Cybils!

I am beyond thrilled to be a panelist for the 2008 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction panel! Check out the announcement on the Cybils blog.

Not familiar with the Cybils? For newcomers, Cybils stands for The Children’s and YA Bloggers’ Literary Awards, and they are the only book awards of any sort from the blogging community.

Still curious?

1. Nominations open to the public on Oct. 1 at cybils.com. Anyone 13 or older – authors and publishers included – may nominate a book!

2. In order to be eligible, books must be published in English between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15.

3. The books will go through two rounds of judging. Finalists are announced Jan. 1. Winners are announced Feb. 14.

The Cybils are a fantastic award and I am honored to be a part of the middle grade panel. Get ready to start nominating!

Guest Post by Beth Fehlbaum

Today, Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience: A Story of Hope for Those Who Have Endured Abuse (Kunati) has agreed to do a guest post on TheReadingZone. As a fellow teacher, I love hearing from writers who are also teachers! I always hope that their hard work will inspire me to put a pen to paper more often. :) Beth is currently teaching and doing a blog tour for her debut novel, Courage in Patience.

Have you ever seen the t-shirt that says, “I will not have a temper tantrum. I will not chew gum in class. I will always be on my best behavior. I am the teacher. I am the teacher. I am the teacher..” ?

I am a teacher in my “day job”– and school started for this year just three weeks ago, which means my students and I are all still in the ‘honeymoon phase’, so I haven’t ordered that shirt for myself just yet. Now, when spring fever kicks in around the middle of March, I’ll probably have that t-shirt slogan tattooed on the palm of my hand so I can see it up close when I smack myself in the face several times a day and ask myself what on earth possessed me to think I could teach these insane children anything!

Around Christmastime last year, I signed a contract with Kunati Books and Fed-Exed it back to them. At that point, I added a new profession to my resume’: professional writer. Since that time, in just about the same amount of time it takes for an infant to develop from conception to birth, my debut novel, Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse, has become a reality. I’m juggling my day job of teacher with my night job as author.

I wrote Courage in Patience partly because of a therapeutic assignment. I went into recovery for childhood sexual abuse, almost four years ago. I have always written stories and poetry as a way of processing what was going on in my life, so it was natural for me to use writing as a way of working through my grief, anger, and shame. I shared them with my therapist, and he suggested that I try writing a novel. It took me about four months, trying to pull myself out of my own head enough to write about someone other than myself. Then, I gave myself permission to imagine how it would be for a fourteen or fifteen-year-old girl to be removed from her mother and stepfather’s home after being sexually abused by her stepfather for six years, and placed in the care of her biological father, who she had never known. With that premise, Courage in Patience was conceived.

I wrote it mostly in the middle of the night; I wasn’t sleeping well at the time any way, and, as the story grew in my mind, I would wake at two in the morning, and realize that my “Muse” was already hard at work. All that was needed to get the story down in black-and-white was for me to get out of bed, brush my teeth, and get a Diet Coke before I settled in at my kitchen table with my laptop. I’d write from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. or so– and have to drag myself away from my keyboard to go get my face on and do my hair for work. I look back on that time now and I have no idea how I functioned. I think I was hyper-caffeinated and just plain driven to tell my protagonist, Ashley’s, story.

Of course, Courage in Patience went through many metamorphoses, sort of the way an embryo looks like a funky little shrimp before it grows with time and nurturing into what we recognize as a baby.
Like any new parent, I’m tired right now, but it’s a good kind of fatigue– the kind I wouldn’t trade for anything because I worked so hard to get this baby into the world, and I love it as only a proud new parent can. It is my hope that readers will love Courage in Patience– and Ashley– as much as I do.

Courage in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum

From the publisher: After six years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from her stepfather, 14-year-old Ashley finally finds the courage to reveal the painful details of her experiences with her mother, who refuses to acknowledge the problem and turns her back on her daughter. After confiding in her teacher—the only adult whom Ashley can trust—she is removed from her home and sent to live with her father and his second wife, Beverly, an English teacher. Nurtured by Beverly, an extraordinarily positive influence in her life, Ashley and a summer school class of troubled teens learn to face their fears and discover who they really are.

Courage in Patience: A Story of Hope for Those Who Have Endured Abuse is a powerful, gut-wrenching, heart-wrenching story of sexual abuse and survival. Ashley has been abused by her stepfather for years, ignored by her mother for even longer, and slowly destroying herself in a bid to escape. When she finally turns to a trusted teacher, CPS is called in and Ashely is pulled from her nightmare of a home. When CPS contacts her birth father she moves to Patience, Texas to live with him and his family.

The beginning of the book is graphic. Fehlbaum details the abuse that Ashley faces on a daily basis. However, the second half of the book is about Ashley’s road to survival and thriving in Patience. She begins to live a normal life- making friends, getting to know her new family, and dealing with small-town politics. However, she still struggles with the ramifications of her abuse on a daily basis. She begins seeing a therapist, along with her father, mother, and younger brother.

I really appreciated how Fehlbaum showed a true-to-life picture of sexual abuse by following Ashley through her abuse and her road to survival. While some might feel the book focuses on too many stories, I disagree. Ashley’s teenage voice rang true and her story felt like I was reading a memoir. Her story is tragic and horrific, and her road to recovery is bumpy and imperfect. To me, that seemed more realistic than many other books. It also gave the reader a picture of that road to recovery, whereas many other sexual abuse-themed books focus only on the abuse itself.

This is a graphic book, one that I would recommend only for teens and adults. However, it is very powerful and I believe it is an important book.

Interview with Terri Fields

After reading My Father’s Son, I was dying to know what inspired this awesome story of a teenage boy whose world is turned upside-down when his dad is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. Luckily, the wonderful Terri Fields was kid enough to answer a few of my questions. Below is my interview with her!

I absolutely loved reading your latest YA, My Father’s Son. What inspired you to write My Father’s Son? Was there a certain case in the media that made you start thinking about the families of those accused of horrible crimes?

I was interested in the idea that we want to see our parents only in the role we have conceived for them. Teens, especially, have so much other turmoil in life that their parents are supposed to be a constant.
But is that reality? To investigate, I created a very extreme plot situation.

It’s awful, but it seems like these crimes are in the news more often in recent years.  How did you go about researching for the book (if there was any research necessary)? Did you interview family members? Read newspaper articles?

I read a lot about serial killers, especially BTK, whose family believed him to be an honorable citizen and loving dad right up until he was caught.

As someone who feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day (which is why it took ten days to get these questions to you!), I would love to know how you make time to write! Are you a full-time writer or do you have a day job? And what is your daily writing routine like?

I have just retired from teaching. I now have two part-time jobs related to education that still enable me to work with students and teachers. I think that’s important because it helps keep my voice honest. I also do tons of author visits which I adore! Because I have been a writer while raising two children and teaching, I’ve found that I don’t have a writing routine. I grab time whenever I can, and I love escaping to that inner world of my imagination. I’ve written for grades K-12.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished a book called The Fiction Class which I recommend.

And just for fun, what is your favorite dessert?

Hot Fudge Sundaes. If only someone could figure out a way to take the calories out of them, I’d eat one every day!

Me too, Terri!  In fact, I could go for a hot fudge sundae right now….

Thanks for stopping by, Terri!  It was great getting inside your head for a few minutes!

Preparing for a new week

Update on this post:

I just spent the majority of my evening creating individualized spelling lists for my students. Last week I gave them the upper-level inventory from Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (4th Edition). I then spent the week going through each test and grading it with the accompanying chart. I was thrilled with the results! I was able to see where my students were struggling and where they were succeeding. If I hadn’t given this inventory many of my students would have struggled with their weekly spelling lists, as they are not yet at that level. And then I had a few students who would be bored to tears because they scored well above a 6th grade spelling level.

I love that I can now challenge each student. However, I did not think I could handle doing 42 separate lists. Instead, I grouped my students within their spelling stages. Thus, I ended up with 7 groups in each class. The groups are color-coded, so the students won’t know who is higher or lower. Plus, it makes it a lot easier for me to stay organized.

I am also tied to my district’s spelling curriculum, so I must keep using it. I knew Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction really needs to be used as the sole program in the classroom and I just knew I could not commit to that. Thus, I was out at Barnes and Noble at 8pm tonight picking up the book that will be my spelling bible this year- Word Journeys: Assessment-Guided Phonics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Instruction.

Word Journeys is similar to WTW in that it provides spelling lists for literally dozens of rules at each spelling stage. However, I was able to easily adapt it to my district spelling program. Below is an example of the list one group of students will choose from this week (this group of students is at the middle-to-late syllables and affixes spelling stage). We will take our district spelling pretest (the top rule on the page). (I did make the decision to slightly alter the district lists, only including the spelling rule words and not the basal story vocabulary words. I don’t use my basal very much and the words never meant anything to my students as they weren’t a part of the novel/short story we were reading at the time. ) Students will put any words spelled incorrectly on their personal spelling list. They will then choose the remainder of their 20 words from the individual list they are given. Each week I will meet once with the groups to discuss and practice the rule.

Click here to see a sample group list!

My Father’s Son by Terri Fields

What would you do if you sat down, turned on the evening news, and saw that the worst serial killer in state history had finally been arrested? Probably say, “Good riddance”, right?

What if the man they paraded in front of the news cameras was your father?

What if your father isn’t who you think he is?

What if he is a murderer, a serial killer, and now the most reviled man in the state? In the country? What if you no longer know the man you love more than anything in the world? What do you do?

That is what happens to Kevin, a high schooler who spends every other weekend at his dad’s house and the rest of the time with his mom. He and his dad get along great; playing new computer games together and ordering takeout. His dad bought him his car and lets him go and go a lot more freely than his mom does. It’s the perfect father-son relationship. Until the day Kevin’s father is arrested and accused of being the DB25 killer. My Father’s Son follows Kevin as his life spins out of control following his father’s arrest and the subsequent investigation.

Kevin knows his father didn’t do it. How could he have tortured and killed all those women? But when his father admits his guilt, Kevin’s life is completely turned upside down. Suddenly his fellow students are scared of him. People on the street run in the other direction. His best friends and the girl he has a crush on won’t even be in a room alone with him. The resemblance to his father that was always a point of pride with Kevin is now what turns everyone against him. After all, he is his father’s son, isn’t he?

This was a gripping story that I could not put down. Terri Fields approaches a topic that has always fascinated me- what is it like to be the family of an alleged serial killer, or murderer, or other criminal? What would you do if someone you loved was suddenly the villain marched across TV screen all over the world? Kevin’s entire life changes while he struggles to defend his father and you are right there with him.

My Father’s Son is full of suspense and Terri Fields forces you to imagine life if everything you loved and counted on was ripped away from you. Family, friends, school, and normal routines. The suspense will keep you turning the pages late into the night, racing to the conclusion. It kept me up until 3am because I just could.not.put.it.down. And the story will stay with you long after you finish the book.

First Read-alouds of the Year

It’s always a big decision- what will I read aloud first? My homeroom is finishing up Flying Solo, our community-building book for the beginning of the year. It’s always a huge hit and this year is no different. However, my afternoon class needed a read-aloud right away because I need to settle them down after lunch. I am almost done with Flying Solo so I didn’t want to start over in the afternoon. Instead, I decided to dive into our first official read-aloud of the year, the book that both classes would read with me. The decision-making process was not an easy one. I want the book to show my kids that reading can be fun and the books can transport you to another world. My kids always start the year with an irrational hatred of reading, so this first book is so important.

My decision? The Underneath. Believe me, I hesitated quite a bit with this one. It’s not the typical action-packed novel I would normally start the year with. It moves slow, like the water in the bayous of its setting. But it’s powerful. And gorgeous. And one of my favorite books of the year. So on Wednesday, my afternoon class settled in for the first 20 pages.

How did it go?

Well, they seem to be loving it! The “twistedness’ of Garface sickened them. They all connected with Ranger and the calico. The idea of trees viewing hundreds or thousands of years of history fascinated them. And Grandmother “creeped” them out. So far, so good! And I know they will enjoy it even more once Puck gets lost. Now I can’t wait to start it with the morning class!

Heart Maps

Today my class worked on their heart maps.  Seeing as I teach 6th grade and 6th grade boys aren’t always huge fans of hearts, I borrowed Ruth’s idea here.  The bone maps were an interesting addition to the activity.  In the morning, most of the boys started out by taking the bone maps I offered.  However, within a few minutes every boy had tossed the bone and decided to use a heart.  The hearts were free-form and they said that they needed more room, which the heart offered.  The hearts were looking great as we ended class.  Most of them had completely filled their hearts and even began decorating them.  

 

My afternoon class was a different story.  They were more reluctant and there were a lot of  “I have no memories” and “No one/thing/event is important to me”.  That’s what is so hard about having two different classes.  What works for one rarely works for the other and I am still feeling that out.  Some of the boys in the afternoon were very anti-heart.  Most of them wanted to use the bone or sketch their own bone.  Unfortunately I had a few who decided this wasn’t a serious activity and they could just write any old thing down in the bone/heart.  This class got a lot less done and as a result will most likely have a much harder time producing the entry that was part of their homework.

 

I think I will have to sit down and really rethink the direction I am going in with my afternoon class.  They are very resistant to writing.  They waste a lot of time whining, or drawing attention to themselves, or being inappropriate.   I need to put an end to that or it will be a long year.  Thank goodness for my homeroom!

Never Forget

(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, in my personal journal. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted it every year since 2003.)
the view I see each year from the beach at home.

I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background. We finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.

As my classmates settled into our seats in the small lecture hall our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash. But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot, a tragedy, but still. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule. As class ended I remember walking back, over the Hickman bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.

I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable). As i walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying desperately to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down, and you couldn’t get through on cell phones.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of my floormates walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. I walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our TV. No one spoke.

Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading thedrudgereport.com over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it I chose to stay.

The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to an tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt when we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.
I will never forget signing on to our high school BBS and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers. The message on top was from a fellow Techer. Her dad was supposed to be on Flight 93. Reading that message, as she begged anyone reading it to look for his name on ANY list, my heart sank. This was a classmate, a high schooler. She should not have been going through this. And the tragedy began to hit home. As new lists were posted it became more and more apparent that he had probably been on the plane.

Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.
I stayed home for a few days. School was canceled for days. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told how on Sept. 11, ferries came from the city to the local harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from anywhere in NJ. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school.
Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. Thankfully, he never was.
I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.
My brother spent days with his girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that the man they loved was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.

We all grew up.

And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……

Learning About Our Students as Readers

Over the last few days I have been trying to get to know my new students as readers. At the end of last year I was a walking encyclopedia, a who’s who of book recommendations. Even now, I read a book and immediately think, “I know exactly who would love this”! But a new class means starting over from scratch. While I love the clean slate offered by a new year, it frustrates me that I am not an expert on my students yet!

Yesterday we organized our classroom library as a review of genres. It served as a great way to review genre definitions while also letting the students see the variety of titles the library has to offer. There were a lot of stunned reactions, let me tell ya! While most of my students told me that they dislike reading, I told them that’s just because they haven’t enjoyed the books they read up to this point. I promised to find them a genre, author, or series they will enjoy this year! But it’s hard when I don’t know them yet. :)

Today I booktalked a few “guaranteed” titles before we headed to the school media center; just a few to whet their appetite while I start reading interviews and read their literacy profiles. The titles I talked about today included Life As We Knew It, Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam, The Face on the Milk Carton, Just Grace, Turnabout , and Cirque Du Freak Life As We Knew It was a huge hit, and Cracker! went over well with the war buffs.  Every student left school today with a book.  Even better?  When I ended independent reading today, there were a few soft groans.  I asked for a show of hands, saying “How many of you were annoyed that I interrupted your reading?  How many people didn’t want to stop?”  About hald the class raised their hands.  One boy said, “This has never happened to me before!”

It’s amazing how passion is contagious.  Our kids deserve our passion- whether it be for reading, science, history, geography, math, or anything else.  That passion will spread, as long as our passion is genuine.  That is true teaching.

I’m off to read more reading inventories now, and hopefully get to know my students better!

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