It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Midnight Teacher and Confucius


I have two fabulous picture books to share with the #IMWAYR community:

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It was against the law for slaves to have any path towards literacy in the American South; it was not only forbidden for any slave caught trying to learn to read and write, but it was also a crime for others to teach them.  Punishment for all involved was swift, certain, and brutal.  In spite of all these dangers, African Americans organized secret midnight schools where they could create access to what they were denied: an education.  One of these courageous individuals was Lilly Ann Granderson, and her story is told in Janet Halmann’s wonderful new picture book, Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School.

Over the course of many years, Lilly taught hundreds of people whose bodies may have been enslaved but whose minds and spirits yearned to be free. Beautifully illustrated by London Ladd,  Midnight Teacher  is a picture book that is sure to inspire and engage readers.  

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Any book by Demi is sure to be exquisitely written and Illustrated, and that is the case for her most recent book Confucius: Great Teacher of China.  This book is a wonderful way in which to introduce children to the life of philosophical ideas of China’s great teacher,  ideas which are still valued and practiced two thousand years after his death.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?: Tiny Stitches

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers
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I love chancing upon books like Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, and discovering brilliant and courageous people who have made exceptional contributions to society and have been overlooked because of racism, sexism, or ignorance.  Uncovering their stories and telling these with eloquence  and  conviction is an art form, I think, and that is what writer Gwendolyn Hooks and illustrator Colin Bootman have achieved with their book about Vivien Thomas.
Thomas was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, as the son of a master carpenter.  His dream was to study medicine, to put his gift for precision and his fascination with science to good use in the service of humankind. Vivien knew that ” with three colleges and a medical school for African Americans, Nashville was the perfect city in which Vivien’s dream could come true.” He saved for college, only to lose it all in the stock market crash of 1929. But, still he  persevered, finding a  job as a laboratory technician at Vanderbilt University’s medical school, working for Dr. Alfred Blalock and learning to hone his knowledge and skills even as he fought racism (his official title was janitor, and he made far less than the white lab technicians).
Thomas followed Blalock to Johns Hopkins University even though he knew that racial barriers were even more difficult in Baltimore.  But his dedication and perseverance pay off when he is able to pioneer a surgical technique to operate on “blue babies” – babies born with a congenital heart defect which did not permit enough oxygen to be delivered to the blood.  Thomas’ contributions were not publicly acknowledged for many, many years.  He was appointed to lead the Hopkins surgical research laboratory, however,  and taught a generation of surgeons and lab technicians.
In the end, as Gwendolyn Hooks writes:
Although he never had the chance to attend medical school, Vivien’s research pioneered open heart surgery on children.  Today about forth thousand children are born each year with heart problems.  Because of Vivien Thomas, these children now have a chance to live full and healthy lives.
Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is a wonderful book to share with our students – his story is one worth telling and celebrating.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #cyberPD and Summer Reading

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @ Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers
Summer PD would not be the same without #cyberPD, created by Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero.  These three amazing educators pored over bookstacks submitted by teachers all across the country in order to choose the one we would all read and discuss over the summer.  Two days ago, Cathy shared the post we have all been awaiting, the one with the big real…the #cyberPB selection of 2016, and our discussion calendar.  How exciting to be reading and learning and gathering to share our thoughts about this wonderful new book:
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I have been assembling my summer book stack for the past few weeks: just-released books, books I have bought but could not find the time to read during the school year, and books I need to re-read:
As I wrap up the old school year, it’s exciting to think ahead to the new one…so much wisdom to discover, process, and imagine bringing to life with a brand new set of students. Summer is all about slowing down the pace of life, reconnecting with family and friends, and continuing to learn and grow in our teaching lives. I am ready!

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading #IMWAYR: The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Join the KidLit Monday meme @ TeachMentorTexts

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Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish is one of those stories that begins in expected, middle grade oriented ways, and then swerves unexpectedly into uncharted territories.  Spoiler alert: I’ll be referring to those uncharted territories, so don’t read on if you want to discover these for yourself as you read the book.

Here’s a synopsis of the story, from the jacket copy:

Charlie feels like she’s always coming in last. From her Mom’s new job to her sister’s life away at college, everything else always seems to be more important than Charlie’s upcoming dance competition or science project. Unsure of how to get her family’s attention, Charlie comes across the surprise of her life one day while ice-fishing . . . in the form of a floppy, scaly fish offering to grant her a wish in exchange for its freedom. Charlie can’t believe her luck until she realizes that this fish has a funny way of granting wishes, despite her best intentions. But when her family faces a challenge bigger than any they’ve ever experienced, Charlie wonders if some things might be too important to risk on a wish.

Charlie is your typical middle school kid: she wants to do well in school, she loves her self-chosen extra curricular activity with a passion, she has an unrequited crush, and she feels good about the close bond she shares with her family (they even have a word association game they’ve invented just for themselves – what’s not to love about a family who can do that?!).

Charlie also has a wonderfully dry sense of humor, which makes the first person narration of this story one that is filled with chuckles and laugh out loud moments.  Her discovery of this magic fish, unlikely in size and unpredictable in his accuracy at wish granting, give the first part of the story a fantastical and funny quality.

Then, the story swerves into darker territory when it comes to light that Charlie’s older sister Abby, off to college for the first time, has developed an addiction to heroin.  This explains the changes in Abby: she is hard to get ahold of when away at school, and tired and unwell when she visits home.  Charlie is devastated.

But, Charlie and Abby are blessed with parents who remain steadfast in their love – they do what is necessary to help Abby regain her health, without getting hysterical and judgemental.   They see that their daughter needs help, they make sure she gets it. And they help Charlie to understand that sometimes the best people, the ones who seem to have it all together on the outside, just take the wrong path and need love and support to find their way back.

In her “Author’s Note”, Kate Messner writes that this book was scary to research and write.  It is scary to read, too, because it reveals that addiction can happen in the most “normal” families, and that this disease knows no socio economic boundaries.  It is no secret that heroin addiction is on the rise today, and its link to opioid pain killers (which is over prescribed to children and adults) is also a well established fact.  Kate Messner’s brave book will allow young readers to learn of these important issues in a gentle way.  It’s a book to share with our middle school kids, a cautionary story which does not offer a “happily ever after” ending.  Young readers will learn, as Charlie did, “…that addiction is a real thing that can happen.  That good people make awful mistakes…”.

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading #IMWAYR:You Can Fly-The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford

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I am so proud to host author Carole Boston Weatherford here today. Carole’s books have long been treasured read alouds and share togethers in my classroom; she writes luminously and informatively about our nation’s history, and the remarkable people who have shaped that history by fighting for justice, freedom, and beauty.

A New York Times best-selling author & prize-winning poet, Carole’s work has won many accolades over the years.  To name just a few: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (2006), illustrated by Kadir Nelson, won a Caldecott Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and an NAACP Image Award. Becoming Billie Holiday and Before John Was a Jazz Giant won Coretta Scott King Honors. Birmingham, 1963 won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Honor and the Jefferson Cup from Virginia Library Association.

I love this particular interview in which Carole shares her history, and how that inspires her writing:

Carole’s latest book is You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmenfor which her son, Jeffery Boston Weatherford created the stunning scratchboard illustrations.  

Tuskegee Cover

Carole was kind enough to answer a few questions about You Can Fly:

Why did you want to write this book?

When I first learned of the Tuskegee Airmen, their story resonated with me. Decades later, I thought the history begged for a poetic treatment.

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Describe your research and writing process.

I used several reference books, viewed films and perused primary sources—military reports and photographs—online.

The manuscript began as picture book and grew into a poetry collection that went from third to first to second person.  I added an epilogue to show progress since the Jim Crow era. Then I added poems about Dorie Miller, Joe Louis and Lena Horne and one chronicling black troops’ march through history.

What did you learn that surprised you?

I was surprised that boxer Joe Louis and entertainer Lena Horne were so involved in the war effort. Joe Louis raised funds for the war effort and pushed the Army to admit Jackie Robinson and several other black soldiers into officer candidate school. And Lena Horne made numerous trips—at her own expense—to perform for troops at Tuskegee Army Air Field.

This book was a family affair. What was it like to collaborate with your son?

Working with Jeffery was a dream come true. I shared my picture research with him, but he also did his own. We put our heads together and decided on scratchboard as the medium. At first, Jeff showed me individual illustrations as he completed them. Then, he showed me batches of illustrations. By the end, however, he was bypassing me and sending illustrations directly to the publisher.

What do you want young readers to take away from the book?

I want the Airmen’s story to lift the ceiling off of young people’s dreams.


You Can Fly will become an important addition to our classroom library, for it is a powerful story, poetically told.  It will inspire great discussions, and lead my students to want to know more about these brave pilots who fought a war on two fronts: the one abroad against the Nazis, and the one at home against racism.

WWII by the numbers:

In 1,500 combat missions, Tuskegee Airmen blasted 262 German planes, 950 vehicles and one enemy destroyer.

Of their 205 missions, the Tuskegee Airmen flew 200 without losing a bomber.

Of nearly 1,000 Tuskegee pilots, half went overseas and fewer than 10 were captured or killed.

Here is a wonderful book trailer to share with students:

And here are teacher resources gathered together by the author:

For a chance to win a copy of You Can Fly, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, May 20th.Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. 

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading #IMWAYR:Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk


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wolh hollow

Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow begins in this remarkable you-simply-cannot-put-this-book-down way:


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and for the rest of your reading time  you are completely caught within the web of this haunting, unforgettable story.

Annabelle has grown up within the safety and loving comfort of her small farming community in Pennsylvania, where no one has much or seems to want much beyond tending to one’s land and family, and nurturing both with a gentle love.  But, Annabelle is wise enough to sense that the  “dark-hearted girl” of the prologue, Betty Glengarry, is cut from a different cloth.  Betty’s footsteps, Annabelle notes, “were deep and sharp and suggested that she was more freighted than she could possibly be.”

Betty begins a reign of terror over Annabelle and various schoolmates, before she seems to set her sights on Toby.   A reclusive  World War I veteran, Toby is shrouded in mystery – why does he live in an abandoned cabin deep in the woods? what is the story behind the terrible scars on his hand? what does he roam the countryside with guns strapped to his back?  And when evil begins to occur, everyone seems to believe the story that Betty tells: that it is Toby who is to blame and must be punished.

But Annabelle has seen what Betty is capable of, and so she sets out to prove Toby’s innocence…which lands her in a whole heap of trouble, more than she had quite bargained for or imagined possible.

Lauren Wolk writes brilliantly, and this coming of age story is also about searching for truth and not allowing prejudice to stand in the way of justice.   Annabelle must learn, as we all do at one time or another, this:

The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered.

So much, sometimes, that I wasn’t sure I wanted such a burden.

But I took it anyway, and I carried it as best as I could.







SOLSC: March 14, 2016 & #IMWAYR:”Blue Birds” by Caroline Starr Rose


The politics of this year’s election have seeped into our classroom, and there are fierce feelings on all sides.  Since I teach history (the end of the American Revolution to the end of the Civil War), current events are very much part of what moves our daily conversation as we ask: how do past events influence and foreshadow today’s events? Always, we try to focus on civil discourse: we can voice and explore our differences, we believe, without (in sixth grade parlance) “hating on each other”.  I am proud of my students, because they work so hard to live up to this.

This year, as we begin our unit on historical fiction, I feel it’s more important than ever to present my students with books that illustrate the belief that people can come from very different backgrounds and perspectives and still discover their common humanity.  And so it was with particular pleasure that I read Caroline Starr Rose’s Blue Birds, the historical basis of which  is the Lost Colony of Roanoake – the first English settlement in Virginia, whose people  vanished mysteriously and without a trace.


Here is a synopsis, from the author’s own website:

It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.

Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

Kimi and Alis make the journey from suspicion to curiosity to engagement and friendship in this  beautifully written novel in verse.   The alternating voices of each girl are exquisitely crafted to give the reader a sense of their individuality: Kimi, a proud Roanoake Indian who fears for her nation, and Alis, who sees that the ways of her English people are at odds with the land they mean to settle.  Though every secret meeting is fraught with danger, the two girls are drawn together by all they hold in common: brave spirits, knowledge of loss, and a deep sense of connection to:

…land heavy with trees,

thick with darkness.

The mysterious island,


Even as the adults on both sides fall into enmity, suspicion, and murder, Kimi and Alis forge a powerful bond of friendship and trust.  This is what I found so moving and uplifting about this story – that these children find a way to reach across many barriers to discover all that connects us as one people:


I was sad to come to the last page of Blue Birds, but I know that I will soon be immersed in it story once again as we read it together in our classroom.