Monday, May 15, 2017

by any means necessary


If you are looking for a book that helps explain the times we live in, THE HATE YOU GIVE by Angie Thomas should be at the top of your list. If you're trying to explain "Black Lives Matter", the shootings of unarmed people of color, and racial bias in the criminal justice system - then THE HATE YOU GIVE is the perfect book for you.

The world that Starr Carter lives in is extremely complex. From her neighborhood to her relationships to her school life, Starr deftly bridges large divides without losing her identity.

My favorite pages:

pg 170-171, pg 320-321, and pg 442-444

"Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him thug."

Buy this book for all the teenagers you know this summer.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

make sense



At The Boys Club of New York, Gerry Clubhouse, there is a new teen library. The library was in need of books, so I began to think: "What teen books help make sense of the world today?" That's a big question.

What teen books help make sense of the world today? From Donald Trump to Brexit to Black Lives Matter and America First, there's an acute feeling that the world is becoming more difficult to understand. What teen books humanize and boil down big topics like: immigrants as scapegoats; the mass incarceration of black men; the misogynistic treatment of women; the discrimination of the LGBT community.

Is there cause for optimism? Is there a chance for empathy, compassion, and mercy?

Here's a list of the books I sent to The Gerry Clubhouse's new teen library. I think it would make a great summer reading list for teens trying to makes sense of the world today:



Home Of The Brave by Katherine Applegate


The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander 


Booked by Kwame Alexander


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander


House Arrest by K.A. Holt


I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz



Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai


When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely


The Boy In The Black Suit by Jason Reynolds


The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin


All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor


Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

So, that's the list. Let me know what you think. I believe I should have included graphic novels... maybe next time. I hope these books help the world make a little more sense. Just as there are no miracle cures, there are no scapegoats. 


Friday, January 27, 2017

foster in them a love of reading

Every year at the beginning of February the Learning Lab hosts a Lunch For Literacy.  It is one of my favorite fund raising events. And, every year since I have been attending, I donate an auction basket of books aimed at Middle Grade readers. I always have a great time putting the basket together: considering different reading levels, story lines, and themes. I have this ideal dream scenario where a Middle Grade reader will get my basket of books and say, "I never considered myself a reader until I read these books. Reading is so much fun!" (a girl can dream).





I am currently reading, My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it has inspired my choices for this year's book basket. RBG is perhaps an unlikely rock star as an 83 year-old US Supreme Court Justice; but if you have a child and you want them to grow up to be a confident trail-blazer, you need look no further than Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a role model. In her book, My Own Words, RBG suggests that if parents want their children to mature into confident, fierce, high-achieving citizens, they should foster in them a love of reading. 


So, here's my list of books for this year's basket. I hope they inspire bravery, confidence, clever rebellion, smart resistance, empathy, independence, grit, innovation, and most importantly a love of reading.





  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
  • Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley
  • The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
  • Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
  • Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
  • Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
  • March: book one, two, and three by John Lewis
  • Eleven by Tom Rogers
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
  • Drowned City by Don Brown
  • PAX by Sara Pennypacker
  • All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin


Saturday, January 7, 2017

you must first invent the universe

Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe... 
To make a thing as simple as an apple pie, you have to create the whole wide world.


We have had three snow days in a row this week. Luckily I had the book The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon in my to-be-read pile. It is wonderful and beautiful and remarkable. Get this book for every teenager you know. Get this book for every hopeless romantic and lover of universal interconnections.

The Sun Is Also A Star is humorous and light while taking on the heavy subjects of race, immigration, religion, bullying, meaning, the universe, and love.

National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for? 
Nicola Yoon: I wrote this book for anyone who's ever desperately searched for meaning. For everyone who asks the big questions. For all the dreamers and questioners.

From the National Book Foundation:
The Sun Is Also a Star is a love story between two teens passing through the universe, floating on their own stars, and destined for their futures. It is also a love letter to the universe and all the stardust particles that make up wishes and dreams. I read this book with a notepad and highlighter because it was also a life manual that answers the question: how did this—a chance encounter or an unfulfilled dream—come to pass? Nicola Yoon, who starts the novel with a Carl Sagan anecdote about apple pie and starting from scratch, exquisitely demonstrates how we all play a role in this endless love affair between art and science. A Jamaican immigrant girl and a Korean-American boy are connected in the tiniest of ways—like the atoms and neutrons in Sagan’s apple pie. The ultimate result is a big bang of a love story that expands and contracts in a mere twelve hours. The Sun Is Also a Star is Yoon’s second novel, and it will certainly pull at readers’ heartstring much like the omnipotent hands of the all-knowing universe. 

My favorite parts:

“I think all the good parts of us are connected on some level. The part that shares the last double chocolate chip cookie or donates to charity or gives a dollar to a street musician or becomes a candy striper or cries at Apple commercials or says I love you or I forgive you. I think that's God. God is the connection of the very best parts of us.”  

“There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will.” 
 
“When Natasha thinks about love, this is what she thinks: nothing lasts forever. Like hydrogen-7 or lithium-5 or boron-7, love has an infinitesimally small half-life that decays to nothing. And when its gone, its like it was never there at all.”  

“We have big, beautiful brains. We invent things that fly. Fly. We write poetry. You probably hate poetry, but it’s hard to argue with ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate’ in terms of sheer beauty. We are capable of big lives. A big history. Why settle? Why choose the practical thing, the mundane thing? We are born to dream and make the things we dream about.” 
 
“I am really not a girl to fall in love with. For one thing, I don’t like temporary, nonprovable things, and romantic love is both temporary and non-provable.” 
 
“People spend their whole lives looking for love. Poems and songs and entire novels are written about it. But how can you trust something that can end as suddenly as it begins?” 


Monday, January 2, 2017

ain't nobody that fast

For New Years, I read Ghost by Jason Reynolds. 
Middle grade readers will love this book!



Jason Reynolds: I wrote Ghost for all the young people who feel like they're suffocating, who feel like they're gasping for breath, exhausted from running for their lives, and sometimes FROM their lives. It's for both the traumatized and the triumphant. 

From GoodReads:
Ghost is a deeply moving book with several important messages for young readers. 
Castle Crenshaw goes by the name Ghost, because he's a wicked fast runner. The first time he ran -- truly ran -- he was running for his life: running ain't nothing I ever had to practice. It's just something I knew how to do.
Now that he's older, Ghost puts his natural talent to work by running track. But he's not just running toward the finish line, he's running away from his past and the anger he's got buried inside. 
"Trouble is, you can't run away from yourself." Coach snatched the towel from his shoulder, folded into a perfect square, and set it in the space between us. "Unfortunately," he said, "ain't nobody that fast." 
Ghost must come to terms with what he's running from and decide where he's running to: "you can't run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be." 
Jason Reynolds always manages to squeeze numerous topics into his books without making the narrative feel over crowded. Ghost touches on thievery, drug abuse, gun violence, bullying, honesty, family dynamics, friendship, and finding healthy ways to channel anger and hurt into positive action.

 Be sure to listen to TheYarn episode where Colby Sharp interviews Jason Reynolds. Be sure to listen all the way through to the last question..."what can people like me do?" (thank you, colby sharp, for asking the question).

I love Jason Reynolds, his books, and his ability to be a super cool nerd.

Monday, October 17, 2016

never truly gone



Over the weekend I read Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. My kids absolutely love anything by Raina Telgemeier, but I knew this particular book came with some controversy. Ghosts uses the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration as a way for two sisters to explore their Mexican heritage and as a way to find solace in the younger sister's diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. It is a beautiful story of sisters and family.

The watered down version of the Day of the Dead used in the graphic novel, Ghosts, is there as an attempt to understand death, to honor the memory of ancestors, and to celebrate death the way we celebrate life... that when someone we love dies, they are not forgotten.

If Ghosts has done anything, it has made us as readers question how we use and absorb other cultures' celebrations (sometimes without cultural sensitivity) to tell our own stories. And I believe, when you know better you do better.

With the coming of Halloween, there will inevitably be some party goers who wear makeup and face paint to look like sugar skulls. Sugar skulls represent a departed spirit. Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of the dead to help support their spiritual journey. Families of the departed clean and decorate graves with ofrendas (altars). Perhaps this fall, we can honor Dia de los Muertos more authentically and not attempt to bend it to our idea of Halloween.

Young readers will love Ghosts. And hopefully it will start a conversation in your home about honoring those who have passed and knowing that when each of us does die, we are never truly gone.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Some Writer!

"I wonder what I am going to be when I grow up?"


This week I read Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet. It's the new and wonderful, illustrated biography of E.B. White. Young readers and adults will absolutely love this book; it is a work of art. 

E.B. White was a compassionate person and an amazing writer. Where children have found a hero in the fictional Wilbur, so will they aspire to the originality of E.B. "Andy" White.


"I have discovered... that writing of the small things of the day, the trivial matters of the heart... was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sincerity or grace." - E.B. White

Melissa Sweet provides a beautiful glimpse into the life of a beloved author. Who doesn't remember reading the final chapter of Charlotte's Web, Last Day? I still can not get through this paragraph without tears:


"Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Young readers and writers will benefit from the handwritten manuscript pages included in this biography. The importance of iteration and editing, of word choice and simplicity is ideal.

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

"There you have a short, valuable essay on the nature and beauty of brevity - sixty-three words that could change the world"   - from The Elements of Style 1959

This book could almost be called the perfect biography, as it encourages and entices the reader to dig around for more. If you haven't read Charlotte's Web or Stewart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan, you will be compelled to. If you have, a re-read feels in order. The Letters of E.B. White, Elements of Style fourth edition, Essays of E.B. White, In the Words of E.B. White, and E.B. White on Dogs will all find a place onto your to-be-read pile of books.

Get this book for every young reader you know this holiday season. It is the perfect gift for every E.B. White fan you know... or perhaps it is the perfect gift to give to make E.B. White fans of your dearest friends.
"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing."


"All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around." - E.B. White