Jodi Carmichael and FAMILY OF SPIES


I am pleased to welcome Jodi Carmichael to the MG Book Village today as part of her FAMILY OF SPIES Blog Tour!

Jodi is a local Winnipeg author, and I was very excited to attend the launch of her new middle grade novel, published by Yellow Dog (a new imprint of Great Plains Publications). We recently sat down to discuss FAMILY OF SPIES, and I asked if I could write a post to share a bit of what I learned from her with our site’s readers.

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First, here’s a synopsis of the book:

Thirteen-year-old cousins, Ford and Ellie never expected their family holiday in Paris to include spies, secret codes, and psychic messages. From the moment Ford touches Great-Grandad’s briefcase, the first of many déjà vu episodes is triggered and Ford ceases to see himself as the dunce in a family of brilliant minds. Now Ford is a genius, too: a psychic genius. With the help of his older brother Gavin, the local librarian, and an ancient clairvoyant, they discover that Ford’s vision are actually Great-Grandad’s 1944 war time memories. Ford also discovers that life may not be as perfect as he thought for his science prodigy brother. Driven to discover why Great-Grandad’s war records remain sealed eighty years after the war ended, they conduct an online search and learn Great-Grandad was a spymaster with the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E). Unfortunately, their internet investigation alerts both MI6 and CIA, as Great-Grandad hid something important to the war effort and these agencies have waited decades to get it back! The cousins outrun two determined spies as they follow Great-Grandad’s memories and hidden messages through the streets of Paris. Finally, they uncover his heartbreaking secret and right old wrongs.

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FAMILY OF SPIES is loosely based on the mystery surrounding Jodi’s grandfather, Edward Hugh Martin Crawford. He was R.C.A.F. pilot in World War II, but his military records remain sealed, and there are several questions about the actual role he really played in the war. Is it possible he was a spy? And if so, what sort of activities might he have been involved in? A great deal of research went into her book, including topics such as quantum physics, the Special Operations Executive, World War II spies, code names, Camp X, and the famous Canadian spy Sir William Stephenson.

Jodi was lucky to have local artist Jamie Gatta illustrate her book. He was given the text surrounding the illustration, and added beautiful touches that really enhanced the finished product.

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Jodi also worked with Beaumont School as part of the Adopt an Author program. She visited 75 Grade 4 and 5 students throughout the process of writing the book, and the kids got to see what was involved in writing, editing, and publishing.


Recent middle grade titles that Jodi has enjoyed include: SEVEN DEAD PIRATES by Linda Bailey, REFUGEE by Alan Gratz, MY DIARY FROM THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Jodi Lynn Anderson, FULL CICADA MOON by Marilyn Hilton, SADIA by Colleen Nelson, and FORGETTING HOW TO BREATHE by Anita Daher.

Jodi is currently working on edits for new middle grade novel called A TIME OF PERIL.

~ Kathie

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Jodi Carmichael’s dreams of becoming an author began to come true when she attended her first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in 2007 and was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. A champion for the underdog and kids who think differently, she wrote SPAGHETTI IS NOT A FINGER FOOD AND OTHER LIFE LESSONS (2013) which won numerous awards including a Gold Mom’s Choice and a Silver Moonbeam in 2013. In 2016 her novel about relationship abuse, FOREVER JULIA (2016) won the Manitoba Book Award; The McNally Robinson Books for Young People Awards – Older Category and received a Bronze Moonbeam Award for Young Adult Fiction – Mature Issues.

When not channeling characters from her books, she can be found strolling Manitoba beaches with her husband, two daughters, and exceedingly scruffy Border Terrier named Zoe.”

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Harder

Today we are excited to welcome 4th grade teacher Rachel Harder to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

I am finishing up my 16th year of teaching, although I’m not sure how and when that happened. My teaching experience includes teaching English for a year in Lithuania, ESOL for 5 years in Minnesota, and am currently completing year 10 of teaching 4th grade in Kansas. I am currently a 4th grade ELA teacher at Union Valley Elementary in Hutchinson, Kansas. When I am not at school, I am spending time at home with my husband and my 5 year old twins. Or I’m at the library or my local bookstore. Or there’s a good chance I’m napping, too.

What are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

 My favorites change as I read and depending on what my heart needs. But, some of the books I find myself regularly recommending to students and adults are:

  • Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (Kek won my heart from the moment he boarded that flying boat.)
  • Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart (I adore Ah-Kee and his compassion, yet he says nothing in the entire book. My students and I agree that Dan needs to write a sequel about Ah-Kee’s journey.)
  • It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (A book automatically wins me over when I laugh out loud and cry within a few pages.)
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (Anyone that writes about characters delicately picking their nose is a winner.)


Tell us about your classroom library!

When I first started teaching, my classroom library was made up of a comfy bathtub and two bookshelves. The books were organized by Lexile (cringe) and were marked on the spine if there was a Reading Counts! test on that book (oh Sweet-Heaven-On-A-Biscuit, DH8c6MBVwAAQPaUI’m so sorry children). Since then, as my understanding of readers and teaching and learning and choice and access and book love has changed, so has my library. My Book Nook does not mention tests or levels or too hard or too easy or points or reports. My hope is that it reflects book love and happiness and choice and access and acceptance and some glimpses into what heaven could be like. I want every student to experience that feeling of “just-one-more-chapter” and I hope every student tries to sneak an open book onto their lap while I’m teaching (don’t tell them this though- they think it’s hilarious when their reading teacher tells them to stop reading). This, however, is a never-ending task. As my students and the world changes, as do the books I put on my shelves. Some years, I need more books about World War II, while another year I need more books about farting and poop (okay, every year). This year, I need more graphic novels and novels in verse and books with Spanish words. And, I’ll keep filling my shelves with books. Because, how can I say, “No”?


Are you connected with authors online? How do you incorporate authors in your classroom?

Twitter is the best way to connect with author and illustrators. My first class had the awesome opportunity to Skype with Jon Klassen after they became obsessed with I Want My Hat Back. Before this, I was always hesitant to Skype, as I worried about the technology not working or it just being an all-around disaster (read: endless dabbing and other shenanigans by ecstatic children). However, I found out that we would be Skyping with him within thirty minutes and I didn’t really have time to overthink and perseverate about all that could go wrong. Ever since then, I try to connect with an author several times a year, depending on which books my students and I have read. Global Read Aloud, World Read Aloud Day, and March Book Madness have created awesome opportunities for us to talk with and learn from some of our favorite authors.

A few years ago, some coworkers and I started up nErDcampKS, an off-shoot of the original Michigan nErDcamp. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to connect with even more authors, especially with more authors that are located in the Midwest. This year, we have 15 authors coming as well as Christine Taylor-Butler and Donalyn Miller as keynote speakers. It’s conferences like this one that provide me with even more ways to incorporate authors and their books into my classroom.


What are the “hot” books in your classroom right now?

This year, our most favorite seem to be:

What are some of your favorite reading-related projects or activities to do with your students?
If time allows, I love providing time for students to do a Novel Engineering project with something that they have been reading about.  Novel Engineering is a way for students to reflect on their learning and reading in a hands-on way- think MakerSpace/STEM.  There is a C94P18-UQAAYMMEwebsite ( that provides ideas of books that may work for students to read and then create a contraption to help the character solve a problem in the book and, therefore, change the plot of the story.  I have done this several times and I have never seen students more engaged and talking about texts than when we have done a Novel Engineering Project.  I have done projects using picture books, chapter books, and stories from our reading series–it works with all of them.  In other instances, I have them design contraptions but not build them (due to time restraints).  I conference with students while they are designing and building and I am immediately aware who needs more support with the text! When they are done building, students share with peers and explain how their contraption would help the characters.  They also share something that they are proud of, something that was challenging, and something they would like to improve.   No need for any written assessments, as their device and explanation are all the information I need!

What’s the most recent book you’ve read about teaching?

My beloved mailman just delivered Help for Billy by Heather T. Forbes. My district is 51DtPvrOiLL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_working on moving from a trauma-informed to a trauma-responsive school and this book has been recommended over and over by my coworkers. Although I love reading books about reading instruction and conferencing, I am learning what a huge role trauma and stress play in the lives of my students. I would love for my students to learn how to deal with some of their trauma by watching how the characters in their books respond.


You can connect withunnamed-1 Rachel on Twitter at @rbharder and on the NErDCampKS website.





Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!






Educator Spotlight: Ginger Healy

Today we are excited to welcome 5th grade teacher Ginger Healy to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

Hello, everybody! I am an Los Angeles native and fifth grade teacher. I teach at an independent school in Los Angeles that happens to also be my alma mater. It’s such a privilege to contribute to our school community as a faculty member after spending my childhood learning, exploring, and growing up on the same campus. As a fifth grade homeroom teacher, I get to teach reading, writing, math, and social studies, as well as coaching my students through the many other life lessons and moments that young people face. Watching them grow leaps and bounds as individuals is my favorite part of the job. I am motivated every day by my incredible teaching team, who are three of my favorite people and some of my best friends. I’ve always identified as a reader and a writer. I have a million stories in my head and would love to [finish] drafting one of them one of these days to share my stories with the world. I am mommy to a 4-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, and wife to my sweet and supportive husband. I mustn’t forget my kitty, who much prefers I focus on him rather than my books after the kids are in bed for the night.

What are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

Teaching fifth grade reinvigorated my reading life, as I rediscovered middle grade fiction. It helped me realize that my upper elementary years were when I read the most in my life. My parents had to drag me out of bed and away from my books in the morning to get ready for school. As a child, I loved Mary Downing Hahn’s spooky stories and read every single story in the Babysitters Club series.

As an adult middle grade fiction reader, I am particularly drawn to realistic fiction stories that focus on building empathy. Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Kwame Alexander’s books come to mind as favorites. My students and I have been captivated by Alan Gratz’s books. His stories are equal parts intense as they are relatable with painful historical moments as backdrops. Refugee absolutely knocked my socks off. I love the works of authors Elaine Vickers, Elly Swartz, and Abby Cooper, who have also become very sweet social media friends of mine. Each of their stories are sweet and poignant without being heavy handed, which I appreciate. Some other favorites are Wonder, The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, The Ethan I Was Before, The Thing About Leftovers, Ghost, The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. All wonderful, delicious, powerful, meaningful stories.

What professional development book influenced you most as a teacher?

I am forever indebted to my close forever friend and fellow fifth grade teacher Stacy who first introduced me to Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. She read it over the summer one year and told me about it with true wonder in her eyes. I quickly ordered both The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild and the rest is history. My teaching hasn’t been the same since. Donalyn’s philosophies of cultivating readers rather than teaching dry and abstract teaching strategies was transformative. All of a sudden, something clicked and I realized that my goal needed to be focusing on Donalyn’s principles and helping my students achieve the following: to carve out time for reading, to self-select their own reading material, to make reading plans, and develop reading communities. These ideas go hand-in-hand with lots of overlap from one to the next. Infusing your classroom with a culture of reading is much easier than it seems thanks to the almighty Book Whisperer. Talk about a life-changer!

How do you share your own love of reading with your students?

As soon as I rediscovered the magic of middle grade books as an adult, I started reading a ton, finishing one or two books a week. Collecting, sharing, and recommending books with my students brings me serious joy. I keep a sign on my classroom door stating the book I’m currently reading and a short TBR (“to be read”) list of four books on deck. Also on this sign is a count of the number of chapter books I have read so far this school year. My students see that I maintain strong reading habits and that I have an active reading life. As I finish new books, I bring them into the classroom, book talk them to an excited class of students who then scramble to put their name in the book raffle that I conduct. The students then pass the book from person to person, and talk of these many books buzzes around our class, our reading community.

During the early weeks of the school year, I conduct reading interviews with my students and take notes of their reading preferences. That gives me a baseline of information about each of them as a reader. I spend the rest of the year keeping note of the books they’re reading and having casual conversations with them about their books. In my classroom is a constant discussion about books.

On Fridays, I read aloud the first chapter of a book, a ritual we call “First Chapter Fridays.” My students beg me to choose their favorite books for FCF the rest of the week, and I do my best to accommodate their requests. I choose books that are not in wide circulation, or books that have been highly anticipated.

The goal, of course, is for students to be able to select their own books and in order to do that, they must have a strong sense of their own reading preferences. These casual and formal conversations about books are aimed to strengthen this skill set and self-awareness.

How do you make sure that the books your students have access to reflect the diversity of our world?


This is the most important part of our work as teachers. Representation is everything. Every single one of our students needs to see themselves in their classroom library. As Donalyn Miller says in her books, the classroom library is like a 512oDHMswYL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_garden. It needs tending. That means I make every effort to remove books that have gotten stale and are no longer exciting to the students. I make sure that new editions to the classroom library represent a diversity of narratives and viewpoints. We Need Diverse Books is a fantastic initiative that I fully support. I love the lists WNDB puts out regularly and add those books to my library. Marley Diaz’s book Marley Diaz Gets it Done: And So Can You is a hot book in my classroom. Marley discusses the importance of representation in classroom libraries and motivates young people through her guide to activism. She’s an inspiration. I have learned that it is important to make the implicit explicit to students. We talk about representation in our books and why it’s critically important.

How has your philosophy of teaching changed since you first became a teacher?
When I was just starting out as wee-20-something-year-old teacher, I stuck to strict schedules for myself and took notes on every little thing. I expected that every lesson would be perfect. I was tough on myself if my lesson didn’t go as well as planned. Over the years, I still take copious notes and have high standards for myself, but have learned not to sweat the small stuff. When getting to know my students, I see the long-term and short-term goals for each student and focus on those. In becoming a parent, I saw firsthand how powerful positive messaging from a teacher can be. Parents and students need to know their teacher is a team player and that we care about them, above all else. If the lesson doesn’t go as planned, it’s okay! There will be many, many lessons to follow. We don’t expect perfection from our students, so we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves. Constantly reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, what’s important and what isn’t, alongside my team, makes me proud of the work I do.

How do you encourage less-than-enthusiastic readers?

Graphic novels! They are the magic wand that get reluctant readers to read, read, read. Not only do graphic novels provide fun and colorful reading experiences, they are fast reads. Students who are not excited about reading see that they are capable of finishing a book in a day, which boosts their reading confidence. If a student struggles with reading comprehension, the picture is right there to help them interpret and think deeply about the story. Win-win-win. Every fall, I meet students who don’t love reading yet, and every year those students grab onto graphic novels with enthusiasm. These same readers transition to traditional prose, and oftentimes they reread Raina Telgemeier’s novels over and over again. As long as they’re reading, it’s all good.

Another strategy is handing them The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. A novel in verse (ie, also a quick read) that pulls at the heart-strings with basketball as the throughline? Come on. It’s a slam dunk every time.

IMG_2737You can find Ginger on Twitter at @books_ghealy and on her website here.









Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!






Educator Spotlight: Katie Reilley

Today we are excited to welcome 4th and 5th grade teacher Katie Reilley to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

I am a fourth and fifth grade ELA teacher from Elburn, Illinois, a proud mom to two amazing daughters, ages 13 and 9, and have been married to a wonderful husband for 17 unnamedyears. I’m a member of the group #bookexpedition , a group of teachers, librarians and authors who read and review ARCs and newly released middle grade books. I’m also happy to be part of the #classroombookaday community, and I love to learn alongside my students and fellow educators. I have been teaching for twenty-one years, and my passion is getting books into the hands of my students. Recently, I was nominated for the Kane County Elementary Educator of the Year. This summer, I hope to see fellow nerdy friends at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Chicago, nErDcampMI, and at the NCTE convention in Houston in the fall.

Who are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

My favorite middle grade books and authors vary from year to year depending on my students’ reading lives. This year, Alan Gratz’s Ban This Book and Refugee were very popular with my fourth and fifth graders. I can’t keep anything by Kwame Alexander on my bookshelf. Leslie Connor’s All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook and The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle were also well-loved by my fifth graders, and my fourth graders could not get enough of Victoria J Coe’s Fenway and Hattie series. During October, Lindsay Currie’s The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street was perfect for students to read. My fifth grade book club devoured Aven’s story in The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. Students who loved how Wonder was told with multiple perspectives liked the same style in Rob Buyea’s The Perfect Score. My fourth grade students are just discovering Phil Bildner’s Rip and Red series and blowing through it. Both grade levels have loved the Track series by Jason Reynolds and are begging me to buy Sunny so they can continue. Graphic novels are always a hit, and favorite authors include Raina Telgemeier, Judd Winick, Dav Pilkey, Jennifer L Holm, Ben Hatke, and Kazu Kibuishi.


What are some of your favorite read alouds? Why?

We started the school year with Abby Cooper’s Sticks and Stones because she was coming for an author visit in September. Students loved the magical realism aspect of this one and enjoyed watching Elyse grow and change throughout the story.

Next we read The Wild Robot by Peter Brown for our Global Read Aloud. Students loved the idea of a robot with wild animals as friends and family and could not wait for its sequel, which we are currently reading aloud. They also loved connecting with other classes who read this for GRA and have continued to be postcard friends with students at a school in Canada.

Then we read Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, and students fell in love with Red and her animal companions. They especially liked how the animals were named and the message of acceptance that the story wove.

Another favorite read aloud was EngiNerds by Jarrett Lerner. What’s not to love about a farting robot who shoots out turd missiles and a dog named Kitty? Students could also relate to the “stemmy” feel this book had and are anxiously awaiting book two.

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard was really loved, too. Students had great conversations about Jackie’s behavior and choices in the book, and they learned via Robinson, what Alzheimer’s disease can do to a family.

How do you stay “in the know” about new/upcoming books (are there tools, people, sites you regularly rely on)?

I am so grateful to the Nerdy Book Club for keeping me in the loop with new “must-reads.” I heavily rely on their daily blog posts for book suggestions and author interviews to share with my students. I also use John Schu’s Book release calendar to help guide my new book purchases. Other must follows in the bookish community include Pernille Ripp, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, the BooksBetween podcast, and MG Book Village. I’m also very grateful to be part of the #bookexpedition group as we read and discuss advanced reader copies of new middle grade novels. Being part of this group as helped me communicate, collaborate, and create in a way that I was not able to do before, and it is truly benefiting my students.

Take a picture of something in your classroom and tell us the story behind it.


This is a photo of my #classroombookaday table. The images that created it came from last year’s #classroombookaday board that hung in the hallway. Near the end of the year, each of my 5th grade students chose two of their favorite picture books that we had read. I added a few books to cover the black spaces, then we arranged them onto the table and Mod Podged it all together, adding a final coat of epoxy spray paint to the top. It has held up well this year, and my current students love to look at the books on it, and my past students love to come back to visit it!


This is a photo of our classroom wishtree. Last year I had a student named Nola whose favorite book was The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate . Early on in the year, we read Home of the Brave, and Nola said it changed her as a reader. When I got a copy of a Wishtree ARC, I knew Nola would be the next reader after me. After Nola had finished the book, she asked to meet me at a local ice cream place to give me something. That something turned out to be a large wishtree (on poster board) that she had created for my next year’s class. Fast forward to this school year, and both Nola and I were fortunate enough to hear Katherine Applegate speak. During her talk, she asked the audience to make three wishes: one for themselves, one for someone else, and one for the world. I loved that idea so much, that after I read Wishtree to my students, they did just that. The result is our beautiful classroom wishtree that was started for me by Nola, a great reader and an even better kid.

Are you connected with authors online? How do you incorporate authors in your classroom?

IMG_2646I feel so fortunate that my students are able to connect with many authors and illustrators via Twitter and Instagram. Each time we read a book for #classroombookaday , we tweet the author and illustrator with our thoughts about the book. Most times, we get a response by the end of the day, and students are so excited to hear what the authors and illustrators have to say in
reply. Authors and illustrators are incredibly generous people, and many have sent my students book swag such as bookmarks and buttons, as thanks for reading their books. These connections make students feel as if they know the authors personally, and I’d say students are now so much more invested in looking to see if they recognize author or illustrator names on the books we read based on those connections. It’s great to hear them say things like, “When is Ame’s next book coming out?” or “Can you ask Josh to tell us more about the third Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast book?”

Skyping with authors is also something my students love to do. Jarrett Learner read a book (via Skype) with both my 4th and 5th grade classes during World Read Aloud Day, and that was IMG_8599incredible. Later this month my 5th grade students are going to Skype with Diane Magras who wrote The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, and they are very excited about asking her questions about her story.

We’ve also been very fortunate to have authors come talk with the fourth and fifth graders at myschool. Last year Liesl Shurtliff came and spent the morning sharing her writing process and information about her books Rump, Jack and Red. She even gave students a tiny hint about what her next book in the series would be about (and now they can’t wait to read Grump!) This year we had both Abby Cooper and Lindsay Currie come visit in the fall, and Jarrett Lerner stopped by in the spring. It really is incredible; students view these authors as rock stars and are so thrilled when they come talk to them about reading and writing.

IMG_2703You can find Katie on Twitter at @KReilley5 and on Instagram at @katie.reilley






Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!








Educator Spotlight: Lisa Langlois

Today we are excited to welcome educator Lisa Langlois to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

I have over 15 years of experience teaching grades 2-8. I’ve taught in the South, the East Coast, and the Southwest. My favorite grades are 4th and 5th. My most favorite subject to teach is math. I am that teacher who will read aloud during math class. (Ex. Math Curse, Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar, Grandfather Tang’s Story, or One Grain of Rice.) However, my most favorite activity is reading and sharing books with others, especially my students.

What are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

Some of my favorite books read so far this school year are: Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard, A Boy Called Bat by Alana K Arnold, Perfect Score by Rob Buyea, Rain Reign by Ann Martin, The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Bradley, Ban This Book by Alan Gratz, and Sunny by Jason Reynolds.

What was your favorite book as a child? And why did you love it so much?

A book that I recall reading over and over as a young child is Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman. I could read it myself and I was fascinated by the little bird who searched for his mother. I was also comforted every time he found her at the end.

Who is you favorite fictional teacher?

My current favorite fictional teacher Mrs. Woods from Perfect Score. (It goes without saying that Professor McGonagall is always #1.)8450bb8ae282859d3e3ce600a85d48fb52493183_00

What are the “hot” books in your classroom right now?

Graphic novels are hot. All the graph novels!

What advice would you give new teachers?

Do what you know is best for your students. Ask lots of questions. Breathe, deeply.

Teaching can be stressful. What do you do to keep yourself going?


Read of course. I also enjoy outdoor activities like cycling, fishing, camping, hiking and star gazing.

lisalangloisYou can find Lisa on Twitter at @llangloisteach.






Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!


Educator Spotlight: Nicole Mancini

Today we are excited to welcome 5th grade teacher Nicole Mancini to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!

I am a fifth grade English Language Arts teacher in New Jersey. I love my small school which is made up of one building for Grades Pre-K through 8. Believe it or not, I started working here when I was just 21 years old; it’ll be 15 years in December! Time definitely flies!! Outside of school, I write articles for a Disney travel site and my own education blog, as well as create curriculum guides for books. I also enjoy presenting workshops and most recently participated in a panel on reading engagement with authors Melissa Roske, Jarrett Lerner, Rob Vlock, and Sally Pla at Barnes & Noble.

Who are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

It is really difficult to narrow down my favorites as there are just so many! I actually had to stop asking my students this question because I realized how unfair it is. While I have dozens and dozens of beloved books and authors, I tend to prefer realistic fiction or fantasy. Here are my current favorites:
– Elly Swartz & Finding Perfect
– Melissa Roske & Kat Greene Comes Clean
– Jarrett Lerner & Enginerds
– Lisa Thompson & The Goldfish Boy
– Jennifer Chambliss Bertman & Book Scavenger

What book impacted you most as a teacher?

Without a doubt the book that has impacted me the most as a teacher is Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. It has completely revolutionized the way that I teach reading. I am forever grateful to her for bringing how I always felt about reading instruction to the masses. My students’ lives (and my life) have been so much richer as a result!

unnamed-3What does your literacy instruction look like?

I used to rely on a novel-based approach to literacy instruction. It was reminiscent to the traditional style English class from when I was a kid. After reading Donalyn’s book, I literally raced into my school two weeks before the new year began and told my then vice principal that I was going to dramatically change things. Luckily, she told me to go for it!! I revamped the entire curriculum into a reading workshop and choice reading model and haven’t looked back since!

How do you get books for your classroom?

Ha – anywhere and everywhere! A large portion of my books come from my overzealous reading life. Because I like to read both kid and middle grade lit, I purchase a lot of our class library texts. Similarly, I am a big fan of Donors Choose which has allowed me to bring in a significant amount of books throughout the school year. My most recent projects focused on filling in gaps in my library as related to diverse books and those containing strong female characters. Also, community members and parents tend to drop off bags of books for my classroom a few times a year; several authors have sent me some too. I feel very fortunate to have so many ways to get books into my students’ hands!

How do you encourage less-than-enthusiastic readers?

I actually get asked this question a lot. For me, relationships come first. I would never be able to recommend a book to child if I didn’t get to know her as a person, so I spend a lot of time in the beginning of the school year doing just that. Learning about a child’s unnamed-1hobbies, likes/dislikes, and “story” allows me to find books related to their interests. That is how we can get them hooked! If a child enjoys soccer, for example, I can easily find informational books about soccer moves, realistic fiction with characters who also love the sport, and so on. It is all about connecting with that student and pushing them towards texts that they would love!

Are you connected with authors online? How do you incorporate authors in your classroom?

I feel that I am very much connected with authors online. Thanks to Twitter, I have developed some pretty incredible relationships – both professional and personal – with many. It has allowed me to break down that wall and get to know several authors on a deeper level. This, in turn, helps me teach my students more about the industry and show that these writers are not these mythical beings out in oblivion somewhere. My students have been able to connect with authors via Skype and in person. They regularly ask me to contact their favorites to ask questions about their books. Some authors have even formed a more personal connection with my students and have supported them in many ways. I am so lucky to be able to help forge these relationships.unnamed-2

If you could go back in time to your first year teaching and give yourself some advice, what would you say?

I’d tell her that teaching is an ever evolving career. What I was doing during my first year is far different from how I do things today. That’s just a part of the process. Good teachers are always learning and improving. It’s how we grow. Remember that you can always modify a lesson plan and make spontaneous decisions in order to help your students. Above all, I’d tell my first year self to steer clear of those with negative attitudes about education and surround yourself with positive, uplifting people who will help you remain true to yourself. 
unnamedYou can find Nicole on her website – – and on Twitter at @MissNikkiIn5th .






What more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!



Educator Spotlight: Cassie Thomas

Today we are excited to welcome 5th grade ELAR educator Cassie Thomas to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators! 

Please tell us about yourself!


My name is Cassie Thomas. I am a 5th grade ELAR educator deep in the heart of Texas in New Braunfels! I am a mama of soon to be two kiddos and stand in mama for about 75 more here at school. My teaching philosophy revolves around choice and questioning. I, myself, am an avid reader through Book Voyage and my teaching blog

Who are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

This is seriously the hardest and most loaded question I get and answer. I am forever grateful for Jason Reynolds and all of the kids he has gotten to read and love reading by his writing style. Author wise the list could go on: Elly Swartz, Nanci Turner Stevenson, Kwame Alexander, Watt Key, Erin Entrada Kelly, Kate DiCamillo, Alan Gratz, Tracey Baptiste, Dan Gemeinhart, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Ellen Oh. Some of the favorite books from the past few years: The Wild Robot, The Science of Unbreakable Things, Front Desk, Ghost Boys, The War That Saved My Life (1&2), Spirit Hunters, Long Way Down, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, Amal Unbound, The Night Diary – Seriously this list could go on and on! Anything I post about on social media is something to be read in middle grade in my opinion.

Take a picture of something in your classroom and tell us the story behind it.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 10.40.46 PMMy students use this wall to write reviews on neon library cards for students to search for what they may want to read next. If I could make any changes, I think I would do specific colors for genres so that if a child is very into fantasy they would know to look at like the pink card. The kids learn how to write reviews without giving away information or endings. They are amazing!

What does your literacy instruction look like?

30742827_10215538274107248_5075046168564596736_nOur classes are around 85 minutes. I have three rotations. The students come in and I have a non-negotiable of reading for 20-30 minutes solid every day. At the beginning of the year we do a shorter amount of time so that we can build up our stamina and also because I teach using the Notice and Note strategies. So the beginning of the year is a lot of independent reading, mini lesson, apply to picture books, apply to their own books, and then at the end of class we revisit the strategy and discuss. We do this for about the first 18 weeks of school. This then sets the tone for the rest of the year. I also teach the students how to respond to their reading in a very thorough way by writing me letters answering BHH questions (brain, head, heart from Disrupting Thinking). Our writing lessons are then intertwined throughout the school year as well.

Do you also teach writing? If so, how do you use reading to teach writing, and writing to teach reading?

I do teach writing! We have a specific timeline of different pieces my students are to write throughout the year, so I make sure and follow that to meet our state standards, BUT we also do a ton of writing through what we are reading. We use current read alouds, either chapter books or picture books, as mentor texts. One of my favorite lessons this year I borrowed from my friend Sandy over at ELA Everyday was doing Kobe Bryant’s passion poem. The students then wrote their own about what they were passionate about. It was really amazing to read what truly mattered to my kids. I also love when they can write imaginative stories. The amount of reading that they have done this year has played a huge part in how amazing their writing has also turned out.

Like I mentioned already, the reading responses that we do become more and more phenomenal as the year goes on. They really start to think about their reading after we learn the signposts and then they apply that to whatever chapter book they are currently reading. My principal is again a huge supporter in reading and he has mentioned that my kids success in writing is a big reflection on their reading lives as well.

What are the “hot” books in your classroom right now?

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Track Series by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart  

The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish


What professional development book influenced you most as a teacher?

The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. I think I speak for most educators who love reading and teaching reading when I say that her books have easily become my classroom bibles. They have sticky notes all throughout and things highlighted/underlined. I make sure and reread through them every summer to remember what is the most important thing in the reading classroom – reading and talking about reading.


How do you create a culture of reading in your classroom or school?

22221517_10214517606800753_8921837044860244054_nI read, I give them time to read every day, I also provide them with the choice – whatever they want to read they can. When I book talk books they seem to go off the shelf faster than I can keep them in stock. I also have an Audible account that allows my students to have that experience as well. When students came to me this year hating reading/struggling to read on level, Audible has opened all new doors for them. So much that some of them even branched away from audiobooks because they could then start reading on their own and at a quicker pace. I also do #classroombookaday as well as host a Mock Newbery club and then after Newbery awards are over, I started Breakfast and Books. We talk about books every single day. Our room is not only a classroom, but a library. I give them opportunity after opportunity to find new stories they can get lost in. It has rubbed off on the school too, I find teachers asking me for ideas and getting excited about reading again. It helps too that my principal is such a huge advocate of reading as well!

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 3.17.09 PMYou can find Cassie on Twitter at @mrs_cmt1489 and on Instagram at @mrs_cmt1489.






Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!