Deep Down Popular by Phoebe Stone

A few of my girls read Deep Down Popular by Phoebe Stone earlier in the school year and recommended that I read it. It was in the Scholastic book clubs all year and usually got an order or two because the cover is intriguing (and fun). Who doesn’t love crazy socks? I finally got around to reading this over the weekend, and I have to admit I abandoned it. In fact, I abandoned it about 25 pages from the end. I just did not love it.

The book is well-written and the plot it cute. My first problem was that for the first 10 pages I had no idea if I was reading a historical or realistic fiction novel. The story is set in a small town in Virginia, and maybe it’s just that I have no experience with that. But I really had no idea if the story was taking place 50 years ago or yesterday. I think that will turn a lot of kids off.

Second, the book seemed very unrealistic. If it was historical fiction I might have cut it some slack. However, it is supposed to be taking place in the recent past/now and too many things made me say, “Huh?!” For example, at one point the main character decides to leave school at lunch. Now, there are plenty of smaller schools around here that do allow elementary students to go home at lunch, as long as they have a permission slip on file. However, Jessie Lou just up and goes home without telling anyone! Then, she gets back late after lunch and no one notices! In this day and age, I don’t care how small the town is- schools are responsible for students and Jessie would get quite a talking to when she got back to class. But not in the book. Incidents like that kept bothering me throughout the book.

The story is cute, but that’s really all I can say about it. I wasn’t dying to know what happened at the end and couldn’t even force myself to finish it. It just seemed very “blah” to me. I wouldn’t tell my students not to read it, as it is well-written. I just don’t see myself booktalking or recommending it to them.

Reading Workshop in the Middle Grades

I have had a lot of questions over the last few days asking about how I run my reading workshop. For some reason, there aren’t a lot of resources out there about using reading workshop in grades 6-8. However, I have read a lot of professional resources, observed in various workshop classrooms, and modified a lot of activities originally for the primary grades. Over the next few weeks I will make it a point to post about different aspects of my reading workshop as I get ready for the new year and plan out my units of study.

Today, I will take some time to recommend the professional resources that I have found to be the most important for my knowledge and planning.

Books:

1. In the Middle: New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and Learning (Workshop Series) by Nancie Atwell- Nancie Atwell is the reading workshop guru for the upper grades. IN THE MIDDLE is an amazing resource that will allow you to see how she sets up both reading and writing workshop in her 7th grade classroom. She first published this book in 1987, and she shook the world with the idea that the drill-and-kill methodology of teaching reading was not working. In 1998 the second edition was published and it is even better than the first. Now, Atwell sees the teacher as a facilitator, actively involved in the students’ reading and writing. This book will revolutionize the way you teach reading.

2.The Reading Zone: HOW TO HELP KIDS BECOME SKILLED, PASSIONATE, HABITUAL, CRITICAL READERS by Nancie Atwell- In her newest book, Atwell focuses on the power of independent reading. This practical guide will help you shape routines and procedures that will get your kids reading. In my opinion, this is the most important book for my classroom. It honestly changed the way I teach and the way I view independent reading. Even better? It worked for me. My students became readers after I implemented my version of Atwell’s methods.

3. Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels- Literature circles are another important aspect of my reading workshop and Daniels book has proven invaluable. The minilessons included touch on routines, procedures, and reading strategies that kids can use in their groups.

4. The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition (Read-Aloud Handbook) by Jim Trelease- My favorite part of the workshop is our read-aloud. Jim Trelease’s seminal work on the importance of reading aloud is a must-read for all teachers and parents.

5. Less is More: Teaching Literature With Short Texts, Grades 6-12 by Kimberly Campbell- I only read this book over the last few weeks. However, I have already adapted many of the ideas. Using short texts allows me to use my literature anthology (making my district happy) while retaining the shape and flow of my reading workshop (making ME happy). Campbell’s book suggests stories that help teach the higher order thinking skills, which is wonderful!

6. Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak- Assessment has always been the hardest part of reading workshop for me. This book saved me!! I can not recommend it enough. Franki and Karen’s ideas for frequent assessment in their own classrooms has changed how I assess my students and it has made me a better teacher while keeping my students accountable.

7. Inside the Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook pack: A Workshop Essential by Linda Rief- I have used Linda Rief’s student notebook as a model for my own. My students keep a reading binder, which is a combination of Rief’s and Beth Newingham’s (see web resources)

Websites:

Beth Newingham’s Teacher Resources:  Mrs. Newingham’s teacher resources are aimed at the primary grades, but I love them!  I have modified many of them for my own use.  Be sure to check out her Reading Notebook, genre posters, and the pictures of her bulletin boards.

ReadWriteThink: Great lessons for literacy!

These are the resources I turn to most frequently while planning my reading workshop. Hopefully, this helps some other teachers in the intermediate grades. :) Please let me know if you have any other must-have resources!

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes Interview!

Today, I am interviewing Amelia Atwater-Rhodes as part of her blog tour! (See the full schedule below the interview.) I am very excited, because as a writer who began getting published as a teen, she is a great inspiration to my own students.

Thanks for stopping by TheReadingZone! As a young writer, you are especially inspirational to myself and my middle school students. How did you begin writing?

I have always told stories, and since learning how to write, I have always attempted to write them down. The earliest attempts were of course nearly illegible and lacking in any notable grammar, but the point is, it’s something I have always done.

The first novel I finished, I started in fifth grade. I had particularly incredible teachers that year and the year before. I had performed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, had helped transform my fifth grade classroom into first a lighthouse and then a rain forest, had participated in trust-falls and egg-drops and other activities, and just in general had developed a great deal of faith in myself, and in life in general. When a lazy summer came about, it seemed perfectly natural to finish a novel.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?


Absolutely by the seat of my pants. Occasionally I outline, when I have ideas faster than I can get them down, but I tend to stray from even the briefest notes. I love discovering the story as I go along, just as I would if I were reading. I outline when I go to revise.

Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

Part of the “seat of my pants” method involves never knowing when I’ll even have time to sit down at my computer. I have no set schedule; if I did, I would only break it.

I tend to write more when I’m insanely over-scheduled, and get little done on vacations when I should have plenty of time. I write in the five-minute breaks between other things, in my head while I’m trying to fall asleep, in the margins of my class notes, and occasionally on my hand in movie theaters.

Congratulations on graduating, and I hope the job hunt is going well! What inspired you to become an English teacher?

Three things inspired me to teach: the wonderful teachers I had, the awful teachers I had, and all the readers I’ve had a chance to speak with over the years. I have known, as a student, the kind of power a teacher can hold to inspire, and I have known as a writer how wonderful it feels to see the spark of inspiration alight in someone you have been working with.

Your books delve into complex fantasy worlds, fraught with numerous characters, histories, and stories. Do your characters come to you first, do the stories come first, or do they shape each other?

It tends to be the characters who drive my stories. I’m lucky if I figure out the plotline before the fifth or sixth chapter of a first draft, but in that time, I get to know my narrator. Once I know the character, I can figure out the story.

What can we look forward to next? Are you working on anything right now?

The next book, arriving at bookstores on December 9, is Persistence of Memory. It returns to modern day, with the vampires and witches and shapeshifters. After that is Night’s Plutonian Shore (tentative title), which explores another facet of Nyeusigrube’s magic.

What is your advice for other writers, especially young writers?

The first piece of advice I always give is, do it. If you want to write, if you have stories and characters in your head and know you need to share them somehow, just pick up a pen or go to a keyboard and start. So many people never get started because they wait to have everything perfect first. First drafts exist for a reason; they’re supposed to be messy. Write first. If you decide to share your work, you can always edit later, but get the story out first.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Amelia! I am sure you are very busy getting ready for the beginning of the new school year. Good luck with your students- they are lucky to have such an accomplished author as their teacher!

Make sure to visit the other stops on Amelia’s blog tour:
July 22nd – Bildungsroman
July 24th – Cheryl Rainfield
July 25th – BookLoons
July 28th- Mrs. Magoo Reads
July 30th – Teen Book Review
July 31st – Saundra Mitchell
August 4th – Bookwrym Chrysalis
August 5th – Here!
August 7th – Through a Glass, Darkly

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