by Tom Rademacher, acquisitions editor for professional resources for Free Spirit Publishing and Shell Education
When I walked in for my first interview at Free Spirit, I was kind of hoping I would hate it.
After a few months of a rather demoralizing job hunt, I was suddenly juggling a few different offers and not looking to make things more complicated.
Walking in, I knew I was in trouble. First, there is a sign right by the door that says, “Dogs on Premises,” and the first employee I met was indeed that very perfect dog. (I have requested that this blog be the top five best pictures of Charlotte but was denied.) I spent the next few minutes before my interview browsing the titles on display in the Free Spirit lobby, and my goodness. The books. The books!
By the time I walked into the interview, I knew I wanted this job, knew I’d love to work where books like this were made.
Now I’ve got the job, and my biggest problem is resisting the urge to raid the warehouse and send books out to every teacher in the world where I know they will do good for kids and schools and learning. There’s a reason I don’t work on the money side of things.
So, I won’t get to send out all the books in the warehouse, no matter how much they are not being read in there, but this month I do get to send out a few. I thought it would be a great time to introduce you to the books that made me love Free Spirit as soon as I walked in the door.
The Five Books I Want to Send to Every Teacher (But Will Get to Send to a Few)
A beautiful children’s book about a new kid at school. Jamie is never gendered and plays with the boys and the girls, and everyone learns that it’s cool to play however you want to play and be whoever you want to be.
I just love how this book is like, “Yeah, Jamie does things a little differently because everyone does things a little different in one way or another, so it’s not a big deal.” This would be a great book to talk about gender norms, gender identity, or just that it’s cool to play however you want to play.
The “gifted” title means different things everywhere, but an almost universal (and disappointing) truth is that the makeup of gifted programs skews heavily towards neurotypical, middle-class-and-above white kids who speak English as a first language.
Another almost universal truth about gifted education is that the best strategies and opportunities for gifted kids work well in every classroom. This book is packed with practical, engaging strategies that would make any classroom a richer and more inviting experience for students too often underserved.
I wish there were a million books like this. Aimed at the age where many are asking big questions about who they are, this book gives important context, definitions, advice, and information.
For the right teen, I have no doubt this book could be (and has been) an actual lifesaver, especially with how often it directs to other sources for more information and support. Teens have questions—big, messy, complex questions—and the more we can answer them without judgment or shame, the more we can assure them they’re not alone in whatever they are feeling or thinking, the better.
This beautifully illustrated and skillfully written series will help parents and other trusted adults teach students age-appropriate lessons about consent and communication. These books carry powerful lessons for young kids, lessons that will help them be and stay safe in positive and important ways: learning to say no about what to play, how to show and share affection, and about naming, understanding, and processing our feelings. These books are gorgeous.
I taught for 16 years, which is enough time to have started—and failed—at something like an advisory group about 18 times. (We kept re-starting in the COVID years.) Sixteen years is also enough time to see just how amazing it can be when students feel comfortable and safe enough with each other to have real conversations.
I wish I’d found my way to this book before I left the classroom. All those hours spent scanning the internet for ideas, sketching things out during team meetings and on weekends, and the whole time there was a thoughtful, in-depth, and practical book that could have helped me all along. Especially in these last few years when getting groups talking has seemed harder and harder, this book feels needed.
The One I Took Home
After the interview, I was invited to pick a book to take home. (“Like, for good, forever, it’s mine?” I’m not used to being given things.) I knew exactly which book I would grab because I have a near-teen at home who could really use it:
For many years, I was guilty of the misconception that gifted kids didn’t need a lot of help. This book would have been a helpful one to read before I started teaching and would have been one that I kept multiple copies of on hand to lend to students who could use it.
For many kids, I imagine the largest strength in reading this book would be knowing they’re not alone in how their brain interacts with the world around them and knowing that it’s okay to need help even if you’re pretty darn smart.
Which Free Spirit books would you send to teachers?
Tom Rademacher is the acquisitions editor for professional learning at Free Spirit Publishing and Shell Education. He’s on the lookout for new voices, fresh perspectives, and all the books he wished he had while he was teaching. You can reach him at Tom.Rademacher@tcmpub.com.
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