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Monthly Archives: May 2015

How it Went Down & The Other Wes Moore- #IMWAYR

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Connections.  The mind naturally makes connections between events in life, and a reader’s mind makes connections between books and life.

I recently read “How it Went Down” by Kekla Magoon.  The African American victim, 16 year old Tariq Johnson, was fatally shot in his neighborhood. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. These facts are not disputed, but almost all of the other facts surrounding the incident are.

On her website, Magoon shared that the story of Tariq Johnson is fiction. “However, the fictional shooting of Tariq Johnson that occurs in my novel is similar in some ways to real incidents of violence that have occurred around the country in recent years. If you follow the real-world news, you may very well recognize some of the issues and discussions that come up between the characters in my novel. Part of why I wrote the novel was to  explore these issues in the context of fiction, in hopes that it might add a new perspective to the important conversations about such incidents.” (Magoon, 2015)

Magoon wrote the book in response to media coverage of the deaths of young black men, such as Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. However, I was reading “How it Went Down” while also watching coverage of the response to Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore.  What causes peaceful demonstrations to turn into rioting, looting, and burning buildings? These are symptoms of deeper issues within the community that Magoon brings out by writing from multiple perspectives, including Tariq’s family, his friends, his enemies, and characters from outside of his community who use Tariq’s death for personal gain. I won’t give too much of the book away, here, but let’s just say that you will naturally make many connections to issues that are currently facing our youth.

If I had to choose one word to associate with this book, it would be timely. Many young adults will find that this book speaks to them and their situations. To read more about “How it Went Down,” including why she chose to write from multiple perspectives, visit Magoon’s website or read this interview from Bookish. I found it fascinating that Magoon deliberately chose not to write from the perspective of Jack Franklin (the shooter) because Tariq (the victim) can’t speak. To hear an audio recording of how Tariq’s friend Tyrell hears the news, visit the Teaching Books page for “How it Went Down.”


I’m currently reading “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” by Wes Moore. The author, Wes Moore, tells the stories of two boys growing up in Baltimore that took two very different paths.  One Wes Moore became a Rhodes Scholar; the other found himself in prison with a life sentence for murder.


How did this book come to be?  The author was fascinated by reports in the Baltimore Sun about the imprisonment of a man who shared his name at the same time that he was being recognized for his many accomplishments.  The author reached out to the other Wes Moore, who allowed him to share his story.

The connections are startling.  You can hear about them from Wes himself.

Moore shares that he doesn’t want to tell people what to think.  He wants to tell them to think. Choices in life have consequences. View the trailer below to find out more about the message that Moore wants to share with this book.  .

A portion of the proceeds from “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” go to the US Dream Academy, an after school and mentoring program for at-risk youth, especially children with incarcerated parents, and City Year, a group that provides resources for targeted schools in which high numbers of students are at risk for not graduating.

As Wes says, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.” (Moore, 2010)  This also applies to all of the characters in “How it Went Down” and should cause us to pause and think about what we are teaching the youth in our own communities. If we are not using these books as conversation starters, we are missing an opportunity to learn more about each other and how we can do better.


For more examples of what others are reading, be sure to head over to the link-up at Teach Mentor Texts, hosted by Jen Vincent.


A Book and a Hug with Barb Langridge

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A Book and a Hug with Barb Langridge

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Barb Langridge, a Maryland media specialist who is passionate about connecting kids with books. Barb spoke at a Frederick County Reading Council event, which was followed by local media specialists sharing some new recommendations for kids.


Barb’s mission is to put the right books in kids’ hands at the right times. She does this by asking, “Who is the reader?”  Not just on the surface, but who are you really as a reader? What scares you?  What are your hopes? How do you make your decisions? What has caused you pain, and what are you moving toward in life?

Barb has developed the website to provide teachers with a tool to get to know their students as readers and to make recommendations that match kids’ interests. When kids visit the website for the first time, they can take a quiz to find out what types of readers they are. Barb has provided two names within each type- one that boys might identify with and one that might be more appealing to girls.

Type 1- Belonger/ Connector;  Heart/Home/Friends Forever

Type 2- Seeker; Joan of Arc

Type 3- Jokester; Wild Thing

Type 4- Answerman; Investigator/Analyst

Kids can then search for books through the site by the reading type they identify with as well as by topic, age, etc. Barb provided some information about each reading type that got us thinking about the differences between teacher and student preferences. 38% of students identify with the first reading type.  They favor order, structure, hierarchy, and tradition.  These readers might prefer historical fiction or a story focused on the relationships between characters. Barb has found that 12% of readers identify as the Seeker/ Joan of Arc type. These readers have huge hearts and want to know how to make the world a better place. Barb shared that 38% of readers identify as the third reading type: Jokesters/ Wild Things. The kids who identify with the fourth type are consistently asking, “What if?” They seek answers.

Barb cautioned that our own reading types can influence what we choose for our students. We need to make conscious efforts to promote all types of books in our classrooms.

Barb was passionate about supporting student reading, and her message was uplifting to teachers who are facing the final part of the school year and could use that extra bit of inspiration.

Following Barb’s presentation, media specialists from local schools shared books with the participants.  Some examples are pictured below. I hope you can find a book that might interest someone your know! The book is in your court…


Crawling Out of the Classroom

In everything that my students and I do together, we strive to find ways to use reading and writing to make the world outside of our classroom a better place for all of us to be

Literacy Lenses

Just another site

Katherine Bomer

The Journey is Everything: Writing & Teaching to Discover, to Essay, to Live Wide Awake

EdTech Bytes with Bormann

Ideas for integrating technology into a 21st-century classroom.

Ms. Victor Reads

Reflections on my life as a teacher.

Teachers for Teachers

Just another site

Ethical ELA

Reflections on Teaching English


Two Literacy Teachers Learning and Sharing in the Blended Learning Classroom

Teachers As Innovators

Two teachers bringing research into classroom practice