Posted in The 12 Books of Christmas Break

12 Books of Christmas Break: The Matchbox Diary

“Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”

          Ladies and gents, not only did I make it to 12 books before the final semester of my graduate school begins (in like, 8 minutes), but I even managed a little bonus 13th book. It’s cute and deserving of a recommendation, because the title and cover art isn’t that flashy, but the lesson is very worthwhile. Happy reading in 2016!

Title: The Matchbox Diary
Author: Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Genre: Picture book
Erin’s teaser synopsis: A young girl meets her great-grandfather for the first time ever in his bookshop and he uses his childhood diaries to forge a bond with his tiny relation. It’s absolutely adorable, and beautifully illustrated. Not only that, but it’s also a brilliant way to introduce the concept of storytelling outside the traditional written word. She chooses a box of memories to unpack, when she selects a cigar box filled with even smaller matchboxes. In each matchbox, there is a story – one that her great grandfather put together before he could read or write – each one is explained as the boxes are opened.
Why I relate to it: Storytelling is one of my passions, as is collecting stories from my own memories, as well as from those around me. In addition, I’m a teacher, so I feel very strongly that everyone should know how to read and write, and that they should value their opportunities. Therefore, the two main messages of this book are close to my heart. 
Judgement call: In this narrative, there are many messages: the lengths that someone will go to for freedom, the importance of education, and the value of a shared history or heritage. The overall truth that it teaches, however, is that we are, more than anything else, the stories we tell. Stories build bridges, across many divides, including generational differences. For all you teachers out there, you could use this as an introduction to a personal narrative, or even visual storytelling for an alternate assignment.

Interested in the quick read? Find it at the local library, or at Amazon.

Posted in The 12 Books of Christmas Break

12 Books of Christmas Break: George

“…it takes a special person to cry over a book. It shows compassion as well as imagination…Don’t ever lose that, George, and I know you’ll turn into a fine young man.” – George, pg. 15

Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Genre: Juvenile fiction
Erin’s teaser synopsis: What many people see about George is not what she knows about herself. Everyone sees a boy, but George knows that she is not a boy, she’s a girl. If only she could simply wear pink all the time and play Charlotte in the school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, then everyone else would see.
Why I relate to it: Even today, I still marvel at how people can’t just accept people for who they are. “Life is easy, if you really want it to be,” some say. I would argue that the best way to make life easy is to simply accept people for who they are, and not what they may appear to be or what you want them to be. So this book and the struggle of transgendered people today both speak to me on this level.
Judgement call: The book is perfect. It’s beautifully written and unassuming, and I read it in one single bath (this was aided by the fact that it’s a mere 195 pages of juvenile style/spaced writing). Children are beautifully open to suggestion, and I think that this book teaches them exactly how they should deal with an issue like this – no matter who they are in the scenario.

Purchase it for your fave kiddo, or yourself, at Amazon.

Posted in The 12 Books of Christmas Break

12 Books of Christmas Break: Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind

“”Miss Malarkey keeps giving me books. She says she’ll find a book for me if it kills her. I don’t want her to die, so I told her I’d keep trying.””
– Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind

After my rather realist post about The Book Whisperer, I have to say that this tiny little picture book re-inspired me where my procedural text failed.


Title: Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind
Author: Judy Finchler & Kevin O’Malley
Genre: Children’s books
Erin’s teaser synopsis: This is a picture book about “that kid.” Or, rather, “those kids.” The ones who don’t like to read. Just plain don’t like it. And nothing that his poor teacher is doing or trying for him is working to get him and his friends to read – sounds like the story of my life, to be completely honest.
Why I relate to it: As I mention above, this is totally just the story of my life. Now, eventually, because it’s a book for children, the damn kid reads at the end. This isn’t how it always works out in real life, but sometimes we get those small rays of light that other people call “success” and this reminds me what it feels like.
Judgement call: This book proves that every teacher’s struggle is real – but let me also let you in on a little secret: Miss Malarkey had it easy. She’s an elementary school teacher, which means that the kids are still more susceptiple (compared to high schoolers) to adult opinion, and that the students she’s working with are much fewer than I work with. Now, they may rotate, whatever, but she only teachers like 60 kids, max. I teach over 180. Still…still. I’m in a place where I much preferred this type of presentation than the teacher book.

I’d just check it out for inspiration at the local library, but if you want to buy a copy for your classroom, then you can find it on Amazon.


Posted in The 12 Books of Christmas Break

12 Books of Christmas Break: The Book Whisperer

“Now, I accept that I may never arrive at teaching paradise, but as long as I hold on to my love of books and show my students what it really means to live as a reader, I’ll be a lot closer than I was.” – The Book Whisperer, pg. 18

I’ve read this book before, at least a couple times (I believe I’ve been saying 4 recently, but I have no real data to back that up). However, all this talk of new curriculum had me very quickly re-reading it, looking to remind myself of the keys she teaches.


Title: The Book Whisperer
Author: Donalyn Miller
Genre: Nonfiction (it’s a teacher book)
Erin’s teaser synopsis: While many teachers will say that students have changed drastically over the past few years, I’ll say that the biggest change that I’ve noticed in K-12 is the reluctance to read. Donalyn Miller wrote a book about her uncanny ability to turn any of her students into a reader with choice, high-interest novels, and independence.
Why I relate to it: I’m a teacher who loves to read and write, teaching kids who love me – but not necessarily my subject. Obviously, this is a book that speaks to me.
Judgement call:  While there are valuable insights to it…I feel that many people rave about it like it’s the end-all-be-all of getting kiddos to read. It’s not. It’s a great way to help you rethink teaching a whole class novel or make you feel like literature circles are possible (and maybe they are!) but it’s not some miracle that’s going to help your suspiciously-absent-from-her-list category of “Refusing Readers” suddenly race each other to the library. So yes, read it, but don’t expect miracles – and don’t be surprised if you already do 90% of what’s mentioned if you’re truly a good teacher.

I personally have never purchased it, preferring to check it out from the public library. However, you can also find it at Amazon (of course) if I already have it checked out.

Posted in The 12 Books of Christmas Break

12 Books of Christmas Break: Circus Mirandus

“It’s important, when you first see magic, to recognize it. You don’t often get a second chance.” – Circus Mirandus, pg. 34.

Title: Circus Mirandus
Author: Cassie Beasley
Genre: Juvenile fiction
Erin’s teaser synopsis: Magic is very real to Micah Tuttle, thanks to stories his Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the Circus Mirandus from when he was a boy. This is lucky, since it seems like the only thing that could save Grandpa Ephraim now is a miracle. Essentially, this story is the kid-version of Big Fish, and the moment I realized that (without even reading it on a review, folks), I knew it was for me. There’s family and magic and a circus and all sorts of wonderful other business.
Why I relate to it: In many ways, this book speaks to my childhood. I always swore two things as a kid: One: That I would never underestimate the intelligence of children or treat children as my intellectual inferior the way that so infuriated me during my adolescence. Two: I would never give up on believing in the beauty of imagination. In many ways, believing in the power of imagination is similar to believing in the power of magic.
Judgement call: I have to admit that there are many books on my shelves that have made me cry. However, there are few books for children that have the distinction of making me cry multiple times from how beautifully true they are (Velveteen Rabbit doesn’t count, I still think I have PTSD from that damn thing), and how much they make me miss my own childhood in ways I could never have predicted. In short, I loved it. It took me back to how I once felt reading Roald Dahl, and that’s something very few authors have ever managed to do.

Yes, you can check it out at the library. Or you can go ahead and buy it at Amazon. If you’re anti-amazon, though, you can also visit the author’s website to find other sellers.

Posted in The 12 Books of Christmas Break

12 Books of Christmas Break: The King’s Stilts

“Naturally, the King never wore his stilts during business hours.”
– The King’s Stilts, opening lines.

When I picked up the Silverstein book, I had to check some of my other fave children’s authors as well to see what other classics I might be missing from appreciation, and I discovered what appeared to be a gem of a book, all beaten up and torn, in the shelves of Seuss. Sometimes I like the less-appreciated pieces from geniuses of certain fields in addition to the mass hits, just like how I love both I’m Looking Through You and Let It Be equally.


Title: The King’s Stilts
Author: Dr. Seuss
Genre: Children’s books
Erin’s teaser synopsis: There was a king. He had stilts.
Why I relate to it: Okay, let’s be real. From the very first line, I was like, “I get you, bro, I get you. No stilts during business hours, I can respect that.” I may not get up at five like my man Bitram, but I, too, often look forward to the moment when my work is done and I can (metaphorically) don my stilts without a care in the world. Also, he has a daily bath. Legit.
Judgement call: Despite the fact that this book was about a seemingly normal human king who made up very few words and was quite different from the type of rhyming story that most of us come to expect from the great doctor, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Honestly, the lesson that it gives us is much more important for adults than children, but at least there’s a valuable lesson, no matter who the prime audience is! I think that far too many of the books we read to kids now are meant for entertainment and too few are meant to teach lessons. Storytelling is the best way to teach someone anything! So yes, I loved this classic story with a lesson made almost just for me, and even in almost-monochrome, the illustrations are gorgeous.

This old guy was originally published in 1939, and hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity lately, so your best bet might be to snag him on Amazon.

Posted in The 12 Books of Christmas Break

12 Books of Christmas Break: The Missing Piece

“It was missing a piece. And it was not happy.”
The Missing Piece, opening lines.

I love Shel Silverstein. Always have, always will. But I have to be completely honest and admit that my love for him is incomplete, because I haven’t read all the books he’s written, though this one brings me a step closer.
Title: The Missing Piece
Author: Shel Silverstein
Genre: Children’s books
Erin’s teaser synopsis: That circle over there on the left? It’s missing a piece and it’s looking for the rest of itself through this pretty epic journey (some may call that journey life).
Why I relate to it: I firmly believe that part of “becoming an adult” is that you realize that you’re not exactly that whole person you always pictured you’d be once you grew up and you know that you need to search for what will make you complete. So missing a part and looking for it? We all get that. (Hence why Jerry Maguire is considered so desperately romantic despite the fact that it’s a terrible film.)
Judgement call: I’m sure that you could all guess that I thought it was adorable and meaningful and all sorts of things. But I can’t tell you what actually made me cry a little without dropping a huge spoiler, so I’ll just say that sometimes, despite being their champion, children’s books can still surprise me with how deep they dig and how much they can heal something that you didn’t even realize was broken. 🙂

I mean, yeah, it’s at the library, but I’d just go ahead and order it at Amazon. Save yourself the trouble of a due date.