Great Books for Middle School Book Clubs

Once a year we run our official book clubs here in 7th grade.  Very early on in our book club experiences, students had many ideas for how to make them better; please let us choose our books, please let us choose who we are discussing with, please don’t have us write in a packet.  It wasn’t that they didn’t want to do book clubs, it was that they wanted to have meaningful conversations. To read books that were worthy of their time. To read books and share the experience with other because that was the point of the whole thing, after all.

So as we tweaked and changed our book clubs, we knew how much of it rested on the selection of the books they were given.  How much of the whole experiences rode on finding the right book for the right kids and how they needed to be able to select their own books.

So we decided to not theme our books.

We decided to mix fiction and nonfiction.

We decided to bring in different format, even offering read aloud or audio versions so that all kids could have successful reading experiences.

And then we decided to bring as many books in as we could for them to choose from.

The books we select are books we loved ourselves.  That we feel spark conversation. That we feel will matter to the very kids that will read them.  We buy them throughout the years and add to our collection. We also have the students suggest books, so the list grows and the reading experiences only grow richer.

This year our collection topped more than 70 titles to choose from and after I shared a snapshot of some of them on Instagram, I was asked for a list.  So here you are, our most-selected books from our book club selection, as well as a few new favorites for next year. Note, that some of these are more mature, for the more mature titles, students need parental permission to read them.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds  

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

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

All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin has Asperger’s. The world according to her is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Before, when things got confusing, Caitlin went to her older brother, Devon, for help. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin’s dad is so distraught that he is just not helpful. Caitlin wants everything to go back to the way things were, but she doesn’t know how to do that. Then she comes across the word closure–and she realizes this is what she needs. And in her search for it, Caitlin discovers that the world may not be so black and white after all.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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

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

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Shortly after a fall-out with her best friend, sixth grader Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes, and she doesn’t know what to do. The notes tell her that she must write a letter—a true story, and that she can’t share her mission with anyone.

It would be easy to ignore the strange messages, except that whoever is leaving them has an uncanny ability to predict the future. If that is the case, then Miranda has a big problem—because the notes tell her that someone is going to die, and she might be too late to stop it.

We Were Liars by e.lockhart

A beautiful and distinguished family.

A private island.

A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.

A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.

A revolution. An accident. A secret.

Lies upon lies.

True love.

The truth.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Listen—Travis Coates was alive once and then he wasn’t.

Now he’s alive again.

Simple as that.

The in between part is still a little fuzzy, but Travis can tell you that, at some point or another, his head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado. Five years later, it was reattached to some other guy’s body, and well, here he is. Despite all logic, he’s still sixteen, but everything and everyone around him has changed. That includes his bedroom, his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Or maybe she’s not his girlfriend anymore? That’s a bit fuzzy too.

Looks like if the new Travis and the old Travis are ever going to find a way to exist together, there are going to be a few more scars.

Oh well, you only live twice.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Thirteen-year-old Steven has a totally normal life: he plays drums in the All-Star Jazz band, has a crush on the hottest girl in the school, and is constantly annoyed by his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey. But when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven’s world is turned upside down. He is forced to deal with his brother’s illness and his parents’ attempts to keep the family in one piece. Salted with humor and peppered with devastating realities, DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE is a heartwarming journey through a year in the life of a family in crisis.

 

Loot by Jude Watson

On a foggy night in Amsterdam, a man falls from a rooftop to the wet pavement below. It’s Archibald McQuinn, the notorious cat burglar, and he’s dying. As sirens wail in the distance, Archie manages to get out two last words to his young son, March: “Find jewels.”

But March learns that his father is not talking about hidden loot. He’s talking about Jules, the twin sister March never knew he had. No sooner than the two find each other, they’re picked up by the police and sent to the world’s worst orphanage. It’s not hard time, but it feels like it.

March and Jules have no intention of staying put. They know their father’s business inside and out, and they’re tired of being pushed around. Just one good heist, and they’ll live the life of riches and freedom that most kids only dream about. . . . .

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst – and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Firegirl by Tony Abbot

From the moment Jessica arrives, life is never quite the same for Tom and his seventh-grade classmates. They learn that Jessica has been in a fire and was badly burned, and will be attending St. Catherine’s will receiving medical treatments. Despite her appearance and the fear she evokes in him and most of the class, Tom slowly develops a tentative friendship with Jessica that changes his life.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’ s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day.

But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from.

So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier–even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present—and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent’s divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self pity, or despair—it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Sylvie and Jules, Jules and Sylvie. Better than just sisters, more than best friends, they’d be identical twins if only they’d been born in the same year. And if only Sylvie wasn’t such a fast—faster than fast—runner. But Sylvie is too fast, and when she runs to the river they’re not supposed to go anywhere near to throw a wish rock just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, she runs so fast that no one sees what happens…and no one ever sees her again. Jules is devastated, but she refuses to believe what all the others believe, that—like their mother—her sister is gone forever.

At the very same time, in the shadow world, a shadow fox is born—half of the spirit world, half of the animal world. She too is fast—faster than fast—and she senses danger. She’s too young to know exactly what she senses, but she knows something is very wrong. And when Jules believes one last wish rock for Sylvie needs to be thrown into the river, the human and shadow worlds collide.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.

At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . . .

Endangered by Eliott Schrefer

Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.

When Sophie has to visit her mother at her sanctuary for bonobos, she’s not thrilled to be there. Then Otto, an infant bonobo, comes into her life, and for the first time she feels responsible for another creature.

But peace does not last long for Sophie and Otto. When an armed revolution breaks out in the country, the sanctuary is attacked, and the two of them must escape unprepared into the jungle. Caught in the crosshairs of a lethal conflict, they must struggle to keep safe, to eat, and to live.

Wilder Boys by Brandon Wallace

Jake and Taylor Wilder have been taking care of themselves for a long time. Their father abandoned the family years ago, and their mother is too busy working and running interference between the boys and her boyfriend, Bull, to spend a lot of time with them. Thirteen-year-old Jake spends most of his time reading. He pores over his father’s journal, which is full of wilderness facts and survival tips. Eleven-year-old Taylor likes to be outside playing with their dog, Cody, or joking around with the other kids in the neighborhood.

But one night everything changes. The boys discover a dangerous secret that Bull is hiding.

And the next day, they come home from school to find their mother unconscious in an ambulance. Afraid that their mom is dead and fearing for their own safety, the Wilder Boys head off in search of their father. They only have his old letters and journal to help them, but they bravely venture onward.

It’s a long journey from the suburbs of Pittsburgh to the wilderness of Wyoming; can the Wilder Boys find their father before Bull catches up with them?

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

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

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

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.

One teenager with a lighter.

One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

In 1841, a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way.

Manjiro, a fourteen-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Eventually the captain adopts Manjiro and takes him to his home in New England. The boy lives for some time in New England, and then heads to San Francisco to pan for gold. After many years, he makes it back to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the shogun to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolf

Viginia Euwer Wolff’s groundbreaking novel, written in free verse, tells the story of fourteen-year-old LaVaughn, who is determined to go to college–she just needs the money to get there. When she answers a babysitting ad, LaVaughn meets Jolly, a seventeen-year-old single mother with two kids by different fathers. As she helps Jolly make lemonade out of the lemons her life has given her, LaVaughn learns some lessons outside the classroom.

I am Princess X by Cherie Priesr

Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure.Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her.Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window.Princess X?When May looks around, she sees the Princess everywhere: Stickers. Patches. Graffiti. There’s an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at IAmPrincessX.com. The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby’s story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon — her best friend, Libby, who lives.

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

With the rise of the Berlin Wall, Gerta finds her family suddenly divided. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, yet she can’t help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.

But one day on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Gerta concludes that her father wants her and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she’s brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Hannah thinks tonight’s Passover Seder will be the same as always.  Little does she know that this year she will be mysteriously transported into the past where only she knows the horrors that await.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

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, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

Cut by Patricia McCormick

A tingle arced across my scalp. The floor tipped up at me and my body spiraled away. Then I was on the ceiling looking down, waiting to see what would happen next.

Callie cuts herself. Never too deep, never enough to die. But enough to feel the pain. Enough to feel the scream inside.

Now she’s at Sea Pines, a “residential treatment facility” filled with girls struggling with problems of their own. Callie doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with anyone. She won’t even speak.

But Callie can only stay silent for so long….

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Eleven by Tom Rogers

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.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Jeremiah feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he’s in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he’s going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don’t exactly fit in there. So it’s a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school. In one frozen moment their eyes lock, and after that they know they fit together–even though she’s Jewish and he’s black. Their worlds are so different, but to them that’s not what matters. Too bad the rest of the world has to get in their way.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn’t really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn’t mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help, someone people want to fix. Jade wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows, her pain and her hope. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy named Oscar. Oscar is a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the village, and spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

But now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the forest will keep his island safe. Now even magic may not be enough to save it.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

“Hope is the thing with feathers” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more “holy.” There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’s not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for “the thing with feathers.”

 

Deenie by Judy Blume

Deenie’s mother wants her to be a model, with her face on magazine covers—maybe even in the movies—but Deenie wants to spend Saturdays with her friends Janet and Midge, tracking Harvey Grabowsky, the captain of the football team, around Woolworth’s. She wants to be a cheerleader, too, and go to the seventh-grade mixer to hear Buddy Brader play his drums.

Instead, Deenie is diagnosed with scoliosis. And that means body stockings to squeeze into, a roomful of strangers to face, and a terrifying brace that she’ll need to wear for years that goes from her neck to her hips. Suddenly Deenie has to cope with a kind of specialness that’s frightening—and might be hers forever.

Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is:

―The number four
―The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil
―A crisp white pad of paper
―Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are sometimes broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Poetry Slam Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with white tablecloths. Molly is sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time passes, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control. In this fresh-voiced debut novel, one girl learns there is no such thing as perfect.

 

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

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

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

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson, Marilyn J. Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson

This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s list child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow.

Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s list.

Monster by Walter Dean Meyers

This New York Times bestselling novel from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve’s own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, Book 1) by [Maggie Stiefvater]

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefwater

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

 

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.
 
Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.
Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.
Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

 

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

Restart by Gordon Korman

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.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts.

And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been.

But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

To see all of our other favorite books, go here

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Great Picture Books to Discuss Identity and Character

For our entire 4th quarter, we are diving into identity and how it fits within our social comprehension guided by the work of the incredible new book from Sara K. Ahmed, Being the Change.  As we start to look at how our identity shapes our actions, I thought a safe spot to start with would be within the pages of picture books.  After all, some of my students are not yet ready to share parts of their identity and so looking at the lives of others before we turn inward is a more welcoming path.

I was thrilled to be able to pull so many great nonfiction picture books to have the students read, discuss, and reflect on.  The questions we will use to spark conversation include:

  • What can you infer about their character traits based on their actions?
  • What can you infer about their identity and what they value?
  • What do you think motivated them to do what they did?
  • How do these actions fit into the world from a historical standpoint?

Here are some of the books we are using

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider--The Story of E. B. White

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider–The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert (Author),‎ Lauren Castillo (Illustrator)

When young Elwyn White lay in bed as a sickly child, a bold house mouse befriended him. When the time came for kindergarten, an anxious Elwyn longed for the farm, where animal friends awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. Writing filled him with joy, and words became his world.

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez  (Author),‎ Felicita Sala (Illustrator)

Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann (Author),‎ London Ladd (Illustrator)

In Mississippi in the mid-1800s, it was illegal for enslaved people to learn to read and write. Getting caught meant thirty-nine lashes with a whip as punishment. But this did not stop Lilly Ann Granderson, an enslaved woman herself. She believed in the power of education. To share her knowledge with others, she started a midnight school. In a small cabin hidden in a back alley, Lilly Ann held her secret classes. Every noise in the dark was a reminder of the punishment she and her students faced if they were found out. But the chance to learn was worth the risk. Over the years, Lilly Ann taught hundreds of enslaved people to read and write. Many of her students went on to share their knowledge with their families. Some started secret schools of their own. Others forged passes to escape to freedom in the North. Based on a true story, Midnight Teacher is an inspiring testament to a little-known pioneer in education.

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author),‎ Sarah Green (Illustrator)

Before she raised her lens to take her most iconic photo, Dorothea Lange took photos of the downtrodden from bankers in once-fine suits waiting in breadlines, to former slaves, to the homeless sleeping on sidewalks. A case of polio had left her with a limp and sympathetic to those less fortunate. Traveling across the United States, documenting with her camera and her fieldbook those most affected by the stock market crash, she found the face of the Great Depression

Dangerous Jane

Dangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade  (Author),‎ Alice Ratterree (Illustrator)

Jane’s heart ached for the world, but what could she do to stop a war?
This energetic and inspiring picture book biography of activist Jane Addams focuses on the peace work that won her the Nobel Peace Prize. From the time she was a child, Jane’s heart ached for others. At first the focus of her efforts was on poverty, and lead to the creation of Hull House, the settlement house she built in Chicago. For twenty-five years, she’d helped people from different countries live in peace at Hull House. But when war broke out, Jane decided to take on the world and become a dangerous woman for the sake of peace.

Martí's Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad (English and Spanish Edition)Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad (English and Spanish Edition) by Emma Otheguy  (Author, Contributor),‎ Adriana Dominguez (Contributor),‎ Beatriz Vidal (Contributor)

A bilingual biography of José Martí, who dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, the abolishment of slavery, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual freedom. Written in verse with excerpts from Martí’s seminal work, Versos sencillos. 

Trudy's Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm

Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm by Sue Macy  (Author),‎ Matt Collins (Illustrator)

On the morning of August 6, 1926, Gertrude Ederle stood in her bathing suit on the beach at Cape Gris-Nez, France, and faced the churning waves of the English Channel. Twenty-one miles across the perilous waterway, the English coastline beckoned. Lyrical text, stunning illustrations and fascinating back matter put the reader right alongside Ederle in her bid to be the first woman to swim the Channel―and contextualizes her record-smashing victory as a defining moment in sports history. Time line, bibliography, source notes.

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth BlackwellWho Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone  (Author)

In the 1830s, when a brave and curious girl named Elizabeth Blackwell was growing up, women were supposed to be wives and mothers. Some women could be teachers or seamstresses, but career options were few. Certainly no women were doctors.

But Elizabeth refused to accept the common beliefs that women weren’t smart enough to be doctors, or that they were too weak for such hard work. And she would not take no for an answer. Although she faced much opposition, she worked hard and finally―when she graduated from medical school and went on to have a brilliant career―proved her detractors wrong. This inspiring story of the first female doctor shows how one strong-willed woman opened the doors for all the female doctors to come.

Before She was Harriet (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Books)

Before She was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome  (Author),‎ James E. Ransome (Illustrator)

We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix (Food Heroes)

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix (Food Heroes) by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Author),‎ June Jo Lee (Author)

Chef Roy Choi calls himself a “street cook.”
He wants outsiders, low-riders,
kids, teens, shufflers and skateboarders,
to have food cooked with care, with love,
with sohn maash.

“Sohn maash” is the flavors in our fingertips. It is the love and cooking talent that Korean mothers and grandmothers mix into their handmade foods. For Chef Roy Choi, food means love. It also means culture, not only of Korea where he was born, but the many cultures that make up the streets of Los Angeles, where he was raised. So remixing food from the streets, just like good music—and serving it up from a truck—is true to L.A. food culture. People smiled and talked as they waited in line. Won’t you join him as he makes good food smiles?

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy  (Author),‎ C. F. Payne (Illustrator)

While sitting in the bleachers of a Soap Box Derby in the 1950s, Mary Garber overheard two African-American boys in the following exchange: “See that lady down there?” asked one boy. “That’s Mary Garber. She doesn’t care who you are, but if you do something good, she’ll write about you.”

Mary Garber was a pioneering sports journalist in a time where women were rarely a part of the newspaper business. Women weren’t even allowed to sit in the press boxes at sporting events, so Mary was forced to sit with the coaches’ wives. But that didn’t stop her.

In a time when African-American sports were not routinely covered, Mary went to the games and wrote about them. Garber was a sportswriter for fifty-six years and was the first woman to receive the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award, presented for major contributions in sports journalism. And now, every year the Association of Women in Sports Media presents the Mary Garber Pioneer Award in her honor to a role model for women in sports media.

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli (Author),‎ Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)

Through artful prose and beautiful illustrations, Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson tell the true story of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya, and in 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Muta Maathai has changed Kenya tree by tree—and with each page turned, children will realize their own ability to positively impact the future.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie by Demi  (Author, Illustrator)

Maria Salomea Sklodowaska was born on November 7, 1867. Her family called her Manya, but the world would remember her by another name: Marie Curie, one of the greatest scientists who ever lived.

In a time when few women attended college, Marie earned degrees in physics and mathematics and went on to discover two elements: radium and polonium. She also invented a new word along the way: radioactive. This book celebrates her momentous achievements while also educating its readers about her scientific accomplishments and their implications.

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou (Author),‎ Jen Corace (Illustrator)

Born in the late 1700s, Jane Austen was a smart, creative girl in a house full of boys, all of whom could aspire to accomplish many things as adults while girls were raised primarily to become good wives. Jane didn’t have much opportunity to go to school but she read everything she could, including all the books in her father’s study. And before long, she began to write her own stories, filled with funny, clever, and inventive characters.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson  (Author),‎ Christian Robinson (Illustrator)

Born to parents who were both former slaves, Florence Mills knew at an early age that she loved to sing, and that her sweet, bird-like voice, resonated with those who heard her. Performing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired everyone from songwriters to playwrights. Yet with all her success, she knew firsthand how prejudice shaped her world and the world of those around her. As a result, Florence chose to support and promote works by her fellow black performers while heralding a call for their civil rights. Featuring a moving text and colorful illustrations, Harlem’s Little Blackbird is a timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one’s heart and dreams.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford  (Author),‎ Elizabeth Zunon  (Illustrator)

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way. 

Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle, to a family of teachers and activists. Her mother dreamed of being an actress, so Lena followed in her footsteps as she chased small parts in vaudeville, living out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something more—the first ever studio contract for a black actress.

But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies, stereotypes that Lena refused to play. Still, she never gave up. “Stormy Weather” became her theme song, and when she sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a civil rights rally, she found not only her voice, but her calling.

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx (Spanish and English Edition)

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter  (Author),‎ Edel Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Before Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor took her seat in our nation’s highest court, she was just a little girl in the South Bronx. Justice Sotomayor didn’t have a lot growing up, but she had what she needed — her mother’s love, a will to learn, and her own determination. With bravery she became the person she wanted to be. With hard work she succeeded. With little sunlight and only a modest plot from which to grow, Justice Sotomayor bloomed for the whole world to see.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (People Who Shaped Our World) by Laurie Wallmark  (Author),‎ Katy Wu (Illustrator)

Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader—AND rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker. Acclaimed picture book author Laurie Wallmark (Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine) once again tells the riveting story of a trailblazing woman. Grace Hopper coined the term “computer bug” and taught computers to “speak English.” Throughout her life, Hopper succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before. Delighting in difficult ideas and in defying expectations, the insatiably curious Hopper truly was “Amazing Grace” . . . and a role model for science- and math-minded girls and boys. With a wealth of witty quotes, and richly detailed illustrations, this book brings Hopper’s incredible accomplishments to life.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter (Author),‎ Stacy Innerst  (Illustrator)

To become the first female Jewish Supreme Court Justice, the unsinkable Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to overcome countless injustices. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and ’40s, Ginsburg was discouraged from working by her father, who thought a woman’s place was in the home. Regardless, she went to Cornell University, where men outnumbered women four to one. There, she met her husband, Martin Ginsburg, and found her calling as a lawyer. Despite discrimination against Jews, females, and working mothers, Ginsburg went on to become Columbia Law School’s first tenured female professor, a judge for the US Court of Appeals, and finally, a Supreme Court Justice.

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet  (Author),‎ Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Author),‎ Nicole Wong (Illustrator)

Kathy Sullivan wanted to go everywhere. She loved blueprints and maps. She loved languages and the ocean. She didn’t like the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She wanted to explore and do exciting things that girls weren’t supposed to be able to do. Only men had the exciting jobs.
Kathy liked fishing and swimming; flying planes and studying science. That’s what she liked and that’s what she decided to do with her life. She followed her heart and eventually became a NASA astronaut and the first woman to walk in space. Kathy wanted to see the whole world and so she did: from space!

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (Author, Illustrator)

Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles. Determined to succeed, she worked hard for many years, and achieved her goals—and now you can see the buildings Hadid has designed all over the world.

 

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (Author)

Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico's Folkloric Ballet

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet by Duncan Tonatiuh (Author)

Danza! is a celebration of Hernández’s life and of the rich history of dance in Mexico. As a child, Amalia always thought she would grow up to be a teacher, until she saw a performance of dancers in her town square. She was fascinated by the way the dancers twirled and swayed, and she knew that someday she would be a dancer, too. She began to study many different types of dance, including ballet and modern, under some of the best teachers in the world. Hernández traveled throughout Mexico studying and learning regional dances. Soon she founded her own dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México, where she integrated her knowledge of ballet and modern dance with folkloric dances. The group began to perform all over the country and soon all over the world, becoming an international sensation that still tours today.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson  (Author),‎ Sean Qualls  (Illustrator)

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can: A True Story

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can: A True Story by Tererai Trent  (Author),‎ Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Illustrator)

All the girl ever wanted was an education. But in Rhodesia, education for girls was nearly impossible.

So she taught herself to read and write with her brother’s schoolbooks and to count while watching cattle graze.

When the girl became a young wife and mother, she wrote her goals on a scrap of paper and buried them in a can—an ancient ritual that reminded her that she couldn’t give up on her dreams.

She dreamed of going to America and earning one degree; then a second, even higher; and a third, the highest. And she hoped to bring education to all the girls and boys of her village.

Would her dreams ever come true?

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh  (Author)

This charming book introduces one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera, to young readers. It tells the story of Diego as a young, mischievous boy who demonstrated a clear passion for art and then went on to become one of the most famous painters in the world.

Duncan Tonatiuh also prompts readers to think about what Diego would paint today. Just as Diego’s murals depicted great historical events in Mexican culture or celebrated native peoples, if Diego were painting today, what would his artwork depict? How would his paintings reflect today’s culture?

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick  (Author),‎ Steven Salerno (Illustrator)

Beginning in 1922, when Edith Houghton was only ten years old, she tried out for a women’s professional baseball team, the Philadelphia Bobbies. Though she was the smallest on the field, soon reporters were talking about “The Kid” and her incredible skill, and crowds were packing the stands to see her play. Her story reminds us that baseball has never been about just men and boys. Baseball is also about talented girls willing to work hard to play any way they can.

Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole by Deborah Hopkinson  (Author),‎ Stephen Alcorn (Illustrator)

Many know the story of Robert Peary’s great 1909 expedition to reach the North Pole. Yet few people know that Peary was joined on this grueling, history-making journey by fellow explorer Matthew Henson. Henson was born just after the Civil War, a time when slavery had been abolished, but few opportunities were available for black people. Even as a child, he exhibited a yearning for adventure, and at the age of only thirteen, he embarked on a five-year voyage sailing the seven seas and learning navigation, history, and mathematics. Henson’s greatest adventure began when he accepted an invitation from Robert Peary to join his expedition to the North Pole. The team endured storms, shifting ice, wind, injuries, accidents, and unimaginable cold. Finally on April 1, Peary, Henson, and four Inuit men began the final 133-mile push to the Pole.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book)

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford  (Author),‎ Kadir Nelson  (Illustrator)

This poetic book is a resounding tribute to Tubman’s strength, humility, and devotion. With proper reverence, Weatherford and Nelson do justice to the woman who, long ago, earned over and over the name Moses.

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace  (Author),‎ Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

Ernie Barnes was an NFL football player who longed to make art. Finally his dream came true.

When Ernie Barnes was growing up in North Carolina in the 1940s, he loved to draw. Even when he played as a boy with his friends he drew with a stick in the mud. And he never left home without a sketchbook. He would draw families walking home from church, or the old man on the sofa. He drew what he saw.

But in the segregated south, Ernie didn’t know how to make a living as an artist. Ernie grew tall and athletic and became a football star. Soon enough the colleges came calling. Still, in his heart Ernie longed to paint. Would that day ever come?

Ernie Barnes was one of the most important artists of his time known for his style of elongation and movement. His work has influenced a generation of painters and illustrators and can be found in museums and collections, such as the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the California African American Museum.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull  (Author),‎ Yuyi Morales  (Illustrator)

Cesar Chavez is known as one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders. When he led a 340-mile peaceful protest march through California, he ignited a cause and improved the lives of thousands of migrant farmworkers. But Cesar wasn’t always a leader. As a boy, he was shy and teased at school. His family slaved in the fields for barely enough money to survive.

Cesar knew things had to change, and he thought that–maybe–he could help change them. So he took charge. He spoke up. And an entire country listened.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson  (Author),‎ Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Illustrator)

Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else.

So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan—picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails!—she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il!

Audrey Faye Hendricks was confident and bold and brave as can be, and hers is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey  (Author),‎ Dow Phumiruk (Illustrator)

You may be familiar with the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But do you know about the artist-architect who created this landmark?

As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews  (Author),‎ Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom. Trombone Shorty is a celebration of the rich cultural history of New Orleans and the power of music.

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton  (Author),‎ Don Tate (Illustrator)

You know the Super Soaker. It’s one of top twenty toys of all time. And it was invented entirely by accident. Trying to create a new cooling system for refrigerators and air conditioners, impressive inventor Lonnie Johnson instead created the mechanics for the iconic toy.

A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem-solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating  (Author),‎ Marta Alvarez Miguens (Illustrator)

Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists.

Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname “Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to.

I Am Jazz

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel  (Author),‎ Jazz Jennings (Author),‎ Shelagh McNicholas (Illustrator)

From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz (Author),‎ Catia Chien  (Illustrator)

Alan loves animals, but the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo makes him sad. Why are they all alone in empty cages? Are they being punished? More than anything, he wants to be their champion—their voice—but he stutters uncontrollably.
Except when he talks to animals…

Then he is fluent.

Follow the life of the man Time Magazine calls, “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation”as he searches for his voice and fulfills a promise to speak for animals, and people, who cannot speak for themselves.

Girl Running

Girl Running by Annette Bay Pimentel  (Author),‎ Micha Archer  (Illustrator)

Because Bobbi Gibb is a girl, she’s not allowed to run on her school’s track team. But after school, no one can stop her–and she’s free to run endless miles to her heart’s content. She is told no yet again when she tries to enter the Boston Marathon in 1966, because the officials claim that it’s a man’s race and that women are just not capable of running such a long distance. So what does Bobbi do? She bravely sets out to prove the naysayers wrong and show the world just what a girl can do.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson  (Author),‎ David Shannon (Illustrator)

Born of Mohawk and Cayuga descent, musical icon Robbie Robertson learned the story of Hiawatha and his spiritual guide, the Peacemaker, as part of the Iroquois oral tradition. Now he shares the same gift of storytelling with a new generation.

Hiawatha was a strong and articulate Mohawk who was chosen to translate the Peacemaker’s message of unity for the five warring Iroquois nations during the 14th century. This message not only succeeded in uniting the tribes but also forever changed how the Iroquois governed themselves—a blueprint for democracy that would later inspire the authors of the U.S. Constitution.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz  (Author),‎ AG Ford (Illustrator)

Malcolm X grew to be one of America’s most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice.

Bolstered by the love and wisdom of his large, warm family, young Malcolm Little was a natural born leader. But when confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm’s optimism and faith were threatened. He had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. He had to learn self-reliance.

And there you have it, just a few of the books we will be suing to discuss identity, motivation, and character.

If you want to see more of our favorite books, go here.

One More Time for the People in the Back

I don’t think that I can yell any louder.

How many times that I have repeated myself on this blog.

How many times I have repeated the voices of those who speak the words loudly, of those who spoke the words long before I ever did.

I don’t think I can say it in other ways than I have, but I suppose one more time for good measure.  For the people in the back of the room, or for those who just showed up.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to surround them with books.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to give them time to actually read.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to create a community of readers.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to help them develop their reader identity.

We need to help them go beyond our help.

We need to help them go beyond their level.

Their Lexile.

Their data.

The computer program that tells them what they can do or not do as a reader.

We need them to see worth in what they are doing and worth in who reading helps them become.

We need to help them see that reading matters beyond the journal entry, beyond the project, beyond the thing we just made them do to prove that they are actually reading.

We need to speak books.

To share books.

To have books that show them who they are and also what others are.

To celebrate books and all types of reading so that within our classrooms and schools every child can see themselves as a kid who reads. As a kid whose reading matters.  As a kid who doesn’t read “easy” books, who doesn’t cheat in reading when they listen to audio books.  As a kid who might not just be a reader someday, completely dismissing that they are, indeed, already a reader.

And not just in their own eyes but in our eyes as well.

So I suppose I can say it one more time; what we do with the reading we do matters.

What we don’t do with the reading we do matters.

The identities we help create matter.

And the words our students share about what is killing their love of reading matters.  the least we can do is listen to them.

And we must bring back common sense reading practices to protect the very kids whose reading lives we were told to nurture, to protect, and to grow.

Perhaps you will join in the yelling and the powers that may be will one day hear us.

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.

The 30-Second Book Talk

Student book talks are one of the many ways that students share recommendations for each other.  Recommendations of books are a natural way to grow readers and they help immensely in the classroom when peers can hear from each other rather than just recommendations from me.

In the past, I would often ask kids if anyone had a book to recommend and yet it seemed that it was always the same awesome students who felt brave enough to recommend their books in front of the whole class.  There is just something about 7th grade that makes even the boldest kids shy.

So rather than limit the book talks or force kids, we created the 30-second book talk.  Yes, some kids still get nervous, but now they are prepared rather than feeling like they are coming up with something on the spot.

The idea is super simple.  Every student gets a notecard, on it, they write a brief recommendation of the book they want to share.  They can talk about the book and why it is a great read and who may like it as well.  Their names go on the book and then they hand the cards to me.

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Every day, when we remember, or sometimes just when we have a little bit of extra time, I pull a few cards from the stack as students enter.  I then have the book covers ready to be projected, I give the card back to the student as a way to let them know they will recommend today and then we are off after their independent reading time.  This gives the kids recommending a few minutes to read their book talk and adjust if needed.   Kids read off their cards if they want or they invent on the spot.  Their peers have their to-be-read lists out and add as they hear great titles shared.  The book cover is projected so everyone can see the title and author and the intimidation factor is lessened.

Because we have so many students, these cards usually take us at least two weeks to go through and then we can do another round if we choose to.

There you go, another simple idea to create more passionate readers.

PS:  You want to see some of our favorite books, go here

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.

 

My Favorite Books Part 1 – 2018 #pernillerecommends

Hard to believe that it is April 1st as I sit in South Korea writing this.  The past few days I have been in Bangkok speaking but also exploring and of course, sneaking in a few reading moments here and there.  As April begins, the first quarter of the year is done and with it comes some excellent reads.  Why not share them here in case you need some inspiration?

Favorite Middle Grade and Younger

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is one of my favorite new graphic novels for the year.

From Goodreads:

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed was just chosen as the Global Read Aloud choice for Middle grade despite it not being released until May, that is how much I believe in this book.

From Goodreads:

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown is one of the most perfectly written sequels I have read in a long time.

From Goodreads:

Shipwrecked on a remote, wild island, Robot Roz learned from the unwelcoming animal inhabitants and adapted to her surroundings–but can she survive the challenges of the civilized world and find her way home to Brightbill and the island?

I wanted to love Rebound by Kwame Alexander so much and it turns out it was easy to do.  A wonderful prequel to The Crossover that will hook many readers.

From Goodreads:

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

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani was a GRA contender for 2018 and rightfully so.  Set in India during the partition this book left me captured throughout its journey.

From Goodreads:
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

While I will admit to being more of a cat person than a dog person, Sarah Albee’s newest book Dog Days of History almost convinced me to rethink my allegiance.

From Goodreads:

What is it we love about dogs so much? From ancient times to the present, dogs have guarded us, worked with us, marched off to war with us, and of course, just sat on the couch with us for a cuddle. Throughout the course of human history, this partnership deepened from dogs doing a service into friendship. Dogs have been by our side through it all, and this book tracks our common story from wild wolves in ancient civilizations to modern-day breeds, highlighting famous pooches of the past and present along the way.

Serious, yet funny at the same time Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt was an easy story to like and recommend.

From Goodreads:

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ghost Boys is a must read, must contemplate, must share.

From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

For earlier readers, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes is a sure winner featuring a character that sees the world just a little bit different.

From Goodreads:

Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!

 

Favorite Young Adult

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a must read; fantastic world building and narrative action that leaves you begging for the second book to come out soon!

From Goodreads:

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed was just chosen as the Global Read Aloud book for YA – enough said.

From Goodreads:

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Reminding me in all of the best ways of Piecing Me Together by Rene Watson, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is a beautiful consideration of what it means to be a female growing into her own skin.

From Goodreads:

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus has shifted from the hands of one student to the next since I booktalked it more than a month ago. It is one of the most requested books in our classrooms.

From Goodreads:

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.”

 

While technically Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is not out yet, it will be in just a few weeks and it is so worth your pre-ordering.  Zombies, history, social justice and a radical butt-kicking female lead character, yes please.

From Goodreads:

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins is a book that deserves to be read and shared with others.  An intricate weaving of family and how we grow apart to only grow together.

From Goodreads:

Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity–award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

Both heartwrenching and heartstopping Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake was thought-provoking and also, unfortunately, incredibly timely in our culture.

From Goodreads:

“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future.

Who would have thought that Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson could be even better, it turns out that the graphic novel took it to another soaring height.

From Goodreads:

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.

Not sure whether to categorize Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge as YA, but it is gorgeous and also making its rounds quickly through the reading lives of our students.

From Goodreads:

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

 

We live in a time where it seems the books being published just get better and better, and I cannot wait to see what the next quarter of the year will bring.  Happy reading to all!

 

Growing Readers Past our Classroom Walls

I recently had the gift of being observed by teachers outside of our district.  Our students are used to it and go about their regular ways, no putting on a show for strangers here.  I always get nervous because while I think our community it magical, I am not sure what it looks like to outsiders.  Do they see all of the growth?  The work?  The small routines and decisions that go into creating the learning community we have?

During our conversation, a fellow teacher asked me how I help our students read outside of our classroom, after they leave, either for the day, the week, or even the year.  And while I am not sure all of our students do, I have seen the change once again this year.  I have seen many students read more.  I have seen more students embrace books and reading.  I have heard kids who told me they hate reading also have a favorite book to share when asked.  Knowing that there is a change afoot,  made me realize that once again, this subtle difference of not just wanting to read inside the classroom, but outside of it, is something we accomplish through a lot of small steps and not just one thing.  And that as always many of the ideas I have come from others who have graciously shared their ideas such as Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and Donalyn Miller with a few tweaks thrown in just for us.

It starts with a fully stocked classroom library because I need our students surrounded by books at all time.  I need them to see the importance of always having a book ready, of always picking their next read.

Then it becomes where else do you get books from?  We use our school library but also talk about all of the other books are present.  Where can they access books beside our room?  Where will they get books from over the summer? If they can’t get to a library, I will gladly lend them some.

It starts with the creation of a to-be-read list and while some readers already have these in place, many don’t.  Many also don’t see the need and fight me for a long time about it, usually dismissing it with the idea that they already have a book to read.  Yet, we make one and then we use it, day in and day out as I ask them to please open to it when we have a book talk in the room.

Then it becomes a tool they adapt to use on their own.  So we start with one way to keep track but then we discuss how else they can have a list.  Is it on their phone? Is it their Goodreads account?  Is it the never-ending wishlist on Amazon?    What will they actually use so that they always have ideas for what to read next?  It cannot be my system because they will never maintain it once I am gone.  And so when they ask me what they should read next my first reminder is always to check their to-be-read list, to start there so they remember all of those books they thought might be worth their time.

It starts with book talks by me.  Every day, every class.  Students get used to the routine and write down titles they are interested in.

Then it becomes book talks by students because little beats a recommendation from a fellow student.  Whether it is through unofficial moments where I ask students to share a recent favorite read, our more structured thirty -second book talks where they actually write down what  they will say and I have the covers ready to project, or to their end of year “Best book of the year” speech, they get used to discussing books, sharing favorites and not so favorite, of speaking about books without me.

It starts with book shopping with them, we set up our routine together the first week of school remembering how to book shop.  Discussing how it is totally fine to judge a book by its cover as long as we look at other things as well.  Then we book shop as a class or I help a child who needs it with one-on-one guidance.

Then it becomes them book shopping with friends.  Rather than book shopping with me, I step further in the background, not highlighting as many books and also looking around for a peer for them to book shop with rather than me.

It starts with me being a reading role model.  And being an obvious one.  While I always say this is “our classroom,” it is my books read covers that grace our walls, and my book talks that dominate at first.  However, that is not good in the long run because we don’t set students up for continued independence but instead further their reliance on us.

Then it becomes students as reading role models.   And so, giving the conversational space back to students to make sure they know each other as readers, while they learn about themselves as well is a main focus for us. Students not only reflect on their own reading habits but also share with each other. They not only recommend books but also discuss reading plans. And while I certainly share my own as well, I am only one voice of many.

It starts with a discussion of summer reading and it’s importance.  Casual comments made about keeping the reading spark alive, of discovering who they are as a reader.

Then it becomes making plans.  Actually discussing how they plan on continuing their reading after they leave our classroom.  They share ideas, I share ideas, and we discuss why it matters.  We discuss the books they want to read.  We take pictures of their to-be-read list and email it home.  They borrow books from me and share their favorite reads.  This isn’t a one day lesson, it is a lesson that evolves, that crops up when needed, that is repeated more urgently as the year winds down.  After all, it took some of our students a long time to become readers, why should staying one take less time?

when I look at the reading community I get to be a part of every day, I cannot help but notice how the power of it always lies within the small details; the books, the displays, the conversations and yes, the patience and persistence that it takes to help build a reader.   None of that happens overnight.  None of that happens with just one book.  Or just one person.  It takes a community, it takes deliberate action, and it takes an endless amount of belief that every child can have positive experiences with reading.

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.