Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Middle School Book Club Books: difficulties

This post provides an overview of books to use for book club group discussions around the theme of difficulties or tough times. The previous Middle School Book Club Book post was about books featuring a character with a disability. Click the "Book Club" tag for other posts about great books for book club discussions, as well as generic questions to use for discussions.

Middle School Book Club Books: difficulties

Middle schoolers love reading books about kids with problems. Probably because everyone feels like they have so many of their own. In addition to our book club set about characters with disabilities, I included these titles where characters are facing other difficult issues.

Counting Thyme (2016) by Melanie Conklin p. 320. 11-year old Thyme’s world is upended when her family moves to NY on short notice so her younger brother can enter a cancer trial.

Thyme is frustrated by living in limbo - her parents have just moved the whole family cross-country so that her younger brother can participate in a clinical trial for his neuroblastoma cancer. She is trying to juggle being new and fitting in with the hope that they will be leaving and moving back in a few short months. This is a cute and enjoyable story, and one that does a good job of laying bare the impact a severe illness can have on a family.

Paper Things (2015) by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, p. 384. This is a story of the costs and unseen difficulties of homelessness, told from the perspective of fifth grade Arianna (Ari) and her older brother, Gage.

This is such a powerful and important story and one that so rarely is told. Orphans may be over-represented in children's literature, but homeless kids are often invisible. This is a tug-at-the-heartstrings story, for sure, but I appreciate that the author also kept in real, especially moving towards the end of the book. Well worth the read.

One for the Murphys (2012) by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, p. 256. 12-year old Carley finds herself in foster care after a domestic incident with her stepfather. How will she adjust to this new place and what does her future hold?

One for the Murphys is the story of a girl named Carley who finds herself in foster care after she is beaten by her stepfather. This is a tear-jerker of a tale about family, friendship, and finding your own way. I have read some negative criticism about the depiction of social workers in the book, but I still think there is a lot to value in this story.

Additional Tough Times Books

The following titles were not ones I used this year but would be great books to consider adding when making your own lists.

Wonder (2012) by R.J. Palacio. This charming story of understanding differences and learning to accept people for who they are will make everyone think again what it truly means to "Choose Kind."

Firegirl (2006) by Tony Abbott [a Golden Kite Award winner]. This story about acceptance is about a girl who is terribly disfigured in a fire and is narrated by a boy in the classroom she moves to when she has to change towns to be closer to her doctors. The focus is on the meaning and responsibility of being a bystander, but I think it might have been a more interesting and more powerful book if the girl herself had been given more of a voice.

Do you have any suggestions for books that I missed? Click the "Book Club" tag for other posts about great books for book club discussions, as well as generic questions to use for discussions.

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 12/5/16

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Last Week's Posts

      Picture Books

      Esquivel! un artista del sonido de la era espacial (2016) by Susan Wood and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh is a biography of the experimental musician with a focus on his influences and creations. I love the pairing with Duncan Tonatiuh's illustrations (especially his Author's Note about his influences).

      A Family is a Family is a Family (2016) by Sara Cleary and illustrated by Qin Leng. This celebration of families also highlights some of the ways that well-meaning but poorly conceived "family"-based activities can isolate some children in our classrooms. Books like this are a great way to make sure all children - and all families - are honored.

      Young Adult

      Shirley Jackson's The Lottery: the authorized graphic adaptation (2016) by Miles Hyman [her grandson]. This is an interesting graphic novel adaptation. The dark tones and expressions of the characters really add to the story. (Side note: why the nudity? It added nothing to the story other than making it difficult for teachers to use it.)

      Happy Reading!

      Saturday, December 3, 2016

      Diverse Children's Books: favorite holiday stories

      Our theme for this month's Favorite Holiday Books. (Please feel free to share any holiday resources, not just winter holidays.) The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.

      What Is #DiverseKidLit?

      Diverse Children's Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children's books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

      We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.


      We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, January 7th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

      Upcoming Theme

      Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Holiday Books. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you're interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes ...
      • January 7th and 21st linkups: Human Rights. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is celebrated in the US in January, think about your favorite books to share with children about the importance and the history of human rights and/or civil rights.
      • February 4th and 18th linkups: Love. Let's spread the love of diverse books by sharing diverse books about love, families, and relationships. 

      Most Clicked Post from Last Time

      Our most-clicked post from last time from The Barefoot Mommy: 15 Diverse and Inclusive Books about Christmas. Rebekah includes an overview of each book as well as a downloadable felt ornament craft. The stories showcase a wide range of cultures and countries celebrating Christmas, some focusing on the holiday and others happening around that time. A great place to start for thinking about this linkup's holiday theme!

      #DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

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      Receive an email reminder for each new #diversekidlit linkup

      Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at

      (Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

      Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

      Our Pinterest board highlights a wide range of amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children's Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

      Friday, December 2, 2016

      Exciting News about Multicultural Children's Book Day!

      As I mentioned in an earlier #diversekidlit post, I am very excited to be a co-host for this year's Multicultural Children's Book Day, happening on January 27th, 2017. Multicultural Children's Book Day is an all-day (really, more like all-month) celebration of diverse books. Opportunities are available for teachers and bloggers to receive a free diverse book to review as part of the event.

      But the big news is that a new sponsor has been announced for this year's event ...

      Scholastic was founded in 1920 as a single classroom magazine. Today, Scholastic books and educational materials are in tens of thousands of schools and tens of millions of homes worldwide, helping to Open a World of Possible for children across the globe. The mission of Scholastic is to encourage the intellectual and personal growth of all children, beginning with literacy. Scholastic will also be helping with social media efforts surrounding this event and working to get the MCBD the message out. We will have more details and images in the days to follow, but in the meantime we simply wanted to share the good news. Be sure and connect with Scholastic on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and multiple other social media outlets.

      You can find out more about all the other sponsors here. I am very excited about the increased visibility this national sponsorship will bring to this amazing event, and I encourage all of you to join us as well!

      If you are interested in learning more about Multicultural Children's Book Day, please visit the main site. Or, you can learn about my fellow co-hosts by clicking any of their names below.

      Would you like to be a Reviewer for MCBD 2017 and Receive a Free Diversity Book?

      Bloggers can go here to sign up via our Google form to review a multicultural children’s book for this event. MCBD is also open to reviewers do not have a blog, but have a strong presence on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

      How It Works: Bloggers are then “matched” with an author or publisher that will supply them with a free children’s book to review. Bloggers are encouraged to read the books and share their thoughts on the book (a basic book review) in the form of a blog post.Many bloggers add a book extension activity. Go HERE for the full details and instructions.
      Once their book review blog post is live (any time between January 1 and January 27th is good), bloggers are invited to “link up” their blog post on the Linky that will be found on any of our CoHosts’ sites and also the MCCBD website. on January 27th.

      (NOTE: We will not be shipping out any books for the 2017 online event until Dec of 2016!)

      Direct all questions and inquires to becky (at) multiculturalchildrensbookday (dot) com

      Wednesday, November 30, 2016

      Middle School Book Club Books: disabilities

      Book clubs are a great way to get kids reading and discussing books. Rather than a whole-class novel, I like to select several books related by a central theme and let students rank their top choices. (Different books appeal to different readers, and I almost always have a good split with everyone able to get their first or second choice.) Click the "Book Club" tag for other posts about great books for book club discussions, as well as generic questions to use for discussions.

      Middle School Book Club Books: disabilities

      Many of my seventh graders are strongly drawn to fantasy, science fiction, and dystopia genres of books. Few are active readers of contemporary realistic fiction, which is why I chose that genre for our first book club set of the year.

      To narrow it down even further, I picked books that featured a main character with a disability, so that we could explore alternate points of view and learn about kids who lives might be significantly different than our own. Below are my blurbs for each book as well as a few thoughts about the benefits of each book.

      Anything But Typical by Norah Raleigh Baskin, p. 208. Sixth grader Jason knows that his many labels and abbreviations (including autism) make him different than his neuro-typical peers, but as an author he finds he is in full control.

      This one was a winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (which honors books that include authentic portrayals of the disability experience), and its first-person narrative makes the book intimate and immediate. It's tough, as the reader, to see Jason's efforts to navigate his world and the ways that he is perceived by his peers. A bit of a sad read.

      Fish in a Tree (2015) by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, p. 288. Sixth grader Ally has become an expert at hiding her inability to read, and she is afraid to ask for help, after all, how can you cure dumb?

      As a teacher, I found the beginning of this book fairly painful to read. It is so hard to hear Ally's inside thoughts as her teacher misunderstands and demands things of her. We have all had those students that are harder to reach, and we never get the opportunity to see them from the inside. In this story, Ally has made it to sixth grade without recognizing her own dyslexia, and her struggles to fit in and to game the system have reached their breaking point. This is a great story of the power of friendship, self-realization, and self-acceptance.

      Al Capone Does My Shirts (2004) by Gennifer Choldenko [Newbery Honor winner], p. 288. Middle schooler Moose moves with his family to Alcatraz in the 1930s, when it was the highest security prison. Moose is struggling to fit in while also helping his “different” sister, Natalie, adjust to their new life.

      Set on Alcatraz Island during the 1930s when the prison was operating, the book is narrated by Moose whose family has just moved to the island. This is a humorous and charming story as Moose tries to fit in at school and with the other island kids while also balancing the needs of his "younger" sister, Natalie (who today we would recognize as autistic). Raises some really interesting questions about mental illness and disability in a historical context.

      Additional Middle Grade Disability-Focused Books

      The following titles were not ones I used this year but would be great books to consider adding when making your own lists. (Some of these titles are read at our school in younger years, so many students had already read them.)

      Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin is told from the perspective of Rose, a young girl with a diagnosis of high functioning autism. There were some great and engaging things about this book, but I was hoping for more. Will be interested to get some student perspectives on this one ...

      Rules (2006) by Cynthia Lord [Newbery Honor Book and Schneider Family Book Award Winner]. This story is told from the perspective of the older sister who creates different rules and coping strategies to try and help her younger brother who has severe autism. This is a lovely (and entertaining) family story, as well as an informative look at what it means to have a sibling with a disability.

      Out of My Mind (2010) by Sharon Draper, p. 295 is told from the perspective of the main character, Melody, who has cerebal palsy. Initially diagnosed as non-verbal, she undergoes a giant transformation through the book as she finally finds a way to successfully communicate. This is a powerful story about facing down challenges - but without falling back on a simplistic "happy ending." A great one for empathy and facilitating discussions.

      Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is the first book in a five-book series by Jack Gantos [National Book Award Finalist]. The titular main character is based on the author's own experience growing up as a kid with ADHD before such a diagnosis was common. You'll have to read the book to find out why he in fact does swallow his house key ...

      El Deafo by Cece Bell. This sensitive autobiographical graphic novel focuses on the author's experience growing up and losing her hearing at age 4, as well as her later trials and tribulations with her gigantic Phonic Ear. I think the graphic novel format (and rabbits for characters) makes this book accessible to a wide-range of readers. A great book for talking about differences and how to treat others.

      Freak the Mighty (1993) by Rodman Philbrick. This is a story of friendship that transcends stereotypes and abilities. The narrator, Maxwell, is a lumbering giant of a middle schooler who has been diagnosed with learning disabilities. But he finds his voice and his confidence when Kevin ("Freak"), a boy with a genetic condition that has kept him small and required to wear leg braces, moves in next door. Together they become Freak the Mighty and take on challenges both real and imagined. (I read the 20th Anniversary edition which also contains significant back matter including some priceless letters to the author from children.)

      Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. This second giant illustrated novel by Brian Selznick features a main character who is deaf and navigates her way through the wordless sections of the story.

      Do you have any favorites that I missed? Click the "Book Club" tag for other posts about great books for book club discussions, as well as generic questions to use for discussions.

      Monday, November 28, 2016

      It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 11/28/16

      It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

      Last Week's Posts

          Picture Books

          The Journey (2016) by Francesco Sanna. This picture book tells an intentionally-generic version of a forced immigration story as the narrator, her brother, and her mother flee their home country after the war and the death of her father. The book was inspired by the author's encounter with refugee girls in Italy. This one doesn't work for me as well as other immigration / migration / refugee books. The generic nature of the story makes it harder to connect with the characters, and I felt like the cartoonish border guards also downplay the seriousness of the issue. I'd love to hear other opinions!

          Teacup (2015) by Rebecca Young and illustrated by Matt Ottley. In a similar vein, Teacup is a metaphorical story of a journey by a young boy with very little. With this one, I'm left baffled as to what the story is actually a metaphor for and why I should care. This one is not my cup of tea, if you'll pardon the pun.

          Those Shoes (2007) by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. A good book for discussing the impact of peer pressure and the allure of pricy status items. (Maybe one that folks should have read before rushing out for their Black Friday shopping!)

          Middle Grade

          When the Sea Turned to Silver (2016) by Grace Lin [National Book Award longlist]. Last week I re-read the first two books in this trilogy (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky) which, while not a requirement, did make for some easier connections between the stories.

          Like the previous two books, this one is a story with many stories within it that draw on ancient Chinese folktales (some explicitly and some implicitly). I was far more familiar with many of the tales incorporated into this book, as several have been turned into picture books by illustrator Demi or are included in Favorite Folktales from Around the World, edited by Jane Yolen. This one provides a satisfying resolution to the trilogy (which I think is all is will be?), but I think that Starry River of the Sky might actually be my favorite of the three ...

          Middle School

          ... and speaking of threes, I also read March Book Three (2016) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell [National Book Award Winner]. This is an important and powerful read, especially now. It is frankly disconcerting to see this look back at the work leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts and then compare it to how they are currently being eroded. A must-read.

          Happy Reading!

          Wednesday, November 23, 2016

          Featured Illustrator: Melissa Sweet

          If I could be any illustrator, I think I would want to be Melissa Sweet. Something about her style appeals so deeply to me, and I love how she incorporates layers of found materials and other ephemera into her work. I've actually tried to make a few "Melissa-Sweet inspired" scrapbook pages of my own, and let me tell you, it is a lot of work to put something like that together!

          In this post, I'm sharing two of my favorite categories of books by Melissa Sweet: her biographies (both written by her or with Jan Bryant) and her illustrations for books or poems or books on writing. Interested in more illustrators? Click the "Featured Illustrator" tag to see all the posts.


          Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (2016) by Melissa Sweet. I need to write an ode about how much I love Melissa Sweet. Her scrapbooky style of artwork is always so inspiring, and she did an amazing job incorporating so many actual photographs and ephemera from the White family. This biography seems like an instant classic for anyone who loves and appreciates the stories of E. B. White. As a teacher, one of my favorite insights was the inclusion of multiple (wildly different) drafts of the opening page of Charlotte's Web. A mini-lesson in the making.

          The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (2014) by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet [a Siebert Award winner and a Newbery Honor winner]. This is a great biography of Roget with a lot of insight into the creation of the original thesaurus. Will definitely share this one with students when we get to talking about how and why to use a thesaurus. Fascinating to read how the idea evolved and to see the original meaning-based organization of the first edition.

          River of Words: the story of William Carlos Williams (2007) by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I shared pieces of this bibliography every year with my students when we studied some of the poems of William Carlos Williams (read full details in Teaching Poetry with Love that Dog). I really like how the illustrations convey the connections between Williams's "real" profession (being a doctor) and the sights and sounds of his farm that inspired his poetry.

          On Poems and Writing

          You Nest Here with Me (2015) by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This precious poetry book is one that I fell in love with immediately. The soothing and rhythmic rhymes are perfectly complemented by the endearing collage and mixed media style of Melissa Sweet. Different birds and their nests are introduced, and the mother reassures her daughter through the repeating refrain of "You nest here with me." This is a book that I have given as a gift to several friends to read to their children.

          Firefly July: a year of very short poems (2014) selected by Paul Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.The book is arranged seasonally with a wonderful array of short poems for each season. Each poem is accompanied by the incredible art of Melissa Sweet, whose bright collage style ought to make anyone want to create art. A combination of one and two-page spreads as well as clever poem juxtapositions make this book a treasure.

          Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. There are so many great things going on in this book! First, of course, is the fact that Little Red (the pencil) is writing her own Red Riding Hood parody, but I also love the inclusion of individual parts of speech and the "story path" for how to create a fiction story. This could be a touchstone text for students when writing their own fiction stories, as well as helping them use different grammar and parts of speech to bolster their writing. Fun!

          A quick search of my public library reveals many many more wonderful books written or illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Did I miss any of your favorites? Please share in the comments below.

          Looking for more great illustrators? Click the "Featured Illustrator" tag for more.