Sunday, January 28, 2018

SCCTE 2018: What's New in YA - A Year of 2017 Reading

Four years ago, I went to SCCTE (South Carolina Council of Teachers of English) and while hearing from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher transformed my everything, so too did the session What's New in YA. A full session of book talks, book love - what more can you ask for! It is pure magic, getting the right books into the right hands (teachers!) who will continue do the most important work there is - match them with kids as they grow as readers.

Joining this brilliant group of panel readers and educators has easily become one of my greatest joys and made me a better educator. Each year, we read voraciously (100 books or so), and then narrow down our favorites to share at the conference.

I always set the goal that I'll actually keep up blogging during the school year, but let's just say I am working with #growthmindset and haven't done that yet :) 

Some of these titles have appeared before on the blog - but here's the final list of my Top 10 picks of my 2017 MG/YA reads. Thank you authors and publishers for making it so difficult to narrow down an amazing year of reading! For our combined list of Top Selections, annotated review of all titles our panel read in 2017, check out the google drive folder with all our docs.

2017 Top 10

 Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin tells the story of Justyce, an All-American high-school teen on top of it all. He's kind, friendly, smart, and hard-working. An Atlanta prep-school student, he is looking forward to his Ivy League future that he's worked so hard for. But after being handcuffed and punched by a cop while trying to help his ex-girlfriend get home safely - his world shifts. While he did get released, afterwards he started to notice all these things he hadn't before. He doesn't fit in in his mostly-white upper-class prep school, and also feels out of place in his old neighborhood. He starts journaling to Dr. Martin Luther King to process and try to live the way he thinks Dr. King would if in his place. As Justyce continues his day-to-day, from debates in school classes to off-campus parties, from decisions about girls to his family (mom) back home- Justyce tries to act as Dr. King would, but it gets harder and harder with each passing slight. After continued incidents with classmates, things escalate in an incident with an off-duty copy... and you'll just have to read for more! 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Review: Momma, Did You Hear the News?

Momma, Did You Hear the News? Written by Sanya Whittaker Gragg and Illustrated by Kim Holt was provided by the author, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, a Sponsor of Multicultural Children's Book Day 

We know the publishing industry has some catching up to do with publishing books representative of our beautiful, diverse world. So when the opportunity came up to review a book for Multicultural Children's Book Day... I jumped :) I was matched with Sanya Gregg's Momma, Did You Hear the News? 

Ten year-old Avery grapples with yet another tragedy - another shooting of an unarmed black man. His parents try to help him and his brother process this by having 'the talk' and teaching him what to do when encountering police, so that in case they encounter a bad cop - that they can come home alive.

"One boy was eating skittles. Dad, I like to eat them too! Another played his music loud, just like I sometimes do." 
"I know you boys are youngsters, but life goes fast you see. I want to share this with you, Words your Granny shared with me." 
A time capsule of our unfortunate state in 2017 - where parents with love, care, and dread still have to prepare their children with defensive measures in case of interactions with authority. A book born out of inspiration from her own son, you feel the loving anchor of Avery's parents in the book as they wrestle with explaining why this is so important.

The family address how not all cops are bad, "we pray for those in blue," but "the mean ones are the reason why we had this talk today." He passes down an acronym his mother gave to him - Memorize the 5 to come home ALIVE - "A to the L to the I-V-E, Come home alive that is the key."

We all would hope is that one day this book can be a primary source for a research project on "that awful era" - but for the world we live in, absolutely a needed, unheard perspective in a children's book to help with such a difficult conversation.

For teachers looking to use this in the classroom, would be a great opener into a series of inquiry based learning or social justice unit. Would be a great picture book to start off a text set - there are a lot of conversations (this one from the New York Times Op-Docs, and even a recent episode of Black-ishthat show families (fictional and real) having this talk that teachers could combine together to analyze and talk across texts before going into further research.

The mission of MCBD is "... to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries," and I am so grateful to Sanya for writing this piece, and MCBD for matching us together!


Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors
BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.
Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party!
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:
Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Posted by John David Anderson

"It will be awkward at first, but it gets better. You find your people and you make your tribe and you protect each other. From the wolves."
"That's middle school?" I asked her.
She gave me a sad kind of smile. "That's just life," she said.  (13)

Posted is the story of DeeDee, Bench, Wolf, and Frost, the four-friend tribe who have found each other amongst the chaos and awkward that is middle school, specifically Branton Middle School. After an incident that led to the banning of cell-phones, sticky notes became the mode of communication first among their friends, but soon the whole school caught the trend. Notes appeared on their lockers, on doorways, in the bathrooms - and what started off as just notes became vicious. 

As if that wasn't enough, a new arrival, Rose, shifted the balance the group previously had. A girl? In their group? And one as unique as Rose at that? 

Middle school is a minefield. Deciding who to like and not like and who to follow and who to ignore completely. Worrying that you're going to trip while walking down the hall and sprawl all over the floor like a beached starfish. Wondering if you should raise your hand when the teacher asks the hard question and risk exposing your nerdiness for the sake of a few bonus points. Taking every sideways glance as a message, trying to crack the code. Every day you're bound to do something that gets you noticed by the wrong people. Every day you're bound to step somewhere you shouldn't. (99)

This story is a sweet one about belonging - what you do to fit in, stand up, and who your true friends really are in the end. 

“We were back-to-school shopping - gathering the instruments of torture that my teachers would use to slowly bore me to death over the next nine months. I was nervous... It wasn’t that the classes would get harder, or that I would get lost in the labyrinth of halls, or that I might forget my combination and look derpy just standing there, aimlessly spinning the lock, though these thoughts crossed my mind more than twice. No. What scared me most was lunch.” (10-11) 

A great one to add to your upper elementary or middle school classroom library! Also a great one to read as an educator because goodness does this put you right back in the angst of middle-school consciousness! 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Stacks: Long Weekend Reads

  Ah, long weekends! Sleeping in, lazy afternoons in the sun, and losing track of time with a good book. And reading so much you save the blogging for later. Here are four books I devoured last weekend and cannot wait to get into the hands of children.

Patina, Jason Reynolds

"...That's kinda what running was to me. A way to shut people up. A way to... I guess, sometimes even shut myself up. Just turn it all off. Leave everything, all the hurting stuff, the unregular stuff that seemed regular to me, in the dust." 
The second in Reynolds' Track series - Patina follows another member of Ghosts' track team, Patina, or Patty. Dedicated "For those who've been passed the baton too young," Patina's volume honors so many young women who are expected to handle it all. Life's difficulties and raw struggles get handed to way too many kids to young, and Patty's story is no different. Patty has always helped with her younger sister Maddy, and especially now so since they live with their Aunt and Uncle and not her mom, who struggles with diabetes, or as she calls it, The Sugar. Patty's to do list centers on her sister, "Make sure Maddy's bathed. make sure Maddy's dressed. Make sure Maddy's fed. Everything." (13-14). Part of Patty's 'everything' is running. Patty has always been a skilled runner, and joining the Defenders, her running team lets her put some serious distance behind her. Fitting in on her track team has been way easier than her new school, Chester Academy, where she feels out of place amongst the rich, white prep school crowd. As there are challenges at home, at school, and at track - you will tear through the pages racing after Patty. 

Be the One: Six True Stories of Teens Overcoming Hardship with Hope, Bryon Pitts

"Healing can come from many places, but it starts and ends with you, the individual who finds the hero inside your own heart."
As a journalist for over 30 years, Bryon Pitts has heard and shared innumerable stories. This collection takes six young voices who answer the question - "How do you explain it, young people who face what seem like insurmountable odds and yet succeed?" (2) Pitts describes, "These are not bootstrap stories of young people who made it on their own. But rather, young people who endured when they had to, sought out others when they could, and managed to stay faithful to their dreams and ambitions when they could very easily have given up. More than survivors, they are overcomers" (4). From Tania Parker, who Pitts met at her charter school when she was eleven years old, to Pappy a teen refugee who fled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and now works for a relief agency- each story will leave you humbled and inspired. As Pitts writes, "I wanted others... to know they are not alone and know that heroes come in all sizes and ages" (5).

I Am A Secret Service Agent: My Life Spent Protecting the President, Dan Emmett

"Before entering the room, I took a few seconds to think of my wife and family. I said a quick prayer to the effect that if called upon to kill... I would do so quickly and accurately, and President Clinton would live even if I did not. As my prayer ended, I was filled with a calm rage... no matter what, I would do my job to the best of my abilities."  
Dan Emmett served as a Secret Service agent for three presidents, President George H.W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, and President George W. Bush. In this incredible biography, Emmett catalogs his lifelong dream of being a secret service agent ever since seeing them in action when President Kennedy was assassinated. With gripping details, he shares the application process, training, and day-to-day life of various Secret Service assignments. Absolutely fascinating to see more of the inner workings of one of the most heralded agencies in the United States. I wish I could rewind and give this book to so many former students of mine. Step by step, you see what it took to even be selected for the Secret Service, and then all the other duties a Secret Service agent does before they even get close to guarding the President. This book will definitely be passed around quickly from student to student - incredible read!

How Dare the Sun Rise, Sandra Uwiringiyimana 

"I felt the metal barrel on my temple. I waited for the blast. In that moment, I thought it was all over." 
Sandra Uwiringiyimana's memoir How Dare the Sun Rise is an incredible portrait of bravery, survival, and strength. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at ten years old Sandra watched her mother and sister be shot by rebels who invaded their refugee camp, killing her sister. She escaped with other surviving family members and eventually resettled in Rochester, New York through the UN refugee program. However, life in the United States wasn't exactly what she envisioned either. Making a home somewhere new and unfamiliar, wrestling with scars of the past, trying to create a life somewhat resembling normal - it was not easy, "I had grown up in a war zone, but life in America, I realized was a different kind of war zone" (171). Sandra takes readers through her story with grace, insight, and a keen eye for justice. Her resilience is humbling, and her activism is inspiring. May we all do more to fight for what is right.