Our Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time for one of my favorite annual blog posts: a review of our favorite reads from the year! While part of me just wanted to list every single book we loved this year, the rest wanted to stick with the curation approach I’ve come to love about blogging. But I hope you’ll check out my Goodreads profile if you are looking for more recommendations!

So with the help of my kids, here are our top 15 picture books and top 15 chapter books we read this year. Most of these were published this year, but there are a few that are simply ones we discovered this year. 

Picture Books

#15: The Eye that Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss & Jeremy Holmes. My little ones sometimes struggle with longer biographical stories, but the story kept them wanting to hear what was next! 

#14: Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell & Corinna Luyken. Right and wrong can feel so absolute for so many kids; I love the way this helps them expand their perspective a bit in favor of compassion. 

#13: Water Land: Land & Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale. Such a clever and simple way to depict various landforms and their relationships to one another!  


#12: a house that once was by Julie Fogliano & Lane Smith. This one especially tickled my sense of wonder because I have often daydreamed about the memories held by old houses and paths — who walked in the same spaces, what they did there, how they lived.  

#11: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe.  My ocean-loving 4 year old especially loved the illustrations of all things underwater. Kate Messner did a great job of weaving an engaging story of what has been done, and what we have yet to do, for our coral reefs. 

#10: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes. This tree-lovin’ lady adored everything about this read. The detail, the poetic flow of words, the imagination. 

#9: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. Loved the way this book illustrates emotion, and validates the many ways we need to express it.   

#8: Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall. This beautifully captures change over time in several layers. My kids and I enjoyed studying all the detail of the fascinating life inside a lighthouse. 

#7: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. Teachers trying to convey word choice and story-loving children alike will enjoy this latest work from Peter Reynolds.  

#6: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. This book makes me think of a cross between “Green Eggs & Ham” and “The Monster at the End of This Book.” Featuring Star Wars, of course. My whole family adored this hilarious read! 

#5: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Poor Penelope has first day of school jitters. She has no idea what her classmates will be like…until she discovers that they are delicious children! Will she be able to get past her, um, sticky first impression?

#4: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin. I loved the folklore feel of this story. Little Star and her mother bake a big mooncake, but will she be able to resist nibbling a little more each night? A lovely way to imagine what makes the phases of the moon.

#3: Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. I think this is the only book on our picture book list of books not published, but discovered, this year. My kids were fascinated by the magnified pictures of various surfaces, and the personified germs.  

#2: Square by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen. After meeting these authors last year, I don’t think our book lists stand a chance of not featuring work by these two. But we found Square every bit as delightful as Triangle. Everyone can relate to Square’s emotional when his friend Circle mistakes him for a sculptor–and he doesn’t want to let her down. 

#1: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin & Crash McCreery. I loved getting to practice my high school Spanish in this delightful new rendition of an old legend. My kids especially loved the inflatable nature of the goats. 

Read Alouds/Chapter Books

#15: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko and Colin Jack. I sometimes struggle with books written from a dog’s point of view. But this duo did nothing but make me laugh! Follow their hilarious plot to help their child. 


#14: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. With Russian heritage myself (though definitely not as close as Vera), I loved the protagonist’s struggle to feel like she fits in. My daughter and I enjoyed this graphic novel, though neither of us will likely ever look at an outhouse the same way again…

#13: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This haunting read will get students thinking about the issues of our day as it follows Jerome, who is killed while playing with a toy gun. I still find myself connecting back to the perspectives of this book, such as findings that show children who embody any of the 3 “B’s” (boy, big, or black) tend to be subject to harsher treatment at school. 

#12: Gone Camping, A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger & Matthew Cordell. I love the way each poem perfectly captures different moments of a camp-out, from fear of the dark to grandpa’s snoring. 

#11: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I hadn’t heard of this one prior to reading Bill Ferriter’s recommendation this year. I absolutely loved the way this student/teacher relationship unfolded. Packed with unexpected twists, historical context, and relatable middle school humor. 

#10: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. A beautiful self-discovery kind of story, but with a faster pace than I was expecting, which I enjoyed. 

#9: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Despite the fact that I may or may not have gone to bed weeping while reading this, I have to recommend it. It tells the story of Amal’s descent into indentured servitude when she should be attending school with the other children in her village.

#8: Refugee by Alan Gratz. Three stories of families seeking refuge are masterfully woven together to convey universal principles of compassion and humanity.  

#7: The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette. When Marty loses a precious gift from his dad who is sick and has little time left, he finds himself on a magical train meant to collect all the things we lose. A beautiful story of loss and love.  

#6: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm. Beans is doing his best to help his family living in Key West during the Great Depression. Detailed, witty, and hilarious, this is a great candidate for a classroom read-aloud.  

#5: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.  A new series that your fantasy-loving readers will devour. Everyone knows Morrigan is cursed — but defying her fate, she discovers a new land, a new organization, and a chance to prove herself

#4: I’m Just No Good At Rhyming & Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids & Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris & Lane Smith. Those who grew up loving Shel Silverstein as much as I did will not want to miss this one. My favorite part was the way one story that features a boy whose parents forgot to teach him the number 8 makes its way not only into other poems, but into the book’s page numbering and even acknowledgements–definitely appealed to this immature grown-up! 

#3: Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. Earth’s sun is about to go into a premature supernova, causing the human race to temporarily relocate to Mars until they can take off for a new home. Exciting and exceptionally well-research science fiction read!

#2: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. The five Vanderbeeker children work to save their home as their family unexpectedly faces eviction. What I love most about this is the independence and problem-solving afforded to these kids. Just the right amount of spunk and tenderness!

#1: Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley. My 8 year-old and I listened to the audiobook of this together and loved every hilarious moment as Frederick Frederickson tries to find his social place, only to be unexpectedly swept downriver and into a disciplinary camp. Another great read aloud for upper elementary grades!

What were your favorite reads this year? Share in the comments!

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7 Ways to Communicate We Care About At-Home Reading–Without Reading Logs

Last week, I wrote about my experience in which my 8 year-old questioned my ethics of signing off on her reading log all at once each week. Olwen, a friend in my PLN, responded,

To me, this really captures what most of us hope to convey about reading at home. But, as Olwen states, having them track their reading in a log at home can send the wrong message. Others commented describing how reading logs encouraged their children to read for the required time — and then not a minute after.

This post is about finding better ways to send the important message that you care about at-home reading — without the unpleasant side-effects reading logs can bring.

#1: Share your Goodreads lists: Post it on your class social media accounts, send texts with Remind with the link, send home the shortened link in a paper flyer. Many parents want your recommendations anyway. But if you really publicize books you love, families will definitely receive the message that you care about reading.

#2: Post a “What I’m reading” outside your door (and periodically share on class blog or social media). Great way to help with your own reading accountability, too! Perhaps you can even see if a student will accept a classroom job of reminding you and updating the title for you.

#3: Participate in #ClassroomBookADay (and periodically post a photo on class blog or social media). This is one of the top 5 ideas I’m dying to implement when I return to the classroom. Click the photo below for details!

via Nerdy Book Club

#4: Participate in Global Read AloudWorld Read Aloud Day, and similar events. And invite parents! I still remember the mom who would come every year on our school’s annual read-a-thon day to tell us the story of Brer Rabbit.

#5: Connect your students to local library resources. Does your library offer services through apps like Hoopla or Libby? Does it host special events that will be of interest to your students? Do they hold storytimes available for younger siblings? Do a little research and help make your students’ families aware of opportunities and updates.

#6: Connect them to audiobooks! Share your recommendations for apps and resources to help them get stories on devices at home. Some current favorites include:

  • Storyline Online is a big favorite around here since it shows the pictures of our favorite picture books while a celebrity reads. Free app on Apple, Android, and Chrome.
  • Khan Academy Kids offers their own line of stories, readers, animal books, and more. Free on Apple, Android, and Amazon appstore.
  • Fairy Tales is a free app, but you have to buy coins to access most of the books. Might be worth investigating, however, as they are fun interactive versions of beloved fairy tales.
  • Libby & Hoopla are especially wonderful options if your library pays for the subscription.

#7: Make reading the only homework. There is substantial evidence that there is little positive effect (and possibly negative effect) of homework for elementary ages. In lieu of worksheets and papier-mâché projects, make your only “assignment” to read. DO avoid attaching a minimum number of minutes required, but DON’T be afraid to inform parents of the effects of consistent reading. If you share information like the one below, be sure to assure parents that it’s really less about the 20 minutes and more about cultivating a lifelong reader (and that holding a hard line on reading can be counter-productive). 

There are many other ways to help convey to students’ families that you value reading at home. Maybe if you already do a monthly newsletter, maybe start including a reading highlight with a simple tip or recommendation. If you already have a class Facebook account, maybe set reminders to yourself to share what you’re reading there every couple weeks. Keep it simple, find what works best for you, and center the message on the reading itself.

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10 Books of Wishes

For kids, wishes hold power. So much of life seems beyond their control: where they live, what they wear, who they meet. Among so much uncertainty, it’s a comforting hope to hold tight to a wish.

In Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson’s latest picture book, “Carmela Full of Wishes,” Carmela doesn’t realize just how many important wishes she holds in her heart until she finds a dandelion. 

There are so many elements in this read that I found lovely. The details of Carmela’s neighborhood. The papel picado, Mexican folk art, that beautifully illustrates her wishes. The jingling bracelets that capture the essence of childhood joy (that can’t be diminished even by an irritable — and likely care-worn — brother). The way that it keeps readers wondering about Carmela’s wish and her life.

Also, I just have to share this gorgeous case design beneath the dust jacket!

I asked my kids if they could remember whose style it was, and they knew it was the same illustrator that created the video, “What is Music,” that they love so much (Funny coincidence: I included both Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson in my summer post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators”).

For your readers that are full of wishes, here are 9 other books of wishes I’d recommend!

#2: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

#3: When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano & Christian Robinson

#4: I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

#5: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (I’m starting to wonder how this book somehow manages to get on just about every one of my lists…I regret nothing.)

#6: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller & Frank Morrison

#7: It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton 

#8: Mr. Rabbit & the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow & Maruice Sendak

#9: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

#10: Pigeon Books by Mo Willems

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Is There Anything More Powerful than a Child Choosing a Book? #TeacherMom

My one word goal for 2018 has been power. It’s been an inquiry into questions such as…

…what is the connection between power & influence?

…how does comprehending our sphere of influence impact our lives? Our communities? 

…what is my sphere of influence?

…how can I be more intentional about directing and growing my influence to areas that matter most for me? 

Because I’m in the midst of this inquiry, I often find myself thinking about how & why certain sights, actions, and words carry power.

So when I come across my 2 year-old snuggling in with a book of his choosing, I’m fascinated by the implications for power.

Is there anything more powerful than a child choosing a book?

How does book-choosing, especially starting at a young age, give a child power?

How do books boost a child’s ownership over their learning? 

How does ownership over learning relate to an individual’s power?

Truly, helping children onto a path of choosing to read is a powerful endeavor, and we can all contribute:

Cultivating a child’s desire to choose and celebrate books is one of the most powerful things we can do.

featured image: Oliver Henze

Inquiry Into Being a Reader

In between larger series of my PYP essential elements provocations and soon-to-begin SDGs provocations, I’m doing a short series on learner identities. Last week was an inquiry into what it means to be a writer. This week is on what it means to be a reader!

Resource #1:  Reading Interest Inventories

There’s an abundance of reading interest inventories, but they all share the same goal: to help students learn and ponder more about themselves as readers. A definite must for this provocation! Explore a few below:

Resource #2: KidLit Childrens’ Books by Caroline Burgess animation

Resource #3: Night Reading by Brian Rea

Resource #4: Authors talking about themselves as readers (from my post, 18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors/Illustrators)

Resource #5: Picture Books

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a reader?
  • How does being a reader compare with the act of reading?
  • What is our responsibility to read? (for ourselves? for the world?)
  • How does reading shape our communities?
  • What are the different ways we read?
  • What are the perspectives on reading? Why are there different perspectives on reading?

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18 Best Videos To Get To Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators

As I was updating Goodreads with an old picture book list I’d made, I came across notes I had written about a couple fabulous author/illustrator videos that I wanted to remember to share with my students. And re-watching those just kind of…snowballed into this post.

I always love a good compilation; especially one that gives kids a glimpse into the processes & lives of their favorite authors &  illustrators as people. I hope you enjoy these as much as my very small students and I did!

#1: Oliver Jeffers Picture Book Maker: As playful as all his books. We particularly enjoyed the sandwich hunt.

#2: Little Carmen Deedy Didn’t Like to Read: Loved her story on how she first found the right book. “And I’ve said for a long time that if the right book and the right child find each other, bam…fireworks!”

#3: Author & Illustrator Peter Brown on his Process: Great insight into the decision-making process. Especially his note, “Should I use the word ‘naked?'”

#4: What is Music? from Christian Robinson: Ok, so this one isn’t directly about Christian Robinson, but it still provides insight on him as an illustrator. And it absolutely delighted both my kids and me (for more direct information about him, see this Meet the Illustrator article).

#5: La La La by Kate DiCamillo & illustrated by Jaime Kim. Great perspective to hear about book collaboration.

#6: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett: So I guess this isn’t directly about Jon & Mac’s lives either, but having met them at a library Author Link, I’d say there’s probably more accuracy than one might guess…

#7: An Interview with Beverly Clearly: So cool to hear about how she got started writing realistic fiction!

#8: bethany bARTon monster painting. No words. Just some great tunes & Bethany enjoying her art.

#9: The Truth About the Writing Process by Julie Falatko. As hilarious as her books and her tweets.

#10: Meet Tomie dePaola. I loved hearing about how folktales shaped him as an author.

#11: Snappsy Did Not Ask to Be in This Video About How to Draw Him from Tim Miller. Just a funny and highly-precise how-to (ie “medium-sized hot dog for the snout”)

#12: 2017 from Carter Higgins. So cool to watch her double-debut year unfold as she used the app, One Second Everyday.

#13: Tour Philip & Erin Stead’s Michigan Studio. Fun to see this pair in their home element.

#14: The Teacher Who Changed Everything with Patricia Polacco. If you’ve read “Thank You Mr. Falkner,” you know this story, but it’s incredible to watch Patricia share it herself!

#15: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Thought Bubble: Kindness. It absolutely blew my mind to hear Amy’s conclusions on a life worth remembering years before hers was tragically claimed by cancer. Her legacy of kindness truly lives on in her books and videos.

#16: Matt de la Pena Author Video. I enjoyed hearing Matt’s “unlikely” story on how he became an author, and how that background helps him work to appeal to reluctant readers.

#17: Peter Reynolds discusses his books: Did you know he works with his twin brother, and has since they were tiny?

#18: Brendan Wenzel: Great to hear how “The Stinky Cheese Man” influenced him as an author/illustrator!

If there are any authors or illustrators on this list with whom you are not yet familiar, I encourage you to check out their stuff right away!

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The Problem With Our Early Reading Obsession

When I write about how my daughter is succeeding as a reader even though (or because?) I did not force sight word flashcards or memorizing the alphabet on her as a preschooler, my thinking inevitably returns to readers we would term “at-risk” because of their sorely limited book access.

I wonder if my talk of autonomy and following the child’s lead and student choice & voice are another facet of our privilege, overlooking the needs of kids that need to “catch up” with their peers? Is my priority to cultivate the reader over the reading level potentially damaging for these children?

But this question, and all initiatives out there that insist every child must read by a certain level by age fill-in-the-blank (usually implemented in areas with higher number of at-risk kids), leads to a rather slippery slope with regards to development & choice. We must be wary of practices that suggest that honoring developmental readiness is only reserved for children of a certain class.

This wariness should become sharper when we are faced with programs that overshadow books themselves. When programs > books, we run into equity issues every time because only the kids that quickly finish up their program assignment get time to simply read books of their choosing (Matthew Effect, anyone?)

So, how do we…

…work to eliminate the reading ability gap our low-income students face while still honoring developmental readiness and choice?

…seek out accountability that all students are receiving high quality reading instruction while also avoiding silver bullet programs that promise guarantees?

…ensure that in our zeal to help them find words, we do not allow our anxious agendas to swallow up their voices & choices?

Even as we work to identify diverse literary needs and developmental readiness, we can find a more joyful, inviting reading community for all as we focus more on nurturing readers & cultures than on pushing reading levels.

“For too long we have focused on the development of reading for skills, not for the love of reading.  Yet, we need both types of experiences in order to fully develop as readers.” ~Pernille Ripp

(so many practical ideas from Pernille on establishing that culture in her post).

For our early readers, we seem to have been especially caught up in the skills side of reading. We need to stop packing in skills so tightly that they crowd out reading itself.

As Donalyn Miller recently summed up,

Each and every one of our early readers deserve librarians just as much as they deserve high-quality reading specialists. They deserve books in their hands just as much as they deserve guided reading groups. And they deserve teachers who share their authentic love of reading just as much as they deserve teachers who effectively build decoding skills.

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by fear of kids falling behind. But when we start from a place of love of the reading instead of fear, we ultimately lay a literary foundation that is much more lasting and meaningful for all our readers.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto