Thursday, December 6, 2018

Get to Know Bharat Babies + a Giveaway!

I am constantly looking for the recommendations I give and the books I share with students and educators to be culturally and racially inclusive. So I was thrilled to discover a new publisher when they reached out to ask if I'd be interested in a copy of one of their picture books to review. 

Bharat Babies is an indie publishing house that helps parents diversify their libraries one story at a time though children's books, magazines, and digital media. 
In the Spring of 2013, Sailaja Joshi was on a mission to complete her baby registry in preparation for the arrival of her first child. Inline with her “library” themed baby shower, Sailaja went on the hunt to find books about Indian culture that should could share with her newborn daughter. Of the few books that spoke to her Indian heritage, Sailaja realized that none of these books took into account the developmental needs of her growing child. Recognizing this gap in children’s literature, the idea for Bharat Babies was born.
The mission of Bharat Babies is simple: design and produce developmentally appropriate books that tell the stories of India’s heritage for children from birth through elementary school.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

#NCTE18 #classroombookaday Presentation

I was thrilled to be able to bring #classroombookaday to NCTE this year, especially with some amazing educators who discussed their different angles on how they have implemented it at their schools at roundtables, paired with incredible authors/illustrators talking about the value of picture books for all ages. Although I can't recreate those conversations for you, I can at least share the slides I used for my 20 minute origin story and overview of #classroombookaday, with some of our joint book recommendations at the end.

My #NCTE18 #BuildYourStack #classroombookaday Picture Book Recommendations

I was honored to be asked to be a part of the debut year of Build Your Stack presentations at NCTE18 in Houston. It was a lot of fun, and a bit of a challenge, deciding which books to share in a 20 minute session in the exhibit hall. I focused on some new favorite picture book titles for #classroombookaday read alouds & ended up with 21 slides and 70 books to booktalk in just 20 minutes. And I made it through them all! :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Getting to Know Animals through Picture Books

Every so often I'll read a picture book that instantly makes me think of a bunch of other picture books that would make a good connected text set. When it happens with a topic that is both engaging to kids and also connected to curriculum concepts they may encounter, even better.

When I read How Do You Take a Bath? (out today!), I smiled at how adorable it was, but also appreciated how it could connect with science concepts about animals. Even though it reads as a book aimed at a younger audience about bath time with a specific fact about how each animal cleans itself, it also connects well with other recent picture books that share fun facts about a variety of animals through engaging picture book formats with great illustrations.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

#classroombookaday + #GRA18 Companion Text Sets

What Pernille Ripp has created in the Global Read Aloud is awesome. And, since I know many #classroombookaday educators are participating in both, I wanted to share some recommendations for picture book companions to tie-in with the GRA titles.
*If you're new to Global Read Aloud, Pernille has a blog post FAQ with video introduction.
*If you're new to #classroombookaday, which I created inspired by Donalyn Miller's #bookaday challenge, I have a Getting Started blog post with FAQs.

What I love is that the #classroombookaday initiative with daily picture book read alouds can still support another initiative like #GlobalReadAloud, and your students can get double the benefit of the power of shared read alouds to build community! We know that the more connections students can make amongst the texts they read helps to deepen their comprehension, so combining the shorter daily picture book read aloud themes of #classroombookaday titles with the larger, sustained themes in the Global Read Aloud books will enable students to deepen their understanding of both and make connections between various stories and universal themes.

The text sets I'm sharing have picture book recommendations that can serve as companion reads with the various options for #GRA18 books. Some of the titles in my #classroombookaday text sets will have a more obvious and direct connection to the themes/topics in the GRA book, and some will be more of an ancillary or tangential connection, but all would enhance your read aloud discussions throughout the month.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Picture Book Recommendations: First/Native Nations

I used to teach at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee (ICS). My four years there were a time of intense personal & professional growth for me, and being invited to be a part of that community was incomparable. I was familiar with some traditions of Tribal Nations prior to working there for two main reasons: my grandparents lived in Arizona, so growing up I became familiar with some of the Southwest Indian Tribal Nations names and artistic traditions on a surface level, and also because I teach in Wisconsin where Act 31 requires that prospective educators receive training on the history of Tribal Nations in the state prior to earning their teaching certification. {Here are a few fantastic resources for more information on Wisconsin Tribal Nations that could be shared in any state: The Ways: Stories on Culture and Language from Native Communities Around the Great Lakes, Wisconsin First Nations, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.}
Image result for medicine wheel

Sunday, August 26, 2018

When Cultural Appropriation Ruins the Rest of the Book

I don't read books to pick them apart. I read them to enjoy and figure out which ones will work for, and connect with, the students I serve, and to recommend to other educators. But that doesn't mean I can read without a critical lens. In fact, it's a requirement. In the quest to provide more diverse representation in literature, there is also a need to ensure that kids are getting positive, non-stereotyped, accurate representations in the books we share that can build empathy instead of furthering division, insensitivity, and cultural appropriation.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Cover Reveal: Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog by Lisa Papp

Perhaps you've read this book? (And if not, you should - and share it with your students for #classroombookaday!)
Madeline Finn does NOT like to read. But she DOES want a gold star from her teacher. But, stars are for good readers. Stars are for understanding words, and for saying them out loud.
Fortunately, Madeline Finn meets Bonnie, a library dog. Reading out loud to Bonnie isn’t so bad; when Madeline Finn gets stuck, Bonnie doesn’t mind. As it turns out, it’s fun to read when you’re not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches Madeline Finn that it’s okay to go slow. And to keep trying.
With endearing illustrations, Lisa Papp brings an inspiring and comforting book to all new readers who just need a little confidence to overcome their fears.

Well, there is going to be another Madeline Finn dog book!
And Peachtree Press is allowing me to reveal the cover to you all!! 

Friday, August 10, 2018

#pb10for10 | My Favorite Female Illustrated Picture Books of 2018

I always love participating in Cathy & Mandy's #pb10for10 event celebrating picture books and providing many fabulous #classroombookaday choices! I inevitably end up with a longer wish list and shopping cart and a maxed out hold list at my library. So get ready, and then go check out other educators lists today

My choice of theme this year was inspired by some of the conversation happening around #kidlitwomen & gender inequity in children's literature. Especially the disparity in female winners/honors from the Caldecott award. The day after that post, #kidlitwomen posted this chart on the contemporary disparities courtesy of Jeanette Bradley.

This year for my picture book 10 for 10 list, I'm choosing to highlight & celebrate my favorite female-illustrated picture books of 2018.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Community Building Picture Books to Start the School Year

I don't want to think about it quite yet, but some start back-to-school sooner than we do in WI, and want time to find and preview books to see if they'll work for your communities, so...
These are some favorite picture book read aloud recommendations to kick off #classroombookaday at the start of the school year to build community in your classroom.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Getting Started with #classroombookaday

Curious about #classroombookaday?
Wanting to join in, but not sure how to go about getting started?

The best place to go for information is, where I've compiled links to blog posts I've written, a podcast I did, and slideshows from the presentations I've done. 
I also figured it might be time for an overview post for those looking to get started with some basic information, explanation of the purpose, and logistical tips. 

Some #classroombookaday FAQs

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Positive Representation Matters

I've been using the phrase #representationmatters in a lot of my postings about books lately. (sidenote: where did that phrase originate? If anyone knows, please share!) Because it does. Because kids need to see themselves represented in the books they read. Their lives need to be validated. All of the different variations of lives and families and types of people there are need to be represented in books we share with all kids. has to be a positive representation.
And that's where frustration sometimes comes in. How disappointing is it when a book has such potential to be a wonderful representation for our kids who need it, but it somehow goes wrong in the execution. I'm not claiming to know it all, but I am pushing myself to be a more critical reader in considering how representations in the books we share with kids can affect those kids views of themselves and others. Below are a couple of recent books that I had high hopes for that were a big let down.

I don't share this post to slam these books, but to urge caution. Because sometimes we can get drawn in by the concept or the cover with our high hopes, yet we need to make sure not to miss the negatives that the images or text might portray, explicitly or implicitly. I urge caution to not just put a diversity of representations in your classrooms or libraries or read them aloud to kids without a critical reading and realization of the hurt some representations could cause, or the underlying messages that could be sent.

NOT RECOMMENDED: A couple of books that have been disappointing recently...

Natalie's Hair Was Wild
I was really sure what to think about this after I finished. It was not at all what I was expecting, but I was left feeling unsettled by it. The implication that natural hair is dirty and in need of taming was alarming.
Sidenote: This post from a reviewer who was asked to tone down her critique "Why Every Book Made for Our Black Girls Ain't a Good Book", that emphasizes the damaging representation this book presents.

Pink is for Boys
Though I like the message this book sends about gender perception and not gendering neutral things like color, and enjoyed the simplicity of how it cheerfully presents it to kids, there is an issue. In the illustrations of the diverse children throughout the book, there are some that have eyes that look noticeably different in shape from the roundness of all the rest. They have angled lines for eyes, seemingly referencing them being Asian children. It bothered me enough to look back at it wondering if I really saw that, which means it's subtle enough to not send an obvious message, but obvious enough to send a subtle message. And that stereotypical representation is not one I would want to present to kids.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: But here are some new picture books that I have loved and would highly recommend for their encouraging, positive representations...

Happy Hair by Mechal Renee Roe
A beautiful, self-affirming, positive representation to have available for my students in the library. I had a 3rd grade boy read it to me, and he recognized both of his sisters and several of his classmates from our school community within the pages of this book
Don't Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller  (not out until Nov. 6th)
I read this F&G with two of my kinders who saw themselves represented in the pages and cover of this book, and they LOVED it! Empowers young girls to feel the beauty of their natural hair & to feel ok standing up for themselves if something makes them uncomfortable. A definite must-purchase for a school library.
Lovely by Jess Hong
This book is absolutely LOVELY! Positive self-image & acceptance abounds in the simple messaging of the single word text representative of the widely diverse representations in the illustrations on each page that are far from typical stereotyping.
Teddy's Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine
I kinda want to gift this to every mom I know. It's a sweet story of a toy getting lost, but beyond that it's a story about how a mom will do everything she can to help her child, and a story showing that boys liking dolls is no big deal. And it's just cute fun. Definitely one I'll add to my school library and recommend others read.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Picture Book Recommendations: Folk & Fairy Tales

I may have missed National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, but since I saw some tweets about it today, I decided to share some of my favorite fairy and folk tale inspired picture books. Some are fractured, some are newer adaptations, all are fun to share with students. And they would make great #classroombookaday choices and conversation starters.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Can we talk about consent for a minute?

Three things happened this morning...
1. My friend Aliza Werner sent me a link in Voxer asking if I was following this developing conversation sparked by Anne Ursu's article about sexual harrassment in the children's publishing industry.

2. I responded to her and then added another message: "Also, can we go back to XO, Ox for a minute... And why I had issues with it... And how others see it as funny... And it's written by a man..."

3. I was browsing the latest posts to the #classroombookaday hashtag on twitter and saw a teacher shared a "Valentine's/love themed read-alouds" text set of picture books, which included XO, Ox which had been voted as the favorite by her students.

In the journey I've been on pushing myself to become more critical of what I read and share with kids, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the implicit messages we send to kids through the books we share with them. In our schools, classrooms, and libraries, with the messages in the books we share, we are planting seeds for the unconscious biases of the future generation. That's a heavy load to bear, and I know I still have work to do, but I try to listen to those who share concerns without pulling a "but I liked that book" defensiveness. We have to be critical of the messages in the books we share with kids, especially in the picture books we share with our youngest kids who are still developing their moral compass.

So let's go back to XO, Ox: A Love Story for a minute. (Even as I type it, I still can't believe the subtitle of this book is "A Love Story") When I first read it, I felt torn. I could see it as a funny story, but was also very worried that it promoted stalking a little too much. However, as much as I could see the intended humor in it, the bigger part of me was thinking about how we are trying to teach the importance of consent to our youth. I was worried about what message it sends if we find it funny that a girl directly tells a boy to stop writing to her and fawning over her, yet he continues to do so. The more I thought about it, the more damaging I think it is to share this book with young children without a discussion about the context around the concerns about consent. She said no. Stop. She shouldn't have to say it again. Also, the fact that it explicitly says this is a "love story" in the title is concerning. This is certainly not the superficial (Ox doesn't even know her, only her looks, and pursues her even after being rebuked), abusive (only after he tells Gazelle what's wrong with her does she start to like him) type of love I'd want to promote to children or teens. The more I think about the story, the more bothered I am by it.
Do I think it was created with all of this in mind? I would hope not, but ultimately, I'm not sure if matters so much what the author's intent is, if it can be read as a negative and promote negatives to our students, it's a concern. I don't think any author sets out to write something that will be perceived negatively, but once it's out of the author's hands, it becomes the reader's book based on their own interpretation. It's part of the whole issue we're having in our society where men don't see this type of behavior as harassment, and don't take seriously the issue of consent (because of many factors, and this may be simplifying a bit).

But let's take it back to where we started: sexual harassment and consent. This is a book that glorifies the harassment of this girl and sends a message that it should be funny. She repeatedly says no (edited: see notes on author's response below), yet he ignores that and continues until he becomes angry about it and turns from praise to denigrating her. How many stories are we hearing in the news right now about just this type of sexual harassment?

I had a first grade teacher ask me about this book last summer in the #classroombookaday Facebook group and whether the way the teacher approaches is makes a difference. My response:
You may be thinking, but it's just a cute story for young kids, but I would argue that we shouldn't be sending this message to young kids, because they become older kids. How can we expect our older kids to fully grasp the basis and importance of consent when we are sharing this type of book with them when they are younger.

Another teacher in this discussion, Cara Wegrzyn, had this to say after sharing it with her 5th grade class:
So, where does that leave us? Well, for me it's about thinking more critically about the books we share with kids. Would I have shared this book with my middle school kids? Maybe, but only within the context of using it as a jumping off point to have the conversation about consent and harassment. I truly believe this story sends a damaging message to our youth if shared as a standalone, and these discussions need to be happening in our classrooms because if they're not, where are they happening? Are they ever happening? How can we help the next generation to see the bigger picture around the dangers of harassment and need for consent if we don't start now? We have to become more critical readers of the books we will share with our kids. And we have to think about when it's developmentally appropriate to share books that will prompt these types of discussions with our students. We can't share these books without context that require context to fully grasp the issues. Their future depends on it.

And it doesn't stop there. It goes all the way to our young adult literature, and beyond.
Though I started this with picture books, I'm going to end it with YA and recommend some books that reinforce the importance of consent for teens, and the aftermath when there isn't any, that I think should be in every high school classroom library because our older teens still need to be thinking about these issues and grappling with how they do, and will, affect their own lives. And we need our girls to know they should stand up, can speak up, and will find support. And we need to send the empowering messages through the books we share, not damaging ones.

Edited 2/11/18 12:45pm: Someone responded to a tweet about this post on twitter and tagged the author, Adam Rex. I'd like to share his comments here as further perspective in this conversation. I had not originally tagged Adam, as I didn't mean for this to be directed at/attacking him, but more adding to the conversation about critical reading. However, I appreciate his respectful, thoughtful responses and feel they add to the conversation, so want them to be available here also.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Is it offensive to say Black? Conversations We Can't Avoid in the Classroom

Today I was doing a First Chapter Teaser of Jason Reynolds' GHOST with one of my 4th grade classes in the library. I asked if they remembered that I had shown them a picture of Jason early in the year when I was going to a bookstore event. Because representation matters, and it was important for them to picture who writes this book, and that he's someone who looks like many of the kids in their class & school look.
One girl (who is White) answered, "No offense. But he is Black and has those things in his hair." We clarified as a group that she meant dreadlocks which got some of the kids talking more about hair. But her comment stuck with me, and I had to go back to it. I couldn't just let it go. She started wth "no offense" and then referred to the author being a Black man. But why did she feel the need to start with "no offense" in the first place? Because she's White? Because she was saying he is Black? To me, this was exactly the kind of comment that needs to be addressed and not just glossed over in the classroom.

In those 30 seconds I was wondering what my Black students might be thinking after that comment, and also flipping through various ways to respond to it in my head and trying to decide which way would be compassionate and inclusive, while still knowing that I might screw it up. I was worried about microaggressions, and trying to figure out if what I was about to say would be one or not for any of my kids. I imagine it's this moment of fear that too often keeps teachers from encouraging these conversations in their classrooms. But I've learned that I can't shy away from them because my kids live these lives in this society and need to learn how to navigate it. And in those few seconds that I was thinking of all of that (sidenote: This might also illustrate why teachers end up with decision fatigue by the end of a school day), I decided to just start with a question.

So I asked the student why she started her statement with no offense. And she shared that since she was saying Jason is Black, she didn't want people to think she was being racist. I had to sit with that for a instinct was to want to turn to the Black kids in the class and ask if they felt it would be racist for someone to say that. Knowing that would not be the way to handle it, as I know it shouldn't be the responsibility of the PoC in the room to educate the white people, I simply scanned the whole class and asked what others thought: Is it racist to say he is Black? Does she need to start with no offense? One of the boys (who is Black) called out from the side "She's just saying that's what color he is; not judging him for it. So it's not racist." Leave it to the kids to simplify it and lay it out there for us all.

I reminded them of when I shared Hey, Black Child early in the year for our read aloud, and asked whether using the word Black seemed racist. In a book that is celebrating Black children, written and illustrated by two Black men, they said it didn't. We followed up with a brief discussion about using Black vs. African-American and not all Black people being of African ancestry.

I'm not sure if I handled it right, but I hope it made a positive impact on the classroom community. The kids were respectful, honest, and hopefully gained some new perspective. It was one of those classroom moments when kids surprise you, challenge you, make you think, worry you a little, and you hope you handled it well enough to help kids be better humans...without causing lasting damage. It may have made me uncomfortable or nervous at first, but I can't let that prevent me from cultivating these conversations in the classroom. If it doesn't start there, how will we ever expect kids to be able to have these conversations outside schools in an empathetic way?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Life Updates & Job News

I don't even know where to begin, yet I realized today that I never "officially" announced some major career changes! I feel as if I've been majorly slacking on the blogging front for the past year, and especially the last six months. I even feel like my reading has taken a hit, but that's what happens when other things have to fill the plate.
If you didn't already know, I'm back in grade school (again!) for another Master's degree. My first was in reading, but I am no longer in the classroom. The exciting thing, though, is that I am back with kids again in the school library! So I'm pursuing an MLIS degree while also working in a new job this school year at aK-5 elementary school as a library media specialist. So, yeah, the blogging and reading volume declined as I was figuring out a new job in a new district and having a large amount of reading and writing to do for grad classes. The good thing about it, though, is that I LOVE being in the library and I LOVE being at an elementary school. Even with the pressure that comes with a new job and the workload of grad school, there have been numerous times over the last six months when I've thought to myself that I feel like I'm finally in the right home for me. It's not that I didn't love teaching ELA in middle school, and I still miss bigger kids sometimes, but my heart and spirit feel at home.

I'm still getting to work with teachers through BALB Literacy Consulting, and I'll still be presenting at conferences (I'm in the midst of finalizing some NCTE proposals right now!), and I'm still Chairing the Wisconsin State Reading Association Children's Literature Committee, and it's all with a bit of a happier heart. So there may still be lengthy pauses between blog posts, but you can follow my reading through my goodreads page. And if you want more "real-time" updates on what I'm up to, twitter and Instagram are the places to go.

Even though I haven't yet, I am still hopeful I'll get a post up of some of my favorite 2017 reads, even though I'm well into 2018 reading now! I didn't do it in December because the end of the grad school semester was crazy and then I spent the holidays at Christmas Markets in Germany with my husband, and we got to ring in the new year in London with my parents! It was wonderful, and a good reason for not blogging. :) We had an incredible view of the New Year's fireworks to kick off a great 2018!
Happy New Year & Happy Reading!