What to Read: Upper Elementary Girls Struggling with Confidence

I get asked for book recommendations all the time, and I truly enjoy being able to match kids in specific situations with books that could help them. A few days ago, I got a message from a former student who’s working with 3rd-5th grade girls, mostly Hispanic and African American, who are struggling with confidence.

Here’s the list I shared with her:president-of-the-whole-fifth-grade

President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston, which features an African American female main character who makes it her mission to win the class presidency as a step toward her big dream: building her own cupcake empire. It’s not an easy feat, but she perseveres and succeeds with honor and integrity.

allie-first-and-last

 

Allie, First at Last by Angela Cervantes, which features a Hispanic American female main character in fifth grade who is surrounded by a family of over achievers. She feels like she just can’t win at anything, but then she finds a contest that changes everything for her.

 

smile-raina-telgemeier

Smile by Raina Telgemeier, which is a graphic novel that tells the story of a part of the author’s life when she suffered a dental injury as a sixth grader. She has to go through all kinds of dental work and has to deal with all kinds of physical and emotional struggles as she recovers. This book is written for middle grades, but kids in 3rd grade and up love it. I’ve purchased several copies for the library and I just can’t keep them on the shelves.

 

gabriela-american-girl-book-1

Gabriela (American Girl Doll of the Year 2017, Book 1) by Teresa E. Harris, which tells the story of Gabriela, an African American girl who loves dancing and poetry but struggles with a stutter. She overcomes her fears and brings people together to save their community arts center.

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What Would Gwendolyn Brooks do by Parneshia Jones

I subscribe to an email list called Poem-a-Day. Sometimes the poems I get in my inbox are old favorites and sometimes I’ve never heard of them before. Sometimes I read them and sometimes I don’t. It’s nice, though, that I always have one there that I can choose to read if I’m in the mood for it.

So, when I got to school on Monday morning, I had this poem waiting for me in my inbox. The title caught my eye, and I’m glad I took the time to read it… and then to go listen to Parneshia read it on poets.org (click the speaker button near the top)… and then to share it with our 7th and 8th grade ELA teachers in the hopes that they might pair it with a Gwendolyn Brooks poem from their textbooks.

I hope that you, too, take the time to read it. This poem eloquently and fearlessly describes so much of what’s going on in our country today that I just had to share.


What Would Gwendolyn Brooks Do

Dawn oversees percolating coffee
and the new wreckage of the world.

I stand before my routine reflection,
button up my sanity,
brush weary strands of hair with pomade
and seal cracked lips of distrust
with cocoa butter and matte rouge.

I ready myself once again
for morning and mortify.
Stacking poetry and bills in a knapsack;
I bundle up hope (it’s brutal out there).

For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me.
I call out, hoping she can hear me
over the day-breaking sirens—
hoping she’s not far away,
or right down the street,
praying over another dead black boy.

How will we make it through this, Ms. Brooks?

                     Hold On.

When she held a body,
she saw much worse than this.
I know she was earshot and fingertip close to oppression.
She saw how hateful hate could be.
She raised babies, taught Stone Rangers,
grew a natural and wrote around critics.

She won a Pulitzer in the dark.

She justified our kitchenette dreams,
and held on.
She held on to all of us.

                    Hold On, she whispers.

Another day, when I have to tip-toe
around the police and passive-aggressive emails
from people who sit only a few feet away from me.
Another day of fractured humans
who decide how I will live and die,
and I have to act like I like it
so I can keep a job;
be a team player, pay taxes on it;
I have to act like I’m happy to be
slammed, severed, and swindled.
Otherwise, I’m just part of the problem—
a rebel rouser and rude.

They want me to like it, or at least pretend,
so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are—
this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled
like some desert belly dancer
who must be seen but not heard.

                     Hold On.

We are a world of lesions.
Human has become hindrance.
We must be stamped and have papers,
and still, it’s not enough.
Ignorance has become powerful.
The dice that rolls our futures is platinum
but hollow inside.

Did you see that, Ms. Brooks?
Do you see what we’ve become?
They are skinning our histories,
deporting our roots,
detonating our very right to tell the truth.
We are one step closer to annihilation.

                   Hold On, she says, two million light years away.

She’s right.
Hold On everybody.
Hold On because the poets are still alive—and writing.
Hold On to the last of the disappearing bees
and that Great Barrier Reef.
Hold On to the one sitting next to you,
not masked behind some keyboard.
The one right next to you.
The ones who live and love right next to you.
Hold On to them.

And when we bury another grandmother,
or another black boy;
when we stand in front of a pipeline,
pour another glass of dirty drinking water
and put it on the dining room table,
next to the kreplach, bratwurst, tamales, collards, and dumplings
that our foremothers and fathers—immigrants,
brought with them so we all knew that we came from somewhere;
somewhere that mattered.
When we kneel on the rubbled mosques,
sit in massacred prayer circles,
Holding On is what gets us through.

We must remember who we are.
We are worth fighting for.
We’ve seen beauty.
We’ve birthed babies who’ve only known a black President.
We’ve tasted empathy and paid it forward.
We’ve Go-Funded from wrong to right.
We’ve marched and made love.
We haven’t forgotten—even if they have—Karma is keeping watch.

Hold On.
Hold On everybody.
Even if all you have left
is that middle finger around your God-given right
to be free, to be heard, to be loved,
and remembered…Hold On,
and keep
Holding.


Copyright © 2017 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood by Calvin Trillin

no-fair-no-fair

I’ve spent this week getting my students excited about our upcoming Scholastic Book Fair, and a book preview video for No Fair! No Fair! has made me (AND every single one of the students who have seen it) chuckle every single time I’ve watched it. The author describes defending his portion of the backseat against his sister’s “expansionist backseat policies” and makes up rhymes about the ridiculousness of having to wear pants to school. I really can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough based on what I’ve seen so far.

You can see the video with the author here. I promise, Trillin’s deadpan reading will make you laugh and, hopefully, it’ll make you want to read the whole thing too. Enjoy!

 

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

unexpected everything

As summer winds down and back to school sales take over the stores, I find myself wanting to cling to summer for as long as possible.

One great YA title that might help us all hold fast to summer days is Morgan Matson’s The Unexpected Everything, a seriously cute and heartwarming novel that showcases everything there is to love about YA literature.

In it, Andie is a teenage girl with a very clear plan for her summer, for college, and for life in general. She’s the daughter of a politician, so her childhood has been lived under public scrutiny, and she strives for perfection. She hardly sees her dad, and since her mom passed away when she was young, she has basically raised herself. She’s fiercely independent and has very little relationship with her father, but somehow she’s satisfied with the way things are. She has her plans for the future, she has her friends, and she knows where she’s going.

But what will Andie do when a very public political scandal sends those plans sailing out the window? How will she deal with her lost summer internship? What will her unexpected summer be like when she had so many clear expectations that just won’t happen?

After she answers a help wanted ad that turns out to be for a dog walking service, all kinds of unexpected things pop up: a dad who’s suddenly in town a whole lot more than usual, a part time job without the prestige of a medical internship, a seriously great group of friends, a cute boy who keeps popping up, and so much more. What I love about The Unexpected Everything is that it’s fun and authentic (the text conversations, complete with emojis, are fantastic), but it still has strong themes of family and friendship and the power of change. We, along with Andie, get to see that sometimes beautiful things happen when life veers off the path we’ve decided it should stay on.

This novel is perfect for teenage girls and grown up women alike, and it’s especially fitting for these days when we’re still sort of in our summer state of mind but also making plans and looking ahead to the fresh opportunities that a new school year brings. Check it out, and enjoy!

Link

A Little Harry Potter Fun

Just because the whole world seems to be reading this new Harry Potter story and I’m curious to know what people think…

Have you read the Cursed Child yet? What did you think?

What Hogwarts House would you be sorted into?

hogwarts houses

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

serafina and the black cloak

 

With all the hype leading up to the release of Serafina and the Black Cloak, it’s pretty clear that Disney’s looking to discover and be a part of the next big book franchise. I think they may just have found it.

Well-written and intriguing, Serafina and the Black Cloak feels like something wonderfully familiar and new all at once. In the vein of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, Beatty has written the beginning of a great hero journey series for middle schoolers, but with one major difference… The hero is a girl. And, not just any girl, but a truly unique one for reasons that I won’t tell because it’ll spoil parts of the book for you. Throughout the book, Serafina goes through the process of questioning who she is and what her purpose is, and she comes out on the other side of it as an admirable and strong young woman. Set during the time of the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore House in the mountains of North Carolina, historical and factual details are woven into the narrative seamlessly, which creates a fascinating delve into historical fiction for middle grades readers. The supporting cast of characters are remarkable, too; they include the Vanderbilt family, a wide variety of people who have come to stay as guests in their home, and the large staff that kept a place like the Biltmore House running.

There’s a battle between good and evil here, and good wins out just as we’d expect in an MG title, but it’s done in a fresh way and comes across as something different. The book never really fully delves into witchcraft (portrayed as evil) or paranormal stuff, but there are touches of it that make the story mysterious and a little spooky. When the evil force driving the antagonist is finally defeated, it’s with something clearly good, which makes me comfortable with recommending this for school reading for grades 4 and up.

Serafina and the Black Cloak comes out on July 14th, and it should be everywhere when it comes out… But, click here to see it on Amazon (where it’s already listed as a #1 New Release) if you’d like to preorder it, or check with your favorite local bookseller to order it.