Ms. Donnelly Reads

"A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives" George R.R. Martin

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I know I’m a little behind here. Big stuff happened these last two weeks! I am officially finished with my MLIS program at Dominican University! The last 2.5 years have been wrapped up tightly with little room to breathe… Now, I’m taking long, deep, cleansing breaths… Remember what it feels like to not have the crushing weight of homework looming overhead.

I also attended a What’s New in School Libraries conference and it blew my mind. I’ve got to figure out how to make my library working in different ways for the kids. One step at a time… I know… I’m just trying to figure out the “What’s Next” for me.

As for the here and now, I’d like to share last month’s Theme: Empathy. Being able to understand and share in the feelings of others is difficult to procure nowadays. Children (and adults) really need to understand that the world is bigger than just them. The “It doesn’t have anything to do with me” mindset doesn’t build communities or create empathy. Making fun, teasing, bullying, all these things tear people down. Not one single person knows what anyone else is truly struggling with.

I asked students to raise their hands if they wrestled with things they don’t talk to people about… About half raised their hands. Sheepish. Everyone looked around. That popular kid, his hand was up. That nerdy girl that reads a lot? Her hand went up.

A couple years ago, a different group of kids and I had a peace circle and we talked about some personal battles- we’d created quite a trusting circle and I was always vulnerable in it, to show them that even adults don’t have it all together (as if they didn’t know that, already). My grandmother had just passed and all of my nerves were tender and aching for my father and our family. Knowing that my own parents are next lingers in the not so distant back of my mind. Well, it turned out that two kids just found out that family members were diagnosed with cancer, another kid was coming up on the anniversary of a death in the family, and other birds of sorrow hung around our collective heads. The lesson: Be kind. It doesn’t take anything away from anyone to be nice to people. It puts people’s hearts back together.

So, this month’s theme is important- I’d keep it up all year if I could. All book summaries come from Amazon.

rain reign

Rain Reign- Ann M. Martin

Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different―not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.

When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.



Walk Two Moons- Sharon Creech

Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, proud of her country roots and the “Indian-ness in her blood,” travels from Ohio to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents. Along the way, she tells them of the story of Phoebe Winterbottom, who received mysterious messages, who met a “potential lunatic,” and whose mother disappeared.


out of my mind

Out of My Mind- Sharon M. Draper

Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it. Most people—her teachers, her doctors, her classmates—dismiss her as mentally challenged because she can’t tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by her disability. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow.


bc of mr terupt

Because of Mr. Terupt- Rob Buyea

It’s the start of a new year at Snow Hill School, and seven students find themselves thrown together in Mr. Terupt’s fifth grade class. There’s . . . Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

They don’t have much in common, and they’ve never gotten along. Not until a certain new teacher arrives and helps them to find strength inside themselves—and in each other. But when Mr. Terupt suffers a terrible accident, will his students be able to remember the lessons he taught them? Or will their lives go back to the way they were before—before fifth grade and before Mr. Terupt?


counting by 7s

Counting By 7s- Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.


el deafo

El Deafo- Cece Bell

A 2015 Newbery Honor Book Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.

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Friends, when I tell you that I have no idea where October went, I am not kidding. I realized I missed posting the month’s theme and the books that support it. I haven’t updated the website or processed any books. Wanna know why? I’ve been talking to kids about books, reading books, writing about books for class, and reading with my children.

So, I apologize for sharing my books with you! Here’s this month’s theme: Integrity. Doing what’s right even when no one is looking. Sometimes, that’s a scary thing for kids and adults. We know how to behave when we’re being watched. But, when everyone’s eyes are averted, are we brave enough to stand up for people being hurt? Are we confident enough to cut ties with people who only bring out the worst in us? Are we strong enough to tell a burning secret to someone who can help- even when you’ve sworn yourself to secrecy? Can we convince people to help do the right thing, even if that means those people may put themselves in harm’s way? Would we put ourselves in harm’s way for someone? 

October’s books take a look at these very questions. All book summaries come from Amazon.

81pcln9nghL I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson:

Twelve-year-old Marie is a leader among the popular black girls in Chauncey, Ohio, a prosperous black suburb. She isn’t looking for a friend when Lena Bright, a white girl, appears in school. Yet they are drawn to each other because both have lost their mothers. And they know how to keep a secret. For Lena has a secret that is terrifying, and she’s desperate to protect herself and her younger sister from their father. Marie must decide whether she can help Lena by keeping her secret… or by telling it.


Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?


Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this “compassionate, timely novel” (Booklist, starred review) from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani-American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.


Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Tight: Lately Bryan’s been feeling it in all kinds of ways. He knows what’s tight for him in a good way–reading comics, drawing superheroes, and hanging out with no drama. But drama’s hard to escape where he’s from, and that gets him wound up tight.

And now Bryan’s new friend Mike is challenging him to have fun in ways that are crazy risky. At first, it’s a rush following Mike, hopping turnstiles, subway surfing, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But Bryan never feels right acting wrong. So which way will he go when he understands that drama is so not his style? Fortunately his favorite comic heroes shed light on his dilemma, reminding him that he has power–the power to choose his friends and to stand up for what he believes is right . . .

secret keepers

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Steward

When Reuben discovers an extraordinary antique watch with a secret power, his life takes an intriguing turn. As one secret leads to another, Reuben finds himself torn between his honest nature and the lure to be a hero.

Now he is on a dangerous adventure–full of curious characters, treacherous traps, and hairsbreadth escapes–as he races to solve the mystery before it is too late. With fearless Penny, mighty Jack, and the wise Mrs. Genevieve on his side, can Reuben outwit a sly villain called The Smoke and save the city from a terrible fate?

In this ingeniously crafted novel, acclaimed author Trenton Lee Stewart invites readers to join the adventure, decipher the clues, and ask themselves the question: Is knowing a secret a gift or a curse?

city of ember
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to dim. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. Now, she and her friend Doon must race to figure out the clues to keep the lights on. If they succeed, they will have to convince everyone to follow them into danger. But if they fail? The lights will burn out and the darkness will close in forever.

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Listen, when I tell you I have no idea what I did to get such fantastic and generous people in my corner, I’m being totally straight. When I took on this library project, I knew it’d take a long time to get it just right… It’d grow and change and thrive, it’d just take time.

First, I took on the aesthetic of it this summer with the slash and burn (not really… books are super flammable…). The paint, the weeding, the paint, the organization, the paint, the leveled reading stickers, the paint, the trips to the dumpster… OMG! It really was a love’s labor.

Then, smart and wonderfully generous friends encouraged me to create a book wish list, to which I received almost 200! Yeah, almost 200 books donated!

Another smart and generous friend encouraged me to create a Donors Choose project for new tables and seating for the library. I doubted that $2,000 would be raised before November. Guess what. It was funded by the end of August! The library’s new furniture will arrive sometime in November. Can you freaking believe it?!

There were still numerous things on my list that need to be purchased for the library. Except, when school rolled around, I was broke- because ALL of the upgrades were paid for out my pocket.

And I chatted with my neighbor about what was still left on the punch list (a thing, by the way, that she suggested I create so I didn’t get lost in all of the things that needed to be done). And last week, she and her daughter brought over this gigantic box and told me it was a gift and to open it up. ANOTHER GIFT! It’s truly unbelievable, I KNOW! So, guess what was inside?! STOOLS for the computer tables!! The kids had to stand at the computers, and no one complained, but it is so much better with seating! And they’re ORANGE! Which is amazing because the color lights up the place!

Not a single gift or one ounce of support is lost on me. I am a firm believer in karma. What you put into the world will come back to you. And, when I look around to see what’s been given to me in this process, I cannot help but feel like George Bailey at the very end of It’s a Wonderful Life. No man is a failure who has friends.

When times got dark and life felt like it was crumbling underneath me, I dug in- probably crying and proclaiming I couldn’t do it anymore- and did the thing. On the other side of the tough stuff… This is my pot of gold. Right here. stools

So, being a crazy new librarian with TONS of stuff on the cooker, OF COURSE I’ve decided to create a themed bulletin board. Each month, a different theme will be represented with books that relate to the theme. This month, we’re working on BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS! With all of the violence happening in my school’s neighborhood, it’s more important now, than ever before, that kids get to know one another and understand that everyone is struggling with something. You gotta be a friend in order to have a friend.

In a world where you can be anything you want, be kind.

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September books (all descriptions come from Amazon):


1. Wonder by R. J. Palacio- August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance



2. The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine- As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she’s brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.



3. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan- Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and Mama, Papa, and Abuelita to care for her. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard work, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When Mama gets sick and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances-because Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.



4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson- Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.



5. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein- When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on opening night, he’s determined to be there! But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library—it’s getting out. Because when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!



6. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate- Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all.
Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experience as a wishtree is more important than ever.
Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, this is Katherine Applegate at her very best―writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.

Well… the time has come for the BIG REVEAL!! There are still many things that need to happen and I’ll post those updates once they’re tightened up. I’m working on creating a “donations” section with all of the books that you donated to my library ❤️ thank you to Lisa Balandes Donnelly for painting the bookcases and Maddie Schmidt for giving me so much of your time this summer to paint the walls and bookcases, Dodi Wians and Lisa Komorowski for donating posters from their shop to decorate the tops of the bookcases, Michelle Radice Nelson and Margaret Foggin for encouraging me through the program, Michael Dufner and Tom Barry for urging me to create an Amazon wishlist to bulk up the shelves, Tony Zungrone for hosting the Donors Choose (which was fully funded!!) for new tables and chairs, Mary Lou Rowan-Harrington and Kristin Kramer Dube for the boxes of books, and so many others for every ounce of support and encouragement through this process! I appreciate it more than you know!70155948_10220415498201362_3824123667860684800_n69937458_10220415497881354_4601449917360111616_n69635305_10220415498041358_3403236758551265280_n69349526_10220415497561346_4693399476335804416_n69353643_10220415498561371_3938273607846723584_n69304386_10220415498801377_5554856129344831488_n

HUGE news! A few weeks ago, I held my breath, made a wish, and put it out into the universe. And, guess what?! The universe answered! It sent me wonderful humans that understand that children need to read and explore in order to grow and mature. By the way of personal library donations, an actual library donating 3 jam packed boxes of books and almost 40 purchased off of my Wish List! Can you believe it?! Yeah, neither could I!!

There are more than what’s been photographed, but those bad boys are all labeled and ready to go to their new home tomorrow!! I’m making a shelf dedicated especially to all of the generous donations! The books will don book plates listing the donors’ names.

I’m a firm believer in what you put into the world, you will receive. I’ve been at this teaching gig going on 19 years now… And, I’ve put a lot of effort, blood, sweat, and tears (so, SO many tears) and I’ve been treated to some really wonderful paybacks- my children, former students who stay in touch and tag me in Facebook (say what you will, but it’s nice to know they never forgot me… I’ve got a Winnie the Pooh complex, sometimes). When I’ve asked for things for my students, and once a huge ask for my son, I’ve been met with nothing short of  pure, unadulterated generosity. That is no joke. I LOVE to exaggerate and basically live in a hyperbolic state, but this is legit.

So, what else is there to say other than…  THANK YOU!!!!


Hello Book Dragons,

In addition to revamping the actual library space, I also need to beef up the collection. Over the last five weeks, I’ve literally put my hands on every single book in the library and find that while it’s decent, most of the books have been there for years and there’s not too much that’s fresh and new for the kids.

Again, with the advice of smart and supportive friends, I put together a “Wish List” from Amazon that will breathe life into my collection. AND, Amazon Prime Days are around the corner!

So, if your kind heart is so inclined to help build up my middle school library collection, trust that I am forever grateful to and for you!

Live a thousand lives,

Sarah Donnelly

Roosevelt Jr. High Library Wish List