being the Change – Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension.  This book shaped our entire 4th quarter together and it was incredible.  This book will continue to shape the lessons I do with my students as we unpack our identities and what it means to view the world through the lens that we view it with.

So there you have it.  While I am also reading as many children’s books as I can devour, the growth I need as a teacher is coming from these few titles.  I cannot wait to be changed because of these books!  What are you reading this summer?