Post that puts a ✓ next to all of these elements: Latinx Authors – Own Voices -Bilingual Authors & Books- Bilingual Writers – Spanish Translators

I generated this list after an author on Twitter asked for authors that wrote #KidLit in more than one language, she was looking specifically for authors that did not use a translator, but I am often asked for titles and authors that have books in both English and Spanish, so I melded those two requests into one.

I have access to Latinx  authors and their works more than any other bilingual group so I focused on those. Read carefully before you decide that I should have or should have not mentioned a particular author.  Also pay attention to the fact that this is a STARTER LIST AND by no means complete or exhaustive.  If you are certain that an author should be added please add a comment and I will update this list.

This is a “starter” list of #Latinx #KidLit Authors who have titles in both English and Spanish.  If they wrote and translated their books it is noted. If they use the services of a translator, it is also noted, and the names of translators used are added when information is available.

Esta es una lista “principiante” de autores #Latinx que escriben #KidLit (literatura para niños y jóvenes) que tienen títulos disponibles en inglés y español.  Si el autor o autora escribieron y tradujeron sus libros, se ha especificado. Si la autora o autor utilizaron los servicios de una traductora o traductor, también se ha especificado, y los nombres de los traductores o traductoras se han suministrado si la información estaba disponible.



Author Author translates some or all of their work Author uses translators to translate some or all of their work
Alma Flor Ada
Angela Cervantes Eida de la Vega

Jorge Ignacio Domínguez

Angela Domínguez
Anika Aldamuy Denise Omayra Ortiz
Carmen Tafolla
Carolyn Dee Flores Carmen Tafolla
Emma Otheguy Adriana Domínguez

Agustina Sánchez Belén

F. Isabel Campoy
Fracisco Alarcón
Isabel Quintero Andrea Montejo

Juan Pablo Lombana

Jennifer Torres Danaé Sánchez

Alexis Romay 

Jorge Argueta Gabriela Baeza Ventura

Joe Hayes

Sharon Franco

Elisa Amado

Juana Martínez-Neal
Lulu Delacre
Margarita Engle Alexis Romay 

Teresa Mlawer

Matt de la Peña Teresa Mlawer

Martha Macías

Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford

Meg Medina Teresa Mlawer
Monica Brown Adriana Domínguez

Isabel C. Mendoza

F. Isabel Campoy

Fernando Gayesky

Joaquín Badajoz

Pat Mora
Rene Colato Laínez
Sandra Cisneros Elena Poniatowska

Liliana Valenzuela

Sonia Sotomayor Eva Ibarzábal
Xavier Garza
Yamile Said Mendez 
Yuyi Morales Teresa Mlawer

Information Obtained From: The New York Public Library Catalog by viewing “FULL RECORD” of authors’ books and searching for “ADDED AUTHOR” that included “Translator”.


When you are left with a hole in your soul lightly filled by wisps of hope and aren’t sure exactly what to do next…(Thoughts on Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka)

…you sit down and write to try to decide what exactly is going on in your head, in your heart, in your tear ducts that want to cry but decide they aren’t going to, creating a painful pressure in your eyeballs. You sit down and write “long”, because a Tweet only has 240 characters and if you could’ve narrowed the whirlwind down to 240 characters you wouldn’t be feeling unsure about what to do, you would’ve been done with sharing what you needed to share and you’d move on. Right? Right! Right. You wouldn’t still be thinking, 48 hours after finishing, that there’s something to be done about reading Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka. Honestly your summer is filled with non-stop reading, the TBR pile is so tall you know it’s unachievable. Hey, Kiddo wasn’t even supposed to be on the pile yet! You write “long” because you tried short and sweet. Short wasn’t in the cards, and the road to sweet had so many twists and turns…

I finished Hey, Kiddo in two sittings, not because of the length, they weren’t long sittings either. It’s just that at some point in Jarrett Krosoczka’s story I needed distance, I needed to stop the unintentional gaping hole that would etch it’s way into my being after a few pages, followed by a salve for the burn in the form of a veil of hope, but then the etching would return, widening the gape. It went on like this until the very end.


It wasn’t that I was jumping into Mr. Krosoczka’s life (what the author has made public in the past) blindfolded. In April 2016 I heard him speak as part of a panel about connecting with authors virtually and in person at TXLA16.   In December 2016, my 2nd year as a librarian, I scheduled an author Skype Visit with Mr. Krosoczka. I chose him as the first paid Skype Author Visit for our third graders, that we could finally afford, because after listening to him at the panel, I had stumbled upon his TedTalk and my ADHD brain went all over the place-

“This guy, this dude, he’s like such a cool guy. Damn, who would’ve thought?”

“This guy, he’s such a great dad, he was so great with his eldest daughter at #TXLA18 with not exactly the best role model at home. She, she’s a happy kid, I could tell.”

“See? It can be done! How’d I’d love for parents at our school listen to this TEDTalk and maybe try to plant the seed that screamed in their ear (the seed, not me) “If he can do it, you can do it! I know you can, you love your kids, you don’t have to be like your parents’!”

“My roughest, hardest kids have to see this and then we can talk about what our options are. Then we can refer back to this guy and figure out if it’s as hopeless as it seems.”

And on and on it went (in my brain). Jarrett Krosoczka could be a beacon of hope for my students. In this author I saw someone I could introduce to my kids through his picture books (My Friend Slug and Bag Head being favorites) and his Lunch Lady Graphic Novels (which were already growing in popularity), that would create a connection, which he would not be exactly part of per se, but it’s what we needed, someone who was one of “us” even if he wasn’t with us.

When I signed the contract for the Virtual Author’s Visit, Mrs. Krosoczka gave us a login to exclusive video content to prep for the visit. But, that wasn’t the first thing eighty 3rd graders watched. What we watched first was his TedTalk, to be honest, they watched Mr. Krosoczka speak and I watched them. If you are reading this and you are in education, you know what I was watching for, but just in case you aren’t, what I was watching for was reactions that told me who I needed to support immediately, those that are quiet and keep family life to themselves, and so we don’t know what we need to. Funny, in a sad way, learning about the author’s mom, the author being raised by his grandparents, was embraced with open arms; the author saying “Hell” was an entirely different reaction.

Of course, we also watched the content that we were privy to before the Virtual Visit, and if Mr. Krosoczka ever wondered where some of the questions were coming from (they were related to the TedTalk and not the exclusive content) he never let on, and he answered with the honesty and respect my children deserved.



All of this to say, I did not jump into Hey, Kiddo unprepared. And yet… here I am. What I gleaned from Mr. Krosoczka’s memoir is that his life is not tragic, although tragic events take place, it did not lack love, although many interactions were less than loving, it inspires because it seems the author found a way to take the best parts of what was offered to him growing up, possibly learned from all that didn’t fall in “best parts”, and became this totally separate story, not in spite of, but… and here’s where, I guess, the crux of my feelings lie. What finishes this thought? When the kids, when we, talk about how Jarrett Krosoczka wrote his own story, not the memoir story, but his actual living story, where do we point to as the place where the magic happened, where it all fell into place?

And yet…here I am, thinking about demographics. The demographics I’ve served, a diverse population. I think back to all the places my thoughts went when I first watched Mr. Krosoczka’s TedTalk and where they went when I read Hey, Kiddo, and one nagging thought happened in both. Little Jarrett, he was a white kid (which is a minority where I teach), his Grandpa Joe had his own business, so their family wasn’t struggling financially like so many who live right on or below the poverty line, he was well kemp, he was articulate, he had mad art skills, and yet…so much was going on, so much he felt he couldn’t share with anyone at school, so much bottled up inside, and yet… he kept himself out of trouble, he worked hard to not raise any red flags for those around him. But so much was going on!, and it was a missed opportunity by every single adult in his school life. How many opportunities have I missed, because the kid isn’t one that screams either literally, or through his behavior, or her words, or his attitude, or her academics, or his constant hunger, or his extreme quietness, or her naps during the school day, or her truancy, or her momma, her daddy, his stepparent, her foster parent, her auntie, his granny, coming up to school and letting us have a slice-in-the-life of what it’s like at this family’s home… how many Little Jarretts have I failed?

So maybe that’s just it. Maybe this mess I’m feeling is the confirmation of what we all know… that not every kid that looks like he has it all together, has it all together, and investing in making sure it is what it seems needs to be a priority.  It is also the confirmation of the uncertain knowledge that so much depends upon what each of our kids has inside of them, what we don’t see, what we can’t assess, what cannot be spoken, that all we can do is share stories, stories of heartache, of triumph, of choosing for oneself what the outcome of one’s story will be, and hope…hope that every story turns out at least as great as Hey, Kiddo.

When Looks Matter… How being able to read a book that “looks” right for your age can boost a reader’s self-esteem

If there is one outstanding aspect about being connected on social media to a strong Professional Learning Network (#PLN) it is this: you sound the alarm, the virtual S.O.S., in the form of a tweet asking for advise, tag a few of those in your #PLN and you receive responses in minutes! I have been on both ends of this situation, and I can attest that it is so.

In May, a #PLN member, shared the collective joy, she and her student were feeling due to the “looks” of the book this reader was able to read cover to cover.  The book was Brian Selznick’s & David Serlin’s recently released title, Baby Monkey Private Eye.  This book shares the physical dimensions and page volume of what this reader’s classmates were reading; middle grade chapter books.

The quest then was, finding “thick books” that looked like a middle grade chapter book but was accessible to a reader with 1st grade reading skills.  Many of us jumped into hot pursuit; educators, reading specialists, librarians and, even an author!, began to offer suggestions.  Here are the recommendations we came up with:








Image result for three ring rascals series





A blog with further possibilities for this reader was also suggested: Kid Lit Frenzy blog where the blogger has a Roads2Reading Challenge with books that may appeal to this reader.

Looking back at all the tweets and recommendations for this reader, what caught my attention the most was the importance this student placed on the size of the book, it wasn’t big like picture books tend to be, it looked like a novel the kids her age were reading and one that she actually was able to read independently, understand, and enjoy.    This is what had made her proud, had motivated her to stand up in front of others and Book Talk.  She wanted a book that “looked” like the books that her fellow readers, in her same class, were reading.  This prompted me to look into the stats for Selznick’s & Serlin’s confidence-building-joy-inspiring-reader-esteem-building book in order to hopefully find some recommendations that would create the same effect and help this reader continue to read, build confidence, make her feel pride in her reading choices, and later, when she is ready, take risks with other books that might challenge her further.

PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING CAREFULLY: This reader is not an isolated case.  I have witnessed many 3rd & 4th graders check out 2, even 3 books, from the  Brian Jaques Redwall Series at the same time,  because it felt good, it made them proud, when they carried around those 350+ page books, which they weren’t ready to read yet, just so others who were reading more compact chapter books, but chapter books, nonetheless,  would look at them with admiration. Had anyone made them feel insecure about their truer-to-their-reading-identity choices?  I can guarantee that neither this librarian, nor their current teachers had, but the need to be reading a thick chapter book was there regardless. So I went where I had never gone before… I looked into possible books for this particular “tweeted” reader that would help all readers like her, by noticing physical book dimensions, page number, word count, suggested grade level, and Lexile, that were comparable to the book that had made this reader feel all grown up in the reading world.  Here’s what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 9.58.14 PM


Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 1.39.12 AM

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 1.40.16 AMI had to screenshot the GoogleDoc because it would not keep its formatting.  Here is the link to the document if you’d like a copy: Titles Similar in Dimensions and Page Number to a MG Novel.

REMEMBER! This reader needs the feel of a novel, with the comprehension skills of first grade readers.  This is not as easy to find as I thought it would be, but while accompanying my husband to a Fine Scale Modeling Competition, that happened to be across from the well stocked library in Grapevine, TX, I spent some time searching their collection and was fortunate to find these.

Here are some comparison photos to further help you visualize:



I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  When you are trying to reach every possible reader that you are fortunate to embark on a reading journey with, no stone can be left unturned to help their reading identity develop.

Starting the School Year with Kindness as the Expectation

2017 has blasted us with acts of hate, unkindness, injustice, and violence. Our students are not immune to these acts, many might have been personally touched by these horrific experiences and look to the beginning of school as a haven of normalcy, kindness, and protection.  Can we guarantee that this is what they will find all day, every day, while in our care?  Realistically, it is impossible to make such promises, but we can set the standard for what each interaction should be: kind, understanding, tolerant, and empathetic, by reading stories that demonstrate that it is indeed possible and POWERFUL to do so.

I invite educators to forego the funny tale of first day jitters, nerves, and fumbles with these picture books that will set the tone for what the atmosphere and exchange between all humans on campus should be, is expected to be, and will become. (The first and last books are must-haves in this humble librarian’s opinion.)

1. Be A Friend by Salina Yoon

Be A Friend

Dennis, also known as Mime Boy, expresses himself differently than others in his class; he communicates through mimes.  Although it doesn’t seem like anyone thinks Dennis is “strange”, they don’t include him in their games and conversations, or maybe, Dennis doesn’t know how to interact with his classmates.  Then a little girl, Joy, notices Dennis and how lonely he seems.  Rather than trying to include him in their games, she includes herself in his, she follows along with Dennis’s mimes and their friendship grows.  The last spread we see in the book, shows all of the children playing together.

Talking Points: We should notice when others are hurting, are feeling left out.  We should try to understand them, enter their world, before we present them with ours.  The power of one person, being kind to another, opened up the opportunity for both Dennis and the other children in their class, to learn about each other, include each other, accept each other.

2. Super Manny Stands Up! by Kelly Dipucchio Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

Super Manny Stands Up

Manny has a different cape for each foe he must face, the coolest one by far is the one he uses at school, the Invisible Cape.  When a big kid mistreats a smaller one, Manny doesn’t know what to do! He wants to help, but how?  Then he remembers his invisible cape and what it represents,  and stands up for the kid being harassed.

Talking points: Standing up for others is the right thing, even when it is scary.  Asserting the Power of One, will help others find their courage and stand up for anyone who is being wronged.  Making new friends and protecting them is something we all must do.

3. Peace, Baby! by Linda Ashman Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff


Recognizing feelings of frustration, anger, and annoyance and thinking about what might happen when you feel this way and what a kinder option would be, is what Linda Ashman’s book explores.  It’s important to validate these negative feelings that we all have at every stage in life.  It is also validating to known that our first response to these situations, although usually not the best one, is something many of us feel.  When we aren’t shamed,  our mind might be more open to internalize kinder alternatives.

Talking points: Be vulnerable, be honest!  Share instances when you have felt the emotions explored in this book, how you’ve reacted badly and what the outcome has been.  This will allow students to be vulnerable and share, too!  Talk about the times when you chose “Peace, baby!” and how the outcome has been different.  I can see the title of this book becoming a phrase you and your students use to deescalate situations and be reminded of better ways to respond.

4. Wings by Christopher Myers


A boy with wings is new at school.  Instead of marveling at this, students and teachers make him feel like an outcast.  It takes one timid girl to tell the boy how beautiful his wings are and share her views with those around her, to change things around for him, and those who couldn’t appreciate the boy’s uniqueness.

Talking Points: At the end of the book, there’s a quote by the author explaining the inspiration behind his book, discuss this with students.  Talk about the word “unique” and how each one of us has something that sets us apart from others, and rather than separating us, we should be united by these, which makes life a richer and fuller experience.

5. Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell


This wordless picture book is a beauty and will invite readers to make up the dialogue, descriptions and feelings the child and the wolf go through.  A boy and a wolf cub are stranded in a snow storm when they cross paths.  Should they let their preconceived notions of each other take over, or should they let kindness prevail?

Talking Points: When have you gone out of your way to help a stranger?  What has that experience been like?  Have you ever shown kindness to an animal?  How did the animal respond?  A conversation about kindness coming back to you when you need it, would go along perfectly with this story.

6. The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts Illustrated by Christian Robinson


So many of our kids can relate to being the smallest!  Sally is the smallest girl in the smallest grade, but she is an observer of the world.  When reading this book I asked my readers to really look at each page and tell me what isn’t quite right in the picture.   Some unkindnesses are subtle, others blatant, and all are acts we have seen  happen in a school setting.  Sally decides she should not just observe, she should do something to change the world around her, and she does!

Talking Points: Is it okay to just be an observer of unkindness? Did it take any special powers, did Sally look for someone who would be physically more-in-your-face in order to make changes?  This story is also centered around The Power of One, The Power of Words, The Power of a Simple Yet Courageous Action, to change the quality of life of many around us.  Imagine if all of lour students took this to heart and became a Stander-Upper for just one other child?  The ripple effects would be felt far beyond the classroom!

7. What Does It Mean To Be Kind?  by Rana DiOrio Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch 


Assuming that our students know what kindness means and what it looks like, is well, very presumptuous of us!  This book aims to define kindness and give many examples of what it can look like in our every day lives.

Talking Points: Use the different examples given in the book to create a chart of daily kindness acts we can do for each other in class and around school.  Make sure that those acts that make it to the chart are actually doable for students’ ages and circumstances, then hold them, and yourself, accountable to that list of ideas and acts of kindness.

        7.1 If Kids Ran the World by Leo & Diane Dillon


This is another book that has the same feel and message as book #7: mentioning kindness and how kids can make daily interactions kinder and contribute to making the world better.

8. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke


Why do some people stop being kind? There’s probably a thousand reasons, but one that anyone can relate to is when the receiver of kindness takes advantage or is inconsiderate.  Julia opens up an Inn for lost creatures who come in all shapes and sizes, with different needs, which she is willing to accommodate until… she is depleted of energy!  Rather than kick out all the creatures, she comes up with a plan that has everyone contribute and take into consideration each others’ needs and talents.

Talking Points: How can we avoid feeling like Julia felt in our day to day interactions in the classroom?  Come up with a plan like Julia’s that keeps kindness flowing and everyone’s energy replenished!

9. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig Illustrated by Patrice Barton


Brian is an introvert and is “invisible” to his classmates and teacher.  The things Brian goes through like not getting picked for a team during recess, or not being chosen by his classmates for a class project, are well known to all of us and the pain and disappointment that ensues are feelings most children will be able to recall.  For those students who cannot empathize or recall a similar situation, Patrice Barton, the illustrator, outstandingly illustrated Brian’s “invisibility” as he is drawn in charcoal, which is a sharp contrast to the rest of the color illustration.

Then along comes a new kid to class, Justin.  Brian’s quiet yet brave act of kindness towards Justin, combined with Justin’s ability to see Brian, are kindnesses that change life in this classroom.

Talking Points: Be the lead in showing vulnerability and share when you, as an adult have felt “invisible”, share how it made you feel and how you hope no one ever has to feel this way.  Use the author’s guiding questions at the end of the story to further explore the themes of invisibility, kindness, and once again, The Power of One.  Talk about Brian’s quiet kindness and in what ways we can all copy Brian.  Discuss how Justin didn’t isolate himself when he befriended Brian, but instead, found ways for others to discover and “see” Brian.

10. May I Have a Word? by Caron Levis Illustrated by Andy Rash


This is such a funny story! C and K are struggling because they both share the “K” sound.  K feels C gets all the cool words, and C disagrees.  What is the alphabet to do, if these two don’t come to terms with their shared sound?

Talking Points: There are 26 letters in the alphabet, who cares if C and K aren’t speaking? But… all the letters in the alphabet are important, necessary, and have a contribution to make if we are to use all the words in the English language! This is a great conversation starter to plant and grow the seed that we are all valuable and have worthy contributions to make in our classroom and school.  Branch out into how when a few members aren’t getting along it affects the whole environment!

11. Brontorina by James Howe Illustrated by Randy Cecil


Brontorina wants to be a ballerina! Although she is fully aware she is a dinosaur, she knows that in her heart she was born to dance!  She searches for a dance studio and encounters difficulties; she doesn’t have the proper shoes, and she’s just to big to learn with the other children! Kindness is displayed by her fellow dancers as they are resolute in helping Brontorina achieve her dream, regardless of how impossible it seems to accomplish.

Talking Points: This story is a fine vehicle to explore how we should show kindness for each other’s dreams.  How many times has a child expressed a passion that seems so far removed from possibility that it immediately gets shot down by others? Brontorina’s dance classmates and teacher, show the ultimate act of kindness when they believe she can achieve her dream and are willing to get her there.  Again I ask you, imagine if every child in your class was willing to put faith in another’s dreams, how would that change the world?

12. Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins


Rude Cake is just plain rude in every interaction with other young cakes and adult cakes.  He is the kind of cake you don’t want to have in your classroom!  Then Rude Cake is mistaken for a hat by a Cyclops! Cyclops are all about good manners and kindness, and adorable little hats! Cyclops are the kind of mythical monsters you would love to have in your class! Rude Cake learns the hard way that using your manners is the safest bet to be heard and complied with.

Talking Points: One of the benefits of stories is that you can point at undesirable actions and behaviors without self-incrimination! It is so much easier to talk about a cake that is sooooooo rude (possibly as rude as yourself) without feeling like you are bringing on a guilt trip! Make sure you keep it that way during your conversations with students, examples should be cake only! A great class practice could be asking “What would a Cyclops do in this situation?” , helping kids think of a positive spin on any unkind behavior that needs examination and apologies.

13. Be the Change – A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus Illustrated by Evan Turk


This is a powerful book!  I recommend it be used starting in 3rd grade all the way to 12th grade.  Arun Gandhi is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, in this story he shares with readers how his grandfather helped him understand :

  • How our actions affect those around us and the earth

  • How being wasteful is an unkind and violent action

  • The difference between acts of passive violence and physical violence

  • How passive violence leads to physical violence

Although this sounds very heavy, it is narrated in a way readers in grades 3 and up can grasp.  It also is very relatable, as Arun Gandhi makes himself vulnerable to the reader, he narrates how he committed acts of wastefulness, unkindness, and passive violence.  He shares how he feels frustrated and angry because he cannot comprehend his grandfather’s teachings.

Talking Points: This book is vital in our current environment, where adults seem quick to respond in both passive and physical acts of violence without even pausing for a second to think.  Understanding how we impact with our actions and attitudes the climate around us, in our classrooms, schools, and communities is a powerful weapon towards fighting unkindness, hate, and prejudice.  The note from the authors further explain Gandhi’s beliefs and a “Be The Change Pledge” is included to foster commitment to taking action.

14. We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio


A young reader’s version of R.J. Palacio’s award winning novel Wonder, this story invites readers to understand how treating anyone as if they are “different” (Aren’t we all different in some way?) is terribly hurtful.  But even more amazing, is witnessing August understand that he is full of WONDER! I would love to see each child understand this deep in his/her bones! August also believes that “The Earth is big enough for all kinds of people.”!   Most wonderful of all, August, knows that he cannot change the way all people view him, and that’s okay, because he knows what he’s made of, and he believes others have wonder inside them as well, waiting to shine.

Talking Points: THIS IS A MUST READ! A MUST REVISIT FREQUENTLY! We lose perspective in the hustle of life, and we need to remind our children and ourselves that we are all wonders, that we should honor this truth with kindness and understanding.  I ask you one last time: Imagine if each of your students could feel, knew that they are full of wonder, how would this change how they live each day?  Our world would change exponentially if we depended a little less on external validation.

This list is by no means exhaustive, comment and share your favorites for spreading a message of kindness and understanding that can be put into action within your classroom and school family.  The more we read together and discuss with our students what kindness is and how it can be put into action, the kinder we will ALL become!

Why Celebrate Book Día #diatogether

I first learned of Book Día – El Día De los Niños El Día de los Libros at a Diversity Matters Panel at TXLA 2016.  It was hosted by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement.  The panel was composed of children book authors, illustrators, and librarians, that included Alex Gino, G. Neri, Rafael Lopez, and Pat Mora.  As I listened to Pat Mora describe this stories-in-many-languages celebration I couldn’t help but feel excitement; this was a celebration that promoted diversity, acceptance, and understanding.  This was a celebration that I wanted to offer my school community, to highlight our diversity and how story telling is a thread that binds us, it would communicate how all cultures are valued, that we all matter.  I was determined to make it happen!

Diverse Books .JPG

It wasn’t easy, but valuable, worthy endeavors rarely are.  Getting parents on board was a struggle.  I received many “I’ll get back to you.” responses from parents and although I was frustrated, I tried my best to be empathetic, reading aloud doesn’t come easy to everyone.  Even if as a a parent, you read to your kids, that is not the same as sitting in a classroom, you’ve possibly never visited, in front of 20 or more kids you do not know, with a teacher you might not have had many conversations with.  I understood then that what I was asking for was major, and would cause stage fright to anyone, especially when you are an English language learner.  Still, I persisted.  I finally had eight parents committed  to making this celebration happen.  I remembered that one of our Paras (Teacher Assistants) was from The Philippines, and when I asked if he would read to one of our classes, he was more than happy to!  I asked our students if they knew how to read in another language and had one sixth grader who spoke Vietnamese volunteer to read! I contacted a few of our district’s high schools who have foreign language programs and found one teacher, Jody Davis (Thank you, Mrs. Davis!)  who was on board to give the experience of Book Dia, not only to our students, but to hers as well.

Finding books that are bilingual wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be either.   I spent many hours searching on Google,, and other websites until I was able to acquire titles in the languages the parents who volunteered to read, spoke (Vietnamese, Khmer, Tagalog, Portuguese, Arabic, Malayalam, and Spanish).  As soon as the books came in, I sent them home to parents so they could practice, with a letter thanking them for their support of our library program and the details of when they were scheduled to read and what to expect that day.

Then there was the biggest concern; how would students and teachers react to having a book read in a language that they didn’t speak?  I prepped each class by having a conversation of what Dia meant for all of us.  I shared how these parents were being very brave because standing in front of children that are not their own is not something they had experience with.  I ended by asking students (I probably begged), to be welcoming, to give the guest readers their upmost respect and attention.


The day was upon us.  We started celebrating on Thursday, April 27th, with nine students who were taking the advanced German course at one of our high schools.   If they were nervous, they didn’t show it.  They had translated picture books of their choosing into German.  They started out by giving a brief overview of the story they would read, with a picture walk of the book.  Our students did not disappoint! They were mesmerized by the story telling in German and when they were asked what they had understood or taken away from the story they were eager to share!  When the story telling was over, we invited students to color one of the 3 Book Dia Badges that were part of the resources provided on the Book Día Website, thanks in part to the Dollar General Literacy Foundation (Thank you, Dollar General!). The high school students learned how to use the library’s button making machine and diligently worked to make each student’s badge into a button they could proudly wear by the end of our time together.  We had a great time and the high school students found a vehicle to make their work and translating projects of real-world value!

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On to Friday!  I was a little worried that some parents would not be able to make it, and except for one with extenuating circumstances, all of them did!  Not all classes would be read to in the library, and when I approached teachers to schedule Día read alouds in their class, and offer support by reading the story in English side by side with the parent volunteer,  they were more than willing to do so.   All parents came back to the library and the joy their smiles communicated were priceless.  I gave them a little token of appreciation and asked if they would be willing to participate next year they all said “Yes.”

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Watching our students listen to stories, some familiar, others not, in another language was eye-opening.  Children are so brave and curious, so thirsty for knowledge, they were mesmerized by the language they were listening to.   One of the students who listened to The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle in Arabic, said to the mom “I want to be Arabic! I want to speak and read like you!”  The smile on that mom’s face, was pure pride and joy.  Students asked many questions about the parent’s country of origin, many of them noticed the beauty of the Arabic and Malayalam written language.  A few students commented “It seems like you are reading from right to left.  Is that how you read in your language?”  So many other conversations happened that I hope were the seed to understanding and acceptance.


One dad, the only male parent I had as a volunteer reader,  read in Malayalam. He was so nervous, his hands were trembling, though his voice was firm while reading , and when he was done I thought he might want to leave immediately but he took a deep breath, took a little paper out of his pocket and shared with us facts about the languages of India.  We learned that the Malayalam language has 56 letters, 15 of them consonants, and that in school they learn Hindi, the official language of India, they also learn the language of their state, in his case Malayalam, and English.  One student asked how they said the pledges in school in India.  I explained that the pledges of each country are different.  Dad explained that in India they sang their pledge.  This dad who was so nervous, then asked “Would you like to hear it?”:  The students answered “Yes!” excitedly, and dad proceeded to sing to us.   His son, who is not in this particular class dad was reading to, was beaming with joy and quietly sang along with him.  Students were swaying to the sound of dad’s voice, and I was experiencing chills and waves of gratitude for this dad’s bravery.

Mr Simon Better

The sixth grade student, Sara, read to two classes.  I accompanied her to the first class she read to, which is her little brother’s first grade class.  Jesse, her brother, was smiling wide, obviously proud.  I thought she needed my support, but you know what? She didn’t.  She was enjoying showing of her Vietnamese reading skills.  The kids were looking at her and I’m pretty sure her coolness factor as Jesse’s sister increased ten-fold. Tommy, Jesse’s classmate, shared that he knew how to count in Vietnamese and volunteered to help Sara teach his classmates how to count and also how to say thank you. She also read to a Kindergarten class that has a Vietnamese student, and made him feel special.


I could go on and on.  But I think these highlights give you a pretty good idea of the value of celebrating Book Día.    I believe that parents and the cultures they represent, being in the spotlight  through this celebration, made them feel more welcomed, a vital part of our community, an integral part of our school and students’ learning.   I think the students whose parents volunteered to be part of this celebration now see their parents in a new light, their moms and dads have something of value to share with our learning community.  Our students now know someone from the Indian, Arabic, Hispanic, Brazilian, Cambodian, Philippine and Vietnamese communities and their interaction was a positive and uplifting experience.  I bet next year many kids will want their parents to participate, and it is all thanks to the vision and inspiration of author, Pat Mora.  Thank you, Mrs. Mora, for making our school community stronger and more united!

Are you ever too old to have a book character friend?


I first heard about Jeremiah Lopper from his creator, author Joan Bauer. In the less-than-2-minute book trailer(Watch here.) , something about how Ms. Bauer spoke about the main character of Soar  made me decide to start reading  my way through the 2018 Texas Blue Bonnet Master List with her book.

Why I want to meet Jeremiah and be his friend, even if he is only eleven

I’ve met kids throughout my teaching career, that have lived through an enormity of challenging situations, more than I have EVER had to face in my forty six years on the planet.  Facing these challenges has resulted in mixed results for each child I know, some go on, despite the visible and invisible scars that are left, some cannot bring themselves to trust, others go through life judging each next moment through the lens of what life has already painstakingly taught them.  What do you say to any of these kids that is worth a cent?  Even if I have lived through some of the situations these kids have braved through, it is never the exact same situation, the exact same outcome, and I am often at a loss for words that will not sound hollow or condescending.

What I have often wished for is a way to offer another spin on the situation.  Jeremiah has gone through a lot.  Jeremiah almost died.  Jeremiah has the right to let abandonment issues cloud his everyday life.  But Jeremiah finds the silver lining where most of us would not even believe there is a layer of anything remotely valuable.  Jeremiah embodies what I heard Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey share in an interview:

It Happened for me

Jeremiah not only sees life this way, he also wants to help others live this way.  I am reading Soar for the second time this week, and I cannot help but feel hopeful that others who read it, especially kids, can learn a little about how to face life, in spite of what has happened, like Jeremiah.  That is why, when I walk the stacks with my readers, and they ask me for a recommendation, I have to, have to, tell them about Jer, about how I wish he was my friend, about how I wish I was more like him.

What Jeremiah and Soar have made me ponder

Jeremiah and his dad Walter, live baseball, Jer can’t play because of his heart condition, but that does not come between him and giving his all to the game.  Sometimes I see kids so focused on wanting to be an athlete, and frankly for the most part, I don’t know if they have the skill or not.  What I do know is that they live the game, whatever game it is: baseball, football, soccer, they live it!  But, they only see themselves as players, that is the only way they know how to love the game.  Jeremiah shows us how being part of the sport you love, maybe even making a career out of it, does not begin and end with being a player.  That is something I would like my readers to understand, I want them to pin their hopes and dreams to this love they have for the game, in more than just one way.

The town Jeremiah and Walter move to temporarily, because of a job assignment, seems like heaven, made just for them! It is a town in love with baseball, but it is a town that is hit hard with tragedy because the need to win was taken to an extreme.  In life, I’ve seen how when something wrong is done, we tend to shun the game, the celebration, the event, rather than the people who did the wrong.  This is thoroughly explored in the story, and Jeremiah and his dad are crucial in focusing the disapproval where it belongs, and helping others do the same.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

The readers at my school know that the highest recommendation I can give a book is when I call my dad and beg him to read a book immediately, because I need to talk to someone about it (I wrote a post about my dad being my reading soulmate here).  As you have guessed, my dad read Soar over night and we then discussed in detail everything we loved about Jeremiah, his dad Walter, and the other characters in the story.  I hope that you find the time to get to know Jeremiah, and become his friend too.

I wish I could vote in the Texas Bluebonnet Awards but, alas!, it’s only for kid readers, although its probably just as well, I have read through almost the whole 20-book list and Soar by Joan Bauer and Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart are tied in first place in my heart! (I wrote a post about Some Kind of Courage here).

Whoosh! – Get swept away by Chris Barton and Don Tate’s picture book biography of a LIVING legend!

Whoosh! by author Ben Clanton and illustrator Don Tate is a 2018 Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee.  It is a literary non-fiction picture book about inventor Lonnie Johnson (for librarians and teachers this is a double win, when looking for an engaging readaloud that meets the needs of curriculum!)



As I read Whoosh! I tried to turn my teacher brain off, but this engaging story has so many learning gems within that I was unable to, which led to writing this blogpost.  I have never written a post about how I teach in the library, because well, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but after sharing our experiences on Twitter, educators loved how we were using the book in the library and I decided to share the gems I exploited while sharing Lonnie Johnson’s story.

Third, fourth  and fifth grade lessons were geared towards our research model known as SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment to learn more watch TED Talks by Sugata Mitra).  We were exploring how to merge our research with our thoughts and opinions to draw conclusions and come up with “Review Summary” based on Stephanie Harvey’s Comprehension Toolkit.

We started with the ending: students created a three column foldable based on our discussion of this anchor chart, setting the stage for what we expected to produce while, and after, reading Whoosh!


As we explored the cover we had a conversation about what our “Content” focus could be: the Super Soaker, Lonnie Johnson the inventor, the many inventions that would probably be mentioned in the story, or a hodgepodge of all three.   I shared this book in digital format, I wanted students to be able to read along with me, to enjoy the illustrations, and I wanted to be able to zoom in on text, and the Kindle book allowed me to do just that.

After the cover, we discussed the end papers, some students knew the illustrations were called “blueprints” and some inferred what the numbers all around the inventions on the blueprints might mean.

Don Tate’s illustrations are so warm and homey, it makes the reader feel like you are peaking into the life of your next door neighbor! My readers were loving and relating to them at the click of every spread, although there are hints of the times Lonnie Johnson grew up in, they weren’t so overwhelming that they might disconnect some readers who are disinterested when they notice that the story isn’t taking place in “their” time.

Learning Gem #1: Context and Picture Clues! They are there for the taking, in an engaging, well written story that doesn’t feel like an academic lesson when I asked students to use those skills.  If you’ve ever had to deal with standardized testing there’s this pesky, frankly irritating question “Which words help the reader understand the meaning of….”. Well, if you already know the meaning of the word being targeted, you’re thinking “Hello, I know this word, I didn’t need any help from other words, thank you very much!”  If you are a reader, you’re thinking “Dude, the whole paragraph is giving me clues to understand the meaning of the word.  Why are you asking me this question?”  Maybe you don’t have these thoughts when faced with these irritating questions but trust me kids do, and so do I! But, Chris Barton did such a beautiful job that we didn’t mind pretending we were being asked that question.

After having the “irritating question” conversation I described previously, I put on my best game show host voice and asked the pesky question “Which words helped you understand the meaning of…” for the following pages:

In this page: we used context clues to describe what an engineer does. (Seriously, what does an engineer do all day?  Chris Barton broke it down to the most organic definition.) Learning Gem #2: A test DOES NOT define  you or dictate your destiny! Lonnie’s Aptitude test came back with results that stated engineering was not for him! The man worked for NASA!

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Learning Gem #3: In this page: we used context clues AND picture clues, as well as schema, and inferencing to understand what was going on in the 1960’s when Lonnie was in high school and won a Science Fair Competition being held at the University of Alabama.  The kids talked to each other and 3rd graders sometimes started by saying “separation”, which would trigger another’s memory of the word “segregation”.  This lead to a conversation of what it must have been like for Lonnie growing up, and talk about the better-known Civil Rights Movement leaders.  (Regretfully, only one student in fifth grade, of all 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes I shared this story with, knew that the struggle for equality was known as the Civil Rights Movement. Something I intend to rectify, now and in future lessons.)

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Back to Learning Gem #1 (Context Clues): In this page: We used context clues to understand what “prototype” meant.  Some ideas that came up were “model”, “not good enough yet”, “the very first one”.

Learning Gem #4: This part of the story gave way to an excellent discussion of how Lonnie decided to see mistakes as opportunities rather than failures.


Back to Learning Gem #1 (Context Clues): The next page we used our context clues to figure out meaning, is the page where we learn Lonnie finally gets “investors”.  This is the page where at first you see board members repeatedly saying “No.” to Lonnie’s sales pitch and then you see Lonnie on the phone getting a “Yes.”

As we are having all these amazing conversations, if you look at the students in the pictures, they have their foldable and are adding notes for their “Content” and “My Thoughts” column.

Learning Gem #5: Lastly, the Author’s Note is just as priceless as the whole picture book.  It invites students to be like Lonnie, grab something and take it apart to understand how it works.  This will be next month’s lesson with 4th graders.  I am waiting on the tools I ordered, I have been saving up discarded home and school electronics to have a Deconstruction Makerspace, inspired by Lonnie’s curiosity and Chris Barton’s invitation.

Chris Barton also shares how he was inspired by what librarians shared with him at a luncheon.  The librarians had been at a workshop that asked them to draw a picture of a scientist and they mostly drew a version of Albert Einstein, working alone, looking a little deranged.  Before reading this part of the Author’s Note, I asked readers to visualize what a scientist looks like and share out.  Guess what?  They described him exactly like the librarians did to Mr. Barton.  This was a wake up call! Even our kids see scientists as something so far from the every day, why would they even consider this path?  I asked how many of them had thought “scientist” as we were learning about Lonnie, only 2 students out of approximately 200 I shared this story with, raised their hands.

When I read the last part of the Author’s Note, and readers learned that Mr. Barton had actually interviewed Lonnie Johnson, they were blown away! Can you guess why?  Because we are so used to only reading about those dearly departed…another wake up call!

Back to the original objective of this lesson, and blogpost: merging research with our thoughts and opinions.  After we finished reading I gave readers some time to read over their “Content” and “My Thoughts” and draw conclusions based on the two.  They shared out, some would only present their conclusion and I would ask probing questions of how they came up with why Lonnie Johnson was “kind”, “caring”, or a “fighter”.  I asked them to restate their conclusions with a “because” after it and we all agreed their conclusions were solid.  Here are some of their conclusions:

This lesson took between 2-3 weeks, library lessons are once a week, but it was worth every second because it was holistically enriching.  When April, National Poetry Month, rolled in we wrote Acrostic Poems in honor of Lonnie Johnson.  Here are some of the poems students wrote:

IMG_7130                                    IMG_7137IMG_7139                  IMG_7136 2IMG_7135                   IMG_7138IMG_7132                   IMG_7133IMG_7134                   IMG_7131             IMG_7129

I hope you will share Lonnie Johnson’s  incredible story of creativity, perseverance, purpose, and innovation by reading Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions with your readers!

Why Reading Outside of Your “Likes” Will Rock Your World… (It rocked mine!)


I am not a historical anything reader. Seriously, I am not. I read biographical literary non-fiction picture books because my readers need exposure to this genre and some of them enjoy it so I want to be able to procure and recommend the best out there. But…on my own I wouldn’t pick up anything historical. I gritted my teeth when I started listening to Some Kind of Courage by @dangemeinhart, because it’s a cowboy story. It is also a title on the 2018 Texas Bluebonnet Master List, as a librarian I read through most if not all of the list, I want to be able to BookTalk all the titles and get kids excited about reading these stories, it’s what makes the love of reading take hold and grow roots in my readers’ hearts.

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So although I started listening with skepticism it didn’t take long for the story to take a hold of my heart. I warn you, there will be some crying, maybe a lot of it, if you read Joseph’s story. If you are the type of reader that gets wrapped up in a story like if it’s your own, the crying WILL get ugly. But, I assure you it will be worth it, you will come out of the experience thinking about so many of the kids you know and how they have greatness and nobility in them, the Joseph kind, even when their circumstances are unbelievably harsh, just like Joseph’s were. This book is worth the 3-5 hours you will invest in reading it, I do not say this lightly, as a reader with a TBR pile that will certainly outlive me, I take the investment of reading time very seriously.

My reaction to the events in this story was so strong, that for the first time ever in my reader’s career I have written a letter directly to an author.  Read on to find out what I wrote.

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ON!!!! (You’ve been warned!)

Dear Mr. Genmeinhart:

I am an elementary school librarian in Mesquite, TX. I am also a reader. I suppose just like any reader, I am picky about what I read, I have an idea of what I like and would not like to read, just like the rest of my reader tribe. I would not have picked up your book Some Kind of Courage on my own for one reason: I do not like historical anything. I just don’t. But, your book is part of the 2018 Texas Bluebonnet Master List and as I do every year, I try to read through the whole list, there is no way I can truthfully recommend a book without reading it.

I just finished listening to Some Kind of Courage. At first, I was dutifully listening through, more out of a sense of commitment to my elementary readers, than because I was particularly liking the story. That changed pretty quickly, though, as soon as Ah-Kee convinced the mama grizzly bear that he and Joseph were not a threat to her cubs.

As I continued to read I was struggling with my dislike of historical anything, how much I was loving Joseph and Ah-Kee’s adventures, what exactly was I going to rate your book on Goodreads, and even more pressing: what I was going to say to my readers when they come to ask me about it.

The tears started threatening when Ah-Kee and Joseph parted ways. A bit of exasperated tears were leaking from the corners of my eyes when Sarah was taken by Caleb Fawney, followed by a “Come on Dan Gemeinhart YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!”. Now, when Sarah was shot, the tears were streaming down hard, my daughter and husband were giving me the “Jeez she’s crying over a book again!” look, but the worst part was that I almost stopped listening to write you an angry email. It might have gone something like “I do not know you and I do not like to throw the word hate around, but ….” but I looked at how much time on the audio was left and let my heart hope just a sliver, I could always write my email to you in 45 minutes. I also thought about Tweeting some angry Tweets and asking who had read this book already so I could rant. But, luckily, Joseph’s story was pulling me hard, and I put all the ranting on hold.

I do not know if you are familiar with the acting of Viola Davis, if you are not I suggest you look up “Viola Davis crying in Fences”, so you will understand what I am about to say.   When Joseph decided that he was the one to put Sarah down, the crying was like Ms. Viola Davis’s in The Help. All through the rest of what happens, up until Joseph says “I’m coming home.” was Ms. Viola Davis’s cry in the movie Fences. And it lasted for a good five minutes after the story was over.

Why am I sharing this with you? I am not sure. This is the first letter I have ever written to an author right after finishing his book. Maybe it’s out of a sense of guilt, I was ready to use the “h” word and am glad I held off until the end. Maybe it’s out of a sense of shame, I wouldn’t have given your work a chance and been brought to tears by it, if it hadn’t been a Bluebonnet contender. Maybe, out of a sense of wonderment and gratitude, you wrote a beautiful adventure, of a noble child, a child the age of some of my students, and it made me think of how they too have Joseph’s potential, to do greater things than can ever be expected of a child. Maybe I wrote this email because I hold stories dear, and yours has taken up residence in my heart. Maybe… maybe, I just thought you should know.

I will talk to everyone and anyone who listens about Some Kind of Courage. I will share Joseph’s story with my horse-loving readers, and my “I-have-to-look-out-for-my-own-self” readers, and all the other readers that come to me looking for the next amazing read.

Thank you for writing Some Kind of Courage, it affected me to the core.

Ro Menendez


Cannaday Elementary

Mesquite, TX



It’s not about being George or Dave…, it’s about being the best version of yourself as an educator! #IMMOOC


This is probably not the blog post it’s supposed to be. You see, I am participating in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC with many, many other educators from all over the United States. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course; in this case it is a book study of Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, that I am completing with a ton of people I do not know (massive), that I do not have to pay anything for (open) on the Internet through blogs, Twitter, Voxer, and YouTube (online). This week we are discussing Part I: Innovation in Education Chapter 1: What Innovation Is and Isn’t and we are supposed to reflect on thought provoking questions at the end of the chapter. This blog does not answer any of those questions; hopefully I will not have lost you right now.


Through the many online tools I mentioned previously, I have heard from Instructional Coaches, Assistant Superintendents, Superintendents, from George Couros (the author of the book we are studying) and even from Dave Burgess author of Teach Like a Pirate, about how we must innovate, about how we must inspire our teachers and organization to change or be forever known as the school that failed our children. With this infusion of leaders talking about inspiring changes in those they lead, my mindset has been framed to think of teachers that I have shared PD with in the past on a variety of topics, movements, philosophies, and so forth. So although there are so many amazing ideas in this first chapter, the one that has struck me, that I keep coming back to, in the frame of mind these leaders have had me reflecting in, is the introduction to Part One:


“Examples will be shared, not with the intent to dictate what schools and educators should do, but to provoke thought and inspire you to create your own innovative approach in your practice as an individual and for your organization.”


So many times I have sat at PD and listened to many inspiring, and let’s keep it real, not so inspiring, speakers and heard teachers and others in education say “But I’m not like that, I’m not him. I can’t be loud like him, or so boisterous, I don’t have acting chops! I want to inspire but I’m just not him!” I’ve looked at these teachers, some flustered, some disappointed in themselves, some on the verge of tears, some shutting down because they feel like they’ve failed and they haven’t even tried yet, and I’ve tried to communicate that the one thing students can detect in an instant is a fake. That they should take what we are learning and make it their own, if they are feeling inspired by the teaching piece of the PD, then that’s what they need! They don’t need to know magic tricks, or have a major in Drama, or know how to tell a joke. They don’t have to be technology gurus, or have a social media account in every single social media outlet out there. They just have to grab a hold of what inspired them from this particular PD or speaker and make it theirs. If they are here at this workshop it should be because they want to better their practices, they feel the need to change in order to honor the needs of their students, they are on the right track and the speaker isn’t asking them to become a puppet! But you see, coming from me sitting at the table next to them, possibly someone they don’t know, as real and as honest as I am being, it doesn’t fully convince them.   Coming from George Couros, someone who has proven his mettle to so many, it might help these educators understand what might have been implicit in every workshop, PD, and conference they’ve been to, but never explicitly said to them.


The next time I am sitting next to educators that feel they have to become the speaker, emulate him or her to the T, I will pull up this quote from The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, share it with them while patting them on the shoulder and telling them reassuringly “See? They don’t want you to be them. They just want you to make the decision to be the best you can be for our kids! They want to inspire you, not replace your soul with theirs. You can totally do this!”, and hopefully this time, they’ll give it a go.

Dav Pilkey – Wise Men Can Also Be Funny

As the new school year zooms in, I am working fast and furiously to get our school library ready for my elementary geniuses, but  I’ve also set some time aside for soul-searching and reflection.  I’ve used as a platform for said reflecting the wise words of three men, two of whom I had the amazing experience to listen to live: Dav Pilkey and Levar Burton; and one whose words I read in the form of his Newbery Acceptance Speech, Matt De La Peña.

I am focusing on what Dav Pilkey made me think, feel, and reevaluate, as I am writing right now.  I am attempting to be as honest as I know how, so in the interest of full disclosure, although author Dav Pilkey is hilarious, a gifted author, a talented illustrator and an amazing presenter, his life experiences as a reader made me feel…shame.  I will not deny that I have participated in some of the behaviors that made little Dav HATE, yes, that’s what he said, HATE reading.

Here are my notes on Dav Pilkey’s presentation (in red is where I turned red when I admitted I had done this too, at some point in my teaching career.)

Dav Pilkey’s life’s passion and career wasn’t inspired by his teachers or librarian, who did not understand or know how to help him.  They did however label his behavior:

When he was a boy his view on reading was shaped by:

  • He was expected to find something he wanted to read during reading time in the library in five minutes or less. (Ten minutes is the average time my students have, sigh, sigh, sigh, I know what he went through is something some of my students go through, I try to make up for it, I dedicate more time to them, but still, they struggle.)  
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  • His librarian pointed out how she wanted him to choose books that were a little more “substantial.”
  • Reading in the classroom out loud got him all stressed out, he would get so nervous, because he couldn’t keep up with everyone else.
  • He was labeled for his behavior that had much to do with having ADHD and dyslexia, unknown widely in the 70s.
  • He’d come from school distressed, sad, feeling he hated reading, why did he have all these problems, why did they make him  read all the time?

What turned it all around?   His mom, became his substitute librarian.  She would comfort him.  She would make up for the frustratingly painful reading experience at school by taking him to the public library and letting him choose WHATEVER he wanted to read.  “Instead of focusing on what I was reading she thought it was more important that I was reading.   It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a “real” book, if I had read it before, if it was mostly pictures, it was whatever I wanted, how many times I wanted,”  and with time and free choice “I discovered I liked to read.  If I picked out things that I loved I would love reading.” (Pilkey, 2016)  (I have tried to talk my readers into checking out another book rather than one I know they have read repeatedly.  Look what reading the same books over and over again until he was ready to move on did for Pilkey!  Rather than aggravate my reader by trying to convince him or her to “Let it go, let it go….” (cue the Frozen Soundtrack) I will be the one to let it go, and if anything, allow my reader to check out one more book beyond what they usually do in order to put the option out there.)

Children’s choice is thwarted by the notion that children need to:

  • Read at their “level”
  • Need to be challenged by the books they read

55% of YA readers are adults.  “How come no one ever gets on their case for reading below their reading level? Or for not challenging themselves with something more educational.  I think If you ask these adults most of them would probably say our  lives are challenging enough, we want to relax a little bit when we read, we deserve to have some fun.  Exactly! Of course, they just want to read what they love.” (Pilkey, 2016) And why should it be any different for kids?

Junk Food…Junk Books?

There seems to be a common argument that there is such a thing as “Junk Books” that affect the body the same as  “Junk Food”.  “Since food and books are the same thing. Well, actually they’re not and that is the problem with this argument.  Our brains don’t assimilate the value of books in the same way that our bodies utilize the nutrients in food.  It’s completely different and recently there’s been several studies that show this, that prove this and they backup the power of choice and they prove that while junk food does exist, junk books do not exist.” (Pilkey, 2016) (I have felt this way about certain books that are so incredibly popular, but NO MORE! Not since I heard Pilkey speak have I ever dared think some books are “Junk Books”! What my readers want, I will move heaven and earth to find, if we’ve run out of our library copies!)

The Amazing Results of Free Choice

A study by National Literacy Trust  found that “…kids who pick out their own books and read for fun are more confident, more motivated, and they read more. And recently the Institute of Education they did a study and they found out that kids that make a habit of this do better at spelling, vocabulary and math. And the interesting thing about both these studies is it didn’t matter what the kids were reading,  it didn’t have to be an educational book, it didn’t have to be at their reading level, it just had to be what kids chose themselves, it had to be what they loved, and it had to be a habit.  And there have been so many studies like this that have come out and they’ve  all come to the same conclusion,that when it comes to kids and reading there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. And I think that’s kinda one of the reasons why I write the books that I write.  I’m sort of,  I’m kinda writing for the kid that I used to be.  The kid who would stand in front of a school library shelf and just couldn’t find anything that they wanted to read.  A kid who was almost convinced that he didn’t like to read.”(Pilkey, 2016)

Some Ideas on What Makes Dav’s Books so Widely Read

I learned that it wasn’t “that I didn’t like to read it’s just that reading was such a challenge for me it was so hard that I was only willing to go through that struggle for certain kind of books.  I had developed a criteria when I was a kid of things, like a list of things that books had to have in order for me to consider them worthy of reading.  And so, I actually remember it.” (Pilkey, 2016)

  1. Short Chapters.  As a struggling reader there’s nothing more frustrating than reading for an hour and not even finishing one chapter.   There’s a sense of accomplishment in reading for 20-30 min and finishing 3 or 4 chapters.  It feels right.
  2. Tons of Illustrations: pictures are fun to look at, high picture to text ratio, but also pics help to discover meaning of the harder words because of contextual clues
  3. Humor.
  4. Coolness Factor- has to be something you are into to.  In Dav’s case it was animals, monsters, robots, dinosaurs and/or mad scientists.

“There weren’t very many books that fit that criteria I had for great literature.  And to make matters even worst my librarian she kind of  had her own list of criteria for what would constitute an acceptable piece of literature.” (Pilkey, 2016)IMG_9066

When creating the books that he wished for as a child he combined his Kid List Criteria for Great Lit with the one  his librarian had on what constituted quality literature:


Pilkey believes in the power of visual which is why he includes tons of illustrations to offer context clues; he uses the  graphic novel format that offers small panels to give readers a break.

Although there has been a great amount of criticism over his books, he believes that:

“It only takes one book to change a child’s life even if it’s a silly one it’s all about love not levels.” (Pilkey, 2016)

Captain Underpants was the most challenged/banned book in 2013.

On the challenge and banning of books:

  • “You shouldn’t say I don’t think children should read this book. You should say Idon’t think MY children should read this book.  Self choice is the only way to grow a love of reading.”


Pilkey, D. (2016, April). General session III. Symposium conducted at Texas Library Association Open Libraries Opportunities 2016 Annual Conference , Houston, TX.


After the session was over I had to meet Mr. Pilkey, and as I stood in line I made what you see me holding in the above picture.   Brandon is a third grader, who is exactly like Dav when he was a boy.  Brandon ONLY wanted to read biographies about wrestlers, and there’s only so many of those titles we have in our collection.  He would get frustrated with me when I had to inform him that someone was waiting  the John Cena biography he wanted to check out for the seventh time and that he’d have to find another book this week.  Brandon would wander around the library until it was almost time to leave, before he forced himself to pick something I knew he wouldn’t read, to substitute for the Cena biography he wouldn’t be able to recheck out that week. I had begged him to give me a chance, I swore that everything I recommended was exclusively because I had read and loved it, but the dude wouldn’t budge.  I’ll confess, Brandon had me in tears, and after our reader relationship grew, I told him as much.

When I received the newly colorized Captain Underpants Collection I had a hunch that it might grab Brandon’s attention.  He was now reading the same two graphic novels repeatedly, Jimmy Sniffles by Bob Temple.  When Brandon’s third grade class library time came, I told myself I had to keep my cool, if Brandon noticed I was too sure of winning this session of “Mrs. Ro recommends for thirty minutes and Brandon says “No!” to every single suggestion”, I’d be doomed and reaching for a tissue and/or hiding in the AV Closet for a session of grunting-in-place-of-screaming-in-frustration, in thirty minutes.  Brandon had once mentioned he sorta, kinda liked Captain Underpants, but had read the only two titles (that’s a whole other post people, remember it was my FIRST year there) we had, and that was that.  So, I took him to the little office behind the checkout counter and said all hush hush, mysterious, this is between you and me, “These just came in. I know you read one of them but look, Brandon, it is a colored edition.  It makes it so much more hilarious for some reason.  Now, if you don’t want them, it’s cool, because I have a list of kids who are desperate to get their hands on them.  I told them I was holding them for someone, you, but it’s totally cool if you don’t want to be the FIRST to open these books and read them.”  I swear I was nonchalant about the whole thing, no one would have noticed that I had been relishing this instant since Monday, it was now Thursday.

Brandon tried to hide his smile, he has this thing about not smiling, but I knew I had got him! I’d be hiding in the AV Closet in 30 minutes but it would be to dance and cheer at finally, finally getting this kid to give me a break! And… I thanked my lucky stars that Dav Pilkey wrote the books that he wanted to read when he was a kid, and our readers want to read today.  Dav Pilkey’s colored edition of Captain Underpants helped Brandon start uncovering his reader identity.  He wanted to read funny, he wanted to read about boy characters doing outrageous, yet plausible, things.  He decided to give my recommendations a chance and now he visits the library three times a week because he’s done with the books I’ve recommended, or one he picked up on his own.  I had told Brandon I’d meet Pilkey at the TLA Conference this year, and he was like “Yea, no.”  So I had to prove I meant business, which is why I wrote the message I held in the picture, and waited in line to get a signed copy of Dog Man to gift to Brandon.

Dav Pilkey’s story and my experience with Brandon taught me that letting kids choose is the right thing to do for my readers, and that’s all I ever want to do by them.  Now I am trying to get teachers to stop dictating what their students can check out during library time, it’s an uphill battle, but Dav Pilkey’s wise words, the research he shared, and what he did for Brandon, are my weapons, and I believe they are powerful ones.