It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

monday what are you reading?
Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers pose my favorite question on Mondays — what are you reading?  For Monday, July 28th I would like to recap some of the books I loved reading this past week.  Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday challenge has helped fill my summer with wonderful books so I have some terrific titles to share.


Picture book: Beach

beach coverElisha Cooper’s lovely ode to the summer beach is a perfect book for late July.  The reader arrives at the shore before the crowds to enjoy the morning peace and quiet.  But as the day goes on, Cooper uses vivid language and soft watercolor sketches to share the hum of activity on a summer beach.  Beautifully drawn, this book is great to throw in the beach bag or put on the classroom shelf.


Middle Grade Novel: Half a Chance

half a chanceLucy is used to moving. Her father, a famous nature photographer, loves to travel and moves his family often.  Home this time is a lakeside cottage. Will she make friends?  Will this spot truly become home? As Lucy finds her way in a new town, she views the people and places through the lens of her own camera. I love this story and Cynthia Lord has a magical way with words.  It is a pleasure to read each of her sentences.


Young Reader/Middle Grade Novel: Absolutely Almost

absolutely almostOh how I love this book!  Albie is a charming, good-hearted fifth grader but life is not easy for him. He must start over in a new school after his private school forces him out because he struggles as a student.  His best friend is starring in a new reality show and his parents search for the perfect nanny.  Albie’s voice is clear and strong throughout this masterful book.  What’s more, Albie’s story is poignant, funny and hopeful.  I cannot wait to recommend this book to students.


YA Novel: We Were Liars

we were liars E. Lockhart’s new novel is hard to forget.  The Sinclairs enjoy a kind of privilege most people never see.  On a windswept island off the coast of Cape Cod this monied New England family enjoys sun, sand and endless meals prepared by the help. Cadence vividly remembers the start of her fifteenth summer but the thread of memory is cut when she suffers a head injury during the summer.  Lockhart moves the story fluidly from one teenage summer to another and back again. This is a book to devour in one long sitting if possible.  The perfect summer read.


Currently Reading:

summer of letting goI am excited to be a few chapters into Gae Polisner’s new book, The Summer of Letting Go.  I will say more about this book next week but I can’t wait to follow Frankie through this story. I feel as if I know her personally. In fact, Frankie drew me in from the first page.

Thank goodness for Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST!

ed727c3f79240e523e2c4ba402900477Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading Varian Johnson’s new book, The Great Greene Heist. The book could not be more cool.  Jackson Greene, the main character, is the Cary Grant of middle school.  He wears his signature red tie askew and sips earl grey tea as he plots his next con.

In this caper novel, Jackson is joined by a likable crew of middle schoolers.  There is the computer geek, the brainy girl disguised as a cheerleader, the eager newbie, the love interest, the bank roll and more. Johnson’s crisp writing makes each new character vibrant and impossibly cool in his or her own way.   Young readers of every stripe will find a character in this book worth daydreaming about and THAT is one reason I am thankful for The Great Greene Heist.

Johnson builds a cast of diverse characters but not just for diversity’s sake. These characters are diverse in their interests, strengths, speech and yes, skin color.  We need more diversity in children’s and young adult books.  As a teacher I want my students to read about characters who look like them, act like them, inspire them and challenge them.  Without the kind of diversity Johnson provides young readers might like a book but won’t relate to or dream of being the characters without glimpsing a familiar trait or background.

Another reason to love The Great Greene Heist is the middle school setting.  This novel has a sophisticated plot at the heart. In a recent online #SharpSchu chat, Johnson said it took him years to devise the heist.  It would have been easy to place this story in a high school setting with older, more sophisticated leads but Johnson chose middle school.  Middle school readers will eat this story up! Johnson gives middle grade readers fully formed characters with interesting lives. What’s more, Jackson Greene and his gang have a very developed code of conduct.  What 11, 12 or 13-year-old would not love to be given the respect Johnson affords his characters?  In my opinion, part of the genius of The Great Greene Heist is Johnson’s empowering of his young heroes.

I plan to have several copies of The Great Greene Heist in my classroom library.  This book will be hard to keep on the shelf.


Why I Teach

Teaching is a second career for me. I spent years on Capitol Hill and in the public affairs business before going back for my masters in teaching. Through the years I had tutored students after work and I shared a love of books with all the kids I knew.

Today my whole life is richer thanks to my time in the classroom. As a sixth grade reading teacher I get to talk books all day with a wide variety of students. But I can point to one moment in my classroom this year that exemplifies why I teach and why I will continue to teach.

I had a student this past year who liked to talk about books. He always sat near the front of the reading area when I introduced new books. He was eager to talk when we discussed a shared read aloud. But, reading had been a struggle for him. English was not the primary language at home and he had always found himself behind in word knowledge and reading level.

I loved making a big pile of books for him to consider as we worked to increase his volume. Sometimes he gravitated toward graphic novels or quick reads and other times he wanted a challenge. Book by book he was changing his life as a reader.

One day he asked me for The Book Thief. Several students in the class had been reading the book and he wanted to join in. Additionally, the movie based on the book was hitting theaters. The Book Thief was a challenge…miles beyond any book he had read up to that point. We talked about it and he was determined to give it a try. I decided to read along with him so we could talk about the book–what was happening, what was challenging for him, etc.

Reading The Book Thief took a while for this student. But one bright morning he was the first person in my classroom — long before I would see him on a normal day — and his face lit up. He was clutching the book and said, “This is the BEST book I have ever read!” We talked all through homeroom about his experience. I asked him to book talk the book in class later that day.

That moment still brings happy tears to my eyes. He entered the room clinging to that book with unabashed joy..THAT is why I teach.

The Community of Teachers

For the second summer week in a row I feel joy in the community of teachers.   This sense of comfort is easy to find during the school year — pop into a teacher’s classroom for advice or participate in a brainstorming session.  But in the summer, teachers come together for the love of teaching.

Last week I attended the July Reading Institute at Columbia’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP).  An army of 1,200 strong listened to the latest research, laughed with keynote speaker Jacqueline Woodson and shared ideas to take back tot he classroom.  The generosity of spirit was invigorating.  Some of us were only a couple of days removed from the classroom but we were all equally eager to engage.  I left New York with new friends and the promise of sharing ideas across the transom.

Today I begin the Teachers Write summer project.  Authors Kate Messner, Jo Knowles and Gae Polisner host over a thousand teachers, challenging us to write every day.  Over the course of several weeks, a couple dozen guest authors will provide prompts, comments and encouragement.  Equally important, the community of writers will share and provide support.  I am excited for the challenge and hope to find my writing voice over the next several weeks.  I plan to write for writing’s sake…to see where the words take me.  Unlike most of my writing, this summer work is not audience-driven or lesson-based.

The slower days of summer offer the community of teachers a chance to truly shine.  When we are not bound by classrooms or schedules, we teachers can reenergize.  But I marvel at the flow of creativity that these warm, supposedly lazy days bring out!