My Favorite Titles of 2021

It’s December 31st, and one of my 2022 resolutions is to start using this blog more, so why not start today!? 

I’m proud to say that I read over 130 books this year, and I noticed some interesting changes in my reading habits. To start, almost 40% of what I read was nonfiction, which is up from about 15% last year. I attribute some of this to a book club I am a part of, but I also just pushed myself to read more nonfiction, after reflecting on how much I enjoy it. I also got back into listening to audiobooks, so listening to Spotify took a hit in 2021. That’s okay though, for two of my favorite books this year were audiobooks about favorite musicians. Other titles were by favorite authors, many titles were about reckoning with America’s past, and one was by a debut author that shook me with her powerful words. Overall, another great year of reading!

So, here are my top ten titles of 2021 (in no particular order):

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for anyone who didn’t read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

It’s 1989, and Aristotle Mendoza and Dante Quintana are back for their senior year of high school. As the school year begins, Ari is learning to open himself up more to those around him. Ari is no longer the scared, angry teen who tries to stay invisible, and coming to terms with that is difficult. He begins connecting with his father, who tells him about his time in Vietnam, and the girls that used to hate and annoy Ari, Gina and Susie, soon become new friends. Dante means everything to him, but their strong love for one another scares Ari, for what will happen after senior year? Woven throughout the story is the AIDS pandemic that affects their community, and a wide variety of characters that either struggle with their cultural identity or commit racist acts. As Ari‘s relationships continue to thrive despite all he goes through, a heartbreaking moment shatters him in unimaginable ways.

I didn’t know that it was possible to love this book as much as this first one, but I did. I left the first needing Ari and Dante’s story to continue, and this book did just that. Ari and Dante’s love is beautiful and real, and the supporting cast—especially the Mendozas and Quintanas—were such beautiful people in their own right. Tears will flow for this tender tale, but they’ll be worth it. Again, Sáenz’s gorgeous prose will keep you from putting this book down. Readers will gain so much insight about the world from Ari and Dante, and they’ll treasure every minute of it. I know I did. 

The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee

Heather McGhee, an expert in economic and social policy, shares with readers why the American economy often fails its people. After extensive research into many aspects of it, she found one root problem: racism. Though many of us many not realize it, over centuries, racism has seeped into every aspect of our lives. They’re all interconnected, from public education to integration to the housing market. The question is, can we fix it? McGhee argues yes. She introduces the zero-sum policy–the idea that progress for some people must come at the expense of others–and proves it wrong. Racism not only hurts people of color, but also white people too. McGhee’s compassionate, yet honest, account introduces us to the tremendous challenges our country still faces. Racism has cost us so much, but she reminds us that there is reason for hope. We can still prosper together, and honestly, we have no other choice right now. “We need to refill the public pool of goods for everyone.”

Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden

Meet Libby. She’s an budding artist who is tired of most people—teachers, classmates, and neighbors—assuming she is a bully just like the rest of her family. In fact, Libby is far from it, and she knows it. To prove it to herself, she starts using her artistic ability to make colorful notecards with positive messages, and leaves them for others to find. Little does she know that her words set off a chain reaction that will lift up three other kids who need her encouragement at that time. 

What a fabulous story that is so necessary right now! Libby and the other three kids are all unique and imperfect, but there’s so much to love about each of them. This book inspired my own kids, and some of my students, to make our own notecards of inspiration.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl. SO much to say about one of my all-time favorite musicians. He has such talent. He taught himself the drums, then became the drummer for the punk band Scream, and afterward Nirvana. Just months after losing Kurt, he put his heart and soul into a new album, singing and playing pretty much every instrument. This became the first Foo Fighters album. His talents are not just music-related. He is a gifted writer, which can be seen in his various songs and in this book. (I plan to use one of these stories/essays in my classroom.) He is a loving son who’d do anything for his mother, including introducing her to Neil Diamond. He’s a devoted dad, who traveled across the globe just to go with his two oldest daughters to their father-daughter dance. He’s a fabulous friend and band mate, someone who puts people before earning a buck. Now I know he’s a brilliant writer, and an insanely funny and humble man. I found myself laughing aloud and shedding tears. 

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Cash Pruitt lives in Sawyer, Tennessee, a small town filled with gorgeous rivers and rolling hills, but also addiction. He already lost his mother to drugs, and his beloved Papaw is slowly dying from emphysema. Addiction did create one positive in his life though: Delaney Doyle. A scientist at heart, and a true genius, Delaney teaches Cash so much about the world, and he provides a distraction from her addict mother. They are still each other’s lifelines. On one of their trips into the wild, Delaney makes a scientific discovery that changes their lives: she earns both Cash and herself full scholarships to a Connecticut boarding school. Deciding to go, Cash can’t help but wonder what this school will do for him. His experience ends up being more than he ever could have imagined.

I cried more times than I could count. Jeff Zentner has a remarkable talent for creating realistic, lovely, unforgettable characters. I loved the friendship of the foursome—Cash, Delaney, Vi, and Alex—Papaw, Mamaw, and I adored Cash’s connection with Dr. Adkins, and poetry. (I have 4 pages of poetry quotes alone that I can’t wait to share with students!) Love and death are woven into this story in a variety of ways, and I enjoyed seeing that Zentner snuck his other books into this one.

The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege by Brendan Kiely

Most children of color get “the talk” when they are young—how to speak and behave around police and other people with authority and power. In this book, author Brendan Kiely has “the other talk” with his white readers about racism and white privilege. He reminds readers that we need this talk again and again, for it’s only when we listen—really listen—that we can learn, and then show up and speak out about it racism and other forms of injustice. 

Brendan’s “other talk” is exactly what young white teens need. As a former teacher, and an award-winning author who’s traveled the country to speak with teens, his honesty and friendly tone will hook his audience. They’ll feel comfortable reading about people and events in history one moment, and then how Brendan made his own mistakes the next. This combination proves how we all can learn from history to then do better. 

This is a must-read for every white person, teens and adults. I listened Brendan—really listened—and will continue to do so. Every single day. Only with that constant learning will I be able to “show up and speak out.”

17-year-old Maverick Carter is the proud son of King Lord legend, Adonis Carter. Lil’ Don, as he’s known around Garden Heights, has his smart, beautiful girlfriend, Lisa, and a cousin, Dre, who’s more like a brother. Life in the Garden isn’t easy though. Maverick doesn’t really want to sell drugs, for his father is in prison and he doesn’t want that same future, but once he finds out he’s a father himself, he doesn’t have much of a choice. He’s got to provide for his son, for money is tight at home, even with his mother working two jobs. After getting a part-time job at a local store that’s run by his neighbor, Mr. Wyatt, he starts realizing that being a King Lord is keeping him from being the man he wants to be, and who his girlfriend wants. But you can’t just leave the King Lords, and Mr. Wyatt doesn’t pay as much as selling drugs does. But just when Maverick thinks he has a plan, a murder in the Garden changes everything. 

I finished within 24 hours! Maverick’s story is beautiful, powerful, and oh so important. I loved seeing all of these connections to The Hate U Give, and even to another author’s book as well (see if you can find it). The Hate U Give still needs to be read first. You’ll fall in love with Big Mav, and have that much more sympathy for him when he makes mistakes, and sometimes learns from them, in this book.

Will by Will Smith with Mark Manson

In his memoir, Will Smith shares everything from being the funny kid in West Philadelphia (born and raised) in constant fear of disappointing others, to the first rapper to win a Grammy, to becoming the “biggest movie star in the world.” Readers get an inside look at Will’s various relationships, from his demanding, sometimes abusive father, to his relationship with Jada and his three kids. Through it all, Will just wanted to be the biggest and the best, but it still wasn’t enough. Will dealt with inner demons, often struggling to focus on his emotions and instead put on a show. Follow Will on his journey of self-discovery. You’ll connect with him more than you ever thought possible.

**I recommend listening to the audiobook for this one, since Will reads it himself!

When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris

Jayson “Jay” Murphy knows how people like him are viewed. When you look like him—brown skin, braids, same hoodie everyday—everyone believes you’re trouble. So when his older sister Nicole goes missing, no one seems to care. Living in public housing and having the local drug dealer for a boyfriend must mean she deserved whatever happened to her, right? Yes, life has been tough for Jay and his sister, with their father passing away from cancer and their mother drinking her way into prison, but they have their fabulous, loving grandmother, MiMi, who has been there for them every step of the way. After feeling guilty about blowing his sister off on the night she disappeared, Jay sets out to bring her home.

What an important story. Pamela N. Harris reminds readers that we can’t believe the racial stereotypes our country has created. People from certain neighborhoods, like the Ducts, are people too. They need to be seen, and with this book they can be.

How the Word Is PassedA Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

Clint Smith begins his debut nonfiction title by reminding his readers that there is a need to remember our nation’s history. Starting in New Orleans, Smith leads readers on a tour of various plantations, monuments, graveyards, and landmarks, all of which have a past. Through interviews, we meet some people who are honest about America’s past and those that are not. Entwined with the interviews is Smith’s extensive research, which, when put together with the interviews, teach readers how slavery has been key in shaping our country’s past, present, and ourselves as Americans. Even if I had never read Clint Smith’s poetry, which I have read and loved, I would have known he was a poet at heart. His writing is melodic, and I quickly fell into a rhythm reading it. I loved how he organized the book into the different places he visited, for I felt like I was on a journey with him. What an important and powerful read! 

Best Books of the 2020-2021 School Year (According to My Students)

This may have been a tough school year for a wide variety of reasons, but my students had a fabulous year of reading! I learned a lot about what they love (Manga, mystery, and books about real world issues), and updated my classroom library accordingly. They read hundreds of books, and enjoyed recommending titles to peers. The list below includes all of their favorites (arranged alphabetically).

NOTE: Many of these titles were nominated more than once.

  • Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Swing by Kwame Alexander
  • Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft
  • My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi
  • Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson
  • Grown by Tiffany Jackson
  • This Is My America by Kim Johnson
  • Home Body by Rupi Kaur
  • Pet Sematary by Stephen King
  • Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  • Bleach by Time Kubo
  • A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah Maas
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
  • Renegades by Marissa Meyer
  • Batman: Year One by Frank Miller
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
  • Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
  • One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
  • Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina
  • The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
  • Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
  • They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
  • Winger by Andrew Smith
  • All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat
  • Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

We Still Have Opportunities

So many people are anxiously awaiting the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

But, what if we saw these last ten weeks as an opportunity? An opportunity to change how we all see school.

What if teachers focused on building relationships? I mean really listen and learn from our students. Hearing their fears, likes, and dislikes can guide what we teach. It starts with surveys, conferences, and discussions, but continues with making that consistent time for listening in our plans. Once our children share, we must do something about it.

What if, instead of telling students what to read, we let them choose? A book that makes them want to read. If we don’t have books in our classrooms, we can take them to the library, or bring the library to them. We can start by asking about topics that interest them, or books they’ve loved in the past, and go from there. Let them read at their own pace and enjoy what they have in front of them. To see how their books are going, we can simply ask.

What if, once they start reading, we let them choose how they share their thinking? That means no teacher-created questions, but instead encourage them use their notebooks to write or sketch what stood out to them (see my samples below). Then we can see what mattered to them. We can encourage their thinking instead of the hunt-and-peck approach, for we want to see what they are getting out of their books, not whether or not they can find what we teachers deem important.

What if we also made time for students to choose what they write about? Let them take ideas that mattered to them, and see where they go. Maybe it will be a story, or maybe a poem. Why not just let them write and see where it goes? That writing volume will go up, and students will still learn, for writing is the true teacher.

What if we then give our children the chance to talk with one another? They can share their writing, or what they’re reading, with their classmates instead of just us teachers. We may have to teach them how to have these conversations, but it will be worth it. If in-class conversations are not possible, we have Flipgrid and other technologies available.

What if, most importantly, we focused on bringing joy into our classroom? There is so much negativity in the world right now, and I’m not saying we should ignore it, but why turn our classrooms into a place of positivity? A safe place where students matter.

Time to Pay Attention

I am not a fan of the dentist. I’m sure most people aren’t, but for me, the dentist equals pain. Trauma.

Today, when I had to get a cavity filled, I was scared. Shaking-in-my-seat scared. So when I saw the dentist bring the needle of novocaine to my mouth, I immediately ventured back to a dental surgery where I needed 8-10 shots. Tears ran down my face then, and they were starting again. What could have helped was a calm, soothing bit of reassurance from the assistant, or the dentist, that everything would be okay. Maybe just a little bit of explanation about what they were about to do and why. That didn’t happen though.

Right before that needle, there was the first opportunity for explanation. I was given a numbing agent, so why not explain the procedure I was about to have? Nope. Instead I was left there, alone, with various frightening scenarios playing through my mind.

When the assistant and dentist returned five minutes later, it was with the shot. Without a word, I received two of them. Then those tears began to flow again. No one noticed though, for they were gone again. I was by myself for another five minutes, trying to stop my hands from shaking. This time I texted my husband. I looked for meaningless distractions online. None of it helped. My mind ventured back to two years ago. I was reliving my trauma all over again.

When the dentist returned, he did what he had to do to replace my filling. It took less than five minutes. He then got up, took off his headlamp, and told me to have a nice day. He didn’t even wait for me to respond. The assistant handed me my purse, and told me to come up to the front to pay. When I handed the secretary my credit card, I was still shaking. By the time I got to my car, all that was left was a numbness in the upper left corner of my mouth that I thought would never go away.

Trauma is like that. It’s always hidden there, and can come back at random times when triggered. Flashbacks may start, as well as an influx of strong emotions. I know these feelings are normal, but what I also know is that my trauma didn’t have to be triggered today. I’ve been to the dentist many times since my accident. If one person–the assistant, dentist, or secretary–would have simply asked how I was, I would have mentioned I was a bit nervous and would have asked what I was in for. I could have prepared myself. No one said anything though. They weren’t thinking about me. I was just another case to them. On my drive home, I couldn’t help but think about how this–reliving a trauma–happens in schools all the time.

There are teachers who don’t think about their students as they prepare their curriculum or instruction. They do what they’ve always done, what they’re told to do, what’s easiest, or what they’re interested in. It’s about them, not their students. Recently, an ignorant Texas high school teacher made her students watch Derek Chauvin’s trial, asking them to pretend to be a member of the jury. Parents immediately complained and the assignment was cancelled, but what kind of trauma did that inflict on those students? A few days earlier, a teacher, who thought she had closed out her virtual class, went on a racist rant about a Black student and his parent. How do you think that child feels about his teacher now, and school in general? Teachers need to consider how their students’ lives are often unlike their own. We won’t all know what they go through, but we can learn how to help. We can get to know our students as human beings, and show them we care. One of the best ways to do that is through the workshop model.

I am currently reading The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop by Felicia Rose Chavez, and I can’t help but think that this model is what’s needed in every classroom. Students need to know that they have a teacher who listens to their words, as well as their body language. A teacher who asks questions not just to assess a child’s understanding of a text, but to also understand the child. A teacher who adheres to the student writer’s agenda, not their own, to improve a piece of writing.

I never want my students relive a trauma because of an instructional decision that I made. When we don’t put in the effort to create inclusive classrooms, we aren’t protecting our students of color. School should not be feared or hated, but the reality is that it is by some. Teachers, we must work to change this. School can be a well-loved home for all of our children.


This school year, my students and I need more motivation than ever. A global pandemic means added stress and anxiety. A hybrid schedule, then virtual schedule, then hybrid again, means no consistent routine. Teenagers find more hours at their part-time jobs, which means less time for schoolwork. All of these changes and inconsistency can lead to a lack of motivation for all involved, so I knew I had to do something.

After coming up with a lot of different ideas, I settled on a “performance” unit. So often, when I am feeling down, I turn to performance poetry, or speeches like a TedTalk, to lift me back up again. I hope this would do the same for my students. After studying some inspiring mentor texts and videos, I asked my students to get their thoughts down in their notebooks, and then choose a writing genre. Their goal was to create a piece their classmates needed to hear. It could be meant to inspire, inform, or just get the audience thinking about a topic they normally wouldn’t. I will admit that this was difficult for some students, for they were struggling to encourage themselves, so how could they write something that encouraged others?

I soon saw that the mentor texts helped, but my students needed more. They needed to see the process displayed right in front of them, step by step. That’s where I came in. Like all of my writing units, I wrote right along with them. This time, to challenge myself, I chose to write a poem. I love reading poetry, but writing it often intimidates me. Not this year. I felt it was time to try something I normally wouldn’t.

Over the next few weeks, I shared my whole process: my brainstorming, drafting, countless revisions, and the adding of purposeful writing techniques. I shared my frustrations and proud moments. They saw it all. I hoped that putting myself out there like that made them more comfortable conferring with me.

This week, our performances begin. With all that’s going on around them, I think my seniors have a lot to be proud of.


“Untapped” (inspired by Ashlee Haze’s spoken word poem “Untapped Motivation,” and my students)

Welcome to the pool of possibility.

Fix your cap, open your notebook, and dive right in. Once submerged, let your words float around; some will settle on the page.

Once they start flowing, don’t let them stop. Take your first lap through, then flip, turn, and push off for another. Trust the process. Spread your words out and let them move you.

Your voice is emerging. Bubbles just at first, but then you take a deep breath. Energized, you head back under, where everywhere you look are blues and golds. Ideas galore.

Despite the temptation, ignore those invisible spaces. That competition you can only see when you turn your head for air. Keep your head straight and focused. Push past worry and let your imagination guide you.

Just a little harder now. Stretch your arms out and keep gliding through those murky waters. You are the one who decides where you will take yourself. You can reach the end, if you want to.

Almost there. With arms ready to give out, take that one last breath, look up, and let your words be heard.

As you touch the wall, the audience claps and whistles, your new special talent visible to all.

My Favorite Books of 2020

2020 may have been a rough year in many ways, but it was a great year for books!

Below are my favorite titles of the year. I divided them up into three general categories, and only included titles that were published in 2020.

Picture Books

I have learned that picture books are not just for young children. This year, many of the titles below were used as mentor texts in my high school English classroom.

Middle Grade Books

Looking at this picture, I realize I didn’t devote enough time to middle grade titles this year. I aim to fix that in 2021, for there are so many MG titles I still want to read. King of the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender, What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado, and Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim are just a few.

Young Adult Books

I enjoyed so many YA titles this year! Though Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian was published in 2019, I have to mention it because it a new “forever favorite” of mine.

I encourage you to check out the above titles, for they made 2020 enjoyable. On to 2021!

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post for this blog. I’ve been writing, but none of it made it here. Why? Well, a lot has changed in the past nine months. Teaching has changed. School in general has changed. My family’s daily activities have changed. Life has changed.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like a teacher, at least the teacher I used to be. I don’t have an actual classroom to share anymore, or all the books within it. I feel like I’m often talking to myself instead of a classroom full of students, for I see mostly black screens instead of faces. (My classroom downgrades can be seen in the slides below. The first six slides is my classroom before COVID, the seventh one incorporates social distancing, and the last one is my basement classroom.)

It’s been a while since I’ve read consistently. Anyone who knows me knows I love to read, for it relaxes me. I love getting lost in a good book, and I love promoting titles to my students. Lately I just can’t focus like I used to. Too many thoughts swim through my head these days.

It’s been a while since my family has left our home. We love our house, but we are also sick of it. We miss the summer, when we would spend the days outside with extended family and friends.

It’s been a while since I went on daily walks. Those walks gave me the opportunity to think. To organize the mess within my head, or just listen to my favorite music.

It’s been a while for so much more than I’ve shared above, but I must remember that’s okay. A lot has changed, and I must just take each day one step at a time. Last Wednesday, I cleaned and decorated my new classroom in the basement. On Thanksgiving, I took some much-needed time with my family. Yesterday, I started my walks again. Today, I am writing a blog post for the first time since May. Change is coming, but I–we–must be patient. Sometimes it takes a while.

What Hasn’t Changed

I haven’t written a post since January 5th, and a lot has changed about my teaching since then. But I’m not writing about all of that today. Instead, I am reminding myself of all the beautiful things in my teaching world that have not changed.

1. I’m still sharing books. Yeah, it’s not quite the same mode of sharing I’ve used in the past, and so I’ve gotten a little creative. E-books and audiobooks have become the new norm, and my students are accepting of them. We use Sora (district) and SimplyE (New York Public Library) to connect with hundreds of thousands of books. I’m also quite

Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 9.35.29 AM

Two of the Little Free Libraries that have been added to my district.

thankful for First Book, where I’ve ordered many popular, yet cheap, titles and pushed them out into the four Little Free Libraries in my district. For some students, I’ve sent a surprise to their home if I knew of a certain title they really wanted to read.

2. I’m still conferring. Zoom has come in quite handy for this. At first, as I was getting used to distance learning, I only did weekly Zoom meetings with each of my classes, but I soon realized I needed more. I missed conferring with kids one-on-one, and I could tell that many of them needed it, so I set up a conference Google Form. Students could choose a date and time between certain allotted hours, and then we’d have 15 minutes to meet with one another. This soon turned into something I encouraged all of my students to do.

3. I’m still teaching. I refuse to just assign something and hope my students know how to complete it. As I mentioned above, I hold weekly Zoom meetings, and that’s where I work in mini-lessons that I feel my kids need right now. How to find writing topics. Using mentor texts to create our own writing. Different ways to revise a piece of writing (deleting, adding, rearranging, and rephrasing), and so much more. Plus, I can’t forget all those customized lessons that pop up in the one-on-one conferences.


Pointless4. I’m still grading. Well, this one is a bit of a stretch. I’m not grading the same as I once did, and I don’t think I ever will again. After years of doing my own research and having the desire to try, I have finally gone “gradeless.” I have read titles by Alfie Kohn and Maja Wilson about rethinking grades, but what finally gave me the guts to try it was a combination of reading Sarah M. Zerwin’s Point-less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading and this dang virus. My students will eventually have a grade for the 4th marking period, but right now they are just getting a lot of helpful feedback, both written and oral. And…it working! I’m so impressed with the progress I’m seeing. More posts about this new form of grading will be coming soon.

5. I’m still connecting. Keeping in contact with my students is my #1 priority right now.


I’m sending a postcard to every student.

I haven’t been able to connect with every single student, but I’m close. Some are responding to my Remind messages, some aren’t. Some are responding to my emails, some aren’t. Some are coming to my Zoom classes or conferences, some aren’t. Some are contacting me because of a postcard I sent them, some aren’t. Yes, I tell myself this is all okay. I don’t know what each of my students are going through during this difficult time, so I am just going to continue to try. Many of my students know someone who has had the coronavirus, and some of them know more than one. I just want them to know that, no matter what, I am here.

My Favorite Books of 2019

2019 was another fabulous year of reading! I enjoyed so many titles, and not just on my own, but as read alouds with my family as well. This year, I am including any and all titles I read in 2019, even if they weren’t written in 2019. For more specific information about each book, or my reviews, follow me on Goodreads. Enjoy!

My Top Young Adult Novels of 2019:Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 12.18.53 PM

A great year for YA titles, though I don’t have quite as many “favorites” as I did last year. Many of these titles are by authors that I already love, and thus trust, like Dig, On the Come Up, and Exile from Eden. Others are written by authors that are new to me, like Patron Saints of Nothing and The Nowhere Girls.

My Top Early and Middle Grade Novels of 2019:

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I know I sound like a broken record, but yes, I loved all of these early and middle grade titles just as much as the YA titles! My list was quite long this year, but these 12 titles were my favorites. Some titles, like Maybe He Just Likes You and Other Words for Home, dealt with important issues that aren’t discussed enough at school. Others, like My Jasper June and The Remarkable Journey or Coyote Sunrise, dealt with family trauma. My family read a lot of these together too, among many others. My 10-year-old son chose Bat and the End of Everything as his favorite novel of 2019. My 8-year-old daughter’s was The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.

My Top Picture Books of 2019:

Screenshot 2020-01-05 at 3.49.11 PM.png

Like 2018, there were so many memorable picture books. My own two children read all of the above titles with me, and this year we enjoyed more fiction titles than nonfiction (it was the opposite last year). My daughter said her “absolute favorite” is It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, and my son said his favorite was The Scarecrow. With my high schoolers, I shared The Undefeated and Where Are You From?

My Top Professional Books of 2019:

Screenshot 2020-01-05 at 3.54.41 PM.png

I have to admit that I did not read as many professional titles as I would have liked to in 2019. These three were my favorite, for they influenced my teaching the most. Beyond Literary Analysis  is the latest from Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, who wrote Writing with MentorsBrave the Page is a fabulous resource created by National Novel Writing Month. My seniors and I found it invaluable while working on our stories.

What were some of your favorites from 2019? Share in the comment section below.


We Just Have to Keep Trying

September. The boy walks into my classroom and anxiously looks around. Bright colors surround him. Books are displayed on every flat surface. Friends wave him over. Everything should look so inviting, but it’s not enough. His frown says everything. He’s been in English classrooms before. He knows what’s coming: the reading, the writing, and the analysis. He’s going to have play it cool for now.

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October. He’s gotten to know me, his teacher, a bit now. I’m loud but don’t yell, and I smile a lot. He likes me, but doesn’t trust me yet. Anyone can be nice, he whispers to his partner. He watches as the more vocal partner calls me over to get some help. When I ask both of them a question about their books, only the partner answers. He just stares. When I direct my next question to him, the partner speaks when he won’t. The bell rings, but I ask him to stay to chat a bit longer. He turns away, gets up, and leaves. He doesn’t want me to know him.

Outside of class, I ask his former teachers about him. I learn that reading has always been a struggle for him. He avoids anything that’s difficult. That’s okay, I think. I’ve met students like him before.

November. Quickwrites are a favorite of many, but not the boy. I give him space at times, but when I do stop over to assist, he says he’s done. When I give him questions to think about, he says I have nothing to add. He writes a line or two, if anything at all. Book clubs begin, and I start to see him smile more. His group members are the ones asking the questions and sharing their thoughts. From across the room, I hear him share a few of his own ideas. I like Filthy McNasty. He loves sports as much as I do. When he sees me watching, his mouth snaps shut and refuses to open again.

Outside of class, I try calling home again and again. No response. I try email. No response. I meet with my school’s Student Support Team. I can’t let him fall down the cracks.

NOTE: I’m unexpectedly out of the classroom for all of December and January. 

February. Not much has changed in two months, but anger has surfaced. When I finally do get him to speak with me privately, he yells, Why are you back? It was so much easier when you were gone. When I ask why, he states, We listened to the book as a class and did questions together. I was doing well, and now I won’t. I share that I believe he can do well, but he states matter-of-factly,  Nope. You’ll make me try on my own. That’s when I take out my notebook. He watches me as I share my struggles, mistakes, and frustrations. Writing on our own can be difficult, I say, but that’s how we learn and grow.

Outside of class, I try contacting home again. Nothing. I ask the boy to stay after with me to work one-on-one. On the day he shows up, another classmate is quietly working in the back of the room. Before I can say anything, he walks out the door.

March. Our research unit begins. Some skills are reviewed, and others are introduced, including how to use new databases. As the boy looks through the myriad research articles, his frustration becomes palpable. The librarian tries to assist, even finding him an article, but a few minutes after attempting to read it, he crinkles it up and tosses it. Have you heard of podcasts? I ask him. When he shakes his head no, I show him how to find some. I show him some note-taking techniques, as well as transcripts for the audio. Progress begins.

Outside of class, he stays after with me a few times. He loves his topic about the importance of sports in schools. He shares with me that he is starting track soon.

April. We finish research and move into a whole-class novel unit using Romeo & Juliet. Immediately, all the growth disintegrates. The boy brings nothing to class. Each IR book is “lost” after the first day. He refuses to write quickwrites, even when they aren’t connected to the play. He won’t pay attention when we read the play aloud or act it out.

Outside of class, my own nightly reflections revolve around him, but no new ideas work. My frustrations are palpable. I go to a track meet. He doesn’t hear me cheer when he comes in first twice, but I congratulate him the next day. He looks at me in shock, then smiles and thanks me.

May. In preparation for exams, a timed essay test is given about Romeo & Juliet. Students have known the questions for weeks, and have been planning. When the boy comes in on test day, he has nothing with him. When everyone receives the test questions and requirements are gone over, he immediately blurts out, Test?! What test? While the rest of the class begins, he is still talking. He gets louder and louder, trying to get himself kicked out. He becomes such a distraction that it eventually works. I quietly ask him to leave.

Outside of class, I hopefully wait for him after school but he doesn’t show that first day, or the next day. On the third day I’m about to leave when he peaks into my room. Can I stay hear to work on biology? he asks. When I agree, he sits down, but takes nothing out. Then he looks at me. I’m sorry Mrs. K. That test was just so hard. I didn’t know what to do. I went over to him, took out my notebook, and showed him my planning for the essay. We discussed the importance of planning together, and then he got started on his own. I stayed right there though, just in case.

June. It’s the last month of the school year. We begin to reflect and prepare for final exams. As the exam date approaches, the boy’s nerves get the best of him. He misses a few classes, and then on the first day of the exam he tries to get himself kicked out again. I was ready this time though. I found a comfy corner for him to sit in, and I was right there beside him. He asked questions, when needed, and I answered. I was there.

Outside of class, I begin to read the final “advice” students have for next year’s 9th graders. (Below is the boy’s.) I also reflect on my teaching, wondering where I’ve failed and where I’ve grown. When it comes to the boy, I do feel like I’ve failed him. It breaks my heart that he didn’t pass my class. Next year is a new year though. Even though I won’t have him as a student, I can still be there for him and offer support. I will keep trying.