4 Years of OSOB at T. Baldwin Demarest

Since their inaugural program in 2018, the staff at T. Baldwin Demarest Elementary in New Jersey considers One School, One Book to be one of the highlights of their year. With each book, it becomes easier to find ways to ensure their program remains fresh and fun for students.

Clues for T. Baldwin’s read of A Boy Called Bat.

“The program grows each year,” says Lisa Straubinger, who works as the teacher librarian at T. Baldwin. “The first year was pretty straightforward: read these chapters, trivia questions, opening and closing assemblies. Now, we have a [huge] build up to the reveal, special Trivia Tuesdays where students on each grade level are randomly picked from winning entries and receive an extra book coupon. For the final Trivia Tuesday, the winner receives the sequel to the story we have chosen.”

For fresh OSOB participants, Straubinger stresses the importance of keeping it simple the first go round – “Get a feel for the program and how it works. You will always have time to grow it!”

Baldwin’s current OSOB programs close with a special day dedicated to participating in activities centered around the book. Straubinger shares that they tie their OSOB selections to their Read to Make a Difference initiative where students read to raise money for a charity.

“After reading A Boy Called Bat,” Straubinger says. “We raised money for our local nature center that houses some wild animals that can’t be released back into the wild due to injuries.”

During their time with Bat, students at T. Baldwin Demarest were treated to a virtual visit by Bat’s author, Elana K. Arnold. Other OSOB titles include The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant.

“A student wore a kid-sized gorilla suit to celebrate The One and Only Ivan.”

“The year we did The One and Only Ivan,” Straubinger says. “We were able to get our hands on a gorilla suit. It was kid size so we asked one of our fourth graders to dress up. He was fantastic! He jumped around, danced, and [helped] get everyone excited about the book.”

This same year, Straubinger shares that she had the opportunity to meet John Schu, a prominent figure in the KidLit community, at a statewide librarian conference. When she shared with Schu that her school had selected Ivan for an OSOB program, Schu gave her a signed copy of the book that Straubinger passed on to the student who dressed up in the gorilla costume. When reflecting on this special exchange, Straubinger says, “[These things] really helped create a stronger connection to the story.”

Straubinger first heard about OSOB through other professionals in the “library world.” Straubinger shares that she immediately loved the idea of a program that would not just bring a single classroom together around a book.

“We love creating a connection across the grade levels,” Straubinger says. “With all the staff and with families, too!”

Straubinger heads the committee that plans and carries out the OSOB program in her school. Straubinger begins each cycle by reading several OSOB contenders at the beginning of summer, narrowing down the choices, before making her recommendation to the committee. She also leads the efforts to see books distributed to families, ensuring that each book has its own memento label: the year it was read and a note of gratitude to the PTO for donating the money for books.

“As the program is running I start each library class with a recap of the night’s reading and we talk about what we think may happen next,” Straubinger adds. “I run our Instagram account where we post the clues to guess the title, nightly reading, hints for trivia, pictures of the program in action, and any other tidbit we think is worth mentioning.”

Over the course of four years, Straubinger notes that the memories made during OSOB have always been positive, and that the impact has been undeniable. There is already ample excitement for the next OSOB, as T. Baldwin Demarest continues to grow the program and expand it into different areas both at school and in the community.

“Everyone looks forward to it each year,” Straubinger claims. “Kids like to suggest possible titles. Fourth graders are talking to kindergarteners about the same book – it truly gives everyone in the building a connection to each other!”

Wendy Orr and Vivian Vande Velde Meet Us at The Lamp-Post

Happy Summer! At the Lamp-Post, our summer thoughts are filled with books that are playful and fun! Can books be part of play? Of course! Especially Wendy Orr’s Nim’s Island and Vivian Vande Velde’s 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos. It turns out that writing these playful books is fun, too! 

In this laughter-filled interview, we discuss the importance of play: how characters and stories become the raw material for creative play and children’s growing expressive language. Living on a tropical island with an iguana as a playmate or cavorting with the classroom pets in an elementary school at night – these stories are the stuff that sets the stage for wonderful, dramatic play.  

We also learn about the serious (and not so serious) work of naming characters and places in books for children. From a motherly sea lion named Selkie to a pair of wise-cracking science geckos named Galileo and Newton – naming choices are intentional and essential to the story-telling. Here are some highlights from the interview: 

 Wendy on the importance of play: 

“I just love it when you see kids acting out something they’ve seen in a book, making it their own, taking it further. … One of the greatest joys you can have as a writer is seeing kids…in spontaneous play that they’ve carried on from your story. And they’ve embroidered it, they’ve changed it, they have become the characters. … That is just the best form of learning to be in the world.” (3:40-5:24) 

 Vivian on the revision process as a form of play: 

“When I am making revisions, I am trying to take something that I have written that’s OK and trying to make it be more fun, more exciting, or whatever the emotion is that I’m going for.” (31:25-34:04) 

 Wendy on naming characters, including Selkie the sea lion from Nim’s Island

“Selkies are from Celtic mythology, and they are seals that become women or women that become seals. … Names are so important. … The whole sound of the name. Adorabella is not Jane.” (46:06-49:43) 

 Vivian on how different life experiences lead to different stories: 

“Everybody has different life experiences which means that everybody has different stories inside of them.” (57:41-58:07) 

Vivian and Wendy ended our conversation with anecdotes from their lives that found their way into their books. 

Vivian on wearing glasses as a child (52:12-53:30)

Wendy on receiving an aerogram from her mother visiting the Galapagos Islands (54:29-56:09)



Six Books with Unusual Animals

Animal characters are a staple of children’s literature, and for good reason. Many young readers gravitate to animals, giving these stories wide appeal. Peruse the children’s department at your local library, and you will find lots of books featuring farm animals, pets, and – for reasons I’m not sure I understand – rodents. Here at Read to Them, in addition to Fenway, Wilbur, and Humphrey, we have books with some more unconventional animals, too. Here are Six Books with Unusual Animals for you to try!

Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant is a tale of friendship and teamwork between a loyal dog, a brave squirrel, a wise hermit crab, and…a wisecracking bat. Murray the bat will help dispel all those icky misconceptions about these nocturnal creatures. Really, they just love junk food!

Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan follows the escapades of a young marsupial who befriends a girl, despite the warnings of her mother and her brothers. Did you know possums study Shakespeare to perfect playing dead? Well, now you do!


In James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, everything is unusual, from the horrible aunts to the enormous sea-faring fruit. The large supporting cast of insect characters adds to the outlandishness and heart of this classic Dahl story.


The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht opens a series that sheds light on creatures of the dark. An unlikely trio of a pangolin, a sugar glider, and a fox set off to find out why other animals are vanishing, seemingly without a trace.


In We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings, a female gopher snake named Crusher will have even the most fearful of us thinking differently about these scary reptiles, and rooting for her to find her freedom.

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park introduces readers to the science and magic of silkworms as they transform from tiny eggs into delicate pillows of silk. While the worms don’t talk in this book, their metamorphosis is central to the growth of the human protagonists.

If you read any of these titles, be sure to share your photos with Read to Them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Happy reading!

Let the Kids Play

 Play is the work of childhood.  – Piaget

One of the biggest perks of teaching preschool is you get to play – really play – with the experts. Four-year-old humans know more about play than any adults. If you promise to respect the play and not try to turn it into work, they are more than happy to let you play, too. But, please, don’t screw it up by asking stupid questions like, “How many logs are holding up those planks, Julieta?” Count them yourself if you want to know – we are playing here.

Turns out, young humans aren’t the only creatures who are play experts. I recently had the opportunity to spy on a mama fox and her kits. It was like watching a good teacher observing her kids on the playground – staying close by to make sure nothing terrible happened, but letting the kids direct their own play. The kits rompled and tussled, never straying too far from the den, obviously having all kinds of rough-and-tumble fox fun.

In both cases – kids and kits – play is all about learning about the world. But to the little ones, it is just about having fun. 

And fun is a key component of play. In my family, we have a saying: “If it was all fun it would be called play, not work.” The corollary is: “There is a reason they pay you to go to work – you wouldn’t do it for free.”  

The difference between play and work is not learning something or doing something hard. Play can be hard and you can certainly learn from it. The differences between play and work are twofold: you get to choose and it is fun.  

So what does this have to do with books? I mean, books are OK, but are they the stuff of play? Well, it depends on the book. Some books just beg to be played in addition to being read, with all the play value of a giant mud puddle, a dump truck, and some snow shovels. And, while the stories are being played, kids just might learn something about teamwork, self-reliance, and integrity.  

This month, at The Lamp-Post, we are looking at books that show that stories are part of play. The titles include: 

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos by Vivian Vande Velde 

Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr 

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen 


All three books have elements of play that will appeal to young readers – and not-so-young readers, too.  

We’ll start first with 8 Class Pets which takes the cumulative tale form found in so many playful picture books, extending the riff into a short, illustrated novel. You know those cumulative tales – books like the Jan Brett classic The Mitten where a parade of forest animals climbs in an ever expanding mitten, or the bizarre There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly brilliantly presented by Simms Tabak. These rhythmic stories start simply enough, but every page turn adds a new plot point, building to a rollicking conclusion. Vande Velde adopts a similar form when Twitch the squirrel, fleeing an owl, accidentally steps on a dog’s nose.  


This is the same banner that tells the children School is open again after the summer.  

Someone was obviously telling me School was open for me to escape from the dog.  

Didn’t I say the people here love squirrels? 

So for the first time in my life, I ran into School.  

That owl veered away and flew off into the evening.  

But the dog followed me in.  

See – young readers and listeners know right away that an adventure has begun. As Twitch tries to evade the angry dog, he moves from one classroom to the next, adding class pets to the tale at every turn. From Green Eggs and Hamster, the math-loving first grade rodent, to Galileo and Newton, the science lab geckos, all the animals lend their expertise to Twitch as he tries to outwit the dog. 

So, where’s the play? The cumulative tale format is so popular in picture books because kids love predicting what is going to happen next. It helps them feel like part of the action. 8 Class Pets works the same way. What’s going to happen when the fish tank gets caught on the dog’s leash? How are the animals going to work together to trap the dog?  

Read aloud so it becomes a group experience, this story can be the fodder for creative, imaginative play. Young kids love to pretend to be animals, especially animals with as much personality as Vande Velde gives her pets. The know-it-all Miss Lucy Cottontail and the dexterous Sweetie the Rat are just begging to be acted out. As an added bonus, there are tons of options for STEM and art play with this book. Head outside with some big pieces of cardboard, paints, a scooter for the fish, a box for trapping the dog, and some other random props and let the play explode. Will the kids be messy when it is all over? Yes, yes they will. Will they be happy? Yes – especially if they are given the choice to morph the play into something of their own creation. Will they learn something about working together to keep the play going and the power of storytelling for big belly laughs? They sure will. And, don’t be surprised if the antics of the ten animals in this story (and the lessons about teamwork) continue well past your time with the book.  

Wendy Orr’s Nim’s Island invites similar creative, dramatic play for a slightly older group of children. It tells the story of young Nim who lives on a tropical island with her dad, off the grid except for the satellite that makes email possible (a nice twist). She is friends with a sea lion named Selkie, an iguana named Fred, and a sea turtle named Chica. Together they work in the garden and maintain their shelter, and they play in the water with made-up games like coconut soccer. Later, Nim has to save her island from meddling tourists and rescue a bumbling author from the ocean.  

Orr writes the book with such a play-filled voice, it invites readers and listeners to imagine living in Nim’s world. Here is Nim just after her father has sailed off to do some science experiments, leaving her to her own devices for three whole days:  

 “And what we need first,” said Nim, “is breakfast!” So she threw four ripe coconuts thump! into the sand and climbed down after them.  

Then she whistled her shell, two long, shrill notes that carried far out to the reef, where the sea lions were fishing. Selkie popped her head above the water. She had a fish in her mouth, but she swallowed it fast and dived toward the beach. 

And from a rock by the hut, Fred came scuttling. Fred was an iguana, spiky as a dragon, with a cheerful snub nose. He twined round Nim’s feet in a prickly hug.  

“Are you saying good morning,” Nim demanded, “or just begging for breakfast?” 

Fred stared at the coconuts. He was a very honest iguana.  

This is the stuff of elementary school dreams! Climbing coconut palms, befriending animals, being the hero with no need for adults – all the ingredients that could sustain creative playground or backyard games for weeks on end, so long as the resident grown-ups respect the creative power of the play. Don’t be like my daughter’s elementary school teacher who decided that fifth graders were too old for world-building dramatic play. Oh no! They should play kickball instead – really. People, don’t do this. If kids are engaged in creative group-based play, stand back like Mama Fox and make sure nothing terrible happens. And let them play.  

OK – so play is all fine for those little elementary school children. Middle school kids, though, they are all business. Got to learn that biology and read Important Books – no time for foolish play. That certainly seems to be the philosophy of our education system that has decided kids magically no longer need space to breathe and relax and play after age eleven. Sure, adults grab a coffee and play Candy Crush on their phones for a break, but twelve year olds should work straight through the school day, with maybe 30 minutes for lunch – not to mention do homework when they get home. It really is a wonder they don’t organize and go on strike. And, maybe after reading Hoot, they will.  

Hoot is Carl Hiaasen’s first book for young readers, and it won the Newbery Honor in 2003. Hiaasen’s protagonist, Roy Eberhardt, is new to Coconut Cove, Florida and he isn’t happy about leaving Montana. He quickly gets drawn into some mischief-making at the construction site of a new Mother Paula’s Pancake House that happens to be the nesting area for rare – and endangered – burrowing owls. He joins forces with Beatrice Leep, the toughest kid at Trace Middle School, and her step-brother (who goes by Mullet Fingers) to save the owls. Mullet Fingers leads the charge using some rather unconventional methods, including putting alligators in the jobsite port-a-potties, painting the windows of a squad car, and removing the seats of the bulldozers. It culminates in an old-fashioned protest with Trace Middle School’s students carrying signs and singing songs and making real change for the little owls.  

Now, this book might not generate days of dramatic play on the playground – mostly because we don’t release middle schoolers to the playground nearly as much as we should. But, it is just the kind of playful scenario that tweens and young teens love – the chance to stick it to hapless adults who can’t seem to do anything right, with a side order of humiliating the school bully. In Hoot, Hiaasen enlists these kids in his never-ending quest to shine a light on self-interested blowhards and cowards and to rally good folks to do something about the problems in their communities. In all of Hiaasen’s books for young readers (six to date), he appeals to kids’ naturally occurring righteous indignation and their inclination toward subversiveness. Really, middle schoolers are the perfect radicals, before they become jaded by the world. Consider this eloquent speech from Mullet Fingers:

 “Ever since I was little,” Mullet Fingers said, “I’ve been watchin’ this place disappear – the piney woods, the scrub, the creeks, the glades. Even the beaches, man – they put up all these giant hotels and only goober tourists are allowed. It really sucks.”  

Roy said, “Same thing happens everywhere.” 

“Doesn’t mean you don’t have to fight back.” 

 (Want to join the fun? The same themes run through his books for adults, too!) 

Playful stories provide the formative experience necessary to imagine a different – and better – world. Little kids who romp through books like The Mitten and 8 Class Pets grow to be kids who create faraway lands with iguanas for pets. And, maybe – if we’re lucky – they will become kids who demand a world that values nature over pancake profits, ready to lead the charge.  

I have murky memories of the assigned reading from my school days – starting with the Dick and Jane primers, and going through The Scarlet Letter, Crime and Punishment, and so on. What did I learn from reading these books? That teachers hate kids? That the only “valuable” books are by old dead white guys? That characters in those dusty books could have benefited from some quality mental health care and maybe some play? I sure didn’t fall in love with reading because of them. In fact, they just about beat the love of reading right out of me. Let’s not perpetuate this mistake with the next generation. Let the kids play by letting them choose play-filled books – and just maybe they’ll end up changing the world.  

What are your memories of assigned reading? (Anyone else subjected to Dostoyevsky for summer reading?) Did those books encourage creative play or imaginative flights of fancy? What playful books do you recommend to young (and not so young) readers? Other ideas for joining the forces of play and story to build readers? We’d love to hear from you! Find us on all of your favorite social media platforms @readtothem. Or comment below!  



July Book Stack: Wanna Play?

Our July Book Stack is recognizing, appreciating, and exploring books in the Read to Them library that incorporate the element of play, our at The Lamp-Post theme for this month. Wanna play?


The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary 

When you discover a little mouse in your hotel room and he rides a little toy motorcycle, plenty of playful fun awaits. 

 Magic Moment: The joy of a mouse with his motorcycle.  

Ralph felt proud to think he was going to be written about in a composition in far-off Ohio. Pb-pb-b-b-b. He grabbed his tail, gunned the motor, and took off, heading for the threadbare part of the carpet that made such a good speedway. Round and round he sped, faster and faster until his whiskers blew back and he was filled with the joy of speed. He longed to wave to Keith, but he realized a good driver must keep both paws on the handgrips. He glanced up and noticed that Keith’s eyes were closed. The boy had fallen asleep with a smile on his face. 

Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

Poor Peter Hatcher doesn’t think the repeated antics of his two-and-a-half-year-old brother, Fudge, are funny at all. But the reader sure does. 

Magic Moment: When Fudge refuses to eat, Peter must come to the rescue. 

Finally my mother got the brilliant idea of me standing on my head while she fed Fudge. I wasn’t very excited about standing on my head in the kitchen. The floor is awfully hard in there. But my mother begged me. She said, “It’s very important for Fudge to eat. Please help us, Peter.” 

So I stood on my head. When Fudge saw me upside down he clapped his hands and laughed. When he laughs he opens his mouth. That’s when my mother stuffed some baked potato into it.   


Clementine by Sara Pennypacker 

Clementine tries her best to solve problems like glue in hair and pigeon poop on the stoop, but often finds herself in trouble, especially with her principal, instead. 

Magic Moment: Clementine shows her brother what responsible play looks like.  

“I’m coming, Radish,” I called to him. 

“Go for a wok?” he asked, when I came into his room. 

“You’re lucky to have me for a big sister,” I told him. I have to remind him of this every day, because he forgets. We went into the kitchen and I got out the wok. “Nobody invented this trick for me when I was little.”  

Then he climbed into the wok and grabbed the handles and I gave him a really good spin. He went whirling around, bumping into the cabinets, and then he got out and walked wobbly until he fell over, which he thinks is the funniest thing in the world. 

“Again!” he yelled.  

But, I didn’t spin him again, because he throws up on the second ride and somebody has to clean it up which is N-O-T, not me. This is called Being Responsible.  

Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins

The toys read books, tell stories, and play chess at night. There’s even an adventurous trip to the basement for a full cycle with the singing washing machine. 

Magic Moment: Lumphy discovers it’s more fun down on the floor where you can play than stuck on the big high bed waiting for “private time.”  

[Lumphy] crawls to the edge of the high bed and looks down.  

The toy mice are playing leapfrog. Plastic is reading one of the big books and rolling slightly side to side. The one-eared sheep is laughing with the wooden rocking horse in the corner. 

Lumphy sighs, and rearranges himself on the bed. The problem is, he usually stays up late. This time of night, he likes to be doing stuff. Playing marbles, or checkers, or pick-up sticks. Something. 

It is not his bedtime yet. Not even close.  

Bonk! Lumphy jumps down. It hurts his bottom when he lands, but he doesn’t mind. He is so happy to be down again that he kisses all four toy mice with his buffalo mouth and then trots over to Plastic and offers to watch her roll down the staircase. 

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

This wackiest of books is bursting with playful fun, from students turning into apples to kicking spoil-sports over the fence. 

Magic Moment: Don’t cross Mrs. Gorf…unless you like apples.  

Joe couldn’t add. He couldn’t even count. But he knew that if he answered a question wrong, he would be turned into an apple. So he copied from John. He didn’t like to cheat, but Mrs. Gorf had never taught him how to add.  

One day Mrs Gorf caught Joe copying John’s paper. 

She wiggled her ears—first her right one, then her left—stuck out her tongue, and turned Joe into an apple. Then she turned John into an apple for letting Joe cheat. 

“Hey, that isn’t fair,” said Todd. “John was only trying to help a friend.” 

Mrs. Gorf wiggled her ears–first her right one, then her left–stuck out her tongue, and turned Todd into an apple. “Does anybody else have an opinion?” she asked. 

Nobody said a word. 

Mrs. Gorf laughed and placed the three apples on her desk.  

Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins

TsTs, Chai, and Tchke just might be the most fun squirrels in the history of children’s literature. Join them as they rescue Jed and leverage the playful spirit of squirrels to save the rest of their community.  

Magic Moment: Jed escapes the talons of the hawk who has captured him by practicing the ancient squirrel martial art of Hai Tchree, making “like water,” and falling safely to earth. 

 …Jed slipped from the hawk’s grasp and plummeted through the air to earth. Or almost to earth. At the last possible moment, a porcupine walked beneath him. Followed by a curious dog. Jed bounced off the dog, who was headed for some serious trouble, and landed in a pile of autumn leaves. 

Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Wonky magic leads to kittens with dragon wings, boys turning into rocks, rain inside the classroom. Mastering that magic requires new friendships, teamwork, and appreciating your own unique talents. 

 Magic Moment: Discovering the power of upside down magic – the prospect of revenge! 

Oh, drat. 

She knew this animal. She had done it before. 

She was a skunk. 

Step away. Just leave them alone, thought Girl-Nory. 

But Skunk-Nory didn’t step away. She was too angry at the Sparkies. How dare they be so mean to Elliott? 

They were enemies. Hairless enemies. And she was a skunk! She could do stuff to enemies. 

Bad stuff. Smelly stuff.  


El Deafo by Cece Bell 

Young Cece loses her hearing and learns how to manage her hearing aid and friendships during her 1970s childhood, complete with sitcoms and a sweet first crush…

Magic Moment: Cece’s Phonic Ear includes a transmitter worn by her teacher, allowing Cece to hear her teacher wherever she goes.  

Squeeeak. Zzzzip. tinkle tinkle. “Oh no! Hee hee!” tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. “Aaah…what a relief!” wop wop. “Toilet paper? I know what’s coming!” zzzzzzip! FLUSH! 

                                                                            Judy Moody is in a Mood by Megan McDonald 

Third-grader Judy Moody is interested in so many things, from crafting her own t-shirt messages to Venus fly-traps. She has a great friend, Rocky, and she is frustrated by her little brother, Stink, at nearly every turn. 

Magic Moment: Judy discovers her not-quite-yet friend, Frank…is a collector!  

 Frank Pearl’s shelves were lined with coffee cans and baby food jars. Each one was filled with marbles, rubber bugs, erasers, something. Judy couldn’t help asking, “Do you have any baseball erasers?” 

“I have ten!” said Frank…  

“Really? Me too!” Judy smiled… 

 He also had two pencil sharpeners—a Liberty bell and a brain—and a teeny-tiny flip book from Vic’s. Frank Pearl showed her his buffalo nickel, which he kept in a double-locked piggy bank…. 

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

It’s a game of mystery play as the kids in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library have to solve puzzles – together – to make their way out.  

Magic Moment: The infamous Mr. Lemoncello introduces himself.  

“Tank you. Tank you. Grazie. Grazie.” 

He bent forward so his mouth was maybe an inch away from the microphone. 

“Buon giorno, boise and-uh girls a.” He spoke very timidly, very slowly. “Tees ees how my-uh momma and my-uh poppa teach-uh me to speak-eh de English.”  

He wiggled his ears. Straightened his back.  

“But then,” he said in a crisp, clear voice, “I went to the Alexandriaville Public Library, where a wonderful librarian named Mrs. Gail Tobin helped me learn how to speak like this: ‘If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?’ I can also speak while upside down and underwater, but not today because I just had this suit dry-cleaned and do not want to get it wet.”  

Mr. Lemoncello bounced across the stage like a happy grasshopper.  

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez  

As Malú navigates the new school, her divorced parents, and the resident mean girl, she finds fun and playful outlets in her own artistic zines and her budding punk band. 

Magic Moment: Malú takes the classic nostalgic song, “Cielito lindo” by Lola Beltran, and plays it punk.  She honors her mother and stays true to herself, all at the same time.   

When I got home, I kicked off my shoes and grabbed my laptop. I plugged in my headphones, popped in Señora Oralia’s Lola Beltrán CD, and waited for the music to start. Which old ranchera song could we turn into a cool punk rock song?…  

Most of the songs were heavy, sad love songs that made you feel like you were drowning in tears. I didn’t know anything about being in love, so none of them felt like the right song. 

Then I heard one I recognized. I had a memory of Mom singing along to it while she made breakfast on a lazy weekend morning. The tune was lighter and happier than the others. It was the opposite of a sad love song. The lyrics spoke of how singing could make hearts rejoice. I listened to the song over and over as I tried to imagine it louder and faster and with me singing it. I picked up the CD case and looked at the list of track titles. It was a song called, “Cielito lindo.” 

Class Dismissed by Allan Woodrow 

The teacher checks out, and doesn’t tell the administration. Instead of chaos in the classroom, the students take responsibility to teach themselves, yielding weeks of fun…and learning. 

Magic Moment: The discovery of what it means to have no teacher: freedom! 

A clean desk is begging to be doodled on. Really. 

Still, I lick my thumb to rub over my drawings and erase them. I don’t want our teacher to yell at me.  

But then I stop and look down at a now half-erased, smudged heart. 

Ms. Bryce won’t yell. She’s not even here.  

She just quit. 

I can do anything – anything at all! – and no one will send me to the principal’s office. 

No more being screamed at. No more getting into trouble for no good reason. 

A feeling of happiness spreads over me. I feel free. 

The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

At her quirky new school in Vermont, Caitlyn learns she’s not really replacing the departed, mysterious, prankster legend (Paulie Fink).  She’s actually coming to learn how to connect with each of her distinct classmates and contribute to the culture of her new school. 

Magic Moment: One of the responsibilities for students at the Mitchell School is feeding the goats… 

On the second day of school, Mr. Farabi asks Henry to carry the bucket into the pen. Henry blinks hard, swallows nervously. But he goes in. 

We grab and throw the pellets, but we run out before Henry’s done filling the first bowl. The goats notice him, and they charge at him. Panicking, Henry drops the bucket, sits down in it, and covers his head with his arms. 

“Goats have no upper front teeth!” he shouts. “Goats are herbivores!” A second later, we can’t see Henry, or hear him, because he’s disappeared beneath a swirl of goat hair. By the time Mr. Farabi rescues Henry, his glasses are barely still on his face, and his hair is a mess. 

As Henry stumbles out of the pen, Mr. Farabi lifts the bucket and asks, “Anyone else want to give it a try?”