Newbery Controversy in the Classroom

For the past few days my classes have been learning about the Newbery Award.  Yesterday we reviewed the history, terms, and criteria for the award.  It was a lot of fun, because my students really didn’t know a lot about the award.  But today I shared the latest controversy with them.  

Each group took an article (the Post article, the BYU study, one of my own blog posts, and Anita Silvey’s article) and read it together. Then they summarized the article for the class at large, sharing the argument and evidence that the article focused on.  It was so interesting to hear their take on the Newbery controversy.  Most of them thought the controversy was silly, though they did agree that forcing students to read Newbery winners just because they are Newbery winners was silly.  And both classes came to the consensus that forcing kids to read any books “just because an adult thinks kids need to read it” can turn them off to reading.  It was very interesting!

We ended the class with me sharing last year’s winners.  I booktalked them, and the read a few of the monologues from Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village out loud.  They went over really well!  Plus, I got to perform, which was too fun!

National Delurking Week!

Thanks MotherReader- Apparently, it’s National Delurking Week!

All you lurkers- you know, those of you who read The Reading Zone but never comment-   reveal yourself!  Leave a comment, say hello, just make yourself known.  :)

And if you have absolutely nothing to say, then tell me about the books you are looking forward to reading in 2009….

Thanks for reading my blog!

Vacation Reading Results - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more On Monday, during our Do-Now period, I had my students write me a paragraph about the reading they did over break.  I assigned “vacation reading” before we left, after they filled out a survey listing books, magazines, newspapers, etc that they were looking forward to having the time to read over break. 

As they wrote the paragraph, a few hands went up and explained that they hadn’t done any reading over break.  I told them that was fine, but they needed to write me a paragraph explaining why.  Today I finally had a chance to read over the Do-Nows and I found them to be very interesting.  About 75% of my class read novels over break.  I was regaled with tales of reading Twilight and 39 Clues: One False Note  while hiding from family members!  

The remaining students all wrote that they didn’t read over break because they were so busy relaxing.  However, almost every single one of those students mentioned reading magazines and web sites.  While I require that they read novels during reading time in school and for their home reading logs, I had explained before break that vacation reading was different.  I showed them the magazines, novels, and websites I planned to read over winter break and each student made a list of things they wanted to read.  Yet when the time came to brag about the reading they did, a quarter of my students didn’t count those magazines and websites.  Why?  Do we really do so much to convince kids that magazines, newspapers, internet pages and more aren’t “reading”?  

I explain over and over that the reason I require novels for in-class and reading log reading is to build their stamina.  But I thought I set a good example for other reading my talking about the professional reading and relaxation reading I also do.  I think I need to do a better job of that, though.  I need to make sure my students understand the many roles that books and words play in our lives.  That’s one of the reasons I struggle with requiring students to complete a monthly reading log.  Even though it only consists of the title, author, pages read, and a signature, I feel like it makes reading seem to be something you only do because a teacher makes you do it for homework.  Yet when I don’t require a simple reading log, parents feel that their kids aren’t reading and tell me that during conferences.  Reading logs serve as tangible evidence of the reading my students do.  And they are simple!  But I hate that some of my kids feel like the reading that they do doesn’t count.

A lot of my boys mentioned that they spent their vacation reading Sports Illustrated, the sports section, and other sports related text.  Yet they didn’t consider this reading.  Little do they know, Sports Illustrated is full of great writing!  And it’s not simple, either.  And reading 3 issues of Sports Illustrated is more self-directed reading than some of those kids have done all year.  I need to make them understand that this counts as reading, too.  

I don’t want them reading only magazines.  Just like I don’t read only magazines.  I read novels, professional literature, blog posts, picture books, newspapers, and more   I NEED to make my students understand that all of this is reading, and that finding their reading niche is my goal for this year.  So I vow to model more reading for them, besides novels.  Hopefully, that will help!

NCTE is focusing on 21st Century Literacies in the coming months, and I think that this is something I am going to have to figure out in my own classroom.  How can we help students take ownership of their reading in this multi-media age?  And what do we define as “reading”?

Writing in Script

Do your students struggle to write in cursive?  Is it a huge chore for them to write in script instead of printing?  I know my 6th graders not only hate script, but struggle with the script alphabet at times.  I’m interested to see this is a nation-wide issue.

Slice of Life


As we walked through Kilmainham Gaol, Chris pointed at a cell on the other side of the yard.

“Hey, does that say Hickey?  Like you great grandmother’s last name?”

“Whoa, it does!”

I made my way over to the cell that had the name engraved over the cell door.  As my fingers traced the words that had been scratched into the cement sometime between 1750 and 1924, I imaged the possibility that a distant relative had spent time in this very cell.  Was it during the the potato famine, when being in jail at least promised 3 meals a day?  Or maybe during the Irish civil war in the early 20th century?  Was it a male Hickey or a female Hickey?

“You should get a picture for your Dad,” Chris said. “He’d love this!”

“Yeah, you’re right.  Let me just get in the doorway.  Make sure you get the name in the frame,” I replied.

I stood in the doorway, waiting for the flash that would signal the picture was done.  A doorway where one of my relatives had possibly stood a hundred or more years ago.  What an amazing idea, an amazing possibility.

News :)

Despite my intense hatred of being the center of attention, I suppose I should share the news here (I already did the same on Twitter and Facebook)-

While in Ireland, I got engaged!  :-D

I am sure the actual event will be the subject of various Slices of Life, Memoir Mondays, and writer’s notebook entries, so stay tuned!

OLW 2009

I can’t believe that I go back to school tomorrow!  I do love the new year, though, because it’s so much fun to reflect and look ahead with my students.  I first heard about Ali Edwards’  “One Little Word” last January and wanted to try it with my students.  However, I just never got around to it.  This year, I decided to make it a priority.  It is a great extension of the Hopes and Dreams my students wrote about back in September.


I spent the last few hours designing a 3 day assignment for my students to complete during writing workshop this week.  On Monday I will introduce One Little Word with examples from various blogs.  I came up with a 2 page list of possible words my students could use (to help those who get stuck) and my students will spend their independent writing time brainstorming a few possible ideas and why those words are important to them.  On Tuesday they will choose their final word and begin to design a square for our paper OLW quilt bulletin board.  They will look up their word in the dictionary and write a simple definition for their OLW as it applies to their life.  On Wednesday they will complete their squares, including 1-2 sentences about why they chose their particular OLW.

I am really looking forward to doing this with my class, as this year is such a huge one for them.  They will be finishing their time at our intermediate school in June and starting middle school across town in September.  It’s always a tough transition and I think that the OLW exercise will help them begin to sort out their goals for this year.  Hopefully it goes as well as planned!

3 Willows by Ann Brashares

When I received an ARC of  3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows I was thrilled, as I am a huge fan of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Somehow, I had managed to avoid finding out that Brashares was even writing a new novel for middle grade readers! Needless to say, when I received the ARC at a publisher’s preview back in November I was very excited. But I held off on reading it until I finished all of my Cybils reading.  Today I sat down to read 3 Willows and absolutely loved it!  Fans of Brashare’s Traveling Pants series will love this new story, as will new readers.

Set in the same town as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, readers meet three new friends- Polly, Ama, and Jo- about to enter high school.  Unlike the sisterhood, these girls are slowly drifting apart.  Middle school pressures like popularity and cliques have changed the girls and their friendships over the years, despite being best friends since 3rd grade.  

Ama is all about school.  Her parents are immigrants from Ghana and education is highly valued in her house.  Like her sister before her,  she’s applied to spend the summer at a camp that will give her high school credit. She’s hoping to be in the research program at Andover or possibly at a Johns Hopkins summer course, but instead finds herself signed up for the outdoor wilderness adventure. Ama is not the outdoorsy type and can’t imagine herself spending the summer hiking and sleeping in a tent.  But when she realizes that she can’t get out of the course without dropping the program, she resigns herself to her fate.  Adding the prestigious program to her transcript will greatly help her get into an Ivy League school just like the program aided her sister.  

Jo is spending the summer at her family beach house and working as a bus girl at a local tourist trap seafood restaurant (a job she got thanks to her popular friend, Bryn). She’s planning to get an “in” with the older girls from the popular crowd who also work at the restaurant.  This way she will start high school as a popular freshman who has upper-class friends. But a summer romance with a hot boy threatens to change all of that.  Plus, Jo is forced to face the changes that are happening in her family and the issues that are starting to come to the surface after years of simmering down below.  

Polly is stuck at home babysitting- both her mother and the kids down the street.   But when her ancient uncle, or maybe great-uncle, tells her that her grandmother was a model Polly is determined to become a model, too. She throws herself into the world of modeling, even beginning to lose dangerous amounts of weight in order to look more like one.  But while she is focused on her new passion, she doesn’t see her mother beginning to slip away from her.  And while Polly is watching out for her friends despite the distance between them now, she learns that sometimes friendships change and people aren’t always the way they used to be.

I absolutely loved this novel!  It’s great for middle grade readers who are struggling with changing friendships and the pressures of middle school.  In the Sisterhood books, the girls were held together at times by the magic of the pants.  While I love the Sisterhood, 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows seems more realistic and less idealistic- these girls have to work to preserve their friendship.  But they learn that true friends are always there for you, even if you do drift apart.

I also loved the theme of the willow trees throughout the book.  It isn’t overbearing but the connection to nature is really gorgeous.  (Full disclosure here- I also adore the quotes that Brashares uses between chapters in the Sisterhood books!).  The willows were originally cuttings planted by the three best friends in third grade, and like the trees the girls have grown up and are spreading their roots and branches.  And on a completely superficial note, the doodlings of the willow branches on the tops of the pages throughout the book are a great addition and very pleasing to the eye.

Fans of the Sisterhood books will love these new friends who know the story of the Sisterhood and are in awe of the four original girls, now graduates of the high school they will soon attend.  And the cameos made by the original sisterhood will bring a smile to fans’ faces.  But new fans will also love this book, as it stands alone from the Sisterhood series.  You don’t need to have read the original four books to read the Willows story, as the sisterhood is only mentioned a few times and explained briefly.  

Brashares has outdone herself here and I am looking forward to reading more books about the 3 Willows.  Be sure to pick this one up when it is released on January 13th!  I already plan to pass it on to a few of my girls when we head back to school on Monday.

2008 Middle Grade Fiction Finalists!

I am so excited that the Cybils lists have been announced.  I am so proud of our middle grades list, the “Fab Five”.  With two chats and hundreds of emails over the past few months, we worked so hard to come up with the best list possible.  It was so great to talk with, argue with, and learn from people who are just as passionate about children’s books as I am.  Honestly, I think we are the best panel. ;)

Here are the finalists!


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look




Diamond Willow by Helen Frost




Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass




Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell




The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd



Good luck to the judges- I don’t know how you will be able to choose just one winner!

Cybils Finalists!

Be sure to check out the shortlists for the Cybil Awards today!  I had an amazing time working with the Middle Grades nominating committee and I am so proud of our short list!  Now I will wait on the edge of my seat to see what the judges choose as a winner.  It’s going to be a doozy of a contest, because all of the books on our shortlist are just so amazing!  In fact, even choosing a shortlist from the almost 130 books nominated felt like an impossible task at some points.  :)

Thanks to Melissa, Alysa, Matt, Mary, Kim, and Sherry!     We did a great job!


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