Monday, August 7, 2017

Jason Reynolds and Gareth Hinds

So, this happened this weekend.....


Jason Reynolds Y’all! AND, he signed My copy of his novel, Miles Morales!

The added bonus is that Gareth Hinds, the guy who does the graphic novel adaptations of many of the classic novels, was also in the house.


Sometimes, My Blessings come in pairs!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

10 to 40 Book Challenge!



Whirlwind School Year; What a Ride!

School year 2015 -2016, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was sooooo done with teaching; I was bored to death. If I was bored, can you imagine how my students were feeling?? Teaching one book at a time is boring.....I had been doing that since I started teaching, and I knew that I needed to do something differently.

I began to read and read and talk to folks, and someone told me about Donalyn’s Miller book The Book Whispers. Donayln’s book helped me to “Go Back To Love.” I decide to take my love and passion for books into the classroom, AND school year 2016 -2017 was the best school year that I have EVER had.

I gave up control, talked abouts books every single day, turned my students on to the power of words, gave my students complete choice in what they could read, and My, Oh My!

I read 46 books this school year and my students read tons of books as well....

Here are the books that I read this school year:

01. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds. Completely awesome. It was our common text second quarter, and I allowed the students to read it at their own pace. No more trying to keep the whole class together stuff. That does not work....



02. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. This book was recommended to me by a student. Not my favorite book; I had a strong dislike for the main character. However, my empathy grew for his story and the many different immigrants stories.

03. X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. I found this book to be boring, but it can definitely be used to introduce students to Malcolm X.



04. Drowned City by Don Brown. This was our required book for first quarter. INCREDIBLE look at Hurricane Katrina. You know, many high school students were very young when this horrific event took place. Great way to introduce them to a part of American history.



05. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is a collection of short stories. Loved every one of them. I read this book, because a student said that I MUST.

06. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. This is the one book that I read once a year, and I teach it with my whole heart. It is the blueprint for my entire AP class.

07. The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell. If you want to know more about taking love back into your classroom, read this book.



08. Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson. If you are believing God for ANYTHING. This is the book for you.

09. Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle. Good book about how to introduce writing into your classroom.



10. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Life altering book. My people, we got to take a closer look at our justice system and work to reform it. MUST READ FOR EVERYBODY!!!!

11. Stitches by David Small. This is an adult graphic novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. Young adults would enjoy it. However, because of the content, you may want to read it first.


12. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison. Quick read but intense and lovely. Toni Morrison can write. AND one of the main character’s name is Booker as in Booker T. Washington. (SWOON)

13. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. INCREDIBLE.... Read this book and grow.

14. As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds. The most loving book that shows the love between Black men and boys.


15. Life is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper. This was a reread, and it is all about love. J. California Cooper can WRITE. THAT IS ALL!!!

16. Everyday by David Levithan. I was not fond of this book. But, teenagers love this book for some reason.


17. The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle. One of the Best Books Ever. I have read it so many times over the past twenty years. Right now is all we have... Be Present In It.

18. The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. I love the way that Jason Reynolds treats delicate situations. Great book about coping.


19. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. You need to know your love language.



20. The Five Love Languages: Singles Edition by Gary Chapman. I repeat. YOU NEED TO KNOW YOUR LOVE LANGUAGE.

21. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. The most delightful book. I heard that 5th graders read this book. It’s so delightful, I think that almost anyone can appreciate this book at any age.


22. Pushout by Monique W. Morris. If you work with Black girls. READ THIS BOOK!


23. Despite the Best Intentions by Amanda E. Lewis and John. B. Diamonds. If you want to understand how systematic racism plays out in schools, this is the book for you.


24. We Should All Be Feminist by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read this as the Women’s march was approaching. Thought provoking and a quick read.


25. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. Incredible book about the complexity of women's relationships.


26. Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice by Dennis Kimbro and Napoleon Hill. GAME CHANGER. It needs to be read and read and reread.

27. Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes. This book evoked so many emotions in me. I will share it with as many students as possible.


28. Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Incredible, Incredible. Life is complex y’all.


29. Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone by James Baldwin. James Baldwin just gets it right. This book reads like it could have been written now, but it wasn’t.


30. Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Love LOVE LOVE.... LOVE! The characters and storyline.. LOVE LOVE LOVE!


31. American Street by Ibi Zoboi. Immigrants in Detroit... Thought provoking story that I will never forget and will read over and over again.


32. "Multiplication is for White People” by Lisa Delpit. If you work with children of color, read this book.

33. When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds. This book is the greatest. I had so many thoughts and feelings after reading this book. I even ran upstairs to get a student out of another class to talk about this book.


34. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book came out of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was not feeling this book; I like more character development. However, I had some students to really like it.


35. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. A close look at how folks just simply don’t like Black people because of their skin. That is all... OUR SKIN.

36. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi. All that I can say is incredible.


37. Caucasia by Danzy Senna. There is nothing not to like about this book.

38. The Coming by Daniel Black. The most beautiful slavery narrative ever told.

39. This is how you Lose Her by Junot Diaz. This is an incredible collection of short stories....Add this to your diversity list. Junot Diaz is a Dominican, American writer.


40. A Shepherd Looks at Psalms by W. Phillip Keller. This book showed up at the right time. It was my book club’s selection.

41. Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamont. Grace and Mercy.... Grace and Mercy... This was a great reminder of the importance of Grace and Mercy.

42. Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger. My students read and loved it, and so I gave it a try. Very informative and engaging... Must Read.


43. Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain by Zaretta Hammond. Every teacher MUST read this book. It gives practical strategies that can be implemented right away.


44. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I love this book more than I can say. Oh, to be a woman.


45. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Eyeopening. Engaging. Thought provoking....


46. A Full Life by Jimmy Carter. Completely boring, but President Jimmy Carter is a GOOD MAN.


Y’all, school has been out for almost two weeks, and I thought that I would include the one book that I have read so far during my summer break: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege. This is a great story of a grown woman coming of age. Yep, I think we come of age until we die.


It’s funny how books evoke emotions, and just going back over this list, I was transported right back to where I was when I read each book.

If you are feeling kinda blah in any area of your life, I want to encourage you to go back to love... Completely emerge yourself in whatever you love or use to love and “Go Back to Love.”

For all of my literature teachers reading this, you have to be a resource for your students, and just reading during the summer is not enough... You got to read, read, read.... and help students to become readers and GROW!

Happy Summer Y’all!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It’s Been SIX YEARS!


Some people vividly remember what they were doing the day that Dr. King was killed, or what they were doing when O’Jay Simpson was in the ‘get away’ car, or the day that they got married, or graduated from college... You following me?

Well, I vividly remember the very first day that I showed up to start personal training with The Greatest Trainer in the World, Berhane....


His location at that time was not near my house at all, and with the DC traffic, I left home EARLY to make sure that I was on time. I got there, and he talked to me, and assured me that he could help me reach me health goals. Because I was working out, and I thought that I was doing OK with my diet, I was shocked when I saw what I weighed and my high body fat completely shocked me.

However, Berhane assured me that he could help me reach my health goals, and the rest is history....

Now, if you know me or if you only know me through this blog, when I start something, I am fully committed, or I am not. Either I am in, or I am not. After meeting Berhane, I made a decision to fully commit to my health which means that I think about every single thing that I put in my mouth, and I exercise even when I do not feel like it and most of the time I don’t feel like it.


Now, like a lot of folks, I get off track...

Back in September when school started back, I was still in summer mode. Therefore, I was not prepping my meals, eating far to many peanuts, drinking a few too many glasses of wine, and lo and behold, Berhane checked my weight and body fat, and that was the reality check that I needed to get back on track.

True to Berhane style, he talked to me about my diet and talked to me about health and being vigilant. That very day, I went home and started back meal prepping, stopped drinking wine, and my weight and body fat positively responded.

I know all types of people, and Berhane is the most consistent people whom I know: he works out himself religiously, eat foods that are good for his body all of the time, does not drink alcohol, consistently kicks my butt, and always tells me the truth. I am happy that I have him in my life forever. (Folks Need Other Folks!)


I am not sure where you are on your journey, but if you are in your forties, I hope that you are aware that our bodies need good care to carry us into old age, and if you are under forty, please, please, please don’t take your health for granted. You are never to young to focus on your health.

Y’all, I love this journey with my whole heart, and I never take for granted the blessing of taking this journey with The Greatest Personal Trainer in the Whole Wide World, Berhane!

Yes, it’s been six years, and we have ninety-nine more to go....



You can reach Berhane at BT fitness.

Anniversary One
Anniversary Two
Anniversary Three
Anniversary Four
Anniversary Five

Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Reading Experience: Guest Blogger

Coach Kelly and I!

When I started high school, it was difficult for me to read books, because I never read at home. I thought books were boring. Now, I don't think that books are boring anymore, because my English teacher, Ms. Stallworth, helps me pick books that I like. Ms. Stallworth has helped me improve a lot, because she encourages me to read by giving me time to read in classroom and offering reading suggestions. As a class, we set reading goals, and my goal is to read ten books by the end of the school year, and I am halfway to my goal.

I have started to read at home, because I want to become a better reader and read challenging books. The only way I can read more challenging books is by reading a lot. So far, I have read Monsters by Walter Dean Myers, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Drown City by Don Brown, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes.

The book that I enjoyed the most is titled All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. The book is about an African-American boy named Rashad who went to a store to buy chips, but he tripped over a lady and a bag of chips fell from his hand. The police officer named, Paul Galluzzo, thought Rashad was stealing, so the police officer beat Rashad brutally, and he ended up in the hospital. In the story, there is also a white boy named Quinn, and he saw what happened to Rashad. He knew that the officer that beat up Rashad was Paul Galluzzo, and he knew Paul personally; he was a father to him. By the end of the story, there is a huge protest to protest police brutality. What I like about this story is the fact that it is based on real life events that is happening in the United States today.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was another book that I enjoyed reading this school year. The story is about a Native American boy named Arnold Spirit who lives on a Spokane Indian Reservation. He lives with his mom, dad, sister and grandmother. His best friend is Rowdy. Arnold switches from his school on the Reservation because of the poor conditions of the school, and he starts to attend a predominately white school that was a much better school academically. His parents agreed to allow Arnold to transfer to a new school. When he tells Rowdy that he is leaving their current school, Rowdy punches Arnold in the face, because leaving the “Rez” is seen as being a traitor. We get to see the changes that Arnold goes through in order to adjust to his new school. I liked this book because Arnold changes school, because he wants a good education and thinks about having a better future.

After reading books that I have personally selected, I am not scared to read books anymore. I plan to continue to read at least forty-five minutes every night so I can become a better reader.

I am happy with my reading life now!




Friday, March 31, 2017

My Reading Journey: Guest Blogger!

Me at six!

Since elementary school I have never really liked reading. I felt like I wasn’t good at reading, because it took me longer to finish books than my friends. Also, when I would read aloud, I would skip words, could not pronounce certain words, and other students would make sounds as if I was doing something wrong. This made me feel like I wasn’t a good reader, and I wanted to stop reading and just give up.

I would read books but did not comprehend them, so I felt like reading really was a waste of time. It was hard to see my older sister, who is eight years older than me, reading and enjoying it, but I couldn’t. I would try to read with her, but I would get bored and frustrated and stop reading. My father would always read in the living room before bed, and I would try to read also, but I would eventually lose interest and fall asleep.


My Dad and I!

In the first grade, we were put in reading groups based on skill levels. On the front of the books there would be different colored stickers. At the time, I didn’t know what the colors meant or why my friends and I were separated. Eventually, I realized that I was on the lower level for reading. Another teacher would come in and take four other kids and me to the computer lab where we would play fun grammar games on the computer, and she would read to us while we followed along. 

In the second grade, it happened all over again; I was pulled out of class and was given reading instructions. I was not happy with it, but it was helpful. However, students began to notice the high and low groups, and the students in the high group would make fun of those in the lower groups. This made me feel different; like an outsider.

With the help of the reading coaches in elementary school, my reading improved. When I got to middle school, I felt like I was on the right track, but reading was still difficult. When we would have to read a book as a class, I would always get behind; it was frustrating. Every year my English teachers would say “I’m going to get you to like reading;” they never did. 

My eighth grade teacher helped me figure out what type of books I liked by introducing me to all types of genres and authors. When I found the genre I liked, she told me about authors and books that she thought I would be interested in. We read Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and I absolutely loved it. I realized that I like realistic books that deal with real life situations that I can relate to.


My sister and I!

When I entered high school, it was recommended by my eighth grade teacher that I be put into a ninth grade intensified English class, and I thought to myself “Why did my eighth grade teachers put me in this class?” I guess my eighth grade English teacher saw or knew something I didn’t.

Everything was going well in this intensified class. We started with writing, then poetry, then she assigned us Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. That book was challenging. I was confused with who was who, and what was going on? Then we were assigned Lord of the Flies by William Golding and my head flip-flopped all around; I was totally confused. With all the different characters, I would forget names and I would think one character did something but actually the other character did it. It would have helped if the teacher had given us a sheet with the characters' name and their roles. Everyone around seemed to get it but me. It was also hard and made me feel pressured, because we were given chapters to read with a due date.

Mom and I!
Going into the tenth grade I was switched from intensified to grade level English, and I was so happy. Going from a intensified class to a grade level class was definitely less stressful. Intensified was fast-paced, and we would work independently most of the time. This year, in my on-grade English class, Ms. Stallworth teaches the lessons, then allows us to talk about the lessons in our self-selected groups, then we open up the conversation to the whole class, and share what we talked about.

My teacher seems to believe that if she gives students the choice to read what they want to read and time to discuss the books, then they will read more. And when she talked to the class about that, I was so happy. I get to choose what I want to read with no time limit. With reading whatever I want to, I have read more books this year than I have ever read for school. I have read a variety of books such as Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Ghost by Raina Telgemeier, Ask The Passenger by A.S King, The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle. I liked reading Crossover, because I could connect with the basketball terminology. The rhythm and onomatopoeia of the book made it fun to read. I also really enjoyed Ask The Passenger; It’s a great book about giving and receiving love.

My sister and I!

I’m not saying that I love reading now, but I have enjoyed seeing my progress in reading, and I will continue my reading journey.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

10to40Book Challenge: Guest Blogger Kathleen O’Connor!

Kathleen and the writer Ibo Zoboi

#10to40BookChallenge
           
When Jackie invited me to join the 10to40 Book Challenge, it seemed like an ambitious goal, and while I eagerly agreed to participate, I doubted if it was possible for either of us to actually accomplish it; we are busy women!  

Competitive by nature, I figured I could pull out a fast lead by choosing a few of Jacqueline Woodson’s shorter books from my middle school library that I had been meaning to read. I started with After Tupac and D Foster and The House You Pass Along the Way, then moved on to Another Brooklyn. I love these books for reminding me that girlhood, young womanhood, is for all of us so very much the same, even as it is in other ways tremendously different. 

Books are mirrors in which we can see ourselves, windows through which we can see others, and sometimes we can do both simultaneously. So, I made a conscious decision to include a cultural variety of writers in my challenge. 

Jackie often says, “I like books with characters who look like ME!” So do I! I read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and wept at the experiences of the Irish immigrants in that story and felt the warm glow of familiarity in traditions, expressions, and unique turns of phrase that you only find in Irish/Irish-American families. I could feel the homesickness that often resonates through generations of Irish American families, even for the members who are born here.

Likewise, I read We Are Not Ourselves by Mathew Thomas, an epic novel. A good part of it also takes place in Brooklyn, and it’s about an Irish-American family grappling with their patriarch’s downward spiral into Alzheimer’s disease. I found the “mirror” quality in this novel almost frightening. It was as if Mathew Thomas had been a fly on the wall as my own family fought the very same battle. And I wrote Mathew Thomas to tell him so and to express my gratitude for his book that somehow validated my entire experience with losing my own Dad to Alzheimer’s. I wept bitterly through much of the book and often felt like Thomas had sucker-punched me right in the gut. But, I was thankful and I told him so. And guess what?  He wrote back.


Me, Kathleen, and the author Brendan Kiely

In an interesting twist, an overwhelming number of the books I read in the first months of the challenge take place in Brooklyn. The African-American characters in Woodson’s and Jason Reynold’s novels lived in the very same neighborhoods and walked the very same blocks as the Irish characters in Toibin and Thomas; however, it was two generations later. I’ve given a lot of thought to this important link, because it has many conflicting messages. So many, in fact, that it should be a topic for a blog entry all on its own. My wheels are turning!

My most recent favorite is Ibo Zoboi’s American Street, a wonderful novel that was nothing but a window for me!  In it, Fabiola, a young immigrant from Haiti, moves in with her cousins in Detroit. I have to admit that the existence of a Haitian community in the United States was not on my radar at all, and I have never been to Detroit in my life, but Fabiola’s story of trying to maintain her old ways while acclimating to her new surroundings touched me, and I could not turn the pages fast enough. And, now I feel like I have an entire perspective that I never even had a glimpse of before reading this book.

Me, Kathleen, and the writer, Ibo Zoboi

I’m more than halfway through the 10to40 Book Challenge, and it is no longer about the numbers. When I think of all that I have learned in a short time, connections that I have made, experiences that I have had in speaking and reading with others, I am committed to continue reading at this pace forever: a minimum of thirty minutes a day, every day. I don’t want to miss a thing, don’t want to leave a single stone unturned. What began as a friendly competition has turned into a life-altering discipline. We set aside time to prepare our food, exercise our bodies, connect with our family….why do we so often reserve reading for a few paltry minutes at the end of our busy days? 

Jackie’s 10to40 Book Challenge has encouraged me to give reading the time that it deserves in my life. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Very Own American, Literary Canon....

Jason Reynolds, My Student, Me, and Brendan Kiely
(Authors of All American Boys)

I have some ideas running around in my mind that I must unpack....

Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing the author, Jason Reynolds, speak about his and Brendan Kiely’s book, All American Boys. (On a side note, I love Jason Reynolds’ books; the care that he gives Black folks is quite amazing.) So, I asked Jason to tell us about his reading life as a young person, and Jason stated that “Your literary canon ain’t my literary canon; mine includes The Color Purple by Alice Walker and books written by James Baldwin and Richard Wright.”

Jason went on to say that he never wanted to read Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn or any of the other books in the American, literary canon that his schools were trying to force him to read so, he just didn’t read. Finally, he discovered Black Boy by Richard Wright and a few other books that he felt were telling his story, and the rest is history.

So, I have been thinking a lot about the American literary canon. The American, literary canon typical includes titles such as To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Emma by Jane Austin, 1984 and Animal Farm both by George Orwell, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Waldon by Henry David Thoreau, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Odyssey by Homer, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain etc. 

Where are the books that made me fall madly in love with reading such as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, Life is Short but Wide by J. California Cooper, The Big Sea by Langston Hughes, Native Son by Richard Wright, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe etc.

There are some books that have become my bible such as The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Think and Grow Rich by Dennis Kimbro and Napoleon Hill, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, Democracy in Black by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates...

Why are they not in that canon? Are they not in the canon because they were not written one hundred years ago and many have characters who look like me?

According to many schools, I should put aside the books that I love, and adopt a love for the American canon?

Y’all, I ain’t doing that.....

I have made my decision that I will no longer, and I can do that, because I am not a K-12 student, feel guilty about being an English teacher and not being in love with those traditional, American classics. (I have tons of friends who have never read any of the books in the American, literary canon, and they are better than ok.) I am going to continue to develop and grow my very own American canon and best believe that my list will not contain books such as Jane Eyre, Emma, Huckleberry Finn and most of the traditional, American classics. My canon will include Men We Reap by Jesmyn Ward, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin, and all of the other books that speak to my heart.

I will no longer beat myself up because I absolutely hate every, single word of Pride and Prejudice, or that I think that Wuthering Heights is one of the most boring books under the sun, or the fact that I tried over and over to read Huckleberry Finn and just could not finish it, and the fact that I do not think that anyone needs to read the entire Odyssey unless he/she wants too.

Y’all, I will no longer think that I am not a legit reader or teacher, because I do not love most of the books in the American, literary canon......

If you dare to join me, what books are you putting in your very own literary canon?








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