NaNoWriMo Winner!

It’s been a very long month, and scheduling has been a nightmare.  I gave up hours of sleep some nights, worked while the dog barked at me, and put off a lot of reading.  But I did it!

I love NaNoWriMo because I work much better under deadlines and pressure.  The 30-day challenge to complete a novel is exactly the motivation I need.  Now my plan is to let the novel sit for a while and pull out last year’s NaNoWriMo novel and start revising…

Congratulations to everyone else who participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo, even if you did not win.  :)

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards

This marking period my seniors are focusing on environmental and engineering disasters.  We just read Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and our next book is David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood. When I received a review copy of Jame Richards’ Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood over the summer, I knew I would want to read it closer to when we were focusing on the Johnstown Flood disaster.  Over the holiday weekend I finished the book and I can not wait to share it with my seniors.  I plan to make it our read-aloud this marking period because it will be such a great companion piece for McCullough’s book, especially as Richards was inspired by McCullough’s book to write Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood.

Told in verse, from five different perspectives, Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood does not overly focus on the disaster itself.  Instead, it takes the history and helps the reader imagine what life was like for the people who experienced the dam burst and subsequent flood.  For the most part, the reader follows Celestia, an upper-class girl who falls in love with a local boy, Peter.  Maura is a young mother struggling to raise four children while her husband, Joseph, works on the railroad. Her struggle to escape the deluge with her children is awe-inspiring and tear-inducing. I really liked Kate, a tough nurse (who has lost her childhood love to drowin),  who meets up with all the other characters at some point and even saves their lives.  The verse captures each characters emotions perfectly and the varied perspectives allow the reader to see the disaster from different viewpoints.

The Johnstown flood killed 2200 people, but I have never read any YA historical fiction about this horrible engineering disaster.  However, I also think this historical fiction novel will appeal to readers who shy away from historical fiction, because it is light on facts and heavy on story.  The events of the flood are woven into the fabric of the characters’ lives and you never feel like you are reading a historical account.  Instead, you feel like you know each character and are just hearing their story.  Teens and MG readers will readily point out the similarities to Hurricane Katrina (unidentified bodies, sickness spreading, the flood itself, the upper-class reaction) and Three Rivers Rising would be a fabulous read aloud or literature circle book.  I imagine that the conversations that would stem from this book would be stellar.  I plan to find out when I begin reading it with my seniors tomorrow!

*review copy courtesy of publisher

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Patricia McCormick’s Sold has been on my TBR pile for a very long time. It never quite made it to the top because I knew I most likely would not put it in my classroom library so I did not want to disappoint myself by loving a book I could not share. However, now that I am in ninth and twelfth grade, I pulled it out.

If you teach high school (or even upper middle school, depending on your class) this book must be in your classroom library. The heartbreaking story of 13-year-old Lakshmi opens on her ordinary life in Nepal. However, her stepfather is a gambler sells her into prostitution in India in order to pay off a gambling debt. Refusing to be with men, Lakshmi is beaten and starved, eventually drugged and raped. Written in free verse, Lakshmi’s story is difficult to read, but sadly is real life for too many girls in Nepal. McCormick interviewed girls in India and Nepal before writing this book and I am so happy she decided to tell their stories. I know that we focus on speaking loudly in our own communities, but these girls need us to SpeakLoudly, too.

McCormick handles difficult subject matter with sensitivity and dexterity.  Lakshmi’s story is never sensationalized, but will leave you in tears.  The subject matter is difficult, but it is something that teens should be aware of.  This is daily life for some children and their stories need to be shared.  Highly, highly recommended.

*copy purchased by me

Shakespeare Set Free

How on earth did I know know about Teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth before this month?! I know, I know….I did not teach Shakespeare in sixth grade. But still, I try to stay up-to-date on the newest and best resources. Thanks to Dana Huff

Looking for Book Recommendations?

Just in time for the holidays, Donalyn Miller and Paul Hankins are holding another round of #TitleTalk this Sunday at 8pm.  To participate in this amazing chat, hop on Twitter and follow the #TitleTalk hashtag! #Titletalk is a fabulous conversation between teachers, bloggers, bookstores, authors, and many others.  (#ARCsFloatOn was born out of last month’s chat).  You should definitely stop by, as I am sure I will be adding heaps of books to my towering must-read pile of books.

*I like to follow Twitter chats on Tweetgrid.  It makes it easier to follow the conversation.  Just a helpful hint!

 

Hope to see you there!

NCTE10

I just want to take a moment and thank all of the awesome teachers who tweeted from NCTE 2010 this weekend.  I was able to follow many sessions and presentations via the great Twitter updates.  If you did not get a chance to follow, check out the hashtag #NCTE10 for the latest updates.  Sounds like it was an amazing conference and I am so sad I could not go this year- I am already planning for NCTE ’11 in Chicago.  (Formulating some presentation ideas right now…..proposals are due in January!)

I do have one complaint about the NCTE Convention, though.  Last year I presented and a lot of the presenters (myself included!) uploaded resources, Powerpoints, etc to the NCTE Ning.  I looked forward to the same thing happening this year.  While it is not the same as being at the presentations, obviously, it’s phenomenal to get resources from other teachers and to be introduced to new people through those resources.  This year I was dismayed to find out that NCTE had the presenters upload to their Connected Community.  I find the new Community to be frustratingly impossible to navigate as it leans towards Web 1.0 instead of 2.0.  The threads are all over the place, the division between topics is hard to distinguish, and the navigation is bizarre. But I was willing to work through the bumps in the road for the Convention materials.

Well, boy was I miffed when I clicked on the community entitled “2010 NCTE Annual Convention”  and got the following message:

Sorry you are not eligible to view the Digest

What?  Weird, I thought.  My membership was up for renewal on November 30th, so I assumed it was related to that.  Off I went to re-up my membership (and change my journal subscription from Voices in the Middle to English Journal!) Done and done, I tried the Connected Community again.  Still no go.  So I turned to my PLN on Twitter.  Apparently I was not the only one having this problem and we soon realized NCTE controls what every member sees on the community.  Apparently, only registered conference attendees have access to the convention digest on the community.  What?!  What happened to open access?  Think that maybe they are going in the opposite direction that teachers are steering their students in?

Thankfully, some presenters were upset by this, too- they posted their presentation materials on Slideshare, blogs, and even the old Ning.  But come on, NCTE!  Why are you segregating members based on the money they were able to spend in this economy?  I would love to have gone to NCTE but lost my job when I should have been planning the trip.  It just wasn’t a possibility.  Will I be there next year?  I sure hope so!  But you are alienating your members with your new “community”.  I have no plans to participate in the Connected Community thanks to this experience.  I get so much more out of the English Companion Ning and I will stick with that!

NaNo, Grading, Cybils, Oh My!

Snowed under right now…..I am frantically wrapping up first marking period grades, trying to keep up with my NaNoWriMo novel, and reading for the Cybils.  Needless to say, I am more than a little busy. I have reviews to write and promise to get some of them up this week,

 

Oh!  But tomorrow morning the mailman is picking up the first two ARCsFloatOn packages!  I have three more boxes that will be ready to go out on Tuesday.  Tomorrow I have to stop at the post office and get more flat rate boxes.  So far, ARCsFloatOn is a huge success!

 

Finally, I am very sad that I will not be at NCTE this coming week.  :(  I am hoping to attend vicariously through people’s tweets, so please tweet if you are there!  The hashtag is #NCTE10.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi is on the edge, toes already over and the rest of her ready to fall forward. Two years ago, her little brother Truman was killed. In the ensuing years, her family split up, her mother has slowly lost her mind, and Andi has blamed herself for her brother’s death. When her father, a Nobel-Prize-winning geneticist, makes a surprise visit on account of Andi’s failing grades, he discovers just how deep her mother has retreated into herself. He immediately gets her into a treatment center and takes Andi with him on his business trip to France. He hopes that in Paris she will be able to concentrate on her thesis, a graduation requirement.

Andi is miserable in Paris, medicating herself with her pills in increasing dosages. The only thing that keeps her tethered to the earth (barely) is music. When her father’s friend shows her an antique guitar case, she is drawn to it. When she discovers a secret compartment in the case, a dusty diary falls out. It is here that we are introduced to Alexandrine Paradis, companion to Louis Charles, the young dauphin who was imprisoned as a child, walled up alive. Andi begins reading the diary and feels a strong connection with Alexandrine and the young prince, who reminds her of her brother. What ensues is a story of pain, of loss, of love, and finally hope.

This book is absolutely unbelievable. First of all, what a fantastic way to introduce teens to the French Revolution. I was hooked from the moment I read the first words in Alexandrine’s diary. And Andi…oh my gosh. It was like I was standing there next to her. That is how real she felt to me. And honestly, all of the characters are compelling. I fell in love with them all, even if I wanted to hate some of them, too.

I am not sure how I can convince you to go out and read Revolution right now. If you love historical fiction, this is for you. If you love teen characters who are actually real teens, then you will love Revolution. If you just want to immerse yourself in some of the best writing of the year, go get Revolution. If you want to shut out the world for a while and forget about everything else, pick up Revolution. Jennifer Donnelly is a genius.  My fingers are crossed that this book is on the list of Printz winners come January.  It sure as hell deserves it.

And hey, I already have a few students gushing over this. Really! Gushing over a book about the French Revolution. As one of them updated on Goodreads recently, “Still reading. I can not put this book down!”.

*ARC from BEA

#ARCsFloatOn Matching Program!

Wow!  The response to #ARCsFloatOn has been unbelievable!  If you are interested in being matched, please fill out the form at the link below.  Thanks!

 

ARCsFloatOn Registration

 

 

 

 

 

ARCs Float On

*Edited to add: Bloggers and teachers who are interested in being a part of the program, fill out the survey

ARCsFloatOn Matchmaker Survey

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Since starting at my new school, I have not been blogging as much.  I’ve been working on my curriculum, getting to know my students as readers, and grading a lot!  I have been trying to keep up with my reading, though, and I’ve been posting reviews here on the blog (with more to come).  My to-be-read pile of books continues to grow exponentially, adding titles from blogger reviews, student suggestions, and review books that I receive.

I get a lot of books for review.  At least twice each week I come home to find packages on the porch.  Right now, as a Cybils panelist, I am receiving review copies of the nominated  YA/middle grade nonfiction titles.  Some of the books I receive are finished copies and others are ARCs (advanced readers copies).  I read as many as I can, posting reviews here and on Goodreads. Publishers value the “buzz” that is generated by these early copies and my students love that they get a chance to read books before they are officially published.  I start the year by explaining what ARCs are and showing them some unfinished copies.  My sixth-graders and my high schoolers both understood that ARCs are not finished works and may differ from the final draft.  But ARCs work wonders with readers.  Even the most reluctant reader can be swayed when they realize they are first. They are holding a copy of the book before almost anyone else.

After I read, my ARCs and review copies are put in my classroom library.  Upcoming books are shelved separately, drawing in reluctant readers.  ARCs that have been published (and physically survived my classroom) are moved onto the general shelves  of my library.  Books that are not a good fit for my classroom are given to other teachers.  My sister teaches high school special ed and is just starting her classroom library.  I brought her boxes of high-interest but low-level books this summer.  I also give middle grade titles and elementary titles to other friends who teach those grade levels.  The teachers are always extremely grateful. Plus, my husband is happy because the books are out of our house!  (Honestly, it is only temporary because more books soon replace those that are gone).

Classroom libraries are a vital part of students’ lives.  According to Scholastic’s Classroom Libraries Work: Research & Results,

By providing access to a rich classroom library, teachers promote greater amounts of reading, increased reading frequency, and more diverse reading experiences among their students, thus helping them to attain greater levels of reading achievement.

Unfortunately, almost all teachers fund their classroom libraries on their own.  This means ordering from Scholastic, visiting warehouse sales, soliciting donations from students/parents, and looking longingly at those new titles in the bookstore but knowing it’s impossible to buy them all.  I am extremely lucky; as a reviewer, I have access to the newest titles.  But for most of my friends, this is not true.  The economy has hit schools and teachers hard.  Spending extra money on trade books for the classroom library is hard to justify when it means your own family might do without something else.  Schools are spending their money elsewhere, unable to fund classroom libraries.

While joining in the monthly Twitter chat for #titletalk, Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer) and I started talking about this issue.  I brought up the fact that I know many bloggers who are inundated with titles and have nowhere to donate them.  ARCs can not be sold or cataloged by an actual library, so many are thrown out.  Most public libraries are unable to accept donations of review copies, or finished copies.  (I know mine can not, and I have tried, and tried!)

I suggested that we start a campaign to encourage book reviewers and bloggers to donate their review books and advanced reader copies to classrooms and charities in their communities. I know many of the reviewers already donate their books to local schools, libraries, and literacy charities.  However, I talked to many on Twitter who did not know what to do with their copies.

This is my plea- find a worthy charity or a local classroom teacher.  Give them your ARCs and review copies when you are done.  Tweens and teens NEED access to good books, new literature.  Reviewers are in a special position here and can really help out in these tough economic times.  If you receive free books from publishers (ARCs or review copies!), please consider donating your review books. By donating the books that you receive for free, you are promoting awareness of great books and authors, helping teachers and librarians, and encouraging more reading. Learn more about this initiative or connect to a classroom through the Twitter hashtag, #ARCsFloatOn.

If you are interested, and don’t know how to get matched with a local teacher, feel free to comment here or Tweet me.  I would be happy to do some matchmaking!

*Please remember, ARCs can not be cataloged by an actual library.  However, personal classroom libraries can accept ARCs!

Edited to add:

Want to be matched?  Fill out the survey!

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