Category Archives: books

In honor of…

gone crazy in alabamaI’m not the biggest fan of all the special months.  Theoretically, they help highlight authors and issues affecting different groups (African-Americans, women, Latinx, LGBT folks, Asians, etc.), and I have no problem with that.  But shouldn’t we really be looking for more diverse books ALL year?  Of course.

Anyway, it’s February, so this year, I’ve decided that I’m looking at this as an EXTRA reason to highlight great African-American and African authors and characters.  Below are some of my favorites of the past few years:



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Books, France, underpants

you can readAny book that combines the love of reading with silly, imaginary book titles, clever rhyming, and underpants will always be loved by me.  I know I can speak for a small, not statistically significant group of kindergartners when I add that kids will love that book, too.  Here is that book.  Read it and smile.

For two more stories about stories, read this one.

You Can Read by Helaine Becker and Mark Hoffmann

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The Talented Two – Mrs. B’s Book Bracket finally reaches the finals

B3 logoSo, I’m a little behind in reporting on our 5th graders’ book bracket…

Like I mentioned in the last post on our book bracket, I was sick. Then Mrs. B was sick. Throw in a field trip or maybe a family emergency to mess up the schedule and you’d have a typical month of Thursdays during the school year, right?

But here we are.  After a second vote between Circus Mirandus and The Terrible Two because of a tie, Circus Mirandus won, with several kids apparently switching their votes. The Lightning Thief was the big winner against Holes. So for our final two, we’ve got:

Circus Mirandus vs. The Lightning Thief

A newcomer against an old favorite? A stand alone versus a series? Magic versus myths? What could be better? I can’t wait to hear the kids try to convince each other to choose their favorite. Ah, the joy of reading!

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The Excellent and Elite Eight (Mrs. B’s Book Bracket)

B3 logo

We’re down to eight, after a nail biter coin toss between Big Nate and The Graveyard Book.  The other match-ups were within a few votes, too, although not quite that close. Several of the students have started writing “I can’t choose!” or “I like them both too much!” on their ballots when the choice is just too tough.

So our excellent final eight books in the 2016 B3 are:

Athlete vs. Mathlete


Big Nate

The Lightning Thief

The Terrible Two


The One and Only Ivan

Circus Mirandus

See the bracket below for this week’s match-ups. I can’t wait to see what happens next!





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March Madness, February Fervor and a book bracket…

B3 logo

It’s already started. A few weeks ago, I surveyed the fifth graders and came up with a list of more than 64 books. Some of them had heard about the B3 (Mrs. B’s Book Bracket) from kids last year; rumor has it that one even asked specifically to be put in Mrs. B’s class because of it.

This time of year, everyone starts talking about brackets and the Sweet 16 and basketball, of course. Last year, I came across ideas for getting kids excited about reading by using bracketology, and I thought it could be fun in my volunteer book talks.

My son and I came up with more than 100 books and randomly paired them to create the first bracket. In the end, last year’s initial 64 was winnowed down to a final two of Peg Kehret’s Escaping the Giant Wave vs. Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Peg Kehret won, buoyed by fan loyalty; her books are much loved by the third grade teachers in the school. Fifth graders have fond memories of listening to and reading her books, and she managed to hold off Timmy Failure, Amulet, Belly Up, Hoot, and The PS Brothers before beating Smile. When I messaged Ms. Kehret about her big win, she very kindly wrote a short note back thanking her Iowa readers. It made the win even more fun for the kids to actually hear back from such a gracious and kind victor.

This year, we started with a slightly different 64. We’ve already had the first vote, and it’s been winnowed to a TERRIFIC 32, which you can see below. Once we hit the SWELL/SWEET 16, I’ll give the kids an opportunity to advocate for their favorites, which brings a whole different level of fun. Books, fun. That’s what it’s all about, people.

b3 terrific 32

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The pile of books I just can’t face


Where to begin? My shelves hold 43 books from the public library right now. Another five are on my iPad — checked out through Overdrive. I recently picked up two free advanced reader copies I’d really like to read, too. My library request list is at the maximum of 99. I’ve even got a back-up list going to use once my request list has dropped back to 80 or so. It would almost be funny if it didn’t happen every month or two. Sometimes the pressure of so many possibly great books is a little much, and I have a hard time choosing what I should read next.

But do I dare complain? It’s a problem which comes from privilege, really, having so many options and so many good options in front of me. I can’t possibly read everything I’d like to. Patrons I talk with at the library often suggest books they think I should or would like to read, but do I get to most of them? No. I stick with my middle grade, teen and picture books, although a good mystery can pull me away on occasion.

What to do?  I guess I’ll have to hold off on catching up on my TV shows and read during family movie night and use my early waking hours and lunches to catch up. Work, work, work. Joy, joy, joy.

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Annoying big city people and the stereotypically Midwestern…

jack (2)I’m open-minded. I’ll read just about anything as long as it’s well-written. But maybe I’m more biased than I’d like to believe?

I live in a big town – a city where I’m always meeting people who know each other, a place known for its “Iowa nice”, a metro area of 500,000+. I grew up in a smaller town – a university community with people from all over the world, a town with only one high school and less than 50,000 people. My parents were both born into Midwestern farm families, but grew up to travel to China, Australia, India and Austria in their work.

I’ve lived and traveled all over the U.S., Europe, and Africa. I will read stories about almost anywhere in the world – Asia, Peru, Canada, Oklahoma, wherever. I spent a semester in college reading travel literature, which fed my desire to see the world while also meeting the English credit I needed. I’ll happily travel to England to solve mysteries with Flavia de Luce or go to East Turkestan with Mehrigul in The Vine Basket. So I’m not unaware of what life outside my neighborhood is like.

But my latest read reminded me that I do have my biases, and I can’t relate to every character put in front of me. I don’t have a lot of patience for entitled kids and parents who live on the Upper West Side of New York City, for example. They may have some of the same issues that other kids have, but having spent a large part of my working life with families living in poverty, I’m just not all that sympathetic to not being able to annoy my parents into buying me $400 shoes.

Maybe this kind of story appeals to people who dream of living that life. Maybe it’s a look into a world that I don’t understand. I’m sure it’s hard to have to worry about getting my kid into an expensive private school or make sure my nanny doesn’t spend more time texting than paying attention to my kid. But I find myself thinking that the obsession with money and status isn’t all that interesting, and the characters – even when they’re funny – seem kind of shallow.  I wish I could find something redeeming in them, but I can’t.  Most likely, these characters are not written to speak to me, anyway. And that’s ok. I lived in New York City for almost a year, and I’m happier in Iowa.  I can travel anywhere from here if I want to, after all, and I can pick the characters who come with me.

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Finally – the final 4 of our book bracket

final 4 super 64 b3

A few shockers this week… Escaping the Giant Wave and The PS Brothers continued to dominate, knocking out Timmy Failure and Sisters. Smile and Calvin & Hobbes also held on, taking out Athlete vs. Mathlete and Harry Potter. Wow.

We ended up having a few weeks off because of spring break and some other things, so I’m not sure if my 5th grade friends’ earlier passion for their favorites has stuck with them. The votes have been really close in the last few rounds. I’m sure not willing to make any predictions about the next round.

Escaping the Giant Wave (Peg Kehret) vs. The PS Brothers (Maribeth Boelts)

Calvin & Hobbes (Bill Watterson) vs. Smile (Raina Telgemeier)

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The Super 64 continues… only the Excellent 8 remain

super 64 (2)

Today the results are in for the Super 64 B3 Excellent 8. (I was reminded last week that it should be the Elite 8, but books are not basketball, and I’m sticking with excellent this time.) Almost all of the match-ups were within a vote or two, and we even briefly had a tie! I was trying to figure out how to handle that when a missed vote showed up, which really saved my bacon –don’t you love it when you can use that phrase in a sentence? — and had the added benefit of helping me plan ahead for that possibility in the next round.

I’m hoping to take a few minutes today to allow for some book advocacy from the kids. Now that we’re down to eight, I feel like a little impromptu campaigning – using persuasive language – might benefit the books and the voters. I know we’ve got some very enthusiastic readers, so it will be fun to see that enthusiasm take a different shape.  And spring break starts soon, so it will be nice to focus on a book or two right before vacation.

The final 8:

elite 8 super 64 (2)

Escaping the Giant Wave – Timmy Failure

The PS Brothers – Sisters

Calvin & Hobbes – Harry Potter

Athlete vs. Mathlete – Smile

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The Super 64 continues… a sweet 16 of stories

super 64 (2)

Our original list of 64 has finally been pared down to 16. Powerless, The Lemonade War and The Giver are out. Hoot, The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 and Harry Potter survived to fight another day. This week, Divergent goes up against Smile, Harry Potter battles Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Lightning Thief may have a challenge in Sisters. This class loves Raina Telgemeier’s books, but Divergent and The Lightning Thief are tough contenders. Next week, before we vote on the final eight, I’ll give the kids who want to advocate for their favorites a chance to talk.

March Book Madness and other sites also offer book brackets to vote on, and they can be great discussion starters. Voting for your favorites is fun, whether it’s through a website or on a class-specific bracket like ours. I suspect our final winner will be different from the brackets that bring in voters from across the country or the world, but it will be fun to talk about when we’re finished either way.

This week’s pairings:

Escaping the Giant Wave – Hoot

Timmy Failure – The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963

The PS Brothers – Big Nate

The Lightning Thief – Sisters

Calvin & Hobbes – A Girl Named Disaster

Harry Potter– Diary of a Wimpy Kid

The One and Only Ivan – Athlete vs. Mathlete

Divergent – Smile

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