Share a Story-Shape a Future 2010

Has it really been a year?!  Apparently, it has! The Share a Story-Shape a Future blog tour is coming up again in just a few weeks- March (8-14).  This year’s theme is “It takes a village to raise a reader.”  The tour will last five days and each day will be hosted by a different blog.

Schedule:

Monday,  March 8: The Many Faces of Reading

Hosts: Brian and Steven at Book Dads . Brian, Steven and their guests will be focusing on how we each play a role in helping our children or students learn to read, no matter their age.

Tuesday, March 9: Literacy My Way/Literacy Your Way

Host: Susan Stephenson at The Book Chook. 
Susan and her guests will be sharing creative literacy ideas. Susan will not just be focusing on reading but on all forms of literacy in the 21st Century- writing, art, computers, music.

Wednesday,  March 10: Just the Facts: The Nonfiction Book Hook

Host: Me! at The Reading Zone. 
I will be focusing on promoting nonfiction as a “hook” for engaging readers. Both myself and contributors will talk about using nonfiction with kids and not make it feel like homework!

  We will also talk about historical fiction and pairing it with nonfiction.  I would love to have your post here, too!

Thursday, March 11: Reading Through the Ages: Old Favorites & New Classics

Host: Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer.
  Donalyn, the Book Whisperer,  and her guests will look at books for middle grade readers.  She will be recommending “new” classics for the books we loved as children.

Friday, March 12: Reading for the Next Generation

Host: Jen Robinson at Jen Robinson’s Book Page. 
Jen has invited bloggers to answer some of the things parents wrestle with, like “What if I hate to read?” and “Am I at fault if my child hates to read?”  I am really looking forward to this day as Jen has put together a list of awesome contributors across all ages.

But Sarah, how can I help?


You can write a blog post!  Are you interested in participating? We’d love to have you post on one of the above topics!

I am hosting day 3, focusing on nonfiction.   On March 10, I want to be able to link to posts  all over the web and across the blogosphere about using nonfiction with kids of all ages. I’d love to link to your nonfiction reviews, ideas for using nonfiction with different age groups, and anything else you can think of!

If you’d like to contribute a post to day 2, please let me know. You can email me via the Contact Me page here on the blog.  Even if you just have a suggestion for my day, please feel free to email me! We want to include bloggers from all over the blogosphere.  You don’t need to be a “famous” blogger or even an old, established one.  This is a blog tour open to everyone!  Please don’t hesitate to get involved!

Happy Cybils Day!

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, too.  ;)

Today is the day the kidlitosphere has been waiting for with bated breath……today we learn the winners of the Cybils!  Without further ado, I want to introduce the winner of the middle grade fiction panel….

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

A huge thank you to my own panel!  I think we did a pretty awesome job of coming up with a fantastic shortlist.  ;)

Middle Grade Fiction Panelists

Sherry Early, Semicolon
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Abby Johnson, Abby the Librarian
Kyle Kimmal, The Boy Reader
Becky Laney, Becky’s Book Reviews
Sandra Stiles, Musings of a Book Addict

And me!!

And a huge thank you to the judges!  I have no idea how you managed to narrow down out choices to just one book, but you did an awesome job!

Middle Grade Fiction Judges

Kimberly Baker, Wagging Tales
Stacy Dillon, Welcome to my Tweendom
Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
Kerry Millar, Shelf Elf
David Elzey, Excelsior File

It is an absolute pleasure being a part of the Cybils.  I’ve been very fortunate in that I have been a panelist for the last two years.  It has opened my eyes to reading more critically while also looking for kid appeal.  It’s an overwhelming, fantastic, fun job that I absolutely adore.  Thanks to everyone at the Cybils!

For a list of all the winners, be sure to check out the announcement post at the Cybils blog!

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers by Steven Layne

If you are a teacher, a librarian, a parent- anyone who wants to get kids reading more- then you need to get your hand on Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers.  I knew I would like the book as soon as I saw the title, but I had no idea how important it would be.  It has earned itself a place of honor on my professional book shelf.

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers says so eloquently what I strive for everyday in my classroom-  we need to teach our students to read for the love of reading and not for results on a standardized test.  We need less test prep and more independent reading.  We need teachers who are passionate about books sharing that passion with their students.

Layne focuses on how to teach reading as an art and a love, rather then a set of skills that can be drilled and killed.  The book is packed with ways to inspire readers at any grade level, I could not put this down (which is rare for a professional book)!  While many of his suggestions were things I already do in my classroom it felt great to be validated.  But he also gave me some new, fresh ideas that I have already put into practice in my classes.  And throughout the book Layne calls on authors like Jordan Sonnenblick, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Neal Shusterman, and many others to share the teachers and experiences that shaped them as writers.  I loved these little glimpses into their lives and even gleaned some more ideas from them.

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers is a must-have for any teacher who wants to ignite a passion for pleasure reading in their students.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

For the past few years I have enjoyed reading Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie to my classes. I love Sonnenblick’s voice and I think he captures carious middle school personalities perfectly. Plus, he deals with a serious subject (cancer) in a down-to-earth way. His book always makes my students laugh but without fail their final words are, “is there a sequel?!” For the past few years I have always had to break the bad news to them that no, there was no sequel. Well imagine my excitement when I read that After Ever After would be published this month!

WARNING! This review will contain spoilers for Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie.  If you haven’t read that one yet, get up right now and get yourself to a library or bookstore.  It’s a fantastic read and one very middle school teacher should be familiar with.

After Ever After is everything I wanted and more. Where Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie told the story of Jeffrey’s cancer through his older brother Steven’s eyes, After Ever After is told from Jeffrey’s point of view. Now in eighth grade, he is no longer the kid with cancer. Instead, he is a teenager in remission. Thanks to the chemo and methotrexate, he walks with a limp and has problems focusing in school. Steven, the one person he can always count on to be there for him, has dropped out of college, dumped Annette, and run off to Africa to join an African drum circle. Meanwhile, Jeffrey is dealing with his first girlfriend (the hottest girl in school!), an increasingly grumpy best friend, and his parents flipping out over a new standardized test that he must pass in order to move on to high school.

I can not wait to booktalk this to my class. Again, it deals with some serious topics like cancer, life, and death, but it does it with deference and laughter. I found myself laughing out loud many times and cringing at others. Jeffrey is a typical middle school boy, even if he is a cancer survivor. He has no idea what to say to the girl he likes, he makes bad “your mom jokes”, and he is convinced his dad hates him.  He is self-deprecating but does not pity himself.  He has baggage, but he tries to ensure it doesn’t define him.

I also loved After Ever After feels like it can stand alone.  One doesn’t need to read Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie in order to enjoy After Ever After.  While the two books are a great pair, and reading one will make you want to read the other, they both stand well on their own.  That’s the sign of a fantastic pair of books.

(And for any teachers out there, Jeffrey’s struggles with standardized testing will rile you up something fierce!  Plus, Miss Palma is an awesome English teacher!)

*ARC courtesy of the publisher


The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

While enjoying Snowzilla, the blizzard that blanketed the mid-Atlantic region this week, I wanted to read a sweet book.  Something fun, happy, and light.  While looking through my TBR pile, my eyes landed on the stunning cover of Laura Amy Schlitz’s new novel, The Night Fairy. I knew immediately that it was exactly the book and story I was looking for. And I was right.

Lyrical prose, stunning full-color artwork, and a fantastic fairy with spunk combine in this winning novel. Flory is a night fairy, born just before midnight. When she is not yet three months old, a bat accidentally breaks her wing. Suddenly sentenced to a life without flight, Flory is devastated. She makes her way to a “giant’s” garden, an older human woman. In the garden she finds a birdhouse, which she makes into her home. No taller than an acorn, Flory is all alone. She is forced to become a day fairy and must keep herself safe from birds, praying mantises, and other fairy predators. But in the end, this is a story of strength and friendship- Flory is stronger than she gives herself credit and she also needs more help than she is willing to admit.

This stunning middle grade novel is sure to be a hit with fairy lovers, nature lovers, and those who love to use their imagination. The prose is stunning and lyrical. And while it may sound like a simple fairy tale on the surface, you quickly realize that Flory is a strong female character. One minute she is fighting off predators, the next she is decorating her home. Later she might be saving the life of a hummingbird while risking her own, and then spending time gazing at the moon. She is beauty, strength, innocence, and love rolled into one very small, acorn-sized package. I imagine this will be the perfect book for girls who love fairy books but desire something a little deeper than the trendy, novelty books so often published. It will also make the perfect bedtime story. I’d recommend it for 9-10 year olds, but I also know a lot of my own 6th graders will love this book. I’d be thrilled to hand it to them because the writing is just gorgeous.

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

N. D. Wilson Blog Tour- Life Cycle of a Writer

I am thrilled to be a part of N.D. Wilson’s blog tour for the final book in his exciting series, The 100 Cupboards.  The first book, 100 Cupboards: Book 1 (The 100 Cupboards), is the current book club selection for Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids. The final book in the series, The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards, was released last month. The whole series is great and N.D. Wilson is a phenomenal writer. I absolutely loved Leepike Ridge, which I read a few years ago. (Check out my  review for more thoughts.)

Today, N.D. Wilson stops by TheReadingZone to share some of his thoughts on writing.  I can’t wait to share this with my students!  (And anyone who knows me is aware that I love metaphors that deal with insects and metamorphosis!)




Writers are like insects. We hatch in kindergarten—learning to read. And as our reading level climbs, we enter into some form of larval stage, consuming everything in front of us. Place a stack of fresh leaves in front of a globulous caterpillar and you have the perfect picture of the young writer. A young writer is a young reader—someone who will devour virtually anything. At this point, gatekeepers are necessary. It’s up to teachers, librarians, and parents to make sure that the books consumed are actually healthy (and helpful). Like any other form of consumption, not everything is good for you. A lot of kids with appetites for stories end up stuck in some form of literary junk food, a place with a never ending supply, where it’s easy to grow lazy and narrow in their tastes. Of course, when teachers are dealing with kids who hate eating at all, junk food is a great place to start. The flavors are simple and appealing. But those are different kids and different problem. We’re talking about young hungry, hungry caterpillars. The devourers. Bottomless pits. Throw anything at them and they’ll bring it back tomorrow, finished. (The first time I ever stayed up all night, I think I was in sixth grade, reading a book. And it was a terrible book, too.)

The first great change finally comes. The young writer’s belly is bulging. They become picky. Or they should. We are corpulent. We are full, and our parents and teachers and librarians panic. What happened to the appetite? Where has it gone? Has the reader died? Lazing bloated on the sofa, we complain of our boredom, we push books away untasted. We’ve seen this little thing with the dragon before. Funke did it first. Or at least second. This happens at different ages. I started doing this in the fifth grade. For others, it comes sooner. And I know people who didn’t get picky until college.

We have become pupae. Wrap us in a cocoon of old favorites. Actually, bring me mere selections of my old favorites. Give us some space—a little breather. And then make us work again, but differently. At this point, the young writer’s greatest strength—that which needs to be developed—is distaste. They need the ability to loath a character, a plot, a concept. If they are ever going to be left completely in the driver’s seat of a narrative, they need to develop a connoisseur’s palate for literary finesse and a quick sneer for literary folly. Make them read, but encourage them when they throw a paperback across the room. Question them. Force them to develop. Make them justify their own dislike. Help them learn to tear down stories. And, of course, in that context, the discovery of a story that pleases is sweet relief. But don’t let it sail by untested either. What was better about that book? Why did it resonate? What was more believable about it than the poor hurled paperback? The boredom fades. Sitting in judgment, the discovery of talent and failure, and the contrast of characters is interesting. Until it too, becomes easy.

And now it’s time for a dose of humility.

Make them fix stories. You don’t like My Side of the Mountain? The Egypt Game? Fine. Fix them. Make them better. Force the young writer out of the destructive phase and into positive construction. And don’t just pat them on the back and smile at every proposal. Turn their critical eyes onto their own ideas. Self-regulating creativity is a must. Judge them by their own finicky judgments.

Of course, throughout all of this, the hope is that these kids are learning the basics of craft as well. The mechanics of a sentence, a paragraph, metaphor, simile, etc. But those do not make a writer. Those are tools in a builder’s hands, and they’re terrific. But the builder needs visions. The builder needs imagination, creativity, sharp critical teeth, and the ability to weigh (and discard) ideas.

For me, the critical process kicked off as a result of my father. He pushed me when I moaned about my school reading. He was fine with my constant return to favorite passages from Lewis and Tolkien, but at that phase, it was just as important to read things that I hated—so long as the hatred could be justified.

My entrance into high school brought new desires. Forget fixing other people’s stories. I wanted my own. Prose craft became the order of the day, and lots of parental encouragement (and red ink criticism). I had sharp enough eyes to know that I wasn’t any good (when compared to my favorite authors—and I truly couldn’t think of any way to describe firelight without using the word dancing). That struggle to communicate kept me going. I read more poetry. I disciplined myself by writing (bad) poetry. I focused on many, many short exercises, especially sketching real scenes and events, and trying to reproduce conversations I stole in public. (The beauty of sketching the real is that it’s easier to tell when you’ve gotten it wrong.) I read more and more broadly. All the way through college and then grad school, I focused on short, refined prose. Finally, having popped out the other end of my formal education, I began tackling novels. And here I am.

All of this is autobiographical. I have no way of asserting this as the universal path to becoming a writer. But I have a nagging belief that my own experience is hardly unique, and many’s the time that I’ve listened to the grief of parents who believe their middle school reader has passed on—bored, listless, critical . . . pupating.

I’m no beautiful butterfly. A lunar moth, maybe (if I flatter myself). But I’d like to be a dragon fly. I want mosquitoes to fear me.

The book trailer for The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards:

Be sure to check out N.D. Wilson on the rest of his blog tour!

2/8 Shadow Hunters

2/9 Books4YourKids

2/10 Here!

2/11 Eva’s Book Addiction

2/12 Becky’s Book Reviews

2/12 Fireside Musings

N.D. Wilson’s website is great- be sure to check it out!




Top Secret! Contents of One of the 100 Cupboards!

Just for TheReadingZone, N.D. Wilson has revealed what lies behind one of the 100 Cupboards. Over the course of  the series, Henry finds his Grandfather’s journal, which reveals some of the cupboard secrets. Here’s a secret about one of the cupboards that you won’t find in the books!


This place is strange. The sun is shining, but not on me. I crawled up through some kind of drain and into a narrow stone corridor without a roof. Blue sky above me, but the walls are tall enough and set close enough together that I think it must be permanently damp where I am sitting (and cold water has already seeped completely through my trousers—but adventuring has its costs). The ground around me is thick with moss, all of it sponged full of water. I have already explored this corridor, but not at any great length. It turns suddenly in both directions, occasionally bends, and frequently opens into others. Wander too far, and I could easily be in here forever. Clearly, it is some kind of labyrinth—though for what purpose, I cannot say. The only signs of life that I have encountered are actually signs of death—a thigh bone, jagged and chewed on one end, a jaw, some ribs. Which gives me an idea, dangerous perhaps, but I am here, and I will explore. I will use a bone to carve my path in the moss. Goodbye, Anastasia. Adventure is calling me . . .

Terror. I will not lie to you, never to you, Anastasia. I shiver. My heart’s teeth are chattering and my hands are shaking as I write. Safe again, but barely. Sitting on your grandfather’s bed in the hollow farmhouse. I wandered too far in that terrible maze, twisting and winding through corridor after corridor, bone-plowing a furrow in the moss as I went. Nearer the center, the bones increased—some half-swallowed by spongy green, some fresh and feeding flies. Their buzzing was the first sound I had heard in this place, beyond the quiet wind moving above these open corridors.

I reached a place with a roof, and the corridor became a tunnel—a dark mouth, breathing a terrible stink. The bones there were thicker, rattling around my feet, scraping my ankles (you know how tender they are). I stood in that mouth, listening, straining my eyes in the darkness, and I could hear breathing. Two pairs of lungs—one small and afraid, one thick and phlegmy and beastly.

Up against the wall, I could just see a young boy. His clothes were tattered around him, his face was bloodied. In his hands he gripped a long knife, almost a short sword. He was looking at me, startled, afraid.

Beyond him, a horrible creature slept in a skeletal nest, with one terrible arm hooked around a fresh kill. His body was the body of a great ape—something part animal, part human, part giant. He was covered with hair, matted with sweat and blood and filth. But his head was even more terrible—huge, horned, snouted like a baboon or a fanged bull. Snoring.

The boy whispered something to me in a language I could not understand. Then he began to creep forward, toward the beast.

“No!” I said. “Don’t wake it!”

The beast snorted, rattled its bed, and opened its bloody eyes.

Some might say that I should have stayed, but how could I have helped that poor doomed boy? It required courage enough to breathe, to swallow back my scream. And to run.

I could hear bones crunching, the boy’s shouting, and a terrible roar, and I raced back through those narrow walls to my drain, my rope, and my path out of that world and into this. I will see your face again. I have survived a terror. That poor boy, I fear, has not.

Would a coward continue on with these explorations? I have already chosen a door for tomorrow. Your great-grandfather’s description:

#14. Collected 1899. Syrian caravan. Square ebony cabinet. Four corner locks in silver. Central silver ring. Slave trader claimed it contained the ghosts and treasure of crusaders. No confirmation possible as he wouldn’t allow examination. Won it (and two camels) at dice. Left in the night, pursued.

Your grandfather’s additional note is as confusing as the last: [Kastra/Damascus/III]. But I will not learn more today. My courage must recover. Anastasia, is it strange that I will see you tonight, and listen patiently to your barbs? You will not know what you are saying, or to whom you are saying it. I am Richard Hutchins, facer of perils.

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