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“Why We Need International Books in the Classroom”

After finishing college, my husband and I packed two suitcases each, sold everything else that we owned, and bought plane tickets to Japan. Our plan was to teach English for a year or two and then move back to Tennessee, but we wound up loving life abroad so much that we lived outside Tokyo for almost five years.

For much of my time in Japan, I worked at an international elementary school, where I taught children from all over the world. My classroom was made up of students from Sri Lanka and Denmark and Korea, Canada and Sudan and Poland. Along with a typical American curriculum (math, P.E., language arts, etc.), I was responsible for making sure my class of 15-20 ESL students learned how to speak and read and write and listen in English—a second (or third) language for almost all of them.

It was a challenge, of course, not only to communicate, but to create an environment where everyone felt comfortable celebrating their differences. Unfortunately, sometimes the American textbooks themselves complicated this problem. (Think of how often things like currency and sports and apparel are referenced just in simple math worksheets.) Finding educational resources that represented the diversity of the students in my classroom—even just a fragment of it—was difficult.

Because of this, more often than not, I turned to literature to address the diversity gap in my classroom’s curriculum.

For my students in Japan, bringing books with an international setting or international characters into the classroom helped to make everyone feel more welcome. Though we were a mix of varied beliefs and colors, traditions and clothing and languages, the books we read helped us learn about each other, which in turn created a more respectful and joyful environment.

But this sort of magic isn’t reserved for an international classroom.

Now, back in the U.S., I teach college English in my home state, and I have my students read texts written by diverse authors from all over the world. Though I occasionally teach a special course composed of all international students, the majority of my classes are largely composed of white Americans who’ve never left the country. (As of 2018, over 75% of the students at my university were white and less than 2% came from outside the U.S.)

In my international classrooms in Japan, the diverse books that I brought to our shelves provided ways for my students to see themselves and their peers in the stories we read. Now, for many of my students, however, such texts require that they learn about cultures with which they’re completely unfamiliar. This forces them to see the world through perspectives they’ve never encountered and, ultimately, open both their minds and their hearts.

Bringing writing with international settings and characters into the classroom, especially writing by diverse authors, is beneficial at any grade level and to any group of students. It teaches readers of all ages that the world is bigger than what’s outside the window—and that people are still people, wherever you go.

The Story That Cannot Be Told
Author: J. Kasper Kramer
Published October 8th, 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

About the Book: A powerful middle grade debut that weaves together folklore and history to tell the story of a girl finding her voice and the strength to use it during the final months of the Communist regime in Romania in 1989.

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published—right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.

About the Author: J. Kasper Kramer is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her debut novel, The Story That Cannot Be Told from Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, published on October 8th. You can find her online at www.jkasperkramer.com and on Twitter @JKasperKramer.

Thank you so much for this guest post looking at how perspective and a worldly view shape outlook!

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Weird Little Robots
Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrator: Corinna Luyken
Published October 1st, 2019 by Candlewick

Summary: When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

Nine-year-old Penny Rose has just moved to a new town, and so far the robots she builds herself are her only company. But with just a bit of magic, everything changes: she becomes best friends with Lark, has the chance to join a secret science club, and discovers that her robots are alive. Penny Rose hardly remembers how lonely she used to feel. But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price.

Praise: [A]uthor Crimi infuses this unassuming transitional novel with compassion, humor, and a refreshing storyline in which girls organically weave a love for science into their everyday lives. Illustrations by Luyken add to the guileless sensibility. A contemplation on the magic of friendship told with sweetness, simplicity, and science.—Kirkus Reviews

**BEA Middle Grade Book Buzz Book

About the Author: Carolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. Over the years she has published 15 funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, There Might Be Lobsters, and I Am The Boss of This Chair. Weird Little Robots is her first novel.

For more information, and to download a free classroom guide for Weird Little Robots, visit her website. and Twitter @crims10.

Review: Thank goodness books like this exist out in the world. I cannot wait to see what this new generation of kids are like as adults now that they all have these amazing stories of smart girls to read. Even the characters who fit a certain stereotype for Penny Rose ended up proving her wrong. This book shows that there is more to everything than anyone can imagine: more to science, more to friendship, more to imagination… What a fantastic world that Penny and Lark’s story can be told!

And the story itself is one that is fun to read. Not only do you get to read about robots, engineering, ornithology, and even decorating, but the book includes a story that many kids will connect with: do you abandon one to join the others even if the one is your best friend and the others is giving an opportunity that is hard to refuse. That is something that everyone faces more than once in their life. And told in a lyrical and a bit quirky narrative, the story is just fun to read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A Classroom Guide for Weird Little Robots can be found on Carolyn Crimi’s website!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do Penny Rose and Lark have in common?
  • Why do you think Penny Rose made the decision she did about the secret society? Did she regret it in the end? How could she have dealt with it differently?
  • If you were going to build a little robot RIGHT NOW, what items are in your backpack that you could use? Use these items and sketch out a plan.
  • How could Penny Rose have helped her other robots communicate with her?
  • Why do you think the robots waited to communicate?
  • What did the different members of the secret society show Penny Rose, and the reader, about judging others?
  • Create your own conversation starters. Then, in class, group with 2 other people and use the conversation starters to chat. Rotate.
  • What did Penny Rose’s one decision the turned her back on Lark cause?
  • Penny Rose finds her way through the woods just by listening. As a class create an obstacle course that has different sounds throughout it and see if students can navigate through using only their hearing.

Flagged Passages: “First though, Penny Rose would need a detailed plan. She went up to her bedroom, sat on her bed, and turned on the lamp she had made last year from an olive oil can. A stack of notebooks sat on her nightstand: her New Inventions notebook, her Robot Drawings and Descriptions notebook, and her To-Do List notebook. Her most secret notebook, Conversation Starters, was at the bottom of the pile.

She picked it up, found a clean page, and wrote a quick list of Possible Conversation Starters:

  1. “I think binoculars are fun.” (Lark seems to like binoculars.)
  2. “The sun seems strong today.” (Lark often wears sun goop. First determine if the sun does, indeed, seem strong.)
  3. “Sunglasses are very wise.” (Lark wears sunglasses.)
  4. “Do you like robots?” (It is unknown whether or not Lark likes robots, but it is probable that she does since most people do.)
  5. “Yesterday was my birthday. Would you like some leftover cake?” (This seems like a good bet, unless she has allergies or is gluten-free or vegan or something.)
  6. “What is in that metal box?” (This might be too nosy, although if you’re going to carry something so mysterious, you should be prepared for questions.)

Penny Rose looked over her list. She considered what her father said about Lark not hearing before. She decided she would speak loudly.

Penny Rose tore out the page and tucked it into the tool belt she wore in case she happened upon interesting items for her robots.” (Chapter One)

Read This If You Love: Ellie Engineer by Jackson Pearce, Ada Twist by Andrea Beaty, Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell, Frank Einstein by Jon Scieszka

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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“Obstacle or Opportunity or Both”

“No pressure, no diamonds” – Thomas Carlyle

It’s simple: every single person you will meet today is facing at least one major obstacle. Especially the ridiculously beautiful person staring back at you in the mirror. Take a look — so many big old obstacles smack in front of us. Daring us. Mocking us. Blocking us from achieving great stuff. Stupid obstacles!

Though we know they’re there, most of us pretend they’re not.

We do our best to avoid facing them. We procrastinate. We rationalize. We think maybe if we don’t look at our obstacles, they might just go away on their own.

Guess what? They don’t go away. Never. And, deep inside, we already know they won’t go away.

The far more likely scenario is they’ll get bigger, noisier, fiercer, and freakier.

Here’s the good news in all this. Every obstacle or problem we face holds a secret. Hidden deep within the dread is an opportunity for greatness.

The big idea is to never let a good obstacle go to waste. Use it or lose it. Now if you believe amateur internet linguists (hint: do NOT believe them) the Chinese symbol for obstacle can also mean opportunity (100% refuted by actual professional linguists, but you get the idea — sounds really Zen, doesn’t it?).

Once again, my friends, it’s really simple. The obstacles that stand in our way can either hold us down or elevate us to greater heights. You get to choose which one to go for. You probably don’t think you get to choose, but you do.

No joke. You really-really do get to choose.

Bertie Blount, the twelve-year-old protagonist of BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS, with help from a terrifying ghost and a pair of hexed sunglasses that allow her to see a better version of herself, eventually chooses greatness. Bertie rose above her tragic circumstances, and her own terrible choices. And, in doing so, she becomes the better version of herself. How cool is that?

It’s funny, but when kids and adults read BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS, they compare themselves to Bertie. Could I do what Bertie did in that situation? Could I persevere how she did? Could I achieve what Bertie did despite all the crazy dangers, and endless ridicule from everyone around me?

The answer is yes. And no. The applicable answer for you depends upon your willingness to face whatever obstacles stand in your way. Whether it’s a problem with your family, or your school, or your sports team. Or a problem with a friend or enemy. Or perhaps it’s an adult struggling with an addiction, or divorce, or health. Or wanting to be a better parent, wife, or husband.

Or perhaps it’s someone who feels like they have a hole in their soul because they know there’s got to be a better way to get through the day. So many people are wearing these cruel shoes, and those shoes hurt worse with every step. We’re talking life blisters, folks. They are living in conflict with their better natures.

Through Bertie’s commitment to thinking differently, her sense of compassion, and her hunger to make things right no matter what, she shows us there is a better way to get through even the absolute most horrific days.

Bertie Blount is fantastically flawed. She’s a girl who is beyond lost. Nothing in her life makes sense to her anymore. But being lost is universal. We all lose our way. And not just with the big picture stuff either. Most of us get lost on a daily or even an hourly basis. That’s what makes Bertie’s story so captivating, and so enriching to the soul, even if it’s partly on a subconscious level. We understand Bertie’s struggles, because on many levels they’re our struggles as well.

As much as Bertie gets lost, she carries on and somehow finds her way out of the dark and scary woods, again and again. Her obstacles didn’t hold her down, they elevated her. And that helps us readers know that we can do the same.

The pragmatic side of the novel is that we don’t find our way by avoiding our obstacles. We have face them, the same way Bertie faces them (usually kicking and screaming). The same way anyone who ever achieved anything great faced their problems. And, as history shows us in countless examples, the obstacles we overcome make us better people than we were before. It’s simple, but not easy. It’s a choice. And it will be the best choice you could ever make.

That’s the hidden diamond in all this. If you choose to make better choices, you go through the day in a happier and more engaged way. If you repeatedly make the best possible choices you don’t need a pair of supernatural sunglasses to become the better version of yourself.

But, hey, if you happen to come across a pair — why not put them on, right?

Bertie’s Book of Spooky Wonders
Author: Ocelot Emerson
Publication Date: October 15th, 2019 by Tantrum Books

About the Book: Twelve-year-old Bertie Blount is great at causing trouble. When she’s forced to leave behind her dad and friends in North Carolina so her mom can marry the most boring optometrist in the world, Bertie has a chance at a fresh start.

But when Bertie arrives in Pennsylvania, she doesn’t just bring trouble; she brings disaster. In a moment of anger, Bertie unwittingly triggers an accident that puts her future stepbrother in a coma.

Broken and desperate to make things right, Bertie prays for a miracle. Instead, the universe gives her a pair of supernatural sunglasses, a wise-cracking doppleganger, and a terrifying ghost that sends Bertie on a dangerous mission to find the one thing that just might save her stepbrother’s life.

About the Author: Ocelot Emerson is the freakish result of a mad scientist’s experiment gone horribly wrong. Born half magnificent cat, half malicious human, Ocie escaped from the secret International Prison For Wayward Creatures, and into a deep dark woods, only to be captured by a pack of ravenous ghost wolves. In a stroke of good fortune, the Great Spirit Wolves set aside their natural disdain for all things feline and accepted the cat person into their pack, where they taught Ocie how to hunt and tell bizarre yet heartwarming tales. Bertie’s Book of Spooky Wonders is Ocelot’s first novel aimed at feral and phenomenally gifted children.

Thank you so much for this guest post about the beauty in time and patience and focus!

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“Bonding a Classroom Over Books: Read Aloud as a Community Builder”

My third year of teaching, I welcomed my fifth-grade class back from mid-winter break by revealing Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons as our next read aloud. Immediately, an excited titter spread amongst the table groups of my classroom. A student raised his hand with a grin and asked, “Are you going to cry? I heard when you read that book last year, you cried … in front of everyone!” The students exchanged excited looks, shocked by the boldness of the question-asking kid and eagerly waiting for the answer. I smiled and nodded.

It was true—I would cry. Walk Two Moons always makes me cry. Always. It did when I first read it as a fifth grader, curled up on the couch in the formal living room of my childhood home (the only place to escape my three younger siblings for quiet reading time), it did every time I read it aloud to one of my classes as a teacher in my twenties, and if I read it today … you guessed it, blubbery mess. That’s what evocative writing does to me, and Sharon Creech is a master.

Over the course of weeks, I read the book aloud to my class and we dissected it together. We made predictions about where Phoebe’s mother had gone, about what would happen if Sal did/didn’t reach her own mother by her birthday, about who the “lunatic” might be, and what, if anything, would happen between Sal and Ben. We discussed our favorite and least favorite characters—writing scenes from their perspectives, really getting into their heads—and when we got to THE SCENE (Walk Two Moons is an older book, but just in case I’ll avoid any spoilers!), my eyes weren’t the only wet ones in the room.

Did all my students cry? Of course not. But no one mocked those who did, which, in the world of tweens, showed a level of respect and empathy I always worked hard to build into my classroom. Whether they were moved to tears or not, they had shared an emotional experience, and they understood that that meant something. They were more than just classmates; they’d gone on a journey together.

This is the power of books.

Not all my read aloud choices were “crying” books. I made sure to read a wide variety of authors and genres to my classes, and I also let them propose read aloud books for the group to vote on. Listening to students explain why they loved a book and why they thought the whole class should read it always gave us insight into them as a person. And the more insight students have into each other, the more tightly knit a classroom becomes. We read scary books, mysteries, historical fiction, funny books, on a student’s recommendation I even read Brian Seiznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (a heavily illustrated novel) under the document camera so we could all experience the magic that happens when a well written story and beautiful illustrations combine.

Whenever it was time to choose a new book, inevitably there would be questions about which books I had found sad, scary, or funny when I was a tween. The kids were always delighted if I named a book they’d read and enjoyed—books were sometimes my best “in” with struggling students. If you’re curious, some of my top answers were  Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows (sad), Mary Downing Hahn’s Wait Til Helen Comes (scary books are my personal favorite—I still have the battered copy of this book that I received in third grade!), and Louis Sachar’s There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom (funny, though that book really runs the gamut).

I made sure to have copies of all these books in my classroom library, and almost without fail, any book I endorsed quickly became a hot commodity. Students would discuss with me and with each other what their own takes on my recommended books were. Then, they’d suggest books they thought I might like, which is how I discovered Mary Downing Hahn is still the queen of ghost stories. (I can only hope to still be publishing books when I’m in my eighties!)

The five years I spent in the classroom showed me that not only is reading a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon (or the last ten minutes of lunch), books have the power to forge connections. I loved spending my days with the delightful, witty (and yes, sometimes sassy!), tween students in my class. When I left teaching to raise my young children and write, I thought of my former students often and my desire to write was refined into a desire to write books for them—for middle grade readers.

My debut middle grade novel, The Wicked Tree, is first and foremost a creepy tale, but there is humor, grief, mystery, and a lot of friendship woven in. I can’t wait for Tav’s story to be in the hands of middle grade readers and their teachers, and it would be my greatest joy to hear that it sparked a classroom discussion that helped bring the students and teacher closer together.

The Wicked Tree
Author: Kristin Thorsness
Publication Date: October 8th, 2019 by Month 9 Books

About the Book: Deep in the woods, a gnarled tree grows. Its thick, black trunk twists angrily up into the night sky. Held in place by the magic of a long-ago patriarch, it has waited centuries to lure a descendant into its trap.

Eleven-year-old Tavorian Kreet hates it when money troubles force his mom to move them in with his great-grandmother – though the historic house and grounds are pretty awesome. Tav is told to stay out of the estate’s woods, but he can’t resist the chance to explore.

After Tav’s first trip into the woods, he begins to have strange dreams about a supernatural tree. The dreams start out pleasant, but soon grow dark and menacing. On a dare, Tav ventures further into the woods with his new friend Harper, and they meet a mysterious, mute boy named Edward who lives in a decrepit cabin there. Though he’s unable to communicate where he came from or why he lives alone, in clear distress he scrawls two words: Bad Tree.

Tav knows what it’s like to be afraid. If he’d been brave enough to act four years ago, he could have saved his dad from the fire that took their home. But he wasn’t, and he’s been trying to redeem himself since. Now Tav is determined to help Edward. He enlists Harper, and together they search the estate for clues to Edward’s identity and how to help him.

While searching, Tav and Harper find antique photo albums, ancient diaries, and a secret laboratory. They piece together the Kreet family history, and discover a curse that’s been waiting generations for an heir. Tav’s dreams grow more ominous, and he realizes time is running short. To save himself and his friends, Tav must go to the heart of the woods, find the Bad Tree, and confront an evil magic before it consumes him completely.

About the Author: Kristin Thorsness is a former 5th and 6th grade teacher who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their son and daughter, and two spoiled dogs. She likes dark chocolate, strong coffee, and creepy stories that keep her up reading late into the night. For more info or to get in touch, visit her online at www.kristinthorsness.com.

Thank you so much for this guest post about the power of books!

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Orange County Public Schools’ Innovation Office opened in 2018 to support identified “Schools of Innovation” and to support staff in the implementation and development of innovative practices within and across these schools. My school was lucky enough to be considered a “School of Innovation” when the learning community opened in 2018. Then, in the Spring of 2019, the Innovation Office began recording their Appetite for Instruction podcast, and my colleague, Caitlin Chacon, and I were so lucky to be asked to participate.

Our podcast episode was titled “Unleashing Young Readers,” I’m assuming as an homage to this blog, and we shared what literacy instruction looks like at our school, both in the podcast and the companion write up:

Unleashing Young Readers (Episode 3)

Happy listening 🙂

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“Making Lemonade out of Lemons: Creating Humor out of Sadness”

One of the things I’m asked most often about my debut middle grade novel, SUPER JAKE & THE KING OF CHAOS, is the role of humor – specifically how there’s so much in what could be a very sad book. Both the humor and the heaviness stem from truth, because SUPER JAKE is inspired by life with my three sons, the youngest of whom (Jake) had special needs.

Jake’s many limitations were heartbreaking, as was his death at only 28 months. And yet, my family – especially Jake’s big brothers – managed to find, and create, a lot of laughter and joy despite the difficulties. For that reason I tried to balance the inherent sadness surrounding his fragile health with a sense of playfulness and humor throughout the book. Here are five ways to use humor in a sad story, with examples from SUPER JAKE.

  • Establish a fun, or funny, tone from the get-go.

In early drafts, the story opened with the 11-year-old hero, Ethan, being awakened in the middle of the night because of a Jake-related medical emergency. This scene is still in the book; it just comes 155 pages later. Although it was a sure-fire dramatic start, as the main story shifted from Jake to Ethan, it was clear that the book needed to start with Ethan doing his favorite thing: magic. And what could be funnier, and more endearing, than entertaining a dozen 3-year-old girls dressed like Disney princesses? Throw in goofy younger brother, 7-year-old Freddy, and an unexpected appearance by SpongeBob, and you’ve got a fun tone to kick things off. Later in the chapter Jake shows up, too, and a bit of sadness creeps in but – hopefully – the reader already knows this story will have plenty of lighthearted moments.

  • Include a character who provides comic relief.

This, without question, is Freddy, the lovable middle brother. I could always count on him to come to the rescue when things got too sad. Sometimes it was a simple visual gag, like bubble gum exploding all over his face. Other times it was unexpected dialogue, or his interrupting a somber moment any number of ways. And sometimes, it was just his sweet, innocent take on things: he was a great vehicle to lighten tension.

  • Incorporate a sense of play, and playfulness, to mitigate sad circumstances.

There is nothing remotely fun, or funny, about having to “stretch” Jake’s arms and legs because he was unable to do it on his own. And yet in the book, as in real life, his big brothers got in on the act and even managed to turn physical therapy into a good time: Ethan takes a benign teddy bear and creates… Ninja Bear! Another example is how Jake’s unusual hearing creates a funny scene when Ethan plays his trumpet without waking Jake to stir, but Mom’s quiet (and angry) whisper immediately wakes him up.

  • Do something surprising.

This technique is very helpful and can be used frequently and in many ways. Have someone you wouldn’t expect do something unexpected: Ms. Carlin, Ethan’s beloved English teacher, has a crush on Ethan’s hero, Magnus the Magnificent. (Spoiler alert: teachers are human! You heard it here first.) Have an unexpected dialogue exchange, like on p. 23:

Freddy:            I’m doing a huge battle of dinosaurs versus Star Wars. I thought the Star Wars people would win because they’ve got lightsabers. But the dinosaurs were  hungry, so they ate them.

Ethan:              The lightsabers?

Freddy:            The people.

Or create an unexpected, and much-needed, break in tension. This occurs organically in lots of Ethan’s magic tricks. It seems like something has gone wrong, then he pulls it off. Another example of breaking tension with humor is when Ethan tries to convince his frenemy, Ned, that cake will make him feel better. Just as Ethan is about to give up, Ned asks, “What flavor is it?”

  • Switch from tears to laughter.

One of my favorite writers, Paula Danziger, said that her favorite thing to do was switch from tears to laughter, or laughter to tears, “on a dime.” I have tried to do the same. Even if it’s something small, the contrast makes the new, unexpected emotion pack a bigger punch.

Laughter to tears is pretty easy when you’ve got a character like Jake. Here’s bit with Ethan and his buddies at lunch, as they try to figure out how he can pay for a magic competition:

Brian:              Hey! Maybe you could sell one of your brothers.

Ethan:              Nah. I’d have to pay somebody to take Freddy.

Daniel:            How about Jake? Lots of people want babies.

Brian:              Only perfect ones.

Tears to laughter usually happens courtesy of Freddy. In the dialogue below, the truth is the possibility of Jake ever tackling homework is a sad reminder that his limitations are far-reaching and probably permanent. And yet…

Freddy:            Hey, Ethan, you think someday I’ll help Jake with his math homework?

Ethan:              I don’t know. How much is eight plus two?

Freddy:            Twelve?

Creating laughter from tears, or happiness from sadness, isn’t only doable: it’s critical, especially in children’s books. I hope these approaches will show readers that they can find – and make – joy out of even the saddest situations.

More information on the book can be found at: https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/naomi-milliner/super-jake-and-the-king-of-chaos/9780762466160/.

Super Jake & the King of Chaos
Author: Naomi Milliner
Published May 7th, 2019 by Running Press Kids

About the Book: A debut contemporary novel about 11-year-old aspiring magician Ethan, who discovers that heroes come in all sizes, and real magic can be found in the most unexpected places.

When life revolves around stressed-out parents and ER visits for his special needs little brother Jake, eleven-year-old Ethan escapes to a world of top hats, trick decks, and magic wands. When he hears of a junior magic competition where the top prize is to meet and perform with his hero, Magnus the Magnificent, Ethan is determined to do whatever he needs to get there–and to win.

His dedication and hard work pay off, and he makes it to the top five finalists: his dream really could come true! Then Jake falls dangerously ill and Ethan’s hopes and plans are in jeopardy. As he searches for any sort of magic that might save Jake, Ethan learns what is truly important . . . and what real magic is.

About the Author: Naomi Milliner has a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s in Screenwriting from USC Film School. As a long-time member of SCBWI, she created the Authors Book Club (ABC) for published authors and illustrators to share their journey with other members. She has also served on the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads Committee since 2009. She lives in Maryland, with her husband and sons.

Thank you so much for this guest post about how authors mix sadness and humor!

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Another school year is in the books! Time to celebrate and reflect!
And I know this is a long post, but I hope you’ll take the time to check out my students’ points of view and their reading choices 🙂

End of Year Survey

At the end of each year, I give my students a survey to help me grown and learn as a teacher but also for them to reflect on the year. Here are some answers from the survey:

This is about the same as last year. I did change my status check to only weekly instead of daily to see how it went (some kids were saying asking every day made it seem more of a chore), but I really think by not asking daily, I didn’t keep up with my students’ progress and conference correctly. Back to daily-ish next year!

This is a big deal for me because it is the first year that 100% of the answers were yes or yes, a small one! Yay!!

Does my classroom library benefit students? How did it benefit you this year?

  • Yes. The library has a huge variety of genres of great books that even people who aren’t avid readers can enjoy. The library helped me reach my personal goal of reading 10 books this school year.
  • YASSSSSSSSSSSS. I used to love fiction and I still do but I have also expanded my likes because of all of the genres in your mini library.
  • Of course! I was able to expand my reading options knowing that I can get a book quick and easy.
  • Of course, you can find any books in Mrs Moye’s library and there are so many kinds of books that everybody would enjoy, its like a second resource for anybody who could not find the book they wanted in the Media Center can find it in Mrs Moye’s library, or even find something better.
  • It does because it gives them a way to develop their reading love and your system makes it easier. You also have many great books and you give many great recommendations based on our interests.
  • You classroom definitely benefits students. It benefited me this year by giving me a wide variety of books to choose from.
  • It does benefit students. It provides a wide arrangement of books that can satisfy the interests of students as well as providing new books and find new reading interests.
  • Yes. It started my love of reading.

What would you say to someone that says that a classroom library is a waste of money?
I started asking this question after a friend of mine, on a post of hers, had a comment that said a classroom library was a waste of money.

  • You are incorrect, goodbye. *turns and walks away*
  • I would respect their opinion but I would say “I think it is not a waste of money because just 20 minutes of reading a day makes you very smart.”
  • I would say that they have obviously not had a good one and they don’t know what there talking about.
  • I would say the person who said that is wrong because yes it is a lot of money but in my opinion the benefits outweigh the cost.
  • “Man, you are sure wrong”
  • It’s not! It’s a major benefit for students and lets them be able to explore more reading options. Also, if the library or other book source doesn’t have a specific book, that classroom library might save the day.
  • It really isn’t. A classroom library makes it much easier to check out and return books. Especially when they belong to a teacher who you see almost everyday, while the school library is sometimes closed and can’t always be reached.
  • I would say that a classroom library isn’t a waste of money because it shows how much that teacher loves to read and how much they care about our education as readers.
  • I would start a whole argument about books (as usual…).
  • that they need to take this class
  • That they are wrong because with books you can block the real world and explore different worlds and enjoy it.
  • I would say that a classroom library is actually useful because it helps students find books they want to read easily and allows a lot of options, and may motivate some students to read more.
  • I disagree because throughout the year while there was a library that is easy to have access to, I have been able to read more book than ever before (19 books)
  • I would bring up lots of evidence to show the benefits of reading and why it is more needed
  • I would tell them that they don’t really understand classroom libraries. Classroom libraries are there to provide books. Books help to broaden people’s vocabulary and imagination.

Do you like how the classroom library was organized? Explain.
I ask this question because I used to organize by genre but did not find success with it, so I switched it back to A-Z but with genre stickers. This question helps me ensure that the way it is organized meets the needs of my readers. 100% of student said they do like how it is organized–yay! Here are some examples:

  • I love how the classroom library is organized and it makes books really easy to find.
  • I think it’s nice but they really should give you a bigger room to fill with books.
  • I did like how the classroom library was organized. It was pretty easy to find books based on the last name of the author. It was also nice to have the stickers showing what genre it was and whether or not it was YA.

What would you say to a teacher who says independent reading is a waste of class time?

  • Maybe it’s just you who doesn’t like reading.
  • I would say that they need to understand that it’s a proven fact that the time spent reading is in direct correlation to higher test scores.
  • I would say to the teacher that they are wrong because independent reading have kids learn and have fun at the same time.
  • I would tell them they are wrong because there has been many studies done to prove that reading is fundamental.
  • This also is not a waste of time. It’s proven that kids who read around 20 minutes a day get in the 90% percentile on tests. Reading only benefits kids.
  • It’s actually the opposite. Independent reading, or just reading in general, can help with brain growth and increase skills that you may not even know you possess. Not reading doesn’t really effect you, but it can definitely benefit you a lot more than just reading 2 or 3 books in class with a teacher.
  • That they are really wrong, that reading is such a good thing for your body and mind, by reading you can explore and create a world of fiction, fantasy and more, and it’s better for you cause people don’t disturb you while you are reading, which is one of the worse things that happens in life. (for me)
  • “Shut your face.” (say it in my head because I don’t want to be rude)
  • Have you tried it?
  • Independent reading helps students to form ideas and inferences on their own. They can also learn more vocabulary if they have to figure it out themselves rather than being told.

What do you think the benefit of taking advanced reading is?
I want to make sure that my class is benefiting my students!

  • It’s a life altering class. So some of the benefits are well, everything.
  • You get to have fun with reading instead of reading something boring you don’t care about.
  • The benefit of taking advanced reading is that you get to know things that other kids who are not in advanced reading don’t know.
  • You read more, you get to learn about real life controversies and every side of it, and your language arts skills will improve.
  • I think the benefit of taking advanced reading is knowledge. By using the tools, resources, and skills Mrs. Moye has taught us, we are able to use this and put it into the work we do. We will forever be able to use affixes when reading, to compare/contrast a play and a text, and so much more.
  • Kids who don’t usually read can be exposed to a wormhole of books in your class and it can really become something different for them. So I think the biggest benefit of being in an advanced reading class is just, being given the chance to read.
  • I think the benefits of taking advanced reading is so you can be around books (duh ;P) and you get to have an extra class that’s related to language art (so when the teacher calls on you, you’ll be like “WOW ME!”). Also, your vocabulary will get better (which is REALLY helpful.)
  • You get to read more!
  • The benefit of taking advanced reading is that it really helps with reading and writing skills.
  • Advanced reading gives you the tools to think for yourself while reading and doing other activities.

What have you learned about yourself through the assignments in this class?

  • That I’m able to do things that I didn’t know I could do.
  • I think is that I should trust myself more with what I do and not second guess myself.
  • I use more advanced vocabulary than most my age.
  • I learned that I can do more things that I have thought if I really try.
  • I have learned that sometimes you just have to try stuff, even if it isn’t your favorite, because you’ll never know what might happen. I did some things that weren’t exactly my favorite, and I ended up loving them.
  • I learned that I should start reading more and to try harder.
  • That I sometimes need to push myself harder but that’s alright.
  • That I am a hard working and I should never give up and doubt myself.
  • That I can achieve greater things with reading and reading can make you happier and smarter.

What was your favorite assignment or activity we did in class? Why?

  • I really liked the book trailers; it let me express my feelings about the books that I love.
  • My favorite assignment that we did was the Pygmalion myth play and musical analysis one pager. This was my favorite because it was a great story and the one pager allowed me to be creative while also pushing me to dig deeper and pull out the important things.
  • My favorite activity was probably the weird but true facts. I learned a lot of weird facts and it was overall a really fun project that incorporated research.
  • I really enjoyed when we did the thought logs in class. It pushed me to read an entire book of which I wasn’t entirely that interested in. And once we finished the books and the logs, it became one of my favorites. As well as the fact that I was in a group with two other students who I had never really spoken to before then.
  • The book club because it was fun sharing yours and others people opinion of the same book that we were reading.
  • My favorite assignment or activity was the Civil Rights Timeline. It was fun to work with all the classes to create one big timeline we can all view. It was also fun to research our topics and learn about all the other topics.
  • Probably when we made the affixes to hang in the hallway to share with everyone.
  • The one where we had to guess who did that speech in a high school and it ended up being Obama.

Favorite Books My Students Read This Year

My students read A LOT again this year! My 47 Advanced Reading students read 1,657 books! That is an average of 35 books per student! I am so proud of them!


Here are the titles they listed as their favorites on our end of year survey:

Top Checked Out Books from my Classroom Library

Yearly, starting with 2012-2013 (and excluding 2013-2014), I have shared the most popular books in my classroom library:
2012-2013
2014-2015
2015-2016
2016-2017
2017-2018

From 2011-2013, I taught an intensive reading class with students who had not been successful on the state reading test. Now, since 2014, I switched to teaching advanced reading, an elective that students choose to be in (and I still get to work with my striving readers through being reading coach–a win/win!). Students from all intervention reading classes and my lunch book club as well as my classes use my classroom library.


1. Smile series by Raina Telgemeier
2. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
3. The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen
4. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
5. Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi


T-6. Track series by Jason Reynolds
T-6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
T-8. Embassy Row series by Ally Carter
T-8. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
10. Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey

T-11. Divergent series by Veronica Roth
T-11. House Arrest series by K.A. Holt
T-11. Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman
14. Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt


T-15. Legend series by Marie Lu
T-15. Renegades series by Marissa Meyer
T-15. The Young Elites series by Marie Lu
T-15. War Cross duology by Marie Lu

T-19. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
T-19. Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen
T-19. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Note 1: If a book is in a series, I placed the series at the spot of the highest ranked book from the series. This allows me to highlight more checked out books instead of listing all the different books from a series.

Note 2: I use Booksource’s Classroom Library to track my book checkouts, and my book checkout history does not reset yearly. Instead it counts for any student in the system. Since I have students that check out from me for up to 3 years, sometimes a book they checked out in 6th grade will still be counted when they are in 8th grade. I figure all of this will even out as 8th graders are removed each year since there is no way to change this setting.

Note 3: These series/books account for the top 40 checked out books of my classroom library!

Happy summer to all of my fellow teachers, and here’s to another awesome school year in the books!

P.S. Please continue to stop by on Tuesdays during summer as I share my STUDENT VOICES series of blog posts written by my students. 

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