Monday, December 9, 2019

Recent Reads

Every Monday, I share books I have recently read. I also participate in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. To find out what other bloggers are reading, check out the host blogs, Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers, or follow on Twitter at #imwayr.


Recent Reads...


The Best Kind of Bear by Greg Gormley

Bear does not know what type of bear he is, so he travels west, north, south, and east in search of a bear who is similar to himself. Bear is not exactly like any of the bears he meets on his journey and he begins to worry that he is simply ordinary and uninteresting until his new friend, Nelly, helps him realize the kind of bear he is and just how special that is. This is a sweet story, but also one that explores identity and belonging.

Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

This is a beautiful collection of poems written in voices of different girls who have their own unique perspectives on friendship, family, and life. The poems celebrate the many ways there are to be and the ways we can lift each other up. The poems are simple and lovely and the illustrations are bright and joyful. Thanks to Random House for a review copy. The book publishes in January.

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski

This graphic novel is a lot of fun. A princess runs away, sometimes on purpose and sometimes accidentally. Her journeys bring lots of adventures and she meets friends, as well as some interesting characters including mermaids and pirates. Sprinkled throughout the book, there are some puzzles and mazes that invite the reader into the story. The book publishes in January.

The Starspun Web by Sinéad O'Hart

Tess has grown up at Ackerbee's Home for Lost and Foundlings since she was left there as a baby and she is quite happy with her living arrangements. When a strange man shows up, claiming that he is a distant relative, Tess is reluctant to go with him, but hopes that he might have answers to her questions about who she is and where she came from. She moves into Roedeer Lodge and discovers that a strange device she was left with as a baby is a portal to an alternate world. As she tries to unravel the mystery, she finds herself at the center of a dangerous scheme. This is an engaging and mysterious story about a brave heroine that intertwines science, history, and friendship.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Recent Reads

Every Monday, I share books I have recently read. I also participate in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. To find out what other bloggers are reading, check out the host blogs, Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers, or follow on Twitter at #imwayr.

Recent Reads...


The Cool Bean by Jory John

This is the third book from Jory John and Pete Oswald, the creators of the Bad Seed and the Good Egg. Students have loved both previous books and I think they will enjoy this one, as well. There are lots of puns and bean-related humor. A book with the message that small acts of kindness are cool is a nice addition to the series. 

Emergency Kittens! by Jody Jensen Shaffer

Mimi, Twee-Twee, and Adorbs are the cutest superheroes ever. They save the day with their irresistible fluffiness and purring. Cat lovers will be delighted with this book. Thanks to the publisher, Random House Kids, for a review copy. The book publishes in January.

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

A young girl is helping her Ti Gran make Freedom Soup in preparation for a family celebration to ring in the New Year. While they cook, Ti Gran shares the story of the soup and the Haitian Revolution. This book provides insight into history while celebrating the joy of a grandchild and grandparent spending time together and the spirit of the Haitian culture.


Roly Poly by Mem Fox

Roly is the only child in his polar bear family and is not happy at all when a brother appears. Roly tries his best to ignore Monty until the day his little brother really needs him. This is a sweet story of rivalry and love between siblings. The artwork, which consists of photographs of bears made with wire and wool, is interesting, too. 

Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey by Magdalena and Nathaniel Newman

Nathaniel was born with craniofacial deformities and difficulties hearing, breathing, and eating due to Treacher Collins Syndrome. Alternating between his perspective and that of his mother, this memoir tells how the disorder has impacted his life and family. Nathaniel's positive outlook and his belief that he is just as normal as any other kid is inspirational. Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I received an advance reader's copy of this book at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Realistic fiction, with a touch of magic, this is a suspenseful and tender story of family and finding one's voice. When Lily and her family move in with her halmoni, she starts seeing a magical tiger. There is a connection between the tiger and the Korean folktales that Lily's grandmother has told her and Lily believes the tiger can make her grandmother better. Lily learns about her grandmother and what it means to be brave. Thanks to Random House for providing my book review group, #BookExcursion, with an advance reader's copy of the book. The book publishes in January.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Recent Reads

Every Monday, I share books I have recently read. I also participate in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. To find out what other bloggers are reading, check out the host blogs, Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers, or follow on Twitter at #imwayr.

Recent Reads...


Bear is Awake!: An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison

This alphabet book tells a charming story of unexpected friendship and adventure. It's also clever in that just one or up to a handful of words for each letter of the alphabet and the illustrations tell the story. The illustrations are just delightful and some quite humorous. Young readers will love the goofy and good-natured bear. Thanks to the publisher for providing my book review group, #BookExcursion, with a review copy.

The Perfect Seat by Minh Lê

Before a parent and child can read their book together they have to find a place to read it. The two moose explore many options, but it's not until they are about to give up that they find the perfect spot. The illustrations are humorous and some of the potential reading spots are amusing.

Best Friends by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale's graphic novel memoir is the follow-up to Real Friends. Shannon is in sixth grade and struggling to understand friendships and trying to figure out how she should act to fit in with her peers. This book captures the complexities of growing up and the emotions of being a sixth grader who wants to be part of a group of friends, but also be true to herself. The book also explores what it's like to be a kid this age with anxiety. A very relatable story that will show middle grade readers that it's worth it to follow one's own path. I was fortunate to win a copy of this book thanks to Macmillan and First Second Books.

A Book to Look For in 2020


The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

One is never too old to learn and it's never too late to accomplish a goal. This story of Mary Walker, a freed slave, who learned to read at 116 is inspirational. She has an amazing life story due to her resilience and determination. The author's note and the photographs in the end papers give more insight into Mary's life. Oge Mora's illustrations are wonderful, as always. Thanks to the publisher, Random House Kids, for a review copy. The book publishes in January.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Recent Reads

Every Monday, I share books I have recently read. I also participate in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. To find out what other bloggers are reading, check out the host blogs, Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers, or follow on Twitter at #imwayr.

Recent Reads...

Finding Kindness by Deborah Underwood

There are many ways of being kind. The rhyming text and illustrations show the small actions those in a community can take to be kind and compassionate towards others. This is a sweet and heartwarming book.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard

This beautiful and poetic book celebrates fry bread and gives insight into its role in Native American history and culture. The author's note is extensive, providing both additional information about fry bread and telling of the author's own experiences. Juana Martinez-Neal's illustrations are gorgeous and full of warmth.

Edison Beaker, Creature Seeker: The Lost City by Frank Cammuso

Kids who have read the first Edison Beaker, Creature Seeker will be excited to see there is a second book. Edison, along with his sister, Tesla, goes back through the Night Door to fulfill a mission, to save the city of Pharos, at his grandmother's request, and prove he is a creature seeker. This is a fast-paced graphic novel with adventure and humor. I know kids will be eager for the next book after reading this one.

A Book to Look for in 2020

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

The story of William "Scoob" Lamar, who goes on a road trip with his G'Ma, is Nic Stone's first middle grade novel. Wanting to escape the punishment he has been given for trouble he got into at school, Scoob is more than willing to accompany his G'Ma on the trip, but he begins to wonder if it was a good idea when she starts acting oddly. Filled with memories, secrets, and history, the road trip becomes an adventure that will change Scoob's life. This is a heartfelt novel of family. Thanks to the publisher, Random House Kids, for providing my book review group with an advance reader's copy. The book publishes in January.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Recent Reads

Every Monday, I share books I have recently read. I also participate in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. To find out what other bloggers are reading, check out the host blogs, Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers, or follow on Twitter at #imwayr.

Recent Reads...

One Snowy Morning by Kevin Tseng

Two forest friends come across a snowman and invent a new use for the snowman's things. The carrot nose, which they believe is a rare dragon's tooth, becomes the inspiration for their dragon-tooth-soup party. This is a silly, but sweet story to inspire creativity. It will be fun to read aloud once the winter season arrives.

Snowy Race by April Jones Prince

Another one of my recent reads is perfect for reading during the winter season. Although the rhyming text and illustrations perfectly capture a cold and blustery snow day, this book will actually warm hearts. A child rides along with her father in his snowplow as they race through the snow to a destination that is revealed at the end. This is a very sweet story about family. Thanks to the author and Holiday House for sending me a review copy. The book publishes in November.

Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi

Penny Rose is new to her neighborhood and without friends, except for the robots she builds, until she meets Lark, who also likes to create things. This is a story of two friends working through the bumps of their relationship. There's also an element of magic, as the robots come to life and Penny Rose realizes she needs Lark's help to protect them. It's a book that's both quirky and sweet and shows two girls with an interest in science.


A Book to Look For in 2020


From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Zoe has never met her birth father, Marcus, who is in prison for murder, but she receives a letter from him on her twelfth birthday. She writes him back, being sure to keep it secret from her mother who does not want Zoe to have anything to do with her real father. When Marcus proclaims his innocence, Zoe is determined to find out the truth. This is a meaningful story about family that explores what it means to do the right thing and will give readers some insight into our justice system. I was hooked into this story pretty early on, wanting to know how it would all work out for Zoe and Marcus. The book publishes in January.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Recent Reads

Every Monday, I share books I have recently read. I also participate in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. To find out what other bloggers are reading, check out the host blogs, Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers, or follow on Twitter at #imwayr.

Recent Reads...

I'm Not Millie by Mark Pett

As Millie eats dinner and gets ready for bed, she is given many commands to which she responds in some form that she is not Millie. Each time she appears as a different animal until she is finally coerced into appearing as her human self. Most kids who have ever tried to get out of doing a task will relate to Millie, as will any parent who has ever tried to get their child to do something that was not desired. This is both a fun an imaginative book. Thanks to the publisher, Random House Kids for providing my book review group, #BookExcursion, with a review copy. The book publishes in November.

The Space Walk by Brian Biggs

Randolph is an astronaut, a very bored astronaut. When he's finally allowed to go outside for a walk, his explorations lead him to an unexpected friend. The two friends have fun together and even capture their friendship on camera with a few selfies. The illustrations of life in space are interesting. Thanks to Penguin Young Readers for providing my book review group, #BookExcursion, with a review copy.

The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk

Nowadays, there are so many more nonfiction books that are not only informational, but also fun to read and this is one of them. This is a great introduction to the human brain with humorous illustrations and dialogue and comic book-like text interspersed throughout. An entertaining nonfiction read.

Bouncing Back by Scot Ostler

Carlos Cooper was known as "Cooper the Hooper" for his amazing basketball skills, but that was in his previous life before his wheelchair. Now that he's joined a wheelchair basketball team, it's like learning a whole new sport. He becomes determined to improve his game and help his team make it to the State tournament. This becomes even more of a challenge when the team's gym is shut down. Lots of basketball action will entertain sports fans, but the story is interesting, as well, as the team works together to win and to save their gym.

Here We Are by Aarti Namdev Shahani

This is an eye-opening memoir about the challenges of being an immigrant in America, the road to gaining citizenship, and our justice system. It's a powerful book about a family that is determined to make their way. It's also a story about the relationship between a daughter and a father as they navigate the complexities of the American Dream. Moving and insightful.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Being Intentional About Student Happiness

A Review of Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness by Katie Egan Cunningham


Recently, happiness has been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about the importance of happiness and ways to be happier. My personal reading has included a few books about happiness, I’ve chatted with a friend about the idea of happiness, and I even attended a presentation at a local university given by the author of a book on the topic of happiness. When I saw that Katie Egan Cunningham had a new book, Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness, it seemed only fitting that I extend my exploration of happiness to include my professional learning. If the pursuit of happiness is so important in my life as an adult, naturally, it seems that it’s also important in the lives of the children I teach.

At the core of Start with Joy is the belief that students' happiness is as important as their academic learning. The purpose of the book is to show how students’ happiness can be supported during literacy learning. Cunningham stresses throughout the book that we should be intentional about supporting students’ happiness. We can’t just hope that students’ happiness is a by-product of the literacy instruction we provide, but instead we can design opportunities for students to engage in literacy work that is joyful.

In Chapter One, Cunningham provides a convincing rationale, which includes some statistics about the rates of depression and research related to students’ happiness, as to why we need to design our literacy instruction to foster students’ happiness. She also states, “A primary goal of becoming a strong reader and writer is to help one design the life they want to lead. A happy life” (p. 8). The next seven chapters of the book describe each of the pillars that can provide a foundation for our thinking around joyful literacy instruction and guide us in designing instruction that will support students’ academic achievement and their happiness. The pillars that Cunningham describes are:

  • Connection: fostering social interactions among our students
  • Choice: providing students choice so they feel empowered in their learning
  • Challenge: supporting students as learners so they move beyond what they can currently do
  • Play: incorporating a playful spirit into literacy instruction
  • Story: encouraging students to find and tell their stories
  • Discovery: building on students’ sense of awe and wonder
  • Movement: inviting students to move to enhance their learning

For each of the pillars that Cunningham writes about, she provides multiple suggestions for ways that it can be incorporated into literacy instruction. Cunningham writes from the perspective of someone who has experience in the classroom and working with literacy learners, so her ideas are relevant and practical. In Chapter Nine, she encourages teachers to start small and reminds us that, “...change happens because of all the small things we do over time with consistency” (p. 148). In Part Two of the book, Cunningham offers ten “invitations,” possibilities for lessons, that will bring meaning, purpose, and happiness to our instruction. Like other ideas throughout the book, these invitations are easy to implement and practical.

For me, the best professional books are those that include practical ideas that can improve my instruction. As I was reading Start with Joy, I found myself making note of many ideas that I wanted to try out. In addition, I appreciate professional books that push me to think about my instruction in new ways. Reading this book has made me think more deeply about the necessity of being intentional when it comes to students’ happiness and the ways that I can make small shifts in my language and instruction to create more joyful literacy learning. Start with Joy is a book I plan to reread so I can process it more deeply. I also think it would make a great choice for a professional book club read because it will spark conversation about what is essential for our students' literacy instruction and the ways in which we can bring joy to our students' literacy lives.

Cunningham, K.E. (2019). Start with joy: Designing literacy learning for student happiness. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse.