Friday, June 16, 2017

Three YA Books You Need to Read

There are some books that strike harder than others. Some that leave a lasting impact that has you thinking about them days, weeks, months, years beyond when you finish reading them. Books that just won't let go. They haunt you, make you see things differently, affect your actions, push you to look around you and recognize the truth of what's happening. These three young adult books have done that for me. I keep talking about them because I want all teachers to read them. Though one is already available to buy, the other two don't publish until October, but they should definitely be on your radar. (And all three authors will be at ALA next week, so if you're going, you might want to make getting a copy of these books a priority.)

I had already read two of these books when I wrote my blog post in March, A Text Set to See Themselves In - Providing the Mirror or Window to get to the Sliding Door. At the time I said "I could too easily see my students in the pages of these stories, which makes them all the more impactful. These are the kinds of books our teens need to see in their classrooms, read, and discuss." Well, I can now say for certain, all three of these are powerful books that need to be in teens' hands as quickly and as often as we can get them there. I feel a sense of urgency about telling teachers to buy and share these books because I know exactly which former students of mine would have been changed for the better by reading these stories. Lives would have been affected by seeing themselves and their lives and their neighborhoods in these books. That's a powerful thing to hand to an adolescent.

Please, buy/get The Hate U Give, Long Way Down, and Dear Martin. Read them. And then make sure the teens in your life do also. I promise you will not be sorry, and you will not walk away from any of these books the same you walked into them. They represent the power of story to change, validate, and affect the lives of the children in our society to make a better future for themselves, their neighborhoods, and all of us. My thoughts on each are below.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
240 pages
67 seconds
7 floors
6 visitors
Each with a piece
of the story
not known
until now.
Will grieving
his brother
with a
and a
thinking he knows
what he has to do
The Rules
to do
to be
and what
comes next.

Jason Reynolds is masterful in the way he can use such sparse language in these free verse poems for such a powerful and emotional impact. I'm going to be talking about and sharing this book for a very long time.

Jason's skill at putting words together that grab your heart and head, bringing you into the lives of his characters, kids just trying their best to do what's right and live the way they've been taught, astounds me. Long Way Down is no different. This book is going to have an impact. The type of impact that makes you question what you thought you knew and how life can be. This is a must-read and must-share in classrooms (7th & up), especially in those rooms where you have teens who are living Will's life with the rules he's been taught to life by.

I can't wait to get my hands on a finished copy, to reread, sit with his words and turns of phrase, and find the spots that bear repeating to kids in our classrooms. I can picture the faces in my head of the former students I wish were still in my classroom so I could put this book right into their hands.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
A powerful debut that grabs the reader from the start and doesn't let go. You will ache from the injustice Justyce faces as he navigates a world that sees him primarily for the color of his skin, and secondarily for everything else beneath it. 

Another teen having to navigate a complicated world more messed up than he deserves. His story will strike a chord with the teens you know who look like Justyce and will seem themselves in his story, those who have friends who look like Justyce and want to better understand their stories, and, perhaps most importantly, those who judge and avoid teens who look like Justyce because just maybe it will give them a reason to think again. 

An important book to add to the conversation about police brutality and race relations in America and how it impacts the lives of black teen boys. Pair this with All American Boys & The Hate U Give, and open up conversations with teens, and adults, in your life.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Powerful. Important. Impactful. When people talk about window & mirror books, this is what they're talking about, with the potential to be that sliding door for many. 

Starr's voice is fantastic, and feels oh so real. For a debut book, this is a standout. It is written so well, and draws you into the story and makes you want to be a part of it. We care about these characters and their lives and the outcome. 

This book, and Starr's insights made me feel like I could know my students' lives better. A must-read for 8th & up, and a book that needs to be shared with students. Pair with All American Boys for an effective pairing to start conversation.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Repost: When Tragedy Happens, I Turn to Books

*I wrote this post a year ago after the tragic mass murder in Orlando. I'm reposting it today, one year after the senseless killings, in the hope that it will help us all think about ways to grow more empathy in our classrooms and our world.
Design by Ashley Heafy.
When tragedy happens, I turn to books. When huge nationwide news story tragedies happen, I turn to books. When local tragedies happen in my town, I turn to books. When personal tragedies happen in the lives of my students, I turn to books. When I don’t know what to say, but can only cry inside and out for what has happened that has hurt people, I turn to books because they can speak for me. When students are hurting, I instinctively turn to books and search high and low for just the right book for that moment in their lives that might help them through. Books have the power to heal, to inspire, to provide escape, to gain understanding, to show kids they’re not alone in the world, to change people’s opinions, to create community, to develop empathy.
We have the opportunity in our classrooms to create safe spaces for kids, and communities where all are accepted. One of the best ways I know to do that is by sharing stories, all kinds of stories, so students better understand the world around them, and the people in it. This is why I turn to books, and am ever so grateful for the authors who write those stories that help kids see the world in a different way.
Books I have read that I recommend to kids to help build empathy for, and understanding of, those around us.
Young Adult
The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne
All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Winger by Andrew Smith
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Shine by Lauren Myracle
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman (poetry)
Non-Fiction Choice

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History...and Our Future! by Kate Schatz

Middle Grades
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
The Best Man by Richard Peck (September release)
Pieces of Why by K.L.Going
The Fall by James Preller
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

What are some of the books you share with students to help build empathy and tolerance?