Maximillian Villainous by Margaret Chiu Greanias


Maximillian Villainous
Author: Margaret Chiu Greanias
Illustrator: Lesley Breen Withrow
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018 by Running Press Kids

Summary: A humorous and important book about learning to follow your heart and proving that kindness can outweigh villainy any day.

Maximillian Villainous is a monster who doesn’t have the heart to be a villain. His famous family pulls pranks on the likes of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and Max spends his time undoing them. So when he brings home a bunny to be his sidekick, Max’s disapproving mother hatches a plan. She challenges Max and the bunny to become a devious duo; otherwise . . . the bunny hops. If they want to stay together, Max and the bunny have no choice but to go against their nature. They blunder into villainy with comical effect until Max discovers that embracing his good heart may just be the key to pulling off the most devious deed of all and winning his family’s acceptance.

Delightfully fun and irreverent, Maximillian Villainous is an empowering story about embracing one’s true self and finding acceptance. Up and coming illustrator Lesley Breen Withrow brings the characters to life with bold and colorful illustrations in a style reminiscent of Richard Scarry.

About the Creators: 

Margaret Greanias was inspired by her children’s love of the Despicable Me movies and all things Minion when writing Maximillian Villainous, her debut picture book. She lives with her husband, three children, and a fluffle of dust bunnies in the San Francisco Bay area.

Lesley Breen Withrow is the illustrator of several picture books, including You’re My Boo by Kate Dopirak and Bunny Bus by Ammi-Joan Paquette. Her artwork can also be seen on many products, including stationery collections and children’s games, toys, and apps. Lesley lives on beautiful Cape Cod with her family, a couple of crazy cats, and her daughters’ large and ever-growing collection of stuffed animals.

ReviewMaximillian’s story primarily focuses on someone being different than their family and how expectations set by others in the family may not fit what another person excels at. As a teacher, I wish I could read this book to so many people because I really struggle with parents and educators expect a kid to be a certain way because they know a sibling or a family member. That isn’t how it always works. I think this same theme could be used to talk about how expectations have to be differentiated in general, so I could actually see this story being used to talk to evaluators, leaders, etc. to talk about why Maximillian needed a change of assessment instead of the same as everyone else. Underlying, the message is that we can’t expect anyone to be anyway. Let them show you who they are and accept and love them as they are.

And all of these deep messages are within a funny story with fun illustrations about a monster who loves his bunny even though he is expected to be a villain.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Theme, theme, theme, theme!!! The author does a fabulous job writing a funny book that is just so perfect for talking about a lesson. The characterization of the Villainous family vs. Maximillian will allow for some fun compare/contrast and character trait activities as well. And this book definitely needs to join the empathy and community building read alouds–it will lead to some wonderful discussions and acceptance. Finally, I would love to see it used with teachers as a coaching tool to discuss the need to differentiate. Sometimes the directions we give need to be tweaked just a bit for certain kids, and we’ll get to see brilliance.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is Maximmillian different than the rest of his family?
  • How does his family react to his differences?
  • What does Maximillian prove by the end of the book?
  • How did Maximillian manipulate the situation to show his worth?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that something was unfairly expected of you?
  • What is the message of Maximillian’s story?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Monsters vs. Kittens by Dani Jones, Normal Norman by Tara Lazar, Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman

Recommended For: 



**Thank you to Running Press for providing a copy for review!**

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson


Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
Author: Stephanie Roth Sisson
Published: October 14, 2014 by Roaring Brook Press

A Guest Review by Brittany Brown

Summary: A curious boy living in a small city apartment finds the world astonishing. He wants to know about light bulbs, inch worms, and rocket ships. Carl sets out on a journey to find answers, but finds bigger, even more powerful questions. Through his research and studies, Carl eventually earns the title of Dr. Carl Sagan and spends his life seeking knowledge and understanding about the universe. This young

boy’s contributions to science and education have inspired many children everywhere to question the world around them. His story will resonate every child who has ever wondered “how” or “why” or spent an evening looking up at the night sky.

Review: I am constantly looking for books which will inspire my students and get them excited about learning. This book, which is brought to life with beautiful illustrations and the great mysteries of the universe, did that for myself as an adult, too. After reading it, everyday life is once again imbued with the magic and novelty it had in childhood. In Sagan’s eyes, there is no phenomenon too mundane to investigate. The curiosity which most adults leave behind drove Sagan to be the lifelong learner that all teachers hope to foster in their students. Reading this book shows that science is all around us, that we all belong here in the universe, and that in everyone there is a scientist. I absolutely loved reading this book, and as a new teacher building my classroom library, this is the first one which I will be purchasing multiple copies of to share with my students.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story would pair well with any science or biography unit. It would also serve as a great example of narrative nonfiction.

The most obvious use for this story is in a science unit. I would love to use this book to open up a discussion at the beginning of a unit on the solar system. Not only would it generate excitement, it would also begin to build some vocabulary and background knowledge. It would make the information in the unit more personal and relevant to kids, and would be a great launching point to encourage students to come up with their own questions about how the world works.

This book is also a wonderful book to use for mini lessons in writing. Using this book as an example, a teacher could lead a discussion on how to choose which life events to include in a biography, how to sequence and organize it, and how to incorporate quotes from a historical figure into a writing piece. It also shows how to include facts and achievements in an engaging way, and how to demonstrate a person’s impact on history.

Finally, this book would also be a superb example of narrative nonfiction. Despite containing lots of scientific facts, it reads like a storybook and the illustrations do much of the talking. Students will be captivated with the descriptive narration, and discussions could explore their experiences as readers or how they may be able to attempt this style in their writing.

Discussion Questions: What are your big mystery questions? Where would you go to try to find answers to them? What character traits helped Carl on his journey? What impact did he have on the world? Who does he remind you of?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada, I Wonder by Annaka Harris, You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Edros by Deborah Heiligman, Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, a Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh

Recommended For:

Thank you, Brittany!


Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain by Zaretta Hammond


culturally responsive teaching and the brain

Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
Author: Zaretta Hammond
Published: December 1, 2014 by Corwin

I’ve read about a dozen professional development texts about culturally responsive teaching because I am very committed to this pedagogical concept. I particularly liked this text because it offered a new angle. Zaretta Hammond weaves neuroscience with both traditional and contemporary ideas of culturally responsive teaching. She doesn’t just say how we can practice this pedagogy, but she tells what is happening in students’ brains when we do and do not use culturally responsive practices. Hammond provides an excellent layout for her ideas, and if anything, I would even love for some of the chapters and ideas to be expanded further. That said, her work connects well with other scholarship, so I would likely use this text in an education class and pair it with another more traditional text about the subject, such as Geneva Gay’s landmark Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice.

I was fortunate enough to read this text with preservice teachers enrolled in a Multicultural Education class. While I have much experience with the ideas taught in this class, I am taking the course as a doctoral student with the intention of integrating the ideas into future courses I might teach. Therefore, from my discussions with peers, I have gotten an insider perspective of this text and how it might work in a classroom. They have enjoyed it very much. It is not a long text (falling just under 200 pages), but the ideas promote fantastic classroom discussions. Our discussion boards have been brimming with students’ thoughts, and there is no shortage of topics to discuss. I include a few topics I’ve discussed below.

As stated previously, Hammond discusses some of the main ideas featured in other culturally responsive texts. She argues that culturally responsive pedagogy is a mindset–not an easy list of tips or tools. However, she does provide many strategies, such as how to make our classrooms visually engaging and responsive to students. Instead of stock posters of MLK, Jr., she argues that teachers might include framed art from different cultures. I liked this idea a lot and agree that it is more culturally responsive. She also discusses the differences between cultures, such as oral versus written traditions and the role these play on student learning. She addresses myths, such as those about poverty and access and colorblindness.

A few chapters into the book, Hammond begins to introduce neuroscience and marries these concepts with culturally responsive practices. For instance, she describes the ways an individual’s brain reacts with the student feels fearful versus feeling accepted. This reminded me a bit of my 7th grade science class. I had a teacher who was quite cruel to me and very strict, overall. I don’t think I learned very much in that class because my brain felt a bit frozen. Then I think about all of the wonderful teachers I’ve had who were very open and accepting. I think I learned twice as much in these classrooms, and it shows the value of creating responsive rapport with students.

I could write pages upon pages about this book. It would be a disservice for me to summarize some of her sections, such as how the neurons in your brain fire, create new pathways, and connect to culture or the ways individualistic and collectivist positionings differ or how microaggressions impact students. So instead of summarizing and commenting on the whole book, I will recommend that you read it. It is excellent. The text offers ideas that are quite different from others I’ve seen about the topic. Hammond fills a gap in research that needed to be filled, and I look forward to reading other publications by her.

Which culturally responsive texts are your favorite?


Reading Workshop 2.0 by Frank Serafini


reading workshop 2.0

Reading Workshop 2.0
Author: Frank Serafini
Published March 26th, 2015 by Heinemann Educational Books

Goodreads Summary: As reading teachers, how do we deal with the massive shifts that digital literacy is creating? We can’t abandon what we know works to keep up with the latest online-literacy fads. Yet, we need to prepare readers for a world of digital content. Reading Workshop 2.0 gives us teaching that puts reading for meaning first while also balancing the need for kids to become sophisticated users of books as well as online reading resources.

“This book,” writes Frank Serafini, “is designed to help teachers organize their reading workshops in order to take advantage of the latest technologies.” With his guidance, you’ll bring more digital reading into your teaching without sacrificing sound instructional principles or practices. Reading print shares four essential processes with digital reading: accessing and navigating; archiving and sharing; commenting and discussing; and interpreting and analyzing.

Frank introduces important, well-established digitally based resources that further these processes, while his lesson ideas transfer learning from classroom to real-world digital reading.

“If it doesn’t help children develop as readers,” writes Frank Serafini, “it doesn’t matter how shiny the new object is.” With Reading Workshop 2.0, you’ll help students with print while also helping them use online resources and technologies as they are intended-to make sense of texts more deeply, effectively, and efficiently.

My Thoughts: When I read a professional text, I hope that it is a perfect mix of theory and practical practices so that not only do I understand the WHY and WHAT but also the HOW. This book does just that. Part One of the text deals with the foundations of reading workshop. Dr. Serafini shares a brief overview of what can be found in his initial book about workshop, The Reading Workshop: Creating Space for Readers, including the “Ten Theoretical Principles About Teaching Reading,” “Pedagogical Strands” of reading workshop, and “Instructional Components of the Reading Workshop.” As I haven’t read any other texts by Dr. Serafini, I loved this overview (this will be fixed soon though as I have now bought 4 others books by him!). Throughout this part of the book, I found myself thinking, “YES!” and wanting to go share what I was reading with every teacher I knew. He writes about much of what I stand for when it comes to teaching reading.

Part two jumps into the 2.0 part of the text. He breaks up this part into four processes that should be added to reading workshop to move it into the digital age: “Accessing and Navigating Digital Texts,” “Archiving and Sharing Our Reading Lives,” “Commenting on and Discussing Digital Texts,” and “Interpreting and Analyzing Digital Texts.” He stresses throughout that this isn’t instead of reading workshop, this is along with. Students must get familiar with digital texts, so our workshops really need to move to 2.0. Within each chapter on a process, he gives information, resources, and explicit lessons for teaching the process. So informative and practical.

Loved this expansion on the traditional reading workshop. Filled with theory, resources, and practical practices, this PD text was very beneficial!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Dr. Serafini has “Resources for Supporting Readers in the Digital Age” on his website that he will update regularly.

We Flagged: There is so much highlighting and underlining in my text that it is hard to choose what to share, but one of my favorite foundational things that was said was:

“Time is the second dimension of the opportunity strand–time to read, time to share ideas, time to wonder, and time to explore new texts. We cannot master something we don’t dedicate our time to, it’s that simple.”

Dr. Serafini joined #rwworkshop (reading/writing workshop) chat on August 5th, and really gave us great insight into his text and moving reading workshop to the digital era. Check out the archive at the #rwworkshop wiki

Read This If You Loved: Other texts by Dr. Frank Serafini, Nancie Atwell texts, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, Book Love by Penny Kittle,


The Holocaust: A Concise History by Doris L. Bergen


NF PB 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

This week, I did not review a picture book. This text, however, is an incredibly informative nonfiction text that will help teachers and students who are learning about the Holocaust. I wanted to feature it on Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday because this is a topic that is taught in classrooms with students of all ages.


The Holocaust: A Concise History
Author: Doris L. Bergen
Published September 16, 2009 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

GoodReads Summary: In examining one of the defining events of the twentieth century, Doris Bergen situates the Holocaust in its historical, political, social, cultural, and military contexts. Unlike many other treatments of the Holocaust, this history traces not only the persecution of the Jews, but also other segments of society victimized by the Nazis: Gypsies, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet POWs, the disabled, and other groups deemed undesirable. With clear and eloquent prose, Bergen explores the two interconnected goals that drove the Nazi German program of conquest and genocide purification of the so-called Aryan race and expansion of its living space and discusses how these goals affected the course of World War II. Including illustrations and firsthand accounts from perpetrators, victims, and eyewitnesses, the book is immediate, human, and eminently readable.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I read this in preparation for a Teaching the Holocaust Workshop I attended.

I felt a gamut of emotions while reading this important text: anger, disappointment, disgust, and utter sadness. Bergen excellently balances the timeline of the Holocaust in this concise book of fewer than 300 pages. While many books that are taught in schools focus on concentration camps during the Holocaust, Bergen provides a wealth of information of the events both pre-war and post-war. I appreciated the ways in which she dispelled many myths that exist in books, textbooks, and the media. I’ve read over a hundred books about this time period, and while I considered myself an expert, this book was humbling to me. I was unaware of many aspects of the Holocaust that Bergen described, and she situates herself as an expert (and rightfully so, as she has received accolades for her work regarding the time period). I believe all teachers of history and English/language arts (at a minimum) should read this text. Moreover, it would pair well with any fiction or narrative nonfiction about the time period because it gives context of the events. Teachers might elect to use short portions to inform students and contextualize events in history.

I Recommed This Book If You: Teach any book that is set during the Holocaust

Recommended For: 

closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall  classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations, and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher, Edited by Judith A. Hayn and Jeffrey S. Kaplan


Teaching Young Adult Literature Today

Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations, and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher
Edited by Judith A. Hayn and Jeffrey S. Kaplan
Published: March 15th 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 

GoodReads Summary: Teaching Young Adult Literature Today introduces the reader to what is current and relevant in the plethora of good books available for adolescents. More importantly, literary experts illustrate how teachers everywhere can help their students become lifelong readers by simply introducing them to great reads smart, insightful, and engaging books that are specifically written for adolescents. Hayn, Kaplan, and their contributors address a wide range of topics: how to avoid common obstacles to using YAL; selecting quality YAL for classrooms while balancing these with curriculum requirements; engaging disenfranchised readers; pairing YAL with technology as an innovative way to teach curriculum standards across all content areas. Contributors also discuss more theoretical subjects, such as the absence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young adult literature in secondary classrooms; and contemporary YAL that responds to the changing expectations of digital generation readers who want to blur the boundaries between page and screen.

Review: This informative text is divided into the sections, “Where Has YAL Been?,” “Where is YAL Now?” and “Where is YAL Going?” I very much appreciated the expertise of the scholars who wrote each chapter. 

While each chapter was organized a bit differently, the research is solid. In one chapter, Laura A. Renzi, Mark Letcher, and Kristen Miraglia discuss LGBTQ Young Adult Literature in the Language Arts Classroom. I appreciated their recommendations for infusing LGBTQ texts into the school setting with recommendations tailored to the range of community environments: hostile, ignorant/open, open/accepting, and open. The texts were well-matched with the aims of bringing LGBTQ texts into focus. 

Another chapter I loved was “Crossing Boundaries: Genre-Blurring in Books for Young Adults” by Barbara A. Ward, Terrell A. Young, and Deanna Day. They give solid examples of authors who blur genres, making readers question genre classifications as a whole. These authors show the awesomely innovative authorship within the field of YAL.

Steven T. Bickmore writes a well-informed chapter about best-selling adult novelists who write YA fiction. He divides his piece into two sections–writers of adult best-sellers or pulp fiction and writers with literary accolades in adult fiction. I very much enjoyed his insight about this phenomenon. 

While I only highlight three chapters in this review, I must say that each chapter was special in its own way. The book begins with the history and background of YAL, and it ends with chapters about where the field is heading. As a researcher of this field, some of the information was not new to me, yet I learned much from the scholars of the text, whose extensive research is reflected in each chapter.

We Flagged: “[T]eachers need to gain insider perspectives by reading the books presented to their students. As a result, a wider range of quality adolescent literature will reach the hands of adolescents, and teachers will become increasingly confident about the merits of teaching with YAL”(Elliott-Johns, Chapter 3, Teachers as Readers of YAL section).

Read This If You Loved: Articles from The ALAN Review, Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century by Pam B. Cole, Literature for Today’s Young Adults by Alleen Nilsen & Ken Donelson


Teaching Critical Theory to ALL Students


Critical Encounters in High School English

Commentary on Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents

This professional development text made me reconsider my teaching philosophy. I’ve used lenses before. In my college credit course (for high school students), I asked students to use nonfiction and fiction as lenses to view other texts. It felt academic, and I believe my students benefited from this skill, but Appleman takes theory a step beyond what I was doing. As a graduate of English Education, critical theory was familiar to me, but I always felt as if I had to teach theory in a hidden way. We talked about gender, but I never told students they were using critical theory.

For most teachers, critical theory is important for advanced placement, high school English classrooms. Appleman provides scaffolding and proves that theory can be used in grades 6-12 and for all levels. Her materials are accessible and engaging.

According to Appleman, teachers should use literary theory as critical lenses to help students understand the ideologies inherent in texts (p. 3) and use skills of reading and writing to come learn about the world (p. 2).  When students read, there are multiple contexts at play, and she provides theoretical grounding and examples of various lenses for teachers: reader response, privilege and social class, gender, post colonialism, and deconstruction. Each lens has its own chapter in her book.

Students bring their own contexts to their reading of a text, so using critical theory allows them to view the literature through a different lens. Reading, interpretation and criticism are all important skills, and too often, teachers “relegate only the reading to students” (p. 6), and through Appleman’s suggestions, we give students authority and power.

No matter how uncomfortable it feels, students should learn to question the notion of a single truth and show the multiplicities that exist in reading. “Meanings are constructed; we create meanings that are influenced by who we are and what we are culturally; historically; psychologically; and, in the case of the Baker version of Miss Muffet, vocationally” (p. 20). Reading allows students to gain perspective of other lenses and theories, but also of their own lives, where the text acts as an equal partner with the reader (p. 31).

There are a plethora of activities and lessons for teachers in the appendix of the book. This book is extremely practical, and I felt as if I could immediately employ the ideas in the classroom, given the resources Appleman provides. I highly recommend this text to teachers.