Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Reading As A Love Story!

One of the many things that I thought about this past summer was teaching! I was wondering why are we leaving so many children of color behind? Why are so many children reading below grade level? I spent a lot of time thinking about what could I do differently to be more inclusive of all students, even those who are many grade levels behind.

One of my dear friends talked to me about allowing students to read books on their grade level, and I completely rejected that idea; I just could not understand how that would work in a classroom. She went on to say that they could read on their level and be taught reading skills using whatever book they were reading. You just don’t know how my mind could not wrap around this idea, and I rejected the idea completely. However, I thought about what she said for a long time after the conversation ended.

For the past two years, I have been doing a unit the last quarter of the year where I allowed students to read any book under the sun and do presentations where they talked about the theme, literary devices etc. I can not even explain how incredibly awesome these units were for the students and I, but I still could not wrap my mind around doing this for the entire year.

After much thought, I found a blog by a lady named Dr. Kim Parker, who lives in Boston, and in one of her blog post, she talked about giving children choice. I sent her a random message and asked her to call me, and she did. She told me about how giving children choice has changed her teaching for the best, and she gave me titles of a few books that I should read, one being The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. I read that book and a few others, and the rest is history.

Finally met Dr. Kim at the National Council of Teachers
of English Conference in Atlanta

In The Book Whispers, Donalyn talked about teachers taking their love for literature to the classroom. I thought, I definitely could do a better job with that and decided to give this idea a try.

I decided to ask, not thinking it was possible, to have round tables in my classroom instead of desk, because based on another book that I read over the summer, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond Smith, many people of color are communal and thrive when we work together, and I wanted to try this in my classroom. Well, I am fortunate to work in a school where the very next day after I asked, I had tables in my classroom.

I started the year off by talking about books and the importance of reading every single day. If you did not know, there are book trailers, much like movie trailers, for just about every book under the sun. I have been showing tons of books trailers. I take them to the school's library often for the librarians to give books talks, and we even took a walking trip to the public library and everyone got library cards, and My People, the rest is history.

The students are reading, reading reading....This is so much more enjoyable for them and me than reading one book at a time, trying to keep the whole class together, completing questions at the end of each chapter, and literally begging students to read books that I love and many did not care to read.

Instead of reading four books a school year that were selected by me, I have challenged them and myself to read between 10 and 40 books between September and June, and they are well on their way to achieving their reading goals that was set by them. For my reluctant readers, I gave suggestions such as The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, and I spent a lot of time with students who had a harder time than others finding books that they wanted to read.

Every single day, we talk about books with love. I do mini-lessons where we analyze passages from the books that they are reading, and we talk about writing styles, writing techniques, and literary devices etc; I am teaching them to fall in love with words.

Many are excited to be the celebrity reader of the day where they talk about the book that they are reading with the class, take a picture with me, the principal tweets the picture, and the picture appears on the front page of the school’s website.

Now, many of my students are minority students, English as a Second Language students, have Individualized Educational Plans, are below grade level, and they are reading and reading and reading. My people, I realized that the students were not reading because they did not like to read; they were not reading because they did not like the books that I selected.

Now, I know there are people out there who think that they must read the classics: Catcher in the Rye, all of Shakespeare, Walden, Huckleberry Finn, BUT who said that these books, which are not typically inclusive of a whole lot of people, are the books that all students should read. We MUST rethink teaching and what we teach if we want full inclusion in the classroom.

My people, reading with the students and reading books that they love has caused me to fall madly in love with books, and teaching, and reading, and helping students to fall in love with reading all over again....

We can’t continue to do the same things over and over and expect different outcomes; schools must change with the times....

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Books for Christmas 2016

It’s Christmas time again, and many of you may still be looking for that perfect Christmas gift to give to family, friends, teachers.... I am asking you to consider the gift of reading that can be inexpensive and have a lasting impact. 

This year, 2016, I have read thirty-seven books so far, and I am still reading.... If you are still looking for a gift idea, here is a list of the top ten books that I read this year. Now, I normally write a blog for every single book that I read, but I’ve been slipping. So, some of the books may have links to blogs about them and some of them may not. 

Here are ten of my favorite books of 2016:

#10 In Darkness by Nick Lake! I just loved how this book is a fictional story, set in Haiti, that goes back and forth between the Haitian earthquake of 2010 to some of Haiti’s greatest history which includes the great Toussaint L’Ouverture. There is so much to learn about Haiti from reading this book. Read the blog about it here.

#09 The Crossover by Kwame Alexander! This book is written in verse, and it is such a delight. I share it with students who have not found a book that they love yet. Read the blog about it here

#08 Brown Girl Dream by Jacqueline Woodson! I just love how Jacqueline tells the story of her coming of age and is able to intermingle her story with real life history. This book, like The Crossover, can also be read in one sitting, and it will give a person tons to think about and will also make a person’s heart happy. Read the blog about it here.

#07 The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller! This is a very important book that basically changed everything that I thought about teaching literature. This book helped me to fall madly in love all over again with teaching, literature, and children. Even if you are not a teacher, I think that you will enjoy this book. Read the blog about it here.

#06 Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond! This book is engaging, and just like The Book Whisperer, it made me rethink the way that I teach. If you want to understand how to teach children of color, READ THIS BOOK. Read the blog about it here.

#05 Life is Short by Wide by J. California Cooper! J. California Cooper is a master storyteller. The characters in this book will be with you long after you finish. I just love the love and care in which J. California Cooper writes about Black people. No blog for this one.

#04 As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds! This book caused me to laugh out loud. Being from the South, I could identify with these two African American boys from Brooklyn who had to spend a month in the backwoods of Virginia with their grandparents. DELIGHTFUL. No blog for this one. 

#03 Democracy in Black by Eddie Glaude Jr.! If you need a brief, engaging overview of systematic racism in this country, then this is the book for you. Read the blog about it here.

#02 The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore! This book has been out for awhile, and it took me awhile to get to it, but I am so happy that I did. This book is a great look at what can happen in America based on who you are born to and where you are born. Read the blog about it here.

#01 The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander! After reading this book, I will never look at an incarcerated or ex-incarcerated person the same. This is a book that I wish was not true, but I know that it is! Mass incarceration is real and intentional, My People. No blog for this one.

I am wishing every last one of you A MERRY CHRISTMAS and many years of good reading.

My reading list from 2015!
My reading list from 2014!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

One of my colleagues teaches the novel The Namesake, and many of the students give it rave reviews. One of my students read it over the summer, and she stated that it is the best book that she has ever read. 

Now, this definitely is not my type of book. There really is not a climax or any real drama; it’s a straight forward story about a guy named Nikolai Gogol who is dealing with the conflicts that are involved with assimilation. His parents are also dealing with assimilation and are trying to cling to their  traditional Indian culture. Nikolai pulls away from his family, but we see him make a full circle when he returns to his family. This is a true coming of age story.

There was not much that I could relate to in this story, yet I was able to empathize with the characters. It was great to be able to get a glimpse into what could happen when a person tries to assimilate. After talking to many of my students whose parents have immigrated to the United States, they could definitely identify with Nikolai. However, I saw Nikolai as a very weak character who never followed his own heart. 

My experience with this book and the experiences of many of my students with this book are quite different, and I really believe that it is about relate-ability. I had in-depth conversations with a few of my students who loved this book, and they both had immigrations experiences in their backgrounds and totally got this book; they could relate to it. 

With this in mind, I am offering my students the opportunity to read books that they can relate to. I want them to fall madly in love with reading by first reading books that they love and can relate too, and eventually, I am hoping that they will evolve into readers who read all types of book, about all types of people and cultures, in order to be well-rounded people who have a whole lot of empathy for all types of people and experiences that make up this vast world in which we live.

A student asked me why did I finish a book that I did not particular like, and I told him that I read it in order to be included in conversations about this book. But, after much thought, I realize that I also finished this book, because I value other people’s stories and experiences. 

If you value the experiences of others, read this book!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Today, another Black man was shot and killed by a cop, Terence Crutcher, and I felt the need to write a blog about this book. I hope that there are teachers who will have the courage to share this book with their students in order to have or continue to have the courageous conversations that are needed... I believe that our schools can play a role in healing this land.

This book is about police brutality, race, and courage....

A Black teenager, Rashad, is wrongly accused of stealing and is severely beaten by a cop. A white student, Quinn, who attends the same school as Rashad, witnesses the beating and personally knows the cop who does the beating. Quinn must decide if he will tell or not. The reader is allowed to hear from both Rashad and Quinn and is also allowed to see the complexity of race and racism that is plaguing this country.

Yes, these things need to be discussed in schools, in a safe environment, where students are able to express their thoughts and get their feelings out. Also, schools can be a great place for students to learn to hear others' opinions and respectfully agree and/or disagree.

This book is written in a manner which is engaging, yet accessible, and I am praying that teachers will be courageous enough to share it with students and start the healing that our country needs.

Y’all read this book!

By the way, if you are in DC on Saturday, swing by the National Book Festival to meet one of the writers of this book, Jason Reynolds.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill

I was taking to a well-read and respected friend, Gary, and he was telling me about this revolutionary guy named Napoleon Hill who wrote the book Outwitting the Devil. Many people, like me, may be very familiar with Hill’s more famous book Think and Grow Rich, and be less familiar with his name. So, when Gary stated, Napoleon Hill, I had no concept of who he was talking about. However, when he said the author of Think and Grow Rich, I instantly knew he was talking about. (I find it fascinating how some people’s work supersede their name.)

I ventured into reading this book with high expectations 1) because it was recommended to me by someone whom I truly respect and 2) that friend told me that it was a book with ideas similar to the The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, a book which I live by. 

Napoleon is basically talking about how our thought life and fear, procrastination, anger, and jealousy keep us from living our best lives. He paints this picture of the ‘other self’ that we must surrender to if we want to live our best lives. The ‘other self’ is when we give up the fear, procrastination, anger, and jealousy and follow our instincts to live out our purpose on this earth. 

However, the top three things that the devil uses to entice us are food, sex, and talking to much to impress others or to give unsolicited advice. Food is directly related to fear; people will not control what they eat and are consistently fearful about their health. He talks about the idea that the pursue of sex tends to lead people to procrastination etc. And, he talks about the danger in talking to much which leaves to anger etc., and we learn by listening.

In this book, Napoleon writes as if he is interviewing the devil, and I do not believe that the devil would reveal his secrets of how he deceives us, but....I overlooked the writing style and focused on the content and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

This is one that you may want to put on your list if you are on a growth journey.

Happy Reading!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Love by Penny Kittle

Now, I will never be super critical of a person’s writing, because I know the vulnerability that comes with putting thoughts on paper. However, this book captured my attention but did not hold it. It was not the writing style at all, but it was the content.

Penny gives some good reasons why we should give students choice in what they read such as developing stamina for college and beyond. But, the main point of the book seems to get muddled down in a whole lot of information that I could not follow.

I am thinking that this might not be a book that a teacher would read from cover to cover, but it may be a book to use as a reference if a teacher wants to read more about how to do a book talk or how to respond to questions? Or maybe this is for someone who is new to teaching, and the person may want a lot of information on different topics related to choice reading?

Not my favorite book, but I think that it has value.

By the way, I am curious to know what you think about the cover?


Monday, August 8, 2016

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond

My people, has there ever been a time when you knew something with your whole heart? You tested it, and tried it, and you knew that it worked. However, when you talked about it with people, it sounded like emotional talk, so you just kept it to yourself.

Well, this books confirms what I know to be true. All children, but especially culturally and linguistically diverse students need a little bit more than just the curriculum when it comes to learning. I know that many people, because I am one of those people, who need to be prepped for what I am about to be taught, I need time to process, I need time to share the ideas with others, and then I need to reinforce the ideas with practice. These are the things that Zaretta speaks about in this book, and she has brain research to back it up.

Zaretta gives a definition of culture and it’s not about race, but it's about what people do: “Culture, it turns out, is the way that every brain makes sense of the world. That is why everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, has a culture.”

She also goes into how we have a system that causes some students to be dependent learners, but we can help them to be independent thinkers by using brain research to inform our teaching. For some folks this is going seem like so much, but If we would think about how we treat people who visit our homes: we make them feel welcome, we talk and listen, we cater to their needs etc. right? Well, that’s sort of how we should treat our students; we must go the extra mile to make students, especially those who have been systematically marginalized, feel like they belong and that they can learn.

Zaretta is challenging people who work with children to do the “inside-out work required: developing the right mindset, engaging in self-reflection, checking our implicit biases, practicing social emotional awareness, and holding an inquiry stance regarding the impact of our interactions on students.” And, she offers suggestions on how to do this.

This is a well-written, easy read with suggestions that can be implemented in a classroom right away. Also, each chapter has discussions questions and a list of books that can be read if you want to know more about the particular topics discussed in that chapter.

I totally believe in the ideas presented in this book, because I have tried them, tested them, and they work.  Reading this book, I saw many areas where I need to improve in order to reach more students. Have no doubt about it, I will be reading this book over and over again, taking notes, discussing the ideas, and implementing many more of the ideas in my own classroom.

If you work with just one or many students who are culturally and linguistically diverse, READ THIS BOOK!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

"Readers are made, not born!”
When I was in graduate school, one of my professors talked about the idea that we needed a goal as literature teachers.

After much thought, I decided that I wanted every student to love reading as much as I did. To this end, for the past eighteen years, I have been teaching literature with my whole heart with that goal in mind. I read and read and read always looking for books that I can introduce to my students. However, after reading this book, I have a new goal: to turn students into lifelong readers. People who don’t just read every now and then, but people who read to make sense out of life, to find the best deal on a car, for pleasure, and people who pass this love on to their children.

I can hear that same love that I have for reading in Donalyn’s book: The Book Whisperer. It comes across that Donalyn loves reading and was lucky enough to marry a man who loves reading as much as she does. I just love how Donalyn abandoned the idea of teaching one novel with tons of worksheets to talking to students about book, allowing students to be very honest about where they were as readers, doing authentic assessments, sharing some of her struggles with reading with her students, and basically fostering a classroom where students see the value of reading.

Nothing makes me happier than running into a former student, and she saying to me that she found her Teacake. Of course she is referring to Teacake from the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. With this book, I would talk to the students about ideas such as a woman finding her voice and how the message of this book was revolutionary for the time in which it was written. Oh, the teaching of this novel would make me so happy, and I hope that it made my students happy and want to read.

After reading The Book Whisperer, I wonder how many of my students actually loved Their Eyes Were Watching? I am wondering if this book turned some kids off? What if I had given the students choice in what they read, would I have reached more students? Caught up in my own love for this novel, I never stopped to ponder these ideas. I would give the assessments and move on to the next book that I loved.

This book made me eager to go back to my classroom and share my blog with my students so that they can see how much I love books. I can’t wait to hear about their experiences with reading and hear about the books that they love to read. I am looking forward to working with the school’s librarian to ensure that students know exactly what is available for their pleasure. A whole lot of things will be done differently this coming up school year.

Now, I must admit that while reading this book,  I thought that Donalyn must be a White, middle class teacher who teaches students very similar to her. She never mentions the importance of culturally, diverse books. She also does not mention much about grading, and we all know that those report cards go out four times a year and a teacher is suppose to give grades. Also, she mostly talks about sixth graders, and there may need to be some modifications for a high school classroom. (Look for my book for high school teachers.)

My People, I love this book soooooo much: it made me reflect on my love of reading and how to make sure that I convey my love for reading with my students and hopefully that love will spill all over them.

If you are a teacher, read this book. If you work with children, read this book. If you love to read, read this book. If you have children, read this book.


Monday, August 1, 2016

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Many teachers religiously teach Huckleberry Finn and many other American classics. I couldn't remember if I had ever read it before, and thought that maybe I should read it in order to participate in those scholarly discussions that literature teachers love to have.

My people, I started reading it and was not feeling it at all. However, there have been many books that did not grab my attention right away, but I fell madly in love with them as I continued to read. So, I kept plugging away at Huckleberry Finn. After five weeks and only getting to chapter three or four, I decided to give it up.

First of all it is boring. The storyline nor the language is captivating. The ’N’ word seems to be used unnecessarily. I have no problem with the use of the ’N’ word in literature if it is trying to convey some type of message. However, in Huckleberry Finn, it seems to be used just to be used.

After I finally decided that I would give this book up, I have thought a lot about this book, the literary canon, White superiority, high school students, and culturally relevant text.

I need to ask these rhetorically questions: Why or do folks love Huckleberry Finn? Are there people who pick this book up to read for pleasure, or did people EVER do that? Was it ever relevant?

Who actually decided what books should be in the literary canon? I wonder if it was the same type of folks who wrote The Constitution of the United States and decided that my people and I were not quite human? The Constitution has been amended several times, and I am wondering why we have not amended or abandoned the entire idea of a literary canon?

There are soooooo many awesome books out there; I can not even began to imagine trying to narrow down all the wonderful books to one list that everyone must read or die trying.... But if I had to select a few books that I think everyone should read before he/she dies I would select Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, In Darkness by Rick Lake, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, Between the World and Me and The Beautiful Struggle by Te-Nehisi Coates. However, if you asked one thousand other people, you would more than likely get one thousand different answers, and who would actually be correct?

Schools have been teaching books like Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and the Great Gatsby as the American Classics. But do you notice what they all have in common? All White main characters, written by White people, and most of these books do not have characters of color. So, if schools have mainly been focusing on these types of books forever, isn’t this placing more value on White folks stories, and basically sending a subliminal message that other folks stories, Native Americans and African American etc. stories, really ain’t part of the American story. And, if we have been sending this message forever, isn’t it about time that schools and the country make a conscious shift to be more inclusive and to give every American story value.

"I, Too, Sing America" 
by Langston Hughes 

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen 
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well, 
And grow strong. 

I'll be at the table 
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,”

They'll see how beautiful I am 
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

Now, I believe that even if a student comes to high school with a love of reading, I think that the high school curriculum turns many students off.... Many stop reading, many read what the teacher assigns and read for pleasure on their free time, and some try and try and try to read those assigned books thinking that they will be let in on some type of secret that will help them to fall in love with the American classics and live happily ever after.

However, I am proposing that high schools give students more choice or complete choice in what they read. That teachers find a way to convey their love for reading by actually talking about books, visiting the school or public libraries, having writers come into the classroom, or even skyping with authors. I know there is a place for rigor, diversity, and a love for reading in the high school classroom.

My people, there are so many culturally relevant text out there.... Text that will make students fall in love with reading, and stories, and cultures, and people. And, I believe that there is a place in today’s classroom for text that actually interest students.

So, My People, I would never deny a student the opportunity to read Huckleberry Finn, but I definitely would never make it a required reading in my classroom.....

One day, if I just can’t find anything else to read, I may try Huckleberry Finn again. It’s been read for years; it must be great right? (Inserts sarcasm!)

Happy Monday!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

So, I was going on a trip and would be away for about four days, and I took Brown Girl Dreaming with me, because I knew that a book as thick as Brown Girl Dreaming would definitely be enough to keep me entertained during my down time while out of town. However, I started reading this book that is written in verse, and by the time my three to four hour flight landed, I was finished and madly in love with Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson tells her story of growing up during the 60s and 70s, and she beautifully mingles the importance of the Civil Rights Movement into the telling of her story. However, what I found most intriguing is that Jacqueline, according to her teachers, “was not as smart as her sister.” But, she discovered that she loved to write, and a teacher confirmed that she could write, and now we have the 2015 Newbery Medal earning Brown Girl Dreaming.

I could not stop thinking about the teaching possibilities of this novel with children of all ages. In this book, Jacqueline mentions many of our African American heroes, and I am imagining a teacher reading this book aloud to her students and teaching mini lessons on the African American heroes that are mentioned in this book. Also, Jacqueline learned differently, and I can also imagine a teacher engaging students in talking about their learning styles.

This book was uplifting, beautifully crafted, relatable.... and I know that any person who gets his hands on this book will appreciate the story and the beauty of the writing. But, our little brown children will really appreciate this wonderful book that tells many of our stories in the most beautiful manner.

Jacqueline Woodson.... I appreciate you for telling this brown girl story!

Brown Folks, we got to continue to tell our stories.......

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

A while back, President Obama read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and he loved the book so much, it inspired him to invite Franzen to The White House. Well, I can go on and on about Freedom. I love that book so much. It is completely character driven, and the reader gets to know the most intimate parts of each character; we learn why each character does what he/she does. (I just love those stories where the author shows the complexity of being human.)

So, President Obama picked Fates and Furies as one of his favorite books of 2015. Being that I loved his selection of Freedom a while back, I had to give Fates and Furies a try, and it did not disappoint.


The fates part is all about this guy named Lotto whose life takes an unexpected turn, and we learn all about him and his life and what makes him who he is. He marries this girl named Mathilda after college, and in the furies part we learn all about Mathilda.

Through character development, we are able to fully understand each character and have full empathy for both of them. While I was reading this novel, I was wondering if we would have more fulfilling relationships with everyone in our lives if we knew why he/she did the things that he/she did. For instance, what makes a person shy away from the tough stuff, or what causes a person to blow up, or what causes a person to be completely driven.... If we knew these things, wouldn’t this solve a whole bunch of misunderstandings that are caused by many of us assuming why someone does what he does and acting on our assumptions. (However, life typically does not afford us to know many of the things that we would love to know.)

For instance, it appeared that Mathilda just happened to see Lotto and fall in love with him. However, we learn that there is much more to that meeting, and Lotto was never privy to those details. If he had known, would that had made a difference to him and maybe even impacted their relationship?

Based on President Obama’s love for Fates and Furies and Freedom, I would wager that he is a man who is concerned with human nature and what makes people tick. I am betting that in dealing with people, he is a person who seeks to understand before he jumps to a conclusion.... (I believe that the kind of books that we love can reveal a lot about us.)

My people, if you love human stories as much as I do and President Obama, then this is the book for you...


It is good to have a President who reads.....


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My people, life has been happening... Happening in a way where there are so many good and exciting yet scary things going on with my life until I have not had the time to get the books that are running around in my brain out on paper! However, I am not complaining, but I am actually trying to enjoy the ride!

So, here is the first book that has been dying to get out!

About a month or so before school ended, I did my choice novel unit with my students, and being that they all have their own computers, they were able to do a great, group project that I will share with you soon.

Anyway, many of the teachers in my school are giving students choice in what they read, and many of the students are reading and loving Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Even in my classroom, many students had read or wanted to read this book. After all of the hype about Thirteen Reasons Why, I decided to give it a try so that I could it discuss it with the students who were reading it.

One of the protagonist, Hannah Baker, has actually committed suicide, and she leaves behind a series of tapes explaining why she committed suicide. It took me a minute to get into this story, because the plot sort of moves slowly with the mixing of Hannah’s story with Clay Jenson’s story, the guy who is in possession of the tapes. However, Jay builds the suspense and makes this book one that makes the reader want to read to find out why Hannah killed herself.

My first thoughts were “Do we really want to expose students to a book that seems to be glorifying suicide?”

At first Hannah came across as a hero to me; the girl who is making her friends and foes feel bad about causing her to commit suicide. However, my students thought that this book was not about Hannah at all but was about the people who caused Hannah to commit suicide. They saw this as an anti-bullying book that can cause a person to think about how his action may effect another person. (I love discussing books with my students.) This was one of those ‘aha conversations’ that caused a shift in my thoughts, and because of that shift, I am highly recommending this book to middle and high school students; it is easy to read, deals with teenager issues, and just may cause a young adult to think about how his actions may impact the life of another person.

Adults, I am also encouraging you to read this book, because Hannah did reach out to a few adults, but the adults seemed to miss or just did not quite understand how to help her.

Heavy, easy read that students seem to love, and any book that gets students to read is a good book!

Happy Summer, My People!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell

My current county introduced the idea of giving high school students choice in what they read. For most of us, this idea seemed quite foreign; however, the Professional Learning Community (PLC) that I am part of decided to give this a try. We worked and worked and created some things, and last school year we gave this idea a try with much success.

This year, I have working to tweak what we did last year by doing some reading on choice novels. While researching, I stumbled upon this intriguing blog. The author of that blog, Pernille Ripp, is arguing the point that students should be given more choice in what they read. The blog was thought-provoking, but the comments about the blog were just as intriguing. People were totally agreeing with Ripp and others were on the opposite side of the fence. And, I must say that I am somewhere in the middle; I value whole class novels and choice novels equally, and right now, I incorporate both into my classroom. Several of the people who commented on the blog were highly recommending the book, The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell, and I felt that I must give it a try.

This book, The Reading Zone is a must read! Yep, I absolutely love this book.

Before I tell my thoughts about this book, let me tell you about a conversation that I had with someone whom I respect in education. He stated "We've been doing this for years." He was referring to the idea of allowing students choice. So, if you have been giving students choice for years, please share your ideas in the comment section. But, for me, the idea of choice in high school is still very, very new.

Nancie proposes that we turn students into readers by allowing them to read whatever they want to, and she gives suggestions on meaningful activities that can accompany the reading. She goes on to say that tons of high schools are doing the opposite; we are turning students off when it comes to reading. She notes that what we call rigor which often includes tons of note taking, essays in MLA format, and lots of questions to answer, turn students completely off.

Nancie proposes that teachers build in time to read in the classroom, that we have book talks about the books that students are reading, that we give students choice, and basically remember why most of us wanted to be English teachers in first place. And for most of us, that was to get students to love literature as much as we do.

After reading this book, I went to the other teacher who teaches Advanced Placement and proposed that we change our summer reading assignment from asking students to read one book that we selected, to giving students a list of books that we absolutely love and giving them the choice to read books from our list or selecting other books, as long as they read during the summer. Now, we will have no way of knowing if students read at all over the summer, but we also do not know if they ever really read the book that we assign.

My fellow elementary, middle and high school educators, please consider reading The Reading Zone!

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Year of YES by Shonda Rhimes

My book club’s book for the month is The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes who is the writer and producer for shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. (You guys know that I do not watch TV, and I have not watched any of these shows.)

Upon first starting to read this book, I was intrigued, but it took me awhile to be drawn in. However, once Shonda pulled me into this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it also sparked me to do some self-reflection.

Based on this book, Shonda has always been a loner, introvert. Her sister casually said to her that she always says ‘No,’ and that comment literally caused Shonda to change her life. Shonda worked through her fear, got out of her comfort zone, and changed her life for the better. She said YES to speaking her own truth, her body, difficult conversations, to owning her own greatness etc.

Shonda writes about the idea that many women, including herself, do not like to take compliments, and if someone tells us that they like our dress, we will make a comment such as “This dress is old” instead of just saying “Thank You.” I’ve been practicing just saying “Thank You” and closing my mouth.

Shonda also talks about how she had to face the reality of her relationships with many of the people in her life: “Now that I see it, I can’t unsee it.... I feel sad. I’m grieving.. The loss is painful.” However, Shonda goes on to say that “The Upside of Culling people from my life is that my focus has become very clear.” (WOW) After reading the chapter on friendships, I realize that we must look at our relationships for what they are and not for what we want them to be and deal with them according... LIBERATING!! (We can love folks, even family members, and not have them in our personal space....LIBERATING!!)

I found it quite interesting that once Shonda decided to say YES for a year, she did not want to stop saying YES to her improved life: "One hundred twenty-seven pounds thinner, several toxic people lighter, a better mother, a better friend, a stronger leader, a more creative writer, a more honest person, more adventurous, more open, Brave...”

This is a fairly short, serious, yet humorous read that confirms the fact that we have the power to change our lives.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

My people, you guys know that I love some writers, and yes I do have some favorites: Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James McBride, James Baldwin.... BUT, I am going to have to put Paulo Coelho at the very top of my list. Yep, this guy is at the very top of my favorite authors' list.

I do believe that there are prophets still walking this earth, and I strongly believe that Paulo is one of them. He truly knows human nature, and he uses his writings to get readers to think about things such as love, fear, death, and sex in ways that just may solidify some things that we already know or to help us to think about these things from different perspectives. Every single time that I read one of his books, I am moved and changed.

In Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo deals with life, death, love, sanity....

Veronika, the main character, takes a lot of pills in the hopes of committing suicide. But, like in most books, there is no way that the protagonist is going to die in the beginning of the book. Veronika wakes up in a ‘lunatic asylum’ with someone saying to her “You’ve landed slap bang in hell, so you’d better make the most of it.” And, the rest of the book takes place mostly in the insane asylum.

Paulo takes us into the mind of Veronika and a few of the other patients in the insane asylum. It seems, through narration, that almost everyone in the insane asylum are there because they were living lives that he/she did not want to live. So, they escaped real life and ended up in the asylum. Paulo is trying to tell us something about the importance of being true to ourselves and overcoming every obstacle to live a life that gives us meaning.

In the asylum, Veronika and the other patients, realize that they could be whomever they want to be and do whatever they want to do without being judged; there was a sense of freedom on the inside. Veronika’s presence has an effect on several of the patients and causes them to exam their lives, and they decide to go out into the world and live their lives differently than they had before.

Inside, Veronika is drawn back into her passions of music and explores love and life.

My people, what would you do if you weren’t afraid????

Now, in real life Paulo Coelho was committed to a mental institution by his parents three times, because they thought that he must be mentally ill if he wanted to be a writer. He infuses this into the book, and mentions himself in third person. I found this very intriguing; haven’t seen to many authors do this before. This caused me to think about people who go against the norm and pursue their passions and appear to be crazy......

What would you do if you weren’t afraid????

This is a well-written, thought-provoking book that can cause a reader to think about his life, love, death, and the pursuit of happiness.

Paulo’s work should be read, read, and reread!!

Other blogs that I have written about books by Paulo:

The Alchemist 
Eleven Minutes

Happy Sunday, My People!!!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Color of Water by James McBride

I found this book, The Color of Water, to be quite fascinating.....

James tells the story of his White mother raising twelve Black children, and they all graduated from college and went on to have successful careers.

Now, here are a few things that I have been reflecting on since finishing this book:

James’ mother, Ruth, first husband died when she was pregnant with her eighth child. After he died, she married another man and had four more children. James is the child that she was pregnant with when her first husband died. So, of course James does not talk about what her life was like when his mother and father were raising the seven children together. So, based on this book, the reader can not determine if Ruth raised her children differently when her husband was alive. However, based on James’ recollection, his mother was not a good housekeeper, not a good cook, and she seemed to not be a great decision maker either; however, she managed to send all twelve of her children to college.

Now, when we think about education and children at risk, it would appear that these children should have been perfect candidates to drop out school: poor and living in the projects. However, college was in their future. James even talked about a period of his life, during high school, when he stopped going to school for awhile, but it was already instilled in him, maybe from seeing his older siblings go off to college or by his mother, that he would go to college. His mom gave him the bus fair, and off he went to college.

My people, we know that this strong women did quite a few things right, and I am curious to know what were some of the determining factors that contributed to this incredible woman sending all of her children to college, and they went on to become doctors, teachers, writers, nurses etc.

Also, since reading this book, I have been thinking about public transportation. Yes, public transportation!! I read this article that was talking about poverty in the South and places where there is limited to no public transportation and how the lack of public transportation negatively impacts the poor.

So, in New York, James’ family had no trouble getting around because of public transportation. However, once they moved to Delaware, without a car, even going to the grocery story was a big deal and could be quite costly. The lack of public transportation drastically changed their lives. Now, I know that the lack of public transportation greatly impacts the poor, and I am not sure what we should do about it, but I know that we should do something.

Race, Race, Race was throughout this book!!!

James did not seem to even notice that his mother was White until other people brought it to his attention by saying inappropriate comments or staring. Which leads me to believe that racism is definitely taught. Also, Ruth was estranged from her entire White, Jewish family, her father was a Rabbi, because she married a Black man. She made her way into the Black community, and that is where she stayed for most of her adult life. She refused to talk about race or being White until she was asked by James in order to write this book. James nor his siblings did not know until the writing of this book that they had White, Jewish blood running through their veins.

This book confirms that race is complex and rules this country, and I am not sure what we can do about this.

Ruth went to Temple University at the age of sixty-five and earned a degree in social work, and she used that degree after she earned it. “She worked as a volunteer in a Philadelphia social service agency that helped pregnant unwed mothers; then she moved on to run a weekly reading group for literate and illiterate senior citizens at the local library.”

This, I found fascinating and made me think about my own 80 year old mother who wants to go to her senior activities every day; folks need purpose. I just believe that we need to stop living when we die and not one day before....

This is a well-written thought provoking book that I think is very relevant to add to the conversations on race that we are having today. Consider reading this book to get another perspective on being Black in America.

By the way, I read the Good Lord Bird which is also by James McBride, and I loved every word. You may want to try that one also.

Let’s get busy, My People!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bo Bikes Bama 2016

As a middle school person, I remember having the hugest crush on The Bo Jackson. When I heard that he has been doing a charity ride in Alabama for the past five years called Bo Bikes Bama for The Alabama Relief Fund, I knew that I had to do this ride that would provide me the opportunity to give back to my home state, and it would also give me the opportunity to possibly meet Bo Jackson.

I decided to stay on the campus of Tuskegee University, my Alma Mater, which is only about fifteen minutes away from Auburn which is where Bo Jackson would be hosting the Bo Bikes Bama ride. I have a niece and great nephew who are both current students at Tuskegee. So, I got the chance to spend time with both of them, as well as, spend time with my nephew and his wife who live a few miles away in Montgomery, Alabama.

Great nephew

Saturday, the day of the ride, I excitedly gathered with about 900 other cyclist to ride the country sides of Alabama. Right before the ride, I had to get out of the lineup to take care of a mechanical issue on my bike, and just as I was finishing the work on my bike, I looked up and was looking right at Bo Jackson who was trying to make his way to the starting line. (Swoon). 

Bo got to the front of the line and thanked us for coming out, and he talked about the fact that he has raised around $1 million dollars in the last five years and has built about 500 homes and quite a few tornado shelters. He went on to tell us that Bret Favre and Lance Armstrong would be riding with us. However, what he said that stuck out the most to me was “Enjoy the ride, and do not complain about things that we have no control over.” This set the tone of the ride for me, and I must admit that I took everything in stride and completely enjoyed the ride.

Being that I was cycling, I was not able to take many pictures, but my people, I had forgotten or maybe never noticed the beauty of Alabama. Lakes, ponds, streams, beautiful trees, and miles and miles of highway with very low traffic. Alabama the Beautiful!!!

And, ain’t nothing like Southern hospitality. There were three rest stops, and the volunteers were extremely happy and friendly. The second rest stop was hosted by a church, and the church members had chairs ready for us and many of the church members were there to greet us. Also, at this particular rest stop, I ran into a cousin through marriage, who is a state trooper, and he was keeping us safe. I felt like I had my own personal protection.

Cousin, the state trooper and protection!

However, true to Alabama style, there was fried chicken at the last stop!! (You got to love Alabama!)

At the finish line there was a live band, plenty of food for the riders, and of course Bo Jackson, which is when I got the opportunity to take the picture with him. There were lots of people gathered around Bo, and he handled all of the attention with such grace. He stood for hours and allowed people to take pictures with him, and he wrote his name lots and lots of times on almost anything that was provided.

My people, the great outdoors, cycling, and being around lots of people make me extremely happy, and this weekend, my happiness level went through the roof. I talked with so many people before, during, and after the ride who all seemed to be equally excited and happy to be riding in the state of Alabama.

My people, if you don’t know what makes you happy, then I am highly encouraging you to try lots and lots of things until you find the things that bring you complete joy, and consider doing those things often.

You know, I’ve learned that I am 100% responsible for my happiness, and I realize that it does not take much to make me extremely happy: people, teaching, books, authors, the great outdoors, exercise, cycling, traveling, rest..... AND, the bonus is that I can enjoy most of these things on a regular basis.

My people, the joy that I had this weekend can not be contained, and I am sure that it will spill over into other areas of my life and all into next week.

My People, find a hobby that you love, and become its slave!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It’s Our 5th Year Anniversary....

Five years ago, the life of a person who was in my circle took a turn for the worse, and it just so happened that many people whom I had not seen in awhile ended up at the hospital for support of this young man whose life was hanging in the balance.

It was apparent that a few of these people whom I have not seen in awhile had been working out. Their bodies and spirits reflected that they had been taking some awfully good care of their inner bodies.

There is no way that I can not see this type of change in someone and not acknowledge it, and of course they told me about their health journey with this wonderful personal trainer named Berhane.

At this time I was religiously going to the gym, running lots of miles, and I thought my diet was pretty good. So, when they suggested that I try Berhane, I was reluctant; I already had a plan. However, Berhane ended up coming to the hospital, and I was completely drawn into his quiet, caring personality. However, what I loved about him the most is that he was not trying to convince me that I needed to work out with me. He confidently spoke about his services, and after talking to him, I knew that I had to at least try him once.

My first workout with him was hard and eye-opening; I was definitely not in the shape that I thought I was. However, he did not make me feel bad about that fact, but he let me know that I could improve. In the beginning I was doing his workouts with all of my heart, but it took me a little longer to get on board with my diet. Being a happy hour girl, I loved my drinks and what I thought was good food on the weekends. What I didn’t know is that my eating habits on the weekends were completely destroying my workouts. (Working out does not make up for bad eating habits!) Finally, I got the full revelation that diet and exercise go hand in hand, and the rest is history!

I have been training with Berhane every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday for the last five years, and I hope to be training with him for quite a long while into the future...

What I know for sure is:

Our health is our wealth, and it ain't a destination; it’s a journey. I remember thinking that when I reached a certain size, or at the end of the first year, then the second year, I could relax. However, Berhane quickly reminded that relaxing would have me ending up right back where I was before: high body fat, slightly high cholesterol, fatigued etc.

My people, I have to be vigilant, making sure that I work out and be conscious about every single thing that I put in my mouth. There is no ideal number on the scale at all, but there is an ideal lifestyle that we can strive for, and that is one that puts our health first.

When I first started training with Berhane, I just wanted to lose weight, but he reminded me over and over again that “If I take care of the inside of my body, the outside would take care of itself.” Now for most of us, we love the outward appearance; what folks can see when we have our clothes on and when we do not. However, I have learned that the outside of our bodies are a direct reflection of the inside. When our insides are hydrated, nourished with good foods, and worked with quite a bit of intensity, the reward is that the outside of our bodies reflect the healthiness of the inside of our bodies.

These last five years have been better than I can even articulate. You know, just knowing where I will be on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursdays at 4 brings me a lot of comfort and reduces the anxiety of when to fit in the workouts. I plan most of my meals, and guys this ain't something that I like to do, but it sure does help me to monitor what I eat.

In addition to working out with Berhane where we mostly focus on me having a lean body with more muscle than fat through strength training and diet, I make sure that I do lots of cardio, and I just happened to have found a cardio activity that I absolutely love, cycling, and I cycle five or six days a week even during the winter.

My people, it’s been five years, and I promise, I wouldn't believe it if I did not have four previous anniversary blogs that are reminders that it really has been five, good years. These five years have been fun and rewarding, and I can not even imagine a life where I did not did put my health first.

If you are reading this blog and you are on a health journey, keep on keeping on. However, if you need to take your journey to another level, switch it up, or even get started, remember, it is never to late to work on your health. I can guarantee you that once you make taking care of your health apart of what you do, you will have a better life overall.

Oh, how I am loving this journey.....

It's been five years, and I am just getting started!!

Anniversary One Blog
Anniversary Two Blog
Anniversary Three Blog
Anniversary Four Blog
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...