Summer Book Recommendations

Instead of posting my summer book recommendations for you, I’m directing you to my friend Tracie’s blog because she’s a teacher-librarian. She’s reading her way through 60 books this calendar year and includes 18 of them in the post I linked.

I haven’t read all of the books Tracie reviews, but I would definitely echo her recommendations of Wishtree and The 57 Bus. Both of these are YA books but with messages meant for all ages. Here is a New York Times article with some background about the fire on Bus 57 in Oakland.

I want to find a way to bring this story into my classroom because I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. Students have confided in me they are gay or bisexual, but I felt like this was the first book that really helped me understand asexual and the difference in gender vs. sex. If you don’t know what questions to ask and want to read a piece of history, this book will grab your heart, give you a look at the criminal justice system, and remind you just how important it is to have compassion for every single person you meet.

Favorite Books of 2017

My reading goal for 2017 was 40 books. I made it with little time to spare.

I rated 11 books 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

Out of all of these, I’m not sure I can pick an overall favorite. However, A Man Called Ove is a fantastic story, and I’ve read a few rumors about Tom Hanks starring in an American remake of the movie. Add it to your list.

Master the Media

I found out about Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-In World from the journalism teachers I follow on Twitter. I was pretty excited when a copy of the book was included in my registration bag at the IHSPA (Iowa High School Press Association) Conference in Iowa City back in October.

This book is impressive for so many reasons.

First of all, as an educator, get ready to be blown away. All of the standards each chapter meets are in a QR code at the end of each chapter. Whoa! I can only dream my class materials could be this organized and my curriculum that aligned.

Another reason I loved this book is that I’m passionate about the material. I would love to fit this book into my already existing journalism class, but time is limited. I’m honestly contemplating taking out existing content to make room for more of the present day material this book explores.

Chapters include Television, Music, Film, News, Books, Advertising, The Internet, and Political Media. The messages are about bias in the news and how the job of a news station is not to be loyal or fair. The job is to provide content people want to watch so that advertisers will pay for time on their station.

“We can’t change the message or the sender, but we can educate the receiver.”

No part of this book suggests being less plugged-in. It simply explains the importance of educating students to think critically when consuming information.

“In 1983, fifty companies owned ninety percent of the media. Today only SIX companies own nearly ninety percent of the media products we consume. Media is a business.”

What does this mean? Just as I tell my students over and over, the media is powerful. These companies have the power to control our culture by what they cover and what they do not. They do not owe the consumer any favors. It’s up to us to educate people how to think critically.

Afterall, if what you’re consuming is free, you’re the product being sold.

Lately I’ve Been…

Praying: For people suffering the aftermath of natural disasters. I can’t even imagine.

Feeling: Proud of John who decided he wanted to add yet another degree to his resume. He is currently taking classes for his MBA. This is an online program, so a majority of the work happens after Elijah is in bed at night.

Reading: The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. I’ve also been reading a lot of articles about President Trump’s administration and how it is similar to President Nixon because I’m teaching about Watergate. “Modern Day Watergate” allows for an easy real-world connection for this journalism unit.

Loving: The time period after Elijah has a bath and before he goes to bed every night. Combine the cuteness of this clean boy in his animal print pajamas and his snuggling with a blanket and books, and my heart overflows.

Listening: To the podcast Up and Vanished. Thanks to my friend Tracie for this investigative true crime recommendation. If you listen, please admit the creepy voiced friend gives you chills.

Drinking: Starbucks Pike Place plus pumpkin. Hello, falling leaves.

Buying: Warmer clothing for Elijah. Although it’s going to 90 degrees today, I know he’ll need pants and long sleeve shirts very soon. I’m also shopping for new running shoes, but I don’t like any of the current Brooks designs. I’m against spending $100+ for ugly shoes.

Enjoying: Time on the trail. Whether I’m running or leisurely walking with Elijah, the falling leaves over the gravel of the trail make me appreciate living in state with four seasons (even if I only like three of them).

Planning: Presentations for a few upcoming conferences. I’m presenting at one conferences in October and one in November. These will take me to Des Moines and Dallas. I’m thrilled for the opportunity, but it definitely comes with a lot of work. More to come on these professional development goals.

What are you praying for, feeling, reading, loving, listening to, drinking, buying, enjoying, and/or planning?

Reluctant Readers

I spent a few days last week taking a class to “Reach the Reluctant Reader”. One of my academic goals each year is to be a better teacher to my freshmen reading students. This class is the best example that one size does not fit all. One year I had five students and the next I had 14. It’s unpredictable. When every student comes in at different reading levels, choosing text to practice the strategies I’m teaching is extremely tough. It’s also hard to plan when I don’t know the reading level of my students until we’re a good week or more into the school year.

One of the things I learned when I was getting my master’s degree is that so many books with low reading levels are also low interest. While a struggling reader may be able to read and comprehend them, the content is for an elementary student. No high schooler should have to carry around a chapter book meant for a third grader just because authors haven’t written books that are age appropriate for that student’s reading level. My job is to find text appropriate for them at every level while teaching them strategies they can take and apply to all areas of literacy. We often read social studies text for this purpose. There is a lot of reading in a social studies class.

The class I took included many hours of book talks from the instructor. She brought along books of every genre and every age group and explained when and why certain books would be best for specific audiences. There were roughly 30 teachers in the class ranging from kindergarden-high school.

One of the books she had on display grabbed my attention. I’ll Always Write You Back is a non-fiction duel memoir of an American student and a student from Zimbabwe who become pen pals. This relationship drastically changes their lives. Although some of the book includes the letters they shared, it’s more about documenting their cultural differences while still trying keep one thing the same- being teenagers.

After skimming the teacher’s copy of this book, I got my hands on a copy from the library the next day. I read it quickly, and I’ve decided to use it in my classroom this fall. The Common Core is pressing for more non-fiction, and this book hits so many targets that help transform a reluctant reader including: low reading level, high interest, one male and one female character, and age appropriate plots.

Another big component of the class was stressing the importance of reading aloud to students of all ages. It convinced me that I’ll read I’ll Always Write You Back aloud to my freshmen this year.

Do you remember teachers reading aloud to you? Do you remember the books they read? I specifically remember my 2nd grade teacher always reading aloud Super Fudge (Judy Blume) books. My 3rd grade teacher read Bunnicula aloud, and my 7th grade teacher read The Outsiders. It was during The Outsiders unit in 7th grade when I decided I wanted to teach high school English. I’m a believer that reading aloud to students of all ages has a huge positive impact.

Elijah: God’s Miracle Man

Remember this post about naming Elijah?

These photos are so special to me. For awhile we had this book propped up on Elijah’s nightstand where it could be displayed but he wouldn’t rip the pages. Since it was set away from his other books, he often asked for it. I always let him look at it, and finally just let him carry it around the house and add it to his other books. After all, it’s meant to be read, studied, shared.

Without prompting from us, Elijah looks through this book. It always catches me off guard because it’s not flashy like his other favorite books about animals or trucks. It also has a lot of words for a kid’s book.

I finally snapped some photos of Elijah reading this special book. It’s so sweet to see tiny hands flip pages of a book.

Someday he’ll understand when I explain how his dad and I prayed while reading this book on Easter Sunday 2016. Many tears have touched the pages of that book.

God takes care of us, Elijah. He took care of you then and he takes care of you now.

“Elijah loved and served God. Everywhere he went, God used him to perform amazing miracles…”


While reading the book Tribes by Seth Godin, I dog-eared a lot of page with statements that spoke to me. Since I’ve since passed the book to John, I wanted to record those important points here. This read fired me up to challenge the status quo. The world doesn’t need more managers, it needs more leaders.

“It turns out that the people who like their jobs the most are also the ones who are doing the best work, making the greatest impact, and changing the most.”

“Skill and attitude are essential. Authority is not, In fact, authority can get in the way.”

“How can I create something that critics will criticize?”

“The difference between backing off and doing nothing may appear subtle, but it’s not. A leader who backs off is making a commitment to the power of the tribe, and is alert to the right moment to step back in. Someone who is doing nothing is merely hiding. Leadership is a choice. It’s a choice to not do nothing.”

“The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.”

“If your organization requires success before commitment, it will never have either.”

“Movements need: 1. A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build. 2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe. 3. Something to do- the fewer limits the better.”

“People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves. What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.”

Have you read anything by Seth Godin? He’s a new author for me, but I’m definitely excited to read more of his books.

Summer Reading Suggestions

My bags for vacation aren’t packed, but two books are set aside ready to travel. #priorities My beach reads include A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’m looking forward to good books, good coffee, and a gorgeous view. John and I are headed to Huntington Beach to celebrate summer and our anniversary.

If you find yourself with the need for a good book this summer, here are a few suggestions:

  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
  • We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines
  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Suggestions from 2016

Suggestions from 2015

Also, I have to tell you about a recent book I read as part of an educator book club. The club moderator, Aaron Maurer, picked the book. He was spot on despite the title. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is not geared toward educators but rather people who simply want their lives to matter. Once I moved beyond the title and the first chapter, where the f-word was used way too frequently, I found some great advice in this book. Here are a few quotes that stood out to me while reading:



  • “Happiness is not a solvable equation.”
  • “The question is not whether we evaluate ourselves against others; rather the questions is by what standards do we measure ourselves?”
  • “That’s simply reality: if it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are it’s really just you versus yourself.”

I suggest reading this book but removing the book jacket first…but then again, maybe you don’t give a f*ck if other people judge your book choices.

Happy Reading!

The Magnolia Story

I don’t buy very many books because I have a hard time justifying the cost when the library is full of books I haven’t read. The library didn’t have The Magnolia Story, and I’m glad I splurged.

If you’re not familiar with Chip and Joanna, they star in HGTV’s show Fixer Upper. The show follows these two as they help someone else find a home and remodel it to be their dream house. Their renovations are incredible! They are located in Waco, Texas with their four young children.

Even if home remodeling isn’t your thing, this book has an element for every reader. It is mostly told from Joanna’s perspective, but some chapters are all Chip. These two share their love story among all the challenges it took running a business and flipping homes. The financial struggles these two overcame is almost as inspiring as the advice Joanna offers to couples and mothers. The irony of this TV couple is that they have never owned a TV in their home. They were given marriage advice to live the first six months of marriage without one, and they’ve never turned back. The stories of Joanna talking about raising their children and watching Chip be a dad had me laughing out loud. Joanna even inspired me to clean out one of my kitchen cabinets and devote it to whatever Elijah wants to throw in there, even if that means him crawling in and out of it.

The other element I love about this book is their faith and trust in God. Through the struggles and among the blessings and fame, these two praise God.

The show highlights how much energy these two provide to one another while working side-by-side. The book is honest and inspires even more passion for life from the reader.

If you’re looking for a glimpse into their story, here is a blog post from 2012 on Design Mom that features Joanna and their beautiful home.

My college housemate lives in Waco, Texas, and a visit is overdue. I’m adding a trip to the Silos and Magnolia Market to my travel plans if we can ever coordinate our schedules.

Favorite Children’s Books

Books were a part of Elijah’s life before he was even here to enjoy them.

I shared the exciting news to John that I was pregnant with Elijah by giving him children’s books about kids and their dads. These are now a part of Elijah’s bookshelf collection, and they make me smile knowing the meaning behind the gifts.

In addition, John’s coworkers surprised him with a book shower last winter. They loved explaining which book they picked and why. We love books, and I’m giddy Elijah will actually sit still and look at the pictures. My hope is that by including books in his life every single day, he’ll find joy in reading in the years to come.

At eleven months old, there are two books that keep Elijah’s attention: Goodnight Gorilla and Dear Zoo. Any other book and he’s squirming away, but these two hold his attention. This amazes me!

I try to buy books as gifts for nieces and nephews but always worry about giving duplicates. What are your favorite children’s books or what books are favorites in your house?