MotherReader’s Fourth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge!

Are you ready?  Do you have your TBR pile set to the side so that you can dive in for 48 hours between June 5th and June 7th?

What’s that?  You have no idea what I am talking about?  Why, it’s only one of my favorite holidays of the year- MotherReader’s Fourth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge!  

Here are the basic guidelines: 

  1. The weekend is June 5–7, 2009. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the fifth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday… or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.Edited to add: But during that 48-hour period you may still have gaps of time in which you can’t read, and that’s fine. In the middle of the three different challenge weekends I’ve had to go to work, attend a ballet recital, and drive for a Girl Scout event. You can certainly work around the other events in your weekend.
  2. The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. Two graphic novels can be included in the reading. I’m not trying to discriminate, I’m just trying to make sure that the number of books and page counts mean the same thing to everyone.
  3. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it. If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.
  4. The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review. The time spend reviewing counts in your total time.
  5. On your blog, state when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. This makes it easier to track the participants. Write your final summary on Monday, and for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.
  6. Your final summary needs to clearly include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon on Monday, June 8th.
  7. Sign up in today’s comments. You’re more than welcome to post the challenge on your site. Point them to today’s post to sign up. On Friday, June 5, I’ll have a starting-line post where you can sign in to say you’re officially starting the challenge.

Last year was my first foray into the reading challenge and it was awesome!  It felt so good to just set aside an entire weekend to do nothing but read and review.  My stats from last year:
Total pages read- 3498

Total hours- 19.50

Total books read- 17

So join us this year!  Head on over to MotherReader’s blog and sign up.  It’s a ton of fun!

Last year’s books


Winnie’s War by Jenny Moss

 Winnie lives with her family–mother, father, grandmother, and her younger sisters–in a small-town in Texas, near Galveston.  Her father is in charge of the local graveyard/burials.  Clara, her grandmother, handles the girls because their mother is withdrawn and emotionally scarred- never the same after the 1900 hurricane.  And Clara and Winnie butt heads like nobody’s business!

Winnie’s War takes place during the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. Winnie loves living in Coward Creek, and the war overseas barely enters her life.  But when the residents of the town begin falling ill, Winnie starts to panic.  Her young sister has breathing problems and Winnie knows she can’t afford to get sick.  Everyone is suddenly a potential carrier, someone to be avoided.  And when her father continues burying the victims, Winnie is torn between what she knows is right and what she knows she should do.  And as fair warning, I cried at the end!

This is a fantastic historical novel and perfect to read right now, with the H1N1 pandemic.  Jenny Moss does a great job of weaving the historical aspects of the flu epidemic into the story of Winnie.  The historical fiction aspect doesn’t take over the whole book, which sometimes turns off middle grade readers.  I would love to pair this with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 and Jim Murphy’s An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (Newbery Honor Book) for a neat set of “epidemic/pandemic” book clubs next year. As I realized during the H1N1 pandemic, most of my students have no background knowledge of past epidemics!  In fact, the only reason some of my girls knew about the Spanish influenze epidemic is because Edward’s parents (in TWILIGHT) died of the flu!  

I also think that my realistic fiction fans who enjoy “middle school” stories and coming-of-age tales will enjoy Winnie’s War.  Winnie is a typical middle schooler, despite the difference in eras.  She has a sweetheart, Nolan, whom she thinks she likes as more than a friend.  She struggles with mean girls at school.  And she has issues with her best friend.  Because Jenny Moss doesn’t beat you over the head with historical aspects of the book the story flows neatly and can almost seem to take place now.  I know how difficult that must be, but I think it paid off well!

Cover Art Curiosity

I am a nosy little bugger who loves getting the “inside scoop”.  That’s why I loved YA author Melissa Walker’s series this week, Cover Stories.  Every day she interviewed a different author about the story behind their book’s cover.  Every story is different and each one is fascinating.  I had no idea that some cover models are used on more than one book!  Or that the models themselves don’t always know when their likeness has been used.

Melissa Walker interviews Sarah Dessen about the cover for Along for the Ride, Siobhan Vivian about Same Difference, Beth Kephart about Nothing but Ghosts, Jenny Han about the cover of The Summer I Turned Pretty, and Sara Zarr about Story of a Girl and Sweethearts. So cool! Plus, you can enter a contest each day to win a copy of the author’s book. And don’t forget to check out Melissa Walker’s newest book, Lovestruck Summer.

Poetry Friday

My students handed in their multi-genre poetry anthologies this week and I am enjoying reading them.  One of the requirements was to include at least three “choice” pieces- poems, songs, quotes, short excerpts from memoirs and stories, etc.  One of my students included the following poem and it really tugged at my heartstrings.


I wish someone would tell me
What it is I have done wrong,
And why I must be chained outside
And left alone so long.

They seemed so glad to have me
When I came here as a pup,
There were so many things we’d do
While I was growing up.

The master said he’d train me
As a companion and a friend,
The mistress said she’d never fear
To be alone again.

The children said they’d feed me
And brush me everyday,
They’d play with me and walk me
If I would only stay.

But now the master hasn’t time
The mistress says I shed,
She won’t allow me in the house
Not even to be fed.

The children never walk me
They always say, “not now!”,
I do wish I could please them
Can someone tell me how?

All I had, you see, was love
I wish someone would explain
Just why the said they wanted mine
And then left it on a chain……

Author Unknown

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Matthew has five rules of survival:

“1. Sometimes, the people who mean you harm are the ones who say they love you.
2. Fear is your friend. When you feel it, act.
3. Protect the little ones.
4. If you coped before, you can cope now.
5. Always remember, in the end, the survivor gets to tell the story.”


Matthew has spent the last seventeen years standing between his abusive mother and his two younger sisters.  His father is afraid of Nikki and hasn’ t been around in years (though he sends his child support checks faithfully).  The children’s aunt lives downstairs and is also a frequent victim of Nikki’s verbal and emotional abuse.


The Rules of Survival is told as a retrospective, a letter from Matt to his youngest sister, Emmy.  Clearly manic, their mother latches onto Emmy as her primary victim.  But when she begins dating Murdoch, life seems normal.  The dad they never had, all three kids immediately fall in love with him.  They spend nights watching tv at his house, they have picnics on the beach, and he is a better parent than they ever had before.  Nikki soon becomes jealous of the attention Murdoch showers on the children and breaks up with him.  So begins a downward spiral for Nikki and her kids.


This is a haunting depiction of child abuse as experienced by a young boy.  Only seventeen years old, he is far older inside thanks to what he has experienced.  Matthew is writing the story as a letter to Emmy, in case she ever has questions about their life with Nikki.  He doesn’t know if he will ever have the courage to give it to her, but he knows he needs to write it down.  There were points in the story when I had to put the book down- Nikki is manic and abusive.  The way she treats her kids is absolutely terrifying.  Nancy Werlin’s writing manages to make you feel like you are right their with Matthew, seeing what is happening to him and his sisters.  

I booktalked this to my students and they were very receptive.  It’s slowly making the rounds with my biggest realistic fiction fans and is opening their eyes to a world they didn’t know existed.  Despite the heavy themes, the vocabulary is simple and not over the heads of my sixth-graders.  But this is a story that needs to be read and shared, as there are too many children out there today who live the life that Matthew describes.  

Amazing Experience

I have no voice but tonight was completely worth it.  My teaching team coordinated a fundraiser at a local restaurant where 20% of the checks from tonight will go to our local Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center.  I was at the restaurant from 4:45-8:30 and we had a huge turnout!  We gave out 86 sign-in sheets to our students.  Eighty-six!  Plus we had former students, teachers from throughout the district, and administration.  

It was a fantastic night spent with our students and parents.  Like I said, I currently have no voice, but I think we raised a great deal of money to donate when we go to the museum on our class trip later this week.  It was an amazing feeling seeing our students and their families eating dinner together and making time in their day for such a great cause.  :)

News from Around the Blogosphere

What an insanely busy day today.  With state testing starting next week, this week is crazy.  Tomorrow, my team at school is hosting a fundraiser for the Holocaust Genocide and Human Rights Education Center that our students will be visiting soon.  And I am hurrying to finish an assortment of books so that I can booktalk them to my students before standardized testing.  Testing is the perfect time to hook kids on a book, because when the finish their choices are to sit and stare at the wall or read a book.  And I strongly encourage them to read, rather than space.  ;)

In light of my crazy to-do list, I have a review list that is backed up to last Wednesday.  Or somewhere thereabouts.  In the meantime, here is some news from around the blogosphere:

  • Donalyn Miller’s recent post about reading during testing certainly hit home.  My favorite part of testing – ok, really the only thing I like about testing- is watching my students open up their novels when they close their test booklets.  Those of you heading into testing season should take a moment and read this!
  • If you missed any of GottaBooks Thirty Poets/Thirty Days, be sure to check out Gregory K.’s wrap-up post. With poets like Marilyn Singer, Adam Rex, Nikki Grimes, and so many more- this is one not to be missed!
  • YPulse has a survey up which makes me very happy.  They polled tweens about their reading habits and I think many people will be surprised at some of the results.  90% of the tweens who responded say they “enjoy reading”.  Yay!
  • The kidlitosphere is a wonderful place and everyone takes care of each other.  Right now, there is a wonderful opportunity to help out one of our own: The Auction for Bridget Zinn.  

Three things happened to Bridget in February:
1. She got an agent for her young adult novel.
2. She got married.
3. She found out she had Stage Four colon cancer.  

From the website:

 Bridget is dealing with an ugly reality that is all too common in America today.  Even when you have insurance that covers most things, it doesn’t cover everything.  Medscape reports, “The cost of treating colorectal cancer has skyrocketed over the past 5 years or so, and the costs of new agents and regimens have risen 340-fold.”

Here’s how you can help.  A group of writers who have been impressed with Bridget’s friendliness and what can only be described as her radiant joy (even now) has banded together to help Bridget with the costs she faces.  One of the activities will be an online auction. 


Please check out the auction.  All of the items up for bidding are amazing!  And this is a wonderful opportunity to help out an amazing person.  Please check it out!

This Month’s Most Popular Book

About half of the students in my morning class are currently obsessed with Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman. My ARC has been passed around and 10 of my students purchased their own copy at the recent Scholastic book sale. In fact, the PTA had to order additional copies once my class bought all of them out!  Needless to say, Patrick Carman’s ghost story is a hit.  They are raving about this one! - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

Reading a book that melds the written word and the digital world has made our reading time interesting and a little different than I am used to. At first, I was worried about having students view the videos in school, afraid that it would disrupt their classmates’ reading. I began by allowing one student on the computer at a time, wearing headphones, to view the videos as they reached them in the book. Soon enough, I had a student on each computer, each watching a different video. It has workedout great! The kids absolutely love the book and I love that Skeleton Creek has brought the 21st century into our daily reading time.

The videos also serve as hooks for some of my more dormant readers.  They can’t help but be intrigued by the shaky camera work, the creepy noises, and the whole setup of the video entries.  I see them as they watch the videos over the back of a classmate, pretending they aren’t eaveswatching.  With no sound (the reader has headphones on), they become even more intrigued.  Inevitably, they begin talking to their classmates about the book and soon enough add their name to the waiting list for our classroom copy.  It’s happened more than once!

Reviews have been positive across the board from the students who have completed the book.  They can’t wait for the second book to come out and are thrilled that Skeleton Creek won’t be a standalone title. I even have a few who are beginning to explore in the meantime!

When the Whistle Blows By Fran Cannon Slayton

Fran Cannon Slaytons’s When the Whistle Blows is a historical fiction novel set during the 1940’s. Sounds pretty typical, right? Wrong! This is anything but your typical historical fiction book and I think that is going to work in its favor when readers pick it up.

Jimmy is the youngest son of a railroading family in rural West Virginia. He and his two older brothers long for the day that they can join their father working on the railroad. But their father swears that will happen over his dead body- the railroad is dying he says, being replaced by the diesel engine. This is a book about life in a small town, about growing up with two older brothers, about dreaming and hoping, about scheming and causing trouble.

Where this novel rises to greatness is in the format. Each chapter is a small vignette, a snapshot in time. The chapters all take place on the same day, but in different years. The story begins on All Hallow’s Eve (Jimmy’s father’s birthday) in 1943 and ends on All Hallow’s Eve 1949. You are with Jimmy through events, both big and small, that shape his life. You watch him grow and mature, as you also watch his father weaken and grow smaller. Built like short stories, some of the chapters will leave you begging for more but Slayton effortlessly weaves the years into one another.

This is a novel that I think will appeal to a variety of readers. Dormant/reluctant readers will enjoy the chapters because they are small worlds unto themselves. They aren’t intimidating, which can often be a problem with novels on grade-level for dormant/reluctant readers. Underground/gifted readers will be able to dig deep into this story and analyze the changes that occurred during this time period. (In fact, I am going to booktalk this at the end of our Holocaust/WWII book clubs because it covers the same time period so differently). And this is a book that supports developing readers, because it allows them to bite off small chunks of the story at a time. Finishing a chapter can be a satisfying experience because it’s like finishing a short story. And for me, this was a fantastic read! I read it in bits and pieces this weekend (I just couldn’t find an hour to sit down and focus!) and had no trouble stopping at the end of a chapter because I knew I would be moving a year forward when I returned to the book. Of course, I was flying through the end of it, a bit choked up! *

Fran Cannon Slayton has written a quiet novel that will surprise many readers. Her prose is powerful, yet understated. Critics, teachers, librarians, and reviewers alike will love this one. But I also think kids will love it! Jimmy gets into plenty of trouble, causes a lot more, loves sports, and even manages to get some spying done. There is a secret society, a prank gone very awry, a graveyard hangout, and trains galore. I know When the Whistle Blows is going to fly off my bookshelf when I booktalk it!

When the Whistle Blows is a book that I think we will be hearing a lot more from when award time rolls around!

*This would also make a fantastic read-aloud. Teachers could share a chapter a day and not worry about missing a day here and there. The story is very strong, but the format allows for some time off without losing the momentum.

Books I’m Craving

I must add 20 books to my wishlist every week.  Here are just a few of the recent additions that I am dying to read!  (Some aren’t even out yet….)

Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries, and Shakes- OK, so it’s not exactly kidlit. But I love Bobby Flay! One of his Burger Palace restaurants opened near me recently and it is delicious. I flipped through this cookbook at Sam’s Club and it was awesome! The milkshakes looked absolutely delicious.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead- After reading Betsy Bird’s review of this title, I was dying to read it. That hasn’t changed. Someone find me an ARC!

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister by Nonna Bannister- I am always on the lookout for more Holocaust stories to build up my background in the subject. Nonna Bannister’s biographical account of her life during the Holocaust sounds very powerful. And the fact that she hid it from her family for so many decades fascinates me. I am looking forward to reading this one soon.

A Map Of The Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell- My fiancee is a cartographer, so a YA novel that has geography and geocaching as a theme sounds perfect!

How I Found the Perfect Dress by Maryrose Wood- I read and loved the first book in this series and can’t wait to continue the series!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman- I picked this up in Sam’s Club today and had a hard time putting it down. Books about the afterlife, or suspended between life and death, always catch my eye. This one has been getting great reviews!

The Season by Sarah Maclean- I have some huge fans of THE LUXE series in my classroom and they have been begging for more books about fancy dresses, scandal, and romance. The Season sounds perfect!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly- A book about a budding young naturalist that’s been garnering rave reviews in every corner? Sign me up!

That’s just a taste of some of the books I am craving. What are you wishing and hoping for?


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