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When All We Know is Love: Post-Election Thoughts by Travis Crowder

Read. Write. Teach. Love.

Nerdy Book Club

“We can take comfort in knowing that each moment we have with a child is a moment to improve the world.” -Christopher Lehman

“Spread love.” -Kwame Alexander

Hurt. Despondent. Belittled. Mortified. Uncertain. Angered. These are the emotions that are circulating through my heart and mind at this moment in time.  Like many other Americans, I really do not know what to feel, or how to begin qualifying the emotions I’m experiencing. I’ve tried to live my convictions, knowing that goodness, intellect, and love are pillars of a respectful life, and I’ve tried to inculcate within my students the same values.  I want them to respect and to understand the beautiful souls that comprise humanity, loving as widely as they can.

Several months ago, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, and came across a picture posted by Penny Kittle.  It was an image of the inside of Crush: Love Poems…

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Black, White and All the Colors in Between: Reading Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine – Review by Tara Warmerdam

Very excited to share my review of Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, posted on the Nerdy Book Club!

Nerdy Book Club

mockingbirdNo one speaks of the chest in the corner, covered with a gray sheet and one end hanging off at an awkward angle. The gray sheet reminds Caitlin of a bird that cannot fly, floating and falling instead of flying through the air. Caitlin draws the chest covered with the sheet, replicating what she sees on the outside but not the empty chest she knows is hidden out of sight. This metaphor sets the tone for Mockingbird, a story of pain, loss, understanding, and hope. The novel centers on ten year old Caitlin, a high-functioning autistic girl with Asperger’s, and the loss of her brother in a tragic school shooting. The grieving experience as well as the path for healing is different for all of the characters, particularly Caitlin and her father. Erskine explores the avenues of grief and healing, particularly the difficult situation for Caitlin, with a sensitivity…

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Some Rules We Need to Break In Our Reading Classrooms

This is a great read – and a great reminder to all! Take a few minutes to read through the rules you should break 🙂

Pernille Ripp

image from icanread

We seem to be run by the rules of what came before us.  We seem to be trying to uphold traditions that were started all in the spirit of becoming better reading teachers.  And yet, I think it is time for us to break some rules, to become reading warriors, and to speak up and say no; this is not what reading will look like in our classroom.  This is not the reading experience that my students will have, this is not what will make students fall in love with reading.  So I present you with some rules that seem to perpetuate much of our reading instruction and encourage you to break them just like I have and so many others before me.

Rule number 1:  You must read X number of pages before you abandon a book.

I used to enforce this; give it 30 pages…

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4 Amazing Picture Books About Poets

4 Amazing Picture Books About Poets

Celebrating Poetry Month!

And my love of picture books as well… here are four fabulous picture books about poets….ready to enjoy wPablo Nerudaith readers of all levels!

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

This has to be one of my favorite covers. I love the artwork and the visual of the words in the tree and flowing through the beautiful green and blue, all at the fingertips of Pablo Neruda, poet of the people. When you open the book, you will find captivating text and more illustrations that will capture the mind of the young reader. Neruda’s words are woven throughout the illustrations, evoking the play of language and love of words that readers find in Pablo Neruda’s poems. Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. After Neruda’s death, Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote

“….he carries his poetry to the people

as simply and calmly

as a loaf of bread.”

This line became the inspiration for the title of Monica Brown’s book. Readers will be inspired to continue reading his poetry and learn more about his life. The illustrations are memorable – the colors are bright and engaging, and they celebrate people! A perfect introduction to Pablo Neruda, a poet that speaks to so many around the world.

Emily Emily by Michael Bedard, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

This is the story of a young girl and her quiet, reclusive neighbor, the poet Emily Dickinson. One day, the girl brings a gift of lily bulbs to the poet and is given a poem in return. While the story is fictional, this unassuming tale will impress you with its language and sparse beauty. The illustrations speak to the mood of the story and bring life to the words without detracting or overwhelming the language. Readers will find quiet examples of alliteration, metaphor, rhyme, imagery, personification, echoing so many of the literary techniques that Dickinson masterfully employed in her own poetry. All told with through the voice of a child, the point of view adds to both the subtlety and power of the story.

Enormous Smallness A Story of ee cummingsEnormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

Magical. The illustrations are beautiful, incorporating language and collages in a way that will interest the reader and bring together the poetry and words of ee cummings in a new light. This picture book incorporates some of cummings own poems in the story, which of course makes it an excellent introduction to his life and work. The poems also give a sense of his voice, which is even more powerful when surrounded by Matthew Burgess’ words and the illustrations of Kris Di Giacomo. Of course elephants are part of this book, as well as “birds who are the secret of living.” Readers will discover that the images and metaphors in the poems are engaging and accessible for readers to connect, discuss and enjoy.

Coming Home from the life of Langston HughesComing Home Langston Hughes  written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

The pairing of the dreamer and the concept of home is woven together in the story of Langston Hughes, one of the greatest African-American poets whose words still speak to readers today. This book is a perfect companion for introducing readers to the poetry of Langston Hughes, giving an appropriate and accurate historical context to his life and the time period in which he lived. The tale is one of home, an easily identifiable concept and theme in so many of Hughes’ works. The concepts of loneliness, happiness, freedom, overcoming obstacles, achieving the seemingly impossible dreams. Readers will quickly recognize the parallel themes and connected ideas found in Hughes’ poems, such as “Theme for English B,” “I, Too,” “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Dream Variations,” all easily paired with this picture book.

Neruda, Dickinson, Cummings, Hughes. Fabulous poets to read and share! What are your favorite picture books about poets?

Holy bagumba! A girl, a squirrel, a vaccuum, a lamp and more! Flora & Ulysses – The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Flora and Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures is definitely a book that will entertain and delight young readers  – as well as  their teachers and parents!flora.ulysses First off, I LOVED the illustrations and the comics. Such a great part of the story and we see Flora’s character develop both through the text and the comics. Flora is a young girl who often finds herself alone and looking for an escape through her comics. She is often frustrated by her mother (and her mother’s writing of romance novels) and is torn between two households, as she visits her father on weekends at an apartment complex. When Ulysses, the flying, poetry-writing, superhero squirrel enters her life, Flora sets off on a journey that will help her discover friendship, happiness, and a little bit of peace amid the chaos of life. She also discovers laughter. While reading this book, you will laugh out loud at Ulysses and Flora as they brave giant donuts and crazy mishaps, all while encountering very real and often familiar problems of sadness and uncertainty. Reading this book will bring about discussions of loneliness, hope, friends, happiness, adventure and love. Ultimately, Flora finds hope, and this is at the heart of the novel.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

  • Flora and her mother. What do you think of Flora and her mother? How does Flora feel about her mom? How do we know this as the reader? What clues are there about how Flora feels? Can you find a good quote from the book about Flora and her mother?
  • Flora misses her father terribly. What do we know about Flora’s father? What does Flora do when she visits her dad? Why does she look forward to these visits?
  • Ulysses astounds everyone with his poetry. And Flora declares him to be a superhero. What is a superhero? Do you think Ulysses is a superhero? Why or why not? What does he do that is out of the ordinary? Are any other characters in the book “superheros” in your opinion? What do we learn about Ulysses through his poems?
  • William (not Billy) tells Flora that he misses her. Why is this important to Flora? What do we learn about William (not Billy)? Why does he like to be called William? What does Flora think about William at first? Does she start to think differently about William? How do we know? What do you think of their friendship at the end of the book? What brings William and Flora together?
  • Ullysses the squirrel. What are some of the funny things that Ulysses does in the book? What are some of the most unbelievable things that Ulysses does – with Flora as his witness?
  • Why does Flora think that her mother wants the lamp? Is she correct? Are you surprised about what Flora’s mother was looking for during the chaos? Why? Or why not? Is Flora surprised?
  • Change. Many things – and relationships – change throughout the book. Flora and William. Flora and her mother. Flora and her father. Dr. Meescham and Mr. Klaus (the cat) bring about change for many of the characters. Possible essay topics for change: How does Flora change throughout the novel? How do we see Flora change? How are her parents part of this change? How does Flora and William Spiver’s relationship change throughout the book? What do we learn about Flora and William, and what is important about this relationship? What do we learn through Dr. Meescham and what do Flora, William, and Flora’s parents learn through Dr. Meescham?



I am not a fan of vocabulary worksheets, period. Probably because I spent a lot of time in junior high filling in vocabulary worksheets, matching, fill in the blank, and every week was a new set of twenty words. Yes, twenty. Now, reading Flora and Ulysses will present some amazing opportunities to teach new vocabulary words – without worksheets!

Words that cannot be missed when you read this book:

  • malfeasance
  • hyperbole
  • unanticipated
  • hallucination
  • mundane

Now are there other words in Flora and Ulysses to teach? Absolutely. This is a list of five words from the book. And I like these particular five words because they are important to the story, often repeated, and they provide multiple connections throughout the story. I also like the idea of limiting the vocabulary words for focus – it would be easy to come up with twenty words in this novel, but that doesn’t mean that the students will truly learn all of them. Five words will allow us to focus on depth of knowledge with each of the words. These words are also perfect for word mapping. Creating a word map will allow students to learn the new word in context and expand upon their knowledge of the word as they read the book. I like the word map pdf and discussion at Read Write Think

This word map pdf (available at Read Write Think) is a great resource. I also recommend adding additional blank pages and allowing students to keep all word maps/pages together while reading the novel. They will be able to add when they encounter one of their words again or a scene that they connect to one of their vocabulary words. Making more connections to other words and scenes in the book will help them solidify their understanding of the word. Malfeasance!


Ulysses is a squirrel who writes poetry. We have two of his poems in the book, “What It Said” on page 65 and the Epilogue “Squirrel Poetry” on page 232. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss poetry and point of view! What do we learn about Ulysses from his poetry? Can you write a poem from Ulysses’ point of view? Can you write a poem from the point of view of Flora, after the final chapter – Flora’s own “Epilogue”? What would Flora want everyone to learn from her poem? What would she want her parents to learn about her?

Websites & Resources

New York Times article “Super Squirrel”

Kate DiCamillo on ‘Flora and Ulysses’ (YouTube)

Holy bagumba! Please read this fabulous adventure of a girl and a squirrel, and then please tell me what you think of this book!

Teaching Mathematical Concepts with the Warlord’s Series of Picture Books


The Warlord’s Series of books by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord series of books invites readers to explore mathematical concepts in a narrative format. The illustrations (courtesy of Nicolas Debon) are inviting and engaging, using clever details and rich color to bring the story to life and help the reader see the mathematical concepts at play in each story. Each story involves a different activity for further exploration of the concept in the book. The activities are easily adaptable to the classroom or can be used at home for a fun afternoon project. Most of the activities involve items you can quickly find at home or in the classroom. Have fun with this!


  • The Warlord’s Kites In this story, Chuan and Jing Jing seek to save the palace from a growing army outside the palace gates. While the elders hold back the gates and decide to wait out the invaders, Jing Jing has a clever plan to keep the invaders away from the palace. Chuan teaches her how to measure the area of a square so that she can form three square kites. Her plan involving kites and bamboo flutes displays wit and ingenuity – and the invaders quickly flee. After reading the story, students will find directions for forming their own square kite.
  • The Warlord’s Puzzle An artist presents the warlord with a beautiful blue tile, but sadly it breaks, and the artist cannot fit the pieces back together. A contest is announced and people from all over the country line up to solve the warlord’s puzzle. Many people fail at the task, but finally a young boy studies the shapes and quietly begins to piece the tile together, creaming a square once again. This tangram puzzle has fascinated people for centuries, and readers can trace their own tangram puzzle and play with the intriguing shapes.
  • The Warlord’s Beads A counting adventure for all who have spentwarlord.beads time counting blocks, beads, boxes, anything at all! This might be my personal favorite, as I really do love the possibilities that come with an abacus and I love the idea that readers can create their own abacus. Chuan is a young boy who is worried about his peasant father, a man who has been given the task of counting. He often loses his place while counting carved boxes and consequently, the number always changes. The warlord is concerned about theft and Chuan’s father needs a clever way to count in order to assure the warlord that his boxes are all present. Chuan comes up with the idea of counting beads using small switches to keep track of the beads. This method helps Chuan and his father continue the counting. Using simple supplies (a cardboard frame, pipe cleaners and O shaped cereal (Cheerios!), readers can create their own abacus and start counting! A fun activity that will engage readers and inspire many counting sessions of course!

  • The Warlord’s Fish The story of a sandstorm and a desert journey, this is the tale of the compass. Chuan and the artist are kidnapped and led through the desert on a long journey. Sand obscures everything and they cannot use the sun to find their direction. It seems that all are lost and no one is able to find their way out of the desert. But Chuan and the artist have a plan, using a strange fish and a bowl of water. This fish will always point south when floating in water, and although everyone is doubtful, they have no choice but to follow the fish. Fortunately, the fish does lead the way and the lost wanderers make their way to an oasis. Chuan and the artist are rewarded with their freedom and then began carving fish to create magnets that travelers could use for their own compasses. In fact, a south pointing compass using magnets was created in third century BC in China, and readers can then learn about how these early compasses were carved and often shaped like fish or turtles. Using a styrofoam cup and a paper clip, readers can create their own compass.
  • The Warlord’s Puppeteers This is the tale of young Chuan and his mentor artist, who travel with a troupe of puppeteers and the puppeteer’s daughter. When the precious puppets (which take three months to create) are stolen by bandits, all are despondent. But the artist is determined to make new puppets for the puppeteer’s daughter, following the Chinese tradition of true proportions of life in the puppets. The new puppets must have a body that is six times the size of the head. After reading the book, students can create their own sock puppets while learning about ratios.
  • The Warlord’s Messengers  In this tale, the warlord is sixteen days away from the emperor’s palace, not knowing that his presence is requested in just fourteen days. Chuan and Jing Jing know that the messenger is on his way to meet the warlord, but they need to arrive at the warlord’s camp right away, ahead of the messenger in order to give the warlord enough traveling time to make the journey to the palace. They built a sailing cart (like the land-sailing wind driven carriage of 550 in China, which reached thirty to forty miles per hour). Chuan and Jing Jing are able to meet the warlord in just a matter of hours, delivering the message and saving valuable time, while the messenger used a horse and met them two days later. The ingenuity once again saves the day. Readers can then create their own windsock using recycled household items (oatmeal box, old sheet or pillowcase, and string).
  • The Warlord’s Alarm  The idea of creating an alarm without a clock is a tricky one, but Chuan and Jing Jing do not warlord.alarmhave a choice in this matter. They must come up with an idea to wake the warlord before the sun rises and set out on their journey to the palace. They can only sleep for four hours before the wake-up call, but initially they are at a loss for how to achieve an effective alarm in the middle of the night. Fortunately, they remember a leaking water bag and eventually devise a simplified Chinese water clock that will help wake them (and wash them!) in time for their journey. The story displays creative problem-solving skills and their ingenuity is indeed successful, which readers will appreciate. The story is also an opportunity for students to learn about the ancient Chinese water clocks and even a three-story mechanical clock, built in 1088, which will fascinate readers with its ability to keep track of time.

Have you tried any of these activities in your classroom? What is your favorite?


The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill – An Alaskan Adventure for Students!

The Year of Miss Agnes – in Alaska!MissAgnes

Set in 1948, this book is narrated by 10 year old Frederika. The kids in this one room school house are accustomed to teachers who come – and then go – rather quickly. But Miss Agnes is a bit different, leading the kids to wonder if perhaps this teacher will stay for the whole school year!

Miss Agnes tosses the old textbooks and sets about teaching the students about maps, timelines, speaking properly and reading books (and not the Dick and Jane books that the kids do not enjoy reading!). This book will help students learn about Alaska, the Athabascan natives, and what life was like in a one-room schoolhouse – and a small fishing village –  many years ago.


Questions Worth Discussing

  • Miss Agnes is a teacher unlike the other teachers. How is she different?
  • How does Fred’s mother feel about school? Why do you think she feels this way?
  • What are school days like for Fred and her friends? How is this similar to your school days? How is it different?
  • Why did so many teachers leave the village in previous years? Why is Miss Agnes a good teacher? How is she a good teacher for Fred and her friends?
  • Why does Miss Agnes change the Dick and Jane readers for the students? What does this tell us about Miss Agnes and what kind of teacher (and person) she is? Why do you think the students did not like the Dick and Jane books? Why do you think they like the new books?
  • Miss Agnes believes that learning happens even after school is done- for adults as well. She believes that adults should keep learning throughout their lives. Does this happen in the book for the adults? How do you know? Do you think Miss Agnes learns some new things from her students in Fred’s class? What does Miss Agnes learn? What does Momma (Fred’s mother) learn? Grandpa?
  • What are the lessons that Fred learns from Miss Agnes?
  • What do you think the students and Miss Agnes will do the following school year? Make some predictions about the future of the class!


  • Make a map of the places in book, labeling the village, school, the Koyukuk River, etc.
  • Trace the route from England (Miss Agnes’ home country) to Alaska on a map. How would Miss Agnes have made this journey in 1948?
  • Read about muskrats (or another animal found in Alaska) and then create a poster of your animal, using visuals and interesting facts about the animal to share with the class.
  • Study the sign language alphabet and learn to sign names.
  • Miss Agnes makes a timeline for the students. Make a timeline of important events in your life or make a timeline as a class of your school/history/etc.
  • Write a new chapter about Miss Agnes’ return on the first day of school for the new school year.

Have you read The Year of Miss Agnes with your class? Or a different book set in Alaska? Please share your thoughts (and then read below for more resources and links for teaching Miss Agnes and learning about Alaska!) Thank you!

All About Alaska

Alaska Kid’s Corner (Official State Alaska Website)athabascan.cabin

Kids Discover Alaska!

Awesome America Alaska

A-Z Kid Stuff – Alaska activities & facts

Alaska’s Gold Rush

Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature – Student Book Report of The Year of Miss Agnes

Resources for Learning About Athabascan Indians

Alaskan Native Heritage Center – Athabascan

Alaska Native Knowledge Network – Athabascan’s of Interior Alaska 4th Grade Social Studies Unit

Alaska HIstory & Culture – Athabascans

Alaskan Nature – Athabascans and other tribes of Alaska


More Interesting Kids Books About Alaska

The Impossible Rescue by Martin W. Sandlerberrymagic

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Berry Magic by Betty Huffman and Terry Sloat (Yup’ik Eskimo tale)

Kumak’s Fish: A Tall Tale from the Far North by Michael Bania (ice fishing)

The Salmon Princess: An Alaska Cinderella Story by Mindy Dwyer

The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend From Alaska by Eric Kimmel

The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan Mccarthy (Balto – Iditarod dog sled race)

John Muir and Stickeen: An Alaskan Adventure by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg


I LOVED this book when I was a child. I am the oldest child, so I probably found myself identifying with Claudia and I admired her initiative. But I would have never run away from home – as I would have been terrified! I loved how organized, thoughtful and thorough she was in her preparations to run away to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a fun book and a good opportunity for connections to art as well!
There are some challenges in reading and teaching this book with children, especially in terms of context. The setting is New York City, and for the girls in my group, this was difficult. None of the girls had ever traveled to New York and since we do not live in a large city, it was difficult for the girls to picture taking the trains, subways, etc and traveling around a large city. Not to mention the museum itself. But challenges are okay! Reading this book was an opportunity to discuss some life lessons and learn about New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the famous artist Michaelangelo.


NYCsubwayMaps can be very useful with this book, as they will provide much needed visuals. Students can learn a lot about New York City and the setting by examining and discussing maps. Reading this book is also a great opportunity for students to create their own maps of the important elements of the novel. Mapping out the museum and the route from the museum to the subway/train/post office/home is an excellent exercise for students which will help their comprehension.

A subway map is an interesting image for kids to discuss. How do we read a map and more specifically, how do we read a subway map? Why is this map important for traveling in New York City?

Next, ask students to think about what items they would include on a map of Claudia and Jamie’s adventure. Create a own map of their travels – and don’t forget the statue!

Questions Worth Asking


Why does Claudia run away? What are Jamie’s reasons for running away with her? What kind of person is Claudia? Would Claudia make a good friend? Why?

Why does the Angel statue become so important to Claudia? Why does she want to find out if the statue was created by Michaelangelo? Describe Mrs. Frankweiler. What kind of person is she? Why does she donate the statue to the museum but decide not to give them the important papers that she owns? What does this tell the reader about Mrs. Frankweiler? Why does she create a “task” for the kids instead of giving them the papers? What does Mrs. Frankweiler teach Claudia and Jamie?


Why does Claudia select the Metropolitan Museum of Art for her destination? What is the museum like at night? What makes it a good place for hiding? How is the museum different from the school and home world that Claudia & Jamie are escaping?


Life involves learning lessons (and not just at school). What are some of the things that Claudia and Jamie learn because of their experience running away from home and hiding at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? What does Claudia learn about being happy? About her family and her home? What does she learn through the angel and Michaelangelo? Claudia wants to experience change before she returns home – what do you think? Does Claudia change? How? And why?

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Met Home Website

Met Egyptian Art website

“A ‘New’ Michaelangelo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art”


Since Claudia and Jamie spend a great deal of time with the “Angel” of Michaelangelo as they search for clues as to the statue’s authenticity, this seemed like a good time to learn more about Michaelangelo.

Hey Kids, Meet Michaelangelo   This page includes a printable/downloadable kid-friendly biography

Pinterest Board – Michaelangelo for kids (information and projects)

Pinterest Board – Michaelangelo (more projects and lessons for kids)

Mr. Nussbaum Blog – Michaelangelo information

Art History Mom Blog – Michaelangelo

Meet the Masters: Michaelangelo

More Resources for Teaching From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Scholastic website/questions

Schoolhouse lesson plan & extension activities

Simon & Schuster Author Website & Reading Guides

New Yorker: Postscript E.L. Konigsburg


Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold

Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold

AuntHarrietThis beautiful picture book will capture you with its colorful and engaging illustrations. Faith Ringgold tells the story of Cassie and Be Be, two children who encounter a train full of people and meet the conductor “Aunt Harriet” (Harriet Tubman). Be Be boards the train but Cassie is left behind. Cassie is distraught and wants to find her brother. So Harriet Tubman takes Cassie on a journey, retracing the steps of slaves who escaped using the real Underground Railroad and learning about the experiences of fugitive slaves. At the end, Cassie is reunited with Be Be and they celebrate the anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s first flight to freedom.

This book provides historical information in an accessible, narrative format that will appeal to children and teachers alike. In the classroom, this book provides an excellent opportunity for students to learn of Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad, leading so many slaves to freedom. There are multiple opportunities for lessons, text sets and connections using this engaging picture book.

Topics for Exploration and Connections

     Harriet Tubman

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (Caldecott)

Harriet Tubman information (National Geographic for Kids)

Harriet Tubman Biography (Ducksters site)

Timeline and other resources (Buffalo)

     Underground Railroad Information

Underground Railroad – PBS Site  

Teacher’s Guide at PBS

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

National Geographic Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom (with Educator Guide link)

Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad


More Picture Books About the Underground Railroad

  • The Last Safe House by Barbara Greenwood
  • Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson
  • The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud
  • Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
  • Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
  • Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
  • Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards

More Picture Books About Slavery

  • Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
  • Big Jabe by Jerdine Nolen
  • The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom by Emily Arnold McCully
  • If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma
  • From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester

Top Ten Books of 2014

Top Ten Books of 2014

First of all, I love book lists. This time of year is my favorite for reading book lists. I love seeing what others read and what they recommend! One of my favorite teacher blogs is Classroom as Microcosm by Siobhan Curious and she writes a top ten book list every year. I always look forward to reading her book list. This year, I decided to create my own list and share it! Thank you for the inspiration, Siobhan!

*Books are not necessarily published in 2014, simply the books that I read. Since I have a tendency to buy books faster than I can read, this year I made a promise not to buy any books, with the exception of professional development. So everything came from the library or my own bookshelf!

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrAllthelight

Wow. I was captivated from the first sentence until the last. The language is amazing, breathtaking, and you just do not want the book to end. The setting is France and Germany, the time is World War II, and the characters are trying to survive in a time of tragedy and loss. The story centers on a 14 year old blind girl in France and her father as the two must leave Nazi-occupied Paris and flee to the countryside; and at the same time, a young boy in Germany must make his own journey, while coming of age in the time of Nazi Germany. The layers to this story are abundant, the story is intricate and artfully written. You will stop more times than one can count, simply because a sentence is so beautifully written that you must read it again. I feel as though whatever I say about this novel, it will not be enough. Read this book, and then read it again. (You may also want to check out the Sidekick companion to All the Light We Cannot See after you finish the novel).

2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

GoldfinchThis book will take you on an amazing, surprising adventure, and I was right there the whole time, waiting for the next move with anticipation. If I described the plot, it would sound unbelievable. But Donna Tartt will move you through this plot without missing a beat, and you will move around the country, to Europe, and follow the fascinating characters on a crazy adventure involving the art world and appearances, thievery and adventure, loss and redemption. Yes, it is 775 pages. Completely amazing.

3. The Lowland by Jhumpa LahiriLowland

Of course, every book of Jhumpa Lahiri’s is spectacular, and this one is no exception; in fact this may be my favorite yet. You will find the familiar themes of identity, loss, family, love, unspeakable tragedy and secrets all permeating this original, engaging, and absolutely mesmerizing story. The Mitra brothers are compelling and fascinating, quite opposite in character but with a bond that transforms and shapes their lives as well as those around them. This tale spans Calcutta and America, telling the stories of multiple generations while focusing on two brothers and how their lives unfold on both continents. Quite simply beautiful storytelling.

4. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy FowlerWeAreAll

I met Karen Joy Fowler many years ago, and I’ve always enjoyed her books (if you are a Jane Austen fan, then you must read The Jane Austen Book Club). Her most recent book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (winner of the 2014 Pen/Faulkner award), simply took my breath away and made me stop everything – and read. I stayed awake well past my bed time in order to finish this one. I don’t want to give too much away and it is hard to write about the plot without spoiling some of the details. You will want to read this one and let the story unfold with the surprises that Fowler plans for the reader. The story of an intelligent, thoughtful heroine, Fern, this book is also about family, siblings, parenting, what it means to be human, how we create relationships, family bonds, and how we make sense of a world that is both complex and beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful.

5. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth GilbertSignatureofAllThings

Honestly, when I saw that this was a book about moss, I was skeptical. But I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing, so I eagerly requested it from the library and waited patiently. No need to renew the book; I finished it days after picking it up (and at 400 plus pages that says something!). I was fascinated by both the moss and the 19th century heroine, every single character was interesting. I was torn by wanting to read faster (the plot was surprising) and wanting to slow down in order to enjoy the language. I found so many beautiful passages worthy of a post it that I flagged more passages in a single reading than one would think possible. Read this book.

6. The Interestings by Meg WolitzerInterestings

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend. It was my first Meg Wolitzer novel. The characters were truly interesting and their adult lives were just as fascinating as the teenage years and “art camp” experience. The relationships were real and multi-dimensional, the characters were beautiful, flawed, frustrating and fascinating. From New York, to art camp in the woods, to Iceland and all around Europe, you will want to follow these characters – even when you dislike them, and sometimes you will – and then you will keep following them – through the years as they evolve, grow and continually surprise.

7. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka BruntTelltheWolves

This book captures a moment in the 1980s  – a time where so many things were happening, especially in New York City – and this coming of age novel is pitch perfect in its characterization, setting, and story. The young girls in this book are figuring out the adult world, while their parents also deal with new realities, changing family, loss, grief, and helping their daughters navigate this new space. The metaphors are beautiful, subtle, and the layers in this book will keep you reading. Don’t miss this book. Perhaps even more exciting than reading this book is the fact that this is Carol Rifka Brunt’s first novel. I cannot wait to see what she writes next.

IntheShadowBanyans8. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

This book might bring you to tears. It is heartbreaking and also hopeful. The setting is Cambodia, the time of the Khmer Rouge, when the author is only 5 years old. The narrator is a child, and through her eyes we witness the horror and devastation of war, genocide, and the loss of innocent lives. What sets this book apart is the amazing voice, the hope of a child and the exquisite language . I have read multiple reviewers describe the writing as lyrical – and it is most definitely lyrical – told with the voice and ear of a poet. You will remember this book long after setting it down.

9. The YellYellowBirdsow Birds by Kevin Powers

This powerful novel will stun you with its beautiful language in the midst of the harsh war and gritty setting of Iraq in turmoil. Powers captures the complexity of war and the complexity of the men – along with the combat that alters them beyond measure. It is a story of war and everything that war touches in its path. I could not help being reminded of Tim O’Brien, but Powers’ voice is all his own – unique, strong, and memorable. Many books and memoirs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are now out in the world, but this is one book that I think we will be reading for years – it is destined to be a classic.

10. Euphoria by Lily KingEuphoria

I’ve never read anything by Lily King, but with all the buzz about this book, I quickly requested it from the library. The buzz was well deserved. The book is loosely based on Margaret Mead and set in New Guinea. I know very little of Margaret Mead and this time period in her life, but this book inspired me to go out and read more – my very favorite type of historical novel. The trio of characters are interesting and the plot unfolds with many surprises and twists (many changes to the actual story of Margaret Mead)  – all of this will keep you on the edge as you read. The story of these three anthropologists living and writing about the New Guinea tribes, their cultural study – and danger that ensues – is thoughtfully and beautifully written. I am looking forward to reading King’s other novels.

What did you read this year? Please share, as I am already planning what to read next and I am always looking for another good book!

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