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.

Monday, October 21, 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...


Bad Dog by Mike Boldt

Rocky is not behaving like other dogs. She is indeed a cat, but the narrator insists she is a dog. This is an amusing book and sweet, as well, as the narrator comes to a realization about Rocky that the reader has been aware of all along. The book publishes in November.

Chapter Two is Missing by Josh Lieb

This is a clever and humorous whodunit about a boy in a bowtie searching for the thief who stole chapter two, a suspicious janitor, and a not-very-skilled detective. It's very entertaining. Thanks to the publisher, Penguin Young Readers, for a review copy.

The Love Letter by Anika Aldamuy Denise

This is a sweet story about how one letter brightens the day of three animals, helping them to be more carefree and cheerful and realize they are loved. You can read more of my thoughts here.

This is Not That Kind of Book by Christopher Healy

What starts out as an alphabet book turns into a book about friends trying to figure out what type of book they are in. The characters which include the letter a, Little Red Riding Hood, an apple, a hedgehog, a banana named Captain, a pirate, and a detective are all very amusing. A creative and humorous book.

A Tale of Magic... by Chris Colfer

This is the prequel to The Land of Stories that can be read as a stand alone. Brystal loves to read, but in the Southern Kingdom girls are forbidden to do so. Magic is also outlawed. When Brystal reads a banned book and realizes she has magical abilities, she is sent to a correctional facility where the conditions are dreadful. She's not there for long before Madame Weatherberry arrives to take her away to her academy of magic. Brystal and the friends she makes at the academy, not only learn magic, but soon are on an adventure to save the kingdom from evil. This is a captivating and imaginative story with themes of friendship, acceptance, and equality.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Picture Book to Love: The Love Letter

The Love Letter by Anika Aldamuy Denise


One letter brightens the day of three animals, helping them to be more carefree and cheerful and realize they are loved.

Hedgehog, Bunny, and Squirrel, each in turn, come across a love letter in the meadow. Thinking they are the intended recipient of the letter, their moods become more upbeat. Although their belief that the letter was for them is a mistake, the positive words of the letter touch each of their hearts and strengthen their friendship.

This is a sweet story and one that can show readers that a small kindness, like a note expressing how much one cares, can bring someone else great joy. I hope it inspires readers to think about how they can brighten a friend's day.

Anika Aldamuy Denise is also the author of Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré and Starring Carmen!, among other books. I am excited that she will be presenting at the Massachusetts Reading Association Conference, which I am chairing, in April.

Monday, October 14, 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...


Kevin the Unicorn: It's Not All Rainbows by Jessika von Innerebner

Some days it's not easy to keep a smile on your face, even for a unicorn. Who needs to be perfect all the time any way? With the help of his friends, Kevin learns that not every day is going to be the best. This is a really amusing book and kids will giggle at all the ways Kevin's day goes wrong. Thanks to the publisher, Penguin Young Readers, for providing #BookExcursion with a review copy.

Frank and Bean by Jamie Michalak

A hot dog and a bean become friends in this book perfect for beginning readers. Frank likes quiet and writing in his secret notebook. Bean is messy and loud and is looking for words so he can write a song. Although the two are different, they do find something they have in common. Humorous and cute. Jamie, who has also written the Joe and Sparky series, is one of the authors who will be presenting at the Massachusetts Reading Association Conference, which I am chairing, in April. 

Explorer Academy: The Double Helix (Book 3) by Trudy Trueit

Cruz is training to become an explorer with a group of other kids at the Explorer Academy. His father is missing and his aunt has gone in search, leaving Cruz in jeopardy as someone is out to do him harm before his thirteenth birthday. This book is action-packed, fast-paced, and suspenseful. There's lots of science, technology, and archaeology, too. Thanks to the publisher and Media Masters Publicity for providing my book review group, #BookExcursion, with a review copy.

Midsummer's Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca

I've had this book in my to-be-read stack since the summer and finally picked it up since Rajani is another author presenting at the Massachusetts Reading Association Conference. It's an enchanting middle grade novel with a little bit of Shakespeare and a lot of baking. Mimi wants to win a baking contest to prove she measures up to her siblings. When Mimi's neighbors and family start acting strange, it could be that her concoctions have put a spell on them. A unique story, but beware that it will make your mouth water.

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner

This is another book I've read about a character with dreams to be a great baker. When Ellie, who has cerebral palsy, goes on an extended visit to her grandparents, she starts at a new school. Ellie is dealing with her overprotective mother, a grandfather who has dementia, and challenges with fitting in at school due to the fact that she is the only one in a wheelchair. Ellie is a character to root for as she makes friends and finds her place. Lovely book.

Monday, October 7, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is 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 or follow on Twitter at #imwayr.

Recent Reads...

At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell

This is a lyrical picture book about a Cherokee family hoping for the safe return of a family member serving in World War II. The text is sparse, but captures the many emotions, worry, love, and pride, that the family is feeling. The author's note gives background information about the woman who was the inspiration for the book.

Cape (The League of Secret Heroes) by Kate Hannigan

Another World War II story that I read this week, but this one's also a superhero adventure. Josie wants to help out the war efforts with her puzzling skills, but she's held back because she's a girl until she meets two other friends and they discover their powers. Comic-book style text is sprinkled throughout the book. Thanks to the author, I won a copy of the book (and a cape) through a Twitter contest.

Dory Fantasamagory: Tiny Tough by Abby Hanlon

Dory is back in her fifth book and she is as fun and imaginative as ever. This time she's off on a pirate adventure. I know my Dory fans will be looking forward to reading this one. Thanks to Penguin Young Readers for providing #BookExcursion with a review copy.

Malamander by Thomas Taylor

Herbie Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel by the coast in the seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea. A peculiar girl shows up and they embark on a search to find out who her parents are and unravel the mystery of the Malamander, a legendary monster that roams the sea. This is an intriguing book with adventure, spookiness, and eccentric characters. Thanks to the publisher, Candlewick, for a review copy.

Shine! by J. J. and Chris Grabenstein

When her father gets a new job, Piper starts at a new school, which is a little more prestigious than her previous one and where she feels she might not measure up. As she makes friends and realizes that being oneself is what matters, she finds her place. There's also a message about the importance of being kind. Thanks to the publisher, I received an advance reader's copy of the book. It publishes in November.