Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again is a stunning novel-in-verse from debut novelist Thanhha Lai. Ten-year old Ha’s father has been missing in action for nine years when her family must flee Saigon, leaving behind everything she knows. Heartbreakingly, she knows she might never see her father again or find out what happened to him.  The family must  voyage by ship and it is dangerous and miserable.  There is not enough food, water, space, or bathroom facilities. In fact, the family barely makes it onboard the packed ship! Eventually, the refugees are rescued by an American ship, which tows them to a refugee camp in Guam. The family must decide where to go from Guam and Ha’s mother chooses America.  In order to go to America, they must be sponsored by an American family. When a “cowboy” (in Ha’s eyes) rescues them, they move to Alabama.

Alabama is not home and is nothing like Saigon.  On her first day of school, Ha has her hair pulled by her American classmates, who want to make sure she is real.  She and her brothers are bullied, and none of them are able to explain how smart they are and what they learned back in Vietnam.  As immigrants, they are looked down on and often ignored.  Lai’s spare verse evokes such emotion that I found myself with tears in my eyes on many pages.  This book is a must-have for any teacher dealing with bullying in their classroom/school.  Lai’s story is based on her own childhood (read more here) and I can imagine some amazing conversations that will be started by this book.

Inside Out and Back Again is a stunning, lyrical debut from author  Thanhha Lai.  While it seems like it is being marketed to MG readers, I want to stress that this is a book ripe for high school classrooms, too.  The close look at bullying and being an outsider should be required reading for all children.  Lai’s poetry ensures that the story wil grab even the most reluctant reader.  And her humor and sensitivity will have readers coming back for more.

Highly recommended for all readers!

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Summer Professional Development (Free in NJ!)

Last night I participated in another great #titletalk on Twitter.  The subject was personal and professional development this summer.  Personally, I plan to read a lot this summer, putting a dent in my huge TBR pile/shelf.  I also plan to write a lot this summer.  But about halfway through the chat I remembered my favorite and most consistent form of professional development each summer- the Monarch Teacher Network!

I first took the cross-curricular workshop about 6 years ago and it changed my life.  On the surface, it sounds like a workshop for science teachers but that is far from the truth.  The teacher-leaders focus on ways to use monarchs and the environment across the curriculum and across grade levels.  Since taking the workshop I have been acting as a teacher leader at one of the NJ workshops every summer.  I don’t feel ready for the new school year unless I have spent time with my fellow monarchaholics. :)

From a 2008 blog post:

Tuesday was my last day at my summer job.  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are devoted to my passion- the Monarch Teacher Network.   As a former participant, I am now a volunteer staff member and the workshops are my favorite part of every summer.  It never fails to completely inspire me and motivate me for the new school year.

This year is no exception.  There are about 60 participants, including 3 from New Zealand and 2 from Peru.  At what other professional development workshop do you work with international teachers?  AMAZING.  The other participants are from NJ, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.  It’s a whirlwind three days, and today was a flurry of activity.  But it’s unbelievable just being able to share this amazing eperience with so many other extraordinary teachers!

I left today feeling completely revitalized and energized, despite the 8 hour day and 2 hours of driving.  Unbelievable.  And I can not wait to continue the workshop tomorrow and Friday.

 

After I took the workshop I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico on a fellowship from MTN and it was a life-changing experience.  You can read my entries from the trip here

Words can not describe what you see in the sanctuaries, and I wish that all my students could have the opportunity to see the magic takes place there. When you are here and you see, hear and feel the billions upon billions of monarchs, you are overwhelmed with the fact that we really are just a tiny part of this giant universe. It is a truly life-changing experience. Looking back at my pictures, video and words I realize that nothing can accurately describe the sanctuaries. The emotions that run through you as billions of Monarchs cling to the towering trees overhead and dance and play in a river of orange with a stunning blue sky behind them are indescribable.

The Monarch Teacher Network has really changed my life.  They are giving workshops all over the country this year and I will be helping out at the Mullica Hill, NJ workshop.  You should really think about signing up!

USA Workshops:

June

June 9– 10:   Mary Institute of St. Louis Country Day School; St. Louis, Missouri

June 13– 14:   Central on Main; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (Tulsa area)

June 13-14:  Lyonia Environmental Center; Deltona; Florida (Volusia County)

June 20– 21:   George C Round Elem School; Manassas, Virginia (Manassas City, DC area)

June 22– 23:   Heritage High School; Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC area)

June 27-28:   LaPerche School; Smithfield, Rhode Island (Providence area)

June 27-28:   Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History; Pacific Grove, California

June 29-30:   Cal Poly University; San Luis Obispo, California

July

July 28-29:  Fairfax County, Virginia (DC area)

August

Aug 1-2:    Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

Aug 4-5:    Neil Smith NWR; Prairie City, Iowa (Des Moines area)

Aug 8-9:  Chilton Elementary School; Wisconsin (Milwaukee area)

Aug 11-12:  Prince William County, VA (DC area)

Aug 15-16:    William Paterson University; New Jersey (Passaic County, NYC area)

Aug 18-19:    EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

Aug 20-21:  Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuary; Bernardsville, New Jersey

No workshop space will be held until a registration form is received. Click on the MTN registration form page to print and complete the registration form.

Canada workshops

To register for a Canadian workshop, visit:  www.monarchteacher.ca  

There will be seven workshops in Canada in three Provinces including New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.
July
July 13-14:  Terra Cotta Conservation Area; Terra Cotta, Ontario, Canada
July 19-20:  Regina Public School Office; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
July 21-22:  Sulphur Spring Conservation Area; Hanover, Ontario, Canada
July 26-27:  JR Walkof School; Winkler, Manitoba, Canada
August
Aug 3-4:   Northumberland Hills Public School; Castleton, Ontario, Canada
Aug 9-10:  Enniskillen Conservation Area; Enniskillen, Ontario, Canada
Aug 25-26:  Irving Nature Park; Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
And the best news?
If you are in NJ, you can attend the workshop for free!   MTN has received a grant that will enable them to provide scholarships for the Monarch workshops, “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” this summer.  The grant money will allow them to pay all or most of the $99 registration fees for the workshops in New Jersey this summer. There are a limited number of scholarships available and it is first come first served so get the registrations in soon to qualify.  Fill out the attached registration form, mark which workshop you would like to attend, and fax or mail the form to us at EIRC. All MTN Workshops 2011- New Jersey registration form.  

 

#BEA11 Recap

This past week I made my annual pilgrimage to BEA, BookExpo America, at the Javitz Center.  I am lucky in that I live a short train ride from NYC, so each year I manage to take a personal day and spend a few hours at the conference.  It’s a crazy conference- huge, crowded, huge, and oh yeah, crowded!

I requested this ARC from Candlewick- perfect my senior class disaster unit!

Wednesday morning I made my way to the train station and was in the city by 9:30am.  I had made a plan with Teresa (@trkravtin) to meet at the Candlewick booth at 10am.  Teresa and I have been talking on Twitter for a while now and it was great to finally have a chance to meet.  I quickly walked the few blocks to the Javitz Center and picked up my badge without a problem.  It was 10am on the dot when I made my way onto the exhibit floor.  (Nice timing, huh?) Candlewick was easy to find so I began the day browsing their ARCs.  Sadly, I missed the galley giveaway for Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd but I did pick up a few other ARCs.  And at that point, Teresa was there!

Teresa and I chatted for a little bit and she is just as wonderful in person as she is on Twitter. :)  But time is valuable at BEA, and we parted ways so I could start walking the floor.  I had planned to go to Ally Condie’s signing but when I saw that the line was wrapped around half the Javitz Center, I decided to skip it and just wander around.  I knew I had about 20 minutes until Mary Pearson’s signing and I really wanted to meet her, so I did a quick lap around the center.  I picked up an ARC or two, including Daughter of Smoke and Bone, signed by the wonderful and pink-haired Laini Taylor.  What a sweetheart!

After my inital lay-of-the-land walk, I made my way back to the Henry Hold booth and got on the line for Mary Pearson, who would be signing The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles).  I am a huge fan of Pearson’s writing and I had tweeted her that I would be stopping by her line.  Of course, I forgot to mention that I am unbearably shy in situations like that so I would not dare mention my name when I got to the front of the line.  When it was my turn, I passed my book to her and mumbled how much I love her work.  Thank goodness for name tags, because the awesome Mary Pearson read mine and recognized me right away!  She is a sweetheart and I can’t wait to read The Fox Inheritance.  We chatted briefly and promised to keep in touch.  Her line was long and I didn’t want to take up too much of her time, so it was time to go walk the floor some more.  As I left the booth, I also picked up a few adult ARCs for my students.

Walking away, I overheard someone say that Jimmy Fallon was signing copies of his new book a few rows away.  I didn’t need a copy of the book (and it turns out they had already run out of copies anyway), but I did walk by and take a quick picture of him. After that, it was time to head to Scholastic to scope out the scene.  I really lucked out and was able to pick up an ARC of Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers. Yes, my seniors requested this one. :) They were in 3rd grade when the first book came out and were laughing when I mentioned that the second book would be published this summer. Needless to say, when I got back to school they swiped it from me and quickly read it).

I spent the next hour or so walking around, talking to publicists and picking up some ARCs.  While standing at the Abram’s booth, I ran into Pam of MotherReader fame! She was wonderful and gracious and we ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon together.  It was great getting to know her outside the blog (I highly recommend meeting bloggers!  It’s really great!) and we chatted about books, teens, writing, and the 48 Hour Book Challenge.  She let me know that Lisa Yee would be signing at the American Girl booth and I was happy to wait in line to meet her and of course, Peep!  (Peep is famous.  Really.  Just ask him. :) )

MotherReader and Lisa Yee

Me, Lisa Yee, and Peep!

Together we waited on a few signing lines and even made our way over to the autograph tables, which are complete chaos.  I completely lucked out when Scott Westerfeld’s ticketed line slowed down and the girl corralling the line let me jump on the back, without a ticket.  It was my biggest coup of the day and I knew I had students who would be falling over themselves to read Goliath.  Scott Westerfeld was really nice and autographed the copy directly to my class.

Sadly, it was time for me to leave MotherReader at that point and begin to make my way back to Penn Station.  I did one more quick loop around the convention center and really lucked out.  Standing at the Random House booth, completely alone, was Christopher Paolini!  One of my seniors had begged me for an ARC of Inheritance, but they were not available.  However, Paolini was kind enough to sign a poster for him and we had a short conversation.  It was interrupted when I heard someone practically hyperventilating behind me.  There was a tween boy there who was gasping and kept repeating “You’re here.  Oh my god, you’re here.  I had no idea you would be here.  Was it in the program?!  Oh my god, you are my hero!”  I stepped aside as this young boy met his hero.  Paolini was deep in conversation with the boy only moments later and I had to smile.  Sure, I had seen some people at BEA act crazy, but that one moment is what BEA is truly about for me- meeting authors that I love and networking with all of these people I have only met online.

I had a wonderful time at BEA this year.  I’m not sure I could handle attending the entire conference, but one day is perfect.  I get to meet people I admire, I network with my publishing contacts, and I bring home ARCs for my students.

My BEA ARCs

On Thursday, I took all the ARCs to school (with the exception of a few I claimed first) and laid them out on the back table.  My classes all walked through and made a list of the books they want to read, and I pulled names out of a hat at lunch.  Most of the books have a waiting list, so students had to promise to review them on goodreads in return for getting the opportunity to read them.  My first student has already reviewed her ARC!  I expect more reviews to be posted this weekend.  This is why I love BEA- ARCs build passion.  Students are making lists, sharing books, and talking about them because they have the privilege to read them before anyone else.  It’s fantastic!

Hidden by Helen Frost

Helen Frost is one of my favorite authors.  While she may not be the most well-known MG/YA author on the market right now, I wish she was!  I am constantly recommending her books to my readers.  When I was offered an ARC of her newest title, I jumped on the chance. Hidden does not disappoint. If you are a middle school of high school teacher, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

From the flap copy:

When Wren Abbott and Darra Monson are eight years old, Darra’s father steals a minivan. He doesn’t know that Wren is hiding in the back. The hours and days that follow change the lives of both girls. Darra is left with a question that only Wren can answer. Wren has questions, too.

Years later, in a chance encounter at camp, the girls face each other for the first time. They can finally learn the truth—that is, if they’re willing to reveal to each other the stories that they’ve hidden for so long.

I have a strange attraction to crime stories.  I am the person who can’t turn off CNN when they are talking about a missing person.  I read newspaper articles and magazine interviews.  Hidden was exactly what I was looking for. The story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The chapters alternate between Wren and Darra and you sympathize with both.  The suspense alone is reason enough to pick up the book.  However, Helen Frost’s real gift is in her poetry.

Nothing is ever as it seems, which is what I love.   The real magic in every Helen Frost book comes when you start digging deeper, really paying attention to the poetry.  In Hidden, Helen Frost has invented a new form of poetry to help give insight into Darra’s story. Darra’s poems are told through especially long lines.  But upon reaching the end of the book, you learn that taking the last word of the longest lines allows you to read Darra’s thoughts and memories, seeing the kidnapping from her point-of-view.  Due to this, I found myself re-reading the book immediately upon finishing it the first time.  The second time through, I simply lost myself in the poetry, paying attention to the word choice, the rhymes, and this wonderful new form.

Hidden is perfect for reluctant MG/YA readers.  Highly, highly recommended!

Alyssa Sheinmel Interview!

Today I am very happy to welcome author Alyssa Sheinmel to the blog.  Her realistic fiction books always grab me so when I was offered the opportunity to speak with her, I jumped on it. Her new book, The Lucky Kind is the story of Nick, a teen in New York who’s world is turned upside down when he learns that his father had a son whom he gave up for adoption. Suddenly, Nick doesn’t know who he is, and if he can trust his parents.

Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed at thereadingzone, Alyssa! I read and loved The Lucky Kind  and I can’t wait to share it with my high school students. When you first got the idea for The Lucky Kind , what came first? Did characters come to you first, or was the concept/plot the first thing?

Well, first and foremost, thank you for reading and for sharing it with your students! I’m thrilled that you like the book.

The idea for this story had been percolating in my imagination for a while before I sat down to write it. From the beginning, I knew I was going to tell the story of someone on the periphery of adoption; not the person who gives up a child for adoption, and not the person who was given up. The story in my head was of a boy just outside of the experience of adoption, but who was nonetheless deeply affected by it. As far as Nick’s character, I didn’t really get to choose it; as The Lucky Kind took shape in my imagination, Nick’s voice – and through it,his character – came right along with it. It was always Nick’s story.


The Lucky Kind  and your previous book, THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN, are both set in New York City. What made you choose NYC as your setting?

I’m a big fan of writing what you know – or at least, writing some of what you know – so I always try to ground my stories in real details. For me, that meant placing The Lucky Kind in New York City. That’s where I went to high school, and those are the restaurants and movie theaters that I grew up going to, the subway I grew up taking, the streets I walked with my friends. That’s not to say I’d never write a book that takes place anywhere else. (I hope that I will!) But New York seemed like the natural setting for this story.


What is your routine like? Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

I don’t write every day. Right now, writing fits into my life in bits and pieces – I fit it in around my day job, around walking my dog, even around silly things like the TV shows I want to watch and the friends I want to meet for dinner. So, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to when I write; though my favorite time to write is in the morning.


What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

Somewhere in between. I don’t outline, but I do make a lot of notes, from the minute I get an idea for a story. I generally begin with an idea about where my story is going to start, and where it will end, and a few of the plot points in between. But as I write, some of those plot points are almost always abandoned in favor the ones that manage to pop up along the way.

Your books are so perfect for teens of both genders. What inspired you to write for teens?

I never intentionally chose to write for teens; I just wanted to tell the stories that came to me to tell. But I do love writing for teens. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say this, but I truly think that no books stay with you like the books you read when you’re young. I still remember the first chapter book I ever read (The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo), and I still remember how proud I was when I finished it, exactly where I was sitting in my grandmother’s house, my father at my side. I considered myself a reader from a fairly young age, but never more so than as a teenager. The books that I loved then are the books that I read over and over; I can recite passages of those books from memory to this day. Now, I try to write for the teenager that I was, who loved her books so much that she begged her mother for bookshelves the way most girls beg for clothes. (Though, I begged for plenty of clothes, too.)

And the most important question- what is your favorite go-to snack when you are writing?

Does gum count as a snack? I chew a lot of gum while I write. Sometimes I can’t start working until I have a piece of gum in my mouth (though I spit it out after about 60 seconds).


Thanks so much, Alyssa!  Readers, be sure to pick up a copy of her new book, The Lucky Kind , in bookstores today!  It’s fantastic and you can count on a review very soon.

I am hosting #engchat!

Just a note to let you know that I will be hosting #engchat, a weekly chat on Twitter aimed at English teachers.  I will be hosting this week’s chat which is tomorrow, 5/9, at 7:00pm EST.  The chat will focus on using technology to raise passionate readers and writers.  I plan to share information about using tools like Goodreads, blogs, Ning, Googledocs, and Figment in the classroom.  I hope you can stop by and join us!

Read Forever: By Hook or by Crook, By Book or By Nook

For months I have been reading Tweets, blog posts, and forum postings that divide the world into two camps- those who like e-readers and those who think they will be the end of books.  I admit- I was anti-e-reader for a while.  But then I got my iphone and ipad and realized the wonder of being able to carry a few books with me at all times, without the heavy pile.  I took my ipad on my cruise and read something like 10 books over the course of the week.  I never would have been able to carry them all with me on the plane.  So I am an e-reader convert!

I also have a lot of students who move easily between e-readers and books.  They have no preference, but I certainly see them reading more because their e-reader is always accessible.  And how can I not love that?

Needless to say, I absolutely ADORE the new Barnes and Noble Nook commercial called “Read Forever”.  We can all get along.  Just read forever.

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