Common Core in Action: Finale

photo-1At the beginning of the year, I wrote a lengthy essay about how I intended to incorporate diverse texts into the Common Core curriculum and laid out my first semester plan. At our semester break, I gave an update with my success and my challenges. Well, the school year is about to come to a close, with finals being next week (yay!), so I thought I’d reflect on how the first year of full implementation of the Common Core standards went.

Well, to be blunt, this year was a tough one and I’m glad it’s just about over. As I stated in an earlier Common Core post, my students are low-skilled therefore they struggled with much of what the standards asked of them. In order to help them attempt to even come close to meeting the standards, I had to slow down my pace which resulted in me having to make a tough decision. I usually teach Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in combination with Sharon Draper’s Romiette and Julio which meets Literary Standard 8.9,  “Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.” This year I had planned to really dig into poetry by reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, and then having the students write a memoir of their own lives using verse. I was really excited about the prospect of digging into poetry before Shakespeare, but alas, that dream was not meant to be. My students struggled with writing arguments (which I know is tested), so I chose to forgo my exciting poetry unit and allow the students to spend more time analyzing and writing about the issues presented in All American Boys. It was a tough decision, but in the end a good one.

I didn’t end up skipping poetry entirely, but made it a shorter unit where the students just learned to analyze poetry by looking at a poem’s different elements and by writing a lot of poetry. We read Nikki Grimes’s classic Bronx Masquerade, and the students really got into the book. They, again, connected with a number of the characters and found their own voices by seeing how open the characters were with their words. In addition, we were studying Bronx Masquerade during National Poetry Month, so the students were writing poems almost every day. I was astounded by the creativeness and the depths my students were willing to go to in expressing themselves with their poetry. We all had a lot of fun, while meeting more Common Core standards.

At the beginning of this month, my students took the SBAC (Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium) test. While I have not received the results of the test back yet, I am cautiously optimistic because I know that my students were prepared for the test. By slowing down my pace, I allowed my students to really think about what they were reading, analyze it, and then write about it. I gave them the tools to craft good arguments, and I saw these strategies come to fruition during the test. While I was not over their shoulders reading (or even giving feedback because that is against the law), my students took their time during both sections of the test, and were using all the tools the SBAC test provides. I was very pleased to see that my students were displaying the knowledge that they learned over the past school year.

So, what did I do with my students to wrap up the school year? Well, they are currently preparing to give a panel type presentation of a social experiment they performed last week. Because I teach 8th graders who are fidgety this time of year, I have them participate in a Rice Baby project, which ultimately grounds them in the last few weeks of school year. They read Gaby Rodriguez’s memoir, The Pregnancy Project and used it as a template to perform an experiment that tested people’s perceptions about teen parents, specifically teen parents of color. Again, students really got into the novel, especially since Gaby is Mexican-American like many of my students. They enjoyed discussing the novel and got into the research, planning, and execution of their experiment. At this date, they are working on their experiment write-ups and preparing their panel presentations where they will share their conclusions from the project. This project, again, meets a number of the Common Core standards, yet has the students engage with the standards in a unique way, that connects to their daily lives.

Overall, I’ve worked hard this year to help my students get to where I want them to be and I can only hope that when they begin their high school careers in the fall, they feel like the education they received from me was worth it.

New Releases

Happy early book birthday to the two books coming out this Tuesday (5/24)! Are either of these books on your to-read pile?

moonOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

IncriminatedIncriminated (Emancipated #2) by M.G. Reyes
Scandal, romance, treachery, and murder—all under one roof. And no one to clean up their messes. Incriminated is the thrilling second book in the Emancipated trilogy, where limits are pushed, friendships are tested, and the truth has a nasty way of showing up uninvited.

There’s trouble in paradise. Six teens legally liberated from parental control—the bad boy, the good girl, the diva, the hustler, the rocker, and the nerd—all share a house in Venice Beach, and they all have one thing in common: murder.

After a streak of hookups, heartbreaks, and bad decisions, the housemates’ once perfect life is falling apart. One is caught in a forbidden romance with a Hollywood heartthrob, while another puts her dreams on the line for one little kiss. One harbors a dark truth that could save a life, while another’s risky business puts all their lives in danger. And before they know it, the friends are fighting like family. But when an uninvited houseguest and a deadly accident entangle them in a conspiracy none of them saw coming, pulling together is the only way out. Alone, none of them can cover up the lies. Together, none of them can be trusted. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir

enchantedairTitle: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Author: Margarita Engle
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Nonfiction – Memoir
Pages: 192
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Library

Summary: In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

It really is possible to feel
like two people
at the same time,
when your parents
come from two

Margarita Engle won the 2016 Pura Belpré author award for Enchanted Air. In this verse memoir, she shares her experiences growing up between two cultures. She lived in the United States, but part of her heart belonged to Cuba from the very start. She writes about her “second self, the invisible twin” or “true self” who belongs to Cuba. The invisible twin is the girl she would be if her whole family lived in Cuba. Instead, she lives on her father’s continent and grows up with an alternate life. Engle shares the complexity of growing up with multiple cultures and having more than one place to call home. This is difficult enough to start with, but is even more complicated when the governments of those places are at odds with each other.

From her first trip to Cuba, it seems Margarita was enchanted. She saw it as a fairy tale world. Cuba holds so many people, places, and things that she loves and admires. It also seems to be where Margarita Engle found her voice. You can hear that voice ringing throughout her memoir – singing about the beauty, mysteries, and even dangers of Cuba. At one point she describes Cuba as “Rain and sun at the same time. A mystery of brilliance and darkness.”

She not only experienced two cultures, but she often felt different and isolated in the culture where she spent most of her time. In kindergarten, Margarita drew a dancing tree from Cuba and her teacher scolded her saying, “REAL TREES DON’T LOOK LIKE THAT.” That’s when she learned that teachers can be wrong. Things got even worse once the civil war began in Cuba. The poem “What am I?” shows how students and even her teacher seemed angered by the events in Cuba leading them to ask “What are you?” She didn’t know how to respond. “It’s a question that requires fractions, and I don’t like math.”

Margarita was often on her own since she didn’t have close connections to the other children in school. Words and books became her companions. Books opened a world to her. In “Refuge” she writes, “Books help me breathe.” The books were windows for her, but she noticed a distinct lack of mirrors.

I never find any books
about the beautiful green
crocodile-shaped island
that throbs
at the center of my being,
like a living creature,
half heart
and half beast.
Maybe someday
I’ll try
to write one.

I’m glad she followed through on writing those books that are now mirrors for many children and young adults.

Along with contemplation of two cultures, we also see questions about gender roles. As she read classic literature, she noticed “that the heroes are always boys.” Her mother encouraged her daughters though, by letting them know they could do anything boys could do. Gender roles are a common theme running through many of Engle’s fiction works so it was interesting to see that she’s thought about these issues throughout much of her life.

Recommendation: Get it now especially if you enjoy memoirs. There’s a reason there are so many stickers plastered on the cover. Engle has a lovely way with words and has given us a glimpse into the journey that has made her the author she is today.


In this video Margarita Engle shares a bit about how her parents met (this is part of the introductory story to the book)

Margarita Engle after being honored with the Pura Belpre award for Enchanted Air

A curriculum guide for teachers

The Pura Belpré Award: My Favorites

With the 20th (whoa) anniversary for the Pura Belpré Award celebrating Latino writers and illustrators on the horizon, I decided to take a look at the past winners. Of course, right away, I found quite a few of my favorite books! Here are my top three among the winners of the Pura Belpré Award:

yaquiYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away?



Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

When Lupita discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of their close-knit Mexican American family.

In the midst of juggling high school classes, finding her voice as an actress, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, Lupita desperately wants to support her mother by doing anything she can to help. While Papi is preoccupied with caring for Mami, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. Struggling in her new roles and overwhelmed by change, Lupita escapes the chaos of home by writing in the shade of a mesquite tree, seeking refuge in the healing power of words.

What are your favorite Pura Belpré Award books?

Interview with Kimberly Reid

Everyone, please welcome Kimberly Reid to Rich in Color! Kimberly’s new book, Perfect Liars, came out last week from Tu Books, and we’re very excited to chat with her about it. Perfect Liars sounds like a great summer read–is it on your to-read list yet?

Perfect LiarsAndrea Faraday is junior class valedictorian at the exclusive Woodruff School, where she was voted Most Likely to Do Everything Right. But looks can be deceiving. When her parents disappear, her life—and her Perfect Girl charade—begins to crumble, and her scheme to put things right just takes the situation from bad to so much worse. Pretty soon she’s struck up the world’s least likely friendship with the juvenile delinquents at Justice Academy, the last exit on the road to jail—and the first stop on the way out.

If she were telling it straight, friendship might not be the right word to describe their alliance, since Drea and her new associates could not be more different. She’s rich and privileged; they’re broke and, well, criminal. But Drea’s got a secret: she has more in common with the juvie kids than they’d ever suspect. When it turns out they share a common enemy, Drea suggests they join forces to set things right. Sometimes, to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.

1. What were you most excited about when writing Perfect Liars? How is Perfect Liars different from your Langdon Prep series? What was your favorite part about each work?

I enjoyed writing a cast of ex-juvie kids deemed “bad” by society working together to save their tiny part of it by applying the very skills that earned them that status.

The Langdon Prep series and Perfect Liars both have strong female leads dealing with class, wealth and privilege, but from different sides. Chanti Evans in Langdon Prep has none of these things when she begins attending a school where everyone else does. It’s the reverse situation in Perfect Liars, where Andrea Faraday has is it all when she’s thrown together with kids who have nothing, not even their freedom in some cases. Drea and Chanti approach crime-solving and how they see the world from very different perspectives, though they ultimately want to help people who have less than they do.

In the Langdon Prep books, my favorite thing is Chanti—I love her ferocity, how protective she is of her friends, family, and neighborhood despite their faults. I love that she has moments of self-doubt as we all do, but she plows ahead, anyway. She has far more confidence than I did as a sixteen-year-old. My favorite thing about Perfect Liars was writing Drea’s crew of characters. They’re criminals, but they have moments when they want to do what’s right, even while the temptation to do bad is difficult to resist. I like the way a common enemy brings them together despite their differences. When I see readers use #squadgoals when discussing Perfect Liars, it makes me smile.

2. I saw on your Tu Books bio that your mother is a homicide detective and your husband runs a city courtroom. How did those things influence Perfect Liars?

So, so much. As a kid, I grew up around cops because my mother was a police officer. She later became an investigator for the district attorney’s office and eventually married my stepdad, a public defender, so the justice system—both the prosecution and defendant side of it—helped shape my perspective from a young age. The trend continued in my adulthood when I worked in the software business providing services to police departments. My husband worked for the police before moving to the courts. In fact, I was picking him up from work one day when I got the idea for Perfect Liars. I noticed all these teens hanging around his building. He told me there was an alternative high school housed in the justice center, that the juvie court judge was also the school’s co-principal, and that some of the kids had been through the detention system. I knew immediately this would be the setting of my next non-Langdon Prep book.

3. Andrea sounds like such an interesting protagonist! Can you tell us more about her? What did you enjoy most about writing her?

My favorite thing about Drea is how her new friends—though she’s initially reluctant to call them that—make her question her belief system and prejudices. She may be a brown girl, but her wealth and class afford her some privilege that the juvie kids don’t have, even Jason, the white boy in the crew, to some extent. These kids unknowingly teach her lessons that challenge her to change, and to realize she has more in common with them than she’s willing to admit.

4. I’m interested in learning more about the kids Andrea teams up with at the Justice Academy. Can you give us a sentence or two about each of them?

Gigi is wise beyond her years, brilliant with languages (she’s fluent in eleven of them), and could convince you the sky isn’t blue even while you’re staring at it. She knows her mind and will suffer no fools—she ain’t got time for that. Jason can hack anything tech but is clueless when it comes to people, or so it seems. His appearance can deceive—he’s the youngest of the crew and baby-faced, but is perpetually angry at the world because it has been hard on him and he resents that. Xavier is calm and always in control, even though he’s had more heartache in his seventeen years than anyone should. He’s very good at reading people and situations, but you can’t be fooled by his zen-like approach to life because he can also jack someone up if the situation calls for it.

5. What are some of your favorite books? Have any of them inspired or influenced your writing?

The minute I could string a sentence together, I began writing poems, and I still love poetry, but the first book I can remember reading that made me want to be a novelist is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I was about ten or eleven, and didn’t really understand all the themes, but despite it being set in the early twentieth century in a world that had nothing to do with me, and included the bigotry of the time, I connected to Francie Nolan. It impressed me that the author could do that, make up people that felt real enough that I was convinced I knew them, and I wanted to do that, too. In high school, I was influenced by John Steinbeck and Jane Austen—they may be part of the reason I tend to write about class so often. In college, I discovered the work of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Ernest Gaines. Favorite writers now include a range from Edwidge Danticat to Lee Childs to Chang Rae-Lee to Walter Mosley. I don’t think I write like any of them (I wish!), but they all inspire my writing because I want to write characters my readers connect with, and stories my readers thrill to, the way their characters and stories do for me.

6. What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year? Or already came out this year?

I have a lot of YA on the list. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. Shiny Broken Pieces by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra. Even if the Stars Fall by Mia Garcia. Keep Me in Mind by Jaime Reed. Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. I’m looking forward to the third book in Joseph Bruchac’s Killer of Enemies series, Valynne Maetani’s next book, and The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas. Some of these may not be out until next year—I’m not sure—but I look forward to them all.

ReidKimberly Reid is the author of the Langdon Prep young adult mystery series starting with My Own Worst Frenemy, and the Colorado Book Award winning memoir No Place Safe. Most of Reid’s family is in the crime-fighting business—her mother was a homicide detective, and her husband runs a city courtroom—so she can’t help but write crime fiction, knowing she’ll never run out of stories. She currently lives near Denver, Colorado, but her roots are firmly planted in Georgia clay and she still calls Atlanta home.

New Releases

School is winding down and summer plans are being made, specifically summer reading lists. This one looks interesting and well worth reading as I sit on the beach.

cgThe Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1) by Evelyn Skye
Balzer + Bray

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.  — Cover image and summary via Goodreads