IMWAYR: Snowy Cold = Reading Time

The snow, cold, and long weekend helped me to settle down and read these last several days. I thoroughly enjoyed mixing it up with several reading genres that all proved excellent choices. It’s Monday! What are you reading?

The Art of Comprehension, by Trevor A. Bryan I have been waiting for The Art of Comprehension for two years! Written by Trevor Bryan, and illustrated by the fabulous Peter H. Reynolds (author of The Dot and others), this book is a needed teacher-tool in the classroom — art class or any other class.

Teachers learn to explore with what Mr. Bryan calls “Access Lenses,” a framework for understanding visual texts, and applying that knowledge to making meaning in general. Readers use the Access Lenses to decode (by listing everything you see), study mood structures, identify connections, etc. so that a reader comes away from a text with greater comprehension and more successful school experiences.
In the author’s words (p. 122): “The Art of Comprehension has completely changed my life. Whether it’s a book, a painting, a film, or some other form of artwork, AoC has given me a way to share the joy that I find in the arts with my students and colleagues as well as a way to talk about how all of the arts can be used to improve students’ academic lives.” I completely agree!
Darius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram 
I’m about half way through this fabulous debut, and I’ve laughed, gasped, and thought deeply about friendship and family life. I love the language of the text, and the way the story moves me (literally and figuratively) from one setting to another, from one experience to another. I’m already recommending it, so pick it up and read with me!
Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner 
I had to re-read a book about snow while I was snowed inside. I love Kate Messner’s exploration of winter wildlife, and this 2011 book is still a must-read today.

Book Review: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon


Caleb Franklin narrates the story of how he and his brother, Bobby Gene, met Styx Malone and got into the “biggest trouble we’ve ever gotten into in our lives.” The first page is one of those excellent leads we talk about in English class. You know when you read the first page, the story isn’t going to let you go until you finish. I love the line, “It all started the moment I broke the cardinal rule of the Franklin household: Leave well enough alone.” (p. 1)

Styx Malone lived in the woods near the Franklin house in Sutton, Indiana. He was a 16, a loner, and quite extraordinary. Caleb was drawn to Styx the moment he laid eyes on him. Caleb didn’t want to be ordinary. He spent his time dreaming of what was out there in the world, while Styx lived it. In the back woods of Indiana, one could get stuck in the ordinary of each day (like Mr. Franklin), but Caleb and Bobby Gene decided that hanging out with Styx Malone could get them places — maybe even Indianapolis, or beyond.

Styx Malone showed the brothers what it was like to live: how to talk so that you get what you want, how to act cool, how to pull off the impossible. The boys spent the summer learning about the Great Escalator Trade — a way to trade small things for bigger ones, all the way up to items that could make dreams come true. Caleb liked the stories Styx told, and being with Styx made him feel extraordinary, but it also got him grounded, and eventually changed his life — and his family’s lives — forever.

Kekla Magoon tells amazing stories, and The Season of Styx Malone is no different. The adventures, the fun, the trouble — many twists and turns in this tale of teen friendships and family issues kept me reading and wondering what would happen next. Since Ms. Magoon grew up in Indiana, I felt a connection to her and the story of small town life vs. big city dreams. I, too, once dreamed of living in a big city like Indianapolis, or Chicago, or New York City. One quote that stuck out for me, especially as a writer, was, “A happy ending depends on where you stop the story.” (p. 117) Kekla Magoon stopped this story at the perfect point — making The Season of Styx Malone an extraordinary must-read.

Published in 2018 by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books

Book Review: The Thing With Feathers, by McCall Hoyle

The Thing With Feathers, By McCall Hoyle 

Emilie is a teenager with issues. She struggles with returning to school after homeschooling, with making high school friends, and with navigating her first crush, a handsome athlete named Chatham. She also has two other problems: grieving her father’s death from cancer and living with epilepsy.

Emilie’s mom and Dr. Wellesley, her therapist, desperately want her to succeed in public school, and try to help her gain confidence, but she doesn’t want anything to do with school. She wants to stay at home, where she’s comfortable and unafraid, and where her service dog, Hitch, is by her side. With all the love and care she has around her, from her mom to her teachers to the school nurse, what does Emilie think could possibly go wrong at school? Well…everything.

The Thing With Feathers is for every person trying to survive the ups and downs of daily life: the teen with medical issues, the popular jock, the peers in English class, the cheerleaders, the parents, the teachers, the animal lovers, the poets, and the community volunteers. The setting — a small community in the Outer Banks — is perfect for this twisting, turning plot of changing tides, smooth and rough waters.

This is a story of a teen wrapped up in a life of high school drama, and more. It’s a story of hope in the midst of chaos. Best of all, it’s a story of love against all odds.

#MustReadin2019 — Books From 2018 I Didn’t Finish

Carrie Gelson of “There’s a Book For That”( hosts a hashtag for all the readers who didn’t get to finish their TBR lists in 2018 – #MustReadin2019. (Thank you, Carrie! I see I’m not alone.) I read over 140 books in 2018 (I’m terrible at posting on, but these are the titles I didn’t get to yet. As I head back to work tomorrow, my 2018—>2019 list of “Must Reads” looks like this:

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorrman
Marshfield Memories by Ralph Fletcher
Blended by Sharon Draper
You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Becoming by Michelle Obama

I’m finishing Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (from Simon & Schuster, 2014) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz tonight.

What are you reading in 2019? Share with us in the comments, so we can add to our To-Be-Read lists. Happy reading!


A Five-Star Year: Best of 2018 Books

I’ve seen a number of “Best of” book lists this week, and I always wonder how my list would stack up against the others in any given year. This year, I used a friend’s recommendation to review my list, and when I looked, I found many books that received my rare “5-Star” rating (maybe not-so-rare, then). Just a note, there happens to be 20 titles on the list. I didn’t limit the list to 20; it just worked out that way.

Other notes of importance for readers…

Before I show you my “Best of 2018” list, please know that I read many books this year, and that most of them I rated “4-Star” reads. I usually like the books I read (I don’t abandon often), so I have a tremendous amount of “recommended” books. I wrote a post, #MustReadin2018″ and many of the books I read are not on this “Best of” list. To narrow this “Best of” list, I chose only the “5-Star” books from my Goodreads account. Also, I limited this list to the “5-Star” books that were published in 2018. I categorized these titles by format, but I don’t have them in any particular order. Here they are:

Picture Books — Yes, this list is heavy on the picture books. I successfully used these books at school, and/or my PD sessions, “Picture Books are Perfect for Middle School” and I highly recommend them.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

What If… by Samantha Berger

Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung

A Seed Is the Start by Melissa Stewart

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner

Mission Defrostable by Josh Funk

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

Got to Get to Bear’s by Brian Lies

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton

Graphic Novels — Graphic novels are becoming a favorite in school and here at home. These two titles stayed with me.

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson (illustrated by Emily Carroll)

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Professional Texts — I’m always reading to learn, and these PD books really did change the way I think.

Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed

Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp

Fiction/YA/MG — These stories captured my heart and stuck with me.

Loser’s Bracket by Chris Crutcher

In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Have a Happy New Year! I look forward to reading with you in 2019.

My 2018 One Little Word — Venture


My “One Little Word” for 2018 was VENTURE. As I look back over the year, I found that I ventured out more than I ever thought I would. I took risks and made mistakes; I laughed and I cried. I spent more time thinking and planning, but also “doing” in 2018. As I acted out each day, I found that “venture” was the perfect word to guide me.

I wrote for some new projects and I read 140 books this year. I was a member of another Kwame Alexander launch team – this time for the book, Swing (a wonderful and heart-wrenching book by Kwame and Mary Rand Hess).  I traveled to Michigan (for NerdCampMI), Texas (for #NCTE18), and Illinois (for RSAC) for professional development that proved (once again) to be highlights of my year. My friends and I created a proposal for #NCTE19, too, and I’m excited to see if we are accepted for a session.

I lost a job and found a new one — a relief and a dream all rolled up and presented to me as a gift from God. I love being a middle school librarian, and I am working hard to become a literacy leader in my new school. There’s so much more to come! I was able to keep my primary schools (that I oversee) as well, and that was a blessing.

My family encountered many blessings this year, as well: one engaged child, one college graduate, one college-bound child. I’m going to need to eat right and exercise more to keep up with these girls in the future. Health is an issue, always, so I move forward — setting new goals and tweaking my lifestyle just a little more than the year before. Keep moving! That’s the key going into 2019.

So 2018 was a year of adventures, and it was a fabulous year. I wish each of you Happy New Year and best wishes for 2019!

Now…what should my new OLW be?

IMWAYR: H is For Haiku


Amy Losak, Sydell Rosenberg’s daughter, sent me her mother’s work, H Is For Haiku. Amy knows I love poetry and short texts I can read to my middle school students for enjoyment and for study. As I read each A to Z poem, I realized that every one was different, and that some didn’t follow the haiku rules — 3 lines with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 on the second line, and 5 on the third line. As I re-read, I reviewed the note to readers at the beginning of the book:

“…But many haiku writers aren’t so strict about syllable counts or the subject matter, including Syd. What’s most important about writing haiku is to focus on those many small moments we may overlook and make them special.” (Amy Losak, “Dear Reader” page)

When I re-read the poems, I enjoyed the small moments more — connecting some poems to my own life experiences, such as “First Library Card,” “Plunging Downhill,” and “Up and Down the Block.” It turns out that Syd, a teacher, was a rebel — one who broke writing rules — and we middle school teachers love the chaos! 

If you’re up for some poetry, colorful and light illustrations (by artist Sawsan Chalabi, whose work reminds me a little of Dr. Seuss here), and another way to write A to Z texts, check out H is For Haiku. Enjoy your reading time!

(H is For Haiku was published in April, 2018 by Penny Candy Books. All pictures were received from Amy Losak, and under copyright.)

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?


It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover your next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and Jen Vincent, at Teach Mentor Texts decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.