Small Ideas For Creating Visible Book Buzz

I start thinking of summer on the very first day of school.   As I greet my new students, I cannot help but wonder; who will leave us a reader?  Who will include books in their summer plans?

With this in mind, I teach with a sense of urgency as so many of us do.  I am not just teaching for the now, I am teaching for the after.  After the bell rings.  After Friday afternoon.  After the day before break. After the school year is over.

I teach for the kids who come to me loving reading; my job is to protect that love with all I have.

I teach for the kids who see no point in books.  Who scorn every day when I ask them to settle in, settle down, get to reading.  For the kids who would rather sit in silence and pretend to read than actually read a book.

And I hope that this year, this time in our classroom, perhaps a seed will be planted.  Perhaps an idea will form that reading is not the slow, quiet torture that they have decided it is and that perhaps there is indeed books out there for them.

And so in those very first days, we make reading visible.  I book talk a book on the second day of school.  This year it was Dear Martin by Nic Stone.  I make it the expectation that books are shared, discussed, rated, and abandoned when needed.  We speak books as our primary language, immersed in everything else we have to do.  The book buzz builds and at the end of the year when I ask what made the biggest difference, there it is, nestled in with time to read, a community of readers, a classroom library; recommendations. But what does that look like?  Here are the simple, yet powerful components, plus a few extra ideas that we use to create a visible book buzz.

What Mrs. Ripp Read over the Summer Display

This year, I didn’t just portray the covers, I made a display of the physical books that I had read and wanted to share from the summer.  On the second day of school, I pointed to the tree and told them that these were books that I would highly recommend.  That this tree would soon be overtaken by their favorite reads, but for now it showcased mine.

What is Mrs. Ripp Reading Display

Throughout our school, you can see a variety of staff reading displays.  I chose to not just display what I had just read but keep a visual record of all of the book covers for the year.  My students know that my goal is 90 books for a year and so this also keeps a visual track of that.  This hangs by our door so it is the last thing they see as they leave.

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Our Favorite Books Tree

Within the first few weeks of the year, the tree I used to display my summer reads turns into the students’ favorite reads instead.  If books are in high demand this is where they go, if a student loved a book, this is where they can place it to be read by others.  This tree is many of our student’s first stop to bookshop.  Hat tip to Nancie Atwell for this genius idea.

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A To-Be-Read List in the room

Our someday list, wish list of books, books I cannot wait to read.  Whatever you call it, I am grateful that advocates like Teri Lesene, Nancie Atwell, Donalyn Miller, and Penny Kittle remind us that students need to have reading plans and that includes having ideas for what they want to read next.  In our reading notebook, we have a few pages dedicated to just this, or students can choose to use their devices and Goodreads for example.  Whenever a book talk is underway, students are reminded to write down any titles that catch their eye.  At the end of the year, we take a picture of the list and send it home to parents/caregivers so they have ideas for summer reading.

A daily book talk.

After our ten minutes of independent reading, I try to start the day with a book talk.  Usually, it is a book I have just finished or an old favorite.  The book talk is short and sweet; what’s the book about, why did I like it and why might others’ like it.  Students have their to-be-read list out and ready to add titles to it.

30-second book talks. 

The day we came back from break, I asked my students to write down a 30-second book talk on a notecard.  They had to write the title, the author, a little about the book and then why others may like it.  It took us about 5 minutes.  I then collected the cards and now pick three cards every day for students to do their book talks.  The students experience little stress by it because the work is already done and I get to have the book cover ready to display for students to see while they speak.

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Book speed dating.

Another take on short book talks is when students split into two equal groups; one with a favorite book in hand, the other with their to-be-read list.  Students then line up in front of each other and when I say go, they have 45 seconds to book talk the book in their hand.  When the time is up, every child on one side takes steps to the side, thus standing in front of a new child.  We do this five or six times in a row.  The next day, the roles switch.

Book group book talks.

Once in a while, I will book talk an entire group of books centered around a format, theme, or author.  This way students are given multiple ideas for what to read next if they like one of the books.  Recently I did this with free-verse books, one of the most popular formats in our classroom, and the books have been flying off the shelves since.

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Book shopping 

We book shop every three to four weeks in our classroom.  It is a community event and one that we discuss how to do well.  The goal for every child is to walk away from the book shopping experience with at least a few new titles they want to read.  I have written more extensively about our process, right here.

Sharing on Instagram

I resisted Instagram for a long time as I didn’t want to share more aspects of my life, and yet, I needed a quick and easy way to recommend books without having to write an entire review.  Enter Instagram.  The bonus to sharing “live” recommendations of books on here has been that some of my students follow me on there to get recommendations.  As I only use Instagram for book-related things, I don’t have any hesitations with students following my account.  To follow my account, go here

There are more ways to build book buzz, but these are a few that work.  Other ways include book abandonment, creating enticing book displays, acknowledging our own reading gaps, involving the school librarian and other reading adults, and speaking books to all students.  I wrote about all of these and more in my book Passionate Readers, a book MiddleWeb has said should be required reading in all Reading Methods Classes.  While those are huge words to live up to, I think it once again speaks to the power of all of the little things we do to create passionate reading environments.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

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My Favorite Chapter Books of 2017

I wasn’t going to write this post.  After all, how can I possibly whittle down the amazing reading experiences I have had in 2017 to just a few books?  And yet in the more than 180 books, I managed to read this year these books are the ones I keep recommending, these are the ones that have an extra special place in my heart and perhaps this little post will help others discover them as well.

Why not picture books as well?  Because there are simply too many.  To see some of our favorites in room 235D, go here or follow me on Instagram for live recommendations.

What a year of reading it has been.  What a year of reading 2018 promises to be. I cannot wait to turn the page.

Middle Grade-ish

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor 

Yes, I am aware that this book was originally released in 1976 and subsequently won the Newbery.  It is by no stretch of the imagination a “new” book, but it was for me.  As part of our reading identity challenge, I wanted to close some of my classic American children’s literature gaps (growing up in Denmark, there are just some books I have never read), and so I chose this amazing book.  I am glad I did.

How do you tell others to read a book about child abuse knowing that it will probably make them cry?  You just do.  The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott comes out October 17th and is a must add for middle school classrooms and up.  While the topic may be harrowing this is one of those books that could actually save a life.

It is not often that a middle-grade novel about a girl who suffers from OCD is this well-written.  I simply loved Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz for its lack of sugar coating, for its brutal portrayal of a girl who realizes what she is doing is not normal and yet cannot stop herself, for the story.  OCD is sometimes portrayed almost as a gimmick, but not in this book.  It was heart-wrenching, to say the least, and written in a way to bring all readers in.  
I grabbed  Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank  is one of those books that delivers every time I need it to.  from my ARC book pile on a whim.   I love this middle-grade novel for all of its nuances when it comes to sharing the story of one school’s integration in the 1970’s and so will you.

A book about periods?  Yup!  Well written, humorous and very informational, how many girls wish we had books like this in our libraries when they first enter puberty? Helloflo, The Guide, Period is a book I wish would be in every library.

Refugee by Alan Gratz is one of my three must-read books for 2017.  It was a bad idea reading this on an airplane, as this book kicks you right in the heart.  5th grade and up.

I don’t know how I have been a teacher and never read a Gordon Korman book before?  I am so glad that has now been remedied with Restart.  This middle-grade book is sure to pull in those kids who identify as not liking reading and is also a Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.

A book about a boy who loves a skunk and will do anything in his power to keep it.  A book about a boy who just happens to seem different from others but without being about that.  A Boy Called Bat is another Global Read Aloud contender for 2018, 3rd grade and up.

I always feel bad putting books on here which are not out yet, but The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson has to be one of the best middle grade reads for me this year.  Coming out in March, this story that on the surface is a child detective mystery book has so many layers to it, I found myself reading passages aloud to my husband just so he could understand the reading experience I was having.  This is a must pre-order.

Another book that is not out yet but so worth a pre-order is the first book in a new series, The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz and illustrated by Hatem Aly.  This book is everything I would want in an early reader chapter book – fantasy, mystery, great characters, and not a unicorn in sight.  This book set out to fill a true gap; longer books that are fun to read but easy to read and I am so grateful for it.

As an adult, I needed to read Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee, the story of a girl who returns to school after battling cancer.  All she wants to for normalcy to return and yet those around her, including her teachers, keep seeing her as a single story.  Fantastic story and reminder to us all of how we view others.

I was lucky enough to read Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai before its arrival in the world on January 2nd, 2018. It is one of those books that leaves you grateful for what you have but also wondering how you can do more for others.

This list would be woefully incomplete without the stunning Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder.  How she managed to pack such a story into a middle-grade book is beyond me.  This is one of those books that kids always want to talk about after.

YA-ish

The book landscape continued to change this year and one of the reasons for this positive change was the release of  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  This book is desperately needed in our classrooms but not just to be read by students, no, it also needs to be read by us adults.  And then we need to sit with them for a long time and take a long hard look at ourselves and see where we need to start our work with checking our privilege and our bias.

If this post was a list in order of favorites, Dear Martin by Nic Stone would be very close to the top.  In fact, this begs for a re-read as I want to continue to think about this book, another Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.  7th grade and up.

I read  Scythe (Arc of a Scythe) by Neal Shusterman in two nights and then handed it to one of my students.  A week later she handed it back and said, “This is the best book I have read all year.”  Enough said, this is PG13, but a must add and read.  (Thunderhead, the sequel, is even better which I thought would be impossible!).
Yes please to a YA book where the female lead character doesn’t need to be saved, isn’t waiting to be changed by the boy she falls in love with, has a family that actually is functional, and is also not a hopeless mess.  I am a fan of First & Then by Emma Mills .

Masterful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and stays with you long after that last page.  Long Way Down is another absolute must-read of 2017.  Global Read Aloud contender 2018, 7th grade and up.

I have been recommending this book to anyone I can think of.  The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater follows two teenagers as their lives become intertwined in the worst of ways in Oakland, CA.  This is the true account of what happened that fateful day on The 57 Bus.

Story told through graphic novels still rule our classroom and I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina is one that is sure to make an impression.  This fictionalized account of an all too familiar story of a young black boy getting shot and killed by a white police officer delves into the history of these shootings and the Black Lives Matter Movement.  Powerful and unforgettable.

Another not-new but new to me book I am glad I discovered this year is Bronx Masquerade by the Great Nikki Grimes.  Set in a high school classroom in the Bronx, it makes poetry come alive for us, the readers, as it does for the kids in the book.

I was not sure what to expect in Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End and yet it didn’t matter.  This story of two young boys who are told that today is their last day to live sat with me for a long time.  It turns out that sometimes we don’t need a long life to truly live.

It is not often I get to read a book featuring a geeky strong girl who is not looking to change who she is for others, but that is exactly what I discovered in When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.  What a great book for all of our teenagers to read.

 

A fantasy book set in feudal Japan that featured samurai is not my typical reading choice, but I am so glad that this beautiful cover called to me as loudly as it did.  A powerful female character who decides to change her fate, coupled with action and magic, yes, please to Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh.

Haunting.  This graphic novel depicting the story of a residential school survivor is just a book we all need to have in our libraries so that our students can understand what happens when we refuse to treat others like fellow human beings.  I am so glad David Alexander Robertson wrote this (Bonus; all of his books are amazing!).

Books that Changed Me:

Ok, so The Creativity Project by Colby Sharp and many amazing creators is neither YA, MG or a chapter book, but I truly think it is a game changer for us as teachers of writing and helping kids connect with their own creativity.  This book comes out March 13th, the day before my birthday, and I truly feel like it would be the best birthday present for any educator.

I was sick for two full months this year and ended up with pneumonia feeling absolutely awful.  My good friend, Reidun, told me to read this book to help me get back in control of what mattered the most to me.  I can tell you, Essentialism by Greg McKeown was exactly what I needed as I reframed my priorities and got healthy again.  I wrote this blog post for other educators who may need some balance in their lives as well.

It feels weird to put my own book on the list but the release of Passionate Readers this summer has truly changed me.  It is daunting to write a book about better reading instruction within the confinement of our current educational practices and yet to hear from others that something I wrote, along with my students, is helping them change their reading instruction is incredible.

There you have it, my favorite books of 2017, I know there are more but this will do.  Which books changed your world for the better this year?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

A Few Books about 9/11

Monday marks another anniversary of 9/11, a tragic day in American history.  As I prepare my lesson for Monday, I am so thankful to the authors that have made it easier for us to discuss the events of 9/11 with our students through the books they write.  I thought it would be nice to have a resource here, in case you need a few book ideas for your library.

Picture Books:

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman was new to me this year.  A mighty little story indeed.

From Goodreads:

This is the inspiring true story of the John J. Harvey—a retired New York City fireboat reinstated on September 11, 2001. Originally launched in 1931, the Harvey was the most powerful fireboat of her time. After the September 11 attacks, with fire hydrants at Ground Zero inoperable and the Hudson River’s water supply critical to fighting the blaze, the fire department called on the Harvey for help. There were adjustments—forcing water into hoses by jamming soda bottles and wood into nozzles with a sledgehammer—and then the fireboat’s volunteer crew pumped much-needed water to the disaster site. The John J. Harvey proved she was still one of New York’s Bravest!

I have read aloud The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein the last three years.  It is a powerful reminder of what there was and now what there isn’t.

From Goodreads:

In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This picture book captures the poetry and magic of the event with a poetry of its own: lyrical words and lovely paintings that present the detail, daring, and–in two dramatic foldout spreads– the vertiginous drama of Petit’s feat.

I added 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah to our library last year.  It is a powerful story that deserves to be read aloud any time of year, not just in honor of 9/11.

From Goodreads:

In June of 2002, a very unusual ceremony begins in a far-flung village in western Kenya. An American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people. A gift is about to be bestowed upon the American men, women, and children, and he is there to accept it. The gift is as unexpected as it is extraordinary.
A mere nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and hearts are raw. Tears flow freely from American and Maasai as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away.
Word of the gift will travel newswires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope and friendship.

 

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I do not own The Little Chapel that Stood by A.B. Curtis myself as I have yet to find a copy in my price range, but I hope to one day have it in our library.

From Goodreads:

The beautifully illustrated book tells of the historic chapel less than 100 yards from the Twin Towers that miraculously survived on 9-11. Firemen hung their shoes on the fence and raced to help the people in the towers: Oh what gallant men did we lose/Who never came back to get their shoes. The story of terror overcome by courage and bravery that teaches us no one is too small to make a difference.

 

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The Man in the Red Bandana by Honor Crowther Fagan and illustrated by John Crowther is the picture book I will read aloud this year.

From Goodreads:

When Welles Crowther was a young boy, his father gave him a red bandanna, which he always carried with him. On September 11, 2001, Welles Remy Crowther saved numerous people from the upper floors of the World Trade Center South Tower. “The Man in the Red Bandanna” recounts and celebrates his heroism on that day. Welles’ story carries an inspirational message that will resonate with adults as well as young children.

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Published last year, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez is another remarkable picture book of resilience and what can come from a tragedy.

From Goodreads:

There is a ship, a navy ship. It is called the USS New York. It is big like other navy ships, and it sails like other navy ships, but there is something special about the USS New York. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the governor of New York gave the Navy a steel beam that was once inside one of the World Trade Towers. The beam was driven from New York to a foundry in Louisiana. Metal workers heated the beam to a high, high temperature. Chippers and grinders, painters and polishers worked on the beam for months. And then, seven and a half tons of steel, which had once been a beam in the World Trade Center, became a navy ship’s bow. This powerful story reveals how something remarkable can emerge from a devastating event.

Chapter Books:

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a wonderful middle-grade book that shares the experience of 9/11 from four different perspectives around the country.

From Goodreads:

Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined. Award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin weaves together their stories into an unforgettable novel about that seemingly perfect September day—the day our world changed forever.

 

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The Red Bandana by Tom Rinaldi is the young reader’s edition of the same adult book.  It is quite a remarkable read of one man’s courage and ultimate sacrifice on 9/11.

From Goodreads:

On a day that changed a nation, one young man found his calling.

Welles Crowther didn’t see himself as a hero. He was just an ordinary kid who played sports, volunteered for the fire department in his town, and eventually headed off to college and then to Wall Street to start a career. Throughout it all, he always kept a red bandanna in his pocket, a gift from his father when he was little.

On September 11, 2001, Welles was at his job on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers were attacked. What he did next would alter the course of many lives.

That day, the legend of the Man in the Red Bandanna was born.

I do so appreciate the 10 True Tales series and how they added Heroes of 9/11 by Allan Zullo to their collection.

From Goodreads:

When Captain Jay Jonas of the Fire Department of New York hears an emergency radio message about the World Trade Center, he has no idea of the terrible conditions he and his team will face. Arriving at the burning building, the firefighters must summon all their courage. On the same morning, just outside Washington, D.C., a jetliner piloted by terrorists slams into the Pentagon. Can Colonel Philip McNair save lives inside the flaming building?

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Lauren Tarshis does another great job with her research and storytelling in I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001.

From Goodreads:

The only thing Lucas loves more than football is his Uncle Benny, his dad’s best friend at the fire department where they both work. Benny taught Lucas everything about football. So when Lucas’s parents decide the sport is too dangerous and he needs to quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan.

So the next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. But just as Lucas arrives at his uncle’s firehouse, everything changes — and nothing will ever be the same again.

Again geared toward a younger audience, America is Under Attack by Don Brown does a marvelous job of explaining everything in a kid understandable way all in the span of 64 pages.

From Goodreads:

On the ten year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, a straightforward and sensitive book for a generation of readers too young to remember that terrible day.

The events of September 11, 2001 changed the world forever. In the fourth installment of the Actual Times series, Don Brown narrates the events of the day in a way that is both accessible and understandable for young readers. Straightforward and honest, this account moves chronologically through the morning, from the terrorist plane hijackings to the crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania; from the rescue operations at the WTC site in New York City to the collapse of the buildings. Vivid watercolor illustrations capture the emotion and pathos of the tragedy making this an important book about an unforgettable day in American history.

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Geared toward middle school and up, The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner is unlike any 9/11 book I have read.  Part mystery and gripping tale, this story leaves you wanting more until the last page.

From Goodreads:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows, covered in ash, and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a NYC detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home?

Tom Roger’s book Eleven is my favorite 9/11 book, which is a weird thing to say.  The story just works so well, leaving your heart in a tight vise until the very last page.  This is also a very powerful read aloud for middle grade and middle school.

From Goodreads:
Alex Douglas always wanted to be a hero. But nothing heroic ever happened to Alex. Nothing, that is, until his eleventh birthday. When Alex rescues a stray dog as a birthday gift to himself, he doesn’t think his life can get much better. Radar, his new dog, pretty much feels the same way. But this day has bigger things in store for both of them.

This is a story about bullies and heroes. About tragedy and hope. About enemies with two legs and friends with four, and pesky little sisters and cranky old men, and an unexpected lesson in kindness delivered with a slice of pizza. This is Eleven: the journey of a boy turning eleven on 9/11.

Told in the present time Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes not only speaks of 9/11 but of family, of trauma, of hope.

From Goodreads:

When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Dèja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

 

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With Their Eyes edited by Annie Thoms is an essay collection by high school students at Stuyvesant High School who witnessed the attack firsthand.

From Goodreads:

Tuesday, September 11, started off like any other day at Stuyvesant High School, located only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.

The semester was just beginning, and the students, faculty, and staff were ready to start a new year. But within a few hours on that Tuesday morning, they would share an experience that would transform their lives—and the lives of all Americans.

These powerful essays by the students of Stuyvesant High School remember those who were lost and those who were forced to witness this tragedy. Here, in their own words, are the firsthand stories of a day we will never forget.

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I just ordered the 9/11 Report – the Graphic Adaptation for my own reading.  Created with the desire to have more people understand what the findings were of the report, this book is sure to keep older readers interested.

From Goodreads:

On December 5, 2005, the 9/11 Commission issued its final report card on the government’s fulfillment of the recommendations issued in July 2004: one A, twelve Bs, nine Cs, twelve Ds, three Fs, and four incompletes. Here is stunning evidence that Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, with more than sixty years of experience in the comic-book industry between them, were right: far, far too few Americans have read, grasped, and demanded action on the Commission’s investigation into the events of that tragic day and the lessons America must learn.

Using every skill and storytelling method Jacobson and Colón have learned over the decades, they have produced the most accessible version of the 9/11 Report. Jacobson’s text frequently follows word for word the original report, faithfully captures its investigative thoroughness and covers its entire scope, even including the Commission’s final report card. Colón’s stunning artwork powerfully conveys the facts, insights, and urgency of the original. Published on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, an event that has left no aspect of American foreign or domestic policy untouched, The 9/11 Report puts at every American’s fingertips the most defining event of the century.

I know I have missed some.  Which other books are out there to help us teach 9/11?

PS:  To see all of our favorite books, go here.

 

My Favorite Reads Summer 2017

While it feels like my to-be-read pile has not shrunk, looking back at my Goodreads, I can see that I did manage to read quite a few books.  And while almost all were good, a few stood out.

My students have loved The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson for a long time and for some reason I had never cracked it open myself.  That was a mistake.  What a fun middle grade read this was!

From Goodreads:

Saving the school — one con at a time.

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair — loser of the Blitz — announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win.

How do you tell others to read a book about child abuse knowing that it will probably make them cry?  You just do.  The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott comes out October 17th and is a must add for middle school classrooms and up.  While the topic may be harrowing this is one of those books that could actually save a life.

From Goodreads:

Owen and his best friend, Sean, are both eleven years old. They’ve lived on Cape Cod all their lives, and now that they’re a little older, they’ll finally be free to spend some time on their own. But Sean’s mother has a different idea–she hires a babysitter to look after Sean. Paul is in his twenties, and a well-liked guy from church.

Paul starts doing things that just feel wrong. Because they’ve always been as close as brothers, Sean tells Owen, and no one else. What’s not certain to Owen is what he should do. Sean warns him not to tell anyone what is happening. But if Owen doesn’t tell, could something even worse happen to Sean?

A page-turner that starts from the back and moves forward kept me riveted while on vacation.  While perhaps not the most original story, I know that Genuine Fraud will entice many of my students.  Middle school and up.

From Goodreads:

The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Elly Swartz is quickly becoming a trusted author for me.  Her first book, Finding Perfect, was a Global Read Aloud finalist and Smart Cookie is another amazing middle grade read.  Out in January, 2018.

From Goodreads:

Frankie knows she’ll be in big trouble if Dad discovers she secretly posted a dating profile for him online. But she’s determined to find him a wife, even if she ends up grounded for life. Frankie wants what she had before Mom died. A family of three. Two is a pair of socks or the wheels on a bicycle or a busy weekend at the B&B where Frankie and Dad live. Three is a family. And Frankie’s is missing a piece.

But Operation Mom is harder to pull off than Frankie expects. None of the Possibles are very momish, the B&B’s guests keep canceling, Frankie’s getting the silent treatment from her once best friend, and there’s a maybe-ghost hanging around. Worst of all, Gram and Dad are definitely hiding secrets of their own.

If a smart cookie like Frankie wants to save the B&B and find her missing piece, she’s going to have to figure out what secrets are worth keeping and when it’s time to let go.

I have tweeted repeatedly about Miles Morales, Jason Reynold’s foray into the Marvel universe.  Not only is it Spiderman, but it also has some pretty important messages for its readers about how we view others.  Middle Grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

A book about periods?  Yup!  Well written, humorous and very informational, how many girls wish we had books like this in our libraries when they first enter puberty? Helloflo, The Guide, Period is out October 17th.

From Goodreads:

Honest, funny, and unafraid of the messy, real-life facts about a girl’s changing body, this is definitely not your mother’s puberty book. HelloFlo founder Naama Bloom’s mission is to create informed, empowered young women who are unafraid to ask questions and make the best choices for themselves and their bodies. A celebration of women’s bodies and all the confusing, uncomfortable, silly, transformative, and powerful changes that occur during puberty.

Refugee by Alan Gratz is one of my three must-read books for 2017.  It was a bad idea reading this on an airplane, as this book kicks you right in the heart.  5th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, their stories will tie together in the end.

A book about growing up in the 80’s with the threat of nuclear war hanging over you, about figuring out how two seemingly different cultures fit into you, about figuring out your friends and who you want to be.  I loved This is Just a Test, great for middle-grade and up.

From Goodreads:

David Da-Wei Horowitz has a lot on his plate. Preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah would be enough work even if it didn’t involve trying to please his Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, who argue about everything. But David just wants everyone to be happy.

That includes his friend Scott, who is determined to win their upcoming trivia tournament but doesn’t like their teammate — and David’s best friend — Hector. Scott and David begin digging a fallout shelter just in case this Cold War stuff with the Soviets turns south… but David’s not so convinced he wants to spend forever in an underground bunker with Scott. Maybe it would be better if Hector and Kelli Ann came with them. But that would mean David has to figure out how to stand up for Hector and talk to Kelli Ann. Some days, surviving nuclear war feels like the least of David’s problems.

I think we can all agree that Kwame Alexander is a living master when it comes to the free verse form and Solo, his newest book, is more proof.  Immerse yourself in the music as you read for a deeper reading experience. 7th grade and up.

From Goodreads:
Solo, a YA novel in poetic verse, tells the story of seventeen-year-old Blade Morrison, whose life is bombarded with scathing tabloids and a father struggling with just about every addiction under the sun—including a desperate desire to make a comeback. Haunted by memories of his mother and his family’s ruin, Blade’s only hope is in the forbidden love of his girlfriend. But when he discovers a deeply protected family secret, Blade sets out on a journey across the globe that will change everything he thought to be true.

A moving story of death, of friendship, of figuring out what is right, and also about one’s identity, All Three Stooges by Erica S. Perl comes out in January 2018 and is well-worth your pre-order.  4th or 5th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Spoiler alert: This book is not about the Three Stooges. It’s about Noah and Dash, two seventh graders who are best friends and comedy junkies. That is, they were best friends, until Dash’s father died suddenly and Dash shut Noah out. Which Noah deserved, according to Noa, the girl who, annoyingly, shares both his name and his bar mitzvah day.

Now Noah’s confusion, frustration, and determination to get through to Dash are threatening to destroy more than just their friendship. But what choice does he have? As Noah sees it, sometimes you need to risk losing everything, even your sense of humor, to prove that gone doesn’t have to mean “gone for good.”

The much-anticipated release Wishtree from Katherine Applegate lives up to all of the hype.  Sparse, beautiful, and told from the perspective of the tree in the backyard, life around this tree unfolds in an unexpected way.  Out September 26th, 4th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

I don’t know how I have been a teacher and never read a Gordon Korman book before?  I am so glad that has now been remedied with Restart.  This middle-grade book is sure to pull in those kids who identify as not liking reading and is also a Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.

From Goodreads:

Chase’s memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is–it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be.

But what if your dream is not to be adopted but instead to find your mother and make her see all that she is missing?  Three Pennies, Global Read Aloud 2018 contender, explores just that.  4th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

For a kid bouncing from foster home to foster home, The Book of Changes is the perfect companion. That’s why Marin carries three pennies and a pocket-sized I Ching with her everywhere she goes. Yet when everything in her life suddenly starts changing—when Marin lands in a foster home that feels like somewhere she could stay, maybe forever—the pennies don’t have any answers for her.

Marin is positive that all the wrongs in her life will be made right if only she can find her birth mother and convince her that they belong together. Marin is close, oh so close—until she gets some unwelcome news and her resolve, like the uneasy Earth far beneath the city of San Francisco, is shaken.

Thea and I devoured A Tale of Two Kitties in one day and then laughed for a long time.  Dav Pilkey is a master, enough said.

From Goodreads:

He was the best of dogs… He was the worst of dogs… It was the age of invention… It was the season of surprise… It was the eve of supa sadness… It was the dawn of hope… Dog Man, the newest hero from the creator of Captain Underpants, hasn’t always been a paws-itive addition to the police force. While he can muzzle miscreants, he tends to leave a slick of slobber in his wake! This time, Petey the cat’s dragged in a tiny bit of trouble — a double in the form of a super-cute kitten. Dog Man will have to work twice as hard to bust these furballs and remain top dog!

If this post was a list in order of favorites, Dear Martin by Nic Stone would be at the top.  In fact, this begs for a re-read as I want to continue to think about this book, another Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.  7th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.

All’s Faire in Middle School hit on so many realistic middle school scenarios that I found myself cringing at times.  Oh to go back to that time of trying to fit in, of figuring out who you are, and all of the mistakes you make in the process. 4th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind–she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

A book about a boy who loves a skunk and will do anything in his power to keep it.  A book about a boy who just happens to seem different than others but without being about that.  A Boy Called Bat is another Global Read Aloud contender for 2018, 3rd grade and up.

From Goodreads:

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Masterful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and stays with you long after that last page.  Long Way Down is another absolute must-read of 2017.  Global Read Aloud contender 2018, 7th grade and up, out October 17th.

From Goodreads:

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Kate Messner is a master story-teller and she does not disappoint in her newest chapter book, The Exact Location of Home.  I ached for the longing of Zig as he searches for his father. 4th grade and up but definitely for middle school as well.

From Goodreads:

Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

There you have it, what a fantastic summer of reading it has been!

Some Favorite New Picture Books 2017 Part 2

 

We live a rich life of picture books.  Surrounded by stacks of amazing text that makes us wonder, that makes us laugh, and that makes us ponder our even stories; Picture books are one of the most important components of our reading lives both at home and at school.  And while I have read countless picture books since my last favorite post, there are some in particular that just keep circulating in my head.  Here they are to inspire reading and sharing for you.

Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro (Author), Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Illustrator).  I had this book book-talked to me and immediately placed it on my wish list.  Yes please to a bunny that sneaks into the library through the return slot because he needs his books.  Then Annie Silvestro contacted me and asked if I would like a copy of it, of course!  I was not disappointed.  What a great picture book to discuss the importance of library, to talk about book clubs and just to love reading.
A Perfect Day by Lane Smith is a great picture book to talk about perspective.  While almost all of the animals show how their day was ruined by the bear, the bear at the end shows us how his day was the most perfect day.  
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh came out a few years ago but has just made it into our library thanks to a grant I received.  This allegorical picture book is a must add for starting discussions about illegal border crossing and why anyone would risk everything to reach a better life.
Ame Dyckman continues to amaze me with her creativity.  This picture book made us laugh out loud since my own kids really do want a unicorn.  Be careful what you wish for.

The true story of a cat lost and then reunited tells the larger story of a family who had to flee the dangers of Iraq becoming one of the many thousands of refugee families traveling toward safety around the world.

 
Who cannot relate to just wanting to be yourself rather than being asked to change for others?
Kwame Alexander can do no wrong in our classroom.  I am therefore very grateful that he spearheaded this beautiful poetry collection as a way to get more students to discover poetry.  Remarkable and beautiful.
Several of Phil Bildner’s picture books are well-loved in our classroom, but he has outdone himself in his latest.  I am so grateful for a sports picture book that not only features friendship, hard work, but also two females.  There simply are not enough books out there featuring females in sports.
How to turn mistakes into masterpieces is the message of this picture book and what a wonderful message it is.
Can Peter Reynolds do no wrong?  As the mother of a happy dreamer, I got teary eyed reading this book.  How many of our kids need to hear their own amazing, sometimes overfilled brains, portrayed as something amazing and wonderful instead of something to be fixed?
What a great picture book to talk about what happens when we don’t pay attention to the world around us.
This picture book version of the book Wonder is on heavy rotation in our classroom,  And how can it not be?  The message of kindness, empathy and seeing others for everything they are is one we all need to be reminded of now and again.
I am a major fan of all of Josh Funk’s picture books but I think he may have outdone himself in this book.  While it is only available for pre-order right now, I have read an F&G aloud to my 7th graders and every single time they laugh.  I love how I can use this picture book as a way to discuss narrative technique as well.
A picture book about a whiny penguin?  Yes, please.  I also love how there is what we think is an Aha moment in it and then the penguin reverts right back to its old ways.  So fun to read and share.
Ever wonder why we play Rock, Paper, Scissors?  Look no further than this picture book for the hilarious made up back story behind the game.
Great picture book to use for teaching theme and also for sharing about our own fears, as well as how we can overcome them.
I love that this picture book shares the story of an extraordinary female architect and how she found her inspiration.  Too often our students are not exposed to stories like this.
I just discovered this book although it came out in 2008 and I am obsessed with having others include it in their library.  How do you describe the color of the rainbow to someone who cannot see it?  This picture book all in black and silver with raised images, text and Braille does just that.
A remarkable picture book that tells the tale of  Isatou Ceesay and how she envisioned a creative solution to the plastic that was burying her village.
Susan Hood continues to amaze me.  Again, a great picture book to discuss perspective and how everything is relative to each other.  So if you think you know opposites, think again.
There you have it, another batch of incredible picture books waiting for us to read and share them.  If you would like to stay up to date on recommendations, follow me on Instagram where I do just that.
If you are wondering what other books we love in room 235D, please go here.

85 Picture Books or Graphic Novels that Support Social Justice Teaching

A few weeks ago I was informed that I had been awarded a $1,000 impact grant from the EdCamp Foundation.  If you are not aware of this incredible grant opportunity, hurry over to their website and find out more, they are truly trying to help all educators reach their dreams!  While my heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the incredible news, I was not just thrilled because of the money, but because of the purpose of the grant; to get more picture books and graphic novels focusing on social justice issues into the hands of our students.  I have, therefore, spent the last few weeks researching which books to purchase and with the help of many incredible colleagues and resources shared, tonight I submitted my wish list with 85 titles on it.  I gladly shared the news on Twitter and then was asked to share it on here.

So what was my emphasis for this grant?  To broaden my students’ understanding of the world and to help them become more informed citizens.  We already incorporate lots of picture books, to see some of our favorites go here, and my students love graphic novels so it was a natural fit to focus on these two formats as a way to increase conversation, understanding, and also empathy.  While I know this list really only scratches the surface, it is a further commitment to the titles we already have, and so combining these books with all of the chapter books, picture books, and graphic novels we already have can only bolster the journey that our students are on; to become better human beings who understand the world more fully.

What does this list have?

An emphasis on #OwnVoices authors

An emphasis on typically marginalized populations

An emphasis on historical knowledge from a non-dominant narrative lens

And an emphasis on traditional roles being lived in non-traditional ways

I really tried to only purchase literature that has been vetted by others for authenticity, quality, and also non-harmful portrayal, however, I have not read all of these books myself yet, so if you see one that slipped through, please let me know.  Instead of doing the typical post here with all of the titles, I decided to instead just link to the list itself.  So here you are:  My list of 85 titles to promote a more empathetic world