IMWAYR: 1.20.20

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. And while that means fitting in an extra book-or two-it also means taking the time to talk with my kids about what today means. I've included a few extra guest readers on this post-my three kids and a few of the books we have in our house that feature Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Bullet Book Review with @mrs_cmt1489

Disclaimer: I'm a 5th grade teacher in south central Texas, what works for my kids may not work for your kids, and what does work; it may work the same or in different ways. In the end, they're all kids - they all need to be exposed to many lives, cultures, history, and experiences as possible. 

Dog Driven
By: Terry Lynn Johnson

For fans of: Any of Terry's other stories. Hatchet. Dan Gemeinhart. 

First Line(s): "Whoever's behind me is coming fast."

The author: 
Terry Lynn Johnson writes middle grade adventures based on her experiences living in northern Ontario, Canada. She might have fallen through ice a time or two, been dragged by a dog team, blown up a wood stove, been attacked by a sloth (slowly), nearly drowned on a portage, and chased a bear with a chainsaw. She owned eighteen sled dogs, but now owns one border collie who is almost smart enough to type out her own adventures.

The Book: 
When you’re running, you can’t look too far ahead. You can’t look behind. You can only focus on the now.
Ever since her vision started deteriorating, fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney has felt out of place in the world. Out of place at home and school and even on the trail with her dogs.
Now, to help her younger sister with her own ongoing battle with eye disease, McKenna finds herself at the head of her team of eight sled dogs in a race she’s not sure she can even see, let alone win. For three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, bitterly cold nights and frequent snow squalls, McKenna faces both the Canadian wilderness and her terrifying weakness.
But she hides the truth from everyone, including her toughest rival, Guy, despite their budding alliance. Will McKenna risk her survival as well as that of her team to keep her secret?
Read it for + Teaching Points: 
This is an action packed adventure with themes of surviving, trust, perseverance, integrity, all while speaking to those who have vision impairment. 

Johnson shared actual accounts from dog sledding years ago that would make for a great paired article idea for NF and fiction together. 

Pixie Pushes On
By:Tamara Bundy

For fans of: 

First Line: :"Daddy burned all Charlotte's bedding and blankets the day they took her away."

The book: 
A young girl learns bittersweet life lessons on the family farm after her sister gets polio, in this poignant and funny novel set in the heartland in the 1940s.

Pixie's defenses are up, and it's no wonder. She's been uprooted, the chickens seem to have it in for her, and now her beloved sister, Charlotte, has been stricken with polio and whisked away into quarantine. So it's not surprising Pixie lashes out. But her habit of making snap judgements--and giving her classmates nicknames like "Rotten Ricky" and "Big-Mouth Berta"--hasn't won her any friends. At least life on the farm is getting better with the delivery of its newest resident--a runt baby lamb. Raising Buster takes patience and understanding--and this slowing down helps Pixie put things in better perspective. So too does paying attention to her neighbors, and finding that with the war on she's not the only one missing someone. As Pixie pushes past her own pain to become a bigger person, she's finally able to make friends; and to laugh about the fact that it is in places where she least expected it.

"Pixie is full of heart! A laugh-out-loud book that also wades into poignant life lessons. A must read!"--Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of Fish in a Tree

"Pixie has bad luck--and is bad luck if you ask her. But she also has grit and gumption, so when her bad luck doesn't let go, she opens her eyes and her heart wider. Her world changes when she changes how she looks at her world. I loved Pixie and her story--a story filled with humor, hope, and everyday heroes."--Lynn Plourde, author of Maxi's Secrets

Review from my friend Sandy: “... the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”
Pixie Pushes On is a story of friendship, family, and hope.
Pixie is struggling with the death of her mother and then her sister catches polio and is hospitalized. Not only that but she has been moved to a school town and school where she knows no one.

Along Pixie’s journey she learns to get to know others before judging them and to give herself a little grace. She is a protagonist that you will fall in love with and be rooting for.

Review from my friend Katie: Thank you so much to Tamara Bundy and Penguin Kids for sharing an ARC with our #bookexpedition group!

This historical fiction set during World War Two stole my heart. Prudence (Pixie) has endured a lot at her young age. Her Momma passed on from sickness, so she, her sister Charlotte and her Daddy moved to her grandparents’ farm. There, Charlotte is stricken with polio and must be sent to a hospital, and Pixie believes it’s all her fault.

Not only is she coping with that, but her neighbor Rotten Ricky, her teacher Miss Meany Beany, and classmate Big-Mouth Berta seem to have it out for her too.

Life on the farm begins to look up when she and Charlotte start exchanging letters. And her daddy brings home a baby lamb named Buster for Pixie to raise. Taking care of Buster requires persistence and dedication, and also helps Pixie realize that those around her are hurting, too.

I absolutely loved all the characters in this story. Pixie, her family, and friends will stick with me for a long time!

With themes of family, friendship and persistence,
this is a must add to school and classroom libraries when it publishes in January of 2020.

The author: Ever since I was a little girl in Columbus, Ohio, (that's me with the pigtails!), the power of "the right word at the right time" amazed me. 
One summer, when I was eight, my dad won a stuffed toy for me at the Ohio State Fair. He asked me to pick from the selection of teddy bears and unicorns displayed before us. I remember his look of confusion as I pointed to a giant stuffed pencil with the words, "I'm a Big Time Writer" on it. 
"Don't you want one of the animal ones?" dad asked. 
But I knew the stuffed pencil was for me because my biggest dream was to be a writer one day.

Read it for +Teaching Points: 
Historical fiction! 
The study of polio and diseases from the early days. 
Teachable moments for behaviors of kids - empathy, understanding, kindness - all of the above to truly help students understand what others are experiencing. 

Bullet Book Review with @mrs_cmt1489

Disclaimer: I'm a 5th grade teacher in south central Texas, what works for my kids may not work for your kids, and what does work; it may work the same or in different ways. In the end, they're all kids - they all need to be exposed to many lives, cultures, history, and experiences as possible. 

The Track Series
By: Jason Reynolds 

For fans of: Matt Christopher. Kwame Alexander. 

First Line(s): "Check this out. This dude name Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons.....with his nose. Yeah. That's true."

The series: A must have for all middle grade classrooms. 

From Simon and SchusterGhost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. A fast but fiery group of kids from wildly different backgrounds, chosen to compete on an elite track team. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Discover each of their stories in this complete collection of Jason Reynolds’s explosive New York Times bestselling Track series.

The author: Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a two time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. The American Booksellers Association’s 2017 spokesperson for Indies First, his many books include When I Was the Greatest, Boy in the Black SuitAll American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (GhostPatinaSunny, and Lu), and Long Way Down, which received both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at

Read it for + Teaching Points: It's by Jason Reynolds - I mean anything he writes, kids cling to. He embodies what it means to truly understand kids and what they are going through. The Track series is one I use to get students HOOKED on books. It's been one of the best beginning of year read alouds I could ever choose. (So far)

Elements of Genius: Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray Book 1
By:Jess Keating

For fans of: I sell this by saying - it's like Avengers or Justice League as kids. Also, somewhat relative to the movie Spy Kids. 

First Line: "Okay, I can't really explain a lot right now because as you can see, there's a death ray pointed at my eye."

The book: Young readers are going to LOVE Genius Academy. I immediately thought about all those readers who love science and may not even know they love science, yet - thinking back to my adolescence science was my best subject and had no idea what I could have even done with that. The imagination route that Jess takes really had me hooked, too. Nikki Tesla is the main character, extraordinary, brilliant, bright, ambitious. She has a gift for inventing amazing things (again such a great STEAM novel), but of course, she struggles to make friends and feels this constant dark cloud shadow of the embarrassment of her father. Things he has done that seem to follow her around. She eventually captures the attention of this Genius Academy - a school for children with amazing gifts, with some pretty amazing individuals joining her, who train together and use their unique gifts to save the world. 

There's a great part at the back where then Jess leaves in her author's note to have the readers ask their librarian for more information on these amazing individuals she works with in the story. 

Can't wait for book 2 and 3! 

The author: Jess has some amazing nonfiction picture books out, as well as her fiction chapter books. Jess is an amazing artist, creator, inspirational human being. I have had the privilege to see and hear her speak at NerdCamp and I am blown away by what she does as an artist, writer, and researcher. You can read more about her here:

Read it for +Teaching Points: HUGE STEAM book. As a teacher I would be pulling out the individuals and merging it with nonfiction research. A culminating activity would then be an invention of some sort following in Nikki's footsteps. 

Author Interview: Sarah Allen (AND GIVEAWAY!)

Good Sunday, friends!

I am so excited today to share a little bit with you about an upcoming middle grade release called What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen ANDDDD give away an ARC! :)

I recently read this during the first half of my holiday break and I couldn't put it down. I was so excited that Sarah was willing to share a copy with us here at Teachers Who Read and then was willing to do an interview, by the way, she is AWESOME!

The synopsis for What Stars Are Made Of:

Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.

When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled—but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?

Here was my Goodreads review: 

Another friend whose book recommendations I take very seriously also reviewed on Goodreads:

You can preorder the book here! (Which I highly recommend for your middle grade/middle school classrooms)

*click the image to take you to Amazon for an affiliate link. 

First of all: Isn't she the cutest! Look at this picture!!! Secondly, the ARC (advanced copy) is what she is holding and what I will be sending you if you win the giveaway! :) 

Q: Tell us a little about your upcoming book.
A: WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF is a story about
12-year-old Libby who has Turner syndrome. When
Libby finds out her big sister is pregnant, she’s thrilled!
But also nervous, because she’s smart and knows
all the things that might go wrong. Things like heart
problems and missing chromosomes. So Libby
makes a deal with the universe and her favorite
female scientist, Cecilia Payne, who discovered
what stars are made of. If Libby can keep her end
of the bargain, then the new baby will be born safe,
 healthy, and perfect. 
Q; How did you take your own life experiences
and create a realistic fiction story?
A: I was also born with Turner syndrome! While
Libby is definitely her own character, I did use
some aspects of my own experience like heart
surgery, growth hormone shots, and being teased.
There’s a scene where Libby talks about hearing
aids, and that experience was taken directly from
my own life!
Q; What was your motivation to get this story
out to kids? 
A: Growing up, I never saw stories about girls
like me. There are even a lot of people in the
medical community who haven’t heard of Turner
syndrome. I have been thrilled seeing books like
that highlight kids who are different in some unique
ways. I hope my book can do that same thing for my
Q; What are some challenges you faced during
your writing process? 
A: Oh man, story structure is often such a challenge
 for me. I love writing on the scene level, and love
voice and character, but figuring out how all the
pieces fit can take me awhile. Luckily I had both
professors and author mentors help me out, and
finally seeing it all come together was a thrill!
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle
 grade classrooms?
A: One thing I hope teachers find helpful about
STARS is that its an upbeat blend of both story
and science. Libby herself is very interested in
science, and the story covers a lot of ground in
areas like biology and astronomy. There’s also
elements of history, research, and even some
references to Shakespeare sonnets! So I hope
STARS can be a useful link in bringing together
different subject units.
Q; What is the biggest takeaway you want kids
 to get from your story and future stories
(Any WIPs currently?)? 
A: My readers, I hope, will close this book
understanding that they are the stars, just the
way they are. It’s going to be such an absolute
honor any time I get to meet these young readers!

And more is on the way, definitely! In fact there’s
something new coming in 2021, also about sisters,
 and I can’t wait to share more!
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A: C.S. Lewis said “We read to know that we are
not alone,” and my favorite thing about being a writer
is that my job is to make those kind of deep connections
 in the best way I can. Every writer and artist is doing
the work of un-aloneness and I think it’s the noblest
 work of all!
Q: What else would you like us to know? 
A: I absolutely love talking to teachers and class groups!
Please feel free to reach out to me about possible Skype
author visits, etc. I’m always so excited when that happens!
I’m easily accessible on my website (
and on Instagram (@sarahallenbooks).

Thank you for this chance to talk about STARS!
Teachers are superheroes, and thank you for all the work you do!

Preparing for a Book Pass

After 16 days off, I plan on easing my students back into a routine. I knew I needed to do some form of book browsing on the first day back, but wasn't sure what I wanted it to look like. As I started pulling books, I realized that the easiest way to expose students to a lot of books was through a modified book pass. Rather than every student looking at the same 25-30 books, I thought I'd personalize it by setting up 9 stations. Students will visit at least three stations. At each one, they'll browse stacks of books. Below, I've included a few handouts of the featured books. Happy reading!

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