Monday, August 13, 2018

TTT: Favorite Blog Posts

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: Favorite Book Blogs or Bookish Websites.

Well, my favorite book blogs are already listed in the sidebar, and I wouldn't feel very good about whittling it down to ten publicly. So I've put together a list of ten terrific articles and blog posts that I've saved on my "Bookworm" board on Pinterest over the years.  For the most part these are NOT from book blogs. My list looked really boring, so I dropped in images I'd saved on the same board as well.  Enjoy exploring!

  • Infographic from the UVA Library system about the effects of reading, in the dramatically dire style of a drug use warning.
Both my wife (INFP) and I (INFJ) are HSPs, that is, Highly Sensitive People. Lately my wife has been feeling a little eXtra Sensitive. Cartoon from
  • I loved the TTT prompt three years ago in which we each picked the assigned reading for an imaginary course, and this one on Saving the World was one of my favorites.


  • In one of my favorite teaching blogs, one writer shared how a pre-service teacher figured out a delightfully sneaky way to upgrade her TBR.
Can't get out of bed. Send help... or books. Yeah, just books.

  • Another fascinating infographic about world-wide reading habits.
    We share Happiness!
    Professional Library Literature :

  • A recording of Neil Gaiman reading aloud his short story "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury," in honor of Bradbury's 91st birthday.

Quit reading? PREPOSTEROUS!

We're doing the annual "Summer is almost over so we better go do something!" frenzy, which occurs simultaneously with the "School is almost starting so I am all fired up to do a bunch of research and work and organization!" frenzy--SO I may not be around all that much for a week or two. But I'll try to check in when I can. Enjoy these summer days, those of you in the northern hemisphere.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"Mid"-Year Freakout Tag 2018's mid August, which means I'm RIGHT ON SCHEDULE for the mid-year book freak-out tag, right? The entire summer counts as the middle of the year, right?

Well, we had that TTT that was about favorites so far back in June, so I didn't want to jump right in with a similar post. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Then again, one of my oldest and dearest friends gave me a birthday gift that featured the saying, "The only cardio I get is running late," so there's a tiny chance it's just me.

Image result for running late meme

But enough about me. Let's talk about books. I'm probably supposed to just choose one for each category, but I read a lot of books, so I'm giving myself 3 slots for each. I tried to not feature any book more than once, and to only highlight books I love--e.g., if a book I didn't care for had a gorgeous cover, I found a book I love with a gorgeous cover to feature instead. (Of course, this didn't work for "biggest disappointment.")

I'm pretty sure nobody would ever look at the books I tend to read and say, "Oh, she loves true crime and angsty novels about unhappy British women," but there you have it--my absolute favorites so far.


Three masterful sequels by three very different, but quite amazing, authors. Well, technically Rebound is a prequel, but it still counts, right?


These three are all in my classroom library, but I haven't read them yet. I've heard such great things about all of them! Why don't I have more time for reading?


Laini Taylor, Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, and Patrick Ness are all auto-read authors for me. I don't need to know what the book is about, just that they wrote it, and I'm in. So all of these are high on my list, even though I'm not super up on new releases that aren't sequels. 


  • Orphan Island
  • Let's Talk About Love
  • Funny Girls: Funniest. Stories. Ever!

Caveat: I have no beef with people who loved these. They just didn't do it for me. I wanted more story and less allegory from Orphan Island. Let's Talk About Love was too rom-com cutesy for me. Those two both also fell victim to the dreaded over-anticipation problem. Funny Girls maybe oversold it self a tiny bit with that subtitle.


  • Nest
  • Evil Librarian
  • The Steel Seraglio (British title: The City of Silk and Steel. Or maybe it's the other way around? I mean, do most Americans know what a seraglio is? I didn't.)

Nest surprised me because it was achingly honest and refused to tie everything up neatly at the end, even though it's a middle grade novel. Evil Librarian just caught my eye on the library shelf, and was as delightfully funny as the title implied. Steel Seraglio was "assigned" reading for a reading retreat I went to, and I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it when I realized how rich and wonderful it is.


I've only read the one book by each of these, so I can't say they are auto-buys yet, but I will definitely be looking forward to their next books.


Oh, my scrappy little nobodies. (Sorry, Anna Kendrick.) A white foster child in modern day eastern Washington, a sentient robot, and a 19th century black zombie killer.  I really admire how these three overcome traumatic pasts--and presents--while continuing to grow as people. Or robots, as the case may be. 


The first two could have qualified for best sequels (but I had to make decisions) or best character (but they weren't new to me this year). Digger is the most adorably weird graphic novel I've read in...ever? It's high fantasy starring a wombat.


Alfonso Jones is one of the best Black Lives Matter themed books I've read, and one of the best graphic novels I've read, and one of the best books that blends contemporary fiction with nonfiction historical information. It's painful reading Amy Krouse Rosenthal's happy, loving book knowing how little time she had left in this world. And the second novella in Queens of Fennbirn moves inexorably towards its tragic end, breaking your heart the entire time.

I haven't seen any, but I'm excited about The Hate U Give, and I still want to see Love, Simon and Don't Worry; He Won't Get Far on Foot, the Joaquin Phoenix/Gus Van Sant film based on the memoir of local icon John Callahan.

All very different, all very beautiful, all done by someone who seems to have actually read the damn book.


Purple Hibiscus because I want to read more Adichie, and also because a Popsugar prompt is a book with your favorite color in the title. Trigger Warnings because I love Gaiman's short works, and because I've had it out from the library for maximum renewals and need to get it turned in by Monday. Breakout because I love Messner's writing as well as what she does for students, schools, teacher-writers, etc. 

Phew! There you have 27 books I love, 6 books I hope to love, and a measly 3 books I didn't. It's always so interesting doing these reflective posts, and realizing which books have actually stuck with me over time. I feel confident that this really reflects the best of what I've read in 2018. Well, other than the 16 other books I gave more that 4 stars to that didn't make this list...

Happy reading! If you decide to give any of these a try, let me know what you think. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

August Picture Book 10 x 10

I'm coming in at the last minute to join the August Picture Book 10x10 event. This is the ninth year teachers, parents, librarians, and readers of all sorts have joined together to share their list of ten must-read picture books for the upcoming school year. (More information is on Enjoy and Embrace Learning.) I've never participated in this before, mostly because I start noticing posts around a day or two after the event, and am not in the loop enough to know (or be reminded) that it's coming up.

But this evening I saw some tweets about it, and serendipitously enough a few hours ago I set up a dozen or so picture books along the "chalk" rail on my classroom whiteboard. Now I wish I'd taken a photo, but I'm sure I can remember at least ten of the books I most want to share with my 7th and 8th grade reading students as the school year begins. Many of these I got this summer.

The Think-y Ones
Adrift At Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho
This picture book memoir about fleeing Vietnam in a boat and finding safety when an American aircraft carrier picks them up, really shows how desperate a family would have to be to flee their homeland for the unknown. It also highlights how drastically our refugee policies have shifted. The end material includes some documents and photos from the Ho family's experience.

Mr. Lincoln's Way by Patricia Polacco
I am a big Polacco fan, though it kind of drives me nuts that I can never quite tell if her books are nonfiction, "based on a true story," or made up entirely. This book celebrates a principal (how many time do you see that?!?) who takes the time to find the good in an angry, racist student. If some of these books are attempts to get my students off on the right foot, this one is a good one for teachers to ponder as they begin the year.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
Beautifully illustrated and poetic in tone, this book won me over instantly, and I hope it will help create a welcoming community in my classroom.

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki
I've loved this one for years, and just tracked down a fresh copy this summer. Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during WWII. He went against direct orders to supply as many Lithuanian Jews as possible with visas out of the country. 90% of the Baltic Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; Sugihara's courage is the main reason why the number isn't even higher. I met a woman who escaped with her family on a Sugihara visa when I was leading a tour in Lithuania in the late 1990s. Following the law and doing what's right aren't always the same thing, and I think now is a great time to share this story with students.

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
Anyone who's taking part in a picture book event knows this book. I think it will make a great beginning of the year conversation starter about overcoming challenges, facing fears, resiliency, etc.

The Funny Ones
Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark Sommerset
I got this solely because Pernille Ripp recommended it. I read it with my 12 year old, and she was initially horrified, but then begged to read it again, and cackled with laughter. "See? You're smarter already!" is our new catchphrase.

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
This one made my husband want to write picture books. The silliness and innocence in the midst of social norms (like not eating your classmates) are absolutely charming.

School's First Day of School by Adam Rex
I tried to read this last year on the first day of school, but we were running a mini schedule and I kept running out of time. I think the slightly surreal, meta concept of this book is hysterical. It takes middle schoolers a little longer to get it, but they get there. Maybe when the school shoots drinking fountain water up the nose of the kid who'd declared, "I hate school."

A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
I love the double twist in here. Kids totally think they now where it's going, then they figure out where it's "really" going, and then...

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone Roach
This is a great book to explain the concept of "unreliable narrator."

And there you have it. Ten book I hope to share in the first couple of weeks of school. I know nearly all of these books will appear on many, many lists today, but that's okay. Next year I'll try to remember to join in again, and choose a more specific topic that allows me to dig a little deeper into the back catalogue. For now, I'm off to read other readers' lists!

Friday, August 3, 2018

What I Bought My Students and Why

A few years ago, I received the Book Love Foundation Grant, which was enough to buy a good 500 brand new books for my classroom library. While these are not "my" books in the sense that I can take them home and keep them, or give them away as birthday gifts, they are my classroom library books. If I move schools, they go with me. I liked that feeling. I liked it so much that I stopped trying to wheedle twenty dollars here and forty dollars there out of my principal in order to add books. I buy my own books now (or seek donations *ahem*) so that nobody else controls my budget, my selections, or the future of my books.

I look for bargains, of course. I hit up Goodwill and library book sales. I have 20% off educator cards at every local bookstore, and I'm a fan of remaindered books. I joined First Books, which gives Title 1 teachers fantastic prices for new books. But I also splurge. My students shouldn't have to hope First Books obtains a title or wait until a book hits Goodwill or the remaindered bin before they can read it. So when a book is too good to resist, I don't even try.

I had my birthday last week. I used this as an excuse to hit up the big downtown Powells and buy a bunch of books. I may have also squeezed a visit to Barnes and Noble in there. Okay, I did, and I obviously was not a typical B & N shopper. After gathering some 15 or so books off their shelves, I sat down to go through them and prioritize. I was looking up reviews on Goodreads, checking to see if the titles were available through First Book, and reading first chapters of books I wasn't already familiar with. I think three different employees stopped to ask me if I needed a cart. I think they just wanted me to know they were aware I was there, but it's possible they were just fascinated by my process. One guy paused to be sure I knew Thunderhead was a sequel, and then circled back to ask me how I'd liked Scythe, because he's thinking of reading it. He said he'd really liked Vicious, and I assured him that if he liked Schwab, he's probably like Shusterman. (And that's how I ended up recommending books to a bookstore employee...)

There were a lot of possibilities. So many. SO MANY. And while I was committed to treating myself and my students, I was still working with a limited budget. So here are the books I finally selected, and why.

 I was just thinking about how, despite my classes being about 70-90% Latinx, I STILL don't have enough #ownvoices material for that population. So when I stumbled across Margarita Engle's new novel in verse, I was thrilled.

I love Chris Crutcher. I've had trouble convincing kids to give his books a try, but that is partly due to the late 90s covers on most of the ones I own. I'm hoping this latest book, with its modern cover and foster-kid protagonist, might introduce a few to the master.

A truly great picture book about immigration, this nonfiction story really demonstrates how desperate people are if they flee their country with their children, and what it was like when seeing The Americans meant you were safe now.

I was reading this multiple point of view/multiple author book about a school shooter to one of my classes last year, and they were really into it. I only had an ebook at the time though, so I promised them I'd track down a hard copy. Powell's had a used one!

I really want to read this one. The style looks really cool. Also, there's that meme going around that says, "Will donate organs to RBG," which is...sadly not as funny as it should be.

This book is not only cute and funny, it's a perfect example of an unreliable narrator. I'm so excited to have it on hand for that conversation!

In my first 13 years of teaching, I had zero openly transgender students. In the last seven, I've had three in class, and four more in the building. This story is such a great metaphor for knowing that who you are on the inside doesn't match what you appear to be on the outside. I want it for the kids who don't get it, and I want it for the kids who aren't sure if they're being seen.  (The picture books were all on the remaindered shelf, which means I got them for $7.99 instead of $18.99, which also drove my purchasing decisions!)

I've never read this book, because, well, I'm really bad about reading issues books, especially set outside of the US. But just like my kids, I'm more willing to tackle a hard topic in graphic novel format. It's why I read the graphic novel version of Kindred too.

A graphic novel about a soccer star. My main concern is that I'll have to replace it regularly. Which is GOOD, but kind of expensive and annoying at the same time. (Books I could have gotten today for that reason: If I Was Your Girl, Babysitters Club graphic novels #3 and 5, and Bang. I chose not to because, SHINY NEW THINGS and also, endless hope that they'll turn up again when kids get back to school.)

My students really like the first book in this series. I can never have too many graphic novels. Who am I kidding? I can never have ENOUGH graphic novels.

I have volumes 2-6 as well as an omnibus edition of the whole series. My students are afraid of the omnibus. I've been looking for volume 1 for a long time, and finally found it at Powell's.

And here are a few books I was tempted to get, but didn't.

This apparently is a sequel to her fantastic book The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things. I love it, and kids love the title, but I've not been able to get anyone to read the whole thing, so getting a sequel seemed silly. But I'm glad to know it exists, and if anyone DOES read the book, I'll get them this as well.

This looked really cool--very heisty and with an African immigrant protagonist. But a) it's long, which scares my students off, and b) the author is white, which isn't my favorite thing to see about the writer of a book with a black POV. Not censoring here, not saying she didn't do a great job, just not a book I'm going to prioritize for my classroom.

This was from Gabbie Hanna's book of poetry, Adultolescence. Some of te poems were a bit too raw for middle school, but we can ALL relate to this one, right?

Finally, in light of the idiot who wrote an op-ed piece in Forbes last week saying we'd be better off closing public libraries and putting that tax money in our own pockets so we could just order from Amazon, I have to share this sign, on the door of my local library. The libraries have air conditioning. Many homes in Oregon, including mine, are not air conditioned. When the temperature gets above 90 for several days, this becomes problematic. At my house we have excellent modern windows can keep it in the mid to high 70s during the day, then open it up at night to cool down with box fans in the bedroom windows. This is obviously not the case in every home. I wonder how Amazon could keep families cool in hot weather for no cost?  (Spoiler: THEY CAN'T. But my library can.)