Sunday, November 1, 2020

Reading Opens Minds, Social Media . . . Not So Much

After I woke up, grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat down to read the news this blustery Sunday morning, I opened up my Facebook account and read disheartening and disturbing posts and comments from people in my community. Well, being an English teacher and avid reader, I decided to share some books with many of those people instead of arguing with them. (I don't like debating on social media - much.) People tend to group-think on social media sites no matter what, but books offer unique perspectives on a variety of topics. Reading, especially fiction or narrative nonfiction, helps us understand people better and we become more empathetic, and I think empathy, understanding, and compassion for our fellow human beings is what is needed now. So read a good book to better understand our diverse country and diverse world, read a book to take yourself away from the madness encompassing 2020, or do both. 

I truly believe if people read more books and less social media we'd be in a much better place. 

Please get out there and READ and VOTE!

Here are the books I have read since my last post (back in August - yikes).

This Is My America by Kim Johnson 

Young Adult, Realistic Fiction 

Book Blurb:  Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones 

Young Adult, Narrative Nonfiction

Book Blurb: As an adult book, Sam Quinones's Dreamland took the world by storm, winning the NBCC Award for General Nonfiction and hitting at least a dozen Best Book of the Year lists. Now, adapted for the first time for a young adult audience, this compelling reporting explains the roots of the current opiate crisis.

In 1929, in the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, a company built a swimming pool the size of a football field; named Dreamland, it became the vital center of the community. Now, addiction has devastated Portsmouth, as it has hundreds of small rural towns and suburbs across America. How that happened is the riveting story of Dreamland. Quinones explains how the rise of the prescription drug OxyContin, a miraculous and extremely addictive painkiller pushed by pharmaceutical companies, paralleled the massive influx of black tar heroin--cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico's west coast, independent of any drug cartel.

Introducing a memorable cast of characters--pharmaceutical pioneers, young Mexican entrepreneurs, narcotics investigators, survivors, teens, and parents--Dreamland is a revelatory account of the massive threat facing America and its heartland.
 

The Voting Booth
by Brandy Colber

Young Adult, Realistic Fictions

Book Blurb: Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She's always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?

Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band's first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can't vote.

When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn't spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that's how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva's missing cat), it's clear that there's more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.

Romantic and triumphant, The Voting Booth is proof that you can't sit around waiting for the world to change, but some things are just meant to be.
 

A Heart in a Body in the World
by Deb Caletti 

Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Book Blurb: Each step in Annabelle’s 2,700-mile cross-country run brings her closer to facing a trauma from her past in National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti’s novel about the heart, all the ways it breaks, and its journey to healing. Because sometimes against our will, against all odds, we go forward.

Then…
Annabelle’s life wasn’t perfect, but it was full—full of friends, family, love. And a boy…whose attention Annabelle found flattering and unsettling all at once.

Until that attention intensified.

Now…
Annabelle is running. Running from the pain and the tragedy from the past year. With only Grandpa Ed and the journal she fills with words she can’t speak out loud, Annabelle runs from Seattle to Washington, DC and toward a destination she doesn’t understand but is determined to reach. With every beat of her heart, every stride of her feet, Annabelle steps closer to healing—and the strength she discovers within herself to let love and hope back into her life.

Annabelle’s journey is the ultimate testament to the human heart, and how it goes on after being broken.
 

We Are Not From Here
by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Book Blurb: A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pulga has his dreams.
Chico has his grief.
Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home.

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.

In this powerful story inspired by current events, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to painful, poignant, vivid life. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam 

Young Adult, Novel-in-Verse, Realistic Fiction

Book Blurb: The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born


Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today


Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet
by David Barclay Moore

Middle School, Realistic Fiction

Book Blurb: It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.

His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

David Barclay Moore paints a powerful portrait of a boy teetering on the edge—of adolescence, of grief, of violence—and shows how Lolly’s inventive spirit helps him build a life with firm foundations and open doors.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger 

Young Adult, Fantasy

Book Blurb: Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.

There are some differences. This America been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.
 

Before the Ever After
by Jacqueline Woodson

Middle School, Novel-in-Verse, Realistic Fiction

Book Blurb: For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone's hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he's as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ's house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ's mom explains it's because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that--but it doesn't make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can't remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone 

Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Book Blurb: Shortly after teenager Quan enters a not guilty plea for the shooting death of a police officer, he is placed in a holding cell to await trial. Through a series of flashbacks and letters to Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin, Quan's story unravels.

From a troubled childhood and bad timing to a coerced confession and prejudiced police work, Nic Stone's newest novel takes an unflinching look at the flawed practices and ideologies that discriminate against African American boys and minorities in the American justice system.

We Are Not Free
by Traci Chee

Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Book Blurb: “All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us.
 
We are not free.
 
But we are not alone.” 

From New York Times best-selling and acclaimed author Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.
 
Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.
 
Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.
 
Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.
 
In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.
 

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson 

Young Adult, Mystery

Book Blurb: Everyone in Fairview knows the story.

Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can't shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn't want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

This is the story of an investigation turned obsession, full of twists and turns and with an ending you'll never expect.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Back to School, Back to "Reality"

Well, I'm ready for 2020 to be done already, but we still have four and a half months left of this never-ending year. Soon, we'll be heading back to school and back to our new "reality."


Here in my school district in Minnesota, our first day of school is Tuesday, September 8 - the day after Labor Day. As I write this post, our district is heading back to school in the hybrid model, which means we'll see one group of students two days a week and another group two different days a week with Fridays "off." Our back-to-school model could change on August 20 if our virus numbers change, meaning we could go to distance learning. We aren't even close to being all in the classroom yet. 


For some of our teachers, this is quite worrisome and stressful, and I completely understand this. For me, I only want to walk back into my classroom and meet my students - for at least a few weeks. I'm pretty sure being in the actual school building isn't going to last too long, so I need to make sure to build community, get kids reading, and get kids writing. This new "reality" is hard to deal with, but I am going to make it work to the best of my ability for my students. I want them to be excited about being with each other, reading, writing, and discussing, whether they are in the building or online. 

Over the summer, I have purchased more books for my classroom library, much to the chagrin of my husband and our budget, organized my books using Booksource's Classroom Organizer (highly recommend!), participated in Book Love Foundation's 2020 Summer Book Club (highly recommend!), read amazing professional development books, and read for my own enjoyment - even though it was difficult for me to stay focused like usual because of the heaviness of our what our country is experiencing this summer.

My last two posts were about specific books for specific topics, so they didn't focus on the books I have been reading. I haven't written about what I have actually been reading since April 27, so this will be a longer than normal post, which will be broken into middle grade books, young adult books, adult books, and teacher professional development books. Take a peek and find something you might enjoy! Happy reading!

Middle Grade Books

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

My ReviewThis is a wonderful middle grade book about finding who you are. It was a fairly quick read, so I think it will hook in some readers who aren’t always able to stick with longer books. Really enjoyed it! 5 stars!

Summary: Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target. Marcus knows what classmates and teachers see when they look at him: a monster.

But appearances are deceiving. At home, Marcus is a devoted brother. And he finds ways to earn cash to contribute to his family’s rainy day fund. His mom works long hours and his dad walked out ten years ago—someone has to pick up the slack.

After a fight at school leaves him facing suspension, Marcus and his family decide to hit the reset button and regroup for a week in Puerto Rico. Marcus is more interested in finding his father, though, who is somewhere on the island. Through a series of misadventures that take Marcus all over Puerto Rico in search of the elusive Mr. Vega, Marcus meets a colorful cast of characters who show him the many faces of fatherhood. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish is a novel about discovering home and identity in uncharted landscapes.
 

What Lane by Torrey Maldonado 

My ReviewWonderful book for the times we are living in. Perfect for 5th-7th grade. Would work well for 8th graders who are striving readers. 5 stars!

Summary: "STAY IN YOUR LANE." Stephen doesn't want to hear that--he wants to have no lane.

Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn't think it's his lane, but he goes. Here's the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he's not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he's living in two worlds with different rules--and he's been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends . . .

So what'll he do? Hold on tight as Stephen swerves in and out of lanes to find out which are his--and who should be with him.

Torrey Maldonado, author of the highly acclaimed Tight, does a masterful job showing a young boy coming of age in a racially split world, trying to blaze a way to be his best self.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My ReviewI needed a good cry and got it with this honest, quirky, and heartfelt middle school book about a seventh grade girl, who is a math genius and attending public school for the first time since second grade. This book had me sad crying and happy crying. Was definitely what I needed right now. People are good. That’s what I’m going with right now, especially during these turbulent times. We need to be like Lucy, Levi, and Windy if we want the world to be a better place. 5 stars!

Summary: Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she's technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test — middle school!

Lucy's grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that's not a math textbook!). Lucy's not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy's life has already been solved. Unless there's been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty's smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.
 

New Kid by Jerry Craft 

My ReviewThis book is ALWAYS checked out of my classroom library, and now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I absolutely loved it! #bestofmiddleschool #graphicnovel 5 stars!

A graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real.

Summary: Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?


I Can Make This Promise
by Christine Day



My Review
I’m trying to put into words how this book affected me. First off, Edie and her mom’s story is one of love, and it’s clear throughout the book. Secondly, I’m angry. Angry at how our government stole lives from Native Americans, in so many ways, and we as White Americans mostly know nothing about this. (You’ll see what I’m talking about when you read the book.) I’m saddened by all that continues to go on in our country (and world - Uighurs in China as one example) against basic humanity. How does one group get to have such power over another group?

In the end, this is a book about the past, the present, and the future and how we can be informed and knowledgeable to make a difference.

This book would be perfect for any middle school classroom! The characters have some middle school drama, grow as human beings, and learn about life.

#middleschoolread #NativeAmericanvoices #readthisbook #timetomoveawayfromtheclassics 5 stars!


Summary: Inspired by her family’s history—Christine Day tells the story of a girl who uncovers her family’s secrets—and finds her own Native American identity.

All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.

Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.

Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now?
 

Young Adult Books

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez 

My ReviewQuick-paced, action-packed, YA fantasy with real character development, social commentary, and life lessons. Read this book in less than 24 hours. You should read it, too! 5 stars!

Summary: A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.

Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

My ReviewMystery, romance, France, and #writeherstory - You will not be able to put this newly published YA book down! 5 stars!

Summary: Told in alternating narratives that bridge centuries, the latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Samira Ahmed traces the lives of two young women fighting to write their own stories and escape the pressure of familial burdens and cultural expectations in worlds too long defined by men.

It’s August in Paris and 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet—American, French, Indian, Muslim—is at a crossroads. This holiday with her professor parents should be a dream trip for the budding art historian. But her maybe-ex-boyfriend is probably ghosting her, she might have just blown her chance at getting into her dream college, and now all she really wants is to be back home in Chicago figuring out her messy life instead of brooding in the City of Light.

Two hundred years before Khayyam’s summer of discontent, Leila is struggling to survive and keep her true love hidden from the Pasha who has “gifted” her with favored status in his harem. In the present day—and with the company of a descendant of Alexandre Dumas—Khayyam begins to connect allusions to an enigmatic 19th-century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Lord Byron.

Echoing across centuries, Leila and Khayyam’s lives intertwine, and as one woman’s long-forgotten life is uncovered, another’s is transformed.
 

Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson 

My ReviewI am not one for mysteries, and I ordered the next two books in the series. Great YA read! 5 stars!

Summary: Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder. 

The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.

The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious #2) by Maureen Johnson

My ReviewI cannot believe how much I love this YA mystery trilogy! So glad I have the next book ready and waiting for me to delve into! 7th grade and up (does have some mature content but not anything most middle school kids can’t handle) 5 stars!

Summary: All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) by Maureen Johnson 

My ReviewI am not a mystery person, but this YA mystery trilogy is fabulous! 1936 and present-day will have you hooked! Read the last book in a day. Soooooo good! 5 stars!

Summary: Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .

She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.

Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

My ReviewThere are so many amazing books in the world, and this is one of them! Novel-in-verse, family secrets, sisters, two continents. 5 stars!

Summary: In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by

Kate Fagan

My ReviewThis isn’t a book about suicide. This is a book about mental health, specifically Maddy Holleran’s struggle with mental health. Woven throughout the book, information is presented about social media, perfectionism, capitalism, success, and pressures young people face from the time they are born. I found the book to have helpful information in dealing with our own three kids - 16, 18, and 21. This is a highly recommended read for mature 7th graders and up. 5 stars!

Summary: The #1 New York Times Monthly Sports and Fitness bestseller

From noted ESPN commentator and journalist Kate Fagan, the heartbreaking and vital story of college athlete Madison Holleran, whose death by suicide rocked the University of Pennsylvania campus and whose life reveals with haunting detail and uncommon understanding the struggle of young people suffering from mental illness today.

If you scrolled through the Instagram feed of 19-year-old Maddy Holleran, you would see a perfect life: a freshman at an Ivy League school, recruited for the track team, who was also beautiful, popular, and fiercely intelligent. This was a girl who succeeded at everything she tried, and who was only getting started.

But when Maddy began her long-awaited college career, her parents noticed something changed. Previously indefatigable Maddy became withdrawn, and her thoughts centered on how she could change her life. In spite of thousands of hours of practice and study, she contemplated transferring from the school that had once been her dream. When Maddy's dad, Jim, dropped her off for the first day of spring semester, she held him a second longer than usual. That would be the last time Jim would see his daughter.

What Made Maddy Run began as a piece that Kate Fagan, a columnist for espnW, wrote about Maddy's life. What started as a profile of a successful young athlete whose life ended in suicide became so much larger when Fagan started to hear from other college athletes also struggling with mental illness. This is the story of Maddy Holleran's life, and her struggle with depression, which also reveals the mounting pressures young people, and college athletes in particular, face to be perfect, especially in an age of relentless connectivity and social media saturation.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

My ReviewStacey Lee did it again! I love her historical books, and The Downstairs Girl does not disappoint. Set in Atlanta in 1890, Lee writes about Jo Kuan and America’s past with honesty, wit, and heartbreak. This book will draw you in from the first page. #YA #historicalfiction 5 stars!

Summary: From the founding member of We Need Diverse Books comes a powerful novel about identity, betrayal, and the meaning of family.

By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie." When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she's not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta's most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.
 

Fights: One Boy's Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill 

My ReviewPretty intense YA graphic novel. Difficult and mature content. It was confusing in a few spots, so that’s why the 4 and not a 5. Recommend for mature 8th graders and up. 4 stars!

Summary: Fights is the visceral and deeply affecting memoir of artist/author Joel Christian Gill, chronicling his youth and coming of age as a Black child in a chaotic landscape of rough city streets and foreboding backwoods. 

Propelled into a world filled with uncertainty and desperation, young Joel is pushed toward using violence to solve his problems by everything and everyone around him. But fighting doesn’t always yield the best results for a confused and sensitive kid who yearns for a better, more fulfilling life than the one he was born into, as Joel learns in a series of brutal conflicts that eventually lead him to question everything he has learned about what it truly means to fight for one’s life.


Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

My ReviewI know I’m going to be ostracized for giving this book 4 stars and not 5. It’s a good book. It really is. But it leaves out too much. Thinking about my 8th graders reading this next year, many of them will have lots of questions because the book doesn’t delve deep enough and mentions things kids might have no idea about without giving them info on it. It’s more surface-level. I believe our young adults can handle more than is given in this book, and I think they deserve more, too. That being said, it’s still a good book. It really is.

I’ve purchased Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, where Stamped originated from. After I read it, I’m hoping I can add that one to my classroom library, too, for the kids who want more details. 4 stars!

Summary: A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism--and antiracism--in America

This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas--and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

Parachutes by Kelly Yang 

My ReviewExcellent must-read about sexual harassment and sexual assault. This book is a true YA book, and I’d only recommend for very mature 8th graders and up. 5 stars!

Summary: Speak enters the world of Gossip Girl in this modern immigrant story from New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma.

They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.

Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. Award-winning author Kelly Yang weaves together an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.


Who Put This Song On by Morgan Parker

My Review

I loved the raw honesty, humor, and humanity in this YA book. Important read on so many issues. Recommend for mature 8th graders and up. 5 stars!

Summary: Trapped in sunny, stifling, small-town suburbia, seventeen-year-old Morgan knows why she’s in therapy. She can’t count the number of times she’s been the only non-white person at the sleepover, been teased for her “weird” outfits, and been told she’s not “really” black. Also, she’s spent most of her summer crying in bed. So there’s that, too.

Lately, it feels like the whole world is listening to the same terrible track on repeat—and it’s telling them how to feel, who to vote for, what to believe. Morgan wonders, when can she turn this song off and begin living for herself?

Life may be a never-ending hamster wheel of agony, but Morgan finds her crew of fellow outcasts, blasts music like there’s no tomorrow, discovers what being black means to her, and finally puts her mental health first. She decides that, no matter what, she will always be intense, ridiculous, passionate, and sometimes hilarious. After all, darkness doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Darkness is just real.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera 

My ReviewI started this book 11 days ago. I didn’t want to read it because I knew both of the boys would die at the end. Ya know, the title. So I put it off. Who wants to read about that?

A few days back, I decided I was going to dive back in, and I was not disappointed. The book is about death, but it’s also about living, being your true self, finding your people, and being a good person.

Even though you know what’s coming, you’re still not prepared, but you feel somewhat okay. #loveyourself #loveothers #bekind 5 stars!

Summary: Adam Silvera reminds us that there’s no life without death and no love without loss in this devastating yet uplifting story about two people whose lives change over the course of one unforgettable day.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

We Didn't Ask for This by Adi Alsaid

My ReviewI’m not rating this book because I’ve struggled this month to read with the virus increasing in our country and in my state of Minnesota, with the ever-present fight about opening schools, and my anxiety. It’s not fair for me to rate this book when I’ve been a bit of a hot mess. That being said, once I finally got myself to calm down and focus on the book, I truly enjoyed it. Focus on teenagers solving world issues sounds good to me! Adults don’t seem to be doing much. Character development was solid, too. Decent YA book!

Summary: Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary — and for six students, this year’s lock-in is the answer to their dreams. The chance to finally win the contest. Kiss the guy. Make a friend. Become the star of a story that will be passed down from student to student for years to come.

But then a group of students, led by Marisa Cuevas, stage an eco-protest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met. While some students rally to the cause, others are devastated as they watch their plans fall apart. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide just how far she’ll go to attain them.

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake 

My ReviewMy words can’t do the book justice. Read it. 5 stars!

Summary: "I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that."

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara's friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn't know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn't help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.
 

Adult Books

The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel

My ReviewI am always taken with books about WWII, and this one captivated me as well. Although it was a fairly easy read and kind of predictable, I enjoyed it. 4 stars!

Summary: For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family—by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again—tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

You Are No Longer in Trouble by Nicole Stellon O'Donnell 

My ReviewI read this for Book Love Foundation's Summer Book Club. I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. It's a book for all of the students we teach who aren't seen and feel alone. It's a book for all of us teachers who are doing the best we can to see those students while the system expects us to focus on the stupid things instead. Love yourself. Love your students. 5 stars! FYI - 8th graders and up could read this book. 

Summary: Part memoir and part investigation into the educational system, this collection of linked shorts is a compelling portrait of one teacher’s family history, her experience of being a student, and the persona she has to wear in the classroom.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

My ReviewOkay, this book was not a fast read for me. It is nonfiction which takes me longer, and also it had so much information I did not know that I had to take the book in baby steps.

Why are we not taught in schools how our government, federal, state, and local, created segregation with the many policies they put in place knowingly - de jure segregation? Instead, we are taught that segregation in our country is a result of personal decisions - de facto segregation. “Just pull yourself up with your bootstraps and you’ll make it.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.

*Government allowed racially separate public housing in cities where segregation hadn’t taken place yet.
*Fed government urged suburbs to adopt racially exclusive zoning laws.
*Government told developers they could have FHA loans if they segregated.
*Courts allowed evictions if Blacks in white neighborhoods with racial covenants.
*Churches, universities, and hospitals encouraged restrictive covenants and still kept their tax-exempt status.
*Police did not arrest leaders of mob violence when Black families moved into White neighborhoods.
*Real estate commissions gave licenses to those who would keep neighborhoods racially separate.
*School boards drew attendance boundaries to ensure separation.
*Interstate system demolished Black neighborhoods and did not help them with relocation.
*Government did not give Black people the same labor-market rights.
*The New Deal was not a good deal for Blacks.
* Tax breaks are given for homeowners but adequate funds are not given to transportation networks that would bring Black Americans to job opportunities.
*Federal programs reinforce racial isolation by directing low-income Black Americans into already segregated neighborhoods.  5 stars!

Summary: In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation—that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation—the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments—that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.

Through extraordinary revelations and extensive research that Ta-Nehisi Coates has lauded as "brilliant" (The Atlantic), Rothstein comes to chronicle nothing less than an untold story that begins in the 1920s, showing how this process of de jure segregation began with explicit racial zoning, as millions of African Americans moved in a great historical migration from the south to the north.

As Jane Jacobs established in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it was the deeply flawed urban planning of the 1950s that created many of the impoverished neighborhoods we know. Now, Rothstein expands our understanding of this history, showing how government policies led to the creation of officially segregated public housing and the demolition of previously integrated neighborhoods. While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post–World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. Finally, Rothstein shows how police and prosecutors brutally upheld these standards by supporting violent resistance to black families in white neighborhoods.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited future discrimination but did nothing to reverse residential patterns that had become deeply embedded. Yet recent outbursts of violence in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, and Minneapolis show us precisely how the legacy of these earlier eras contributes to persistent racial unrest. “The American landscape will never look the same to readers of this important book” (Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund), as Rothstein’s invaluable examination shows that only by relearning this history can we finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past.
 

Teacher Professional Development Books

Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive

Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad

My ReviewTHIS IS THE BOOK I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR MY ENTIRE TEACHING CAREER! Dr. Gholdy Muhammad connects the excellence of the past, Black literary societies, to how we need to teach for our Black and Brown (and all) students today. I’m so sick of teaching skills, skills, and more skills. That’s not what literacy is about. Literacy is about being human, figuring out who we are, knowing our world, and critiquing our world to make it a better place for everyone. Literacy is action. Literacy is love. We can do better for our students, and we can do it now. Dr. Muhammad shows us the way through her genius, excellence, love, and honesty. 5 stars!

Summary: In Cultivating Genius, Dr. Gholdy E. Muhammad presents a four-layered equity framework—one that is grounded in history and restores excellence in literacy education. This framework, which she names, Historically Responsive Literacy, was derived from the study of literacy development within 19th-century Black literacy societies. The framework is essential and universal for all students, especially youth of color, who traditionally have been marginalized in learning standards, school policies, and classroom practices. The equity framework will help educators teach and lead toward the following learning goals or pursuits:

Identity Development—Helping youth to make sense of themselves and others
Skill Development— Developing proficiencies across the academic disciplines
Intellectual Development—Gaining knowledge and becoming smarter
Criticality—Learning and developing the ability to read texts (including print and social contexts) to understand power, equity, and anti-oppression
 When these four learning pursuits are taught together—through the Historically Responsive Literacy Framework, all students receive profound opportunities for personal, intellectual, and academic success. Muhammad provides probing, self-reflective questions for teachers, leaders, and teacher educators as well as sample culturally and historically responsive sample plans and text sets across grades and content areas. In this book, Muhammad presents practical approaches to cultivate the genius in students and within teachers.
 

Point-less: An English Teacher's Guide to More Meaningful Grading by Sarah M. Zerwin

My ReviewI’ve been wanting to go “gradeless” in my 8th grade English classroom and focus on learning rather than points for years now, but I hadn’t yet found the right book to lead me there. Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve read many books that helped me, just not enough to make happen what needs to happen. Well, Sarah M. Zerwin’s book pulled it all together for me, step by step, with examples, and reasons why she does what she does in her classroom. Even though this year is the year from hell and going back to school, however we do it seems daunting, Doctor Zerwin has motivated me to do right by my students! 5 stars!

Summary: From the Foreword by Cris Tovani:

"Sarah Zerwin has written the book I desperately needed to help my beliefs about learning match my assessment practices. In Point-Less, she nudges teachers to consider how traditional forms of grading get in the way of student growth. Her pioneering ways of marking, collecting, and sharing student work shows teachers how to assess with fidelity and in ways that serve student learning. Instead of assigning random points to student tasks, she demonstrates how teachers can provide students with concise, descriptive data that serves as meaningful and specific feedback.

'Inside this book, teachers will find:

- online resources rife with tools and examples to manage feedback
- ways to harness the electronic grade book as a useful instructional tool
- frameworks that guide student and teacher feedback
- checklists to simplify convoluted rubrics.

'Sarah addresses every grading obstacle one could think of. She provides ways to navigate objections that parents, athletic directors, administrators, colleagues, colleges, and even students might have with this innovative way of reporting grades.

'It's exciting to think how instruction could change if teachers weren't compelled to evaluate everything students did for the mere purpose of putting points in the grade book. Are you ready to find your path to a better way of grading? Are you ready to lead students on this journey to becoming better readers, writers, and thinkers? If so, you are going to love Point-Less!"--Cris Tovani

Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms by Joe Feldman

My ReviewThis book will change how you grade for the better! I recommend this book to every middle school teacher, high school teacher, and college professor. 5 stars!

Summary: "Joe Feldman shows us how we can use grading to help students become the leaders of their own learning and lift the veil on how to succeed. . . . This must-have book will help teachers learn to implement improved, equity-focused grading for impact."

--Zaretta Hammond, Author of Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain Crack open the grading conversation

Here at last--and none too soon--is a resource that delivers the research base, tools, and courage to tackle one of the most challenging and emotionally charged conversations in today's schools: our inconsistent grading practices and the ways they can inadvertently perpetuate the achievement and opportunity gaps among our students.

With Grading for Equity, Joe Feldman cuts to the core of the conversation, revealing how grading practices that are accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational will improve learning, minimize grade inflation, reduce failure rates, and become a lever for creating stronger teacher-student relationships and more caring classrooms. Essential reading for schoolwide and individual book study or for student advocates, Grading for Equity provides

A critical historical backdrop, describing how our inherited system of grading was originally set up as a sorting mechanism to provide or deny opportunity, control students, and endorse a "fixed mindset" about students' academic potential--practices that are still in place a century later A summary of the research on motivation and equitable teaching and learning, establishing a rock-solid foundation and a "true north" orientation toward equitable grading practices Specific grading practices that are more equitable, along with teacher examples, strategies to solve common hiccups and concerns, and evidence of effectiveness Reflection tools for facilitating individual or group engagement and understanding As Joe writes, "Grading practices are a mirror not just for students, but for us as their teachers." Each one of us should start by asking, "What do my grading practices say about who I am and what I believe?" Then, let's make the choice to do things differently . . . with Grading for Equity as a dog-eared reference.

Reading Opens Minds, Social Media . . . Not So Much

After I woke up, grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat down to read the news this blustery Sunday morning, I opened up my Facebook account and re...