Thursday, August 10, 2017

artistic and empathetic

The must read book of the upcoming school year is Refugee by Alan Gratz. Three refugee stories are woven together across time and through location in an artistic and empathetic tale: Nazi Germany in 1936, Castro's Cuba in 1994, and Assad's Syria in 2015. 

Refugee is an important book, and should be read as soon as possible. It is haunting and hopeful, grave and inspiring. After reading this book, you will see those displaced by war through the eyes of empathy. 

Give this book to every young adult reader you know. Gift it to a classroom or Little Free Library. Use it as your next read aloud.

"They had to keep moving forward. Always forward. Even if it killed them."

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end. Alan Gratz does an excellent job of providing the historical footnotes to each story, and gives suggestions on "what you can do".

“I wanted to make individual refugees visible and turn statistics into names and faces that kids could relate to,” Mr. Gratz said.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


In getting ready for the film release on November 17th, I re-read WONDER by R.J. Palacio this weekend. Oh my goodness, I forgot how much I absolutely love this book.

I first heard about this book in 2012. Then I began putting this book on every reading list I made, and every book basket I created. Eventually I started leaving the book around different towns I would travel to: Sun ValleyWashington DCNew York, Boise, Portland and Munich to name a few. I absolutely love this book.

Reading WONDER again after 5 years, it moves me just as much if not more. It feels even more relevant than ever. I am so looking forward to my favorite characters coming to life on the big screen. I can't think of a more perfect Mr. Browne than Daveed Diggs!

My favorite quotes and scenes still make me cry:


“no, no, it's not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn't. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can't see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.” ― R.J. PalacioWonder 

“The best way to measure how much you've grown isn't by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average-- though those things are important, to be sure. It's what you've done with your time, how you've chosen to spend your days, and whom you've touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.” ― R.J. PalacioWonder 

“But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.” ― R.J. PalacioWonder 

If you haven't read this book yet, you need to read it ... then in November, go see the movie.
You'll be glad you did!

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.