March Reading Madness

If I believed in coincidences (which I don’t), I would think it was a giant one that I was born the same month that would come be known as Reading Month.

That said, this March will mark my 40th time around the sun.

I know. I double-checked. It’s true.

I have a lot of unclear thoughts about the big FOUR OH, but maybe that is another post for another time.

This one is about books. And how much I love books. And how much I love sharing books.

Did I ever tell you why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place? Because I wanted to read books and talk about books.

Books are my reason.

You can imagine then my heartbreak when, after asking students to write about their favorite books that have been read aloud to them, I read over and over, “no one ever read to me at home” or “The only books I remember anyone reading to me were at school.”

It’s probably not hard then to understand why those same kids are the ones who struggle to find joy in reading to themselves.

Helping kids–my own as well as my students–find joy in reading is my mountain. It’s my thing. It’s become my reason.

(By the way, if you want to read about me and Eddie reading books that I totally never read as a kid–including Harry Potter–you can hop over to Dr. Steven Bickmore’s YA Wednesday blog)

Anyway, I have spent every last cent of my “extra” income (writing for The Educator’s Room) on new books this year. I also added around 60 titles that I brought home with me from the NCTE & ALAN conferences in St. Louis. I am not kidding when I tell you that almost every single book I’ve brought into my classroom has been snatched up this year. It’s a wonderful problem to have. Each year I do the Reading Workshop model in my class, the more voracious the readers get.

I have even developed quite the reputation for knowing and/or having all the best books and authors.

Anyway, I haven’t asked for many donations this year, but I’m about to. And it’s a big one.

In honor and celebration of March being my fortieth birthday AND it being reading month…

I want to add 40 books to my library!

I am totally going to buy some myself, but I know forty books is totally out of my price range. So I need help.

Will you help?

I have an Amazon Wish List for my Classroom Library. There are many that are less than $10 on there (yay, paperbacks!). There are new releases, replacement books for those that have been loved literally to death in my library, and old favorites that I would love to introduce to my students.

So, I want to give my birthday to my students. Won’t you please help gift them with 40 books before I turn 40?

What I Read: 2017

It seems to have become my January custom to showcase my reading list from the year prior. And because I am not one to mess with something that works, I went and looked up what I read in 2017. Again, I took the GoodReads challenge. I upped my goal to 40 and just made it by including new-to-me children’s books. I’m not sure what the deal was, but this fall my reading slowed down way more than normal.

Anyway, here is my list in the order I read them. The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend (although there were only a couple I was “meh” about, so go ahead and check them all out and let me know if you read them and what you think). The ones wit (YA) are young adult lit. (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry. (N) are nonfiction. (C) are children’s books.

  1. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler (N)
  2. The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (YA)
  3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman
  4. Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado (N)
  5. How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (YA)
  6. Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr (N)
  7. Flying Lessons and Other Stories Edited by Ellen Oh (YA)
  8. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  9. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)
  10. Faithful Families by Traci Smith (N)
  11. American Street by Ibi Zoboi (YA)
  12. You Are Here by Jenny Lawson (N)
  13. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (YA)
  14. Always Hungry? by David Ludwig (N)
  15. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA)
  16. Why Do They Act That Way? by David Walsh (N)
  17. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (N)
  18. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  19. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  20. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (YA)
  21. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)
  22. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (YA)
  23. Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst (N)
  24. The Turquoise Table by Kristei Schell
  25. I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
  26. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (YA)
  27. Lilly & Dunkin by Donna Gephart (YA)
  28. The Haters by Jesse Andrews (YA)
  29. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  30. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord (YA)
  31. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (N)
  32. Simon Vs The Homo sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  33. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (YA)
  34. Quiet by Susan Cain (N)
  35. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (YA) (P)
  36. Love by Matt de la Pena (C)
  37. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling (YA)
  38. Refugee by Alan Gratz (YA)
  39. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty (C)
  40. Dear Martin by Nic Stone (YA)

I did start reading the book Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, but I haven’t made much progress on it. It’s labeled YA, but I think it might be one of the only books I’ve come across that I just wouldn’t feel comfortable putting in my classroom library. We will see. I hope to still finish it.

The boys and I are reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban together right now. We read the first two (and watched the movies) in 2017 and are carrying on with the third. Eddie and I have fallen in love with this series. Charlie says he “hates Potter,” but he sure can tell you what is going on in the book!

I just started reading Jan Karon’s newest in her Mitford series: To Be Where You Are. I love her books because they are stress-free, lovely reads.

And the boys and I already finished one book in 2018: The third Dog Man graphic novel: A Tale of Two Kitties by Dav Pilkey. The boys adore the Dog Man books. Cortney and I think they are dumb. But you know how I feel about choice reading!

I set my GoodReads goal this year for 50. I couldn’t decide if I would be reading more or less because of classes, so I leaned to more.

Here is what I have on my 2018 Reading List:

My To Read Pile that hides in the cupboard under my bookcase. The left side are all my books. The right side are those I swiped from my classroom library to read.

The books for my class on teaching climate change came today!

What’s on your 2018 list?

Book Love, Author Love

I met some authors. It was cool. I’m exhausted.

Brendan Kiely

 

Shaka Senghor

 

Julie Murphy

 

Chris Crutcher

 

Matt de la Pena

Lynn Weingarten & Amy Reed (2nd and 3rd from left)

And so many more.

I’m tired.

One more big day.

Book Talk Tuesdays

We read a lot in my class. NEWS FLASH, right?

People ask me how I get my students to all read so much, and the answer is simple: I give them books and time to read them. I wrote about ways to help kids find the right book in an article over at The Educator’s Room. But the best way to get titles to them regularly is to do Book Talks.

Every Tuesday I choose two books to share with my classes. Usually they are titles I’ve read, but sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are ones that are my To Read List and I want to share with them why I want to read them in hopes someone else will want to too. And sometimes I grab books I have no interest in either because it’s outside my taste or usual genre, but I know the book is one that is popular and that not all my students share my taste.

Each of my students also have a sheet to write down the titles of the books they hear that they may be interested in checking out some day.

I’ll be honest, some Tuesdays it seems like I’m talking to the desks; however, this morning during first hour, after I announced that it was Book Talk Tuesday, a kid said, “Oh good! Book Talk Tuesday is my favorite day of the week!”

Ok, so my first reaction was skepticism; I questioned him because I thought he was kidding. Turns out he was absolutely serious. “No, really, Mrs. Sluiter. I love it when you get all excited about books. It’s great.”

The photo above is what I book talked today: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Random Riggs and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I chose today’s books because they are ones I have “alternative” options for reading. For both I have the audio version available, and for the Riggs novel, I also have the graphic novel version (plus it’s a first in a series, and kids love a good series).

By the end of the day, everything was checked out and in the hands of eager students.

And you know what? I remembered that Book Talk Tuesday is my favorite day of the week too.

************

Donate to my classroom library here.

YA for Beginners

My classroom door is always open (quite literally because it gets really warm in there in the morning) to anyone coming in to observe me. Because of this policy, I’ve had fellow teachers stop by, but I have also had college students/teachers-in-training and student teachers come through my door as well. I welcome them all because I enjoy the wonderings and questions I get from each of them. I love to see my class and my teaching through the eyes of someone else so I can stay fresh and always keep “why do that?” in my mind.

That said, one of the biggest draws to my classroom is my library. I’ve got about a thousand titles that I’ve painstakingly collected through my own purchases and many many many donations. Everyone wants to lay eyes on this glorious wall-o-books, and the question that is always asked is, “what would you suggest to get first? If I was going to start a library, what books are good ones to start with?”

This answer changes every year as new books come out and student interest changes, but I think I can make a Top Twenty Starter Pack list for anyone wanting to either start a classroom library, or start reading YA Lit for the first time.

Here is my list in no particular order (keeping in mind that I am cheating a bit and just naming authors so I can cover more than just twenty. What? I’m addicted!).

  1. Winger by Andrew Smith (and then Standoff because it’s the sequel. And then, well, let’s just put Andrew Smith books at the top of the list. But read Winger first.)
  2. Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (ok, again, just read everything he’s written, but this is his newest and it’s incredible)
  5. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
  6. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (she is another one that you should just invest in all her books)
  7. Me, Earl, & The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (seriously inappropriately funny)
  8. Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephart
  9. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
  10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  11. La Linea by Ann Jaramillo
  12. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  13. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (again…just get everything she’s written)
  14. Everything Walter Dean Myers has written, but specifically get Monster- both the novel and the graphic novel
  15. Yummy by G Neri
  16. All of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels
  17. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  18. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
  19. Any (or all) of the Blueford High Books–kids LOVE them because they are accessible and high interest. I suggest starting with Brothers in Arms
  20. Wonder by RJ Palacio

Oh gosh…I really could keep going. This is really just a very small start. Other authors you should really read include Ellen Hopkins, Matt de la Pena, Ibi Zoboi, Neil Shusterman, and so SO many more.

Happy reading!

Feeling Like a Phony

Our new Sunday routine for the fall has me driving separately to church and leaving after the service while the kids go to Children in Worship (our church’s version of Sunday School) and Cortney stays back to count (he’s a deacon) or go visit his grandma and then picking the kids up.

I don’t leave to go take a nap–although today I was very tempted to do just that–I run any errands and then take my Chromebook and any school work or writing deadlines I have and head to our Barnes & Noble cafe section and work for a couple hours.

I’ve been delighted to notice that there is a whole crew of regulars here including the most adorable elderly couple who seems to be arriving after church for some coffee and chit chat. Even the barista must have this as her regular schedule. Today she said, “Oh welcome back. are you going to be one of our new regulars?” I smiled and said, “Probably. I’m more productive here than in a house full of kids.”

As she was ringing up my order I complimented her on the tattoo of a beautiful ship on her arm. She asked why I had “Write.” on my arm. “Are you a writer?” I fumbled. This isn’t the first time I have been asked this since getting that ink on my arm.

“Um, well, I write a lot, and um…I’m actually an 8th grade English teacher. But I’ve been blogging for ten years…and, well…I have been published a couple places and I guess that makes me a writer.”

I winced in my head. I have the word permanently on my arm and I seem so unsure of it when asked.

“What are you writing right now?” She asked me with clear curiosity.

“Um, well, I’ve been working on my statement for my PhD application and I have a chapter in a book I am writing…a book about teaching. I’m writing about teaching a certain book with a grief focus. I’m not sure it will be included, but I want to use it because I need a ten-page writing sample for my application too. So nothing, like, for publication, but yeah.”

OH MY GOSH. I internally rolled my eyes at myself. What is wrong with me?

“That is really awesome! A PhD! Then everyone can call you Doctor! So cool! Good luck!”

I shrunk into myself and hid myself in a corner table. I immediately decided to grade essays because I had NO idea to revise my statement, and I don’t actually know where to start with the book chapter, and WHO DO I THINK I AM?

A total phony, that’s who.

I am in one of those funks where I have this paranoid feeling that I have people snowed; that they think I can write these wonderful things, but in fact I am a terrible writer. I sent a draft to a friend recently and I am surprised–no, SHOCKED–she still thinks I have it in me not just to do this writing thing, but to get a higher degree in English education and teach other people to do this stuff.

I have doubts, is what I’m saying.

Today I do not feel like I can do it.

Today I feel like an impostor.

Today I feel like I have nothing together.

So I’m going to pack it up for today, but I will try again next week. Because I made this commitment and even if I totally blow it, I have to try.

Three Middle Grade Books Dealing With Loss

I’ve never been drawn to middle grade books. I think by the time middle grade literature actually became good, I was an adult. It took me long enough to realize YA lit was fabulous, and as my friend Trisha says, I seem to not trust people’s opinions and have to experience stuff on my own…slowly.

Over the past year, I read three middle grade books that I really wanted to share. They all deal with loss to a certain degree that is age-appropriate and encourages discussion and critical thinking. Plus they are all beautifully written.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

middle grade books

In January, we had Gary D Schmidt visit the junior high where I teach. All 8th and 9th graders read his book Orbiting Jupiter in preparation. Because I knew I would be teaching it, I read it in two sittings the summer before school started.

The story is told from 6th grader Jack’s point of view. His family takes in 8th grader Joseph as a foster kid. Joseph has had a sorted past: he has an abusive father, no mother, and somewhere out there, a daughter. He has been in and out of juvenile detention centers and it seems Jack’s family is his last shot.

Like I said, it’s a quick read, but a powerful one. I sat in our front yard when I was finishing it. As I sat in my bag chair under our front tree, tears streamed down my face as I closed the book. I walked into the house and my husband said, “Aw. Did you finish your book?” I nodded. “Did you come in the house so the neighbor kids playing Pokemon Go wouldn’t see you crying in the front yard?” I nodded again.

Orbiting Jupiter was easily my students’ favorite book of the school year, and they read a lot of book! We read three together as a class and they read a minimum of five more on their own, yet this one came up over and over again as we talked and discussed themes, characters, etc.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

middle grade booksIn November I went to the NCTE and ALAN conferences that were held in Atlanta, and received a TON of free YA and Middle Grade books. After finding The Thing About Jellyfish in my pile and hearing Ali Benjamin speak about writing about loss, I knew this one needed to be on my To Read pile.

My only regret is that I waited until summer to read it rather than reading it during the school year so I could book talk it; it sat untouched on my classroom library shelves all year.

That will change this year!

Told from 7th grader Suzy’s point of view, The Thing About Jellyfish is about the loss of friendship and the death of a classmate. When Suzy finds out her former best friend drowns, she decides to quit talking. She also becomes obsessed with jellyfish. The story is perfect for middle grade readers, but it’s also beautifully written prose that any age can find meaning in, like when Suzy thinks about how things are changing with her best friend:

I think about my hair, about the tangles I battle every morning. I have spent so many hours of my life trying to brush out tangles. But no matter how carefully I try to to pull the individual strands apart, they just get tighter and tighter. They cinch together in all the worst ways, until they are impossible to straighten out. Sometimes there is nothing to be done but to get out a pair of scissors and cut the knot right out.

But how do you cut out a knot that’s formed by people?

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

middle grade booksThis one was suggested to me by a student. It’s another one that I received at ALAN and although I hadn’t read it yet, I put it out with my LBGTQ display. It was quickly picked up and loved and recommended to me.

This is a dual narrative book and almost reads like both Lily and Dunkin are writing in a diary of sorts. Lily begins the book. She is a girl who was born with boy parts. She is going into the 8th grade and hoping the bullying and harassment stop this year. She is hoping her parents agree to getting her hormone blockers. She struggles with being Tim at school, but knowing she is really Lily.

Dunkin is the new kid in town. He and his mom moved down to Florida to live with his Grandma (who he calls Bubbie) after something happened with his dad who struggles with bipolar disorder. Dunkin’s real name is Norbert, but he hates that name. Dunkin also struggles with bipolar disorder, but doesn’t want anyone to know about it. He just wants to fit in for once and he thinks he has found the way to do that: by joining the basketball team. The problem is, if he wants to be popular and well-liked, he can’t be seen hanging out with Lily. They both have a secret and are not sure they can trust each other.

All three of these books are quick reads; I think I read each in just two or three days. But they each really stick with you. They all have an element of loss in the form of death, but they also deal with loss of friends and the naive childhood that is enjoyed before the turbulent middle school years.

I’m excited to be able to book talk these right off the bat when we start school in a few weeks.

 

The Recovery Letters

recovery letters

It’s been over seven years since my original postpartum depression diagnosis and over ten years since my general anxiety disorder diagnosis. Since that time, I’ve tried my best to be open and honest about my struggles while celebrating the victories of living with a variety of mood disorders.

I don’t always feel great about the stuff I admit online; in fact, I feel very vulnerable letting people know that I don’t always love being a mom and that there are days that I struggle to find anything joyful. However, I know what it’s like to feel alone.

Flipping through social media is a great way to stay connected, but it can also create a feeling of being left out, being alone. The images people put out there are carefully curated to look like their best life. I totally get that. I am guilty of that too. But I have also always tried to put the not-so-perfect stuff out there; because really, my life is very much not perfect.

I want people to know that they are not alone, but also that things can–and do–get better.

Two years ago I was honored to be included in an anthology of personal essays specifically about Postpartum Mood Disorders. When I first sat in my doctor’s office, I had a really false idea of what PMDs looked like, and it’s always been my goal to put a face on these disorders for others.

This summer I am honored to be included in another collection, this time of letters addressed to all sorts of people who suffer from depression.  One of the editors, James Withey, approached me because he wanted PPD represented.

recovery letters

The result is a collection of letters edited by James and his partner Olivia Sagan called The Recovery Letters: Addressed to People Experiencing Depression. Along with my letter are many, many others that are encouraging and uplifting and filled with hope. The message is loud: you are not alone.

The book will be officially released on Friday, July 21, but you can pre-order on Amazon. If you suffer from depression, this is a fantastic book to have on hand to flip through during your tough times. If you know anyone who suffers, this would make a lovely gift when you know they need a little extra hug.

Suffering from depression makes me vulnerable, but not ashamed. I am honored that I have been offered so many opportunities to put my words to good use to let others know it is a survivable disease.

Other anthologies I have been included in:

Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience (2015)
My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends (2014)
Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss (2014)

*None of the links in this post are affiliate. I gain no monetary compensation for sharing these books with you.

A Decade of Words

Ten years ago today I opened up a new blogspot account and started Sluiter Nation. All of our closest friends had moved out of state, so I thought maybe having a “website” to post pictures would be a good way to keep everyone up-to-date.

I’ve been consistently (sometimes more consistently than others) putting my words here. They range from the mundane (updates and giveaways and some product reviews) to the deeply personal.

I believe this blog made me the writer/teacher I am today.

This little blog of mine reunited with me with a high school friend named Emily (formerly known as DesignHER Momma) who had moved to Indianapolis. She connected me with Indy bloggers like Casey (Moosh in Indy) and to Curvy Girls like Brittany Herself who made me want to write better. They also showed me BlogHer.

Emily’s honesty helped me recognize I had postpartum depression after Eddie was born.

That led me to all the Warrior Moms.

I started to write very honestly about my struggles.

I went to BlogHer. I tried to find myself as a blogger for a long time. I did product reviews occasionally, giveaways here and there, and tried to separated my writing and teaching lives.

It wasn’t until after Charlie was born that I realized that my writing and teaching actually fit better together than trying to be a mom blogger.

It was also during this time that some of my personal essays about my struggle with my mental health were published in anthologies. I started to realize that maybe I have a gift. I’m not a best-selling author–nor will I ever be–but I have the ability to put my thoughts into print.

I started to read Young Adult Literature and become passionate about my career in a way I never did before. I began writing for Education sites, (currently I write for The Educator’s Room). Friends and colleagues encouraged me to write about my teaching experiences and research for education journals.

Now I am in the process of applying to a new graduate program to get my PhD in English Education.

Wednesday I was trying to trace back how I got to this place, and I believe it comes back to this space.

I’ve made true friends because of this space. I’ve traveled across the country by myself because of this space. I have taken so many more chances on opportunities that I would have NEVER done because of this space.

On an internet where more and more bloggers are closing up shop, I plan to keep my little space open and chugging along. This is our life right now. It’s who I am right now.

Yay, Ten!

Inked

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I got another tattoo this weekend.

All tattoos have a story, don’t they? Even the ones that are “I just thought it was cute and wanted one because I was in college and being a rebel.” There is always a reason.

Ten years ago a few things happened: I found out I was pregnant, I lost that pregnancy, I started a blog, and I got a tattoo. I would say it was a busy year, but that is pretty much just how our married life has been. Highs and lows with very little in between.

When I started this blog I called it our Family Website. I was going to post photos and write little blurbs about what was going on in our life. I think in the first couple years of this blog’s life I probably only wrote a handful of things that were real and not just superficial “look at this fun day at the beach;” my tattoo post was one of them.

Contrary to what my mom probably thinks, I don’t take permanently “disfiguring” myself lightly (Cortney’s words in jest, not my mom’s). The first time, I tattooed what my students think is a V on my neck. It’s not a V. It’s two things: it’s the Aries sign and it’s also the Egyptian hieroglyphic for “woman.” You can read that post up there for more details, but basically after getting unexpectedly pregnant when I wasn’t sure that I ever wanted babies, then miscarrying that baby (and feeling like it was my fault), Cortney and I realized we wanted to be parents. Women’s bodies are strong, yo. That tattoo was for womanly strength.

Since then I have been writing.

Before I knew I had an anxiety disorder or depression or OCD or needed medication or therapy, I wrote to get it out of my head.

When I was having intrusive thoughts, I wrote them out of my head and then destroyed the evidence.

When I realized that one of my biggest fears in life was being forgotten and lost in time and space, I wrote out my stories.

When I decided to turn all of my passion for reading and writing and education into a PhD program, I wrote articles and journal pieces and conference proposals.

When I wanted my children to know me as I am in this moment, I wrote letters.

When I acted too impulsively or said things without thinking or made an ass of myself, I wrote to apologize.

When I missed or loved or thought of people, I wrote to them.

When I wanted my students to learn to write, I wrote with them.

Writing has kept me alive for the past ten years.

I’m placing my faith in writing to keep me alive forever.

Write.

It’s a command.

Write.

 

 

 

ps. My mom is not really that upset.

pps. Yes she is.

ppps. I love you, mom. Thanks for loving me despite my disfigurement.

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