Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Evicted! The Struggle for the Right to Vote - book review - 1.12.22

In the past decade, I've learned more about the real, truthful, and actual history of the United States via children's literature than I ever did in all of my years in the classroom or via textbook.  Here's another bit of history that is new to me.

Evicted! by Alice Faye Duncan
Evicted! The Struggle for the Right to Vote
written by Alice Faye Duncan
illustrated by Charly Palmer
published by Calkins Creek

If you're like me, you've learned more about the Civil Rights Movement in the past decade.  I've read countless books and thank you to Mr. Representative John Lewis for giving us the March  trilogy and now Run.  However, the Civil Rights Movement was not solely centered in Alabama and Georgia.  It reached many states, including Tennessee.  In 1959, after continued efforts to deny Black people the right to vote and many difficulties with owning their own land, in Fayette County, Tennessee, a movement known as the Fayette County Tent City Movement occurred.  In a series of interconnected stories, author Alice Faye Duncan and illustrator Charly Palmer illuminate the people and narrative of what occurred.

Goodreads summary:
This critical civil rights book for middle-graders examines the little-known Tennessee's Fayette County Tent City Movement in the late 1950s and reveals what is possible when people unite and fight for the right to vote. Powerfully conveyed through interconnected stories and told through the eyes of a child, this book combines poetry, prose, and stunning illustrations to shine light on this forgotten history.

The late 1950s was a turbulent time in Fayette County, Tennessee. Black and White children went to different schools. Jim Crow signs hung high. And while Black hands in Fayette were free to work in the nearby fields as sharecroppers, the same Black hands were barred from casting ballots in public elections.
If they dared to vote, they faced threats of violence by the local Ku Klux Klan or White citizens. It wasn't until Black landowners organized registration drives to help Black citizens vote did change begin--but not without White farmers' attempts to prevent it. They violently evicted Black sharecroppers off their land, leaving families stranded and forced to live in tents. White shopkeepers blacklisted these families, refusing to sell them groceries, clothes, and other necessities.
But the voiceless did finally speak, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which legally ended voter discrimination. 

My thinking:
I loved the way Duncan pieced this together.  Instead of a long narrative, we see little stories that come from the people that instrumental parts of the Movement or were  affected by it.  Duncan describes the people and allows the reader to have a view or an idea of what type of effect this Movement had. It also showed the way people shaped the events that occurred during this time.  For me, with the wealth of information tied into this book, it helped me understand the human side to it instead of it being a long winded narrative.  Palmer's broad strokes and sometimes vibrant colors, sometimes muted colors, helped give more feeling to the story.
Instead of rushing into the story, Duncan preps the reader with some information.  First, she includes an overview of the Fayette County Tent City Movement.  This is helpful because it gives the reader some quick information to use as they read the stories and piece everything together.  There are also two layouts that feature the profiles of the people included in the stories.  Palmer includes paintings of each and Duncan gives some basic information.  It was interesting to see how many of them are still alive today.  I referred to the profiles pages frequently as I read the book.  This was one of my favorite parts of the book because it was so helpful.
Duncan includes a lot of source information in her backmatter.  I really appreciated the primary source photos and propaganda photos from the time period.  Along with additional sources for readers to find more information, there is even a music list!

I was fortunate enough to chat with author Alice Faye Duncan about these stylistic choices.  Here's what I asked:

There were two style decisions that I just loved. The first being that it was written through interconnected stories instead of a narrative. Can you talk about how you came to write it that way? And I loved the character profiles that were included at the beginning. I referred to them as I read! Did you always know you wanted them included? I am sure you were thrilled with Charly’s profiles!

And here are her answers!

1) There are several people who helped to make the Tent City Voting Rights Movement a success.  It thought it was best to capture these distinct personalities with at least one section dedicated to their specific challenges and contributions

2) When I finished the first draft, I submitted the profiles like a "Table of Contents" for the reader's benefit. It was my editor or art director, who suggested that Charly paint a portrait for each profile. My editor is Carolyn Yoder.  The art director is Barbara Grzeslo. They work and think as a collective of genius. Working with the both of them is most inspiring. 

Thank you for stopping by, Alice!

This is a must have book for schools that teach the Civil Rights Movement.  This is an area of interest for many readers and whether you use it as a read aloud, supplemental information to go along with your unit, or part of a text set, I highly recommend this book for 6th grade - high school libraries.

Monday, January 10, 2022

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 1.10.22

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  
It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Happy belated New Year's to all!  I can't believe this is my first #IMWAYR post since August!  I had to slow down blogging because life was getting to be too much of everything.  Between school (and that word is a loaded statement because anyone dealing with working with children in any capacity during this ongoing pandemic knows that it's more than we could ever sit down and write) and my daughter's junior year of high school and ongoing college search and our home renovations, it was TOO much.  It still is.  I can't go back to regular blogging, but I can do some.  I'm not even going to say it will be a regularly posted amount.  When I can, I will, and when I can't, I won't.  
I've also gone back and looked at my posts from the year and seen what readership is.  I can say that blogging readership has gone done.  I think with the rise of social media, it's very easy to find book titles in quick social media posts instead of reading through a blog.  Keeping that in mind, how I blog may change.  In a list post such as this, I'll try and keep descriptions to a minimum so quick scanning can occur.  Unless I feel like you really need to know more!  When a post is spotlighting a book, there will be some longer descriptions, including how it can be used.
And we'll see where 2022 takes us!  I still have stacks of books to get through and when I blog, that takes up reading time.  Have to find a balance and when the book stacks are tipping over, it definitely means I need more reading time!

The second week of Winter Break had me plowing through book stacks.  And as much as I read, I have more stacks to get through!  Here are some favorites.

Recent Picture Books

Have You Seen Gordon?
 by Adam Jay Epstein
Let Me Fix You a Plate by Elizabeth Lilly
Sam Is My Sister by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
There's a Ghost In This House by Oliver Jeffers
The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder
Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham
From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang
Aaron Slater, Illustrator - by Andrea Beaty
Off-Limits by Helen Yoon
Wildfire! by Ashley Wolff
Three Ways to be Brave by Karla Clark
Fly by Brittany J. Thurman

Recent Nonfiction Picture Books

Pura's Cuentos by Annette Bay Pimentel
Battle of the Butts by Jocelyn Rish
With Great Power: the Marvelous Stan Lee by Annie H. Eriksen
What's in Your Pocket? by Heather L. Montgomery
A Dinosaur Named Ruth by Julia Lyon
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson
I'm Trying to Love Garbage by Bethany Barton
The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

Recent Middle Grade and Young Adult

Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee
When Winter Robeson Came by Brenda Woods
Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed (publishes Feb. 1st)
Alias Anna by Susan Hood (publishes March 22nd)
Stuntboy In the Meantime by Jason Reynolds
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
You'd Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (publishes Feb. 1st)

Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading pile.  Now it's time to get back to mine!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Reading in 2021. Not the same. And a #mustreadin2021 update - 12.31.21

 2021 started out with so much promise.  I really thought this was the year that was going to push us past the pandemic.  Yeah.  That didn't work out so much.
When the pandemic started I thought a lot about what blogging was going to look like.  Ultimately, I decided to continue blogging because it was a way to feel normal, as well as help authors and publishers with getting titles out there.
I did notice my reading changed at the start of the pandemic.  I started reading more young adult than middle grade.  I don't ultimately know why - I needed a change?  Something that felt so different?  At any rate, I continued to read steadily through the early months, especially into the summer.   Once school started and we moved to a remote setting, my reading was interrupted, but again, once I got my footing, I was able to continue.
At the start of 2021, reading was definitely slower than pre-pandemic times, but I had a flow.  When I think about life March 2020-March 2021, there was a lot of home time.  We really did not do much.  My daughter had swim practice regularly, but being home from school and not going anywhere else allowed time for books.  April of 2021 gave us our first time for travel.  We had to travel for my daughter's first round of Paralympic Trials.  The travel was fine because again, really didn't go anywhere outside of our Airbnb.  The swimming did not go well.  From April to June (official Trials), things got a little more intense with swimming so reading slowed down.  Once she officially made the Tokyo team, I had the rest of June to live the dream.  That tension was off, school was done, and I made great headway into my reading piles.  
Then came July and if you didn't hear the screeching of the breaks to my reading game, well, I'm surprised.  Training was crazy. By the time August hit, between training and Tokyo prep, there was so little time to do anything.  And school was starting.
School 2021.  Even more different than school 2020.  You would think since we were back full time in the classroom it would be back to normal.  We all know that was silly to even think that.  I'm so grateful that in IL we are mandated to wear masks and have some distance.  Our school is even tested (optional) once/week through the Univ of IL Shield test.  But even with mitigations, it's so not normal.  And it's so stressful.  Reading?  Ha.  What's that?
Did I mention we also went through an entire first floor, leading up to the second floor renovation?  Because that wouldn't be any stress??
And now my daughter is a junior in high school, returning to school for the first time in 18 months, and having to go to classes, deal with COVID 19, pretend that isn't happening and keep up with all learning expectations, and figure out college, because shocker, that doesn't just fall in your lap.
A few weeks into the school year and I knew something had to give.  I couldn't keep it all up.  
So away went blogging.  I miss it.  But here's the other problem to that, blogger keeps changing what it allows and the newest thing is it took awhile subscribing by email.  So if you got this, thank you for subscribing awhile ago, because that is no longer an option.  I'm trying to figure out a new platform, but seeing as my technology goes no further than being fancy enough to use different fonts, setting up a blogging platform can be tricky.  Still working on that.  I'm looking into different options, but I still think it will end up as a summer project.
For the rest of 2021 I read what I could and was just satisfied with what I could do.
That means the stacks piled up, but I just look the other way.
Every year I keep track on Goodreads the number of books I've read.  Since I started keeping track in 2014, this will be the second lowest number of books read in a year.  In fact, I'll have read over 100 books less than I did last year.  I knew it was less but I was pretty surprised to see the actual number.

One of the reading communities I participate in is the #mustread community.  Late last year I chose books that are written by BIPoC authors.  Given how the start of 2021 began, these are books that need to be read and shared widely.  I started out well, but as my reading tapered, so did this list.  These are still books I will get to, but not sure when!  Here is how I did:

One day I'll get to the others on this list!
I've spent the last few days thinking about 2022 and reading and blogging.  I'll share my thoughts on that soon!
In the meantime, stay healthy and well, and continue to find time to read!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Our school's Mock Caldecott list - 11.18.21

It's November which means it's time for Mock Caldecott!  Excited to be celebrating books in person this year with our young readers!  Every winter, our 2nd-4th grade readers get to listen to and then do some further analyzing of books that are worth of Caldecott consideration.  It's always so hard to narrow books down and this year was no exception!  I'm grateful to have had a Caldecott selection committee (my fabulous colleagues Laura, Angie, and Terry) to help me get the list down to 12 books.  Here are the 12 books that our 2nd-4th grade students will be taking a look at this winter!

  • Watercress - illustrated by Jason Chin, written by Andrea Wang

  • Mel Fell by Corey Tabor

  • Strollercoaster - illustrated by Raul the Third, written by Matt Ringler

  • Have You Ever Seen a Flower by Shawn Harris

  • Wishes - illustrated by Victo Ngai, written by Muon Thi Van

  • Inside Cat by Brendan Wenzel

  • Shy Willow by Cat Min

  • Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

  • Bright Star by Yuyi Morales

  • Milo Imagines the World - illustrated by Christian Robinson, written by Matt de la Peña

  • The People’s Painter - illustrated by Evan Turk, written by Cynthia Levinson

  • We Shall Overcome by Bryan Collier

Our school will have a school-wide book celebration following the ALA Youth Media Awards where they will learn the winners of our school-wide vote and what the actual Caldecott committee selected.  Yay for books!

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Odd Beasts - book review - 11.16.21

Want to introduce your young readers to some fascinating animals?  While the tagline of the book refers to these animals as being nature's weirdest, I found them to be truly fascinating!

Odd Beasts:  Meet Nature's Weirdest Animals
written by Laura Gehl
illustrated by Gareth Lucas
published by Abrams Appleseed

The rhyming story inside this board book names an animal and an interesting part about them.  For example, did you know there is a spider with horns?  Yup, the long-horned orb-weaver spider has two long horn-like parts coming out from the end of the spider.  Or maybe the size of an ocean sunfish will find you inspired to learn more.  Because really, how big can a fish be?  No worries, you can get additional information about each animal in the backmatter of this board book.  That ocean sunfish is about a ton, or 2,000 pounds!  
I love that this book introduces young readers to these animals.  And the illustrations by Gareth Lucas are fantastic!  Bright, geometric patterns will draw the reader's eye to study these animals.  Want to see a photograph of each animal?  That's in the backmatter!   Yes, this is a board book, but one that is full of information that will appeal to many young readers.  I love that board books are being published with important information for so many young readers.  And they hold up well for lots of readings!
Whether you're gifting this book to your favorite toddler or making sure it's in the library for your littles and kindergartners and first graders to read, it's one that will be met with a lot of enthusiasm!

More about author Laura Gehl:

Laura Gehl is the author of more than two dozen popular picture books, board books, and early readers including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, and Except When They Don't. A former science writer and teacher, Laura holds a PhD in neuroscience. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and four children. To learn more, visit

Twitter: @AuthorLauraGehl

Instagram: @authorlauragehl

Extra! Find coloring sheets for Odd Beasts on Laura Gehl’s website

As always, happy nonfiction reading!

Friday, October 8, 2021

Susie B. Won't Back Down - review - 10.08.21

Writing books for kids can be tricky.  Generally, it's adults writing the books.  But if they try to get too "adult-like" it really doesn't work.  Kids want to read about real kid things and kids acting like real kids.  That means sometimes the kids aren't going to act the way adults want them to act or react.  That means sometimes the plot is going to be focused on what kids want to read, not the adults (ok, that should be all the time...).  That means sometimes friendships are going to get messy and not all endings are going to be sunshine and rainbows.  This is a book I think kids are going to enjoy because it will feel real to them.  Especially the main character, Susie B.

Susie B. Won't Back Down
by Margaret Finnegan
published by Atheneum

Summary (from Goodreads)
Roll with It meets Absolutely Normal Chaos in this funny, big-hearted novel about a young girl’s campaign for student council president, told through letters to her hero Susan B. Anthony.

Susie B. has a lot to say. Like how it’s not fair that she has to be called Susie B. instead of plain Susie. Or about how polar bears are endangered. Or how the Usual Geniuses are always getting picked for cool stuff over the kids like her with butterflies in their brain. And it’s because Susie B. has a lot to say about these very important things that she’s running for student council president!

If she’s president, she can advocate for the underdogs just like her hero and fellow Susie B., Susan B. Anthony. (And, okay, maybe the chance to give big speeches to the whole school with a microphone is another perk.) But when the most usual of Usual Geniuses also enters the student council race, Susie realizes this may be a harder won fight than she thought. Even worse, Susie discovers that Susan B. Anthony wasn’t as great as history makes it seem, and she did some pretty terrible things to try to help her own cause. Soon, Susie has her own tough decisions to make. But one thing is for sure—no matter what, Susie B. won’t back down.

My thoughts
This is a book I think you can hand off to kids and they are going to love meeting the main character and they will appreciate the storyline.  As I read the story, I kept thinking about how much kids will enjoy the book, even if I wanted to jump in and share my two cents with the characters!  The characters act just like kids today act.  The problems they face are problems are kids are facing today.  And that will make the story REAL to the readers.

The characters are real.  They talk like fifth graders.  They have problems - including unnamed ADD - like a lot of kids.  They will know the kids in this book.  They'll know the "usual geniuses" - the same kids who are chosen for everything (yeah, you know they exist at your school too).  They'll know the kids who aren't the nicest, but probably deep down have a reason why they act the way they do.  They'll know the kids who aren't the popular ones, the ones that are not chosen for everything, but are just nice kids.  This is a story that kids will be able to see themselves in.

The problems are relatable.  There are friendship problems.  And what I liked about them is they didn't get the "can't we all just get along" resolution.  That made it feel real.  There is discussion of sexism and racism and how they are not ok.  And Finnegan explores the big idea of how do you get what you want without having to compromise who you are?  Readers of this book are all figuring out their identities and who they want to be.  Figuring that out becomes more complicated as you grow older.  The exploration of this idea will resonate with readers.

I also enjoyed how the entire book is a series of letters written to the main character's hero, Susan B. Anthony.  The idea of heroism is explored through these letters.  It's also impressive to see how the letters move the entire storyline along.  Because Susie B. is writing to a historical figure, there is a piece of history that is explored throughout the book.  Just something that adds to the story!

Finally, this is a perfect book to read with students if you use Beers' and Probst's Notice and Note Signposts.  I found so many great ones to talk about!  You could use this as a read aloud or in a reading group.

Check out the fun mock newspaper, The Susie B News--available for download here!


Kirkus Reviews had this to say about Susie B.: “Susie is energetic, breathless, enthusiastic, and genuinely, charmingly funny.”

And it's a Junior Library Guild Selection!

More about author Margaret Finnegan

Margaret Finnegan is the author of the middle-grade novels Susie B. Won’t Back Down and We Could Be Heroes. Her writing often focuses on themes on inclusion, hard choices, and being true to yourself. She also makes a really good chocolate cake. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

* thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for the review copy *

Would you like to include this book in your library?  Atheneum/Simon and Schuster has generously donated a copy for a giveaway (US addresses only).  Enter by Friday, October 15th for your chance!

Friday, September 24, 2021

review of Pony by R.J. Palacio - 9.24.21

I'm still on a blog break (oh, you should see my downstairs... torn up and dust everywhere), but I had to jump on and tell you about this wonderful story!

Like so many of you, Wonder was a book that stayed with me long after I closed the pages.  Auggie and his family and their journey was one that made me want to be different in life and always choose kindness.  Since Wonder, author R.J. Palacio has given us more stories from Auggie's world, but now we finally have a new story.

Pony by R. J Palacio
by R.J. Palacio
published by Random House Children's Books
publishes September 28th

You might be like me and not want too much information about the book.  You might want to discover all of the book on your own, without preconceived notions.  Before starting the story, I really didn't know much about it.  I wanted the story to unfold before me.  If that's you, then continue on with this paragraph.  I'll give you plenty of notice when I'm going to tell more.  For those of you won don't want to know more, here's the little bit I'll give you.  Like the covers of the books, this story differs from Wonder.  The writing is beautiful, but in a very different way.  It takes place in a different time and setting, and while the characters will stick to you, it's in a different way.  The careful planning that went into the writing is shown in the meticulous way the story unfolds.  It's a historical setting, without it being a historical fiction novel.  I can't wait for you and your readers to meet the beautiful characters in this story and fall in love with Palacio's writing all over again!

Now, for the blog readers who want to know a little more without any spoilers... Read on!

This is a story about how love transcends and comes to us in ways we cannot imagine.  It's about how life endures and carries on even when you think all is lost.  It's about how the connection between humans and animals can be lifesaving.

Do I have you hooked yet?  Let me tell you a bit more about this story.

In this story, we meet Silas.  Silas lives with his Pa, a loving father, and a very intelligent man.  Silas' mother passed away in childbirth, but Pa has nothing but beautiful and loving things to say about her.  When we start the story, some unsavory men have come to their house to take Pa away.  They keep calling him by a different name and tell him that their boss has a job that only he can do.  The men have two extra horses, one for Pa to ride and one for Silas, but Pa convinces them to leave Silas out of this.  Pa leaves and gives Silas firm instructions to stay at home.  Not long after, the pony that had been meant for Silas to ride comes back to their home and Silas takes it as a sign to go find Pa.  Silas has a friend that only he can see, Mittenwool, who tries to convince Silas not to leave.  However, Silas is determined and he leaves with the pony.  Mittenwool travels with them.  Their first task is to make it through the Woods.  Silas has history with the Woods and we discover that Silas can actually see ghosts of people who have passed, and the Woods are full of them.  Silas meets an older man in the woods, a US Marshal named Enoch Farmer.  It turns out Marshal Farmer is actually looking for the same people that took off with Pa.  Marshal Farmer reluctantly agrees to take Silas with him.  This sets off a chain of events that ultimately leads Silas onto a journey that will impact the rest of his life.
While this story takes place in the past (1860s), it's not a book about the past.  The setting and time period is important to the plot of the story, but it's not meant to be a historical fiction novel.  Yet another decision by Palacio that makes perfect sense for this story.
The book is separated into eleven parts.  People who remember the quick chapters in Wonder will also like the fast chapters in this story.  I kept saying "just one more part"!  At the beginning of each section, there is a photograph, or what I thought were regular photographs.  Part of the story has to do with photographs and how they were developed and created at that time.  It was another unique and interesting part of the novel.
This book will appeal to fans of Dan Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage.  This is a book that I sincerely hope the Newbery committee is looking at very closely right now.  It has all the feels for me!
Pony publishes this coming Tuesday, September 28th.  I highly recommend preordering this one and probably having multiple copies on hand!