Not Just the Students are Inspired by the Newbery Winner

Last Stop on Market Street (Matt De La Pena)
Last Stop on Market Street (Matt De La Pena)

Last Stop on Market Street

I was surprised but not surprised that Last Stop on Market Street won the Newbery Medal yesterday. Yes, I thought it was going to win the Caldecott (which Finding Winnie absolutely deserved!) but the Newbery? And then I thought about it…

When I first read the book, I paused and thought about what class I would share this story with in the library. I also thought about what class would appreciate this one…

What would students notice? Pictures, words, symbols, the people, the events, the story. They would notice it all. No matter what grade I shared this story with they would notice it all.

The first classes I chose to share the story with  were the grade 4 students. The students in grade 4 have a strong mission in their hearts to give back to the community and would respond to the young CJ’s questions and wonders. And did they ever!

Of course, I would start with the students. Isn’t that what a teacher-librarian would do? However, when the book won the Newbery, I started shouting from my desk-I wasn’t shouting- but I did exclaim loudly: “I can’t believe it! A picture book! But I totally understand!”

A parent volunteer was in the library with me and asked why I was making so much noise. I handed her the book and she read it. Once she finished, she turned to me and said, “Wow!” This is a parent who has read two of the Newbery Honor books (Echo and The War that Saved My Life). That’s all she said for a while. Just before she left the library, she said: “A picture book? I can’t believe it but…wow. That book is special.”

Shortly after, a classroom teacher came by and I showed her the winning and honor books. She stopped to read the Newbery Winner. Again, she responded strongly to the text and the pictures.

Today, that same teacher stopped by the library after school with her boots and coat on and said she was taking the subway today because the book reminded her that it’s wonderful to connect to the community through the transit in the city.

I can’t make this up. I can’t wait to hear and see what happens the next time someone picks up Last Stop on Market Street in the library.

Monday Evening after the ALA Annoucements

Last Stop on Market Street (Matt De La Pena)

I love a good story! As do many of  my students. All the titles in the above mosaic have been purchased throughout the fall and read carefully by myself, the library technician and our avid readers. It is more than winner awards. The love of a good story and/or pictures make them well-loved. The awards this morning will just inspire more readers to reach for these titles. Now, it’s time to order some new books…

Here is the full list of all the winners: 

I work in an elementary library and one of my greatest loves is YA. I do have a few more books to read (but I don’t mind):

Congrats to all the authors, illustrators and committees. It’s always fun to guess, read and talk about books. So many things to talk about and it’s all about reading! Your job is done…or should I say, here we go again… Happy Reading!

Sunday Subway Readings: Mock Newbery Edition


This past fall, my junior school book club read voraciously and debated loudly about books they loved and didn’t love. Before I share the titles, where did the books come from…

Heavy Medal- A Mock Newbery Blog

For Those About to Mock

Anderson’s Book Shop

Working with my library technician, we scoured the internet looking for Mock Newbery lists. We found many and made our decisions based on titles we kept on seeing…

(Please note this post is being written from home. I forgot to take a screenshot of our board of books that we read. I will add titles if I have forgotten any).

The students responded to all the titles- some they handed off to each other as they returned each week. And sometimes they traded books in the classroom before coming the library.

The consensus was that Echo is going to be recognized with a Medal or Honor.

Most of the girls loved: Rules for Stealing Stars.

The two of us that read The Hired Girl were happy to see it win: The 2016 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction

I have a soft spot for Orbiting Jupiter (which I recommend that one does not read on the subway or in a Starbucks).

There are still so many books to read!

Monday will bring the committee’s decision and will open the discussion once again.

Until Monday…

Happy Reading!



Sunday Subway Stories: Rain Shadow


Yesterday, on the subway, I continued on my quest to finish five of the ten Silverbirch Books by the end of this week. One of the ways I describe books to my students is “This book is not a subway read.” They quickly infer that there will be tears flowing or I have a lump in my throat- meaning I won’t be able to use words if someone asks me a question. Rain Shadow is such a book. Valerie Sherrard has created a companion book to The Glory Wind (you don’t have to read it to read this book).


Bethany sees the world differently.  Her sister Mira describes her as a stone to her jewel. That doesn’t bother Bethany because she says if you look at a stone more closely, you will see something special about it. Tragedy strikes Bethany’s family and the young girl learns to stay positive and move forward. Even though Bethany comes slower to understanding of certain things, she shows her family, friends and the reader that she is wiser and stronger in the shade of the rain shadow.

New Host for Q inspires students and teachers


Two nights ago I received a notification that Shad was announced as the new host for Q- one of CBC Radio’s flagship shows.  I was beyond excited.  I also realized that a year has come full circle.

Where to begin… let’s go back to a year ago…

I had heard Shad’s song “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” on the radio and wanted to use the song with a class.  But who would be willing to use a hip-hop song as a lesson in the classroom?  There was only one person who came to mind.  Someone I knew who loved hip hop as much as I do and would be happy to use it.

I approached my friend and colleague, Ms. G  and asked if she had heard the new song.  She said she hadn’t but she would get to it.  Everyday I asked her.  Everyday she said she would get to it. Finally, she came into the library for her planning time and I pulled up the video for her to watch.

By the end of the video, we had pulled up the lyrics, we had made our own connections to the song and started asking questions:

“What does it mean…?”

“Why did he say…?”

I was so excited that when I saw Ms. G in the afternoon, I asked when she wanted to do the lesson.  She said she already started the lesson.  Of course!  This song was a goldmine of lessons.  I asked her how it went and she said her students were totally engaged.  (At this time, I should say that Ms. G was a grade 7 teacher).  The students were going home to research some of the ideas from the song and ask their parents about their immigrant stories.

For a week, Ms. G worked with her students as they asked questions, researched ideas and looked into Shad’s lyrics.  When Ms. G. came back to the library, her enthusiasm was so infectious, we joked that we should go to a Shad concert.  So, we sat at the computer and googled Shad’s concert schedule.  And there it was, right in front of us.  He was going to perform at the Danforth Music Hall on a Friday night in a couple of weeks.  We had to go.

It was at that moment that I shared my story of baking cookies for Sharon, Lois & Bram (my favourite childhood music group) and delivering them at a show.  And a few weeks later, I received a postcard from them.  Enough said.

Ms. G.’s students’ each chose a line from the song “Fam Jam” that meant something to them and wrote about it’s meaning to them. Unfortunately, I don’t have copies of the students’ work but there’s more to that story.  They weren’t meant for me anyway.  They were written to and for Shad to read.

Ms. G and I composed a letter to Shad about how his music has made a difference to her students and how we would love to hear from him.  We signed our names and headed to the concert.

When we arrived at the venue, we had to figure out how to get the big envelope to Shad.  Of course, in our dreams, we would be asked to deliver the work straight to him and profuse our admiration for his work and how he inspired a group of students.  We approached an official looking person with a headset, who said she was part of his team and would personally deliver the envelope.  Ms. G handed over the envelope and we headed to the swag station.  We purchased Flying Colours sweatshirts.  On our way to our seats, we bumped into the girl with the headphone and she said the envelope had been delivered.  Ms. G and I were giddy, thinking we may get a shout out during the concert or something.

The concert was great.  Shad got the crowd on its feet and Ms. G and I were amazed by his freestyle rap and his intellect.  We left the concert on a high and couldn’t wait to share our stories with the students on Monday.

A few weeks go by and we hadn’t heard from Shad.  And then on Valentine’s Day (this part is true) we received the best gift for our hearts.  Shad had emailed both of us with gratitude for sharing the students’ work. But best of all, since he lives on the West Coast, could he have a Skype/FaceTime date with our students?

Let the celebration begin! Ms. G worked with her students, encouraging each student to ask one question and a couple of students prepared a speed round, with hopes that Shad would freestyle rap.

This occurred approximately a year ago.  Just before March Break. And it was a highlight in my career as a middle-school teacher-librarian. Ms. G and I had created an authentic lesson with a current song that spoke to us and our students.  Then, Shad lifted it to a higher experience by gifting our students with his time.

shad twitterOn my way out that day, a new student to the school, and new to Canada, was waiting for his parents to pick him up.  I asked him what he thought of the experience.  A huge smile lit up his face and he said, “It was the best day ever at school.”  Then, I asked him if he is a bigger fan.  He continued to smile and replied: ” A fan for life.”

I think radio listeners will become fans for life.  Thanks for the inspiration, Shad!

Update: Found this short gem of Shad freestyling for the students.  Thanks Ms. G. for filming: 

Sunday Subway Reflections: SilverBirch 2015, Adult Book reading, and getting ready for the Oscars


This week, I finished book 7 on my list of SilverBirch Fiction books.  The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden was at the top of my list to finish.  I read most of it on the subway.  This was one of those books that whisks you away to another place, so there were times on the subway when I had to look up to make sure I didn’t miss my stop.

The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden

The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden (Jill MacLean)

When we first received this book in the library, I said the author had written two other books, in this series, that were nominated in the past.  I have to admit I didn’t read the other books, which are part of the story even though I had been encouraged to read them, as I would like them.  When I was in the middle school library, I tended to focus on Red Maple books, so I didn’t read them.

When I went to Jill MacLean’s website, I realized I’ve read one of her Red Maple nominated books in the past: Home Truths.  Yep, she’s a heartbreaker when it comes to writing.  She puts a lot of truth into her stories.  (*Just reading her post about where the idea of Home Truthscame from and realize she wrote it with the intention of writing it from Hud’s point of view (one of the bullies in Sigrid’s story.  I can totally see Hud in that story!) And the cover of this book that I have used in the post is the cover of the book I read. The cover has changed and take time to go to Jill MacLean’s website to read about the change: Jill MacLean explains the story behind the book and cover.

Home Truths

Home Truths (Jill MacLean)

After reading this third book by Jill MacLean, I wish I had.  She creates a realistic world of kids in Eastern Canada, Newfoundland to be exact, who face the challenges of making new friends, bullying and the relationships between kids and adults. At one point, I was talking to my coworker, who read the book as well, and talked about Jill MacLean’s ability to make the relationships believable and not sugarcoat the issue of developing relationships between a former bully and other kids.

This story focuses on Sigrid Sugden and her choice to leave the Shrikes after the near-death of a fellow classmate, that she could have caused based on chasing her out onto the water on a stormy afternoon.  The Shrikes aren’t happy with Sigrid’s choice and turn their bullying ways on her.  Sigrid hides these moments from her stepfather and tries to find her own way through the mess she’s created in the community for the past two years.  It’s not easy to fix one’s mistakes, and she learns that money doesn’t solve everything.  Jill MacLean shows that it takes time to heal wounds and it takes time for Sigrid to recognize she has her own wounds to heal, as well.

Based on this experience, I will go back and read the other two books, which are based on Travis Keating’s move to the community and the Prinny Murphy’s experience with Sigrid and her group, the Shrikes.  Again, be careful when reading Jill MacLean’s stories in public. At times, my heart hurt for Sigrid as she deals with intense moments.

This weekend was the weekend I promised myself that I would finish Natchez Burning by Greg Iles.

Natchez Burning

Natchez Burning (Greg Iles)

And I did it.  Almost 800 pages, I wasn’t able to lug this tome around with me onto the subway. I chose to read it only at home and I took the time on Saturday to sit down and finally finish the last one hundred pages.  One of my friends recommended this book to me with a short email last summer.  All the email said was: “Read Natchez Burning.” And now I can say I did.  And I know why he recommended it.

It’s the epic story, set in Natchez, Mississippi, where a journalist has methodically collected stories of the horrors inflicted on the black community.  Stories of the KKK and the Double Eagles and their backward ways are interwoven into the story of Dr. Tom Cage, his son, the mayor Penn Cage, and a local journalist who needs to get these stories out for the world to see.  There’s no way that I can write about all the stories that happen in the story but the story races forward and gives details about a history that has been fictionalized but has components of real history that take the reader on a gut-wrenching and horrifying journey into the underbelly of hate based on race and power.

I don’t read many adult books but this one was definitely worth my time and I look forward to reading the second book in the trilogy.  I just hope it doesn’t take too long.

Finally, I spent Saturday night watching two Oscar nominated movies (after spending Friday night at the movies watching the Kingsman: The Secret Service).   Kingsman was lots of fun on a Friday night.  The violence was over the top but it has been a while since a James Bond movie came out and I needed a secret spy movie this cold February.   

Anyway, I watched Birdman

(which for me was great- especially since I am a live theatre junkie) and The Theory of Everything.

Eddie Redmayne’s transformation was incredible to watch as he played the role of Stephen Hawking.  Watching the two movies back to back, I have to say that I am rooting for Michael Keaton to win the role but totally understand if Eddie Redmayne wins.

The Red Pencil

The Red Pencil (Andrea Davis Pinkney)

I no longer have cable so I’ll be reading tweets as they come in on Twitter and hopefully will finish The Red Pencilso I can write about that soon.

Girls Like Us: How two girls warmed my heart on this cold winters day


I’m starting to regret my subway reading time.  All the books I keep choosing to read tug at my heart and it’s very hard to sit on a subway crying without people staring at you.  Last night, I had to close my book THREE times to pull myself together.

Girls Like Us (Gail Giles)

Girls Like Us (Gail Giles)

That book is Girls Like us by Gail Giles.  And I finished it this morning in the comfort of my warm apartment, as based on twitter and Facebook posts, it is COLD outside.

So, I curled up in my reading chair with a cup of coffee and a delicious carrot pineapple muffin (that my secret Valentine made for me) and finished the book with tears.

Now, I should say something about my tears.  I am an emotional reader when it comes to children’s/young adult books.  The emotion comes with the fact that I believe in the characters and the author has done a great job of making me believe in the characters.  I know Girls Like Us is not a perfect book but the girls in the story are so real to me, that I thought of past students and wanted to get in my car to make sure that their world is good.

Girls Like Us, follows two special education girls, Biddy and Quincy, as they navigate the new world as roommates in the former mayor’s widowed wife home in a small town.  There is no sense of time in history but I will say this is before mobile phones and the internet.  These girls take turns sharing their stories, as Ms. Giles has both their voices heard.  Biddy and Quincy have beginning stories that will make you cheer for them to be successful in the world, when so much is against them.  They learn from each other, things that you wished every human would learn, regardless of their abilities. These girls are subjected to horrors that we would NEVER wish anyone to face.  But in their struggles to understand what has happened, the girls start to make their voices heard.

As a teacher-librarian at an all girls school, I think of all the advantages the girls have in this world. The future is bright and it is exciting to see girls thinking and acting on the importance of making a positive mark on their local and global community.  But for the two girls in this story, who only have less than a handful of people in this world advocating for them,  Biddy and Quincy, work on creating a positive world in their small apartment.  To them, and to us the readers, that is the beginning of a global change.

I am lucky to still be nice and warm in my home on this cold morning, as these two girls continue to break and warm my heart.  And I’m lucky that I wasn’t on the subway finishing this story on the subway.  My tears would have stained my cheeks.  The only good thing about that, would be that I could share Biddy and Quincy’s story with everyone on the train.  But today, I will just have to settle with Social Media to do that for me.

We need more diverse stories like this, to remind us that everyone needs a voice.  This story is definitely a young adult novel, so it won’t be on my school’s bookshelves.  But I do hope my students read this story in the future.

Extra Notes:

The Girls Like Us has received many award nominations, here are a few:

National Book Award Long List

Schneider Family Book Award: “This award “honor[s] an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” Up to three awards are given each year: one for a children’s book, one for a middle grade book, and one for a young adult book. This year, Girls Like Us by Gail Giles won the teen book award.”