Win an autographed copy of “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl”!

Time for a bit of prize winning fun! I am giving away a FREE  autographed copy of Barry Lyga’s The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl  to one lucky email subscriber!  


To celebrate my two year anniversary of blogging!  I posted my first review, of Sarah Beth Durst’s Into the Wild on July 4th, 2007.  I’ve been reading, reviewing, and sharing my experiences in the classroom ever since.  

Want to win?

How to Enter:
There are two simple steps you have to follow to win the autographed book:

1. Subscribe to TheReadingZone by email before Friday, July 24th. Just Subscribe to TheReadingZone by Email.  When you subscribe by email you will get notified anytime I post a new entry on the blog.  You can also unsubscribe at any time.  It’s a great alternative to using an RSS feed, like Bloglines or Google.  

2. Leave a comment on ANY post on TheReadingZone using the same email address you entered above.


Once you have completed both steps you will be entered to win the book.  Want some extra entries?  Post about this contest on your blog, tweet it, facebook  it, etc!  Just leave a separate comment on this post with a link.  (This has to be separate from the comment above!)  



  • contest only open to U.S. residents
  • contest ends Friday, July 24th

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead’s First Light was the second book I reviewed when I started blogging. When her newest novel, When You Reach Me, started getting buzz on various blogs that I read I knew I wanted to read it when it was published in July.  

When You Reach Me is historical fiction, though I don’t think a lot of kids will even realize it.  Set in 1978, I felt subtly pulled into a different era, yet much of it was familiar. Miranda is in 6th grade, an age I know well.  Anyone who has ever been on the cusp of middle school knows what a strange world it is- one where friendships change overnight, crushes are born, and parents seem to aim only to embarrass you.  Miranda already has enough to deal with as a 6th grader so when a mystery falls into her lap she does her best to ignore it.  After all, she has a lot on her mind!  Her best friend, Sal, stopped hanging out with her.  Her mom is about to be a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid, and she might be developing a crush on a boy in her class.  

But when Miranda receives a series of strangely prophetic letters over the course of a few months, she doesn’t know what to do.  It all begins when she finds a small, stiff piece of paper bearing the following message:


This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, that you write me a letter. Second, that you remember to mention the location of your house key in the letter. The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.

Each letter is odd and they seem to get stranger as the book goes on.  But when Miranda reaches the conclusion of the notes as a tragedy is sort-of-averted, you will be astonished.  I certainly was!

This is a book that is different from any other book I have read.  As a huge fan of Madeline L’Engle’s books, especially A Wrinkle in Time, Miranda’s love of the same book was a familiar one for me.  I have a feeling Rebecca Stead was also a huge fan of A Wrinkle in Time.  But this is a hard book to describe without giving away spoilers.  All I can say is go out and pre-order this one!  It ships in just a couple of weeks.

I can’t wait to read this to my class next fall.  Each chapter is short and ends on a paragraph that will have kids begging you to read more.  It’s also a fairly quick read, which I will need with my new schedule.  And I think it will garner quite a few shiny stickers come award season!

I can also imagine booktalking this one.  In 6th grade I have a lot students who enjoy the tv show LOST (as do I).  I would call When You Reach Me LOST for the middle school set.  The strands of the story all start weaving themselves together, leaving you breathless at the end, much as I imagine I will be at the end of the final season of LOST.  There’s mystery woven throughout the book yet it also feels entirely realistic.  All in all, a perfect read.

Most Important Elements of Middle School Reading Workshop

At the end of the school year I give an evaluation to all of my students, looking for their opinion on our reading workshop.  I always learn a lot from the evaluations every year, but this year’s evaluation was especially important to me.  Because I will be moving from a two hour block to less than one hour per period, I was especially interested in what my students deemed the most valuable elements of our reading workshop.  While I know what I consider valuable, I wanted to take their ideas into account while planning this summer.

On the evaluation, I asked my students the following question (special thanks to Donalyn Miller for her amazing book, which inspired this question):

9. In the next section, put a checkmark next to the elements of this class that have helped you as a reader.  Circle which factor was MOST important to you.

_Classroom library

_School librarian/library


_Independent Reading time in class

_Class read-alouds

_teacher who reads

_conversations with classmates

_literature circles


_monthly reading logs



I was fascinated by my students’ responses.  This is the first time I have asked my classes to rank the elements of our reading workshop and boy, am I glad I did!  Knowing I will have to rework my schedule a lot next year, I was interested to learn what my students’ considered to be non-negotiables, elements I could not leave out next year.

What are my non-negotiables, according to them, in order of importance?

  1. Booktalks
  2. Read-alouds
  3. Teacher who reads
  4. Classroom library
  5. Conversations with classmates
  6. Independent reading time in class
  7. Letter-essays

Now, a teacher who reads, a classroom library, and letter-essays weren’t in danger of disappearing when my schedule changes.  However, booktalks, read-alouds, conversations with classmates, and independent reading time  will have to be reworked.  I’m thrilled that my booktalks and read-alouds are considered vital by  my students!  

What I find interesting is that the majority of the elements listed above are NOT part of most language arts classrooms.  Classrooms, especially in intermediate and middle schools, are full of basal readers, literature sets, leveled readers, and lectures. 

Read-alouds are considered “silly” once students reach a certain age in most schools, yet my students considered them vital to the culture of reading in our workshop.  As I’ve mentioned before, they begged to read more everyday in our read-alouds.  Plus, the read-alouds permit me to introduce a variety of genres and authors in the classroom and as a result, the students usually go on to read more books from the author or genre.  Without read-alouds, they might not have been exposed to those books or had the confidence to try them on their own.

Booktalks are done sometimes, with little regularity, in most classrooms I encounter.  The person doing the booktalk is usually a student who is presenting the book as part of a book report or other graded assignment.  They are rarely enthusiastic about the novel they are presenting, which doesn’t encourage anyone else to pick up the book.  If the teacher who models booktalks is enthusiastic about reading and books, that will be reflected in the classroom!

We also come back to the idea of social reading, as Jen Robinson wrote on Booklights a few days ago.  Conversations with classmates were high on the list of elements my students noted as vital to the classroom culture and workshop.  A few also wrote in “conversations with teacher” in the “Other” field.  We need to  harness this!  Classroom teachers MUST make time for their students to talk about books with each other.  And teachers must share their own love of books and reading through conversations and conferences with students.  You don’t have to be a bibliophile in order to teach language arts, but you should have books that you enjoy reading and sharing with your students.


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