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The school year is upon us, and my summer TBR stack is dwindling. There are a couple books left that I need to read before school starts-Refugee, Solo and All Faire's in Middle School. What's left in your pile? 


Open If You Dare - Dana Middleton

I was 9-10 years old and riding my bike down to the boat docks. Off to the left hand side of the boat docks was our "island." When we stepped on this island, we felt as though nobody else knew about it. That what my friends and I had discovered was a mystery and that there were so many unanswered questions on this island, buried beneath all of the flooded debris lying around. Every piece of trash we picked up belonged to someone and every piece of debris has its own story.  
As I read Open If You Dare and followed along with Birdie, Ally, and Rose and their adventure to their "island" I couldn't help but feel a connection. When Birdie decides to open the box labeled open if you dare, I was right there, anxious and wondering what in the world this mystery was they were going to have to solve. As I kept turning the pages and following along their lives on their way into middle school, I remembered just how simple life was before I entered 6th grade - the grade where everything changes, especially for females. I could smell the lake rolling in on our island shore, I could feel a box in my hands, and my heart was aching to solve this murder mystery with Birdie and the girls. 

As you dig deeper into the story, you get to know Ally and Rose and their families. Ally's father is no longer in the picture, and she's the best BASEBALL pitcher on the summer league teams. Better than all the boys, her brother included. Ally is going to the other middle school in the fall, away from Birdie.  Rose is from England and is moving back at the end of the summer. Birdie is the only one of the trio staying at the middle school they were all supposed to go to together. The girls are hurting, but on a mission to make this the summer they never forget. You will ride along over a few bumps along the way, but like myself, I truly feel like you will want so badly for the girls lives to continue they way they want and to know the answers to all of the clues for this murder mystery. 

Dana has done an amazing job of grasping what it is like to be a young girl heading into middle school, and to be a parent of a soon-to-be middle school girl. Birdie's parents are fantastic, and her little sister Zora is one that you will want to be your little sister. (I know I did, and I don't have a little sister) There's not only amazing family connections, but she somehow managed to even throw in a boy crush happening. I knew all too well that feeling and how you don't want to be looking at them that way before middle school, but the heart wants what the heart wants ;) ... 
Look for Dana's amazing middle grade story out October 17, 2017. Preorder here! 

Welcome to Teachers Who Read - we are students of Mrs. Thomas's class who have a love of reading and want others to know about our favorite authors! Let's start things off with introductions, what is your name and where are you from? 

I’m Dana Middleton. I grew up in Georgia – first in Atlanta but when I was a teenager, my family moved to the north Georgia mountains. As a grown up, I’ve mostly lived in Los Angeles, California, just down the road from Hollywood.

Tell us about your most recent book.

My most recent book is called Open If You Dare. It’s about three best friends during the summer before middle school who dig up a box that holds clues about a murder back in 1973. As they solve the mystery, their friendships are revealed and tested over their last summer together.

When did you decide you wanted to be an author? 

It took me a long time! I was always surrounded by writers (including my husband) but it took me forever to believe I could actually do it myself. Like the characters I write about, I had to learn to believe in myself. It was a process, bit by bit, that led to the thought: What if I tried to write a book? And when I did it, when I actually finished it, a whole world opened up for me.

What were your middle grade years like? 4th, 5th grade? Did you enjoy reading or writing? 

I was more of a reader than a writer back then. I remember lots of snippets: teachers, friends, school projects, kickball, things like that, but mostly it was that feeling of growing up, of becoming this person with thoughts and feelings of her own that takes me back to 4th and 5th grade. My family lived in a neighborhood in Atlanta and during the summers, we ran free to a large extent and those memories really influenced my writing of Birdie, Ally and Rose during their Open If You Dare summer. It’s such a time of discovery because you’re not a little kid anymore.
What was your favorite book as a child? What's your favorite middle grade book currently (aside from your own)? 

If I have to choose, it would probably be Charlotte’s Web. But I’ve got to say Where the Red Fern Grows is up there, too. Even though I haven’t read that book since childhood, I just remember crying buckets over it so it must have been good! My current favorite book? Impossible!! So, I’ll go with one of Birdie’s favorites—the one in which she hides her secret: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

What connections can students make with your book/books? Why should our teacher put your books in our library? 

What a great question! Because how we learn to make connections as a child influences how we make connections for the rest of our lives. Friendships are connections. Through my characters, I want to encourage kids to make good decisions about friends. It’s important to choose friends who are kind and accept you as you are – and it’s super important to try and be that kind of friend in return. Also, my main characters find deeper connections with themselves by connecting with a mystery or a magical unknown while overcoming real life struggles. I want the students who read my books to come away believing in themselves a little bit more and having the bravery to think bigger about what’s possible in their lives.

If you could recommend any books to us as 4/5th graders, what would it be? 

There are so many but here are some all time favorites: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, and…uh… any Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Recently, I discovered Lou Lou & Pea and the Mural Mystery by Jill Diamond and Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley and definitely recommend those books, too.

Last question, any advice for young readers and writers?

My advice for readers is easy. Just read. Reading is a great pleasure you’ll have your whole life. And if you’re a writer I have that same advice. READ. Reading makes you a better writer. And WRITE. Because the act of writing makes you a better writer. And FINISH. Because when you finish something, it builds confidence, plus once it’s done, you always go back and make it better.

Thank you so much for participating in our author spotlight! 


Amber's July Reads


What I Read: July - Cassie


Haley's July Reads

July was a slow reading month for me. We went on vacation, so those 9 days were mostly spent chasing three kids around the beach. However, the books I finished were some of my favorite of the summer. Instead of summarizing each chapter book, I decided to pair it with a picture book that had a similar topic or theme. 

Look for a full review and giveaway of The Border in just a few weeks!




I have three Mondays left before I start school, and I’m balancing readying my classroom with swimming and s’mores. And reading, of course!

This week we decided to also feature what we’re reading with our kids. I have a 6-year-old, 4- year-old, and 1-year-old, and I’m having so much fun exploring books with them. My youngest is enamored with touch and feel books. Our favorites are the TouchThinkLearn books that feature cut-outs that he loves to run his fingers over. Callie, my daughter, picked out Everyone Loves Cupcakes and Everyone Loves Bacon simply because they had pretty covers. But the entire family loves the pun-filled stories. Since the Captain Underpants movie was released in June, Keeton has been slowly working his way through the entire series. They’re the first chapter books that he’s reading to me and I love hearing him giggle his way through. 

Don't forget to check out Unleashing Readers and Teach Mentor Texts!

What are you reading? What are your family members reading? 


Feature Friday 7.28.17


It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday! Here at TWR, we are soaking up every last bit of summer by reading as much as we can. We are beginning to think about our classrooms though and thinking about getting in there soon, are you? I know I personally like to have things done a little sooner than necessary because it makes those days right before school starts a little less hectic so spending time in my classroom unpaid is worth it for my mental health later!

I just finished Wishtree by Katherine Applegate and it met ALL the hype it’s been getting. I’ll be honest, this book is getting A LOT of buzz this year so I was nervous it wouldn’t meet those high expectations I had formed but, let me tell you, IT DID! I’ve always liked trees, but now I think I have an even bigger appreciation and love for them. Read it. You will not regret it!

What have you been reading and loving lately? What are you reading right now? We love to know what our readers are enjoying so let us know in the comments! 


Just Finished: Two Highly Recommended Novels

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein

Goodreads Summary: 
At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war with thirty-four nations lead by the United States.

Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. Cinematic, accessible, and timely, this is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.

I know what you are thinking, the title makes you question it, right? But, boy will it ever make you reconsider questioning a book title again. I found myself turing page after page of this book wanting to know more about Ali and his life in Iraq during the Gulf War. It's interesting to watch a young boys viewpoints of his own country, then ran by Suddam Hussein, and how he felt about America, where he desired to be desperately. I was reading this story as my husband was watching Lone Survivor and I couldn't help but find myself crying for both sides of the war. Those who are innocent and stuck in an environment where they are pegged as guilty. 

Ali's story is one that will resonate with young, middle grade students and will strike up conversations for days to come. Comes out in February 2018, but I highly recommend preordering this book so that the publishers know how desperately teachers want to instill empathy in their students. 

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora 

Goodreads Summary:

Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL? 

For Arturo, summetime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela's restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo's apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn't notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti. 

The way that Pablo intertwines all of the history of Latin America into a story instilling the importance of family, and never giving up, speaks to your soul. This was such a heart print book for me in so many ways. I love the way that it makes you laugh, and still sneaks in some ways to make you cry. You will cry tears of sadness, and tears of happiness. Pablo makes sure that you remember to be proud of who you are, your family, and where you came from, and to never forget how hard you worked or your family worked to get to where you are. This book will speak to middle grade students who find themselves wondering about their voice and where they fit in with their crazy family or friends, and all while trying to understand what these feelings about a girl are and how to handle that. This book will be included in my 2018 Mock Newbery for next year. I can't wait to book talk with my students. This book is already out and if you teach grades 5-8, I highly recommend ordering. 


Smart Cookie Review: Cassie & Amber

What was it about Smart Cookie that made you want to read it? 

Cassie - I loved Elly’s style of writing in Finding Perfect and I knew that anything by her I immediately was going to want to read. Then reading the back synopsis, I loved Frankie already.

Amber - I agree! After reading Finding Perfect and watching my kids go nuts for it, I knew that I would NEED anything that Elly writes! I first noticed how adorable the cover for Smart Cookie was and when I read the synopsis I felt that Frankie sounded very similar to Molly which put a huge sold sign up for me!

What was your initial reaction to Smart Cookie? Did it hook you immediately or did it take some time to get into?

Cassie - I was hooked immediately. Not long into the story it talks about how Frankie is a “barefooter” and that is SO ME. I couldn’t believe that someone else took notice of kids being barefoot that they would actually include that description in their writing, so I was super excited to have something in common with Frankie. 

Amber - Ha! I love that! It’s nice when you relate with the main character. I loved the setting. The B&B and the characters all made me think of Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls (which I’m a big fan of!). I also really connected with the theme that all families are not the same and your support system is your family no matter what that support system looks like. 

What was your favorite quote or passage?

Cassie - goodness, how do I choose one? I don’t exactly have one specific I don’t think. I LOVE that she writes notes to her mom. I think this could be a great discussion with students about why they think she does that and what they might do. 

Amber - I also loved the notes to her mom! I don’t have any favorite quotes, but I loved the little bit of mystery this book had. What was going on with her grandma? What was going on with the B&B? What else was going on with her dad? I kept asking questions while reading and couldn’t wait to get some answers! 

What made the setting unique? Was the setting important or could the story have taken place anywhere?
Cassie- the fact that it’s in a B&B and they live there. I think that’s super interesting. That could lead to a lot of discussions about how a lot of parents have businesses and the familiar actually live in that location as well. Such as in The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner, one of the characters families owns a funeral home, and they live above it - those would be good books to do comparisons next year when Smart Cookie comes out.  I also love the ghost hunt intertwined. Gives it a little something extra! 

Amber - I absolutely LOVED the B&B setting and thought that the setting was an integral part of the conflict. Without the B&B and it’s financial problems much of the plot would fall apart. The setting lent itself well to providing many additional characters and situations that Frankie could get herself into! 

If you could ask the author one question, what would you ask?

Cassie - What was your inspiration for this story? Did you let Frankie take the lead? 

Amber - I would also ask where the inspiration for the story came from and I’m curious how Elly wrote the story. Was the plot planned out? I would also ask Elly if she’s working on anything new for 2019! ;)

Preorder Smart Cookie today! 

& check out Elly's other amazing story, Finding Perfect


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