Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Bibliophile’s Favorite Things

As a reading specialist (and lover of books), I get asked OFTEN to share with people my favorites.  As a person who is literally addicted to books, I wish people knew how impossibly hard it is to answer this question. But I hate to feel like I’m not giving them an answer- so I have been thinking for a while the best possible way to formulate my response to this question. Here’s what I came up with: 

Because it is impossible to pick just one book- I settled on three. More than that, it’s also impossible to pick just three books out of every category in the library- so I broke it down into three. First- I picked my top three educational books. These are books that have impacted me as a teacher- whether it be in philosophy or practice. Next, I picked books from my teaching career that I have loved either reading aloud or recommending to students. Last, I picked my top three books as a parent that my kids enjoy. I feel like these three categories give a great representation of the sections of my life.

Before I begin these lists, I feel the need to write a disclaimer. These are the books that are always on my mind. These are not, by any means, the best three books for everyone everywhere. Books can be a uniting force and also a divisive one. This list of for my life only- put together as sort of road map to what made me who I am today. 

I have been wanting to write this post for a very long time but I’ve never known how. I hope you like the method I chose and I apologize in advance for the length of this article. To make this massive post easier to navigate, it’s sectioned and bulleted for your convenience!

Category 1: Educator Books

In terms of educational books, there are so many books that have guided me to become the teacher I am today. So many, in fact, that picking a top three is truly impossible. So for this list, I am picking the three that are currently influencing me the most. These are in no particular order.

  1. The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers by Jennifer Serravallo
  2. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
  3. Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School (Hack Learning Series) (Volume 1) by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez

The first book on the list, The Reading Strategies Book, is a favorite because of it’s amazing helping capabilities. I feel like that book has been a guide for me whenever I’ve been stuck with my reading groups about what to do next. Sometimes I feel like I’ve exhausted all my “tricks” and need direction. This book, first of all, is massive, so I know that I can find whatever I need in it. Second, Serravallo is SO bright on this subject that I know I can count on everything she writes. It’s like she knows exactly what I’m thinking and needing in  my reading classroom. It was helpful, though, for me to thoroughly study this book when I first got it. This is not the kind of book that you can buy because you think it will help but then never open. You must know the content of the book in order to apply it. For this reason, I participated in a blog book study about the book and wrote a reflective blog post on each section. If you’re interested, you can view this blog post which has a link to every single reflection I wrote. It has become an invaluable resource for me this year.

Next up is The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. I read this book when I was in my third year of teaching, after just finishing my reading specialist masters degree. I have to say I am a huge numbers person.  I like when things follow routines and when data makes sense. This book, in my opinion, is the opposite of that. This book throws out the idea of a perfect plan and quite simply requests that people read. If you want to be a better reader, then read. If you want to become a deeper reader, then read. If you want your students to become smarter, have them read. Just read. That’s it. Don’t stress about the details, don’t deal with the logistics, just carve out and keep a definite time to read. I loved this book so much because whenever I got to feeling beat down by the system, I knew that, when all else fails, we can always just return to the basics. Just focus on the reading and everything will be ok. We also read one of Miller's other books, Reading in the Wild as part of our #D100bloggerPD adventure. You will want to check out those posts, as well. 

Last up for impressionable educator book is Hacking Education by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez. I must admit, I have just started this book, as it is the current focus of my #D100bloggerPD blog book study. I’ve read the introduction and reflected on it- and now it is the turn of the members in my crew to read and reflect on their parts. I then read the book as i go through the study. If you’d like to learn more about this concept, read this previous post. It explains why I am so excited about this book and it’s implications in the field of education.

Category 2: Elementary and Middle School Books

In my teaching career, I have spent 6 years in middle school and 2 years in elementary school. During these 8 years, I have spent countless hours reading books. Whether it be in small groups, out loud, book clubs, or just based off recommendations from students- it’s safe to say I’ve read tons of books. Like I mentioned above, it was hard to narrow this down to 3- but these three definitely stand out in my mind. 

  1. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass
  2. Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
  3. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

The first book, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, is my all time favorite book for students (5th grade-8th grade) to read. Admittedly, I love everything by Wendy Mass, but this is far and beyond my favorite. I first read this book during my student teaching year and I have read it many times since. I just think this is a book that every kid should read- because it teaches them to live and have fun and learn about life. It stresses the importance about being a human while telling a humorous and exciting story. The book was made into a movie, and I waited so long to see it because I didn’t want to be disappointed, and even though it wasn’t as good as the book, it was still cute. It’s just a fun-loving story about two kids just exploring the world and discovering themselves. That sounds so cheesy, and I’m sure the back of the book says it better, but trust me, you have to read this book.

Next is Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac. This book made the list because it is my all time favorite book to read out loud to students. I would say it’s best for students grades 3-8- and yes-that span is big- but the book is awesome. It is just so captivating and exciting. I love reading to students and I love even more when they hang on every word. I remember, when I was younger, I visited my mom’s classroom when she was reading Witches by Roald Dahl. I remember vividly her voices and reading- and I also remember the looks on the faces of her students and the palpable suspense in the room. It was magical. Skeleton Man is my Witches. It’s an incredibly quick and short read- but I promise you won’t regret sharing it with your students. And side note, it does have a sequel, which is good- but nothing is as great as the original.

Last is Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. Having taught middle school for so long, I have to admit I don’t have as much expertise with these younger level texts. I came across Rainbow Fish a few times and thought it was cute, but it wasn’t until I read it, on Read-a-Thon day, to a group of Kindergarten and First graders. It was an unforgettable experience. To read to little kids is an experience that gives so much joy. So I read it, which was amazing, but then they had this adorable discussion about the fish and sharing and caring that it just touched my heart. I love the experiences that reading provides for kids. It’s irreplaceable. 

Category 3: Mom/Toddler Books

These books made the list because they are the current favorites of my kids and one of my all time favorites to read out loud to them. As a mom who loves reading, my kids spend an awful lot of time reading and being read to. Safe to say their “favorites” change often- but as of this post, here are the go to books!

  1. The Octonauts and The Only Lonely Monster by Meomi
  2. Daniel Goes to the Potty (Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood) by Maggie Testa
  3. You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love and Satomi Ichikawa

First up, Octonauts. Since I don’t have cable, when my kids want to watch TV, they get Hulu or Netflix. One day, maybe 6 months ago, Brayden, my oldest, discovered Octonauts. Ever since then, we have been on every single deep sea adventure with this crew that they have to offer. As far as kids being addicted to TV shows, this really isn’t the worst. It’s pretty educational, in a marine biologist kind of way, and the main characters don’t play dumb or act ridiculous- one of my biggest mom pet peeves. Plus, there’s a super catchy “creature report” at the end of each episode where Captain Barnacles (he’s pretty cool) tells about the animals and even gives real pictures. I’m pretty proud to say that all this Octonaut watching has resulted in some pretty cool connections at the Shedd Aquarium and Brookfield Zoo. How many other kids strike up a conversation about the Mariana Trench? That’s right. Mine does. 

Next up, Daniel Goes to the Potty. Now, you can clearly tell that this is time sensitive- as I live with two toddlers- but really- thank you Daniel Tiger for potty training my youngest child. I really appreciate your help. Of course, I could’ve picked so many Daniel Tiger books as my favorite- because they all accomplish the same thing- teaching my kids about being nice humans while having fun with their favorite characters. I can’t tell you many songs I have memorized from Daniel and his show. “Gro-o-wn ups come back” and “See what it is, you might feel better” are just two that come to mind right away. Oh, and how could I forget, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away!” That’s a definite favorite in my house! Anyway, I love Daniel Tiger and you should, too. That’s pretty much it.

So those two books were each of my children’s favorites. This last one is a me favorite as their mom. Ever since they were in my belly, I have read both of them the book You Are My Miracle. I know there are tons of books out there about parents loving their kids, but this one happens to be my definite favorite. It’s just a sweet story about love and faith and in my case- these kids really are our miracles. The story couldn’t be more on point for my family. If you haven’t read this one, I highly recommend grabbing it from the local library- but you might as well buy it because I’m sure you’re going to love it just as much as I do. We still read it often at bedtime and I’m sure it will continue to be a staple for a long time.

I realize that was a lot of writing. And a lot of reading. But honestly, I’ve known these books have been favorites of mine for a long time now and this post has been a long time coming- but sitting here writing and reflecting on them has really taught me a lot- about myself and about my life. I love how books have this unique ability to tell not just stories but to tell moments in my life. The books in these lists have created memories in my life, in my students, and in my children. All because I opened a book. 


  1. Love reading about peeps favorite books! Thanks for sharing! I could talk books endlessly! You're making me want to write a post just like this! #bigtimebooknerd

    1. Thanks for reading! I still feel like I am missing some awesome ones- so there will likely have to be a follow up to this post. Also- there was going to be a Category 4: Guilty Pleasures- but the post was SO long so I had to cut it out. Maybe that will come in the future, too.
      I'd love to see you do this- and I'd love to witness the struggle for you to pick just three books!