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Mocha: A Loyal and Loving Cat…

Mocha’s family moves to a new neighborhood, but she leaves them and heads back to her old house. Why? In this true story, told from Mocha’s point of view, a one-of-a-kind cat becomes not only companion but caregiver to her new owner. Her unconditional love and support during an especially difficult time makes a lasting impact on her owner’s life.

Third grade teacher Dana Russell, a member of Menlo Park Education Association, based the 2019 book on her former cat, who helped her process her grief after the sudden death of her husband. “I’m hoping it may be helpful for any child going through a tough time,” Russell says. “With the powerful love of a pet, sometimes we can get through the worst circumstances, as the book emphasizes.” Mocha is illustrated by middle school art teacher and MPEA member Anna Herzlinger Kogan. On Amazon.

Coach the Soul

Coach the Soul (2019) was born in Ken LaVigne’s classroom and on the football field during his more than 30 years as a high school teacher and coach. LaVigne, a member of Whittier Secondary Education Association, offers short stories of his students’ overcoming extreme adversity to find success. Chapter titles reflect core values he teaches such as resilience, courage, transformation and accountability. Fellow 2012 California Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki says the book shows “how important it is to know and nurture the souls of the children we are entrusted with teaching, for that has the power to change everything.”

Many students in Coach the Soul participated in the award-winning intervention program LaVigne created, Organized Academic Support in School (OASIS), at La Serna High School. OASIS utilizes student academic mentors as well as school, district and community resources to provide the school’s most “at-promise” students with the skills, structure and support they need. At and on Amazon.

Between the Commas: Sentence Instruction That Builds Confident Writers (and Writing Teachers)

In his 2019 book Martin Brandt, East Side Teachers Association, sets out to change sentence instruction from being heavy on correctness and terminology (as in “mind your grammar”) to a lighter approach focused on play and experimentation.

This is partly the story of a teacher hitting a midcareer plateau, deeply frustrated by the flatness of his students’ writing. It’s also the story of important but neglected research in sentence instruction, which Brandt revives, reinventing his instruction by teaching the possibilities of sentences. The book includes lively terms for various concepts, such as the “ingBomb” and “Sentence Wannabe,” and has classroom exercises that educators can adapt.

Brandt has taught high school English for 29 years and is a past winner of the California Teachers of English Award for Classroom Excellence. At and on Amazon.

Got something for these pages? Send details to with “Lit From Within” in the subject line. We lean toward new(ish) work that can be used in the classroom.

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