Monday, June 27, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/27/16

I love joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each week to share my reading life. 

It's been a crazy few weeks filled with a writing retreat, Scholastic Reading Summit, tests for my online courses, and more. I have squeezed in some reading time, though, and had to share the amazing books I devoured.

Running off to a baseball game, but let me quickly say that Maybe a Fox is a must read. Reviewing A Clatter of Jars on Nerdy Book Club this week. Check it out! 

My current read is a professional book, Katherine Bomer's The Journey is Everything. Excellent so far! 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Celebrate This Week: Look Around, Look Around

I'm grateful, as ever, that Ruth Ayres asks us to pause on Saturdays and share a celebration (or two) from the week. Check out her blog HERE

If you finished reading that title above and thought, "How lucky we are to be alive right now..." then, you are my people. I'm firmly entrenched in what is apparently known as Hamilaria. Check out the awesome post on Nerdy Book Club today to know that we are not alone. (HERE)

After last weekend, I was pretty down. The news from Florida was tough. And while that is still ever present in my mind, there is truly so much to be celebrating.

Fitness Routines
I made a commitment to try and run 100 miles this summer. While I'm behind on my milage, I'm only a bit above 20 miles, I'm very happy I've stuck with it so far. Someone is very unhappy that I walk with her, bring her home, then go run. However, Rosie resembles the dog from Up when we're out and darts off after anything she sees. Not very safe. 

Rainy Days
I know it's summer, and I know you are supposed to want beautiful sunny weather, but the other day I was simply craving rain. Not for wonderful reasons like I was worried for the farmers, but because I wanted to be lazy, bake brownies, and read. When the rain came, it was well worth it.

My boys
Summer means spending more time with my boys. While they are now often found in front of a TV with a gaming system controller in hand, I love just being with them. Watching them play sports they love and have fun with their friends is even sweeter. 

Choice Literacy Writing Retreat
I'm so grateful to Brenda Power and everything she does for me. I've been writing for Choice Literacy for several years now and have attended several of their writing retreats. I could only make it to half of the retreat this year because of commitments at home, but the time was a treasure filled with laughter, friends, and writing. (And some Starbucks!)

Scholastic Summit
This summer I'm lucky enough to present at two of the Scholastic Reading Summits. While presenting makes me so nervous I feel like I will be ill, I've done it enough to know that once it begins, I will love it. I hope I'm going to see some of you there! If so, please let me know in the comments. 

Have a wonderful week!

Monday, June 13, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/13/15

I love joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each week to share my reading life. 

I didn't get as much read this week as I had hoped, darn grad school began and took over my life. Here's what I did manage to make time for...

Out of all of these, let me focus on Wish by Barbara O'Connor. This one comes out this fall and you should absolutely put it on your list if you're looking for a fabulous middle grade book. Charlie's family has hit a rough patch. Her dad is in jail, her mom can't see to get out of bed, so she heads into the Blue Ridge Mountains to live with her aunt and uncle. She's sure she'll hate it there, she's away from home and surrounded by hillbillies, but she begins to see that there is more to this new home then she realizes. Between her caring aunt and uncle, a friend named Howard, and a new dog, Charlie begins to wonder what it was that she's been wishing for all this time. Such a beautiful story.

I had added my Summer Goals to a post a few weeks ago. I figured I will post then on Monday posts and hold myself accountable. 

Summer Goals 2016 (day 19 of 81):
  • Run 100 miles. I'm cheating a bit, my boys are doing this for Cross Country, so I thought I'd join them. So far I have four miles done. I walk a mile daily, but then I drop Rosie back at the house and head out on a run. I am out of shape and this needs to change. Currently at 20 miles. Need to step up the distance to equal 100.
  • Read a book a day. By my calculation this would equal 81 books. Currently at 24. 
  • Journal 2-3 times a week. I've completely stopped journaling and want to add it back in. Dismal failure. Haven't journaled at all. 
  • Blog at least twice a week. Close - six times since we got out, but only because I posted four times in the past week. 
Progress! This week the reading might be light. I'm headed for two days to a writing retreat. I need to work on my presentation for the Scholastic Summit next week. And then, there's this:

This is my homework for my two grad classes I'm taking online so I will have a middle school endorsement (and can teach 7th grade) in the fall. I'm plowing through, the bold items are done, but wowza. I'm a bit overwhelmed. Here's hoping I get some great reading done anyway and you do too. Have a great week!

Oh, and if you didn't see these two posts this weekend, please check them out --> Censorship and Helpless

Sunday, June 12, 2016


It was just two days ago that I wrote a post regarding how reading the news was making my heart hurt. The post was on censorship and you can read it here, but now, there is so much more. 

Yesterday I woke up to see that a young singer had been shot by a man who purposefully had traveled to her concert venue to kill her. 

Today I woke to see that another young man had taken an assault gun into a gay nightclub in Orlando and killed 50 people, wounding 53 more. 

Lauren DeStefano shared the following quote on Twitter from Marie Lu's book Champion...

I look desperately around us, my vision blurred with tears, and everything is a smear of blood and smoke, light and ash, and all I can hear is screaming and gunfire and hatred, and I am so tired of the fighting, so frustrated, angry, helpless.

Tell me there is still good in the world. Tell me there is still hope for all of us. 

My friend and teacher, Jess, wrote a beautiful post on why we should all love more loudly. How her first reaction was to hide, to live in fear, but how she won't do that. I think it should be required reading. (Jess's post)

I'll be honest, my first reaction today was in line with the quote from Champion. Where the hell is this good in the world? I'm sick and I'm tired.

I'm tired of living in a world that can do nothing to curb gun violence. Assault weapons are a joke and should not be available to purchase.

I'm tired of the hatred towards people who've done nothing wrong. My heart hurts for those in the LGBT community today and I wish I could do more.

And, while I'm at it, I'm sick of the absolute sexism in this political campaign. While I could go on and on, this write up on Facebook sums my frustrations up well. (HERE)

Sometimes I wonder if we can ever come together as a country. If there is a way to have dialogue, instead of all of the constant yelling. I'm not alone in this frustration. John Green, who I love, did a video on this topic several years back (HERE). However, Kate Messner has given me reason to hope. Yesterday she posted some more about the censorship issue she's facing with her book, The Seventh Wish (HERE). She heard back from a librarian who hadn't shelved her book due to the drug addiction storyline and they are starting a conversation. Nothing will change overnight, but conversations, seeing each other as people, working to understand others, being empathetic. I think that's where some answers lie.

So while I still feel helpless, and I'm still so sad about the violence in Orlando, I'm going to continue to reach out. I'm going to buy copies of The Seventh Wish and George, among other books, and hand them out at my presentations this summer. I'm going to continue to share my beliefs on social media, not that I think anyone necessarily cares, but if it makes anyone else feel less alone, I think that's a win. And finally, I'm going to remember Peter Reynolds' quote after the bombing at the Boston Marathon and know in my heart that he is right. 
And I'm going to watch the Tony Awards because, well, Hamilton. Just Hamilton. It will make everything seem just a bit brighter. 

Friday, June 10, 2016


I'll be honest, skimming Facebook this past week has made my stomach ache and my heart hurt. It began with a ruling from California, it continued with hateful political posts, and then my world began to spin when I read how two of my favorite authors were "disinvited" to two schools. I won't go over all of the particulars, you can read Phil Bildner's story HERE and Kate Messner's HERE

This is not ok. I've read Kate's amazing middle grade book, The Seventh Wish. I actually made it required reading this year for my seventh grader and my fifth grader. She does a brilliant job of showing the impact of drug use on a family. The book teaches the lessons I wanted my sons to see. The main reason I asked them to read it was that I thought could make them think twice when they are offered drugs one day by a friend. That they might remember the horrible impact it had on a family they read about. Beyond that, it was just a great book.

The book that Phil had spoken about, Alex Gino's George is also absolutely wonderful. I thought Alex perfectly captured the confusion and frustrations of George as she struggles to figure out her place in the world. (I reviewed it HERE.) 

I get that both The Seventh Wish and George are dealing with difficult issues. I get that not every child in your class or school may be dealing with those issues. However, some are. They need to see themselves in books. They need to know they are still accepted by you. They need to get that they aren't alone. Also, and this is important, even if your students aren't dealing with drug use by a sibling or gender identity, they can still get something out of these books. Empathy, compassion, and kindness are just some things we can gain from books. We learn about others from their stories. And after watching the news this week, I think we need a heck of a lot more readers in the world. 

My classroom library has always had a wide variety of books in it. I've wanted kids to find the precise book they needed to read when they needed it. I teach in a rural town in the middle of Illinois. My students have come from good homes and ones that break my heart. I've heard teachers say that they don't need books with gay characters, or transgender characters, or books with drug abuse because that's not what is happening with their students. I disagree. I've taught for twenty years. Sometimes I knew what books my students needed, sometimes it is in hindsight that I wish I had given them a particular book. In a small town, I know my students long after they have left my class. I wish some had found themselves in books when they were in my room. I wish that they had known they weren't alone. I wish I could make them become fourth or fifth graders again so that I could give them the book that would speak to their soul.

We can't censor books because they make us uncomfortable. This isn't to say I want to hand Thirteen Reasons Why to a fifth grader, but there are perfect books written for elementary school kids. They do discuss hard issues, but in a way that is just right for the age group. If the book isn't right for the child, they won't read it. Kids have a fabulous way of finding out what works for them. 

We need to be the best teachers for all of our students, not just the ones that have lives easy for us to discuss, but all of them. We owe them that much. 

For more reading, check out Pernille Ripp's post HERE, Teri Lesesne's post HERE, and Kate Messner's post HERE

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ms Bixby's Last Day Blog Tour

I've been turning down all blog tours for the past few months. I simply am swamped and cannot add any scheduled posts to my plate. I know that next year, when I'm out of grad school, life will get a little less frenetic. However, right now? It's nuts. One might ask, then, what am I doing on this blog tour for Ms. Bixby's Last Day, correct? There were two factors that made me unable to turn down this tour. One, I simply love the book. And two, I got a chance to celebrate teachers. 

I have had many great teachers in my life. I've celebrated them on this blog before. From Ms. Tuck, to Ms. Flock, to Mr. Beccue, to Mrs. Lindsay, to Mr. Engle, and on and on and on. Here are just a few posts where I've written about them: HERE, HEREHERE, and HERE.

My amazing preschool, Farm School
What I realized,
when rereading these posts, 
is that I've stolen from my favorite teachers, 
and that's made me who I am today.

From a kick-ass read aloud voice from Mrs. Lindsley,
and the knowledge that your eyes can light up
and mesmerize your students with a story.
To a sharp wit from Ms. Flock,
humor mixed with sarcasm,
and a lesson on ironing shirts,
I still think through years later.
I soaked them up.

Mr. White gave me kind words,
when I was new to a school,
with so many kids I didn't know.
Mr. Beccue taught me that teachers 
should find the humor with their students, 
and it's ok to laugh.
Mr. Engle's passion for history became mine,
and I learned it's ok to nerd out over what you love.

And Ms. Tuck,
who I'm grateful to have found again,
taught me 
way back in first grade 
the importance of loving your students.
That kind words matter.
And that students will remember how a teacher
made them feel,
and might even be inspired to teach,
because of them. 

And while I haven't blogged about it, my first teachers 
were my parents.
Later my mom and I were colleagues. 
She, and my dad, 
had already taught me all I needed.
Their twin lessons were all about loving what you do,
and hard work.
There is no point in doing something,
Unless you do it well.

I see all of them in my classroom. 
I see them in me.
I even see my favorite school, 
Farm School,
reflected in my room.
A place to be at home.
A place to be comfortable while you learn.
A place where you are loved.

Our teachers teach us,
far more than we realize.
We are an amalgamation of all of those classrooms,
in which we've resided.

So while I'm celebrating the teachers I've loved, I'm also celebrating a book that made me think of the power of the relationships between students and teachers. Here you have the amazing teacher, Ms. Bixby. Her students have been given the sad news that she will be leaving before the end of the year, Ms. Bixby is battling cancer. Three boys in her class - Topher, Brand, and Steve - decide they must celebrate her in the craziest way possible. The book alternates between their voices and I loved each one of them as I read. 

This is a book about friendship, love, and growing up. I can't recommend you read it on a plane, as I did, unless you have some Kleenex handy. This is a book to treasure, to hold close to your heart when you're done, and then to hand off to someone else, because it's also a story to share. 

Additional Resources:
Read a free excerpt here.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day Blog Tour Stops!

6/2/2016 - Nerdy Book Club
6/3/2016 - Next Best Book
6/6/2016 - Walden Media Tumblr
6/7/2016 - Teach Mentor Texts
6/10/2016 - Flashlight Reader
6/13/2016 - Julie Falatko
6/15/2016 - About to Mock
6/16/2016 - Kid Lit Frenzy
6/16/2016 - The Hiding Spot
6/17/2016 - Unleashing Readers
6/20/2016 - Ms. Yingling Reads
6/21/2016 - Maria's Melange
6/22/2016 - Lit Coach Lou
6/23/2016 - Novel Novice
6/27/2016 - Librarian's Quest
6/29/2016 - Bluestocking Thinking
6/30/2016 - Mindjacked
7/1/2016 - All the Wonders

Monday, June 6, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/6/16

I love joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each week to share my reading life. 

As you might notice from the dates on the Goodreads screenshot below, it has been a few weeks since I've done a Monday post. But darn it, there are too many great books I've read, so I'm sharing them all below:

I've already noticed my reading life changing a bit since I said goodbye to my fifth grade classroom and hello to the world of middle school. I'm reading more YA books. I read a ton of fabulous picture books at the bookstore, but I haven't bought any because I have to know exactly what I will be using that book for before I buy it. Time in lessons will be short, and picture books will be read, but I need to use most of my book buying cash to fill the YA gaps in my library. And then there is the issue of no space left to unpack books. Sigh. 

At any rate, the books above? Amazing. Specifically, The Raven King made me cry because I couldn't handle the series begin over. The Girl Who Drank the Moon made me cry because Kelly Barnhill is just so flipping brilliant I cannot stand it. Seriously? Who writes like this every single time? SO GOOD. Yaks Yak is a picture book with word play that I'll likely buy for my classroom once I can figure out where I'll put it. The Airport Book is the modern day version of Richard Scary's books. Loved it. Bera and Hilo are new graphic novels for the classroom that my students will devour. And Rad American Women from A-Z taught me about several amazing women that I didn't know. 

So many good books, so little time. I do love summer for the chance to catch up on my "to read" piles that have grown out of control. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Heart is Full: Reading and My Sons

I love teaching. I love helping kids find a passion for reading and writing. I love showing them they can find success in what they do. I love teaching them how to be the best people they can be. These things fill me up, but don't hold a candle to the joy my own boys bring me.

Luke and Liam are bookending middle school next year. Luke will be an 8th grader, Liam a 6th grader, and I will be teaching 7th grade. The Sokolowskis are taking over. My boys have always been readers, but that is not by accident. 

Books fill our house - overfill it if you want to be more accurate. I read to them daily as babies and young children. Chris did too. Trips to the library or the bookstore happen weekly. We talk about books, make predictions, and plan for what they are reading next. And reading - daily - has always been a requirement. Thirty minutes during the school year, an hour a day in the summer. By this point in their lives, I don't have to make sure they do it. There might be days they don't read the entire time I requested, but other days they read far longer. They are readers. 

That alone makes me happy, but the fact that they identify that way fills my heart. I see this so many times, I could fill pages if I record them all. Today, however, there was this moment. Liam came in the kitchen and I told him I had something to show him. Phil Bildner had released the cover for his third book - Tournament of Champions - which is coming out next summer. (You can see his post HERE.)  Liam did a fist pump, even when I told him he had a year to wait. 

Then he said, "Mom, that Phil Bildner is still my favorite author."

I smiled and agreed. Liam has loved the first two books in this series more than anything he's ever read. 

He looked back at the cover and said, "When that comes out, I'm heading to your bed and reading all day until I finish. I just want to read it all." 

He walked out of the kitchen munching a chocolate chip cookie and my heart soared.

Thanks, Phil, for making my kid love a book so much he wants to spend a summer day reading it - a year from now. Thanks for being an author who always tweets my students back. We can't wait to see what you write next.