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#MustReadin2016 is a personal challenge to commit to reading books of your choice.  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2016 book lists. 

“Teachers who read are more effective in engaging children with reading, more likely to use recommended literacy practices in the classroom, and more likely to provide students authentic opportunities to share book recommendations and responses with each other (Morrison, Jacobs, and Swinyard, 1999; Nathanson, Pruslow and Levitt 2008; McKool & Gespass, 2009).” (Donalyn Miller, 2016)

When I read these words in a recent post by Donalyn Miller, it reaffirmed my commitment to sharing my reading life.  How can we be literacy leaders if we don’t maintain the habits that we try to cultivate in our students?  As I put together my Must Read in 2016 list, I reflected on the ways in which these books rose to the top of the list. Three influences emerged and frame the recommendations below.

Recommendations from my Colleagues:


Recommendations from my PLN:

Recommendations from my Reading Community: 

 At the end of her post, Donalyn Miller presents the question, “Beyond what works in our own classrooms and libraries, how can we engage our colleagues in meaningful dialogue and professional learning?”

The company we keep can empower us as readers. The books on my Must Read in 2016 list all came from recommendations from my local colleagues, my PLN on Twitter & Voxer, or my larger reading community (Goodreads, #IMWAYR).  I encourage you to help your students find their reading communities this year!

The book is in your court…

IMG_4918Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the #IMWAYR community.


Must Read in 2015- Update

Must Read in 2015- Update


#MustReadin2015 is a personal challenge to commit to reading books of your choice.  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2015 book lists. 

Many of my favorite professional authors have written about the power of sharing your reading life.  It is critical that teachers know their students and their books well enough to put the right book in the right hand at the right time.  I grew up hooked on Judy Blume, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys books. While these characters and topics were enough to hook me, not every child will become a reader by reading the books that I enjoyed.  Children’s literature today is far more diverse and exciting than I could have imagined back when I was helping Nancy solve the next mystery.

This year, I set a goal of reading a minimum of 100 books, which I was able to surpass.  My #MustReadin2015 list included 19 titles.  While I didn’t get to read all of the 19 books on my list this year, I will be sure to complete them in 2016.


Jack by Liesl Shurtliff made me wish I was back in the classroom.  This is a perfect lighthearted read aloud for younger students, and older students will benefit from analyzing the author’s craft.  Liesl merges two classic tales to create an original version of Jack’s story.  Readers also meet familiar characters such as Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. Even the old woman who lived in a shoe makes an appearance.

red pencil

When 12-year-old Amira’s village in Sudan is attacked, life as she knows it is changed forever. Amira’s broken family travels to a refugee camp, where she must learn how to adjust to a world ravaged by war. Amira receives a red pencil, which signifies the return of her voice and her desire to pursue an education.  Andrea Davis Pinkney shares an important message through this novel in verse.

Reading Nonfiction

The most powerful professional book I read this year was Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  This book is a must-read for ALL teachers, including those explicitly teaching reading and those teaching students to read in the content areas. I can’t do this book justice in one paragraph, but expect a full review soon.

Many of my #MustReadin2015 titles have their own blog posts.  You can find them here:

I’m currently making my #MustReadin2016 list, and I’d love to hear your suggestions!  The book is in your court…


(Thank you Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting It’s Monday! What are you Reading? Readers across the blogging community connect their latest reading experiences, opening new possibilities for sharing the impact of books on our lives. )

5 Picture Books that Promote Growth Mindset

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5 Picture Books that Promote Growth Mindset

The Tweet pictured above captured a conversation between my sons, Anthony (8) and Alex (6). Both kids have been raised in the same household, have shared experiences, and have heard the same messages growing up, with one exception.  Alex’s kindergarten curriculum included lessons designed to promote growth mindset.  He would come home from school very excited following these lessons.  He recounted a teacher sharing her experiences while learning how to ride a bike.  She fell off of the bike, and shouted, “I quit!”  She then tried to ride the bike again and was successful.

Alex goes on to explain (in his 6-year-old words) that there are “ropes” in your brain. “The ropes make connections to the little things in your brain, and when you are a baby to 7, you have so many because you learn so much. The little things talk to each other. And, when you say ‘I quit,’ then your brain doesn’t get strong.”

In Mindsets in the Classroom, Mary Cay Ricci informs us that “When students believe that dedication and hard work can change their performance in school, they grow to become resilient, successful students.”  What Alex described is actually the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt. In chapter 8, Ricci describes similar lessons in which the students become the neurons and practice building connections.  Connections (the ropes in Alex’s recounting) become thicker with practice and thinner when students give up.


When teachers provide students with the perspective to view failure as part of the learning process and the language to express these feelings in words, kids can start to adopt a growth mindset. Even those that begin with fixed mindsets can change their beliefs about learning. Children’s literature provides a safe, low-risk context in which students can express their beliefs about mindset. If you are looking for recommendations for your students, look no further than the following five books. They have shared characteristics, such as characters who persevere, learn the value of positive self talk, and come to understand the value of creativity and originality.

5 Picture Books that Promote Growth Mindset


Students of all ages will be inspired by What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. All of us have had the feeling at some time or another that our ideas are not good enough or that people will think they are silly or worthless.  The main character in What Do You Do with an Idea? helps his idea grow and change until he can’t imagine life without it.  This book would be an amazing addition to classroom libraries at all grade levels.


Peter Reynolds gets growth mindset. And he is able to capture the essence of growth mindset in ways that even the youngest children can understand. In The Dot, young Vashti is discouraged by what she thinks is a fixed ability to draw. How does her teacher respond? “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” This one little dot steers Vashti down a path of growth, in both confidence and ability, providing an example of effort triumphing over ability.


Ish is a fantastic read-aloud to follow The Dot. Unlike Vashti, Ramon loves to draw, until his brother insults his work, causing Ramon to doubt his talent.  Good thing that his sister Marisol sees things from a different perspective.  She carefully smooths out all of the drawings Ramon has crumpled up and hangs them in her room.  Make sure to pick up a copy of this masterpiece by Reynolds in order to find out the meaning of “ish.”


The main character in Ashley Spires’ newest book, The Most Magnificent Thing, has an idea to make something special.  She builds.  She toils.  She tinkers.  She gets angry.  She gets frustrated.  Nothing that she builds turns out exactly the way she envisions, even though the neighbors all find her inventions to be useful. Finally, after numerous attempts and failures, she creates exactly what she had pictured… the most magnificent thing.


In Extra Yarn, Barnett brings us the story of Annabelle who thinks her town is dreary, cold, and colorless.  Annabelle knits a sweater for herself when she finds a box of yarn.  With the extra yarn, she knits one for her dog… and then her classmates…and then the townspeople.  Soon enough, the whole town is covered with her colorful creations.  Annabelle is met with resistance along the way, but she perseveres with her vision, even when faced with naysayers.

All five of these books would spark conversation in the classroom about two things.  In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck differentiates between beliefs and mindset for (1) intelligence and (2) personality. (All teachers and parents should take the brief quiz on pg.12-13 to assess whether you have a fixed or growth mindset in each category.) When students believe that effort outweighs ability, the culture of classrooms can change.  The climate of schools can change.


Alex synthesized the lesson mentioned earlier by sharing that “You have to keep practicing and trying. If someone says, ‘I can’t do it,’ you say, ‘I can’t do it…YET.'”

I hope these books promote discussions about growth mindset in your classrooms and households.  I’d love to expand this list with your suggestions.  Please feel free to leave a comment!

The book is in your court…!


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

Crossing America for a Cure- Al DeCesaris Bikes for Niece Jenna & SWS

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Crossing America for a Cure- Al DeCesaris Bikes for Niece Jenna & SWS

Jenna, Anabelle, Lynn, Paige, Keegan, Stella, Karli, Paul, and Liliana

These children, and all others, affected by Sturge-Weber Syndrome served as the inspiration for Al DeCesaris’ book and adventure- Crossing America for a Cure: A Bicycle Journey of Inspiration and Hope.

Jenna, Al’s niece, was born on June 13, 2004. Doctors indicated that the discoloration on the right side of Jenna’s face was bruising from childbirth. When the “bruising” didn’t go away and doctors discovered glaucoma in Jenna’s right eye, Al’s family knew that Jenna was suffering from something much more complicated. After many months and many tests, Jenna was diagnosed with Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS), a rare neurological disorder that can lead to seizures,  developmental delays, and learning disabilities, among other complications.

The Decesaris family has organized many fundraisers over the years to raise awareness and help fund SWS research efforts. But Al took fundraising to the next level by spending 45 days biking 3,088 miles from Santa Monica, California to Ocean City, Maryland. The only person I know who has taken a longer journey in our family is Marco DeCesaris, Al’s grandfather and my great-grandfather. Full disclosure- Al and I are second cousins. Although we grew up in different parts of the state and only see each other at the occasional family reunion, as I read Al’s book, I could tell that we had a set of shared values, values that could have led to the (crazy!) idea of riding across the United States for a cure.  I mean, who does that? It seemed fitting to describe Al’s journey in relation to Marco’s journey because it is this kind of decision in life that reveals one’s character for all to see.

Marco DeCesaris- Al’s Grandfather; Jenna’s Great Grandfather

The Philadelphia Passenger List for the S.S. America- 1913

Marco DeCesaris’ journey began in a small fishing village, along the Adriatic Coast, in Abruzzo, Italy. It was a place without many opportunities, and America looked promising.  In 1913, at the age of 17, Marco left his land, his home, and his family and boarded the S.S. America in Naples with a final destination of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He went on to raise a family of 10 children with his wife Ida and was eventually joined by his mother and sister. To take a risk like this in order to offer your family a better life is courageous and selfless.  Without him, we would not be living the lives that we are. And although Al and I never got to meet him, I like to think that we were raised with values that span generations.  I haven’t seen Al in many years, but from reading his account of crossing America for SWS, I could see the following themes emerge.

Put family before yourself. Al made this journey to raise awareness for SWS. He sums it up nicely on pg. 120-121 when he writes, “Although my family and I have hosted other charitable events, we have never done anything like this… I chose to take on this 3,000+ mile journey for Jenna and all those suffering with Sturge-Weber Syndrome, to give them hope, to inspire others to get involved, to create awareness, and to raise funds to further the efforts to find a cure. And, by the grace of God, we’re making it happen, one mile at a time.” Al had little experience on a bicycle (less than 10 miles a day) until about 3 weeks before he began his ride for SWS.  He was hardly an expert in this area! However, when you have a tight-knit family like his, this doesn’t deter you from taking on a challenge that will benefit your loved ones.

With risk comes reward. Because of the fundraising efforts from Jenna’s family, doctors have been able to find the cause of SWS, which is a major step toward finding the cure. Funding is critical in order for research to continue. During his journey, Al encountered a pretty high level of risk.  From poorly maintained roadways to construction sites to a myriad of animals literally nipping at his heels, Al was taking risks to spread the word about SWS. He began each day not really knowing whether he would make it to his next destination (weather, flat tires, detours!).  At times, he was even unsure about where he would be sleeping that night!  His sister Ida helped plan the route and found lodging wherever he ended up. I can’t imagine leaving behind a predictable daily routine to take this kind of risk!

Al raised over $75,000 with this endeavor.  However, more research is needed in order to find a cure. To learn more about Sturge-Weber Syndrome or to support the cause, visit:

Crossing America for a Cure

Bands on the Bay

Ida and Jenna on WBAL discussing the latest breakthoughs in a cure for SWS.

In Crossing America for A Cure, Al will take you through the highs and lows of the American terrain, as well as the mental state that it takes to complete a ride such as this.  He includes pictures of each state, friends and family that were able to help along the way, and, of course, the children for whom he was riding.  The diary-style format enables readers to chart Al’s progress in days and miles. If you are interested in riding vicariously through Al, pick up a copy of this book.  Proceeds benefit the search for a cure for Sturge-Weber Syndrome.

The Book is in Your Court…

Summer Reading- Are You Doing Your Part to Ignite the Flame? #IMWAYR

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Summer Reading- Are You Doing Your Part to Ignite the Flame? #IMWAYR

Like many other families, we just headed off on a summer vacation.  I asked my eight year old to choose 3 books, to which he replied… “Only 3?! Last year I took 20.” So we ratcheted up the number significantly, and he was on his way.

My six year old was a little more reluctant, but he dutifully packed up his books.  He chose 3 books that he has read many times before, and to my surprise, I found him reading one silently before bed the first night.  This is a big step for him, as he usually wants an adult to read to him.

He also grabbed a set of Harry Potter reference books, which are well outside of his ability to read right now.  However, since there is interest, we don’t want to discourage him. He was so excited to find someone to read these books with him. As soon as we arrived, he asked an older child who lives next door, “Do you like Harry Potter?” The reply? “I never really got into reading that much.” Alex promptly put the books away and moved on to other things. Sigh.  How do we make sure every child finds the joy in reading?

Pernille Ripp shared some ideas in her recent post: But the Kids Aren’t Reading- 20 Ideas for Creating Passionate Reading Environments. Pernille believes (and I do too!) that passionate reading starts with us.  One of her 20 ideas deals with teacher recommendations:

“Teacher recommendations.  I start many classes with the 1 minute book recommendation sharing why I loved a book or why I bought a book.  Then I place it on a ledge and walk away.” (Ripp, 2015)

One minute.  Spotlight a new book, make it available for students, and walk away.  Easy enough, right?  Here’s the catch.  You have to be reading the books that your students would like in order to make the recommendations. Know your readers.  Know your books. Make the match.  I have two suggestions for you, books that are part of my summer reading list.  We’ll get to those in a second.

Another suggestion from Pernille?

Embrace mature books.  These are the books that some of our most reluctant readers will finally pick up.  The ones with the swear words, or the ones with the little bit more mature story lines.  Be selective, set your standards, but don’t shield all readers from mature books.  These can be “that” book for some of our kids who otherwise will never read.” (Ripp, 2015)

Thank you Pernille for including this in your top 20. Our older students will read books that contain content that we may shy away from. However, these books tackle important issues and are widely available to kids in book stores and libraries.  I admire Pernille’s openness in including mature books in her classroom and honoring student choice.

Below are two “mature books” that you may like to add to your summer reading list.


Girls Like Us is a book about two high school graduates, Quincy and Biddy.  However, Quincy and Biddy are not your typical grads. In Quincy’s words, they are “differently abled.” Author Gail Giles shared that, “I taught special ed students like Biddy and Quincy for twenty years, and I’ve been wanting to tell their stories- stories of courage, sometimes pain, and certainly triumph- for a long time.” (Giles, 2014) The girls are not friends (not even close)! Yet they are thrust together and have to rely on each other to navigate life outside of school for the first time.  They find kindness in some, but are also faced with the harsh realities of those who want to do them harm. Quincy and Biddy will take you on an emotional roller coaster, and you will root for them the entire way. Readers will learn important lessons about how we sometimes unintentionally stereotype others and treat them differently based on judgements we have made. The powerful message in Girls Like Us has been recognized, as it made the Long List for the 2014 National Book Awards in the category of Young People’s Literature. For more on where Quincy and Biddy’s stories come from, check out Gail’s website.

If I Stay is not a new book, but I missed it somewhere along the way! Gayle Forman shares the story of Mia, a young lady whose entire life changes in an instant. The whole book takes place in 24 hours and 7 minutes, and you will read it just as quickly. Mia has to make the most important decision of her life…literally.  But she will get you thinking… Is it really under our control to decide if we stay or if we go?  Forman creates well-developed, dynamic characters who draw you in immediately. One of my favorite characters is Gramps. He has Words of the Wiser (Notice and Note Signpost) written all over him, especially on pg. 181.

This version of the book included an interview with Gayle Forman.  She leaves us with this advice.  “Write. Write. And write some more. And read. You absorb everything you read, whether you are aware of it or not.” (Forman, 2009) I’m keeping Gayle’s words in mind, for myself as a reader, my kids as readers, and our teachers and students as readers.

Know your readers.  Know your books. Make the match.  Help every kid find the book that makes the difference. Reading is contagious, but it as just as easily extinguished.  Alex was trying to get someone he looked up to to read Harry Potter with him.  Had the older boy I mentioned earlier considered himself a reader, he could have helped keep Alex’s spark lit just a little longer.

What books will you recommend to your readers this summer? I’d love to read about them in the comments. The Book is in Your Court…

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.


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