Sunday, July 15, 2018

Reading, Writing and...nope, that's all we need

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Whoever wrote that little ditty about sticks and stones was not a fat kid in the 80’s. I am willing to bet that he didn’t struggle with acne, had perfect vision and was celebrated for some kind of athletic ability because words most definitely hurt. Words are powerful. They can inform and inspire, degrade and divide.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Incarcerated Parents

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One Friday night in high school I was on my way out the door to a football game when my mom got a phone call that stopped me in my tracks. A family member had been arrested and was sitting in a jail cell. My mom insisted I go to the game, but I couldn’t enjoy myself because all I could think about was how a person I loved had committed a crime and I had no idea what would happen to them. Luckily for me and my family, my relative was released after a day and somehow life returned to normal. Sadly, for over two million kids in this country, that isn’t the case. Approximately 1-in-28 children have an incarcerated parent. I can’t even begin to imagine how growing up with a mother or father in jail would affect me.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Brrr, it's cold in here!

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Winter isn’t coming, it’s already here! This year has been especially brutal for most of the United States, and since I love nothing more than getting cozy on the couch with a good book when the temperature drops and the wind starts to blow, I thought it only made sense to dedicate an episode to books set during the winter.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Run for your life!

Episode 2 - Running

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Growing up I had no interest in sports. I didn’t want to participate in them, talk about them, or watch them. My older brother played soccer for years, dabbled in basketball (he is 6 foot 4, after all), and even went through a phase where he rode his bicycle everywhere. I was content to let him be the athlete in the family while I read, baked, hung out with friends, and watched TV. As you can imagine, I wasn’t the healthiest kid on the block. In fact, for years I joked that the only way you would see me running was if I was being chased by a homicidal maniac and even then it wasn’t guaranteed. Then, at some point in my mid-20’s, I had the crazy idea that I should start running. Fourteen years later I still lace up my running shoes several times a week and head out the door. It keeps me sane, makes me feel strong, and puts a smile on my face. This time of year people often focus on things for which they are thankful. Since I am grateful for running and books, it only made sense to record an episode that combines the two.

Welcome to the second episode of the second season of Happy Reading, a podcast that celebrates middle grade fiction by theme. I’m Sarah Threlkeld, a current elementary librarian, former 6th grade reading teacher, and finisher of six half marathons. Today I am going to spotlight three middle grade novels and a YA title, all of which celebrate the joy and agony of being a runner. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to take a jog around your neighborhood after listening to this podcast.

Between the rhythm of your footfalls, the sound of your breathing and the thump, thumping of your heart, running is its own kind of poetry, so it makes perfect sense that Sharon Creech wrote heartbeat, about one girl’s love of running and how it centers her when everything seems to be changing, as a book in verse. Twelve-year old Annie just found out her mother is pregnant, which was completely unexpected. Her grandfather is struggling to remember the details of his life and Annie’s best friend Max is acting strange. Luckily, Annie has one thing in her life that will never change - running. But is it enough? Here are three poems from heartbeat by Sharon Creech.

Excerpts: pages 4-5, 10, and 15-19

Bang! When you’re a runner that can be an exciting sound, one that gets your adrenaline pumping and cues your legs to pump up and down faster than the wind. If you’re middle schooler Castle Crenshaw, who prefers to be called Ghost, it’s the sound that haunts him, the one that he heard the night his father chased after him and his mom in a drunken rage, threatening to shoot them if they left. Now Ghost runs his mouth, runs on the basketball court, and runs away from all of his problems. He has no idea he can also run to compete, until he sees an elite track team practicing at the local park and he knows his feet can help him fly past everyone else. Will Ghost be able to take direction from Coach, bond with his teammates, and stay out of trouble, or will his past destroy his chances for a shot at the Junior Olympics? Here’s an excerpt from Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

Excerpt: pages 6-7

As someone who will never be a top finisher of a race or even place in the top hundred, I really appreciate the tagline on the cover of Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher - it reads “The most important race is with yourself.” Joseph Friedman is having a hard time figuring out his place in the world. He is plagued by anxiety, bullied by classmates, and struggles academically. He doesn’t have any friends, unless you count his grandfather, and doesn’t seem interested in much except surviving middle school. Then on the first day of seventh grade two things happen that will change Joseph’s life - one of his teachers convinces him to sign up for the newly formed cross country team and he meets Heather, a new student who seems fearless and inspires Joseph to face some of his fears, too. Sidetracked is thought-provoking, funny and full of endearing characters that readers will cheer for. I couldn’t stop reading it and can’t wait to add a copy or two to my school library. Here’s the scene where Joseph visits the new track for the first time and runs into Heather, who he has only admired from afar.

Excerpt - pages 20-23

What would you do if the one thing you were most passionate about was suddenly taken from you? That’s exactly what happens to sixteen-year old Jessica in The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. One moment Jessica is basking in the glory of achieving a personal best in the 400 for the Liberty High track team and the next she’s in a hospital bed, her right leg missing from the knee down. Her family and friends are optimistic that life will eventually return to normal, but Jessica is certain that she will never again experience the joy that running brought her. Then she meets Rosa, a classmate with cerebral palsy who is confined to a wheelchair. Rosa believes Jessica is capable of more than just learning to live with a prosthetic leg. Will Jessica begin to believe it too? Here are two short chapters from the beginning of The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.

Excerpts - pages 6 and 16-17

Dying to run a 5k yet? Or at least prepare for a reading marathon? If you know of other fabulous middle grade books about running, I would love to hear about them. You can track me down on Twitter as WordNerd153 or email me through my website, You’ll also find transcripts of each episode on my site, as well as links to the books I spotlight.

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast! I hope you discovered a few books to add to your TBR pile and were inspired to log a mile or two. Shoutout to my dear friend Emily Moore, who is an exceptional librarian and also a runner. In fact, I bet she listened to this episode while pounding the pavement. Until next time, dear listeners, happy reading!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts!

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Creepy boarding schools where students are locked in their rooms. A chain letter that leads to death. Young girls with supernatural powers. A prank on a teacher that goes horribly wrong. When I was a kid I wanted to get my hands on all of the horror books I could find. In middle school I devoured everything by Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike and as a high schooler I sought out titles by Stephen King, Dean Koontz and John Saul. There’s just something about sitting in a darkened room all alone, wondering what a supernatural baddie or evil teen will do next to make your skin crawl. Which is why I thought I’d get back in the swing of things with an episode about spooky titles aimed at readers ages 8-12 (and those of us who adore middle grade fiction, despite being just a tad older).