#IMWAYR Internment by Samira Ahmed

I can’t stop thinking about this book.

I’m going to need to read it again. And again.

I’m going to be sharing it with everyone whose hands I can put it into.

Because I need to talk this through.


We read fiction to learn how to be human. In these pages we see both the deep human capacity to love and protect, and the similarly large capacity to be hateful…or perhaps worse, to simply turn away. The background details of this novel are plucked straight from our headlines. At times I was taken aback by how on the nose it felt. (I should be taken aback. That’s part of the point.)

Because in these times, we are all being tested. Only in brief moments do most of us even realize it. Because for many of us, despite the headlines, our lives go on. We carry on with the daily ups and downs, things that feel like triumphs or terrors. I, for one, am guilty too often of turning away from the headlines that, for me, are news…but for others are life. As I read, I couldn’t help calling to mind the phrase, ‘banality of evil.’ One of the most terrifying thoughts as I read various scenes in Internment was how ordinary people simply following along could contribute to such injustice or allow it to continue unabated. The woman who had baked cakes for Layla’s family celebrations might be anyone we encounter. The young men in the National Guard could be from any of our communities. The onlookers turning away from an unsettling scene could be us. Our country’s shameful involvement in interring non-white people, including citizens is not old news from a bygone war. As Ahmed points out, brown children have very recently been held in cages and camps. We may have joined the temporary outcry while the headlines flashed across our screens, but how many of us have sustained our outrage? I had to look up Tornillo, Texas today to find out if it was still open. I didn’t know.

Many in the edu community have been talking about the need to refresh the canon. If you’ve been looking for a piece of literature that invites readers to think deeply, to wrestle with big ideas of humanity, to make meaningful connections not only to life but to other notable works of literature, poetry, and philosophy, one that nudges us to reexamine our understanding of history, then this book is more important in this moment than any book in the canon. Students and teachers need to read this book. Communities, citizens, leaders…humans need to read this book and to grapple with all that it raises.

“The people united will never be divided.”

#SOL19 Day 11:Creating a Shared Book Space

Inspired by Susan Kennedy’s recent post (readingteachsu)

When I first arrived at this school, a newly minted reading specialist, the first directive was for me to collect all the books hiding in dusty cabinets and closets and create a centralized space where teachers could find books to use in their classrooms. I started over the summer, sorting books that smelled like the harsh cleansers they shared closet space with. I sorted through grade level sets of what used to be whole class novels. I un-packaged grimy baggies with cassette tapes and matching picture books. Eventually we had half a classroom full of shelves and books by level in sets of six. Behind the wall of bookshelves were nestled the reading tutors. When school began, we held a grand opening where we unveiled a complicated checkout system. That year some teachers used the books.

The book room has reflected the evolution of my own thinking about books and access across the years.

Due to shifting real estate demands within the building, our little book room was moved from the front hallway near my office to the far back hallway of the school. However, we did expand from half a classroom, to a full one. Conveniently, half the shelves were already on wheels and the new organization was, for the most part, just a more spread out version of the previous one. What did change was that I invited students to book shop in the new book room. It transitioned from a professional reading room and lending library, to a big extension of any classroom library. We added mismatched pillows and a few tables to give it a cozy touch. Almost all the books were still in sets of six to accommodate book clubs. The novels and NF were all organized by level. The picture books were organized (as they had been when I arrived) by some set of reading skills that no longer matched the curriculum. No one really used those, because no one knew where to look for a topic that would be of interest. More people started using the book room and its books. In fact, I discovered that far more kids than teachers utilized this resource. When teachers wanted books, they mostly found me in the hall or sent me an email that said, “We’re ready for all the such and such books. You can bring them down to our rooms this week.”

I’m delighted to get the right books into the right hands by any means…but I really wanted to create a space and a community of readers who would want to discover their own books. Over the past few years, I gradually tweaked the book room. Early on, I moved furniture to create a more appealing layout. I shifted leveled bins of books into genre sections. I even decided to scrap leveled bins altogether in the NF section because if I was looking for shark books, shouldn’t there just be a shark bin? As I read and reflected more on book levels, as I interacted with readers who came to look for books (who says, “I’m really feeling like a good O book right now!”?) I shifted chapter books out of leveled bins and into text sets like “Stories about school”, “Get the tissues ready”, or “Don’t read these in the dark!”

Remember I mentioned a complicated check out system year one? We’ve long since had a simple clipboard where readers can sign their own books in and out. Kids and adults can bring books to their classrooms, and even bring them home to read. Have we lost some books that never came back? Yes. Periodically I send out reminders for people to check their backpacks and under the couch. Some come back then, filling up the return bins near the door. When I’m in classrooms during the year, I skim classroom libraries and reclaim a handful of book room books that have set up residence there. But I’m less worried about losing some books than I am about losing readers! The books I can replace or replenish.

ook room picsbook room returns

In the latest book room overhaul, I sorted those picture books onto the same shelves as their longer genre-mates so picture books and novels that address poverty are tucked side by side. Although there’s also a set of shelves for our favorite PB authors and illustrators, because sometimes you want to find a Cynthia Rylant or an Eve Bunting book. I even added corresponding NF bins alongside their historical fiction counterparts so readers can learn more about the time period they’re exploringbook room 4.

book room 6

I’m proud of the space, the collection, and the community of readers that I’ve been nurturing for seven years. Is the book room done evolving? Hah! I doubt it. As I read more middle grade books, as I build an increasingly diverse collection, as I learn more about my readers, I’ll continue trying to make our shared reading space one that meets everyone’s needs.

Next on my list, more kid-created displays for the walls and shelf-ends!

Book room collab space

I love this part of my job!

#SOL19 Day 10: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly–In Reverse

The Ugly

An unseen hit, drove a knee into the boards and a leader to the ice. One player out for the tournament in the very first game. Unable to even stand on it, teammates carried his gear. He left for home before the second puck dropped.

The second game dropped another player, this time a defenseman. This hardy player went down and stayed. Out for the duration, he donned a jacket and supported from the bench.

Where fortunately, he was able to relay information about the third player downed by a vicious hit. Once down, he didn’t move. His mother feared it was his head. Offending player ejected, the bench reassured it was an ankle instead.

The Bad

We hurt ourselves with penalties. Four games played. Three 2 and 10s served, plus various minor penalties setting us short handed for the equivalent of one whole game. Nothing like playing with one hand tied behind your back.

We lost the first three games we played. Gave up a goal within the first minute twice. And scored one measly tournament point.

The Good

Two little brothers invited to play up made contributions to the team. They played with heart against players years older and sometimes twice their size. These Bantams played heads up hockey–attacking the puck, making clean passes, creating space, and setting up plays. One was awarded player of the game the first night. The other scored two of four goals in our only win. Bantams in stature, midgets in spirit.

The boys supported each other in all the ways teammates can. They carried each other after injuries. They skated each other’s shifts. Buoyed each other up after mistakes. Backed each other up in the plays. Set each other up for passes and shots. Took care of opponents who took cheap shots. Bonded over pizza and pool.

The team walked away with a win in the final game of the season. Battling back and forth, trading the lead. Clinched it with an empty net goal in the final minute. And walked out with heads held high.

These boys grew tremendously this year. Stronger. Faster. More certain. But most importantly they grew…together.

They learned to keep their heads–mostly.

They learned to rely on themselves and each other, rather than just one superstar.

They learned to be a team.

So although all the boys are a little banged up (and some more than a little), they’re also standing taller. And while the weeks of rest ahead will help to heal their bodies, no doubt they’ll miss being a team.


#SOL19 Day 9 Full to Bursting

What do you do

When you’re so full

Of news

You’re like to burst

News that isn’t yours to share

News the someone doesn’t know

Dreams or dreads to learn

In case…

It’s not the news you know

What do you do

When you’re so full

Of pride

You’re like to burst?



P.S. Now that he knows, I can share. My son got his high school acceptance letter this weekend. Out of 1800 applicants, he earned a spot as a true 9th grader.

#SOL19 Day 8: Ouch!

Out of the mouths of babes.

I was reading with a student about The Slacker Family. Maybe you know this one. The whole family is so lazy that when they finally realize that all of their clothes are dirty and there are piles of laundry next to some washing-thing, they just buy new clothes.

In the second story, Mr. Slacker is looking for a job. I asked this reader what kind of job she thought he should look for. With some prompting we remembered that he’s lazy so he doesn’t like to work hard. With a little more prompting…

She said, “Well, he could be a teacher. That’s kind of easy.”



Ouch, kiddo. Ouch.


I promise a more upbeat post tomorrow and I’m really excited about Monday’s post! It will be Monday’s post because I realized I don’t have pictures yet…

#SOL19 Day 7: Our Words Matter

Once I got past the outraged mother bear, even in the midst of it, I kept thinking, Our words matter. How many careless words have fallen from me unheeded? And how many people have gone on to hurt because of it?

I arrived home yesterday to discover something was not right. One son was going about his afternoon like usual. But the other was snappish. Then suddenly he disappeared. I found him curled into bed with the lights off and covers up to his ears…at 4:45.

I checked his forehead. No fever. But his shoulders were rounded in on themselves and his chin was tucked low. With a gentle voice and a sense of concern, I avoided asking him what was wrong. Instead I told him I’d check in on him again before dinner, before practice in case he felt up to either. I rubbed his back and left the door ajar so he knew he didn’t have to be alone.

A little while later he appeared at the top of the stairs and trudged down to the dining room table. Two things happened that just don’t happen with him. He sobbed shoulder heaving sobs. And he asked for help.

Gradually, I eased the story out of him.

Just before last period study hall he was walking into his homeroom. Two of his teachers stood in the doorway. One was listing off students’ names to the other. “…Especially that one. They can’t even think…” That one–was my son. He heard the exchange as he, and his friends, his classmates walked by these two adults charged with helping them to learn. Whatever words were spoken, what he heard was They’re stupid.

What I told him was He IS smart. He CAN think. He’s a PROBLEM SOLVER. He’s LOYAL to his friends. Those are all true.

What I thought was No person should be putting others down–though we do. No adult should be belittling a child. And for damn sure, no teacher should be speaking badly of her students–especially not where the child or others could overhear. But she did.

I wondered if she had any idea what an impact she had on my son. I wondered if she would ever realize how that impact spiraled out to the family, because big hurts always do. I wondered how many other kids and families had their evenings upended last night…or all the other nights.

Then I stopped thinking about her and turned my attention back to my son. I’m so proud of the way he recovered enough to get to his last practice before the tournament and to finish the three pages of homework for her class. I’m proud of the way that when someone put him down he didn’t respond in kind. I’m grateful that he was able to reach through his hurt and anger to ask for help, when usually that causes him to push us away. I cherished the hug he gave me before bed last night when he thanked me for being there.

I wish I could protect my boys from all the meanness and hurts they will encounter in the world. But I know my job is to help them believe that they are strong enough to face them, sometimes alone, but sometimes with the support of those who love them. For that I try to leave them with the words that will serve them in difficult moments.

I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m glad you’re my little boy…even though you’re bigger than me.

#SOL19 Day 6: Another 6 Word Story

Inspired by a junk drawer find and a post by a fellow slicer

Mini grandma scissors

Tiny memories of Grandma’s yesteryear projects.


I’ve only ever seen scissors like these in my Grandma’s drawers.

They are memories of sewing projects, the dresses I wore to dances, Halloween costumes, and learning to quilt.

They say, “Measure twice; cut once.”

They mean anything can be re-purposed and given another life. 

Without her, they are the tiniest scissors I’ve ever seen.

#SOL19 Day 5: Happy Birthday(CJ and books)

Happy Birthday, CJ. I’m so glad you shared the story of how everything you thought you knew unraveled, starting on your birthday. At first I was impressed by your unusual savvy for handling the business end of your aunt’s shows. What just-turning-12-year-old can navigate cross country with nothing but an atlas? For that matter, how many 12 year olds still know what an atlas is? But your complete disregard for learning other, shall we say more traditional subjects disappointed me. I’m with Jax on this one. You may be able to teach him to drive stick, but he’s got a point.

Anyway, as I read the beginning of your story about how your Aunt Nic was a psychic who spoke to people’s dead relatives, I felt a little uncomfortable. I mean, I don’t believe in all that. But I told myself to just wait for now and see what you believed. You really believed! And it did seem like the universe, you’d call it Spirit, was giving you these weirdly helpful (if sometimes misleading) hints. Sometimes it does seem like something out there, Far Away, might be trying to make a point. Like lights on the highway blinking off and on–they could be my memere waving hello as I drive by–but probably the bulbs are just loose or something.

And you might have just left it at the fluffy chocolate frosting, but I’m glad that your story was more like the messy mango icing. There’s more to the truth than what we might want to see from our own point of view. My own son reminds me of that pretty regularly. I remind him that no one forces us to do anything–we always make choices, whether they’re the ones we wish we had or not.

Am I from Spirit? Nah. I’m just a teacher, a mom, and a reader. Nice to meet you!


Response to Far Away by Lisa Graff, released today by Philomel Books an imprint of Penguin Young Readers.

Far Away

Happy Book Birthday also to One Speck of Truth by Caela Carter, published by Harper Collins. Neither of you knew the truth about your family. Sometimes one speck of truth changes everything.

One Speck of Truth

#SOL19 Day 4 & It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR

So much!

I’ve been fortunate to find myself under a virtual waterfall of books for the past month. It’s been so much fun opening boxes of book orders at school, being approved for E-ARCs on Eidelweiss, receiving bookish care packages in the mail from authors and publishers and friends!

Have you ever had so many books that it started to feel stressful?

I’m not entirely drowning in books, but I’ve had to make myself a reading calendar to plan how I’ll fit in some of these books before their book birthdays. And after the initial woozy glee of opening boxes of books at school, I refrained from tucking multiple titles in my bag for the weekend.

Weird, right?

But as much as I’m feeling some reading pressure, I’ve also been enjoying the books I’ve been reading! Want to see what I’ve read in the past few weeks? Me too, but since half of them are digital I don’t have a nice #shelfie to share. Instead I’ve made this reading calendar to keep myself organized.

Screenshot 2019-03-04 at 10.38.08 PM

Which brings me back to a print vs digital book debate that I’d set aside for a couple of years. Since I’m someone who shares so many of the books I read…with students, with colleagues at school, with virtual colleagues through bookmail…I really enjoy having physical copies of books that I can carry in and say, “I was reading this and it made me think of you. Would you like to borrow it?” I like physical books because my TBR stack builds a sense of anticipation. The covers form a visual memory onto which I can anchor my impressions and memories of the book. I can sort the books I’ve read into text sets or categories to remind me whether I want to buy book club sets, or get a copy for my personal library, etc. With digital, I love that I could finish a book and start a new one without a moment’s delay…especially with books in a series. My e-reader is light and slim and easy to carry…but the battery runs low eventually and my charging cord isn’t long enough to charge and read at the same time without awkward acrobatics.  I also haven’t figured out how to strategically place books on different shelves on my device to plan or structure my future reading.

I’m leaning toward actual print books…but I have about fifteen more E-ARCs on deck for the next couple of months…and a long trip with limited luggage space.

However you choose to read, Happy Reading!