April is Poetry Month….

….and I have cried no less than 3 times since my students started writing their poems.  Three students in particular are gifted poets and their poems honestly made me cry (which the rest of the class found amazing).  Does anyone have any ideas for publication?  I don’t have a lot of resources for places that are interested in student poetry.

So far, we have only immersed ourselves in poetry and opened the heart door (thanks, Georgia Heard!).  If the poems they are sharing so far are any indication, this might be my best year yet with poetry.  They are very open to sharing and I have am getting glimpses into lives that I didn’t know anything about.

Poetry is always one of my favorite units of the year because it truly opens a window into the souls of my students.  I love opening their eyes to poetry; after years of being required to write acrostics, cinquains, sonnets, and other highly regimented forms of poetry it’s awesome to allow them the freedom to write non-rhyming poems!  Even better, they can choose their topics and write about anything they want.  My only rule is that every student must dig deep.  In other words, no poems like “I like summer.  It is not a bummer.  We go in the pool.  It is cool.”  My corny example always brings a few laughs but it seems to sink in.  So far, so good.  I have learned about parents with breast cancer, the death of grandparents, losing pets, losing friends, growing apart, growing up, and more coming-of-age moments in their tweenage lives.

Are your students surprising you this month with their poetry?

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude

In 2067, a virus struck the earth.  Killing 97% of the male population meant women were forced to take over the world.  Thirty years later, Kellen is a teenage boy in a world full of women.  The supervirus, Elisha’s Bear, has periodically reared its ugly head again and again over the past 30 years killing men who live in outback towns and small loner communities.   The world is better off than it was before Elisha’s Bear- no war, crime is al at all-time low, and women are strong and confident.  Kellen has resigned himself to his limited future as a male when he eavesdrops on his mother, who happens to be a high-ranking member of the Population Apportionment Council.  She and her boss are plotting a new outbreak of the virus aimed toward a community of “throwbacks” (loner men).  The problem?  That community includes Kellen’s father. With two new female friends, Kellen manages to escape to warn his dad.  iIn the process, he uncovers the shocking truth behind Elisha’s Bear.

Epitaph Road was a great book to read after The Giver and Unwind. It’s not as strong as the aforementioned books, but I really enjoyed it. One of my favorite parts of the book were the epitaphs that begin each chapter. Many of them left me wanting to know more about the men they were dedicated to. Some of them were haunting.

I immediately fell into the book while reading the prologue. After that, it seemed to slow down a bit. I was left wanting more until Kellen escaped from Seattle and managed to find his father. At that point, I couldn’t put the book down! The novel raises a lot of gender questions that could lead to some great debates. I could imagine my own students defending the choices made by certain characters while condemning those made by other characters.

I am happy to report this is a book that will appeal to boys and girls alike. The protagonist is male but the two supporting characters are female. It’s full of adventure and has a touch of romance- enough to tantalize some readers but not enough to send others running for the hills. Patneaude seems to have the ending open for a sequel so I look forward to that. I can see this being very popular with my students, most of whom are in a dystopian phase.

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Which of the Top 100 Have You Read?

Thanks to Teacherninja for this great meme!

So which of Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Children’s Novels have you read? Bold the titles of any books you have read.

100. The Egypt Game – Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard – Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe – Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches – Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking – Lindgren (1950)
94. Swallows and Amazons – Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn – Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted – Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School – Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall – MacLachlan (1985)

89. Ramona and Her Father – Cleary (1977)
88. The High King – Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday – Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek – Wilder (1937)

84. The Little White Horse – Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief – Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three – Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book – Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family – Taylor (1951)

78. Johnny Tremain – Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember – DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust – Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog – Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers – Norton (1953)

73. My Side of the Mountain – George (1959)
72. My Father’s Dragon – Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning – Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy – Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society – Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons – Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher – Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins – Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes – Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago – Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake – Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock – Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl – Spinelli (2000)

60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle – Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart – Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 – Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars – Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins – Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG – Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows – Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)

51. The Saturdays – Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins – O’Dell (1960)
49. Frindle – Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks – Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy – Curtis (1999)

46. Where the Red Fern Grows – Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass – Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest – Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie – Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me – Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix – Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret – Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire – Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – Curtis (1995)

33. James and the Giant Peach – Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – O’Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic – Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh – Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising – Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess – Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II – Carroll (1865/72)

26. Hatchet – Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women – Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows – Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods – Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux – DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief – Riordan (2005)

20. Tuck Everlasting – Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda – Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee – Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy – Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie – DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Rowling (1999)

13. Bridge to Terabithia – Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit – Tolkien (1938)-I  am checking this one off because I have tried to read it no less than 15 times since the age of ten.  I have never been able to get more than halfway through without quitting!
11. The Westing Game – Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth – Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables – Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden – Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes – Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 – Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time – L’Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte’s Web – White (1952)

If I counted correctly, then I read 76 of the top 100.  I read all of the top 27 and 46 of the top 50.  How about you?

Monarch Butterflies, Milkweed, and Migration….

I just finished watching the Insect episode of LIFE on Discovery.  If you haven’t been watching this series, you are seriously missing out.  It is absolutely incredible.

The footage of the monarch migration was stunning and incredible.  Definitely made me “homesick” for Michoacan.  I visited the oyamel forests in Michoacan, Mexico in February 2008.  It was a life-chanigng experience.  The experience was spiritual and standing amongst millions of fluttering wings, the only sound their quiet flapping, was the closest I have ever felt to God.  It’s an experience I wish everyone could live.

Now, the monarchs are in trouble.  The combination of the floods in the reserves this winter and the habitat destruction in the US are forcing the monarchs to disappear.  Due to the deaths from the severe weather in the reserves, scientists think it will take at least 2 years (maybe more) for the population to return to the levels of earlier this year.  Unfortunately, this year’s population was already obscenely low and lower than the last few years.  So we need to do what we can to help.  Planting milkweed is huge and many organizations, like Monarch Watch, are starting campaigns to inform people of the importance of planting milkweed.

There have been numerous news reports on the monarch crisis.  Check out the GMA and CBS News videos.  Tonight’s episode of LIFE seems to have gotten the attention of a lot of people, too.  The Facebook messages and Twitter responses I got from friends and family after the episode aired were awesome.  I had no less than 10 people send me messages asking me things like, “You’ve been there, right?  It looked incredible!  I’d love to go someday”.  How awesome is that?  Airing the footage of the reserves in HD seems to have made a huge difference.  The footage itself was short but stunning.  Hopefully there are many more people out there who thought the same thing and will look into visiting and along the way will learn about planting milkweed, helping the migration, etc.  :)  Even if they never get to Mexico, the monarchs will be in a better position.  And that is something we all benefit from.

If you liked The Giver, then try…..

Thank you for all your suggestions of dystopian literature!  I added many of your suggestions to my wishlist.  Below is the handout I gave my students after we read Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

If you liked The Giver then try…..

The companion novels: Gathering Blue and The Messenger by Lois Lowry

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Candor by Pam Bachorz
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfield
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
  • The Other Side of the Island
  • Life As We Knew It (and the rest of the Moon series) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • House of the Scorpion
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Healing Wars by Janice Hardy
  • Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
  • 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Ear, The Eye, and The Arm by Nancy Farmer
  • White Mountains by John Christopher
  • The Maze Runner by James Dasher
  • City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
  • The Declaration by Gemma Malley
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman

After passing this list out, many of my students started highlighting the books they want to read.  It was wonderful to watch!

Dystopian Literature and Tweens

As teachers, it is difficult not to share our passions with our students.  Obviously, books and writing are a passion of mine (along with monarch butterflies).  However, my students know that all books are not created equal in my eyes.  No sirree- show me a dystopian novel and I’ll show you a book I can’t put down.  Needless to say, our unit surrounding The Giver is always one of my favorites.  Today my students wrote in-class short essays comparing the themes in The Giver to those in a dystopian short story.   (Old Glory by Bruce Coville, Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., or All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury).  They chose one of our 5 essential questions to answer and had to use examples from both pieces of literature to back up their opinions.  I am so proud of the thinking and writing they did!

After they completed their work, I rewarded them by handing out a list of dystopian books.  Sort of “If you like The Giver, then you will love….”  I listed about 15 dystopian novels and they were thrilled.  I will share the list on the blog tomorrow, but for now I am looking for your suggestions.  My students exhausted my collection of dystopian novels, so I need more ideas!  What are some of your favorite dystopian tween or YA novels?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Last night I was up until 1:46am.  Why?  Because I could not put down Neal Shusterman’s creepy dystopian novel,   Unwind. My classes just finished The Giver as a read aloud and I can not wait to booktalk Unwind. tomorrow.  It’s deliciously creepy and I could not put it down.  I carried it in my purse all day, even reading on the car ride down to Easter dinner.  Due to the holiday, I didn’t get a ton of reading in, which resulted in my 2am bedtime.

Unwind is set in the future.  The second civil war took place sometime between now and then, between those who were pro-life and those who were pro-choice.  The peace treaty enacted was meant to satisfy both sides- The Bill of Life.

From The Bill of Life:

“The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen.

However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively ‘abort’ a child…

…on condition that the child’s life doesn’t ‘technically’ end.

The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called ‘unwinding.’ “

When a teenager is unwound, the law is that every part of them must be used to help someone else.  It’s like nonconsensual organ donation at its absolute worst.  It’s better to be divided and accomplish something great than to be whole and do nothing, right?

There are three protagonists which was a brilliant writing decision on Shusterman’s part.  Connor, Risa, and Levi are all about to be unwound but for very different reasons.  The only thing they have in common is their status as unwounds, and even in that aspect they aren’t equals.  By having all three characters alternate in telling the story we get three very different viewpoints.  I found myself alternately rooting for and hating each on at different points in the story.  These aren’t perfect kids by any means.  They make stupid decisions many times and I just wanted to shake them!  But what a testament to Neal Shusterman’s character development because I felt like I knew each character and I was rooting for each one.

This is one of the most terrifying dystopian novels I have read because the society isn’t all that different from our own.  In the big picture it seems impossible, but Shusterman includes real events from the present-day as reasons for the Bill of Life.  And his reasons don’t seem over-the-top.  In fact, the sequence of events sounds eerily possible.  I found myself folding down pages and marking passages to go look up later.

This would be a phenomenal class read-aloud or book club choice.  The conversation possibilities are almost endless.  The story will disturb you and fascinate you and reader’s won’t be able to put it down.  It’s perfect for readers who have outgrown Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children Series.

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