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.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Falling in Love With Graphic Novels

While independent reading is always something I've advocated for and lived by in my classroom - graphic novels were sort of the awkward uncle of my library. I knew they were important to show the variety of text mediums, but my inner voice kept saying "come on, they're really not real books..." There were the notable few, Drowned City, and March that were my go-tos, but my knowledge of graphic novels pretty much stopped there.

So throughout my summer reading, I delved into some graphic novels and am happy to report - I am in love. And that weird voice in my head has been forever silenced. Here are a few of my favorite summer graphic novel reads!

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Real Friends is the story of Shannon navigating the complicated waters of friendship. From 2nd grade to middle school - making friends, losing friends - seeing friends go in and out of groups, and being in and out of “the group” herself. She discovers the difficulties of cliques and what true friendship looks like. An incredible memoir via the medium of a graphic novel - Hale & Pham have done an stunning job bringing this to life. The illustrations coupled with the narration and inner thoughts will leave you aching for Shannon and connecting to the greatest difficulties and deepest joys of friendship stories.

Just take a glimpse at one of my favorite (and yet so heart-wrenching) panels:

"I could see why Adrienne might want Jen as a best friend instead of me." 

Any upper elementary or middle school students truly could instantly connect to this story. We've all felt 'other' at some point, and this memoir recounts the ups and downs of that like no other.  What a great book to connect to other novels MG & YA dealing with discussions of friendship, loyalty, self-esteem, and so many other coming-of-age stories.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: Amina's Voice by Hena Khan

Amina's Voice is an exquisite middle grade novel. Amina, despite her incredible singing voice, and adoration of The Voice finds herself losing the right words both with her friends and her family as she navigates middle school.

Amina's best friend, Soojin, is changing in ways she never expected - she is considering changing her name when her Korean family becomes citizens. And Soojin has been hanging out with Emily, who used to make fun of both of them back in elementary school. Amina struggles to understand why her best friend is changing - and that brings her to question herself a lot too.

Amina faces more confusion when her uncle visits from Pakistan. When her Pakistani-American family believes doesn't seem to match her Uncle's beliefs - is she wrong to follow her heart and her voice?

And on top of all that, her mosque gets vandalized in the middle of the night - leaving her and her community shaken up and confused. How will this tragedy and these changes continue to impact her? Can she find her voice?

A novel that is sweet and touching - every reader will identify with Amina feeling like everything she used to know is just so far off normal. It's always hard to understand how life can change so quickly.

Amina's Voice also marks the hallmark publishing of Salaam Reads, Simon & Schuster's new Muslim youth imprint, which highlights just how powerful it is when a publishing company uses their voice to ensure a wide array of stories and perspectives are brought to the table.

"We need voices and positive characters that counter the negatives in the media," author Hena Khan shared in an interview with the Washington Post, On Khan's blog, she reflected before her book's release about her hope for Amina's Voice, "I hope reading about Amina, and seeing her as a friend, will help foster compassion and tolerance among children of all backgrounds and faiths. And I hope that stories like hers, will help create a generation of kids that will vaguely remember the events of today in the future and wonder how it was ever possible."

Beautiful book I cannot wait to get in the hands of children!