It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading #IMWAYR: February 23th., 2015



It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney

Rep. John Lewis has led a remarkable life, as a Civil Rights icon and as a continuing voice of conscience in Congress today.  Together with writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, John Lewis has written a memoir in graphic novel form.  The first two books of the trilogy are:

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March: Book One spans Lewis’ life from his boyhood in Alabama to his meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the dangerous activism of the lunch counter sit-ins.

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March: Book Two picks up the story of the Civil Rights struggle and ends with the March on Washington and Dr. King’s inspirational speech.  

These are stunning books – and the graphic novel format tells this  story in an especially immediate and powerful way.  I can see sharing this book as a read aloud via a document camera, so that students can engage and connect with illustrations.  Here is the trailer for Book One, a mini-documentary of the fight for Civil Rights in itself:



It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading #IMWAYR : Stella by Starlight and two picture books


It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney


I have been reading so many rave reviews of Sharon Draper’s Stella By Starlight that I couldn’t wait for my own copy to arrive, I had to jump on the first available copy at my town library.  This is a another slice of America’s sad history of segregation and racism, set in the time period when our country was firmly  in the grip of the Great Depression and getting ready for the election of FDR.  Here’s the jacket copy:

Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.

Stella is an enchanting character; she is high spirited and yet perceptive and wise for her age.  She chafes against the inequities of the Jim Crow South, and yet is justifiably fearful of every vestige of the white power structure that jealously guards its privileges – from voting rights to schools with books and supplies.  Stella is blessed with a loving family and a close knit North Carolina community which shares even its smallest blessings with a wide open heart.  But she can see the tension that arises when men like her father decide it is time to exercise their Constitutional rights and register to vote.  Their determination leads to direct confrontation with many in the white community who decide to strike back through intimidation and fear.

Draper brings these tensions alive vividly.  The scenes when the menfolk try to register to vote, and when racism rears its ugly head feel real and true. I love the way that all the characters interact and reveal the many layers of the spirit in the African American community which allowed them strength and the determination  to fight back.  This is a book that will give my students much to talk about – it is a book they will love.

Here is Sharon Draper, discussing what inspired Stella by Starlight.



I’ve been trying to make room in my reading life for picture books once again.  Jane Bahk’s Juna’s  Jar is the charming story of Juna whose best friend Hector suddenly moves away.  Juna is bereft – Hector had been such fun to have adventures with, especially to find interesting things with which to fill her kimchi jar.  After Hector leaves, Juna tries to find another friend – perhaps her kimchi jar will lead her to another friend as wonderful as Hector?  Felicia Hoshino’s lovely illustrations make this a delightful picture book for the younger set. 

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Albie’s First Word: A Tale Inspired by Albert Einstein’s Childhood written by Jacqueline Tourville and illustrated by Wynne Evans is the imagined story of Albert Einstein’s famous lack of early speech. In this story, his worried parents try this and that to get Albie to finally speak.  On the advice of their kind doctor,  they take Albie to the symphony, and a lecture by a famous physicist, and even a boat race, in the hopes that these experiences would inspire Albie to finally speak. But, to no avail. Then Albie looks out of the window one night, and the starry sky finally inspires his first word: Why?  


It’s Monday, And Here’s What I’m Reading: Ship of Dolls & Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece

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It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney


One of the reasons I love historical fiction is because these stories often lead to new discoveries about eras you think you know a lot about only to learn some new angle.  Shirley Parenteau’s Ship of Dolls is a perfect example of this type of “learning surprise”.  In 1926, a teacher-missionary by the name of Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the Friendship Doll exchange as a means of promoting harmony between the U.S. and Japan.  Through the aegis of the Committee on World Friendship Among Children,  funds were raised to purchase and send 12,000 dolls to Japanese children; these dolls were received with much appreciation and fanfare, with elaborate  ceremonies in which the dolls were welcomed into schools and homes.  The following year, 58 dolls were sent in appreciative thanks, which were also warmly welcomed everywhere they toured before being permanently housed in museums.  Kirby Larson’s fabulous book The Friendship Doll is also based on this slice of history.

Ship of Dolls is the story of eleven year old Lexie Lewis, who has been sent away to live with her rather strict and old-fashioned grandparents following the death of Lexie’s father.  Lexie wants to be reunited with her glamorous mother, a quintessential flapper,  who is pursuing a career as a singer in San Francisco. Lexie’s class is raising funds for a Friendship Doll, but Lexie is focused on writing the letter that will be chosen to accompany the doll. That winner will be the one who will travel to San  Francisco to see the dolls off on their journey – and Lexie wants to be that winner, for it is the surest way to be reunited with her mother.

But, many obstacles get in the way of Lexie’s plan: a snobby classmate, who feels her father’s important position in town entitles her to win the contest, a grandmother who seems rigid and insensitive, and Lexie’s own mother – whose flightiness, however endearing and entertaining, is also a source of confusion and uncertainty.  In the end, Lexie’s wishes come true in unexpected and rather wonderful ways.  Ship of Dolls is beautifully written, with each character deftly created and the setting vividly imagined.  Issues of growing up and complications of family relationships would make for interesting discussions, as would the historical context of the story.

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Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece is Patricia Polacco’s true life story of 51e-ShP-j+L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_conquering her terror of speaking in front of an audience thanks to the support and encouragement of Mr. Wayne – her drama teacher.

This book so reminded me of Thank You, Mr. Falker,  where the kindness and sensitivity of one teacher makes all the difference for a child.  Polacco’s illustrations are  beloved for good reason – I’ve always loved the way she paints faces in their myriad expressions, from fearful, to wise, to exuberant.  In fact, I sometimes pick up and leaf through her books just to enjoy the illustrations.  This would make a great readaloud, for it’s a story  that kids can relate to and would want to discuss.   Here’s the author, introducing Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, as only she can:


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR January 12th., 2015 – Semour Simon and Jandy Nelson

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It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney

I have read such glowing accounts about Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun, so I was happy to be able to finally get to it.  Here’s the jacket copy:

Jude and her brother, Noah, are incredibly close twins. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude surfs and cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and divisive ways…until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as an unpredictable new mentor. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This was a beautifully written book, one which seems to perfectly capture all the idealism, angst, yearning, and capacity to love and forgive that seems to exist in such contrary abundance in our teenage kids.  The story is written in two voices which blend together quite powerfully, and the way the two narratives intertwine to create the larger picture, is just so well done.  I loved the way Nelson was able to write within the teenage perspective, especially when it comes to analyzing and critiquing  the adult world  This is a complex and mature story, however, definitely eighth grade and up (language, and sexual content), and one that I would happily hand over to my ex-students who are such great John Green fans.

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We have just completed the first round of our non-fiction book groups, and I owe Seymour Simon another big “thank you” for his work in writing engaging and informative books.  These books are the foundation for our nonfiction investigations, and they are exactly the kind of inspiring mentor texts that launch meaningful and exciting forays into the reading and writing of nonfiction for our kids. I cannot have enough copies of these books, and the fact that we can link to Simon’s blog  to extend our reading, is a wonderful bonus. 

It’s Monday And Here’s What I’m Reading: 1/29/14- Rain Reign & Half A World Away

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It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney

I’ve left the house very rarely over the past few days, which has been a deliberate choice to live a more relaxed pace over the Christmas break.  After all, these two weeks will fly by and then it’s back to  being busy, busy, busy.  One place I had to get to was our local Barnes & Noble – those holiday gift cards from my students were calling out to transformed into books for our classroom library. Here were two books I got to right away:

Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign has been on my TBR list for a while, and I was so glad that I finally got to read it.  Rose Howard is a fifth grader whose love of homonyms, numbers, and following rules are all ways which help her function in spite of being on the autism spectrum.  “No one is sure what to do with me in school,” Rose says,  and nether does the father who is raising her as a single parent.  He was the one who had “found” Rose a stray dog (Rain) one lucky day, and he is also the one who lets Rain out one stormy, unlucky night.  He may be her father, but it is her Uncle Weldon who seems to be the one who is interested in homonyms and numbers, who is patient when she feels like crying or banging her head, who takes her to school every day and brings her home. Uncle Weldon is also the one who helps her find Rain after the storm, although it is Rose who must decide what to do when they discover that Rain actually belongs to another family.

Rose’s point of view lent a poignancy to the story, I felt privy to the way making adjustments (however small) was difficult to Rose, and how hard she had to struggle to find her own way to cope with a world that was often inexplicable and hopelessly confusing.  But, this is also a story about being brave and patient, about trust and love.  It would make for a wonderful read aloud or book club selection paired with Mockingbird, Counting By 7s, and Rules.   I can’t wait for it to be issued in paperback so that I can purchase more copies for my classroom library.

Cynthia Kadohata’s Half A World Away was another powerful story by an author who never disappoints.  Twelve year old Jaden lives with his adoptive parents, Penni and Steve, who had thought they were adding a four year old to their family only to have been surprised by the 8 year old boy who walked off the flight  from Romania and into their home.  Jaden still grieves for the mother he vaguely remembers, the one who gave him away and set him on the journey from one orphan’s home to another until he arrived at Penni and Steve’s home home.  Now, he is a Kincaid, and about to become an older brother to a new baby his parents want to adopt from Kazakhstan.  Are his parents so disappointed in Jaden that they need another child to love? And, what is love anyway? Jaden doesn’t think he has it in his heart to love anymore, not after all he went through in the years between his mother’s abandonment and his adoption, not after learning so young that love can coexist with abandonment. When the Kincaids arrive in Kazakhstan to the bewildering world of orphanages, paperwork, and adoption, each of them learns something about love and family. And Jaden learns the answer to the question that has gnawed away at his heart and soul: why did my biological mother abandon me? an answer that will finally open his heart to loving and being loved.

I loved the way Kadohata told the story from Jaden’s complicated point of view, his embittered by events perspective. But Jaden is also a perceptive kid, conscious of the way his destructive actions impact the parents who love him, and just want him to be a “normal” boy they can love joyously.  Half A World Away is a compelling story about the difficulties of adoption: couples who yearn for children, the often exploitative and arduous process of adoption, and the expectations and prior experiences of the children themselves.  It is a must read for fourth grade and up, and would also be a wonderful choice for book clubs and read alouds.

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading #IMWAYR: December 8th., 2014

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It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney

I was lucky to discover two wonderful new additions to our local library’s children’s section today, both of which are now on my booklist order for next year:

Matt Faulkner’s Gaijin: American Prisoner of War

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“With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he’s sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII.

Koji’s story, based on true events, is brought to life by Matt Faulkner’s cinematic illustrations that reveal Koji struggling to find his place in a tumultuous world-one where he is a prisoner of war in his own country.”

Faulkner tells Koji’s story with brutal honesty.  Racism and betrayal  is rampant, as Koji’s once safe world becomes a bewildering maze he must navigate in order to survive.  Even next door neighbors and beloved teachers fall prey to the prevailing suspicion that every citizen of Japanese ancestry is suspect and ought to be driven away.  The term “Gaijin” is a pejorative reference to anyone of mixed Japanese heritage; since Koji’s mother not Japanese, he faces harsh treatment from the bullies at the internment camp, as well.

The illustrations are fabulous and vivid – they make Koji’s experiences so immediate and believable.  And, there is just enough text to provide historical context for the ongoing events. This would be an excellent choice for a historical fiction genre study or book club.  Here is a book trailer for  Gaijin: American Prisoner of War at Matt Faulkner’s website:



It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: November 24th., 2014

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It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney

Among many unexpected and wonderful moments at NCTE, was happening upon my very own copy of this book:

I read it on the way back from NCTE, completely engrossed in the story as Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and a good part of New Jersey flew by.  I had a feeling this would be the case, as I had had a similar experience with Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s previous book, One For The Murphys.  Lynda writes with a heart that knows children well; she knows what wounds, what heals, what sustains, and what grieves a child.  And she creates characters and worlds which ring true, and speak the truth.  Here’s the back cover copy:

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

What spoke to me about Fish in a Tree (which should be required reading for all parents and teachers) is that it is such a finely drawn portrait of what it is like to be a child for whom school has become a place of defeat.  For Ally, each and every school day is another attempt to cross a reading and writing minefield.  The way in which this is described struck me as so painfully accurate – this must be how our children suffer and struggle when learning difficulties get in the way.  

Here, for example, is a passage from a scene early in the book.  Ally has chosen a lovely card with cheerful flowers as a send off to her teacher who is leaving to have a baby. Had Ally been able to read the card, she would have known that it was a sympathy card.  But words squiggle and move for Ally, so she had focused just on those lovely flowers.  Needless to say, this lands her in the principal’s office.  When Mrs. Silver asks her to reflect on the message on a poster there, Ally is stumped, once again.  Then:

“She waves me out and, as I stand, I look at that poster again.  I wish I knew what it was that I should learn, because I know that I should know a lot more than I do.

She sighs as she leaves her office and I know she’s tired of me.

Even I’m tired of me.”

Had Ally been able to do so, this is what she would have read on the poster:

“Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask for help.” C. Connors

Mr. Daniels is the teacher we all hope to be – the one who takes the time to notice small signs and red flags.  The one who commits himself to figuring out Ally’s disability without diminishing her brave spirit.  He is her cheerleader, but he does so in an such an empowering way that Ally comes to recognize all that she can do in spite of her dyslexia.  Don’t we want to help our kids to make Ally’s learning journey one that travels the distance between “invisible to invincible”? To learn that ” “I’m having trouble” is not the same as “I can’t.””?

There is a parallel narrative of bullying and kindness within a classroom community that is woven into Ally’s story, which gives Fish in a Tree added depth and dimension.  Through this, Ally learns what we all should aim to learn, so that we can live in a kinder world:

“…looking around the room, I remember thinking that my reading differences were like dragging a concrete block around every day and how I felt sorry for myself.  Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy.”

I loved Fish in a Tree so much, that I was sad when it came to an end.  I wanted to stay with Ally and Mr. Daniels and that entire cast of character for a whole lot longer.    This is a special, special book, and I feel lucky to be able to put it into the hands of my sixth graders.