Books I loved! 2016

This is my first list of books that I would declare are some of my favorites from this year, I read a lot more than what is listed, and your favorite book may not be on here, but I hope you enjoy this list.

Some of these books were published prior to 2016, but I didn’t get around to reading them until this year. (Which I keep telling myself is normal)

Picture Books

I have a harder time reviewing picture books because they are so vast in content that it is hard to choose which ones really resonated with me. Here are my three:

Don't Call Me Grandma     The Night Gardener  Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Don’t call me Grandma by Vaunda Michaeux Nelson – This book was beautiful in every way. It’s certainly not a “feel good” story, but a real story about love between a great grand mother and her great grand daughter. The author, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson always holds a special place in my heart, she was my librarian in my hometown growing up.

The Night Gardener by Terry Fan – The pictures in this book are absolutely captivating, and I truly think this has a shot at the Caldecott 2017. The story follows a boy who wakes up and sees that the tree outside his window was sculpted into an owl! As the story goes on, more sculptures appear and makes this town beautiful. 

Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glen Ringtved – Beautiful and sad in all the right ways, this book deals with death and why sadness occurs with death. Four grandchildren are visited by death when their grandmother is dying, and they come to terms and understanding of why it is important to grieve and say goodbye. I cried reading this book and I think this book should be shared with all children.


 The Wild Robot

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (2015) – This book was one of the best books I have ever read, hands down. I am in astonishment of how well this book was crafted. The way the three children’s stories are intertwined by a thread of destiny, makes this a story that I will read again and again! Did I cry at the end? Yes. 

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown – A captivating story about a lost robot who has to adapt to survive in the island she becomes lost on. She is met with hostility by the animals on the island, but over time is accepted. At the end of the story, she and the other animals have to fight with everything they have to save her. I do hope Peter Brown creates a sequel. This book is a must read. 

Middle Grade

OCDaniel  Ms. Bixby's Last Day  Ashes (Seeds of America, #3)  Wolf Hollow

OCDaniel by Wesley King –  As someone who suffered from severe OCD when I was the same age, this book was so well written. The characters were wonderful, the plot was engaging, and how the author chose to include the OCD was absolutely well written and I truly connected with Daniel. This is a book that I saw myself in, and could be a window for others.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson – This story was beautiful. Three boys who together make a plan for their teacher who announces she is sick and won’t be finishing the school year. Throughout the story, each boy describes what Ms. Bixby meant to them. And yes, I cried at the end.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson – The final book in the Seeds of America trilogy. I loved reading this series and this book perfectly ties the remarkable story of Curzon and Isabel together that will make anyone want to read this series again. What I loved about this series is the historical accuracy and the primary documents that the author includes at the beginning of each chapter that makes the reader feel like they are really there during the American Revolution.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – This book takes place during the aftermath of World War II and the bigotry and hatred that ensued because of it. This book takes a sharp turn towards the end, and it reminds the reader what it means to love your neighbor, and to stand up for what is right.

Young Adult

It's Not Me, It's YouThe Distance from Me to YouThe Serpent KingImage result

It’s not me, it’s you  by Stephanie Katie Strohm – There are a few books that make me laugh out loud the whole time, and this was one of them. I fell in love with Avery Dennis the moment I started reading her “oral history” and I couldn’t put it down when I started.  I absolutely loved the format this story was told in and I died reading the “editor’s notes”! If you are looking for a comical relief type of reading to escape reality, this is the book you need to read!!

The distance from me to you by Marina Gessner (2015) –  I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail and reading a novel set there was amazing and the story the author crafted was just perfect in every way! The story follows McKenna who sets out to hike the trail alone, and the adventure she has takes her off course, literally. This book paints what it means to be resilient and following your heart.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – There are some stories that will stay with you for a very long time. For the “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner, I have few words to describe this book, it was remarkable. I know this one will stay with me for a long time to come. Dill, Lydia, and Travis: I will miss you all very much.

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins (2014) – I have read almost the entire bibliography of Ellen Hopkins (I should seriously dedicate an entire post to all her books) and this book resonates with me the most. The story follows Matt who has to come to terms with his brother’s death and his own battle with the question “is God real?” 


I am new to literature for adults, and I hope to read more in the coming years.

Underground Airlines    My Beloved World

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters – A dystopian USA where the Civil War never takes place, which means slavery is alive and well. Victor has to go undercover to take down an abolitionist movement, but along the way makes a surprising discovery about the future of enslavement in the USA. 

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (2013) – A wonderful, authentic story of Sonia’s life and how she got to where she is now. Sotomayor as an author does a fantastic job writing her story, and the way she wrote it makes it feel like you have known her your whole life. Must read!

There you have it, books I loved this year. There are many other books I enjoyed reading this year, and if wrote about all of them, I would be writing for a month. If you are interested in seeing what else I read, follow my Goodreads account



Dear fellow teachers: Don’t wear the “Santa Cam.”

My fellow teachers,

We are here! The homestretch of December, just one more week and we are off for winter break! I plan on “traveling” to the couch and reading the whole time without the constant “Mr. Henderson!!” in my ear. I love my students dearly, but I am ready for some peace and quiet.

I have been wanting to write this post for a while because I saw this disturbing image on Facebook:

Look, I get it. We want our students to behave and be good people, but at what cost? This picture shows how deeply rooted this culture of “surveillance and shaming” is in our schools. This photo implicitly says “You should only behave because an imaginary figure who watches your every move will grant you with rewards.” Why are we as teachers handing over our classroom management to imaginary figures? Even elves on the shelves have turned into a staple of households and classrooms that I would argue force children into behaving for the sake of their name being reported to Santa Claus if they aren’t behaving. Take away the cuteness of the holidays and the idea of behaving for the “big man” and doing what you are told or suffer the consequences is an idea that reminds me of an oppressive regime. How on earth is this setting up our students for success?! It makes me angry that as teachers we think that students should behave for someone they have never seen/met, and yet we pass along the idea that they shouldn’t do well because it feels good, or even for the real people in their life like their teachers or family. Why do we continuously need to rely on outside and extrinsic motivators for our students to do well?

I urge you fellow teachers, to leave the elves on the shelves in the boxes, throw away the Santa Cam, and focus on love and relationships in your classrooms. Show your students that YOU care about them, and that REAL people in their school care about them. Will this next week be perfect? Probably not, I know mine won’t, but I will not resort to using fake, shameful devices to trick my students into doing well. I will use love, empathy, and care to finish out this semester strong, and I hope you join me.

– Jeremiah

P.S. I am attaching a free document from Pernille Ripp entitled “Common Misbehaviors and how we work with them“, from her book Passionate Learners. This is a wonderful guide to using care and love to help our students. (This file came from Routledge Publishing)

The importance of critical thinking (Election post 2)

48 Hours since the election and not a word from my students about it. Let me tell you, I think eight and nine-year-olds haven’t totally established object permanence (out of sight, out of mind!)

My post today is about another conversation I had with a student yesterday who told me that on Facebook he saw that a rapper was going to assassinate Trump. I had to think quickly the best way to respond because there are many things about that statement that needed to be addressed. The first thing I told him is “Does that sound right to you?” And my student just gave me a little smile, so I offered some more advice “You can’t always believe everything you see on Facebook or the internet. When you see something like that, you need to tell yourself ‘Stop! Does this sound right? I better check this with another source.’ ”

I worry everyone!! I worry about our students’ instant access to information, especially because young children have the ability to believe almost anything they see or hear. (Jaswal. 2010) I worry that students will be taken advantage of by false information.

As a future school librarian, I see the need for our students to think critically and evaluate information to seek the truth. And with increasing access to information at students fingertips (literally) we need to help them learn to think critically! I don’t have all the answers of how to do this, but I know many in the library science field in both school and public settings are working hard to help students and adults evaluate information. But what can we do in our classrooms? Teach students the stop step.

When you read something that doesn’t seem quite right, the first thing to do is say “Stop! This doesn’t sound right. I better check this with another source.” OR “Stop! This sounds too good to be true. I better check this with another source.”

The other important step is to advocate for school librarians and certified library personnel in ALL schools. This is a critical component for our students to learn how to evaluate information.

Learn more here:

School Librarians Matter!

AASL Kit for promoting school libraries

Scholastic: School Libraries Work! 2016


A safe haven (Election Post 1)

This is the first blog post in a series of posts about the election.

Nov. 9, and Donald Trump is our president.

Today I woke up at 4AM and saw the results of the election and I felt numb, and sad. A lot of questions were swirling around in my head as I, like many Americans, tried to make sense of what is happening, and what will happen.

As we know, this election was different for many reasons, and at my school, it was very hush-hush. It was hard to talk about with children because of the hatred brought out during this election. I did not do an election unit with my children this year, and while I sort of regret doing it, I am also glad I did not.

Today however, I had a mixture of reactions from the children about the election. Mind you, in third grade, students have a very limited scope about what issues are at stake. I had some students that were happy, and some that were sad. But what I cherished about this moment is that no one in my class felt like they couldn’t talk about it. One student who said he supported Trump was upset when another student was saying something about Trump, I called him over to talk to him about what was upsetting him, and we got the issue resolved in a safe way. In my classroom, everyone feels safe to voice their opinions, or their adult-influenced opinions. But they felt safe to have a voice. All of our students deserve a safe haven where their voice is heard and respected.

The Urgency to Read

The other day I read a wonderful article from ILA about how schools can do all this work around data and reading and testing, but what happens when the scores are flat? Is your school creating readers?

Please read the article here.

When I read this article, I felt a sense of happiness because we need to always be talking about the question “does our school foster a love of reading?”. But I also felt a little distraught, because this I feel this is where my school is at. We have amazing faculty who understand where are students are and where need to be, and I think we are having conversations that need to be had, but I still think we are falling short. We are failing to address the underlying problem of why our students are struggling as a whole, there is no urgency to be a reader.

Now, I am not talking about the urgency to read to pass a test. Yes, students should be able to perform well on assessments, but when that falls shorts, its time to shift the conversation and look from a different angle.I am talking about this urgency to read because of the joy and pleasure reading bring to your life.

Why do we need urgent readers?

The other day my colleague posted a review of Raymie Nightingale and I was so excited she read it because I wanted to talk to her about it, actually, I needed to talk to her about it!

Books need to be talked about, they need to be shared, they need to be at the forefront of our lives and our students lives. The urgency to read is driven because of the remarkable benefits of reading. We need to read for pleasure, we need to read to share, we need to read to create communities.

It is necessary for our students to become readers who need to share their latest book with someone. Who need to always have a book with them. Who need to have dedicated time to read. This is an urgent reader.

Our schools need to be creating this type of environment where reading for pleasure is the forefront of the school. If the only thing we do with books in our schools is use them to answer multiple choice questions and “close read” them to death, then we are doing our students and books a huge disservice.

What are we doing in our schools to create urgent readers?

How to Create Empowered Readers – A Beginning

Pernille is one of the most amazing teachers I have met. Her words speak truth. Please take time to read this remarkable post!!

The sniffles started almost immediately.  Small choking noises came soon.  Then full out wails, tears, and gasps.  Theadora, our oldest daughter, was a mess as we drove home from Chicago today.  What had caused this sudden crying?  The end of Harry Potter Book seven.  The end of our 9 month journey accompanied by the ever amazing Jim Dale and the audio books of Harry Potter.  I was wistful myself to tell you the truth.  As I tried to console our distraught daughter,  I couldn’t help but feel slightly pleased, after all, isn’t this exactly the type of relationship that we hope our children, our students, have with books?  One that makes you want to cry, or laugh, or scream in frustration?  One that allows you to feel so intimately attached to something not created by yourself?  To feel the gratitude of brilliant writing and a long journey along with an…

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Day 13 of no rewards/punishment, time to reflect.

Conversations from today:

“Mr. Henderson, at first I thought you were a mean teacher, but now I know you aren’t”

“Mr. Henderson, me and ** think you are a really nice teacher”

“He comes home and talks about how much he loves your class and being in third grade”

This past summer I read the book Passionate Learners by Pernille Ripp and it was one of the most career-changing books I have read to date. In chapter 7, Ripp discusses the abandonment of classroom rewards/punishment, and focusing on student relationships and fostering choice and intrinsic motivation in the classroom. I was floored! I loved it, I loved this concept of removing barriers to meaningful relationships. (I also plan on reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn).

I decided this year I would try it, I would not create any system or use any product that attempts to micro-manage my students behavior [minus school-wide systems], and instead focus on what matters, the relationships I have with the humans in my classroom.

So here we are at day 13, and its been a hard ride. It has not been easy to abandon traditional systems and practice that tell us to control everything our students do. I would be joking if I told you it has been all happiness and smiles all day. NO WAY. But I can also tell you this from being 13 days in. I feel more connected to my students. I have removed any fake barriers to real relationships and real conversations. I can connect to these humans in my classroom because removing these fake systems has allowed me to not only view them as students, but view them as human. Because that is who they are. Human beings with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and a place in society. They deserve the real me, and I deserve the real them, the good days, and the bad days. Because in those moments, we connect with each other as humans, and what could be more beautiful? And in these last 13 days, that is what has happened.

In these 13 days, I didn’t have to bribe my students to complete work, or punish them with something obscure. I listened to them, I talked with them, we had, and are having real conversations. I want to reiterate that this has not been all happy-go-lucky. My students do, and will, push the envelope, and break the rules. Some days they will not want to have those conversations, and want to be left alone. And believe me, I have already had a lot of this happen, and it has not been fun, but it has been real. I still have a lot to learn, but I know what I am doing is working, because I am putting my focus on real relationships with my students, without barriers or chains [or treating them animals and rewarding them with a “treat” or point for having good behavior *cough* ClassDojo *cough*]. Ah! New hashtag: #RelationshipsWithoutChains

I am excited to keep developing these relationships and refining this classroom without rewards/punishment so that the humans in my class develop into caring and thoughtful citizens, because that is what this world needs.

I will post more about this topic as the year progresses. Please tell me if you are doing the same in your classrooms, so we can keep this conversation going!