The Reading Without Walls Challenge


One of the many things we’ve learned during this historic and unpredictable election year is that many of us in this country don’t really talk to people who are different from us, or spend time in places that are totally different from where we live. Here’s one thing we can do about that…

In 2016, Gene Luen Yang was appointed the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Mr. Yang is an accomplished and beloved author and illustrator of graphic novels, including American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints (you can find these and more in the Hill Top library).

What does it mean to be an ambassador? Basically, this means that you get a national platform to inspire kids and talk about books and reading. Each Ambassador gets to choose a “platform” for their two years of service. Mr. Yang’s platform is “Reading Without Walls.” He’s challenging young people to step outside their comfort zone and explore their world through books. Here’s how:

  1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.
  2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.
  3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.

If you really want to go for the gold star, read a book that fits all three criteria!


When you finish, take a photo of you and the book (or just the book if you’re shy) and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ReadingWithoutWalls. You’ll inspire others to do the same!

I’m really excited about this challenge, and am inviting everyone at Hill Top to participate. Between now and the end of the fall semester, I invite you to choose a book from the school library (or find one on your own) that meets one or more of these criteria. Please let me know if you want to participate, and what book (or books) you decide to read. Everyone who participates will get a prize, with a special prize for gold star winners, When the challenge is over, we’ll have a party with donuts to celebrate!


Local Author/Illustrator Night at Children’s Book World: Friday, 11/4

On Friday, November 4th at 8 pm, Children’s Book World in Haverford will host their annual celebration of local authors and illustrators. Over 30 local authors and illustrators will attend, including Hill Top parent Gene Barretta. Come meet, chat, and get your books signed! See below for a full list of authors/illustrators. 



Creepy Reads

Halloween is just around the corner, so I’ve packed the library’s display shelves with creepy reads (and listens) to send a chill down your spine. Highlights include a great selection of graphic novels and nonfiction, such as an illustrated Macbeth by the great Gareth Hinds; Emily Carroll’s spooky and gorgeous fairy tale collection, Through the Woods; and the weird and wonderful The Faceless Ghost and Other Macabre Tales from Japan by Sean Michael Wilson and Michiru Morikawa. If you’re looking for an audiobook, check out The Diviners by Libba Bray, or dive into the history and sociology of cadavers with Mary Roach’s Stiff. Ready to take on a classic? Step into the world of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Don’t forget your flashlight!




On October 14th, Hill Top’s 8th grade attended a talk called “The Art of the Possible: Overcoming Adversity” with syndicated cartoonist, West Philly native, and Shipley alum Robb Armstrong. It was so inspiring to hear Robb’s life story – and to see him in action with his markers. After a long wait, we FINALLY received our copy of Robb’s new memoir, Fearless: A Cartoonist’s Guide to Life. It’s full of (literally) colorful stories about Robb’s rough and tumble siblings, dealing with early loss and hardship, and getting to meet his idol, Charles Schultz. Each chapter is bookended with an Art Lesson (“Learn to sketch fast and loose”) and a Life Lesson (“Stick to your dreams”). I love this book, and hope you will, too.


Author Laurie Halse Anderson at Children’s Book World

Last week, Ms. Gargiulo, Ms. Gillespie and I attended a special author event at Children’s Book World. Laurie Halse Anderson, beloved author of Speak, just released her latest book, Ashes, the much-anticipated third installment in the Seeds of America trilogy. (Hill Top’s 8th graders read the second book in the series, Forge, this summer.) Laurie was a treat to see in person. She spoke passionately about her subject – the American Revolution – and the responsibilities authors have to be accountable to their characters, particularly when dealing with race, religious, or other differences. Ashes is a heart-thumping page turner that reveals the fates of Isabel, Ruth, and Curzon while exploring the meaning of freedom. Check out our signed copy in the Hill Top library.

Audiobooks and Tech Break Thursday (#tbt)

Audiobooks are becoming more popular these days, and students and faculty have been asking if they can find audiobooks in the Hill Top Library. The answer is YES! We currently have over 90 fiction and nonfiction titles, and are always adding more to our collection. A selection of these titles are on display in the library this week. Come check ‘em out!

Also, thanks to Mary Kate Dagit (Charlie’s mom) for sharing this fabulous resource for free, downloadable e-books and audiobooks from Open Culture. In addition to many classics, you can also find cool stuff like this video of Neil Gaiman reading his book Coraline

One last thing: This week I’ll be kicking off Tech Break Thursday (#tbt) during Mentor Period in the library. Students who are caught up with their schoolwork – with permission from their mentors – are invited to come up to the library for unplugged activities like drawing/coloring, games, and reading (the old-fashioned way). Power off those devices and recharge your brain!

Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Banned Books Week 2016

This week, libraries and bookstores across the country are observing Banned Books Week,  an annual event since 1982. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Diversity.” As the Association of American Publishers (AAP) notes, “The majority of banned books are disproportionally from diverse authors.” Books with themes of race and racism, gender identity, sexuality, and religious difference are also more likely to be challenged or banned.

What message does this send to young people? First, that difference is bad and unacceptable. Second, that voices that deviate from the norm (whatever that is) are suspect and dangerous.  Challenging books with diverse content stigmatizes many in our community, limits learning and growth, and stifles the healthy dialogue that should be at the center of our schools and democracy.

Fortunately, we have access to more diverse perspectives in young adult literature than ever before. The Hill Top Library proudly features contemporary and classic books by diverse authors; themes of difference, bias, and equity; and characters with a wide range of intersecting identities. Our collection includes many frequently challenged titles, which also happen to be awesome books. Celebrate your freedom to read, and check ’em out!


Note: Books pictured (in Hill Top Library) have all been frequently challenged.