The Things They Carried

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This book reminded me of how necessary it is to go out of your comfort zone sometimes. This book reminded me that, no, I don’t normal read “war books,” but sometimes you need to take a risk and read something that is not your normal genre. This book reminded me that while it may not seem like I could relate to a Vietnam war vet, I would be wrong.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien has been in my classroom library all year. I’ve wanted to recommend it–especially to boys who are finding a hard time choosing something–but I hadn’t read it and wasn’t sure how to present it. I don’t really read “war stories”. But I realized that by not reading it just for that reason, I was doing what my students were doing when they turned their noses up at books because the topic sounded boring.

So when I raided my classroom library in May to bring home a stack to read, I included The Things They Carried. Naturally, it was the very last book I picked up out of all the books. And I’m sorry for that because I quite possibly connected most to this one. In fact, I used O’Brien’s book as the first in my Reader’s Notebook that I am creating as an example for my students.

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The Things They Carried is actually a collection of stories, many of which has been published elsewhere before being brought together as a collection. The book is labeled as fiction, although the narrator is O’Brien and he was in Vietnam and all the places and characters and circumstances are based on real life. I would say The Things They Carried is “True Fiction”.

Everything he writes about is true, but it did not happen. Well, some of it may have happened, but not as he wrote it. Or to whom he wrote about. The truthiness of it plays with your mind a bit because it is so believable–graphic at times even–and yet, you know you are reading fiction. But while some of the details may be made up, it’s a True Vietnam War Story.

Sort of.

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about the Vietnam conflict, and this book didn’t answer many of those questions. And I’m glad. When people say that it’s important to read books to see what it was like for the people who lived it, they were talking about O’Brien’s writing. I’m sure of it. This book proves why it’s important to read beyond textbooks. A history book is not going to show the reader the effects of PTSD or how soldiers coped with all the death around them. It’s not going to show the horrors of silence.

I think I connected to O’Brien’s words the most because he kept coming back to the idea of the story. How it’s important to tell your story. That even if you have to add details that did not happen, it’s Ok as long as they add to the truthfulness of the story. So your audience can feel and so you can release that bit of yourself from inside yourself.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Confession: I started this book and thought two things: 1) I like books that make me feel good about my Spanish and 2) this book is going to take a lot of brain power.

I started this book for no other reason that I want to read more non-white authors and many readers I respect (who read the “literature” on top of just other stuff) rated this one highly. I also started it one day on the deck in the sun in my favorite reading spot. It is a stark contrast to all the YA lit I have been reading lately.

Let’s see…how do I describe Oscar Wao? Well, the book is fiction, but it also has some magical realism. The narrator is third person, seemingly omniscient, whose actual identity isn’t revealed until about halfway into the book. The story is about Oscar and the curse that is on him and his family called the fuku. The book starts with Oscar’s childhood, but talks about his mother’s childhood and formative years in the Dominican Republic, his maternal Grandfather (where the fuku started), and his sister, Lola.

The narrator is incredibly conversational using Spanglish and Dominican slang to tell the story of the de Leon family.There are quite a few footnotes (which are just as conversational) to give the reader history and background of The Dominican Republic that will help understand character motivation or the environment the characters found themselves in.

The book is beautiful. The writing is glorious and true and moving. I kept thinking of my students as I read it…how many have such journeys in their family history–maybe not with a curse attached–but who have parents who have come from another country and they are first generation in the US. About the struggles and the reasons for coming.

It’s just an extraordinary book. I can’t compare it to anything because I have never read anything like it. And I read a lot.

Where My Writing Is…

In case you missed it, I have a few articles floating around the internet…

This month at the Educator’s Room, I’ve posted about what all teachers should be reading this summer, and it’s not just “teacher books”!

I also put on my serious, political pants and talked about the very real feeling that there is a conspiracy against public education among politicians.

With school starting, I wrote about the important task of creating safe spaces for kids in our classrooms.

Just this week, I posted an introduction to a series that I will be working on this month about Close and Critical Reading and strategies I/we use in my district that have really helped students improve their literacy.

Also a post I wrote originally for The Educator’s Room was re-run on The Washington Post! I know! So exciting! It’s the one about Job Insecurity in education.

My writing is also on BonBon Break again this month with a post I did about my feelings concerning School Dress Codes from a teacher’s point of view.

And lastly, I was interviewed by UpWorthy about what the deal is with Back to School Supply lists. (In Michigan we can’t require students to buy supplies; we have to supply them. Which is why I have a Wish List on Amazon, in case you are interested in helping out)

There you go!

School starts for me on September 1, and for the kids (Eddie included) on September 8. I’ve been busy busy BUSY with To Do Lists and creating stuff and I’ve even been into my classroom already setting things up for a new year.

There is a lot of excitement about it over here, I won’t lie!  Eddie is going into first grade, Charlie is starting his last year of “full-time” daycare (next year he will go to preschool part of the time), Alice is starting full-time daycare, and I will be teaching a new year of eager 8th graders.

But I’ll keep writing too! So stay tuned!

Me Before You

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This was a book I didn’t think I really wanted to read, but I caved to the pressure. I was certain I would quit this book because it would be too “Chick Lit-ish”.

Louisa is a twenty-six year old who gets laid off from her job at a cafe. She lives with her family (mother, father, younger sister, nephew, and grandfather). They don’t have much money. She gets a job caring for Will, a quadriplegic man. A wealthy quadriplegic man. An attractive quadriplegic man. The thing is, Will doesn’t want to live like this. He was very active before the motorcycle accident, and now lives in constant discomfort and pain. Lou makes it her mission to show him just how beautiful a life he can still have.

See? Sounds incredibly sappy, right?

It’s not though. I don’t know how JoJo Moyes did it, but Me Before You is fast-pace, witty, and even suspenseful. I found myself worrying about the characters when I wasn’t reading. Yes, there are a bunch of cliches and the premise itself is pretty sappy, but somehow Moyes made me care about the characters. She made me root for Louisa and Will…and not that they would get romantically involved, but that she would be successful in showing him a wonderful life. On the other hand, the book also made me seriously think about my own views on assisted suicide.

It was a deep topic that read like a light beach read.

That is writing talent, right there.

Even before I was finished with the book, I recommended it to someone and promised to bring her my copy the next time I see her.  I don’t do that with many books.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book that you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving?


Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.


Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Last fall I read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I adored it. I couldn’t talk it up enough in my classroom, and for the rest of the school year there was a wait list for it. I meant to read Fangirl next, but due to the popularity of Eleanor & Park, it was also checked out all year, so I moved on to other books and other authors.

This summer I was perusing the “new in paperback” section at the book store and saw Landline. I picked it up even though I had a pile at home of other books to read.

I will admit the premise of a telephone that calls the past was weird, but I trusted Rowell. I knew if anyone could make it work in a quirky, witty way, it was her.  And I was not disappointed.

Georgie McCool is a writer for a TV comedy series with her best friend since college, Seth. She spends a ridiculous amount of time at work, leaving her husband, Neal, home with their two small daughters. Georgie and Neal love each other, but there is always a tension. It comes to a head when Georgie chooses to spend their Christmas vacation home working with Seth rather than travel Omaha with her family. Over the time her family is gone, Georgie discovers that the phone in her childhood bedroom at her mom’s house can call Neal–not present-day Neal–but Neal from when they were in college. Her phone is like a time machine.  Now she has to figure out how to make things right with him by talking to the past.

I don’t tend to pick up a book if I think it might be a sappy love story. This is not a sappy love story. It is funny and ridiculous and a little sad in places, but not sappy.

Rowell tells the story from Georgie’s point of view. It bounces back and forth from present-day to her memories of meeting and dating Neal when they were in college, when they were first engaged and married, and to when their daughters were born. Rowell’s characters and dialogue quick and spot-on. She even manages to make me a bit nostalgic for the 90’s.

I think I even liked this book more than I liked Eleanor & Park. And that is saying a LOT because I gushed about that book.


Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

We Are All Made of Molecules

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I am on the biggest YA Lit kick since I was a teenager myself, I think. I am going through them fast and furious this summer. I never set out to do that either. In fact, before this summer I would claim to not really enjoy YA Lit that much other than the occasional stand out like Winger by Andrew Smith.

This summer I am finding myself not just enjoying YA Lit recommendations, but seeking out titles for myself. While searching for new reads a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Neilsen. I had never heard of the book, but I read the inside flap and thought it was definitely for me.

The story has dual narrators: thirteen-year old Stewart and fourteen-year old Ashley. While I am getting a bit tired of the whole “two points of view” trend, I decided the story seemed like one my students (who are also in the 13-14 year old age range) would relate to: a blended family.

Stewart loses his mom to cancer. Ashley’s parents divorce. Stewart’s dad and Ashley’s mom date and move in together. It’s like the Brady Bunch. Only it’s not at all like that because there are only two kids and it seems they have absolutely nothing in common. At all.

Stewart is, well, he’s different. He’s taking all ninth grade classes (even though he’s technically an 8th grader) now that he is enrolled in the public school after transferring from the Little Genius Academy.  This means he is in some of Ashley’s classes.

Ashley is not interested in school. Or books. Or learning. She is interested in fashion, boys, and herself. I spent most of the book hating Ashley. But I liked Stewart. He was my kind of kid–totally nerdy. He’s got the brains of Sheldon Cooper, but he is nice and thinks of others.  I mostly love the way he loves his mom and his relationship with his dad. I also love how he truly seeks to find the good in everybody. Even Ashley. Even when she gives him no reason to.

I think I gave the book three stars on GoodReads. I think it’s one my students would really like. The characters have very authentic voices–especially the teenagers.  I enjoyed all the characters (well, Ashley was pretty awful and so was Jared, but you will have to read to find out about who Jared is). It took a while to get to any real action though, and once there was finally something going on, it all ended quickly. I felt like 3/4 of the book was a day by day narration of how things were going being a blended family and then BAM 1/4 of the book was about bullies and other stuff and then it wrapped up.  My head was sort of spinning at the end.

It was a quick read though, and like I said, lots that teenagers can find to relate to from blended families, to bullies, to the hierarchy of popularity in high school, to deciding to stand out or blend in.


Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.


My Social Life…er…Book

I always feel a little bad when someone who is not a blogger/social media person “friends” me on Facebook. I post a lot. More than the average person, anyway.

I try not to over do, but I am almost positive that I have been “blocked” and “unfriended” for how often I show up in people’s newsfeeds. Those who do still keep me around have mentioned that some of the things I post–such as funny little things the kids say or pictures of stuff Eddie has written or drawn–I should somehow keep. I always figure by putting them on Facebook, I AM keeping them, however unorganized that is.

You may not believe it, but I used to be a hard-core scrapbooker. HARD. CORE.

I like to think that someday…someday…I will go back and at LEAST finish the projects I started (like Charlie’s baby book and Eddie’s toddler years), but I have started making photo books via websites because it’s just easier. But I don’t remember to put all the little details in those, ya know?  They are just photos.

I was given the opportunity to try something called My Social Book, a site that takes your Facebook and Instagram feeds and turns them into a keepsake book.

My Social Book

Before diving in to making my book, I checked out all the other options–there are five total:

  1. My Social Book Photos: This one makes a book of all your Facebook Photo albums
  2. My Social Book Page: This one makes a book out of your Facebook Page, so if I wanted to make Sluiter Nation’s Facebook page into a book, this would be the one I would choose.
  3. My Social Book Lovers: This is for two people’s social accounts so they can be side-by-side. I would make one with Cortney, but he would have one status update to my fifty, so maybe no.
  4. My Social Book Friends: This one is for up to five people so you can all tell a common story.

I made the classic “My Social Book” out of my Facebook updates from January of this year until June 30. Six months. It took 324 pages.


But look!

My Social Book

All of my status updates, photos, and all YOUR comments from the past six months! {you can choose to leave comments off. Admittedly, this added more pages to mine}

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It’s a pretty awesome way to keep all the pictures and thoughts I’ve shared all in one place. There are a few things I would have taken out if I could have individually gone through all the pages (like some of the memes and stuff I don’t really need to keep for the sake of nostalgia, ya know?), but I thought it was neat how it’s all laid out. And since I share ALL OF THE THINGS on social media, it makes for a pretty cool “diary” for my kids to look through some day.

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It would be pretty cool to do this every six months. My one beef with that is that it’s a little pricey. My 300+ pages would have cost about $80 to do. Although, if I had done that much scrapbooking, it would have cost WAY more than that.

So Cortney and I were discussing how it was WAY cool, but was it $80 cool?

Of course they are not all that expensive. Mine is a little crazy big, so if I did smaller ones without all the comments and excluded a few other things, it would be more reasonable to do this every so often.

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And at the same time, I think it would be so cool to sit down in 20 years and look back on this book. Or better yet watch Eddie, Charlie, and Alice look back on this book. The year our family was made whole and complete.

I’m sorry. I got something in my eye looking back…

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Yeah, it’s $80 cool.


Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. My Social Book provided me with an $80 credit to make a book and then write about it. No other payment was exchanged. All opinions are mine.  To learn more about My Social Book, like their Facebook Page or visit their site.

We Were Liars

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I didn’t even realize We Were Liars was a YA novel until I went looking for it in the book store. I was scouring the fiction and literature section for E. Lockhart, and I was annoyed I couldn’t find it. I was going to ask at the desk, but I wanted to check out the YA section first to see what I might nab to read that I could add to my classroom library. And there it was.

(This should tell you how much I need to know about a book before I will read it. Hint: not much.)

It seemed like every time I posted a new “review” people would follow by asking “Have you read We Were Liars yet? So I caved and read it.

The book is told from the point of view of Cadence, a seventeen year old who is part of an East Coast family of “Old Money” Democrats. Her mother is one of three sisters in the family and Cadence is the oldest grandchild, so she stands to inherit much of the Sinclair legacy which includes a private island complete with houses for her grandparents, her family, and each of her mother’s sisters’ families. Cadence is very close with her cousins, Mirren and Johnny and Johnny’s mom’s boyfriend’s nephew, Gat (yes, it’s that complicated and weird). The family has nicknamed them The Liars. Every summer, the entire Sinclair family lives on the island. The family is very rich and very entitled and very snotty.

Anyway, Cadence has some sort of accident on the island when she is fifteen. Because of it, she suffers migraines and complete amnesia about the summer it happened. When she is sixteen, her dad takes her to Europe rather than go to the island, something that bothers her. When she is seventeen, she goes back to the island and is determined to figure out what happened two year previous.

I will say none of the characters were particularly likeable, however the plot was very fast-paced and I read the entire book in about 48 hours. Even though I found the teenagers entitled and full of themselves, I still wanted to know what the heck happened, so I was drawn into the story. I think my students will definitely love it.

The ending is…well…the ending is why you read the book. Everyone who asked me if I read it said, “I won’t say anything, but when you finish? Let me know. I want to know what you thought of the ending.”

I am of the “I liked it” camp with the ending. Rumor has it, Lockhart wrote the book after reading Gone Girl because she loved the plot twists. Since I can’t give my students Gone Girl, I like We Were Liars as an example of a fast-pasted novel full of twists.

I also sort of like that it’s hard to relate to any of the characters. I think a book can still be good and the writing done well even if you don’t like the characters. The Great Gatsby is a wonderful example of that. However, I think Fitzgerald and even Flynn purposefully wrote unlikable characters. I’m not convinced that Lockhart wanted her readers to dislike the teens in her novel, given the ending. But maybe.

Either way, I liked the book. It was a great quick read for the summer and I know my students will love it, so I look forward to adding it to my pile of Book Talks this fall!


Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.


The Chosen

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I had never read The Chosen by Chaim Potok. Apparently I am in the minority since even Cortney–the self-proclaimed “not-a-reader” has read it.

After I posted about not wanting to be a sheep, my soul sister, The Pastor’s Wife, recommended it to me. After I started reading it, I texted her, “I think I get why you recc-ed this book to me. I really love it. Thank you.” In reply she said, “It’s like a rich dessert.”

Yes. It is like a rich dessert.

It small and easily devour-able in a short amount of time, yet it’s much more enjoyable taken in small bites and savored.

The novel takes place over the course of six years starting in 1944 with the death of president Roosevelt, World War II, D Day, the revelation of the Holocaust, and the struggle for the creation of the state of Israel in the forefront of the story. The story is told from the point of view of Reuven Malter, a Jewish boy living with his father in Brooklyn, New York. Reuven and Danny Saunders, an Hasidic Jew, meet when they are fifteen years old during a softball game between their two school teams. Both boys go to Jewish schools, but Reuven’s is very strictly Hasidic and the softball games quickly becomes a religious war-zone.

During the game, Danny hits one of Reuven’s pitches right into Reuven’s eye shattering his glasses and sending him to the hospital. Against those odds, the boys become friends. Best friends.

You know what a friend is, Reuven? A Greek philosopher said that two people who are friends are like two bodies with one soul” (74).

Reuven quickly realizes that Danny is extraordinary. He has a photographic mind, remembering word-for-word everything that he has ever read. His father, Reb Saunders an Hasidic rabbi, doesn’t speak to Danny except when they are discussing the Talmud. He is raising Danny in silence. This is something neither Danny nor Reuven understand, and Reuven grows to hate Reb Saunders for how he treats Danny. Danny, however, respects and trusts his father.

Reuven’s father, a Jewish scholar and writer, gives Danny book recommendations even though he knows Reb Saunders would not approve of his boy reading secular works.

I will admit I had to look up some of the Jewish references. I didn’t know what the Talmud was or what some of the Hasidic garments were.

I loved that the story was told from Reuven’s point of view even though it was as much about Danny as it was him. It allowed the reader to be amazed by Danny as Reuven was. To watch Danny’s story unfold and be explained by Reuven’s father to us as well.

As I read, I kept thinking about the title, The Chosen. The Jews are known as “The Chosen People” by God in the Old Testament. They are the ones who will inherit the kingdom of God. No one in the book seems to have “chose” Judaism; it is part of who they are. Danny and his father strictly practice the Hasidic tradition, and that means Danny will take his place as a rabbi., even though he doesn’t want to. There is no choice in Danny’s future, unless he gives up being a Hasidic Jew.  Reuven, on the other hand, is free to choose what he wants to be, and while he excels at mathematics, he is choosing to become a Jewish Rabbi.

I don’t know that my question about needing to be a sheep was answered, but I was able to see the idea of choice and following a faith in a new way.

you will discover that the most important things that will happen to you will often come as the result of silly things, as you call them–‘ordinary things’ is a better expression. That is the way the world is” (110).

The Chosen is as much a thought piece as it is a beautiful read. It’s a rich dessert for the mind.


Some links are affiliate. That means if you click through and then buy? I get a little kickback from Amazon to put towards books for my classroom library. Find me on GoodReads to check out what else I’ve been reading!

4 More Books for You and Your Teen

A while back I did a post about books I recommend to teens (and their parents). I also told you about these five books that you and your teen really need to read.

Well guess what? I keep reading, so I have more recommendations! Yay!

Here are four more to add to your To Read Pile and which I have added to my classroom library.

Books for You and Your TeenThe first on my list is Butter by Erin Jade Lange.

Butter is a high school junior and he weighs well over 400 pounds. Miserable and on a quest to take control of the gossip about himself, Butter sets up a website where he announces he will eat himself to death live on the Internet on New Year’s Eve.

He expects pity and gossip, but he really never expects this announcement to gain him acceptance with the most popular kids in school.

As the deadline approaches, Butter has some decisions to make: go through with it or live with what people will say if he “chickens out”.

This book is cleverly written and humorous, while at the same time emotional and dark. Lange captures teen angst coupled with the sorrow of being an outcast perfectly, while giving Butter a strong, witty voice. I laughed out loud at the way Butter tells his story, but I also found myself wishing I could dive into his world and either hug him or shake him.


Books For You and Your Teen

Next up is All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Oh this book. This is a book about Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. They are high school seniors who run with totally different crowds.

Finch is a “freak” who is fascinated by death–and how he might die. He is constantly striving to stay awake and alive. He looks for a reason each day to stay in this world.  Violet is completely focused on graduation and getting out of their tiny Indiana town. She feels defined by her sister’s death and is finding a hard time going back to her old friends and hobbies.

Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of a bell tower at their school and ultimately save each other. They end up partners in a Geography project that has them “wandering” all over the great state of Indiana and then report back to their class. Clearly they are thrown together in love…but their story is so heart-wrenching and beautiful.

If you liked Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, you will LOVE this book. If you didn’t care for Eleanor & Park, you will still love this book. It puts suicide and mental illness in a new light.



My next pick is Paper Towns by John Greene.

Like a metaphor rendered incomprehensible by its ubiquity, there was room enough in what she had left me for endless imaginings, for an infinite set of Margos” (173).

Quentin and Margo have lived next door to each other in Orlando, Florida their entire lives, but run in different crowds (notice a theme here? Come on, it’s YA lit). Quentin hangs out with mostly kids in band and likes his self-proclaimed boring routine. Margo is exciting and popular and pulls all sorts of crazy stunts like running away and spending the night in Disney World.

One night, Margo shows up at Quentin’s window and takes him on a ridiculous night-long adventure, but then disappears. It seems she has left clues, but they are for Quentin to figure out. What happened to her?

I read this book over a weekend, but if I had not had children needing me, I could have easily read it in one sitting. It’s fast-paced and hard to put down. I wanted to know what in the heck was going to happen! I also love the way John Green portrays teenagers. Some criticize him for making characters that are not believable, but as someone who has taught teenagers for twelve years, I can say that teens like these do exist. And they are my most favorite.



My last pick is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews.

I grabbed this book from Barnes & Noble because I had a 20% off coupon on top of my membership discount. And the back of the book said it was the “funniest book about death” ever. Sold.

Greg is a high school senior who gets along with everybody, but has no actual friends. Well, other than Earl. And Earl is not so much a friend as a “co-worker”. They make films together. Terrible films that they show no one because they are terrible.

Greg’s mom makes him hang out with Rachel, who is dying from Leukemia. And that’s when things get weird.

The hilarity of this book is how honest and self-deprecating Greg is. He lets the reader know right off the bat that this is not a heart-warming “cancer book”. He does not fall in love and he claims not to learn anything. In fact, he thinks he may be worse for the entire experience. I don’t know if I agree with him, but I think the story is more of what might happen in real life than say, The Fault in Our Stars. There is some bad language and sexual humor, so reader beware if that is something that offends you.

4 YA books that you will enjoy as much {if not more than} your teen!


What is your favorite YA book? What are you (and/or your teen) reading this summer? I want to know what to put on my reading list/classroom library list next!

If you’d like to donate to my classroom library, I just updated it with a bunch of junior high titles. Almost 500 books to choose from to donate, many under $8 each. I also created a DonorsChoose profile that collects donations toward my project–50 books for my classroom library.

Book links are affiliates. That means if you click and buy, I get a couple cents. Just trying to earn some Amazon dollars to buy books for my classroom library!

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