Reading Teacher Writes

Sharing a love of literacy with fellow readers and writers


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IMWAYR: Thinking About May

IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop with kid lit co-hosts Jennifer from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers. The original IMWAYR, with an adult literature focus, was started by Sheila at Book Journeys and is now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It’s a great way to share what you’re reading and get recommendations from others. We encourage you to write your own post sharing what you’re reading, link up, leave a comment, and support other IMWAYR bloggers by visiting and commenting on at least three of the other linked blogs each week.

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I’m thinking about May and the end of the school year, and I opened It’s The End of the World and I’m In My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds. This is great! I wish I could avoid laundry. Eddie Gordon Holloway hates chores, especially laundry. He has a plan. Well, you know how plans work most of the time…

Two picture books I think everyone should read are Evicted! The Struggle For the Right to Vote by Alice Faye Duncan and Charly Palmer and It Fell From the Sky by the Fan Brothers. Evicted is serious – another story I didn’t know (that’s why we NEED TO READ). Black landowners in Fayette County, Tennessee were “free to pick cotton and corn but were barred from casting ballots.” People were evicted because they organized voting registration places and were left to set up Tent City. Finally, in 1965 the Voting Rights Act legally ended voter discrimination. This story is timely! This story is needed! Citizens of this country need to exercise their right to vote! (Read this book! Share with everyone!)

On a lighter note, what the heck IS that colorful object that fell from the sky? The insects don’t know, but Spider wanted them all to agree that he was the owner of this amazing find. It was his web that it landed on. (But was it, really? Hmm…) The Fan Brothers’ signature black-and-white-with-pops-of-color picture book is as amazing as the thing that fell and disrupted the creatures’ lives. Our students loved it!

See You Yesterday published last week, and this week I’ll have time to start reading it. I love Rachel Lynn Solomon’s work, so I’m sure it will be fabulous for my high schoolers.

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?


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Book PREview: The Door of No Return

In The Door of No Return, Kwame Alexander introduces the reader to 11-year-old Kofi and his tight-knit family. Kofi is smart, friendly, and a strong swimmer, showing off in the waters of the Offin River, the fastest of all his friends. Kofi dreams of water and wonders what his dreams mean. Nana Mosi, his grandfather and the village storyteller, warns Kofi, “The water is not your friend, at night…” Kofi wonders about all Nana Mosi’s sayings and stories but pays attention. Kofi knows his dreams and his grandfather’s teachings will keep him alert to the changes in the village. He will need every ounce of this knowledge in the future.

Kofi’s story weaves the reader in and then untwists the mind and heart as the plot moves forward. Hope builds, then curtails as the reader gasps for a breath before each new chapter. This novel-in-verse is a perfect collection, examining several forms of poetry through the pages while examining human existence. As the water of the Offin drifts, the reader’s expectations roll along, waiting for the next wave. (This book is the first in a trilogy.)

Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and the author for the early copy of this fabulous tale and the expanded education for all readers. (Expected publication on September 27, 2022)


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Book PREview – Invisible: The Graphic Novel

Invisible tells the story of five students at Conrad Middle School who are called to the principal’s office regarding their actions that led up to April 18. The principal and community member conducting the interview assume that the students don’t speak much English, just because of their names and little-known backgrounds. These students are otherwise invisible at school. 

As the interview progresses, the story reveals how these students met — as community service patrons working in the school cafeteria, gathering hours towards graduation. They don’t know each other. They assume the stereotypes one would expect in school: the brain, the jock, the tough one, the rich one, and the loner (“The Breakfast Club” reference). To the adults, they are just “the Spanish-speaking kids.” They perform their tasks without much thought of community, until they meet someone outside the school fence. Things advance quickly, and the students have to learn about each other and band together as the community service members they are. Can they be unexpected upstanding citizens, even as middle schoolers? “How can you be yourself when no one sees the real you?” 

Read this book to find out more about being invisible and how being seen as your true self is the greatest reward. 

The text includes English and Spanish, a welcome inclusion in this engaging graphic novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez and Gabriela Epstein. Recommended for ages 10 and up. You’re going to want to add this title to your middle school shelves in the fall. Publishing August 2022 by Scholastic Graphix. Thanks to the author and publisher for the early read.


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IMWAYR: Happy New Year! Happy New Reading Life!

IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop with kid lit co-hosts Jennifer from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers. The original IMWAYR, with an adult literature focus, was started by Sheila at Book Journeys and is now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It’s a great way to share what you’re reading and get recommendations from others. We encourage you to write your own post sharing what you’re reading, link up, leave a comment, and support other IMWAYR bloggers by visiting and commenting on at least three of the other linked blogs each week.

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After realizing that my reading goals were not met in 2021, I’m happy that it’s a new year. Happy New Year! Happy New Reading Life! And I’m off to a great start with some excellent books.

Libro.fm: Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (Read by Jason Reynolds and others)

I don’t have the physical book yet, but I’m going to grab it this week. Jason Reynolds can read to me any time – I love his passionate, articulate voice when he reads his own words. I listened to the ebook on Libro.fm (Thank you!). The second read with an ensemble of voices left me breathless. This audio version included a conversation with Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin at the end, which was an added bonus with extra insights. This book about oxygen (and/or lack of it) is organized in “breaths” – a creative way to develop characters who live during the recent pandemic (2020), not that it’s mentioned. It’s a symbolic commentary on our times, which is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.

Libro.fm: African Icons by Tracey Baptiste (Narrated by Karne Chilton)

I’ve been waiting to read African Icons for a while – I got distracted during December, but now I’m glad to listen and read this excellent nonfiction celebration of African leaders. I’m just at the beginning, where Tracey (via narrator, Karne) discusses the size of Africa and how it is distorted by the Mercator Map Projection. This is a social studies teacher’s dream book about Africa.

Physical Books: Stuntboy, In the Meantime by Jason Reynolds and Raul the Third

I LOVE this collaboration! I LOVED seeing that there was a display of this book cover in Times Square! I LOVE this graphic novel! The students are going to need more copies of this one.

Physical Books: The Deadliest Diseases Then and Now by Deborah Hopkinson

Deborah Hopkinson shares information in such interesting ways! Her “Deadliest” series is on my “must-have” list and Diseases Then and Now is timely, upsetting, and yet hopeful in the way it helps us to know that we have the power to change and improve our lives. The chapters are organized by historical time periods/worldwide disasters of disease: The plague, the 1918 Flu pandemic, other deadly diseases, and even COVID-19. There’s a glossary, so teachers have a built-in vocabulary list and lots of “further reading” information, including source notes, bibliography, and photos. Ms. Hopkinson is an excellent researcher who knows how to supply children with what they need to learn, grow, and make the world a better place. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Anyone who wants to learn about how diseases affected history needs to read this.

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?


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My BEST BOOKS OF 2021 List and Reflections

I have perplexing thoughts about my BEST BOOKS OF 2021 list. I curated the titles from my Goodreads account with two rules: 1) The book was published in 2021 and 2) I rated the book with 5 stars. (Titles appear in alphabetical order.)

Thirteen books rated with 5 stars. That’s it? For the whole year? I had a surreal year of reading, writing, and living; some weeks were wonderful and others I avoided action altogether. As I look back on 2021, I’m not unhappy with my reading habits, but I definitely did not meet my goals (especially on the Goodreads Reading Challenge). This list of 13 titles says a lot about my life this year.

Reflection #1: It’s not that I didn’t read voraciously. No, as a matter of fact, I DID read more than 97 books, although my goal was to record 150 titles on Goodreads. I didn’t even log into Goodreads for many of the books I read – I didn’t take the time. (I had trouble writing this year, too.) Also, almost all the books I read, I liked. I rated these books as 4-Star reads on my account. So it’s not like I didn’t enjoy my reading time. I did! As I look back, reading took a back seat to other activities, mostly due to health-and-wellness concerns. Everything is (physically) fine now, thank goodness, but I’m definitely looking forward to generally better days in 2022.

Reflection #2: I maintain that “Picture Books Are Perfect for Middle School” readers and up. Seven of these 13 titles are picture books. I love the art and how the illustrations are essential to telling the story. I love that I can read a picture book quickly, then go back and savor it again and again over time. I love that picture books can bring a smile to my face even on those darker days.

Reflection #3: I leaned on my friends this year. Nine of the 13 books listed here are written by authors and illustrators I know and love. Thank you for being there for me Chris Barton, Jeff Zentner, Jason Reynolds, Carole Boston Weatherford, Floyd Cooper (RIP), E.B. Vickers, Lisa Fipps (my “local” author ally), Christina Soontornvat, Lauren Castillo, Nikki Grimes, and Matt de la Peña. Your books light my way, as a teacher, librarian, and human.

Thank YOU for reading with me this year. You are special. I am honored to have this space to share my thoughts and learning. My wish is for you to have a Happy New Year! See you next year!


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Book Review: IN THE WILD LIGHT by Jeff Zentner

I’ve waited a long time to celebrate this book — coming on Tuesday! Thank you for writing another important and heart-filled YA title, Jeff Zentner!

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner. Published by Crown Books for Young Readers.

Cash Pruitt is a hard-working 17-year-old from Sawyer, Tennessee who has a hard past. Now living with his grandparents, Cash mows lawns, attends Sawyer High School, and hangs out with his best friend, Delaney Doyle. The two share heartbreaks (Cash’s mom died of an opioid addiction and Delaney’s mom is headed down the same path) and adventures (traveling on the river and digging in caves). When Delaney’s adventures lead to an important medical discovery, Middleford Academy in Connecticut offers Delaney a scholarship to the prestigious private high school, but she won’t go unless Cash joins her.
How does a teenager pick up and leave the only home he’s ever known? Mamaw cannot possibly handle working night shifts and take care of Papaw all by herself. But new places and faces are an opportunity for Cash as much as for Delaney. When a teacher introduces poetry, Cash discovers that writing can bring home and family to whatever setting he happens to occupy at the time. 
Packed with references to recognized settings, readers will relate to Cash and Delaney and their stories. The gorgeous language of Zentner’s storytelling, especially the details of scenes and scents, makes the reader stop and appreciate nature, especially the river and how it nourishes the soul. Cash learns to navigate life through his poetry, something he can use to reveal his love. Readers will love In the Wild Light and maybe even uncover their own passion for life — the feelings will grip and hold on for a long while. “Home is where the heart is” never had truer meaning.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

5 Stars *****


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IMWAYR: PREview – The Shape of Thunder

I don’t read many books in one day, but The Shape of Thunder was such a gripping story, I had to finish before bedtime. Cora and Quinn used to be best friends, before Quinn’s brother did the most awful thing one can imagine to Cora’s sister, Mabel and others at the local high school. The girls cannot be friends now. It’s impossible.

It’s been almost a year since that terrible day. Can the two girls ever come to terms with what happened and be friends again? Maybe not. Maybe. Only time will tell.

Jasmine Warga weaves such intricate stories — readers are lost in the woods with Cora and Quinn, looking for answers that may save their friendship once and for all. Can Cora and Quinn turn back the clock? Using the scientific method, is it possible to travel back in time and change the story of that fateful day?

Family dynamics are at the heart of this novel. There is trauma and grief, but also love, wrapped with feelings that no one can share. Parents are imperfect and siblings prove that difficult relationships can tear a family apart, and the consequences are far-reaching.

Thank you, @NetGalley and @BalzerandBray for the early read. Thank you @JasmineWarga for another wonderful title, which I’ve added to my list of 2021 books to purchase. (May 2021)

Recommended for upper middle and high school. Trigger warning: death/school shootings

My rating: ****


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IMWAYR: Graphic Novels Count as Reading!

I pulled a little collection of graphic novels out this week because we have three of them in our Battle of the Books stack this year and because Junior Library Guild delivered more with our school subscription last week. They will keep me busy, trying to keep up with the students and promoting the message, “Graphic novels are real reading!” Try some of these in your own reading life.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh – Snapdragon lives in a town with her mom…and a witch neighbor. Jacks is scary, lives alone in a dark house, and sells skeletons from roadkill on the internet. When Snapdragon needs a favor, Jacks is the only one left to ask for help, so the two become companions, whether Jacks likes it or not. There are mysterious happenings and surprising relationships, and Snap wants to know what it all means, and how she is involved with the bigger picture of this little town.

This graphic novel comes complete with suspense and awe, and a cute little dog pal, to boot. Readers will take Snap in as a friend, and feel a family connection in the end.

Recommended for middle schoolers and up.

Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne – Middle school students are going to love Beetle and her cute ghost-BFF, Blob Ghost. This graphic novel is perfect for independent reading time and focuses on friendships (new and old), family, and finding a way to stand up for yourself in times of trouble.

Beetle is a 12-year-old goblin-witch who is homeschooled by Gran, the Town Witch. She’s not very good at her lessons: she can’t fly a broom well and doesn’t know how to make potions. Beetle would rather dream about becoming a sorceress and hang out at the mall with Blob Ghost. But the mall is being sold, and will be demolished in one week under the control of the new owner, Marla Hollowbone, a former resident and Gran’s nemesis.

Can Beetle and her old friend Kat (Ms. Hollowbone’s niece) find a way to help Blob Ghost escape the mall and be free? Will Kat find a way to stand up to her power-hungry aunt? Will the town ever be the same?

Next up…Superman Smashes the Clan by Gene Luen Yang, with art by Gurihiru.

Doodleville by Chad Sell. Cardboard Kingdom by Mr. Sell was such a hit, we had to get this one into the library! I haven’t read it yet, but I will this week.

The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp and illustrated by Manuel Preitano (DC Comics, 2020)

It’s MONDAY! What are YOU reading?

IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop with kid lit co-hosts Jennifer from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers. The original IMWAYR, with an adult literature focus, was started by Sheila at Book Journeys and is now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It’s a great way to share what you’re reading and get recommendations from others. We encourage you to write your own post sharing what you’re reading, link up, leave a comment, and support other IMWAYR bloggers by visiting and commenting on at least three of the other linked blogs each week.

 


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IMWAYR: Listening to Words/Thinking About Craft

It’s the day before Election Day in the USA. Times are tense. Anxiety runs high. I’m focused on reading.

To keep my mind at ease, I think about the authors who craft their stories and question how they seem to get it all right so easily. I know that’s not true – there are many revisions, many edits, many days and months of struggle to get messages to readers. But still…it amazes me how simple it seems.

The first book I picked up after last Monday’s post was This Poem is a Nest by Irene Latham. I wonder how long it took her to craft all those little poems, the nestlings, she called them, from one longer poem, “Nest.” I love how she introduced the book, telling the reader how she painstakingly (must have been an awesome task!) weaved each word from the first poem into the 161 nestlings that became the rest of the book. She explained how she expanded the concept of blackout poetry and found poems to “find the whole world” inside “Nest.” I immediately began writing my own poems about nature, the moon, and responses to other poems. She inspired me! If you haven’t read This Poem is a Nest yet, add it to your list. You’re going to enjoy the creative process here.

I’m listening to some Libro.fm audiobooks this week. I want to experience the words in a different way. I’m used to reading, creating my own version of voices and pictures in my head. But with audiobooks, I get to hear those voices from narrators, many of whom are the authors of the books, which is interesting. Authors reading their own works allow me to hear their stories the way they want me to hear them.

This week, I will finish The Trial of the Chicago 7, but it’s a little deep for me right now. I started listening to Greenlights, which is Matthew McConaughey’s memoir – funny and light, but also thoughtful and introspective. Recommended by a friend, I’m glad I listened to her, too.

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading? IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop with kid lit co-hosts Jennifer from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers. The original IMWAYR, with an adult literature focus, was started by Sheila at Book Journeys and is now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

It’s a great way to share what you’re reading and get recommendations from others. We encourage you to write your own post sharing what you’re reading, link up, leave a comment, and support other IMWAYR bloggers by visiting and commenting on at least three of the other linked blogs each week.

 


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“Picture Books are Perfect” – Review of I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James is the newest must-read picture book for middle school, and everyone else! This is a joyful celebration of all good things: gravity, moonbeams, cinnamon rolls, skateboarding, using a microscope, being polite, paper airplanes, swimming…and being human! I love the language — “I am a lightning round of questions…” reminds me of my former 6th grade students and my current grandchildren. The references to family, creativity, respect, worth, and love make this the feel-good book of the year.