Dr. King Reminder

On this fourth day of NaPoWriMo I felt compelled to nod to Maya Angelou (it would have been her 90th birthday) and to acknowledge the atrocious assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (50 years ago).  I decided to write a Golden Shovel poem using three lines from Maya Angelou’s poem “Abundant Faith.”

These times of born again fear
Remind us that justice is not
Yet available for all.  We’ve
Witnessed brutality as our brothers come
Under fire—happens to our sisters too.

Hasn’t this gone too far?
Fifty years ago Dr. King reminded us to
Persevere, “We aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn
Us around.”  We shall not wallow in despair.  We must go back
To that Dream. We
Must go back to the truths that are
Self-evident. It is time for equity. We shall walk together, not
Alone. Free and empowered—no longer afraid.

Brothers and sisters, your lives matter and
It is time to join hands as we
Sing together, work together, pray together. We shall
hear freedom ring and see love overcome.



Speak Up for Puerto Rico – Part 2

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 1.42.38 AM

I woke up this morning and enjoyed a cup of coffee as I sat on my dry couch. When I looked up at the ceiling, I spotted a cobweb, and thought “I’ll clean that up right after I post this on social media.” I intend to call my sister today, because I haven’t talked to her for a few days. I have enough fuel to drive to see her in person if I want to. Before I go anywhere, I will shower in clean water, put on dry clothes, and drink some pure refreshing water. I might even eat some breakfast.

Today, the woman in the photo could only do one of the things that I listed. She woke up. 7 days ago Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, destroying the island. This is what she has woken up to each day since.  Each day gets worse. There is no electrical power.  Hospitals are shutting down.  Food is spoiling.  Farms were obliterated by the storms, so there will be no fresh food. There is no clean drinking water. Despair is growing.  Yes, the woman woke up today, but will she wake up tomorrow? What about the other 3 million American citizens who are trapped on the island?

#SpeakUpForPuertoRico – This is a “Major Disaster” and it must be declared a Major Disaster by the US president before they will receive all the help that is available. So far, it has been approved as an “Emergency Declaration” which does provide assistance, but not enough. #BeAVoice #PuertoRico

Image from

Love Letter to America

Dear America,

Love can save us.  Trust me, I know.

My childhood was not a lovely one.  I was the youngest, and therefore the most helpless, child of a very broken family.  Alcoholism, domestic violence, and several types of abuse were some of the secrets we kept (or thought we kept) hidden within our household. When life was not a place of fear and terror, it was a place of shame and doubt.  Love saved me. One of the first times that I confronted love was in the book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  I know it seems silly that a book about a donkey and a little red marble could show me what love looks like.  It was Sylvester’s parents who got through to me. They grieved when their adored son, Sylvester, couldn’t be found.  I realized that love could look like grieving.  My next encounter with love was the Frances books by Russell Hoban.  Frances was lovable, though she was sometimes stubborn, selfish, and childish. Frances had wise caring people in her life who helped her grow and change. I learned that love is not abrasive and that love can transform.

I watched my dad encounter love in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the Big Book) as he read accounts of other recovering alcoholics sharing their experience, strength, and hope. Yes, I ended up reading the whole book cover-to-cover, too.  I was watching it transform my father, so I just had to read it.  I knew there was good stuff in there!

Book by book, chapter by chapter, page by page, I have been transformed as I have encountered love in books.  I have realized that I am not alone. I have realized that my shortcomings don’t have to be permanent.  I have learned that people are resilient, and I can be too.   I learned that there is hope.  Since then, I have tried to share this love with others.  I like helping my students and friends find the right book. The book that will speak to their hearts.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon Donalyn Miller’s words that put voice to what I was trying to do with books.  On page 9 of The Book Whisperer, Donalyn explains how she and her husband have use books to express themselves and their hearts to each other with “Books are our love letter (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words.”

For over a week, I have been beyond words. I know that to heal, to move forward, I need to use my voice, but there is too much to articulate.  I also know that I need to love. Fearlessly.  So, America, I want to express my love for you.  Here is my love letter to you in the form of books.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson


Even when it seems that the world (or in Melinda’s case, the entire high school) is against you, and you are hurting alone, find your safe place, your safe person, and speak.

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher


Sometimes the best way to help a friend is to listen to what she is not saying.


Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes


When a friend encourages you to be yourself, your toughest critic might finally accept you as you are, even if your toughest critic is your own father.


Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins


Wait, do you really expect me to tell you a tiny little thing about each book on this list?  Just read this one!  Trust me!

One For the Murphys by Lynda Mullay Hunt


Even those of us who feel we are undeserving of love, are indeed loved.


Love the Baby by Steven Layne


Jealousy can cause hatred, but seeing another’s vulnerability and humanity can sometimes be what we need to help us love.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson


“If you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow and grow and grow.”


Ghost by Jason Reynolds


Sometimes love looks like a bald, chipped-tooth, taxi-driving coach who pushes you to be better.


Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling


Love, especially sacrificial love, trumps everything no matter how terrifying, dark, and powerful a certain force may appear to be.


A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


Find someone you trust and share your dreams.

My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto by Frank Dabba Smith, with photographs by Mendel Grossman


Even in the worst of times, connecting with others, laughter, and love helps us persevere.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson


Pay attention to how you treat others, and remember that even small amounts of kindness can ripple outward and change the world.


America, this is a teeny tiny list, and there are countless books that will remind you who you are to the world, and who the world should be to you.  These are just a few that I have on my coffee table right now, reminding me that there is hope. Start with one of these, or choose another book, but read, love, transform, and be transformed.

Julie Hoffman




Open Letter to the “Men Along the Journey”

The other day I posted a video on Facebook, tagging a crew of men to whom I was expressing gratitude.  As I watched the video of a young boy, fatherless, being held up by “A Village of Fathers” I began thinking of the men who have supported my son, Bryan, throughout his journey.  The list includes friends, teachers, pastors, leaders, uncles, coaches, neighbors, a grandpa, a brother, and an adoptive father.

The thing is, I didn’t really explain why I tagged so many of you, and I did not explain how you fit into the overall picture.  As a matter of fact, I started picturing each of you guys thinking “Uh, was it a mistake that Julie tagged me in this?  What was she thinking?  As far as I know Bryan was never in a Training Academy and I most certainly have never done push-ups with him on my back!”  Here’s the thing, though.  You have!  You have done push-ups with my son on your back.

Every time that you
Pushed Bryan to excel,
Challenged him, or
Taught him something new,

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

When you chased him at the park,
Included him in your game of catch,
And high-fived his efforts,

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

When you picked him up,
Dropped him off,
Or sat in the passenger seat while he drove,

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

Every time that you said “Hello,”
Celebrated his birthday,
Reached out to him,
Listened, joked, supported, helped,
congratulated, encouraged, or coached,

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

When you taught him
the quadratic formula,
how to mow a lawn,
how to get the ball in the net,
How to run faster,
Think smarter,
Speak louder,
Read more,
and to listen to great music,

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

You were there when he
Hung drywall,
Asked questions,
Won a bet,
Broke a bone,
Waxed philosophical,
Painted walls,
Calculated algorithms,
Broke personal records,
Used power tools,
Volunteered his time,
Invested his money,
and learned that he was

worth the investment.

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

When you
worried about him,
corrected him,
prayed for him,
laughed with him,

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

When you went running with him,
Met him for coffee,
Or made chai for him,
Fed him,
Played Chess, Stratego, and Capture the Flag with him,

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.

As he continues to grow,
Learn, explore, change,
and transform into the man
he is to become,
I will be eternally grateful
for your role
in Bryan’s journey.

When I could not provide for his every need,
Because I could not teach him everything,
You stepped in.
You showed up.
You came through.

You were doing push-ups
With my son on your back.





Thank you to Mike, David, Doug, Charlie, Dan, Ryan, Charles, Tom, Jon, John, Kyle, John, Dan, Donnie, Michael, Jay, Zack, Craig, Martin, Don, Chris, Dave, Dave, Dave, David, Kareem, Ben, Bob, Bobby, Dan, Dale, Ken, John, Odis, Scott, Chris, Ed, Thom, Hubert, Keith, Seth, Dale, Pat, Tim, Adam, Sean, Scott, and the countless other men who have been there through the journey.

Paper Things (Read Along)

Before you read, let it be known that we were inspired in two ways.  First of all, we were inspired by the book Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.  It is an incredible book!



Our second inspiration came from Brian Wilhorn @HelpReaders, who put together a similar visual guide for the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  We decided to compose our own version for Paper Things, which is another must-read.

Thank you to Michael, Bella, Trey, Emma, Jezlyn, Shae, and Rowan for doing the research and the hard work to put this together.

Chapters 1 through 5

Chapters 6 through 10
Chapters 11 through 15
Chapters 16 through 20

Chapters 21 through 25
Chapters 26 through 30

Chapters 31 through 35
Chapters 36 through 43